Shadows of Love: Four Historical Romances by Doreen Milstead by Doreen Milstead - Read Online

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Shadows of Love - Doreen Milstead

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Shadows of Love: Four Historical Romances


Doreen Milstead

Copyright 2016 Susan Hart

Message In A Bottle

Synopsis: Message In A Bottle - A poor and lonely Victorian woman eking out her living in Brighton by making seashell jewelry, finds a message in a bottle on the beach and vows to find the man who wrote it. 

She sat on the damp rock, two bags of seashells tied to the belt of her ragged third-hand dress, water sloshing at her feet. Blue eyes watched the distant throngs of people on the long pier that stretched out from Brighton Beach, its sandy boards full of merriment and people who could eat when they wanted and play when they wanted. It was a different world than Sarah’s.

A very different world of money and luxury that Sarah would never know. Indeed, had never known.

For the better part of the last three years, she had gathered these shells, large ones, small ones and broken ones. The broken ones were her favorite, because they were the most like her, the story of her life at least, broken, lonely and thrown out for waste by the mighty force of water that now stole at her worn shoes and dirty feet.

But overall, Sarah was thankful. Thankful that she was alive and well, thankful that she had her little handmade shell jewelry and trinkets to sell in the market, thankful that those people she now watched would feel sorry for her and buy them. Thankful that she made enough to buy a crust of bread or a fish or a sweet treat for her own birthday.

Thankful for it all.

While the pretty people on the pier came to Brighton for leisure and recreation, Sarah eked out her very meager existence from what nature gave her for free - the shells. Her unique talent for jewelry making was a blessing, and for the last two years, her goods had become a favorite for these people. She saw her necklaces and bracelets adorning their chests and their wrists.

Everybody has a purpose and a place - Sarah was fortunate to have this purpose and this place.

She stood and the shells clicked together in their canvas-bag homes. It was time to move on down the beach before the sun began to set, showing off its beauty and grandeur over which the rich would marvel, but by which she closed out her day. Tomorrow would be the same for her, and the next day afterward would also be.

Life running in circles and going nowhere. That was Sarah’s world.

The tide was almost fully in by the time she rounded the short curve the sea carved out along the rocks. She stepped gingerly over the small, pointed rocks of the last leg of her journey back to her ramshackle little living quarters two blocks from this mighty torrent of salt and water and waves and beauty, long her home.

Something clanked behind her, the noise of glass hitting rock. Sarah turned quickly fearing that a glass had broken and the pieces might cut through the thin soles of her donated shoes. Wedged between two rocks lay a dark bottle, a wine bottle probably, with the cork tightly pressed into its pouring hole. There was something inside it, though she couldn’t tell what it was.

Gingerly, Sarah plucked the bottle from the strong grasp of the rocks and lifted it to her face. The something on the inside was a piece of paper with writing on it. She smiled to herself. A true message in a bottle, the romantic and endearing thing that people spoke about and writers wrote about. But that few ever found. A sense of optimism and hope flooded her soul, and Sarah felt immediately bound to the bottle as if answers were there, though she didn’t know the questions.

She carefully stuck the bottle in one of the bags around her waist and made her way home, thrilled that the day had rendered something out of the ordinary on which she could focus her attention, at least momentarily.

Back at her home, Sarah made herself wait to open the bottle, her eyes straying to it often as she sat about making her meager dinner of sardines and pickles. She sat at the small, old wooden chest she had found on the junk pile at the pier and made it her dining table, the rickety straight chair, a gift from a long-gone friend, creaking underneath the weight of her child-sized body. As she ate the small fish with her fingers, placing each bite on a cracker wedge, her mind roamed and wondered at what words she would find on the paper inside the dark bottle.

Would it simply be someone’s name and date? Had the writer penned a plea for help years and years before that went unfound and unheeded? Did the person who took the time to prepare the bottle still live? Were the words on the paper some historical event being recorded for posterity? Sarah realized that the bottle was a tangible thing, but the paper could hold many things - emotions, wishes, hellos, directions - a myriad of things.

But, she forced herself to eat slowly and delay the answers to what she was wondering. It was very, very seldom that such entertainment had come her way, and Sarah wanted to prolong the discovery of the mystery.

Finally, after delaying herself in every imaginable way, Sarah sat on her bed, knife in hand, and proceeded to unset the cork in the bottle. By the time she had pried it loose in several pieces, its life was over, tens of pieces lay at her feet on the floor. She wondered if the writer was also in little pieces beneath the surface of the earth - dead, silent, gone.

It took some tender convincing for the paper to be extracted, though rolled tightly, one corner of the paper had spread and acted as a hanger to make it difficult to remove from the tiny hole that had shielded it from water and time. She unrolled it very carefully and with great pomp and circumstance - suspending the satisfaction of her curiosity. The handwriting was well penned, obviously coming from a hand that had learned things, knew things and felt things, much the same as Sarah. Her eyes scanned the lines and returned to the first word, reading each aloud.

‘We did not make love, we didn't even kiss or touch, but the inexplicable intimacy

we shared left us hopelessly and enduringly locked onto and into each other. I love you

with all of my heart and soul.

Joseph Wells

Brighton Beach,1859’

Sarah read it over and over, letting the mystery and the romance of the lines sink into her head, heart and soul. Now, instead of finding answers, she had more questions. Who was this man? Was he still in or around Brighton Beach? Who was the message to? About? Where was the woman who these words belonged to or with? Was this bottle and this piece of paper an omen for Sarah?

So many questions with no answers.

She slept the night with the piece of paper and soft words tucked underneath her pillow. Sarah had longed believed that sleeping thus would bring about answers, that her mind would think as her body slept and that reasoning and guidance would come to her automatically and magically. It had actually worked many times, so doing so with this note was hopeful, at the very least.

The morning sunrise filtered through the small window at the front of her one-room abode, stealing across her closed eyes until Sarah opened them, nudged by the new day dawning. She yawned and stretched out her arms to wake up her energy. Slowly, her hand felt beneath the pillow and pulled out the piece of paper. Sarah reread the words and let the thoughts formulate in her mind.

First, she had to find out who the writer was, this Joseph Wells. Surely, he once lived in or around Brighton Beach in 1859, ten years earlier. She could check the public records for his death; if not listed there, then he was still alive. Next, she could look for him in other public records, taxes, vehicles, anything that might have his name or personal information.

As she came more awake, Sarah decided that first things had to come first. She would begin with the death listings. She sprang from her bed with a renewed sense of being, an importance to her and her life that had long faded from her days and nights of loneliness and aloneness.

She ate a crust of bread with her morning coffee and thought about all the possibilities that could include the name Joseph Wells. Sarah selected her best dress of the three that she owned and donned it, the high color accenting her ivory skin and big, blue eyes. She was a pretty woman by all standards, though her beauty went unnoticed amidst her life of poorness. And she was just as beautiful on the inside, but that, too, seldom had a chance to show itself.

When she had pulled on her best shoes of the two pair she had, Sarah closed the door and headed to the civil office where the death records were kept. On the way, her heart was full of hope that she wouldn’t find Joseph’s name among those passed, but that she would find it on the list of still living people whose information she hoped to find.

This time, Sarah walked without her seashells and wires and little rings of connection that held her jewelry, indeed, her life, together. Instead, she felt a resurgence of something different, unidentified, but positive. Who knew what lie ahead in the mission she aspired to? What could possibly come of it but happiness or sadness? The romance of the mystery was buried in her soul.

For over two hours, Sarah thumbed through pages and dusty pages of names of people who had deceased since 1859, never finding a listing for Joseph Wells. She knew in her head that he could be from anywhere, but her gut was centered on a local boy or man, someone who must have loved and possibly lost, or had dreams unfulfilled as he whiled away the hours by the seaside. Or perhaps he was a wealthy man with a mistress in his mind, a woman who never really existed but in his dreams. 

Obviously, he was literate, and quite poetic in the lines he had written, which gave Sarah a vision of a fairly well to do man, probably a merchant of some sort that lived within the Brighton village. With that in mind, she moved onto the public records of taxpayers and such.

I want to look up some information on someone, she told the nice file clerk at the public records office. How might I go about doing that?

The file clerk adjusted her glasses and gave Sarah a once-over, her nose turning up slightly as if demeaning Sarah’s existence.

What is the name? she asked Sarah in a snippety voice.

Joseph Wells, Sarah responded, attempting to inflect just as much air as the clerk.

And do you know where this Mr. Wells lives?

No, and if I did, I would have no business here with you, ‘mam.

Very well, then. You should look through the tax books first. If he owns any property, his name will be listed on those books. And his address, she added sarcastically.

Thank you, miss, Sarah answered. She knew her dress alone spoke volumes about her existence, but that never gave someone else permission to speak down to her. And where might I find these tax books?

The clerk simply pointed to an adjoining room where shelves were lined with huge bound volumes and tables waited for people to pour through the lives of others as they probably tried to straighten out there own.

In the room, Sarah found a master list book where she quickly ran through the pages listed W looking for Wells in 1859. By the hundredth page, she found one: Joseph E. Wells, Sr. the line read, Book 124, Page 250.

She was ecstatic as she headed across the room and scoured the shelves for #124. When she found it, Sarah hefted it over to one of the tables and quickly sought out Page 250. There, her finger ran down the list