Once upon a time, many years ago, true love walked hand in hand with kisses and promises, and decisions were made to last forever.
In such a time, two girls received a summons to appear before the governor. Governor St. Juste tended their island with the gentle care of a loving father. He knew each inhabitant by name, and on the morn of each one’s birth, she expected to discover a basket of chocolate and fruit on her doorstep. No one was ever disappointed.
“Are you nervous?” Kate asked her sister as they stood in the governor’s palatial waiting room.
“Terrified!” whispered Liza, reaching out for the comfort of Kate’s hand.
“But he’s always been so kind.”
“It ’s true. Which leads me to wonder what we’ve done that he should call us before him!”
Governor St. Juste welcomed the young women into his office, a large room paneled in walnut carved with designs of fruit and flowing ribbons. Towering mirrors reflected the blue of the afternoon sky behind a wall of windows. The appointments of the room appeared almost as magnificent as the governor, but in truth, upon close inspection, the most majestic wood and mirrors could not eclipse the character of the man himself. Even the shining golden medallion of his office, hanging from a satin band around his neck, did not outshine the regal air with which he moved or the kindliness that glowed in his eyes.
He beckoned them with a sweep of his arm. “Liza and Kate, come sit here by my desk. I have something to give you.”
The girls, pink with relief and delight, settled themselves upon two chairs facing the gleaming surface, adjusting their skirts just so and crossing their feet at the ankles as their mother taught them. They dared not speak, but nodded as though his words held almost as much importance as “Let there be…”
He eased back in his chair and clasped his hands across the front of his light blue, quilted waistcoat, idly fingering the medallion. “You’re getting older now, you know. Many years ago your father and mother approached me and asked me to set you aside for a special purpose. The time has come for me to fulfill that promise.”
Kate, just seventeen, wiggled in her seat and raised her eyebrows at Liza, soon to turn eighteen.
Liza refolded her hands in her lap. “Thank you, sir.”
He cleared his throat. “You know your father and I go back to our boyhoods together, don’t you? My father’s carpenter was his father.”
“Yes, Your Grace,” Liza said. Father told them often how their family had served the St. Justes for generations. How Father had even saved the governor’s life years ago, before they came of age. Father said a strong bond like no other knit them together that day.
“Yes, well. In a week’s time, my eldest son is returning home from his tour of duty with the Royal Navy. He will need someone to care for his house. You’re from a good, hearty family, hard workers all. Your parents are responsible, faithful citizens of the island, completely reliable and dependable.” He rapped his knuckles on the beautiful desk the girls’ father had made only the previous year. “Not to mention the history between your father and me. No doubt he’s regaled you with stories of how much we loved to fish together and wander the hills.”
The girls nodded. If James Carpenter, their father, carried one regret, it was his inability to step into the life of his good friend. Privilege like that belonged to only a few. On the other hand, James, a fine carpenter, was known and respected as a gifted craftsman.
“All in all, you seem to be strong, able girls.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Kate. Her voice echoes sweetly, Liza thought.
“Of course, m’lord,” said Liza. Not nearly as pretty as her sister, or as silver-throated, she tried to sound as agreeable as she felt. Truly she couldn’t remember ever being this excited, this honored. Or this nervous.
“Good, then!” The governor reached down and opened a desk drawer. From its recesses he pulled out two large wine-red apples. Beautiful, shining, perfect specimens of fruit.
Liza had never seen such pleasing food in all her life, for her father, royal carpenter though he was, possessed not the riches for such luxuries. The crimson skin glowed as if from within, and
Liza just knew the flesh was the sweetest found anywhere. “Oh my!” she said. “How beautiful!”
The governor nodded. “Yes, quite. Lovely, aren’t they?”
Kate reached out. “I’m sure it is the tastiest fruit on the island. I cannot wait to try one!”
The governor’s brows leaped toward his hairline. “Oh, but they’re not for you. They’re for Claude, my son. I’m entrusting them to your care until he arrives, after which time, you’ll join him at his home. But we have need for only one of you to take care of my son’s needs. It will be up to him to decide between the two of you.”
Liza’s heart stuttered. To work in the home of the governor’s son! More than a simple girl dared to hope for. Only the most trusted citizens of the island cared for those in the governor’s household.
Kate thrust out her hands.
“Oh, I’ll take perfect care of them, Your Grace!”
“Wonderful! But do take only one.” And he placed a single apple in her hands. “And what of you, Liza? Will you care for the fruit until his arrival?”