Albert Stuart was already dreading his arrival home. The job he and his younger brother Ben had finished had been hard and physically demanding and now he was faced another trying job. His father, Thomas had informed his sons before they left that a very old friend of his was going to be staying at Sky Valley while this friend looked for land in the Nevada Territory. This friend was looking specifically for enough land to establish a horse ranch. His daughter was accompanying him, which meant Albert would most likely be the one to entertain her. This responsibility always fell to him since his sister Mary had married and moved to Sacramento with husband, William. Albert had found that the daughters of his father’s friends were always shallow, self-centered creatures that lacked any imagination, much less any intellect at all. He was bored with this responsibility and wished it would pass to one of his brothers, Henry or Ben. But, as always, Albert would do what his father wished no matter how distasteful.
“I should have left the ranch last month like I wanted to and should not have allowed Father to talk me out of going back east. As soon as these visitors leave, I’m leaving. There is nothing here for me and I feel like there’s more to life than just being here on Sky Valley.”
Albert reminded himself that he had a college education and felt he was wasting away in Nevada. He had more talents than to be just a rancher. Even though Albert was the one who handled all of the books for the ranch, he felt there so much more he was capable of - so much more he wanted to do and see. Albert had been the quiet one, the thinker of the four children of Thomas Stuart. Always a private person from the time he was a small boy, shouldering responsibility from a young age, he was always controlled in his emotions and his feelings for others. Fiercely loyal to his family he wanted more than just his father and brothers. He wanted a life. His life.
As they approached the house, Albert observed that the carriage was in front of the house, indicating that their guests had already arrived. As he and Ben dismounted, Henry strolled out to greet them.
“How did the round-up go?” he asked.
“Found about seventy head,” Ben answered.
“I take it our guests have arrived,” Albert stated.
“Yup, and for once, Albert, I think you just might find this visit interesting’,” Henry chuckled.
Albert looked at his brother with a wary eye. Finally, he asked, “What is that suppose to mean?”
“Nothing. Just interesting’. Father sent me out to fetch you two. He wants to introduce you to Judge Wallace and his daughter.
“We’ll be in when we get the horses put up,” Albert retorted. Not looking forward to his assigned duties, Albert remembered the conversation his father had with him prior to his departure.
“Albert, I expect you to see that Miss Wallace is entertained while she and her father are here. He is one of my oldest and dearest friends and I want their visit to be enjoyable. Who knows? They may become our neighbors.”
After seeing to their horses, washing up and changing clothes in the bunkhouse, Albert and Ben entered the house.
Thomas stood and began making the introductions. “John, these are my two other sons, Albert and Ben. Boys, I’d like for you to meet Judge John Wallace.”
As the men shook hands, the library door opened and a voice with the softest English accent Albert had ever heard.
“Mr. Stuart, you have a wonderful library. If you don’t mind I’d like to borrow. . .oh, excuse me! I didn’t mean to interrupt. . .” She stopped in mid-sentence.
Albert turned to see where this voice was coming from and, standing there in front of him, was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She had a slender, small waist, long soft, flowing curly auburn hair framing her face, porcelain skin, voluminous lips, and a gorgeous smile. But the details that stood out the most - the one which fascinated and attracted Albert - were the color of her eyes. They were a rich blue color of Lapis.
“Albert, Ben, I would like you to meet Miss Anne Wallace,” Thomas said finishing the introductions.
“It’s my pleasure to meet you both,” she said smiling, eyes sparkling as she came toward the two brothers to greet them. The whole time Albert never took his eyes off her.
Ben started toward her to take her arm, showing a great deal more interest in her than he normally would with a guest. He was stopped by Albert’s hand on his chest. Albert took her arm, steering her away from his youngest brother.
“Anne I see you’ve visited our library. Tell me, what do you think of it?” Albert inquired.
Looking into his warm eyes, she replied softly, “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a complete library in a private home. Your selections include everything - the classics, poetry, and Shakespeare.”
“I’m glad someone else finds it more than adequate. You mentioned poetry. Do you have a favorite poet?” Albert asked, his interest piqued. He was always interested in anyone who was well read.
“Mr. Stuart, your collection is far more than adequate. To answer your question, I would have to say my favorite is Tennyson. So many poets’ writings are too flowery for me. Tennyson is very visual and straight to the point.”
“Please, call me Albert,” he said with a smile and barely-veiled interest.
“Very well then, Albert,” she said, smiling at the tall man before her.
Albert was surprised by her answer to his question. Most girls he had met who had a genuine interest in reading concentrated only on romantic poems - not on the works of the true poets. He would soon learn, in the days to come, that this girl held more surprises for him. Albert was completely intrigued by her. Not only was she beautiful, but he was becoming keenly aware she was also very intelligent.
As Thomas and Judge Wallace went into Thomas’ office area to look at the maps of land parcels available for sale that Thomas had picked up at the surveyor’s office for the Judge’s perusal, Albert took Anne’s arm and led her to the sofa where they sat side by side. Albert began the conversation by asking Anne how she felt about moving to Nevada.
Taking her time to answer, she replied, “I’m excited to be here! From everything I’ve seen so far, the land is beautiful and would be a wonderful place to live.”
“Your father wishes to purchase land for a horse ranch. Do you ride?” Albert inquired.
“Anne is one of the finest horsewomen in all of England,” her father interjected.
“Yes,” Anne answered, ignoring her father’s interruption. “Riding is one of the passions I have that my father doesn’t dissuade. I learned to ride when I was very young. I’ve always been around horses and enjoy them immensely.”
Anne and Albert sat and talked for hours about things they were both interested in - things like music, art, and literature. Albert noticed that when Anne was talking to or listening to someone, she looked at that person in the eye. He found her easy to talk to but discovered yet another asset - she was a good listener. This was something most women from his experience were not good at.
By this time Henry had approached his younger brother. Speaking quietly, he said, “Told Albert this visit was going to be interesting’ for him. She’s a real nice gal. I got to talk to her for a while before you two got back. She might just give old Albert a run for his money.”
“Well, Albert isn’t the only one who can entertain a girl. I just might be the one to show her around while she’s here,” Ben replied.
Anne Wallace had been pleasantly surprised in Albert, not really caring to meet one of her father’s old friends or his sons. She thought immediately how handsome he was, finding him powerfully build, tall, tanned and broad-shouldered, with dark hair, beautiful kind eyes and a wonderful smile. She detected aloofness in him, possibly an underlying anger, when they had first met, but it seemed he was relaxing with her. The fact that they shared a great deal of the same interests pleased her very much. Most of the men she had met in her life had been snobs and treated her as an inferior. Albert Stuart is different. He is a real man, not some self-centered person. And he’s intelligent. Being handsome doesn’t hurt either, she though.
“Why did you and your father decide to leave England and come way out here? Wasn’t England to your liking?” Albert inquired. He was curious.
“I loved it until recently. I was born in London. My mother died when I was very young, so it’s just been father and me. He raised me - with the help of nannies, of course - making sure I was raised with his way of thinking. All of the proper English requirements. As I grew older, he became at a loss as what to do with me. My father a preconceived notion as to how I should behave and what I should do.”
“I take it you didn’t conform to his way of thinking,” Albert replied. He noted the slightest bit of sarcasm in her response.
“No, I could never behave in the way that those back in England believe a properly-raised girl is suppose to act. Heaven forbid that a woman should be so bold as to think, much less voice her ideas! I have a habit of doing this, much to the horror of my father. I’ve also been told on more than one occasion that I’m stubborn and that I have a bit of a temper.” she laughed as she confided this to Albert. “So, to answer your question, Albert, I loved the idea of coming here where possibly people are different and not so buried in antiquated ideas of how people should be or behave. Father, being from Baltimore wanted to return. Then, when father received an appointment to the federal branch here in Nevada we made the decision to put roots down here.”
Realizing that she had probably said too much (which she was not in the habit of doing, especially with someone she had just met), she excused herself. “Please excuse me, Albert. I didn’t mean to run on so.”
After listening to this conversation, Judge Wallace added, “Anne also failed to mention that, to my horror, she also has a very analytical mind. To my way of thinking, this is not becoming to a woman of today’s world.”
“I beg to differ, sir. I find that particular quality in a woman rare and very refreshing,” Albert challenged.
Having heard all she wished to hear from her father, Anne said, “Well, if you gentlemen will excuse me, you may continue to discuss me in my absence. I believe I would like to walk outside and enjoy this wonderful evening.” Rising from the sofa, Anne went to get her shawl.
Albert rose to his feet at the same time. “I think I’ll join you, Anne. I would prefer to discuss a lady’s qualities in your presence.” He helped Anne with her shawl and then walked outside with her.
Thomas, watching and listening to the interaction between the two, thought, “I don’t believe Albert will find Anne as much a chore as he thought she would be.”Walking into the courtyard, Albert looked closely at Anne, noting that every feature was perfect. He found she had both an easy smile and laugh, making anyone with her feel comfortable.
Anne caught his inspection and looked straight at him with a smile. “You don’t have to feel obligated to entertain me, Albert, if you have other matters you need to tend to. You must think me rude for leaving the others. Forgive me. It just angers me when my father talks about me as though I’m not present. I’m sure he would have preferred that I had been born a boy.”
“There is nothing I would rather do than be with you, and I meant what I said - I think you are rare and very refreshing. And I for one, am glad you were not born a boy.” Albert noted Anne’s perfect white teeth as she shared his laugh.
“I don’t believe anyone has ever told me I was rare and refreshing. I’ve been told many other things, but never that.”
Albert reddened at her last remark, and Anne stumbled over her apology, touching his arm gently as she spoke softly. “Albert, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I have a habit of saying what I think - another quality my father hates.”
“I prefer a woman who speaks honestly,” he said.
Looking at the house, she turned to him and said, “Your father told me you designed and built this house. It’s very beautiful.”
Realizing she was trying to make him feel comfortable again, he replied, “Thank you Anne. Yes, I designed it, but we all had a hand in building it. From what father has told
us, you had quite a grand home in England.”
“Yes, we had a nice house in England. It had been in my mother’s family for generations. It was far too large for two people. I understand that, when my mother was alive, it was a wonderful home. I don’t remember much of that time. After she passed away, it just became a house. I didn’t spend much time there. And there is a definite difference between a house and a home, Albert.” Wanting to change the subject, Anne began, “Your father also told us you wanted to leave this paradise, to go back east to New York.”
“I was planning on leaving last month, but he talked me out of going. Have you ever been to New York? I’ve wanted to go there for as long as I can remember.”
Choosing her words carefully, walking slowly in front of him. “Yes, I have been to New York. But not by choice. My father realized when I turned fourteen that he had no idea what to do with me so he sent me to a boarding school in New York.” Continuing with a small laugh, “I was there for four years.”
“You must have loved every minute of it. I can’t imagine anything more exciting,” Albert said.
Shaking her head, Anne looked into his eyes and said with a sad smile, “Albert, it wasn’t a pleasant experience for me. I didn’t enjoy being alone. . .” Suddenly realizing she had said far too much, she whispered, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have gone on like this. I usually don’t discuss private matters or my feelings with anyone.” Casting her eyes downward for a moment, she continued. “I still have bad feelings about that time in my life. Please forgive me for burdening you.”
“Anne,” he said sincerely, sensing this was painful for her, “there’s nothing to forgive.”
Later that evening, after dinner, Albert took Anne for a ride in the carriage under a full moon. They spoke of the things they enjoyed. Albert was envious when Anne told him she had been to an opera prior to leaving England. “It was so wonderful! I had never heard voice like that in my life!” Anne’s face glowed as she remembered.
Realizing how passionate she was about things she loved intrigued Albert even more. “She is a kind, gentle and well-read, extremely rare in someone her age. I’ve learned so much about her after spending such a short time with her.” he told himself.
“Anne, I’d like to spend more time with you and show you around the area if you would permit me to.”
“I would like that, Albert,” she replied. “Very much.” When Anne felt she was settled and ready to be shown around Sky Valley, she told him.