Barton Cottage By A.P. Maddox
© A.P. Maddox 2017
Barton Cottage is an adaptation of one of Jane Austen’s most beautiful and beloved classics—Sense and Sensibility—reimagined and set in the picturesque Piedmont of modern-day North Carolina. Follow Caroline & Ashelynn Hathcock as they leave their family home, lose their hearts and navigate their way through life’s challenges.
A few of you may remember this story originally published a few years back under a different title by this author. Contract canceled by the author, it has been reworked and retitled to be shared here.
Barton Cottage will be posted on the Little CAB Press blog—one chapter at a time—in 28 parts, from now until December 21, the end of which culminates in the Christmas season!
(YA/NA fiction/romance, Reading level: grade 7, Words: 2387)
Volume 1 Leaving Northland
Chapter 2 Dottie Burroughs-Hathcock
The next morning a furiously ringing doorbell awakened the Hathcock ladies as they slept in—Ashelynn and Maggie weren’t ready to return to school just yet and had taken one more day off to dry tears and improve their countenances.
They met Frank in the hallway as they headed toward the door.
“You look dressed for a day at work,” Sarah commented to Frank.
“Taking a trip to the office,” he answered.
“Law firm or Hathcock business?” she asked.
“Hathcock,” he said, pulling on his suit coat as they walked. “Headed into Asheville this morning.”
“Good, you’ll do well at the helm Frank,” she said, patting him on the back with encouragement. “Your father would be proud.”
He smiled gratefully. “Thank you. Father began preparing me when he discovered he was sick. I hope I’m ready to fill his shoes.”
“How are you going to juggle the law firm and Hathcock enterprises?” she asked.
They reached the door before he could answer. Frank opened it to find his wife Dottie and son James.
“Dearest!” Frank said in surprise, as James wrapped his dad’s legs in a hug.
“Hello,” Dottie called in a boisterous voice coming through the door.
The girls made way as Dottie pushed through like a princess parting a crowd.
“Hello Dottie,” Sarah said.
“My dears,” Dottie said pulling each to her, one at a time and making a kissing sound to the sides of their faces—except for Maggie whose head she patted. Maggie stepped back with furrowed brow.
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it to the funeral,” she said. “Little James’s preschool schedule simply wouldn’t allow it. Besides, I had a speaking engagement at the Women’s Club yesterday and they couldn’t let me out of it. But since James’s preschool is always out on Fridays, here I am!”
“And you must have gotten an early start too,” Frank commented. “It’s only nine o’clock in the morning.”
“With so much to do, there’s no time to waste is there?” Dottie said, smiling and looking around as if sizing up the place—though she had been to Northland many times before.
“Oh, well, why don’t you and James relax after your long drive,” Frank said. “I’m sure there are milk and muffins or something in the kitchen. I was actually heading out to the office for a while but I shouldn’t be too long.” He nodded to his step-mother as though enlisting her help.
“Yes,” Sarah spoke up, taking the cue. “I believe we have blueberry and banana nut muffins. Are you hungry James?” she asked, offering her hand toward him.
He nodded excitedly and was about to take it when Dottie scooped him up. “Don’t disappoint us,” she protested to Frank, with pouted lips. “We’ve come all this way to spend the day with you. Can’t your business wait till Monday?”
“It’s just a quick errand. I’ll pop in, show my face, get up to speed on all the latest and be right back. You’d barely have time to miss me,” Frank gently argued.
“Surely all of that can wait till Monday,” Dottie said as if the matter was settled. “Help us bring our luggage in, won’t you girls?” she asked, putting James down and towing her husband to the car.
“Well… I… I… suppose so…” Frank said, relenting. He glanced at his sisters, the generous gift would have to wait.
“I packed some more of your things too Darling,” Dottie told her husband as he opened the trunk and drew out two suitcases.
“I don’t like the look of this,” Ashelynn grumbled to Caroline. “Looks like they have enough to stay for weeks!”
“Are they moving in?” Maggie asked in a whisper.
“Keep your voices down girls,” Sarah warned in a hushed tone. With arms loaded they trailed behind Dottie and Frank toward the guest rooms. “Frank said he wasn’t moving his family here. I’m sure it’s just a visit and I expect you to be on your best behavior.”
“I hope Mom’s right,” Ashelynn said in a low voice.
“I’m sure she is,” Caroline added.
The girls observed from a window seat upstairs as Dottie toured the grounds alongside her accommodating husband, carrying a clipboard and writing things down.
“What’s she doing?” Maggie asked.
Ashelynn crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know but I have a sneaky feeling we aren’t going to like it.”
“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Caroline said smiling and rubbing Maggie’s shoulders.
Frank and Dottie returned inside where Dottie continued her touring, observations, and notetaking. As they made their way upstairs, the girls retreated to Caroline’s bedroom.
Caroline and Maggie sat on the bed, Caroline brushing Maggie’s hair as Ashelynn browsed through Caroline’s closet.
“You have so many cute things you never wear,” Ashelynn said. “Like this red top.” She lifted the hanger from the rod and went to the mirror admiring the top in front of herself.
“It’s a little small for me,” Caroline said. “You can have it if you’d like.”
Just then the door swung open, startling the girls. Ashelynn dropped the top and Maggie shrieked as Caroline tugged a bit of hair when she jumped.
Dottie stepped in—apologetic looking Frank behind her.
“Oh, is this your room Caroline?” Dottie asked.
“Dear, perhaps we should have knocked first,” Frank suggested.
“I just want to take a peek around, I’m sure Caroline doesn’t mind,” Dottie said.
Caroline stared as Dottie checked out the closets and the attached bathroom and paced the room, foot to foot, to determine the size.
“What a lovely room,” Dottie commented, “and so close to the Master suite. Well, see you girls later.”
The girls sat open-mouthed for several moments before Caroline said, “Ashelynn, I think you’re right, we aren’t going to like this.”
At dinner that evening Dottie praised the day spent at Northland. “Such a beautiful old house and such lovely grounds. Your family has kept it up nicely.”
Sarah smiled. “Thank you. We’ve done our best and have employed some very trusty landscapers and housekeepers; they deserve the credit.”
“Yes indeed,” Dottie agreed. “I’ll have to get their numbers from you.”
“Oh, I don’t think they work in Charlotte though,” Sarah said, confused.
Dottie nodded, took a bite of chicken, and swallowed before continuing. “Yes, well, I didn’t mean to have them come to Charlotte dear. I saw a couple of changes I’d like to make here and there as we were looking around today.”
“Oh, I see,” Sarah slowly muttered as an awkward silence crept over the room.
Dottie had everyone’s attention as she continued. “We’ll have the landscapers out to begin making some slight changes to the grounds but there are a few changes I’d like to make inside as well. Nothing big, but it will require some changing of rooms… Mrs. Hathcock,” she called politely across the table in a sugary sweet voice, “if I could get you to move your things into one of the guest rooms, that would be much appreciated. I’ll have someone here first thing Monday to begin remodeling the master suite. And Caroline, I’ll need you to move out of your bedroom as well, please. Since your room is the largest, I’m going to remodel it for little James. He’s the new heir. You understand I’m sure. You can take that room on the other side of Ashelynn’s—the one with the connecting bathroom. That’ll be perfect for two sisters.”
Maggie’s eyes were wide with a questioning look and Ashelynn’s face beheld a look as if to say, “I told you this was bad!” Caroline began to realize she and her mother had been wrong.
After a pause, Sarah said, “Forgive us Dottie but I think we are all a little confused. Frank mentioned your family would be staying in Charlotte. It seems however you are…”
“Moving in?” Dottie interrupted with a triumphant grin. “That’s right dear, we are!”
Sarah looked immediately at Frank, his face had a look of surprise.
“I knew it,” Maggie said, leaving the table and stomping out of the room.
“If you’ll please excuse us,” Sarah said as she, Caroline and Ashelynn followed.
Maggie stomped and cried all the way to her room, where the others caught up with her. They stepped inside and shut the door behind them.
“Frank lied!” Maggie hollered.
“I can’t believe this!” Ashelynn railed.
“I don’t understand why,” Caroline said.
Sarah cut in. “First of all, I don’t think Frank lied. I saw his face and he’s just as surprised as we are.”
A soft knock was heard on the door and Sarah went to answer. Frank stood in the hallway. Sarah stepped out. The girls tried to listen but the voices were soft and difficult to hear.
Sarah came back in. “Frank just gave me his apologies but confirmed Dottie’s wishes to move to Northland. He says she intends to keep both houses and travel back and forth at their leisure.”
“After Frank promised us they wouldn’t.” Ashelynn groaned.
Tears began rolling down Maggie’s cheeks and Caroline pulled her onto her lap. “It’s okay,” Caroline whispered, “at least you don’t have to change rooms. You get to keep yours.”
Sarah took a deep breath before saying, “Caroline’s right! And perhaps it’s better this way. We’ll be in the east wing and they’ll be in the west. They on their side, us on ours and we won’t have to bother each other. This is still our home! Frank said so and I’m sure everything will work out somehow. Now, let’s have our prayers and get a good night’s sleep!”
The next morning Dottie barked orders as the Hathcock women complied with instructions of moving Sarah and Caroline’s rooms. They lugged boxes of clothing, furniture, and beds down long hallways. Dottie further shocked them by detailing her plans to remodel the rest of the house as well. Old wood was to be torn out, old flooring pulled up and windows and furnishings replaced—all was to be redone and made over. It was clear, Dottie was taking over.
Maggie began to look tired so Sarah suggested she take little James to play in the garden while they finished up.
After a long morning of work, Sarah, Ashelynn, and Caroline took refuge in the parlor.
“Living in this house with that woman running things is sure going to be hard!” Sarah stated. “Moving us around like we were unwanted furniture.”
“I can’t believe Frank is allowing her to do this to us,” Ashelynn complained. “He seems to want to please his wife more than he cares for any of us.”
“He obviously didn’t know Dottie’s plans,” Caroline spoke up. “She wants to turn Northland into a show house just like her home in Charlotte.”
“Yes, and she’ll have the place crawling with magazine crews!” Sarah said while Ashelynn moaned her discontent.
“I know this is upsetting but what do you suggest we do?” Caroline asked. “The house belongs to them now; we don’t seem to have any choice other than to get along and make do.”
“We may be forced to make a difficult choice.” Their mother contemplated. “We may have to make the choice to move!”
Ashelynn gasped and Caroline let out a heavy sigh.
“Two thousand dollars a month will be tight to get a house and pay expenses for the four of us Mom,” Caroline said.
“You’re right,” Sarah agreed. “But remember Frank’s promise to your father? Perhaps he’ll help us to pay for a place of our own.”
“Anything’s better than living with her,” Ashelynn said.
But Caroline offered a gentle argument. “Things seem stressful now because of all the changes being dumped on us, but maybe after things calm down it won’t be so bad.”
Just then Dottie came into the room and they quickly hushed their conversation.
“I found your hiding place,” Dottie said laughing. “Oh, what is that?” she asked pointing to the painting above the fireplace.
“I painted it from our family portrait,” Caroline said.
Dottie cocked her head to the side. “You do lovely work, Caroline.”
“Thank you,” Caroline was about to say before Dottie cut her off.
“But it will have to find another place of honor, perhaps in your new room Mrs. Hathcock. I’ll have photographers out next week to take a new portrait of Frank, little James and myself to hang over the fireplace.” Dottie smiled, turned, and left the room.
Ashelynn shot a look at Caroline. “You see?” she said.
Later Dottie found her husband in the office and began detailing the whole of her plans for the house remodel. This led to a discussion about the finances of the estate, which in turn led to Dottie’s inquiry about the monetary provisions for Mrs. Hathcock and her daughters.
Frank let her know of the original allowance and began to explain the promise he made to his father to take care of any extra expenses they may have.
“I’m going to double the amount of the yearly allowance,” Frank said.
“Double it?” Dottie questioned in astonishment. “What could they possibly do with that much money? They have no mortgage, no rent, no utilities, no living expenses—they will have no need for so much money. It’s silly to offer them such a large sum.”
“Well, dear, I was thinking of the girls’ educations,” he said, in an effort to justify himself. “Caroline and Ashelynn have partial scholarships but that doesn’t cover everything. There are books and transportation and so many other costs involved in going to college and I can only imagine how many other expenses are involved in raising teenage girls these days.”
“There’ll be other resources available to them I’m sure,” Dottie argued. “They can use student loans or some other form of assistance. You are providing them with a home and they’re well taken care of here. Throwing extra money at them will be wasteful.”
Frank took his wife’s arguments into account and finally had to concede his sisters were comfortable and cared for at Northland. “You do make a very good point, my dear,” he said. He always wanted his wife’s approval and wished for nothing greater than to please her. “I guess I must agree, the original allowance will do fine.”
A self-congratulatory grin lit up Dottie’s face as she proudly patted her husband on the shoulder.
Up next in Chapter 3: A handsome face and a dinner party
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