No sooner had she identified such a look than it disappeared. “Let’s take this with us to the veranda, shall we?” he said. “Have a peek over dinner, before it gets too dark outside?”

She nodded, following him from the vault.

Minutes later Rebecca sat with the box on her lap. The sun set to the west, and the scent of a 150-year-old rose garden wafted on the air to mingle with the enticing smell of potted chicken, herb bread, and almond tarts.

Despite having been tucked away in an environmentally regulated vault, the words were fading, particularly along the creases. But they were still legible.

“It’s exciting, isn’t it?” she asked. “A portion of your family’s history is here, perhaps something you don’t yet know about.”

Quentin shrugged. “I confess I’ll be interested in contacting this American relative who inspired our search. Beyond that I haven’t nearly the fascination for the past that you—and the American, I presume—have. Read one.”

Rebecca obeyed. The letter on top was addressed in a neat, feminine script.

To Cosima Hamilton

“Not from your great-great-great-grandmother. To her. To Cosima.” Rebecca realized she’d reverently whispered only after the words left her mouth.

“From Berrie, I assume from the note,” he said. “That would be Beryl, from the portrait next to the one of Cosima and Peter Hamilton.”

Untying the ribbon, Rebecca gently opened the fragile envelope. Whatever wax had once sealed it had long since dried, leaving behind a faint blue shade. She glanced down the page. “It goes into some detail.”

“Let me,” he said, setting aside his cup. “It’s the only way I can prove I’m not bored by the topic, historical though it is, and at the same time give you a chance to eat.”

Rebecca put the letter into his outstretched hand, took a bite of the creamy chicken, then pushed it away and settled back in her chair.

She knew exactly what Beryl Hamilton had looked like. Berrie was forever young in Rebecca’s mind and lovely too. She had dark hair like her brother Peter’s, though she didn’t have his dark brown eyes. Rather, Berrie had unimaginably blue ones that somehow survived in Quentin today.

Rebecca had no trouble picturing what it was like on the day Berrie Hamilton had written that letter. . . .

Excerpted from On Sparrow Hill.  © 2008 by Maureen Lang.  Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.