Marian's Christmas Wish

BOOK: Marian's Christmas Wish
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A VOW NOT TO LOVE

Miss Marian Wynswich had not been raised to be a proper
young lady. Instead she had been educated to be as good as any man in
everything from reading Greek to playing chess.

Thus it was with dismay that she saw what falling in
love could do to the most sensible of females, as she watched her sister
Ariadne turn giddy when a gentleman captured her heart. Never, Marian vowed,
would she ever commit that feminine folly.

Then the dashing Lord Gilbert Ingraham came to pay a
Christmas visit. And the question was not only if this worldly lord would make
Marian break her vow...it was also if this man who could have any woman he
wanted would also break her heart....

Marian’s Christmas Wish

Carla Kelly

A
SIGNET
BOOK

MEW AMERICAN LIBRARY

A DIVISION OF PENGUIN BOOKS USA
INC.

 

To
my husband

 

Copyright
©
1989
by
Carla
Kelly

All
rights
reserved

 

CONTENTS

Prologue
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

 

Of all the agonies of life,
that which is most poignant and harrowing

—that which for the time
annihilates reason

and leaves our whole
organization one lacerated, mangled heart—

is the conviction that we have
been deceived where we placed all the trust of love.

William
Henry Bulwer, British diplomat

Prologue

“Ariadne, you don’t really think that Mama—our mama—has
written to Percy, do you?”

Marian Wynswich looked to her elder sister for an
answer, but Ariadne only frowned and twitched her shawl up higher around her
shoulders. Marian rummaged through the wooden crate on the floor and pulled out
another red streamer, one of many jerked off the walls and stuffed into the box
after Papa had drunk too deep of Squire Edgerton’s eggnog and took a fence too
high coming home last Christmas Eve.

She shook off the streamer and handed the end of it to
her sister, who pulled it from the box. “Oh, Ariadne, it is too bad,” she
exclaimed. “Everything is limp and wrinkled. Who would have thought that one
year could do so much damage? It is too bad,” she repeated, and then added in a
softer voice, “And I do think Mama has written to Percy. I truly think she has
begged him to come home from the treaty talks and bring a suitor with him for
you.”

Ariadne sighed. “At least he is coming home, my dear. I
never thought he would receive permission, considering . . .”

“. . . how very junior he is,” Marian finished. “But
Ariadne,
who
would want
to hang around Ghent at Christmastime except the Americans, and heaven knows
they
can’t be home in a week! And
didn’t Percy tell us last time he was home that just the poor folk who must
make the fair copies, and the poor folk who must sign them have to see it
through to the bitter end?” She tugged another bow from the box. “How
comforting that Percy is in the middle.” She leaned forward and spoke almost in
a whisper. “And I am sure he is bringing home a suitor.”

“Marian! You can’t be sure of that, you know you can’t,”
Ariadne burst out, even as she lowered her voice and looked about to make sure
that no one had overheard her unladylike exhibition. “Did Mama ask for your
help in composing such a letter? You know what a dreadful speller she is and
how her thoughts sometimes twist themselves in such an amazing way.”

Marian leapt to her feet and stretched the streamer out
across the floor. “No, she has said nothing to me. And she did not come to you,
did she, for help to copy it out and make her blots and squiggles all right and
tight?”

Ariadne shook her head, and her glowing chestnut
ringlets danced about her ears. “Then what makes you think she has written to
our brother about . . . you know
...”

Marian sighed and stared out the window, where the rain
thrummed down. “She has taken to giving us those arch little looks of hers. You
know, the ones she employs when she is onto something and we are not.” She
pulled the streamer toward her again, gathering it into a tidy ball, her hands
moving rapidly as her agitation increased. “Oh, depend upon it, Ariadne, she
means for you to be married—or engaged, surely—before this Christmas season
ends. And I say it is too bad!”

A long silence passed between the sisters. Marian
returned her attention to the satin streamer, which she bound with a bit of
twine and put aside. She peeked a look at Ariadne, beautiful Ariadne, who sat
with her head bowed and turned a little to one side, her dark eyelashes
brushing her pale cheek, her lips curved downward. The Wynswich women had
abandoned their deepest mourning for pale gray now, and Ariadne looked like a
dove, a dove that drooped and languished on Mama’s favorite fainting couch.

Marian came to Ariadne, sitting beside her and wrapping
her arms about her older sister in an oddly protective gesture. “Can you not
see, Ari, dear? You must get Sam Beddoe to come up to scratch. Perhaps if Percy
understood the way things are
...”
She
sighed in turn and released her grip.

“But S—the reverend is so poor, my dear,” Ariadne
began.

“The worst part is that he is shy and has a hen’s heart
when it comes to the thought of facing our ‘fearsome’ brother,” Marian
interrupted, and then giggled. “Percy would stare his eyeballs out if he knew
how terrified Sam is.”

“I still contend Sam would be braver if he had more
than a competence to live upon,” said Ariadne.

Their argument always took them to this point, but no
further. “Oh, let us face it, Ariadne. How on earth can Percy dredge up someone
rich enough—no matter how Mama schemes—to put a little heart into this estate?
And into us,” she added under her breath.

There was no answer from the fainting couch. Without a
word, both sisters returned to the Christmas box. To the side, in its own
pasteboard container, was a thinner box. The Wynswich sisters looked at each
other.

“Oh, I cannot,” said Ariadne. “You open it.”

Marian took a deep breath and pulled the twine that
bound the box. She laid it flat on the floor and lifted out the wreath, hoping
that Ariadne would not notice how her hands trembled. She felt her breath come
in little gasps as she smoothed out the red bow and touched the circled
branches, cunningly fashioned of silken leaves and copper wires. It was the
wreath her father,
Bertram
Wynswich, had brought home from
London and presented to his daughters with such a flourish. They had put it
up the afternoon he rode over to Squire Edgerton’s, and he never lived to see
it on the door.

“Better late than never,” she said, “especially since
we must practice economy. I shall ask Billings to hang it at once. Don’t
be
a
goose, Ariadne. You know Papa
would call you missish it you cried.”

Wreath in hand, she marched into the front hall,
grateful that no one was there to see her own tears glistening on eyelashes
equally
as
long as Ariadne’s. She dabbed at her eyes with the corner of her apron and set
the wreath on the hall table, reviewing in her mind the black wreath of last
Christmas and the black bunting decorating the doors and outer windows. She
clasped her hands tight in front of her and saw again the rainsoaked streamers
that ran dark tears until the whole house seemed to mourn a death in that
season of birth.

“And all for you, Papa,” she whispered. “How could you
do this to us?”

She glanced about her, hopeful that no one listened.
There was only Ariadne in the drawing room, still draped gracefully on the
fainting couch, indulging in the bliss of sobs and sniffles. Marian watched
her, and a smile of wonderment came to her face. How do you do that, Ariadne
dear? she thought. How is it that you can cry and still your face is beautiful?

With no rancor, but rather a grudging admiration, she
reflected again how unfair life was. How was it that she, Marian Wynswich of
Covenden Hall, could sob and rant and look like a thresher suffering from hay
fever, while Ariadne only appeared delicate and mysterious?

She had accused Ariadne of practicing such art in front
of the mirror, and while Ariadne had looked at her in surprise, she had not
denied the accusation. In silence, Marian watched her sister on the couch and
thought that it was high time she learned such an art. For one of us must nab a
Croesus of a husband, she thought, and Ariadne, you would prefer the vicar.

Oh, the devil take matrimony, she thought crossly, and
then repented immediately, at least in Ariadne’s case. There was no one finer
than Sam Beddoe, even if church mice did have more inheritance than he.

But somewhere we have to find a rich man, she thought,
someone to take away that sting of Papa’s years and years of borrowing to
support his horses and his races, his bets and his opera dancers. Someone who
knows something about the mysteries of ‘Change, and who won’t squander the
tatters of the family fortune on treasure-hunting in the Azores, or nonexistent
gold mines in Bolivia. Someone to keep Mama from writing desperate,
tear-stained letters to dear Percy, who likely had troubles enough of his own,
especially with Napoleon twiddling his thumbs on Elba and the rest of the world
gone slightly cock-eyed.

She hesitated. Perhaps her mother had not written to
Percy in Ghent at the treaty talks, after all. Perhaps if they lived tighter
and held household better, it could wait just this little while. Surely things
would look better in the spring.

Marian brightened and entered the room again. January
was an excellent month in which to put away childish things and begin her own
practice in front of the mirror. She would not squander her Christmas thinking
of suitors, or family debts, or twice-turned gowns. Such cold-eyed reflections
would be the business of January.

Marian Wynswich meant to enjoy this Christmas.

BOOK: Marian's Christmas Wish
13.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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