Friday, February 21, 2020

The Spinster's Christmas - Chapter 7b #Christianfiction #Regency #romance

I’m posting my Regency romance, The Spinster's Christmas, so all my blog readers get a chance to read it! It’s the Prequel novel to my Lady Wynwood’s Spies series.

A Regency romantic mystery

Miranda Belmoore has never felt attuned to the rest of society. Her family has never understood her blunt speech and unwillingness to bow to conventional strictures, and so they have always made her feel that there is something wrong with her. Now as a poor relation in her cousin’s house, she makes plans to escape a life of drudgery and disdain from her own family members.

Naval Captain Gerard Foremont is having difficulty adjusting to life back on land, frustrated that his career has been cut short by his severely injured knee. Guilt haunts him as he sees the strain his long convalescence has had upon his parents. As they spend Christmastide with the Belmoores, he wants to help fulfill his mother’s wish to have her orphaned niece come to stay with them.

However, an enemy has infiltrated the family party, bent on revenge and determined that Twelfth Night will end in someone’s death …

All the posted parts are listed here.

***

Chapter 7b

The servants began to serve the food, and Miranda was hard pressed to keep Paul, seated on her other side, from taking an entire leg of pheasant onto his plate. There was also roast beef, venison, goose, pork, pigeons, chicken, and fish. Miranda forced Paul to take some vegetables, which was much less difficult than it might have been had there not been so many to choose from, including carrots, lettuces, parsnips, celery, leeks, and cabbage.

Paul attacked his plate like a savage. Miranda considered admonishing him, but then decided that surely bad table manners were excused at Christmastide. Instead, she turned to her great-aunt. “Did Mrs. Seager’s son and his family come up from London?” She did not wish to open with the question she most wanted answered, and hoped to distract her aunt with her favourite topic—her neighbors’ affairs.

“No, not this year, for they are promised to his wife’s family. Mrs. Seager was feeling quite low when last I heard from her. And her nephew is in the navy, apparently fighting off a horde of mosquitoes in India, so her family gathering is small this year.”

Aunt Lavinia rambled on, not only about Mrs. Seager’s family, but also about the Drews, the Barnes, and the Wilsons as her mind wandered down its twisting trail of news.

During a lull in the conversation, Miranda asked, “Aunt, would any of your friends perhaps have need of a companion or governess?” She would prefer to accompany Ellie to the Foremont home, but she must still continue to search for a paid position that would enable her to escape Felicity, or the Beattys.

Her aunt’s eyebrows rose as her fork halted halfway to her mouth. “Good to see some pluck in you after all, my dear.”

Miranda smiled. “You will not mention this to Cecil?”

“Good gracious, why should I do that? I try to avoid speaking to the blockhead as often as possible. And his termagant of a wife is just as bad.”

“I do wish to find a position as soon as may be, perhaps even before Twelfth Night.”

“I know of nothing at the moment, my dear, but I shall speak to my friends about it when I visit them. You should have written to me earlier.”

“I feared Cecil would intercept your reply.”

“Ah, yes, the nosy man still goes through all the post, does he? He’s just like his father.”

Except that Cecil’s mother had been a soft woman, indolent but not unkind. Felicity had run roughshod over her mother-in-law.

“Have you spoken to the rector’s new wife?” Aunt Lavinia asked. “Mrs. Barnes wrote to tell me all about her. Mrs. Peterson apparently married to disoblige her well-connected family, at least until her husband’s older brother unexpectedly became heir presumptive to an earldom. She may have friends in need of a companion or governess.”

“I believe she is attending the ball tonight.” Miranda need only attend to the children after dinner before she could return downstairs to the ball.

Miranda had not attended the ball last Christmas, during her first year with Cecil after her parents died. Felicity’s youngest son had developed a putrid sore throat and so Miranda had nursed him throughout Christmas Day. He had complained bitterly at missing the Christmas pudding.

“Speaking of Mrs. Barnes, her great-nephew is now a lieutenant in the army,” Aunt Lavinia said. “She just heard from him in a letter. He was foolish enough to be bitten by a dog. She is quite concerned, for she wrote to me, ‘Lavinia, you never know about these foreign dogs. They may carry exotic diseases.’ And I must say, I do believe she is correct.”

Finally, the servants removed the dinner dishes and the candles were extinguished. The children began squirming in their seats and whispering to each other.

With dramatic flair, the butler entered the dining room bearing the large, mounded Christmas pudding on a platter, aflame with a blazing blue light, with flickers of scarlet and orange. Miranda could smell the burning brandy, which also carried the scent of citrus peel and sugar. The adults applauded while the children cheered. Carefully, the butler set the pudding on the table.

The enormity of the pudding ensured that everyone had a generous portion. As happened every year, there were cries of delight and dismay as people found on their plates the trinkets that had been stirred into the pudding. This year, Felicity was delighted to find the silver shilling, signifying wealth, while Lady Wynwood found the button for a lucky life and one of Aunt Augusta’s younger sons was disgusted by the ring he found, which predicted marriage. Perhaps most appropriately, Gerard received the miniature anchor, meaning safe harbor found.

Paul eyed Miranda’s plate, which had a larger portion of pudding than his own, so she traded with him. And then her fork hit something hard, and she pulled out the silver thimble.

She stared at it. Although she knew it was only a game, just a silly tradition, she wanted to burst into tears—she, who tried never to show her emotions, to simply present a mask of calm to all the world, as if the barbs and stings did not bother her in the least. This barb was perhaps one of the worst, and yet it was entirely accidental.

One of the children crowed, “Miranda’s got the thimble!”

There was a single heartbeat of surprised, uncomfortable silence around the table. Then Miss Church-Pratton giggled.

Felicity quickly hissed at her, and she was silenced, but her laughter caused some of the children to mimic her. Sniggers and whispers erupted, and while one or two adults hushed their children, they responded slowly to the reprimands.

Miranda’s face flamed like the brandy-soaked pudding. Yet why should she be embarrassed? She was a spinster, as the thimble signified, and it was no secret that such was her fate. Her own parents had not been able to induce a man to offer for her when she had had a dowry, before the crops had failed and her father mortgaged the farm.

But a clawed hand gripped her heart, squeezing and digging into it. She closed her eyes, focused on her breathing, tried once more to reclaim the equanimity that was the only comfort she now had.

She opened her eyes. She picked up the thimble with fingers that shook only a little and wiped it with her napkin. She said the first thing that came to mind. “How fortuitous. I had need of a new thimble.”

A different type of laughter rippled along the table, with perhaps some relief that the moment had passed.

She did not know why, but she dared to look down the table at Gerard. He was staring at her, his eyes thunderous, concerned.

Miranda held his gaze, then gave a small smile. The lines along his brow relaxed, although he did not smile back.

“Good show, my girl.” Aunt Lavinia patted her hand. “The thimble is not only for spinsterhood. It also is for thrift, a woman who saves.”

She gave a short bark of laughter, which might have had a hint of hysteria in it. “I have no money to save, Aunt Lavinia. And no household to save it for.”

“It is not always money. Women save many things.”

A small hand crept into hers from her other side. She turned to meet Paul’s fierce look.

“When I am old enough, I shall marry you, Cousin Miranda,” he said. “Then they shall see they ought not to have laughed.”

“You darling boy.” She kissed the top of his head and wrapped her arm around him briefly.

Then she bent low to whisper in his ear. “Let’s play Snapdragon near Miss Church-Pratton’s skirt.”

***

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