The Brahmin Ball (A Sweet Historical Romance Novella) (Brahmin Brides Book 1) (7 page)

BOOK: The Brahmin Ball (A Sweet Historical Romance Novella) (Brahmin Brides Book 1)
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Chapter Twelve

 

 

 

January, 1887

 

“Please, Grace, if you won’t go out, you must at least come downstairs today,” Madeline urged. She sat in one of the wingback chairs by the window, impatiently waiting for Grace to finish breakfast so she could bring down the tray. “Mother has been harping on us all day. Uncle has been making noises about the fact that you haven’t been out of the house in two weeks. He keeps telling Mother that he isn’t running an inn, and that it’s about time her daughters found their place in society.”

Madeline was worried about her sister. It was so unlike her to give up hope and hide herself away. She hadn’t even attended the latest planning committee for the widows’ fund.

“I came down on Christmas Day.”

“But you didn’t attend services. And you moped around the whole time, and annoyed Aunt Alice. Then you stayed up here all through New Year’s. Uncle is having quite a fit over it all.”

“One would think he would have more feelings for his own flesh and blood,” Grace muttered, setting the tray to the side on her bed and pulling her covers up to her stomach. “Why should you care what I do? You and Clara have obediently attended social events with Mother, despite the mortification that I know each event has become for you. So what does it matter to you if I stay here?”

Madeline sighed. “You may feel it’s not my business, but Uncle’s innuendos toward Mother that we are a burden to him has driven her to distraction. And so she turns her ire on us, and has nagged Clara and I all morning. It’s unbearable, Grace. I beg of you, please come down for dinner, at the very least. It will show that you’re making progress.”

“Progress? Toward what? You’ve said it before, we will end up old maids at this rate.”

“I didn’t mean it. You and I both know that if worst comes to worst, there will always be some rich factory owner or other person who has made their money as a merchant, and would be eager for a high society wife, even one who isn’t accepted as well as she once was. They’ve plenty of money, and that would be better than poverty or spinsterhood.” Madeline’s nose wrinkled as she said it.

Grace fixed her with a wry smile. “Dear sister, you mean well, but you and I both know that you would spend your life as a spinster, rather than suffer the disdain of our Brahmin peers by marrying into new money.”

Madeline blushed, chagrined. “Perhaps. But Uncle may toss us both out in the street if we settle on spinsterhood.”

“I never said I
want
to be a spinster. I just…I simply can’t seem to gather the fortitude to face the world again. Not yet.”

“I can’t blame you for that sentiment—I feel much the same. But hiding will do us no good. If we want to choose our own future, we must examine our options and take action, before Uncle forces our hand.”

“I can’t even begin to think of the future,” Grace mumbled, looking down at her hands in her lap. “After Mr. Gladstone’s rejection…everything just seems so…pointless.”

Madeline stood and moved to sit on the edge of Grace’s bed. “I worry about you. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this way. Not even after…” she trailed off.

“After Winston died. You can say it.”

“It’s just…you missed him so much, and you were devastated at his loss. I remember the many tears you cried. And yet…somehow I don’t think I ever saw you so withdrawn. Upset, yes. But this? Grace, you seem to have lost a part of yourself. You’re so apathetic and withdrawn, and I don’t understand it. You knew him only one night! How can his rejection of you hurt more deeply than the death of your fiancé?”

“I never said it hurt more deeply! You don’t understand…Winston was my fiancé, and I loved him. I truly did. But it was a love that grew over time, starting as friendship, developing into a girlish attraction, and eventually, over a long courtship, it became love. He was dear to me, but to be honest, I always wondered how he would feel about me if I wasn’t a Barstow. I cared about him, and I would have married him even if he wasn’t an Endicott. At least, I would have, if I had any say in it. Mother might have locked me in the attic if he was a mere factory owner.”

Madeline smiled. “I thought Clara and I were doomed, back then. You landed an Endicott, and I thought we’d never hear the end of it.”

“That’s just it! Don’t you see? Too often, it’s all about a man’s name, his family background, the way he has attained his money. If our financial ruin had come while Winston was still alive, would he have married me anyway? Perhaps he
might
have gone through with it if the wedding was drawing near…but would he have proposed in the first place, if our true situation had been revealed back then?”

Madeline looked away, masking her expression. One could never tell what a man might do. They’d both learned that lesson.

“I can see by your face that you’re unsure. I’m not sure, either. I’ve thought of that often, since Mother told us the about our finances. And I realized just how much it means to me that the man I marry wants me—the real
me
, and not just Chandler Barstow’s daughter.

“And Mother calls
me
the idealist,” Madeline chuckled.

“This is not a joke to me!” Grace snapped, sitting forward. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life joined to a man who married me for my station, or for what my father’s old connections can do for him, or because I’m still just barely high enough in society to be considered worthy. How can I bear children for a man who sees me as no more than a trophy on his wall?”

“Don’t you think you’re exaggerating a little? Hasn’t that always been the way it is?”

“I don’t think it is. Not for everybody. I saw a couple walking down the sidewalk the other day, gazing up at the houses and pointing, as if admiring them. Their clothing was neat and clean, but even from my window I could see by their manner of dress that they didn’t belong in the neighborhood. I saw the love in their expression, the way they looked at one another. We think of ourselves as privileged, as better than anyone else, and perhaps those among us with less pride only think ourselves to be more fortunate than others. But
are
we?”


We
are not,” Madeline pouted. “We live on the good graces of our Uncle.”

Grace waved away her sister’s complaints. “We still live in an excellent home, eat fine foods, wear fine clothing...at least until it wears out. We still have the chance to marry reasonably wealthy men. But common people do not. They don’t have the advantages we have…but have we ever thought that maybe we don’t have the advantages
they
have?”

Madeline’s eyes widened, before she let a small laugh slip past her lips. “Advantages? To being
poor?
What could those be?”

“I didn’t specifically mean the poor, but they, as well as those of the working class, have the freedom to choose their spouses based on love, and not the expectations of society.”

“I think you’re romanticizing the lower classes. Do you really believe they don’t expect their children to marry someone of equal station? Do you think a shopkeeper won’t balk if his daughter wants to marry a factory worker?” Madeline shook her head. “Perhaps the only class who has no expectations are the poorest class, and even then, I should think the mothers want their daughters to marry the least poor young man that they know. Grace, I dreamed through my youth of marrying a man who would sweep me off my feet. One who saw me for who I truly am, and loved the person that he saw. But that’s just for fairytales, isn’t it?”

“Why does it have to be? Why is it so terrible that a girl marry someone slightly lower? After all, isn’t that why we’re in this predicament? Because too many Brahmin men want a wife of equal or higher station, and we have fallen, in their eyes?”

Madeline pursed her lips, frowning with thought. “You make a good point. But still, you hardly knew this man.”

“I thought I knew him. I thought I learned a great deal about the kind of man he was, from our conversations. He made me feel special. I felt, for the first time, that a man truly saw me, and not just my name. He is a hard working, generous, kind man. He met me once, four years ago, and remembers me still! And I somehow got the impression that he never stopped wanting to get to know me, all those years, but that circumstances got in the way.” She turned her face toward the window. “I suppose I was wrong. I was foolish. I was hurt when Clara told me he’d courted another woman in the interim of those four years. How silly is that?”

She turned back to Madeline, laughing even as a tear slipped down her cheek. “When I’d been courted and been engaged, sat by my fiancé’s sick bed, endured his death, and then mourned his loss…all during that same time? I suppose you’re right. I
have
been romanticizing things in my mind. Especially given Mr. Gladstone’s behavior the night of the ball. Perhaps he didn’t even leave because of me. Perhaps when Felicia spoke with him, she was telling him that she wanted to give him another chance. Perhaps he didn’t leave because of my financial ruin, but because I never was good enough in the first place.”

“I’ve heard enough!” Madeline snapped, vaulting to her feet. “Don’t ever let me hear you say that again. You are Grace Barstow! You’re the closest thing to a saint that I know, and I will not let you run your self-confidence into the ground over a man you hardly know!” She leaned over Grace, wagging a finger at her. “It’s pathetic, sitting here and pining over a man who tossed you aside like yesterday’s garbage. He probably only wanted your money in the first place, and left when he found you had none! He’s an
attorney
, Grace. He’s
nothing.”

“You don’t know him!” Grace cried. “You don’t understand! You’re making my point for me—who cares who his parents were? I cared about him. I thought he cared about me. That’s all that should matter!”

“But he
doesn’t
care about you, Grace, you said it yourself. He’s a selfish man who toyed with your emotions, and cast you aside when his richer ex-fiancée glanced in his direction. Just get out of bed and stop feeling sorry for yourself!”

Madeline pulled the covers away from Grace, who snatched at them, tugging them back up.

“Sorry for myself? That’s a laugh, Madeline! You’ve been full of self-pity from the moment Mother revealed the truth. In fact, you’re probably half the reason she hid it for so long. You’re as bad as the rest of them, worried about what everyone thinks. You had a wonderful man ready to spend his life with you, but you lost him because you dragged your feet—you cared too much about the fact that society would see him as unworthy.”

“I never loved Dalton, so what did I lose?” Madeline tugged harder, surprised at her willowy sister’s strength. “Now, get out of the bed!”

“You never gave him a chance,” Grace spat, yanking the covers back up. “He was a nice man.”

“How nice was he, really? He threw me over just like Garrett through you over! Both of them should be as nothing in our eyes!” Madeline braced a foot against the bed. “Don’t make me get Clara up here! We’ll drag you downstairs, right in front of the servants!”

“You wouldn’t dare. You’re too spoiled and proud to embarrass yourself that way. You always have been. So go on, find yourself a rich man to marry, who doesn’t love you. I’d rather die alone than marry just to impress people who care not a whit for us, in times of trial.”

Furious, Madeline let go, and Grace fell back against the carved wooden headboard with a thud.

“Ow!” Grace cried, reaching up to rub the back of her head.

“You deserve it. How dare you speak to me like that? I came up here to help you, because I love you and I hate to see you doing this to yourself.”

“You came up here to coerce me into leaving my room so Mother would stop nagging you.”

“Very well. Wallow in your self-pity. But don’t expect Clara or I to carry you the rest of your life because you were too selfish to think about anyone else’s future but your own! We have a mother to care for. What will happen to her if Uncle decides he’s tired of looking after his wife’s sister? Will you let Clara and I bear that burden? And the burden of a spinster sister, as well? Think on
that
, while you wallow, dear sister.”

She turned on her heel and stalked out of the room, so angry that she stooped as low as slamming the door behind her.

Madeline rushed down the steps, fetching her coat and ignoring her mother’s annoyed chiding about the noise. Instead, she swept past Miriam and left the house, slowing her steps as she descended to the sidewalk.

She assumed a calm expression—her public face—as she slipped into her coat and buttoned it, then flipped up the collar against the wind and turned left, leaving the wind at her back.

Of all the nerve...I try to help her, and she calls me spoiled and prideful? At least I’m not a selfish, melancholy brat.
She stalked down the brick walk, trying not to let her emotions get the best of her.

It took two blocks of walking before she calmed down enough to think, and two more before she realized that it was
she
who was the brat, not Grace.

Grace is right. I
am
spoiled. I lost Father, but she lost both Winston
and
Father in the span of a few months. And now she’s been spurned publicly by a man who—in addition to being unworthy of her—has thrown her over instantly for a better catch.

BOOK: The Brahmin Ball (A Sweet Historical Romance Novella) (Brahmin Brides Book 1)
12.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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