Monday, December 10, 2007

Home by Christmas Part 5

Today's edition in our serial story is contributed by Andee S. Davis. Enjoy!

Griffin had thoroughly prepared himself to be rejected by those he loved, but spending more than a decade in the far reaches of the British Empire left him forgetful of local prejudices he’d conquered long ago.

Terrance swore under his breath. “You’re a complete fool, brother, bringing an Indian wife to our home.” He walked up to the servant and looked her over like a mare at market. Then he spun on his heels to inspect Verity, but his frowns failed to frighten her.

Griffin quickly covered the ground between himself and his daughter. A prayer forming in his mind, he held back angry words.

“This,” he intoned smoothly, indicating Disha, “is Verity’s maid. Disha has been with us since she served Verity’s mother as midwife. It may interest you to know, Terrence, that I chose her from among several candidates of baptized women selected by my vicar.”

He was rewarded with the sight of his brother’s foolish expression as Disha curtsied elegantly.

“I say, uh, well! At least he didn’t marry a foreigner.” Terrence chuckled weakly at Alicia. Turning back to Griffin, he stiffened at the expression on his face.

Griffin bent at once to his daughter. “Verity, Disha will take you up for a pot of chocolate.” Griffin’s voice was gentle, but there was an unmistakable edge to its timbre. “We will commence the tree-trimming when Grandfather returns from his ride.”

At their exit, Terrence turned his back and disappeared through another doorway.

Alicia touched Griffin’s sleeve in a timid way that reminded him of her as a child. Summoning a smile he didn’t feel, he allowed a small hug.

“Don’t worry about Terrence, Griff. You know how he is. One little upset in his routine can take days to overcome. We’re all glad to see you. The other thing,” and her voice trembled a little, “well, it’s Christmas. Let us simply be glad for all God’s blessings.”

Griffin led her to an upholstered settee flanked by graceful palms.

“Her name was Lila, the daughter of an English colonel and an Indian heiress. We lost her six years back, of a fever. Verity has her olive skin and black hair, though she has my eyes exactly.”

Alicia’s voice quivered. “I am so sorry for your loss, Griff. I wish we could have met.”

Griffin swallowed, but remained silent.

“She’s a beautiful child. I love her already. Have our parents been introduced?”

Griffin relaxed as a sarcastic smile stretched his lips. “Only Father. And fortunately for us, Father didn’t detect the foreign features. He was more interested in going for his ride. Mama hasn’t come down yet.”

“Oh! Mama will . . . Speaking of introductions, you will never guess who will be joining us here . . . no, never in a million years.” Alicia’s face broke into a grin as she wriggled a little in anticipation.

“Your family?”

“Of course, you will meet them. But no. Don’t you remember our childhood, how the two of us spent many hours roaming the estate, creating little fantasies and turning up late for tea, dirty as street urchins?”

Griffin laughed easily. “You and I and that chubby little Willowford girl, with the pretentious French name.”

“Indeed, it was Marguerite.”

Griffin roared with mirth. “That’s right, little fat Marguerite Hortense. Though what induced her to leave her sweetmeats and puddings to follow us around, I could never fathom.”

Alicia frowned her disapproval. “Now, Griff, that is not a charitable attitude . . .”

“I should say I’m sorry, but it was true. How she would whimper that she couldn’t keep up . . .” He stopped, suddenly wary, and groaned. “Not her! She is visiting, so soon after we arrive? Please, Alicia, you’ll keep her busy, won’t you?”

“None of us knew of your arrival, dear brother, so how could she? Besides, she has changed so much, you’d never recognize her.”

“Ah, the plump little pigeon has become a graceful swan. Thinned out a little, has she? I beg forgiveness, Alicia, of course she’d have . . . improved.”

“Now that’s better, Griff, and much more gentlemanlike. It’s true, she will never have a twenty-inch waist, but not every woman has a willowy stature.”

“Despite her surname, you mean?”

He knew he well deserved the little punch Alicia aimed at his shoulder.

“She is expected at any moment, and I expect you . . .”

The interruption came from Jones, who was closing the hall doors against the wintry wind. “The Lady Marguerite Hortense, of Willowford Hall.”

Griffin stood for the proper introductions, taking a steadying breath and promising his heavenly Father he would be kind.

Alicia’s glad cries were muffled by her friend’s woolen wraps. Barely able to distinguish the guest from his sister, he waited until they parted from a hearty embrace.

“Maggie, allow me to present my brother, Griffin. He has only just arrived home as well, and our hearts are gladdened at his presence.”

A maid removed Lady Marguerite’s cloak, and Griffin stood as one petrified.

She was, indeed, the little friend from childhood, he could see it in her eyes. But in every other way she bore little resemblance to the frumpy child he’d practically ignored growing up.

Before him stood a lady of stately posture and graceful carriage. His eyes swept unbidden, from her round face on a lithe neck to the fullness of her bosom and generous hips tastefully adorned by blue velvet. Her laugh was gentle and demure, and with a silky, low voice she greeted him.

“Of course, Griffin! Never could I forget my dear neighbor from childhood. What a delightful surprise.”

Her arms were round and creamy, the hand she offered him soft and round, as well. He stared again at the rosy cheeks and snapping black eyes, and a tiny dimple at the corner of her red mouth, and found that not a single word would escape from his lips.

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