A Christmas Ball to Remember
Gloria Munday sighed, fiddling with an unwanted crease in her black mourning dress.
Her mother, Esme, sat across from her, wiping at invisible crumbs on the bosom of a dress that almost identically matched her daughter’s.
The overcast sky offered little light for their small, pastel decorated morning room, and it matched the mood of the two women. Gloria wondered bitterly if the heavens had created such a dreary day just for them.
The tea they had been served sat largely untouched, as did the meager assortment of stale cakes sitting beside it. Apparently, Esme had no appetite, like her daughter.
When she finished brushing away the nonexistent crumbs from the single bite of cake she had taken, she began twirling a loose strand of her graying brown hair around her finger idly.
Gloria sighed again. The silence was oppressive, but what was there to say? Her mother’s and her grief hung over them like a cloud, even on sunny days, and felt colder than the wintertime temperatures outside, despite all the fireplaces burning in their home.
“I am dreading Christmastide, Mother,” she said, wincing as she spoke. She had meant to say something encouraging, something hopeful, rather than what she was really thinking.
The baroness nodded slowly, chewing her lip.
“I am too, darling,” she said, her voice carrying all the weight of a heartbroken woman. “It will be our first Christmas without your father.”
Gloria nodded, her eyes stinging with tears. She never forgot that her father was gone, but discussing it always made her cry.
“I do not know what I should hope for,” she said, dabbing at her eyes with her black handkerchief. “It would be healing to know Father’s body had been found before Christmas. But it would be terrible to know that there truly was no hope of finding him alive.”
The baroness shook her head, her face filled with unbearable sadness.
“Gloria, dear, you must not allow yourself to carry false hope,” she said. “The collapse in that part of the mine was total. The entire section caved in. None of the miners working the mine that day, including your father, could have possibly made it out alive. If they could have, they would have done so by now.”
Gloria’s lip trembled. She knew what her mother said was true. But there was a part of her that could not yet accept it. Not until the bodies were located and extracted.
“We need that closure before we can find peace,” she said.
The baroness sniffled.
“In the meantime, we must do the best we can,” she said. “Especially for the sake of all the families of the miners, who are also grieving.”
Gloria nodded, her heart aching.
“We cannot even offer them assistance with funerals,” she said. “Not until the bodies of their loved ones are recovered.”
The baroness heaved a heavy sigh, tugging her own handkerchief from her dress pocket and covering her face with it. Gloria reached over and patted her mother’s knee until the wave of emotion passed. Esme looked up gratefully at her daughter, covering Gloria’s hand with her own.
“What they must think of us,” she said, her voice breaking. “If it were not for us, none of this would have ever happened.”
Gloria bit her lip, thinking of what to say next. She looked out of the window, which overlooked the river valley and rolling green hillside.
She thought of all the people whom she had known her whole life, who lived in the village behind them, between her family’s home and the mine works.
All the land, as well as the mine, was owned by the Munday family, and had been for more than one hundred years.
She knew that what her mother said was true; had those poor people not been employed by her father, they would never have been in that mine, and thus, would still be alive.
But how could they have known that such a tragedy would occur?
“But if not for us, those who live in the village would have long ago starved,” she said, trying to sound optimistic. “Our family gave jobs to all who were in need. Father paid them well and cared for them deeply. Surely, they will not forget that?”
But even before her mother spoke, Gloria knew what she would say. She knew what people were saying about her father, her family, and mine.
“People blame your father, you know,” the baroness said, shaking her head. “They think he neglected to maintain proper upkeep in the mine, and that was what caused the collapse.”
Gloria nodded. She had heard the whispers from the village folk, too. She was just so heartbroken that she struggled to accept the truth.
“I know, Mother,” she said sadly. “I simply cannot believe they can think such things. Father loved them, as do we. It hurts me that they could think so poorly of him. Of us.”
It was the baroness’s turn to comfort her daughter as Gloria began to cry. She moved beside her and put her arm around her, rubbing her arm gently.
“Grief makes people think terrible things,” she said, now trying to sound more positive. “Perhaps, with time, they will see reason. Especially if we do our absolute best to help them through such difficult times, at least, as much as we possibly can.”
Gloria nodded, not believing her mother’s words any more than the widowed baroness did.
“With luck, the investigation will yield proof that Father did nothing wrong,” she said, though her words lacked conviction. “The authorities say that it could have been some kind of explosion that caused the collapse.”
The baroness stared out of the window, biting her cheek.
“I am not sure that prospect is any better than a simple collapse,” she said.
Gloria nodded in agreement. A collapse could, in fact, be forever blamed on her father. But some kind of explosion could mean something far more sinister.
Still, she secretly hoped for the latter. With her father having been down there with them, at least they would no longer blame him. After all, he would hardly have wished to blow up his own mine with himself inside it.
With a sigh, she changed the subject. Thinking too much about the collapse itself always made her feel slightly hysterical.
“Have we made arrangements for the families to receive food, until the bodies are uncovered?” she asked hollowly.
The baroness nodded.
“Yes,” she said quietly. “And I have ordered hundreds of yards of material, so that new clothes can be made, until we can give them proper restitution. I have also spoken with a physician in London, who has agreed to tend to those wounded in the collapse, until we can work out an arrangement to pay for their medical bills.”
Gloria nodded, her stomach churning.
They were already suffering financial losses from the mine’s collapse, even though it had only happened a couple of weeks prior. She knew the losses would continue to pile up, and that they were stretching their own resources thin in the meantime.
“I spoke with Mr. Dunsmore,” she said, suddenly recalling something very important. “In his efforts to clear and repair the damaged parts of the mine so that it can be restored, he uncovered a new seam of coal.”
The baroness’s eyes opened wide.
“Oh, heavens be praised,” she said. “That will put an end to all our financial woes.”
Gloria bit her lip.
“Yes, it will,” she said. “But there is still much work to be done to reach the new seam. The repairs must be finished, the debris must be completely cleared, and the bodies must be found and removed.”
Her mother nodded eagerly.
“I understand that, of course,” she said. “But that should not take too long, I trust?”
Gloria sighed once more, shrugging.
“The investigation is yet to conclude,” she said slowly. “Only then can Mr. Dunsmore really get to work on everything properly. He was granted permission to go down there and see what needs to be done. But otherwise, he must not touch anything that could lead to altering the scene of the collapse.”
The baroness’s lip quivered, the hope fading from her eyes.
“That could take months,” she said, the dejection clear in her tone.
“Yes, unfortunately,” she said. “They at least must find the cause for the collapse before we can work directly on unearthing the new coal.”
Esme nodded, dropping her head.
“Do you think it was simply a collapse?” she asked.
Gloria thought for a moment. Again, she believed that if there had been some kind of explosion, as the investigators had suggested, there would have been a louder sound. Or had there been a louder sound that had escaped their memories, with the aftermath of the collapse?
“I do not know,” she said truthfully. “But soon, we shall know for sure.”
The baroness nodded, and the two women were silent for several moments. Gloria knew that right then, their entire financial future hung on that new seam.
But she also knew that its unearthing and usefulness depended on the outcome, and length of, the investigation. And while they had been dealt some leniency by their creditors with their financial situation, that would not last forever either.
Surely, not as long as it would take to conclude the investigation.
“How did you work out the medical bills for those injured?” Gloria asked, dreading the answer.
Her mother nodded, already guessing what she was thinking.
“I borrowed the money from the bank,” she said. “They were more than understanding of our situation, and they said they would give us several months to pay off our loan.”
Gloria groaned softly. Perhaps the bank would be laxer in demanding repayment. But for how long? And what would she and her mother do when it’s patience ran out?
She had seen many good, once reputable families in the ton end up in the poorhouse, or even on the streets, for being marginally delinquent with their loan repayments.
And if that new coal seam was not mineable soon, it could well be them, too.
Still, she did not blame her mother. She also knew they had been left with little choice in the matter.
Along with her father had gone any secure income, at least, until they could get everything back on track, but that did not mean expenses would stop mounting.
“Would that they might consider giving us another loan,” she said, not truly mean it. The last thing she wanted was to get even further in debt with them. But there was still the major issue.
They urgently needed a source of money, just for their own survival, until the new seam was in production. And she knew that it was up to her to solve the problem, as her father’s only child.
“Whatever shall we do?” her mother asked, seeming to think through and realize the same things her daughter did at the same time.
Gloria shook her head. She did not know. And the more she worried, the more she felt as though the weight of the world was attempting to suffocate her.
“We will figure out something, Mother,” she said, her words ringing hollow in her ears. “For now, I should like to go for a walk. Would you care to join me?”
She did not really believe that her mother would want to go for a walk just then. And, in truth, she hoped she would not. She needed more than fresh air. She needed time to think.
“No, dear,” her mother said quickly, confirming Gloria’s thoughts. “I think I shall stay here and, perhaps, work on some knitting, if that is all right.”
“Of course,” Gloria said, kissing her mother on the cheek. Then, she excused herself, ran to fetch a heavy cloak, and practically ran outside.
She hurried to the woods out behind her family’s gardens, stopping only as she reached the hills, where she enjoyed walking when she needed to clear her head.
She breathed in the crisp, cold air until she had control of her racing thoughts once more.
Then, she thought back to her conversation with her mother. She quickly needed to find a solution to their financial problems.
It only needed to be something to hold them until the new seam was viable. But what?
After an hour of walking, she was frozen, frightened, and still no closer to coming up with a plan than she had been before.
She knew her mother was counting on her, as were the people of Arven. And, she reminded herself, so were the good people at the bank, who would surely not wait long for their money to be repaid. She sighed.
She had thought that going for a walk would help her to sort her thoughts and come up with at least a few ideas. But it had not. In fact, she felt even more lost and confused than before.
Still, with the gray clouds as her witnesses, she swore on her father’s spirit that she would do everything in her power to keep the Munday Coal Company alive.
Richard Argent groaned as his eyes cracked open. The gray sky blocked out the harsh sunlight that would normally send sharp pains through his already throbbing head-on such days.
That, if he was, to be honest, was basically every day.
And still, the dim light in the room was enough to make his sore eyes resist opening, long enough that he almost allowed himself to drift back off to sleep.
The chiming of the tall clock in his bedchambers prevented such luxury, however. As the sound rang out throughout the room, Richard counted the hours off by each wave of nausea brought on with each individual chime. Noon, he thought with vague dread. Damn.
He dragged himself out of bed, the room tilting as he did so. He gripped onto his bedside table until the vertigo faded, wishing furiously that he had taken it easier the night before.
Drinking and partying with his friends always seemed like a good idea when they started out for the evening. But he always regretted every drink the following day. One would think he would learn his lesson.
But each night, the allure of that first drink was just too strong, and thus, the cycle continued. Not for the first time, Richard questioned his stupidity, and the company he kept.
Yet deep down, he knew that, at his very next opportunity, he would be repeating the actions of the previous evening . . . and the miserable suffering he was now experiencing.
He stumbled blindly over to the vanity, fishing out the flask he kept hidden in its bottom drawer.
There was no cure for a hangover like a little hair of the dog, after all. He emptied the flask in mere seconds, wishing he had thought to refill it before his escapades the evening before.
He made a mental note to do so, as he knew too well that his hungover brain would forget later that day. Then, he sat down at the chair in front of the mirror, flinching at his own reflection.
His medium-length dark hair was utterly disheveled, even tangled in some places, and greasy with sweat—and what he hoped was not vomit.
His tanned face was pale and sallow, and there was a light bruise under his jaw. Briefly, he recalled slamming his jaw against the table the night before, as he drunkenly reached to try to catch a drink that had already crashed to the floor.
There were bags under his piercing blue eyes, which were terribly bloodshot and squinted even in the dim light. There was no possibility of slipping his condition unnoticed past his family, and he envisioned the disapproving look that had seemingly become permanent on his mother’s face as of late.
Doing his best to push through the pounding headache and horrible vertigo, he dunked a cloth in the bowl of water beside his vanity, not bothering to stand over it to wring it out properly.
It dripped water across the floor and half his vanity table as he brought it to his face, pouring ice-cold liquid all down the front of his clothes and making him gasp aloud.
With a shudder, he ran the wet cloth through his hair, gently massaging the tangled mess to avoid aggravating the migraine the hangover was causing.
Then, he picked up his brush, trying to make something presentable of his hair, groaning as the bristles tugged at the knots and sent fresh sharp pains through his head.
He wondered if he should not keep to himself until he was more fit to be around people. But he knew his mother would never allow him to stay in his room all day. She never did.
After several more tugs with the brush, he gave up. In his condition, there was little he could do to improve his appearance. Certainly not enough to fool his mother.
He was only making himself feel worse with his efforts. Besides, he could always spend the rest of the day avoiding his mother, as he so often did. He just had to get through another uncomfortable meal.
Then, the day would be his. Resigned, he slowly rose from his vanity, bothering only to hastily change his shirt, since he was now soaked with water.
Without tucking it in, he threw on a dirty coat and exited his room, uttering his usual daily prayer not to lose the contents of his stomach all over the dining room. Or in the hall on the way to the dining hall.
He made his way through the cozy, rambling interior of Blackwick House, through the labyrinth of hallways, numerous rooms, and hidey holes, which he used often to evade his mother’s disapproving stare. He passed the forbidding portraits of his ancestors who, in his terrible state, felt to him like they were also glaring at him disapprovingly.
He wished instead there were paintings of the extensive parkland that surrounded the black and white Elizabethan mansion, or its beautiful mature gardens, or even the 400-year-old manor itself, rather than the judgmental faces of his ancestors.
He had no doubt they would be ashamed of him if they could see the mess he was making of the earldom.
So, why was it so hard for him to take control of his life and do what he, as the eldest son of the late Lord Morningside, was born to do?
As he entered the dining hall, he came to further regret his current state. There, dining with his mother, was his younger brother Colin, his wife, Laura, and their newborn baby, Bruce, to whom they referred affectionately as Bunny.
He cursed his worse-for-wear appearance and his decision not to try to dress more nicely. And when his mother met his gaze, he knew she was inwardly cursing him, too, for the same reasons.
“Richard,” she said sharply, causing Colin and Laura to look in his direction. “How kind of you to join us.”
“Good day, Mother,” he said, averting his gaze and focusing on reaching the table without stumbling. “It is good to see you, Colin and Laura.”
He noticed he was still slurring his words a bit, and he cursed himself again. He sat as his brother and sister warmly returned the greeting, wishing he could be sucked through the floor by an unseen force. Anything to get him out of the situation, which had just become even more awkward than normal.
It was not uncommon to see his brother at his home. It was, however, not often that Colin and Laura saw him in such condition. He wondered what they must think of him.
He knew his mother was still glaring at him, but he prayed she would save her usual demeaning speech for later, seeing as his brother and Laura were there. But a loud clearing of her throat told him she had no such reservations.
“Richard, why can you not be more like your brother?” she asked. “Colin is very responsible, and he even already has a family. And he is the youngest of the two of you.”
Richard bit his cheek to keep from pointing out sarcastically that he could see very well that Colin had a family. His mother might not care whether she aired their dirty laundry in front of others, but he did not wish to participate in such a display.
But, to his surprise, Colin rose, giving Richard an affectionate glance before holding his chin up and looking at their mother.
“I do not like that comparison, Mother,” he said. “I love Richard, and I rather enjoy his rakish adventures. In fact, I dare say that I live vicariously through him.”
Laura nodded in agreement, giving Richard a kind smile. The countess, however, scoffed.
“Nonsense,” she said. “Your brother is the subject of much unsavory gossip within the ton. His antics threaten our family’s good name. Especially now he is the earl and behaving in such a manner. A man with his responsibilities should never act the way he does.”
Colin shook his head.
“A man with his responsibilities has more right to do as he pleases than any of the rest of us,” he said. “Why, if I had an earldom to attend, I am sure I would indulge in all the vices you call unsavory. Leave Richard be and be damned what the ton thinks. But if he embarrasses you so, Mother, perhaps I should take over the earldom.”
Richard’s heart swelled with love for his brother. He and Colin had always been close, but it still surprised him whenever Colin defended him. Their mother was not wholly wrong, but neither was Colin. Richard’s responsibilities scared him to death, and he drank to escape that fear.
He had always thought his brother would make a better earl than himself, though he would never purposefully drop such a burden on him. But he knew making that argument with his mother would be pointless. Her only concern was, and always would be, her precious reputation.
“Do not even say such things, Colin,” she said. “You will give your brother ideas, and that is a terrible one. Richard will simply have to mend his ways and cease his feckless behavior.”
Colin ignored his mother, taking it upon himself to pour Richard a cup of strong black coffee from his end of the table and bring it to his older brother. Richard smiled with sad gratitude and took a long sip.
The hot liquid warmed his shivering bones and set to work on ridding him of the terrible headache that continued to plague him.
“That should help set you right,” he murmured, patting Richard very gently on the back. Then, he returned to his seat and took his son into his arms.
Their mother muttered something Richard could not hear over the sound of his pulse pounding in his head, so he chose to ignore her.
Instead, he sipped the coffee slowly, watching as his brother interacted with his little family. To his surprise, as he watched the obvious affection Colin had for Laura, and she for him, he realized how much their child already seemed to be well aware of how loved he was. With a sudden pang in his heart, Richard found himself longing to have that for himself.
He had never given much thought to settling down with a woman and having a family. But, all at once, he wanted it more than anything.
Could it be that his mother was right? Should he at last straighten himself out and start seeking a bride with whom to start a family? Was that even possible, for a sinner such as himself?
His mind was now filled with too many questions and, despite the coffee rendering aid to his hangover, his head was once more spinning. He had never met a woman to whom he was attracted enough to consider marrying. He could not realistically expect that to change simply because he was now thinking of settling down with one.
“Please, forgive me,” he said, more to Colin and Laura than to his mother. “I must excuse myself. I do hope you all have a wonderful day.”
Laura smiled at him, and Colin walked back around the table, holding his infant son.
“You, as well, Brother,” he said, glancing down at little Bunny, and then back up at Richard. “From all of us.”
Richard gave his brother a small, sad smile, patting him on the back and kissing Bunny on the forehead before leaving the table.
His mother did not bother to speak to him, and nor did he to her. He just stumbled his way back up the stairs and to his bedchambers, where he collapsed on the bed.
He vaguely remembered his friend, Freddy Monk, saying that he was throwing a party that evening.
But if he was to be up to attending, he would need more sleep. It was sure to be a lively affair, as his friends’ parties always were, and it should be just the thing to lift his spirits.
“Gloria,” a familiar voice called, echoing throughout the hills, and shattering the calm silence that had thus far surrounded her.
Gloria froze, and her heart sank. She had come out here to be alone and think over her family’s troubles. Not to fraternize with people, and especially not this particular person.
“Mr. Duval,” she said, turning reluctantly to face him. “What are you doing out here? Should you not be tending to your mining business?”
Prentis Duval smirked at her from atop a fine-looking black steed.
“Shouldn’t you?” he countered. “I am sure your father has left quite a mess behind.”
Gloria glared at him, barely keeping herself from slapping the impertinent man.
This was the man who, just before her father’s untimely death, had made a grand show of confessing his love for her. But each time he opened his mouth in her company, she found herself wondering how that could possibly be true. Or if it was even anything she could ever want.
“Mother and I are still in mourning,” she said simply. “We are not yet tending to any business matters.”
Mr. Duval grinned.
“That is why you need a well-connected, shrewd husband such as me,” he said. “I would be happy to take up that mantle, Gloria. You need only accept.”
Gloria shuddered, suddenly chilled despite the heavy, warm cloak that was protecting her quite well from the chill of the winter air. She despised Duval, and she hated the fact that he felt free to use her given name, just because he claimed to love her.
She had never done anything to encourage him; in fact, she always tried her best to ignore him. But she was hardly in the mood to correct him now, or to continue conversing with him at all.
“I must return to Mother,” she said curtly. “I am to help her prepare for dinner.”
“Is that work not meant for servants?” he asked. “Or do you no longer have any, with all the financial troubles you must be having?”
Gloria tensed up again, and again she considered slapping him. It would be very satisfying to knock him right off his horse, and it would be her word against his. But she was a lady, after all, and while he remained on his horse, her hand would not reach high enough.
Not without him surely grabbing her wrist, and she knew that would not be a good thing, no matter the outcome.
Preparing to abandon him in the field, she turned on her heel, ready to head off in the direction of home. But he quickly understood her intent and moved his horse directly in her path.
When she looked up at him, he was sneering at her, with that despicable, arrogant grin she hated.
“Marry me, Gloria,” he said. “It would certainly be in your best interest to do so. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Gloria stared at him, trying to read his smug face. It was likely that he, like the rest of the little mining town, thought her father was the cause of the mine collapse. But even if that was the case, she would not mention it to him.
Best not to risk giving him any information, just in case he did not yet have it. Even if he did eventually hear about it, she would not let it be from her.
“I must return to Mother, Mr. Duval,” she said, purposely injecting venom into her voice. “If you will excuse me.”
She tried to move past his horse, but he moved too quickly. He once more blocked her path, his arrogant expression unchanging.
“Marry me,” he repeated. “If you do, I promise to keep the Munday Coal Company intact and not absorb it into my own business.”
Gloria’s heart sank. Before, she had only been concerned with whether he knew what the villagers were saying about her father.
Now, she realized, without her father around, that Prentis would surely be after the mine, using all his many resources to gain it. And, without the money to stand against him, he might actually succeed in ripping the mining company out from under her.
It made sense that he would make such an offer. But Gloria did not believe he could be trusted to keep his word if she accepted his proposal. He was as calculating as he was arrogant and cruel.
She did not know whether she could trust him to leave her family’s business alone, no matter what she said or did.
“No,” she said, surprising them both. “I will not marry you. What kind of a man proposes to a woman who is in mourning?”
Prentis curled his lip, his grin turning into a snarl.
“I can promise you that you will regret this,” he said. “I will ruin you and your mother by utterly destroying that business of yours.” He paused, chuckling coldly. “I suspect that will be even easier than I expect, given recent events.”
With that, he spurred his horse, bringing it so close to her that it almost stepped on her foot. She stepped back just in time to avoid the animal’s hooves as it turned and Prentis urged it to start racing in the opposite direction. She shivered as it kicked up snow as it took off, throwing it up into her face. As she brushed it furiously off her cheeks, she watched Prentis ride away. For a moment after he was out of sight, Gloria simply stood there, frozen to the spot from more than just the cold. Her world was crashing down around her far too quickly, and she was at a loss as to what to do.
Frustrated as well as distressed and saddened, she slowly made her way back to the manor. She thought about the encounter with Prentis and wondered if she should tell her mother.
It would likely only serve to add worry to her mother’s already heavy heart, and she did not wish to do that to the freshly widowed baroness.
But what if Mother hears about it from someone else? What if Prentis tells her himself? What if he threatens Mother to her face, as well?
She had no choice, however. Her mother was coming up the hallway as she entered the manor. When the baroness saw her daughter’s expression, she rushed up to her, brushing back a strand of her light brown hair.
“Darling, you look a fright,” she said. “And your face is as cold as death. What happened?”
As calmly as possible, Gloria told her mother everything that had transpired with Prentis.
She decided to tell her about the threats, as well. Better that she be prepared for them rather than to be caught off guard, as she herself had been.
“Well,” her mother said thoughtfully when she had finished speaking. “Perhaps marrying him would not be such a bad idea.”
Gloria gasped, staring at her mother in horror.
“Mother,” she cried, shuddering at the thought. “Did you not hear what I just told you? He is trying to blackmail me. Us. You are not truly suggesting that I marry such a man, are you?”
The baroness shrugged, looking sheepish.
“Of course, it was horrid of him to say such things to you,” she said, choosing her words carefully. “However, you must admit that marrying him would be the best way to solve our problems.
We would never have to worry about him putting us out of business or going bankrupt and having to close down the mine.”
Gloria shook her head in utter disbelief.
“If I married him, what’s to stop him from taking over the mine, despite what he says?” she asked. “No. I shall never accept him for a husband. Damn him. Let him do his worst.”
The baroness nodded with a small smile.
“You are so much like your father,” she said fondly. “And I suppose you are right. There is no guarantee that we can trust him, even if you do agree to marry him. But what, then, shall we do?”
Gloria chewed on her lip. She certainly needed to do something very soon to save her family, and their business.
But what? Marrying the mean and pretentious Prentis was out of the question, but his outrageous proposal had at least given her an idea.
If she were to marry a wealthy man, she could get the funding to carry her mother and her through their financial troubles until the new coal seam was workable.
She hated the idea of being forced to search for a husband, especially during a time of such grief. But worse still was the prospect of her mother and herself ending up ruined, penniless, and possibly headed for the poorhouse.
“What if I attend the London Season?” she blurted, speaking the thought she had meant to consider more deeply before voicing.
Her mother thought for a moment.
“That would be nice, dear,” she said. “But I do not see how we could possibly. . . Oh!” With her last word, she jumped up from her chair, startling Gloria.
“What?” she asked, gasping to catch her breath. “What is it?”
The baroness turned to her, her eyes filled with hope.
“Your godparents,” she said. “I can write to Lord and Lady Cadwallader and ask if we can stay with them in London during Christmastide.”
Gloria’s eyes widened. She knew her godparents, but she had not seen them in some time.
It would be nice to be with people they knew for the holiday season, but what would they do then?”
“I will still need some way to attend the Season’s events,” she said. “And even then, I have no dresses to wear.”
Her mother’s eyes continued to sparkle as she nodded.
“They are your godparents, darling,” she repeated. “And you, their goddaughter, are in need of their help. I am certain they will help us with those things, as well.
Especially when we tell them that you are trying to find a good husband who can help you, and us, in our time of need. I received a letter of condolence from them just a few days ago, so they know what has happened to your father.”
Gloria nodded, chewing her lip. She did not know if that was a good thing. What if they should judge her family just as harshly as the people of the village did for the mine collapse?
“Do you truly believe they will help us?” she asked dubiously.
The baroness thought for a moment, then nodded.
“Well,” she said carefully. “We shall soon find out. I will write them at once.”
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