Excerpt from Masquerade


                                                                                   





                                                                                      
                                                                                   
                                                                                             Dornby Manor
                Wiltshire, England
                Early autumn 1886


    "I've told you, Father, I won't marry him."

    Thomas Gleason held a matchstick to the bowl of his pipe and puffed repeatedly, luring the tobacco to ignite.
    "It's a good match, daughter. Everyone has heard of the Tremaines, even here in England."

    Heard of their money, perhaps . . .

    Lottie remembered the whispered rumors about the Tremaines. She knew her parents hated gossip—or
    pretended to for propriety's sake—but now was not the time for her to be timid. "Some say the Tremaines
    are nouveau riche. The elder Mr. Tremaine is but one generation away from those who peddled their goods
    on the streets of New York City."

    Her father pointed his pipe at her. "Perhaps. But Tremaine's Dry Goods has grown to encompass a five-story
    building, taking up an entire city block."

    Mother shook her head and said beneath her breath, "A glorified shopkeeper."

    Father shot her a glance.

    Mother nodded to the maid, Dora, to pour the tea. "We are the ones doing the Tremaines the favor. You are
    Sir Thomas Gleason," she said. "The Gleasons have ties to Richard the Second. Our name is listed in Debrett's."

    A puff of smoke billowed in front of Father's face. "Now, now, Hester. By seeking a goodly match for our
    daughter, we're not negating our own roots. It's a blessing the Tremaines have shown interest in our Charlotte,
    especially since they've never met any of us. And considering . . . "

    Lottie interrupted. "You act as if meeting me might cause them to change their minds. I may not be a ravishing
    beauty, Father, but I've been complimented many times regarding my appearance."

    "No, no," her father said. "Don't take offense. You're a lovely girl. I was merely pointing out the odd
    circumstances of . . . our situation."

    Hester coughed and put her ever-present handkerchief to her mouth.

    Lottie tried unsuccessfully to squelch her annoyance at her mother's cough. Hack, hack, hack. Perhaps if
    Mother spent more time outside, walking the grounds of their Wiltshire estate, her health would improve.
    But Mother prided herself on indoor pursuits, namely her needlepoint chair cushions. Best in the county, she
    bragged. Lottie didn't care for such nonsense. To go to so much work only to have someone sit upon it was
    absurd.

    As was this conversation.

    Lottie set her teacup down, rose from her chair, and moved to the windows that overlooked the front lawn.
    "I don't see why we have to talk about this now." Or ever. "It's my birthday and my friends will be arriving for
    my party soon and . . . " She turned to her mother directly. "Speaking of my party, why aren't you bustling
    about? A dozen of my friends will arrive in just a few hours, yet if I didn't know better, I'd think the party
    was next Tuesday rather than today."

    The handkerchief rose once again. "You said you didn't want an extravagant soiree, dear, just a light repast
    with cakes and sweets for your friends. Mrs. Movery is quite busy with the food preparations, I'm sure." She
    glanced at Dora. "In fact, toward that end . . . Dora, why don't you go see how things are coming along in the
    kitchen."

    Dora said, "Yes, ma'am," and left them.

    Lottie wished she would have stayed. Dora was her lady's maid and her best friend in the entire world. But
    lately, her parents had started asking Dora to do other tasks, even helping out in the kitchen, which was
    unthinkable. Lottie had noticed a few of the housemaids and parlour-maids were no longer in service with
    the family, but that didn't mean Dora should suffer. "I don't understand why Dora is suddenly being asked to
    expand her duties. She's my maid. I assure you I keep her very busy."

    "I'm sure you do, daughter," her father said. "But . . . well . . . "

    Mother continued the thought. "With the preparations for your party this afternoon . . . "

    Something wasn't being said. Lottie wished her parents would tell her what was going on. She had a good
    mind. She could practically recite the novels of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters by heart. Didn't that
    prove she had an intellect worth utilizing? Sometimes Lottie thought she would scream from lack of purpose.
    To sit  in the house all day, reading or doing needlework, waiting for someone of consequence to call was
    silly. She would happily trade two women of means for one person who could offer amusement or witty
    conversation. Odd how those attributes were sorely lacking in polite society, among people who were far too
    polite to be of interest.

    But now, looking out upon the front drive and the vista of the green that carpeted the house to the road, she
    abandoned her worries for the anticipation of seeing carriage after carriage arriving for her party. Guests
    laden with presents—for her. Perhaps purpose was overrated. In all her nineteen years she'd found it quite
    acceptable—pleasant, really—to let the world  beyond their country home dip and spin without her. What did
    she care of labor acts or problems in Ireland or whether Queen Victoria became Empress of Burma? Where in
    the world was Burma?

    Lottie preferred experiencing life through novels where the characters were always enjoying a lovely ball or
    romp through the countryside that would lead them to their one true love. Her copies of Pride & Prejudice,
    Sense & Sensibility, and Little Women were threadbare. Lottie especially enjoyed stories about sisters—
    perhaps because she had none. Conversely, she did not enjoy the books of Elizabeth Gaskell or Charles
    Dickens with the same zeal, finding their stories too driven by social inequities. She didn't want to read about
    the world's problems. She wanted romance, diversion, passion, and a happy ending—in her books and in real
    life.

    And yet, she also wanted to feel of use. There was a stirring inside that niggled like an empty stomach
    demanding something of her. From her. When she felt such discontent she usually sought the outdoors where
    the movement of her body and the addition of fresh air were a good counter to her restlessness. Until she could
    pinpoint the answer to this inner unrest, she planned on marrying well and setting up her own home in a nearby
    estate. Surely true love would be the key to unlocking her true purpose. But marrying an American as her parents
    suggested? There could be no key in that.

    Even if he was rich, he would never understand her inner need, and she'd be held in bondage, far from family  
    and friends and the dream she had of becoming . . .

    Something. Someone.

    Her mother interrupted her thoughts. "Conrad Tremaine seems to be a very nice young man."

    In this context, nice was a lethal word, one that was used when better words like dashing, handsome, and
    debonair did not apply. Judging from the letters Lottie had received from the nice Mr. Tremaine, along with
    the small photograph . . . She'd read the letters many times and had dissected the photograph with her father's
    magnifying glass, but no matter how hard she looked at his representation in either word or countenance, Mr.
    Tremaine was no Mr. Darcy. Or Willoughby. Or even Heathcliff. He came off sounding stumbling in the first and
    looking bumbling in the latter.

    And pudgy. With a weakish chin. And a hairline that promised to recede into nothingness sooner rather than
    later . . . (continued)



                                                                              Copyright 2010: Nancy Moser
                                                                      Bethany House Publishers