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The Wizard's Daughter
By Barbara Michaels
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Barbara Michaels
All right reserved.
"Fifty pounds! but, dear Mrs. Jay, I was told that poor dear papa had left nothing at all. Fifty pounds is a great deal of money!"
Marianne's blue eyes sparkled; her silver-gilt curls, escaping from the net, glittered like imprisoned sunbeams; and the dimples that had dazzled so many susceptible Yorkshire youths returned to the places they had abandoned a week earlier, after the death of Squire Ransom.
Mrs. Jay's lips tightened as she viewed her godchild with something less than her usual doting fondness. She did not blame Marianne for the tossing curls or the dimples. The child had mourned her father properly; indeed, Mrs. Jay privately conceded, she had shed more tears for that rude, crude male creature than he had earned.
Perhaps Squire Ransom would have displayed more fatherly interest in a son, who, in good time, might have shared his interests: hunting, drinking, gambling, and . . . Mrs. Jay's thoughts came to a dead halt. The year was 1880, and Victoria had been on the throne for over forty years; the widow of a clergyman could not even contemplate the squire's favorite hobby without wincing. There was no acceptable euphemism for it.
In any event, the late Mrs. Ransom had not produced a red-faced, thick-set male infant to mirror its father's appearance. (Even in his declining years the squire looked alarmingly likea huge overdressed baby, especially when drink had smoothed out the lines in his moon of a face.) Instead she had born a girl, a delicate pink-and-white creature so unlike her sire that she might have been a changeling from fairyland. Within a few months the dark fuzz common to most infants had been replaced by a cap of soft silvery curls, and the ambiguous newborn blue of the baby's eyes had turned to a startling shade of aquamarine. And she had been as good as she was lovely; instead of howling vigorously when the baptismal water expelled the demons, as so many babies did, the little Marianne had opened her eyes wide and smiled.
Almost eighteen years ago . . . Mrs. Jay's grim expression as she remembered that perfect day, a day of soft sunshine and gentle breezes, when she had stood as sponsor to the child and her beloved husband had performed the ceremony of baptism. Dear Mr. Jay, now passed to his heavenly reward. She had never addressed her husband by his first name, and still thought of him in formal terms.
Then she realized that Marianne had seen her frown, and that fresh tears had flooded the sea-blue eyes. Young girls were supposed to be full of sensibility and tender emotion, but some of Mrs. Jay's original ill humor remained, and she spoke more sharply than was her wont.
"It is not a great deal of money, Marianne. I only wish it were."
She did not add, as she might with reason have done, that eight pounds of the fifty had been her own contribution, from a life savings that could ill afford any diminution. The remainder of the sum had been made up of similar contributions from neighbors and friends. Squire Ransom had left his orphaned daughter nothing but debts.
There was another fact unknown to Marianne that Mrs. Jay could not explain. As a Christian woman her fortitude ought to have been equal to the task, but it was not. She had only recently learned of the malignant thing that was gnawing at her life and would soon end it; she had faced the fact and the increasing pain without flinching. But she could not tell her darling of her approaching death. It had tried her faith to a degree she would not have believed possible, not because she was afraid of dying, even in the dreadful manner experience had told her she could expect, but because just at the time when she might have hoped to be of use to the girl, who was as dear to her as a daughter, she could offer no help. She had no means of her own. If she took Marianne into her tiny home, within three months the girl would have to face the prospect she faced now, with the additional burden of having watched her old friend die an agonizing death. No. Better for Marianne to take the necessary action at once.
"You have no notion of money, naturally," she went on. "How could you have, when your father, despite his advantages of age and masculine intelligence, spent his income faster than it came in?"
"He spent generously on my account," Marianne said. "I cannot reproach him for extravagance when he denied me nothing."
"Hmph." Mrs. Jay said no more, but she had her own opinions about the squire's generosity. She had long been a reluctant observer of human nature, and she suspected that Squire Ransom's willingness to spend money on his daughter was an effort to make up for his neglect in other areas.
"At any rate," she said, more cheerfully, "you are well equipped with clothing and other necessities. That will not be a charge on your wealth. Did not Mrs. Maclean complete your new winter wardrobe only last week?"
"She completed it," said Marianne calmly, "and she is presently removing it."
"I beg your pardon?"
"One can hardly blame her. It appears the garments were not paid for. She hopes to alter them in order to resell them."
"Yes, yes, I understand. But what a callous thing to do!"
"Not at all. She has her living to earn."
Mrs. Jay lifted her hands helplessly. The girl's calm acceptance dismayed her. She would have attributed it to the indifference of shock had not Marianne displayed considerable emotion over other matters. She could only conclude that the child did not understand the desperation of her plight, so desperate that even the loss of a few pieces of clothing constituted a major disaster. The bare necessities for the approaching winter would make a sizable hole in the fifty pounds.
Excerpted from The Wizard's Daughter by Barbara Michaels Copyright © 2007 by Barbara Michaels. Excerpted by permission.
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