Beautiful young Maris Mayberry is ecstatic over her upcoming marriage to wealthy Tilford Thorpe. Then disaster strikes—Maris’s precious mother collapses and becomes dangerously ill. Maris turns to Tilford for comfort and understanding only to encounter a haughty decree: The wedding must go on as planned, whether her mother lives or dies! Indignant, Maris begins to doubt Tilford’s love and character—especially when a handsome friend from her past shows her real love and support.
But the final blow comes when Maris finds herself enmeshed in a dangerous plot—formulated and executed by none other than Tilford himself! Now Maris sees the agonizing choices she must make… but is it too late?
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By Grace Livingston Hill
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Grace Livingston Hill
All rights reserved.
Maris Mayberry awoke slowly that Wednesday morning, and even before her eyes were open she had a heavy consciousness upon her of something being wrong, just a faint uneasiness, like a small, dully tinted cloud on the horizon that seemed to carry a sense of menace. What was it? She groped for it in her thoughts and tried to bring it to life again, that she might dispel it from her new day and prove by morning's light that it had been nothing real and it need no longer burden her soul.
But the uneasiness continued, and she roused herself to search for it. What had she been doing last night? Where had she been? She had been out late, for even with closed eyelids she sensed that it was midmorning, and Mother must be letting her sleep late.
Oh, now she knew! She had been out with Tilford. She had been to a grand family dinner. All the Thorpes had been there, and it had been very formal. The dinner had not been served till half past eight, and they had sat at the table over two hours. And then there had been a long time afterward when she had been carefully taken over by each separate member of the Thorpe family and instructed in the history and traditions of the clan.
It had been a long process, and most depressing. When it was over, she had felt very small and unworthy to enter even the fringes of such an august body.
But that had not been the real weight of her burden. It had not quite come to the surface of her mind yet, but she felt intuitively that it was going to be fully as disturbing this morning, when she did remember it, as it had been the night before.
It had been rather late when they left the Thorpe mansion, for at the last minute after some of the cousins had left they had taken her up to the gallery and shown her the old family portraits, great oil paintings by famous artists, set in huge, hideous gold frames. She had realized that this was a sort of final rite that was being performed upon her before she should be considered eligible to go on with her preparations for the nuptials.
But even the great gallery with the ancestors set in gold had not depressed her. She had known about them and been told before by Tilford of the high points in each one's biography. She had been duly impressed by the ladies in high ruffs and puffs and chignons, and the gentlemen in knee breeches and lace ruffles and wigs. She had even found some crisp, original comments to make upon each that showed she appreciated their nobility and stood in awe in their august presence. No, it was not the picture gallery that lay heavily on her mind. They were only painted ghosts of the dead. They could not disturb her future.
They had come away at last. She had received chilly kisses from her future mother-in-law and two aunts-in-law, and formal handclasps from the men of the family. Then Tilford had brought her away in his luxurious car, and she had tried to realize that in a few days now, three brief weeks to be exact, she was going to belong in that car. She would be a part of a life of luxury. It didn't seem real yet, but the glamour of it all had carried her so far, and someday of course she would realize it and take it as a matter of course. Still, such thoughts had not disturbed her. Now she was coming to it. She could see its shadow just a few steps ahead. Ah! Here it was!
They had turned into her home street, the moonlight shining very brightly on the house. Just the plain old white house where she had been born, big and roomy and comfortable and shabby. She hadn't thought of its shabbiness before. It had just been home to her, and always very dear. But now, in sudden contrast to the luxury where she had been all the evening, it stood out sharply there in the moonlight. Shabby! That was what it really was! And it was too late to do anything about it now before the wedding!
Suddenly she had spoken her thought, interrupting Tilford's eulogy of one of the ancestors whose portrait they had seen.
"This home needs painting!" she said. "It ought to have been done before. It must be looked after just as soon as we get back!"
Tilford had stopped abruptly and given her a strange questioning look, as if he were seeing something in her he had never seen before, and then a quick caution came into his eyes, an amused curve about his lips.
"That will scarcely need to trouble you by that time," he said almost curtly. "You will not be there anymore, you know. It will no longer be your interest what the house looks like. You will seldom see it, of course. You will belong in another world."
And she had given him a quick startled look, seeing suddenly things she had never realized before, possibilities that loomed with sharp premonition and now, overnight, had become a burden, a heavy, menacing cloud on her horizon.
As if it had been a little bundle, the contents of which she suspected but had never seen, she deliberately took the fear and undid its wrappings, searching what was to be found therein.
What had that look of Tilford's meant? Had he intended to let her see it, or was it something he was concealing till afterward? Oh, that could not be. Surely he was only trying to remind her of the beautiful house where she had been all evening and the beautiful life that was to be hers!
Yet she must face this thing and get rid of it. She could not have an uneasiness hovering even on the edge of her mind through these strenuous days. What was it that had caused that sudden startled pain in her heart? A pain that she had refused to recognize that night. She had commandeered sleep to drown it away last night. Better face it now once and for all.
Was it the sudden knowledge that when she was married she would be leaving forever everything else that was dear to her?
Nonsense! What a foolish idea! Her family would still be her family, and as dear as ever. They would rejoice in her good fortune. They would be pleased and proud of her and would enjoy many things that they had not been able to enjoy before.
But wait! Would they? Would her dear quiet father and her sweet-faced mother ever come to know and like and fit in with all those Thorpes? Even just casually? Ever feel like holding their own along that gallery of ancestors?
She was not ashamed of her family. They were grand. They were real people, and she wouldn't have them changed a whit in any way. But would those Thorpes ever recognize that? With no great fortune behind them, and no painted ancestors, could they understand how people could be noblemen and -women without possessions?
And how would some of their opinions and standards harmonize? Would they have any thoughts in common? Politically, socially, religiously, intellectually? Even morally? Their standards were all so very different.
And how about herself? Was she going to be able to fit in with the Thorpes? But that was another question. She could think that through afterward. She had first to ferret out the truth about that burden on her heart.
Had it really been that Tilford's words and tone, and the very glint in his eye, had seemed to expect that of course after they were married she would be utterly separated from her dear family? That their interests and concerns and affairs would be no more hers? That she would be henceforth apart from them so utterly that she was practically leaving all she loved behind her, and coming to him and his family and his interests? As if he had bought her body and soul!
That was it! That completely desolating thought!
Not once had it entered her head that she would be cut off from her family and her home after she was married.
Of course, she was expecting to live in a home of her own, she and Tilford, and she had up to this time looked upon it as a delightful adventure, something like playing house when she was a child, only on a larger scale. She had looked upon Tilford as the gilded god who was going to make this lovely play possible. But not once before had it entered her head that the dear people and places and things would be cut out of her life forever after. In her family, marriage meant that all concerned only acquired more dear relatives and wider realms of things and places to love. They did not give up what they already had.
Did Tilford feel that way, that he wanted to cut her off from her family? That he had no interest in them for themselves? She hadn't thought about it before, but now she recalled that he had seldom seemed to care to linger in her house and talk to her father and mother, or be brightly interested in her sisters and brothers. He had always some excuse to call late for her and leave at once.
Now she recalled also that her father had asked some puzzled questions now and then about the Thorpes, had tried to be friendly in the few minutes Tilford allowed him. Was it her fault, too, that she and Tilford had had so many engagements that there hadn't seemed to be time for her parents and family to get really acquainted with her fiancé?
She had taken it all so for granted. She had thought all those matters would settle themselves. And now that horrid cold feeling at the bottom of her heart, in the memory of Tilford's look last night! That feeling that she was about to leave everything that had been dear.
That wasn't as it should be, was it? All girls didn't feel that way, did they? They were in a sense leaving home, but they were going to be with the man they had chosen for life. Did she love Tilford enough to make up for leaving everyone and everything?
It suddenly became clear to her that she hadn't ever faced that question. She had just gone on through the brief weeks since he had asked her to marry him, in a daze of wonder that one so rich and influential and handsome and sought after had chosen her. It had seemed almost too good a fortune to be true, and his way had carried everything before it.
Rides in his gorgeous car, admiration and flattery, social affairs that had not been in her sphere before, the wonder and envy of all her old friends. And then Tilford's eagerness to bring everything to a close, to rush her through functions and ceremonies, prepare her for requirements that had not been before in her scheme of things, and plan for a wedding far beyond her highest ambitions. There hadn't been time to think. Had there been something missing, something not quite in accordance with her dreams? Something tender and shy and precious, almost too precious to dare expect? Words? Looks? The first touch of hands, the first reverent touch of lips?
Tilford's way had not been like that. He carried everything with a high hand, stated what he wanted, and expected her to concede. His kisses had been almost formal, like taking a bite of fruit he had just purchased. She had tried to ignore a vague disappointment. There had been no dreamed-of thrill of joy. Was that all that love meant? Perhaps there was no such thing as romance in this age of the world. Somehow, in spite of Tilford's haste to marry her, there was a coldness, a matter-of-factness about him that left no room for the ecstasy that she had always expected to feel if she ever fell in love.
Was she in love? Perhaps she was only taking love for granted and it wasn't love at all.
Suddenly she sprang up sharply.
"Oh, snap out of it!" she said angrily aloud to herself.
What were all these foolish thoughts, anyway, that she was allowing to wander through her mind? It was too late to consider such questions, even if there were any truth in them, which of course there wasn't. She was engaged to Tilford Thorpe and wearing the most gorgeous diamond on her engagement finger that any girl in their town ever owned. And downstairs in the library there were neat white boxes of already addressed wedding invitations, awaiting only their stamps before they were taken to the post office. Perhaps her sister Gwyneth was even now putting on hundreds of stamps, and she ought to hurry down and help.
And over across the hall in the guest room closet there were many lovely garments hanging that she would never have thought she could afford if she were not marrying Tilford Thorpe. Also, down on her mother's desk was a thick envelope containing estimates from the expensive caterer that Tilford had said was the only caterer in town who was fitted to handle an affair like their wedding supper in a satisfactory way. She had gasped when she caught a glimpse of the figures that were written on those heavy, expensive sheets. She had cringed as her brother Merrick leaned over her shoulder and read them aloud, fairly shouted them in an indignant tone so that the whole family could not help but hear. She recalled now with a sharp breath of pain the look of almost despair in her mother's eyes as she listened. She ought to get down as quick as possible and straighten that out. Surely they could plan some way that would not cost so much! Poor Father! All of this was going to be so hard on him. She hoped that when she was married she would be able to lift the financial burden from his shoulders a little.
But all these things going on, the whole machinery set in relentless order for her wedding, and she daring to spend an idle thought on whether this was really romance or not!
Those invitations had to be mailed tomorrow, the exact number of days before the wedding that fashion decreed there should be, though the heavens should fall. It was much too late to alter anything, even if she found out that she was not in love with her bridegroom. Even if she found out it was all a terrible mistake, she could not turn back now. Nothing short of a miracle could undo those inexorable plans. There was no time now to check things over; it was too late for that.
Well, forget it! She had enough to occupy her mind without letting it bring up questions like that, that ought to have been settled beyond a question long ago. But when? It had all been so sudden! If she had made a mistake, she would doubtless have plenty of time to regret it.
But of course this was all nonsense. Everything was all right. She was making a brilliant marriage, and everybody thought so. Simply everybody. Even her mother hadn't demurred. Even her father had only said, "Are you perfectly sure he is what you want, little girl?" And then he had given her his blessing. Although as she thought of it now, it seemed as if it had been almost a sad-eyed blessing.
Oh, what gloomy thoughts! And she had been so carefree and happy before last night! It was just the effect of that awful family party with all the eulogies and injunctions that had depressed her. She simply must snap out of it.
She arose and began to dress rapidly, dashing cold water on her face, putting on a bright little rose-colored print dress that she knew was becoming. Likely Tilford would telephone her after lunch to go out for a few holes of golf, but she must be firm about it. She must stay at home and get those invitations stamped and do a lot of other things that she had put off from day to day.
She began to hum a jaunty little tune, just to keep up the illusion that she had no misgivings, and she gave a final pat to her pretty hair, trying to make her eyes sparkle as she gave herself a brief glance in the mirror. Yes, she was all right, and everything was going to be lovely of course. She would do wonderful things for Mother and Dad and the others when she was a married woman, with time and plenty of money to spend! That nonsense of being separated from them all was a ghost of the nighttime. Tilford had no such idea as that. Tilford was a splendid, dependable young man. He would be a good son-in-law and would always be wanting to make her happy. And after all, what was romance? Just a figment of a silly girl's imagining. When one grew up, one got to be sane and sensible and didn't yearn to be a Cinderella. After all, wasn't she marrying fortune, and wasn't she going to Europe for her honeymoon?
Maris had finished her dressing and had almost regained her ecstasy of yesterday over her happy lot in life when another memory of last night that she had almost forgotten suddenly came to the surface and cast a sinister shadow in her path. The wedding dress! How could she have forgotten so important a matter! And now what was she to do about it?
She dropped down in a chair by the door and stared at the wall with troubled eyes.
Her mother had wanted white organdy for her from the first. She had thought it so suitable for a girl with a quiet background and no great fortune.
Excerpted from Maris by Grace Livingston Hill. Copyright © 2016 Grace Livingston Hill. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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