Robert and his frioends enjoy a memorable Christmas - but there is a cloud on the horizon.
Emma Cookson continues the gripping 19th Century tale set in a Yorkshire mill town.
Everything about the day had been a delight for Beth. From the early morning journey from Bradfield with an expectant Cosmo, eager to experience his first English Christmas, and a heavy-headed Ebby, who kept wondering aloud why he had been persuaded to leave his bed at such an hour upon such an expedition.
They had performed a pantomime the night before, that adult seasonal entertainment that Ebby had advertised as Romantic, Melo-Dramatic, Tyrannic, Pathetic and Comic, complete with gorgeous properties, indescribable tricks, transformations, hits, skits, cracks, slaps, thumps, bumps, pokes and jokes.
The half hour production had closed the evening's proceedings and been hugely successful and they had the challenge of doing it again on Boxing Day. Until then, she had Christmas to enjoy and the church service had been fulfilling and she had made her devotions and prayed with earnestness for the welfare of others and had added a small prayer for her own happiness, suggesting that, if God did have a spare moment, he might whisper some sense into the head of a certain gentlemen lately back from America.
After the service, as they waited for their carriage outside the church, she had had to suppress a chuckle, for they did make a most exotic group. Cosmo in a red jacket looked like a very large robin while Ebby had been unable to totally suppress his instincts and his act of genteel insobriety. Gertie, preening herself in her finest, had disconcerted several gentlemen with the directness of her gaze. Meanwhile, her mother had maintained a knowing dignity and her father a happy disposition and everyone, it seemed, had wanted to shake Robert by the hand.
Finally, of course, there had been Beth herself, finely dressed and adopting a stage presence that she felt was expected as she imagined the speculation and rumour that could well be circulating about the manner in which she conducted her life and the exact nature of her relationship with her cousin once removed. The speculation didn’t irritate her. If only she could turn it into reality.
The day continued along its perfect course at the house and Beth noticed that Gertie spent most of her time close to Zac. The awkward young man would make Gertie a good husband, Beth thought. Of course, in the process he would gain a good wife, even though the news had not yet been broken to him. But she knew her sister. At some time in the near future, Zac would find himself stumbling into a proposal of matrimony, wondering how on earth he had got there.
If only she could engineer her own future with such decision.
Cosmo thoroughly enjoyed himself. He felt accepted, part of the family, and a beam of good humour lodged on his face early in the day and thereafter refused to move.
The portents were changing for the better, he decided. His infernal itch had finally disappeared, for one thing. He was unsure whether the itch had been a product of imagination or whether one of the lotions had finally been effective. He tended to believe the former, rather than the latter, and he had disposed of all the books and medicines in which he had invested.
Their ownership had been a worry. Visits to the Kirkgate shop for brown paper parcels had been a worry. Removing that worry had brought a great sense of relief. The itch had stopped and the glory of his morning manhood had returned.
The only cloud on his horizon was the letter that said Mr Tyler was hoping to arrive in England in February. It was unworthy to hope for a tempest wild enough to sink the clipper upon which he would sail, for such a disaster would claim innocent lives, but he had begun to hope that a righteous wave might sweep the slave-owner overboard whilst he was engaged upon a lone and foolhardy stroll along the deck during a storm.
He would give Robert fair warning and hope that his friend would take appropriate steps to avoid a ruinous confrontation.
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