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Authors: Marly Mathews

His Christmas Nymph

BOOK: His Christmas Nymph
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His Christmas Nymph

By Marly Mathews

A Regency Holiday Romance

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Copyright © 2014 by Marly Mathews

Cover Art by Lily Smith

Edited by Kristen Schubach

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Chapter One

 

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?

O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,

That can sing both high and low; 

Trip no further, pretty sweeting, 

Journeys end in lovers’ meeting—         

Every wise man’s son doth know. 

 

What is love? ’tis not hereafter; 

Present mirth hath present laughter; 

What’s to come is still unsure: 

In delay there lies no plenty,—         

Then come kiss me, Sweet-and-twenty, 

Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

 

Twelfth Night, SHAKESPEARE

 

Gloucestershire, England, 1819

Caroline Griffiths listened outside of her father’s office. Her step-mother was inside attempting to persuade her father to do something to get Caroline out of her way. Her usual solution for this problem was to hurl prospective men at her father telling him Caroline was about to hit spinsterhood, and he couldn’t allow her to be placed on the shelf.

Since she couldn’t hear Gertrude’s voice, she figured that she had decided to do some needle work instead of needling her father about her matrimonial prospects. Sighing, she pul
led on her emerald green cloak and leather gloves. 

The soles on her walking boots were wearing thin but they didn’t have the funds to buy any new ones for her. Her step-mother spent far too much on her wardrobe and constantly went over their monthly budget. She feared they would end up in the poorhouse if she didn’t reign in her outrageous spending soon. 

For whatever reason, Gertrude Griffiths believed she had married a rich man instead of the youngest son of a Baronet. Caroline’s father had lived off a very small yearly income for his entire married life to her mother—and yet her mother had been able to stretch the budget to afford luxuries they no longer could splurge on.

They were down to one maid now, and Caroline ended up helping Sally the maid, with many of her duties. Her hands were raw from cleaning, and her eyesight was strained by staying up far too late to indulge in her favo
urite pastime—reading.

And reading by one candle was extremely hard on the eyes. She would have to give that up soon as well as they could barely afford beeswax candles now and would have to lower themselves to using beef tallow ca
ndles shortly. If her mother were alive she would have been horrified, but if her mother were still alive they would not be in this shoddy predicament.   

Every single day, she had to watch her step-mother flaunt her extremely amply built body around her mother’s house while she bragged about how she was the lady of the manse now
, and not Caroline. 

Sometimes, she prayed she could escape—to where, she had no clue, only that she wanted to be anywhere else and not with Gertrude. 

Banbury House was no longer her home. It had been invaded by the enemy and now that enemy sucked every last morsel of joy out of it. 

These days her
father rarely emerged from his office. She had a feeling he knew he’d made a colossal blunder in marrying the widow Gertrude Perkins, and didn’t want to openly admit it to Caroline.

Alas, he’d reached that conclusion far too late and now he was stuck with an unbearable shrew of a wife. Caroline had warned him against entering into the bonds of holy matrimony with the wretched widow but he hadn’t heeded her advice, thinking she didn’t want anyone to replace her
dear Mama. 

She halted on her way to Banbury’s front door when she heard Gertrude’s whiny high pitched voice. 

“Benjamin Griffiths, you have a daughter that needs a husband.  Why, my own daughters were safely married off by the time they reached one and twenty and Caroline is nearing four and twenty. As much as I hate to admit it, she is quite the little blossom, and with her fairylike beauty I do not think it would be too hard for you to find her a suitable match. In fact, I already have one in mind. My cousin is in need of a wife and Virgil is a very respectable young man, he may not be the most handsome specimen. Nonetheless, his modest income and respectability within the community far makes up for it.”

“Her mother wanted her to fall in love and choose her own husband, just as Lady Margaret chose me. I’ve told you this time and again, Gertrude,” Weariness plagued her father’s voice. “I promised Margaret I would not stray from that course. I will not stain her memory by breaking my vow, wife. A
nd if I did break my word to Margaret, she is the sort of woman that would come back to haunt me. I loved her too much while she was alive to make her hate me in death, Gertrude.

You can do whatever else you like around this house, but Caroline is off limits. She is my daughter, and you would do good to remember that. I didn’t interfere when you want
ed to marry your girls off. Therefore, you will not interfere with Caroline’s life. If you do I will be awfully sore at you, and you don’t want me cross with you, darling wife. Let me warn you firmly on that course. I am an affable sort. Pray, don’t make me something I am not.”  

He sounded strained to the limit. Distressed though he might be at the moment, her kind-hearted father would never lose his temper with Gertrude, and Gertrude knew that fully realizing that she would eventually get whatever she wanted from Benjamin. Caroline could only pray that he would stay the course when it came to Virgil. She would not marry someone that she didn’t at least like.    

“Well, Caroline’s mother didn’t have her head in the clouds the way that Caroline does—she was a dependable sort of woman with a sensibility Caroline sorely lacks. Your daughter is rather jingle-brained. She has her head in the clouds. She is constantly dreaming about things she has no right to dream about. The world is not ready for a girl like her. She’s far too independent minded, and your indulgence in her has created that revolting bit of her personality. I confess her pixilated airs are making me quite the bundle of nerves! I wouldn’t be surprised if worry about Caroline is what finally put Lady Margaret into the ground, God rest her soul.”

“How dare you say such a terrible thing, Gertrude! It’s malicious and uncalled for. Margaret’s death ha
d nothing to do with Caroline. If anything that darling girl prolonged her life, rather than shortening it.”  

Caroline’s heart raced. She dared not move for fear the wood floor would creak and give away the fact that she eavesdropped on them.

“As you say, Benjamin,” Gertrude said grudgingly.

“Nonetheless, you rush headlong into pushing Caroline toward the bonds of matrimony and yet you fail to remember one pivotal piece of information. We do not have the funds to giv
e her a suitable dowry. I will never forgive myself for not being able to afford Caroline the same type of upbringing that her dear mama had. I wasn’t even able to send her to London to be presented officially on the marriage mart as she deserved. I could have sent her to Boston to be presented to the social set there but I can’t bear to part with her for that long, and she would not take an American husband I am afraid. She loves England far too much.”

“She has Banbury House. Certainly that is enough of a dowry to offer,” Gertrude countered.

“Does she? I do not know what will happen to Banbury House upon my death,” he said wistfully.

“Then, you will simply have to find someone who doesn’t want it. I know I could persuade Virgil
to marry her without the dowry. Besides, he’s very susceptible to the ladies with pretty faces, and comely bodies and your darling Caroline has both. Whatever happens, I will not have her under this roof for another year, Benjamin. There is only room for one mistress of this house and that is me.”

Caroline
could envision the vexed expression on her father’s face. He paced his office endlessly day after day. His relatively new marriage and his quickly growing debts were wearing heavily on him, and Caroline feared that she would be an orphan by the spring if something didn’t change for the better before that. 

She couldn’t bear hearing
any more of their conversation. She’d met Virgil once and he was a disgusting foul man who stunk of barnyard animals and looked as if he bathed once a year, if that. 

No, she would not marry him. She would runaway to the Colonies to seek sanctuary with her mother’s younger sister, before she endured that fate worse than death. Correspondence from her aunt told her she was more than welcome to cross the Pond and live with her. She’d even promised to throw balls in her hono
ur and to find a nice Yankee buck to take her hand in marriage.

Her father was right, as much as the thought appealed to her to have the adventure of crossing the Atlantic and being debuted on the social scene there, her heart would pine for the rolling lush green hills and valleys of the Cotswolds. Her aunt loved life in the Americas and had thrived there, but she would not.
She would die if she was ever taken away from her beloved England.

With her hand shaking, she reached for her shopping basket and her reticule.  Taking a deep breath, she opened up the heavy Tudor style door and walked out into the cold winter morning. 

With her reticule hanging off her wrist, she started walking down the lane toward the village of Buckland.  Her childhood friend, Fanny Thomas stood waiting for her at the end of the lane. 

Fanny was to be married in the spring and she’d be moving to Portsmouth to be near her husband who was an officer in the Royal Navy. Their friendship would be fractured when she moved away, for Caroline could not afford to travel to see her and the occasional missive could hardly substitute the close friendship they had always enjoyed.

As it was, she barely went a day without seeing Fanny, and when they’d gone into mourning for first Arthur and then, Christopher, with her mother so weakened with grief, Fanny had been there giving her support while Caroline did all she could to keep her mother’s spirits high.

Her dearly departed brothers were not burie
d in the local Church Graveyard with her mother, they had been buried where they’d fallen in battle. When she’d lost and buried her beloved mother so close after losing Christopher, Fanny had been by her side, keeping her from losing her mind entirely. Those were dark days, days where she believed she would drown from the intense grief pressing down upon her.  

Christopher’s death had been doubly tragic as he had been brought down at the Battle of Waterloo, having survived the Peninsular War virtually unscathed. They’d
been so close to having him home with them safe and sound, only to have him killed in action at that infamous battle.

It wasn’t fair, and it was the first time she’d hea
rd her father curse and curse. He’d let out expletives she hadn’t heard before. She’d never seen him so angry and so heartbroken. He’d railed against God for taking so much from him, and she’d hated to hear him so despondent.  

“I’m ever so sorry, Caroline. I can’t tarry for long. Mother wants me back at Honeysuckle H
ouse, as the boys have come home from school for Christmas. I was told to run down the lane and tell you our trip to the village would have to be postponed. I know you wanted to go and visit Mrs. Finch and her sister. Alas, I can’t disobey Mama.”

“I know, Fanny. I’ll just go and walk through the grounds of Whitney Park. I need to put some distance between Gertrude and I, and while I don’t want to take the rather long walk into the village alone, the short jaunt to Whitney Park is more to my liking. I tucked a book into my basket to give to Mrs. Finch, hoping it would cheer her poor spir
its. Oh how I fervently wish that my poor Father had married Mrs. Finch instead. She’s such a dear little thing, and her friendship with my mother endured until the very end. Pray, do not worry about me, I’ll just sit in Whitney Park’s Greek Temple Folly and read it there until I have to return home.”

“You could come home with me. Mother would welcome your presence.”

She smiled. Fanny’s mother had the same views concerning when a proper young lady should marry and she would only attempt to make Caroline see the light, the way Gertrude constantly harangued her on the subject.

“I’ll be fine, Fanny. I’d rather get some fresh air. It’s been raining for so long I almost forgot what it feels like to sit beneath the winter sun. I dearly hope we shall have a bit of snow in time for Christmas. Don’t fret over me. We’ll have plenty of time to kick up a lark before you marry your love.”

Fanny smiled at her and pulled her into a brief hug. “You’ll be fine, Caroline. I know you’ll eventually find a man worthy of your love.”

“I’m a penniless waif, Fanny. I have nothing to offer a prospective beau.”

“You are far from being a penniless waif. There is nothing waif like about you. You have a strong and an enduring spirit. Besides, your father will not see you marry a man who will make you miserable. He’s not the sort of man to do that to his only daughter—and only surviving child. My father, on the other hand, well, let’s just say he’d do whatever he had to in order to see the back of me. He hasn’t ceased talking about my marriage since Thomas asked for my hand. Father thinks the world of him and keeps going on about how he is a British hero.”

Thomas Braithwai
te had served with distinction during the Napoleonic Wars, as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and had since been promoted to the rank of Commander. He hoped to one day soon be promoted to Captain and finally be given his own ship to command. 

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