You May Kiss the Bride(3)

By: Lisa Berne


Cecily now smiled at Livia with that same kindly air. “And I won’t be too grand to forget you, Livia dear. Your future must be thought of, too. I don’t suppose I’ll be able to arrange a match for you—that would be reaching a little too high—but perhaps I could ask among my new acquaintance if they might need a governess. That, I daresay, would suit you admirably. Not quite belowstairs, but elevated above the other servants.” Then she lifted her delicate blond eyebrows. “Oh, dear, no, it would be impossible, wouldn’t it? You’ve had no training. But perhaps I can find something for you by and by, once I’m Mrs. Penhallow. Perhaps even in my own household. Wouldn’t that be jolly?”

“Well, well,” Lady Glanville said indulgently, “let’s not get ahead of ourselves, my dear. You are not Mrs. Penhallow yet. Although I doubt that Mr. Penhallow will meet with a prettier girl anywhere, here or abroad.” She folded the letter and with conspicuous care put it back into her reticule. “We must be on our way. There’s a vast deal yet to do, for the Penhallows arrive the day after tomorrow. Our ball will be, I may say without false modesty, exceptional. All the neighborhood gentry are to come.”

“And you,” Cecily said, still smiling sweetly at Livia, “are invited too. And dear Mrs. Stuart, of course.”

“Too, too kind.” Livia could tell her face was getting red with the effort of remaining civil.

“I know you do not dance, not having had the benefit of a master,” Lady Glanville told her, “but you must come, find yourself a quiet little corner, and enjoy the decorations. We are doing up the ballroom in the Egyptian style. Quite a hundred pounds have been spent on potted palms alone.”

“How delightful.” The hot flush was spreading down her neck.

“Yes, yes, delightful,” Aunt Bella said to Lady Glanville, struggling feebly to sit a little more upright, “but you know I don’t go out. Charles must take her.”

Her ladyship smiled archly. “I knew such would be the case. Lord Glanville sent a message to that effect. He is bringing up from the cellar some Spanish port and trusts Charles will share it with him.”

“Oh, he’ll go then,” answered Aunt Bella, visibly relieved and sinking back onto her cushions. “How nice for you, Livia.”

“Yes, and we brought some more of my old gowns for you,” added Cecily. “My maid has them in the hall. Perhaps one of them might suit you for the ball. Though you are wider than I am.”

“My Cecily is quite the soul of benevolence, is she not, dear Bella? Well, Livia, you must be anxious to see your new dresses. Why don’t you run along, and retrieve them from Cecily’s maid. What fun you shall have.”

She had been dismissed. Livia rose and after dipping the briefest of curtsies in Lady Glanville’s direction, went to the door with long strides, so angry that she felt she had to get out of there or explode. Behind her she heard Aunt Bella saying in a soft little bleat, “Livia! No word of gratitude! Pray come back!” Instead, she closed the door with exaggerated gentleness and leaned against it for a moment.

By the bannister stood a maidservant with an armful of gowns. With a muttered sentence of thanks Livia took them and hurried upstairs to her room where with savage satisfaction she flung the gowns against the wall, leaving them to lie in a crumpled heap on the floor. She paced back and forth, back and forth, until the red haze of rage subsided. Then she went to her bed and dropped full-length upon it with unladylike abandon, causing the old wood frame to creak alarmingly.

It was stupid of her, she knew, to react like that to the Orrs. But it was hard, so hard, when Cecily had everything and she had so very little. No parents, no brothers or sisters; no money, no education, no prospects.

Your future must be thought of, too.

It was strange, now that she considered it, how little time she had spent thinking about her future. Possibly because there was no point to it. In her existence here she was like a great hoary tree, deeply, immovably, rooted into the earth.

She couldn’t even hang on to the morbid hope of inheriting anything from Uncle Charles when he died. He’d run through most of Aunt Bella’s money ages ago, and year by year everything had slowly declined, dwindled, faded away. Now there wasn’t much left; the estate barely brought in enough for Aunt Bella to pay for her cordial, and for Uncle Charles to spend his days hunting, drinking, and eating. Speaking of romantic marriages.

Well, it could be worse. At least she didn’t have a mother like that revolting Lady Glanville. Imagine having her breathing down one’s neck all day.

Still, this was only a small consolation.

A very small consolation.

Livia thought about Cecily’s beautiful white gown and those elegant kid slippers with the dainty pink rosettes.

It was those rosettes that did it.

Envy, like a nasty little knife slipping easily into soft flesh, seemed to pierce her very soul.

Abruptly Livia twisted onto her side and stared at nothing.

She would not cry.

Crying never helped anything.

There came to her, suddenly, the memory of the first time she had met Cecily, some twelve years ago; they’d both been around six. Cecily and her mother had come to call. Livia, recently arrived from faraway India, desperately lonely, was so anxious to be friends with the lovely, beautifully dressed girl with the long shining curls. Shyly she had approached, trying to smile, and Cecily had responded by saying in a clear, carrying voice: