Candle’s Christmas Chair – in which our hero discovers the value of gossip and our heroine is disappointed in her menfolk

The rest of chapter four, which brings us halfway through the novella. I’ve now finished the edit and sent the novella to beta readers, so I’m on target for publication before Christmas. Very exciting. And my young artist friend reckons she can trace paint Candle’s chair, so that just may be the cover sorted.

Begin at the beginning: Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 1

Or go back to the previous episode: Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 6

Her_First_Love_Letter_by_Marcus_Stone

Now that she had opened the way, Candle found himself talking to his mother about Miss Bradshaw. He’d never told anyone about the ill-fated house party, but he could make a story of it without bitterness now that he knew that he and his beloved had been the victims of malicious scheming.

“Why would they do it, Mother?” he wondered.

“I can think of a number of reasons, Randall. Some people like to break anything pretty or pleasing. They cannot stand for other people to be happy. From what you say, the brother thought of you as his natural victim. And the sister probably felt the same about Miss Bradshaw. I daresay the pair of you ignored them, and they would hate that.”

Candle nodded. “I wouldn’t even remember them being there if Miss Kitteridge had not been the one to tell me Miss Bradshaw was gone.”

“Another possibility is that Miss Kitteridge had hopes of her own. It was about that time my brother retired to England, and she may have thought you would inherit–which you did, of course, though not until this year.”

“I don’t think so, she wasn’t even nice to me… although…” Candle stared into the past for a moment. “Actually, around six months later she tried to… warm the acquaintance, I suppose. All of a sudden, she seemed to be at all the events I went to, and she stopped making cutting remarks and–I got the impression she wanted me as part of her court.”

“I expect she hadn’t been in town till then.”

Candle agreed. Kitteridge and his sister had come up to London for the Season.

“So what did you do,” Mother asked.

Candle flushed a little. “Seeing her reminded me of losing Miss Bradshaw. So I stopped going into Society until she left London again.”

“And then look what she did next.”

“I don’t know what she did next.”

“She married Baron Norton, Randall dear. And gave birth to a very premature baby five months after the wedding. A son, after Lord Norton’s previous four wives had failed to have any children at all.”

“Good Heavens, Mother. Are you suggesting what I think you are suggesting?”

“I think you were Miss Kitteridge’s first choice to father her cuckoo. On the whole, she did not do too badly in choosing Lord Norton.”

“You shock me, Mother. You think him a preferable husband to me?”

“I think she would have found you far less malleable than she expected. And Lord Norton suffered a seizure at the christening party after over imbibing in celebratory punch. He was dead before his heir was six months old. Yes, she didn’t do too badly at all. Of course, the money is in trust for the little heir, and she is not a trustee. Or the boy’s guardian. But Lord Norton left her a moderate income and a house in Bath as her widow’s portion.”

“How on earth do you know all this, Mother.”

Mother smiled, gently. “I told you Lady Cresthover has her uses.”

#*#

Sunday morning brought carnations, a mixed bunch of red and white. “‘You are sweet and lovely, and my heart aches for you’,” Mama translated.

After the Sunday service, Daniel found Min in the conservatory, sketching an improvement to the gearing that moved the wheels on a merlin chair.

“What’s that you’ve got? Something for one of your chairs?” he asked.

“A gearing,” she said, shortly, but he didn’t take the hint.

“I’m glad I found you alone. Are Uncle George and Aunt Gavriella…” he looked around as if he was expecting them to leap out from behind one of the potted ferns.

“Papa is resting, and Mama is sitting with him.”

Daniel looked alarmed, and Min hastened to reassure him. “He is just tired. You have been working long hours, and he is not a young man.”

“Yes. It has been hard on him, but you know how he is. He needs to watch over everything.” Daniel shook his head. “I’ve told him he needs to slow down. But he won’t.”

“He will soon. He says he plans to retire once this contract is signed. When do you expect that?”

“We’ll have the order done tomorrow, so that will be the worst of it. We won’t be able to relax till the client has finished inspections, but by the end of the week we’ll know for certain whether the contract is going ahead.” Daniel grimaced. “I don’t know, though. He has talked about retirement before, but it has never happened.”

“Mama has never been in favour before,” Min told him. “This time, she is saying it is time to let go. She knows you can handle it. I know you can handle it. Even Papa knows. You are an excellent manager, and of course it will all be yours one day.”

She had resented that, when she was younger; being overlooked as an heir to the carriage works just because she was female. But building the chair business had taught her her father’s decision to choose Daniel to inherit was a practical one. The buyers wanted to deal with a man. The suppliers wanted to deal with a man. The workers wanted to deal with a man. At every turn, she had to prove herself, struggle against their preconceptions, and–even then–often call her father or her cousin to back her up.

She was slowly building a reputation and a set of relationships that made those help calls less necessary, but her father’s support meant she had remained in business while she did so.

“Thank you, Minnie. That means a lot to me, to have you say that.”

“So what did you want to say to me, Daniel?”

Uncharacteristically, Daniel looked at his feet. “Minnie, I was wondering, are you going to accept Lord Avery?”

No, she wasn’t, but she choked on saying so. “He has not asked me, Daniel.”

“Aunt Gavriella says he will. She is generally right, you know.”

“It would not work, Daniel, you know that. They can put up with us if we stay in our place, the upper classes. But if we dare to think we are as good as they are…” She trailed off. Daniel had been to a school for gentlemen. He knew how the gentry treated their sort.

“Perhaps. Well, what about Billingham?”

“Are you trying to marry me off, Daniel?”

“Minnie, you have to see. If your father retires and moves away, you can’t stay here. You can’t go on working in the yard, and you can’t go on living in the same house as me. There. That’s what I came to say.”

His back was stiff with embarrassment as he left.

Min sat by herself for a long time. Of course she couldn’t stay. Cousins though they were, and raised as brother and sister, they could not live under the one roof without Mama and Papa in the house.

As soon as Daniel said so, she realised it. Mama and Papa planned to retire to a country village where Mama could have a garden and, Papa said, where Daniel wouldn’t feel Papa breathing down his neck.

But she hadn’t considered how that might affect her. How foolish.

#*#

When the last of the order was filled the next day, Papa took the rest of the afternoon off.

“Papa, may I walk with you?” Min asked.

“Leaving early, daughter?” Papa said. “Yes, walk with me.” He offered her his arm, and they set off down the road together. “I want to ask you about Lord Avery,” Papa said. “Roses, this morning, was it? What does Mama say about that?”

“Buds of moss roses with lily of the valley. ‘Confessions of love to one who is sweet’, Mama said.” She mightn’t want Lord Avery’s pursuit, but she couldn’t help be touched.

“Do you like him, daughter?”

“It does not matter, Papa. He is a viscount, and I am a carriage-maker’s daughter. It would not work.”

“Is he a good man, Little Owl?” Papa hadn’t called her ‘Little Owl’ in years. It was his pet name for her, a reference to the familiar of the goddess she was named for.

“I think he is, Papa. But he is still a viscount. Papa, have you thought about where you and Mama will go when you retire?”

“I have promised Mama a garden. I have promised Daniel that I won’t look over his shoulder. And I’ve promised myself I will be close enough to Bath to come back if Daniel needs me.” Papa laughed at his own reluctance to let go.

“Anywhere in particular, Papa?”

Papa shook his head. “We haven’t started looking, yet. After Christmas. After Christmas we will decide a place and a date. Do you have a place you would like, daughter?”

“I do not mind, Papa. As long as it has a workshop big enough for me to make my chairs.”

“You should be making babies, not chairs,” Papa grumbled. “Marry your viscount or choose another man, and give me and Mama grand-babies.”

“I would marry a man who would let me make chairs,” Min said.

“Ah Min. Your Mama was right. She told me that if I encouraged you I would end up breaking your heart. Min. Little Owl. Face facts. Women aren’t meant to make carriages, even your little ones.  I’ve let you make your chairs and sell them, and a very good job you have done of it too. I’ve been very proud of you. But a man doesn’t want his wife to go out to work.”

“You let Mama work in the harness shop,” Min protested.

“Remember that, do you? I had no choice, Min. We didn’t have the money, when we started out, to hire a good harness maker. Mama was the best. But as soon as I could, I replaced her so that she could stay home. A man doesn’t want his wife to go out to work. Looking after the home, visiting her friends. That’s enough.”

“Not for me,” Min wanted to say, but Papa kept talking.

“No, Min, give up this notion and look around for a husband. I don’t blame you for not wanting Billingham. How a bright man like his father has such a foolish son is beyond me. But come out of your workshop sometimes. Go to a few dinners and parties. Meet people. Look around. What do you say, Min? It’ll be fun.”

Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 8

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