THE ELLINGTON HALL TRILOGY
New York, New York
“Damn it to hell!”
Ellis Ellington, heir apparent to Ellington Hall, collapsed onto a chair and read the message through for the third time.
PHOEBE HOLLISTER MARRIED FRIDAY LAST TO THE HONORABLE JAMES PARKER STOP LEFT FOR AFRICA IMMEDIATELY STOP LET US KNOW SAFE ARRIVAL STOP MARGRED ELLINGTON.
eHe crumpled the telegram and threw it to the floor, resisting the urge to grind it into the carpet. Indignation brought him to his feet again. He paced back and forth as thoughts and feelings assailed him, so forceful he shouted aloud.
“The second I’m out of the country, she up and marries Parker, of all people! She told me she was breaking the engagement! I must say, I’m not surprised, or shouldn’t be. Not after watching the two of them skirt the issue for over a year!”
The main argument stuck in his throat, requiring extra effort to dislodge and spit it out.
“But I’ve known her my entire life!” he yelled to the walls.
His tirade availed nothing, other than make him sound foolish, even to himself. He plopped down, disgusted, on the bed, arguing with himself while trying to make sense of it.
“Okay, maybe she didn’t run off and marry him. She’s not the type to do that. Or is she? I mean, she insists on riding a horse like a man, and she drinks whiskey and shoots better than I do—no, even she must admit how wholly improper it was to marry anyone so soon after her mother’s death! Maybe the lure of Parker’s peerage got the best of her. No, Phoebe could care less about titles. And if not, well, I’m an earl, or soon will be—clearly a step up from a damned baron! Damn it, I told her not to do anything till I returned!”
Unable to bear it, he rose to his feet again. Renewed pacing led him to the unopened whiskey bottle on the end table next to the door of his hotel room. He ripped it open and poured a hefty amount in a glass, feeling the need for revenge burning in his veins.
“I’ll get you yet, Phoebe Hollister!”
He yanked a pear from the fruit basket and threw it against the wall, then paced to and fro as best he could in the confines of the room.
“Africa! There she is, having the time of her life, while I’m stuck in the States explaining British aristocracy to stupid Americans! Utterly unfair!”
Just as the whiskey reached his stomach, Ellis Ellington fell back onto the bed. The slowly revolving ceiling fan flung shadows across the bead board. No matter how long or how loudly he argued with himself, Phoebe was gone. Their two ships had headed off in opposite directions, and his parents’ plan of shipping him off to America had worked. A pre-arranged engagement to one Chriselda Townsend, a banker’s daughter, would soon be a fact. According to Ellis’ mother, she was pretty and accomplished. To Ellis’ father, Chriselda’s most alluring attribute was her availability to anyone with a suitable title, willing to take on a questionable Teutonic ancestry and the maddening insensibilities of those born and bred in the Colonies.
The nagging thought that his absence had left Phoebe open to Parker’s advances continued to bother him. Obviously, his so-called friend had forged ahead in his quest to win Phoebe’s attentions until she had given in, though Ellis never would have thought it of her. Did Africa lay behind it all, and that ridiculous idea of trying to find her father?
“When I told her to find a suitable traveling companion, I sure as hell didn’t mean Parker!” Ellis growled. “It had to be a marriage of convenience. What else could she do after her mother’s death, but marry money to secure her future?”
Touché, old friend.
Ellis’ shoulders relaxed. She’d only done what he was now doing.
The whiskey finally stopped his hands from shaking. He dressed for dinner with the Townsends, it being far too late to cancel whether or not he was in the mood.
“Besides, if Phoebe’s seen fit to forge ahead, then so must I!”
The mirror reflected regret in his young face. If his parents hadn’t disparaged Phoebe because of her questionable birth, he might have won her over. And being the daughter of Torin Ellington, legitimate or not, was nothing to sneeze at.
In crossing the room, he paused at the crumpled telegram, picked it up, and tossed it in the waste bin. The SS Cymric had made record time crossing the Atlantic. His mother’s missal must have followed him post-haste, as he had only just arrived the day before, where he’d been met by Mr. and Mrs. Townsend.
The Townsends had escorted him to the Holland House on Fifth Avenue, where he pretended staying at an expensive hotel was an everyday occurrence. He tried not to dwell on the filly his father had been forced to sell in order to finance his New York adventure. His mother had termed it a reasonable investment. The only thing Ellis admired about the situation was the new wardrobe necessitated by his mingling with American millionaires. Still, he wished he could talk to Phoebe! They would laugh at it all, as they always had, even his upcoming engagement.
Or would that be improper, now that she was a married woman?
A married woman.
His hands paused over the half-completed bowtie as he pondered the mystery of his own pending engagement, and the sudden realization that his friendship with Phoebe was probably what he valued most, if he were to choose between the two.
He sparingly applied the woodsy lavender scent supposedly all the rage—a term used several times by Americans as they crossed the Atlantic, as if it were their own invention instead of having originated in Europe a century ago.
“I don’t care if we are supposed to be cousins across the pond, they’re intolerable.”
And God forbid, he was about to be surrounded by— an entire entourage of even more assuming Americans. How was he to endure?
Replacing the cap onto the bottle of cologne, he placed it carefully in the top drawer of the dresser and tried not to think how much it had cost. It was worth the price when the aroma of a forest reminded him of the last time he’d seen Phoebe—the goodbye kiss beneath their favorite tree. A tendril of her luscious, dark hair had fallen across her temple. And her magnificent eyes, such a light grey that on occasion it was like gazing into crystal. And the kiss.
There, his countenance fell.
After dreaming of the moment for so long, the reality had failed in every respect. And Phoebe felt the same—he was sure of it. Had they been friends too long to be anything else? Worse, did she feel anything when she kissed Parker?
Ellis scowled and obliterated his attempt at the bowtie, deciding on an ascot instead.
He’d seen the attraction between the two of them from the beginning, when he first introduced them at a rugby match. He’d tried to discourage it, knowing Parker’s reputation with women. Now, Parker had Phoebe all to himself. For as long as they both shall live.
“While I’m thousands of miles away, about to be sold to the highest bidder!”
He automatically adjusted his cuffs over the cuff links, admiring the double E’s engraved in the gold. Thank God that filly had sold for more than expected. He wondered if he would fare as well as the filly. Would he fetch enough to save Ellington Hall? What about stud fees?
Oh God, what if there was no attraction between himself and this Chriselda Townsend?
What if, when he kissed her, there was nothing there?
Could he face a lifetime of feeling nothing? What a horrid thought. How did they do it—couples who found themselves in a loveless marriage? He didn’t want to imagine it, or be one of them. Not now. Not ever.
A last-minute grooming of his blonde moustache completed the perfect picture of an heir apparent from Devonshire about to enter New York’s High Society. He prayed they proved at least more demure and proper than those he’d been exposed to on the journey over.
Well-pleased with the results in the mirror, he stood a bit taller. Presentation was everything, and he presented rather well. Strange, he’d never thought it before. But now?
Tall enough to warrant respect, in clothes that bespoke good breeding. Not as intense or aloof as James Kensington Parker, but still what people expected in an heir apparent. Though lacking the aristocratic limp Parker had gleaned from a rugby injury, his own reflection bespoke hale and hearty, good-looking, and well-groomed. Yes, he would do nicely.
Besides, intense often came across as rude, whereas proper and accepted were far more desired. After all, proper decorum had made the British Empire possible, and would continue to do so. He gave an indignant hmph to his conclusions. Decorum. Something Phoebe seemed lacking in at times, or even downright indifferent to. With an Irish background and a temper to prove it, he should say good riddance to her, right?
What if these Townsends lacked decorum as well?
Looking back on his conversations with the other travelers who had dined at the Captain’s table crossing the Atlantic, he recalled several occasions when they had displayed typical, undisciplined behavior, to be sure—even an inclination to vulgarity. Yet, what recourse had he at the time, but to remain and suffer through as best he could? As he recalled the experience, he began ticking things off on his mental checklist as he slipped keys, wallet, and pen into his silk-lined pockets.
# # #
The usual shipboard exchange of pleasantries always began with where everyone was headed and for what reason. When he casually mentioned he was to be the guest of the Townsends, several eyes widened considerably.
“Not the late John P. Townsend, of Knickerbocker Trust?”
At which point, the other passengers seated at the table in the dining room leaned forward in such a threatening manner, he feared he was to be the main course.
“Clayton Townsend,” he answered, as calmly as possible, recalling the prodigious details from his mother’s brief encounter with the Townsends in Egypt. “Also in banking, but a distant cousin, I’m told.”
His fellow passengers recoiled as one with a sigh of disappointment. A huge-breasted woman named Smith-Harrigan refused to give up and remained tilted toward him in a manner that threatened to dislodge the table, and quite possibly, tilt the ship.
“Mr. Clayton Townsend is very well connected, you know,” she said, nodding to each one there as she spoke. “I read it in the Times. Just imagine—he can trace his ancestry back to the Townsends of Massachusetts, in 1637!”
It wasn’t difficult to imagine for an Englishman or Scotsman like Ellis, who could trace his family back even farther. Still, he said nothing.
“Oh, yes. I’m quite sure there must have been a Townsend or two on the Mayflower.” This, from a tall, thin gentleman with glasses and hair parted down the middle. “And if that be the case, then heaven knows, they’re likely scattered all over New England by now!” Everyone laughed, though Ellis thought the remark a bit questionable and rather crude.
“I hear the Clayton Townsends are only worth $2 million,” a second gentleman sitting opposite grunted, mumbling through his unkempt mustache, “nowhere near John P.’s fortune.”
Ellis cringed inside at the vulgarity of discussing a man’s fortune in public amidst strangers, but he formed an unbidden mental picture of rabbits named Townsend scurrying all over the New England countryside with dollar signs on their fluffy little rears, multiplying exponentially as they hopped here and there. The image enabled him to join in the laughter.
# # #
The tiresome voyage behind him, Ellis could smile at the remembrance as he left the hotel to catch a carriage, thinking how Parker had admired the Americans. At this point, the only concession Ellis could make was that they were good for a laugh.
He found nothing humorous about the Townsends’ uptown address of expansive homes and wide avenues. Their mansion struck him as rather breathtaking in its massive girth, though lacking in a sense of history or peerage. Nothing even close to Ellington Hall, but impressive just the same.
In the parlor, after being greeted cordially by Mr. Clayton Townsend and Mrs. Anita Shriver-Townsend, he was presented to his intended. He’d wondered what she must be like, having already observed that Mr. Townsend was thick-chested and looked as a banker should, respectable and a bit upper crust. Mrs. Townsend, on the outer fringes of what probably constituted a beauty in her day, seemed forgettable, though polite and charming.
Chriselda turned out to be a quiet young lady with reddish-brown hair and lovely green eyes. And a fine figure. Ellis’ mother had informed him before he left England that Chriselda had recently been presented, which would make her around 17 or 18 years of age, depending on how much time had passed. Gertrude Stuyvesant herself had helped launch her into New York Society, according to what his mother had told him. But apparently, no proposals had been forthcoming—at least, none that had proved suitable or acceptable.
Ellis wondered why.
As they exchanged a few muted pleasantries, he detected a hardness in Chriselda Townsend’s regard and in her eyes that at first he mistook as being meant for him. A rigidity in her posture seemed due more to her countenance than her corset. Perhaps she resented being parceled off, as he did. What bothered him more was the absence of any attraction on either of their parts. Then, even as he made polite conversation while pondering the standoffishness of her character, he turned as someone entered the room, and discovered the source of her discontent, and the reason why men conquer nations.
Violet Townsend was two years younger than Chriselda, and by far the loveliest creature Ellis had ever beheld. In fact, he lingered a bit longer when introduced to her, entranced by her dark blonde hair and her wide, innocent, violet—yes, violet!— eyes that caused him to smile in anticipation, though he wasn’t sure why. He fought a blush rising inside him when he realized that he didn’t care one whit about marrying her; he just wanted to bed her. Once that was accomplished, he could fight off anyone else wishing to do the same.
The way she returned his gaze, while not necessarily confirming the attraction, still rendered a modicum of hope. The phrase shrinking Violet in no way applied to her character or her beauty. Her voice was soft, yet firm. Her countenance struck him as yielding, but from a position of strength. Ellis couldn’t help thinking Violet would be very good for him, in more ways than one.
He even overlooked her rather garish dress that evoked an exploded summer garden. She obviously liked flowers, and Ellis was in no way put off by her poor taste in fashion, not when he occupied himself envisioning her without any clothes to speak of, other than a thin, clinging, wet chemise. As they moved toward the dining room, Ellis found himself herded toward Chriselda. He caught the not-so-discreet smile and knowing nod from her father.
“So this is how it’s going to be,” he thought to himself.
Not if I can help it.
The dinner was superb. Virginia ham cooked to perfection, cornbread dressing, glazed sweet potatoes, a polite little salad, and a tolerable wine. The two oldest daughters proved well-trained in comportment and subject matter. Knowing the Townsends expected him to direct his attention toward Chriselda, Ellis made sure to do so, while Violet drove him insane with her quiet speech and focused interest, her lovely eyes cast demurely down. She was playing him, of course, and he loved every minute of it.
The undercurrent of dislike, even competition, arose of its own accord between Chriselda and Violet during Ellis’ discourse regarding his journey across the Atlantic. Chriselda seemed genuinely interested in the other passengers, in what they said and what they wore. Violet’s focus centered on Ellis—what Ellis did, what Ellis thought—which he found extremely flattering. All was as it should be, with no awkwardness or unwanted surprises.
Mr. and Mrs. Townsend proposed a list of sites they all might visit during his sojourn in New York. When Ellis asked Violet for her favorite site, she wistfully mentioned the Statue of Liberty, adding that there was a boat ride out to Ellis Island (why, it’s the same name as yours!).
Her comment, that the boat ride had been more enjoyable than the statue, seemed perfectly understandable. Being otherwise engaged to visit the island, Chriselda had yet to see the famous statue gifted from the French, though she had read of it and had many fascinating facts to relate—none of the nearly as endearing as her younger sister’s.
Violet murmured how romantic it was for the French to have given them a statue of their own—New York, that is. Ellis knew better, but declined to spoil the moment. It seemed perfectly natural for Violet to think New York worthy of its own statue.
In fact, Ellis didn’t miss Phoebe’s demand for absolute truth at all, nor her habit of doing and saying whatever she pleased. In contrast, he found it refreshing to spend time in the company of ladies who said what was expected of them to say and handled themselves with restraint and reserve. He could grow accustomed to this society in a heartbeat. With a few exceptions, it didn’t differ so much from British aristocracy.
The Townsends took him under their wing. They explained the nouveau riche and why certain families like the Astors, Vanderbilts, and Knickerbockers were held in greater esteem. The rest, for the most part, were social climbers yet to arrive. As a banker, Mr. Townsend had carved a comfortable niche for his family somewhere between the two strata of society, yet decidedly leaning toward the upper echelon.
Over liquor and cigars in the drawing room, Mr. Townsend transitioned the conversation to the economic status of both of their countries, the depression of 1893, and the drop in trade which had resulted from it. Ellis felt in his element.
“A difficult time for England,” he said, “though we weren’t hit as hard as the States.” “Four million workers,” Mr. Townsend said with a sigh. “That’s how many lost jobs.” “Are the rumors true that it started in Argentina?” Ellis asked.
“Yes. Ridiculous, investing good money in a wheat crop in an unstable country. One thing affected another. Before long, railroads and banks failed. President Cleveland didn’t do a damn thing to stop it. But what’s done is done, and we’re on the mend. That being said, it’s the future I’m looking forward to, Mr. Ellington. The future.”
“As am I, sir.”
“Good. Now, before I settle on anything, I like to know where I stand. There are two matters in mind. First, I’m having the devil of a time understanding these titles and what they mean. How is it your father’s a knight, but you’re in line to be an earl?”
Ellis crossed his legs in the leather chair and leaned forward.
“There are different hierarchies in England than in Scotland. A knighthood is only a lifetime title and cannot be passed down, whereas a baronetcy is an inherited title. My grandfather, Sir Sedgwick, was knighted by letters patent submitted by the Earl of Aberdeen for services he rendered during the clearances and the potato famine in the mid-1800s. Through his intervention, thousands of lives were saved. Not just in Ireland, but in Scotland as well. And he distinguished himself in the Battle of Sevastopol, in the Crimea in 1854.”
“Yes, yes. But, you mentioned a letters patent?”
“It’s a letter presented to the crown suggesting a knighthood be granted. At the time, Aberdeen was the British Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister.”
“I see. Something like a recommendation,” Townsend said.
“Exactly. As a result, while I can’t inherit through my father, I can through my mother’s side. It’s only allowed in Scotland, where a title is passed down or through the female line. My mother was the daughter of a viscount, and the title of Earl passed down through her to the first male heir, myself. A bit unusual, but not wholly different from the societies you have here. From what I understand, there’s a High Society, a middle class, and the poor. Am I right?”
“You are indeed. Yes. And, you’re to inherit on your 25th birthday?”
“In three years’ time.”
“You are, well, rather young, if I may say so.”
“You may, and I am,” Ellis said, assuming an attitude of sincerity, “but rest assured, I have no wild oats to sow. My interests lean toward agriculture and finance.”
Mr. Townsend beamed. “Fine, fine. But, what you said about the title being passed down through your mother’s side. I’m curious. What could a woman do that would merit a title? I’m not implying anything untoward, you understand. But it must have been something unusual.”
“Aye,” Ellis said, affecting a Scottish accent. “It was a scandal of sorts dating back to my grandmother’s time, when she was the Countess of Skye. The legend goes that she got the title by saving the Duke’s bacon, literally. The tale, as told to me, had to do with a dark, stormy night, the daughter of a Squire, a pig farmer, a herd of breeder sows, three robber barons, and a loaded musket. And when we know each other a wee bit better, I’ll be glad to tell it to ye.”
Mr. Townsend laughed heartily. “You’re an engaging young man, I must say, and with a good head on your shoulders. I thought the same of Cadwyn. As you know, my wife and I became acquainted with your parents on holiday. He’s a bit rough, if you don’t mind my saying, but we were of a like mind on several matters.”
“They both spoke highly of you and Mrs. Townsend,” Ellis said. “And be assured that I feel my fortune. Yes, I fully intend to do my family proud.” He paused. “And the other matter? You said there were two.”
“Oh, right. You see, I read this article in a London newspaper about an incident at Ellington Hall, involving a Mrs. Hollister. The wife and I didn’t know what to make of it.”
“First, though it occurred in Ellington Hall, let me assure you it didn’t involve the immediate family.” Ellis said. “A lady once married to my uncle, then remarried to a Mr. Hollister, had the sole misfortune of being alone in the parlor during a burglary. The coroner ruled it death by misadventure. Rotten luck. You say you read it in the paper?”
“Four or five days after the fact, of course. Though I understand that’s about to change. You keeping up with this new wireless telegraphy?”
“I have been,” Ellis replied, thankful for the new topic. “It seems Marconi’s little project is taking off. Five miles!”
“We’ll see if our own Mr. Edison beats Marconi to the punch, as they say.”
“Ah, the race goes to the swift!”
“And in the weeks to come,” Mr. Townsend said, “we’ll see how the matter plays out between you and my daughters. I’m tempted to place a wager on the winner!”
Townsend winked, and Ellis laughed politely. His attraction to Violet had not gone undetected. At least he’d laid to rest the matter of Clarissa Hollister’s mysterious death.
“Let us speak of another kind of race,” Mr. Townsend said, leaning forward as much as his girth would allow. “What do you say on the future of horse racing in England? We’ve got three hundred tracks in the States, but the interest in racing seems to be falling off. I understand your father keeps a stable?”
“He does,” Ellis said. “We have enough land to sustain both breeding and training. And since England is where it all began, I’d say you need look no farther than Ellington Hall.”
“Ah, the smell of blood and promises,” Mr. Townsend said with a wistful smile. “I do miss it in the off-season. Tell me, do you share your father’s love of breeding and racing? I dare say we spoke of little else.”
“Actually, I’m more interested in the business side of it,” Ellis said, “though I’ve been known to lay a decent wager on a three-year-old from time to time.”
“Good man. You must come back in the Spring. We’ll go to Belmont Park.”
“An excellent track from what I’ve heard. And may I offer in return the chance to see the British Triple Crown in person, as guests of my parents?”
“I’d love nothing better! What I wouldn’t give to sneak a peek at England’s stud books. I know—it’s not allowed. Your father and I tossed around the idea of building a race course. Perhaps he told you. No? I admit, we talked of little else, since he’s about to come into more land—but that’s a discussion for another time. Meanwhile, you must move into one of our guest rooms. No need to be going back and forth to that hotel.”
“Most gracious of you,” Ellis replied, filing away Townsend’s offhand remark for later consideration. His father’s talk of more land with an American stranger had occurred months before the reading of the will.
In the weeks that followed, he and Mr. Townsend became friends and co-conspirators. Townsend had race horses, but not the millions Ellis’ parents had first thought. Just a few hundred thousand in U.S. currency—more than enough for stables and land. But, whose land?
Ellis filed away the questions nibbling at his mind, like how Townsend had amassed such wealth, and why, after doing so, he felt the need to leave America and settle in England. Townsend had mentioned it in passing, but he’d asked about properties in Devonshire. Ellis bided his time. The last thing he wanted were impediments to his marrying Violet.
In the weeks that followed, he had ample opportunities to observe the Townsends in different venues, and vice versa. The evening at the Metropolitan Opera House allowed a moment for Violet’s delicate fingers, though gloved, to linger a moment longer than necessary when Ellis shared his opera glasses. Then, when they exited the Met, a small army of prostitutes descended on them.
Ellis had witnessed the same thing at theaters in London, but he’d thought New York too young a city for such an outpouring. Mr. Townsend ignored them. Mrs. Townsend and Chriselda both lowered their eyes, as did most of the women in the crowd.
Violet appeared unaware of the ladies of the night, and Ellis smiled to himself. If Phoebe was with them, she’d probably talk to them about women’s rights. Before meeting Violet, he’d thought it impossible that anyone else could take Phoebe’s place in his mind or heart, that there had been too many memories formed over too many years. It came as a pleasant surprise when, little by little, the associations began to dwindle in importance.
In a short while, Ellis saw New York and the Townsends for what they represented—the best the New World had to offer. And they already had their established rituals, apparently borrowed from the English.
On Fifth Avenue, bicycle riders filled the streets until 4:00 p.m., when they were replaced by fashionable carriages that rode up and down Fifth Avenue for nearly an hour, with everyone dressed in their best, presumably so all of the not-so-fashionable could see what the wealthy were wearing. Ellis felt he fit in rather nicely. He assumed a bored expression like everyone else and looked straight ahead. He felt surprisingly at home.
On their next excursion, they took a walking tour of The Ladies’ Mile, a convergence of shops at Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 232rd Street that included Tiffany & Company, Lord & Taylor’s, and Kate Reilly’s, the latter being where Mrs. Townsend had purchased Chriselda’s coming-out gown. Ellis thought briefly of the hours Phoebe could have spent there, seeing all New York had to offer in clothing and accessories. But then, she was in Africa, wasn’t she?
Ellis wondered why the thought lacked the sting it once carried. He turned with a sense of relief to dear, sweet Violet strolling demurely by his side. Though she continued to demonstrate a lack of any fashion sense whatsoever, Ellis could argue whether knowing what dresses to buy and in which season was truly a requirement for matrimony.
The Townsends were excellent hosts with grace and discretion. When Ellis mentioned Coney Island, having seen the name on advertisements, Mr. Townsend relayed in hushed tones that Coney Island was in fact where New York High Society men met their mistresses to spend the day. It was not to be frequented by respectable men and women, or their families and friends.
Ellis finally took a blustery boat ride to Ellis Island to view the Statue of Liberty, which was far larger than he’d imagined. Violet was breathless, looking at the statue. And Ellis was breathless, looking at Violet.
She never brought up indelicate subjects or political agendas. She considered women’s rights a rather silly idea. Chriselda scoffed and said it was stupid to be so accepting of things.
For a split second, Ellis caught a look in Violet’s eyes before she smiled and dismissed her sister’s retort as graciously as ever. He pondered the sudden knowledge gained from acute observation of a fracture in time when the true Violet surfaced. Far from being stupid, he realized she was, on the contrary, surprisingly intelligent. He thought it through, feeling rather proud of himself, and the next time Violet glanced his way, her eyes confirmed that he’d found her out. She grinned in a mischievous way, and Ellis knew he wanted her for more than just a night.
At the end of three weeks, Ellis approached Mr. Townsend and asked for the hand of his daughter in marriage. Mr. Townsend didn’t ask which one. Though still young, Violet had proven herself more than equal to the task. Her quiet beauty had stolen the heart of a titled Englishman. Ellis used some of the money he had saved by staying at the Townsends to purchase a stunning engagement ring from Tiffany’s. It more than met with her parents’ approval. After all, in a business transaction, one daughter was as good as the other.
Chriselda, tired of living in her little sister’s shadow, wept the required amount of time but soon saw the positive ramifications of losing her sister to someone in a country far, far away. No longer would she be embarrassed at parties when Violet wore her hideous flowered gowns or played her games of pretended innocence. No more would eligible young men turn instead to the empty beauty of her younger sibling. In the end, since Chriselda cared nothing for the young master of Ellington Hall, she realized things had actually worked out for the best.
The final test for Ellis came at the end of their engagement party, after the guests had finally departed. He and Violet found themselves alone in the garden, surrounded by lanterns swaying in the chilly breeze beneath a canopy of stars.
He took his jacket off and wrapped it around her shoulders. She gazed into his eyes. The time had come. Their lips touched, their eyes closed with one accord. Ellis felt a hunger all the way into his big toes, and elsewhere. She returned his ardor a hundred percent. He kissed her again, just to be sure. Then one more time, to be absolutely positive. She smiled. He sighed. They were going to be very, very happy.
Prior to departure time, Ellis purchased a Harper’s Bazaar for someone he knew in England who loved all things fashion. It was what friends do. He also bought his father some Virginia pipe tobacco and his mother a beautiful pair of earrings. All he wanted to give Parker was a punch in the face, but he decided revenge would be better served by introducing the lovely Violet. They could draw their own conclusions.
At last, the heir apparent to Ellington Hall boarded a White Line steamship bound for London. Only a train ride would remain for him to spend Christmas at home. The Townsends had pleaded with him to stay through the holidays, but Ellis knew he had a lot to talk over with his parents. Rather, he had a lot to tell his parents regarding his future. Yes, much better. He felt elevated, as if he could do or be anything he put his mind to. He was engaged to a beautiful girl who looked at him like he was all she’d ever dreamed of, and more.
Lady Violet. Perfect.