This is Part 4 and the conclusion of my Hanukkah story set in Regency England.
In spite of every effort to enter the house quietly, her uncle saw them as he came out of his library carrying a book before they could slip upstairs. He naturally voiced strong disapproval over Rachel’s choice of gown and requested they talk of it in his library. She thought he would not mind so much when he found out that she had been invited to the home of Sir Robert Westbrooke, but he did.
He put his book down on a table with a decisive thump. “I should not like for you to go. Certainly, not if you mean to dress like that.”
She drew her wrap around her more tightly.
“But Emanuel,” her mother pleaded. “It is a very singular honor. And she will see Mr. Parnas.”
“Yes, I must speak to both of you about that. I feel Rachel should not see him again.”
Both women looked at him, surprised. “Why, Uncle? I thought you liked him.”
“He is a fine man and I would not have thought of him for you otherwise. But I have heard from one of his colleagues that he intends to court Sir Robert Westbrooke’s daughter.”
“Oh, dear, I see.” said her mother.
Rachel tried to be indifferent to this revelation. She picked at the edge of the lace on her wrap and said, “I cannot say I am very surprised. She is an uncommonly elegant woman and the daughter of a baronet.”
“Nor am I, but this only means there is no cause for you to go to this ball. Better to stay here and keep social engagements that will be more advantageous to you.”
“I cannot say that I see any harm in her going,” said her mother. “And the Westbrookes would be very insulted, I think, if we turned them down.”
He looked at them for a moment, then turned his head away. “Of course, Miriam, if that is your decision, you must abide by it. I do not like for you to think that I command you to do or not do anything. Rachel is your daughter, after all.”
Rachel said quickly, “Oh, Uncle, we do value your judgment and are most grateful for all your kindness to us.”
“Of course we are! But as we were invited personally . . . I cannot see the harm, I really cannot.”
“Very well,” he said. He turned to Rachel. “I suppose I cannot persuade you to dress in a more modest fashion?”
“I . . . my gloves will cover most of my arms, you know. And I will add some lace to the neck of my ball gown, if it would please you better, sir.”
He sighed. “I suppose it will have to.”
“Thank you, dear Uncle!”
As Rachel prepared for bed, she thought over the events of the evening. She had to admit that for all her attempts to remain indifferent to David Parnas, she could not be. How attentive he had been before his other guests had arrived. And how astonishing to see him still mourn his wife after so many years! He was a man of deep, genuine feelings, just the sort she’d hoped for herself someday. It had been so difficult to be indifferent to him, in fact, that she had permitted that odious Mr. Crowley to pay attention to her in a vain attempt to make him jealous. It had not worked at all. As soon as Mrs. Kingsbury had entered the room, it was as if she no longer existed.
Even so, she did not think he loved her. Respect, perhaps a bit of awe, that was all she could detect, no genuine attachment. How distressing that he would take that in place of the happiness he must have shared with his first wife.
He had seemed unhappy when her mother had tentatively accepted Mrs. Kingsbury’s invitation. Was he ashamed of this part of his life? She was not sure, but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, for she hated to think he was not as agreeable as he appeared.
Not that it mattered much. After the Westbrooke ball, it was improbable that she would see him again, and the next time she heard anything of him, it likely would be to read his wedding announcement in the Times.
Accompanied by Mrs. Salomon, David lit the eight candles and said the prayers for the last night of Hanukkah.
It was also the night of the Westbrooke ball.
During the mandated rest period, he thought over the past few days and his meetings with Mrs. Kingsbury. He had to admit they had little in common, sharing few tastes and pursuits. He strongly suspected that when she visited his house she was already making vast changes to the decor in her head.
Even so, he liked her well enough, and was sure she liked him. And was that not all they could ask of each other? It would be a marriage of convenience, but that did not have to necessarily result in an unhappy one.
He felt things were going so well, in fact, that as he dressed for the ball he decided to make his offer that very evening.
When he entered the ballroom at the Westbrookes he found the de Costas had already arrived. He was a trifle surprised that Belisario had not persuaded them to decline, but pleased to see Mrs. Kingsbury introducing them to some of her other guests. How kind she is, he thought. So like her father.
Miss de Costa looked ravishing in her ball gown, and he noticed that Crowley stayed close to her side.
“Look at how besotted Harry is!” exclaimed Mrs. Kingsbury after she greeted him. “I hope he does not get too far gone, or the girl will have the whip-hand of him.”
Besotted! Over the girl’s money, no doubt. Had he not come right out and asked to be introduced to a wealthy Jewess? David regretted deeply that he had been the cause of such a meeting, however indirectly.
While Mrs. Kingsbury spoke to some of her friends he engaged Miss de Costa for the second set of dances. She readily accepted.
Perhaps I should warn her about Crowley, he thought. But no, the girl seemed sensible, and if she were not her uncle and mother would protect her from such an unadvised alliance.
The music began. As he led Mrs. Kingsbury to the dance floor, he could not help but watch Crowley and Miss de Costa. Crowley turned out to be an excellent dancer, and the girl quite a vision of gracefulness. He heard one or two people in the line ask who she was.
Mrs. Kingsbury sharp eyes caught him watching them. “You seem to have appointed yourself some sort of guardian of that girl, Mr. Parnas.”
He tried to treat that as a joke and smiled. “No, indeed I have not, Madam.”
“Then I hope if Harry does pay his addresses to her, you will perhaps put in a word for him with her uncle.”
That surprised him so much he almost fell out of step with the dance. “I doubt anything I would say could make a difference. Are you saying . . .”
“I cannot read my cousin’s mind, but it would be an excellent match for him, in my view. She is a lovely, unspoilt girl. ”
“Yes, and what of it?”
He could not answer that. Was she telling him, in her way, that money was his sole attraction to her? But to be fair, he could not say that deep feelings were his motivation in pursuing his own suit.
They switched partners for the next set—Mrs. Kingsbury danced with her cousin and he fulfilled his engagement with Miss de Costa.
“Are you enjoying the ball?” he asked her, noting how the lights in the room picked up red and gold colors in her dark hair.
“Oh! It is quite lovely, do not you think so?”
“Yes, Sir Robert is a marvelous host.”
They danced for a while longer in silence, he not able to stop watching her move to the music. He almost missed what she said to him.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said, my uncle has told me we will soon be wishing you joy.”
“I . . . I do not know where he could have gotten such an idea.”
“Are you not paying court to Mrs. Kingsbury?”
He felt heat rise to his face.
She blushed, too. “I do apologize. I would not have said anything, but was under the impression everything was quite settled. People were talking of it before you arrived.”
“What people?” he demanded.
“Why . . . Mr. Crowley, mostly.”
He did not know why he felt so angry. “Mr. Crowley is quite mistaken. There is nothing settled between myself and Mrs. Kingsbury.”
“Oh, dear me, I hope I have not offended you, sir.”
“Not at all. It is all Mr. Crowley’s fault. He should not have misled you.”
The dance ended. He brought her back to her mother, then thought it would be a good idea if he asked her to dance.
“How kind! But I do not dance, much better if you ask Rachel again.”
The girl looked appalled at her mother’s forthrightness. “Oh, Mama . . .”
“I would be delighted, Miss de Costa, to be your partner again.” They settled on which dances, then he went off to find Crowley and tell him a thing or two that had been piling up ever since he had first met the wretch.
He could not find him in the crush of people. He soon found himself caught up in conversation with Lady Westbrooke, who stopped him to introduce him to some people whose names he did not bother to catch. When he finally managed to break away, he caught sight of Crowley as he slipped out of the ballroom. So much the better. They could talk in private.
He lost him in the hallway, but after wandering a few moments heard his voice coming out of a small sitting room. As he approached the door he opened his mouth to announce his presence, but before he could, he was shocked to recognize the voice of the person he spoke to. It was Mrs. Kingsbury.
“Harry, you are a fool.”
“I will not do it. I will not marry that girl.”
“I thought you liked her.”
“You know there is only one woman I see. I had hoped to make you jealous.”
David peeked around the open door until he had a view of the pair. Crowley stood over her as she sat in a chair, fanning herself with her fan. She turned away from him abruptly. David jumped back a little so she could not see him.
“You must marry somebody. I cannot have you mooning after me and making me the subject of gossip again. You almost ruined me forever with your silly calf love.”
So she was innocent, after all. He was heartily glad.
Crowley straightened up, his face red with anger. “You cannot be serious about marrying a Jew. That will ruin you socially for certain!”
She turned and faced him again. “It does not signify. He will no longer be a Jew after we marry. Then all anyone will care about is that he is landed and rich.”
David had to bite his lip to keep from gasping out loud.
“Are you sure he will agree, Sophia? He was celebrating that festival of theirs the other night.”
“For the benefit of some friends, that is all. He must know that is part of it, and I doubt he cares one way or the other.”
David stepped away from the door. He reentered the ballroom in a daze. Fortunately, no one tried to speak to him. He made his way out to the terraces surrounding the room and stepped out into the sharp December night. He barely noticed the cold.
“He must know that is part of it.” Deep down, he had all along, but hearing it aloud suddenly made it real. He had thought he would not care, one way or the other, just as she said. Suddenly, he found that he did. In a way, it was like burying Hannah all over again. He could see her face before him, the disappointment she would surely have felt if he had considered such a step while they were married. He could not blame Mrs. Kingsbury for expecting such a thing, but he should not have expected it of himself.
He turned to see Miss de Costa shivering in the night air. “You should not be out here.”
“Nor should you. Are you well?”
“Yes.” Her look of concern was so genuine he suddenly blurted out, “You must think me a fool, Miss de Costa.”
She looked taken aback. “Why do you say such a thing? Of course I do not.”
“You are kind. Your uncle would think differently.”
Before he could stop himself, he poured out the whole story about Mrs. Kingsbury. He almost instantly regretted it, but to his relief she did not look at him with either pity or contempt.
Instead, she turned and looked into the ballroom and said, “This world—it is beautiful, there are so many things that are wonderful about it.”
“And some not so wonderful.”
“True. But one does like to be a part of it, just the same.”
He noticed again that she was shivering. He offered his arm to her.
“What could I have been thinking, keeping you out here in the cold? Pray, let’s go back inside.”
She took his arm and they stepped back into the ballroom. They found some chairs in a relatively quiet corner and sat down together. Ignoring most of the people and activity around them, they spent the next hour talking.
He dreaded no task more than having to go back to the Westbrookes the next day to break off with Mrs. Kingsbury. He knew that it would harm his friendship with Sir Robert, perhaps irreparably, and for that he was exceedingly sorry. But it had to be done.
He had not stayed for supper the previous evening, using the excuse of having to escort the de Costas home because Mrs. de Costa had a sick headache. He had not seen Mrs. Kingsbury again, and was glad of it. He did not want to see her until they were in private.
When he arrived he was told she was not in. Instead of leaving his card, he inquired for Sir Robert. He thought it prudent to apologize again for his hasty retreat from the ball.
When he entered the drawing room, he was amazed to see the normally jubilant man looking pinch-faced and drained. Sir Robert even dispensed with the usual pleasantries.
“Forgive me, my friend, I do not know what to say to you.”
Puzzled, he said, “Is something amiss, Sir Robert?”
“Aye, grievously amiss. I shall come right out and tell you. My daughter and nephew Crowley are, as we speak, on their way to Gretna Green. She left a letter last night and we found it this morning.”
For almost a full moment, David found he could not speak, nor could he hardly breathe.
“Such a foolish match, on both sides! My wife is abed and I doubt she will rise from it anytime soon. I do not know what could have come over them. And,” he said, turning to David. “I cannot even imagine the disappointment you must feel. My daughter abused you, sir, there is nothing I can do but offer my humblest, profoundest apologies.”
If Sir Robert had not been such a good friend, David would have laughed. He reminded himself that this was a crushing blow to a man he respected, and he immediately assured him that he understood.
“No promise existed between us, Sir Robert. If she had an attachment to her cousin, better she knew her own mind before . . .”
Sir Robert looked grateful and murmured, “Most kind of you, Parnas, most kind.”
He left the Westbrooke house with an amazing jumble of feelings—relief, amusement, and, yes, a bit of injury to his male vanity, he had to allow.
Fortunately, that had receded by the time he received a short, hastily scrawled letter from Mrs. Kingsbury.
Dear Mr. Parnas,
I have left London, perhaps permanently. I wish you to know how much I appreciate your attentions of these past days. In my opinion, my father could not wish for a better friend than yourself.
You will no doubt have heard by the time you receive this letter that I have married my cousin Crowley. Our attachment has been one of long duration. I hope I had not given you any false impressions during our brief association. If I did, I apologize from the bottom of my heart.
He showed the letter to Rachel on his next visit to Finsbury Square. He knew there would be many more such visits, had known it since the moment she had taken his arm and they had come in from the terrace at the ball.
She read it and exclaimed, “Selfish woman! She most certainly did give you a false impression—she did to everybody.”
He looked at her fondly, grateful for the ferocity of her feelings. “Do not be so hard on her, my dear. It is difficult to flaunt the rules of your society. The heart and head are not always in agreement.”
“But her poor father and mother!”
“Aye, it is a very sad time for them. I must admit, however,” he said, taking her sweet hand in his, “that it is a most fortunate occurrence. She, perhaps, would not have been as forgiving if I had been the one to break it off.”
“I suppose you must feel grateful to the odious and persistent Mr. Crowley,” she said, folding her other hand shyly over his.
“You mean to say,” he teased, “that you did not really like him? Not even a little bit?”
She was still young and guileless enough to take him seriously. “Oh, sir, how can you . . .”
They broke apart quickly as her mother came into the room. David regretted the intrusion exceedingly; he had thought to steal a kiss from those lovely lips. Plenty of time for that, he thought. Mrs. de Costa must have noticed they had been holding hands, because she smiled a knowing, pleased smile.
“Mr. Parnas, my brother would like to know if you would come to dinner tomorrow.”
“I would be delighted, Mrs. de Costa.”
He was delighted by any invitation from his friend Belisario. He would remember all his days how his life had been altered forever by the Hanukkah invitation.