Christmas Story Ending
'I should go…' Emma said, her heart beating frantically as she saw the look on the face of the elder Mr Ellis. 'I will leave you alone to talk…'
'Please do not leave for the moment, Miss Carstairs.' Mr Ellis placed a hand on her arm. 'I do not believe that you have been properly introduced. Father – this is Miss Emma Carstairs…Emma, I wish you to meet the Earl of Ellersby…'
'The earl…' Emma gasped, looking at him in dismay and disbelief. 'Someone pointed your father out to me when he arrived but they said only that he was your father…' She looked from one to the other. 'I do not understand?'
'Nor did I, Miss Carstairs. When I was told that my son had been masquerading as Mr Ellis I was angry for I suspected him of behaving badly – and finding him here, about to seduce you, I am now certain that he is a disgrace to his name.'
'Oh…' Her eyes turned on her Mr Ellis and they were filled with reproach. 'Sir – please will you explain?'
'I fear that you will be wishing me to damnation when I tell you the whole truth, Miss Carstairs,' her Mr Ellis said. 'I have played a disgraceful deception upon you, and it would serve me right if you refused to speak to me ever again.'
'Oh…it would have to be very bad, Mr Ellis.' Emma could not meet his eyes now.
'I am not Mr Ellis but Lord Ellerton,' he told her. His eyes seemed to hold an entreaty as he looked at her. 'It was an impulse. I do not know why I did it and I have since regretted it.'
Emma stared at him in dismay. She had thought it unlikely he could care for her as plain Mr Ellis – but if he were Ellerton, one of the most eligible bachelors in the country, and the heir to the Earl of Ellersby - it was impossible. She did not know what to do, but her instincts told her that she must escape instantly.
'My head aches,' she said. 'I think I should like to rest…'
'You must rest, of course,' Lord Ellerton said. 'I would not even consider pressing you for an answer before you are fully recovered.'
'But I must go…' Emma said faintly. 'I really must…'
'If you can walk I shall assist you upstairs, but if you are unable I shall carry you.'
His manner was so firm and decided that Emma could not protest further. She must stay for the night, but she need not see him again, and in the morning she would order the carriage and go home for it was impossible to see him again and remain calm.
Alone in her room, Emma was left to rest and reflect. She felt so foolish and guilty after all the thoughts that had passed through her head. She was now so confused that she did not know what to believe. Why had Lord Ellerton lied to her? He could have no true regard for her or he would not have done it. He must have been intent on concealing his identity while embarking on a light flirtation to carry him through the Christmas celebrations. He had indeed behaved as badly as his father believed.
Emma let the tears fall and then told herself to stop being silly. She went into the small dressing room attached to the elegant bedchamber she had been given. She found a wash stand with and ewer of water. It was cold but she splashed her face with it and dried it on a hand towel. Feeling better, she returned to the bedroom determined to go down and find her host to tell them she was leaving.
However, as she went towards the door she saw that a letter had been pushed under the door. Opening it, she discovered it was in actual fact a beautiful card made of satin and lace and bearing a heart shaped motif. Turning it over, her pulses raced when she saw it was from Lord Ellerton.
My dearest Emma, he had written. I fear that I have you given you a severe dislike of me and it is no more than I deserve. I hope that you will come to forgive me in time or else it will break my heart, which is irrevocably yours. Ellerton.
'Good gracious me!' Emma's heart was beating very fast indeed as she held the card. For a moment she could not believe what was written there. My dearest Emma… For a gentleman such as Ellerton to write such a thing and sign it was tantamount to a proposal of marriage. Surely he would never sign his name to a card like this if he were not sincere. She glanced at herself in the dressing mirror. Most of the redness had gone but he would still see that she had been distressed. Perhaps she ought to wait until the morning…
Emma's courage returned to her all at once. If Lord Ellerton truly cared for her he would be blaming himself for her distress and she would not have him distressed for the world. No, indeed, she would not!
Taking her card and her nerves in hand, she left her room and walked down the hall, only to see Lord Ellerton coming towards her. He was carrying a posy of delicate flowers, which must have come from a hot house and he looked concerned as he saw her.
'My dear Miss Carstairs. Are you certain you should have left your room so soon?'
'I am quite recovered now,' Emma said. 'Your card has quite restored me – you did mean it sincerely did you not?'
His smile sent her heart skittering. 'Indeed, I did, Emma,' he told her. 'I think I have loved you from the first moment we met or very soon after. Can you forgive me for that scurvy trick I played on you?'
'Yes, of course – but pray why did you do so if your feelings were already engaged?' Emma looked searchingly at his face.
'I wanted you to love me for myself,' he told her with such honesty that she knew it must be the simple truth. 'I have been hunted for my fortune since I first came on the town. I was once almost engaged and then I discovered that the woman I thought I cared for was thinking only of my fortune. I was stupid to think that you could be like she – but I did not know you then.' He took her hand, carrying it to his cheek, his eyes beseeching her. 'Can you forgive and love me, Emma? For I shall never know happiness again if I have lost your good opinion.'
'I was hurt when I thought you had flirted with me carelessly, but now I know the truth and nothing could exceed my happin…' Emma's last words were lost as he swept her into his arms and kissed her. By the time he released her, Emma's senses were spinning and she was quite convinced that he was sincere. 'Oh, Ellerton…I do love you so very much. I never thought I should find anyone I could love enough to marry but I have…' she looked at him shyly. 'But your father? Will he allow…'
'My father is delighted that I was of serious intentions and not trying to seduce you. He has long despaired of my marrying, Emma.'
He reached out and took her hand, slipping a magnificent diamond and emerald ring on to the third finger of her left hand. 'Now that you have given your word I cannot wait,' he told her and smiled. 'However, we shall announce it officially at the ball – if you feel strong enough to return with me?'
'Ellerton…' Emma could hardly believe what was happening to her. First the beautiful card, which she would always treasure, and now this ring. 'I am so very fortunate.'
'Oh no,' he said and touched her cheek. 'It is I who should be thanking God for my good fortune. I had not thought it possible to find a lady I could care for enough to spend my life with, Emma – but I have.'
Emma smiled as she linked her arm through his and they went down the wide, magnificent stairs together. She had never believed that she would even find someone to love, and she would have been content as Mr Ellis' wife but to be Lady Ellerton and live in a magnificent house was far beyond her wildest dreams. Glancing out of a window to her left she saw a star high in the heavens and it seemed to be shining just for her.
'When I was a child I believe that Christmas was a magic time,' she whispered to Ellerton as they saw the others looking for them at the foot of the stairs. 'I feel as if it has touched my life and I shall never be the same again…'
May the magic and joy of Christmas touch all your lives and bring you lasting happiness. Happy Christmas Everyone.
Love from Anne Herries and all the authors who brought you this story.