Christmas Story Part 5: A Shock for Miss Carstairs
Emma lay back on the sofa and allowed Mr Ellis to remove her gloves and chafe her hands. She was in no danger of fainting off, but the sensation of his strong, warm fingers wrapped around hers was just too enjoyable to resist. She stole a look at him as he knelt beside the sofa and a sigh escaped her. He looked up, smiling slightly.
'Are you in pain, Miss Carstairs?'
'No, no.' She flushed, knowing it was impossible for her to explain to him. 'I am a little shaken, nothing more.'
'Shall I ring for your maid?'
'No, thank you, I shall be well again in a moment.'
She wanted nothing that would prevent him from holding her hands. However, even as the thought flashed through her mind common sense asserted itself. This would not do at all! Gently but firmly she withdrew her fingers from his grasp and sat up.
'Thank you, Mr Ellis, you have been very kind, but I must not keep you ….'
'You keep me from nothing, Miss Carstairs.' The glow in his eyes brought another, warmer flush to her cheeks. 'You must know by now –'
'Emma, my dear! I saw you fall; tell me you are not seriously hurt!'
Bessie rushed into the room trailing coat and scarves behind her in her hurry. With a wry smile Mr Ellis rose to his feet and made way for his hostess.
'I am unhurt, my dear, except for my pride,' Emma laughed. 'I fear I am no skater.'
'Nonsense,' said Mr Ellis, 'you were doing very well until you took a little tumble. It is my fault – I should not have left you on your own. All you need is more practice, and if you will come back on to the ice tomorrow, Miss Carstairs, I promise I shall be more attentive.' With a bow and a smile he left them, but his warm look had been observed by Bessie, whose quizzical glance did nothing to cool Emma's burning cheeks and she was relieved when a footman brought in the tea tray and provided a welcome distraction.
Another heavy storm overnight surrounded the house with a fresh blanket of snow and Emma suffered a momentary disappointment when she learned that there could be no skating until the snow had been swept from the lake.
'But we can take a walk,' said Bessie, beaming at her guests gathered around the breakfast table. 'The servants have cleared most of the wilderness walk, so we may enjoy a little fresh air.'
Emma looked up to find Mr Ellis smiling at her.
'What an excellent idea, ma'am. The sooner the better, I'd say.'
'Then it is agreed,' cried Bessie. 'We shall meet in the hall in an hour!'
With a light heart Emma ran upstairs to put on her warm pelisse and matching bonnet. Such was her speed that she was one of the first to reach the hall, where she found her host sorting through a fresh delivery of mail. He held up a note.
'Here is another letter for you, Miss Carstairs. I must say you are very popular, never a day goes by without a little missive or two arriving!'
'My pupils thought I would be spending Christmas alone, and have conspired to keep me supplied with news.' She glanced at the writing. 'From the untidy script I would wager that this one is from little Letty Calder.'
He twinkled down at her.
'Well, I think you may be sure that Bessie will not be downstairs for another half-hour yet, so you have plenty of time to read your letter before we set out. There is a good fire burning in the little sitting room: why do you not take your letter in there where you can be comfortable?'
Alone in the sitting room, Emma broke the seal on the letter and smiled. Letty's writing was worse than ever! She sat down to read.
My dear Miss Carstairs, I do hope this letter finds you in good health. I was afraid that I would have nothing new to tell you, except that Dolly the cat has had her kittens, or that I have at last finished hemming the handkerchief I promised Papa, but that is NOT the case. I have the most exciting news to tell you, for I am hoping that very shortly you will be reading in the newspapers of my Betrothal! It is all very secret at the moment, for my darling has yet to tell his family, which he is to do once he has kept his promise to attend a house party – you will hardly credit it, dear ma'am, but he is acquainted with Mr Dawlish – the very same that is now married to our own dear Bessie! But that is by the bye. Mr E has made me promise not to speak of it to a soul, but this is not speaking, but writing, so I am not breaking my promise, am I, dearest Miss Carstairs? I will not write his name, but if I tell you that he is the Epitome of Learned, Lively and Intelligent Society you may well be able to guess it-
The page dropped from Emma's nerveless fingers. It could not be, or perhaps it was merely coincidence. She snatched up letter again and re-read the lines. There must be some mistake – Mr E – a friend of Bessie's husband - she bit her lip. There could be no mistake, even allowing for Letty's shocking hand-writing she could not make the words mean anything different. Her world seemed to tilt a little and a heaviness settled over her. The sound of the door opening made her look up.
'Ah, there you are,' said Mr Ellis, striding into the room.