When Miss Mary
Arbuckle received the note from Glee Blankenship imploring her to
come straight away to her house on Queen Square, Miss Arbuckle began
to tremble. Had something happened to Jonathan Blankenship? It was
not like Glee to order people about. Especially since Glee rather
had her hands full with a new infant son and an entirely too
precocious daughter not quite three years of age.
wrapped herself in her faded red cape, put on her woolen gloves,
twirled a muffler about her neck, and began the walk to Queen
Square. Other young ladies subjected to the discomfort of walking in
this extreme cold might have wished to command a luxurious coach and
four to whisk them about this hilly watering city.
Unlike other girls,
Miss Arbuckle's thoughts had never been occupied with wishing for
things that were unobtainable. At a very early age she had come to
accept that her widowed mother would never be possessed of wealth.
She had also come to terms with the fact that she would never be a
beauty. Her looking glass only too plainly confirmed that the most
to which Miss Arbuckle could ever aspire was to be considered
Because of her
pragmatism, she had long accepted her fate as a spinster of
extremely modest means. Such acceptance could have been sorely tried
by the company she kept. Ever since she had attended Miss Worth's
School for Young Ladies, her closest circle of friends had consisted
of other young ladies of Quality who were in possession of beauty,
wealth, and in many cases, rank.
Ten minutes of very
fast walking brought her to the Blankenship's fine home. Inside, as
she was divesting herself of her cape beneath a huge sparkling
chandelier, the lovely Glee Blankenship came scurrying down the
stairs to greet her.
Even though the two
had been friends since they attended Miss Worth's School for Young
Ladies together, Miss Arbuckle never failed to be struck over Glee's
beauty. Perhaps it was because Glee was the antithesis of shy, drab,
bookish Miss Arbuckle. Though Glee was considerably shorter than
Miss Arbuckle, her vibrant personality was in perfect harmony with
her fiery red hair, giving her a presence much larger than her
stature would merit.
Only when Glee
reached the gilt and marble entry corridor did Miss Arbuckle notice
that she was carrying her babe. "I do thank you for coming, Miss
Arbuckle! Please, let us go sit in the drawing room."
In the ivory drawing
room, the butter-coloured silken draperies were open, providing the
chamber with more light than other rooms, but it was still an
excessively dreary day. It was, after all, December in Bath.
Glee sat opposite
Miss Arbuckle, who had taken a seat upon one of a pair of silk
brocade sofas that faced each other in front of the fire. Glee first
addressed inarticulate noises to her little red-headed babe. Then,
to Miss Arbuckle's astonishment, Glee lowered the bodice of her gown
and lifted away that part of a woman's anatomy that provided
sustenance. The babe began to greedily suckle.
Mary's cheeks turned
scarlet. She had never before witnessed such a display! This was
most shocking indeed. Miss Arbuckle was most determined to ignore
what Glee was doing and concentrate on what she was saying.
It was, however,
difficult not ponder the question of why Glee Blankenship had not
procured a wet nurse. It was not as if Gregory Blankenship—Glee's
husband—was not sinfully wealthy.
There was not the
least trace of embarrassment in Glee's voice when she spoke. "I
wanted to tell you that Jonathan is coming to spend Christmas with
us in Bath."
There was certainly
nothing shattering in that remark. Why had Glee led Miss Arbuckle to
believe the matter was so urgent? Then a thought, a truly petrifying
thought, penetrated into Miss Arbuckle's brain. He's bringing a
wife. Glee wanted to prepare Miss Arbuckle for the
Though the two women
had never discussed Miss Arbuckle's feelings for Mr. Jonathan
Blankenship, Glee had to know that her friend had loved him since
the first day he had ever favored her with a comment.
Whenever he was in
Bath, Jonathan Blankenship and Miss Arbuckle spent a great deal of
time together, and the two of them shared many interests. He was the
only young man who had ever danced with her at the Assembly Rooms,
the only man who had ever brought her flowers, the only man who had
ever honored her with his attentions.
Miss Arbuckle's eyes
rounded. "Why should that matter to me?" Her disinterest, Glee had
to know, was an act.
"I know very well,
Mary Arbuckle, that you're in love with my brother-in-law. Can you
Still fearing that
Glee was going to notify her of Mr. Blankenship's nuptials, she
shrugged. "I will own that I have a strong attachment to him, but
there has never been any form of understanding between us."
"I know that very
well, you goose! I have decided that you must give the man a little
push so he'll realize you're the very woman to be his perfect wife."
sweating palms uncoiled, and she expelled the breath she was
holding. He wasn't wed to another!
Then Glee’s words
sunk in. Miss Arbuckle had never allowed herself to give
consideration to marrying dear Mr. Blankenship. "You forget that
unlike you, I am not a beauty who can easily claim men's hearts. Nor
am I possessed of fortune, and as a second son, Mr. Blankenship will
surely be compelled to marry a woman who brings a comfortable dowry.
I have resigned myself to being Mr. Blankenship's friend. Nothing
"Pooh! How long have
you known him now?"
"And you are how
swallowed over her mortification. "The same as you. Three and
twenty." An old maid, to be sure.
"I will not allow
you to resign yourself to being a spinster." Glee deprived her babe
of his nourishment, gently dabbed a cloth around his little mouth,
and spoke some unintelligible nonsense to him.
All the while, Mary
tried not to allow her gaze to drop below Glee's neck. "No one
chooses to be a spinster. It just happens to be my fate."
"Pooh!" Glee began
to nurse again, but Mary refused to let her eye lower.
"If Jonathan asked
you to marry him, would you accept?" Glee asked.
Not without an alien
fluttering in her heart, Miss Arbuckle nodded.
“It is my belief
that Jonathan is already in love with you, but he just doesn’t
realize it. Now, Miss Arbuckle, we must plan our strategy.”
Mary swallowed over
the huge lump in her throat. “Our strategy?”
“Indeed. When I
determined to capture Blanks’s heart, I went about it in much the
same way a general plans his battle strategy.”
“Then you are far
more clever than I.”
never agree with that. I declare, he has told me hundreds of times
how uncommonly clever you are.”
Miss Arbuckle warmed
under such praise. “It would be false modesty for me to attempt to
refute that for I realize that Mr. Blankenship does credit me with
thinking like an intelligent man. The pity of it is, he
rather thinks of me as a man. To him, I am a very dear friend, like
his friend Melvin Steffington. Nothing more.”
“Then it is our job
to make him see you with new eyes.”
“New or old eyes, I
am still plain.”
“Being plain is not
at all the same as being ugly. Because you are not ugly, it will be
excessively easy to render you prettier. You must give me a free
Miss Arbuckle shook
her head. “It is difficult for one to appear pretty without pretty
clothes, and I assure you, Mama’s limited funds are stretched to the
limit as it is.”
“You are a good
seamstress, are you not?”
She nodded. “But
fabric comes very dearly.”
“Sweet Sally wanted
me to find a good use for the dresses which she has been unable to
get back into since the birth of her twins. Since you are tallish
like Sally, they will do very well for you—with modifications, of
course. Your bosom is much larger than Sally's, which is
How could Mrs.
Blankenship speak of bosom without even lowering her voice?
Once again, the flush stole into Miss Arbuckle's cheeks.
Miss Arbuckle would
not recognize herself in fine ball gowns. She had never owned any.
The very idea of wearing lovely clothes that had been made for a
countess suffused Miss Arbuckle with a feeling of uncommon
lightness. “I don’t know. . .”
"I assure you, the
gowns are lovely," Glee continued. "My brother selected them himself
for her after he recovered from the fire, and now he is delighting
himself by selecting new gowns for her.”
"Are you certain
Lady Sedgewick would not object?"
“Of course I am. Put
your trust in me. When you go to the assemblies, it’s essential you
leave off the spectacles. Men are not attracted to them. Until
they’re in love with you. Then they love you just as you are.”
Blankenship is in Bath, I do try to go without my spectacles.”
“I know when the two
of you are together sharing poems and treatises, you will have to
wear them, but he’s so obsessive over those pursuits I daresay he
won’t take a look at you.”
That was true. “I
don't believe he looks at me as a woman.”
A wicked smile
danced upon Glee’s face. “I mean to change that.”
“I don’t know. . .
It has occurred to me that Mr. Blankenship is one of those men who
is neither interested in women nor desirous of uniting himself to
“We will see, my
dear Miss Arbuckle. We will see.”
It was not in Mary
Arbuckle’s nature to be anything but compliant. “I shouldn’t like to
use trickery on dear Mr. Blankenship.”
“I wouldn’t call it
trickery. It's simply a matter of assisting him to the place of his
greatest happiness. What man would not wish to be there?”
“But how can you
know where his happiness is?”
“Because he’s my
dear Blanks’s brother! Trust me, Miss Arbuckle, I am a great student
of human nature. I do know that he loves you. He first fell in love
with your fine mind; now, he needs to be stunned by your appearance.
Glee’s little son
had fallen to sleep. As Glee went to restore her clothing, Miss
Arbuckle effected great interest in the fire blazing in the hearth.
“There is more!”
stomach felt as if she were falling from a great height. “Dear God,
tell me you have not told him of my feelings!”
Glee gently shook
her head, then lowered he lashes to peer at her babe's sweet face.
Arbuckle felt a stab of envy. Not for Glee’s beauty. Or for her
wealth. But for the family she loved so dearly, the family that
loved her just as devotedly.
“I have a plan to
make Jonathan jealous,” Glee said.
“There is nothing
that would make him jealous because he is not in love with me.”
“He is too. He just
doesn’t know it yet. It’s our task to show him that of all the women
in the wide world, you are the one who was created to be his mate."
Glee truly was
possessed of a remarkable understanding of human nature for she had
just perfectly described how Miss Arbuckle felt about Jonathan
Blankenship. “One would have to be very adept at conjuring to
accomplish such a feat.”
nothing to do with it. Because I know he loves you, I know
that when he thinks another man wishes to steal your affections, he
will do everything in his power to woo you.”
mouth gaped open in astonishment. "Another man? It appears my
conjuring reference was justified."
be another man. Leave that to me."
"I will own, you
have far more experience than I in matters of love, my dear Mrs.
Blankenship, but I cannot give credit to what you're saying."
"You admitted you
would like to marry Jonathan. Now you must allow me to ensure that
it happens." Glee rose. "Come up to my chamber so I can begin your
physical transformation. He arrives this afternoon, and I mean for
you to nearly steal his breath away."