Honorable Work

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It had been barely a week since Dabney had left. Amanda had gone to Northallerton sooner rather than later, saying she could not shake off her melancholy by simple sitting in the upstairs room and staring out the window. Her maman had acquiesced and requested the carriage, telling the vicar they would stay overnight at the North Road Inn as there was "certainly too much to be done in one day." Rachel had refused to accompany them, much to her mother's consternation. Marian sensed more and more that something was wrong between Rachel and John. Their understanding was a private one, only known to the two families, but she still seemed tense and bitter any time someone brought it up. Refusing to even look at gowns and wedding clothes was just part of her distemper.

Then there was her strange behavior at the end of the ball. She'd waited in the foyer as Amanda and Dabney had thanked all those who had congratulated them on their betrothal. It had been a long hour of cordialities, but she'd been in attendance on John's arm the whole time, with an air of suspense and anticipation about her. Marian had watched her, even commented to Phoebe on how John was in such high spirits since his late mid-ball arrival, and wondered if Rachel being near had anything to do with it. Phoebe had just shrugged.

When it was finally just the Ellsworths and the Pearces, Rachel had looked to John with an unspoken expectation.

"Good night, and thank you for the lovely dances," he'd said, taking her hand and putting it on her father's arm.

Her forehead had wrinkled in a scowl. "But, John—" A hot glance from Lady Ellsworth had stopped her mid-sentence. "Lord Ellsworth, I thought perhaps you'd meant... that you would say..." Rachel didn't continue. All the family stared at her, wondering what she expected.

Lady Ellsworth looked at John, as if trying to discover a hidden secret. John just shrugged.

"Father, I'm tired," Rachel finally blurted out, a rush of heat coming into her cheeks. "Please, let's go."

"The carriage has been waiting this past hour," he said. "It was only your sister delaying us."

"I apologize, sir," Mr. Dabney said, leading Amanda out the door. The family quickly climbed in the vehicle and Amanda entered last, delighting in one long-pressed kiss to her hand.

Rachel had silently seethed on the ride home, though she only shook her head in refusal each time Marian questioned her. She'd finally given up and rested back against the cushions.

Now Rachel spent every hour allowed to her in private meditation in her room, or in long, bruising rides through the lanes among the moors. Marian had thought a quarrel among them unlikely—they had been all smiles for the last half of the ball, had danced three dances together, and conversed most of the remaining time. It had begun to raise eyebrows, how elated John acted as they twirled around the room. Then it was over, and Rachel sulked. Perhaps it was jealousy on Rachel's part. But wasn't it just a few months until Amanda's wedding, and then John was supposed to announce his own?

Suddenly Marian had a strange thought—Phoebe, who would have known of John's engagement, had never said anything about it. She'd talked of her own future day of happiness, but not John's. Why was that?

Her head was aching before she was able to puzzle out a solution. She abruptly got up from where she sat—she'd been trying to finish an embroidery pattern, something she'd thought would be a gift for Amanda. She could only work on it when Amanda was away, but today she wasn't patient enough with the needle. She'd pulled out too many unsatisfying stitches and finally gave up entirely. She went to find her bonnet and put on sturdy walking boots.

It was harvest time, and her father was traveling out to nearly every farm in the parish, making note of the harvest yields and gathering tithes. The title barn was nearer to town, and wagon loads of crops were daily added to its contents. It was a wonderful year for the farmers, but it kept the vicar busy from morning until night. Perhaps it was unintentional, Marian thought, but the busy harvest also kept him away from the perturbed women at home.

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