"For Better or for Worse"

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Rachel was probably more stunned than anyone. Her father was upset, of course, when Mr. Hameldon brought the two young people home. He protested that his daughter was innocent of all malice, but yes, she'd been out of the house often lately. And he did not know her exact whereabouts. Marian only could state her innocence and plead for belief.

Simeon was terse and angry through the whole exchange. He didn't disabuse Marian or her attractiveness, thankfully. He said he'd enjoyed her company during their walks. He felt she was kind and charitable to his mother. But marriage was not his intention.

After that, Marian studied her hands, avoiding Simeon's eyes. Rachel watched him from where she sat beside Marian, propping her up as she began to droop under the pressure. The negotiations ended up being more like a business agreement. Father had sold a team of horses with less arguing.

It all came to this: Mr. Hameldon felt there was impropriety on his son's part. He felt marriage would be the only proper solution. Simeon was not opposed to the lady, just the difficulty of his current situation. Marian only said "yes" when she was asked if marrying him would be amicable. So Vicar Pearce would provide a start for the couple, finding them a cottage somewhere, provide Marian with a modest dowry and an annuity of 100 pounds a year. Simeon would have to do the rest.

The Hameldons left, Father showing them out to the drive and waiting with them while the gig drew up. It was now nearly dusk, and supper would be laid soon.

"Marian, you haven't said much," Rachel said when their carriage wheels spun away. "Are you upset?"

She sniffed, crumpling another handkerchief. "I like Simeon Hameldon a great deal. I did not think where my actions would lead."

"Why? You know a lady should never be alone, unchaperoned... unless they are engaged."

"You were often alone with John, even before the engagement. You rode and talked and visited almost weekly. You weren't forced to get engaged."

Rachel stood up. "I wouldn't say that," she said curtly, then walked out. Marian slumped back on the settee and softly cried.

She walked to the parlor where Maman sat, a cold, moist cloth against her head to calm the tremors she'd felt come upon her during the confrontation. She'd left after only a few minutes. "Rachel, what was the agreement?" she moaned.

"They are to marry, Maman, and father will give her a hundred a year."

"Oh, my daughter! What misery! I would not have chosen this for her."

"But Maman, Marian said she likes him. She looked... surprised when Simeon said he'd not thought of marriage. I think she'd thought of it."

"Why could she not tell us? Why couldn't she just ask for some sympathy from her sisters or mother, instead of running to this ruffian's arms? C'est trés terrible!"

"He's not a ruffian, Maman. We have visited Mrs. Hameldon. They are a good family. Quite genteel."

"Except he works as a laborer!" She began to sob, and Rachel went to fetch another cold cloth.

After finding a pitcher of water in the kitchen, she slowly walked it back to the parlor. Her emotions were jumbled. She felt angry—Marian was acting so foolish! Rachel couldn't truly criticize, though. What did she do? Enter a false engagement with her lifelong friend, deceive all the family, making them think there was a future marriage? Marian only deceived them into believing there was no boy in her interest, and yet there was. But the boy was agreeing to a real engagement. The banns would be read on Sunday. What could Rachel say against that?

She delivered the pitcher, moistening the cloth and soothing Maman as well as she could. She walked upstairs and found Amanda curled onto a chair, looking out the window. A candle burned on the writing desk, and Rachel pulled the chair from it up to Amanda's side.

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