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The Bracelet
by Dorothy Love

Published: 2014-12-16
Paperback : 336 pages
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“There are no secrets that time does not reveal.” 

Savannah, Georgia – 1858

Celia Browning dreams of the day when her childhood sweetheart Sutton Mackay comes home to Savannah after two years in Jamaica managing his family's shipping interests. Sutton has all but proposed, and ...

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Introduction

“There are no secrets that time does not reveal.” 

Savannah, Georgia – 1858

Celia Browning dreams of the day when her childhood sweetheart Sutton Mackay comes home to Savannah after two years in Jamaica managing his family's shipping interests. Sutton has all but proposed, and their marriage will unite two of the city's most prominent families. But just as Sutton returns, a newspaper reporter arrives in town, determined to pry into twin tragedies that took place at the Browning mansion on Madison Square when Celia was a child.

While the journalist pursues his story, someone is trying to frighten Celia. When she receives a series of anonymous notes, and a bracelet imbued with a chilling message, Celia realizes that her family’s past has the power to destroy her future.

As the clouds of war gather over Savannah, and her beloved father’s health worsens, Celia determines to uncover the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

Inspired by actual events in one of Savannah’s most prominent 19th-century families, The Bracelet is the story of a young southern woman whose dreams fracture under the weight of her family’s tragic past.

"Historical romance with a sprinkle of secrets for readers to solve, Dorothy Love's latest puts a new spin on an old idea." ?Romantic Times, 4-star review

Editorial Review

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Excerpt

“There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”

Jean-Baptiste Racine

Prologue

September 27, 1843

Inside the carriage house the air was damp and still, thick with the smell of leather and horses. She shook the rain from her hair and eased the door closed. In the dim light coming through the high windows she could discern the shapes of two carriages, one an open surrey with three rows of seats, the other closed and more commodious—and beaded with rain. Beneath the window: two metal buckets, a buggy whip, a squat wooden table with peeling paint and coated with dust.

She had not seen him since the accident, but she had waited for him in the garden behind the house, just as he’d asked, until the storm broke. Maybe he loved her as he claimed. But in his world, love was easily won and just as easily tossed aside.

For months she had known this day was coming, and she’d waited for her heart to be free. But longing was a sickness that wouldn’t leave her. She couldn’t explain even to herself why such feelings bound her to him despite the torment of parting, the fear of discovery, and the price they now would have to pay.

She sank to the floor, the brick pavers rough against her bare feet, and her foot hit a coil of rope lying in the corner. She looked up to the cobwebbed rafters, and something broke inside her. Who would miss her if she were gone? Certainly not the child, too young to know its mother. Maybe Phoebe from the kitchen would shed a tear. Maybe Primus and Fanny, who had covered for her when he sent word and she slipped away. Otherwise she would be forgotten. Erased. A stone beneath rushing water.

She uncoiled the rope, and the weight of it gave her courage. It would be easy enough to form a knot. Climb onto the table, toss the rope over the rafters. Slip the noose over her head and kick the table away. A simple end to a complicated life.

She dragged the table to the center of the room and with trembling fingers fashioned the noose. She swung it over the rafters. On the third try, it caught. She slipped the noose over her head, the scratchy rope pressing heavily against her throat.

She closed her eyes, the sound of her pulse rushing in her ears, tears scalding her cheeks. Phoebe said it was a sin to die by one’s own hand and such an end would lock the gates of heaven against the sinner. But maybe she deserved whatever fate waited for her on the other side. She could see no other way for this story to end. Desperation had overtaken her and now exerted its own logic.

The storm intensified, jagged lightning cracking open the sky, the roll of thunder swallowing the sound of her sobs. She longed for a swift end to her suffering. But still she hesitated. What of the child? Who would care for her little one with the same affection its own mother would? A mental image of the helpless babe sent another wave of guilt washing over her, weakening her resolve. If she stayed in this world, a life of longing and regret would be her penance. But if she died here, and in this way, the child would have an even heavier cross to bear. Grief upon grief.

The table beneath her feet cracked and abruptly tilted, one leg splaying out at a precarious angle. The rope tightened, and black spots danced before her eyes. She teetered, both arms outstretched, and regained her balance, then stood motionless—afraid to move, afraid not to move, every muscle aching with the strain.

The carriage house door slid open. A flash of lightning briefly illuminated a dark figure silhouetted against the rain-swollen sky. In the garden beyond, the gazebo stood out in sharp relief, the roses and jessamine bent and sodden.

“Please.” Her throat felt raw. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. “Please help me.”

~~~

Chapter One

Savannah, Georgia, September 15, 1858

At the sound of male voices in the entry hall below, Celia Browning left her window overlooking the garden and the redbrick carriage house. She set aside her book and opened her bedroom door just wide enough to afford a view of the door to her father’s study down below. The house was quiet, the entry hall now empty. Dust motes swirled like snowflakes in the late afternoon sunshine, pouring through the fanlight above the front door and reflecting in the ornate gilt mirror on the wall. She cocked an ear to listen, but the conversation taking place behind the massive mahogany doors was lost in the vast space.

“Oh, fiddlesticks!” Frowning, she leaned against the polished mahogany banister and wondered what she was missing.

Papa often included her in discussions of the shipping company that had made him the fourth richest man in Savannah, behind Mr. Low, Mr. Green, and their neighbor on the square, Mr. Sorrel. She relished the lively discussions regarding Browning Shipping Company’s f leet of snows and schooners that transported cargo to ports around the world. She liked keeping up with the prices of timber, cotton, and turpentine and the news of markets that might soon admit ships from Savannah. Most of all she loved that her father treated her as an equal, allowing her the occasional visit to his counting house on Commerce Row, overlooking the river.

“Eavesdropping, Cousin?”

Celia jumped at the sound of Ivy’s voice. Ivy grinned, one brow raised.

“I’m not eavesdropping. Even if I wanted to, I can’t hear a thing.”

Ivy eyed Celia’s bare toes peeking from beneath the pink bell of her skirt. “You’d better not let Mrs. Maguire catch you running about without your shoes.”

Celia waved one hand. “She won’t care. She secretly likes looking after us.”

“She likes looking after you and Uncle David. I’m only the poor relation who causes more trouble than she’s worth.”

Celia studied her tall, sharp-faced cousin. Ivy had come to live with the Brownings when Celia was eight and Ivy ten. After fifteen years it was hard to remember a time when Ivy had not occupied the bedroom across the hall from Celia’s in the terra-cotta-colored mansion on Madison Square. Papa had done everything possible to make Ivy feel welcome, but lately Ivy’s usual determined cheerfulness had been replaced by periods of dark abstraction that lacked an apparent cause. It seemed she looked for opportunities to remind the Brownings that she didn’t really belong to them. Or to Savannah, a city Celia and her father loved almost as much as they loved each other.

“What’s the matter?” Celia placed a hand on her cousin’s arm. “It isn’t like you to feel sorry for yourself.”

“Oh, don’t mind me.” Ivy lifted one shoulder in a tiny shrug. “I’m out of sorts today. I don’t feel sorry for myself, and I don’t want anyone else to, either.” She tucked the book she’d been reading beneath her arm. “I’ve been an orphan for so long that I actually find it quite liberating.”

“You’re certainly in an odd mood today.”

A burst of laughter escaped from below. Celia peeked down and saw that the door to Papa’s study had opened. Now he stood in the foyer with his clerk. Elliott Shaw was a slight, thin-shouldered man of uncertain years whose generous mouth and thick eyelashes gave an almost feminine cast to his pale features. Celia had met him a few times at Papa’s office. Mr. Shaw was always courtly, if a bit shy, but his movements, so awkward and constrained, made her feel ill at ease. Still, nobody knew accountancy and maritime law better than he.

Mr. Shaw retrieved his hat and took his leave. Papa returned to his study. Celia padded silently along the upper hallway, passing portraits of generations of Brownings and Butlers, and ran lightly down the carpeted stairs, one hand trailing along the polished banister that gave off the pleasant scent of lemons and beeswax.

“Papa? Do you have a moment?”

He looked up from the stack of papers on his desk, a smile creasing his handsome face. “Always have time for you, darling. Give me a moment to finish signing these.”

Celia plopped into her chair and tucked her bare feet under her. A sultry breeze stirred the curtains at the open windows and carried with it the sounds of horses’ hooves plodding along the unpaved street, the voices of children playing in the tree-shaded square. The rustle of Papa’s papers mingled with the faint ticking of the clock on the mantel above the fireplace. Celia watched a woman and a small boy hurrying along the street, the child clinging like a barnacle to her voluminous skirts. A flock of sparrows rose and fell along the rooftops.

Celia released a contented sigh. She loved every room of this house—the drawing room where she entertained her friends, the spacious dining room with its massive mahogany table and a marble-topped sideboard that held the family silver. The library, bursting with books and filled with warm Georgia sunlight that poured through the tall windows facing the street. But Papa’s study was her favorite. Dark-green walls were adorned with paintings depicting ships at sea. Books on maritime law sat side by side with novels by Mr. Thackeray, Mr. Scott, and Mr. Dickens. A glassfronted secretary held her father’s cherished mementoes: medals for his service to the army, a framed drawing of Celia’s that had won a prize at school, a pair of silver-handled antique dueling pistols purchased on a trip to France, and a miniature portrait of her mother, painted shortly before she was lost in the Pulaski steamship disaster.

Papa set down his pen and pushed his papers aside. “Now then, Celia. What’s on your mind? I hope you aren’t cross at having missed my talk with Mr. Shaw just now.”

“Well, I am disappointed. But I can never stay cross with you, Papa.”

He smiled. “You didn’t miss a thing. Shaw only wanted to bring by these papers before he leaves for Cassville to spend a few days with his sister. She hasn’t been well these past months. We discussed nothing of consequence.” Papa removed his goldrimmed spectacles and folded them carefully. “How is your work for the asylum coming along?”

“Very well. Mother’s friends are happy I’ve decided to finish the work she started all those years ago. I only wish I could have taken up the cause much sooner.”

“Your schooling had to come first.”

Papa had paid two hundred dollars a year for her and Ivy to attend the female academy in Atlanta. They had spent six years learning French and astronomy, science and mathematics, needlework and music. Celia loved science especially, but marriage, motherhood, and charity work were the only permitted aspirations for a woman of her station. In the five years since graduation, she’d devoted herself to various causes, including improving the lives of the girls at the Savannah’s Female Orphan Asylum.

“I wish Mother could know how much progress we’ve made with the girls. But there’s still so much to be done, and all of it takes a good deal of money.”

Papa nodded. “I saw Alexander Lawton at the club last week. He said Mrs. Lawton intends to make a generous contribution.”

“I thought she might. She’s working hard to gather more support for the indigents at the hospital too. She feels as I do, that improving the lives of the least fortunate will benefit all of Savannah.” A thick dark curl escaped its pins, and Celia tucked it behind her ear. “I wish you could see how much progress Annie Wilcox has made. She has been at the asylum less than a year and already she reads as well as I do. And she’s a genius at trimming hats. Mrs. Clayton thinks Annie might one day find a position at Miss Garrett’s.”

Her father’s brows rose in a silent question.

“Miss Garrett owns one of the finest millinery shops in Charleston. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Annie could work there and one day open a shop of her own?”

His expression grew tender. “Seeing those girls succeed is terribly important to you, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and not only for the sake of Mother’s memory. Most of the girls are working so hard to learn something that will allow them to live a respectable life. I can’t help hoping they will succeed. But we need more books and perhaps one of those new sewing machines everybody is talking about for those who want to learn dressmaking. And a piano for Iris Welborn. She’s a musical genius who plays much better than I do, even though she has never had a lesson in her life. If she learns to read music, she might one day earn a good living as a music teacher.”

“Savannahians are generous people. I can’t imagine that you won’t raise enough for those things.”

“Oh, I think we will. Several of the ladies have already pledged their support. But we need to expand the building too. Just last week three new girls arrived. That place is bursting at the seams.”

Papa took off his spectacles and polished them on his sleeve. “A building expansion is quite an ambitious undertaking.”

“I know it. But if men like you and Mr. Green and Mr. Low will help, I’m sure we can do it.”

“Of course you can count on me, but you must remember most of Savannah is still recovering from last year’s financial crisis.” Papa raised an eyebrow as if to remind her of the importance of tact. “Many of our friends fared much worse than we did.”

“I’ll be circumspect, Papa. I’m planning a quiet reception later this fall where people can come to socialize and contribute to the fund anonymously. That way everyone can preserve appearances without feeling compelled to give more than they can really afford.”

He glanced out the window. “I’m pleased things are going so well, but something tells me you didn’t come here to give me a progress report on the Female Asylum.”

She shifted in her chair and dug her bare toes into the thick carpet. “Alicia Thayer called here this morning with the most exciting news. I hope it’s true.”

“Ah. Is this about Sutton Mackay?”

“Then it is true! He’s on his way home?”

“I haven’t spoken to Burke Mackay about it yet, but I saw Mr. Stiles this morning, and he says Sutton left Kingston last week. I imagine young Mr. Mackay will turn up here any day now—just in time for the start of the social season.”

“May we host an entertainment for him, Papa? Nothing too elaborate.”

“The last time you said that, we wound up with fifty guests for Christmas dinner.”

She laughed. “I will admit it. That one got a bit out of hand. But people still talk about how much they loved the food. And the Mysterious Fantasticals.”

“And well they should. Do you have any idea what that dinner cost me?”

“Mrs. Stiles says one never should discuss the cost of hosting guests. Or of anything else for that matter.”

“And she is right, of course. Forget I said anything.” Papa rose and retrieved his pipe from its stand on the corner of his desk. He took his time filling it while he stared absently out the window at the leafy, parklike square.

“Were you and Mr. Stiles talking business this morning? Or politics? If the former, I am quite piqued at being left out.”

He puffed on his pipe to get it going and sat down heavily behind his desk. “William prefers not to discuss business with women present.”

“Too bad. He could learn a lot from us. We women know much more than most men think.”

Papa smiled. “You didn’t miss any news from Commerce Row. William is concerned about the next presidential election.”

“Already?”

“He says there’s some talk Mr. Lincoln from Illinois might run. Lincoln says he has no wish to meddle in our affairs despite his opposition to slavery. But William is certain his election would spell doom for the South.”

Celia plumped the needlepoint pillow behind her back. “Last week at tea, Mrs. Quarterman said the Dred Scott decision should have settled the entire issue. She says the court has decided that a slave is the property of his owner no matter where he goes. But if we secede, I don’t think the Northerners will care what the judges say.”

Her father nodded, his expression thoughtful. “I’m proud that you’re so well informed, Celia. But I regret that the ladies of Savannah find it necessary to spend so much time worrying about politics.” He gestured with his pipe. “The election is nearly two years away. There’s no sense worrying about it today.”

“I agree. But Mrs. Quarterman said some of the Negroes are starting to talk politics in the streets, and not just in Currytown and Old Fort. She says they’re becoming outspoken right here in our own neighborhoods too.”

“There have been some noisy discussions in the streets of late. I do want you and Ivy to be careful when you leave the house. If you need to go farther than Reynolds Square, please have Joseph drive you.” He set down his pipe. “Now, what type of entertainment are you contemplating for the esteemed Mr. Mackay?”

“I haven’t had much time to consider it, but in the carriage on the way home this afternoon, I was thinking that a masked ball might be just the thing. Nobody has given one in quite some time, and I know Sutton would enjoy it. I’m sure people don’t host masquerades in Jamaica.”

“Perhaps not.” Papa opened his leather appointment book. “I must make a trip to Charleston at the end of the month, but we could arrange something for early October. The weather should permit us to serve a buffet on the rear terrace.”

“I suppose that’s enough time for us to send the invitations and for our guests to assemble their costumes.”

He ran his finger down the page. “Does Saturday the ninth of October suit you, my dear? Assuming of course that Sutton is home by then. Sea voyages can be unpredictable this time of year.”

“Perfect. Thank you, Papa. Will you ask Sutton the moment he arrives home?”

“I shall inform him of your intent at the first opportunity. And I’ll see his father at the club tomorrow. I’ll mention it to him then.” Papa took another draw on his pipe and sought her gaze. “I’m glad to see your happy anticipation, darling. I know how fond you are of Sutton. But I must caution you not to wear your heart on your sleeve.”

She laughed. “I’m afraid it’s entirely too late for that. Everybody in Savannah knows how Sutton and I feel about each other.”

“A childhood friendship is not the same as marriage. People change with time.”

“He hasn’t been away that long.”

“Two years is a long time in my book. You are not the same young woman you were when he left the city.”

“I hope not. I hope I’m wiser now. Certainly I’m old enough to marry, and there is no one on earth I’d rather marry than Sutton Mackay.”

“All the same, I don’t want you to fix your affections too hastily, Celia. Take your time getting to know Sutton again, to be certain his habits and principles are still a good match for your own.”

“Of course, Papa.” But deep down she couldn’t imagine any fault of Sutton’s that would dampen her affection for him. He possessed all the qualities of an ideal suitor—good blood ties, a fine education, solid economic prospects, and impeccable manners. He was quick to laugh, slow to anger, quick to forgive. And he was the handsomest member of the Chatham Artillery, the most prestigious of all the city’s volunteer companies. His letters from the Mackays’ shipping port on Jamaica’s Black River, though infrequent due to distance, were full of lively observations of local life and news of his thriving business, and they left little doubt about his intentions regarding their future. That suited Celia perfectly. She hated the whole tiresome notion that a girl must wait to be chosen. With any luck, her wait was almost at an end.

A carriage rolled past the window, the horses’ hooves kicking up clouds of sand. A fire bell sounded in the distance. Papa knocked the ash from his pipe. “Now you must excuse me, my dear. I must attend to some correspondence before dinner.”

“All right.” Celia rose, her silk skirts rustling, and planted a kiss on the top of his head. “Don’t work too late. Mrs. Maguire has made a beef roast for dinner and syllabub for dessert, and you know how she fusses if she has to wait to serve it.”

“Hmmm.”

She frowned. “You are worried, Papa. And not only about politics. What’s troubling you?”

He tapped the copy of the Daily Morning News folded neatly on his desk. Celia glanced at the headline. “The house of love and grief: New mystery surrounds Browning mansion on Madison Square. New mystery? What new mystery?”

“There is no new mystery. It’s only the wild imaginings of a journalist who apparently has come to town for the sole purpose of writing about us and reviving the tragedy that befell this house all those years ago. There is no purpose in it apart from selling more newspapers.” Papa released a heavy sigh. “I’m quite disappointed in William Thompson. I’ve known him ever since he became the editor at the paper, and I can’t say I understand at all what is to be gained by resurrecting such painful memories.”

Celia had been only a child then, but fragments of memory still lay like shards of glass in her heart: A black wreath on the door. The parlor mirror draped in black. Mrs. Maguire’s grim, pale face, the furtive whisperings of the mourners, and Ivy’s heartwrenching wails as the coffin was lowered into the ground. Then the dark, tragic coda to a story she still didn’t understand.

Now she worried that the whole scandalous story would play out in the newspapers all over again, just when Sutton Mackay was returning home. Even the best people were endlessly fascinated by tragedy so long as it was not their own, even in a city such as Savannah, which prided itself on observing propriety above all else. She frowned. “Isn’t there anything we can do?”

“I intend to speak to Thompson tomorrow. But frankly, I’m not too hopeful he’ll quash the story. He’s in the business of selling papers after all.” Papa jabbed a finger at the folded newspaper. “If this Channing fellow can find even one new half-truth to splash across the headlines, I’m sure some people in town will be unable to resist reading about it.”

“Miss Celia?” Mrs. Maguire’s voice preceded her into the room. The Irish housekeeper bustled in carrying a stack of clean linens and bobbed her head at Papa. “Good afternoon, sir.”

“Mrs. Maguire.”

“Miss Celia, I’ve been callin’ you for the last ten minutes and here you sit, daft as stone.”

“I’m sorry. What is it you wanted?” Celia regarded the housekeeper fondly. Though Mrs. Maguire had arrived in Savannah aboard a ship from County Waterford nearly thirty years earlier and had worked for the Brownings ever since, her speech still held strong traces of her native country. Especially when her feathers were ruffled.

Mrs. Maguire thrust the linens into Celia’s arms. “These are the things you wanted to donate to the asylum. Sure and you’ll be wantin’ them for your meeting tomorra mornin’. They’re old, but serviceable. I’m sure the girls will be happy to have them.” With another bob of her head, she hurried toward the kitchen.

Papa cleared his throat and stared pointedly at the papers on his desk. Celia took the hint and hurried up the stairs to her room with her stack of linens, determined not to let politics or the specter of a scandalous newspaper story spoil Sutton’s homecoming.

If all went as she hoped, she and Sutton would be engaged by Christmas. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. Though Celia enjoys her station in life, she also chafes against the expectations of her family and her circle of friends. Ivy, too, is affected by societal norms. What roles do expectations play for each of the characters in this novel? Have you ever felt constrained or inspired by your family’s wishes or the norms of your community?

2. The relationship between Ivy and Celia is a complicated one. Which one do you think understands the other more completely? Why?

3. Celia’s home on Madison Square represents very different things to Celia and Ivy. What do you think the house means to each of them?

4. Ivy believes that the Brownings have provided her with opportunity, but not love. Do you agree? Why or why not?

5. Celia decides to pursue the truth about her family’s past, even if her discovery proves uncomfortable. How is Celia changed by what she finds out? Have you ever discovered something in your own past that altered your perception of people and events?

6. What is Leo Channing’s role in the story? Do you think his personal circumstances justified his actions? Why or why not?

7. Were Mr. Browning and Mrs. Maguire justified in keeping the family secrets once Celia was an adult? In similar circumsances, would you want to know the details?

8. At her father’s funeral, Celia wonders how her father dealt with the secrets he kept. Was there a price he paid for his silence? What do you think?

9. In her diary, Aunt Eugenia states that she has become a secret abolitionist. What were her reasons for this statement? Does the depiction of the antebellum South in this book differ from your assumptions?

10. In what way is the city of Savannah itself a character in the novel?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by Ann B. (see profile) 01/16/22

 
  "Waste of time and paper"by Patricia T. (see profile) 05/30/15

The cover is a rip off of the much better book "Girl with a Pearl Earring". The dialogue is a caricature of both southern speech of the era (fiddlesticks) and the Irish brogue of the housekeeper. There... (read more)

 
  "Savannah Intrigue"by Betty T. (see profile) 03/30/15

The story is set in 1858 in Savannah, Georgia. Savannah, being only a two-hour drive from where I live, is always a great setting. Savannah itself seems to be a major character in stories. �... (read more)

 
by Meg L. (see profile) 06/06/15

 
  "The Bracelet"by Elizabeth P. (see profile) 11/20/14


Diamond. Emerald. Amethyst. Diamond
= D. E. A. D.

A bracelet that mysteriously appeared on Celia Browning's nightstand was a bracelet she thought was from her fia



... (read more)

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