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Authors: Jacqueline Diamond

A Lady's Point of View

BOOK: A Lady's Point of View
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A
Lady’s Point of View

 

 

by

 

Jacqueline Diamond

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Fern

 

 

 

This digital edition published by

K. Loren Wilson

P.O. Box 1315

Brea, California

 

978-1-936505-13-5

 

Copyright 1989, 2011, 2012 by
Jackie Hyman

Lightly reedited for this
edition

Philippine copyright 1989.

Australian copyright 1989.

 

First Edition published 1989 by Harlequin Books

 

All rights reserved

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Miss Margaret Linley was
variously known as high in the instep, a dull piece of business, and a great
gawk. None of these terms was meant to be flattering, despite her passingly
fair figure, soft brown hair, and large blue eyes. For if she was not slighting
a gentleman altogether by her inability to see him properly, she was tripping
over his boots or ignoring his conversation in her attempts to avoid
collisions.

On this particular night the
young lady, in her second season and garbed in cherry-red silk, stood holding a
glass of lemonade in her gloved hand and trying not to squint. The month was
May, the evening was Wednesday, and the place, as any of London’s elite could
not have failed to discern, was the fashionable if plain assembly rooms known
as Almack’s, in King Street.

Through the tapestry of the
gathering wove gentlemen in finely cut coats in subdued colours as decreed by
the master of style, Beau Brummell. Ladies, each the proud possessor of a
voucher that permitted her entry to the premises, danced and laughed and
flirted behind painted fans, displaying an almost shocking amount of bosom
above their lace-trimmed, embroidered gowns. Those in their first season wore
white, while their older sisters displayed themselves in lilac, apricot, peach,
and primrose.

The anxious mamas formed a dark border of blues,
greens, and purples as they hovered about the dance floor, each hoping for her
daughter to make a fine match. The assemblage overall presented a fabric of
rich colours that delighted Meg, who could perceive little beyond the bright
hues.

Several ladies strolled by,
nodding politely, and Meg nodded and smiled back. But when the ladies turned
away without speaking, she wondered if she had mistaken headshakes for nods.

She felt exceedingly
uncomfortable. Her mother, Lady Mary, had insisted on dampening her petticoats
to make the gown cling to her slender form, and Meg wished fervently that she
might change into the old, modest bombazine she wore about the house. Dampened
petticoats might be alluring, but they felt deucedly clammy.

Meg’s musings halted as a figure
in black approached and asked for a dance. She agreed with enthusiasm until,
after setting aside her lemonade, she recognized her partner as a confirmed old
bachelor who had no doubt made the offer out of respect for her late father.

Walking across the floor took far
more courage than others might suspect, for the whole of the room posed a giant
blur for Meg. She attempted to move forward with grace, dreading one of the
hideous stumbles that plagued her life.

She must keep her weak vision a
secret. No one, so Lady Mary insisted, would marry a chit who at nineteen
already required spectacles, although Meg suspected this was more a fancy of
her mother’s than a dictum of society. Men were known to use quizzing glasses,
often raising the single lens to gaze in a quelling manner at those of whom
they disapproved. A few fashionable ladies wore lorgnettes, a pair of framed
lenses with a handle. Still, Lady Mary was not a figure her daughter cared to
cross, even when, with the unconscious arrogance of one who could spot a paste
jewel or hennaed hair across a ballroom, Meg’s mother insisted that anyone
could see well with a bit of effort.

She refused to permit her
daughter any sort of lens, and had it not been for the generosity of the
nearsighted housekeeper, Mrs. Pickney, who was willing to share her eyeglasses,
Meg’s needlework would have been speckled with blood from her pricked fingers,
much the way her life in society thus far had been blotched by her bumblings.

“Are you enjoying the season,
Miss Linley?” her partner asked as he guided her awkwardly through an approximation
of the waltz, that daring new dance which permitted a man and a woman an almost
indecent amount of intimacy.

“Indeed.” She gave a silent
prayer of thanks for this new dance, however it might distress her elders. With
a man’s hand on her waist and the other palm-to-palm with her own, she felt far
safer than trying to navigate unaided through the intricacies of a quadrille.

“Have you not a sister in town
this season?” the man continued. For the life of her, Meg could not recall his
name.

“Yes, Angela.” Meg bit her lip as
her heel brushed the ankle of another whirling young lady and won her a
reproving glare. “She’s but eighteen months younger than I.” Being halfway
through one’s second season and still unmarried was not yet cause for alarm,
but neither did one wish to appear any older than one was.

“Is she here?” he asked.

“Oh, no, she’s not yet out,” Meg
said.

“Not out? Then surely her ball
must be due soon, and I’ve not received an invitation,” the fellow complained.
Mr. Crotchety, she decided. That name would do as well as any.

“It’s not set,” she admitted.
“Angela turned eighteen only last week, and it may be she won’t enter society
until next spring.”

Mr. Crotchety seized upon this
statement to elaborate at length on the desirability of ladies marrying early
and the foolhardiness of keeping them in the schoolroom past the age of
sixteen. Meg was tempted to ask him why he felt so strongly about the subject,
but she managed to refrain.

Privately she agreed that Angela
should be brought out this year, but debuts into society were expensive. The
painful truth was that the Linleys could not afford it.

Anthony Linley had been the
eldest son of a viscount, and Lady Mary the daughter of an earl. Who could have
foreseen that he would die in a carriage accident before succeeding to the
title, and who would have guessed that his widow would be left with only a
small pension and the remainder of her dowry?

The family fortunes might yet be
saved if Meg were to make a wealthy match, but young men with full purses had a
way of preferring ladies of equally substantial means. Moreover, Meg did not
think she could bear a loveless marriage, perhaps to some old man such as Mr.
Crotchety, with his cracked voice and onion-laden breath.

For herself, she would not have
minded suffering through half a dozen seasons without a husband, but Lady Mary
could not afford to have two daughters out in society at the same time. The
cost of gowns alone was prohibitive, and until Meg married or retired from the
field, her flaxen-haired and much more comely—to Meg’s mind, as well as her
mama’s—younger sister must wait at home.

“Meg!” The music had scarcely
ended when Helen Cockerell was at her side, pulling her away from Mr.
Crotchety. “I haven’t seen you all night.”

“And I most certainly haven’t
seen you,” Meg returned with a laugh, for her friend was privy to her closest
secrets.

“Wait until you hear...” Helen
possessed a talent for gathering the latest
on-dits
like spring flowers
in a bouquet. As the two girls adjourned to the refreshment table for lemonade,
Helen kept one arm linked helpfully through Meg’s and her tongue buzzing with
gossip of engagements, fallings-out, and scandals of every sort, all of which
she relayed without a trace of malice.

As they strolled, Meg kept a
vague smile playing about her lips, for she dreaded giving offence and knew
that she often did so by failing to see a gesture of greeting.

“There is Lady Jersey, nodding to
you,” murmured Helen, and Meg bowed her head politely. One dared not antagonise
the patronesses of Almack’s. They held the power to deny one a voucher, a
punishment that meant exile from the cream of London’s
ton
.

“Now here is my favourite titbit,” Helen continued.
“Do you recall my cousin, Germaine Geraint? The Friday-faced chit who liked to
race her carriage in Hyde Park?”

“No, but she sounds enchanting,”
Meg teased, nibbling at a bit of stale cake. Almack’s was noted for its poor
refreshments.

The response failed to make a
dent in Helen’s monologue. “No, of course you wouldn’t, but she had a season
seven years ago, for she is five and twenty now, and created such a scandal
with her carryings-on that she was sent away to rusticate.” She paused for
dramatic effect. “Well, she has a suitor!”

This bit of news did little to
excite Meg, who had never met the lady in question. “How fortunate for her.”

“But you haven’t heard who it
is!” Helen cried. “Lord Bryn!”

The marquis was known to Meg by
reputation, for he often figured in the general gossip. Formerly a rake and a
hell-raiser, he had changed considerably after joining Wellington’s forces on
the Peninsula and suffering a gunshot wound to the leg.

The injury had left him with a
limp. Furthermore, the gossips had faithfully reported, he declared upon
returning to London that after what he had seen on the battlefield he had no
patience with the empty frivolity and wasteful excesses of the fashionables.
With that, his lordship had retired to his country home near Stockport in
Cheshire, where he lived with his orphaned niece and nephew and had for the past
two years ignored the world in general.

“I’ve heard that he’s quite
handsome,” said Meg, who could rarely tell whether a gentleman was attractive
or no. “Why should he court your cousin, if she’s as plain as you say?”

Helen shrugged. “Needs an heir, I
daresay. Besides, Germaine’s a great gun in her own way.”

A gentleman appeared at Miss
Cockerell’s elbow, claiming the next dance, and Meg watched regretfully as her
friend departed. In the battlefield that masqueraded as the social season, it
was rare to find an ally, she reflected as Lady Mary bore down on her.

The widow wore a black dress that
she often complained was frayed around the edges, although Meg was unable to
determine if this was so. A small silver turban sporting a single ostrich
feather topped Lady Mary’s elegant head.

“Let me see your dance card,” she
commanded, and Meg handed it over reluctantly. “What? But this is blank!”

“Mother,” she said, “I’ve been
giving the matter some thought. Perhaps it would be best if I left London for
the season and gave Angela a chance. If she were to make an advantageous match,
it might help me, as well.”

“Nonsense!” Lady Mary returned
the offending card to her daughter. “The first must be married before the
second, unless she is unmarriageable, of course. And you are not.”

“But why?” Meg protested. “I
don’t mind. I like Derby, and even though the cottage is rented to our cousins,
surely the Barkers could spare me an attic room.”

“Hush!” Her mother stared about
to see if anyone had overheard. “You have more hair than brains, girl!”

A rotund fellow stumbled against
them, alcohol shading his breath during his stammered apology. Lady Mary
pretended to misunderstand. “Why, of course you may dance with my daughter, Sir
Manfred,” she proclaimed, and stepped aside. The two unhappy young people had
no choice but to comply, and so Meg bounced her way through a country dance in
uncomfortable silence.

Toward the end of the dance, she
heard voices calling out and a general stir from afar, and concluded that
someone of note had arrived. It was nearly eleven o’clock, after which time
even the Prince Regent himself would be denied entrance.

Meg glanced toward the doorway,
but as usual could make out only indistinct forms. She blushed, remembering one
humiliating occasion on which she had crossed a room in full public view, only
to find herself greeting a valet.

The music ended with a flourish.
“Thank you, ma’am,” said her partner, sweeping into a bow. Meg bobbed a small
curtsey, to discover when she lifted her head that Sir Manfred had vanished,
leaving her stranded in the midst of assorted bodies that were already forming
sets for a Scottish reel.

If only Helen would appear! But
there was no sign of her. With a sigh, Meg lifted her skirts and stepped
carefully across the dance floor. She must make her way to safety on her own
this time.

Using great care, she approached
the haven of the sidelines. As Meg well knew, it would be impossible to
concentrate on her path if she observed those around her, and so she could only
hope that no one was nodding a salutation.

Where was Lady Mary? Meg lifted
her head for a moment, seeking her mother’s aid without success. But even if
her parent had been watching, she might have refrained from helping her
daughter in the belief that, under duress, Meg would suddenly acquire the
necessary vision.

With an exhalation of relief, Meg stepped past the
last of the couples now contorting on the dance floor. Vaguely she noted a
cluster of gentlemen ahead and swerved to make her way around them.

A collective gasp of horror from
these same gentlemen was her first clue that she had committed a major
faux
pas
. Meg turned abruptly, hoping against hope that whatever had occasioned
this outpouring of shock had nothing to do with her.

That was, unfortunately, not the
case. The assemblage broke into fluttering fans and gossiping voices that
lingered over such phrases as “I never!” and “The brass of that girl!” Worst of
all, from a massive woman with a voice like a trumpet: “I daresay there will be
no more vouchers for that miss, or her family!”

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