Authors: A Suitable Wife
“Will you excuse me?” Eyes blazing, Edmond dismounted, gave the lady a curt bow and hurried back to his bride. Anna’s face wore the same alarm they all felt, except for Mrs. Parton.
“Lady Beatrice.” Greystone could not fail to be impressed by her straight, stoic posture. “Are you all right?”
“Yes.” The single word came out on a high-pitched whisper, accompanied by a shudder so slight that, had he blinked, he would have missed it. “I thank you, Lord Greystone.” She looked at Mrs. Parton, who was fussing with the reins as if impatient to continue her journey. “Madam, if you have no objection, may we walk about the park for a while? I should very much like to view the Serpentine.”
Greystone did not miss the slight pleading tone in her breathless voice. “A splendid plan. Do allow me to escort both of you ladies to the river. We may even be able to purchase some meat pies and lemonade from that man over there with the food cart.” By no means would he permit Mrs. Parton to drive away, with or without the young lady. “Please honor me with your presence, both of you. Edmond and his bride are—”
Mrs. Parton interrupted with a hearty sneeze. And another even stronger. “Oh, bother.” She retrieved a lace-edged handkerchief from her reticule and sniffed into it. “They have just mown the grass, have they not? That always sets me to sneezing.
I should have sent someone to inquire before starting out.” A sigh of resignation escaped her. “Just when I wanted to enjoy a day in the park.” She emphasized her complaint with yet another sneeze. “Oh, do forgive me. We must return home.” She tugged at her gloves, then gathered the reins.
“Perhaps my lady would consider—” The footman jumped down from his perch.
“I should check the horse—” The tiger grasped the bridle.
“Madam, surely after this adventure—” Greystone spoke at the same moment the other men so cleverly and respectfully voiced their protests. All stopped, and he took charge.
“Mrs. Parton, you have all my sympathy. I can see the elements are not favoring you today. Perhaps this good man—” he patted the tiger’s shoulder “—could drive you. The phaeton has room only for two, so I shall take Lady Beatrice home. That is, after she has seen the Serpentine.”
He felt certain the sudden tears and puffiness around Mrs. Parton’s eyes could not be feigned. This was not a part of some matchmaking scheme. The dear lady was truly suffering.
“Oh, bother.” She sniffed into her handkerchief again, then sneezed. Through her tears, she looked at Lady Beatrice. “My dear, will you think I’ve deserted you?”
Lady Beatrice tilted her head in her pretty way and blinked at Mrs. Parton. How could a lady look so charming in the midst of her fright? “W-why, if it will not trouble Lord Greystone and his guests, I would not mind at all.”
“Very good.” Mrs. Parton eyed her footman. “Charles, you have lost your wig.”
“Did I?” The young man patted his head. “Coo, mum, how careless of me.” Greystone wanted to laugh at the lad’s performance. A good servant never criticized his employer.
“Well, you look better without it. I really must reconsider the livery my servants wear. Now, shall we go?” Mrs. Parton waved to her tiger. “Home, Harry.”
The footman returned to his post while the tiger took over the reins, and soon the phaeton was rumbling toward the park’s entrance. Greystone could not be certain, but he thought he heard Mrs. Parton’s inimitable laughter trailing after them. A tendril of suspicion crept into his mind, cut short when Lady Beatrice released a sigh so profound, he feared she was about to faint. Yet when he offered his arm, she gripped it firmly and gave him a steely look, as if she was determined not to succumb to her fright.
“To the Serpentine, Lord Greystone.”
“Your servant, madam.” He gave her a slight bow even as his heart lurched oddly.
Lord, please do not let me become attached to this charming, yet unsuitable young lady.
But the echo of the prayer for a wife he had lifted only seconds before the phaeton arrived at the park resounded within him.
No, Lord. Surely not.
he instant Beatrice took Lord Greystone’s arm, a sense of security flooded her, as if she had gripped a rock. The feeling came from more than the strong forearm muscles so evident despite the thick fabric of his sleeve. Even if the viscount had not so heroically risked his life to stop the horse, his entire being exuded stability, safety, sanctuary, all the things she had longed for her entire life. All the things Papa and poor Melly lacked. Yet this gentleman confounded her. One moment he studied her with seeming admiration and concern. The next he turned away with a furrowed brow, as if refusing to grant her his good opinion.
For now she would simply be grateful for his intervention in Mrs. Parton’s wild driving. While the other gentleman and the two liveried footmen had certainly done their part, especially the one who’d leaped upon the horse, it was Lord Greystone who had surprised her. One did not think of a prominent peer as someone willing to risk his life to stop a runaway horse. She had never seen Papa put himself out in the slightest way for anyone, much less risk his life. Lord Greystone truly was a remarkable gentleman.
While the two footmen hurried ahead, Beatrice and the viscount walked in silence toward a barouche that likewise was moving in their direction. The driver reined the four white horses to a stop, and one footman opened the door and folded down the step. A lady already in the conveyance moved from the front facing bench to the opposite one, and Lord Greystone directed Beatrice to the newly vacated place of honor. He settled on the white leather seat beside her, and the other gentleman took his place beside the lady.
“Lady Beatrice,” the viscount said as the carriage moved forward, “may I present my brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Grenville?” He gave them a teasing smirk. “Do not expect much conversation from them. They have recently married and think they are the only two people in the world.”
“May I offer my congratulations?” Beatrice smiled at the pretty bride. “Mrs. Grenville, your husband was beyond heroic in stopping the phaeton, as was Lord Greystone. Did you see them?” She still felt a bit breathless, and her words rushed out like a schoolgirl’s.
“Indeed I did.” The lady gazed at her new husband adoringly. “I was terrified for them and for you ladies, but I would not have expected any less from either of them.”
“Edmond was a cavalry officer until recently.” In spite of the careless way Lord Greystone brushed dust from his coat and breeches, his proud tone revealed an admirable fondness for his brother. “He has hung up his uniform for a barrister’s wig.”
“Both are commendable occupations, Mr. Grenville.” Beatrice loved her brother, too, yet she could feel no pride in his actions of the past few years.
But she must not think of Melly in this pleasant company. Lord Greystone was the host, and she must look to him to direct the conversation. For the moment, he chose to be silent.
“Oh, look, Edmond.” Mrs. Grenville sat up and pointed her ivory fan toward some object in the distance. “Remember the bench under that willow?”
Mr. Grenville nodded, but his gaze remained on his wife. “I came very near to declaring myself to you that day.”
“And I to you,” she said. “Ah, well. That came soon enough and in the Lord’s time.” They locked gazes, and both wore beatific smiles. Lord Greystone had been accurate in his description of their mutual devotion. Even as Beatrice admired them, she wondered if she would ever know such love. But whom could she trust to love her as this gentleman loved his bride?
“Ahem.” Lord Greystone coughed artificially. “What did I tell you, Lady Beatrice?”
Dismissing her dismal thoughts, she laughed. “Come now, sir, have some understanding. One day you may fall in love. Then no doubt you will see the matter differently.” From where had she summoned such a bold suggestion? She did not know the viscount well enough to tease him in this manner.
At first he blinked, and his jaw dropped slightly. Then he gave her a mischievous grin and rolled his eyes. “Heaven forefend. I shall never be as besotted as Edmond. Why, look at him. He does not even know you and I are in the carriage.”
Relieved by his pleasant response, Beatrice nodded soberly. “Nor does she.”
“What?” The gentleman in question turned their way. “Did you address us?” Now he gave his wife a sweet smile. “Anna, my darling, would you like to take a stroll and visit our special bench?”
“Why, Edmond, I cannot think of anything I would rather do.”
With one lifted eyebrow Mr. Grenville questioned his brother, to whom he bore a remarkable resemblance.
“Yes, of course,” Lord Greystone said. “I did promise Lady Beatrice a view of the Serpentine. Porter, take us over to yon willow tree.”
“Yes, milord.” The man directed the horses along the meadow road and drew them up on a patch of grass.
After the footmen assisted everyone from the carriage, Lord Greystone ordered them to fetch refreshments. Beatrice had eaten but a small breakfast, and after her ordeal, she looked forward to making up for her lack of food.
To her surprise, as they all walked toward the lush weeping willow, Mrs. Grenville forsook her husband’s company and looped an arm around one of Beatrice’s. “I have been looking forward to meeting you, Lady Beatrice. For weeks Mrs. Parton has been announcing your coming with great delight. Now that you are here, I know you will be a great comfort to her since her last child has married.”
“I thank you, Mrs. Grenville.” Although Beatrice was uncertain of the lady’s rank, she permitted the familiarity. If she was learning nothing else from Mrs. Parton, it was that a person’s worth and character could not be measured in titles or wealth. “However, I do hope I can persuade her to leave the driving to her servants.”
“Oh, my, yes.” Mrs. Grenville laughed. “I shall pray to that end. Ah, here we are.”
Lord Greystone and his brother parted the tree’s graceful branches like a curtain, revealing the promised stone bench, a shady refuge with a picturesque view of the river. The moment the two ladies sat, their arms still linked, Beatrice felt a kinship with her new acquaintance. Having no sister, she had always longed for an intimate female friend. Perhaps Mrs. Grenville was the answer to her prayers. Summoning courage, she decided to make her first attempt at forging a friendship.
“Mrs. Grenville, I understand you were Lady Greystone’s companion.” Beatrice would not be so rude as to ask how she bore the viscountess’s haughty ways. “How did you come to that position?”
A shadow crossed the lady’s face. “Mama died years ago, and then my father died last October. Papa was a poor country vicar, and though he thought he had left me a small inheritance, it could not be located. I was utterly destitute.” She glanced toward her husband with a smile. “But our heavenly Father never forsakes us. He sent Major Grenville to me—he was bringing news of my brother, with whom he served in America. When the major learned of my situation, he took me straightaway to his mother, Lady Greystone, to be her companion.” A soft laugh escaped her. “The lady was not entirely pleased, for she found that my coming overset her orderly world. But she grew to accept me—somewhat.”
Beatrice stifled a laugh. So Lady Greystone disliked this sweet girl, too. “And it would appear that Major Grenville’s world was a bit overset, as well. It is a testimony to his love for you that he gave up his army career.”
“Indeed. But Edmond had always wanted to be a barrister. With Uncle Grenville’s sponsorship and tutelage at the Inns of Courts, he will soon be able to accept his own clients.” She cast another adoring glance at her husband before turning back to Beatrice. “Now it is your turn. Please tell me about yourself.” Her fair cheeks turned a little pink. “That is, if I am not being impertinent to ask.”
“Not at all.” Beatrice gave her a reassuring smile. Everything about Mrs. Grenville invited confidence, and she seemed to want a friend, as well. As a vicar’s daughter, surely she had heard her own share of confessions from her father’s female parishioners. Confident of her discretion, Beatrice decided to trust her and dismissed a lifetime of reserve. “In truth, I am in much the same position that you were in before Mr. Grenville rescued you, although not quite as severe.” She sighed as memories surged forth. “My parents are both gone, too, and my brother has held the title of Lord Melton for three years. In that time, he has fallen in with bad company and has wasted his entire fortune, including my dowry.”
“Oh, my dear.” Mrs. Grenville gripped Beatrice’s hand, and her eyes reddened. “How you must grieve his fall.”
Beatrice jolted slightly. This lady had unknowingly exposed her selfishness. She had meant to garner some commiseration regarding the loss of her wealth, especially her dowry, but Mrs. Grenville rightly pointed out what should be her greatest grief. “Yes, I do.” It was not a lie.
“And of course that places you in a difficult position.” Mrs. Grenville squeezed her hand. “Yet our heavenly Father did not leave you without resources either, for Mrs. Parton has taken you in.” A twinkle lit her green eyes. “I think she must be a delightful lady to work for, wild driving notwithstanding.”
Beatrice answered with a nod and a laugh.
“Well, then, we shall pray for Lord Melton to see the error of his ways and discover that true happiness can be found only in the Lord.” Mrs. Grenville’s fervent sentiments sent a warm flood of reassurance through Beatrice. What a good friend she had found! What a good example to follow. In spite of all the lady had suffered, she had never lost her faith in God. Beatrice prayed she could follow Mrs. Grenville’s example and trust the Lord, even if she never found a trustworthy husband.
* * *
Seated together on the stone bench, the ladies made a pretty picture, and Greystone had a sudden urge to hire their portraits painted this very day. But of course that was nonsense and far too familiar a gesture toward a lady he had no intention of knowing better. In any event Anna had some skill at portraiture, so perhaps she would feel inclined to paint her companion, should they become intimate friends. The thought of fostering that friendship pleased him. Mentors such as Mrs. Parton were all well and good, but nothing could be compared to having a friend near one’s own age. Mother, Mrs. Parton and Lady Blakemore had each other, and Greystone valued his two brothers as more precious than gold.
Now the ladies leaned together as closely as their wide-brimmed bonnets would permit, and whispered just like schoolgirls. From their smiles he expected them to break forth in girlish giggles at any moment. He was more than pleased to see Lady Beatrice enjoying herself, especially with another lady. Last night she had been the epitome of grace, yet he could see across the table that Lord Winston was boring her beyond words.
Neither would Greystone have been pleased to see her talk with Mr. Penry, who sat on her other side. He had nothing against the man, except that he was in trade. How curious that Blakemore invited several people of no prominence to his supper. By giving them a minor bit of consequence, the earl seemed to say they could be considered marriageable with members of the
And that would not do at all.
No, in the matter of Lady Beatrice’s prospects he must look around for someone whose influence would not be affected by her brother’s wastrel ways. A duke, perhaps, or someone from a reputable branch of the royal family such as one of the distant cousins of the Prince Regent, as long as the gentleman was of better moral character than the prince. Even an earl could not be as tainted by Melton as would a viscount, no matter how spotless that viscount’s reputation.
But each thought of pairing the gentle lady with any man made his stomach twist as if he had indigestion. Nor should he continue to stare at her, even though he found her presence both soothing and disturbing. He strolled several yards away to escape the scent of her rose perfume, wondering idly why the footman was taking so long to purchase the meat pies.
Edmond followed and nudged him with his elbow. “Why the sour face? Our lovely companions will think you are displeased to be with them.”
Greystone grunted. “Far from it. You know of my brotherly affection for your bride, but I find myself enjoying Lady Beatrice’s company all too well.”
Edmond chuckled. “And why is that a problem?”
Greystone glared at him briefly, but perhaps his crossness was ill-placed. “Her brother is under the influence of Frank Rumbold and has gambled away his father’s fortune in three short years.”
“Yes, I have heard that. But are you saying you reject the lady because of her brother’s habits and associations?” Edmond shook his head in obvious disbelief. “I thank the Lord you did not abandon me when I fell under evil influences and lost my way in the gambling world. I shall ever be grateful to you for your constancy.”
Greystone shrugged off his praise, even as fraternal affection warmed his heart. “You are a good man, Edmond. It was well worth the efforts to redeem you. Look what you’ve made of yourself.”
“But Lady Beatrice requires no redeeming.” Edmond glanced toward the ladies, who were still in deep conversation. “Yes, she is the sister of a misguided young peer, but she is also the daughter of an earl who left a solid if not remarkable legacy in Parliament.”
“Ah, I see you have already started your law studies if you know what has happened in Parliament in recent years.” Greystone began to regret bringing up the subject. He had expected Edmond’s understanding and support.
“Do not change the subject.” Edmond gripped Greystone’s shoulder. “I am not suggesting that you pursue a lady you cannot love. I am merely saying you must not reject love because of something that is not her fault.”
Greystone huffed out a sigh of annoyance. “Edmond, you know what Mother taught us. It is imperative that one’s connections be above reproach if one is to accomplish anything. I am drawing up a bill to present in the House of Lords regarding the protection of climbing-boys. Those who oppose the measure will look for any reason to block my success.”
Edmond nodded, but then shook his head. “A very commendable undertaking, to be sure. But Mother is not always right about everything.”