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Authors: A Suitable Wife

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BOOK: Louise M Gouge
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Her thoughts had become morose, so she decisively shook them off and looked to Mrs. Parton to guide her for whatever came next. The lady was in the process of dismissing Lord Greystone, voicing all due appreciation for his escort from the theatre. He bowed to them both, then strode away as if eager to get someplace else. Beatrice felt the loss of his presence, but buoyed her spirits by surveying her surroundings.

They moved deeper into the room, which was furnished with exquisite oak and mahogany furniture upholstered in blue-and-gold brocade. A mahogany hearth served as the centerpiece, and the requisite painting of the family seat in Hampshire hung above the mantel. Three groupings of wing chairs and settees were arranged about the chamber, while red and white roses arranged in tall, golden vases sat on occasional tables, filling the room with their heady fragrances.

But soon the aroma of the roasting meat Beatrice had noticed upon arrival crowded out the scent of flowers, making her mouth water and her stomach demand satisfaction. Surely the meal would be announced soon, or she would have to find a place to sit down for all her dizziness.

“Mrs. Parton.” A pleasant-looking gentleman approached and bowed over the lady’s hand. “How lovely you are this evening. One may always depend upon you to brighten any room.” To his credit his gaze did not leave Mrs. Parton’s face, although anyone could see Beatrice standing close beside her.

“Why, such flattery, Winston, but I thank you nonetheless.” Mrs. Parton’s smile held nothing but approval, which piqued Beatrice’s interest. “How well you look, my boy. I take it you are finding your footing without difficulty in the House of Lords?”

So the gentleman bore a title. Beatrice found her curiosity, if not her interest, growing. As Mrs. Parton had said, he did look well. Quite handsome, in fact, upon further scrutiny. Above medium height, more than a head taller than Beatrice, with blond hair and gray-green eyes, he exuded both confidence and boyishness. His black suit and pristine white shirt and cravat gave him an air of gravity, although not too severe. All in all he appeared to be everything proper in a gentleman. Yet Beatrice felt no stir of emotions as when she had met Lord Greystone. Perhaps such feelings were more of a hindrance than a reason to hope that a gentleman might find her appealing.

“Yes, madam, I am growing comfortable there. I have a mentor in Lord Bennington, which helps more than you can imagine.” Now he glanced at Beatrice, but so quickly she almost missed it.

“Ah, yes, I heartily approve of Bennington as someone who can guide you.” Mrs. Parton chuckled in her merry way. “I see you have noticed my lovely companion.” She turned to Beatrice. “Lady Beatrice, may I present Lord Winston, a distant relative of mine whose barony patent goes back to the days of Henry VIII. Winston, may I present my...
friend,
Lady Beatrice?” Mrs. Parton’s kind reference warmed Beatrice’s heart.

“It is an honor, Lady Beatrice.” Lord Winston executed a perfect bow over her extended hand as she curtseyed.

“I am pleased to meet you, Lord Winston.” Beatrice decided to make her connections known at once. She refused to have another gentleman invest time in making her acquaintance only to flee. “Perhaps you have met my brother, Lord Melton?”

“Melton?” His blond eyebrows arched, but not in a manner to suggest disapproval. “Yes, of course. Pleasant fellow. Witty, actually.”

Again Beatrice’s heart warmed. “Yes, he has a fine wit.”

“Dinner is served,” the butler intoned from the doorway, and guests began moving in that direction.

“If you have no objection,” Lord Winston said, “I should be honored to escort you ladies to supper.” He glanced at Beatrice, but addressed Mrs. Parton. “And if I may be so bold, would you object if I call upon you next week?”

Beatrice drew in a quick breath. He knew of her brother, yet he still did not object to furthering their acquaintance.

“Of course I do not object, my boy. Do come calling.”

He offered an arm to each of them as they lined up with the other guests in order of precedence for the processional to the dining room. As they moved toward the door Beatrice found herself staring ahead at Lord Greystone whose severe frown seemed to shout disapproval. But perhaps she misread that dark look. After all, if Mrs. Parton approved of Lord Winston, he must be above reproach.

Chapter Nine

“H
ow fortunate that Lady Blakemore arranged for you to be seated next to Lord Winston.” Still in her purple satin dressing gown, Mrs. Parton munched a buttered roll while early afternoon sunlight streamed in through the open window beside her. “You made quite an impression on him, my dear.”

Sitting across from her at the small table in the lady’s bedchamber, Beatrice sipped tea while she considered a response. Mrs. Parton had been more than kind in hiring her. Would she object if Beatrice acted the part of eligible lady rather than a companion? And if not, was Lord Winston a gentleman whom Beatrice wished to accept as a suitor?

“His attention was very flattering.” And all the while Lord Greystone had given them dark looks from the opposite side of the table. Beatrice could not think of any reason for his obvious displeasure, and whether it was aimed at her or the baron.

Mrs. Parton gave her a quizzical look. “Do you have some objection to his interest?”

Her question sent Beatrice into a mild confusion. Her employer’s entire demeanor suggested she had no opposition to Beatrice accepting suitors. But while she could not keep from hoping it was true, she dared not depend upon it.

“As kind as Lord Winston was to me, I noticed in him an obvious hauteur toward Mr. Penry, who sat on my left.” The handsome, well-dressed young gentleman apparently had ties to trade, but Beatrice had no chance to pursue the subject. The baron had commanded all of her attention.

“Ah, yes.” Mrs. Parton clicked her tongue. “Dear Winston has taken on old Bennington’s haughtiness in regard to those whom they find inferior, especially those in trade. It seems that years ago Bennington’s only sister eloped to America with a sea captain. Not a heroic naval captain, mind you, but a common merchant captain. Even before then, the old earl was always strict about social order. That is sure to rub off on Lord Winston.” She shrugged and added a bit of butter to her roll. “But they are associated with the best people in Parliament and can be trusted to lead England in the wisest path. And like the ladies of their families, I suppose they have their charitable works, as well.”

Beatrice could not imagine Lord Winston carrying an injured little chimney sweep to his nursery or seeing to the child’s health and future. Oh, why had she been a witness to Lord Greystone’s remarkable act of charity? She feared no gentleman could compete with his kindness and generosity, traits she would demand in anyone who wished to court her.

“Mind you,” Mrs. Parton went on, “as a the daughter of an earl, you are worthy to marry the most august peer, even a duke, though I do not know of many unattached dukes I would recommend these days. I believe Blakemore’s daughter snared the last of the good ones.” She gazed off toward the window as if trying to remember any other such gentleman.

“Marry?” Beatrice could no longer bear the uncertainty of her position. “Dear Mrs. Parton, I must confess that one day I do hope to have my own husband, my own home. But it is my understanding that you brought me to London to be your companion, not to seek a husband.”

The lady’s jolly laughter filled the bedchamber. “But my dear, I am a romantic clear to my bones. If you fall in love with a worthy gentleman, of course you must marry.”

Happiness bubbled up inside Beatrice, even as tears coursed down her cheeks. “I knew it. I knew my mother’s dear friend would rescue me.” She reached across the table, almost spilling the white china creamer, and grasped Mrs. Parton’s fingers with a trembling hand. “You are too kind, madam. Too kind.”

“Not at all, my dear.” Mrs. Parton returned a gentle squeeze, her eyes shining. “We were four merry girls together in boarding school—your mother, Grace, Frances and I, all dreaming of handsome peers to whisk us off to marital bliss.” She straightened and dabbed her eyes with her serviette. “Three of us did make remarkable love matches. One of us was not so fortunate.”

Beatrice quizzed her with a teary look. “Do you refer to my parents?”

“Not at all, my dear. They were happy in their own way. One cannot judge by one’s own expectations.” She leveled a meaningful gaze on Beatrice, but Beatrice could not grasp that meaning.

“But who, then?”

“Lady Greystone.” Mrs. Parton leaned toward her. “You must not think this is gossip, my dear. I simply wish for you to understand the lady next door, the mother and only parent to three remarkable sons.” She sniffed, more from indignation than to manage her tears. “Had their cruel, abusive father lived to rear them, I despair to think of how they might have turned out.”

“Ah. I see.” Beatrice sent up a silent prayer of gratitude that Papa had merely been neglectful, although some might consider neglect a form of cruelty. “I thank you for telling me.” Now she began to comprehend Lady Greystone’s severe demeanor. “Your words are safe with me.”

“Now enough of this.” Mrs. Parton inhaled a deep breath and peered out the window beside her. Her gaze seemed to focus on something beyond Beatrice’s view, and one eyebrow arched while a wily look glinted in her eyes. She glanced at Beatrice’s morning dress, then at her own purple dressing gown. “Ah, what a beautiful day. We must hurry and put on our new day dresses and bonnets and go out for a drive.”

“Oh, I should like that.” Beatrice downed the last of her tea and rose to leave. On the way to her room she realized she should have urged Mrs. Parton to take the landau and let the chauffeur drive. If her employer insisted upon driving the phaeton, Beatrice’s enjoyment of the afternoon would be severely challenged.

* * *

“I have never seen a happier couple.” Greystone sat opposite his brother Edmond and his new bride as his barouche wended its way through the streets toward Hyde Park. He sat with his back to the driver, having given his guests the place of honor so they could observe the oncoming scenery, but they seemed to want only to view each other. “If you were both not already handsome to a fault, your happiness would make you so.” Greystone had never known Edmond to display a temper. But then, he had not known their father. Surely Anna would be safe from the cruelty Mother had endured. Their children would suffer no whip, as Greystone had.

His arm entwined with Anna’s, Edmond gazed fondly at his bride, who returned a glowing smile. “Your approval means the world to us, brother,” Edmond said.

Greystone grimaced. “I assume you refer to our mother’s lack of the same.”

“Oh, dear.” Anna frowned. “I do hope Mother Greystone no longer harbors objections to our marriage.” Her dark brown curls, pushed forward by her bonnet, formed the perfect frame for her fair countenance. “She could not have been more helpful with the wedding.” Worry filled her eyes. “Is she terribly lonely? I mean—” She bit her lower lip.

“Do not concern yourself, sister.” Greystone wished he had not mentioned his parent. Perhaps he should add some humor to the discussion. “Mother has always found ways to keep herself busy.” He sat back, picturing the scene he had come upon the day before. “Yesterday Lucy lost track of the chimney sweeps, and when I came home Mother was in a high temper.” He chuckled at the memory, feeling not the slightest bit of guilt. Mother always failed to see the humor in life’s absurdities.

“Oh, dear.” Anna’s green eyes clouded. “Perhaps Lucy is not suited to the job.”

“Ah, well,” Greystone said, “she is young and still learning. Furthermore, I have no doubt that once the boys no longer bear the sooty signs of their former trade, Mother will make them her little pages.”

Edmond barked out a disbelieving laugh. “You want to let her rear two boys, considering the way she reared her own three sons?”

Greystone shrugged and shook his head. With two liveried footmen riding on the back of the barouche and able to hear every word, he really should not make or encourage disparaging remarks about their parent, for it would only foster disrespect for her amongst the servants. “’Tis a fine day, is it not?”

Edmond signaled his understanding with a slight nod. “Indeed it is.”

Greystone leaned back to enjoy it all. The breeze was not too brisk, the city odors not too pungent and the sun not too hot. He had left Parliament early after voicing support of Lord Blakemore’s current project. Now he wanted to let his mind wander to less serious matters. Thus he had invited his brother and sister-in-law to join him for a drive. He owed his life to this lady, for she had nursed him through his illness last winter, and her gentle nature soothed not only him, but his whole household. Had Edmond not claimed her first, he might have developed stronger feelings for her than brotherly affection. But from the moment he had met her, he could see their mutual interest and had done all he could to encourage their love, despite Mother’s attempts to destroy it.

The carriage driver pulled the horses to a stop at the entrance to Hyde Park. “Begging your pardon, milord, do you have a particular path you’d like to take?”

“Not at all, Porter.” He looked over his shoulder at the stout, greying man. “Surprise me.”

“Yes, milord.” The driver touched the brim of his hat and turned back to urge the horses forward.

As they started down the road, a gust of wind carried the pastoral scents of mown grass and lilacs, just the thing to make the drive more pleasant. Greystone even detected the scent of meat pies, doubtless coming from a vendor’s cart somewhere in the park.

“Perhaps we could find Mother Greystone another companion.” Anna gazed off and tapped a gloved finger against her cheek, as if trying to think of just such a person.

“And have some poor girl suffer under her temper as you did, my darling?” Edmond winced as he realized his error. “By the by, Greystone, I noticed that the companion Mrs. Parton boasted about has arrived. From across the room at your birthday ball I could see that Lady Beatrice is quite a pretty girl.” He glanced at Anna. “Though not quite the fairest of the fair.” He turned a teasing smirk toward Greystone. “You could do worse than marry the sister of an earl. And she lives right next door to you. How convenient.”

“Do keep your matchmaking plans to yourself, Edmond.” An odd sensation filled Greystone, an unpleasant twisting of some sort in the vicinity of his stomach. “I refuse to be attached to Melton in any way.” Now the unpleasant feeling rose into his throat. Why did his own careless words regarding Lady Beatrice seem so distasteful? “In any event she was quite taken with Lord Winston last night at Blakemore’s supper. And, I might add, the fellow was quite taken with her.”

“Lord Winston?” Edmond coughed away a laugh. “Poor fellow. I wish him well.”

He leaned toward his Anna, and she gazed up at him so devotedly that Greystone’s heart ached. How grand it must be to share that kind of love. And to think, Mother had tried to pair Anna with Lord Winston.

Forcing his thoughts in a more charitable direction, Greystone wished the young peacock well. The baron had done admirably to attach himself to Lord Bennington, unlike Melton, who had chosen Rumbold for a mentor. But Greystone did not care at all for Winston courting Lady Beatrice. She deserved—come to think of it, what did such a lovely, accomplished lady deserve? Certainly not a stuffy baron several ranks below her brother. In fact she also did not deserve a brother who prevented her from making a match worthy of her grace and beauty.

And what was he doing in regard to his own marriage search? All he could manage was a hopeful prayer that the Almighty would direct him to a lady who suited him as well as his brothers’ wives suited them. And the sooner the better, before Mother tried to force someone of her choosing upon him.
Lord, Thou knowest whom I should marry. I pray Thee, do make haste and bring her across my path.

To rein in the envy trying to seep into his soul as he watched the happy couple across from him, he stared out over the park. A flurry of activity near the entrance caught his attention. Horsemen, nurses with carriages, barking dogs and pedestrians were scattering in all directions, and he soon saw the reason. A black phaeton pulled by a lathered gray horse galloped across the roadway and onto the grass. As best he could see, the carriage was driven by a lady, with another lady clutching the side of the vehicle and back of the seat. When they drew nearer, he saw the lady’s footman reach for his wig just as it flew from his head, while the tiger was grasping for his hat. Clearly the horse was out of control. Horror swept through Greystone as he recognized the driver.

“Great heavens, it’s Mrs. Parton!”
And Lady Beatrice!
“Porter, stop. Edmond, we must stop them.”

Before the barouche came to a stop, Greystone jumped out, beckoning his footmen with a snap of his fingers. They leaped from their perch, and the four men dashed across the meadow toward the oncoming horse.

“Whoa, whoa!” Edmond raced ahead, crossed the beast’s path and lunged for the harness, while Greystone flung himself at the other side, securing a hold but failing to stop it. They were dragged across the grass, even when the footmen added their weight to the endeavor. At last Edmond managed to employ his cavalry experience and leaped upon the creature to bring it to a stop with another resounding “Whoa!” The horse reared on its hind legs and whinnied in protest, but obeyed the order, then stood shuddering and huffing as if grateful to be under control.

“Oh, bother.” Mrs. Parton, whose green peacock feathers hung half-broken from her slightly askew orange turban, looked at her rescuers with mild annoyance. “Why ever did you stop us, Greystone, Edmond? Did you not see I was giving my horse some much-needed exercise?”

“Mrs. Parton.” Gripping the bridle, Greystone puffed out her name as he struggled to catch his breath. He had never scolded a lady, but he was having great difficulty not doing so now. Her companion’s face was paler than ivory, her blue eyes widened, and she still grasped the side of the vehicle, yet she made no sound. Brave girl!

“Perhaps your grooms should take on that responsibility from now on.” What possessed this dear lady to do such a thing? Was she losing her mind?

“Nonsense, my boy.” Mrs. Parton’s eyes crossed briefly as one broken feather waved in front of them and dropped into her lap. “Oh, bother. One of my favorites, too.”

BOOK: Louise M Gouge
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