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Authors: M. C. Beaton

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Historical Romance, #Regency

The Folly (9 page)

BOOK: The Folly
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“‘Having thus introduced you to, and fixed you, recruit-like, in good quarters, I consider it almost unnecessary to say, however bad you may imagine the wine, I doubt not your own prudence will point out the characteristic necessity of drinking enough, not only to afford you the credit of reeling to bed by aid of the banister, but the collateral comfort of calling yourself damned queer in the morning, owing entirely to the villainous adulteration of the wine, for when mild and genuine, you can take three bottles without winking or blinking. When rousing from your last somniferous reverie in the morning, ring the bell with no small degree of energy, which will serve to convince the whole family you are awake; upon the entrance of either chamberlain or chambermaid, vociferate half a dozen questions without waiting for a single reply. As, What morning is it? Is my breakfast ready? Has anybody inquired for me? Is my groom here? And so on and so forth. And here it becomes directly in point to observe that a groom is become so evidently necessary to the ton of the present day (particularly in the neighbourhood of Bond Street) that a great number of gentlemen keep a groom who cannot (except upon credit) keep a horse; but then, they are always on the look-out for horses, and, till they are obtained, the employment of the groom is the embellishment of his master, by first dressing his head, and then polishing his boots and shoes.’

“And I really think that is enough of that,” said Miss Trumble, putting down the paper.

“I think it is very funny,” voiced Mark.

“Prime,” said the general. “Is there any more?”

“If there is,” said Lady Beverley, “I pray you will restrain your language, Miss Trumble.”

“Perhaps later…”

“No, do go on,” said Rachel. “I have seen such gentlemen when we were in London and have never heard one better described.”

Miss Trumble smiled and began to read again. “‘The trifling ceremonies of the morning gone through, you will sally forth in search of adventures, taking that great Mart of every virtue, Bond Street, in your way.

“‘Here it will be impossible for you (between the hours of twelve and four) to remain, even for a few minutes, without falling in with various feathers of your wing, so true it is, in the language of Rowe, you herd together, that you cannot fear being long alone. So soon as three of you are met, link your arms so as to engross the whole breadth of the pavement; the fun of driving fine women and old dons into the gutter is exquisite and, of course, constitutes a laugh of the most humane sensibility. Never make these excursions without spurs, it will afford not only the presumptive proof of your really keeping a horse, but the lucky opportunity of hooking a fine girl by the gown, apron, or petticoat; and while she is under the distressing mortification of disentangling herself, you and your companions can add to her dilemma by some delicate innuendo, and, in the moment of extrication, walk off with an exulting exclamation of having
cracked the muslin
.
Let it be a fixed rule never to be seen in the Lounge without a stick or cane, this, dangling on a string, may accidentally get between the feet of any female in passing; if she falls, in consequence, that can be no fault of yours, but the effect of her indiscretion.’

“Now, that really is enough, General,” said Miss Trumble. “I am amusing you and everyone by this description, but at the moment such brutes, however satirized, are beyond the comprehension of little Beth.”

“Yes, I find your ideas of teaching most strange, Miss Trumble.” Having delivered herself of that reproof, Lady Beverley smiled at the general and went on, “And how go the Santertons?”

“Abed, I should think,” said the general gruffly. Mark and Beth had been summoned by Miss Trumble to sit at a table next to her under the shade of the cedar tree, Beth to write the letters of the alphabet in block letters and then script, and Mark to study his Latin declensions.

“I regret I did not have the chance to dance with you on Saturday night,” Charles said to Rachel. “But every time I was free to approach you, I found you surrounded by courtiers. I believe your sister, Lady Fitzgerald, is soon to be in residence at Perival.”

Rachel’s eyes lit up. “Oh, I am so looking forward to seeing her again. And her children. They are too young, alas, to be companions for Mark. The boy needs children of his own age.”

“And what would you suggest I do to remedy that?”

Rachel laughed. “You will begin to think I am
always advising you as to what to do with your children when it is none of my affair.”

“I would appreciate such advice.”

“You could give a children’s party for Mark. Miss Trumble could furnish you with a list of suitable children in the neighbourhood.”

“It is his birthday in a week’s time. Perhaps that is too soon?”

“I am sure Miss Trumble will be able to arrange something.”

The general had risen to his feet and was heading in the direction of where Miss Trumble sat with Mark and Beth.

“Come now, General.” Lady Beverley’s voice called him back. “I am become stiff with sitting here. Let us take a promenade together.”

The general returned to her side, throwing an anguished look in the direction of his son which went unnoticed by Charles, for Rachel was talking about Mr. Cater and Charles asked her, rather sharply, if she really knew anything at all about the man.

“As to that,” said Rachel, “I know very little other than what he tells us about himself, that he is a sugar planter from Barbados and is here in England on quite a long visit.”

“No doubt to find himself a wife.”

“Perhaps. And yet Mannerling appears to be his goal.”

“In what way?”

“He heard it described to him by an old friend of my father’s and in such glowing terms that he decided to travel here and see the place for himself.”

“Strange.”

“How strange?”

“Mostly gentlemen such as Mr. Cater come armed with letters of introduction.”

“Perhaps he could not find anyone who knows you.”

“I have a large acquaintance in London and I believe he spent some time there.”

“It could be that he does not move in the same circles as you do yourself, sir.”

“Any sugar planter who appears to be as rich as Mr. Cater, to judge from his clothes and carriage, could most certainly move in fashionable circles.”

Some imp prompted Rachel to say, “Perhaps I will wed Mr. Cater and travel to the West Indies.”

“I was not aware that you were so enchanted with him.”

“If you have visited Lady Evans and also remember my sister Lizzie’s ill-timed and ill-judged remarks, you will know that I do not command much in the way of a dowry and so must take the best bidder.”

His face darkened and his eyes glittered like green ice. “Does none of your sex ever marry out of affection?”

She quailed before his gaze and said, “Yes, my three sisters, the ones who are already wed. Do not look so furiously at me, I pray. I was funning. I know little of Mr. Cater and have no ambitions in that direction.”

But he still looked angry as his eyes went past her to where a carriage was turning into the short drive. Rachel swung round in time to see Minerva being helped down from the carriage by her brother. Minerva was wearing a muslin gown which clung
to her form like the folds of drapery on a statue. Her hair was in a plait at the back, and falling in small ringlets around her face and shining with
huile antique
. On top of her head was a small round hat embellished on the front with three scarlet feathers which had been moulded to look like burning flames. She carried a parasol of white lace.

George Santerton was wearing a long-tailed blue coat with gold buttons, a high starched cravat, and shirt-points so high that they dug into his cheeks. His waistcoat was canary yellow and hung with fobs and seals. He had lavender gloves and lavender shoes on his small feet. Rachel wondered if such a tall man could really have such small feet. Large feet were considered a social disgrace, as was a large mouth, and so many men thrust their tortured feet into shoes several sizes too small for them.

The two fashion plates, brother and sister, had probably planned to make an entrance, but once they had arrived and were settled in chairs in the garden, the sheer formality of their attire seemed out of place.

And Rachel became conscious that Minerva’s blue gaze was often fixed on her in an assessing, calculating way. It could not be that Minerva regarded her as a rival! But Rachel began to think that was the case and it made her look at Charles Blackwood in a different light. For the first time, she really saw him as an attractive man, not just handsome and wealthy, but a man to be desired.

A flush mounted to her cheeks. Charles looked
quickly at her and she dropped her eyes and twisted a handkerchief in her lap. And Minerva looked at both of them.

Chapter Four

At ev’ry word a reputation dies.


A
LEXANDER
P
OPE

A
WEEK LATER
and Miss Trumble had gone to supervise the fairly impromptu party to be held for Mark at Mannerling and Rachel was being taken out on a drive by Mr. Cater. Her new sharp awareness of Charles Blackwood had made her completely indifferent to Mr. Cater’s company and she was annoyed that this drive had been organized by her mother, without consulting her first.

Mr. Cater had been to Mannerling and was rhapsodizing about it. For the first time, Rachel found all these descriptions and eulogies of her former home tedious in the extreme. She interrupted a description of the glory of the painted ceilings by asking abruptly, “Where is your family from, Mr. Cater?”

“We are from Suffolk.”

“Indeed. And when did you go to Barbados?”

“Five years ago.”

“With your parents?”

“No, Miss Rachel. My uncle bought me a passage. My parents died when I was a child.”

“And did this uncle own the sugar plantation?”

“No, he did not.”

“So how…?”

“Miss Rachel, I am here in England on this beautiful sunny day with a beautiful companion. For the moment, I wish to forget about the Indies.”

“I am sorry if my curiosity offends you, sir.”

“I miss England,” he said. “I miss the greenery. I miss the life. I am not comfortable in Barbados.”

“But I was under the impression that…”

“I loved the place? It is where I work. I am thinking of selling up.”

“And where would you live? Suffolk?”

“There is nothing for me there. Mannerling appears to have a sad history. You knew the subsequent owners, of course.”

“Yes, there was a Mr. Judd. The poor man committed suicide. Then there was the Devers family. Such a scandal. You have surely heard all about it. The son, Harry, was killed falling from a roof in London, trying to escape the law. He was obsessed with Mannerling, as was Mr. Judd.”

He shot her a sly look. “As are the Beverleys, or so I was led to believe.”

“You
have
been listening to the local gossip,” said Rachel with a lightness she did not feel. “Yes, in our case, the loss of our home hit us very hard. But we are become accustomed to our new life. The Blackwoods are very good owners, very suitable.”

“And you no longer desire the place?”

“I do not desire what is not possible to have.”

“Everything is possible. Even Mannerling.”

Rachel fell silent. Just suppose she wished to marry Charles. How impossible that would be! He, too, knew the tales about the Beverleys’ plotting and scheming to get their old home back and would look
on any overtures from her with deep suspicion. She wished somehow that she could still regard him as a much older person, not marriageable, but his face rose in her mind’s eye, strong and handsome with those odd green eyes, and she was only dimly aware that Mr. Cater was still talking of Mannerling.

There were eight children at Mark’s party, all having a marvellous time playing games organized by Miss Trumble. The Long Gallery was being used for the party and a table with cakes and jellies and jugs of lemonade had been set up at the end of the gallery.

All went well until Minerva made her entrance, carrying a book. “I am sure you are in need of some rest,” she said to Miss Trumble. “I have told the housekeeper to prepare you something in the servants’ hall.”

“Thank you,” said Miss Trumble. “But I am not hungry.”

“Oh, I am sure you are. Please do as you are told.”

Miss Trumble curtsied. The children, left alone with the statuesque Minerva, looked at her wide-eyed.

Minerva pulled forward a chair and sat down and opened her book. “Gather round me in a circle,” she ordered. She planned to begin reading to them and then ring for a servant to summon Charles so that he could see how well she got on with children.

They sat round her in a circle at her feet. She had found a book of children’s stories in the library and she began to read about a little boy who had lost his mother and behaved badly to his father. As
she read, she kept flashing meaningful little looks at Mark.

Mark felt his temper rising. It was
his
party and Minerva was not only ruining it but telling that stupid story about some stupid boy who was nasty to his widowed father. Minerva paused and rang the bell and told a footman to fetch Mr. Blackwood and then continued to read.

With the perspicacity of the very young, Mark guessed what she was about. His father should not see the pretty picture she made reading to the children. He rose to his feet.

“Where are you going, Mark?” demanded Minerva sharply.

“I am going to get something to eat,” said Mark haughtily.

The other children rose as well.

“Come back here!” ordered Minerva.

“Do not pay her any heed,” commanded Mark. “She don’t live here. Come along.”

Mischievously delighted at the idea of disobeying authority, the children followed Mark to the table and began to spoon jelly onto plates.

Minerva’s temper flared. She marched up to the table and seized Beth, who was the nearest child, in a strong grip. “You will all return to the reading!”

“Leave her alone!” shouted Mark, turning red in the face.

BOOK: The Folly
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