The Marquis of Lansdon
flicked a speck of nonexistent dust from his gleaming Hessian boot, a
gesture that was his custom when confronted by an inquiry to which he
did not wish to respond in haste. To one who did not know him, his
posture gave the appearance of a man at ease: seated in the comfort of
an aged settee in his library, right ankle resting atop his left knee,
arms outstretched across the seat's worn velvet backing. Indeed, the
entire room gave evidence of being the marquis's preferred habitation,
from the disarray of books along the shelves to the shabby furniture and
creased velvet draperies.
Henry Smythe was well acquainted with the marquis and knew enough to
press his point before his friend had occasion to give the negative
response he was clearly contemplating. "You cannot be thinking of
remaining in London now that the season is ended, Richard," said
that red-haired young man, displaying the cocky grin that had shattered
many a fluttering heart. "You have said often enough how you
despise the stiff propriety of Bath and the abundance of ambitious
mothers and encroaching cits at Brighton."
but Ipswich?" asked the marquis with a scorn that would have
quelled a less stouthearted Corinthian than his friend. "Pray do
not say you expect that I shall develop an enthusiasm for the shipping
Henry laughed. "You know I shall do no such thing. I had other
attractions in mind, to put the truth on it. And the estate is not in
Ipswich itself, but a few miles into the countryside."
had rather thought to go up to Norfolk," said the marquis. "My
steward is capable, but I wish to see that the breeding of my horses is
proceeding as I directed."
replied Henry. "Suffolk will be on your route then."
I may inquire," said the marquis, watching his companion help
himself to a glass of brandy, "why is it that you display such
determination to have me accompany you? I hold your mother in the
deepest respect, but I cannot say I care to pay her an extended
do I," said Henry glumly. "Especially as my pockets are to
let, as usual, and she will take every opportunity of pressing upon me
the advantages of wooing Miss Fanny Rupper. She's the Friday-faced
daughter of a squire whose great aunt, to my misfortune, contrived to
stick her spoon in the wall and make her great niece an heiress at the
age of twenty-eight."
mean you wish me to travel to Suffolk merely to rescue you from this
ape-leader?" said his friend. "Indeed, Henry, I can conceive
of nothing that would give me greater pleasure. Perhaps I could then
betake myself to Brighton and rescue Angleland and Winster, who no doubt
will be in need of extrication from some ill-bred heiresses of their
own. I could achieve a great many good works in this line, I'm
didn't intend that you should rescue me!" protested Henry.
"But I do enjoy your conversation. Further, I have an inducement to
it, then, for this topic is beginning to weary me."
is Charlotte Tarlock," said Henry, and waited hopefully for a
response. All that he saw was a twitch of the marquis's jaw, but it
it," Henry pressed. "You are more than half-smitten with her.
I had given up long ago on seeing you leg-shackled, but there was a
wager at White's that you would come up to scratch this season, and you
yourself hinted at the very thing. Why did you not?"
indeed? Richard wondered. At thirty-three, he had grown bored with the
annual parade of insipid young ladies fluttering their eyelids at him
and tittering at his every comment. It would have been difficult
indeed not to grow wary, when half the young ladies one met at Almack's
had their caps already set for him, and the other half were being urged
forward by their mamas.
was not that the marquis was given to conceit. True, he knew himself to
be accounted handsome, with his dark hair and eyes, strong jaw, and
muscular build kept in prime condition at Gentleman Jack's boxing
establishment. But he was well aware that London was replete with
handsome young men who were chained for life to the role of shipping
clerk or footman. It was his title, and his estates, and his twenty
thousand pounds a year that made him the target of so much matrimonial
attention, and this realisation had rendered him quite cynical.
Tarlock, however, was in a league of her own, he would be the first to
admit. The granddaughter of a baron, she was ranked an Incomparable and
a diamond of the first water, not for her fortune alone—which was near
as great as his own—but also for her beauty.
thoughts strayed to her figure, tall and well formed, and her lustrous
violet eyes that seemed to glow almost shockingly against her
peaches-and-cream skin and chestnut hair. Moreover, Miss Tarlock had
style; he would give her that. She moved with the grace of a duchess,
and she never, even in the presence of the Prince Regent himself, had
been known to simper.
rejected offers from a dozen men at least, including two baronets and
the heir to an earldom," said Henry. "I'd have offered for her
myself, had I thought I had a chance."
had supposed you were poised on the brink of it at Lord and Lady
Sefton's ball," mused Richard. "You had two waltzes and the
honour of escorting her to supper, and she seemed rather more lively
would have offered, you may believe, had I a title," Henry said
was the rub, thought the marquis as his friend poured himself another
glass of brandy. Two baronets and the heir to an earldom. She'd have
taken the heir, he was convinced of it, but for the likelihood that she
could win a marquis. Moreover, it was said her mother had wed Mr.
Tarlock in expectation of his succeeding to the barony, and had been
bitterly disappointed when he had died before his father.
a man must marry sometime," Richard said aloud. "I cannot say
I object to Miss Tarlock, although I believe my title is a stronger
attraction than my person. Still, she is a lovely chit." He closed
his eyes for a moment at the thought of being alone with her, a state he
had achieved only for brief moments in the garden at sundry balls and
routs. He had been allowed to kiss her on the cheek once, an occasion he
recalled with pleasure, but he could not seem to bring to mind
anything they had said of particular significance. Did the woman ever
think of anything beyond polite chitchat?
suppose it would do no harm to call on her at her uncle's estate, if
that is where she goes this month," he mused. "At least one
would have the opportunity of seeing her without a horde of suitors
would you credit it—her uncle's residence is situated a mere five
miles from my mother's!" said Henry. "Furthermore, my mother
writes that Miss Tarlock is expected there at any time. I believe Mama
still maintains some aspirations for me in that direction, although she
has more or less resigned herself to Miss Rupper."
this inducement you offer me is the proximity to Miss Tarlock,"
said the marquis. "In return for which, I am to distract your
mother and extricate you from any compromising situations involving
yes," said Henry. "And there is one other thing. ..." He
ran one finger around the rim of his glass until it produced a squealing
noise that inspired Richard to clench his teeth. "However it may
not… that is, I do not know if she…”
has no performances at the King's Theatre in August, and I have
attempted to persuade her the country air would be beneficial."
cannot mean to take your mistress to Suffolk!" exclaimed the
marquis. "That blonde wench would be as conspicuous—"
no, not her," said Henry quickly. "That was Marie. Anna has
dark hair, and she would travel under an assumed name and stay at an inn
on some pretext. I thought that you and I could ride out together, and
while you were calling upon Miss Tarlock, I would be free to pay Anna
see." Richard rose and strode to the long French windows, staring
out into the small garden that lay at the back of his London house.
"You are in hopes that by next season I will be happily wed, and
you happily unwed."
that nature," admitted Henry.
is, however, a difficulty." The marquis heaved what in a lesser man
might have been mistaken for a sigh, and settled his broad shoulders a
I am to consider marriage, there was an expectation of my mother's that
I would wed the daughter of her closest girlhood friend," said the
marquis. "There was never a contract, of course, and I have never
promised to do so in as many words, yet there was a sort of plan, and I
own that while my mother lived, I never gave anyone to understand
is this anyone's family, if I may ask?"
father is the Earl of Courtney," said Richard. "Lady Courtney
has passed on."
of Courtney, Earl of Courtney," repeated Henry. "From
somewhere in Somerset, ain't he? Can't recall meeting any daughter of
and you won't, although she's a year past the age for her
come-out," said the marquis. "He's lost his money—always had
bad judgment in business, from what my mother said—and can't afford to
"Have you ever
met this chit?" inquired his friend.
said Richard. "Some four years ago. She was only a schoolroom miss,
of course, but one would expect some indication of beauty, or at least
a presence. I found her plump enough for a baker's daughter and
sufficiently mousy to be a serving maid. As for her visage or figure, I
cannot even recall it; she was, I believe I may say, the most easily
forgotten girl I have ever encountered. I cannot even recall her
all bad," said Henry. "You could settle her at Lansdon and
lead your life in town, much as you do now."
I could," said the marquis. "But I haven't your enthusiasm for
mistresses. I find them necessary, and should contrive to be satisfied
with them if I had no desire for an heir; but if I must marry, I should
prefer someone whose companionship was not entirely displeasing."
come to Suffolk?" said Henry.
mouth twisted into a smile. "Very well, you rascal, you shall have
your way," he said. "And if Miss Tarlock proves as enchanting
at home as she appears in town, I shall make her a marchioness."
that moment, the most forgettable girl of his acquaintance bore more
resemblance to a farmer's daughter than to that of a baker, and more
certainly than to that of an earl. She had been berrying, and had
succeeded in placing more of the succulent fruit in her mouth than in
her basket. As a result, purple juice stained her cheeks, and her dark
hair was falling about her neck.
Victoria!" cried Mrs. May, running down the front steps to meet
her. The housekeeper, who had assumed the duties of several chambermaids
and one of the cooks since the family fell upon hard times, had run out
in her apron, greeting her mistress with the familiarity of one who has
been in the household for most of her life. "Lady Victoria, a
letter has come from the earl!"
Victoria thrust her basket into the housekeeper's hands and raced toward
the door with unladylike haste, her stained blue cambric skirt hoisted
in her hands. "Is it on the hall table? When did it come? What does
have not read it, my lady," clucked Mrs. May, following her through
the open door.
seized the franked epistle and tore it open. Please, she thought, let
him not have to sell Tintern Hall. Let him have some word of the ship
that vanished in the Indies, or perhaps.... but she could not think of
the marriage that would answer their needs, for in the two years since
Lady Lansdon had died, there had been no word from her son the marquis,
and surely the earl would not have humiliated his daughter by attempting
to force Lansdon into an unwanted marriage.
hands shook so badly that she dropped the letter, and then had
difficulty focusing on her father's crabbed handwriting. She read
silently for what seemed an eternity to the anxiously waiting
Victoria looked up at last, her cheeks had gone pale beneath the berry
stains, and her green eyes were dilated.
is it, my lady?" cried Mrs. May. "Has he come to some harm?
Oh, I knew it, him going off to London like that. Nothing good ever
comes of his visits to town, if you'll pardon my saying so."
..." The clopping of
hoofs and the sound of a curricle approaching in the drive stopped the
words. "Who can that be?"
housekeeper swallowed her eagerness and peered out. "It's Lady
Susan Winters, and she comes every day. If you'll only tell me—"
The very person!" Victoria ran to the door and called out,
"Come quickly! I have some unexpected news of father, and I need
you to advise me!"
other girl, a pleasantly rounded young woman of medium height and
colouring, gowned in a stylish yellow muslin with bottle green ribbons
trimming the sleeves and high waistline, handed her reins to a groom and
tripped lightly up the steps. "What is it, Vicki?" she asked.
"Nothing amiss, I hope."
at all." Victoria greeted her friend with an embrace and started to
hand her the letter.
lady!" begged the housekeeper, unable to contain herself further.
pardon me, Mrs. May, I hadn't meant to leave you in suspense," said
Victoria. "Father says... Father says he's found a wealthy widow to
marry, and that is how he is going to solve all our problems!"
me, dear me," said the older woman, pressing one palm against her
forehead. "Your poor father. I hope she is not a scold. The earl is
an impulsive gentleman, if you will permit my saying so."
so," agreed Victoria. "Worse than that, it appears he has
already wed the woman, without so much as a word to me. I cannot absorb
this, Susan, I simply cannot. But I do not mean to keep you standing
here in the hall. Please come into the drawing room."
obeyed, removing her chip straw bonnet to reveal curly brown hair
cropped in the latest style. After a successful season, in which she had
won several eligible hearts but failed to confer her own, Lady Susan
remained as unaffected as before and took in her friend's unkempt
appearance with fondness.
do not know how I can advise you, but I shall try," she promised,
seating herself on one of the elderly sofas that had faded to an
indeterminable color in the bright morning light from the windows. The
drawing room was not overly large and sorely needed new furnishings,
draperies, and carpet, but Lady Susan recalled that in her childhood,
when Victoria's mother had been alive, the house had been fresh and
widow—he refers to her as Emma—he says she's a gentlewoman by birth,
or by her previous marriage. He's not very clear on the subject,"
Victoria said. "He describes her as exceedingly ladylike.... Here
is some mention of her late husband, but not of any title. And I gather
that she has a daughter, although he does not say her age, or whether
she is married."
let me see," said Susan, taking the note and perusing it
thoughtfully. "Why, is this not above all amazing? He has wed Mrs.
not tell me," moaned Victoria. "She is a wanton. Or perhaps
she was on the stage."
Susan laughed, returning the letter. "Her late husband was the heir
to a barony, although he never succeeded to the title. She has a fortune
in her own right, and her daughter, Miss Charlotte Tarlock, was all the
rage this past season. Just think, Victoria, now you can be presented;
and with Charlotte as your sister, all doors will be open to you!"
am not sure I want any doors to be open," said Victoria. "I
like living here at Tintern Hall and doing as I please."
"But you are
nineteen. You cannot rusticate forever!"
there is one saving grace," said Victoria. "Now there is no
need for me to marry Richard, even if he would have me."
May entered with a pot of tea and two cups, and was welcomed, as the
girls were becoming parched in the August heat. After she departed,
however, Susan attacked the subject once more.
she inquired. "Do you mean you have a beau you have been hiding
from me? Do tell!"
a beau," said Victoria, "but an arrangement of my mother's,
one that thankfully was never made formal. He is the son of an old
friend of hers, but we have met only once and did not care for each
other. Or at least, he did not care for me." Nor, she thought
ruefully, could she blame him; she had been a pudgy girl of fifteen
then, stricken speechless at his dark, arrogant good looks.
is he?" Susan pressed. "Has he a title? Is he wealthy?"
to both," said Victoria. "He is the Marquis of Lansdon."
You don't say!" cried Susan. "Well, then it is a good thing
you did not become attached." She refilled her cup.
is that?" Victoria was frowning at the letter, rereading the
concluding paragraph for the third time.
is, well, as good as betrothed to Miss Tarlock, your new sister,"
said Susan. "He has been dangling after her all season. How very
humiliating that would be if you had developed a tendre for him."
wouldn't it?" Victoria sighed. The memory of those strong shoulders
and intense brown eyes had flashed before her every time she stood up to
dance at an assembly or chatted with one of her bashful admirers from
the neighbourhood. Meeting him had spoiled her for every other man, and
yet now not only was she denied his esteem, but she would also be forced
to welcome him as her brother-in-law.
Susan," she said. "Truth to tell, I liked him better than
half, but the interest was not returned, and now it shall never be. What
is worse, father bids me to go to my new mother and sister at Locke
House, their home in Suffolk, and says he will be joining us in a
fortnight from Manchester, where he is pursuing more of his wretched
business projects. How can I bear this? To be alone in their
presence—and heaven knows whether my stepmother is fonder of father or
of being a countess—but worse, to smile and make polite conversation
with the man who was by rights to have been my husband!"
that is how the land lies." Lady Susan toyed with her bottle green
velvet reticule. "Then there is only one course open to you."
shall remain here," said Victoria. "Some day the new countess
must come to her new home, and that will be time enough for me to make
Susan's tone was unexpectedly sharp. "I had not thought you a
has never been my aim to emulate the heroines of Fanny Burney’s
novels, if that is what you mean!" said her friend. "Shall I
disguise myself as a boy and run off, perhaps?"
so extreme," said Susan in milder tones. "But indeed,
Victoria, I do not mean for you to run away at all. You must fight for
the marquis, if that is who you want."
for him? But he does not want me—and besides, that would be most
not suggesting that you be disagreeable to your new sister, nor
certainly that you propose to duel her." Susan laughed.
"Rather, that you go and meet this man again, and ascertain what
his likes are, and shape yourself accordingly."
"I find the
idea distasteful and, what is more, dishonest."
said Susan. "You recall, two winters ago, when the travelling
players performed She
Stoops to Conquer. That is the
sort of thing I had in mind."
can hardly deceive him into thinking my stepmother's house is an inn,
and I am the innkeeper's daughter!" retorted Victoria.
precisely, of course. But it is her spirit to which I refer. She did not
shrink from playing at her suitor's game to win him. The marquis is a
man of the world; he can hardly be expected to fall in love with a ... a country mouse. You must determine what sort of woman would
suit him, and become her."
"That would be
is fair in love, they say," Susan replied. "And if he
discovers your ruse, you have only displayed that you are a girl with
spirit, and surely he must admire you for it."
do not believe I could carry out such a role," said Victoria.
"But you are right in one respect, Susan. I shall go to Suffolk as
my father requests, and face up to Lord Lansdon. If he cannot like me,
then so be it, but at least I shall not lose without trying."
high-perch phaeton was passing just east of Chipping Ongar when Henry
Smythe turned to his friend and said, "Oh, by the by, have you
heard the latest on-dit?”
it concerns Beau Brummel, I am not interested," Richard returned.
"I bow to his tailor and his wit, but I decline to spend two hours
tying my cravat to meet with his fashion."
at all," said Henry. "This one concerns the Earl of
he lost the rest of his funds?"
fact, he has come into a fortune, they say— by marriage."
clucked soothingly to one of his matched bays, which was showing a
tendency toward high spirits. "Then he has found a mate for his
ill-favoured daughter? I am greatly relieved."
is he who has married." Henry then remained silent for a time,
which was so unlike him when a bit of choice gossip was at hand that his
friend felt moved to inquire as to the name of the earl's bride.
"It is Mrs.
deuce!" Richard halted his team and turned to glare at his friend.
"You delayed telling me this until we were almost to Chelmsford?
I've a mind to take you back to London!"
you will not, for my carriage has been sent ahead, and I haven't the
blunt for the mail," said Henry calmly. "You would have to
advance me funds and make this same journey again on your way to
shall deposit you at your parent's residence and continue on my way
then," said Richard coldly, urging the horses forward. "This
deception does not become you."
expected you would take the news in this unreasonable manner," said
Henry, not at all perturbed. "So I have given myself all the way to
Ipswich to point out to you the benefits of continuing with our
he proceeded to do, noting that the earl had not pressed Richard to wed
his offspring even during his direst financial straits, and hence was
unlikely to take umbrage at his paying court to the earl's new
stepdaughter. Further, he ventured to presume that marrying one's
stepdaughter was almost as good as marrying one's own daughter, so that,
in a sense, Richard would be carrying out his mother's wishes—and have
Charlotte into the bargain.
an hour of being regaled with these and like arguments, the marquis felt
himself weakening. He had, indeed, all but decided to make Miss Tarlock
his bride, and nothing could be gained by turning back now. It would
only delay the inevitable confrontation with her father, who, as Henry
so thoughtfully pointed out, could be expected to be in a mellow a mood
at present, what with a wealthy new wife to ease his path through life.
Colchester he found himself leaning strongly toward his friend's
persuasions, and by Dedham it was clear that the estate of Lansdon would
have to wait some weeks longer for a visit from its lord.
This website property of Jackie Diamond Hyman.