Today on the blog, we have something special: a stand-alone short story with two characters from the Bluestocking Belles’ holiday box set, Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem. My character Mary meets Susana Ellis’s character Lady Pendleton. The post below tells the scene from the point of view of Mary, the heroine of Gingerbread Bride. Go to Susana’s Parlour to read the same story from the point of view of Lady Pendleton, mother of Julia Tate who is the heroine of The Ultimate Escape.
Mary Pritchard stopped just within the trees, where she could see the carriageway and be close to the safety of other people, but where she could stay unseen while she composed herself.
She looked back the way she had come. Her loathsome cousin was nowhere to be seen. How could he assault her like that! She had given his suit no encouragement; indeed, she had refused his off-hand proposal outright two nights ago when he had announced his intention to marry her.
She suppressed a not quite hysterical snort of amusement. He would like her even less now! She had met his assault with a move she had been taught when she sailed the oceans with her father and not all sailors knew she was the admiral’s daughter.
Papa had commissioned one of his midshipmen to teach her. “Hit him here, hit him hard, and then run,” her mentor, Richard Redepenning, had instructed, and it had worked perfectly. She frowned. Perhaps she should start carrying the little purse gun that Rick had given her and taught her to shoot.
At that moment, the air in front of her blurred, twisted, and then solidified into the shape of a person, strangely dressed. Leggings that clung to the limbs, a close fitting upper garment with no visible fastenings, and a short coat.
“Wh-a-t?” The woman, and Mary was sure it was a woman, despite the garments, put her hand to her temple as if it ached. “Where am I?”
“Uh… who are you?” the woman asked. “How long have you been there?” She looked around her, and Mary followed her gaze to a strange-looking bag, made from heavy paper by the look of it. It had landed in a bush.
“Oh dear, can you get that for me, my dear? I need to change my attire before anyone sees me.” She smiled wryly, and shrugged. “Well, before anyone ELSE sees me. I shouldn’t wish to cause a scandal.”
Not just a woman, but a lady, by her voice. Bemused, Mary fetched the bag and handed it to her. “Mary Pritchard, ma’am, at your service.” She bobbed a small curtsey.
“A pleasure to meet you, Miss Pritchard.” The lady turned to Mary. “Please allow me to introduce myself. I am not usually so rag-mannered, but since we met in such unconventional circumstances…. Oh dear, there I go again! I am Lady Pendleton. My husband is Lord Pendleton, of Wittersham.”
Mary curtseyed, impressed. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, my lady.”
“We are hidden here, I think,” Mary said, reassuringly. I will keep a lookout in case Viscount B… anyone comes this way while you are changing.”
Lady Pendleton’s smile is a little embarrassed. “How very kind of you, Miss Pritchard. I was just about to ask if you would do me that small favor.”
Mary returned the smile as Lady Pendleton took her bag behind a bush. Her ladyship, appeared harmless despite her odd attire.
And her odd remarks. She was clearly having difficulty removing the odd leg coverings; Mary could see only her head, but the movements indicated contortions below. “Oh, I know I shouldn’t have had that last Big Mac,” the lady complained.
What on earth is a big mac? Mary wondered, and the question must have shown on her face.
“I’m afraid I’ve been over-indulging during the past fortnight. I hope my old clothes will still fit.”
“Have you travelled far,” Mary asked, politely. A person who appears out of thin air might have come from anywhere! But how?
Lady Pendleton grinned. “You could say that, I suppose.”
Lady Pendleton paused, her yellow gown over her head, narrowing her eyes in concern. “Are you well, my child?”
Mary found herself saying, “I… ah… you must be wondering, ma’am, at my being here without an escort. That crashing sound is, I think, my escort.” She turned beseeching eyes to Lady Pendleton, who now, in a morning gown of the first stare of fashion, looked very much a match for an army of Bosvilles. “If he finds me, would you be kind enough to say I am with you, ma’am?”
Mary was trembling. How ridiculous. She was not in any danger now! But she fiddled with the fastenings of the jacket that hid the bodice of her walking dress, torn in the struggle with Bosville, and her hands shook. Lady Pendleton stepped out from behind the bush and folded Mary into her embrace.
“Your escort… attacked you? How did that happen?”
Mary returned the hug. Why she should feel safe with a woman who appeared from nowhere in the most scandalous garments she has ever seen, she did not know. But she did feel safe. “I refused his proposal, ma’am, and he thought to force me. I… ah… punched him in… ah… I distracted him and ran.”
And now, she did not want to go home. Not that the Bosville’s townhouse was home. Not when she needed to jam her bedchamber door every night with a wedge, for fear of what Bosville might do, while her aunt smiled benignly and ignored Mary’s complaints. “I do not know what to do. If I tell my aunt, she will say that we must marry, and I would rather throw myself into the Thames than marry a man who only wants my money.”
Mary thought about that and decided Bosville was not worth killing herself over. “Actually, I would rather throw him into the Thames.”
A shadow passed over Lady Pendleton’s face, and she bit her lip. “This… this… Boswell won’t harm you as long as I’m here, my child.” She grinned. “The Serpentine is a great deal closer. Will that do instead, do you think?”
Lady Pendleton straightened her spine. “Hurry, do me up in the back and we’ll away from here. I live in Grosvenor Square; it’s not too far.”
The comment about the Serpentine startled a laugh from Mary, and she hastened to do the lady’s bidding. Grosvenor Square! That was a fine address indeed.
Mary, her immediate fears laid to rest, allowed her curiosity to overcome her manners. “Your ladyship, I could not help but notice the manner of your arrival and your attire. Would you think me impertinent if I asked where you came from?”
Clearly, she did, for she replied, “It’s a long story. What concerns me most at the moment is what your parents could have been thinking to leave you alone with such a rogue!”
Mary sighed. “I came to live with my aunt when my papa died. The rogue is her son, I am afraid. She is as keen to have the inheritance my papa left as Bosville.”
“How disgraceful! Clearly, she is not a fit guardian. Is there no one else who can offer you protection, my dear?” She pressed her lips firmly together. “My husband and I don’t hold with arranged marriages. Not for our three daughters, or for anyone else, if it can possibly be helped.”
Mary had been following her new friend along the Foot Path towards Grosvenor Gate. “He doesn’t even want me!” she burst out. “I heard him tell his friends that he would park me in the country while he spent my lovely money!” He had described her as his homely cousin, ‘all red hair and freckles, and not enough meat on her bones, but rich enough to be worth bedding if you don’t have to spend any time with her in daylight’.
As they approached the gate, Lady Pendleton’s steps slowed. “I’ve got it,” she said. “Tea!”
“Tea would be very welcome!” said Mary. “I have no wish to go home until I decide what to do about beastly Bosville.”
“Let us have a brief respite at my friend Mrs. Marlowe’s bookshop,” Lady Pendleton suggested. “She is very cordial and serves the best tea and biscuits in Town.”
“I know it!” Mary said. “She has an excellent range of books.”
At the next moment, she moved slightly to one side, putting Lady Pendleton between her and the carriageway, where a dark-haired dandy drove a phaeton at a furious pace out of the gate and into the street beyond.
“Forgive me,” Mary said. “I am not usually so nervous, but that was my cousin, and I would rather he did not see me at the present. It is silly of me, for what could he do in all this crowd? And I will take care not to be alone with him again, you may be sure!”
Lady Pendleton shook her head. “He looked very angry. It’s best to avoid a confrontation. Let’s away to Mount Street and refresh ourselves while we plan our strategy.”
The bookshop was as busy as ever, with several customers waiting their turn at the counter. Mary, now on familiar ground, led the way up the stairs to the tea room where little tables invited friendly conversation.
Mary nerved herself to question Lady Pendleton again. “Lady Pendleton, I hope you do not think me rude, but I could not help but notice your attire when you arrived. And — it cannot be true, can it? You seemed to arrive out of nowhere!”
Lady Pendleton did not reply immediately, and Mary thought she would avoid the question again.
“I’ll have a cup of Bohea,” she told the waiter. “And some strawberry tarts if you have them. What would you like, my dear?”
“Souchong, please,” Mary said. “And strawberry tarts sound wonderful.”
After the waiter had left, Lady P turned to Mary. “When you saw me earlier today, I was wearing clothing from the twentieth century. I – uh, was visiting there for the past two weeks. I suppose you might say I am – a sort of time traveler.”
Mary opened her mouth to repeat ‘time traveller’, but managed to close it again before the words came out. The twentieth century! It sounded impossible, but Mary had the evidence of her own eyes, and why would Lady Pendleton make up something so odd? “How marvellous,” she said at last. “I have travelled much of the world, but to travel in time? How wonderful!”
“Marvelous, yes, it is at that,” agreed Lady Pendleton. “Quite fascinating. An amusing and rather unconventional way of escaping one’s problems. But now… I find myself having to face them after all.”
Mary nods. “Running away does not solve things,” she says, from experience. “Though it can win you time to find a solution.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the tea. Lady P poured for both of them.
“You are wise for your age,” Lady P commented as she passed Mary the plate of tarts.
Mary smiled. “Thank you, ma’am. I am on my own, you see, and must think for myself. And I am of age, though I know I look younger. My youth is a great disadvantage, you know. Were I older, I could move to my own residence, and no-one would be in the least scandalised.” She sighed.
“I have three daughters at home. Julia, my oldest, is fourteen. I have missed them all so much, and my husband as well. But I needed time to reflect on my situation, and I knew my mother and aunts would only tell me to go back to my husband.”
Mary was not the only one with problems, it seems. Lady Pendleton must have been very distressed to have left her husband. Mary’s curiousity was piqued, but she would not be rude enough to ask. Was Lord Pendleton cruel, perhaps?
“Marriage is not something to be rushed into,” Lady Pendleton said. “My George and I married for affection and fell in love later. And for the most part, we have rubbed along very well. I never thought he would turn into a-a despot.”
Mary could not think of a response. Clearly Lord Pendleton was not cruel. “But you are going home now?” she asked.
Lady Pendleton took another sip of the Bohea.
“I am,” she said. “I must. I cannot abandon my daughters. Or my husband.”
“Of course,” Mary said, thinking that she could cheerfully abandon Lady Bosville and her son.
“But George must know that I won’t have a despot for a husband. While women do not have the sort of freedoms in this century that they will have in the future, we do have options, and he must surely know I would not hesitate to take some of them, undesirable though they would be.”
“If I know my George, though, he has long ago forgotten his anger amidst his concern for my absence.” Her eyes unfocused, she smiled as if she thought of something pleasant.
Mary ventured a smile in return. It seemed that Lady Pendleton’s problems were nearly over.
Lady Pendleton took the last sip of tea and put her cup down. “It appears that my path is quite clear. I must return home and have a serious discussion with my husband. As for you, my dear, I wonder if you haven’t any other relatives you could appeal to, since clearly these Bosvilles are not suitable.”
Mary brightened. “I wonder I did not think of that! Yes, indeed! I have three more aunts, though I have not met them. Two of them live in Haslemere, on the road to Portsmouth, and one in Oxford. Papa said I was to come to London. He thought Aunt Bosville might help me to find a husband.” Her colour deepened, her fair skin showing her embarrassment. “I find I am not in the fashionable mode, however. Being raised on a naval ship does not prepare one to talk nonsense, and faint, and be ridiculously frilly and the like. And then…” she gestured helplessly at her freckles and her bright red hair, “there is how I look.”
Lady Pendleton raised an eyebrow. “I see nothing amiss with your appearance. Your colouring may not be the fashion this year, but it does not prevent you from having an appeal of your own. Indeed, my eldest daughter Julia is flame-haired and freckled, and I am quite certain she will grow into her own beauty when she is past the tomboy phase.” She grinned and patted Mary’s hand. “Red hair is quite popular in the 20th century. I observed that many of the younger ladies had deliberately coloured their hair red, or at least a portion of it.” She frowned. “Of course, there were also shades of blue and green that I could not like at all, but that was the way of things. Society is so much more liberated in the future, from what I could see.”
Mary sat forward, excited. If only she could see for herself! Was it possible? “Lady Pendleton, do you think… Could you tell me how you came to travel through time? Could I do it?”
Lady Pendleton wrinkled her brow. “Oh no, my dear! I think it would be quite ill-advised for someone so young to venture off into a completely different world. You may be certain I will not breathe a word of it to any of my daughters, at least not until they are old enough to have learned to resolve their problems rather than try to avoid them. No indeed, dear Mary, we must find a rather more conventional solution to your dilemma.”
“I am familiar with adventures, Lady Pendleton. I have been in a number of tight spots in many parts of the world.” Honesty compelled her to add, “Though I have needed rescue from time to time, and I suppose I cannot expect Rick—Lieutenant Redepenning to follow me 200 years into the future.”
Lady Pendleton leaned forward. “This Rick-er-Lieutenant Redepenning… you say he has come to your rescue in the past? Sounds like a delightful young man. It sounds as though the two of you have a great deal in common. Is he eligible, do you think?” She winked at Mary. “I must confess that I would like to see my daughter Julia make a match with Oliver, who grew up next door to us in Wittersham. They have been close friends forever and have so much in common.” She sighed. “Although it remains to be seen how well they deal with each other as adults.”
“Things can certainly change when one grows up.” Mary sighed. “We were good friends when we were younger, but now… Lady Pendleton, a friend would visit a friend, would he not? If he were in London, and she were in London? A lady cannot call on a gentleman, after all. Aunt would not even let me send a note! And at first he was recovering from his injury. But he has been about town these past six weeks, and has not been to see me.” She sighed again, more deeply this time. “No, eligible or not, Rick the Rogue is not interested in plain Mary Pritchard.”
And why should he be? Even if they had been the best of friends as children. Even if she had spent her girlhood imagining herself in love with him because he was kind, and charming, and looked like a god from the fairy tales: tall and broad shouldered, with golden hair and vivid blue eyes. He was kind to a lonely girl, that was all. And now he had forgotten her.
“I will go to my aunts in Haslemere, Lady Pendleton. I will make the arrangements today.” Aunt Theodora was sister to Lady Bosville, but Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Marjery were Papa’s sisters, and would surely protect her.
“Do you need a place to stay before you leave, Miss Pritchard?” Lady Pendleton patted her hand. “You would be welcome, if you think your return to Lady Bosville’s house would put you at risk.”
Mary shook her head. It was kind of Lady Pendleton, but Mary would not intrude on her family reunion, and she thought Bosville was unlikely to try anything more for a day or two. If, indeed, he came home. He often stayed out for days at a time. Yes, she would be perfectly all right, and would leave London long before he was a risk again.
“You will need to hire a post chaise, my dear, and your own outriders. And you have a maid you can take with you, I take it?” Lady Pendleton was surprising conservative, given her own time travel, Mary thought. She murmured something noncommittal. The public coach went right through Haslemere, where her aunts lived. It would be an adventure!
And if you’d like to know what Bosville did next, check out the Teatime Tattler post for 17 October.