An excerpt post this week. My hero Rede from Farewell to Kindness has travelled to Margate to consult with his aunt, the Duchess of Haverford.
The sun was setting on Saturday evening, and Rede was beside himself with frustration, before the Duchess of Haverford’s coach was finally seen tooling up the road to the castle.
He was waiting when she entered the front door, and she greeted him with pleasure. “Rede, darling. What a lovely surprise. Have you been waiting for me long?
“Such a circus in Deal. The electors were inclined to listen to the merchants, and the merchants did not favour Haverford’s man. Not at all.
“So I had to visit every shop in the town and buy something. The carriage, I can assure you, is laden. But Haverford believes it may have done the trick.
“Just as well, dear, for I have enough Christmas presents for every one of my godchildren for the next three years. And some of them are not of the best quality, I can assure you.”
She was talking as she ascended the stairs, giving her cloak to a maid as she passed, her bonnet to a footman, and her reticule to another maid.
“You want something, I expect. Well, you shall tell me all about it at dinner. I left most of the food I purchased at the orphanage in Margate, but I kept a pineapple for dessert. Such fun, my dear, have you tried one?”
“No, dear aunt,” he managed to say, sliding his comment in as she paused to give her gloves to yet another maid. Or it may have been the first maid again.
“Well, today you shall. Join me in the dining room in—shall we say one hour?” And she sailed away towards her apartments, leaving him, as always, feeling as if he had been assaulted by a friendly and affectionate hurricane.
Over dinner, he laid all honestly before her. Well, perhaps not all. The lovely widow, betrayed by George, the three sisters, the little daughter. No need to mention that he’d played fast and loose himself with the lady’s virtue. Just that he needed to rehabilitate her. Just that he wanted to marry her and she had refused.
“She refused you, Rede?” Her Grace was surprised. “But you are handsome, wealthy and charming. And rich. What does she object to?”
Rede hadn’t been able to work it out, either. “I know she cares for me, Aunt Eleanor. But she keeps saying no. The first time—to be honest, the first time I made a disaster of it. I told her… I gave her the impression that I only wanted her for a wife because she was too virtuous to be my mistress.”
Her Grace gave a peal of laughter. “Oh Rede, you didn’t.”
“I’m afraid I did. But the second time I assured her I wanted her for my Countess.”
“And you told her that you loved her,” the Duchess stated.
“No. Not exactly. I told her I wanted to keep her safe. I told her I wanted to protect her.”
“I see. And I suppose you think if you bring her into society, she will consent to marry you?”
“I don’t know, aunt. I only know that she deserves a better life than stuck in a worker’s cottage in the back of nowhere working as a teacher so she can one day give her sister a decent life. If she won’t have me… Well, she has been to see a lawyer about a small inheritance she has coming. I thought perhaps I could make it a bit bigger. Without her knowing.”
“You do love her,” said the Duchess, with great satisfaction.
“Yes, but… Yes.” There were no buts. He loved her. At least he hadn’t told her so. He had no taste for laying his heart on the floor for her to walk on.
“You need to tell her so.” The Duchess echoed and denied his thinking, all in one short sentence. “She is probably afraid that you are marrying her out of a misplaced sense of duty. You are far too responsible, Rede.”
“No, she couldn’t think that. Could she?”
“Who knows? Well, I will do it. I cannot have my niece-in-law having her babies in scandal. I take it there is the possibility of a baby? You would not be feeling so guilty otherwise.”
Rede was without a response for a long moment, finally huffing a laugh. “Aunt Eleanor, a hundred years ago you would have burnt as a witch,” he told her.