The Duchess' home was a splendidly magnificent kind of building -- one which, Rosalind was sure, her mother would heartily approve of -- but there was little time to talk of décor or design. The meeting between the Duchess and Mr. Blakely had excited much curiosity within Rosalind and she was eager to hear more of the details. She had a suspicion that such behaviour may be unladylike, but then she remembered all the other ladies of London and suddenly it did not seem as bad. Lady Ellis would, no doubt, be in favour of her daughter exhibiting those tendencies which she had long despised.
"If the matter at hand was not so serious, I would offer you some refreshments."
"Oh, never mind."
"Rosalind, I am going to tell you something which I do not want you to repeat to anyone; not even your mother," then she corrected herself, "Especially your mother."
"Of course. Mr. Seymour did tell me that it was a secret."
"Well done, Alexander," spoke the older woman as she sat down in a chair close to the window. "He has been a good friend to me, and nothing more despite what the old gossips have to say." Euphoria surged up in Rosalind, but she quashed it at once. Surely it was not proper for her to delight in such matters?
"I will not say anything. I promise."
"Very well then, I will begin. Edward, that is Mr. Blakely's name, and I met one summer many, many years ago -- before I even knew that such a man as my late husband ever existed. I was only eighteen and he was a few years older -- to my mind that was instantly a thing of merit -- and he was so very charming. You see, at that time he was an utter gentleman -- not the sort of man he is now. Edward acted differently, he was so open and thoughtful and....and I fell in love with him. I believed then that he was in love with me as well." So far, Rosalind could not see anything scandalous in the conduct of either person, but no doubt that was to come. "He proposed and I, like a fool, accepted him with so much naïve love and gratitude that I am now ashamed to recall it."
"How did we come to be as we are now? My parents, because I did not have much money and because he did not have much more, were not supportive of the match. They forbade it -- but I did not care! I was in love with Edward and he was all that mattered. Over a long period of time, they came to realize that I would not be dissuaded from marrying him and so one afternoon they informed me that they would like to go and see him," she looked away from Rosalind and directed her gaze at the street below. "It was a surprise. We were shown in and led to the lounge. He was there. He was not alone." She turned her whole body away and Rosalind suspected that she was reliving the memories. "There was a woman with him -- barely dressed, she was from the Continent -- from Tuscany I believe. I ran out, I didn't ask for an explanation -- I didn't want an explanation. Edward apologized, begged me to reconsider and to have him back, and I was close to doing so until I found out that..." She let out a sob, "I'm sorry, I cannot..."
"Take as long as you want. You needn't continue though."
"I must. I have to tell you about the sort of man he is."
"I know from your account that he cannot be a good one."
"He was already engaged."
"That woman from Tuscany, the one I found him with, she was his intended. It seems as though he only desired to possess me, my body, and not to marry me as I had previously believed. It was clear to me then that he did not love me, and that I had been an idiot to believe that he did."
Rosalind moved towards her and, as she saw the tears starting to form, embraced her. "Thank you. I am sorry that he caused you so much pain."
"And then I saw him today and..."
The Duchess withdrew from the embrace and walked, not quite steadily, to the pianoforte at the other side of the room. "And all the feelings that I ever had for him...came rushing back." She collapsed on the stool, head in her hands, "I am a simpleton."
"We can not help who we love."
"Those are wise words for one so young."
Rosalind, uncomfortable with the need to explain, shrugged off any serious response and only replied that that was what all the poets seemed to say.
That did not fool the Duchess, no she was Trudie now.
"Alexander is my friend and I care for him, but sometimes ... sometimes he cannot help what he does or who he consorts with. I would not want you hurt as I was."
"Mr. Seymour would never..."
"Yes, he would. Unintentionally, but he still would." Rosalind turned away when she heard this. Surely Mr. Seymour would never hurt her! The notion! Because if you really loved someone, then wouldn't you do everything in your power to keep them free from pain? "He cares for you, that I cannot deny, but Alexander has never loved anyone in his life -- not even his mother and father. Not even me."
"Oh yes," laughed Trudie, "he cares about me, trusts me and respects me (which is something that not many people seem to do), but he doesn't feel for me in that way. He locks himself up, away from everything and everyone, and he is so scared that someone will penetrate that shield. So very scared." That was something new. Mr. Seymour had always seemed such a confident man, so full of life and, judging by his lifestyle, so keen to love. The idea that that was all a façade -- which was what he had accused Mr. Blakely of -- was shocking and alien. "However, if the both of you are determined to pursue some sort of a relationship which is not friendship, then I can only beg you not to hurt him. I would not desire to deal with the consequences."
"I won't. Believe me."
Trudie did not reply or look at her, and so she took this as her cue to flee from the house. Trudie did not follow.
She decided to take a walk through the park in an attempt to free her mind from the shackles in which Trudie's revelations had placed it in. It was a difficult thing to do, and -- despite her knowledge of Mr. Blakely's true character -- she could not help but wonder if he still was attached to Trudie, as he had said. If indeed he had been in earnest then what heart ache he must be undergoing now! But if he was suffering from such a condition, then why would he consort so freely with Eve?
She whirled round, eager to see which acquaintance of hers was calling her. "Mr. Drake! How nice to see you again."
"And you as well. I feared that after the ball the other night, I would not have the pleasure of being in your company for a long time." She was confused, and told him so. He smiled, not mockingly or teasingly as two other gentlemen she knew would often do, but in a happy, friendly manner. She found it to be delightfully refreshing. "I did not ask you to dance and, excepting Miss Beckett and her sister, you were the only other lady there with whom I was acquainted. I am afraid that you thought it one of those dreadful snubs which are often received in London."
"It was not then?"
"Oh, heavens no! It is just..." he lowered his voice, "You must promise not to tell anyone."
It appeared that it was her day for making promises, but it seemed as though Mr. Drake's was certainly not as important as Trudie's. In fact, she believed that it promised to be quite jovial. "I promise, with all my heart and soul."
"Ah, that is good then, for there will be dire consequences if you reveal what I am about to say. I, Miss Ellis, am afflicted by a terrible illness." She was momentarily concerned, "I am a complete dunce when it comes to dancing. I just cannot do it -- it is a terrible thing really. One would much prefer to be 'stuck in a corner somewhere' with a jolly good read."
"I think that as well, Mr. Drake! Oh, the number of times my mother has reprimanded me for reading in public! She just does not understand that when the plot gets to be particularly intriguing-"
He finished her sentence for her, "You are unable to put the damned thing down and are therefore consigned to a rather unsociable life." They both chuckled. "I am quite relieved, Miss Ellis, to find someone who is as bad off as I am. Beckett tries to tolerate it, but I know that he secretly despairs that I will become a recluse with no company but a mammoth library."
"I am quite sure that Henry is more relieved than worried in my case, for he thinks that my love for books will prevent any other affections occurring. Apparently one relative in love is the most he can stand."
"Indeed, Mr. Blakely is fortunate to find such an accomplished woman as Miss Beckett. I have only had the opportunity to talk with her once or twice, but she has always provided exciting company."
"Eve is a very excitable person, to be sure. I only hope that she knows what she is doing."
"Possibly. Are you concerned, Mr. Drake?"
"Me? No, no, I am not. I am definitely, decidedly, wholeheartedly, not concerned."
Rosalind grinned. "If you say so Mr. Drake."
The news that Mr. Drake was attached to Eve excited Rosalind greatly -- for here was a man who could take her away from Mr. Blakely's dreadful influence. The only thing which mattered now was trying to get Eve to recognize the value of a quiet and sensible man over a fast-paced and hectic one. Although she suspected that this was a terrible case of 'pot calling kettle black', she could not stop herself. Mr. Drake, while escorting her home, was all that was amiable and he proved himself to be very intelligent and have common sense (Rosalind had nearly walked out in front of a carriage -- a gaudy thing with oceans of purple -- and only his grasp on her had prevented her from a most undignified death). She was now alone in the house for her mother had gone away to visit Rosalind's Aunt -- the mother of her three cousins -- and her father was still occupied, or so she presumed, with Mr. Seymour.
She was so engrossed in an old volume of poetry that she didn't hear the front door open, or someone entering the very room she was in.
"Is this my little girl curled up with a book again? How scandalous."
"And unusual, father." She grinned up at her father who, although he seemed in good temper, had the attitude of one who is consumed with some terrible knowledge which could not be shared. "Are you alright? You look quite pale."
"Oh yes, don't worry about me." He shook off his jacket and flopped himself down onto the settee beside her. "I had a meeting with Mr. Seymour today." Rosalind could feel her pulse increasing but was determined to put up a façade of indifference. Her father, however, was a much better judge of her character and moods than her mother would ever claim or want to be, and saw through this at once. "It seems that you are better acquainted with Seymour than I knew. He told me of what you did the night of the ball." She was afraid of what he would say. Would he condemn her for acting in such a scandalous way -- after all, fetching smelling salts for her mother was one thing but removing a shirt from a wounded man was quite another. "I am proud of you. You have shown yourself to be as excellent a daughter as I could have hoped."
"And I have a present for you."
"Oh?" She was scared lest it be a dress. However, as he went to fetch the gift she reasoned that her father should know by now that clothes were not a present to her, they were a chore both to buy and receive. "A book!"
He laughed as he handed it over to her. "It's not from me. Seymour sent it as a thank you gift."
She had not expected this and was justifiably taken aback by such generosity. "He needn't have, this -- look at the binding -- it is remarkable."
"If you say so." There was mirth in Lord Ellis' eyes and he discovered that he actually liked to see his daughter this way -- so surprised and happy at receiving such a gift. Although, he suspected, it was perhaps more to do with the sender than the present itself. Many a lady would have acted the same way -- all that was necessary to do now was to hide all this to his wife, for he did not want another telling off so soon after the last one.
Lord Ellis decided that it was best to leave his daughter alone to wonder over this new book and so he fled to his study where he indulged in one of his finest cigars and a game of chess with his butler. On the other hand, Rosalind had just opened the book that Mr. Seymour had given her and saw, with a start of delight, that something was written on the front page.
felt as though I had to thank you for last night, it was much appreciated.
Come and see me soon.
If you dare.
No doubt he had written it with that trademark smirk on his face, but it meant her feel special and cared for all the same, which was hideously embarrassing -- she had always prided herself on being not a flighty, romantic sort of girl (with the exception of matters relating to Lord Byron of course, but as he was not currently in England there was no danger there) and her acquaintance with Mr. Seymour merely proved that this belief was incorrect.
"Rosalind! How did your little expedition go? I believed that you were to be back hours ago but obviously Duchess Waterson had other ideas." Rosalind could hear the sneer and bitterness in her mother's voice but chose to ignore it in favour of further inspecting Mr. Seymour's gift. "I met, quite by chance, Eve and Mr. Blakely -- oh he is a charming man, if I was twenty years younger.."
"I think what my Aunt is trying to say is that she managed to drag me away from Ed- from Mr. Blakely and I have come to see you, for Aunt says that she is quite fagged." Eve bounced in, ringlets flowing round her face, and came over to embrace her cousin in greeting.
"I would never have used such language, but that is the truth. Rosalind, darling, you wouldn't mind looking after your cousin would you?" She replied that she would and soon Lady Ellis was out of the room and her steps could be heard on the stairs.
"Such excitement! Josephine's ball was thoroughly spectacular -- although it was spoiled slightly by Mr. Blakely's having to leave so early. I am convinced that it was Johannes' fault -- for why else would have such a smug smile on his face afterwards? Honestly! Why could my dear sister not have married some dreadful bore who would not interfere in my life?"
"Johannes only looks after you, as he should as your brother." This did not seem to please Eve much, for she took great care to move herself the furthest away from Rosalind as she was able to.
"But Henry likes Mr. Blakely -- they are friends. So why does Johannes find fault with him?"
"Perhaps, perhaps Henry's judgement can not be relied on in this case because he and Mr. Blakely are friends."
"Oh fiddle! That's nonsense, for Henry is very sensible, most of the time anyway. Did you see him at the ball though? Dancing with that harlot."
"Eve, you should not use that sort of language."
"I damned well will!"
"Eve! Stop it!" Rosalind rose with Eve and followed her to the door, "It's Mr. Blakely's influence, that's why Johannes doesn't like your relationship with him-"
"Is it the same with you and Mr. Seymour then?"
Rosalind was taken aback, how could Eve know about him, about her relationship with him? "Pardon?"
Eve laughed bitterly and Rosalind thought that she could see a hint of malevolence in her countenance for she certainly looked like she was enjoying the situation.
"Edward told me about him and his character and all his escapades -- they used to be friends, you know, and then Mr. Seymour did something and then Edward was compelled to break that bond."
"Oh really? Is that what Mr. Blakely said?" Rosalind could feel the ire starting to rise within her heart and, for once, she let it flow out naturally. "And you trust his word?"
"Of course I do!"
"The word of a seducer and a liar and a man who was almost a bigamist?"
"What did you say?" Eve was angry as well, and keen to defend the man she was in love with. Oh why hadn't Rosalind realized what would happen before Eve had gotten too seriously involved with that scoundrel?
"It is true. He is a terrible person -- ask him why he visits Italy so often. Tuscany, I believe, would be his preference."
"That is only because he is an admirer of the Romans. Don't be so foolish and green, dear cousin!"
"I am the one who is a green girl? Me? I am not."
"Oh yes you are! Even if these detestable things you speak of are correct, which I fervently believe is not the case, surely Edward is better than Mr. Seymour. That man is a danger to all of us. The things he has done ... I am willing to bet that he has not told you of any of his escapades and that you think him to be a model citizen."
"He has told me what he has done," Rosalind said, lowering her voice lest her mother or father would come in to see what was the matter.
"So he has informed you of the nun then?" Eve's eyes were glinting with delight. What had happened to the girl who loved her family and who, although sometimes mean, was generally pleasant, nice and well thought of?
"Of course. On the very first night I met him," exclaimed Rosalind triumphantly.
"Why so soon? Why was he so eager to tell you of his misdemeanours?" That provided food for thought and she discovered that she could not answer straight away, much to her shame. Some friend she was if she was unable to defend Mr. Seymour to her cousin! "They were lies. I suppose he told you that she was willing? That she was a loose woman?" Rosalind did not respond and this proved enough of an admission for Eve to continue. "She was Edward's sister, her name was Amelia, and she was as devout and as proper as ever a woman could be." Eve had made her voice gentler in an attempt to get her cousin to listen. "She had entered the Church months before Mr. Seymour got involved with her, and she was quite determined to become as pure a girl as possible. Do you want me to continue?"
There was no way that Rosalind wasn't going to hear the rest of this story, and that's what she hoped it was, a story, because if Eve was correct, and she was not saying that she was, then she was sure that she would be quite heartbroken. "Go on." Eve led her to the sofa again and, as they sat, took her hands in her own.
"Mr. Seymour came to see Edward without any ulterior motive, or so he believed anyway, and it was not until it was mentioned that Amelia had become a nun that Mr. Seymour decided that he was to stay for a much longer time than he had previously intended. It is Edward's belief that he somehow infiltrated the Abbey in which she resided and convinced her that she was in love with him. It wasn't until she was publicly shamed that he figured out what was happening." Eve's grip on her hands tightened and Rosalind felt herself weaken at the thought of what other accusations could be laid against Mr. Seymour's name. "She was enceinte, as the French say, that is, she was with child."
"No. He would not."
"He did, I am sorry to say. And then when Edward ordered Mr. Seymour to marry her, he flatly refused and, before he had the chance to challenge the rake to a duel, Mr. Seymour fled. That woman, Duchess Waterson, hid him in her country home and so that was all that became of that."
Rosalind's mind was in turmoil. Whatever would she believe? Who did she believe? For accusations had been laid at both Mr. Seymour's and Mr. Blakely's doors. "I do not....I cannot... I do not know what to do with this information, please forgive me, I must go now."
"Of course. I understand." Eve rubbed her arm in sympathy until Rosalind rose and ran, almost hysterically, to her chambers.
There was, as her luck would have it, no respite for Rosalind because when she entered her bedroom, quite ready to lose herself in a fit of sobbing, her mother was sitting on a chair near the window.
"Mama? What is it?"
Lady Ellis turned and faced her, regret and dissatisfaction written on her face. "Your father ... Your father insists that we leave London immediately and return to the country." She got up and, as her daughter struggled to understand exactly what had just happened, spoke again, "We leave in the morning."
Rosalind could not believe the hideousness of the situation she was in -- whatever had possessed her father to take leave of his senses and force them all out of London? She was perfectly aware that, had this decision been taken a week ago, she would have been overjoyed, and a troubling notion entered her head that her happiness was, unfortunately, being determined by the presence of a certain gentleman.
That brought her back to another cause of her anxiety -- what Eve had said of Mr. Seymour's character. Surely, she could not be correct! It would not do to have one's image of perfection dashed so cruelly, and that was exactly what she feared.
The door to her bedroom was opened slowly and she observed her father sheepishly entering the room which was strange because, if there was one thing Lord Ellis was not, it was sheepish. "May I speak to you?"
She nodded her head, not willing or able to reply to him verbally.
"Rosalind, I had to make the decision for us to leave." He sauntered over to her and laid a bony hand on her shoulder. "Phopps is ill, the estate is not being run properly." Phopps was the steward of their residence, Upperstone Manor, and he was as diligent and as caring a man as a master could wish for. "I was also informed, from a reliable source, of the evils of Mr. Seymour's character."
"And who told you this?" She cried out, distressed in the extreme.
"I can not disclose that information, the person did not want their identity to be revealed."
"Then surely that is a sign that what they said is a falsehood. I know that, whatever people may say, Mr. Seymour is a good man. He has never acted improperly towards me." Her father did not respond immediately and she was convinced that he would never answer her when he suddenly began on a new, and thoroughly unexpected, topic of conversation.
"Your mother and I are dining out at Lord Kingsley's tonight. You need not come." She nodded in mute assent. "We will be gone, I believe, for a duration of four hours. In fact, it is most likely that we will arrive back here just before midnight."
However her father had left before he could answer her or even hear her. A sense of euphoria started to creep into her soul when she realized what her father's intention was regarding him telling her of the times he and her mother would be out of the house. All she needed now was a cunning plan.
And, of course, to a mind as logical and as filled with fiction as Rosalind's was, there was no difficulty in coming up with that very thing.
"Rosalind, are you perfectly sure that you will be alright here on your own?"
"Yes, mama. I am not a child." Lady Ellis, however, was not placated by this statement. If anything, it made things even worse as her anxious temperament meant that she spent the rest of the journey to the Kingsleys with her nerves nearly overpowering her.
Soon Rosalind was the only member of the Ellis family in the house and the servants, with the exception of the housekeeper Mrs. Deene, were downstairs relaxing, Rosalind having told them that she had no need for them tonight. Mrs. Deene was not so easily persuaded. It had taken all Rosalind's powers of deceit and deception to get her to join the others which consequently meant that she did not exit the house until an hour after her parents left.
She had not known exactly where Mr. Seymour lived until she had snuck into her father's study and rifled through his address book (a hideously smelly leather thing). At last she found the address and discovered, to her dismay, that although his house was not in one of the very worst places in town, it was not in one of the best either. However, she would have to forbear in order to find out the truth, or at least to hear his defence of Mr. Blakely's accusations. And, of course, so that she could say goodbye.
She did not dare take the other carriage out to his house because the crest was so well known that it would be instantly recognized by those passing. Instead, she went by foot which, as she later discovered, was not such a wise thing to do in London in the evening.
Eventually she got to Mr. Seymour's residence and, with her courage rapidly dwindling, mustered up the nerve to knock on the door.
"Yes? May I help you?"
"Please, may I speak to Mr. Seymour? This is his house, isn't it?" This elicited a laugh from the butler and he led her in -- not even asking her what the purpose of her visit was or telling her to wait until he sought Mr. Seymour's permission for her to enter. Then she realized with a start that he must be used to ladies arriving at strange hours of the night, well, she wanted it to be clear that she was not that sort of woman.
"My father regularly comes to see Mr. Seymour, in fact, he came this very day."
"I know." She could have sworn that there was a smirk on his face and it vexed her greatly to imagine that she was a source of amusement to a mere servant, and an imprudent one at that.
They soon reached the room where, Rosalind supposed, Mr. Seymour must be holed up in. The butler opened the door and announced, in a sarcastic tone, that Miss Ellis was here to see him.
"Miss Ellis? What the devil is she doing here?" Obviously he had forgotten what he had written in the book he had given her, but she smiled to herself at his shock at her presence.
"I confess I do not know. Why don't you ask her yourself?" The butler then left Rosalind to make her way into the room and to greet Mr. Seymour with as much composure as was possible when he was only in his shirtsleeves. The bruises and cuts were still there, but they were considerably better healed now than they had been at the ball. She wondered if that cut on his chest had closed yet ... But no, that was not the proper train of thought for a well brought up, educated young woman.
"Good evening, Mr. Seymour."
"I would wish that you do not repeat such language to me, for I think it to be utterly detestable." She maneuvered herself through the piles of bandages and bottles which were strewn across the floor. "Honestly, this room is a complete disgrace! You must speak to your housekeeper about it, for she is clearly not doing her job well enough."
"You sound like your mother."
"Oh dear, that is not a good thing at all. It's just, this whole situation is so very frustrating. That is, the mess," She stammered as he looked at her intently. Not for the first time since she had set out, she wondered if this journey was such a fine idea.
"I do not have a housekeeper, or a maid. There are only three menservants -- and that includes the butler."
"Indeed." He had been standing but sat down again and rubbed his side.
"You are not in pain, are you? I see there is some ointment over there by the pianoforte." She was immediately concerned. "Why do you have one of those if you cannot afford a maid?"
"I did not say that, Miss Ellis. You jumped to that conclusion yourself. Now you still haven't answered my question. What are you doing here, girl?"
"My father and mother have gone out for the evening and ... and I thought that I could take this opportunity to thank you for your gift."
"It is nothing. I already had it here."
"It was yours?" She had not expected that, and, somehow, the thought that she now owned what had formerly been his possession made her smile inside.
"Yes it was. A very fine edition too, so take good care of it!"
"Oh yes, of course I will. I will not let it out of my sight." She was desperately eager to please him and he saw this and it amused him considerably, numbing the pain that still remained from his wounds. It had been a bad decision on his part to venture to the ball for it had only made his injuries, and Trudie, far more intolerable.
"So you came to these parts of London just to thank me? And how did you get here?"
"What? You ... you walked on your own? At this time of night, in this district? Miss Ellis, you are evidently much more foolish than I had thought you to be. It seems that all that poetry has addled your head."
"It was not that very far."
"You will not do it again."
"I will give you an unmarked carriage to go back in."
"The matter is closed," he said with finality. "Now, there is something else worrying you. Tell me." He spoke with such warmth and care that she felt compelled to reveal all the details to him.
"My father has decided that we are to leave for Upperstone Manor -- our home in the Lake District -- tomorrow morning. I do not know or understand, but he has taken this abominable notion into his head and he will not be dissuaded."
Then Mr. Seymour said something very unexpected, "Good man."
"You must be taken away from all of this."
She was confused. What was he talking of? "From what?"
"From this situation, from Blakely, from your cousin, and ... damn even from me! Especially from me!" He spoke with such passion that they both shook with the tremor of his words. This excited a new hope in Rosalind. He must care for her in some way, even just as a friend, if he was so concerned about her well-being.
"Why? Why must I be rescued?"
"There is too much danger in all this." He placed an arm on the chair and heaved himself up, limping slightly over to Rosalind who was sitting opposite him. "I had a visitor today. Blakely." She coloured and looked down, not wanting to recall all that Eve had said but knowing that it would be impossible to proceed with such a subject without those memories surfacing. "He told me what he was going to tell you, or rather, what he was going to get a simpering idiot of a woman to inform you of."
"She may be infatuated with Mr. Blakely but Eve is still my cousin and my friend, Mr. Seymour. Take care to remember it."
Instead of intimidating him as she had hoped that that statement would do, it merely gave him another source of amusement. "So the kitten has sharp claws. I would never have expected it." He stumbled further over to her and, when he at last reached her, leant against the back of the armchair. "I know what you were told."
"Is it true?" The wait for an answer as almost unbearable, and he did not put her out of her misery quickly for he pondered over the matter for a few intolerable minutes.
"There was a nun, she was -- is -- Blakely's sister and she did indeed fall pregnant."
"You are despicable!" She tried to get up but he moved as quickly as he was able to and pinned her back down onto the chair. He was so close that she could smell his cologne and feel his breath lingering on her cheek.
"Listen!" She struggled once again and his grip on her tightened. "Sit still! Do you want me to bleed to death?" She definitely did not want this and so ceased her struggle at once. "Good. As I have said those parts are true, however, there are some errors in his account. For one, Amelia Blakely was not at all virtuous -- she was with many men before and after she entered the convent, so do not distress yourself on that account. As for the child ... I sincerely believe that it is not mine, for she had many lovers. Regular wanton woman she was. However, I still believe that Blakely thinks that his sister is correct, and for that I cannot reprimand him too much."
Rosalind was uncomfortable talking about these matters with such an intimidating man, and her discomfort must have shown for he chuckled bitterly and, before he rose, put a hand forward and gently caressed her cheek, her lips, her chin. He was about to venture lower but she immediately recoiled and so he withdrew.
"Please, I cannot..."
"Don't worry -- I am not that kind of monster. But I could be tempted." He retreated back to his own chair and collapsed on it with a huge sigh. "And that is exactly why you need to go. I told your father much the same earlier."
"It was you? You planted this idea into his head?"
"Yes, and I am proud of it. You are far too young and green for the likes of me."
"I will be eighteen in less than a month!"
"That does not make things better! You must leave me at once, leave and do not seek me out again!"
"No!" Whatever she had expected to come of this meeting, she had not expected this. Why was he forbidding her to see him? Didn't he know how she felt about him?
"Yes! Now, go! Go!" He was shouting now and, far from scaring her, it comforted her to know that he was suffering similar agonies to her own. So, obediently, she rose and made her way to the door again, then she changed her mind and ran over to Mr. Seymour. He was about to protest but then she planted a very chaste, very short kiss on his lips and he was silent. To her delight, he even kissed her back. "Please, go." He spoke now in much gentler terms than before and she, after taking one last look at him, fled.
Life at Upperstone Manor was decidedly dull after the excitement that had been had in London, and all the members of the Ellis family felt this change greatly. Lord Ellis, while pleased to return to his estate, his hounds and his horses, was put into such a frustrated state by his wife that he even considered returning to the City. Meanwhile, the agonies that his fair spouse underwent were far more acute -- she was devastated at the loss to herself and Rosalind (for Rosalind had not been present at that many balls to get herself properly noticed and had, consequently, no suitors) and so the Lady spent the majority of her time grumbling to her daughter about their sad fate, and the rest complaining to her maidservant. Rosalind herself was in a most unexpected state of melancholy at the loss of Mr. Seymour from her life -- but attempted to console herself with her father's library, from which she had only been permitted to take a few volumes to London.
It was a month since their departure from London until some excitement flourished into their lives again, when a new, titled family moved into the neighbourhood. Their consequence would not undermine that of the Ellis', and the Lady had heard that they had three eligible sons so calm was temporarily restored.
The Hardings had taken up residence in an estate that had been long abandoned and which bordered Upperstone Manor, and after many months of restoration they saw fit to move into. In an instant they made the acquaintance of all the gentlemen and it was announced soon after that a ball was to be held at Marcombe, their estate.
"I do not mean to sound like an interfering mama, for I am not generally, but I think it would be wise if you were on your best behaviour tonight: there are three sons in the family and I am sure that at least one of them will like you," said Lady Ellis to her daughter the morning of the ball when they were indulging in a walk around their park.
"I am always on my best behaviour."
"Yes, but you could make an attempt to make yourself more noticed-"
"Perhaps I do not wish to be noticed."
"No, you would much rather have your nose wedged into some dreadful volume of poetry!"
"Rosalind, please, if you love me then make sure to dance with at least one of them tonight." Rosalind saw that it would be useless to protest and, therefore, assured her mother that she would do everything in her power to make sure that she received some attention.
As she prepared for the ball she realized why she was so very unexcited about the event. Not only did it mean that she would not be able to read for an entire evening, but there was also absolutely no chance that Mr. Seymour would appear or even be in the vicinity. No doubt he was enjoying himself tremendously in London with the opera and the theatre and ... no she would not think of it.
"Maggie, why is the pink muslin dress out? I thought that I requested the amber one."
"You did ma'am, but the Mistress ordered it to be changed. She says that..." The embarrassed maid trailed off as Rosalind mentally finished what she was about to say. Her dear mama had more than likely thought that pink would highlight her complexion more -- but she so detested the colour.
"Well then, if it is my mother's wish I suppose that I will have to wear it." Soon there was a little wreath of roses in her hair which apparently complimented the dress, but which Rosalind thought was immensely tasteless and showy.
Her mother was still getting ready when Rosalind met her father in the lounge -- he had been dressed long ago but had been forced to wait for the females in the family.
"Why do women take so long to get dressed? I swear, I have lived with your mother for more than twenty years and I can still not comprehend it."
"Well, men do not have to bother with such ridiculous things as flowers in their hair. Honestly, I always expect some sort of insect to come crawling out."
He chuckled, "Well yes, we have that good fortune. Unfortunately, however, thanks to Mr. Brummell we have now to undergo the rigmarole of the neck tie."
"I'm sure it is not so very bad."
"I assure you, my dear, that it is."
At that point, Lady Ellis saw fit to make her grand entrance and after the obligatory compliments from her husband and daughter, she was quite content to travel to Marcombe on such a windy night. Contrary to her predictions, her elegant hairstyle did not suffer whereas others' had, which she gleefully noted when entering the mansion.
"Lord Ellis, how absolutely brilliant to see you again!"
"The pleasure is mine, I assure you." Rosalind's father turned to introduce his family. "Sir Jeremiah Harding, may I present my wife, Lady Ellis, and my daughter Miss Rosalind Ellis."
"Pleasure! Pleasure! What beautiful ladies!" Rosalind started to like Sir Jeremiah, he was all that was unassuming and joyful -- and she had heard that his library rivalled even her father's, which -- in her eyes -- only added to his consequence. "And, in turn, may I present my wife Lady Harding, my sons are over at the corner, there, you see! Fine lads, to be sure." He pointed majestically towards them and both Rosalind and her father noted, the former with amusement and the latter with envy, that he had certainly not been influenced by Mr. Brummell in any way. "The blonde one, terribly fashionable unfortunately, is my eldest George -- capital fellow! Then the one beside him, yes, Lady Ellis, the one sitting in the chair, is Quentin, and then the other one -- if I am being truthful -- is my favourite. Yes, that is the youngest -- Arthur, he's in his third year at Cambridge -- studying the Classics you see. Something I could never really comprehend Ellis, all those nominatives and accusatives and datives -- well they all got quite muddled in my head. Terribly scatterbrained you see." Rosalind laughed at this, having once attempted to teach herself some Latin (which had not been that successful) she knew how difficult it was. Her reaction seemed to please Sir Jeremiah, for he favoured her with another of his magnificent smiles. Her mother, on the other hand, was looking positively appalled at such behaviour from a Baronet. If it wasn't for his three eligible sons...
"A Cambridge man, your son? Well, that is quite dreadful, because I happen to hail from the better of the two universities, Oxford."
Sir Jeremiah and Lord Ellis were settled into friendly conversation and soon Lady Harding, an elegant woman -- as fashionable as Lady Ellis was herself -- whose appearance gave the impression of her being much younger than she actually was, approached the two ladies. "Lady Ellis, Miss Ellis, what a pleasure. My husband, I believe, has made the introductions."
"Yes, indeed he has."
Whether Lady Harding didn't hear the sarcasm in Lady Ellis' voice, or whether she chose to ignore it, Rosalind would never know. For the very next instant she was being dragged (almost literally) over to the Harding sons, with Lady Harding at the helm.
"George, Quentin, Arthur, these are our neighbours -- Lady Ellis and her daughter Miss Ellis. These are my sons." George, it was clear to Rosalind, had been far too much affected by Mr. Brummell than was safe, for he appeared to be quite the dandy -- his collar was ridiculously high -- and his blonde hair, which gave him the impression of being Apollo, was far too coiffed to be considered nice to look at. His younger brother, Quentin, was much chubbier than the other two, and a bored expression remained on his face throughout the duration of their conversation. Other than that, there was nothing to say about him. On the other hand, the youngest was a far more pleasing prospect to Rosalind. Not only was he nearer her age, but he had been proven to be a scholar. Furthermore, she was not so blind, or indeed devoted to Mr. Seymour, to note that he was incredibly, effortlessly handsome, the black hair that framed his face melded in with his dark eyes to create a wonderful picture.
Mr. Arthur Harding seemed to be as taken with Rosalind as she was with him. Soon they were drawn into conversation about, of all things, books while the other two pranced off somewhere (or staggered in Quentin's case, because it was impossible to say that he was capable of prancing) and their mothers left them.
"Do you read poetry, or just prose?"
"Prose mainly, but there are some fine poets writing some awfully good poems."
"Such as Lord Byron, perhaps?" This eagerness produced a laugh from him which soon moulded into a frown as he realized she was truly in earnest.
"Lord Byron has had the misfortune to lead such an eventful life, that I cannot help but think of it as I read his poems. I must declare that it influences my opinion of them something awful."
"No! You cannot say that! They are the most wonderful things I have ever read!"
"You are far too romantic for your own good, Miss Ellis!"
"No, I am not. And I am not the only one who likes Byron, for Mr. Seymour..." She stopped suddenly, realizing that she had brought up the name of the one person she had been determined not to think of that night. However, it was too late as Arthur's interest had been excited.
"Who is this Mr. Seymour? A friend of your father's?"
"Yes. He is also my friend."
"Yes, and he is ever so wide read. He gave me a volume of Shakespeare, a very fine one."
"And how old is this Mr. Seymour?"
"Seven and twenty I believe." She neither had nor knew shame in her immediate answer, and Arthur, being the gentleman that he was, did not question her further. Instead, he asked her to dance.
Rosalind soon discovered that it was a very pleasant experience to hold a man's hand, and she suspected that the warmth that rose up in her body was down to the fact that it was Arthur's hand she was holding and not either of his brothers'. She shuddered at that thought.
"Did you dance when you were in London? Your father informed us that you had just recently vacated the place."
"No, I mean, yes we have been in London, but I did not dance that much. Once, I believe with my cousin Henry, and then with Johannes -- he is my other cousin's husband."
"Oh, and what about Mr. Seymour?"
"Is he a fine dancer?"
"I wouldn't know. I never saw him engaged in such an activity." That information seemed to provide a little bit of joy for Arthur, for she saw a small smile emerge on his face. He definitely appeared to best advantage when he was smiling, thought Rosalind without guilt. As they finished dancing she saw her mother looking extremely satisfied by her daughter's actions -- she evidently approved of the youngest Harding son.
"Miss Ellis, have you met my sister?"
"Sister? I did not know that you had one, I am very ignorant you see." She blushed at her own lack of knowledge. There had been a presumption in her mind that there were only sons, because they had been all that was talked about, but the revelation that there was a female Harding made her eager to meet the sister.
"I do indeed have one -- a very fashionable one, not as bad as George thankfully. There, you see her with the reverend?" Rosalind strained her eyes to see a very tall, slender young woman moving gracefully about the floor with the less than graceful Mr. Walker. The sight was amusing, and the lady in question seemed to find it so as well, for soon there came a peel of laughter -- not mocking -- at the way they were going about the floor. "I will introduce you, I'm sure you will get along famously!"
When that dance was over, Arthur did exactly as he said he would and brought his sister over to see Rosalind. She was older than her, but her looks had not diminished and, in fact, she seemed to be in her prime.
"Rosalind, is that your name?"
"Isn't it delightful! I always wanted to be called something elegant like that, but I am stuck with such a dull name that one is perpetually embarrassed by it. It gives me another reason to detest my Grandmama of course, which is...Oh, pardon me, I have not introduced myself and I am sure that my useless dolt of a brother hasn't done it either. I am Maude. See, it is dreadfully dull!"
"I am inclined to believe that it is actually quite a pretty name."
"But it is so very short. You say it and then it is gone. Rosalind, lingers in the mind."
"Perhaps that is not always a good thing."
Maude laughed again and begged Rosalind to cease with such comments as they would only serve to make her chortle. "Go away Arthur! I must talk to Rosalind!" Her brother walked off good-naturedly and Maude drew her new friend over towards a pair of chairs which were nearby. "I must say, I am extremely thankful that you are not one of these exquisite beauties. I do not think that I would have been able to bear it!" She realized her mistake soon after and tried to rectify the situation. "That is not to say that you are not very pretty, because you have a very unnatural beauty -- one does not gaze upon your face and immediately declare you handsome. I believe that it takes a few more glances to see your features the way they really are. Indeed, I dare say that Arthur will be quite smitten by the end of the week."
"Oh, I do not want him to be smitten-"
"Nonsense! Every girl wants someone to be completely and foolishly in love with them. Possibly a few men if it is possible." Rosalind had already come to the conclusion that Maude was similar to her cousin Eve, in the sense that they were both rather flighty. However, Maude seemed like a thoroughly nice and charming young woman, and since there were no others with whom she was particularly friends with, Rosalind decided that she would do her utmost to make herself amiable.
"Excuse me Miss Ellis, but I wish to ask Miss Harding if she would like to dance the next with me?"
"Why yes. Thank you, Mr. Peterson -- I should be delighted!" She looked over towards Rosalind again and suddenly her hands leapt to her pretty face. "Oh no! You will be on your own! How could I be such a simpleton?" Rosalind assured her that she would not feel ill-used by her departure, which soothed Maude slightly. "Anyway, I'm sure that Arthur will come over to keep you company. He has been staring at you since you entered this room, I am quite sure." Rosalind found that this knowledge was not unwelcome and neither did she feel uncomfortable at the thought that someone had been gazing at her all night. In fact, the sensation was really quite pleasant.
The violins started up for the next dance and Maude left her, swinging slightly on the arm of her partner. It took no more than twenty seconds for Arthur to cross the room and take up his position beside her once again. "I would ask you to dance again, Miss Ellis, but I fear people will talk if-"
"I understand, it is quite alright."
The smile of relief which swept his face was delightful, and soon they found themselves deep into another conversation which went uninterrupted until a few dances later when Maude and another one of her suitors came over to join them. Her partner, a Mr. Garrett, was exceedingly unwilling to leave Maude, but the cries of his mother for him to assist her called him away.
"Oh he was such a bore! All he would talk of was sport!"
"There are worse topics," said her brother.
"Yes, but not when your father and brothers converse about nothing else. One expects a little variation in one's dancing partner. And to think that he never even made a comment about my dress! The experience was terribly awful, I assure you."
"Indeed, I should think that it would be."
"Oh Arthur! You are incredibly vexing. I am sure that Rosalind understands me, don't you?" Rosalind nodded in assent, although she felt quite the opposite. Sport was a trying subject for her, but she could imagine nothing worse than a gentleman commenting on her appearance. Well, certain gentlemen anyway. "And she has been to London! I so long to go back there!"
"You have been there?"
"Oh yes, we have a house in Grosvenor Square -- it's quite delightful! But papa has yet to go this year, no matter what I say. And as I am not like my brothers and cannot just gallivant around the country, I am unable to reach that destination without his assistance."
"Father just doesn't want to leave the estate, we have just moved -- there are important things to get on with, Maude."
"Yes, I know that and am quite reconciled to that fact. However, if he would just give me a date for our departure, or even a month. I would like to know when we are leaving!" Arthur seemed to come to his senses and began to stop his sister from speaking her mind so loudly, but she would not desist. "I should adore to go to Almack's again, and think of all the balls and parties that I am missing! Did you go to Almack's, Miss Ellis? I am sure you did, for it is so charming."
"I am afraid that I did not."
This information shocked Maude, and it took her quite a few moments to recover from it. "How can you not have ... But surely ... Oh, I am quite faint!"
At that point, Lady Ellis had drifted over and had caught the last of their conversation. Afraid that the name of a certain undesirable would come up, she took it upon herself to explain the whole matter. "My husband was obliged to leave for Upperstone Manor when we had been in London only a few weeks. Mr. Phopps, our steward, was unwell and he was so worried that the estate would fall into disarray." This seemed to mollify Maude, but it appeared as though she could not get over Rosalind's never having been at Almack's.
"You shall have to come with me when we go there."
"Maude!" exclaimed Arthur, seeing the impropriety of her actions. "Perhaps Miss Ellis will not care to return. The experience might have been unpleasant."
"Oh fiddle! No one could possibly find London unpleasant. Did you meet any rakes, Rosalind?" Rosalind, who had been carefully staying out of the argument, was now forced to speak. Still surprised at what Maude had asked, she replied that she was sure that there had been many. "Oh, I should so love to meet another rake! They are such fun -- how I love to flirt with them. Although, I am sure you do as well, so I don't have to explain how delightful it is when they respond to you." Thankfully Rosalind was prevented from answering by her mother's needing her for some little thing.
"What a forward character! But she seems harmless enough," said Lady Ellis to her daughter as they moved away from the brother and sister. "The brother, Arthur, seems to be wonderful though. And handsome. It is such a shame that he is the youngest, but I hear that he is going into politics or some such thing."
"Yes, they are delightful."
"And Arthur favours you, of that I am sure. Now I can be at peace with myself and your father as you have not been affected by the company of Duchess Waterson and that man. I still do not know what your papa was thinking!"
They were in the middle of a discussion about the fashion of the day (hardly a subject which Rosalind found riveting) when Maude ran up to them and begged Lady Ellis to hear what she was about to say.
"I have spoken to my dear mama and papa and they have agreed to a picnic! Not tomorrow, for I fear that we should all be far too tired to go wandering about the countryside, but the day after that. Arthur has already said that he will come, and all that Quentin will need as an incentive will be food. And there are one or two other young ladies with whom I am excessively pleased, so if they will come then I suspect that George will as well. Do say that you will join us, Rosalind! I should be positively bereft if you were to reject the invitation."
"Yes, thank you. I would love to join you." She smiled as Maude left, and as she looked at her mother she saw that that little conversation had pleased her as well. No doubt she was already measuring Arthur up as a future son.
And, Rosalind admitted, even she herself was thinking of what he would be like as a husband.
It was fortunate that Maude had had the foresight to realize that a picnic immediately after the ball would not be a good idea. In fact, the day following the festivities the majority of the inhabitants surrounding Upperstone were rather worse for wear -- especially Lady Ellis, who had seen fit to imbibe rather too much wine following the successful meeting between her daughter and Arthur Harding. Rosalind herself was suffering from a slight headache, but that did not stop her from foraging in her father's library with the vain hope that there were new books. Unfortunately there were none.
As a result, she was forced to trek back up to her own room and hunt for one of her old favourites, and she was just about to delve into a collection of poems which had been long in her possession when she noticed the heavy, well bound volume which was sitting on her dresser. The book, as you might expect, was the one that Mr. Seymour had given to her before she had left London: A Complete Collection of Mr. Shakespeare's Works. It had not dawned on her that she had not read it, or even turned her attention to it since her visit to him, and so now she was resolved on reading as much as she could and exorcising her demons regarding that gentleman. If he did not want to see her then she would do her best not to continually yearn for his presence. There was a smug feeling when she remembered Arthur and wondered, very briefly, what Mr. Seymour's reaction to the scholar would be.
She perused the index of the book and decided that she was in the mood to read some of the sonnets, and so flicked to the page on which they started. Her father, or rather her father after her mother had talked to him, had forbidden her from reading too much Shakespeare, and now she took guilty pleasure in surveying the whole thing. There were, of course, many of the sonnets that she had read before, but as she turned another page she came across one that, along with not having read, had been written around.
It was Sonnet twenty nine, and as she came across it she began to read it out loud:
When, in disgrace with
fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
She finished and, curious about the writing that surrounded it, took the book over to the window so that there would be enough light for her to decipher the scrawls. What had been written, was written in minuscule, narrow scribbles and she had to strain her eyes to make it out. That it was Mr. Seymour's comment, she was sure.
Rosalind, I understand that I have behaved infamously towards you. Please forgive me, for I did not mean to do so. Perhaps this sonnet, one of Shakespeare's best I believe, will allow you to delve into my feelings. And if not, there is always Byron.
She laughed at that last comment, he knew her so well -- and, she supposed, was not as worried about her infatuation with Lord Byron's work as some were. Her mother had suddenly decided to move the books further from her daughter's room, and Byron's were the ones placed at the greatest distance away. She re-read the sonnet, worked out its meaning, what it meant for her, and she soon came to the conclusion that perhaps she had not forgotten Mr. Seymour as much as she thought she had.
And she hoped desperately that he had not forgotten her.
The next morning was fine and warm and the perfect day for a picnic, or so the whole party concluded. All of the Harding boys were there -- with George looking handsomely bored and Quentin eyeing up the picnic basket. Arthur was to accompany the ladies in the carriage and he appeared quite thrilled with that, the prospect of spending more time with Rosalind exciting him and making him look forward to the picnic more than he would have usually. Maude was in similar good spirits and Rosalind saw that she had gathered quite a court around her -- the Miss Lowries, Miss Jennifer Mellor and Miss Emilia Torrows. She herself, was reluctant to be in this crowd and it was then that Arthur came to her rescue when they descended from the carriage, offering her his hand and proposing that she come with him to pick some fruit. They were all to do so, but as George was attracted to the ladies and Quentin to the food, they would no doubt be around Maude.
Arthur and Rosalind, after filling a basket to about half full, wandered off. "You seem to be quite different from any other woman of my acquaintance," he commented to Rosalind's surprise.
"Do you think so?"
"Yes. Any other female would have been pestering George."
"Well, I do like men who have some brains between their ears." Then she realized what she had said and who she had said it to. Bringing her hand up to her mouth, she began apologising profusely. "Oh, I did not mean ... Please do not be offended!"
He merely laughed at her comment about his brother, confessing that he thought much the same himself. "Before I went to University, I always wished that I had intellectuals with whom I could converse. My parents are the best sort of people but neither of them is interested in physics theories or Roman myths, my brothers are not much different, and Maude..." he looked fondly over at his sister, "She enjoys balls and fashion and flirting."
"She is like my cousin, I fear."
"That is not a good thing?"
"It depends on the occasion." She did not elaborate, consumed with the fear that she would insult yet another member of his family. "Maude is very good-hearted, I'm sure."
"You've only known her a few days!" She just smiled and her mind was thrust back to the beginning of her acquaintance with Mr. Seymour -- they had only known each other for two weeks but he had left his mark on her. Thankfully, Arthur dropped this topic of conversation and proceeded to discuss the differences between the countryside here and it in Cambridge, which he had just recently vacated. "It is much wilder up here, it feels more natural. I think it's in my blood -- the hills, the lakes, the sheer beauty of it all."
"So you prefer it?"
"I do. The South feels ... superficial," he glanced at her and she found herself looking up with interest. It was so very strange to find someone who loved his home and was as loyal to the North as he appeared to be. And it was such a change from the opinions of those persons who delighted in London parties that she couldn't help but like him all the more for it. "It is pleasant, do not mistake me, but I always believe that there is no soul there. And one's home must have a soul."
"Will you stay here, then?"
"I would hope so. Father has given me the run of the place -- I'm effectively in charge."
Rosalind was confused, "But you are the youngest."
"George was near enough disowned five years ago -- and he doesn't want anything to do with the Estate. When my parents die, he will get the house in London and that is all that he wants. I dare say he will throw away the money he has on gaming tables and loose women." He recollected who he was talking to. "That was not proper for me to speak of such things to you. I apologize."
"And what about your other brother?"
"Well, Quentin is not my brother by blood. He is a cousin and his parents died when we were young. Please do not say any of this to anyone. My family would not be pleased that I have been telling you about our troubles." He seemed genuinely alarmed and she reassured him that there was nothing further from her thoughts. "Thank you, Miss Ellis."
"Arthur! Rosalind! Are the both of you going to eat today or are you more concerned with mooning over each other?"
"We're coming Maude!" Arthur and Rosalind strolled back to the party and discovered that someone had set everything out just right. "And we weren't..."
"Oh yes you were, dear brother. Rosalind, I assure you it's quite unusual because Arthur has never taken an interest in any other female, although I have tried to get him to!" She twittered and soon a cacophony of giggles had broken out from the other girls. She happened to lock gazes with George and saw him roll his eyes at the behaviour, and the curiosity that had been growing in Rosalind's mind since she had heard that he had nearly been disowned, heightened. He noticed her and gave her a cheeky grin, and his smile was so infectious that she couldn't help but grin back.
The picnic was soon thoroughly under way and the sandwiches were well on their way to being fully consumed when Maude mentioned London again, to the annoyance of her eldest and youngest brothers. "But it is not fair! I do so long to go there again -- and so does Emilia! Can you not take us, George?"
"No, I cannot."
"Why not? We should not be in your way!"
"Yes you would. I know perfectly well that even if our parents let you come, you would be forever pestering me to take you to Almack's or some other tedious evening."
"You are so detestable! And I know that Arthur would not even consider the matter, for he is always a stickler for propriety, and he would be such a bore and would be continually reciting some awful Latin stuff."
"Glad to know that you love me, sister," Arthur said while munching more food. The other 'brother' Quentin had long since abandoned any attempt at conversation and was now sprawled around the picnic basket.
"Or maybe if I persuade Rosalind to go then you will go! Because you have done nothing else but talk of her since you met her."
George interrupted her, "Maude, that's quite enough. Leave Miss Ellis in peace."
"Oh have you got my other brother in your toils too, Rosalind?" Maude asked good-naturedly. Rosalind coloured, trying to deny the allegation, but George got there first. Why was he defending her? Protecting her, almost. "Lord, you are all of you such bores! I thought that you George would have been a little bit livelier as you've just returned from London -- think of all the information, all the rumours you could have told us! But no! You are silent and sullen and I am starting to think that you do not care for me anymore!" There were tears starting to form, but Rosalind was not sure if they were genuine. However, she decided to play peace-maker and attempted to find a topic which would interest everyone. Failing that, she fell back on what Maude had just said.
"You were in London, Mr. Harding? So was I, until about a month ago."
"So my sister has informed me. Repeatedly."
"Do you reside there?"
"Most of the time. My friends live in that area, you see."
"And his opera dancers," accused Maude, still in something of a bad humour. George glared at her for introducing such a subject in this company. "I am not so green as to be ignorant of opera dancers, or ballet dancers or whatever takes men's fancies. Rosalind, on the other hand, is quite innocent of these things: she is only eighteen!"
"And you are only twenty, my dear, so I beg you not to act as though you were a dowager."
Did Mr. Seymour have an opera dancer? She supposed that most men must -- her father, she was sure, had gone elsewhere for his pleasure: although that was an unpleasant thought. Surely Mr. Seymour would have had one.
"I am not as innocent as you make out."
Maude laughed. "Yes you are, and you're a darling for it! La! She did not even know if she had met a rake!" All the other girls laughed, Arthur looked displeased and George curious. "Were there no gentleman who took your fancy? I do declare that London would be positively boring without any suitors." She suddenly had a dreamy look about her.
"Some women might find it liberating."
"Oh do be quiet Arthur!" Maude stuck her tongue out at her brother in a very childish manner and crossed her arms about her chest. "Every woman wants a suitor! They are such fun! Isn't that right Jennifer?" The girl nodded furiously. "See!" She sat back triumphantly. "But wait! Perhaps Miss Ellis did have a suitor after all, for I do remember Arthur moping about briefly after he had met you and waffling about some man ... what was his name? Oh bother! Arthur tell me! No, wait, I have remembered! Mr. Seymour! He sounds very mysterious, Rosalind." Rosalind did not care if the name Seymour sounded mysterious because at that point she was concentrating far more on not giving her feelings away.
"Seymour? Alexander Seymour?" asked George, to Rosalind's surprise.
"Yes," she managed. "Do you know him?"
"Know him?" he laughed, "He is one of my closest friends -- excellent gambler: damned lucky fellow."
"Well, is he handsome? Is he rich?"
"Yes, to both your questions Maude, I suppose. He owns an estate in Scotland somewhere, and has another in the South." Rosalind blushed, remembering what she had said to Mr. Seymour regarding his finances the last time she had met him. Evidently, that was not one of her more insightful moments. "Women fall at his feet." He stared at Rosalind as if he was trying to make her character out, "But Miss Ellis, you do not look like the falling type."
"I am not. Mr. Seymour was a friend of my father, and he shared my interest in poetry. Nothing more." George, she could tell, believed that she was not telling him the truth, but to her relief he kept quiet.
"Well, I suppose we should be heading home," came the solid voice of Arthur after that little discussion. To Rosalind's inexperienced ears he sounded disappointed. To George's more knowledgeable ones, he was clearly jealous and annoyed.
Many delightful picnics and outings followed that first one, only without some of the tittering girls that had accompanied them then. Arthur was as kind and as attentive as always, and Rosalind was startled to find that there were times when there was nothing she wished more for than to be in his company. She hoped that he did not know this, for it was surely a very embarrassing thing to admit to. Of course, her soul still yearned for Mr. Seymour occasionally, but the friendship she had built up with Arthur went some way to make up for it.
It was now three months since they had left London and it was well into autumn when Mr. Harding returned from a visit to London. He had arrived when Rosalind was paying a visit to his sister and Arthur, and more shocked the two could not have appeared. Apparently, George had not been expected for another month but all these considerations were forgotten about, on Maude's part at least, when he told them of the presents he had brought back for them. This, as was explained to Rosalind, was customary as Maude would go on about her desire to visit the town unless she received something very elegant and expensive. She laughed when Arthur related this to her in an extremely solemn voice but with a glint in his eye which encouraged her to believe he was not completely in earnest.
"George! How lovely it is to see you again! Now, where is my gift?" Maude sounded so child-like then that it was impossible to hate her greed. Her brother looked down at her and patted her on her shoulder.
"Would you wait until I've been in this house above a minute!" He exclaimed.
"You have been in the house over five minutes, so I do not know what you complain about."
"Maude, you really are the most annoying creature ever created! Arthur, I hope that you do not expect a present at this very moment."
"Indeed not, I will allow you another few minutes until I descend on you." It was at this point that George noticed Rosalind and he bowed, quite formally, to her. She was surprised by this behaviour but did not show her shock, Maude was not so reserved.
"Lord! Why do you behave like that to dear Rosalind? I dare say she does not expect such manners. Not from you anyway."
"I am sorry, Miss Ellis. I will refrain from such politeness in future at my sister's insistence." The cold in his eyes melted and once again he regarded her as he used to before he had went to London. "I do so hope you forgive me. I would be quite inconsolable."
"I am sure, Mr. Harding."
"Oh, forget about that! Where is my present? I hope you have bought me something that no one else around here is likely to have. For only last week I discovered that Miss Evans had the same shawl as me and I was quite distressed by it."
"Oh yes she was, George. She was forced to take to her bed. Quite overcome with grief."
"Arthur you are the detestable creature. I do not know what Rosalind sees in you!" George, eager to veer off this subject, ran out of the room and hurried back a few minutes later with a small bundle of presents. "Oh George! I knew that you would not forget!"
"You would have made his life unbearable if he had, Maude." Maude ignored her brother and proceeded to snatch the largest gift from her elder brother's hand, and launched herself in a most undignified manner upon the sofa.
"Oh George! It is delightful! I just know that it will become me very well." She paraded around the room holding the dress that George had bought her. "Do not you think so Rosalind? And the material is exquisite as well."
"It had better be," Rosalind thought she heard George mutter. She idly wondered how much a dress like that had cost. It was true that it was a very pretty gown, but she did not see what Maude saw in it to worship. "I was informed that a Marchioness had worn something similar recently. It was quite the talk of London."
"A Marchioness? Oh how fantastic! Now I shall be able to tell all my friends about it, and how I shall adore seeing Lucy Evans' face when I turn up in it. She will be quite vexed, I do declare. Don't you agree Rosalind?"
"Oh yes. I should think that she would be." Rosalind, in truth, quite agreed with her friend in this instance. Lucy Evans was one of those girls that she couldn't help but despise; she had all of Maude's greed and vanity, but none of the endearing characteristics which were found in abundance in the other girl. As a result, she had become regarded as the most detestable and rude girl that was ever raised in these parts.
"I suppose you'll be wanting your gift now, brother," said George, before chucking a book at Arthur whose eyes gleamed when he read the title. It was soon after explained, in very hurried and reverent tones, that he had been searching for this book for months but had never been able to find it. Suffice to say, it did not take him long to forget his guest and immerse himself completely in the volume, which Rosalind was quite able to understand.
While both of the younger Hardings were engaged inspecting their gifts, George wandered over to Rosalind and asked her if she would like to take a walk with him around the house. She consented with curiosity, and soon they were gone -- their words of parting lost on occupied ears.
"Did you want to talk to me about something, Mr. Harding? You gave me the impression that you did," she said, after they had walked in silence for a few minutes.
"I did, Miss Ellis. Do you remember that I said that I knew Alexander Seymour?"
"Yes, you informed me that you were particular friends with Mr. Seymour."
"I am. I was in his company while I stayed in London." She desperately wanted to ask about him. Was he well? Had he recovered from the injuries he had sustained from Mr. Blakely? Did he miss her? "And I discovered something which is quite unusual in my friend. He was quite out of spirits, not for brief periods as could be expected from anyone, but there was a general sadness about him." Rosalind's worry for Mr. Seymour heightened.
"You do not suspect that he would-"
"No. No, you mistake me. Alex is not in that bad a state."
"Thank the Lord."
He smiled down at her, and she thought for a moment that he had knowledge of what had happened between his friend and herself. "Quite. I do not think I could bear it if such a man as he were to be reduced to ... to what he should not be."
Rosalind mustered up the strength to ask something which she strongly suspected would lead to avenues that she did not wish to travel down. "And the cause of his melancholy? Were you able to ascertain that?"
"Miss Ellis, there are only two reasons for a man to be dispirited -- and they are gambling and women. Since I have it on good terms that Alex has not lost much money via horses or cards, I must suppose it to be the latter."
"Indeed. Can you imagine who it would be? For I cannot. I merely wondered if he had met any women when he was visiting your father."
She was flustered, "Well ... that is ... I do not ... I cannot ... Perhaps Duchess Waterson? They are very intimate, I believe."
"What? Trudie? No, heaven forbid. Alex and Trudie are friends and nothing more, no matter how many times society links them."
"Then I have no ... no idea at all who this woman is who has ... who has ... affected Mr. Seymour in this way."
"Are you sure?"
"I am certain that I have not seen him with any woman who you cannot have considered."
"What about yourself?" Rosalind halted, but George, who had hold of her arm, continued and so she was forced to quicken her pace to catch up with him.
"Me? And Mr. Seymour? But I am only eighteen, seventeen when I first saw him. No, no you must be in error."
"I must be, indeed. And so must Trudie," he paused, "And your father and mother. Perhaps even your cousins. Your father left London because of Alex, didn't he?"
"No! He left, he left because the steward was ill and-"
"And Alex discovered some gentleman-like blood in him to realise that the relationship between you and he should not continue."
"How do you-?"
"He talks." This time George stopped walking and turned to face Rosalind. "He misses you." Her heart softened towards Mr. Seymour, but was hardened when she remembered some of their last conversation.
"Well, he does not want to see me. He told me so - 'You must leave me at once, leave and do not seek me out again!'. Those are his exact words! It is his own fault that he ... that he suffers so."
"Don't cry, woman!"
"I am not crying!"
"Of course not. Your eyes are watering. How foolish of me!"
"I can now see why you are a friend of Mr. Seymour!"
"Why, thank you. The highest compliment I could be paid, I am sure." He waited until her eyes had stopped watering and then asked her, with the utmost sincerity. "Do you care for Alex?"
She did not pause to consider the matter. "Yes."
"Do you care for my brother?"
"Yes. He has been so kind...so very kind. And he is all that is amiable and good-tempered."
"Then, my dear Miss Ellis, I foresee some very difficult decisions for you in the future." He gazed up at the sky, "But come! It is going to rain, we must venture back to the house." And so he grasped her hand and led her towards his home.
The turmoil which George's words had caused was far from what he had expected. He had supposed that his words would cause her to rethink her behaviour with his brother, but in truth she had become quieter and it was easy to see that she worried more. In fact, she rarely came out with them. It was on the tenth day of this that Arthur resolved to do something about it.
"Please, my Lord, I must see her!"
"Really? And why is that?"
"She has not been to visit us in many days, and it is my firm belief that something awful has happened to make her behave like this. She is not usually-"
At this point Lord Ellis interrupted and said coldly, "I am perfectly aware of my daughter's habits, Mr. Harding. She is, after all, my daughter." Such words might have put off less ardent suitors than Arthur, but he just stared at Rosalind's father with a mixture of contempt and anger.
"Well if you do know her so very well, then tell me what has affected her in such a way!"
"She is a woman," he said, taking a drink of wine, "And the mind of a female is an incomprehensible place, and somewhere I do not wish to explore."
"Remember, she is your child! It is your duty to look after her."
"And remember, boy, that you are merely the youngest son of a baronet, and I am a Baron. Think of your place before you dare to speak to me again." He rose and stormed to the door, ushering Arthur out of the room and out of his house. It was not in Lord Ellis' character to listen to fledglings who presumed to know more than he did, and especially in the hours before noon.
"I am concerned. We are all concerned, that is all."
"Very well. Set your worries to rest, Mr. Harding, Rosalind has received some unwelcome news from London."
Arthur appeared doubtful, but the thunderous expression on the other man's face was enough to let him temporarily accept this excuse. All the same, he missed Rosalind, missed her conversation and her smile and everything about her. Maude might tease him about becoming soft-hearted but he truly believed that in Miss Ellis he had found his equal and a wife, if she would have him. She was young, he knew, but so was he: surely they could learn together, travel all life's paths with courage and love and wisdom.
Lord Ellis waited until Arthur was a long time out of his house before venturing up to his daughter's rooms. Contrary to what he had said to his young guest, he did not know what was the matter with her and was, in fact, extremely worried about her behaviour. She had never been this quiet before, and she had certainly never locked herself in her room and refused to see anyone as she had done for the past three days. He didn't hold out much hope that she would admit him freely this time, but he must persevere.
"Rosalind? Rosalind, let me in."
"I am sorry, father, but I am not accepting visitors today. I find myself quite out of sorts."
"Stop trying to imitate your mother! I do not need the two of you plaguing me." He waited several minutes but there was no sign that she was ready to admit him, as such, he decided upon another tactic. "Arthur Harding has just called to see how you are."
"I know. I saw him. His teal coat is very fine, don't you think?"
His lordship chuckled, "Am I to understand that you have locked yourself up because of love? I have long suspected that there is something between you and Harding. Well, why should you be so out of spirits? It is not the best match you could have made, but I would be delighted to have that boy as a son."
That produced a sob from his daughter which was heard through the door by Lord Ellis. It confused him even more, for he had thought that his daughter was enamoured with Harding, and he -- as he had shown this morning -- with her. Then a horrible and sickening thought arose unbidden in his mind. "Are your hysterics in any way to do with Seymour?" There was a clear pause before she spoke in reply.
"Rosalind, let me in! The servants will hear everything and I am sure that you do not wish to be the subject of kitchen gossip!" Again, it seemed as though his attempt had failed. Then, with red eyes and an unhappy demeanour, she opened the door.
"You see, I am well." Her tone, however, contradicted those words.
"Do not try to fool me, daughter." Rosalind sat back down on her bed and turned her gaze towards the carpeted floor, her eyes momentarily hypnotised by the swirling designs until her father spoke again. "So this is to do with Seymour. I should have known! I was a fool to introduce you to him. Please tell me what happened."
"There is nothing to tell."
"That last evening in London, when your mother and I went out, did you see him?"
"And did he ... did he take any liberties?" He did not like having to ask his only daughter these sorts of things, but he must know -- it would ease his concerns if nothing else, for even if it was the worst scenario imaginable, he could fix it.
"I do not know what you mean."
"Did he. .. Rosalind, I do not wish to ask this ... did he kiss you?" She blushed and once again looked at the floor. That was enough for Lord Ellis to presume that Mr. Seymour had done that. The swine, after all that he had said about the need to remove Rosalind from his presence... "And did he do anything else?"
"Such as?" She was genuinely confused, for what else could have happened between herself and Mr. Seymour other than a kiss?
"Activities of a marital nature."
"We are not engaged, if that is what you mean. It would be all so much easier if we were though!" The last part of the sentence was more of a sob than comprehensible speech, and it only served to make both father and daughter more distressed.
"Easier? Rosalind, do not tell me, please do not. Are you with child?"
"Oh heavens no! Whatever gave you that idea?"
He was unable to think of an excuse which would not reflect badly on himself and so stayed silent. It was then that Rosalind took it upon herself to ask her father the question that she had been most curious about for months.
"Father, do you have an opera dancer?"
"Pardon?" He spluttered, and began to wonder if his daughter was as innocent as she had made out only a few moments ago. "How do you know of those women?"
"Oh, Maude told me. She says that every man has got an opera dancer, and the wife must forebear. Or celebrate. I can not remember which."
"Well Miss Harding should not be talking to you in such a way! And I suppose that damned George Harding was not shy of speaking of such things either."
"Oh, quite the opposite, I assure you. In fact, he tried to discourage his sister from saying anything about the matter. I suspect that he did not think it proper to talk of them."
"And he was quite right." Lord help him, he was agreeing with a dandy!
"He is a friend of Mr. Seymour," she said after a short pause. "What do you think of Mr. Arthur Harding, father?"
"That was unexpected!" He said and strode over to the chintz chair in front of the window. "He seems to be a very solid fellow, quite sensible."
"I think so too," Rosalind bit her lip, a terrible habit which her mother had often discouraged her from doing, with minimal success. "He is so very different to Mr. Seymour."
His lordship mulled this over for some considerable time. "Am I to believe that you care for both these men?"
"I do. And I am an awful creature for doing so! And George says that I must choose between them but I cannot, I cannot!" Lord Ellis waited until his daughter was quite recovered until he spoke.
"Have either of these men made a proposal?" She shook her head, and told him of what Mr. Seymour had ordered her not to do before they had left London. "So Seymour wishes to distance himself from you. Shame, if he was thinking marriage I believe I could have very much liked having him as a son-in-law. Oh well. Your mother expects Arthur Harding to propose any second. Your behaviour has quite put her out of sorts -- she too has confined herself to her rooms. I have peace, you see." Rosalind smiled.
"I think I may pay a visit to Maude once my appearance has recovered sufficiently." She stated, having realised that a man about to propose was better than a man who had thrown her away from him.
"Oh yes, because it is Miss Harding for whom you wish to look your best," he mocked good-naturedly.
"I dare say that Mr. Arthur Harding would not mind if you were covered in mud if you came to see him."
This time she could not protest. She just looked forward to seeing the Hardings again and being able to face George with the knowledge that she had made a decision.
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