Felicity Kearney had nothing to complain about. She was almost nineteen, excessively pretty, had an enviable fortune, a loving family, and had just been the toast of London in her first exciting season. In disposition Felicity took after her name. She was happy and carefree, and enjoyed life immensely. She flirted and was frivolous and highly entertained by the foibles of society. In fact it would have surprised most people to know that on the inside Felicity was earnest and staunch, had deep abiding interests and a good deal of common sense. She just found it more diverting not to exhibit these qualities for all to see.
But despite her happy outlook on life, and the wonderful season she had just enjoyed to the fullest, Felicity found herself left with a niggling sense of disappointment. All the gaieties of London had been delightful on the surface, but somewhat hollow, if truth were told.
After the season ended, Felicity and her family retired to their country estate until the time for her brother Gilly's wedding to Lady Cynthia drew near. She was invited with him as a guest at the Hoxentrough's country house in Kent. She was prepared for a fortnight of consummate boredom, for Lord and Lady Hoxentrough were well known for their utter dullness. Lady Cynthia, however, was full of verve, but she was horse-mad. This was a good thing for Gilly, a member of the four horse club and something of a nonpareil when it came to anything equestrian, but the thought of all the equine conversations that were in store for her during the fortnight visit was almost enough to bring on a fit of the dismals. To escape the harps, horses, and hounds, Felicity took to walking in the country lanes and sitting upon farmers' gates, gazing at grazing sheep and meditating not only upon the beauty of the countryside, but also her expectations. Or lack thereof.
On one such outing her musings were interrupted by a polite cough. She had been so lost in thought she had not heard the approach of a horse and rider. She looked up. Before her was a large horse and a tall man silhouetted against the late afternoon sun. The surprise of suddenly seeing him looming over her sent a thrill of fear through Felicity and caused her to start.
"I am sorry to disturb your solitude," said the rider, "but this is my gate that I need to go through."
"I do beg your pardon," she said, nervously hopping down and stepping aside.
The gentleman got off from his horse but made no move to open the gate. He was not quite so tall or imposing as Felicity had first imagined and she instantly relaxed.
"What was it you were pondering so deeply? You looked terribly serious and quite in another world."
Felicity laughed. "It is not often that I am accused of being serious," she rejoined.
"That does not answer my question," he said with a twitch of his lips. "Or am I being too inquisitive on such a short acquaintance?"
Felicity was about to answer with a fatuous sally, but then, encouraged by the friendly expression of the gentleman's brown eyes, she let out a sigh. "I have just completed my first season, and it was almost everything that I could have wished for. The finest gowns, invitations to all the best places, balls, dinner parties, musical evenings, the theatre. I was all the crack and had dozens of charming beaux dangling after me. I danced and flirted and was gay and merry."
"But something was missing?"
"Yes, and it is not that my best friend and my brother and numerous other acquaintances are all either betrothed or married now, and I am not. I had many opportunities that I did not take. I blush to think of all the proposals I refused." She said this with a twinkle, and no blush at all.
"Marriage is not a step to be taken lightly."
"No. And if you actually saw some of the fellows who proposed to me, you will understand why I am still single!"
He laughed. "Well I, for one, am glad that you are still single, even if you are not."
"That is very gallant of you sir. But it is not really my single state that has put me in such a brown study, but rather the lack of anyone of substance that I would seriously want to throw my cap at. And by substance," she said with an earnest look, "I do not mean income." And then she did blush, realising her remarks were not of a nature to be shared with a perfect stranger. She wondered what had got into her, but the gentleman did not appear at all phased by her indiscretion.
"I never supposed you did," he replied with a smile. "You do not have the appearance of a gazetted gold digger."
She laughed to cover up her embarrassment and reverted to her usual frivolity. "Well that is my sad history! I apologise for keeping you from your business. Did you not want to go through this gate?"
"Yes I did," he said, approaching it. "But for the life of me I cannot remember why. Are you staying with Lord and Lady Hoxentrough? May I call on you?"
"You may," she said, and watched as he walked his horse through the gate and closed it behind him. He then mounted, and tipped his hat to her before he cantered off down the lane.
As she turned to walk back to the manor, she realised that they had not even exchanged names, however she did not expect that to be an impediment. He had very accurately guessed where she was staying. She gazed happily across the fields of ripening corn, thinking that things were looking up.
As they were in the country, dinner was served early. Felicity arrived back with barely enough time to dress for dinner, but managed to join the rest of the company in the drawing room before the gong went at six. Lord Hoxentrough was a stickler for punctuality so it didn't do to be late.
At the dinner table, talk settled around Gilly and Lady Cynthia's plans for their honeymoon.
"I do not understand the need to go anywhere at all," Lady Hoxentrough said. "So much better to be here at home."
"Maude, they would not be coming here after the wedding at any event." Lord Hoxentrough took a sip of wine, but as it was obvious from his demeanour he had not finished speaking, everyone politely waited for him to continue. "As you know they will be residing at Rivermead with Mr Kearney's family until their own estate has been purchased."
"But we mean to go to Brighton for our honeymoon, mother," said Lady Cynthia. "Not anywhere far away like the continent."
"The continent!" said Lady Hoxentrough in a shocked tone. "So dangerous, what with Napoleon and all!"
"The peace treaty was signed months ago," said Gilly. "It is perfectly safe. Our good friends Lord Rupert and Lady Amelia have gone to Paris and mean to travel all the way to Venice."
"I wouldn't put it past them," said Lord Hoxentrough. "They appear quite a harem-scarum couple. But neither of you would contemplate anything so lacking in judgement."
They both assured him that the thought would never enter either of their minds.
"I would dearly love to see Italy!" said Felicity. "Florence in particular."
"My dear girl," said Lord Hoxentrough. "Travel is overrated. You should not like it if you were to go. The noise and dust. The constant bouncing about in poorly sprung carriages on rough roads. And the inns are deplorable."
"I have heard the bedding is never aired," added his good lady.
Felicity sighed, knowing better than to continue the subject. Her hosts were capable of supporting their point with detailed accounts of the sad experiences abroad suffered by numerous friends and relatives. "I met a gentleman on my walk today."
"Was it Mr Swithin, the clergyman? He often likes to stroll among the lanes while constructing his sermons."
"He was on horseback."
"Not Swithin, then," said Lord Hoxentrough. "He never rides. Has no seat at all, so it is for the best. Who did he say he was?"
"He did not tell me his name."
"Most irregular. Did not properly introduce himself, and you say he was a gentleman?"
"Decidedly. He was youngish, and dark haired, and about my brother's height."
"Young people!" said Lord Hoxentrough, as if his youth explained everything. "It must have been Sir Albert. The Farnham estate neighbours ours."
"Oh yes." Lady Hoxentrough, lowered he voice and tinged it with a layer of compassion. "The poor soul lost his father recently. He has just come out of mourning."
"So that would explain why I did not see him in London during the season."
"Yes." Lord Hoxentrough cleared his throat. "It was a very bad business. The father was thrown from his horse. Would have been crippled had he survived, so it was almost a blessing. Albert became the next baronet at only four and twenty. Has a younger brother too - holds the living for the next parish. Before the tragedy Sir Albert had been casting after our Cynthia, but that put an end to it. Would have been nice to have her close to home."
"Father!" cried Lady Cynthia, blushing furiously. "I was never interested in Albert Farnham."
"Sir Albert, now," corrected her mother. "It would have been a good match, but Mr Kearney is a very nice boy."
"I am glad you think so, Ma'am," said Gilly, with a wink at his betrothed.
"Well whoever he was," said Felicity, "he said he would call, so we shall see when he does if it was this Sir Albert or not."
"Made another conquest so quickly?" teased Gilly.
Felicity sensibly ignored him, and Lord Hoxentrough took over the conversation for the remainder of the meal, discussing at great length all the people of his acquaintance who had been thrown from horses and the varying results of these falls. He did not fail to delve into the reasons for the falls, either, which mostly happened, in his estimation, through the inability of the riders in question.
It was difficult for a young lady with such high spirits as Felicity to be contented with the slowness and dullness of company as was to be had at Riplea Manor, the Hoxentrough home, so it is small wonder that she set so much in store by the chance meeting with the unknown gentleman the previous day. That he was in all probability Sir Albert Farnham of the neighbouring estate made him all the more interesting - young, handsome, and eminently eligible, if everything that Lady Hoxentrough had said the last evening was to be believed and embroidered upon. And she had said a lot, though most of it was highly repetitious. Though just a baronetcy, the estate was large, well managed, and very profitable and the Farnham family was quite well to do. When Felicity had so rashly said that it was difficult to encounter a gentleman of true substance in society, she had been referring mainly to character, but somehow social status was also a defining factor. And social status included income as well as rank. She had no interest in marrying a poor man, however charming, and knew her family would frown on it as well. There were too many tales of heiresses who had run off with dilletante younger sons or dancing masters, in the throes of undying passion, to have it all end badly, for her not to understand the serious problems that disparity in fortune and station could bring.
No, she was very happy with the idea of Sir Albert Farnham. In looks, manner, and breeding he was all that any young lady could wish for. His eyes had displayed intelligence, humour, and kindness. All that day Felicity walked about the grounds of Riplea, creating elaborate daydreams in which Sir Albert figured prominently and by the end of the evening she was almost half in love with the fictitious Sir Albert of her creation. It was only to be hoped that the real Sir Albert could live up to all of her imaginings, and by dinnertime she was sincerely wondering if it were at all possible. The paragon that she had envisioned would have been much more prompt in paying his promised call.
The next day, after nuncheon, the entire party was in the drawing room discussing minute details of the upcoming wedding when Sir Albert was announced. Felicity looked towards the door in anticipation and was rewarded with the sight of the very same gentleman she had met two days before. Dressed for visiting, he looked even more handsome than she had remembered him, which given her imaginings
since the occasion of their meeting, was no small feat indeed.
Sir Albert straightaway greeted Lord and Lady Hoxentrough, then looked meaningfully over to Felicity.
"I believe you may have met our guest informally the other day," said Lord Hoxentrough, "but I understand you did not exchange names. Sir Albert, this is Miss Kearney, the sister of our Cynthia's betrothed. Miss Kearney, this is Sir Albert whom I assume is the gentleman you met during your ramblings."
Sir Albert took her hand and bowed low over it, a conspiratorial grin upon his face. "So we meet again," he said.
"Indeed," said Felicity. "You ought have told me your name. You became the topic of quite some speculation."
"Then it is possible I did it on purpose to build some intrigue and make myself appear a much more interesting character."
"Whatever your reasoning," said his Lordship, "it was faulty. Much better to act with propriety and not enter into conversations with any of our young guests without a proper introduction first."
"I'll try to keep that in mind, sir,"
"He was not to know I was your guest, Lord Hoxentrough," said Felicity, rising to Sir Albert's defense. "I could have been visiting any number of local families."
"Nonsense! A young lady of your stamp could only have walked from either of the two estates, and I presume Sir Albert would have known if you were visiting at his own home."
"I do not think Miss Kearney is someone I could have overlooked." Sir Albert's glance was quite saucy and Felicity smiled warmly back at him.
After this exchange, Sir Albert continued on to greet Lady Cynthia and Gilbert Kearney who were off to one side and very engrossed in each other's company. All the polite formalities completed, he took a seat close by Felicity.
"How are you finding Kent?" he asked. "Not too slow for you?"
"After my hectic season in London it is actually a welcome respite," said Felicity.
"So I was correct in my assumption. I will see what I can do to relieve your boredom."
Felicity glanced towards Lady Hoxentrough, and then answered Sir Albert in a lowered voice. "I did not say I was bored. You shall put me in my hosts' bad books, insinuating such things."
He laughed. "I stand corrected. You are already vastly entertained and I will find all my further attempts at entertainment unnecessary - but I will persevere nonetheless."
Felicity tried to look prim, but could not help joining him in his laughter. "By all means persevere!"
Lady Hoxentrough took the next opportunity to ask Sir Albert after his mother, and then she suggested that all four young people take a turn in the garden as it was in full shade right now and the heat would have abated. They were all of them more than ready to take her up on the plan and in no time were strolling amongst the fragrant roses. Felicity and Sir Albert outstripped the lovebirds in a matter of moments, and soon found themselves in a Greek folly overlooking a decorative pond, effectively eliminating any sort of chaperone for either couple.
"Now that we are alone you may admit to your boredom!"
Felicity demurred but Sir Albert told her that he had not been close neighbours of Lord and Lady Hoxentrough all his life without realising the way the land lay.
"Lovely people but positively bland! And I am being overly polite!"
Felicity giggled. "You will not get me to disparage my hosts no matter what you might say."
"But I can tell we are in complete agreement."
"Just because I blabbered on like an ill-bred schoolgirl when we first met, does not mean that I am usually so indiscreet."
"Of course not."
"What I said could be construed as boastful, and somewhat shallow and I do hope you will forget every word of it."
"It will be as if I never heard it."
"Thank you," said Felicity gratefully. "I mean us to start fresh now - what I said of my London season can only be how enjoyable it was."
"Certainly. One musn't bemoan one's season, or whatever indiscreet thing you did say to me about it - that would be reprehensible."
Felicity leaned against a pillared railing and stared down at the pond. "Are there fish in there?"
"I should imagine so. And frogs. There is one on a lily pad over there - would you like me to catch it for you? You could kiss it to see if it will turn into a prince."
Felicity made a face at the idea of kissing a frog. "If you are truly interested in entertaining me and are in any way chivalrous, kiss the frog yourself and I can watch what happens."
"I can think of better things to kiss," he said lightly. He reached out over the water and plucked a water lily that was just opening up. "Shall we compromise with a flower?" He wrapped the wet stem in his handkerchief and handed it to her with a flourish.
Felicity held it up to her nose. "Thank you kind sir - it smells lovely."
"A fitting gift then."
There was a small silence as Felicity gave no answer. She felt things were moving a bit too fast and put it down to the dangers of having no chaperone. Such freedom could be exhilarating and cause one to forget oneself. She had certainly forgot herself on their first meeting. He was having a similar effect upon her today. "I wonder where my brother and Lady Cynthia have got to?" she finally said. "I think we ought try to find them."
Sir Albert nodded in agreement and reached for her hand, guiding her down the steps of the folly to the water's edge where he stood. They took a last lingering look at the pond and began strolling back towards the house. "You like gardens?"
"Very much. Less so the formal plantings, though. I enjoy big, blowsy flowers gone rampant, wild growing shrubs and windswept trees."
"Then you and my sister should get along admirably."
"You have a sister? All anybody mentioned was a younger brother."
"She is not yet out, which makes her all but invisible to Lord and Lady Hoxentrough."
"But surely Lady Cynthia could have mentioned her."
"Anne has no great interest in horses. She rides but there the fascination ends. You might have noticed that to catch Lady Cynthia's interest, horses must be your forte."
"So that is why you were unsuccessful in your pursuit of her!" Felicity said without thinking.
Luckily Sir Albert chuckled. "Shall we add that to your list of things best left unsaid? Your brother has fared much better, but I understand that his obsession is comparable to hers."
"Oh, he can go on and on! My poor friend Amelia was so patient with him whenever they were thrown together, but after a few minutes of his conversation I always noticed her eyes glazing over. It is as if Lady Cynthia was made to order for him."
"And I bear him no ill will. My interest was due to her beauty and my youth, and of short duration."
"You certainly do not appear to be pining away. I apologise for my rash comment - I am honestly trying to curb my impetuous nature - it gets me into too much trouble."
He laughed again. "How do Lord and Lady Hoxentrough deal with you?"
"I have been most circumspect around them. Now tell me more about your sister. Is she so very young?"
"Anne is seventeen, so really she should have come out already, but my father's death last year and the period of mourning postponed all that. My mother is bringing her out at the little season this winter. Would you like to meet her?"
"I should like that very much."
"Then I will ask my mother to issue an invitation."
Gilbert and Lady Cynthia rounded a flowerbed and joined up with them again. As the conversation turned to horses, they headed back to the house and Sir Albert made his farewells shortly after.
At breakfast the next morning, there was a letter at Felicity's place.
"You are becoming popular," said Lady Hoxentrough. "Soon we will be having the whole of the county besieging us."
"I do not expect so," said Felicity, opening the note. "It is from Lady Farnham, inviting me to visit tomorrow so that I may meet Miss Farnham. Sir Albert suggested it."
"That is very civil of Lady Farnham. I suppose this must mean she is bringing Miss Anne out soon."
"Oh yes. Sir Albert says she will come out at the little season this winter."
Lady Hoxentrough sniffed. "The little season! If I were her I would wait for next spring and the real season. Do it right. Have her presented at court."
"You ought go with Miss Kearney, my dear," said Lord Hoxentrough. "I am sure there is a lot of useful information you could impart to Lady Farnham to help her give Miss Anne a successful season."
"What a good idea. I am certain she would appreciate my guidance. It is little, helpful acts like this that forge the bonds of neighbourliness." She looked at Felicity. "I will write and accept the invitation on behalf of both of us. There is no need for you to do a thing."
Though Lady Hoxentrough was a trifle officious, Felicity did not mind. It spared her having to compose a note to someone she had as yet not met, and she supposed that, with Lady Hoxentrough along to hold all Lady Farnham's attention, she would have more time to make friends with Miss Anne Farnham.
After breakfast, as she did not expect visitors, Felicity asked for and received permission to go out for another walk in the lanes.
"But take care who you speak to," advised Lord Hoxentrough. "You were lucky that it was a gentleman as unimpeachable as Sir Albert whom you met last time. Of course Mr Swithin, the rector, would also be acceptable. The rest would be nothing more than members of the families of gentleman farmers or village riff-raff, and you do not want to waste your time on any of them."
Amelia agreed to do no more than nod to anyone that might be deemed unsuitable and set out on her way. The day was bright and warm. She took only a light shawl, and that only because Lady Hoxentrough had insisted upon it, and wore a fashionable straw bonnet with a large poke to protect herself from the sun. She did not tie her ribbons, but let them stream down to dance in the light breeze as she walked.
The hedgerows were full of wild roses, lifting their dainty pink faces to the sun. Meadows spotted with wooly sheep and the occasional oak spread out beyond the hedges, the drying grass sprinkled with late summer wildflowers. As much as she liked London during the season, Felicity was beginning to think that she liked the beauties of the country even more. Before her season, the country had begun to pall and all she had thought of were the glories to be found in Town. And as wonderful as the city was with all the festivity and sparkle, she discovered that the country had a true charm that she hadn't realised she had missed until now.
On a long straight stretch of lane, Felicity noticed a horse and rider coming towards her. With a smile she remembered Lord Hoxentrough's strictures about whom she ought or ought not acknowledge, but soon realised that she didn't have to worry about ignoring a worthy farmer when she recognised the rider to be Sir Albert upon the same horse as he had ridden when they had first met. As he drew near he reined in and dismounted, smiling as he did so. She was surprised that even in his country browns he has every bit as handsome, if not more so, than he had appeared on his visit to Riplea. What was it about the summer air in the country that was making everything more attractive to her?
"We meet again," he said as he came forward.
"Your very words the last time we met, sir!' she said with a smile. "How are you? Is this not a fine day?"
A fleeting look of confusion passed across his face and then he agreed that it was, indeed, a very fine day. "All the farmers hereabouts will soon be cutting their hay and harvesting their corn if this dry spell continues."
"They are as much in luck as us then! Oh, I am to visit with your mother and sister tomorrow - it is all arranged. Lady Hoxentrough will be coming too."
The look of confusion returned. "You know my mother and sister?"
"No, of course I have not met them yet. You asked your mother to write and invite me as you said you would yesterday. I know there were some things I asked you to forget, but I did not ask you to forget our entire meeting."
"I assure you, if I had visited you yesterday, I would remember." He groaned suddenly and looked up to the sky. "Just who was it you saw yesterday?"
Felicity couldn't help but wonder if Sir Albert were either mad or in his cups. It was early to have been drinking, and she did not smell spirits about him, but he was acting very strangely. Just her luck - her first impressions of him had been too good to be true, she supposed. "I saw you, of course, Sir Albert!" She backed away from him a little as she said it.
"And I recognised you?"
"Your very words were, 'so we meet again'. By that I should imagine you realised you had seen me before." Felicity spoke slowly and distinctly, hoping that taking a rational approach would be the best way to get through whatever was fogging his brain. "The very words you used when we met again today, actually."
"I see." He grinned ruefully and ruffled his hand through his hair. "And now I am acting as if I just escaped from an asylum."
"Somewhat," Felicity admitted with a blush. "Or have suffered some sort of memory loss," she conceded, in an attempt at politeness.
"So, refresh my memory. When we spoke yesterday did I tell you of any other siblings besides Anne?''
"You did admit to having a younger brother," she said helpfully. "Though Lord and Lady Hoxentrough had already told me of him."
"But no one could have told you very much about him, I think."
Felicity had no idea what importance Sir Albert's younger brother could have on clarifying his current mental state, but she decided it best to go along with him. "Only that he is younger than you and a clergyman with a living nearby. Well, that is what my hosts told me, you simply acknowledged his existence."
"At least a brother's existence was acknowledged."
He said this with a good deal of feeling. There was no bitterness in his voice, only resignation. Felicity looked up, waiting for him to say something that would make their conversation more understandable. His warm brown eyes were filled with candour and at that instant she knew there was nothing of madness or drink or memory loss contained there. Some other factor had contributed to their present confusion.
"What would you say if I were to tell you that Sir Albert's younger brother is only younger by one half hour? That in appearance we are identical? That I am actually Mr Andrew Farnham. That I am the one who encountered you sitting upon my gate a few days ago?"
"Twins!" Felicity's initial reaction was one of shock, but after a startled look and involuntary chuckle, other emotions began to arise. "Yes, that does explain our present confusion perfectly," she said, "But why did no one tell me? Your brother led me to believe he was the one . . . and I . . . oh! How mortifying! That was very unfair of him."
"It was," said Andrew Farnham kindly. "I am afraid that he has always enjoyed acting the part if he was ever taken to be me. When we were young it was his favourite sport. He meant no harm by it, if that is any consolation."
"Well he has chosen the wrong person to play his tricks upon this time!"
Andrew Farnham laughed. "You look like an avenging angel!"
"Tactfully put," Felicity returned. "My brother would have said spitfire!"
That only brought more laughter. "I am glad I am not in Albert's shoes."
"And take care not to be! It will be difficult enough for me to tell the two of you apart even without any deception going on."
"You may rest assured that I will never attempt to pass myself off as my brother to you or anyone."
Felicity smiled and thanked him. "And there is one other thing. I asked Sir Albert to forget the indiscreet comments I made at our first meeting, and he readily agreed to. I can see now it was easy for him to forget something he never knew, but I would ask you to do the same."
"I found our conversation perfectly charming - there was nothing improper in anything you said."
"Boasting of my conquests and talking of throwing my cap at gentlemen to a perfect stranger - you must have thought me a spoiled, empty-headed flibberty-gibbet."
"I thought you refreshing. A young lady who speaks what is truly on her mind - not many do."
"Well, whatever you may have thought, would you kindly forget the entire conversation?"
Andrew Farnham looked down at her and his brown eyes warmed even more. "It is impossible for me to forget what you said, on demand. The best I can promise is that I will never mention it to you again."
"I suppose I can expect no more," said Felicity with a sigh. "I will have to make an effort to curb my frivolous outbursts so as not to expose my shallow nature for all the world to see."
"Do not do so on my account. I like you just the way you are."
Felicity blushed. "I was not fishing for a compliment!"
Andrew Farnham gave her a long look and lightly said, "And I was not giving one."
When Felicity returned from her walk she had worked herself up into a state. She entered the drawing room to find a sedate grouping of the Lord and Lady and the betrothed couple sitting over their afternoon tea.
"Why did no one see fit to tell me that Sir Albert has a twin?" she asked the company at large.
Gilbert took one look at her heightened colour and flashing eyes and stifled his grin. Lady Cynthia simply stared.
"My Dear," said Lady Hoxentrough, "It does a young lady no credit to enter a drawing room like a hoyden and then barrage everyone with irrelevant questions. We were just discussing the placement of the garlands for the wedding breakfast."
"Begging your pardon, my Lady," Felicity said with visible restraint, "but this is not irrelevant. I have just now come from meeting Mr Farnham again. Yes, I say again because it was he I met the other day and not Sir Albert! And yet it was never suggested as a possibility that I may have met Sir Albert's 'younger' brother. His twin brother who looks exactly like him!"
"Miss Kearney you are overwrought!" said Lord Hoxentrough in a choked voice. "Sit down and have a cup of tea to steady your nerves."
"Yes, a nice cup of tea should do the trick," said her Ladyship.
Felicity sat and accepted a cup from Lady Cynthia, who was doing the honours.
"I am sorry, I never even thought," said Lady Cynthia. "I suppose we are all so used to it we forget that others don't know."
Felicity could not imagine how anyone could think such a thing. She would have thought that identical twins would be the first thing one would mention when trying to establish whom could be encountered in the neighbourhood. "And why did Sir Albert pretend he had met me when he must have known very well it was his brother I had met?"
"I am sure he was just being polite," said Lady Hoxentrough. "Such a lovely gentleman."
"I do not think it was politeness." Felicity took a gulp of her tea to try to calm herself. It was a good thing it was already rather cold when Lady Cynthia had poured it. "He did it for his own amusement!"
"There, there, no harm done," said Lord Hoxentrough. "If it were only Mr Farnham you met it is not the end of the world. He is a perfectly innocuous gentleman."
"He is a very personable and agreeable person, and he does not play tricks on one like his brother!" Felicity replied hotly in his defense.
"Yes of course, dear," said Lady Hoxentrough. "But he is not a baronet."
And that, Felicity realised, was the reason no one had made more than mention his existence as a younger brother. As a second son his lack of importance made him almost nonexistent .
Later, when Felicity was alone with her brother, an event that was quite rare since his betrothal, Gilly couldn't resist but tease her about the incident.
"I thought Lord H might suffer an apoplexy, his face became so red! And you, enacting Cheltenham tragedies all over the drawing room. I was hard pressed not to burst with laughter."
"I hate to speak ill of my hosts," said Felicity, "But they are as snobbish as they are boring."
"Can't be that snobbish. They accepted me and I have no title at all."
"You are rich as Croesus! And you belong to the four horse set!"
"Damme, that's true. And Lady Cynthia is mad about me - they never deny her what she most wants."
"You have become very smug since your engagement!"
Gilly chose to ignore this comment in favour of teasing his sister once more. "You seem very taken with this Mr Farnham. What shall you do about the baronet you already have on your line? Will you keep them both, one on each arm like a pair of matched bookends?"
"I feel like throwing Sir Albert back in the pond after what he did to me! Oh Gilly, you do not know how uncanny it is, they look so much alike."
"Seems to me you've got yourself in quite a pickle, sister dear," was Gilly's parting shot as he left her to dress for dinner.
Felicity couldn't help but agree with him.
When she and Lady Hoxentrough were shown in to the drawing room at Farnham Hall, the first thing Felicity noticed was the relaxed and comfortable hominess of the place. The furnishings were inviting, without the stilted ostentation of Riplea. Next, Felicity was struck by the friendliness of her hostess, Lady Farnahm, who stood and came forward with her hand held out and a most welcoming smile upon her face. She bore a distinct resemblance to the two sons, with her candid brown eyes and hair of the same dark shade as theirs, only touched at the temples with a frosting of silver.
"Lady Hoxentruogh, so kind of you to come. And this is your guest Miss Kearney whom I have heard so much about!"
Lady Farnham then introduced her daughter Anne, who had stood also and come forward in her wake. Anne Farnham was tall and fair, with large grey eyes and a friendly expression. Felicity was somewhat relieved to see that she looked nothing like her brothers. She did not think she could forebear another spitting image.
"My brother said you were extremely pretty, and it was no exaggeration," she said.
"Thank you." Felicity, though she was used to excessive compliments and admiration after her London season, blushed. "Which brother?" She asked.
"You have met both my brothers?" Anne looked at her quizzically and then said, "My goodness - no one prepared you, did they?"
Felicity giggled. "I was never more confused when I met Mr Farnham again yesterday, thinking he was Sir Albert. I really believed him to be a little mad."
"Yes, for it was he who I met initially. Then when Sir Albert came to call, of course I assumed he was the same person, and he did nothing to disillusion me."
"That was too bad of him!" cried Anne. "I will take him to task when next I see him."
"No, please," said Felicity. "Leave him to me."
"Better yet," said Anne conspiratorially.
All the ladies sat and conversed for twenty minutes, at which time the tea things were brought in. Felicity found it was just as she supposed. Lady Hoxentrough monopolised Lady Farnham with all her advice on bringing a daughter out, giving Felicity and Anne the opportunity to strike up a friendship. As both girls were open and unassuming, with happy dispositions, this was no trouble at all.
The tea things were closely followed by Sir Albert himself.
"Miss Kearney, I am very pleased to discover you here."
Felicity still found his similarity to his brother unnerving, and it made her feel uncharacteristically awkward. "You knew I would be here."
"Yes I did, but why should that knowledge negate my pleasure?"
"Indeed. I suppose the anticipation must have added to it," she replied saucily.
He grinned. "Tease me, taunt me, I do not mind. I have plenty of ammunition I can use against you from our first meeting."
"Ah, yes - our first meeting," said Felicity meditatively. "The one you promised to completely forget."
"Sometimes my memory is selective."
"So have you forgotten or remembered the exact spot me wet - when you helped me over that stile?"
"How could I forget that?"
"Yes it was too much for me to ask that of you, especially as you got such a good sight of my left ankle."
"My memory might need refreshing - could you show me the ankle again?"
Felicity looked coy. "I do not show gentlemen my ankles as a matter of course. It was inadvertent. As was the shocking comment I made afterwards. You know. The one I particularly asked you to forget?"
"I do remember forgetting it, shocking as it was!"
"You must agree it was a very improper thing to say to a stranger. I do not know what came over me. Possibly my proximity to such a handsome gentleman. I do have a tendency too say the first thing that pops into my head. But really - to intimate something so . . . what you must have thought of me!"
"I thought you quite a little minx!" Sir Albert appeared to be enjoying himself.
All this time Anne sat listening, her eyes getting wider and wider.
"A minx!" Felicity laughed silkily. "Oh, I do not think minx is quite the word to describe me. A little tame, if you know my meaning." She winked. "And what do you suppose I thought of you?"
"I can only hope I made as good of an impression," said Sir Albert in a voice that showed he imagined it could not possibly be otherwise.
"Well you certainly impressed me with your audacity."
"I did?" said Sir Albert in surprise, knowing it had been his brother she was referring to in reality, and not thinking Andrew could have done anything audacious, even if a beautiful stranger had flirted outrageously with him, as it appeared Miss Kearney had done. He only wished it had been himself, rather than his brother who had such a delightful interlude to forget. He looked over to his sister and then lowered his voice to a whisper that only Felicity could hear. "We ought to try it again to see what other ways I could impress you."
"Ought we?" asked Felicity. She turned to Anne. "Your brother thinks we should relive our first meeting again."
"Shocking!" said Anne, suppressing a giggle.
Sir Albert looked from one girl to the other in consternation. "You told Anne?"
"Oh yes. I told Miss Farnham everything. I mean to give her much useful advice about dealing with gentlemen, complete with enlightening anecdotes!"
"I can put them to good use during my season," said Anne, getting into the spirit of the thing.
"Miss Kearney! Anne!" Sir Albert was having trouble speaking. "You cannot have . . . but . . . you told her all?"
"Yes, Sir Albert. I told her All. All about our first meeting."
"I don't know what to say."
"For starters, you can apologise," said Anne.
He looked at his sister like she had sprouted two heads.
"Shall I remind you of our first meeting?" said Felicity. "It was in Lady Hoxentrough's drawing room. You pretended to have met me before. You walked in the garden with me and did nothing to enlighten me, though you had ample opportunity. When were you planning on telling me about your twin brother?"
"I . . . well . . ."
"And having met me and conversed with me on that occasion, how could you have possibly believed the Banbury story I just fed you?"
Sir Albert finally regained his equilibrium. "I admit that I thought such an interlude completely wasted on Andrew." And then he laughed. "Touche Miss Kearney - you truly bested me. I apologise most profusely."
"It will have to be more profuse than that," said Felicity. "You have a lot to answer for."
"I am sorry that I pretended that my brother had been me - sometimes I cannot help myself when I am presented with such a tempting situation."
"If you want to be my friend, you will have to learn how," said Felicity. "Promise me you will not deceive me so unkindly again."
"I promise. But I was only funning - there was no malice intended."
"Did you not think of how it could affect me? When I met your brother again yesterday I almost had him sent off to an insane asylum, we were at such cross purposes! It was most humiliating."
"How I should have liked to have witnessed that!"He laughed at the thought, but as Felicity's face began to darken with anger, he realised he had better change his tactics. "Forgive me! I truly am very sorry for putting you in such a position, for not telling you it was Andrew you met and not me. Can we start over again? Miss Kearney, I am Sir Albert Farnham and I have an identical twin brother whom you may have met. His name is Mr Andrew Farnham and he is a clergyman and quite a nice fellow. There, how is that? May we be friends again now?"
"I do not know if I want to be friends with someone who has such a low opinion of me as you appear to have."
"I have the highest opinion of you!" Sir Albert protested.
"Then how could you have believed that I would behave in such an immodest and provocative way?"
"You would rather I thought you a liar?"
Felicity turned to Anne. "Miss Farnham, is your brother always so incorrigible?"
"Unfortunately he is," she said. "It is a sad trial for his family."
"I feel for you greatly," said Felicity in a consoling manner.
Sir Albert chuckled. "Even though your tale was untrue, Miss Kearney, I still think you are a minx! An audacious minx."
"And you, sir, are no better!"
"Shall we call a truce?"
Felicity relented and agreed to forgive Sir Albert, though she knew that she would have to tread warily. He was certainly a gentleman not to be trusted, and much too charming and handsome for her own good.
That evening Felicity thought back upon the events of the past few days, which led her to ponder again her dissatisfaction over her London season. She had to accept that it was her attitude and behaviour that had contributed to the emptiness she had been left with when her intoxicating social ride had ended. She had come to Town and been lauded and the attention had gone directly to her head. She had held court and flirted with all the young bucks on the make, all the enterprising gentlemen on the catch, attracted by the honey of her fortune. It is small wonder that she did not meet someone 'of substance' as she had told Mr Farham. She had acted like a flighty feather-head. Her next season she would be more prudent. Certainly she would not behave like a bluestocking, or a demure miss, but she would be less frivolous and show a bit more sense.
She knew she was in sad want of self control. She too easily said the first rash thought that came into her head and it invariably landed her in trouble. Lord Albert was a case in point. She must truly have been behaving badly if he had believed the reckless tale she had told. She had only been trying to get back at him for his unfeeling treatment of her, but now he believed her to be an audacious minx. And for some reason, even though she was still quite put out with him, she wanted Lord Albert to think well of her. And she was certain that when his brother the clergyman got wind of her latest exploit, she would have lost all credit with him.
She sighed as she rolled fitfully in bed, hoping sleep would soon come. It was all very well to make resolutions about changing her ways - putting them into practice would be another thing entirely.
Plans had been made to go riding as a group - the betrothed couple, Anne, Sir Albert and herself. After breakfast Felicity and Lady Cynthia went upstairs directly to change into their riding habits. Half an hour later they joined Gilly at the stables, the horses all saddled and ready, and another fifteen minutes took them to the assigned meeting place at the edge of the Farnham estate. Sir Albert and his sister were very timely, arriving at the gate to open it as they rode up.
"I know you would probably much rather jumped the fence, Lady Cynthia," Sir Albert said as he closed the gate with a flourish.
"There will be other fences for me to have my way with," said Lady Cynthia.
"Then may I suggest a race to that far oak?" he said, pointing to a large, spreading tree two fields over.
Gilly and Lady Cynthia took him up on the challenge immediately with Anne not far behind. Felicity was about to spur her horse on when Sir Albert reached out to grab her reins.
"Stay, we need do no more than trot. I would like a few minutes alone with you."
"I do not know what you think of me sir, but I can assure you . . ."
Sir Albert cut off her protestations with a laugh. "You act the outraged maiden just as well as you act the femme fatale! Do not look daggers at me - my intentions are quite innocent."
"I sincerely doubt if innocent is in your makeup."
"I am sorry to have given you reason to distrust me, but all I want is to discover what shocking thing you actually said to my brother, and as he will not tell me I was hoping you would. You cannot blame me for my curiosity."
"But I can blame you for your lack of consideration, when you know that I expressly asked you to forget what I said."
"I cannot forget what I do not know," said Sir Albert with a grin. "And after that very colourful story you told me I can only imagine the worst."
"It was only some thoughtless remarks that show me up to be vain and superficial, nothing to concern yourself with," said Felicity dismissively. "I would really like to be done with all this needless speculation."
"As you wish. Shall we speak of the beauties of Kent? Or the upcoming wedding? Or your plans following?"
"After Lady Cynthia and Gilly are married, I shall be returning to Rivermead with my parents."
"You only have another week here? We must make the most of it."
"Yes indeed. I think a gallop in order, do you not? Let us join the others."
Sir Albert nodded his agreement and they rode, side by side, taking the fences in unison, soon coming up under the majestic tree where the others were waiting.
After meeting at the tree, the group rode together ending up by a pond on the outskirts of the pleasure grounds of Farnham Hall. Gilly and Lady Cynthia departed company to return to Riplea Manor and the wedding preparations, but Felicity stayed on to partake of refreshments with Anne, Sir Albert, and Lady Farnham, followed by a walk in the pleasure grounds themselves.
"It is a pity your stay in the neighbourhood is so short," said Lady Farnham.
"Yes. I will be sad to go," said Felicity. "I had not expected to find such convivial company."
"Knowing who you were to be staying with," said Sir Albert with a twinkle. His mother gave him a reproving look.
"You twist my meaning, sir," Felicity responded. "I was referring to the unexpected pleasure of getting to know your sister and your mother, and even your brother."
"But not me, I take it."
"Do not feed his vanity and admit him to the company," said Anne. "He does not deserve it."
"I do hope you will manage another visit to us before you leave," said Lady Farnham. "Anne has so little female companionship of her own age."
"Anne must come and call on me tomorrow. I am certain Lady Hoxentrough would be delighted."
"Oh Mama, may I?" asked Anne, her eyes glowing.
"Do not get too excited," laughed Felicity. "we might find ourselves stuck with the task of folding napkins in the shape of swans, or some such thing."
"I should like that very much!"
"Well, as long as you do not think Anne will be in the way."
"Not at all," said Felicity. "She will more than likely gain me a reprieve from some mundane chore, and we will be sent out to walk in the rose garden instead."
So with that plan made, and the circuit of the garden completed, Felicity took her leave. Sir Albert and Anne accompanied her to the stables and a groom brought her horse out.
"May I escort you back?" asked Sir Albert. "My horse can be ready in a trice."
Felicity smiled her thanks at his offer but declined, saying that she knew her way perfectly, and would enjoy the few minutes of solitude at her disposal before entering the fray again. "Remind me never to visit anyone when there is a wedding in the offing," she said as she mounted her horse and bid them farewell. "It is like being taken up by a whirlwind!"
Felicity let her horse walk along the lanes that lead from Farnham Hall to Riplea Manor. Going across the fields, as they had done earlier, would have been faster, but she wanted to make the most of her time alone. She had not been exaggerating when she had said how hectic life was at the manor. For all Lady Hoxentrough's generally collected way of dealing with things, she had a tendency for changing her mind after obstinately sticking to a point, and Felicity often found herself sent on an errand, only to return to the drawing room and be given instructions to reverse all that had been accomplished. Out here in the lanes the sun was shining, birds were singing, and blessed peace reigned.
Felicity allowed the horse to choose the way, whenever an intersection was reached, reasoning that the animal knew its way to its home stables better than she, and let her mind wander abstractedly. She heard herself being hailed and looked up from her reverie to see a man on horseback approaching on a pathway that led from a tumbled cottage. She smiled and halted her horse.
"Good day Mr Farnham!" she greeted him.
"Miss Kearney," he said, "How do you know it is me and not my brother? Have you so quickly got the knack of telling us apart?"
Felicity laughed. "No, you are as alike to me as ever. I have the benefit of just having left your brother and sister, and am quite confident Sir Albert could not have doubled around somehow to meet me here. Besides, I recognise your horse."
Andrew Farnham admitted to the logic of her reasoning, adding that Sir Albert would have had to have made a quick change in his raiment too. "For, though we do frequent he same tailor, we stopped dressing in identical outfits when we were in leading-strings."
He let his horse fall in step with hers as Felicity resumed her way along the lane. She glanced up at him. "I shall have to remember that. By the time my visit with the Hooxentrough's is over I may well have the two of you sorted. So far it seems I meet you only when I am out and you are about your business, whereas I meet your brother socially, so that can be considered some sort of guide as well. Which reminds me that you have been most behind hand in your attentions to me. Upon our first meeting you said that you would call upon me, yet it has been almost a week and you have not yet done so."
Andrew Farnham had the grace to look sheepish. "Tomorrow I promise I shall. Will you be at home?"
"Yes, your sister is to visit me."
"Then I will accompany her."
"Can you wear something distinctive as a sign, so that I know it is indeed you and not your brother?" Felicity teased.
"A rose between my teeth?" Andrew chuckled. "I think not. I have said I will come with my sister - you have my word that it will be me."
Felicity had to accept his assurances, and they conversed companionably until they came to the drive that led up to the back of Riplea Manor, by way of the stables, all too soon in her opinion. It was not just the threat of looming wedding preparations that made her regret their arrival; she had very much enjoyed her quiet ride in the sun with Mr Andrew Farnham.
The next morning at breakfast, when Felicity informed Lady Hoxentruogh to expect visitors that day, the announcement was greeted for the most part with approval.
"At such a busy time as this, one does not want too have to entertain all manner of morning visitors," she began, "but Miss Anne could be of some help to you and Lady Cynthia."
"She did express a desire to help, My Lady."
"Yes - I can see that she is good girl! But why Mr Farnham must needs come as well, I have no idea. Men are no use in these matters. Ah well, he can occupy Mr Kearney," She smiled amiably in Gilly's direction. "The dear boy has been cooped up with all us ladies and our concerns for too long. I dare say he could do with the company of another gentleman."
Gilly, while managing to express his delight in being at the disposal of the ladies day and night, admitted that a game of billiards with Andrew Farnham would be a pleasant change.
"The very thing, for we have no need of him!"
"Mama," said Lady Cynthia, gently admonishing. "Mr Farnham is paying the call on Miss Kearney, not upon Gilley."
"Nonsense! He is simply escorting his sister on one of her first forays into society as a young lady, rather than a child. I know you and Mr Kearney have no wish to be parted, but you can spare your betrothed for an hour and survive the separation, can you not?" Lady Hoxentrough turned to Felicity and gave a wink. "These young lovers simply live in each other's pockets!"
As it was, Miss Anne and Mr Farnham arrived while everyone was taking a break from their exertions in the drawing room and tea and cakes had just been sent for. After the formalities of greeting had taken place, Lady Hoxentrough manoeuvred Andrew Farnham to her side with the dexterity of a commanding officer. He cast Felicity a apologetic glance, and took his place and his cup of tea with all the good grace of a gently brought up young man.
"So how are you enjoying giving sermons?" Lady Hoxentrough asked without preamble.
"Very much indeed."
"St Mary's is a little church, but very charming, by all accounts."
"It serves its purpose well, which is no more than I can ask."
"I imagine it does, but such a pity you were not awarded a more prestigious parish. A young man in your situation needs to be well established if you are to make your mark on the world."
"I feel myself fortunate in this living. It is close to my family and I can help my brother with estate matters while I go about my parish business."
Lady Hoxentrough admitted that this could be construed a benefit, especially by his mother, and generously wished the preferment of an additional living upon him in the near future, to aid his social advancement. "Being available to family is all well and good," she said, "but there is much more to consider in the grand scheme of things, if you have hopes to marry well. You'll not get someone with very good standing or much of a dowry in your present position."
"I do not think of marriage as a business proposition," said Andrew. "If I were looking for a wife at present, I would be guided by my heart rather than by my prospects."
"All you young people these days with your romantic notions! We are lucky that when our Cynthia fell in love, it was with a gentleman as well connected and prosperous as Mr Kearney, for once she sets her mind upon something or someone, she is immoveable. Did you know that his mother's great uncle is the Earl of Dorsham? And his father is one of the Kearneys of Graceford - a very old and distinguished family."
"Then that is very providential. From what I have seen of him, he appears to be a very agreeable young man, and much in love with Lady Cynthia, which is much more to the point. I believe they will have a very happy marriage."
"And I hope the same for his sister. Miss Kearney is a lovely young lady. She may appear a trifle frivolous, but when it comes down to it, she has her head screwed on correctly. With her beauty and her fortune she can have her pick of society - even aspire to the nobiliy. She was very popular this season and must have had dozens of offers from all manner of adventurers but she managed to make it through unscathed."
"I do not think Miss Kearney frivolous - only that she takes joy in life," was all the comment Lady Hoxentrough could get from Andrew Farnham on the subject, but he did seem to settle into a more contemplative state, allowing her Ladyship to ramble on much in the same vein and giving polite answers as they appeared needed.
Felicity had hoped to have the chance of more conversation with Mr Farnham and was disappointed at Lady Hoxentoughs monopolisation of him. She was happy to talk to his sister and further their friendship, but she could not prevent her eyes from wandering to his corner of the room or her ears to strain to catch snippets of the conversation he had her Ladyship were so engrossed in.
After half an hour, Lady Hoxentrough marshalled all her troops. She sent the gentlemen off to the billiards room and then dealt with the ladies.
"I am still not happy with the way your gown hangs," she said to Lady Cynthia. "You must go up to your room for one more fitting. I will join you presently with Matilda and see what we can make of it together. These French modistes, with all their grand opinions of their handiwork, seem to get the styling wrong at every turn. Thank goodness we have such a treasure in Matilda!"
Lady Cynthia agreed and slipped out of the room. Lady Hoxentrough then turned her attention to the other two. "I have a job I think you both shall like. In the small green sitting room there is a cabinet where I keep an assortment of ornamental vases. If you could choose two dozen or so of the finest and have them brought out and dusted, that would be of such a great help to me. I will send Jeanette to assist you. Afterwards you may go out into the rose garden and inspect the roses - see which ones would be best used to fill the vases. Light pinks, I think, and white. No garish magentas or reds."
The girls were more than happy to be presented with such a pleasant task.
"I was fearing folding napkins as you had intimated," whispered Anne as they made their way along the wide corridor. "My handiwork may not have been skilled enough to satisfy Lady Hoxentrough. She is quite a martinet!"
Felicity giggled as she pushed open a door and led the way into a large, light and airy room.
Anne looked around in awe. "This is what she calls a small room? I would quake to see what is considered large in Lady Hoxentrough's estimation - nothing short of a ballroom, I should imagine."
Felicity nodded. "The ballroom here at Riplea is immense. One could fit Almacks in it and still have room for another!"
"Almacks," Anne sighed. "The very name conjures up such delightful images!"
"You will simply love it," said Felicity. "I wish I could be there to see your expression as you enter. There is nothing like the first time. I have so many fond memories - candle-light splashing off crystal, giving off such an inviting glow. The dresses, the music, the quizzes mincing round the room!" She laughed. "Gilly is always quite disparaging in his comments about Almacks, but I simply adored it. It is true that by the time my season was over I'd had enough of Town and all the tedious rounds of visiting, and the gossip, and the simpering fools, and the falsity and shallowness of it all, but at the same time there was excitement and anticipation and sheer delight in the music and dancing and spectacle of it all."
"In truth," Anne admitted, "I cannot wait! And I am glad that you tell me not only of the good things I can expect, but also of the pitfalls as well. If I expected only perfection I'd be sure of disappointment. But what would please me more than anything would be to have you there with me to share it all, and help steer me clear of any trouble."
Felicity gave her a hug. "I should like that above anything! We should ask our mamas straight away. But I cannot promise to steer you away from trouble - I am much to adept at falling into trouble myself."
"Then we can look out for each other!"
By this time Felicity and Anne had found the elaborate cabinet that held the vase collection. There were all manner of delicate china vases on the many shelves and they spent a happy hour sorting through them, full of exclamations of delight as each found another treasure hidden in a back row. The difficulty was to restrict their choice to only twenty-four of the lovely vessels, but finally, with Jeannette's help they had their final selections in a neat row upon the table.
"There!" said Felicity, standing back to admire the display. "Not even a stickler like Lady Hoxentrough should find fault with our choices. And now for our reward - an outing in the rose garden!"
As they made their way back along the corridor, put on their bonnets, and headed out to the garden, Felicity couldn't help but wonder how long a game of billiards could actually take, and whether afterwards the gentlemen would feel the inclination to take a stroll in the garden themselves. The prospect of finally having an opportunity to converse with Mr Farnham was something to look forward to. She smiled a private little smile and happily went out into the beckoning sunshine.
Though it was almost the end of August, the rose garden was abundant in both full-blooming roses and plump buds, almost ready to burst. Lady Hoxentrough's gardener had a way with roses that was the envy of all her friends, and her garden supplied fragrant roses for cut flowers to bring indoors from early June through late October. As she walked amongst the burgeoning bushes, Felicity wondered why Lady Hoxentrough had given her and Anne the task of choosing the flowers when the gardener must have already planned for the wedding and nurtured just those buds that would be breaking open at the right time in the colours desired for the occasion. It must have just been an excuse to give the girls an outing in the fresh air and still have them think they were being of some help. Felicity decided she could happily play her part in the game, and inwardly thanked Lady Hoxentrough for her consideration.
"There is the gardener, Hobson," she said to Anne as they rounded a bed of billowing blossoms and saw an old man wearing gardening gloves kneeling in the dirt, pruning shears in hand. "Let us speak with him about the roses at once, and then we will be free to stroll around to our hearts' content."
"But there are so many to choose from, and all so lovely! How will we ever decide?" asked Anne.
"All we need to do is tell Hobson what colours Lady Hoxentrough wants and he will do the rest."
Anne looked at her questioningly, and then realisation dawned. "Of course!"
The girls had a nice chat with Hobson, who gave them the names of the flowers he would be picking in a few days' time. "We will have two pickings," he said. "First for Saturday's ball, and then the following morning to decorate the church. It will look a rare treat when all is said and done."
"Yes indeed - with such wonderful specimens to work with, it will be the most beautifully decorated wedding service ever," said Felicity as she stooped to smell a fully blown rose that was dripping petals onto the pavement. "This yellow rose is so fragrant. Do you think I may have some buds for Saturday to place in my hair? The colour will go perfectly with my ball gown."
It seemed nothing would please Hobson more than supply Felicity with some flowers for the grand occasion, and he would not let the girls leave without presenting each of them with a dark red rose from which he had carefully removed all of the thorns.
"What a sweet little man!" cried Anne as they walked on along the path, holding the roses up to their faces, enjoying their subtle fragrance.
"Yes," agreed Felicity. "You can see why Lady Hoxentrough treasures him."
They walked through an arbour dripping with miniature pink roses and came out onto a lawn adorned with a fountain, glinting in the early afternoon sun. Water spurted from the mouth of a bronze fish held in the arms of a plump cherub. Across the lawn two gentlemen could be seen approaching. Felicity and Anne both waved and then walked up alongside the fountain's pool to wait for them.
"See there are little golden fishes swimming amongst the lilies." Felicity pointed them out to Anne. It was a good way to keep herself from watching the gentlemen's progress across the grass. She did not want to appear overeager, especially in front of Gilly who she knew would tease her shamelessly later, when he managed a moment alone with her, if given any sort of ammunition.
"We have finally found you!" said Gilly triumphantly as they arrived to the fountain pool.
Felicity smiled at both gentlemen."I did not know we were lost! How was the billiards game?"
"Your brother thoroughly trounced me," said Andrew Farnham.
"You must be very good indeed Mr Kearney!" cried Anne. "Nobody ever beats Andrew at the game in our house."
"It was my good luck that your brother was somewhat distracted," Gilly responded, grinning. "I usually do not fare quite so well with such a worthy opponent."
"Such modesty!" teased Felicity. She placed the back of her hand against Gilly's brow. "No fever, so you cannot be ill. What could possibly be the cause of it?"
Everyone laughed, but Felicity could not help noticing that Mr Farnham's laugh was a bit strained. She looked at him questioningly. He met her eyes and then glanced away. Gilly and Anne were still joking about the billiards game, so Felicity took the opportunity to address Mr Farnham in a low voice. "Is something troubling you?"
He hesitated, and then replied in lowered tones as well. "Only that I must take my leave of you now, unfortunately, Miss Kearney."
"But we have not even had a chance to converse!"
"I am sorry for that, but I have duties that I can put off no longer," he said stiffly.
Felicity felt as if the sun had gone behind a dark grey cloud, only the sky was as blue and clear as ever. The cold that was pervading her was spreading from within. She took a deep breath to steady herself, but could not keep the chill from her voice. "Duties? Oh, I see. Well I am sorry to have detained you."
Andrew Farnham's face softened, but his words still sounded austere to Felicity's ears. "You have not detained me, but I really must go. I hope you understand." He took out his watch and looked at it before addressing his sister. "Anne, you have no need to cut your visit short and come with me. I will see that the carriage is sent for you later."
Anne looked at her brother in consternation. "But I . . . ought I not go with you? Miss Kearney, I will see you again before you go home, will I not?"
"I would really like for you to stay, Miss Farnham, if it is not too much trouble. Your brother has said the carriage can be sent later. " Felicity's eyes flickered over to catch Andrew Farnham's for a moment. "About four o'clock, don't you think?"
Andrew Farnham bowed his agreement, "And now I must take my leave, Miss Kearney. I do not suppose I shall see you until Saturday's ball."
"Until Saturday, then, Mr Farnham," said Felicity, bobbing a slight curtsey.
Gilly looked from one to the other as Andrew turned, closed faced, and started to walk away. He shrugged his shoulders, and with a smile and a wave at his sister and Anne Farnham, joined Andrew Farnham in the long walk back through the gardens and around the house.
Anne stood, twisting the stem of her rose between nervous fingers, looking quite uncomfortable. "I do not know what has got into Andrew - he is never impolite like that."
Felicity reached out and patted the younger girl's hands reassuringly. "I am not offended. We must remember he is not a man of leisure." She smiled brightly, though inside she did not feel like smiling at all.
"But he came expressly to visit you, and then abandoned you at a moment's notice!"
"I am sure he never expected to be railroaded by Lady Hoxentrough as he was. The time ran out and he wasn't able to fulfil his intentions, that is all." Felicity was trying to convince both Anne and herself with this reasoning, and it was working to some extent. The chill that had inhabited her lessened. She smiled a full, real smile for Anne this time. "I am so pleased that you did not abandon me too, Miss Farnham!"
Anne's fleeting awkwardness was gone now too. She smiled in return and impetuously said, "Miss Farnham sounds so stuffy! You really must call me Anne, for I can see we are to be fast friends!"
"Anne it is! And you must call me Felicity."
With that they walked arm in arm back through the rose garden and into the house again to see what other errands Lady Hoxentrough had in store for them. Her Ladyship made a great show of asking them which roses they had selected, and, with Anne's help, Felicity recited the list of varieties that Hobson had told them he would use.
"Lovely!" sighed Lady Hoxentrough. "Some of my very favourite roses. I knew you girls would do me proud. Now could you help me sort through these mounds of lace ribbon? I would like all the lengths that are worked in ivory - no white or cream, and positively no ecru! We can fashion bows to be tied all up the banister of the main staircase. The effect will be breathtaking."
Felicity and Anne agreed that it would look very beautiful indeed and fell upon the baskets of ribbon with alacrity. Another happy hour was spent untangling all the various strands, exclaiming and laughing, and sharing reminisces about trimming hats and sewing samplers and being fitted for gowns.
"This is so enjoyable!" cried Anne. "I love my brothers dearly, but I have always wished for a sister to share just such pursuits. If only you were not leaving quite so soon, right when we are coming to know each other so well."
Felicity cocked her head in deliberation, then smiled. "What of your idea that I come with you to London for the little season? "
"That is not for months and months!"
"Then you must come and stay with me at Rivermead next month! Mama and Papa will be here for the wedding in two days - I can ask them then, and when they say yes, you can ask Lady Farnham."
Anne's pleasure at this suggestion was most gratifying. In fact, the close companionship they had shared during the rest of the afternoon did much to dissolve Felicity's disappointment at Andrew Farnham's early departure, and her confusion at his unexpected guarded behaviour. On the other occasions they had met he had been so open and friendly, and she had received the distinct impression that he had liked her just as much as she had liked him. But what bothered her went deeper than that. Felicity was not accustomed to having a gentleman lose interest in her. It was an uncomfortable and lowering feeling and she did not like it at all.
Felicity and Anne had sorted all the ribbon and tied at least a dozen bows each when Sir Albert was announced. He strolled into the drawing room, greeting everyone most politely before saying to Anne, "Andrew said you would be needing the carriage, so I thought the chivalrous thing to do would be to come and pick you up in my phaeton."
"That is very good of you, Albert," she said, glancing towards Felicity with a mischievous grin. "You had no other reason for coming to get me besides brotherly courtesy, I suppose."
"Let us just say there were other, most pleasant inducements," he said, choosing a comfortable chair next to Felicity.
"You were hoping to be able to help us tie bows?" asked Felicity innocently.
"Alas, as much as I would like to help, I am not at all proficient at bow tying. But I am very good at complimenting, and I must say that all these bows are most beautifully executed." He waved his hand with a flourish towards the finished bows laid out upon the table before the girls.
"While your compliment is very gratifying," said Felicity, "it does very little to help get the job done."
"On the contrary! Knowing how much your efforts are appreciated, you will apply yourselves with more vigour and the job will be completed in half the time!"
Felicity laughed. "Your reasoning does not bear logic. Your compliments will make me vain. Thinking that I am a true artist, I shall take more time over each bow, trying to achieve the utmost perfection in the hopes of even more fulsome praise."
"Then pass me a length of ribbon and I will endeavour to assist you in a more proactive fashion."
He held his hand out and was given a wide strip of creamy lace. Felicity showed him the manner in which they were tying the bows, how large to make the loops and how the ends needed to lie once the knots were made. After two or three aborted attempts, Sir Albert presented her with a drooping, tightly knotted tangle. "Please do not judge my bow too harshly."
Felicity tried to keep a straight face. "Thank you - a most valiant attempt." She took the bow and placed it to one side. "But I think we must let you off the hook - no more bow tying for you."
Sir Albert pretended to look forlorn, but the twinkle in his eye spoiled the effect of his down-turned mouth.
"Perhaps your talents could be put to better use," said Anne. "Entertain us with some amusing conversation."
"That I can do!" Sir Albert spent the next fifteen minutes regaling the girls with anecdotes and local gossip that had them giggling so hard at some points, they could not tie their bows at all.
"You are more of a hindrance than a help," said Felicity, wiping her streaming eyes. "I think I have done with bow tying for today at any rate. My fingers are near chafed raw from working with this lace."
"And surely it must be time for me to leave," said Anne reluctantly.
Sir Albert nodded in agreement and stood up. He helped Felicity and Anne tidy away their work space.
"Will you come outside and see us off?" he asked Felicity when the last roll of ribbon was returned to its place in one of the baskets.
"Of course," she replied.
He offered her his arm and she took it, at the same time linking her other arm through Anne's. The three made their way through the door, along the corridor to the main hall and entrance way. Outside in the sweep, Sir Albert's groom was walking the horses.
"Oh! We should not have kept you so long, Sir Albert," cried Felicity. "I should have realised you had not stabled your horses."
"It is no matter. I instructed my groom to exercise them while I visited. It is a rare treat for him to drive the phaeton, even at such a slow pace, for he does not get the opportunity too often. And I had the treat of spending time with you, so all in all it was a perfect scenario."
The groom had brought the phaeton around, diverting Felicity's attention as she had to say her goodbyes to Anne before he handed her up into the carriage. She turned back to Sir Albert, a happy smile on her face. "I enjoyed it too," she said simply.
His face turned serious. "Before I go," he said, "may I request a dance at Saturday's ball? I know my brother was before me, so I do not expect to be granted the first dance, but I hope the second is still up for grabs."
"No," said Felicity. "You are mistaken. Mr Farnham did not ask - the first is still available and I would be most pleased to save it for you."
"That was very behindhand of him!" cried Sir Albert. "I am in his debt. I could not extract any of your secrets from him, much to my annoyance, but now he is back in my good books again."
"Do not go on about secrets. I have told you it was all nothing."
"The more you protest, the more I am intrigued," Sir Albert smiled softly and took Felicity's hand. "And now I will kiss your poor chafed fingers adieu." He pressed them lightly to his lips, looking up into her eyes. "Until we meet again."
Felicity stood and watched the driveway long after the phaeton had gone out of sight. Her fingers still tingled where Sir Albert's lips had touched them. She held them up to her cheek and sighed. At least one of them seemed to appreciate her.
That evening after dinner, when Felicity had gone up to ready herself from bed, she heard a tapping at her door. Looking up, she saw it open, and her brother's face peer round.
"Gilly, you startled me!" she said.
"May I come in?"
"Certainly." She moved over and patted the bed beside her. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
He sat beside her and bounced once or twice and let his gaze circle the room. "What a comfortable place you have here."
"You came to inspect my quarters?"
"No. Since this afternoon I have been thinking."
"I hope it was not too much of a strain for you."
"Brat!" he cried, giving her a friendly swat. "I could not help but notice that Mr Farnham was a bit restrained when I took him to say his goodbyes to you in the garden."
"It is of no account," said Felicity, turning away and picking up her hairbrush.
"Yes, I noticed it did not affect you at all," said Gilley with heavy sarcasm.
Felicity pulled the brush through her hair with feigned indifference. "He is simply a chance met acquaintance."
"And you have no interest in him whatsoever?" asked Gilly with a grin.
"None." Felicity threw the brush onto her pillow and turned on her brother. "What is all this questioning in aid of? In a few days I will be home in Hertfordshire again, away from maddening Farnhams!"
"Was Sir Albert maddening today too?" asked Gilley, suddenly diverted.
"No. He was very entertaining and amusing, unlike his brother."
"That is why I am here," said Gilly. "I think I know what got into Andrew Farnham."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I did not set too much in store by this at the time, but while we were playing billiards, Lord H joined us for a spell."
Felicity stared at Gilly, her attention caught. She knew Lord Hoxentrough's opinion of Mr Farnham. Second sons were of no account.
"Well, he did not say anything directly, but upon reflection, I could see how what he said could be interpreted, especially if someone was already feeling they were on shaky ground."
"And why would Mr Farnham believe himself on shaky ground?"
"Well damme, you're an heiress and he's . . . he's . . ."
"He's a young man from a perfectly respectable family," said Felicity hotly. "Did you come here to disparage him?"
"No! I just wanted to explain what I understand to be the case. Lord H was talking to me about the ball and some of the people that had been invited and how he was looking forward to you meeting a certain viscount who would be there. And then he rambled on about fortunes and estates, and equality and inequality, and well, you know how he is. I never really attend to half of what he says. I just wanted to make a good show at my game. And then, unexpectedly, Mr Farnham's game went all to pieces and I won. I was too pleased with myself to think of anything else, but later, after all that happened, I began to think, as I told you. And now I realise, though Lord H was ostensibly talking to me, in actual fact he was warning Mr Farnham off you."
"The interfering old toad!" cried Felicity. "What business is it of his who my friends are?"
"I am marrying his daughter, so I imagine he feels it is in his best interest that you, as my sister and almost a part of his family, do not make a misalliance."
"I know exactly what his thinking is! I could scream - the old snobbish bore! But why should Mr Farnham care what Lord Hoxentrough thinks? It is what I think that counts."
"The way I see it, it is a little more complicated than that," said Gilly. He eyed Felicity speculatively. "Are you saying you have a serious interest in Mr Farnham?"
"I am not saying anything of the sort! I like Mr Farnham. I also like Sir Albert. I like any number of gentlemen. I just do not like people who think they know better interfering in my affairs. When the time comes, if the time comes, I know how to deal with unwanted proposals - I've had enough after all!"
"I think Lord H's fear is that the proposal will appeal to you. I do not think he is trying to spare Mr Farnham's feelings."
"He is thinking of no one's feelings but his own! Why is it that I cannot enter into a friendship with a gentleman without this immediate speculation about marriage?"
Gilly sighed. "That is the way the world works. If a gentleman pays a certain amount of attention to a lady a proposal is expected. Friendships do not prosper."
"That is not true. I was always friends with Lord Rupert, and still am, even though he is married now."
"But that is a special case. He is my best friend and he is married to your best friend."
"Well I think too much emphasis is being put on the possibility of marriage. How can two people get to know each other if the only options are marriage or nothing?"
Gilly gave his sister a hug. "I am sorry to have caused you so much consternation. I only wanted to set your mind at rest so that you did not think you had offended Mr Farnham in any way."
"Thank you," said Felicity, hugging him back. "I am glad you told me. I thought I was losing my appeal." She laughed.
After Gilly had gone and Felicity's maid had come and helped her get ready for bed, Felicity lay under her blankets unable to sleep. Her anger at Lord Hoxentrough and all his machinations had dissipated. She was now as utterly confused as she could be. She had lied to her brother when she said she had no special interest in Mr Farnham. She liked him better than she had liked any other gentleman before, the only problem was, she liked Sir Albert just as much. There were times when she liked one over the other, but then it would change, like the swinging of a pendulum. And it didn't help that she still had trouble telling them apart.
At least now she understood Mr Farnham's distant behaviour. On their next meeting, without being forward, she would endeavour to show that she did not count him beneath her - that she would be happy to have him as a friend.
The next morning, Felicity was very quiet at the breakfast table. Truth to tell, she was still very much annoyed with Lord Hoxentrough, and feared opening her mouth for whatever rash comment might jump out. Her mother had often told her that if she had nothing good to say, not to say anything at all, and though she often found this difficult, she knew it was the best policy to use with her hosts in this instance. Lady Hoxentrough took Felicity's silence as a sign of ill-health and feared she had been overtaxing the girl with all her various errands and tasks she had assigned her for the past week or so.
"There is nothing like fresh, country air to bring the bloom back to one's cheeks," she said. "Not foreign air, of course, but good, British air - Kentish air being of the finest to be had in all the land. I prescribe an hour walking outdoors, breathing deeply. Even the most illustrious medical practitioners from London could not provide a better curative than that. Upon your return you will be energised and ready to complete any of a number of projects with your ability and stamina no longer impaired."
"Yes, yes," her husband agreed. "Our young friend does look peaked, and we do so want her to shine for the ball. It would not do to wear her down with our selfish demands! A walk is indeed in order." He turned to Felicity with a smile. "Shall I accompany you my dear, or would you be comfortable walking alone?"
"Thank you," Felicity managed to say, "I shall be quite content alone."
"Excellent!" said Lord Hexentrough. "I have some business with my steward I must attend to, but I could have easily put it off had you need of me."
Felicity thanked him again and then escaped from the breakfast parlour to ready herself for the outdoors.
The morning was dull and grey, the sun hidden behind banks of thick, heavy cloud that threatened rain, and did nothing to lift Felicity's spirits. She hugged her arms tightly around her torso, wishing she'd had the foresight to wear something warmer than a light merino spencer over her muslin gown. The avenue of limes she had chosen to walk along stretched heart-shaped leaves overhead, creating a green tunnel that did something to disperse the general gloom. When she reached the lane, Felicity looked left and right in indecision, as neither way looked propitious on such a grim day, and was almost tempted to walk back along the avenue, when she spied a horse and rider coming towards her from the left. There was something familiar in the bulk of the horse and the bearing of the rider that convinced her it must be Mr Andrew Farnham. He was just the person she had wanted to see, and her unease lifted at the sight of him.
Felicity waited by the avenue, and it was not long before he noted her, slowed his horse, and rode alongside to greet her. As he dismounted, she took the opportunity to come directly to the point.
"Mr Farnham! I had been hoping to see you to clear up some misconceptions that may have arisen from Lord Hoxentrough's conversation with Gilly yesterday."
He turned to her. "Miss Kearney, I . . . "
"No, please. This is not easy for me. Let me say my piece and have done with it," she cried. Though he had stopped and dismounted it appeared he was still inclined to hold her at a distance.
"But I . . . oh, very well," he acceded, though he seemed somewhat uncomfortable.
Felicity took a deep breath and, carefully choosing her words, dove into the needed explanation. "I know that when we first met I bragged to you about all the proposals I rejected during the season, and how I had not managed to find a gentleman of substance to throw my cap at, or some such nonsense. In view of these silly comments and what Lord Hoxentrough said about my expectations and relative fortune, it may have appeared that I thought myself above my company. For you must admit that when you took your leave of me, something had affected you. You were so very distant, and I just wanted you to know that . . . I do not think like Lord Hoxentrough - I value true worth. I will not let my fortune stand in the way of my friendship with anyone."
"So that was it!"
"What was what?" asked Felicity, taken aback. It was not the sort of response she had expected from Mr Farnham after such a disclosure on her part.
"That was what you said upon the first meeting. Though I think you must be blowing it all out of proportion, I am glad to have finally cleared up the mystery." He watched the expression on her face change as the truth slowly dawned, and quickly said, "Miss Kearney, please do not think ill of me. I did try to tell you, but you gave me no chance."
"Tell me . . . no! You are not! You cannot have! You promised not to deceive me again, Sir Albert!"
"In all fairness, Miss Kearney, I did not willingly make you think I was my brother."
"Oh no! You just stood there and let me make a fool of myself!"She cried, her anger rising. "It seems there is nothing you would not stop at to discover the secret of what I said to your brother that first day! And now that you know, how will you use the precious information? For as sure as the sun rises in the east, I will never speak to you again!"
"It was unintentional - believe me!"
"Unintentional? You came out on your brother's horse, knowing that I might be walking in the vicinity, so that you could perpetrate your tricks upon me! Or do the two of you own identical twin horses as well?"
"I am simply returning my brother's horse - he left it in our stables yesterday."
"Returning his horse! That is a fine excuse! Do the two of you plan these little games together to play with the emotions of all the young ladies you meet? Or is this specifically for me, because I supposedly toy with men's hearts while I wait for an earl or a duke to come along and whisk me off to his renowned estate where I can sleep on heaps of gold and jewels like a dragon in my lair?"
"You know it is nothing of the sort! Andrew would never . . . and at any rate we do not think that way of you!"
"The way your brother acted towards me yesterday, I am not so sure. Good day to you, Sir Albert. I wish I could say it has been a pleasure knowing you, but I cannot! And that goes for Mr Farnham too, and so you may tell him. I retract my offer of friendship to the both of you!" She turned on her heel and strode off down the avenue, half afraid that Sir Albert would follow her, and half hoping that he would follow her. He did not. She did not look back, but after a few minutes she heard his horse ride off. This only made her walk faster, each step falling more angrily against the hard ground. She did not notice that the clouds had cleared somewhat, and little shafts of sunlight were streaming to the earth, casting glimmerings of gold on the overhanging leaves, nor that birds were flitting about in the shrubbery, twittering congenially back and forth to each other. All she could do was brood over the perfidy of the two gentlemen whom she had begun to open up her heart to.
When Felicity arrived back at Riplea, Lady Hoxentrough took one look at her and sent her up to her room to recuperate.
"You must be even more ill than I had thought," she announced, "if fresh air has not done the cure. There is nothing for it now but bed rest. I will have a clear broth sent up to you. Tomorrow you shall be yourself again, mark my words."
Felicity meekly obeyed. She had no wish to see anyone or do anything, after her trust had been broken so badly. She had thought Mr Farnham a better person than that. Even Sir Albert she had not thought vindictive, only an opportunist. But this encounter had too obviously been planned, for she had told them it was only by the horse that she could tell them apart, and they had taken full advantage of the fact. She had been made vulnerable and exposed! It had not been easy to make the admission she had made - to speak of fortune and expectations with such care, without appearing forward or intimating anything about intentions or proposals of marriage, which so many people immediately jumped to when such topics arose. It had simply been about friendship, and now that was no longer an option at all.
It was only after two hours in her darkened room, dwelling upon her misfortune, playing the encounter over and over again in her mind, that Felicity could admit the possibility that it indeed might have been an accidental meeting and not planned at all. That Sir Albert had not at first intended to pass for his brother. That he did not do it to be vindictive, but only out of insatiable curiosity. That it had been her fault to inject that bit of mystery into the subject which made it all the more enticing. That Andrew Farnham was innocent of the whole affair. But the fact remained that she had been made a fool of, and she had said some inexcusable things, and she was not ready yet to forgive the twins for that, even though, deep down, she knew it was not their fault at all that they were twins and that she found it very difficult to keep her thoughts straight when around them.
© 2013 Copyright held by the author.