Holiday in Bath
Because of her father’s illness, Trelenny hasn’t had a London season. Her opportunities to meet young men are extremely limited, but her parents want her to marry their neighbor, Cranford Ashwicke, in any case. To a vivacious young lady like Trelenny, Cranford’s sterling attributes are profoundly dull, and he seems positively old (at twenty-eight). With a little scheming, and surprise help from that young man, a trip to Bath is granted. And amidst the wonders of that metropolis, Trelenny learns a great deal about herself—and Cranford. Alas, he now seems attached to Lady Jane Reedness, and Trelenny is left to the attentions of the suspect Mr. Rowle.
Regency Romance by Laura Matthews
201 pages; ISBN 9780446947411
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Title: Holiday in Bath
Author: Laura Matthews
“Now, Mama, we have been over all this before!” the young lady declared passionately. “You assure me that neither you nor Papa would dream of forcing me into a disagreeable marriage, and yet every other word from either of you is Cranford’s name. I know he is handsome, and that his papa’s lands run with Papa’s, and that he is intelligent and stable and all the rest of it. He is also insufferably dull! And old,” she added as scourging afterthought.
“Old!” Mrs. Storwood’s countenance registered dismay. “Trelenny, he cannot be above eight and twenty! Why, of course he isn’t, as you were born when he was ten and Lady Chessels and I…”
Trelenny cast her blue eyes heavenward. “Yes, Mama, you and his mother dreamed of the day we would wed. But those were daydreams, don’t you see? The days when parents arranged matches for their children are dead! I am sure if he has said it once, Papa has said a hundred times that the young must depend on the older, wiser counsel of their relations, and I would not contradict him for the world. But I haven’t even met any other eligible young men! And I am only eighteen. Can’t you see what would happen to me? I’d be stuck here all my life just like you.”
Guiltily she dropped to her knees beside her mother’s chair. “You know I don’t mean that quite as I said it, Mama. I know you and Papa have been happy, even with his illness. But. . . but you had a chance to live in London when you were young. You went to balls and plays and parties. And the friends you made! Would you not feel completely cut off from the world if you did not still correspond with Mrs. Waplington and Lady Sandburn? I haven’t even any friends to write to, and God knows what I would tell them if I did. There cannot be many young ladies of my age who would be interested in my visits to the tenants or my rides about the mountains!”
Mrs. Storwood tucked back a straggling wisp of her daughter’s blonde hair. “You write to Clare.”
Although a great many retorts sprang to Trelenny’s lips, she said only, “She and Lord Hinton live quite as retired as we do.”
“Yes, but still she is your friend and no doubt you await her letters as eagerly as any I might receive.”
Trelenny rose and paced agitatedly about the room. “I keep expecting her to tell me how she feels about things... but she never does. Do you think he mistreats her?”
Such a suggestion obviously had never crossed her mother’s mind, and she stared blankly at her daughter for a moment. “Do not say such a thing even in jest, Trelenny! Lord Hinton is an admirable man and devoted to Clare. Whatever put such an idea in your mind? Did you not see how tenderly he treated her at their wedding?”
“At their wedding, yes,” Trelenny said scornfully. “But you cannot have failed to notice that we have not seen them since, Mama. He carried her off to the wilds of Scotland immediately—not even to his seat! And they might as well have disappeared from the face of the earth after that. They’ve been married well over a year and he has never brought her to Ashwicke Park. Except for her letters, she might be dead for all anyone knows!”
“Don’t be absurd!” Mrs. Storwood said sharply. “Her brother has visited her.”
“Oh, Cranford. It’s a wonder he could take his nose out of a book long enough to journey there, I concede. And what did he tell us of her on his return? Just exactly what anyone tells you when he has visited someone—they look well, seem happy, are busy, etc., etc. Why doesn’t she come here to visit?” Trelenny came close to her mother and dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I’ll tell you what I think. I think he is keeping her prisoner.”
“Where do you get this fantastic imagination of yours?” Mrs. Storwood asked despairingly as she twisted her shapely hands in her lap. “It is not from your father, and it is certainly not from me. I have never heard anything more absurd in my life, Trelenny. Must you make a mystery of every common occurrence? She has had a child, for heaven’s sake! You don’t go jaunting about the countryside when you are carrying a child, and you don’t order round your carriage the moment you are delivered of it!”
“Little Catherine must be six months old by now,” Trelenny said stubbornly. “Lots of people travel with children.”
“And more don’t,” her mother retorted. “Have you been reading some lurid novel about an imprisoned wife?”
“Now, Mama, I have to have something entertaining to read. It is just that book Mrs. Waplington sent you and you set aside. Surely there can be no harm in it when your dear friend sent it. You know, the one by Lady Caroline Lamb.”
“Glenarvon? It is not meant for a child of your years, my dear. Surely you can find something more uplifting than that to read.” Mrs. Storwood habitually used persuasion rather than firm injunction with her daughter, for nothing so surely set up that young lady’s back as being told what to do, especially when there was the hint that it was her youth and unworldliness which prompted the instruction.
“Would you have me read the literature that Cranford brings?” Trelenny asked sweetly. “Perhaps you would like me to read aloud to you. Let me see. There is a very large tome on antiquities and another on the Romans. But no, you would probably prefer his own translation of Antoninus. That is the very thing. . . if you have some desire to nap! Imagine his thinking that I would be interested in such stuff. Well, he cannot possibly believe I am, for I have told him any number of times that I cannot read more than two pages without yawning.”
Trelenny stood with hands on hips in a most unladylike posture, which her mother had frequently deplored. Of course, Mrs. Storwood could understand and share her daughter’s vexation with a suitor who, himself fascinated by archeological exploration, seemed to think that others shared his enthusiasm. It was all very well for him to discuss tumuli and whatever with Mr. Storwood, but to enlarge on the subject of Roman cremation at the dinner table was going a bit far! There had been a time when the Honorable Cranford Ashwicke had not been such a pedagogue, when he was the despair of his mother and a drain on his father’s purse. But after Lady Chessels’ death he had settled down quite nicely— too nicely, Mrs. Storwood feared, to appeal to her effervescent daughter.
Perhaps it was the wildness surrounding her in the Westmorland countryside which inspired Trelenny to her hoydenish behavior. More likely it was the lack of polite society, with its polishing influence, which had such an effect. No amount of strictures and examples seemed to make the least impression on the girl. Like a pot on the boil, there was no restraining her spirits. It was a wonder, really, that Cranford would even consider her as a bride!
Not that Trelenny was not an attractive girl, in her way. The impish blue eyes were set in a face which had not entirely lost its girlish roundness, though her figure had now developed from its former chubbiness into a rather alluring fullness. And there was no hiding it in today’s gowns, Mrs. Storwood thought uneasily. Not that there was anyone to see her emerging butterfly, more was the pity. It was really the greatest shame that Mr. Storwood’s weak heart prevented them from taking the girl to London to enjoy a season and meet some people of her own age. Just to acquaint her with the world of fashion, Mrs. Storwood rationalized, as she could see the advantages of Trelenny’s marrying Cranford every bit as well as her husband. And the freckles which sprinkled across her cheeks and nose would surely subside without the constant exposure to the sharp winds of the country. If not, they could be bathed with milk, which Trelenny would doubtless allow when she realized the great importance of being in fashion. The braided blonde hair, too, would be so lovely trained into one of those styles one saw in Le Beau Monde, rather than pinned tightly to her head to prevent its escaping when she dashed madly about the lanes on that frisky mare.
Mrs. Storwood sighed. “Yes, my love, it is vexing of Cranford to expect you to read such dry stuff, and I am sure he does not think to praise you for the effort you make to accommodate him. Yesterday I was astonished to find you poring over one of those old volumes of his for an hour or more.”
A mischievous light danced in her daughter’s eyes. "Oh, I found the most fascinating thing, Mama, and I intend to impress him with my endeavors when he calls this afternoon to take me riding.”
“Do you, dear?” Mrs. Storwood asked uncertainly. “I’m sure that’s very thoughtful of you.”
“Yes, I think so,” her daughter proclaimed righteously. “I shall change now, if you will excuse me.”
~ ~ ~
And high time it was to show Cranford the futility of both his efforts to instruct and to woo her, Trelenny thought rebelliously as she allowed her maid to assist her into the most capacious of her riding habits, one of royal blue velvet with lace peeking out at her throat and her wrists. Imagine being married to such a stick! Not that she thought him the least enamored of her. There was something so mechanical, and so unloverlike about his courting that of itself it would have put her off, let alone his antiquarian leanings. He bore not the least resemblance to any lover she had ever read of, and having no personal experience, she could only rely on such novels as she came by, sent by her mother’s considerate friends. The closest circulating library must be some eighty miles away, and she had only been to York twice in her life!
No, Cranford was only pursuing her out of the determined wishes of both their families, and he was doing a very poor job of it. It was time he learned a lesson, and she was just the one to give it. Aware that her mother and father would be shocked by her plans, she had bribed a stable lad to saddle her mare and take it to the copse by the stream, a spot which was not visible from the house. Still, a quaver of doubt assailed her when she surveyed Stalwart patiently standing under a tree, her reins loosely held by the boy.
“Is it... difficult to ride astride?” she asked breathlessly.
“Oh, no, ma’am,” he assured her. “Easier than the sidesaddle, I should think. You’ll be having no trouble. Just use your knees to grip and you’ll be safe as houses.”
“Very well, then. Hand me up, please.”
For years she had watched men mount their horses, and it had seemed a very simple matter. And probably it was for them, unhampered by wide skirts as she was. The heel of her boot caught in the hem of the skirt as she attempted to swing her leg over the saddle, and she found herself ingloriously slung across like a pannier. Disgusted, she allowed herself to slip down to the ground once more. “You go back to the stables, Tommy, and tell Mr. Ashwicke to meet me here when he comes.”
When the lad disappeared from view, she led Stalwart to a rock, raised her skirts immodestly, and gained a seat on the now restless mare. As commodious as the skirts were, there was no way in which she could settle them that they did not come above her short boots. She tugged and rearranged, an embarrassed flush staining her cheeks. Well, there was no help for it, and she certainly did not care what Cranford thought of her. So what if he caught a glimpse of her leg? It would probably be a unique sight for the stodgy old fellow. She was not going to abandon her plan.
Unaccustomed to sitting facing forward on a horse, she felt slightly unbalanced, though rather heady with her escapade. When Stalwart moved forward at her summons she found that her knees automatically gripped to give her a firm seat. How pleasant not to have one’s back twisted about, she thought euphorically as she urged the mare to a gallop. Yes, decidedly it was a great deal more comfortable than riding the sidesaddle. She put Stalwart to a fence.
Now Trelenny knew exactly how to position herself for a jump in her customary fashion of riding, but she suddenly felt unsure as the horse tensed to leap forward. For one panic-stricken moment she did not think she would keep her seat, and then they were back on the ground and racing across the field. Amazing, she thought, that one should actually have so much more control riding this way, and inexplicably she grew very angry. Why had no one told her? What stupidity was it that kept women with their backs twisted, clinging to the tiny horn and knee rest? In mountainous country such as she lived in, the sidesaddle proved a precarious seat. Fuming with indignation, she headed the mare back to the copse.
Cranford watched her preoccupied approach with astonishment. Trust the little hoyden to do something outrageous! He had known, the moment they told him to meet her by the copse, that she was up to something. Whether it would be a race on donkeys or a raft built for the stream, he had not decided, but he had certainly not expected this. And her leg was showing above her boot, for God’s sake! He dismounted and walked to meet her, grabbing Stalwart’s bridle firmly. “Get down.”
“I won’t! And let go of my horse,” she commanded fiercely.
“I do not ride with ladies seated astride.”
“Then you need not ride with me, but if you don’t release Stalwart I shall…” Menacingly, she waved her whip at him.
With one adept movement he reached out, clasped the whip, and twisted it from her grip. “Get down, Trelenny.”
"Why should I?”
“For one thing, you are exposing an indecent amount of leg to the view of anyone who cares to look.”
“Which I am sure you don’t, and there is no one else abroad, so it cannot make the least difference.”
“And I tell you it does, ma’am. You have had your little scene, so let’s be done with it. Do I have to tell you again to get down or must I remove you forcibly?”
Trelenny glared at him but made an attempt to do as he ordered. Unfortunately, her boot heel once again betrayed her and became entangled in her skirt. While one leg hung down toward the ground her skirt remained high above with the other.
Drawing a sharp breath of exasperation, Cranford took hold of her waist and swung her off the horse as though she weighed no more than a saddle, allowing her feet to remain in the air until she had kicked her heel loose of the skirt. Then he deposited her unceremoniously on the ground. “Now, Trelenny, would you like to explain why you felt it necessary to put on such a display?”
“I don’t owe you any explanation, though I assure you I had sufficient reason. And it is all your own fault!”
“I would be charmed to hear how that might be so,” he replied with exaggerated gallantry.
“You wouldn’t be charmed by anything but a dead Roman soldier in his crumbling gruesome coffin,” she snapped as she grasped Stalwart’s reins and began to walk towards the stables.
Unperturbed, he followed suit, not deigning to honor her castigation with a reply. After a while of stomping along, she glanced at him furtively. “I read something from one of the books you left me.”
“I’m surprised to hear it.”
“Well, I wouldn’t have, but I heard Mama coming, and I didn’t want her to know that I was reading Glenarvon, so I hid it under one of your wretched essays and just happened to see something of interest. Not interest, precisely, but something unusual. Ladies didn’t use to ride sidesaddle, you know. I learned that they used to ride astride just as men do. Fancy! And I thought I would show you how diligent a student I am by adopting the ways of your musty old Romans, or Greeks, or Egyptians, or whatever.”
“You thought no such thing, my girl. Your only wish was to annoy me.”
Trelenny turned her head aside and made a face. “Well, then, I succeeded.”
“I think it is wicked to make women ride sidesaddle when it is ever so much more comfortable riding astride. You know what these mountains are, Cranford. One has so much more control facing forward that it would be a great deal safer to ride about that way. I could have a skirt made full enough that it would come down to my boots. Or two skirts together, one for each leg so that they wouldn’t ride up at all. Yes, that would be even better. There could be no impropriety in that.” She glanced at him earnestly.
“It won’t do, Trelenny. You must realize your mother would never allow it.”
His voice was slightly more sympathetic than it had been until this point, and she asked with some interest, “Would you approve?”
“No. I realize the sidesaddle gives a precarious seat over our dangerous, narrow roads, but ladies with breeding do not ride astride.”
“The ancient ladies did.”
“We pride ourselves on being a more cultivated society, Trelenny.”
He sounded so inordinately stuffy that she was once again roused to anger. “Well, I think that your old Romans were not only uncultivated but stupid, bumbling paperskulls.”
“But then, you haven’t bothered to read anything about them,” he said placidly.
“I have. I once read a guidebook on the various English counties. And there were enumerated all the antiquities in each one of them. And do you know how they often knew the Romans had been there?”
Ignoring him, she continued. “I shall tell you. They found coins. All kinds of coins, all over the place. From lots of different periods. Now, I am eighteen years old, Cranford, and I have never so much as lost a tuppence! There, you see? What a bunch of dunderheads to be losing their money everywhere they went.”
She glanced at him triumphantly, and he gave a roar of laughter and rumpled her hair. “Trelenny, you really are a goosecap. Imagine your using such powerful logic. Unanswerable, I promise you. I shall henceforth regard the Romans with a certain caution to my enthusiasm. How could it be otherwise after this major flaw in them has been pointed out to me?” His eyes danced with amusement.
“Now you’re laughing at me. I see nothing funny in it. A careless group of people at the very least, and who knows what at worst?” Her very eyebrows quivered with her fervor.
“I could tell you, if you were interested,” he teased.
“I’m not, thank you just the same.” She turned her back on him and delivered Stalwart into her groom’s hands. “I suppose you will wish to come in and take tea with Mama.”
“She will expect me to do so, of course, but if it will inconvenience you...”
“Not in the least,” she replied haughtily as she led the way toward the house.
“And, Trelenny, you should not be reading Glenarvon. You are far too young for such stuff, if there is any age for it, which I doubt.”
“Little you know,” she murmured; and, when he had been treated to her indifference over the tea table, she settled herself in the wing chair in her bedroom and finished the scandalous book. Not that she understood a great deal of its scandal because she had little knowledge of the people ridiculed and she had no intention of asking her mother for Mrs. Waplington’s letter to decode the work.
The book was old hat to London society by now, having been out for some months, and Mrs. Waplington had debated the wisdom of sending it to her old friend; but the desire to exhibit her intimate knowledge of the participants had won over her better judgment. And though Trelenny believed that her mother had set aside the book as unworthy of her attention, in actual fact Mrs. Storwood had read every line with a horrified interest which would have astonished her daughter. After all, Mrs. Storwood had reasoned, she was not impressionable as her child was and she, too, knew Lady Holland and Lady Melbourne, if she had no acquaintance with the younger members of the cast. Sometimes it seemed to her, from the snippets of gossip her friends sent, that the haut ton had run mad and that she was better off in the country. At other times she ached with regret at her daughter’s exclusion from the brilliantly lit ballrooms, the chatter-filled saloons, and the elegant playhouses. How well she remembered the days when Mr. Storwood was courting her against the backdrop of London’s gaiety...