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Alicia by Laura Matthews
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When Lady Coombs was widowed, she found herself in reduced circumstances. But the spirited Alicia chose to become a shopkeeper rather than impose on her overburdened brother. Unfortunately, along with this undermining her position in country society, Alicia now found herself and her adolescent daughter without protection and suddenly vulnerable to the unprincipled Sir Francis Tackar. Even the kind attentions of the Marquis of Stronbert were disturbing—to a woman who had suffered in marriage.

Regency Romance by Laura Matthews (Elizabeth Walker)

Belgrave House; September 1980
298 pages; ISBN 9781610840040
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Title: Alicia
Author: Laura Matthews; Elizabeth Walker

Jane Newton looked up from the letter she was read­ing with a concerned frown creasing her brow. “Ste­phen.” There was no response from the handsome man seated opposite across the mahogany breakfast table; his attention was completely absorbed by the paper he was reading. “Stephen.”

Mr. Newton had spent many years instilling in his wife the virtue of not disturbing him at his breakfast. Since she had apparently accepted this lesson, her in­terruption of his attention was noteworthy enough for him to set aside the paper and offer her a slightly quiz­zing countenance.

“Yes, my love?”

“I have had the most distressing letter from your sister, Alicia.”

“I should have thought she would be more com­fortable now that Sir Frederick is dead, in spite of the circumstances,” he remarked coldheartedly, never having had much respect for his brother-in-law.

“Stephen, he has left half of his property to his mis­tress.”

“Good God! You cannot be serious!”

“There is no doubt of it. Alicia has had to sell Katterly Grange so that the proceeds could be shared with that woman.” A tear escaped her eye and dropped onto her plate. “Poor Alicia. Seventeen years married to that rag-mannered loose-pin and now this.”

“I should have gone to her when he died,” her hus­band muttered contritely. “But I made sure she would not be grieving and with several of the boys down with the whooping cough I felt I could not leave you.”

“I know. I felt horridly selfish, but there was noth­ing for it. She does not reproach us. But, Stephen, what will she and Felicia do? Where will they go? She says very little, except that they are now staying with Lady Gorham until they can relocate. And her intention seems to be to move as far from Scarborough as she is able.”

“Well, of course she shall come to us,” Stephen said, determination and anxiety written clearly on his countenance.

Jane dropped her eyes to the letter. She loved her sister-in-law and would welcome the opportunity to assist her, but their own residence was bursting at the seams with the five boys, the youngest barely out of leading strings. “Oh, Stephen, she knows we have not the room for them. She has said as much in her letter.”

“She could take a cottage nearby then,” he replied stubbornly.

“Yes, that would be perfect!” Jane perused the final lines of the letter once more and sighed. “But I think she has not the least intention of doing so. Here, you read it.”

Stephen accepted the letter from his wife, the frown on his brow deepening as he concluded his reading. “Nonsense! She cannot be serious. Surely Lady Gor­ham could dissuade her from such a scheme.”

“Alicia has spent many years looking out for her­self, all but deserted by that . . . Well, he deserves to be called what he was, but one tries not to speak ill of the dead. How humiliating for her! I should die of the shame."

“Alicia is hardly like to do so,” he retorted dryly. “But I cannot countenance this idea of purchasing a shop.”

“She has very reasonably pointed out, though, that with a daughter of sixteen she can hardly go as a governess. Is it possible that Sir Frederick could have left her that badly off?”

“I have heard rumors for some time that his gam­bling debts were like to sink him and that the property was mortgaged. No doubt all would have been well enough had Alicia inherited the whole of the estate. Curse the man! He has not paid her the least atten­tion since that woman gave him a son. And what good an illegitimate son would do him only heaven knows.” Stephen pounded the table in frustration. “Alicia might have provided him with a son had he stayed by her.”

“He was besotted of that woman, as well you know. I have never seen a man make such a fool of himself. And to set up house with her in the most open way, where all London knew of it. Poor Alicia has managed his estate for some sixteen years. Sixteen years! And now to have it wrested from her to provide for his mistress and son.” More tears were forming now and Jane laid her head down on her arm in a gesture of despair.

Stephen hastened to her side and comforted her awkwardly. His wife was not given to tears in the ordinary way. She was cheerful even in the midst of the chaos of their crowded, demanding brood. But her sympathy for her sister-in-law, her realization of the pain Alicia must be going through, the confusion for dear Felicia, overcame her. “You must go to her at once, Stephen,” she sobbed.

“And so I shall. But, Jane, you must not let your­self be so cast down by this. You know that Alicia will not give in to such discouragement. When I get there she will be smiling and Felicia will be up to some romp. You know that. Dry your tears, love. We will do all we can.”

Jane’s tears subsided gradually as her husband held her and patted ineffectually at her face with his hand­kerchief. “Bring her here if you can. Somehow we will manage,” she gulped.

He gave a snort. “There is little chance she will attend to me.” He accepted her reproving look and continued, “Yes, yes. I shall see what I can manage. Do look in on the boys, and I shall come to you before I leave.”


When Stephen Newton arrived at Peshre Abbey, he found that Lady Gorham and his sister, Alicia, were expected back from Scarborough shortly. He gladly accepted the offer to rid himself of his travel stains in the guest room which Lady Gorham kept contin­ually ready. He was only slightly acquainted with Lady Gorham and did not wish to disgrace his sister before her hostess. His travels had occupied the better part of two days from his home in Oxford, and it was with relief that he changed into clean buff-colored, knitted pantaloons which extended to his calf, a frilled shirt, and an embroidered waistcoat with a plum-colored coat. He had taken to wearing his own hair without powder over the last year, and felt more comfortable that way.

From the window of his room he heard a carriage draw up to the door of the abbey and he saw his sister, smiling as he had predicted, seated beside an older woman. His niece sat opposite them with another young woman, possibly one of Lady Gorham’s daugh­ters. The barouche was old but elegant; a bewigged footman put down the steps for the ladies, who stepped leisurely out into the warm September sunlight and strolled into the house. Stephen quit his room and was coming down the stairs into the main hall when his sister saw him.

“Stephen! What are you doing here?” Then she turned to her hostess with a mischievous grin and said, “I told you a letter would only upset him, Lady Gor­ham. I should have presented him with the accom­plished fact.”

Stephen was presented to Lady Gorham and her daughter Cassandra, and set upon by his niece, who hugged him fervently. He stood back from her in amazement—even the black of her mourning outfit could not conceal the fact that she had become an enchanting beauty since he had seen her three years previously. She was developed beyond her sixteen years, but friendly as a puppy, and obviously delighted to see her uncle.

“How are my aunt and my five cousins? How I long to see them!” Felicia cried. “You have not brought them?”

“Not this trip. Jane wished me to make all possible speed, something which does not happen when the whole family travels.” Stephen turned to Alicia and said, “I do not wish to impose on Lady Gorham, my dear, so I would beg a word with you now.”

Lady Gorham interposed to urge that he plan to spend several days with them, as he had not seen his sister in so long. Although he thanked her kindly, he remained determined to settle matters as soon as pos­sible, and took his sister out into the garden for a private discussion.

“I hope you know how sorry I am about this pass you have come to, Alicia,” he said as he seated her on a bench in the sunlight. “You know I never liked Sir Frederick above half, but this latest information you have sent is truly shocking.”

Alicia touched the black mourning gown with its pleated bodice and full skirt distastefully. “I know, Stephen. Do you realize that I had not seen Sir Fred­erick for two years before his death?” she mused. “I only heard from him when he was in need of money and urged me to increase the tenants’ rents or sell an­other horse. There was not a great deal left when he died.”

“But to will half of that to his mistress!” he ex­claimed, the muscle in his jaw tightening. “It is hardly credible. But then he never seemed to mind in the least creating a scandal,” he remarked bitterly, his eyes intent on his sister’s face.

Alicia gave him a perfunctory smile. “You must un­derstand that he was very happy with Andrea Carson. She gave him the son I had not.”

“You could have given him a son.”

“Yes, probably, but I could never forgive his un­reasonable anger on the day of Felicia’s birth. I re­member him coming into my room...Never mind. When he returned to London, he met Miss Carson and from then on I did not exist for him, not as a wife, not as a person. It has been a very strange life for Felicia and me, and now I have a chance to start again.” Alicia allowed her gaze to wander over the distant pond and trees on the horizon. “I wish only to provide for her as best I can.”

“Jane and I want you to come back with me.”

“Oh, Stephen, that is a great deal too good of you, but I am aware of your situation and would not for the world impose myself and my daughter on you. Do you know I am actually looking forward to having something of my own to do? Not that I did not enjoy running the estate, but the constant demands Sir Fred­erick made on it seemed to make all my effort for naught. Lord, I sound mawkish. You must not think I am resentful any longer. It is six months now, and I have grown accustomed to my new situation. It took several months to find a buyer for Katterly Grange and to vacate, and I am reconciled.”

“Why did you not write me of this before now? Jane and I assumed that the property came to you and that you would be reasonably comfortable there.”

“I had not intended to write at all until I had estab­lished myself somewhere, but Lady Gorham kept pes­tering me until I wrote.” She smiled suddenly at him. “She is the dearest woman and has had us on her hands for two months now. I cannot stay longer. Since I wrote you, I have been advised that there is a shop for sale in Tetterton. Not quite so far away as I should like, but it might do. I am to see it tomorrow. Would you like to come along?”

“Alicia, you must see that it is not the thing for a gentlewoman such as yourself to do any such thing.” Her brother regarded her sternly, tapping his gloves against his leg.

“Stephen, I really have no other choice. I have enough to buy a business from which to earn a living. Or I could buy a modest cottage and run through the money I have in the space of two years. Prices are not like to come down with the troubles in France. I see no other option. If you can see one which is realistic, I pray you will tell me.”

Stephen had considered a variety of matters on the journey to Scarborough. His sister should come to live with him, but everyone involved knew that it was not feasible. There was not room enough; there was not money enough. He was silent for some time.

Alicia finally spoke again. “It is not such a bad plan, you know. I think I would enjoy such a venture. I cannot look for a governess’s position or to be a companion because of Felicia. I would that I could provide her with an unassailed position of gentility as she has known until now…for the most part.”

She sighed and her full mouth twisted into a comic gri­mace. “Not that we were not the gossip of the neighbor­hood for several years, but after everyone had dis­cussed the shocking state of affairs, they grew to ac­cept us again. I cannot wish to stay here, though. I feel itwould be better to be out of reach of these good-hearted people who wish to do what they can for us. We are an embarrassment to most of them. Not to Lady Gorham, of course. She is so independently minded that it seems not to shock her in the least that Sir Frederick could have left half his property to his mistress. In fact,” she confided, her voice bubbling with laughter, “we sometimes make up the most pre­posterous stories about him, you know. How he se­cretly instigated the overthrow of the Bastille last year and left half his money to the revolutionary cause."

Stephen regarded her perplexedly, and caught her hand in his. “And does that help to ease the pain?”

“Yes. We have all but dissolved it away now, Ste­phen, please believe me. Lady Gorham is most re­markable. I shall miss her.”

Stephen paced about the garden for a while, dis­turbed by his sister’s revelations. He knew her strength of character to have grown considerably over the years, what with the burdens she had had to bear. She had been married to Sir Frederick at seventeen, against her better judgment, but their parents had insisted. The Newtons had been desperately in need of money at the time and Sir Frederick had seemed the answer to their prayers. He was twenty years older than their daugh­ter and a gauche, self-consequential man, but he was rich. They had squeezed what they could from him in the way of a marriage settlement, attended the wedding, and then left for the New World without a word to their daughter. Stephen himself had been horrified at their plans but had been unable to convince them of their folly. After selling their daughter and abandoning their son with only an encumbered property and few prospects of improving it, they had sailed away and were never heard from again. Stephen with his wife and their first child still a baby had had to struggle to make ends meet. Alicia had been abandoned to her fate.

Stephen remembered what a happy girl Alicia had been. But there had always been a streak of sensitiv­ity that had kept her innermost self to herself. He pictured her now making light of her fate with Lady Gorham and shuddered. “You are determined to have a business?”

“I think it would be my wisest choice, yes. You do understand?”

“Oh, I understand,” he replied with suppressed an­ger. “If your misbegotten husband were still alive, I think I would choke him to death myself.”

“Well, fortunately Francis Tackar has saved you the trouble.”

“Do you know that?” he demanded. “Do you know that it was with Tackar that he dueled?”

“I know it. I can feel it. Stephen, there is some­thing more I must tell you.” Alicia bit her lip and hesitated, while her brother stopped his pacing to stand before her. “I believe you met Francis Tackar when you stayed with me at the Grange some years ago.” Her brother nodded encouragement when she paused. “He has a very handsome property of his own not far from the Grange but he was intent on buying it. I refused to sell to him, but the solicitor insisted that the property had to be sold to divide Sir Frederick’s estate. It took me some time, but I found a buyer willing to better Tackar’s price and the lawyer agreed that it had been prudent to wait. At the last moment Tackar overbid the new buyer and he now owns the Grange.”

Alicia’s eyes held a smoldering anger and her hands agitatedly plucked at her skirt. “He informed me," she said, her voice choking, “that he had pur­chased the Grange for me and that I might stay on there if I...received him when he chose to come to me.”

“By God, I shall kill him!” her brother rasped.

“No, you shall not,” Alicia said firmly. “You must understand, Stephen, that Sir Frederick’s...behav­ior toward me gave rise to some strange speculation in the neighborhood. I have told no one of Tackar’s proposition. I tell you now only as a safeguard for the future. My purpose in leaving the area is to be rid of him. He is disgusting, and disgustingly persis­tent. No one here shall know where I go except Lady Gorham, under promise to disclose my direction to no one. I wish you to abide by this also. Oh, Stephen,” she cried, alarmed by the anger which flared in his eyes, “it is not worth taking note of such scum. He could buy and sell you and me twenty times, a hun­dred times over. I will not have you tangle with him. He is a dangerous, unprincipled villain. Promise me, Stephen.”

“I cannot. I will not stand for such an insult to you.”

“Promise me, Stephen.” Alicia’s eyes snapped with determination. “I have quite enough to bear without such an added responsibility. He would kill you, you know. Oh, I know you do not lack the courage to face him, but I should never be able to face my dearest Jane. Promise me, Stephen.”

“I cannot,” he said stubbornly.

“You must. I shall have your promise now, or I shall never speak to you again. I mean it, Stephen. Promise me."

Stephen’s lips compressed into a tight line. “I prom­ise you.”

“Thank you, Stephen. I understand that it goes against the grain with you but I have had misery enough without adding you to it. Dear brother, I would not have told you except...well, someone else should know. And should I need your help, I will not have to go into explanations in a letter. Now,” Alicia shrugged off the concern and bestowed a cheerful smile on him, “let me tell you what I know of this shop I am to see tomorrow. Tetterton is rather midway be­tween York and Hull and the shop does a sizable business in dry goods—cotton twills, stuffs, bombazines, sarsnets, satins, millinery, pelisses, dresses, and so forth. It is by way of being a linen drapers, too, and a plumassier.”

At Stephen’s blank look she ex­plained, “You know, ostrich and fancy feathers and artificial flowers for hats and bonnets. They carry rib­bons and lace and fancy trimmings as well as tippets and muffs and such. I shall so enjoy being surrounded by such a selection of goods, and no doubt shall fit Felicia up in style. There is a young man who could stay on with the business, but the owner is ill and wishes to sell. So I would have someone with experi­ence as my assistant.”

Stephen was horrified at the very sound of such an endeavor but restrained himself by asking only, “Do you not think that people will hesitate to patronize a shop owned by a young woman?”

Alicia gave a gasp of laughter. “No doubt. I had thought to powder my hair and wear a cap which would make me appear quite elderly.” She pulled a handkerchief from her reticule, tucked it over her auburn curls, and pursed her mouth. “Surely I shall pass for fifty,” she grinned, her eyes sparkling in the late morning sun.

“Indeed,” her brother retorted, as he snatched the handkerchief off her head. “I’ll be bound you will attract customers just to see such a performance. I daresay you will make a go of it, Alicia, but you are to remember that Jane and I will provide you and Felicia with a home if you ever need it.”

“That I will never forget. It shall be my port in a storm, I promise you.” Alicia rose and shook hands with her brother. “We are agreed, then. You cannot like the scheme, I know, but I am delighted that you are willing to accept it. Thank you, Stephen. Now tell me of Jane and the boys.”