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The Loving Seasons

The Loving Seasons by Laura Matthews
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They were three young ladies just out of school, with good backgrounds and adequate dowries, ready for their first London Season.

But gentle Maggie's blustering, autocratic father had a marriage in mind for her--to a man she'd never meet. Lady Anne, cherished daughter of an aristocratic family, could look to any level for a husband, but her choice fell elsewhere. Emma, niece of the notorious Lady Bradwell, was not one to hide her exotic beauty and flamboyant personality under a bushel--much to the irritation of a distinguished peer.

Three years, three Seasons, and the three girls become women, each discovering that the path to love is far from easy--but is still the most exciting adventure of all.

Regency Romance by Laura Matthews (Elizabeth Walker

Belgrave House; November 1983
360 pages; ISBN 9780440148791
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: The Loving Seasons
Author: Laura Matthews; Elizabeth Walker

Everything had seemed so simple then. Emma perused the last invitation, wistfully remembering how orderly she and Anne and Maggie had thought life would be when they left school and burst on the London season. They had expected the stacks of pasteboard invitation cards, including them in masquerades and rout parties, balls and soirees. Wasn’t life to be a whirl of carriage drives, picnics, strolls in the park, visits to the theater?

For three young ladies with the proper backgrounds, the best schooling, adequate dowries, life in London’s exhilarating social clime was to be the greatest adventure thus far embarked upon. They had spent hours discussing fashion plates and members of the ton, most of whom they would not have recognized had they come face to face. But their visions were peopled with handsome gentlemen of rank, ballrooms bedecked with spring flowers, sparkling sunlight pouring down on them as they walked in the parks. For who could escape their own shining freshness: Emma’s exotic coloring, Maggie’s fine eyes, Anne’s glorious hair? Girls fresh from the schoolroom, eager for what life had to offer them. What gentleman could be so insensitive as to pass them by?

But they were girls, when all was said and done: girls with more eagerness than knowledge, more enthusiasm than prudence. Emma could look back and see that now. Their dreams of how their lives would progress when they walked out the doors of Windrush House had not a shred of practicality. Things had started to go wrong even before they left school. Reality had intruded on their make-believe world and they had been powerless to handle even that first crisis. Emma had thought herself stronger than the others, but she had found herself no more effective then than she had been later in solving her own dilemmas.

As she placed the last invitation with the others in the stack, Emma sighed. Another season, and she was not at all sure she could face it. She smoothed out the skirt of the gray Circassian cloth dress, amused at its lutestring roses and modest bodice. Not exactly the sort of dress she had expected to be wearing! Though, come to think of it, probably it was more in keeping with the school dresses they had all worn that day two years ago.

First Season

Chapter One

Windrush House stood off the main road to Kensington and travelers unfamiliar with its purpose, that of educating young ladies of the first families to their future role in society, were more likely to think it the country seat of a minor aristocrat or a prosperous member of parliament. The village of Kensington was not far distant, and from the upper stories of the elegant Palladian mansion one could catch a glimpse of the roofs of shops in the High Street. Windrush House was a superior establishment, not merely providing the usual lessons in conduct and needlework, but including in its curriculum a smattering of drawing, dancing, music, French, Italian, arithmetic, and as­tronomy. The brochure for the academy pointed out that these fine arts were not extras, as one would find in the majority of schools, but included in the modest sum of forty pounds a year. Even tea and sugar were included, though there were extras (mentioned in smaller print) for letters, mending, washing, and tips. However, out of the fee each girl was allowed a shilling a week for pocket money, which most of the girls used to supplement the rather spartan diet with gingerbread in the village.

When not otherwise occupied, the young ladies frequently sat at the windows on the second floor, which looked out over lush lawns to the toll road beyond, and wove tales about the young blades who traveled the road in their dashing equipages. On this particular day, when spring was beginning to show signs of arriving at last, there were an exceptional number of modish vehicles plying the road but the three girls who sat in the parlor never once glanced out the window. One, a slight, pale miss, sat clutching a boldly penned letter in her hand and feeling as though the world had taken a violent turn quite beyond her comprehension. She lifted gray eyes to her companions who were anxiously watching her.

“My father has arranged a marriage for me.”

“How very archaic!” protested the taller of the others, a striking blonde whose vivacious personality had made her the acknowledged leader of the little group ever since her arrival at Windrush House some years previously. Emma Berryman had not only a quickness of mind, but an aura of worldly knowledge (imbibed from her notorious aunt, Lady Bradwell) that never failed to attract the notice of her companions. She it was who always knew the latest on dits, who planned the most amusing pranks, who had an air of elegance and spirit that none of the others could ever hope to duplicate, though several tried, only to fall into the most ignoble scrapes. “Well, Maggie, don’t leave us to expire of curiosity. Who is he?”

The name was unfamiliar to Margaret Somervale, which only made the matter worse. She had to consult the letter. “Lord Greenwood.”

There was a sharp intake of breath from the third girl. “But, Maggie, he’s a rake. My brother William has said so often enough. I couldn’t be wrong about the name for it always reminded me of Robin Hood. Will had him to Parkhurst once when I wasn’t home and Papa suggested that he leave after a week because of his . . . attentions to the maids.”

“Oh, ho!” Emma cried, delighted to have some fix on the fellow.

“I remember now. My aunt devoted almost an entire letter to him last winter, calling him a ‘droll dog’ and a ‘sadly dissipated rascal.’” At Maggie’s horrified gaze, she laughed. “Don’t misunderstand, Maggie. Those are words of high praise from my aunt. She said she was forever amused in his company, though he was an impudent puppy with a love of riot and an ambition to be a buck. Let me think, now. What was it he’d done? Aside from making a set at her, that is. And you must know that my aunt is given to a certain amount of exaggeration about her conquests and amours. Hmm, I’ll have to find the letter; I keep them for just such an occasion.”

The third member of their group, Lady Anne Parsons, took Maggie’s hand and pressed it, with a frowning glance at Emma. “Don’t be alarmed by Emma’s tales from Lady Bradwell, or my wretched memory, my dear. After all, Lord Greenwood is a friend of Will’s, so he cannot be entirely lost to all sense propriety.”

This comment, meant to be encouraging, provided little relief to Maggie, who thought Lord William Parsons a terrifying being with his hearty laugh and rough good humor. Not for the world would she have said so to Lady Anne, of course, but she was a shy, retiring girl and boisterous men alarmed her out of all proportion to their intent. Perhaps it stemmed from her fear of her father, whose booming voice and frequent rages had, in her youth, sent her scurrying to her room to hide under the bed.

Sir Robert was quick-tempered and held to a primitive theory of justice that had occasioned his striking his only child for misdemeanors when young, and though he was as quick to forget the punishments, Maggie was not. Her father had no clear idea of how to raise a daughter deprived of her mother at a tender age, nor had he any conception of how painful were the blows a sporting man could deliver to a child. His was not a cruel nature but neither was it tender. In his household he expected obedience, and Maggie had soon learned to give it, so much so that he found her too retiring and insipid to be of the least interest, and he sent her off to school, for which action she was extremely grateful to him. And now to find that he had arranged for her to marry a man such as her friends suggested Lord Greenwood to be! Her spirits flagged.

Lady Anne, who shared with Maggie a more serious turn of mind than Emma, attempted to restore some hope to the distressed girl. “Perhaps your father doesn’t actually mean that he has arranged a marriage, but that he has spoken with Lord Greenwood about you. After all, Sir Robert is not likely to have contracted a settlement when you and his lordship have never even met.”

“Papa is to bring him here tomorrow and we are to be married quietly next week. That is exactly what his letter says.”

Whether she was more indignant with Sir Robert for his high­handedness, or his daughter for her lack of spirit, Emma announced, “Well, I would just tell him I have no intention of complying with his wishes, Maggie! You cannot mean to sit back and do nothing. Why, you will not even have a chance for a season in London. Don’t you remember that you and Anne and I were going to set the town afire come next month? Just tell your father you will require time to get to know Lord Greenwood, and that a season is the perfect way.”

Maggie folded the letter with a sigh. “No one tells Papa anything, Emma. He tells everyone else what to do . . . and they do it.

“Nonsense. This is your whole life you’re talking about,” protested Emma. “If our parents were willing to have matches arranged for them, we certainly are not of the same persuasion. Besides, I find it difficult to believe that someone of Lord Greenwood’s reputation would so meekly agree to marrying a lady he’s never seen. How do you account for that?”

In her misery Maggie had given no thought to that angle, but Lady Anne had been turning it over in her head without the least success. Certainly it seemed wondrous to her that Sir Robert could arrange such a match. Lord Greenwood was the owner of a handsome estate near High Wycombe and surely not in need of money. Anne’s brother William had told her he was an open-handed man of fortune, so he could not possibly find himself in need of Maggie’s considerable dowry. Of course, no man would reject such good fortune—but the fellow hadn’t even met his bride-to-be!

With a worried wrinkling of her brow, Maggie said fervently, “I hope Papa hasn’t told him I’m pretty. That would be too, too bad of him. There was a miniature done of me, but it’s hardly like at all. Papa insisted that the artist give me more coloring and round out my features. I don’t know why he bothered in the first place.” She compared her own straight black brows with Lady Anne’s delicately arched brown ones. Her own hair was a coal black while Anne’s was a chestnut brown, which had the felicity of appearing to change color in various lights. And where her coloring was uncommonly pale, her friend’s had a peach-like tone that gave her face an animation even when almost expressionless. There were too few curves in either of them to alleviate the trim, almost boyish figures, but Anne didn’t suffer from a thin nose and high, prominent cheekbones, which Maggie thought, quite unfairly, gave her a rather pinched appearance.

Emma watched Maggie make the comparison and offered helpfully, “Anne and I will have you looking your best tomorrow, my dear. Mrs. Childswick cannot complain, considering the occasion. I have some fashion plates from The Ladies’ Magazine which will inspire the most elegant hairstyle for you, and you may borrow my new walking dress, which will suit you to perfection. Have I shown it to you? It’s a figured silk my aunt brought me last month, and it’s the first stare, I promise you.”

“Thank you, Emma, but I couldn’t borrow your dress. I’m sure I must have several costumes of sufficient respectability to be presented to Lord Greenwood.” Maggie rose stiffly and offered a brief, nervous smile to her friends. “You’ll excuse me if I go to our room, won’t you? I need a moment to compose myself.”

“Of course you do,” Lady Anne agreed, with more heartiness than she felt, and watched sadly as Maggie wended her way down the long gallery beyond the parlor. She saw the girl pause briefly before a portrait she had once mentioned bore a resemblance to her mother, before continuing dejectedly toward the girls’ room. “Poor dear.”

“Yes, but I ask you, Anne, would you accept such a decree from your father?” Emma insisted.

“My father wouldn’t do such a thing.” Lady Anne went to stand at the window, but she paid no heed to the high-perch phaeton passing on the road. “You’ve met Sir Robert. He’s just the sort of country squire one most avoids—blustering, autocratic, interested only in his own comfort. I daresay he’s done this simply because Maggie would be leaving school soon, and he didn’t want to be bothered with keeping track of her. What a lonely life she’s had!”

Though Emma’s own life had not been filled with a loving family such as Lady Anne’s, she was not one to allow others to pity her, especially since she intended to lead quite a different existence once she entered the social whirl of London in a matter of weeks. Emma hadn’t had either parent since she was eight and had been shuffled between relations until she was sent to school.

But her Aunt Amelia had taken a definite interest in her as she had developed into an elegant young lady, sharing far more of her exploits than an inexperienced girl not even out yet should perhaps have been an auditor to. There was a Lord Bradwell, but no one had seen him for years and Lady Bradwell cut a dashing figure in London entirely on her own. Emma had every intention of plunging into the high life with her.

“I don’t need to consult the letter after all,” she said now, “for I have just recalled exactly what it was poor Maggie’s rake had done. Aunt Amelia was enchanted, and it was an instance she gave of how very charming he is. There is an actress, everyone apparently calls her the Jewel, who is in the keeping of a wealthy gentleman from Lincolnshire. I don’t remember his name, but the story Aunt Amelia had heard was that he was not often in town and that Lord Greenwood sent the Jewel a draft for a hundred pounds, begging her for an interview. The lady sent back his draft with a note saying, ‘The shoe is on the other foot, my lord. Call at three.’ Which does say something for him, you must agree,” Emma suggested with dancing eyes.

“For God’s sake, don’t tell Maggie. It is not the least likely to cheer her. I daresay she’d be a great deal more comfortable with a clergyman than with someone of Lord Greenwood’s cut. What can her father be thinking of to arrange such an unlikely match?”

“I’m far more intrigued with how he managed it,” Emma confessed.

~ ~ ~

Adam Robert Greenwood, sixth Baron Greenwood, was con­sidering the same question over a bottle of port in his London town house. For the past two days he had done little else but mull the matter over and consider whether there was any conceivable avenue of escape, short of the dishonorable course of fleeing the country. Not that he had ever seen Margaret Somervale, but he had a hazy hypothesis on the subject, which was that children frequently took after their parents in looks, and if the chit bore the least resemblance to the rough, red-faced Sir Robert, he would rather die than wed her.

This was more than a whim with Lord Greenwood; according to his own theory, weren’t his children of her likely to resemble the florid country squire? Of course, he was somewhat solaced by the fact that his sister took after their mother, while he bore a strong likeness to his father, so if Lady Somervale had possessed some modicum of looks everything might be well. (On the other hand, if she had, why had she married Sir Robert?) But since that lady was long dead, there was not the least chance of finding out what she had looked like.

Dammit, who cared what she looked like? If she were a diamond of the first water it would make very little difference to him. He had not the least intention of marrying . . . that is, he hadn’t until he had run across Sir Robert. For all the man’s gruff, hearty nature, Lord Greenwood suspected, now that it was too late, that he was hardheaded and a rather close observer of his fellowman. Which, unfortunately, put Lord Greenwood at a decided disadvantage. His lordship found practically everyone he met to be good-humored, civil, honest, generous, agreeable, sensible, and open. It was his personal goal to be rational and composed while yet lively and entertaining. He certainly excelled in the latter two virtues, but whether he would ever achieve the former, not even his best friend would hazard a guess.

While he could admire a man of constancy and reserve, he could not always enjoy his company to a high degree, and thus lacked the resolution to transform himself from the flighty fellow he acknowl­edged himself to be into a more genteel character. Life was very amusing just as he was living it, and he had the most lowering feeling that a more elevated existence would be a dead bore.

When Captain Midford was announced, Lord Greenwood was slumped dejectedly in a spoon-back chair contemplating his glass of port with a baleful eye. His lordship’s perpetual grin was missing, which made the decidedly patrician nose look more at home than it usually did with his merry blue eyes and open countenance. The slight build was graced by an impeccably tailored coat and pantaloons, though his lordship gave little attention to his attire and depended on his valet to turn him out in style. No hint of his flamboyant and frequently whimsical nature was to be detected in his dress, and only in country clothes did it become apparent that he was a notably agile and athletic man.

The captain cut a far more dashing figure, and had in addition a military carriage and aura of heroism that he fostered, though he had, at the conclusion of the war, gone on half-pay status when his regiment was broken up. Without invitation, being a frequent visitor to the house in Half Moon Street, he lowered himself into a chair and said, “I talked to Dunn about it. He said you were a fool and deserved to suffer for your indiscretions.”

“A fine help he is, and surely not one to talk.”

“Oh, I don’t know. He does precisely what he wants, but he never seems to get in any scrapes. He couldn’t see any way out of your marrying the girl, and said you’d best accept it with a good grace if you want to maintain your dignity, if you have any.”

“You needn’t repeat every word he said, Stephen,” Lord Greenwood grumbled. “I know he thinks I’m a loose screw, though for the life of me I don’t see why. I don’t do anything he hasn’t done any number of times over the last ten years.”

“You haven’t his style,” the captain retorted, offended for his brother’s reputation. “He says without a doubt Sir Robert tricked you, but quite legitimately, taking advantage of your hey-go-mad way of life. He says it might as easily have been me Sir Robert chose for his clever game, but for my lack of title and independent fortune.”

“Dunn does admit it was clever, then?” Lord Greenwood asked eagerly.

“Not a trap in which he would himself have been caught, he assures me, but just what he might have known would happen to you . . . or me. He thought you arrogant to believe Sir Robert so simple as to make a foolish wager.”

“Arrogant!” Stunned at first by such an epithet, Lord Greenwood after a moment’s consideration grinned sheepishly. “I thought he was dicked in the nob, to be perfectly frank. To bet that a message could not be carried fifty miles in an hour! Of course, no postboy could have done it with any number of horse changes, but everyone knew Queensberry had proved it could be done years ago.”

“Which is precisely why Sir Robert was sure you’d take the bait. Dunn says we should have smelled a rat the moment the old man suggested his terms. His five hundred guineas against your marrying his daughter, sight unseen! He had little to lose, compared with you. But we were so sure of ourselves!”

“Old Q had hired a team of twenty cricketers to toss the message about in a circle in a cricket ball. They went the fifty miles well within the time and it didn’t seem so difficult to accomplish the task again. I simply assumed Sir Robert had never heard the tale. How was I to know it would be so damned difficult to find twenty capable man at this time of year?”

“Dunn says you were careless, that you could have assembled the necessary talent if you’d tried hard enough.”

“I didn’t have the time. Sir Robert only gave me three days.”

“Dunn says you should never have allowed that stipulation in the wager.”

“Oh, your brother can go to the devil! I’m not interested in what he says.”

“Well, you asked me to ask him.”

Lord Greenwood thumped an impatient hand on his knee. “Yes, and what use was he? Calls me a fool and an arrogant fellow, and tells me to take my medicine like a good boy.”

“Not exactly,” Captain Midford retorted, thoughtfully stroking his sandy mustache. “Your only hope, according to my brother, is that the young lady won’t accept you. The wager certainly said you were to marry her if you lost, but it would be impossible for you to do so if the girl won’t have you. So Dunn suggested—though he said he would not himself do it on any pretext, but he thought you probably might—that you make yourself as disagreeable to the girl as possible. Not rude, or anything like that, just sullen and as though you were not entering into the contract with any enthusiasm. That might put her off or make her angry enough not to agree to the arrangement. After all, her father is hardly likely to tell her the true circumstances.”

Though Lord Greenwood’s eyes had lit at the possibility, be frowned and asked, “And why wouldn’t your brother do such a thing?”

“Because he don’t think it’s honorable, that’s why. Actually, though, I think it’s because, for himself, he wouldn’t want to look bad. Old Dunn can charm the ducks out of a pond; everyone says so. If he sets his mind to a lady, all he has to do is give her one of those looks of his and she’s eating out of his hand. It would he repugnant to him deliberately to set out to discourage a lady, unless she’d been forward or presumptuous or something.”

There was silence for some time while Lord Greenwood considered the problem. “Why would Sir Robert have gone to the trouble at all if the girl were presentable? And if she ain’t, what in the devil’s name am I to do with her as a wife?”

“Just what everyone else does, I imagine,” the captain answered practically. “Leave her in the country and go about your business in town. She’s in a school, isn’t she?”

Greenwood groaned. “Don’t remind me. I’m to go to Kensington with Sir Robert tomorrow to meet her. A schoolroom miss, for God’s sake! You know all my involvements have been with older women!”

“I thought the Jewel was only five and twenty,” the captain suggested mischievously.

“Well, that’s a hell of a lot older than seventeen, and several years older than I am! And what will Cynthia say?”

“Haven’t you told your sister? You really should, Adam. She’ll he upset if you marry without telling her.”

“I will tell her . . . if I have to. Dammit, Stephen, the man expects me to wed the girl within the week! If I can’t get out of it, I’ll have Cynthia and Morton to the ceremony, of course.”

“So you’re going to try to discourage the girl?”

His lordship stomped one elegantly booted foot on the Turkey carpet. “Oh, Lord, I don’t know.”