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Honoria by Melissa McCann
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On the very day her youngest child, learned to toddle without assistance, Mrs. Spencer announced her intention to establish a hospital for the orphaned children of Lesser Chipping and surrounding villages. Meanwhile, the duties of managing the vicarage and the charity work for the parish have fallen to her oldest daughter Honoria, and Honoria has had enough. The trouble is, a gently bred girl cannot simply leave home and take up a career. The solution, therefore, is marriage, but to whom? Her only suitor is Mr. Whitham, and she cannot possibly marry Mr. Whitham, a stuffy landholder with broad shoulders and no brains to speak of.

Hope dawns in the person of Mr. Carstairs, a gentleman of questionable background, and peerless wealth and charm. Before she knows it, Honoria is head over heels, if not in love, then at least in competition with her arch-rival Louisa Allenby who has openly set her cap for the romantic stranger. Honoria might be overmatched, but she finds a mentor in Mr. Carstairs' friend and business manager Mr. Bowes. Bowes has been charged with getting Mr. Carstairs suitably married and settled down, and he has selected Honoria as the perfect wife … for Carstairs, of course.

A handsome, good-humored girl with a generous, if managing disposition, Honoria is hard-pressed to cultivate an air of charming, doll-like helplessness. Nevertheless, Mr. Bowes assures her that Carstairs likes nothing better than to rescue defenseless maidens, so Honoria does her best. She is aided more by good (or bad) luck than any of her own native cunning. After all, it is Louisa's fault Honoria falls out of the boat, and the riding accident is hardly to her credit; as Mr. Bowes is obliged to point out, "Any common female can topple from a great, galloping animal if she has the least ingenuity."

In the end, Honoria is her own worst enemy; she can't resist introducing Mr. Carstairs to Miss Jimson, the spinster companion of the grotesque Mrs. Mander. Very unwise of her. It appears Miss Jimson was exactly the sort of maiden Mr. Carstairs would feel compelled to rescue, and before Honoria knows what is what, her prospective groom has eloped with someone else. Strangely, Honoria is not much disturbed by the disaster--not nearly so much as Mr. Bowes who is thoroughly disgusted with his friend's taste in brides. Honoria comforts Mr. Bowes with the suggestion that if he must make amends for Mr. Carstairs treatment of her, he ought to marry Honoria himself, which, it as it turns out, is a much more satisfactory arrangement for all concerned.

Awe-Struck Publishing; February 2005
218 pages; ISBN 9781587494901
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Honoria
Author: Melissa McCann
The gentleman said, "There you are, Miss Allenby, I hope you will introduce me to your friend." While Louisa rather sullenly performed the introductions, Honoria decided the gentleman was unusually handsome, though not in the common way, and though some might describe his features as coarse, Honoria fancied he possessed a wicked charm. She found herself smiling up through her lashes for all the world like Louisa at her most flirtatious. "How do you do, Mr. Carstairs. I own I have been all curiosity to meet you. Louisa has talked of nothing else." The gentleman bowed. "I believe I may be flattered, Miss Spencer." Honoria said, "In that case, you must be on guard against the sin of vanity; you will find everyone in Lesser Chipping eaten up with curiosity about everything you do." Mr. Carstairs broke into a chuckle which caused Louisa to protest, "Oh, you must pay no mind to Hony, Mr. Carstairs. Her father is the vicar." Mr. Carstairs said to Honoria, "Then I have just made the acquaintance of your father and been invited to call at the vicarage. Very kind, I must say, for my own house is in no condition to receive visitors." Honoria said, "You will be very welcome to call upon my family, Mr. Carstairs. My sister will be in love with you at once." "I see I must take your advice on vanity very much to heart, Miss Spencer." Louisa tittered and slapped his arm with her fan. "La, Mr. Carstairs, I am sure you could never be vain." "Perhaps," Honoria said, "if you feel yourself weakening, my father could write a sermon on the subject for your benefit." Carstairs bowed. "He could deliver it at a select dinner party to which I have invited your family on Tuesday, and you may judge its effect upon my character." "I will be pleased to oblige," she assured him. "You are kindness itself, and I am desolated to take leave of you charming ladies, but I see a tenant of mine, John Sowerby, and I had a particular question regarding sheep." Louisa cried, "Oh, let me join you. I always ask after dear Mr. Sowerby's wife and their darling children." She followed in Mr. Carstairs's wake. Honoria might have pointed out that Mr. Sowerby lived with his spinster sister and had never married, but Louisa took herself off in haste, and Honoria lost her opportunity. Preoccupied with Louisa's antics, Honoria had failed to note the approach of a lantern-jawed gentleman built along the lines of a classical Apollo, though he already showed signs of dissolving into a dissolute Zeus as he grew older. "My dear Nory," the gentleman said. Honoria jumped at the voice behind her. "Oh, bother. I mean, good morning, Mr. Whitham." He sucked in his belly and threw out his chest in a way that strained the seams of his indifferently-tailored coat. "I see you have met our new neighbor. You will, I hope, attend his dinner party Tuesday week. He made a particular point to me that you were invited." Honoria rather thought Louisa had been the author of Mr. Whitham's invitation; ruefully, Honoria saluted a masterful ambush by the enemy.