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Lady Madeline's Folly

Lady Madeline's Folly by Joan Smith
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Lady Madeline Fordwich, who acted as political hostess for her distinguished Tory father, each season acquired a protégé to advance socially and politically in London. Her former suitor, Lord Eskott, though a Whig, had become a dear friend. But Escott did not at all approve of Maddie’s newest protégé, Henry Aldred, a relative with whom she appeared to be falling in love.

Regency Romance by Joan Smith; originally published by Fawcett Crest

Belgrave House; September 1983
133 pages; ISBN 9780449203408
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Lady Madeline's Folly
Author: Joan Smith

Lady Madeline Morash sat in her elegant saloon on the south side of St. James's Square, flipping impatiently through a thick stack of white cards. She displayed no enthusiasm for any of the balls, routs, dinners, levees, ridottos, or assemblies to which she was bidden in the coming weeks. After seven years on the town, she no longer found novelty in such entertainments. One ball was much like another after all. She was too much her father's daughter to find fulfillment in mere social doings.

Indeed that same Gold Saloon in which she sat was known in political circles as the Second Court of St. James. De­cisions of national importance were as likely to be discussed there as at Westminster or 10 Downing Street, for her father, the Marquess of Fordwich, was a patriarch of the reigning Tory party. He had been a protégé of Pitt the Elder, his neighbor across the square in Chatham House. Pitt the Younger was spoken of in less glowing terms, after having snatched the prime ministership from under the nose of Fordwich in 1784. It was a hard blow, losing this top post to a youngster in his early twenties. Fordwich had held various senior positions in the party, but as he advanced into his seventies, he was content to be a minister without portfolio. He made his influence felt in the corridors of power in his role of wise old man of the party, advising, consulting, arranging strategies and compromises to con­found the "demmed Whigs."

His daughter added her mite to the running of the country by acting his hostess, a role left vacant upon the death of his wife some years ago. Madeline was also his confidante, friend, companion, and sounding board for notions he in­tended to expound at Westminster. As she was a female, however, the larger part of her influence was felt in the social sphere, particularly that area of it lapping at the un­defined boundary where the right contacts led to appoint­ment or promotion. It was no secret a word from Lady Madeline, whispered in the right ear, could make the dif­ference. Ministers, princes, royal dukes, ambassadors, com­mittee chairmen, and board presidents—they were all her friends and callers.

Even as she sat deciding whether to honor the Countess Milthorpe's ball—a staid, formal, but highly prestigious do—or the less prestigious but infinitely more amusing rout party offered by the Gorringtons, the door knocker sounded to announce her first caller of the morning. She smiled with interest to see one of her old friends from the past enter.

"Lady Madeline, how nice to see you again!" The gentle­man beamed as he advanced to pump her hand, which was extended to him. Curtsies were for young girls. Offering her hand, she felt, put her on a more equal footing with gentlemen callers.

"Captain Hopper, you are back from the wars. And not alone. Don't tell me this is a wife you have in tow?" As her eyes traveled over his shoulder to the shy-looking woman behind him, she realized it had better be a wife, for the lady was four or five months pregnant.

"As you see," he said with a nod, making them ac­quainted. "I sent you an announcement of the wedding. Did you not receive it?"

She had no memory of it, though she received many such notices, and it had quite possibly slipped her mind.

"Ronald has told me so much about you," Mrs. Hopper said shyly. He had not happened to mention, however, that the lady who had been helpful in his promotion to captain was young and strikingly attractive.

Lady Madeline was tall. She held her head high, her body as straight as a soldier's. Her eyes were green, intel­ligent eyes, set in a pretty face framed by dark curls. She was vivacious, animated, which caused her to be considered more beautiful than she actually was. She was elegantly outfitted in a dark green morning gown, severely tailored, but lightened at the neck by a white collar and a silver filigree brooch.

"How many years has it been?" Madeline asked, ran­sacking her memory. Ronald Hopper had been one of her first projects, though not the very first. Her second season? No, the tail end of the first.

"More than six years, ma'am. A lot of water under the bridge since then. I fully expected to learn you were married. Audrey and I have a son—and a daughter, we hope, on the way."

"No, I am still single," she answered nonchalantly. She refused to be defensive in her replies to this frequently asked question. What could have given him the idea...? Ah, Eskott, of course. She had been running around with Eskott that first season.

"Still in the business of helping needy callers, I hope?" he asked with a quizzing smile.

They sat down to a glass of wine and rehashed the past for several minutes. "So you are back from Canada, and looking out for a post, are you?" she asked bluntly.

"That's the idea," he admitted frankly.

"Do you have anything specific in mind?"

"I plan to leave the Navy. Some administrative post with the Admiralty occurred to me, after my years of experience."

"But why have you decided to sell out? The naval service is so active, expanding at this time. You should make quick progress up the rope, and you look very handsome in uni­form, too," she added, with a smile to include his wife.

"Sailoring plays havoc with a man's private life," he said. "I was so much away from Audrey, you know. I am practically a stranger to my son. They were in Canada with me, but I did not see much of them, and would see even less if I got shipped off to help in the Peninsular campaign."

A closer examination of Audrey confirmed Madeline's suspicion that the woman was a clinging vine. Her social skills appeared to be nonexistent. She had scarcely opened her mouth since sitting down. There would be no raising Hopper any higher than she already had. Some quiet comer in the Admiralty could certainly be arranged, however. He spoke on about naval matters till she was quite bored with it.

"In particular I would be interested to do what I can to get the Orders in Council repealed," he told her, his eyes shining with zeal. "You have no idea how they are resented by the Americans. Even our own men don't like to be boarding and searching their vessels. It will lead to war in the end, if it isn't stopped. You may imagine how that would stretch our forces, already contending with Napoleon. I don't believe the folks at home have any idea of the territory we have to cover. From the northern wilds to Louisiana in the south, and from the Great Lakes to the mid-Atlantic. And what does it all accomplish in the end?"

"Why you begin to sound like a Jonathon, Captain Hop­per. It accomplishes the goal of the laws passed in Parlia­ment. Bonaparte has placed an embargo on English trade; England has retaliated by blockading countries that enforce Napoleon's Decrees."

"It does a deal of mischief. Our own manufacturers are as much against the orders as anyone. America buys a deal of their stuff, remember."

"I must confess I am not particularly well informed on the subject. Why don't you discuss your notions with the gentlemen at the Admiralty?"

"I intend to, but I would be listened to more sympa­thetically if I went with a letter from his lordship in my pocket. Everyone knows Lord Fordwich's influence."

She had some idea her father was in favor of the Orders in Council, and would not like to send Hopper spouting these opposing theories. She mentioned this in an oblique manner.

"Perhaps it is the Whigs I ought to visit," he said, dis­appointed. "They are against the Orders."

The word Whig was a red flag to her. What would they not give to have an experienced naval man declaring in no uncertain terms that he agreed with them, and why. "Let me see what I can do. I happen to know there is an excellent post vacant at Plymouth. What are your feelings about removing to Plymouth, Captain?"

"What sort of post is it? I plan to sell out and go into a non-military sort of work, you recall."

"Why give up your seniority and pension? It would be a desk job. You can keep your officer's pay, but lead a settled life as well."

Ronald looked to his wife, whose eyes were shining with pleasure. "It would be lovely," she said wistfully. "You could still be near the ships and water, which you love so much, Ronald, but we could have a home too. A real home, our first."

"If you think you can arrange it..." Hopper said.

Lady Madeline smiled tolerantly. She was sure she could arrange it with the crooking of a finger. She discovered where the Hoppers were putting up—at a hotel whose name did not impress her—and smiled them out.

Within a minute, they were forgotten. She was sorry to see Hopper had done so little with the opportunity she had given him. But then he had only been her second protégé. Her others had done better for themselves.

It was her custom each year to take under her wing a bright, young, upcoming gentleman who lacked connec­tions, and sponsor him. Her first protégé had lately pleased her by being appointed as secretary to the Council of Penang. Another of her boys (she called them boys whatever their chronological age, though they were usually young) was about to head up the Parliamentary Committee on Corn. She had first got him elected M.P. for Tain Burghs, a small northern seat, but a clever man could make as much noise from a small borough as a large one, and even wield the same power as a county member who actually fought an election.

She had not yet found her boy for the coming season. That was why she was feeling so dull. It had nothing to do with Ronald's having a wife and child, and his surprise at finding her still single. She could have been married any time over the past years. Dozens of men had dangled after her most particularly. Several of them had spoken to her father, but she could not seem to care for any of them in a matrimonial way. Her interest in the wedded state was purely vicarious. She dabbled in the medieval pastime of match­making for others; for herself, the right man just did not seem to come along. Her own life was too interesting, too exciting—that was it. Why should she settle down to raise a brood of children, when she could be in the very center of the most exciting doings of the country?

She looked with interest toward the hallway at the sound of approaching footsteps. It was Lord Fordwich, who had just come out of his study, ready for his daily trip to West­minster. He had his greatcoat already about his shoulders, as it was December and a strong nip was in the air.

In his hands he held a leather case, which would be stuffed with the papers he had brought home to study. He was tall, his once broad shoulders now beginning to stoop forward as he advanced into his seventies. He was still a commanding figure, however, with his full head of white hair swept majestically back from a high brow. His eyebrows had bris­tled with age, lending his countenance an angry hue that frightened new acquaintances but did not dismay his daugh­ter in the least.

"Who was your caller?" he asked. "I heard some voices in the hallway a moment ago."

"Ronald Hopper. You remember him?"

"Ah yes, the youngster you got sent off to Canada. Back, is he? What has he to say for himself?"

"He mentioned selling out his commission and taking a job. I've promised to help him. I had in mind that post at Plymouth. Whom should I see about it, Papa?"

"That post is for an officer, Maddie, not a civilian."

"Oh, I talked him out of resigning. It is a settled life he craves—or his wife does. I had no opinion of her."

"I don't know why you bother your head with helping these thankless fellows—be better off with a brood of your own to mother. But for what it is worth, you might send him along to speak to Dundas—Robert Dundas. You can hardly send him to the First Lord of the Admiralty, what? Actually it looks as though Dundas will get the post soon."

"May I say you recommend Hopper?"

"I've heard no harm of the lad. Use my name, if you think it will help. You are kind to trouble yourself on his behalf."

"It is not purely philanthropical. He spoke against those Orders in Council you have mentioned, you see. When I tried to straighten him out, he used that four-letter word we hate. Whig! Wouldn't they like to get hold of him? Plymouth is a good distance to put between him and Brougham and that set."

"Wise girl." He smiled approvingly. "The merchants are all up in arms over the orders."

"Are they a good measure, Papa? I felt ignorant about the subject when Ronald discussed it."

"Wise? Of course they are wise, unless you think we ought to let Bonaparte run tame over the seas. He has demmed near starved the nation with his decrees. Upstart!"

This superficial answer satisfied her. Her real interest in politics was small. She enjoyed being in the inner circle, and was content to repeat the philosophies heard in her own saloon. Of greater interest was to watch the conflict of personalities, to prophecy who was a comer and who on his way out, who was clever and who stupid, who had the prince's ear this month and who was out in the cold, and best of all, who had outwitted the Whigs.

"Anything exciting scheduled for debate at the House today?" she asked.

"He's back. This may be it. I expect I'll be gone all day and half the night, Maddie." His eyes sparkled with excitement as he cast an arch smile in her direction.

There was no elucidation of the "he" necessary between them. "He" was Prince George, appointed regent the pre­ceding February, when it was no longer possible to hope for his father's recovery from madness. "He" was no real favorite of Lord Fordwich. His high spending, his women, his drinking, and his running off to holiday at his Brighton pavilion at this time of crisis—all these could be over­looked. The great crime was that he was a Whig, almost certainly come back to London now to ask for Lord Per­ceval's resignation as prime minister, to set up that demmed Grey or Grenville in his stead.

"That sounds exciting. I'll go to the ladies' gallery and watch the show," Madeline decided.

"The excitement won't occur in the House," he told her, "but in private meetings. You would do better to stay home and receive callers. See what you can learn from them about the people's attitude to this change of power." But the truth was, there was seldom any but Tory callers in that house, and their attitude was as well known as an old ballad.

"Keep me informed," she said eagerly. "Send me a note the instant you hear anything definite. Perhaps I shall go to Almack's this evening and see what I can discover of Lady Hertford, or Yarmouth."

"You'll learn nothing from that pair," her father opined, but the young lady still had some hopes of charming the truth out of Lady Hertford's son, if not the prince's mistress herself.

The butler entered to inform Fordwich that his carriage was waiting. Madeline accompanied him to the door. She liked to watch his departures—his elegant body being bowed into his shiny black carriage, the horses jiggling in impa­tience to be off. There was a feeling of solidity and comfort in the knowledge that her father was one of the most pow­erful men in the country, and looked the part. But how old he was growing!

Just before she closed the door, he turned back. "Oh, by the by, my cousin Aldred is sending his son to town—he should arrive today. He will call, no doubt. Make him welcome. He does not stay here, but is putting up with some friend."

Her mind flew swiftly over her cousins, scarcely recog­nizing the name, for the Aldreds were but little spoken of, in the usual way of poor relations. "Coming from where?" she asked.

"The north—Manchester. Looking about for a position, I believe. Aldred says he is a bright chap. You'll find some­thing for him. I am too busy at this time. G'day." He nodded and was off, walking carefully, and being half hauled into his carriage.

Despite the excitement of a possible change of govern­ment, she continued thinking of her father when she returned to the saloon. Things would be very different when he died. Her position in society depended to no small extent on being Fordwich's daughter. She had no brother. Upon Fordwich's death, the title and estate would go to Cousin Morash, who was not at all active politically. It was even possible Morash would not welcome her at his home. Her mother's fortune of thirty thousand pounds was hers, so she would not be poor, but certainly her new establishment would not equal the one to which she was accustomed.

And if she bought a London home—and she could not envision a life without a London residence—would there be enough left over for a country seat? Never being able to leave the city except as someone's guest was nearly as dreadful an anticipation as not having a home in London.

Cousin Morash would very likely offer her rack and manger, but his wife was a drab, dreary creature. What manner of social life would Cousin Eileen have, she wondered. The annual ball, for instance, might very well go by the board, as Eileen felt it her duty to present her husband a plight of her troth every year. Six children already she had encum­bered him with, every one of them with red hair and freckles.

How could women do it? With a shake of her head, as though to get rid of the problem, she went to a desk and began penning her note to Robert Dundas, informing him that Captain Hopper... Her work was interrupted by a new caller. She looked up with interest as the butler announced:

"Mr. Henry Aldred, ma'am."