I nodded, even though I could hardly use Ian—whom I had never met—as a reference point.
“He’s not as handsome.”
“Or as nice.”
I looked at the last Brougham daughter, awaiting her contribution. But all she did was yawn.
“How long will he be staying?” my mother asked politely.
“Two weeks,” Mrs. Brougham answered, but she really only got out, “Two wee—” before one of her daughters howled with dismay.
“Two weeks! An entire fortnight!”
“I was hoping he could accompany us to the local assembly,” Mrs. Brougham said.
This was met by more groans. I must say, I was beginning to grow curious about this Charles fellow. Anyone who could inspire such dread amongst the Brougham daughters must have something to recommend him.
Not, I hasten to add, that I dislike the Brougham daughters. Unlike their brother, none of them was granted her every wish and whim, and thus they are not at all unbearable. But they are—how shall I say it—placid and biddable, and therefore not a natural sort of companion for me (about whom such adjectives have never been applied). Truthfully, I don’t think I had ever known any of them to express a strong opinion about anything. If all four of them detested someone that much—well, if nothing else, he would be interesting.
“Does your nephew like to ride?” my mother asked.
Mrs. Brougham got a crafty look in her eye. “I believe so.”
“Perhaps Amanda would consent to showing him the area.” With that, my mother smiled a most uncharacteristically innocent and sweet smile.
Perhaps I should add that one of the reasons I am convinced that mine is the finest mother in England is that she is rarely innocent and sweet. Oh, do not misunderstand—she has a heart of gold and would do anything for her family. But she grew up the fifth in a family of eight, and she can be marvelously devious and underhanded.
Also, she cannot be bested in conversation. Trust me, I have tried.
So when she offered me up as a guide, I could do nothing but say yes, even as three out of four Brougham sisters began to snicker. (The fourth still looked bored. I was beginning to wonder if there might be something wrong with her.)
“Tomorrow,” Mrs. Brougham said delightedly. She clapped her hands together and beamed. “I shall send him over tomorrow afternoon. Will that do?”
Again, I could say nothing but yes, and so I did, wondering what exactly I had just consented to.
The following afternoon I was dressed in my best riding habit and was lolling about the drawing room, wondering if the mysterious Charles Brougham would actually make an appearance. If he didn’t, I thought, he’d be entirely within his rights. It would be rude, of course, as he was breaking a commitment made on his behalf by his aunt, but all the same, it wasn’t as if he’d asked to be saddled with the local gentry.
My mother had not even tried to deny that she was playing matchmaker. This surprised me; I would have thought she’d put up at least a feeble protest. But instead she reminded me that I had refused a season in London, and then began to expound upon the lack of appropriately aged, eligible gentlemen here in our corner of Gloucestershire.
I reminded her that she had not found her husband in London.
She then said something that began with “Be that as it may,” then veered off so quickly and with such twists and turns that I could not follow a thing she said.
Which I am fairly certain was her intention.
My mother wasn’t precisely upset that I had said no to a season; she was rather fond of our life in the country, and heaven knows my father would not survive in town for more than a week. Mother called me unkind for saying so, but I believe that she secretly agreed with me—Father would get distracted by a plant in the park, and we’d never find him again. (He’s a bit distractible, my father.)
Or, and I confess this is more likely, he would say something utterly inappropriate at a party. Unlike my mother, my father does not have the gift of polite conversation, and he certainly does not see the need for double entendre or cunning twists of phrase. As far as he is concerned, a body ought to say what a body means.
I do love my father, but it is clear that he should be kept away from town.
I could have had a season in London, if I wished. My mother’s family is extremely well-connected. Her brother is a viscount, and her sisters married a duke, an earl, and a baron. I should be admitted to all of the most exclusive gatherings. But I really didn’t wish to go. I should have no freedom whatsoever. Here I may take walks or go for a ride by myself so long as I tell someone where I am going. In London, a young lady may not so much as touch her toe to her front steps without a chaperone.
I think it sounds dreadful.
But back to my mother. She did not mind that I had refused the season because this meant that she would not have to be apart from my father for several months. (Since, as we have determined, he would have to be left at home.) But at the same time, she was genuinely concerned for my future. To that end, she had launched into a bit of a crusade. If I would not go to the eligible gentlemen, she would bring them to me.