The Duke and I (Bridgertons 1) - Page 21

This is because I, too, have a brother, and he is not five years younger than they are. In fact, he is my twin, which makes him a matrimonial possibility for any of them.

Unsurprisingly, Oliver did not elect to accompany my mother, Penelope, and me t

o tea.

But here is what happened, and here is why I am pleased with myself for not saying what I wished to say, which was: Surely you must be an idiot.

I was sipping my tea, trying to keep the cup at my lips for as long as possible so as to avoid questions about Oliver, when Mrs. Brougham said, “It must be so very intriguing to be a twin. Tell me, dear Amanda, how is it different than not being one?”

I should hope that I do not have to explain why this question was so asinine. I could hardly tell her what the difference was, as I have spent approximately one hundred percent of my life as a twin and thus have precisely zero experience at not being one.

I must have worn my disdain on my face because my mother shot me one of her legendary warning looks the moment my lips parted to reply. Because I did not wish to embarrass my mother (and not because I felt any need to make Mrs. Brougham feel cleverer than she actually was), I said, “I suppose one always has a companion.”

“But your brother is not here now,” one of the Brougham girls said.

“My father is not always with my mother, and I would imagine that she considers him to be her companion,” I replied.

“A brother is hardly the same as a husband,” Mrs. Brougham trilled.

“One would hope,” I retorted. Truly, this was one of the more ridiculous conversations in which I had taken part. And Penelope looked as if she would have questions when we returned home.

My mother gave me another look, one that said she knew exactly what sort of questions Penelope would have, and she did not wish to answer them. But as my mother had always said she valued curiosity in females . . .

Well, she’d be hoisted by her own petard.

I should mention that, petard hoistings aside, I am convinced that I have the finest mother in England. And unlike being a non-twin, about which I have no knowledge, I do know what it’s like to have a different mother, so I am fully qualified, in my opinion, to make the judgment.

My mother, Eloise Crane, is actually my stepmother, although I only refer to her as such when required to for purposes of clarification. She married my father when Oliver and I were eight years old, and I am quite certain she saved us all. It is difficult to explain what our lives were like before she entered them. I could certainly describe events, but the tone of it all, the feeling in our house . . .

I don’t really know how to convey it.

My mother—my original mother—killed herself. For most of my life I did not know this. I thought she died of a fever, which I suppose is true. What no one told me was that the fever was brought on because she tried to drown herself in a lake in the dead of winter.

I have no intention of taking my own life, but I must say, this would not be my chosen method.

I know I should feel compassion and sympathy for her. My current mother was a distant cousin of hers and tells me that she was sad her entire life. She tells me that some people are like that, just as others are unnaturally cheerful all the time. But I can’t help but think that if she was going to kill herself, she might as well have done it earlier. Perhaps when I was a toddler. Or better yet, an infant. It certainly would have made my life easier.

I asked my uncle Hugh (who is not really my uncle, but he is married to the stepsister of my current mother’s brother’s wife and he lives quite close and he’s a vicar) if I would be going to hell for such a thought. He said no, that frankly, it made a lot of sense to him.

I do think I prefer his parish to my own.

But the thing is, now I have memories of her. Marina, my first mother. I don’t want memories of her. The ones I have are hazy and muddled. I can’t recall the sound of her voice. Oliver says that might be because she hardly spoke. I can’t remember whether she spoke or not. I can’t remember the exact shape of her face, and I can’t remember her smell.

Instead I remember standing outside her door, feeling very small and frightened. And I remember tiptoeing a great deal, because we knew we mustn’t make noise. I remember always feeling rather nervous, as if I knew something bad were about to happen.

And indeed it did.

Shouldn’t a memory be specific? I would not mind a memory of a moment, or of a face, or a sound. Instead I have vague feelings, and not even happy ones at that.

I once asked Oliver if he had the same memories, and he just shrugged and said he didn’t really think about her. I am not sure if I believe him. I suppose I probably do; he does not often think deeply about such things. Or perhaps more accurately, he does not think deeply about anything. One can only hope that when he marries (which surely will not come soon enough for the sisters Brougham) that he will choose a bride with a similar lack of thoughtfulness and sensibility. Otherwise, she shall be miserable. He won’t be, of course; he wouldn’t even notice her misery.

Men are like that, I’m told.

My father, for example, is remarkably unobservant. Unless, of course, you happen to be a plant, and then he notices everything. He is a botanist and could happily toddle about in his greenhouse all day. He seems to me a most unlikely match for my mother, who is vivacious and outgoing and never at a loss for words, but when they are together it is obvious that they love each other very much. Last week I caught them kissing in the garden. I was aghast. Mother is nearly forty, and Father older than that.

But I have digressed. I was speaking of the Brougham family, more specifically of Mrs. Brougham’s foolish query about not being a twin. I was, as previously mentioned, feeling rather pleased with myself for not having been rude, when Mrs. Brougham said something that was of interest.

“My nephew comes to visit this afternoon.”

Every one of the Brougham girls popped straighter in her seat. I swear, it was like some children’s game with snaps. Bing bing bing bing . . . Up they went, from perfect posture to preternaturally erect.

From this I immediately deduced that Mrs. Brougham’s nephew must be of marriageable age, probably of good fortune, and perhaps of pleasing features.

“You did not mention that Ian was coming to visit,” one of the daughters said.

“He’s not,” replied Mrs. Brougham. “He is still at Oxford, as you well know. Charles is coming.”

Poof. The daughters Brougham deflated, all at once.

“Oh,” said one of them. “Charlie.”

“Today, you say,” said another, with a remarkable lack of enthusiasm.

And then the third said, “I shall have to hide my dolls.”

The fourth said nothing. She just resumed drinking her tea, looking rather bored by the whole thing.

“Why do you have to hide your dolls?” Penelope asked. In all truth, I was wondering the same thing, but it seemed too childish a question for a lady of nineteen years.

“That was twelve years ago, Dulcie,” Mrs. Brougham said. “Good heavens, you’ve a memory of an elephant.”

“One does not forget what he did to my dolls,” Dulcie said darkly.

“What did he do?” Penelope asked.

Dulcie made a slashing motion across her throat. Penelope gasped, and I must confess, there was something rather gruesome in Dulcie’s expression.

“He is a beast,” said one of Dulcie’s sisters.

“He is not a beast,” Mrs. Brougham insisted.

The Brougham girls all looked at us, shaking their heads in silent agreement, as if to say, Do not listen to her.

“How old is your nephew now?” my mother asked.

“Two and twenty,” Mrs. Brougham replied, looking rather grateful for the question. “He was graduated from Oxford last month.”

“He is a year older than Ian,” explained one of the girls.

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 among 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 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.

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