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” and 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 distractable, 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.
Hence Charles Brougham.
At two o’clock he had still not arrived, and I must confess, I was growing irritable. It was a hot day, or at least as hot as it gets in Gloucestershire, and my dark green habit, which had felt so stylish and jaunty when I had donned it, was beginning to itch.
I was beginning to wilt.
Somehow my mother and Mrs. Brougham had forgotten to set a time for the nephew’s arrival, so I had been obligated to be dressed and ready at noon precisely.
“What time would you say marks the end of the afternoon?” I asked, fanning myself with a folded-up newspaper.
“Hmmm?” My mother was writing a letter—presumably to one of her many siblings—and wasn’t really listening. She looked quite lovely sitting there by the window. I have no idea what my original mother would have looked like as an older woman, since she did not deign to live that long, but Eloise had not lost any of her beauty. Her hair was still a rich, chestnut color and her skin unlined. Her eyes are difficult to describe—rather changeable in color, actually.
She tells me that she was never considered a beauty when she was young. No one thought she was unattractive, and she was in fact quite popular, but she was never designated a diamond of the first water. She tells me that women of intelligence age better.
I find this interesting, and I do hope it bodes well for my own future.
But at present I was not concerned for any future outside that of the next ten minutes, after which I was convinced I would perish from the heat. “The afternoon,” I repeated. “When would you say it ends? Four o’clock? Five? Please say it isn’t six.”
She finally glanced up. “What are you talking about?”
“Mr. Brougham. We did say the afternoon, did we not?”
She looked at me blankly.
“I may stop waiting for him once the afternoon passes into evening, may I not?”
Mother paused for a moment, her quill suspended in air. “You should not be so impatient, Amanda.”
“I’m not,” I insisted. “I’m hot.”
She considered that. “It is warm in here, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “My habit is made of wool.”
She grimaced, but I noticed she did not suggest that I change. She was not going to sacrifice a potential suitor for anything as inconsequential as the weather. I resumed fanning myself.
“I don’t think his name is Brougham,” Mother said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I believe he is related to Mrs. Brougham, not mister. I don’t know what her family name is.”
She went back to her letter. My mother writes an inordinate number of letters. About what, I cannot imagine. I would not call our family dull, but we are certainly ordinary. Surely her sisters have grown bored of Georgiana has mastered French conjugation and Frederick has skinned his knee.
But Mother likes to receive letters, and she says that one must send to receive, so there she is at her desk, nearly every day, recounting the boring details of our lives.
“Someone is coming,” she said, just as I was beginning to nod off on the sofa. I sat up and turned toward the window. Sure enough, a carriage was rolling up the drive.
“I thought we were meant to go for a ride,” I said, somewhat irritably. Had I sweltered in my riding habit for nothing?
“You were,” Mother murmured, her brow knitting together as she watched the carriage draw near.
I did not think that Mr. Brougham—or whoever was in the carriage—could see into the drawing room through the open window, but just in case, I maintained my dignified position on the sofa, tilting my head ever so slightly so that I could observe the events in the front drive.
The carriage came to a halt and a gentleman hopped down, but his back was to the house and I could see nothing of him other than his height (average) and his hair (dark). He then reached up and assisted a lady down.
“What is she doing here?” I said indignantly.
And then, once Dulcie had both feet safely on the ground, the gentleman aided another young lady, and then another. And then another.
“Did he bring all of the Brougham girls?” my mother asked.
“I thought they hated him.”
I shook my head. “Apparently not.”
The reason for the sisters’ about face became clear a few moments later, when Gunning announced their arrival.
I do not know what Cousin Charles used to look like, but now . . . well, let us just say that any young lady would find him pleasing. His hair was thick and with a bit of wave, and even from across the room I could see that his eyelashes were ridiculously long. His mouth was the sort that always looks as if it is about to smile, which in my opinion is the best sort of mouth to have.
I am not saying that I felt anything other than polite interest, but the Brougham sisters were falling all over themselves to be the one on his arm.
“Dulcie,” my mother said, walking forth with a welcoming smile. “And Antonia. And Sarah.” She took a breath. “And Cordelia, too. What a pleasant surprise to see all of you.”
It is a testament to my mother’s skills as a hostess that she did indeed sound pleased.
“We could not let dear Cousin Charles come over by himself,” Dulcie explained.
“He does not know the way,” added Antonia.
It could not have been a simpler journey—one had only to ride into the village, turn right at the church, and it was only another mile until our drive.
But I did not say this. I did, however, look over at Cousin Charles with some sympathy. It could not have been an entertaining d
“Charles, dear,” Dulcie was saying, “this is Lady Crane, and Miss Amanda Crane.”
I bobbed a curtsy, wondering if I was going to have to climb into that carriage with all five of them. I hoped not. If it was hot in here, it would be beastly in the carriage.
“Lady Crane, Amanda,” Dulcie continued, “my dear cousin Charles, Mr. Farraday.”
I cocked my head at that. My mother was correct—his name was not Brougham. Oh dear, did that mean he was related to Mrs. Brougham? I found Mr. Brougham the more sensible of the two.
Mr. Farraday bowed politely, and for the briefest of moments, his eyes caught mine.
I should say at this point that I am not a romantic. Or at least I do not think I am a romantic. If I were, I would have gone to London for that season. I would have spent my days reading poetry and my nights dancing and flirting and making merry.
I certainly do not believe in love at first sight. Even my parents, who are as much in love as anyone I know, tell me that they did not love each other instantly.
But when my eyes met Mr. Farraday’s . . .
As I said, it was not love at first sight, since I do not believe in such things. It was not anything at first sight, really, but there was something . . . a shared recognition . . . a sense of humor. I’m not certain how to describe it.
I suppose, if pressed, that I would say it was a sense of knowing. That somehow I already knew him. Which was of course ridiculous.
But not as ridiculous as his cousins, who were trilling and frilling and fluttering about. Clearly they had decided that Cousin Charles was no longer a beast, and if anyone was going to marry him, it was going to be one of them.
“Mr. Farraday,” I said, and I could feel the corners of my mouth pinching in an attempt to hold back a smile.