Monday, May 18, 2009

Enjoy my free read: THE ROMANTIC MISS DUMBARTON Part I

By Maggi Andersen (c)

London, 1820

“Lord Bradshaw has left his card,” Lady Dumbarton said faintly, waving the offending article as if it had just burst into flames in her fingers. “We are to expect his morning call, this very afternoon.”
“But that makes no sense,” Alice said, rising from her position on the sofa where she’d been curled up with their ginger cat, Jelly. She took the card from her mother and examined it. Lord Bradshaw’s name was printed on it in fine silver lettering.
“Don’t pretend to be dull-witted Alice,” her mother said crisply. “You know how London society differs from the country. We have been here for almost a month.”
“Long enough to wish myself home again,” Alice said wistfully. She turned the card over in her hands. “Who is Lord Peregrine Bradshaw?”
“Only a pink of the Ton with a stipend of ten thousand a year.” Lady Dumbarton rushed about the room in her black bombazine gown, inspecting the furniture for traces of dust that may have settled since Mary polished it that morning.
Alice swallowed, beginning to feel cornered. “What is his interest with this family? We surely rank far lower than he on society’s scale of importance.”
Her mother picked up a tasseled cushion, shook it, and put it down again. “Why must you act like a pauper? Your father was a Baron.”
“Yes, but Grandfather left us with nothing but a pile of crumbling bricks in Devon, and huge debts it took every penny poor Father had to repay. It sent him to his grave. Now Sophie must support us.”
“All the more reason for you to marry well.”
“I will try, Mama, as I promised.” Alice leaned against her mother, who had at last settled on the sofa. “But I’m not a famous beauty, and I don’t have a handsome dowry, so I don’t know how I’ll manage.”
Lady Dumbarton reached over to smooth a lock of Alice’s hair. “We must do something with you after luncheon. Put on your Pomona green gown, that goes so well with your eyes.” She sighed. “It was made by Sophie’s modiste.”
“I suppose I should be thankful she felt the color didn’t suit her,” Alice said.
“Of course it doesn’t. A blue-eyed blonde, what was she thinking?” She patted Alice’s hand. “I do so want you to be happy. Oh dear! I hope Sophie is at least content. Lord Beaumont is so much older than her.”
“Tish. Sophie is as happy as a kitten lapping cream, Mama. She always dreamed of the life Beaumont has given her, the big house, the army of servants, the gowns and jewels.”
Lady Dumbarton wrung her hands. “She seems so.”
“She is. Sophie was never of the romantic persuasion.”
“That’s true.” Lady Dumbarton gave Alice a perplexed frown. “But you, child, are different.” She shook her head and sighed. “I’m at a loss to know just who you take after. Reading novels and reciting poetry to Bessie, while wandering about the meadows. I do fear for you, Alice.”
Alice laughed. “Bessie is a very discerning cow she favours Keats as much as I do!” She left the sofa and went to rest her elbows on the window sill. The sky was a depressing drab grey and brown smoke hovered over the rooftops. “I was hoping to walk in the park this afternoon. So much of London is dreary! I miss green grass and trees and blue sky.”
“Lord Bradshaw won’t stay above half an hour. You may walk in Hyde Park with Mary after he leaves.”
Jelly jumped up to join Alice at the window. She stroked his smooth head and he responded with a loud vibrating purr. “You haven’t told me why Lord Bradshaw comes here.”
“It would be the young Lord I suppose. His father was a friend of your Papa’s. They were both together up at Cambridge, I believe.”
“Doesn’t seem to be much of a reason,” Alice said doubtfully.
“There’s the bell.” Lady Dumbarton rose. “Straight after luncheon, we will attend to your appearance.”
“You make me sound like Dumbarton Hall, in need of compete renovation.” Alice glanced in the gilt mirror hanging above the mantle. She saw worried green eyes, a rather untidy riot of chestnut curls and a pale face with a deplorably turned-up nose. She shook her head and followed her mother to the dining room.
* * * *
Lord Bradshaw could hardly be described as a pink of the Ton. He gave a fine leg, bending over the ladies’ hands, his mouth hovering a discreet distance from their fingers, but wore a brown cloth coat, his necktie simple and neat. He had a long face, with a long nose and wide mouth, and was extremely tall. He looked to Alice as if he might fold up like a parasol when he sat down, and she had to chide herself not to smile. His only attractive feature was his blue eyes. They twinkled in a friendly fashion at Alice. He removed his hat, and smoothed back dark hair that had whitened around his ears. Heavens, Alice thought with dismay. He must be fifty, if he’s a day.
Mary brought in the tea tray. Lady Dumbarton and he quickly exhausted any news of mutual acquaintances and their polite talk faltered into silence.
Lord Bradshaw cleared his throat. “I’ve come today,” he said, “With a proposition.”
Lady Dumbarton raised her brows. “Indeed?”
Alice bit her lip. Would her mother throw her to the wolves? But no one could accuse Lord Bradshaw of being a wolf, not even one in sheep’s clothing. She ordered her scattered thoughts and caught up with the conversation which veered alarmingly onto a new subject.
“My second born son, Alexander, has been bed-ridden for six months now,” Lord Bradshaw concluded.
“I am most sorry to hear it,” Lady Dumbarton replied.
Alice didn’t like to ask how this tragedy had come about, fearing it had already been mentioned, her mind did wander when she panicked. But Lord Bradshaw helpfully supplied the information.
“A riding accident,” he said, nodding. “Alexander is-was a superb rider, but accidents happen to the best of us.” He swallowed, his adam’s apple bobbing in his thin throat, the rims of his blue eyes reddening.
Alice felt profoundly sorry for Lord Bradshaw, but longed for him to come to the point. She was involved in this somewhere of that she felt sure.
“When I heard about your misfortune, I thought about how much I liked Lord Dumbarton, we were firm friends at Cambridge. I was extremely sorry to hear he’d passed away.”
“That’s kind of you, Lord Bradshaw,” Lady Dumbarton said, offering him a plate of cake.
Lord Bradshaw put down his cup and took a slice. “It was when I read about it in The Times that I came up with the idea.”
“The idea?” Alice’s mother prompted with an anxious glance at Alice.
He nodded. “You have a daughter of marriageable age. I have a son of five and twenty. I would like to see him married.”
Lady Dumbarton slid another look at Alice. She put her hand to the brooch at her throat. “I don’t believe … “
Lord Bradshaw leaned forward. “Please don’t dismiss this until you’ve heard it all, Lady Dumbarton.”
“Very well.”
“We Bradshaw’s are luckily quite plump in the pocket. I would have no difficulty at all in restoring Dumbarton Hall, and the dower house for you, of course.”
“The dower house?”
Lord bradshaw gazed at Alice. “The young people could live in the big house, once it was made livable, of course.”
Alice felt her mother left this up to her. Was it the entrancing prospect of a refurbished Dower House? She should say something at this point, stop it before it went further. She moved onto the edge of her chair and cleared her throat, searching for a polite refusal.
“Please, both of you, do not dismiss this out of hand, not until you’ve met Alexander. You, young lady, must be happy with the prospect of living with someone bedridden.”
“Bedridden?” Alice uttered faintly.
He frowned. “We hoped for a long time that he would walk again, but as time goes by …. Will you agree to meet Alexander? Before you decide one way or t’other?”
Lady Dumbarton looked appealingly at Alice. Alice stared back at her mother. All her romantic dreams lay at her feet on the rug. “Yes, Lord Bradshaw. I’ll be delighted to meet your son.”

Copyright: Maggi Andersen

1 comment:

Carol North said...

Delightful story, and daring to have a bedridden hero (I'm assuming he's the hero).
Carol North