See here for the previous chapters of Lady Elizabeth.
“We do not have to do this, if you wish,” Elizabeth said, standing before the horse with wide eyes. With great force of will, she swallowed and took regular breaths.
“Nonsense. Of course I shall teach you, if you still desire to learn,” he said, giving her his attention.
She knew he could sense her forebodings. Learning to ride had seemed a brilliant idea at first, but the actuality of mounting the large beast left her highly uneasy at the prospect. She had to decide then if she would ever conquer her fear, or if she would be forever ruled by it and unable to ride. Edward’s willingness to persist at the pianoforte despite Lady Leeds’s interruptions emboldened her. He would find her equal to learning this skill. “What shall I do?” she inquired.
They began by becoming acquainted with the animal. He told her that a horse could perceive its rider’s spirits, and if she was anxious, it would become so. The most important thing was to stay calm in any circumstance.
“Take this cube of sugar and hold it out with your palm flat and your fingers together,” Edward instructed with a demonstration, adding that a treat for the horse would hasten the formation of their acquaintance.
Elizabeth nearly expected it to bite her hand, but the old mare which Lord Chelmsford had requested for their lessons was all gentleness. It turned its mellow brown eye to gaze upon her, munching on the sugar cube. “I do believe she likes you,” Edward interpreted.
Elizabeth was sufficiently comfortable by the end of the lesson that Edward helped her mount and ride back to the house while he led the mare at a slow, easy pace. After her first, quite awkward dismount, he assured her that practice would improve her grace. “You did extremely well today, Lady Elizabeth. I have no doubt that, in short time, you shall be a very accomplished horsewoman.”
“Thank you, Lord Chelmsford,” was all she could muster in reply. Quite inexplicably, though she had been at ease with him during the previous hour, her reticence returned in force and she found herself entirely bashful once more.
They planned for continuing the next week, Lady Leicester joined them with an invitation to tea for Lord Chelmsford, the gentleman was honored but declined on account of previous engagements, and bid the ladies farewell.
“The Chelmsfords are becoming good friends to you and Charlotte,” Lady Leicester observed.
“Yes. They are most kind,” Elizabeth agreed, following her mother inside. Before she joined Lady Leicester and Charlotte in the sitting room, she changed out of the riding habit borrowed from Delia Rosse until the seamstress completed her new habit.
Her sister, at work on a letter to her Mr. Bisshopp, who was away seeing to some last business matters before the wedding, greeted her when she entered the room. “How was your lesson, Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth sat at the table next to Charlotte and sipped her tea. “It went quite well, I think. Lord Chelmsford seemed pleased with my progress.”
“She rode in from the fields,” Lady Leicester supplemented Elizabeth’s modest response. “Her seat was very ladylike and elegant. Our Elizabeth will be a fine rider.”
Charlotte was pleased. “It does not surprise me. My sister is accomplished at everything she attempts.”
~ ~ ~
Following his business, Lord Chelmsford set in companionable silence with his sister in the cottage they had taken for the season. Rarely was neither sibling engaged in the company of others, and so they enjoyed the time of familial bonding with relish.
Edward looked up from his correspondence. “Here is something that will interest you, Sister.”
“Hmm? What is it?” She marked her place in her book and laid it down.
“I have just had a letter from Payton saying he is preparing to visit for a fortnight.”
“Yes. He is not specific as to when we can expect him, but I think it will be in the next couple weeks,” Edward answered what he thought was her unarticulated question.
“Eddie, are you certain this is a good idea? I am fond of Payton, but his influence on you is admittedly not admirable,” Lady Margaret protested.
“Relax, Maggie,” Edward laughed. “You can assure Father that your influence, combined with the propriety of our new acquaintances, shall sufficiently temper whatever danger I am in from my old friend.”
Having failed to persuade her brother by one argument, she switched to another. “Consider our friendship with the Townshend sisters. From what I have heard, they knew each other when he visited his elderly aunt last year, and their interactions brought discomfort to Lady Elizabeth. You know his nature. She is just such a lady that Payton would be inspired to chase after securing her affections, in order to break her heart. Do you not think his return shall discomfort our new friend?”
Edward arose and crossed to join his sister on the couch. He frowned in thought before replying, “It may well be that he embarrassed Lady Elizabeth in the course of his past stay. Withal that is true, he did return to town of his own inclination, in which case he either gave up his suit as hopeless or lost interest. He will not take up again with any unwanted attention, particularly with us to persuade him otherwise.”
Lady Margaret’s countenance lifted. “You are right, Brother. Perhaps we can influence them to form a friendship during Payton’s visit. After all, we are scheming to bring her out more and persuade others to do the same. How was your lesson?”
“I believe it was a success. She seems a little less reserved today,” Edward answered, gazing at the fire.
Margaret refrained from teasing him that she meant to inquire after Elizabeth’s riding, not after their interactions.