The fourth chapter to the story of Lady Elizabeth. You can find the preceding chapters in the page marked “Lady Elizabeth” at the top of this page.
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Delia Rosse, one of Charlotte’s best friends, arrived early to discuss the previous night’s festivities in detail with the ladies of the house. Elizabeth was mostly quiet, although she did periodically provide, on being questioned, a detail about a specific gown’s trimmings or the number of dances danced by a certain pair.
“Lord Chelmsford and Lady Margaret were very fine and pleasing,” Delia at last introduced the county’s newest arrivals to the discussion. “I did not personally dance with Lord Chelmsford, but Arabella Daventry stood up with him for a set and found him quite charming, and anyone with eyes can see how handsome he is. Elizabeth, you danced with him, did you not?”
“I did,” she replied, confused as to why she was blushing.
“What did you think of him?” her aunt inquired.
“I–I thought him very agreeable, and a rather astute observer,” was Elizabeth’s honest answer.
The younger girls, her mother, and her aunt looked at her with curiosity. Charlotte gently prodded, “How so?”
“I very carefully attempted to move our conversation away from a topic I found somewhat uncomfortable for myself, and he noticed my intention immediately,” Elizabeth remembered. “However, he was kind, and after noticing my motive, he obliged me in a change of topic.”
“Oh, he seems like the perfect gentleman!” Delia exclaimed. “How fortunate you are engaged to Mr. Bisshopp, Charlotte, for if you were unattached, neither I nor any other lady in ten miles should have a chance at winning Lord Chelmsford,” she acknowledged the well-known truth of Charlotte’s beauty and the fortune of all the Townshend daughters. Charlotte, in maidenly humility, was always hesitant to believe her friends’ praises of her beauty. In response to Delia’s compliment, she simply smiled, shook her head, and let the conversation continue.
“Delia, I would advise you not to be so hasty in your pursuit of Lord Chelmsford,” Lady Leicester cautioned. “From what his sister and even he himself have said to us, though it may have been in jest, I gather that our new acquaintance is a rather wild sort of man. It seems he delights in near-scandal, and has no serious thought of settling down or marrying. He is, in general, such a rake, that their sojourn in our county appears to have been ordered by his father, in hopes of reforming him.”
To this, Delia replied with devilish humor that she might like to attempt to tame an infamous rake, and that, if she could not do so, she would at least have the fortune of being a woman heartbroken by unrequited love. Charlotte laughed at Delia’s ridiculous assertions, knowing her friend’s temper. Elizabeth was more concerned that behind Delia’s jesting lay some truth. She thought with a furrowed brow of what to say in gentle warning, but before she came to any satisfactory conclusion on wording, their conversation had so moved forward that for her to speak would be out of place.
So they continued, until the hour came for receiving and paying visits. Promptly at noon, Lord Chelmsford and Lady Margaret themselves arrived at the Townshends’ house. Lady Leicester introduced them to Delia, who, according to manners, then took her leave of them, and then offered the guests tea and light refreshments.
As the six found and resumed their seats, Edward found a seat next to Elizabeth. His purpose in doing so was not, as she at first hypothesized, to make her uncomfortable and highly aware of his presence; for, after the first general conversation with the other occupants of the room was made, he turned to her and said, “Lady Elizabeth, I have a favor to request of you.”
Her surprise at his declaration could hardly have been more had he dropped to the floor and pantomimed a circus monkey in their drawing room. “Of me, my Lord?” she asked.
He smiled kindly. “Indeed, of you, and of no other. You see, for a long while now I have desired to be able to play the pianoforte, but have had not the time nor the teacher. I now find myself with ample leisure time in which to learn the instrument, and so the lack of a teacher is the only remaining impediment. Upon hearing your performance last night, your skill and talent, which surpass any I have ever witnessed, struck my by their beauty, simplicity, and taste, and I decided at that moment to bring myself humbly to your feet and beg that you would lower yourself to be my teacher. Does this proposal appeal to you?”
Margaret saw that her new friend was too taken aback to respond then. “Come now, Eddie, be a gentleman and give Lady Elizabeth time enough to consider your request before pressing her to respond to it!” she chided with a laugh. “Forgive my brother’s crude manners, Lady Elizabeth. He has had but poor training, for all his fine schools, it would appear! Now, Lady Charlotte, I so admired your gown last night. Forgive my curiosity, but however do you stay so abreast of the current fashions when you live such a distance from London?”
Most of the remainder of their half-hour visit was passed with inconsequential pleasantries, enabling Elizabeth sufficient time to ponder Edward’s request. When she came to a decision, she watched the clock with growing anxiety, lest their visit conclude before she gather the courage to express her decision.
Edward seemed to sense her apprehension. When he was not engaged in conversation, he looked at her long enough for her to intimate she wished to speak. “My Lord,” she said, hoping for courage to go through with her decision, “if I may, I have decided.”
“And what is your decision?” he replied, his soft tone matching hers.
“I request…a trade of skill. I will teach you to play the pianoforte. In return…I have always wished to know how to ride a horse. Would you–that is, would you perhaps be willing to teach me horseriding?” Elizabeth colored deeply, half ashamed at her forwardness, half amazed that she had actually voiced her desire.
Edward’s briefly unreadable face sent her stomach into calisthenics. Suppose he thought her indecent for suggesting such a thing? Then a smile broke out on his face, reaching into his eyes and quelling her fear significantly. “I think it is a wonderful idea,” he approved. “You have heard, then, others praise my riding. So it shall be, two masters become tutors and students by their turns. When shall we begin?”
“Are you…would you be at leisure after breakfast in three days?” She thought that would be sufficient time for her to devise a scheme of lessons in preparation.
“Tuesday morning,” he said thoughtfully. “Yes, I believe so. Shall we begin with music on Tuesday, and riding on Thursday, if you have no other engagement?”
Elizabeth nodded and rewarded him with a timid smile.
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