A long time ago, I began writing a story entitled “Lady Elizabeth.” The history-shaped gap in my life resulting from graduating college, combined with a recent trip to England, has re-inspired for this story. Because it’s been so long, I’ll be re-posting the early chapters before continuing on with what I’m writing now. I hope you enjoy it :)
Lady Elizabeth Townshend was the second child of five, daughter of the Lord Townshend, Marquess of Leicester. As befits the daughter of a Marquess, she was gentle, handsome, and very accomplished. Throughout the countryside, Lady Elizabeth was renowned for her skill at painting, drawing, embroidery, dancing, and, most especially, for her masterful piano playing and exquisite singing. She passed her days industriously, was charitable to the poor, and was a perfect child and sister.
In short, Lady Elizabeth was all that one could hope for in a young lady of high standing, but for one tragic flaw: she was acutely shy. For that flaw, she knew she was destined to a life of spinsterhood.
Despite everything that should recommend her to men of equally high rank looking for a wife, in all her twenty and five years, none had ever approached her. Her younger sister Harriet had been married for two years already, and their youngest sister Charlotte was preparing for her upcoming nuptials; yet Elizabeth’s hand was unsought. After attempting to penetrate the lovely heiress’s reticent shell, hopeful suitor after hopeful suitor had grown quickly discouraged and given up, turning to more gregarious recipients of their advances. Finally, her reputation was firmly established, and none but the most forward of rakes sought her company.
This, of course, humiliated the poor girl further into reservation. How it did shame her that she was only sought by money-hungry men eager to prove their adeptness in wooing women by acquiring as a trophy the least likely to be wooed of them all!
So Lady Elizabeth, with an admirable display of self-control, pushed hopes of matrimony from her mind and settled herself with contentment on the prospect of becoming an old maid.
“Elizabeth, would you come to the window? I want your opinion on something,” Charlotte Townsend requested of her eldest sister.
“What is it, dear?” Elizabeth inquired, laying aside her embroidery and rising to join her sister at the floor-length window.
The girl nodded toward the driveway beneath them, where an ornate carriage was pulling to a stop in front of the door. “Do you recognize the carriage, Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth thought for a moment before replying, “No, Charlotte, I do not.”
Lady Leicester took interest in her daughters’ bemusement and joined them at the window; yet, with all their minds combined, they still could not discern the origin of the carriage. Some seconds later, the occupants descended, leaving the ladies inside the house still full of speculation as to their guests’ identities. The mother and daughters resumed their occupations as the servants ushered an unfamiliar young man and woman into the sitting room.
“Viscount Chelmsford and Lady Margaret Chelmsford,” the servant announced the visitors as the ladies rose in courtesy.
“Forgive our unexpected visit, your Ladyship,” the young man addressed Lady Leicester. “We are but newly arrived in the neighborhood and wished to return your husband’s visit of yesterday.”
From the cut of his dark blonde hair, the sparkle in his clear blue eyes, the quirk of his lips, and his posture, all of which Elizabeth observed in the first minutes of his presence in the room, she immediately ascertained that he was quite self-confident, was well aware of his good looks, and was probably an unabashed flirt. His sister, on the other hand, though equally good-looking, seemed exceedingly warm and friendly. Elizabeth hoped Charlotte would become good friends with her, though she doubted her own ability to form a friendship unless the Chelmsford siblings planned to stay in the neighborhood a long while.
“May I ask what is the happy circumstance that has brought you here to our beloved Leicester?” Lady Leicester inquired of the young people.
“You may indeed, your ladyship,” Lady Margaret Chelmsford laughed, “for it is no secret. My father, who is an old friend of your husband’s, I believe, grows tired of my brother’s flirtations and frolics in town and hoped that relocating to this good neighborhood, under my careful supervision, might cure him of his philandering ways.”
“Indeed?” asked Lady Charlotte with interest, for she took great interest in observing all kinds of people and had few opportunities at home to observe such a man.
“Yes, I assure you I am quite the flirt,” Lord Chelmsford agreed. He reclined rather grandly in his chair, with a lock of blonde hair falling leisurely over his forehead. “I have been told I have almost ruined the reputations of several young ladies.”
“Edward, dear, how will I ever succeed in reforming you while you persist in boasting about such things?” his sister chided with fondness. “Be assured, my Lady, your daughters are safe from my brother. I promise to keep sharp watch over him, and my father has given me his word that I may use any means necessary to make dear Edward into the model of propriety.” This last part she addressed more to her brother than to the other ladies, earning a wink from him and a smile from Lady Charlotte.
“Ah, but Maggie, how sweet it is to think you can control me,” Lord Chelmsford said, tweaking her sleeve playfully.
Lady Leicester observed her guests with the softness in her eyes always found when she observed happy families, for her own childhood had held little affection and warmth. “Thank you for your reassurance, Lady Chelmsford.”
The Lady interrupted her. “Please, call me Margaret. ‘Lady Chelmsford’ makes me feel dreadfully old and cross, and I do so like to be merry. Besides, I hope we shall all become great friends.”
“And call me Edward,if you please,” her brother requested. “I do so dislike to stand on formality.”
Lady Leicester inclined her head. “Thank you, Margaret, for your concern, but I assure you that I have no fear for my daughters. You see, Charlotte here is engaged to be married in a month, my daughter Harriet is already wed, and my dear Elizabeth is the pinnacle of virtue. My daughters are safe from the Lord Chelmsford.”
Elizabeth, who was working on an intricate embroidery, blushed as her mother spoke of her, both gratified and humiliated; for she was sure Lord Edward Chelmsford, like others before him, would now look on her as a challenge to be bested. She unfortunately glanced up at that moment and met the man’s eyes as he briefly turned them toward her with his mouth open, prepared to reply. In that brief moment, she silently prayed, “Please, sir, do not make this moment any worse for me,” and perhaps he read something of her prayer in her eyes, for Edward Chelmsford for the first time in his life closed his mouth and refrained from speaking in jest.
“Indeed?” Margaret remarked, smiling upon Elizabeth and Charlotte. “Then I am sure we shall be friends. Lady Elizabeth, may I see what you are embroidering?” she asked sweetly. Elizabeth hardly knew how to refuse, so she stuttered an agreement and handed the project to her new acquaintance, who examined it with a sharp eye before proclaiming, “I have scarce seen finer work than this anywhere! Pray tell, is this design a copy or of your own invention? For I would love to attempt the pattern myself, though I could never do so fine a job as you have.”
“It–it is my–my own, Lady Margaret,” Elizabeth replied, wishing desperately for a complexion that was not so easily reddened.
“She is making it for my wedding gown,” Charlotte supplied, coming to her sister’s aid. “And I am glad you see the skill of Elizabeth’s work, for she is indeed the most skilled in the county, if not the country. Your approval shows your good taste, Margaret.”
“Oh! I would not dream of copying it, then, if it is for your wedding gown. Do tell me, what pattern shall the gown be cut in?”
For the next quarter of an hour, Charlotte and Margaret conversed eagerly about fabrics, styles, and trims, until at length Edward reminded his sister that they expected company for tea and the siblings rose to leave. The two families parted company with assurances of mutual goodwill and promises to meet again soon.
“Now, brother, you must promise me you will leave the lovely Lady Elizabeth alone while we are here,” Margaret said to her brother when they were safely in their carriage.
“Lady Elizabeth? Maggie, I assure you I hardly looked at the girl the whole time we were there,” Edward raised his eyebrows.
Margaret scrutinized his face. “I heard what Payton said about her reputation as unconquerable, and I know you like challenges. Please, Eddy, I beg you, let Lady Elizabeth be one challenge you do not attempt. Her timidity is not coyness or false modesty, and I really think she feels it deeply when rascals such as you and Payton treat her as a game. Really, I must insist on your word.”
Edward sighed and looked his sister in the eyes. “Honestly, you have my word. Do you want to know the real reason I agreed to Father’s demand that I spend the season here with you? I grow tired of endless lines of stupid, empty-minded girls with no more sense than a clucking hen. My games weary me. Leicester shall be for me a reprieve from folly and simpering.
“And besides,” he added softly. “Lady Elizabeth seems…different from the London girls. She is not one whose heart I would interfere with.”