Authors: Audrey Harrison
“Oh what a lovely room!” Elizabeth exclaimed, as she sat in one of the chairs. She ran her hand appreciatively down one of the chair arms, the material felt thick and silky to the touch. “The colours are beautiful. Did your wife choose them?”
“I am not married, and am quite capable of choosing decoration myself.” Michael responded a little harshly, indicating that Miss Fairfield should be seated, before he sat himself in a fireside chair.
“It seems a shame to let me into this room dressed as I am. I must clash terribly!” Elizabeth said with a twinkle in her eyes, but she tried to look remorseful.
“You do.” came the unkind reply. Michael was in no mood to offer empty flattery to the woman before him.
If Michael had expected Elizabeth to be daunted by his manner he was mistaken, she just threw her head back and laughed. “I know! It’s terrible isn’t it? The problem is all my clothes are like this, my purpose was to scare my guardian into sending me away.”
“You are doing an excellent job of achieving your aim Miss Rufford,” Michael said with a shudder. “I dread to think why you wanted to appear as you have.”
Elizabeth started fiddling with her hair as she spoke. “I will be honest with you my Lord; I don’t want to be in London for the Season. I would much rather be allowed to live in the country running an estate, and enjoying myself, rather than being forced to be someone I am not while supposedly looking for a husband.” While talking she had released her hair and shook it out.
Miss Fairfield protested at the action, “Elizabeth please, you should not be attending to your toilette in his Lordship’s drawing room.”
Elizabeth waved Miss Fairfield’s words away and scooped her long dark wavy hair into a loose bun. “Don’t worry yourself Martha, his Lordship won’t mind me making myself slightly more presentable, I’m sure.” Wisps of hair fell out at the sides, which was far more flattering than the harsh bun that had originally been hidden under her hat.
Michael was intrigued. “If you do not wish to have a Season in London, why on earth have you travelled all the way from Lancashire?”
Elizabeth sighed, the first sign of anything but mischievous good humour since she had walked in. “When Papa died three years ago his title, like yours, went to a nephew, Mr Herbert Rufford. I didn’t object or feel aggrieved, as I knew my cousin a little and we had got on well when we were young. He did not want to settle in Lancashire so continued enjoying his life travelling between London and Brighton. He did spend
time on the estate, but I was unofficially in charge. I make a good estate manager!” She said defensively when Michael had looked at her with disbelief.
“I never said a word.” Michael said, amused at the outburst his sceptical expression had caused.
Elizabeth looked as if she did not believe that Michael was not mocking her. “I ran the estate before Papa’s death. He would have preferred to have had a boy and treated me more like one while he was alive. Poor Papa, he never remarried after mother died, so he was destined to be disappointed, by just having me.”
She said her words in such a matter of fact way that Michael had to admire her stoicism. He had grown up being secure in his relative’s affections, even through his father’s illness, and had never felt the effects of someone being disappointed with him. Something bordering on compassion stirred in him, but he quickly dismissed it, and carried on listening to her story.
“I’m sure he appreciated you in his own way.” he said, an uncommonly reassuring comment from the distant Lord Dunham.
“Possibly, but I will never truly know,” came the candid reply. “When I reached the age that I should have come out, I noticed that Papa did not seem to be in his usual good health. I begged him not to bring me to London that year. It did not matter about putting my Season off, as I didn’t want to come anyway. Having a Season has never really appealed to me. As it happened it was fortunate we did not travel, Papa deteriorated and was ill for months before he passed away. I am forever thankful that he died at home, not in some damp lodging house in London.”
“Why did you not come to London after your period of mourning?” Michael had only heard of the agreement a few months prior, but he had been informed that Elizabeth’s father had died over three years ago.
“When it became apparent that Herbert did not want to manage the estate I offered to do it for him. I’m far cheaper than employing an official estate manager so it was an offer he would have been a fool to refuse. It suited me too, it meant that I could put off going to London indefinitely and still live in the area I loved. I knew Herbert would marry one day, but when I did meet his new wife I realised almost immediately what would happen.”
“Did she resent your presence?”
“Yes, how did you guess?” Elizabeth smiled ruefully. “At first I had thought that things would go on as normal, but I had not taken Miranda into account. Miranda! I mean to say, what sort of a name is Miranda? It’s a doll’s name! Believe me, she may have looked like a doll with her golden curls and blue eyes, but she had the viciousness of a cat when moving in for the kill. She saw me as a threat even though I had made the estate extremely profitable. I had to go and that was that.”
“As simple as that?” Michael asked, a little admiring of the woman who had taken on this energetic creature sitting before him.
“Yes. She had the perfect get out clause didn’t she? I had a guardian who was responsible for me and I had never had a Season in London. As she put it,
someone like me should be able to attract some sort of husband; after all, I have my two thousand a year. She informed me that men would put up with anything for that amount of money. So here I am.” Elizabeth shrugged with her final words.
Michael had detected no bitterness, but some hurt in the words, and again he felt a little compassion for Elizabeth. It was not her fault that she was not wanted by her family. This type of situation happened regularly and the wardship was not her doing. “So are you looking for a husband?” Two thousand a year would guarantee that she would receive many offers of marriage, even dressed as she was at the moment.
“I was hoping to persuade my guardian to let me establish myself somewhere in the country,” Elizabeth explained. “I don’t know the ways of society; I have never lived in it. I am happier in the countryside. I could buy a farm and run it myself, I would be self-sufficient and no trouble to anyone.”
“That would be seen as quite eccentric.” For some reason Michael did not want her ridiculed by society, but that would be guaranteed if she mentioned in wider society, ideas such as running her own estate.
“Who would I be harming?” Elizabeth asked, looking at him candidly.
“No one, in truth.” Michael admitted reluctantly.
“Will you help me then?” She asked hopefully.
Michael thought carefully. In many respects it would be the perfect solution, and the easy way out of her being his ward. He would not have to do more than help her find an estate and then make sure things were in place, perhaps to offer support if she needed it. He could then return to his life as it had been before he had been told of his burden.
Something held him back though, whether it was the sparkle that he had seen in her eyes that had drawn him to her initially, he did not know. It could have been the hurt in her voice when she had referred to what had been said about her lack of ability to attract a husband, which had struck something deep within him. He had felt the stirrings of something he did not recognise, all he knew was that he wanted to make things better for her.
He knew how it was to feel that you were just being courted for your fortune. Many Society families would have been reluctant to link to his family because of his father’s illness, but once the fortune was in place, anything, even madness, could be overlooked. He had known what it was like to enjoy London though. It had been a pleasant experience sometimes. He could hardly believe his own mind when he became convinced that perhaps she should stay after all.
“I will help you.” he finally said.
“Oh good. I have heard of an estate in Yorkshire that is in need of a lot of work, but it means that I could afford to buy it. It would be hard for the first few years, but I am convinced I could turn it around and make it profitable.” Elizabeth babbled, the relief in her voice was evident.
“You have not heard how I will help you,” Michael said raising his hand slightly to stem the flow of ideas. “Don’t worry; I think you will be convinced.” He assured Elizabeth. He had seen disappointment pass quickly across her face; this was a girl who was not used to hiding her emotions like the ladies in society usually did. The more Michael looked at her the more he was convinced she would enjoy herself with his help. “Stay in London for the Season.”
“But I don’t want to, and the estate in Yorkshire will be lost if I don’t act fast.” frustration was all too evident in Elizabeth’s voice.
“I will secure the estate if it is, as you say, a suitable investment. If it is suffering from long term misuse, another year’s neglect will not harm it any more than it has been already. I will have it assessed and see if there are any interim measures which may need to be put in place. In the meantime, you will stay with my sister as we had planned when I became aware of your existence. We will introduce you into Society, and you can enjoy the entertainments of the season. I understand your reluctance, but that should not stop you enjoying yourself at least once in London. You will be under no pressure from me to find a husband. If you find one, all well and good, and if you don’t, at the end of the season you can retire to Yorkshire and have fond memories of your time here.”
Elizabeth looked as if she was going to challenge him at first and met his gaze. She seemed to go from a challenge to a question and then shrugged her shoulders slightly and nodded. “As long as I can be involved in the buying of the estate, and I have your word that I can go to Yorkshire eventually, I will agree to stay in London for the Season.”
“Good. Mr Hammond will take care of all the legalities of the Yorkshire estate as necessary. I will have my own estate manager, Charles Anderton travel there and look the place over. Don’t worry; you will have the opportunity of speaking to him.” Michael interrupted her before she could argue. “Now if you are not too tired, I would like to take you to meet my sister.”
Violet was seven years older than her brother. She was not as dark haired or of as pale a complexion as Michael, but she had the same deep brown eyes. They were warmer than her brother’s, but she never noticed how cold Michael’s eyes could look as he always looked at her with unguarded feeling. She greeted Elizabeth when the visitors were announced into her drawing room as if she was a long lost sister, even with the purple and orange dress.
“You are very welcome here,” she said as she hugged Elizabeth. “I hope my brother has not been scaring you with tales of how he hates the social rounds he is forced to perform.”
“No, not at all,” Elizabeth assured her. “In fact he was the one to persuade me to stay.”
“Really? You must have made an excellent first impression. He can be a terrible grump sometimes, especially when a visit to London is needed.” Violet smiled.
“I am in the room.” Michael grumbled.
Elizabeth laughed. “I think I made an impression with my dress, but I am yet to be convinced that it was a good one!”
“Yes, I had noticed that you have striking tastes, my dear.” Violet said diplomatically.
“No I don’t. I have no taste. I’m far more comfortable in breeches,” Elizabeth said with a smile. “Would you mind helping me to buy a new wardrobe for my time here?”
“It would be my pleasure. Until then, you can borrow some clothes of mine. We look about the same size.”
“If you two are going to discuss clothes, it’s time I left you alone.” Michael groaned, standing quickly in order to escape.
“Yes be off, you will only hinder our progress.” Violet smiled at her brother.
“We haven’t discussed money yet, my Lord.” Elizabeth said, hesitantly turning to Michael. A slight flush coloured her cheeks at having to discuss money with a stranger.
“Mr Hammond assures me that you have touched very little of your fortune over the last three years, so there is enough money to live exactly as you wish in London. Have any bills sent through to me and I will pay them, while just keeping a weather eye on your fortune,” Michael responded.
“I have managed accounts for a number of years, I will not fritter my money away.” Elizabeth said indignantly.
“I didn’t say you would, but it is my role as your guardian to monitor your fortune, and I will do so.” Michael retorted shortly.
“I need horses, and a phaeton.”
“You can use Violet’s.” Michael said dismissively.
“I wish to have my own, thank you. I will send you the bill when I have chosen. I am quite capable of buying for myself the horses I need,” Elizabeth said haughtily.
Michael groaned, he had thought it was too easy so far. “I will bring my phaeton around tomorrow and we shall go for a ride. When I have assessed your level of skill, I will purchase what you need. It is not appropriate for you to buy for yourself from Tattersall’s.”
Elizabeth looked as if she was going to retort, but then bit her lip. She nodded with a slight smile and Michael bowed, ready to take his leave. “I hope you both have a pleasant afternoon.” he said politely, standing, ready to leave his ward in his sister’s care.
“I suppose I need to become accustomed to the rules society has. I’m afraid you will find me lacking in social skills. I have been able to do as I please at home, and I am just beginning to realise that I may suffer setdowns as a consequence.” Elizabeth explained to Violet with a shrug of her shoulders.
“Don’t worry too much, I will guide you if you need it, and Michael is only being cautious. He would not want his ward to be flung out of her phaeton on her first drive around Hyde Park. He is protective of those in his charge. As you are now in his charge there is no need for all this ‘my Lord’ and ‘Miss Rufford’ nonsense. We are almost family because of the guardianship, and I think using our given names is appropriate.” Violet said to the pair.
Elizabeth looked at Michael in question. “Is that acceptable to you, my Lord? I would hate to cause offence.” She may be considered a rustic, but she did know when to give rank respect.
Michael shrugged, “I’ve never sought the title, so it is of little consequence. Violet is correct, we have effectively a close connection, so it would be appropriate and far easier for us to use our given names.”
Elizabeth smiled, “Good. I don’t like all this bowing and scraping anyway, it does not come naturally to me.”
“You surprise me.” Michael muttered, before kissing his sister and leaving the pair together.
Michael left Violet’s house with some feelings of regret. Elizabeth had stirred something within him that he could not quite explain. He justified it by thinking that he had taken pity on his ward, which was completely out of character for him. He was beginning to realise that to introduce her to society properly would take up quite a bit of time and effort on his part, something which he had been dreading about the whole situation, but for some reason the implications had not seemed as important when he had been in Elizabeth’s presence. He headed towards his favourite coffee house. He felt in need of some male company, to help rid himself of the vision of purple and orange that still flashed into his mind’s eye each time he thought of his ward.
He was led to a seat in the smoky, noisily reassuring atmosphere that enveloped him as he entered the coffee house. The daily newspaper that was offered was accepted and his order placed. He settled back to enjoy the comfort that male company gave. He had only taken a sip of his coffee when his solitude was interrupted.
“Dunham? I thought I might find you skulking here when you weren’t at home. How’s your ward?”
Michael turned slightly in greeting and met the smiling face of his best friend with a grimace. “Sit down and I’ll tell you the whole sorry tale, Dawson.”
John Dawson had been friends with Michael since they were young boys. At that time they had been equal in social standing. Once Michael had inherited his title there was a social difference between the pair, but it never affected their friendship. In fact, Michael appreciated it all the more. John was a voice of reason and honesty for his friend, who had been in danger of being swallowed up by those interested in being friends with someone who had a title. John had reminded Michael on more than one occasion that there
good people around, and it had strengthened the bond they had. He was one of the few people that Michael would confide in.
He told John of his morning, and made him laugh and cringe with descriptions of the dress and hat. When he had finished the story John leaned back with a sigh. “Why are heiresses always so damned ugly?” He asked. As a younger son marrying money was of significant importance to him to ensure a comfortable lifestyle.
“I didn’t say she was ugly, but don’t go getting any ideas. She has no intention of finding herself a husband, and from the little I have seen I think she has a strong will. I can’t imagine you living on an estate in Yorkshire somehow, with a woman who has a mind of her own.” The image of Elizabeth’s laughing eyes flashed before Michael, unsettling him a little.
“I could always stay in London while she stayed in Yorkshire. That would be a perfect relationship I think, especially if she dresses as badly as you describe.” John replied easily. He had no serious intentions of chasing Miss Rufford, but every heiress had to be considered as a potential wife. With some of the women he had considered chasing, a marriage spent hundreds of miles apart would have been the only way he could stand the thought of being with them. “So when are we going to meet her?”
“The Thornley’s are having a Ball on Thursday. I don’t know if Violet will have enough time to sort out her clothing by then, but I think it would be an ideal opportunity to introduce her to the significant dames. I haven’t spoken to her yet, but I am presuming she will want a recommendation to Almack’s so it will be the perfect opportunity to introduce her to that set.”
Michael had come to the conclusion that a lot of his time was going to be taken up with introducing Elizabeth to all the right people and places. Everyone who was anyone wanted to receive a voucher of entry to Almack’s, even though in Michael’s opinion, the ball held each Wednesday was one of the most tedious events of the week. Made worse by the serving of only tea and lemonade, and no rowdy behaviour was allowed in Almack’s, it was all very prim and proper. He groaned inwardly. Perhaps he should have let her go to Yorkshire after all.
“A tedious evening has just become more interesting dear fellow. I shall look forward to meeting her on Thursday.” John said with a smile.
Michael arrived at Violet’s home early the following morning as promised, with his phaeton and a team of two greys. They were not his best horses, but they were a good pair and would be perfect for assessing Elizabeth’s ability.
Elizabeth came running down the steps of the town house with Violet hurrying behind her. “Elizabeth, what have I told you about reserve?” Violet said with a little exasperation.
“Morning Vi. Is my ward proving troublesome?” Michael asked in some amusement, as Elizabeth completely ignored him and went to the front of the horses and began petting them.
“She is a darling and if she can hold herself back a little, will be all the rage, but she is so impetuous,” Violet smiled at her brother. “You will have your hands full this season.”
Michael groaned aloud before turning to look at the figure standing at his horses’ heads. “Elizabeth, are you intending to stand there all day petting the animals, or are you intending to ride with me?”
Elizabeth stuck her head around the horses. “You could just tell me to get up beside you, why the need for riddles?”
“See what I mean?” Violet whispered as Elizabeth jumped easily into the phaeton, and settled herself down.
“Should I take the reins now?” She reached across, but was quickly shaken off.
“I will let you know when you can take the reins Elizabeth, but until then keep your hands on your lap!” Michael snapped. He set off at a brisk pace and hoped his set down would quieten Elizabeth until they reached the park, but he had misjudged her.
“They are a fine pair, just the sort I was thinking of myself. I would like a mount to ride also, in addition to a driving pair. If you could keep that in mind when you are buying my horses I would be grateful.” she said cheerfully enough.
“You are presuming I will be buying you some then?” Michael replied coolly.
“You have not yet been convinced of my ability, but I know how good I am. I could always beat any one of my friends in a race,” she replied, looking around her with keen interest at the hustle and bustle they had to navigate through, before arriving at the quieter Hyde Park.
“You raced with your friends?” Michael asked in disbelief. “Is there a high mortality rate for young ladies in Lancashire?”
Elizabeth laughed. “I only raced against men; the ladies I knew did not really consider themselves my friends. I was too rough and ready for them and didn’t spend all day talking about clothes and the latest fashions.”
“You surprise me.” Michael said drily.
“No I don’t. I’m guessing that you are beginning to regret your decision about persuading me to stay in London. From the little Violet has said, the effort you will have to make because of my presence will be very tedious for you. You didn’t have to, you know. I would survive without the dances and card parties, as hard as that may be to believe.” she replied with an impish grin.
Michael was a little disconcerted that she had guessed exactly what he had been feeling when he had left Violet’s house the previous evening. “I have every faith that you will enjoy yourself, and that it will take little effort on my part.” he lied, trying to direct the conversation away from himself, while coming to terms with actually meeting someone who could assess so easily how he was feeling. He shook himself after a moment, it did not really show insight; it was a fair guess by an intelligent person. He really was reading things too deeply where his charge was concerned.
“I’m sure I will, and I promise to try to not embarrass you too much.”
Michael smiled despite himself. “So you won’t promise not to embarrass me at all?”
“I am not going to make promises that I know I won’t keep.” came the worrying response.
They entered the park through the large, open, wrought iron gates. Michael allowed his horses to get rid of their first burst of energy, controlling them himself, but then he passed over the reins. Elizabeth took control with a smile and a confident flick of her wrist. Michael watched her carefully, but was not really surprised that she handled the horses well, so well that within a few moments she was chatting easily as they drove through the park.
“This is a fine open space, does everyone gather here?” She asked as Michael acknowledged another acquaintance.
“It is the most popular park for those who want to see and be seen, yes, but there are many others in London.” He replied, not adding how he usually avoided the place.
“I will need to spend some time exploring them while I am here. I am not used to being confined to houses. I spend most of my time outside usually.”
“Violet will happily take you out in the carriage, she is a very social creature. If you wish to ride, however, either I, or a groom need to accompany you.” Michael instructed her.