Authors: Audrey Harrison
So Lord Halkyn was to have an unlooked for advantage over the coming weeks as Michael stayed away from his ward as much as he possibly could. Elizabeth was confused; she did not know what to make of Michael’s behaviour, and was saddened by his absence. Even when they were together at a ball he no longer offered to dance with her. He used the excuse that she no longer needed her dance card filling by her guardian; she had enough admirers to keep her occupied.
He made excuses to prevent himself joining her as often on her rides in the morning. If he did accompany her, he always ensured that someone else was with them, and rode either behind or in front. That way, he avoided getting into conversations with her.
The problem for Elizabeth was that without Michael’s attentions, a London Season had become even less attractive than it had been at the start of her journey. She had grown used to having him near and relying on him responding, to help her when she felt a little out of her depth. It had been as if he could sense what she was feeling, and had very often had come to her rescue. Now he hardly stayed anywhere near her and left her to deal with people alone.
During one such ball she saw Michael leave the room by the open French windows that led onto a stone terrace. She decided that enough was enough, she wanted to talk to him and this was likely to be the only opportunity she would have. She made her way to the window, but hesitated before venturing out. The need to talk to Michael was strong, but she was not foolish enough to put herself in a vulnerable situation if he was nowhere to be seen.
He was stood at the edge of the balustrade smoking a cigarillo. The light at the tip seemed to act as a beacon to him, with his dark frock coat and short breeches blending into the darkness of the night. He looked pensive as he gazed into the darkness, but he was still irresistibly handsome to her. Elizabeth moved silently over to him.
“Go back to your dance Elizabeth.” Michael said roughly, not turning around.
Elizabeth drew courage in that he knew she was there without seeing her. “I miss you.” she said simply.
Michael closed his eyes. He could not say the same. The sight of her was constantly in his mind’s eye and it tortured him whether he was asleep or awake. He was determined to stick to his plan of giving her the best opportunity of finding a husband. No matter what his feelings were, he could only offer her uncertainty and scandal. “You have danced every dance; you haven’t had time to miss me.”
Elizabeth hoped the fact that he still noticed what she was doing meant that he had not completely abandoned her. “I don’t just mean tonight. I have not seen you properly for so long, you do not visit anymore, you do not ride anymore. Have I done something to upset you?”
“Don’t be foolish,” Michael snapped, turning to her. “You are not a child Elizabeth. I said that I would help you become established and I have done exactly that. No ward wants her guardian around her the whole time.”
Elizabeth had never seen the harsh Michael who stood before her. It reminded her a little of how he had been the day he had spoken to Lady Wilmslow. He looked so cold and unreachable, she felt herself shiver. “I thought we were friends.” she said quietly.
“We are, but I am not your nanny. Go back to the ball and find a husband. That is, after all, why we are both wasting our time here until you do.” Michael snapped unnecessarily.
Elizabeth stood slightly taller and glared at Michael. “I never wanted a husband. I wanted my estate in Yorkshire;
wanted me to find a husband. So yes, we may be wasting our time, but it is through no fault of mine. I could be cultivating the land, or planting seeds, but instead I am making small talk on dance floors to men who would probably faint if they had to work for a living!”
She stormed back into the house and Michael was left to stare after her. A smile played around his lips. His darling girl had not changed an ounce since she had started her Season. She still preferred to be away from the nonsense, and it amused him to think that she was planning what she could be doing on the land whilst attending a ball.
Michael’s rejection had the effect of making Elizabeth feel unloved once more. She could not understand why she was destined to travel through life without meeting someone who loved her just for being herself, foolish ways included. She should have known that he did not really care for her. After all, when their lips had touched that one precious moment, he had pulled back as if stung. She would have to accept that if she was to marry, it was not going to be for love.
She had spoken the truth when she said she had not set out to marry, and deep down, she felt that if she could not have Michael she did not want anyone else. It angered her to think she had come down to London wanting to gain agreement to buy the estate in Yorkshire. She had not wanted to find a husband and yet she was still taking part in the round of social activities that bored her with their repetitiveness. It had been Michael who had put the idea into her head about marriage. After her first few days with him, she had thought being married to him would be the most wonderful thing she could have dreamed of. A pity he did not feel the same.
Her absentmindedness caused her to cry off from two dances. She realised that she risked being condemned by her partners, but she could not carry on the farce just at that moment. She sat on the edge of the ballroom, near an open window, feigning a headache. There was a slight wind and as the breeze ruffled the voile, she thought she heard the hoot of an owl. It was the first sound of the countryside she had heard since coming to London and it made her long for an escape even more. She stood and moved through the open window.
Elizabeth closed her eyes and let the wind tickle her face. The stone terrace was deserted, but for once she did not long to find Michael, she just longed for escape. She leaned against the wall, resting her head on its cool surface and closed her eyes.
“Are you waiting for me?” came the deep voice of Lord Halkyn, close to her face.
It was fortunate that Elizabeth still had her eyes closed, or Lord Halkyn would have clearly seen disappointment register in her expression. Just for a second she hesitated, but when she opened her eyes her expression was under control. “I am listening to the owl.” she explained honestly.
“You really are unique,” came the laughing response. “No other lady of my acquaintance would be interested in the wildlife whilst a ball was going on.”
“You forget I was brought up in the country and am in the process of buying an estate. My heart lies outside this City.” Elizabeth responded seriously.
“Are you really going ahead with buying an estate? What if you receive an offer of marriage?” Lord Halkyn probed.
“I am perfectly serious. I have not received an offer of marriage, so it is an irrelevant question,” Elizabeth was completely sick of all the talk of marriage and offers and let her exasperation show through.
“I have to tell you that even on such a short acquaintance, I am convinced that we could make an excellent pair.” Lord Halkyn said quietly moving across to Elizabeth.
“Do you really think that?” Elizabeth asked cursing that she was leaning against the wall of the house, a position she would find difficult to move away from if needed to make her escape. Something she suddenly realised with a sinking feeling, which she might need to do.
“I do not want a fawning wife; you do not want a controlling husband. We could come to an agreeable arrangement in which I leave you mostly alone on your estate and visit you occasionally to ensure there are heirs to my title. Such a scheme would have a lot of merit.” Lord Halkyn explained, warming to his subject as he spoke.
Elizabeth went cold at the thought of such an impersonal marriage. “What about love?” She asked.
“What about love? I’ve seen it bring torment and upset to the people who have been foolish enough to marry for love. One is jealous, or one is clinging. Something always upsets one party and the result is resentment and unhappiness. An agreement before marriage can avoid all that. To be fond of your spouse is all that you can hope for.” Lord Halkyn responded seriously.
“There must be some good marriages or the London Season would never happen.” Elizabeth insisted, clinging onto the hope that others apart from herself believed in love.
“Don’t be fooled into thinking that the London Season is anything other than an opportunity to arrange marriages, to the best advantage of all the families involved,” Lord Halkyn sneered. “I thought you were a woman of sense. I see in some respects you are an innocent.”
“Of course I am an innocent in the workings of the Season,” Elizabeth responded tartly. “This is my first experience of it, and the more I find out about it, my last, I hope.”
Lord Halkyn smiled, “That is one of the things that attracts me to you, your spirit. We could have a lot of fun with that spark, to both our advantage.”
“I don’t like your tone my Lord.” Elizabeth responded primly, feeling a little out of her depth.
“Let me show you a little of what I mean,” Lord Halkyn said, reaching over and pulling her towards him.
Elizabeth gasped and placed her hands against his chest. “Let me go. This is improper!”
“No one will see. Let me kiss you and show you a little of what we could have together.” Lord Halkyn leaned in towards Elizabeth’s face, his hands firmly on her back, forcing her towards him. Elizabeth pulled away with all her strength, but although she was strong, she was no match for Halkyn.
“The lady asked you to let her go.” came the clear voice of Mr Dawson behind them.
Elizabeth almost sagged with relief; the embarrassment at being caught in such a situation would come later. “Mr Dawson, I need to return to the ballroom please.” she said, taking advantage of Lord Halkyn pausing.
“Don’t interfere in things that are no concern of yours.” Halkyn ground out to Mr Dawson, not releasing Elizabeth.
“They may not be of any concern of mine, but they are certainly a concern of my friend, whom I shall be speaking to later,” Mr Dawson said firmly, reaching over and taking Elizabeth’s arm and withdrawing her from Lord Halkyn’s grip.
Mr Dawson led Elizabeth into the ballroom and skirted the edge. He did not say anything until he had reached the refreshment table, handed her a glass of wine and then sat her down in an alcove. “Are you well Miss Rufford? I need you to be honest with me, so don’t try to protect Lord Halkyn.”
Elizabeth smiled slightly, after taking a large gulp of wine. “I am perfectly well, apart from suffering from extreme embarrassment that you had to be witness to my folly. Although, I am at the same time, eternally grateful that you were.”
“I am glad I arrived when I did. What possessed you to leave the ballroom with him?”
“I didn’t,” Elizabeth explained what had happened. She did not mention that the reason she had felt so remorseful in the first instance was because of Michael’s rejection. “I should have returned to the ballroom as soon as he came out.”
“You should have, but you aren’t the first and you won’t be the last to make a simple error of judgement. It seems as if he was making some sort of proposition?” Mr Dawson asked gently.
“It was the silliest marriage proposal I have ever heard,” Elizabeth muttered blushing.
“He proposed marriage? Have you accepted?” Mr Dawson asked.
“No, I don’t think he was being serious. It was a proposal that would result in us living in separate parts of the country and meeting up occasionally to produce heirs.” Elizabeth said with derision.
“What a fool! I can’t see your guardian agreeing to such an absurd proposal.” Mr Dawson said with authority.
“His ward won’t be agreeing to it either. Give me some credit for sense Mr Dawson!” Elizabeth said indignantly.
Mr Dawson laughed, “I do. People like me are condemned by society. We are open about the fact that we have to marry for money and love cannot play a part in it, but men like Halkyn have no excuse.”
“I agree, but he considered my views on love as ridiculous.” Elizabeth said sadly.
“I wish I could persuade you to marry me Miss Rufford. I think I would treasure a wife like you.” Mr Dawson said with mock seriousness.
“With comments like that Mr Dawson, I think it is time I found Violet and returned home!” Elizabeth said good-naturedly.
Elizabeth did not accompany Violet on the morning visits. She had nothing to feel ashamed of, nothing had happened, there would be no repercussions, but it was another setback to a fragile self esteem. As she sat in the drawing room she came to the conclusion that she had had enough of London and all its silliness.
The door opened and Michael entered. “Good morning Elizabeth.” He said, more formally than his usual tone.
“Good morning Michael. I am glad you have called, it has saved me the task of sending you a note. I want to speak to you about Yorkshire,” Elizabeth started and then faltered. “Your eye! What has happened to your eye?”
Michael pulled a face, “A lucky punch.”
Elizabeth ran across the room to Michael and unthinking grabbed his hand. “What has happened? Were you attacked?”
Michael winced at the contact and pulled away from her hands. “Sorry, my knuckles are feeling tender.”
Elizabeth ignored Michael’s protestations and took off his gloves. It was an improper action, but he was hurt and she had to see to what extent. “Oh my goodness!” She exclaimed, seeing the red swollen skin across his right hand knuckles. She moved over and pulled the bell. “We need to get something on that swelling. If you leave it you won’t be able to move your hand by tonight.”
The butler entered by the time Elizabeth had relieved Michael of his handkerchief and retrieved hers. “Can you tell me if there is ice in the house?” She asked the butler.
“Yes Miss, there is a full ice box at the moment.”
“Good. Please fill these two handkerchiefs with ice and return them to me as soon as you can.”
“Yes Miss.” came the calm response.
When the butler left Elizabeth indicated that Michael should sit down next to her.
“There really is no need for this.” Michael said with amusement. He had never seen the practical Elizabeth before, and he could not resist responding to her fussing.
“We need to reduce the swelling on your knuckles and your eye. Don’t try to argue, it is not up for discussion.” Elizabeth said firmly.
They sat in silence until the ice was returned. Elizabeth tended to Michael, positioning the larger handkerchief on his hand and using his other hand to keep it in place. She held the smaller handkerchief on the swelling under his eye.
“What happened?” She asked, more to keep herself focused, rather than letting the feelings of being so close to Michael overwhelm her.
“Nothing. Someone needed reminding about their manners and taking liberties, that’s all,” Michael said vaguely.
Elizabeth stilled, “Has this got anything to do with me?”
“It had everything to do with Lord Halkyn and nothing to do with you.” Michael said firmly. He was trying to ignore the feelings that were bubbling to the surface because of Elizabeth’s touch and closeness. He had to stay focused, or he would do something foolish.
“Oh no Michael, what happened?” Elizabeth was mortified.
“Elizabeth this is not your fault,” Michael responded. “Halkyn stepped out of line last night; he cannot go around taking liberties and not expect to get punished for it. He was expecting to see me.” Michael could not voice the blinding anger he had experienced when John had told him of what had happened. He had wanted to kill Halkyn and only the fact that John had accompanied him to Halkyn’s home and pulled him off when it looked like he might kill him, had probably saved the other man’s life.
“But you are hurt because of me! You only fought him because you are my guardian.” Elizabeth insisted.
“If we want to be particular about it, I am hurt because of your father.” Michael said drily.
Elizabeth smirked, “Point taken. I am truly sorry about it though. Mr Dawson should not have mentioned anything; he could see I was fine.”
“If he had not and I had found out from another source, I would have given him the same beating,” Michael said roughly. “I wish you had found me when you returned to the ballroom instead of going home with Violet.”
Elizabeth flushed a little at the memory of their meeting earlier in the night. “You made it clear that my presence was not welcomed. I never considered seeking you out.”
Michael sighed. “I’m sorry Elizabeth; I was too hard on you. You can always rely on my support whatever scrape you are in.”
“Thank you.” Elizabeth replied. She was heartily sorry that Michael was hurt because of something that she had inadvertently caused, but she was glad that at least they seemed to be comfortable with each other again.
She used the time spent holding the ice against his cheek to study his face. He really was handsome. She could see the laughter lines around his eyes that would become more pronounced as he aged, although they were only small at the moment. She was overwhelmed with longing to be the one that made them bigger, wanting to make him laugh loudly every day. His hair was dark and she wondered when it would start to grey as he aged. It would be wonderful to spend each day able to gaze at him and watch as his looks changed from handsome to distinguished.
When the ice started to melt she placed it on the tray and took the small cloth that had been left. She gently stroked the cheekbone area dry, being careful not to press too hard. Michael closed his eyes as she touched him; it was exquisite torture that he did not want to stop. He almost groaned aloud when she moved a lock of his hair from his forehead.
“It insists on falling into your eyes.” Elizabeth said quietly smiling into Michael’s now open eyes.
“It has a mind of its own.” Michael replied equally as quiet.
“Can I touch your cheek to feel the swelling?” Elizabeth asked, her fingers hovering over the wound.
Michael nodded with the slightest movement of his head. He did not want to break the spell and at that moment he could not. She was too close, too loving, too sweet and caring for him to resist.
Elizabeth traced her fingers along the bruise. It looked better than it had when he had first entered. He had obviously not taken the full force of the blow. Her brave man, she thought to herself with a slight smile.
“What?” Michael asked, frowning at the smile.
“I was just thinking how brave you are. No one has ever defended me the way you have,” Elizabeth replied letting her fingers trace down the outside of his jaw.
Michael took a sharp intake of breath that resulted in Elizabeth’s fingers moving to his lips. “It is my duty to protect you.” he said quietly and kissed her fingers gently.
Elizabeth stilled at his words and Michael saw the moment she withdrew from him. Later he wondered how far things would have gone if he had not uttered those words, but once they were out it was too late. Again he had pushed her away.
“Right, I think that is better,” Elizabeth said without looking at Michael. She stood and collected a cushion from another chair. “Raise your arm for a while. I will ring for tea.”
“Elizabeth....” Michael started.
“Don’t,” Elizabeth interrupted. “You have been perfectly clear on more than one occasion; it is my foolishness that keeps me trying to be something that I am not.”
“You are not foolish.” Michael assured her. He knew damn well who was and it was not Elizabeth.
Lord Halkyn sent a message round to say that unfortunately family business had forced him to leave London unexpectedly. He expressed sorrow that he would not be able to accompany Elizabeth on her morning rides. He finished the letter with his hope to see her again in the not too distant future. Elizabeth received the letter with some relief and curiosity; she wondered how his face looked after his visit from Michael. If only her guardian had been acting as the jealous lover, she thought ruefully to herself, her happiness would have been complete.
She tried to push feelings of rejection to one side as she continued with life in London. She had thought she was convincing everyone that she was happy with her lifestyle, until Violet sat her down one day and asked her what was making her so unhappy.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Elizabeth said hesitantly.
“I think you do.” Violet responded gently.
Elizabeth sighed, she hated the falseness of society, so she was not about to start being anything but honest with Violet. “I am tiring of London. No, I am tired of London!” She said with feeling.
Violet smiled, “It is hard when you are single and trying to seek out someone decent in the throng of people in town.”
“But that’s the problem,” Elizabeth said. “I’m not trying to seek anyone out. Whenever I’ve tried to show affection I’ve been rebuffed and it wouldn’t have come to anything anyway. I’m realistic enough to know that things aren’t going to work out the way I would have liked. Apart from that I don’t like being so confined. I want to be out watching things grow, planning my future. I just feel that I am being stifled here, which makes me sound like the most ungrateful house guest you will ever encounter.” Elizabeth finished with a smile. She could not fall into a maudlin fit over something that was beyond her power to change, but she was becoming more determined to take the control of her life back into her own hands.
Violet laughed, “I don’t think that and never would. I like life in the City so I don’t really understand all your feelings, but you have been consistent from the start in your dislike.”
“I think it is time to leave.” Elizabeth said quietly, feeling that it really was time to admit that this was not the life for her. Perhaps if she was not constantly reminded of Michael she would be able to enjoy life a little more.
“Are you missing Lord Halkyn?” Violet enquired.
“No! Not at all!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Why on earth would you think I was missing Lord Halkyn?”
“You mentioned trying to show affection and being rebuffed, I just thought.....” Violet said trailing off. She knew full well that Elizabeth did not mean Lord Halkyn, but wanted to give her the opportunity of confiding in her.
Elizabeth smiled wistfully, “No, I was foolish enough to think that there was one man who could tempt me to give up my independent plans. I would have happily settled down, giving him as many children as his heart’s desire would wish for, but my feelings weren’t reciprocated.”
“Well I am very sorry about that. All I can say is that if he has any sense he will realise what a mistake he is making and act before you disappear off to the country.” Violet said with feeling.
Elizabeth smiled sadly. “I don’t think there is the slightest chance of that happening.”
“Well he is a fool!” Violet harrumphed, knowing that for the first time in her life, she truly believed that her brother was.
Michael had not responded well when Elizabeth had asked to leave. He refused to acknowledge that it was mainly to do with the thought of losing her. “We agreed that you would stay for the Season.” he said belligerently when Elizabeth finally got the opportunity to raise her request with him.
“I have given the Season as much of my time as I would wish,” Elizabeth responded calmly, but coolly. She had tried to keep some distance between them since his rejection when she was tending to his wounds.
“The estate isn’t ready yet.” Michael floundered. He could say that he forebade her leaving, but the reality was he had no real reason to stop her. Everything she had said had been reasoned and well argued. She was not suited to town life. She had tried to comply with his initial wishes and was realistic enough to draw a line under an experience that had been mixed as far as enjoyment went.
Elizabeth laughed for the first time during their conversation. “It will not be ready for years, my Lord. I am happy to work in whatever hardship is required until the estate starts to earn a little money.”
“I think we need to speak to Charles. He is at my estate and only due back next week, but you can speak to him as soon as he arrives,” Michael said. What he wanted to say was that the thought of her leaving him left him feeling so bereft that he did not know how he was to recover. That the distance between Yorkshire and Somerset was too far and he needed her by his side forever, but he could not. She was his ward and he had a duty towards her, but above all that he would not subject her to his family afflictions.
Elizabeth could have screamed at having to wait a week to speak to Charles. It would mean even longer before she could set off to what she was rapidly considering as home, but she gritted her teeth and smiled. “Thank you my Lord, that would be appreciated.”
“When did we become so formal, Elizabeth?” Michael asked, since she usually used his given name when they were not in a public event.
“I think when I heard for the hundredth time that I was one of your duties. It finally has sunk in that although I had wished that at least we could be friends, to you I will never be more than an inconvenience, a mistake in a will. I sincerely appreciate everything you have done, but I think it appropriate I give you the respect of your rank. I am not completely ignorant when it comes to Society’s ways,” Elizabeth finished a little tartly.
Michael closed his eyes. A friend was the definitely the last thing he wanted to be with Elizabeth. This prim Miss before him though, made him want to shake her, or hold her, he was not sure which. “You have never been an inconvenience. The situation was initially, but I have enjoyed meeting you and we are friends, Elizabeth.”