Read An Inconvenient Trilogy Online
Authors: Audrey Harrison
“Thank you, your words as usual do you credit. Please excuse me, I have arranged a ride through the park this morning.” Elizabeth said rising.
“Elizabeth...” Michael started.
“Yes?” She responded with a sigh of impatience.
“Enjoy your outing.” he said, before bowing and leaving her to stomp her foot in frustration.
Elizabeth met Lord Halkyn during the week that she waited for Charles’s return. She was attending a card party when he approached her. She felt her cheeks flush as he approached, but he smiled and bowed as if nothing untoward had happened.
“Miss Rufford, it is a delight to see you.” he said with a smile.
“Lord Halkyn,” she responded with a curtsey.
“Would you do me the honour of riding out with me tomorrow? I feel I have some serious apologising to do.”
Elizabeth smiled at the expression on his face. He was trying to look contrite, but looked anything but. “A drive would be very pleasant thank you.”
“I am grateful you have agreed, as I didn’t want to beg in front of everyone.” he grinned at her.
Elizabeth was a little apprehensive about being private with Lord Halkyn, even though it was going to be in an open phaeton. She was collected at the appropriate hour and they set out through the park. A few moments passed before Lord Halkyn started to speak.
“I am sorry that I put you in such a position when we last met. It was fortunate that Mr Dawson intervened.” he said.
“Is this remorse as a result of my guardian’s visit?” Elizabeth asked cynically.
Lord Halkyn laughed loudly. “No! The day I need Dunham to show me the error of my ways I will leave the country. It was right and proper what he did. He could have gone farther and forced a duel on me, but thankfully he is a man of sense and vented his spleen in a way that was satisfactory to us both.”
“But duels are illegal!” Elizabeth exclaimed, shocked.
Lord Halkyn laughed. “Yes, they are, but they still take place, my dear. Those who are determined to fight, can avoid the magistrate, if they have loyal friends. Dunham was sensible and sorted out the matter to both our satisfaction.”
“You mean in inflicting no long lasting damage to your face?” Elizabeth asked with a smile.
“Exactly!” came the chuckled response. “Some ladies do seem to appreciate gazing on my face.”
“I’m sure they do,” came the arch response.
“Come, come, Miss Rufford don’t deflate my ego, I was hoping you were one of the ladies who admired my looks.” the Lord probed good naturedly.
Elizabeth smiled, “You are a handsome man, of which you are well aware. You don’t need my flattery to reassure you of that.”
“Yes, but it is always nice to hear your brutal honesty on all subjects. I am reassured that you would never lie to me.” Lord Halkyn responded.
“I would always try to be honest.” Elizabeth said.
“I was foolish that night. You are an innocent in the ways of the world, and my feelings about marriage are more forceful and cynical than the views of most of the people who may try to flatter you into a similar situation.”
“I would hope that I could see through most flattery.” Elizabeth assured him.
“I think you could. You have opened my eyes to what I could have in marriage,” Lord Halkyn said, slowing the phaeton. “I know you wish to develop your estate in Yorkshire, but I want you to seriously consider a marriage with me.”
Elizabeth was taken aback by such a direct proposal. She had expected an apology, but had not for one moment thought that he would again propose marriage to her. She took a moment to gather her thoughts, but one question was at the forefront of her mind. “Have you spoken to Lord Dunham about this?”
“No, not yet,” Halkyn replied. “I’ve had a feeling that somehow he would not be receptive to a proposal and I wanted to see what your view was first. I realise this is going against etiquette, but I fear he has been more vigorous in his refusals to others than he should have been.”
“Do you think he would refuse to give his approval because of the fight you had?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, that is done and dusted, but he doesn’t seem keen to see you married off. I wasn’t sure if that was because of your viewpoint or his own.”
Elizabeth’s heart fluttered for a moment with fleeting hope before reality sank in. “I have been quite strong in my opinion about not looking for a husband. Lord Dunham is too honourable to be anything but supportive of my views and wishes.” she responded truthfully, but at the same time keen to defend her guardian.
“That makes more sense, I would never describe Dunham as someone who acted in an underhanded manner.” Lord Halkyn responded.
“Your offer is kind, but I....” Elizabeth started, but was interrupted by Lord Halkyn.
“Now wait until you have heard what I have to say before you refuse me,” he said with a smile. “I won’t lie to you and say I have fallen madly in love with you; you know my opinion of love too well to know that anything I said of that nature, would be a falsehood.”
Elizabeth smiled despite herself. “I want you to be honest, my Lord, even if I might not like what you say.”
“I will be. I cannot offer you love, yet. I have never met anyone like you Miss Rufford,- Elizabeth. I want to spend some time getting to know you better. I have always been cynical about marriage, but even on the first night of meeting you, I thought that you were the only woman I would consider being my wife.”
“I am flattered,” Elizabeth said with a blush. She was fully aware of the honour of receiving a marriage proposal from the eligible Lord Halkyn. If she agreed, she would be the envy of every single woman of the season.
“You should be,” came the smiling response. “I am offering you marriage on mostly your terms. I will try and accommodate your needs to spend time in the country on your estate, and mine for that matter. I expect you can only improve my property. I will always be affectionate and fond of you, and neither of us can know if love will develop through a lasting relationship.”
“Will you be faithful?” Elizabeth asked, remembering what he had hinted at previously.
“I can only promise you to try,” came the candid response. “I can offer you security, affection, regard, my title, money and the promise that I will do everything in my power to make your life comfortable and happy.”
“It is a tempting proposal. I know I should do as most other women would do and fall at your feet with gratitude, but I need time to think things through. As you’ve said, it would not be the marriage I was expecting to have, if I decided that marriage was for me. At the start of my visit, I had not anticipated anything other than living in Yorkshire, so a serious marriage proposal was never something I had thought about. I need time to consider, so I am afraid I will postpone falling at your feet for the moment,” Elizabeth responded after a few moments.
Lord Halkyn smiled and squeezed her hand. “I am making this proposal precisely because you are not like the other women of my acquaintance. Of course you can have some time.”
“I am hoping to go away next week to Yorkshire for a little while. Is it too much to ask you to wait until I return?” Elizabeth asked tentatively.
“It is a little longer than I was hoping for, but if you agree to my proposal, we shall have all the time in the world to make up for a few weeks lost at the beginning.”
Elizabeth smiled her thanks and they continued the ride, quieter than at the start. Elizabeth had a lot to think about.
Over the next few days Elizabeth thought of nothing but how she wanted her life to be, how it could and could not be and what were her real options. A proposal from Lord Halkyn was something she should consider. She told herself a hundred times that she should accept his offer without a single doubt. She would be secure and settled for the rest of her life. She would not have to rely on the employment of companions to maintain respectability and she would have a husband who would at least try to support her need to work.
Everything made sense for her to say yes, but she did not love him, and he did not love her. He did not have dark hair and deep chocolate eyes. He did not seek her out in a ballroom, or look at her with amusement when she was struggling to maintain a conversation that was boring her half to death.
When her thoughts turned in that direction she would curse and mutter to herself. Michael had made it plain that she meant nothing to him other than as a duty; she had to stop thinking about him. The problem was that as soon as she tried to think about the marriage proposal from Lord Halkyn, Michael’s face appeared before her eyes.
She decided that she needed another woman’s perspective and approached Violet one morning after visits had occurred.
Elizabeth sighed, “Violet, I need your advice before I leave for Yorkshire; that is to say, Lord Halkyn asked if I would be his wife.”
“Oh? Michael never mentioned it.” Violet knew her brother had no idea of such a proposal.
Elizabeth blushed a little. “Michael doesn’t know. Lord Halkyn said that Michael had put off so many suitors that he wanted to ask me first to ensure Michael was acting fairly. I put him straight on any doubt he had about Michael’s principles.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Violet smiled at the flash of indignation in Elizabeth’s eyes. “I’m sure if my brother had thought you had tender feelings for anyone who asked him for your hand he would have agreed to the match.” Violet tried to sound convincing with her words, she was not quite sure if he would be quite so honourable where Elizabeth was concerned.
“I know he would. He has always told me of those who have approached him, but they have all been interested in my money rather than me. Lord Halkyn cannot be accused of that though.”
“Do you have feelings for him?” Violet asked tentatively.
“I like him,” Elizabeth said hesitantly. “I should have feelings for him; he would be a good match.”
“What is preventing you from accepting his proposal? It is an eligible offer.” Violent asked gently, hoping to hear a different name on her friend’s lips.
“I had hoped… it may sound foolish, but if I were to marry, I wanted to love and be loved by the man whom I married. It would be a special man who accepts me trudging around the land in breeches during the day and accepts the fact that I may make mistakes in company sometimes. I would like to be able to be relaxed and be myself with my husband,” Elizabeth said wistfully.
“We all need to be relaxed with our life mate my dear. Some would put a good match over love though.”
“And you? What is your opinion?” Elizabeth asked eagerly, glad that she had found someone who seemed to understand her dilemma.
Violet hesitated, she had to answer honestly not because she was Michael’s sister and wanted to see her brother happy. “I married for love and I would hope that those who are dear to me would do the same. To wake up next to the man who loves you and is loved by you is something very special indeed. I am sometimes not easy to live with, but I know that without doubt Edward still loves me despite my faults.”
“You are very lucky,” Elizabeth sighed. “I had always thought myself to be self sufficient, but after seeing more of Society I have come to realise that maybe I do need the support of a husband. I was too sheltered prior to coming to London, I had thought it was all so simple, but Society is not so forgiving.”
“I am lucky in my marriage to Edward and I want to see you happy, to have the same contentment as I have. What are you going to do?”
“I honestly don’t know. I have asked him for some time, which he has agreed to, but I need to make a decision at some point. I am constantly questioning if I am being too naive in expecting love,” Elizabeth said with a frown. “The Miss Brodies, Platts and Fishwicks of this world would think I need to be locked away for madness for even having this conversation.”
“Yes, well they certainly would struggle to find long term love with anyone the way they behave,” Violet said tartly. “It isn’t naive to want to love your husband. Could you not grow to love him?”
“He said that might happen when he was proposing,” Elizabeth said candidly. “He was honest about his feelings for which I was grateful. He said that he would try to remain faithful and that he is fond of me. Somehow that doesn’t feel like the type of love that I would want though.”
“Well refuse him.” Violet said.
“I think I need to consider it carefully before making a rash decision. I think it’s only fair to him, he has assured me that I am the first woman he has ever asked to marry him.” Elizabeth said decisively.
“That is true,” Violet agreed. “Think about it my dear, but you must go with what your heart tells you. Forever is a long time to be married to the wrong man.”
Violet decided that although she had not taken the opportunity to put Michael’s name forward to Elizabeth, she could not stand by and do nothing. She had to tell Michael that Elizabeth was in the process of making the biggest decision of her life. She hoped that when he heard what Elizabeth was considering, he would finally act and tell his ward exactly how he felt.
She paid a visit to her brother, which was a highly unusual occurrence. Michael was immediately suspicious of what his sister was planning. Violet entered the room and looked around with approval. She did like the way Michael had decorated and furnished the house since he had moved in.
She perched herself at the edge of one of the sofas and turned to her brother. “Michael we need a candid conversation, one in which you are not going to brush me off like you usually do.”
“Oh yes?” Michael asked warily.
“See, already you are defensive!” Violet exclaimed. “This is for your own good and you will thank me in the long term.”
“But in the short term?” Michael asked, raising one eyebrow at his sister.
“Well, that remains to be seen!” Violet huffed.
“Come on, out with it.” he sighed, bracing himself for a conversation that he had a feeling would be a repeat of a previous one with Violet.
“You need to act quickly or you are going to lose her.” Violet said bluntly.
“I beg your pardon?” Michael replied, but he was immediately on the alert.
“It is obvious that you still have feelings for Elizabeth, anyone who spends any time in your company can see that. It is no longer only obvious to those who know you well, but you need to do something about it quickly, or you will lose her.”
“Violet, of course I care about Elizabeth, she is my ward. I admit the situation was unwanted at first, but it has been a real pleasure to get to know her.” Michael replied his tone slightly formal, as if he was saying a well rehearsed speech.
“Michael, stop treating me like an idiot!” Violet snapped.
“I am not,” came the cool reply. “I wouldn’t dare.”
“Lord Halkyn has proposed to her.” Violet decided that shock tactics were needed to get his attention.
“He’s done what? Behind my back? Of all the devious little tricks. I’m her guardian!” Michael spluttered.
“Yes and he’s told her he wasn’t sure if you were being fair with her suitors. Perhaps he has seen what we have seen?” Violet responded archly, glad to finally have got Michael’s full attention.
“When did he ask her? Has she accepted him?” Michael demanded trying to ignore the feeling of tightness around his heart.
“He asked her a few days ago, but she has not given him an answer yet. She does like him though.”
“Well that’s it then, isn’t it?” Michael shrugged his shoulders, trying to control the feeling of panic rising at the thought of Elizabeth married to someone else. He was trying not to be selfish, but the thought of her in someone else’s arms, someone else’s bed, made him go cold.
“That’s it? Is that all you have to say?” Violet said in disbelief. “Are you not going to do anything about it?”
“How many times do have to say it? I am her guardian. I will give him a piece of my mind when he does finally approach me, but if she likes him, I am not going to stop her marrying the man of her choice.” Michael said flatly, cursing the day he had introduced Halkyn to Elizabeth.
“I said she
him, you fool! She doesn’t love him! She wants to marry the person she loves, but she is feeling vulnerable. She doubts her ability to make a decision and needs protecting by the man who truly loves her!” Violet rushed.
“I have protected her,” Michael said, not sure if he was responding as her guardian, or the man who truly was in love with her.
“Yes, but your guardianship only lasts a little while longer, and then what? If you wait until then before declaring yourself, she could have accepted second best. Elizabeth has our friendship, but is realising that ultimately she is alone. She needs her
family to feel secure, and Lord Halkyn can give her security, but he cannot give her love. He has even said he will try to be faithful! Can you imagine him remaining faithful if she is in Yorkshire and he is in London? It will add to her feelings of being unlovable if she finds out he has not been true to her. So I will ask you again, what are you going to do?”
“He is a fool if he looks at another woman if he marries Elizabeth. She is worth ten times more than any other woman in the country, but it is inappropriate for me to do anything,” Michael replied quietly but firmly.
“If you wait until after the guardianship ends it will be too late to declare yourself!” Violet snapped.
“Even then I will not be asking her to marry me,” Michael said quietly. “I don’t want to discuss it Violet, but I cannot marry Elizabeth, for her sake.”
“Oh Michael,” Violet whispered.
“Stop it Violet,” Michael said roughly. “I am not going to act. If she marries Halkyn, she has made her own decision and I will support her in that.”
“But she doesn’t know how you feel, so is making a decision without all the facts!” Violet said raising her voice in frustration.
“I cannot do anything about that,” came the belligerent response. “Violet, this isn’t just about the guardianship.”
“What is it about then?” Violet said more calmly.
“I don’t want to go into details, but believe me, there is a far more valid reason why I shouldn’t be marrying her,” Michael said sadly. He could not explain to his sister that he was afraid that at some point in the future he would suffer the same madness as his father had. She would start to look at him the way he looked at himself every morning, scrutinising his features and eyes, looking for any change. Violet was of the same blood, he could not share his fear with her.
“The world will not fall apart if you don’t abide by the rules!” Violet snapped.
“What evidence do you have of that dear sister, in your perfect little world?” Michael said laughing at his sister. It was a condescending laugh and forced Violet to respond with something that would shock him into silence.
“I had carnal knowledge of Edward before we were married. The world did not stop turning and I was not struck by lightning,” Violet said, a smug smile developing at the look of horror on her brother’s face.
“You did what?” He exploded.
“Oh come on Michael, don’t be so naive. You didn’t expect us to wait the three months it took to organise the wedding did you? There are ways of making sure there were no early babies,” Violet said, relishing the conversation more and more.
“I do not believe I am hearing this,” Michael spluttered. “Violet, there are things a brother and sister should not discuss, and this is definitely one of them. I will be speaking to Edward the next time I see him though.”
Violet laughed, “He will enjoy that conversation, I assure you, and if he knows why I had to say it he will agree that you are being a complete fool too.”
Michael sat for a few moments in silence after Violet had spoken. If she was hoping that her words would result in Michael springing into action, she was to be disappointed. “I am not going to declare myself to Elizabeth. You have guessed what I feel about her and it is pointless denying it anymore, to you at least, but she needs to have a wedding without any scandal. I refuse on principle to act in any way that would mean she would attract gossip and scandal, and a marriage to me would attract both.”
“Well I hope your principles keep you warm at night when the love of your life is in bed with a man she doesn’t love. All because you weren’t brave enough to stand a bit of scandal. Scandal I don’t even understand. I can do nothing else here, I will leave you. One last thing I would ask is that you do one more thing for your ward, accompany her to Yorkshire. Support her while she is assessing her estate. She may need your help while she is there and although Charles is good, he does not know her as well as you do, and Elizabeth trusts you, the foolish child.”
Michael nodded his agreement and Violet walked out of the door. He sat for a long time thinking over Violet’s words. The man in him wanted to ride around to Elizabeth and take her straight to the nearest church to get married to ensure she would be his for the rest of their lives. The problem was the honourable part of him could not. He had a duty to protect her, especially from himself and he would do that, no matter how much it hurt.
He slept badly that night, pictures of Elizabeth and Halkyn running through his brain, pictures of her blossoming with Halkyn’s child. He felt sick to his stomach when he thought of someone else seeing her eyes widen with passion, but even when morning dawned he had not changed his opinion. He had a duty as her guardian, and he was not going to let her down. His one concession was that he would offer to accompany her to Yorkshire. He tried to justify it to himself by acknowledging the truth in Violet’s words, but it was really for selfish reasons. He wanted to spend some time with Elizabeth before she left him forever. They could never have the same easy relationship they had shared once she was married; they would probably never even see each other again. Michael had decided that once the announcement had been made, which he was sure it would be, he was going to retire to his Somerset estate, and remain there until he was old and grey. It would take such drastic measures for him to get through a lifetime without Elizabeth.