The Fortune Hunter
It was a sunny afternoon in early September. Olivia Paige had decided to make use of the fine weather and to go for a long walk that afternoon. She often went for walks, nearly always unattended, a habit that almost always brought her mother's reproach on her but which she was unwilling to give up.
She walked downhill towards the village, leaving the old Manor House behind her just as a light curricle stopped in front of the main entrance. A young man, perceiving Miss Paige, got down from the curricle and immediately followed her. Olivia sighed. Sir Edwin Arncott was a neighbour, and she had known him all her life. Lately, it seemed, he had developed a tendre for her, and she feared she would soon have to tell him that his attentions were unwelcome. Olivia wished that her sister Agnes was still there -- she had been her principal advisor in matters of the heart, and her advice had always been worth listening to. But Agnes was married now, and her advice would take some time until it reached her little sister. There was nothing for Olivia to do but to face the inevitable and do whatever she saw fit to do.
Meanwhile, Sir Edwin had reached her. He was not ill-looking, though he was not really handsome either. There were one or two attractive traits about him -- he had dark, curly hair a pleasant smile, and excellent manners.
"Good afternoon, Miss Paige," he said as Olivia had stopped to meet him. "How lucky I am to meet you! You are going on your customary walk, I suppose."
"Quite so, Sir Edwin," Olivia said.
"May I have the honour of escorting you, Miss Paige?"
"Certainly, sir, if you choose to. I suspect, however, that you did not come to Bradenham for the sole purpose of accompanying me on my walk."
"I came here to meet your father, Miss Paige," Sir Edwin said. "There is a matter of some ... delicacy ... I wanted to settle with him."
Olivia did not need a great deal of imagination to know what the "matter of some delicacy" was. During those past weeks, it had become quite obvious for her that Sir Edwin wanted her to become his wife. He had hinted at it several times -- that "he trusted Miss Olivia would soon follow her sister's example", that "Miss Paige's beauty and refinement made her the paragon of all young ladies in the neighbourhood", and that "any man lucky enough to win Miss Paige's heart" should be "fully aware of the honour bestowed upon him and thank the Lord daily". Things like these led to only one conclusion -- Sir Edwin considered himself to be that man. Unfortunately he was not.
"My father has gone out, Sir Edwin," she therefore said, coolly. "We do not expect him back before dinnertime. Is it an urgent business you have with him?" She sat down on a stone bench overlooking the village.
"Urgent, Miss Paige? Why, yes, one might say so," Sir Edwin said. He sat down next to her and, for a moment, nothing was said, though Sir Edwin was looking at her intently. Olivia pretended not to notice. Suddenly, Sir Edwin seized Olivia's hand and said, "You cannot be in doubt as to what purpose there is to my visit, Miss Paige."
Olivia withdrew her hand and looked at Sir Edwin reproachfully. "Indeed, sir, I have no idea," she said coldly. Agnes had once told her that one could put off an unwelcome admirer by acting with strictest decorum even when he did not. Olivia could only hope that Agnes had been right.
"Please forgive my boldness, but surely you must be aware of my feelings for you!" Sir Edwin exclaimed.
"I am afraid I do not know what you mean, sir," Olivia said, continuing the game. "What exactly are you talking about?"
"I mean to marry you, Miss Paige," Sir Edwin answered indignantly.
"Do you?" Olivia said dryly. "Why, sir, I always thought that a lady had at least something to say in that matter. You did not even ask me whether I meant to marry you."
"You must be aware of the advantages of this match, Miss Paige," Sir Edwin said stiffly. "As Lady Arncott you will be well respected in the neighbourhood, and Bradenham Park is only two miles from here -- you will be able to visit your parents whenever you want. Besides you have known me for years -- there will be no surprise in my character, as might happen if you chose to marry a man you do not know."
"Despite all these advantages I do not wish to marry you, Sir Edwin," Olivia replied. "There is one thing you have not even mentioned, yet I believe it to be vital for a happy marriage. Love."
"What has love got to do with it?" Sir Edwin asked.
"A great deal, sir. I do not intend to marry a man I do not love, or someone who does not love me. Mutual love and respect is the only thing that will ever induce me to marry."
"I have seen a great deal of love-matches end in bad marriages, Miss Paige. Believe me, there are other things one must consider. Love is all very well, but it does not feed hungry mouths, and it does not keep you warm and dry."
"Perhaps not, sir. Still, I only have to see my sister and her husband to know what I want. They are very much in love, sir, and they are happy. Nothing short of such happiness will do for me. I am sorry, sir, but I cannot and will not accept your offer."
"Perhaps your father will..." Sir Edwin began.
"You underestimate my father, Sir Edwin," Olivia said crossly. "Once he has heard my opinion of the matter, he will not even try to persuade me."
She got up and went towards the old manor house, not waiting for Sir Edwin to follow her. However, he came up close behind her, and they entered the house together. Upon Sir Edwin's enquiry, the butler informed him that Mr. Paige was not at home and would not be home before dinner time, and, having received that bit of information, Sir Edwin abruptly took his leave.
Olivia, relieved that she had finally had the chance of telling Sir Edwin her mind on the subject, entered the drawing room where her mother was doing some crochet work.
"You look flushed, my dear," Mrs. Paige remarked calmly. "Have you been out?"
"Yes, Mama," Olivia said.
"Was that Sir Edwin Arncott I heard you talking to?" Mrs. Paige inquired. Olivia saw that the drawing room window was open, so it was quite likely that her mother had overheard parts of her conversation. There was no use in trying to keep the subject of their conversation secret, it seemed.
"Yes, Mama, it was Sir Edwin," Olivia said. "He came here to see Papa, but left when he found that Papa was out."
"Why did he not come in? I would have loved to have a nice little chat with him. Sir Edwin is one of my favourite neighbours, as you know."
"I know, Mama, but I am afraid he was vexed, so he left."
"Vexed? Why should he be vexed?" Mrs. Paige asked, taking her daughter's hand. "Did you annoy him, Olivia?"
Olivia smiled. "I am afraid so, Mama. I told him I would not marry him."
"Sir Edwin has made you an offer, my dear?" Mrs. Paige exclaimed.
"Yes, he has, and I refused him," Olivia said. "You see, Mama, he had a good reason to be vexed."
"Quite so," Mrs. Paige said. "I hope you know what you are doing, Olivia. There are few men like Sir Edwin."
"I know, but I do not love him. Would you have married Papa, had you not loved him?"
Mrs. Paige sighed. "I suppose not," she said. "Although, my dear, in my day the matter was usually settled between the young man and the girl's father. I do not know whether my dear Papa would have allowed me to choose for myself. Fortunately the young man who offered for me was very much to my taste." Mrs. Paige smiled, lost in recollections of the days of her youth.
"Well, if you will not have Sir Edwin it cannot be helped," she finally said. "But let me tell you, my dear, that both your father and I are very disappointed. We hoped you would consider him. He would have been able to make you happy- just as happy as dear Lady Gordon."
Ever since Agnes had married, she was "dear Lady Gordon" to her mother. Olivia smiled. "Mama, if ever I find a gentleman only half as amiable as Sir Felix Gordon, I will be most happy to marry him -- and I have no doubt I will be happy with him."
When Olivia entered the breakfast parlour the next morning, her father greeted her with the words, "So Arncott has popped the question, has he?"
"Papa," Olivia exclaimed. "How can you be so indelicate?"
"Have I hurt your sensibilities, dear? I am sorry to have done so. So, has he?"
"I see Mama has already informed you," Olivia sighed. "Do you have no secrets from each other, Papa?"
"Why should we?" Mr. Paige retorted. "Olivia, once you have been married for as long as we have been, you will know that it is quite unnecessary to have secrets from each other. The other is bound to find out sooner or later, and usually a quarrel ensues. Too much fuss. -- Your mother is quite disappointed, you know."
"So she told me," Olivia said, "but I could not give Sir Edwin any other answer than the one I gave him. I do not love him, Papa."
"A pity," Mr. Paige said. "Olivia, there may be more amiable, more handsome, and richer men around than Sir Edwin Arncott, I admit that. But at least one thing we can be sure of -- Sir Edwin is not a fortune hunter."
Olivia sighed. Ever since her father's eccentric old aunt, Mrs. Granby, had left her vast fortune to be equally divided between her two grand-nieces, her father had been in agony lest they should fall prey to that species of young men generally called fortune-hunters. He had strongly opposed their coming out in London, and had not been able to hide his satisfaction when his younger daughter had contracted the measles and had had to stay at home. Agnes had made an instant hit in London, and within three months she had become engaged to Sir Felix Gordon, a young baronet from the North.
Mr. Paige had thoroughly researched the young man's circumstances before he had given his blessing, and even the fact that Sir Felix was evidently devoted to Agnes had not allayed his doubt. Fortune hunters, in Mr. Paige's opinion, were the eighth Biblical Plague, and he was determined to protect his daughters from that kind of men.
The post arrived, and among the letters there was one for Olivia from her sister. She excused herself, and went to the drawing room to read her letter -- but she did not stay there for long. Mr. Paige had hardly settled down to read his newspaper when his daughter burst in and exclaimed, "Papa, may I go?"
"I would like to give my permission," Mr. Paige said dryly, "but first I would like to know where it is you wish to go."
"Agnes has invited me, Papa. She wants me to join her and her husband in Surrey, and she wants me to spend the season in London with them. Say I may go, Papa!"
Mr. Paige sighed. "I suppose there will be no peace until I allow you to go," he said. "However, I will not." He saw Olivia's disappointed face and smiled. "Should your mother, however, give her permission, I cannot withhold mine."
"Give my permission for what?" Mrs. Paige asked, this moment entering the breakfast parlour. Olivia handed her Agnes's letter and watched her mother expectantly. Mrs. Paige nodded. "One thing is certain," she said. "Lady Gordon will be able to introduce you to circles to which I have not been admitted. What an opportunity!"
"Is Agnes not a bit young to be her sister's chaperon?" Mr. Paige asked. "I do not want to saddle her with the duty of bringing her sister out."
"Why not? She offered to do so," Mrs. Paige said. "I suspect she misses Olivia, and we know Olivia misses her too. If Sir Felix finds no reason to object -- and if he objected, Agnes would hardly have issued this invitation - why should we?"
"We are Olivia's parents," Mr. Paige pointed out. "My dear, imagine what kind of people she will be meeting in London, under Agnes's aegis."
"She will be meeting Sir Felix's friends, mostly, and that is recommendation enough. Sir Felix will know with whom to associate. We trusted him with our oldest daughter, why should we not trust him with both? He will take good care of Olivia."
"I am still here, you know," Olivia remarked. "Do not talk about me as if I were not here."
Mr. Paige laughed. "Very well," he said. "Now, what do you say, my dear? Shall Olivia go?"
"Of course she will!" Mrs. Paige said. "As if there could ever be a question as to that. -- You will need new clothes, my dear."
"I do not think I will buy that many here," Olivia said. "I will buy some in London, though. Agnes will indulge in some shopping, I am sure, and she will be most happy to go shopping with me as well."
"Will she?" Mr. Paige asked, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
"She would not be Agnes any more if she did not," Olivia said with a smile, put her arms round her father's neck and kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Papa, for letting me go."
"It was your mother's decision, not mine," Mr. Paige protested, but he was pleased nevertheless.
Olivia turned to her mother and kissed her, too. "Thank you, Mama," she whispered. "I shall go now and answer Agnes's letter."
For the following two weeks, the ladies of Bradenham Manor were very busy. Despite Olivia's protests that she would buy any new clothes she needed in London, Mrs. Paige had taken her to Marlow to buy a couple of things -- "For, my dear, you have to admit that the things you wear here in the country will just not do," she had said, and Olivia had been obliged to agree with her.
Crewe, Olivia's lady's maid, was busy packing her trunks, and Mr. Paige took every opportunity to warn his daughter against the dangers of the Metropolis. Olivia felt sorry for her father, yet his behaviour exasperated her. She considered herself clever enough to avoid the lures thrown out by certain people, and besides she put absolute trust in her sister and Sir Felix.
So she was glad when, finally, the day of her departure arrived and she got into her father's carriage which was to take her and Crewe to Surrey. It would be a fatiguing journey, for they had chosen to travel the entire distance in one day -- Mrs. Paige had strongly objected to their spending one night at an inn -- and so they departed from Bradenham Manor very early in the morning. They stopped for lunch at Staines, and travelled on until, towards the evening, Sutton Court came into view. Sir Felix had bought the estate from one of his friends, a Mr. Farnham, who had inherited Sutton Court from his great-uncle and had found himself unable to finance the necessary renovation of the estate. Mr. Farnham's great-uncle had preferred life in London to the countryside, and had hardly ever visited his property in Surrey. Therefore, both the house and grounds had fallen into disrepair, and the damages had been so bad that Mr. Farnham had thought the place uninhabitable. He had not understood why Sir Felix Gordon had set his mind set on buying the place, but had jumped at the opportunity to get rid of a cumbersome inheritance. Under Sir Felix's supervision, Sutton Court had been repaired, and once the new Lady Gordon had furnished the house according to her taste, nothing was left to be desired even for the most fastidious visitors.
Olivia looked out of the window and saw the large Elizabethan house situated in a large garden. There was still much to be done with the garden -- it was orderly, on the whole, but some of the trees needed to be pruned, and some of the statues lining the driveway towards the house were in need of repair.
The rays of the setting sun made the windows of the house shine like gold, and as the carriage drew nearer to the entrance Olivia noticed the front door being opened and a procession of servants coming out to await her arrival.
The carriage stopped, the door was opened and a footman assisted Olivia in stepping down. Olivia noticed her sister and brother-in-law, who were awaiting her at the door. Agnes came towards her at once, embraced her briefly, kissed her cheek and said brightly, "I am so happy you are here, Olivia! I was in agony all day, imagining all kinds of things that could happen to you. Did you have a pleasant journey?"
"Very pleasant, thank you," Olivia replied smilingly. "So this is Sutton Court! No wonder you are so fond of it, Agnes! I am positively in love with the place already!"
"And you have not even seen what it looks like inside," Agnes replied, well pleased with her sister's appreciation of her home. "I am sure I will never love a place as much as this."
Olivia turned towards her brother-in-law. "How do you do, Sir Felix?" she asked. He replied to her greeting with a pleasant smile, and welcomed her to Sutton Court. "I am glad you favour the place with your approval," he said. "I hope you will feel at home here, Miss Paige."
"Miss Paige?" Olivia asked, with a smile. "I beg you, Sir Felix, to leave aside such formality. We are brother and sister, aren't we? So please call me Olivia, as everyone in the family does!"
With a laugh, Sir Felix promised Olivia to consider it, and asked her to come into the house. Olivia entered a great hall, with a grand oaken staircase leading upwards. The walls were decorated with portraits of Sir Felix's family - Agnes had taken away the old tapestries that had made the place gloomy and even frightening, as she confided to her sister.
"The place looks much more cheerful now," she said, and Olivia agreed with her that the staircase looked much better without the tapestries.
Sir Felix took his leave for the time being, and went to the library to "get some work done", while his wife took her sister to her room.
"It is our best guest room," she said to Olivia as she opened the door. Olivia liked what she saw. The walls were wainscoted, and a small door in the panelling led to an adjoining dressing room, where Crewe was already at work unpacking Olivia's trunk. Two large windows would provide the room with ample light during the day, even though it was dark now. The furniture was new and looked comfortable.
"How do you like it?" Agnes asked Olivia.
"I love it," Olivia said, smiling at her sister. "I think I will like this place so much you will have trouble dragging me to London for the season."
Agnes laughed. "I think not," she said. "But Sir Felix will be pleased when he hears this. He is prodigiously proud of this place, you must know. Just imagine, he bought Sutton Court for my sake! When we were courting, I once told him that I did not want to live too far from my family, you know, so when I had accepted his offer of marriage the first thing he did was settle the purchase with Mr. Farnham! Is he not the best of all husbands? I sometimes wonder whether I deserve to be loved so much."
"Agnes!" Olivia exclaimed. "Of course you deserve it! How can you ever have doubted it?"
"I do get these odd notions at times," Agnes said smilingly. "I will leave you alone now, Olivia. If there is anything you need, just ring, one of the servants will supply it. I have ordered a bath to be prepared for you, by the way, it is just the thing after a hard day, is it not? We will dine at half past eight -- do not worry, we usually dine earlier, but today we wanted to wait for your arrival."
Olivia promised to make haste, not wishing to keep her sister and Sir Felix from their repast for longer than necessary, and Agnes left her sister to her abigail's care.
Half an hour later, Olivia joined her host in the drawing room. While they were waiting for Agnes to make her appearance, they had a comfortable chat, mostly concerning the purchase and renovation of Sutton Court. Sir Felix, after having expressed his fear of boring his sister-in-law and being assured that she was genuinely interested in the topic, was happy to oblige, and pointed out the changes he had made in the house and surrounding grounds. He promised Olivia to treat her to an extensive tour of the house the next day, and, should the weather allow it, to take her on a tour round the grounds in his curricle in the afternoon.
"I do not know whether seeing the two of you on such familiar terms pleases or vexes me," Agnes said as she entered the room, seeing her husband and sister absorbed in their conversation.
"Jealous?" Sir Felix asked her with a grin, rising from his seat to greet her.
"Absolutely," Agnes said. "My sister is very pretty, after all, and you are bound to notice it, as all men do."
"All men are not
married to you, my dear," Sir Felix replied gallantly. "I am. So tell
me, how could I possibly want for anything -- or anyone -- else?"
"Flatterer," Agnes said, evidently pleased.
"I am not done yet," Sir Felix said. "This is a fetching shawl you are wearing. Have I seen it before?"
"No, you have not. Your aunt sent it to me as a birthday present. Do you like it?"
"Were your sister not present, I would already have shown you how much I do," Sir Felix said, and added, with a laugh, "But I will not corrupt Olivia's morals if I can help it."
"Felix!" Agnes exclaimed, blushing. "Really!"
"I apologise," Sir Felix said, seemingly repentant but not fooling anyone. "Shall we go in?" He offered his arm to Olivia and led her into the dining room, where a delicious dinner was waiting for them.
During the meal, Agnes informed Olivia of their plans for her stay. "Felix will have to go to his estate in Cumberland next week, and until he returns we will stay here in Sutton Court by ourselves. I am so happy to have you here with me, Olivia -- how lonely I should have been had you not come!"
"You might have joined me," Sir Felix pointed out.
"No, I might not!" Agnes said. "I told you that what with the preparations for our stay in London there was no way for me to join you. I will come with you next time, I promise," she added in a softer tone, seeing the disappointed look in her husband's eyes. "When I am not quite as busy."
Sir Felix nodded, giving his wife a tender look. "I shall miss you, too," he said, simply, and turned to Olivia. "I am glad Agnes will have someone to bear her company while I am gone," he said.
"How long will you have to stay in Cumberland?" Olivia asked.
"Heaven knows," Sir Felix said. "But I will try not to stay longer than two weeks. After that, I will come back and take you to London. By the way, Agnes, Forde has written to me today telling me that he has taken the house I told you about -- the one in Half Moon Street."
"Delightful," Agnes exclaimed. "I am looking forward to London. Aren't you, Olivia?"
With smile, Olivia assured her sister that she, too, was looking forward to their season in London. They spent the rest of the meal discussing their London acquaintance and telling Olivia whom she was most likely to meet there.
The evening ended soon. Having got up very early and fatigued from her journey, Olivia retired to her room very early, and fell asleep the moment she lay down on her bed.
The next morning, Olivia awoke to the sound of birds singing just outside her window. The sunlight streaming in through the window painted golden rectangles on the floor. Olivia remained in bed for a while, enjoying the luxury of being fully awake and not having to get up immediately. Then the door opened, and in came Crewe with a cup of tea for her mistress, informing her that the weather was fine and rather warm for this time of year.
On entering the breakfast parlour, Olivia found her sister in Sir Felix's arms, and although he released Agnes at once and greeted his sister-in-law pleasantly, Olivia felt like an intruder.
After breakfast, Agnes showed Olivia Sutton Court. The building was even larger than Olivia had imagined, and their tour of the house took them nearly two hours. They started in the kitchen, where a formidable female supervised the preparation of the meals, and ended in the Great Gallery where the tapestries from the staircase had found a new home.
"I did not have the heart to throw them away," Agnes said, "and Felix thought that here they would do no harm. We rarely come here, you know -- although I sometimes walk in here in bad weather."
Between the windows there were some portraits, but Agnes could not tell Olivia anything about the personages in the pictures.
"They are members of the Farnham family, I suppose," she said. "Felix bought the house including its contents; Mr. Farnham did not care for any of the things. So, I am afraid we will never know who those people are. But I let the pictures stay here -- some of them are quite nice, aren't they?"
Olivia agreed that some of the pictures were well worth looking at -- one of them, showing a mother with her two children -- even bore Gainsborough's signature.
Descending the stairs to the drawing room, Olivia looked at the portraits that lined the staircase. "I trust you can tell me who these people are, at least," she asked her sister smilingly.
"I can, though I admit I do not make such a good job of it as Felix does," Agnes said, laughingly. "If you want to, I shall get him to explain them to you."
"I would love to know everything about the portraits," Olivia said, and Agnes sent one of the servants to fetch her husband.
Olivia spent the following half
hour listening to her brother-in-law telling her stories about the personages
shown in the portraits. He did so in a very amusing way -- among other things,
he informed her that Sir Frederick Gordon, Sir Felix's grandfather, had been a
"libertine of the worst kind" -- "I do not like to shock you,
Olivia, so I am not going into detail, but he was a great favourite with the
ladies, they say." Looking at his portrait, Olivia could verily believe
that -- allowing for the different fashion of his time, Sir Frederick had been
an exceptionally handsome man. Another picture showed Sir Felix's father, a
sober-looking man in his mid-forties dressed in hunting clothes, and his
favourite horse. "My father was a great sportsman, you must know,"
Sir Felix explained. "That horse was a brute, though -- I lived in mortal dread
of him. We had to have him shot when my father died, for no one else could
handle him. Nearly killed one of the grooms. The devil of a temper, if you will
excuse my saying so." Olivia did excuse him.
There were two more pictures -- one of them was a full-length portrait of two young ladies, the Misses Broadbent, seated in some kind of bower or summer house. "The portrait was done in my grandfather's garden, they say -- not Sir Frederick's, of course -- in their favourite place, shortly before the elder Miss Broadbent got married. It was to be a parting gift for my mother, as you may have guessed she was. She is the one on the left, by the way. The other young lady is my Aunt Honoria, Lady Burnhope."
"Is she the aunt who sent that pretty shawl to Agnes?" Olivia asked, recalling the previous evening's conversation.
"I guess so, for she is the only aunt I have got," Sir Felix laughed. They walked on to the next portrait, Olivia's favourite. It showed three boys, two of them were evidently brothers. One could see the family likeness in their hair, their eyes, and their mouths. Yet one of them, presumably the older one, looked at her with a serious expression, while the younger one was smiling, and showing a picture book to the smallest boy who was sitting on a stone bench next to him. A spaniel puppy was at their feet, looking adoringly at the boy with the book. Olivia could nearly see the dog wag its tail.
"What a beautiful picture this is," Olivia sighed. Sir Felix nodded. "And very true to life, too. Look at the smallest boy. Do you know him?"
Olivia gave the boy a closer look. "Is that you, Sir Felix?"
"Yes, this is me," he said, smilingly.
"Who are the other boys? Not your brothers, I presume, for I know you have no brothers."
"They are cousins of mine," Sir Felix said and pointed to the earnest one. "William Lennox, now Viscount Burnhope. And --" he indicated the boy sitting next to him, with the book in his hands, the boy who seemed to be the object of admiration of both his young cousin and the puppy, " -- his brother, Adrian."
"It looks as though you were very close to your cousins," Olivia said. Sir Felix nodded. "They -- Adrian especially -- were the brothers I never had," he said. "They used to spend a great deal of their time with us in Cumberland, and we were at school together. I was rather small for my age, and some of the older boys thought that was reason enough to tease me -- until Adrian stopped them. He could be a bit of a bully if he wanted to." Sir Felix chuckled. "As long as I was under his protection, no one dared even look at me in a way he might not like."
"But your cousin seems older than you. He must have left school one day," Olivia said. "What happened then?"
"Nothing," Sir Felix replied. "By that time, I was old and strong enough to stand up for myself. Adrian had taught me that, too. -- William is not quite as energetic as his brother; he is more like his father. A sensible fellow, does not talk much, but what he says is usually well considered. You will meet him in London. A pleasant enough gentleman; I am sure you will like him."
"I am looking forward to meeting Lord Burnhope," Olivia said. She was curious whether Mr. Lennox would be in London as well, but did not want to appear so. Therefore she refrained from asking, thinking that she would soon be able to find out for herself.
Olivia looked at the picture once again. The artist had been able to capture the boys' different characters -- William's earnestness and quiet reflection, Felix's affectionate and trusting nature, and Adrian's vivacity and the laughter in his eyes -- amazing grey eyes.
In the afternoon, Sir Felix took Olivia on a tour of the park. He explained to her what the place had looked like when he had first set eyes on it, and the changes he had made ever since. Olivia duly admired the beauty of the grounds, and marked out some especially beautiful spots worthy of closer inspection. Olivia hoped that the fine weather would continue for a while, to allow her to go for her walks and explore the park on her own.
The evening of Olivia's first day in Sutton Court was quite uneventful. When Sir Felix joined the ladies in the drawing room after dinner, Agnes took her place at the pianoforte to play one tune after the other without showing any signs of fatigue. Olivia accepted Sir Felix's challenge to a game of backgammon. Thus, the evening passed peacefully -- too quiet an evening it was, Sir Felix remarked, said he hoped that his guest was not bored and asked his wife to invite the local parson and his wife one of the following evenings.
"We must not make poor Olivia feel like a recluse," he said with a smile.
"She will not feel like one once we are in London," Agnes replied, "but if you want me to, I shall of course invite the Watsons."
"Do so," Sir Felix said and turned to Olivia. "The Reverend Mr. Watson is one of the most entertaining men in the neighbourhood, though he does not intend to be." He laughed. "He will take the opportunity and warn you against the frivolities of London, Olivia."
"I did not know we would be indulging in frivolities, Sir Felix," Olivia said, smiling.
"What else could we do in London?" Sir Felix answered with a grin. "Yet, listen to Mr. Watson. One should always listen to the advice of worthy men like him." He paused. "Whether one follows it is another question," he finally said.
The next morning, Sir Felix announced that he would spend the day in his library, where his steward would call on him shortly. In view of his prolonged absence, he said, he had better arrange matters as well as he could, rather than interrupt his sojourn in London.
"I might, of course, ask Burnhope to escort you to all those social gatherings," he said with a broad grin, "but I daresay I would do neither of you a favour if I did. Burnhope is not too fond of those squeezes. Then there is Cousin Bernie -- no, I had better not ask him. I might as well trust the cat to keep the cream." He laughed as Agnes protested.
"Do you not trust me, my dear?" she asked indignantly.
"My love, I would trust you with my life," Sir Felix said, taking his wife's hand, "but I am not sure whether I can trust Captain Lennox with a beautiful woman. He is what mothers warn their daughters against. -- But never fear, I will not be obliged to leave you to his mercy."
"I am relieved to hear it," Agnes said.
Once Sir Felix had left them to themselves, Agnes and Olivia went out into the garden to cut flowers for the numerous vases in Sutton Court. Then Agnes went to see her cook to discuss the way the produce of the orchard should be dealt with, leaving Olivia to arrange the flowers. Having finished, Olivia sat down in the morning room to write some letters, and afterwards decided to practise on the pianoforte. Although she knew that she would never reach Agnes's excellence with the instrument, she liked playing the piano very much. Thus, she passed her time until luncheon, when both Agnes and Sir Felix joined her again.
They had several suggestions for Olivia's amusement, but Olivia had already made plans of her own. There was a lake in the park, in the middle of which there was a small island. On the island she had perceived a small summer house, and this was where she meant to go. Neither Sir Felix nor Agnes had any objection to this, and so Olivia set out into the garden soon afterwards, looking forward to a pleasant afternoon.
She took the long way to the lake, enjoying the warm sun and the scent of the roses and lavender growing alongside the path. She met no one, apart from a middle-aged gardener trimming a hedge, greeting her respectfully as she passed. Olivia responded to the greeting and continued her way towards the lake.
Once arrived by the lakeside, Olivia walked along the waterfront until she finally came to the bridge that connected the small island with the garden. Olivia looked at the bridge apprehensively. It was an old, wooden bridge, and it did not look quite safe. A tiny little voice in Olivia's head suggested that she had better give up the notion of going to the summer house, and should find herself some other place to sit down instead. This tiny voice of reason, however, was not to Olivia's taste, and she chided herself for giving way to such thoughts. Certainly Sir Felix would have warned her, had it been dangerous to cross the bridge, she thought and decided to go nevertheless.
The lake was beautiful. The deep green water was covered with water-lilies, and one could distinctly see some carp swimming in it. Gingerly, Olivia stepped onto the bridge, ready to retreat the moment it would creak, or make any kind of distressing sound. There was none, and this made Olivia bolder. She took some more steps, and as nothing of an alarming nature happened, she walked on. Having reached the island, she followed a narrow, winding path and soon arrived at the summer house. From there, she had a stunning view of the house and grounds, as well as the village in the distance. Olivia felt that her walk had certainly been worth while, and sat down to enjoy the peace and quiet of the place and the beautiful scenery. She remained there for about half an hour, and then decided to explore the island some more before she turned back towards the house.
The island, apart from the summer house, was not very interesting. Not much had been done to keep the former flowerbeds in good condition, although lately the beds had apparently been weeded. The shrubs, too, were in desperate need of some trimming, and Olivia decided to ask Sir Felix what plans he had for the island. It was unlikely that he had forgotten to give instructions concerning the place. He may have given some orders, Olivia thought, but there being so much to do -- as he told me himself -- the gardeners may not have got around to carrying out his instructions. Why did the old gentleman who owned the place before Sir Felix let it come to ruin like this? It is a shame!
She directed her steps towards the bridge again, and this time did not hesitate to use it. Having reached the highest point of the bridge, Olivia stopped and looked at the water lilies in the lake. Among their leaves, Olivia could see the fish swimming in the lake, and leant forward to catch a better glimpse. Suddenly, with a loud crash, the railing gave way and Olivia, losing her balance, tumbled into the lake. Instinctively she let out a scream, and managed to take a deep breath before she disappeared in the deep, dark water. I am going to drown, she thought, and began a desperate struggle to get to the surface. Somehow, she managed to do so, but could only attempt to cry for help and take another breath before she went down again. Her cry for help had been nothing but a gurgle, she knew that, and it was unlikely that anyone had heard it. Once again, Olivia somehow came to the surface, and drew another breath. Yet she knew that, unless someone came to her rescue, she would sink sooner or later, and drown. She could not swim, and how she had managed to come back to the surface twice was beyond her understanding.
Just as she sank to the bottom of the lake again, she suddenly felt two hands grab her arms and pull her towards the surface. Frantically, she got hold of whoever her rescuer was, and in her desperate attempt to reach the surface again, she pushed him underwater. He showed considerable strength by escaping her clasp, and when he was back on the surface he snapped, "Don't do that again or I'll leave you here. Now hold still and I will try to get the both of us out of here." Trying to calm herself, Olivia did as she had been told.
The moment they reached the lakeside, Olivia sat down on the lawn, coughing and nearly in tears. Her saviour, a young gentleman about the same age as Sir Felix, sat down next to her and watched her in a way she found quite impertinent. He was good-looking -- he had dark hair, and a dark complexion that would have made him look like a foreigner, a Spaniard, perhaps, had it not been for his lively grey eyes and the distinct English accent in his speech.
"Here," he said and handed her his greatcoat which he had apparently taken off before coming to her rescue. "Take this -- the water was beastly cold, wasn't it?"
"I will ruin it," Olivia protested, as she took the greatcoat from him.
"So what?" he asked, indifferent, it seemed, to the mortal danger his garment was in. "I had rather have a ruined greatcoat than be blamed if you catch your death of cold."
"But what about you, sir?" Olivia asked. "Will not you catch cold as well?"
"Not likely, I hardly ever fall ill," he said. Olivia, becoming aware that her fall into the lake had made her white walking dress more revealing than it was meant to be, hurried to put the greatcoat around her shoulder, blushing violently.
"Are you hurt?" the young man asked, with some concern in his voice. "I am afraid we will have to walk to the house. Unless you want to ride, that is," he added, and Olivia realised that there was a horse grazing not far from them. She declined the offer, not being much of a horsewoman. The gardener, attracted by the spectacular sight of a horse feasting on Sir Felix's lawn, came near them and was at once ordered to take the animal to the stables, and to send word to Miss's abigail to be ready to assist her.
"Can you walk, or do you need my help?" the young man inquired, as Olivia shakily rose to her feet.
"I think I can walk, thank you," she said quietly. "I only just realise what danger I was in. How can I thank you, sir?"
"Don't," he laughed. "I threatened to let you drown, after all. -- You were lucky I just happened to ride past when your accident happened. I doubt the gardener would have been with you in time -- provided he could swim."
Olivia shuddered at the mere thought.
Meanwhile, they had reached the main entrance of the house and, in walking in, nearly bumped into Sir Felix who was coming down the stairs.
"Good God, Olivia, what has happened?" he exclaimed at the sight of them.
"I fell into the lake," Olivia said. "The bridge was not as safe as I thought it would be -- the railing did not hold my weight. It broke when I leant on it."
"You could have drowned!" Sir Felix cried.
"She nearly did," the young man said, matter-of-factly.
Sir Felix turned to Olivia's rescuer and broke into a broad grin. "Adrian!" he said. "What are you doing here?"
"Nothing much, apart from pulling young ladies out of your lake," the young man retorted. "Now, if you would be so kind as to present me? I do not wait for introductions when rescuing damsels in distress."
Sir Felix, still grinning, turned to Olivia. "You may have guessed already," he said, "but never mind. Olivia, please meet my cousin, Mr. Adrian Lennox. Adrian, you have had the honour to save the life of Miss Olivia Paige, my sister-in-law."
Mr. Lennox greeted Olivia with a polite bow, which seemed absurd considering the circumstances of their meeting. Olivia could not help but laugh as she curtseyed and said, "Pleased to make your acquaintance, sir."
"Pleased to make yours, Miss Paige," Mr. Lennox said.
"You still have not answered my question, Adrian," Sir Felix said. "Why are you here? I thought you were in Italy!"
"Apparently I am not any more," Mr. Lennox replied calmly. "Could we postpone this conversation until later? I would like to make myself presentable again before meeting your wife. I want to make a good impression on her."
"A better one than having saved her sister's life? Agnes will adore you, Adrian."
"Can't she adore me later, when I have put on dry clothes?" Mr. Lennox asked, with a smile.
"I guess she can," Sir Felix said, and took Mr. Lennox upstairs to one of the guest rooms. Olivia went to her room, where Crewe took her in hand at once, not withholding her opinion of young ladies who went for walks by themselves, fell off bridges, allowed themselves to be rescued by young men wholly unacquainted with them ("It could have been anyone, ANYONE, Miss Olivia!"), and acted in a way that ought to make any sensible young lady feel thoroughly ashamed of herself.
Olivia did not really listen to Crewe's sermon, but thought of Mr. Lennox instead. He had lived in Italy, apparently, so that was why Sir Felix had not expected to meet him in London. Yet he had come back -- taking his friends and family by surprise. Apart from rescuing her, an act that ought to guarantee Olivia's eternal gratitude, he had other qualities as well. He was handsome, one could not deny it, even though his complexion was rather dark -- a blemish brought on by the Italian sun, probably, and likely to be remedied once Mr. Lennox had been in England for a while. He seemed to be good-humoured, too, and Olivia liked his wry sense of humour. Olivia was looking forward to seeing him again at dinner -- this evening promised to be more entertaining than the previous one had been.
Olivia had just put on her evening dress and had settled down at her dressing table to let Crewe do what she could to her hair "to make it fit to be seen", when the door burst open and Agnes hurried into her room.
"Dearest," she exclaimed, "I only just heard! It is terrible, simply terrible! Are you hurt? I shall send for the doctor immediately."
Slightly amused but also touched by her sister's concern, Olivia assured Agnes that she was perfectly fine, and asked who had informed her of the accident.
"Bailey did," Agnes answered. Bailey was Agnes's dresser, a young woman with impeccable taste but also an unfortunate inclination for gossip and exaggeration.
"In that case you must be surprised to find me still alive," Olivia said dryly. "Did you ask Sir Felix to have the lake dragged?"
"Do not talk nonsense," Agnes snapped. "Do not make fun of me just because I am worried about you!"
"I am sorry," Olivia said. "But if I did not make fun of it, I would die of fright -- even now. Had Mr. Lennox not been at the right place at the right time..." Olivia left the rest unsaid.
Agnes shuddered. "Do not think of it, pray," she said. "I shall always be grateful to him! How can I thank him enough?"
"I have already asked him that question, but he refused to answer it -- he actually advised me not to thank him at all," Olivia said with a smile.
"Modesty. I like that in a man," Agnes said. "Tell me, what is he like? Bailey could not tell me, though she did tell me about his valet, who arrived an hour ago. An Italian, apparently, with such eyes.... and Bailey said he had a way with women, so I suppose he is of the dangerous sort. I will have to keep a strict eye on the housemaids. -- But do tell me about Mr. Lennox!"
"I have not seen much of him," Olivia said. "But I think he is quite an amiable, gentleman-like man. He was in Italy -- did you know?"
"Oh yes, Felix told me about that."
"He looks like an Italian, too," Olivia continued. "Though he does not sound like one, of course."
"As if you knew an Italian by his speech," Agnes said with a smile.
"I know I would not, but I would know him for a foreigner, wouldn't I?"
Crewe, after having put the finishing touches to Olivia's hair, solemnly announced that she had done her best, and that she hoped Miss Olivia found nothing amiss with her appearance -- "for it was all that could have been done in such a hurry".
Olivia cast a critical glance at her reflection in the mirror. "What do you say, Agnes," she asked.
"You look very pretty, my dear," Agnes replied. "Mr. Lennox will find that his act of heroism has been worth his while."
"So you think he should not have rescued me, had I been ugly?" Olivia asked, her eyes twinkling mischievously.
"Of course not," Agnes said. "But if the female in need of rescue is pretty into the bargain, show me the gentleman who would hesitate."
"Next you will accuse me of having fallen into the lake on purpose," Olivia laughed. "Just in order to be saved by Mr. Lennox. It is a rather spectacular way of making a gentleman's acquaintance, and I daresay it makes a lasting impression."
"I suppose you are right," Agnes said. "Shall we go down? I do not like to keep the gentlemen waiting."
"Which is a polite way of saying that you are dying to meet Mr. Lennox," Olivia said teasingly, as they left her room.
The gentlemen were already waiting for them and rose from their seats as Olivia and Agnes entered the drawing room. While Sir Felix introduced his cousin to Agnes, Olivia took the opportunity to continue her assessment of Mr. Adrian Lennox.
He was rather tall, though not quite as tall as Sir Felix, elegantly dressed, and his attire was both fashionable and expensive, although probably the leaders of the dandy set in London might find one or two items of clothing not quite fashionable enough. His black hair and his dark complexion made an interesting contrast to his eyes -- those amazing grey eyes Olivia had already noticed in the portrait. His manners left nothing to be desired -- though he seemed to be quite as easygoing as Sir Felix, he was perfectly polite.
Olivia could see that Agnes liked him very much, so much in fact that Sir Felix joked he ought to be glad his cousin had not been in London when Miss Agnes Paige had made her first appearance there. But he added, more earnestly, that he was happy his wife and the cousin he had always regarded as a brother got along so well.
At the dinner table, Agnes was eager to hear all about Mr. Lennox's stay in Italy, and Mr. Lennox obliged her by answering all her -- and Olivia's -- questions.
"How long have you been in Italy, sir?" Agnes asked.
"The journey was meant to take six months," Mr. Lennox replied, "but in the end I stayed for two years."
"Two years!" Olivia exclaimed. "How so?"
He gave Olivia an amused smile and said, "My original plans were to travel south, starting from Venice. I wanted to see some of the northern cities, such as Padova, Verona, Piacenza and the likes. From Genova I went to Leghorn by boat, and spent some time in Tuscany. After that, I went to Rome, and finally to Naples, from where I was to start my journey back to England. There was, however, a flaw in my plan."
"I had not planned to fall in love," Mr. Lennox said and laughed as he saw the look of surprise in Olivia's face. "Not with any woman, I ought to add, but with Naples. I loved the place so much that I was reluctant to leave it."
"So you stayed." Olivia took a sip of wine and looked at Mr. Lennox expectantly.
"So I stayed. Higgins, my valet, thought I was going mad, and handed in his notice. He said he was not going to stay in this fever-infested place any longer than he had to, and if I wished to remain there I had better find someone else to do his work. I paid his ticket back to England, and went in search of another servant -- and found one in the person of my landlady's son. Signora Bonifacio is the most formidable female imaginable, and her sons live in constant dread of her. Even now, though he knows that he is out of her reach, Luca fears nothing more but to be sent back to Naples in disgrace and having to face his mother's wrath. I only have to mention his mamma to make him do what I want." Mr. Lennox laughed. "I do not do so very often," he admitted. "I am not in favour of undue severity to servants." His eyes sparkled merrily, and Olivia could not imagine him ever to be cruel -- to anyone.
"But what fascinated you so much that you wanted to stay in Naples?" Agnes asked. "I do not think it has a particular reputation for its beauty -- I never thought it was an interesting place."
"Neither did I," Mr. Lennox said. "One has to get there to feel its charm. Once you have seen Naples, Lady Gordon, you will know what I am talking about."
"Yet what did you do there?" Olivia asked. "Somehow I cannot help thinking that Naples is quite boring."
"That is because you have never been there," Mr. Lennox said. "Naples is full of life, and there are plenty of things to do. I did not feel bored for a moment."
"Can you name a few things?" Agnes asked.
"Certainly. I went up Monte Vesuvio, for example."
"Is Vesuvius not a volcano?" Olivia asked.
"It is, Miss Paige."
"Still you went up? Were you not afraid?"
"Not in the least, although it can be a frightening place. One thing is certain -- should Monte Vesuvio erupt once again, one had better be far from Naples."
"How comforting to know that I am far from Naples," Olivia said dryly. "But what else did you do? Forgive me my curiosity, sir, but I do not quite think it took you eighteen months to climb Vesuvius."
Mr. Lennox laughed. "One day, I met a gentleman who told me that he was supervising some excavations not far from Naples, and asked me whether I wanted to see them. It was a place called la civitą, the city, by the local people. I asked the man -- a certain Signor Bottazzi -- what I would see there. He only told me to ask Pliny. A bit of an unsatisfactory answer, you will admit. Anyway, nothing could have prepared me for what I was to see."
"What was it?" Agnes asked.
"The remains of an ancient Roman city, Lady Gordon. A place buried in ashes within hours when Vesuvius erupted centuries ago. Pompeii."
"I think I have heard of the place before, " Olivia said and turned to her sister. "Do you remember our history master back in school, Agnes? Mr. Tate? The gentleman so obsessed with everything Roman that each of his history lessons would somehow end up in ancient Rome?"
Both Sir Felix and Mr. Lennox laughed.
"Olivia, you know I never paid attention in Mr. Tate's lessons," Agnes said. "History was ... well, I still think it is quite useless. But you are right, Mr. Tate always managed to come back to his Romans in some way."
"Julius Caesar, especially," Olivia laughed. "I distinctly remember Mr. Tate mentioning Pompeii; this is what I meant to say. But I do not know much about it. Did you go to Pompeii often, Mr. Lennox?"
"Very often," Mr. Lennox said. "I spent a great deal of time there, I have to admit -- Bottazzi and I became good friends, and he asked me to do some sketches of the place. It is fascinating -- and, Lady Gordon, I wager even you would discover your interest in history if you were to see it."
"Should I ever go to Italy, I will hope for you to show me around, Mr. Lennox," Agnes answered laughingly. "Did you bring those sketches to England with you, sir? I would dearly like to see them!"
"I did bring them with me," Mr. Lennox said, "but I do not have them with me at the moment. They are on their way to London, along with most of my luggage. I promise I will show them to you once you are there. Be warned, Lady Gordon, you have hit on my favourite subject here. Please do not hesitate to tell me, should I bore you to death. - Felix told me you were going to London soon."
"Yes, and I am so looking forward to it," Agnes said. "I have been there only once, and everything was so new to me then. I know I ought to say how tiresome it is, having to go there for the season, but I think I am going to enjoy myself."
"Is this going to be your first visit to London, Miss Paige?" Mr. Lennox turned to Olivia and gave her an expectant look.
"Yes, it is. Now you will think me dreadfully provincial, won't you, Mr. Lennox?" Olivia laughed.
"Not at all. Sophistication is a state of mind, and has nothing to do with people's place of residence. I have met some very interesting people who never even got near London. I know it is a dreadful thing to say, but so it is." He laughed.
"This sounds as if you were tired of London, Mr. Lennox," Olivia said.
"Let us say it does not attract me as much as it did when I was younger, Miss Paige. I have seen and done things..." He stopped. "But some occupations pall after a while," he said, with a slight smile. "And people change."
"You still have not told us why you came back to England," Sir Felix suddenly asked.
"I had a letter from William, practically begging me to come back," Mr. Lennox said.
"Begging you?" Sir Felix frowned. "Somehow the words Burnhope and begging do not fit."
"You might also say he demanded my presence here," Mr. Lennox said, laughingly. "He made his demand sound like a request, however. A pretty urgent one."
"Burnhope can be quite imperious when he chooses," Sir Felix said. "But why did he decide to use his power as the head of the family to summon you? Has it something to do with Bernie?"
Now it was Mr. Lennox's turn to frown. "What is wrong with Bernie?" he asked.
"Nothing, but I have heard he has come back to England, too."
Mr. Lennox sighed. "Then something will soon be wrong with Bernie," he said. "No, I have no idea why William wanted me here or why Bernie has returned when he ought to be staying with his regiment in Gibraltar. I have yet to fathom my brother's mysterious ways -- for mysterious he is, you must admit that."
"True. It takes a greater mind than mine to understand Lord Burnhope." Sir Felix grinned. "But I am ready to thank him for having accomplished what I have been trying to do these past eighteen months -- he got you to come back. I remember a letter in particular in which you told me that wild horses could not drag you to London."
"I was perfectly serious, at that time," Mr. Lennox sighed.
Olivia wondered what the reason for Mr. Lennox's aversion to the city was. Could there have been an incident which had made him loath to set foot in London again? If so, what kind of incident had it been?
She was just about to ask, when Agnes gave her a warning look and announced that they would retire to the drawing room. Reluctantly, Olivia followed her.
In the drawing room, Agnes started her praise of Mr. Lennox at once. Sir Felix's stories about his cousins, she said, had prepared her to meet an amiable gentleman, but she had not expected Mr. Adrian Lennox to be quite as charming.
"For you must know, Olivia, that while Lord Burnhope is a very pleasant gentleman, he is a bit shy, and does not possess Mr. Lennox's charm," she said. "Did you notice how happy he was to talk about Italy? The way his face shone when he told us about his visits to Pompeii? I am looking forward to seeing his sketches, Olivia."
"Are you?" Olivia asked, smiling mischievously. "You will have to put up with a great deal of history, Agnes. Roman history, most of all."
Agnes laughed. "I think I can bear with that," she said. "And you must admit that Mr. Lennox is more interesting to listen to than poor Mr. Tate, an old man, and he was so distracted -- he could hardly ever finish a coherent sentence, now could he?"
Olivia had to agree that their old history master had not been the best of orators, but since his subject had interested her, she had never found any fault with Mr. Tate's lessons.
She picked up her embroidery, and settled down in a chair next to the fire to continue her work on what she hoped would become a handkerchief, a present for her mother's birthday. It had been quite warm in the dining room, but here it was rather chilly, and Olivia still felt cold in consequence of her accident.
The big fire burning in the grate made her feel a bit better, but she still shivered occasionally. Finally, Olivia got up and told Agnes that she would go to her room to fetch a shawl.
"I am afraid I have caught a bit of a chill this afternoon," she said with a smile, but when Agnes expressed her apprehension concerning her health and advised her to go to bed she told her that nothing was wrong with her, apart from feeling a bit cold, which would be remedied once she wore her cashmere shawl.
Olivia set out to her room, put on her shawl and was on her way back to the drawing room when she noticed that the door to the library was ajar. She went there, intending to close the door, but stopped when she heard Sir Felix's voice inside.
"I am glad to have you back, Adrian," he said. "I have been very happy lately, yet something was missing. You are going to come to London, aren't you?"
"I do not know yet," Mr. Lennox replied. "You know what happened, after all. I do not think I can stay there without all those memories coming back...London has not been very good to me, as you know."
"London had nothing to do with it, Adrian," Sir Felix said firmly.
"All that gossip, all those people looking at me askance...and no one bothering to ask me how things really stood!"
"Things would have been the same anywhere else, Adrian. Even in Naples, depend on it. The situation will have changed by now, you have nothing to fear. Everyone has forgotten about the affair. "
"Still, in a way, those gaming debts were my ruin." Mr. Lennox said bitterly.
"You will recover, Adrian. Once you meet the right woman..."
"Do not talk nonsense," Mr. Lennox said sharply, and Olivia realised that they were coming towards the door. She did not want to be caught listening at the keyhole, and tiptoed back up the stairs. There she waited until the gentlemen had left the library and had gone into the drawing room.
So Mr. Lennox was a gamester! Who would have thought it! But then, Olivia thought, she had never really met a gamester before, so how could she recognise one when she saw him? Apparently he had accumulated gaming debts to such an extent that he had hardly been able to pay them -- and now Sir Felix advised him to marry "the right woman", whoever that was.
"It will certainly not be me," Olivia muttered to herself. And he seemed so nice, she thought regretfully. But that does not mean I cannot enjoy his company, does it? I only have to be very careful.
Olivia joined the party in the drawing room, careful not to betray her thoughts. Much as she despised irresponsible people, she owed Mr. Lennox her life -- and did not want him to think she was ungrateful. Although she took great care to treat him civilly, she was afraid he might notice her change of attitude towards him. There was something in his manner -- a searching look in his eyes when he talked to her -- that told her he had picked up something in her conduct, but could not really tell what it was.
After a game of cards, coffee was served, and soon afterwards Olivia and Agnes went to bed, leaving the gentlemen to themselves. Mr. Lennox took his leave of them, telling them that he would resume his journey to London early in the morning. Olivia was glad to hear it -- this meant she would be spared another awkward encounter with him.
"Will we meet in London, Mr. Lennox?" Agnes asked him.
"We will see, Lady Gordon," he replied earnestly. "It depends on what my brother wants me to do."
"I will be seriously
displeased with him if his business keeps you away from us," Agnes said,
teasingly. "Do tell him so!"
Mr. Lennox laughed, and wished the ladies a good night. When Olivia got up the next morning, he was already gone.
The evening before Sir Felix's departure to Cumberland, the local parson and his wife were to dine at Sutton Court, and before dinner was over Olivia wished she had never met them. Mr. Watson was in his forties, short, stocky, and unbearably smug. Mrs. Watson was intolerably stupid and, what was worse, thought herself exceedingly clever.
During dinner, Mr. Watson bored Olivia with a sermon on the dangers of London (Olivia had some difficulty in keeping a straight face, when Sir Felix's comic expression nearly made her burst out laughing), and warned her not to be dazzled by people's appearance, "for I am sure many an exalted personage's morals are so corrupted that I would not wish any of my daughters to make their acquaintance". As if any of his daughters actually had the chance to make their acquaintance, Olivia thought. Corrupted morals, indeed. This sounds like sour grapes to me.
Sir Felix set out to Cumberland the next day, and Olivia had a hard time trying to soothe Agnes's fears. For the better part of the day, Agnes was on the brink of tears, afraid something dreadful would befall Sir Felix on his way north and she would never see him again. She was anxious for two more days, until Sir Felix's first letter reached them, and only returned to being her usual calm self when they received the news that Sir Felix had arrived safely in Gordon Castle, and that his business there would not keep him away for longer than two weeks.
"You do not know what it is like," Agnes confessed after having read the letter to Olivia -- or at least the parts of it that were suitable for her to hear. "I have grown so accustomed to having him around, and indeed I miss him so much..." She sighed. "I only wish you will, one day, love a man as much as I love Sir Felix," she said. "Promise me only to marry if you find such a man!"
"That is a promise I can safely make," Olivia said with a smile. "For I intend to be just as happy as you are. -- Tell me, Agnes, how did you know Sir Felix was the right man for you? The man you were going to marry? Did you know right from the start or did you realise it gradually?"
"Gradually, I think," Agnes said, smiling. "When I first met him, I had a good impression of him, of course -- he was so amusing, yet I was not intimidated by his wit. I felt so overwhelmed by society -- I was happy to finally meet someone I could be comfortable with. The more often I met him, the more I liked him -- until, finally, a party without him provided me with no pleasure at all. Then I knew I needed Felix to be happy."
"So you were not surprised when he proposed to you?"
"I was a little surprised, I think, though not very much. I knew he liked me -- I simply did not know how much."
"Do you know now?" Olivia asked, smiling mischievously.
"Of course -- Felix misses no opportunity to show me how much he loves me," Agnes said. "If I had not realised by now, I'd be the greatest simpleton in the world! Olivia....I really miss him," she finally said. "I hope he will be back soon."
After four weeks of absence, Sir Felix returned to Sutton Court, only to pick up his wife and sister-in-law and start his journey to London the next day. They arrived in Half Moon Street in the evening, and moved into the house that was to be their home during the Season. Servants had been sent to London to prepare everything for their arrival, and Agnes was well pleased with the results.
Dinner was a quiet affair -- even though Sir Felix took great care not to show it, the past week of travelling had had its effect on him. His cheerful expression faded away when he thought no one was looking, and gave way to an expression of fatigue. His smile was a bit forced, too, but he was his usual amiable self. If his exhaustion showed in one way, it was his uncharacteristic silence. He was happy just to sit there, watch his wife fondly and listen to what she had to say.
"So, what are you going to do tomorrow," he finally asked his wife.
"Oh, we have plenty of things to do," Agnes replied. "First of all, we will need to call on some acquaintances -- Mrs. Somerville, who is Olivia's godmother, you know, and Lady Burnhope, of course. After that, I suppose we will have to do some shopping."
"Have to," Sir Felix asked, grinning.
"Yes, have to," Agnes retorted. "You do not want your wife to run around in dowdy clothes, do you?"
"Heaven forbid," Sir Felix exclaimed mockingly, taking Agnes's hand and kissing it. "Go shopping at all means."
The next morning, Agnes and Olivia set out to call on their acquaintance. Their first stop was at Mrs. Somerville's house. Mrs. Somerville had been a close school-friend of Mrs. Paige's, and was Olivia's godmother. She seemed beside herself with joy upon seeing her.
"Let me have a good look at you, dear!" she said. "My, what a beauty you have become! Just as your mother used to be! Tell me, how is she?"
Olivia informed her that her mother was well.
"I am glad to hear it!" Mrs. Somerville said. "How long are you going to stay in London?"
Agnes answered this question for Olivia. "We are going to stay for the entire Season," she said. "Afterwards, I will go to Cumberland with my husband, and Olivia will return home."
"To Cumberland," Mrs. Somerville exclaimed in horror. "Of all places!"
"I am looking for it," Agnes said firmly. Olivia recognised the defiant look in Agnes's eyes. Mrs. Somerville had better change the subject, she thought. Mrs. Somerville had probably realised that she had made a mistake, for change the subject she did.
"While you are in London, my dear Olivia, you must meet my nephew, the Earl of Swafford," she said. "Such a charming young man! I am quite fond of him -- which says a great deal, for my nephews are a worthless set on the whole."
Agnes's expression betrayed that, as far as she was concerned, Lord Swafford's popularity was highly overrated. Mrs. Somerville continued to praise her favourite nephew in the highest terms until it was time for Olivia and Agnes to leave. Once in the carriage, Olivia burst out laughing. "I cannot help but suspect that Mrs. Somerville has plans for me," she said.
"Oh," Agnes said lightly, "if you are looking for a titled husband, the Earl of Swafford may be your best bet."
"Indeed? What about Lord Burnhope then?" Olivia asked, her eyes glittering mischievously.
"My dear, a girl hunting for a titled husband should always try to catch the one with the highest rank. Swafford is an Earl -- Burnhope is only a Viscount."
"Only a Viscount, I see," Olivia said. "Quite beneath my notice, I should say." She laughed.
"Besides," Agnes continued, as a wicked smile crept over her face, "no one else will want Swafford, whereas I know several young ladies who are setting their caps at Lord Burnhope."
"Lord, what harsh words!" Olivia exclaimed. "Tell me, what is wrong with the Earl of Swafford? How ugly is he, exactly? Tell me the worst!"
"He is not ugly at all," Agnes said. "He is a man of fashion and quite handsome. Unfortunately, he knows it. The problem is that he is insufferable -- he hardly deems anyone worthy of his notice, and his major concern is his outward appearance. My advice is, never marry a man who spends more money on his clothes than you do."
Olivia laughed. "How wise you are, Agnes," she said. "I shall keep this in mind when I meet Lord Swafford!"
The carriage stopped in front of a large, imposing building.
"Burnhope House," Agnes said. "Let us see whether Felix's aunt is at home."
An ancient butler opened the door, and ushered them into what he called "the Green Drawing Room", where Her Ladyship was awaiting them.
Lady Burnhope was surprisingly young -- a lady in her mid-forties, and still beautiful. Her fair hair was elaborately curled, and she wore clothes that Olivia would have expected on a much younger woman. Her dress was very fashionable and, as far as Olivia could judge, must have cost a fortune. Lady Burnhope greeted them with a radiant smile.
"My dear Agnes," she exclaimed. "How glad I am to meet you again!"
Olivia liked her at once. Lady Burnhope was "charmed to make her acquaintance" and confident that they "would see a great deal of each other". She regretted that her daughter had gone riding in the Park, for she was certain that Miss Paige and Susannah would get along famously.
Olivia was soon to find out -- they had not been sitting with Lady Burnhope for more than five minutes when the door opened and a young lady in a fashionable riding habit, accompanied by a young officer entered the room. Lady Burnhope lost no time in introducing her daughter, Susannah Lennox, and her son, Captain Bernard Lennox.
So this is the infamous Cousin Bernie, Olivia thought as she gave Captain Lennox a closer look. He was handsome, but completely different from his brother. His hair was light brown, as were his eyes, and though his build was athletic, he was not as tall as Mr. Lennox. He did have the most charming smile imaginable, Olivia had to admit, and she recognised a likeness to his brother in his easy, lively manner. Miss Lennox was a beauty, a younger version of her mother, and she too possessed a liveliness that was endearing.
Once the introductions were made, Lady Burnhope turned back to Agnes to fill her in on which social events should not be missed if one could help it, while Captain and Miss Lennox sat down on the sofa on either side of Olivia and started a conversation with her.
"Have you seen much of London yet?" Captain Lennox asked.
"No, I have not -- I only arrived yesterday evening," Olivia said. "But I am sure Sir Felix will show me around as soon as he can find the time."
"No doubt he will," Captain Lennox said and smiled. "The lucky fellow."
"I see no reason why anyone should envy him the task," Olivia said.
"Indeed? I see plenty," Captain Lennox said with a laugh.
"Is this your first season in London?" Miss Lennox wanted to know.
"It is. I was supposed to be presented to society last year, along with my sister, but I fell ill the last moment before our departure."
"How vexing!" Miss Lennox exclaimed. "It is my first season, too. Mama is planning a ball in my honour. Is this not exciting?"
"Extremely exciting," Captain Lennox said, his tone indicating that he could not quite see his sister's point.
"Stop being odious, Bernie," Miss Lennox said sharply, and her brother bowed his head in mock humility. "Do not mark him, Miss Paige, he does not know how to behave with ladies," Miss Lennox continued.
Captain Lennox listened to his sister's comment on his manners calmly, but Olivia noticed a mischievous sparkle in his eyes and a slight twitch at the corners of his mouth -- and strongly suspected that, if he put his mind to it, Captain Lennox knew exactly how to behave with ladies.
"I have to apologise, Miss Paige," he said gravely, "for my odious behaviour -- whatever it may have been."
"Dare I hope to be forgiven?" Captain Lennox asked, smiling at her.
"Sir, a gentleman who can make me laugh is forgiven anything," Olivia said.
"I am glad to hear it. My sister is my severest critic, you see -- and I have it on good authority that she is always right. Her authority, to be precise."
"Bernie," Miss Lennox said in a threatening tone. With a wink at Olivia, Captain Lennox promised his sister to behave himself.
"I sometimes have to be strict with him," Miss Lennox said smilingly. "It is hard to be the only girl in the family, and with three elder brothers, too! Have you got any brothers, Miss Paige?"
"No, I only have this one sister," Olivia said.
"How I envy you!" Miss Lennox sighed. "I have always wanted a sister!"
"Especially since your brothers treat you so abominably," Captain Lennox said dryly.
"Quite so," Miss Lennox said, unimpressed. "Do you think you will be at Lady Culverthorpe's ball on Thursday, Miss Paige?"
"I do not think so," Olivia said. "I have not been invited. I am not even acquainted with Lady Culverthorpe."
"Pity," Miss Lennox said. "Though, coming to think of it -- I am certain Mama can procure an invitation for you. She is one of Lady Culverthorpe's closest friends, you must know. It would be such a relief to have you there -- at the ball, I mean -- I am not really friendly with the Misses Culverthorpe, and the only people I know apart from them are Bernie and his cronies, who are quite a wild set, I have to warn you."
"And she only knows the respectable friends of mine," Captain Lennox said with a grin.
At this point, Agnes announced that they would be leaving, and so Olivia had to follow her and take leave of Lady Burnhope.
In the carriage, Agnes told Olivia that they had been invited to dine with Lady Burnhope the next day. Olivia, who was looking forward to meeting Captain and Miss Lennox again, was pleased to hear this.
"We will not meet Lord Burnhope or Mr. Lennox, though," Agnes added. "I do not know whether you have heard, you were talking to Miss Lennox at the time, but Lady Burnhope told me that they are not in London at the moment. Apparently, Lord Burnhope has some important business on the Burnhope estate, and Mr. Lennox has accompanied him. They are not expected back before next week."
Olivia did not know whether to be glad to be spared a meeting with Mr. Lennox, or to be sorry not to make Lord Burnhope's acquaintance very soon -- after all she had seen of his family, he had to be an amiable gentleman. But then, Olivia was quite certain that she would meet him before long -- and she had better prepare for an encounter with Mr. Lennox as well.
The next morning, they received another invitation. Mrs. Somerville wanted them to dine with her on Friday.
"If things go on like this," Agnes said with a smile, "we will hardly spend an evening at home!"
"I know," Sir Felix said with a sigh. "I would prefer spending my evenings at home in your company, my dear."
"You will get enough of these evenings once we are in Cumberland," Agnes said. "London is not the place for spending one's evenings at home. You knew what you got yourself into when you suggested spending the season here." Sir Felix laughed.
Olivia was slightly nervous as the carriage took them to Burnhope House in the evening. This was to be her first appearance in London society, and Agnes had hinted that several people had been invited just for the purpose of meeting her. Enough reason for Olivia to believe that a great deal was expected of her. She had put on one of her new dresses -- a sea-green evening dress with an embroidered bodice that, according to Agnes and the even more reliable judgement of Bailey and Crewe, looked extremely good on her. Crewe had outdone herself in the arrangement of Olivia's hair.
When they arrived in Burnhope House, many guests were already there. Apart from the Lennox family, Olivia knew no one. She was introduced to so many new people that she wondered how on earth she could ever keep their names in mind. One of the first people she was introduced to was Lady Culverthorpe, a formidable lady in her fifties, who immediately invited her to her ball that was to take place on Thursday. She had her daughters with her, twins named Augusta and Felicity. They were pretty, but far too arrogant for Olivia's taste, and she understood why Miss Lennox did not like them.
Sir Felix presented some of his friends to her, among them Mr. Farnham, the gentleman who had sold Sutton Court to him.
There also was a Lady Hervey with her son and two daughters. Miss Hervey seemed to be an intimate friend of the Misses Culverthorpe, and just as haughty as they were. Miss Jane Hervey was different. She was a quiet, modest girl, and although she was very pretty - black hair, sapphire-blue eyes and a complexion like porcelain -- she did not seem to have any admirers among the guests. Olivia found a possible reason for this when she witnessed Captain Lennox's attempt to start a conversation with her. He directed a commonplace question at Jane Hervey, which made her blush furiously and stammer a monosyllabic answer. She looked downright frightened that he might wish to continue the conversation, but upon noticing her discomfort, he did not. Olivia pitied Jane Hervey with all her heart. Captain Lennox left Jane Hervey to herself, and it took her some time to recover. When Miss Lennox joined her, she was able to smile again, and seemed quite comfortable talking to her.
At the dining table, Olivia was seated between Mr. Farnham and Captain Lennox. During dinner, they entertained Olivia with anecdotes concerning some of the people present, Mr. Farnham readily answered Olivia's questions (why he had sold Sutton Court, for example), and Captain Lennox gave her a detailed account of his doings in Gibraltar.
When the ladies went to the drawing room, Olivia overheard the two Misses Culverthorpe and Miss Hervey talk about her. Their snide remarks were probably supposed to be overheard, for Olivia noticed how they looked towards her as if to see her reaction on their comments. Olivia decided not to show how annoyed she was -- they had angered, but not hurt her. Jane Hervey, however, who had overheard them, too, seemed to be greatly embarrassed by her sister's conduct. She moved aside on the sofa, making room for Olivia to sit down next to her.
"Please, pay no attention to them," she said quietly, blushing as if she had said something improper.
"I have no intention to let
anyone spoil my evening," Olivia replied, giving Jane Hervey an
encouraging smile. That moment, Miss Lennox joined them, casting a sharp look
at the Culverthorpe sisters.
"Are they at it again?" she asked and, as Jane Hervey told her that they were, said, "I should have known. Jane, dearest, I do hope you will not take offence if I say so, but your sister and the Culverthorpe girls are entirely lacking in manners. Ignore them, Miss Paige, they are only jealous. They hoped to be the centre of attention tonight, especially the centre of Bernie's attention, and he has not done them the favour. Did they criticise your dress?"
"Among other things, I heard them remark on country manners and tastes, yes," Olivia said, laughingly.
"Each of them would give an arm if they could be only half as pretty as you are," Miss Lennox said. "And I think your dress is gorgeous -- isn't it, Jane?"
Jane Hervey agreed, then caught her sister's censorious stare, blushed and fell silent.
"Do not let her bully you, Jane," Miss Lennox said firmly, but could not get Jane Hervey to talk again.
When the gentlemen joined the ladies in the drawing room, Jane Hervey became more nervous than before -- as if she were afraid of them, Olivia thought. When Captain Lennox came to talk to Olivia, Jane Hervey shrank visibly and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, probably fearing nothing more than being addressed by a gentleman who was clearly the object of her sister's admiration. Sir Felix, for some reason, was not considered a threat -- he managed to start something resembling a conversation with her. She was able to answer most of his questions without looking like a mouse facing a snake. The moment her brother joined the group, however, she fell silent again, and Olivia heard nothing more of her until she shyly took leave of her.
Intrigued by this uncommon mixture of extreme shyness and remarkable beauty, Olivia inquired about the Herveys as soon as she was in the carriage with Agnes and Sir Felix.
"How come Jane Hervey is so shy?" she asked. "I have never seen a girl as timid as she is! She hardly dared talk to anyone!"
"Jane Hervey is not always like that," Sir Felix replied. "I know her quite well, and she seems comfortable enough with me. But new people -- especially men -- frighten her. She is the quiet, insecure sort -- but a very nice girl, once one gets to know her."
"She seemed to be afraid of her brother and sister," Olivia said.
"Cannot blame her," Sir Felix said. "They even frighten me! I do not know whether you noticed, Olivia, but Miss Hervey is a shrew, and her brother is a brute. I do not usually speak ill of other people, but the Herveys, apart from Jane, are an abominable set. They are able to subdue the poor girl without an effort. You know what? I really wish you would become her friend. She has Susannah, of course, but the more support she has the better it is."
"I would very much wish to be Jane Hervey's friend," Olivia said smilingly. "And Miss Lennox's too. I like them both very much."
As she got out of the carriage in Half Moon Street, Olivia decided to further her friendship with Miss Lennox and Jane Hervey at Lady Culverthorpe's ball -- and she would do her best to outshine the odious Misses Culverthorpe and Hervey, just to spite them.
Wednesday passed quickly, as Olivia and Agnes went shopping for some more ball gowns. Agnes pointed out that it would not do to be seen in the same gown twice in such a short time -- "People would think we cannot afford another dress, and this is simply not true, " she said, and took Olivia to the most fashionable shops in London. It was not as if Olivia was averse to the plan -- she loved shopping, and came home with even more purchases than she had intended at first. Her gown for Lady Culverthorpe's ball was delivered on Thursday morning, just as Susannah Lennox was visiting them, and Olivia was well pleased to hear her wholehearted approval.
"That will teach the Culverthorpes a lesson," she said, smilingly. "Though they will not admit it, of course. They will find fault with you nevertheless -- but do not mind them, they always do that to people that make them feel inferior."
"What have I done to make them feel inferior?" Olivia asked, taken aback.
"You exist," Miss Lennox said. "That is enough, as far as they are concerned."
Thursday evening came, and Olivia entered Lady Culverthorpe's town house, anticipating a pleasant evening. Of course, the Culverthorpes were a drawback, but Olivia was well disposed to hope they would behave themselves this time.
Lady Culverthorpe welcomed them at the entrance of her drawing room, while her daughters were standing next to her, staring critically at Olivia and Agnes. Agnes did not seem to notice, or at least she did not care, but Olivia felt their appraising glances and felt some kind of satisfaction when Miss Augusta (or was it Felicity? Well, who cared?) whispered something to her sister, and both gave her a displeased look. Standing next to Lady Culverthorpe, there was another young lady wearing an exquisite ball gown and smiling radiantly while greeting the guests. Lady Culverthorpe introduced that lady as her eldest daughter, Lady Wesley. Olivia noticed the ice-cold, yet courteous tone in which Sir Felix greeted Lady Wesley, and wondered why he did not like her -- considering what her sisters were like, Lady Wesley seemed amiable enough.
They went to join Lady Burnhope and Miss Lennox who were standing by the fireplace and talking with some acquaintances of theirs. Miss Lennox smiled at Olivia, and told her once again how pretty she looked in that dress. They were interrupted by Captain Lennox who asked Olivia to dance the first two dances with him.
"Lennox, this will not do," a fair-haired young man exclaimed, hearing Captain Lennox's request. "I just wanted to ask this young lady to dance with me!"
"You cannot," Captain Lennox replied with a broad grin. "You have not been introduced, Simmons."
"You could introduce me," Mr. Simmons suggested.
"So I will. Once Miss Paige has consented to dance the first two with me," Captain Lennox said laughingly. Olivia promised to dance the first two dances with Captain Lennox and, once Mr. Simmons had been properly introduced, to dance the next two with him.
Shortly before the dancing was to start, the Herveys arrived. Miss Hervey joined her friends, the Misses Culverthorpe, while Jane Hervey, after looking around anxiously, went to sit with her friend, Miss Lennox. Olivia, thinking of her resolution to become friendly with Jane, went up to them and took part in their conversation, even if she did not have much to add to their remarks, not being acquainted with any of the people they were talking about.
"Is your brother still in Burnhope," Jane Hervey finally asked Miss Lennox.
"I think so," Miss Lennox said, "though he promised to be back next week. I think you will meet him before long," she added slyly, causing Jane Hervey to blush. "Adrian might try to keep him away for a bit longer, though. He is not very fond of London -- although he used to, when he was younger."
"What happened?" Olivia asked, innocently. Perhaps Miss Lennox would reveal her brother's secret?
"Oh, I do not know. He would not tell me," Miss Lennox said. "He changed his mind about London two and a half years ago, and he thought I was a mere chit of a girl -- not the sort of person to know about his exploits." She laughed. "But I know that Lady Culverthorpe has invited all my brothers to this ball, and that only Bernie consented to come. William said at once that it was not likely he should be in London at the time, and Adrian said he had some urgent business in Wetherham he could not possibly put off until later. Feeble excuses, if you ask me, I have witnessed Adrian come up with better ones -- but then, I am only a girl, and know nothing of business at all. Perhaps those excuses were relevant after all." Miss Lennox laughed. "Here are our partners, come to dance with us. Be kind to my brother, Miss Paige -- at least as long as he deserves it!"
Laughingly, they proceeded to take their place in the set with their respective partners. Olivia found that Captain Lennox was a very agreeable partner -- his conversation was light and amusing, his dancing was superior, and Olivia noticed more than one envious glance directed at her.
"Are you well acquainted with Mr. Simmons?" Olivia asked Captain Lennox.
"The gentleman with whom I am going to dance the next two dances," Olivia said.
"Oh, him. Yes, I know him quite well," Captain Lennox said. "We were at school together. I have high hopes concerning this friendship. His father is a General, and stationed in the East Indies, which is where I wish to go."
"The East Indies? Why, Captain Lennox?"
"A man can make his fortune there if he puts his mind to it," Captain Lennox said calmly. "I was not born to a great fortune, Miss Paige, but I am willing to work for one. Besides, I admit that I have a taste for travelling and seeing the world, just like my brother Adrian. India will be a great adventure."
"A dangerous one, Captain Lennox," Olivia said. "Think of all those tigers..."
He laughed. "I will be on the lookout for them," he said, his eyes twinkling. "The first tiger I happen to shoot will be dedicated to you."
"Good lord, how barbaric!" Olivia exclaimed. "Whoever would want a dead tiger dedicated to them?"
"I can see your point," Captain Lennox said with a grin. "Is there anything in particular you would wish me to dedicate to you?"
Luckily, the dance stopped just then, for Olivia was quite at a loss for a suitable answer to the question. She was not certain whether Captain Lennox was flirting with her for the sake of it, or whether he had other, more serious plans.
Olivia did not meet Captain Lennox any more until he sat next to her at the supper table, and by then his flirtatious manner had given way to a calm friendliness she was more comfortable with. His sister had asked Olivia to call her by her first name, and they were engaged in a lively conversation when he sat down next to them.
"Will you come for a ride with us tomorrow morning, Olivia," Susannah asked. "I go riding in the park nearly every day, whenever the weather permits me to do so -- so does Jane. We would dearly like to have you with us!"
"I am afraid I am not much of a horsewoman, Susannah," Olivia said. "I fell off a horse when I was seven years old, and since then I have been afraid to mount one. I do, sometimes, but I do not really wish to make a fool of myself during my first week in London." She smiled. "Should you ever consider going for a walk in the park, or a drive, I shall be glad to come with you."
"You do not ride?" Susannah asked, all astonishment.
"As I said," Olivia said. "I am afraid of horses. Now despise me if you dare."
"Something must be done about that," Susannah said resolutely and turned to her brother. "You will teach Olivia, won't you, Bernie?"
"It will be an honour," Captain Lennox replied. "But, Susannah, you should leave the decision to Miss Paige. She did not say she wished to learn to ride, did she?"
"Of course she wishes to learn it," Susannah said. "How else can she go out to the park with us?"
Olivia caught Captain Lennox's exasperated look and smiled. "I promise I will try," she said to soothe Susannah. "Only give me the time to muster all my courage for the attempt. I have not been on horseback very often ever since I took that fall."
Susannah, Olivia and Jane were just walking back to the drawing room, laughing at some joke Susannah had made, when Olivia suddenly found herself addressed by an only too familiar male voice.
"Miss Paige! I had not expected to meet you here."
Olivia turned around and found that she had not been mistaken. The voice belonged to Sir Edwin Arncott. She curtsied politely, saying, "How do you do, Sir Edwin? What brings you to London?"
Sir Edwin bowed respectfully, and told her that some important business had taken him to London. "You will be glad to hear, Miss Paige, that both your parents were well when I left Bradenham."
"I am glad to hear it," Olivia said with a smile. "I know that my mother would never tell me if it were otherwise, for fear of spoiling my sojourn in London. You have met them lately?"
"Yes, I went to see your father the day before I left."
"I am glad to see that ... recent events have not led to an estrangement between my father and you, Sir Edwin. I was afraid you might be angry," Olivia said, regretting it a moment later when she saw Sir Edwin's wistful expression.
"I was not angry, Miss Paige," he said quietly. "Disappointed, yes, but not offended. Let us not talk about it any more. Will you honour me with the last two dances, for old times' sake?"
Olivia assented, and Sir Edwin led her to the set. They danced without talking much, and once the music stopped Olivia took Sir Edwin to meet Agnes and Sir Felix. Agnes, though genuinely pleased to meet a friend of her family, was anxious for Olivia - after all, she was acquainted with all the details concerning Sir Edwin's proposal. Sir Felix, it seemed, took to Sir Edwin immediately, and the two gentlemen spent another half hour talking until Agnes announced that it was time for them to leave.
"I hope we will not see too much of Sir Edwin Arncott while we are here," Agnes said as they were in their carriage, going home. "It might be awkward, indeed!"
"Why?" Sir Felix asked. "I thought he was quite an agreeable fellow!"
"So he is," Agnes said. "But Olivia may still be loath to see him."
"Never mind me," Olivia said. "It is not really awkward to be talking to him, you know -- he has shown so much understanding tonight. We agreed not to talk about...what happened. Actually, I was quite happy when he addressed me. I thought he was angry -- he did not come to see me until I went to visit you, Agnes."
"Fine," Agnes said. "If you think you can handle it, Olivia, I think I shall invite Sir Edwin to dine with us one of these days."
The dinner party at Mrs. Somerville's did not provide Olivia with much amusement. The people she met there were either old, or intolerably arrogant.
"My dear, I would like to introduce my nephew, the Earl of Swafford," Mrs. Somerville said to her, smiling as if she were bestowing an immense favour on Olivia.
Olivia had to agree with Agnes. Lord Swafford was handsome and well-dressed, but his smile did not reach his eyes, and the only topic he seemed to be interested in was his own importance. He was careful to mention many famous names in his conversation, probably hoping to impress Olivia with the illustrious company he kept. In the end, Olivia was glad to get away, and on her way back to Half Moon Street she entreated Agnes not to dine with Mrs. Somerville too often.
"We will have to dine with her at least once more," Agnes said. "She has promised to provide us with vouchers for Almack's."
"Almack's," Sir Felix muttered, with an air of desperation. "How could I have forgotten Almack's?"
"How could you, indeed, when it was Almack's where we first met?" Agnes demanded.
"My love, you were the only reason for me to go there," Sir Felix said.
"And for my sake you will continue doing so," Agnes said smilingly. "Unless you want to ask your cousin, Captain Lennox, to take your place."
"No doubt he would feel honoured," Sir Felix said. "But I can only repeat what I said before -- Bernie is not the sort to be trusted when any females are around. Very well, I will go to Almack's for your sake -- but for my sake, will you limit your evenings there to a tolerable minimum?" He gave his wife a pleading look that made her laugh.
"I promise," she said.
When Olivia returned to Half Moon Street after a walk with Susannah the next day, a surprise was awaiting her in the drawing room. Two gentlemen were sitting there and talking with Agnes. One of them was Mr. Lennox, and the other -- judging by his looks -- had to be his brother, Lord Burnhope. Olivia looked at Mr. Lennox only to realise how very handsome he was, and welcomed him perhaps more warmly than she had intended. At least the awkwardness she had felt after overhearing his conversation with Sir Felix was gone, and she could talk to Mr. Lennox quite freely.
Lord Burnhope did not talk much. He politely answered every question anyone asked him, but Mr. Lennox did most of the talking while Lord Burnhope sat and watched and -- this was Olivia's impression of him -- listened very closely.
"I hope everything is fine in Burnhope?" Olivia asked him. "Your sister told me you were attending to some business there."
"So I was," Lord Burnhope said. "And yes, everything is fine in Burnhope -- not that I had expected it to be otherwise, my steward is an excellent man."
"Then why did you go there to check on him?" Olivia asked, smiling.
"I always go to Burnhope at this time of the year," was Lord Burnhope's answer.
Olivia turned to Mr. Lennox. "Have you brought your sketches with you," she asked him.
Mr. Lennox gave her a puzzled look. "Sketches, Miss Paige?"
"The ones you made in Italy -- you promised to show them to us, remember?"
"Ah, those sketches," Mr. Lennox exclaimed. "No, I have not brought them with me today, but I mean to show them to you nevertheless, whenever it is convenient for you."
"Excellent!" Agnes exclaimed. "I confess I am most curious to see them. Have you seen them yet, Lord Burnhope?"
"I have seen some of them," Lord Burnhope said calmly. "They were very interesting."
"When did you arrive in London, Mr. Lennox?" Olivia asked.
"Yesterday evening," Mr. Lennox said.
"Too bad you could not make it to Lady Culverthorpe's ball," Olivia said, remembering what Susannah had said about her brothers not wanting to attend the ball. For a moment, Mr. Lennox's eyes hardened.
"Very bad, indeed," he said, in an indifferent tone. "I gather you enjoyed yourself, Miss Paige?"
"Very much," Olivia said. "I enjoyed the ball more than dining with Mrs. Somerville yesterday -- that was a terribly flat affair. -- Are you, by any chance, acquainted with Lord Swafford? I met him at Mrs. Somerville's, and I am not sure what to think of him."
"I am not really familiar with Swafford, although I do know him," Mr. Lennox said. "Does he still look like a tailor's advertisement?"
Olivia laughed. "He is very fashionable," she said.
"I suppose that means yes, then," Mr. Lennox said with a mischievous smile. "To be honest, he is not the sort of fellow I associate with, although one cannot escape the acquaintance, really." He rose, and his brother followed suit.
"I am afraid we have to leave now," Mr. Lennox said. "But with your permission, Lady Gordon, I will come tomorrow morning to show you the sketches -- what do you say?"
"An excellent notion, Mr. Lennox," Agnes said smilingly. "I can hardly wait to see them."
Lord Burnhope, too, took leave of them, and left.
Olivia went to the window to look out, and saw the two brothers walk towards Piccadilly, talking animatedly. She felt a pang of regret that they had had to leave so soon, and that she had missed half of their visit. But there was one thing to look forward to -- Mr. Lennox would be back the next day to show them his sketches. Olivia was determined not to miss that.
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