Lord Ellis did not think it an imprudent thing to introduce his only daughter to a certain extremely eligible man. Of course, his conscience was eased because she had never truly been dear to him as he presumed she had to her mother -- to him Rosalind was merely a commodity to be bartered with, and it was with much consternation that he had to admit to himself that she was not a remarkable girl. At seventeen his daughter was far too bookish for his liking and never ventured into society unless it was a necessity. However, she was not obstinate and the Lord believed that that was a small mercy; also, she had never been too extravagant as far as money was concerned (in fact, he believed that not one single dress had been bought for her that a country parson could not afford for his daughters). The latter fact was a source of constant vexation to his Lady and she had (in one of her more active moments) protested to him about how dowdy Rosalind would look if he allowed her to carry on in the same way. Being a good and concerned father, he had immediately sent one of the servants off to London to locate a dress which his wife had said would look perfect on their child. Unfortunately, Rosalind had taken one look at it, smiled as warmly as she could and hurried up to her room. She had only ever worn it the once -- at a ball which the Ellis' were hosting -- and, although it was as magnificent as Lady Ellis had proclaimed it to be, the dress did not suit a girl who spent most of her time trying not to look particularly annoyed whenever anyone complimented her on her apparel.
And such was the situation in the Ellis household that, despite her fortune, no exceptionally fine man ever approached Rosalind, any of the men that dared to do so were far below the Ellis rank that the Lord would not even consider them. Eventually, after coming to the conclusion that his daughter would only grow plainer as the years passed, he had been forced to lower his standards. There was, in his mind, a dull and melancholy ache at having to have his daughter joined with a man whose name would humiliate the Ellis'. At least that was the case until the Lord met one Mr. Alexander Seymour.
Mr. Seymour was very much the gentleman -- in appearance and fortune, that is -- but his reputation with the female population had preceded him and soon many of the 'good' families had refused him admittance into their household. Lord Ellis was one of the few men who allowed Seymour to enter his household and the only man who actually sought his company. At that time, the Ellis family were residing in London and, although his wife found enough to occupy herself and Rosalind used the trip to find some new books, the Lord was rather the worse for wear. What he wouldn't give to be back on the Estate and shooting some birds! London seemed really quite dull in comparison, and so the arrival of a man as notorious as Mr. Seymour was a much anticipated event! As soon as news had spread of the latter's sojourn in London, Lord Ellis had rushed to see the man who had caused such an uproar. Mr. Seymour had been in his study that morning, perusing a worn copy of some book of poetry -- the Lord was never acquainted with the name but he presumed that his daughter owned that volume as well. The gentleman was a young man, he couldn't have been above thirty years of age (and later knowledge provided the information that he was but seven and twenty), and he was most fashionably dressed. However it had been clear that the gentleman had not been expecting visitors at that hour -- or at least respectable visitors -- and the look of surprise on his face was one which the Lord was hardly likely to forget. Their conversation had been amicable and entertaining and soon a date was fixed for him to dine at the Ellis' house.
Lord Ellis had scarcely ever been happier - everything was marked out and all the pawns were in place. Now all that was needed was a little pressure and persuasion and he was perfectly convinced that Mr. Seymour would soon be hurrying to marry Rosalind.
The night of the dinner was an extremely pleasant one -- no rain or coldness as one often expected the evenings to be like -- and the Ellis household was in a remarkably content mood. He had informed his wife and daughter that there would be a guest at dinner but he had not revealed Seymour's identity to them and, in truth, he awaited that moment of consciousness with an eager delight. Lady Ellis had thrown herself (and all the servants) into making preparations for the dinner, while Rosalind had bought another tatty book and had spent most of the day in her chambers reading it.
"Will you calm down Eleanor!" His wife immediately stilled herself but he could still see her hands fidgeting. They were waiting for Seymour and the females of the household had become stiflingly unbearable by asking him so many questions about the identity of the guest that he had been sorely tempted to tell them who was coming. However he had born it all, armed with the knowledge that they would be as shocked at seeing the National Rake as the National Rake had been at seeing the Lord.
"But father -- is this person a fine sort?"
"Of a kind, Rosalind. And that is all I will say on the matter." That earned him groans from his wife and child so he proceeded to pick up a rather large glass of whiskey and he drank it all. It amused him greatly to know that his daughter had the same thoughts as the rest of the young females of the world and surely that must be an indication of how things would go that night!
The bell rang and Lady Ellis was aflutter, in fact she only stopped her hysterics when footsteps could be heard climbing up the stairs. "It sounds like a man!" Did his wife honestly think that he would invite a woman, on her own, to his house? If she did then she was a greater simpleton than he had previously thought.
The door opened and the butler showed the guest in. The ladies had not yet realized who it was but the announcement was soon to come. "Mr. Alexander Seymour." There was a staggering silence in which Lady Ellis sat gaping at their guest and their guest smiled at the Lord. As the father looked around he saw that his daughter was ignorant of who this man was: he should have known that she would never pay any attention to the gossip of the matrons!
"Ah, Seymour! So glad you could make it!" He rose and moved towards the newcomer. The two men shook hands and were immediately at ease, in fact Seymour didn't appear to be daunted by the reaction from Lady Ellis -- on the contrary, he seemed to relish it.
"Please, call me George." At that point his wife rose and attempted to greet Seymour with some semblance of cordiality which, predictably, was extremely transparent.
"Mr. Seymour, welcome to our home. I hope that.." She could not continue and, much to the Lord's amusement, ran out of the room. Rosalind was about to follow her when she heard her father ordering her to stay in the room and, with a trembling nod, she acquiesced. She had no idea who this man was except that he must be a very bad one for her dear mama to react as she did. Mr. Seymour moved over to her -- or rather, in Rosalind's opinion, sauntered - and took a seat on the chair opposite.
"Ah, Rosalind, this is my new friend Mr. Seymour. Mr. Seymour, my only child Miss Rosalind Ellis."
"Pleased to meet you Miss Ellis." His voice was low and soft and silky -- and she really should not think of him like that. She was not a stubborn person, nor a quick tempered one, but she was convinced that this man was not the type that she should be acquainted with -- what was her father thinking? He might be getting a little eccentric in his old age but that was no excuse. Then a terrible thought occurred to her: what if her father intended there to be a match between herself and Mr. Seymour? There had been a lot of talk in the house about matrimony recently but she had put that down to the fact that her cousin had recently become engaged to a baronet.
"Are you alright, Miss Ellis?" She jerked her head up to meet concerned eyes.
"I am perfectly well Mr. Seymour. Whatever makes you think the opposite?"
"Nothing -- merely the fact that you appear very disconcerted."
"I assure you, sir, that I am not."
"That is good to hear."
Her father chuckled as he handed over a glass of whiskey to Seymour and the latter accepted it happily. To both men it seemed as though that night would be a very entertaining evening. Lord Ellis stayed in the room for a few minutes more before declaring, to Rosalind's horror, that he was going to see if his wife was well. Rosalind wondered why he would do such an improper thing (that is, leaving her alone with a stranger -- and a male stranger at that). If she had looked panicked before, now she must appear positively petrified.
"I hope that your wife is not in any way...indisposed, George."
"Oh I believe that some smelling salts will be all that is needed to revive her." He left the room soon after.
Rosalind was trying to think of ways in which she could be the perfect hostess but she was failing miserably and, after discovering that Mr. Seymour had not removed his gaze from her, she picked up the nearest book and attempted to read it.
"You like Byron, Miss Ellis?"
"Pardon?" She looked up at him, shocked.
"Byron -- your book." Glancing down at the page and seeing it for the first time, Rosalind nodded in assent.
"His poems are wonderful and what a man he is! If only I could experience what he feels, I believe that my life would be utterly changed forever." She was lost in her enthusiasm for poetry as she spoke.
"Perhaps you would not wish for all the stains on his soul." He switched seats so that he was sitting beside her but, in Rosalind's excitement at finding another person who appreciated Byron as much as she did -- who appreciated poetry as much as she, the move went unnoticed.
"But all those experiences -- how could one ever wish not to live his life? Even for a day." Mr. Seymour laughed at her and patted her wrist, leaving his hand on hers for a lot longer than she suspected was proper.
"I am surprised that your father permits you to read Byron's works. Some scandal that man has got himself in."
"Yes, Miss Ellis, scandal. You are not ignorant of the gossip are you?"
"I rather confess that I am. I do not like the chatter of the town -- it makes me exceedingly disconcerted, for what else could they make up and spread? I truly believe that anything could be said by one vindictive person and soon the news would be throughout London and stated as a truth."
"Then you do not know what they say about me?" She shook her head, her cheeks reddening slightly at the informal and easy way in which he was talking to her. As she was about to start reading again, Mr. Seymour took the book from her hands and set it down in a table beside him -- somewhere where she couldn't reach it. "I think you need to hear this if I am to be a frequent guest to your father's house."
"I am sure that I would be perfectly content not knowing whatever it is you are about to tell me."
"You would be, but I confess that I would be quite miserable. You see, I like to start a relationship as truthfully as possible."
"Relationship?" He could not be intimating what she thought he was, could he?
"Indeed, I hope that we will be good friends." At these words she found that she could breathe again and thus tried to regain her indifferent countenance. "Good. I see that you are ready." Rosalind wanted to shout that she wasn't ready and that he would be most welcome to leave immediately, but her upbringing had taught her to be polite at all times -- even if she would really rather not be.
"I will proceed as you advise me to do, but first I must warn you that what I have to say might offend your innocent sensibilities a little. It might have been better had you been acquainted with the gossip, but I see it is my lot to bring my sorry case to you."
"Then pray, speak now."
"So innocent." She blushed as he continued to stare at her. There was nothing malicious or seductive in his glance, but she felt as though he was examining her -- as though he was searching through her soul.
"Perhaps I am not so innocent as you believe."
He laughed and she wondered whether she had said something out of turn. Surely there was nothing amiss with that sentiment?
"You, Miss Ellis, are as much of a maiden as the nuns are."
"What?" How could he speak so? Did he have no sense of propriety?
"Unlike you, I do listen to gossip." Rosalind wanted to know what society was saying about her but did not wish to appear vain or egotistical in front of a man who so clearly displayed those very things in abundance. However, he recognized that longing in her and immediately began to talk again. "Such chatter, I find, is an extremely useful source of information and even though some of the details may be incorrect, the listener always becomes aware of the mood of the old ladies in their fancy houses. Quite charming really. I believe that it is better to be spoken of than not to be."
"Do you? I'm perfectly convinced that I would be very content to live a quiet life away from London." Seymour leaned in towards her and, with a sudden start of terror, Rosalind realized that she was able to smell his cologne. She withdrew hastily.
"Miss Ellis, I think that you are in ignorance of your true character."
"A-and what makes you such an expert on my character? You have known me but five minutes." Although Seymour wasn't advancing towards her again, she still felt as though she was trapped. Oh when would her father return?
"I have known you much longer than that." At her confused look he explained, "The chatter of the old ladies -- see, Miss Ellis - is useful."
This time she couldn't help herself. "And what do they say of me?" He leaned in for the briefest of seconds and then flopped back on the chair just as Rosalind was contemplating shouting for her father.
"Nothing dreadfully exciting. You are a talented, studious girl -- rather plain -- who it seems has a terrible fault of never appearing in society. But altogether you appear to be thought of as a paragon of virtue." Rosalind was pleased at that assessment and was able to look at Seymour with some degree of calmness. However, that was the wrong thing to do as the man -- she hesitated to call him a gentleman -- who sat beside her suddenly sprung to life again. He grasped her and held it to his lips for the briefest of seconds. "Together we could turn London upside down -- you would be the innocent and I the rake. Imagine what we could do."
She wrenched her hand from his and tried to forget the feeling of his lips on it. "Sir, you do me a great disservice. Whatever makes you think that I would want to accompany you in such shenanigans? I am not that sort of a woman!"
"You are barely a woman at all."
"That is not the point! You have no right to talk to me as though I was nothing better than one of your women." She rose and hurried over towards the window, confused as to why she did not want to beckon her father and have him throw Seymour out of the house for his behaviour.
"My women? Whomever do you mean?"
"I did not know what kind of a man you were before you came to this house, but now that I have met you I am perfectly convinced that you are the very worst kind of all. You, sir, are despicable." He was silent and she feared that she might have upset him more than she had intended. He swiftly stood up and strode over to her, looming in when he did reach her -- he was so close that she could feel his clothes on hers.
"I do not have women, they are not my possessions and that is something that I am, rightly, proud of." He spoke in a harsh whisper and she felt ashamed at once for reprimanding him so boldly -- momentarily forgetting that his behaviour had more than merited her reaction. "What does society say of me? That was what I promised to tell you -- and so you shall hear it!"
"If you prefer not to tell me of your past, I would not be very put out." She tried to move away from him but he prevented her from doing so by holding her arm. Unlike the previous contact, this one was not about intimacy or seduction but about his need to let her know who he was.
"You will listen anyway!" He led her over towards the chair again and forced her to sit down. He, however, remained standing and started to pace round the room. With annoyance Rosalind realized that he did look particularly handsome from where she was sitting. She dismissed that thought quickly. "My past has been littered with transgressions, I grant you that, but the matrons of London have always exaggerated my sins. It is true that I have many female acquaintances in many places in the Continent -- Paris, Marseille, Florence -- but I fear my treatment of them has been far worse than any of the town hags suppose. I do not shower these friends with diamonds and furs and expensive clothes, in fact it is quite the opposite -- they do not ask for anything and so I never give it. Many of them are wealthy wives anyway so my meagre gifts would mean nothing to them. I have never and will never, I must assert this, seduced any unwilling innocents." Rosalind wanted to object and remind him of his actions towards her, but she came to the conclusion that he had not really done anything very wrong. "Another thing that the London women claim is that I am having an affair with my sister." Her eyes widened considerably. He added dryly, "I do not have a sister. Although it is a rather Byron-like quality. Perhaps it would make you like me more."
"Never mind, I wouldn't wish to disillusion you even more."
Rosalind took a deep breath and plucked up the courage to ask him if he was quite finished. Unfortunately for her peace of mind, he did not and instead continued dismissing or confirming various rumours which were circulating round the city. It turned out that he had 'seduced' a nun -- but quite a willing one, and anyway, he claimed, she had only been a nun for a few weeks so what was the harm in what he did? Rosalind saw it very differently and told him so, to which he responded, "I'm glad." That only increased her confusion.
"You've told me about everything that you've done in regard to what people are saying, but you're hiding something from me, aren't you?"
"Very clever, Miss Ellis. Indeed I am, but I can not, will not, tell you what it is. For the moment anyway." He was evidently insinuating that he did want their relationship -- or friendship she supposed she could call it -- to continue, and Rosalind was unexpectedly elated. They soon returned to other matters at hand, such as the works of Byron and many other authors whom she was surprised to find they both enjoyed. The next while was filled with intellectual, stimulating conversation which only ceased when her father re-entered the room. To his daughter's frustration he had a wide smile on his face. Of course! He had planned it!
"Well Mr. Seymour, what do you think of Rosalind?" The two men shared another smirk, clearly they understood the game the other was playing.
"She's charming, utterly original." It was as though she wasn't in the room and, as the talk between her father and Seymour developed, she left the room to visit her mother. The latter was in her chambers and in bed, seemingly overcome with shock.
"Oh Rosalind! Whatever is your father doing, bringing a man like that into our house? It will ruin us."
"Mama, I do not think that Mr. Seymour is that wicked. He sins sometimes, I grant you, but he has not committed an extravagant amount of sins." She couldn't believe that she was sticking up for Mr. Seymour and, as it turned out, neither did her mother.
"Rosalind Ellis! Do not tell me that he has ... committed any of those sort of sins on you!"
"No, mama, no!" She flushed at the memory of his lips on her hand while Lady Ellis scrutinized her daughter. To her it was obvious that something had happened although she didn't know what. She only hoped for all their sakes that it had not been something very serious.
Lady Ellis and her daughter spent the rest of the evening engaged in strained conversation and book reading. To Rosalind's dismay she found that such discussion was not as exciting with her mother as it had been with Mr. Seymour and discovered, with a great deal of vexation, that she anticipated his next visit eagerly.
She thought that he had left a long time ago and so she felt comfortable enough to walk downstairs for her book which, in her panic to escape the two men's planning, she had forgotten to pick up when she had excited the lounge. Her hair was down but she was properly attired so even if anyone did see her, she thought, there would not be too much damage done. She could hear her father bustling about in his study and spotted his waistcoat lying over the chair so she presumed all was well.
"Miss Ellis." Her heart seemed to cease but simultaneously blood rushed through her furiously and she could feel her heartbeat thundering through her body.
"Mr. Seymour, I did not expect-"
He cut her off, "I know you did not." He came closer and closer until there was no distance between their bodies, and slowly, ever so slowly, he raised his right hand and ran his fingers over her mouth. She found herself trembling. "You are very beautiful like this," he whispered. Then suddenly he wrenched himself away and picked up his coat from where it had been taken off.
He was out of the door before she could even muster any sort of reply.
Rosalind had spent most of the night following the encounter with Mr. Seymour worrying about his behaviour and, to a greater extent, her own response to it. Had she been so very improper? What had possessed her to remain in the same room as him for a second time? She did not like him, that fact was so etched into her mind that one would almost have felt sorry for Seymour if his other indiscretions had not been so widely broadcast. To Rosalind he was the very worst sort of man and that opinion was shared by her extremely worried mother, who spent the next few days pestering her husband about the necessity to exclude Mr. Seymour from their social circle. Surely they would not be able to consort with those of an equal and higher status than themselves once news of their guest was found out. The idea was terrible and confined Lady Ellis to her bed once again.
It was on the third day of her self-imprisonment that Lady Ellis finally determined that if her husband would not do anything to prevent Mr. Seymour's further acquaintance with Rosalind then she would do so herself. With all the love of a devoted mother she fully believed that once her daughter showed herself to society a flock of men would gather round her and thus Mr. Seymour would be forgotten. Of course Lady Ellis was not so foolish as to consider Rosalind a terrific beauty, and there were certain qualities that she wished her only child did not possess, so she decided to take her daughter into London and, more specifically, to the shops and dressmakers. Indeed, there was a rumour that a famous French dressmaker was there and that thought spurred the Lady on.
It is not to be presumed that Rosalind received this news with ease or with excitement, in fact it was quite the opposite. She only wished that her parents, her mother in particular, were not so very concerned with her apparel. Books, after all, did not have the ability to see what their reader wore and so the whole scheme appeared pointless. However, she had almost forgotten that her cousin and that cousin's husband were hosting a ball the following day. Fate, it seemed, was not very happy with her.
It was a miserable London day, as had been the case for a long time now, and Lady Ellis, Rosalind and Rosalind's cousin -- the younger sister of the cousin who was holding the ball -- were lodged in an eating establishment which was far too crowded and fashionable for Miss Ellis. Her cousin, a miniature of Lady Ellis, was busy telling Rosalind who she knew their, what was happening in their lives and, most importantly, passing comment on their attire.
"Oh that is dreadfully poor! One would almost believe that she did not possess such a large fortune, indeed, I am convinced that mistaking her for merely a gentleman's wife would not be such a very difficult thing to do." That was about the Duchess Waterson whose husband had been recently killed in a carriage accident.
"Eve, that is a very wrong thing to say. She is still in mourning, she cannot help the way she looks."
"Dear cousin, you are so very right! Why was I the one to inherit the wickedness and you the goodness?" That was Eve's problem -- she was extremely fickle and dramatic -- but thanks to her beauty she was revered in London, and indeed in all of England, and thus she had many suitors running after her. The two cousins had never been exceptionally close as they were both of such different characters, but every once in a while Eve would attempt to close the chasm between them. Of course, it was something that Rosalind prevented being shut. She liked her privacy, and there was also a fear in her soul that if she did become better acquainted with the other young woman she would have to endure the presence of so many more people. In truth, she was quite content to leave things the way they were.
"What is this girls?" Eve told her aunt what she had said about the Duchess. "Oh yes, it is quite terrible. And it is most unfortunate that black does not suit her -- she has a very pale complexion." Rosalind could see little wrong in the woman and only found fault in her because of the knowledge she possessed of her character. The Duchess Waterson was a woman not much older than the two cousins, but she had married -- a short time ago -- a rather wealthy, rather foolish and rather old Duke. Rosalind didn't have much time for women like that who married for money (marrying for love was only slightly more bearable though) and as she had never had the opportunity to converse with the Duchess, her opinions were totally unbending on the type of woman she must be.
"I have heard a bit of talk about her though, Aunt." Eve had a mischievous expression on her face and her cousin instantly dreaded what was to come.
"What do they say?" Lady Ellis was quite partial to a bit of news -- it put life into her, or so she would say. However, Rosalind hoped that whatever Eve had to say to her mother wouldn't be too scandalous for she feared that she would have to take to her bed. Rosalind, of course, would be forced to hear the same things over and over again.
"They say," Eve lowered her voice and leaned in closer to her Aunt, "that a certain gentleman makes frequent calls to her house." Lady Ellis had blanched but Eve did not notice this and continued with a smile lurking on her lips. "A certain Mr. Seymour." Rosalind whitened at this information as well, before quickly reddening at the thought that she had been so worried by this piece of news. What business of hers was it that Mr. Seymour visited women? He had told her so himself, after all. She recalled what he had told her about his female acquaintances: they were married, wealthy and -- Rosalind started. Duchess Waterson matched that description exactly, well before her husband had died of course. And, despite what her relatives said of her features, she was a woman who possessed some claim to beauty.
"Well, it does no use to listen to idle chatter!" Lady Ellis rose and looked out of the window. "Well, I see that it has stopped raining, we really must be getting on -- after all, one dress is not sufficient for my daughter." Rosalind wanted to argue that one dress -- a very fancy dress at that -- was more than sufficient, but she did not speak as she sensed that her mother just desired to avoid further mention of Mr. Seymour.
"I must finish this pastry, Aunt. It is divine!" And so they spent another ten minutes waiting for Eve to finish eating. Rosalind suspected that her cousin would prefer to sit in the warmth than risk getting her dress soaked on the water-logged streets and so she proceeded to pull out a book and began to read. Almost immediately her mother took it from her and set it out of her way, a disapproving look on her face. Eve looked positively shocked at such behaviour from Rosalind in public. "Cousin, you can not read in public! What a silly notion -- it is something that Mr. Drake would do and you will not become another Mr. Drake. I forbid it!" Rosalind had no idea who this Mr. Drake was, but he sounded like a very sensible man.
"My darling child, do not concern yourself with such things now. It is very unbecoming."
"But mama, it is a very interesting book. It is about the Romans -- remember when we visited Rome."
"Indeed, a very dirty place and I would be ashamed to set foot in that area again." Only Lady Ellis could seriously claim that that eternal city was in such a bad state, but it seemed as though she was not to be deterred. "And such a thing to learn about. That is a man's interest, not a woman's."
"I do not know that much about it-"
"Rosalind, do not test me any further. I have tolerated your fancy for these books for far too long already, and if you continue to behave in such a shameful way in society I shall have no choice but to remove the books from your possession altogether. Now be quiet!" All this was said in hushed tones but it was clear that some of their neighbours had heard it and Rosalind saw the piteous, laughing glances that they threw at her; even Eve looked shocked. There was a moment of silence at the table before the elder young woman caught sight of her brother.
"Rosalind, look- there is Henry!" She got up and ran to her brother who had been out of London for several weeks. "Henry, why have you not written? You did promise me that you would!" Henry chuckled and made his way over to the others. He was a tall man in his twenties and owned an estate in the South of England, he was also extremely handsome and many a lady had lost their heart to him -- without his knowledge of course. In Rosalind's eyes, her cousin was the very best of men.
Once all the greetings were exchanged, Henry proceeded to announce that he was waiting for two of his close friends to arrive. "Oh not that awful Mr. Drake! Henry, he is so very dull."
"Evie, he is my friend and is a man who you should respect."
"I may respect him and believe him to be a very tiresome sort of man at the same time." It seemed as though Eve was determined to be capricious that day and her brother, although a very patient man normally, appeared to be annoyed with her.
"You will behave yourself, Drake has just had some jolly bad news."
"Yes Henry." She was momentarily subdued but quickly spoke again with even more enthusiasm. "But who is the other man?"
"A chap I met at Cambridge, a very lively person whom I have had the good fortune to see again. A Mr. Edward Blakely -- he has travelled very far. Rome, I believe, was his personal preference in Europe." Rosalind brightened considerably at this news that there would be two people who might actually offer her some tolerable conversation.
A few minutes passed in which very trivial matters were discussed -- the weather, for example, or Eve's new shoes. However, Henry stood up when the door opened and two very fine looking men entered. One was slightly shorter than the other and had brown locks whereas the taller of the two was decidedly blonde in appearance. Eve's ignoring of the shorter man told her cousin that that was the famous Mr. Drake, but it seemed as though Mr. Blakely was a firm favourite with her already.
"Blakely, Drake! Glad to see you again! May I introduce you to these fine members of my family? Of course I may, what am I thinking?" There was a general chorus of laughter. "This is my dearest Aunt, Lady Ellis and her daughter Miss Ellis. Drake, you of course know my sister Miss Beckett."
"It is a veritable pleasure to meet such exquisite ladies!" It seemed as though timidity was not in Mr. Blakely's nature. Lady Ellis unwillingly announced that the party must leave and he was extremely disappointed, professing his condolences profusely. "Can I escort you to your destination?"
"Thank you Mr. Blakely, that would be delightful." Eve stood and moved towards him.
"Splendid! Miss Ellis, would you do me the honour of letting me accompany you?"
The sigh of annoyance and anger that came from Eve was almost enough for Rosalind to reject Mr. Blakely's offer, however her mother appeared pleasantly surprised by the offer, and Rosalind was sure that if she just did this one thing then she would be able to live in peace for the next few days.
"I thank you, yes Mr. Blakely." He extended his arm and she hesitantly put her own through it. She did not like it, it seemed exceedingly wrong, and it was certainly very different from what any interaction with Mr. Seymour had afforded.
Henry took his aunt's arm and lead the rest of the party, while Eve was left to Mr. Drake for company, something which seemed to irk her greatly. They were to head back to the Ellis residence but, as the rain had cleared to make it a reasonably fine day, a detour was soon made to a nearby park.
"Do you like to walk, Miss Ellis?"
"I confess that I do not. I prefer the company of books." That comment merited a chuckle from him, but she did not like it, he appeared to be making fun of her and that was something that she did not relish in the slightest. "They afford much pleasanter company."
"Ah, it is all clear to me now. Do you not like me then?"
"I have not had the opportunity to get to know you sir, so I can not judge your character in such a way."
"Very tactful, Miss Ellis." They remained in silence for a short while until, without Rosalind's knowledge, they became separated from the rest of the party. When she did realize that they were so far away from the others, she was convinced that it was only a mistake on Mr. Blakely's part. It seemed, however, as though he knew exactly what he was doing.
"Perhaps we should venture back to the others. Henry and mama will be looking for us, I am sure."
"We will return in a little while." His voice held an imperious tone, which she did not like at all. Why had she not refused him? "I wish to ask you a question, Miss Ellis."
There was a bench nearby, in the middle of a cluster of bushes and flowers, and he took her over to it. "Sit." She did as she was told and he rested beside her. He was, perhaps, a little closer than was proper but, other than that, he was doing nothing untoward. "I have heard that a certain Mr. Seymour came to visit you the other day."
She immediately felt herself get hotter when Mr. Seymour's name was mentioned. She could only hope that she had outlived the age of blushing, but, judging from the way Mr. Blakely was looking at her, she had not. "He came to see my father."
"No doubt that was part of the reason for his visit, however, a man like Seymour does not come calling to a pretty girl's house without desiring to see her."
"Well, I am not a pretty girl, so you may rest easy on that subject."
He leaned back and stretched himself out on the bench slightly while she remained rigidly straight and stationary. "You do not do yourself credit Miss Ellis. Anyway, I heard him say the very thing last night."
"I met with Seymour yesterday, by pure chance of course."
"Are you nervous?" He seemed amused by this as well. Whatever her initial feeling about Mr. Seymour was, it was nothing to how she felt that she could quite easily detest this man. "No matter. I overheard Seymour talking to one of his companions about a beautiful lady, one whom he was going to become far better acquainted with very soon."
"I am only repeating what he said. And it was no secret, half the place knew it. It was only when your name arose that I became aware of what he was trying to do, Henry, you see, had happened to tell Drake and I a little about his relations."
"And what did you do?"
"I did what any man would do."
"And, and what is that?"
"I called him out." He said this so casually that Rosalind was taken aback by it. Surely he could not be intimating what she thought he was!
"You do not mean that you ... that you fought with Mr. Seymour?"
"I do, and I am not ashamed of it." Concern instantly flooded her body; what if Mr. Seymour was hurt? What if he was dead? She could not stand the thought. Mr. Blakely seemed to be perfectly healthy which could only mean that ... that Mr. Seymour had come out of the fight worse off. "He is not dead, Miss Ellis, do not worry yourself."
"I was not. I was merely..."
"Indeed." He rose and held out his arm to her again, which she took far more gratefully this time than she had the last. "I think that we should venture back to our party, don't you?" She replied, with as much calmness as she was able to muster up in that moment, that she agreed with his statement. Indeed, the sight of Eve and Henry had never seemed so welcome!
"Oh Rosalind, you have come back! We quite believed that you had eloped with Mr. Blakely!" Eve spoke these words lightly but her cousin could see that she was far more affected by what she saw as Mr. Blakely's snub, than Rosalind would have been if she had have been in her place.
"Oh Miss Beckett, do not worry. Miss Ellis and I were just pondering the beauty of the rose. This park has many fine specimens."
"I do so adore the rose, it is a very pleasing sort of flower."
"It seems that we are of the same mind then, Miss Beckett." Mr. Blakely wandered over to Eve, who discarded poor Mr. Drake with relish. He, on the other hand, seemed saddened by the change.
"Rosalind, let me introduce you more fully to Drake!" Henry was walking over to her with Mr. Drake. He appeared anxious, but she could not find a reason why he would be so.
"It would be a pleasure."
"Drake, this is my little cousin Rosalind, or Miss Ellis I suppose you should call her."
"Yes, Henry, I believe that would be proper." So it seemed Mr. Drake was a witty man! One would never have guessed it from his sombre apparel. "I believe your father, Miss Ellis, would not want me to be so very familiar with you." Rosalind was of the mind that her father would probably prefer it if he was, but said nothing. Once again her mind was filled with the uneasy thought that Mr. Seymour might be lying in a street somewhere, hurt and unable to get any help. She shuddered and then forced herself to think of something else. There was no way that she could find out about him, so she should just wait until the information came to her.
"Mr. Drake, I'm glad to meet you."
"Oh Henry!" Henry glanced over his shoulder.
"I'm awfully sorry, Rosalind, Drake, I must attend to Lady Ellis."
"You are an avid reader, or so I hear, Miss Ellis."
"Oh yes! I believe it to be the best thing for a person's soul!"
A small smile played round Mr. Drake's lips, but it was not malicious like Mr. Blakely's, or seductive like Mr. Seymour's. "Is that not supposed to be religion's job?"
"I suppose, but I do think that things would be dreadfully dull in a world with no poetry or prose. I could not imagine a life without Shakespeare or Byron."
"I could quite easily live without the Romantics, but Shakespeare, I grant you, plays a very important role in our development." It was easy to talk with Mr. Drake, in fact she could converse with him in a way which she had hardly ever been able to talk to anyone else in her life. If only things could be that simple with regards to Mr. Seymour!
Such was the talk until Henry came back and told them that her mother wished to leave now. They gathered together, Eve and Mr. Blakely talking only to the other, and made their way out of the park.
"Henry, did I feel a drop of rain?"
"I do not know, Aunt. I hope not, I do not have an umbrella!"
"I have one." Of course Mr. Blakely would have one, he seemed to think of all eventualities.
Unfortunately her mother had indeed felt rain, and only a few moments later the Heavens opened. Mr. Blakely rushed to open the umbrella and then gave it to Lady Ellis, who ordered her daughter and niece under it. It was much too small for the three of them though, and the gentlemen were getting soaked, so all in all it was not such a magnificent afternoon.
"Lady Ellis! May I be of service to you?"
Rosalind looked up and met the enigmatic gaze of Duchess Waterson who was in her carriage and offering to escort them to wherever they wanted to go. If Lady Ellis had not been in so much fear of getting a cold for tomorrow night's ball then Rosalind was sure that she would have refused the offer. However, personal feelings towards the other did not outweigh the practicality of the situation.
"Why, thank you, Your Grace."
"Oh think nothing of it! I should be delighted to have some company -- one can get awfully bored on one's own."
Rosalind and her mother made their way into the carriage, but, to Rosalind's surprise, Eve did not. When asked why she did not follow them she just answered gaily that, "She would go home with her brother." Rosalind felt sure that it was not her brother who Eve wanted to spend more time with, but her mother seemed to accept the excuse and so they drove off.
"Miss Ellis, how do you find London?"
"Your Grace, I believe that it is a little ... busy for my taste."
"Yes, I prefer the country too, but one must follow society's dictates. Oh, and call me Trudie, there is no need for any formality, is there?"
Rosalind did not respond, she merely smiled. Her mother, on the other hand, seemed outraged at the thought that her daughter would become better acquainted with a woman such as the Duchess.
"Oh, here is your house!" They exited the carriage, Lady Ellis first and then Rosalind. Just as the latter was about to get out the Duchess put something in her hand. "Read it."
Soon the carriage and the Duchess were away, and Rosalind was still gripping the paper. What was in it? Whatever was there that the Duchess wanted her to know?
"I think ... I think I may retire to my room, mother. The shopping has tired me out." Lady Ellis did not respond, instead she went in search of her husband.
Once in her bedroom, Rosalind collapsed onto a nearby chair and, with trembling hands, slowly opened the seal. The handwriting was very bad, almost illegible, but she persevered.
Please forgive the gross overstepping of propriety that this letter brings with it. I needed a way to convey a message, a very important message, to you and this was the only way that satisfied me.
I trust that Trudie has not said anything about the contents of this letter, indeed I believe that you would not be reading it if you knew what worthless man had written this.
Now on to what you need to know.
I have reason to believe that you will soon become acquainted with a Mr. Blakely, a gentleman who has so many lives and personas that I suspect he confuses them frequently. This is important, Miss Ellis, do not trust him. Whatever you do, do not let your guard fall when around him, for he will pounce on it and use every weakness of yours to his advantage. Do not underestimate him, he is an extremely dangerous man.
I must end this missive now, I can only hope to see you again soon.
Whatever was she to do now?
The night following the letter was turbulent one for Rosalind. She did not know what to believe, who to believe, for, although her instincts had warned her away from Mr. Blakely, could Mr. Seymour not be as bad, if not worse? Nor could she go to any member of her family to ask for advice; her father, she was certain, would back Mr. Seymour wholeheartedly, her mother the other man, and Eve -- well, that was not such a hard thing to determine, Rosalind having already been resigned to the fact that her cousin was well on the way to falling in love with Mr. Blakely.
"Rosalind! Hurry, we must be ready for the Ball!"
"Mama, it does not start until the evening. There is no need for me to get ready such a long time in advance!"
"Child, what are you thinking? There is the utmost need to prepare yourself now, in fact, I think we may even be late." This was one of those instances when Rosalind got exceedingly irritated by her mother, a rare and unpleasant event for all concerned. However, her mother was determined that her daughter would be presented as one of the most beautiful girls in the whole of England. In Rosalind's mind that was extremely wishful thinking.
Not for the first time that day, Rosalind found herself wondering why on earth her cousin and her husband had wanted to throw a ball. And, not for the first time that day either, Lady Ellis found herself scolding her daughter for her cheekiness.
"You will never be married if you continue in such a fashion! I know that you have made considerable progress with Mr. Blakely who, although only a gentleman, is a very amiable man, but you must not presume too much."
"Mama, I have known Mr. Blakely for but a day. I hardly believe that constitutes a marriage proposal." She was irked at the mention of Mr. Blakely's name, wishing to forget the majority of what had happened the day before, but her mother refused to stop talking about him.
"Williams, do make my daughter's hair tidier! One would almost think that she had been gallivanting round the country." With that, Lady Ellis walked out of her daughter's chamber, trusting Rosalind's appearance to the skilled hands of Mrs. Williams.
"Did you ever treat your daughter in such a manner?"
"No, Miss Ellis." Rosalind sighed. It seemed as though she was not going to get anything out of her either, and so she sat in more or less the same place for the next few hours while hordes of servants bustled round her. In an attempt to relieve boredom she tried to recite Byron's poems from memory -- a task which was much less satisfying than it would have been had she not had a servant pulling at her hair.
"Rosalind! Are you almost ready?"
"Yes mama," she replied as her mother came hurrying into the room, feathers flying about her head. "I am sure that Josephine would not mind if we were late."
"Josephine might not, but her husband most certainly would." Rosalind did not think either of them would be overly concerned with whether they were there on time or not. Josephine's husband, who had a Bavarian mother and an English father, Johannes was not exactly fond of Lady Ellis, although many members of the family could not understand why.
Luckily, her father interrupted her before she could say anything else. He had a smile on his face, a very ominous one, and thus one that Rosalind did not like. "Come, my love, I'm sure Rosalind is well aware of the need for punctuality by now. And she is ready."
"Yes, that is true Mama."
"Very well, hurry, make haste!" And so, with a bustle of dresses and feathers they hurried to the carriage to the home of the Viscount and Viscountess Maye. Lady Ellis' fears had proved unfounded as they were among the first to arrive, and as soon as was proper, the Lord left them to join his acquaintances. Rosalind was ill at ease and even the sight of her cousins and Johannes could not put that feeling to rest. Henry's presence undoubtedly meant that Mr. Blakely would follow soon enough, and Eve's satisfied smile added further impetus to that thought.
"I was just telling Maye here about how you have blossomed, Rosalind." Had that comment not come from Henry she would have been urgently retreating.
"I see that you have been telling me the truth Beckett, but, and forgive me Miss Ellis, I can not help but think that my own wife is the finest creature that God has ever created." Rosalind smiled and that, and so did Henry.
"And so you should! I should think that Josephine would take offence if you didn't." The two men laughed.
"What about you? Have you found the right woman for you yet?"
"I would hope not. I'm enjoying my freedom far too much." It was a flippant reply, and one which Rosalind felt was slightly false. She knew that Henry wished to have a wife but no one worthy enough had come within his reach.
"I hear you have been entertaining Mr. Blakely," there was no teasing there from her cousin's husband. In fact, he seemed worried. Perhaps Mr. Seymour had been correct in warning her about that man.
"I have met him."
"I think Eve is in more danger than Rosalind of falling in love with Blakely." Henry took a drink of wine from the glass he was holding and set it down on top of the marble fireplace. He didn't seem as adverse to the idea as his brother-in-law had been, perhaps, reasoned Rosalind, he would be happy to see his sister and his friend thus joined.
She felt a hand grasp her arm and turned to find Josephine standing radiantly, as women often did while they were with child. "I think I may have to snatch my dear cousin away from you men! We have much to discuss." She was led away from Henry and towards the side of the room.
"How have you been Josephine?"
"Very well, but I shall be demented if Johannes continues to dote over me so!" Rosalind had to laugh at that.
"No other woman would have those concerns, I am convinced."
"Probably not, but they are not me!" Rosalind liked her elder cousin much more than the younger. By dint of being called Josephine while Bonaparte was still rushing round Europe like a man possessed, she had been pressured to alter her name in some way. Josephine, spurred on by the criticism, had not and had instead chosen to praise that Frenchman whenever he came up in conversation; something Rosalind thought that neither her mother or aunt had fully forgiven her for. "I believe mama and Aunt Ellis have chosen to call me an 'independent sort of woman', hardly the thing one wants in a daughter though." Josephine glanced around, her gazing settling on her sister. "What do you think of this Mr. Blakely? I have not met him, but both Henry and Eve inform me that he is a very charming man."
"He is charming, do not worry on that account."
"So then I have to worry about him on another account? I do not trust charming men, they always have some plot or other in their minds. I do so prefer an honest sort of man."
So do I.
Where had that come from? Her thoughts, preoccupied as they had been as a result of preparations for the ball, had not yet had a chance to fully turn towards that man who had featured in them so much the previous night. Where was he now? Why had he warned her about Mr. Blakely? All these things cluttered her head and suddenly she began to imagine that she could see him over by the door. She shook her head and looked away, then looked back again.
It was him.
He was bruised, but she could still recognize him from such a distance.
"Yes?" She was breathless. He could not be here, could he?
"Do you know that gentleman? The one with the limp?"
"Yes, Uncle mentioned that Mr. Seymour called at your house a few days ago. Johannes went to meet him just before that, I believe."
Rosalind tore her eyes away from the handsome face of Mr. Seymour and directed her gaze at Josephine. "So, you have met him?"
"Oh yes. Quite by accident though. I happened to call at Duchess Waterson's home yesterday and there he was."
"Was he, was he hurt badly?"
"And why should he be hurt badly, Rosalind? Do you know something that I do not? Please tell me if you do." Josephine looked skeptical when Rosalind denied any knowledge of what had happened to Mr. Seymour to make him appear in such a way. Inwardly, she was shaking. Surely this was Mr. Blakely's work, he had, after all, mentioned some sort of duel. "I should go over and welcome him, I do not think he'll get a welcome from many others, poor fellow."
Rosalind hesitated, before following her cousin and greeting Mr. Seymour. The bruises that had been evident from afar were far nastier looking up close, and Rosalind was able to discern that he had a cut just where his hair rested on his forehead. Still, it did not diminish his attractiveness.
"Mr. Seymour! Is the Duchess not with you tonight?" Rosalind felt an unreasonable flare of jealousy inside her at her cousin's reminder of the woman in Mr. Seymour's life.
"She is. I believe that she found an old school friend and they have been conversing ever since."
"Oh, that is good! You know my cousin, don't you?"
He smiled ever so slightly and Rosalind attempted to smile back but found that, because of anxiety, she could not. "Yes, I do indeed have that pleasure."
"Miss Ellis. I trust that you returned home with everything yesterday?" she knew what he was saying to her, he was asking if she had received and read the letter.
"I did. Yesterday's events were very illuminating." A smile broke out fully on his face.
"I am glad to hear that."
There then passed some chit-chat from all sides, although Rosalind was a little more reserved than the other two, and it only ended when Johannes approached the group and reclaimed his wife.
"I trust that I can count on you to look after my cousin," called Josephine as she walked away.
"Rest assured on that account, Lady Maye." They were alone now, well, as alone as it was possible to be in a ballroom. He let the pain of his injuries briefly show before masking it again. "Now, I believe, Miss Ellis, that I need to explain certain things to you." He held out his arm to her, "Shall we?"
Mr. Seymour led her to a door only a few yards from where they had been standing and, thoroughly unmindful of the others in the room, urged Rosalind to go through it. She found herself in a dusty corridor, one which Josephine had shown her when she had toured the house but which she had not entered since.
"Please, trust me." His voice was urgent and, in his haste to find some place where they could speak alone, he put his hand on her back to try and move her on. She instantly recoiled and turned around.
"Get your hands off me!" He now found, to his surprise -- although it was not really that unpleasant -- that he was now holding her round the waist. He immediately withdrew his touch and took a step back in order to hopefully calm the both of them.
"Well then get a move on. If you continue like this, people will hear and then imagine what your mother and the rest of your family will think."
"They will think what is right, that you are the one at fault."
"Miss Ellis," he was getting impatient now, and he didn't care if she knew it, "would you damned well walk!"
After weighing up her options she decided that proceeding in the intended direction was the best course of action, although that is not to say that her pride was not wounded by such a development. She had been concerned about him, she still was to be truthful, but, the minute he had reverted to the sort of ruffian behaviour to which she wasn't accustomed, she had been forced by her own upbringing to respond in the only suitable way. She didn't care what he thought about her! Why should she? But all the while she was trying to convince herself that she did not have even the slightest of gentle feelings for Mr. Seymour, she was all the more certain that she did.
He had told her to walk to the very end of the hallway where she would find a small room, unused but still extravagant, and she was doing this when she heard him stumble and fall against something.
"Mr. Seymour? Are you alright?"
"No!" he whispered harshly, "I am not alright." There was pain in his voice and it hurt her to hear it.
"Is there anything I can do?"
"Please sir, I would like to help you in any way that I-"
"Then get me to that room! Now!" Clearly he was becoming demented by whatever injury the stumble had caused him, and Rosalind felt it her duty to obey him in whatever way she was able.
"But how do I do that sir? I could call one of the servants."
"The hall is too narrow for you to pass me," he let out an exclamation of pain. "You'll have to lend me a hand, so to speak. Let me lean on you."
She was shocked, "But that would be improper sir."
"I don't give a damn about propriety now! I am bleeding and the pain is extremely acute." Rosalind was torn between the two warring notions, but she knew that she could not just leave him there to die and so she hesitantly made her way over to him. He slung his arm over her shoulder and put some of his weight on it. She knew that she should be scandalised by both of their actions, but found that, due to the pressure his frame put on her much smaller one, she couldn't really muster up the energy to be that way.
The room was not that far a distance and when they reached it and he could lie down on the bed there -- for it was someone's chamber -- she was at rest again. That was until she remembered what he had said in the corridor.
"You told me that you were bleeding."
"Where? Maybe," she paused, scared of what she was going to say, "maybe I could clean the wound for you. Or at least get rid of some of the blood."
He laughed, a strange occupation, she thought, for a man who was supposedly in great agony. "My wound, my wound is not in a place fit for a woman's eyes. Or at least yours." She blushed and that generated another chuckle from him, but this time it was considerably weaker. "Nowhere too improper, Miss Ellis. It is on my lower chest." Still, that was bad enough.
"Oh." She didn't know what to do. Her mother had never been one to tend to any of her wounds, the servants had been left to do that and she had never paid them any real attention, having always been far too keen on returning to her new book. As a result, she could think of nothing that would help him in his condition. Then she noticed the blood stained waistcoat. "Please Mr. Seymour, perhaps I could remove your outer garments, it might get some air into the wound."
"Miss Ellis, are you aware of what you are suggesting?"
"Yes sir," she replied softly. Lord help her if her mother ever found out about what she was about to do. Slowly, gently, she peeled away the delicate fabric from his shirt. The material seemed ruined, but at that point in time it was not a matter of great importance to either. Once she had eased the waistcoat and jacket off him he was left in a rather improper state of dress, but she tried to ignore her own reaction to his appearance and instead focused her mind on removing the other piece of fabric from the wound. It was done! But it would need to be permanently away from it.
"Are you finished yet Miss Ellis?"
"Nearly sir. It's just..."
"I need to get your shirt away from the wound." She didn't have to say any more for he understood her problem instantly.
"I see, and you are too shy and pure a girl to do it yourself. Very well then, avert your eyes Miss Ellis." He raised his hands and grasped the edge of the shirt that she had given him, slowly he only managed to pull it up slightly, but it was enough. Rosalind did try to look in another direction, but she was too slow. Her eyes caught sight of his chest and she was scared by the effect it had on her.
"I should go now, Mr. Seymour. I need to...I will fetch someone. Perhaps Duchess Waterson or Johannes or-"
"Trudie, Trudie will know what to do." There it was again, that little pang of envy that rose up in her whenever the Duchess' name was mentioned. However, she was quickly on her way back down the hall and, as she carefully tried to open the door without many people noticing, she was accosted by her mother.
"Rosalind, where have you been? And what is that on your dress? It looks like blood!" Her mother's voice lowered considerably. "I know it must be a very unfortunate time to have your ... well, a mother understands what it is like, but that is no excuse for your behaviour." Rosalind realized with a start that if there was blood on her dress there would certainly be some on her hands, so she tried to hide them behind her back.
"Mama, may I go and find papa?"
"If you must. But hurry back. Mr. Blakely has been making inquiries into your whereabouts." She believed that she must have muttered some acceptable comment or other because her mother let her move away with the pretence of going to see Lord Ellis. She looked around her for any sign of the Duchess and it was only when she was near despairing that she caught sight of that woman. The Duchess had seen her too and was walking towards her with a friendly smile on her face.
"Miss Ellis, how-"
"Please, you must help. Mr. Seymour is hurt, he is bleeding!" She was near hysterical, much to her dismay.
The Duchess' tone changed immediately. "Where is he?"
"He is in a room at the very end of a hallway. The door is down at the bottom of this room -- near the stained glass."
"Thank you." She was away before Rosalind could say anything else. The latter just stood in the middle of the room, completely shocked by what had taken place.
"Rosalind? Aunt said that you needed to wash."
It was Josephine. "Yes."
"Well, come up to my rooms and we shall sort you out." Reluctantly she was led further away from Mr. Seymour, and her heart became heavier all the time.
She was so worried, so preoccupied by Mr. Seymour, that she did not fully notice what was happening around her -- that her mother was being entertained by Henry, that her father was drinking with his friends. She did not even realize then that the reason for Eve's sudden despondency was that Mr. Blakely had made a quick exit.
A very quick exit indeed.
"Whatever were you doing to get yourself so messy?" Josephine was interrogating her while one of the servants took her dress away to clean it, and it was not a very pleasant experience. "Here, have my dressing gown."
"So, what were you doing?"
"Yes you can tell me, or else I'll have to tell Aunt that you are not going through your monthly discomfort."
Rosalind glanced down at the floor. She knew that, some way or another, Josephine would get the truth out of her, but she did not wish for anyone -- save, perhaps, Mr. Blakely -- to be adversely affected by what she would disclose.
"It is a secret."
"Please, tell me." Her cousin seemed eager to understand the situation and finally, after much persuasion, she revealed everything. Or mostly everything.
Josephine was stunned -- more so because the event was happening in her own home rather than out of any shattered dreams of the virtue of men. "And who did this to Mr. Seymour?"
"I..." She couldn't say who she believed the attacker to be, not until she had substantial evidence which proved that Mr. Blakely was a very bad man and not just Mr. Seymour's word. "I can not say. I do not know." Her cousin appeared skeptical of this piece of news, but -- either through shock or the wish for a peaceful life -- did not question her any more.
"Who is there? Who is with Mr. Seymour?"
She suddenly started to think rationally and sensibly again, and was soon ordering for bandages and ointments to be sent down -- via another disused passage -- to the wounded man. "Josephine, exactly how many secret passages are in this house?" For the truth was, to Rosalind at least, that they seemed endless. Her cousin laughed.
"Oh, many, many. Johannes says that when he was a boy he used to be so curious that he discovered at least five in one week. I dare say his mama was not very impressed though, his clothes must have been ruined!"
"Maybe I should-"
"You don't even know what I was going to ask you!"
"Yes, I do. You were about to ask me if you could go down and help tend to Mr. Seymour's wounds." Josephine had clearly seen through her, and Rosalind felt a stab of annoyance that she was so easy to read -- for this member of the family anyway. Then guilt and embarrassment overcame her and she could no longer look at the other woman. "Don't vex yourself. I will not disclose this information to anyone save my husband." Rosalind sighed in relief. "And this little fancy you have for Mr. Seymour...I would be careful, if I was you." She started to protest but was interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Rosalind! Josephine! Come quickly!" They looked at each other, curiosity bursting from both their hearts.
"I will go and see whatever Eve is describing." Rosalind nodded, knowing that there was not much that she could do wrapped up in a dressing gown.
Soon she was left alone in the room and left to her thoughts -- thoughts of Mr. Seymour, thoughts of Mr. Blakely. But after the time that she had spent alone, she could only claim to be even more confused that before. In an attempt to rid her mind of all the tangled notions that it currently held, she moved to the window. It was chilly there, at her look out point, and so she pulled the robe closer to her, determined that the view of the courtyard would clear her mind.
There was a couple down below the window who seemed to be discussing something rather passionately and, after a while, they embraced. Because of the height, Rosalind was unable to see who exactly they were but they did not appear to be a youthful couple. Her curiosity was ablaze and it was kindled when she saw that they abruptly separated when someone else came near.
"Excuse me, miss."
It was the maid who had taken her dress away. Rosalind, thinking that her clothes were ready, turned round and walked towards her with a smile on her face. In contrast, the maid was looking very nervous -- anxious about something.
"I was told ... I was told to come and get you."
"Oh. Does your mistress need me?"
The young woman reddened and paused before she replied. "It's not the mistress who told me to get you. It was a fine woman -- she said that she was called Trudie."
Rosalind's heart skipped several, very long, beats. "And what does she ... what does she want with me?"
"I don't know, miss. I was just told to get you and bring you out to the stables."
"But I don't have anything to wear."
"She said to come at once. Don't brook any hesitation, Hester. That's what she said."
Rosalind was torn between the need to see why the Duchess had summoned her (for, no doubt, it was to do with Mr. Seymour) and the knowledge that to do what that Lady was asking of her was, and she was sure her mother would concur, tinted with impropriety. Surely midnight meetings in stables were not the thing that daughters of Barons should even be considering!
"Alright. I will come with you." The desire to know what was the matter had won her over and she was momentarily unconcerned about her mother's reaction to this if she ever found out.
They went down the flight of stairs that led to the servants' quarters and then proceeded to the stables. Thankfully there were no servants hanging around -- Rosalind wasn't sure that she could live down the humiliation if she was found in her current state by any person she didn't know, let alone the hired help.
"Pardon?" But she found that she was speaking to air. Hester the servant had deserted her, and so she was left to find her own way across the muck ridden out buildings. She really would have to advise Josephine to repair the area in general. It was quite a disaster. The buildings, although not yet dilapidated, were evidently in a state of ill-repair, and there was an awful stench which had stagnated the whole air. No, it was not pleasant at all.
"Sir? You alright there?"
"Perfectly well, Simmons. And the bloody wound in my stomach makes the entire process even more enjoyable."
"He's tetchy in his old age, isn't he Marty?"
"I'm not an old man! I'm barely thirty! Oh, why do I put up with you?" said the slightly defeated, and more than tired out, voice.
"Because we've known you a long time."
"That's not an extremely good excuse. Ow! Mind where you're walking, you idiots."
"Did you hear that? He called us idiots. Reckon we should just leave him here -- to hell with that little cut." The two less educated men laughed, while the man on the stretcher let out a slight groan -- although it was out of frustration and not pain. The man who had been speaking happened to glance around the yard and saw her. "Oi! Lass! What're you doing out here? Get back to your ball!" She was filled with indignation at the man's words and was sure that the other man had added something to that statement which was not at all complementary.
"Shut up, the both of you!" The injured man -- it was Mr. Seymour -- rose slightly, gasped at the pain of such a movement, and gazed at her. She hurried over to him.
"The Duchess said for me to come to the stables. I did not know why."
"Miss Ellis, please forgive these buffoons."
"Of course, sir."
Instinctively, without really knowing what she was doing, she grasped her hand in his. "Thank you for what you did tonight. I'm sure that things would have ended up differently if you had not alerted Trudie." The warmth which she had felt when he thanked her for her actions quickly disappeared the moment he mentioned the Duchess, and once again cold jealously rise up within her. She dropped his hand.
"So, this is the famous Miss Ellis." The men had laid down the makeshift stretcher on the ground and the one who spoke to her rubbed his hand on his shirt to clean it, or so Rosalind supposed. "How'd you do?" She could tell that he was mocking her, and insecurity revealed itself again.
"Stop it! Now, Simmons! Miss Ellis is a lady, you should remember that."
Simmons grumbled and the stretcher was picked up again. "Wait! What was I needed for?"
"I need to tell you what Mr. Blakely is really like. Perhaps you could warn off your cousin -- she seems very eager (or so I am told) to please him."
"Eve? I know that she is a little attached to Mr. Blakely, but nothing very serious, I am sure: she hasn't even known him two days!"
"Miss Ellis," his tone was grim, "you have not known me more than a week and still you seem to trust me implicitly." His servants (for that was the only thing she could assume that the men were) laughed, something which earned them a scowl from their master. "Blakely is a liar and a cheat and, I can not put it any politer, scum. He has done many things which even I could not claim of doing and, although they are not too terrible I will always despise him because he has wounded someone very close to me. I will not say whom, for it is their business, not mine, whether they choose to inform you of this." The men were about to carry on with their journey when he spoke again, "Warn Miss Beckett to mind how she gives out favours. He will not value it as any sort of special gift." The implication was clear and Rosalind found herself reddening at the thought.
"I think you've embarrassed the girl, and she who came all the way to see you in such limited attire." This time there were no subtle hints, and Rosalind was left feeling more than a little uncomfortable.
"You dog! I'll whip you if you continue in that way." He kicked the man who had made the comment, ignoring the wound in his chest. "Miss Ellis, I have asked Trudie to tell your father to visit me tomorrow. Make sure that he does."
They were away before she could reply.
"I am very displeased with you Rosalind," came her mother's commanding tone as she struggled not to yawn. "You failed to dance with a single person there and I know that more than one wanted to meet with you."
"Mama, Henry and Johannes don't count. I sincerely doubt that any other person might wish to make my acquaintance."
"Well, you didn't give them a chance did you? Going off like that! And I blame Josephine for keeping you locked up in her chambers -- you did look marvellous last night. Perhaps she was jealous, married women sometimes are."
"I don't think that Josephine prevented me from enjoying myself." She desperately wanted to change the subject for fear of her mother discerning some hint in her features of what had truly occurred at the ball. She had had enough lectures and questions about how her shoes had become so filthy to last her a life time, and it was not a subject she wanted to continue today.
"My love, I am going to visit an acquaintance! Expect me back before supper." Lord Ellis was away before his wife could protest at his going. However, that meant that Rosalind was left to hear all her mother's complaints about how ill he treated her.
"Mama, it's probably a business matter. One can hardly object to his going if that is the case." She believed that her mother would find a way to object, but thankfully Lady Ellis spoke no more and it was only when a servant entered the room and announced that they had a visitor that she was once more spurred into action.
"Well, who is it?"
"Duchess Waterson, ma'am." The servant curtsied and went to get the Duchess. While she attempted to quash her nerves by listening to her mother's complaints, Rosalind rose and tidied away some books that were spread out on the sofa. After all, they could not entertain this woman with even a hint of untidiness about the house.
"Duchess Waterson, how nice to see you again! I didn't think that you would be recovered after last night. Dancing with my nephew must have been a very important event." So that was it! That was the distraction which had enabled Rosalind to sneak down and see Mr. Seymour. And to think that Henry had actually danced. Miracles would never cease.
"Oh, yes Mr. Beckett was quite charming! And a very good conversationalist, if you ask me." Lady Ellis seemed taken aback by a complement from this woman (whom she had often berated for being far too self-centred and vain), and was momentarily so surprised that she even managed to appear civil until the shock wore off. "And where is you darling husband?"
That annoyed Rosalind's mother. She had been growing suspicious of her husband and his frequent visits out of the house; she would have believed that he was going to see that awful Mr. Seymour had he not sworn that he was not. Consequently, with the number of excursions mounting, she had entertained that he was having a liaison with an unsuitable woman and the Duchess was, to Lady Ellis' mind, about as unsuitable as they come.
"Lord Ellis is away at a business meeting, he has some very important matters to discuss at the moment."
"I hope it will not trouble him too much. I should hate for him to run himself to the ground."
"Calm yourself, he will do no such thing." Lady Ellis purposely turned her head away from her guest to examine a rather low standard offering of embroidery from Rosalind. The latter could see the disapproval mounting on her mother's face and inwardly cringed; when would her mother learn that she could not do things like that? That reading and the occasional story were the only things that she enjoyed and that she was half-decent at?
"Is that a handkerchief? My, I remember the time when my mama tried to teach me to embroider. It was the worst disaster since...well, I can not think of anything more pitiful than my horrendous attempt at that art form!"
The Duchess seemed taken aback by Lady Ellis' rudeness but quickly recovered and began to recall the time when there had been a severe misunderstanding all because of her rather awful sewing techniques. It was funny to Rosalind and she found herself laughing until she remembered that this woman probably owned Mr. Seymour's heart. He was devoted to her, it was clear, and Rosalind had more than an inkling that the woman who had caused the quarrel between Mr. Seymour and Mr. Blakely was none other than the Duchess. She was still young, only a few years older than Rosalind herself, and quite a beauty -- and it was often remarked that if only the Duchess' character was more upstanding then she would be quite a pleasant addition to any respectable party.
"Lady Ellis, I was wondering if you would lend me your daughter for a few hours. I do so long to go shopping and I spotted some lace that would look divine on dear Rosalind."
"Rosalind, do you want to go?" She was shocked by her mother leaving the choice to her and then realized that she simply wanted the Duchess away from her presence and if that meant letting her take her daughter away then so be it.
"I would like it, yes mother."
"Well then go upstairs and prepare yourself -- it looks exceedingly dismal today." Rosalind was already out of the room and launching herself up the stairs two at a time, the excitement of being able to purchase a new volume of poetry far outweighing the feeling of insecurity she always had in the presence of the late-Duke's wife.
It was indeed a dismal day and, although it did not rain, they were forced to take shelter in a little pastry shop near to the very fashionable end of town. "It seems as though we are doomed to always go out when it is horrible outside."
"Well Rosalind, this is England after all: one can not expect sunshine at any time let alone summer! How scandalous!"
"What is scandalous?"
Rosalind whirled round to face the person who had just spoke, she noted that the Duchess was rooted to the spot -- she hadn't even checked to see who was there.
"Mr. Blakely, are you ... I mean ... It is a very unpleasant day."
"A perfect sign that you are a well brought up lady, Miss Ellis." At her questioning look he expanded what he had said, "Your reference to the weather. I do believe that it is the mark of a gentlewoman to speak of the weather when there is little pleasant things to speak of."
"Well..." she was cut off by him.
"And what about you Duchess? Do you have anything to say to me? Or any token of affection perhaps?" Rosalind saw the Duchess tremble slightly, and then calm herself as she turned to face him. "You see, Miss Ellis, Trudie and I were once very much in love."
"Only one of us was, I believe."
"You don't do me any justice! I was once desperately, deeply in love with you -- whether you choose to accept that is another matter." He now spoke in a snake-like hiss, his tone considerably lower. He grasped the Duchess' right hand and Rosalind watched him caress it slightly.
"Leave me alone."
"Why should I? You are still the same bright eyed Miss Gertrude Fairbank who I once knew, who I once loved."
"I am not." She tore her hand from his and moved slightly away from him. For a few intense and frightening moments Rosalind thought that he was going to make a scene in the shop and force the Duchess to listen, but he soon returned to the serene façade he often wore.
"Miss Ellis, my advice to you -- if you should choose to accept it -- is to get as far away from this woman and Seymour as you possibly can. You can not contemplate how much poison they will infect you with."
He left just after saying these things and one quick glance at the Duchess told Rosalind that she needed some sort of a refreshment. She told this to her but the Duchess seemed to come to life, "No, no, not here. I will take something but I will return home. And you shall come with me. Alexander informed me of what he said to you last night, it seems as though I have a few things to explain to you. It would be a great help if you heard me out."
As they headed out and towards the Duchess' home, Rosalind thought that she saw Eve across the street, but when she looked back again she was gone and the former believed that she had imagined it.
And that was why Eve Beckett went mostly unnoticed and why her meeting with a certain gentleman remained a secret to everyone but the couple themselves.
© 2006 Copyright held by the author.