A Gentleman of Fortune: Or, The Suspicions of Miss Dido Kentby Anna Dean
With all the charm of a Georgette Heyer novel, the sequel to Bellfield Hall finds Miss Dido Kent vacationing at the home of her cousin. When a neighbor passes away quite suddenly, Dido feels she is ideally placed to observe the reaction of the community, but her suitor, Mr. William Lomax, feels otherwise. As Dido presses on, she learns more about the dirty/i>
With all the charm of a Georgette Heyer novel, the sequel to Bellfield Hall finds Miss Dido Kent vacationing at the home of her cousin. When a neighbor passes away quite suddenly, Dido feels she is ideally placed to observe the reaction of the community, but her suitor, Mr. William Lomax, feels otherwise. As Dido presses on, she learns more about the dirty dealings among the upper classes of Surrey than even she could have imagined. Anna Dean has crafted a delightful historical mystery series; the next best thing to reading Jane Austen.
“Delightful. The clever puzzle and pitch-perfect Regency prose will charm readers.” Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“Will resonate with fans of Jane Austen's Emma.” Publishers Weekly
A murder among the English gentility once again challenges the inquisitive prowess of Miss Dido Kent (Bellfield Hall, 2010, etc.).
Dido is residing in the fashionable town of Richmond with her cousin, Mrs. Flora Beaumont, when the ladies learn that the charming, eligible bachelor Mr. Lansdale has finally come into his fortune on the death of his invalid aunt. This happy occasion is disrupted by the vicious gossip of Mrs. Midgely, a neighbor who insinuates that Mrs. Lansdale was murdered. Certainly Dido considers the circumstances strange. She notes the death of the victim's little lap dog and a puzzling burglary through a window broken from the inside. When Mrs. Midgely prevails upon the local apothecary to bring the case to the magistrates, Dido gives in to her natural curiosity. By paying visits, eavesdropping in shops and attending to the subtleties of parlor games, Dido aspires to defend Mr. Lansdale's innocence. She is assisted in her endeavors by Mr. William Lomax, with whom she hopes to share mutual affection. As the plot thickens, Dido begins to doubt Mr. Lansdale's innocence, and Mr. Lomax presumes to entreat Dido to cease her investigations for her own safety. In the end, however, she manages to untangle the mystery and preserve justice, all while remaining the soul of discretion.
Delightful. The clever puzzle and pitch-perfect Regency prose will charm readers.
Read an Excerpt
A Gentleman of Fortune Or, the Suspicions of Miss Dido Kent
By Anna Dean
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Anna Dean
All rights reserved.
Richmond, Wednesday 27 May 1806
My Dear Eliza
The great Mrs Lansdale is no more.
She was carried off on Tuesday night by a sudden seizure. It is a very heavy loss, for now the neighbourhood can no longer discuss the alarming symptoms of her nervous complaints, nor can it exclaim over every rumoured disagreement between the lady and her nephew.
However, it seems we are not done with Mrs Lansdale; she may yet provide a subject of conversation – for there is already an alarming rumour begun about her death.
Besides that half-pleasurable sorrow which is always felt at the death of a fine lady one hardly knows, there is a great distrust of the nephew. For it has not passed without notice that he has lost a remarkably tyrannical relation and gained a very fine inheritance.
Miss Dido Kent lifted her pen from the page and gazed beyond the little pool of light thrown by her candle, to the open window and the warm darkness beyond. She knew that she should not continue. What she was about to write was hardly proper. A letter should contain news but never gossip, and the great rule was to mention no person or event which could not be written about with charity.
But then, Dido mused with a smile, if the rule were adhered to too faithfully, letters would become so exceedingly dull that they would not be worth getting. They would scarcely justify their cost to the receiver.
And, besides, she had a very good reason for communicating this particular piece of gossip to her sister.
It is the odious Mrs Midgely who has begun this rumour. She has 'the gravest doubts' about Mrs Lansdale's death. Mrs Midgely considers it as being altogether 'too convenient' for the nephew. In short, she believes that he took steps to hurry his poor aunt out of this world ...
There! It was said. And very shocking it seemed now that it was written down.
Please do not blame me for repeating this slander, Eliza. If you will only keep from throwing my letter aside in disgust – and will but continue reading to the end – I hope you will understand why I must write to you upon this subject.
You see, it all came out yesterday during Flora's exploring party to the river.
And a very pleasant party it would have been, but for Mrs Midgely and her venomous conversation. Everyone was punctual, the sun shone upon us and there was an abundance of walking about, sitting down, fine views, pigeon pie and cold lamb.
Sir Joshua Carrisbrook was returned from town in time to join us – which pleased Flora greatly. And, by the by, it seems that what we had heard of Sir Joshua is true – he is to be married again, and very soon. And you may tell all his friends at Bellfield that he seems vastly contented – and in a great hurry to get to church! For, by his own account, the lady only gave her consent a week ago, but he is determined to be married before the end of another week and has got himself a special licence for that purpose. I suppose he does not wish to wear out what youth he may suppose remains to him in waiting a full three weeks for the banns to be called.
It is extraordinary to see a man of his advanced years so very much in love! And I could not but pity him; for he was so wanting to tell us all of how he was soon to become 'the very happiest of men' and to enumerate the many virtues and talents of his lady; and he had scarcely begun to describe her musical genius and had not spoken one word about whose music she chiefly plays, when his happiness was quite hurried out of the way by Mrs Midgely who was wanting to be talking herself.
So I confess that I remain in ignorance upon the important issue of whether the future Lady Carrisbrook delights most in concertos or in folk airs – and I cannot even tell you what her maiden name may be ...
But, to return to Mrs Midgely and her suspicions. By her account, Mr Vane, the apothecary, is uneasy about Mrs Lansdale's death. He says that, 'there was nothing in Mrs Lansdale's general condition to make him expect such a seizure as carried her off! Which,' says Mrs Midgely, looking about at us all, with a very red face and a satisfied manner, 'which, I think you will all agree, seems very odd indeed, does it not?'
'Oh, but I do not know that it is so very odd!'
This mild protest came from little Miss Prentice – Mrs Midgely's boarder – who seems to rent from Mrs Midgely not only her back parlour but also a share in her right to spy upon all the grand people of the neighbourhood.
'If I must give my opinion,' says Miss Prentice – though no one there had asked for her opinion – 'I do not think it is so very odd at all. It does sometimes happen that a person can be taken with a sudden attack such as they have never had before. For it happened to poor Lord ...'
But Mrs Midgely had no patience to let her go on. For once Miss Prentice is begun upon lords and sirs there is no end of it.
'Mr Vane,' says Mrs Midgely, speaking very loud, 'is very much puzzled by the lady's death. And, in my opinion, he ought to take the appropriate steps.' And she lowered her voice to a suitably portentous whisper. 'I have told him that he must speak to the magistrates.'
And then we had all to listen to a great many accounts of what I had heard many times since coming to Richmond: of how Mrs Lansdale had demanded a great deal of attention from her nephew – on account of her many illnesses – that he had often wanted to 'pursue his own pleasures' in town, but had been restrained by her poor health and nervous disposition which would not permit her to be left alone. Mrs M was very eloquent upon these subjects – and no less so upon the subject of how 'young men these days' do not like to have their pleasures curtailed.
Well, Eliza, what I have not told you of yet, is how very distressed poor Flora was looking all the while that this was carrying on. For, you see, Mr Henry Lansdale, the nephew – this very gentleman that Mrs M was slandering – is a great favourite with our cousin. She and her husband met the Lansdales at Ramsgate last autumn and, though I have not yet been introduced to the young man, I have observed that she always speaks very highly of him.
I do not think Mrs Midgely knows of Flora's connection with the Lansdales and believes them to be strangers to her, as they are to everyone else here in Richmond. At least I sincerely hope that she knows nothing of the friendship – or else she was being unpardonably rude to be talking so of her hostess's acquaintances! (Though, in truth, I do not put anything beyond the licence that woman allows her tongue!)
However, I think that, maybe, Mrs Midgely's ward, young Mary Bevan, was quick-witted enough to suspect the truth, from her gentle efforts to smooth things over. She pointed out, in her quiet precise way, that, 'Mr Vane had been attending upon Mrs Lansdale for little more than a month,' and suggested that, 'he might not have a very accurate knowledge of all the poor lady's disorders and symptoms.'
This did little to stop the abuse; but one must admire the real elegance of mind which prompted it; and one cannot help but wonder how such a pleasant, sensible girl can have been brought up by the dreadful Mrs M.
But, to return to Flora. She was close to tears by the time the carriages came, and she broke down completely in our journey home.
'I cannot understand,' she said again and again, 'why Mrs Midgely should say such things! Why should she wish to malign poor Mr Lansdale? And why should she wish to persuade the apothecary to cause trouble for him? I have never known her be so veryunkind before.'
And, in all honesty, neither can I understand it, Eliza. It is a level of interference and trouble-making far beyond the usual malice of gossip.
Poor Flora! She keeps to her room today with the headache which, I make no doubt, was brought on by yesterday's distress. Her sufferings are, I believe, all the worse for being unfixed and uncertain; for neither she nor I can judge the exact degree of danger in which Mr Lansdale might stand – I mean if Mr Vane should yield to the tiresome woman's advice and refer the matter to the magistrate. And, since Flora's husband is still absent upon business in Ireland, we have no gentleman here to whom we can turn for advice upon such a delicate matter.
And this, my dear sister, is the reason for my troubling you with this most unpleasant business. It occurs to me that, since you are staying at Bellfield Hall, you might seek advice on our behalf. Would you be so kind as to ask Mr William Lomax ...
Dido was forced, by the shaking in her hand, to stop writing.
There was already a blot spreading through her neat black words. And her cheeks were burning too. She laid down her pen and turned her face into the night air which was blowing in through the open window of her bedchamber, bringing with it the scents of roses and cutgrass and dew – and the high, shivering call of an owl from somewhere down beside the river.
She had thought that she had long outlived the age at which the mere writing of a gentleman's name could bring a blush to her cheeks. Yet she could not help but wonder what Mr Lomax would think – how he would look – what he would say – when Eliza mentioned her name and her request.
Dido's situation with regard to this gentleman was a particularly delicate one.
Mr William Lomax was the man of business who overlooked the running of her niece's husband's estate at Bellfield Hall. Last autumn, when she had been at Bellfield, Dido had come to esteem him very highly indeed and, before she was called away, she had been certain – almost certain – as certain as a lady can ever allow herself to be – that he returned her regard: that he was, in fact, only prevented from making a declaration by a want of wealth and independence.
Then she had been full of hope; sure that they could not be separated for ever; sure that the particular circumstances which kept him poor just then, could be removed. But now, after six months of hearing almost nothing of him, it was all but impossible not to be desponding: not to believe that her influence over him was weakening; not to calculate very exactly her five and thirty years, or to disregard the opinion of all her friends who had long reckoned her a settled old maid.
As she had once overheard her sister-in-law, Margaret, remarking: 'An heiress may fairly look for a husband at any age. But a portionless woman had better give up all such thoughts when she is thirty, and spare her family the expense of going much into company. For it will all be wasted. Nothing will come of it.'
Until she had come to know Mr Lomax, Dido had been, if not quite content to be a spinster, then at least reconciled to it because she had never found in the usual round of dinners and balls and visits much temptation to change her state. But a remarkable set of circumstances had brought her together with Mr Lomax and authorised a kind of communication far beyond the usual littleness of social intercourse. She had learnt the pleasure of sharing ideas and confiding in a way which she had never known before. And now ...
And now, as she sat beside the window of her bedchamber in Flora's pleasant summer villa, she was beginning to suspect her own motives.
For, oddly enough, it had been a murder and the mystery associated with it which had first brought her together with Mr Lomax. So, was she now only taking an interest in this affair of Mrs Lansdale's death because it was a means of bringing herself once more to the gentleman's attention?
She smiled. Hers must be a very singular affection if it could only thrive upon infamy and mystery! But she would not allow one half of her to suspect the other. There could be nothing wrong in only asking a gentleman's advice and, besides, she really did wish to discover the exact degree of danger in which Mr Lansdale stood.
Would you be so kind as to ask Mr William Lomax – for I know that he has a very thorough understanding of the law – whether, in his opinion, Mr Lansdale is in any danger? Might Mr Vane's information lead the magistrates to bring a prosecution? And, if it should go so far, how heavily would the testimony of such a man as this apothecary tell against him? It cannot be denied that the young man has gained a great deal from his aunt's death: if there was a suspicion of murder, would not that suspicion fall immediately upon him?
Flora is most anxious that we should somehow find a way of putting an end to these dreadful rumours, before they have any serious consequences.
I agree that it ought to be attempted; but I cannot conceive how such a woman as Mrs Midgely is to be worked upon. I doubt she has ever, in the whole course of her life, held her tongue at someone else's request. And she seemed to take such an inordinate pleasure in spreading her poison that I could not help but wonder whether she has some grudge or cause against the young man. Something which might make her particularly venomous in this case.
And I do not think we can silence her without first discovering her motive.CHAPTER 2
Richmond, mused Dido as she walked to the post office with her letter next day, was a remarkably proper place. There was something particularly elegant and refined about the pretty little villas clustering around the river and up onto the hill, with their verandas and their French windows and their shady gardens. Maybe, she thought, it was this air of prosperity and tranquillity; the scent of syringa and lime trees; the sight of comfortable barouches and fashionable little landaulets driving by, which made the rumours Mrs Midgely was spreading so very shocking.
It certainly was a very strange, distressing business. This morning poor Flora was still suffering from nervousness and headache, and Dido's resolve to silence Mrs Midgely and save Mr Lansdale from a dangerous slander was compounded as much of compassion as a strong desire for justice.
But, as she walked, she had to confess to herself that there might be another, secondary motive which was rather less virtuous. She could not help but feel it would be very pleasant indeed to have something to think about! For the unaccustomed leisure of the past week had left her mind quite remarkably empty.
It was, she acknowledged, extremely kind of her cousin to invite her to Richmond. For, although Flora had been considerate enough to solicit her company as a favour and to represent herself as in need of a companion while her husband was absent on business, Dido knew that the visit was intended to be a holiday. And never had she been more in need of a holiday; for the past winter had been spent attending upon a very young, very nervous sister-in-law and her new and sickly child.
However, Dido was beginning to suspect that unmarried women who were past their youth were not constitutionally suited to holidays and that the usual system of employing them to their families' advantage as temporary, unsalaried nurses, governesses and nursery maids had more kindness in it than she had previously supposed.
While she had been in Hampshire, though Henrietta had been a no more rational companion than Flora, Dido had had little time to spare from the demands of colic and red-gum and the leaking of melting snow into the pantry, to notice the deficiency.
Here, in the luxury of Flora's summer villa, she was nearer to suffering from ennui than she had ever been in her life before – and had, furthermore, too much time in which to remember the many perfections of Mr Lomax.
She stopped. She was come now to the substantial, red-brick bulk of the Lansdale's house, and its closed shutters, its weedless gravel sweep and its sombre cedar tree seemed to throw an air of mourning across the hot afternoon. The gateposts were topped with imposing urns of stone and, on the left-hand post, there was a very fine, very new sign with the name of Knaresborough House carved in thick black letters. It looked remarkably respectable, and to imagine a murder taking place in such a house was all but impossible.
Excerpted from A Gentleman of Fortune Or, the Suspicions of Miss Dido Kent by Anna Dean. Copyright © 2009 Anna Dean. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
This is ANNA DEAN's second novel. She resides in the Lake District of England.
ANNA DEAN began writing early on under the impression that everyone was taught to do so in order to pen books. By the time she discovered her mistake, the habit was too deeply ingrained to give up. The author of Bellfield Hall, A Gentleman of Fortune, A Woman of Consequence, and A Place of Confinement, Dean lives in England.
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Love this historical mystery series! Can't wait for the next!
Anna Dean is a wonderful author in the historical mystery genre. This book is the sequel to Bellfield Hall and I recommend reading that book first, though this could stand alone. It is well-written and very entertaining. The characters are well-developed and very likeable as you delve into their life through this story. You are kept hopping with the twists and turns and revelation of secrets. A great read!
In 1806 in Richmond, Miss Dido Kent sends a detailed letter to her sister Eliza re the death of Mrs. Lansdale, who passed away suddenly from a seizure. Odious Mrs. Midgely spreads the rumor of a suspicious death using the local apothecary as her evidence of foul play She also her casts doubts about the late woman's nephew Henry Lansdale. Dido's cousin Flora is upset with what she deems slander as she and her husband claim Henry as a friend. Over the objection of her suitor Mr. William Lomax, Miss Dido decides to observe the townsfolk in order to determine if one of them killed the elderly Mrs. Lansdale although she still believes natural causes took the woman's life. Miss Dido is stunned by what she learns by just watching the residents as she finds everyone especially the aristocracy tries to conceal dark secrets that have nothing to do with the death of a respectable woman. The second wonderful Anna a Dean Regency amateur sleuth (see Bellfield Hall) is much more than just a mystery as the observations and "The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent" makes for a delightful period piece. Character driven, readers will enjoy observing the heroine shining a deep light on the darkest secrets of the Ton and others. Harriet Klausner