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"Mama, please don't worry about me. I am perfectly happy living here with you. When dear Jack died at Talevera three years ago he left me with a comfortable income and a determination never to marry again.'
Lady Bryson shook her head, unconvinced by her daughter's protestations. 'My dear girl, you were married out of the cradle, the major snatched you away from me before you had even a season. Good heavens, Patience, you are hardly in your dotage, you are only three and twenty and a beautiful young lady. It is high time you went back into society and found yourself another husband.'
Patience had heard quite enough of this nonsense recently. She pinned a smile to her face, pushing back a stray russet curl from her forehead.
"Mama, I have told you repeatedly that with Jack I had a perfect marriage.' She paused, her smile becoming sad. 'Of course, we were not blessed with children, but apart from that there is not a man on this earth who could match him. I shall not settle for second best.'
She watched her mother draw breath knowing she was about to embark on yet another reason why being a contented widow was not enough. 'Very well. As you are so insistent that I am mouldering away in this village I shall accept the invitation of my godmother and go and stay for the season at their London house.'
"My dear, I am so pleased to have changed your mind. Lady Orpington is not well and as her daughter Rosamond is to make her come out, she is in need of a companion for her.' The small, plump, lady jumped with surprising agility to her feet. 'I shall go at once and write a letter to dear Eleanor and tell her that you are coming immediately.'
Patience laughed. 'I hopeby your use of the word immediately you're referring to the writing of the letter and not my imminent departure to London?'
"You do not intend to go for the festive season? It is so quiet here; you would be much better enjoying yourself with people your own age. You have been out of black for more than two years it is high time you rejoined society.'
Patience was adamant. 'No, Mama, I shall stay here for Christmas and travel in the New Year. The season does not really start until March which should give me ample time to replenish my wardrobe and get to know Lady Rosamond.'
Lady Bryson accepted defeat. 'Well, my dear, I must own that I shall enjoy your company. I am sure that Eleanor will send her carriage for you so you may rest assured, your journey will be comfortable.'
"There is no need for that, Mama. I shall take the mail coach. As I shall be travelling with Mary and Sam Perkins, I shall come to no harm.'
"I can see that you have made up your mind so shall say no more about it. If you are travelling with a maid and a manservant you should be safe enough. I shall have the missive ready in thirty minutes. If you delay your ride until it is finished you could take it down to The Red Lion for me.'
Patience agreed to wait until the letter was done. She had been about to take her huge black gelding for a gallop through the woods whilst the weather was clement and was already dressed in a handsome, green riding-habit that exactly matched the colour of her eyes. She tapped her booted foot on the carpet feeling decidedly put out.
When she had returned to live with her mother in the comfortable Dower House, she had thought she would never recover from the loss of her dear friend and husband. She had spent four years following the drum and had loved every moment of it. She had nursed wounded officers and even delivered a baby. Her life had been full of excitement and wherever the regiment had gone, she had been there.
The widow of a common soldier was often remarried before her husband was cold in his grave for she would have been unable to stay in camp on her own. The wife of the commanding officer, as her husband had been by then, did not have such an option. She was obliged to make her way home with Mary and Sam to recover slowly in the peace of the Suffolk countryside.
Now she was obliged to spend several months in London escorting a young debutante, of seventeen years, to various routs, soirees and balls. She frowned, shuddering at the thought of being constrained to make polite small talk to other matrons and companions. She thanked God that as a widow she would not be required to join in the jollity and dancing.
She spun and paced the room, ending in front of the gilt mantle-glass. At least she could put on her hat whilst she waited. She stared at her reflection in the mirror her head to one side. Her mother was right, she seemed to have grown into her looks since she had returned to England. She had lost the roundness of youth and her spectacular emerald eyes appeared to dominate the oval of her face.
This would not do. The last thing she required was to be admired by members of the ton. She was not wealthy, not by her godmother's standards, but she was comfortable and owned a neat estate in Norfolk which brought her in more than enough for her modest monthly needs. She had not touched the money Jack had left her; indeed she had no idea how matters stood in that department. Her lips curved slightly. At least her visit to Town would enable her to see her lawyers.
She heard hurrying footsteps approaching the room. Good--her mother was returning with the letter. She pushed the final glass topped pin into her hat, collected her gloves and riding whip and went to meet her.
Grosvenor Square, London
Lady Orpington put down the note from her oldest friend with a sigh of satisfaction. She looked across at the pretty, blonde girl curled up in a deep-seated chair, her nose firmly in the latest Gothic romance.
"Rosamond, my dear, Mrs Sinclair has agreed to join us and act as your companion. Is that not excellent news?'
The girl glanced up from her book, keeping her finger on the line she was reading. 'Mama, I do not see the necessity of employing a companion when you are quite capable of doing the job yourself.'
"I have told you my health has been a trifle uncertain of late and I should hate to ruin your come out by being unable to accompany you. And the thought of organising your ball is too fatiguing. And Mrs Sinclair is not an employee; she will be an honoured guest. She has agreed to help me out of the kindness of her heart because I am her godmother.'
"Have you asked Simon if he minds?'
"Your brother might be the head of the family, but I am his mother and I do not have to ask permission to invite my goddaughter to stay. She was married to Colonel Sinclair, a hero of the Peninsula, for several years and has been a widow for three. Simon will hardly consider her arrival as a threat to his freedom.'
Rosamond giggled, her blonde ringlets bouncing around her heart-shaped face. 'I hope that you are correct, Mama. Remember he threatened to send you to moulder at his estate in Hertfordshire if you attempted any more matchmaking.'
"Matchmaking? If I had any such notion in mind, I should not be looking in the direction of a widow who had spent her entire married life racketing all over Portugal and Spain. But, dear Simon, is the last of the line and he will be thirty on his next name day. It is high time he set up his nursery.'
"And so you tell him almost every time he dares to venture into our side of the house.' She yawned, tossing her book aside. 'Anyway, I am delighted she is coming; it will be lovely to have someone nearer my own age to talk to. I am going to find myself another book at the circulating library. Would you like to come with me?'
"No, thank you, I wish to speak to Cook about the menus for next week.' Lady Orpington called her daughter back. 'Rosamond, would you be so kind as to pull the bell strap for me? I shall ask Bentley to convey a message to Simon. He should have finished dressing by now.'
"It rather depends on exactly what time he returned home last night. Now Parliament is no longer in session he has no reason to rise early.'
"In that case I shall be sure to find him in his apartments.'
Simon, Lord Orpington, a peer of the realm, scowled at his valet. 'Good grief! Another bear-garden jaw from my dear mother. I wonder what it is I have done to offend her delicate sensibilities this time.'
"Lady Rosamond was laughing when she left the drawing-room so I doubt you have anything to worry about, my lord.'
Simon relaxed a little. It never failed to astonish him how the servants always knew what any of them were doing. 'I am relieved to hear that. No, my stock will do. I shall go directly to Lady
Orpington; I am intrigued as to why I have had such an urgent summons.'
His valet stood aside, allowing him to stand, before holding out his navy blue superfine coat. As Simon shrugged his way into the garment he caught a glimpse of himself reflected in the tall window. He drew in his stomach and squared his shoulders. Was he letting himself go? Did he no longer have the musculature of an athlete?
When he had been forced to return from his position with the Duke of Wellington, on the death, four years previously, of both his brother and father, he had been battle hard. His wits were as sharp as his sword. He feared the life he was living was not conducive to a healthy body. He must consider his options. His estates were well run in his absence, but would be even better if he spent more than a week or so in residence.
He was bored. He found civilian life flat and even the cut and thrust of debate in the House of Lords could not replace the excitement of his time as an aid to Wellington. He sighed. There was nothing he could do about matters, he could not rejoin his regiment, he had responsibilities. He was the last of his line as his dear mama kept reminding him.
"I shall be back before I go out, Roberts. I shall need my driving coat.'
He strode from the room ignoring the two footmen who leapt to attention as he passed. He had not spoken to his mother for several days which was remiss of him. His rooms were situated on the right of the grand entrance hall his mother and sister occupied the rest of the house. He paused outside the drawing-room waiting for the butler, Bentley, to hurry forward and open the doors.
He smiled as he saw his mother dozing in front of the fire. He loved her dearly and if only she would refrain from mentioning matrimony every time he appeared at her side, he would visit her more often.
"Mama, you wish to see me?'
Not at all discommoded by being found asleep in front of the fire Lady Orpington smiled warmly at her remaining son. 'I have asked for coffee to be served as soon as you joined me.' She patted the space next to her on the sofa. 'Please, Simon, come and sit here. There is something I wish to ask you.'
His heart sunk and he wished he had not been so eager to call. He knew what was coming; she had another hopeful young debutante to throw at his head. Would she never learn? He had no intention of getting leg-shackled in the foreseeable future and certainly not to any of the whey faced, simpering schoolgirls his mother appeared to think suitable to be the next countess.
"I cannot stay long, I am sorry, Mama, I have an appointment elsewhere.' He strolled to the window and perched himself in the deep embrasure. He crossed his long, booted legs at the ankles, frowning as he detected a speck of dust on the toe.
"You need not look so cross, my dear; I do not break my promises. I have not asked you here to discuss anything you should dislike.'
Simon felt an unpleasant heat colour his cheeks and his stock felt unaccountably tight. 'I apologise, Mama; I should be delighted to have some coffee with you.' He walked over to join her, loving the way she accepted his apology without comment. 'Well, what is it you wish to ask me?' Whatever it was he knew, after his rudeness, he would be inclined to agree.
"I have invited my goddaughter, Mrs Sinclair, to oversee your sister's come out. She was married for several years to Colonel Sinclair but sadly he was killed at Talevera. Her mother, my dearest friend, Lady Bryson, has been worried about her daughter. It is three years since she was made a widow and Lady Bryson believes it is high time Mrs Sinclair rejoined the world. By asking her to help with Rosamond I am assisting both Lady Bryson and myself. I was rather dreading having to organise the ball. And you know what your sister is like, she will wish to attend every party that she is invited to, as well as attending the opera and theatre. My heart sinks at the very thought of all that activity.'
"I met Colonel Sinclair once. He was a good man. I think it is an excellent idea, you have my full approval. When is Mrs Sinclair coming to join us?'
"Not until after the festive season; she wishes to spend Christmas at home, but she will be here in the New Year.'
The coffee tray arrived and the conversation turned to other topics. When Simon left to return to his own domain he had almost forgotten why he had been summoned. The arrival of Colonel Sinclair's widow was of no interest to him. She must be in her thirties, Sinclair had been at least ten years his senior. For once he was in full agreement with his mother. Rosamond could be a handful, having an older friend would be a steadying influence on her.
In the drawing-room his mother was equally satisfied with the encounter. She had not exactly misled her son, merely allowed him to assume that dear Patience was ten years older than she actually was. She smiled. This time she truly believed she had found exactly the right person for her finicky son for if anyone had been misnamed it was the auburn haired, green-eyed, fiery tempered Patience Sinclair.