Lady Elizabeth Townshend was the second child of five, daughter of the Lord Townshend, Marquess of Leicester. As befits the daughter of a Marquess, she was gentle, handsome, and very accomplished. Throughout the countryside, Lady Elizabeth was renowned for her skill at painting, drawing, embroidery, dancing, conversation, and, most especially, her masterful piano playing and exquisite singing. She passed her days industriously, was charitable to the poor, and was a perfect child and sister.
In short, Lady Elizabeth was all that one could hope for in a young lady of high standing, but for one flaw: she was acutely shy. For that flaw, she knew she was destined to a life of spinsterhood.
Despite everything that should recommend her to men of equally high rank looking for a wife, in all her twenty and five years, none had ever approached her. Her younger sister Harriet had been married for two years already, and their youngest sister Charlotte was preparing for her upcoming nuptials; yet Elizabeth’s hand was unsought. After attempting to penetrate the lovely heiress’s reticent shell, hopeful suitor after hopeful suitor had grown quickly discouraged and given up, turning to more gregarious recipients of their advances. Finally, her reputation was firmly established, and none but the most forward of rakes sought her company.
This, of course, humiliated the poor girl further into reservation. How it did shame her that she was only sought by money-hungry men eager to prove their adeptness in wooing women by acquiring as a trophy the least likely to be wooed of them all!
So Lady Elizabeth, with an admirable display of self control, pushed hopes of matrimony from her mind and settled herself with contentment on the prospect of becoming an old maid.
“Elizabeth, would you come to the window? I want your opinion on something,” Charlotte Townsend requested of her eldest sister.
“What is it, dear?” Elizabeth inquired, laying aside her embroidery and rising to join her sister at the floor-length window.
The girl nodded toward the driveway beneath them, where an ornate carriage was pulling to a stop in front of the door. “Do you recognize the carriage, Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth thought for a moment before replying, “No, Charlotte, I do not.”
Lady Leicester took interest in her daughters’ bemusement and joined them at the window; yet, with all their minds combined, they still could not discern the origin of the carriage. Some seconds later, the occupants descended, leaving the ladies inside the house still full of speculation as to their guests’ identities. The mother and daughters resumed their occupations as the servants ushered an unfamiliar young man and woman into the sitting room.
“The Viscount Chelmsford and Lady Chelmsford,” the servant announced the visitors as the ladies rose in courtesy.
“Forgive our unexpected visit, your Ladyship,” the young man addressed Lady Leicester. “We are but newly arrived in the neighborhood and wished to return your husband’s visit of yesterday.”
From the cut of his dark blonde hair, the sparkle in his clear blue eyes, the quirk of his lips, and his posture, all of which Elizabeth observed in the first minutes of his presence in the room, she immediately ascertained that he was quite self-confident, was well aware of his good looks, and probably an unabashed flirt. His sister, on the other hand, though equally good-looking, seemed exceedingly warm and friendly. Elizabeth hoped Charlotte would become good friends with her, though she doubted her own ability to form a friendship in the short amount of time the Chelmsford siblings planned to stay in the neighborhood.
“May I ask what is the happy circumstance that has brought you here to our beloved Leicester?” Lady Leicester inquired of the young people.
“You may indeed, your ladyship,” Lady Margaret Chelmsford laughed, “for it is no secret. My father, who is an old friend of your husband’s, I believe, grows tired of my brother’s flirtations and frolics in town and hoped that relocating to this good neighborhood, under my careful supervision, might cure him of his philandering ways.”
“Indeed?” asked Lady Charlotte with interest, for she took great interest in observing all kinds of people and had few opportunities at home to observe such a man.
“Yes, I assure you I am quite the flirt,” Lord Chelmsford agreed. He reclined rather grandly in his chair, with a lock of blonde hair falling leisurely over his forehead. “I have been told I have almost ruined the reputations of several young ladies.”
“Edward, dear, how will I ever succeed in reforming you while you persist in boasting about such things?” his sister chided with fondness. “Be assured, my Lady, your daughters are safe from my brother. I promise to keep sharp watch over him, and my father has given me his word that I may use any means necessary to make dear Edward into the model of propriety.” This last part she addressed more to her brother than to the other ladies, earning a wink from him and a smile from Lady Charlotte.
“Ah, but Maggie, how sweet it is to think you can control me,” Lord Chelmsford said, tweaking her sleeve playfully.
Lady Leicester observed her guests with the softness in her eyes always found when she observed happy families, for her own childhood had held little affection and warmth. “Thank you for your reassurance, Lady Chelmsford.”
The Lady interrupted her. “Please, call me Margaret. ‘Lady Chelmsford’ makes me feel dreadfully old and cross, and I do so like to be merry. Besides, I hope we shall all become great friends.”
“And call me Edward,if you please,” her brother requested. “I do so dislike to stand on formality.”
Lady Leicester inclined her head. “Thank you, Margaret, for your concern, but I assure you that I have no fear for my daughters. You see, Charlotte here is engaged to be married in a month, my daughter Harriet is already wed, and my dear Elizabeth is the pinnacle of virtue. My daughters are safe from the Lord Chelmsford.”
Elizabeth, who was working on an intricate embroidery, blushed as her mother spoke of her, both gratified and humiliated; for she was certain Lord Edward Chelmsford, like others before him, would now look on her as a challenge to be bested. She unfortunately glanced up at that moment and met the eyes of Lord Chelmsford as he briefly turned them toward her with his mouth open, prepared to reply. In that brief moment, she silently prayed, “Please, sir, do not make this moment any worse for me,” and perhaps he read something of her prayer in her eyes, for Edward Chelmsford for the first time in his life closed his mouth and refrained from speaking in jest.
“Indeed?” Margaret remarked, smiling upon Elizabeth and Charlotte. “Then I am sure we shall be friends. Lady Elizabeth, may I see what you are embroidering?” she asked sweetly. Elizabeth hardly knew how to refuse, so she stuttered an agreement and handed the project to her new acquaintance, who examined it with a sharp eye before proclaiming, “I have scarce seen finer work than this anywhere! Pray tell, is this design a copy or of your own invention? For I would love to attempt the pattern myself, though I could never do so fine a job as you have.”
“It–it is my–my own, Lady Margaret,” Elizabeth replied, wishing desperately for a complexion that was not so easily reddened.
“She is making it for my wedding gown,” Charlotte supplied, coming to her sister’s aid. “And I am glad you see the skill of Elizabeth’s work, for she is indeed the most skilled in the county, if not the country. Your approval shows your good taste, Margaret.”
“Oh! I would not dream of copying it, then, if it is for your wedding gown. Do tell me, what pattern shall the gown be cut in?”
For the next quarter of an hour, Charlotte and Margaret conversed eagerly about fabrics, styles, and trims, until at length Edward reminded his sister that they expected company for tea and the siblings rose to leave. The two families parted company with assurances of mutual goodwill and promises to meet again soon.
“Now, brother, you must promise me you will leave the lovely Lady Elizabeth alone while we are here,” Margaret said to her brother when they were safely in their carriage.
“Lady Elizabeth? Maggie, I assure you I hardly looked at the girl the whole time we were there,” Edward raised his eyebrows.
Margaret scrutinized his face. “I heard what Payton said about her reputation as unconquerable, and I know you like challenges. Please, Eddy, I beg you, let Lady Elizabeth be one challenge you do not attempt. Her timidity is not coyness or false modesty, and I really think she feels it deeply when rascals such as you and Payton treat her as a game. Really, I must insist on your word.”
Edward sighed and looked his sister in the eyes. “Honestly, you have my word. Do you want to know the real reason I agreed to Father’s demand that I spend the season here with you? I grow tired of endless lines of stupid, empty-minded girls with no more sense than a clucking hen. My games weary me. Leicester shall be for me a reprieve from folly and simpering.
“And besides,” he added softly. “Lady Elizabeth seems…different from the London girls. She is not one whose heart I would interfere with.”
In the midmorning, Lady Elizabeth was out for a walk in the gardens. She was quietly reflecting on the ethereal beauty of the sunlight upon the rose bushes when her meditations were interrupted by Lady Margaret’s voice.
“Lady Elizabeth! How glad I am to find you at last. When your mother said you were in the gardens, I little imagined how vast an area I would have to search for you,” Margaret laughed as she approached.
“Lady Margaret,” Elizabeth greeted her with confusion. Her mother knew she liked to spend her morning walk in solitude, so it must have been a great matter to induce her to send a mere acquaintance out to find her.
“Do not be angry with me for disturbing you, dear Lady,” Margaret said with contrition. ”I only came because I seek your aid. I received an invitation this morning to the Vaughans’ ball, and I am in dreadful need of your help in acquiring materials for my gown! Would you be a dear and give me your assistance?” she entreated with a pleading face.
Elizabeth hesitated, and then nodded her agreement.
“Thank you, my dear Lady Elizabeth,” she said, taking her arm. “Now, where are we to go first?”
“I suppose…Mr. Hodge’s shop? They have a very good selection of fabrics and trims,” Elizabeth said cautiously. Fear of leading Margaret to a merchant with a poor assortment of goods embraced her with hesitation.
“Then lead on,” Margaret said blithely. “I will follow your good judgement, for I hear of your superb taste.”
After informing Lady Leicester of their excursion, the Ladies Elizabeth and Margaret walked the short distance to Mr. Hodge’s shop, where they examined his selection of fabrics and trims. Elizabeth was quite bewildered at the extent to which Margaret relied on her opinion, asking her about the slightest detail and paying close attention to her quiet, stuttered replies. Then, after Margaret finally chose the material for her dress and requested that it be sent to Mrs. Chalcroft, the best local dressmaker, Elizabeth realized what Margaret was about. As the girls left the shop and headed to the dressmaker’s to choose a pattern and have Margaret’s measurements taken, Margaret linked arms with Elizabeth, a gesture of familiarity and friendship that was as unexpected as it was deeply appreciated.
Margaret was making a purposeful effort to befriend Lady Elizabeth. The latter, upon realizing her intention, felt nothing but the deepest thanks toward her new acquaintance. Where she had thought her warm and friendly at first, she now discovered that she had underestimated Lady Margaret’s kindness. Perhaps her and her brother’s stay in Leicester would not be too short a length to develop a friendship, after all.
~ ~ ~
Having paid her respects to the hosts and greeted her few friends, Elizabeth took a seat beside her mother and aunt, whose family was visiting until Charlotte’s wedding. From her seat, she could both attend to her relatives’ conversation and observe well the dancing. This she considered highly Providencial, for though she took great pleasure in dancing, she was rarely afforded the opportunity. In such gatherings where men were fewer than women, few took care to ask to stand up with her when there were more forthcoming partners to be had readily. She was resigned to enjoy the sight of fine dancing, and did so indeed for the first set, after which Charlotte and her partner for the first two dances and fiance, Mr. Cecil Bisshopp, joined her to rest from their activity for a short time. Their company did not last long, for they quickly found partners with whom to dance the next few sets.
In the pause before the last set preceding refreshments, Mr. Bisshopp and Charlotte again found their way to Elizabeth, whom they with sisterly and brotherly affection endeavored to amuse.
Mr. Bisshopp was just beginning to recount to the girls about his most recent trip to London, from which he had only returned the previous day, when he was politely interrupted by the approach of Lord Chelmsford. He bowed before them and said, “Good evening, Lady Elizabeth, Lady Charlotte.”
“Lord Chelmsford,” Charlotte nodded. “Allow me to introduce my fiance, Mr. Bisshopp.”
“My Lord,” Mr. Bisshopp said.
“Sir,” Edward replied, before saying, “Lady Elizabeth, I was wondering, if you are not engaged, if you would honor me by being my partner for the next set?”
The suddenness of her new acquaintance’s appearance, coupled with the honor of being asked by him to dance and the instinctual disquiet over what people would think of her dancing with this newcomer to their society, caused Elizabeth’s cheeks to heat rather quickly, which only served to heighten her natural beauty and innocence. “I–I would be honored, my Lord,” she said softly with some hesitation.
Just then, the music began. With a nod at Charlotte and Mr. Bisshopp, Lord Chelmsford extended his hand to Lady Elizabeth and led her to join the line of couples.
“Do you like dancing, Lady Elizabeth?” Edward asked Elizabeth as they awaited their turn to join the dancing.
“Yes, very much.”
He gave her what she thought was a concerned look. “Are you feeling well tonight, my Lady?”
Her expression turned confused, for she could think of nothing that would have suggested to him that she felt anything other than perfectly well. “Yes, quite well, my Lord.”
His brow smoothed and he smiled. “I am glad to hear it. I suppose you are wondering why I asked. Given your professed love for the activity, I wondered why you have not yet danced tonight. Are there so many unpleasant men requesting you as a partner?”
He had noticed that she did not dance. She blushed again. “No, my Lord.”
The dancing reached them, making conversation more difficult. Lord Chelmsford, Elizabeth was relieved to find, was pleased to dance without speaking until the end of the song some fifteen minutes later.
Her relief was moderated when he resumed their previous conversation immediately. “I am intrigued. Do tell me, what reason could a lovely young lady such as yourself, who enjoys dancing, have for sitting down the whole evening?”
She hated her complexion again for being outside of her control. Quietly, so he could barely hear her above the din of the room, she answered, “One cannot dance if one does not have a partner.”
This he took thoughtfully. Before he could ask any more uncomfortable questions, her desperation to not be further embarrassed emboldened her to put forth a remark about the size of the room, in hopes that the conversation might be changed to more impersonal subjects.
To her consternation, Edward laughed aloud, turning the heads of several nearby. “So that is how you would like it. Very well, Lady Elizabeth, I will refrain from questioning you any further. Forgive my impertinence,” he smiled at her.
There was a touch of something genuine in his smile and laugh, so that Elizabeth felt instinctively that she could trust him this night as a friend. It was enough to cause her to relax, and a small portion of her reservation was put away for the night.
~ ~ ~
When the gentlemen joined the ladies after supper, the Vaughans’ guests gathered around their pianoforte for music. Elizabeth’s performance was immediately requested, and she graciously complied, singing and playing a sweet Italian tune with utmost perfection.
It was around one in the morning when the party broke up and the guests went home. Elizabeth and Charlotte quietly agreed on what a pleasant evening it had been, and then each sister’s thoughts turned to the more particularly enjoyable parts of the evening.
Lord Chelmsford and Lady Margaret’s carriage was the scene of greater conversation. “So, Brother, what think you of our new neighbors and their parties?” Margaret asked Edward.
“I think them very agreeable people. You were fortunate in your choice for our vacation, Sister,” the Lord replied.
“I noticed you danced every dance,” she teased him.
He smiled. “That is to be expected, when there are more gentlemen than ladies. Are you not glad I am following proper etiquette?”
Margaret returned his smile with great fondness. “Indeed, I am. Already Leicester is improving you, Edward.”
“So it would seem, Maggie.”
“I also noticed that you were my friend Lady Elizabeth’s partner for the only dances she danced,” Margaret said slyly. She had indeed been observing her brother throughout the evening, and had carefully planned her articulation of this particular observation for a moment that would guarantee that Edward would reveal the most of his feelings.
She knew her brother well. He was silent for a moment, turning his gaze to the darkened window of their carriage. She allowed him time to think, and was rewarded for her patience when he said solemnly, “Lady Elizabeth…intrigues me. I desire to know her better.”
Making her tone light, Margaret put a hand on her brother’s arm. “I am glad to hear it. I am so fond of Lady Elizabeth, and would dearly love to see her brought out more. We must set an example for others and make the effort to befriend her.”
“Indeed,” was Edward’s only reply.
Delia Rosse, one of Charlotte’s best friends, arrived early to discuss the previous night’s festivities in detail with the ladies of the house. Elizabeth was mostly quiet, although she did periodically provide, on being questioned, a detail about a specific gown’s trimmings or the number of dances danced by a certain pair.
“Lord Chelmsford and Lady Margaret were very fine and pleasing,” Delia at last introduced the county’s newest arrivals to the discussion. “I did not personally dance with Lord Chelmsford, but Arabella Daventry stood up with him for a set and found him quite charming, and anyone with eyes can see how handsome he is. Elizabeth, you danced with him, did you not?”
“I did,” she replied, confused as to why she was blushing.
“What did you think of him?” her aunt inquired.
“I–I thought him very agreeable, and a rather astute observer,” was Elizabeth’s honest answer.
The younger girls, her mother, and her aunt looked at her with curiosity. Charlotte gently prodded, “How so?”
“I very carefully attempted to move our conversation away from a topic I found somewhat uncomfortable for myself, and he noticed my intention immediately,” Elizabeth remembered. “However, he was kind, and after noticing my motive, he obliged me in a change of topic.”
“Oh, he seems like the perfect gentleman!” Delia exclaimed. “How fortunate you are engaged to Mr. Bisshopp, Charlotte, for if you were unattached, neither I nor any other lady in ten miles should have a chance at winning Lord Chelmsford,” she acknowledged the well-known truth of Charlotte’s beauty and the fortune of all the Townshend daughters. Charlotte, in maidenly humility, was always hesitant to believe her friends’ praises of her beauty. In response to Delia’s compliment, she simply smiled, shook her head, and let the conversation continue.
“Delia, I would advise you not to be so hasty in your pursuit of Lord Chelmsford,” Lady Leicester cautioned. “From what his sister and even he himself have said to us, though it may have been in jest, I gather that our new acquaintance is a rather wild sort of man. It seems he delights in near-scandal, and has no serious thought of settling down or marrying. He is, in general, such a rake, that their sojourn in our county appears to have been ordered by his father, in hopes of reforming him.”
To this, Delia replied with devilish humor that she might like to attempt to tame an infamous rake, and that, if she could not do so, she would at least have the fortune of being a woman heartbroken by unrequited love. Charlotte laughed at Delia’s ridiculous assertions, knowing her friend’s temper. Elizabeth was more concerned that behind Delia’s jesting lay some truth. She thought with a furrowed brow of what to say in gentle warning, but before she came to any satisfactory conclusion on wording, their conversation had so moved forward that for her to speak would be out of place.
So they continued, until the hour came for receiving and paying visits. Promptly at noon, Lord Chelmsford and Lady Margaret themselves arrived at the Townshends’ house. Lady Leicester introduced them to Delia, who, according to manners, then took her leave of them, and then offered the guests tea and light refreshments.
As the six found and resumed their seats, Edward found a seat next to Elizabeth. His purpose in doing so was not, as she at first hypothesized, to make her uncomfortable and highly aware of his presence; for, after the first general conversation with the other occupants of the room was made, he turned to her and said, “Lady Elizabeth, I have a favor to request of you.”
Her surprise at his declaration could hardly have been more had he dropped to the floor and pantomimed a circus monkey in their drawing room. “Of me, my Lord?” she asked.
He smiled kindly. “Indeed, of you, and of no other. You see, for a long while now I have desired to be able to play the pianoforte, but have had not the time nor the teacher. I now find myself with ample leisure time in which to learn the instrument, and so the lack of a teacher is the only remaining impediment. Upon hearing your performance last night, your skill and talent, which surpass any I have ever witnessed, struck my by their beauty, simplicity, and taste, and I decided at that moment to bring myself humbly to your feet and beg that you would lower yourself to be my teacher. Does this proposal appeal to you?”
Margaret saw that her new friend was too taken aback to respond then. “Come now, Eddie, be a gentleman and give Lady Elizabeth time enough to consider your request before pressing her to respond to it!” she chided with a laugh. “Forgive my brother’s crude manners, Lady Elizabeth. He has had but poor training, for all his fine schools, it would appear! Now, Lady Charlotte, I so admired your gown last night. Forgive my curiosity, but however do you stay so abreast of the current fashions when you live such a distance from London?”
Most of the remainder of their half-hour visit was passed with inconsequential pleasantries, enabling Elizabeth sufficient time to ponder Edward’s request. When she came to a decision, she watched the clock with growing anxiety, lest their visit conclude before she gather the courage to express her decision.
Edward seemed to sense her apprehension. When he was not engaged in conversation, he looked at her long enough for her to intimate she wished to speak. “My Lord,” she said, hoping for courage to go through with her decision, “if I may, I have decided.”
“And what is your decision?” he replied, his soft tone matching hers.
“I request…a trade of skill. I will teach you to play the pianoforte. In return…I have always wished to know how to ride a horse. Would you–that is, would you perhaps be willing to teach me horseriding?” Elizabeth colored deeply, half ashamed at her forwardness, half amazed that she had actually voiced her desire.
Edward’s briefly unreadable face sent her stomach into calisthenics. Suppose he thought her indecent for suggesting such a thing? Then a smile broke out on his face, reaching into his eyes and quelling her fear significantly. “I think it is a wonderful idea,” he approved. “You have heard, then, others praise my riding. So it shall be, two masters become tutors and students by their turns. When shall we begin?”
“Are you…would you be at leisure after breakfast in three days?” She thought that would be sufficient time for her to devise a scheme of lessons in preparation.
“Tuesday morning,” he said thoughtfully. “Yes, I believe so. Shall we begin with music on Tuesday, and riding on Thursday, if you have no other engagement?”
Elizabeth nodded and rewarded him with a timid smile.
When Tuesday morning dawned with the look of rain, Elizabeth thought Lord Chelmsford might not come for their first lesson. Charlotte affirmed this suspicion, saying that surely he would not risk being caught in the rain.
Despite their predictions, at ten o’clock, Lord Chelmsford was announced. “Good morning,” he greeted the women. “I am sorry to disturb you on this gloomy morning, but I have engaged Lady Elizabeth for my first lesson and was loath to miss it.”
“Were you not wetted by the rain?” Lady Leicester asked in concern.
“But a very little bit, your Ladyship,” he assured the matron. “It is only a very fine mist.”
Despite his statement, Lady Leicester’s disquiet about his health was not assuaged. Nothing could content her, her sister, or Charlotte but ordering for him tea and gruel and placing a seat for him just by the fire. He cheerfully obliged them in their attentions, while protesting to their necessity altogether. When the ladies were finally convinced he was not in danger of taking ill from such minor dampness, he turned to Elizabeth, who had remained at the edge of the female activity, hovering in the distance with a drawn brow and hands ready to accomplish any task asked of her. “Lady Elizabeth,” Edward said, “I now give myself into your hands. Teach me as you will, for I am your humble servant.”
“I–I–the room is–that is, I did not prepare the room…” she trailed off. She would not be overcome by this circumstance, she decided; she would remember her lesson plans and act with dignity and ease, as befitted a Marquess’s daughter; she was determined. “Mother, may Lord Chelmsford and I have use of the pianoforte this morning?” she asked.
“You may, dear. Lady Leeds,” she said to Elizabeth’s aunt, “would you accompany the young people for the time being? I have some urgent correspondence to see to, or I should do so myself.”
“Of course, Charlotte,” the Duchess of Leeds obliged. “It will be no trouble at all. I have a bit of needlework I have been meaning to see to that will do very well to keep me industrious.” She bustled out of the room in search of her needlework, muttering as she went.
Elizabeth’s insides flew into a frenzy of anxiety. Until now, she had yet to allow herself to think upon the execution of their agreement. Now, with the moment of beginning upon them, she was suddenly afraid. She would have to spend rather much time in the presence of Lord Chelmsford, whose acquaintance she had barely made, and would, undoubtedly, be expected to speak rather more than she was accustomed to speak. The prospect was so daunting, she nearly fled the room. Flight, however, would be too bold of an action, and so Elizabeth took the only course left to her. She took a couple deep breaths, folded her shaking hands in her lap, and raised her blue eyes to find Edward watching her.
History taught her that she should have been exceeding discomfited by his gaze; yet the way the corners of his eyes squinted in a kind smile had an unusually calming effect. For all his reputation as a rogue, his countenance was entirely free of flirtation or affectation, reassuring her that, for once, there was a young man who did not see her merely as a challenging prize to flaunt if he won her.
“Yes,” she said in a tiny voice, barely shaking as she rose from her chair. “Come over to the pianoforte.”
He obliged readily, following her to stand beside the instrument and carefully place a hand on its top when she set down at the bench. “I may as yet know nothing of making it sing, but this is truly a lovely instrument,” he praised with sincerity. Elizabeth blushed and ran her fingers tenderly over the white keys. Softly, Edward asked, “Was it a gift?”
“From a suitor?” he prompted.
Heat flooded her cheeks, and she dared not look at him. “No, no,” she choked, alarmed by the idea. “My eldest brother, George, gave it to me.”
“Forgive me for my indelicate question,” he asked. “Your brother–he must be very special to you.”
“Yes,” she replied simply. George had been her closest companion until Harriet was old enough to walk, and the brother and sister had remained close in each other’s confidence ever since. The exquisite pianoforte had been a birthday present from him, a token of how well he knew her.
Lady Leeds returned then with her needlework, settling into a chair by the fire. “Go on with your lesson,” she urged loudly. “I shall be as quiet as a mouse. You will not even know I am here.”
Without further ado, the lessons began. “In music, there is an alphabet,” Elizabeth began. She found that if she kept her eyes on her fingers, she could speak with much more ease in Edward’s presence. “It is the first seven letters, A through G. Every white key makes one of these notes. Here in the center is the C key.” She pressed down on the key, sending a clear note through the room.
From her fireside chair, Elizabeth’s aunt interrupted. “Does he know how to read music?”
Elizabeth turned wide eyes to Lord Chelmsford. He shook his head, and Lady Leeds saw his response. “Hadn’t you best start with that?” she suggested. When Elizabeth opened her mouth, she added, “I think you had better.”
“Oh, yes, o-of course, Aunt,” she nodded, jumping off the bench and shuffling through the sheets inside. She wished she could stop flushing. “Here, my lord,” she smoothed out an uncomplicated piece which she had previously chosen for this first lesson, but which she had not planned on addressing until the lesson’s end. “Do you see this note, how the top of it rests against the bottom of the lowest line? Every note at this height is a D.” She hazarded a glance at him to see if he was comprehending.
“So, this mark,” he pointed to a note, “also means D?”
She nodded with a little smile.
“Does this little black mark that is D perchance correspond to what you said earlier about a musical alphabet?”
Lord Chelmsford’s quick observation warranted a wide smile from Elizabeth, and she dared to meet his eyes for several seconds. “Indeed, it does,” she answered. Lowering her gaze back to the sheet, she murmured with pleasure, “You are a fast learner.” Charlotte had been a much more sluggish student when Elizabeth taught her how to play.
“Do not forget to teach him the proper posture for his hands,” Lady Leeds interjected.
And so the lesson progressed, far from Elizabeth’s original plan. Her aunt would propose some topic of utmost importance for a new student, Elizabeth would promptly comply, growing increasingly agitated, and Edward would follow as best he could. By the conclusion of the hour, the poor girl was near tears. She could barely meet her pupil’s eyes for shame at her ineptitude as a teacher. Nonetheless, he thanked her most cordially before departing, adding, “And, so long as you still desire it, I shall see you two days hence for our first riding lesson.”
“I–I do,” she hurried to assure him. She did truly wish to ride horseback.
“Then farewell until Thursday, Lady Elizabeth,” he bowed, leaving her to meditate upon the day’s failures and to resolve to improve as a teacher.
“We do not have to do this, if you wish,” Elizabeth said, standing before the horse with wide eyes. With great force of will, she swallowed and took regular breaths.
“Nonsense. Of course I shall teach you, if you still desire to learn,” he said, giving her his attention.
She knew he could sense her forebodings. Learning to ride had seemed a brilliant idea at first, but the actuality of mounting the large beast left her highly uneasy at the prospect. She had to decide then if she would ever conquer her fear, or if she would be forever ruled by it and unable to ride. Edward’s willingness to persist at the pianoforte despite Lady Leeds’s interruptions emboldened her. He would find her equal to learning this skill. “What shall I do?” she inquired.
They began by becoming acquainted with the animal. He told her that a horse could perceive its rider’s spirits, and if she was anxious, it would become so. The most important thing was to stay calm in any circumstance.
“Take this cube of sugar and hold it out with your palm flat and your fingers together,” Edward instructed with a demonstration, adding that a treat for the horse would hasten the formation of their acquaintance.
Elizabeth nearly expected it to bite her hand, but the old mare which Lord Chelmsford had requested for their lessons was all gentleness. It turned its mellow brown eye to gaze upon her, munching on the sugar cube. “I do believe she likes you,” Edward interpreted.
Elizabeth was sufficiently comfortable by the end of the lesson that Edward helped her mount and ride back to the house while he led the mare at a slow, easy pace. After her first, quite awkward dismount, he assured her that practice would improve her grace. “You did extremely well today, Lady Elizabeth. I have no doubt that, in short time, you shall be a very accomplished horsewoman.”
“Thank you, Lord Chelmsford,” was all she could muster in reply. Quite inexplicably, though she had been at ease with him during the previous hour, her reticence returned in force and she found herself entirely bashful once more.
They planned for continuing the next week, Lady Leicester joined them with an invitation to tea for Lord Chelmsford, the gentleman was honored but declined on account of previous engagements, and bid the ladies farewell.
“The Chelmsfords are becoming good friends to you and Charlotte,” Lady Leicester observed.
“Yes. They are most kind,” Elizabeth agreed, following her mother inside. Before she joined Lady Leicester and Charlotte in the sitting room, she changed out of the riding habit borrowed from Delia Rosse until the seamstress completed her new habit.
Her sister, at work on a letter to her Mr. Bisshopp, who was away seeing to some last business matters before the wedding, greeted her when she entered the room. “How was your lesson, Elizabeth?”
Elizabeth sat at the table next to Charlotte and sipped her tea. “It went quite well, I think. Lord Chelmsford seemed pleased with my progress.”
“She rode in from the fields,” Lady Leicester supplemented Elizabeth’s modest response. “Her seat was very ladylike and elegant. Our Elizabeth will be a fine rider.”
Charlotte was pleased. “It does not surprise me. My sister is accomplished at everything she attempts.”
~ ~ ~
Following his business, Lord Chelmsford set in companionable silence with his sister in the cottage they had taken for the season. Rarely was neither sibling engaged in the company of others, and so they enjoyed the time of familial bonding with relish.
Edward looked up from his correspondence. “Here is something that will interest you, Sister.”
“Hmm? What is it?” She marked her place in her book and laid it down.
“I have just had a letter from Payton saying he is preparing to visit for a fortnight.”
“Yes. He is not specific as to when we can expect him, but I think it will be in the next couple weeks,” Edward answered what he thought was her unarticulated question.
“Eddie, are you certain this is a good idea? I am fond of Payton, but his influence on you is admittedly not admirable,” Lady Margaret protested.
“Relax, Maggie,” Edward laughed. “You can assure Father that your influence, combined with the propriety of our new acquaintances, shall sufficiently temper whatever danger I am in from my old friend.”
Having failed to persuade her brother by one argument, she switched to another. “Consider our friendship with the Townshend sisters. From what I have heard, they knew each other when he visited his elderly aunt last year, and their interactions brought discomfort to Lady Elizabeth. You know his nature. She is just such a lady that Payton would be inspired to chase after securing her affections, in order to break her heart. Do you not think his return shall discomfort our new friend?”
Edward arose and crossed to join his sister on the couch. He frowned in thought before replying, “It may well be that he embarrassed Lady Elizabeth in the course of his past stay. Withal that is true, he did return to town of his own inclination, in which case he either gave up his suit as hopeless or lost interest. He will not take up again with any unwanted attention, particularly with us to persuade him otherwise.”
Lady Margaret’s countenance lifted. “You are right, Brother. Perhaps we can influence them to form a friendship during Payton’s visit. After all, we are scheming to bring her out more and persuade others to do the same. How was your lesson?”
“I believe it was a success. She seems a little less reserved today,” Edward answered, gazing at the fire.
Margaret refrained from teasing him that she meant to inquire after Elizabeth’s riding, not after their interactions.