“Mother, you can’t mean to make me wed that popinjay! Every girl who’s had her coming out for the last three years has refused to take him, even the merchants’ daughters. They call him ‘Dandy Andy,’ for goodness’ sake. Why must I be the one?” Marianne sat on the shell-pink damask settee wringing her starched white lace handkerchief into a limp rag. Occasionally, she dabbed at each eye.
“Marianne, you know you’re practically on the shelf. After all, you’re not this season’s beauty.” Margaret came away from the window, sat down next to her daughter, and took both hands into hers. “Nor any season, for that matter. To make matters worse, your father is also merely a merchant. We have the money but we have no title, no standing with the ton. This marriage will make you a viscountess and one day a countess. It will bring to the earl’s son the money from your dowry. Everyone knows their estates are bankrupt. They are desperate for funds. Once you give them their heir and maybe a second son for insurance, you will be free to do as you please. Surely putting up with this fop would be worth living in the lap of luxury as a countess. No?” Margaret gently smoothed a loose curl behind Marianne’s ear.
Marianne curbed her reaction to her mother’s degrading comments about her looks. She could see in the mirror. She accepted not being the most beautiful of the young girls at the soirées and balls, nor the youngest, nor the slimmest. If only her mother would stop dressing her with so many frills and ribbons; it seemed as though she had furbelows to the extreme on every gown she wore. Still, she certainly compared well to many of the misses more homely or ungainly who had nothing more to offer than a title and money.
Of course, in Society, that sufficed and certainly would not be as much of a comedown as marrying a merchant’s daughter.
Still, when properly dressed in flattering colors and gowns, her slightly plump body was acceptable. She had clear skin, too. So many of the young débutantes could not boast that, and some of them were so thin, they actually bordered on sickly.
The door to the drawing room opened.
“Oh, George, I’m so glad you’re here.” Margaret waved him into the room.
“What’s the matter with the girl? Doesn’t she understand this is best for everyone?” George grabbed the closest chair, which happened to be a delicate, needle-pointed fauteuil, and set it down in front of his daughter. Sitting, he placed both elbows on his knees and leaned forward. “Marianne, I know you do not love the man. Nor maybe even like him. But he will be an earl one day and he’ll give us standing in the ton. Your children, your grandchildren, will all be peers of the realm. They’ll sit in Parliament. Who knows the good they could do for us lesser mortals?” George leaned back, straining the fabric over his portly frame, and ran his fingers through his thinning grey hair, making his businessman’s demeanor looked harried and frustrated as tufts stood on end.
“But Papa, I’ll be the joke of Society. No one will want to associate with me. It will be worse than being a merchant’s daughter.” The handkerchief continued to twist in Marianne’s hands.
“Nonsense. You’ll have money. You’ll have a title. The ton will welcome you with open arms. In the merchant class, you’ll be welcomed because you have money. In Society you’ll be welcomed because you have a title. You’ll have both and can go wherever you please.” He took one of her hands in his and patted it gently.
The door swung open again, letting her brother, Charles, stalk into the room. “We’re having a family meeting and I’m not invited?”
“Sit down, Charles, this is important.” Margaret waved him to a seat.
“Chase! I keep asking you to call me Chase.” He plopped into a wing chair near the hearth, then lounged about as if not interested in the goings-on he’d been so dejected about not being a part of.
Marianne sighed, her brother yet another challenge in her life. He was now part of that rarified group the mamas of the ton considered The Unattainables, eligible young men with absolutely no predilection for marriage. Even without a title there were young girls in Society whose families would happily marry them off for the money he would inherit and the good looks he would pass along to their progeny. A Corinthian by all standards of the ton, her brother was tall where she was short, slender and handsome where she was slightly plump and plain. Chase’s only real failing? His lack of interest in their father’s business. He simply refused to participate in any way, yet happily spent their father’s hard-earned money gallivanting around the town, gaming and cavorting with who knew what level of reprobate.
“I named you Charles and that’s what I will call you.” Summarily dismissing his son from the discussion, her father turned his attention back to her. “We will plan the biggest wedding of the season. You will be the most beautiful bride. Every girl who’s had a coming out in the last decade will be jealous. Then you’ll start your life as a viscountess. You’ll see, one day you’ll be happy. Mark my words there are worse things than being the wife of a future earl even if he is a dandy.” George released her hand and stood.
Chase sat up straight. “Marianne’s getting married? Why didn’t I know this? To whom? When?”
“They’re marrying me off to ‘Dandy Andy’.” Marianne dabbed at her eyes once again. “I’m to be his viscountess so he can have Papa’s money. I have absolutely no say in the matter.”
“Just as well, Annie.” Chase used his pet name for her. “Who else is there for you to marry? It’s all about having babies anyway. What difference does it make whom you marry?”
“Yes, but it makes a difference with whom I’m to have babies. Surely, Chase, you wouldn’t pick just any girl to wed to have your children. What would you want in a wife?”
“I’m not even close to thinking about leg-shackling. And, lucky for me, I don’t have to worry about that for the foreseeable future. Papa runs the business, and I run about the town. It all works out for me.”
“And you should be spending some time in that business, Charles,” Papa reprimanded. “It will be yours one day. On that note, I’m off to work. Marianne, you and your mother plan the wedding. Spare no expense. I’ll pay for everything.” He bent to place a kiss first on her cheek, then on her mother’s. Smiling as if all was right with his world and his meager explanations would assuage her doubt and frustration, he put the chair back in place and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
“You’ll see, my daughter.” Her mother patted her hand again. “All will come to rights. No man can be that bad unless he beats you. And I doubt that ninny will be such to cause that issue.”
Chase rose from his seat. “Mama’s right about that, Annie. There are a lot of other chaps Papa could saddle you with far worse than Dandy Andy. Though I’d have to say I don’t know how you will raise your head showing up on his arm with his affectations. He sports a quizzing glass, you know, and gaudy, garish attire. Maybe you can sway him on his choice of wardrobe, at least.”
~ ~ ~
Andrew Saxtonby, Viscount Berensfeld, paced in front of his father’s desk tapping his quizzing glass against the chartreuse green satin of his breeches. As the lace ruffle at his right wrist flopped in time with his tapping, his left hand went up to push back his freshly curled hair, causing the alternate ruffle to tickle his nose. Pausing in yet another track across the floor, he groped for his handkerchief and quickly covered his nose as he sneezed. Even he realized he had been too generous with his perfume this morning.
“Andrew, the plans are being made even as we speak.” His father, the Earl of Reignsfield, leaned back in his plushly upholstered burgundy desk chair as he surveyed his only son and heir. “The banns will be read for the next three weeks and then you will wed the chit. I expect her father forced her into it for the title but we sorely need the funds to stay solvent. True, she is much below your station but she is the only one who will have you. Such is your reputation.”
Wincing at this last comment, Drew looked down at his attire. Some might think his chartreuse satin breeches, petal pink jacket, and brocade waistcoat in both colors shot with gold a little over the top, but his tailor assured him it embodied the height of fashion. And he paid a great deal to out-dress any other man of the ton. Flicking his wrist, then placing his quizzing glass to his right eye, he turned to his sole parent, his mother having passed on when he was but a boy. “Father, I never have seen what others dislike about me. I am courteous, respectful, landed, and dress in the first stare of fashion. What is there not to like?”
The earl placed both elbows on the arms of his chair and steepled his fingers, looking as if he had something to say but unsure if it would be met with understanding. He finally shook his head as if in agitation. “You’ll soon meet your bride-to-be. To give you some idea of what you will be getting into, her father gave me this miniature. The chit’s not that bad looking if you find plain and slightly plump appealing. But she’ll have to do. In the meantime, please prepare appropriately. Try to have your tailor put something together less . . . less . . . flamboyant. I’ll share the details as soon as I have them. You may go.”
Drew pointed his toe and gave a bow any gentleman of the eighteenth century would be proud of, despite the fact he was living in the nineteenth. Upon rising, he took up the small likeness his father had pushed across the desk. With just a quick glance, he didn’t think she looked that bad but surely he would never have picked her from the many more attractive and wealthier flowers of the season.
“As you wish, Father.” He nodded and took his leave.