Mary and Duke Haskett’s wedding was a sight to behold. The rich scent of early autumn roses, the joyful bridesmaids’ dresses, the delectable food, the fine music, and, of course, the handsome groom and the beautiful bride and they embarked on a journey of self-discovery and family together.
It was enough to make Antoinette’s heart flutter.
She was proud she had helped her cousin win over a perfect suitor and find joy in marriage. Now, if only she could do the same…
As she danced with yet another very interested young man, she glanced over at her parents who were, as always, paying her no attention whatsoever. How was she supposed to find a husband when her parents would not even narrow down her list of suitors, let alone pick one or two for her to consider? Having an older sister and an older brother, she had known she would probably marry later than others her same age. Her sister was married, her brother was betrothed and away in India on a pilgrimage, and still, the months went by and Antoinette twiddled her thumbs in anticipation. She was beginning to feel a little like a beef joint which had been left over from the night before, sliced and just carelessly left on the table alongside breakfast. When were her parents going to show some real interest in her marriage?
The man in front of her must have been speaking. His lips were moving. She could barely hear what the young man was saying over the noise of her own thoughts. This would not do.
As the pace of the dance changed, and the eligible young men and women traded partners, Antoinette slipped away to where her parents were having an animated discussion with Baron and Baroness Fitzroy—the parents of her childhood friend and current pen-mate Lucy.
Antoinette curtsied. “Good afternoon, Baron Fitzroy, Baroness Fitzroy.” They nodded and greeted her back. “Well, mother, what did you think of him?” she asked.
Her mother shook her head a little. “I’m terribly sorry, dear. I have no idea whom you are referring to.”
“The young man I was dancing with, a young Master Garvey,” she elaborated.
“Oh, of the Suffolk Garveys? How was he? Was he nice?” her mother continued in a friendly tone of voice.
Antoinette felt herself internally scream, but pressed her lips together and smiled politely to not offend the company. “I am not sure. I would very much like your guidance, perhaps your opinion.”
“You just dance away, my dear, you are still young. If any young man takes your fancy we can meet his parents later,” her father added in a tone of voice which suggested he thought he was being helpful. He wasn’t.
Antoinette nodded. “Of course, father.” She curtsied again and walked up to where the couples were dancing, quietly waiting on the sidelines for an eligible man to ask her to dance with him.
This was ridiculous. There had to be thirty, maybe even forty, single young men dancing. Not to mention the few dozen standing and observing. Considering many were friends of Duke Haskett’s, there was a rich selection of handsome, wealthy, high-status men, all of whom would make excellent husbands to someone. So how would she know who would make the most excellent husband for her?
She sighed and looked at the standing crowd, neck craned up, smiling faintly as she attempted to make eye contact with someone, anyone, who wished to dance. She did not know the faintest thing about marriage, or how one went about pairing a couple. And yet her parents seemed to be casting her out to find her own husband, not taking much interest in the whole affair. She wished they would just pick a man who would fit her well, allow them to court, and then—should all go to plan—she could be married in a few months as Mary was.
Mary, the great sceptic who had been scared her chosen suitor would not be appropriate for her or meet her needs. Mary, the just-married bride, dancing with said suitor right now. If even someone who had been as nervous as her cousin could happily marry this way, Antoinette felt she would enjoy fantastic success.
Finally, her eyes locked with those of a tall man with chocolate brown hair and shining, sky-blue eyes. He smiled a knowing smile and weaved his way through the crowd to where she was. Antoinette felt a sense of relief, and slight excitement, as the dance ended and he extended his hand to her.
“May I have this dance?” he asked, bowing slightly.
“You may,” she replied, placing her hand in his and half-curtsying.
As they walked out to the sound of the next dance beginning, Antoinette resolved to make the most of her situation. If her parents truly weren’t going to show any initiative, then it was up to her to learn some names and vet the candidates. Hopefully if she could talk to her parents tomorrow with a few specific men in mind, the whole process could begin.
“I am Antoinette Byrd, daughter of Baron and Baroness Byrd,” she said, smiling. “How do you do, strange man?”
He let out a surprised laugh. “My, you are a bold one. And a funny one. I am Alexander Godwin,” he replied.
Antoinette paused briefly. She knew that name from somewhere. “The Duke?” she asked with a slight gasp. “Alexander Godwin, Duke of Hamilton?” she asked again.
“The one. Why do you look so surprised?” His smile showed that he was slightly amused. “It’s perfectly natural for one Duke to know another, is it not?”
“I have heard little of you, Your Grace, but I expected you to be older,” she replied without thinking. The heat rose to her face. “I do apologize, I spoke without thinking,” she added hastily.
“Indeed. An awful trait in a woman, don’t you think?” he asked.
“An awful trait in any person, Your Grace.” Antoinette tried to sound as polite as possible. She never did like the men who spoke in a way that suggested that impoliteness or rashness is forgivable in men. Having been raised alongside both a brother and a sister, she was of the firm belief that although men and women played different parts in society, neither should be rude if they could possibly avoid it.
“Indeed,” the Duke replied. From his expression, she could see he could not think of what to say next.
“I am assuming from Your Grace’s invitation to dance that Your Grace is still single?” Antoinette said, in an effort to revive the conversation.
“Oh yes, Miss Byrd, for now,” he said with a soft smile. She was beginning to see that he was not quite as bold as she had initially assumed. And yet, his slight sheepishness was not entirely off-putting.
“And why would a man of Your Grace’s status be struggling to find a wife?” she continued.
Antoinette cringed at her words.
“Quite the forward one, aren’t we?” he replied with a slight laugh. “I suppose I am not a Duke of enough status, or social presence, to attract many proposals. And yet my standards are too high to have been met thus far,”
“Quite the conundrum,” Antoinette replied with a sharp smile. “If one does not meet many people and does not find someone worth marrying among those one does meet, then one may stand to remain unwed one’s entire life…”
“A much less terrifying prospect for a man of wealth and status than for a young woman, I assure you.”
“And yet Your Grace is still here, dancing with an unattached young woman.” Antoinette’s eyes locked with Duke Godwin’s. She knew she was giving him a flirty look, or at least that’s what she hoped she was giving him through her flushed face…she was prepared to take her chances. She could always feign ignorance if he accused her of being too forward. Life was always given to those who took chances.
She spotted a slight flush of red on his cheeks and broke eye contact swiftly. Look too little and you are cold. Look too long and you are unladylike. In the middle was the scale of what was appropriate, and Antoinette always felt that gazing as long as was possibly appropriate would be the best way to capture a man’s interest.
Duke Godwin cleared his throat. “I am dancing with young women I like,” he explained. “Just because I can remain unwed does not mean I am committed to the idea.”
As the dance ended, Antoinette wanted to set the next part of her plan in motion. She was not particularly enjoying being the one managing the technical and logical aspects… but if her parents weren’t going to, then it would be up to her, wouldn’t it? She curtsied and smiled at Duke Godwin.
“If Your Grace truly does like a simple young woman such as myself, perhaps he would wish to meet Baron and Baroness Byrd?” she suggested.
Duke Godwin looked a little surprised, but also pleased. It seemed as though Antoinette’s forwardness was feeding his ego. She wasn’t sure if she liked—or disliked—this yet.
“Very well, I shall meet the parents of the simple young woman,” he replied with a laugh, following her closely as she made her way to where her parents were still talking to the Fitzroys.
She curtsied again. “I would like to introduce everyone to His Grace Alexander Godwin, Duke of Hamilton.”
Antoinette looked on eagerly as her parents finally engaged, greeted him, asked him a few questions about himself and finally incorporated him into their animated conversation with the Fitzroys—which apparently was about the true purpose of Christian Mission. She felt relieved and wondered whether she should attempt to weigh in on the matter and impress Duke Godwin.
But she did not know enough about Duke Godwin to even begin to impress him. If he knew much less than her about the subject he would be insulted. Should he know much more than her, he would not be impressed. It was too difficult. She would have to rely on her parents to win him over and persuade him that she would make a wonderful wife.
However, as the minutes flew by and another dance ended, the conversation continued to be about Christian Mission. Antoinette felt that they were treating Duke Godwin’s presence as a mere attempt at mingling with some higher class people, rather than vetting a potential suitor. She felt the frustration rise. Should she ask him back to the dance? No, that would look frivolous. She knew she needed to join in, and she listened carefully for a point where she could.
“I simply cannot see how any amount of peaching could possibly begin to address the lack of faith and natural Godliness in these people,” Baron Fitzroy finally interjected, shaking his head. It was just the break in the conversation Antoinette needed.
“I do not believe there is any such thing as a person who lacks faith and Godliness,” Antoinette replied.
Duke Godwin glanced her way and smiled lightly again, as though welcoming her back to the conversation. “How so?” he asked.
“We are all made in God’s image, are we not? We are all people, are we not? If we did not believe these people were capable of Godliness, then we would not be making an effort to convert them,” she explained. “One cannot make gold out of stone, or a Christian out of a dog.”
“But who is to say that they are Godly?” Baron Fitzroy contested. “Being a person and being Godly are two different things, surely.”
“They are made in God’s image, as are we. Just because they have not accepted our Lord as their saviour does not mean they have no Godliness, simply that they are out of touch,” she explained.
“So you are saying they are not ungodly, but that their Godliness is simply an untapped potential?” Duke Godwin asked with a slight spark in his eye. “An interesting idea from a young woman.”
“My brother is in India, spreading the Good Word,” she replied. “I learned much from him as a girl.”
Duke Godwin nodded. “Indeed you have. At any rate, it has been my pleasure to make your acquaintances, but I must see my friend Duke Haskett before I depart.” He bowed slightly and everyone bowed and curtsied deeper in respect.
“The pleasure was all ours,” Baron Byrd replied, shaking Duke Godwin’s hand before the man, nodding and smiling politely, vanished into the crowd.
Noticing the success of her approach so far emboldened Antoinette. She danced with several more single men that night, bringing each in turn to meet her parents. And yet none seemed to leave the same impression on her and her parents as Duke Godwin had. Perhaps it was merely his status and his education, but the way he spoke and the way he carried himself made him so much more desirable than any of the other men she saw that night.
And yet Antoinette had a nagging feeling that all her efforts would come to nothing at all. That her parents would simply pass up her opportunity with Duke Godwin and she would be exactly where she had started that evening.
As Antoinette congratulated her cousin for what felt like the hundredth time, Mary took her hand. “What is the matter?” she asked softly.
“Nothing at all, I am simply tired.” Antoinette tried to excuse herself.
“You seemed so jovial earlier,” Mary pressed.
Antoinette shook her head. “It would be unfair to burden you with my silly concerns on your wedding day.”
“No, you have helped me so much, pray tell,” Mary insisted again.
Antoinette drew a deep breath and sighed. “I am worried about my own marriage prospects. Namely, that as of yet I have none.”
Mary nodded. Antoinette’s parents’ lack of interest in finding her a suitor had been a conversation topic amongst them before.
“I know that they must eventually decide to move me towards marriage, but I feel they are passing up too many good opportunities,” Antoinette continued.
“What would you normally do?” Mary asked.
Antoinette shook her head. “There is no ‘normally,’ I have no idea right now.”
“If this were my problem, you would tell me, ‘Mary, talk to your parents, tell them what you think, if you don’t act then you will never get what you wish for,’” Mary elaborated, mimicking her cousin’s voice.
Antoinette laughed. “I sound nothing like that! But yes, I suppose I would.” She sighed. “It’s so much more difficult when it’s your own parents, though.”
Mary nodded. “Believe me, I understand. But if you truly, from the bottom of your heart, believe you could miss an opportunity of a lifetime, then you need to tell them so.”
Antoinette nodded back. “I really ought to take my own advice more often.”
Mary laughed. “You really should.”
Antoinette looked over to where her parents were. Mary was right. She needed to confront them about Duke Godwin and let them know she was interested in him. It was better to be a rude daughter than spend the rest of her life knowing she did not speak up at the right time…or at all.
The next morning, Antoinette felt nervous but excited. Mary was right, after all. Antoinette spent so much time advising others to take action, she would be an absolute hypocrite if she did not take her own advice. And although up until this point none of her suitors had mainly caught her eye, Duke Godwin had definitely been an exception the night before.
Sure, he had been a little condescending at times, but she understood it. She was a younger woman a whole class beneath him. It was natural he may know more than her, or have stronger opinions than her. For a man in his position, he was actually rather forgiving.
And in every other aspect, he seemed desirable. He was a Duke, with great wealth behind him. He was educated and well-spoken. Her parents seemed impressed by him and eager to talk with him. Not to mention, he was handsome. She could easily envisage herself spending a lifetime with this man. And, what is more, she felt her parents would be pleased with this decision.
Heading downstairs for breakfast, she felt a little giddy. This was just like in her romance novels, where the heroine meets her one true love, and then their courtship begins. Of course in Antoinette’s case, she expected they not need overcome the sheer number of trials the heroines in her books face. After all, adventurous though she may be, she felt that continually facing social and moral dilemmas would be less of an adventure and a more of constant stress. But nevertheless, she knew that this would be the start of her romance.
“You look most jovial this morning,” Lady Byrd said, seeing her daughter stride into the room with a bounce in her step. “Good news?”
“In a way,” Antoinette said. “I have an announcement.”
“Well, so do we,” replied her father. “Age comes before beauty after all.”
Antoinette felt her excitement double at the prospect of both delivering and receiving an announcement. She sat down at the table, feeling her foot tap lightly against the carpet as she waited for her father to speak.
“Having seen how you conducted yourself last night, your mother and I have reached a conclusion about your marriage prospects,” her father began, glancing at her mother.
“You were polite, graceful, demure, and yet not too silent, nor too passive,” her mother said, nodding. “You were in every way a lady.”
“We had originally had our reservations about allowing you to see your suitors seriously. You have always been a bit too bold, a bit too… unladylike. We were concerned that you would not attract the right sort of a man. But last night you showed us that you are determined to be wed and willing to behave yourself like the young lady you are. You have inspired great confidence in us,” Lord Byrd said. “Would you like to begin vetting your prospects in earnest?”
“Oh yes!” Antoinette said, suddenly checking herself and taking a deep breath. “That would be most wonderful.”
Her mother laughed a little. “Very well, what was your announcement?”
“It was of a similar nature,” Antoinette replied. “I had not been too eager regarding any of my suitors until now, but… last night I met a man who I believe may make a most excellent suitor. Duke Alexander Godwin.”
Her mother smiled. “That is fantastic news,” she said. “Duke Godwin would make a fine suitor indeed, and he seemed to be interested in you.”
Her father nodded his head with the faintest trace of a smile emerging on his lips also. “Yes, Duke Godwin is an excellent option. I shall write to him immediately to ensure that he is aware of our interest.”
“Who else would you like to consider?” Lady Byrd asked.
Antoinette felt slightly disappointed. Not this again. She knew of countless eligible young men, and other than Duke Godwin, none stood out from the rest whatsoever. How could she select a few from that vast group? She shook her head. “Whoever you believe is a good prospect,” she replied. “I trust you, as my parents, to know what is best for me.”
Lady Byrd nodded. “We shall make a selection, to ensure that you are not too restricted in your choices. But if you wish, we can focus our attention largely on Duke Godwin.”
Antoinette nodded back eagerly. “Nothing would make me happier.”
“Then it is decided,” Lord Byrd said, “I shall write to Duke Godwin immediately to inform him of our interest.”
Antoinette felt her heart soar. This was precisely what she had wanted for the past couple of years. For her parents to take her interest in marriage more seriously, for them to provide the support and assistance she so desperately needed to make the right decision when it came to finding a husband.
After breakfast, Lord Byrd retired to his study to compose the letter, and Antoinette requested leave from Lady Byrd to go and tell her cousin, Mary, the good news.
“Antoinette, I believe you are forgetting something,” Lady Byrd replied as she sorted some cut flowers, ready to spend the afternoon building an artistic arrangement.
“Ah, yes…” Antoinette suddenly realized. Mary had only married the day before. Not only would she not be home with her parents, but she would probably not be at Duke Haskett’s local manor either. She sat down heavily in a chair and sighed dejectedly. “But I wish to speak with someone of the good news.”
“Father Howe, perhaps?” Lady Byrd suggested, raising an eyebrow at her daughter’s dramatics.
“The vicar?” Antoinette cringed slightly.
“Do not speak of him in that tone. He is a good man and a vital part of our community,” Lady Byrd replied sternly.
Antoinette shook her head. “It is not that… I simply do not believe it is a conversation men could understand.”
Lady Byrd hesitated. “Perhaps not. You could go to see Eleanor.”
Antoinette shook her head again. “Eleanor and all her sisters are away with their parents, attending some charity events to raise money for London hospitals and poorhouses this Christmas. I would not even know where to write them right now.”
“Perhaps you should write a letter to Lucy, then, it has been some time since you had correspondence with her,” Lady Byrd replied. “She is still at boarding school?”
Antoinette stared at her feet. “You are right, I have not spoken to her for a month or more. I hope that she is doing well. Last I heard, she said her stay in boarding school would be coming to a close next year, and she was coming home. Yes, I shall write her a letter.”
As Antoinette stood up, she noticed her mother shake her head with a slight smile before beginning her arrangement.
Antoinette did not wholly understand her parents’ aversion to her nature. Sure, she was a little excitable, and perhaps a bit loud and forward. But it was nothing that would interfere with her ability to be a good lady, wife, and mother. If anything, from her experience volunteering at Sunday school and local orphanages, she found that her slightly less stern demeanour made her more endearing to children than some of the less excitable women were. And that closeness with children was something she treasured. She had a natural affinity for them and did not understand how some governesses and teachers would be so strict with the poor little things. She felt confident that she would make an excellent mother someday, not despite her slightly boisterous and rebellious nature, but because of it.
But she was also coming to see that, even though she did not entirely understand the rigid social expectations which surrounded her, she had to conform to them. If she wanted to marry and marry well, it was necessary to act more like a Lady, to be more controlled, demure, and conforming. Once she wed, she would be in a better position to relax and be her true self. But until then, she significantly improved her prospects by hiding some parts of her personality.
Sitting at her dresser, she nudged her toiletries to one side with her arm before setting up a writing pad, some paper, and a quill.
I am terribly sorry that I have not written sooner. There is no excuse for my silence. However, if it is of any reassurance, I have been incredibly busy, and there is much to tell you.
My brother, as you know, has departed on yet another Mission to India. It is hard work for him, but in his last letter he intimated that he is genuinely satisfied with the good being done, and suggested he may be away some time.
You may recall that my cousin, Mary Elridge, was available for marriage and seeing some very eligible suitors. Yesterday she was finally wed to Duke Haskett, Duke of York. Despite the trials which fate cast in their way, they have seen the value in one another, and are now united in Holy Matrimony, and very much in love.
Which leads to my present circumstances. My parents have, after much deliberation, decided it is time for me to consider marriage in earnest. And not a moment too soon! Yesterday afternoon, at Mary’s wedding breakfast, I met the man who is sure to become my husband. I will not reveal too much as of yet, for fear that I am wrong. But I shall hopefully see him soon, and I eagerly anticipate that day.
I hope that you are well, and would love for you to be home for Christmas.
Sealing the envelope, Antoinette decided she would post it by hand. That way at least she would get some fresh air. She desperately needed to cool off, as all the thrills of the morning had made her blood run hot, and her dress itched uncomfortably. Yet another thing she could not comprehend about the rules society imposed on her. She knew she needed to dress modestly, but many city girls whom she knew dressed much more lightly, almost in the fashion of Ancient Greek statues, with one or two flowing layers. Meanwhile, in the villages the fashion was moving, but still leaned towards bigger and heavier.
Her own parents were a bit lenient about conformity in this respect. Antoinette wore dresses which were much lighter and sleeker than most of the girls in the village. But they were still heavy and uncomfortable in comparison to the latest city fashions. She simply could not fathom why clothing which was modest enough for the city was not modest enough for the country. Especially when the city clothes were so much more comfortable.
“I wish to post my letter to Lucy,” Antoinette said, peering into the front room, where her mother was still working on her flower arrangement.
“Could you not send it with a messenger? Or perhaps wait for the postman so that someone can hand it over?” her mother asked.
“I would like to walk a little, the exercise will do me good,” Antoinette replied.
“Very well,” Lady Byrd said. “But make sure to ask a maid to escort you.”
“Of course, mother,” she answered.
Her parents were so peculiar with what social norms they adhered to and which they did not. They were not happy with her adopting city fashions, or walking down the road unescorted to post a letter. Yet they were perfectly happy for her to make major decisions about her suitors. But then, they did not believe she was mature enough to marry until recently, despite giving her so much freedom. It made no sense to her.
She was sure, the more she thought about it, that her parents were simply going along with whatever fads and trends their friends were following. They had no consistency, no pattern to their behaviour. It was simply as close to average as they could get. Antoinette could be more fashionable than the other young women in the village, but she had to be more conventional than city girls. She was expected not only to observe potential suitors and create a list of those she deemed reasonable but also to behave like a traditional lady in every other aspect. She had to go out and lead an active life, but always with someone at her side. Their insistence on staying in the grey area was confusing and frustrating to her.
As she walked down the lane and entered the village, she was so caught up in her own thoughts she almost missed the two figures standing down another lane, talking in front of a pie shop. But a second glance revealed that it was, in fact, her father and another man, talking.
She paused briefly and watched them for a second.
“Is anything the matter, mistress?” the maid asked.
Antoinette shook her head a little. “Who is that speaking to father?” she replied.
“I do not know, mistress. His face seems familiar, but I know not from where.”
Antoinette pondered waving and shouting, then realized it would be too unladylike. She also considered going over to see them, but perhaps that would be rude? She sighed. Why did this all have to be so complicated? Was she really hurting anyone when she was forward and loud? It seemed more designed to inconvenience her than anything else.
As she wondered what to do, her father and the man shook hands and parted ways. The man began walking towards the road, whereas her father walked in the opposite direction and disappeared around a corner. With no opportunity of finding out who this man was, all Antoinette could do was scrutinize him. He was reasonably tall, and only a few years older than her. His tidy blonde hair was well-kept, but his clothes suggested he was a little less wealthy than the people her father usually associated with. Still, he carried himself with the dignity and confidence of a man who could not possibly be of weak character or morals. He seemed quite the enigma.
He glanced over at her, doubtlessly sensing her eyes upon him, and she looked at her letter instead, as though making sure the address was spelled correctly. Glancing back up, she saw he had continued down the road. Who was he? Why was her father speaking to him? And, most of all, why could she not get this perfect stranger off her mind all of a sudden? She would have to ask her father about this strange man later. Something about him was…peculiar.
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Miss Antoinette Byrd feels ready to marry. As her friends and cousins find their happily every afters, she dreams of the day her own handsome husband will meet her at the end of the aisle. Finally, her parents, who have been hesitant due to her immaturity and rebelliousness, agree to let her see some suitors.Antoinette is immediately won over by Duke Alexander Godwin, a man who has it all. He is handsome, incredibly wealthy, a Duke, and one of the bravest, wittiest, most charming men she has ever met. Every minute by his side feels like she is being swept up in a fairytale romance about princes and princesses.And yet, her parents keep her options open with other suitors. Antoinette is at first unsure why they are not locking down Duke Godwin as soon as possible, but as time goes by she begins to realize that, however, dreamy Duke Godwin is, they have very little real chemistry. In fact, of all her suitors, one seems to shine brighter than the rest… But is he the right man for her?In the midst of Christmas celebrations, the return and near loss of a dear childhood friend, a threat to her family’s wealth, and her sister’s marriage hitting a seemingly insurmountable hurdle, Antoinette feels pressured to make her choice. And deep down, she knows that the choice she most wants to make is one that would break her parents’ hearts. But choosing the wrong suitor would break hers.
“The Lady The Duke And The Gentleman” is a historical regency romance novel of approximately 90,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.