Lady Alexandra Woodley searched feverishly through the basket of freshly washed clothes. She knew she was rumpling the soft cotton fabrics but had little time to care about it.
She made a note to apologize later to Polly, the maid, for making her ironing twice as difficult this week, despite her frantic rush.
If her sister’s white evening gloves were not amongst the rest of the white fabric freshly removed from the line this morning, Lady Alexandra was sure she had no idea where else to look.
In frustration, she sifted through nightgowns, handkerchiefs, and cream-colored petticoats only to come up empty-handed.
She huffed, sitting back on her heels. The puff of air sent up a chestnut lock that had fallen in her face.
“I found it, miss!” Polly said bursting into the drawing room.
“Oh thank heaven, Polly. You’re an angel,” Lady Alexandra said taking the long evening gloves out of the young maid’s hands.
“Where ever did you find them?” Lady Alexandra continued, coming off the freshly polished wooden floors to stand before the girl.
“It was under young Lady Sophia’s pillow,” Polly said with a cocked brow. “Going out of her way to make such trouble ain’t right if you ask me.”
Alexandra couldn’t have agreed with the maid more at that moment. Sophia Woodley was the youngest of the Woodley sisters, totaling four in all, and by far the most challenging one.
“I will make sure to speak with her and father sternly over the matter later tonight,” Alexandra informed Polly.
She was all too aware that Sophia’s little attempt to delay the three older girls from their departure this night had not only cause more work for Alexandra but for the entire house on the whole.
The Earl of Grebs had little to his name besides his four daughters. It made hired help a limited commodity, causing their two maids, one butler, and one cook to take on the task of several jobs throughout the day. Sophia’s stunt had robbed Polly of precious time that would have been used on other tasks.
Alexandra made a note to do her best to express that fact to her youngest and most carefree sister. Perhaps even make the child write a letter of apology to the maid.
It indeed wasn’t a proper act for a lady to write a note of remorse to one’s servant, but Alexandra also knew how much Sophia despised her schoolwork and the added labor seemed a fitting punishment for the crime.
“Josephine,” Alexandra called down the hall as she made her way out of the one and only sitting room and up the stairs to the main bedrooms of the house.
She found her next eldest sister under her, still sitting in front of the small vanity in the room the four girls shared.
“Josephine,” Alexandra said, a little winded for the second time from the hurried walk to her sister’s side. “Polly has found the missing gloves.”
Alexandra threw them on one of the two large beds that that served as sleeping quarters for the four sisters. She sat down next to them feeling her body sink down in the freshly turned bed.
“Where were they,” Lady Josephine Woodley asked as she tried to delicately place one of her dark brown curls into its proper place.
Alexandra shifted in her spot, uncomfortable with the restriction of a corset before standing to help her sister with her hair.
“ Sophia had them under her bed,” Alexandra said going to work.
“That girl is rotten to the core,” Josephine said, scratching her nose.
“Nonsense, she is just upset that we are all going to the ball tonight and she cannot.”
Alexandra was used to playing the peacemaker between these two sisters. Josephine was only a year younger than Alexandra and the two of them were by far the closest of all the Woodley girls.
Williamina was three years younger than Josephine and Sophia rounded out the end of the line being four years under Williamina.
“We all had to wait to come of age. Sophia thinks just because she is the youngest she should get some sort of special treatment,” Josephine continued.
“She is fifteen. It is only a year away from when the rest of us came out. Perhaps it wouldn’t be too much to allow her to join us tonight,” Williamina said, stepping into the room and joining the conversation.
Honestly, the estate couldn’t afford all four sisters spending the season out with the ton. Alexandra knew this well, as she saw to all the estate finances by herself. It wasn’t something she had shared with her younger sisters as of yet.
She sincerely hoped she wouldn’t have to. She had two sisters already having spent a few seasons in society and well into their marrying age. If she could find a good match for either Williamina or Josephine, she wouldn’t have to consider having all four sisters out next year.
It wasn’t the first time that Alexandra had to carry a secret burden of the Earl Grebs’ estate. After her mother’s death bringing Sophia into the world, her father, the Earl Grebs John Woodley, had all but removed himself from reality. That left her at the mere age of eight with the weighted responsibility of seeing that the house was managed and her family taken care of.
At first, it had just been little things such as making sure her sisters had their Sunday best on for service when her father didn’t seem to notice otherwise. Over time she learned to take over more and more, and he never stopped her, happy to find more secluded time in his library with his precious books and specimens.
Alexandra never had a proper coming out as she made sure her three younger sisters did. Instead, she attended social events much as the other matronly members of the ton, seeing to the needs of the youthful and single relations.
It was true that Sophia was partly babied, only because her father did little to engage with his daughters and Alexandra had no knowledge of how to be a good mother when still a child herself.
Sophia had been at a significant disadvantage compared to her sisters from the moment she was born; she had been without a memory of their dear mother, Lady Grebs. All had changed with their lady mother’s death. It left all of the Woodley girls needing to grow up faster than their peers and even a little resentful.
Sophia was the most rebellious and resentful of them all. In response, Josephine was always at odds with what she considered special treatment for the youngest of the sisters.
“It is certainly something I would be happy to bring to Father,” Alexandra said finishing placing the last piece of baby’s breath in Josephine’s hair, “But far too late for tonight. The carriage should be here in an hour.”
“Sir Hamilton’s spring ball is the first event of the season,” Sophia said, stomping into the room still in her soft blue morning dress. “Everyone is going to be there for it and if I’m not, then I might as well stay locked up all year long.”
Sophia finished her rant by crossing her arms and sitting on the bed that Josephine and Alexandra shared.
“You are still too young,” Alexandra said trying to cool down the heat between her sisters before a full verbal fight began between them. “I don’t even know if I could convince Father to let you attend events this season,” she continued.
“It’s just not fair,” Sophia said tears pooling in her big brown eyes before she stomped back out of the room.
Alexandra sighed in disappointment.
“Don’t give in to her tantrum,” Josephine said noticing her elder sister crack in resolve. “Remember it was your gloves she hid. Now you have little time to get yourself ready.”
“Oh, I wasn’t planning to do much to get ready anyway.”
Alexandra had not only been mothering her three younger sisters her whole life; she had entirely taken on the mother role. That included shaving any personal time she might have for herself for the betterment of the younger Woodley girls.
“Alexandra, you could shine in that room tonight. Let us help you a bit,” Williamina said in encouragement.
“Oh, yes,” Josephine added. “It would be so much fun. We could make you sparkle like a diamond if you let us. Then perhaps you could finally find your beau.”
“I haven’t any time for beaus or diamonds, and I promise you nothing you could do would hide the fact that I am an old maid already,” Alexandra chastened her sisters. “Neither do you. It’s nearly time. Hurry up and finish getting ready. I must see that Polly gets Father his dinner,” she added hurrying out of the room.
“Twenty-three is not nearly that old,” Josephine said to Alexandra’s fading figure. “If anything it shows your maturity in waiting to find a good match.”
She held her head up high as she studied her image in the looking glass. Of all the Woodley sisters Josephine was by far the vainest. The defense of Alexandra’s age had little to do with her older sister and much more with their proximity in age.
Alexandra paid no heed to her sister’s enticements as she made a final walk of the house. The hired carriage that would take them to Sir Hamilton’s London house was to arrive at any minute.
She would need to see that her youngest sister was put to the task of apologizing for the night, that Polly was not too far behind in her evening chores to assist the cook, and above all to make sure her father got some food in him.
More often than not, John Woodley would get into fancies of fantasy and forget all about the necessities of life like eating or paying the servants their monthly wages.
He was currently in such an altered world. Last week a new specimen had been gifted to him from the new world across the sea. It looked nothing more than a giant pincushion to Alexandra and therefore, far too dangerous to be kept in a fine home, but her father was never one to see reason when it came to his hobby.
Earl Grebs had little assets when he took his father’s title, and very little by way of increase when he married the countess. They had cared dearly for each other and money had mattered little.
The Earl did, however, have a very guilty habit of purchases and donations to a lifelong passion of his. He was an obsessive naturalist. He loved to collect every volume of books on anything from zoology to botany. Lady Grebs had rounded him out some and tempered his passion.
With her death, Lord Grebs had forgotten the world he lived in and chose to shut himself inside the make-believe natural world of his library.
For all his love of the outside world, he had a terribly fragile constitution. This left him to explore and discover the world from the confines of his sole property, 62 Garden Place, London which was dangerously close to the undesirable west end neighborhood of Covent Gardens.
The pincushion would keep him locked away for at least another fortnight as he studied his new stuffed specimen. Next, it would be donated to his one and only love outside of his wife, the London Museum of Natural Wonders.
After a quick stop to the kitchen to procure a tray from the cook, Alexandra found herself standing in front of the library door.
Outside of the sitting room, the breakfast room, and kitchen, this was the only space on the first level of the London townhome.
It was a tight squeeze to fit four girls and their father into such a small house for the season, let alone all year round as was the case for the Woodley’s.
“Father,” Alexandra called with a soft knock before entering with the tray of mutton stew with boiled potato in her hand.
She set the tray down on the desk with the high back chair spun around from her. She didn’t need to see the other side of the chair to know what was going on there. Her father was no doubt hunched over the small table against the wall that showed his latest in a string of stuffed prized possessions.
“I just can’t seem to find anything similar anywhere else,” Earl Grebs said softly to himself, and he stood from his chair, book in hand, to walk the small room.
“Father,” Alexandra repeated.
He blinked looking up from his work, “Oh, Alexandra dear. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I know,” Alexandra said with a sigh.
As much as she wanted to be dissatisfied with her father, or even resentful towards him, she couldn’t. He was a broken-hearted man, only half of the whole he once was.
His hair had greyed over the years to the white of a cloud tinged with yellow tips from the lack of regular bathing and the tobacco from his pipe that regularly filled the room.
His skin was so tight against his face it was almost as thin as the paper in the books he loved so dearly. There was a soft shine of silver prickling his chin in the glow of the fire that was nearly out.
Alexandra had liked to blame her father for her hardship in life, and she certainly had a right to, but she didn’t. Instead, she only wished she could do better to take care of him.
“I brought you your dinner, Father. Please do take a moment’s pause to eat.”
Lord Grebs looked down at the silver tray.
“Yes, of course, thank you, dear,” he said setting his book to the side and turning his high back chair around.
“We will be leaving soon for Sir Hamilton’s ball.”
“Is it that time already? I feel as if we just celebrated the Yuletide. How can it possibly be April already?”
“The earth spins around the sun, days turn to weeks, and weeks to months,” Alexandra said with a soft smile.
He gave her a twinkled look back through his grey eyes. It was the same speech he had given her as a child with the model solar system he had in his study. She loved that model.
Lord Grebs was fascinated with the world and that which grew on it. His eldest daughter, however, had taken her passion to the skies. He had been more than happy to encourage her.
Lord Grebs was blessed with four beautiful daughters and no sons. It was unlike him to keep a conversation about ribbons or dolls and thus had little to connect to the women of the house. His Alexandra however, was much like him. She was passionate about exploration and fearless in ways he could never be.
“What would I do without you, my dear?” he said with a glisten to his grey eyes.
His words extended beyond the simple silver tray before him.
She touched his hand softly as he sat to take up his meal.
The Duke of Raven’s carriage pulled up to the front steps of his Aunt Rebecca’s London townhouse just as the sun began to set behind the trees of Hyde Park.
He had been traveling as fast as possible to get to her side after his aunt’s urgent plea to return home. Even still, with the first ship from the new world, the fastest horses money could buy and riding non-stop from Liverpool, it had still taken him several months to get to this place.
He was desperate to know what had made his beloved aunt, and the only family he had left to speak of, so worried about to request his immediate presence.
Even with the urgency, he would have liked to arrive in London at a less ostentatious moment. The streets were filled with ladies strolling leisurely from their day of shopping or socializing and gentlemen returning from their clubs in preparation for the night’s frivolities.
Theodore Hendricks, the Duke of Raven, was never truly fond of the seasons in London. Though it was still early in spring, he could already tell from looking out the carriage window that lords, ladies, and fine people from all over the country had already flocked to the city for the start of this year’s focal months of the season.
He took a steadying breath before opening the door to his carriage that had come to a screeching halt in front of the lavish townhome. It didn’t help that it was also right on the corner of Park Lane where anyone who was of importance was walking at this very moment.
Though he walked the short distance through the garden and up the steps in large quick steps, he still caught many eyes and whispers from passing groups.
Raven couldn’t decide if the discussions were because he was a reclusive duke who rarely stood on England shores, or of his recent state of attire.
He had stayed in the same traveling clothes the last three days as he reached the end of his journey. He hadn’t stopped once to freshen up or even shave the dark shadow that was most assuredly growing along his jawline.
He had one great fear welling inside him. Aunt Rebecca Sinclair was his mother’s sister and very much a mother to him after his own parents died out at sea. Being an elder sister to his mother, she was much more on in years than most maternal caretakers might be.
His greatest fear was that his aunt had taken ill or received bad news on her health from a physician and had little time left to live, or even worse, no time at all.
He had scolded himself the whole time he was on the boat across the Atlantic willing the wind to push him faster towards home.
From the moment he was eighteen and and allowed to determine his own fate by his aunt’s admonition, he had left the comfort of his country seat to see the world as his parents did.
Aunt Rebecca hadn’t been happy with his choice, as it was the way she lost her dear sister, but she would not stop him. He was technically the owner and proprietary of all the estates she used, and the benefactor to all that she needed.
Raven had thought he had done right enough by his aunt and the woman who helped raise and shape him by giving her whatever material thing her heart desired.
As he returned home, he realized he had done his dear aunt a grave disservice by leaving her so lonely. Aunt Rebecca would never travel with him; in fact, she refused to even ride ferryboats after her sister’s death, and Raven had just chosen to go without her.
It pained him so to know that he had abandoned his aunt, possibly condemning her to a lonely death, all for his unnatural desires to see every speck of this beautiful world.
He would rectify the matter now. He would stay at his aunt’s side, give her whatever she bid of him, and make sure the end of her days were the happiest of her life.
“Aunt Rebecca?” Raven called bursting through the door.
He knew he should have knocked, even though it was technically his house, and wait for the butler to let him in. He didn’t have time for that, nor did he care if he would be walking in on the household in a less than perfect state. He needed to put eyes on his aunt that very moment, lest his guilt eat him alive.
“What is all the commotion-” he heard her shaky voice call out from the evening sitting room.
He couldn’t help but sigh relief. At least she was still on the earth. Raven removed his hat and gloves, handing his jacket and cane over to a butler who had rushed to his aid.
“Good evening, Your Grace. Please allow me to welcome you home,” the stoic man said, taking the articles of outer clothing.
“Aunt Rebecca, it’s me,” Raven called out to his aunt who had risen from her place. He could hear the sound of her freshly pressed petticoats rustling as she got closer.
“Oh, Theodore, my sweet child. You have come home at last,” she said reaching out her arms to her nephew.
Raven happily embraced her before holding her at arm’s length to study the old lady.
She did look much more in age since last he saw her. Her cheeks had drooped down into jowls much like the little bull-fighter dogs she liked to keep as company. Her hair had gone completely grey now, set back in its tight bun with a small lace cap over it.
Though she looked weathered from the years, she was only a few months shy of seventy and one; she otherwise looked in perfect health. Her eyes had a beautiful light under their honey brown color, her cheeks were slightly rosy with good health, and her grip seemed firm enough.
In fact, if Raven was to guess, she didn’t look ill of health at all.
“I knew you would come, but still I am relieved to see you did,” she said, touching his face lovingly.
She had to reach up to do so as Raven was unusually tall even for a man. Not to mention the fact that his aunt must have also shrunk some in the three years since he saw her last. Now the tip of her head barely reached to his broad shoulders.
“I must say though, you look quite a fright,” Aunt Rebecca said taking his arm and leading him into the drawing room. “It is Providence alone that brought you here this night. I do hope you will not be too weary for the task.”
“What task, dear aunt? I feared the worst when I got your letter. Please don’t make me wait a moment longer and tell me what the matter is,” Raven said, irritated that his aunt seemed quite at ease.
“Feared the worse? Whatever do you mean, child?”
“Your health,” Raven explained.
Aunt Rebecca took a seat on one of the sofas near the hearth. Though it was still early spring, it was unusually warm, and a fire was not needed.
Aunt Rebecca rang the bell and asked for some refreshments for the duke.
“I am in perfect health, why would you have thought otherwise,” Aunt Rebecca said with startled confusion.
“In your letter,” Raven tried to explain though he refused to sit himself. He pulled it from his pocket where he had read it over and over these last few months. “You said, ‘Please hurry home. Before the spring would be best. Time is of the essence.’ What else am I to make of that statement?”
Aunt Rebecca thought her own words over, and her eyes widened with the realization that he had taken her emergency to be a life-threatening one.
“Oh my child, please do forgive me. I never meant for you to read my letter in such a way. I only wished to impress upon you the time urgency.”
“Urgency for what?” Raven attempted to ask again.
“For the season, my dear.”
Raven stood stock still in his place. He calmly put the letter back in his breast pocket and took a seat on the couch opposite his aunt. He rarely got angry, and certainly never with his aunt, until this moment. He took a long deep breath to settle his nerves.
“Are you telling me, Aunt Rebecca, that you rushed me here from halfway around the world so that I could be in London for the season?”
“It isn’t just a season, it is THE season,” Aunt Rebecca corrected.
“And why is that, my dear aunt?” Raven said as kindly as he could though he could help but grit his teeth.
He was sure that over the last few months he had gained some gray hairs of his own worrying over his aunt and her health. He had rushed home like the wind to be at her side, only to find that she had made a false emergency over a socialite season.
“Why only your future happiness of course. I have secured the most prestigious match for you. It was not easy to do as you might well know since you haven’t chosen to be present for a single season since you were eighteen.”
“Yes, well I didn’t enjoy it much then, and I dare say I won’t now. What gave you the notion that I was in want of a wife in the first place?”
“My dear you are thirty, and one years of age it is high time that you found a wife and started your own family. I understand you enjoy the exciting life that your parents were mesmerized by, but you have responsibilities to consider. Even your late father saw the importance of marriage as he married my sister in his twenty-fifth year.”
Raven rubbed his eyes, not sure if he was willing himself to stay awake or hoping that he could rub this from his memory.
“You have no idea what lengths I went to so as to be at your side as soon as possible.”
“I am dreadfully sorry for that,” Aunt Rebecca said, batting her eyelashes at him. “I never meant to worry you so, but had I told you my reasoning you wouldn’t have come.”
“No, I wouldn’t have come,” Raven agreed.
“Please, dear, I may be in good health now, but you never know,” she said, drawing out her words and looking more sunken than she had in a long time.
“Yes, and having me marry a complete stranger of your choosing will be just the youthful elixir you need to live on many more decades?” Raven scoffed.
“Perhaps, perhaps not. But it would do my heart good to see you happily married. Oh, and just think if I could have little great nieces and nephews to hold before I leave this world?”
“I can be happy without a wife, and I am certain you will leave this world with a smile on your face even if there is no babe to hold in your arms,” Raven retorted.
At that moment the serving girl came in with a tray of tea, wine, and some cold pies from the earlier supper. Raven didn’t speak for some time as he made quick work of the food.
He had scarcely stopped to change horses and in that time only took the small amount of food he could eat quickly in the carriage. He was ravenous, to say the least.
“I know you can be happy without a wife,” Aunt Rebecca said once her nephew had begun to slow on his eating,
“But I assure you, you will be much happier with one. Won’t you do me this one favor? After all, you are here now,” she encouraged.
“Marriage is not exactly a little favor to ask,” Raven scoffed back.
“Then not marriage, just stay here for the season. Make an effort to interact with your peerage. Just meet the girl. That is all I ask of you.”
Raven was already feeling his anger melt away. He had never denied his dear aunt anything. After all, had he not spent the last several months wishing he had done more for his aunt and spent more time with her? He had just sworn in his own heart he would do all to make the woman happy. Was he willing to go back on that promise already?
“Fine, I will stay for the season, if that will make you happy. You just tell me who it is you want me to meet and I will be the charming duke, but only because you asked me to. I can’t promise a marriage by autumn so don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen.”
Aunt Rebecca clapped with glee.
“Oh, of course not, dear Theodore,” she cleared her throat and said, coming back to her senses.
“So when shall I meet this wonderful lady of yours,” Raven said slumping in his seat like an errant child that had been bested.
“Her name is Lady Charlotte Weiderhold. Her father is Earl Derber. It is rumored that her older sister, Lady Mary, is a favorite of Prince Fredrick. There may be a wedding in their future.”
“I highly doubt the Duke of York and Albany would marry an aristocrat,” Raven scoffed.
Rumors like these were common. Every member of the ton’s life revolved around the royal society. It wasn’t the first time one of King George the III’s sons was rumored to be attached to an aristocrat, thereby elevating that member’s social status. Nothing ever came of it, however.
“Even so,” Aunt Rebecca waved off the notion. “Their family is already the talk of the season. They are a very sensible, stable family. It would be a perfect match for you.”
“I believe what you are saying is they have money, so I don’t have to worry about sharing mine,” Raven corrected.
Aunt Rebecca puffed out her cheeks at his smart words before flicking open her fan and cooling herself.
“I must admit I was not entirely against you going away for a time to keep you from so-called ladies of society who were only so by name. You have to understand how the woman folk work. Mothers would do almost anything to secure a duke such as yourself to their daughter, and ergo their house. I was fine with you traveling the world if that meant you weren’t going to jeopardize your living to a pretty face.”
“I hope you are not saying this Lady Charlotte is not much to look at then,” Raven said, trying to hold back the smile forming on his lips.
“You are being a tease now,” Rebecca snapped her fan shut and promptly smacked his hand with it.
Raven pretended to be hurt by the action.
“She is very lovely to look at. I only mean that is not all of her qualities. She would be the perfect match for you in my opinion.”
“And the fact that it would elevate your popularity with the other ladies if, say, your nephew married the talk of the ton has nothing to do with it?”
She narrowed her honey eyes on him and wrinkled her lips together.
“You are a wretched boy for teasing me so,” she said with feeling, though a smile played on her lips as well, “Will you do it then, for me?”
“I will meet her,” Raven agreed. “Yes, I will do that for you, my dear aunt.”
“Good, then you must go and get ready right away, or we shall be late.”
“You can’t possibly mean right now?” Raven blurted out. “I have only got home, and I am beyond fatigued.”
“Tonight is Sir Hamilton’s opener ball. As I said it was Providence alone that brought you here in time, as I accepted Sir Hamilton’s invitation on both of our behalves,” she added quickening her last words. “Now go,” she waved her fan at him in a shooing manner.
“I will have James bring the carriage around; we leave in a hour’s time. It may be a tad late, but not unfashionably so,” she added more of a thought to herself.
“What have I gotten myself into,” Raven grumbled as he hoisted himself from the comfort of the chair.
By some miracle, Lady Alexandra Woodley managed to get her two younger sisters out of the house, her father to remember to have his supper, and her youngest sister at the task of apologizing to Polly for the extra work.
As they sat in the hired coach on their way down the cobbled streets of London she couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. She realized at that moment she hadn’t even really taken the time to look herself over before the ball.
It didn’t matter much to Alexandra how she looked expect to put on a good face for her two younger sisters.
She looked across the carriage at Josephine and Williamina, who were discussing something between the two of them. Both looked radiant. Josephine was wearing a soft green pastel dress; between that and her dark hair wrapped in little white specks of baby’s breath, she would be the bell of the ball.
Alexandra was sure that it was Williamina’s year to shine. She was the right age to settle down, and she had already turned a few heads over the last few years. If she could just get Williamina or Josephine a good match this year and see them settle she would have one less burden when it came to Sophia’s coming out in twelve months’ time.
Williamina looked just as ravishing as her older sister. She was wearing her only evening gown, a soft rose-colored satin. It worked well with her pale skin and the hint of red tint to her golden hair. Where three of the Woodley girls had taken after their mother’s Spanish roots of olive skin and dark hair, Williamina had been fair and as beautiful as a porcelain doll just like the rest of the Woodley side of the family.
Williamina was still only nineteen however and a might too young for marriage. Of course, it was still a possibility as many ladies married at her age. The disadvantage, however, was the undeniable lack of funds.
Williamina had beauty and a kind disposition on her side, but she was still far too young to see the sense in using those traits to her advantage. She still had the hopeless thoughts of a romantic as many girls her age did.
Though Alexandra had regretted it, she had already had to shoo one suitor away just last year. He was a fine gentleman to be sure but no title to his name and no more funds in his coffers than their own family.
He would in no way provide the life that Williamina was accustomed to. It was Alexandra’s responsibility to see her sisters happily off in their adult life. She owed her mother at least the sense to protect the younger girls from a disastrous match. Williamina may have had eyes for him at that moment but time would pass, and infatuations wane and then she would be left in a dire situation. Alexandra couldn’t allow that to happen, not on her watch.
She rummaged behind her own forest green cloak and into the petticoat pocket of her dress. It was not quite as fancy as the other girls though she still chose to wear pastel blue in symbolism of her virtue. She couldn’t allow any rumors of her own standing jeopardize her sisters’ chances.
For a single woman to wear anything beyond pastel in the season was to suggest that she no longer considered herself single. Natural reason would be spinsterhood, but then there was always the gossip of adulterous behavior if the girl was still at a young age. Alexandra couldn’t risk such a thing no matter how silly she felt parading around in the soft blue silk.
She reached deep into her pocket and produced the offending white gloves. She hadn’t had time to put them on and instead slipped them inside the folds of her dress. It was only now as she slid the first one onto her right hand and up the length of her arm that she realized the problem.
Two of the three buttons that secured the garment in place only a few centimeters below the sleeve of her dress was missing. Without them, not only would she look even more of a poor frump girl amongst the ton than her well out of season styled dress did, but it would also prevent it from staying in place.
She gave a long sigh. Had Sophia not taken upon herself to hide the things by way of punishment, the mending could have been easily seen to with time to spare. Now she would have to go the whole of the night tugging at her glove and praying that no one noticed the missing buttons.
“What’s the matter, Alexandra?” Williamina asked, noticing the long sigh.
“Nothing, nothing at all,” Alexandra said not wanting to inform her sisters.
It was probably a longer ride than most had that night to travel from the less than fashionable side of London to Sir Hamilton’s townhouse that he rented out for the year. Not having a seat of his own with endowed estates, his address was ever revolving but still significantly more desirable than the earl’s bestowed estate.
Alexandra had always wondered what it would be like to leave the confines and coal smoke of the city in the winter to retreat to a country seat. Unfortunately, her grandfather had fallen on hard times, lost the estate and much of their fortune. The only thing that kept the Earl Grebs from just being a Lord by title alone was the small townhouse in London and a minimal yearly pension of investments.
Alexandra ached to see anything beyond the rows of houses and masses of people that populated London. Even to spend one year in the country on her own land would have been a dream come true to her.
The prospects of such were slim, however. Alexandra’s sole goal in life was to find a better outcome for her younger sisters than the one she was facing. She never had time in her youth to enjoy the ton truly. She did little socialization beyond advancements for her sister’s benefit. Between that and the fact that they all had almost no dowry to speak of, gentlemen didn’t exactly seek her out.
She would live in her father’s small townhouse all the days of his life. Upon his death, the title and house would then pass on to the next male heir: a cousin of her father’s younger sister who was currently in India, commissioned as an officer.
Then her life and existence would be a mystery to her. She would be at the mercy of her cousin to take her in out of the charity in his heart, or to leave her on the streets to fend for herself.
It was for this reason she had spent the whole of her teenage years and young adulthood striving to find better situations for her younger sisters.
She couldn’t bear the thought of letting her mother down and leaving them just as weak as she would be someday.
Tonight was very likely the first night of Josephine’s last chance at finding a match. She could focus on nothing else except this fact. Even missing buttons would have to be pushed aside for such an important goal.
They arrived at Sir Hamilton’s just as the bulk of the crowd arrived. It wasn’t the most ideal as she didn’t want her sister to get lost in a vast throng, but it was safe. Too early or too late could raise eyebrows in a negative light. If Alexandra had learned anything from her family history, erring on the side of safe was much better than trying the risk.
As soon as Alexandra and her sisters made their introductions at Sir Hamilton and Mrs. Hamilton’s welcome procession line, she went straight to work to scout out any and all prospects that were present this night.
There were no wild cards to speak of, and part of Alexandra was relieved to the fact. The single gentlemen present this night were the same that attended almost every season. It meant her sisters had some connections to them.
There was always that worry for Josephine, however. With no new prospects as of yet, it would be hard for her to make a match. These gentlemen had seen, danced, and had conversations with Josephine for the last three years more or less and had either not found interest, or found their poverty too much of a deterrent.
After making her rounds of the room and see that both her sisters were settled into their own group of familiar friends, Lady Alexandra went to take her place with all the other motherly figures.
Though Josephine and Lady Alexandra were only a year apart, she had never felt in the right place when she joined Josephine and the other ladies of similar age. Lady Alexandra had so many problems and obstacles always in front of her; she often sought out the older ladies for advice.
It made all the frivolous talk of Josephine’s friends seem so pointless compared to the worry that seemed to weigh her down.
“Lady Alexandra,” a kind voice called out, waving a lace fan in the air to get her attention.
Lady Alexandra walked through the pressing crowd that still seemed to be flowing in to find Countess Eagleton. Lady Eagleton was probably the closest to her age of all the married ladies at the young age of thirty-four.
She married at the young age of seventeen to the Earl of Eagleton. Unlike most women who went straight to producing children early on in their marriage, and thereby excluding them from many seasons in town, Lady Eagleton had not received that blessing in her life.
It always made Lady Alexandra ache for her. She did love Regina so and hated the pain she felt over not producing an heir. Of course, the words were never spoken of her failure in that respect, but it was still clear to all of society that she was letting the earldom down.
Both ladies grasped hands warmly when they finally navigated the crowds to the other. Once she let go, Lady Eagleton immediately flicked open her fan and started to wave herself. Lady Eagleton came from a good family of well-established money. This along with her ravishing beauty had led her to an early marriage.
Lady Alexandra didn’t have to wonder much about the relationship between what she would consider her best friend and the Earl that was twice her age. Their marriage had been one of family negotiations and not a matter of the heart. Though Eagleton was kind enough to his young wife, it was still safe to say there was little by way of passion or love between them.
Even Lady Eagleton’s inability to produce a son had been little consequence to the Earl as he had already fathered two boys, now the same age of Regina with families of their own, with the late Lady Eagleton.
Still, the lack of an heir put Regina in a precarious place. Once her husband inevitably went the way of the earth she too would be at the mercy of a distant relation, if a stepson could even be called that, for support. A child of her own would warrant her a portion of the Earl’s estate to help provide for the child and by consequence her as well.
“This place is ridiculously hot,” Regina said fanning herself rapidly. “I dare say spring has come and gone in a blink and summer is already upon us.”
“I hope it is not so,” Lady Alexandra replied. “I fear with the heat starting sooner it will only lead to hotter times ahead. I do detest the heat.”
She had heard of lords and ladies retiring to the Lake District or even to the oceanside along the Scotland border when summers were much hotter than usual. Such a thing would be a detriment to her sisters. Even if Josephine didn’t find her match this season, she was desperate that one of them did if only so that she could afford Sophia’s coming out in twelve months’ time.
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