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>Regency Scene – Past Indiscretions

3 Jan

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A continuation of: http://renate-villerius.blogspot.com/2010/12/bachelor-visits-regency-scene.html

“That’s settled, then. We will send out invitations later this week. There is no fixed date as of yet for the ball but I hope to secure the Crown Inn. They have a ball room that is divine. Naturally, Harley Manor was my first choice but with our extensive guest list, I fear we would be unable to accommodate everyone.”

In Audrey’s opinion, this was no great compliment to Harley Manor but her mother was quite ignorant of these matters. Her father, a very wealthy landowner, was better suited to supervise such delicate situations but business called him away so Josephine was in charge until his return a week from now. Mr. Sharpe took his leave, wished them the very best and expressed his delight at the prospective ball. As the door closed behind him, Mrs. Hamilton ordered some fresh tea and announced her plans for the blissful event.

“You must have new gowns, of course! You cannot stand up with such a man dressed like a farmer’s daughter,” she exclaimed. The critique was aimed at Audrey’s evening dress; creamy silk with a plunging neckline and puff sleeves with ribbon trimmings – purchased only the month before and still considered the height of fashion. But objections were fruitless; no one could reason with such a creature as her mother. “You shall look your very best. All past indiscretions shall be forgotten. All it takes is one dance with that gentleman. A smile and a few words of kindness should do the trick,” she continued

Audrey rarely danced. Not due to some inaptitude on her part but because there were few gentlemen whose company she could tolerate, let alone appreciate or enjoy. Most young men adjourned to London at the commencement of the season, leaving her locked away in the country with old fogies, clergymen and bores. At the beginning of her career as an adult and woman in search of a husband, she had been dispatched to London for a proper coming-out. But after a dozen balls, they had been forced to admit that her admirers, though loyal and clever, applied to her for friendship rather than courtship.

One marriage proposal was received by an elderly gentleman, a second son of a duke. The gentleman professed his love after a cup of tea, biscuit still in hand. But due to his lack of fortune and connections, not to mention the perfect indifference on her side, he was refused. Spiteful and hurt, he spoke of his rejection amongst friends and Audrey’s conduct towards him was pronounced misleading and deceitful. Wherever she went, this supposed error in judgement haunted her and she soon quit London entirely, never to return.

“If all goes well, we may even relocate to London. Should you not like to visit Town? It has been too long, I declare. Surely, your past vices have long been forgotten. It is many years since you were last there. They will have new scandals to speak of.” But on this point Audrey would not surrender.

“I have not the slightest intention of revisiting the place of my only failure.” Though she considered her punishment disproportionate to the crime, the fault was hers; through her youthful enthusiasm and unguarded nature, she had allowed him to believe an attachment had formed between them.

“You are too hard on yourself, my dear. Think of how much you have grown since then. It would be perfectly safe for us to sojourn there. I will not let you jeopardise your future. Your fear is understandable but with all you have to offer to the world, it must be overcome.”

Audrey was silent. Her mother meant well – supported and comforted her when disappointments crossed her path. Though Audrey had always been her favourite, after her scandal her hopes were transferred to Audrey’s younger sister, Catherine, who was recently married to a Duke.

“Besides, with your sister’s recent successes, your reputation will have increased. Only imagine how eager all those fine young men will be to be seen with you.”

Against such sound arguments, even Audrey could not but yield. “Very well. We shall go to London. But we have scarcely any acquaintance in Town. Who shall we call on during our stay?” It worried her. Her friends and relations were not such as possessed townhouses. Instead, they remained in the country, just as they had done for so many years.

“That isn’t true. Mr. Beckham will be in Town. He informed me of the fact only a fortnight ago at Mrs. Berry’s picnic. Apparently, he owns a large townhouse near Grosvenor Square.”

This was no great inducement for Audrey to go to London; Mr. Beckham purchased a big estate in the neighbourhood some weeks ago. Once settled in the community, he called on his neighbours to introduce himself as was the custom. However, when he was expected at Harley Manor, he sent word that he was unable to favour them with a visit and excused himself to join a hunting party up north. Hunting! How could it take precedence over his neighbourly duties? As of yet, all she has learned of his character has been through mutual friends, who were fortunate enough to be granted an audience with His Pompousness.

Mrs. Hamilton was kinder in her assessment of his person; the general opinion of his character was so favourable that it had impressed upon her the belief that all had been some mysterious misunderstanding that he sought to rectify as soon as possible. As such, she spoke very highly of him with unrelenting speeches about his intentions to visit them for an introduction.

Perhaps if it had not been for these many tedious remarks on the subject, Audrey would have forgiven his folly and reserved her judgement until in company with him. But, as it was, the many accounts of his generous nature and good breeding only made his ill treatment of them more strongly-felt. A gentleman so easily swayed from his responsibilities could not in essence be a good man.