Authors: Lynn Messina
Tags: #Regency Romance
COPYRIGHT 2015 BY GLYNN MESSINA
COVER DESIGN BY JENNIFER LEWIS
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Published 2015 by Potatoworks Press
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Earning the nickname
Lady Agony was no minor accomplishment. Plenty of girls lacked conversation. Indeed, every season, at least a dozen green misses emerged from the schoolroom unable to speak intelligibly on a variety of subjects or engage in the lighthearted banter that was the lingua franca of the
No, for a simple exchange with a young lady to be deemed “agonizing” by the
required a particular talent. It was not enough merely to be tongue-tied in the presence of an attentive listener; one had to make the attentive listener tongue-tied as well.
Lady Agatha Bolingbroke did this beautifully. With her deprecating manner and her dispiriting mind-set, she was a conversational vortex, a swirling whirlpool of dampening sentiment that drained all lively thought from those around her. Consummate flirts, poised hostesses and men noted for their address all found themselves trailing off as they stared into her severe black eyes. Even Sally Jersey, who famously earned the sobriquet Silence for her tendency to prattle, ceased her endless chatter in the company of Lady Agatha.
As Lord Wittleton had once observed within unintentional earshot of the girl’s papa, the Bolingbroke chit was like a wet cloth or blanket draped over a gathering.
It was little wonder, then, that the girl’s mother all but despaired of marrying her off and engaged in an endless string of ploys in the hope of somehow arranging a suitable match.
Understanding the motives behind her mama’s machinations, however, did little to make Lady Agatha amenable to them, and she watched Lady Bolingbroke with a piercing stare as the woman sank into the seat next to her.
“Well, I say, this is remarkably comfortable,” Lady Bolingbroke declared as she looked around the well-appointed box, situated to the middle left of Drury Lane theater. It was an enviable location, for it required only a slight tilt of her head to observe the occupants of the box to her right and no tilt at all for the occupants opposite to observe her. “I am delighted to be here. Are you not, as well, Aggie dear?”
“Yes, of course, Mama,” her daughter said with a sharp frown, her fierce eyes focused on the lace trim of her white silk gloves. “Foisting myself upon strangers is among my chief delights. I’m grateful to you for providing me with this opportunity.”
“I know you are,” replied her parent with undaunted gaiety, “and you must not be. As your mother, it’s my duty to provide you with as many opportunities as possible. You should, of course, thank the Duchess of Trent when she arrives with her sister. ’Twas remarkably gracious of her to invite us to attend the theater with her. I say, this is the veriest treat. Now, do be a dear, Aggie, and hand me my opera glasses. Without seeing the shape of the mole on Mr. Carpenter’s nose, I can’t tell whether it is the heir or his younger brother.”
With a sigh, Agatha withdrew the ornate spectacles from her reticule and handed them to her mother. If there was one thing she disliked more than foisting herself on strangers, which her mother required she do with alarming regularity, it was being called Aggie. The absurd appellation bespoke her mother’s habit of infantilizing everyone. Agatha’s father was Bolly, her maid was Ellie, and her governess had been Stony.
Agatha loathed diminutives.
was a nickname.
She knew, of course, that the term was used by the
to describe the unpleasant experience of trying to converse with her. She understood that its intentions were cruel, but she felt only satisfaction in the fact that
intentions were understood. Lady Agatha Bolingbroke neither desired nor sought the good opinion of society and had more important things to do than spend her days thinking up sufficiently engrossing chatter about horseflesh or Lord Byron.
Not that she couldn’t rise to the occasion if she chose to exert herself—Lady Agatha knew herself to be a creature of mild intelligence—but she could not envision the circumstance that would inspire her to make the effort. After four seasons, she’d experienced all that the marriage mart had to offer and found it sadly lacking. The good aspects, which were few and far between, could be best enjoyed in silence: plays, operas, museum exhibitions, fireworks displays.
“Providence!” Lady Bolingbroke chirped as she lowered the opera glasses to smile at her daughter. “The mole on the nose is shaped like a leaf, not an apple, which means we are sitting across from the elder sibling. Smooth your hair, dear, and straighten your shoulders so that he may see you at your best. You do recall, do you not, that you danced with him at Almack’s your first season? It was a minuet, I believe. You made such a delightful pair with your complementary coloring. At the time, I was not enamored of the match, as his family’s seat is quite off-puttingly far in the north. But that was some time ago and my definition of
has altered slightly.”
Agatha was not surprised to hear it, for if Lady Bolingbroke had had any particular qualifications for her daughter’s husband when she’d first made her debut, they had long since been abandoned in the name of expediency. After four long, unsuccessful seasons, Agatha knew both her parents would happily accept the proposal of the first gentleman who asked, which was why she worked so diligently to make sure none did.
“I do not know what you mean by complementary coloring,” Agatha said, intentionally rounding her back so her shoulders slumped. She would certainly not improve her posture upon her mother’s command. “We both have the same sallow complexion. If anything, we made one another look more sickly.”
This deflating statement, which would have caused her father to sputter in annoyance, only made her mother chuckle. “How droll you are, my dear. I’ve always said your sense of humor is your most attractive trait.”
Now Agatha smiled with genuine amusement, for if her sense of humor was really her most attractive trait, then she was truly sunk indeed. Her appearance certainly did not show her to advantage. In addition to stern black eyes, she had coarse dark hair that refused to comply with the elegant hairstyles of the day and narrow lips that seemed permanently pinched with displeasure. To be completely fair, she actually had very fine features—eyes evenly set and well proportioned to her face, a delicate nose that turned slightly upward at the end—but the underlying architecture of her face was so severe as to undercut even these compensations.
As an artist, Agatha appreciated the value of good bone structure, but as a young lady making her come out, she knew her sharp cheekbones and chiseled jawline indicated a strength of character not welcomed in a girl of marriageable age. She understood why this was, of course, for no matchmaking mama wanted a daughter-in-law with a strong will and no gentleman desired a wife of decisive opinions.
To her credit, Lady Bolingbroke had done everything she could to raise a milk-and-water miss of little resolve, and it was her enduring frustration that her daughter could not be taught how to simper or demur or even trill enchantingly. Agatha’s laugh in particular had long been a source of disappointment, for the sound always rang with sincere and heartfelt enjoyment. Oh, the number of times her mother had explained that a true lady was never genuinely amused! Rather, her mirth was calibrated to the particular circumstance in a series of complex calculations designed to produce the perfectly regulated response. She knew her daughter was clever, but after years of futile lessons, she had to concede it was the wrong sort of clever. Sure, Aggie could toss off a remark so cutting it eviscerated its listener, but she could never figure out how to imbue a chuckle with the amount of warmth suitable to the situation.
Other mothers would have abandoned the field by now, but Lady Bolingbroke was made of sterner stuff than most and her campaign to rid her daughter of all signs of intelligence continued unabated.
“Mr. Carpenter appears to be sitting next to Sir Winston, who is, I believe, a Whig crony of his,” Lady Bolingbroke added. “You might also describe his complexion as sickly, but I suspect that’s from an unfortunate overapplication of powder. Do take a look, dear, and offer your opinion.”
Although Agatha did not relish a close-up examination of Sir Winston’s spot-marked face, it was more appealing than quibbling with her mother about her lack of interest in Sir Winston’s spot-marked face and she calmly accepted the opera glasses. As slouching forward actually required more effort than her usual posture, she sat up straight in her chair while she looked across the way. Her gaze landed first on Mr. Carpenter—yes, her mother was right, it was a leaf-shaped mole—then on Sir Winston, who did appear to be sporting an unusually heavy application of white face powder, no doubt in an attempt to cover up the unsightly blemishes on his chin and forehead.