19 December 2010

My Lady Miriam Part 8


Miss Alexandria was rather too tall to be said a good height for a young girl of her age, but the fact was certainly not unpleasant; she was undoubtedly shy, and had all the timidity of a girl in her first season of Town. Nonetheless, she was well received and liked by all and thought to be a pretty thing, however conversationally deprived she may have been. Miriam had given her approval by sitting next to her for an advantageous ten minutes, but really had thought no more of her until this moment. Miriam abhorred “giving approval” so that the Town’s gossips would be able to say that Miss A or Miss B has been well-received and even accepted by Lady A—it made her feel responsible for all new arrivals at Almacks. Not but what others had that responsibility also, but she would much rather give that responsibility to another. More and more proprieties! How they lingered and grew.
Such was London life; Miriam did enjoy Town, but she loved to be in her country home, riding and walking without a groom or abigail; free from the gossip’s eyes and well away from a number of silly young men who wore catskin waistcoats and such things. Why could they not dress well? She preferred a fashionable, yet neatly dressed man…quite like the Duke of Calver…not that she thought about him at all.
How had he crept back into her thoughts? Miriam critically suppressed any further thoughts of his person and added a reproachful thought upon herself without any further ado.

The Duke was out on his horse, with his groom behind him and wearing very well-coloured riding garb. He had been out for a good part of the day, for he had wanted to inspect his land and survey his estate and had found it to be in as good condition as his stable overseer had formerly explained it to be, but he was not satisfied with a mere inspection ride. He dismissed his groom when he had reached the ha-ha that lay before the surrounding forest—which in turn made its way up to the carriage way to his house estate—and rode back on himself, having an exceptionably skillful seat in the saddle.
His Grace the Duke had returned to his other country estate (for he had two) two days since and had been a great deal occupied with it. That morning, the Duke had written to his mother, asking her if he might have the pleasure of her company and the honour of her benevolent self hosting—along with her companion—the coming party in which the Duke had invited many of the ton who had returned themselves to the charm of the country after many seasons of the sensational Town.
He knew his mother would accept his invitation and as long as the Dowager Duchess had her companion, who was his meek cousin, to order about then she would be happy to lend her hosting abilities to her son.
In truth, she would not be strained to do much, only to receive guests on the night of the party and nod at a few people who would be delighted at such a novelty.
As the Duke rode over a small rise in the land, his eyes twinkled with amusement. For however much he loved his mother dearly, he knew that she was a formidable hostess, and setting weak-kneed individuals into panic was one of her pleasures; the Dowager Duchess gave her favour upon few, and there were only some she in fact liked. Still, a hostess she would be and a respected one.
As the Duke turned his mind onto other matters, he rode across a good part of his land, nearing the border of one of his neighbour’s estates. As he slowed his horse down to a trot, he noticed another rider riding across the boundary onto his land, with a dog in front of him and his horse, riding at full pace. His Grace quickly nudged his horse and set the pace at a hasty canter to go after this man who had challenged one of the unspoken rules of hunting, especially where gentlemen are involved.
He quickly reached him however for this man had slowed and almost come to a halt, with a disappointed look on his exhausted face. He hadn’t noticed the Duke’s arrival on the sorry scene, and he seemed to be satisfying himself by way of dark mutterings and curses.
As the Duke came to his side, he was given a better view of him. He was a young man, with well-combed, fair hair and wearing a most impractical riding garb, but more than that the Duke couldn’t make out.
Suddenly the young man grew aware of the stranger by his side, gave a start, and demanded stiffly,
“Good heavens! What do mean by that sir? Sneaking to my side like a….” He stopped as he saw this stranger--who sat staring with raised brows and a smile in his eyes--in detail beside him and looked him over guardedly. The annoyed flush faded from his face and his eyes shone as something dawned on him.
“By george! Tony is that really you?” The Duke smiled faintly and performed a very slight bow.
“Yes, it is. I’m astonished I didn’t recognize you riding. You never could ride well.”
“Oh yes it’s you all right! Only you would dare say that!” He answered benevolently and added on further thought, “By golly, what are you doing in the country Tony? I thought you were still in Town.”
“Yes, I was in Town, but Town life grew tiresome. So I came here. But I never saw you there, where have you been skulking Ricky?”
“No such thing old boy! I have been to Paris. On the Grand Tour you know…well, at least half of it. I got detained in Paris.”
“Good heavens! What a sorry sight that must have been.” He continued, answering the quizzical look in Ricky’s eyes, “You on the Grand Tour.”
Ricky laughed abruptly and turned his horse about. “You haven’t changed a bit Tony! Not a bit of it!”
As Ricky sat on his horse now, ready to race, he sat tall, slender and eager. He wore tight breeches, with gleaming Hessians; his coat of superfine was maroon  He was, as he liked to be called, a dandy. The Ton knew him as Lord Richard Hawkes of Westbrooke and he bethought himself a great influence of society in ways of fashion and modes, though indeed he possessed very little outside of himself. He had known Anthony since he was at school, and while the Duke was a few years his senior, they had become friends,—as a friendship could be with a Duke who was older and all together more wise in the ways of the world—though they had not met one another properly for the vast time of five years. 

To be continued....
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