Read The Accidental Marriage Online

Authors: Sally James

Tags: #Regency Romance

The Accidental Marriage

 
THE ACCIDENTAL MARRIAGE
 
Marina Oliver
 
Chapter One

 

‘I need a new situation now,’ Julia Marsh said, pushing aside the teacups and spreading the contents of her purse on the small table beside her. ‘Look, two pounds, six shillings and threepence - and don’t let’s forget the halfpenny, that will make a tremendous difference!’

‘You need a husband,’ her sister Fanny, Lady Cunningham, said briskly. ‘You had your chances during your Season.’

Julia shuddered. ‘Only desperate old men wanting a nurse or a mother for broods of children offered for a girl with no dowry, dependent on her sister and her rather unwilling brother-in-law for the very clothes she stood up in. If I have to be a nurse or governess I prefer to do it for a wage, and to be able to walk away if the people are uncongenial.’

She glanced down at her dull gown, at least two years out of date. It was appropriate for a companion to elderly ladies, being pale grey with no trimmings, but not very fashionable. Fanny wore a gown in a pretty pale apple green, trimmed with darker green ruffles and braid. It suited her blonde fairness to perfection, and would have looked equally good with her own slightly darker honey-blonde hair. But she did not envy Fanny the husband who paid for such finery.

‘Frederick was not unwilling,’ Fanny said, but her tone was doubtful. ‘He did rather hope you would become respectably established, though.’

Julia smiled. ‘Well, I did have an offer to become unrespectably established,’ she said, and chuckled. ‘What would your starchy Frederick have said if I’d accepted that offer?’

Fanny frowned. ‘Your flippancy does not help. Will you apply for another post as companion?’

Julia sighed faintly. Poor Fanny had no sense of humour. She shook her head. ‘I’m bored with reading tedious books of sermons to old ladies, and taking their irritating dogs for strolls in Sydney Gardens. I’m tired of Bath. I prefer the country, in any event, so I thought I’d apply for a position as governess. Young children would be a pleasant change. I have seen two advertisements today, and written letters. I’m praying I’ll find something before you have to leave Greystones Manor.’

‘You can stay here,’ Fanny offered.

She was always kind, but she clearly hadn’t considered what her husband would say about keeping his house open for the sake of an indigent sister-in-law. ‘No, I can’t stay here on my own. You’ll want to close the house. You’ll be away for several months.’

‘I meant at the Dower House. It’s not been used since Frederick’s mother died last year, but the Harpers are there, they can easily look after you, until you find a suitable position. You mustn’t take the first one that offers if it isn’t what you’d like.’

Julia shrugged. She’d have to find something soon, whether it was what she wanted or no. Her last employer had been kind, and had promised to leave her some money, but she had died before changing her will, and her son declared he had no obligation for his mother’s promises, if indeed she had made them, he’d added with a sneer.

Even a few pounds would have permitted her to take her time while seeking another post. She disliked being beholden to Sir Frederick Cunningham, who always gave the impression of disapproving of her. Perhaps this was because she was so very different from Fanny, who was gentle and pliable, always ready to believe Frederick knew best.

‘How long does it take to travel to Vienna?’ she asked, to change the subject.

‘Three or four weeks, I expect. Probably more. It rather depends on how well the girls travel. We haven’t ever taken them more than a dozen miles from home, and I’m dreading them developing travel sickness, and becoming bored and fretful. Thank goodness we have Miss Clarence to help keep them occupied.’

Julia gathered the coins together and slid them back into her purse. ‘Do you have to take them?’

‘It’s an opportunity, now that odious Boney is safely locked away on Elba. Frederick wants to go to the Congress, and his grandmother has not seen the children. She wrote to say she hoped she would do so before she died. She is over seventy, so I suppose that’s natural. And I’ve never met her either. But it seems a long way to go for just a few weeks. Frederick says the Congress will only last a month or two.’

‘Why is he so anxious to go?’

‘You know he has political ambitions. He feels that with so many rulers and ministers there he might find patronage.’

Julia did not reply. She had no great faith in her brother-in-law’s political acumen, which she considered less than her own, and thought his chances of impressing someone with influence were remote. But Fanny loved and believed in him, and Julia, knowing her sister’s lack of confidence, tried not to criticize Frederick too often. Fanny was pretty, but far too self-effacing for Julia, who frequently had to bite her tongue in an attempt not to annoy Frederick. If he felt offended by her he was liable to complain to Fanny, saying she ought to control her sister better.

Fanny went on, her voice wistful. ‘If times had been normal when we married, we’d probably have gone to visit her on our wedding journey, but the war was starting again, Europe wasn’t safe. I just wish we had a son.’

Julia nodded. In nine years of marriage Fanny had produced only two girls, and after several miscarriages it seemed unlikely she would ever provide him with an heir. She knew Frederick blamed his wife. He frequently made fretful remarks about the lack of a son to inherit his title. Julia blamed him, for he spent a great deal of his time in London while Fanny was left alone in Hampshire, moping. On the one occasion she’d had the opportunity to observe him there, during her unsuccessful Season three years ago, she had been astonished, and then disgusted, at the manner in which he had neglected his wife in order to pay lavish attentions to other ladies. When she had protested to Fanny, her sister had merely said it was fashionable, it was not serious, and married couples did not sit in each other’s pockets. Sometimes, Julia thought, Fanny seemed younger than she was, despite the six years’ difference in their ages. If she ever married, which seemed unlikely, she would not tolerate such inconsiderate behaviour from a husband, whatever the fashionable world might say.

* * * *

Within a week Julia received replies to her applications. Both said she was too young for the responsibility of caring for their children. She fumed. She would be one and twenty just before Christmas, less than five months away.

‘They are probably afraid you’re too pretty,’ Fanny said, trying to console her. ‘As well as the husbands, there are bound to be young male relatives who are susceptible to female charms.’

‘And one of them might want to marry me,’ Julia said, and laughed. ‘I’ll have to resign myself to being a companion again.’

It would be difficult, she admitted to herself an hour later, as she sat in her room and tried to compose yet another letter of application. This was to a lady of advanced years who needed a genteel companion with the ability to play the pianoforte, a clear speaking voice, a love of and patience with cats, and good French, for she would be required to write many letters to the lady’s numerous correspondents all over Europe. At least the lady lived in Cheltenham, which would be a pleasant change from Bath.

Would she be expected to groom numerous cats? If they were anything like the Vicarage cats she had known before her parents died, they would undoubtedly object with both tooth and claw. She must remember to acquire some thick leather gauntlets. No doubt Fanny would have an old pair. Perhaps she could become a schoolmistress? She shuddered. One or two young children would be tolerable, but cooped up in some academy containing a whole group of girls with little interest in anything but their own forthcoming Seasons, and marriage prospects, would drive her to distraction. If only respectable girls could have careers like their brothers! They could not become lawyers, or clergymen, or Members of Parliament. To have real influence women had to be married to judges or bishops or be political hostesses, and her chances of living that sort of life were nil.

Meanwhile, she had reluctantly agreed to move into the Dower House. Fanny was unhappy at leaving her alone, with no one but the servants, but Julia insisted it would only be for a short while, until she found a position.

‘I’ll ask the Rector’s wife to keep an eye on you,’ Fanny said.

Julia bit back her retort that she didn’t want that inquisitive busybody poking her nose in where she wasn’t welcome. Fanny was trying to do what she thought best for her sister. Julia had not told her of the disparaging comments Mrs Cleeve had made when she had seen Julia riding through the village unaccompanied by a groom. It had not satisfied her to be told that there was no groom available, and the errand she was undertaking for Fanny had been urgent.

She thought back to Fanny’s remark that she needed a husband. Perhaps, and she grinned at the notion, she should advertise in the papers. Wanted, one handsome, kind, faithful, and preferably rich bachelor who would take to wife a stubborn, managing and moderately pretty girl with no dowry, but a clear speaking and singing voice, fluent French and some German and Italian.

Sighing, she reread the letter, picked up a wafer and sealed it. There could be no reply until after Fanny had left, the day after tomorrow. She glanced round the room. She had already taken most of her belongings, which were few, to the Dower House. She ought to gather up the rest and take them there now. She planned to move in today, wanting to know whether the plan would work, or whether there were unforseen problems which might need sorting out before Fanny and Frederick departed.

She was carrying a valise downstairs when she heard raised voices in the small parlour where Fanny spent most of her time.

‘I can’t do it! I won’t be cooped up in a stuffy, uncomfortable carriage for weeks!’

‘But we offered you extra money,’ Fanny said. ‘You agreed!’

‘I hadn’t thought about it enough. I’m sorry, but I won’t go.’

‘How on earth will I find another governess in time?’

‘I don’t know. Perhaps you’ll have to look after the children yourself for once!’

Julia stood aside as Miss Clarence, her colour high, and her hair in disarray as though she’d dragged her fingers through the normally demure bun, almost ran from the room, slamming the door behind her. Stifling a sob, and shrugging off Julia’s outstretched hand, she ran up the stairs.

Julia looked back at the parlour door, set down her valise on the chequered marble floor and walked thoughtfully across the hall.

* * * *

‘I will almost certainly be back within three months, my sweet, in plenty of time for our wedding.’

Sir Carey Evelegh took the hand of the remarkably lovely girl who sat on the bench beside him, weeping bitterly, but when he tried to pull her towards him she snatched her hand away and stamped her foot.

‘I don’t want you to go!’ she sobbed. ‘If you truly loved me, you’d stay here. You don’t know what it’s like, Mama is always asking me silly questions, but whenever I tell her what I want in my trousseau she says it’s not suitable, and I’m so tired of all the silly details! Why can’t we just go to Gretna Green and avoid all this dreadful fuss!’

He laughed fondly, captured her hand again, and began to stroke the back of it with his fingers. How young she was, despite her normal air of sophistication. She’d been surrounded by eager suitors the moment she appeared in London. She was pretty, of good family, and had an ample dowry. When he himself, having been abroad during the spring, reached London in June, and she had shown an instant preference for him despite having received a couple of excellent offers, he had fallen under her spell. She was young, but would become an admirable wife and companion.

She shivered, and gave him a watery but apologetic glance, before moving closer to him and letting him put his arm round her waist. He breathed in the heady, intoxicating perfume she favoured.

‘You’ll enjoy the wedding. All girls do, and you’ll look so beautiful, darling Angelica.’

She blinked. ‘We could have been married by now, and I could have come with you.’

‘Sweetheart, we only became betrothed a month ago, there just hasn’t been time. Besides, a spring wedding will be lovely, and we can go on our wedding journey in the best weather.’

‘We’ll miss the Season.’

‘Only the start of it, and there will be plenty more, for the rest of our lives. Time will pass quickly, I promise. And I really do have to go. Lord Castlereagh is taking the usual diplomats, and various clerks from the Foreign Office, but he wants other people there who can advise him. I spent some time in Poland and Russia a few years ago, I met the Tsar, and I think I can help.’

Angelica pouted, but permitted him to kiss her cheek. ‘How long?’ she asked.

‘I’ll travel as fast as I can, you may be sure. Especially on the way home. The Congress opens officially in October, and should be over by Christmas at the very latest.’

‘But it’s only the middle of August now!’ Angelica interrupted. ‘You need not go for a month or so. Why do you have to set off tomorrow?’

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