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Authors: Judith Harkness

The Determined Bachelor

BOOK: The Determined Bachelor
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The Plot's the Thing!

As any good author should, she knew the leading characters:

—A cleric's willful daughter bent on taking London's literary world by storm . . .

—A handsome lord who considered all women save one to be flighty creatures concerned with nothing of greater import than gowns and gossip . . .

—A brilliant and beautiful lady whose keen mind was obviously the exception that proved the gentleman's rule . . .

—A charming nine-year-old whose presence soon set the tongues of London society wagging . . .

Yes, the cast of players was all too easy, but for lovely novelist Anne Calder the plot was becoming far too confused. And her vision of herself as a highly successful author capable of maintaining her independence and avoiding the marriage trap, was somehow being replaced by the face of a man whose opinions she could not abide and whose affections might never be hers . . .

The Determined Bachelor

The Determined Bachelor

A Regency Classic

by

Judith Harkness

Copyright © 1981 by Judith Harkness

“Portrait d'un artiste,” by Michel Martin Drolling, 1815. In the Public Domain (PD1923)

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form. For information, address Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, 55 Fifth Avenue, 15th Floor, New York, New York 10003.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Print ISBN: 978-0-7867-5510-3

eISBN: 978-0-7867-5511-0

Distributed by Argo Navis Author Services

                 
For Nick,
,

                 
joy of my life
.

The Determined
Bachelor

Contents

Prelude

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXV

About the Author

Prelude

For once, Grosvenor Square was utterly deserted. It was that hour of the day—between five and six on a bleak November afternoon—when the inhabitants seemed to have exhausted their enthusiasm for fresh air. The weather was too cold and damp to encourage the usual outing in Hyde Park, and even those few hardy souls who had ventured out at all had long since returned to the comfort of their own hearths. Their more sensible neighbours (those who had not gone away to Scotland for the fox hunting) had stayed within, and were presently deep in afternoon slumbers. The exertions of the evening would not commence for another hour, and the great stone mansions lay silent in the lowering dark. Only a solitary figure scurrying along the glistening cobblestones gave any hint of life. The figure (belonging to a scullery maid hastening back from her mission to the butcher) soon vanished into the servant's entrance at Number Six, leaving the street once more to the silence and the fog.

At Number Twenty-two, a vast stone edifice belonging to the Princess Lieven, the butler was taking his ease beside the pantry window, which afforded a view of the whole square. Rutgers had little to occupy his mind on this bleak afternoon, for his own mistress had gone away on a hunting party some days before. He was therefore absorbed in his own thoughts, which were of no particular interest to anyone save himself, and in contemplating the street, which was notably devoid of activity. He had glimpsed the furtive scullery maid, and let out a contemptuous snort upon seeing the bundle in her arm. How very typical of Number Six, to leave the marketing till evening! Everyone knew that not an edible joint of meat existed
in the whole of London past ten in the morning! Only Lord Hargate's slovenly housekeeper could have permitted such an atrocity from the cook. Musing to himself thus upon the shortcomings of Number Six, Rutgers barely noticed the approaching rumble of carriage wheels. When the sound grew louder, he started up, as much from instinct as training, and commenced putting on his coat. But the sudden realization that no coach was likely to stop before his own door made him sit down again. With some curiosity, however, for there was seldom any traffic in the square at this hour, he leant forward to get a better look at the vehicle, just now coming into view.

At first the sight did not excite his interest. It was only a dirty hired chaise, of the type commonly seen at any large posting house, which, from the look of its mud-splattered sides and the exhausted team, appeared to have come some distance. Such was the butler's snobbery (for the most elegant equipages in England daily passed before his door) that he barely accorded it one glance, and this with a little sniff and upward motion of his nose which amply demonstrated his feelings upon seeing so humble a carriage driving in Grosvenor Square. Yet, when this same lowly vehicle passed by the Princess Lieven's mansion and drew up across the way before Number Six, Rutgers could not resist leaning a little closer to the window and screwing up his eyes to have a better look. His curiosity was further raised on seeing the coachman jump down from his perch and commence unloading the numerous trunks and boxes from the roof.

The butler's interest was not all impersonal, for he was forever on the lookout for some new item of gossip which could further lower the estimation of Hargate House amongst the servants in the square. Such was the derision already accorded Lord and Lady Hargate and their staff amongst his peers that the effort hardly seemed worthwhile. And yet Rutgers derived so much satisfaction from hearing them abused, and delighted so earnestly in the critical anecdotes recounted to him by his friends, which could illustrate ever more clearly the utter vulgarity and disorganization of that family, that he could not resist pressing his hawklike nose quite against the chilly glass pane in an effort to get a better view.

Nothing could have astonished him more than the figure which presently stepped down from the chaise. Rather than the vulgar relative he half expected, Rutgers was amazed to see a tall and elegant gentleman alight. From the tips of his
glowing Hessians to the multiple capes of his fashionable traveling cloak, he was a picture of masculine elegance. Nor did the gentleman possess that affectation of stylishness in his person and attire which may sometimes fool the eyes of a less experienced observer-than Rutgers, who prided himself upon his judgment of his betters. The butler was used to seeing dandies parading in Regent's Park and Bond Street who could not have bought their way into his own mistress's drawing room. It is true that Rutgers would have been delighted to recognize just such a pretender to
tonnishness
alighting before Hargate House, for it would further fuel his argument that Lady Hargate was no better than an overdressed coquette, who could only delight in the company of her own kind. Yet the spectacle before him, though it damppened his spirits at first, only raised them a moment later. The traveler was a Corinthian of the first water—that much one perceived at once. His collars were of just that height, barely grazing the well-defined jawline (for Rutgers, it must be pointed out, had not only the nose of a hawk but the eye of one), which bespoke the best shirtmakers in the kingdom. His leg was slender but well-formed, his neck cloth beautifully knotted, and his gloves impeccable. Nearly upsetting the table beside him, Rutgers managed to see all this, and yet he could not make out the gentleman's features. These were hidden from view by the rakish angle at which his silk hat was set upon his head and the shadow it cast beneath. The butler had all but given up hope of identifying him when the gentleman turned back (evidently to issue some order to the coachman) and his face was illumined for an instant by a candle from within the house.

“By Jupiter and St. George!” was all the butler could exclaim upon recognizing the traveler. “By Jupiter and St. George—it is Sir Basil back from France!”

Chapter I

“What the Devil!” exclaimed Sir Basil Ives, beginning to raise the solid brass knocker, fashioned into the shape of a lion's paw, for the third time. Twice he had knocked, and still no one had come to answer. The vast double doors, with the Hargate arms emblazoned above, remained firmly closed. To the eyes of the weary traveler, who had been jostled over England's worst roads since dawn, they looked as unyielding as the doors of a tomb. Worse—thought he ironically—they looked exactly like the gates to his brother's mind, which had been firmly sealed since birth. Sealed, at any rate, to anything rational, intelligent, or of any import.

Frowning, Sir Basil let the knocker fall and then stepped back to get a view of the upper windows of the mansion. There were candles ablaze in several, therefore the family could not all be abroad. They must certainly have received the message of his return, sent by special courier nearly a fortnight ago from France. Then where the devil were they?

Sir Basil was not ordinarily an impatient man. Indeed, some of the Baronet's most astonishing diplomatic coups had been won by sheer persistence and a refusal to be irritated into foolishness. Impatience was one of those vices which the Ambassador considered nearly as fruitless as it was unbecoming. It had never been known to win an argument nor speed the events of the world, and nearly always resulted in some sort of imbecility. As imbecility was as foreign to his nature as a love of dirty cravats or crimson waistcoats, it was unlikely that Sir Basil would allow himself the luxury of giving in to his impatience just at this moment, when he had nearly attained the object of his journey.

Indeed, all the way from Southampton he had vowed firmly to behave as gentle with his brother as if he had been a poor unfortunate beast, and to avoid at all costs giving in to his natural irritation with him. Lord Hargate's character was so entirely opposed to his younger brother's (being a lover of wine, cards, and every sort of frivolity, which the Baronet abhorred) that it was a constant source of amazement to those who knew them, that they had both been conceived by the same parent. As Lord Hargate was, into the bargain, as foolish as he was weak, it was not surprising that Sir Basil, whose reputation as a brilliant diplomatic strategist was only equaled by his temperance, should avoid any unnecessary contact between them. It had certainly never occurred to the Baronet that he might someday be forced to ask a favour of his brother. And yet that day had come. The favour, besides, was of such a delicate nature, and of so great a magnitude, that the most ingratiating behaviour possible was called for. Reminding himself of this, Sir Basil suppressed the urge to beat his cane against the door. When, after some little while, an ancient butler with eyes still swollen from sleep came to answer the knock, he had managed to press his lips into something like a smile.

“Good Lor'!” croaked the butler upon seeing who it was. His eyes nearly popping out of his head, he stood stock-still, as if incapable of movement. “Good Lor'—I mean to say, it is the young master!”

Sir Basil eyed the elderly retainer with amusement. “Indeed it is, Groves. Though I think you might begin to call me Sir Basil now, if you don't mind. I have been out of knee breeches these past twenty years at least. And do you think I might come in?”

Groves, who had been too amazed to finish putting on his coat, an operation he had neglected to complete before opening the door, stepped quickly back, blushing deeply. His withered old cheeks grew more crimson still when the Baronet stepped past him into the hall and gazed about him with an appraising glance.

“I see your new mistress has not lost a moment in taking up the latest vogue of decoration,” ventured the Baronet, having taken in with horror the new crimson wall hangings, an elaborate campaign table with feet in the shape of lion's paws, and some other artifacts of the current rage in exotica.

BOOK: The Determined Bachelor
10.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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