A Formulaic Romance
This is the start of another story Amelia and I are putting together. There’s a pun in the title that will become obvious in time.
It starts with the trope, Lady Rachel on her way to London, is stranded in the country by an unfortunate accident. They’ve made their way to the house in the distance, but not without slipping in the muddy lane.
The Master was introduced here. He was somewhat annoyed at the disturbance, but willing to see that his guests were properly entertained. The housekeeper, Mrs Hobbes, leads Rachel and Lucy to their rooms to prepare for dinner The carriage wright makes a cameo appearance in a previous snippet.
Last week saw the arrival of Rupert’s Uncle George and a hint at the complicated family history – a history that was not completely … harmonious.
After a peek into Rupert’s history, George makes a somewhat unusual proposition to Rachel which was continued. The rain finally scuds off to the North Sea leaving a fine day – for riding and other things. Rachel, unsure of her own feelings, arranged for her companion to use the only sidesaddle. Meanwhile Rupert and Rachel discover a shared interest in music.
Music Lessons and more.
“Good.” Rachel suddenly felt a little breathless. She sat too close, too alone, to a man. Not only that, she held his hand. Without gloves. The bleached streaks and white pallor of his skin accentuated the darkness of his eyes. She sat far too close to a far too handsome man for comfort.
Rupert only made it worse. “Marry me.”
“Lord Hartshorne,” Rachel rapidly backed away and tried to stand. Only to trip on her gown and crash to the floor.
Rupert calmly slid across the piano bench and helped her up. “I’m sure George has, by now, asked you to help shift me to London.”
“I know my Uncle. For that matter, I could tell something was up, from Mrs Hobbes. The way she smirked this morning. What did he offer you?”
“To help pay for my season.”
“I see. A bit mercenary of you?”
Rachel laughed, “No, a bit desperate. Lord Hartshorne,”
“Rupert, then. I hardly know you, and you hardly know me. How could we possibly wed?”
“I like the way you play your instrument, and you’re beautiful. You handled my … impoliteness with grace.”
“That’s not enough and you know it. Or you’d know it if you thought it through.”
“I thought it through with Antonia. Should have just kept looking.”
Rachel saw a flash of distress on his face. He still is in love with her. “Are, are you sure? I, I can’t.”
“It won’t be passion, I’m done with passion, but I can offer you comfort, comfort and security … I think we should get on well enough. Learn to love each other in time. So what about it?”
“I can’t say yes. You know that.”
Rupert’s face fell.
“But I won’t say no. How would ‘maybe’ work for you? You’re not unattractive.”
“Alright, you’re handsome, and you don’t seem vicious. I’m willing to see what happens when we know each other better. Will that do?”
“It’s better than no.”
Rupert chuckled. “You’re right. Maybe will be first rate.”
“And you’ll come to London with me?”
“I’ll bring you to London. If only to show George that he shouldn’t trifle with the head of the family.” Rupert’s smile broke into laughter.
“What’s so funny?”
“I’m just imagining the expression on my step-grandmother’s face when I turn up with a dashed good-looking armful.”
Lucy interrupted Rachel’s attempt to question Rupert about why that should matter. She stood in the door and shouted, “Miss Rachel, what are you doing? Alone with a man.”
“It’s fine Lucy. Lord Hartshorne has been a perfect gentleman. We were-”
“That is as may be. But you shouldn’t be alone with him.”
Rupert rose, bowed and said, “Miss Holloway, how was your ride?”
“It was exquisite. Now Miss Rachel, come with me. We will have a conversation, about your deportment.”
Rachel gave Rupert a wan smile, “See how I’m managed.”
“It’s for your own good, Ma’am.”
Upstairs, in Rachel’s room, as she helped Lucy out of her riding habit, she asked, “How did it go, really?”
“It was fine. The mare was a little barn-soured, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Lord Bedlington was nothing if not a gentleman.”
“Exactly what I’d expect of him.”
“It is. What, may I ask, were you and Lord Hartshorne doing?”
“Playing the spinet. I found a duet. We played it together.”
Lucy chuckled, “Since you haven’t practiced, in … I don’t know, ever so long. I’m glad I was out riding.” She noted that Rachel was unusually distracted, thoughtful. “Did something else happen?”
“He, he asked me to marry him.”
“I hope you accepted, much nicer to be engaged. It’ll solve no end of problems.”
“You didn’t refuse him!”
“I didn’t. I said maybe.”
“Whatever possessed you? You know your situation, and … Good Lord Rachel. Get yourself back down there and tell him you accept his hand.”
“But nothing young miss. He’ll make you happy. Happy enough.”
Rachel sighed, “I suppose you’re right.”
“I am. You know I am. With the war, there aren’t enough able and eligible men left, and things are so tight with so many soldiers returning from France. We saw a mob.”
“I’ll tell you after you’ve talked to Lord Hartshorne. Lord Bedlington and the groom went to find the local magistrate … that mob, it looked ugly.”
“Can you come with me?”
“Support you in your time of crisis? If you insist.”
Accompanied by her companion, Rachel returned to the study. Then she rang the bell for the servants. When Mr Brindle appeared, she asked him if he’d seen his master.
“I believe, Ma’am, that the Master was headed to his workshop.” Rachel couldn’t read Mr Brindle’s well-trained impassivity. “I could, if you desire, show you the way.”
“Please.” I hope I’m doing the right thing. Lucy thinks I am. But then she’s not the one getting married.
Rupert was in his laboratory, with the window open, while he worked through his notes. Rachel’s nose puckered at the remaining smell, the peculiar tang of chemistry. “Lord Hartshorne, Rupert,” She curtsied, “About what you asked me.”
“I had the time to think, to gather my thoughts. I shouldn’t have said maybe.”
Rupert’s face tightened with worry, then relaxed when he saw she was smiling at him.
“I should have said yes.”
It’s probably obvious that the title, “A Formulaic Romance” refers obliquely to chemistry. There’s another arcane reference in the text. Anyone caught it yet? It’s sort of, maybe, perhaps, important, given what Rupert worked on in the past. (No one yet has found the answer, so I’m leaving the question pending.)
Another clue, the material Rupert worked on was used to ignite gunpowder, and its synthesis was published in the proceedings of the Royal Academy in 1803. The paper is available for download, and requires a level of heroic chemistry that I wouldn’t do (the chemists tasted their product and said it didn’t taste like calomel). Your mileage might vary. It isn’t used as a primer any longer, but please do not fire into the air at midnight. You have no idea where the bullet will land.
Amelia reminded me to put a link to our book page.