Lucinda’s Freedom – Joyce Alec

Lucinda!” Closing her eyes, Lucinda put out one hand and rested heavily on the dressing table for a moment. The fact that she could hear her father shouting for her when he was, no doubt, at the bottom of the staircase and she in her bedchamber was testament to the fact that she had upset him in some way. What she had done this time, she dared not think. “The master is calling for you, miss,” Lucinda’s maid hurried toward her, a locket in her hands. “We must finish your preparations quickly.” Lucinda said nothing but obediently sat back down in her seat and let the maid place the locket about her neck before securing it carefully. She looked at herself in the mirror, wondering if her father would find her in any way displeasing. It would be best for her to make certain that he had nothing to complain about, nothing to criticize—particularly if he already had something to speak to her about. “You look very well, miss,” the maid murmured, only to wince as another shout came from Lord Swinton. “I believe your father will not wait much longer, however.” “You are correct, Mary,” Lucinda said, rising from her chair and brushing her skirts carefully. Another glance in the mirror told her she was quite prepared and, with a murmur of thanks to her maid, she made her way to the door. A knot of anxiety settled in her stomach as she descended the staircase. Her father, Viscount Swinton, was pacing the floor, sending her a furious look as she came to join him. “You are tardy!” he exclaimed, slapping one hand down hard upon the bannister.

“What has taken you so long? Is it that maid of yours, taking longer than she ought? Or were you displaying your usual nonsense?” Lucinda lifted her chin and looked her father straight in the eye. Whilst she was forced to bend to his will and do as he asked without question, she did not hesitate to speak the truth to him. “I have done as you asked, Father, and arrived at the precise time I was expected,” she said, just as the grandfather clock in the hallway began to chime, proving her point. Lucinda did her best to hide her smile, knowing that to do so would only make her father all the more angry with her, but feeling within her heart a sense of victory. She had not been tardy, it seemed, but had appeared precisely when he had asked her. In that, surely, he could find no complaint. Lord Swinton glared at her, his dark blue eyes so unlike Lucinda’s vivid green. “Then why are we both standing here, wasting yet more time?” he asked, throwing his hand toward the door. “The carriage is waiting, my girl. Waiting for you!” Shaking his head, he muttered something about how Lucinda’s mother had always been tardy also—a comment which Lucinda threw aside quickly.

In fact, the carriage is waiting for us both, Lucinda thought to herself, picking up her reticule and making her way toward the front door. With a respectful bow of his head, the butler held it open for them and then listened carefully as Lord Swinton stated when they would return. Lucinda sighed heavily to herself and, taking the hand of a waiting footman, climbed into the carriage. No doubt, her father would fully expect the staff to remain diligent at their posts whilst they were absent, refusing to allow any of them to bed until they returned. Lucinda knew, however, that the butler often instructed the staff to retire despite the master’s instructions for, without fail, no matter where they went or what event they attended, Lord Swinton would never recall what he had told his staff. Besides which, he always returned fatigued and ready to retire, requiring only the help of a few staff rather than the entire complement. It was thanks to Mary, Lucinda’s lady’s maid, that she knew of all this, but had secretly instructed her to convey to the butler that she herself approved of what was being done. The staff, she was sure, found serving Lord Swinton just as difficult as she found it to be his daughter. “Ridiculous!” Lord Swinton hauled himself into the carriage, which jostled as he sat down. Lucinda did not know what, in particular, was so ridiculous but chose instead to look out of the carriage window, even though there was very little to see given the hour.

Lord Swinton rapped impatiently on the roof, and the carriage began to move away from their townhouse, leaving Lucinda wondering whether this evening would be any better than the previous. “Your aunt should be waiting for our arrival,” Lord Swinton muttered, as though Lucinda might have forgotten. “She knows we are attending.” “I am sure she does,” Lucinda replied, her heart lifting just a little at the thought of seeing her aunt again. Last evening, her aunt had been the only one able to encourage Lord Swinton into his carriage to depart for home, promising Lucinda that she would see her again come the morrow. Given that Lord Swinton had been deep in his cups and less than willing to do anything other than shout about some ridiculous gambling debt, Lady Crampton had appeared to be some sort of angel in the way that she dealt with Lord Swinton. With kindness and evident gentleness, she had pulled him away from the onlookers and led him toward the carriage—and for some reason, Lord Swinton had gone without complaint. Mayhap it was because she was his sister and something in her voice made him listen to her. Mayhap it was because he had simply grown tired of shouting and had become so fatigued that he had wanted to retire. Either way, Lucinda had been very glad indeed to have been saved from his poor behavior and the shame that was brought to the family name because of it.

“And we shall not leave early tonight,” Lord Swinton declared, as though he had been reading her thoughts. “Why I allowed your aunt to drag me to my carriage, I cannot say, but I certainly shall not permit it this evening. It was ridiculous to return home at such an hour.” Ridiculous, Lucinda thought to herself, her lips pursed as she continued to gaze fixedly out of the window. Everything is ridiculous when it comes to my father. His standards are not met, his words are ignored by others, and it is always the fault of everyone else. Her heart grew heavy as she considered her position. She had no rights as regarded her father. When it came to him, he told her what was expected, and she obeyed without question. It chafed hard and Lucinda found herself continually battling against the urge to speak back to her father, to disobey him without fearing the consequences—but she knew she could not.

Her father was a hard man, cruel and determined. If she did something that he found utterly reprehensible, then she knew that he would not hesitate to send her away from him without even a word. Many times she had been threatened with Miss Brown, a poor relation on her late mother’s side, who required someone to come and care for her in her later years. Lucinda had no doubt that her father would send her there in a moment, should he choose. At the moment, he was the only possibility she had of securing a match, although she desperately hoped that he might permit her even a suggestion or two when it came to particular gentlemen. “You will do your very best this evening, Lucinda.” Her father’s voice was grating, cutting through the carriage and sending a shiver down Lucinda’s spine. “But of course, Father,” she said quietly, not turning her head to look at him. “There is nothing you need concern yourself about. I shall do all that you ask.

” Her father harrumphed but, thankfully, lapsed into silence. Lucinda let out a slow breath, relieved that there was not to be anything further said to her. The carriage drew up to the house and her father stepped out almost immediately, leaving Lucinda to follow him. Lord and Lady Bowles’ townhouse stood before them and, without even a glance toward his daughter, Lord Swinton immediately began to climb the steps to the front door, with Lucinda having to hurry along behind him. “Do hurry, girl,” Lord Swinton snapped, throwing a quick glance toward her over his shoulder. “As I am sure I have reminded you, we must not be tardy this evening.” Not quite certain why her father was so eager to be at the townhouse at such an hour or what was waiting for him within, Lucinda said nothing but hurried her steps a little more despite the fact that she was doing all she could to appear elegant and graceful. It was with relief that she stepped inside and quickly greeted her hosts, who welcomed her with warmth and kind smiles, which Lucinda accepted gratefully. “And there you are.” Looking to her right, Lucinda saw her aunt step forward, dressed in an elegant gown of moss green.

Lady Crampton ignored her brother entirely but instead made her way directly toward Lucinda, a smile lifting the corners of her mouth and pushing aside her otherwise severe expression. “Good evening, Aunt,” Lucinda said, bobbing a quick curtsy. “I hope you are well this evening.” “Very well, I thank you,” Lady Crampton replied, still ignoring her brother. “It seems I am to be your chaperone this evening.” “And tomorrow evening,” Lord Swinton added as Lady Crampton’s smile became a little fixed. “And then there is next week also.” Turning toward her brother, Lady Crampton lifted one eyebrow. “I am well aware of what you have asked of me, Swinton,” she said coolly. “Now do hurry along.

I am certain that the card game you so particularly want to join has not yet begun.” For a moment, Lord Swinton stared at his sister, his mouth ajar and his eyes wide. Then he let out another harrumph and turned away from them both, his stride a little more hurried than before. Lady Crampton let out her breath slowly, evidently trying to regain her composure. “I do not want you to think that I have any sort of difficulty in chaperoning you, my dear Lucinda,” she said quickly, turning back to face Lucinda, who was still watching her father disappearing into another room. “It is more that my brother is seemingly quite contented to make particular demands of me and finds it odd when I must refuse him.” She shook her head. “I am engaged tomorrow afternoon; else I would have come to accompany you.” Still a little surprised by all that had occurred, Lucinda turned her attention back to her aunt. “Tomorrow afternoon?” she repeated, frowning.

“What can you mean? I have heard nothing from Father. Am I to attend something?” Lady Crampton shook her head. “Your father will be leaving the house to call upon someone in particular,” she replied, a frown flickering across her brow. “I was to take you into town or to one or two shops but instead, I fear that you will either have to attend with your father or be asked to remain at home for the afternoon.” A small sigh of relief escaped from Lucinda’s lips. “If that is all, then I shall have no great concern either way,” she said, smiling. “I should be glad indeed to remain at home, particularly if it means I do not have to endure Father’s company for a prolonged period.” She laughed but Lady Crampton did not so much as smile, settling a hand on Lucinda’s arm for a moment. “Is it very difficult?” she asked gently. “Are you struggling, my dear girl?” Lucinda did not immediately reply, finding that, as her laughter had died away, an ache had come into her throat.

An ache that, she was certain, would bring tears to her eyes if she gave it any consideration. Waiting for it to fade, Lucinda took in a deep breath and set her shoulders. She was not about to give in to some foolish emotion, not when she had done so well thus far. “My father can be very difficult, Aunt,” she said honestly. “I do not know what it is that I do but I am forever giving him cause to be angry.” She lifted one shoulder. “And I dare not step away from what he expects or demands of me for fear of what he will do thereafter. He has threatened to send me to Miss Brown on more than one occasion and I have every assurance that he would do so.” Lady Crampton’s face paled for a moment and then heat spiraled into her cheeks almost immediately. “I should not allow it,” she retorted firmly, her hand now tight on Lucinda’s arm.

“I should go after you at once and take you into my care.” “You have responsibilities of your own, Aunt,” Lucinda protested, but Lady Crampton shook her head firmly. “What responsibilities have I, save for keeping Lord Crampton company on occasion?” she said, a wry smile tipping her lips. “I suppose I must see my children at some time and, indeed, would need to visit them and my dear grandchildren, but aside from that, I have nothing whatsoever to bind me. Never think that you are not of great importance to me, Lucinda, dear. Your father may be threatening you with this or with that, but you have an ally with me. I cannot promise to always protect you, but I certainly shall try.” Tears came, unbidden, into Lucinda’s eyes and she struggled to hold them back, despite the fact that she was in the middle of Lord Bowles’ townhouse and was now due to step into the ballroom. Lady Crampton said nothing further but simply smiled at Lucinda, who managed a somewhat watery smile in return. It brought her a little relief to know that she had Lady Crampton to rely on and that she was not alone in her struggles against her father’s harsh ways.

“Come now,” Lady Crampton said gently, letting go of Lucinda’s arm. “We should make our way inside. No doubt your father will wish to be given a list of the gentlemen that you danced with—” “Or spoke to,” Lucinda interrupted with a chuckle, chasing the last of her tears away. “Indeed, indeed,” her aunt replied, her eyes twinkling. “He has not expressed an interest in any gentlemen in particular?” Lucinda shook her head. She had been present in society last year and had expected her father to give her news of her engagement at any time, but it had not yet occurred. “I have only been in London for a sennight, however,” she reminded her aunt, who nodded. “If Father has someone in mind, then I am sure he will soon come to tell me.” Her aunt lifted one eyebrow. “Or you may find yourself able to mention a gentleman or two to your father,” she said encouragingly.

“If you yourself are introduced to someone you consider appropriate, then I would suggest that you give his name and title to your father—albeit when he is in excellent spirits.” “Then I fear I shall be waiting for most of the Season before I am able to do so,” Lucinda replied with a rueful smile. “But I thank you, Aunt. I must hope that, with your company this Season, I will be able to be introduced to a good many more ladies and gentlemen of the ton.” Last Season, she had barely met a single soul, thanks to her father’s determination to select only the very best of occasions and, also, due to the fact that he did not allow her out of his sight—not even for a moment. This Season she had Lady Crampton’s company and that, at least, gave her a little encouragement. “I will make certain of it!” Lady Crampton exclaimed, suddenly looking and sounding determined. “Come now, my dear niece, let us go into the ballroom at once so I can find you the very best of gentlemen to introduce you to.” Pushing all thoughts of her father aside and feeling her heart begin to quicken with excitement, Lucinda smiled at her aunt and hurried to stand beside her. Together, they walked along the hallway and toward the ballroom, with two footmen standing ready by the door so that they might open it for them both.

Taking in a deep breath, Lucinda put a smile on her face and settled her shoulders, ready to enjoy the evening. Without her father’s heavy presence beside her, her steps were lighter, her heart lifting as the doors were opened to reveal the crush of guests. Yes, she told herself, filled with a sudden and exciting hope, yes, this evening would be an excellent one indeed. An evening she could enjoy without impediment, without being held back or questioned as to why she had said something or behaved in a certain way. Lucinda could hardly wait for it to begin.

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