Prudence’s Mystery – Joyce Alec

Thank you for the dance, Lady Prudence. I do look forward to being in your company again.” Prudence smiled and curtsied toward the gentleman but chose, wisely, to say nothing. The truth was, she had not enjoyed dancing with him, for his hands had been much too tight and he had once stepped on her slipper, without even being aware of it. She was rather annoyed with his lack of consideration and skill and thus did not want to give him even the slightest encouragement that she would accept a dance from him again. He walked alongside her from the dance floor until she was safely back with her mother, Lady Devonshire. “I thank you,” Prudence murmured as the gentleman bowed again, his eyes bright with a feverish hope that Prudence would not encourage. “I very much hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.” The man’s smile faded at once, the light in his eyes blown out in a moment. It seemed he now realized that she would not be inclined toward conversing with him further or improving their acquaintance. With evident reluctance, the gentleman inclined his head and then turned away, walking through the crowd of guests until Prudence could no longer glimpse him. “Thank heavens,” she said as her mother looked on with a touch of disapproval playing about her mouth. “I have such a painful foot; I am not certain I shall be able to dance again this evening.” Wincing, Prudence resisted the urge to sit down and rub her foot with her hands, knowing that such actions would be considered most improper. “The fool was ridiculous, Mama.

” “What did you say his title was?” Lady Devonshire asked, now looking a little frustrated rather than disapproving. “I do not recall.” A mischievous twitch of Prudence’s lips gave Lady Devonshire her answer before she even had need to ask. “You mean to say that you have forgotten his name entirely?” Prudence’s mother asked, throwing up her hands in evident horror. “Good gracious, Prudence. How can you behave in such a way?” Without the least bit of embarrassment, Prudence shrugged her shoulders and looked out again at the crowd. “That particular gentleman did not capture my attention in any way,” she said plainly. “And you know very well that I shall not give my time to such a fellow. There are plenty of gentlemen within the ballroom this evening whom I am acquainted with and whose names I remember very well indeed.” She smiled at her mother.

“But as for the other gentlemen, I forget their names so that there is no requirement for me to ever be in their company again.” Lady Devonshire tutted and shook her head, but Prudence only laughed. This was now her second Season and she was determined to bring herself as much enjoyment as possible. Yes, there was the requirement that she find a husband, but her father, Lord Devonshire, was in no particular hurry to push his daughter into a hasty match. Rather, he seemed inclined to allow her to become acquainted with as many gentlemen as she wished—perhaps in the hope that she would be able to find a suitable match of her own volition. Her mother, however, was rather displeased with such a situation and continued to push Prudence in the direction of gentlemen that she thought to be more than suitable, even though Prudence had very little interest in them whatsoever. “I think Lord Stutton,” her mother said with emphasis, “might have been an excellent sort of fellow, even if he was not a particularly good dancer.” “And yet, I have no interest in him,” Prudence replied firmly. She could not quite say why there was no interest on her part, given that the gentleman had been rather handsome and with impeccable manners—save for his lack of dancing ability. However, she certainly was not going to consider him.

Her foot still ached, and she had not enjoyed a moment of being in his company. “Is that not your late cousin’s husband?” Lady Devonshire asked, momentarily distracted from her thoughts of Prudence’s lack of interest in Lord Stutton. “Whatever is he doing here?” Prudence, a little surprised, looked in the direction of her mother’s gaze and immediately spotted the gentleman. Baron Yardley had married Prudence’s cousin, Mary, some two years ago, only for Mary herself to take ill a few short months after the wedding. The illness had been prolonged, and Prudence knew that Baron Yardley had been distraught over his wife’s pain. When she had visited them both, Prudence had been touched by Lord Yardley’s tenderness toward his wife, recalling the agony in his face and the sadness in his eyes as he had cared for his frail young wife. When she had passed away, Prudence had heard that Baron Yardley had become something of a recluse, which made it all the more surprising that he was now present here in London. “I presume he might be here to enjoy the Season, Mama,” Prudence answered slowly, wondering if she ought to make her way toward him and greet him. “It has been over a year since Mary’s passing. He will need a wife to give him an heir.

” Lady Devonshire tutted as though such a statement was more than she could bear, even though Prudence knew she spoke the truth. “Perhaps we should go to greet him,” Prudence suggested, moving forward before her mother could pull her back or prevent her from doing so. After a moment, Prudence felt her mother’s presence beside her, although one glance into Lady Devonshire’s face told her that her mother was not particularly pleased with Prudence’s intention. Lord Yardley glanced in their direction, then turned a little more fully and held his arms out as though he intended to embrace them both. “Lady Devonshire!” he exclaimed, his handsome face warm with evident delight. “And Lady Prudence, how wonderful to see you both.” Prudence curtsied quickly, smiling warmly at Lord Yardley as she rose. “You are in London, Lord Yardley,” she said as Lady Devonshire murmured a hurried greeting. “Are you here for the Season?” Lord Yardley shrugged. “That is my intention, yes,” he replied, a small frown pulling his smile from his lips as though he expected a criticism to fly from either Prudence or Lady Devonshire’s lips.

“It has been a difficult few months and I confess I hoped to find a little joy and a little relief back in London.” “But of course,” Prudence said quickly, before her mother could say a word. “I understand.” Hoping her smile was an encouraging one, she gestured to the rest of the ballroom. “And this ball has lifted your spirits somewhat, then?” Lord Yardley smiled back at her. “Indeed it has,” he said with such a fervor in his voice that Prudence wanted to believe him to be speaking the truth. “It is good to be in society and to be in company again. It removes some of the sorrow from my heart and mind, although I am certain now that it shall never completely depart from me.” Not quite sure what to say to this, Prudence merely nodded, aware that, from what Lord Yardley said, he had truly cared for Mary. Whilst that was what she herself eagerly desired, Prudence realized that with such strong emotions could also come great sorrow and sadness.

The burden on Lord Yardley’s soul must now be very heavy indeed. “But we shall speak of no more sorrowful things,” Lord Yardley said briskly, shattering the atmosphere of melancholy that had begun to creep over them. “Should you like to dance, Lady Prudence? I am certain that your dance card is full already but if there is a single dance remaining, I should be very glad to have it.” “And you must come to take tea, or to dinner,” Lady Devonshire said as Prudence eagerly handed her dance card to Lord Yardley, glad that her mother had chosen to be welcoming rather than silently judgmental. “I shall have my husband make arrangements with you.” At this, Lord Yardley’s smile grew all the more, the last few strands of tension leaving his expression. “I should be very glad of that, Lady Devonshire,” he told her. “Truly grateful indeed.” “Excellent,” Lady Devonshire said brightly. “And I am certain that Prudence would be very glad indeed to dance with you—provided that you do not tread on her feet.

” Prudence laughed, looking up at her mother and seeing her lips twitch. Lord Yardley, a little mystified in his expression, promised solemnly not to do so and then handed Prudence back her card. She smiled as she saw his name down for both the country dance and, later, the quadrille. “You are very kind,” she told him, but Lord Yardley merely waved a hand. “It is I who am honored to have a dance with you,” he answered, making her blush just a little. “I look forward to it, Lady Prudence.” “As do I,” Prudence answered truthfully. “Thank you, Lord Yardley.” She did not have time to speak further for another gentleman approached her, reminding her by his presence that she was now due to dance the cotillion. Excusing herself, she left her mother and Lord Yardley to converse and stepped out to dance once more, feeling quite satisfied with herself.

Whether or not she found herself a suitable gentleman, whether or not she even accepted the court of an interested party, Prudence was certain that this Season was going to be a very enjoyable one indeed.

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