The Best-Laid Plans – Sarah M. Eden

NEWTON HUGHES WAS A GENTLEMAN, which was a shame, really. Gentlemen’s options were limited. “You are not in need of a profession.” Father lowered the book he was reading. His mouth twisted, and his brow creased heavily. “To take one up unnecessarily undermines your standing. Our family’s standing.” Newton and his parents had been passing a peaceful evening in the drawing room of the family’s Bath home when Newton had made the mistake of mentioning his ambitions. His long-standing interest in the law was not motivated by low standing that would be improved by the profession. “I do not discount nor disregard our family’s social cachet.” He crossed to the nearby mantelpiece, hoping that by anchoring himself, he could resist the urge to pace. “Few hostesses are as rightly praised as Mother.” He dipped his head to her, sitting beside Father on the sofa. Mother smiled at him over her needlepoint. “Now that your time at Cambridge is over you simply must join Society.

You’ve deprived them of your company long enough.” “I doubt they have been devastated by my absence.” “I have been,” Mother said. He suspected she hadn’t been truly miserable without him nearby, but he appreciated the sentiment. “When the Season begins again next year, I vow to dance with you at each and every London ball I possibly can.” Father spoke once more. “You will not have time for dancing if you follow this foolhardy notion of attaching yourself to an Inn of Court—assuming, of course, Society invites you to any.” “A gentleman can be a barrister.” Newton had reminded his parents of that again and again. “Gentlemen from struggling families can be barristers.

” Father motioned broadly to the silk-hung walls, marble fireplace, and elegant furnishings that adorned this lesser home amongst the family’s many holdings. “I am an able and responsible steward of my estate. The income you receive from it is more than sufficient.” “The Earl of Lampton has a brother who is a barrister,” Newton reminded him. “One cannot describe his family as struggling.” Father had no response to that, it seemed. Newton didn’t for a moment think he’d actually convinced his father of anything. Sometimes he wondered if either of his parents understood him at all. Mother set aside her sewing, quickly smoothed the front of her silk gown, and crossed to where Newton stood. She always looked elegant, even when spending a quiet night at home.

She slipped her arm through Newton’s and walked with him toward the other side of the drawing room. “You remain friends with the youngest of Lord Lampton’s brothers, do you not?” “I do, indeed.” Newton’s natural disposition would have seen him alone and isolated during his school years, but Charlie Jonquil had pulled him out into the world without trying to force him to be someone he wasn’t. He was the best sort of friend. “He is currently on term break, I believe.” Newton nodded, utterly unsure what Mother had in mind. “How likely is he, do you think, to accept an invitation to join us in London for the Season?” Charlie seldom went to London. Even if extending an invitation could convince him to jaunt up to Town, the timing was poor. “He has not completed his studies at Cambridge,” Newton said. “When the Season begins, he will be in the midst of Lent term.

” Mother nodded. “I forget at times that he is a year younger than you are.” “And pursuing an academic field of endeavor,” Newton added. “He has a great deal more schooling yet.” Mother stopped beneath one of the tall, diamond-paned windows and lowered her voice to a quiet whisper. “Your father is a little in awe of that family. He might spend less time criticizing you if a Jonquil is nearby.” “Charlie would act as my champion?” The idea was laughable. Charlie was far more likely to jest than to joust. “I was thinking more of a shield, and one you would enjoy having nearby.

” She sighed a little. “I had hoped if you could have some assurance that your father would not torture you with this belabored topic, you might actually participate in the social whirl.” She sounded a little too sad and a little too disappointed for his peace of mind. “If only London were in the midst of that whirl now,” Newton said. “Charlie is on term break for the next month.” Excitement lit her expression. “We will be in Bath for longer than that.” “I might be able to convince him to join us here.” Mother clapped her hands together, her eyes opening wide with anticipation. “Oh, Newton.

He would force you into Society, I am certain of it.” “Who would force him?” Father had, apparently, overheard part of her last remark. “Young Mr. Charles Jonquil.” Mother turned to face the sofa, where he still sat. “Jonquil? Excellent.” He set his neglected book on the table beside him. He rose with a look of determination on his face. “I will begin seeing to the arrangements for travel forthwith.” “Let us hope Charlie agrees,” Newton muttered.

Father crossed toward the door but turned back before leaving the room and looked directly at him. “Bath is perfect. No Inns of Court to distract you. We’ll have this sorted, you’ll see. We’ll have you sorted.” Ah, lud. “Do we have to invite him?” Newton muttered after his father stepped out. Mother set her arms around him and squeezed, as she’d done so many times since he’d been a young boy. “He wants only what’s best for you, dear. You’ll find he’s not so wrong as you currently think.

He understands these things.” What Father and, unfortunately, Mother didn’t understand was him. Charlie did though. They’d been friends far too long and been far too honest with each other for Newton to have the least doubt on that score. Charlie would take his part. He knew he would. Just his luck, really. He was to be assailed by his parents and championed by Cambridge’s unofficial jester. This sojourn in Bath had all the markings of a miserable, frustrating, exhausting disaster. * * * Ellie Napper’s sojourn in Bath had all the markings of a miserable, frustrating, exhausting disaster.

Her family traveled to Bath at the end of each summer. Doing so allowed them the tiny nibble of Society they could afford, London being quite outside their financial means. She was joining them for the first time and discovering this visit was not meant to be a leisurely holiday. “The seamstress I engaged is certain she can remake Lillian’s gowns from last year.” Mother sat at the round table in the sitting room, wire-rimmed spectacles perched at the end of her nose. “We will have to pay for new gowns for Ellie.” “Why should she have new gowns made when I have to make do with old ones?” Lillian would have struggled to sound more offended than she did. “Believe me, I would not have chosen the arrangement,” Mother said. “But we have funds enough for only one of you to have newly made gowns. And as Ellie has never left Shropshire, nothing of hers could possibly be made acceptable for Society gatherings, no matter how much effort a seamstress put into the task.

And the two of you cannot share gowns, which prevents her from wearing your castoffs from last year’s sojourn in Bath.” It was not a matter of embarrassment but of necessity. Lillian was reed-like. Ellie had ample curves, more than many young ladies. “Why should the younger sister be given all the advantages of a fine seamstress?” Lillian clearly didn’t mean to give over easily on the matter of their wardrobes. “The more expensive dressmaker and the more talented one has been engaged to remake yours,” Mother said. “We’ve found an adequate one to make Ellie a few acceptable gowns. She will not outshine you. Of that you can be certain.” Ellie had been certain of that even before the topic had been raised.

Her family’s preference for Lillian and tendency to belittle Ellie had all but guaranteed it. Mother ran her finger down the parchment in front of her, updating Ellie and her sister, Lillian, on each item listed there. “Mrs. Clark is in Bath, as usual. We will most certainly call on her. And Mr. and Mrs. Lancaster have come also.” The Lancasters were their neighbors in Shropshire, a young couple not many years older than Ellie. “With their connections, they will be the very toast of Bath.

We must make certain to call on them often.” Mr. Lancaster was also on close terms with a brother of the Earl of Lampton, and he claimed both a countess and a duchess amongst his sisters. “Will Their Graces be in Bath, do you suppose?” Lillian asked. Mother shook her head. “Even if the duchess could convince her husband to come, they have an infant. I cannot imagine they would travel while their child is still so young.” Though Ellie was in the room, she was hardly necessary to this discussion. That was more often the case than not. “I have heard that Lord Lampton’s youngest brother is in Bath, staying with a friend of his.

He will most certainly visit the Lancasters, owing to their friendship.” Mother pulled off her spectacles and set them on the table, eyeing Ellie and Lillian in turn. “We must build on the progress we made when young Mr. Jonquil last visited our neighborhood. We cannot let slip by us an opportunity for a connection to that family.” “I tried, Mama,” Lillian said. “He did not seem the least interested.” “Your older sister squandered her opportunity with Mr. Lancaster, preferring her penniless nobody.” The oldest Napper sister deeply loved the gentleman she had recently married, and he loved her.

Beatrice was now the happiest any of them had ever seen her. But the family was meant to have been monetarily and socially benefited by the daughters’ marriages. Mother was still fuming over what she considered to be Beatrice’s betrayal. “I fear you are correct about Mr. Jonquil not being persuadable toward a match with you,” Mother said. Far from looking heartbroken or offended, Lillian nodded quite matter-of-factly. She had not, after all, participated in the pursuit out of an abundance of affection. “Mr. Jonquil’s friend is Mr. Hughes, of the Sussex Hugheses.

They are quite wealthy and very important.” Mother held Lillian’s gaze. “He would be an excellent choice.” Poor Mr. Hughes. “And, Ellie.” Mother turned her attention. “You must set your sights on Mr. Jonquil.” Poor Mr.

Jonquil. Poor me. “If we can secure both these matches, we will be in fine feather, indeed.” Mother pushed out a sigh, both worry and hope in her expression. “Your sister made a disastrous match. We cannot afford for either of you to do the same.” Ellie dreamed of a life that “disastrous.” Lillian, as always, showed no signs of hesitation. She and Mother were two peas in a pod. “How soon can we make Mr.

Hughes’s acquaintance?” “I am not certain,” Mother said. “We will first call on the Lancasters. That is the best initial step.” Merciful heavens, this could be a long stay in Bath. Mother narrowed her gaze on Ellie once more. “I hope you do not plan to protest as much as you did when we were last in Mr. Jonquil’s company. I know you object to the efforts needed to forge an advantageous match, but doing so is even more important than it once was.” Mother was not likely to be patient on this matter. Displeasure from her parent was not a new experience for Ellie; neither was it a pleasant one.

“I will behave,” Ellie vowed. She’d learned long ago that rebellion was pointless.

.

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