January, 1817 ~ London
The day of the dinner party, Juliana and Tessa spent all afternoon primping and preening. Tessa was beside herself with a combination of excitement and trepidation. To be included in a grown up party was beyond her expectations and she was worried that she would spill something or make some horrible social gaffe that would embarrass her sister and Logan. She kept asking who their host was and Juliana really couldn’t tell her much except that he was a former schoolmate of Logan’s at Eton. Juliana, too, was nervous. She had not had much more experience in society than Tessa and there would be a duke and duchess attending as guests. Tessa practiced her curtsies and was reminded repeatedly by Juliana that she was to call them “Your Grace”. The other couple were a Mr. and Mrs. and their host was a Count, so she suspected he was to be called “my lord”. And what to call their host’s sister? Was it “my lady,” “ma’am,” or “miss?” It would depend on her father’s rank – she thought. Did Logan know this? If their host was a count he wasn’t English. Probably French. The strict protocol of it all made Juliana as much of a “nervous Nelly” as Tessa.
Juliana wore a plain but heavy, white satin dress that left one shoulder bare, the fabric being caught at the other shoulder and coming on an angle across her breasts. It followed her body in a close line to her knees where it flared gently to swirl about her legs from the knees to her toes. It was cut on the bias so that, with each step she took, it pulled and wrapped around her body, and because she wore no stays it accentuated every curve of her body. The design resembled none of the fashions of the day, but on her body, few would give that a passing thought.
In addition, she wore a two-strand choker about her neck that was made of small, faceted turquoise cabochons that were interspersed with diamonds that caught the light and flashed with her every movement. Her white satin gloves came to just below the elbow and the upper arm of her bare shoulder had a three-strand bracelet of smaller faceted turquoise. Dangling from the lower edge were five strands of tiny diamonds ending with faceted balls of turquoise. When she walked, they swayed with the rhythm of her body.
Tessa had begged to wear her hair up, but Juliana told her she must wait until her come-out. She only allowed Rita to pull Tessa’s hair up on the sides and hold it with two ivory combs, adorned with tiny sapphire chips. Contrasted with her dark honey-colored hair, they made her look more adult than her age. Her dress was a simple coral, full skirted silk, sprigged with flowers and ferns around the hem and a square neckline that Juliana felt was much too revealing for someone so young. But Madame Celine was adamant that it was exactly what young ladies were wearing.
When they came downstairs, Logan and Phillip were waiting in the drawing room for them and they left forthwith.
The carriage pulled up in front of an impressive townhouse with a circular drive. Logan hopped out to assist the ladies and Phillip followed. As the sisters walked to the wide curving stairway to the front door, Phillip’s eyes took in the enormity of the house.
“Good God. Other than The Duchess’s town home, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any place larger than this. Who did you say this fellow was? Some investor friend? He must be doing very well.”
“Oh. Didn’t I mention it?” Logan asked innocently. “I guess not. It should be an interesting evening. It’s ‘our divvy’ by the way.”
At first it didn’t register with Phillip. Then his jaw dropped. “Why you slimy out-and-out blackguard! You’re going to make me wade through a whole evening listening to that idiot? You couldn’t get out of it yourself so you’re going to make all of us suffer with you? I’ll make you pay for this brother dear, count on it.”
Logan grinned broadly. “Now would I make you suffer like that? Just give it a chance. We’ve got Jules and Tessa to distract him. Oh, and by the by, he’s a count now; Count Westhoven.” Logan laughed as his brother’s jaw dropped in amazement.
The wide double-glass doors opened and they were greeted by the tallest, most handsome black man they had ever seen. He was dressed impeccably in a butler’s uniform that looked as though it had been tailored by Weston. His starched white neck cloth was tied in an elaborate knot with a sizable diamond stick pin. Surely it couldn’t be real! He ushered them in with a welcoming smile and a bow saying, “Welcome. I am Tharoo and it is my pleasure to greet you. You are The Brothers, is that not so?”
“Yes,” Logan answered. “I am Logan Hastings and this is my wife, Mrs. Hastings.”
He bowed to them. Reaching for Juliana’s hand, he pulled it toward him and sketched a kiss to her knuckles. “And you, sir, must be Lord Wetherington.” He bowed again. Phillip nodded and raised an eyebrow to Logan. What was this? No butler they had ever seen had behaved in such a familiar manner.
“And you, miss?,” He said, looking at Tessa. “I am afraid no one informed me of the presence of another beautiful young lady. I was told there would be a small child. Surely they did not mean you?” He reached for her hand and kissed her knuckles as well. “I assume you have left your husband at home.” Tessa looked at him in astonishment and then saw him smile and wink, a combination of warmth and sincerity that made her blush.
They were standing in a spacious rectangular receiving room on each end of which were Swedish tile stoves that reached to the ceiling and radiated a warmth that wafted through the entire area. The floors were marble with deep blue veining; on either side of the arched door and between each of the windows across the front, matching marble columns rose to a coved ceiling painted in trompe l’oeil manner that mirrored the tiles on the stoves at each end. Juliana looked up and marveled at the garlands of roses that graced the chamber. It was as though she could reach up and pick them.
“Please let me take your coats and wraps and I will usher you into the drawing room,” Tharoo said. He relieved them of their outer clothing and was handing them off to a liveried footman when Count Westhoven strode into the room.
“Ah, you are here at last,” he greeted them. “Both of The Brothers. Wetherington, how grand to see you again. Your brother told me you were very ill this last year, but I must say you look every bit as dashing as you did those many years ago. And, Hastings, which one of these beautiful women is your wife?”
Tessa blushed anew, transfixed by the man.
“This is my wife, Juliana,” Logan replied “and this is her sister, Miss Neeley.”
Both ladies swept him a deep curtsy.
“Now, now. None of that” Pieter said good-naturedly. He took Juliana’s hand and placed a kiss on her glove, following suit with Tessa. “But you are not a young child. Where is the young child you said you were to bring?”
“I’m afraid I misled you, Pieter.”
“Indeed you did, Hastings. I can see she is no small child but a stunning young lady. Mon Dieu, mais vos yeuz illuminent la piece. But your eyes light up the room,” he translated happily. “I imagine you have taken the ton by storm. What does society have to say about you?” he asked in amazement. “I imagine all the other young ladies are beyond jealous,” he continued in French.
“Oh aucun mon seigneur. Vous avez le diable dans vous.” Tessa giggled and continued in French. “I will not make my come-out for at least another month. And as to whether I can take my place in society, that is hard to say. I feel as though tonight will be test enough. I hope I don’t embarrass you in front of your guests.” Tessa’s eyes sparkled up at him and her voice shone with a new-born confidence.
Juliana stared at her sister in amazement. Where had this person come from? She had never seen this side of her, but of course, she had never had an opportunity to be out in society with her until now. She was actually flirting with the Count – in French! Where did she learn to do that? Juliana knew that Tess had been studying with a language tutor, but she was amazed at the graceful proficiency she had developed in such a short time. Juliana exchanged glances with Logan and Phillip.
“Please come and join the rest of our party,” Pieter grandly urged. “Hastings, I believe you know all of them, but please let me introduce the rest of you to our guests.” They entered a large drawing room where introductions were made and footmen brought drinks.
The Duchess of Sinclair came swiftly across the room to greet Juliana. “At last we have a chance to speak. Believe me when I say Sinclair was given a scolding for his treatment of us at the ball. I am glad to have this opportunity to get to know you better.”
“Thank you, Your Grace,” Juliana responded as she curtsied. “ I am pleased as well.”.
“Please call me Beth while we are in such informal company. I do get tired of all the titles. I still sometimes think people are speaking to someone else.”
“Thank you Beth. It is an honor to be allowed such familiarity.”
“Tell me about your sister. She is a real beauty. Does she make her come-out soon?”
“Why yes. In just two weeks. The Duchess of Easton and Warburton is giving a ball for her. She is very excited and quite nervous.”
“I know what you mean. I have two nieces who will make their come-out this year as well. Perhaps they will get to know one another and become friends. In fact,” she mused, “I am having a tea next Wednesday for my nieces, their friends and my sisters. Why don’t you and Tessa join us? How nice it would be for her to get to know someone before her big day.”
“How generous of you Your Gr—Beth. I know she would love it.”
Just then a tall dark-haired woman made her entrance at the far end of the drawing room. Her hair, worn unfashionably down and falling across her forehead, hung in waves over her shoulders, giving her a sensually exotic look.
“Please forgive me for not greeting you,” she said in a cheerfully lilting accent. “I’m afraid I have created a mess in the dining room which we have had to attend to. Pieter, will you introduce me to your guests?”
She was introduced as The Lady Hetsie Van Wyk, Pieter’s sister. They in no way resembled each other. She was as dark as Pieter was blonde. She graciously welcomed everyone individually, again apologizing for her tardiness.
“Please don’t apologize my lady,” the duchess demurred. “We have all had last minute mishaps when entertaining.”
“It is my own fault. I made the foolish mistake of ordering more water to be added to the centerpiece flowers. It leaked all over the linens so the table had to be reset. I have done it before. You would think I would finally learn my lesson,” she chuckled. “But you have waited long enough.”
With a flourish she announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, since I destroyed the table settings in the dining room, we will be dining in the solarium. Because we have such a small group I think it will be ever so much more pleasant in there. Tonight is to be a very informal dinner since we are expecting a small child.” She turned then in surprise. “ And where is this young one?” She searched about the room and then said to Tessa. “Surely they did not mean this young lady?”
Tessa smiled and bobbed a curtsy.
“I am afraid I am the one, my lady,” she said brightly. “I will do my best not to spill my food on the table,” she added with a giggle.
“Why, you darling girl. Of course you won’t. And we are so very pleased to have you here. And how perfect. I have had the table reset in the solarium and most of the bulbs are blooming now. As soon as the lanterns are lit, it will be as though we are dining al fresco. Gentlemen, will you please choose a lady to escort as we go in to dinner?”
They moved out of the drawing room into the large front promenade, and from there toward the center of the house. A wide double doorway of beveled glass, deeply carved with flowers, was opened by Tharoo and they continued into a large octagonal room that looked like the most elaborate English garden they had ever seen. The scent of the hyacinths and tulips and the warmth of the tiled stoves evoked the feeling of spring. Stone Japanese lanterns were distributed randomly among the plantings and along the paths winding through the room. The orange trees and shrubs were hung with paper lanterns to reflect different colors on the leaves.
“Oh my lady, this is like a fairy tale,” Tessa exclaimed.
“Thank you, Tessa. It does look nice tonight. I should have thought of it in the first place. The gardens beyond the terrace are not yet in bloom, so I agree, this is much more pleasant. In a month or so, the back gardens will be at their best and you will have to come to see that. Pieter,” she called, “remind me to have a tea when the back gardens are in bloom. Perhaps we can even entice the gentlemen to join us.” She smiled at Tessa and then turned back to the ladies. “Many of the bulbs I am experimenting with will be ready then. I am very anxious to see how it will all look. Come everyone. Please be seated before the chefs come out and scold.”
They all moved toward the table, set with crisp white damask, sparkling crystal and silver. Down the center of the table was a long row of shallow dishes filled with blooming purple crocus bulbs. The blooms, were so close together they gave the impression of a long purple path down the center of the table. In front of each person’s place an unlit candle stick was placed with a small delft tile leaning against it on which each guest’s name was written. Amid much excitement and laughter, they circled the table to find their places. Pieter took his seat at the head of the table with The Duchess of Sinclair on his right. He made a fuss of seating Tessa on his left.
“Ma petite,” Pieter said to Tessa, “you are to sit here as I thought I would be helping you to eat your dinner. I even had a special chair with cushions on it so you would be able to sit high at the table. But now it is my pleasure to seat you as the charming young lady you are.”
Tessa smiled and blushed. Next to Tessa sat Mr. Claybourne and then Juliana. The duke was next on Juliana’s left and Hetsie took her place at the foot of the table with Phillip on her left next to Mrs. Claybourne. Logan sat with the duchess to his left.
When everyone was seated, Hetsie called, “Tharoo, please bring down the fire.”
Startled at her request, her guests looked up to see a large rectangular chandelier being lowered.
“Lords and ladies, when it comes further down, please take your candle and light it from the candles above you. Tharoo will then raise it so we will have proper light for the table.”
“Ma petite. Do you enjoy this?” Pieter smiled at Tessa, ready to assist her. He turned to the table. “Hetsie and I used to have our own candles when we had birthday parties. I thought that the young one would enjoy it too. But since the kinderen turned out to be a young lady of grace and beauty, we can all pretend to be so young again.” He gave Tessa a charming smile.
Tharoo took command of the dinner, and footmen moved quietly and efficiently to serve. Pieter explained, “Our first course tonight is pea soup which Dutch tradition says must be thick enough to stand a spoon straight up in the center of the bowl. We serve this in deference to our Dutch chef. He serves it in a small demi-tasse cup in deference to us. A full bowl of this would be an entire meal.”
As Juliana tasted the soup, she glanced down the table wondering how Tessa would cope with dinner conversation as well as food with which she was unfamiliar. She was prepared to give her a smile of encouragement and was surprised to note that both the duchess and the Count as well as Mr. Claybourne, were listening intently to something Tessa was saying. Suddenly, they all burst out laughing. Tessa seemed to be holding her own, Juliana noted with relief, and she turned to her dinner partner, the elegantly dressed Duke of Sinclair.
“How happy I am for this opportunity to get to know you better, Mrs. Hastings,” he said.
Juliana returned his smile. “I remember that the Prince ordered you to ‘keep an eye on Logan Hastings.’ Did that include me as well?”
“Ah, Mrs. Hastings. It is no chore to keep an eye on such a lovely woman. Indeed, it would be nigh impossible not to.”
“You are very generous Your Grace. But may I be so bold as to ask just why you were to watch Logan. What is it that the Prince expects you to find?”
The duke shrugged. “The only thing I could possibly tell him is that your husband is a most self-assured man, Mrs. Hastings.”
Juliana looked up at the duke and smiled. “I couldn’t agree more, Your Grace, and yet he never uses it to intimidate.”
“I can see that. He seems very self-contained.”
Logan was no macaroni. He showed no pretenses. His only concession to fashion, other than his immaculately tailored clothing, was a large sapphire fob that hung on a short gold chain from his waist coat. It sparkled and flashed when he moved. It had been a brooch: a gift, from his father to his mother upon their betrothal. His cravat was folded neatly and precisely with a sapphire stick pin to match his fob. There was no quizzing glass nor foppish dress with lace spilling from his sleeves. Merely two inch, crisply pleated cuffs that shot from his coat sleeves that lay in sharp contrast to the fine lines of dark hair on the back of his tanned hands – elegant hands that drew women’s attention and made them catch their breath at the thought of what they might do to them.
Looking at Logan, the severe dress that fit his dark look and the chiseled lines of his face, the duke, who was often cited as a man who dressed in the first stare of fashion, felt suddenly that he, himself, was foppishly dressed.
Juliana’s gaze swung to Logan, whose fingers were playing with the stem of his wine glass. Then, as he replied to a comment from Mrs. Claybourne, he set the glass down and laid his hand on the starched white linen cloth. Her eyes never left his hand, and unlike those women who imagined what he might do with them, she knew. Logan turned his head to see her staring at his hand and as she watched, he slowly, finger by finger, curled them into a fist. Then his thumb began tracing circles against the side of his forefinger. Her mouth dropped open in startled recognition of what he was intimating. Her blush rose to her hair line when she noticed him staring at her. Logan smiled at her and his tongue came out to moisten his lips. She blushed more deeply and then he laughed aloud.
The duke watched, fascinated at what he saw transpiring across the table. Even knowing Logan’s reputation as a rake, he thought, “Dear God! The man is incorrigible. He’s attempting to seduce his wife right here on this bloody table!
Juliana took a sip of soup to steady herself, then said to the duke, “It’s true he always seems to know just what he’s about. Only once have I ever seen him lose control of his temper in public and that was because of an insult aimed at me. He seems so able to deflect most any disagreement with humor, kindness or silence. His brother teases that it’s because he is immediately working out a plan to solve whatever problem presents itself.”
The duke chuckled. “Well, whatever it is that Prinny wants, please don’t worry Mrs. Hastings. I truly have no idea what it might be, but if it was something of great import he would surely have let me know as well as several other members of the Court. He is probably just curious about the two of you. According to my duchess, you have been quite the talk of the ton. I can well believe that, my dear. You are quite a lovely young woman.”
Juliana blushed. “Why thank you, Your Grace. You are most kind. But I find it hard to believe that my presence anywhere would be of interest to anyone, let alone the Prince Regent.”
The duke smiled at her. “Don’t be too sure, Mrs. Hastings. Prinny doesn’t have near enough to keep his mind occupied and one of his main interests seems to be beautiful women. And may I say, you certainly qualify on that point.”
“How very charming of you, Your Grace. But surely women must have more than just beauty to enthrall a man, and there you have it, sir. With my background I bring nothing that could hold the interest of a man such as the Prince, with his varied experience and intellect. So it must be something else.”
The duke snorted. “That, my dear, is one of the funniest comments I have ever heard. The Prince’s background and experience in life are so narrow as to be nonexistent. And to put your premise to the test, please look across the table at your husband. A man so handsome and charming that every hostess in the ton is willing to gainsay all the rules toward a second son just so he can attend their soirees. A man with broad life experiences and intellect, wit and self-confidence — and yet he chose you. So tell me, my dear, just what is it that you bring to the table that so enthralls a man of this stamp?”
Juliana blushed deeply. “Well, you may have won your point, Your Grace. I don’t know what I bring to the table. I am certain that you and all of the ton know that ours was an arranged marriage. That it has turned into a love match has no one more amazed than I. I ask myself almost daily what I have done to earn his protection and love. Your first thesis must indeed be correct. You complemented me on my looks and Logan tells me each day that he thinks me beautiful. So if that is true, then perhaps that is all that is required to make a good marriage?”
“You are not that foolish, Mrs. Hastings. You know full well that it requires more than that. My wife reminds me daily how fortunate I am to have convinced her to marry me.” He laughed. “And I keep letting her prove it. I think, Mrs. Hastings, that you and I are probably very fortunate people. And I won’t tell your husband if you promise not to tell my wife.”
“That is a promise, Your Grace,” Juliana said with a fond smile.
The covers continued to arrive and be removed with Hetsie explaining that some accommodations had been made because of the anticipation of a young child.
“Yes,” Pieter agreed. “We decided that a fish course would not be well received by a small one. But next we have one of my favorite comfort foods.” At a nod from Tharoo, a white gloved hand placed a plate in front of each guest. A collective gasp of appreciation erupted when the plates revealed artfully arranged crisp veal croquettes, formed into perfectly shaped pyramids that spiraled to a point and were accompanied by oval, bite sized pale yellow shapes that looked like miniature dumplings.
“Please explain what this favorite food is, my lord?” asked Mrs. Claybourne. “It looks as though a sculptor prepared this.”
“The twin spirals are veal croquettes, compliments of our French chef; the accompaniment is spaetzle with browned butter and Schabziger cheese sprinkled on top. The cheese is not to everyone’s taste. It has quite a strong flavor and as a child I did not like it. But my palate has grown along with me and I find it most enjoyable. Should anyone wish to have it without the cheese, please don’t hesitate to let Tharoo know.”
He turned quietly to Tessa. “Ma petite, you will probably not enjoy it. Taste and see if I should have Tharoo get you another plate.”
Tessa placed one of the small morsels in her mouth and chewed slowly. “Oh. How different.” She looked up at Pieter and smiled. “Yes, I do like it my lord. What an unusual flavor.”
“Tell me true, my lord,” asked the duchess. “How do your two chefs not kill each other in the kitchen? I have enough trouble with my one chef and cook being at each other’s throats. And should you ever need to separate these two food wizards, I have a place in my kitchen for either one.”
Pieter grinned. “Hetsie and I acquired our French chef, Pascal, soon after we finished remodeling these two townhouses into Hetsie’s solarium, my offices and our residence. Our Dutch chef, Klaas, travels with us back and forth from Amsterdam. I become too homesick for my favorite dishes when I’m away for any length of time. Pascal served in the kitchens of the Duke of Orleans whose head chef was once the famous Francois Massialot. Pascal immigrated here before the revolution. The Duke of Orleans was guillotined with many other aristocrats. Then, of course, Napoleon had made everything French, anathema to the English, so Pascal was unable to keep a position here in London. Tharoo discovered him and hired him. The two chefs had their differences at first. Each tried to force the other to be sous chef, but Tharoo worked his magic and now they collaborate quite well.”
Juliana relaxed as the dinner progressed. Tessa was more than holding her own and Juliana noted, with a smile, how engaged Phillip was with Lady Van Wyk. Oh how wonderful if he was becoming more himself. She smiled as she watched him laughing and teasing Hetsie into a blush. Then, during a pause in the conversation, Lady Van Wyk said aloud to everyone, “Pieter tells me you and your brother were heroes of his at Eton.”
Phillip looked surprised. “That’s pretty strong, my lady. We were just a form ahead of him and I suppose we appeared to be more assured than he.”
“Not true at all, Wetherington,” Pieter interjected from his end of the table. “You two saved my hide more than once.” He held out his arms, as if to bring everyone into the conversation. “My Dutch accent was so devastating and my English so bad that I spent most of the time hiding and trying to be unobtrusive. Certainly I didn’t participate in class. If I did the bullies would wait for me after class to torment and imitate my gaffes and my speech. The Brothers never did that and I can’t tell you how many times they admonished the older students not to join in.”
With a flush of embarrassment, Phillip replied, “I think that must have been wishful thinking, Westhoven. Logan and I were just as self-obsessed and immature as everyone else. We seemed to be in trouble most of the time and received our fair share of birchings.”
“Oh, Phillip,” Juliana put in. “Please tell me you are joking. Surely you do not mean to say that you and Logan were beaten?”
“Yes, Juliana. And you should know that I received many more canings than your husband.” He sighed dramatically. “As his older brother it was my duty to protect him as best I could. So, of course, I would take the blame for all our escapades.” He looked across at her with a woebegone expression and the whole table exploded with laughter, Logan included.
“ Funny, that’s not how I remember it,” he laughed.
“No Logan, that’s not the way I remember it either,” said Pieter. “You stopped one particularly unrelenting bully from attacking me and thrashed him. Then you threatened him with a daily reminder if he did it again. That was my happiest day at Eton. And then when he reported you, you received a birching for it. I still owe you for that.”
“I’m glad I was of help, Pieter, but I still don’t remember it. Who was the bully? What was his name?”
“I’ll never forget it. A young blueblood named Mallory.”
Logan’s head snapped to Juliana and her fork dropped to the plate. Logan saw her face blanch. The duke noted her distress and was about to say something before thinking better of it.
Mallory hasn’t changed, Pieter,” Logan said quietly. “He’s still the same bully he was then.”
Conversation during the remainder of the evening was muted as the main course was removed and a desert of crème brulee was served. “This is from our French chef and the stroopwafels from our Dutch chef.”
“Well, crème brulée I have eaten before and I must say, it is a favorite of mine also,” commented the duke. “But I have never heard of — what did you call these little waffle pieces?”
“Stroopwafels. I had chef cut them into quarters so that we could eat them more easily,” added Hetsie. “When Pieter and I were young, we didn’t care that the caramel sauce dripped on our fronts and ran down our fingers. They were a real treat for us and we hope you enjoy them as well.” After that delicious treat had been devoured, Hetsie stood, signaling it was time for the ladies to leave the gentlemen to their port and cigars.
“Where do you wish to be, Pieter?” Hetsie asked. “Shall we ladies have our tea in the drawing room or do you wish us to join all of you in the Chart Room?”
“If the ladies are not offended, and they don’t mind the climb to the upper floor, there is plenty of room for you to join us. You know you’ll end up there anyway.”
Hetsie nodded to Tharoo. “It’s upstairs for our tea, Tharoo.”
He nodded. “As you wish, my lady. All is ready.”
“Gentlemen, I hope you don’t mind the ladies joining us.”
“Of course not, Westhoven. This Chart Room sounds interesting. What’s it all about?”
Pieter began explaining his interest in the railroad syndicate he was developing. As they moved slowly from the solarium toward the stairs, the duke took note of how quickly Logan moved to Juliana’s side.
“Are you all right, love?” he asked quietly. He pulled her hand into the crook of his arm and squeezed it against his body.
“Yes, thank you Logan.” She continued in a soft voice. “It was just such a surprise hearing that name. But you always make me feel safe.”
“I wish we were home,” he whispered in her ear. “I’d save you until you were witless.”
“Logan! Behave yourself,” she hissed at him. “I am having such a wonderful evening. The duke is such a charming man. And Tessa has been a surprise. I know she’s having a grand time as well. The Count seems particularly attentive to her. I hope it doesn’t go to her head.”
“Well, he’s a little too old for her, so I don’t think we need to worry on that score. It’s good experience for her and she has handled herself beautifully.”
“Well, we can thank the Count for that. What a charming and interesting man he is. He has gone out of his way to make her feel comfortable and Mr. Claybourne has been just as attentive. And what about Phillip? He seems quite taken with Lady Van Wyk.”
“Yes, I can’t wait to speak with him tomorrow about her. Don’t mention anything on the way home, though. We don’t want to put him on the spot.”
“No. I won’t.” She leaned into him, pressing her breast against his arm and spoke quietly in his ear. “On the way home I will be thinking only of you saving me and of the surprise I have for you.”
He growled low at her. “Surprise, you say. Now what could that possibly be?”
She giggled. “Nothing you would think of in a thousand years.”
They joined the rest of the group walking up the stairs and entered a rectangular room that seemed to take up the entire floor. It was brightly lit with many gas chandeliers. The wall at the far end of the room was made up of windows that ran from the floor to the twenty-foot ceiling and looked down into the solarium. “My word, Westhoven,” the duke exclaimed. “These are gas lights! Look at the light they put out. It’s like daylight in here.”
“Yes. We had the whole place piped when we remodeled. I like to work at night and oil lamps do not give off enough light for the precise work of these drawings.”
Hetsie added, “Perhaps you noticed the solarium’s lights in amongst the plants were gas lit as well. With a room that size I could never have managed to light enough candles to work at night. The rest of the rooms are piped also, but I do still love the romance of candles when entertaining.”
“You were very foresighted to do that. I was never certain that gas lights would prove to be workable.”
“Yes, well, since I own part of the Gas Light and Coke Company,” Pieter chuckled, “I felt it prudent to help promote the use in homes, and not just as lights in the streets.”
One more surprising revelation about this man, thought the duke. He made a mental note to talk to Liverpool about him. There was more to him than just good looks and show.
The other end wall was covered with charts and maps and the long back wall contained books from floor to ceiling, featuring a gallery walk above that ran the entire length of the room. A ladder on wheels was attached to a track on the wall that allowed it to move from one side of the room to the other. The center of the room was rigged out with a waist-high table, one end covered with glass. When one looked down through the glass, you saw a map of England in high relief profiling mountains, rivers, canals and towns with railroad tracks running from one end of the country to the other. All were in various colors and Pieter explained that the charts on the wall at the end of the room were color coordinated to match the tracks on the map, but in a much larger size.
“Your Grace and Wetherington,” Pieter said, “you were not at my presentation at White’s last week, so you are not familiar with my plan. But you can look at these maps on the wall and find your estates to estimate just how they would be served by my rail lines. The color coding tells you in what order they will be built.”
“Good grief,” the duke said. “This is a monumental undertaking. When do you think you will be starting?”
“We’ve already started, Your Grace. The biggest problems are attaining the right of ways. But money talks and everything seems to be moving right along. I have yet to contract with the locomotive manufacturer. My friend Bill Hedley has had Puffing Billy running for a while, but his design has proved to be too heavy for cast iron plateway.”
They all laughed at the mention of Puffing Billy. Thousands of people had turned out to watch the first ever steam engine run of a railway and since then, the name had become a metonym for all steam engines.
“But there are so many others working on this problem. It’s become a race to see who is first to get it right. I have no doubt that we will have what we need by the time we need it. The greatest need, of course, is up in Yorkshire and Northumberland where the coal mines are.” He indicated the area on the wall map. “We must bring the coal faster and cheaper into London, and I am confident we will find a way to do that.”
He then pointed across the room. “Those pictures on the end wall are of my new steamship that is arriving shortly. Once we get these ships sailing the Atlantic, the cost of shipping will drop considerably and delivery time will be cut dramatically. I will eventually replace my entire merchant fleet with steamships. I originally estimated that it would take a decade, but I believe now that it will require considerably less time.”
“Have you talked with Liverpool about this?” asked the duke. “You’ll not get anywhere unless he’s on board.”
“Yes, I’ve spoken with the prime minister.” was the casual reply, “and he assures me he’s on board. I’m not at all worried.”
Sinclair hoped this was not naïveté on his part. He might be in for a bigger fight than he anticipated. Liverpool was not the easiest man to work with. “Let me see what I can do,” offered the duke. “I’ll catch him next week in Parliament.” Pieter nodded an assent in an off-handed manner. “I’ll make sure he understands this is no gammon. I say, Westhoven, this would be an amazing thing for our country. Talk to me about your financing after I speak to Liverpool.”
Tea had been set up in the sitting area in front of the wall of glass that overlooked the solarium and they all marveled at the beautiful sight of the lights among the flowers and trees. But soon the ladies had become as interested in the railroads as the gentlemen. They had joined the men with their port and it was proving to be a diverse group.
“My lord? Will people be able to ride on your trains?” asked Tessa.
“Would you be interested in riding on one of my trains ma petite?”
“Above all else, my lord,” she gushed. “Imagine being able to sit and watch the whole of England pass by your eyes while you are moving smoothly along one of these tracks. No more bouncing or worrying about the horses when the weather is bad. And will they go faster than horses? Oh! Imagine! Do you ever suppose we will be able to do that?” She grinned in amazement at him.
“Yes, they will go faster than horses. And, while I don’t know how soon people will be able to ride on them, it will happen in your lifetime.” His eyes sparkled when he answered her.
The ladies retired to their tea service to refresh their cups. “This has been so interesting, my lady,” Tessa said to Hetsie. And I so enjoy watching you pour. The Duchess of Warburton was teaching me to pour when she visited us at Thornewood Hall last year. She told me a good way to learn is to observe other ladies whenever I could.”
“That’s true, Tessa. But the best way to learn is by doing. Why don’t you take over for me. I will relax and talk with the ladies.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, my lady! I don’t think I’m able.”
“Well, you’ll not know until you try. Come now. Sit here and if I may make a suggestion, remove the glove on your right hand. The weight of the tea service can sometimes make your glove slip if you are not used to it. Ladies? You have no objections if Miss Neeley pours for you tonight, do you? She is so eager to learn and how better than among friends.”
“What a wonderful idea,” agreed the duchess. “Has your sister told you, Tessa, that you are invited to a tea at my home on Wednesday? I have two nieces who will also be making their come-outs this season. You will have a chance to meet them and have some friends when your big day arrives.” She smiled warmly at Tessa. “This is such a grand idea, Lady Van Wyk. I believe I’ll set up a tea trolley for each of you young ladies so you can practice.”
“Oh, Your Grace!” Tessa stood to sweep her a low curtsy. “How grand of you. Jules? Is this true? May I really go?”
“Of course, Tessa. I think it will be great fun and you won’t feel so out of place if you meet some other young girls. Now I think it is time for you to pour.”
Tessa gave a good account of herself and only dribbled and forgot to ask about sugar or milk once. Hetsie asked her to pour for two of the gentlemen and she was in alt.
Time flowed pleasantly as the ladies and gentlemen talked and laughed together. Finally, the duke moved to his duchess and putting his hand at her waist, leaned in to speak in her ear. She smiled an embarrassed smile and turned to Hetsie to say goodbye—a cue for everyone to take their leave.
Tessa and Juliana were the last of the ladies to come down and Logan’s eyes were only on his wife and the night ahead as he watched her gracefully descend the stairs. Her satin skirt spiraled around her ankles, the turquoise balls and crystals moved to the rhythm of her body and the duke, watching Logan, realized he was absolutely unaware of what she was doing to every man there.
When the duke and the duchess were settled in their carriage, Sinclair tapped on the roof and then asked as the carriage lurched forward, “Well, my duchess, did you enjoy yourself tonight?”
“A most unusual evening, wouldn’t you say?” the duchess commented. “You mentioned that he warned you it would be informal, but I would say that was a vast understatement.”
“Did you find it too plebeian?”
“Oh no, Sin. It was just unusual. If it was at all provincial, Count Westhoven carried it off with such sang-froid that you would think all dinners were supposed to be served in that manner. Dear heaven! He has two world-class chefs and according to Claybourne he has traveled all over the world. He is very near Dutch royalty so we must just assume it is either his own eccentricity or the way of things in Holland.”
“I tend to believe it is his own eccentricity. I don’t believe that he follows the beat to anyone else’s drum. And certainly his sister didn’t seem at all nonplussed by any of it. They were both as smooth as glass.”
“Personally, I enjoyed the informality. And young Tessa Neely! What a charming girl. Surprisingly poised for someone that young and from such a background. You do know that both she and her sister spent the last four or five years in what some said was a convent, don’t you?”
“Yes, I’ve been given that information about them. But it wasn’t a convent. Some sort of poor house. Hard to believe. Dear God! One look at Hastings’ wife and you’d believe she had been trained by a world class courtesan.”
“I noticed your rapt attention,” she said wryly, but with a smile. “She does not seem to wear dresses that are in vogue, yet she appears so stunning in what she has on that one can hardly not gape at her.” She placed a hand on his thigh. “And am I to be jealous? Regardless of her fashions, you do know why she looks so tempting, don’t you?” The duchess paused as the duke stared at her. “She wears no stays.”
“Dear heaven! I wish you hadn’t told me that. I’ll not be able to look at her again with any degree of propriety.”
“Ah, my love. Shall I acquire her modiste and have her dress me without stays? Would you like that, Sin?” She squeezed her hand on his thigh.
“Frankly, I prefer you in nothing at all, sweet Beth,” he replied, placing a kiss in her hand. “But I don’t believe I could manage to behave with as much equanimity as young Hastings does. I don’t think he has any idea that every voluptuary in the ton already has his eyes on her. I hope that’s not the reason Prinny wants information about them. If he’s got his eye on her, it could become rather ticklish.”
“Why? What do you mean?”
“Well, Prince of Wales or not, I don’t think Hastings would tolerate anything untoward. He’s not like so many of the courtiers that prowl the halls of Carlton House. Just the mention of sharing her would set him off. It could prove to be very dangerous should he take offense.”
“Dangerous for who? Prinny or Hastings?” she laughed.
He joined her laughter, but sobered quickly. “Well not so funny, love. I don’t believe he’s a man to step politely aside for any attempt by Prinny at a dalliance with his wife. And regardless of how she looks, she is as artless and guileless a naïf as I’ve ever known.”
“I agree with you there. Her appearance could prove intimidating if she had any idea of how sensual she appears. Any other woman would be using that for her own position in the ton or to further her husband in some way. I’m sure you’re right when you say that neither of them has any idea of her allure. Which is surprising, considering Hastings’ reputation as a man about town. You’d think he would be the first to recognize it.”
The carriage pulled into the curved drive of their town home. “And now I would like to dally with my own wife. Perhaps I could help you with your stays and we could see how well you can move without them. Did you by chance get the name of that modiste? Perhaps she would make you a few gowns for my own private showings.” Not waiting for an answer the duke hurried his duchess from the coach.
If the veal croquettes dinner sounded good, you can get the recipe here.