Unexpected Earl, page 14part #1 of Hearts and Ever Afters Series
Eleanor made her way over to the two women and said, “Lady Beatrice, it was lovely to have met you. I do hope you enjoy the rest of the ball.” She turned to her sister, “Emma, I am feeling unwell. I must go outdoors to get some fresh air.”
Eleanor walked through the great hall. A footman holding a polished silver tray of punch was a welcome sight. Her throat hurt from holding back tears. Having visited Charles’s home many times, she easily found the library, which she hoped would be deserted. She needed somewhere that she could cry in solitude.
She entered the dark room, relieved that nobody was inside. No candles were lit, but a fire burned in the fireplace, which gave off a dim light. Eleanor sat on an upholstered couch and placed her cup of punch on an elaborately carved wooden table. She longed for the comfort of her own bed, but found the library to be a sanctuary for the time being. Her family enjoyed festivities such as these, and she didn’t want to make a scene by insisting that they leave. Instead, she would grieve her loss while her loved ones danced the night away, unaware of her suffering.
Tears continued to stream down her cheeks as she thought about Charles marrying Lady Beatrice. He didn’t love Lady Beatrice, which he admitted in his own words. Although Lady Beatrice seemed lovely in demeanor, Eleanor knew the marriage was only about the large dowry and social connections she would bring. Eleanor sat back on the couch, her head spinning from the events of the evening. The upbeat music from the ball was at odds with her mood. The music was bright and cheerful, yet her world seemed to be ending.
After what seemed like an eternity, the door creaked open. Emma’s silhouette graced the door. When Emma saw the state her sister was in, she ran to her.
“Eleanor, do we need to call a doctor? What happened? I shall run and fetch, Papa. We must get you out of here. Imagine if anybody saw you in this state.”
“Emma, he’s betrothed to Lady Beatrice. I do not know how I will go on,” said Eleanor as she continued to sob.
“My dearest Eleanor, I do wish this evening would have turned out differently. It was wrong of him to flirt with you and toy with your emotions. His actions are completely dishonorable.”
“He doesn’t even love her. He told me.”
“I saw it in his eyes. He doesn’t look at Lady Beatrice as he looks at you,” said Emma, trying to comfort her sister. “Stay here. We will tell our hosts you are unwell, and we will sneak you out of here as best we can. I have already told everyone that you were suffering from a terrible headache, so no one expects you to be cheerful. We will ask the butler to call for the carriage.”
“Thank you for making an excuse for my absence tonight. I’m sorry you had to tell a falsehood.”
Emma brushed the tendrils off Eleanor’s face, as she said, “A falsehood? How did I know that you didn’t have a headache?” Emma winked as Eleanor smiled.
September 15, 1814
Eleanor had never ridden in a carriage so luxurious. The seat was upholstered in a soft velvet, and the interior was lined in silk. She could not imagine a queen riding in anything as regal. She shared a carriage with her two younger sisters. Her parents and younger brother rode in a separate carriage, leading the procession. They had traveled from Lansdowne and were within a few miles of their new home, Hempsted Park.
It was difficult for Eleanor to imagine that her father, a man so humble and compassionate, had been raised in such opulence and wealth. He had not been back to his family’s home in more than twenty years, since his father had died. Eleanor knew that he had grown up here, but she had never seen it before today. She was not even certain that Katherine and her younger brother even knew their father was from Gloucester.
The procession of carriages wound its way down the dirt road, and at the top of a hill, gazing out the window, Eleanor saw the gray towers of Hempsted Park rising on the horizon. Katherine, being the youngest, was also the most enthusiastic with her head pressed against the glass.
“Is that our new home?” asked Katherine, her excitement palpable
“Yes, I believe that is Hempsted Park. Father grew up there,” said Eleanor.
“Is it quite large, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is; you may even get lost!” answered Emma, joking with her sister.
“Oh what fun, to live in a house big enough to get lost in!”
The carriages arrived at Hempsted Park, and an army of servants stood in the courtyard to greet the new Earl and his family. Eleanor stepped out of the carriage and followed her father and mother into the great hall. The house was enormous, and Eleanor noted that it was even bigger than Deerfield Court. She stood in the great hall and stared at the fireplace, which was large and imposing. She imagined that a carriage could easily fit inside of it.
Eleanor’s imagination ran wild as she took in the luxuries of her new home. She imagined the parties and balls her parents would host. She envisioned walking down the grand stone staircase in beautifully detailed gowns to greet the guests. When the Christmas season arrived, Eleanor planned to trim an elaborate tree that would be placed in the great hall, which would look stunning against the dark wood. She was ready to create some amazing memories in this grand house, a house that was now her home.
Eleanor was brought back to reality when her father put his arm around her and asked, “What do you think, Eleanor? It’s just beautiful, isn’t it?”
“It’s as if I am dreaming, Papa. I never envisioned Hempsted Park to be this remarkable.”
“Well, my dear, I do hope that you find comfort here.” Her father gave her hand a tight squeeze, and turned to address his family, “Your rooms have already been chosen. Mrs. Allan, the housekeeper, will show you each to your rooms and see that you get settled in comfortably. We will all meet downstairs in a short while for an official tour so that you can get acquainted with your new home.”
A tall, older woman stepped forward, curtsied, and introduced herself. Motioning that she wanted them to follow her upstairs, she continued, “Please come this way, and I will be sure that you are settled and that the staff are aware of any requests to make you feel right at home.”
After reaching the top of the staircase, Mrs. Allan led Eleanor and her siblings through a long corridor, and stopped at the second door on the right, “Lady Eleanor, this is to be your room. A footman will be up shortly with your things. Rebecca will help you get unpacked and dressed.”
Stepping inside the luxurious room, Eleanor’s eyes widened as she took in the grandeur of the space that was all her own. The room was decorated in pale blue and cream with purple accents. A velvet couch and a settee were placed by the fireplace with a table, which looked warm and inviting. She looked around and examined the elegant furniture that was ornately carved with beautiful details. The four-poster bed had a canopy with thick, cream-colored drapes. The dressing table and armoire were made from walnut, while the tall mirror was framed in silver. The floor was covered in rugs, and the window was cut glass that opened to a view of the garden. The ceiling was high, and the walls were white with gold trim. Eleanor was awestruck, and almost failed to notice that she had a companion, Rebecca.
Rebecca was a house maid that had just been promoted to lady’s maid with the arrival of Eleanor and Emma. She stood in the doorway and waited patiently for her new mistress to acknowledge her presence.
“Pardon me, I was lost in thought and didn’t see you standing there.”
The young woman in the doorway curtsied, then introduced herself. “m’lady, I am Rebecca. I will be looking after you and your sister, Emma.” She appeared to be about the same age as Eleanor.
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Rebecca. You will have to excuse me. I have only recently been titled, so it may take me some time to get used to all of this.”
“My lady, I’m sure you will do quite well. The footman will be bringing your trunks up soon, and I will get everything unpacked for you. Can I get you anything?”
“Tea would be lovely.”
Eleanor enjoyed her tea on the pale blue velvet couch while the fire warmed her. She joined her family for an official tour of the home. After that, Eleanor and her siblings were left to explore the house and the grounds on their own.
Hempsted Park was more than four centuries old. The architecture was a medley of styles, including Medieval and Rococo. It was imposing, and yet Eleanor had never seen a more romantic residence. The interior consisted of dark wood, stone floors, silk panels, and white and gold inlay from the previous century. It was delightfully eclectic in the manner of English country homes of long established titles.
Eleanor found her way to the library, a truly magnificent room with tall stained glass windows, bookcases that stood well over ten feet tall, and dark brown furniture. This was her favorite room, and Eleanor decided that she would spend much of her time reading by the fireplace. It was such a lovely thought, considering the weather was getting cooler.
Outside, there were acres of green lawn, gardens of flowers, herbs and vegetables, and a horse stable three times the size of the rectory she had only recently called home.
The house was three stories tall with towers, bedrooms, servants’ quarters, and rooms she was sure she had yet to see, or even locate. The family was having a delightful time getting acquainted with their new surroundings, but their routine was a different matter altogether. Life at the rectory had been unshackled and by comparison, free.
At the rectory, there was a cook and a maid, and that was all the domestic assistance the family required. The family had come and gone when they pleased and ate their meals on a somewhat flexible schedule. Here at Hempsted Park, they were on a strict schedule of meals and they had to follow age-old customs, which at first, proved to be challenging to a family that was used to a middleclass lifestyle. Eleanor and Emma were now expected to change clothes at least three times each day and dress formally for dinner, even when it was only their family in attendance. They even shared a lady’s maid.
Despite the changes in her life and her wealth, Eleanor still thought about Charles. After the summer ball, she had only spoken to him at church. The conversation was awkward, as neither one of them knew what to say. They made comments about the weather and the fine sermon, but Eleanor excused herself as quickly as she could. He had broken her heart, and she spent her last weeks in Lansdowne avoiding all contact with him. It was exhausting. Moving was a way for Eleanor to start fresh, and it also ensured that she would not have to see Charles with his new bride.
Never again would she make the mistake of pursuing a relationship. She had made a fool of herself, and she couldn’t imagine having to bear that kind of pain again. If she ever married, it would be because a man pursued her, regardless of whether or not she loved him back. From the minute she stepped into Hempsted Park, she was no longer just plain Eleanor Chatham, she was Lady Eleanor Chatham, daughter of the thirteenth Earl of Gloucester.
October 10, 1814
As was the custom of Hempsted Park, a house party was hosted every autumn. The same guests were invited annually. The new Earl had been raised in that lifestyle and easily reverted back to many of the aristocratic ways of life. He had grown up with many of the gentries in the local area and looked forward to reestablishing old ties.
The estate’s butler proved to be indispensable in arranging the invitations. The butler had helped plan the house party for the past five years when he served the previous Earl. The butler and housekeeper were eager to assist the Chatham family with anything to help them get settled and make this party a success. Their years of experience made planning an easy feat.
Eleanor’s mother, now Lady Gloucester, enlisted the help of the housekeeper, Mrs. Allan, to hire seamstresses and tailors to produce clothes worthy of their new station. New shoes and boots had to be ordered from London. Eleanor and her siblings were provided etiquette training to help ensure their successful introduction to society.
Eleanor’s father, being accustomed to the lifestyle, thought Lady Gloucester was overreacting. He continued to remind his wife that their children were raised with manners and were accustomed to society’s rules, so they didn’t need the extra classes on etiquette. Lady Gloucester insisted.
At last, the date of the house party had arrived. Eleanor and Emma were excited; this was their first social occasion as the daughters of an Earl. Emma was particularly excited and talked about the possibility of meeting her future husband. Eleanor still thought of Charles, and had no interest in making the acquaintance of any suitors.
The guests arrived on Thursday morning. Most of the guests had visited the estate on many occasions, so an official tour was not needed. Although the guests knew Vicar Chatham, now Lord Gloucester, they were meeting his family for the first time. The guests were given access to use the amenities of the estate and explore the grounds as they pleased.
In the drawing room before dinner, Eleanor and Emma were paid much attention, not only by the men, but also by the women. They wanted to know all about them, what their talents were, and how they were enjoying Hempsted Park.
As the eldest unmarried daughter of the Earl of Gloucester, Eleanor had a considerable dowry. Her family’s wealth spanned centuries, and they were now one of the wealthiest families in the south of England. Her father had warned that fortune seekers might pursue her, which was just one more reason for Eleanor to be on guard.
Emma, who also had a sizeable dowry, was excited by the prospect of finding love. She brushed off her father’s words and claimed that she would only marry an honorable man that could prove that he loved her, and then she would fall madly in love with him and live out their lives in pure bliss.
Eleanor covered her mouth to hide her smile. Although she hoped Emma would find the love of her life, experience had taught Eleanor money could bring out the worst in people. Although Charles was an honorable man, he had married for money. If Charles had chosen Eleanor, he would have had ties to a well-respected family, and more money than his chosen bride brought to the marriage. But most importantly, he would have married someone he loved, and who also loved him in return. If only Charles would have waited a few more months before proposing to Lady Beatrice.
When Eleanor and Emma were in private, Eleanor took the opportunity to speak to her sister and hopefully talk some sense into her. Their lives had just been turned upside down, and there was no rush to marry or entertain thoughts suitors.
“Emma, isn’t it amazing that we were barely noticed in Lansdowne, and here we are, suddenly quite popular?”
“What do you mean, Eleanor? You have always been so beautiful and have always had many suitors. The only thing that is different is the type of man that is pursuing you.”
“Emma, I just want you to be careful. Please don’t rush into anything. There are a lot of men who would like to take advantage of your new situation. Men like Charles…”
Emma grabbed her sister’s hand, “Eleanor, you needn’t worry about me. I will tell you the truth; I am having the most difficult time remembering all these names and their titles. I simply cannot tell them all apart. When I marry, it will be for love. In the meantime, I intend on having as much fun as I can. Next season, I am sure my dance card will be full at every ball. I insist you do the same.”
Eleanor giggled, “Don’t let Mama and Papa hear you say that. Mama would surely faint.”
When Emma and Eleanor returned to the drawing room, they played whist and faro until late in the evening. Eleanor enjoyed every minute of the attention and remembered that she would never allow her heart to overrule her head, not like she did with Charles.
The next morning, the men were off for the day’s activities as soon as the sun came up. The women remained in the house. Some women played cards, while others retreated to the music room or practiced their embroidery.
Eleanor went to the library and breathed a contented sigh of relief. No more co
A masculine voice startled her thoughts, “Good morning. Lady Eleanor, is it?”
Eleanor gasped in surprise; she was not alone. A man who appeared to be in his late twenties with sandy blond hair and green eyes stood in front of her. He was tall with broad shoulders and was quite handsome.
“Good Morning. Yes, I am Lady Eleanor. I don’t think we have been introduced.”
“No we have not, as I arrived late in the evening. I am Nathaniel Drake, Duke of Fenton.”
Eleanor curtsied and greeted him “Your Grace, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Lady Eleanor Chatham, the feeling is mutual.”
“May I ask you a rather unusual question?”
“Why not?” he said with a warm smile.
“Did I do that correctly; I mean the curtsy and the greeting?”
“Yes, I would say you did splendidly.”
“Well, that’s good,” laughed Eleanor. My mother is worried that I won’t be able to get all of these rules correct. ‘Do this, and don’t do that.’ Really, my head is spinning from everything I must and mustn’t do.”
“Are you always this delightful and honest? I have never met a woman who was more entertaining and engaging than you.”
Eleanor laughed, “You have only just met me, and I have barely said anything. Your acquaintances must be quite dull.” Eleanor stopped, as she remembered that she was speaking to a duke. “Your Grace, I must apologize. Please forgive my speech. I should hold my tongue.”
JOYCE ALEC SERIES:
Other author's books:
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