A London Season
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by Joan Wolf
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Orphaned Lady Jane Fitzmaurice grew up with David Chance, who became her uncle's horse trainer. Always best friends, they shared a passion for horses. But when Jane was seventeen her uncle felt he must introduce her to the ton, where she rightly belonged with her beauty, breeding and fortune. Jane's London Season, however, was memorable for being anything but ordinary. Regency Romance by Joan Wolf; originally published by Signet
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 1981
eBookwise Release Date: July 2009
32 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [221 KB]
Reading time: 140-196 min.
Lady Jane Fitzmaurice was six years old when her parents were killed.
She came riding home to Loughmore Castle late in the afternoon, muddy and windblown as she always was after a day spent cantering her pony over the green hills of Tipperary. There was no sign on that lovely Irish spring day that anything unpleasant could possibly threaten her secure young life. She left her pony at the stables and walked up to the great stone house, home of the Earls of Loughmore for generations. She knew her parents had gone boating on Lough Derg, but their absence made little impression on her. She rarely saw them even when they were at home.
She had her dinner in the nursery with Miss Kilkelly as usual. Then she looked through a book on horses that had been given to her for her last birthday, and allowed Miss Kilkelly to wash her and put her to bed.
The news was brought to the castle an hour after Jane was asleep. A squall had come up suddenly on Lough Derg and the small boat containing the Earl, the Countess, and their two friends had capsized. None of the party could swim. There were no survivors.
The news was broken to Jane by the local rector. He sat before the Kilkenny marble fireplace in the drawing room and Jane stood before him. She was dressed, as always, in riding clothes and the rector hesitated, searching for the right words to use to the small, self-possessed child in front of him.
Jane Fitzmaurice was not a pretty child, but there was something unusual in the high cheekbones and square jaw that promised more than prettiness as she grew older. Her hair was black and hung straight as rain down her back, tied at her nape by an old velvet ribbon. Her eyes, the blue-green of the sea on sunny days, looked straight at Reverend Linley.
The rector spoke gently. "Jane, I'm afraid I have bad news for you. Your mother and father had an accident with the boat...."
He hesitated. "Yes?" Jane said in her clear, child's voice.
"They were drowned, Jane," he said. "I am so sorry, my dear."
"Drowned?" A frown appeared between Jane's brows. "Do you mean they are dead, Reverend Linley?"
"Yes." Helplessly the rector looked at the small, slim figure in front of him. Himself the father of three, his impulse was to reach out and hug her. But the erect, solitary child who was watching him with such steady eyes did not appear to be at all in need of comfort.
There was a long silence, then Jane said slowly, "Will I be able to stay at Loughmore Castle?"
The rector blew his nose. "The estate is entailed, Jane," he said after he had put his handkerchief back in his pocket. "Do you know what that means?"
"It means it cannot come to me because I am a girl. Who will it go to, rector?" For the first time there was a tremor in the self-possessed voice. "Will I be able to stay here?"
The rector was tempted to say something soothing, but found it impossible to lie to those direct blue-green eyes. "I don't know, Jane," he said honestly. "We shall have to wait and see." * * * *
Jane was the only child of James Fitzmaurice, Earl of Loughmore, and his wife Helen. Her sex had been a grievous disappointment to her parents, a disappointment that became more bitter as the years went by and no more children appeared. When James was drowned, Loughmore Castle passed into the hands of his second cousin, Henry Fitzmaurice, who became the fifth Earl. Jane passed into the guardianship of her maternal uncle, Edward Stanton, Marquis of Rayleigh. The Marquis was only twenty-six years of age, but as Lady Loughmore's only brother he was Jane's nearest surviving relative and so had been designated her guardian in her father's will.
Her parents' death made no great impression on Jane, as she had hardly ever seen them, but leaving Loughmore was anguish. Her parents had ignored her and there were no other children about with whom she could play, but she had had her pony and the grooms in the stable who had taught her to ride when she was two. It was not a normal childhood, but it was the only sort of life Jane had ever known. In the way of children, she had accepted it as ordinary. She had not been unhappy.
Now she was to leave Loughmore. Leave Ireland, in fact, and cross the sea to a strange land she had never seen, to live with an uncle she had never met. For the first time in her young life she was afraid.
But even at six years of age, Jane Fitzmaurice had too much pride to allow anyone to suspect her feelings. The only time she let down was when she realized she would have to leave her pony behind. She cried then, lying in the darkness of her bed at night. She had not cried about her parents.
The only comforting news Jane had heard since the rector told her of the death of her parents was the fact that her Uncle Edward's house was near Newmarket and that it was a stud. There would be horses, Jane told herself over and over. If there were horses it could not be so bad.
She was to travel to England with her nurse, Miss Kilkelly, and her Uncle Edward's secretary, who had been dispatched from Heathfield, the Marquis's estate, to make sure she arrived safely.
Packing Jane's clothes and belongings did not take very long. She was not a child who was interested in pretty dresses, and her mother, who thought her plain, had rarely troubled about what she had to wear. Most of her clothes were riding things.
They traveled from Loughmore to Wexford and from Wexford across St. George's Channel to Wales. The crossing was calm and Jane had remained on deck the whole time, silent and reserved as she had been since Mr. Hightower, her uncle's secretary, had arrived at Loughmore. He was a man of about fifty and unused to children, but he had tried to be kind to her. It worried him that she was so quiet. He had expected her to be full of questions about her new home, but beyond asking him how many horses there were at Heathfield she had said nothing. Her cousin, the new Earl, had tried to be kind as well, and had met with the same polite lack of response.
The trip across England seemed interminable to Jane. They arrived in Newmarket early in the evening six days after they had set out from Wales. Jane was dazed from tiredness and with difficulty took in the great stone house with its high chimneys and many windows glowing in the light of the setting sun.
She stumbled a little as she stepped out of the carriage, but resolutely shook off Miss Kilkelly's helping hand. She straightened her back and walked directly up the front steps to the dark-haired young man who was waiting for her. The Marquis of Rayleigh was dressed in immaculate evening attire, the whiteness of his snowy shirt and cravat in marked contrast to Jane's wrinkled and travel-stained coat and dress. "Are you my Uncle Edward?" Jane asked, ever direct.
"Yes." The young man's smile was a trifle rueful as he surveyed the untidy, resolute figure before him.
She nodded and walked past him into the beautiful marble hall. Her eyes went immediately to the paintings that decorated its walls. Most of them were by George Stubbs; they were all of horses.
"Oh," said Jane, and a sparkle began to glow in her strangely light eyes.
Her uncle came up behind her and said cheerfully, "I don't quite know what I'm to do with you, Jane. I have had no experience with children, I'm afraid. But I did buy two ponies for you to ride. Perhaps you'd care to look at them in the morning?"
Jane turned around and looked at him, the glow in her eyes more pronounced. "Ponies, for me?" she said carefully. "Are they mine?"
"Certainly," said Edward Stanton. "They are yours."
She went upstairs to the nursery with Miss Kilkelly shortly after that, leaving her uncle to invite his secretary to share a glass of brandy with him. After he dismissed Mr. Hightower the Marquis sat on for another hour while he consumed another brandy on his own. On the whole he was relieved by his secretary's report.
Edward Stanton was only twenty-six years of age and had been deeply dismayed to hear he was to become the guardian of a six-year-old child. It was a responsibility he most definitely did not want, but, as his solicitor had made perfectly clear, he was Jane's only close relative. "The child must live somewhere, my lord," was how Mr. Abercrombie had phrased it. "If not with you, then where?"
So the Marquis had given instructions for the nursery at Heathfield to be opened up and, being a Stanton, he had immediately made sure his niece would have horses to ride. Beyond that, he thought helplessly, he would have to rely on the child's nurse.
Jane was not at all what he had expected. When he had looked into her eyes, the same aquamarine color as her father's, he remembered dimly, he had had the feeling he was looking at a person, not merely an anonymous child. She did not look at all helpless. And from what Hightower had told him, she seemed very well able to take care of herself. If he just left her to her own devices, his lordship thought hopefully, perhaps she would manage very well without him.
Jane awoke early the next morning to find the sun streaming in the window of a strange room. It took her a minute to realize that this was not yet another inn, but Heathfield itself. Her new home.
She sat up in bed, pushed her hair out of her eyes, and looked curiously about her. The nursery walls were painted a pale shade of blue that complemented the blue in the tiles around the fireplace. Crisp white curtains hung at the windows and the wide-planked floor shone with polish. In a minute Miss Kilkelly came in to lay out Jane's clothes for the day.
"I'm going riding, Kelly," Jane told her, a hint of excitement in her voice. "Uncle Edward bought two ponies for me. He told me to look at them this morning."
"That's nice, Lady Jane," said Miss Kilkelly composedly. Without fuss she began to lay out one of Jane's better riding outfits, no hint on her face of the relief she felt at that note of enthusiasm in Jane's clear voice.
After Jane was dressed, she and Miss Kilkelly went into the next room where a small table was set up in front of the window. A housemaid came in with their breakfast, which Jane ate as quickly as possible, eager to be off to the stables.
By nine o'clock she was walking down the half-mile gravel drive that led from the house to the stableyard.