An Earl's Agreement(2)

By: Joyce Alec

Lucy swallowed, nerves beginning to flurry through her stomach. They were discussing her. Her cheeks warmed at the thought of the last ball she had attended with her parents. Her mother had caught her deep in discussion with two other gentlemen, talking about the merits of the Scottish Poor Law in relation to the English law. What had made it worse was that both gentlemen, while titled, had been of a lower standing than her father, and Lucy knew she was expected to marry either within a similar rank or, preferably, higher.

“She is becoming wild!” her mother screeched as Lucy heard her father slam the door with his usual lack of consideration. “Discussing the Poor Law, discussing poverty, and the workhouse! That is not the kind of subject a young lady needs to talk about. She should be fluttering her fan and seeking to ensure her dance card is full.”

“Did she not dance at all?” her father asked, his voice grave. “I can scarcely believe that. Lucy is one of the most beautiful and most eligible young women at such events.”

“She did dance some,” her mother replied slowly. “But her beauty and eligibility mean nothing, Charles, not when she is so lacking in other ways.”

Lucy’s grip tightened on her book, her fingers growing white as she forced her anger back under control. She had no need to simper and smile, since none of the young men her parents favored was of any interest to her. In fact, she considered them all quite dull! They looked at her as though she were simply some kind of adornment, one they could wear on their arm, but care very little about.

No, she did not want that kind of man for a husband. Instead, she sought someone who actually had some semblance of character, someone who appreciated her desire for knowledge and wish to better herself. She needed a husband with whom she could talk, a husband who enjoyed spending time in her company instead of simply expecting her to turn up to societal events with him.

Love? She smiled softly, her parents’ voices fading into the background. Perhaps love, and if not love, then certainly affection, for she was sure that affection could, and would, grow to love.

Lucy was determined not to ever allow herself to marry someone who had utterly no regard for her, nor she for him. That kind of marriage would only turn out to be similar to the bond her parents had, a bond that was brittle and liable to snap at any moment. Her lip curled with distaste.

She was more than aware that her father had a few mistresses throughout their marriage, for he often shouted it at her mother when he drank too much whiskey. No, her parent’s marriage was a decidedly unhappy one, and certainly not one Lucy sought for herself.

“I do have a friend that would be a fine match for Lucy,” her father said slowly, his voice suddenly capturing her attention again. “I know he is keen to wed once more, but no one has caught his eye as yet.”

Her mother snorted. “And you really think Lucy might be the one to do so?”

“As it happens, the gentleman is interested in some kind of partnership with me.”

Lucy gripped her book tighter and tighter as the seconds ticked on. Surely he was not about to suggest that she be pushed into another man’s arms as some kind of business agreement.

“Then you think Lucy might wed him, and secure your partnership?” her mother asked quietly. “Who is this man? That does not make sense, Charles.”

“Of course it does,” her father blustered, sounding both irritated and angry that his wife had questioned him. “Have you not just finished telling me that Lucy is struggling to find a suitor? Lord Hutton is quite desperate to be in partnership with me, I believe, and will do exactly as I ask, I am sure of it. He will take Lucy off our hands, make her more than respectable, and my holdings will be more than secure with his additional funding. What issues can you foresee, my dear?”

There was silence as Lucy held back her shriek of refusal and despair. She clenched her fists and pressed one to her mouth; tears began to roll unchecked down her cheeks.

“And if she does not agree?” her mother asked, a worried ring to her voice. “What then?”

Her father chuckled. “She will have no choice but to agree. Our stubborn, rebellious daughter is about to realize that she will do as she is told, or she will be out in the cold. She will lose all respectability and, without funds, what exactly is she to do?”