A Heart to Love

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Episode 5

A Newly-Married Regency Couple

At last, the wedding guests departed, save Mr. Browning. “I will wait for Mr. Harper’s return, if you will permit,” he said to Mr. Archer.

“I understand.” Mr. Archer clapped him on the shoulder. “Come share a brandy with me.”

The men disappeared as Mrs. Archer descended, her finery changed to more workaday garb. “I thought they would never leave,” she told Beatrice as she surveyed the parlor, cups and plates littering the surfaces. “As if they waited for something else to happen.”

“Most likely they did. We’ll be a feast for the village. Mr. Browning’s with Father. He wanted to wait for Mr. Harper.”

“Hopefully with a new date. Best go change so you can help. I want everything cleaned before we retire.”

Beatrice went gladly, returning downstairs a simple day dress, to find the cleanup operation underway. Mrs. Archer her to the task of checking under the chairs in case anything needed retrieving while she oversaw the maids. This included removing a partially eaten tart from the depths of the aspiradita as a knock came at the front door. “Tell them to go away,” Mrs. Archer said. “They should realize we want no more visitors today.”

It was Harper, looking far happier now than before. “I spoke with Mr. Sheppard. He says he will be happy to perform the ceremony a week from Friday. He apologies for the delay, but he assumes the doctor wishes Agatha to rest for a few days. Then he will be absent from the village until next Thursday, visiting a relation who recently completed her confinement.”

Beatrice didn’t miss her mother’s wince. “I hoped for sooner, but perhaps next week will give us all a chance to breathe.” Mrs. Archer turned as Mr. Archer entered, followed by Browning. “The date is fixed for next Friday. I’m going to go tell Agatha. No, you stay put, Mr. Harper. She will be down directly.”

“Next Friday?” Browning asked as Mrs. Archer left.

“Sadly, the vicar has other obligations. He is free tomorrow, but thinks Agatha should take time to recover. He does not wish her to faint at the altar again.”

Browning continued to frown. She thought he would be glad, as he still seemed unconvinced this match was best for his friend. Connolly wouldn’t hesitate to use the time, though Beatrice worried less about him. There was the matter of Harper’s sisters…

Perhaps he anticipated the storms ahead. Mr. Archer didn’t appear to, coming forward to shake Archer’s hand with a broad smile. “Well done, boy. We’ll make the occasion small but joyous. Will you dine? You and your friend, of course. I imagine your plans are unsettled because of this.”

Harper shook his head. “I need to inform the staff their new mistress won’t be arriving. I did not find time to send word.”

“In a few days’ time?” Beatrice suggested. “Say, the day after tomorrow? Don’t you agree, Papa? Nothing fancy.” She turned toward Browning. “You would also be welcome.”

He inclined his head in acknowledgment as Mr. Archer added his agreement. There came the sound of feet on the stairs, Agatha descending quickly in her eagerness. “You spoke with him?”

“Be careful, my darling.” Harper met her at the bottom, lifting her off the last step. “A week from Friday. Not what we wanted…”

She silenced him with a finger to his lips, followed by a kiss, taking no notice of Mrs. Archer as she skirted around the pair. “All’s well that ends well,” she said, joining the others. “Are you staying, Mr. Browning?”

“Kit says he must go back to Fieldham Hall. Miss Archer extended an invitation for later in the week.”

Mrs. Archer smiled contentedly, giving Agatha and her betrothed for a few minutes before shooing the gentlemen away. “A trial, but all should come out right in the end.” She sighed. “I’m exhausted. Dear, would you be put out if I had my meal on a tray?”

Mr. Archer shook his head. “Perhaps I’ll eat in the study. Girls, I’m sure the two of you wished to share secrets you prefer your parents not hear.”

They agreed, but Beatrice couldn’t stop worrying.

***

“Mrs. Harper is not with you?” The butler at Fieldham asked as Laurence and Harper handed off their hats upon arrival.

“A small hitch. The ceremony will be next Friday. Whatever Cook has prepared, serve in the dining room at the usual time.”

“I’m surprised the gossip hasn’t reached the house,” Laurence said as they made their way into the drawing room. “Or Connolly has not appeared. I’m not sure if this is good or bad.”

“Good I don’t need to throw him out, bad we don’t know what he’s up to. Brandy?”

“I’ll pass. I had one with Mr. Browning. He is a generous hand, to say the least.”

Harper gave a short, dry laugh. “Even if Arthur had not spoken, there would still be gossip. He simply made things worse.”

“The fact you took the lead in rescheduling will help.” Laurence flopped bonelessly on a couch. “I suspect our friend is either drinking at the local pub or busy writing a letter to Kitty and Meg. I’ll wager they appear on your doorstep in a few days.”

“They are not pleased with the idea of a ‘country nobody’ being added to the family.” Snifter in hand, he took the other end of the couch. “They’re not focused on my happiness but their ambitions. They will try to use this to their advantage.” He took a sip. “When did Connolly become ‘our friend’? I don’t recall liking him at school.”

“I didn’t either. He somehow fell in with the larger group. Don’t forget his friendship with Kitty.”

Harper made a face. “One of the reasons I asked him to be a supporter. My hope was his presence might mollify the girls.”

Laurence held up two fingers with a small space between them to indicate how successful he thought such effort might be. A rap the door, and the butler entered, carrying a small silver tray. “For you, sir. Delivered by hand.”

Harper thanked the man, who retreated. Scanning the note, he frowned. “Speak of the devil. This is from Connolly.”

Laurence sat up straight. “He realized he wouldn’t be wanted here?”

Harper nodded. “I will not press myself where I am not wanted, but I wish to tell you I will not be writing to your parents or your sisters.”

“That doesn’t sound right.”

I will instead ride to Durfeld to inform them of this travesty. I make no secret you are being led astray by an ambitious strumpet who seeks only your title. My hope is they will do what they can to prevent you from ruining your life in this fashion.”

Laurence couldn’t help laughing. “He thinks this will make you change your mind? The man’s delusional.”

“There is more. I include my tab at the inn, which I assured the landlord you would settle as I am here to see you married off. Be a good boy and pay promptly.” Harper glanced at the enclosed paper. “How the hell did the man spend fifteen shillings in one afternoon at the pub?”

More concerning to Laurence was the other thing. “I supposed we should prepare ourselves for the arrival of the Armada.” Hopefully, we are playing Drake, not King Philip’s part

Back to Episode 4

Episode 6 – coming soon

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