A Lady of Spirit: Chapter 1
This business of names—carrying one, marrying one, burying one—was a puzzle, and no mistake.
From her seat in the transept of St. Mary’s Church, hard by Cadogan Square and the edifice in which the bride had been christened, Maggie watched as Emilie Fragonard paced up the aisle on the arm of her father. Though she was swathed in a veil that stretched away down the aisle for twenty feet, it was sheer enough that one could take in the splendor of her Worth gown, said to have been sent from Paris at enough expense to feed and house an English village for a year.
Maggie rather doubted that. Emilie was not that sort of girl, and while her wedding dress of cream Duchesse satin was indeed a marvel of embroidery and tucking and lace, it was more likely the work of loving hands—and an extremely close eye to the latest fashion plates from Monsieur Worth’s studio.
Behind the bride, carrying a basket of salmon-colored roses and maidenhair fern, came her chief bridesmaid, Lady Claire Trevelyan, upon whose inclusion the former had insisted. Following her were eleven girls of appropriate age and social standing, upon whom the bride’s mother had insisted.
“Doesn’t the Lady look fine!” Maggie whispered to Lizzie seated next to her, whom she still—stubbornly, against all evidence to the contrary—called sister.
Lizzie nodded, her keen green eyes alight with admiration. “Emilie kept her promise. No pink. That Wedgewood blue sets off the Lady’s auburn hair perfectly.”
Mr. Andrew Malvern, on Lizzie’s other side, turned from his rapt contemplation of the chief bridesmaid to lift an eyebrow at the girls—an indication that they should stop whispering and show their respect for both the occasion and the aforesaid edifice.
Maggie stifled the urge to apologize. He would have the rest of the service and the entirety of the wedding breakfast to make calf’s eyes at Claire, whereas comments upon one’s impressions of pretty dresses were only appropriate during that first ephemeral moment.
Oh, stop it. You’re only making a nuisance of yourself so you don’t have to think about what happens tomorrow.
Tomorrow, when this business of names might actually have to be wrestled with.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony …”
Because it was a simple fact that the Lady had a name, on the occasions—like the present one—when she chose to use it. Lizzie had a name to which she was entitled. Even Snouts and Jake had a name, though the occasions on which she’d ever heard it could be counted upon the fingers of one hand.
Maggie alone bore a name to which she was not entitled, a discovery that she and Lizzie had made only a few weeks ago. Upon their graduation from the lycee in Munich that they had been attending while Lady Claire completed her engineering degree, Lizzie had met a man who had ultimately revealed himself to be not Charles Seacombe, man of affairs, patron, and father, but Charles de Maupassant—traitor, anarchist, and would-be murderer of two members of the royal family—including the heir to the throne.
“If any man present knows of an impediment to the union of Emilie Fragonard and Peter Livingston Lord Selwyn, I charge you to declare it now.”
As street sparrows years ago, when they bothered to think about names at all, the girls had remembered theirs to be de Maupassant—which on the tongues of the five-year-old ragamuffins they had been, had become “Mopsie.” The Mopsies they were and the Mopsies they had remained until they had come under the care of the Lady and had had to be registered in a proper school.
But neither of them cared to take the name of a traitor. And besides, Lizzie was now the beloved half-sister of Claude Seacombe, and they both seemed to be the cousins of a young inventor named Evan Douglas. Lizzie had decided to be a Seacombe, too, and labored under the happy delusion that Maggie was going to be the same when they returned to Munich and changed their registrations at school in the fall.
“Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?”
But which was worse—keeping a traitor’s name or one you weren’t entitled to in the eyes of the law? For the ugly truth was that Maggie didn’t know who her father was. At least Lizzie knew, though as she’d tell you herself, she’d rather not, thank you very much. All Maggie knew was that Lizzie’s mother Elaine and her own mother Catherine had been sisters.
Something had happened to Catherine that resulted in Maggie’s birth during the same week as Lizzie’s. Something that no one knew … or was willing to speak of. Something that Maggie was determined to find out on their trip down to Cornwall tomorrow.
“I, Emilie, take thee, Peter, to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.”
Standing at Emilie’s left, the basket of roses at her feet so that she could hold Emilie’s enormous bouquet with both hands, the Lady combed the crowd until she located Lizzie and Maggie in the north transept. Her expression softened with love and Maggie put both love and encouragement into her return smile. Buck up—only a little while longer.
Mr. Malvern’s shoulders rose and fell in what looked suspiciously like a sigh.
“Forasmuch as Peter and Emilie have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be man and wife together, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
“Thank heaven,” Maggie distinctly heard from the bride’s side of the church.
The Lady compressed her lips in an effort to maintain the gravity the occasion warranted, but when she the groom bent his lanky form and bestowed a tender kiss upon the new Lady Selwyn, her eyes took on the quiet satisfaction and happiness of a woman who was truly happy for her best friend’s good fortune.
The fact that the title of Lady Selwyn had once nearly been hers had not escaped the attention of many in the church. But Maggie knew all too well that the Lady was well rid of it—and the man who would have bestowed it upon her.
The bride and groom practically floated into the vestibule to sign the parish register. When they reappeared, Lady Selwyn was proudly wearing a small but ancient tiara that was now hers by right. Claire shepherded the rest of the bridesmaids down the length of the aisle after the couple, and was decanted onto the church steps where the carriages waited.
Maggie drew a deep breath. “Well, that’s done, and I hope they will be very happy.”
She and Lizzie took Mr. Malvern’s proffered arms and were escorted in style out the side doors for the short walk across the square to the Fragonard house.
“I am sure they will,” Mr. Malvern said. “From what Claire says, I understand they have waited patiently for this day, and under Mr. Liv—I mean, Lord Selwyn’s good management, they even have a home to go to in the country.”
“With all this happiness and patience in the air,” Lizzie said innocently, “it would not surprise me to see more than one engagement blossom while it is still summer.”
But if she had hoped that Mr. Malvern might smile at such a joke, she was gravely disappointed. His pleasant expression never faded, but some of its animation did, and the corners of his eyes pinched in a way that struck Maggie’s heart.
“She meant to cheer you, Mr. Malvern,” Maggie said softly. “Please don’t think any more of it.”
Too late, Lizzie realized that teasing could hurt a person just as effectively as a direct assault. “Oh, Mr. Malvern, I didn’t mean—I hope you won’t—”
“It’s all right, girls,” he said gently. “It’s perfectly obvious to everyone but Claire that my feelings have not changed since our adventures in the Canadas five years ago. But I say, does she not look glorious in that blue dress?”
The carriage bearing the bride and groom clattered past, drawn by two gray horses, and followed by several more containing Lady Claire and the bevy of bridesmaids. “Why do they insist on horse-drawn carriages?” Lizzie wondered aloud. “No one but Bloods drives them any more. Do they want to look hopelessly behind the times?”
“They want to look as though they are above the times—as though they do not matter,” Mr. Malvern observed. “However, I suspect that, despite the family carriage, Lord and Lady Selwyn do not harbor such old-fashioned views. I have it on good authority that they will be taking their wedding tour of the Lakes in a spanking new six-piston Obermeister steam landau.”
But Maggie was not to be distracted by talk of vehicles. She could not bear that her sister might have hurt his feelings a moment ago, after all he had done for them, and if it lay in her power, she would make it right.
“Do not despair about the Lady, Mr. Malvern,” she said, squeezing his arm. “Captain Hollys asked her three times, you know. You still have a chance.”
“Yes, but the answer the third time was just the same as the first, from what I understand,” he replied with a hint of gloom. “At least, it must have been, since I have observed in the society pages lately that he is cutting quite a swath.”
“I’d say your chances were even better, then,” Lizzie told him. “Why would she turn down such a brave man—and a baron to boot—unless her heart were already engaged elsewhere?”
“What, with Zeppelin airships?”
“No,” Lizzie said in a tone that implied he was being a poultice when she was trying to be serious and grown-up. “With a gentleman who has backed her up from the first, and who she has said herself is her intellectual equal in every way.”
Maggie felt the jolt of his surprise as though the Lady had fired her lightning rifle past his ear. “She said that?”
“She did,” Maggie confirmed. “It’s none of our business, sir, but really, you ought to try again.”
He patted her gloved hand lying upon the sleeve of his morning jacket. “I know your intentions are good, Maggie, but if a man proposes once and gets an answer, then he ought to be satisfied that the lady knows her mind. Particularly the lady we are discussing behind her back.”
But that had been five years ago. Had he really not tried again since?
Then again, anyone observing Captain Hollys’s courtship would have done the proper thing and stood back, once he knew how the land lay.
Maggie exchanged a glance with Lizzie. How lucky for Mr. Malvern that they had not so much practice as he had in doing the proper thing.