Lady Griffith’s Second Chance: Chapter Two

Last week I brought you a sneak peek at the first chapter of Lady Griffith’s Second Chance! Today I bring you the entirety of Chapter Two! I hope you enjoy this special look!

(And you can pre-order the book here, if you find you can’t wait for these little teases.)

 

Chapter Two

“Oh, Mama! I was so glad to have you there!”

Regan patted Katharine’s hand and kept her eyes pinned to the trees that bent low over the pond. Beneath their branches, Jack and Maria batted a shuttlecock between them, their arms swinging with the force of an all-out war.  

“And I was happy to be there with you,” Regan said, casting a benevolent smile towards her daughter. “But you still need to tell me about the part of the dinner I missed.”

She tilted her face upwards, allowing the sunlight to warm her cheeks and forehead. She squinted at the brightness of the day, while clouds like dandelion fluff floated from one horizon to the other, drawing shadows on the lawn. She’d abandoned her bonnet some time before and the heat from the sun prickled at the part in her hair, no doubt already turning her exposed skin to a warm pinkish hue. But it was summer, and the rain had finally ceased, and the shrieks and laughter of her younger children filled the air around her.

They followed the same routine every morning after a ball, or assembly, or even a small dinner party accompanied by a game or three of cards. After breakfast and the children’s lessons, Katharine would regale her mother with the previous evening’s entertainments. No detail was ever spared, from the unbearable press of bodies in a ballroom to the quality of a Miss Simpson’s performance on the pianoforte. The only difference this time was that Regan had been there as well.

Regan felt her heel slip on the ground and looked down at her hem, the edges bearing three inches of mud and moisture on the darkened fabric. Two days of rain after a particularly wet spring had turned the ground into a sodden, squelching mess. She frowned at the stains, though half her gowns bore the evidence of too much time spent out of doors as she traipsed around the grounds with her children.

Her thoughts went to her gown from the previous night, stained beyond repair with half a glass of red wine. Those thoughts, of course, leading her to memories of a young man named Thomas, whom she had stumbled into head-first in a lonely hallway. A man who had presented himself as all too forward for his own good. A man who had taken to flirting with her within the first moments of their meeting, and before they had been formally introduced. A man she had done everything within her power to respectfully ignore for the remainder of the evening. 

It had not been difficult. Between Thomas’s late arrival and the ruination of her gown and an incident of Mr. Boyd knocking into a table and breaking one of his wife’s most treasured figurines, avoiding an introduction had taken no great skill. But Regan had caught herself glancing at him occasionally—more than occasionally—from the other side of the room, from her place with the other older ladies, the widows, the mothers with children grown. Where she belonged, and not lusting after gentlemen far beyond the circle her age and situation in life described around her.

“Time for a truce!” Regan called out to her two younger children, when their game became too fierce. “Mrs. Dale has provided us with lemonade, and there are fresh strawberries and cream for after you finish your sandwiches.”

Maria dropped her racket on the ground, the game apparently rendered unimportant in the face of delicious treats. Jack continued to bounce the shuttlecock up and down with his own racket, finally giving it one swift hit that sent it sailing into the nearest tree before it lodged itself in the crook of a high branch.

“Oh, blast!” he said, stomping his foot.

“John Sebastian!” Regan paused before setting down the basket she’d brought out from the kitchen. “I will not have you using such language, especially where your sister can hear,” she added, and bit down at the corner of her mouth before it could twitch upwards and destroy her attempt at scolding. 

“Sorry, Mama.” Jack scuffed his heels through the grass, gave one last glance to the lost shuttlecock, and meandered over to the blanket Katharine had spread out on the driest part of the lawn she could find. 

They settled into their light meal, the children tearing through the stack of sandwiches as if they hadn’t already tucked into two bowls of porridge—each!—that morning along with a vast quantity of potatoes and eggs. Katharine chided Jack when he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, who stuck out his tongue at his elder sister. A look from Regan brought a flood of color to his cheeks, and he muttered an apology before he picked up his napkin and dutifully brushed at the crumbs still clinging to his chin. 

“Now,” Regan began once the younger children had abandoned the blanket, Jack scrabbling up and over the branches of an apple tree in search of his missing shuttlecock. “Tell me about this Lord Dunstable of whom Aunt Agnes spoke about over breakfast yesterday.” She tried to give her voice a tone of carelessness, even allowing her gaze to slip away and follow the progress of a pair of squirrels attempting to bound out of the tree Jack had just invaded. “She said he paid you a remarkable amount of attention the other night.”

“Oh, him!” Katharine rolled her eyes and gave her head a shake, her dark curls bouncing around her ears. “Too young. He’s like a puppy, all gamboling about and panting around the skirts of the young women. And he still has spots,” she stressed, in a scandalized tone. “When I marry, it will be to a man, and not some half-grown boy only a year out of the schoolroom.”

Regan fought the urge to roll her own eyes. Four proposals of marriage Katharine had turned down in the last few months, and all for similar reasons. Either the man was too young, too immature, too obsessed with horses and curricles, or too interested in heading to London and obtaining membership at White’s or Boodle’s or whichever gentlemen’s club was the height of fashion at the moment. 

“You will find someone,” Regan assured her daughter. “A young man will come along and sweep you off your feet before you even realize it. And he will be everything you want him to be, just as you will be everything he wants you to be.”

Katharine looked at her mother, her blue eyes gleaming darkly beneath the brim of her bonnet. “I doubt it will happen like that,” she said with a cynicism belying her years. “I don’t believe in fairy tales anymore, Mama.”

“I know, dear,” Regan said, and gave her daughter’s hand a pat. “Neither do I.”

Their meal finished, Regan and Katharine gathered up the leftover foodstuffs and shook out the blanket that had protected them from the worst of the dampness. As they began their return journey to the house—Jack brandishing a scraped knee from his adventure rescuing his shuttlecock—Maria paused in her skipping and pointed in the direction of the small rise beyond the pond. 

“Who’s that, Mama? Who’s that?”

Her hands full and her bonnet stuffed unceremoniously beneath her arm, Regan squinted in the direction her daughter had pointed. Two men on horseback trotted along the rutted dirt road that wound along the edge of the deer park and towards the front of the house. But it appeared that the two riders had spotted Regan and her children, and began to cut a line across the lawn and towards them instead. 

“Oh, it’s Mr. Talbot,” Jack announced, his free hand shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun. “I don’t know who the other gentleman is, though it’s a fine horse he’s riding!”

Katharine uttered a graceless word or two under her breath. Regan feared the poor young man would be the fifth man to offer marriage to her daughter, and the fifth to be rejected. And so she offered a perfunctory smile and nod to Mr. Talbot, who slowed his horse to a halt before alighting from the animal in one graceful movement. 

“Lady Griffith! Miss Griffith!” He removed his hat and practiced a smooth bow. “What a pleasure, I do say! I had not expected to meet such delightful company at this early hour! Here, Cranmer!”

The other young man descended from his own saddle and stepped forward. Regan noticed his dark hair first, the sharp lines of his jaw and cheekbones visible beneath the brim of his hat. And his eyes… Even in the full light of the sun, she could not tell if they were a light grey or a dusty shade of blue. 

“Allow me to introduce Mr. Thomas Cranmer,” Mr. Talbot said, gesturing towards his friend.

Regan held her breath. Did he recognize her? Well, of course he recognized her. She saw it in the way he looked at her, his eyes crinkling slightly at the corners as if managing to impart a secret smile shared with only her.

She thought of her hem, coated in mud and bits of wet grass. Her hair was a mess, hastily twisted into a bun and with tendrils already working their way free of the pins as the breeze buffeted her bare head. And she had just eaten, so she closed her mouth and slid her tongue over the front of her teeth, checking for any errant strawberry seeds that may have taken up residence in the gaps. 

Her name was spoken then, Mr. Talbot carrying on with the introductions while her younger children fidgeted beside her. Mr. Cranmer bowed. The ladies curtsied. When Regan looked up again, she found Mr. Cranmer watching her. “And this is Jack,” she announced, saving Mr. Talbot the embarrassment of not being able to remember their names. “And my youngest, Maria.” 

The children behaved with all politeness, no matter that they looked ready to bolt towards the pond like restless colts. Mr. Talbot grinned at the children—he hardly appeared to be much older than a child himself, still all arms and legs and a sparse growth of hair on his face that was intended to be sideburns—though Mr. Cranmer eyed them with an odd expression. Regan could not decipher the furrow of his eyebrows then, or the set to his mouth. Before she could study him further, his gaze drifted towards the house and the gardens that flanked it. 

“It is a beautiful prospect you have here,” Mr. Cranmer said, the litany of introductions finally complete. “Mr. Talbot insisted I join him on a ride while we were together at the Boyd’s last night, and this morning I decided to honor my promise. But I had no idea how long it would take to reach the house once we came upon the border of your property. It is a daunting amount of land.”

“And we keep the stream well-stocked with trout,” Regan said, glancing from one gentleman to the other as she spoke. “My husband was quite the angler, and my son, it seems, is determined to follow in his footsteps. Both of you would be welcome to try your luck in our waters. That is, if either of you are at all interested in fishing.” Her words came out rushed, as if she had memorized them before and was forcing them out before she could forget them again. She was nervous, she realized, and she did not know why she should be. She had not felt like this around another person since…

Well, no. Not Edmund. Surely this was not anything like how she had behaved around Edmund. And her courtship with him was over twenty years in the past. And this was certainly nothing like  a courtship. This was the remnants of having foolishly flirted with a gentleman for a few minutes. Nothing more. She was out of practice. And out of her depth, she feared. 

“Well, then!” Mr. Talbot’s already gregarious expression took on a brighter glow. “Thank you very much! What do you think, Thomas?” He clapped his hands together and turned towards his companion. “Shall we take Lady Griffith up on her offer, come out here in the morning and see how many trout we can hook?”

“I could come with you!” Jack chimed in, rising up to the balls of his feet and pushing out his narrow chest. “I know all the best spots, the pools where they like to gather and keep out of the sun.”

“And I know where to find the best worms!” Maria added, but Regan held up a hand to calm them before her younger children could toss the last vestiges of their manners aside. 

“Or perhaps we’ll begin with some tea,” she said, and looked over at Katharine long enough to see her smile tighten at the edges. Her eldest daughter, apparently, was not as enthused about entertaining as Jack and Maria. “Gully can look after your horses for you, and I’m sure our cook has a few treats stashed away if you care to join us inside?”

“Or in the rose garden, perhaps?” Katharine spoke up for the first time, as if she realized that her prolonged silence might be interpreted as rudeness, though Regan knew her daughter had never given more care than was necessary for the rules of etiquette. If Katharine didn’t like someone, it was rarely kept secret for long. 

“An excellent suggestion,” Regan agreed. “Shall we meet you there once I’ve had an opportunity to go inside and tell Mrs. Dale of our plans?”

“Of course!” Mr. Talbot and Mr. Cranmer offered their temporary farewells, and set off in the direction of the stables with their horses.

“Take your things inside,” Regan instructed Jack and Maria. “And for goodness sake, wipe your feet before you track half the lawn across the floors. Mrs. Dale will have your heads for porridge if she finds a single speck of mud beyond the kitchen threshold.” As the younger children bounded away, she adjusted her grip on the basket and fell into step beside Katharine. “I fear I had to offer an invitation,” she explained, though she suspected the explanation was more for herself than for Katharine. “It would have been rude if I had not. Mr. Talbot has been acquainted with our family for years, and…” Well. The less said about Mr. Cranmer at the moment, the better.

Katharine sighed, her nose wrinkling as the furrow in her brow deepened. “I fear Mr. Talbot is going to make an offer of marriage.”

“What? In the rose garden? In front of everyone?”

“No, of course not. But he seems to accept every invitation to every party in the county, and no doubt there will be ample opportunity for him to make any future situation awkward and uncomfortable by asking me to be his wife.”

Regan cocked her head to one side as she regarded her daughter. “And you will have no choice but to reject his offer?”

“Oh, Mama! Did you see him?” Katharine clicked her tongue against the back of her teeth, shaking her head like a nurse or governess a dozen years older than she was. “As eager as an untrained pup! And the lining of his coat? Violet satin!” 

“Goodness, you’re right!” Regan said, holding back a laugh that threatened to escape from the back of her throat. “How silly of me to think that such a man would make a suitable husband. Violet, indeed!”

Katharine stopped in her tracks, the breeze pushing her curls about her neck and catching them on the brim of her bonnet. “You’re teasing me.”

“Of course I am.” Regan pushed one of the dark curls from her daughter’s cheek and adjusted a loop of the ribbon tied beneath her ear. “What kind of mother would I be if I did not?”

Katharine’s mouth tightened into a narrow line. “Do you think I’m too critical, Mama? Have I created such a perfect image of a potential husband in my imaginings that now I’ll never meet someone who will be good enough?”

Regan finished fiddling with her daughter’s bow and began plucking at the lace that edged her sleeve. When had Katharine grown so tall? Wasn’t it only the summer before last that Regan could still pick her up and spin her around until they were both dizzy? “You must follow your heart in this,” she said, her voice thick with emotion she hadn’t realized was there until the words found life. “And you must never, ever choose someone who is merely ‘good enough.’”

Katharine smiled then, her shoulders drooping slightly as she exhaled. Regan grit her back teeth until the burn of tears faded from the corners of her eyes.

“Now,” Regan said, her tone returned to normal. She switched the basket from one hand to the other, clapped her crumpled bonnet on her hair, and indicated with a nod of her head that they should resume their progress towards the house. “We’ve guests to entertain and your brother and sister to wrangle before they trample through the roses like a pair of incensed bulls. Shall we?”

“Yes, Mama,” Katharine said, and slipped her arm through her mother’s. 

***

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s