An excerpt from Saint Agnes and the Black Sheepwhich was in the collection A Cast of Characters
but is now in a Jo Beverley collection, Regency Valentines, available as an e-book.
“Ready, dear?" Lady Martineux used the bright tone she always applied when preparing for another foray upon the Ton.
"Quite ready, Aunt," Agnes Abbott said, rising from her dressing table and pulling on long, white silk gloves. As ready as she could ever be for yet another London evening.
She didn't want to be in Town, supposedly seeking a husband, and her poor aunt didn't want to be hauling such an unpromising bundle around from rout to soiree to ball. The eligible gentlemen of London certainly didn't want to be compelled to dance with a country vicar's plain daughter.
Agnes turned to the long mirror to make sure she was at least tidy -- that none of her fine, mousy hair was escaping its pins, and that the maid hadn't scattered the powdered rouge onto her ivory silk gown. She'd tried to rebel against the rouge, but her aunt had wailed on so about her lack of color.
When Agnes had been worn down by her father's anxiety and agreed to this purgatory, she'd solemnly promised to obey her aunt.
In the case of the ivory silk and its fellows, she'd obeyed with good grace. She didn't want to marry a London beau and there was always the dread possibility that one would decide that her portion of four thousand pounds outweighed her lack of charms. However, nothing could suit her less than the pale, frilly fashion designed for youthful ingénues.
She was twenty-three, plump, and with a complexion coarsened by the sun. She loved to garden, but regularly forgot her hat. And her gloves. Oh, how Aunt Martineux had exclaimed over the state of her hands.
She nodded at her reflection, satisfied by how unattractive she looked. She'd promised to spend six weeks on the Marriage Mart and had survived four. She'd soon be home at Dux Cherrymead, enjoying her books, her garden, and the company of her father and her friends.
She turned, but paused. Her aunt's thin gloved fingers were tight on her fan and she might even be paler than usual.
"Are you quite all right, Aunt? We can stay at home if-"
"No! Not at all. It's only that.... Your grandmother is here!"
"Here?" Abby asked, squeaking from a tight throat. "In Town?"
"Here," Lady Martineux repeated. "In the drawing room."
"Oh, my. Why?"
"To take command of your case. Agnes, I have begged you to apply yourself more!"
"More? Am I not in silk, with rouged cheeks and lips? Do I not attend every event you devise and do my best to be pleasing? What more should I do?"
"Oh dear, oh dear. Do try not to speak like that to... But as always, you will do as you think right." She made that seem like a sin. "Come, come. She demands to inspect you before we leave. And,” she added faintly, “she's staying,"
"In this house. For the next two weeks."
"I'm very sorry, Aunt."
"And so you should be! Oh, I'm sorry dear. I don't mean to berate you. But what Martineux will say when he finds out his mother's here I don't know. Come along, do, and try to placate her. If you could secure a proposal tonight, she might return to Lime Park tomorrow."
Agnes followed her aunt along the corridor rejecting that solution, even if it were possible. But, oh, she wished she weren't terrified
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