We have another chapter of Suzan Lauder’s The Reluctant Chaperon to whet your appetite! Maybe we learn more about Mr. Charington.
Chapter 2 Introduction by Suzan Lauder
In the second chapter of The Reluctant Chaperon, we see more of Cassie’s best friend, Marcus, a favourite character of this author, and find out more about the gentlemen of the series through conversations. I wonder what you’ll think of Lexie?
From the gentleman’s time with port and cigars during the separation of the sexes, Marcus had brought back a positive report in regard to the new neighbour to Cassie’s Fanshaugh Manor—the very handsome Reeve Charington.
“From what I could gather, he is more of a gentleman about town than an estate manager,” Marcus had said when the two put their heads together in the drawing room.
How intriguing an observation! “You recognised that well from your own experience, or did he say something to indicate he preferred London’s delights?”
“Charington expressed that nothing surpassed the fresh air and bucolic sights of the country, but beyond that, the delights of London, now they were what kept one’s interest inspired.”
This was an astonishing report. “No interest inspired for Kent?”
“Not so far, it seems. He regarded the life of an estate owner as a chore. The man expressed confusion regarding the ledgers, lack of knowledge of crops, livestock, and structures, and hesitancy with respect to dispute resolution. At least I keep my own books, know how to best use resources, and can manage tenants. If I have questions, I have an excellent library to consult. He admitted to a weak library that he must build.”
Mr. Charington could not be so useless as all that. “Oh, my word,” she said, “it sounds as if I know more about estate management than Mr. Charington at this point. Even so, he will learn. I do recall the previous owner leaving a rather pathetic selection in the library when he left. That must be his excuse.”
Marcus nodded. “You have been at estate management since Sir Cyril became ill and know more than many gentlemen. One benefit you and Charington do have in common is an exemplary land steward.”
Of course! This was truly advantageous. “That is true. I am aware of my steward’s skill, so Mr. Charington’s lack of knowledge matters not at all while he is just learning.”
“He did well at university, so he is a clever chap with the capacity to learn. He retains many friends from that institution, and the man does strike me as gregarious. He mentioned he hopes to host a ball soon even though the quality is thin in London this time of year. You can ask those who sat near him at dinner; they will corroborate my opinion. He has the skill of bringing the best out of each person he speaks with. I will wager that when he has not been long in the country, he will be spoken of as a most delightful young man.”
“Delightful. That is quite the superlative, coming from you.” Marcus deserved the tease, which was a stretch of Cassie’s descriptions—she tended to avoid anything that could possibly be misconstrued.
“He is merely one of those fellows who makes himself agreeable to everybody.”
She lifted her brows purposely while giving him a smile that asked his personal interest.
Marcus returned her smile. “I have no special admiration for the man. As you know, I am taken.” He was referring to his gentleman friend. Cassie herself was aware of Marcus’s commitment, but many had no idea that Marcus was part of the molly set. Since he was a handsome man, rumours enough existed about his friendships with ladies of the ton.
“Do not say that too loudly even here in town. Not many would understand.”
Marcus’s eyes twinkled. “You are correct. I have made a vow of chastity instead, then.”
All she could do was laugh, then excuse herself to spend time with her other guests.
Unfortunately, as much as Cassie had wanted to form her own impression of the handsome and fascinating Mr. Charington, he and the Hoxleys had left early, citing an appointment the next morning that could not be helped. Although Cassie had not been a party to discussions including Mr. Charington, the appointment was apparently an early morning start to attend a summer party of an old friend of Mr. Charington’s in Berkshire.
It was not as if she could get much information about Mr. Charington from Cecilia. As his sister, Cecilia was predisposed to give the man the best assessment of any of them, and to tailor it to what anyone wanted to hear. Everyone knew she had bent Lexie’s ear enough on the topic in the days leading up to this event. Should Cassie continue, Lexie would be certain to come out with some sort of a scornful comment to indicate her real feelings about Lady Hoxley and her matchmaking, especially regarding the latest subject material.
Lexie had her first Season in town last winter and found every gentleman wanting. A strong, impassioned personality like Lexie, who lived through education and books, would surely require more time to find the perfect mate. Her sister would have plenty of chances. At twenty, she was still young. Well, older than Cassie had been when she married, but Mama had chosen to let the other girls come out once they were finished with school, and she let Lexie go to town without Audra for her first Season. It was odd, after pushing Cassie so, that Mama was complacent with her sisters, even if she had instilled in them the idea that their goal in life was to marry well. Audra seemed to want a husband above all else, and in contrast, Lexie was indifferent.
The following morning
Cassie was thankful that she had the tea to tend to because it gave her a reprieve from her work, and she was not much in the mood for the needle today. Shame on her. Sewing had become an important pastime in the Hales family these last months. Lexie had discovered a foundling’s home in dire need of clothing for the infants, and the Hales ladies were taking part in making tiny dresses in hope of them numbering in the dozens. Audra’s needle was the fastest of the three, even when she took time out for calls by her intended, Everett Tremaine, the Duke of Alderton, which were not often due to his mourning of his late father. Cassie was also talented at the craft and could usually spend hours at it, but not today.
Truly, what dwelled on Cassie’s mind was the success of her dinner party the night before and in particular, what her Mama and sisters thought Mr. Reeve Charington.
As she poured, Cassie asked which of Mr. Charington’s friends was hosting the house party.
“Julian Lange, Lord Remington,” said Mama without pause. “It is a week-long party. The gentleman has a reputation of being somewhat of a rakehell, but he has recently become betrothed to his cousin. Her father left the lady a sizable estate in Devonshire, and their mothers agreed to their wedding when they were in their cradles. The lady is past her prime; however, he has finally asked her, so I presume he is settling down and uniting their two great estates. Charington has known Lord Remington since Cambridge.”
“That is nice.”
“Everett’s brother was supposed to be a rake when he was unmarried, but he was more of a flirt. Do you really think Lord Remington will quit his dallying ways when he is married?” asked Audra.
“I would say there is little chance he will, if reports of the lady are anything to base conjectures upon,” said Mama. “She is small, plain, and sickly. I doubt she is the pearl he would stay at home for, and the man is said to be the most handsome, the best catch this year. No, no. He will close his eyes, breed her, sire his heir, and with that accomplished, continue amusing himself with pretty mistresses.”
“Mama!” said the three sisters at the same moment.
“You are old enough to know the ways of the world.”
“Can we speak on something less salacious and better suited to the moment? Like how was Mr. Charington’s company at dinner, and whether he is suited to Lexie?” Cassie was not afraid to assuage her curiosity by asking, and besides, she preferred to have a gentler conversation.
“By all means, let us embarrass poor Lexie by analysing the gentleman to whom all think she should be matched because we are reported to have dispositions that more or less complement the other,” Lexie said.
Mama patted Lexie’s knee. “You are not easily embarrassed, my sweet, and that is why we may speak with honesty with you. Besides, you liked him, did you not?”
“He is an affable gentleman, not unused to entertaining those who sit near him. I found his responses to you to be a mite rote, but there is nothing wrong with that approach for an older lady.”
“What does she mean? What does she mean by saying such a thing?” Mama asked, glancing between Cassie and Audra. Audra drew in her chin, her eyes wide. One could tell she wanted no part of the answer.
Cassie tapped her lips with her index finger. “I think what Lexie meant to say is that Mr. Charington knew the correct and politic responses no matter whom he was addressing, and sought to please you.”
“Yes. Even though it is not the right word, I would almost put it as flirtatious,” Lexie replied as she sewed white on white embroidery. “He was acquainted with the right words and when to say them to make each lady feel better than she had before he spoke with her. His method worked in the dining room and in the drawing room.”
“A true charmer, that one,” said Mama, “but an honest man, not saucy at all.”
Cassie was unsure what to make of this part of the assessment of Mr. Charington. Was a friendly, charming man suitable to Lexie? After all, the same could be said for Lexie herself. Marcus’s account of Charington left Cassie wondering if he was a bit easy-going, where Lexie was accomplished—she could do any of the estate works that Cassie had become accustomed to over the last couple of years, and relished the opportunity to use her brain, Cassie was certain of it. Or was he merely stating his preference of entertainment before endeavour? Cassie could hardly know based on such short accounts as those given thus far.
“Did he strike you as clever and accomplished?” she asked.
“Oh, that is far too much to ascertain at a dinner table,” replied Mama. “We were chiefly concerned with his affability and suitability for Lexie, not whether he was as clever as Sir Cyril, my love.”
Sir Cyril? Clever? Hardly. Oh! How did such an unpleasant characterization find its way into her brain? She should never have thought of him in such a way, even if he did leave her in the lurch with the books. No, no. It was not kind to think such wicked thoughts, and Cassie was always benevolent. She bit her lips and smiled. “What else can you tell me about the gentleman, then?”
“Well,” said Mama, “anyone with eyes could tell he was the handsomest man at the table.”
This drew giggles from the group, but no one disagreed, in fact, each had an attribute or two they admired that they did not mind mentioning. Even Cassie, who would tend not to share such thoughts, spoke of his noble mien and trim figure.
“One would not think it from his slender form, but he likes to eat large quantities of food,” Mama said, “and prefers a hearty dish like the venison roasts that graced your table. You do yourself proud, Cassie, as Mr. Charington praised the food at the dinner.”
“Lexie, after you have your children, you will have a corpulent husband,” said Audra, and everyone had a hearty laugh.
“Pray, give me some peace. He is charming and handsome, I shall admit, but I do not know if he is for me. This is all too much.”
Was Lexie not appreciative of the wonderful package she had been handed? Cassie enumerated his attributes on her fingers. “But sister, all accounts say his personality is identical to yours. He is reported to be easy, open, and ductile of temper, making friends wherever he is known. I heard one could not encounter such a congenial man if one were to interview ten, not to mention that you will be well-provided for. He is reported to have £8000 a year that would not be compromised by his purchase of Hatley Manor.”
“Oh, Cassie, you did not talk to him. He is kind and blessed with happy manners for certain. In fact, he has an over-abundance of amiability. Kindness comes from his every phrase, and his extraordinary cheeriness with everything seems genuine. One cannot speak to him without some of that warm regard wearing off. And he is handsome to be sure, a distraction that is welcome to any woman. However, I am simply unacquainted with this sort of attention, consideration for an issue of this particular type, and I become overwhelmed.”
Usually, Lexie thrived on being noticed, and made herself known within their relations as unreserved and open to the role as focus of every engagement of friendly banter and display of good spirits. Gregarious in nature and witty in conversation, the character suited her well. However, her demurral gave Cassie the impression that she was bowing out this time.
Mama did not understand and protested. “He is all that and more. You cannot back down now. You are being matched. You are the lady of the hour.”
“Pray, forget speaking of me and your matchmaking designs and let us speak of the rest of the gossip of the evening.”
Oh, dear, it was worse than Cassie thought. Poor Lexie had her fill of teasing. “I am sorry. You do not want to be the centre of attention any longer.”
“I heard there was a confrontation in the dining room whilst the gentlemen were on their own,” Lexie said.
“I do believe you need be aware of the incident, Cassie, even though it is probable that no one has told you thus far to save your feelings.” Mama’s face became stern.
Gracious, had they hidden this skirmish because she was too weak to know of it? Since when had she become known as such a missish lady? By the way her sisters were giving her a sympathetic eye, the news was unpleasant.
“Lord Farlane spilled brandy on his lap and insisted on a maid being brought in to clean it up. He thought it would be a good joke. Farlane spoke some rather lascivious words to the maid as she worked, then followed her from the room. Mr. Charington pursued them and caught Farlane attempting to molest the poor girl. Who knows what he would have done to her had he not been caught?” Mama’s eyes had tears in them and her voice wavered at the end.
Audra’s face was clouded with darkness. “It was Leonie. No doubt he thought he could have his way with her because she is Black.”
Mama’s mettle came up again. “Apparently the girl injured Farlane in some way, and Farlane had the nerve to say she should be fired.”
“I am sorry, dearest,” said Lexie as she rubbed Cassie’s arm.
Cassie ran her hands over her face. A bitterness filled her mouth as if poisoned. Nothing could have prepared her for a tale as egregious as this. Her perfect world, built so carefully, was crumbling down around her with the simple act of hatred of one man. What was she to do?
She glanced over to the others, who were offering eyes that imparted their sympathy.
But what could she do for Leonie? How could she make the girl feel safe again? This was her home, the place she ought to feel protected.
“Oh, I must go to her, to let her know her job is secure!”
“Mr. Charington told her it was, but her worry would be lessened if she hears it from you,” said Mama.
“Who told you this?”
“Mr. Charington himself,” said Mama. “The others did not even know what happened since it occurred outside of the room.”
The young gentleman stood up for Leonie. How singular. So that would explain why no other came to tell her about it. She would have expected to hear of an event of this import from Marcus or Hoxley, but they did not mention the event, probably to save her sensibilities. From what she had learnt about Charington’s temperament as well as the flaming reference from her family and his sister, Cecilia, it was not unreasonable for him to have helped the maid.
If only she had someone close enough to help her with this damnable ache in her heart over this incident—how would she ever deal with the pain on her own? This was one of those times she regretted being a widow. Most of the time, she was content, and never allowed distress to bother her. She was imperturbable. But today, she needed loving arms to hold her and absorb the grief, even if just for a while.
What do you think of this chapter? What about Reeve Charington? There is a lot to ponder and questions to be answered? Maybe we will learn more on Tuesday when Chapter 3 is posted.
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