When old lovers reunite, all should go perfectly.
This is something new for me a nineteenth century set historical. A rather sexy story of two passionate people once forbidden to marry but now old enough to defy the past.
At the moment Archie - perhaps she should call him ‘Mr Jameson’, they were no longer children after all - spied Tommy. And her. His face registered recognition, then confusion.
Time to intervene.
Margaret stepped forward, hand outstretched. “Do you remember me, Archie?” Darn convention, as children they’d scampered through the woods playing hide and seek - and even swam in the river until the grownups caught them and forbade it.
“Magsie!” The girlhood name came easily but then right away it was. “Good heavens, Miss Broadwell, or no it’s...”
“Of course, I remember.”
How could any of them have forgotten?
“You’re here to meet Mr Wallace and myself, I believe and I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Lord Belkenham’s other second.”
It was hard to say who was the most bowled over, Archie or his silent companion who simply stared.
“I’m Margaret Houghton,” she said, to break the silence. “Robert Cartwright’s aunt and I’m here to speak for him.”
“Indeed, Madam,” the gentlemen said, taking her offered hand. “Justin Woald at your service, but I had expected...”
“A gentleman? I’m certain you did but I want as few people as possible to know about this affair. I stand in loco parentis whilst Robert is in town, and therefore believe I am best suited to speak for him.”
“Robert Cartwright is Angela’s son?” Archie asked, as if finally getting a grasp of the situation. “I had not connected the name.”
“I’m sure you wouldn’t have. It was many years ago.” And not a subject to be broached here and now. “I thank you for meeting here and being patient with a somewhat unconventional second.” That should take care of any objections.
”You are aware,” Mr Woalde said, obviously feeling it was high time you put his spoke into this extraordinary meeting, “that Mr Cartwright not only accused Lord Belkenham of cheating but also threw wine on him.”
“By Robert’s account the latter was an accident but that’s a minor consideration. Just add that to his apology.”
“He will apologize?” Mr Woalde asked.
“You know he refused to earlier?” Archie asked.
“He was also drunk at the time.” Might as well be blunt rather than tiptoe around. “He’s now sober and will apologize wholeheartedly at Lord Belkenham’s convenience.”
The two seconds exchanged looks of surprise. Had they really expected the two principals to meet on Hampstead Heath at dawn one, cold winter morning?
“I will convey that to Lord Belkenham,” Mr Woalde said. “You are certain Mr Cartwright agrees to apologies?”
She doubted he’d a question a man’s word but never mind. “I assure you, he will.”
Was that a chuckle from Archie, or a cough? “I believe we can take Mrs Houghton’s word on this matter,” he said. Then added, “You haven’t changed, Margaret.”
“I think I have. We all have, haven’t we? Time does that to us but never mind. I will await word from Lord Belkenham.
“Maybe word had best come to me,” Tommy said, perhaps feeling he should make some contribution.
Why not? She could surely trust them to be discreet. “Whatever is most convenient, gentlemen.”
“We’ll get you Lord Belkenham’s reply by morning,” Mr Woalde said. “If not before.”
“Thank you.” The sooner this was all tied up and put away the better. And pray God, Lord Belkenham accepted the apology. What if he were bellicose and demanded satisfaction? No, she would not even consider that possibility.
“Our business in concluded for now,” Archie Jameson said. “Did you walk here, Margaret? If so may I escort you home?”
“In this inclement weather, Archie? I have a carriage waiting, but I would be delighted if you would walk me back to the Piccadilly entrance.” She took his offered arm and they set off.
“Will you be in London long?” he asked.
“I live in London, but recently took a house in Half Moon Street so Robert and his sister could enjoy a season.”
“And how are their parents?” he asked - a trifle hesitantly.
“Major Cartwright Comes and goes as he fancies.” Might sound judgmental but it was the unvarnished truth. “Angela is in poor health. She seldom travels, so I often take charge of Robert and Isabel.”
“I see.” She doubted he did but she was not elaborating. “And you, I heard you married after...”
“After my broken engagement, yes. My husband was a city merchant,” she added, since she sensed his curiosity. “I was very happily married to him. “
“You speak in the past tense.”
“Micah died two years ago. Since he left me quite comfortably off, I am able to do much for Angela’s children.” Although at times like this she truly wished their mother would face her responsibilities. “But what about you? You married Eleanor Baynes, I believe.” She had read that in the Morning Post, not long after her own wedding.
“I did indeed. We have five children and one more to come. So you can imagine, we have a loud and busy house.”
“I’m sure you do. Micah’s two younger brothers had large families and holiday gatherings were like company musters.”
They reached the end of the arcade, rain still bucketed down as they waited for her carriage to arrive. Despite the apparent success of their unconventional meeting, she still harbored anxieties. “Archie,” she had to ask, “do you truly believe Simon will accept the apology?”
Surprise flashed across his face. “Simon? Dear Heavens! You did not know, did you?”
“Know what? Was not Simon, in line for the title?”
“He was indeed, but died, along with John’s elder brother a few years ago.”
She had to look confused, as she was most certainly stunned. “How? And who pray, is now Lord Belkenham. Not you,” He was only some sort of third cousin. “Dear Lord!” It was not possible.
“John inherited the title. He came back. After the others drowned.”
She barely heard the last few words. Robert had challenged John Francis, the man she’d loved. The man she’d been forbidden to marry.