An Arranged BetrothalWith a Contrite Duke
Michael Lawrence greedily opened the top letter that sat on his desk. He saw John Yeats’s name on the envelope and knew immediately what it was. He had asked Mr. Yeats, who was his man of business, to keep in close correspondence about a certain artifact he wished to add to his collection. As an aficionado of ancient Greek artifacts, he was always keen to acquire more. One especially had eluded him of late, and he was eager to hear word of it.
He pulled out the letter, his hands trembling as his excitement mounted. He had been searching for this artifact, which was an exquisite vase, still in excellent condition, for many years. He had spent a small fortune tracking it down but had had no luck. That was, until now. The very first line of the letter delivered the news to the duke of Strawbridge: the vase had been found.
He paused in his reading, picturing it in his collection, displayed prominently for all to see as a testament to his wealth and taste. He imagined the envy of his peers, the admiration of his guests, and the satisfaction of knowing that he possessed something so rare and valuable. He took great pride in his collection of artifacts, which was worth nearly thirteen thousand pounds. He didn’t exactly flaunt his wealth with such a collection. However, he wasn’t ashamed to admit his expenditure on the pieces when showing it to people.
However, the next line of the letter sent the duke’s heart crashing.
I’m afraid that the vase won’t be so easily acquired, however. I have made multiple inquiries regarding this piece, and I’ve made many rather generous offers for it. But I was informed by the earl’s man of business that many other collectors have made much higher offers, and yet the earl rejects each one. Lord Tockenham seems quite determined to keep the vase for himself.
Michael muttered a curse under his breath. He had authorized Mr. Yeats to make any offer necessary to win him the vase. If the man was telling him that higher offers than his own had been declined, he believed that was truly the case. And thus, even if he tripled the highest offer, he suspected that the earl wouldn’t budge.
He knew it would not be easy for him to acquire the vase, but he wasn’t willing to give up his dreams of acquiring it. He decided that he would just have to come up with a creative plan to get his hands on it. Michael had coveted the vase for too many years to give up on it. Especially when he knew that it would be a valuable addition to his collection. He began reading, determined to find some way to change the earl’s mind.
But as he continued to read, his hopes began to sink once more. Mr. Yeats advised against Michael making a direct offer. He said that it could backfire and result in the vase becoming even more difficult to obtain. Michael shook his head, puzzled over the whole affair. It seemed that the earl was particularly stubborn, at least when it came to the vase in question, and he couldn’t understand the idea.
He understood how important a man’s collection was to him. What he couldn’t understand was why the earl would be so attached to one single vase. Even Michael himself thought that, sooner or later, he might consider selling pieces from his own collection. So, why would the earl reject tens of thousands of pounds for one single piece?
However, as Michael read on, he learned that there was a way to gain an advantage in the situation. According to Mr. Yeats, the Earl was in financial trouble. He had apparently incurred some gambling debts that he was desperate to hide from his family. He had also made some unwise business investments, which were crippling what little money he had left. He was in a terrible financial bind, especially with the addition of upcoming expenses for his young son’s education and his youngest daughter’s debutante season. In short, he was in dire need of money. Mr. Yeats suggested that the earl might be willing to part with something he valued, such as his eldest daughter’s hand in marriage, in exchange for it.
Michael considered tossing aside the letter. It seemed rather extreme to find himself with a wife, just for the sake of even the most precious of artifacts. To end up married for a vase seemed ridiculous. As badly as he wanted the vase, he knew there were other artifacts in the world that were of much greater value, and likely wouldn’t warrant him marrying someone’s daughter to get it. Still, the allure of the vase called to him, and he couldn’t help but to continue reading.
Mr. Yeats went on to say that the daughter in question was Lady Lydia Townsend. At age nineteen, she was the eldest daughter of the earl. Mr. Yeats said that Lady Lydia had been out for two seasons, and was yet to find herself wed to, or courting, any gentlemen in the ton. The man said that it was his personal belief that the young lady’s lack of suitors was due to her reputation of being a bluestocking.
Michael chuckled. It was highly irregular for the women of the ton to be educated, beyond in the skills of music and dance, and how to be a dutiful wife to a nobleman. He could believe that such a woman would struggle to find a husband. Most gentlemen didn’t want a woman who indulged in books, knowledge and education beyond childhood. Mr. Yeats also mentioned that Lady Lydia had an absurd passion for educating the masses.
Michael sighed. Lower class women served as governesses and teachers to young children. He had never known a woman of noble birth to have any interest in learning and teaching in any capacity. He found it odd that any daughter of an earl would even consider taking up such a hobby. Surely, she understood what it would do to her future prospects for marriage. Michael himself didn’t know if he would ever want such a wife. A woman who was educated and could think for herself might prove to be problematic.
Michael’s man of business closed the letter by mentioning again that it might be advantageous for Michael to offer for Lady Lydia’s hand. Michael folded the letter, turning it over in his hands as he thought. It was a wild reach, to be sure. There was no guarantee that the earl wouldn’t eventually be persuaded to take a monetary offer for the vase, especially if he was in dire need of money, as Mr. Yeats had said. But Michael also knew there was no guarantee that the earl would bend. And even if he did, it could take many more months, or even years. He wasn’t prepared to wait that long. Not now that he was so close to the possession he prized so dearly.
The duke considered the proposal. He still had no desire for a wife, and even less so, knowing she was strangely obsessed with education. However, if it meant obtaining the vase, perhaps, it was worth entertaining the idea. Mr. Yeats’s advice seemed quite sound. Michael trusted him to not misguide him. He was certainly paying him handsomely to not do such a thing. Perhaps, the suggestion to offer for Lady Lydia’s hand was, indeed, the best plan.
But what would he do with such a lively, independently thinking wife? He supposed that he could find ways to let her know to stay out of his way. Perhaps, he could even encourage her to do so by catering a bit to her little hobby. He rationalized that he could simply ignore his wife and carry on with his own pursuits, while she focused on her own interests. And if she happened to have some money of her own, all the better. It might not be so bad to have a wife who wished to do some kind of work, albeit in education, after all.
There was one thing that held Michael back, however. Even though he could live with or without a wife, there were ethical implications. Lady Lydia was a woman, a human being. And what he would essentially be doing was using her as a bargaining chip for material gain.
It wouldn’t just be a one- or two-day commitment. He wasn’t offering to take up her time for a short period to appease her father and coax him into selling the vase. It was the rest of Lady Lydia’s life at stake. She would be married to him until death parted them. And all for the sake of Michael obtaining a vase. What would people think of him for doing such a thing?
Again, Michael thought of her bluestocking ways. She clearly had her own objectives in life, and he was certain that he would never get in the way of those. She wasn’t likely to ever have any other offers for her hand. And he could help her in her ventures by way of finances, if and when she should need it. That, to Michael, made it a fair deal. At the very least, it was an avenue worth investigating for him.
With a sense of determination, and more than a little excitement, Michael sat down to compose a letter to the Earl of Tockenham. He had a plan, and he was ready to put it into action. He took a minute to choose his words, then began writing…
Dear Lord Tockenham,
My name is Michael Lawrence, and I am the duke of Strawbridge. We have never formally met, but it has come to my attention that you have an item in which I am very interested in. I was also made aware that you are in something of a bind, and I was touched by your situation. I believe that I have a mutually beneficial proposal. It is that very proposal that led to me writing to you now.
I understand that your eldest daughter, Lady Lydia, is not yet wed. From what I understand, she is a lovely young lady, though tragically, has not yet had any offers for her hand. I would change that, if you would allow me. All I ask, in exchange for a traditional dowry, is a certain Greek vase, which I understand you prize dearly. With your agreement to the deal, not only would I offer for Lady Lydia’s hand, but I would also be willing to ease any potential financial burdens you currently have.
I make this offer with the utmost sincerity. Please, consider the suggestion. You can reach me at the address written on this envelope.
I look forward to your response.
Michael Lawrence, Duke of Strawbridge
Michael read over the letter, pondering whether it was worded in such a way that would make the earl reject the notion. When he was satisfied that he had done the best he could, he retrieved a fresh envelope from his desk drawer and sealed up the letter. Then, he summoned the butler to have it sent to post. He sat back in his chair with a sigh. He hoped he was making the right decision.
Lydia Townsend’s body was sitting at her desk, hunched over it in a way that would later make her muscles ache. Her mind, however, was fully immersed elsewhere. She hardly noticed each time she turned another page in the incredible book titled The Benefits to the Nation of an Educated Populace by Miss Bryony Brinton, as she had been captivated from the very first word.
Bryony was her dear friend, as well as her mentor. But it was not any special bias that made her devour the book as though it was a religious text. It was the content within that held her attention so steadfastly. She and Bryony shared a love of educating ignorant minds, and of learning all there was that could be learned in the world. But Bryony seemed far more adept at passing along the things she learned to others. The book Lydia held in her hands was proof enough of that.
And I say to you now that it is more important than ever that we do our best to educate the nation. Too long have many remained ignorant to subjects that could very well have saved people’s lives. Moreover, there are things that can be taught that would allow those of lower classes to expand their minds and their skill sets, and do better financially for themselves and their families.
We are doing those who are less fortunate a terrible disservice by not granting them the ability to improve upon themselves and their lives. We, as a society, have too long taught people that the station into which they are born is the station into which they must stay. Even those who are of higher classes are taught only as much as must be learnt to perform within that class. And anyone who tries to step outside his or her station, whether it be up or down, is criticised for such an attempt. I believe this is because of a lack of education, for all classes in this country.
Lydia sighed, smiling dreamily even as she read. She had read many books on education, and she had heard many varying opinions on the need for such education. And yet Bryony’s words seemed to resonate with her the most. The book focused on the benefits of education for the entire nation, and Lydia found Bryony’s arguments for the idea compelling, as well as well researched and properly articulated. Bryony’s book was truly a godsend to her, and she shivered with delight at the possibilities such a book could unlock, if only more people would take notice.
Lydia herself had long dreamed of opening her own school, and reading her friend’s book had only solidified her resolve. Lydia knew that it was irregular, and largely undesirable, for a young lady from a wealthy or noble family to have such aspirations. However, she had known from a young age that her passion was more important to her than social acceptance, or even marriage. If she never married, she would be happy. So long as she got to pursue her dreams of teaching those who wished to be further educated.
We must not shame those who are not as educated as we. We must help them to learn, encourage them to seek education, and praise them for the progress they make when they reach their goals. We do not all have to be responsible for teaching other souls. But it is our duty as human beings to guide the ignorant to the bounty of knowledge that those who teach can offer, and to support anyone who is willing to walk the path toward higher education.
Lydia smiled as she turned the page of the book. She completely agreed with her friend: it was important for society to help guide those with lesser education and opportunities to the people who wished to help them. And it was only right that those same people encouraged anyone who wanted to learn. Lydia knew that London high society frowned upon both those who were highly uneducated, and those who sought to learn outside what their class said they needed to know. Especially women, as she well knew. It was her love of education that had seen two seasons pass her without any suitors calling. And frankly, that was fine with her.
Bryony went on to detail some real-life examples of how lives could improve with more thorough education. She told the story of a man, who she only referred to as J., who was a mere street sweeper when Bryony first met him. She gave him a handful of shillings upon their first meeting and told him to meet her at Hyde Park the following day at the same time, as she wanted to help him further.
- dutifully arrived at the park, and from then on, he was under Bryony’s tutorage. And after just one year, he had graduated from a street sweeper to a skilled farmer who specialized in growing and exporting potatoes, as well as breeding highly valued horses. He had tripled his salary within a year and tripled it yet again another year later. Lydia wiped a tear of joy from her eye as she finished reading the story. Without that education, that man might have ended up in the poorhouse, or the asylum. Now more than ever, Lydia was devoted to educating as many people as she could.
Lost in thought, Lydia didn’t notice the time passing until a knock on her door interrupted her musings.
“Come in,” she called absently, placing her bookmark on the page where she left off.
A maid by the name of Susie entered, curtseying shyly to her.
“Lady Lydia,” she said. “Your father wishes to see you in his study. He is requesting that you come straightaway.”
Lydia’s heart quickened. Her father rarely summoned her to his study, and she couldn’t imagine what he wanted.
“Did he say why?” she asked, trying to seem unconcerned.
Susie shook her head.
“He did not,” she said. “He only asked that I come fetch you quickly.”
Lydia nodded, giving the maid a smile.
“Very well,” she said. “We shan’t keep Father waiting.”
Susie curtseyed again, leading Lydia out of her room. She followed the maid down the hallway, her mind racing with possibilities. Had something happened to her mother? Was her father unwell? The possibilities were endless, and none of them good. She tried to calm herself. It wouldn’t do to let her imagination run away with her. But it was difficult to not imagine bad scenarios when there was never any reason for her parents to specifically request her presence, outside of meals and social events.
When she entered the study, her father and mother were both seated. They both smiled at her, but she noticed that her mother’s eyes looked distant and thoughtful. Her father quickly straightened a bundle of purchments in front of him before bidding her to join them.
“Thank you for coming so quickly, my dear,” he said as she took a chair across from the sofa where they sat. She was instantly on edge. Never before had both of her parents wished to speak to her at once. She smiled softly, nodding.
“Of course, Father,” she said. “Is everything all right?”
Her mother offered her another small smile, but quickly averted her gaze. The earl, however, gave his daughter a proud smile.
“Everything is fine,” he said. “In fact, we have some marvellous news. The duke of Strawbridge has made an offer for your hand in marriage.”
Lydia’s heart sank. Those were the last words she expected either of her parents to ever say to her. She had never cared much about marriage because she was so focused on her passion for teaching. But she had always thought that if she did marry, she wanted to do it for love and marry someone she respected and admired. Someone like James Tolland, who was the brother of her best friend, Mary. She didn’t know who the duke of Strawbridge was. She had never even heard of him. The idea of marrying a complete stranger was unimaginable.
“You would try to arrange a marriage for me without so much as consulting me first?” she asked, feeling wounded.
Her father gave her a puzzled look.
“That’s what we’re doing now, my dear,” he said. “We wanted to let you know that we received this offer, and that I intend to accept it.”
Lydia shook her head, full of disbelief.
“But why me?” she asked. “I do not know who he is. He cannot possibly know who I am. Why would he suddenly request to marry me?”
Lydia noticed that her father’s eyes flickered. With what, she wasn’t sure. But he just shrugged, gesturing to a paper on the very top of the pile on the table in front of him.
“He must know something about you,” he said. “Perhaps, he has seen you at a ball or dinner party and was too shy to speak to you directly.”
Lydia scoffed. If a man thought he could woo her without so much as speaking to her, he was terribly mistaken. Besides, she had found herself quite taken with James for a few years. She stayed too preoccupied with her education pursuits to actively vet him for a husband. But she couldn’t bear the thought of not getting the chance to discern his feelings for her, or of never having a chance with him.
“I’m afraid that I protest,” she said, her voice trembling with emotion. “How can you expect me to marry someone with whom I have never even spoken?”
Her mother gave her an indulgent, patient look.
“Darling, you must understand that this is a great honour,” she said. “The duke is a highly respected member of the aristocracy, and his offer is a great opportunity for our family.”
Lydia shook her head again, not believing that the parents who sat before her then, were the parents who have always been supportive of her future plans.
“But what about my dreams?” Lydia asked, her voice rising. “What about my plans to open a school?”
The earl gave his daughter a tired smile.
“Lydia, we have given this a great deal of thought,” he said, his tone firm. “We believe that this marriage will be in the best interests of both you and our family, and we expect you to obey.”
Lydia’s heart felt heavy. She had always known that her parents had other hopes for her future, but she had believed that they would at least consider her wishes. They had, after all, been kind to her about her desires to teach and to open a school someday. Now, it seemed as though they had changed their minds, and that her fate was completely out of her hands.
Lydia left her father’s study in devastated silence, feeling as though her dreams had been shattered. She couldn’t help but wonder who the Duke of Strawbridge was and what kind of man he would be. Would he support her dreams of opening a school, or would he stand in the way? And what about James, the man she had long admired from afar? Would she never have the chance to be with him now?
Lydia returned to her room and picked up Miss Brinton’s book. She tried to read, to lose herself in the ideas and the arguments that had so inspired her, but her heart wasn’t in it. Her thoughts kept drifting back to the news her parents had delivered and the uncertain future that lay ahead. She felt in that moment that she would never be able to concentrate ever again. She desperately needed some way to get the thoughts out of her head. Weeping, she pulled out a piece of stationery and penned a letter to Bryony. Perhaps, her mentor could offer her advice. If not, she didn’t know what she would do.
A few days later, Michael awoke with a sense of eagerness. He was expecting word back from the earl any day. While he knew that Lord Tockenham could very well toss his letter in the bin rather than reply, Michael had a good feeling that he would not. He called for his valet, Lark, and demanded that he be dressed quickly. A simple black suit sufficed, as he intended to spend the day in his study, as always. It was the one place where he could avoid his mother, as she knew well to not disturb him when the study door was locked.
He was headed to the dining hall to join his mother for breakfast when Patterson, the butler, intercepted him just as he reached the first floor.
“Milord,” the stout butler said, bowing as he extended his hand. “This came for you just this morning.”
Michael snatched it from his hand, grinning as he saw the earl’s name on it. He nodded, to the butler, bowing.
“Thank you, Patterson,” he said warmly. “I am thrilled to see this letter. You may return to your duties. And thank you again.”
The butler bowed again and smiled.
“My pleasure, milord,” he said.
After the butler had gone, Michael tore open the envelope. He detoured to his study, reading the letter as he was walking. He was too anxious to read the entire thing, so he skipped to the middle. It was a short letter, but it only took him a moment to understand its contents. The earl had accepted his offer for his daughter’s hand. And he was happy to trade the coveted vase for a traditional dowry.
Michael could hardly contain his excitement as he tossed the letter onto his desk. The vase he had so desperately sought, the vase which other collectors were also seeking, was soon to be his. Moreover, he had an announcement that would surely please his mother. At long last, not only would he have the fine item to add to his collection, but he would also have his mother off his case about marriage.
He hurried to the dining hall, where his mother was already seated. She looked up at him, looking him over and raising her eyebrow slightly.
“Good morning, dear,” she said cautiously. “You seem to be in excellent spirits this morning.”
Michael grinned, walking over to kiss his mother on the cheek, a rare sign of affection for him, before he took his seat across from her at the table. He loved his mother, but she had been unrelenting in her mission to see him married. That day, however, was the happiest Michael had been since before inheriting the cursed station of duke. And knowing that his mother would finally leave him in peace about the matter of marriage made him feel exceptionally delighted.
“Good morning, Mother,” he said, taking his seat. “And yes, I most certainly am.”
Her grace blinked at her son, waiting for him to elaborate. When he didn’t, she cleared her throat.
“Would you care to share the reason for your good mood?” she asked.
Michael chuckled. In truth, he couldn’t wait to share the news. But he loved the suspense in the air as he delayed speaking.
“Well, it turns out that there was a price for that vase which I have been chasing, after all,” he said.
His mother looked marginally disappointed, as though she had been expecting a big reveal.
“Oh?” she asked. “Is that all it took to put such a smile on your face?”
“It was,” he said. “But I also have something that will put a smile on yours.”
The dowager once more perked up. She set aside her napkin and laced her fingers together, resting her chin on them.
“Well, do not keep me waiting,” she said.
“Very well,” he said. “I am to be married. To the daughter of the Earl of Tockenham.”
His mother’s hands fell onto the table as her mouth dropped open. Michael had to bite his cheek at his mother’s shocked expression. She stared blankly at him, clearly trying to process the unexpected announcement.
Michael waited patiently for her to speak. It felt good to have surprised her so, even if it was with news he had never thought to ever deliver to her.
“Oh, darling,” his mother said at last, her entire face lighting up like a ballroom during a dance. “How did this ever come about?”
Michael shrugged. He didn’t want to tell her the details of the arrangement. He felt that didn’t matter, and it wasn’t really a woman’s business.
“I spoke with the earl and made him a lucrative offer,” he said. “He accepted, and the matter is settled.”
His mother laughed, clearly satisfied with his response.
“I couldn’t be happier, Michael,” she gushed. “Congratulations, darling.”
Michael grinned. He silently cheered himself, not for getting married, but for successfully acquiring the vase. Outwardly, however, he simply raised his glass to his mother.
“To a brilliant future,” he said.
His mother joined the toast, barely sipping her drink before continuing to gush.
“I know of the Townsends,” she said. “The earl and countess are very respectable people, and any daughter of theirs would surely make a good wife. And their reputation is completely flawless. Truly, you have chosen your bride very well.”
Michael nodded, letting his mother go on. He was glad that she was happy. But most of all, he was glad that she would never again pester him about marriage. And he would have his coveted artifact to boot.
“I couldn’t agree more,” he said.
His mother sighed, looking at him with awe.
“Just think of it,” she said. “My son, married at last. Oh, I can hardly wait to start telling all our friends in the ton.”
Michael shook his head slowly. He hadn’t thought of it, but news of the betrothal would surely travel fast. He wanted to keep the entire affair a secret, at least for as long as he could. He told himself that it wasn’t because he wasn’t entirely proud of his motivations. But the thought lingered at the back of his mind, and he had to work to dismiss it.
“Now, Mother, don’t go making a big fuss,” he said. “I haven’t even spoken to Lady Lydia yet. I think it would be rude to start discussing plans involving her before she and I have even met.”
The dowager’s face fell, but only for a moment. She slowly nodded, biting her lip thoughtfully.
“You’re right, of course,” she said. “Very well. I will reluctantly keep this to myself for now. But please, do visit her soon. I do not know how long I can hold onto this without bursting.”
Michael rolled his eyes at his mother’s eagerness, but he knew that her enthusiasm would serve him well. He needed someone to take charge of the wedding preparations, at least on his end. His mother was the perfect person for the job. She was the only person he had to handle such things, to be fair. But clearly, it was something she relished doing.
“Find calm in the fact that I am to marry,” he said. “Soon enough, those who need to know will know.”
His mother nodded, but he no longer knew if she heard him. Her mind was clearly working, and she had a huge smile on her face.
Breakfast ended soon after, and the dowager rose quickly from her seat.
“I shall write to the countess of Tockenham right away,” she said. “She and I can begin discussing the wedding arrangements.”
Michael chuckled, nodding as he, too, rose.
“Very well,” he said. “I will be in my study, as always.”
His mother nodded, once more, but she was already halfway out of the dining hall. Michael smiled to himself. For the first time in ages, he wouldn’t have to lock the door to his study. His mother was getting her way, and she would be busy for quite some time.
With a confident stride, Michael headed to his study, where he planned to clear a space for the vase. He envisioned the vase sitting prominently in the center of his collection, its beauty and rarity a testament to his taste and wealth.
As he carefully rearranged the items in his collection, Michael thought about the Earl’s daughter, his soon-to-be wife. He knew little about her, but he was confident that she would be a suitable wife, given her family’s reputation and standing in society. As his mother had insisted, he planned to meet her soon. He hoped that she would be as pleased with the engagement as her father was.
Michael was filled with a sense of satisfaction and anticipation as he continued thinking about the impending arrival of the vase to his collection. He would have felt guilty for thinking less about his upcoming marriage, but he had been dreaming of adding the vase to his collection for ages. He had gone to great lengths to secure the engagement to the Earl’s daughter, knowing that it was the key to acquiring the vase. Naturally, the acquisition took precedence in his mind. He ignored the niggling question in the back of his mind about whether he was doing the right thing. Everything would work out. He was sure of it.
Michael was heavily focused on his task when he was interrupted by Patterson, announcing the arrival of his cousin, Marcus.
“Good day, Michael,” Marcus said cheerily. “Good to see you again, Cousin.”
Michael offered his cousin a distracted smile.
“Good day, Marcus,” he said. “What brings you by?”
Marcus gave him a hopeful look.
“I need a favour,” he said. “My fencing gear has been stolen. I have taken measures to try to get it back, but I don’t hold out much hope. I was hoping that you would be willing to lend me Finton’s old gear.”
Michael was barely listening. His mind was still preoccupied with thoughts of the vase that would soon be his. He nodded absently, waving his consent with his hand.
“Sure, Cousin,” he said. “You have my permission.”
Marcus chuckled, clearly pleased with Michael’s answer.
“Thank you, Cousin,” he said.
Michael grunted in response, still focused on rearranging the collector’s items in his study.
Marcus stepped closer to Michael, causing Michael to glance at him. His cousin had a strange look on his face that made him pause in his work.
“Was there something else?” he asked, confused.
Marcus scoffed with disbelief.
“You mean, besides your upcoming nuptials?” he asked. “I would consider that a pretty big deal. Congratulations to you, by the way. Forgive me for not saying it before asking you for a favour.”
Michael groaned inwardly. He asked, even though he already knew the answer.
“How did you hear about that so quickly?” he asked.
“I saw Aunt Margaret on my way to find you,” he said. “She practically shouted the news to me.”
Michael sighed. So much for keeping it a secret, Mother, he thought dryly.
“She told you right,” he said reluctantly. “I am to marry Lady Lydia Townsend, eldest daughter of the Earl of Tockenham.”
Marcus cheered, moving to clap Michael on the shoulder.
“Congratulations again, Cousin,” he said. “This is happy news.”
Michael nodded, but he was already once more distracted by his efforts to create the perfect spot for the vase. There was silence for a moment before Marcus spoke again.
“It is clear how excited you are,” he said. “You look so lost in the clouds that I doubt angels could find you.”
Michael looked at his cousin, momentarily confused. It took him a moment to understand that Marcus had mistaken his absent-mindedness for excitement.
“Oh, well,” he said, stammering for an explanation. “It all happened rather quickly. It is taking some adjustment.”
Marcus nodded, but like Michael’s mother, he seemed distracted, as well.
“Aunt Margaret is surely already planning the engagement announcement ball,” he said. “And then, of course, there will be a dinner party the evening before the wedding. You’ll surely begin courting her soon and arranging to have the banns read for three weeks before the two of you are wed. And other people in the ton might wish to host a ball in honour of your engagement. Certainly, the bride-to-be’s family.”
As Marcus cheerfully spoke, Michael’s mind raced with anxiety and dread. The thought of having to attend endless social events and engage in small talk with strangers filled him with a sense of dread. Michael was a private man, and he preferred to spend his time alone, absorbed in his work and his passions. He certainly didn’t wish to be the center of attention at such events. Especially in celebration of a wedding he didn’t even want.
“What fun,” Michael muttered, more to himself. The words were muffled by Marcus’s shoulder anyway as his cousin gave him a fierce hug.
“I am so happy for you,” he said. “I must be going, however. I shall go and retrieve the fencing gear and then be on my way. Let me know if you need my advice before your wedding.”
Michael nodded numbly, waving to his cousin as Marcus left the study. When his cousin was gone, Michael turned away from the artifact display and collapsed into a nearby chair. Marcus’ words left Michael in a state of terror, wondering if he had done the right thing by agreeing to the engagement. Despite his yearning to possess the vase, Michael couldn’t help but question whether the price he was paying was too high. Would he regret making the deal?
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