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The Difference a Wife Makes

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The last few weeks of March were always busy for the Bridgerton family, as the family and staff prepared to leave the peace of the country for the bustle of the city and the season. 

 

Eloise curled herself into a chair in the library, this season would be very different than the last and she was not looking forward to it. She had not been looking forward to her debut season in the first place and with all that had occurred last year, she was not looking forward to being back in London. 

 

Aubrey Hall - 20 March 1815

 

Dearest Pen

 

How are your preparations for the move back to London coming along? I really hope that you and Colin will be arriving at the same time we are; maybe we can go to Hatchards when we are back in town. There must be many new novels and interesting books for us to purchase after nearly a  year since my last visit! 

 

Francesca is very excited about her debut, a lot more excited than I was most definitely. Kate and Anthony have told me that I need to make an effort this year, so that everyone remembers me and the fact that I did debut last year. I know now that I was foolish, rushing off to the print shop in the way that I did but it did seem easier than spending time in a ballroom. 

 

I just don’t think I wish to be married; I know that you and Colin are very happy and I love you both but I can not imagine being married or being with child. The very thought of that terrifies me and the only way I can think of it not happening to me is by refusing to marry. I suppose you think me very foolish Pen but I do not want that life for myself; I sometimes wonder if Anthony will let me remain unmarried. 

 

How is Farnley Lodge? I do wish I could have been to visit but I will content myself with spending time with you in Bruton Street instead when we return to town. 

 

I look forward to seeing you soon Pen!

 

Love

 

Eloise

 

Penelope was relaxing on a chaise in the sunroom at Farnley Lodge when Dunwoody brought her Eloise’s letter. She sighed slightly, all the off-season Eloise had been sending letters requesting to visit the newly-weds and did not seem to understand why Colin and Penelope would want some time alone. 

 

They had managed to keep the entire off-season to themselves, Jack Featherington had not followed through with his threat to sell Featherington House and so Portia and Prudence had remained in London with Penelope secretly using some of her Whistledown money to keep them afloat. 

 

“How is Eloise?” Colin asked as he returned from his walk, “And how are you and baby?”

 

“We’re fine,” Penelope smiled as Colin’s hand ghosted over her now visible bump, “And Eloise is the same, only instead of wishing for an invite here she would like to spend time with us in Bruton Street instead.”

 

Colin rolled his eyes, “I look forward to having that argument with her in London then,” he stated, “Have they started getting everything ready for the move back?”

 

“All ready to leave in a week as planned,” Penelope replied, “Hopefully I’ll have a bit more energy by then too.”

 

“Has Cook given you some of her broth?” Colin asked in concern, “You are looking a little brighter than you have for the last few days.”

 

“They have just removed the tray,” Penelope smiled, “And I suppose we won’t have to attend every event this season, so that will make things easier in town.”

 

Colin shifted Penelope slightly on the chaise to sit behind her, wrapping his arm around her as he too read Eloise’s letter, “Have you told her you are pregnant?” he asked softly. 

 

“I have mentioned it,” Penelope replied, “I think that is why she is talking about how much she doesn’t want this.”

 

Colin sighed and leaned his head on top of Penelope’s, “I don’t actually know what we’re going to do with her this season,” he said, “Anthony is not going to let her go anywhere without someone from the family, she’s not going to have as much freedom this year.”

 

“I don’t blame him,” Penelope commented, “But it might make things better if I could be the family member that goes around with her, that would make her feel normal.”

 

“But I don’t want you to do too much,” Colin replied, “Not when you have been feeling so unwell.”

 

Penelope smiled slightly and leaned back into Colin’s chest as the couple discussed their plans for the move back to London.

 


 

Within no time at all Francesca was on her way to Court to curtsy to the monarch. 

 

“You seem very relaxed,” Anthony commented as their carriage travelled towards Kensington Palace.

 

“Do you want me to start creating a scene like Eloise?” Francesca quipped, “I would have thought you preferred it this way.”

 

Anthony rolled his eyes, “Not what I meant,” he replied, “But even Edwina was nervous last year and she was looking forward to it.”

 

“I spoke with Daphne,” Francesca smiled, “And she told me that it isn’t as big a thing as Eloise built it up in her mind and it is all over in five minutes.”

 

Anthony nodded, “And,” Francesca continued, “She reminded me that  you would be waiting for me when I’m done; and it didn’t seem so scary then.”

 

Anthony smiled, “And then we can open your ball with a dance,” he commented, Francesca beamed back at him.

 

A few hours later, the party arrived back at Bridgerton House for Francesca’s debut ball. 

 

“So, who do you have Frannie dancing with?” Anthony teased as he and Kate watched the proceedings from the edge of the ballroom, “I’m sure you have prepared a list.”

 

“She is with Lord Strange at present,” Kate replied, “And we can discuss my list later, there are a few new faces I would want you to advise on.”

 

“Is that Mr Bagwell?” Mary asked from behind them, “Dancing with Eddie?”

 

Anthony looked out over the dancefloor, “It is,” he replied, “Are you well rested after your journey into town?”

 

“I am,” Mary smiled, “Francesca looks delightful, doesn’t she? Kate, you must be so proud.”

 

Kate smiled, “I am,” she replied, “Mr Bagwell is a good match for Eddie, they are very well matched. We can content ourselves with fixing Eloise and Francesca this year.”

 

“One will be easier than the other,” Anthony muttered.

 

Kate rolled her eyes slightly at his comment before turning to Mary, “Are you sure you are well, Mama. You have been so ill.” 

 

“I am fine,” Mary smiled, “Do not fret, and I long to see my grandchildren, Edmund will have forgotten what I look like. And we may have a wedding to oversee.”

 

Across the ballroom, Francesca was enjoying her first ever ball. After Lord Strange, she had danced with Lord Goring and Lord Young before Colin stole a dance to give her a chance to get her bearings again. 

 

“Having fun Frannie?” Colin asked as they spun around the room, “I don’t think I’ve seen a card so full since Daph’s first season.”

 

Francesca beamed, “I am,” she admitted, “But how do you know if the man you are dancing with wishes to court you?”

 

“They will turn up in the morning with their card and some flowers,” Colin replied, “Don’t worry, I’m sure Kate has a list somewhere. And Anth won’t let  you be courted by just anyone.”

 

“Are you not dancing with Penelope tonight?” Francesca asked as she saw her new sister-in-law sitting at one of the small tables dotted around the ballroom.

 

“No,” Colin replied, “She has been very unwell with the baby, so we’ve decided not to this evening.”

 

As she and Colin finished their dance, she found her next being claimed by Lord John Stirling, Earl of Kilmartin. The young Scottish Earl, despite his own shyness, made the quietest Bridgerton laugh as they danced.

 


 

The following morning, the parlour at Bridgerton House was filled with callers for the three young ladies; Mr Bagwell for Edwina, Lord Fife for Eloise and a line of young men for Francesca. 

 

Edwina and Mr Bagwell sat on one of the couches dotted around the parlour as they debated the philosophies of Hobbes and Locke much to the aggravation of those sat closest to them. 

 

“Miss Sheffield,” Nicholas said after they had finished their discussion, “I do hope that we have become friends over the off-season.”

 

“I think we have,” Edwina smiled, “I have enjoyed your letters and our discussions.”

 

“If I was to speak with Lord Bridgerton,” Nicholas ventured, “Would you be amenable to that?”

 

Edwina’s breath caught, “I think you would need to meet my Mama too,” she said quietly, “But if you speak with Anthony, I am sure a dinner will be arranged.”

 

“And you will need to meet my parents and brother,” Nicholas added, “I will try and arrange a time to speak with Lord Bridgerton this week.”

 

Edwina beamed and Nicholas took his leave with a soft kiss to her hand.

 


 

Across the room, Lord Fife sat with Eloise. He had enjoyed the few dances they had shared at the start of the previous season and knew from speaking with both Colin and his new wife that Miss Eloise Bridgerton was quick witted and an avid reader. 

 

“I do hope that you are feeling better this season, Miss Eloise,” he smiled, “I was disappointed that we could not continue our conversations last season.”

 

Eloise frowned slightly before schooling her face into a slight smile, “I am surprised you remembered me,” she stated, “I was here for such a short time last season.”

 

“I was surprised to hear you had returned to the country,” Fife commented.

 

“I was unwell,” Eloise replied, giving out the lie that Anthony had concocted last season, “The country air is so much cleaner and I managed to spend a lot of time reading whilst I was in Kent. Tell me, Lord Fife, have you read Waverley?”

 

As Lord Fife started talking about his thoughts of Walter Scott’s novel, Eloise ran over her memories of the other man from her last season. Kate had made them dance at her coming out ball and he had called on her a few times, she knew that he was a friend of Colin’s from Oxford and she supposed that he was nice, in an abstract kind of way but she didn’t understand why he was so insistent on spending time with her.

 

“I did manage to pick up a copy of Ms Edgworth’s latest novel earlier this week,” Fife stated, “Have you yet had chance to read it?”

 

“I have not,” Eloise replied, “Do you recommend it?”

 

“I have not yet finished it,” Fife replied, “But maybe I could bring it when I have done so and then we could look to discuss it?”

 

“I suppose we could do so,” Eloise nodded, before turning back to her book effectively ended the conversation.

 


 

Across the room, closest to Kate, Francesca sat entertaining her suitors. Whilst Francesca seemed shy to most people, she was simply the type of person who observed a room before making her opinions known; something which sometimes set her out as a peacemaker in her large and boisterous family. 

 

Most of the young men she had danced with the previous evening had paid a call and the parlour was full of flowers addressed to her. She smiled and straightened her posture slightly as Humboldt announced Lord Kilmartin and the nice man she had danced with the previous evening entered the room with a bouquet of tulips for her and a smaller one for Kate. 

 

“Miss Bridgerton,” John smiled, after they had been talking for a few minutes, “Would you like to accompany me on a promenade tomorrow? My mother and aunt have arrived from Scotland and they will be more than happy to chaperone.”

 

“That would be wonderful,” Kate interjected, “We will be in the park for a family picnic tomorrow, if you come by our tent I am sure we can find any number of chaperones for you both.”

 

Francesca smiled at John as he kissed her hand and bowed to Kate before taking his leave. 

 


 

As the women entertained suitors in the parlour, Hyacinth roamed the halls of Bridgerton House looking for something to do. She was a little lost without Gregory by her side but her brother had started at Eton the previous September and she was now too old for playing with dolls in the nursery with Charlotte. 

 

She skipped downstairs and slipped into Anthony’s study, “Hyacinth?” Anthony frowned as she entered, “Is everything alright?”

 

“Can we go for an ice?” Hyacinth asked, “Or take Newton for a walk in the park?”

 

“Can it wait until after lunch?” Anthony asked, “We could all go then?”

 

“I just want to go with you PapaAnt,” Hyacinth sulked, “I never see you anymore.”

 

Anthony frowned slightly but gestured for Hyacinth to come around the desk and stand with him, “I need to finish this,” he said softly, looking down at his account ledger, “But, we can go when I’m done.”

 

Hyacinth reached up and kissed Anthony’s cheek, “How long will you be?” she asked, looking at the book herself.

 

“Not long,” Anthony replied, “Do you want to pass me that stack of bills so I can get this done quicker?”

 

Hyacinth beamed as she perched on the edge of Anthony’s desk and handed him the bills as requested as Anthony settled the family books. Around half an hour later, Hyacinth skipped down the steps at the front of Bridgerton House, her hand securely in Anthony’s as they walked across Grosvenor Square towards the tea shop.

 

“Did you know that I’m learning Italian,” Hyacinth stated as they sat in the shop, “And my governess thinks that I should be able to learn German too.”

 

Anthony nodded, “I know,” he smiled, “Do you want to learn German? Your governess is able to teach you, if that is what you want.”

 

“I would be able to speak four languages then,” Hyacinth smiled, “That is more than Gregory will be able to do.”

 

Anthony smothered a laugh, even when the youngest Bridgerton brother was not present, the two siblings were competing, “I will speak to your governess tomorrow then,” he agreed, “And we can stop into Hatchards for a German primer on the way home.”

 

As the two made their way back to Bridgerton House they saw several young men leaving, all discussing the three young women as they did so.

 

“Miss Sheffield is so set on Bagwell it seems pointless even trying,” one of them commented to his companions, “But I must say, Fife, you are brave taking on Miss Eloise. Didn’t she spend most of the last season in the country?”

 

“Yes,” Fife replied, not noticing the two Bridgertons walking towards them, “Mr Colin Bridgerton said she had caught a fever and they sent her back to the country so she didn’t get worse in the city. I must admit, I would rather be down in Kent than here if I was unwell.”

 

“PapaAnt,” Hyacinth whispered, “Does that mean Eddie and El will be getting married soon?”

 

“I think we have more chance for Edwina,” Anthony replied, “But I’m sure we will find out more if we go inside.”

 

Hyacinth grinned and clutching her new books, bounded up the steps and into the parlour. 

 


 

“Successful morning then?” Anthony asked as he sat with Kate.

 

“I think so,” Kate replied, “Mr Bagwell still seems set on Eddie, I would expect him to request a meeting with you before the end of the week and Lord Fife seemed to enjoy his conversation with Eloise, even if I’m not certain she felt the same way.”

 

“And Frannie?” Anthony asked, “I noticed the stack of cards on the side table, do you need me to go through them?”

 

“I think that would be best,” Kate replied, “But she has accepted an invitation from Lord Kilmartin to promenade tomorrow.”

 

Anthony frowned but nodded, “I don’t know much about him,” he admitted, “But from what I have seen he is quiet and I know that he came into his Earldom young.”

 

“And we both know that makes even the most outgoing man serious before his time,” Kate added softly, taking Anthony’s hand, “Frannie wouldn’t suit someone loud; she has always been our little peacemaker.”

 

“I don’t think I’d go that far,” Anthony replied, watching as Francesca and Eloise argued over something in the corner, “But I know what you mean. Let’s see how it goes, but I can’t think of any objections to Kilmartin, other than the fact he would take her to Scotland.”

 

Kate laughed, “Stop sulking,” she chided, “See how it goes and if you do find something, we can stop things before they go too far.”

 


 

That evening, Anthony was sat at his usual table in Whites waiting for one of his brothers to join him when the empty seat next to him was taken by Nicholas Bagwell. 

 

“I apologise for the ambush Lord Bridgerton,” Nicholas began, “But I was wondering if I could have a minute of your time to talk about Miss Sheffield?”

 

Anthony turned to face Bagwell slightly and nodded, “I am sure that you are aware, I have been corresponding with Miss Sheffield now for several months and I would like to marry her. She is agreeable but I understand you are the person to speak to about this.”

 

Anthony nodded again, “And what can you provide my sister?” he asked, “I understand that you are a second son and that you are a scholar. What kind of life can you provide my sister when she is used to a certain level of standards.”

 

“I might only be a second son, Lord Bridgerton,” Bagwell responded, “But I have a more than generous settlement from my father. I have managed to support myself as a scholar as opposed to having to make a living. Miss Sheffield will be well provided for, I have a town house in Oxford where we will live for most of the year and I have the resources to ensure that we are able to take rooms in London for the season each year. I will not be able to provide her with a title but she will not want for anything else.”

 

“And you say that Edwina is agreeable to this, that she wishes to become your wife?” Anthony pressed.

 

“She is,” Bagwell smiled, “I told her that I would be speaking with you and her only condition was that I also had to speak with her mother.”

 

“I see no objections then,” Anthony smiled, “My wife will send a dinner invitation around in the next few days and you can meet the rest of the family, you can see exactly what you are getting yourself into.”

 

The two men laughed slightly and toasted the arrangement as Colin and Simon both joined them.

 

A slightly inebriated Anthony slipped into bed next to Kate that evening, “You’re later than normal,” she mumbled, rolling into his chest, “Is everything alright?”

 

“We need to host a dinner in the next few days,” Anthony replied, “Bagwell will be proposing to Eddie. We have had a discussion.”

 

Kate grinned, “I knew it!” she cheered, “Eddie will be so happy!”

 

Within days, Edwina was being fitted for her trousseau at the modiste, sporting a modest emerald ring whilst Kate and Mary planned an engagement dinner for the young couple.