The Season of 1788
"Aggie!" Mary smiled seeing her friend in the ballroom. Agatha linked arms with her immediately, leading her to a drinks table. Agatha was an older girl who had been married in her first season. With the new Queen's recent marriage, their stations had been lifted. But she was still a dear friend to Mary.
As the Diamond of the season, Mary found the season overwhelming, to say the least. The balls were fun, it was nice to promenade.
But she felt her jaw would need to be stitched together to keep her permanent smile on her face.
"Escaped your mama?" Agatha teased, sipping her lemonade. She spotted Lord and Lady Sheffield speaking with the new Lord Cowper who was looking for a wife this season.
"Barely. I believe she wants me to marry immediately this season. The first man who sets his eyes on me shall have to propose." Mary scoffed, "She would prefer I pick a white husband. Apparently, me getting on with Lord Cho will not make me secure. Not like her marriage to Papa." She had hoped her parents would realise that England was slowly changing.
"You are the Diamond. You have your choices! Marry a young man, at least. Not a rake, however." Agatha advised.
Lord Thomas Danbury. He was a liberal man, for his set. But he was older and still believed in his wife having her place. Unfortunately, he married a young woman with a sharp tongue. Now that his wife was a friend of Queen Charlotte, he had reluctantly given her leeway as it were.
"If you have a liking towards him..." Mary said teasingly. He was the only man Agatha did not seem to turn her sharp tongue on.
"We are friends, I suppose." Agatha huffed, "Do tell me you will be at the Queen's tea party? And Violet has returned from Aubery Hall. It would lift her spirits if we were all there."
"Of course." Mary agreed. They were then approached by Lord Sheffield with another man, slightly older than the two women. He was handsome, with dark brown hair and blue eyes with a small smile on his face.
"My dear, this is the Earl of Richmond," He introduced.
"It is a pleasure," Mary curtsied. She knew this was no mere hello.
"Would you like to dance?" The Earl proposed and Mary politely accepted his hand.
Young ladies were not to laugh loudly, use lewd language or gamble or smoke. But at Queen Charlotte's tea parties, she preferred her ladies to break all the rules.
"I wish to find a love like yours and Edmund's," Mary said, squeezing her hand.
"You will! Especially as the Diamond," Violet assured her. Mary gave her a tight smile. Everyone seemed to think her being named the diamond was a blessing. Sure, the King and Queen like her. But it meant listening to condescending suitors who brought the same flowers and dull conversation about their wealth and how many heirs and spares they wanted.
"You will," Violet assured sternly, seeing the thoughtful expression on Mary's face, "You will have the happiest marriage to someone who loves you. You have better choices, especially with the Queen watching over you. And I cannot wait for your wedding! And your children can play with Daphne and Colin!"
"Ladies, less talking, more drinking!" Agatha ordered, handing them both mixed drinks. They both took a sip, wincing at how strong it was. But it was delicious.
"I cannot marry Richmond, I would duel him if I could," Mary mumbled and the other two laughed. She was very drunk and very truthful.
Mary decided to go home first, knowing that even though her parents were okay with going out, she should come home before the early morning.
"My lady?" A kind man asked her, seeing her leaning against a palace. Brooksby was trying to help her, to little avail.
"Oh hello," The man helped her up, leading her to the carriage, "Are you alright?" He asked gently. He had an accent, which made Mary squint her eyes at him. He nodded politely to Brooksby who was entrusting her with this man with a nice smooth voice.
"Yes. You are very handsome for a footman. They get handsomer and handsomer every day." Mary drawled. He chuckled, amused.
"Thank you." They were at the carriage and he helped her in, looking to the driver, "Perhaps some strong coffee before she returns home?" The driver nodded, knowing the man and his authority.
"Thank you, kind sir!" Mary stuck her head out of the carriage and waved dramatically at him before falling to her seat with a squeal and laugh.
Two days later, Mary saw her handsome stranger at a picnic in Hyde Park. She escaped a conversation with the Earl her parents were hellbent on her marrying. He's sent more flowers than their house could probably hold and it was clear her parents wanted this match.
She had not looked where she was going and collided with a hard chest, papers flying onto the grass around them.
"I am so sorry!" He apologised profusely.
"No, the fault is mine. My head in the clouds." She helped gather the papers he had been holding. She noticed the writing was in Sanskrit, not English. Languages had always been her forte. She finally looked at him and stared.
Dark hair and a full beard that was well kept. His eyes were kind and humble, behind his glasses. He helped her up as she handed the papers back to him.
"It's you." Mary quietly realised. The handsome stranger who had helped her into the carriage. Was he a royal she had embarrassed herself in front of? His bright waistcoat demonstrated wealth. He had been staring at her two before he smiled kindly and introduced himself.
"I am Edwin Sharma," He bowed and she did not know what to say.
"I am Miss Mary Sharma." Mary said and then her brain caught up with her mouth, her face warming at his amused expression, "I mean, Sheffield! Miss Mary Sheffield."
"A pleasure, Miss Sheffield. Again, my profound apologies." He said and she shook her head.
"I seem to make it a habit to embarrass myself in front of you," Mary chuckled, and then she grew curious, "May I ask, who are you?"
"I am personal secretary to the Governor of Madras. I have been in London for the past few years working with the incumbent Governer-General. Not a footman, sorry." Her face warmed recalling her drunken words.
Mary knew little of English activities in India, but from what she had briefly read in the papers, there was a lot of conflict between the English and the people who lived there. Her parents spoke little of it, which she used to find strange.
"Appa! I am bored!" A tiny voice piped up. The littlest girl with beautiful dark eyes and long dark hair ran towards him. There was mud on her lilac dress but her eyes were shining. Mary thought she was the most beautiful child she had ever seen. A tired maid was further away, looking at Edwin apologetically.
"Kavita!" He scolded, kneeling to her height, "Have you been running in the bushes again?" He was more annoyed than angry, the fondness in his eyes said as much.
"But there were ducks!" She protested, "They were friendly like the turtles!"
"The ducks here are quite cute," Mary defended playfully. The child looked at Mary with a bright smile at the agreement.
"My daughter. Kavita, but here she is Kate." He introduced. Mary's heart dropped slightly, as it meant this man with kind eyes was married. And of course, he was.
"It is very nice to meet you." Mary smiled, kneeling so she was face to face with her, "I like your dress a lot. Mine were always covered in mud too." they shared a grin.
"Mary!" Agatha called her and Mary looked back at her friend. She was with Edmund and Violet, all waving her over.
"I have to go. It was lovely to meet you." Mary said apologetically.
"As it was you," Edwin replied He held his daughter's hand and gave one last bow to the woman, before walking away. Kate looked back and gave them a small wave which Mary returned.
"Who was that?" Edmund asked.
"Oh, um, a personal secretary from India. He's working with the Governor-General." Mary explained.
"Ah," Edmund hummed and she looked at him quizzingly, "It makes sense why he's here. Helping the incoming Governer-General in India. Very interesting."
"What do you mean?" Mary pressed, curious.
"Let us not discuss such unpleasant things," Violet interrupted and hooked her arm into Agatha's. The four strolled around.
"Edmund." Mary asked and he offered his arm to her, "What is happening?"
"I do not know much. But there is talk of uprisings from locals. Riots over British rule." Edmund explained quietly.
Mary thought about that, "So, why do we not just leave? If the British are not wanted there?" He gave her a small smile, with just a hint of condescension in it.
"It matters not. Now, shall I save you from Cowper or Dorset?" She chuckled but looked back briefly at where Edwin was with his daughter.
Mary liked thinking about the kind man. His kind eyes and manner. His love for his daughter. If only the men of the Ton were more like Edwin Sharma.
They met again when Mary escaped the modiste's whilst her mother was conversing with another countess.
"Mary!" She heard a familiar child's voice and turned to see Kate running toward her. Mary leaned down and hugged her.
"How are you?" Mary asked
"I have a new book!" Kate announced happily, "And if I finish, I can go riding!"
"That is wonderful," Mary said, and looked around for her mother or Edwin, just so she was safe. Edwin was with them in less than a second, boxes in his hand which he gave to a footman.
"Kate, running. We have spoken about this." Edwin warned but smiled, "It is good to see you, Miss Sheffield."
"You too." Mary smiled and stood. She was still holding Kate's hand, which she did not mind. She was glad that the little girl liked her.
"We keep meeting. It must be fate." Edwin joked.
"I hope so. You make me smile more than the men here." Mary replied, and then closed her eyes. She always seemed to put her foot in his mouth around him. Some Diamond.
"I am not married. My wife died a few years ago." Edwin assured, realising how that sounded.
Mary's face was sympathetic, "I am so sorry." She looked down at Kate and stroked her hair comfortingly. As much as she could disagree with her mother, she could not imagine growing up without one. Every girl deserves a mother.
"She is a very sweet child, which means you are doing a very good job." Mary complimented truthfully. He smiled bashfully, but said nothing. He had not expected that, used to people telling him he should remarry.
"I was going to the market." Mary said, "Um, would you like to come with me? I think Kate deserves a ribbon to go with her new book."
"Is that allowed here?" Edwin challenged but the smile on his face showed her he said yes. She turned to her own lady's maid and told her she would be fine without her. She took Kate's hand and walked
They talked, all day. About their families and London. He was worldly and intelligent but was not condescending on her shortcomings, merely explaining something she did not understand. He was impressed with how eager she was to learn more of the world than what she was told to and the way she would easily deal with Kate, playing with her.
"12,000 acres? That is a fortuitous man," Edwin appraised when she told him of her match.
"I do not love him. I do not think I even like him," Mary said, "But I am expected to marry him. As the Diamond."
"Everyone deserves to marry someone they love." Edwin said, "Diamond or not."
"Would you..ever remarry?" She asked with interest.
"If I met the right woman. Marriages are arranged back home, yes. But if there is no love, then an unhappy marriage is not worth it," Edwin explained, "It may sound overly sentimental but my mother always believed a happy marriage is the best one to have children in. Have a partner and friend."
"It sounds rather lovely," Mary said gently.
The Earl of Richmond proposed on a Friday Afternoon. He came with a bouquet of peonies and his mother's engagement ring. The perfect engagement.
He blinked twice, still on one knee. "No?"
"No." Mary repeated.
He cleared his throat awkwardly, "I understand some young ladies enjoy toying with a man's affection, but it merely makes you more alluring."
"I certainly would not deceive you. I do not love you. I do not wish to marry you." Mary emphasised, "I am sorry," The doors to the drawing-room opened and her parents rushed in, panicked.
"She did not mean that." Lady Sheffield tried, "Mary is just nervous."
"I am not." Mary retorted, "I am sorry, my Lord. I do not want to marry you." She ran up to her room, ignoring her mother's frantic calls. Lying on the bed, she took a deep breath and smiled.
Sneaking around was dangerous. Anyone could find out. But Mary found she cared little what anyone else thought when she was with Edwin in the palace gardens or in a park gazebo in the late evenings. Even better when she told him she had rejected the Earl. They talked about books, politics, Kate and her persistent begging for a puppy. Mary thought it would be a good idea.
On their fifth meeting, he kissed her. A short but loving kiss. Mary smiled when he pulled away. She leaned in and kissed him again.
"I believe I am rather in love with you, Mr Sharma." She whispered, knowing he would be going back to India soon.
"Come with me?" He whispered, "Marry me?"
"I can come with you?" Mary asked and he looked surprised, nodding "I would like to stay with you and Kate. I know you will always love your wife. But I wish to join your family, not replace it anyway.
His face stretched into a happy grin and he embraced her, "I would like that too, so very much. But your family..."
"Everyone deserves love, do they not?" Mary echoed his advice to her, "And I love you, Edwin Sharma. And I love Kate." Was this the whirlwind Violet had once described she had with Edmund?
She felt at peace with Edwin. As if nothing mattered.
Edwin helped load Mary's trunk into the carriage he had waiting for them. To Gretna Green, they would go first, then home. Home to India and a new life. Mary could not wait. She ensured Kate was comfortable, tucking her in under the blanket for the journey.
"Mary!" She turned to a voice calling her and saw Agatha running towards her. Of course, she would have heard.
"You cannot stop me, Aggie." Mary told her, "I love him. I love Kate. I want to build a life with them. If my family and the ton cannot accept that-"
"I am not trying to stop you." Agatha said, a sad look in her eyes, "But, is this what you really want?" She would be leaving her family and her friends.
"I have never wanted anything more," Mary said.
Agatha squeezed her hands, "I will miss you. You must write to me when you get settled, promise?"
They hugged tightly, "I will miss you. Give Violet and Edmund my love, please." Mary asked and Agatha nodded against her, before they separated, sharing one last smile before Edwin helped Mary into the carriage.
The news spreads like wildfire two days later. Mary had jilted an earl for an Indian clerk and was on a boat to India.
"Agatha?" Thomas asked his wife, seeing her sitting in the library, "Did you know anything about this?"
"No, I was just as surprised," Agatha replied. He is not fully convinced but does not press the matter further.
Queen Charlotte is less satisfied. Angry is more the word.
"Do you know how this makes me look? How does this make George look?" Charlotte paced angrily, "We approve of a match and Mary sails away! With a glorified secretary of another monarch!"
Brooksby kept well back to the wall, sharing a look with Agatha.
"If I may speak freely, some have had similar concerns about your marriage. Especially your mother-in-law." Agatha pointed out carefully. She didn't flinch at Charlotte's glare. Others would.
"She loves him?"
"With all her heart," Charlotte says nothing further, but Agatha knows she has dropped it. Charlotte knows what it is to fall in love, given she would not admit yet how much she loves George. She sat down next to Agatha, rubbing her pregnant stomach in a huff.
"You know, the Earl of Worcester still needs a wife. I could help." Agatha suggested.
They shared a conspiring smile.
My dearest friend,
As promised, I would write to you when we were settled and we very much are. Edwin, Kate and I have made a home in Chennai, where his family are from. They are the kindest, most welcoming people. I was afraid his mother would be like mine, but she hugged me tightly and welcomed me. I have felt more at home here than I did in Hertfordshire.
I am with child. That is why I am writing this letter, to share this most joyous news with you. I am hoping for a boy, but Edwin believes we will have another girl. ate is excited - she follows me everywhere and would really like a sister. I visited her mother's grave yesterday, to pay my respects and let her know that I will take care of Kate and Edwin, but will not let them forget her.
I do hope all is well with you. I will miss our regular tea times and talks. Sneaking Thomas' whiskey. Do give Sarah and Violet my love, and let them know I am
content happy. So very happy.
All my love,