It had been an eventful evening at the Priory. After Mr. Hendred and Aubrey had been packed off, to bed and to the library respectively, Venetia had finally received her proposal.
After numerous kisses Damerel said “It is time for you to go up to your room, because, my dearest love, you would tempt a saint, and as we are aware, I am no saint.”
Venetia smiled up at him and said, “I imagine saints were terribly dull to live with! I cannot imagine they would have shared my sense of humour. It would be like living with Edward but worse. Worthy people are very tiresome. I do think though, that it is rather vexing of you to develop scruples at this late date!”
Damerel had laughed, but then rung for Mrs. Imber and firmly packed Venetia off to bed.
The morning after, Venetia awoke early. Before going to bed in the guest room, she had sent her clothes to be sponged and pressed, because it never hurt to look one’s best, and she knew she would have rather a lot of delicate work to do come morning. She hurried down to breakfast, hoping to get there before Mr. Hendred, a noted early riser, had a chance to corner Damerel and talk to him about respectability. Luckily, Damerel was not a notable early riser, but Venetia thought it best to be prepared for the coming discussions.
When Venetia arrived in the breakfast parlour, Imber was just finishing laying out the breakfast spread. “Am I the first one down? Imber, do thank Mrs. Imber for me, I know just how trying it is to be saddled with extra guests without notice. I see she baked haver cakes, how lovely! I’m sure French chefs are delightful, but they don’t know how to bake properly. I have missed Mrs. Imber’s baking.” She served herself a hearty breakfast from the chafing dishes and sat down to think. Presently, she rang for Marston. “Good morning, Marston. Do you know how my uncle does?”
“Good morning, ma’am. Mr. Hendred has not rung for me yet, but he did seem much improved last night after drinking my tonic.”
“Splendid. Marston, you are a treasure. When my uncle rings for you, bring him some tea and some very dry toast. It always settles him the day after traveling, and I do wish him to be in a good mood.”
Marston looked at Venetia and said, with a slight smile, “Just so, ma’am, just so. Is there anything else I can do to assure Mr. Hendred’s comfort?”
Venetia thought for a moment then replied, “The tea and toast, should do just fine, and absolutely no mention of any other foods. Travel is such a trial to his constitution, poor man. Also, do you know when his lordship will be down? I do wish to talk with him.”
“His lordship left instructions to be woken early, but did not specify a time.” Marston looked at her expectantly.
Venetia said gravely, “Well, Marston, his lordship has already slept past one of his guests coming down, which might indicate that it is no longer early.”
“Yes ma’am, that is a very good point, ma’am. I will go up to his lordship now.”
Venetia smiled. She and Marston understood each other perfectly. She was hoping to talk to Damerel before her uncle came down so that they could plan their strategy. The campaign objectives had been laid out the previous night in broad strokes, but Venetia intended to settle the matter. She did not plan to leave Damerel and Mr. Hendred to muddle her plans again with their absurd scruples.
Some half-hour later Damerel came into the breakfast parlour, dressed neatly as a prosperous and terribly respectable country gentleman of means. Venetia detected the hand of Marston at work, but forbade to comment on it.
“Good morning, my dear delight. I am to understand that you wished to speak to me before we are graced with company of your uncle and brother?” Damerel said with a smile.
“Well.” Venetia looked down and blushed. “I thought perhaps that we might talk about our plans?”
Damerel laughed. “Oh it’s to be a war council then? And you the general, of course. The Iron Duke cannot hold a candle to you!”
“Odious wretch!” Venetia smiled at him and then looked down again. “I thought perhaps, since my uncle is feeling so poorly, we might take some of the burden of planning off of him and settle matters between ourselves?”
Damerel grinned. “You mean to present him with a fait accompli?”
Venetia laughed and said warmly, “My dear friend, no one understands me as well as you. That is it precisely. I am rather tired of well-meaning but interfering relations. I was thinking that we might avoid them completely. Did you know that it is fewer than two hundred miles to Gretna Green?”
“Oh is it?” Damerel asked with a glint in his eye. “And what precisely were you hoping I might do with such information?”
“Stoopid. You know very well what I wish you to do with this information. It would settle our affairs quickly and without additional family interference,” answered Venetia.
“My green girl, do you think I would do anything that would add to the scandal broth that is bound to accompany our marriage? I would give anything to keep even the slightest hint of censure from you, but--”
Venetia exclaimed, “Oh Damarel! My dear friend! I do not give a fig about scandal broth, respectability, or any of the other idiotish notions you and my uncle have between you. What else must I do to prove it? Shall I emulate Lady Godiva and ride down Bond Street? I would rather not, because it does seem rather uncomfortable, but I would if it would help ease your mind. Would you like me to?”
“Would I like you to ride naked down Bond Street? No, my dearest torment, I would most decidedly not!” He grinned at her suddenly and said, “Besides, you are quite right, it is deucedly uncomfortable.”
“No!” exclaimed Venetia, much diverted. “Pray tell how you discovered this?”
Damerel eyed her and said quellingly, “It is not a subject we need to discuss now. What we do need to discuss is this, as you might say, idiotish notion of yours of eloping.”
Just as he said that, Mr. Hendred entered the breakfast parlour. “Eloping!” he ejaculated. “Damerel, have you no shame? It is bad enough that you seem bent on marrying Venetia, but with careful planning we might come about, but if you elope she will be sunk below reproach!”
Damerel looked at Mr. Hendred and said, “That is precisely what I was telling her. It will not do. An elopement would set the tabbies’ tongues wagging and no doubt about it. We will be wed in St. George’s after the banns are posted.”
“Banns!” Venetia exclaimed. “I am not going to give the entire neighborhood the opportunity to comment on our marriage. Can you imagine what Edward would say? Although,” she continued on reflectively, “He did say last time we met that I was lost to all reason, so he might very well just say that I was showing my true colors and that I was reaping my just rewards.” Venetia laughed and said, “Whatever he might say about it, I’m quite sure it would be very tiresome. I imagine Lady Denny would do her best to make me see reason, and...” Here Venetia paused and glanced at her uncle. He did not seem convinced, and furthermore, seemed on the point of saying something she rather thought might be best left unsaid. “No, you are quite right, my dear friend,” she said in a conciliatory voice. “We should have the banns read. That would give me enough time to have my trousseau made up. I think it would be lovely to shop for dresses in Paris, and I am sure Mama would be able to direct me to the most fashionable modistes available.”
Damerel looked at her appreciatively. “Is going to stay with your Mama in Paris going to be your suggestion whenever things are not just as you want them? It is indeed quite the threat, but perhaps it might lose its potency if used too often?”
Venetia smiled up at him. “I don’t see why saying that I might visit my Mama and have her help me with my trousseau is at all a threat. I imagine Mama is very good at shopping, and Sir Lambert certainly seemed to know a great deal about fashion. Perhaps he might advise me,” Venetia said thoughtfully.
“That is enough of that, my dearest torment.” Damerel turned to address Mr. Hendred. “I think perhaps it might be best if I arrange for a special license? I admit that I am somewhat concerned as to what else Venetia might manage if left to her own devices for much longer.”
Mr. Hendred glared at both of them. “Are you quite done?” He inquired stiffly. “Damerel, summon your man of business, we must go over the contracts, since it seems this foolhardy union will take place whether I wish it or not.”
“Dearest uncle,” Venetia said, “I am sorry to cause you so much trouble! Truly, you needn’t worry about me. I am very happy with this union, foolhardy or no.”
Mr. Hendred sighed and said, “This is not a discussion I wish to have in the presence of so much food!” He shuddered and looked bilious.
Venetia sprang up and rang for Marston. “Dear sir, how thoughtless I have been! Of course, after that long journey, what was I thinking. You will be much more comfortable in the library, and perhaps Marston can make you up another tisane? Oh Marston, here you are, would you please show my uncle the library and have tea sent there? Would you make him some more of his tisane? Here I have been chattering on with no care to his comfort at all, how utterly shocking!” As Venetia talked, she shepherded her uncle out of the room and into Marston’s custody without letting Mr. Hendred get a word in edgewise. As soon as he was out of earshot, Venetia turned to Damerel and said, with a martial glint in her eyes, “Banns?”
Damerel laughed and said, “My apologies, my sweet. I daresay I was overcome with respectability for a moment, but I have quite shaken it off. Your family would try your patience far too much if we waited for the banns to be called, and I would not have you vexed by them for all the world.” He smiled at her tenderly. “I daresay the best course of action is for us to go to London, where we can confer with my Aunt Stoborough and I can obtain a special license. I imagine that between my aunt and your uncle, we can find some way to steer through these waters. Will that do, my dear delight, or am I to be threatened with Paris again?”
Venetia laughed. “Yes, that will do nicely, I think. I suppose I will have to stay with my Aunt Hendred again? My poor aunt, I don’t know if her constitution can take it!”
“You had better stop discussing rose petals with her,” Damerel said quizzically. “Also, we had better join your uncle in the library before he accuses me of taking advantage of you!”
“Stoopid. You wouldn’t be taking advantage of me, I am quite willing!” Venetia said.
Damerel eyed her and said repressively, “I have no intention of anticipating my wedding vows. Now, off to the library, my fair temptress! We have a wedding to arrange and we had better head off… what was it you said? Mutton-headed? family at the pass.”
Venetia followed him to the library, secure in the knowledge that matters would indeed be arranged just as she wished.