As Helen took her morning ride, and looked out over Sanderford Park, she felt an inner peace come over her. Every morning she would ride her dappled gray mare, Ginny to the lake and it recalled to mind all the wonderful summers that she had spent there with her brothers. Sanderford Park was such a wonderful place and she enjoyed spending time here because it was always so peaceful and serene. However, even though she loved her home, she was looking forward to the upcoming season. Helen had been afraid she was not going to get to go to London, because her brother, Henry, the Duke of Sanderford and his wife, Melody were expecting a child in May. Fortunately, Melody’s aunt, Lady Helton was willing to sponsor her and her sister, Kathryn for the season. Helen had missed several seasons over the past five years. Her first season in 1815, was cut short in June of that year, because her brother Henry was reported to have died at the Battle of Waterloo. She missed the follow season because she was in mourning for him. Of course, her brother had not died after all. He had had amnesia because of a head injury and it took almost three years before his memory came back. That was in 1818, which was the year she lost her father and elder brother Nelson, so again she missed another season. Even though Helen would be turning three and twenty in June, she had only had two full seasons.
Last year was the best season she had had so far, because she had met Hanford Preston, the Duke of Somerset and he had paid serious court to her at the end of last year. Hanford was so handsome and debonair. He was in his late thirties, so he was more mature than most of the men she had been interested in, in the past. She thought he was so attractive with his dark sable brown hair with touches of gray at his temples. There was a dimple in the center of his strong chin and he had pale gray eyes, which she had seen darken with emotion on several occasions. Hanford was medium height, but very well built. You could tell he was a physically active man, because he was very muscular with broad shoulders, and a trim waist. Each time she had spent time with Hanford, she admired how well dressed he was and he was always impeccably groomed. She was hoping he would continue to pay court to her this coming season. Well, enough woolgathering, she needed to get back to the house, because it was time for tea.
Once she returned to the house she changed into an afternoon gown and went downstairs to tea. When she entered the drawing room, her sister Kathryn and Melody, her sister-in-law were already there, along with her other sister-in-law Mary, her brother Nelson’s widow. Soon after, Henry entered hurrying as usual. Henry always seemed to be in a hurry these days. Helen knew he had huge responsibilities and took them very seriously. Melody served tea and passed the plate of sandwiches around. Henry ate several as usual.
Henry turned to Helen and asked, “Did you enjoy your ride? At least the weather has warmed up.
As Helen sipped her tea, she replied, “I had a lovely ride today, so many of the flowers are starting to bloom that I get excited because I know spring is definitely on its way.
“Are you getting excited about your upcoming season?” Henry asked. “It’s so nice of Melody’s aunt to sponsor you and Kathryn this year. Oh by the way, I’ve set up an account for you and Kathryn to draw on, while you’re in London, so you don’t have to worry about using any of your allowance for new clothes and such.”
“Oh thank you Henry, we’re very fortunate you’re such a generous brother. I can think of quite a few things I need this season and my allowance would not have covered everything,” she said. “I’m definitely looking forward to this season and as much as I’ll miss you, Melody and the children, I can’t wait to go to London. I know you aren’t able to come for the season, but I’ll miss both of you dreadfully. Please promise to send word immediately when the baby comes. We’ll come home right away because we’ll want to see the baby and make sure Melody’s all right.”
“I promise to let you know as soon as the baby comes.” Henry looked over at Kathryn and said, “Kathryn, I know you’re excited about attending the Art Institute, but I do hope you’ll participate in the season. I want you to have some fun this year.”
“I’m sure I’ll find time to enjoy the season. I only go to classes in the daytime, so my evenings will be free. I look forward to all the other entertainments that London has to offer. I love the ballet and the opera and I’m sure we’ll be attending both this season.” Turning away from Henry, Kathryn gazed fondly over at Melody and asked, “Melody, how are you feeling today?”
“I’m having a very good day. Thank you for asking. I spent most of the afternoon with Mary Elizabeth and Brandon. They were playing knight and damsel in distress and it was so cute.” Melody shifted in her seat, trying to find a more comfortable position, and then she added, “Brandon kept taking his little wooden sword and slaying the dragon so he could save his sister. I just love to watch the children play. They’re going to miss both of you when you go to London.” As Helen watched Melody, she realized that since Melody was such a tiny woman; she was already getting uncomfortable from her pregnancy, even though she still had more than two months before the baby would be born.
After tea, Helen and Kathryn went upstairs to visit their nieces and nephews. Helen loved all four children equally, even though her nephews were not blood related. Helen and Kathryn played with them until it was time to get ready for dinner.
After dinner that night, Mary played the pianoforte, which everyone enjoyed tremendously, since Mary was an extremely gifted pianist. Helen had a pleasant evening and retired to bed at ten o’clock.
As each day passed, Helen grew more excited about the upcoming season and looked forward to it with great anticipation. Thankfully, the next fortnight went by quickly and soon they were on their way to London. It was raining so the trip took longer than usual, but Helen used the time to read her new Minerva Press novel. Helen and her sister arrived at Lady Helton’s, at three o’clock on the afternoon, of March 15. When they arrived at Lady Helton’s house, Bradford, Lady Helton’s butler was there to direct them to their rooms. Helen was impressed with she saw her room. The walls were a lovely soft blue with cream crown molding adorning the ceiling. She found the entire room restful and knew she would enjoy her time here. The counterpane on the bed was soft yellow with pale blue piping around the edge and there were mounds of lovely soft pillows. She could just imagine lying on the bed reading a good book. After she freshened up, she went back downstairs to the drawing room.
As she entered the room, Lady Helton came over to her, gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and then said, “I’m so pleased you could stay with me for the season. We’re going to have a wonderful time. I have a great many activities planned for us. How is my dear Melody?”
Helen returned Lady Helton’s hug then sat down on the sofa and said, “Melody sends her regards and she’s doing well. Both Melody and Henry are so excited about the baby and they’re impatient for its arrival. You would think it’s their first child. Of course, in some ways it is for Henry, since he missed Mary Elizabeth’s birth.”
Lady Helton sat down next to Helen, smoothing down the skirt of her pale pink day dress, she replied, “I’m so happy for both of them. They’ve gone through so much and now deserve to have some happiness in their lives. Oh by the way, I’ve made an appointment for us at Madame Devy’s tomorrow, so we can all freshen up our wardrobes for the season. I do hope Kathryn can find time to participate in the season this year. I know how important her art is to her, but she still needs to have fun! Ah, here she is now.” Lady Helton went over, embraced Kathryn, gave her a kiss and said, “Hello my dear, don’t you look lovely. Are you all settled? I hope your room suits you?”
Kathryn shyly returned her hug and kiss, then quietly replied, “Oh yes, Lady Helton my room is lovely and I know I’ll be very comfortable here. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting long?”
“Oh no my dear, we were just chatting as you came in. I’ll just call for our tea.” Lady Helton rang the bell and Bradford came in with the tea tray. Then Lady Helton continued, “As I just explained to Helen, I’ve made an appointment for us tomorrow with Madame Devy so we can add to our wardrobes for the season. When do you start your classes at the Art Institute?” she asked. “I do hope you’ll be able to join us. After all, you’ll still need to freshen up your wardrobe, even if most of your time is spent at the Institute.”
“I don’t start my instruction until next Monday, so I’ll be happy to go with you.” As Kathryn took her seat, she straightened the skirt of her pale lilac tea gown and added, “I do need a few new dresses and various other accessories so I look forward to it. I just love Madame Devy’s designs.”
Once they finished their tea, they went to their rooms to rest before dinner. Dinner was quite enjoyable that evening and Lady Helton shared with them all the latest gossip. Helen had never been much of a gossip, but it was nice to hear about what was going on in town. The season was just getting started, so they had not missed any of the balls or parties.
The next morning they went to Bond Street to do their shopping. Helen ordered quite a few new dresses and evening gowns and so did Kathryn. Helen picked out a particularly fetching silvery blue silk evening gown. As she held the fabric up to her creamy white complexion, she knew it complimented her brilliant blue eyes and would look marvelous when it was finished. Once they were through with their shopping, they went to Gunter’s, to have their famous shaved ham sandwiches and ices. Gunter’s was an extremely popular place to go. Many members of the ton went there on a regular basis during the season, and of course, their ices were superb. If you wanted to see who had already arrived for the season, Gunter’s was the place to go. After they left had lunch, they took a drive through Hyde Park and again saw several people they knew. After their drive, they returned to the house to get ready for the evening’s entertainment. Lady Helton was taking them to a play in Drury Lane. The play they were to see was “As You like It” which was one of Helen’s favorite Shakespeare plays.
This season was particularly important to Helen because she just knew she was going to bring Hanford, the Duke of Somerset up to scratch. She had been dreaming of him ever since the end of last season. If she were able to get him to propose, it would be amazing, because he had never shown any signs of being interested in marriage in past seasons. While she had never wanted for beaus, Hanford was the first man that had ever truly interested her. Helen was also looking forward to seeing her friends again. She was very popular with all the other young people because she was such a friendly, fun loving young woman.
The next morning, Helen was up early; she hastily completed her morning ablutions and went down to breakfast. As she enjoyed her morning meal, she thought about the upcoming evening with anticipation. They were going to Lady Crawford’s Ball and she was excited about seeing Hanford again. She could not wait to dance with him because he danced so divinely. Helen wondered if he had missed her and if he would try to kiss her again. They had kissed at the end of last season and she had found it to be quite titillating. Oh, she needed to stop woolgathering, because she had quite a few things planned for the day, and she wanted to give herself plenty of time to get ready for the ball. This was so unlike her, but of course, she had never felt this way about someone before. Oh, she hoped Hanford would be there tonight.
Lady Crawford’s Ball was one of the first of the season. Most of the ton must have decided to attend because the ballroom was extremely crowded. Lady Crawford should be pleased, because her ball was definitely a crush. Helen surreptitiously glanced around the ballroom looking for Hanford. At first she did not see him, but then she saw him dancing, with of all people, Lady Penelope. They appeared to be in a deep conversation and she wondered what they could be talking about so intently. Lady Penelope was the daughter of the Earl of Stanton and she was supposed to have married Henry at one time, because their estates bordered each other and Helen’s father had greatly desired the match. Of course, Henry had fallen in love with Melody, so the match never happened. Lady Penelope was a witch and Helen had never cared for her at all. She wondered how well Hanford knew her.
She turned to Kathryn and asked, “Do you see his grace dancing with Lady Penelope? I didn’t know they even knew each other. I wonder if they do know each other well. Oh, I hope he sees me and he asks me to dance. I’m just dying to dance with him again, because he’s such a wonderful dancer.”
After the Duke of Somerset finished dancing with Lady Penelope, he came over to her and said, “Good evening Lady Helen. It’s a pleasure to see you again. How was your time in the country this past winter?”
Helen gazed at him with delight in her startling blue eyes and replied, “I always enjoy my time at Sanderford Park, but I’m looking forward to having a wonderful time, now that I’m here in London for the season. Since my brother and his wife are expecting a blessed event in May, I’m staying with Lady Helton and she has quite a few entertainments planned for my sister Kathryn and I. Did you enjoy your time in the country?”
“Yes, but it was not as enjoyable as your time was, I am sure. I stayed very busy, what with running all my estates. I spent quite a bit of my time traveling from one holding to another. I will actually find the season relaxing compared to what I have been doing. By the way, you look lovely tonight. Do you have a waltz available for me?”
Helen coyly glanced at him and said, “The supper dance is open would you like that one?”
Hanford looked deeply into her eyes and Helen felt little flutters deep in the pit of her stomach as he replied, “That would be lovely. I would like to take you driving with me tomorrow at four o’clock, would you be available?”
With a questioning, tone in her voice, she said, “Yes, that would be splendid. I noticed you dancing with Lady Penelope. She’s a neighbor of mine and I was wondering . . . if you have known her for a long time?”
Hanford arrogantly raised his eyebrow and replied, “One of my smaller estates is close to her home and I know her father quite well, so I have known her for years. Well, if you will excuse me I am going to the card room. I look forward to our dance later.”
Helen watched him as he left the ballroom and worried that she may have made a mistake asking him about Lady Penelope. He had cooled slightly after she had asked him about her. Trying to put these thoughts out of her mind, she turned and joined the conversation that Lady Helton was having with her friends.
Helen danced several sets with some of her beaus from last season and was having a pleasant evening. She was impatient for the supper dance, so she could dance with Hanford. She had spoken with Susan, Lady Hastings and they were going to St. Mark’s Orphanage tomorrow morning. She had been volunteering there ever since Melody got her involved with it several years before. In fact, it was due to Melody that she had become such good friends with Susan. Finally, the supper dance arrived and Hanford came to get her.
When Hanford approached her for their dance, she could tell by his expression he was glad to see her, so maybe she had been wrong to think it had bothered him when she asked him about Lady Penelope. The supper dance was the most important one of the evening, not only did you get to dance with your partner: you had supper with him also. As the strains of the waltz concluded, she realized she had enjoyed dancing with him just as much as last year. They went into the supper room where they sat at one of the small white linen draped tables. Hanford returned from the buffet table with plates filled with shaved ham sandwiches, lobster patties and finger sandwiches. After they finished eating, Hanford asked, “Would you like to take a stroll on the terrace? It has grown quite stuffy in here.”
Helen smiled as she said, “Yes, I would enjoy that. It is quite warm this evening.” As they strolled around the terrace, Helen looked up at the sky and said, “It’s a lovely evening tonight and look at all the stars. Don’t they seem to be brighter than usual? I always love the night sky and if I see a shooting star I make a wish.”
Hanford looked directly into Helen’s beautiful blue eyes and said, “I agree; it is a beautiful evening. I was hoping I would see you here tonight. I enjoyed spending time with you last year and hope we can do that again this year. You look so lovely in the moonlight . . . it illuminates your radiant skin and I just have to touch you.”
Hanford pulled her into his arms, touched her face and then he kissed her. Helen felt her heartbeat accelerate, as he deepened his kiss. She gasped and he slid his tongue into her mouth. No one had ever kissed her like this and her knees grew weak from all the sensations that were running through her. He took his hand and gently cupped her breast, and then squeezed her nipple through the bodice of her gown. She felt as if she would swoon from the excitement of it all. Just as he started to slide his hand into the décolletage of her dress, she heard a noise. She felt him begin to pull back and she was disappointed that he was ending their embrace, but of course, it was just as well that he stopped. Helen would die if she ended up compromised. As much as she wanted to marry Hanford, she would not want it forced on them.
Hanford stepped back and asked, “Did you hear something? We need to return to the ballroom before anyone notices how long we have been gone. Come my dear; let me escort you back to Lady Helton.”
Lady Helton was sitting with her friends when they returned to the ballroom and Hanford took his leave, once she was back with Lady Helton. Helen watched him as he left the ballroom. Surely, he must return her regard, because that kiss had been simply marvelous and she was just sorry he had ended it, when they heard that noise. At least she knew she would be seeing him tomorrow, when he came to pick her up for their drive.
When they returned to the house, she told Lady Helton goodnight and went up to bed. Once Sally, her maid, helped her into her night rail, she told her to go on to bed. She sat down at her dressing table and began to brush her thick red gold hair until it shone. She had cut it short this past winter and while sometimes she missed her long hair, most of the time she enjoyed the freedom her short hair gave her. As she climbed into bed, she thought about the evening and she knew her feelings had grown much stronger for Hanford. She wondered where that kiss would have led, if they had not heard that noise. She probably should have protested when he touched her breast, but it felt so exciting, she had not wanted him to stop. Of course, she was not sure what would have come next, because he was the first man she had ever allowed to take such liberties. As she heard the clock strike two, she closed her eyes, and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, she went about her morning ablutions and Sally laid out her new day dress, which was a soft pale blue with white trim. She was pleased with how nice the dress looked on her and it certainly brought out the color of her eyes. She was due to meet Susan so she hurriedly finished getting ready. They had arranged to go to the orphanage and Helen enjoyed playing with all the children. Whenever she spent time with them, she remembered how much she enjoyed playing with her nieces and nephews.
When she entered the breakfast room, Kathryn was already there. Helen went to the sideboard and filled her plate with sausages, coddled eggs and a muffin, then took a seat across from Kathryn. “Where were you most of the night, last night? I never saw you at all last evening, from the time we arrived, until we left the ball. Have you met someone interesting?”
As Kathryn toyed with her eggs, she replied, “I spend most of the evening talking to Lord Walling. He’s an art connoisseur and has quite a collection. He’s offered to let me see his collection and Lady Helton said we could go to his home this morning. I can’t wait to see it. I also danced quite a bit and I actually had a very pleasant evening. What about you, what did you do most of the evening?”
Helen took a bite of her muffin, then wiped her mouth with her napkin and said, “I danced the supper dance with the Duke of Somerset and we took a stroll on the terrace. I think he returns my regard, because he kissed me and asked to take me driving this afternoon.”
With a wary expression on her face, Kathryn replied, “Helen you need to be careful. I don’t know that you should have let him kiss you. If anyone had seen you kissing, you would have ended up compromised. I know you care about him a great deal, but I don’t trust him. Something just doesn’t seem right with him.”
“Oh Kathryn you’re wrong. The duke is a very kind and sincere person. He would never do anything to hurt me. You just wait and see. He’ll be asking me to marry him very soon, because I’m sure he returns my regard.” Helen had finished her breakfast by this time so she stood up and said, “Well, I need to leave, because I’m meeting Susan at the orphanage at ten o’clock. Are you interested in coming with me?”
Kathryn rolled her eyes and with an exasperated tone, she replied, “Remember I’m going to Lord Walling’s house this morning with Lady Helton. I’ll go with you next time. Enjoy your drive with the duke, but . . . be careful.”
Helen hurried up to her room to get her pelisse, and then she left for St. Mark’s. She took Sally and the footman, Charles with her for propriety’s sake. Since it was such a lovely day, she decided to walk. Susan was already waiting for her when she arrived at the orphanage and Helen rushed over to her as she said, “Sorry if I’m a little late. I misjudged the time. Since the weather was so pleasant today, I decided to walk. I hope you haven’t been waiting long. Did you have a nice evening last night?
With her usual enthusiasm, Susan replied, “I just got here, so no, I haven’t been waiting long. I had an excellent time last night. I enjoyed seeing several of my friends and the food was excellent. I saw you dancing with the Duke of Somerset last night and the supper dance at that! It’s not often that he dances the supper dance. What’s going on between the two of you?”
“Oh Susan it was so exciting. He’s such a wonderful dancer and I think I’m falling in love with him. We went for a walk on the terrace after supper and I . . . let him kiss me,” Helen answered with a dreamy look in her eyes.
Shocked, Susan asked, “My goodness, Helen where were you when he kissed you? That was certainly very bold of him. Is that the first time he has kissed you or did he kiss you last year too?”
Helen hesitated, but then she said, “Well, he did kiss me once last year at the end of the season, but this kiss was quite different, much more exciting! It made me feel tingly all over and I can’t wait for him to do it again!”
“Helen, you need to be very careful. I don’t want to see you get hurt. The duke has avoided marriage for many years, so he could be toying with you. Please protect yourself; I would hate it if you got your hopes up only to have them dashed,” she replied, with a worried look on her face.
Helen did not want to hear anymore talk like this, so she firmly replied, “Well, I believe he’s serious in his intentions toward me. He would never toy with my affections, because he just isn’t that type of man. I don’t understand why you and Kathryn can’t just be happy for me!” Helen looked up, saw the children coming out and said, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore and the children are coming anyway.”
They had a pleasant time playing with the children and as they were leaving, they agreed to meet again in three days. After a pleasurable walk back, Helen arrived home just in time for luncheon. Lady Helton and Kathryn had returned from Lord Walling’s and Kathryn was raving about all the incredible objets d’ art in his collection. She was also getting very excited about starting the Art Institute on Monday. Helen was happy for her, because she knew her art meant a great deal to her. It did seem that Kathryn was quite obsessed with her art, but Helen hoped she would still take time to enjoy the season. After luncheon, Bradford handed her a letter and it was from Melody. She wrote that she missed them, but that she hoped they were having a wonderful time in London. The children were all healthy and growing like weeds. Henry was getting nervous about the baby. The waiting was extremely difficult for him and there were still almost two months before the child was due to make its appearance.
The duke arrived promptly at four o’clock for their drive. Hanford looked so handsome today in his deep gray dress coat and light gray embroidered waistcoat, which made his unusual silver eyes sparkle. His snowy white cravat was tied in an intricate pattern and he had on black breeches and black tasseled Hessian boots. As usual, Hanford was dressed in the height of fashion, which was one of the things she liked best about him. As he drove his high perch phaeton through Hyde Park, they talked and laughed the entire time. Helen could not help noticing all the gorgeous flowers scattered around the park. The scent from all these flowers was intoxicating.
Hanford pulled back on the reins to slow the horses down, then said, “Lady Helen I’m enjoying our drive and I hope we can do this quite often this season. You look very pretty today. The sun is shinning so brightly, it brings out the gold in your beautiful hair. How are you enjoying the season so far?”
“Why thank you, your grace.” Helen was so pleased he had noticed her appearance and awarded him a brilliant smile as she continued, “The season has been quite enjoyable so far. We went to Drury Lane the other night and saw the Shakespeare play “As You like it”, and it was wonderful. We have also gone to the opera. I have always loved music ever since I was a small child. I play the pianoforte, but I don’t sing. I leave the singing to my sister-in-law the duchess; she has an amazing voice. I always think of angels when I hear her sing.”
“I must hear the duchess some time,” he said. “I play the pianoforte as well. I find it very relaxing after a difficult day in Parliament. I have been working on getting a bill passed and I’m getting quite a bit of opposition from the Whigs. I don’t want to bore you so enough about that. Let’s just enjoy the rest of our drive.”
The only problem with the drive was that it was over much too quickly for Helen. When they returned to Lady Helton’s house, he helped her down out of the phaeton and he held her longer than was necessary. Every time Hanford touched her, she felt such a strong connection to him. She knew she was falling in love with him.