Try as they might, and to their utmost dissatisfaction, Mrs Lynfield and her daughters could get no description of Master Lawrence’s character out of Mr Lynfield. It was a difficult feat to outwit Mr Lynfield, as he saw through their curved questions and plotting quips instantly. An account of his looks and manner from their neighbour, Mrs Gaunt, had to suffice. While this report was less favourable, it still proved to quench an amount of the Lynfield girls’ desire for this intelligence. It had happened that her husband, Mr Richard Gaunt, had met with Master Lawrence and had thought him a highly agreeable young man. He had also learned that Master Lawrence had every intention of attending Mr and Mrs Lovell’s party, for he did love to dance!
“I would be contented to such a degree if one of my daughters were to become the lady of Chaplin Estate.” Mrs Lynfield sighed wishfully.
On Saturday, as he had promised, Master Lawrence returned Mr Lynfield’s visit, and they had had a cup of tea in Mr Lynfield’s library. Master Lawrence did not express his disappointment at not being gifted the opportunity to make the acquaintance of his famed daughters. His manner was polite, if not a little awkward, and he most certainly was handsome. Of course, hiding the girls away was all a part of Mrs Lynfield’s cunning plan: “they ought not look desperate, you see,” she had informed her husband. The girls and their mother were shut away in an upstairs room, one which, incidentally, had the advantage of having a large window that overlooked the driveway. From this point, they were able to get a view of Master Lawrence and discuss between them his agreeable features, while poor Master Lawrence did not enjoy any such reciprocation. And at the sight of Master Lawrence departing in his shiny chauffeur-driven car, Mrs Lynfield rushed downstairs, Lucinda and Cathy at her tail, to hear an account from Mr Lynfield. Of course, all attempts to gain any sort of full description were thwarted. Mr Lynfield only spoke of Master Lawrence’s regretful declination of his invitation to dine with them that evening, much to Mrs Lynfield’s dismay. She had all but finalised the dinner plans in her mind, but these would have to wait. Master Lawrence had business back in the city, to which Mrs Lynfield snorted at. “What sort of business would he have back there when he has only just arrived here in Herten?” she wailed. The thought of him flitting about always running errands here and there and never settling in time to dine at their house clearly distressed her. Mrs Gaunt calmed her anxiety by assuring Mrs Lynfield that he was only fetching a large party of guests, to whom invitations had been gladly extended, to attend the Lovell’s party with him.
Not long after that, the Lynfields heard that Master Lawrence would be bringing with him no less than twelve ladies and seven gentlemen. Cathy was terribly distressed at such a large number of ladies, and her mother shared her concern. “But I am sure there will be no shortage of fine gentlemen nonetheless,” Julia said kindly, “There are some lovely men coming from Herten, I would be certain of it.”
Mrs Lynfield huffed and puffed at the notion of Herten siring fine young men, finding it unfathomable.
Cathy and Lucinda were very glad to hear soon after that Master Lawrence would in fact only be joined by seven ladies, not twelve – his five sisters, a friend, and a cousin.
But when the Cardwell party entered the Lovell’s grand hall on the evening, there were only five altogether: two of Master Lawrence’s sisters and the husband of the eldest, and Master Lawrence’s friend, a young woman – who did immediately make quite an impression.
Master Lawrence was good-looking and a smiling man – eager to please, and easy to talk to. His brother-in-law, Mr Humphreys, was a built man, though more of food and drink than of muscle. Master Lawrence’s sisters seemed fine and accomplished women, although only by conventional standards. Much less conventional, but equally as striking, was Master Lawrence’s friend. She wore her glossy dark hair in tight pincurls and wore clothes fit for men, but tailored for women. It was not long before the whispers reached the Lynfields: the talk was that she was a American woman, an orphan and recently well financially endowed due to a very large inheritance. Mrs Gaunt heard that she had just moved back to England with her younger sister to her father’s estate a few hour’s drive from Cardwell.
“And is that the fashion in America?” Mrs Lynfield asked Mrs Gaunt quite seriously.
“Yes, I think it must be,” Mrs Gaunt replied, equally intrigued.
Her name was Miss Annabelle Hammond, and she was a beauty, but in a somber, mysterious way. She was indeed well admired at the beginning of the evening, until it became obvious in her manner that
she thought herself quite superior to her company. Perhaps, Mrs Lynfield scoffed sarcastically, she thought her American friends much more socially advanced. The overall evaluation of Miss Hammond
over the duration of the night proved conclusive: she was proud and disagreeable. It was a general consensus that not even her good looks, large fortune and grandiose estate could redeem her
.... To be continued ....
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