[Other Pens, Mansfield Park, Episode 2 follows Charles Edwards as he attempts to scheme his way into getting a kiss from Miss Barrett.]
Charles Edwards squinted into the late afternoon sun – it was an action that he could almost do without any discomfort. The swelling around his eye had subsided, and soon, the bruising would fade to a nasty yellow and then disappear. Until that happened, he would continue to take his rides by wandering from one street to the next rather than face the taunting and questioning looks he was guaranteed to receive in the parks.
While it was an excellent way to avoid censure from his peers, it was dashed boring trotting up and down streets without so much as a single friend with whom to converse. Had he earned his scars more gallantly, perhaps he would not feel the need to hide them. To have been injured in a boxing match or defense of some lady’s honor would make his bruises more of a badge than a blemish. However, since everyone in town had likely read that blasted article in the paper, the raised eyebrows from overprotective matrons and giggles from their charges would be unbearable. And then, there would be the gentlemen. He shook his head. Had he received a blackened eye from Trefor Linton for actually doing something inappropriate with Linton’s sister, Constance, his friends would just laugh and clap him on the shoulder before filling his glass with some libation at his club.
But, he had not been caught doing anything improper. In fact, it was much worse than just not being found dallying with a debutante. He had been attempting to be gallant. He would do his best not to be put in such a situation again! Honourable actions and favours to ladies who were offering none in return must be avoided for they only led to broken noses, disgrace, and lonely rambles up less well-to-do streets.
Charles drew his horse to a stop just in front of a carriage that was standing at the ready to receive a lovely young woman. He had not bothered to take note of her since this was not the part of town where the finest flowers of the season resided.
“Miss Linton,” he said doffing his hat. “Is Crawford with you?” He nodded to the carriage.
“No,” Constance Linton replied with a smile, “though he very much wanted to be. It is just Evelyn and me.”
His brows furrowed. Evelyn? The name sounded familiar.
“Miss Barrett,” Constance clarified.
“Ah, Miss Barrett. Of course. How negligent of me to not remember.” How had he managed to forget her name? He certainly had not forgotten her perfectly pink lips or lithe figure. The same figure that was exiting the house to his left. She was perhaps the most enticing creature he had ever met and never sampled.
Miss Barrett’s lips formed such a wonderfully kissable o.
“Mr. Edwards,” she greeted with a small curtsey. “Are you here to visit Mrs. Verity and the children?”
His brows furrowed again. “Mrs. Who?”
“Verity,” Evelyn repeated. “She runs this home for children.” She motioned toward the house.
“I did not know this was a home for children.” His left brow rose in question. “Why are you here? None of these children are yours, I would assume.”
Her eyes grew wide, and she gasped. “We are not all as reprobate as you, Mr. Edwards.”
He leaned forward nonchalantly admiring her look of utter indignation. “Then, what, pray tell, are proper young ladies such as yourself and Miss Linton doing here?”
“Charitable work. You do know what that is, do you not?”
He chuckled. Miss Barret was not the sort to shy away quietly to her corner and leave him be. He liked that. “I have heard the term.”
“But have you ever experienced it?” asked Constance.
He shifted his gaze to his friend, Henry Crawford’s, betrothed. “No, not beyond what is expected on my father’s estate.”
“It’s rather fulfilling,” Constance replied. “Today, we taught some children their letters. It was remarkable, was it not, Evelyn?” She wore a look of sheer delight.
“And Linton approves of this?” Charles asked.
“Both he and Henry do.”
Delight did not begin to describe the look in Miss Linton’s eyes as she said the name Henry. One day, when he was ready to take up his mantle of responsibility, Charles hoped to find a lady who would look even half as happy saying his name as Miss Linton did at this moment.
“Trefor,” Constance continued, “thought this would be a safe way to keep me occupied. My last scheme, you see, did not leave him favourably disposed to allowing me to find ways in which to make my life more interesting.”
There was a mischievous gleam in both her eye and that of her friend, Evelyn. Curious, that. He had not expected anything akin to impishness from Trefor Linton’s sister or any of her friends. Constance Linton was the most proper chit he had ever met, and he suspected, to be her friend, Miss Barrett must be the same.
“Is your eye feeling better?” Miss Barrett asked.
“It is, but I’ll not be doing either of you any favours in the future,” he replied with a smirk. “At least not unless I receive something better than a broken nose and a black eye in return.”
“I can neither apologize or thank you enough,” Constance replied.
She had apologized over and over and over again as she stood holding a compress to his eye in the Linton sitting room those many days ago. “I think you have said the words enough,” he replied softly. “I merely jest.” He would not have her feeling guilty for his injuries when it was not her doing which caused them.
Miss Barrett tipped her head as she looked up at him, a puzzled look on her face. Then, she shook herself and smiled. “We are expected at your house soon, Connie. Mother will be waiting.”
“As will Trefor,” she smiled, “and Henry.”
Much to Charles’s surprise, Miss Evelyn Barrett rolled her eyes at the tone her friend used to say Henry’s name.
“Do not let me detain you, I would not wish to run afoul of any of them.” He winked at Miss Barret. “At least, not until I am healed.”
She gasped. “My mother has warned me about you, Mr. Edwards.”
“As well she should,” he replied easily. “I am dreadfully charming.”
Constance had entered the carriage, but Evelyn, who remained on the street, laughed. “That is not how my mother said it.” Her eyes sparkled with impertinence. Then, with a small curtsey of parting, she boarded her carriage.
Charles looked after her and tipped his hat as the door closed on those shining eyes and teasing smile. Oh, he could find great pleasure in evoking such a look from her on a regular basis. Not that he wished to spend great amounts of time with her. No, he was not the sort of gentleman to trot around behind a lady hoping for her to smile at him or laugh at his jokes. He danced; he flirted; and he stole kisses. He did not become attached. Attachments were dangerous. They led to marriage and, he fought the urge to shudder, responsibility. He was far too young for such things as that just yet.
Still, he wondered where she would be this evening and if there would be any dark corners into which she might be persuaded.
He blew out a breath. Hiding himself away from society was perhaps not the best idea in the world. It apparently was wreaking havoc on his well-ordered, carefree existence. A rogue such as himself did not stalk his prey. He simply looked for the opportunity and took it. Planning anything was far too much like being responsible. Rules, guidelines, ledgers, accounts, and all the rest that went with being a gentleman of standing belonged to his father, not Charles.
In front of him the carriage stopped, a man jumped down, the door opened, and a pretty face peered out, looking back to where he was.
He nudged his horse forward as Miss Barrett waved him towards her.
“Do you require help?” he asked as he drew near.
“No, no, we are well. Connie and I were just talking, and I thought as we were discussing how dreadful it is that you were injured on Connie’s account that it would be charitable of us to offer you a place in the Linton’s box at the theatre tonight.”
Charles began to shake his head.
“Hear me out. Do not refuse until I have made my full request. And come forward more, I feel as if I am going to fall out of this door and onto the street.”
Charles chuckled. This young woman sounded more like Linton’s cantankerous Aunt Gwladys than a young lady of the ton. Most young ladies who presented themselves during the season went out of their way to appear demure to one and all – always.
“Do you scold everyone?” he teased as he did as she said.
If he had expected her to be offended, he was once again going to be surprised, for she merely smiled, batted her lashes, and replied, “No, I scold very few beyond my brother actually.”
“So, I am special,” he returned.
She shrugged. “Perhaps you are. Or perhaps I just find you as troublesome as Griffin.”
“I think I will insist you find me special.”
“Do what you will; it matters not one jot to me,” she retorted.
Her words might have said she did not care, but her tone clearly said she was annoyed.
“As I was saying…”
“Before you began scolding.” Charles smiled at her huff.
“Before I had to pause to give instructions.”
Charles chuckled. “Continue. I shall not refuse until you have said your piece.”
“Refuse? You intend to refuse?”
“Most likely. But, I have not heard your request in full, so I cannot be certain I am correct until I do. I have been wrong before.”
Her brows rose, and her lips pursed for a moment as if she were holding back some retort.
“There will not be very many people in our box. If you slip in a side door or something and scurry up to the box, you will not have to have many people gawk at you.”
“You think I am worried about being seen?”
“I would be if my eye were the colour of yours, and that is why you are riding here and not in a more populated place, is it not? And, I have not seen you at any events since…well…” she pointed to her eye.
“I will admit that I do not relish the whispers.” Why he felt he needed to admit such a thing was beyond him. He could come up with any number of reasons to be riding where he was and for not having been at any soiree she had attended. A smile slipped slowly across his face. “Have you missed me?”
“What?” She shook her head vigorously. “No. I just noticed that I had not seen you slinking from shadow to shadow.”
“If you say so.”
“I do.” She scowled. “Now, will you be joining us? I am certain no one would be in the least put out if you did.”
“How reassuring,” Charles muttered.
“Please,” Constance added from the interior of the carriage. “I do feel dreadful that you have been out of society. It must be terribly boring sitting at home instead of going out.”
“Who said I was sitting at home?” He smiled a lazy, suggestive smile.
“Henry,” Constance replied.
Blast! Did Henry tell her everything?
“Very well, I have been hiding away. Are you happy to know my shame?”
“Only if it means you will join us,” said Miss Barrett.
“Can you not muster an ounce of sympathy?” he asked in surprise. Were not young ladies – especially those who did charity work – supposed to be compassionate?
She shook her head. “No. Not a morsel. While I am awfully sorry you were injured, I do believe you have escaped more times than you have been caught.”
The lady might look like an angel, but she had a heart of ice. However, ice could be melted. In fact, it could be quite a marvelous lark to attempt to melt that ice.
“Very well, I will join you if you will but attempt to feel an ounce of pity for me.”
The way her lips pursed with contained amusement was tempting.
“A full ounce?”
“Yes.” He moved closer to her door. “A full ounce.” He repeated the words in a low, sultry tone – slowly and deliberately. Satisfaction curled his lips as he saw her pretty nibble-worthy neck rise and fall as she swallowed.
She licked her lips. “I shall make an attempt.”
“Then, I shall see you at the theatre.”
He chuckled at the uncertainty in her voice. Again, he tipped his hat to the closed carriage door and watched it drive away before continuing on his way home to prepare for an evening of entertainment — and a play.