Chapter One 1878-1

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Chapter One 1878Celita packed the last of her books and then looked around the room to see if she had forgotten anything. It was quite a small room, but she had made it very comfortable while she had been at the Finishing School. In a way she was sad to leave it with all her books close at hand and the prizes she had won arranged on the mantelpiece. She walked to the window and looked out over the garden. It was most attractive with the spring flowers in bloom and the pale green leaves on the trees. The aristocratic Seminary for Young Ladies was just outside Paris. While Celita was there, she had never been allowed to see any of the festivities of Paris that were talked about by everyone in England. Instead she was taken to the museums, the picture galleries and the Churches. At the same time she was always conscious of the gaiety and frivolity of Paris in the air! One did not actually have to take part in it to feel it. ‘One day,’ she told herself, ‘when I am older, I would like to come back to Paris and enjoy the theatres and restaurants and all the other entertainments, which are apparently more amusing here than anywhere else in Europe.’ Of course they were whispered about at the school! The other girls, a fair number of whom were French, had dashing and good-looking brothers. Even some of their fathers enjoyed what were very special amusements designed especially for men. Celita, however, had spent her time at school learning everything she could and she was well aware that her mother had made many sacrifices so that she could be properly educated. The Dowager Countess of Langdale had been left a widow two years ago and Celita had thought at the time that her mother would never recover from the loss of her husband. Yet because the Countess was a sensible, as well as a very beautiful woman, she had thought of her daughter. She had forced herself to lay aside her black and concentrate on Celita’s education. “I am afraid, darling,” she said, “now that Papa is dead we shall be very poor, as all the money, of course, goes to the new Earl. I shall not be able to give you a ball as we had wanted to do, but at least you will be able to share Judy’s.” “I understand that, Mama,” Celita had replied, “and you must not worry yourself about me. When I am a debutante, I shall be perfectly happy as long as I am able to ride Lord Waterforde’s horses and be with you here in our home.” It was in fact a very attractive house. Lord Waterforde, to whom it belonged, had begged the fourth Earl of Langdale to come and live on his estate. He had realised that Langdale Hall, the family home, had become too heavy a financial burden for him. The Hall was, in fact, not only extremely large and expensive to keep up but really not a very attractive house. The Earl and Countess had therefore been delighted with the small Elizabethan house that Lord Waterforde had offered them. They had been extremely happy there with Celita, their only child. A large part of their happiness derived from the fact that Lord Waterforde, who was very wealthy, owned a fine stable of horses. The Earl was an expert breeder as well as being one of the outstanding riders in the country. “I need your help,” Lord Waterforde had said. “Why do you go on killing yourself to keep that huge and uncomfortable pile open, when you know that it costs you every penny you possess?” This was sheer common sense and the Earl had therefore thankfully closed Langdale Hall and moved into Four Gables. ‘It will be lovely to be home with Mama,’ Celita was telling herself now. She was also seeing the sleek, well-bred and spirited horses that filled Lord Waterforde’s stables. She would race Judy on them over the flat land every morning before breakfast. As if thinking of Judy had conjured her up, the door burst open and Judy Forde came running in. “Celita! Celita!” she cried. “I have had a – letter from Papa. I cannot bear it – I – cannot.” There was no mistaking the distress and anguish in Judy’s voice. Celita turned quickly from the window to ask, “What has happened? What is wrong?” “It is Papa – we are – not to go – home tomorrow as planned – but to go and stay with the Duc de Sahran.” Celita stared at her friend. Judy was a very pretty girl. But now there were tears in her eyes and an expression of anguish on her face. It was very disturbing. “I cannot understand, dearest,” Celita said. “Come and sit down and explain to me all about it.” “I was always – afraid of – this,” Judy answered. “When we were at home last holidays, I was quite certain Papa was planning that I should marry someone – important just because – I will have so much money.” She paused before she went on tearfully, “You know – I want to – marry Clive – you know I – love him – Oh, Celita! What – shall I do?” Celita put her hand up to her forehead and then said quietly, “Start at the beginning, dearest. I cannot understand what you are saying and why we cannot go home tomorrow as planned.” “I know – I know!” Judy answered. “Sister Agnes was to – accompany us to Dover, where Papa – said he would – meet us.” Celita nodded, she knew all this. Lord Waterforde had always made extremely precise arrangements when they travelled. They were invariably accompanied by either a nun or a chaperone of some sort besides a Courier and when they were in England there was also a footman to attend to their luggage. It had been arranged last holidays that, when they left at the end of this term, the two girls would travel together as usual. It certainly made things very much easier for the Countess, and also, which was a serious consideration, it was much cheaper. “Leave everything to me,” Lord Waterforde would say. The Countess was very grateful to be able to do so. “What has your father written to you?” Celita enquired in a quiet voice. “He says,” Judy answered with a gulp, “that instead of going home we are to – go with Sister Agnes – and the Courier to – Arles.” “To Arles!” Celita exclaimed. “In Provence?” “Yes,” Judy answered. “That is where the Duc de Sahran lives.” “And we are to stay with him?” Celita enquired. She was trying to get the story straight. It all sounded incredible. To have everything changed at the very last minute was, to say the least of it, disturbing. “I do – not want to – meet the Duc,” Judy declared. “I know exactly – why Papa is – sending us there, and I – hate him – already. Do you hear, Celita? I hate him!” “How can you hate someone you have never met?” Celita objected. “Why do you hate him?” “Because Papa is planning that I should – marry him, and I don’t – want to be – married to a – Duc. I might have – guessed that is what he has been – trying to – concoct.” Celita looked at her friend enquiringly. Judy went on. “Last holidays Papa – talked to me about – my future and – he said, ‘I hope, dearest, you will marry someone with you will be very happy with. But you must understand that I want him to be someone of consequence.’ “‘Why, Papa?’ I asked. “Papa replied, ‘you will be very rich, perhaps extremely rich, so I have no wish for you to be pursued by fortune-hunters and scrounging young men who have lost everything they possess at the card tables’. “I told him – I could understand that,” Judy said, “but also that I wanted to be – in love with the man I marry.” “And what did your father say to that?” Celita enquired. “He said, ‘Of course! Of course!’ It’s the way he speaks when he is brushing something I have said aside.” Judy looked up at Celita and her voice broke as she went on, “I wanted to – tell him then that I – love Clive, but – I knew it – would be a mistake. And – now, if I am – not – careful, I shall be – rushed up the aisle with this – Duc and perhaps – never see – Clive again.” Tears fell down her cheeks as she finished speaking and Celita put her arms round her. She knew only too well that her friend had been in love with Clive Cunningham for over a year. He was a charming and handsome young man who lived in Berkshire and they regularly met him when they were out riding. At first it had been by chance and then, because he had fallen in love with Judy, he turned up every morning. He also made many assignations to meet her in Celita’s home. He was quite obviously head-over-heels in love and Judy loved him. Celita had, however, been afraid that Lord Waterforde would not think him good enough for his daughter. His Lordship was very conscious of his huge fortune. Most of it he had made by using his own intelligence, investing in the right shares at the right time, besides, naturally, being in contact with the right people. Because he had no son and there was no heir to the title, Judy would inherit everything he possessed. Celita had often thought that Lord Waterforde would have set his sights on the Prince of Wales as a son-in-law if he was not already married. In fact Lord Waterforde would think nothing less than a Duke was good enough for Judy. But Celita had certainly not expected it would be a French Duke. Now she asked, whilst Judy cried on her shoulder, “What do you know about the Duc de Sahran?” “The girls here – have talked about – him,” Judy said after a moment’s hesitation. “He is always giving – parties in Paris, which their brothers go to, but no – real ladies are – invited.” For a moment Celita looked puzzled and Judy explained, “He entertains – the coquettes! The women who drive in the Bois de Boulogne covered in glittering jewels and whose – dogs have collars of – real diamonds and emeralds!” Celita laughed. “How ridiculous! I am sure that the dogs, if they are proper dogs, would not appreciate such collars.” “One of the women has her – poodles dyed the same colour as her dresses,” Judy murmured. Celita laughed again. “Well, if that’s the sort of woman the Duc likes, he will not be interested in you.” “He will be – interested in – my money,” Judy said, “so that he can – afford to buy – jewelled dog collars.” “I don’t believe it,” Celita exclaimed. “The whole thing is ridiculous! Your father cannot really expect you to marry such a silly man.” “But he does! I am sure that – he intends me to – marry – the Duc” Judy sobbed. “Then you must refuse him,” Celita suggested. Judy raised her head from her friend’s shoulder. “I shall not – be allowed to – do that,” she said, “I know now – why Papa – pointed out to me last holidays that – a father can choose the man his daughter – marries.” She gave another sob as she added, “I thought – Papa was being – funny and I said, ‘if you choose – the King of Siam – for me, I shall – run away’.” “What did your father say to that?” “He said, ‘I don’t want you to sit on the throne of Siam and I promise you, my dearest, that any husband I choose for you will be exactly the right man to look after you and protect you’.” “Well the Duc does not sound the sort of man your father was thinking of,” Celita observed. “But we have – to go and – stay with him at his château and I am quite – quite certain that when I am – there, I will – find myself – caught into an – engagement and then – there will be no escape.” As she finished speaking, Judy burst into more floods of tears. She put her handkerchief up to her eyes. Holding her in her arms, Celita was wondering what she could do. She had always suspected that Lord Waterforde, who was a great snob, would try to find someone very important for his only daughter to marry. But she had not expected him to do anything until Judy had ‘come out’ as a debutante. Then there would be the ball in London he had promised her and also, even more exciting, a grand ball in the country. Lord Waterforde had already talked it over with Lady Langdale and he knew that she would have as many people as possible to stay at Four Gables. He had also arranged with their other neighbours that every house would be packed with his guests.
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