Mary Balogh

Red Rose


My Luve is like a red, red rose,

That's newly sprung in June:

My Luve is like the melodie,

That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,

So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve thee still, my Dear,

Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my Dear,

And the rocks melt wi' the sun;

And I will luve thee still, my Dear,

While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare-thee-well, my only Luve!

And fare-thee-well, a while!

And I will come again, my, Luve,

Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!

Robert Burns

Chapter 1

The coachman gave his horses the signal to start, and the old traveling carriage, its blue paintwork faded, its coat of arms chipped and shabby, slowly moved past the tollgate and onto open highway again.

"That be the last un," he said with some relief. "We'll be drinkin' our ale in Lunnun tonight, me lad."

"Be it far, then?" asked the lad, a footman of a mere thirty years.

"Keep yer poppers open when we top yonder rise," his companion said, pointing his whip ahead a couple of miles to where the road disappeared over the crest of a hill, "an' yer’ll be able to see Lunnun spread afore ye."

The footman leaned forward eagerly, as if he thought the action would bring him sooner to his first view of London.

Inside the carriage, Lady Sylvia Marsh sat forward as soon as it jolted into motion again and scanned the countryside eagerly. "We must be getting close now," she said. "Surely we will be able to see the city soon."

"You have been saying so for the last five hours, Sylvie," her companion pointed out with a sigh. "Do please sit back and sleep or look out the window to enjoy the scenery. You will not bring our destination one inch closer by being such a jack-in-the-box."

Sylvia turned large blue eyes on her cousin. "Oh, Ros," she said pleadingly, "can you not feel any excitement at all? I know you did not wish to come, but since you had no choice in the matter, will you not allow yourself to feel some eagerness at least? It is April, the height of the Season, and we are to be part of it all. This is what I have dreamed of for several years." There were tears in her eyes.

"Yes, I know you have, Sylvie," Miss Rosalind Dacey replied, her expression softening somewhat, "and I know that you have had to wait a whole year longer than you should because we have been wearing black."

"Do you think nineteen is dreadfully old to be making my come-out?" Sylvia asked anxiously.

Rosalind smiled and shook her head.

"Poor Papa!" her cousin continued. "He was going to bring me himself more than a year ago, for all that he hated town life so. Aunt Lavinia would have chaperoned me. And I would have been barely eighteen-just the right age."

"Well, you are looking remarkably well-preserved for one so advanced in years," Rosalind assured her. "If you keep your back to the light at all times, no one may notice your wrinkles."

Sylvia let out a peal of laughter. "What a tease you are," she said. "You know very well what I meant. And anyway, I do not begrudge Papa that year of mourning. I did love him so, Ros. He was the best of fathers."

"Yes, and the best of uncles," her cousin agreed. "He would not have forced me to come to London. He was quite willing to let me stay at Raymore Manor while he took you to London. I should have been quite happy there, even though he had invited Cousin Hetty and her poodles to come and bear me company. Indeed, Sylvie, I wish he had not died."

"What do you think Cousin Edward will be like?" Sylvia asked.

Rosalind raised her eyebrows. "Do you realize how often you have asked me that in the last year?" she asked with a sigh. "We both know only what the lawyer told us when he came to inform us of the contents of your papa's will. Your father's heir, and our guardian, is two and thirty, unwed, a fashionable man about town. He has made no attempt to see us or to visit his new property at Raymore. Until three weeks ago I hoped he had forgotten our existence. But he had not. To satisfy some whim, he has summoned us to town, and insisted that I accompany you, even though I wrote to ask if I might stay at home."

"He probably plans to find husbands for us during the Season," Sylvia said. "Oh, how splendid it will be, Ros. New clothes and balls and such"

Rosalind examined her ungloved hands, which were clasped in her lap. "There can be nothing there for me," she said with quiet resignation. "Do you think he will let me return home when he knows, Sylvie?"

Sylvia gazed with sympathy at her cousin. "It may not be as bad as you think," she said. "You are an heiress in a small way, after all, Ros, and somewhere there must be a man who does not care about the other."

She was still staring at her cousin's downcast face when her eye was caught by something different in the landscape beyond the carriage window.

"Oh, look," she cried, pointing, "London, Ros!"

Rosalind turned and looked, too, at the distant skyline of buildings. She felt none of the excitement that was bubbling from her companion. She felt only a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, a threatening sense of panic.

It was all very well for Sylvia to be overjoyed, Rosalind thought, turning her gaze to her cousin, who had now moved to the seat opposite hers and was sitting with her face pressed to the window. Sylvia was beautiful, there could never be any question about that. She was small with a trim figure that looked very feminine even in the unfashionable muslin gown Miss Porter had made for her. Her hair was so blond that it was almost silver. And it was the sort of hair that would adapt itself to any style, it seemed. Her complexion was perfect, her cheeks always flushed with a color more perfect than any that could be created with rouge. Her teeth were white and even and often in evidence. Sylvia smiled and laughed frequently. Her large blue eyes seemed constantly to be dancing. Rosalind might have resented her. But who could resent a girl whose nature was almost constantly sunny, whose heart was always warm? Those who did not know her might have felt that she had recovered all too quickly from the death of her mother from pneumonia four years before, and of her lather from a heart seizure fifteen months before, but Rosalind knew that the girl had genuinely loved and grieved. Her happiness now did not exclude the very deep attachment she would always feel for her parents.

Yes, it was all very well for Sylvia to look upon this summons to London as the great opportunity of her life, Rosalind thought. She would enjoy the activities of the ton to the full. She would soon have every man below the age of fifty (and some above) dangling after her, as she had at Raymore since she was fifteen years old. She would probably fall in love half a dozen times in as many weeks. At home she had ritually fallen in love with every man who smiled at her, and many had smiled. She would probably end up making a brilliant match.

But how different things were for herself, Rosalind thought. Not by any stretch of the imagination could she be called beautiful. She was tall-she had topped Uncle Lawrence by one inch. She had an embarrassingly and unfashionably full figure. For five years now, ever since she was seventeen, she had persuaded Miss Porter to let out the seams of her dresses so that they would disguise her curves as much as possible. Her hair was almost black, an inheritance from her Italian mother, she assumed, and heavy and straight. It was almost impossible to coax it into any fashionable style. Rosalind usually wore it in a smooth chignon, as she did today. Her eyes were large enough and thickly lashed, her best feature, in fact. But they too were very dark. She wished they were blue, like Sylvia's, or gray at least. There was nothing remotely delicate or feminine about her appearance, she concluded.

But it was pointless, anyway, to wish for delicate eyes and brows, wavy hair, a shorter stature, and a more svelte figure. What good would beauty do her when there would always be the one great defect? Nothing could ever change that. Uncle Lawrence had understood. He had never forced her to socialize. On the few occasions when she had been forced into company, he must have noticed as well as she the reactions of strangers: distaste, embarrassment, pity. He was quite willing to let her stay at home with her books, her painting, and her music, or to ride freely around the estate on her mare, Flossie.

By what right did this Edward Marsh, the new Earl of Raymore, order her to come to his residence in London? She was two and twenty years old and no direct relation of his. She resented her dependence on him. The only complaint she had ever had against Uncle Lawrence had come after his death. She had never understood why she, as well as Sylvia, had been put under the guardianship of his nephew and heir until her marriage. He had known that she would never marry.

“You are very quiet, Ros, and you are not even looking out the window," Sylvia said in exasperation. "Do look. We are about to enter the outskirts of the city. Oh, it is so easy to imagine why people used to expect the streets to be paved with gold, is it not?"

Rosalind obligingly turned her attention to the window, but both girls were soon exclaiming in dismay overthe dirty streets and the ragged, grimy people that crowded them.