Authors: Mary Balogh
Between 1985 and 1998, I wrote more than thirty Signet Regency romances, most of which have long been out of print. Many of you have been asking me about them and hunting for them, and, in some cases, paying high prices for second-hand copies to complete your collections of my books. I have been touched by your interest. I am delighted that these books are going to be available as e-books with lovely new covers and very affordable prices.
If you have read any of my more recent books, the
series, for example, you may wish to discover if my writing has changed in the course of the past 30 years or if my view of life and love and romance remains essentially the same. Whatever you decide, I do hope you will enjoy being able to read these books at last.
“A Chance Encounter” Copyright Â© 1985 by Mary Balogh
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER
First Ebook edition September 2016
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“Balogh is today's superstar heir to the marvelous legacy of Georgette Heyer (except a lot steamier)!”
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r. Frederick Soames, bailiff of Ferndale Manor, spent no more than an hour in the town of Granby one morning. He spent half of that time at the blacksmith's forge having his horse shod and the other half in the road outside the rectory exchanging civilities with the Reverend Claridge. Yet that short visit furnished the townspeople and the families of the surrounding countryside with enough food for gossip to keep them all happy for a week.
Mr. Mainwaring was finally coming to take up residence in the manor that had been willed to him on the death of his uncle more than a year previously. The blacksmith told the innkeeper and the innkeeper told the butcher, who told everyone who came to his shop to purchase their meat supplies, that the master was coming for a lengthy stay, the Season in London being over for another year. He was to be expected within the next week or ten days.
The vicar told his wife, who told all her lady acquaintances, that the housekeeper at Ferndale had been given the most intriguing instructions. She was to open up and prepare not only the master bedroom, but several guest chambers as well. It appeared that Mr. Mainwaring was not coming alone.
During the week of excited anticipation, Ferdie Worthing, only son of the squire, Sir Harold Worthing, basked in sudden and unexpected fame. Ferdie was young and good-natured, but not particularly handsome or intelligent or talented. On this occasion, though, he had a distinct advantage over all his social peers: he knew Mr. Mainwaring.
Of course, Ferdie did not really
the man. He had seen him twice from a distance the previous winter when a former university crony had invited him to London for a two-week visit. William Mainwaring had been pointed out to him one afternoon at a race meet, and Ferdie had taken a good look because he had recognized the name as that of the new owner of Ferndale. He had also glimpsed the man at church one Sunday morning from a distance of eight or nine pews back.
His acquaintance with his new neighbor was, therefore, very slight. But it was enough to catapult him into the prominence when no one else near Granby knew whether to expect an infant or an octogenarian, a gargoyle or an Adonis.
“The fellow's regular top-of-the-trees,” Ferdie told Mrs. Claridge and Miss Anne Claridge when his sister, Lucy, had persuaded him to escort her on a visit to the rectory one afternoon. “His tailor must be Weston, without a doubt. Looks as if he must have been poured into his coats.” Ferdie sounded wistful.
“Is he a young gentleman?” Mrs. Claridge asked.
Ferdie considered. “Thirtyish, ma'am, at a guess,” he replied.
Anne sighed. “And is he handsome, Ferdie?” she asked, getting to the important point.
“Great tall, dark fellow,” Ferdie said. “He's well enough, Anne.”
She gazed at him worshipfully.
The following afternoon saw Mrs. Claridge and Anne at the home of Mr. Thomas Rowe, gentleman farmer, two miles outside town. Anne and Cecily Rowe were bosom friends and spent a great deal of time together exchanging confidences. Mrs. Claridge and Mrs. Rowe visited only when there was significant gossip to be exchanged. The occasion did not arise nearly as often as either of them could have wished.
“Well, I declare, it will be most gratifying to have Mr. Mainwaring in residence at last,” Mrs. Rowe told the room at large. “I have always said it is a sad shame to have a large estate like Femdale standing empty for so long, have I not, Cecily?”
“Yes, indeed, Mama,” her daughter agreed obediently.
“Ferdie Worthing says that Mr. Mainwaring is young and handsome and quite top-of-the-trees,” Anne Claridge said to Cecily.
“Yes, Ferdie would say that,” Cecily said unkindly. “He has been quite insufferable ever since he spent those weeks in London last year. It is amazing he did not claim to have been quite intimate with Mr. Mainwaring.”
“You are being unkind, love,” said Elizabeth Rossiter, Cecily's governess-turned-companion, looking up from her embroidery. “It sounds to me as if Mr. Worthing has merely provided information that we have all been longing to hear.”
Cecily shot her a cross glance. “As usual, you are probably right, Beth,” she sighed.
“It is high time Mr. Mainwaring came to the manor,” Mrs. Rowe said, nodding sagely. “I always tell Mr. Rowe that we are so dull here in the country that we might as well not bother to dress and set an elegant table. When there is any entertainment, we see the same faces and the same gowns over and over again.”
“Do you really think there will be balls and parties at Femdale, Mama?” Cecily asked eagerly. “Oh, I do hope Mr. Mainwaring brings a whole pile of young men with him.”
Elizabeth Rossiter gave her charge a speaking glance, but that young lady was so enraptured with the mental image she had of herself glittering in the midst of an admiring group of eligible young men, that she did not notice.
“Papa is going to call on Mr. Mainwaring the moment he arrives,” she said finally to Anne. “I was dreadfully afraid he would not, that he would say it was not his business to pay social calls on newcomers, but he told us he would at dinner last evening, did he not, Beth?” Elizabeth inclined her head.
“He says that Mama and I should not go because Mr. Mainwaring seems to be a single gentleman, but if he brings house guests and some of them are ladies, then perhaps we may call, Papa says.”
“Yes, my papa means to call, too,” Anne said, not to be outdone. “The front pew is kept for the master of Ferndale, you know. Papa wonders if Mr. Mainwaring will want new cushions for the seat.”
The topic of conversation in the Rowes' drawing room did not change even after the Claridge ladies had left. In fact, little else had been talked about for two days past. Mrs. Rowe already had Cecily all but betrothed to the unsuspecting Mr. Mainwaring.
“It stands to reason, my dear,” she said to Elizabeth, “that if he is still not married after living in London and Brighton, he just does not like the ladies of the
They are too starchy and artificial for him, you may be bound. He will find a country girl refreshing. And Cecily is excessively pretty, you must admit.”
“Oh, indeed I do,” Elizabeth replied gravely, trying to hide the amusement she was feeling, “but I should not get my hopes up too high, ma'am. We do not know that he is an agreeable man or, indeed, for sure that he is not married.”
“I do not think he can be, my dear,” Mrs. Rowe said. “Soames would surely have told the vicar if there were a Mrs. Mainwaring.”
Elizabeth bowed her head in acquiescence.
“Cecily,” her mother said briskly, “tomorrow we shall go to Miss Phillips and have her make you some new gowns. We cannot have the London visitors thinking us country bumpkins. It is most provoking, indeed, that your papa will not take us to Bath to a more fashionable modiste, but he always says that forty miles is too great a distance to travel merely for trifles.”
“Mama, shall I have a new ball gown?” Cecily cried. “And a fashionable one, too?”
“Yes, yes, my love,” her mother agreed. “You are eighteen years old this year, and I cannot see that Mr. Rowe will ever agree to a Season for you. We will have to make the best of our opportunities.”
Mrs. Rowe, who had risen from her chair to pace excitedly about the room, suddenly stopped and turned to her employee.
“Indeed, my dear Miss Rossiter,” she said kindly, “you must accompany us and order some new gowns as well. It would also do you a great deal of good to meet Mr. Mainwaring and his friends. You are a gentlewoman, for all that you have been in our employ for six years. Now that Cecily is growing up, you should be thinking of returning to your own proper station. I am sure you could still make a quite respectable marriage if you applied yourself.”
“It is very kind of you to say so, ma'am,” Elizabeth said, rising decisively to her feet and folding her embroidery into her work bag, “but I am in the sort of position in which I belong. And I have no wish to marry. Come, Cecily, love, it is time to go to your room to get ready for dinner. You know your papa does not like it when you are late.”
Elizabeth escorted Cecily to her room, rang for her maid, and retired to her own room to get ready for dinner. She too was to dine with the family, as she had done for the past year, since Cecily was declared too old for the schoolroom and the governess's title was changed to that of companion. Even before that, Elizabeth had frequently been asked to dine. Mrs. Rowe was very conscious of the fact that the governess had been born a lady and that only straitened circumstances had forced her to seek employment. She had tried for all of the six years to treat Elizabeth as a friend rather than as an employee. The governess had gently but firmly resisted. She had been quite determined, in fact, to leave the house and seek a position elsewhere once Cecily no longer needed her, but Mrs. Rowe had pleaded so convincingly that her daughter needed a companion to restrain her wilder impulses that Elizabeth had agreed to stay for another few years.