Authors: Isabella Hargreaves
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Copyright © Isabella Hargreaves 2013
First Published 2013
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This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are
either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons living or
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The Persuasion of
Miss Jane Brody
To Jimmy - my brain-storming buddy
and sounding board.
Grosvenor Square, London, August 1817
The door to his library opened abruptly and swung back on its hinges crashing into the bookshelves behind. An erect, grey haired lady dressed in the latest Parisian fashion marched into the room and stood before him as he sat behind his oak desk, bathed in early afternoon sunshine. Jonathan Everslie, Marquis of Dalton, gave her his full attention as she wanted and smiled in amused anticipation.
Without hesitation she launched the frontal attack he knew was coming.
“You must marry, Dalton, you must!” Lady Lucinda Mulgrave was emphatic. “You have a large family of dependent aunts and cousins and there is no heir to follow you. Do you want them thrown out on the streets when you die?”
“I must have an heir somewhere Aunt Lucinda. It only stands to reason. If I were to expire, I’m sure he would be found.” The new Marquis of Dalton attempted to calm her with logic. “And would look after his dependents,” he added as an afterthought.
The elderly lady raised her chin and stared down her aquiline nose at her nephew, her mouth set in a disapproving line. “There may be a cousin in New South Wales from my youngest brother who was sent there in exile - but his mother could be a convict for all we know. It is your duty to marry and beget an heir, and soon.”
“Let me be clear. I know it is my duty to marry, and soon, Aunt Lucinda, but I
marry anyone I consider unsuitable.”
Doggedly, Lady Mulgrave ploughed on with her lecture. “This is not the time to be fastidious. There are myriad young ladies every Season, more than suitable for the task – with impeccable backgrounds and some with money to match.”
The Marquis was placating. “And I will consider them. However, the Season doesn’t begin for another seven months, so this conversation is premature.”
“Nonsense, there are many families with eligible daughters whom you could visit, or invite to stay at
in the meantime.”
“And how do you suggest I do that?”
“You have your secretary write invitations and send them, Jonathan.” She glared at him.
“How do I know who these candidates are?”
“I have a list already written.” She produced it with a flourish and laid it in front of him on his desk. “I expect to be presiding over a house party for these ladies and their families at
Having delivered her message and assuming agreement, Lady Mulgrave nodded to her nephew in conclusion and sailed from his presence.
In frustration, the Marquis ran his long fingers through his hair, pushing the short brown curls from his forehead. He picked up the list and cast a knowing eye down its length. He had met them all and been bored to the point of irritation by their simpering ways. He groaned then crumpled the paper into a ball and threw it into the empty fire grate.
“Stevens!” His man of business arrived quickly. “Send to the stables for Nate to saddle my horse. I’m going out for a ride. I believe we have concluded today’s business.”
“Yes, we have my lord, but have you forgotten that you promised to take your sister to a lecture this afternoon, as Lady Mulgrave is unavailable?”
Vexed at the impediment to his escape, he sank back into his chair behind the desk. “Ah, yes, I do remember. We shall be gone for the afternoon. Thank you Stevens, continue with your work.” He changed his mind. “No – send word to my solicitor that I shall see him tomorrow morning.”
“May I tell him what it concerns, my lord?”
“Yes, I wish to trace the whereabouts of my uncle in Australia, or his family, should he have met his maker.”
Stevens nodded compliance and left to follow the Marquis’ orders.
Alone again, Dalton sank into a reverie about the onerous obligations that befall those who inherit titles – that of producing heirs for the benefit of their families. Of course, he mused, it shouldn’t be an onerous task to find a wife and create a family - it should be a pleasurable duty. Why wasn’t it turning out that way?
He wanted her. Only her.
The Marquis of Dalton shook his head.
Was he mad? Where did that idea come from?
The room came back into focus and her words swirled around him. The drawing room in the modest townhouse, leased by The Reverend William Brody, was awash with late summer light streaming through its tall arched windows. An assortment of well-loved chaise longue and chairs were grouped around the simply dressed young woman who was expounding in her low-pitched voice on a better way to educate young women to take their place as men’s equals in society.
She had drawn quite a crowd for this unfashionable time of year. But then again there wasn’t a fashionable person in the room. Instead, when he looked around, those he recognised were doctors and the committed few society people who devoted themselves to philanthropic causes. To his left was Mrs Courtice, an eccentric elderly widow who supported every charitable cause in the city. Her bird-like form was clothed in an outmoded dress. That was deceptive. She was neither timid nor wanting for money. In fact, he knew that her husband had left her extremely wealthy as there was no entailment on his property and no children to support.
What was he doing here?
In answer he glanced at his sister beside him. Her pale face contrasted with the dark circles beneath her eyes. She had urged him to accompany her to this important talk for women.
Oh, he had resisted of course. What man in his right mind wouldn’t, especially a peer of the realm? To entertain such notions was to upset the established balance of the world as it was known. His role was to keep things stable. Bad enough that the working classes were threatening to rise up against their masters.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t resist a plea from his sister Elizabeth for long. Her sweet disposition had always meant that he gave in to her requests - the precious few she made. Involving herself in charity work from the time she had left the schoolroom, she had pulled him into supporting her causes with generous donations. Occasionally he accompanied her when she needed a chaperone other than their aunt, but he had not escorted her to this residence before.
He focused again on the speaker. Miss Jane Brody was petite, confident, and articulate. She had the most beautiful open and earnest face with clear blue eyes. Her wavy golden brown hair was formed into a severe knot at the back of her head, emphasising her high cheekbones but not improving her attractiveness at all. He began imagining how her loosened hair would curl around her slender shoulders.
How far would it drape down her naked back?
The audience listened in silence, intent on her message, unaware of his lascivious thoughts.
Soon the talk ended. For a moment there was stillness then polite applause began. As hostess, the speaker invited all to join her for tea, which two servants brought in on cue. A hubbub of conversation followed as a number of guests surged towards her. Elizabeth took Jonathan’s arm and urged him forward into the throng around the woman now presiding behind the large teapot.
Apparently Elizabeth knew the speaker. She skirted the chairs, guiding him to the young woman in her daffodil yellow summer dress. Jane Brody looked like sunshine and he was being drawn to her. The thick carpet hushed his highly polished Hessian boots but the tassels swished against them as he strode forward, catching her attention he noticed as she looked up at their approach. Her gaze openly admired his form and air.
Elizabeth introduced them in her breathy voice and Jonathan courteously responded. “Charmed to meet you Miss Brody. My sister insisted that I accompany her to hear your views.”
And I will certainly do so again after seeing how very much more attractive you are close up.
“I’m delighted to meet you Lord Dalton. I trust I have convinced you that women have voices which ought to be heard. This fraternity needs people in high places such as you to spread the word and convince men that women are entitled to equal rights.”
Surprised by her calm expectation that he was a supporter of her women’s cause, Jonathan felt compelled to disabuse her. “I’m afraid that I do not yet believe there is reason or need for women to demand an equal place in our society.”
“If they do not need equality of rights, then why do women die every day from too many confinements weakening their health?” she demanded quietly.
“Unfortunately they do die,” he replied. His face was impassive. “But that is an issue for man and wife to debate and settle – not society as a whole. And surely not a subject for an unmarried woman to concern herself with?”
“And how do you expect women to control their reproduction if they are not permitted to discuss the question and the means
they are wed? Afterwards it becomes a
, does it not?” she queried.
Her smile was still in place and her voice was calm but, Jonathan noted, there was a look of fierce determination on her face. He expected she may be a formidable opponent if pitted against him.
“So I can count on your maiden speech in parliament being on the topic of women’s rights my lord?” she added.
Good God; had she left hold of her sanity like old King George?
“I’m afraid not Miss Brody, I will not be lecturing my peers on such a personal topic.” He hoped the conversation was at an end, but he saw a battle light in her eyes and suspected she would not let him off the hook.
She spoke quietly. “I took you for a man of greater moral fibre my lord. I see I was mistaken.” She turned to his sister and then Mrs Courtice on her right offering them tea and cake.
He was dismissed – as if of no further interest or use to her. It was an unfamiliar feeling – of being ignored by an unmarried woman, or by anyone else for that matter. Stunned, he stepped back from the group and strode away to talk with Dr Logan, the middle-aged doctor who aided a mission in Wapping for unmarried mothers. It was a charity to which Jonathan had given funds for some time but in which he had never taken a close interest, preferring instead to let his money do the work. He listened distractedly to the doctor but his mind was churning.
This woman, this Miss Jane Brody, the daughter of a clergyman, had challenged his very usefulness in the world and found him wanting. Anger flared in him.
By what right did she feel she could do that? Did she truly believe that women were the equal of men?
Obviously she did
. He cast his eye around the room.
Did all these people hold the same belief and expectation?
It was a sobering thought.
The anger died as quickly as it rose. Why be angry at being called to account? Better to be curious and find out more about her ideas like the man of letters which he was. He vowed to investigate her and her writings, find the flaws in her beliefs and make sure that she could never put him on the back foot again.
His eyes were drawn to her slight but womanly figure seated at ease amongst the China tea set. She looked so right there; as did most ladies of his acquaintance. It was a charming and attractive sight. But she wasn’t chatting about the weather and fashions and events for the upcoming Season like others. Instead she and her fellow bluestockings and philanthropists were discussing ways of changing the order of things in society.
She was a disturbing phenomenon.
♥ ♥ ♥
Jane seethed. While smiling and serving her guests she sensed Lord Dalton’s eyes on her. He was the most annoying man. First his narrow-minded attitudes and now his steady brown-eyed gaze upon her. He was every inch the Corinthian, from his short brown hair swept upon his brow and his tall athletic body clad in the best of men’s fashion, to his shining Hessian boots.
Obviously good looks, a wonderful physique and enormous wealth did not ensure intelligence and manners!
What a contrast to his delightful and thoughtful sister. Jane had met Lady Elizabeth a number of times at meetings of charity groups over the last few months. The last encounter had been at a ball when Lady Elizabeth had been accompanied by her aunt, Lady Lucinda Mulgrave. The aunt had seemed a typical society matron intent on pushing her niece forward into a suitable match. It appeared the brother might do the same.
Having met two examples of the family Jane hoped these traditionalists were not pressuring Lady Elizabeth to accept the usual role for women before she was old enough to think for herself.
Jane had one sister already married and the next one, Anna, was keen to find a husband. Jane couldn’t understand the haste or the reasoning - she was glad to be unshackled by husband and children who would claim every moment of her day. Instead, she enjoyed devoting her spare time to charitable work when not supervising her father’s household and organising her three youngest siblings who were still living at home. Now nineteen, Anna required only escorting to public events from time to time, while the younger pair still needed tutoring, which she shared with her father.
Her other sister Charlotte had married about a year ago, at what Jane felt was the very young age of twenty. Despite all her counselling to wait a little longer, until she was at least of age and better knew her fiancé - a cavalry officer - Charlotte had persuaded their father to give his consent to the marriage. She was now residing near Portsmouth close to the cavalry regiment’s encampment. Too far away for frequent visiting, leaving only weekly letter writing between the sisters as their means of communication.
Eight years after his wife’s death her father, the Reverend Brody, had not recovered his zest for life, nor much interest in the people and events around him. He seemed to have shrunk inside his clothes; his hair had gone white and his laughter rare. In the interim Jane had taken over much of his charity work.
Marshalling her thoughts, Jane involved herself in the conversation between Mrs Courtice and Lady Elizabeth going on beside her. “Have you been well, Lady Elizabeth?” asked Jane.
“Yes, much improved since the cloudy, foggy days have gone,” she responded. “As long as London’s sky remains clear my cough is non-existent. If the weather changes I may have to retreat to the country again, like last Spring. My brother keeps a close eye on me and whisks me away if my symptoms start.”
“Indeed, he is a very caring, solicitous brother from what you say,” Jane conceded.
Lady Elizabeth nodded. “I do wish I could convince him to take up your cause now that he is to take his place in the House of Lords. The rights of women need to be recognised so that we may have some chance of independence in these tumultuous times.”
“Yes, we need a champion in high places if we are to spread your message Jane,” agreed Mrs Courtice. “It is not enough for us to just perform charity work to help women who have fallen on hard times. We need to change the way society thinks of women. We are not inferior to men. We ought to be educated to assume our rightful place beside them.”
Her look pierced Jane. “You
continue to write your pamphlets about our cause Jane. It is valuable work.”
“I hope never to stop until our aim is achieved Mrs Courtice,” Jane agreed. “But we still need a patron – preferably a man of influence.”
“Then you must try to convince my brother to take up our cause Miss Brody,” said Lady Elizabeth. “If anyone can do it, it is you. He has always been complacent about social issues but now that he has inherited his title, he has the ability to effect change. He needs a good shake up.”
“How should I go about that Lady Elizabeth? He seemed quite adamant that he was against women’s rights when I spoke with him a little while ago.”
“Don’t let one failed attempt put you off! Come to see me tomorrow morning. He is always in his study working with his man of business before luncheon. I will ensure that you get the opportunity to talk with him there.”
Jane wondered why she felt as though she would be bearding the lion in his den when she visited the handsome, yet reactionary, Lord Dalton to convert him to their cause.