“It looks like such a noble building, and yet there is something in its curious austerity which is unmistakable,” Lady Imogen Pennington said sadly.
“Yes, whilst they are built in a slightly different style from area to area, town to town, city to city, it is always easy to tell a workhouse, is it not?” Lady Adeline Redmond reached out and placed a reassuring hand on her young friend’s arm for a moment. “But if you allow yourself to become lost in the sadness, if you allow yourself to drown in it, then you are too busy rescuing your own feelings from the murky depths to be of any use to these people at all.”
“Thank you, Adeline. I think I needed to hear that. What on earth would I do without you?” Imogen smiled and even gave a small laugh.
As kindhearted as Lady Adeline Redmond was, she was equally practical and in no way sentimental. Of course, she had many long years’ service in charitable works which had helped to shape her ways, cool her sentiment, and turn the saddest of feelings into a bright sort of energy which gave her the impetus to be something of a formidable force.
“I am sure that you would do very well, my dear. Really, you are most effective in your own right.”
“Adeline, you really are too kind to me.”
“Not at all. I am always truthful, my dear, as well you know.” Adeline spoke in the sort of hooting tone which Imogen recognized well. It was the tone which signified that she was going to be, albeit most lovingly, bullied just a little. “And I am going to have to insist that you start to recognize your own qualities. You really didn’t ought to need me to tell you about them all the time. And it is not immodest to recognize one’s own talents. It is a very clever thing to do for it allows you to work with your finest skills uppermost. Now then, does that make sense?”
In resting pose, Lady Adeline Redmond’s face had the round kindness of late middle age. However, when she became intent on any subject, her countenance became something else altogether. Her relaxed and kindly brown eyes became small and shiny like little beads, and they spoke volumes of the shrewdness behind them.
In fact, her ability to change demeanour so quickly often caught people off-guard and found them parting with more money for charitable works than they had originally intended to. More than once, Imogen had wondered if it was a well-practiced tactic rather than a natural propensity.
“Yes, it makes perfect sense. And, of course, delivered in your own special style, my dear, it would appear to be something that cannot be argued with.”
“Jolly good, you know how I do not like to be argued with,” Lady Adeline said and laughed heartily.
“So, do you think your friend will be able to secure us admittance? I mean, I think it would further our cause if we were at least able to see inside the workhouse.” Imogen turned her attention back to the immense building before her.
They were standing on Princes Road in Lambeth, both facing the enormous Lambeth workhouse. The great beige stone frontage of the building seemed to stretch for miles, although she knew it did not. There were two single-story entrance ways attached to the front of the building, and the thought of walking through one of them sent a shiver down Imogen’s spine. In truth, she could hardly think that she would feel more nervous entering the doorway to the Bedlam.
Of course, the workhouse was not exactly an asylum, but they no doubt shared inmates in common.
Whilst the workhouse was intended to provide the most basic sustenance for the elderly, the poor, and the infirm, each one of those groups undoubtedly contained some people whose reasoning might otherwise, on a different day of the week, have seen them locked away in an asylum.
“I have known Daniel Travers a good number of years, Imogen, and I have no doubt he will find some way of getting us inside.”
“And Mr Travers is a trustee?”
“No, Mr Travers is one of the guardians of the poor of the parish of Lambeth, to give them their correct and ridiculously long-winded title.”
“I can hardly believe you have a friend who has such a title. After all, there is much talk in charitable circles about the so-called guardians and their very obvious connections to local industry.”
“Yes, but Daniel has no such connections. He is a retired man of inherited wealth and has never had to rely on such dubious methods to ensure his income. That is why he is in such a good position to see it all happening around him. And that is why he is prepared to take the risk of discovery that might well come from showing us about the place. After all, he is a guardian for the sake of being a guardian. Unlike the others, he does not lose out financially were he to be dismissed from that particular post.”
“I am so torn, Adeline. There is a part of me that is so keen to charge in through those doors and look around that I can almost not bear to stand idle upon the spot a moment longer,” she said, her pale blue eyes wide with passion. “But there is another part of me that is so afraid of stepping foot in such a place. I have seen the poor, my dear friend, but I have never seen them enslaved.”
“And as much as the rest of the country might not care to admit it, enslavement it is,” Lady Redmond agreed and nodded firmly.
“There is a part of me that is terrified to walk into that place. There are so many windows and chimneys that it makes the building seem even larger than it is. Large and imposing, despite the paleness of its stone and the beautiful sunshine of the day. I feel it is a place that one dare not walk into for fear that one might not be allowed out again.”
“In many ways, I understand your sentiments entirely, Imogen, since they are almost always inordinately clever. But in other ways, I cannot help thinking you one of the most fanciful people I have met.”
“As always, my dear friend, your compliments are handed out in the most delightfully rough manner.”
“Thank you kindly.”
“You are welcome.” Imogen laughed and shook her head.
There was not a person in the world, barring her father, whom she cared more about than she did Lady Adeline Redmond. Imogen could hardly remember a time when Adeline was not something of a feature at Pennington Hall, her father’s estate in Hertfordshire.
Adeline had always been a regular attendee at events in her father’s home right back to the days when Imogen’s much-adored mother had still been alive. And since Lord and Lady Pennington had always been famed for entertaining people they wanted in their world rather than people they thought ought to be in their world, it was clear to Imogen that Adeline had always been a welcome visitor.
Her father, in particular, had always enjoyed the company of people whom he described, in his own words, as having something about them, and Adeline certainly had that. Lord Pennington liked interesting people as opposed to influential people, and his wife certainly had no objection to his outlook on life.
Imogen had already held Lady Adeline in high regard by the time her own wonderful mother had died and, in no time at all, Lady Adeline’s kindness and bustling attentive manner had seen to it that the two had become firm friends. In truth, their friendship had a mother-daughter quality to it and likely always would. After all, there were three clear decades between their respective ages, and Adeline had stepped in at a time when Imogen, at just sixteen years, was at her most vulnerable. She had lost her mother and had been looking all about her for someone who might go some way to easing the loss. And there was Lady Adeline Redmond; young for a widow, and awfully, awfully busy almost all the time.
“Of course, dear Daniel has only been one of the guardians for a matter of months. He is doing his best, of course, but it might be some time before we finally get to see the conditions inside for ourselves.”
“The idea of waiting seems a little unbearable, Adeline. The sooner we know how it all works, the sooner we can make a plan of our own. I cannot bear to be hanging in limbo.”
“I suppose that is the problem with charity work, my dear. What you have seen of it so far has been the hustle and bustle of small and very personal acts of charity. They all seem to happen quickly, and the gratification is almost instant. But we are not simply talking of charity here, Imogen. We are talking about great changes which are nipping at the heels of social reform. Really, that you cannot find a little patience for something so great.” Adeline was teasing her again and laughing warmly.
“As much as I should want to protest your words, Adeline, I know them to be true. And you are right; there is an instant gratification from the small acts of charity. Perhaps I ought to continue to throw myself into them whilst we are waiting for an audience with Mr Travers.”
“Yes, there is always room to make oneself of good use. But we are not entirely in limbo, Imogen. There is much to think about and many plans we can still make. After all, we do have a very good idea of what goes on inside these places, even if we have not seen it with our own eyes. There is nothing to stop us setting down on paper the plans we intend to follow in the end. I cannot think that they would change a great deal once we have seen inside the Lambeth workhouse, nor any other workhouse for that matter.”
“But if we are to attempt to offer an alternative to the workhouse system, then surely we must know the workhouse system in its entirety.”
“That is so sensible, Imogen,” Adeline conceded. “And we shall know the system in its entirety, fear not. But I do think we have the bare bones, and we do know enough to begin our little crusade, do we not?”
“What we are going to offer, if I am not mistaken, is charity without any need to repay the favour, as it were. Real charity, rather than the ostensible charity of commerce preying on the poor and the weak as a means of cheap, or indeed free, labour.”
“Yes, that is precisely our goal, Adeline.” Imogen nodded vehemently, her bright red hair threatening to break free from the clips which barely contained its great tresses on the back of her head.
“Then we now need to begin to concentrate upon the details of such a thing. We cannot wait for our tour of the workhouse before we set about it all. We can at least commit the thing to paper and decide between us exactly how such an endeavour is to be run. There are many practicalities to be addressed, such as suitable buildings and perpetual funding. After all, a charity that runs as a true charity and nothing more will always need funding from the purses of others. We shall need to decide upon a means of ensuring we always have enough money, not only for starting it all up but for keeping the thing running in perpetuity.”
“The idea of securing enough funding in the first place rather frightens me, Adeline.”
“Frightens you how, my dear?”
“I suppose I am frightened that we will not be able to secure such funding. I mean, if we are to find a building and purchase it, or rent it at the very least, and then fit it out in such a way as to make the most use of it, we are going to need such a great amount of money in the very beginning to get things going.” Imogen let out a great sigh. “What if we do not get that far? What if we do not even raise enough money to secure some premises from which to operate?”
“My dear girl, you are anticipating failure before we have even begun. Really, you cannot let your spirits flag before we have even got going upon the thing.”
“You are right, of course. It is that as I stand here now looking at such an immense building, wondering how many souls reside within, I realize what a task we are undertaking. And I hope that I am up to the challenge, as it were. After all, the running of that place is funded by the Parish, is it not? We shall not be funded by anything other than the kindness of others.”
“It need not be the kindness of others, my dear. People can always be bullied and manipulated, I promise.” Lady Adeline let out such a hoot of laughter that she drew the attention of a rather stern looking driver sitting atop a carriage outside the small coaching inn some yards away. “All we need to do is gather enough of them in one room and set them against one another. The moment we have one good donation, especially a high-profile one, everybody else will be clamouring to show themselves charitable also. You know what society is like, my dear. You know how it all works.”
“But where are we to go to gather such a group of people? And will one event be enough to get the sort of money we need? I can hardly think so.”
“Then we will arrange as many events as we can,” Adeline said, linking her arm through her young friend’s and turning her to walk back in the direction of her carriage which was parked at the top of Princes Road.
“But for us to arrange these events would surely cost money in the first place?”
“That is the way of charity, my dear. You have to spend out, sometimes rather a lot, just to get a little back over the odds.”
“But that will take forever. What we really need …” Imogen stopped walking and stood in the middle of Princes Road with her mouth agape.
“Have you thought of something or are you just a little unwell? Do close your mouth, dear,” Adeline said, looking at Imogen with an amused sort of concern.
“I have just thought of something. I have thought of a way to surround ourselves with such people of society as you have described without it costing us a penny.”
“Have you indeed?” Adeline raised her eyebrows.
“The London Season,” Imogen said and spread her arms wide, freeing herself from her friend’s grasp. “We can attend as many society events as we can manage over those few months, can we not? And think of the people whose purses we might be able to raid on account of it.”
“Are you really, in all honesty, suggesting that you and I attend this year’s London Season?” It was now Lady Adeline’s turn to stand in the middle of Princes Road with her mouth agape.
“That is precisely what I am suggesting.” Imogen’s smile was as bright as it had ever been.
“There is always so much to think about before one sets off for London, is there not?” Veronica Montgomery, the Countess of Reddington, flung herself down onto the velvet covered couch as if the whole idea exhausted her.
“Then why go, Mother?” Lady Prudence Montgomery, Veronica’s daughter, shrugged dismissively.
“For goodness sake, child, what a notion!” The Countess sat bolt upright, suddenly finding the energy from somewhere with which to fight back. “You really are the most willful and obstructive sort of a girl.”
“I do not see that I am being willful, Mother. I am simply suggesting that if the London Season is such a great chore to you, why on earth would you put yourself through it?”
“Because everybody attends the London Season, Prudence. Everybody of note that is.”
“So, we are of note, are we?”
“Prudence, please do not vex our mother.” Heath Montgomery, the Earl of Reddington for the last two years since the passing of his father, strode into the drawing room. “After all, the London Season is the most important social event in and of itself, and I daresay that you will not seek to stay here at Reddington Hall and miss it yourself, Prudence. As such, I think you ought to keep such dull sentiments to yourself.”
“I should very gladly stay at Reddington Hall and miss it, Brother,” Prudence bit back.
“And I shall not hear of that.” Once again, their mother was in the conversation. “After all, you might very well happen across a husband for yourself. In those terms, the London Season is absolutely invaluable.”
“A husband for myself? Good heavens, have you suddenly taken an interest, Mother?” Prudence said in a most offhand manner. “I thought the London Season existed solely as a means of you finding the perfect daughter-in-law. Surely you will be too busy finding Heath a wife to go searching for a husband for me.”
“That is enough, Prudence,” Heath hissed and glared at his sister firmly until finally, her head dropped.
“It is of utmost importance that your brother marries, my dear.” Veronica Montgomery had assumed the most curious and motherly tone. “Because, as I have told you time and time again, we need to ensure the family line. We are not going to do that through you, Prudence. It is just the way of things, and I do wish that you would accept it. Your brother is the Earl and my only son. As such, it is imperative that he find a wife and produce an heir at the earliest opportunity.”
“And of course, she must be wealthy,” Prudence added, in a mock attempt at helpfulness.
“Of course, she must be wealthy. Earldoms do not survive without funds, my dear.”
“We are hardly poor, Mother.”
“Because of generations of good marrying. I myself brought a good deal of my own family’s wealth into Reddington when I married your father. Again, it is the way of the world. I could not bear to think that Reddington would not stay in the Montgomery family for generations to come simply because we either ran out of money or ran out of male heirs. That would be laziness and poor management on our part, and I will not have it.” Lady Veronica rose to her feet from the sumptuous couch. “Really, you have given me a headache. I shall lie down for a while. Prudence, have some tea sent up for me to my rooms.” And with that, Lady Veronica floated from the room in a haze of sky blue chiffon that did not suit her for a moment.
“I do wish you would not upset our mother like that, Prudence,” Heath said, although his tone was decidedly less chilly now that his mother had left the room and was a witness no longer.
“And I do wish you would not always side with her, Heath. At times, I feel I have no ally at all under this roof,” Prudence said sadly.
“What a thing to say, Prudence. I am your ally, am I not?” Heath crossed the room and sat down on the pale green velvet-covered couch his mother had just vacated. He patted the seat beside him and looked at his sister hopefully. “Come and sit with me,” he said in cajoling tones.
“As you wish,” Prudence said although the animus had left her own voice also.
“I know that you think that our mother favours me over you, but she does not really.” Suddenly, he found himself keen to make his sister feel a little better.
In truth, he did not always feel so, thinking that it was only right that their mother put all her efforts into his life since he was the Earl after all. However, now and again, it struck him that his younger sister always seemed just a little on the edge of things, a somewhat lonely figure in a sprawling mansion. Of course, he had always known that his mother was not a particularly maternal sort of creature, but he sometimes wondered if that did not hurt a daughter very much more than it hurt a son.
“Heath, I am beyond caring whether Mother favours you over me or not. I do not think she particularly cares for the future happiness of either one of us. It is truly only bloodline and family name that she has ever cared for, but I must admit that I find her obsession with it all a little trying.”
“Prudence, she is right. It is the way of things. I am the Earl and I must, at some point, produce an heir. Being her only son, I realize that our mother is keen to have an heir in waiting should anything happen to me. I must admit, at times, I wish she would not dwell upon thoughts of my early demise, and yet she must. In fact, so must I.”
“If it is all so important, why are you not already married, Heath? After all, you are eight and twenty years, and Papa has been departed these last two.”
“I daresay I am struggling to find a woman I can settle upon. And I do not know if it is because there is too much choice or not enough.” Heath shrugged and was pleased to hear Prudence laugh for the first time in as long as he could remember. “Or perhaps it is because I am too fussy.”
“My dear brother, you are only fussy in terms of a lady’s appearance. As for anything else, it strikes me that you could not care for a moment what sort of character nor even morals a young lady has. It is little wonder that you have found yourself unable to settle upon anybody. Really, you do choose to turn your attentions to young ladies who have nothing but their looks to recommend them.”
“And money,” he said and gave her what he hoped was a disarming grin.
“Precisely, Heath. Do you not think these are really shallow wants in the world?”
“I cannot apologize for enjoying the company of beautiful young ladies, Sister.”
“But do you really enjoy their company, Heath? Is it not solely the case that you enjoy looking at them, and it is their company that you cannot settle upon? Really, if you are aiming for the same sort of young lady over and over again, will it not always have the same result? Will you not always find yourself unable to settle upon them and curiously unable to fathom the reason why?”
“I say, you are a little too wise for just twenty years, are you not?” He grinned at her, but she did not grin back.
“You do not need to make a mockery of what I say to you, Heath. After all, I think I am quite right in what I am saying. If you are not careful, your vanity will lead you to allow our mother to find you the most appalling match imaginable. And whilst you and I are not particularly close, certainly not as close as many brothers and sisters are, I should not like to see you pay that price. Because it shall be a price, in the end, Heath, mark my words.”
“You do not have a moment’s faith in our mother, do you?” he said and felt a little torn.
Whilst he knew that much of what his sister said was, indeed, quite true in terms of their mother, still he did not want to confront the whole thing. And his mother was no different than many other mothers with a son who was a man of great title. To be obsessed with heirs, bloodline, and family name, not to mention an Earldom which stayed within the Montgomerys forevermore, did not set the Countess of Reddington apart from so many other women in her position.
“You are quite right, Prudence,” Heath began, a little sadly. You and I are not as close as we really ought to be. I sometimes wonder if that is not my fault.”
“It certainly is not mine,” Prudence said a little harshly and in a way which reminded him of her as a little girl.
Prudence had always given her opinions most decidedly and seemed to have been able to see clear through their mother at such a young age where he had not. Well, he had not bothered to try, at any rate.
“Prudence, you are always ready to fight with me; why is that?” Heath said, his humour still good.
“I do not mean to, Brother. I suppose it has been the position I have so often found myself in within this household. Perhaps it has become a habit. And yet, in terms of everything I have said to you today, I do not take back a word of it. I mean all of it, Heath.”
“I know you do, Prudence,” Heath said and sat back against the padding of the couch and stared across the room.
In truth, he had wanted to take his sister’s hand as she sat there beside him. He had wanted to comfort her and, at the same time, gain a little comfort for himself. After all, was that not the benefit of having siblings? However, he knew that they were certainly not close enough for such a thing and, something inside him did not want to contemplate the rejection that would inevitably follow such an act of closeness.
Instead, he looked out across the vastness of the drawing-room. It had been newly decorated in a pale green which contrasted smartly against the dark oak paneling of the walls. Despite the many and varied portraits which hung on every wall, still, the pale green colour seemed to be the primary of the room.
Many of the couches and chairs were upholstered in a similar sort of green, with one or two chairs covered in brightly contrasting and regal red velvet. The many rugs on the wide and dark oak floorboards were also in red, as were the rich drapes at the enormous windows.
When he had agreed to spend the money on the new decoration, Heath had to a high degree left the decisions upon the scheme to his mother. In truth, if she had one good quality to her name, it was taste. Lady Veronica knew that ostentation should always end just at the point at which it might be noticed. That way, she achieved a very wealthy and rich look without it seeming at all out of place or overdone.
As his eyes wandered the room, they settled upon the largest portrait; that of his own father when he was of a similar age to Heath himself.
As had been pointed out by almost every visitor to Reddington Hall who had made their way into the drawing-room, the resemblance between father and son had been striking. A person could easily be forgiven for thinking the portrait to have been a recent one of Heath, so alike were they. Although the portrait was head and shoulders only, there was something about his father’s bearing that would rightly lead anybody looking upon the richly painted oils to assume that he had been a tall man. And Heath had inherited his father’s height with an inch or two to spare, which almost always rendered him the tallest man in the room at any given social event.
Not only the tallest but very much the broadest. He had not only inherited his father’s great height, but also his strong, sturdy build and straight back.
However, whenever he thought of his father, it was in his later years and never as the young man he had been in the richly and faithfully painted portrait. It was only as he sat dwelling upon his sister’s prediction for his own matrimony did he wonder how it was his father had taken to his own. After all, he had been not much younger than Heath when he had married Veronica Darlington, the daughter of a minor baron in Bedfordshire. He could not help wondering if his mother was as intent on the continuance of the Montgomery family line back then as she was now, or had it been only something which had developed as she watched her own son grow?
Veronica had, of course, come from great money and that seemed to have shaped her personality, much as it did in almost everybody else he knew. But for some reason, everything seemed to be so much more pronounced in his own mother, and he silently wondered if his sister, far from being a jealous sibling or a disgruntled child, was actually a little more accurate than he was comfortable with.
“I meant what I said to Mother, Heath. I would much rather stay here at Reddington than go to London for the Season,” Prudence said, suddenly reminding him that she was still there.
“You know that our mother would not hear of it, Prudence,” he said and gave her smile. “And you know that I will not hear her continual moaning upon the subject. So, I am afraid you may not stay here at Reddington, Sister.”
“I had not imagined for a moment that I would be allowed to,” Prudence said silently and rose to her feet.
Without another word, she made her way out of the drawing-room, and he realized, somewhat sadly, that what might have been a moment of closeness between them had most definitely passed.
“A Lady for the Brazen Earl” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When Lady Imogen Pennington falls upon the idea of using the London Season as a means of raising funds for a charitable scheme, she thinks it will be the simplest of things. With her friend, Lady Redmond at her side, the two embark upon a mission to attend as many social events as possible with the intention of opening every wealthy purse in sight. But it is all for a good cause; and a heartbreaking one as Imogen discovers when she and Lady Redmond find themselves wandering the dismal corridors of a workhouse for the poor of Lambeth.
Heath Montgomery, the young and arrogant Earl of Reddington had always enjoyed a life of privilege, free from cares and conscience. Looking forward to the London Season as always, he allows his determined mother a little latitude in searching for a wife for him; one with wealth of her own to swell the coffers of the Reddington Estate. Miss Jemima Ravenswood, daughter of a rich and ambitious Baron, seems to fit the bill. She is beautiful and as keen to secure herself a title as her father is.
But when the Earl finds himself crossing conversational swords with the caring and tenacious Lady Imogen, he wonders if beauty and fortune are enough for him anymore. When he finally falls for the curious Lady Imogen, will the Earl find he has gone too far and been too arrogant to ever win her heart?
“A Lady for the Brazen Earl” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.