Mimi Hancock walked along the water’s edge enjoying the sun and the light breeze. She felt light and cool in her new white muslin frock. It was the perfect dress for the seaside, and Mimi’s mother had got it made for just that. The straw bonnet atop her head with a purple ribbon and the soft silk shawl wrapped around her shoulders completed her ensemble. She felt like a stylish lady as she made her way along the beach looking for a place to sit and have her luncheon which she carried in a small hamper slung over her shoulder.
At seventeen years of age, she was possessed of a graceful figure and the clear white skin and pink lips so coveted by London women be they rich or poor. That and her smouldering dark eyes marked her as a glowing beauty among the many lovely young women in London. She stood out from the others with her long raven curls, her tall slenderness, and her mellifluous voice.
However, there was something else about Mimi Hancock. Something feather light and gossamer. Maybe it came from the depths of her large, mysterious black eyes. Whatever it was, it created a subtle yet unequivocal difference between Mimi and the other young ladies in her peer group. It intrigued everyone who came into contact with her.
She turned to find her friend Bella running down the beach towards her, waving.
Oh good! You were still asleep when I left the cottage this morning.”
Bella, a bit short of breath, caught up to Mimi. “I woke just after you left and dressed as quickly as Giselle could put me together!” Bella laughed and pushed some escaped wisps of blonde hair back under her bonnet.
I’m glad. It’s so lovely here, and I have luncheon in this hamper Camille has filled with all kinds of delicious foods and desserts!”
Mmm. Wonderful. Because I slept in, I didn’t have any breakfast. I must say I’m feeling a bit peckish.”
The two young ladies, just a week apart in age, looked out over the white tipped wavelets as they manoeuvred their way across the sand and breathed deeply of the salt air. They searched for a spot to sit and open the little picnic basket. And their quest revealed a boy up ahead. A boy who looked to be about the same age as the girls.
He was kneeling in the sand, hands and arms moving to and fro across the surface of the beach. He resembled a puppet master moving the limbs and torso of a very important marionette. And he was immersed, fully, in his endeavour.
Hello there,” Mimi called as she and Bella walked towards the boy. All the while she perused what he was so engrossed by. It was difficult to tell, but it looked like he was building a sculpture of sand.
The boy looked up, a shock of burnished red hair tumbling over his brown eyes, and a look of deep concentration furrowing his brow. He waved then went studiously back to his work, the aim of which was unwavering.
The girls reached the spot where the boy was enmeshed in his project. Once again, Mimi examined what he was doing. “What is it you’re building there? Your sculpture is wonderful. You must have been working at it all morning.”
The boy didn’t look up again. His attention was consumed with moulding the sand to his specifications. Using his hands, half of a large clam shell and a piece of driftwood, he worked intensely to bring his vision into focus.
I have been working since sunrise. I am building my country estate. Or rather the mansion on my country estate. See how I have made the cliffs that go down to the surf?”
Feeling a bit ill at ease because her father possessed only one residence in London, Mimi’s smile faded. She made eye contact with Bella. Here might be someone from the peerage. It wouldn’t do to let him know she and her friend were middle class at best.
The house Mimi lived in was a lovely, four-storey townhouse on the western end of Jermyn Street. But it was the only house her father owned. Bella’s father was also a well-to-do tradesman possessing one house only.
When I’m a man, I shall build a house such as this of stone and mortar. It will be my main residence, and my bride will go there to live with me. I will be part of the gentry. And I shall call my estate Warren Heath.”
Mimi smiled. “How lovely.” She found it a relief that the boy’s country home was currently constructed of fantasies and sand, not mortar and stone.
The boy stood and wiped his hands on his pantaloons. He bowed from the waist. “My name is Richard Warren. I’m here in Cromer with my mother and father and my older brother, George. We live in Cambridge, and are here, at the seaside, for the entire month.”
I’m Mimi Hancock. From London. This is my friend, Bella Harris. We’ve been here a week already, and we’re staying until the third week of the month. Would you care to share our luncheon? It’s here in this basket. Camille, our cook, always packs more than just we two can eat.”
Why yes. We can sit in the garden behind my house, My Lady.”
Mimi smiled. “Of course. We certainly can, My Lord.” She set the basket on the beach near the sand mansion and removed a small quilt from the top of the hamper. With Richard’s help, the girls billowed the blanket over the sand. The three of them hopped down on it before the breeze could blow it away, and they settled themselves for their luncheon.
Mimi dug into the basket to extract the offerings of a full cold roast chicken, boiled eggs, pickled vegetables, cheese, rolls, a small bottle of tea, a small bottle of lemonade, seed cake, a jar of jam, and a few thick slices of pound cake.
A feast fit for a king, I dare say.” Richard dove into a piece of chicken.
That it is.” Mimi smiled. “I told you Camille always gives us too much food when we go out on our explorations.”
Richard nodded and looked at her with soft eyes. Mimi felt a peculiar jolt in the pit of her stomach. She thought Richard to be quite handsome, and she looked down quickly to hide the colour she felt must be creeping across her cheeks.
Mimi? Mimi! Bella!”
The three young diners looked up to see another girl a little way down the beach in the same direction Mimi and Bella had come from.
Oh. Lovely! It’s Giselle.” Mimi looked at Richard and smiled. “She works for my parents. She is visiting here with us.” Mimi waved and called. “Over here, Giselle. We’re having luncheon.”
Here you are! Your mother has been looking for you, Mimi. She’s in a tizzy. She said I was to tell you and Bella to come back to the cottage straightaway.”
Whatever for? I told her I was going out walking. I told her not to expect Bella and me until later on.”
Yes, I know, but now there are to be guests for dinner.”
A dinner party!” Mimi’s eyes glowed. She loved parties of any kind. A party at their rented cottage by the sea would be splendid.
Oh, Richard, you must come.” Mimi tugged the boy’s sleeve then turned back to Giselle. “Giselle, this is Richard. Uh, Richard?”
Warren.” The lad spoke and stood up, bowing from the waist as he had seen his father do on occasion.
My word. Did you say Warren? Not of the Warrens from Cambridge by any chance?” Giselle sounded excited.
Yes. The very same.”
Well Richard, it’s your family that is coming to dinner this evening at the Hancocks.”
How wonderful. We will have such a fun time. But now, help us to finish our little picnic, Giselle. Won’t you? Then we shall all return to the cottage.” Mimi patted the vacant area on the blanket next to herself.
Non, Mademoiselle. Come now. We must get back.”
Must we really go back, Giselle? So soon?” The girls practically whined.
Giselle raised her eyebrows. “Now, now, you know you must get back to dress for dinner. The guests will arrive at 5:00. Dinner will be an hour later. Come on, now. There’s already water heating for your bath. You too, Bella. Mimi, you don’t want to upset your maman, do you?”
No. You’re right, Giselle. I don’t want to upset Maman. She gets so nervous when she entertains, though. Sometimes I marvel that she’s not a recluse. What will this one think? What will that one say? It’s maddening at times.”
Richard bowed to the women once again. “Our cottage is over that way. I will see you all shortly.”
Yes, indeed. We shall see you at dinner, then.”
Good day, ladies.” The boy solemnly turned on his heel and made his way towards the other end of the beach.
The girls and Giselle watched him for a moment, and then headed in the opposite direction.
As the young people had been talking, the tide had been coming in. And as they walked away, without anyone’s knowledge, it had washed up and swept away Richard’s Warren Heath.
After dinner that first night, the three young people were practically inseparable. The rest of the month was spent with Mimi and Bella sneaking out to meet Richard. It would never do if anyone knew the girls were spending time with a young man with no chaperone present. So they’d decided on various meeting spots where they could go and find one another.
They spent most of their time walking and picnicking on the beach, searching for rare shells and playing dress up games as pirates and sea wenches. There were evenings of refreshment which accompanied the card games the Hancocks and the Warrens enjoyed. And all too soon it was time to go back to the city, the secret and magical summertime activities put on hold until the next year.
“So, it’s back to London tomorrow, Bella.” The girls were sitting on the bed, brushing and braiding each other’s hair in preparation for sleep.
“This summer has been glorious, Mimi. I’m so glad we could spend it together. I do miss my parents, though. And, Francis Bond.”
“Francis Bond? Why ever do you miss him, Bella? I know you’ve shared a few dances with him at parties, but I thought Henry Burke would be the one you would be missing.”
Bella looked down. “Henry is very nice. But, well, Francis and I had a conversation at the end of July. Right before we came here to Cromer. A very important conversation, I must say.”
“An important conversation? About what, pray tell?”
“You must promise to keep it a secret.”
Mimi rolled her eyes. “Bella. Of course, I will keep it a secret. What was the talk about?”
Francis wishes to marry me, Mimi. And I wish to become his wife.”
Mimi gasped, her hand flying up to cover her mouth.
Why are you acting as if I’ve just told you I’ve committed a crime?”
“You’ve kept this secret from me all summer! Bella! Why I had absolutely no idea.”
“I’m sorry; I couldn’t betray Francis’ confidence. But now that you and I are going back to London, it would be only a matter of time before you heard something. I didn’t want you to find out from a third hand party.”
“You’re too young to be married, Bella. Your parents will never consent to it.”
“Well, right now yes, I am young. But when I turn eighteen, in six months, Francis and I will steal away.”
“You plan on marrying in a blacksmith shop in Gretna Green or some such other place in Scotland? Bella! Don’t you want more than a few hasty words said over an anvil? And how can you know you’re in love with Francis when you’re so young? Stay in London. Marry when you are twenty-one. You can’t possibly know you’re in love at our age.”
“That is untrue, Mimi. I know my true feelings. And I know yours, as well.”
“Is that so?” Mimi pulled on Bella’s braid.
Yes, it is so. You are in love too, Mimi.”
“I? I am in love? I beg to differ, Bella.”
“You are in love with Richard Warren. Surely you are aware of that. It’s been plain to me. And if I’m not mistaken, he returns the sentiment.”
“I cannot be in love with him. Richard lives in Cambridge. And his family is no better off than my own. You’re aware that my mother wants me to move up in the world. The only way for a woman to advance in society is through marriage. You know that.”
“Yes, I do. My parents want and expect me to marry someone above the tradesmen’s middle class. But I simply refuse to be married off to further the interests of my father. I want love, Mimi. Real, true love. And I shall have it. I dare say I already do. With Francis Bond. Much as you do with Richard. We’ve had so much fun these last three weeks.”
Yes, it was a glorious summer. So many happy moments. And tender, poignant ones as well. There were times when I felt as if I were a fully grown woman. Times when I felt that I wanted nothing more than to share every minute with Richard. Times when I wanted to share my life with him.” Mimi went to the window of the little bedchamber and gazed out at the moon rising over the sea. The soft white orb moved slowly across the cloudless, indigo sky. “I will never see Richard Warren again, Bella. The summer was but a girlish bit of foolishness soon to be forgotten.”
But, Mimi knew in her heart that she would always treasure this particular summer forever. The summer of her first love memories.
Miss Mimi, Madame. A new family is soon to be moving into the house two doors down the road.” Mrs Gauthier, the French housekeeper Marie Hancock had brought from Paris, walked into the family sitting room. She gestured to Nancy, the household maid, to place the pudding, still warm, on the table. The Hancock ladies were breakfasting in the family sitting room.
“Really? They must be renting the Talbots’ house. The place has been empty since the old matriarch moved out to the country with her son. Much to the chagrin of the younger Mrs Talbot, I’ve no doubt!” Marie winked and laughed. “It must be over a year now.”
“No, Madame. No one is renting the house. I heard it at the market that the house was purchased. By a family. Not from this area.”
“Oh? I wonder who it could be. I’ve heard of no families looking to buy. I had no idea the Talbots were selling. It must have been done through a bank.”
Marie Beauvarlet Hancock liked to think she was up-to-date on gossip. Any gossip. But it was the scandalous tales of the haut ton that she relished, reading the papers each morning to decide who was who and what was what.
Her indulgence was curious due to the fact that whoever was moving into the house down the road would not interest those from the lofty echelons of high society in the least. No one from the fashionable set would give whoever was moving into Jermyn Street a second thought. In fact, they most likely wouldn’t give a thought at all. The Talbot house, as well as the Hancocks’ modest abode, were quite simply, in the wrong part of town.
“I’m sure I don’t know who the family is, Madame. I’ll try to find out what I can. Will you be needing anything more at the moment?”
No, thank you. Run along, Mrs Gauthier. You … you’ll be sure to let me know if you come into any information about our new neighbours.”
Oui. Of course, Madame.”
Thank you, Mrs Gauthier. Find out if there are any sons, perchance,
“Maman!” Mimi frowned at her mother.
Since returning home from the seaside, Mrs Hancock had seemed to be on a never-ending quest to find a suitor for her daughter. A rich suitor.
What is wrong, Mimi? You’re going to be nineteen years old in five months, mon ange. It’s not too young to start thinking about a beau.”
“Well, I’ll thank you to let me find my own, please. I cannot legally
marry until I’m twenty-one, at least.”
Or if your father and I should give our permission before that happy anniversary of your birth.” Marie smiled at her daughter. “If the new family down the street has a son, I shall invite them for dinner and cards. It will be lovely. A dinner party! We’ve had virtually no entertainment this month since we’ve been back from Cromer. And we missed our whist partners of the summer while we were there this year. They were a lovely family. I was sorry not to see them again. Why did we not keep in touch?”
We’d arrived at Cromer a week before them. Then we left a week before them, Maman.”
“I suppose we reckoned we’d see each other again. I wonder why they didn’t come this year. What was their name? Hmm. For the life of me, I cannot think of it.”
Warren, Maman, I believe it was Warren.”
Warren. Yes, that was it. Warren.”
Well, Warren, that about finishes it up. One more signature, here.” Joseph Hancock shook the elder Mr Richard Warren’s hand, and then held up his glass of claret to toast his new business partner.
“Wonderful, Hancock. I feel mighty good about this merger. I have complete faith in you and your abilities. I think we’re going to make beautiful music together, so to speak.” Warren was grinning ear to ear.
The two men were about to embark on a journey together. A journey that Joseph Hancock had been, actively and seriously planning for a few years and dreaming about for many. When he’d met Richard Warren a year and a half prior at the seaside in Cromer, he’d known immediately that this was the man he needed to assist him in making his vision a reality. This was the man he wanted to join him in setting up his new vocation as a London banker.
Of course, Hancock’s plans would cause the relocation of Richard Warren and his family from Cambridge to London. But Hancock felt confident that he could make that relocation worth the while of the Warrens.
For the last year, Hancock and Warren had been communicating by letter and in person. Hancock would go up to Cambridge, and Warren would go down to London. And it had all finally been realised. Warren Hancock and Company was about to be born, and Hancock was feeling like a fat cat. He’d long had a mind to move up the ladder of society in his home town of London. As it was, at the age of forty, he’d done exceedingly well for the third son and seventh child of a butcher. But, his aim was to do even better. Much better. He planned on one day becoming landed gentry.
“I insist you and your family join me and mine for dinner this evening, Warren. Followed by cards if my wife has her way.” Hancock chuckled.
“Lavinia is looking forward to many evenings of recreation, now that we will be just two doors away from you. This will be a lovely holiday season, indeed. We’re still staying at Grenier’s while the curtains, rugs, furnishings and other things are moved into the house. The servants will need a few days to ready things, but I will take you up on your delightful offer of dinner this evening, my friend.”
“Yes, and the big surprise is I haven’t told Marie about any of this. I will let on when I get home that I have a new business partner coming to dine with us. Then you, Lavinia, and the boys come in.” He smiled and chuckled again.
“Alas, I’m afraid George won’t make it. He took his little Ellen up to Gretna Green almost as soon as we’d returned to Cambridge from the sea last year. The girl was just seventeen at the time. Of course, I would have given the young couple my permission to wed, as would Ellen’s father have. But, the young people wanted the excitement of an elopement, even if it wasn’t quite a secret. And it was nowhere near to a surprise when their note was discovered.” Warren chuckled at the recollection.
As you might guess, Ellen’s family are all in Cambridge and have no intention of changing their location. My daughter-in-law is now with child. My son wishes to continue his law studies, then live and practice in Cambridge. The happy couple resides on my property there and plan to raise their family there. The house would have gone to him anyway, so why not now, said I.
George sounds to be a good planner and quite an ambitious young man. You do have young Richard with you, do you not? How old is the lad now?”
“Yes, Richard has come to London with his mother and me. He’s to turn nineteen next month. He’ll be accompanying my wife and me to your home this evening.”
“Splendid. Splendid. And what are the young Richard’s future plans?”
“He will become a barrister in time like his brother.”
“Very good. You and your wife have done well.”
“As have you and yours, Hancock.”
“I cannot lie, Warren. My daughter is the apple of my eye. I tend to spoil her. I cannot help myself.”
“She’s a lovely girl. If that’s what spoiling does, keep on it, Hancock.”
“Marie and I are quite proud of our Mimi. She’s a very kind young lady. Compassionate.”
“I’ve noticed. Her kindness is evident when one speaks to her. She puts others ahead of herself. She’s quite a thoughtful young lady.”
“Thank you, Warren. I could not have put it in a better light than that.”
“You’re most welcome.”
“Well, my man.” Hancock brought the conversation back to business with the tone of his voice, “We will see you and your family at five o’clock.”
“Yes, indeed, you will.”
The two men shook hands and parted ways.
Giselle!” Marie burst into Mimi’s bedchamber. Giselle was attempting to tame Mimi’s wild curls with the curl iron.
Maman, what is it?” Mimi turned quickly barely avoiding getting a burn near her temporal.
Giselle, is she almost done?” Marie Hancock had always had the habit of talking about her only child as if she were a cake of some sort.
Oui, elle y est, Madame.”
Very good. The new family down the road is having their belongings moved into the Talbot house today. And they are coming here for dinner. Tonight!” Marie threw her hands over her head. “They have a seventeen, almost eighteen-year-old son. They have a nineteen-year-old as well. Pity but the older boy has visited Gretna Green and is waiting for the first of his children due to be born any day now. We, or Mimi rather, appears to have been left with the second son. But no matter. We’ll make do.”
What do you mean we’ll make do? Maman?” Mimi was forever chagrined by her mother’s constant scheming.
Mimi, your father is going into business with our new neighbour. Isn’t it wonderful? Your dear papa is finally to realise one of his life’s dreams.” Marie clasped her hands in front of her bosom and gazed off into some distant or future reverie with misty eyes.
Both men have goldsmith backgrounds. It would only follow that opening a bank could prove quite lucrative for them. There is so much to do. It is an exciting time.”
Marie looked at the clock on the mantel. “Dear, dear, it’s already three thirty. Hurry now. The guests will be here before five. Mimi, wear your rose silk. It suits you so well, mon petit chou. And Mrs Gauthier was able to mend the tiny rent near the back hem, where you caught it stepping out of the carriage. Remember?”
Mimi looked at Giselle and rolled her eyes. “Yes, Maman.”
You cannot even tell it’s been mended. Now, go. And mind you come straight down to the salon when you’re dressed. It would be nice if you were practising on the pianoforte when the guests arrive.” She nodded her head. “Yes, that would be very nice. Very nice indeed.”
Mimi did as she was told, and at four thirty, as the dinner guests arrived, she was playing the lovely new piano sonata by Beethoven on the pianoforte in the drawing room. Marie insisted on referring to the drawing room as the salon, thereby embarrassing Mimi with her pretension.
Mimi had only gotten the music two weeks prior, but she played the piece quite well, and Les Adieux came to life under her skilled fingers. She turned her head towards the door of the drawing room when she heard the new friends of the family coming in, expressing salutations and handing their cloaks to Jones, the butler.
The voices in the lower hallway were happy and laughing. And somehow familiar. Mimi heard them getting closer to the drawing room entrance. Then her hands slipped on the keyboard, ending the music on a discord as the first of the guests entered the room.
She half stood from the piano bench as her new neighbour paused, rooted in the doorway, even as she wished him to dash across the room to her.
They held still then, staring at each other, the happy voices floating up the stairs and the expanse of the drawing room between them. Mimi was ensnared in his gaze. “You didn’t go to Cromer this past summer. I thought I’d never see you again,” she said softly.
“I know. I felt the same way. I looked forward all last winter to see you again in the summer. But Mother was unwell, unable even to travel to the seaside. It would have done her the world of good to get the bracing salt air, but the doctor said she was not to be moved.”
“I’m so sorry. How is Mrs Warren feeling now?”
She’s quite recovered now. She’s been feeling grand. And, you know, our fathers have been talking all the time we’ve been apart.”
“I, I didn’t know.” Mimi couldn’t take her eyes from Richard’s.
“They’ve been discussing forming a partnership. It has now come to be. Our fathers are business partners, and you and I will be neighbours.” He grinned broadly, clearly happy with the arrangement,
Mimi said nothing. Her mouth felt dry, and her hands were moist with sweat. She could feel her heart pounding, and a flood of unidentified emotion washed through her being. She wondered how Richard had known of her father’s plans when she, herself, had not.
When you left Cromer last year, Mimi, I missed you a great deal. I wanted to see you again. I planned on it. But then my family was forced to stay in Cambridge. There was no way for me to contact you, short of coming to London, but I was away. Academy, you know? I wanted to write you, but I had no permission from you to speak to your father about it. I reckoned that when I saw you again you’d have a beau. But I never forgot about you, Mimi. That I can promise you.”
Mimi looked down and then up at him from under the fringe of her inky dark eyelashes. Richard was more handsome than she’d remembered. Almost eighteen, he’d grown taller, his shoulders had broadened, and it was clear he now shaved his face. He looked like a young man. He was no longer the boy she’d met by the sea. No longer the boy she’d played pirates and damsels with. No longer the boy she’d raced against across the sand. Again she felt a wash of unfamiliar emotions flow through her. Her knees trembled.
“I have no beau,” she supplied abruptly.
“Oh, that’s splendid. I mean, I’m happy I shall be able to see you again. I will call on you. I mean, if you agree.”
“Of course I agree. We have an entire holiday season to weather.” Mimi laughed. The old, youthful familiarity between the two had been re-established.
“I hope that I may accompany you in a dance or two at one of the local holiday soirees.” Richard grinned. “I will speak directly to Mr Hancock after dinner. Is, is that to your liking?”
He remembered himself then, and the fact that he was about to enter into an agreement with Mimi. Once he spoke to Mr Hancock and was given permission to court her, it would be only a matter of time until he would be expected to make her his wife. He’d had a year and a half to consider it. And wedding Mimi was what his heart desired. He was sure he wanted to enter into that pecuniary state with her and had been making plans for it and saving as much of his monthly annuity as possible.
“We’ll see about that young Mr Warren.” Marie breezed around him and into the drawing room, smiling woodenly. “There are many young men in London who have expressed interest in courting my daughter. Alas, they have all been second sons. Except for one.” The ostrich plumes in her hair bobbed and waved as she spoke and moved.
Mimi lowered back down to the pianoforte bench, her brief excitement doused by her mother’s ambition.
Richard bowed. “Madame Hancock.” He then stated his intentions to ask Mimi for a dance at any holiday party he should find her. And he asked permission to do so, informing the lady that he would take the matter up with Mimi’s father after their meal. And he said it all in perfect French.
Marie hesitated, taken aback by Richard’s use of her native language, but recovered quickly telling him, in English, that she would decide the intentions of any young gentleman her daughter might dance with. There was no need to take it to Mr Warren as he would follow his wife’s lead when it came to guaranteeing Mimi’s welfare.
“Maman! Please! Don’t be that way. It’s not as if Richard is asking to marry me!” Mimi tried to sound light and jovial. She smiled to add emphasis to the lightness she hoped to convey.
Marie laughed. “Let’s hope not.” She took a seat on the sofa just as the others entered the drawing room.
Mimi looked at Richard, her eyes glued to his. She didn’t want to lose him again, but she’d been all too aware since the age of twelve that her mother had done her absolute best to groom Mimi to marry a rich man. And not any rich man. A very rich man. A gentleman of the haut ton. Someone with a title.
To accomplish her goal, Marie appeared to have no issue with letting future suitors know her intentions. She would have her daughter dance with Marquesses, Earls, and Dukes, and that was the end of it.
Mimi was also aware that her mother’s main design for the coming London season was to procure a voucher for her daughter to the Wednesday night balls at Almack’s Assembly Rooms.
When it came down to it, Mimi had been told, since childhood, that whatever she might lack in breeding and financial backing, she more than made up for in grace, tact, intelligence, and beauty. She knew her mother intended to see her use her charms on wealthy gentlemen of the peerage. Not waste them on the second son of a tradesman.
Six months later, after a holiday season of dancing and dining and secret, furtive glances, Mimi and Richard had spent a great deal of time together, albeit with their parents or a servant overseeing them, but they certainly were courting. At least they thought so. Marie kept a close watch on the two young people. It would not do to have them fall in love. That would throw a damper over all her well thought out plans. But she had to accept the friendship the two shared, if not for them then for her husband and his business.
As it was, Marie allowed Richard and Mimi to see each other once a week, but never on Wednesday evenings when Mimi was obliged to attend the soirees at Almack’s as an unattached young lady.
Mimi had not the faintest notion of how her mother had attained the coveted voucher to Almack’s Assembly Rooms. But attain it, Marie had. And each week, Mimi was paraded in front of an assembly of first sons of the peerage. All manner of Lord This and Lord That were presented to her as well as the crème de la crème of the titled peerage, the two available Dukes in London. If Mister preceded any man’s name, Marie was sure to steer her daughter in the other direction towards a titled gentleman.
Landed gentry was no better than a tradesman, her mother informed Mimi. They might be new money people that had recently bought up an ailing country estate, but they had no pedigree. One had to watch out for them. They were as good as imposters.
Marie seemed to have forgotten her own humble beginnings as well as those of her husband. She seemed to forget that her daughter came from that world of new money families that the ton felt were interlopers into their shielded society. She seemed to forget that it was a dream of her husband to become landed gentry, and he had been making plans to achieve the goal. But, as much as she would support the efforts of her husband, Marie had no intention of allowing her daughter to be in a similar kind of situation.
Mimi felt that her mother counted on her to pull the family further up the hierarchical ladder of the fashionable set. She felt that her mother wanted her, counted on her to somehow put the Hancocks into the midst of the old money of the London beau monde.
It was an uncomfortable spot for Mimi to be. She loved her mother very much and never wanted to disappoint her. But Mimi had a heart of her own. And that heart belonged to the second son of a novice banker.
She agonised over telling Marie of her true feelings for Richard. She dreamed of running off to Scotland with the man she loved. A clandestine marriage between secret lovers at Gretna Green or another such place. Somewhere where Mimi, at eighteen, didn’t require her parents’ permission to marry her true love.
And Mimi knew without a doubt that she was in love with young Richard Warren. She felt he must truly return her sentiments. She saw his love shine in his eyes although he’d never professed it. And there were times when she had weak moments and doubted her heart. At the last dance she’d been to she’d observed Richard as he’d danced with Lizzie Stevens. Twice.
Lizzie Stevens’ father was a rich man. He had no title, but he was a true gentleman making his money off the sweat and hard work of others. His daughter was a good catch for any man just about, much less the son of an upward climbing tradesman. Lizzie Stevens could help in raising the Warrens up. And Richard, as charming and handsome as he had become, was the type of man some women would take a step down for. And their families would allow it. In fact, Mimi was quite aware of the way other young ladies looked at Richard. How they whispered and made eyes at each other behind their fans when he appeared.
If Lizzie and Richard had had two dances directly in a row, others would have thought them to be courting. Mimi had to fight the feeling of anger that had threatened to overtake her when she saw them together. The thought of Richard spending time with another woman caused Mimi great distress. She neglected to realise how he might feel about who she spent her dancing time with.
Mimi, herself had danced with a number of young men at the same dance at which Richard had squired Lizzie about. But that was what young ladies did. They danced. With gentlemen. It was the only way to have any kind of private conversation and get to know someone without somebody breathing over one’s shoulder. Mimi couldn’t allow herself to be one of the lonely girls who sat on the upholstered chairs and sofas that had been pushed against the walls around the dance floor. She couldn’t have spent the evening drinking negus. She didn’t want to wait for a dance partner to take pity on her and ask the master of ceremonies for an introduction.
And then there was the Duke. His Grace, Hugh Templeton, the Duke of Hertford. Mimi didn’t know what to do as far as he was concerned. He’d been presented to her at Almack’s and had shown an avid interest in her. Indeed, he seemed to show up at any event where dancing was an activity. He’d asked Mimi to dance with him at each soiree. Twice.
And he’d questioned what she might be doing during the following summer. Marie said that must mean that the Duke wanted to marry Mimi. Mimi didn’t know, exactly, how her mother had come to that conclusion, but Marie operated as if it were a fact. She anxiously guarded her daughter’s time to be sure Mimi would be available for a dance should Duke Hertford desire one.
The Duke was very handsome; there was no doubt. Tall and dashing, he dressed impeccably and stylishly. He had dimples and a glint in his bright blue eyes that left Mimi to battle confusing thoughts and feelings.
Her heart belonged to Richard. She was sure of it. Wasn’t she? Why had she recently found herself scanning the drawing rooms and ballrooms of London in search of the Duke, as well as Richard?
Early Spring 1812
Mon petit chou? Are you done, mon ange?” Marie knocked on the door to Mimi’s bedchamber.
“Oui, Maman. Entrez.”
Marie peeked her head around the partially open door. “Ah! You look lovely my dear. I cannot believe my baby is eighteen years old. You have grown into a beautiful young woman.”
“She is just as beautiful as her maman was at the same age.” Joseph Hancock walked up behind his wife. She stood in the entrance to the bedchamber, and he placed his hands on her shoulders. “I still remember the first time I saw you, dear Marie. Although your beauty has remained, it has grown mellow and resonant with the years. I find myself even more in love with you.” He took Marie’s hand and kissed it. Marie gazed at her husband with a look of pure love.
Mimi smiled. Witnessing the tenderness her parents had for one another was moving. It also caused her to further question her attraction to Richard … and Duke Hertford.
The Duke intrigued Mimi as no one did. She had to consider that she felt a sense of excitement when her mother described the lifestyle of a woman of the haut ton to her. She also harboured a secret sense of excitement at the thought of owning the Duke’s affections. If the Duke decided to marry her, Mimi could have the kind of life most women of her station only dreamed of. The kind of life her mother had dreamed of once but had traded for true love and a moderate existence.
As Hertford’s wife, Mimi could sleep late every morning and have her chocolate brought to her while still in bed. She could have riding frocks, morning dresses, half dress frocks, and full dress ball gowns. More than one or two of each. She wouldn’t have to worry about soiling or damaging any of her delicate frocks. She could have more made. She could have all manner of reticules, headbands, earrings, and brooches. Fans galore, slippers and silk stockings, gloves, pellises and every manner of bonnet with satiny ribbons.
It was so much fun to consider that she could change her dress three or four times each day according to what social enterprise she might be involved in.
Her days could be spent riding in Hyde Park, shopping on Bond Street, visiting, going to parties, dinners, and balls. The never-ending cycle of social hospitalities that fed the gossip of the bon ton would become the pattern of her daily activities. But all of those changes could take place only if Mimi were a member of the ton. And that membership came only with the artfully planned acquisition of a marriage proposal from another member. Duke Hertford. Once the commitment had been verbalised, the Duke would be bound to her, for to renege on a marriage proposal was tantamount to social suicide. The Duke’s honour would be ruined.
The kinds of feelings Mimi’s parents had for one another, Mimi was sure, were more akin to the ones she carried for young Richard Warren. Marie, however, wanted her daughter to marry a rich man. A man of the peerage. Not the second son of a tradesman. Even if said tradesman was Mimi’s own father’s business partner.
Speaking of love, dear heart, our darling girl has captured the eye of the Duke of Hertford. He shall be here tonight to offer birthday wishes to her. Is it not wonderful, dear?”
The sound of her mother’s voice brought Mimi’s attention back to her parents. A cacophony of hooves and carriage wheels outside below the window came to their ears.
That may be the Duke now.” Marie ran from the room. “Mrs Gauthier, see to the door. Mind, don’t look too eager.”
How do you feel about the Duke coming to your birthday dinner, Mimi? You know young Warren will be here as well. Will it be uncomfortable in any way? I’ve seen the way you and Richard look at each other.”
Oh, Papa. You’ve always been able to read me so well. I, I don’t know if it will be uncomfortable. I mean, Richard is aware of Maman’s plans for me. He doesn’t know about the Duke as a serious contender for my affections, though. I’m so confused.”
Your heart belongs to young Warren, does it not?”
Mimi looked down to hide her consternation. “Y … yes. I mean …I … I’m not sure. When I’m with Richard, Papa, he is the only man I think about. The Duke is quite captivating; I’d be lying if I were to say otherwise. But he and I have only danced a few times. We’ve had no conversation other than the social niceties spoken at parties and assemblies.”
And you know how Maman can be. She’s already planning the wedding. She likes Richard well enough, but she says he’s just a boy, and I need to marry a man. A man of the peerage. Someone established within the ton.”
And one cannot get any more established than a Duke, I dare say. Your mother would like nothing better than to have her baby become a Duchess.”
How did Maman get to be this way? So superficial. She’s always been ambitious for me. Doesn’t she want me to have love in my life? A love like she shares with you?”
Your maman only wants what’s best for you, pet. You see, your mother and I married for love. And I believe there’s not a day goes by that she doesn’t regret it.”
Papa! No! How can you say such a thing? Maman loves you.”
Yes, she does. She loves me very much, and she’s been a true and faithful wife to me. But she could have loved a man of the peerage just as well. When I met your mother in Paris, things there were bad and getting worse by the day. It was the coldest winter that had been in years. Frost after frost hit the city. ”
I remember Maman telling me about it whenever I would complain about the cold!” Mimi offered.
Your maman’s mother was a dressmaker to the rich. After the Bastille was stormed in July that year, your grandmother had cut ties to her aristocratic clients by the new year of 1790. Only a few months before Christmas the royal family had been imprisoned in the Tuileries Palace. The common people hated and were suspicious of the rich and those who had anything to do with them. A member of the aristocracy, the French equivalent of a Duke or Earl, had been smitten with your mother. In the springtime, before things had come to a head in the city, this aristocratic man, Paul LeFevre, Le Comte de Burgundy had talked with your grandfather regarding marriage to his youngest daughter. Marriage to my Marie, your mother.
Your maman was just fifteen when the King and Queen were imprisoned in late 1789. I myself was seventeen. I had met Marie Beauvarlet by chance at a salon party the summer before. Though I never formally courted her, I had fallen madly in love with her the moment I laid eyes on her. I could see, though, that your grandmother had much the same plans for her as your mother now has for you. I danced with Marie a few times and spoke to her in the company of others. I presumed she would marry the French Comte your grandmother had been so quick to alert me to. I was very much in love; I wanted only Marie’s happiness. I planned to leave Paris. My chances with your mother were nil.
Your grandparents had the good sense to see that the tide of unrest would eventually overturn Paris when the royal family was imprisoned in ’89. It would be four more years before both the King and Queen would meet Madame Guillotine, but your mother’s family had decided to make their move out of not only Paris but France, in the early spring of 1792. They had planned and worked at making the arrangements for over a year.
I had the opportunity to rescue your mother from Paris. She didn’t want to go with her parents. They would not allow her to stay and take her chances in Paris. Both options were thoughts I could not bear. I would be separated from my Marie.
The price of food in Paris was exceedingly expensive. Even bread had become exorbitant. The people were starving. Your grandparents’ plan was to slip out of the city and go up to Belgium where your grandfather’s brother was living.”
Your mother had limited options. She could flee with her parents. Or she could marry me. Her gentleman friend, the Comte, had escaped Paris without a word to her. She knew my background, and she knew I would bring her to London. And at the time it had been enough for her. Her only thought had been to survive.
Maybe she’d had ideas of meeting a member of the peerage here in London; however, after what she’d seen in Paris, the idea of being an aristocrat had begun to frighten her. When the news came to us that the French queen Marie Antoinette had been executed for treason ten months after the king, a part of your mother died. Or disappeared. Her lines of trust of what is and what should be had frayed. It had become the common people who had power. So she decided to stay as one.
It was when she began to feel safe again, and when she’d realised that what had happened in Paris was not going to happen in London, that she began to think differently. The old desires her mother had taught her. The desires for something more, for money and station, began to resurface. You had joined us by that time. And your maman proceeded to put all her hopes and dreams of somehow infiltrating the haut ton onto your tiny shoulders.
She had become my bride and the mother of my child. Our marriage has been a good one. Marie has always felt obligated to me for rescuing her. And, in time, she grew to love me as I loved her. She has been a loyal wife, Mimi. I have no regrets.
But the end of her sense of fear and the beginning of her young motherhood had coincided. You were to live out the destiny your mother had, out of necessity, given up. You were to have all the things she never had when she was a girl. And the things her marriage to an English tradesman could never acquire for her.
“You were brought up as a lady as well as could be managed. Now that Duke Hertford has shown an interest in you, your maman, I believe, feels that you and she,” he smiled wryly, “have arrived, so to speak. She will refuse to let him get away. Again. There is no political unrest of the kind your mother endured in Paris, here in London, my daughter. I don’t see your mother letting the Duke easily out of your sights.”
Mimi remained quiet. She and her father’s eyes met as they heard the guests beginning to come into the house.
We’d better go down to the drawing room, Papa.”
Yes, let us go. Just remember this, my dear Mimi. I am happy your mother chose me and not Belgium or her aristocratic suitor. But it has not been easy knowing I’ve fallen short, all these years, in giving your mother the things that would have raised her place in society. I now know that although I love her as much as I did then, my love was only part of what she had wanted out of life. I was just a fragment of what she needed.”
I am my mother’s daughter, Papa. It is true. But I am not her. I will follow my true heart’s desire. I desire love above opulence and a place in the high society.”
Mr Hancock smiled at her, “As long as you’re sure of what your heart’s desire is, pet. That is all I care about. Come, we must welcome your guests. Happy Birthday, dear.” Mr Hancock escorted his daughter downstairs to the drawing room.
At seven o’clock, the party moved from the drawing room to the dining room for the birthday dinner. All of Mimi’s favourite dishes including beef roast, glazed carrots, salad, cheese, and seed cake were laid out upon the dinner table. The birthday cake was a rich French butter cake, something Camille had been baking for Mimi’s birthday since coming to work for the Hancock’s twelve years prior. It had become a family tradition by this, Mimi’s seventeenth birthday.
At every sound from the street, and even at noises from the area, Mrs Hancock perked up. Surely the Duke was only running late. He’d sent no response to the invitation to the dinner party, but he was a Duke, after all. There were commitments and that sort of thing. Dukes were busy men. Why send a confirmation when one might only be able to stop by due to some unforeseen consequence? Hertford would be along shortly to offer his birthday salutations. Or, they would receive a note sealed with the crest of Hertford, bestowing the Duke’s apologies and disappointment at missing the festivities.
Bella was present with her new husband, Mr Bond. The scandal of their elopement had died down, and things had fallen into a nice routine for the couple. Bella looked beautiful and in love.
The Warrens were in attendance with Richard, as well as two other couples who were friends of the family, each with sons. All in all, there were four young men, besides Richard, present along with three sisters. It was a joyous group.
The idea had been that the four young men would pale, for Mimi, in comparison to the brightness of the Duke of Hertford. But the Duke had not yet arrived.
Marie glanced towards the window, then at the clock on the mantle. It was a quarter past the hour of ten. Dinner was long finished, and the men were enjoying port in the dining room. The doors to the drawing room would soon open, and the dancing would begin. The rented chamber musicians were tuning up their instruments.
Marie had a difficult time hiding her dismay at the Duke’s absence. But hide it, she did. She went ahead and danced with each of the husbands of her friends and the sons who were in attendance.
She laughed and drank ratafia and generally acted as if she were having the most wonderful time. She gossiped with the other women and smiled and nodded when they commented on what a beautiful young lady her daughter had grown into.
But the fact that the Duke hadn’t sent a note of apology and birthday salutation had put a dampener on the entire evening for Marie. She sat on the sofa watching Richard Warren squire Mimi around the dance floor for the third time. She had not the energy to stop it.
You look especially lovely tonight, Mimi.”
“Thank you, Richard. I can’t believe I’m actually eighteen! It seems like only yesterday you and I were running along the beach up in Cromer with Bella. Now, she’s all grown up and married.” Mimi glanced over Richard’s shoulder at her friend then back at Richard. “My, you’re a wonderful dancer, Richard. How did you learn to dance so well?”
“My mother taught me. Of course, we don’t talk about it much, but she was in the theatre when she was younger. Keep that in your confidence, will you? She tells no one she was in the theatre even though it’s how my father met her. The story is quite romantic, at least for my parents.”
“How is that?”
My father was escorting a young lady to a play. A young lady my grandparents were hoping he would marry. The lady’s father was quite rich, and a union with the daughter would have raised our family up in society. Much higher than the merchant class actually. Her father was an Earl.”
“And, so what happened to keep you and yours out of the peerage?” Mimi laughed.
“Well, the Earl and his wife were not very happy about their daughter’s choice of my father for a husband. But the girl was quite spoiled, and, after many tearful entreaties, I dare say, they relented. My father had every intention of doing his duty by the young lady and by his parents. He planned to marry the young lady and go to work for her father, running the country estate and accepting an honorarium, of course, for his time. Indeed, he was quite fond of the young lady and could see no wrong in their union. He planned to have a comfortable married life with an amiable, lovely, and more than acceptable companion.
But then the house lights dimmed, and the curtains opened for the play. When my mother entered the stage light and uttered her first lines, my father fell instantaneously in love.”
Mimi’s eyes glowed. Her hand went to her heart. “My word. That is the most romantic story I’ve ever heard.”
“Yes, quite romantic, as I said. And as a result here we are.”
“Here we are, a plain young maiden and a plain young man. No high society to consider here!”
Richard laughed. “We’re almost to the garden. Come outside with me, Mimi. No one will see. I … I want to tell you something.”
Richard! You’ve manoeuvred near to the French doors on purpose! You meant to sneak me out to the garden all along, didn’t you?” Mimi stopped dancing, snapped her fan open and feigned upset at his audacity.
“You must be a gypsy mind reader, Miss Hancock.” He looked quickly around the room and ducked through the doors pulling Mimi along with him.
Richard.” Mimi muffled her laugh behind her fan, “You must stop.”
And why would I want to do that, mon chou?”
They found a little bench, hidden in an alcove of low hanging tree branches, and sat. It was unseasonably warm for March, but Richard removed his jacket and placed it around Mimi’s shoulders.
Your new locket suits you, Mimi.”
Her hands unconsciously went to the golden heart with filigree decoration hanging on a fine gold chain from her throat. “Yes, my parents gave it to me earlier today at breakfast. My birthday gift. My father had it made special.”
It is lovely, may I?” Richard took the golden piece in his hand, his hand barely touching the skin of her neck in the process.
Mimi felt a spark where his hand accidentally brushed her. It sent shivers through her. “We should go back inside, Richard. It’s unseemly for us to be alone out here.”
Alas, you are right. I only wanted to have you to myself for a moment.”
We’ve danced together three times. The other guests will think we’re engaged! Or worse, they’ll think that I’m a fast piece.”
I’m sorry. We’re here at your house. No one will notice how many times we took the floor; this is your birthday. All the gentlemen are drunk already, and I dare say the women are tipsy. Bella and Francis have left, and the other boys are busy trying to filch some more port.”
“I just, well, I wanted to tell you how beautiful you are, Mimi. Not just tonight. But every time I see you. You seem to grow lovelier. And I must confess I find my feelings for you have changed somewhat.”
Changed? I don’t understand. I have no inkling of what you’re talking about, Richard. You are my close friend. Why you’re as dear to me as Bella is. Why would you feel otherwise towards me?”
What I mean is my feelings for you have,” he took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, seemingly unable to go on.
Richard? What do you mean?” Mimi didn’t know what he was trying to say, yet she felt a flutter in her heart as she waited for his words. There was a feeling of delicious anticipation in the air around her. She closed her eyes for a moment. Could it be that he returned her own secret sentiments?
What I’m trying to say, Mimi, is, well I … I find myself quite hopelessly in love.”
Mimi’s stomach felt as if it had dropped to her feet. “You are in love?” She leaned away from him and rested against the back of the bench. Defeated. She felt her heart would break right then and there. The garden seemed to swirl around her, and she feared she might faint. She fought valiantly to stay calm feigning a light-hearted feeling. “How wonderful. What is the young lady like?’
She is as beautiful as an angel. Very different from any woman I’ve ever met. She is mysterious, yet direct. Her mettle is strong. She is intelligent and doesn’t occupy herself with idle gossip. She is all things that are wonderful and nothing that is not.”
Pray tell, who is the lucky lady?” Her mind raced violently, her breath came in tiny gasps. He wasn’t referring to Lizzie Stevens, was he? He must be. She prepared herself, mentally, for his answer.
Richard looked at her for a moment. She watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down as he swallowed. His eyes blinked twice. And then he burst out laughing.
Pardon me, but what is so funny?” Mimi’s heart was shattering, and Richard was laughing. She’d never felt so mortified. How could he be so insensitive? And to lead her on by dancing with her. To have the nerve to abduct her from the party and pull her out to the garden with him. This alone could ruin her reputation. What if the Duke were to arrive at this moment?
Mimi stood abruptly. “I … I must go inside. It is not appropriate for us to be alone together. Especially since you have confessed your love for another.”
Richard stood up as well. “For another? Mimi, why do you say that? What do you think it is I’m trying to tell you? That I love another?”
It’s very clear what you’re trying to tell me. You have fallen in love.” Wonderful. I’m happy for you. Truly, I am. But if the young lady ever finds out you were alone in this garden with me, I fear she might never forgive you. I don’t appreciate the manner in which you’ve decided to tell me your news. Pray, don’t tell me who the lucky woman is.”
Mimi! You misunderstand me! I am not in love with someone else. It is you, Mimi. You, mon amour. I thought you would know immediately who I was speaking of. I thought you would know that it’s you who owns my heart.”
She looked deeply into his eyes then and sat back down on the bench. He joined her, sitting just a little closer than he’d been before.
Truly, Richard? You’re not teasing me? Are you?” Her eyes glistened with tears of joy and relief.
No. I am not teasing you, my love,” he answered quite seriously. “I love you, Mimi. And if you would promise to allow me to court you, formally and publicly, and then marry me, I know I should make you very happy indeed. At least I would spend my life trying to fulfil your every wish. I intend to ask your father for your hand, Mimi.”
Richard. I … I am so happy. I would like nothing better. I … I want you to speak to my father. As soon as you may.”
So, you return my sentiments?”
I do, Richard. With all of my heart, I do. I love you deeply.”
He picked up her hand and brought it close for a gentle touch of his lips.
Mimi!” Marie Hancock burst through the overhang of foliage and headed straight to her daughter. “What are you doing out here? And alone. Richard, where are your manners? Your mother would be most unhappy about this. Mortified, I dare say.”
I’m sorry, Mrs Hancock. This is not what it looks like.”
It most certainly is what it looks like, young man. Don’t try and fool me. I’m not so old that I forget what young couples do when they find themselves secretly alone in a hidden place. Tsk. What is on your shoulders, Mimi? Take it off this instant.” Marie pushed Richard’s jacket to the bench and grabbed Mimi’s hand away from his. She pulled her daughter to her feet.
You should be ashamed of yourself, Richard. Ashamed. Do you hear me? I have a good mind to tell your parents what an awful display I just happened upon. In fact, I may. If it wouldn’t make my daughter the subject of scandal, I most certainly would.”
You hush, Mimi. And come with me.” Marie started towards the French doors, all the while pulling Mimi behind her. “Disgraceful. To think that my own daughter …”
Mimi looked back at Richard, trying to assure him by smiling. It mattered not what her mother might say, she wanted to tell him with her bright black eyes. As long as Richard returned her love, all would be well.
“The Lost Love of a Stunning Lady” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Mimi Hancock, the daughter of a common tradesman, fell in love with her neighbor Richard Warren at first sight. But when Mimi’s beauty captures the eye of Hugh Templeton, Duke of Hertford, her mother’s repressed desire to move up the ladder of society is awakened. Mimi is ordered to abandon her dreams of a happy life with Richard and be amiable to the Duke at all costs. Will she sacrifice her own hopes to please her mother, possibly losing her one true love in the process?
Richard Warren is captivated by Mimi’s rare beauty but fate wants them apart. After tragic circumstances, she is forced to move to Paris. Feeling hopeless without her, Richard joins the army, but when he finally returns home, he is left with a shameful secret and a terrible case of mental trauma from the war. On top of that, he fears that he has lost Mimi for good, since she seems to be under the Duke’s spell. Does he have the strength and courage to fight for her even though her mother does not approve of him? Will he be able to win her heart again?
No matter where they go, Mimi and Richard cannot escape the gossip and deception that surrounds them. Can they both overcome everything that keeps them apart and reignite the fire of their lost love?
“The Lost Love of a Stunning Lady” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.