4 March 1811
Dear Aunt Josephine,
At last my father has given me permission to journey to visit you! I will be arriving about the fifteenth of August, though I am told that ships are often delayed by storm in that season, and so it may be September before I set foot ashore. August, September, it matters not at all to me, for I am coming to London! London! Your letters have filled me with such a longing for the city, and of course for your company and the company of my cousins. I have found such fine friends in my cousins on my mother's side and I am sure I will love all the Topswick cousins too. I am only sorry I could not visit before Uncle Darby left us.
Papa says I am to advise you that my mode of dress may be somewhat scandalous. I have of late found it more pleasant and comfortable, and in accordance with my manner, to wear men's suits. I have never really been a proper girl, as I may have complained to you a time or two, and finally I have given up all pretense of it. In my little theatre club's last production of Henry IV, I played Prince Hal as a breeches role, and it was so enjoyable that I retained the costume following the conclusion of the play. Since then, I have assembled a small but pleasing collection of masculine garments in the very latest fashions. I trust this will not discommode you half so much as Papa expects. Surely London is so grand and cosmopolitan that nothing could ever really be too strange there.
Please do write back and let me know how long I may stay with you, and where we shall go and what we shall do—I cannot contain my eagerness! I must close; we are about to visit a friend for supper and I don't wish to keep Papa waiting, but I could not delay another minute in writing to you with this marvelous news.
All my love,
your adoring niece,
4 March 1811
Diana has flung herself up the stairs to compose a breathless missive to you, so I shall write a shorter one to tuck within it. I will be consigning her to your loving care this autumn, somewhat against my better judgment. She prevailed upon me until I could not deny her any longer. She is a grown woman and must make her way in the world, and if she wishes to do this by turning to England and everything I rejected, I cannot really stop her.
You are the only decent member of our family, possibly excepting myself, so I trust you will take good care of her. She is not really very difficult to take care of. She mostly bounces from one adventure to the next, like a ball of India-rubber. Her latest peculiarity is to dress as a man and flirt with girls (she calls them her "particular friends"). She has broken a number of hearts—not because they think her a man, but because they know she is not one and come to love her anyway, only to fall from her favor when the next pretty face comes into view. I don't bother to scold her; she is impervious. "I can only be as I am," she tells me, and certainly I have never been able to make her be anything else. Nor would I, in truth. She will shock you, naturally—she delivers shocks to me as regularly as the tide—but beneath the costume of the week beats as steady and kind a heart as any I have encountered in all my years of wandering. You will enjoy her company, I am sure.
31 August 1811
Lady Josephine Topswick, Viscountess Darby, had thought herself well prepared to receive her niece, but it was still a bit of a shock to hear "Miss Diana Cooper" announced by her butler, who then showed in a young man of middling size and ebullient demeanor. "Aunt Josephine!" he cried, approaching and grasping her hand as she stared. Only the timbre of his voice—and his unfashionable apparel and accent—gave any hint that this was in fact Diana, her niece and longtime correspondent, and not a complete stranger.
Diana had Leo's strong brow and chin, which lent credence to her role, and had clearly spent some time mastering the mannerisms of a gentleman. Any questions occasioned by her moderate stature would be banished by her eager stride and unselfconscious jollity, so different to a maiden's shyness. Her blue cotton suit-coat, cut in a rather barbarous American style, was cleverly tailored to broaden her shoulders. With a fluffy jabot (only a few years out of fashion) to mask her bosom, her gently rounded middle took on the semblance of an indolent fellow's paunch. Even her curly dark hair, a Cooper hallmark, was cropped to make her look a veritable Caesar—or perhaps an Antony, seeking his Cleopatra.
Lady Darby collected her wits and warmly embraced her niece. "Come sit and have a spot of tea," she instructed. "Luncheon is at one o'clock, but we must fortify you until then. I'm certain you are weary and famished from your journey."
"I really am, thank you," Diana said, settling herself upon the sofa. "Cream and sugar in mine, please." As Lady Darby poured, Diana bounced up again and began to pace around the room, peering at everything. "I am beside myself to be in London at last!" she cried. "You have no idea how much I begged my father to send me here. And it is so kind of you to put me up, Aunt."
"Not at all," Lady Darby said, "you're my—relation."
"Hah, not sure whether to call me niece or nephew?" Diana laughed merrily. "Well, I am your niece, Aunt Jo, you may be sure of that! I do enjoy the liberties of the masculine, but have never fancied myself anything other than a lady. I simply have no patience for simpering by the wall and waiting for a fellow to ask me to dance." She examined the painting of flowers over the mantel, a gift from Lady Darby's friend Lady Montgomery. "I say, this is lovely. —Forgive me, I am so pleased to be on solid land again after a dreadful crossing, and so thrilled, truly, to be here, and I'm all a-whirl with excitement, I hardly know whether I'm coming or going—"
"Then be neither, and sit down," Lady Darby said, a bit more tartly than she intended. Diana ducked her head, abashed, and came back to the sofa. "My goodness," Lady Darby said, more gently, "you remind me of Leo at that age, all vim and vigor. And though I shock myself by saying it, you do make a very well turned out gentleman. I see why you favor such garments—they flatter you."
"They are so much more practical than gowns," Diana said. "And I do not enjoy the current fashion for wispy white things that put all my... attributes... on display for men to ogle. Though from the man's perspective I can appreciate—" Lady Darby gasped, and Diana clapped her hands over her mouth. "Oh, bother! I apologize, Aunt Jo, my speech always comes woefully far in advance of my thoughts, and I have never been able to restrain it."
Lady Darby fanned herself and took a fortifying sip of tea. "For love of you and my brother, I am putting forth my very greatest effort to accommodate your unorthodox manner," she said, "but it is rather challenging. I beg you to have a thought for your old aunt's nerves."
"I will comport myself as a very gentleman, I assure you," Diana said seriously. "And I am most grateful for your consideration."
"You are my niece," Lady Darby said simply. "With your mother gone and your father so far away, I must stand in their stead, and love you as though you were one of my own daughters." She smiled at Diana, so like Leo but also so much herself. "It is no trial. Your father said you are easy to care for, and I quite agree." It was a small and simple lie to put the young woman at ease, and she hoped it would become more true in time.
The clock chimed and Lady Darby rose. "Come, dear, give me your arm and let us go in to luncheon. I wish to hear all about the crossing, and of course any news of your father would be most welcome."
After luncheon, Diana retired to her room for a rest, and Lady Darby hurried to the library and her writing-desk. She was badly in need of advice, and had a thought as to who might provide it.
1 September 1811
The friendship between Lady Darby and Lady Amelia Saxford, Viscountess Montgomery, began as an inadvertent sort of sisterhood. Their husbands had perished together in an unfortunate countryside incident in the year eight. (It was never clear which of the gentlemen provoked the sheep, though both ladies suspected Lord Montgomery.) For the duration of the following social season, when few of their friends could look them in the eye and the occasional giggling "baa" was heard from behind the ferns in some of London's less prepossessing ballrooms, the two widows found solace in each other's company.
They had not previously had much reason to speak together, though their husbands were fast friends. Lady Darby's father had made a modest fortune in bream-fishing; Lady Montgomery was the third daughter of the fourth Duke of Marlborough. Only the happenstance of mutual loss permitted them to construct a bridge of companionship across this social gulf and learn they had much in common. They had been fond of their husbands and now missed them; they were in no hurry to wed again. They had produced responsible sons and mannerly daughters. Their duties were well attended to, and once they became accustomed to early widowhood—Lady Darby was approaching forty at the time, and Lady Montgomery just past that mark—they found it rather enjoyable.
For the next three years, they passed many an afternoon in quiet industry, Lady Darby with her embroidery and Lady Montgomery with paints and easel. When they felt moved to converse, they found many subjects of mutual interest. Though they rarely discussed sorrowful matters or anything else of great import, when one found herself in a difficult spot, the other could be counted upon to advise her.
Lady Darby's hurried note of the 31st was sufficiently vague and alarming that Lady Montgomery canceled a meeting of the organizers of the Kensington Garden Show in order to visit Lady Darby the following morning. She took her accustomed place on the less lumpy side of the peculiar small sofa that Lady Darby kept mostly because Lord Darby had liked it, and the ladies made pleasant small talk over tea until the maid had left the room. Then Lady Montgomery set down her teacup. "What on earth is the matter?" she asked. "Your message gave me some cause for concern."
"My niece, Diana, is visiting me," Lady Darby began. Seeing the other woman's puzzlement, she added, "The only daughter of my younger brother, Leo."
"Oh! I beg your pardon," Lady Montgomery said. "I was not aware you had a niece."
"My niece is likewise unaware I have a niece," Lady Darby said dryly. "Rather, she fancies herself my nephew. Leo married a Philadelphia woman, and Diana's American relations have greatly corrupted her, I must say." Briefly, she described Diana's mannerisms and habit of dress.
Lady Montgomery's eyebrows rose. "Gracious!"
"Indeed. And she expects her loving aunt to countenance this!" Lady Darby shook her head. "My brother dotes upon her and has instructed me to comply with her wishes, and I am bound to follow his instructions."
Lady Montgomery's face took on a complicated expression. "I begin to see why you wished to speak with me," she said.
"One cannot help but hear the rumors about your youngest daughter," Lady Darby said delicately.
"Oh, indeed, one cannot," Lady Montgomery said, with warranted bitterness. "Hardly a day goes by without one supposed friend or another making some comment regarding Beatrice and her excessive enjoyment of the company of other ladies. The other day she and I returned home from shopping to find that some wag had left a facsimile of Mrs. Damer's card upon our salver."
"Oh my," Lady Darby said faintly.
"I hope you are not asking me to give you advice on turning Diana from this path," Lady Montgomery said, "for I have quite given up hope of swaying Beatrice in any fashion. She is sweet and delicate precisely to the point where she has made up her mind about something, and then even the rock of Gibraltar must give way to her."
"Leo has likewise made it clear that Diana will not be dissuaded," Lady Darby said. "I confess, I have no understanding of how to chaperone such a girl! I hoped you might be able to advise me."
"I see," said Lady Montgomery. She sipped her tea contemplatively. Abruptly, she asked, "Are you fond of her?"
"Of course!" Lady Darby said instantly. "We have corresponded since she was a child, and she is just as charming and delightful in the flesh. Did I not care for her, this would be a good deal easier—I would contrive a reason to decline to host her, or nominate my sister to serve as sponsor for her come-out. But though she is quite the outrageous thing, I cannot find it in my heart to reject her."
Lady Montgomery nodded. "That is how it is with Beatrice," she said. "As with all my children, I desire only her happiness, though I have found no way that such happiness might be achieved. She longs for all the joys and comforts of married life, and is openly envious of her friends who have made matches, but shuns the company of men."
Lady Darby sniffed. "Diana seems quite happy to be a... a sort of lady-rake. She appears not to have considered that the ballrooms through which she wishes to cut a swath are in the homes of my dearest friends. I would not subject their daughters to unwanted or possibly alarming attentions."
"Or your own self to gossip," Lady Montgomery said.
"That as well," Lady Darby admitted. Josephine Cooper was not a name that had been considered illustrious before she had the good fortune to catch the eye of the late Lord Darby, and though she had risen gracefully to her new social stature, she was still wary of being made to seem uncouth or lacking in propriety. Her position was now rather precarious: she had inherited a mere two thousand pounds a year from her husband, whose grand title was backed by empty coffers, and was only still resident chez Darby by the reluctant grace of her son, who had not been secretive about his desire that she remarry and remove herself from dependence upon him. There was also the lingering embarrassment of the manner of her husband's demise. Some society ladies might be able to sail above the scandal of an American niece who dressed as a man and seduced women. Lady Darby could not.
Lady Montgomery had great sympathy for these concerns, though her own inheritance and bloodline, and the generosity and indulgence of her own son, had left her in a considerably better position. She toyed with the sugar-spoon, thinking. "Let us say," she said finally, "that you had a nephew, and I had a marriage-minded daughter, and they were of an age. We would introduce them, would we not?"
"We would," agreed Lady Darby, puzzled, "but we do not—oh."
"I cannot pretend to understand young ladies who wish to behave as though they are young men," Lady Montgomery said, "but I do understand young men. Many a rake has been reformed by the affections of a lovely miss."
"Please, speak plainly!" Lady Darby exclaimed. "Are you proposing to make a match between Diana and Beatrice?"
"There is no certainty that they will suit," Lady Montgomery said, "but I do see some merit in bringing our girls together before Diana's formal introduction to society."
"A brilliant notion," said Lady Darby, who was now quite excited. "If they enjoy each other's company, they may continue to visit in our homes, thereby keeping Diana out of view and away from society events. I suppose rumors will get about, as they do, but this seems greatly preferable to attempting to bring her to a soiree."
"Such secrecy may not be necessary," Lady Montgomery said. "If she is so inclined to mannishness, you could put it about that you are being visited by your nephew, and then she might even court Beatrice in public without fear, presuming her disguise is adequate. I hardly think anyone will consult Burke's regarding your brother's progeny, for your word on the matter cannot be doubted, and anyone who had some notion of Mr. Cooper having a daughter must be mistaken. Or, if she has a brother, she may simply use his name, with none the wiser."
"I had not suspected you of such capacity for deviousness," Lady Darby said admiringly. "I will suggest this scheme to her. I believe she will be quite taken with the idea. Her fondness for the elaborate and theatrical is readily apparent—she is always telling me about going to see this or that performance, and she has sent me drawings of some fantastic garments she has constructed for herself."
"It would indeed be fortunate if she has an appreciation for theatre and poetry," Lady Montgomery said, "for Beatrice speaks of little else, though of late she has developed an interest in the natural sciences."
Lady Darby frowned. "Have you thought this plan through to its conclusion?" she asked. "If there is the appearance of a young lady and a young gentleman keeping company, it will be expected that they wed. Especially as many will assume you are desperate to marry Beatrice off to the first fellow she seems willing to tolerate."
Lady Montgomery considered this prospect. "Well," she said finally, "if they are so inclined, why should we dissuade them?"
Lady Darby nearly dropped her teacup. "How unnatural!"
"They are unnatural girls," said Lady Montgomery, with the resigned air of a mother who has had many years to become accustomed to this truth about her daughter. "If we are to engage in this charade, let us play it to the hilt." She smiled. "You know, I had thought that if any of my children were going to marry into your family, it would be Cynthia, who briefly set her cap for your Richard."
"Did she?" said Lady Darby, interested. Cynthia was a bit flighty, but comely and kind. Richard could do much worse, and a gentle wife might encourage him to soften his demeanor toward his mother.
"Oh, it lasted perhaps two weeks, as usual with her infatuations."
Lady Darby regretfully set the notion aside. At least Richard would be leaving soon for their country estate, and she would have a peaceful summer and autumn in the city without his grousing.
"In any regard," Lady Montgomery said, "should our families be joined in this fashion, I would be very pleased."
"As would I," Lady Darby said, "though it certainly is not how I might have imagined such a thing would come about."
"As well, if we can have it seen that Beatrice has taken up with an eligible gentleman, and relieve both her and my household of the burden of opprobrium, I will be greatly in your debt."
"If we successfully contrive to avoid a scandal about my mannish American niece," Lady Darby said, "I believe we may call it even."
"Then we are agreed," Lady Montgomery said. "I will bring Beatrice over tomorrow after morning worship, if that suits."
"It does, indeed! I will inform Diana. I am certain she will be pleased to make a friend with whom she may freely be herself." Lady Darby's smile faded. "I do hope this turns out for the best. Leo told me not to scold her, and she is two and twenty, well past the age when scolding might do any good. But I still feel as though I ought to be discouraging her from her unladylike ways, or even forbidding them, and instead I am abetting them."
Lady Montgomery patted her hand soothingly. "All our children do as they will do," she said, "and it is our charge to keep them from harming themselves or one another. A bit of costumery is nothing of consequence, and Beatrice will hardly be shocked by her. And if they get along, why, that solves many more problems than it causes."
"I hope so," Lady Darby said. "Diana is such a dear, really. I only wish she could find her happiness in more conventional ways."
"She has found it at all," said Lady Montgomery, "which is better than most of us manage. Do not fret. All will be well, you shall see."
Diana did not rise until well into the afternoon, and then was so famished she could barely speak. After she had fortified herself with a quantity of cold meat and dried cherries, she joined Lady Darby for a stroll through the garden.
"I have spoken with my friend Lady Amelia Saxford, the Viscountess Montgomery," Lady Darby said, "and she had a novel thought. What if I were to introduce you as my nephew, rather than my niece? Would you object to being 'Mr. Cooper' for a time? This way you may wear what you like, and no scandal will be attached to it for either of us."
Diana clapped her hands, delighted. "That sounds like tremendous fun!" she said. "Will you call me David, rather than Diana? Or perhaps I should be called Apollo!" Lady Darby paled slightly. "No, no, dear aunt, please forgive my fondness for dramatic gestures. David will do perfectly well. It is only for a few months, so it hardly matters."
"Yes," Lady Darby said weakly. "David, then." She gathered her wits. "Lady Montgomery will be calling tomorrow after church, accompanied by her youngest daughter. Miss Beatrice Saxford is also of the, ah, tribadic persuasion. I thought you might like to make a friend before you sally forth to take London's ballrooms by storm."
Diana's eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Aunt Jo, you can't know how much this means to me," she said, fumbling for her handkerchief. "Friends of mine... their parents have forbidden them to see me, or even turned them out into the street. And here you are, so warm and lovely, even though I know I am a trial to you—oh!" She blew her nose. "I could not ask for a better aunt."
"Well, now," Lady Darby said, very moved. "Let's have no talk of such things. This is your home, my dear. And having raised three daughters, I may say with some authority that each girl is a trial in her own way. I could tell you stories from Catherine's first season that would curl your hair."
"Mr. David Cooper," Diana said. "I do like the sound of it. Your friend is so clever. What a lark this will be!"
2 September 1811
It happened that the day of the Saxfords' visit saw that rare event, fine autumn weather in London. The parlor was hot and stuffy. Fortunately, Diana and Lady Darby did not have to wait long before their guests were announced.
Lady Darby gave Diana's proper name as she was introduced, but Diana put on her best gentlemanly airs nonetheless. Her American friends laughed at her for swooning over British titles, but she still felt very humble in the presence of a viscountess—well, another one, but she did not think of Aunt Jo in such terms—and bowed perhaps more deeply than was warranted. Lady Montgomery immediately set her at ease with a warm smile and effusive greeting. Miss Beatrice Saxford was more reserved, though her manners were perfectly correct. "It is a pleasure to meet you" was all she said, her polite smile not reaching her hazel eyes. Diana found her very enjoyable to look at, but thought she might have valued friendliness more in this new place where she knew no one.
Lady Montgomery and Lady Darby easily filled the silence with casual chatter, and Diana smiled to see the two together: Lady Montgomery tall and broad and regal, with fair hair shading to grey; Lady Darby short and nearly as broad and not the least imposing, white beginning to streak her dark plait. They could not be more different, but they were clearly bosom companions, and their delight in each other's company was infectious. Soon Beatrice unbent a little, and even cast a real smile or two in Diana's direction.
When the warmth of the parlor became oppressive, the party of four betook themselves to Lady Darby's back garden, where they played at pall-mall, that being all the long, narrow lawn was really good for. Lady Darby did not especially care for the game herself, but it gave the young ladies a way to occupy themselves while they became acquainted. Lady Darby and Lady Montgomery quickly pleaded an excess of sun and retired to sip tart raspberry shrub in the shade of the plane trees, leaving Beatrice and Diana to make their own conversation against the gentle clack of the mallet on the ball.
Beatrice took some time to deliberate and aim, and then carefully tapped the ball toward the hoop. It rolled obligingly past a gopher-hole and came within striking distance of her goal. "What brings you to London?" she asked.
"Well, that it is London!" Diana said, covertly admiring the other woman's elegant posture. Beatrice's simple long-sleeved walking dress of yellow silk was most flattering to her ruddy complexion and chestnut hair, and her gloved hands were steady and sure on the mallet. She was only an inch shorter than Diana, and her dancing master had so perfected her carriage that it nearly gained her that additional inch. Her ample bosom and derrière—at which Diana had managed not to stare, though they were very apparent when Beatrice leaned over—were matched by undoubted muscularity; she had an air of sturdiness about her, very different to the wispy femininity Diana had thought to see in an English miss of good breeding. Diana was glad she had brought her better summer-weight coat and trousers; it wouldn't do to be under-dressed in such fine company, and if current fashions forced her to wear black and roast in the sun, at least the linen made her less of a sweaty mess than wool would have done.
Beatrice lined up her shot. "How do you mean?" she asked. "There is so much to London; I think it is a different city to every one who visits it."
"Aunt Josephine is always writing to me of concerts and plays, for which I have a passion. And there is tremendous history here, back to the Romans! Philadelphia is so new, it still has the smell of saw-dust on it. Oh, well done," she added as Beatrice struck the ball neatly through the hoop and up against the stop. "I make it five for you, is it not?"
"It is," agreed Beatrice, modest but clearly pleased.
"You have bested me by two." Diana swept off her hat and bowed theatrically. "I am most impressed by your prowess."
"Seven strikes to the hoop is no poor showing for someone who has only learned the game today," Beatrice assured her. "I am certain you could match me. Come, let us try again."
Diana collected the ball and offered to take the mallet as well, which Beatrice graciously permitted. They strolled back toward the house, Diana with the mallet jauntily over her shoulder as though it were a fowling-piece and the ball her downed pigeon, Beatrice twirling a crocus between her fingers.
After a moment's silence, Diana ventured to ask, "Have you always lived in London, Miss Saxford?"
"Oh, yes—with summers in the country, of course. London's beastly in the summer. Do not be fooled by this breezy day, which makes even the sooty city feel fresh; had you come a month or two before, you would wish heartily to be anywhere else. We have only just returned from Borrington and are still settling ourselves. When Papa was alive, he preferred the country, and we only came to town for the session of Parliament. But Mama and Simon—my brother, now Lord Montgomery—enjoy London and sometimes bring us back as early as August." Beatrice gave her a sidelong glance. "You would be very welcome to visit us at Borrington next summer, if you have not returned to Philadelphia by then."
"You're too kind," Diana said. "I would be delighted, but I have not thought so far ahead. I hope to stay through Christmas, or longer if Cousin Richard and Aunt Josephine will have me, but I have not even seen Richard to ask him; he is still in the country himself. The Atlantic crossing is unpleasant in winter, I'm told—though I cannot think how it would be worse than I endured last week, with unceasing storms—and I do not suppose my father's toleration for my affectations extends to my taking bachelor's quarters."
"Do you intend to remain a bachelor, then?" Nothing in Beatrice's demeanor suggested it was other than a casual question—surely that flush upon her cheeks was only from the sun.
"Have I another choice? I assuredly could not be content in a marriage to any man. And I have not the income to set myself up alone, or hope of finding a wealthier woman to be the Lady Butler to my Sarah Ponsonby." Diana shrugged, bouncing the mallet on her shoulder. "So I have accustomed myself to spinsterhood, or bachelorhood, as you like. It is hardly a miserable status. I have observed many an unhappy marriage and count myself fortunate to be certain that such is not to be my lot in life."
"But then you are denied the pleasures of love," Beatrice observed.
"To the contrary," Diana said, with a wink, "I have loved frequently and at length."
Now Beatrice's blush was undoubted, but she lifted her chin and maintained a cool demeanor. "Dalliances are not love," she said stoutly. "Love is not like this flower, to be plucked and admired and discarded when it begins to wilt." She flicked the crocus into the bushes. "It is a tree, to be cherished and nurtured until it grows strong enough to lean against, and broad enough to provide shelter. I, too, have been made to believe that I must remain a spinster. But I do not resign myself to it. Should I have the great good fortune to meet someone who captures my heart, I would make every effort to build a life with her, forsaking all others, till death do us part."
They reached the head of the lawn and fell silent. It did not do to talk of love and marriage when matchmakers were present.
"What was your tally, Beatrice?" Lady Montgomery asked as the girls drank from their sweating glasses of shrub.
"Five to my seven," Diana added, "and I am not the least ashamed to be bested by such a fine player."
"Seven is well done, for one new to the sport, and a lawn in poor repair," Lady Darby said encouragingly. "Will you play another round?"
"We have agreed to." Diana offered the mallet to Beatrice. "Miss Saxford, you should play first, you have won the right."
"Oh, no, the novice always takes the first turn."
"To be fully truthful with you, I also wish to observe your technique," Diana said, "and thereby improve my own."
"And should I so diminish my own chances?" Beatrice said lightly.
"Please," Diana said, quite in earnest, "if I am to hold my head up as a gentleman in London society, surely I must defer to a lady."
To this, no denial could be made. Beatrice curtsied, and took the mallet. "You are too kind, sir," she murmured.
As they returned to the lawn, Lady Darby shook her head and took a long drink of her shrub. "A pity this was not made with brandy," she muttered.
Lady Montgomery patted her hand sympathetically. "It was made the way it was made," she replied, "and it is our lot to learn to savor what we have been served."
"You mistake me," Lady Darby said. "I am accustoming myself to Diana being who Diana is, though at times it is not an easy task. It is only that the two of them remind me of when Darby and I were courting." She glanced at Lady Montgomery, then looked away. "They remind me of what I had once, and do not expect to have again."
Beatrice placed the ball at the starting line and took aim with the mallet. Diana stood a little closer to her than was strictly proper. When Beatrice glanced up at her, she smiled and said, "I merely wish to see how you place your hands, and ready your swing." So close, she could see that delicate pockmarks were scattered across Beatrice's cheeks like stars in the evening sky.
Beatrice blushed and looked away. "So," she said, and sent the ball racing down the meadow.
They strolled after it, in no hurry. The sun was at its peak; the air was still cool and pleasant, with a hint of autumnal crispness. They could both feel the days upon days of clouds and squalls that waited eagerly in the wings, and they did not wish to waste a moment of the fine weather.
"Did you say that you are interested in music and theatre?" Beatrice asked after a moment.
"I am, very much so." Diana struck a pose and declaimed, "'The very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly to your service.'"
"A pretty speech, which I too enjoyed the last time I took in a production of The Tempest," Beatrice said archly. "And have you any knowledge of this century's playwrights?"
"I readily confess my ignorance," Diana said cheerfully. "My dearest friend in Philadelphia is most enamored of Shakespeare's works and I have spent many hours reading and discussing them with her, and I have attended some fine performances. But of London's modern theatrical scene I know nothing."
They reached the ball, and as Beatrice considered its lie, Diana took her courage in both hands and added, "Perhaps, Miss Saxford, you might be my guide?"
At once Beatrice turned back to her, beaming, the pall-mall game forgotten. "I will gladly!" she said. "And I know just the thing. The Lyceum is staging a new comic opera written by Mr. Thomas Moore, a week from today—nothing likely to shake the world, but he is a fine librettist and a figure of some significance in London theatre. I will be there with my oldest sister, Cynthia, and some small number of our friends. Do join us."
"I can think of no more enjoyable way to pass an evening," Diana said warmly. "My thanks for the very kind invitation."
"I will be so pleased to introduce you to Cynthia and the rest." Beatrice frowned. "I suppose I must accustom myself to calling you Mr. Cooper, when we are out and about."
"Is it so difficult to do?" Diana glanced down at herself, a bit anxiously. "Is there some fault—I am not certain of my hair—"
"No, no, not at all," Beatrice said hastily. "It is only that if you were in truth Mr. David Cooper... well, I should not like you half so much."
"Oh," Diana said, feeling her face grow hot and wishing that she could take Beatrice's hand. "Then I am twice as glad to be myself."
After a moment, the young women recollected themselves and returned to playing pall-mall. For no readily apparent reason, they were both very clumsy that afternoon.
9 September 1811
They had hardly emerged from the theatre before Beatrice burst out, "Of all the outrageous things!"
"Absolutely outrageous," concurred her sister Cynthia, the oldest of the Saxford brood. Diana was a little surprised that she was still Miss Saxford at seven and twenty, for she was comely and had made very pleasant conversation in the theatre before the performance began. Now she was scowling and clearly done with pleasantries, though Diana could not fathom why.
"I quite agree," Miss Emma Whitfield said, swinging her reticule about as though Mr. Moore might be within striking distance. She was about Beatrice's age, one or two and twenty, and quite small but extremely fierce. "What an appalling bit of work."
Miss Louise Woodworth, a tall, stick-thin woman of perhaps thirty years who appeared to be the nominal chaperone for the group, said nothing, but huffed expressively.
Diana looked from one to another of them, puzzled. "Forgive me, ladies," she said, "I do not mean to make light of your unhappiness, but—did I see a different show? I found it quite diverting."
As one they turned on her, aghast. "Diverting!" Miss Saxford exclaimed. "Why, Mr. Cooper, for shame! It was cruel."
"To whom?" cried Diana. "Every character was most charming, and each won my heart in turn! Saving Sir Charles, of course, but he was such a villain, surely you cannot take issue—"
"Lady Bab Blue," Beatrice said sharply. "The bluestocking."
"The chemist," Miss Whitfield added. "A serious scholar of the sciences, made an object of mockery!"
Miss Woodworth did not growl, because it would not be becoming to a lady. But she looked as though she might.
Diana's brow furrowed. "She was a comic figure, certainly," she said. "But naturally it would be comedic, a lady scientist!" She chuckled at the notion.
A chilly silence fell. Miss Saxford glared. Miss Whitfield's grip on her reticule tightened. Miss Woodworth puckered her mouth as though she had bitten a lemon. And Beatrice examined Diana as though she looked down the wrong end of Lady Bab Blue's telescope and saw something so small as to be entirely insignificant.
Diana floundered. "Ladies," she begged, "please, tell me how I have offended."
Beatrice lifted her chin and turned her back under the barest pretense of looking down the road for their carriage. Diana felt the cut as though to her heart.
Miss Saxford and Miss Whitfield joined Beatrice in her minute examination of every hack and jitney that passed along the road. Miss Woodworth glanced at them, sighed, and turned to Diana. "Mr. Cooper," she said levelly, "you find yourself in the company of four lady scientists. I am a geologist, Miss Whitfield is a mathematician, Miss Saxford is a chemist, and Miss Beatrice is a naturalist."
Diana had not thought it was possible for her to feel more distressed, and yet the pit of her stomach found new levels to which it might fall.
"I did not know—that is, I have never encountered—" She shook her head. "Thank you, Miss Woodworth, for enlightening me. Miss Woodworth, Miss Whitfield, Miss Saxford, Miss Beatrice: I very humbly beg your pardons for my careless words, and will endeavor to regain your respect by demonstrating my own for you and your pursuits."
Miss Woodworth nodded approvingly. "Handsomely said," she said, "and for my own part, I forgive your error of ignorance."
Beatrice held her face averted for long enough to establish that for her part Diana was not entirely forgiven, and then turned and gave her a small nod. "Thank you, Mr. Cooper," she said. Miss Saxford and Miss Whitfield followed suit, murmuring acknowledgment.
The silence was, if no longer chilly, still cool. Diana felt it would not be her place to attempt to make lighthearted conversation after such a grievous blunder. She stuck her hands in her pockets (by far the nicest part of men's garb) and attempted to distract herself, while not appearing to shun her companions, by reading the advertisements posted outside the theatre. The others were too well bred to converse without her, and clearly had no interest in conversing with her, so they remained, standing without speaking for longer than Diana had thought any group of women were capable of doing, until the Saxfords' carriage at last pulled up.
Diana handed each of them in. When she had helped them down earlier in the evening, Beatrice's hand had lingered in hers. Now, as soon as Beatrice was in the carriage, she snatched her fingers away as though burned. Diana blinked back a tear, shut the door, and climbed up beside the coachman.
The journey home was rainy, cold, and miserable. She turned up her collar and thought bitterly that it was only what she deserved.
10 September 1811
"Good morning," Lady Darby said as Diana shuffled miserably into the breakfast room. "How was your evening at the theatre?"
"Oh, wretched," Diana burst out. "I have made an utter fool of myself with Miss Saxford."
"Oh dear," Lady Darby said. "No good ever comes of discussing matters of the heart while the stomach is empty, so do at least have some eggs and toast, and then tell me all about it."
Diana did as she was bid, and at the end of her story Lady Darby shook her head. "I think you have done too well at your mimicry," she said. "That blunder was worthy of any headstrong young man who has never been taught the lady's art of listening."
"That is what I feared," Diana said. "What if—what if I am too much a David? I even thought that perhaps I could borrow a gown to wear the next time I see her."
Lady Darby opened her mouth to agree, and then closed it and sat a moment in thought. "What is it, Aunt?" Diana pressed her.
"Ah, my dear." Lady Darby took her niece's hand across the table. "It was in my mind to encourage you down this path, but I was only indulging my own notions of how a young lady ought to behave. It would be no kindness to you or to her for you to put on some pretense of feminine flutters. I spoke poorly, earlier; you are not engaged in mimicry, but in truth-telling. You have shown her your true self, the gentle parts and the clumsy parts, such as we all have. And you must continue to do so. You cannot win a lover's heart by being someone other than you are."
Diana shook her head, bewildered. "But if I was my true self last night, and she rightly took offense, how then should I win her over without some artfulness?"
"You must show her the face she found so pleasing that day we all played at pall-mall," Lady Darby said. "How were you then?"
Diana thought back. It was hard to remember that fine sunny day on this gloomy morning, with rain rattling the breakfast room windows and a grey cloud similarly shadowing her mood. "I was... curious. I wished to know what manner of person she was, and invited her to tell me. I applauded her success and did not begrudge it. I showed her the greatest respect, without abasing myself."
"And is that how you comported yourself at the theatre?"
Diana hung her head. "No," she whispered. "I barged in and thought I knew so much when in truth I knew nothing. And I did not pay attention to her—it was not even a matter of missing subtle cues! Throughout the performance, where I laughed, she frowned. I thought it a mere difference of opinion, such as I might have with any friend. But I do not know her well enough yet to count her among my friends, or believe myself counted among hers. I presumed too much."
"I must correct myself again," Lady Darby said with some amusement. "You were not too masculine. You were too American." She sighed. "And so very much a Cooper."
Diana laughed a little. "Well, I cannot help being any of those, I am afraid," she said.
"Indeed," Lady Darby said with only a bit of regret. "But your exemplary comportment Sunday last is certainly to your credit, as I hope Lady Montgomery will remind Miss Saxford—who, I am sure, is similarly pouring out her heart to her mother this morning. She did have a real liking for you, I think, and that is not to be set aside over one small misstep, for which you apologized promptly and well."
"I hope it is as you say," Diana said. "I still feel I ought to do more to make it up to her. I had some thoughts for gifts to make or pretty words to say, but then they all seemed too presumptuous."
Lady Darby smiled. "You really are very torn up over this girl," she said. "I had it from your father that you were a notorious breaker of hearts."
"Two or three hearts, perhaps," Diana admitted, "but my own was more bruised than my father knew. And Miss Saxford is remarkable." She propped her chin on her hand, gazing out the window as though the object of her affections might stroll through the garden at any moment. "A naturalist! And she keeps company with other lady scientists! My only talents are dancing and playing cards, and I am no prodigy at either. I feel terribly dull and ordinary by comparison. How can I hope to regain her esteem?"
Lady Darby considered her niece, who was the very picture of a young man deep in love's agonies: a shabby quilted blue banyan half-hiding the previous evening's disheveled clothes, cravat done up anyhow, short hair tousled, brown eyes bruised. The only missing element was the shade of whiskers across the hollowed cheeks. "You are far from ordinary," she said. "Let us see about reminding Miss Saxford that you are more than worthy of her attentions."
Having foundered on the shoals of her first social event in London, Diana was at first uncertain of the wisdom of attending a second, but Lady Darby insisted that she make another effort, and eventually she came around. The hearing in Lady Darby's left ear had been poor since a childhood bout of influenza, and she always preferred a smaller and quieter gathering to a larger and noisier one, so they settled upon having some friends over for a bit of dancing followed by a modest supper. The guest list included a dozen families of Lady Darby's acquaintance who happened to be in town, perhaps thirty people in all; it would not be a great crush, and Diana's ability to turn a step would be easily observed and admired in the more relaxed setting.
Lady Darby enclosed a personal note in her invitation to the Saxford household, and shortly she received a reply that Lady Montgomery, Miss Cynthia Saxford, and Miss Beatrice Saxford would be most pleased to attend. Diana was so overcome with relief that she had to go have a bit of a lie-down.
When Diana begged assistance with winning Beatrice's heart and mind once more, Lady Darby forbore to instruct her, but she was most willing to consider Diana's own ideas and gently urge her away from those that were more grandiose. Suggestions of masked balls, elaborate surprises, and scavenger hunts were each discarded in their turn. "Do not mistake her fondness for the theatre for the desire to live in one," Lady Darby advised her, and at last Diana gave up her melodramatic notions and turned to more practical ones.
It was determined that Diana would ask Beatrice to stand up with her for a country dance, and ask a second time later in the evening if once rebuffed. She would offer to fetch refreshment during the dancing if Beatrice seemed parched or famished. She would contrive to offer a small and suitable gift; they visited several bookshops and came away with a fine edition of Marie Le Masson Le Golft's Balance de la nature. (Diana trusted Lady Darby's assurance that Lady Montgomery employed excellent tutors for her daughters and Beatrice would have no difficulty with the French.) She would not offer another apology—"One is sufficient for all but the grossest error" was Lady Darby's opinion—but would comport herself in a humble and attentive manner that showed awareness of, and regret for, her earlier mistake.
"It is a very good plan," Diana said at last. "I only wish we could share it with Miss Saxford in advance, and be assured that she will play her part."
This, of course, they could not do; but Diana was very pleased when Lady Montgomery wrote to Lady Darby that The girls and I are all looking forward to seeing you and D.C. on Saturday. Lady Darby thought it likely that the inclusion of Lady Montgomery's daughters was pro forma and had not entailed their consultation, but she did not wish to quash Diana's hopes, and kept her peace.
15 September 1811
At eight o'clock, guests began to arrive, and soon the larger drawing room was full of merriment. Sir David Camberville brought his son James, who had no social graces to speak of but was brilliant at the pianoforte, and he provided the music for dance after dance. Diana made a good account of herself with the young ladies in attendance. They were quite happy to dance and flirt with Lady Darby's roguish nephew while their chaperones exchanged shocked and admiring whispers over Diana's coat and trousers of fine ochre cotton, the very latest fashion in Philadelphia and entirely astonishing in London. Even the most daring and least caring fellows in attendance were sporting breeches, and more than one looked enviously at the American, whose disregard for the local custom held clear appeal to the bolder girls.
Diana, for her part, quickly grew warm from her exertions and missed the airy swirl of skirts, though she could hardly say as much. She reflected that most of her dance partners would find her far less desirable did they know what was hidden beneath her much-discussed attire. She resolved anew to comport herself modestly. The dancing was enjoyable, but her true interest lay with the wallflowers—one in particular—and it would be unkind to lead a marriage-minded girl into romantic notions based on falsehood.
The Saxford party was announced at close to nine o'clock. Diana did not quite stumble upon seeing Beatrice, but it was a near thing. A sheer white muslin gown draped the young woman as though she were a Greek statue. The whitework embroidery along the skirt added little to its opacity, and the ruffles of her petticoat were all that hid her ankles from view. Diana, who was walking through a most undemanding dance with a shy miss of seventeen who was a most undemanding partner, nonetheless felt herself break out in a fresh sweat.
At the conclusion of the dance, Diana bowed to her partner, mopped her brow, and excused herself to greet the newcomers, who had just found seats along the wall. Lady Darby intercepted her before she had gone three paces. "I have never seen Miss Beatrice in such a gown," she murmured. "Usually she will do anything to avoid drawing attention to herself. If you wished for a signal from her, I would say you have one."
"Pray for me," Diana replied as her aunt took her arm. "I must make the most of this chance."
Lady Darby patted her arm. "You will do splendidly," she said. "Have no fear." Together they crossed the room, Lady Darby all smiles for her friend, Diana bold as though entering into the fray of battle.
The Saxfords rose to greet them. With utmost correctness, Diana complimented Lady Montgomery's impressive red turban and Cynthia's glamorous embroidered shawl before turning to Beatrice. Her round face was framed by perfect chestnut curls. The white of her dress and gloves echoed the delicate strand of pearls at her throat, which glowed against her soft, unpowdered skin. She was stunning.
"Miss Beatrice," Diana said, pitching her voice low as she bowed over Beatrice's hand. "It is a very great pleasure to see you again. My compliments to your dressmaker and your own exquisite taste—your gown is a marvel, and most suited to your loveliness."
"Thank you, Mr. Cooper." Beatrice curtsied, providing a fine view down the straining front of her gown. Diana gamely kept her gaze locked on Beatrice's warm hazel eyes, and was rewarded with a hint of a smile. "Your suit is very becoming."
All notions of clever banter flew from Diana's head. "I do hope you are well," she managed.
"Yes, thank you, I am less indisposed than I was when last we met."
"I am most pleased to hear it," Diana said, hoping her voice did not betray the depths of her relief.
"As am I," Beatrice said. "For I was quite dyspeptic, and ailing for days."
"To what do you credit your recovery?"
"I had considered a purgative, to rid myself of whatever I had found so disagreeable," Beatrice said pointedly. Diana winced. "But the malady was not so dire as I had at first supposed; I was hasty in my diagnosis. My mother advised me to rest and take some soothing nourishment, and these have returned me to my accustomed state of wellness."
"You are blessed to have such a wise and thoughtful mother and such a sturdy constitution," Diana said, "though I grieve that anything troubled you even slightly."
"Even those who are sturdy may be wounded, Mr. Cooper," Beatrice said dryly, "and need attentive care in their convalescence—lest they relapse."
"If you identified the troublesome ingredient," Diana said, fidgeting nervously with her shirt-cuff, "perhaps it would be prudent to avoid it altogether in the future."
Beatrice considered her for a long moment. "If I were always prudent, I might do so," she said at last. "But I am not. Some dishes are too rich and toothsome to resist."
Diana blushed hotly. An absurd thought entered her head; emboldened by the unexpected compliment, she recklessly followed it. "I have heard," she said, leaning forward conspiratorially, "that dancing may be a remedy for many ailments, if one is well enough to stand up for it."
Beatrice raised an eyebrow. "A curious notion," she said. "I have not encountered it before. The innovation of American physicians, perhaps?"
"Ah, perhaps," Diana said weakly. She hadn't expected to be taken seriously. "It, ah, combines the attentive care of which you speak with rhythmic movement that brings the humours into balance."
"Does it," Beatrice said, beginning to smile.
"Well, that is the theory!" Diana said, improvising wildly. "But—we ought to put it to a test of scientific observation. Would you do me the honor of joining me for the next dance?"
Beatrice laughed. "For the sake of science, Mr. Cooper, I will."
During their conversation, another dance had gotten underway, so they had to wait several minutes until it was concluded. Having obtained Beatrice's agreement, Diana was anxious not to give her some reason to reconsider, and so she resolved to say nothing until spoken to; Beatrice made no effort to engage her in small talk, but stood clutching her reticule and watching the couples stumble merrily through a cotillion that was evidently many years out of vogue.
At last Mr. Camberville ended the music with a flourish and the dancers halted, more or less where they ought to. The ladies fanned themselves, the gentlemen wiped their brows, and all congratulated one another, laughing, before heading en masse towards the refreshments table.
Other couples began to drift towards the center of the room. Diana offered Beatrice her arm and began to guide her to the head of the set, but Beatrice drew her back. "I do not enjoy calling dances," she said. "I have a poor memory for the figures. It is far easier to follow another's lead than to be the one at the center of the room's scrutiny." She glanced at Diana. "But if you have your heart set on leading the dance, of course, I am certain I will manage something, or all those lessons from Master Pellier will have been for nothing."
"I have my heart set on enjoying a dance with you," Diana said, "which surely I could not do if you were unhappy. I will wait to join the set until you are ready."
Beatrice gave her a quick smile, and relaxed her grip on her reticule.
When a few couples had stood up and the lady at the top of the set had gone to consult with the pianist, they strolled to their place, greeted their neighbors, and waited to be shown the figure. Diana had been the center of attention all evening, so she thought nothing of the stares and whispers until Beatrice's cheeks flushed and she lifted her chin to cover her nervousness. Then Diana recalled Beatrice's reputation, and realized the stares were not for her ochre trousers but for her choice of partner.
She leaned forward. "I neglected to warn you," she said, "that all evening the gossips have greatly enjoyed the fodder I provide; woe to any young lady seen in my company, for she will be talked about for weeks."
Beatrice shook her head. "You are kind," she said quietly. "But there is no greater fodder for gossip than for me to be seen in the company of a young gentleman. I do not often dance, and I do not dance with men, ever. I will only stand up if there are few gentlemen and the ladies are obliged—as it is always put—to dance with one another."
Diana bowed slightly. "I am honored," she said. "You need not have made such a public exception for me."
"I need not," Beatrice agreed, "but I do not regret it."
The music began, and they fell silent as the lead couple began to take the next couples through the figures. It was a simple dance with a quick progression, and soon the dance had reached them and Diana was caught up in it. She turned the lead lady and changed places as required, but her eye was always on Beatrice. Often they stood still, pillars for the lead couple to wend around, and during those times they held each other's gaze so closely that another dancer stepping between them was almost a physical shock of separation.
Suddenly they were at the top of the set and had to take their turn dancing the lead figures, which shook them from their intense contemplation of each other. The dancers below them were forgiving, and soon they had the way of it. These figures had them dancing much more with other couples, and Diana savored the rare moments when they faced each other and revolved around the fixed point of their joined right hands.
Despite Beatrice's protestations of inexperience, she was an excellent dancer. Her hand was warm and firm in Diana's; there was no fear that one of them would slip away from the other. She brought equal strength and energy to bear in their turns, so that truly they were turning each other. Some gentlemen might have taken offense at this display of boldness. Diana found it deeply exciting. Their revolutions were inevitable, inescapable, as though they were driven by clockwork or some unnamable natural force.
There were as many ways to catch another dancer's eye as to take her hand, and Diana knew them all, yet whenever her eyes met Beatrice's, she felt newly lightning-struck. She knew she ought to be charming her companion with wit and thoughtfulness, but she found herself unable to speak at all, and did not miss it. The brush of glance against glance, the grip of hand in gloved hand, was enough.
Mr. Camberville was almost mechanically steady at the pianoforte, so it could not be that he played the tune faster each time through, and yet Diana felt increasingly giddy with each turn, as though they were engaged not in stately movements but in the joyous unconstrained whirls of small children. She laughed a little, breathlessly, and caught an answering laugh from Beatrice before they were obliged to drop hands and turn away from each other again. Even in those times of separation, she felt an almost mystical linkage between them, and their reunions were destined by Providence.
Beatrice knew all the guests, of course, so there were greetings to give and return; many were clearly surprised to see her dancing with a gentleman, but she gave no quarter to their questioning looks, instead gracing them with calm smiles as though nothing were out of the ordinary. Diana complimented each lady in brief, and nodded to the gentlemen, but her mind was only on Beatrice.
Soon enough they reached the bottom of the set and could catch their breath. Diana glanced back and saw that there were only nine or ten couples in all, but she was suddenly as weary as if she had danced with a hundred. Beatrice seemed similarly affected. It would not do to break away early, however, so they stood and tried not to puff at each other like racehorses.
"You are a very fine dancer," Beatrice said at last. "Very fine indeed."
"As are you," Diana said. "We are well suited in our habits and manners, I believe."
"Soon we will progress back up the set," Beatrice said.
"Indeed," Diana said, a bit perplexed. It was a very obvious thing to note.
"I am glad," Beatrice said. "I enjoy those figures far more. They offer more opportunities for... contemplation."
"Oh," Diana said. She felt a flush creep across her face, and her shy smile quickly became a grin. "Yes, I prefer that too."
Then there was a new first couple above them, extending friendly hands to draw them back into the set.
Too soon, the dance concluded, and they stood dazed for a moment, staring at each other, gradually returning to awareness of the room around them. Diana recollected herself and bowed deeply to her partner. "Thank you for a most enjoyable dance, Miss Saxford," she said.
Beatrice dipped a little curtsy. "The pleasure is mine, Mr. Cooper."
"May I escort you to the refreshments? I find myself greatly in want of some lemonade."
Beatrice took her arm. "I would be delighted."
The intimacy of their dancing had not gone unnoticed, and more than one lady murmuring in her neighbor's ear fell silent as they strolled past. Diana knew she ought to fear that Beatrice's reputation for eschewing the company of men might lead to questions about Diana's own nature, but she could not find it within herself to care. And who would dare to say that Lady Darby did not know her own nephew? No, it was far more likely that she would be seen as the one to at last bring Beatrice around to respectability, and if it was whispered that she did so by having more of the feminine about her than a young man ought to have, it mattered not a whit.
She collected two glasses of orgeat lemonade and handed one to Beatrice, who took a ladylike sip. Diana drank deeply, and a few bubbles went up her nose; she managed to stifle her sneeze. Beatrice caught her expression and smiled. "You must moderate your consumption," she said, "or you will upset your digestion."
"Ah, that reminds me," Diana said. "Was our scientific experiment a success?"
"I feel entirely well," Beatrice said. "I keep a modest collection of recipes for remedies that I have encountered or improved upon, and when I return home I will be sure to note that dancing may be considered curative if one has certain sorts of indisposition."
There could be no better opportunity for Diana to give Beatrice the copy of Balance de la nature, which was waiting in the library in a tasteful package, and yet she hesitated. Would it be too much? Too forward? Or insignificant? Or an insult to a naturalist who might wish to create a competing volume? Or perhaps Beatrice already had a copy, and would find it altogether unnecessary—
Diana realized she was staring into her glass of lemonade as though it held all the secrets of love. She shook herself out of her fugue and gave Beatrice her most winning smile. "I am so pleased that my cure has suited your constitution," she said. "As it happens, I have recently encountered a book that I think would please your attentive and scientific mind—Balance de la nature, written by Mademoiselle Le Masson Le Golft. Do you know it?"
Beatrice looked intrigued. "I have heard mention of it, but I have never read it. It is supposed to be a very fine work."
"There is a copy in my aunt's library," Diana said, striving to sound casual. "If you would be interested in perusing it, I would be happy to show it to you."
Beatrice drained her glass and all but flung it down upon the table. "Please, lead the way," she said eagerly. "I am most excited to see this book."
Diana laughed, finished her own lemonade, and offered her arm again. "You are not sorry to miss a dance or two?"
"Not in the slightest," Beatrice said, taking Diana's arm. "I am far better suited to libraries than ballrooms."
Their path to the door took them past the chairs against the wall, where Lady Darby sat conversing with Lady Montgomery. Cynthia's chair was empty; Diana glanced at the dancers and saw her among them, looking bored in the company of a gangly young gentleman whose cuffs seemed unable to contain his knobby wrists.
"How lovely to see the two of you having such a fine time," Lady Montgomery said warmly and a bit too loudly. "I am most pleased that you are getting along so well."
"We are, thank you, Mama," Beatrice said, her voice also pitched to carry. "Mr. Cooper is a true gentleman and I find his company most agreeable."
Diana felt she had inadvertently walked onstage without book or cue, but the purpose of the charade was clear, and she was glad to play her part. "Miss Saxford, the pleasure is mine," she said warmly, gazing into Beatrice's eyes. "Your dancing is exquisite and your conversation most eloquent. I do not wish to keep you from your other friends—may I say that we are friends?"
"You may," Beatrice said gravely.
Diana pressed her hand. "I thank you—in any event, before we are parted, may I request the pleasure of a second dance this evening? Perhaps 'Sir Roger de Coverley'?" This was a daring request; "Sir Roger" was usually the final dance of the evening, and would give Diana the right to escort Beatrice in to supper.
Very properly, Beatrice glanced to her mother, who nodded permission. "I am pleased to accept," Beatrice said. "But we need not be parted yet—I believe you mentioned a book of some interest in Lady Darby's library."
Diana feigned surprise. "Oh, so I did! But surely you cannot wish to depart from such a splendid gathering to explore a dusty library in my own modest company."
Beatrice gave her a sidelong glance that suggested Diana was perhaps overplaying her part. Diana inclined her head a fraction in acknowledgment. "Your company would brighten any room," Beatrice said aloud. "And you have so piqued my interest with the description of this book that it would be most unkind of you to deny me the pleasure of seeking it out."
"I could never be unkind to you," Diana said with pure sincerity. "Lady Montgomery, may I have your permission to escort Beatrice upon a brief literary excursion?"
"You may," Lady Montgomery said, smiling. "Beatrice, I know I do not need to ask you to comport yourself with the utmost discretion."
"Of course not, Mama."
"Of course not. Run along, then."
"And may we visit your library, Lady Darby?" Beatrice added.
"Oh, certainly, you are most welcome to anytime," Lady Darby said with a slightly wan smile.
Diana thought that her aunt might still be finding it an effort to accustom herself to this arrangement, despite having done so much to bring it about. Where others saw David, Lady Darby knew her to be Diana, and was perhaps unsettled to consider what might take place between the two young ladies in the library's seclusion, even with the door left a proper three inches ajar.
Before Diana could think of how to reassure Lady Darby, Beatrice subtly tugged on her arm. Diana bowed to the viscountesses and allowed her companion to draw her away.
"Amelia, are we really doing the right thing?" Lady Darby murmured, almost too quietly to be heard.
"They make such a lovely couple," Lady Montgomery said fondly. "I have not seen Beatrice so happy in many years. And is that not our foremost desire, as mother and aunt—to see our children happy?"
"It is, it is," Lady Darby said helplessly, "but—it arouses such a feeling in me and I do not know how to call it. I—God forgive me, I may be envious of their joy."
"Oh, my dear," Lady Montgomery said, tenderly taking her hand. "Are you lonely for love?"
Lady Darby pressed her fingertips to her mouth and nodded, blinking away a tear.
"Then once we have seen this match entirely made, we will make another for you," Lady Montgomery said, handing her a handkerchief. "I even have a name or two in mind—we will speak of this more at another time."
"You are a true friend," Lady Darby said, dabbing at her eyes. "I could not ask for better. Thank you—if I could not speak my heart to you, I think I would turn to spite, and deny Di—David and Beatrice their happiness because I long for my own."
"You are far too gentle and affectionate to ever do such a thing," Lady Montgomery assured her. "Now, chin up, you are hosting a lovely dance and must show everyone what a grand time you are having, so they do not think to wonder where your ostentatiously dressed nephew has got to with my daughter."
Diana had had the foresight to bring in a candle, knowing that no one would have ordered those in the library to be lit on a social evening, and she went around with it until the room was quite bright. It was still cold, however, and a fire was not even laid in the grate. Seeing Beatrice shiver in her thin gown, Diana said, "Should I ring for the fire? Or may I offer you my coat?"
"Oh, neither, thank you," Beatrice said. She lifted her chin in that way that Diana was beginning to find extremely endearing. "It is of no consequence. A lady does not feel the cold."
"Poppycock," Diana said cheerfully, "but I will do as you say. Now, as to the book I promised you, it is here," and she opened a drawer in the old wooden desk and brought out a neatly wrapped parcel. "For you," she said, presenting it to Beatrice.
"For me—to keep! Truly?" Forgetting ladylike graces, Beatrice tore off the wrapping and exclaimed to see the deep red leather binding. "What a treasure! This is so dear of you—I hardly know what to say. Thank you very much." She opened it carefully and flipped through a few pages. " 'Je suppose ici que dans chacune des qualités principales que peut avoir un objet, le plus haut degré équivaut au nombre vingt, et le plus petit à zéro.' " She laughed. "Such a marvelous conceit. I will certainly enjoy arguing with her conclusions."
"Forgive me," Diana said, "but I have no knowledge of French—what does that mean?"
"Oh, that the author has taken all things in nature and devised a numerical system by which she ranks them, in regard to various characteristics." Beatrice turned several more pages. "Here, do you see, all the rest of it is lists upon lists. These are the birds, beginning with various sorts of eagle, of which she rates form and color from zero to twenty, and then the lark and so forth. And then fish, and even stones! A truly exhaustive survey. And to think this was all done by a woman!"
"I feared you might not like it," Diana said. "Or it might be redundant in your library."
"No, not at all, I have only begun my studies of the natural sciences in the past year, and my supposed library consists of my brother's mouse-nibbled copy of On the Natural Faculties and two books of my own poor notes. This is a marvel." Beatrice closed the book and hugged it to her chest. "I really cannot thank you enough, for the gift and for your consideration."
"May I hope to be forgiven, then?" Diana said shyly.
"I had already made up my mind to forgive you," Beatrice said. "It was really not so grievous an error, and you made amends very graciously. But you have truly matched your words with deeds tonight, and I could not fathom being angry with you now." She bit her lip. "No suitor has ever had half a thought for my studies. Ordinarily they laugh, and see no reason to apologize for it."
Diana dared to step a little closer to her. "I will never make such an error again," she said, "for I strive to be of superior quality to others who have courted you."
Beatrice laughed a little. "Shall I assign numerical ratings to your characteristics? Apology: twenty. Dancing: twenty. Comportment: fifteen—"
"Fifteen!" Diana said, feigning outrage.
"For an American that is very high," Beatrice said primly. "Please, do not interrupt. I am engaged in important scientific work." She raised an imagined lorgnette and leaned forward to examine Diana minutely. "Plumage: ordinarily a twenty but I must deduct two points for that suit; the cut is handsome but the color does not flatter your complexion. Form: well, it is difficult to know, for I have only seen you clothed."
Diana suddenly felt very warm.
Beatrice tapped her chin. "But I would venture a guess of eighteen, perhaps to be verified by future study."
Diana, caught between shock and desire, could not restrain a gasp.
"Did not I already ask you to keep quiet?" Beatrice sighed. "This is the trouble with naturalism, you know. Cynthia's powders and potions lie inert until she chooses one to act upon another. Emma's numbers and Louise's rocks are most well behaved. But natural creatures are forever making alarming noises or running away just when one begins one's work."
Diana seized her hand. "I promise I will not run away," she said hoarsely. "You may study me as much as you like."
They were now standing very close. Only an inch, perhaps two, separated one woman's lips from the other's, and in that moment even the most scientific observer would have given little thought to the precise distance. Diana's heart pounded.
Beatrice looked away only long enough to carefully set the precious book down upon the desk, and then raised a hand to caress Diana's cheek. "I have some thoughts as to field work," she said.
Diana did not know how such a dry and scientific sentence could send shivers through her body, and yet she could hardly speak for yearning. Her face flamed under Beatrice's fingertips. "We should not," she whispered. "If we are caught—"
"And why did you bring me in here, and light all the candles, and leave the door ajar with the light spilling out for anyone to see," Beatrice whispered back, "if not to be caught?"
Diana had had no such notion, but now all thought fled her mind, for she could feel Beatrice's warm breath upon her skin, and such an invitation could not be denied.
She fervently pressed her mouth to Beatrice's, and then again, more gently. She tasted the sticky sweetness of the orgeat, and the almond and rose traces of lip salve; she savored the soft tenderness of Beatrice's lips, the hitch in her breath, a whimper almost too quiet to be heard that seemed to travel through her skin. She felt just on the edge of some unspeakable bliss.
Beatrice cupped Diana's face in her hands and returned the kisses, once and twice. They stared at each other in silence for a moment, overcome with desire both fulfilled and ignited. Then Diana groaned, wrapped her arms around Beatrice, and lost herself in lush kisses that soon became one long sweet exploration of sensation and tenderness.
Beatrice kissed as she danced, holding back and observing the pattern Diana set and then readily taking her turn in the lead. The room spun about them as though they turned each other bodily, no longer content with the mere holding of hands. Diana nibbled gently on Beatrice's lower lip; Beatrice licked delicately at the corner of her mouth. Slowly they opened to each other like flowers blooming.
Diana relished the sweet wetness of Beatrice's mouth, feeling it echoed between her own thighs. When their tongues slid over each other, a galvanic shock ran through her. They moaned with their shared breath, united in passion.
Diana clutched at Beatrice's hips and slid her hands across her back, aching to caress her skin. They clung to each other with desperate hunger, their bodies straining against the barriers of fabric that dared to separate them. Diana had a fleeting thought of throwing all propriety to the wind, shutting the door, and shedding their clothes—but that they really could not do, and the notion made her realize the precarity of their position, shocking her out of her trance. Slowly, reluctantly, she pulled away. Beatrice made a little noise of disappointment that tugged at her heart.
"I really did not bring you here to compromise you," Diana said, a little breathlessly.
"No? But I am quite willing to be compromised," Beatrice said, giving her a hopeful look.
Diana laughed and took her hands, making a bit of distance between them. "You have made that exceedingly clear! And I am flattered. But to be compromised—" She searched for words. "It requires the involvement of others, and it is—forcible. I would rather know that you freely make the choice of my company than have you feel in any way obliged to endure me."
"Endure you!" Beatrice exclaimed. "You slight yourself quite unnecessarily. I enjoy your company very much. And I should hope it was apparent that what transpired just now was entirely welcome on my part." She hesitated. "Did I—was I too forward? You did not seem reluctant."
"I would gladly kiss you every day for the rest of my life," Diana said.
"Well, good! That was precisely my plan," Beatrice said, "but here you are quite ungraciously refusing to follow along. Now I suppose we will have to go through all the bothersome nonsense of you asking my brother's permission. I had really hoped to avoid such measures. Being compromised is so much more efficient, and does not require asking anything of anyone."
Diana drew back. "In your zeal for efficiency, you appear to have also omitted the asking and answering that might take place between the two of us."
Beatrice flung her hands in the air. "What is there remaining to ask? You danced with me so intimately that anyone watching us felt embarrassed to see such a private moment. You drew me away from the dance and into a quiet and secluded place. You gave me a book on naturalism and then kissed me to within an inch of my life. If this, all taken together, does not constitute a proposal of marriage, then I am really mistaken as to your character!"
Diana opened her mouth and closed it again. "It is not even that I felt bereft of the opportunity to ask you," she said finally. "It is that you conceived this plan of being compromised and did not ask me whether I wished to have my own future determined in such a fashion. We are only at the beginning of our courtship, and I am not in haste to conclude it."
"But I did ask!" Beatrice protested. "I asked whether you intended for us to be caught kissing, and then you kissed me, which I took as an answer in the affirmative."
"That is not at all the same as asking whether I wish to be married to you!" Diana cried.
Beatrice huffed. "Perhaps not in Philadelphia," she said. "But we are in London, and I am the daughter of a viscount and the granddaughter of a duke. Any gentleman who embraces me in a library should be well prepared for marital consequences." She frowned. "Was that not at least part of your purpose in posing as a man?"
"No, not in the least!" Diana said. "It was only that if I dressed in this fashion but were known to be a woman, there would be a great uproar, and I could not do that to my poor aunt; but if I wore gowns, I would be miserable. I thought it would be a lark, but I find that I do not enjoy being called a man, in truth. But there is no place in society for a woman like me."
Beatrice shook her head. "I am most confounded," she said. "My mother said that she and Lady Darby had reached an understanding whereby both our households could be saved from scandal by you courting me in the guise of a man, and, if we suited, then we could marry with none the wiser."
"Your mother and Lady Darby may well have reached an understanding, but you and I have not," Diana said. "And I cannot be party to any arrangement that requires me to be 'Mr. Cooper' for the rest of my life, even for the sake of you being my missus. Please, do not mistake me," she added hastily as tears welled in Beatrice's eyes. "I think you are splendid, and have never met a finer lady. But I took on this name to play-act for a season; it does not rightly belong to me, and so I cannot in good conscience share it with you."
A terrible thought struck her. "Is that why you were so quick to forgive me? Because you and your mother had this scheme?"
Beatrice looked appalled and shook her head. "No, never! It is true that my mother encouraged me to permit you another opportunity, but I was very ready to do so, once the first flush of emotion had passed and I realized I had judged you too hastily. I have a sort of bruise upon my spirit from being mocked so often, and when you scoffed at the notion of a lady scientist, you jabbed the bruise and I was greatly pained. But I could not in good conscience fault you for the harm done by others, and you did make a very good apology." She looked away. "And I could not stop thinking about you."
"I have only thought of you these last days, to the point where Lady Darby was likely quite weary of hearing your name from me," Diana said. "I am glad you were thinking of me, and not of how it might benefit you to be attached to Mr. Cooper."
Beatrice sniffled. Her reticule remained in the other room; Diana offered her a handkerchief. Beatrice snatched it angrily from her hand and then flung herself into an armchair and began weeping in earnest. "Oh, it isn't fair," she wailed. "I just thought... I thought at last I could be respectable."
Diana sat on the arm of the chair. Beatrice leaned against her. "My dear," Diana said, "you are a tribade and a naturalist. Respectability is for other people."
Beatrice nodded miserably and blew her nose with unladylike force. "I know," she said. "It was foolish of me to hope. I have always been unnatural, and I could never pretend to be otherwise. A life of dishonesty would suit me no more than it does you. But it has cost me so much, you see, not being able to—to dissemble, and play along with what society expects from a lady in my position." She blew her nose again. "I have my sisters and brother, and my mother, and my few friends, and my studies. But all the social pleasures that other young ladies enjoy have been denied me, almost entirely."
"I have never cared for being respectable," Diana said, "and it has not cost me particularly. It is easier in America, I think. Wealth still matters, of course, but pedigree less so, and we all feel obliged to pretend that it matters not at all. In Philadelphia we have almost a tradition of shaping the world to suit ourselves, a standard set by the great Mr. Franklin. I have a goodly number of friends, and none requires me to be other than my own peculiar self."
"That sounds wonderful," Beatrice said mistily. "Almost like a dream."
Diana smiled and took her free hand, dropping to one knee beside the chair so they were eye to eye. "Miss Saxford," she said, "if we somehow refrain from too greatly enraging each other during my remaining months in London, would you like to come to Philadelphia with me, and be my wife in truth if not in name, and be not the slightest bit respectable?"
Beatrice, red-eyed but smiling, squeezed her hand. "Miss Cooper," she said, with just enough emphasis on the title, "I would like that very much indeed."
5 January 1812
"I have had another letter from Beatrice," Lady Montgomery said. "All seems very well in Philadelphia, despite the talk of war."
"I do hope it does not come to that," Lady Darby said.
"As do I," said Lady Montgomery. "She writes that Britons are not well regarded at the moment, but she has made a few friends and attended several plays, which is keeping her spirit up. And every line is Diana this and Diana that—they appear to be most besotted still."
"I am glad for them," Lady Darby said. She stared down into her teacup for a moment, then shook her head and drained it to the dregs.
"Are you well?" Lady Montgomery asked. "You have not seemed yourself since they left."
Lady Darby leaned forward. "It is not so much that they left as that Richard came back to Town," she said quietly. "He was beastly to Diana—that is why she left sooner than she had intended—and has been beastly to me. He has all but ordered me to remarry."
"How unkind!" Lady Montgomery gasped.
"I suppose he has the right of it," Lady Darby said. "I am lonely, and a drain upon the Topswick finances. Finding myself a husband would relieve those burdens for both of us."
"And yet I have seen you make few efforts to engage the attention of eligible gentlemen," Lady Montgomery said. "You hardly leave your house."
"I hardly leave my thoughts," Lady Darby said, very low. "I have been most troubled, and turning over a dilemma again and again, with no answer to be found. Last night I prayed for an answer, but received none except that I should follow my heart."
"Well, what is the matter, my dear?" Lady Montgomery said. "Perhaps I may have a little wisdom for you."
"It is only," Lady Darby said, "it is only... oh, heavens." She passed a hand over her face. "I attended the Cambervilles' ball in December, and I smiled at every gentleman who might make a passable husband, and my heart shriveled inside me at the thought of marrying any of them. I could not stand it. I fled. And I have not gone out since." She laughed bitterly. "I really think I have so accustomed myself to the company of women, these last few years, that I could no more marry a man than—than Beatrice could."
There was a little silence.
"I see," Lady Montgomery said softly.
"Do you? For I do not," Lady Darby said, her voice rising. She clenched her hands in the fabric of her skirt. "I am no tribade! I was a terrible flirt when I was a girl, and any handsome fellow would turn my head. Then I met Darby, and adored him, and adored my life with him. I fail to comprehend how I have come to feel so entirely otherwise now, at my advanced age. But I loved men, and now I love—" She stopped, and covered her mouth with her hands.
Lady Montgomery put down her teacup and waited, sitting very still.
At last Lady Darby lowered her hands, looked helplessly at her friend, and whispered, "I love you, Amelia."
"Come here, darling," Lady Montgomery said, and Lady Darby all but ran to sit next to her on the lumpy little sofa.
"I hadn't dared—I hadn't thought—" Lady Darby choked, and then then she could only sob, the torrent of pent-up emotion rushing through her. Lady Montgomery held her tightly and did not speak. She had been waiting for years to make her own feelings known; she could persevere another minute.
At last Lady Darby's tears ebbed, and she plucked a handkerchief from her sleeve. Lady Montgomery noted a familiar monogram, and recollected that Lady Darby never had returned her handkerchief following that fateful September soiree.
Lady Darby followed her gaze and blushed. "Yes, it's yours," she said. "I ought to have returned it, I know—it is not as though I lack for gifts from you. But I liked having one I could keep upon my person. I was a little sorry when Mrs. Jones laundered all your scent out of it. That was when I began to realize my... my true feelings for you."
"I will paint you a miniature to hang from a necklace-chain," Lady Montgomery said, "so that you may have something of mine to wear upon your person always."
"I would like that very much," Lady Darby said, blinking back more tears.
"My poor Jo," Lady Montgomery said, "so conflicted and fretful. All will be well, darling. We found a path to happiness for our girls, did not we?"
"We did, though I still fear for them," Lady Darby said.
Lady Montgomery patted her hand in the familiar gesture of reassurance—and love, Lady Darby realized now, a gentle, steady love that had grown up so quietly around them through the years that it had almost gone unnoticed in its clever guise of friendship. "Fear not," Lady Montgomery said. "They are sweet and brave and in love, and that will see them through. As for you, my Josephine, my love—as for us—" She fell silent, thinking.
"I see you are hatching a plan," Lady Darby said, beginning to smile. "I have great faith in your plans, I must tell you."
"As you should!" Lady Montgomery said. "Well, Simon will be marrying soon, I think—the Fanshawe girl has caught his eye—and though he would gladly allow me to stay, it is never good for the viscountess to have the dowager in her hair. Nor is it good for the dowager, come to think of it. So I will prevail upon him to set me up in my own little town house, and if you join me there, no one will remark upon it. It is certainly not unheard of for two old hens to keep each other company when all their chicks have flown from the nest. And my income is quite enough for two, so you needn't worry about begging your ungrateful son to dole out pennies to you."
Lady Darby listened to all of this with amazement. "That would be splendid," she breathed. "More than I ever dared to hope for."
"I must place one condition upon this arrangement, however," Lady Montgomery said.
"Yes?" Lady Darby quavered.
"Under no circumstances will this dreadful sofa occupy any sitting room in my house," Lady Montgomery said firmly. "I know it is dear to you, and you may keep it in your own bedchamber if you like. I would never wish for you to feel that you must choose between me and your memories of Lord Darby. But I do not have it within me to inflict these pestilential lumps upon a guest."
Lady Darby laughed. "It is awful, isn't it?" she said. "It will reside in my bedchamber, and never trouble your backside again."
"Thank you," Lady Montgomery said. "You have put my mind and my posterior at ease, and I am grateful."
"Not half so grateful as I," Lady Darby said. "For you have put my heart at ease."
Lady Montgomery kissed her cheek and squeezed her hand. "Just think," she said, "of all the lovely balls we shall have, where we never invite enough gentlemen and the ladies are obliged to dance with one another."
"A terrible fate for the poor ladies," Lady Darby said, smiling. "I cannot wait."