“What William really needs...” mused Elizabeth, “...is a seat in Parliament.”
The King raised an eyebrow. “I never took him to be much of a fighter...”
“No. He is a sensitive soul- but not overtly so- he is quite brilliant.”
“Is not one son in Parliament enough for you?”
“William could be truly great if only he would just let himself be.”
“I heard he has an eye for Caro Ponsonby.”
Elizabeth snapped her head. “Who said that?”
“The Duchess of Devonshire.”
“I thought she was your friend.”
“So she is.”
“But you just said she was a cow!”
“I said no such thing, Majesty and it is wicked of you to say so.”
The King sighed. “You exhaust me.”
“You have never complained before.”
The court equerry arrived. “Your Majesty, Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandrina has arrived.”
“Sans her wretched mother, I hope?”
“Oh, send her in.”
Elizabeth stood. She curtsied as the princess entered, a slight little thing.
“Your Majesty,” the princess bowed.
“I heard you were unwell. I wanted to see you for myself,” said the King.
“No, sir. I am quite recovered.” She paused. “I did have a fever, but it has passed.”
“Good. I am glad to hear it.” He motioned. “You remember Lady Melbourne?”
Alexandrina smiled. “Of course I do. How are you, Lady Melbourne?”
“Very well, your highness.”
“And your family?”
“All very well, ma’am.”
Elizabeth watched the expression in the princess’ face. She was desperate but she was trying very hard to not appear too eager.
“We were just talking about him,” said the King. “Nothing but him. I think he is Lady Melbourne’s favorite.”
“William is just back from studying with a tutor in Glasgow, your highness.”
“Poor thing. He was most miserable.”
“I am sorry to hear that.” She paused. “I hope he was not unwell?”
The King sighed. “Good God, now there’s two of you to speak nothing but young William Lamb...”
Elizabeth walked in the door of Dover House.
“William! William!” She handed her bonnet and coat to the maid. “You will not believe who asked about you at Buckingham House!”
“He went out.” Peniston walked through the foyer, staring at a paper.
“Oh, hello, Peniston, darling.” She kissed him on the cheek and did not look up. “Where did he run off to?”
She sighed. “Oh, not again.”
“He went to propose marriage to Caro.”
Elizabeth felt her heart leap out of her chest. “What?!”
“What part did you not understand?”
“And you did not try to stop him?!”
“How was I meant to stop him? He is a grown man, something you seem to forget.”
“He is a sweet, beautiful man and someone who some harpie like Caro Ponsonby will take advantage of and run into the ground. I shall have to save him from himself.”
The door opened as the footman bowed to Master William.
“William! Dear God, tell me it is not true! I swear I shall stab myself in the eye!”
William looked at Peniston. “What is she on about?”
“The future Mrs. William Lamb...”
William rolled his eyes.
“So, what do you have to say for yourself?,” Elizabeth demanded.
He sighed. “Nothing. She rejected me.”
“She did what?”
“Are you not pleased?”
“She rejected you? How dare she!”
Peniston sighed. “Surely it does not matter to you, Mama, you did not want William to marry her.”
“I do not know who she supposes she is. How dare she reject my William!”
“She supposes she is the daughter of an earl and I am...” He sighed. “I shall be in my room.”
“William...” Elizabeth called after him.
They heard a door slam in the distance.
“What do you expect, Mama? He has no position, no fortune.”
“Never mind. We go to Brocket Hall soon enough and we will find someone better for him.”
Brocket Hall was a welcome distraction for as much as William enjoyed the bustle and society of the town he enjoyed the peace and solitude he found at the Melbourne country home. He could read, he could write and he could watch his rooks.
William turned to see behind him. Alexandrina walked towards him.
“Alexandrina. Is that you?”
“Of course it is. I had hoped to find you here among your rooks...”
“What are you doing here?”
She smiled. “We are visiting Hatfield House.”
“How did you escape your protectors?”
“They think I am napping. I climbed out the window.”
“You climbed out a window?”
“I wanted to see you.” Alexandrina took a breath. “Are you not pleased to see me?”
“How could I not be?”
Her grin grew in spite of herself.
“I saw your mama at Buckingham House.”
“With your uncle?”
Alexandrina dodged the question. “She said you had been in Glasgow.”
“Yes. It was ghastly.”
“You jest too much. I hear Scotland is lovely.”
“And you have heard the truth from me.” He paused. “I heard you were ill. I hope it was not serious.”
“I had a fever. I am much better now, thank you.”
“I am glad.”
Alexandrina waited a moment as they walked closer to the house. “Mama and Sir John tried to make me sign a document agreeing to a regency should I inherit the throne before I am twenty-five.”
William looked up in shock. “Did they succeed?”
“No. I will not live under Mama’s thumb one minute more than necessary.”
“Does the King know?”
“Why bother? Every time he is angry my life gets a little bit worse.”
“I could tell Mama.”
“What good would that do?”
“She is very clever.”
“If I were a man, they could not stop me.”
“I would not have that...” He sighed. “Besides, being a man is hardly a guarantee of happiness.”
“What do you mean?”
He let out a long breath. “I may as well tell you, it shall be making the rounds anyway... I proposed marriage to Caro Ponsonby...”
Alexandrina tried to hold in the contempt that threatened to spew forth. “What did she say?”
“She said no. Her parents do not think it a good match.”
“They do not think it a good match? Why ever not?”
William laughed ruefully. “Is it not apparent? I am the second born son of a viscount. No title to inherit, no fortune, I shall have to join the army.”
“If she loved you she would go with you to Gretna Greene if you asked.”
“It is not so simple.”
“What is complicated? She loves you or she does not!”
“Well, perhaps it seems so simple from your perspective-”
“My perspective? What on Earth does that mean?”
“Excuse me, your royal highness.”
She stopped and turned to glare at him. “Do you suppose I am so free? That I can have anyone I desire?! You suppose I love the Prince of Orange or my stupid prig cousin Albert?! I-”
He stared at her dumbfounded.
Alexandrina marched back towards the house in frustration.
“Alexandrina!,” William called. “Come now, do not be like that. I did not mean for you to take offense!”
“How could I not take offense when you claim to know my heart?!”
“I was not thinking!,” he followed her. “I was only thinking of my own troubles! Forgive me!”
She stopped and turned back to face him, imperious reserve taking over. He went to his knee and kissed her hand.
“Please forgive me?”
“Of course I forgive you.” She clasped her hand around his. “But any woman who would not tear apart the world to be your wife does not deserve you.”
He laughed ruefully. “On this I think we must disagree.”
“William!,” called Elizabeth.
William returned to his feet. They had made it all the way to the garden at Brocket and his mother came out to them.
“Your Royal Highness,” she curtsied. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“I just came to see William.”
“Speaking of which, we ought to get you back before they send out the army...” said William. “I shall call the carriage-”
“No,” said Elizabeth. “I can take you, your highness.”
“Thank you, Lady Melbourne.”
Soon they were loaded into the buggy and the two ladies set off alone for Hatfield House.
“How is the Duchess of Kent?,” asked Elizabeth.
“Who does Caro Ponsonby think she is?!”
Elizabeth looked back at the road. She had been hoping to gently steer the princess towards William, but apparently she had the directness of mind found in the other Hanovers.
“She is one of the Devonshires, your highness.”
“But she is not a Devonshire?”
“No, she was raised at Devonshire where as you must know...”
“I must know what?”
Elizabeth looked over. “Surely you know the Duchess of Devonshire? She is a great friend of mine.”
“I have met her.”
“Then you must know that she lives at Devonshire House with her sister- Caro’s mother- and Lady Elizabeth Forster.”
“Who is Lady Elizabeth Forster?”
“His Grace’s mistress.”
Elizabeth could see immediately that the young princess had never imagined anything so scandalous in her life.
“All I mean, ma’am, is the Devonshires place a high value on romance in their peculiar way.”
“Then how could Caro Ponsonby dare to reject William? Surely there is no finer young man? He has been quoted in Parliament, he has written such brilliant articles...”
“You have read William’s articles?”
“Of course. I have read everything he writes.”
Elizabeth tilted her head. “Lady Caroline is a most dramatic young woman. She speaks with affectation, her aunt tells me she tears her clothes when she does not get her way.”
“How can William be taken with such a temperament?”
“I do not know, ma’am.”
“If she is so terribly impassioned, why does she not accept him at once? Who on Earth could be better? I would-”
The princess stopped herself. To even give voice to such a thought would risk her undoing.
“You would accept him?,” asked Elizabeth.
“If he ever thought of me as something other than silly little Drina, yes.”
“William does not think of you as that, ma’am...”
They arrived at Hatfield House where they were met by the disagreeable figures of the Duchess of Kent and Sir John Conroy.
“Drina, where did you go? You are only just recovering!”
Alexandrina stepped out of the buggy without fanfare. She was in no mood to be docile. “As if you care.”
“Thank you for the ride, Lady Melbourne.”
Alexandrina stormed away into the house. Sir John and the Duchess turned back, finally acknowledging they would need to make some sort of concession to Lady Melbourne’s presence.
“Lady Melbourne, thank you for bringing the princess home safely.”
“Oh, it was no trouble, Duchess. I was just coming out to see the Countess.”
She stepped out of the buggy giving it over to a footman. She had a dinner invitation to issue.