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Countess Of Gold

Chapter Text

Chapter II

She looked at the ormolu clock on the wall over the fireplace.  It was time to dress for dinner.  She was alone, unless Evelyn chanced to come in.  Even so, she would never think of dining without changing her gown.

Miss Rimpton, her dresser, was ready to take down her fine rippling golden hair and rearrange it in a charming style.  She was still youthful enough looking to be able to wear it in a small coil on the back of her head with a few ringlets trailing around her shoulders.  She was still slender and supple, in spite of her 40 years and the birth of two children, and sadly a few miscarriages.  She allowed Miss Rimpton to help her into a new gown of peach coloured satin, low cut, with a high waist, and flowing skirt, and a small train.  Above the hem there was one simple flounce of matching lace.   The gown had tiny sleeves which barely covered the tops of her beautiful arms.  Miss Rimpton helped her with her make up, dusting her face and bosom with a little powder and slightly enhancing her pretty rosebud mouth with lip salve.  She had slightly irregular features, but her blue eyes were very beautiful.

Amabel was finally satisfied with her looks and descended to her dining room, where she ate in solitary state.  It depressed her.  She was used to having friends around much of the time, especially in the evenings.  She loved to gamble, although she knew that she really should be careful in playing cards, since she so consistently lost.  Well, she thought, if Evelyn does not return tomorrow, I will ask a few friends to dinner.  Sir Bonamy Ripple was her oldest cicisbeo and he shared her tastes for games of chance, lively conversation and fine things.  And she could also ask a few of the livelier ladies of the ton.

She was very fond of Bonamy and he was always willing to visit and cheer her up.  They sometimes rode or drove together, and her husband had never raised any objection to their flirtation, since dear Bonamy was a portly man – far from handsome - who was considered to have less than common sense.

He had asked her to marry him when she was only 17, but her father had preferred another of her many suitors, and so she had married lord Denville instead.  She could not honestly say that dear papa had forced her.  She had been in love with William at first.  He had been so very handsome and charming, but after a short while, she realised that his feelings for her had largely been based on attraction to her beauty. His infatuation for her did not last long, once he realised that she was (as he put it) tiresomely silly and frivolous, bad with money, selfish and spoiled.  She didn't consider that this was a true assessment of her character, but there was, she had to admit, some basis for it.  She had been unaccustomed to high society ways at the time.  Her father had been an impecunious man with a large family and he had not had much money for any of them.  When she had found herself in possession of a large income, it had made her quite dizzy and she had been very foolish in spending far too much.

She had found William unsympathetic and unkind, after the first few honeymoon months and she had begun to seek her friends and her amusements away from home.

She sighed and drank a little wine.  How long ago it now seemed and how sad so much of her life had been. People envied her because she was a Society beauty, but they little knew -.  If it wasn't for the boys, she would have been a very unhappy woman.

She heard a commotion in the hall and looked up eagerly.
"Evelyn, oh my darling boy."

There was a tall young man, wearing a greatcoat over Hessians and fawn coloured pantaloons, in the doorway.
"Dearest boy.  How every glad I am to see you.  I've been so bored and lonely."
"Mama."
Evelyn returned his mother's enthusiastic hug and gently pushed her back.
"Dearest Mama.  How lovely you look!  I decided to travel on to London, rather than staying the night."

Evelyn could se that his mother's lovely face was a little tense, as she sank back into her chair.
"I'll ask them to set a plate for you, dearest."
"No.  Oh very well ma'am.  It seems a long time since I had a nuncheon on the way!  I vow I am hungry.  But you're not eating."
"Oh I never eat that much darling, you know that.  When a woman reaches my time of life she must be careful of her figure."
"Nonsense, Mama.  You are quite perfect."
Evelyn smiled to himself.  He was devoted to his mother and thought her quite the loveliest woman in the world.  So far, he had never met a girl who was her equal in looks or charm.  He liked to flirt with society ladies, and so far, he had tried to find himself a wife, but there was no woman who really seriously attar aced him.  There were girls who became his mistresses, but they were different.  He was kindly enough to be fond of them all, to enjoy their company as well as enjoying bedding them, but while he knew it was time of him to get married, he felt very unsure.  Was he likely to be able to setelf for one woman when there were so many belles out there?

"So, Mama," he said when his hunger had been somewhat satisfied, "what have you been doing?"
"Oh nothing dear.  Just my usual round of socialising.  I am to take part in some theatricals, quite soon.  It's for the factory children."

"Ah.  That's good for you Mama.  What play is it to be."
"It's not quite decided yet.  Perhaps some scenes from Shakespeare.  I did suggest Sheridan.   But who could play Mrs Malaprop?"
"You could play anything Mama dear.  You have such charm, and such a beautiful speaking voice."

That was true, Evelyn thought.  It might sound like flattery but his mother did have charm and stage presence even if she did not have great acting talent.  She had a mellifluous voice, beauty, and a graceful carriage.  Then while she talked gently he found his attention wandering back to Clara, the girl he was keeping at present.  She was a charming little Cyprian, always well dressed but very lively.  She rode a horse as if she was born on its back, and drove well.  And their intimate relations.  She had shown him such passion, the last night that even now he smiled to think of it.

"And now Evelyn dear, I really must talk to you about my tiresome debts.  I spoke to Mr Drummond the other day and he was saying…"

"Mama, there's no need for you to trouble yourself about this.  It isn't something that you have any understanding of.  Truly.  I don't wish to be unkind but you have no more idea of business than a - well a singing bird…"

That was true, he thought wryly.  He had some debts himself, all men of his class did or nearly all.  But Mama, bless her, seemed to live in a cloud of financial problems.  She was so sweetly silly, that she probably let the servants cheat her.  And she gave away money carelessly to people, both poor and "shabby genteel" who asked for it. She never refused a begging letter.  She would shed tears over the sad stories that people told her and never question them.

Evelyn sighed a little to himself.  But he had to do something about the debts.  Since her widowhood, she had been dunned by so many creditors and he suspected that there were other debts to some of her friends, which she had had for years and was quite unable to pay. But he didn't want her to feel guilty.  She had not ever learned to manage money.  And his father had never in Evelyn's opinion really tried to teach her. He just shouted at her when she was in trouble.

"But I'm going to do something about it, Evelyn darling.  I promise you.  I have schemes…"
"Mama dear, don't you remember that plan you had to write a novel that was going to make you a fortune?  That didn't do very well, did it?"
"No. "
Amabel blushed.
Evelyn grinned to himself.  Mama's ideas of writing were fantastical, to say the least.  She had tried so hard, poor thing, but she had no gift for it.  Her novel had been accepted for publication because of her rank, with her to pay the initial costs but then it had not sold…so it had been a terrible waste of time!  It had just been too ludicrous.  She had described a cottage bride going to her wedding in white silk with pearls on her hair.  And her heroine had been even more of a stuffed doll than the usual heroines of such romances.

Mama DID try and get herself out of her debts.  He knew that she sold things, usually her jewellery, to try to raise some ready cash.  Unlike some free spending ladies of the ton, she did acknowledge that she was at fault in getting into money problems and she did her best to make an honourable effort to get out of them.  He knew of some ladies who appropriated money that wasn't theirs, or allowed friends to put their names to their bills, knowing that they would be liable and that they would probably never be paid back.   She wasn't like that.  But she seemed to be quite unable to stop herself form spending too much and her finances were a dreadful cat's cradle of debts and borrowing from one friend to pay another.  She paid her gaming debts immediately, but she was careless about others.  He wondered what other schemes she had in her pretty golden head.

He had an idea that she sometimes "sold" her goodwill and her entrée to society…  there had been times when she had taken up some young lady from one of the smaller banking houses and taken her into society.

There had been girls that he had seen coming to the house frequently for a while, often rather shy girls who dressed badly, and he guessed that his mother was sponsoring them in society and trying to help them to find husbands… She would probably teach them to curtsy and to walk gracefully and to dress elegantly… and take them out driving with her and show them off. And probably, their fathers would "help her out" with her debts, in gratitude for the favours she was showing their children.