Summer, Highland Manor, Tunbridge Wells, 1824
She had worked hard for this moment. Charity Baxendale watched with delight as her first portrait was unveiled. Elegantly framed, her work now hung in the luxurious drawing room at Brandreth Park. The subject of the painting, Chaloner, Marquess of Brandreth, was a relation by marriage whose vast estate ran alongside the Baxendale’s. He stood with his two hounds, his hunting rifle at his side by a gnarled oak tree, looking imperious and handsome.
The hushed room erupted in applause.
Chaloner’s beautiful wife, Lavinia, rested a hand on his arm and whispered something close to his ear. Chaloner’s smile for his wife was so intimate and loving, that Charity regretted not capturing that expression in his portrait.
“Such fine technique,” the squire, Sir Ambrose observed. “Lady Charity infuses such expression into her work. It sets her apart.”
“Quite masterful,” his wife agreed with a nod at Charity.
Charity, warmed by their approval, smiled at her mother and father. Her younger sister, Mercy, clapped vigorously.
Not everyone seemed to approve. Mrs. Morriset had advised Charity earlier that she should be enjoying her first Season and not messing about with paints. “Or you will find yourself an unhappy spinster with only your art to console you.”
Both Lord Blenkinsop and Mr. Darell, flicked hot gazes over her. Charity shrank under their scrutiny feeling as if she’d been stripped of her clothes, as if painting a man’s portrait had in some way cheapened her.
“Bravo.” Lord Stanberry came to stand beside her, approval in his grey eyes.
“Thank you, Robin.”
Gratitude warmed the anxious knot in her stomach. She’d met Robin almost two years ago, here in the Brandreth’s drawing room, and they’d been firm friends ever since.
“I shall not keep you from your admirers,” he said with a bow. “I’ll call on you tomorrow if I may.”
“Oh yes, do.”
Footmen moved amongst them with flutes of champagne and a selection of delectable foods. Charity banished her unease and raised her chin. It wouldn’t matter what society threw at her. She would continue to paint portraits. It was impossible for her not to.
The next afternoon, Charity finished working on a promising landscape. After cleaning her brushes she went to open the window to disperse the smell of paint and turpentine. The still gardens slumbered in the summer heat. The house was unusually quiet, now that her sisters, Hope, Faith, and Honor had married. Charity missed their company and Hope’s especially, since her sister now spent half the year in France with Daniel, her husband.
After cleaning oil paint from her hands with a cloth, she hung her smock on the hook behind the studio door. Her mother had relinquished her sewing room to Charity with nary a murmur after news came of Faith’s pregnancy, and she was now absorbed in knitting small garments.
A curricle jingled to a stop outside. She knew it was Robin when their dog, Wolf, barked a joyful welcome. Charity smoothed the skirts of her peach-colored morning gown, averting her gaze from the spot of blue paint near the hem, and tucked an untidy strand of her fair hair into the bun at her neck before the mirror.
The parlor was empty. As usual, Father was closeted in his study. He would emerge at dinner to glare at her for refusing to have a London Season. But it would have been a frightful waste of his money and her time. She did not want to enter the marriage mart. All her energy was spent on establishing herself as an artist. At least her father’s opposition to her plans had lost some potency since his railway shares and finances prospered. He spent long hours consulting with his staff and riding out over his estate lands, visiting tenant farmers. Mama, too, was in good humor, absorbed with the prospect of more grandchildren.
Their butler, Graves, knocked at the parlor door. “Lord Stanberry, milady.”
The viscount ducked his head as he entered the room, the habit of a tall man who lived in a low-ceilinged Tudor house. It was entirely unnecessary in this more modern building with lofty ceilings. Removing his hat disordered his wavy, dark brown hair. He brushed a lock from his broad brow, looking more boyish than his twenty-six years.
“Good afternoon, Charity.” He smiled as she came to take his hand.
“Robin, how agreeable to have your company. As you see, I am alone but for Father. Mother and Mercy are paying a morning call, which I’ve managed to avoid.”
He grinned. “You have become extremely adept at that.”
She grinned back. “I believe I have. Do you think me disgraceful?”
He nodded, his eyes gleaming. “Quite unscrupulous.”
“Please do sit. Do you care for tea?”
“No thank you.” Robin unfolded his long length in a chair. “I gather Lady Sophie sent that from Egypt?” His eyebrows lifted as he pointed to an exotic statue of an ancient Egyptian god that stared coldly at them from the mantelpiece. “Makes you shudder, doesn’t it?”
“It does rather.”
Charity spared a thought for Hope’s husband, Daniel, whose sister had married an archaeologist. Sophie’s letters to Hope were filled with news of exciting finds for the museum. Charity did admire how Sophie flouted society to live in the manner she wanted.
“I wonder if I might snatch you away from your work for a drive, to take the air,” Robin said. “And hopefully to see a bird. I spied a golden oriole yesterday feeding on berries near the river.”
“Really? A male?”
“Yes, couldn’t miss it, quite striking with the typical oriole black and yellow plumage. There will be a female nearby I suspect.” He grinned. “Where the male goest, so doth the female.”
“Or the other way around perhaps,” she said, grinning back. “I should like to see either of them, although the female is a drabber green bird.”
“Orioles are usually shy, but we might have some luck,” he said. “So you’ll come? With your mama absent, I doubt you would venture outdoors without my encouragement.”
Charity laughed. “It’s a perfect day for a drive.” She always welcomed his company, he had an estimable knowledge of art and sketched beautifully himself. Through the window, above the line of trees, the sky was like azure silk drapery. It made her wish she could capture it on canvas in her half-finished landscape. “A delightful idea. Thank you for thinking of me.”
“I’m afraid we can’t fit your maid into my phaeton. Shall I seek your father’s permission?”
“Graves will tell him. As it’s you, I doubt Father will protest.”
He smiled. “Does your father have energy left to protest? His daughters must have run him ragged. And you, my lady, are no exception.”
She wrinkled her nose at him. “Poor Father, I doubt he does. But there is so much to concern us in this country of ours, the poverty, and the need for reform, so that whether or not I choose to ride without my maid seems entirely insignificant. I won’t keep you waiting while I change my dress, I’ll just fetch my shawl.”
“Good. I confess to an ulterior motive.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Oh?”
“Which I shall save for when you are a captive audience.”
“Should I be worried?” Not waiting for an answer, Charity left the room.
A few minutes later, Robin drove his phaeton through the gates and out into the narrow lane bordered on both sides by woodland.
“It’s a nice day,” Charity said in some surprise. A fresh breeze swirled around her ankles and ruffled the ribbons on her hat. She drew her shawl over her shoulders.
“I gather you haven’t ventured out earlier to discover it.” His gaze rested on her before turning back to the road.
“I did plan to take my sketch book and walk along the river but became distracted,” she confessed.
He watched the road as the phaeton negotiated a sharp corner. “No need to thank me for taking care of your health.”
“My health is excellent, thank you.”
He glanced at her. “You’re pale, and there are dark circles under your eyes.”
She raised her brows. “My, what a charming compliment!”
“You’ve been painting by candlelight again.”
“You’re becoming a nag, sir. I have a mother for such things.” She studied his attractive profile, his straight nose and strong chin. “Now what is the reason for this outing, apart from a concern for my health?”
He gazed at her with sorrowful eyes. “Bad news, I’m afraid. My uncle lies gravely ill with no hope of recovery. And, as his only son, Charles, has passed away, I am to inherit.”
It had been expected but somehow she’d pushed the thought of him leaving away. “I am sorry to hear about your uncle. That is indeed sad. I daresay you soon will be departing from our little corner of the world.” She was surprised at the depth of her disappointment. She’d always expected him to be in some way a part of her future. “We shall miss you.”
He remained silent, his eye on his spirited pair of chestnuts.
“You say we, but do you mean you, especially?” he asked after a moment, casting her a sidelong glance.
“Of course I speak for myself. We have enjoyed an agreeable friendship, have we not?”
“I hope you’ll find time to write. I would very much enjoy hearing about your new life. It should be quite an exciting one.”
“A demanding one,” he said with an intake of breath. “Of course I’ll write, but perhaps it won’t be necessary.”
“Here we are.” Robin pulled the phaeton onto the grass verge and secured the reins. “I believe it was over in that field where I first spotted him.”
After helping her down, he walked with her across a field bordered by towering poplars. “A charming scene, for a charming lady,” he said as they picked their way over uneven ground.
“Where-e’er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade,
Trees, where you sit, shall crowd into a shade,
Where-e’er you tread, the blushing flow’rs shall rise,
And all things flourish where you turn your eyes.”
Charity giggled. “You’re quoting Pope? I should have changed my dress.” She leapt over a cowpat. “Perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t. I’m thankful I wore my half boots. I might have known you’d have me up to my ankles in mud.”
He chuckled as he helped her over a stile. “How fond you are of exaggeration.” He took her hand and pulled her along. “There’s a good crop of blackberries along the river. That’s what attracts them.”
As they approached, Robin’s grip on her hand tightened. “Listen, do you hear it?”
“Yes, I do. A beautiful fluting weela-wee-ooo.”
“That’s it!” He smiled down at her, his eyes alight. “It’s unmistakable. And there is the bird himself.” His voice lifted as he pointed. Fluttering around a golden elm, the bird was almost impossible to pick out, until it rose into the sky.
“How splendid!” Charity’s gaze followed the flight of the little yellow bird until it disappeared. “I wonder if it will appear with its mate in the spring.”
“I shan’t be here to see it,” Robin said, his voice gruff.
“No.” She breathed deeply sensing his apprehension. “But if I see them, I’ll write and tell you. I’ll even send you drawings of their hatchlings.”
He reached for her hands. “Come with me to Northumberland, Charity. I can get a special license. We could marry before I leave.”
Startled at his closeness, for a moment his words didn’t register. She stared at him. “Surely you jest?”
“I’m entirely serious. I have need of a wife, and I rather think we’d suit.”
Her heart began to thump in her chest. Charity searched for a sign that he passionately desired her. He had never expressed such a sentiment before, and didn’t now. He was as ever, calmly discussing their futures as if describing a new book or piece of art he’d acquired.
She couldn’t. Her spirits had been soaring with the bird, and now disquiet marred the moment. Robin had moved beyond her. Marriage to him went against everything she’d hoped for herself. If she were the wife of a man of his stature, society would make demands on her she would find impossible to meet. Her career would be at an end, and worse. “Shouldn’t love come into the equation?”
He looked surprised. “Love will come in time. We share many interests and a similar sense of humor.”
“Why do you wish to rush into marriage with me? You will have your pick of beautiful debutantes and be rushed off your feet at Almacks.”
His gaze swept over her. “You sell yourself short, Charity. You’re an earl’s daughter. Intelligent and good company. Not such a poor choice in my opinion.”
Robin reached over and brushed a leaf from her shoulder. He was so close she breathed in his masculine smell. It was warm in the sun, and the grass tickled her ankles. His smoky grey eyes searched hers. “Can you give the matter some consideration? I feel such a marriage would suit both of us.”
Disconcerted by her inability to breathe properly, she moved backward. “Robin, I need years to establish myself in the art world. I believe I told you that ages ago.” And she had, in an effort to stop herself falling in love with him. She found herself off balance when her half-boot slid into a rabbit hole.
Robin grabbed her around the waist.
Her pulse galloped disturbingly. He suddenly seemed so big and masculine. She steadied herself forcing him to drop his arms. “It wouldn’t work, Robin,” she said, returning her hat to its jaunty angle.
His gaze caught and held hers. “My sister, Louise, used to say the same and now she is happily married. You were only sixteen then. I had hoped it was merely the capricious ramblings one hears from a green girl.”
She struggled away, and glared at him. “I don’t believe I’ve ever been capricious. And I never ramble.”
He swept off his hat and ran a hand through his thick waves, which the sunshine embellished with glossy golden lights. “I apologize, Charity. That was unfair. I know how much you hate the idea of embarking on a London Season, but as you’re soon to turn eighteen, I thought you might consider marriage more favorably. And I suppose I hoped you’d begun to like having me around.”
She fiddled with a button on her cream linen spencer, her cheeks hot. “But I do. I enjoy your company.” Of course he had a perfect right to ask her. And she was flattered. But he didn’t love her. Nor did he say he was overwhelmed by her beauty. Well he wouldn’t because she was too tall to be beautiful. What people called a “long Meg.” She sighed and swallowed the lump of regret blocking her throat. Their friendship would now be at an end. She would miss him sorely.
“I like you better than any man I’ve met, but I don’t wish to marry, not for years.” She turned and stalked resolutely back toward the carriage, wishing to put an end to this conversation. “But I am thrilled for you. You have such an exciting future ahead.”
“I rather like the life I have. I was planning an exhilarating future right here in Tunbridge Wells.”
Robin helped her over the stile, as both of them fell silent. She would miss their talks on art and books seated comfortably by his library fire. But that was gone forever, she thought miserably. Silly to wish it could stay the same, change was inevitable in everyone’s life. It had certainly been evident in the Baxendale family in the last few years. Now only she and Mercy were at home.
When they seated themselves in the carriage, Robin released the reins and guided the horses back to the road. “You may wake up one morning and discover you want more from life than art.” He cast a quick glance at her. “I do hope you’re not in your dotage when that happens.”
“My goodness. I never suspected you had a yen for melodrama,” she said, fighting to return to the lighthearted banter they usually enjoyed.
He backed up the horses.
“Where are we going?”
“I had planned to take you for tea at the Walks. But it wouldn’t do to provoke gossip now, would it? And I find I require something stronger.”
“I’m sure Father has a good supply of spirits.” Charity eyed him anxiously. Father must never learn of this. If he knew she’d refused a duke, he’d suffer the apoplexy.
The Seduction of Lady Charity by Maggi Andersen
Reviewed by ARRA
Lady Charity Baxendale is an artist, and a good one. She is very much beloved by her father, mother and sisters. Charity is also the fourth youngest sister and her father has given up trying to get his daughters to marry who he wants and lets them marry for love.
Robin is Charity’s childhood friend. He is also a Viscount who inherits a dukedom. Before his departure to the dukedom’s seat, Robin proposes to Charity. She rejects him as she feels that he needs time to adjust to being the duke. But there is a glitch in the system when a possible heir turns up. As he is trying to learn more about his new role, he misses Charity, and stops writing her letters to cause some reaction. There is a reaction but not what he expects.
Charity and her family are in the area and visit. Charity hears that Robin is ‘almost’ engaged and decides to back off. Fortunately for Charity her father is in her corner and gives Robin some advice on how to win her.
I like how these stories have developed and the involvement of the whole family in each other’s lives. There are not too many series that do this. It is great to see there is little angst between the sisters and the parents which makes the stories flow. I have really enjoyed these stories and will now have to wait patiently for Mercy’s story.
Art is a passion of mine, having been brought up breathing the smells of varnish and oil paint while my mother pursued her love of painting. I then studied fine arts at university and my love of art history deepened. My heroine in THE SEDUCTION OF LADY CHARITY Book #4 of The Baxendale Sisters series is an artist who hopes to become a renowned painter of portraits. I spent many a happy hour researching the art of the Georgian period and how women artists came into their own as the 19th century progressed.
Sir Thomas Gainsborough.
A family portrait painted for the gentry was important in the Georgian period to show a man’s wealth and position in society. Lands and houses often featured along with favorite pets in a formal studied pose.
Thomas Gainsborough Le Menage, unknown lady and gentleman in a landscape. Paris, Louvre (dated from the middle 1750’s)
Romanticism is a phenomenon which began around 1750 and ended about 1850, coming between Neoclassicism and Realism. There was a marked shift in emphasis from reason to feeling, from calculation to intuition, from objective nature to subjective emotion.
Thomas Gainsborough The Honorable Mrs. Graham, c. 1775
Mrs. Graham is dressed in the more formal, Rococo flamboyance of feathers and brocade, silver and crimson. Pride of birth and station is announced in every detail. It would have been intended to grace the grand stairway of a great country house.
Gainsborough, Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan c.1785
Gainsborough adopted the Romantic view of life and nature in this portrait. The lovely lady, dressed informally, is seated in a rustic landscape faintly reminiscent of Watteau in its soft-hued light and feathery brushwork echoed in her curly hair and the soft leafy scene in which she sits. Gainsborough did intend to add sheep to this painting to create a pastoral scene, but he died before he completed it. Here he seeks to match the unspoiled beauty of natural landscape with the natural beauty or the slight wind which is a sharp contrast to the pert sophistication of continental Rococo portraits.
Thomas Gainsborough Mr & Mrs. Richard Brinsley c. 1785
This was painted in the same year with another informal pose, as if just caught in the moment, with soft flowing drapery, but here, perhaps at the request of the subject, it displays Brinsley’s wealth in the lands and mansion in the background, much like the work seen earlier.
Women artists working in England in the Victorian era
lasdair Ranaldson MacDonell (1771–1828), 15th Chief of Glengarry
Emma Gaggiotti Richards, an English painter 1855. Marie Spartali Stillman 1844