Lady Caroline Lamb


Valentine's Day

This teaser offers a glimpse of a Regency era icon – Lady Caroline Lamb. Niece of the Duchess of Devonshire, wife of William Lamb (later prime minister as Lord Melbourne), mistress of Lord Byron. Novelist who set the beau monde on its ear with her roman à clef Glenarvon. Caro Lamb wasn’t actually in Brussels during the battle of Waterloo, though she went there afterwards to nurse her wounded brother Fred. But she was such a perfect childhood friend for my fictional Cordelia Davenport that I couldn’t resist bringing her into the story. Here’s a glimpse of Cordy and Caro. Let me know what you think. Once again I’ll be giving an ARC of Imperial Scandal to a commenter.

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“Cordelia.”
Caro’s voice stopped Cordelia as she climbed the stairs of the house in the Rue du Belle Vue, candle in her hand. Caro stood on the first-floor landing, the light from the open door behind her outlining her disordered ringlets and the white gauze of her gown.
“You didn’t need to wait up,” Cordelia said.
“Stuff.” Caro took her arm. “You can lock up, Georges,” she called to the footman in the hall below, and then dragged Cordelia through the open door of the salon where she had been waiting. She flung her arms round Cordelia and hugged her hard. “Dearest. I’m so sorry.”
Cordelia clung to her friend for a moment. “Don’t Caro, or I’ll quite fall to pieces.”
Caro pushed her into an armchair, put a glass of brandy in her hand, and perched on the sofa beside her. “I looked in on Livia, and she’s sleeping like an angel, so you needn’t worry.”
It was a reversal of their usual roles. Normally it was Cordelia who held Caro’s hand, smoothed her hair, convinced her to eat or sleep through the ups and downs of her marriage and in particular the volatile days of her affair with Lord Byron.
Cordelia stared at the glass in her hand, seeing Johnny hunched over his brandy in his study. Nausea choked her. She set the glass on the table beside her, aware that her fingers were shaking.
“How was Johnny?” Caro asked.
“Devastated. Angry. And–“
“What?”
Cordelia snatched up the glass and tossed down a sip. “I think there’s something he isn’t tell me.”
Caro picked up her own glass. “You haven’t talked about the other part of the evening.”
“Harry.”
Cordelia tossed down another swallow of brandy. “I knew I’d probably see him in Brussels.”
“But not–“
“Over my sister’s body.”
Caro’s eyes darkened. Before she’d left the ball to call on Johnny, Cordelia had told her friend about Julia’s death and that Harry had taken her to see Julia’s body. Remembering now her clipped words, she thought Caro must have thought her mad.
Cordelia turned her glass in her hand. “Poor Harry. Marrying into our family seems to have led him from one coil to another. We had a beastly quarrel about Livia. He accused me of being unfeeling in bringing her to Brussels. I accused him of not caring about her at all. Not that there’s any reason he should be expected to.”
Caro tucked her feet up under her on the sofa and leaned toward Cordelia. “Cordy, you have every right to be–“
“I don’t have a right to be anything.” Cordelia clunked her glass on the table, so hard drops of brandy splashed onto the polished mahogany. “When it comes to Harry I long ago forfeited the right to anything.”
Caro’s eyes darkened in her thin face. Marriage was a difficult subject with her. “Harry wasn’t–“
“Harry was a fool. But he didn’t deserve what he got when he married me.” Fragments of memory chased through her mind. The candle doused in their alien bedchamber, awkward touches. Uncomfortable silences across engraved silver and gilt-edged wedding china. Bending over a book in the library, her hair brushing his own, a sudden moment of understanding. His gaze following her across the ballroom. Coming home alone from an entertainment and glancing into the library to see him hunched over his books.
She grabbed the brandy glass and tossed down a swallow that burned her throat. “I knew I’d made a mess of my life. I thought Julia had done better.”
“But you knew–“
“That her marriage wasn’t as perfect as it appeared on the surface? Whose is?”
Caro grimaced and hugged her arms across her chest.
Cordelia’s fingers tightened round the glass. “Perhaps the fools are the ones who actually expect fidelity.”
“Cordy, that’s dreadful. You sound like William. My husband was always much more of a cynic than I am.”
Cordelia smiled at her friend, against the memory of scandals and tantrums and hysterical outbursts. “You’re an incurable romantic, Caro. I often think life would be much easier for you if you weren’t.”
“Just because Harry wasn’t–“
“Oh, for God’s sake. Blame my affairs on boredom or lust or the need to provoke. But they aren’t motivated by a search for my one true love.” Except for the beginning, and she wasn’t going to let her mind dwell on her youthful folly now.
Caro wrapped her arms round her knees. “I was in love with William when I married him.”
“I know.” Cordelia reached over and touched her friend’s hand. She had a vivid memory of Caro’s bright face on her wedding day. She’d been trembling when she hugged Cordelia before she climbed in the carriage outside Melbourne House for the wedding journey, but the gaze she had turned on William Lamb had burned with adoration. “You married for much more honest reasons than I did.”

This month’s teaser is another excerpt from Imperial Scandal. This excerpt introduces a new character who plays an important role in Imperial Scandal and will also appear in subsequent books in the series, Lady Cordelia Davenport. Last year, readers of this blog were very helpful in helping me select names for Cordelia and her estranged husband Harry.

This scene comes in on Lady Cordelia at the British ambassador’s ball in Brussels at which Imperial Scandal opens (also featured in last month’s teaser), talking to her friend Lady Caroline Lamb and to Mélanie, to whom she’s just been introduced.
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“Cordelia. What in God’s name are you doing here?”
Cordelia Davenport turned from her conversation with Caro and Mélanie Fraser to see a tall, broad-shouldered man with close cropped golden-brown hair and an all-too familiar smile striding along the edge of the dance floor.
“Major Chase.” Cordelia extended her hand. “Why shouldn’t I come to Brussels? All the world seems to have flocked here. I’m not usually so behind the fashion.
George brushed his lips over her hand, a bit stiffly. He met her gaze as he straightened up. “For God’s sake, Cordy, it’s dangerous.”
“I doubt Wellington would care to hear you say so. You know Lady Caroline, of course,” Cordelia said, grateful for the mask of social convention. “May I present Mrs. Fraser? Her husband is on Stuart’s staff.”
George nodded at the other two ladies with one of his quick, disarming smiles. “Forgive my informality. Cord-Lady Cordelia and I have known each other since we were children. I’m in the habit of worrying about her.”
“A fatal mistake, Major Chase,” Caro said. “Cordelia could look after herself at the age of six, and nothing puts her in such a temper as being fussed over.”
George grinned. “With Cordy I’ve always been slow to learn my lessons.” The look he turned to Cordelia was a mix of ruefulness and regret. It reminded her of the way he’d used to turn his head to meet her gaze one last time before he stepped into the carriage to return to Eton or Oxford, knowing it would be many months before they met again. Against all instincts to the contrary, her throat went tight.
George turned to Mélanie Fraser. “You’re Charles Fraser’s wife, aren’t you? I knew him a bit as a boy when he used to visit the Mallinsons at Carfax Court in Derbyshire. Always thought he’d do something remarkable.”
“He was frighteningly clever,” Cordelia said, recalling the tall, gangly boy with intent eyes and a quick wit. “And inclined to spend all his time in the library.”
Mélanie Fraser smiled. “Some things don’t change.”
“I hear Wellington claims Fraser’s the civilian he could least do without,” George said.
“My husband would say one can’t believe everything one hears in Brussels theses days.”
“You seem very sanguine, Mrs. Fraser.”
“As a diplomat’s wife, one of my first duties is to calm the panic.”
“And yet”—George cast a glance at the couples circling the floor—“I fear life in Brussels is not the picnic it appears.”
Cordelia unfurled her fan, willing her fingers to hold steady against the ebony sticks. “Have you sent your own wife back to England?”
She heard George suck in his breath. He looked directly into her eyes, his own shadowed with—guilt? Apology? “No, Annabel’s somewhere in the ballroom as it happens. We talked about her taking the children back to England, but we— She felt it would be harder to be separated at such a time.”
“How sweet.” Cordelia took a sip of champagne and then cursed herself. She was being spiteful and neither George nor Annabel deserved that.
“It’s different for Annabel,” George said quickly. “She’s a soldier’s wife—“
“So am I if it comes to that. I don’t suppose it occurred to you that I came to Brussels to see Harry?”
The look on George’s face might have been comical had she been able to muster up anything remotely approaching laughter. “I’m sorry, Cordy,” he said, “I should have realized—“
“Oh, don’t look so apologetic, George. Harry isn’t even in Brussels as it happens. I came here to see Julia, only I can’t seem to find her anywhere in the ballroom or salons. Have you seen her?”
George frowned. “Not since supper, I think. But she’s bound to turn up before long. Julia’s not the sort to fade into the woodwork. She’ll be glad to see you.”
“I hope so,” Cordelia said, for once speaking the unvarnished truth.
George touched her arm. “Don’t be silly, Cordy. Whatever else, Julia will always be your sister. Ladies.”
George inclined his head to Caro and Mélanie Fraser and walked off along the edge of the dance floor.
Cordelia felt Caro’s concerned gaze on her and Mélanie Fraser’s appraising one. How much of the story had Mrs. Fraser heard? Not that it mattered. She was damned in any case. “George and I’ve known each other since we were both in the nursery,” she said.
“Old friends know one in a way no one else quite does,” Mélanie Fraser said. Cordelia could see her trying to piece together the past, yet there was a surprising lack of judgment in her gaze. Not what Cordelia was accustomed to from respectable happily married women.
“Damnable isn’t it?” Cordelia said, throwing out the curse like a challenge. George was talking with two of his fellow cavalry officers, head bent at a serious angle. A bit of a change. The old George would have been dancing with a pretty girl.
“Quite damnable.” With two words Mélanie Fraser, picked up the challenge and rendered it irrelevant.
Caro touched Cordelia’s arm. “Cordy—“
“It’s quite all right, Caro. If I couldn’t confront my past I’d never be able to go out in society.”
“Lady Cordelia?”
Cordelia turned to tell the footman she didn’t need any more champagne and saw that he was holing out a square of paper. “A gentleman asked me to give you this.”
Cordelia took the paper.
I’m sure you find this as awkward as I do, but I have important news to impart. I beg you will grant me a few moments of your time. I fear I’m not fit for the ballroom.
H.

She knew the precise, slanted handwriting at once. Speaking of confronting one’s past. She folded the paper between fingers that had gone nerveless. “Where is he?”
“In one of the salons.”
Cordelia turned to Caro and Mrs. Fraser. “Pray excuse me. It seems I need speak with my husband.”
Caro made a quick move toward her. “Dearest- Do you want me to go with you?”
Cordelia drew together defenses carefully built over the past four years. “No, I shall be quite all right. I knew I might encounter Harry in Brussels after all. And I’ve just dealt with George. How bad can this be?”
The footman guided her along the edge of the ballroom and then held open a white-painted door. Cordelia stepped beneath the gilt pediment, feeling like Anne Boleyn on her way to her execution.
Oh, that was absurd. She wasn’t a fanciful girl anymore.
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Do let me know what you think of Cordelia and the excerpt. Also, as a follow up to the wonderful discussion on my sympathetic characters post, I’m curious to know how many of you who read Vienna Waltz believed Malcolm/Charles might have actually been Princess Tatiana’s lover (before or after his marriage to Mel/Suzanne).

Speaking of Princess Tatiana, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Charles to David about the rumors surrounding the princess and her murder.

I blogged a while back about my fondness for imperfect characters. As I wrote, “I’ve always found flawed characters much more interesting than the more conventionally heroic sort. Growing up, Milady de Winter was my favorite character in The Three Musketeers (I thought Constance was boring), I couldn’t understand why Lucie Manette looked twice at Charles Darnay when Sydney Carton was around, I much preferred Mary Crawford to Fanny Price.” Sarah wrote to me recently following up on this, because she’s reading The Three Musketeers and getting to know the fascinating Milady de Winter. Sarah wrote, “I know I tend to prefer heroines who use their ‘feminine wiles’ – or sexuality – to achieve their own way, instead of resorting to the cliched ‘PC’ approach of typically male methods, such as physical violence, and Milady is the perfect example of a strong woman.”

As with so many classics, my first introduction to The Three Musketeers was my mom reading it out loud to me when I was quite small. I remember her describing the book before we read it and saying “It has a fascinating heroine–I mean villainess.” That’s a perfect way to describe Milady, because while she’s definitely an antagonist to d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, she’s a compelling, fascinating character. (more…)

Today, Monday, October 15, is Blog Action Day, with over 11,000 blogs discussing the environment. I’ve been sitting at my computer, in the light of my reprodcution light fixture recently refitted with energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, trying to think of how to relate the environment to my books and the Regency era.

The Regency London Charles and Mélanie live in has its own environmental issues. In the Prologue to “Beneath a Silent Moon”, a character returning to London after a long absense comes face to face with the reality. “The river stretched behind him, a smooth dark expanse, shimmreing where it caught the fitful moonlight. But the freeze off the water was choked with the stench of sewage and offal and remnants from the knackers’ yards. The air was heavy with soot from thousands of fireplace grates and coal-oil lamps. It clogged his throat and clung to his skin and no doubt was turning his cravat and shirt cuffs more grimy by the minute.”

(more…)

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