Welcome to my debut on FictionPress, or redebut, as the case may be. The last time I posted something on here was 2006 when I was 13... yikes.
This started out as a little indulgent fun with a friend, but when she lost interest almost immediately, I kept writing and I'm quite proud of what it has become so far. It's more period fiction than historical fiction, given that the characters are not actual historical figures. However, I am meticulous about historical accuracy and have done my very best. I heartily welcome corrections in the reviews or by message. I am a French historian and rather out of my element.
Reviews are very much appreciated!
With each jostle of the coach, Hattie could swear she grew sicker and sicker. Church bells pealed all around them to welcome, she realized with a bit of shock, the Duke and his new Duchess. That she was the new Duchess was a very scary thing indeed, for only perhaps two months ago she'd been the second daughter of the Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, resigned to either a substandard marriage if she were lucky or spinsterhood if she were not. Outside the closed coach, the streets were lined with cheering commoners, some running along trying to peek in the windows. With her hands in her lap, the middle finger of her left hand sporting a new addition in the form of a singe carat rectangular diamond cushioned by tens of tiny brilliants, she wrung them as her nerves built. She had not asked for this marriage. She had not wanted this marriage. She scarcely even knew her new husband for his nature was so disconcertingly reserved and he had scarcely courted her at all. She had not even been properly introduced at the time of their engagement. Only then had he begun to visit her, and then the visits were disconcertingly uncomfortable affairs, thankfully none too regular as her former home at Wilton House was a good twenty miles away from Bradley House and their courtship had only really begun after quitting London that August—as such his visits tended to coincide with his having other business in the area. Truly, Harriet could swear the visits were only out of courtesy; it did not seem to her that he was much concerned with visiting her to be sociable, after all. Yet the same uncomfortable, tense feeling of their prior meetings permeated the carriage even then as she gazed out the window and tried to pretend that this man she had yet to find anything appealing or particularly respectable about, save his title, did not have his knee all too close in proximity to hers in the close quarters of their coach.
Her eyes flitted briefly from the window to the close contact of their knees, and then up to the Duke's face, her eyes not softening as perhaps a newlywed's ought to before staring with the same countenance out the window. He was not an unattractive man, certainly, his features put together well enough. His jawline was strong, his eyes a nice enough blue not unlike her own, and his figure tall and erect. He was not as old as many holders of such a high title, which was quite advantageous, though it put pressure, especially on her, to produce an heir and soon. As was to be expected of a person of his high birth, his manners were proper and he was kind to her, not that his behavior during their betrothal was likely to determine his behavior in marriage. His voice was unintrusive, easy to ignore when she fancied to do so, not awful to listen to when she felt the need to be attentive. She had no real reason to complain, being that she was not romantic anyway, far more pragmatic than she probably ought to be. The notion of love in marriage had entirely escaped her. However, Harriet was aware of her position in life and had been resolved thus. Her mere five thousand pound inheritance oughtn't have tempted a man who scarcely knew her. She couldn't help but be uneasy when such a young aristocrat, who certainly couldn't be wanting for women better endowed than she, had taken a liking to her, especially when she'd already been out in society for eight seasons.
The added stress of the first task in their marriage, the wedding night, only worried her more. As was to be expected, she was terrified and caught in ignorance, knowing not what to expect. How could she be expected to show proper affection to a man she did not like? It was a seemingly impossible task. She only hoped he knew what he was doing, sure that like most men he had visited Regent Street after dark to visit the women more "loose" than proper ladies like herself. Close your eyes and do what you must, her older sister Mathilde had advised. Of course Mathilde was horse-like in appearance with no figure to boast about and had only been snapped up by the Earl of Suffolk because he needed an heir and, more importantly, her dowry. Thus, Hattie took her advice with a grain of salt, for if the way the Duke gazed at her was any indication, he had more on his mind than just an heir, and Hattie was not content over it. She could only hope she would produce an heir early on and he would do what most men of consequence did and take a mistress.
As the coach and six turned to pull into the circular drive before the imposing home that was Bradley House, Hattie could only stare in awe. She had not visited His Grace's home before and was a bit overwhelmed at her new residence. The windows on the front of the house alone she was sure numbered over one hundred. That he should ever let this place for the season in London she marveled over, for though she knew he had a house somewhere on Park Lane, she could not imagine even its grandeur being satisfying after living here all his life. Realizing she had allowed her jaw to fall open, the new Duchess of Somerset shut it quickly, her cheeks filling with color in embarrassment. When the footman opened the door to the coach and her new husband stepped out, Harriet moved to the door of the coach, carefully lifting the billowing skirts of her wedding gown to expose matching satin heels with little silver bows attached. Accepting the duke's hand, she focused her eyes on stepping on the rungs of the coach's steps, relieved when she made it to the raked dirt of the driveway. With her free hand she straightened her skirts, fluffing them out so as to look presentable. Her gown was a sumptuous affair of satin of the palest blue, intricately embroidered with floral patterns in silver silk and trimmed with white lace at the collar, sleeves, and opening over her outer petticoat. Finally looking up at the house without the warp of the glass, she sucked her breath in a bit fast, not an easy thing given the tight fit of the stays beneath her gown. Glancing up at the duke, she knew he had heard her gasp at the grandeur of the house. Smiling just slightly, almost bashfully, she looked up at his typically somber countenance, almost admiring the pink of his cheeks from the wind. He was always dressed well, at least in her meetings with him, but in the fine silk of his suit, matching hers, he looked especially nice, something she'd been too focused on her nerves before to focus upon. "It's marvelous, Your Grace," she breathed after a long moment, waiting on him to lead her inside to meet their guests for the wedding breakfast.
Still holding her hand, His Grace the Duke of Somerset admired his wife as she took in his home. It contented him to know she was so pleased. Of course, marrying a lady of lower rank, he was not surprised, but that did not detract much from his contentment. Making his new wife happy was of paramount importance to the newly married duke. He had, after all, married for love, not money—a very one-sided love it may well be, but he held hope, he had to hold hope, that one day that would change, that she could learn to love him as a wife should love a husband. But until that day came, he had to be pleased with the knowledge she admired and respected him for his possessions, his title, and his power. He had no allusions that anything less had attracted her to him, if attraction were even the proper word for what she felt regarding him.
He allowed his eyes to explore her face, the very face that had captured him from the beginning, a year and a half ago. The perfect almond shape of her expressive blue eyes, which matched his almost perfectly in hue, and the perfect arch of her brow were perhaps the features he found most appealing in her face. Her nose, truly, was unremarkable—small with somewhat flared nostrils, the patrimony of the Herbert family—though it detracted nothing from her beauty. Her lips, though, were exquisite. He ached to let his linger upon them. At the ceremony earlier today he had only gently touched his lips to her flushed cheek. Knowing her feelings toward him were not romantic, he did not wish to mortify her in front of everyone. For her, at least, he knew this marriage was merely a legal matter and as such he had given his consent in this way.
A little smile playing across his lips, a rather unusual sight even to those who had known him a great many years, the duke gave her hand, which he held so preciously in his own, as if it were a valuable trinket, a slight, gentle squeeze. "I am pleased you find it so," his deep voice cut the air. A gaze of hope marked his face as he added, "I hope serving as its mistress will bring you joy in the years to come." The lack of enthusiasm in her gaze hurt him. His home and his fortune were all he had to offer her, all he could hope was that they would one day capture her affections or at least her esteem. He knew he himself did not especially please her. It broke his heart to admit it, even to himself, and yet it did not stop him. He had been determined to marry her—such was Somerset's nature; spoiled as a child, he had never been one to accept no as an answer. Perhaps a duplicitous action, Lady Harriet's failure to pay him much mind (not that he had particularly gone out of the way to attract her) had ultimately led him to directly approach her father instead. As a nobleman, he had more than enough right to arrange his own marriage, even if his actions were perhaps somewhat underhanded in practice.
Finally pulling his gaze away from her and letting her hand go, having held it longer than was prudent already, he nodded to the coachmen in dismissal and with a somber countenance started into the house. As one might expect, the marriage of such a high ranking noble had elicited a great celebration. Of course, with his mother long deceased and his one sister too far away to even be in attendance at the wedding (Catherine, his elder sister, had been married to the Marquess of Lothian in the northernmost part of Scotland. The journey would have been considerable, especially considering she was anticipating her thirteenth child.), and the other, Margaret, a genteel girl of seventeen naturally far happier travelling than cooped up at Bradley House planning wedding feasts, the festivities were not all they could have been. No celebration at all, however, would have been unacceptable and as such his domestic staff had helped immensely in preparing for the new Duchess' arrival.
With something of a weight upon him—he struggled to rejoice in his wife's clear lack of joy at the occasion of her marriage—Somerset progressed with his bride to the main doors of his home. His gaze again tracked to his wife as the footmen opened the doors which had to be closed between entrances due to the early winter air. He glanced over her slight figure, clothed in a dress with medium panniers, her robe of the traditional marriage blue. They matched; the image of unity. The irony was not lost upon him. As the doors began to push open, he offered her his right arm so that they might enter as a couple. With her hand resting gently on the sleeve of his brocade jacket, he offered her a tiny smile as their presence was announced to their guests, his eyes, as they tended to do, smiling more than his lips: "Introducing His Grace, the Duke of Somerset and Her Grace, the new Duchess." A considerable applause built among their guests. She did not share in his smile.
The festivities continued throughout the day with much eating and dancing. The division in personality between the duke and his bride was evident—he was pleased to sit happily with the many fancy foods presented to the couple, greeting his friends and acquaintances; she was far happier hopping across the dance floor with men who sought her as a partner, as many did given her new social standing. They danced only three dances together throughout the day, all slower numbers—the only time she smiled his way the whole day. The great fanfare did not phase the duke (who was used to such affairs), though his wife seemed altogether enraptured by it all. Occasionally, their eyes would meet across the room. She appeared to be having the time of her life. He was having the time of his life just watching her.