Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Being Mr Wickham: New Dates Added

Adrian Lukis will star in Being Mr Wickham at the Theatre Royal, Bath, on 20th and 21st January 2020. The performance will be followed by a Q&A with Adrian and me, and tickets are available now!

The definitive Mr Wickham lifts the sheets on exactly what Jane Austen’s most roguish gent has been up to in the last thirty years. Join George Wickham on the eve of his sixtieth birthday to discover his version of some very famous literary events.
What really happened with Darcy…?
What did he feel about Lizzie…?
What happened at Waterloo? Not to mention Byron…
Mr Wickham is ready to set the record straight.
Adrian Lukis received an Olivier Award nomination for his performance in the TRB production of The PriceCatherine Curzon is a historian, author and lover of all things 18th Century. The performance will be followed by a Q&A with Adrian and Catherine.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Unwed Mothers in the Regency by Colin Odom

It's a pleasure to welcome Colin Odom, who is visiting the salon as part of the blog tour for A Covenant of Marriage. Colin is here to share  fascinating post about the lot of unwed mothers in the Regency.


A Covenant of Marriage and Unwed Mothers in the Regency
C. P. Odom

During the writing of A Covenant of Marriage, I wrote a situation involving an unwed mother who, for various reasons, had no recourse to friends or family. Before I could write my way out of that dilemma, I did do a little research into just what would have happened during that particular time and whether or not the charity I postulated might have existed in reality. As shown below, unfortunately, the answer is a tentative Maybe.
In the time of the Regency, society was essentially based on marriage and the family, and adults had their place in that society based on their position in the family unit. Married women were held in higher esteem than unmarried women, and married men were given the respect due to someone who had proven their capability to support a family. Women were identified for tax purposes as either wives, widow, or spinsters, while men were identified by their occupation or social status.
Spinsterhood was a definite liability for a woman, even for an upper class girl (though almost a fourth of such girls remained unmarried). If a single woman had an independent income sufficient for her to support a household, she was able to carry on an independent life. If not, a spinster would be faced with the choice of somehow finding employment suitable to her genteel status or else would have to live in the house of a relative. If a single woman possessed independent means—a fortune of her own sufficient for her to live on, it was possible she could maintain her own household and carry on an independent life.
However, the above situations offered far better prospects than did a young woman who became pregnant without benefit of marriage. In the best of cases, the unfortunate young lady’s family might be able to force the responsible young man to marry their daughter. But this solution depended on money and secrecy to make it work, since neither the bride or the groom could withstand the shame if their situation became openly known. And, if the man later proved incapable of supporting his dependents, this might be described as a case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
But many such women were not able to manage such a marriage. Filled with shame at their condition, they and their families often looked for places in which they could be hidden away during their pregnancy. While investigating this situation, I was quite surprised to find that some places advertised themselves in newspapers offering discreet refuge away from the public view. After the mother gave birth, many unwanted children were left on church steps and porches, assuring that the parish would provide care and sustenance for these abandoned orphans. Again, secrecy and money were necessary requirements in making such solutions work.
Less fortunate were those unwed mothers who left their homes, perhaps to keep their family from suffering for her disgrace or because they simply could not bear to openly admit their condition to parents and/or siblings. Many such pregnant women, unable to support themselves, were soon hungry, exhausted, and in poor health and found themselves forced to enter a workhouse, the last retreat for those at the end of their tethers. Some abandoned babies, such as Charles Dickens character in Oliver Twist, also wound up in such a workplace, having been born after his unwed mother died bringing him into the world. The conditions were appalling, and even pregnant women awaiting the birth of their child were expected to work. Many women, like Oliver Twist’s mother, were simply too weak after birth to survive, leaving their unwanted babies as orphans.
But to get back to my novel and the reason for this research, I had come up with the idea of a charity providing a refuge for unwed mothers in a more open environment in London, and I wanted to see if such charities had actually existed. Unfortunately, all I could really uncover was that the first maternity homes were set up to provide shelter for expectant or nursing mothers. However, a very famous institution titled London’s Foundling Hospital was opened in 1741 by an old sea-captain named Thomas Coram who had become a wealthy shipwright and merchant following his time commanding merchant ships. During his travels to and from London on business, Coram had been shocked by the sight of the many unwanted children that tried to find what shelter and sustenance they could. Even if they were found, many of them died from hunger or disease because they were not found in time. He founded his hospital, which is believed to be the world’s first incorporated charity, as a way to take in unwanted children and care for them until they could fend for themselves. The Hospital opened their doors to illegitimate children in 1801.
So, despite the dearth of historical data to validate my invention of a charitable institutions such as “The Bedford Charitable Home for the Unfortunate” in my novel, I still believe such institutions likely existed. The absence of definitive historical documentation could well be the difference in size between my fanciful charity, with only a few dozen beds and perhaps one or two midwives and the large Foundling Hospital. The latter institution was substantial in size, enough so that Charles Dickens and his family worshiped in the Foundling Chapel. Certainly, there was a critical need for such charities, and the less wholesome (and less documented) parts of London could have included such small institutions, many of which might only have lasted for a few years until the founder exhausted his funds and they were forced to close their doors.
In summary, this author asks for a little suspension of disbelief in this matter due to lack of evidence either way. No matter how much internet research one does, a “WayBack Machine”such as in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon shows of my childhood would be needed, and I’m fresh out.


A Covenant of Marriage — legally binding, even for an unwilling bride!
Defined as a formal, solemn, and binding agreement or compact, a covenant is commonly used with regard to relations among nations or as part of a contract. But it can also apply to a marriage as Elizabeth Bennet learns when her father binds her in marriage to a man she dislikes. Against her protests that she cannot be bound against her will, the lady is informed that she lives under her father’s roof and, consequently, is under his control; she is a mere pawn in the proceedings.
With such an inauspicious beginning, how can two people so joined ever make a life together?

Author Bio: 
 By training, I’m a retired engineer, born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma. Sandwiched in there was a stint in the  Marines, and I’ve lived in Arizona since 1977, working first for Motorola and then General Dynamics. 
I raised two sons with my first wife, Margaret, before her untimely death from cancer, and my second wife, Jeanine, and I adopted two girls from China. The older of my daughters recently graduated with an engineering degree and is working in Phoenix, and the younger girl is heading toward a nursing degree. 
I’ve always been a voracious reader and collector of books, and my favorite genres are science fiction, historical fiction, histories, and, in recent years, reading (and later writing) Jane Austen romantic fiction. This late-developing interest was indirectly stimulated when I read my late wife's beloved Jane Austen books after her passing.  One thing led to another, and I now have four novels published:  Most Civil Proposal(2013), Consequences(2014), Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets(2015), and Perilous Siege(2019). Two of my books are now audiobooks, Most Civil Proposaland Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets
I retired from engineering in 2011, but I still live in Arizona with my family, a pair of dogs (one of which is stubbornly untrainable), and a pair of rather strange cats.  My hobbies are reading, woodworking, and watching college football and LPGA golf (the girls are much nicer than the guys, as well as being fiendishly good putters). Lately I’ve reverted back to my younger years and have taken up building plastic model aircraft and ships (when I can find the time).

Contact Info:

Buy Links:   
Amazon USeBook, Paperback, Kindle Unlimited
Amazon UKeBook, Paperback, Kindle Unlimited

Blog Tour Schedule:

Meryton Press is giving away 8 eBooks of A Covenant of Marriage via the link blow!

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

The Bride of Northanger – and Netley Abbey

It's a pleasure to welcome Diane Birchall, with a look behind the inspiration for a literary location!


As an early practitioner of what is now called the Austenesque, I wrote my first piece of pastiche in 1984, winning a contest in Persuasions (the journal of JASNA), with an imitation of Miss Bates’ discursive chat in Emma.  I found this to be such a delightful pastime, I haven’t stopped yet. Hundreds of stories and a few novels later, I’ve found a lifetime study of Austen’s work to be a resoundingly entertaining education. Examining Austen’s methods and her witty and elegant style with the object of improving my own, led to an ever deepening appreciation of her uniquely re-readable novels.
Why, then, did it take such a long time for me to come around to a real consideration of Northanger Abbey? An early work, though one she revised later, it has enormous charm and humor, though perhaps not the same weight of thought and workmanship as her more mature works. Northanger Abbey satirizes the Gothic genre, the “horrid novels” read for thrills by its young heroine Catherine Morland and her more experienced friend Isabella Thorpe. Jane Austen also seized a revealing chance to air her own opinions about novels and novel-writing. However, it was not so much the Gothic literary playfulness that I found most appealing about Northanger Abbey: it was the central relationship, which was a puzzling one to me.  I never quite understood why or how an unusually clever man like the captivating Henry Tilney could fall in love with such a young, naïve, uneducated girl as Catherine. This was something I wanted to explore, psychologically, realistically, and romantically. 
After some consideration of Henry’s father, General Tilney, I realized that Henry had been fairly bullied and brutalized by this dreadful man, and that a girl like Catherine, with her refreshing honesty and lack of guile, was therefore very appealing to him. 
A sequel to Northanger Abbey, my novel The Bride of Northanger contains plenty of Gothic adventuring.  Austen enjoyed the genre herself, and I duly read several of the books Catherine and Isabella pored over, full of incidents of the sort that Henry Tilney memorably said made the hair on his head stand up on end. These episodes were fun to research and to invent; but I never wanted to stray too far away from Henry and Catherine themselves, and how their own love story might have progressed. Their engagement we know lasted a year, during which time they corresponded; and I was sure Henry recommended plenty of good reading to his naïve young fiancée. Thus, by the time of the wedding, she had been exposed to much more thinking and education, and was consequently a better, more interesting wife for Henry. Their marriage became a more equal one than it might have seemed at the conclusion of Northanger Abbey. Certainly there were Gothic horrors for them to contend with, but Catherine, with her natural common sense and improved mind, became a most admirable heroine, in my mind at least:  a true Bride of Northanger.
In trying to find the right cover picture to represent Catherine, I needed to look no further than a portrait by the French artist Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, of a young girl who would have been exactly the same age as Austen’s Catherine. This was Corisande Armandine Leonie Sophie de Gramont (1783 – 1865), a granddaughter of Marie Antoinette’s favorite friend the Duchesse de Polignac. Corisande married an English MP, the Earl of Tankerville, and lived in England. She was visually my Catherine to a T (or a C), but I wanted the cover to be more than a pretty girl’s head. I needed an Abbey, to represent Northanger. 
Netley Abbey by Moonlight by John Constable, 1833
The obvious choice was Netley Abbey, which Jane Austen actually visited herself while living in Southampton. Soon after her father’s death in 1805, Jane, her mother, sister Cassandra, and friend Martha Lloyd moved to Southampton, taking lodgings with sailor brother Francis’s wife Mary. Francis would be at sea, and Mary was pregnant, so the arrangement suited all parties. Jane Austen had been to Southampton earlier, as a young girl, and knew it well;  Netley Abbey, on Southampton Water, was a popular excursion. In 1808 Jane wrote to Cassandra about taking their two young nephews, who had lately lost their mother, on an outing there:
“I intend to take them to Netley today; the tide is just right for our going immediately after noonshine, but I am afraid there will be rain.” 
Portrait of John Constable as a young man, 1799
There can be little doubt that Netley Abbey, with its forbidding aspect and dramatic history, seized Jane’s imagination, as it had that of other authors and painters. The suppression of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s time may seem remote to the period in which Jane Austen wrote, but it was an historical subject that was important to her. She saw evidences of monastic buildings taken over by rich landowners for their own gain, all around her. Her depiction of General Tilney’s greedy, self-serving way of running his grand estate that had once been a religious house, reflects this. 
The Ruins of Netley Abbey, sketch by John Constable, 1826
The decorative painting I chose of Netley Abbey for my own book cover is by the English landscape painter John Constable, titled Netley Abbey by Moonlight. The painter and his wife visited Netley in 1816, on their honeymoon, though the watercolor painting was done years later. The ancient Cistercian structure, founded in 1238, has a most bloody history and has been said to be haunted by ghosts of the monks whose home was ripped from them in the confiscations. What better place to set off ghostly imaginings in almost any visitor – and to spark the imagination of genius to recreate it as Northanger Abbey. 

About the  Author

Diana Birchall worked for many years at Warner Bros studios as a story analyst, reading novels to see if they would make movies. Reading manuscripts went side by side with a restorative and sanity-preserving life in Jane Austen studies and resulted in her writing Austenesque fiction both as homage and attempted investigation of the secrets of Jane Austen's style. She is the author of In Defense of Mrs. EltonMrs. Elton in AmericaMrs. Darcy's Dilemma, and the new The Bride of Northanger. She has written hundreds of Austenesque short stories and plays, as well as a biography of her novelist grandmother, and has lectured on her books and staged play readings at places as diverse as Hollywood, Brooklyn, Montreal, Chawton House Library, Alaska, and Yale. Visit Diana at her Austen Variations author page, follow her on TwitterFacebookand Goodreads.

The Bride of Northanger
A happier heroine than Catherine Morland does not exist in England, for she is about to marry her beloved, the handsome, witty Henry Tilney. The night before the wedding, Henry reluctantly tells Catherine and her horrified parents a secret he has dreaded to share - that there is a terrible curse on his family and their home, Northanger Abbey. Henry is a clergyman, educated and rational, and after her year’s engagement Catherine is no longer the silly young girl who delighted in reading “horrid novels”; she has improved in both reading and rationality. This sensible young couple cannot believe curses are real...until a murder at the Abbey triggers events as horrid and Gothic as Jane Austen ever parodied - events that shake the young Tilneys’ certainties, but never their love for each other...



October 28                My Jane Austen Book Club (Interview)
October 28                Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog (Review)
October 28                vvb32 Reads (Spotlight)                            
October 29                A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide of Life (Guest Blog)
October 29                From Pemberley to Milton (Excerpt)
October 30                Drunk Austen (Interview)
October 30                Silver Petticoat Review (Excerpt)
October 31                Jane Austen’s World (Review)
November 01            So Little Time… (Interview)
November 01            Laura's Reviews (Review)
November 04            English Historical Fiction Authors (Guest Blog)
November 04            Confessions of a Book Addict (Spotlight)
November 05            More Agreeably Engaged (Review)
November 05            Vesper’s Place (Review)
November 06            Jane Austen in Vermont (Interview)
November 06            Diary of an Eccentric (Interview)
November 07            All Things Austen (Spotlight)
November 07            A Bookish Way of Life (Review)
November 07            Let Them Read Books (Excerpt)  
November 08            Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)
November 08            vvb32 Reads (Review)
November 11            My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)
November 11            Reading the Past (Spotlight)
November 12            Jane Austen’s World (Interview)
November 12            The Calico Critic (Excerpt)
November 13            The Book Rat (Review) 
November 13            Austenesque Reviews (Review)
November 14            Fangs, Wands, & Fairy Dust (Review)
November 14            The Fiction Addict (Review)
November 15            My Love for Jane Austen (Spotlight)
November 15            Scuffed Slippers and Wormy Books (Review)                                   

Friday, 18 October 2019

Sophia: Mother of Kings - OUT NOW!

I’m thrilled to announce the release of my new biography, Sophia: Mother of Kings. Sophia was famously the mother of George I but she was much, much more than that. As Stuart, Hanoverian and the Winter Princess, it’s been a real privilege to tell her story and I hope you'll enjoy reading it!

Buy it now

Sophia: Mother of Kings

Sophia, Electress of Hanover, was born to greatness. Granddaughter of James I and mother to George I, she was perhaps the finest queen that Britain never had.

As daughter of Frederick V of the Palatinate and Elizabeth Stuart, Sophia emerged from an impoverished, exiled childhood as the Winter Princess, a young woman of sparky intelligence, cutting wit and admirable determination. Once courted by Charles II, Sophia eventually gave her heart to Ernest Augustus, at whose side she became the first Electress of Hanover and the mother of the first Georgian king of Great Britain.

Sophia: Mother of Kings, brings this remarkable woman and her tumultuous era vividly to life. In a world where battles raged across the continent and courtiers fought behind closed doors, Sophia kept the home fires burning. Through personal tragedy and public triumph, Sophia raised a family, survived illness, miscarriage, and accusations of conspiracy, and missed out on the British throne by a matter of weeks.

Sophia of Hanover became the mother of one of the most glittering dynasties the world has ever known. From the House of Stuart to the House of Hanover, this is the story of her remarkable life.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Being Mr Wickham - Future Plans

Adrian Lukis, the definitive Mr Wickham for many TV viewers, returned to the role of George Wickham live on stage this September in Bath and  Stamford. Adrian reprised his beloved (oh go on, you know you do!) role in Being Mr Wickham, a brand new play written by Adrian and me, that lifts the sheets on exactly what Jane Austen's most roguish gent has been up to in the last thirty years.

Our sell-out audiences have loved the show and we're keen to bring it to as wide an audience as possible. Adrian and I have had such interest in Being Mr Wickham that I've established a mailing list so people who want to know more can be the first to hear news about the show or any new dates, not to mention the occasional bit of glorious Georgian news too.

If you're interested, you can sign up at the link below. We'd love to see Mr Wickham ride again... all over the world!

Sign up to the mailing list

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Meet Mr Wickham and Me in Stamford

I’m thrilled to share the details of two forthcoming events at the Stamford Georgian Festival. I'll be giving a talk on innovation and enlightenment, followed by Adrian Lukis in Being Mr Wickham, my brand new one-man show that lifts the lid on what Jane Austen's most notorious rogue has been up since his marriage to Lydia.

Details of both events are below, we'd love you to join us!

More Than a Dream: Imagination and Innovation in the Age of Enlightenment, 29th September, Stamford Arts Centre, 5pm
In the Georgian era, knowledge and technology moved at a breathless pace. The Age of Enlightenment changed the landscape of the nation and from breathtaking architecture to intriguing experiments such as the so-called Electrical Boy, people couldn’t get enough of this brave new world.  This entertaining talk will look at invention and innovation in the Age of Enlightenment and examine what enlightenment really meant to the Georgians.

To book, click here!

Being Mr Wickham, Old Theatre Royal, Bath, 29th September, Stamford Arts Centre, 7pm - EXTREMELY LIMITED AVAILABILITY

Written off as a rake and reviled as a rogue, join George Wickham on the eve of his sixtieth birthday to discover his version of some very famous literary events. From childhood games at Pemberley to a run-in with Lord Byron, via marriage to Lydia and just a little bit of matchmaking for Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, Mr Wickham is ready to set the record straight.

This brand new production by Catherine Curzon sees Adrian Lukis return to his celebrated role as George Wickham, Jane Austen's most quintessential trouble-maker.

To book, click here! LIMITED TICKETS REMAIN

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

The Captain and the Theatrical

The Captain and the Theatrical, our Regency romcom drag extravaganza, is out to buy today!

Buy it now or read on for an extract.

When Captain Pendleton needs an emergency fiancée, who better to turn to than his male best friend? After all, for Amadeo Orsini, life’s one long, happy drag!

Captain Ambrose “Pen” Pendleton might have distinguished himself on the battlefield at Waterloo but since he’s come home to civvy street, he’s struggled to make his mark.

Pen dreams of becoming a playwright but his ambitious father has other ideas, including a trophy wife and a new job in America. If he’s to stand a hope of staying in England and pursuing his dream, Pen needs to find a fiancée fast.

Amadeo Orsini never made it as a leading man, but as a leading lady he’s the toast of the continental stage. Now Cosima is about to face her most challenging role yet, that of Captain Pendleton’s secret amour.

With the help of a talking theatrical parrot who never forgets his lines, Orsini throws on his best frock, slaps on the rouge and sets out to save Pen from the clutches of Miss Harriet Tarbottom and her scheming parents.

As friendship turns into love, will the captain be able to write a happy ending for himself and Orsini before the curtain falls?


Summer 1817

As Captain Ambrose Pendleton strode through the gates of Vauxhall Gardens, he didn’t see the crush of people or the lights in the trees, or hear the music. He was thinking only of seeing his friend Orsini once again.

But first there was the show, which Orsini had raved about in his letter. Cosima was from his stable of talent, and Orsini had been insistent that his friend watch the most remarkable, exquisite and well-formed young lady to grace the continental stage.

And her adorable performing parrot!

Ambrose entered the pavilion where Cosima was to perform. He took his seat and, as he waited for the show to begin, found himself enjoying the hubbub of ordinary people around him. How nice it was to be back among the throng of humanity, without the smell of gunpowder or the roar of cannon or the parade-ground shout. He glanced about the audience, wondering if his friend was there, but Orsini was nowhere to be seen.

The quartet struck a note, and applause rang through the pavilion as the velvet curtain was drawn back. The woman who emerged was tall and slender but, as Orsini had promised, well-formed. Here in a summer London, her diaphanous gown and tumbling curls transported Ambrose instantly back to his youth in Italy, to a world of classical myth and striking women, yet none that he could recall were as striking as the creature who now tripped across the stage, one slender arm outstretched for the bright blue parrot that perched upon her pale wrist, the yellow and red feathers beneath its wings and at its breast shimmering.

A woman in Roman dress and a parrot… It was very Orsini, if nothing else.

There was likely nothing else quite like it in London that night as the magnificent Cosima ran through her repertoire of silly stories—just the right side of bawdy—and Italian songs, sometimes accompanied for the sake of comedy by the bird and sometimes, for the sake of entertainment, by the quartet. Every man in the audience was enraptured by her, enchanted by each flick of her auburn curls, each sly aside, and every woman became a confidante, laughing behind ladylike hands at some wry comment from the performer on the stage.

Wherever had Orsini found her? Ambrose wondered, though he knew instinctively that some of this material must belong to his friend, for it had that same devilish mischief so beloved by Amadeo Orsini. They claimed that she was his sister but Ambrose knew better, for he had met Orsini’s numerous siblings and none of them were La Cosima.

Yet she certainly could have been family.

The show ended with rapturous applause, Cosima curtseying to her admiring audience as the parrot took a small, proper bow. Reluctantly, Ambrose followed the crowd out of the pavilion and back into the balmy summer air. He would happily have watched Cosima and her parrot perform all evening, if not for his promised reunion with Orsini.

Off he went toward the Cascade, where they had arranged to meet. But he couldn’t see Orsini anywhere. Where was the young man Ambrose remembered, always decked out in silks? He certainly would have noticed him among the crowd—unless, and Ambrose thought it most unlikely, the great impresario had adopted a somber guise.

But wouldn’t he notice Orsini’s dancing eyes, and his knowing smile, and his—what the devil?

“Now, madam, please stop that!” Ambrose laughed politely—as politely as a man could with a woman’s hands over his eyes. He could smell her perfume and feel the lace of her gloves and hear her giggle. “You must have confused me for your husband, or your sweetheart!” Or a paying customer, but Ambrose thought it best not to voice that.

“Captain Pendleton,” came the singsong-voiced reply from close to his ear. “The great Orsini begs your indulgence, but, alas, he is detained by matters feminine. He asks that I escort you to supper tonight!”

Ambrose clenched his jaw. Matters feminine? Was Orsini involved in some sort of intrigue with a lady?

And why did he recognize the woman’s voice—but of course!


He turned quickly and took her hands as they fell from his face. There she was, standing before him, the leading lady of Orsini’s show, a dazzlingly red shawl wrapped around her narrow shoulders. As much as he’d longed to see his friend, what an honor it was to be favored by such a performer—and the parrot too, who perched on her shoulder like a little admiral.

“How excited I am to make your acquaintance!” Ambrose bent to kiss her gloved hand. “I very much enjoyed your show this evening.”

The parrot administered a sharp peck to Ambrose’s hair and Cosima exclaimed, “Pagolo! Captain, forgive my little chaperone, he is so very protective of his Cosima and his applause!”

“I enjoyed your performance too, Pagolo, of course.” Ambrose grinned as he gave the imperious parrot a bow. “How very remiss that I did not congratulate you, as well.”

“His career has been long and celebrated.” Cosima tapped her finger gently against the parrot’s beak and he cocked his head to one side. “He might teach all of us how to improve our performances, he thinks! Now, sir, what delights might the gardens offer an innocent Italian girl and her escort?”

“We are stood before the marvel of the gardens, dear lady. The Cascade! Now watch carefully, for I think it is due a performance.” Ambrose offered Cosima his arm as the crowd swelled around them.

He couldn’t hold back his smile as the curtain lifted and Cosima’s elegant fingers gripped his sleeve, her mouth falling open in an expression of perfect wonder. Before them the night lit up bright as fireworks illuminated the heavens and the gasps and appreciative murmurs of the audience greeted the scene of bucolic splendor. As the artificial metallic water cascaded down, a mill wheel gently turned, the intricately rendered bridge in the center crossed first by a coach and horses, then a whole troop of soldiers, strolling ladies and ambling gentleman. It was magnificent, Ambrose knew, but he took more pleasure in his companion’s wonder than the mechanical marvel he had seen a dozen or more times.

“How is it done?” Cosima laughed, shaking her head in utter wonder. “What a thing engineering must be, it is all sorcery to me!”

Ambrose knew, but only because his father had told him, for he had an acquaintance who had known the fellow who had devised it. Even so, it still didn’t make much sense to Ambrose, which gave him pause—how would he ever follow his father’s wishes and turn industrialist now that he had left the Army?

“Cogs and wheels, I believe. Gears and pulleys.” Ambrose wafted his hand, as if it was all thoroughly familiar to him and actually rather dull. “And such things of that nature. Now, may I offer you a refreshment? You must be in need of one after your performance.”

“Cogs and wheels,” Pagolo agreed, pecking at Ambrose’s hair again. “Cogs! Wheels!”

“You should not pay him any heed.” Cosima slipped her arm opportunely through Ambrose’s own. “I confess, sir, I am of a mind to dance!”

A dance with such a lady as Cosima? Ambrose nodded, quite unable to form a coherent reply. His evening was not turning out quite as he had expected, but how lovely to lead Cosima toward the first dance floor that presented itself, and witness at close hand the glee leaping in her eyes.

“See? Is not Vauxhall Gardens the most splendid of places, Cosima? Have you ever known the like?” They stood, arms linked, on the edge of the dance floor and watched the couples in the set.

“Cogs,” decided Pagolo somewhat archly, earning himself a sharp look from his mistress. She turned her gaze back to the dancers, tapping one silk-slippered foot lightly in time to the music as she twirled an auburn curl around her finger.

With Cosima absorbed by the dancers, Ambrose had a chance to see her unobserved. She was a dazzling lady, quite unlike the women Ambrose was used to, the daughters of ambitious parents keen to see their charge wed to a captain of industry’s son. None of those girls had Cosima’s grace, or her easy elegance, and certainly none of them could have put on a show such as Cosima had that evening.

The more Ambrose looked, the more he saw something oddly familiar about her. The large hazel eyes, for one, but perhaps that was not unusual among Italians. The rather prominent nose, but it wasn’t shaped quite the same as Orsini’s. Even so…

“Gosh, I hope you shan’t think me an impertinent sort of fellow, but are you not—tell me now, if my dear friend Orsini had a sister, would she be you?”

“Alas, he does not have a sister, though the world thinks it is so.” Cosima turned her head just a little, then dropped her voice to a whisper and asked, “Wasn’t that a riotous night in Florence, Pen? You and that saucy old creature in the wimple, your eyes nearly popped out of your head!”

Ambrose Pendleton’s eyes nearly burst from their sockets again as he realized his error. Unless Cosima was an exceptional mimic, but—

“Orsini! My dear friend!” He clapped the elegant lady on the back and pumped her arm up and down with eager enthusiasm. “As I live and breathe!”

They were now the object of some amusement, for what sort of a gentleman behaved like that to—as far as anyone else knew—a lady? Ambrose felt a blush rise to his face and the parrot glared at him from his perch on Cosima’s shoulder.

“Unhand me, sir,” Orsini—for it was he—teased in that delicate voice, the pretty young man of just a few years ago barely visible beneath the construct of Cosima. “Did you really not know your old friend? I take that as an exceptionally fine review of my work!”

“I own that I did not!” Ambrose offered Cosima—Orsini—it was confusing—his arm again. “I had thought there was something familiar about Cosima. Her humor on the stage, for one. And—” Ambrose cleared his throat. He tore his gaze from his friend and watched the dancers skip by instead. “And her eyes.”

“Amadeo Orsini was simply one more pretty young actor in a sea of pretty young actors.” Cosima pouted softly. “Cosima was merely intended as a party piece and yet her star soon eclipsed mine, and I could never hold back a beautiful young lady!”

“When you wrote and told me you’d given up the stage for the role of impresario, I had no idea that—” Entranced, Ambrose found himself gazing once more into the large hazel eyes of his friend. “My goodness, but you do make a very pretty lady.”

“I have devoted myself instead to producing and managing the career of the dear, mysterious Cosima,” he told Ambrose. “It allows me to see two rather different views of the world, I can assure you!”

“I’m not surprised!” Ambrose smiled to himself, rather pleased to have Cosima on his arm. “And I wager there must be quite a fight for your hand from king and emperor alike.”

“All remain disappointed, for Cosima has yet to find the fellow who might claim her heart.” He blinked, long eyelashes batting as he teased, “Perhaps that has changed tonight, kind sir!”

Heavens, what a thought!

“That depends—I have no title, but I do have a very wealthy father!” Ambrose patted Cosima’s hand. A note of sadness came into his voice. “Alas, I believe that Father has found a wife for me—not that he has told me so, but what else can I assume when a young lady is so frequent a visitor to our house?”

“Oh!” Orsini sounded genuinely surprised by that revelation. “Tell, Pen. Who and what?”

“There is an industrialist, by the name of Mr. Tarbottom—”

Orsini opened his eyes very wide, then blinked as though he had something in his eye, the blinks growing more frequent until, with a hoot of noise, he broke into a fit of hilarity. He patted Ambrose’s arm daintily and threw back his head, his laughter filling the air as Pagolo joined in for good measure.

“Yes, really—Mr. Tarbottom.” Ambrose tried to narrow his lips in disapproval at his friend’s reaction, but the gray cloud that had followed him in recent weeks began to dissolve in the face of such unbridled laughter. “Where was I? Yes—Mr. Tarbottom is an American industrialist, and he happens to have both an open position in his mines and a daughter of marriageable age. If I know my father, he will believe my fortune is set.”

“A position?” Orsini nodded, his smile fading a little. “He must have mines in England then, yes? I am to remain here for a time, Pen, so I shall visit your mines and entertain the workers if you wish!”

“If only that were so.” Ambrose’s gaze passed slowly over the revelers and the pavilions, the garlanded trees and the musicians and dancers and tumblers. “I very much doubt I shall ever return, alas. The position Mr. Tarbottom would offer me is in America.”

Orsini’s chin dipped, his gaze falling away to the floor. He said nothing for a few moments, but gave Ambrose’s arm a little squeeze. “You must be very excited, Pen.”

Ambrose stared ahead, over the dancers, not really seeing anything, even though he knew that he was unlikely to visit Vauxhall again. He pursed his lips and shook his head.

“If Waterloo wasn’t bad enough—I only want some peace and blasted quiet! Father is so desperate to impress the Tarbottoms, and he cornered me, saying ‘Little Harriet has taken quite a shine to you, Amby! You could do with a wife, and think of all the money I’ve spent to raise you as a gentleman, and don’t think I’ll let you sit about here on the fruits of my labors. I don’t care what you got up to at Waterloo, you’re not a hero now!’ Father’s intentions are all too obvious, do you not think?”

“I am so very sorry, Pen, for I know how you dreamed of the theater, and I had never thought a fellow like you might be on the battlefield, let alone in industry.” Orsini sighed and stroked his finger down Pagolo’s feathered back. “Can you not say no, thank you, Father, for the theater life is the one for me?”

“How can I not accept?” Ambrose gaped at his friend in surprise. No matter how odious the proposition was, the thought of rebelling against his father’s will had to be dismissed. “Father decided my profession for me while I was yet in my cradle. I owe him my duty as his son—I cannot refuse his wishes.”