HELEN HALSTEAD ~ AUTHOR

       
 
The Imaginary Gentleman: A Regency Intrigue
~
an excerpt ~

"There is no passion with which people are so ready to tamper as love, although none is more dangerous."
Dr William Buchan, 1785, Domestic Medicine or The Family Physician

cover of The Imaginary Gentleman
The Imaginary Gentleman, published by Random House Australia.

 

Chapter 1

Lyme Regis, 1806
Laura Morrison stood against the power of the wind as it whipped at her garments. One moment, her brown coat wrapped tightly around her tall figure; the next it flew out, flapping her white skirts against her ankles. Behind her, the ends of the scarf which secured her bonnet streamed out, orange flags in the wind. She laughed aloud, feeling the rush of salt wind in her mouth.
An autumn storm was invading the shelter of Lyme Bay. Away to her right, Laura saw battalions of waves rushing at the dark breakwater known as the Cobb. Like a great rocky arm, it reached into the bay, and bore, in stony sullenness, the anger of the sea. Water threw itself over the Cobb, firing volleys of spray above, only to subside in defeat in the lee of its arm.
The briny smell of the ocean was strong in the air, and she touched her lips with her tongue, tasting their saltiness. Over her shoulder she cried:
"Is this not a magnificent spectacle, Sarah?"
"I only know it be perishin' cold, Miss," said the girl, huddling in the slender shelter provided by her lady.
"Are you afraid of such a puny adventure as this?"
"I not be one for adventurin'."
Laura turned, smiling at the piteous expression in the girl's eyes. "Why, Sarah, your nose is turning blue."
"You'll catch your death, Miss. Then the mistress will be angry with me."
Miss Morrison laughed, her tone wry but affectionate. "Off you go then, Sarah. Await me at the library."
"Thank'ee, Miss." The girl scuttled off, the wind at her back.
Laura walked a little way to her right along the sea wall, seeing a spear of sunlight shot through a gap in the leaden sky, setting the waves alight in a shining trail.
"Ah, such splendour!" she murmured.
Looking back, she saw that the sea glowered greyly still where the waves angled away from the light. She heard no sound but the wind and waves; there seemed no soul about but her. She turned again for a last fading view of the shimmering trail on the water.
Behind her, she heard a footfall, then a voice deep and warm against the sounds of the sea.
"What we see depends upon the angle of our vision."
Her breath was blown away for an instant, then, looking over her shoulder, green eyes alight with humour, she replied: "This is an illustration of that truth, indeed."
"A lesson for the philosophers," he said.
"Our interpretation is coloured by the view we take."
As she turned to him, her scarf flipped up and blew across her face, so that she looked at him through an orange veil. Laura felt the soft kid of his glove brush lightly on her face as he unwound the scarf and sent it spinning out behind her again. There was brilliancy in her usually pale complexion and her eyes were glass green in the wind. Yet, she knew not how to look at him while she still so vividly recalled the sensation of his touch upon her cheek.
"From whence I stand now, I see only light." She wondered at the intensity in his brown eyes.
The light faded from the sea and they turned away from the grey of it. She keenly felt their close proximity. Although he stood at over six feet, her chin almost reached his shoulder. For a moment, neither moved; then, as one, they stepped apart, and he bowed.
"Good morning, Miss Morrison."
"Good morning, Mr. Templeton." She shouted, almost, against the wind. "You find me alone in this wild place, for my maid has run away from me. She is not made of the stuff that delights in being blown about by the gale."
"Then she is not such as you and I," he said.
Laura looked at him steadily.
"As you and I," he repeated.His gaze openly expressed his admiration. He offered her his arm and they began to walk slowly along the stretch of paving above the sea wall.
"My sister …'"she began.
He said, "I did so hope to …"
They both paused, wishing the other to go on, so that there was a little silence.
He gestured for her to speak.
"My sister is a little better today. She announces that she is equal to receiving callers."
"Then I am quite cast down," he said. "I regret that I unable to make Mrs. Evans's acquaintance today."
Laura shivered, the chill of the wind penetrating at last and. They were turning back into the narrow little street that led steeply up through the town, when she thought of her sister's displeasure: Mrs. Evans would take offence that a gentleman who had befriended her unmarried sister should fail to make himself known to her family.
Mr. Templeton looked at Laura keenly. "I have received an odd request to attend upon a dying man some distance away, at a place near the Axminster road. The family goes by the name of Whichale."
She rallied her spirits. "You can scarcely refuse, Mr. Templeton. Yet, is it not wild weather to travel so far? I am sure that it will rain heavily soon."
"It is eight miles off, and the family must surely have their own parish priest nearby."
She frowned. "It is odd that they sent for a stranger at such a moment."
"My calling is such that I cannot refuse my attendance in this case - indeed I do not wish to, while the patient may need assistance to make his peace."
"How selfish I must appear!"
"If you are displeased at my going away, then I am gratified."
She hesitated at Swan's Library door, safely shut against the wind.
Mr. Templeton looked embarrassed. "It is an awkward business that I have still to present myself to your family."
"It is not your fault that Fate plays so with us."
"I am pleased that your sister is rallying now."
"She recovers as well as she lets herself." Their eyes met in wry understanding.
"The interval before our next meeting will gape sadly," he said.
"Not while you have your race with the rain to amuse you, surely?"
He smiled into her eyes, and the deep timbre of his voice resonated in her. "I will see you very soon - tomorrow if I possibly can." He bowed and went away alongside the high stone wall of the inn stable yard, blown away from her, until he disappeared through the gate.

Richard from The Victoriana Society of South Australia
Richard from The Victoriana
Society of South Australia

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