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The housekeeper burst into laughter at Lydia’s joke. Tears of mirth were beginning to stream down her face when Reginald, one of the footman, knocked on the door to the woman’s private chambers where she and Lydia were sitting enjoying a cup of tea.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Lydia, but your father wishes to speak with you,” Reginald said, after being told to enter.
Lydia cocked her head questioningly. “That’s odd. I wonder what he wants.” It was a rhetorical question as everyone present was aware, so she popped up and said with a laugh, “Well, I don’t suppose I will find out until I get there, will I?”
The housekeeper in the footmen smiled.
Lydia paused at the door. “Is he in the library as usual?”
“No, Miss, he’s in the garden.”
“Oh, all right.” She gave a nod and then pulled on her shawl which she had with her as she had intended to go out to the barn to check on the new puppies which had just been born the week before.
She found her father standing a little way down one of the paths staring at the winter-bare rose bushes her mother had planted. They looked to be nothing more than sticks, but soon enough spring would work its magic.
“Are they budding?” she asked as she joined him, tucking a hand into the crook of his arm.
“Yes, they’re just beginning. Do you see there?” He pointed to one branch that did indeed have a few green buds just beginning to show themselves. He turned and looked at her, though. “You, however, are in full bloom.”
“No, I’m serious, my girl. You are a woman grown—and a very pretty one, if I do say so myself—and it is time that you found yourself a husband.”
“Papa, we’ve talked about this before—”
“Yes, yes, I know. You don’t want to leave me here on my own. It’s a load of hogwash and we both know it.”
“No!” she immediately objected.
“Yes, it is. I know you love me, as I do you, my sweet, precious child, but it is long past time that I allowed some other man the joy of your daily company.’
“And what I don’t want to bring anyone else that joy? She asked.
Her father shook his head. “I’m afraid you must.”
“What is it, Lydia? What is it that you are so afraid of?” He took a step away from her but held on to one of her hands. “You are pretty and happy. You dance well and have never wanted for a partner at the local cotillions. Is it London? It is a big city, but I can’t imagine that you would be frightened…”
“No, it is none of those things.” She gently removed her hand from his and continued walking down the path. “I don’t fear rejection, and I would love to see London.”
“Then, what is it?” her father asked pulling her to a stop.
Lydia lost the smile from her face. She hated it when she had nothing to smile about. And she hated it even more when she was forced to speak of unpleasant things. No! She would not do so! She searched her mind for some way to make a joke of this. Some way to lighten the dour mood that had just fallen like a thick fog all around them.
“Is it your mother? Is that what the problem is?” her father asked before she had come up with something to say. “It’s all right, you know,” he continued. “It’s been long enough. I can speak of her, of what happened.”
“Then why have you never remarried as so many gentlemen do?” she asked. She knew that she was out of line and changing the topic as well, but that’s how desperate she was to keep from telling her father the truth.
“I loved your mother.”
“And you never wanted to put another woman into the same dangerous, deadly position?” she asked.
He gave a short jerk of his head.
“Well then, why are you asking me to put myself into such a position?” And there it was—the ugly, stark truth.
“Oh, Lydia,” her father sighed as he pulled her into his arms. “You are young and healthy.”
“So was my mother.”
“Most women survive childbearing,” he whispered.
“My mother didn’t,” Lydia said, feeling her eyes prick with tears.
“That doesn’t mean that you won’t.”
“No, but it does mean that I don’t want to tease those fates.”
“Don’t think of marriage that way. Think of it as a chance at love, at happiness. I want you to experience all the joy your mother and I had. And she would have wanted that for you as well, I know it.” He stepped away from her. “I don’t mean to be a hypocrite, but you will go to London and you will make your debut. I’m afraid I must insist upon it.” He pulled away from her. “However, you will not go alone. I have made arrangements to carry out what I can of my work by post, the rest will await my return in the summer.”
“Oh, Papa! You couldn’t set aside your work for me!”
“I could and I am. It is that important to me that you make your come-out this season. My law practice will manage without me for a few months.”
“You will not disobey me in this,” he said, his voice becoming stern. He almost never needed to take that tone of voice with her, so she knew that he was serious and would not allow her to escape from this. “You’ve put this off for long enough. You are almost too old as it is. You will do as I say and there will be no further discussion. You are dismissed to go see to your packing.”
That was it. Lydia looked up into her papa’s eyes. He was sad, she could see this, but he was determined as well. No, there was no getting out it this time.