When the Hands Meet at Twelve
FIRST PERIOD—Chapter I
First Narrative
London, July 1815


I preface my account by asserting that I do not understand what my brother will do with it. Nonetheless, it has been an age since I last picked up a pen to conduct anything other than business, and it is time for me to unbury my Bluestocking tendencies and perhaps even contribute to a Cause, as my patroness the Lady Walmer so often urges me to do.
- Lady Josephine Huntington, 1819


Before the end of my second season, London was all rejoicing with news that the Seventh Coalition had finally defeated Buonaparte near Brussels.

By July, the letters were flooding Town in droves. We who had not travelled the Channel remained well abreast of affairs. We were reassured that Lord Uxbridge would indeed recover, and that Lady Richmond would certainly arrive in London before the end of the Season. Lord Wellington, certainly the toast of the Town, was not due to arrive for some weeks more.

My own modiste informed me, quite in confidence, that she had purchased many yards of black crepe and bombazine in preparation for need, and certainly her preparations had been astute. Jet brooches flew out of stores, and graced the necks of the ton's swan-necked women.

My lord Alton and I were as affected by the affair as any of our acquaintance, and perhaps more so than most. Although my brother was no military man, our late father had been. The late Marquess of Alton had proved himself formidably in the American campaigns. Had his politics been more favourable, the Marquess had been known to quip, he might have risen further up the ranks. As it was, my brother had inherited the family obsession with politics, and acquaintances were quick to observe that Devonshire himself was not a more vocal Whig.

Nevertheless, Gerald, as I was wont to call him, was one of the most daring Corinthians about town, and one of Society's favourites besides. As much as I abhorred his madcap dashes down Rotten Row on a curricle I thought to be too unsteady to speak of, I could not deny that my elder sibling (though not by much) was thought to be a great nonesuch. I had never thought to count the number of caps that had been set at him, for fear of not possessing enough fingers with which to complete the task.

As such, I was not surprised when he sauntered into the small salon of our Mount Street residence one morning, flushed still from a fencing lesson. "I say, Jo," he remarked, "must you always bury your head in these infernal papers? What have you now—ah, Madame de Staël, I see." His nod was approving. "My, is that Appel aux souverains?"

"Yes, brother, and I'll thank you to not attempt to read it until I've done," I snipped in reply. "And to address your concern, these papers are a very far cry from what you describe as infernal."

"Indeed they are," came his contrite response. "By the by, I thought you should know."

I put my reading away from me and eyed my brother suspiciously, fixing him with such a gaze as to make him shift uneasily. "Know what, pray?"

"I may have...indicated to some, at Almack's yesterday, that you intended to renew Mother's old tradition."

"Gerald!" I expostulated. "How could you possibly?"

At that, he looked genuinely sorry. "I—er, I may have been a trifle—only the very slightest, mind—in my cups."

I stood abruptly, gathering the skirt of my morning dress about me. "I can hardly imagine what you are capable of accomplishing when you're more than the slightest trifle foxed." Another thought occurred to me. "They let you into Almack's in that state?" I had not attended the assembly halls with my brother the previous evening; I had rather chosen to take my dinner at Mrs. Andrew Borden's home, and arrive with her, leaving Gerald to his own entertainment. I knew now that the decision had been unwise.

"I did say I was only a—"

"Yes, dear," I sighed, "but know that your merest trifle has caused me an aeon of suffering."

I deliberately avoided my brother for the rest of that day; I was incensed at his presumptuousness. My Mother's Tradition—was famous amongst the ton. The first three weeks of every September that I could remember had been celebrated in great style at Alton House, my family's ancestral seat. My mother would invite anywhere between ten and fourteen of the preceding season's Favoured Families to engage in the picking of the last berries and the hunting of the first deer before they made their annual migration to Bath. An invitation to Alton was considered to be a great honour, but the tradition had died along with the Marchioness. It was understood amongst our peers that the next Lady Alton would take on the duty of her most estimable predecessor, but I obviously did not stand in that lineage. In fact, I decided wrathfully, I pitied no woman more than I did any wife that Gerald might choose to take.

By the end of the week—the second week of July, which gave me precious little time to make any arrangements—I was at my wits' end. In desperation, I turned to Mrs. Borden, the closest friend I had.

"He's put you in quite the pickle," Lizzie clucked, pouring me a cup of tea. "Are you certain you're in no position to retract his invitations on his behalf?"

"No!" I wailed. "Lady Jedburgh asked yesterday when she and the Duke might expect my card!"

If I had been able to get angry at Lizzie Borden, I would have when she laughed. "There's no more ridiculous a boy in town than the Marquess of Alton, to be sure!"

"There isn't," I agreed sullenly. "I simply don't know what to do. I'm no Society matron—I can't be expected to pass judgments on who the greatest successes of the Season are, and even if I could, I doubt Lord Wellington would deign to cross my brother's Whiggish doorstep."

Lizzie cast a thoughtful gaze upon me. "Alton isn't so foolish as to foist this upon you in a drunken pique, my dear Josephine."

I concurred. "But he won't tell me what plot he has up his sleeve," I added, "which is most provoking!"

Lizzie and I had come out in the same Season, and had played together when we were still in our leading-strings. Her mother had taken up the duty of introducing me to Society upon the demise of my own, and I suppose the Countess Walmer had expected to make a much better match for her daughter than the younger son of a viscount. But Lizzie was stubborn, more stubborn than even I was, and she had married Mr. Andrew Borden for love not six months hence, with a special license. I was envious of her happiness, which was unfair of me—I had certainly put little enough effort into pursuing my own. Nonetheless, she was my closest confidant, and even today I doubt anybody knows me better. "I have an idea," she concluded, breaking a long and comfortable silence.

"Then please, don't leave me in the dark about it!"

"Have him make the guest list!"

I gaped. "Have you maggots in your head?"

"None at all," came the cheery reply. "We know he's up to some mischief, for when is Alton not? You're merely the vehicle for it. All you need to do is play the pretty hostess, and let him conduct his affairs. I doubt any will think you the worse for it, seeing as how it's well-known enough that the notion to renew the Tradition was his and not yours."

"But I'm not—"

"Faradiddle!" Lizzie pronounced. "You're a more adept hostess than Lady Alton was, and don't you shake your head at me! Ask him this evening before the opera, and make sure I'm abreast of what he said by morning."

I suspected that Lizzie and Gerald were in some kind of collusion, but nevertheless I confronted my brother that evening. He promised me a list, and by morning I had it—not in hand, but rather delivered with my letters in the morning, inscribed in a very neat copperplate. I reproduce it here not only for purposes of reference, but also to provide my readers with a good notion of how insufferable the sixth Marquess can be, when he sets himself about it!

The Lady whose Country Home is to be Invaded by Society desired me yesterday evening to provide her with a List of Proposed Attendees. I am her humble Servant, &c., and deliver the List to her as Requested.

I Propose the Gentlemen as Follows, As According to Precedence:

His Grace Duke of Jedburgh—a Grand Old Society Sire, Much Desired in All Companies
The Most Honourable The Marquess of Alton—the Host of the Occasion, Much Maligned By His Sister
The Right Honourable The Viscount Hall—A Close Acquaintance of the Alton Family
Mr. Andrew Borden—Married to the Closest Acquaintance of the Marquess' Sister
M. Achille Du Boutin—A Guest to London, Not to be Overlooked
M. Pietro de Mancini—Another Guest to London, Of the Political Persuasion

The Ladies Follow Not by Precedence, But By Order Alphabetical:

The Honourable Cecily Rivenhall—The Elder Miss Rivenhall, with Straw-Gold Hair
Her Grace the Duchess of Jedburgh—A Formidable Matron
Mrs. Elizabeth Borden—A Friend of the Hostess and the Host Besides
Lady Josephine Huntington—The Hostess, Most Lovely
The Right Honourable Lady Rivenhall—Another Society Matron, with Two Daughters, Both Here in Attendance
The Honourable Penelope Rivenhall—The Younger Miss Rivenhall, who is on the Verge of her Debut

Balling up all my courage, I dutifully made two copies of Gerald's note—my own copy arefully transcribed, word for word—and sent one directly to the Borden residence. My dispatch complete, I permitted myself a most unbecoming shriek. "The odious, odious creature," I cried, balling up his note and throwing it into the dying fire. "I'll not speak to him again today!"


A/N. I know this is proceeding slowly, but it's taken time for me to completely reacquaint myself with Regency cant and mannerisms. We'll be well on our way now! Please R & R-all feedback is more than welcomed.