I turn and to see Lady B bearing down on me from across the ballroom. Oh, dear. What did I do now? I paste a bright smile on my face. “Yes, Lady B?”
“You know it is At-Home Month, Miss MacLean.”
“And, as such, I expect all you authoresses to invite interesting other authoresses to join me for the month. Here. At Beaufetheringstone House.”
“Are you suggesting that we are not interesting in our own octet?”
She cuts a look at Sabrina, chatting with a nearby potted fern. “I would not say uninteresting.”
I point to Katharine, chatting to a ghost (leftover from Halloween?) in the corner. “No. We bring the interest.”
Lady B raises a brow. It occurs to me that she doesn’t always understand me. “Yes. Well, in any event, it is November, and I was promised interesting authoresses.”
“And I have delivered,” I say with pride, as Anna Campbell bursts through the bunting and into the ballroom. She waves madly at us and calls out, “Hello!”
Lady B looks to me. “She sounds . . . foreign.”
I ignore the words as Anna arrives. “Miss Anna Campbell, may I present Lady Beaufetheringstone?”
I nudge her with an elbow. “It’s not spelled like it sounds.”
“I would hope not!” She whispers before turning back to our hostess. “Lady B! Thank you for having me here to drink tea and dish the dirt today!”
“Dish the what?” Lady B looks to me.
“It’s an expression! An interesting one, don’t you think?”
Lady B lifts her lorgnettes. “Hmmm. You are an authoress?”
“I am!” Anna exclaims, “I’ve been dying to come here and make my curtsy! Cue creaking knees! I’ve waited so long, I’m not the spry young debutante I was when I first launched my assault upon society!”
Lady B’s eyes go wide. “Did you say you were called Campbell?”
“Anna Campbell of the soprano solo at last week’s Puckleton-Puckley musicale?”
“I see my reputation precedes me.”
“I hear it was indeed an assault on society.”
I step in. “Lady B!” This is not a good beginning to At Home Month.
Anna can take care of herself, however, “Goodness me, people can be cruel! I almost got that high C – at least the cracked chandeliers indicated that was the case!”
“Lady B, Anna is the author of the recently released Seven Nights in A Rogue’s Bed.”
Lady B cracks a smile. “Only seven? Too bad.”
Anna chortles. “Oh, I knew that we would be friends, my lady.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself Miss Campbell. Now. I’m trying to place that accent . . . Wales?”
Anna shakes her head.
“No, my lady.”
“Or that dreadful American South?”
“No, my lady.”
“Well, don’t keep me guessing, gel!”
There is a pause. “Dear me. With the criminals?”
“Lady B!” I exclaim. After all, Anna is very nice. Not at all a criminal. I don’t think.
“Precisely!” Anna interjects. “I thought all you high falutin’ ton types might be interested to know more about the up and coming colony out in the South Seas.”
“Falutin’!” Anna crows.
Lady B looks confused. I turn to Tessa, who is thankfully nearby. She passes me a glass of ratafia, which I down. She refills. Bless her.
“You see, Australia is in many ways a creation of the Regency!” Anna continues on her historical lesson. “Captain Cook—”
“Lovely legs, him.”
A light flares in Anna’s eyes. “Reaaally?”
Lady B nods once. “Very nice. Go on.”
Anna does. “Well, Ol’ Lovely Legs discovered the East Coast of Australia and claimed it for Great Britain in 1770 and it was settled as a penal colony in 1788, but it took a few years to find its feet.”
“Not many women there, were there?”
“No, indeed.” Anna leans in, “The odds were pretty good you’d find a handsome young man if you went looking.”
It’s Lady B’s turn to look pensive. “Reaaaally.”
I need more Ratafia.
“We were lucky that an architect of genius Francis Greenway decided to forge a check in 1812 and hit our shores in 1814. We were doubly fortunate that Greenway arrived when the man called the Father of Australia, Lachlan Macquarie, a Scottish general whose career took place mostly in India, was governor.”
“Did he have nice legs?”
“Very.” Anna doesn’t miss a beat.
“Wait a second,” I interject, pointing to a painting nearby. “That man does not look like he has nice legs.”
“Where did that painting come from?” Lady B looks surprised. It occurs to me that the changeable nature of the ballroom is still weird to her.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I will most certainly worry about it. Some criminal snuck in and installed a painting!”
“Are they still criminals if they bring something?” Anna asks.
We’re all flummoxed.
“Nice legs, you say?” Lady B asks.
“Very,” Anna repeats. I ignore the fact that he couldn’t have possibly had nice legs. “Macquarie was the first person to look at the shambles of Sydney Town and recognize that a future nation lurked under this mixture of drunken soldiers, convicts and ex-convicts. He felt that a great city deserved great architecture and he commissioned Greenway (Greenway’s the other picture!) to design a number of buildings that still adorn Sydney, including a beautiful church, an impressive convict barracks and a charming gothic folly of a stables for Government House that for many years functioned as the NSW Conservatorium of Music. I’ve got photos I took many years ago of the Hyde Park Barracks and St. James’s Church. As you can see, they date from my little-known “one leg shorter than the other so everything slopes” period.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Anna and I say.
“Sadly,” Anna continues, “the powers that be in London didn’t share Macquarie’s vision for the future of Australia. They howled with horror at how much money he was spending adorning a place they judged merely as a remote location for dumping people too wicked for Britain’s pristine airs.”
“There’s always room for wickedness, I say,” Lady B says.
Anna smiles. “I thought you’d feel that way, my lady. Nevertheless, Macquarie was recalled in disgrace in 1821 and his protégé Greenway fell from favor with him.”
“Indeed! Macquarie was a broken man after his return to the U.K. and passed away in 1824. He’s buried on the Isle of Mull on a plot of land that belongs to the Australian Government, a fact which I find very moving. Both men are regarded with great admiration and affection in Australia. I lived in inner Sydney for eleven years and I loved that their Regency legacy was all around me.”
“That’s a lovely story, Miss Campbell, but I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Macquarie is quite alive! It’s only Eighteen hundred and–”
Uh-oh. That pesky time-space continuum strikes again.
“Lady B!” I jump in. “Tell us more about Captain Cook’s legs…”
As you can probably gather, Anna is a bit of a Macquarie groupie. Do you have a historical figure you admire? Do you have a historical figure you despise? And do you think my singing really WAS that bad at the musicale? The cats liked it. I distinctly remember them joining in. And the dogs. And the horses!
One lucky commenter will win a signed copy of SEVEN NIGHTS IN A ROGUE’S BED from Anna!