Chapter 20

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"I tell you mother," Oscar Seymour sighed, trying to drill his feelings about the subject in question into his mother's head, which was perhaps one of the most difficult things he had encountered in his two and twenty years of existence, "That father daughter pair is obsessed with the very idea of me." It was another casual day at Southampton; casual for Oscar at least, having his mother interrogate him on the matter of the rector's daughter had become quite the norm at Mansfield estate, despite his protests.

"Do you deny that you are encouraging this ridicule Oscar?" Lady Margaret Seymour inquired, a terrifying visual of the, God forbid, would be daughter in law plaguing her head. She cringed as the visual ended with Jessie Churchill spilling tea all over the dining room table at Mansfield and the porcelain cup rolled to the floor with a crash. "What was that?" she came back to her senses, the sound of the porcelain crash ringing in her ears as she panicked.

"That, mother," Adam Seymour mused from the opposite corner of the room as he turned the page of the day's newspaper, his gaze still fixed on it, "Would be the sound from a seemingly disastrous vision you just had, and since I was not in it, I can't really say what it was."

Oscar's brows furrowed in confusion as he turned to look at his elder brother, for being the eldest Seymour son, Adam was quite possibly the most vague, "Even if you were in the vision, how would you-" He cut himself short, shaking his head in annoyance and then turning to face his mother once again to deal with matter hot on his hands, "Mother I do not encourage the madness, how many times should I say it for you to believe me?"

"Perhaps, if we stop receiving letters the likes of the one we received two days ago," Lady Margaret trailed as she straightened her skirts and got off the sofa, "I would have no reason to doubt you."

Lord Seymour hummed his admittance, all the while indulged in the day's paper.

"Nevertheless, come Sunday, you will stay with us all the while at church," The lady of the house instructed, "No conversing with the rector or his daughter alone. If I, or your father is busy, Adam shall be by your side, since Mr Ashbrook will be joining us and Rebecca will be with him."

"Good God, am I to be chaperoned by Adam at church, in front of the whole parish?" Oscar asked, aghast, his loud voice echoing in the drawing room.

"Yes you are. You clearly have been giving the Churchills the wrong idea, and you shall do that no more," His mother responded firmly, "You are too young to be engaging yourself and courting just yet Oscar. I encourage you to dance with ladies at balls and have a charming social persona just so that when the time comes, finding a wife would be natural to you. At two and twenty, the time is not yet for you."

As much as he was frustrated, Oscar found himself relax at his mother's predicament. At least he was free to be as he was for a few more years to come. Matrimony didn't really sit right with him, unless the thought involved the one lady he had his eye on.

A noisy shuffling of feet followed and the butler entered the drawing room, "Presenting Lord and Lady Beaumont, Lord and Lady Kirkpatrick, and Lady Allan."

Lady Margaret Seymour smiled as her sisters and brothers in law entered the drawing room, followed by their children.

"Oh," she let out, surprised and delighted to see the young ones' beaming faces again.

"We just asked Geoffrey to skip the children's names or he'd have us waiting in the hallway for a while, I hope you're not too surprised," Lady Beaumont smiled as she embraced her sister in greeting after Lady Kirkpatrick.

After the round of pleasantries, everyone sat down, with the ladies eager to discuss all the matters Lady Margaret Seymour had called them for, the gentlemen at the far corner of the room determined to engage in non problematic conversations of their own, and the children on the carpeted floor, playing a game of card as intense as could be.

"Where is darling Rebecca?" Lady Kirkpatrick asked as she sipped a cup of tea a footman had just poured for the guests present.

"Mr Ashbrook took her out for a stroll in the countryside," Lady Margaret responded, beaming with pride at the notion.

"That's wonderful," Lady Beaumont smiled, "How are the preparations for the engagement ball coming along?"

"Disastrously, I tell you," The lady of the house sighed and shook her head, "My nerves have all been in a twist these past days."

"Rebecca insists on that scandalous Madame Carp designing her engagement dress, I can't settle for a decent flowers arrangement for the ball and Rebecca insists on having wildflowers, neither can I sort out the guest list in order because there are so many people I want to invite yet Rebecca insists on keeping the party small. I mean what even is the point of a ball if we can't invite everyone? I told Rebecca that it would help attract potential suitors for all her cousins and potential wives for her brothers and she practically threw a fit claiming that even at her engagement ball I am thinking of her everyone else but her," Lady Margaret Seymour paused to take a deep breath as she let it go in defeat, "What is a sensible woman to do with an irrational daughter like that? And to top it all off, I have Oscar receiving alarming attention from the rector and his daughter."

Oscar huffed in annoyance; he had known his mother's plight would contain his situation somewhere. His aunts turned to look at him, but he fixed his gaze on the book he held in his hands, pretending to be as unbothered as possible as his aunts' curious gazes observed him.

"That's quite the dilemma, Margaret," Lady Beaumont cast her sister a sympathetic glance, while simultaneously sighing in relief inside. She imagined her own eldest, Diana, in the same situation. Diana would either let her mother relax as she handled everything swiftly, making every solid and acceptable decision possible, or they both would efficiently work together and have the matter done and sorted in a week at the most. And the situation would be even easier with her other daughters, Henrietta would literally say yes to any flower arrangement or any dress for that matter, and Mary Ann wasn't yet quite aware of the prospect of marriage so she was out of the equation at present.

"What are we here for then? We'll gladly offer our assistance," Lady Charlotte Allan spoke, as she straightened her daughter, Fanny's dress and picked her up, placing her beside on the empty spot on the sofa. Then turning to face her elder sister again, "How about, I talk to Rebecca and decide on the perfect flower arrangement befitting hers and your tastes. I'll visit the dress emporium with her as well to make sure the dress she's having made is properly suited. Hyacinth and Ruth can take care of the guest list with correspondence with Mr Ashbrook's mother, Rebecca surely won't object to the list after she would know that it had Mrs Ashbrook's say in it. And then you, Margaret, can take care of everything else." She finished, casting a glance at Oscar.

"That sounds splendid," Lady Seymour responded, clapping her hands together at the prospect of her worries being divided all the way to a one third.

"It's settled then," Lady Beaumont gave a nod, "We'll send a calling card to Mrs Ashbrook immediately."

"Wow," Adam Seymour added from the corner of the room, "It seems I'm the only unproblematic Seymour child in the family."

Ignoring her eldest son's remark, despite how truthful it was, Lady Seymour sent the footmen for a round of more refreshments, despite her guests' protests.

"How are Diana and Alicia faring? Have you received word from them, Aunts?" Oscar's inquired, keeping his book aside as his curious gaze moved between Lady Beaumont and Lady Kirkpatrick.

"Yes indeed, we just received a letter this morning," Lady Kirkpatrick remembered as she looked at her sister, "I just discussed it with Ruth at my estate."

Lady Beaumont nodded, "It seems, much to my dismay, that the girls and Arthur's family will be spending the weekend at the Brockenhurst estate. I daresay I am quite surprised and worried for them all. Lady Templemore can be a handful, and to bear that for a weekend! I would've lost my wits. I would've preferred Diana kept their presence in Portsmouth a secret, but I suppose my daughter inherited my own sense of kinship and social morality."

"Frank Templemore has returned from London too, thank fully, they all will have his company as well and he is far well behaved and tolerable than his mother is I tell you," Lady Beaumont decreed, taking a bite of a biscuit as her eyes moved towards her youngest daughter, "Mary Ann, do not sit like that!"

Mary Ann and huffed, but obediently fixed the skirts of her dress and arranged her folded legs in such manner that her mother would approve.

"Do they mention Lord Buxton and Lord Algernon in their letters?" Adam
Seymour asked next clearing his throat. Oscar turned to look at his aunts once more, his curiosity getting the most of him.

"Oh yes, it was quite the revelation to find out Arthur worked for them, although in the letters, Diana did not seem so surprised when she told us, perhaps she already found out before and forgot to pen it down sooner," Lady Kirkpatrick added, "Pray, Adam, you knew before anyone did. Why didn't you tell us?"

"I didn't think it necessary, it is quite apparent to me that you all disapprove highly of Uncle Arthur even being in Portsmouth let alone his work," Adam started casually, "So I did not think it best to add fuel to the fire. The gentlemen were here searching for an investor for their business, which had hit quite the rough patch."

"Arthur missed them, then," Lady Seymour spoke, "My, what a coincidence to get a few days off work just to travel to the county to run into your employer again."

"Adam did introduce the gentlemen to us at the fair, goodness knows where Arthur was then," Lady Kirkpatrick shrugged, putting down her tea cup on the table.

"They did not seem the kind to me," Charlotte Allan mused, "The kind to put forth such trouble on their employees. Arthur looked as though he had been wrung and twisted and pinned on a washing line to dry."

"I too thought them to be proper gentlemen," Lady Beaumont chided, "What with their respectability towards Diana and Alicia."

"They did seem quite taken with our girls," observed Lady Seymour, "Private strolls around the countryside during the fair are such intimate ordeals."

"Imagine how awkward Arthur's situation would have made everything if these men were to pay court to our girls, to woo the nieces of one's employee is bound to take a toll on a man's pride," Lady Kirkpatrick countered, amusement in her tone.

"The gentlemen would in fact, make fine suitors for Diana and Alicia, they own more than half of Portsmouth and manage their own business alongside as well," Came Lord Beaumont's deep voice from the corner of the room where he sat with Lord Seymour and Lord Kirkpatrick, "If that does not shout the men's work potential, I am not sure what else does."

Oscar cringed as the conversation took the turn and put his book down beside him in frustration. A man could only hear his intended's name alongside another man's a couple of times before he well and truly lost it. Not that Diana was officially his intended, but she was still his intention. To top it all off, hearing praises of the man in particular was even more frustrating.

"Surely their poor treatment of Uncle Arthur erases them from that equation," Oscar acknowledged, putting weight on his proclamation.

"I don't think it does," Adam affirmed, as his younger brother's jaw tightened at him, "It isn't like they have Uncle Arthur singled out entirely from their existing group of employees. I told you their business hit the rough patch a while ago, all of the employees are bound to face that toll."

Much to Oscar's dismay, every single one of his aunts and uncles hummed their acknowledgement to his brother's statement and he frowned. Those gentlemen may have better work potential than him, but he won't let them take anything more from him than just his family's approval.  

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