I know some people roll their eyes when a writer says their characters are “real”. Yes, I know these are figments of my imagination, but when I’m writing, they do seem to take on a life of their own. I don’t tell them what to do. They pretty much tell me who they are, and from there, they direct the course of the story. This is why I don’t plot. I can’t predict what they’re going to do or say. And once in a while, a character comes along who just cracks me up.
Lord Quinton is such a character. Lord Quinton was Algernon’s friend in The Cursed Earl.
Algernon was superstitious, but Lord Quinton is ten times worse. And that is what makes his character so much fun. But even more fun is how the others around him react. In order to have a character work effectively in a story, there has to be others to provide a balance to him. This balance can be thought of as “opposites”. What one character lacks, the other has. And when you look at a certain character through the lens of another character, this can provide some good emotions.
In the case of Secret Admirer, Lord Quinton’s balance is Lord Wright. Lord Wright is not the least bit superstitious. In fact, he is driven by logic, and this logic leads to the choices he makes. So when you get these two in the same room, it’s a good chance to come up with some humor. I don’t know how many other people will find it funny, but I do, and that’s reason enough for me to include the scene in this story.
I thought I’d share the scene that has me chuckling in Secret Admirer (Book 1 in the Marriage by Obligation Series) so you can get an idea of what Lydia (the heroine in Midnight Wedding) is up against when she and her brothers kidnap him and take him to their estate. I have to kidnap him. Lord Quinton will see all sorts of bad omens from a kidnapping, and that will make the story hilarious to write. So in Secret Admirer, I’m hoping to set the stage for the kind of character we’re going to deal with in Book 2 of the Marriage by Obligation Series.
Alright, here’s the scene. (Rachel is the heroine. Horatio is her brother.)
“Lord Quinton has arrived,” the butler told the group. “I expect Mr. St. George to be here soon. I believe I saw his carriage coming down the street a moment ago.”
Rachel thought he glanced her way, but he left the room within the next moment, so it was hard to tell. It was truly a strange thing. How often had the butler been in the same room with her, but she hadn’t really noticed him?
Horatio stood up and gestured for Lord Quinton to join them. “I’m glad you’re here.”
As her brother proceeded to introduce them, Rachel noticed the way Lord Quinton kept patting the pocket of his waistcoat. Given the fact that his tailcoat covered most of his waistcoat, she couldn’t make out what was in the waistcoat pocket. Whatever it was, he seemed worried he might lose it. Her brother was right about him; he did seem a bit odd. But odd was something one could overlook if the gentleman was nice.
Just as Lord Quinton sat down, the butler brought Mr. St. George into the room. This time, Rachel was assured the butler did glance in her direction as he introduced them to Mr. St. George. Her eyes widened in interest. Perhaps the butler was giving her a hint. Maybe Mr. St. George was her secret admirer.
Her heartbeat picked up as Mr. St. George joined the group.
“I hope I’m not late,” Mr. St. George said.
“No, you’re right on time,” her brother replied. He quickly made the introductions then gestured for Mr. St. George to sit in the chair closest to Rachel. “We’re waiting for one more guest. In the meantime, you’ve already met my sister.”
Mr. St. George offered her a nod and a smile. “Yes, I had the pleasure of dancing with her at the last ball.”
Well, that settled it. He had to be her secret admirer. Despite what she’d thought, he hadn’t been bored while they danced. He’d just been shy. Feeling a bit shy herself, she offered him a smile in return.
“We’re just waiting for Miss Hamilton,” Horatio said.
Lord Quinton scanned the ladies, and he, once again, patted whatever was in his pocket. “Which lady will I be escorting to dinner?”
“Miss Carnel,” her brother replied. “I will be escorting Miss Jamison. Lord Wright will escort Miss Hamilton, and Mr. St. George will escort my sister.”
Lord Quinton took a careful look at Miss Carnel, and her eyebrows rose in surprise. Rachel couldn’t blame her. What was he looking for?
“That amulet you’re wearing.” Lord Quinton pointed to the blue and green object surrounded by a gold frame. “Is that supposed to be the eye of a peacock feather?”
Miss Carnel glanced down at the object pinned to her blue gown. “No. And it’s not an amulet. It’s a cameo.”
He took another good look at it then relaxed. “All right. I’ll be happy to escort you to dinner.”
Rachel glanced back at Miss Carnel. The two made eye contact. Miss Carnel gave Rachel a questioning look. All Rachel could do was shrug. She didn’t have the slightest idea as to why Lord Quinton was worried about the cameo.
The butler returned the room, and this time he brought Lydia with him. Rachel smiled, glad her friend had finally made it.
“Miss Hamilton, Lord Wright will be your escort to dinner this evening,” her brother said after he introduced her to the group.
Rachel thought it was funny he should refer to Lydia so formally when they had grown up together, but considering the fact that they were surrounded by strangers, she understood why he’d done it. She just hoped she didn’t slip and call her friend Lydia until after dinner. After dinner, things would be more relaxed, especially with the men in another room.
Lydia settled into her chair.
“Can we change the ladies we escort to dinner?” Lord Quinton asked.
Shocked he should ask the question, Rachel’s gaze went to her brother. She might be new to these dinner parties, but she was sure this kind of thing didn’t happen a lot. Poor Miss Carnel. This had to be embarrassing for her. She offered Miss Carnel an apologetic smile.
Horatio moved his mouth for a moment but no sound came out. He cleared his throat. “It’s just dinner, my lord.”
“Yes, but dinner can set the tone for the rest of the evening.” Lord Quinton, once again, patted his pocket. “It’s nothing personal against Miss Carnel. She’s a very attractive lady. It’s just that she is wearing that cameo, and while it’s not the eye of a peacock, it’s a bit unsettling. You see, the eye of a peacock is unlucky.”
“Do you want me to take it off?” Miss Carnel asked.
“Oh, I would never tell a lady to do that,” Lord Quinton replied. “That would be quite rude.”
Rachel’s eyes grew wide. That would be rude, but asking to escort another lady to dinner wasn’t?
Horatio glanced between Lord Quinton and Miss Carnel. “Well, I don’t wish to be a bad host.”
Miss Carnel’s cheeks grew pink, but she offered a polite smile. “It’s all right with me if another gentleman escorts me to dinner. I don’t mind.”
Rachel winced on her behalf. She had to have minded. If Rachel’s escort asked to be with someone else, she would be so embarrassed that she’d want to leave the room.
“Thank you,” Lord Quinton told her. “That’s very gracious of you, Miss Carnel.” Not hiding his relief, he turned to Lydia. “I’ll escort you.”
Lydia’s eyebrows furrowed. “Why me?”
“You have a pleasant blond hair color. You’re wearing pink, and your last name isn’t so close the word ‘carnal’.” He spoke in such a matter-of-fact way that Rachel would have chuckled if she didn’t feel so bad for Miss Carnel.
“But she’s supposed to be my dinner companion,” Lord Wright spoke up. “I don’t mean to be impolite, but I can’t escort my sister to dinner.”
“Why don’t you escort another lady then?” Lord Quinton asked.
Lord Wright turned his bewildered expression to Horatio. Horatio, in turn, glanced at Rachel with a question in his eyes. Rachel knew at once that she was the only lady who could be paired up with him. She wasn’t Lord Wright’s cousin or sister. As much as she hated to do it, it was the only way to ensure the evening went smoothly.
“In light of recent events, would you mind if I let Lord Wright escort me to dinner this evening?” she asked. Mr. St. George.
Mr. St. George offered her an understanding smile.
“I don’t mind.”
What a relief. He wasn’t upset with her.
With a glance at Miss Carnel, he added, “It’ll be my pleasure to escort you to dinner. I happen to like the colors blue and green.”
“It’s not the combination of blue and green that I don’t like,” Lord Quinton said. “It’s the way the colors were put together. Doesn’t anyone else see the eye of a peacock in that piece of jewelry she’s wearing?”
“The eye of a peacock would be on a feather, not a cameo,” Lord Wright replied.
“That thing was made by someone,” Lord Quinton argued. “That person could very well have intended for that thing to be the eye of a peacock.”
Lord Wright seemed as if he was ready to respond but let out a loud sigh and shook his head.
Rachel didn’t blame him for being annoyed with Lord Quinton. He had ruined things for her and for Lord Wright. Now she wouldn’t get to have her secret admirer escort her to dinner, nor would Lord Wright be able to escort Lydia. Poor Lydia was going to be stuck with Lord Quinton. That particular gentleman was more than odd. He was difficult. Thank goodness he hasn’t asked to escort her. She didn’t think she could have said yes. Then the dinner party would have been ruined for sure.
Then it continues during dinner. (Edwin is the hero, so we’re given his point of view in this scene. The Duke of Creighton is Horatio. Since Edwin’s a butler, he thinks of him by his title.)
Dinner parties were rarely interesting enough to listen to. Most of the time, Edwin’s mind wandered. But this particular dinner party was different. Lord Quinton seemed unusually interested in everything he drank and ate. Edwin tried not to keep looking over at him since he ought to be focused on his master, but Lord Quinton was the strangest gentleman he’d ever seen.
At the moment, he was sniffing the chestnut soup as if he wasn’t sure if it was safe to eat. Lord Quinton glanced up at the ceiling for a long moment before he dipped the spoon into the bowl and took a sip of the soup. He didn’t seem to know what to think of it since he hesitated to have more of it. Edwin would have worried there was something wrong with the soup if the others weren’t consuming their soups with great enthusiasm.
Edwin heard a noise from the entrance of the dining room. He turned his gaze to the doorway and saw Mrs. Brown watching Lord Quinton. She probably hadn’t meant to stare. From time to time, she would peek in to see if it was time to bring in the dishes for the next course. Usually by this time in the meal, it would be time for Edwin to use the cook’s bell to let the other servants know their master and his guests were ready for the old dishes to be removed and the new brought in.
Mrs. Brown happened to look in Edwin’s direction, and he shrugged. He had no idea why Lord Quinton seemed reluctant to eat the soup. She gave a surprised shake of her head and returned to the kitchen.
“Forgive me, Lord Quinton,” the Duke of Creighton said after the others had been finished with their soup. “I didn’t realize you didn’t like chestnut soup. I hope the Mackerel with fennel and mint and apple tarts will be more to your liking.”
“Oh, I like the soup,” Lord Quinton replied. “I was only trying to decide if the soup is cool enough to eat. It’s bad luck to burn one’s tongue.” Then he proceeded to eat it.
Lord Wright glanced at Edwin’s master, and in a low voice, he said, “I suppose we should be relieved he’s more accepting of soups than he is of ladies.”
Lord Quinton was far away enough not to overhear Lord Wright. It wasn’t often that Lord Creighton hosted a tense dinner party, but Edwin could see this would be a difficult evening for those in attendance. It was times like this that he was glad his role was on the outskirts of the event. No one would pay him any mind, and therefore, he would not be the focus of their displeasure.
Once Lord Quinton finished the soup, Edwin rang the cook’s bell. Mrs. Brown and the others came in to take away the old dishes and to bring in new ones. Edwin removed the trays and served the food. Then, once more, he waited for his master to tell him it was time to fill up the glasses with wine.
Lord Creighton and Mr. St. George ended up doing most of the talking. The discussion revolved mostly around the different sights of London. Mr. St. George, it seemed, had spent most of his life in the country, so he was eager to find out what social activities he hadn’t yet participated in. Lady Rachel voiced her enthusiasm over the menagerie, circus, and theatre. Edwin tried not to shift uncomfortably every time she glanced at Mr. St. George as if she hoped he would invite her to attend those outings with him in the future.
Toward the end of the dinner, it occurred to Edwin that Miss Carnel had also begun to develop an affection for Mr. St. George. And since it was wrong, Edwin had to suppress the hope that Mr. St. George would pick Miss Carnel. Lady Rachel is a noble lady. You’re a servant, Edwin. Be mindful of your place.
It was with great relief when the Duke of Creighton indicated that Edwin could finally leave the dining room. He went to the drawing room and the library to make sure the fires were roaring nicely in the fireplaces and to light more candles.
Once the people in attendance left the dining room, Mrs. Brown and Mr. Hearty, the footman, found him in his pantry. As soon as he saw the way they were chuckling, he knew exactly what they were thinking.
“No, I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone as odd as Lord Quinton,” Edwin said before they could ask.
The two burst out laughing, but it was Mr. Hearty who said, “You missed the best part. Right after you left, Lord Quinton wanted to know the exact ingredients in the pudding. It turns out there is some spice he’s certain will bring him nightmares.”
“Lord Wright said that having him at the dinner party was already a nightmare,” Mrs. Brown added in a lower voice. “It’s a good thing the two didn’t sit next to each other, or Lord Quinton would have heard him.”
I don’t know if I’ll get Lord Quinton and Lord Wright in the same room ever again, but I had so much fun with these scenes, and it did help me understand Lord Wright better. I plan to include his story in the Marriage by Obligation Series, too. He’s the widower with a child who needs a wife. Mr. St. George is Lord Durrant’s younger brother (from If It Takes A Scandal), and he will end up with Miss Carnel, which is why I had them hit it off in Secret Admirer during this dinner party.