The mother of our hero in The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora has, on the surface, great concerns for the Malgrave estate. In the beginning of our story she is determined that her son will not marry the "unsuitable" woman he has chosen.
"I did not spend twenty years as mistress of this estate to see it handed over to an unworthy chit with no sense of decorum or dignity, and no appreciation for centuries of tradition."
But her concerns are not all about the estate . She is a woman with scant kindness in her soul, steered by her own petty feuds and selfish needs, truly caring for little beyond her own comfortable place in life and the preservation of it. She was raised to value her own survival and prosperity beyond that of anybody else and she is constantly on her guard against those who threaten her tidy status quo. She has no interest in the lives of those she considers inferior to herself. Even her only son is barely noticed by her, until he has some hope of happiness on his horizon. And then, if it seems likely to interfere in her own contentment, she must meddle until it is dashed beyond repair.
From the moment of his birth, she never wanted to hold her son. The pain, inconvenience and indignity of the entire proceeding was too much for her and she blames him for all of it -- even for the forceps used to pry him out of her. He is the only surviving child born of her arranged, loveless marriage to the duke. Since he is the heir "without spare", she constantly puts pressure on his shoulders, reminding him of the need to work quickly in providing the estate with his own son and heir. But the woman he chooses to breed must be perfect, of course -- of excellent pedigree, virtuous, well-behaved and obedient. Not an outspoken, rebellious, flirtatious troublemaker.
If a woman wants to get things done her own way, she must do so slyly and behind the scenes, but apparently nobody has told that to Lady Flora Chelmsworth, who is disturbingly honest and straightforward.
The dowager, naturally, means to be remove this revolutionary from her son's line of sight as swiftly and ruthlessly as possible. He ought to know his duty to the estate and not be tempted by his "trouser wick" to wander from the path. The young duke has always been a creature ruled by his head, rather than any other part, so this entire affair is a mystery to his mother. What does he see in that wretched girl?
But she is familiar with the Chelmsworth family of opportunists and crooks -- not to mention the girl's great aunt, who once stole away one of the dowager's lovers and a sapphire necklace that should have been hers. With that devious family pulling the wool over his eyes, she does not trust in her son to see sense before it is too late. After all, he is something of an innocent when it comes to women and their scheming ways. Or so she thinks, not aware of the fact that her son has studied her for one and twenty years, gathering all the material he needs about treacherous females.
It will be necessary, she decides, to get her claws out and fight dirty. Entirely for the good of the estate, of course.
She reckons, however, without the equally determined efforts of Halfpenny Plumm, her son's devoted servant, who is just as dedicated to the duke's happiness as she is to ensuring he has none.
The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora coming next Wednesday!
(Image: Mary Robinson as Perdita by John Hoppner)