Deleted Scene: Oliver's proposal

SPOILER ALERT: you may not wish to read this until you have finished The Duke of Dark Desires.

The talented artist Oliver Bream has been a recurring character in The Wild Quartet novels, appearing in three of the four books. He has no idea how to manage his career and a propensity for unrequited love. In the final book of the series Oliver finds love at last. As sometimes happens with secondary characters, his story slowed down the denouement of the book. My editor and I agreed to cut it. Thanks to the glories of the internet, it's easy to share such deleted scenes with readers. Please note that the scene hasn't been copy edited and may contain errors. 

OLIVER'S PROPOSAL

The sun shone over the Denford Castle’s grounds, reflecting Henrietta Cazalet’s splendid mood. Her father’s temper over breakfast had been less sanguine. His plan to secure a duke as a son-in-law and an exceptional collection of pictures for the king had been dealt a mortal blow. Henrietta was sorry about the latter–she cared about the artistic betterment of the nation–but the fact that Denford was enamored of the governess-turned-aristocrat was good news for her. It saved her the trouble of having to refuse to marry him. While Henrietta never minded a good fight for a good cause, she preferred to conserve her strength for important matters.

Her quarry was in the knot garden, plying pencil to sketchbook. She couldn’t fault Oliver Bream’s industry, however vague he might be about the practical aspects of life. She didn’t care; the latter was where she excelled.

He raised his head at the sound of her feet deliberately dragging on the gravel path. “Good morning, Miss Cazalet. What a fine day.”

“Good morning, Oliver. I hope you don’t mind if I call you Oliver. And I would be pleased if you would call me Henrietta.”

“That’s the way I always think of you.”

She found this to be an encouraging sign since she wasn’t always sure he remembered her name. “What are you drawing this morning?”

“Sketching some ideas for the background of my Saint George. The dragon’s lair is usually depicted as rocky, but I thought I’d place the maiden in an English garden. The painting can be an allegory.”

Henrietta sat on the bench next to him and admired the intricately drawn early single roses. “Gardens are certainly more picturesque than rocks. I like that idea, just don’t try to explain it to anyone. Let your talent speak for itself.”

“What an exciting couple of days we’ve had.” Oliver again showed a promising interest in the outside world. “I would never have guessed Jane was French. And now Julian has given her all those pictures. I wonder if he intends to marry her. I never thought he was likely to marry, but he seems fond of her.”

“I’d say it was patently obvious to all that Denford is head over ears for Mademoiselle de Falleron.”

“I expect you’re right.”

“Denford made a shocking accusation about Sir Richard last night. You must be concerned for Lady Belinda’s feelings.”

“Why?”

“Because you have a tendre for her.”

“Oh. That’s over.”

“Do you have a tendre for anyone else?”

Oliver lowered his pencil. “Do you know, I do not. It’s odd because generally I fall out of love when I meet someone new. What do you think it means?”

Henrietta had tried to define exactly what she found so appealing in Oliver Bream, aside from his talent as a painter. Why did Denford’s dark magnificence leave her cold while a short slight artist with an unruly mop of hair tugged at her heart? She loved his utter dedication to his work and the way a clear-sighted awareness of others would occasionally peek through the clouds of self-absorption. She loved his brusque kindness to his pupils, the Misses Osbourne, in the face of their lack of an iota of artist ability. She was impressed by the devotion he inspired in friends like Denford, Lady Windermere, and others he spoke of with unaffected fondness.  And there was the fact that he so obvious needed someone like her if there was any chance for him to advance in the world. Henrietta knew that she was a woman who needed to be needed.

“Is there any chance you might conceive a tendre for me?” She held her breath when his funny, boyish face wrinkled with surprise then relaxed into consideration.

“Of course I do,” he said. “I didn’t notice because it’s different from usual. I think you must be the nicest person I’ve ever fallen in love with.”

“I take that as the highest compliment. Would you like to kiss me?”

“I don’t know, Henrietta. I’d like to, of course, but I only ever kissed the wife of a friend and I think she did it for a bet because she was drunk.”

“You know more than me,” Henrietta said untruthfully. “I’ve never been kissed.” A girl with her curiosity didn’t reach the age of twenty-three without inviting a little lovemaking. However, there were times when men, even men as sensible as Oliver, liked to take the lead.

He pressed too hard but his lips were firm and smooth and she liked the way his arms felt around her. Then he held her hand and kissed it and her insides quivered delightfully. “I’ll do better next time, if you let me,” he said.

“We’ll both do better. We have years ahead of us.”

“Years! Does that mean …”

“Yes?”

His face fell. “I can’t ask you to marry me, Henrietta. I wish I could, but I have no money, none at all.”

“That’s all right. I am of age and have my mother’s fortune, which is quite enough for us to live on. And once you start painting the right subjects and meeting the right patrons, you will be a success, I promise you. These days artists can become very rich men. I accept your proposal. Kiss me again.”

It was a much better kiss. “If we go on improving like this Oliver, we’ll be experts.”

“I can’t imagine you getting any better.”

“I love you, Oliver.”

After an agreeable interlude, Henrietta applied her mind to the matter of winning her father’s consent. She didn’t need it, but she wanted it and she wanted his influence for Oliver’s sake. “Where do you come from?” she asked. “You have never spoken of your home.” Oliver was a gentleman, but that was all she knew.

“Not very far from here, the other side of Chichester. My father wanted me to be a clergyman, not a painter so we stopped speaking.”

“What kind of family?”

“A normal one, I suppose. Father is interested in crops and cattle and my brother is the same.”

A gentleman farmer, most likely. It could be worse. “We should call on them. It’s not good to be on bad terms with one’s family, even if they do disapprove. Unless your father was cruel to you.”

“Nothing like that. He just shouted a lot when I told him I was going to London to take drawing lessons.”

“And he doesn’t give you any money.”

“Mama sends me a little sometimes. It’s hopeless, isn’t it? Your father will never consent.”

Henrietta gave him a quick kiss. “You leave Papa to me. I just like to know what my assets are, that is all. I shall speak to him now. He’s always best after breakfast and before he’s read his correspondence.”

They walked back to the castle discussing where they’d prefer to live, Henrietta having no intention of moving into the Duchess of Castleton’s carriage house. “You must have a studio in a good part of London where patrons can call on you.”

“I don’t think I’d like being disturbed all the time.”

“You won’t be. You shall have a reputation for being reclusive then potential clients will be all the more curious to meet you. You leave that to me.” She grinned. “You do the painting. I’ll manage the customers and keep you fed.”

As they came into the hall from the garden side, visitors arrived, a lady and a gentleman who, judging by their dress, belonged to the solid but not fashionable country gentry.

Oliver dropped his sketchpad in shock.

“My dear boy,” said the lady. “You should have let us know you were so close to home. Your father read in the newspaper that you were staying at the Castle painting the duke’s sisters. We are so proud of you!”

“Well done, Oliver,” the gentleman said gruffly. “I’ll admit I had my doubts.”

“Introduce me,” Henrietta said, before he could deny the prestigious commission she had reported to the papers. Quite impressive how quickly her little on dit had spread, if she did say so herself.

“Mama, Papa, this Miss Cazalet. Henrietta, allow me to present my parents Sir Walter and Lady Bream.”