the twelfth night wager
by regan walker
*Regan will be awarding a copy of three (3) of her books, Racing with the Wind, The Holly and the Thistle and The Shamrock and the Rose to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour.
On a dull day at White’s, the Redheaded Rake agreed to a wager: seduce and abandon the lovely Lady Leisterfield by Twelfth Night. After one taste of her virtue, he will stop at nothing less than complete possession.
I’m so pleased that Girl meets Books is able to host a guest post from Regan Walker where she talks about the Wagering Culture in Regency London.
The Wagering Culture in Regency London
By Regan Walker
Gambling is, as they say, as old as the hills. As long as there have been people willing to take risk, and the money to back up a challenge, there have been wagers and gaming.
Regency England (1811-1820 when Prince George was Regent) was no different, except that the wealthy members of le bon ton had the leisure time and the money to indulge. Men of the upper classes had their richly appointed clubs like Brook’s and White’s where, in the course of social gathering, political discussions and networking, outlandish wagers were made and recorded in “the book” for all the members to see. Fortunes could be won or lost with a single wager. Historical Romance novels set in the Regency often reflect the demise of a peer brought on by his unrestrained gaming.
White’s, a gentlemen’s club in London, established in the 17th century from a regular meeting of wealthy men, is the setting of the first scene in my novella, The Twelfth Night Wager, when one October evening in 1818, two bored men of the aristocracy enter into a scandalous wager involving a virtuous young widow.
Historically, White’s played host to many ridiculous wagers. William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley once bet a friend £3,000 as to which of two raindrops would first reach the bottom of a pane of the bow window of White’s. Other bets dealt with sports, politics and social events, such as when a man might marry. No matter was too small or too great for the wager book. And some men piled up huge debts gaming and wagering. The politician Charles James Fox was famous for this. Lord Holland, Fox’s father once paid off almost £140,000 in gambling debts for his son.
In the Regency culture, gaming and wagers were glamorized in a society addicted to luxury. Gambling was entwined with the conspicuous consumption of the aristocracy, led by the Prince Regent himself. As Lawrence Stone said, “…wealth is not a sufficient source of honour in itself…it needs to be advertised.” What better way than an outlandish wager for some small matter? It was one way the aristocracy showed its detachment from the value of money. Still, there was honor among those who gambled. A gentleman might wager vast sums of money, which he might lose, but he must never lose his temper or his integrity—and he must pay his debts.
A Study of Gamblers and Gaming Culture in London, 1780-1844 by Arthur Pitt
Gambling in Historic England by Ellen Micheletti
“Love sought is good, but giv’n unsought is better.”
—William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
London, January 5, 1819
It never would have happened if he hadn’t been so terribly bored that night at White’s. Staring into the crackling fire in the parlour on this frosty night and reflecting back on the last several months, Christopher St. Ives, Viscount Eustace, recalled the evening well; the deep leather chair he sat in, the lit cheroot dangling from one hand and a brandy in the other. He had only been half listening as Hugh Redgrave, the very married Marquess of Ormond, droned on about the virtues of the leg-shackled state. Happily married men could be so tiresome. Looking back on it now, it seemed years not months since they’d traded quips in the conversation that led to the wager:
“I say, Ormond, just where are you going with this praise for the wedded state? You know me too well to believe I’m convinced.”
“You might at least consider taking a wife, Eustace. There’s much to be said for the change it would bring about in your otherwise tawdry existence of late. After all, thirty-five is past the age where dissipation wears well, don’t you think?”
Tawdry existence? Dissipation? “Surely you cannot mean those words, Ormond. I’m just after a bit of fun.”
“You go after women like you go after the fox. It’s all in the chase for you.”
“And that is wrong? Just because you have your heir and a spare at thirty-two does not mean I wish to accumulate the same baggage.” At the frown that appeared on Ormond’s face, Christopher, Lord Eustace, hastened to add, “No offense meant toward the beautiful Lady Ormond, whom I admire above all women, but I am not ready for such a change, as my recent indulgences confirm. Besides, I like women and have my own way of handling them, which suits me quite well. I see no reason for change.”
“As far as I can see, your way of ‘handling’ them is not to have one at all.”
“Ho, now that ain’t so, and well you know it! Though, being a gentleman, I’ll not disclose the number ‘had’ even if I could recall. My method, I assure you, works perfectly for me.”
“You have a method?” Ormond asked, incredulous.
“Well, perhaps not a method as you would count it. I seduce ’em, bed ’em and—”
“Leave them. Yes, I know. But not always smiling, I’ve heard.”
Christopher looked up at the chandelier above and back to his friend as he let out a sigh. “Perhaps not, but none complain till the end is in sight. Then, well…I admit things have on occasion become a bit sticky. But they are all willing players in the game.”
“Your way of handling women cannot work with all. You must have failed with some.”
“Quite the contrary, my good man. I’ve succeeded with every lady I’ve gone after.” Christopher held back a grin. He did not lack confidence when it came to his success with women. And a worthy adversary made every game more exciting.
“I would wager there is one you cannot seduce.”
“Ho! Wager? Do I hear a challenge being laid down?” Snuffing out his cheroot, Christopher leaned forward. “Who might this unassailable paragon be?”
Ormond glanced about the sparsely populated club room filled with tables and chairs. Christopher’s eyes followed, noting the small group of men at a round table engaged in muted conversation some distance away. None appeared to be eavesdropping.
Leaning forward, Ormond whispered, “Grace, the Lady Leisterfield.”
Christopher leaned back in his chair and took a sip of brandy. In his mind’s eye he saw a slim blonde in a rather modest gray gown standing next to the elderly Lady Claremont. “Yes, I recall her from the last ball of the Season. The young widow lives like a nun, or so I’ve heard.”
Ormond grinned. “That, old man, is the challenge.”
“She’s in mourning, is she not?”
“Just coming out. And a worthy contender to test your…method.”
“I see.” But did he? Was there more to this than a wager? It was clear Ormond had something in mind, and the marquess could be exceedingly cryptic at times. Still, whatever was behind the challenge, and whatever the stakes, Christopher was drawn by the opportunity, even more by the encouragement, to entice the lovely Lady Leisterfield to his bed.
“I’ve been very impressed with the lady,” his friend continued, “and I would love to see you fail miserably trying to scale her castle walls. I would consider it sweet justice for the fairer sex.” Ormond winked.
Christopher was tempted to decline, still miffed at Ormond’s comment about his tawdry existence. Yet the memory of the beautiful Lady Leisterfield permeated his thoughts. “Perhaps I shall accept your delightful challenge.”
Ormond grinned, then his expression turned serious. “One thing. If you do this, Eustace, you must promise to preserve the lady’s reputation no matter the outcome. That must be part of the challenge, as I would not see a good woman ruined at the end of it.”
“Well, I know of no woman who has suffered overmuch from being associated with me, but I assure you I will be discreet.”
“All right—and so we are clear,” said Ormond. “You must seduce, bed and walk away from the baroness, else I will have won.”
Christopher nodded, wondering all the while if he’d missed something. Ormond always seemed to have an agenda not fully disclosed. With him, much was hidden beneath the surface.
The marquess suggested with a pointed look, “Ninety days should be sufficient; do you agree?”
“We are indeed agreed. And let me add, it will be my pleasure.”
It wasn’t just the thought of bedding the lovely widow that put a grin on Christopher’s face; he was thrilled with the prospect of a real challenge with a virtuous woman. It was a wholly different sport than he normally engaged in, but Lady Leisterfield was a worthy quarry. A challenge indeed. One for which he felt himself uniquely qualified.
“Shall we reduce the wager to the book?” Ormond inquired with a wry smile. “Say, one thousand pounds to make it interesting?”
“Done.” Casting his reservations aside, Christopher set down his empty glass, reached for Ormond’s extended hand and gave it a hearty shake.
And so, that night, Christopher entered the following into White’s book:
Ld Eustace has wagered Ld Ormond 1000 pounds
that by Twelfth Night he can seduce, bed and walk away from a certain lady
understood between them.
About the Author:
As a child Regan Walker loved to write stories, particularly about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors thought her suited to the profession of law, and Regan realized it would be better to be a hammer than a nail. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding Prince Regent who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool.
Connect with Regan Walker:
Regan will be awarding a copy of three (3) of her books, Racing with the Wind, The Holly and the Thistle and The Shamrock and the Rose to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour.
So comment away and follow the tour HERE. The more you comment, the more chances you have of winning!
Tour organized by: Goddess Fish Promotions