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Authors: Sisters Traherne (Lady Meriel's Duty; Lord Lyford's Secret)

Amanda Scott (6 page)

BOOK: Amanda Scott
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Drawing a deep breath didn’t help, for in the confines of the saloon there was little fresh air to be had, despite the fact that Lady Cadogan had left the door leading to the aft gallery ajar. When the other women moved quickly to join her ladyship, Eliza, looking toward Meriel, clearly hesitated on the verge of following their example.

“Go and get some air,” Meriel told her gently, “but return as quickly as you can, for I do not wish to leave her alone, and I should like someone to send for Gladys Peat. Gwen must be taken to our cabin to rest.”

Eliza nodded and turned away, but true to her word she was quickly back again. Meriel had moved the bucket with its disgusting contents away from Gwenyth, and now that she was certain the younger girl had no immediate need of it, she picked it up to carry it out on deck. At the far side of the aft rail, after glancing around to be certain the others were far enough away not to be offended, she emptied the bucket of its contents.

“If that stuff is what it appears to be, I’d fling the bucket overboard too,” said a lazy masculine voice from behind her.

Turning quickly, she discovered Sir Antony moving toward her. His expression was calm, but the hazel eyes were twinkling, so she summoned up a smile. “I should like nothing more than to do as you suggest, sir, but the captain of this boat might object to my throwing his coal bucket away.”

“So that’s what it is,” he said, lifting his quizzing glass to peer at the bucket as though it were some object of interest. “How practical you are, ma’am. I cannot think why you have been left to look after your needs alone in such a case, but I must hope that you are completely recovered from your indisposition.”

“Oh, I am not indisposed, sir. ’Tis my youngest sister. She is not a good traveler at best, and I fear she is very ill now. Indeed, I must get her to our cabin and send someone to fetch my Abigail, who was nursemaid to nearly all of us and will know precisely what is best for Gwenyth.”

“Allow me to assist you, ma’am.” He turned, looking forward along the rail; then, evidently catching someone’s eye, he beckoned. A moment later a young, slender, dark-haired man detached himself from a group that had been leaning over the rail watching as the boat left the waters of the bay to attack the rougher coastal swells. “Peter Trent, my valet,” said Sir Antony, regarding the approaching man. “Never far from my side. A most estimable fellow. Watches over my every need. Here, Trent, Lady Meriel has need of her tirewoman. Do see if you can find her.”

“A pleasure to be of service,” said the young man, bowing to Meriel. He looked up, revealing shrewd slate-gray eyes beneath straight, narrow brows. He wasn’t so insolent as to regard her directly, but looked instead at a point just above her eyes as he inquired, “Her name, madam?”

“Gladys Peat, Mr. Trent. I shall be sincerely grateful if you can find her for me.”

Trent nodded and began to turn away, but Sir Antony stopped him with a slight gesture, taking the bucket from Meriel’s hand. “Take this away, Trent, and see that it is thoroughly cleaned before it is returned to its place in the ladies’ saloon. What did you do with the coal, ma’am?”

Meriel found herself smiling at his matter-of-fact tone. “I dumped it onto the floor, sir,” she said.

He nodded. “I daresay whoever attends to that bucket will see that the mess is cleaned up. I hope your sister recovers quickly.”

“So do I, for I must tell you that with four of us sharing a tiny cabin, her continued indisposition will be most inconvenient.”

“I should rather think so,” he replied, much struck. “See here, ma’am, whatever were you about, to arrange for only one cabin for the four of you? In my experience, these cabins are deucedly small even for one.”

“I do not approve of extravagance, sir. We shall reach Swansea tomorrow, where I change to the Channel packet, while my aunt and sisters go on into Bristol aboard the
Camden
. For merely the one night it would be an unnecessary expense to order more than one cabin when each sleeps four or five persons.”

“Nonsense,” he said, but she could not imagine he meant to offend her, for his thoughts were clearly otherwhere. Frowning, he said, “See here, you cannot be comfortable with a sick child in a cabin with three other persons. ’Twould be astonishing an you were not all sick before the day is out. When Trent finds your maidservant, I will show you to my stateroom. You may safely leave the woman there with your sister.”

“I could not, sir.” But even as she said the words, Meriel was thinking of how uncomfortable it would be if Gwenyth continued to be sick, as indeed it was most likely she would be.

“Nonsense,” he said again, more firmly. “As you pointed out, it will be only for the one night. I daresay I can rack up in the great cabin, for although I have been given to understand that all the staterooms are occupied, the boat does not seem to be filled to capacity.”

“Oh, but it is two nights to Bristol, sir, and I greatly fear my little sister will be incapacitated the entire time. However, perhaps you mean there will be another cabin available after Swansea?”

“No, I leave the
Camden
at Swansea.”

She cocked her head to one side, regarding him in surprise. “Are you not returning to London, then, sir?”

“No, Lady Meriel, I have formed the intention of visiting the French coast again.” His expression was still calm, but his eyes were dancing again.

Meriel frowned. “You said nothing of such plans the other night, sir.”

“Did I not? Perhaps I had not then realized that I wished to indulge myself with a period of foreign travel.”

She believed she was beginning to understand his motives, but instead of being angered by her suspicions, she found that she was rather pleased. “Did you form this intention because I am traveling into France, sir?”

His eyelids drooped a little, hooding his expression. “You are very direct, ma’am. Are you offended?”

“Not at all, sir. Surely one must be flattered. However, I hope you have not formed an incorrect notion of my moral character, for I must assure you that I am not a woman of easy virtue.”

“Dear me.” Sir Antony raised his quizzing glass and regarded her through it curiously. “Whatever can I have said to stir such thoughts in your head, I wonder.”

“Well,” she said frankly, attempting to ignore the absurd way his eye was magnified by the quizzing glass, “my aunt warned me how it would be if I insisted upon traveling abroad with only my maid for escort, but I could not allow Mr. Glendower—her chaplain, you know, and no doubt a worthy man despite the fact that he is constantly ogling one—to accompany me. And as my elder brother is away, and I have no cousins upon whom I might call for assistance, there you are. I daresay you will agree with her, as Lord Uxbridge did, and say that, under the circumstances, I ought not to go at all.”

“I will certainly say no such thing,” he replied. “Nor can I believe you would be wiser to take the impertinent Mr. Glendower as your escort.”

“Then you believe I am quite capable of looking after myself,” she said, looking upon him favorably again.

He smiled. “As to that, ma’am, I cannot deny that if I were in any way responsible for your well-being I would forbid you to travel alone. No, no, don’t poker up like that. You begin to look like a stuffy schoolmistress, which quite puts me off whatever it was I was going to say to you.”

“You have no right to forbid me anything, sir,” she said tartly.

“No, certainly not. Ah, here is Trent with your abigail, I believe. You will be wishing to see to your sister at once.”

Much though she would have liked to continue their conversation, to be certain that Sir Antony quite understood that she would bow neither to his charm nor to his will, Meriel realized with a pang of conscience that she had been standing at the rail with him for an unconscionably long time. No doubt poor Eliza was feeling ill-used.

“You sent for me, my lady?” Gladys Peat, a buxom middle-aged woman with crisp brown curls set under a neat cap, regarded Sir Antony with a basilisk eye, drawing herself up and straightening her shoulders with a militant air.

Meriel, glancing up at the tall gentleman, saw that his lips twitched. Amused despite herself, she turned to her tirewoman. “Indeed, Gladys, Lady Gwenyth is ill and must be put to bed at once. Sir Antony here has most obligingly offered the use of his own cabin, where she will be a good deal more comfortable, I daresay, than in one of those tiny cubbyholes in ours.”

“Yes, m’lady.” Gladys’ starched-up attitude disappeared in a swell of concern for Lady Gwenyth. “’Tis a pity we’ve no laudanum by us. ’Twould be best an the poor lamb sleeps as much as she can.”

“Sir,” said Peter Trent, addressing his master, “I’ve some in my kit if Mrs. Peat would condescend to accept it.”

Sir Antony bowed to Meriel. “As I said, ma’am, he sees to my every need.”

“’Tis not your need but Gwenyth’s,” she pointed out.

“Ah, but my need at present is to see to your needs,” he said gently, “so you see …” He spread his hands, indicating that there was no more to be said, then turned to his man. “Attend to the matter at once, Trent.”

The valet took himself off, and Meriel led the way back to Gwenyth’s side. Her little sister looked no better than when she had left her, and Eliza looked considerably worse.

“Dear me, Eliza,” Meriel said, “I hope you do not mean to be ill too. Auntie Wynne will go into flat despair.”

Eliza managed a smile. “I shall be all right, I daresay, once Gwen is settled, although I must tell you, Meri, that if she is sick all night, I probably shall succumb too.”

“Well, you need not trouble yourself, my dear, for Sir Antony—you do remember Sir Antony Davies, do you not?” When Eliza nodded, blushing delicately, Meriel continued, “Well, Sir Antony has most kindly given up his stateroom so that Gwen may be comfortable. Do you hear that, Gwen? You are to have a cabin all to yourself, and Gladys Peat to look after you for tonight, at least. If you are still unwell tomorrow, then you will have to make do with Broadman, for Gladys gets off the ship with me at Swansea, you know, but I daresay you will be right as a trivet by then.”

Gwenyth smiled wanly but made no comment, and Meriel could only be grateful when Sir Antony, having unceremoniously followed them into the ladies’ saloon, now scooped the young girl up in his arms to carry her below. She could not think, looking at Gwenyth, that the child would have been able to walk the distance by herself, even supported by Gladys and one of her sisters.

Once below, Gwenyth was quickly tucked up in bed and dosed with the laudanum provided by Peter Trent.

“She’ll do now, my lady,” said Gladys Peat in a low voice. Then she turned toward Sir Antony, giving him a direct look. “’Tis kind of you, sir, to put the child’s needs afore yer own.”

“Why did I have the feeling,” Sir Antony asked as he escorted Meriel along the companionway a few moments later, “that I was being threatened rather than thanked just now?”

She chuckled, drawing her thoughts away from Gwenyth’s predicament and looking up at the tall gentleman beside her. “Gladys doesn’t hold with menfolk,” she said.

“All menfolk?” His eyebrows arched comically.

“Nearly all. She was married years ago, but I don’t think he can have amounted to much, and he died in circumstances that she refuses to discuss. My brothers and sisters and I, I regret to confess, have spent many a cheerful hour making up appalling adventures for him, though none of us ever met him.”

“Has she no family?”

“A sister somewhere. She’s mentioned her from time to time, but the sister is married, and they do not correspond. Her father was something of a brute, I believe, for though she has admitted having one, she always curls her lip when she speaks of him.”

Sir Antony shook his head. “She is certainly not what I have been accustomed to in ladies’ maids,” he said.

“Are you accustomed to so many, then, sir?” Meriel inquired demurely.

His eyes danced. “Enough, ma’am, to have discovered that they have a habit of getting damnably in my way, and I’ve a strong notion that your Gladys Peat has just served notice of an intention to be the worst of such nuisances that I’ve yet encountered.”

“Surely she would not forget her place, Sir Antony.”

“Poppycock,” he retorted. “Her attitude back there—in my own bedchamber, might I remind you—was that of a haughty dowager thanking a minion of the lowest extreme for a slight service. It was not that of a maidservant knowing her place.”

Meriel smiled up at him sweetly. “I am persuaded, sir, that she will soon learn she has no need to protect me from a gentleman so kind and considerate as yourself.”

The sound emitting from the tall gentleman’s throat just then was certainly a snort, but she chose to ignore it, thanking him again for his kind offices on Gwenyth’s behalf and excusing herself to look in upon Eliza, who had repaired to their own cabin to rest. Since by this time they had reached the door to that cabin, Sir Antony was left with nothing to do but bow and wish her well.

Meriel discovered that Eliza was not resting at all but was seated at a small desk near the head of the curtained bed, primping while she regarded her lovely reflection in a hand mirror. As Meriel entered, the younger girl turned, the fingers of her free hand still entwined in one honey-colored ringlet.

“Oh, Meriel, how is Gwenyth?”

“She will do. Gladys is with her now.”

Eliza nodded, returning her attention to the mirror and peering closely at her face.

“Have you got a spot forming or something?” Meriel inquired.

“No, thank heaven.” The younger girl straightened, setting the mirror down with a sigh. “I say, Meri, do you not think Mr. Trent is very handsome?”

“Good gracious, Eliza, he is a manservant.”

“I know,” Eliza replied, “but do you think him handsome?”

“He is well enough, I suppose,” Meriel said, racking her memory for a vision of Sir Antony’s valet and finding it difficult to remember what he looked like. “Really, dear, you must cease this foolish tendency to regard every gentleman you meet in some idiotishly romantical light.” Her gaze shifted to a slim leather-bound volume lying open, facedown, upon the bed, its gilt lettering gleaming brightly.

BOOK: Amanda Scott
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