“Of course, m’lady, and most kind of you,” the laundress answered.
India hurried to the library, and, opening the false panel where her parents hid their valuables when they were in London, she put her hand into the dark cavity. The chamois bag of coins her father always took when they traveled was quite plump. The duke obviously had already been to the goldsmith’s bank in preparation for their return trip. India smiled to herself, and withdrew her hand, closing the panel. She fully intended taking that bag with her when she left with Adrian. It would be a down payment on her dowry. She would wager after he paid their fare he would have little left and be glad for her foresight. Her father’s gold would keep them quite comfortably for the next year. She returned to her own bedchamber.
Her family had not returned by the midnight hour when Adrian Leigh once again tossed pebbles at her window. India flung open the casement and, looking down, said, “You must be careful. My family have not yet returned from Whitehall, and will be coming by the river. What news, my darling lord? I dare not come down. I can see the river better from here, and you must be gone before they return.”
“You were right, my clever poppet,” he told her. “The
the O’Malley-Small Trading Company’s newest cargo and passenger vessel, departs for the Mediterranean on the morning tide Monday, and it will stop at Naples. I have booked us two cabins as you instructed, and we must be aboard by five o’clock in the morning at the latest.”
“Who is its captain?” she asked.
“Thomas Southwood,” he replied.
“My cousin,” she said thoughtfully. “But as he has not seen me in many years, I expect we will be safe. Especially as I shall be disguised as old Lady Monypenny. Come for me at four o’clock in the morning. I shall bring two small trunks and my jewelry, so do not come in a small werry. You have done admirably, my darling.” India blew him a kiss. “Go now before we are caught. I love you, Adrian!” She drew the window shut, her heart soaring. Just a few more days and they would make good their escape! She climbed into bed, and was already sleeping by the time her family returned home.
The next day was Sunday, and they attended religious services at Whitehall Palace. The king preferred the more Catholic Anglican service despite the grumblings from the many Puritans in his court.
“Go and have your own services then,” he ordered the more outspoken of them. “Do none of you remember that I am pledged to be as tolerant as I may? You do not like England’s church, and you do not like the queen’s faith. Go then, and hold your own candleless plain services with no outward show of faith but your droning voices.”
Coming from the king’s chapel, they saw Adrian Leigh exiting the queen’s chapel.
“And there is another reason you cannot wed with that fellow,” James Leslie said, his hand reaching out to prevent India from joining her chosen swain. “He is a practicing member of Rome’s church, and that is a dangerous thing to be here right now in England as we all know.”
“The Leslies of Glenkirk were once Roman Catholics, and so was Mama,” India replied pertly. “Did not old Queen Elizabeth once say there is but one Lord Jesus Christ. The rest is all trifles?”
“Everyone was once a member of the Roman church,” the duke said patiently, “but times have changed now. While I do not believe God gives a damn how we worship him, as long as we do, and are respectful, we must be prudent, India. This family, and your mother’s family have survived by being careful. We do not involve ourselves in politics, or religious bickering. We keep our own counsel and pay the taxes levied on us without complaint. Nonetheless, it would be unwise, even if Viscount Twyford were a suitable match for you,
which he is not
, for you to wed a practicing member of the Roman church at this time. It is foolish to draw attention to yourself, for if you do, you will find that many people are easily envious of a wealthy and beautiful young girl such as yourself. Such people will strive to harm you.”
India pulled angrily away from her father. “This is my last day at court,” she said. “Let me do what I want, and associate with whom I choose, Papa. I am seventeen, and I am not some wee lass who needs to be told what to do. If you will take me from the man I love and force me to wed someone of
choice, at least Adrian and I have had this one last day together!” Then with an angry swish of her garnet-colored velvet skirts, she was gone.
“Let her go,” Jasmine advised her husband. “She is a sensible girl, and will make peace with the situation if you do not irritate her any further, Jemmie. She must sort out her feelings by herself.”
“Why is it I want to turn her over my knee and whack her bottom with my slipper?” the duke asked his wife.
Jasmine laughed softly. “Because she has gone and grown up on you, Jemmie,” she teased him. “No father likes to see it happen to his daughter. Not only that, she prefers another man over you these days. What a betrayal to your heart!” She pulled him down, and kissed his cheek. “But I will always love you, my lord duke, and I will not leave you for anyone but death, and then reluctantly.”
He chuckled. “Oh, my darling Jasmine,” he told her, “it is good that you are wiser than I. Come, and let us enjoy the day. We will bid our friends and family farewell, and be gone from this place. There is too much strife here, I regret, with Buckingham deciding the queen is his enemy and the French king sending a diplomat to sort out what the hell is going on that our king, and his pretty little queen, cannot get along. And the Puritans are gaining more influence and power every day. They will be trouble, mark my words. There is nothing worse than someone who truly believes his way is the only way and everyone must conform, or be punished, or perish. I shall be glad to be back in my highlands at Glenkirk. I do not think I will come to London again. By the way, have you spoken to your aunt Willow yet about some young men for India. I want her married as soon as possible. Let her be her husband’s problem. We have one more daughter and five lads to settle before our job is done,” he concluded with a chortle.
“Do you honestly believe that marrying them off absolves us of our parental responsibilities?” Jasmine asked. “I do not care how old they get, they will always be our children, and we will always care what happens to them, Jemmie Leslie!”
“But they’ll be out of the house,” he reminded her cheerfully.
They spent their day making their farewells, and James Leslie was pleased to see India awaiting them at the riverside quai without Viscount Twyford in tow when they were ready to depart. It was just dusk when they reached Greenwood House. Once inside, India asked her brothers to bring down her trunks and place them in the front hall.
“But, dearest,” her mother said, “we are not going until Tuesday morning. There is no hurry.”
“Papa is always saying that I am tardy, and that I keep everyone waiting and make them late being behind with my packing. I decided this time to be ready before all of you. I even had the laundress do my laundry yesterday so she would not be overburdened. I want to see my trunks here in the hall, Mama.” Then she giggled charmingly. “It may be the only time in my life I am ahead of Papa’s schedule.”
“Well, go and get your sister’s trunks,” James Leslie commanded his sons. “If she is ready now, she deserves the credit for it, and we shall all look admiringly upon her trunks here tomorrow as we pack our own clothing for our departure.”
India smiled sweetly at her father as her brothers brought down her luggage. “I was very rude to you today, Papa. I apologize for my discourteousness, but I do not ask your pardon for loving Adrian, even if you won’t let us marry. I think you are being very unfair. You will not even give him a chance, but hold him responsible for the bad behavior of his mother and half-brother. It is wrong, Papa, and I am ashamed that you would do such a thing. You have always been a fair-minded man until now.” She curtsied.
The duke gritted his teeth and held his temper. “You know that I love you, India. You must accept that I know what is best for you. I only want you happy,
and damn it
, I will see that you are in spite of yourself!” He caught himself. “First love is always the most poignant, but it is not necessarily the most lasting. I want a lasting love for you. You have always trusted me, India. Why will you not trust me in this matter? You are my daughter, and I don’t want you hurt.”
“If you do not let me marry Adrian, I will be unhappy the rest of my life,” India announced dramatically.
“Since you two cannot agree on this point,” Jasmine said, interjecting herself between her eldest child and her husband, “I think it best we do not discuss it again tonight. India, you have done a fine job of getting ready, and since you are, you will help your sister and me to pack our own possessions tomorrow. Now, go to your room, my child, and rest. You know how difficult it is to rest along the road, and we have a very, very long journey ahead of us,” Jasmine concluded.
Kissing her parents, India moved serenely up the staircase and entered her bedchamber. She had given her father one last chance, and she had hoped against hope that he would change his mind and then they wouldn’t have to run away. She sighed. Adrian had been right all along. Her father was not giving them any other choice. Well, this time tomorrow they would be well at sea and on their way to Italy, and all her parents would know from the note she was leaving them was that she and Adrian had gone off to marry and they would not come back until they had.
“Why do you bait Papa that way?” Fortune demanded, entering the room. “He is not being unreasonable. Your viscount really isn’t right for you, India, but you are always so insistent upon having your own way.”
“Papa has never said he disapproved of Adrian, only his family,” India retorted.
“A man is his family,” Fortune replied. “You packed early so you could sneak off tomorrow, and spend time with your swain, didn’t you? Mama saw right through you, and now you’ll have to help us,” she teased her elder sister. “I am very fussy about how my things are packed. It will take you all day between us, I fear.”
“If you are not careful,” India threatened her sister, “I’ll take all your clothing and throw it out the window!”
“Ha! Ha!” Fortune taunted, and, picking up a pillow, whacked India with it.
Within moments, the two were engaged in a pillow fight that ended with them both collapsing into gales of laughter upon the bed.
“I shall miss you, little sister,” India said.
Fortune looked puzzled.
“When Father marries me off to his dark stranger in a few months’ time,” India quickly said. “God’s boots! Do you realize our childhood is just about at an end? By this time next year we could be both great with child!” She stuffed one of the pillows beneath her skirts and paraded about the room. “Ohhh, I hope it’s a son for my dear lord.”
Fortune giggled. “Why do men always want sons?” she wondered aloud.
“Well, our real father didn’t get one first,” India said. “He got me before he got Henry, and then he got you after he died.”
“Do you remember our real father at all?” Fortune ask wistfully.
India sighed deeply. “I have one tiny memory of this great, big, golden laughing man lifting me up in front of him on his horse and riding me about, but that is all. It really isn’t much, is it?”
“It’s more than Henry and I have,” Fortune answered her. “Our real father wasn’t even alive when I was born, but I do remember Prince Henry a little bit. He was handsome, and could never take his eyes off Mama. Just imagine if he had been allowed to marry Mama. Then our Charlie would be king now instead of his uncle Charles.”
“Mama was considered unsuitable,” India said. She had been older than Fortune, and remembered more.
“Just like Adrian is unsuitable for you,” Fortune responded.
“I am going to bed,” India announced, ending the discussion.
The two sisters washed themselves, put on their nightgowns, and climbed into bed. Across the room the fire burned brightly, warming the bedchamber. India blew out the candle and settled down. If she did not wake up in time, Adrian had promised to throw pebbles at the windowpane again. As her trunks were in the hall by the front door, it would only take her a little while to dress and go down to join him. She wasn’t certain she would sleep, but she did, Fortune snuggled close next to her, making her familiar little sleep noises.
India awoke suddenly in the darkness. The clock in the hallway struck three times. She lay quietly for several minutes and then arose carefully, wincing as her feet touched the icy floor boards. Padding across the chamber, India added some coal to the fire, and it soon after sprang to life again. The clock chimed the quarter hour. She dressed slowly in a black velvet gown, a starched white ruff about her neck. On her feet she wore dark walking boots. In the attics she had found a mourning veil she would wear with her dark gloves and long dark cape. While she dressed, the clock in the hall chimed the half hour, and now was chiming three-quarters of the hour. India stuffed her jewelry pouch in her beaver muff and slipped quietly from the room.
She tiptoed down the staircase, moved as silently as she could through the hallway and entered the library. Going to the panel, behind which her father hid the valuables, she opened it and thrust her hand inside. Immediately her fingers made contact with the chamois bag. Pulling it out, she opened it, making certain that it was filled with gold coins. Satisfied, she pushed it into her muff with her jewelry and closed the panel. Now she hurried out into the main hallway of the house again, and, going to the front door, she slowly, and not without some difficulty, drew the bolts securing the entrance aside. She did not have to wait long.