Authors: Katharine Ashe
Tags: #Historical romance, #Fiction
How to Be a Proper Lady
A Falcon Club Novel
To Laurie LaBean and Kimberly Van Horn, women I admire so deeply. For your encouragement, affection, and enthusiasm I am forever thankful.
And to Marquita Valentine, dear friend, in profound gratitude.
Conscience, the torturer of the soul, unseen,
Does fiercely brandish a sharp scourge within.
The Pirates Own Book
he girls played as though nothing could harm them. For nothing could on the crest of the scrubby green Devonshire hill overlooking the ocean where they had played their whole lives. Their father was a baron, and they wore white quilted muslin to their calves and pinafores embroidered with silk.
The wind was mild, blowing their skirts about slender legs and whipping up their hair, dislodging bonnets again and again. The elder, twelve, tall and long-limbed like a boy, picked the most delicate bluebells, fashioning them into a bouquet. The younger, petite and laughing, swung her arms wide, scattering wild violets in a circle about her. She ran, dark ringlets streaming behind, toward the edge of the cliff. Her sister followed, a dreaming glimmer in her eyes, golden locks swishing about her shoulders.
A sail appeared upon the horizon leagues away where azure sky met glittering ocean.
“If I were a sailor, Ser,” the younger sister called across the hillock, “I would become captain of a great tall ship and sail to the ends of the earth and back again simply to say that I had.”
Serena shook her head fondly. “They do not allow girls to become sailors, Vi.”
“Who gives a rotten fig for what they allow?” Viola’s laughter caught in the breeze curling about her.
“If any girl could be a sea captain, it would be you.” Serena’s eyes shone warm with affection.
Viola rushed to swing her arms about her sister’s waist. “You are a princess, Serena.”
“And you are an imp, for which I admire you greatly.”
“Mama admires sailors.” Viola skipped along the edge of the sheer drop. “I saw her speaking with one when we were in Clovelly for the ribbons.”
“Mama is kind to everyone.” Serena smiled. “She must have been giving the man an alms.”
But it had not looked like Mama was giving him alms. She had spoken with the sailor for many minutes, and when she returned to Viola, tears teetered in her eyes.
“Perhaps he wished for more alms than Mama could give him.”
The ship came closer and lowered a longboat, twelve men at oars. The sisters watched. They were accustomed enough to the sight, living so close to a harbor as they did, yet ever curious as the young are.
“Do you think they are smugglers, Ser?”
“I suppose they could be. Cook said smugglers were about when she went to market Wednesday. Papa says smugglers are to be welcomed because of the war now.”
“I don’t recognize the ship.”
“How would you know to recognize any ship?”
Viola rolled her dark eyes. “Its banner, silly.”
The boat came toward the beach fifty feet below, knocking against the surf, its bow jutting up and down like a butter churn. Men jumped out, soaking their trousers in the waves. They pulled the craft onto the pebbly sand. Four of them moved toward the narrow path that wound its way up the cliff side.
“It looks as though they mean to climb straight up,” Serena said, taking her lower lip between her teeth. “Onto Papa’s land?”
Viola grasped her sister’s fingers. To be so close to real smugglers was something she had only dreamed. She might ask them about their travels, or their cargo. They could have something truly precious aboard, priceless treasure from afar. They would surely have stories to tell of those far-off places.
“Hold my hand, Ser,” she said on an excited quaver. “We shall greet them and ask their business.”
The sailor in the lead was a stocky man and well-looking in a dark fashion, not in the least scabrous or filthy as one might expect. He and his companions came along the crest of their father’s land directly toward Viola and Serena.
“Why,” Viola exclaimed, “that is the same sailor Mama gave alms to the other day.”
But nothing concerned the girls in this, or in the sailor’s greeting, broad and smiling as he glanced at their locked hands. For they had the love of sisters, fierce and tender, and nothing could harm them.
The people of our great kingdom must not suffer another farthing of their livelihoods to be squandered on the idle rich. Thus, my quest continues! In rooting out information concerning that mysterious gentlemen’s establishment at 14½ Dover Street, the so-called Falcon Club, I have learned an intriguing morsel of information. One of its members is a sailor and they call him Sea Hawk.
Birds, birds, and more birds! Who will it be next, Mother Goose?
Unfortunately I have not learned the name of his vessel. But would it not be unsurprising to discover him to be a member of our navy or a commissioned privateer? Yet another expenditure of public funds on the personal interests of those whose privilege is already mammoth.
I will not rest until all members of the Falcon Club are revealed or, due to my investigating, the Club itself disbands in fear of thorough detection.
In Care of Brittle & Sons, Printers
Your persistence in seeking the identities of the members of our humble club cannot but gratify. How splendid for us to claim the marked attentions of a lady of such enterprise.
You have hit the mark. One of us is indeed a sailor. I wish you the best of good fortune in determining which of the legion of Englishmen upon the seas he is. But wait! May I assist? I am in possession of a modest skiff. I shall happily lend it to you so that you may put to sea in search of your quarry. Better yet, I shall work the oars. Perhaps sitting opposite as you peer over the foamy swells, I will find myself as enamored of your beauty as I am of your tenacious intelligence—for only a beauty would hide behind such a daunting name and project.
I confess myself curious beyond endurance, on the verge of seeking your identity as assiduously as you seek ours. Say the word, madam, and I shall have my boat at your dock this instant.
Secretary, The Falcon Club
I planted the missive bearing the code name so that LJ might find it and busy herself chasing shadows. The old girl’s pockets are no doubt as empty as her boasts, and she must keep her publishers happy.
In fact, the code name Sea Hawk may well be defunct. I have had no direct communication from him in fifteen months. The Admiralty reports that he yet holds a privateer’s commission, but has had no news from him since the conclusion of the Scottish affair more than a year ago. Even in his work for the Club he has rarely followed any lead but his own. I suspect he has resigned as we previously imagined. We must count England fortunate that he is now at least nominally loyal to the crown, rather than its enemy.