Read Miss Cheney's Charade Online

Authors: Emily Hendrickson

Tags: #Regency Romance

Miss Cheney's Charade (9 page)

BOOK: Miss Cheney's Charade
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They watched him for a few minutes. Lady Amelia keeping time by tapping a toe.

When they strolled on, Emma stumbled on the brick walk and found Sir Peter’s arm swiftly around her lest she fall. Her reaction to this treatment shocked her. Oddly enough, she found a peculiar sort of comfort and warm sense of security when held close to his side. Naturally, this could not be, and he soon released her. To her chagrin she discovered she rather missed his closeness.

“What is that lovely building over there?” Emma nodded to a rotunda facing the Great Walk. Lady Amelia and Lord Worcester lagged behind, exclaiming over a new diversion.

“Come, I shall show you. ‘Tis the New Music Room, where concerts are held during inclement weather.” He began to guide her in that direction when they encountered a group of jolly fellows intent on something else.

A rude fellow jostled Emma, and she shrank back against Sir Peter. It was most likely lucky for the man that Sir Peter felt obliged to care for Emma and not press the man for his rudeness, for the dark look he gave the man made her shiver.

Inside the building Emma came to a halt, thus bringing Sir Peter to a standstill as well. Elaborate carvings and niches were everywhere, painted white and bloom color. Portraits of their Majesties were to either side of the entrance. There seemed no end to the elaboration of decoration, and Emma whispered—the place had that effect on one—to Sir Peter, “I do believe he became a bit carried away in here,” referring to the creator of the place.

The orchestra sat to the left, and there was a sort of desk for the musical performers behind which Emma could see an impressive organ. A chandelier at least eleven feet in diameter held an incredible number of lamps in three rows. Beyond it the ceiling was painted as a shell with a picture in the center, and Emma thought it the prettiest room she could ever recall seeing.

She tilted her face up to inspect the carved plumes that crowned the windows, and Sir Peter drew closer. “Emma, there is something I should discuss with you.”

She immediately turned her attention to him, meeting those strange green eyes with wary regard.

Before he could open his mouth to tell her what it might be that appeared so important. Lady Amelia and Lord Worcester burst through the door.

“So, here you are. My heavens, what a place this is,” Lady Amelia cried. “Look, Edward, did you ever see so much carving in your life? Although I must say, that painting of Venus and the Loves is a trifle revealing for my taste.”

“As it is on the ceiling, you can easily avoid looking at it,” his lordship said with a sniff.

“It is too fine an evening to remain in here,” Emma urged, hoping a change would bring a stop to the petty quarreling of those two. She tugged at Sir Peter’s arm, and they led the way from the rotunda.

Emma thought he gave a resigned sigh, but she was not sure. Then she wondered if he planned to tell her that he knew of her disguise. She decided she would just as soon leave the unmasking until later—much later.

“I should like to see the ballet theater,” Lady Amelia begged prettily.

Her escort murmured, “You would.”

“Why, Edward, I have it on good authority that you are quite fond of the ballet... or the dancers at any rate. I was told you are a frequent visitor—a most successful one, in fact—to the green room after a performance.” She gave him a saucy look, then led him along to the door of the ballet theater.

Emma admired her daring while deploring her lack of tact. If, as Emma suspected. Lady Amelia truly liked Lord Worcester, Emma thought she would be better off by not sniping at him.

“Do you wish to view the ballet?” Sir Peter inquired while keeping her close to his side in the throng. His action enabled him to speak quietly. Shouting was so rude.

Emma found it difficult to answer. She knew she had best not be alone with Sir Peter again for many reasons. Yet she found his company very agreeable. It was a dilemma she had not expected to face.

“I believe I should like to see the marionette theater. I have ever known a fondness for the little puppets—they are usually so silly and agreeable. Would you mind if we went there instead?”

She was pleased that she had made the request when he turned a slow, amused smile at her. “Charming, I’m sure.”

After informing Lord Worcester of their intent. Sir Peter and Emma strolled along until they came to where the puppet show was being held.

They entered, then sat on a bench where Emma thought they might have a good view.

It proved to be delightful; far better, Emma suspected, than the ballet. And if Amelia and Lord Worcester quarreled, she did not wish to be near them.

The puppets were dressed in elaborate costumes, and the plot of the little play was unexpectedly good. She laughed and scarcely noticed when Sir Peter placed his arm at her back. She eventually gave him a questioning glance when at last she became aware of his action.

“No backs on these benches,” he said by way of explanation. “Thought I’d give you a bit of bracing.”

Emma turned a thoughtful countenance back to the little stage, but said nothing in reply. Were her mama to see this, Emma would receive a lecture on repulsing advances. Yet... was this truly an advance, or thoughtfulness?

At last the villain had been conquered, and the princess in the story fell neatly into the arms of the handsome prince, who had been in disguise for some time. Emma shrank a trifle when the disguise was stressed. Would it not be lovely if— when her disguise became known by Sir Peter—she could tumble into his arms? She rather suspected she might meet with a horrified stare and contempt. Life was not like a fairy tale.

They applauded, then rose and made their way slowly from the little theater.

Once outside, they walked back to the ballet theater, where they found Lord Worcester pacing back and forth. When he spotted them, he rushed forward, hands extended.

“Have you seen her?” He seemed quite frantic.

“No,” Sir Peter replied, having the sense to know his friend meant Lady Amelia.

“She made another of her little wicked remarks, and we had a few words. Then she flounced off, saying something about seeking better company. I thought she was teasing. In a few minutes, when I decided that perhaps she meant what she said, I came out here and she had disappeared. I was dashed glad to see you two come up, I can tell you.”

“We must search for her. But we can scarcely make a fuss, for it would destroy her reputation,” Sir Peter said with due consideration for the impulsive, peppery young lady.

“Split into three directions,” Emma said bravely. “I shall stay on the Great Walk while you two can explore the more poorly lit areas. I feel certain I will be all right in such a well-lit walk.”

“I do not believe that to be the case,” Sir Peter began when he was interrupted by his friend.

“That is an excellent notion. There are so many people about, you will be as safe as though you were at home.”

Emma was not convinced, but she felt it was imperative for three rather than two to hunt for Lady Amelia.

Sir Peter agreed with obvious reluctance, and the three set off in different directions. Sir Peter headed toward The Grand Cross Walk, while Lord Worcester indicated he intended to inspect the Lover’s Walk.

“Lady Amelia would likely go there just to spoil things for lovers,” he declared with a sour expression.

Emma grew very conscious of being alone and unprotected when she proceeded along the Great Walk all by herself. She could not see her parents, nor could she espy Lady Amelia. She thought it best to move slowly, to scrutinize every grotto, every statue, every little thing of interest placed along the bricked avenue for amusement. If she carefully avoided meeting anyone’s eyes, she might succeed in not being accosted. No sight of Lady Amelia could be found. At the far end of the walk Emma turned to retrace her steps.

So far she had managed to ignore the knowing looks and murmured invitations. The evening had not yet reached the point where drunken revelry became the norm of behavior.

At the entrance to the Hermit’s Walk she paused. Frowning, she stared more intently. Was that not Lady Amelia’s gown in the distance? Earlier she had said—in jest, Emma believed— that she wanted to see the hermit for herself.

Surely Lady Amelia was not so foolish as to traverse the dark walk alone!

Then Emma stiffened, for it seemed that not only was Lady Amelia in the Hermit’s Walk, but another person stood next to her. It also seemed to Emma that Lady Amelia backed away. A man was forcing his attentions upon her pretty young friend. Mercy!

Emma searched the throng of people who drifted along the central walk. Not a soul was around that she dared to ask for help. Surely it was too risky to wait.

Darting along the Hermit’s Walk, Emma thought herself a great fool to stupidly rush off by herself. Yet, something had to be done before Lady Amelia was harmed ... or worse.

Catching sight of a fallen limb, Emma stooped to pick it up, then stealthily slipped up behind the two who were in heated argument. The man had clasped Lady Amelia by her arm and apparently refused to free her.

“Well, my fancy leddy, you’ll give me a kiss or rue the day you came ‘ere. Anyone off by herself is askin’ for the likes of me. I’ll take care of you good and proper.” He laughed and then made an offer that made Lady Amelia cry out in fright.

Incensed at his crude talk and his insult to a Lady of Quality, Emma raised the limb and brought it down over the cursed fellow’s head.

He crumpled to a heap at their feet with a groan.

Emma dropped the limb, backing away even as Lady Amelia turned with a cry.

Lady Amelia hurled herself at Emma, weeping on her shoulder with abandon. At last she dried her tears on a scrap of linen.

“What a wretch he is. I merely wanted to stroll along to see the hermit. This creature”—Lady Amelia touched the still form with the tip of her slipper—”insisted I must go off with him. As though I would ever do anything so stupid.” She sniffed into the handkerchief again.

“Perhaps you ought to have waited for all of us. I should have liked to see the hermit as well, I believe. Lord Worcester is beside himself with worry for you.”

Lady Amelia brightened. Truly?”

“You are very unkind to him, I believe.”

“He deserves every bit of it. You have no notion what I have suffered at his hands over the years.”

“Well, I doubt if you endear yourself to him with harsh words or teasing,” Emma observed while edging away from the man on the ground who showed signs of recovering from the blow to his head.

“We had best return to face their anger, I suppose,” Lady Amelia said, following this observation with a deep sigh.

“Let us hurry. I should not like to be here when that odious man comes to, I believe,” Emma muttered, urging her friend along the walk toward the central area at a faster pace.

They passed couples along the way, the girls giggling, the men persuasive. Lady Amelia sniffed in disdain.

“What silly geese those girls are.”

“Happy, however, I suspect,” Emma replied, now almost running in her eagerness to reach the more well-lit area.

They were breathless when they came to the Great Walk.

Lady Amelia looked about for a bench upon which to sink down.

She explained, “Edward will crown me, and not with jewels, either. I believe I’d rather be seated when he does.” She plumped herself down on the first bench she saw.

“I think you are a trifle cruel to him,” Emma said while repressing a smile.

Sir Peter came up to them with a rush. “Wherever did you find her? We have looked everywhere.” He bestowed a disgusted look on the unhappy Lady Amelia.

Just behind him Lord Worcester came hurrying along, his face contorted in wrath. He marched up to where Lady Amelia perched on the edge of the stone bench and stopped, staring down at her.

Then, while Emma gasped in alarm, he hauled her up. He clasped her firmly with his two hands and looked as though he were merely assisting her. Emma suspected the gentleman longed to shake Lady Amelia. He gazed down at her face.

“Amelia,” he began, then halted. A rather odd expression crept over his features as he held his nemesis close to him, his hands clasping her slender arms so tightly.

“Edward?” she replied hesitantly. She sounded curious and breathless at the same time.

They might have stood that way for some time, but were interrupted.

“Ah, so here you are,” Lady Titheridge cried with seeming pleasure from off to their right. She was accompanied by several elegant ladies and gentlemen, none of whom Emma knew,

“You could not miss this affair, either?” Sir Peter said with a fond look at his aunt.

“I am pleased you bring Miss Cheney. She has been a great help to me lately,” her ladyship said with an affectionate smile at Emma.

Sir Peter gave Emma a quizzical look while she prayed that Lady Titheridge would hold her tongue. Precisely what Emma could have been helping with was beyond her at the moment. It seemed to her that just when she began to relax, another pitfall opened before her, ready to entrap her. She wished she had not begun this pretence.

If her ladyship told Sir Peter that Emma had been drawing her precious treasures collected during her many travels. Sir Peter might acquire ideas he did not already have regarding the identity of George.

Yet... she recalled the emotions that came over her when she had studied the mummy with Sir Peter at her side, explaining numerous details to her. She would not have missed that for anything.

“I say. His Royal Highness has arrived,” one of Lady Titheridge’s party announced much to Emma’s relief.

Emma had only viewed the Prince Regent at a distance, and she looked forward to seeing him closer up.

The first gentleman of Europe, as some called him, made his way along the walk. Numerous lords and ladies attended him, clustering about him as he strolled along.

He exchanged casual greetings with many, and when he came to Sir Peter, he paused to greet him, commenting, “How goes the Egyptian business? One of these days I should like a viewing if I may.”

BOOK: Miss Cheney's Charade
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