Authors: Janet Mullany
Mr Bishop and the Actress
Copyright © 2011 Janet Mullany
The right of Janet Mullany to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
First published as an Ebook by Headline Publishing Group in 2011
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library
eISBN : 978 0 7553 8608 6
This Ebook produced by Jouve Digitalisation des Informations
HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP
An Hachette UK Company
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
Table of Contents
little black dress
IT’S A GIRL THING.
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little black dress
Five interesting things about Janet Mullany:
1. My favourite books are
Wives and Daughters
by Mrs Gaskell, because it is so lush and romantic;
by Charlotte Brontë for its passion and subversiveness; and
by Jane Austen, for its perfect plotting.
2. On the other hand, my commuter reading tends to be the same sort of stuff everyone reads, and my rating system for good reads includes missed stops (very good) and wrong lines (very, very good).
3. Once, staying overnight in an old house, I woke up and heard someone breathing. I was alone in the room. I got out fast.
4. I like tea. I mean, really like tea. I get mean if I don’t get enough.
5. When I was five my brother pushed me into a tadpole pond. To this day he denies it.
Fine out more about Janet at
To the Tarts
Thanks to Lucienne and the Little Black Dress team; the staff at the Regency Town House, Brighton; Pam, Miranda, and all my other writing buddies; Alison, Steve, and all the usual suspects.
Miss Lewisham’s Academy for Gentlewomen, 1799
ophie clung to the ladder, her face a pale oval in the dark as she looked up at the two girls peering out of the window. ‘Promise me we shall always be friends.’
‘Yes, yes. But hurry!’
Captain Wallace’s cigar streaked through the air like a small comet as he tossed it aside and crushed it beneath a well-polished regimental boot. ‘Come along, Sophie my love, there’s a good girl.’
‘Sssh!’ Claire and Lizzie said together.
They could hear sounds of activity from downstairs, the rattle of a poker in a grate and the scrape of a chair on a wooden floor.
Claire pushed Lizzie aside, Sophie’s trunk in her arms. ‘Catch, Captain!’
Sophie gave a small shriek as her possessions hit her beloved in the midriff. He sat down heavily, saying some words unfamiliar to the three young ladies.
Sophie took a step up the ladder, one slender hand reached out.
‘What are you
?’ Claire tried to push her back down. ‘You promised him! You can’t—’
‘My bonnet. You have forgotten my new bonnet.’
Claire looked around the room, snatched up a hat box, and hurled it out of the window.
Below, a spill of warm golden light on to the ground indicated that someone, probably Miss Lewisham herself, had lit a lamp to investigate the strange noises outside, which now included the audible swearing of the muddy and lovestruck Captain.
‘Always! Promise me!’ Sophie said.
‘Yes, we shall always be friends. But please hurry, Sophie.’
She took a step down the ladder. ‘In five years?’
‘Damnation,’ said Claire, a daring word used for special occasions only, then whispered out of the window, ‘Lewisham is coming upstairs. We’ll always love you, Sophie, we’ll always be best friends. Please go.’ She hissed to Lizzie, ‘Lady Macbeth!’
The stair creaked as Miss Lewisham ascended.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘As we arranged! Lady Macbeth! Sleepwalk, Lizzie.’
‘I can’t! Why don’t
‘We agreed, in dire emergency, if Lewisham awoke—’
‘Running outside the room and vomiting, then.’
‘You promised’, Claire whispered, ‘that you would create a diversion if necessary. You were supposed to ask Skinny Letitia how to vomit at will. You—’
From outside Sophie squealed and Lizzie and Claire rushed to the window to see the Captain toss her into his curricle, where she landed sprawled in a disorder of petticoats, clutching at her hat. He leaped aboard and whipped his team into a gallop.
Lizzie took advantage of the commotion to pull the window shut and the curtains drawn. Outside Sophie’s hatbox lay deserted in a puddle, forgotten as Captain Wallace and his intended bride rushed off to Gretna Green.
A door opened and closed as Miss Lewisham checked rooms.
Claire and Lizzie jumped into bed and composed themselves into the semblance of maidenly slumber. An effigy lay in Sophie’s bed: a nightcap on the pillow, rolled-up cloaks beneath the sheets.
Their door creaked open to reveal Miss Lewisham in her night-time glory, her hair tied in multicoloured rags to achieve the rigid curl of daytime. The two girls slowed their breathing until the light of Miss Lewisham’s candle faded as she closed the door behind her and continued down the corridor to find which of her chicks had flown the nest.
‘Fifteen years,’ Claire whispered. ‘We’ll be old. Thirty!’
They both giggled in horror.
‘But we’ll still all be friends,’ Lizzie said.
‘Still friends.’ Claire yawned. ‘So long as Sophie keeps her promise to tell us about the wedding night.’
They lay awake for a little, knowing they would be sent home in disgrace when Sophie’s elopement and their roles as conspirators were revealed.
They entered the marriage mart armed with modest dowries, some prettiness, impeccable pedigrees, and the fragments of an imperfect education.
Claire made a brilliant match and Lizzie a respectable but modest one.
And Sophie . . . Sophie chose a different direction.
Mr Harry Bishop
iscount Shadderly’s household, in which I have accepted the position of steward, is in a shocking state.
Three retired seamen who barely make a whole man between them, for one misses an eye, another a leg and the third an arm, are the footmen. I dread to think what will happen if they must carry soup. The upper footman, currently the most senior of the staff, is one Jeremiah whose lamentations about my departed predecessor centre chiefly on the gentleman’s abnormally large feet, for Jeremiah considered himself the natural heir to Mr Roberts’ cast-off boots. He regards my feet with dismay.