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Authors: M.C. Beaton,Marion Chesney

Tags: #Historical romance

The Adventuress: HFTS5 (15 page)

BOOK: The Adventuress: HFTS5
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Harriet reluctantly gave up her latest Attitude, which was of Pallas Athene looking down from Mount Olympus on Troy. It was an uncomfortable Attitude since it involved standing on one foot with the other foot raised behind and the hand shading the eyes while one arm clutched an imaginary shield.

“Oh, yes, quite
dégoûtant
how all the men fluttered around her.”

“A new beauty,” mused Mr. Pardon, correctly interpreting all this spite. “Must have a look at her.”

Chapter
Ten
 

His lordship may compel us to be equal upstairs, but there will never be equality in the servants’ hall
.

—Sir James Barrie

 

The rigid hierarchy of the servants’ hall was not observed in winter. And during the Season, it was usually less strict than in most households in the West End of London. But the flurry and work and rushing about caused by Emily’s wedding kept the servants firmly in their appointed places. Only by working like a well-drilled regiment with Rainbird as their colonel could they cope with the work and preparations. And down at the bottom of the servants’ social ladder was Lizzie. No one had time to pay her any special marked attention. Angus, recovered from his sick-bed and wrestling over preparations for the wedding breakfast, rapped out orders to Lizzie, experimented with sauces, decided against them, and gave her the resultant sticky mess to scrub. Dave, the pot boy, was being used to run errands.

And so Luke’s proposal and plans for their marriage sang in Lizzie’s tired brain. She forgot all the many kindnesses of the other servants, forgot she was allowed to study, to take walks, to wear pretty gowns, all favours not allowed to less fortunate scullery maids, and, for the first time in her life, grew tight-lipped and surly.

Joseph alone noticed the change in her, but tried to jeer and tease her out of it instead of simply asking her what had come over her.

Lizzie knew where their money was hidden. Palmer had once stolen it, and since that awful day, their savings had reposed in a tin box buried in the ground under a loose paving stone out in the yard. The day before Emily’s wedding was to be the day Lord Hampshire’s horse ran at Ascot. Lizzie had not been to church for some time. She forgot that gaining a position in a West End household had once seemed like the realisation of a dream.

She became more tired and more irritable but would still have never dreamt of touching their money had she not fallen into disgrace two days before the wedding.

Angus came back into the scullery carrying a copper saucepan and set it down beside Lizzie with a thump. “D’ye call this clean?” demanded the cook. “There’s still stuff sticking to the bottom of it.”

“I’m tired
of scrubbing pot after pot,” said Lizzie. “Leave it for Dave.”

“It’s
your
job, girl,” said Angus curtly. “Scrub out that pot immediately.”

“There was no need for this pot to be scrubbed in the first place,” snapped Lizzie. “You and your sauces! Trying one and then the other. You do it deliberately just so’s to give me more work!”

“Don’t be daft,” said the cook, “and don’t put on those hoity-toity airs wi’ me.”

“Why don’t you scrub the bloody thing yourself?” screamed Lizzie, her nerve snapping.

Her voice carried clear through into the servants’ hall. Rainbird came striding into the scullery, demanding to know what the matter was.

“This idiot of a girl is refusing to scrub the pots and she
swore
at me,” said Angus.

“What did she say?”

“She said ‘bloody,’” said Angus.

Overworked and rushed off his feet, Rainbird forgot that Lizzie was a friend as well as a scullery maid. Without pausing for thought, he dealt with Lizzie as any other butler would have dealt with a foul-mouthed kitchen maid. He grabbed her by the hair, twisted her head under his arm, seized a bar of yellow soap, and polished her mouth with it.

“That will be enough from you, miss,” he said. “Get on with your work.”

Without a word, Lizzie bent over the sink. Rainbird hesitated in the doorway of the scullery. Lizzie’s thin shoulders were shaking with sobs.

He shook his head in exasperation and walked out.

That night, after all the servants had fallen asleep, Lizzie, white and tense, went out into the yard and lifted the box with their savings up out of the ground, replaced the paving stone, and went to bed with the box tucked under the end of her blankets.

She had had a hurried consultation with Luke at the top of the area steps earlier in the day and had promised to hand him the box if he could contrive to be outside Number 67 at six in the morning.

On the day of her wedding, Emily was feeling dazed and frightened. She had gone through a wedding rehearsal the day before with the earl in a dark and undistinguished church called St. Stephen’s in one of the back wynds of the City of London.

Her wedding day dawned dark and rainy—a bad omen.

Alice, Jenny, and Mrs. Middleton arrived in her bedchamber at nine in the morning to array her in her wedding gown. It was not a traditional wedding gown, none of them wanting to alert the gossipy dressmakers of London. It was of white Brussels lace, made more like a morning gown than anything else, and on her head, instead of a veil, she wore a coronet of white silk roses and pearls.

Emily reflected she had not had a chance to talk to her future husband since his proposal. He had even left her immediately after the wedding rehearsal, saying he had some last-minute business to attend to.

Mr. Fitzgerald was to be bride-man and Mrs. Middleton was to be bridesmaid. It was all so wrong, thought Emily wretchedly. She was getting married under false pretences. The marriage would stand, no matter what happened, for Emily Goodenough was, by law, her real name. But, oh, how pleasant it would be to be married openly with all the earl’s relatives present, even his obnoxious sister, instead of rushing off to some dark church in this hole-and-corner way.

“But I am to be a countess,” Emily reminded herself fiercely, “and nothing else matters.”

When Emily was dressed, Mrs. Middleton made a little shooing motion with her hands and Jenny and Alice left the room.

Mrs. Middleton drew up a chair and sat down beside Emily. She was wearing the purple gown and turban she had worn when she was pretending to be the “princess’s” lady-in-waiting.

“My dear Miss Emily,” she said gently. “I wish I were related to you and then I would know how to counsel you as a young lady should be counselled on her wedding day.”

“Do not worry, Mrs. Middleton,” said Emily. “I have a good memory and will not make mistakes during the service.”

“Ahem.” Mrs. Middleton dabbed at her mouth with a silk lace-edged handkerchief and turned a severe look on the curtains. “I am talking about the … hem … delicate side of marriage.”

“Oh.” Emily blushed. It all rushed on her at once. She had only thought of being a countess; she had thought no farther than that.

“What is expected of me?” she asked in a whisper.

Mrs. Middleton had searched her memory for suitable advice during the night. She had been bridesmaid a long, long time ago and had overheard the mother advising the bride, and so she decided the best thing she could do was to pass that advice on to Emily.

“You will share a bed with his lordship tonight, Miss Emily.”

“Yes.”

“You must remember at all times to love and respect your husband, no matter what happens. Men have strange ways.”

“Go on,” said Emily. “What do I do?”

“You close your eyes very tightly and think of the king.”

Emily blinked. “King George?”

“Yes. His Majesty.”

“But I do not see how thinking of a mad king will take my mind off things.”

Mrs. Middleton was deeply shocked. “You must not utter such seditious words. His Majesty is unwell, that is all. He is a fine and noble gentleman.”

“But should I not be thinking of my husband?”

“The intimate acts of marriage are difficult for us ladies,” said Mrs. Middleton, and Emily, not knowing the “Mrs.” was only a courtesy title, thought the housekeeper was speaking from experience. “Only very low women share the lusts and passions of men.”

“Like me,” thought Emily bleakly, although she did not voice that thought aloud.

“But everything will be all right,” said Mrs. Middleton comfortingly. “I have never yet known a lady die from the experience.” She patted Emily’s hand. “Now I have put your mind at rest, I must go downstairs and make sure everything is ready for the wedding breakfast.”

After she had left, Emily buried her head in her hands. How could she stop herself from responding violently to her husband’s kisses and caresses?

“I will think of the king,” thought Emily fiercely. “I
will
think of the king.”

There was a gentle tap on the door. Emily called “Enter” in a shaky voice. Mr. Goodenough came into the room.

“You look very beautiful, Emily,” he said.

“Thank you,” muttered Emily, still worrying about the possible reactions of her common body.

“Fleetwood is a fine man,” said Mr. Goodenough. “I took the liberty of calling on him to speak to him in private late last night.”

“You did not tell him the truth!” exclaimed Emily.

“No,” said Mr. Goodenough sadly. “But I was close to it. He is an honourable man and I was sorely tempted to unburden myself, but I did not.”

“Then why did you call on him?”

“I feel you would have a better start in marriage were I not present in this house. No! Hear me out. You overrode me in the matter of staying here. I know you wish the support of these servants. But they are only rented servants, and soon you must take up your position in his home as his countess. I discussed the matter with him and he agreed that I should move this day to Park Lane. I will be near enough to you without intruding on your marriage.”

“Oh, Benjamin,” cried Emily, calling him by his first name as she used to do when they walked in the grounds of Sir Harry Jackson’s estate. “I cannot face this marriage without you.”

“That is not the remark of a woman in love. You
are
in love with him, are you not?”

Emily wanted to cry out that she did not know, that she was in love with the idea of having a title, that she had possibly made a terrible mistake. What had she thought marriage would be like? She had vaguely imagined the earl spending time in his club or in the country while she continued to live with Mr. Goodenough in much the way she had been doing. But Mr. Goodenough looked so frail, so anxious, she had not the heart to burden him with her fears.

“Yes, I am in love with Fleetwood,” she said bleakly. “Very.”

“Then that’s all right,” he said, kissing her cheek. “Now, it is almost time to leave.”

The next few hours passed like a dream. There was the journey through the rain to the church, there was the earl at the altar, there was his side of the church with quite a few guests—guests he obviously trusted to keep quiet about it—and, on her side, only the servants from Number 67. Goodness! That girl Lizzie looked about to faint. That one sharp image penetrated Emily’s dazed thoughts and then everything became dreamlike again as she walked up the aisle on Mr. Goodenough’s arm.

She felt as if someone else were making the vows for her. The earl looked very grand and remote. The church was dark and cold and a rising wind outside sent thin, dreary shivers of sound down from the bells in the steeple.

Behind the altar were the Ten Commandments picked out in gold; all the thou-shalt-nots to remind the weary sinner of multiple transgressions. The smell of incense mixed with the smell of musk from the guests and with the throat-catching aroma of dry rot from the old building.

And then it was all over. The register was signed and Emily walked out into the rain, no longer Emily Jenkins or Emily Goodenough, but the Countess of Fleetwood.

“Well, here we are, man and wife,” said the earl cheerfully as they drove off.

“Yes,” said Emily in a small voice.

She looked pale and agitated, but the earl put that down to bride nerves and decided to remain silent for the rest of the journey to allow her to compose herself. But that very silence made Emily feel worse. What was he thinking? Was he already regretting taking such a step? His high-nosed face looked thoughtful and somewhat stern. What did she know of him? His sister had charged him with killing his wife. What if it were true?

At the wedding breakfast, Emily was introduced to some of the earl’s relatives—but not his sister, who had not been sent an invitation—and a few friends. She smiled and curtsied to each and then promptly forgot their names.

Round about her came murmurs of appreciation as one after another of Angus’ miraculous dishes appeared on the table. Emily began to drink steadily until the room, the dishes, her husband, and the guests became a comfortable blur.

At one point during the meal, the house was rent with a terrible scream which died away in a long, sobbing wail of anguish. Rainbird ran from the room and returned some ten minutes later, his face hard and set. He murmured apologies. One of the kitchen maids had scalded herself, he said. The earl noticed, however, that Rainbird then bent over Mrs. Middleton, who was seated at the table, and murmured something in her ear, and the housekeeper stifled an exclamation of distress.

BOOK: The Adventuress: HFTS5
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