Authors: Kate Dolan
Lucia stifled another groan. What might Helen try to collect in London? And where? “Remember, Helen, that in town ladies never venture in public on their own. Never. In fact, you are not out, yet, so you may not go anywhere without a proper chaperone. And that means me.”
Helen’s eyes widened to an even greater degree, giving the appearance that they might jump free from her face were she given just the merest jolt from behind. “Lucia, does that mean I may not go out on walks with your maid in the mornings?”
“Err, no. I’ve not had the opportunity to hire a maid as of yet.” It seemed a futile exercise, really. After a month or two, the personal servants always gave notice. All except Nicholas, and his service was so diluted as to be of dubious value. With the aid of neighboring villagers they hired to care for the house, gardens and stables, they had been able to get along well enough. In the country. Here, however, they would need at least one personal maid to dress their hair and keep their clothing in shape. Lucia had already infringed upon Peggy’s services more than she would have liked. She would need to hire a maid if they were to stay.
Which was absolutely out of the question.
“But you needn’t worry, Helen.” Lucia squeezed her sister’s hand to reassure her. “Our stay in London will not be a long one and I shall make my company available for frequent walks during that time.”
Eugenie, who had been speaking with the butler about dinner or some such arrangement, now entered back into the conversation. “Whatever do you mean, Lucia?”
“I shall take Helen out every morning—”
“No, not that. You said your stay in town would not be long.”
“Of course. We’ll take rooms for a few days and then—”
“You shall do no such thing! You shall all stay right here, in this house, and finish the season. And you will enjoy it.” It almost seemed that Eugenie stamped her foot at this last pronouncement.
“But how can we? To do so would impose upon you too much.”
“Nonsense. We have plenty of room, so long as you don’t object to sharing a bedroom with your sister.”
“No, but…” Lucia nodded toward her brother and sister, then leaned in to whisper to her friend. “I believe I explained to you earlier why this would not be a good idea!”
“I think,” Eugenie pronounced, “that you are much mistaken. You have all simply lived too long in isolation. The company of town and the pleasures of society are what you all need to restore a sense of balance to your lives. And I shall see that you all get a full measure.”
“You do not know what you are proposing, Eugenie.”
“Oh yes I do. And believe me, Lucia, one day you shall thank me for this.” Eugenie patted her on the hand before turning to lead them out to dinner.
“I wouldn’t stake my dowry on it,” Lucia muttered as she followed her friend from the room. “Not a single farthing.”
* * * * *
Edmund was not certain how long he had been asleep this time. The room was dark with little evidence of light at the window, but darkness came early enough at this time of year that it was difficult to ascertain the time—it could have been five o’clock or well past midnight.
The rapping at the door that awakened him, however, indicated that it was more likely to be the former than the latter. Flickering light framed the edge of the doorway. “Rutherford, are you awake?”
“Getting there.” Edmund yawned, pleased that the two split pieces of his skull now seemed to be fusing back together once more. He sat up, grateful that he had not bothered to undress earlier so that he was decently clothed to meet whoever chose to visit him in exile.
A key turned in the lock and the door soon opened. Adrington stepped forward, the candle in his hand illuminating a handsome face creased with concern. “You look well enough,” he said uncertainly. “How do you feel?”
“I feel quite well, apart from having the impression that my head was cleaved into two pieces last night.” Edmund looked toward the shuttered window. “It’s almost the next night now, isn’t it?”
“Yes. We thought it best to let you rest after…after…”
Edmund grinned and tried to lighten the mood. “I suppose I must have had rather too much to drink last night. New recipe of Kennedy’s. Potent stuff, that.” He slid off the bed. “Did you happen to bring a candle? The maid seems to have missed this room on her rounds to fill the candle-boxes this afternoon.”
Adrington watched him as if in a trance. “Yes, of course.” He shook himself into motion, removing two candles from his coat pocket. Handing one to Edmund, he fixed the other into the empty candlestand near at hand.
Edmund stepped over to retrieve a candlestick from the mantel. “I don’t even remember how I earned this bump on the head. Must have been a terrific brawl.”
“Uh, well, I suppose you could say that.”
“Don’t tell me—it wasn’t a fight at all.” He grinned. “I banged my head against something and knocked myself out cold in front of the whole company. Was that it?”
“Have you a knife with you?” Edmund held up the candlestick with the remains of a candle stub embedded in the base. “My pocket knife seems to have gone missing.”
Adrington took out a knife but seemed reluctant to hand it over.
Edmund had to turn away to hide the smile that threatened to burst into a laugh. He could not very well blame the man for his hesitancy in handing over a dangerous implement—after all, Edmund had tried to bite him the previous night.
“Here, allow me.” Adrington reached for the candlestick, then dug in the knife blade to pry out the embedded wax. After he handed the empty candlestick back, he folded and pocketed the knife. Then he waited, watching Edmund closely.
Edmund decided to drop the subject of the head wound. He had made his point—that he didn’t “remember” how it had happened—and it was better just now not to remind Adrington how it actually had. “I hope I’ve not slept through dinner?”
“No. The ladies will be coming up to dress shortly.”
“Then I had better get a start.” Edmund rubbed his unshaved chin. “I don’t want to frighten them.”
“Yes, um, do you not think you might prefer to dine in your room tonight?”
“I don’t believe so. I’m feeling much better, and I do think I would enjoy some company.”
“Are you certain? I could dine up here with you, so you would not be alone.”
“No, no, I don’t want to put you to any trouble. I am quite up to it, I assure you. Of course, I won’t be sampling any of Kennedy’s handiwork tonight.” He touched the back of head and winced. “Or ever again, for that matter.”
“Do you really think that’s what it was?” Adrington asked softly.
Adrington turned and paced several steps away. “You behaved rather oddly last night, Rutherford.”
“Oh. I suppose I ought to dock Kennedy for sending me out in public under the influence of his distilled evil spirits.” Edmund paused. “Of course, last night I think I gave him a raise in salary.” He shrugged. “It seemed good stuff, at the time.”
Adrington turned back to face him. “If that was indeed the cause of your behavior, I’d suggest you destroy any remaining stock as well as the recipe.”
“Ha!” Edmund wagged a finger at him jokingly. “You wouldn’t be so quick to say that if you’d tasted it.”
“This is not a laughing matter, Rutherford. I don’t know how to say this, but somehow I must tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“Your behavior last night was not that of a drunken man. You behaved as if you’d gone insane. Everyone saw you and heard your lunatic ranting. By this afternoon, all of London will have known of it.”
“Oh. I see. What about Jeanne? Was she a witness to my…madness?”
“She had not yet come into the ballroom at the time of your…ill-mannered display. But of course, everyone told her of it soon afterward. We removed you to an empty room as quickly as possible. You exhibited your worst behavior there, but only a few people know of it.”
“Only a few?”
“Mountdale, of course. And my footmen.”
“No one else?” He was curious to know if Adrington knew the identity of the ladies in the room.
“A few others came into the room by accident. There was a lady, who, uh, refused to leave for some reason.”
“I don’t know. A friend of Georgiana’s, I suppose.”
“Did I frighten them?”
“I don’t know. I kept my attention focused on you, not the others.” Adrington stopped and raked his fingers through his hair. “Oh, you’ll hear of it soon enough, so I must tell you—you were acting like a dog.”
“I was? Barking and everything?”
“Yes, yes. Barking, crawling about on the floor. You even tried to bite people.”
“I think I understand now why you wish me to remain in my room tonight. No one wants a dinner companion who might try to bite them during the soup course.”
“So you understand?”
“Yes, and I will remain up here for tonight, if you desire. Or I can go home.”
“No, I don’t think you should leave so soon after your…injury.”
“Fine. I’ll concede for tonight. But tomorrow, I will come down and will mix with company, and I won’t so much as growl at anyone. I promise.”
Adrington looked as if he was trying to smile. “You really believe it was simply the drink?”
“I do. I feel well. Does my behavior seem at all odd now?”
“You see? Whatever may have happened last night, you can depend on it—it will never happen again.”
“Lucia, will you come into my room for a moment? I’ve something to show you.” Eugenie nodded toward her room with a conspiratorial wink and a glance back at Helen who followed them along the upstairs hallway.
Lucia shook her head, but it was too late.
“Why may I not see it too? Why did she not invite me?” Helen hurried on without giving anyone time to respond to her indignant outburst. “You can’t expect me to go down a strange hallway by myself. I won’t do it.”
“No, no, dear,” Lucia soothed her younger sister, gently taking her arm. “I shall walk you down the hall.”
“I want to see what’s in her room.”
“You know it’s not polite to insist when you’ve not been invited.”
“She invited you. Why did she not invite me? We are sisters of the same blood and family. I am as good as you. If you’re good enough to be invited, then I am as well. So it was wrong for her to—”
“Yes, yes, it was wrong,” Lucia narrowed her eyes at Eugenie, “for her to issue such an invitation, and I won’t be going, rest assured.” She moved her hands to Helen’s elbow and slowly guided her down the hall. “Our room is just down here, directly across from…this mousehole, see.” She pointed to a miniscule opening in the baseboard.
“Lucia!” Eugenie huffed down the hall after them. “That is not—”
Lucia waved her objection away. “Now, I shall open the door first, very slowly, and you can see that—”
“You’ve been sleeping on my side of the bed!” Helen rushed into the room, pointing accusingly at the pillow on the right side of the bed which looked, to the untrained eye, exactly like the pillow on the left.
Lucia made a quick mental calculation, then breathed a sigh of relief. “Last night you would have been sleeping on the other side, so I slept on this side. Tonight is Tuesday,” she ushered Eugenie inside and closed the door, “so naturally, Helen, you will be on this side.”
“Ha, that was silly of me, wasn’t it? I forgot that it would be a different side last night.” Helen laughed, a bright sound almost desperate with relief. “That
so silly of me, wasn’t it, Lu? I say, wasn’t it, Lu?”
“It was indeed. You are a very silly girl sometimes.” Lucia kissed her on the top of the head. “Would you like to fix the pillow now or do you want to wait,” she leaned in to whisper “until after you’ve changed into your night rail?”
Helen giggled as she looked at Eugenie.
“It really is not improper to speak about undergarments in front of a lady, Helen, particularly a close friend.”
“I know,” Helen snickered. “But it still sounds so funny.”
From the expressions crossing her face, Eugenie seemed to have recovered from her initial shock and had now settled into a general sense of confusion.
“Shall I help you,” Lucia leaned in again to her sister, “undress?”
I was going to fix the pillows first. I always fix the pillows first. I have to fix the pillow first. I can’t very well—”
“I am indeed sorry, Helen. I did not hear you.” Lucia waved toward the bed. “Please, do go ahead.”
Helen shot a resentful glance at Eugenie. “I don’t want her to watch. Does she have to be here?”
“Helen! That is very rude. And it is Eugenie’s house, after all. She has perfect right to go wherever she chooses.”
“No, no that’s just as well.” Eugenie retreated to the door. “I think I had better start settling in for the night myself. You will come and say goodnight to, uh…”