Authors: Edith Layton
Tags: #Regency Romance
The Disdainful Marquis
By Edith Layton
Copyright 2015 by Estate of Edith Felber
Cover Copyright 2015 by Untreed Reads Publishing
Cover Design by Ginny Glass
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
Previously published in print, 1983.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, dialogue and events in this book are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to companies and actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Also by Edith Layton and Untreed Reads Publishing
The Duke's Wager
The Disdainful Marquis
For three particular graces:
Dottie, Gillian, and RenÃ©e
The pavements were gray, the houses were gray, the very air was gray with cold October fog. Although it was a damp mizzly dank day in London, the fog did have its capricious moments. Here and there it lifted its skirts, or blew in little skirlish puffs to create small pockets of translucence so that anyone who had to be abroad on such a wretched afternoon had at least some small chance of finding their direction. But they had to be quick about it and gain their bearings to head in the right direction before the fickle mists encompassed them completely again. It was altogether a dreadful day for a stranger to be traversing the city, with the fog being so coy and whimsical.
The inhabitants of the city were used to the weather's vagaries, in much the same way that they might be used to an eccentric aunt's changes of mood. Those who had to be up and about traveled the streets with an air of grim tolerance, and they called comments to each other about how she was a right terror again today. But those who could afford to, avoided the outdoors entirely. And so the fog, most democratically covering the city's length from its most palatial houses to its most wretched stews, ironically only served to point out the undemocratic distribution of wealth and class. The poor groped about the town because they had to, the rich stayed snug at home because they chose to, and the only other travelers were the adventurers.
The occupants of the hired coach that picked its way through the mist-shrouded streets did not feel like adventurers. The rotund gentleman who kept tapping his neat little well-shod foot against the floorboards and consulting his gold watch and emitting periodic stifled sighs felt put upon, and his every ill-concealed gesture of impatience showed it. He was cold; the damp had crept through the floorboards and the ill-fitting windows of the coach into his very bones. He was bored, traveling through the gray city with nothing but gray vapor showing outside the windows. And he was hungry; his watch clearly showed teatime, just as his stomach had been telling him for the last hour. Yet every time his companion glanced at him, he tucked the watch back into his pocket, put on a brave smile of sweet forbearance, and pretended to gaze out the milky windows with active interest.
“Poor Arthur,” his companion thought guiltily as she watched him once again check his timepiece and heard another little muffled sigh. She smiled brightly at him and wished again that she felt half so bright as she pretended. In truth, if he felt cold and weary and his every motion showed that he thought himself on a fool's errand, then she felt colder and wearier because the whole day had been a crashing disappointment. Added to that, she knew she was the fool who had sent him on the errand. But he only suffered boredom and hunger. She was enduring the pangs of crushing defeat.
It had seemed so reasonable, Catherine remembered, when she had been back at home, carefully penning all the letters to the London employment bureaus, stating her qualifications and expectations of a position. It had seemed so correct a course to take, seeking some kind of genteel position in Britain's greatest city, so as not to be any further burden upon Arthur or her stepsister now that they were expecting an addition to their family. For despite all their protests to the contrary, she knew that it was not right that they should support not only a new marriage and the coming of a new baby, but also an unwed stepsister as well. And a stepsister who, she felt, could well be able to support herself if only she were not a resident of a little country town. But London! She had been sure she would be able to find a place for herself there. But she hadn't. And now the coach was taking her to her last interview, her last chance to find a post. For she knew Arthur would never again take her to the City, and never allow her to go by herself. It was propriety and duty that had forced him to come so far with her; if she failed, he would be careful not to say “I told you so” more than a dozen times to her, for he was basically a kind man, but he would never be persuaded to leave Kendal on such a mission again.
She glanced down again at the small pasteboard card she held tightly in her little gray glove. “Introducing Miss Catherine Robins,” it stated in flourishing script, “to see Her Grace the Duchess of Crewe in reference to a position on Her Grace's staff.” It was signed, with another discrete flourish, “The Misses Parkinson, Employment Counselors.” It was the last card she had. The other six lay, crumpled and used, deep in her reticule, mute testimony to her failures in the past two days.
Yesterday, on Catherine's very first call, Mrs. Oliphant had taken her card, taken one look at her, and screeched, “Oh no, my dear, you'll never do. Really, you won't do at all. Why, just take a look at Mum, just have a look. Why, I can't even lift her when she's a mind to be propped up for tea in bed. How can a slip of a lass like you do it?”
And, in truth, Mrs. Oliphant's mama had just lain there deep in her bed like a beached whale and grinned up in concurrence with her daughter. “Aye,” she had puffed, “my arm's just the size of your waist, luv,” and she had wheezed with laughter at the look on Catherine's face when she lifted said member and waved it about.
“But,” Catherine had gone on gamely, “the agency said you required a lady's companion, not a nurse.”
“Nurse!” Mrs. Oliphant replied, affronted. “Mum don't need a nurse. She's sharp as a tack just as she always was, but a lady's companion don't just sip tea and tattle. No, we need someone to shift her, now and again. Get her up out of bed when the weather suits. Dress her and lead her about now that she's not too sure on her feet. No, my dear, you'll never do.”
“You don't weigh up, lass,” the older woman had cackled, from her bed. “That's all. You'll do when you gain a few stone.”
Catherine hadn't “done” for Miss Coleman either. That aged spinster had given Catherine a few sharp looks and then had said in her crackling voice, “Not suitable. Sorry, Miss Robins, but you're too young to have one thing in common with me, and I do like to while away the evenings in friendly chatter.”
She had been “too young” for Mrs. Webster's great-aunt, and “too inexperienced” for Sir Stephen's mother-in-law. “Not what we're looking for,” Mrs. Bartlett had said succinctly, and Lady Brewer hadn't even given a reasonâshe had just sighed and said in her fadeaway voice, “Oh, not at all suitable.” And Mrs. White had just given her one gimlet-eyed look and snapped, “Not in this house, my girl. Not with three young sons on the premises. We want an older female to companion my aunt.”
Catherine sat erect and listened to the horses' muffled tread. This call was her last, she had left it for last because she had felt that a duchess would be far harder to suit than any mere Mrs. Whites or Mrs. Oliphants. In fact, she had thought not to dare try for the position of a duchess's companion. But now she had toâit was her last chance. If she failed at that, it would be back to Kendal, back to Jane and Arthur's little house, there to wait for their children to arrive, to be a dependent till she dwindled to nothing more than a dependent devoted auntie. For she had no finances and no parents, and her birth placed her too high for Kendal's sheep farmers to aspire to, and her dowry too low for anyone higher. Most of Arthur's merchant friends were married and even the vicar had a large and hopeful family. No, the duchess was her last chance, she thought, as she sat up straighter and thought frantically of how she could present herself so that she could at last “suit,” and wondered why she had so far failed so ignobly.
The coachman could have told her. But she was a lady, so he didn't dare be so cheeky. But when she had loomed up out of the fog to step into his coach, he had, for one moment waxed poetical and thought that in her muted cherry pelisse she had looked like a little robin redbreast come to cheer up London on a dark winter's day. In that moment's lapse of fog, her wellspaced sapphire eyes had twinkled up at him, and he had drunk in her fresh white complexion and noted, with approval, one saucy nose, two delightfully red lips, and a cluster of ebony curls beneath her gray bonnet. He had warmed for one moment, just looking at her.
Her brother-in-law could have told her. All the fellows he knew had tweaked him, from the moment he had married Jane, about the two dashing-looking females he now housed. Jane was well-enough-looking, they had teased, but to have another smashing-looking female under his wing as well was the outside of enough. He had laughed with them, for they meant no harm, but it did give a fellow a sense of well-being to come home to two delightful young women, to be stared at when he promenaded with them, one on either arm, to be waited on after dinner by two attentive and lovely young women. Not that he thought of his sister-in-law in that way, no, that would be most improper. But it was rather a treat to have her around. He would be glad when this job-hunting nonsense was over and she came back to Kendal with him and they could go on just as before, the three of them. As for ever telling Catherine that she was a stunner, that was a thing that just wasn't done. While Jane might tell him that Catherine took no account of her looks at all, that was too much to ask a fellow to believe.
But of all the reasons for her failure in obtaining a position that Catherine tortured herself with, her looks were not brought into account at all. She thought raven tresses were commonplace, and bright blue eyes unexceptional, and her complexion ordinary, and her overall appearance unfortunate. She conceded she was not ill favored, but that was all. For Mama had been a pale and stately blonde, and her half-sister, Jane, had also the fair hair and light hazel eyes that were Catherine's only standard of true feminine beauty. Papa, she remembered from far back in the dim recesses of memory of childhood, had been dark haired and blue eyed. That was well enough for a male, but it was Mama who had been beautiful and feminine and sought after. And Jane, who seemed from her five years' seniority over Catherine to be the most beautiful of females. Catherine thought of many reasons for her failure as the coach proceeded through the streets of London, things that ranged from wearing the wrong sort of gloves to not speaking clearly or standing straight enough, but never once did the thought of simply being too young and too alarmingly lovely enter her mind. No one, after all, had told her so. Except for Mama and Jane, and they were just being kind. And a few scalawags in the streets over the years, and they were just being rowdy.