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Authors: The Bath Quadrille

Amanda Scott

BOOK: Amanda Scott
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The Bath Quadrille
Amanda Scott

Contents

Prologue

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

A Biography of Amanda Scott

Preview: Bath Charade

For Terry

Prologue

“W
ELL, OF ALL THE
odd things!” Jane Calverton, Marchioness of Axbridge, adjusted her silver-rimmed spectacles, held the letter she was reading a bit farther away, and peered at it, her bright blue eyes squinting as she frowned at the scrawl crisscrossing the page. “I do wish Lucretia would be more precise in what she writes, but if I read this correctly, ’tis very odd indeed.”

Her son, Edmond, presently styled Earl of Ramsbury, looked up from his morning paper, his severe countenance softening as it generally did when he gazed at her. He was a broad-shouldered, dark-haired gentleman with eyes several shades darker than his mother’s. “What is it, ma’am?” he asked. “My Aunt Lucretia still resides in Bath, does she not? ’Tis a city with more than its fair share of odd things, not least of which is my aunt herself, but what can possibly be amiss there to concern you?”

His mother clicked her tongue. “If that is not just like you, Edmond, to assume such things. What makes you think that nothing interesting ever happens in Bath?”

“I have spent little time there, to be sure,” he admitted, “but I do know something about the town, ma’am. A sleepier, less exciting place to live, I cannot imagine.”

“Very likely not,” his mother replied with enough asperity to set the pink ribbons on her ruffled white cap aquiver. “You have never had much imagination, my love. I believe ’tis one reason dearest Sybilla decided she could not bear to live with you any longer.”

“Now see here, Mama,” he said, setting his paper aside, “I’ll not have you taking Sybilla’s part against me.”

“As if I would,” retorted the marchioness indignantly. “Not that I do not believe you were harsh to her, for you very frequently are harsh to people—not that you were not justified, of course,” she added hastily when his deep-set eyes narrowed with irritation.

“Just so,” he replied. “So we will not discuss Sybilla, if you please. What has my aunt written to distress you?”

Instead of answering this straightforward question in her usual candid manner, the marchioness quite unaccountably cast a guilty look at the letter she was holding. Glancing back at her son did not appear to comfort her either, for she bit her lower lip. “It is nothing, really,” she said at last, weakly. “You read your paper, darling. I ought not to have interrupted you.”

“No, surely not,” he said, gazing at her now with more attention than was commensurate with her comfort. “You do very wrong to speak to me when I am engaged in so important an activity as reading my
Morning Post
. Whatever can you have been thinking of?” When she looked away, he added with a touch of amusement, “Now, stop being absurd, Mama, and tell me what my aunt has written to you.”

His mother looked more uncomfortable than ever. “It is no great thing, Edmond, and whatever I say now will sound foolish. Moreover, you have said you do not wish to discuss the subject.”

“It will not be the first time you have managed to
sound
foolish, ma’am, though ’tis my experience that you rarely prove to be foolish at all. My curiosity is aroused, however, particularly since the only subject I have said I do not wish to discuss is that of my wife.”

She sighed. “It is only that Sybilla is in Bath.”

“Well, of course she is. She has been living in Royal Crescent with Sir Mortimer these sixteen months past.”

“Well, no,” his mother said, shaking her head forcefully enough to make her cap ribbons dance, “she hasn’t. If you will remember, darling, the fact that she was in London a month ago, just before Christmas, put you sadly out of temper, just as it did the time before that, though in point of fact, I cannot think why she should not go to London if she wishes to do so.”

“Never mind that,” said the earl. “Why did it startle you to learn that Sybilla is now in Bath?”

His mother looked more troubled than ever. “Oh, dear, you are so very like your father when you look at me like that, Edmond. I know you cannot mean to put me so forcibly in mind of him when he is safely out of the way for a few days, so perhaps my just giving you a hint—”

“Mama, I am rapidly beginning to feel just like him, I promise you. Will you just tell me what is troubling you?”

“Only that I had thought Sybilla was in London.”

“And why did you think that?”

“Well, I … that is, I wrote to her there.”

“I know you have corresponded with her,” he said gently. “You cannot have thought that hearing such a thing at this late date would put me out of temper, so what the devil is it?”

“Do not swear, Edmond. ’Tis very unbecoming.”

Ramsbury leaned forward in his chair and said softly, “Mama, I am losing my patience.”

The marchioness swallowed. “I … I sent her money.”


What
?”

Lady Axbridge winced. “I knew you would not quite like it.”

“Not
quite
like it? Madam, I am still Sybilla’s husband. If she needs money, she has only to ask me for it, though I cannot conceive of any reason great enough to warrant granting her more than the generous amount I already provide.”

“There, that is just what she said you would say,” the marchioness told him. “You think yourself so generous, but she cannot live on her allowance. She called it a pittance, Edmond, and really I cannot think why you should be so nipcheesing in your behavior toward her. She may not have proved to be the sort of wife you hoped she would be, though my own opinion is that you rubbed each other the wrong way only because you are both so accustomed to ordering things the way you choose that—”

“How much?” he demanded without waiting for her to finish.

“How much?” She blinked.

“You heard me.” There was no mistaking his tone. What little patience he had had was gone.

The marchioness sighed. “Well, last week I sent her one hundred pounds. But it went to London, so she cannot have got it, I suppose.”

He stared at her in disbelief. “Good God, ma’am, what possessed you to send her so much?”

“She said she needed it,” the marchioness said simply. His expression making it clear to her that the explanation was insufficient, she added defensively, “Well, Edmond, you know what her father is. They say Sir Mortimer don’t even speak to her, for all that she runs his household and looks after Brandon for him. Not Charlie or Mary, of course, since they are married and have families of their own, but she was used to do so before they did and she did—get married, that is. But what sort of man can Sir Mortimer be that he refuses to see his own heir except for one day set aside for the purpose out of each year, and never sees his daughters or that charming younger son of his at all?”

“Don’t you realize that most likely your money is going to pay his gaming debts?”

“Sir Mortimer is very odd, to be sure,” the marchioness said, stiffening in indignation, “but if he has taken up gambling, I’m sure I have heard nothing about it, and you must know that if Lucretia were to learn that he had so much as left his house, she would—”

“Not Sir Mortimer, Brandon.” Ramsbury spoke in a more even tone, but his temper clearly was still on a tight rein. “You cannot say you don’t know about that delightful young man’s less than delightful habits.”

“Well, no, but I am persuaded that they are no more than a result of his youth, Edmond. I wish you would be kinder to him.”

“He is a damned loose screw,” Ramsbury snapped.

“Well, perhaps, though you still mustn’t swear, darling. I think that if your father had not been so very likely to express his displeasure over such behavior on your part, which is a thing no one could like—his displeasure, I mean—well, you might have liked to behave in a similar fashion when you were up at Oxford. In point of fact, I do recall—”

“Yes, no doubt, but we are not discussing my behavior. You said ‘only last week.’ Have you sent Sybilla money before now?”

The marchioness eyed him warily. “Why, what in the world can that signify?”

“You have, then.” His lips tightened. “How much?”

She looked truly worried for the first time since he had begun to question her. “Edmond, you will not … that is, you could not be meaning to … well, what I mean to say is—”

“I shan’t say anything to my father,” Ramsbury said, his tone gentler than it had been. “I have never been one to carry tales to him, have I, Mama?”

“No, to be sure, you haven’t,” she admitted, “so how he always seems to discover it when I have done something he cannot like, I am sure I do not know.”

“Well, if he does always discover it, you had better not be sending any more money to Sybilla,” the earl said. “He won’t like that, and then
I
shall hear about it, because he’ll dislike even more the fact that she seems to require money when it is my duty to provide for her. Why the devil didn’t she write to me?”

“She said it was because you would cut up as stiff as ever your papa did,” said the marchioness roundly, “and I’m sure, dearest, that that went straight to my heart, for I could
feel
for her. Indeed, I could, Edmond.”

“If that’s how she described me, I cannot wonder at it, ma’am.” He sighed, then added after a brief pause, “Very well, Mama, I shan’t eat you, and I shan’t tell my father what you have been doing, but I do mean to put a stop to it just as soon as I have had the whole tale, so you might as well confess how much you have sent her. How many times has she requested money from you before now?”

The marchioness’s brow knitted in thought. “Let me see,” she said, “I believe the first request came shortly after she moved back to Bath. Only she was in London again when she wrote, of course, for I always sent the money to her there. Over the past sixteen months, I suppose I sent her a little something almost every month, so it must be close onto five hundred pounds by now. Goodness, I had not thought it nearly so much as that!”

“Five hundred! She must be living like an empress. And you never said a word to me?”

“No, how should I when she particularly begged that I not do so? I have my own money, you know, and even your father does not demand an accounting of that! And she always asks that I burn her letters and not refer to them when I write her, lest one of the servants or Sir Mortimer himself should discover what she has been about, though how he should do so when he never even speaks to her, I cannot think. Is it really true that he leaves notes for the servants or Sybilla to find and insists that she leave notes for him in return if she must communicate with him?”

“That is usually the case,” the earl said grimly, “but I did not think he had ever stinted her where money is concerned, so I cannot imagine why she should find it necessary to apply to you. It cannot be on her own account, so you may depend upon it that she does so on Brandon’s. The old man will not tolerate his gaming excesses, any more than I would.”

“Well, mark my words, Edmond, if dearest Sybilla is requesting my help on Brandon’s behalf, I cannot blame her, for the poor girl has had to look after him all her life—well, all his life, in any case, because of course she is the eldest of the four of them—and you were not of much use to her, were you?”

“Not in that regard,” he agreed, “or, perhaps, in any other. She could not be rid of me soon enough, but no doubt she was wise. We did not suit.”

“You won’t divorce her!” his mother exclaimed with a gasp.

“No, haven’t I said as much time and time again?”

“Well, but one never knows when a man will change his mind,” the marchioness said with an air of vast experience. “Of course, a divorce is ruinously expensive, but how can you mean to secure the succession if you neither divorce her nor live with her? Surely, you must think about that from time to time.”

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