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Authors: Sheila Simonson

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Bar Sinister

BOOK: Bar Sinister
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Bar Sinister

 

Regency Romance

By

Sheila Simonson

 

 

Uncial Press       Aloha, Oregon
2007

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events described herein are
products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-040-3
ISBN 10: 1-60174-040-9

Copyright © 2007 by Sheila Simonson

Cover design by Judith B. Glad

Previously published by the Walker Publishing Company, Inc, New
York
1986

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or utilization of this work
in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means now known or
hereafter invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the author or publisher.

Published by Uncial Press,
an imprint of GCT, Inc.

Visit us at http://www.uncialpress.com

Part I
Emily
1812-1813
1

Emily Foster, relict of the late Edward Foster, Esq., of Wellfield House, seethed in her
cramped corner of the publick coach as it jolted up the long flat Hampshire hill to the market town
of Mellings Magna. From the other seat three male passengers eyed her black bonnet with varying
degrees of indifference. Beside her a farmer's wife with a basketful of household sundries
overflowed into Emily's lap.

Emily clenched her hands into fists on the strings of her reticule. Her jaw ached--for the
past three hours she had been clenching her teeth. Under the best of circumstances she hated to be
late. And today of all days! She should never have consented to go to Winchester.
How very like
a lawyer,
she fumed to herself,
to keep a mere widow waiting whilst he secures some landowner's
interest.

She had missed the noon coach. Now her employer, who had been bringing his children
to live with her, would take them elsewhere. "Fiddle," she said softly. "Fudge." And, greatly
daring, "Damnation."

Fortunately Emily's lapse from gentility was lost in the clamour as the coach pulled into
Mellings Magna. Mellings Parva, her destination, was one stop further on and there would be a
wait.

Everyone, including the farmer's wife, got out. "Stretch your limbs, ma'am," she advised
Emily kindly. "Mortal stuffy, they coaches," and she stepped down with a series of grunts and
wobbles that shook the vehicle.

Why not?
Emily thought gloomily.
My sitting here won't make the coachman
swill his ale faster.
She climbed down into the noisy yard and straightened her bonnet. It was
pouring rain and already quite dark. Four o'clock of a November evening.

She scuttled for the inn's publick room. There was no time to retire to a private chamber
like a proper lady, and if there had been Emily was not sure she had money to pay the charge. The
publick room was dark, noisy, and crowded, and smoky from an imperfectly drawing chimney.
Ignoring the stares of the curious and the impertinent, Emily made for the fire. Stuffy the coach
might be. It was also quite cold.

When she had thawed her hands and her eyes had begun to sting from the smoke, she
retreated to a quiet corner to view the scene. A muttered curse persuaded her the corner was
occupied.

"I beg your pardon," Emily said politely.

The woman whose foot she had stepped on gave her a tired, gap-toothed smile. "Jaysus,
think nothin of it, missus. Ye didn't wake the babby." She was suckling a dark-haired child who
snorted, gave a pull at the discouraged-looking teat, and relapsed into somnolence. The woman
covered herself casually.

Emily returned a constrained smile and retreated. Presently she found a vacant space on
the other side of the hearth and sat down on a three-legged stool. It wobbled, but held.

Beyond the oak dining table the farmer's wife stood drinking a mug of ale and exchanging
good-natured badinage with an old gaffer who waved a clay pipe whenever he wished to emphasise
a point. He said something in a cackling, reedy tenor, and the woman laughed heartily. Passengers
from the London mail, mostly men, crammed the benches at the laden table. A plainly dressed
young woman Emily took to be a servant ignored the occasional leers of her travelling companions
and ate stolidly. Beside her a thin girl in a grey bonnet picked at a plate of boiled chicken.

Squeezed between grey-bonnet and a sour-looking clerk sat--or rather, knelt--a tiny girl,
whose tangled brown curls and round rosy face cleared the table by a scant inch. The child was
drinking a dish of soup with careful concentration. Each time she guided the spoon to her mouth
without dripping its contents she gave a small triumphant nod. Twice as Emily watched, the little
girl spilled a bit, once on the cloth and once on the square of linen tucked into the neckband of her
serge travelling dress. Both times she scowled, set her small jaw firmly, and bent to her task with
renewed deliberation.

She did not seem to be very hungry. A mug of milk by her plate remained untouched. It
was rather as if she were practising a difficult art she meant to master. She ignored the other diners,
even when one of the red-faced farmers addressed her as his honey and asked if she wanted a
sweetie.

Perhaps she is deaf,
Emily thought, dismayed.
She cannot be alone.
Grey-bonnet ignored the child, however, being caught up in worries of her own, and when the little girl
spilled her soup on the tablecloth the sour clerk twitched his elbow away with the air of one who
will not be inconvenienced by someone else's brat.
She
is
alone,
Emily thought,
indignant. The child finished the soup and wiped her mouth efficiently on the square of linen.

"Emilia. La leche."
A male voice, low but imperative.

The child turned her head.
"No."

"Sí. Ahora mismo."

An expression of extreme martyrdom and self-sacrifice overspread the rosy features. The
child said something dignified in the same language, grasped the mug firmly in both hands, and took
three swallows, grimacing. She set the mug down without spilling.
"Bastante?"

Apparently she received confirmation that she had drunk enough, for she grasped the
startled clerk's sleeve without selfconsciousness, steadied herself, and clambered down. The clerk
grumbled a protest but the little girl paid no heed. She pranced from the table into the shadows on
the far side of the room, where several men stood talking in low voices. The man who had
addressed her took her hand and drew her off to the stairs. He lifted her to the third step and began
to button her into a pelisse.

My employer,
Emily deduced. As there were not a great many Spanish-speaking
children to be found in Hampshire coaching inns, her conclusion did not require the exercise of
superior logic. And the misplaced Irishwoman suckling the black-haired baby would be the wet
nurse. Emily felt some relief. They were late, too.

Ought I to put myself forward?
she wondered, and decided on the whole she
would prefer to wait and watch. There would be few passengers for Mellings Parva. Time enough
for introductions. Emily slid the stool gently back and blended into the shadows.

Captain Richard Falk, Fifty-second Light Infantry, lately a widower, father of Thomas and
Emilia Falk and Emily's employer. He was not above the middle height, she noted with some
disappointment. She preferred tall men. Falk was thin but well proportioned and did not move
clumsily. She watched as he guided his daughter to a vacant place against the wall. He hoisted the
child up so that she sat on his left arm, wriggling slightly but apparently content.

Father and daughter had the same colouring--dark brown hair with a touch of auburn and
thick-lashed, well-spaced dark eyes. Captain Falk's features, like his daughter's, were regular, even
handsome, or would have been but for two circumstances. His complexion was deeply weathered,
as if he had been broiling under a sun considerably warmer than that of Hampshire. Lines radiated
from the corners of his eyes. That might have indicated profound good humour, but Emily doubted
it. He looked cross. Probably he had been squinting at the Spanish sun. The other circumstance was
his expression, a slight but fixed scowl. But perhaps he did not frown all the time.

Emily wondered how long he and the children had been in England and what Captain Falk
had been doing. Not visiting his tailor, clearly. British army officers rarely wore uniform except on
duty and Captain Falk was no exception. He wore boots, breeches, and a brown coat which looked
to have seen better days. His cravat was rumpled, his hair wanted trimming, and he ought to have
shaved. In short, he seemed neither amiable nor prosperous, and Emily's gloom deepened. At least
his daughter was not visibly afraid of him, but her well-behaviour argued strict discipline. Strict
discipline was not one of Emily's strong points.

When the coach was called up at last Emily took her gloom out into the drizzle. Presently
the farmer's jolly wife emerged, followed by Captain Falk, the little girl, and the Irish wet nurse,
protesting in fluent argot with her charge on her arm. There were no other passengers, not even
the cackling gaffer.

"Jaysus, sor," the wet nurse moaned, "if I jounce five more miles in yon bluidy
contraption I'll cast up me accounts for sure and then where'll ye be?"

Captain Falk growled something.

"Whisht, now, what's a bit of a mist?"

"Very well. Climb up with the guard if you must."

"Thankee, sor. 'Tis a kind heart ye have. Here." She thrust the blanket-wrapped baby,
apparently still sleeping, at its father. To Emily's surprise he did not drop it, but balanced his
bundle on one arm and fumbled with the ties at his throat. "Take my cloak, then, Pegeen. You'll be
drenched."

"Right, your honour, and mind ye don't wake the bhoy." She scrambled with fair grace
up to the guard's perch and sat beaming down, gap-toothed, through the rain.

"After you, ma'am."

Emily started. Falk's voice, sharp and exasperated.

The farmer's wife had resumed her place in the coach and Emily was blocking the man's
way. She tumbled in, higgledy-piggledy, and settled herself by her earlier seat-mate.

The little girl climbed in, followed by her damp father with his squidgy bundle. He
removed his hat, and his daughter shook the wet from it, some of the drops spattering Emily. The
child's air of deliberation deserted her when her father had taken his seat, and she began to chatter
in excited Spanish, bouncing and peering out the window, though it was now too dark to see
anything.

The vehicle gave a lurch, and they swayed and clopped out of the innyard. The Mellings
coach was not famous for speed, which was probably fortunate, considering the condition of the
road.

"Pretty child." The farmer's wife smiled at Captain Falk and nodded. "Foreign,
eh?"

The captain scowled at her and did not reply.

"Well!" She settled her plump thighs more firmly on the seat and began to favour Emily
with a thorough condemnation of foreigners, the government's war policy, and the price of
sugar.

Emily squirmed and her spirits sunk even lower. Captain Falk did not seem amiable, and
her neighbour's parochial grumblings were scarcely designed to sweeten his temper.

What of it?
Emily thought crossly.
He may take his children elsewhere with my
goodwill.
But she knew very well she had fallen in love with the little girl at sight.
Emilia--she even shares my name.
Her grosser self retorted,
Very confusing that will prove, madam, the
baby is not even a year old, and the wet nurse the veriest camp follower.
Resolutely Emily repressed
the voice of reason. The little girl was rosy and curly and amazingly well conducted.

I should make myself known,
Emily reflected. The farmer's wife talked on. Emily
waited for a pause in the bucolic monologue. The price of wool was down, it seemed. Corn
up.

Across from her the little girl gave up the window view and squirmed over to her father's
side, palpably asking for something. He did not smile, but his low reply apparently satisfied her, for
she insinuated herself under his arm and listened to his quiet Spanish with an occasional chirp and
wriggle.

Through her seatmate's garrulity Emily could hear him speaking. It sounded as if he were
telling a story. The child's neatly shod feet jabbed the air from time to time. Gradually she slid
lower in the seat. After a while her eyelids drooped and she fell asleep abruptly, as very young
children do. Her father asked her a low-voiced question. When she did not reply, he stopped
talking, rearranged her more securely, closed his eyes, and seemed to sleep, too. The coach
swayed. The dim light from the unshrouded window brushed the child's sleeping face and her
father's right hand, which was capable-looking with long blunt-tipped fingers.

BOOK: Bar Sinister
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