Authors: Norma Lee Clark
Norma Lee Clark
Young Jane Coombes, undermaid in the household of the wealthy Montmoren
ys, loses her place when she succumbs to the temptation to try on Lady Sarah’s luxurious negligee and subsequently rips it repelling the advances of Lord Jaspar, Sarah’s brother. Desperate, she is taken in by the Montmorency butler, Leach, but his mask of kindness soon falls away; that night he enters Jane’s bedroom and ravishes the helpless girl.
By a stroke of good fortune, Jane finds a position with the generous Lady Payton, a widow who chooses to live quietly at her country estate because of her son, Sebastian, crippled as a child by a fall from a horse. The warm-hearted young girl and the intellectual recluse form a deep attachment; he takes great pleasure in her company and her native intelligence and undertakes to educate her. When he realizes that he loves Jane, his devoted mother, recognizing an undreamed-of chance for her son’s happiness, gladly consents to their marriage.
For a brief two years, the oddly-matched couple find complete contentment at the country house, but just after the birth of their baby son, Jane loses both Sebastian and her mother-in-law, and is left a wealthy young widow.
Slowly, the new Lady Payton enters London society, and inevitably re-encounters Lord Jaspar Montmorency, for whom she has unconsciously cherished a
during the years between their meetings. But Leach, now proprietor of a gaming house, has other plans for the servant-girl turned toast of the
It takes the timely intervention of Jaspar to bring retribution to his former butler and this spirited story to a satisfactory conclusion.
Printed in the United States of America
“And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again, in the heart of a friend”
The Arrow and the Song
Jane Coombes set
the heavy basket of wood down on the narrow step and held it in place with her knee as she stood panting on the steep, dark backstairs. She rubbed her shoulder, wondering if it would be pulled from its socket before she got the basket to the top, then, remembering Miss Wright’s sharp tongue, lifted the basket with her other hand and struggled upward.
She paused only an instant at the top to catch her breath before hurrying on down the hall to the front bedroom, where she tapped on the door and was bidden to “Come.”
“Took your time, Coombes, as usual,” snapped Miss Wright.
And hello to you, too, thought Jane resentfully, setting the basket down with a thump and kneeling before the hearth to build up the fire.
Miss Wright gave Jane a blighting look and turned back to the guinea-gold locks she was artfully arranging on the head of her mistress, Lady Sarah Montmorency, who was so enraptured by her own countenance facing her in the glass that she seemed unaware of Jane’s entrance.
Miss Wright finished and stood back triumphantly to await commendation. Lady Sarah turned this way and that to inspect her abigail’s work.
“One of your better efforts, Wright,” drawled Lady Sarah, as she rose from her mirror. “Now fetch my gloves and stop dawdling. Mama must have been waiting this hour.”
Jane hid her grin, delighted to be present when the supercilious Miss Wright got her comeuppance. Miss Wright sniffed audibly and moved to the bureau to do as she was bid. Jane peeked from under her lashes at m’lady, standing in the middle of her blue and gold bedroom, dressed for a party. Gawd help us, Jane thought, to be goin’ out in company like that. Might’s well go nekked for all the coverin’
Lady Sarah, on the other hand, surveyed herself with great satisfaction in the full-length mirror. The gown, of golden yellow gauze, matched her hair exactly, and was the first crack of fashion, being so sheer as to reveal her figure in its entirety. Lady Sarah felt that it was a figure that could afford to be revealed, unlike
she could mention, which their owners would have been better advised to drape more discreetly. Her own long, shapely legs were a matter for congratulation, she thought, and her bosom showed to advantage also, and she blessed the French
who had introduced this fashion that made it possible for her to thus display them.
Jane silently agreed with her as to the legs, but my bosom’s better, she thought, and would show to better advantage nor hers, could I ever own such a low-cut gown. Also me face, for if ever I saw a colder eye than m’lady’s I disremember it.
Lady Sarah, however, viewed her face with complacency as she smoothed the white kid gloves over her fingers. Her long green eyes, the cameo like perfection of her profile, and the smooth, matte complexion seemed to her all that could be desired. The habitual haughtiness of the set of her head, and the coldness of the brilliant blue eyes were not apparent to her.
Miss Wright placed a long chinchilla cloak over her mistress’s shoulders and handed her her reticule. Lady Sarah sailed out of the room without a word to her abigail, leaving behind only a waft of delicious scent to remind them of her presence.
Wright moved about the room, putting away discarded clothing, turning down her mistress’s bed, and laying out her robe across the foot of it.
“Hurry up then, Coombes. I’m going down for my dinner now. Do you sweep up that hearth good and get out of here. And don’t touch anything, mind.”
The door closed behind her, and Jane, in a spirit of defiance unlike her usual meek exterior, stood up abruptly and moved to the dressing table.
She stared at her reflection, lit by the candles, and was not completely dissatisfied with what she saw. The nose had an unfortunate tilt, unlike Lady Sarah’s straight patrician one, but was not ugly for all that. The rest was better, she felt, inspecting her large, slanting sherry-brown eyes, and the full red mouth. She smiled at herself to show her approval and her small, white teeth. Unlike most of the maids, Jane’s teeth, due to the mysteries of inheritance she neither knew of nor understood, were still intact and in good condition.
She turned to look at the door speculatively, and then, with a shrug, turned back to the mirror and pulled off her white mobcap. She felt there was little cause to fear interruption for at least an hour, with the family gone out for the evening and old Wright only starting her dinner, and her a fierce trencherman, she thought, giggling.
She pulled out the pins holding her hair in a tight knot on top of her head, and it tumbled down almost to her waist. She ran Lady Sarah’s comb through it, then switching it forward over one shoulder, she took Lady Sarah’s brush and sensuously ran it again and again through the long, silky strands. She cleaned the brush and comb scrupulously, returned them to the tabletop, and spread her long hair about her shoulders. It shimmered and waved about her like a dark cloud.
Hardly aware of what she was doing, her hands came up and began unbuttoning the high-necked gray gown she wore, the uniform of all the Montmorency maids. The dress fell to her feet, and after it the shift and the cotton drawers and the stockings.
She eyed the round globes of her breasts with pride. I was right, she thought, much better’n
I’ll be bound, and ’twould display a treat in a low-cut gown.
Dissatisfied with the limited view in the dressing table mirror, she crossed to the full-length glass by the wardrobe. On her way, she passed the robe laid out for Lady Sarah’s return, and her hand caressed the silken folds for an instant, then drew it on. She shivered with delight as the cool silk touched her skin.
In front of the mirror, she held out the deep pink fabric to frame her body. It was the first time she had ever actually seen herself without clothing, and she inspected her figure critically, her hands running down the narrow waist and rounded hips. Me mam’s right, she thought dispassionately, I’ll do, though me legs are not so long as
they be just as nice in shape. She watched in amazement as her small, rosy nipples, reacting to the movement of her hands down her body, stiffened and stood erect. Crikey, would yer look at that, she thought, smiling at the phenomenon, there’s summat me mam never told me about
Then she emitted a soft scream and stood frozen as the door opened behind her and the mirror showed her the image of Lord Jaspar, Lady Sarah’s brother.
He stood rooted for a second, a slow smile lifting one corner of
. He turned to close the door behind him and then sauntered across the carpet to her. She watched him advance, unable to move or speak, until he was directly behind her.
He stood smiling over her shoulder at her wide-eyed reflection in the mirror.
“Well, well,” he said appreciatively.
She could feel the roughness of his coat and the cold buttons of his waistcoat through the thin silk against her back, and she watched in disbelief as his arm came around her and his hand cupped one full upthrust breast. She quivered. Now the other hand, encouraged by the success of its twin, came around to capture the other trembling breast.
Jane felt completely detached, watching these movements in the mirror as though they were happening to someone else. But however far away her mind might feel from the two figures in the mirror, her body, of its own volition and without applying to her mind for permission, reacted. Her breasts seemed to swell, her nipples to thrust themselves against the warmth of the caressing palms, and various other parts of her body, including her fingertips, began to tingle most pleasantly. Her body relaxed back against his, her skin enjoying the rough texture of his coat through the silk robe, her head tilting accommodatingly for his lips in the hollow of her shoulder and throat.
With a moan, he turned her around, and crushing her against himself he reached to kiss the soft, red mouth.
And abruptly the spell she had been under was broken. Now it was not two figures in a dream she watched, but the reality of her own nakedness being explored by the clutching hands of Lord Jaspar. She twisted her face away from his mouth, and brought her hands up to push against his chest, but he held her fast, and only laughed exultantly as she struggled. She finally got one hand free and delivered a ringing blow to his ear, painful enough to cause him to loosen his hold. She whirled away, but he caught at the robe by the back of the neck, and there was the hiss of rending silk as it parted in a long tear down the back. She checked in dismay at the sound, and he caught her arm and spun her back into his embrace.
He clamped one hand on the back of her head and his mouth came down on hers, and struggle as she might, he had her fast.
Gawd, I’m for it now, she thought desperately, whatever happens, for if old Wright doesn’t come back in a minute and catch us, she’ll know for sure ’twas me to blame for the torn robe.
Well, go down fightin’, as me mam says, and with this came another piece of advice her mam had given her. She brought her knee up briskly, and Lord Jaspar doubled over and sat down abruptly with a moan so heartrending that she paused. But only for an instant. Panting, she ripped the robe off as she ran across the room, stepped into her gown, and buttoned it with trembling fingers. Then she snatched up the rest of her garments and sped to the door.
She opened it and peeked out, then turned back to the figure rolling in agony on the floor.
“Beg pardon, sir, for having to hurt you, but you’d no right to—to—well, o’course I don’t say I’d no responsibility,” she said, honesty compelling her to admit she hadn’t exactly discouraged him, “but it was only the serprize, you see. But I ain’t so easy as all that, nor I won’t be forced neither.” Then, irrepressibly, she dimpled at him, “I’ll make me good-byes to you now, sir, since tomorrow, I make no doubt, I’ll find mesel’ bein’ shown the door. You’ll feel better in a day or two, have no fear.”
And with that she slipped out the door and sped up the backstairs to the room in the attic she shared with Sophy, the parlour maid, now thankfully in the servants’ dining room at her supper. Jane reassembled herself and wound her hair back into its usual knot.
Might’s well go down and have me supper, she thought philosophically, since there’s no knowin’ where I’ll get it tomorrow!
Jane Coombes, at fourteen, was an independent self-supporting woman, and had been for two years. She had started in the Montmorency household at the age of ten as the lowliest kitchen menial, set to scrubbing out kettles. But Jane hadn’t felt humbled by her job. On the contrary, she had been proud to be a wage earner, able to turn her few pennies over to her mother, who had been forced to find a job for Jane when her own failing health made it impossible for Mrs. Coombes to work any longer.
Mrs. Coombes, herself in service, had heard of the job for Jane through an acquaintance employed by the Montmorencys, and had taken her daughter around to the servants’ entrance and secured the position for the child.
Actually “Mrs.” was a courtesy tide only, for though a respectably raised country girl, Jane’s mother had strayed from the path of virtue one evening when she made the acquaintance of a handsome sea captain. She gave him, wholeheartedly, the only thing she had to give, but she had only the one opportunity for giving. He went out of her life the next morning, and she never saw him again. She was left with a trumpery little gold ring and the knowledge, some months later, that she was pregnant. She put the ring on her finger and proudly called herself Mrs. Coombes thenceforth.
She’d been a fiercely protective mother, working hard to provide for her child, cautioning her always to be a good girl and keep herself clean, to work hard, and try to better herself. There were many other bits of advice, mostly to do with the habits of certain men, which Jane was to beware of, along with some useful hints on how to protect herself, one of which Jane had made use of in her encounter with Lord Jaspar.
This night had been the first time she had ever been in the same room with the young man, for she had never been in the front of the house in all her four years with the Montmorencys. After two years spent ten hours every day in the scullery, going home to the room she shared with her mother, to nurse her and to sleep, two momentous events had occurred. Her mother had died and Jane had been advanced to an upstairs maid, and it was her deepest regret that the advancement had happened just too late for her mother to share in the pride of it.
After that she was given a room in the attic of the mansion, two smart gray uniforms with white aprons and caps, a slight increase in her wages, and the honour of hauling fuel up to the bedroom fireplaces, which she had been doing for the past two years.
She had been confidently looking forward to graduating to the front of the house in the very near future, but she was in no doubt, after tonight’s events, that she could say good-bye to that ambition and the Montmorencys altogether immediately after breakfast in the morning.
In spite of the fate looming over her, she went to bed and slept soundly, her youth and the hard day’s work she’d had insuring her against a night of worry.
The next morning she put on her best brown merino gown, packed her few belongings in her box, and taking her bonnet and black pelisse, descended to the servants’ dining room. She sat down in her usual place at the table and ate her bread and butter and drank her coffee under the tight-lipped glare of the housekeeper and the curious stares of the other servants.