Read Lord Harry's Folly Online

Authors: Catherine Coulter

Tags: #Fiction, #General

Lord Harry's Folly (8 page)

BOOK: Lord Harry's Folly
11.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“This very instant, my lord.” Lady Buxtell walked briskly from the room, gritting her teeth at the officious young man.

Moments later, a well-coached, sobbing Mavreen was roughly dragged down the stairs, her arm painfully held in Lady Buxtell’s very strong grip. “Here’s the little trollop, my lord. As for you, you ungrateful little wretch” She viciously boxed Mavreen’s ear. “Now, you little fool, get out of my house. The street is too good for the likes of you. And don’t you try to come sniveling back, my girl!”

Hetty watched with her jaw clamped tightly closed for fear that she would tear into the old termagant, as Mavreen was roughly hurled through the front door into the cold night.

Hetty said evenly as Lady Buxtell turned triumphantly back to her, “You have done just as I wished, ma’am. I shall bear you no grudge. I bid you good night.”

Hetty pushed back the bedcovers with a sudden spurt of energy. She felt at once elated and quite pleased with herself. She padded over to her writing desk, lit a branch of candles, and sat down to quill and paper. She might as well inform John and Louisa of their good fortune in obtaining the services of a young person perfectly suited to Little John’s temperament.

Words flowed from her quill and before she had done with her letter, she had covered two pages of flowing, heart-touching prose about Mavreen. Of course, she made no mention of Mavreen’s brief professional stay at Lady Buxtell’s.

Hetty rose and stretched. Both Mavreen and her letter of introduction would be dispatched from London on the morrow by dear Pottson. She only hoped that he wouldn’t let anything slip; Mavreen must always believe that her rescuer was Lord Harry Monteith. Miss Henrietta Rolland was only a dear friend who was sending Mavreen on her way to a different life.

 

Pottson, in the meanwhile, had finally settled the excited Mavreen into Lord Harry’s bed, and bid her a more friendly good night than he would have considered possible only that morning. When he had first laid eyes on her, Mavreen had looked her profession a painted little harlot. But after their shopping this afternoon, when she had shyly but proudly paraded before him dressed in a modest dove gray muslin gown, her fiery red hair smoothed down into a bun at the nape of her neck, all the paint wiped clean from her young face, he was of the firm conviction that Miss Hetty had behaved just as she ought. Poor little mite, he thought, Mavreen deserved much better from life than being a gentleman’s whore. Before he had tucked her in a fatherly manner into bed, she asked wistfully, “Mr. Pottson, will I see Lord Monteith again?”

“No, Miss, he is staying with friends, not wishing to compromise you in any way by staying here.”

If Mavreen thought that was a bit absurd, she didn’t say so. She said instead, “Do you know what will happen to me, Mr. Pottson?”

“Don’t worry your head about it, Miss. Lord Harry will inform me as to your future plans on the morrow.”

He received his summons to call upon Miss Hetty in Grosvenor Square very early the next morning. As he sat opposite her in the small back parlor listening to her unfold her plan for Mavreen’s future, he felt his respect for her grow to impressive heights. He readily applauded her solution, thinking to himself that kin of Master Damien would undoubtedly behave toward Mavreen with a great deal of kindness. Thus, it was with a light heart and a wide smile on his leathery face that he assisted Mavreen onto the mail coach that same morning.

“Now, be careful, Miss, not to lose your letter of introduction to Sir John and Lady Louisa.” He lifted her gloved hand and pressed five guineas into her palm. “It’s a gift from Lord Monteith. He said, Miss, that self-respect doesn’t have anything to do with money, but it helps in many other ways.”

She returned his smile, but felt a large lump rise in her throat. “Please thank his lordship, Mr. Pottson, and tell him that I shall never forget all he has done for me.”

Mavreen’s gratitude to Lord Harry made Pottson uneasy. He hastened to say, “Don’t forget that you know only Miss Henrietta Rolland. It is she who is your benefactress. It won’t do at all for you to ever mention Lord Monteith. You won’t go forgetting, will you, Miss?”

Mavreen sighed and shook her head. “No, Mr. Pottson, I shan’t forget.”

When Pottson returned to Grosvenor Square before noon to give Hetty an accounting of what had happened, he found her looking much like the cat who had swallowed the cream.

“It’s done, Pottson?” she asked, looking up.

“Yes, the poor little mite was so grateful, Miss Hetty. Said she’d never forget you.”

“Never forget Lord Harry, you mean.”

“There a nab of the truth in that. I’ll ask you not to be going to any brothels again, if you please.”

“As a young gentleman with no mistress in keeping, it is what one does. Ah, don’t fret further about it, Pottson, for we did manage to scrape through unscathed and did a good deed in the bargain. I have devised a plan that will, I trust, keep me away from such establishments in the future.”

He was afraid to ask but he did. “What plan?”

“When I see Sir Harry and Mr. Scuddimore later today. After I endure a recital of their exploits at Lady Buxtell’s, they will undoubtedly want to know how I fared. I shall tell them that I found Mavreen to be just what I require, and have set her up as my mistress. It will do marvelous things for my reputation.”

Pottson groaned.

“I shan’t tell them where I’ve installed her. That, I am convinced, will only add to my consequence as a confirmed young man of the world.”

Pottson groaned louder.

“You know, Pottson, Sir William Filey was at Lady Buxtell’s. He is really a vile man. Just the story Mavreen told me about him made my blood run cold. I can’t believe that Sir William ever intended to marry Elizabeth Springville. I suppose if Lord Oberlon did marry her, his intentions, at least toward the lady, were honorable. Of course, we need have no doubts whatsoever as to Damien’s intentions.” She rose, becoming suddenly brisk. “Well, I must get back to business. I will lunch shortly with Sir Archibald, then Sir Harry and Mr. Scuddimore and I will be doing something doubtless naughty this afternoon. Then, tonight, there’s a rout at Blair House. As to Lord Oberlon being in attendance I will make no more predictions. The wretched man continues to unwittingly evade me.”

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

 

Jason Charles Cavander, Marquess of Oberlon, sat comfortably in the reading room of White’s, his long breeched legs stretched out toward the fire. He had been reading a rather involved article in the Gazette that recounted in grisly detail a recent murder on Hounslow Heath. But now, he was just staring into the flames, and rising every once in a while to kick the embers again into life with the toe of his boot. His thoughts were black, but then again, for well over a year his world had been black, filled with hatred and malice and pain. And here he was now, sitting in White’s, quite at his leisure, any number of servants about to do his biding, and there was nothing he really wanted to do. He was becoming a melancholy bore, he thought, and that would surely never do, at least not for him. He had to get a grip on his life again, take a good hard look at the man he’d become since that fateful night some sixteen months before. He looked deeply into the flames and sighed. He was beginning to enjoy his melancholy and that would never do. When he heard a hummph beside him, he looked up to see Lord Melberry, namely his Uncle Mortimer, at his elbow. His surprise held him silent for a moment, for his staid uncle, the very cornerstone of the Tory party, hadn’t to his knowledge, stepped through the portals of White’s in many a long year.

The marquess dropped the paper on the smooth mahogany table at his side and grinned engagingly at Lord Melberry. As humorless as he found the old man, he nonetheless held him in some affection. Melberry had never said a single word of sympathy at Elizabeth’s funeral or afterward. He’d been there, standing by him, like a rock. Jason suspected that his uncle hadn’t really been aware of what had happened, all his powerful intellect completely focused on politics, but that hadn’t mattered then, nor did it now. He’d been silent and he’d been there.

Jason pumped his hand in welcome, but forbore to clap him on his gaunt shoulders. Jason’s mood lifted. He studied his fingernails, then said in that bored lazy drawl he knew his uncle couldn’t abide, “Don’t tell me, Uncle, that the Tories have taken to meeting in this frivolous place? Have votes become that hard for you to collect?”

His uncle wasn’t to be drawn, which was disappointing, but one still had to try. Jason smiled at his uncle even as Lord Melberry said, “At least you do read the newspaper, my boy. I don’t suppose the article has aught to do with politics.” Lord Melberry removed his bony hand from his nephew’s strong clasp, grunted in vague disapproval at his surroundings, and flipping up his black coattails, sat down in one of White’s plush leather armchairs, across from his nephew.

“Nary a bit,” the marquess replied cheerfully. “What with Bonaparte no longer pulling our English tails, the only news worth reading is the gossip about the Regent.” He gazed with some amusement at his uncle, wondering as he had many times before, whatever possessed his delightful, flighty aunt, Lady Corinna Melberry, to wed herself to this dour, single-mindedly political gentleman.

Lord Melberry looked about the reading room. Although it was a sober enough place, he knew that most of White’s members were drawn just beyond the great double doors to the glittering gaming salon.

“You’re looking well, Nephew,” he said finally, slewing his eyes back to the marquess. “It’s a relief. You looked like bloody hell before you left for Italy.”

“Thank you, Uncle. I’m pleased you noticed, though surprised that you did. As you can see, though, I’m back to my old habits. Why are you here? Ah, I see. To track down the fox, one must go ahunting to his lair.”

“And you don’t look any the worse for all those months in Italy,” Lord Melberry continued, refusing to be baited. Nor was he quite ready to spring the purpose of his mission on his unsuspecting nephew. “I suppose all that interminable sun and heat must occasionally lift a man’s spirits.”

“As you see, Uncle,” the marquess said. “I trust my aunt is well?”

“Have you ever known your aunt to be otherwise?” Lord Melberry said in a sour voice. “Damnation, here I, a serious man, a man committed to England and her future, I must be plagued with gout. Whereas your aunt, who never concerns herself with anything but worthless amusements, bearing children and the like, is ever the very picture of enduring health.”

“Perhaps all the gods who decide such things for we pathetic mortals aren’t Tories, Uncle.”

“You jest, boy, and it doesn’t suit you. It suits your aunt, but not you.”

“Ah, well, Uncle, I can but be myself. Now what is it I can do for you?”

The marquess thought of his engagement with the Earl of March and Lord Alvaney to arrange a boxing match near to London without the magistrates getting wind of it and wondered if he even cared to go. It seemed a waste of time. His uncle was still silent and Jason raised an eyebrow at him. His uncle was dithering? Surely not. Jason said, “I know that you must be much occupied, sir, what with the Whigs and Tories stabbing political knives in each other’s backs. Come, Uncle, why would you search out such a fribble as myself? Not, of course, that I’m not excessively flattered.”

“The Cavanders were always a flighty bunch,” Lord Melberry said without much heat. It had been several years now since he had ceased his most pressing efforts to bring his nephew into the Tory fold. As all his arguments had met unerringly with a smile of amused indifference, he had eventually admitted defeat. “If you must know, my boy, I am here to execute a favor for your aunt.”

“Oh, God, please tell me she hasn’t brought out another tongue-tied young miss for my perusal.”

“Hardly, Jason, since your own wife hasn’t yet been dead a year.” He wished instantly that he hadn’t been so blunt, for he saw a strange bitter gleam in his nephew’s dark eyes.

“Forgive my lack of tact, Jason, but these things happen and a man must get on with life.”

That was true, Jason thought, staring at his uncle.

“Now attend me, Nephew. Your aunt asked me to encourage you in the strongest fashion possible to get you to come to one of her soirees.”

“What? My poor aunt finds that she suddenly has thirteen sitting down to dinner?”

“It must be so. She was wringing her hands until she recalled that you’d come home. I trust you are not otherwise engaged for tonight, Jason?”

The marquess had planned to escort Melissande to Covent Garden this evening. But then again, he quite liked his good-natured aunt and wanted to see her. A mistress was one thing, but a beloved aunt was another. “I should be delighted, sir. What time does my aunt require my presence?”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea. Come when you’re hungry. Now, lad, if you’ll excuse me, I have much to do this afternoon.” The tone of his voice left no doubt in Jason’s mind that his uncle considered this commission on behalf of his beloved to be a shocking waste of his valuable time.

He rose and cordially shook his uncle’s thin hand. A smile touched his lips as he watched his uncle grunt a stiff greeting to a gentleman who had the misfortune to offer a polite “how d’ye do.”

“He may be your uncle, your grace,” Mr. Denby said a few moments later, “but I swear that politics does naught to a man but make him act like his trousers are too tight in the crotch.”

Jason Cavander laughed. “Be relieved, Denby, that he isn’t your relative, though he isn’t so bad.”

Jason strode downstairs, deciding how many guineas he would wager with Alvaney over the new prizefighter he was backing.

 

While the marquess was attempting to set a wager with Lord Alvaney, Hetty, having heard the clock strike noon, rushed toward the breakfast room to greet Sir Archibald.

She kissed Sir Archibald lightly on his cheek and rested her hand on his shoulder until he reluctantly turned away from the Gazette and looked up at her.

BOOK: Lord Harry's Folly
11.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Greed by Ryan, Chris
Covenants by Lorna Freeman
Dianthe's Awakening by J.B. Miller
All the Answers by Kate Messner
Heart of the Matter by Marta Perry
Kiss the Morning Star by Elissa Janine Hoole
L. Frank Baum by The Master Key