Read Louise M Gouge Online

Authors: A Suitable Wife

Louise M Gouge (5 page)

BOOK: Louise M Gouge
6.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Chapter Five

H
er emotions churning, Beatrice watched the battle of wills between her benefactress and the viscount. On the one hand she wanted to laugh at Lord Greystone’s obvious struggle to overrule Mrs. Parton. She could see that rank was not held in high regard between these two friends. The observation sent a pang through her, for she longed to enjoy such friendships. She also wanted to comfort the distraught child, who held one hand over the other forearm and had lost his battle against weeping. Mrs. Parton had not held back from touching the boy, so Beatrice went to the bedside and brushed filthy black hair from his forehead, sending a cloud of soot over the white pillow. A smoky smell emanated from him, along with the scent of rancid perspiration. At her touch the child ceased his tears and stared up at her, eyes wide.

“Coo, miss, yer the prettiest lady I ever did see.” He winced as he spoke.

She smiled at his artless compliment. “I thank you, sir. And you are a dandy young fellow.” She glanced at Lord Greystone, whose bemused expression made her want to laugh. But the child might misunderstand, so she merely smiled. “May I look at your arm?”

The boy winced again. “Aw, miss, I ain’t clean.” He sniffed loudly and ran his good arm under his damp nose, making more of a mess of himself.

“Never mind that.” Beatrice shoved away her feelings of revulsion. The poor child could not be faulted for the life to which he had been born. And he could be cleaned up just like the immaculate orphans she had seen only two hours ago. “Now let me see your arm.” She touched his threadbare shirtsleeve, testing the frail arm beneath. “Have you broken it before?”

After a tiny gasp of pain, he said, “Aye, miss,” on a whimper.

“Hmm.” Beatrice swallowed the emotion his admission stirred within her. What a horrible life he must live. She glanced at Mrs. Parton, who gave her an inscrutable look, and decided to plunge ahead. “Of course the physician will know more than I, but I think the arm is not broken, merely sprained. Because of the old injury, it no doubt causes more pain.”

“Indeed.” Lord Greystone eyed her skeptically. “And upon what do you base your diagnosis?”

Bristling at his doubtful tone, she withheld a tart reply. After all, the viscount could not be aware of her experiences ministering to her brother’s tenants. She turned her attention back to the child. “Can you wiggle your fingers?”

He raised his frail hand and complied. “It hurts.”

“As it will for some time.” She turned back to Lord Greystone. “Still, I believe a bath will not harm him if care is taken for the injury.”

Her words set off another bout of tears. “No bath, miss, gov’ner. Please, no bath.”

“Hush, boy.” The aged butler, who had been scowling from the other side of the wide bed, shook a bony finger at the child. “You will do as you are told.”

The little one cringed and trembled so fiercely, soot drifted up from his entire body.

“Shh.” Beatrice caressed his cheek. “Have you ever had a bath?”

Wide-eyed, he shook his head, and more soot dislodged from his person. “’Tis sumpin’ terrible, they tell me.”

At that Lord Greystone and Mrs. Parton laughed, his baritone providing a perfect harmony to her soprano.

Beatrice continued to caress the boy’s cheek.

“Not at all, Kit. A warm bath is just the thing to make a new man of you,” said Greystone.

He moved closer to the bed and chucked the boy under his chin, absorbing another dose of the soot that seemed to have already drifted to every corner of the room. At the same time, the viscount’s arm brushed against Beatrice’s, and a pleasant shiver swept over her making her fully aware of his height and masculine presence. Gracious, what was the matter with her? She cleared her throat and returned her attention to the child.

“Lord Greystone speaks the truth. You may trust him.” Her words earned her a warm smile and a conspiratorial wink from the gentleman, and another pleasant feeling swept through her. A bit breathlessly, she suggested, “Perhaps you can send for a footman to do the honors?”

“It has already been ordered, Lady Beatrice.” Again his smile stirred a giddy feeling within her. “I do believe we think alike in this matter.” A frown darted across his brow, but he shook it away and focused on the child. Then, as if to confirm his words, several footmen entered the bedchamber carrying a large brass tub and buckets of steaming water.

Kit squirmed and sniffed, his eyes wide with fear. Her heart breaking for his terror, Beatrice bent down as close as she dared and whispered, “If you are brave and let them bathe you, I shall ask Lord Greystone to bring you sweetmeats as a reward.”

“Sweeties? For me?” Now his wide eyes filled with wonder. He held his arm, sat up and seemed to shake off his fright. “I’ll do it fer you, miss.” He offered her an impish grin. “And for the sweeties.”

Again Lord Greystone and Mrs. Parton laughed in harmony. Beatrice joined them, filled with a sense of a companionship such as she had not experienced since Mama died.

* * *

Against his better judgment Greystone permitted himself to enjoy the moment. He could not deny that Lady Beatrice intrigued him. This was no spoiled lady who refused to let her clothes be soiled by the work at hand. In fact she seemed not to notice the soot on her pretty new frock and white kid gloves. How different was her willingness to be involved with this child from her brother’s apathy to any charitable matter introduced in the House of Lords. How could a brother and sister be so dissimilar? Greystone tried to build an inner wall to block out the effects Lady Beatrice had on him, but her gentle, generous spirit breached all his defenses. With luck this would be a passing attraction, one that would mellow into kind regard. For now there was a child to deal with, and the lady was putting him to shame in comforting the lad.

“Ladies, perhaps you would wait outside while the servants tend to our new friend?”

“Yes, of course.” Mrs. Parton, who had been uncharacteristically quiet for the past few minutes, beckoned to her companion. “Come along, Bea.”

Lady Beatrice gaped briefly at her employer, then complied with her order. “Yes, of course.”

“Don’t leave me, miss.” Kit reached out as if to grab her arm and almost fell out of the bed for his efforts.

Greystone caught and righted him. “Easy, lad.”

“I shall come back when you are presentable, Kit.” She looked at Greystone, and her blue eyes sparkled with amusement. “And when you are presentable as well, sir.”

“What?” Greystone quizzed her with a look, then glanced in the mirror over the nearby bureau. Like Kit, he bore streaks of soot all over his face, hardly the visage a peer wished to display in front of ladies. Yet he could not object when it brought such amusement and, dare he say, a feeling of amity with the most charming, selfless young miss he had ever met.

* * *

“Come along, Bea.” Mrs. Parton clasped Beatrice’s hand and led her from the chamber. “We will have that cup of tea with Lady Greystone while we wait.”

Beatrice did not resist her leading, but she did balk at the byname her employer used. “Mrs. Parton—”

Before she could voice her complaint, a plump young housemaid in mobcap and apron came charging up the corridor dragging a tiny boy who was as dirty as little Kit. The girl stopped in front of them and curtseyed.

“Begging your pardon, mum, but her ladyship sent me up with this one to join the other.” The maid’s upper lip curled with distaste, and she held the boy away from her.

The child’s eyes were round, and his lower lip trembled. In fact, his entire body shook, sending soot into the air, but he did not speak.

“Well, now.” Mrs. Parton bent down to give the boy a smile. “Won’t Kit be delighted to see you, my boy?”

A flicker of hope lit his eyes, and he gave her a solemn nod.

Mrs. Parton waved a hand toward the door. “Then let us not waste a moment. Take him inside.”

“Aye, mum.” The girl knocked on the door, and a footman answered. After a brief exchange he took charge of the child and closed the door. She brushed her hands together. “La, mum, I haven’t ever seen such dirt on a person in all my born days.”

The maid’s impertinence in engaging a guest of the viscount in conversation brought a rebuke to Beatrice’s mind, but Mrs. Parton merely chuckled.

“I would not disagree.” She glanced at her soiled gloves. “And how nice of the boys to share it with us.”

The maid laughed all too familiarly for Beatrice’s taste. Who had trained this girl? Why, instead of lowering her eyes, as custom dictated, she even stared Mrs. Parton full in the face.

“Now.” Mrs. Parton seemed not to notice the impertinence. “Who are you? And how long have you been in service?”

“I’m Lucy Crawford, mum.” At least the girl had the sense to curtsey. “My grandfather’s been the butler here at Lord Greystone’s ever so long, and he just got me hired.”

“Ah, yes. Crawford is a fine fellow.” From her friendly manner, one would think Mrs. Parton was talking to an equal, not a servant. “And what will your duties be?”

Lucy shrugged. “I’d hoped to be a lady’s maid, but as there’s only one lady in this house, and Mrs. Hudson takes care of her, I’m not sure what all I’ll be doing.” She gave Beatrice a shy smile. “Do you have a lady’s maid, miss? I should ever so much like to do your pretty hair. I have a talent for it, if I do say so myself.”

Beatrice withheld a gasp at the girl’s effrontery, even as humiliation filled her. “No, I have no maid.” Melton’s wastefulness had required her to let the woman go two years ago. Beatrice had been forced to manage on her own at home, but now that she was in town and needed to look her best, she had to depend upon Mrs. Parton’s lady’s maid, Poole, to help her dress.

“But you are employed here, Lucy,” Mrs. Parton said. “You are in training with your grandpapa, and I am certain he would not wish you to leave.”

The girl chewed her lip and stared at the floor. “No, mum.” Then she gave Beatrice a bright smile. “But if I could get away from time to time when my duties are done, could I work for you? I won’t even ask a wage, just so I can get the experience.”

Before Beatrice could respond, Mrs. Parton nodded with a measure of reserve. “Yes, that is a possibility. What do you think, Lady Beatrice?”

Beatrice could not help but think her employer’s way of addressing her was for the girl’s benefit. But Mrs. Parton’s charity gave her pause, as well as a hint of self-rebuke. Helping Lucy learn a skill was not much different from working with the girls at the orphanage. And it would be grand to have her own maid again.

“I believe it is a possibility.” Perhaps she could also give the girl some lessons in proper decorum, as well.

“Oh, miss, um,
my lady,
thank you.” Lucy clapped her hands and bobbed another curtsey. “You won’t be sorry.”

Mrs. Parton chuckled, but also wagged a finger at the girl. “Now, if this works out, you must not shirk any duties here at Greystone Hall. I will not tolerate a shirker.” Her words echoed Beatrice’s own concerns. What would Lord Greystone think of her enticing away one of his servants?

“Aye, mum. I’ll do it all.”

Laughter within the bedchamber drew their attention, and they all watched the door expectantly.

“I cannot wait to see what those darling boys look like under all that soot.” Mrs. Parton voiced the very idea Beatrice was thinking.

As if in response to her curiosity, Crawford opened the door. “Lady Beatrice, Mrs. Parton, Lord Greystone requests your presence.”

As they entered the chamber, the butler’s bushy gray eyebrows arched at the sight of his granddaughter, but he said nothing to her as she followed them in.

Clustered around the two boys, who were wrapped in linen towels, Lord Greystone and the footmen were still laughing, despite all of them being drenched and dirty.

“Can you believe it, Mrs. Parton?” The viscount waved them closer. “The lads are blond. Why, I doubt their own master would recognize them now.”

Indeed Beatrice thought the two mites bore no resemblance to their former selves, though they still had a gray cast to their skin and black lines embedded in various spots.

Mrs. Parton harrumphed in her good-natured way as she checked their ears and fingernails, taking care special care with Kit’s injured arm. “It will take a number of baths to get rid of the last of the soil, but you have made a good beginning.”

“As you say, madam.” Lord Greystone bowed with an exaggerated flourish. “But I shall leave the next washing to these good men.” His brow furrowed briefly. “Perhaps you can advise me...never mind. You have brought the solution with you.” He beckoned to Lucy. “Crawford, we have discussed the direction of your granddaughter’s training, and now I know exactly what she will do. The lads will require a nursemaid with youthful energy to keep up with them, and she is just the one to do it.”

Lucy emitted a tiny squeak that sounded to Beatrice like a protest, but Crawford’s quick glare silenced her instantly.

“As you wish, sir.” The butler gave her a furtive wave, and she curtseyed even as she bit her lower lip and stared at the floor.

Beatrice’s heart went out to the girl, despite her failure to know her place. Chasing two small boys all day would leave her little time and energy to learn the duties of a lady’s maid. But Beatrice would not interfere. After all, she could not pay Lucy. Perhaps this was the Lord’s will for the girl, just as He willed for Beatrice to be humbled by the restrictions of her own situation. In this matter both of them must endure their disappointments.

To her shock, Lord Greystone approached her. “Did you enjoy your visit to St. Ann’s?” Despite his friendly tone, he did not smile.

Still, her foolish heart skipped at this singular attention. “I did indeed. The girls are very sweet, and they adore Mrs. Parton.” Looking up into his intense blue eyes, she found herself a bit breathless.

Now he grinned, but his smile was directed at the older lady. “As do I, and all who know her.” True affection beamed from his eyes, and Beatrice could not help but long to receive that sort of approval. Before she could offer her own praise of her employer, he turned to Crawford with orders about the care of the boys.

BOOK: Louise M Gouge
6.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

This Perfect Day by Ira Levin
The Officer Says "I Do" by Jeanette Murray
Along Came Mr. Right by Gerri Russell
Rick's Reluctant Mate by Alice Cain
Fool's Gold by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Truth or Dare by Sloan Johnson
Caching In by Kristin Butcher
Criminal Revenge by Conrad Jones