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Authors: Margaret Bennett

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BOOK: My Lady Smuggler
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Oui
, but these two,” Jacques said pointing to the two soldiers in the boat, “they say there’re others hiding close by.  My house will be full, and the number of French soldiers in the area is rising.”

“Jacques is right, Tolly,” Rosalind said as she laid a hand on the huge fisherman’s arm when he made to object.  “It
is not safe for him, either.”

“Aye, I can see that,
” Tolly said, glancing back at the lugger.

~~~~~

The three on the beach spoke in near whispers, making it difficult for Melvyrn to hea
r what they were saying.  He’d planned to meet the Frenchman and take part in their discussion.  Instead, he found himself being pushed and shoved around by the other crew members until he was maneuvered out of the boat onto the small rocky beach.  Then from behind the wind blown trees came a dozen men who quickly formed a relay line.  The men worked fast and efficiently, loading the contraband brandy kegs and several bolts of silk and crepe, all protectively wrapped tightly in oil skin.

When
Melvyrn saw the lad hug the old man goodbye, he broke from the relay line and strode toward Tolly, who was leading the boy back to the boat.  “I want to speak to the Frenchman,” he said.

Tolly looked toward the lugger where
the last keg was being loaded.  As quickly as it formed, the relay line broke up and the men disappeared over the dune. “This is not a good time,” he said.  “Too many French soldiers are about.”

“What about the lad?” Melvyrn asked.  “He
obviously acts as an interpreter, and a bond seem to exist between him and the old man.”  He wondered if they were perhaps related somehow.  “Perhaps he can help me?”

“No.”  Tolly growled with decisiveness.  “Keep the lad out of it.”  Then t
he huge fisherman elbowed his way around Melvyrn and, picking the lad up in his arms, tossed him into the boat.

Melvyrn watched as
the lad quickly scrambled to his seat beside the two soldiers in the bow.  Next, Tolly gave the order, and Melvyrn, the other four hands, and Tolly shoved the boat into the surf and climbed aboard.  Looking up at the rising moon, he felt frustrated by the day’s events and Tolly’s possessive attitude toward the lad.  As he watched the crew raise the sails preparing the
Arrow
to cross the Channel, he resolved to speak to the lad when they reached Folkestone.

~~~~~ 

An hour before dawn the
Arrow
was beached on English soil again.  Melvyrn recognized several of the men from the village waiting for them with two pack horses and a dray wagon.  One man resembled Bart Brothers, the innkeeper of the Eight Bells, but with the early morning gloom and the concealing cap and coat, it was hard to be sure.

Tolly
quickly organized the men to transfer the contraband to the pack horses and wagon.  Melvyrn stayed close to the lugger and, as Tolly lifted the lad out of it, saw the lad lead the two soldiers up the bank to wait for the men to finish. The lad kept his cap pulled low, making it difficult to see his features.  Still, there was something about the boy that seemed familiar. 

Melvyrn
pulled away from the relay line and walked toward the three quiet figures sitting on the rocks.  Hoping to put the lad at ease, he pulled on his cap in a diffident gesture.  “This is a well organized operation.  The old man, he’s a relative of yours?”

Before the lad could answer, Tolly’s huge frame came between them
with a crew member behind him.  Instead of answering Melvyrn, the lad said, “I will take the soldiers to Doc Pritchett.”

“Can’t,” Tolly said.  “He’s gone to Dover. 
Won’t be back ‘til late tomorrow.”

“Then I will take them to . . .”  The lad looked at Melvyrn, then said, “I will see to them.”

“Cleggs, here, can tend to them,” Tolly said. “Go home, lad,” Tolly ordered gruffly, taking the boy’s arm.  “If you ain’t home soon, your family’ll be after my hide.”  Then without a word to Melvyrn, he hustled the lad away. 

Anger and frustration warred within Melvyrn.  He swore under his breath as he watched Tolly
and the boy, nearly running to keep up with the giant, disappear in the morning mist.  He looked over his shoulder and saw that Cleggs and the two soldiers where already up the cliff.  Thinking to quiz the other crew members, Melvyrn turned around and discovered he was alone on a deserted beach. 

An eerie sensation came over him.  Even though he’d spent two nights and a day engaged in treasonous activity with a gang of infamous Gentlemen, he knew no more now than when he
first came to Folkestone.

 

***  Chapter 5  ***

The next morning, Rosalind entered the kitchen and greeted Mrs. Boroughs.  “How did the two soldiers fare last night?” she asked after accepting a scone and a cup of tea from Cook.

“Very well,”
Mrs. Boroughs replied.  “In fact, other than a few minor scraps and bruises, they are fine.  I’ve sent a message to Cleggs to come by later this morning.  He can see them on their way to London.” 

The first time Doc Pritchett had been unavailable,
Rosalind had approached Mrs. Boroughs to help nurse the wounded soldiers.  The older woman had been reluctant, concerned for Rosalind’s reputation.  As an unmarried woman, Rosalind would be ruined if it were known that she’d tended to sick men. However, Mrs. Boroughs agreed to help after being assured that the Hall’s staff would help and eliciting Rosalind’s promise to stay away from the recovering soldiers. 

“I see you are dressed for church?” Mrs. Boroughs said.  “You should consider resting this morning, Rosalind?”

It had been late by the time Rosalind had laid her head upon her pillow.  But she understood that appearances were important and tried not to give the villagers fodder for gossip.


I slept well,” Rosalind answered, looking at her chaperone’s weary countenance.  While she’d been sent to bed, Mrs. Borough had tended to the needs of the soldiers.  “Do you plan attending the service?”

Mrs. Boroughs shook her head.  “No, I will
wait for Cleggs and see the young men off.” 

Later that morning, Rosalind
sat looking about Saint Eanswythe Chapel. Named for an Anglo-Saxon princess, the church’s thick gray stone walls, with large arched windows of leaded glass, provided almost no warmth even in the summer, and she drew her cloak more tightly around her.  Still, the old church offered her a sense of belonging as memories of sitting in the same pew in years passed with her mother and father, and her brother, Edward, next to her, pinching her to stay awake.  Her reminiscing abruptly ceased, however. 

She
knew the moment the Earl of Melvyrn entered the stone chapel.  Besides the authoritative click of his boots on the stone floor, a buzz of chatter arose, pew by pew, following his progress down the center aisle.  Sure enough, out of the corner of her eyes, she saw the tall figure of the Earl enter the pew across from her.  Except for a few members of the house staff from Cliffe Manor, no Melvyrn had occupied that pew in years.  Rosalind steadfastly refused to glance over at him.  She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of thinking he’d conquered her interest.  Besides, she could hear Sylvia Chadlington, who sat behind her, urging her mother to invite the Earl to tea.  Undoubtedly, he heard her too.

Th
e service started, and the organ drowned out everything else.  The vicar’s sermon was no longer or more monotonous than any other Sunday, but for some reason, Rosalind found the hell and brimstone treatise interminable.  She knew the old vicar cared about his parish and was concerned that most of its members engaged in smuggling in one form or another.  The only thing that kept her from falling asleep was her awareness of Melvyrn in the other pew.  She sensed his eyes on her more than once and forced herself to keep her own on the pulpit. 

When the congregation finally rose for the benediction hymn, Rosalind let her
gaze roam about the church, seeking a means of escape.  She didn’t want to get caught by one of her well-meaning neighbors, who usually took this opportunity to chat with her.  Any delay in the church yard would surely lead to an introduction with the Earl, and that she wished to avoid at all cost.  Tolly had impressed upon her the need to stay away from Melvyrn for fear that he’d recognize her as the lad Ros.

Drat the man, anyway.  He was supposed to be recuperating from some mysterious illness, wasn’t he?  How did he expect people to ignore him if he were constantly roaming the countryside, particularly when he had the looks of a dark Adonis
?

Ducking her head low to avoid any eye contact, she darted from the pew the moment the music ceased and managed to be one of the first down the aisle to give the old vicar his due for a truly inspiring sermon.  Thank the heavens he never pin
ned one for specifics.  Thus with little fuss, she was out in the yard, headed for her carriage where Thomas stood waiting to assist her.  Behind her, someone called her name, but she was almost to her coach, and whoever it was wouldn’t be able to confront her in another minute.  Her luck was out, though.  Sylvia Chadlington appeared just as determined to have a word with her.

“La, Rosalind Wensley, one would think the devil himself were after you the way you ran out of church.”  Sylvia
hooked her arm through Rosalind’s as though she were a drowning sailor.

“What fustian,” replied Rosalind, putting the best face she could on it.  “
Surely you saw me talking with the vicar?”

“Ha, all you did was pump the old bleater’s hand before you fairly flew out the door,” retorted Sylvia.

Rosalind shook her head.  She wondered for the umpteenth time why Sylvia and she ever bothered to talk to each other.  Even as small children, they never got along.  “I am surprised you are not among the toad-eating horde surrounding Folkestone’s most illustrious inhabitant?”

“Really, Rosalind, I never took you for a silly goose,” replied Sylvia waspishly.  “Anyone with sense can see that one could not have a meaningful, let alone private, word with the Earl of Melvyrn until after the hoi poli have had their full.”

“Hoi poli?” repeated Rosalind, trying hard not to laugh.  “I have great difficulty seeing old Widow Crane or Squire Hopkins and his wife as hoi poli.”

“Now you are being silly again.”  Sylvia looked over her shoulder toward her mama who was still talking with the vicar.

“Well, so are you,” Rosalind said.  “The Earl is here only for a short time and will soon be gone and probably will not return for another twenty years.”

“Exactly,” was Sylvia’s exasperated rejoinder.  “And you know the old saying, ‘A bird in the hand . . . .’  Well, I for one intend to make the most of the Earl’s stay.  Mother has decided to have a ball the first of next month.”

“You think to catch his eye where many a London belle has failed?”

“Why do
you sound so incredulous?  I have as much to offer his lordship as the next debutante.  More, actually,” said Sylvia, warming to her topic with a calculating glint in her china blue eyes.  “By all accounts, I am prettier than most and, of course, have excellent linage.  Why, the Chadlington family goes back--”

“Sylv
ia, Sylvia dear,” called out Lady Chadlington, holding on to the Earl’s coat sleeve with both hands as she dragged him toward Sylvia and Rosalind.  Introductions were quickly, if reluctantly, made.

“Ladies,” said Melvyrn, touching the brim o
f his curly brimmed, beaver tophat, though his gaze never left Rosalind’s face.  She sensed he was studying her and held herself rigid to keep from fidgeting.

Lady Chadlington fairly beamed with pride. “Do hurry, Sylvia dear.  The Earl will be joining us for tea.”  Then almost as an afterthought, she said,
“You will come, too, Rosalind?”

“Thank you, my lady,” replied Rosalind, “however, I must refuse.  Mrs. Boroughs is expecting me.”

“Where is Mrs. Boroughs?” asked Sylvia.  “She was not with you in church.”

“No, she was not feeling well, and I insisted she remain home,” said Rosalind.  “
And I did promise to be home in time for lunch.”

“Another time then,” answered her ladyship, sounding not at all disappointed.  “Do come along, Sylvia dear, for we must not keep
Lord Melvyrn waiting.”

“No need to make a fuss because of me,”
Melvyrn interrupted.  “You ladies run along, and I’ll follow shortly.  Besides, I rode Hector, and he’ll need a bit of a run after standing about for so long.”

Lady Chadlington looked from the Earl to Rosalind and back again.  Knowing how her ladyship’s mind worked, Rosalind found the expression on Lady Chadlington’s face laughable.  It was plain the matron despised the thought of leaving
such an eligible
parti
as the Earl alone with Rosalind.  But as much as she hated playing into the encroaching woman’s fears, Rosalind also had no wish to encourage the Earl’s attention.  Deciding to relieve Lady Chadlington’s mind, she made her exit.

“I
really must leave, Lady Chadlington,” said Rosalind, trying not to smile at the look of utter relief that crossed the woman’s pudgy round face.

“You will come to
the ball?” asked Sylvia.  “I am sending invitations out this week.”

BOOK: My Lady Smuggler
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