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Authors: Margaret Bennett

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BOOK: My Lady Smuggler
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For now, Melvyrn
decided to let the matter drop. Tomorrow night, when they made the run, he planned on sticking right by that lad until he got to the bottom of this little mystery.  And that was with or without Tolly.

~~~~~

Late that afternoon, Rosalind sat at the large, oak carved desk staring out the study’s front windows.  It seemed inevitable that she’d meet the Earl every time she left the Hall, and today was no exception.  She’d been more startled than upset when she had seen him standing in the doorway of the Eight Bells Inn.  And though she found him extremely handsome and friendly, Tolly’s admonitions to keep her distance from the Earl kept running through her mind.  Melvyrn must not make the connection between her and the youth on the
Arrow
.   

All
her life she’d lived here.  The people of Folkestone had been there when she and her father had buried her brother.  They had watched her father waste away as he grieved for his son.  They understood and tolerated her need to participate in rescuing British soldiers from France.  But it could only spell disaster for her if Melvyrn were to discover that she was the youth.

Her attention was drawn to
Tolly’s massive frame as he came from behind the Hall and crossed in front of the windows, headed for the front door.  Moments later, when Hixon announced the burly fisherman, she noticed his troubled expression and waited only for him to take a seat in the damask arm chair in front of the desk.  “What troubles you, Tolly?”

“Melvyrn says he’s got to
meet Jacques Embree,” Tolly blurted out.  He kept his eyes on the knit cap that he twirled in his hands.

“Why?
What possible reason could he have to talk with Jacques?”

“The War Office
needs to pass messages through France to get to Wellington.  Melvyrn insists the old Frenchman can help.”

“Did you tell the Earl the French are already suspicious of Jacques? 
That it could cost him his life?”

“Aye, I did.  Melvyrn said it’s
important.  Claims it would save lives, might help to end the war sooner.”

Rosalind leaned back in the chair and stared out the window.  The a
fternoon sky was bright azure and clear of any clouds.  It was so hard to believe, sitting in this tranquil room that across the water men, good God-fearing men, were dying.  And for what?  So that she and others like her could live their lives uninterrupted, unmolested, by the French monster, Napoleon.

Everyone knew he
had to be defeated.  Everyone believed the British army would be victorious.  Battles were duly reported in the
Times
and
Morning Post
.  The only other way the British populace felt the war was when a roster of casualties was printed.  Even then, they were just names of men and boys from another province or big town.  The war hadn’t really come to Folkestone for Rosalind until the death of her brother. 

She
met his black eyes as he studied her with a worried frown.  “If aiding Melvyrn will help bring this horrid war to an end, then we must do so, Tolly.”

“Aye, I can see that, too.”  Tolly nodded his big hairy head.  “But there’s another problem.  Can’t be done without the Major learning who you are.”

“That is a chance we will have to take.  When does Melvyrn want to make the run?”

“Soon.”  Rosalind watched as Tolly did some quick mental calculations.  “
Maybe tomorrow night.”

She nodded her head. 
“Let me know and I will be there.”

 

***  Chapter 8  ***

When Melvyrn returned to Cliffe Manor later that afternoon, he saw a well appointed carriage driving off apparently after just unloading several trunks which sat on the front steps of the Manor.

Turning Hector’s reins over
to Grimsley, Melvyrn skirted the trunks as he mounted the stairs.  Entering the cool interior of the main hall, he saw Hixon carrying a tea tray which included a glass of brandy into the drawing room.  Stripping off his gloves, he followed on the heels of his major-demo and smiled.  “London must be devilishly dull without your presence, Denholm.  Whatever brings you to Folkestone?”

“If anyone but Roeburn had asked me, I wouldn’t be here.”  Simon Goreham, Viscount Denholm, rose from his chair with a hand outstretched for Melvyrn.  Tall and slender, Lord Denholm’s aristocratic nose, chiseled jaw and cheekbones, and hard gray eyes were set off by dark brown hair brushed back from his high forehead.  “I’ve come bearing a diplomatic pouch that the War Office wants Wellington to have
immediately.”  He raised one dark eyebrow and added, “I’m told you’re the man for the job.”

Melvyrn laughed.  “More like the smuggling gang I’ve hooked up with.”  Denholm’s countenance never changed, but Melvyrn could tell he’d caught his friend’s interest by the glint in his eyes. 

“Rum business you’ve gotten yourself into, pardon the pun.” Denholm took a healthy sip of brandy, then raised his glass.  “Excellent French brandy you serve, too.”

“Easy to come by in these parts, if you’re interested,” Melvyrn said. 

Denholm elevated one dark brow.  “Hawking the stuff as well, are you?”

Melvyrn laughed.  “No, but I know a few fellows who do.”  Going to a table pushed against the wall with several decanters and glasses, Melvyrn poured himself a glass of brandy and sat across from the Viscount.  “Roeburn could have dispatched a pouch by
regular courier.” 

“Yes, but this one is particularly urgent, and since the
Marquess hadn’t heard from you, he sent me to . . . get the lay of the land, so to speak.”

“My understanding is that all dispatches are urgent,” Melvyrn said.

“True,” said Denholm as he rose from his chair and closed the drawing room doors.  Turning back to face Melvyrn, he said, “ As you know, the Prussians declared war on France, and the Little General has been marshalling his forces with the idea of focusing the fighting on the Prussians.  The War Office feels Wellington should use this opportunity to strike at Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother and self-declared king of Spain, at Vitoria.  It’s imperative that Wellington, who’s in Portugal, gets this directive immediately.”

Melvyrn nodded his understanding.  “There will be a run to France tomorrow night.”

“Where to?”

“Wissant, where I am trying to set up agents for getting dispatches to
Marquise which already has a small network of British agents and sympathizers.  From there, the dispatches go directly to Paris to our intelligence officers, who can deliver them to Wellington.”

“I’d like to go with you,” Denholm said. 

Melvyrn shook his head.  “It’s not likely you’ll be able to, for the smugglers are a suspicious bunch.  How long do you stay?”

Denholm s
hrugged.  “Two or three days at the most.  Roeburn’s expecting a report on how things stand here.”

Melvyrn chuckled.  “Then I believe I’ll take advantage of your presence to deflect some unwanted attention.  I’ve been hooked into a picnic tomorrow and an upcoming ball by
Lady Chadlington and her daughter, Sylvia Chadlington.  Father’s a baron.  Do you know them?”

“Afraid not.”

“That must be rectified,” Melvyrn said with an evil grin.  “I’ll send a note to Lady Chadlington, advising her of your arrival, and ask her permission to drag you along.”

“Daughter’s
a homely chit?”

Melvyrn shook
his head.  “Quite the contrary.  But I get the impression the family’s holding out for a wealthy title to bring their standing up in the
ton
.”

Denholm leveled a hard look at Melvyrn.  “Thought you were a friend, Melvyrn.”

Melvyrn chuckled.  “Never fear.  I’ll watch your back, Denholm.”

~~~~~

Taking a cravat from Bailey the next morning, Melvyrn gazed into the cheval mirror and, while tying it in a simple Gordion knot, asked the valet.  “Have you made any inroads with the servants?” 

Bailey shook his bald
ing pate.  “Don’t understand it, milord, but something strange is going on. No one talks about the smugglers, except to say that everyone’s entitled to make a proper wage, and that’s what the free traders are all about.”

“Have you heard any merchants’ names connected with the Gentlemen?” Melvyrn asked.
“I know the proprietor of the Eight Bells is involved.”


Nary a word.  Even Janey, who’s as chatty as they come, clams up when I mention anything about them smugglers.”


Janey’s keeping you on your toes, then?” Melvyrn asked while critically eying the folds of his cravat in the mirror.

“Oh, Janey’s a handful, all right.”  A broad smile split the valet’s face.  “She’s a bright one, too, and curvy, and sassy.  Don’t expect she’ll stay a scullery maid for long.”


I do believe you’re smitten,” Melvyrn said with a chuckle.

“What, ho!  Not me, milord
!” exclaimed Bailey, the smile replaced with a deep frown.  “There be too many ladies I ain’t sampled yet.”

~~~~~

The Chadlingtons’ alfresco luncheon was everything Melvyrn expected.  When he arrived with Denholm, they were greeted by an effusive Lady Chadlington, who quickly introduced the Viscount to Sylvia. Lord Chadlington was also present.  Slightly overweight, Chadlington was a quiet man with a ruddy complexion and bibulous noise who allowed his wife to take charge of the event.  The party assembled on the back terrace of the old Tudor home, where Squire and Mrs. Hopkins and their daughter Lily soon joined them.  From there the group strolled down to a small lake with a gazebo overlooking its placid water where tables and chairs had been set up.  Looking about for Miss Wensley, Melvyrn was surprised by his own disappointment that she wasn’t present.  

As he gritted his teeth, Melvyrn
took his seat next to Sylvia.  He’d much rather have had the more congenial company of the Squire’s daughter, but that honor was given to Denholm.  The luncheon was less like a picnic than an informal dinner with sundry removes that included lobster bisque, roasted mutton chops, cold meats and cheeses, several side vegetable dishes, and a raspberry tart for dessert. During the luncheon, Melvyrn ventured to interrupt Miss Chadlington to inquire, “Forgive me for inquiring, but I thought Miss Wensley would be here?” 

Sylvia’s brows drew together in a slight frown.  “Well, we did invite her, but Miss Wensley accepts very few invitations.”

“Is that so?”  Melvyrn hoped he didn’t sound too interested.  “Most young ladies love the social life, for how else can they meet young gentlemen?”

“Yes, it is strange of her,” Sylvia said with an engaging smile.  “Perhaps it is because she does not entertain.  Why, Miss Wensley doesn’t even have an at home day and has even turned away visitors,” she concluded in a huff.

As Melvyrn considered this, he wondered what would make such an attractive young lady a recluse.  Then his attention was drawn to Denholm who had raised his wine glass and said, “My compliments, Chadlington.  The wine is superb.”

“Thank you, my lord,” the baron responded jovially.  “I do take pride in the contents of my cellar.”

Throughout the meal, Sylvia presented Melvyrn with a monologue of her London season, whom she met and events she attended.  The only reprieve Melvyrn got was when she quizzed Denholm on the latest on dits of the beau monde.  Afterwards, Sylvia, seizing Melvyrn by the arm, suggested a stroll around the lake.  Fortunately, Denholm followed with Lily Hopkins in tow.

On the ride back to the Manor,
Denholm roasted Melvyrn over Miss Chadlington’s preference.  “An earl does trump a viscount.”

“Hmmm, but you said
something else that caught my interest.”

“I doubt it would have taken much to draw you
r attention away from the lovely and very chatty Miss Chadlington,” drawled Denholm, meaningfully.  “But what utterance of mine do you refer to?”

Melvyrn laughed
but then sobered.  “It was the comment about the quality of Chadlington’s wine.  There’s little doubt that he purchases stock from the smugglers, but I’m wondering if he might be more involved.”

“Is there a way of finding out?”

“Perhaps,” replied Melvyrn, thinking he’d ask Tolly about the baron.  “When do you leave for London?”

“Tomorrow morning, after you return,” replied Denholm.  “I’d
like to give Roeburn a report on the success of your meeting with the French agents.  By the bye, where was your Miss Wensley?  Is she persona non grata with the Chadlingtons?”

Melvyrn laughed sardonically.  “Not exactly, though Miss Chadlington prefers to have an open field with no hedges to jump.”

“That I can well believe.  Still, in a backwater society such as Folkestone, I’m surprised Miss Wensley did not put in an appearance.”

“I did ask about Miss Wensley’s absence and was told that
she is rather reclusive.”  Thinking about the young lady in question, Melvyrn had a sudden urge to visit Ashford Hall.  “We’re not far from Ashford,” he said.  “Care to ride over there?”

BOOK: My Lady Smuggler
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