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Authors: The Weaver Takes a Wife

Sheri Cobb South (4 page)

“That was, indeed, quite a story, young man,” said the duke after his daughter’s departure. “In spite of your inauspicious beginnings, it would appear that you’ve done quite well for yourself. But I think we will not linger over port. If you wish to converse with Lady Helen in the drawing room, Theodore and I will join you there directly.”

Mr. Brundy, correctly interpreting this dismissal as an invitation to make his proposal, bowed his appreciation and betook himself from the room.

Lady Helen, meanwhile, had been pacing the Aubusson carpet in agitation ever since she had withdrawn from the dining room. Why, her father expected her to marry an illegitimate workhouse brat! In the usual course of events, he would never have darkened her path, much less aspired to her hand. Surely after hearing Mr. Brundy’s history from his own lips, her father could see how impossible a match between herself and such a man would be! Upon hearing the door open, she spun toward the sound.

“Well, Papa,
now
do you—?”

It was not her father, however, but Mr. Brundy who stood on the threshold.

“Oh!  I beg your pardon,” she said stiffly, although her cool demeanor was belied by the heightened color staining her cheeks. “I thought you were my father.”

Mr. Brundy, not being given to flowery speeches, cut directly to the chase. “No, I’m not your father, but I ‘ope to become your ‘usband. ‘elen, will you do me the honor of bestowing upon me your ‘and in marriage?”

Lady Helen gasped. Oh, the unfairness of it all! This abominable man had not even given her the chance to hint him away, or change the subject, or any of a dozen other methods to which she had successfully sought recourse in the past. Alas, the offer had been made, and now that it was on the table, she had no choice but to address it. Falling back upon her last line of defense, she took a deep breath and launched into a recital calculated to frighten the unfortunate Mr. Brundy out of his wits.

“Mr. Brundy, you are no doubt as well acquainted with my circumstances as I am with yours, so let us not beat about the bush. I have a fondness for the finer things in life, and I suppose I always will. As a result, I am frightfully expensive to maintain. I have already bankrupted my father, and have no doubt I should do the same to you, should you be so foolhardy as to persist in the desire for such a union. Furthermore, I have a shrewish disposition and a sharp tongue. My father, having despaired of seeing me wed to a gentleman of my own class, has ordered me to either accept your suit or seek employment. Therefore, if I married you, it would be only for your wealth, and only because I find the prospect of marriage to you preferable—but only slightly!—to the life of a governess or a paid companion. If, knowing this, you still wish to marry me, why sir, you have only to name the day.”

Having delivered herself of this speech, Lady Helen waited expectantly for Mr. Brundy’s stammering retraction. Her suitor pondered her words for a long moment, then made his response.

“ ‘ow about Thursday?”

 

Chapter 3

 

Married in haste, we may repent at leisure. WILLIAM CONGREVE,
The Old Bachelor

 

The wedding was a small affair, the guest list being restricted to family and intimate friends.   The bride, though interestingly pale, was breathtaking in white satin, her honey-blond tresses crowned with a simple wreath of white roses in the style popularized by the Princess Royal. She was given in marriage by her father, while her brother the viscount looked on.

The bridegroom wore a coat of dark blue velvet over white pantaloons, and although the fabrics were of the first quality, the cut of the garments could not be said to do them justice. The fall of his cravat, while adequate, was not so elaborate as was fashionable, although some might have argued that the enormous diamond pinned into its folds more than compensated for its shortcomings. Having no family of his own, he was attended by Lord David Markham and Sir Aubrey Tabor. Also present was Lord David’s particular friend, Lady Randall.

“Dearly beloved friends,” intoned the bishop, “we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of His congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in paradise in the time of man’s innocency...”

This is not really happening to me, thought Lady Helen as the bishop read the familiar lines from the Book of Common Prayer. At any moment, I’m going to wake up and find that it is nothing but a bad dream.

But Mr. Brundy’s gloved hand clasping hers was all too real, as were the vows he spoke in his unmistakable accent. “I, Ethan Brundy, take thee, ‘elen Elizabeth Charlotte Katherine Radney to me wedded wife, to ‘ave and to ‘old from this day forward ...”

“Helen Elizabeth Charlotte Katherine Radney, wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband . . . and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as you both shall live?”

Lady Helen cast a covert glance at the common, ill-dressed man at her side. No, no, a thousand times no! But even as she opened her mouth to say the words, she darted a glance at her father. His thin lips pressed together in a hard line, and his eyebrows lowered ominously. A picture of herself, clad in shapeless black bombazine and walking an obnoxious pug down Pulteney Street, swam before her eyes.

“I—I will,” she said.

“. . . If any man can show just cause why these two may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.”

Papa will intervene, Lady Helen thought with a confidence born of desperation.  He had only wanted to teach her a lesson in filial obedience; he never really expected her to make such a dreadful
mésalliance.
Now that he had made his point, he would withdraw his consent and put an end to this farce.

“Forasmuch as Ethan Brundy and Helen Elizabeth Charlotte Katherine Radney have consented in holy wedlock, I pronounce that they be man and wife together. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Lady Helen’s green eyes opened wide in alarm. Good God! She was married to Mr. Brundy!

* * * *

The ceremony concluded, the bridal pair and their guests adjourned to the duke’s residence for the wedding breakfast. Lady Helen, having put on a brave face throughout the ordeal, was inclined to think this celebration dragged on far too long, until at length it was time for her to leave her father’s house for the last time. There was no wedding trip, due to the haste with which the nuptials had been arranged, and Lady Helen was not quite certain whether to be thankful that she was to be spared the forced intimacy of such a trip, or chagrined that she could not escape from Society until the gossip surrounding her shocking
mésalliance
had died down.

Suddenly she longed to sample another slice of bride cake, or to refill her glass with champagne punch—anything to postpone the inevitable departure and consequential beginning of her married life. But she was still a Radney, by blood if no longer in name, and Radneys did not shirk their duty, no matter how unpleasant that duty might be. And so, with head held high, Lady Helen Brundy accepted her husband’s escort to his waiting carriage and allowed him to hand her inside.

Alone together for the first time since the brief interview which had culminated in Mr. Brundy’s proposal of marriage, the newly married pair found very little to say to each other.

“I ‘ope you’ll be pleased with me ‘ouse,” Mr. Brundy said at last, breaking the silence which had reached the point of awkwardness. “On Grosvenor Square, it is. I bought it just last month, from a bloke by the name of Winslow.”

“Winslow?” echoed Lady Helen, surprised out of her silence. “You cannot mean Lord Winslow, who took his own life after losing his fortune at games of chance?”

“Aye, that’ll be the one,” assented Mr. Brundy with a nod. “Seems ‘is widow ‘ad to sell it in order to pay ‘is lordship’s debts. Quite a bargain it was, too.”

Lady Helen, it seemed, was less than pleased with her husband’s business savvy.  “You would seem very quick to profit from the misfortunes of others.”

“ ‘Twas not I ‘oo made ‘im play ‘azard,” Mr. Brundy pointed out reasonably. “Nor I ‘oo blew the fellow’s brains out.”

“I suppose not,” conceded Lady Helen with a sigh. “Still, it must have been very hard on Lady Winslow, to lose her husband and her home all at once.”

“And ‘ow would she ‘ave settled the debts if no one ‘ad bought the ‘ouse?”

“Mr. Ethan Brundy, savior of impoverished nobility,” drawled Lady Helen. “I wonder, what did you pay my father for me?”

“Seventy-five thousand pounds.”

“Good heavens! You must be mad!”

“Mad?” echoed Mr. Brundy. “Why?”

“Seventy-five thousand pounds for a bride can hardly be considered a wise investment,” Lady Helen pointed out.

“You’ll allow me to be the best judge o’ that.” Mr. Brundy smiled at his bride, and there was something about the expression in his brown eyes that caused Lady Helen to look away without knowing exactly why.

“And so, like the workhouse, you paid another to take you,” she concluded tartly. “It would appear you are not so very far removed from your origins, after all.”

“ ‘ere we are,” said Mr. Brundy as the carriage rolled to a stop before the imposing façade. Lady Helen’s drooping spirits lifted ever so slightly. The house, with its pilastered walls and arched windows, was certainly worthy of a duke’s daughter—even if she had to share it with a weaver. Why, in a house this large, she might be able to go for days without seeing her husband at all.

A footman hurried to open the carriage door, and Lady Helen, acknowledging his presence with a regal nod, allowed him to hand her down. Mr. Brundy followed, and took her arm to escort her into her new home. Inside the marble hall, all the servants were lined up to be presented to their new mistress, from Evers, the stiff-rumped butler (who looked ten times more genteel than his employer), to the lowliest scullery maid. She progressed slowly down the line as each servant bowed or curtsied a greeting, acknowledging each with a nod, sometimes speaking a word or two to those of the upper ranks.

Having grown up in the ducal household, Lady Helen was accustomed to dealing with a large staff, and so was not at all put out of countenance by the long line of humanity bobbing and bowing before her. Still, she was aware of the curious glances being leveled at her back as she made her way down the line, and had the oddest feeling that she was being paraded for their inspection as much as they were for hers. The inspection at last complete, her husband suggested that she might like a tour of the house.

“I bought it furnished, me ‘aving no inclination for decorating such a pile,” he explained as he conducted his bride from room to room. “As me wife, you’re welcome to furnish it as you see fit.”

The furnishings, as Lady Helen soon discovered, were an unattractive mish-mash of styles, from gilded rococo in the dining room to heavy Gothic in the library, according to the caprices of the Winslow fortunes. There was even an Egyptian drawing room, with furniture whose legs were formed in the shape of crocodiles.

“Good heavens!” she cried, fingering the faded draperies. “How can you bear to live in such squalor?”

A smile touched Mr. Brundy’s lips. “I’ve lived in far worse. But if you’ve a fancy to redecorate, I’ll ‘ave someone bring you a sample book of fabrics. Order anything you like.”

“Be sure I shall,” replied Lady Helen with a kindling eye.

She crossed the hall to a larger drawing room, with her husband at her heels. Here she scarcely noticed the furnishings, for a massive gilt picture frame dominated the room.

“Where is the painting?” she asked, staring at the empty frame.

“I’d thought to ‘ang a picture of me wife in it,” Mr. Brundy explained.  “I’ve taken the liberty of ‘iring an artist to take your likeness.”

Lady Helen’s lips twisted in derision. Her rôle, as her father had implied, was to lend respectability to her husband’s wealth by giving him the appearance of gentility. Who would have guessed that she, who had spurned offers from the sons of England’s noblest families, would find her destiny in lending consequence to a wealthy Cit?

“If you wish to display me like a hunting trophy, I wonder you do not simply have my head stuffed and mounted, and hang it over the mantel,” she remarked disdainfully.

Mr. Brundy’s lips twitched. “A novel idea, me dear, but if I did that, you’d ‘ave no place to ‘ang this.” He reached into his inside coat pocket and withdrew a long velvet box. “Something in the way of a wedding gift,” he explained.

Lady Helen opened the box and stifled a gasp. Diamonds flashed up at her, a dazzling collection of stones which sparkled in the light.

“Good heavens, Mr. Brundy,” she said with remarkable calm, “are you trying to blind me, or merely to dazzle me with your wealth?”

“Me name is Ethan,” he reminded her. “I’d be pleased if you’d make free with it.”

Lady Helen Brundy,
née
Radney, arched a condescending eyebrow. “I wonder,
Mr. Brundy,
what makes you think pleasing you must be an object with me?”

* * * *

Having seen his friend securely wed, Lord David Markham escorted Lady Randall back to her own abode in Harley Street, albeit not without first offering a place in his barouche to Sir Aubrey Tabor.

“A cold day in hell, eh?” he remarked as Sir Aubrey settled himself in the rear-facing seat. “Old Nick must be shivering in his boots today.”

“Aye, and so would I be if Ethan had accepted my wager,” agreed the baronet.

“A wager?” echoed Lady Randall. “What wager?”

“Aubrey was so convinced that Ethan’s suit would be rejected out of hand that he offered to pay him a thousand pounds on his wedding day,” Lord David explained to his fair companion. “Fortunately for him, Ethan has an aversion to gambling.”

“And I’ll never understand why, for if ever a man had plenty to lose, it’s he,” complained Sir Aubrey as Lord David’s barouche bowled along Oxford Street. “Although ‘tis doubtful he would lose in any case, for I vow the man is a veritable Midas. Everything he touches turns to gold!”

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