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Authors: The Weaver Takes a Wife

Sheri Cobb South (7 page)

“You knew I owned a mill, ‘elen. Did you think it produced nothing but ‘omespun?”

This rhetorical question was far closer to the truth than Lady Helen cared to admit.

“On the contrary, Mr. Brundy, I have never felt the matter worthy of serious consideration,” she replied haughtily.

Mr. Brundy only grinned at her. Really, she thought, the man was impervious to insult! Any of her London beaux would have turned tail and run to lick their wounds. What could one do with a man who merely smiled at one in a way that made one feel suddenly hot and cold all at the same time?

“I have decided to keep the furniture in the large drawing room and simply have it reupholstered,” Lady Helen said hastily, more out of a need to fill the lengthening silence than any desire to inform her husband of the changes in store. “I’m also keeping my bed and dressing table, and recovering the Sheraton chairs in my bedroom.” This remark was unfortunate, as it brought to mind the chair wedged beneath the doorknob, and Lady Helen lapsed into blushing silence.

But if Mr. Brundy noticed his wife’s discomfiture, he gave no outward sign. “And what of the pieces you don’t wish to keep?” he asked, “ ‘ave you decided what to do with them?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” confessed Lady Helen. “I might let the housekeeper have a couple of the chairs for her room, but I hardly think she would want those dreadful Egyptian crocodiles crawling about the place.”

“Might I make a suggestion?”

“I would love to hear it,” declared Lady Helen, although there was that in her voice which indicated otherwise.

“I thought per’aps we might write Lady Winslow and see if she might wish to ‘ave any pieces she was particularly fond of.”

Lady Helen blinked at her base-born husband in surprise. “I think that would be a very decent thing to do, Mr. Brundy.”

“I may not be genteel, ‘elen, but I am—decent—on occasion,” he pointed out gently.

Remembering her six-month reprieve from her conjugal duties, Lady Helen could not deny it.

 

Chapter 5

 

Chaste to her husband, frank to all beside. ALEXANDER POPE,
Moral Essays

 

If the newly married Brundys were able to fill their days with meaningful activity, the same could not be said of their nights. While the
ton
might avail itself of the upstart weaver’s hospitality in order to satisfy its curiosity, inviting the creature into their own homes was quite another matter. Consequently, the weaver and his wife spent their evenings quietly at home, facing one another down the long expanse of the new mahogany dining table. To Lady Helen, accustomed as she was to choosing between three or more invitations on any given night, this forced isolation was rather difficult to bear, even though she was not entirely without sympathy for the London hostesses who had crossed her off their guest lists.

Ironically, it was ultimately Mr. Brundy to whom she owed her deliverance. For among the witnesses to his debut at White’s, and thus privy to that shocking display of insubordination to his betters which had so mortified the duke, was one Colonel Lionel Pickering.

The Colonel had distinguished himself on the field of battle some twenty years earlier, until a ball in the knee had abruptly ended his military career and left him with a permanent limp. His disability notwithstanding, Pickering had still managed to win the heart and hand of plump, pretty Elizabeth Collins, who had rewarded his heroism by presenting him with no less than four bright-eyed daughters. The eldest of the Misses Pickering was making her come-out that very Season, and it was largely to escape the endless details of her presentation ball that Col. Pickering had sought refuge at his club on that particular day.

He had returned to his domicile to find his wife fretting over the invitation list and wondering aloud how much champagne would be necessary to quench their guests’ thirst, how many lobster patties to satiate their hunger, and how many wax candles to illuminate their finery without setting them ablaze.

“I do hope you will not be bored, my dear,” she clucked, glancing at her husband’s cane. “It must be perfectly dreadful, hosting a ball when one cannot dance.”

“Nonsense,” her spouse replied briskly. “Have I ever refused to escort you or Amanda to Almack’s?”

This comparison found no favor with Mrs. Pickering. “No, but you always abandon us for the card room the minute you are inside the door. Here you are the host, so I shall tolerate no disappearances!”

“Very well. Only promise me you will invite plenty of interesting people with whom I may converse.”

“You have my word,” vowed Mrs. Pickering. “Did you have anyone particular in mind?”

“As a matter of fact, I met a man just today whom I should like to know better. Have you perhaps heard of a Mr. Ethan Brundy, of Manchester?”

Mrs. Pickering’s brown eyes bulged. “Brundy? Is he not the weaver who married the duke of Reddington’s daughter?”

“The very same. Mr. Brundy was at White’s today as the duke’s guest.  His opinions, though not eloquently expressed, were most thought-provoking. I should like you to send a card to Mr. Ethan Brundy and Lady Helen Brundy.”

“Are you quite sure, dearest?” fretted his wife. “I should not wish to do anything to damage Amanda’s chances. We do have the other three girls to think of, you know.”

“I yield to your superior social sense,” conceded the Colonel meekly, bowing his head to hide the smile he could not quite suppress. “I am sure we want Amanda’s come-out ball to be a dignified occasion, not fodder for drawing-room gossip.”

Mrs. Pickering regarded her husband with an arrested expression. “Gossip, my love?”

“I fear it would be the talk of the
ton
for at least a week—particularly if you were also to invite Lord Waverly. He was expected to wed Lady Helen himself, you know. No, if the word were to get out that the Brundys had been invited, we should no doubt find ourselves besieged by every gabble-grinder in London. You are right as always, Liza, my dear.”

Having made his point, the Colonel beat a strategic retreat, leaving his wife’s head fairly spinning as she considered the possibilities. The talk of the
ton
for at least a week . . . every gabble-grinder in London . . . who would be escorted to the ball by their marriageable sons, grandsons, and nephews, no doubt, and who then would be obliged to invite dear Amanda to their own parties. . . . Mrs. Pickering snatched up her guest list, and added three more names to the bottom.

* * * *

The very next day found a folded and sealed missive on cream-colored vellum delivered to Lady Helen Brundy with the morning post. Since this of late had consisted mostly of letters from various ducal relations offering felicitations to her upon her marriage, while tendering the most tortured explanations as to why they were regrettably unable to offer hospitality to the bridal couple, Lady Helen seized upon this promising correspondence with the greed of a child being offered a sweetmeat.

Upon breaking the seal and spreading open the single sheet, she was informed that the pleasure of her company was requested at a ball in honor of Miss Amanda Pickering’s introduction to Society. Unfortunately, Mr. Brundy’s presence was requested as well, but Lady Helen was weary enough of her own company that a ball, even one to which her husband was invited, was a welcome diversion.

“We have been invited to a ball, Mr. Brundy, and I plan to attend,” she informed him that evening over the dinner table. “Shall I add your name to my acceptance?”

“If it’s all the same to you, me dear, I prefer to stay ‘ome,” he said. “I’ve no fondness for balls and such like.”

Lady Helen, who just that morning would have been delighted at the prospect of attending the ball without the encumbrance of her low-born spouse, was chagrined at how unsatisfactory she found his answer. “As you wish,” she said, shrugging her slender shoulders. “Still, I would have thought you would be bored with your own company by now.”

“With me own company, per’aps,” he nodded. “But when a man is wed to one of the cleverest and most beautiful women in England, why should ‘e look outside ‘is own ‘ome for amusement?”

Lady Helen was annoyed to feel her face grow warm. “Sarcasm does not become you, Mr. Brundy.”

“Perfectly honest, me dear. But if you wish to go, I’ll not forbid you.”

“I do. I’ve no doubt Papa would escort me, or Teddy. Or,” she added, prompted by some demon she could not name, “perhaps Lord Waverly could be persuaded.”

If she had wished to goad her husband into some show of jealousy, she succeeded admirably. Mr. Brundy’s fork clattered to his plate, and his usually good-humored countenance darkened ominously. “Lord Waverly, you say?”

“Why, yes. When one is a married woman, one need not be so particular as to the proprieties, you know. ‘Tis not unusual among the
ton
for a matron to be escorted by a man other than her husband.”

“We’ve a word for that sort of thing in Lancashire,” muttered Mr. Brundy, unimpressed.

Raising one delicately arched eyebrow, Lady Helen regarded him haughtily from the other end of the long table. “You are not in Lancashire, Mr. Brundy.”

“Nevertheless, if you want go to Mrs. What’s-’er-name’s ball, you’ll go with your ‘usband. You may write and tell ‘er we’ll be ‘appy to attend.”

“I shall, of course, be pleased to accept your escort,” replied Lady Helen with crushing formality.

It was not until later, as she penned her acceptance, that she wondered why she had not left well enough alone.

* * * *

And so it was that Mr. Brundy and Lady Helen made their first public appearance as man and wife. Lady Helen was, as ever, breathtaking in gold sarcenet shot with threads of metallic gold, in direct defiance of the tabbies who would no doubt be whispering behind their fans that poor Lady Helen Radney was the latest vestal virgin to be sacrificed on the altar of that most precious of metals.

But when she descended the stairs to find her husband there before her, her defiant spirit withered and died. Indeed, the sight of his ill-fitting evening clothes and unkempt dark curls made her wonder anew why she had not been content to solicit her brother’s escort and leave her husband at home. Alas, the carriage was even now at the door, and it was too late to change her plans. She allowed Evers to place her velvet evening cloak about her shoulders, then took Mr. Brundy’s proffered arm.

After a short carriage drive, the Brundys reached Portland Place, where Colonel Pickering had hired a house for the Season. A long line of vehicles formed a queue which snaked up the street, each carriage in turn disgorging its glittering occupants before the front door.

“It appears Miss Pickering’s come-out ball is destined to be quite a crush,” observed Lady Helen to her spouse.

“Indeed, it does,” he agreed.

There was little more to be said after that, and so the pair waited in silence while their carriage edged ever closer to its destination. This at last having been reached, the carriage door was thrown open and a liveried footman assisted Lady Helen from the vehicle.

As Mr. Brundy escorted his wife up the stairs to the first-floor ballroom, Lady Helen noted with satisfaction the polished parquet floors, sparkling crystal chandeliers, and huge bowls of flowers atop pedestals made to resemble classical Greek columns. It was good to be out in Society again, to resume her place in the world to which she had been born and bred—the world to which her husband, in spite of his wealth, could never truly belong. With a disdainful sniff, she released his arm and disappeared into the cloak room to divest herself of her velvet cloak. Great was her surprise when she emerged to find her husband being hailed with enthusiasm by their host.

“Well met, Mr. Brundy!” exclaimed Colonel Pickering, clapping him on the back as he might an intimate of long standing. “Where have you been keeping yourself? Haven’t seen you at White’s this age.”

“No, nor will you.” Mr. Brundy’s brown eyes twinkled. “The Dook threatened to ‘ave me ‘orsewhipped if I dared show me face there again.”

The Colonel guffawed, drawing curious glances in their direction from the other guests. “Did he, now? Then I fear you are doomed either way, my friend, for I shall have you horsewhipped if you do not! White’s is a duller place without you, Brundy.”

“Why, thank you, sir. What a ‘andsome way of saying I made a spectacle of meself!”

“A most welcome one, I assure you. Do you know, I have just read a most thought-provoking treatise by Mrs. More on the subject of education for the lower classes. I should be most interested in hearing your opinion of it.” The colonel paused awkwardly, then asked, “You do read, do you not?”

Mr. Brundy nodded. “Although I ‘aven’t the advantage of an Oxford education, I am not completely illiterate, Colonel.”

“No, no, of course not,” muttered Colonel Pickering, embarrassed at his own
faux pas.
“No offense intended, I assure you.”

“And none taken,” replied Mr. Brundy, grinning broadly. “I’d be more than ‘appy to see what Mrs. More ‘as to say.”

“Capital! The pamphlet is in my study, if you will follow me.”

“Of course. If you’ll excuse me, ‘elen, me dear.”

And to her chagrin, Lady Helen for the first time in her life found herself completely
sans
male companionship. She was still shooting dagger-glances at her husband’s rapidly retreating back when a familiar drawl interrupted thoughts which were hardly shining examples of wifely submission.

“Poor Mrs. Brundy! Has the weaver tired of you so quickly?”

Turning to answer the challenge, Lady Helen was forced to pause in order to catch her breath. After almost two weeks in the company of the badly tailored Mr. Brundy, the sight of Lord Waverly in full evening dress was indeed awe-inspiring. White pantaloons were molded to his well-muscled legs, and his dark cutaway coat caressed his broad shoulders like a lover. Nor could any fault be found with his dove gray waistcoat or pristine cravat. Indeed, the only thing marring this pattern-card of British manhood was the fact that Lord Waverly was perfectly well aware of the picture he presented. Fortunately, Lady Helen’s tongue had not grown dull since her marriage, as she had taken every opportunity to sharpen it on her husband.

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