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Authors: The Weaver Takes a Wife

Sheri Cobb South (9 page)

Mr. Brundy, not wishing to wear out his welcome, consented to this plan and took his leave of his hostess, who admonished him to practice at home and to return for further instruction whenever he wished.

“I’ll do that, me lady,” he assured her. “Oh, and one more thing. I’d be grateful if you wouldn’t mention this to David, at least not yet.”

“Your secret is safe with me, Mr. Brundy.”
Both of them,
she promised herself.

* * * *

After successfully completing his first dance lesson, Mr. Brundy was content to spend the evening quietly at home. He had promised Colonel Pickering that he would read Mrs. More’s tome in its entirety before passing final judgement upon it, and it was with the intention of retrieving the book from his study that he was crossing the marble-tiled hall when a sound from above drew his gaze upwards.

The sight which met his eyes fairly took his breath away. Lady Helen descended the stairs in a cloud of silk gauze whose willow green shade exactly matched her eyes. Her honey-blond hair was dressed simply and ornamented with a single white gardenia over her left ear. Mr. Brundy, normally the most pragmatic of men, was struck with the fanciful notion that she resembled an exotic hothouse flower—a poetic observation which was immediately supplanted by the recollection of his own far more casual attire.

“I say, ‘elen, ‘ave we an engagement I’ve forgotten?” he asked, taking up a position beside the newel post so that he might hand her down the last few stairs.

Lady Helen gave him her hand, along with a look of wide-eyed innocence. “Why, no, Mr. Brundy. I am merely going to Almack’s. ‘Tis Wednesday, you know.”

“Indeed, it is,” he said with a secretive smile. “Still, I trust you’re not going alone.”

“No, indeed.” Lady Helen’s rebuttal was interrupted by a knock upon the front door. “That must be my escort now,” she said, smiling brightly at her husband.

Evers answered the summons and stepped back to admit Lord Waverly, immaculate as ever in full evening dress.

“Ah, Lady Helen, you are a vision, as always,” he said, raising her gloved hands to his lips before turning startled eyes upon her husband. “But what is this? Do you not mean to accompany us, Mr. Brundy?”

“Mr. Brundy is looking forward to a quiet evening at home,” explained Lady Helen.

“A wise choice, Mr. Brundy, I feel sure,” said the earl, nodding his approval. “Lady Helen, shall we go?”

Evers stepped forward with his mistress’s evening cloak but, seeing Mr. Brundy hold out an imperative hand, surrendered it to his master instead. Mr. Brundy placed the velvet garment about his wife’s shoulders, allowing his hands to remain there the merest fraction of a second longer than was absolutely necessary. This proprietary gesture did not go unremarked by Lord Waverly, who acknowledged it with the slightest lift of an eyebrow before offering his arm to Lady Helen.

“I ‘ope you ‘ave a pleasant evening, me dear.” Mr. Brundy’s unrefined accents followed them to the front door.

“Thank you, Mr. Brundy. I’m sure I shall.”

Once outside, Lady Helen allowed herself to be handed into Lord Waverly’s carriage, her spirits somewhat dashed. She was on her way to Almack’s, the one place in all of London to which all Mr. Brundy’s wealth could not buy him entrée. Furthermore, she was going there in the company of no less a personage than the Earl of Waverly, a man whom, had circumstances not decreed otherwise, she might have married. Her husband should have been beside himself, but instead he merely wished that she might have a pleasant evening.

In the twenty-four hours since the Pickerings’ ball, she had had ample time to reflect on Mr. Brundy’s treatment of her, and her response to it. True, he had ignored her shamefully, but even more disturbing was the fact that she had been so bothered by his neglect. The man was a
for heaven’s sake! His attentions would have been an embarrassment which she was thankful to have been spared.

More disturbing than all was the recollection of that moment when he had practically snatched her out of her partner’s arms, and the mortifying discovery that she had been trying to provoke this reaction from the moment she had first allowed the earl to escort her onto the floor.

In the light of these alarming revelations, it was perhaps not surprising that a pall had been cast over her evening which even the exclusive company at Almack’s did little to lift. Her companion, noting her uncharacteristic reserve, plied her with cakes and lemonade and, at the first available opportunity, waltzed her into a secluded alcove.

“Alone at last,” he said, without releasing his hold on her.

Lady Helen firmly disengaged herself from his embrace. “You seem to forget, my lord, that I am a married woman.”

“On the contrary, no one is more acutely aware of that fact than I, excepting, perhaps, your esteemed husband. And your marriage, as you must know, changes everything.”

This, certainly, was no lie. Three weeks ago, she would have never have concerned herself with anyone so insignificant as the Cit to whom she had been introduced that night at Covent Garden.

“I am well aware that my life has changed, my lord, but how that can affect you, I cannot imagine.”

“Can you not? And I had thought you awake upon every suit! I refer, of course, to freedom, my dear. As a married woman, you are allowed certain, shall we say, privileges, that unmarried ladies are denied. Should you decide to avail yourself of them, I would be most happy to assist you.”

“I’m sure you would—right into divorce and scandal.”

“Scandal?” echoed the earl. “ ‘Tis done all the time, I assure you. I’ll wager half the men of the
are raising one another’s bastards. In the case of your weaver, why, he should be grateful to me for doing my humble best to improve his bloodlines.”

Lady Helen stiffened. “You are offensive, Waverly,” she said frostily.

The earl’s eyebrows rose. “I beg your pardon; I never realized Mr. Brundy had so ardent a champion. But if you fear to lose all that lovely money in a divorce, my dear, you may set your mind at ease. Your husband has, by whatever means, aligned himself with the family of a duke. I assure you, he will gladly turn a blind eye to his wife’s indiscretions rather than lose the connection.”

“How little you know him, if you believe that!” scoffed Lady Helen. “Mr. Brundy fancies himself the equal of any Radney ever born.”

“Ah! Then this little jaunt to Almack’s is meant to put the upstart in his place?”

There was no point in denying it. “I suppose so,” she shrugged.

Lord Waverly chuckled. “ ‘Tis a pity, for you are wasted on the weaver, my dear. You deserve a man who is your equal—in every way.” His long slender fingers cupped her chin and tipped her face up toward his. “I could be that man, Helen.”

Lady Helen had never questioned her ability to handle Lord Waverly—nor any other man, for that matter. But she was suddenly aware that his tall figure blocked the way to the heavy curtain which separated this chamber from the assembly room, and the discovery made her heart beat faster. Still, it would never do to let Lord Waverly know that he had disconcerted her. Raising her fan to her mouth, she delicately stifled a yawn.

“Do you know, Waverly, I’ve just now realized that I really don’t like you very much?”

Lord Waverly opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a sudden commotion from without. The violins scraped to a halt as the sounds of raised voices and scuffling feet filled the assembly room.

“What the devil is happening out there?” Waverly grumbled.

Lady Helen seized the opportunity to slip past him, and emerged from the alcove to find a crowd gathered around the assembly room doors. Gripped by a sudden premonition, she edged her way through the crush until she reached the source of the disturbance. There, just inside the entrance, the master of ceremonies and a liveried porter struggled to evict a new arrival. Said arrival being loth to depart, the porter sought recourse to fisticuffs in order to carry out his duty.

“I tell you, me wife is in ‘ere!” insisted the intruder, resisting the porter’s best efforts to eject him.  “If you’ll only listen for ‘alf a minute—”

Mr. Brundy!”
shrieked Lady Helen, unwittingly distracting her husband just long enough to give the porter the opening he needed to land a solid blow to his adversary’s jaw.

“ ‘ullo, ‘elen, me dear,” Mr. Brundy said, then, smiling beatifically at his wife, crumpled to a heap at her feet.

* * * *

“He has put himself completely beyond the pale,” Lady Helen informed her father as she paced the Aubusson carpet in the duke’s drawing room, her willow green skirts swirling about her with every turn. “One may, if one has sufficient funds, purchase a house in the best part of Mayfair. One may even, if one is well-connected enough, insult the membership of White’s and live to tell the tale. But one may never,
set foot in Almack’s Assembly Rooms without first being granted vouchers by one of the patronesses!”

“And ‘ow was I supposed to know that?” asked Mr. Brundy, holding a raw beefsteak to his rapidly swelling jaw.

Lady Helen whirled about to confront the cause of her humiliation. “All the
knows it!”

“I am not the
declared Mr. Brundy, displaying a hitherto unsuspected talent for understatement.

“I could not have said it better myself!” retorted Lady Helen.

His Grace the duke listened to their marital bickering with growing impatience.   “Sit down, Helen, and stop flinging yourself about. Remember, you are still a Radney.”

Obediently, Lady Helen took her place beside her husband on the settee, but when Mr. Brundy patted her hand consolingly, she snatched it away.

“That said, I am afraid my daughter is quite right,” the duke informed his son-in-law. “You will certainly be
persona non grata
at Almack’s, at least for the rest of the season.”

Mr. Brundy had no knowledge of Latin, but he had not amassed a fortune by being stupid, and had no difficulty understanding that his presence there would not be welcomed.

“No great loss,” he said, shrugging his shoulders in resignation. “I didn’t like it above ‘alf, anyway.”

“Quite right,” agreed the hitherto silent viscount, finding himself in perfect charity with his disgraced brother-in-law. “The tea is weak, the cakes are stale, and the—”

“Hold your tongue, Theodore!” growled the duke, and the chastened viscount lapsed once more into silence. Having dealt with his son and heir, the duke turned his attention back to his errant son-in-law. “As my daughter says, you have certainly put yourself beyond the pale. Still, you are a part of this family now, and I will use my influence to see that you get over the ground as lightly as you can. First of all, you must remind the
of your close connection with the noble house of Radney.”

“And ‘ow am I to do that, sir?”

“Tell me, what think you of the name Ethan Radney?”

Mr. Brundy nodded his approval. “It ‘as a fine ring to it, it does. Per’aps the viscount might wish to give it to ‘is son someday.”

Viscount Tisdale, having already come to his brother-in-law’s defense once, was understandably reluctant to incur his father’s wrath by doing so again. He slumped down in his chair and tried very hard to become invisible.

“I am not speaking of my son, you nodcock!” snapped the duke. “I am giving you permission to assume one of the oldest, most honored names in England!”

“I’m afraid I’ll ‘ave to decline the honor, your Grace,” replied Mr. Brundy.

“Decline? Poppycock! Why should you?”

“It took me twenty-three years to ‘ave a name of me own. Now that I’ve got one, I’m in no ‘urry to give it up.”

The duke was not accustomed to having his will crossed, and the experience caught him off guard. “You are no doubt overcome by the honor being offered you,” he growled. “I am certain you will see the wisdom of such a course, once you have had time to consider the matter.”

Mr. Brundy was equally certain that no amount of consideration would change his mind, but as he had no desire to quarrel with his father-in-law, he wisely held his tongue.

“Next,” continued the duke, “you must separate yourself from your unfortunate beginnings in Trade. You must sell your mill.”

“Begging your pardon, your Grace, but I’ll do no such thing.”

Mr. Brundy never raised his voice, but the effect of his declaration was profound nonetheless. Both Radney siblings ceased breathing, watching their father warily and waiting for his wrath to descend.

Neither Lady Helen nor her brother lacked spirit, but they had grown up from the cradle with the understanding that the duke’s every whim was to be obeyed without question. The viscount’s peccadilloes might have gotten him sent down from Oxford, but where his father was concerned, he was aware of a line which he dared not cross.

Even Lady Helen, who prided herself on her independence of spirit, had gone meekly enough to the altar with the man of her father’s choosing. As she watched her father’s face turn crimson with rage, she could not but wonder if he was still happy with his choice.

“You, sir, will do as I say!” the duke barked. “You forget you are addressing the head of the house of Radney!”

Mr. Brundy shook his head. “Seeing as ‘ow the ‘ead of the ‘ouse of Radney couldn’t manage ‘is own affairs without running himself to ground, I’ll be ‘anged if I’ll let ‘im tell me ‘ow to manage mine.”

The duke’s coloring darkened from crimson to purple. “So you think to lord it over me with your money, do you?”

“Not at all. When you gave me permission to address your daughter, you told me not to think me money gave me the right to dictate to you. Might I suggest, your Grace, that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?”

For one tense moment the duke struggled with himself. Then his coloring gradually returned to normal, and he nodded. “Very well, Mr. Brundy,” he said, with a gleam in his eye which suggested he was not entirely displeased to discover that his son-in-law possessed a backbone, although he would have cut out his tongue before admitting to such a thing.

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