Authors: Connie Brockway
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General, #Regency
Im sure youre right, Letty said, unbuttoning her
lavender-dyed kid gloves. You must be very excited about the wedding.
Oh, yes, breathed Grace. Its like something in fairy tales
now, isnt it?
Is it? How so? Letty asked invitingly.
Well, the housekeeper said, settling her arms comfortably
across her middle, last year Miss Angela is invited by one of her former
school chumsshe went to a very fine finishing school, you knowto go on
vacation with her and her family to one of those lakeside hotels in Cumbria.
The second morning there she goes down to the pier to fish, and while shes
there a very nice-looking young bloke joins her.
However, it soon becomes clear that he dont know one end of
the hook from another, and Miss Angela, who is the soul of kindness, offers to
bait his hook for him. He accepts and introduces himself as plain old Hugh
Sheffieldnever mentioning as how he is a marquis.
As will happen, one thing leads to another and the young
people get to know each other and gets fond of each other, Graces dark eyes
glanced up quickly, in a purely innocent sort of way.
Where a healthy boy and girl are concerned, innocence seldom
enters the picture, let alone
innocence, Letty thought, but only
said, How romantic!
It gets even better, Grace replied. At the end of the month
the marquiswho Miss Angela still dont know is a marquisleaves, and Miss
Angela comes home and mopes around until another friend of hers from schoola
friend whats family is well up in Societyinvites her to London for the
And Miss Eglantyne, thinking that a spot of gaiety might be
just the thing to lift Miss Angela out of the doldrums, packs her off. And
She meets Prince Charming again? Or rather Marquis
Marvelous, Letty said.
Grace nodded vigorously. Yes, and
hes been looking for her all about town and had begun to think that she was
just like Cinderella, and that some wicked stepmother was keeping her in the
scullery, washing vegetable marrows, and that he was going to search for her
door to door only he hadnt even the clue of a glass slipper to guide him by.
Aint that just lovely? Grace sighed.
Couldnt he have contacted the hotel and asked for her
address? Letty asked. Hotels always ask for forwarding addresses in case
something gets left behind. A marquis certainly would know that.
Grace scowled, opened her mouth, shut it, scowled harder. I
suspect he wasnt thinking very clearly, bein so madly in love and all, she
said in a hard, brook-no-argument voice.
Letty thought. Now shed done it. Romantics hated
being hit square between the eyes with logic.
Undoubtedly you are right, she said soothingly. The deep
furrows between Graces brows relaxed. And that
a pretty story. I
suppose it was only a matter of weeks after their meeting in London that the
marquis revealed himself as the heir to a wondrous fortune and begged Miss
Angela to be his bride.
Thats right! Grace said, delighted.
And I imagine Miss Angela at first said, No! thinking
herself by far his social inferior?
Why, yes! Grace intoned, clearly impressed.
But he squelched her fears, finally convincing her that he
would never be complete without her! she finished dramatically.
Exactly! Grace said wonderingly. Howd you know?
Because three quarters of Londons Gaiety Theatre operettas
were fashioned on those exact same lines, and shed seen every one. Even been
in the chorus of a couple.
She smiled wisely for Graces benefit, but inside she couldnt
help but feel a bit gratified that real life actually sometimes worked out like
that. It gave her a bit of hope.
Of course, if any bloke with a title and pockets full of gold
asked for her hand, he wouldnt need to be asking twice. She wasnt a fool.
Ive seen much in my career, she said enigmatically and let
it go at that as she began unpinning her hat.
I heard how you havent got a maid, Grace said. So, Ill
just send a girl up to help you
No! Letty swept her hat from her head and tossed it next to
Fagin. Which one of these pieces of luggage contained Lady Agathas clothing?
Im not exactly sure whats where. Thats one of the reasons I gave my maid
the sackI mean, terminated her employment. She didnt keep things straight.
I daresay Ill deal well enough on my own this once. You
mentioned the man I sent? Letty hurriedly tried to channel the conversation to
The caterer? Nice enough fer a foreigner. Seemed to know his
business and all. Left a lot of notes for you.
Left? You mean hes not here?
Mr. Beauford went back to London three days ago, Grace said
in puzzlement. You didnt know, mum? Well, thats help for you.
Gratitude nearly brought Letty to her knees. Mr. Beauford was
a caterer! Then, her relief fading, she said, I suppose hell be back soon?
Three days before the wedding to prepare the food and his
staff. Just like usual, he said. Grace responded.
And so it is, Letty said happily, patting the older womans
arm. She was safe for the time being. No need to hurry off. She could have a
tray of food, sleep on a feather mattress, and tomorrow she could search
through Lady Agathas trunks.
A clean escape depended on the Bigglesworths thinking that
Lady Agatha had run out on them, taking some of her things with her. She had to
be careful that even after she left they still thought she was Lady Agatha. She
disliked the idea of Sir Elliot on her trail even more than Nick Sparkle.
Grace, she said, as you are the most senior member of the
staff here at The Hollies
Not me, mum. Thatd be Cabot.
The butler. Miss Eglantyne imported him from London as soon
as Miss Angela got herself engaged last year. Give the family panache, she said.
Oh. How nice.
Some say, the housekeeper returned primly. But I thinks a
true gentleman dont need panache. Like Sir Elliot. You wont see him bringing
in some hoity-toity butler to tell him how to dress or what wine to drink.
Letty, in the act of wandering about the room tallying the net
worth of various bits of expensive bric-a-brac, stopped like a hound on point.
Grace nodded. A true gentleman.
Indeed. She affected nonchalance, sauntering over to the bed
and picking up her hat. She fussed with a spray of lilacs. It only made sense
to learn what she could about the local magistrate. Sir Elliot does, indeed,
seem most agreeable.
Oh, he is that, Grace answered enthusiastically. Lest you
stand before him in court. I hear he can flay a man to honesty using just his
words and his wit.
And where had he sharpened those wits? Letty thought
sardonically. By trading barbs with the local poacher? Hes most agreeable to
look at, too.
Oh, my, yes! And even more so now than when he was young.
Grace leaned forward and whispered, Hes grown into it.
Ah! I see. Yes, I suspect so grand a feature would overwhelm
a young, callow face, though Sir Elliot hardly seems the sort to have ever been
callow. She let her words trail off into a question.
Never, Grace said. Always been the first to answer dutys
call. Never seen him shirk a responsibility, nor shun an issue what needs
Damp. Letty said, lifting up one of Fagins limp forelegs.
His paws are damp. Im afraid hes marked up the coverlet. Now what were we
talking about? Ah, yes. Sir Elliot March. I confess, her eyes grew innocently
round, I find it amazing that such a paragon has escaped the matrimonial nets
that must be cast his way.
Thats a fact. The ladies do go on somethin about Sir
Elliot. Not that any stands a chance of, er, nettin him.
Grace pulled a long face and shook her head.
And why is that?
Its his heart, mum, the housekeeper sighed. Its been
broken lo these many years and aint no one been able to mend it.
Who broke it? Letty asked.
That charming blond blokes pasty-skinned wife?
Grace choked and Letty clapped her on the back. After a minute
she regained her breath and continued. Thats the one, mum. Before Sir Elliot
went off to foreign parts to fight fer Her Majesty, he and Mrs. Bunting, what
was then Miss Catherine Meadows, had a sort of understanding.
They were engaged?
Grace shifted uneasily on her feet. Well, practically. At
least everyone expected them to get married, but then Sir Elliot come back from
those heathen climes as thin as a reed and white as chalk. Thats where his
limp comes from, you know. War wound.
But then, afore we know it, Catherine Meadows is engaged to
Sir Elliots best friend, Lord Paul, and Sir Elliot is standing up for him at
the wedding. But hed changed, you see. He went off a lighthearted rascal and
come back a harder man. She sniffed, glanced sidelong at Letty, and said, Not
to say a word against Catherine Bunting.
Letty could have found plenty to say, but managed to hold her
tongue. Poor Sir Elliot. How must he have felt, a war hero returned to find his
sweetheart had left him for his best friend? Though how any woman could prefer
Paul Bunting to Sir Elliot March was a mystery.
A regular saint, she is, Graces voice cut across Lettys
thoughts. Tends to the poor, visits the sick, organizes the annual church
bazaar, and provides the altar flowers. If only shed see straight on womens
suffrage ... Grace shrugged.
Hm, Letty said noncommittally.
A few minutes later Grace left and Letty, feeling vaguely
dissatisfied and unable to pinpoint the reason why, decided to have a look-see
around the outside of the house. It always paid to know the quickest way out of
a place and, as the Bigglesworths would be dining, now was as good a time as
She opened the door and peered outside. Seeing no one about,
she slipped into the hall and retraced her earlier steps. Someone, she thought,
should teach Sir Elliot a fundamental rule of the heart; there was no sense in
crying over spilt milk. Especially since once spilt it spoiled.
was she thinking about him? She should
be applauding herself on her impersonation of Lady Agatha, or thinking about
the best way to go once she left Little Bidewell, not imagining ways to
rekindle passion in the man most dangerous to her. A man who would have her in
jail if he even suspected what she was about to do.
She started walking again.
But, try as she might, her imagination would not shut up.
An enigmatic smile is worth
ten pages of dialogue.
GUESS WHERE I BEEN? GRACE COLLAPSED against the door in the
servants hall, her hands clasped over her heart.
Where? asked Merry, pausing with her tea half raised to her
lips. The other servants seated about the table waited.
I been bein charted up by none other than Lady Agatha Whyte
herself, thats where I been.
True. Grace pointed to the steaming pot of tea. Immediately
Merry poured her out a cup and set it at the housekeepers place at the head of
the table. At the other end of the table Cabot, the butler, attempted to look
uninterested. Grace wasnt having any of it.
She took her seat, arranging her skirts as eight faces watched
Well? Merry demanded in exasperation. Whats she like?
She aint a bit hoity-toity, Gracie said, daintily sipping
her tea. Cabot wasnt the only one with good manners. I can see why shes
managed so well. She has a chatty way with her and is ever so common.
Cabot snorted with disapproval.
In the nicest sense of the word, Grace went on, ignoring
him. She asked all sorts of questions.
What sorts of questions? The boot boy asked.
About Miss Angela and the marquis, of course, but mostly she
was interested in Grace set down her teacup, placed her palms flat against
the table, and leaned forward Sir Elliot.
Go on, breathed the tweenie.
Grace settled back. Thas right. And Im thinkin that what
with Sir Elliot bein recommended fer a barony and Lady Agatha bein a dukes
daughter, she would make him a right proper bride.
You must be jesting, Cabot said. You cant seriously be
playing matchmaker for Sir Elliot and Lady Agatha?
Grace sniffed. Wot if I am? Wheres the harm? If things dont
work out, well, Lady Agatha is going to be gone in a few weeks. And if things
work out, well, dont you think Sir Elliot deserves a dukes daughter? She
impaled Cabot with a glare. The others, quick to take umbrage over an imagined
social slight to the local hero, followed suit.
It has nothing to do with what Sir Elliot does or does not
deserve, Cabot replied. It has to do with interfering in peoples lives.
Ach! Grace flapped her hand, dismissing his conceits. Who
of us would have ended up where we are if someone hadnt had the good sense to
interfere with us?
And with that impeccable piece of logic effectively stifling
Cabots protests, the conversation turned to the particulars of interference.
Elliot? Professor Atticus March called out upon hearing the
front door close. A breeze stirred the curtains covering the librarys French
doors and Atticus shivered. He was an old man and the night was cold.
Fighting the impulse to simply wait for Elliot and then
request that he shut the doors, Atticus rose with difficulty and closed them
himself. Elliot had come home when hed had heart failure eighteen months ago.
That was long enough.