The Gathering Storm (The Jacobite Chronicles Book 3) (7 page)

BOOK: The Gathering Storm (The Jacobite Chronicles Book 3)
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“Here,” said Beth casually, handing her the jacket and coming to the point of the whole exercise. “Try it on.”

Anne recoiled as though being offered a large and particularly hairy spider.

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly,” she said. “It is too…”
Masculine
was the word that came to mind, but that would be offensive. “Small,” she finished timidly.

“Nonsense. We are not dissimilar in stature,” Beth said firmly. “It will pass, I think. Go on, try it on.”

Anne tried it on.

 

“Although she’s only an inch or so taller than me, she’s a lot longer in the body and shorter in the leg than I am,” Beth said to Caroline later. They were casually arranged on cushions on the floor, surrounded by a rainbow of silks and velvets. “She has a remarkably small waist, as small as mine, we can maybe make something of that, but the jacket was loose around the chest. It fitted perfectly on the shoulders and arms, though. She’s really quite dainty.”

“She hasn’t got a chest,” Caroline remarked candidly. “But with careful positioning of lace, we should be able to conceal that. If we can persuade her to wear heels, that will make her legs look longer. Now, what colour do you think? The burgundy? Purple? Blue?”

The two conspirators examined the materials.

“I don’t know,” Beth said after a while. “I never really think about what colour to wear. To be honest, in Manchester I only had two formal gowns. One of them was a hideous shade of yellow, and about thirty years out of date.” She laughed. “I still remember Isabella desperately trying to think of something nice to say about it the first time I visited her, after Richard came home. Before that I spent most of my time in loose-fitting woollen dresses. They were lovely. Really comfortable.” Comfort was the most important quality in a garment, to her mind. Most of her current wardrobe failed to meet the mark.

“Yet you always look the height of fashion,” Caroline noted. “It must be being married to Anthony, I suppose. You wouldn’t dare look otherwise.”

An idea occurred to them both at the same moment. They looked at each other, and smiled.

 

“The emerald green,” he said after a cursory glance at the fabrics. “And the silk, not the velvet.”

“That was a quick decision,” said Caroline suspiciously. “You’re not just saying anything so you can get back to your chess game with Edwin, are you?”

“Not at all. I’m losing. And Freddie’s just woken up. Edwin’s walking around with him, trying to get him off to sleep again. Although the bottle of burgundy is a temptation…” Sir Anthony shrank back in mock terror at the ladies’ threatening looks. “No, I know how much this ridiculous plan means to you both. The green. It will bring out the colour of her eyes. They are not really mud brown as everyone thinks, you know, but more hazel, like yours, Caroline. It’s the hideous colours she wears that deaden them.”

Beth looked at her friend’s beautiful almond-shaped hazel eyes, and then incredulously at her husband.

“Trust me,” he said.

 

Two days later, the silk dress now taking shape on the dressmaker’s dummy, Beth paid a further visit to the Winters’, where the conversation was carefully steered onto the subject of shoes.

“Really,” she said, sinking gratefully into a chair. “I wish Anthony wouldn’t insist that I wear such ridiculous heels.” She lifted her skirt gracefully, displaying a shapely ankle and a pair of red leather shoes with a three-inch heel. “He thinks I am short.”

“Oh, no,” said Anne, looking at the delicate foot with admiration, and the height of the heel with horror. “You are petite, and Sir Anthony is tall. You look perfect together.”

“I wish you could convince him of that, Anne,” Beth replied. “You cannot believe the agony I am in half the time, just to please him. Here, put these on and take a turn around the room. You will see what I mean.”

 

“She could hardly even get her toe in the shoe. She has the most amazingly big feet,” Beth said later.

“Lk mn?” Caroline mumbled through a mouthful of pins. Beth looked at the foot placed before her for her inspection.

“Well, yes,” she admitted. “They are like yours. But your feet are in proportion to the rest of you. Anne is six inches shorter than you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Caroline more distinctly, having deftly pinned up the hem of the new dress. It was looking very promising. The dark green silk brought out the colour of Caroline’s eyes, anyway. Beth hoped Anthony was right. “Her feet will be hidden under the dress. And if they’re the same size as mine, then I have a pair of shoes she can borrow.”

“I don’t think even we’ll be able to persuade her to wear heels,” Beth said. “I’ve never seen anyone look so horrified at the sight of a mere shoe.”

“Oh we will, believe me, if I have to strap her into them. I’m not going to all this effort for nothing.”

 

“What’s he interested in?” said Sir Anthony thoughtfully, repeating his wife’s question of a moment before.

“Food,” said Edwin unhelpfully. “And claret.”

“And brandy,” added the baronet. “And food, and more claret.”

“Oh come on,” said Beth, exasperated. “You’re supposed to be being helpful. He must have some interests, something we can coach Anne in, so they can have at least a brief conversation before he proposes to her.”

“You’re very confident, aren’t you?” Edwin said. “Have you told Anne what you’re up to yet?”

“God, no, don’t be ridiculous,” said his wife. “She’d never agree, if we did. And even if we did manage to get her to the ball, she’d be a complete wreck if she thought someone was going to propose to her. She’d ruin the whole thing.”

“You mean you’re not going to tell her
at all
?” said Edwin, appalled.

“Gout,” said Anthony suddenly. “He’s always looking for cures for the gout. And all the other illnesses he thinks he’s got.”

“What illnesses would those be, then?” Beth asked.

 

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that,” said Anne, strolling through the Winters’ garden with Beth. “The gout is such a painful thing. My father was a martyr to it. Your friend really ought to consider a milk diet. It is quite effective, if persevered with. It involves drinking one third of milk mixed with two thirds of water, twice a day. And of course no liquor…”

“Oh dear, my friend…James… would never agree to that. You know what men are like with regard to alcohol,” said Beth. “Is there nothing else?”

“Well, yes, a rub of the feet and legs with a woollen cloth before going to bed and again in the morning helps to relieve the pain. Quinine or laudanum should only be used sparingly, of course.”

“I never would have thought of that,” said Beth admiringly. “You are very knowledgeable about health matters.”

Anne blushed patchily.

“I cared for my parents for many years,” she said shyly. “It is the only thing I know anything about. I’m afraid I can add nothing to general conversation. People are not interested in discussing ailments.”

“You would be surprised,” replied Beth. “Now, could you recommend anything for piles?”

 

“She could be a physician,” she informed her husband and friends that evening. “Honestly, she knows an awful lot more about illnesses than any doctor I’ve ever met. And where to get all the potions. And how to make up the ones you can’t buy. They’re made for each other, I’m convinced of it.”

“I think we’d better try to steer her away from telling him about the milk diet for gout though,” Caroline said. “At least until after they’re married.”

“I do wonder what sort of tyrants her parents were,” Beth mused. “She’s got absolutely no self-confidence at all. I’ve never met anyone so timid in my life. But she’s very sweet-natured. She hasn’t got a bad word for anyone. Lady Winter must find her extremely tiresome.”

“I find
you
extremely tiresome, my dear,” said Sir Anthony, glowering . “Did you really have to tell her I’m a martyr to piles? I’ll have to remember to wince every time I sit down for the next month.”

Beth smiled nastily.

“Serves you right for making fun of Caroline’s poor Aunt Harriet. And eating all the strawberries, without offering me one. Now, the dress is ready, the three of us have an appointment with Sarah on the morning of the ball, and she knows what it’s all about. The next step is to start praising Anne to Lord Redburn. That’s up to you two,” Beth said, looking at the two reluctant male conspirators. “I suggest you pay him a call tomorrow, share a bottle of wine or something, then introduce the subject of the delights of marriage.”

“You’ll have to tell me what they are,” said the baronet gloomily. “I can’t think of any at the moment.”

Edwin nodded in morose agreement.

“We can’t visit him tomorrow though, at any rate,” he said, brightening suddenly and looking at Beth and Anthony.

“Why not?” asked Caroline.

“You two have got this musical do at St James’s, haven’t you?”

Now it was Beth’s turn to look miserable.

“Oh, damn,” she said. “I’d forgotten all about that.”

 

Beth stood politely by the side of the Duke of Cumberland, listening with half an ear to an anecdote he was telling her about training country boys to ride horses, the rest of her mind absorbed by the forthcoming ball. What should she and Caroline wear? They had to look as plain as possible. Beige, or grey, perhaps. She half-wished she still owned the hideous yellow affair. The dress she was wearing now, although, or perhaps because, it was the latest fashion, was hideously uncomfortable. The lace at the elbows was particularly rough. Her arms would be raw by the end of the evening. Still, at least the insane width of the skirts was keeping Cumberland several feet away from her. It was worth the discomfort for that. She realised belatedly that the duke had stopped speaking, and was waiting for her response.

“My wife would understand the need for novice cavalrymen to initially learn to ride bareback, I am sure,” Sir Anthony said, coming to her rescue. “She is a most remarkable horsewoman, herself.” His hand circled her arm in a seemingly affectionate gesture, his fingers tightening warningly. Concentrate. Give him your full attention.

“Are you really?” the duke said, seemingly surprised that this beautiful flower could know anything about horses.

“Yes,” she replied, taking the warning on board. “It does teach you to control your mount perfectly. I learnt to ride bareback myself, in fact.”

“Good God,” exclaimed the duke.

“Do not be deceived by the apparent fragility of my wife, Your Highness.” Sir Anthony smiled. “She is as tough as any man, in many ways. She is much like the Princess Emily.”

“Emily?” asked Beth. She could think of no princesses of that name.

“My sister Amelia,” explained Cumberland affectionately. “Emily is our pet name for her. She’s an excellent woman, loves the hunt, riding, that sort of thing. She calls a spade a spade. Has an informed opinion on any topic of importance.”

For topic of importance read military affairs. Beth wondered idly if the duke would speak affectionately of
her
if she called a spade a spade. Or an ass an ass. No, probably not. And he wasn’t an ass at all, as Alex had reminded her. Just devoid of charm, which was not the same thing.

“Of course, I learnt to ride as a child, on a docile pony,” she said. “It must be quite a different matter to be faced with a warhorse as your first mount. Do many recruits refuse?”

“No,” Cumberland replied. Clearly no one dared to, if he was around. “It is a requirement of every soldier to face danger and obey orders without question or hesitation.”

“Yet it must be terrible to be a young boy coming from a village or a farm, and to be expected to leap fearlessly onto a charger. Are many injured or killed, learning?” Sir Anthony asked. The duke shot him a look of distaste. He did not share his father’s favourable opinion of the baronet, finding the paint he wore ridiculous. One would think the man a molly, were he not married. Perhaps he was anyway.

“Yes, some are hurt,” he said indifferently. “But one should not enlist, if one is a coward. The army soon sorts the wheat from the chaff.”

Poor boys. Sir Anthony made his excuses and drifted off in search of Lord Edward. He had managed to secure his cousin-in-law an invitation for this evening, to the lord’s delight and gratitude, but he needed to be carefully monitored, if he was to make a favourable impression.

“The concert was quite wonderful, very stately,” Beth said, changing the subject before the duke could continue expressing his contempt of fearful country boys, who deserved sympathy rather than derision, in her view. “Mr Handel is very talented. The kettledrum was particularly rousing.”

“Indeed. Of course the
Dettingen Te Deum
was composed to celebrate my father’s victory last year, in the battle of the same name.”

Beth sighed inwardly, smiling up at the podgy prince. Every conversation was steered with unerring accuracy back to war. She gave in to the inevitable.

“In which of course you played no small part yourself, I believe, Your Highness. Are you planning to lead your forces in the Low Countries this summer?” she asked. She might as well try to find out something useful.

“Of course my father and I would be delighted to. But the threat from the Pretender’s son is not yet over. We must look to our own shores as well.”

“Really?” she said, trying to sound worried rather than hopeful. “You told me the French invasion force had been defeated. Are they planning another attempt?”

“No, I do not think so. Louis is moving his troops away from the coast. But the Pretender’s son has not returned to Rome. In fact our informants tell us he is still at or near Dunkirk. We must therefore assume he is plotting some action of his own. A landing in Scotland seems most likely. If I had my way…” He hesitated, and she wasn’t sure whether he wondered if he was boring her, or had been about to commit an indiscretion.

“Don’t leave me in suspense, I beg you,” she said sincerely. “What would you do?”

“What should have been done after the ’15 rebellion,” he replied, seeing she was genuinely interested. Quite a remarkable woman. He warmed to her. “My grandfather was far too magnanimous in dealing with the rebels then. They should have been crushed, not given pardons and allowed to continue their treasonous plottings. The whole country is a hotbed of Jacobitism.”

BOOK: The Gathering Storm (The Jacobite Chronicles Book 3)
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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