The Gathering Storm (The Jacobite Chronicles Book 3) (8 page)

BOOK: The Gathering Storm (The Jacobite Chronicles Book 3)
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“Yet are not several Scottish regiments fighting for His Majesty?” she pointed out. “Pulteney’s and Campbell’s, for example?”

He beamed down at her. She did know her stuff.

“Yes, you are quite right. But they are in the main lowland regiments. I should not have said Scotland as a whole, but rather the Highlands. The Highlanders are illiterate lawless barbarians, operating to their own ridiculous savage codes, looting and massacring each other on a whim. It is high time they were taught the ways of the civilised world, and brought in line with the rest of Britain.”

“Although if they are massacring each other on a whim, surely if left alone they will solve the problem by exterminating themselves?” she commented innocently.

“Yes, if they didn’t breed like rabbits, they most likely would. And if they did not persist in their support of the Stuarts, it would probably not be worth the cost of sending an army to pacify them.”

“You plan to lead an army against them, then?” she said.

“No, it is not possible at the moment. Our forces are all committed in Europe. But if I have my way, once the war is over we will have to look closely at the problem of North Britain.”

 

“God, the man’s insufferable!” she exploded later, at home. “I’ve never known anyone so sure of himself. He knows everything. I’m sure he believes he can walk on water. He’s unshakable.”

“Ye didna try to shake him, did you?” said Alex.

“Of course not. I’m supposed to be an admirer. No, I just fluttered my eyelashes and looked enthralled while he insulted my countrymen and told me of all his brave deeds at the front, which he hopes to repeat at the earliest opportunity. I wish him luck, and I hope the man who shot him at Dettingen repeats his brave deed as well, but aims a little higher next time.”

Duncan smiled, and handed her a glass of brandy. Alex reached down her back and undid her laces.

“Thanks,” she said to both of them, deftly collapsing her hoops and trapping them under her armpits so she could sit down, almost disappearing altogether in a billowing cloud of lilac silk. She pushed it down impatiently. “I shouldn’t drink this, really,” she said, taking a mouthful. “I’ve had enough already tonight. But I deserve it, I think. He tested my acting skills to the limit. I don’t know how I kept my temper.”

“Ye did verra well,” Alex said sincerely. “I was proud of ye.”

She smiled.

“Thank you. But I doubt I can keep it up for much longer. I can’t stand the man, Alex. Please tell me I don’t have to see him again. He makes my skin crawl. Do you know you’re an illiterate savage, by the way?” she said to Duncan, who had stopped reading a copy of
The Iliad
to pour her brandy.

“I couldna care less what the German lairdie’s son thinks of me,” he replied amiably. “Myself, I think it isna a bad thing when the enemy underestimates you. He’s going tae feel an awfu’ fool when he finds out he and his father have been taken in by one of those illiterate savages and his wife.”

Beth hadn’t thought of it like that. It made her feel a lot better.

“Aye,” said Maggie. “As long as he finds out after James is on the throne and no’ before.”

“If we all continue to do as well as we are, there’s no danger of that,” replied Alex. “I’m sorry though, Beth, I canna promise that you’ll no’ see him again. He likes you. And you’re finding out useful information.”

“His opinion of my kinsmen, and what he intends to do about it,” she said. The other useful, relieving thing she’d found out was that Cumberland was in no way another Henri. This enemy, at least, was easy to hate. She did not mention this.

“Aye, but other stuff too. Like the fact that he and Geordie intend to go back to Europe as soon as they can. If we find out exactly when, we can let Charles know in advance. If he can persuade the French to assist him again after the recent mess, the best time to do it would be while the Elector and his son are abroad. But there is something else ye need to bear in mind, Beth.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Some of what you said about the duke applies equally to Charles. He’s also over-confident, and would be very surprised if more than his shoes got wet when he was halfway across the lake. It’s a common fault among princes. The difference is that Charles has the looks and charisma to carry it off, and Cumberland doesna.”

She kept in mind what he said. But she didn’t believe him, not then.

 

The concert over, attention reverted back to the imminent ball and the crown of all their matchmaking hopes. Or Beth and Caroline’s, anyway. Their spouses were far more doubtful that the enterprise would succeed.

“Seeing as you managed to worm your way out of visiting Lord Redburn the other day,” Beth said to Sir Anthony as he was assisting her on with her cloak on the afternoon of the ball. “You’d better both do a good job this evening. And don’t let him get falling-down drunk.”

“If your enterprise fails, my sweet,” replied her husband. “It will not be due to any failing on mine or Edwin’s part. We will play it to the hilt, I assure you.”

 

“You know, I really think that Sir Anthony is starting to exert a positive influence on his wife, at last,” Lady Winter was saying at the same moment, sipping tea at Isabella’s. “She has visited us numerous times in the last weeks, and has shown a great interest in clothing and hairstyles and other subjects far more befitting a baronet’s wife than her former interests. She is cultivating quite a friendship with Anne, too. They are at this very moment attending Miss Browne’s establishment, in preparation for the evening’s entertainment at Lord Redburn’s.”

“Do you think she was perhaps shocked by the dreadful occurrence in Paris?” Isabella asked.

“I think Sir Anthony was more shaken by that, poor thing,” said Lady Winter. “It must be terrible to kill a man by accident.”

“Indeed, he reminds me of my poor dear Frederick,” sighed Charlotte.

Her companions stared at her. They had all known poor dear Frederick, and someone less like the baronet would be hard to imagine. Diminutive in stature and personality in life, he had been elevated to greatness only in his widow’s mind.

“In what way, Charlotte?” asked Clarissa kindly, before Lady Winter could say something tactless.

“He also abhorred killing of any sort. And he was once challenged to a duel, in his youth.”

“Was he?” said Lady Winter, wondering if he had perhaps stood on a box to fight his challenger. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” replied Charlotte sadly. “He would not talk about it. He said duelling was not a fit subject for feminine ears.”

This was most unsatisfactory, thought Lady Winter. One should not embark upon a potentially interesting story unless one could finish it.

“Yet he rode to hunt on his little horse, did he not? He could not have abhorred killing that much,” she retorted spitefully.

Charlotte had never thought about the connection between the sport of hunting, and killing, before. She fluttered, confused.

“Perhaps Beth has realised the consequences of her flighty actions,” Isabella interposed hurriedly, “and has been persuaded to behave in a more restrained manner. She did have a rather free childhood. And Sir Anthony is such a refined man. It would be impossible to live with him for any length of time and not be influenced by him.”

 

This was true, although she was not being influenced in quite the way that Isabella envisaged. Beth was, of necessity, learning the arts of duplicity and manipulation, and was currently attempting to use them in as altruistic a way as possible. Anne, having been manipulated into a chair at Sarah’s slowly flourishing beauty house, was gazing shyly at herself in the looking glass.

“It’s amazing!” she said breathlessly, raising a timorous hand to the shining brown confection of hair piled elaborately on top of her head, about a third of which was her own, the rest consisting of padding and hairpieces. But it
appeared
to be all her own, which was the main thing. “How did you do it?” she asked.

With a great deal of skill and effort,
Sarah’s expression said.

“It is not difficult, when one has such lovely raw material to work with. Your hair is very lustrous.”
And thin, and mousy coloured.
“Now,” she continued, “we must see what we can do to enhance your beauty.”

“Oh, I could never make any claims to beauty,” Anne said. “Indeed, Mama always said she could never understand where my plainness had come from, as both she and her sister were quite lovely.”

Beth could have killed Mrs Maynard on the spot, were she not already dead.

“Papa said it was a blessing that I was ugly, because of course, both being infirm, they needed someone to look after them and my lack of looks ensured that I would not be tempted away from my duty by a procession of suitors.” There was no trace of sadness or self-pity in Anne’s voice. She was merely stating facts, had accepted her fate as an ugly spinster.
Well, she can just unaccept it,
the three women standing around her thought.

Sarah reached for the glass pots in which she kept her cosmetics.

“Oh no!” cried Anne. “I never wear paint. Great-uncle Bartholomew says that only harlots wear paint.”

“I do not intend to use it in the way your uncle means,” Sarah said, tipping two small carmine balls into a dish and expertly pulverising them to powder with a spoon. “Excessive use of paint only makes you look ridiculous.” She caught Beth’s eye and repressed a laugh with difficulty. Sir Anthony
did
look ridiculous. “But a little subtle use of creams to bring a becoming colour to the cheeks and lips and enhance the beauty of your eyes is a different matter altogether. If you do not like it, you can wash it off immediately.”

“Well, I don’t know,” wavered Anne.

“Your eyes are a lovely shade of hazel,” continued Sarah, adding a quantity of pomad and briskly stirring. The powder slowly dissolved into the wax and rosewater mixture, producing a smooth crimson cream. The three women watched, fascinated. “What colour is your gown for the evening?” Sarah asked.

“Brown,” said Anne.

“Green,” said Caroline and Beth together.

Anne looked up at them, perplexed.

“It was to be a surprise,” Beth said. “But you might as well know now. We have purchased a dress for you. It is a present. For your birthday.”

“But my birthday is not until July,” Anne said. “I couldn’t possibly accept such a gift. I have not the means to reciprocate…”

“You had better take it up with Anthony then,” said Beth, knowing Anne would never have the temerity to tackle him. “He bought it, and will be most disappointed if you reject his kind gesture.”

Crushed by the formidable army ranged against her, Anne subsided, defeated. So defeated that when she later tried on the beautiful green dress with its gold lace trimming, she uttered barely a murmur when it was discovered that the hem was exactly three inches too long, and there being no time to alter it, Caroline helpfully produced a pair of soft green leather shoes with heels of exactly three inches. Anne slipped them on without complaint, and engaged with looking in the mirror, missed the twin triumphant expressions on Caroline’s and Beth’s faces. The final test was yet to come. What would a masculine eye make of her?

 

“Bloody hell!” said Edwin, as Anne gingerly made her way down to the Harlows’ hallway, terrified of plummeting headlong down the stairs in the unaccustomed heels.

“My darling Anne, what a vision you are!” trilled Sir Anthony, as Edwin coloured under his wife’s glare. “You look quite beautiful.”

She looked down, blushing, fingering the expensive silk of her dress with reverence.

“Oh, Sir Anthony, I really cannot…” she began.

“I am deeply honoured that you agreed to accept my small gift. It becomes you so, and brings out the colour of your eyes to perfection.” He threw an I-told-you-so smirk at his wife, who smiled back. He was right. Anne’s eyes
were
hazel. But the final victory would be hers and Caroline’s. She was sure of it. Edwin’s reaction had told her that.

So did the response of everyone at the ball who was already acquainted with Anne, when they arrived. Beth had willingly surrendered her husband’s arm to her protégée, knowing that if Anne were to suddenly panic or try to flee under the attention she was bound to receive, he not only had the tact, but also the strength to restrain her and soothe her, without causing a scene.

Once she was safely ensconced in the room, and the initial stunned reaction of her acquaintance had subsided, Sir Anthony and Edwin abandoned the women, and as promised, retired with Lord Redburn.

The evening wore on. Anne, smothered in compliments and unaccustomed attention, blossomed. Her small eyes, made to look larger by Sarah’s skill, aided by a few drops of atropine, shone. Her thin lips, made more full by the expert application of rouge and gloss, smiled happily. She looked, not beautiful, her mother had been right in that she could never be that, but attractive. Definitely attractive.

At precisely one a.m., an hour earlier than normal, Lord Redburn made his appearance. His cheeks were flushed and he limped when he walked, but that was due to the gout and high blood pressure rather than inebriation. Sir Anthony and Edwin, impressed by the herculean efforts of their wives, had clearly played their parts to perfection. The lord made his way directly to the trio. The ladies stood and curtsied as he approached.

“You are already acquainted with my wife and Lady Elizabeth Peters,” Edwin said, thereby making sure Redburn knew to which lady he was to address his attentions. “Allow me to introduce Miss Anne Maynard.” She curtsied again, blushing scarlet. Lord Redburn beamed, but did not speak. It was clear he found her attractive, but not overly so.
Really, he ought to look in a mirror,
Beth thought crossly. Why did ugly men think they would be attractive to beautiful women? There was a silence.

“Miss Maynard has only recently entered society, my lord,” said Beth. “She is living with her relatives, Lord and Lady Winter, following the tragic death of her parents. She nursed them both for many years, through a number of illnesses. Including the gout.”

BOOK: The Gathering Storm (The Jacobite Chronicles Book 3)
8.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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