Authors: Jessica L. Jackson
Amelia sat at dinner toying with the last half of a slab of
boiled calf’s liver already cold on her plate. To oblige Mrs. Edley she had
eaten some but she thought if she tried to take one more bite she would part
company with the first half. The fried onions had congealed into an
unappetizing glop which she’d hidden under the liver. The color of Thaddeus
Milborough’s eyes occupied her thoughts.
Such a delightful shade of
she thought, letting out a sigh. She thought of his strong,
tanned forearms and wondered what his bare hands looked like.
“Is that all you’re eating this night, mum?”
Amelia started guiltily and flushed. She put down her fork
and leaned away from the table.
“Yes, Mrs. Edley. Thank you.”
“Humph,” her henchwoman commented, picking up the plate.
“Happen we should be getting ourselves a dog, mum, so as not to be throwing out
so much food.”
“Or a pig, perhaps?”
“Not near ‘nough room in the garden for a pig,” was the
reply. Before she left the dining parlor, Mrs. Edley turned around. “And what was
you burning in the garden afore?”
“Rose leaves. I asked Mr. Milborough about the spots on my
rose bush leaves,” she explained airily, as though this was a commonplace
occurrence. A glance at Mrs. Edley‘s knowing grin brought on a blush. “He said
that a fungus has infected the bushes and that I should burn all the diseased
leaves and stems. It may still come back, though,” Amelia added thoughtfully.
“I expected roses would be easy to grow.”
“Nothing worth doing is easy, no doubt,” Mrs. Edley replied
philosophically. “And roses are no different, sithee.”
“Happen you’re reet,” Amelia ventured, earning her a
chuckle, then a scolding for
She’d never had a servant like Mrs. Edley before. The woman
didn’t seem to know her place and she occasionally spoke with an impertinence
that wouldn’t normally be tolerated. The darling woman treated her charge as if
she’d grown old in the service of the family instead of entering service just
four months before. Coming as she did from a farming life, she’d told Amelia
that keeping house for her was the easiest work she’d ever done.
Amelia retired to the front parlor, which doubled as a sort
of library. Only sort of a library because the only books the room contained
were those of an improving nature. Occasionally a package arrived from her
parents and invariably it contained several tomes full of religious
instruction. She hated the books but did not dare to throw them out for fear
that her parents would visit and find her out. Every few packages contained another
Bible too. There were six lined up neatly beside the rest of the books. The
only copy she valued was the one she kept beside her bed—her godmother’s
confirmation gift. How many did they think she needed? As soon as she had a
dozen she was going to give them to the vicar’s wife for the African missionary
effort. Her parents could hardly object to that purpose.
The mantel clock chimed six o’clock. Mr. Shufflebottom’s
letter said that he would arrive this evening by six and he was always
punctual. She dreaded meetings with her solicitor. He was the family lawyer and
knew every family secret and was exactly the type of smug, self-satisfied
individual she detested. The knocker sounded and her palms began to sweat.
Thaddeus returned to his plants after his dinner and worked
contentedly through the early evening. He’d relocated a garden table from
beneath the beech tree to its current location beside a young
, a monkey puzzle tree, because from this spot he had a clear view
through his back gate. Angus, surprisingly, had been the one to suggest the
While he sat making notes at the table, he heard the scrape
of Miss Horton’s gate and caught site of her fairly stomping across the public
footpath to the stone bench that permitted anyone with the inclination to enjoy
the view beyond the farmer’s fields to the sea. He set aside his notebook and
watched her. She sat down on the bench, then stood up and walked around it with
her hands on her hips. She arched her back so that her gravid belly extended
while she pressed her hands to the small of her back. Then she sat down on the
The gate at the bottom of his garden made no sound when he
opened it but he doubted she would have noticed his approach anyway, because by
this time she was crying. His heart ached for her. Before he could reach her
side with his handkerchief, she’d swiped the backs of her hands across her
cheeks. He held the linen square out over her shoulder regardless.
“Miss Horton? Please, use my handkerchief.”
“Oh!” she cried, startled, half turning toward him. She
snatched the large white cloth and scrubbed at her face before heartily blowing
her nose. “Please do not think that I am crying because I am sad, sir. That is
certainly not the case!”
“You appear to be most decidedly angry,” Thaddeus commented,
moving around to the front of the bench so he could look at her. She cast him a
wet darkling look and she appeared so adorable that he wanted to gather her in
his arms and lay her head down upon his shoulder. However, that would not do so
he did nothing but gaze sympathetically at her.
“I could rip and tear,” she admitted, twisting the damp
handkerchief this way and that. “Mr. Milborough, you are very kind to listen to
“I know. It is none of my business. Never mind,” he said
kindly, smiling down at her. “Tell me anyway. You need to vent your spleen and
I can bear it.” Still she hesitated. Thaddeus sat at the farthest end of the
bench and grinned coaxingly at her. “You will blow up if you don’t, you know.
Perhaps I can be of further assistance? I gather you are not angry about your
roses. I smelled the fire earlier so you must have followed my instructions.
Thank you.” She nodded automatically. He continued so that she had more time to
collect herself. “The reason for my appreciation is that my botanical
experiments are with roses. I would not want my special roses to contract the
fungus. I am engaged in an attempt to breed tea roses, which are more delicate
than wild roses, to be resistant to salt in the air.”
She murmured something appropriate but he wasn’t really
listening to her polite nothings. Instead he was searching her expression for a
clue to her ire. He waited patiently.
“If it isn’t the roses,” he finally said, looking away from
her face to the distant view, “then what has cut up your peace?”
“It is my solicitor, Mr. Shufflebottom,” she confessed at
last. Amelia looked suspiciously at him when something that sounded strongly
like a snort escaped him. He blinked innocently and nodded encouragement. She
narrowed her eyes at him as she continued. “He is my family’s solicitor and
when I inherited a comfortable independence from my godmother, he looked after
my money as well. However, whenever I want something he considers an
extravagance, he insists on consulting my parents before he gives me enough
money to acquire it.”
“Forgive me, but are you of age?” Thaddeus asked, frowning.
“I am almost twenty-two. I am not a child who must be told
what to do or how to spend my own money!” Amelia’s exclamation brought a
becoming flush to her cheeks and a decided sparkle to her lovely golden-green
eyes. “I let my parents bullock me into moving to this out-of-the-way village
because I’ve embarrassed them. Very well. I understand that my delicate
situation would have humiliated them if it had become generally known in
Weymouth. I like it here in Hinderwell. Honestly, I do. But when that weasel of
a man tells me that I cannot buy a pony trap or a pianoforte, it is the outside
“Brava, Miss Horton. Did you tell him that?”
Amelia deflated. “No.” She looked down at her hands and the
mangled cotton square. “I am intimidated by him. He’s the same age as my father
and he makes me feel as if I’m six years old and have not yet cut my eyeteeth.
And, he’s always looking at my…” She pressed her hand to her rounded stomach
“He sounds like a scoundrel,” Thaddeus said, curling his
lip. She nodded miserably. He rose from the bench, shoved his hands into the
pockets of his tweed trousers and began to pace up and down in front of the
bench. “I think, Miss Horton, I can be of more assistance than just a
sympathetic ear. This insignificant…leech of a man has no business virtually
holding you at his mercy.”
Amelia could only stare at the passion visible in his
expression. He was angry on her behalf. It had been so long since anyone other
than Mrs. Edley had been on her side that her heart softened even further
“If you will pardon my presumption, Miss Horton, what you
need is a new man of business,” Thaddeus stated firmly. He stopped in front of
“Granted. But where am I to find one? I have no way to
travel into Whitby and I do not know of a reputable firm to hire.”
“I know just the firm. My own man of business, Farley, works
for the best firm in Whitby and I have always found him reliable.”
“You…your man of business?” she faltered. “But—”
Thaddeus looked at her sharply and wondered at her reaction
to his suggestion. Then he recollected himself. “Please excuse me, Miss Horton.
I’ve lived out of polite society for many years and I easily forget how
important appearances can be. I imagine it would not be appropriate for you to
have the same man of business as myself.”
“No,” Amelia said, smiling with obvious relief. “In a
village this size too. The news would get around and the talk would begin.”
“And you should not have to bear that sort of poker talk.
No. I agree entirely.” Thaddeus thought for a moment, all the while smoothing
the front of his plaid waistcoat, a habit he had while thinking. “An
alternative, then. I shall ask Farley to recommend someone. Is this
objectionable fellow coming to visit you again?”
“Yes. Tomorrow afternoon.”
“Not much time then.” Thaddeus clapped his hands together
and then rubbed them back and forth in anticipation of a satisfying victory. “I
shall send Angus the nine miles to Whitby as soon as I’ve written a letter to
Farley. There should be light for another three hours, plenty of time for his
journey. He’ll stay the night there, meet whomever Farley recommends, and
hopefully bring him back here in plenty of time for you to interview. What do
you say, Miss Horton?”
He looked eagerly at Amelia and then sat down beside her,
not nearly at the farthest distance from her that he could have. Really he was
sitting quite close to her and the idea of how near she was caused his heart to
flip in his chest and his blood to race through his veins. “Will you permit me
to do this service for you?”
“Is it too much of an intrusion, Mr. Milborough? I feel as
if I should refuse, yet I do not know what else to do.”
“If that is your only scruple, Miss Horton, then I shall
leave you so I might compose the letter.”
Thaddeus reluctantly rose from the bench and stepped away.
He nodded decisively and turned, only to come up short at the view of the
Misses White walking sedately down the public path. They caught sight of him
and nodded congenially. Then they noticed Amelia on the bench and stiffened.
Their middle-aged double chins rose into the air and they stopped, standing arm
in arm, twenty feet away from the bench.
“Miss Sadie. Miss Ann,” he called out in his calm, gentle
way as soon as he’d bowed to them. “Good evening. Have you been introduced to
my neighbor, Miss Horton?” He waved them forward, patiently waiting for them to
force themselves to come flush with the bench. “Permit me to make her known to
you, dear ladies.”
Amelia reluctantly stood up, feeling awkward and exposed,
and turned toward the women whom Mrs. Edley had freely stigmatized as the worse
gossips of the North Riding. They ruled whatever society the village enjoyed
and she dreaded what they would say to her.
“Miss Sadie White, Miss Ann White, may I present Miss Amelia
Horton of Rose Thorn Cottage?” The two women inclined their gray, bonneted
heads toward her but did not meet her eyes. They looked somewhere over her left
shoulder, studiously avoiding the evidence of her shame.
“Miss Horton, this is Miss Sadie and Miss Ann White of Selby
Lane Cottage. They look after the flowers at the church and are the leaders of
our local Women’s Guild.”
“Good evening, ladies,” Amelia managed, though her voice
sounded frightened to her own critical ears. “The flowers look lovely every
“Thank you,” Miss Sadie said through folded lips.
Miss Ann unbent slightly toward this outcast from better
society. “I’ve seen that Mr. Shufflebottom is in town again.” She sniffed and
pursed her lips before continuing as though speaking was against her better
judgment. “He is putting up at the Runswick Bay Arms.”
“I believe that is his habit,” Amelia agreed, casting an
agonized look at her neighbor. He smiled and nodded complacently. Did he not
understand how hard this was for her?
“Ann. Enough said,” Miss Sadie whispered, attempting to drag
her sister away with her. However, Miss Ann was the heavier of the two and did
not budge easily.
“Have you known Mr. Shufflebottom long, Miss Horton?” Miss
Ann asked, ignoring her sister’s impatient tugging.
“Well, yes. He’s my family’s solicitor,” Amelia explained,
puzzled by her persistent interest. “Is there anything amiss?”
“You might say there is,” Miss Ann said. Miss Sadie snorted
elegantly and looked far down the path as if she could will them to be away
from this spot. However, in a hushed voice she revealed, “I’m afraid Mr.
Shufflebottom is quite fond of his…drink.”
“I had no idea,” murmured Amelia.
“If you’d like my advice, Miss Horton, and I’m not saying
I’m giving any, mind, then I’d find a different solicitor—one who doesn’t talk
so much when he is inebriated.”
“Oh dear,” Amelia said weakly, putting out her hand to steady
herself as she swayed slightly. Thaddeus stepped forward quickly and held out
his arm. She took it gratefully while watching Miss Sadie’s eyebrows rise so
high that they disappeared beneath the smooth bands of her gray hair.
“Ladies, we were just discussing the wisdom of Miss Horton
choosing a different man of business,” Thaddeus revealed. He looked keenly at
the two ape-leaders. “What do you think? I have never met the man but he sounds
to me like a bounder.”
“He is, Mr. Milborough. He is.”
“I don’t believe that a woman in Miss Horton’s delicate
situation should be required to endure the attentions of such a man,” Thaddeus
remarked, forcing them to confront the very thing they’d rather not have to
notice. Automatically their eyes turned to look at Amelia’s abdomen. “Do you
“Indeed,” Miss Ann stated, nodding sharply. She elbowed her
older sister in the ribs.
“Of course,” Miss Sadie squeaked, but rallied beneath her
sister’s glare. “No lady should have to endure the ill-mannered.”
“You are both too kind,” Amelia said, nodding at each. She
felt they deserved some first-hand gossip as a reward. “Mr. Milborough has
offered to have his man of business recommend a replacement for Mr.
“An excellent notion, sir,” Miss Ann commented. She relented
and let her sister drag her away. As a parting volley, she said, “We hope to
see you on Sunday, Miss Horton.”
“I shall be there, Miss White,” Amelia called.
Thaddeus watched Miss Horton’s face to see if he had angered
her with his revelations to the Misses White. She turned away from watching the
two spinsters walk with dignity down the path and then she smiled at him—a big
broad smile that showed her lovely white teeth and that reached her bright,
“Thank you, Mr. Milborough,” she choked. “Thank you very,
very much. Now that they have spoken to me, others will as well.”
“Do you…do you think you could call me Thaddeus?” he asked
wistfully, struck down by her gratitude. “When we are alone, that is?” His soul
stilled and waited for her reply, hardly crediting that within the space of one
day he had progressed from longing just to speak a word or two with her to the
point of asking her to use his Christian name.
“Only if you will call me Amelia.”
“It would be my honor, Amelia,” he told her. Tentatively,
Thaddeus reached out and took her hand. It fluttered in his large one like a
captured bird. He covered it and pressed it warmly. Overwhelmed, he gave a
husky chuckle, brought her hand to his lips and kissed it, and then returned it
to her before he did what he really wanted to do, which was to clasp her in his
arms and never let her go. “I must attend to that letter and send Angus off or
else he will not arrive before dark.”
Amelia permitted him to escort her to her garden gate and he
left with a bounce in his purposeful step. She could barely breathe her heart
was beating so fast. She couldn’t stop grinning and a little laugh escaped now
* * * * *
At eleven o’clock the next morning, Angus drew up in front
of Rose Thorn Cottage in his master’s sporty Tilbury. He deposited the
gentleman whom Mr. Farley had recommended at the bottom of the walk and
indicated with his whip that the solicitor should continue on his own. Mrs.
Edley opened the door to him and led him into the front parlor where his
potential employer awaited his arrival.
“Mr. Smith, mum,” the housekeeper announced, glaring at him.
He stoically ignored her, having been forewarned by Angus McLeod to “Show no
fear, laddie, and all will be well.” She waved him farther into the room. “The
“Thank you, Mrs. Edley. Would you bring us some tea,
Mr. Smith proved to be a dark, meticulously correct
gentleman in his mid-thirties. His was a powerful build, almost pugilistic, and
Amelia had no trouble believing he could intimidate her smaller, rounder
solicitor. He gave his particulars and after being hired, listened attentively
to Amelia before offering his advice.
“Miss Horton, Mr. Shufflebottom is bringing your quarterly
allowance this afternoon, is this not correct?”
He cleared his throat behind his hand, then gave her a
friendly but cunning look. “Excuse me, ma’am, but I suggest we use a little
stratagem. Understand, I do not normally prefer to act in such a fashion toward
a fellow solicitor, but sometimes needs must. So I suggest you meet him alone
and accept your money from him before we reveal my presence or your desire to
exchange his services for mine.”
“You believe he might otherwise withhold my funds?”
“Quite likely. I will set your wishes in motion immediately
upon my return to Whitby. However, Mr. Shufflebottom has the power to make the
“I see. We will proceed as you suggest.”