How to Impress a Gentleman (9 page)

BOOK: How to Impress a Gentleman
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Chapter Six- The Rescue

 

 

 


One makes up for the loss of one's innocence with the loss of one's prejudices.”

~Denis Diderot, 18th Century French Writer

 

 

The window, set high upon the wall, cast blue shadows on gray stone. Linnie wrapped her wool shawl more tightly about her and quickly berated herself for the weakness. “You’re scared, admit it,” she said to herself. “You are cold and tired and hungry and lonely and scared. If God can be in a place like this, the Almighty can be subtle indeed. Oh, I am sorry, God, you know I did not mean that, it is just, I pictured Aunt Bessie’s home to be a bit, well...homier, I suppose. An old drafty keep should be warm in late summer, at least.

Returning to her small wooden chair beside Whitney’s bed, Lindsay tucked in the young maiden’s blanket and leaned back, content to continue her vigil. Sighing, she thought back over her childish plan. “How could I be so stupidly impetuous?”
I have often risked my own neck, and others, figuratively, but tonight I have stooped to a new level of baseness. I have risked the life of my dear abigail. I shall never forgive myself
.

Wrapping herself in a cloak of self loathing, Lindsay cupped Whitney’s hand in hers and hunched against the rough masonry. Slowly, her eyelashes drooped, resting fitfully upon her sallow cheeks.

~ ~ ~

“Aaah!” Whitney squawked in alarm as Doc and Gus startled. The recent crack of thunder had occurred simultaneously with the streak of lighting. Quickly, Lindsay responded to her partner’s distress by grabbing Gus’s reigns and tying them to the stirrup leather
.
Squelching through the thick, muddy sections of road, Doc stopped cold amid a particularly ominous pool of water. Dismounting with a splash, Lindsay located a stick to pry his hoof from the muck’s insistent suction.

“P-perhaps we should take the horses to the wayside and w-wait out the storm beneath a tree!” shouted the shivering Whitney over the pounding rain.

“No! We must press on or Charles will over take us, for sure!” Lindsay shouted back.

Another hour of slow progress elapsed by the time the two women reached the half way mark.
We should have been there by now
, Lindsay thought anxiously.
At this rate we will die of exposure.

The road narrowed to a steep drop off on one side. Fear wrapped its icy palms about Lindsay’s throat, stealing her breath much more effectively than the cold fingers of the elements. “I will dismount and lead the horses past this crest,” Lindsay yelled over the wind to Whitney. “Just stay on Gus and try to keep him calm.”

Whitney nodded and patted the nape of her mount. Doc, ever dependable, followed behind Lindsay. Slowly, she trudged up the narrow path, keeping a tight grip on Doc’s halter and the other hand out to maintain balance, in case she were to stumble over an unseen divot in the one horse lane.

“Crack!” lightning hit a nearby conifer, setting the night ablaze with light and fire. Singed needles filled the air with a tangy, electric odor. Doc and Gus reared. Eyes rolling and mouths frothing, they bolted. Lindsay flung herself away from their hooves. Landing awkwardly head first into the steep embankment, she slumped unconscious beneath a sapling elm.

Whitney was carried on by the horses until, skidding, Doc whipped around, broke the leather which bound him to Gus, and bolted up the road. Gus, thus flung from his flight, skidded across the road and down the embankment, collapsing onto his side. Whitney was flung from her side saddle and crumpled beside his broken frame.

Within moments, the disharmonious sounds of struggle had ceased, leaving only the steady “pat, pat, pat,” of falling rain.

Noooo!
Lindsay’s tortured mind struggled against the dark and silence. Desperately, she attempted to rouse from her unnatural slumber. Coming to, she nearly fell from her chair.

The “pat, pat, pat” of rain she heard was rapping its beat upon the window pane and not upon the leaves of the forest floor. She was safe and Whitney, if worse for the journey, was alive.

Thank God James had brought a party of Aunt Bessie’s servants to search for them. “I thought that something was just not right, when the stable lad told me of the riderless horse, and I came out and saw that it was Doc. The clothes inside confirmed that it must have been Miss Lindsay riding, so I took a search party to check for you.”

“Yes, thank you James, I owe you our lives.” Lindsay had responded, calmly and graciously, as if she were on a country stroll down a sun lit lane. Instead, she had sat bedraggled and woozy, mounted in front of Sam, the horse trainer, as James rode abreast, the unconscious Whitney in his arms.

Although Lindsay had been provided with a much more modern room in the guest wing of the house, she had insisted upon sitting up with Whitney, to do whatever nursing might be needed. Lindsay felt guilty that she saw the task as a sort of penance for her misdeeds, more than she felt it a labor of love.

She loved Whitney, but right now, the ache, cold and discomfort of the journey, coupled with the moist chill in the room, were working to make Lindsay feel as if she would rather allow another to care for her servant, while she slept in a luxuriously warm and soft bed upstairs.

What a selfish, spoiled brat you are, Lindsay Diana Beaumont! You will sit here and care for Whitney until she is well enough to speak for her own needs. You will not think of your own discomfort. For once, you will think of someone other than yourself or your family. What a tiny sphere you have lived within!

~ ~ ~

Thomas glanced nervously at the growing arc of sun and cursed himself three times the fool. How could he have let them leave? How could he have not raised the alarm? How could he have goaded his sweet Whitney into the arms of another man?

Desperately he strained his eyes through the rain to see signs of the two women’s travels. His hunter’s instincts noted a broken twig or two, and occasional hoof prints at random intervals, but the dark and heavy rain covered or erased much. Charles, intent on reaching Aunt Bess’s, preferred to rush the distance.

It was Thomas, therefore, who noted the bit of hair and cotton upon the aged pine. As the new sun lit the tiny twig with a ray of pale dawn light, he pulled up short, hollering, “Halt!”

Charles dismounted and returned down the narrow path to his companion. “Have you thrown a shoe?”

“No. Look!” Pointing at the frayed knot of grey wool and blond hair, Thomas grew very cool. All the world moved indolently as he slid from Midnight’s saddle and met up with that beacon of light strands. Pulling it from the twig, he placed them in his coat pocket and followed the clear line of broken brush and packed mud.

There lay Gus, his back snapped at an odd angle, as if he were rearing on his hind legs and not lying on his side. Charles and Thomas bent over the poor gelding, disturbed to see his eyes and lips bared. The bright white of bulging eyes and teeth, frozen in an eternal expression of terror, would not soon fade from either man’s mind.

Looking about desperately, Thomas was the first to speak. “Where is Whitney? She would have been riding this horse. Where is she?”

Charles’ mind began to work upon the problem at hand. Searching for signs of departure, he realized that several people had traveled this route before them. At least three different sets of male boot prints could be seen in the muddy mess about them.

“She has been lifted, it seems, and carried up the hill, likely to a horse. Let us ride back around this path to make certain that Lindsay is not left behind. Then, we will continue on to Mrs. Penchant’s home. They are likely both there, being cared for and cosseted.”

~ ~ ~

At dawn Lindsay awoke groggily. “Oh!” she moaned touching the back of her skull. A bump the size of a golf ball protested her prodding.

Poor Whitney looked as if her face had broken every tree branch on her fall down the slope. Scratches of various lengths and depths striped her visage. Her right eye rose swollen, an angry purple above her cheek.

“Oh, Whitney, your perfect complexion, ruined! I hate myself for this.”

“Water,” Whitney moaned through pale, cracked lips.

Laughing and crying in relief, Lindsay ran to the pitcher and poured a mug of chilly liquid through her dear abigail’s parted lips.

“More,” Whitney responded, when Lindsay pulled back the green ceramic cup. The moment she had drunk her fill, Whitney collapsed again into a deep sleep.

Lindsay felt invigorated by Whitney’s return to the world of the living. She paced the room, clapping her hands quietly in excitement. Linnie dared not leave for fear Whitney might need her, but she was desperate to let James know of his love’s recovery.

He had not wished to leave her last night, but had relented when Lindsay had claimed the right to nurse her servant. “She is my responsibility. I will care for her James.”

“I would like to stay, as well, to see to what ever you both might need.”

“That would be improper James. Just leave us some blankets and water, and add some wood to the fire. We shall be fine.”

“Yes, Miss Beaumont. I will be back to check on you at dawn.”

True to his word, Lindsay heard a soft rap at the chamber door.

“Miss Beaumont?” queried James in a clear tenor. “You are needed post haste by Mistress Penchant. Can you attend me quickly?”

“Yes, I will be right there,” Lindsay started, patting her hair into some semblance of order. Opening the thick wooden door, Lindsay gushed excitedly, “James, she is on the mend! She woke and asked for water. She drank two cupfuls before she went back to sleep. Her face looks so much worse this morning, but I am sure that is because it is starting to heal. Won’t you sit with her, while I go to the drawing room? You can direct me where to go.”

“I do hate to leave Whitney. It would be imprudent to leave you unescorted, however. It will take me but a moment to bring you to Mistress Penchant’s study. I will then return here to watch over Whitney.”

Walking behind James’ too thin frame, Lindsay couldn’t help but feel that this old musty castle was causing her to fade away as well.
How will I ever explain to Aunt Bessie why I have run away?
She thought as she drew inescapably closer to her moment of reckoning.
Aunt Bessie should be sensitive to my feelings, as she was very much in love with her late husband. Yet, she is a practical sort. My actions last night will not be easily explained away.

I can’t simply ask to become Aunt Bess’s paid companion, or could I? I might play the whole adventure off as a way of saving myself from an unwanted marriage. But after sneaking out in the middle of the night, and nearly causing Whitney’s death, this excuse will appear flighty at best. Being forced to marry Charles is hardly a life threatening situation.
Lindsay took a deep breath as James knocked on the office door.

“Enter,” came the imposing voice within. Lindsay did enter, her head bowed, but stopped five steps in, upon spying a rather muddy boot on the rug. Her heart filled with dread as her mind recognized that boot.

“Charles!” she gasped, looking up. “Why? How did you?”

“None of that matters at the present,” interrupted Aunt Bess. “What does matter is that you seem to have run away from home. Is this true?”

“I had hoped to avoid an objectionable marriage, Aunt Bess,” Lindsay conceded, bowing her head again.

“An objectionable marriage, to Charlie Donovan?”

“Yes, Aunt.”

“And to what do you object?”

Looking up, Lindsay was momentarily taken aback. “Must we discuss this in his presence?”

“As he is your father’s emissary, your betrothed, and your last hope for preserving your reputation, I would say so!”

Nodding, humiliated, Lindsay flushed as she stated, “I object to marrying for the sake of propriety to a man who does not care for me.”

“Young lady, are you saying that this man is acceptable in all other respects, has been approved of by your father, but is offensive to you because he is not in love with you?”

“It is just, we have this family history-”

“Answer me, Child.”

“Yes, I cannot marry him because he does not love me.”

“Hog wash! It is a woman’s job to love and cherish. It is a man’s job to protect and provide. As you are admitting his ability and willingness to do these things, I have no choice but to release you into his custody. Due to your ill advised and rash actions, your father has ordered you to be married at once.”

“What?! But, how?”

“You are to travel to Bakersfield this very day and be married by Reverend Donahue. Thank the Lord, for your bride groom is well prepared. Now, return to your room and gather your things at once. You are to meet Sir Charles in the court yard in ten minutes, I shall send for your maid.”

“Oh, Aunt Elizabeth, Whitney is injured. She is unable to travel. Her deepest desire is to stay and serve as your abigail. She and James hope to wed. If you could see it in your heart to allow her marriage and employment, I have promised to support her in any way I can.” Removing her beloved ruby ring with shaking hands, Lindsay began to hand it to her aging Aunt. Grabbing her hand to stop her, Charles pulled several gold coins from his purse and gave these to her Aunt instead.

“That is your mother’s and will be our daughter’s. Do not give away that which has value beyond gold.”

Moved by frustration, hunger, and exhaustion, Lindsay lashed out. “Then give me away, Charles, for my worth lies only in the sum of my dowry, to you!”

Raising his hand as if to strike her, Charles stopped himself, choosing instead to grab her arm and guide her firmly out of Aunt Bess’s study. James followed from his post outside the door. When Charles began walking toward the entryway, Lindsay paused.

BOOK: How to Impress a Gentleman
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