Authors: Kathryn Caskie
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
, she had appeared upon Aunt Prudence’s doorstep without references, but, amazingly, she had seemed experienced in all manner of maid’s work, from scullery to intricate coiffures.
Her abilities, joined with the fact that she would accept the meager wage Mary could offer, had made her instantly welcome in the household.
Her name remained a mystery, however. Not even Mrs.
could pry it from her, therefore becoming quickly convinced that the brown-eyed beauty was, in truth, a French spy.
Mary and her sisters were not so convinced, but they
by using the name the cook had given her—
Mary rubbed her fingertips to her temples. What had she been thinking to have taken so much wine?
There was a soft knock at her door. Mary’s head snapped around, amplifying the noise all the more. “Who is there?”
When there was no reply, Mary removed the key from her dressing table and crossed the chamber to insert it, warily, into the lock. She opened the door but a crack and saw that it was the maid, Cherie.
Cherie’s huge brown eyes looked down at the portmanteau sitting beside her. She lifted it, which hardly seemed possible given her petite frame, but when Mary opened the door fully, she carried it into the bedchamber and hoisted it upon the tester bed.
Mary stared at the large leather bag, and moisture began to well in her eyes.
The maid waited silently for several moments, but when Mary made no move to remove it or open it, Cherie grabbed the handle.
“No! No, you are correct, Cherie.” Mary scrubbed a heavy tear that had caught in the edge of her eyelashes. “It is my only choice. I must return to Cornwall. It is only a matter of days, perhaps only hours, before all of London hears of my indiscretion.”
Cherie gave Mary a sad smile, and all at once, Mary broke down and gave in to the tears she’d been holding back.
“What a fool I was, Cherie. Such a fool. I was no match for his rakish ways, and still I thought to send him for the hills by playing the innocent who wanted him.”
Cherie took a handkerchief from the chest of drawers and wiped the tear from Mary’s cheek.
“But the wine, the wine ruined it all. And now I must leave. I cannot stay here and risk ruining my sisters’ good names as well.”
The maid touched Mary’s arm. Once she had her full attention, she pointed to herself with a pleading look in her eyes.
It took several seconds before Mary realized what the maid’s gesture meant, but then she knew. “No, I must go alone.” She managed a weak smile. “Besides, Anne could never part with you. You are the only member of our staff she truly likes.” Mary gripped both of the maid’s bony upper arms. “You will stay, won’t you, Cherie?
The girl nodded her head slowly, then turned and opened the portmanteau for Mary.
“Thank you, but I can manage the packing myself. If you have gone missing too long, Anne will come to seek you out, and I do not wish her to know that I am leaving before I am prepared.”
The maid nodded again before suddenly throwing her arms around Mary and hugging her tight. Then, she spun around and scurried from the room.
Mary followed the maid to the door and closed and locked it behind her.
She opened her wardrobe, removed a few articles of clothing, and settled them inside the portmanteau.
Her mind was filled with tasks to complete. She’d have to see to the household accounts before she left. Anne and Elizabeth certainly had no mind for ciphering, and Aunt Prudence, well, the dear was simply too old to manage.
She turned and gazed out the window onto Berkeley Square. Her sisters would have to be told, of course, but not until Mary called upon Lady
and the Old Rakes to explain everything.
Laying her hand atop the lip of the faded leather, she closed the portmanteau and heaved it beneath her bed to conceal it from her curious sisters’ notice.
, she should make her way to Cavendish Square right away. She couldn’t bear it if her sponsor learned of her disgrace from another.
Especially if that person was the absolute worst of debauchers, the Duke of Blackstone.
It was early yet when Rogan arrived in Cavendish Square.
He had arrived at Doctor’s Commons at first light and had waited for the archbishop’s office to open. Now, his business there completed, he held in his coat pocket the special license inscribed with both his title and Miss
name. They could be married this very day if she so desired, which he expected she would, since a wedding was obviously the purpose behind her clever plan.
He was not looking forward to this, but his own lust had cast him into this position, and there was naught he could do to change that.
He threw his leg across the saddle and dismounted, then wrapped the reins around the post ring outside of Number Two, Cavendish Square.
It was time to face Mary’s sponsor, Lady
Within minutes of knocking at the door, Rogan was led down to the passage to the library where Lady
As his eyes fixed on the tiny woman, his ears picked up a distinctive metallic click, and from the corner of his eye he almost thought he saw a case of books move.
“Come, come in Your Grace.” Lady
smile was as bright as the sun in the sky, and she beckoned to him to join her for tea. “We have—
have been expecting you.”
“Indeed, I have.”
Rogan dropped his chin to his chest. This was going to be more difficult to stomach than he’d imagined.
He lifted his head. “Then you have already spoken to Miss
“I was at the musicale last evening. Do you not recall speaking with me?” Lady
What in blazes did she mean?
“Your Grace, do you forget that I was witness to your conversations with Miss
Rogan stared blankly at the old woman.
“Oh, goodness me. Neither of you could say a civil word to the other. One might think the two of you dislike one another.” She leaned close and patted his knee. “And yet your eyes told a completely different tale.”
“I do apologize, Lady
, but I do not understand.”
“Dear sir, everyone but the two of you could see how
you were with each other. Why, you and Miss
are the talk of the
“Are we?” Rogan did not like what he was hearing. Just how much did London society know of what had passed between him and Mary?
“I have heard rumors that White’s book is filled with wagers for a wedding before
Rogan cleared his throat and, without thinking, slipped his hand inside his coat pocket and touched the special license. “My good lady, you have seen my heart.”
Or rather, my conscience.
would accept me and you gave me your blessing, I would wed her this very day.”
The color ran from Lady
face, and her lips began to tremble.
“Good heavens,” she stammered. “I must say, the depth of your feelings for each other are far more advanced than I had been aware. Why, this is wonderful!”
Rogan raised his hand. “I am wealthy and titled. I feel quite certain she will accept my offer.”
narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Then why are you not more jubilant? If Miss
wishes to marry you, I will certainly offer my blessing, as will
Rogan thrummed his fingers on his knee. “There is no question, she must marry me. My concern is only that she may still possess some fondness for my brother, Lord
“Oh, dear.” She brought her fingers to her lips. “Are you certain?”
“No, I am not. I do not know her heart. However, I do know my brother’s... and his is held by Lady Tidwell.”
Suddenly there was a loud noise behind the bookcases. Rogan leapt to his feet, though Lady
was quite unworried and remained in her seat.
He peered down at her for an explanation.
“Rats.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Just a few rats between the walls.”
“They must be rather
“Hmm, indeed.” She turned her round little face to the row of bookcases near the hearth and narrowed her eyes. “Do you, perhaps, know a good rat catcher?”
Mary swung her blue Bourbon mantle over her shoulders as she hurried down the stairs.
She hoped to slip out the front door unobserved and to walk unaccompanied by her sisters to see Lady
and the Old Rakes of Marylebone.
Her hand had just skimmed the newel post when Mrs.
called out from the far end of the passage. “Heard you had
’ to eat this morn, Miss
Mary stopped and remained standing on the bottom step. She listened, hoping her sisters would not have heard Mrs.
and realized she had emerged from her bedchamber.
“I can prepare
’ for you, if you like. Just set the water to boil. I can make some tea in no time at all. Baked some fresh biscuits, too.”
“No, thank you, Mrs.
, I was heading—” Then Mary caught sight of a rich red swath of fabric wrapped around Cook’s waist.
Slowly, she came down from the last step and walked over to view the material closer. “Your sash, may I see it, Mrs.
The cook dutifully untied the swath and handed it to Mary, who shook out its folds and ran her fingers over it.
It was soft, and though it was quite badly stained in the center, there was no mistaking the gold-shot crimson fabric.
It was Kashmir.
A Kashmir shawl.
Anxiously, Mary carried Mrs.
shawl into the
and held it up to the sunlight washing through the windows.
“Where did you get this?” Mary turned and pinned Mrs.
with her gaze. “Did you know this is a Kashmir shawl? A very expensive shawl—when this was new it probably cost as much as a house. But it’s ruined now, isn’t it?”
blanched. “I didn’t steal it or
. Found it in the dustbin, I did. I figured nobody would mind the least bit if I cut it up for rags.”
Mary couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You were going to cut up
“Well, it didn’t look like that then, did it now? It was all dark and mussed with soot and such, like it’d been stuffed up the chimney to keep the drafts out.”
Mary studied the shawl again. “It certainly doesn’t look that way now.”
“Cherie washed it up real nice for me. She’s a good girl, even if she’s French and all. But you can’t choose where you come from, now, can you?”
“No, you can’t.” She lowered the shawl and held it tightly to her middle. “Mrs.
, I believe this shawl is the rag Elizabeth found inside Papa’s document box. I should like to keep it.”
The cook stared hard at the shawl, and her fingers twitched as if they wanted to grab the Kashmir away. “You said it yourself though, it’s ruined. Ain’t worth
“It mightn’t be worth much money anymore, but it may be worth quite a lot to Anne and Elizabeth.”
Mary bit her lip, not really believing what she, frugal Mary, was about to say. “Would you take... a guinea for it?”
wide face began to glow, and a sly smile tilted her lips. “Well, it is Kashmir, like you said. The edges might be worth something. Did you see the gold threads?”
, the shawl was found in this household. Rightfully, it already belongs to me.”
“Very well. Thank you, Miss
. A guinea is fair compensation for my
’ the shawl.”
“You are welcome, Mrs.
.” Mary stepped past the cook and into the passage and peered up at the tall case-clock for the hour. “Where are my sisters? Have you seen them of late?”
“Oh, they’re in the library
’ over some papers. Shall I tell them that you are
’ about them?”
Mary started for the library. “No, thank you. I am headed there myself.”