Authors: Lyndsey Norton
Front cover image: “Straying Thoughts” by Edmund Blair Leighton in the Public Domain Courtesy of Google Images
© 2013 Lyndsey Norton. All rights reserved.
The right of Lyndsey Norton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All the characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
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Early spring 1812
Wilfred de Lacy, the Earl of Buxton sighed deeply and pulled his pocket watch again,
he thought and replaced his gold hunter in the pocket of his ivory brocade waistcoat. He was dressed as every fine gentleman would be dressed from his shining Hessian’s, past the silk cravat tied fashionably, to the Beaver perched at a jaunty angle on his head. He sat on a bench at Vauxhall Gardens, ostensibly he was watching the ladies walk by, as any rake worth his salt would, but he was not looking for a lady, he was waiting for somebody else’s mistress.
Wilfred had met Harriet S
aunders at the Aston ball a few weeks before in the company of her protector Ernest Deptford, the Duke of Markham. Wilfred had never particularly liked Markham, there was a certain disdain in his eyes every time he looked at a woman, be she princess or pauper and he treated Harriet no differently. In fact at one point, Wilfred thought the Duke was going to physically attack her and had raised his hand to slap, before he recollected their location and instead slapped her back, almost knocking her off her feet.
Wilfred had been surprised when Harriet had manoeuvred him into a quiet,
private location; after all she was a very beautiful woman with auburn hair that flamed in the candlelight. Her bright green eyes sparkled even through the stress she lived with every day and there wasn’t a line on her face. Her heart shaped lips pouted readily and her figure was voluptuous, to say the least. He had been shocked when she begged him to help her. Being a gentleman born and bred, Wilfred couldn’t possibly resist the woman’s tears, especially after she had shown the scars on her shoulders, from where Markham punished her misdemeanours with a riding crop. Wilfred was affronted that a man of the Duke’s standing would abuse his mistress in such a fashion and determined to provide sanctuary for as long as necessary, after all, the Earl had his pride.
It had not taken long for Wilfred to secure a household for her, a very nice little townhouse in Green
Street, just off Park Lane and staffed with reliable servants. He had personally interviewed each one for suitability and was satisfied that the footmen were all burly, fit men and understood that they were there to protect the lady from all comers. The butler was stern and unforgiving and the housemaids were all happy in their work.
He pulled his watch again and frowned. Harriet was now half an hour late and he was worried. He stood and buttoned his coat against the chill wind blowing across the Gardens and walked to the exit where his carriage was waiting. ‘
I hope she has just forgotten.’ He murmured and a terrible thought crossed his mind,
what if she has not, but had been prevented from coming!
That thought made his feet move faster and brought a sheen of sweat to his forehead as a frisson of fear ran down his spine.
What would Markham do if he found out she was leaving?
He asked himself and did not like the visions that thought threw into his mind’s eye, as he knew how much pride the Duke had. No man liked to be cuckolded, even though he had never had carnal knowledge of Harriet Saunders. He was almost running as he reached his carriage and shouted up to the coachman ‘23 Curzon Street and make it snappy!’ He jumped in through the door and slumped on the seat, taking his hat off and throwing it on the opposite bench. The carriage jerked into motion, making the hat roll off the squab onto the floor, but Wilfred couldn’t be bothered to pick it up. The horses were moving at a fair clip as Wilfred heard the crack of the whip and grabbed the support strap, but he knew it would be a long trip because of traffic congestion. A fallen horse could block a road for hours, until it was destroyed and removed.
The Duke had ensconced Harr
iet Saunders at a house in Curzon Street and unlike the new house; all the staff were loyal to the Duke. Wilfred had made sure that all the new staff would be loyal to Harriet, rather than him. He wished he’d brought his racing curricle, instead of his carriage, but secrecy was preferred, rather than speed.
Half an hour later, the carriage turned into Curzon Street and Wilfred was alarmed to see Markham’s ducal coach just passing in the other direction. The curtains were across the windows, so Wilfred couldn’t see who occupied it, but a sick feeling in his gut told him it was the Duke. His carriage jerked to a halt outside the door of number 23 and Wilfred jumped out without benefit of the steps. He ran u
p to the door and pounded the knocker within an inch of its life.
A very austere butler opened the door, looked down his nose at Wilfred and asked ‘Yes?’ coldly. Right at that moment a shrill scream came from upstairs. It was the kind of scream to lift the hairs on the back of Wilfred’s neck and set his feet in motion as he barged past the butler before said butler could stop him.
He took the stairs two at a time and followed the wailing scream until he found a maid standing in the doorway of a bedroom.
The room had been destroyed. There was no other
way to describe the devastation that confronted him. It looked as if a tornado had ripped through the room, turning over and smashing furniture, ripping down curtains and bed drapes, the mattress and pillows had been slashed open and the contents spumed everywhere. The dressing table mirror had been smashed, the table itself was upended and all the bottles broken making the room smell like a perfume shop. The armoire was resting on its side, the door hanging off and all the gowns it had contained were shredded on the floor, every single drawer had had the same treatment.
In amongst the piles of shredded linen was a body. A naked body. Wilfred could quite understand why the maid was screaming as he looked at the battered and bloodied body of Harriet Saunders. ‘Dear God!’ was wrenched from his throat and he lurched forward towards that spread-eagled body. ‘Get me a blanket and send for a Doctor!’ he bellowed at the butler over the screams of the maid. He stepped carefully over the destruction and kneeled beside the woman on the floor. He winced as he looked at
the battered state of her face and gently probed for the pulse in her neck. It was there. ‘She’s alive!’ he said as the butler handed him a sheet and helped him cover Harriet’s bloody body.
pened?’ Wilfred said harshly. One look in his eyes made the butler swallow his pride and tell the truth.
‘His Grace arrived in a temper, My Lord.’ He murmured. ‘He pays our wages and expects us to be loyal a
nd silent about what goes on in this house.’ He looked down at the bloodied body. ‘But I can’t keep quiet about this, never have I seen the like.’ He sighed deeply. ‘When he arrived he ordered all staff below stairs and said we weren’t to come out until his carriage left. I stationed the kitchen maid at the railings so that we would know when His Grace left.’ He carefully lifted a strand of hair from Harriet’s face. ‘We could hear thumping and banging and I almost came up when I heard the mistress scream, but I like my job and God rot my soul, I refrained from getting involved.’ He shrugged his shoulders, ‘not that I could do anything against a Duke.’
‘Of course not, when did the Duke leave?’ Wilfred asked softly.
‘Not five minutes since.’ He looked at Wilfred. ‘You must have seen his coach. I sent Mary up to see to the mistress and you heard her scream.’
The woman on the floor groaned. ‘Harriet?’ Wilfred asked softly. ‘It’s Wilfred, can you hear me?’
‘Wilfred?’ she mumbled as he saw the bloody lips open, revealing that her teeth were still in her mouth,
so Markham used his fists rather than his feet.
She tried to open her eyes, but they were so swollen that she couldn’t manage more than a slit, so she lifted a hand and Wilfred sighed as at least one of her limbs wasn’t broken. He gently took her hand and stroked his thumb over the back of her hand. ‘I’ve sent for a Doctor, Harriet and he should be here soon. Can you move your other arm?’ he asked all in a soothing voice. She tried and cried out. ‘No, don’t try if it hurts too much. What about your legs?’ She moved her left leg, but the right wouldn’t move. Wilfred looked at the butler. ‘I cannot move her until the doctor says so, will you go down and hustle him straight in here?’
‘Yes, My Lord.’ The butler said calmly and retreated to wait downstairs for the physician.
‘Harriet?’ He spoke calmly, ‘Did he rape you?’ he asked as gently as you could ask that question.
‘Yes.’ She gasped out and then the tears of shock came and she cried loudly and heartbreakingly.
‘I don’t want you to worry about anything, Harriet.’ He sighed. ‘I shall look after you now.’ He smoothed the back of his fingers gently over her cheek. As he watched he could see the swellings on her face growing. Her eyes were blackening, swelling shut so that there was barely a slit for her to see out of, he could tell her nose was broken, even though the blood from it had stopped and was drying on her cheek and upper lip. Her lips were split and swollen, blackening again with bruising that continued down to her chin and along her jaw. The skin over both cheekbones was smeared off her face, leaving behind weeping sores over the swelling flesh. There were a hundred other abrasions and cuts on her body.
Wilfred was filled with an irrational fury, which almost blinded his reason. He was the only son of a Duke. Thankfully not a Duke like Markham, but it still
made him doubt what his father did behind closed doors and hid behind his title. Brutal men like Markham were always there and Wilfred’s mother had spent an amazing amount of time making sure that he knew how a gentlemen should act. As an adult, Wilfred understood that certain men had inclinations and proclivities that were different from his. He had cultivated his reputation as a rake, but never had he ever thought of hitting a woman. Most of the women of his acquaintance were courtesans or Cyprians and they were more than willing to surrender to his attentions, but all the same, he didn’t need violence to arouse him or any other questionable devices. For him, the beauty of the female form in all its glory was enough to arouse him; it didn’t matter if they were blonde, brunette or redhead, with blue, green or brown eyes, so long as the whole package was tasteful with curves in the right places.
‘Goodness!’ came from the doorway and Wilfred looked up to see a portly,
well-dressed man carrying a small leather bag. ‘I’m Doctor Porter.’ He said softly. ‘Is she conscious?’
‘Yes, she keeps floating in and out.’
‘Who did this?’ the Doctor asked in shock and kneeled down the other side. He stared at Wilfred with a raised eyebrow.
Wilfred looked at him evenly. ‘Not me, that’s for sure.’
He admitted evasively. ‘Her right arm and left leg are troublesome,’ Wilfred explained without telling him his job, ‘and she says she was raped too.’ He finished softly as he looked down on the battered woman with compassion.
‘Is there a maid here?’ the doctor asked and Wilfred nodded and went to cal
l for one. When Mary arrived, the Doctor asked for a glass of water and rummaged in his bag, taking out a blue bottle and glass tube with a rubber balloon on the end.
‘What is that?’ Wilfred asked pointing at the glass tube.
‘A burette. It’s used for measuring small amounts of fluid accurately.’ The doctor said and frowned. ‘I wish to give her enough laudanum and don’t wish to kill her.’
‘Will that knock her out?’
‘I hope so.’ The doctor smiled for the first time and as Mary came back with a tumbler of water, the doctor removed the cork from the bottle, dipped the open end of the tube into the bottle and squeezed the rubber balloon. Wilfred was amazed to see a small amount of clear liquid rise up the tube when the doctor released the balloon. He squirted a bit back in the bottle and then moved the burette over the glass of water and squirted the contents of the tube in it. He dipped the tube into the glass and swirled the mixture around, before putting the cork back in the bottle and returning his equipment to his bag.
‘Shall we see if we can get this down her?’ he asked and motioned for Wilfred to lift her. Gently he eased his arm under her shoulders and lifted her slowly until she cried out.
‘Far enough.’ He sighed and looked at Wilfred in question.
‘Harriet? Can you drink this water for the doctor?’
‘Yes.’ She mumbled through her swollen lips and lifted her left arm for the glass. The Doctor didn’t release his hold on the glass but allowed Harriet to drink it at her own pace.
‘It will ease the pain you are in.’ Porter said soothingly,
‘and then I can get you examined and patched up.’
Harriet didn’t answer; she just continued drinking the laudanum until the glass was empty. She sighed as the Doctor removed the glass from her hand.
Wilfred laid her gently back down and the doctor started his examination with her right arm. ‘Hmm. Broken.’ He murmured. ‘Here, above the elbow. We can splint that.’ He lifted the sheet and checked both her left leg and then the right. ‘Yes, that is going to be quite nasty and painful.’ He sighed and sat back on his heels. ‘Well, you won’t be dancing for a few months.’ He said jovially and checked her pulse in her neck. ‘Strong and steady.’ He murmured. ‘She’s out, I think.’
‘Harriet?’ Wilfred asked but got no response.
The doctor looked at him, ‘if you will step outside, the maid and I can check her internal injuries and then we’ll see about splinting her up and moving her.’