Elizabeth’s hand pressed to her forehead.
“Do you feel poorly, Miss?”
“A headache, Abigail, nothing more. I have slept so little since returning from Larchfield.”
“Will you be well enough to go, Miss?”
“I must be, Abigail, I must. I cannot miss my interview with Lady Fareham.”
“Some lavender oil, perhaps a little at the temples will help?”
The maid spoke as she pulled the material at Elizabeth’s back sharply, to bring the buttons together. The dress was far too small, but every dress Elizabeth owned seemed to no longer fit her and she had no money to buy more. She must make do and obtain this position.
“Do I look good enough?”
“More than good enough, Miss,” Abigail answered, but she remained focused on her task, pulling the material with a sharp tug again.
“A suitable companion, Abigail?”
“…Oh, yes.” The material was tugged again and there was a slight hesitation before Abigail’s reply.
Four days had passed since their return from Larchfield. Marcus had neither called nor attended any social affairs and he had been such a regular visitor before their trip to Larchfield that it seemed very odd not to face him in her drawing room.
Lord Percy had called twice and on both occasions he’d taken her hands and brought her close, urging her to accept his offer and he was making it increasingly difficult to say no and move away from him.
All her hopes were in Lady Fareham offering her the position of a companion. She’d received no reply to her other applications. She’d spent her night pleading with God to make it happen, because she could not abide the alternative.
Her father had made it clear he wished her to compromise Marcus, to draw him away from a crowd and lead him into an embrace somewhere they might then be discovered. The irony of his request had caught a barb of guilt in her chest. He intended to find them and then force Marcus into an offer of marriage. Yet Marcus, was not taking his bait from the hook. He was not even swimming in the pond near her. He’d been at none of the social occasions they’d attended, no matter how wide her father cast his net, and her father could hardly play the game in the gambling dens where Marcus probably was. Impropriety was hardly an issue there.
Elizabeth looked at the clock. It was twelve minutes past eleven. Her interview was at one. She measured the time as if each hour was relevant, but then it was. Hours became days and she had only four days left in which to plan her escape.
At ten to one, clutching the letter in her hand, Elizabeth looked for the number of the address. Abigail stopped a pace or two behind her when Elizabeth stopped and stared up the steps to the huge door. It was an impressive residence, three floors above ground and eight windows wide.
“Wait for me here please, Abigail.” Elizabeth folded the letter and slipped it into her reticule.
Drawing a deep breath, she stepped on to the first stair. This was it, Lady Fareham would be waiting. She closed her eyes and willed herself to success, then climbed the remaining stairs to stand before the dark red door of Lady Fareham’s town house. Elizabeth’s fingers shook as she reached for the large brass ring, ornamented with the head of a fox. She struck the knocker against the door. When the door opened before her, clutching her reticule tightly in both hands, she advised the man that Lady Fareham was expecting her. He led her through to a large drawing room where an elderly lady sat reclining in an armchair and there he introduced her.
“It is Miss Elizabeth Derwent, Lady Fareham.”
“Yes, yes, Wilson. Show her in.” Lady Fareham replied, without looking up from the book she was reading.
The butler coughed. Lady Fareham looked up, lowering her spectacles. “Ah, I’m sorry, Miss Derwent. Step forward, dear. Let me see you better. I apologise for the time lapse in responding to your application, but my plans to travel have been a little delayed.”
Elizabeth walked to the centre of the room and stood before the older woman. Lady Fareham was clothed in emerald green. She smiled. The gesture caught in her eyes in a way that suggested she enjoyed life. It offered Elizabeth reassurance. “Perfect. You are quite a beauty. I admit I had not expected it. I cannot imagine why you think you would not suit any man, but never mind, their loss may be my gain.” She looked away facing the butler. “Charming on the eye, but not too arrogant, from her appearance, eh, Wentworth?”
The heat of a blush glowed in Elizabeth’s cheeks.
“Yes, madam,” the butler replied.
Lady Fareham lifted a hand.
Elizabeth stepped forward, gripped Lady Fareham’s fingers, gently, and bobbed a curtsy. “I am very pleased to meet you, madam. Thank you for considering me.”
“And I am pleased to meet you, Miss Derwent. Your letter sounded very hopeful. You are a very accomplished young woman. I gather you speak French and have studied in Latin?”
“Yes, Lady Fareham.”
“And you sing and play the pianoforte?”
“Yes, Lady Fareham.”
“May I hear your voice? There is music on the pianoforte.” She pointed to the instrument in the corner of the room.
Elizabeth nodded, then removed her gloves as she walked to the pianoforte. She laid them on its top with her reticule and quickly studied the lines of notes when she sat, preparing herself. She wished to impress.
Her fingers trembled as she played, as did her voice, but she did not miss a note and the rest of the interview was far easier, a conversation over a pot of tea, and then Lady Fareham asked her to read a piece of Byron’s work.
“How did it go Miss? Well?” Abigail’s nose and cheeks were red from the cold when Elizabeth finally descended the steps.
Elizabeth smiled at the maid’s genuine concern, then glanced back as the door closed behind her, checking that it had shut before she spoke. She looked back at Abigail, and hurried down the steps. Her fingers slipping across the cast iron rail. “Very well, Abigail, I believe. I think there is indeed a hope. Lady Fareham seems very kind, and I am sure she liked me, but she still has to interview at least one other applicant. Come, let us call in at the lending library on the way on home.”
Elizabeth was still hopeful hours later when she was dressing for the evening. Abigail pulled at the fastenings of her dress as Elizabeth watched their reflection in the mirror. “The dress will not come together, Miss.”
“It must. I have nothing else to wear, and Papa will be furious if I do not attend the Harveys’ supper.” Elizabeth could see the tightness of the cloth in the reflection in the cheval mirror when Abigail tried again.
Elizabeth breathed in, but even so.
“It is no good, Miss, I cannot secure the buttons. All I may do is sew the gown to your undergarments and you shall have to wear a shawl to hide it.”
Elizabeth’s fingers touched her expanding waistline and passed across the plump curve of her stomach with impatience. She did not have the time for this. “My dresses have been growing tighter by the week. I have eaten no more than usual. I do not understand it. Why am I growing fat?”
Abigail gave up her attempts to fasten the gown and stepped back, staring at Elizabeth’s reflection.
Elizabeth looked at her waist. “What about the yellow? Do you not think that might fit?” She looked across her shoulder at the maid. Abigail stared at her, with a look of confusion, her eyes wide and her mouth open. Elizabeth turned to face her. “Abigail, what is it? What has happened?”
Abigail’s eyes looked at Elizabeth’s hand, which still rested on her stomach. “Miss, it is not my place to say.” Her gaze lifted.
“To say what, Abigail?” Elizabeth turned towards her wardrobe. “Help me find the yellow.”
“Only – I know the signs – my mama has had five more since me, and the sickness, the headaches, they are all a part of it, Miss.”
Elizabeth turned back. “Of what?”
“Miss, you have not had your time of month since April. It is September; it has been almost five months.”
“What are you saying?”
“Miss, you are carrying. You are with child.”
The words struck Elizabeth like a slap. “No.” She could not be.
Abigail’s skin became pink. “I’m sorry, Miss. I thought you knew. I am only saying what I see. The signs are there. I can increase your dresses but you will not be able to hide it forever. Probably not within a month.”
Elizabeth’s fingers spread out across the curve of her stomach and the blood seemed to drain from her head as the room turned dark. She dropped onto the stool beside the mirror. “A child.” The exclamation was pained, and she shook her head, “I cannot be with child.” Her refusal was whispered. How could she have been so foolish, and naive. How could she not have realized?
Because her mother had never talked of such things…
Her gaze lifted to Abigail, looking for help when there could be none. “Things cannot become worse.” If she was offered the position of a companion she could not take it now.
“Miss. I thought you knew.”
“No. I did not.”
Yet her younger maid had known. Elizabeth closed her eyes. She had often missed her courses, it was nothing odd, and yet she had not realised for how many months. Or perhaps she had, and had not wanted to consider why because she had known it was something to do with what she’d done. Her fingers pressed to her temple then fell to her lap.
“Forgive me, Miss, what will you do?”
Elizabeth’s hands rested in her lap. Her eyes were dry. She had not broken down. There were no tears to cry. She had no one to blame but herself. She had made a choice, behaved recklessly and taken the risk, and fate had played its hand. Now it would see out its course. Fear rushed through her in a single wave.
Breathing deeply, she closed her eyes as her hands rested over her stomach.
It was too hard to believe it, a child… her child. “I don’t know, Abigail. What is there to do? What options do I have?”
“You must go to him, to the Duke. You must tell him.”
Elizabeth looked up.
“He is the father, isn’t he, Miss? I remember that day, when you saw him in the street. It was then, wasn’t it?”
Elizabeth stood up. All these weeks and she’d had no idea how much Abigail had known. The secrets of the gentry never really were secrets.
Elizabeth’s fingers stroked over her stomach. A child. Marcus’s child.
Would he want to know? He would not marry her. He would never marry her. But he’d offered to keep her and she’d spurned him. Would he take her with a child?
Elizabeth met Abigail’s gaze. “His Grace and I parted on bad terms. I cannot go to him. He will not wish to see me.”
“He would. I think he would. He’s called here since your return from Larchfield.” Abigail’s words spilled out in a hurry. “He made me promise not to say, Miss. But the morning we came home, he followed. Then he overheard your father speaking and left without a word.”
Elizabeth looked to the clock on the mantel. It was half past seven. “I will go to him. Fetch our cloaks. We will have to walk.”
“But it is already dark, Miss.”
“And my father is already waiting for me in his office. We cannot take the carriage, he would hear and stop me. I have no choice. If I am to see His Grace, we must walk.”
To be continued…
If you cannot wait until next week for more of Jane Lark’s writing there’s plenty to read right now 😀 And if you have read them all already, then there’s another treat out now, you can begin devouring, The Dangerous Love of a Rogue
To read the Marlow Intrigues series, you can start anywhere, but the actual order is listed below ~ and click like to follow my Facebook Page not to miss anything…
The Marlow Intrigues
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all ~ The paperback would be a lovely stocking filler 😉
The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2
Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ A Free Novella #2.5
The Passionate Love of a Rake #3
The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella #3.5
The Scandalous Love of a Lord #4
The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5
The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6
Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback and, yes, there are more to come 🙂
Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark