Satyr’s Son: A Georgian Historical Romance
His wealth can buy anything, except the love of a penniless girl
A vast inheritance allows Lord Henri-Antoine every indulgence. Miss Lisa Crisp relies on the charity of relatives to keep her from the poorhouse. Under startling circumstances, they meet. When they find themselves attending the same country wedding, Henri-Antoine makes Lisa a scandalous proposition, but following her heart could ruin them both.
A standalone Cinderella story set against the backdrop of Treat, ancestral home of the dukes of Roxton. New readers will discover the myriad pleasures and glittering aristocratic world of the Roxton family through the fresh eyes of newcomer Lisa Crisp. Cameos by beloved characters will please fans of the series.
- B.R.A.G. Medallion
- Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Winner
- RONE Awards Finalist
- InD'tale CROWNED HEART
- Chanticlear International Book Awards Finalist
- Night Owl Reviews TOP PICK
Lucinda Brant brings the Georgian era to life as no one else can! —Cynthia Wright, New York Times bestselling author
A must-read for fans who enjoy a rake brought to his knees. A heady tale full of laughs, uniquely touching moments, and an amazing plot that will keep you on edge right to the end. —Maureen Dangarembizi, Readers’ Favorite 5 STARS
Just when you couldn’t imagine Lucinda Brant upstaging her previous, wondrous tales, out comes Satyr’s Son, one of the best Cinderella stories ever. An absolute joy. Any fan of historical romance just has to read this book. Totally addictive and marvellous. —SWurman, Night Owl Reviews 5 STAR REVIEWER TOP PICK
Release date: October 18, 2017
Print pages: 454
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Satyr’s Son: A Georgian Historical Romance
Part One: The City
GERRARD STREET, LONDON, SUMMER 1786
It was a short walk to Leicester Square from Warner’s Dispensary in Gerrard Street, where Miss Lisa Crisp resided with Dr. and Mrs. Warner. She hoped the errand would see her returned before her absence was noted. It was a needless worry. She wouldn’t be missed on a Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps on any other day of the week, when she assisted in the dispensary, but not on a Wednesday when she could do as she pleased. But as she was poor and friendless, she had no one to visit and nowhere to go.
This Wednesday was to prove the exception.
To the Warners, Lisa was simply there, like a piece of furniture, or the scullery maid, and thus rarely thought of at all. Perhaps this assessment was a little harsh, and more about how she felt about her situation rather than what the Warners thought of her, because the Warners were not a vindictive couple. It was just that they were unmindful of others. Dr. Warner was wholly absorbed with his medical practice, which was understandable and commendable, while Mrs. Warner was so self-absorbed that there was very little time in her day for others.
Robert Warner was an eminent physician and anatomist, and when he wasn’t attending to patients at his dispensary, or making home visits to one of his wealthier more needy patients, he was shut up in the garret of his townhouse. Here was his anatomy school and laboratory, where he revealed the mysteries to be found inside the human body to fresh-faced, eager medical students during the autumn and winter months.
Mrs. Warner gave her husband as much liberty as was necessary for him to focus solely on his medical expertise. This gave her the freedom to be indolent. She never stirred from her bedchamber before noon, an hour that was very much à la mode with Polite Society. She read every scrap of gossip printed about these rarefied persons with all the fervor of a zealot, as if, by the very process of absorbing social minutiae about the nobility and their habits, she qualified for admittance into their select society. She did her best to ape them in every particular.
The couple frequently entertained, Mrs. Warner encouraging her husband to have guests at the table to further their—but mostly her—social ambitions. Her greatest desire, of which she made no secret, was to be addressed as ‘my lady’. After all, Dr. Warner was a medical genius and deserved a baronetcy at the very least. Her husband was humbly in accord. And so with their societal ambitions aligned, suitably socially-connected individuals were regular diners at their Gerrard Street townhouse.
Lisa did not join them, when the couple dined alone, or when they had guests. She ate her dinner in the small parlor at the back of the house. For although she was not a servant but a cousin of Mrs. Warner, her indigent background and shameful past precluded her from a seat at the table among persons of an elevated sensibility.
Lisa accepted this with equanimity, as she had everything else life had thrown at her since being orphaned at nine years of age. But as she did not like eating alone, she made sure to have a good breakfast to avoid a lonely dinner; supper was routinely a cup of tea and a slice of bread on a tray in her room. If the Warners’ son was still awake, she joined Nurse and helped console baby George, who was presently teething, until he fell asleep. She then spent the rest of her evening reading or writing in her diary.
Had Lisa set off to walk all the way to Portsmouth, she was certain the Warners would not have noticed her absence until the next day at the earliest, when she rose with the sun to be present at the breakfast table to provide the doctor with conversational company, should he lower his newssheet and wish to pontificate on a subject of importance to him. He never asked for her opinion. Whether a mind as vast as his thought her incapable of logical argument and thus unable to offer a response worthy of his intellect, she had no idea. Or perhaps it was because she was female, and thus her place was to listen, not to participate.
Whatever the reason, it mattered not to Lisa, who had a thirst for knowledge—her teachers had labeled her unquenchable—and thus she was content to listen to the physician with her coddled eggs, toast, and hot chocolate. And Dr. Warner had a lot to say: About the deplorable state of medical education in this country, the intractable religious opposition to the use of cadavers to advance medical knowledge, and that political bigots needed to have their eyes prised open to see that the only way forward for medical science was through scientific investigation. And that meant getting one’s hands dirty with the blood and filth that was part of life. Enlightened times called for enlightened action, not just thinking. This phrase was oft repeated and usually signaled an end to the morning’s diatribe. Dr. Warner then retreated once more between the pages of his newssheet, leaving behind a deathly silence, and Lisa to read in peace the newspapers discarded by the physician.
Lisa had been following this routine every day for two years, and while her daydreams were no different to those of any nineteen-year-old girl—falling in love, marrying, and being mistress of her own home—she was grounded enough to know such thoughts were the stuff of fairy tales, and what she could reasonably expect from life was a roof over her head, coal in the grate, and food on the table. Which was more than the vast majority of Londoners could hope for, so she was not ungrateful.
And so, as neither Dr. or Mrs. Warner would wonder at her whereabouts this fine summer’s day, Lisa did not feel obliged to tell them or the household servants where she was headed. Though she did raise servant eyebrows when Cook, in conversation with the housekeeper, paused mid-sentence to watch her pass through the kitchen and leave via the servant entrance, wearing her sensible half-boots, a wide-peaked bonnet, and cotton mittens to keep the sun from turning her white skin brown.
Outside she was met in the small service area that was below street level and open to the air and noise of town, by one Becky Bannister, seamstress and haberdasher’s assistant. Becky served behind the counter of her great-aunt’s shop, Humphreys’ Haberdashers, on the corner of Gerrard and Princes Street, and when called upon, visited clients in their homes. A well-built girl with dark hair and rosy cheeks, she bobbed a respectful curtsy and prepared to pick up the basket at her feet, eager to be off. But Lisa was not ready just yet to ascend the steps into the noise and heat of town.
Spying empty flour sacks airing atop a stack of crates, she took two and neatly placed them across the second-to-last step to save their petticoats from grime, and invited Becky to sit beside her. They needed to talk, in the shade and away from the incessant racket to be had at street level. Becky readily complied, but her smile dropped into a frown when Lisa said firmly, “Before we visit Lord Westby’s residence, you had best tell me again what happened, and what it is you took.”
“Miss, I done told ye,” Becky explained. “I ain’t took nothin’. The book fell into me work basket—”
“—and you decided to borrow it. Yes. You told me so this morning, but I need to know precisely what happened if we are to prevail upon His Lordship not to press charges against you for theft.” When the girl’s bottom lip quivered, Lisa smiled reassuringly and placed a hand on Becky’s bare forearm. “If you say the book dropped into your basket, I believe you. Please, Becky. Tell me everything, and from the beginning. I said I would help you, and I will.”
Becky sniffed and nodded, and some of her apprehension eased. Yesterday, when she had picked up her basket full of notions knowing the book was there, her only thought was that she might be able to exchange it for the shilling owed her by Peggy Markham, Lord Westby’s mistress. But upon a night’s reflection, her confidence in such a scheme fled, which was why, when Miss Crisp had come into the shop to purchase thread, she’d appealed to her for help.
Though this young woman was about her age, Miss Crisp possessed an innate maturity far beyond her years. And Becky had come to regard her, as had many in the area with cause to visit Warner’s Dispensary, as someone to be trusted, and good in a crisis. And because Miss Crisp could read and write, she was the dispensary’s resident amanuensis, for while the majority of Londoners prided themselves on being able to read, very few had been taught to write. So when an ailing family member was being attended to by a dispensary physician, another would sit with Miss Crisp in a designated corner of the waiting room—she with her sloping writing box, ink, and quill—and dictate to her a letter, which she then wrote for them. Often these were letters home to family in far off counties, filled with details about their new lives in the capital. Sometimes they were letters seeking employment or patronage. All were deeply personal and relied on Miss Crisp’s discretion. Whatever the contents of these letters, the author always felt satisfied and better within themselves seeing Miss Crisp inscribe their words in ink.
Thus Becky knew that whatever she confided in Miss Crisp would be treated with respect and in confidence. But as much as she tried to keep the panic from her voice, it was there, just bubbling under the surface, as she recounted her visit to the Leicester Square townhouse inhabited by one Lord Westby, and where also resided his mistress, the celebrated actress of Shakespearean tragedies Mrs. Peggy Markham.
The actress had sent to Humphreys’ for a selection of ribbons, hose, and garters, and so Becky was dispatched with a basket containing various boxes of the desired goods for Mrs. Markham’s perusal. Her aunt pressed upon her that this time she was not to leave behind any merchandise without first getting Mrs. Markham’s signature to the account.
“That’s ’cause she took three ribbons, then refused to own she ’ad seen ’em, sayin’ I’d made a mistake in me reckonin’,” Becky explained to Lisa. “Which I never does ’cause Aunt would give m’ears a good box were I to lose coin on any of our trimmin’s. So I know ’ow many ribbons I ’ad before I left the shop, and it weren’t the same as when I was puttin’ everythin’ back into me basket!”
“And this time…?” Lisa prompted when Becky clenched her teeth in an angry huff.
“A pair o’ garters. Pink silk with a pretty painted silk panel o’ flowers. Worth a lot more than three ribbons, and I ain’t told m’aunt them are now missin’ too!”
“And Mrs. Markham refused to own she had the garters?”
“Aye. She did. I said I’d add them to the account, along with the three ribbons from the time before, and that made her mad—”
“I imagine it would,” Lisa murmured.
“—and she called me a pert miss and threw up her ’ands. Said ’ow dare I question ’er word. She told me to gather me trimmin’s and pointed to the door, in that dramatic way actresses ’ave about ’em. But I stood me ground.”
“That was brave.”
Becky glanced slyly at Lisa and confessed. “Not so brave as you think, Miss. I wanted to scramble out o’ there faster than a fox in huntin’ season, but me legs wouldn’t work on account of ’im who was there.”
Lisa frowned, trying to make sense of Becky’s story. “There was someone—there was a gentleman—Lord Westby—with Mrs. Markham?”
Becky shook her head. “Not ’im. I know what ’is lordship looks like on account of ’im bein’ there the first time I was. This time she was entertainin’ a different gent, if you get my meanin’.”
“Entertain—? Oh! Oh! I see. Are you certain?”
“I weren’t born yesterday. In my line o’ work I can’t afford the liberty of blushes and such. I go into chambers off-limits to most. But no one takes a flea’s bit o’ notice of a ’aberdasher’s girl, now do they? Not like I’m a visitor. Not like they got to be on their best be’avior.”
“I dare say you’re right… But what I meant was, are you certain it was a different gentleman and not Lord Westby?”
“As certain as I am that you are a proper lady, Miss!”
Lisa blushed. “How lovely of you to say so, Becky.”
“I’m not the only one who says so. Everyone round ’ere says it. A proper lady that Miss Crisp is, that’s what they say. Just as I can tell you with certainty that the gent who was with Mrs. Markham weren’t the one and the same as the one keepin’ a roof over ’er ’ead. ’E came out o’ the bedchamber dressed only in his—”
“Thank you, Becky. I don’t need specifics.”
“—shirtsleeves, and he ’ad the book that’s now in m’ basket. Which is why I mention ’im. But I didn’t see that right off ’cause I was starin’ at ’im—No need to be coy, Miss. He was dressed,” she assured Lisa, taking a peek under the brim of Lisa’s straw bonnet when she dipped her head, a sudden interest in her hands in her lap. “But it weren’t ’is clothes I was starin’ at. It was ’is face. You’ll think me feverish, but ’e’s bewitchin’ ’andsome.”
“Oh, Becky! Bewitching? Truly?” Lisa interrupted with a giggle.
“I ain’t given to exaggeratin’!”
“Of course not,” Lisa replied, contrite, and pressed her lips together to stifle any further incredulous mirth.
“You’d think the same if you saw ’im. Eyes and ’air blacker than a coal pit. His nose is a bit of a beak, but y’know what they say about gents with big noses—But you wouldn’t—Anyways, ’is mouth more than made up for ’is beak. Too pretty for a gent.” She grinned and confessed, “I just wanted to take ’is face between me ’ands and kiss it all over!”
When Lisa gasped, Becky’s brow darkened.
“Just ’cause I wanted to don’t mean I ever would. I know me place, and I know a gent like that wouldn’t look twice at Becky Bannister, or, for that matter, at you, Miss. For the likes of you and me, ’e might as well live on the moon. Though a girl can dream, can’t she?”
“No offence taken,” Lisa replied with an understanding smile. “I agree. I daydream, too. My surprise had more to do with the gentleman’s description than any disapproval of your wish to kiss him. He sounds perfectly god-like, that he could very well have a place on Mount Olympus. Which is practically the moon, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know nothin’ about Mount Oly-what’s-it-called, but you’re right. Mrs. Markham feels the same way, ’cause ’e only ’ad to speak for ’er to go all doe-eyed and forget I was there, ’cause his voice is worthy of a swoon just like ’is looks; rich and smooth it is, like the way hot chocolate slides down y’throat…”
“A voice like hot chocolate? Dear me, Becky, you have a lovely turn of phrase,” Lisa complimented, clearing a suddenly dry throat.
“Aunt Humphreys says it’s ’cause I daydream—a lot. But I wasn’t daydreamin’ in Mrs. Markham’s boudoir. That gent was no phantom of me imagination! And m’knees might’ve gone weak and m’tongue dried out, but m’ears were still workin’. I remember what ’e said. ’E said that ’e only tolerated theatrics on a stage. And for ’er to come back to bed and finish what she’d started. ’E had an auction to attend.” She nodded, satisfied she had relayed what the handsome gentleman had said, adding for emphasis because Miss Crisp was now staring at her with lips parted, “Auction. That’s what ’e said. ’E was goin’ to an auction.”
“And he came into the room with the book that’s now in your basket…?”
“’E did. I never noticed ’e ’ad it at first ’cause I was busy lookin’ at ’im. But then I went back to scoopin’ up the ribbons and as I was puttin’ ’em away Mrs. Markham gets off ’er dressin’ stool—and this is the truth, as God is m’witness—and pulls off her chemise and lets it drop to the floor. Just like that! And that’s when I see me pink garters keepin’ ’er stockin’s up! She took ’em all right! But can you blame ’im for forgettin’ about ’is book? ’E takes one look at ’er naked, and lets drop the book into m’basket while she’s helpin’ ’im out o’ ’is breeches—”
“May I see the book, Becky?” Lisa interrupted and stuck out a hand.
She was no prude, but she did not pry into the private lives of others either. What they did behind closed doors was no one’s business but their own. Her shock had more to do with the couple’s lack of circumspection and disregard for their servants. No wonder gossip about members of Polite Society managed to find its way into the newssheets for her cousin Minette to pore over with her tea and cream cakes, if that is how they behaved. She did not doubt that enterprising servants managed a secondary income from passing on such salacious tidbits about their masters to the newspaper hacks.
Quickly shaking her thoughts clear of Mrs. Markham and her nameless lover, she returned to the business at hand, because the afternoon was closing in, and they were still seated on the servant step in Gerrard Street. The sooner they delivered the book to Lord Westby’s townhouse, the sooner they could put this episode behind them.
The book was larger and heavier than she had anticipated, and opening it, the frontispiece told her almost everything she needed to know. It was in fact a catalog, worth the princely sum of five shillings, and contained a listing of the entire contents of the Portland Museum, once owned by the Dowager Duchess of Portland, and which now, upon her death, was being sold by auctioneers Skinner and Co. Lisa had read reports of the month-long auction in Dr. Warner’s copy of The Gentleman’s Magazine. The Dowager Duchess had been a great patroness of Natural History, and a voracious collector of all things associated with the science, from corals, to all manner of shells, animals, insects, petrifications, plants, minerals, and related paraphernalia.
Flicking through the catalog’s pages, she noticed annotations in the margins beside items for sale, and returning to the frontispiece she saw inscribed in the same elegant fist the initials H and A, separated by a hyphen. So the catalog did not belong to Lord Westby, and perhaps Peggy Markham’s lover was this H-A? Her interest in the actress’s lover increased tenfold, for according to Becky, not only was the gentleman handsome beyond what was expected of a mere mortal, he was possessed of an elegantly sloping script, and from the mark-ups in the catalog, had an interest in old snuffboxes and sea shells.
What immediately crossed Lisa’s mind and made her heart beat faster was twofold: That the owner needed the catalog to be admitted to the auction, and as he had marked particular items not yet come up for sale, she was confident he would most certainly be looking for his missing catalog. Secondly, and most disturbing, as the catalog was worth more than a shilling, its theft would be considered grand larceny, and a guilty verdict meant a sentence of death by hanging.
None of this Becky needed to know at that precise moment, so Lisa smiled bravely, hoping not to give away her fears, and returned the catalog to her.
“Is there anything else you should tell me about your visit to Lord Westby’s? Or about this catalog before we head off?” When Becky shook her head, she stood and brushed down her petticoats, adding in a tone she hoped exuded confidence, “Good. Then when we arrive at Lord Westby’s, you had best let me do the talking.”
Becky nodded and smiled, picked up her basket, put it over her arm, and gave a huge sigh of relief.
“Thank you, Miss. I knew that if anyone can get that book back inside without me bein’ dropped into a ’ot vat o’ trouble, it’d be you!” She cocked her head in thought. “D’you think you could get ’er to put ’er mark to ’er account, too?”
“One small miracle at a time, Becky,” Lisa said with false buoyancy, and went up the steps to street level.
Lisa and Becky walked as one down Gerrard Street and up Princes Street towards the river. The racket and bustle at street level precluded conversation, so they stayed silent, the basket up front between them, and kept on the lookout for pickpockets amongst the criss-cross of pedestrians and vocal street vendors. Soon the narrow streets opened out and they were on the corner of a spacious cobbled square, fronted with rows of elegant townhouses, the grand mansion of Leicester House, once home to various members of the Royal Family and now occupied by Sir Ashton Lever’s Museum of Natural History, forming the square’s northern border. Central to this wide expanse was a large quadrangle of grass with gravel crosswalks and dominated by a gilt statue of the first King George. Here, within the confines of an iron fence, privileged residents took idle walks, and nursemaids supervised children in leading strings or running about in the summer sunshine with their hoops or kites. A crossing sweep worked every corner, and there was enough space for carriages, sedan chairs, riders on horseback, and pedestrians to pass one another with ease.
Once the center of Polite Society, and still home to a few aging remnants of Hanoverian royalty and their hangers-on, the square was an echo of its former glory. The city and its industry had sufficiently encroached on its elegance that several of the townhouses were now occupied by shops and manufactories, a sign of the changing times. Persons of title, wealth, and influence had moved out a decade or more earlier and gone west to a more countrified aesthetic, where the palatial squares were filled with new townhouses, healthier air, and were occupied exclusively by their own kind. Those who remained in Leicester Square, whether through lack of funds or foresight, and whose townhouses were squeezed in amongst industry, did their best to ignore their changed surroundings and their mercantile neighbors.
Lord Westby was one such resident. Heir to the Duke of Oborne, His Lordship occupied a townhouse belonging to his father, who had long since departed for the noble environs of Westminster, leaving his son to exist in a tall, narrow townhouse squashed between a carpet manufactory and the Dowager Marchioness of Fittleworth’s residence. Whenever His Lordship stepped out into the square he made a habit of looking north to her abode, and never south to his mercantile neighbor.
Lisa, who had never had reason to visit Leicester Square, was fascinated by it all. In her preoccupation with the variety of pedestrians and the continual parade of carriages and sedan chairs going to and fro, she almost forgot why she was there. That was until Becky stopped in front of Lord Westby’s residence.
“The servant door is back down the lane and—”
“Oh no, Becky,” Lisa said, holding fast to the girl’s arm. “We enter by the front door, or not at all.”
Becky’s eyes went wide and she swallowed. She had never entered a house by the front door, ever.
Lisa went up the shallow step and lifted the silver knocker, only for the door to be wrenched open before she could knock, as if someone had been at the window peering out into the street in anticipation of their arrival. Startled, Lisa stumbled back onto the cobbles.
A short squat man with bulging eyes and a grizzled wig appeared out of the blackness.
“You’re late!” he hissed, and opened the door wider. “Come in! Come in! Quickly! Quickly!”
The porter moved aside to let them enter, but when Lisa and Becky just stood there, recovering from the shock of such a reception, he stomped out onto the footpath, darted behind them, and fluttered his hands low, at his bended knees, as if driving a flock of geese.
“Go in! Go in! Don’t stand about! Go in!”
The girls shuffled forward, looking over their shoulders to see what the little man was up to. And once they were in the vestibule, he slammed shut the door, making them jump. They clung even tighter to one another and glanced about. But there was a decided lack of wax in the sconces, and after the bright sunlight of a summer’s day outside, their sight needed time to adjust to the darkness. This was denied them when out of the gloom pounced a tall, stick-thin man with a long chin and furrowed brow. He glared down at them from a great height before looking over their heads to demand imperiously,
“Where are the others?”
“O-o-others?” Lisa stuttered, a swift look up from under her peaked bonnet.
But he hadn’t addressed her. He was talking to his squat associate.
“No carriage, Mr. Packer. These two came on foot.”
“No carriage? On foot?”
The tall, imperious personage, who Lisa decided was the butler of this establishment, rolled his eyes and sighed, as if this were the worst possible news he had ever received. He stepped to one side of the staircase, giving Lisa no time to explain, flicked a bony finger in direction of the first landing, and said in voice heavy with the worries of the world upon his pointy shoulders, “You two will have to do—for now. Up you go. First landing. Second door on the left. No need to knock. Just go in.”
“I beg your pardon, but there seems to be some misunder—”
“My dear girl. Don’t beg my pardon. It isn’t up to me or you or your cherry-cheeked friend to wonder at the whys and wherefores, or the how-tos, for that matter. You’re here, aren’t you? His lordship and the Batoni Brotherhood don’t make a habit of waiting—for anything. Now up you go.”
“You’re an inquisitive one, I’ll say that for you!” the butler snorted, rudely looking Lisa up and down. “Take my advice and keep your voice bottled. You’re not here for your conversation.”
Lisa balked to be so familiarly addressed, and arched an eyebrow in disapproval. “Am I not?”
“Hardly! Though to look at you—Well! You all come in different shapes and sizes and—um—talents, don’t you. So it’s not for me to say—”
“—because you’re not here for your conversation, either?” Lisa quipped, and accompanied this with a deceptively sweet smile.
“Ha! I suppose I deserved that,” the butler replied good-naturedly. “If you’re quick about it, you might even get to choose your quarry, before your friends arrive.”
Lisa had no idea what he was talking about. She glanced up the stairs, which were as ill-lit as the vestibule, and then smiled reassuringly at Becky, who, if she had any confidence in this venture before they entered Lord Westby’s townhouse, now had none. She had lost her rosy glow and her eyes were wary.
The butler rolled his eyes again and gave a snort, a glance at Becky. “If not friends, then your female brethren.” He jerked a thumb at the staircase. “Now up you go! Quick! Quick!”
Lisa wasn’t sure what compelled her to take the course of action she did because her first impulse was to hand over the catalog to the talkative butler with the excuse she had found it in the street, then flee the scene with Becky without divulging who they were. But something compelled her to hold her ground—curiosity, stubbornness, impetuosity, she wasn’t sure which. She decided that to ascend the stairs into the unknown without fear of the consequences might at least provide some light relief from the ordinariness of her present and predicted future, and prove an adventure worth taking.
It was this same adventurous—the headmistress of Blacklands called it impetuous—streak that had seen her abscond from the school grounds to meet a friend at the Chelsea Bun House. It was the third such visit and the one reported to the headmistress, and it was her undoing. She was expelled just six months shy of her graduation. The Chelsea Bun House incident had forever tarnished her in the eyes of her school and family. But when she reflected upon her actions—and she’d had two years in which to do so—she was confident she would not have acted any differently. And with a reputation so tarnished it would never regain its luster, taking this risk would be of little consequence, surely?
But she had no wish to drag Becky into further misadventure, so she did her best to dissuade her from venturing upstairs.
“Give me the catalog, Becky,” she whispered. “You may stay here while I—”
“No, Miss. I’m comin’ with ye!”
“Please. I have no idea who or what we’ll encounter upstairs. Very possibly an angry lord and his mistress. And as they don’t know me, I may be able to persuade them to accept the catalog without further explanation. So it would be better for you to remain—”
“No, Miss. Beggin’ ye pardon. I done brought y’ ’ere,” Becky stated stubbornly and hugged the basket closer. “We go up together, or not at all. They’re me terms.”
“Very well. But promise me, if I decide we need to leave—for whatever reason—we will—immediately.”
When Becky nodded, Lisa untied the ribbons of her bonnet, and handed this to the butler. He held this article of feminine attire between thumb and forefinger, as if it were poisonous, and gave it to the porter. Lisa lightly patted the wisps of hair come free from her coiled braids, then smoothed her cotton mitts over her slim arms, as if steeling herself for the interview. Finally, without a second look at the butler, she nodded to Becky and they went up the stairs.
They followed the butler’s directions, and at the first landing Lisa picked up a lighted taper in its holder from a corner table to light their way along the dark passage. At the second door on their left they stopped. Instinctively, Becky hung back, and Lisa gave her the taper. She did not knock to announce their presence, but opened the door and went straight in.
Not in their wildest imaginings could they have foreseen what awaited them.
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