"Lucy, can I have some water please?" "Lucy, I'm cold, can you give me another blanket?" "Lucy, you know I don't like chamomile tea!"
Her brother and sister's complaints kept Lucy busy most of the time, and although she'd hoped to get some writing done while looking after her siblings she soon realised that her hope had been in vain. Elizabeth and Toby appeared to take turns in sleeping, and although Lucy and Nurse did their best to deal with their demands it took up most of their time. Lucy had to limit her occupation to needlework, undemanding projects like darning socks and clothes, for her brother and sister made it impossible for her to concentrate on anything for longer than half an hour. She was therefore pardonably incensed when her father told her, one afternoon, that he had invited the Grevilles to dine with them that evening.
"But Papa," she protested. "You know the children are ill and I have my hands full – could you not have waited until Toby and Elizabeth are better?"
"What is your problem?" Sir Thomas demanded. "I am not asking you to cook dinner, all you need to do is preside over the table."
Lucy refrained from uttering the thoughts that shot through her mind at that moment; he was her father after all and she owed him respect, little though he might value her and the things she did for him. She merely nodded, and hurried to the kitchen to share the news – and her annoyance – with Cook.
Mrs Greville was well aware of the inconvenience Sir Thomas and her son had caused Lucy between them, and told Lucy so the moment she and James were ushered into the parlour.
"I have been scolding James all day," she said. "You must be exhausted, after nursing the little ones all day!"
Lucy demurred; she had Nurse to assist her, she said, and having dinner guests provided her with a most welcome change. "While I cannot complain of boredom during my watches in the sick room, the conversation is somewhat restricted."
"How are the invalids?" Mrs Greville wanted to know.
"Getting better every day," Lucy replied. "I hope to be able to leave them to Nurse's sole care before long. She is much better at nursing them than I have ever been, I must admit; her patience is that of a saint."
"Nurse Kendall has always been a most estimable woman, I believe," Mrs Greville remarked. "I remember Lady Clarke praising her in the highest terms."
"Nurse Kendall is very competent," Lucy agreed. "She is also genuinely fond of us, and would willingly watch over her charges day and night. It cannot be done, of course; she needs her rest just like the rest of us, which is why I am taking turns with her."
"What about Miss Atterbury?" Mrs Greville asked.
"Without doubt Miss Atterbury would join us in our efforts if we asked her to, but we decided that she had better take care of the other children; their routine should not be interrupted by their governess going off to tend to their sick brother and sister."
"A wise decision, I agree," James said. "But you must on no account overtax your strength, Miss Clarke."
"I have never been known to do so," Lucy said to him. "I am well aware of my limits."
For someone concerned about her wellbeing, Lucy thought, he had precious few scruples about causing her additional trouble by dining at her home. True; he had not invited himself, it had been her father's idea to ask him to dinner, but he could have politely refused, and Lucy wondered why he had not done so. Maybe he thought that she needed diversion from her duties in the sickroom, and to say the truth so she did. She enjoyed his company, there was no denying that. He kept her entertained during dinner, and Lucy enjoyed being out of the sickroom for once. James was a pleasant companion, she had to admit. He was also perceptive, for when he and Sir Thomas joined Lucy and Mrs Greville in the drawing room after dinner he took her aside and said, "Sorry for having caused you so much inconvenience, Lucy, but your father would not take no for an answer."
"It was no inconvenience at all," Lucy replied.
"What a rapper," James laughed. "Do not tell me that you were happy to hear you were going to have dinner guests tonight."
"Such good friends as you and Mrs Greville will always be welcome in this house," Lucy replied. "We are always happy to see you."
"Thank you," James said. "I simply wanted you to know that we are fully aware of how busy you are at the moment, and had it not been for your father I would not have come. However, since I am here I can see that you must have been lacking fresh air and exercise these days. Am I correct in my assumption that you did not get a single breath of fresh air ever since Nurse Kendall told you that your brother and sister are ill?"
Lucy smiled. "You assume correctly," she said. "I did not have the time to go out."
"But they are feeling better now, so I hope you will have the time tomorrow," James said. "What do you say to going for a drive in my curricle with me tomorrow afternoon? The weather will be fine, I believe, and it will not do for you to bury yourself inside the house for any longer. You will fall ill yourself if you do not get outside some more."
There was some truth in that, Lucy had to admit. She needed to get out; she was feeling confined in the four walls of her home and could think of nothing better than an outing in James' curricle. She therefore made an appointment with him for the following afternoon, which appeared to please him a great deal.
"What do you think, ma'am?" James asked his mother as they were back at the Priory, enjoying a glass of wine before retiring to bed. "Do I have a chance of winning Lucy?"
"She does not appear to have taken you in dislike, certainly," Mrs Greville said. "But then we already knew that. I must say I have no idea whether she will accept your offer or not – she sees you as a friend, but I am afraid she has never thought of you as anything else. My guess is that she will be greatly surprised to find that your intentions go beyond friendship."
"It may frighten her," Mrs Greville conceded. "She may not know what answer to give you, James."
"Then you advise me to wait?"
"I advise you to do whatever you think is right," his mother said. "But keep in mind that if you speak to her tomorrow, things will never be the same between you again."
"It may become better," James said. "I cannot think of anything that could make me happier than marriage with Lucy."
"Then ask her, by all means," his mother suggested.
"But what if she refuses me?"
"You will go on living, and recover in time," Mrs Greville said.
James was none too happy with his mother's suggestion that Lucy might be frightened by his ardour – it made him worry. He did not mean to frighten Lucy; what he had hoped for was going for a walk with her once they had reached the destination of their drive, and to propose marriage to her as soon as they were in private. He wasn't going to press her; he'd never planned to demand an immediate decision from her, and he certainly was not going to act like a love-crazed halfling. He longed to hold Lucy in his arms and kiss her, but he knew that her wishes in the matter were more important than his own. If she gave him the least reason to suppose that his attentions were not entirely welcome to her he would hold back; her behaviour should guide his.
What was said could never be unsaid, James knew, and the thought kept him awake for a long time that night. He was wavering between telling Lucy and putting his life's happiness at stake, and keeping quiet until he knew more about Lucy's feelings concerning him. He valued her friendship; if he spoke too soon he would not only destroy every hope he had of winning her as his wife. He would also lose her friendship, and James feared that this loss was going to be much, much worse. Should he really risk it all? Or ought he to be content with what he had and refrain from telling her that it was not enough, as far as he was concerned? These thoughts kept James awake for hours and hours, and although he kept pondering the problem he did not reach a conclusion. The problem was, he suspected, that he was a coward. Though that was not quite correct – James knew that his disposition was not cowardly at all. It was just that he stood to lose so much if he took a wrong step, and his fear of losing Lucy as a friend and not gaining her as his wife was more than he could bear to think of.
Lucy was looking forward to her outing with James. He had been right; she had been shut up with her brother and sister and sitting in the nursery all day attending to them had not done her any good. She anxiously watched the sky the next morning; there were some clouds that looked quite threatening, and if it started to rain they would not be able to go out. Fortunately the clouds cleared away before lunchtime, and Lucy found her fears to have been without foundation. James arrived in time, as usual, and assisted her in getting into the curricle. It was not the first time that James had taken Lucy up beside himself in this vehicle; he had often driven her around in the countryside, but something was different today. He was not looking very well, Lucy thought; he looked wan and tired, but she did not remark on it. It was not a polite thing to do.
He did observe all the rules of civility however, and told Lucy that she was looking very pretty in her old, serviceable pelisse and bonnet.
Lucy laughed. "You must have seen me wearing this dozens of times," she remonstrated with him.
"And every time I do think how pretty you look," he retorted.
"You will have me blushing next," Lucy said.
"I hope I will never put you to the blush with anything I say," James said. "But I think compliments are always acceptable to a lady – or am I wrong?"
"Not at all; it is simply that I do not get compliments very often," Lucy confessed.
"How can you, when you hardly ever go into company?" James asked. "I am sure you would get more if you let yourself be seen more often."
"There are some obstacles to that, as you well know," Lucy said. "The children need me to look after them, and …"
"And you need to keep house for your father, I know," James told her. "However, there are plenty of ladies who must do the same things for their families and yet find some time to enjoy themselves occasionally. The children have a nurse and a governess, both of whom are well able to do their jobs without anyone else meddling with their business. As for keeping house, you need not cook, or dust, or clean windows yourself."
"I beg you not to put the idea into my father's head, for if you do I will be obliged to do so," Lucy laughed.
"I am sure there are limits even to Sir Thomas Clarke's parsimony," James protested. "Has he ever denied you a reasonable wish?"
"Often," Lucy said. "But let us not talk of it; let us speak of something different, something more pleasant. Since you seem to think I lead a life of misery, and I have nothing to amuse me, do offer me some amusement while I am out."
"Very well." James paused for a moment, tackling a particularly tricky bend in the road. "Do you have any wish as to where we are to go? Or do you simply want me to take you by surprise?"
"You may take me anywhere as long as I am back home in time for dinner," Lucy told him.
"That means Gretna Green is out of the question then," James said dryly.
"Did you suppose that I would consent to eloping to Gretna Green in a curricle? How shabby this would be, and how uncomfortable!" Lucy laughed.
"Should we ever elope, Miss Clarke, I will make sure you have everything of the best," James promised. "I will even buy a new travelling coach for the purpose."
"Thank you! If one does consider throwing propriety to the winds one had better do so in first rate style."
James laughed. "Have you ever considered it, Miss Clarke?"
"No, never. I am a sad, humdrum creature I am afraid."
"Neither sad nor humdrum, believe me," James told her. "No one who knows you will ever accuse you of being dull."
"My life is not all that exciting, however."
"Whose is? Do you wish for an exciting life?"
Lucy shook her head. She had excitement enough, considering everything she had to deal with every day.
"There you are then," James said. "No need to repine."
"Where are we going?" Lucy wanted to know. "Since Gretna Green, as you so astutely observed, is out of the question."
"I meant to take you to the Chapelham Abbey ruins," James explained. "You remember how we used to go there when we were children, climbing the broken walls and then eating the sandwiches your mother had packed for us?"
"I do," Lucy admitted. "Though I have not thought of these days for a long time. – I used to enjoy our visits to Chapelham Abbey; I used to think it was a fascinating place. Though I remember that I did not care to walk among the ruins by myself for fear of encountering the ghostly nun haunting the place."
"The unfortunate Edwina?"
"The very same. There was a nursemaid working in my father's house who could think of nothing better than to regale us with tales such as Edwina's story, and we often lay awake all night, afraid to go to sleep for fear of what might befall us if we did. When Nurse Kendall found out about it, naturally the girl had to go, but whenever I got to the Abbey I was afraid I would find Edwina creeping up at me from behind." Lucy shuddered. "I have always been cursed with a vivid imagination I am afraid."
"You need not be afraid, for I will be there with you," James said.
"How can I not be afraid, considering that Edwina – understandably, I have to add – appears to have taken a dislike to men? Maybe she would not bother me if I was on my own, but will do so if she finds me in your company!"
"We can still go elsewhere to have our picnic," James suggested. "You only need to tell me."
"And have you tease me about it for the next twenty years or so? I thank you, sir, but I am no longer a child and am sure that there will be no harm in my visiting the Abbey again. Especially in bright daylight."
Like many other religious houses in England, Chapelham Abbey had been given to a nobleman in consequence of the Dissolution of Monasteries; and he had made the place his home until, one night, it had burned down for reasons no one had ever discovered.
Rather than rebuild the Abbey, Lord Chapelham had decided to make his home elsewhere, and had built a new dwelling for himself and his family some ten miles off. Since then the Abbey ruins had become a popular place for the local gentry to visit, and to picnic in the grounds – Lord Chapelham never objecting to the practice – but there were many people in the area who preferred not to be anywhere near the Abbey after nightfall. There was a ghost story attached to the estate, the tale of a nun who had been held in the convent against her will and had attempted to elope with her lover. The couple had been caught and had suffered severe punishment for their transgression – legend would have it that Edwina had been walled up alive in one of the cellars, where she had starved to death. As for her lover's fate, there were several theories. One stated that the young man had managed to escape execution but made no attempt to come to Edwina's assistance; the other that he had committed suicide rather than be hanged for his crime. Strangely enough there was no ghost story about him. He appeared to be resting in peace. But ever since then, people said that Edwina the nun haunted the Abbey, seeking revenge for her untimely death.
Lucy had made use of the legend in her second novel, "The Curse of Whitfield Abbey". In her story the lover had saved himself and married someone other than the unfortunate nun, and one of his descendants had received Whitfield Abbey from the King's hands three hundred years later. There had not been a ghost, but the dying nun had placed a curse on the Abbey, and the story had ended with every member of the family but the owner's beautiful and innocent daughter dying in a fire, and her heroine going to live abroad with the hero, whom she naturally married before leaving England with him. Mrs Macclesfield had been in raptures over the Curse, and had not even noticed that the tale of Whitfield Abbey bore a strange resemblance to the legend attached to the ancient edifice of Chapelham. Not that Lucy had complained about that; she was glad that people did not pick up her occasional hints regarding Madame de Léon's true identity.
The grounds of Chapelham Abbey, kept in excellent order by Lord Chapelham's staff, did not reveal their history to Lucy and James; the spirit of Edwina showed no inclination to make itself seen, at least for the duration of their stay, and nothing happened to mar their outing. Even the weather behaved just as it ought. James left his horses and curricle in his groom's care and took Lucy for a walk across the grounds of the Abbey. They explored the ruins, almost as they had done when they had been children, and finally sat down on a low wall to rest. Lucy closed her eyes, raised her face to the sun and enjoyed its warmth.
"This is perfect," she sighed. "Thank you for inviting me, James."
"I am glad to be of service," James replied. There was a short pause before he said, "You need someone to take care of you."
Lucy opened her eyes, and turned towards him. "What do you mean with that?"
"I mean exactly what I am saying," James replied. "Somebody ought to make sure you do not bury yourself in work without considering your own wellbeing. You need to get away from it all now and then."
"And you wish to be that person?" Lucy asked.
He looked at her with an odd smile and then said, gently, "I am that person, Lucy."
This estimate was more or less accurate, Lucy realised. Her father was too self-centred to think of anyone's wellbeing but his own; he appreciated what she did for him but did not offer much in return. Miss Atterbury was too busy teaching the younger children to waste a thought on Lucy, who was old enough to look after herself. Robert and William were in Oxford and only thought of their eldest sister if there was anything they needed which they knew their father was not going to give them. The younger children, while fond of her, were not in the position to offer her much assistance. Mrs Macclesfield, her best friend, would have been only too happy to help Lucy in every way she could, but Lucy thought it unfair to demand of her friend what her family was unwilling to give, and refrained from asking. James really was the only friend she could turn to if she needed help; the only one who never said no to any of her demands.
Lucy wondered whether things would stay the same once he married. Probably not – she could not imagine a wife permitting James to visit the Clarkes as often as he was doing now; and to spend so much time with Lucy. It would depend on the wife's character, naturally; but if James fell victim to Miss Langley's lures there was not much hope of them remaining friends. The first thing Jane Langley would do once James' ring was on her finger was put an end to his friendship with the Clarkes; Lucy Clarke especially. It was not a pleasing thought, yet Lucy did not say anything of the kind to James. It was none of her business whom he married, though she did hope that he had more sense than to fall for Miss Langley, who only had a tolerably pretty face to recommend her.
"What are you thinking, Lucy?" James wanted to know.
Lucy reddened; she could hardly tell him the truth; that she had been thinking of what her life would be like once he was married and had other responsibilities, and that she hoped that whomever he married it would not be Jane Langley.
"Do tell me if I have said anything that offended you," he insisted.
"Oh no! You could not," Lucy assured him. "I merely thought of … of home, and about the new parlour maid who is going to start work in my father's house next week, and I hope that she will prove to be adequate and willing to stay and…" She broke off, for James was laughing.
"Good Lord, can you never leave Tetford Manor behind even for a moment?" he wanted to know.
For a moment, Lucy was indignant, but then she laughed. "I am afraid I cannot. Forgive me; I am being a dreadful bore."
"I am never bored in your company, Lucy," James said smilingly. "How could I be?"
"It is difficult to leave everything behind considering that I am in charge," Lucy reflected. "There is so much to think about; when Mama passed away I thought I'd never be able to tackle this! I was quite overwhelmed!"
"I can imagine. You were much too young to take on so much responsibility," James said.
"But so were you! You were not much older when you lost your father," Lucy protested.
"I had help," James pointed out. "I am not saying it was easy, because it was not, but it was not as if everything rested on my shoulders. There was my mother, and my trustees, and your father, even."
Lucy sighed. "That is true, I suppose," she said. "Unfortunately my father knew nothing about keeping house, so I had to depend on Mrs Talbot and Miss Atterbury. They did what they could at first, but they have duties of their own to consider. I am no longer overwhelmed – indeed, I flatter myself I am doing quite well."
"So you are. Yet you need some rest now and then. Will you promise me something?"
"That depends on what it is that you want," Lucy laughed.
"No more talk of Tetford Manor or any of its inhabitants until we get back," James said. "What do you say?"
"Very well. Tell me about the Assembly," Lucy said. "You did not say anything about it last night. Who was there?"
"No one I particularly cared about," James said. "I came there hoping to dance with you, and when I found I'd indulged hope too far the evening turned out rather flat."
Lucy felt herself blush. "You shouldn't say such things," she said. "It makes me feel like a monster for doing what I had to do. – No, I won't break my promise. You know why I could not come; there is no need to tell you again."
"And I did not mean to reproach you. This won't have been the last opportunity I had of dancing with you, I hope."
"By no means. But you did not answer my question. Who was at the ball?"
"The usual people – the Langleys, the Macclesfields; everyone in our town with some pretensions to gentility. Broughton chose to honour us with his presence, probably to sneer at our countrified manners and fashions."
This was said in a rather fierce tone of voice, Lucy thought, and hoped it was not because Mr Broughton had often been seen in Miss Langley's company of late. "Maybe he'll go back to Town soon. He must be rather bored here," she said. "Tetford cannot offer him the kind of entertainment he must be accustomed to."
"Let's hope he's bored enough to leave Tetford soon," James said. "I do not like the fellow."
"Me neither," Lucy admitted. "There is something … something predatory about him."
"Has he been annoying you?" James asked sharply.
"Not really," Lucy said cautiously. "I've only seen him twice; during which encounters he did not give me a favourable impression of his character. But he did not see me often enough to become truly annoying."
"Tell me if he's becoming a nuisance and I'll have a word or two with him," James said grimly.
Lucy laughed. "James, if I had not promised you not to speak of my family I'd point out to you that I am by no means unprotected."
"True. I'll say no more of that. – Are you hungry? If so, there is a basket full of delicacies waiting for us over there."
"I thought you'd never ask. I've been looking forward to your mother's gooseberry tart ever since you mentioned she had packed some for us," Lucy laughed.
Mrs Greville's cook had prepared an excellent picnic for James and Lucy; and both James and Lucy enjoyed it to the fullest. There was so much to eat that Lucy, after having swallowed her last bite of gooseberry tart, told James that he had better help her find an excuse for not having any dinner that evening.
"My compliments to your mama and her cook," she said. "This was fantastic! Thank you!"
"I am glad you enjoyed it. As for not having dinner, why not tell the truth? You have already eaten!" James suggested.
"You are quite right; no one can expect me to come back home hungry after a picnic; a picnic prepared by Mrs Greville even! But we are coming dangerously close to the Forbidden Topic again, James."
"I almost forgot."
"I don't think you did; you were trying to trick me into talking about it again."
"Why should I do that?"
"Because then you could demand something of me in recompense for a broken promise." Lucy grinned. "You forget for how long I've known you, James."
He laughed. "That was not my intention – although I must say your idea has its merits. I will give the matter some thought. - Did you like the book I brought you from London?"
"I have not had time to read it yet, but I am looking forward to doing so. It's by the author of The Children of the Abbey, and both Mrs Macclesfield and I enjoyed that one a great deal. If The Discarded Son is only half as good I shall be well pleased with it." Lucy noticed how James' eyebrows had gone up at her recital of the book's title, and added, defensively, "You do not approve of my reading habits, do you?"
"I am rather fond of the occasional novel myself," James said. "As long as one does not limit one's reading to these I see no harm in them. I admit to some surprise at Mrs Macclesfield, though; I'd expected her to have a nicer taste in literature."
"You did not expect me to have a nice taste in literature then?" James' derisive statement regarding her work angered Lucy. What right had he to look down on novelists, as if their writing was inferior to that of other authors? It was not as if he had ever written anything more substantial than a letter!
"I know you read extensively and by no means limit yourself to sensational novels." The look of surprise on James' face told Lucy that he did not quite see what reason she had to become angry, but nevertheless he made an effort to appease her. "Your father's library is well-stocked, and I have often seen you take books from there. Does Sir Thomas know how many novels you buy?"
"I do not buy them; I borrow Mrs Macclesfield's," Lucy said coldly. "Perhaps you should not judge Mrs Macclesfield's reading habits – or mine, for that matter – until you have actually read some of the work you evidently despise."
"I will," James promised. "If you draw up a list of novels I ought to read, I will do my best to read them. Only don't be angry with me any more."
"It will do you the world of good to read something other than agricultural gazettes," Lucy said, still fuming.
They packed the remains of their picnic back into the basket, and as James' groom arrived at that moment, they were soon on their way back home. Lucy did not talk much to James; she was still angry with him for treating her work with so little respect. Honesty compelled her to admit that he did not know she wrote novels, but he knew that she read them and ought to value her opinion.
James humoured her, and only made such general observations as were calculated to make their journey home less awkward. It was not until he led her up to the front door of her father's house that he said, "Don't forget my list, Lucy. I'll come for it tomorrow."
"I'll have it ready for you in the afternoon," Lucy promised. "Thank you for a lovely outing, James."
"You're welcome. I … I hope you enjoyed yourself, in spite of everything." He took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I know I did. We must repeat this some time."
He did not release her hand until Lucy drew it from him; only then he took his leave and Lucy entered the house, wondering at some of the strange things he'd said and done that day.
Lucy was not the only one whom the outing had left wondering. James, too, was puzzled and not a little worried. It was quite evident, he thought regretfully, that Lucy was entirely ignorant of his intentions. Her reaction to his tentative hints had taught him that. Once he'd noticed her unawareness, he realised that a proposal from him would probably shock her so much she'd draw back from him, and that was the last thing he wanted. He'd just have to go on giving her hints in the hope of her getting the message at one point. Though, thinking of it, she hadn't made much of the clues he'd tried to give her today. James was pretty certain that she hadn't grasped at all what he'd been trying to say. This courtship of his was going to take a while yet, he was afraid, but that did not deter him. On the contrary, he was more determined than ever.
There was one thing that puzzled him. He remembered clearly what Mr Lane had told him when he'd picked up that book for Lucy at the Minerva Library in London – that Miss Clarke was a valued customer of Mr Lane's publishing house, which at the time had seemed like a good reason for his attending to her request in person. Yet Lucy had told James that she did not usually buy novels but borrowed them from Mrs Macclesfield. There was something wrong there, and James wondered whether it would be wise to inquire more closely into the matter. There was probably a perfectly rational explanation for this – maybe Mrs Macclesfield did not wish her name to be known at the Minerva Press, for fear that it might cause her husband some embarrassment? It had not escaped James that the books sold there were of the sensational kind; maybe Lucy had permitted her friend to use her name for her purchases in order to remain incognito. Still, that seemed rather unlikely to James, and the mystery intrigued him. He was certainly going to make an effort to find out what was behind all this.
Then there was the matter of Mr Broughton, which was most worrying. Lucy had said that she disliked Broughton, which should have set James at ease. For some reason it did not. He was almost certain that there was something she hadn't told him; something concerning Broughton. James knew her – there had been something about her when she'd told him that Broughton hadn't been truly annoying; some reserve that was not usually there when she talked to him. If there was something Lucy did not want him to know, there was probably no way he could get her to confide in him, James thought gloomily. That, too, had been established during their long acquaintance. She'd repudiated him by as good as telling him that Broughton's behaviour towards her was none of his business; that her father would deal with the problem – if ever Broughton would turn out to be a problem, that was. Reluctantly, James had to admit to himself that whatever faults Sir Thomas Clarke might have, he did take good care of his daughters' reputations. He kept a close watch on them, although Lucy enjoyed more licence than her sisters did due to her status as the mistress of Tetford Manor. Had it not been for James' long-standing friendship with the family and the fact that Sir Thomas was aware of James' honourable intentions towards Lucy it was rather doubtful whether he'd have allowed Lucy to go to Chapelham with him at all; especially since they'd had no chaperon but James' groom with them.
There was, however, the possibility that Sir Thomas was ignorant of Broughton's reputation. It might not hurt, James thought, to watch Broughton's behaviour with Lucy and, should Sir Thomas fail to do something about it, let him know what his friend Reynolds had told him about Broughton. Even a hint or two should suffice to put Lucy's father on his guard. James was going to keep this as a last resort, however – it went against the grain with him to inform against others.
Lucy was too busy at first to think much of James, or any of the odd things he'd said and done during the outing. She visited her brother and sister in the sick room to see how they were doing, and spent half an hour telling them where she'd gone and what she'd done there. By the time she was finished she had to dress for dinner, and at the dinner table she had to entertain her father. He, too, showed remarkable interest in her outing; rather more interest than she'd thought possible.
"Did you have a pleasant afternoon with young Greville?" he wanted to know.
"Oh yes, it was quite pleasant," she said.
"Where did you go?" Susan asked.
"To the Chapelham ruins."
"Ohh! I wish I could have come too!" Susan cried. "Aren't the ruins the most romantic place? I haven't been there in ages!"
"I will ask Mr Greville to take you along next time," Lucy said.
"I do not think Greville will be happy to comply with that wish," Sir Thomas remarked.
"And why not, Papa?"
Sir Thomas chuckled. "If you cannot think of a reason for yourself, my dear, it will be better for me to keep you in the dark until you can."
Susan and Henrietta giggled.
"Papa, must you tease me so?" Lucy asked, rather offended. "I am quite certain Mr Greville only took me out because his mother had made the suggestion. It was she who feared that I hadn't left the sickroom for days on end!"
"My dear girl, if you truly believe that you must think young Greville more biddable and more securely tied to his mother's apron strings than he ever gave us reason to believe." Sir Thomas took a sip of wine. "It is my opinion that the only person he wished to please with this outing was you. And himself."
Lucy shook her head. "Please don't be absurd, Papa."
"You may think whatever you choose, my dear," Sir Thomas said. "But give me leave to draw my own conclusions. In the end we'll find out which of us was right in their assumption."
After dinner, Lucy spent the evening in the drawing room with Henrietta and Susan. Lucy drew a sheet of paper from her writing desk and settled down to write the list for James. It was not long before her sisters wanted to know what she was doing, and enthusiastically took part the scheme once Lucy had explained to them what she meant to do.
"We must put Evelina on the list," Henrietta said. "It's a favourite of mine! I was hardly able to put it down when I first read it, and have read it at least five times by now!"
Since Evelina was also one of Lucy's favourite novels, she wrote the title down, and added Camilla, by the same author.
"And Udolpho!" Susan cried. "It will keep him awake for a week!"
Lucy laughed. "Nonsense. Udolpho is not that frightening!"
"Good heavens, do you know any novel more horrid than that?"
"Do tell!" Henrietta said eagerly.
"And get one of Miss Atterbury's famous scolds for my pains? Certainly not," Lucy said. "She does not particularly approve of Mrs Radcliffe's novels, if I remember correctly."
"Not while she is on duty, no," Henrietta said, grinning. "But she is not immune to the charm of those horrid novels. I caught her reading the Children of the Abbey the other night, when I had the toothache and went to her room to ask her for some laudanum."
"Miss Atterbury reading the Children of the Abbey? Why, I'd never have thought it of her!" Lucy laughed. "I know, of course, that Mrs Macclesfield read that one."
She wrote The Children of the Abbey on her list, and, after some thought, added The Castle of Wolfenbach.
"Miss Atterbury said the only one of these writers worth reading was Madame de Léon," Henrietta said. "She said I might read one of her novels when I was old enough to do so – she said The Crusader's Bride was really well written, even though the plot was preposterous."
"Indeed?" Lucy asked, taking care to look impassive and not to betray by her expression that Miss Atterbury's criticism of her début novel displeased her, in spite of her good opinion of the style in which it had been written. Her practice in discussing her own novels with Mrs Macclesfield came in handy now. None of her sisters suspected her feelings. "Then we had better not write it on the list – we must not bore J … Mr Greville with preposterous plots. Even though I must admit I quite enjoyed The Crusader's Bride."
"One cannot argue about taste, I suppose, and Miss Atterbury said I must not read it until I am eighteen, so I have only her opinion to go by." Henrietta said.
"Write it down anyway," Susan suggested. "That way we'll get another opinion."
"Oh yes, do! If Mr Greville likes the novel, I know it's really good!" Henrietta cried.
Lucy hesitated. This was exactly why she was reluctant to write her own novels on James' list. His opinion mattered. It certainly had more weight with her than Mrs Macclesfield's – though Lucy was glad that her friend enjoyed her writing – or Miss Atterbury's, or anyone else's. If James thought her writing was inferior and said so, she did not know whether she'd ever pick up a pen again.
"Come, Lucy! Write it down – even if only for the fun of it!" Susan prodded her.
Realising that she'd have to give her sisters a plausible excuse for leaving Madame de Léon's work out, and unable to think of one, she put The Crusader's Bride by Eugénie de Léon on the list. At the same time she hoped James would not read that particular novel, or maybe be unable to procure it – or at least that he would not get to read it until she'd written The Sorcerer's Captive and sent it to her publisher. She really needed more money, and that way James' negative criticism of her first novel would not keep her from finishing her latest. Later that evening, Lucy attempted to add to her manuscript, but for some reason she could not summon the proper frame of mind to get any serious work done. André and Heloise would have to wait for another evening.
In bed, her father's cryptic remarks came to her mind again. Together with what her sisters and Mrs Macclesfield had said on numerous occasions, and some of the odd things James had said and done that afternoon, she began to wonder whether his interest in her was truly platonic, or whether there was more to it. Was James in love with her? Was this why he'd become so solicitous of late; why he took care to spend as much time as he could in her company?
"Nonsense," she chided herself, and forced her mind to return to the problem of how André and Heloise were to have their happy ending. For some reason or other, her mind refused to cooperate. She did not care for Heloise or André. Instead she thought of James; of how he'd held her hand when he'd taken leave of her, or how he'd looked at her when he'd talked of taking her to Gretna Green. He hadn't been in earnest, naturally; not straight-laced James. The mere thought of an elopement would shock him! But it might have been a hint at what his intentions were.
"Oh, bother!" Lucy cried and threw her pillow at the door, frustrated with the way her brain kept occupying itself with absurd notions rather than the all-important plot of her novel. "Get some ideas for the Sorcerer's Captive or go to sleep, will you?"
Unfortunately for her, her mind chose to do neither.
André and Heloise evaded their creator all day the next day, although she was determined to find a solution to her plot problem. In the end, she was so exasperated with them that she put the matter aside for the time being, hoping that they'd give her a hint as to how their predicament could be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Within the next two days, preferably, or she'd have to rewrite the novel. For now she turned her attention to other, equally important matters.
She dressed in her oldest gown, which she only put on when doing housework, spent about an hour in conference with Mrs Talbot, and then set about dusting the drawing room and dining room. Later she went into the garden to harvest gooseberries, which were to be made into jam. It was about time to stock up the larder, Mrs Talbot had said, and Lucy had agreed with her.
For this task, Lucy enlisted the help of her brothers and sisters. Since it included not only the opportunity of spending some time in the garden rather than the dull school room, but also of eating as many gooseberries as one could swallow, the summons was most welcome to all of them. Toby and Elizabeth, the two young invalids, were excluded from the task – Nurse did not feel they were well enough to leave the house yet. To comfort them, Lucy sent them a bowl of gooseberries and cream.
It was in the garden that Mrs Macclesfield found Lucy and her siblings. She'd come, she said, to tell her that Charles Macclesfield, her brother-in-law, had accepted her invitation to stay with his brother's family and that he was going to arrive in Tetford the following week.
"And now I am making plans for his entertainment," she ended her report. "I depend on you to assist me, dear Miss Clarke."
"I'll be happy to contribute to your brother-in-law's entertainment," Lucy replied. "As far as it can be done with perfect propriety."
Indignantly, Mrs Macclesfield denied she'd ever had anything improper in mind when counting on Lucy's assistance.
"I am planning to host a few parties during his stay, and was hoping for your company," she told Lucy. Since, as Lucy well knew, the main purpose of Mr Macclesfield's visit – according to his sister-in-law – was becoming acquainted with Miss Clarke, this announcement did not come as a big surprise.
"If my father permits it I'll be happy to come whenever you choose to invite me," she said.
"He can hardly have an objection," Mrs Macclefield said. "It is not the first time that you have attended a gathering in my house. Naturally, I am hoping for him to come as well. Do you think you'll be able to persuade him?"
Since Lucy's father was, at heart, a very sociable man, she had no doubt that she would be able to cajole him into attending a couple of parties at the vicarage, and said so.
"I am glad. I have already seen Mrs Greville, who has also agreed to come, and I am planning to invite the Timmonses and the Wardens. All of them respectable people."
None of these families, Lucy noted, included any single young ladies of marriageable age. She was going to be the only unmarried young lady present at Mrs Macclesfield's parties, and did not relish that idea. She had no reason to suppose that Mr Charles Macclesfield was a fool; he'd soon discover the real reason for his sister-in-law's invitation and, Lucy feared, might resent it – not to speak of the mortification Lucy would feel if he found out why he'd been invited. He'd think she was behind that idea, when in truth she'd never really liked it. For propriety's sake, she felt, there ought to be at least one more single young lady present.
"What about the Langleys?" she ventured.
"The …. My dear Miss Clarke, you do not expect me to invite that odious Jane Langley? Not after all the things she has done to you!"
"I assure you, Mrs Macclesfield, that I have almost forgotten the ill-natured remark she made the other day. Please do not think you must exclude her from the party for my sake!"
"My dear, you may have forgotten her remark but I have not, and I greatly resent it! No; Jane Langley will not cross my threshold again until she has learned to conduct herself with propriety."
"The Ecclestons then," Lucy said. "Miss Eccleston and Miss Phoebe Eccleston are charming and genteel young ladies; no one could possibly object to them."
"The Ecclestons … there's an idea, though for my part I do not care much about them. Such dull creatures, don't you think?"
"To be frank, Mrs Macclesfield, I do not wish to be the only unmarried lady at your party. It makes me feel uncomfortable to be so singled out, and it will present an odd appearance you must admit."
Mrs Macclesfield thought for a moment. "You are right," she conceded. "I will invite the Ecclestons, then. And the Bainbridges, if you have no objection."
Lucy laughed. "Mrs Macclesfield, it is going to be your party! You may invite whomever you choose!"
Miss Bainbridge, though single, was rather plain and in her late thirties. She was fond of company and she and her mother would almost certainly come to Mrs Macclesfield's parties if they were invited. She'd add to the number of single ladies among the guests and would therefore withdraw the focus from Lucy a little. But it was not to be expected that Charles Macclesfield's attention would be drawn from Miss Clarke to Miss Bainbridge. Sometimes Mrs Macclesfield's mind was very easily read Lucy thought, highly amused.
Mrs Macclesfield was still with Lucy when James arrived. He had come for the reading list Miss Clarke had promised him, he told Mrs Macclesfield, and was planning to give Peter his first lesson in microscopy if Miss Clarke and Miss Atterbury had no objection to the scheme. Lucy had none but sent Peter to Miss Atterbury to ask for her permission, for she was not going to make any decisions over Miss Atterbury's head.
"A reading list, Mr Greville?" Mrs Macclesfield asked James as Peter hurried off towards the house.
"During our outing yesterday I was so unfortunate as to rouse Miss Clarke's anger by telling her that I deplored the literary quality of novels," James said.
"Oh, fie, Mr Greville, when you know how fond Miss Clarke is of them! Almost as fond as myself!"
"She did inform me of the fact, and has promised to rectify my view on novels by drawing up a list of literary works as will convince me of the opposite."
"Well done, Miss Clarke!" Mrs Macclesfield applauded. "Mr Greville has no right to feel superior before he has read a couple of our favourites! May I see the list?"
Reluctantly, Lucy took the list from her pocket and handed it to her friend. "Here you are," she said. "I hope you will approve of the choices I have made."
"I have no objection to make," Mrs Macclesfield said after having read through the list. "I can highly recommend Madame de Léon's novels, Mr Greville; you should start with the Crusader's Bride. You may borrow my copy if you like!"
Lucy flushed scarlet, and in order to hide the fact she turned to Peter, who'd come back from the house, and asked him whether Miss Atterbury had given her permission for Peter's science lesson. By the time she turned back to James and Mrs Macclesfield, she was almost her usual self again, and she had reason to hope that neither of them had noticed her momentary discomfiture. Even if they had, they had no way of knowing the reason, she consoled herself.
"Thank you, Mrs Macclesfield. I am much obliged to you," James said, having read through the list. "I believe some of the books you recommend are in my mother's collection, Miss Clarke. I'll have no difficulty in obtaining most of them."
"I am glad to hear it," Lucy said. "I am looking forward to discussing the books with you soon, Mr Greville."
"In order to make sure I've read them?" James asked, grinning.
"That and because I really value your opinion," she retorted.
"Now that is something I am glad to hear," James said and turned to Peter. "Well, what did Miss Atterbury say?"
"She said she would like to join us," Peter said without much enthusiasm. "She wants to learn all about microscopy too, if you do not mind."
"Let her join us by all means! One should always indulge people's desire for knowledge. Will you go and ask her to come into the garden?"
As Peter, with lagging steps, moved towards the house once more to deliver the message, James shouted after him, "And don't forget, the quicker you are about it the sooner we can start!"
Peter started to run, and Lucy laughed. "You do know how to handle him," she said to James.
"Probably because I used to be a boy myself not too long ago," James replied. "Do you want to join our lesson too, Miss Clarke?"
"Only if I shan't have to look at revolting insects."
"No revolting insects just yet," James promised. "Rose petals and blades of grass are more likely to be our objects of study today. I'll leave the insects for a day when both you and Miss Atterbury will be too busy to join in."
Lucy duly expressed her sense of obligation to James, and Mrs Macclesfield took her leave in order to pay some more morning calls.
Charles Macclesfield was the vicar of Tetford's twin brother, older by some five minutes. It did not show, however, or so Lucy thought when she made his acquaintance the day after his arrival in Tetford. There was a likeness between them, as was to be expected in members of the same family, but they were by no means identical. They both had the same blue eyes, the same complexion and their voices sounded similar. But while Charles Macclesfield was tall, his brother was of no more than medium height. Of the brothers, the vicar was more handsome, or so Lucy thought, while Charles Macclesfield had more charm and address. They both had excellent manners.
Therefore Charles Macclesfield did not immediately attend to his sister-in-law when she wanted to present him to Lucy and her father. He was just talking to Miss Bainbridge, and patiently waited for her to finish her praise of his brother before he turned his attention to Mrs Macclesfield. He greeted Sir Thomas with the respect due to a gentleman of Sir Thomas' age and consequence, and then turned to Lucy.
"So you are the famous Miss Clarke! I have heard much about you already!"
"My sister-in-law has talked of little else since I arrived," Charles Macclesfield said. "It is quite obvious that she is very fond of you."
"She is my closest friend," Lucy admitted. "Which is why she may be prejudiced in my favour."
"No doubt; but I will try to discover for myself just how much truth there is in her praise," Charles Macclesfield said with a smile. "If you will permit me to do so."
"I give you my permission to discover as much at this dinner party as you can," Lucy replied, smiling.
"I shall have to be satisfied with that, I suppose," Charles Macclesfield said. "Very well then. I'll make good use of what little time we have – but for the moment I am afraid I'll have to leave you; for I believe my sister wishes to introduce me to some more of her guests."
Lucy looked towards her friend and saw that James and his mother had arrived. James was looking at her and Charles Macclesfield and frowning.
"The gentleman appears to be out of spirits tonight," Charles Macclesfield remarked.
"Whatever troubles him I am sure his bout of ill-temper will not last long," Lucy said. "It never does. Mr Greville is the most good-natured gentleman I know."
James conduct that evening did not much to confirm Lucy's praise of his disposition, she thought as she watched him with Charles Macclesfield. He was polite, as always, but there was an uncharacteristic touch of chilliness in his manner that could hardly escape Mr Macclesfield's notice, and Lucy could not help but wonder why this was so. Charles Macclesfield had only arrived in Tetford the previous day, and as far as Lucy knew they had never met before. Why was it that James was taking the man in instant dislike?
Maybe there was some truth in the assumption her father had made after their outing to Chapelham, Lucy thought, but immediately tried to put the idea out of her mind. It would not do to think of James as a potential lover. He was a friend; someone to depend on, nothing more.
James was surprised at himself for disliking Charles Macclesfield so violently. It was not his usual way to react so strongly to people he'd never met before, and to be fair he had to admit that Macclesfield had done nothing to give him a just cause for disliking him. On the contrary, he'd been pleasant enough, and had made an effort to be on good terms with him. But from the moment James had entered Mrs Macclesfield's parlour and seen Lucy talk to Mrs Macclesfield's brother-in-law, he'd hated the fellow.
Sheer jealousy; that was probably what it was, James thought ruefully. He'd never felt jealous before – to say the truth, Lucy had never given him reason to. There simply hadn't been anyone he'd seriously considered a rival for her affections. But she'd seemed quite taken with Charles Macclesfield, and the problem was that Macclesfield was just the kind of man to succeed with her. He was pleasant, good-looking, intelligent and respectable. Up until now it had seemed to James as if he had all the time in the world to win Lucy, but he no longer had – if Charles Macclesfield chose to make her the object of his gallantry, James would have a serious problem. Although it did not look as if Macclesfield was going to flirt with Lucy – not at the moment at any rate – there was no saying what he might decide to do once they were better acquainted. In a way Charles Macclesfield was worse than Broughton. Broughton might merely turn out to be a threat to Lucy's reputation, but he was not likely to win her heart. She'd already told James that she disliked the man, which was good. But it was obvious that she liked Macclesfield, damn him!
Luckily, James thought, he had the advantage of Charles Macclesfield. He was an old and trusted friend of Lucy's family, and therefore he could see her more often than Macclesfield did. He had plenty of opportunity of fixing his interest with her, and he was going to make full use of it.
This time it was Peter Clarke who offered him an excuse for calling in Tetford Manor. Peter came up to him after Church on Sunday and excitedly told him of the latest discoveries he'd made with his new microscope.
"I've made sketches too, just as you told me I should," he announced proudly. "Will you come and have a look at them? Please? I am not sure I got them right and I would like you to tell me."
"I will do so first thing tomorrow," James promised. He then took Peter back to his family, who was gathered at the churchyard gate and only waiting for Peter to rejoin them before walking back home.
James exchanged a few pleasantries with Sir Thomas and Lucy, and then made his way back to his mother who was talking to the Vicar at the church door. Just as he was about to join them, Miss Langley suddenly turned up at his elbow. Although James despised her he could not bring himself to be so uncivil as to ignore her.
She acknowledged his polite bow with a slight curtsey and said, "I wonder why you encourage that boy, Mr Greville."
"I like him, Miss Langley. Is that not reason enough?"
"What is there to like in an ill-mannered brat like him?" Miss Langley asked.
"I have never found him ill-mannered; quite the contrary. Sir Thomas Clarke's children are remarkably well-behaved. Sir Thomas would not tolerate anything else."
Miss Langley reddened, and her eyes flashed angrily. It was not often that someone contradicted her, James was certain.
"It does not reflect well on his upbringing to inflict himself on his elders and betters the moment they leave church on a Sunday," she snapped. "It is not the kind of behaviour I was encouraged to exhibit when I was a child. To be putting himself forward in such a brazen fashion!"
"Remember that Peter Clarke is still a child, and has not had the benefit of your upbringing, Miss Langley," James replied coldly. "He may not know yet that it is never becoming to put oneself forward, although good intentions will make it more acceptable in my opinion. I hope you will excuse me now, ma'am; I believe my mother wishes to go home."
Jane Langley fumed. Things were not at all going as she had planned, and it was easy to see who was to blame for that. That horrid Lucy Clarke must have set everyone against her, though Jane did not see why she should. It was hardly possible that she still resented the snub she and her sisters had received at Jane's hands – such a little thing must surely be forgotten by now!
Mrs Macclesfield, who was nothing but a lowly country parson's wife when all was said and done, had not even invited Jane to the dinner party she'd hosted in her brother-in-law's honour! Not that Jane had had any intention of going there to meet the vicar's brother; from what she'd heard Charles Macclesfield was too insignificant a man to bother with. His income was not large enough to make him acceptable to her. But it was the principle of the thing. Miss Langley was Tetford's leader of fashion; she ought to have been invited! And now, to crown it all, Mr Greville had left her standing alone in the middle of the churchyard with hardly a civil word of excuse, and everyone had seen him do so. It was more than anyone could bear.
Jane could not wait until Anne started her work at Tetford Manor. She'd better be quick about discovering some disreputable side to Miss Clarke's character. Mr Greville, it appeared, was becoming too fond of Lucy Clarke, and one could not tolerate that. It would drive a spoke in Jane Langley's wheel. James Greville must not marry anyone but her!
If Anne's mission failed, Jane would have to do something to get Miss Clarke into trouble, but although she had no scruples about doing such a thing if Miss Clarke got into her way Jane hesitated to put such plans into action. There was always the danger of being found out, and that might bring some unpleasantness with it. Yet one might, perhaps, count on Mr Broughton's assistance. It was evident that Miss Clarke had piqued his interest, in spite of – or maybe because of - her cold manner towards him, and Jane was almost certain that he would not mind taking her down a peg or two.
"We are both the victims of untoward circumstances," that gentleman said next to her. "No one appreciates us the way they ought."
"You may of course speak for yourself, Mr Broughton," Jane replied coolly. "I am sure there are plenty of people who appreciate me as they ought."
"How fortunate for you!" Broughton chuckled. "Will you permit me an impertinent question? Do those people matter?"
Jane did not deem the question worthy of a reply. Again, Broughton laughed.
"We are fellow sufferers, alas," he said with a mock sigh. "Shall we give up our ambitions and give each other comfort, or merely work together to achieve them?"
"I think I am well able to achieve my ambitions without your assistance, sir," Jane snapped. Although she had, only moments before, contemplated asking him for help she felt he was a dangerous ally to have. He might assist her, but he would most certainly be hard to get rid of once she no longer needed him. She had better keep him as some kind of last resort in case all else failed. It would not help her with James Greville if she became too closely associated with Mr Broughton. Mr Greville did not like him above half, as far as Jane had been able to tell.
"Very well. I was merely trying to be kind," Broughton said, shrugging. "Let me know when you change your mind."
"Don't you mean if I change my mind, Mr Broughton?" Jane asked haughtily.
Broughton laughed. "No, I meant when. Good day to you, Miss Langley."
"I have my ways and means, ma'am, to discover whether you have told me the truth," Bertrand yelled. His fury upon learning of his prisoner's escape had been great, and he had immediately turned against his wife whom he blamed for it. Heloise, though trembling with fear, faced her husband's wrath with what she hoped was quiet dignity. If only she could delay Bertrand's pursuit of the fugitive until André was safe she would be happy. Her own life was not important, but André must be saved at all cost!
A Sunday evening was probably not the most proper time for writing sensational novels, and Lucy was almost certain that Mr Macclesfield, the vicar, would strongly disapprove if he knew. But he did not know, and Lucy was not only determined to continue writing her novel but also relieved that she had found a solution to her main plot problem, which was how to get the heroine's evil husband out of the way of a happy ending. People did get struck by lightning occasionally, didn't they? It was not an every-day occurrence, but it did happen. Lucy was sure that if there was one man who deserved to be struck dead by a bolt of lightning, Bertrand was the one. It was the perfect solution to her problem – an act of divine retribution which left the hero blameless and free to marry Bertrand's widow. To satisfy those of her readers who preferred André to fight his enemy – there were always some who did – Bertrand and André would probably have a duel, or at least intend to fight one. André might demonstrate the nobility of his character by swearing to kill the villain and thus free his adored Heloise from that evil monster, even though he knew that it would bar him from marriage with her and that he would never be allowed to see her again. This would go down well with her readers – a hero willing to sacrifice himself so that the woman he loved could go free. But Lucy had not got to that point yet. Right now, the villain was threatening his wife in the hope of getting her to confess that she had facilitated André's escape.
There was a wicked smile on Bertrand's evil countenance when his wife, though clearly afraid of him, refused to answer his questions.
Lucy paused. What was Bertrand going to do next? Although she would not put it past him to beat his wife, she decided not to let him do so yet. While she had no problems describing fights between the male protagonists of her novels, she hesitated to write about a man's violence towards a woman. The men she knew, she was happy to say, would sooner cut off their own hands than threaten a lady with violence. In her opinion this was the worst a man could possibly do. But that was just it, Lucy decided. Bertrand liked to threaten; he enjoyed Heloise's fear. The moment he struck Heloise he would have little more to threaten her with except, maybe, death, but Heloise might even welcome that at one point. So he was not going to beat her yet, although he might do so later on. Instead,
He grabbed Heloise's arm, and dragged her along the corridors with him and up the stairs, turning a deaf ear to her pleading, until they came to a room at the top of one of the castle's towers.
"You will remain here," he informed her with a cruel laugh. "Until I remember to let you out – or until you please me enough to make me kindly disposed towards you."
Lucy continued writing for a while, describing Heloise's futile attempts to escape from the tower, until she almost fell asleep at her writing table. Only then did she lock her literary work away, and went to bed. For once, not even the recollection of James Greville's unaccountable behaviour at Mrs Macclesfield's dinner party managed to keep her awake.
"But he promised he would come first thing in the morning," Peter whined when Lucy told him in no uncertain terms that his presence in the school room could not be dispensed with, and that he had better go there at once.
"Who did?" Lucy demanded, although she could make an educated guess.
"Who?" There was a touch of irritation in his sister's voice that Peter recognised only too well. It was better not to argue with her when she was in that mood, but he would go down fighting anyway. It was the principle of the thing after all. No matter how grown-up she thought she was, Peter was not going to let himself be ruled by a mere sister without resistance.
"Mr Greville," he said and added, not quite sotto voce, "I don't see why I should call him Mr Greville when you call him James all the time!"
"That's not true, Peter," Lucy said. "I do not!"
"Yes, you do! At least you do when you think no one's listening!" With this parting shot Peter retreated to the school room, not without some more muttered protest at the treatment he was receiving. He left Lucy in the breakfast room wondering why James had not kept his promise to Peter - it was not his way. There had to be a good reason.
The question was answered soon. James arrived an hour after Lucy's contretemps with Peter, and immediately apologised for being late.
"I must be quite in Peter's black books," he said with a rueful grin. "The poor boy must have thought I'd forgotten all about our appointment, which I hadn't. You see, it was Marquesa's fault. You remember Marquesa, that Spanish mare I bought from Colonel Wilde last year?"
Not waiting for Lucy to answer that question, he continued, "She appears to have decided that last night was the best of all times to have her foal, her first too, so I sat with her until the small hours to see all was well with her and the foal. That's why I overslept. I'm terribly sorry."
"It is of no moment," Lucy assured him. "Once you have explained it all to Peter he will not resent your being late at all. Of all people he is the one who will best understand why the well-being of a valuable mare takes precedence over his sketches. The only thing he will be angry about, I believe, will be the fact that you did not fetch him to watch the birth of the foal."
"There is that," James agreed, smiling. "It is a risk I must take, however. - Now, I know Miss Atterbury will not care to have her lessons interrupted, but do you think she will object to sending Peter to me for half an hour or so? I do not think looking over his sketches will take me any longer than that, and I promise I will not make a habit of it."
Lucy sent a maid to the schoolroom to inquire and Peter came running down the stairs at once, carrying his sketchbook with him. He did give James a look of reproach as he entered the room, but was quite ready to forgive his tardiness once the matter had been explained to him. He became quite excited about the foal, and would have completely forgotten about his sketches if James had not drawn his attention back to them, promising, however, that Peter was most welcome to come over to the Priory to inspect the new addition to his stables.
Lucy left them to themselves and went to her private sitting room to work on the household accounts. James joined her there once he had looked at Peter's sketches, commented on them and sent the boy back to the school room.
"Well?" Lucy asked, looking up from her work. "Are Peter's sketches any good? He appears to be quite enthusiastic about them so I hope they are. He has worked on them for hours, or so Miss Atterbury has told me."
"Oh, he is quite talented," James said. "He has followed my instructions to the letter - I think he'd make a good scientist. I will suggest the possibility to your father next time I see him."
Lucy was glad to hear that there was one genteel profession Peter seemed suited for, and said so. James sat down in the chair opposite hers.
"Peter will do well if only he is allowed to follow his inclination," he said. "He might even be persuaded to learn his Latin if we tell him he needs it for his scientific studies."
"Do you think so?"
"Miracles do happen occasionally." James grinned. "I won't keep you long; I can see that you are busy…"
"James, I am in the habit of coming up with all kinds of excuses for putting off doing the accounts, so do not worry about keeping me from them," Lucy replied. "I really do not mind."
"Nevertheless I cannot stay too long," James said. "I merely came in to take leave - and to tell you that I have started reading the books on your list."
"Indeed? And which novel have you started with?"
"Evelina. It was among my mother's collection of novels, so I thought I'd start on this one."
"And what do you think of it?" Lucy wanted to know.
"I haven't got far enough to have formed a definite opinion so far, but I have enjoyed what I have seen of it," James replied. "I'll be sure to discuss it with you once I have finished it. It certainly looks promising, I'll say as much in its favour."
"I'll be sure to re-read it so I'll be able to hold my own in the discussion," Lucy laughed. "I am looking forward to exchanging opinions with you."
A knock at the door interrupted their tête-à-tête. Mrs Talbot came in, announcing visitors - Mr Macclesfield and Mrs Macclesfield. Knowing that her housekeeper was in the habit of referring to Mrs Macclesfield's husband as "The Vicar", Lucy realised that this could only mean that Mr Charles Macclesfield had escorted his sister-in-law.
"They are in the front parlour, Miss," Mrs Talbot said.
"Thank you, Mrs Talbot. Tell them that I will come to them directly."
She rose from her chair. "You see, James? Another good excuse for not working on the accounts. Poor me!"
James laughed, but his laugh was a forced one. Lucy had been well aware of the look of annoyance on his face when Mrs Talbot had announced the visitors, and wondered what had put him out. He liked Mrs Macclesfield; at least Lucy had always thought so. Maybe he did not object to Mrs Macclesfield calling on her, though, but to her brother-in-law.
"You do not like Mr Macclesfield, do you?" she asked.
"No, not really," James admitted.
"Why not? I thought he was just the kind of man you might take to - intelligent, gentlemanlike, and good company too. What is there not to like in him?"
There was a short pause. "I cannot tell you," James finally said. "Well, I must be off."
"You cannot go before looking in on Mrs Macclesfield and wishing her a good day," Lucy remonstrated. "She'd be offended!"
"Far be it from me to offend Mrs Macclesfield," James said earnestly, and followed Lucy to the parlour.
There was nothing to be said against his behaviour towards that lady and her brother-in-law once they were there; he was punctiliously civil to both them. But that was just it, Lucy thought. His manner towards her visitors lacked his usual warm-heartedness, and there was not a single smile during his entire stay.
"I have come to ask you, my dear Miss Clarke, whether it would please you to accompany us on a drive to Reading tomorrow. My brother-in-law wishes to see the Abbey ruins there, and I thought you might enjoy coming with us - I know how fond you are of these things!"
"I will, if my father has no objection," Lucy said.
"What about you, Mr Greville? Do you care to join us too?" Mrs Macclesfield asked.
After a moment's hesitation, James said, "I'd love to, Mrs Macclesfield, but I cannot, I am sorry to say. I have a business appointment in London tomorrow, and I am afraid it cannot be delayed. Some other time, perhaps."
"Oh, what a pity! But if we postponed our trip until the day after tomorrow, perhaps…?"
"Mrs Macclesfield, there is no need for you to do so," James said politely. "Who knows whether the weather will permit you to go the day after tomorrow? As it looks, tomorrow will be a fine day; do make full use of it, I beg you! It really does not signify; you will be well able to enjoy yourselves without me. I really must be going now - good day to you, ma'am. Miss Clarke - Mr Macclesfield." With a stiff bow, he took his leave and went.
There was a gleam of amusement in Charles Macclesfield's eyes, and Lucy wondered what it was that seemed to entertain him. He did not say anything, however, and merely talked of the prospective outing.
All the way home James cursed himself for the fool that he was. Instead of accepting Mrs Macclesfield's invitation and making sure that he was there to drive a spoke in Charles Macclesfield's wheel, should the man decide to make Lucy the object of his gallantry, he'd come up with a weak excuse and then run off in a temper like a schoolboy. James Greville, who was known to be truthful to a fault, had even gone so far as to invent an excuse - and that meant he would have to go to London the next day in order to retain his self-respect. But why had he acted the way he had?
That question, James knew, was difficult to answer. To be honest, there was a great deal of fear behind his decision. He was afraid he'd have to witness Lucy flirting with Macclesfield, and be unable to do anything about it. What was worse, he was not certain he'd be able to hold himself in check if Lucy did flirt with Macclesfield. The consequences were such as James did not even want to contemplate. It was not only that he would make a fool of himself. A quarrel with Lucy would force him to admit why he did not want her to take interest in other men; and James knew by now that she was not ready for the truth yet. So maybe it was a good thing that he had refused the invitation, he thought gloomily. Still, he ought to have been more gracious about it; and he was almost certain that Lucy, at least, suspected that an appointment in London was not the only reason for his refusal. And, James thought indignantly, it was quite clear that Macclesfield knew it too. Unlike Lucy, James feared, Macclesfield even had an inkling of what the true reason was. If so, much depended on Macclesfield's character - was he the kind of man who'd amuse himself at James' expense and flirt with Lucy just to see what would happen? Or was he honourable enough to leave her alone? It was difficult to say; and that was one of the reasons why James disliked Macclesfield. He did not know what to make of the man; and unlike his usual habit he was not inclined to give the man a chance to become better acquainted with him. As far as James was concerned, Macclesfield was guilty of having designs on Lucy until proven innocent. Every man had, James thought gloomily, and for a moment he wondered if his unrequited love for Lucy was slowly but surely driving him mad. It was certainly beginning to turn him into a kind of man he did not particularly like, and that worried him.
Since he was going to London the next day, James decided, he was going to look in at the Minerva Press again; ostensibly to buy some of the novels on Lucy's list. But his real reason for calling on Mr Lane once more was that he wanted to discover why Lucy was known there, for Mr Lane's previous statement that she was a valued customer had been obviously false.
Lucy was not particularly looking forward to her trip to Reading. She did not like the fact that Mrs Macclesfield had invited her merely to throw her into her brother-in-law's company, and suspected that Mr Macclesfield's opinion of the matter coincided with her own. He probably wished as fervently as Lucy that bad weather would prevent their journey, and woke up as disappointed to find that it was a fine day, and that no excuse for staying at home offered itself.
Yet the mere fact that he went along with his sister-in-law's plan in spite of knowing her true intentions and disapproving them showed him to be a good-natured man. No matter what his thoughts were, he treated both Mrs Macclesfield and Lucy with well-bred kindness and ease.
Their first stop was at the George, the town's busiest hostelry. The carriage and horses were to stay there while they went about their business in town, and Mr Macclesfield immediately entered the building to bespeak a private parlour and luncheon to be ready when they came back from their walk around Reading.
"Have you been here before, Mr Macclesfield?" Lucy asked as they made their way towards the Abbey ruins, which had been the main reason for them to come here - or at least the reason Mrs Macclesfield had given them.
"I have not, I am sorry to say," Mr Macclesfield replied. "I only visited my brother once since he has taken up residence in Tetford, and at that time I was on my way to London and only spent the night under his roof. I had no time for a longer stay; or for exploring the surroundings of his new home."
"And quite put out I was," Mrs Macclesfield laughed. "I had hoped for a longer stay then, and to disappoint me so ruthlessly - I was quite out of charity with you, my dear Charles!"
Mr Macclesfield laughed. "I was fully aware of it, Caroline. This is why you find me so willing to comply with all your schemes for my entertainment this time; I do not wish to continue giving offence."
"Now he is talking as if I had ever said a word of reproach," Mrs Macclesfield told Lucy. "When I took such care not to let him see my disappointment at the time! I am sure I never complained!"
"My dear ma'am, your silence has been more eloquent than words could ever have been," Mr Macclesfield retorted. "I was well aware I had offended you, even though no one is your equal when it comes to suffering in silence."
"We all must excel at something I suppose," Mrs Macclesfield laughed. "At any rate I am glad that you have finally found the time to visit us; I had almost given up my hope of ever seeing you again!"
"You did not expect me to stay away from your household after having tasted one of your delicious dinners! I'd be more than human if I could even contemplate it," Mr Macclesfield replied.
Since they arrived at the Abbey Gateway at that moment, no more was said of Mr Macclesfield and his last visit in his brother's home. Instead they stopped to closely examine its architecture. Mr Macclesfield appeared to be quite knowledgeable; he pointed out some features of the gate that Lucy had hitherto been unaware of, and she decided that it might be worth while to study Gothic buildings more closely. It might come in useful in her writing, she felt. The question was how to get her hands on the necessary literature. Her father's library contained nothing that would serve her, she knew, but perhaps James' did. She would ask him, and if he did possess a volume or two dealing with the principles of medieval building she would ask him to lend it to her.
"The gatehouse is still in use, I see," Mr Macclesfield remarked.
"Oh yes, it is used as a boarding school for young ladies," Lucy replied.
"Did you attend it, Miss Clarke?" he asked.
"No; my mother made a point of engaging a governess for her children, and so I was educated at home. I am sure Miss Atterbury's teaching is superior to anything to be had in any of those seminaries. She is a very learned lady."
"A bluestocking, in fact?"
"Nothing of the sort. Miss Atterbury has certainly had a better education than most women receive these days, but she does not boast of it, as so many bluestockings are prone to do. But she has instructed my brothers along with us girls - apart from Latin and Greek, which she feels should be taught by an expert and not an amateur, which is what she chooses to call herself."
They had entered the Abbey ruins by now, which were all that was left of what had once been one of the most important religious houses in the kingdom.
"It seems a pity that most of the buildings are gone by now," Mr Macclesfield remarked. "Though I believe we can still see the abbey's lay-out."
He then strolled around, trying to identify the parts of the former monastery, and telling Lucy and Mrs Macclesfield all about what life in the Abbey must have been like in its heyday.
Finally he said, "But I must be boring you! No more about the Abbey's history, I promise."
"Oh but we shall retaliate, Charles," Mrs Macclesfield told him. "Now that you have seen the Abbey ruins, we will go shopping. Won't we, Lucy?"
"I am not planning to do any shopping for myself, Mrs Macclesfield, but I will do my best to assist you in any shopping venture you may be contemplating," Lucy laughed.
While it was evident that Mr Macclesfield was not keen on escorting two females on a shopping trip, he good-humouredly went into various shops with them, and wisely only uttered the kind of comments that he knew would be welcome. He commended Mrs Macclesfield's taste when she chose a shawl for herself, and when asked for advice regarding some new hangings for the Rectory dining room he picked the fabric that Lucy, too, would have chosen.
They went into a bookshop in the end, and while Mrs Macclesfield made her choice among the new sensational novels on offer - with Lucy's able assistance - , her brother-in-law studied some prints of the Abbey ruins and bought some of those, as a souvenir of a day spent in a very pleasant manner, he said. Lucy almost believed him that he'd really enjoyed himself, even though she knew for a fact that men detested shopping expeditions with ladies. She had brothers and a father, after all.
At the George, an excellent repast was awaiting them in a comfortable private parlour. Lucy enjoyed the meal, and conversing with Mrs Macclesfield. She informed her that Mrs Eccleston was going to host a party the following week, and that it was quite certain that Lucy would receive an invitation from her soon.
"She told me it was to be a dinner party, with some dancing," Mrs Macclesfield said, "and that she was planning to invite all the young people in Tetford."
"All of them?" Mr Macclesfield asked. "Mrs Eccleston's house must be enormous!"
"All of them who are anyone," Mrs Macclesfield corrected herself. "Though probably not the Langleys. Did you know, Miss Clarke, that Miss Langley insulted Miss Eccleston not long ago?"
"Miss Langley seems adept at making enemies," Lucy replied. "If she continues in this manner she won't have any friends left in Tetford by the end of the year."
"Who is Miss Langley?" Mr Macclesfield asked. "I do not think I have met her yet, have I?"
"You may have seen her in Church on Sunday," Mrs Macclesfield told him. "Tolerably pretty, very modish, insufferably arrogant, and extremely vulgar. You will not miss much if you do not become better acquainted with her."
Mr Macclesfield laughed. "This does not sound like a Christian attitude, Caroline," he teased. "Is this kind of thinking worthy of a clergyman's wife?"
"My dear Charles, I know very well what is due to my position as a clergyman's wife, and you will never hear me say anything against Miss Langley - or, in fact, any member of my husband's parish - in public. Among my friends and family, however, I hope to be able to express my own opinions without censure. I wish Miss Langley no ill; indeed I hope she will improve her conduct and become a better person one day. Stranger things have happened, I am sure. But until she mends her ways I take leave to dislike her as much as I choose."
"My sister's aversion to Miss Langley is quite marked," Mr Macclesfield said to Lucy. "Is it possible that she has been on the receiving end of one of Miss Langley's insults?"
"Worse; I was," Lucy laughed. "I am afraid Mrs Macclesfield resents it much more than I do."
"I see," Mr Macclesfield said. He then turned the conversation to the books Mrs Macclesfield had ordered at the bookshop. Some of them were books on household hints and cookery, but Mrs Macclesfield had also indulged her fancy for sensational literature, and the fact had not escaped her brother-in-law's attention.
Unlike James, however, he was able to discuss Lucy and Mrs Macclesfield's reading habits without sounding judgmental about them. He even admitted to reading novels himself occasionally, though he could not claim to have as much knowledge of the current authors as his sister-in-law.
"You see," he said with a rueful grin, "when I was a boy I began reading novels simply because my tutor forbade me to read them, which in my opinion is a very good reason for reading them. I did enjoy reading them, though some have kept me awake at nights, and I did not enjoy that."
Lucy laughed. "It is always like that with boys, isn't it? You tell them what they must not do under any circumstances, and they will do it immediately! Maybe your tutor secretly wanted you to read these books?"
"Hardly; he was a very strict disciplinarian and not at all given to flights of fancy. He strongly disapproved of novels, feeling that they gave young people dangerous ideas. The fuss he made when he found Young Werther in my room! Even my father, who was by no means lenient - as you will know, Caroline - , thought he was kicking up too much of a dust."
"Young Werther does, of course, contain some opinions that a conscientious tutor may consider highly unsuitable for his pupils to read about," Lucy remarked.
"Have you read the book, Miss Clarke?" Mr Macclesfield asked, staring at her in disbelief.
"Oh yes; I have read most novels in my father's library. But you look quite put out - do you think I ought not to have read it?"
"I am sure it is none of my business what your literary preferences are, Miss Clarke, but I must admit that I would not wish any daughter of mine to read that particular book."
"It is immoral; true, but do you not think that I have enough sense and breeding to see that for myself? I have read many books the contents of which might shock a respectable person, but I have never had the least desire to copy the heroes or heroines' behaviour."
"I do not doubt your good sense, Miss Clarke," Mr Macclesfield replied.
"Good. I must say I am glad to hear it," Lucy said, smiling. "After all one must be able to see the difference between fact and fiction. Just because one reads about lonely castles in Italy or the south of France, dark secrets, evil and supernatural forces at work, corpses, ghosts and witches threatening the happiness of the unfortunate hero or heroine of the novel this does not mean one must believe in these things in real life."
Mr Macclesfield laughed. "You have an extensive knowledge of this kind of literature, Miss Clarke! You could almost write a novel yourself!"
"So I could, I suppose," Lucy said, blushing.
"But only think how shocking it would be if you did!" Mrs Macclesfield exclaimed. Blushing even more, Lucy agreed.
James had started his trip to London early that morning, for he fully intended to be home in time for supper. It was not as if he had much to do in Town, after all - there was no urgent business for James to take care of, but he'd call on his man of business nevertheless, to ask him whether the investment they had made lately was really safe. It would puzzle the old man considerably, he knew, but he needed an excuse for calling on him. His mother, when informed that he was going to London the next day, had asked him to take her pearl necklace to Rundell and Bridge's, for the clasp, she said, needed repair. Apart from that he'd be in London with nothing to do, and a whole day to do it.
He left his horse and curricle in the care of the ostlers at the Black Swan in Holborn, sent his card to Mr Reynolds' lodgings asking him to meet him there for luncheon if he could spare the time, and then made his way to Rundell and Bridge's to put his mother's pearls into safekeeping there before walking around town. One never knew what kind of people one came across; he'd heard too many stories of pickpockets to be comfortable with a valuable necklace in his pocket.
Having accomplished his errand at the jewellers', James made his way to his lawyer's chambers, and as he had foreseen that gentleman was greatly surprised to see him again so soon. He had no news yet of what had become of James' investment, and informed him that there was no news to be expected before the end of the year. With that, James had to be content - as indeed he was - and left, to return to the Black Swan. Reynolds, never one to refuse an invitation, was already there, and together they enjoyed a pleasant hour, eating an excellent luncheon. Then they took a hackney back into the City, and after having taken leave of his friend James made his way to Mr Lane's premises in Leadenhall Street.
One of the attendants there immediately came to him, and asked what he could do for him.
"The matter is this," James began. "I am planning to buy a birthday present for a very good friend of mine, whom I know to be very fond of reading. I also know her to be a valued client of this publishing house, so I hope you will be able to assist me in choosing the right thing. You see, I do not want to give her a novel she has already got - or one that will not interest her."
The attendant agreed that it would be quite awkward if that happened.
"Do you keep track of your clients and their orders?" James asked. "What I mean is, is there somewhere you could look up what your clients have bought lately?"
"There is, sir. If you could just give me your friend's name and her address, I will see what I can find."
"Miss Clarke. Lucy Clarke, of Tetford in Berkshire."
"Very good, sir. I will see what I can do." The attendant hurried to a shelf behind the counter, took out a book and opened it. After a couple of minutes turning the pages of the book back and forth, the attendant looked up and said, "Are you sure Miss Clarke is one of our clients, sir? I cannot find her name anywhere in here."
"Last time I was here Mr Lane himself told me that she was a valued client of this publishing house," James replied.
"Oh! Mr Lane himself…" The attendant hesitated for a moment, and then he took another book from the shelf. "I will have a look at our records for the past six months, sir," he announced. James went to look at the books on offer, choosing some for himself - he had taken care to bring Lucy's list with him - and watched the attendant, who leafed through the journals with a puzzled frown.
"I am terribly sorry, sir," he finally said, admitting defeat. "I cannot find any reference to a Miss Lucy Clarke of Tetford in our journals. Do you wish to speak to Mr Lane? He went out half an hour ago, but if you'd care to wait…"
"I'm afraid I cannot wait," James replied. "Maybe Mr Lane made a mistake when I talked to him about a Miss Clarke - it is not an uncommon name after all."
"Indeed, sir," the attendant said.
"Besides if Miss Clarke has not placed an order here for the past six months I will be able to buy anything that has been published since then, for she will not have it. So what would you recommend? I remember her speaking very highly of Madame de Léon - is there any current work available?"
"Madame de Léon's latest was published about eight months ago, sir, so it is quite possible that Miss Clarke has already read that one. There is Mrs Parsons' latest work however - The Convict, which is very much in the same style."
"Perfect. I'll take that one then. - And these, too, of course," he added, handing the books he'd taken from the shelves to the attendant.
"Very good, sir. An excellent choice, if I may say so." The attendant carried the books to the counter and told an apprentice to wrap them up securely.
James then took the parcel and left the Minerva bookstore. His suspicion regarding Mr Lane's information had been correct - Lane had lied to him. Lucy was not a customer of the Minerva Press. Yet, not long ago she had sent James there with a letter for Mr Lane - and Lane had known exactly who had sent it. So if Lucy was not a customer - and if her name was nowhere to be found in the shop's journals, that was quite certain - there had to be another connection between her and Mr Lane's publishing house. Was Lucy one of Minerva's authoresses? The mere thought made James stop in the street and laugh out loud. Lucy Clarke a writer of horrid novels? The very idea! There was no one more down-to-earth and practical than her! Surely someone like her, caught up in her household duties as she was, with dozens of things to think of and to do every day could not allow herself such flights of fancy as the writing of novels must require. Lucy did not have the imagination to write tales that made one's hair stand on end.
And yet … as James sat in the hackney that took him back to the Black Swan, he began to think. He remembered how often he had found Lucy sitting at her writing table when he'd come to see her. She might have been writing letters, of course, or working on her household accounts - though she usually did that in that small room that served as her study, and not in the parlour. Sometimes she'd hastily disposed of some sheets of paper full of writing as he'd entered the room, as if he'd caught her doing something improper. He had not thought anything of it at the time, but he began to wonder now. Did Lucy write novels in those few hours of leisure that she had?
He remembered how angry she'd been when he had spoken ill of the kind of literature she and Mrs Macclesfield liked. At the time he'd merely thought that she resented his not sharing her taste for that kind of literature. But what if there was more to it? What if he'd unwittingly insulted her work? James no longer felt like laughing. He had never met a writer in his life, or so he thought, but it was quite conceivable that a writer would resent every slight cast on his or her work. It would almost be as if he'd insulted a favourite child of hers! Seen in that light, Lucy's anger was quite understandable.
He had to find out if he was right in his assumption that Lucy was a writer, and if she was under what name she was publishing her work. She was not known at the Minerva Press by her real name, so she had to have a pen name of some kind. Maybe she had even written one of her books onto the list she had given him? He'd have to be very careful what he said about any of them, just in case, and try to discover as much as he could about the authors. Asking her outright was, of course, out of the question. If she'd kept her writing quiet so far she would hardly admit to it now.
James shook his head. Lucy Clarke an authoress. The thought still sounded fantastic to him, but there was no other plausible explanation for her being known to the proprietor of the Minerva Press. There was obviously a side to her character that he had never been aware of - and there he'd thought he knew Lucy!
Bertrand's threats had not been empty. Héloise was kept prisoner in the tower room, and no one but the aged servant who supplied her with food and water every day was permitted to see her. Bertrand visited her every day, and every day he vowed to keep Héloise prisoner until she told him of André's whereabouts. His wife's silence infuriated him, and one evening he informed her that since she did not cooperate with him he might as well cease to feed her.
"Perhaps hunger and thirst will loosen your tongue, Madame," he said with an evil laugh. "If it does not, it will rid me of a disobedient wife. I have no use for such a one!" Thus he left the room, locking the door behind him and leaving Héloise to her fears.
André must be safe now, she knew, but she also knew that once Bertrand had heard the truth he would murder her. It was better to keep silent and endure the consequences, in the hope of being rescued before she was beyond anyone's help but the Lord's. With these thoughts, Héloise knelt down by her bedside and said her prayers, before she undressed and sank down on the couch that she knew would soon be her death-bed.
Having set the stage for Héloise's encounters with the supernatural - or, rather, encounters which would by some readers be thought to be supernatural - Lucy put away her writing and followed her heroine's example in saying her prayers and slipping into bed. The novel was coming on nicely now; she more or less knew what was going to happen right up until the end and was confident that she should be able to finish it in time. Mr Lane would be pleased, and the money would be put to good use. She might even be able to buy a new ball dress at last. She'd seen some beautiful fabric in Reading today, and had decided to buy it as soon as she'd got her hands on her earnings. It would be nice not to have to think of money for a while, she thought.
Her day in Reading had turned out to be much more pleasant than she'd thought at first. Mrs Macclesfield had not been too obvious in her attempts at matchmaking, which had made things less awkward than they might have been otherwise, and Mr Macclesfield was just as likeable as she'd thought him right from the start.
It was a pity that James had not come along, though. He would have enjoyed the outing, she knew, and he might even have become friends with Mr Macclesfield. They had a great deal in common, Lucy thought; it was really odd that James had taken Mr Macclesfield in dislike.
I cannot tell you, he'd said to her when she'd asked him why he disliked Charles Macclesfield. That was not the same as I do not know, was it? It merely meant that he did not want her to know. Was there something wrong with Mr Macclesfield? Or … Lucy sat up in her bed. Did James think she was paying Charles Macclesfield more attention than she ought? Was he jealous?
On his way back to Tetford, James tried to come up with some kind of strategy for finding out whether Lucy contributed to the large number of Minerva publications or not. For that purpose he would have to raid his mother's study. It was not that she was addicted to the kind of literature the Minerva Press was chiefly known for, but she was an avid reader of the Ladies' Monthly Museum and the Lady's Magazine; both of which, he knew, provided their readers with such information as he might find useful in his task. If nothing else, he would discover the names of the authoresses enjoying Mr Lane's patronage, and then do some research regarding their true identities if the writer's names turned out to be pen-names. This was quite likely, James knew. Ladies were not supposed to write novels, yet many did. It was often that a lady, to protect her reputation, published her literary work under a false name rather than her own; if she gave a name at all that was. Many were the novels published with no reference to the author's identity except "by A Lady". It struck James that this was the likeliest pseudonym Lucy might use. If that was so, it would be difficult to discover which particular "Lady" Lucy was.
Maybe something could be found out by studying the style in which the novels were written - turns of phrase that people used often in their speech might also be frequent in their writing. James knew this to be a fact in his own rather limited writing exercises, and assumed that it was the same with others. So any authoress using language similar to Lucy's was likely to be Lucy.
Of one thing James was certain. Lucy was not the author of Evelina. Although he was not an avid reader of novels he knew enough of Madame D'Arblay, nee Miss Burney, to know as much. He sighed, feeling gloomy all of a sudden. This only left him with some dozen of writers who could be Lucy.
At the dinner table Lucy's sisters were naturally curious to know every detail of her outing to Reading, and she willingly complied with their requests for information. She told them what Mr Macclesfield had said about the Abbey, what Mrs Macclesfield had bought in the Reading shops, and what they had had for luncheon before setting out to Tetford again.
The new hangings of Mrs Macclesfield's drawing-room were of special interest to the sisters, and they discussed them at great length until Sir Thomas, disliking the direction their conversation was taking, put an end to it.
"I wonder at Macclesfield for permitting his wife such extravagance," he remarked. "Did he not refurnish the vicarage on the occasion of his marriage? What need is there for new drapery? They have not been married for more than three years!"
"Mrs Macclesfield wished for new draperies, I suppose, and her husband saw no reason to deny her that wish," Lucy said.
"It is setting a bad example to people in his parish," Sir Thomas grumbled. "Encouraging his wife to waste money on things they do not need! It is not as if he was a rich man, after all."
"I do not think Mr Macclesfield and his wife live beyond their means, Papa," Lucy defended her friend. "Surely there is nothing to be said against their buying whatever it is they want to have as long as they are able to afford it."
"The money would be better spent on acts of charity, if Macclesfield chooses to throw it out of the window," Sir Thomas said sourly.
"Papa, you are unjust," Lucy cried indignantly. "There are few families in Tetford more generous to those in need than the Macclesfields. In fact I believe there are plenty with a greater income than Mr Macclesfield's who do not do half as much for the poor as he does."
Grudgingly, Sir Thomas had to admit that the vicar appeared to be very generous to the poor - generous to a fault. Lucy, realising that it was useless to argue with her father - or to point out that he was contradicting himself - merely gave her sisters a warning look and turned their conversation to household matters. She managed to persuade her father - who had put his foot through his bed sheet the night before, due to its advanced state of threadbareness - that they needed some new sheets. Relieved that his daughter's ambitions did not run to such expensive things as new hangings and upholstery for their drawing-room, and finally seeing the necessity for such expenditure, Sir Thomas gave his permission for Lucy to place an order at one of the linen warehouses in Reading. He would not have been himself, however, if he had not recommended Lucy to be sure to check and compare the prices before making her choice. Lucy promised to do so, and changed the topic. As Mrs Macclesfield had already told Lucy, an invitation from Mrs Eccleston had awaited her on her return home, and Lucy felt that this moment was a good one for informing her father of the treat in store for them. She was well aware of Sir Thomas' partiality to good food, and his respect for the talents of Mrs Eccleston's cook. It was therefore not surprising that he accepted the invitation with something like eagerness.
Lucy's sisters, too, were delighted - although Susan could not quite hide her disappointment that once again she would have to stay at home while her father and sister were having fun.
"You'll be able to wear your new dress, Lucy," she said. "That'll put Miss Langley in her place!"
While Lucy was quite certain that it needed more than her wearing a new gown at a dinner party to put Jane Langley in her place, she had to admit to some satisfaction that, at last, she had something better to wear than her old sprigged muslin, even if her mother's dove-grey taffeta was nothing in comparison to the fabric that had taken her fancy at the linen-draper's in Reading. One had to be content for the moment. Once Christmas approached she could safely buy a length of that fabric, have it made up into a ball gown and pretend it had come as a gift from her godmother, as she'd done with so many things before.
The next morning brought a message from James, inviting Lucy and her young brothers and sisters to have a look at the new foal in his stables. Peter, especially, could hardly concentrate on his lessons when informed of the treat in store, which resulted in Miss Atterbury taking his microscope away. After consulting with Nurse Kendall, who gave her permission for Toby and Elizabeth to venture on the walk to Ingham Priory provided that they were wrapped up warm and did not overtax their strength in walking back home, Lucy decided to accept James' invitation. In fact she was surprised to find just how much she was looking forward to seeing him, even though she knew it would only be for a couple of minutes and in the company of her younger brothers or sisters. It was odd, when one came to think of it.
Their walk took them across the village at first, and then further on along the road until they came to a footpath leading across the meadows. Just as they were leaving Tetford, they were met by Mr Broughton, who was riding a splendid bay mare. Much though Lucy would have wished for him to ignore her, or at least accord her no more than a perfunctory greeting, he stopped and addressed her.
"Miss Clarke! What a pleasant surprise to see you out and about again! And with all your brothers and sisters, too, I am happy to see!"
Lucy curtseyed slightly, and her sisters followed her example. The boys had already hurried on, which suited Lucy perfectly for it provided her with an excellent excuse to cut any conversation with Mr Broughton short.
"Mr Broughton," she said noncommittally.
"Of course it would be a shame not to make use of this lovely weather we're having at the moment, wouldn't you agree, Miss Clarke? - What do you think of my mare? I bought her off a friend last week; doing the poor fellow a favour, you must know."
"A beautiful animal indeed, sir," Lucy replied politely. "I am afraid I cannot give her the praise that is properly her due; I am no expert. - I must beg you to excuse me, sir; for if I do not move on I will never be able to catch up with the boys."
Mr Broughton bowed, and said, "Certainly, Miss Clarke. Yet I do not despair of finally being able to become better acquainted with you. We will meet at Mrs Eccleston's, surely?"
The knowledge that Mrs Eccleston had invited Mr Broughton made Lucy wish she had not accepted that lady's invitation; but on the other hand there was no reason why she should be hiding from him. Her friends, she hoped, would be able to keep him away from her for most of the evening.
"We might," she conceded, and took her leave.
They had nearly caught up with the boys when Susan remarked, "I wonder what Mr Broughton wants of you, Lucy."
"I believe all he wants is to amuse himself at my expense," Lucy said darkly. "It amuses him to embarrass me in one way or another. But I will take good care that he does not achieve his ambition."
"Maybe he is in love with you," Henrietta suggested.
"Hardly. I do not think Mr Broughton has a heart to lose," Lucy replied. "Mrs Macclesfield has warned me of his reputation." She lowered her voice to avoid Elizabeth overhearing her. "I have reason to believe him a shocking flirt!"
"He does look as if he was in love with you," Henrietta insisted.
"I am very sorry for him if he is," Lucy replied curtly. "But I don't like him at all."
They found James in the stables when they arrived at Ingham Priory, and he personally took them to the stall where Marquesa and her foal were kept. The children dutifully admired both mother and child, but, as James ruefully observed as he and Lucy waited for them in the stable yard, the litter of kittens in the tack room was more popular with them.
"You must not blame them for that," Lucy comforted him. "Naturally a set of kittens will please them more. They can be picked up and cuddled. Beautiful though Marquesa's baby is, they cannot do the same with him."
James laughed. "You are right there. But I thought you had cats of your own at the Manor!"
"So we have, but no kittens at the moment. Mind you, for all I know there may be some soon. I never really know how many cats we have, though I suspect Peter keeps track of them."
"I am sure he does." James smiled. "How was your outing yesterday, Lucy?"
"It was nice," Lucy said. "It is a pity you could not come along."
"Did you miss me?" There was something odd about his smile when he asked her which, for a moment, quite took her breath away.
"Well… I did … I mean … it would have been ever so much nicer if you'd been with us," she stammered. "You see, it's … it's very different to be going with strangers than with friends - not that Mrs Macclesfield is a stranger, but her brother-in-law is… anyway, what I meant to say was, I did miss you. What's more, I really think you would have enjoyed coming with us."
He took her hand. "Another time, maybe," he said.
"Did you … did you settle your business in London?" Lucy asked breathlessly, waiting for James to release her hand. He did not, however, and to be honest she did not particularly want him to.
"Part of it, though I must admit there is something that I need to deal with still."
The children chose that moment to come out of the tack room towards them, and James let go of Lucy's hand. He was not quick enough to escape detection, however.
While Susan and Henrietta did not say anything - they merely exchanged an amused glance- Elizabeth was a different matter.
"Why have you been holding hands with Mr Greville, Lucy?" she demanded.
"Because Mr Greville and I are good friends," Lucy said, trying to sound indifferent. "Good friends hold hands sometimes."
Elizabeth was not quite satisfied. "You are not flirting, are you?" she asked, ignoring the nudge her sister Susan was giving her.
Lucy flushed scarlet with embarrassment, and for a moment was unable to think of a suitable reply. It was James who saved the situation.
"Of course not. Am I flirting with you?" he asked, quickly bending down, taking Elizabeth's hand and kissing it.
That appeared to have its desired effect. Elizabeth giggled, and then turned her attention to more important matters - such as the kitten in her arms and the cakes Mr Greville had promised them if they joined his mama inside the house.
It was probably a good thing Elizabeth did not see the smile James gave her as he offered Lucy his arm to take her inside, she reflected. That smile certainly made her heart skip a beat, and she doubted anyone who'd seen it would believe that they had not been flirting.
Jane Langley was in a temper; which was a frequent occurrence these days. She had just discovered - with the help of Mr Broughton - that Mrs Eccleston was planning a dinner party and a dance, and since she had not received an invitation yet she surmised that she was not on the guest list.
"How dare she!" she ranted. "To exclude me from her party! That backward rustic!"
Broughton watched her outburst with an amused grin. "Why do you care, Miss Langley?" he finally asked. "If the Ecclestons were backward rustics, you would not want to associate with them anyway!"
"It's the principle of the thing," Miss Langley snapped. "One does not slight the leaders of fashion!"
"True leaders of fashion are never slighted," Mr Broughton stirred the coals.
"If I want to hear your opinion, Mr Broughton, I'll ask for it." Miss Langley pouted.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Langley." There was a touch of irony in Mr Broughton's voice that Miss Langley did not like at all.
Her mother, in whose presence Miss Langley and Mr Broughton had been discussing Mrs Eccleston's upcoming party, felt compelled to call her daughter to order. Her attempt at making her daughter behave herself was immediately followed by another temper tantrum which utterly embarrassed Mrs Langley. Knowing her dear Jane, however, she knew that it was useless to remonstrate with her while she was in that mood, and endured her daughter's diatribe in silence. Even Mr Broughton's ever-ready retort was, for the time being, out of action.
"It is that dreadful Lucy Clarke's doing," Miss Langley finally announced. "But I will get even with her even if it is the last thing I'll do!"
"How can this be Miss Clarke's doing?" Broughton asked. "Do not tell me that she has a say in whom Mrs Eccleston invites to her parties!"
Miss Langley had to admit that Miss Clarke probably did not have that much influence. "But," she said, "Mrs Macclesfield did not invite me to her party, which has a great deal to do with Miss Clarke. And where Mrs Macclesfield leads, others will follow, so it is Miss Clarke's fault after all."
"I had no idea the vicar's wife was the local leader of fashion, but if you say so it must indeed be so," Mr Broughton remarked, somewhat testily. "Still I do not think you can blame Miss Clarke for your lack of invitations."
"Who else is there to blame, I wonder?" Miss Langley demanded. Another tantrum was imminent, and so Mr Broughton, who was growing more and more tired of her company by the minute, forbore to inform her that it might well be her own fault. It was obvious that the thought had never occurred to her, and that if anyone suggested that she was not an entirely innocent victim of local prejudice she would hotly deny it.
"So do I," he merely said. "But I am certain it has nothing to do with Miss Clarke. I have never heard her say an unkind word about you."
"Don't act as if you were enjoying her confidence, Mr Broughton," Jane Langley said with an angry laugh. "Everyone knows she won't let you get near her! You'd better give up any hopes you have in that direction for that prim and proper miss won't even think of you if she can help it! She does not dare!"
"My hopes, Miss Langley, regarding Miss Clarke or any other young lady, are none of your business," Mr Broughton said curtly and rose. "I will call again when your temper has improved."
"Ah, so now you are leaving!" Miss Langley said with a malicious titter. "Have I hit a vulnerable spot, sir?"
"Nothing of the kind, but even the most patient of mortals will grow weary of ill-natured taunts and tantrums at one point, and by now you ought to know that I am anything but patient. Good bye, ma'am." He took leave of Mrs Langley with a bow, and left.
He would have been the last to admit it, but Miss Langley had hit a vulnerable spot. It was not that he thought Miss Clarke particularly attractive, but her habit of keeping him at an arms' length was annoying to say the least, and it had become one of his chief ambitions to storm that citadel. The very idea that any young woman could refuse him if he'd put his mind to winning her was ridiculous. Before he returned to London, Broughton promised himself, Miss Clarke would be his.
Heloise had no way of knowing what time it was when she awoke suddenly, feeling a breeze of cold air passing her by. She was aware that she must have slept for several hours, and that it was in the middle of the night, but it being a moonless night there was nothing to lighten the darkness of her lonely chamber. Heloise felt that there was someone in the room with her - she felt the presence of another person, yet how was this possible? Knowing her husband she knew that he would not permit anyone to visit her! The sound of footsteps approaching her bed made her seek shelter under her bedclothes, but as a ray of light penetrated her covers she emerged from her hiding-place. Next to her bed, bathed in a glow of eerie light, was a woman, smiling mournfully at her. She raised her arm and pointed at a corner of the room. Then the light disappeared, and Heloise felt that her ghostly visitor - it had to be a ghost, for no living person could have entered her room without Bertrand's knowledge - was gone.
Lucy was not yet certain how to explain away the "ghost" in Heloise's room - she supposed if all else failed Heloise would simply have been seeing things in consequence of her being hungry. Not that her readers would take it amiss if there really had been a ghost in Heloise's room showing her a way out. They loved this kind of tale; this was why they read her books. Who knew, they might actually enjoy having a real ghost appear in her novel for once.
She added two similar scenes, following the tradition of legends and fairy-tales she had read. Only as the fourth day dawned, Heloise, almost mad with hunger and thirst, discovered that one of the stone flags could be lifted and revealed a narrow staircase. Heloise would walk down those stairs in the hope of finding water, and then…
"Mr and Mrs Greville to see you, Miss Clarke," Mrs Talbot said. Lucy had been so absorbed in her writing that she had not heard the housekeeper's knock on her door. Hurriedly, she locked her manuscript away and asked Mrs Talbot to show her visitors in.
"I hope we are not disturbing you," Mrs Greville said to Lucy as she and her son had sat down on the sofa.
"Not at all," Lucy replied. "I was merely writing. My godmother has not heard from me for a while," she added, quite truthfully. "She'll be wondering what has become of me."
"Lady Walters must be well aware that you are busy," Mrs Greville remarked. "So am I, in fact. - We are merely dropping in on our way into Tetford to invite you and Sir Thomas to dine with us on Monday next. A small, informal dinner party; merely to repay Mrs Macclesfield's hospitality."
This reminded Lucy that she, too, ought to host a party for that purpose.
"I do not think my father has any previous engagements," she said. "We'll come gladly, Mrs Greville. Thank you very much! - Have you had the chance to read any of the books on the list I gave you, Mr Greville?"
"I have finished Evelina by now," James replied, smiling. "And now I am hoping to borrow The Crusader's Bride from Mrs Macclesfield, since she made such a point of my reading it."
"Oh! You will find it quite different in style to Miss Burney's tale," Lucy remarked, taking care to sound indifferent. "Of course, it is another kind of novel altogether. Did you enjoy Evelina?"
"I did," James admitted. His mother laughed.
"I had forgotten what an amusing book it was until he started reading it to me," she said. "We had some highly entertaining evenings, didn't we, James?"
"So we did," James agreed. "Let us hope the Crusader's Bride - or whatever else Mrs Macclesfield will be able to give us - will keep us as well-entertained!"
"You could borrow my copy of the Mysteries of Udolpho if you like," Lucy suggested, in order to avert James' attention from her own work. She did not want him to read her debut novel - not just yet, while she was working on her latest one. Once she'd finished that one …but she was fooling herself there, she realised. She did not want James to read her work, and that was it. The reason was easy to find - she was afraid he might not like it; worse - that he might find her literary efforts laughable. Why, oh why had she put that wretched novel on James' list in the first place?
"You are very kind," James replied. "But I promised Mrs Macclesfield I would read Madame de Léon's work next, and I'd never hear the end of it if I did not keep my promise."
"As you wish," Lucy said, acutely aware of James watching her closely. "After you have read Madame de Léon, then."
Maybe he was just imagining things, James thought as he escorted his mother to their carriage to continue their journey to the vicarage. But he knew Lucy well enough to realise that talking about Madame de Léon's novels had made her feel uncomfortable, which was why he'd allowed her to change the topic.
It was, of course, possible that talking about that lady's work made her nervous - from what he'd been able to discover so far her books were somewhat indelicate at times. It might simply embarrass her to discuss such things with a man. He hoped it was so - young ladies like Lucy were not supposed to be blasé about such matters. Nor did they write about them - if they wrote novels. On the other hand, he knew Lucy was a keen observer, and although they lived in a small town indelicate things happened that did not escape her notice, much though one might wish they would.
Mrs Macclesfield was delighted to accept their dinner invitation, for herself as well as her husband and brother-in-law, and when James asked her for the novel she'd promised him she immediately sent a maid to her sitting-room to fetch it.
"You will enjoy it very much, I am sure," she said. "I could not put it down when I first read it; I actually read it through in one night; though probably that was because I was too terrified to put out the light and go to sleep!"
"It is a frightening book then?" James asked.
"Oh yes, but delightfully so! Miss Clarke quite agreed with me on that score; she told me she had enjoyed reading it so much!"
"In that case I am sure I will enjoy it, too," James said and added, smilingly, "though I may not read it to you, Mama. I have no intention of frightening you."
"Don't you dare to deny me that pleasure, young man," his mother retorted. "I like being frightened as much as anyone!"
"We must meet to discuss all those books at one point," James remarked. "In fact I have just had an idea - but I am not sure whether it will take. What would you say to a Literary Society in Tetford, Mrs Macclesfield?"
"A Literary Society? What do you mean, Mr Greville?" Mrs Macclesfield was all ears.
"I merely thought that those people in our town who are fond of reading should meet regularly - once a month, say - to discuss the works of literature they have read."
"What a brilliant idea, Mr Greville!"
"There'd be you and your husband, naturally, and Sir Thomas and Miss Clarke, who are both fond of reading. My mother and myself."
"Miss Bainbridge, too," his mother added. "She sometimes borrows books from me, and her opinion of them is usually worth hearing. She would make an invaluable member to any Literary Society."
"So would Miss Atterbury, I believe," Mrs Macclesfield said. "She is a well-educated and well-read lady. But there are not enough gentlemen in the society!"
"What about your brother-in-law, Mrs Macclesfield?" James' mother suggested.
"Oh, he is very partial to good books, and I am sure he'd come to our meetings, but he will leave Tetford before long." Mrs Macclesfield said.
"There are William and Robert Clarke, when they come back for the Long Vacation," James said. "They are young, but quite scholarly, and they might enjoy our discussions."
Their taste in literature might also coincide with the vicar's, James thought, whereas Mrs Macclesfield's probably did not.
"But where shall we meet?" Mrs Macclesfield asked.
"How about taking turns in hosting the meetings?" James' mother asked. "I am very willing to host the first meeting at the Priory - what do you say, James?"
"Why, certainly," James agreed.
"The second meeting could be here," Mrs Macclesfield said. "And I am sure Miss Clarke would have no objection to hosting the third meeting. I really like your idea, Mr Greville!"
"What, exactly, was your purpose in suggesting the Literary Society to Mrs Macclesfield?" Mrs Greville asked her son as they were in their carriage and on their way home. "Unless, of course, it was providing yourself with another excuse for seeing Miss Clarke?"
"There was that," James admitted, grinning ruefully. "But there is more to it, Mama. I want an excuse for talking about books with her - at length."
"But why?" Mrs Greville asked.
"I'll explain it all when I have achieved my purpose," James promised. "In the meantime I prefer not to talk about it."
His purpose was quite clear. Lucy's reaction to the discussion of literary works would, he hoped, give him some hints that he could use to identify her as one of the authors. But this, he felt, was hardly something he could tell his mother. Luckily, she accepted his answer and did not ask any further questions.
To Mrs Macclesfield's great surprise, Lucy was not at all taken with James' idea.
"A literary circle? But why?" she asked her friend. "What does he want to achieve?"
"He may want to spend the occasional pleasant evening in the company of intelligent people who, like Mr Greville, enjoy reading," Mrs Macclesfield suggested. "There is nothing to be said against that; it is quite unexceptionable."
"Yes, but ..." Lucy stopped. There was no use in telling Mrs Macclesfield that, in all the years that James could have set up a Literary Society in Tetford he had not chosen to do so - until now. Why this sudden interest in literature? No; this was unjust, James had always been fond of reading, she knew. But why was he suddenly so keen on discussing literature with all and sundry?
"Now do not say you will not join us," Mrs Macclesfield said, looking disappointed. "I was counting on you! I thought it would be such fun!"
"I will certainly join if I am invited to," Lucy said, resigning herself to the inevitable. "Who else is going to come?"
While Mrs Macclesfield enumerated the members of their yet to be established club, Lucy kept thinking. There was no one among them whom she did not wish to meet, she was glad to hear. It was almost as if the club members had been chosen in order to please her, although she knew that this was probably not so. Even though she was still suspicious of James' motives for making the suggestion, she felt she would enjoy the club meetings. Miss Atterbury, too, would enjoy them, she was certain, and knowing how little opportunity her governess had to enjoy herself she would have felt positively heartless if any refusal on her part had prevented those club meetings. Her father, too, would like them. Even if she were not inclined to take part in the discussions, Lucy reflected, she would have joined the club.
Thus prepared, she sent a polite reply to Mrs Greville when her formal invitation to the first club meeting at Ingham Priory reached her, and also accepted the invitation on her father and Miss Atterbury's behalf. In spite of herself she was looking forward to going to the Priory - it was not just that she would spend a convivial evening with people she liked as opposed to those she had to associate with at more public gatherings. She also caught herself hoping that she'd have an opportunity to spend a minute or two alone with James.
The prospect of spending an evening at the Priory reading books with a select group of friends was more appealing than attending the dinner and dance at Mrs Eccleston's, especially since Lucy knew that Mr Broughton would be there. She did not know the man very well, but did not doubt for a moment that he would take full advantage of the opportunities that such an invitation offered him. Lucy was almost certain that he would ask her to dance with him, and there was nothing she could do to prevent him; nothing short of pleading a headache and staying at home that was. She had already missed out on the last assembly, and was in no mood to stay at home again. Nor did she want to sit down all evening and watch the others dance just because she had refused Mr Broughton the honour of a dance with her. So she resolved to dance with him if he asked her, but to make sure that he did not particularly enjoy the experience. If only she knew how to put him off!
With a wry smile, Lucy decided that she was wasting too much thought on the man, and that he would be flattered, and even highly amused, if he knew. To dispel these thoughts, she opened her writing desk and took out the manuscript she was working on. Héloise's dangerous flight from her husband's fortress had to be written. This morning's post had brought her a letter from Mr Lane, with a very polite inquiry until when he could expect Madame de Léon's latest novel. With all her new social obligations, Lucy reflected, it would take her more time to finish writing it that she'd initially calculated, and wondered when writing had last been fun rather than a chore she wanted to be done with. Reminding herself of the money the Sorcerer's Captive would bring her, and the things she could buy for herself and her siblings once she had it, she set to work.
Luck would have it that Jane Langley came across her former maid, Anne, upon leaving Taylor's haberdashery one morning. Stepping out of the shop, she saw Anne make her way to the bakery on the other side of the street and immediately accosted her.
Flattered, Anne stopped in her tracks, curtseyed, and politely greeted her one-time employer.
"How do you do, Miss?"
"How do you do," Jane replied. "It seems an age since I last saw you! I dare say they keep you very busy at the Manor!"
"They do keep me busy, Miss, but it is a good place. I am well satisfied."
"I am glad to hear it; I was quite worried at first. It is common knowledge that Sir Thomas is none too generous with his money, and as for Miss Clarke - she is quite exacting, isn't she?"
"No more exacting than she has every right to be, Miss," Anne said, keeping her eyes lowered. "I get most of my orders from Mrs Talbot anyway. I do not see much of the family."
"Oh! Is Miss Clarke too much of a fine lady to take in interest in household matters? I had no idea!" While this piece of information would be enough to make a less wealthy gentleman reconsider any intentions he might have regarding Miss Clarke, Jane was almost certain that it did not matter to someone who could easily afford dozens of servants, like Mr Greville. It was better than nothing, however. Jane was willing to accept whatever information she could use against Lucy Clarke. The more there was, the better.
"Oh no, Miss!" Anne cried. "I did not mean to say that! Miss Clarke works very hard! She is at her desk for most of the day, doing household accounts, Mrs Talbot tells me. And she also does all kinds of chores herself! Miss Clarke is not idle!"
"But of course not," Jane said soothingly. "I never thought she was. As I said, it would have surprised me if she was!" She would have to tread warily, Jane thought. It seemed as if the Clarkes had already won their new parlour-maid's loyalty. She would not betray any family secrets - at least not knowingly."I am glad to find that you are satisfied with your new situation," she therefore said. "Let us hope that it remains so." She nodded dismissal, and Anne, after another curtsey, disappeared in the bakery.
Going home, Jane pondered what Anne had told her. Miss Clarke was not idle, she had said. She habitually spent a great deal of time at her desk. Jane wondered what could possibly take so much time. Anne had assumed that Miss Clarke was doing the household accounts. It was of course possible that Sir Thomas, whose reputation for miserliness was well known to Jane, insisted on his daughter's keeping an exact account of her spendings. It was also possible that Miss Clarke was not good at doing sums, and that it therefore took her considerable time to work on them, but somehow Miss Langley did not think that was the reason for her spending so much time at her writing desk. Even considering that there were letters and inventories, shopping lists and recipes to be written, what did Miss Clarke write all day? It might be worth making inquiries, Jane Langley thought, and decided that she would call on Miss Clarke one of these days, if only for some further conversation with Anne if she could contrive it somehow. It would not do to depend on Mr Broughton too much; he was entertaining to be sure, but wholly undependable. He might cast out lures to Miss Clarke to entertain himself, and if he succeeded good luck to him, Jane was certainly not going to stand in his way. Unfortunately, however, Miss Clarke was too intelligent by far to fall for that kind of man, so it was highly unlikely that she would permit him to ruin her chances. If one wanted things done properly, one had to do them oneself.
Lucy's new evening dress was ready in time for Mrs Eccleston's dinner party, and she was well pleased with how it had turned out. It was too bad, she reflected, that Miss Langley would not be there to see her new gown, but on the other hand maybe it was better if she did not. It was the dress she had made using one of her mother's old gowns, and knowing Miss Langley the way she did Lucy suspected that she would know, and lose no time in pointing it out to everyone. Not that Lucy cared if anyone found out she had been using up old fabric to create her new dress. The dress itself had turned out well, and it became her. That was all she needed to know to be happy. Now if only James liked it too - though why should he, Lucy thought. He never noticed what she was wearing; at least he had never given her that impression, and why it should matter to her what he thought of her new dress she did not know.
Anne, their new maidservant, helped Lucy with her hair. She had often done so for Miss Langley, she had told Lucy, and had volunteered to make sure Miss Clarke would outshine everyone at Mrs Eccleston's. Lucy, who had never liked wasting too much effort on a hairstyle that never turned out to be quite what she had intended, had given her leave to do her best. The outcome exceeded her expectations by far. Of course, Miss Langley's hair had always been done in a modish and elaborate style, but for some reason Lucy had always assumed that it had been Miss Langley herself who had done her hair, and to be honest she had envied her that particular talent. As it turned out, she had been wrong.
"I wonder at Miss Langley for having let you go," she said, half jokingly, half seriously as she admired Anne's handiwork in her mirror. "Losing such an accomplished lady's maid cannot have pleased her!"
"Miss Langley was sorry to see me go, Miss," Anne said. "She has always been very good to me. But naturally there was not much she could do to make me stay once I'd made up my mind to leave."
Lucy doubted that Jane Langley could be good to anyone, although she was quite willing to believe what Anne had said - a useful servant, she guessed, would be treated well as long as she remained useful.
"And I met her only the other day and she was very kind to me then, asking how I liked my new situation," Anne continued.
"That was very kind of her," Lucy agreed, and reluctantly admitted that even Jane Langley was capable of showing kindness to people if it suited her. Why it should suit her to show kindness to a servant who was no longer in her employ Lucy did not know, but since it was none of her business she did not waste a thought on it. It was a good thing if Anne was still on good terms with her former employers, she reflected - there would be no awkwardness caused.
Lucy took her pearl necklace from her jewellery box and allowed Anne to fasten it round her neck. Then she handed the maid a few coins - a token of gratitude for the excellent work she had done with her hair, she said - and went downstairs to meet her father, who was waiting for her in the library.
The moment they arrived at Mrs Eccleston's, Lucy realised why Mr Broughton had been invited to her dinner party - Mrs Trevelyan, that gentleman's grandmother, was seated in an easy chair by the fire in Mrs Eccleston's front parlour. This was rather unusual, for although everyone in Tetford invited Mrs Trevelyan to their parties - she was a respected member of the community, after all - she was not in the habit of accepting these invitations; at least she had not been for ages. Mrs Trevelyan was not a recluse, but her health and old age prevented her from going into society much, or so she said. For the same reasons she was only at home to close friends or the vicar if they called on her, which was why Lucy had not seen much of her in years. That she had made an exception for this occasion could, in Lucy's opinion, only mean one thing - that she was doing so for her grandson's sake. It could not have escaped the old lady's notice that Tetford society had refused to welcome Mr Broughton with open arms. Whether she resented that or not Lucy could not tell, but she thought that Mrs Trevelyan's presence at Mrs Eccleston's dinner party was certainly interesting.
Since both Lucy and her father knew what was due to a lady of Mrs Trevelyan's age and consequence, they made their way to her to pay their respects the moment their hostess left them to greet some new arrivals. Mrs Trevelyan acknowledged Sir Thomas' bow and Lucy's curtsey with a regal nod, and answered Sir Thomas' civil inquiries as to her well-being with equally polite phrases. She then turned to Lucy, and mustered her with some degree of curiosity.
"So you are Sir Thomas' eldest girl," she stated. It was not a question; Mrs Trevelyan knew well enough who Lucy was even though they did not meet often.
"Quite so, ma'am," Lucy said politely.
"You do not take after your mother much," Mrs Trevelyan remarked, having finished her scrutiny of Lucy's face.
"I am afraid not," Lucy agreed.
"You often call on Mrs Macclesfield, I believe."
"I do. Mrs Macclesfield is a good friend of mine." Lucy wondered where this was leading. She had often, on her way to Mrs Macclesfield's, stopped at Mrs Trevelyan's house and left a card there, though not lately for fear of being admitted and having to converse not with Mrs Trevelyan but her ne'er-do-well grandson. So far, Mrs Trevelyan had shown no interest at all in her person. She had certainly never received her when she had called at her house but had always claimed some indisposition or other as an excuse for not wanting to see any visitors. Lucy could not help but find the fact that the lady was now taking proper notice of her for the first time highly suspicious. It had to be Mr Broughton's doing. Mrs Trevelyan's next remark did much to confirm Lucy's suspicion.
"You must come and see me the next time you do so."
"If you wish so, Mrs Trevelyan," Lucy replied, trying hard not to let her dismay show. She was quite certain that Mrs Trevelyan was not inviting her for her own sake, but saw no way of avoiding that visit. Shunning Mr Broughton was one thing - in fact, his reputation did not allow Lucy to associate with him any more than was absolutely necessary, and no one would blame her for doing so. But being disrespectful to his grandmother was quite another thing. If she wanted to avoid censure, she had to act on an invitation so publicly made. Maybe, she hoped, Mrs Macclesfield could be persuaded to come with her when she did call on Mrs Trevelyan. Lucy did not feel that it was quite safe to enter that lady's house alone while Mr Broughton was staying there, and she no longer had any doubts as to why Mrs Trevelyan was suddenly taking so much pains to become better acquainted with her. Had Mr Broughton told his grandmother that he had honourable intentions regarding Sir Thomas Clarke's eldest daughter? This was the only reason Lucy could think of why Mrs Trevelyan, who was known in Tetford to be a stickler for propriety, would lend him her support in this matter. She might want to assist him in settling down and mending his ways, and there was nothing wrong in that. On the other hand, many people had their blind spots when it came to someone they loved. A beloved grandson might find it easy to coax a doting grandparent. Yet Lucy was almost certain that Mrs Trevelyan had no sinister motives. It was Mrs Trevelyan's grandson she did not trust.
That gentleman was now coming towards them, ostensibly to ask his grandmother if she was comfortable, but turning to Lucy immediately after he had been reassured on that score.
"I am happy to see you here tonight, Miss Clarke," he said. "There have been some doubts as to whether you would come."
"Indeed? I cannot see why there should be any," Lucy replied. "I did accept the invitation, and I am not in the habit of breaking my promises."
"There might have been circumstances to prevent you," Mr Broughton said, smiling. "It has been known to happen."
"Yes, but it is not the rule," Lucy replied, as calmly as she could. She was not going to let Mr Broughton notice how much she disliked him; not if she could help it.
"Will you do me the honour of dancing the first two dances with me - unless, of course, you are otherwise engaged already?"
There was no way she could avoid dancing with him, Lucy knew. She was too fond of this pastime to submit to sitting down all evening just because she did not want to dance with Mr Broughton, much as she disliked him. What was more, she had already missed out on an opportunity to dance when her brother and sister's sickness had kept her at home at the night of the Assembly. All she could do, therefore, was to assent with what grace she could muster.
She could, of course, have told him that she'd promised the first two dances to James - he would not let her down, she knew. But that would only put off the inevitable, for Mr Broughton was not one to take no for an answer. If she had to dance with him it had better be the first two dances, Lucy reasoned. If she refused him those he might well ask her for the dance before supper, in which case she would have to put up with his company for much longer than she was prepared to endure it, for he would take her to supper after that. She could almost certainly depend on James to dance the supper dance with her if she wanted him to, and another one too; and young Mr Eccleston would probably feel in honour bound to ask her as well since he was doing the honours of the house along with his parents. There was also Charles Macclesfield, whose sister-in-law would see to it that he asked Lucy to dance with him as well. This would, she hoped, prevent Mr Broughton from asking her for another dance that night. If all else failed, she could still plead a headache after supper and ask her father to take her home; although she did not like that idea at all. She had come here with the intention of enjoying herself, and she was not going to let Mr Broughton spoil her evening.
James was none too happy to see Lucy talking to Broughton, although when he mentioned his opinion to his mother she told him not to be ridiculous.
"She cannot ignore him if he accosts her at a party where they have both been invited," she said. "Nor is she so ill-bred as to cut him in his grandmother's presence. Mrs Trevelyan may have grown somewhat eccentric of late, but she has never done any harm to anyone. She and her family are entitled to some basic civility."
James had to agree that Lucy was in some kind of a quandary here, and that she did not have much choice but to treat Broughton with what civility she could muster. But he still suspected Broughton of being aware of the fact and taking full advantage of it. A true gentleman, he felt, would have acted differently. He would not force his company on a woman whose aversion to him he must be aware of.
It was too bad that he had not yet summoned up the courage to propose to Lucy, James thought gloomily. As her affianced husband he would have every right to intervene, and would not hesitate to do so - provided that Lucy had accepted his offer. James sighed. If only he could be certain of her answer!
To take his mind off the problem for a moment, he turned to his hostess' daughter and asked her to dance the first two dances with him, feeling that this was what the Ecclestons expected him to do, yet he made an effort to keep Lucy within his line of vision. He was not seriously worried about Broughton getting up to mischief in here, in front of both Lucy's father and his own grandmother, but he might well cause Lucy some embarrassment nevertheless, in which case he would step in and damn the consequences.
As soon as he could, he made his way across the room to Lucy, by which time Broughton had left her. She was quite alone; or almost, for her father was talking to the vicar and his brother, while Mrs Macclesfield was busy talking to Mrs Trevelyan and had not yet joined her friend. James took the vacant seat next to her on the settle, and said, "Good evening, Lucy." Giving her her first name in company was a liberty he had never taken before, and for a moment he was feeling quite apprehensive as to what her reaction would be.
The smile she gave him reassured him, and her reply delighted him. "Good evening, James."
"You have already been fighting the dragon, I could not help but notice," James said with a glance at Broughton.
"I would not call Mrs Trevelyan a dragon, exactly," Lucy said gently, but with a slightly reproachful undertone.
"I was not talking about Mrs Trevelyan."
"I know. But I have the matter well in hand, I think. Once I have danced the first two dances with him I shall have the rest of the evening to enjoy myself, I hope."
"I'll be only too happy to assist you in that endeavour," James said, smiling. "Will you dance with me?"
"As often as you like," Lucy said, then frowned. "As often as is seemly, that is."
James laughed. "Does that mean you think I'd dance with you more often than is seemly if I could?"
"Considering that you have just used my given name in company I am afraid there is no limit to the liberties you might take tonight," Lucy retorted. Although she was making an effort to sound disapproving, the glint in her eyes told him that she was not quite in earnest.
"I'll go even further and take the liberty of telling you how pretty you look tonight."
"Only tonight?" Lucy countered.
"Always, but particularly beautiful tonight," James said calmly. The compliment pleased her - there was a smile and a slight blush. "I like this new way you have of doing your hair; it suits you. - But back to the dancing. Which dances are you willing to give me?"
"You are lucky, sir. Apart from the first two I am at your beck and call. Make your choice!"
"The supper dance, then," James said. "Including supper, naturally. And the last two. Will that suit you?"
"Perfectly. I am looking forward to it in fact."
James took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "So am I," he confessed.
"Well, my dear Miss Clarke," Mrs Macclesfield said, sitting down next to Lucy once James had vacated his seat. "Are you still trying to tell me that Mr Greville is not interested in you - or that you are not interested in him?"
"I never said I was not interested in him," Lucy defended herself. "Mr Greville is a good friend, one I can depend on."
"That is certainly true," Mrs Macclesfield agreed. "Yet I wonder."
"Go on wondering if you please, Mrs Macclesfield; I know I cannot stop you," Lucy said. Becoming aware of the rudeness of her remark, she flushed and added, "Please forgive me, Mrs Macclesfield, I did not mean to be rude. It is only … I do not know what made me talk to you like this; I know you only have my best interest at heart and have no intention of being impertinent or … or prying. Where would I be without your friendship?"
Mrs Macclesfield assured her that she was not offended at all, with a self-satisfied smile that told Lucy that she had drawn her own conclusion from Lucy's reaction to her question, although she did not choose to share it. Which was just as well, Lucy thought.
At the dinner table, Lucy was seated between Mr John Eccleston, her hostess' son, and Charles Macclesfield, so for the time being she could fancy herself safe from Mr Broughton's advances. She remembered how indignant she'd been at first, when Mrs Macclesfield had warned her away from that gentleman - why should she keep him at a distance when he appeared to be exactly the kind of libertine she had so often described in her books? What better opportunity was there to study the ways of libertines? Seen by that light, Lucy thought, she ought to make what use she could of tonight's encounter with the man, though she she knew it was not going to give her much pleasure to be obliged to dance with him. How much would she give now in exchange for being spared that experience! Though that, she reflected, was not quite true. She might have refused to dance with Broughton with perfect propriety by telling him that she was suffering from a headache and did not mean to dance that night - but she hadn't wanted to forego her dances with James. It seemed that the pleasure of dancing with him was not among the things she'd give up in order to evade Mr Broughton.
"You are very quiet tonight, Miss Clarke," Charles Macclesfield observed. "Are you quite well?"
"Do I look unwell?" Lucy asked, giving him a playful smile.
"Lord, no! Do not try to turn my concern for your well-being into an insult, Miss Clarke!" Charles Macclesfield laughed. "Nothing could be further from my intentions! I merely noted that you looked decidedly unhappy for a moment or two. You are not dissatisfied with Mrs Eccleston's seating arrangements, I hope."
"I have no reason to be," Lucy replied. "And I shall do my best to be entertaining to avoid giving you cause for complaint, although you will soon find that the food alone makes it worth dining at Mrs Eccleston's, no matter who is seated next to one."
"My brother has told me as much," Mr Macclesfield remarked.
"Have you seen something more of the neighbourhood since our outing to Reading, Mr Macclesfield?"
"My brother took me to see the Chapelham Abbey ruins yesterday," Charles Macclesfield told her.
"Oh! I hope you enjoyed yourself! The ruins are one of my favourite places," Lucy said. "We often go there for picnics."
"I can see why you might," Charles Macclesfield said, chuckling. "They must remind you of some of the books you have read."
"Quite so," Lucy said, refusing to be embarrassed by his allusion to horrid novels. "Did you see Edwina? Don't say she let you get away unscathed - not just one but two gentlemen too!"
"We left before nightfall, Miss Clarke," Charles Macclesfield said, thereby betraying his knowledge of the legends concerning Edwina, the unfortunate nun. "Besides, I think both my brother as well as I are much too respectable to be molested by the vengeful spirit of an unhappy lover."
"Oh, do you think seeing the ghost is a matter of respectability or rather a lack thereof? This is an interesting theory, Mr Macclesfield; very interesting indeed." Lucy laughed.
The next moment, her attention was claimed by her other neighbour, who very politely offered to supply her with some wine. Lucy spent a few minutes in conversation with young Mr Eccleston, declined to dance the first two dances with him on the grounds of already having promised those dances to another gentleman, but agreed to dance the two following dances with her young host.
"Your mama has outdone herself," Lucy told him. "The food is divine, as I knew it would be, and it seems as if she has taken great pains to keep us entertained tonight. Who is going to play for us, do you happen to know?"
"I am afraid I don't," John Eccleston said, blushing slightly in embarrassment. He was not yet accustomed to talking to ladies, and it showed occasionally. "My mother did tell me, but I quite forgot."
"Never mind; we will find out soon," Lucy said soothingly.
"They are said to be very good, I know as much," Mr Eccleston said. "They played at some ball or other - I forget where that was. You see, Miss Clarke, I do not take much interest in music. As long as I can dance to it, I shall be well pleased."
Lucy laughed. "It is very much the same with me," she admitted. "But since you are fond of dancing we will deal admirably together."
"I realise I have been remiss in my duty," Charles Macclesfield remarked when Lucy turned her attention back to him. "I ought to have asked you to dance with me a long time ago. It would only serve me right if I found you unable to spare me a dance now."
"You are in luck, sir," Lucy said. "I can still give you the two dances after supper, if you will be content with these."
"What choice do I have?" Mr Macclesfield said. "My sister-in-law did warn me to take the first opportunity that offered to ask you to stand up with me; she said you were the best dancer in the county and the gentlemen would be queuing up in order to dance with you. I thought she might be exaggerating. It seems that she was not."
"She was," Lucy replied. "It is true that I am very partial to dancing, and I dare say I am not lacking in talent, but I am certainly not the best dancer in the county."
"The best dancer in Tetford, then," Charles Macclesfield said.
"I shall leave that to you to determine, sir," Lucy said, smiling. She was not only fond of dancing but also rather good at it, and could not help feeling flattered with Mrs Macclesfield's praise of her dancing skills.
Dinner came to an end too quickly for Lucy's taste. Her only comfort was that, once the first two dances with Mr Broughton were over, she was free to enjoy herself. It was a good thing he had asked her for the first two, she thought. That way she could get the unpleasant part of the evening over and done with right at the beginning.
"I hope you will not mind my standing up with Miss Bainbridge," her father said to Lucy as the gentlemen joined the ladies in the drawing room and the musicians tuned their instruments once more in preparation for the dance. "Mrs Eccleston made a point of asking me to do so. She does not want any of the young ladies to be obliged to sit out the first two dances."
Lucy, who knew that her father's fondness of dancing equalled her own - or had at least done so while her mother had been alive - was quick to tell him that she did not mind at all. "Miss Bainbridge must feel quite honoured to be so singled out," she said. "Everyone knows that you do not dance much these days."
"She seemed well-pleased to have me for a partner," Sir Thomas said, smiling a little. "Even though my dancing days have been over for some time I am sure I can show these young bucks a trick or two if I put my mind to it."
Since it had been her parents who had taught Lucy and her two eldest brothers their dancing steps, she knew this to be true.
"You will put everyone else in the shade, Papa," she promised. "Enjoy yourself!"
As the musicians struck up the first tune, Mr Broughton came up to Lucy, bowed and held out his hand. "You have not forgotten about our dance, I hope," he said, favouring her with an ingratiating smirk.
"Not at all," Lucy said coolly, and rose. "Papa, I do not think you have met Mr Broughton before, have you?"
Sir Thomas gave Mr Broughton a curt nod, made some polite remarks and then went in search of his own partner for the dance. Lucy let Mr Broughton take her hand and allowed him to lead her into the set.
"I have been looking forward to this dance all evening," he said.
"You must know that your reputation has reached my ears, Miss Clarke," Mr Broughton went on.
Lucy was strongly tempted to make some remark about his reputation having come to her ears some time ago, but managed to keep quiet. She was not going to give Mr Broughton the impression that he or his reputation occupied her thoughts for a single moment. He was conceited enough as it was.
"What kind of reputation would that be, sir?" she asked sweetly.
"You are said to be an excellent dancer, Miss Clarke."
"Oh, that," Lucy said dismissively, taking her place in the set. "I dare say there are people who say so, but I do not listen to flattery."
"You should, Miss Clarke. Is there anything more enjoyable than hearing one's qualities and talents properly praised?"
Lucy was pleased to find that James and Miss Eccleston were in the same set as she, as were Mr and Mrs Macclesfield. It was almost as if they'd decided to lend her their support in this ordeal. The musicians struck up a tune that was well known to her; a slow but stately dance which suited her current humour quite well, since it would enable her to keep her partner at a distance. Lucy supposed she had her father to thank for the choice of music, or at least the fact that he had asked Miss Bainbridge to dance with him. He'd often complained of a country dance turning into a romp and young people behaving in an undignified manner; Mrs Eccleston must have overheard him on occasion and requested one of the old-fashioned country dances for the first set. Unlike Lucy, Mrs Eccleston probably did not know that Sir Thomas Clarke had sometimes been guilty of undignified behaviour himself, in his younger days. Not that he had ever admitted to such a thing, but his wife had told her children so.
Mr Broughton turned out to be an excellent and graceful dancer. Even Lucy, who would have wished to find fault with him even in that respect, found nothing to criticise in his dancing skills. Not that this was overly surprising - a dangerous flirt like Mr Broughton must be good at dancing, she reflected. It was one good way of charming the ladies.
"I have not heard this tune played in London for ages," Broughton observed. "It brings me back to those days when I was a boy and practising my dancing steps."
"I am afraid we are not quite as fashionable as the London set, Mr Broughton," Lucy said coldly.
"Miss Clarke, I did not mean to offend you, or our hostess! It is a charming dance indeed, and you are dancing it with me! What more could I possibly want?"
Lucy decided to ignore this flattery, and remained silent. It helped that steps of the dance separated them for a moment; but it did not last. Mr Broughton was determined to take every opportunity of being pleasant to her, no matter what she thought of his attempts.
"I must say," he said the next time they came together, "that report has lied regarding your dancing. It does not do you credit at all. I have hardly ever seen a lady look more elegant on the dance floor than you do."
"Thank you, sir. I had the best teachers imaginable."
Mr Broughton looked in the direction of Sir Thomas, who was dancing in the set next to theirs. "I think I can name at least one of them," he remarked.
Lucy had no wish to discuss her private matters with a man of Broughton's ilk, and did not follow up on that remark. She had agreed to dance with him, nothing more. She was going to talk to him as little as she could without appearing uncivil.
"Mrs Eccleston is a popular hostess, it seems."
"After having enjoyed her hospitality, you can have no doubt of the reason, sir. Only the best of everything will do for her guests, and her genial manner is such as must please everyone."
"No wonder that Miss Langley was disappointed when she realised she was not invited to tonight's party."
Again, Lucy did not say anything in reply to that.
"Miss Langley is not a friend of yours, I gather?"
"We have met occasionally, but we are not intimately acquainted," Lucy said stiffly. "Our interests are quite different, I am afraid."
"Are they?" Mr Broughton asked, with a sidelong glance at James, who had taken the place next to him in the set. "Who'd have thought it!"
Lucy felt the blood rise to her cheeks and hated herself for being unable to prevent it. She did not let Mr Broughton provoke her into retort, however. One did have one's pride after all. Lucy wondered what his purpose was - did he think to charm her with his insinuations? That was hardly credible - an accomplished flirt like him must know that one did not charm ladies by talking about other ladies, or by trying to make them speak ill of others, or by making vulgar suggestions. Lucy was very much afraid that he was out to make mischief, and fervently hoped that the dance would end soon, and that her coldness of manner would effectively make him keep his distance for the rest of the evening if not for the rest of his stay in Tetford. But that, she feared, was a vain hope.
© 2010, 2011, 2012 Copyright held by the author.