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Берроуз Энни

An Escapade and an Engagement

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Chapter Four

The next evening, Lady Jayne had barely arrived at the Cardingtons’ before Lord Ledbury came over.

He bowed to Lady Penrose. ‘May I claim the hand of Lady Jayne during the next waltz? Not to dance, but to take the air on the terrace?’

‘Oh, may I, Lady Penrose?’ Lady Jayne put in hastily, before Lady Penrose could object. ‘Lord Ledbury was terribly wounded at Orthez. He does not dance.’

She hoped that putting those two statements together might make Lady Penrose soften towards him. Not that she believed he could not dance if he wanted to. After all, he was fit enough to go prowling around public parks at dawn. But he clearly wanted to talk to her—and not many men, she had noted, were capable of carrying on sensible conversations while executing the complex figures of any dance, let alone the waltz.

‘It is rather warm in here,’ said Lady Penrose, after a visible struggle with herself. Having been given the information that Lord Ledbury did not dance, she had little choice but to relax her rigid rules just a little, or risk losing the first suitor in whom her charge had shown any interest. ‘Perhaps you might go and sit on that bench, just there.’ She indicated a spot just through the open doors, which would be clearly visible from where she sat. ‘It is a little unorthodox, but in your case,’ she said with a slight smile, ‘I think there would be no harm in it. I shall have a footman send you out some lemonade.’

Lady Jayne could barely stifle a giggle at the implication that nobody could get up to anything improper whilst drinking lemonade.

‘Phew!’ she said as they made their way to the open doors. ‘It is a good thing you are such a catch, or you would never have got away with that.’

Lord Ledbury flinched. It was just typical that the first woman to rouse his interest should dismiss him so airily. But what else could he expect? She was determined to marry for love. And he’d learned from the cradle that there was nothing in him to inspire affection. His own parents, who’d had no trouble at all doting on his other brothers, had seemed barely able to recall they had a third son. True, his father had only had time for Mortimer, while his mother had practically smothered Charlie, but that had done nothing to soothe the sting of their joint rejection of him. Or to lessen the impact of Lady Jayne’s indifference to him now.

He took himself to task as he took his place next to her on the designated bench. He had rank and wealth to offer a woman now. And there were plenty who would be perfectly satisfied with that. He only had to recall how they’d flocked round him at Lucy Beresford’s ball.

He had no need of love—not in the kind of marriage he intended to contract.

Particularly not from a flighty little piece like this.

‘You are looking very pleased with yourself this evening,’ he observed dryly. ‘I suppose I should have expected it. You are never happier than when you are up to your neck in mischief, are you?’

She turned to stare at him, wide-eyed, at the unfairness of that remark, and saw that he looked as though he was really annoyed with her about something. Though, cudgel her brains as she might, she could not think what.

That morning she had driven up to the front of Madame Pichot’s at the prearranged hour, in Lady Penrose’s town carriage, and, seeing a tall, dark-haired girl loitering on the pavement, gazing wistfully at the window display, had sat forward and said artlessly, ‘My goodness. Can that be Milly? Whatever can she be doing in Town?’

And then she had leaped out nimbly and darted up to the girl to make sure she was the right person. By the time Lady Penrose had exited the carriage with rather more decorum she’d thought enough time had passed for her to have extracted the news from her supposed friend that she had recently come into some money, quite unexpectedly, and had come up to Town to purchase a fashionable wardrobe.

Having imparted that information to Lady Penrose, she had then swept Milly into the shop, chattering about the newest fashions in that month’s La Belle Assemblée, and naturally the modiste, seeing the two on such good terms, had assumed Milly must be a somebody, and treated her accordingly.

‘Now you are looking at me,’ Lord Ledbury was saying, ‘as though you expect me to congratulate you for this morning’s work. Did you come here expecting me to thank you?’

‘Well, yes,’ she replied, growing more mystified at his ill humour by the minute.

Milly had certainly been thrilled at the way the morning had turned out. She had admitted that she would never have dared set foot in an establishment like Madame Pichot’s. But now she would be able to return whenever she wanted, after an introduction like that. Even if Lady Jayne was not able to go with her, Madame Pichot would never let one of her customers leave her shop looking anything less than elegant. Which was surely what Lord Ledbury wanted?

‘Well, I cannot thank you for issuing her with a false name. Milly informs me that she is now to be known as Miss Amelia Brigstock!’

Oh, so that was it. ‘That is entirely your fault,’ she retorted, stung by his determination to find fault with her in spite of all she had achieved on his behalf. ‘You omitted to tell me her full name.’ And she had not criticised him for his lack of foresight, had she? She had just plugged up the leak as best she could, to make sure the whole campaign did not sink before it even got underway. ‘Since she was supposed to be a long-lost friend, newly come to Town, I could hardly ask her what it was, could I? When Lady Penrose asked me to introduce her I had to come up with something.

His hands tightened on the head of his cane. A muscle twitched in his jaw.

She reminded herself that he was not in the best of health, and that being in pain could make anyone short-tempered.

Whilst arranging her skirts into decorous folds, making sure the train was well out of the way of his feet, she resolutely stifled the pang of hurt his lack of gratitude had inflicted. Only when she was confident she could do so in a calm, even tone, did she point out, ‘And I assumed Milly must be short for something. Amelia is a good, safe kind of name for a girl who is supposed to be completely respectable, though not from the top drawer. And the name Brigstock just popped into my head.’

‘Her name is Milly,’ he grated. ‘Just Milly. And there is nothing wrong with that.’

‘There is if I am to invite her to go about with me and pretend that we are bosom friends.’

He looked aghast. ‘I have not asked you to do that! Surely you only need to take her shopping a few times to teach her the difference between taste and tawdriness?’

She mellowed a little. How could she not, when he was demonstrating such faith in her fashion sense?

But still …’You have not thought this through at all, have you? I have not gone shopping with a friend once since coming to Town. If I am to suddenly wish to do so with Milly, then Lady Penrose has got to believe she is someone exceptional. A special friend. Or she will become suspicious.’

Lady Jayne never went shopping with friends? He’d thought that was how all fashionable young ladies spent their days.

They were both obliged to suspend any effort at conversation when a footman approached with the drinks that had given them the excuse to go out onto the terrace. But once Lady Jayne had taken just one sip, she pointed out rather tartly, ‘You wished me to exercise some influence on her. Which I have promised to do. But you did not give me enough information to see me through any social awkwardness which presenting her to Lady Penrose would entail. I did my best to smooth over that awkwardness. I thought it was what you military types called thinking on your feet.’

He eyed her with misgiving. All he’d wanted was some pretext for making her think they were doing each other a favour—something to distract her from questioning his real motives behind monitoring her and Lieutenant Kendell’s meetings so closely.

He could never have guessed just how little freedom she had—not even to go shopping. He’d assumed she’d been exaggerating when she’d said she felt caged, but now he understood what she had meant. It must be intolerable. No wonder she resorted to telling lies and climbing out of windows. Though he couldn’t very well encourage her propensity for getting into mischief by admitting that. So, instead, he observed, ‘All you have done is make everything twice as complicated as it need be by adding yet another layer to the deception you are practising upon Lady Penrose.’

Guilt made her stomach twinge. She did not want to practise any deception upon Lady Penrose at all. After living under her aegis for only a few weeks she had discovered that, though reserved and inclined to be strict, basically she was a kind woman. So kind, in fact, that after observing the two girls together in the shop she had invited Milly back to Mount Street. Immediately catching on to what a marvellous opportunity this would be to spend some time together in private and concoct a suitable background story, Milly had accepted the invitation with alacrity.

‘I am sure you wish to catch up with each other,’ Lady Penrose had said once they arrived, and then had retired to her own room leaving them entirely unsupervised.

Lady Jayne did not think she had ever laughed so much since … No, she had never laughed so much as she had done that afternoon, closeted in her room with Milly and her lively sense of humour. She had wondered if this was what it would be like to have a close female friend. She had no idea. She had never had any friends she had chosen for herself. Her grandfather vetted everyone she came into contact with so closely that by the time they measured up to his impossibly high standards she had lost interest in them.

Milly was like a breath of fresh air. Even though Jayne had been a little jealous of the esteem in which Lord Ledbury held her to begin with, once they had retired to the privacy of Lady Jayne’s room and got talking—well! Milly had seen so much, had had so many exciting adventures growing up in the tail of the army, and recounted them so amusingly that Lady Jayne forgot to be anything but completely enthralled. How she wished she might have had but a tithe of Milly’s experiences. Once her parents had died, and she had gone to live with her grandfather, Lady Jayne had not set foot outside Kent. While there, she had scarcely been allowed off the estate except for church on Sunday, or to visit the few neighbouring families of whom her grandfather approved. She felt so green and naive and ignorant beside Milly.

After she had gone, Lady Penrose had summoned her to her room.

‘That girl appears to have acted upon you like a tonic,’ she’d said, the moment Lady Jayne had taken a seat. ‘I had thought just at first she looked a little … common …’ Lady Penrose had arched an enquiring brow.

‘That is one thing I hope to help her with while she is in Town,’ she had said, seizing her opportunity. ‘I had hoped, if I might supervise her purchase of a new wardrobe and just give her a nudge—you know, about what is truly stylish …’

Lady Penrose had continued to look at her in silence, that eyebrow raised, until Lady Jayne had admitted, ‘Well, no, she is not from a terribly good family. But I do like her.’ And by that time it had been the truth.

‘There is nothing wrong with having a few friends from lower levels of Society, provided one does not let them become too encroaching,’ Lady Penrose had said with a pointed look.

Lady Jayne had nodded her understanding. Any friendship with a person of Milly’s class would be allowed to go so far, but no further.

‘I have not been able to help noticing,’ she had then said, with a troubled air, ‘that you have not been very happy while you have been staying with me. It was one of the reasons why I decided we should accept Miss Beresford’s invitation to attend her come-out, even though she is not from one of the families your grandfather approved. I had wondered, when you expressed an interest in attending, if you and she had struck up a friendship?’

Lady Jayne had only gone to that wretched ball because Harry had let her know he could be there, and they had arranged an assignation in the library, but she couldn’t very well admit that.

When Lady Penrose saw that she had no intention of making any response to her tentative enquiry, she continued, ‘I have rarely seen you smile, and certainly never heard you laugh, until Miss Brigstock came upon the scene.’ She smiled. ‘For that alone I am inclined to like her.’


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