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Heiress in Hiding 1-3

December 23, 2017 06:41PM
this is the 6th in the Brandon Scandals series, in which Madelaine Vardy, who was a friend of Beth's in book 1, runs away from her controlling and unkind mother, and the unwelcome bridegroom her mother has found, one Comte de Boisvalloné. Beth connives to send her to Adam Brandon, Lord Darsham, as governess to his ward, Lydia, whose birth led to Adam's divorce in book one, the Hasty Proposal. Madelaine is very happy caring for Lydia, though a spiteful nursery maid causes her some troubles; and the last has not been heard of the villainous Comte de Boisvalloné

Chapter 1

“Oh Beth! I cannot go on any longer, with people giving me pitying looks over having been jilted by Christopher Rowse, and Mama insisting that I should be putting more effort into catching a man, but the only men who seem to be interested in a clumsy long meg like me are fortune hunters!” Madelaine Vardy was almost in tears as she unburdened herself to her friend, Beth Brandon, who had neatly separated Madelaine from her forceful mother.
Beth frowned.
“Now calm down, Maddy!” she said. “You are not clumsy when you do not feel on display, or are in masquerade costume. The only thing wrong with you is your mother. She keeps you feeling like an uncertain and coltish child of about twelve, instead of being twenty.”
“But what can I do?” Madelaine was dismal. “I have even considered advertising for a husband like your cousin Diana, but Mama would find out, and she would either put a stop to it, or she would choose who to keep and who to discard.”
“It’s a little drastic, I know, but you need to get away from your mother entirely for a while, and get to know yourself,” said Beth, absently pulling her lower lip in thought. “Would you be averse to being one of the world’s workers for a while?”
“No, I think I might even welcome it, if it gave me the opportunity to feel that I was doing something more worthwhile than being decorated nightly to the glory of my mother.”
“Good, that’s settled,” said Beth. “My Uncle Adam is in need of a nurse-governess. Do you know the story?”
“Oh, yes, he has care of the child his wife gave birth to, she having been with child before marrying him. You Brandons are so scandalous, I don’t believe Mama would permit me to be friendly with you, if you were not so well-connected.”
“She doesn’t like me above half, anyway, not since I first decided you needed a friend,” said Beth. “Yes, little Lydia is a delightful infant, and quite precocious by all accounts, a year old and already toddling and stringing together a couple of words at a time, though I’m led to believe this is mostly along the lines of ‘Lyddie tan!’ when she is thwarted at doing something. She needs someone to love her and look after her, and if you will do that, it will be a tremendous favour to the family, and when you feel like husband hunting again, Uncle Adam will doubtless be happy to host balls for you, and even put up with your mother. He won’t, at least,” she added, “be backwards about coming forward and telling her what he thinks of her.”
“Someone needs to; I hear hints all the time and they roll off her like water off a duck’s back,” sighed Madelaine. “I love her, and she means well by me, but she is so wearing!”
“Exactly, and a little time being your own person, in a household which will not treat the governess as no more than an upper servant, will give you the confidence you need to stand up to her,” said Beth. “I will write to Uncle Adam. Should I tell him the truth?”
“No!” Madelaine almost yelped. “And do not give him my real name! I will be … Elaine Stone.”
“Without a hint of Madness to your name,” said Beth, with a straight face.
“Sometimes I wonder if I will ever get used to the way you and Mr. Brandon make jokes and tell puns without showing it by so much as a flicker of the eyes,” said Madelaine.
“Brandons,” said Beth. “He’ll be glad of you, in case he has to take off in a hurry; my cousin Marjorie is injured somewhere in rural Suffolk, and by all accounts my Aunt Daphne, her mother, is likely to go to be with her, and if need be, Adam will go too. Yes, we are an informal family,” she added, seeing Madelaine look shocked at having an uncle referred to by his first name. Beth went on, “Daphne is only waiting for her husband to be hanged for treason before she remarries. Should be any day soon, and a pity Cousin Marjorie’s husband wasn’t killed in the coach crash since he’s of the same stamp as Sir Swithin.”
“Oh, I’ve heard of him; nasty fellow,” said Madelaine.
“Yes, but stupid enough to be involved in financing smuggling with a vessel that sank a revenue cutter and tried to kill the lieutenant commanding it,” said Beth. “That makes it piracy and treason, or at least it did to the vengeful lieutenant, who survived. He’s marrying an in-law of ours too, so it keeps all the scandal in the family, so to speak.”
“I don’t think you care about what scandals your family has.”
“No, not really. We started having scandals back in the time of the crusades, when one of Richard Lionheart’s knights, who had been made first Baron Darsham, ran off with a nun. Since that time, we have had barons who wore women’s clothing, slept with actresses and castrati both at once, pirates and gypsies. A little bit of technical piracy on the side is a mere bagatelle.”
“I suppose when you put it like that ….” Madelaine laughed.
“Most people hide away their black sheep and try to sweep their peccadilloes under the carpet, but we celebrate ours, because it’s a good way to find out who your real friends are, and to make those predatory creatures only after a title back off. When’s your birthday?”
“Seven weeks, what’s that to the point?”
“In seven weeks you will be twenty-one, and therefore will have reached your majority, which means if you want to advertise for a husband, there is nothing legally that your mother can do to stop you.”
Madelaine brightened.
“I had not thought of that. Is that why she is trying to hurry me to the altar with the nasty old man she has chosen for me?”
“Quite likely, but you know, she cannot force you to marry, as your consent is required by canon law?”
“Is it?”
“Oh, yes! You have right of refusal of anyone. Well, now I see why you are in such a taking; and if the fellow with your mother is your prospective bride groom, I can see why. What’s his attraction to her?”
“He’s a French comte who fled the Terror, and if he’s an example of the kind of aristo they have there, I can understand why they revolted,” said Madelaine.
“Because he’s more revolting than the peasants?” asked Beth.
“Yes,” agreed her friend. “And Mama was suggesting to me that I should have an early night, as she wants me to dress up for a particular outing with him tomorrow morning.”
Beth narrowed her eyes.
“The only thing I can think of needing to dress up for in the morning is a wedding, since it is law that one marries in the forenoon; if he has an ordinary licence that could be almost anywhere, which is to say, wherever your mother might decide to abandon you. I think you should run away tonight.”
“But how can I? She will see if I leave with you.”
“You will not; you will tell your mother you have a headache, and will tell her you are going home early, and beg her not to disturb herself. Then at home, you will pack a couple of band-boxes of clothes suitable for a governess, and you will make a mound in your bed with the bolster, and you have a dark brown muff which you can put at the top to look like your head poking out. Let the servants think your headache is severe and ask not to be disturbed. Your mother will not be home before the small hours, who will wait up for her?”
“Her dresser and the butler.”
“And where will they be?”
“Lester will be upstairs in Mama’s boudoir, and Pike will be in his butlery.”
“Will he hear you slip out of the front door?”
“Probably not, but what should I do when I get out?”
“There will be our carriage waiting for you, of course; just because Edward and I are here does not mean our carriage has to be. Ned Hoskins is perfectly reliable.”
“When shall I meet him?”
“In an hour; you shall go home now, and by the time you have got there, and made preparations, an hour will have gone, I should think. I will have Edward send Hoskins as soon as you are safely away from here.”
Madelaine smiled gratefully.
She made her way over to her mother.
“Mama, I have the most dreadful megrim coming on, I do not think I shall be able to come on the outing you have planned for tomorrow if I have to stay here a moment longer,” she said.
Her mother looked at her sharply.
“What a nuisance you are! Well, we shall have to go home early, I suppose.”
“I do not have to drag you away, Mama, I can go home with my maid, and send the coach back for you.”
Mrs. Vardy considered.
“Very well; you know how to handle these stupid megrims of yours, and I do not want you looking washed out tomorrow. You should have mentioned it earlier.”
“I did not want to be a trouble, Mama.”
“Instead of which you cause more trouble. Away with you!”
Madelaine dropped a little curtsey, and slipped out. It was not hard, because she did often have headaches, which Beth had more than once opined were caused by her mother’s strident tones. Madelaine was not sure if Beth was correct, but feeling under stress did not help them. She was swiftly able to dismiss her maid when she got home, declaring that she did not wish to be fussed over, and was capable of undressing herself. If her maid sighed that this meant clothes left anyhow on the chair, she kept it to herself.
Madelaine certainly undressed, but instead of her nightgown she put on a plain round gown which she wore to tend the flowers in the garden. Throwing her bolster across the bottom of the door to hide any light, so nobody would come to see why she was still wakeful, she quickly packed her plainest gowns. This was a challenge, as Mrs. Vardy did not believe in plain gowns, but there were a few day dresses which might have the decoration removed once in the privacy of her own room at Darsham Hall, and one evening gown, which was Marianne’s favourite for being the least decorated. With underlinen and nightwear, she had filled two bandboxes, but that was manageable. Her one dark pelisse was rather smart, but that would have to do. The rest were too frivolous to contemplate. A plain, straw bonnet would suffice with anything, and Marianne was glad that at least she had good sturdy walking shoes, since Mama considered them less unladylike to walk out to the park than using pattens. She thrust a pair of old, but comfortable, jean half-boots and a couple of pairs of slippers into her band-boxes too. Shoes could get wet through, and Marianne had a vague idea that the countryside was beset with cruel dangers like quagmires as well as vicious farm animals and more aggressive plants than those she was used to. She hoped she would be equal to the challenges!
Once she was packed, and had found a dark muff nearly the colour of her own brunette locks, Marianne blew out her candle, and opened her curtains. Her room faced south, and by now the waning moon was almost at its highest point, giving her enough light, when her eyes had adjusted, to arrange the bolster under her covers, bent to look as though she slept facing away from the door, and the cover drawn up partly over the muff. She had an urge to giggle, and suppressed it firmly. Stealthily she opened her door, and peeked out onto the landing.
Nobody was there.
She grasped the band-boxes, and carefully moved down the stairs, holding her breath as she got to the ground floor, and heard the door of the butler’s pantry on the floor below, followed by kitchen door. Pike had probably gone for some ale and something to eat to fortify himself; even better. She slid open the front door, and was down the steps like a shadow. It would be hard for Pike to see out of the kitchen window which opened onto the area so long as she kept to the right of the steps.
And there was a carriage waiting.
“I need to know your name,” she said, breathlessly to the coachman.
“I’m Ned Hoskins, miss; I’m supposed to take you to Mr. Brandon’s home for the night.”
“Oh! Thank you. I ... I wanted to make sure you were the right person. I’m sorry.”
“Bless you, miss, being cautious like that might save your life one day, don’t go being sorry for having the sense you was born with. Hop in, there’s a hot brick, we’ll be home in a brace of shakes.”
“Thank you,” said Madelaine, with feeling.
It was, indeed, just a short drive, and Ned helped Madelaine with her band boxes, handing her over to a man with one leg and a peg, who cheerfully accepted a guest out of the blue, saw her to her room, and informed her that he knew that a lady would go on better with a hot brick in her bed, which he would fetch, along with hot chocolate and a piece of bread-and-butter, which would go down better at this time of night than macaroons.
Madelaine meekly permitted herself to be fussed over, and then had to find herself a night rail to put herself to bed in.
It may be said she was asleep before Beth and Edward Brandon got home.

Chapter 2

Madelaine awoke the next morning to the sound of her curtains being drawn back, and the smell of freshly brewed tea. She recognised the maid as Beth’s maid, Molly, rescued from a life of crime after falling into the hands of a Madam and escaping from the same. Madelaine hid a sigh; even the Brandon servants tended to have backgrounds which could be most charitable described as ‘interesting’. She smiled at Molly.
“Mornin’, Miss ... Stone,” said the girl. “The mistress bade me bring you something light, like coddled eggs; I hope that’s sufficient.”
Madelaine inspected the tray with two eggs carefully covered to keep them warm, and thin bread and butter.
“Mrs. Brandon is most thoughtful,” she said. She did not normally take more than chocolate and bread and butter, somewhat later in the day, but she found she was hungry enough to manage both eggs. If this was light, she wondered that Beth considered a normal breakfast.
“I’m to spend the day helping you to make over your gowns,” said Molly. “Mrs. Brandon reckons they won’t be plain enough.”
“She’s right. I was planning on sorting them out when I got there, but I’d be grateful for the help,” said Madelaine. “I won’t be long. Am I to keep to my room out of sight?”
“If you didn’t mind, miss,” said Molly. “I’ll have one of the men sort you out a fire presently; if you stay in bed until he’s been, it’s not that warm for the second day of May!”
“No, indeed, it’s most insalubrious weather,” agreed Madelaine. “A fire would be welcome. It’s a nice room, but not cosy.”
“No, miss. Plenty of room to spread out sewing though,” said Molly, curtseying and taking herself off.
The servant who lit the fire neither looked at Madelaine, nor spoke, and she suspected he found being in the room of a lady who was in bed an embarrassing experience. However, he sorted out a nice fire in short order, and withdrew.
Madelaine gave the fire a few minutes to take the worst of the chill off the room, and got dressed in a hurry. She knew Beth well enough to be aware that if a guest had been expected, the fire would have been lit in time to receive her, but she appreciated all that was being done for her comfort. She knew that such courtesies might not be extended to a governess; her own governess had been expected to maintain her own fire, with only the ash removed and more coals brought for her, and she was not to exceed the meagre portion of coal provided. Madelaine had slipped her extra coal from the schoolroom and ordered servants to replenish the coal for the schoolroom fire, but she must not expect too much.
Although, having said that, the Brandons were eccentric enough, and wealthy enough, to treat their servants better than most people did. And summer was coming.

Beth came in with Molly, and they quickly unpacked the clothes Madelaine had brought.
“Good choices” said Beth. “I’d offer you some of the gowns I’ve used for gardening in, but you’re a long meg, and I’m frankly dumpy, you’d look a real quiz in them! We need to give a vague impression of a sensible curate’s daughter, who has bought good quality cloth but none over for extra kickshaws.”
Madelaine nodded.
“I thought these ones could easily have the trims removed,” she said.
“Yes and all of them new enough not to have faded under the trim,” said Beth. “Of course old and well-cared for would be even better, but then, if you had a recent growing spurt, say, who’s to say you didn’t need all new clothes in a hurry. You’ve some good, serviceable calico print and merino day dresses here, yes a single muslin evening gown, and sensible of you to leave most of your muslins at home. Girls who have to do their own laundry choose calico over muslin. It washes more easily. White muslin is for ladies who can afford to change their gown daily and have it washed for them; it shows the smuts too readily for girls who have to work for a living.”
“I’d never thought about it, really,” said Madelaine, “But most of my muslins are figured muslin, embroidered or shot with gold threads, sprigged with self-colour embroidery or covered in lace. I didn’t think they would readily become ordinary and plain.”
“No, quite so,” said Beth. “Well, the sooner we start, the sooner we finish; I’ve written to Adam to tell him I’ve found him a suitable nursemaid-governess for Lydia, so he’ll be expecting you tomorrow, and knowing Edward and me as well as he does, he won’t be surprised to find Hoskins driving you, instead of having to meet you off the mail. No point putting you through that indignity.”
“Have you been through that indignity?” asked Madelaine.
“Yes, when I travelled to become Letty’s companion,” said Beth. “And I considered myself very lucky in the way she treated me. Being a governess or companion can be a most unpleasant business.”
Madelaine nodded.
“I’m fortunate to know the eccentric Brandons,” she said.
“Yes, but then, we are fortunate to have a good friend in you, and to be thankful that you are not in the least like your mother.”
“Mr. Brandon would say ‘tact’ in that tone of voice,” opined Molly, biting off a thread.
Beth laughed.
“He would. But Madelaine knows what I mean.”
“Elaine,” reminded Madelaine.
“Of course,” said Beth.
“And yes, I do know what you mean,” added Madelaine. “And I’m used to you having no tact, which is just as well.”
After some hours sewing, Beth’s nursery maid brought up the Brandons’ adoptive daughter, Kate, and the infant son of the household, James, and no further work got done as the placid baby was passed from hand to hand, with much advice and admonishment from Kate, who guarded her adoptive brother jealously.
By the end of the day, the three gowns chosen by Madelaine were plain and unadorned, and if the cut of them was rather too fashionable for any curate’s daughter in straitened circumstances, then Madelaine did not notice, and Beth hoped that Adam was sufficiently hermit-like not to do so either. One was black, since Mrs. Vardy felt it important for a girl to always have one mourning dress at her disposal, against emergencies like royal deaths, even if her own family was rudely healthy. It was crepe, and though the deep, three inch hem was de rigeur for funerary wear, and might be left, all the jet beading from the bodice and down the front was removed. Fortunately it had all been embroidered onto black muslin shapes, which had themselves been appliquéd to the bodice, and these might be put away to sew back on.
“Forty-six paisley shapes. I am glad I do not have to ruin all the hard work of the embroidress,” said Madelaine. “How clever of her to place all the work on pieces!”
“I hate to intrude reality on your vision of the mantua maker doing all this, but I’m going to do so anyway,” said Beth. “These shapes will have been produced to a pattern by one or more piece-workers, and somehow I doubt that they were graduates of Mrs. Phoebe Wright’s celebrated establishment.”
“Oh, what is that?” asked Madelaine.
“It is a school of embroidery, under the patronage of Queen Charlotte, providing an education and ultimately a living for indigent young gentlewomen with some connexion to court,” said Beth. “But naturally, there are only so many young girls who may be educated there. Your paisley pieces will be on pieces cut by machine to keep them the same size, hemmed, dyed and subsequently beaded by little girls working at home and paid something like a penny per dozen. The world of fashion is very exploitative. Look closely at one of the pieces; though the beads shine and make a beautiful surface, there is no real embroidery to them, one stitch holds several beads down in what is essentially a spiral, working outwards, shaping into the paisley shape as it goes, and the patterns made with larger silver beads between the jet and glass.”
“Why, so it is! I had never looked closely.”
“Reckon it’s still better nor being a chimbly sweep,” put in Kate.
“Yes, sweetheart, almost anything is better than being a chimney sweep,” said Beth, having rescued her adoptive daughter from that cruel profession.
“It doesn’t seem right, somehow, that children should make these, and a modiste take all the credit and mark up the price so much,” said Madelaine. “Why, these four dozen or so would only earn fourpence, and beading on a gown adds many guineas to the price.”
“The cost of the beads has to be taken into account, and the time and skill placing them, but yes, the cost of beading a gown when such poor wages are paid is far less than what is charged,” said Beth.
“I suppose the ribbon flowers we took off the brown calico would be the same?” asked Madelaine.
“More than likely,” said Beth. “You may be sure, though, that the makers of the Honiton lace on the collar we removed from the drab-printed gown with the fern patterns will have been paid more for their travails, since lace-making is very skilled and takes years to learn.”
“I am glad of that, at least,” said Madelaine. “Why, I feel quite guilty over my finery!”
“At least your finery produces employment when so many families have lost their menfolk, who have gone to be soldiers,” said Beth.

Adam, Baron Darsham, tossed a letter to his sister, Daphne.
“Beth appears to have found me a governess for Lydia,” he said.
“She’s too young for a governess, but if it’s someone prepared to be a nursemaid and able to take up duties as a governess, all well and good,” said Daphne. “What’s Beth up to?”
“I have no idea, but probably some kind of elaborate plot,” said Adam. “Being Beth, it will at least be a benign elaborate plot. I expect it is some friend of hers fallen on hard times.”
“More than likely, and quite right to do something about it,” said Daphne. “What’s the girl’s name?”
“Elaine Stone; I don’t know the name,” said Adam. “Likely she’s the widow or daughter of one of Edward’s needy soldiers.”
“Well, Beth knows better than to send someone who cannot manage the King’s English as it should be spoken, though it’s not that long since the King’s English was German,” said Daphne.
“I know you won’t judge her for her origins, because of Giles,” said Adam.
Daphne blushed.
“I am glad you do not judge Giles,” said Daphne.
“I would not have judged Giles when you first loved him, when you were a schoolroom chit,” said Adam. “It must have raised some eyebrows, and had I been head of the family then, I should have insisted on a long engagement to ensure that your heart was truly engaged, not the very natural lust of a young girl for a handsome and muscular young man. A son of the bailiff might not have suited my father, but I would have rather had him educated to take up a position as estate steward, perhaps running one of my smaller properties, rather than force him into the army. Our parent was not always a sensible man, but he was a man of his time.”
“There aren’t many fathers who would be as liberal as you nowadays,” retorted Daphne. “Confess, though, it makes it easier to introduce him since he had that field commission, engaging in who knows what hardships and difficulty in finding and rescuing his officer.”
“It makes it easier for Giles to meet people of our class, knowing that as an officer he is automatically accounted a gentleman,” said Adam. “To my mind he has always had a better air of address and more gentlemanly instincts than your late, and unlamented, husband. Papa did well enough in choosing Bromley for Cassandra, though the poor man has ever been henpecked, but his strategy of allying the family with industry went sadly awry with Swithin Caldecot. However! The fellow is hanged now, so you and Giles may put up the banns as soon as you wish.”
“Yes, I believe we might, though I do not know how long I may have to be away with poor Marjorie, I am waiting to see if the post brings anything from her to say if she needs me after this terrible coaching accident. I thought it was a letter from her, when one of Edward’s soldiers turned up.”
“I heard the post horn across the fields not long since, I expect the mail will be over from Saxmundham presently,” said Adam. “I do not like your daughter’s husband any more than I liked her father who chose him. I might ask Edward for a loan of some of his soldiers, even cripples are trained men, if they retain their pride, and might loan you some protection.”
“Can I really be in danger, in Suffolk?”
“I do not know ... ah! The post,” as a servant came in.
Daphne took the letter proffered to her, and read it, frowning.
“Good grief! Braithwaite is run madder than ever; you know Marjorie was taken into the vicarage, it seems that her wretch of a husband has actually beaten the son of the vicar for refusing to give up a letter, because he assumed it was clandestine mail from Marjorie! The vicar threw him out, and quite right too. The horrid creature is declaring he will have his revenge on the Rev. Forester, and Marjorie fears he will beat her, broken leg and miscarriage notwithstanding, if he discovers that she has written to me, her own mother forsooth! And that if she leaves him, he will take the children. Adam, this wretch cannot be permitted to terrorise my daughter, and that poor man, surely?” asked Daphne. “You are head of the family, my brother: please do something.”
“Unfortunately, he may be permitted to terrorise his own wife, and his own children,” replied Adam. “However, I believe we might travel with two coaches, and fill one of them with some of Edward’s old soldiers whom he has found jobs for. Even wounded soldiers will be more than a match for the sorts of common mohocks which Braithwaite might hire to harm Forester.”
“It is very convenient of our dear nephew to turn his charitable thoughts to those poor wretches invalided out,” said Daphne. “I shall feel safer if we are supported and guarded thus. What is to be done when her leg heals, though?”
“That is something which needs to be considered deeply,” said Adam. “But I can try to use my position to intimidate him. It is something I deplore, however, for a man with a title to use it to terrorise another man. It smacks of the arrogance of the French, which led to the revolution.”
“Adam, if you can save my daughter and grandchildren, I should not care if you acted like a … a Jacobin!” said Daphne. “If need be, you must kidnap her and the children and hide them somewhere!”
Adam forbore to point out that Aristos and Jacobins were on opposite sides of the conflict; he doubted that his sister actually cared.
“We shall set matters in train; and if I need to accompany you, hopefully this Elaine Smith will be able to pacify Lydia regarding my absence.”
“You would think the child was your own daughter, not the bastard of your divorced wife, the way you indulge her,” said Daphne. “Finchbury would doubtless take her; he’s rearing his other byblows, and it’s not as if he was knowingly cuckolding you when Tiffany let him seduce her.”
“I am well aware that Finchbury and Imogen would take Lydia, but I have grown fond of her,” said Adam. “I have adopted her as my daughter, so she will be provided for, as I could not have done had she been a boy. And I love her as a daughter.”
“She is an engaging child,” said Daphne. “Let us hope that this Miss Stone is all you could hope for in a governess.”

Chapter 3

Madelaine alighted from the carriage, with the help of Ned Hoskins, and surveyed her new home for however long she might stay. Darsham Hall was the sort of house which looked as though it had just grown out of the landscape, rather than having been remodelled every few generations. It was predominantly brick, with the diaper-work of black bricks criss-cossing in pattern on the red marking it as mainly Tudor. The two wings looked to be later, though still built of brick, with fine large oriel windows. Madelaine hesitated, band boxes in hand, wondering whether she should go to the front door, or go in search of a servant’s entrance.
Her decision was made for her by the opening of the front door. It was a grand affair beset with Palladian columns, and surmounted with a pediment, looking rather at odds with the rest of the building, like a staid puritan maid wearing a toque with feathers, though Madelaine, whimsically.
A footman issued from the door and took the bandboxes.
“If miss would come within, his lordship will see you when you have hung up your pelisse and refreshed yourself,” he murmured.
“Thank you,” said Madelaine. The facilities of a cloakroom would be welcome after a long drive, though Hoskins had broken the journey at an inn for her to eat. After she had made herself comfortable, and checked in the mirror that she had picked up no grime on her face from travel and that her hair was still neatly held in the severe bun Beth had suggested, she drew a long, shuddering breath, and presented herself to the waiting footman to be conducted to her new employer.
Having understood that Lord Darsham was in his late fifties, she was surprised to be greeted by a tall, handsome man, with hair as blond as butter, piercing blue-grey eyes, and a face as unblemished by age as she might expect on a man not yet forty.
“Ah, Miss Stone,” said Adam, surveying the new governess. He liked what he saw; a tall girl, who carried herself well. Adam was not to know that Madelaine was able to stand up without drooping since her mother was not there to frighten her into cringing, so she made a better impression than she usually managed. She had fine, dark eyes, which might be missed under rather heavy brows. The girl’s eyebrows might give the impression that she frowned when she did not. It would be something to watch with Lydia, in case they frightened the child.She was quite pretty, but had too positive a nose for true beauty, though of course there were those women like Grace Dalrymple Elliot who wore such a noble nose with as much grace as her name suggested.
“Excuse me, are you Lord Darsham?” Madelaine sounded surprised. “I was not expecting so young a man.”
Adam laughed.
“I’m fifty-seven,” he said. “Those of us who manage to avoid too exciting a lifestyle tend to survive well into our eighties. Indeed, one of the many byblows of the tenth baron, that’s Peter the Pirate, is a centenarian this year, and is much celebrated in the village. Gaffer Pirate, they call him, though he’s never been to sea, and his stories about my notorious ancestor are entirely fictional. The village children love to hear them, though, and I’ve had my secretary write them down to be published as a children’s book, for the royalties will help his family.”
“My goodness!” said Madelaine. “If you are the sixteenth baron though ...”
“Very few of his successors led peaceful lives,” said Adam, dryly. “The title devolved to his brother, since Peter never managed any legitimate offspring, who survived him by four years. His eldest son was murdered by his wife for his peccadilloes, the next son succumbed to a hunting accident, the third drowned, and the fourth, my grandfather, lived until he was ninety, but having run off with gypsies for a quarter of a century, my father was somewhat put out by his return. My father died of dyspepsia and bad temper at the early age of seventy-five. I make an effort to be philosophical rather than choleric, to eat well but in moderation, to rise early and to exercise. It seems to have a beneficial effect.”
“Yes, indeed,” said Madelaine, hardly knowing what to say.
Adam laughed.
“Most families try to conceal their scandals; if you mean to be associated with us, you need to be aware that we put ours on display to frighten people away.”
“I’ve heard nothing to frighten me away, my lord.”
“Good; then perhaps you will tell me something about yourself?”
“Oh, I have nothing interesting in my life or my family; I think I answer that with a Shakespearian quote, ‘a blank, my lord.’”
“Dear me! Well as I recall, that was a line said by Viola, who was at the time masquerading as her own brother, Sebastian. If it should turn out that you are Sebastian, masquerading as Viola, it doesn’t much matter at the moment, but I would be put out about it as Lydia gets old enough for it to be improper.”
“Oh my, I should rather think so! I am not a man; do I look like one?”
“No, but you have a strong bone structure which would make a rather pretty man, perhaps a touch effeminate, and goodness knows, such men exist.”
“I suppose so, or they would not be able to play women in the days before women took to the stage,” said Madelaine.
“Well, I can’t say I think you will have any difficulty fitting in with the household if you can take and run with one of my whimsical trains of thought,” said Adam. “Of course, the important person to impress is Lydia. She’s obedient enough for me, but can be a small demon of mischief if she takes against someone. Fortunately she’s sunny natured and it doesn’t happen often, but I had occasion to go to town with my sister and left her with the former curate’s widow, and came back to discover that Lydia acted as though the woman didn’t exist. Turned out the fool female had informed her that she was a lucky little girl to be treated as though she was respectably born not a nameless bastard. I do not permit such denigration of my little girl. And you may as well know that I think of her as my little girl, not a foundling.”
“Why, of course you do; it must be natural to do so,” said Madelaine.
“Good; so long as that is clear,” said Adam. “I haven’t yet addressed whether I am going to be ‘Uncle Adam’ or ‘Papa’ and she hasn’t named me as either yet, and I fear I was deferring the moment to when she decided.”
“Why, sir, if she is adopted, then ‘Papa’ seems suitable, since she has known no other father; though you are a connexion now of her natural father, are you not?”
“Yes, and he has asked to know her, but has permitted me the rearing of her.”
Madelaine nodded.
“It seems to me that ‘Papa’ is the one who is there for a child,” she said.
“You miss your father, don’t you?”
“Yes. Yes, I do. He was quiet, but he could exert himself if he felt it important. He died when I was thirteen, and it was a sad loss. How did you know?”
“You are quite positive on the role of a papa, and it makes me think that you were close to yours. You are not poverty stricken, Miss Stone.”
“What makes you say so?” Madelaine prevaricated.
“You are wearing a brown merino round gown of excellent cut and fit, and the bodice is cut on the bias for a better shape to the figure as well as for greater comfort. Your shoes are sensible, but of Spanish leather, and nicely tooled by a cordwainer worthy of his hire. I noticed your pelisse as you came up the steps, and it is the latest crack of fashion with military frogging to celebrate the Duke’s endeavours against Bonaparte. It should have been worn with a little shako hat, not a villager bonnet, but I suspect you thought I would find that frivolous. I may not be a man of fashion, but it’s not a costume that is worn by someone on an income less than a thousand pounds a year.”
“I ... my reverses are very recent, and I need to make my own way.”
“Oh, you have a haven here, and I will not ask questions about whether you are on the run from a wealthy, but abusive, husband, running to avoid being married to a man not your choice, running from a cruel family or hiding out because you have made your way as a courtesan and was foolish enough to fall in love with your protector who has got married.”
“My lord!”
“Was that shocking? It wouldn’t trouble me in the least, so long as your care of Lydia is all that Beth has promised it will be. As I said, I will not ask questions. If, at any time, you care to confide in me, I will keep a confidence. If you feel you are in trouble, I will do what I can to help you. I have, at least, not suggested that you are a brilliant French spy who fears being caught and wishes to lie low. You see, I have a most lurid imagination, but I will indulge it only in private for my own amusement, and will not, after today, plague you with it. But I want you to know that I wasn’t cutting my eye teeth yesterday, and I am aware that you are not as you wish to seem. Beth and Edward feel you worth taking trouble over, and that is enough for me.”
“I see, my lord. Thank you,” said Madelaine. “May I meet Lydia?”
“Certainly. She should have woken from her afternoon nap by now and be ready to play. Shall I throw you to the wolves and leave you with her? Her maid knows her routine and will advise her, and I fancy you will not attempt to disrupt it the way the curate’s widow did.”
“No, of course I shall not; it would be most unkind,” said Madelaine.
“Ah, a younger person is perhaps more willing to adapt their own routine than an older one,” said Adam. “Lydia likes to play until tea and then often dozes again until dinner, when she is awake and wanting quiet play and stories until eleven. Then she will sleep through quite happily until seven in the morning.”
Madelaine nodded.
“I can see that the widow felt that children should have a set bedtime, but I don’t suppose Lydia understands time yet, and sleeps when she is tired and is wakeful when she is not.”
“Exactly. We keep fairly early hours here as a rule, and Lydia barely precedes us to bed. I rise earlier than she does however,” he said with a smile.
“Am I to be in charge of getting her up?”
“No, that is the task of her maid, who will also give her breakfast. I do not expect you to take on any of the physical care of her; a servant may do that. But I want her to have stimulating company during the morning, encouraging her towards learning, and between her naps, and to tell her stories after dinner. You will dine with the family, of course, as will Lydia when she is old enough to digest an evening meal. Which will not be for another couple of years at least. I consider that children who grow up eating with their elders have better habits and wider conversation than those kept in the nursery until they are practically on the town.”
“I certainly found public dining to be very trying, indeed, frightening, for having been kept in the schoolroom until I was out,” said Madelaine, dryly.
“Then you will understand why I do something many find shocking,” said Adam. “The children of my family are dear to me, and I don’t see why I should lose their company for a meal.”
“This will be why all the world considers the Brandons to be the happiest bedlamites there are .... Oh, I do beg your pardon!” Madelaine put a horrified hand to her mouth.
Adam laughed.
“I can see you are accustomed to speak much with Beth, who paints word pictures of us, warts and all,” he said.
“Beth is tremendously proud of her family,” said Madelaine. “She revels in being different.”
“Oh, so too do we all; it’s one of the things that makes us Brandons of Darsham,” said Adam. “We dare to be different.”
“I am sure Lydia will grow up with the same attitude, even if she is not a Brandon by blood,” said Madelaine.
“Her natural father is doing his best to be one of us,” laughed Adam. “And his eldest, Jasper, certainly is a part of the family, without a doubt.”
“Then I shall endeavour to fit in as well,” said Madelaine.
“That is going beyond the call of duty, and I appreciate it,” said Adam. “The nursery is this way.”

Heiress in Hiding 1-3

Sarah WaldockDecember 23, 2017 06:41PM

Re: Heiress in Hiding 1-3

Agnes BeatrixDecember 24, 2017 08:07PM

Re: confused?

Sarah WaldockDecember 26, 2017 08:32PM

Re: confused?

Agnes BeatrixDecember 27, 2017 09:44PM

Re: confused?

Sarah WaldockDecember 27, 2017 10:14PM

Re: confused?

Agnes BeatrixDecember 27, 2017 11:42PM

Re: confused?

Sarah WaldockJanuary 03, 2018 09:31PM

Re: Heiress in Hiding 1-3

AlidaDecember 24, 2017 01:28AM


Sarah WaldockDecember 24, 2017 12:46PM

Re: Heiress in Hiding 1-3

shoshana32December 23, 2017 11:41PM


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