|Publisher:||Magna Large Print Books|
|Edition description:||Large Print|
Read an Excerpt
"What do you think, Simpers?"
Miss Patricia Patterson held up the silk purse she had just netted.
Her governess, Miss Simpkin, smiled indulgently. "Beautiful. Quite beautiful, Miss Patricia. You are so clever. I declare I have never met a young lady who could do so much. Is that not true, Miss Evans?"
Patricia's old nanny, who had been dozing in a rocker by the nursery fire, came awake with a start and said automatically, "Prettiest girl for miles around is my little miss. None to touch her," and fell asleep again.
The nursery fire crackled cheerfully, and well-trimmed oil lamps cast a rosy glow over the small room.
Patricia was sixteen years of age and could have used any of the magnificent rooms downstairs, but she much preferred the shabby comfort of the old nursery, not to mention the doting compliments from her old nanny and governess.
She was a pretty girl, rather on the plump side. Her hair, a true strawberry blond, was her greatest beauty, but she also had wide, pansy-brown eyes, a small straight nose, and a perfect mouth.
Although her parents had died the year before, Patricia considered herself the luckiest of girls.
Her parents had been elderly--her birth coming as a great surprise to her mother when the late Mrs. Patterson had found herself with child at the great age of forty. She had not seen much of them, but when she did they had always praised and petted her and told her she was wonderful. They had both died in an influenza epidemic and although, for a while, she had felt their loss keenly, that loss was quickly healed by her ever-present companions, Miss Simpkin and Miss Evans.
MissSimpkin had never really exerted herself to teach Patricia very much, and since Patricia detested lessons, they both got along very well. Patricia adored all kinds of gossip and frivolity and Gothic novels.
A certain Lord Charles Gaunt had been appointed her guardian in her father's will. Patricia had never met Lord Charles, but her father had often spoken of him, praising him as a young man of remarkable good sense. Patricia thought he was probably a bore.
So far, Lord Charles had not put in an appearance. He was to have control of Patricia's home, Burnham House, its estates, and Patricia's fortune until she married.
He had written from time to time from the Continent, brief notes apologizing for business affairs which were preventing him from returning.
As the weeks passed, Lord Charles's letters stopped. Patricia had high hopes they would never be troubled with him. She did not need anyone to find her a husband. There were men a-plenty in the county, and lots of delicious parties and balls to attend.
She knew some of the old dowagers at the last hunt ball had complained to Miss Simpkin, who had acted as chaperone, that she was flirting too boldly and behaving in a disgustingly fast manner, but Miss Simpkin could find no fault in her beloved Patricia.
The house was excellently run by a well-trained staff, and the estates by a competent steward; all Patricia had to do was to amuse herself and talk about beaux, and send to London for expensive gowns to wear at the next county ball or party.
"Thank goodness the weather is so bad," yawned Patricia. "I do not feel like entertaining anyone and I do not think callers will venture out in such weather."
The wind howled around the eaves and the rain pattered against the glass of the windows, emphasizing the coziness of the room.
Then there came the rumble of carriage wheels below.
"Oh, fiddle! Callers." Patricia ran to the window and looked down.
"Well, there is a very grand coachman on the box," she said. "Dressed in the finest stare. So many capes and the latest in beaver hats. Outriders with flambeaux. They must have come a long way, whoever they are. I can only see the tops of their heads. No, the driver must be some fine lord, driving the carriage himself, for what is recognizable as a coachman has appeared around the other side of the carriage.
"Good heavens! What a quantity of luggage..." Her voice trailed away and she swung about, wide-eyed. "Never say Lord Charles has arrived at last."
Miss Simpkin joined her at the window. In the flickering light of the torches, she could see a tall figure striding about giving orders.
"I think it must be," she twittered. "Run and put on your best muslin, Miss Patricia."
Patricia did not have a lady's maid, being content to call on the help of one of the chambermaids if she needed her hair frizzled, or the tapes of her gown tied at the back. Her hair that evening was done up in curl papers, since she had been trying out the new style called ¨¤ la Brutus, which involved normal-sized curls on the front and masses of tight curls over the rest of the head. One was supposed to leave in the papers for at least twenty-four hours to ensure the correct effect. Most gentlewomen sat down to dinner these days in their curl papers if there was to be a ball or party the following night.
She reluctantly took them out. An hour later she was still not satisfied with the effect.
The visitor was Lord Charles, and an increasingly nervous butler had sent up two messages already to say that his lordship was waiting to speak to Patricia in the drawing room.
Each time, Patricia had crossly replied he would just have to wait. Hair was more important.
It took her another hour before she was satisfied with her appearance. She descended the stairs with Miss Simpkin twittering in her wake.
Most of the house was pretty much the way Patricia's parents had left it, a mixture of old and new furniture, statuary brought back from the Grand Tour, and the late Mrs. Patterson's collection of china.
But Patricia had refurbished the drawing room to her own taste. Sofas and armchairs were upholstered in pink and gold. Several bad portraits of Patricia painted by local amateurs graced the walls. Huge bunches of exotic flowers from the hothouses--arranged every day whether or not there were guests--scented the air. A large fire burned on the hearth.
Looking very out of place in the middle of all this flowery feminine pink and gold was Lord Charles. He was a very tall, handsome man in a harsh-featured way. His thick hair was artistically dressed, but worn longer than was the current fashion and curled on his collar. He was wearing a severe black coat with silver buttons, buff knee breeches, and clocked stockings. His white cravat was a snowy miracle of intricate folding and starch. His eyes were heavy-lidded and very green--a disconcerting emerald green without a trace of hazel.
Patricia waited confidently for his eyes to light up with pleasure when he saw her. But he glared at her and did not bother to walk forward to greet her. He merely stood where he was in front of the fire.
"I am glad you have decided to honor me with your company, Miss Patricia," he said. "Did your parents never tell you it is rude to keep guests waiting?"
"I did not expect you, my lord," said Patricia. "I wished to look my best for you and so I took time over my appearance."
She pirouetted in front of him, giggled, and sank into a curtsy.
The green eyes surveying her looked, if anything, a trifle colder and harder.
"Sit down!" He pulled forward a chair. "Who is this lady?"
"My governess, Simpers."
"For God's sake!"
"I m-mean, Miss Simpkin," stammered Patricia, beginning to feel very nervous. Not one gentleman in all her young life had failed to be charmed by her.
Lord Charles bowed to Miss Simpkin and said, "Please leave me alone with my ward, Miss Simpkin. I shall speak to you presently."
Miss Simpkin felt she should say something complimentary about her charge, but the tall autocrat in front of her frightened her to death. She emitted various rabbity squeaks, such as, "Too kind ... honored ... dear Miss Patricia..." and fled the room.
"Good," said Lord Charles, flicking out the tails of his coat and sitting down. "Now, Patricia, I am sorry I took so long to get here, but business affairs kept me abroad. Who has been taking care of you since the sad death of your parents?"
"I do not need anyone to take care of me," said Patricia, trying to copy his haughty manner and failing miserably. "I have my governess and my old nanny for company. The house, as you see, is well run and the servants excellent. I have a good steward to oversee the land."
"Do you have friends? It must be a very quiet and boring life for you."
"Oh, no." Patricia brightened. "There are so many balls and parties, particularly in the winter. Why, there is amusement at least once a week."
His thin brows snapped together.
"You are too young to go to balls or parties. You should not even have your hair up--if 'up' can describe that shorn-sheep look of yours."
"You are sadly out of the World," said Patricia. "This coiffure is called ¨¤ la Brutus and is all the crack."
"I am well aware of the current fashions. If you must wear these outlandish styles, then employ a hairdresser and do not attempt to arrange it yourself."
"I did employ a hairdresser."
"Liar." He smiled, and Patricia felt quite dizzy.
"I am glad to see you still have a governess," he went on. "Education is very important. May I see your books?"
"Of course. There are some on the table beside you."
Lord Charles quirked an eyebrow at the pile of Gothic horror stories and said, "I mean, your schoolbooks. What have you been studying? Geometry? Italian?"
"No, stoopid!" laughed Patricia. "Ladies do not need to learn any of that nonsense, as well you know. I can knit and sew to perfection. I can paint watercolors and play the pianoforte. What more could possibly be required of me?"
"I feel that, were your brain disciplined, it might improve your pert manner. I am sorry to say there is a certain sad vulgarity about your behavior, Patricia, not to mention your taste."
His eyes raked over her, from the low cut of her pink and gold gown, with its multitude of bows and frills, to the silk flowers in her hair.
"Oh!" Patricia gasped with outrage.
"But that can be mended. You are still very young. I shall find a lady to instruct you. Miss Simpkin is obviously not up to the task of disciplining a hoyden such as you."
"I have never been so insulted in all my life!"
"Then it is time you were. When do we dine?"
Patricia stared at him in a fury. He talked calmly of getting rid of poor Simpers, of disciplining her, he had grossly insulted her, and now he was calmly demanding food.
She was not vulgar. She was not a hoyden.
"I usually dine in the nursery with Miss Simpkin and Nanny Evans," said Patricia. "That is, unless I have guests."
"You have a guest now." He rang the bell and asked the butler, "When is dinner to be served?"
"We were only awaiting your call, my lord," said the butler with what Patricia thought was cringing obsequiousness.
"Then we shall dine immediately. Your arm, Miss Patricia."
Patricia, her head held high, stalked in front of him. He caught her arm and pulled her back. "Do not disgrace yourself in front of the servants," he muttered. And then, tucking her arm under his own, he led her to the dining room.
Since there was only the two of them, the dining table had been shortened, but there was still a long distance between them when they sat down at opposite ends.
A footman carried in a tureen of mulligatawny soup and placed it in front of Lord Charles. The butler poured a glass of Rhenish for Lord Charles and moved down the table to fill Patricia's glass.
"No," said Lord Charles gently. "Lemonade, I think."
"I am accustomed to wine," said Patricia crossly.
"I have no doubt. But while I am your guardian, you will confine yourself to fruit cup and lemonade until your first Season."
A formal dinner normally lasted for five hours, but since this family dinner was regarded as semiformal, Patricia could hope to escape after only two hours. She was so furious, she mumbled short replies to his questions and barely touched her food. The soup was followed by roast turkey, then sweet-breads, removed by beef collops ¨¤ la Tortue served with various vegetables. That was the first course. The second consisted of roast partridge, removed by guinea fowl and snipe, followed by mince pies, cheescakes, apricot tart, a caramel basket of meringues, and a Chantilly cake.
Then the cloth was taken off and Patricia sighed with relief as the fruit and nuts were placed on the polished table, along with the silver trolley containing decanters of port, Lisbon, and Madeira.
She said she would leave him to his port, and escaped thankfully upstairs to the nursery.
"My dear Miss Patricia," exclaimed Miss Simpkin, "my lord will expect you in the drawing room!"
"Nonsense, Simpers. You know and I know that all that business of the gentlemen joining the ladies after dinner is a polite fiction. They never finish until they fall under the table. Even the Reverend Jessamy had to be scooped off the floor the last time he was here. I do think Firkin is wonderful, all those polite lies he tells so well." Firkin was the butler. Patricia lowered her voice.
"'The Reverend Mr. Jessamy has been taken poorly by a fit of the colic, Mrs. Jessamy, and awaits you in the carriage. The Honorable Mr. Brian Pettifor begs leave to tell you, Miss Pettifor, that he has had one of his dizzy spells and awaits you in the carriage.' And all the ladies murmur, 'Of course, poor John, and James, or Brian,' and I stand at the door and kiss them good-bye and hope so sincerely that poor John or James or Brian's malady will soon disappear. I shall not see horrible Lord Charles again this evening. Do you know, he is going to engage a dragon to teach me geometry and dreadful useless things like that. I fear he is going to replace you!"
"Oh ... oh ... oh!" screamed Miss Simpkin, going into strong hysterics.
"What is the meaning of this?" demanded a cross voice from the doorway. Lord Charles stood there, his broad shoulders filling the frame, looking at the scene--Patricia blushing, Miss Simpkin hysterical, and old Nanny Evans snoring through the whole thing.
"I told Miss Simpkin you were going to get some other governess," said Patricia defiantly.
"I did not say I would turn her out," he snapped. "Control yourself, Miss Simpkin. Patricia, you had no right to come up here. I expected you in the drawing room, and out of courtesy followed you there after a few moments. I should have known that courtesy would be wasted on someone as heedless and thoughtless as you. Go downstairs immediately and leave me to reassure Miss Simpkin."
"You shall not bully her!" cried Patricia, clenching her fists.
"I shall not upset her." He stood aside and held open the door. "Downstairs, immediately, Patricia!"
Miss Simpkin was now sobbing quietly. Patricia threw her a helpless look and left the room. As soon as she was in the drawing room, she ran to the mirror and studied her reflection. How strange! She was looking every bit as beautiful as ever. Why was Lord Charles being so nasty to her?
She plumped down on a sofa, put her chin on her hand, and thought furiously. The only thing she could possibly think of doing was to make life so miserable for Lord Charles that he would leave. When this governess-creature arrived, well, she would soon be routed.
She was so engrossed in plots and schemes that she did not even notice Lord Charles entering the room. He was tired and worried. He studied Patricia as she sat deep in thought by the fire. With her hair properly dressed and in a gown more suited to her tender years, he felt sure she would look quite beautiful. The combination of gold hair shot with faint red lights and large dark brown eyes and a creamy skin could be devastating.
He did not blame her for being vain and empty-headed. Those two old doting retainers upstairs were enough to addle any child's wits. And she was a child, a child who had learned to please the gentlemen wih her pretty parlor tricks.
"Do you play the pianoforte, Miss Patricia?" he asked.
She started at the sound of his deep voice and stood up. "Of course," she said.
"Then I should like to hear you play."
"First tell me about poor Miss Simpkin."
"Miss Simpkin has nothing to worry about. She has been with you since you were little more than a baby, and I do not believe in turning off servants when their usefulness is over. She will continue to instruct you in lighter subjects such as needlework and watercolor painting while she enjoys a well-earned semiretirement.
"As you know, under the terms of your father's will your fortune remains in my hands until you are either twenty-one or married. Needless to say, should you marry before you are twenty-one, then it must be to a man of whom I approve.
"I shall stay here only until I think you have improved enough to make your come-out on your seventeenth birthday. I have my own estates to manage."
"Your wife will miss you," said Patricia hopefully.
"I am not married."
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