The Scarred GovernessOf Livington Manor
Rosalie Stewart sat at her father’s bedside, watching his pale face as he slept.
“Oh, when will that darn physician arrive?” she whispered to herself, chewing on her lip.
That day was not the first that his condition had taken a downturn since he fell ill two months prior. It was the worst she had seen him, and it had happened in just a matter of minutes, right before her eyes. She prayed the doctor would arrive with medicine and help her father to feel better, so he could continue to fight his illness.
Rosalie looked outside, hoping to distract herself from her worry and frustration. But the cold winter day offered her nothing in the way of solace. Rather, the gray sky and heavy snowfall only added to her despair. On such days, it was impossible to believe that things would ever get better.
At long last, she heard a knock on the front door, sounding muffled through the closed door of her father’s chambers. She quietly rose and slipped out of the room, hurrying to the door to usher the physician inside.
“Tell me a little about his new symptoms,” the doctor said, giving her a warm smile as she led him back to her father’s room.
“The only new symptom is a terrible wheezing in his chest,” she said. “Apart from that, his fever has spiked drastically, unlike ever before, and it is resistant to my efforts to lower it. He is also having trouble communicating clearly with me again, but this time, he mostly just mumbles. And what I can hear is essentially nonsense.”
The physician nodded, his eyes calculating. He remained silent until they reached Albert Stewart’s sickbed.
“Good day, Mr. Stewart,” the doctor said gently, just loud enough for the ill man to hear.
When her father did not stir right away, the physician looked at Rosalie gravely.
“Perhaps you should step outside while I conduct my examination,” he said.
Rosalie opened her mouth to protest, but then she glanced at her father. The most important thing was getting him well. And if the physician believed he could best do that with her waiting outside, then she would do just that.
“Very well,” she said. “I will be just here in the hallway. Please fetch me as soon as you have finished.”
The doctor nodded again, giving her a silent, understanding smile. Rosalie stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her. Please help my father, she prayed silently, though she did not know quite to whom. Then, there was nothing but to wait, which Rosalie thought would claim her sanity.
When the physician emerged from her father’s room, his face was tired and grim. Still, she held hope that he could offer her some good news.
“Were you able to help Father?” she asked.
The doctor looked at her, his eyes filling with sadness that was quickly felt in her heart.
“Miss Stewart,” he said, in a voice as grave as his expression. “I am afraid that there is nothing more I can do for your father. The illness is claiming him, and fast. I have given him medicine to make him comfortable, but apart from that, he is beyond treatment.”
“No,” she whispered. “Surely, there is something else that can be done. Could another doctor help us?”
The physician shook his head sadly.
“Your father lies on his deathbed, my dear,” he said, giving her arm a gentle pat. “Even if another physician could come to you today, in this weather, I fear your father would not be alive to see him.”
Rosalie closed her eyes, praying she would awaken from a bad dream. But when she opened them, the physician was still looking at her with heartbroken sympathy. She felt guilty for implying that he had not done his job with examining her father properly
“Thank you, doctor,” she said. “Please, do not think I was questioning your skills. I just cannot believe that I am losing my father.”
The doctor shook his head, giving her a warm smile.
“Not at all, Miss Stewart,” he said. “I understand your sentiment perfectly. I am only sorry that I have had to give you such terrible news.”
Rosalie wiped tears from her cheeks.
“You did all you could,” she said. “And for that, I shall forever be grateful.”
She reached into her dress pocket and pulled out her coin purse. She paid the physician, trying not to wince as she realized it was the last of the coin she had. Then, she walked him silently to the door, seeing that he got safely into his hackney, with all the snow that rested on the ground.
Once he was gone, she wiped her face with her handkerchief and went into her father’s room. She tried to be brave, but the sight of her dying father tore her heart to bits.
Albert Stewart stirred when his daughter entered the room. He gave her a weak smile, and she felt more tears begin to fall.
“Come, sit with me, my darling daughter,” he said, weakly motioning for her to come to him.
Rosalie obeyed, taking his outstretched hand in both of hers.
“You should rest, Father,” she said, choking back sobs.
The dying merchant shook his head.
“The time for rest comes soon enough already,” he said. “But now, I wish to say something very important to you.”
Rosalie could not suppress the sob that escaped her throat. She knew her father was preparing to say goodbye to her, and she was devastated. But as much as it hurt, she could not bring herself to deny her father his dying words.
“Of course, Papa,” she said, crying. “I will hear what you have to say.”
Her father nodded, taking a slow, labored breath.
“I fear I have not told you this enough in the time we have had together,” he said, a rattle beginning in his chest as he spoke. “But I wish to tell you now. You have always been the most special person I have ever known. And you always will be special, Rosie. I need you to promise me that, no matter what, you will always remember how special you are. You are smart, capable, and absolutely beautiful. You must not ever forget it, sweetheart. Please. . .”
He trailed off as breathing became more of a struggle for him.
Rosalie squeezed and patted his hand, sobbing uncontrollably. She would never dream of leaving her father to die alone, but watching it actually happen was breaking her heart to pieces.
“I promise, Papa,” she said, ignoring the urge to argue with him. Now was not the time to tell him how much she disagreed with him, or how hideous she believed she really was.
Albert slowly regained some ability to speak, and he took another congested breath.
“Thank you,” he said, motioning to his daughter’s heart. “And one more thing, Rosie dear. You must also always stay true to yourself. There is nothing more important in life than that. Be true to yourself, and you will never feel any doubt.”
Rosalie nodded, even though she did not quite understand what her father meant. She wanted to ask him, but he was fading fast, and she knew they were almost out of time. If she did not make the most of the time they had, she would not get to say goodbye to her father. That was something with which she could not live.
“I will, Papa,” she said, wiping tears from her cheeks, only to have them replaced with more instantly. “I will do as you ask.”
The merchant tried to nod, but his entire torso began to seize, and his breath came shortly and with difficulty.
“Papa, I love you,” she said through her sobs. “Rest now. I will be here with you for as long as you need me.”
Albert gasped, turning his head weakly to his daughter.
“I love you too, Rosie,” he rattled. “Goodbye, darling.”
“Goodbye, Papa,” she whispered.
The man tensed in his bed, gripping Rosalie’s hand tighter than he ever had before. Then, he relaxed, for the very last time, his breath escaping him with a final, vicious rattle. And then, silent stillness.
Rosalie sat and cried for half an hour. She knew she must summon the physician once more, but she was too bereft to move.
When at last she did, she quickly scribbled a note, to be delivered immediately. She could not bring herself to leave her father’s side, even though he was no longer with her. Then, she waited, grateful for the numbness that claimed her as she did so.
The funeral was very small, attended only by a couple of her father’s closest friends, whose names Rosalie was too depressed to remember. She thanked them for attending, and for their condolences, nonetheless. Her aunt was there, as well.
As she was her mother’s sister, Rosalie had only met Grace a few times in her life. The last time she had seen her aunt was shortly before her father fell ill. She had always been kind to Rosalie, however, and she was glad she had come.
Rosalie was alone in the world. With her father’s passing, she was an orphan, having lost her mother to a fever when she was just two years old. And even though she was eighteen now and of an age to care for herself, she was hardly prepared to do so.
She was well aware that her father’s death immediately ceased the income flow, and that there were many debts outstanding, which the merchant had been still trying to pay off before he died. Sadly, she had not been left the skills to handle such financial affairs—or the money to do it.
When the funeral ended, Grace stayed behind to console her niece. Rosalie cried for a time, feeling great comfort from her aunt’s arm around her. She imagined it was like the embrace of a loving mother, which only made her cry even more. She had never really known her mother, as she was far too young to remember her when the fever claimed her. But in this time of need, she wished her mother was still alive.
“What will you do now, darling?” Grace asked, stroking her hair.
“I do not know,” she admitted. “The last of father’s wealth was used to pay for the funeral, pay off his creditors, and settle the medical bills over the last month. He always arranged to pay rent six months in advance, but that will expire in less than two months. And there is not enough food in the house to last that long, anyway. I suppose I must spend some time thinking about what to do in the coming days. I am sure I will come up with something.”
Grace looked at her niece thoughtfully. Rosalie tried to sound calm, but she was well and truly distressed. She had no idea how she would take care of herself, even if she took months to figure it out. But she was eighteen years of age. It was her responsibility to handle her father’s affairs and look after herself. Even if she did not yet know how.
“No,” she said simply, rising and reaching for Rosalie’s hands. “That simply will not do, my dear.”
Rosalie frowned, taking her aunt’s hands and allowing herself to be pulled to her feet.
“What else can I do?” she asked, perplexed.
Grace wiped away tears from Rosalie’s cheeks and smiled fondly. Rosalie imagined that her mother had looked much like Aunt Grace, and she at last felt a small bit of true comfort.
“I hope this was not presumptuous of me,” Aunt Grace said, suddenly looking very nervous, “but after I got the news that your father had died, I spoke with the Earl and Countess of Winsdale. I am housekeeper for them, and I heard from the other servants that they are seeking a governess. So, I asked if they would consider hiring you, after the funeral, of course, should you need a job to make ends meet. And they were happy to oblige. They have held off on interviewing any other governesses until you speak to them. If, that is, you choose to take the position.”
Rosalie gasped, throwing herself into her aunt’s arms.
“Presumptuous?” she exclaimed. “Aunt, I believe you have just saved my life.”
Early Summer, 1818
“Oh, dear,” Rosalie murmured to herself, scouring yet another newspaper for ads from people seeking a governess, and once more coming up with nothing. “What will I ever do with myself?”
She exhaled through pursed lips, blowing a strand of her wispy blonde tresses out of her eyes. The gesture proved useless, and she tucked it behind her ear with frustration. Then, she massaged her temples, pushing aside the paper and closing her eyes to give them a rest, before her headache could worsen.
She could not believe her terrible luck. She had served the Earl and Countess of Winsdale as the governess for their children since her father died, and both she and her employers had been happy. But, as children do, her charges had grown up, and now, they no longer needed a governess.
When the countess had kindly offered to allow her to stay at their manor until she found other employment, she had been thrilled. Surely, a young woman with her experience, having worked so long for such a reputable couple, would not be out of work for very long.
How wrong she had been. Weeks after Lord and Lady Winsdale had terminated her employment, she was still no closer to finding a new job than she had been on the day when they released her from her duties.
The earl and countess had been endlessly patient, and they showed no signs of growing frustrated with her lingering presence. But Rosalie knew their understanding could not last forever. They could not carry her financially for the rest of her life, and she was dangerously close to the end of the severance pay they had given her.
The employment agency had been of no help, either. She had gone in there weeks ago, optimistic, and confident she would be able to find work right away. Even when they had rejected her the first time, she was not disheartened. She had been sure that new employment would eventuate, and that she had plenty of time to wait.
But now, as she prepared to travel to the agency for a fifth time, she no longer felt confident or hopeful. In fact, she felt humiliated and dejected, and properly concerned for her future. She had hidden her lack of success from her Aunt Grace, but it would not be much longer before she would begin to ask questions.
What would she say to her aunt, who had been so kind as to get her the governess position with the earl and countess? How would she take care of herself if she did not find work very soon?
With one last bout of determination, she looked at herself in the mirror. Her only option, should she fail at finding employment, was to end up in the poorhouse, begging on the streets for alms. Her father had raised her better than that, and she refused to allow that fate to befall her. Gathering up her courage and a hollow smile, she tidied her hair and then departed for the employment agency once more.
She tried to remain hopeful and optimistic as she entered the agency’s lobby door. But when the smile on the clerk’s face dissolved as soon as he made eye contact with her, she felt her cheeks flush with shame. Still, she had come this far, all over again, and she was determined to hear the answer aloud.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said, curtseying politely. “I am sure you remember me from last week…”
“I do,” the curt man said, cutting her off. “And from the past several weeks previous, as well.”
Rosalie’s blush deepened, and she felt her eyes begin to sting.
“Yes, of course,” she said, clearing her throat. “Well, I just came to see if there have been any job openings for my preferred position yet.”
The man stared at her with disgust for several long, uncomfortable moments. Rosalie was instantly sure he was being unpleasant on purpose, but she tried to hold his gaze with a modicum of casual confidence. When the man sighed, she held her breath, hoping he was just in a foul mood that had nothing to do with her, and that maybe, he would have good news for her.
“No,” he said. “There is still nothing for a woman like you, Miss Stewart.”
Rosalie’s frustration began to take the form of indignance as she considered the man’s words. A woman like me? she thought, considering her next words. But the realization of why the man was looking at her with such abhorrence hit her like a racing horse, and she had to force herself to curtsey once more.
“Thank you, sir,” she said, turning away from the man. She walked out of the agency slowly and with her head held high, but her cheeks were soaked with tears before she reached the carriage. Her humiliation was second in her mind, however.
Once again, she had been rejected by the agency for employment. Deep down, she knew they were not matching her with opportunities because of her appearance. But the reason was ultimately irrelevant. The result was still that she had no work, and she would have to return home and deliver the same disappointing news yet again.
Distraught, she cried all the way back to Winsdale Manor. There was no getting around telling the kind countess or her aunt of her recent failure. She had long since given up on praying for miracles, as she found that no such prayers were ever answered. Instead, she prayed to become invisible to everyone at the manor until she could face them. Even if that time never came.
With her head down and her cheeks burning, Rosalie slipped back inside the house as quietly as she could. With a little luck, everyone in the household would be busy with other activities and miss her arrival. She was just beginning to think that luck favored her at last when she turned a corner down the hallway and nearly ran straight into her aunt.
“There you are, darling,” Grace said, taking her hand and tugging it. “The countess asked me to find you, so she can speak to you straight away.”
Rosalie groaned, covering her face with her hands.
“Oh, dear,” she said, shaking her head. “Could she wait until I can freshen up a little?”
Grace put her hands on her niece’s shoulders.
“She requested that I send you to her as soon as I saw you,” she said. “What is wrong, darling?”
Rosalie considered telling her aunt about her most recent rejection for work, but she hesitated.
“I suppose I must wait until later to tell you, if the countess is adamant on seeing me now,” she said.
Her aunt embraced her briefly, giving Rosalie a small measure of comfort.
“All right, dear,” she said. “I do hope that what the countess has to say will be good news to you.”
Rosalie pulled away and looked at her aunt with confusion. She was only met with a mysterious wink before the elder woman ushered her to the drawing room.
Rosalie collected herself, then entered the room. Right away, she saw that the countess had company. A very regal lady stood beside Lady Winsdale, and Rosalie instantly felt self-conscious.
“Oh, please forgive me,” she said, bowing her head. “I can come back later and give you and your guest some privacy.”
The countess laughed, beckoning Rosalie to approach.
“No, dear,” she said, her voice as warm as it ever was. “I summoned you because I would like you to meet Dorothy Livinwood, the Dowager Duchess of Livinwood.”
Rosalie squirmed, cursing the heavens for not letting her slip away to her quarters unseen. She was terribly ill-prepared for meeting anyone at that moment, let alone more of London’s nobility. Still, Lady Windsale was as yet her mistress, and since she was living in the manor for nothing, she knew she must oblige.
“It is a pleasure, Lady Livinwood,” she said, dipping into a curtsey. “I am Rosalie Stewart.”
The duchess smiled, nodding her head at Rosalie’s greeting.
“Likewise, Miss Stewart,” she said.
Rosalie blushed, noting that the new woman’s voice sounded as warm as her expression appeared. She tried to relax, wondering why she had been summoned to such a meeting.
Lady Winsdale motioned for Rosalie to take a seat near the two women. Rosalie’s heart leapt into her throat, but she obeyed her former mistress. She sat down, trying her best to hide the blemished side of her face, even though the duchess had undoubtedly already seen it.
“I am at your service,” she said bashfully, not sure if she was talking to her former employer or the new noblewoman standing before her. She glanced nervously at the women, hoping one of them would end her misery soon, so she could go to her room and recover from the day.
“Miss Stewart,” the duchess said softly. “The countess tells me that you are seeking employment. She also assures me that you are the best governess she has ever encountered.”
Rosalie blushed, unsure of what to say. Such praise was still unfamiliar to her, especially coming from a stranger. But she did not wish to be offensive. She simply curtseyed once again.
“That is kind of her,” she said. “I have done my best to please Lord and Lady Winsdale, these past few years.”
The duchess seemed pleased with her response.
“It sounds as though you certainly have,” she said. “Which is why I would like to hire you to be my granddaughter’s governess.”
Rosalie felt her knees try to buckle with relief. Her mouth quivered, and she had to bite her cheeks to stifle a sob. She fumbled quickly for her words, as this was hardly an opportunity she could let slip through her fingers.
“When would you need me to start?” she asked, failing to sound anything less than excited and emotional.
The duchess smiled warmly.
“Are three days from now suitable for you?” she asked. “My son, granddaughter, and I will be taking up residence in our countryside home for the summer. You would need to arrive there the evening before, so the staff can help you get acquainted with the manor. And then, you will meet my granddaughter and begin lessons with her on the third day.”
It was all Rosalie could do not to cry. It felt as though, for the second time since her father’s death, her prayers had been answered. And for the second time, it was the Countess Winsdale who had answered them. She owed the woman a wealth of gratitude, and she would begin by taking the job she had so graciously placed before her.
“Yes, my lady,” Rosalie said, grinning. “That is perfect for me. I shall arrive at your country home in two days.”
Cedric, Duke of Livinwood, dismissed his valet once the man had helped him to dress. He smiled at his reflection, his blue eyes glittering with the joy of being able to spend time away from London at his countryseat. Quickly, he ran his comb through his light brown locks, straightening his shirt and coat before heading downstairs to join his mother and sister for breakfast.
He made a mental note to ask his mother a very important question as he made his way to the main dining hall. He doubted the dowager duchess would have an answer for him, but it could never hurt to ask.
“Good morning, dear,” his mother said, coming to greet him as he entered the room.
“Good morning, Mother,” he said, kissing her cheek and escorting her back to her seat beside his sister. He patted her gently on the head as he passed her, smiling fondly when she looked up and poked out her tongue at him.
“I am not a child any longer, Cedric,” she said, trying to keep a straight expression of indignance, despite the smile threatening to break through it.
“Oh, Olivia, dear,” he said, grinning. “Until you are older than me, you will always be my little sister.”
His younger sister made another face, one which quickly gave way to smugness.
“Call me little all you wish,” she said, “but I am a young woman of nineteen, in my second London Season. I bet that when I am married, you will no longer call me a child.”
Cedric chuckled as he helped himself to the breakfast spread before him.
“Of course not, Sister,” he said. “I shall then call you a baby.”
Olivia gasped, bursting into a fit of giggles.
“You are incorrigible, Brother,” she said, shaking her head.
The dowager duchess smiled indulgently at her adult children, waiting for them to fall silent. Cedric turned his attention to her, sensing she had something she wished to say to him.
“Cedric, darling,” she said when he and Olivia had quieted, “I want to let you know that I paid a visit to Lady Winsdale two days ago. I said nothing because I wanted to see how things would turn out before I spoke about it. But you will be happy to know that I have found a new governess for our little Sophia.”
Cedric choked on his eggs, startled by the duchess’s words. His mother had answered the question he’d intended to ask, but he had not expected the news she had delivered.
“What?” he asked, swallowing hard to dislodge the trapped food from his throat.
His mother smiled brightly and nodded.
“Yes, my dear,” she said. “It turns out that their former governess is seeking employment. And I believe that this time, things will work out beautifully.”
Cedric’s mood darkened. He appreciated his mother’s efforts, but he sincerely doubted that “things would work out this time” at all. After all, he and his eight-year-old daughter had been through many governesses, all of whom had vanished because of their discomfort with Sophia’s eyes.
It seemed that none of them could get past the fact that one of them was blue, and the other was brown. One old shrew of a woman had even had the gall to call the little girl ‘the spawn of the devil,’ which had upset Sophia for weeks.
“Who is she?” he asked, trying to mask his skepticism. “Does she know of our plans to go to our countryseat?”
His mother nodded.
“Her name is Rosalie Stewart,” she said, clearly excited. “And yes, she is aware we will be leaving shortly for the country. She is perfectly agreeable to leaving London and coming to reside with us there.”
Olivia gasped loudly, grabbing the attention of both her mother and her brother.
“Surely, you are not serious,” she asked, her face twisted in horrified disapproval. “You must have been mistaken about the woman’s name, Mother.”
The countess looked at her daughter, perplexed.
“I am not at all mistaken, dear,” she said. “I spoke with both Miss Stewart and Lady Winsdale, with whom she was most recently employed. She is a lovely young woman, and I believe she is perfect for our dear Sophia.”
“Lovely and perfect, she certainly is not,” she said. “There is much gossip within the ton about her beastly appearance.”
Cedric bit his cheek, not wishing to make a scene over his sister’s remark. Their mother was less tolerant, however.
“You should be ashamed of yourself, Olivia,” she said. “That you could say something so cruel about someone’s appearance is abhorrent. I will not have you speaking about our new governess in such a way.”
Cedric nodded, giving his mother a grateful glance. He tried to keep his offense at his sister’s remarks in check as he addressed her.
“You really should not allow yourself to get so caught up in the ton’s gossip,” he said, giving her a meaningful look. “London’s high society is constantly looking for something that offends its delicate sensibilities. A person’s appearance should be the least of everyone’s concern.”
Olivia shook her head firmly, rising to her feet and stomping.
“You have no idea of the scandal you will bring to our family name by having such a ghastly woman working in your employ,” she hissed.
Cedric’s ire was sufficiently raised at his sister’s blatant lack of consideration. Their own little Sophia had an appearance that many believed to be ghastly, and they loved her in spite of it. But before he could speak, she was turning on her heel and storming out of the room.
He stared after her for a moment before turning back to his mother. The dowager duchess looked very displeased with her daughter’s behavior, which Cedric found a relief.
“Forgive your sister, darling,” she said after a long moment of silence. “I am sure she means no harm with her words.”
Cedric nodded again, remaining quiet. Let her explain that to her niece, should Sophia ever hear such an outburst, he thought bitterly.
“I do hope, one day, she comes to understand the gravity of such words,” he mumbled, his mood darkening.
The duchess nodded, her face still troubled.
“I hope so, too, darling,” she said.
They made small talk for a time, about the weather and the upcoming Season, clearly trying to lighten the mood after Olivia’s childish, cruel outburst. Cedric tried to set aside his thoughts about his sister.
He supposed that, because of her young age and her lack of empathy for people who looked a little different, like little Sophia, it was natural for her to behave in such a way. Still, he wondered what kind of effect it might have on his daughter if Olivia ever treated her in such a harsh way.
It also made him wonder what could be wrong with Miss Stewart that would make his sister call her ghastly. He had never heard rumors of a beastly looking woman within the ton. But then, he never paid much heed to gossip. So long as the governess had a tolerance for his daughter’s affliction, that was all he cared about.
As the meal drew to a close, Cedric realized that he had not discussed the most important current issue with his family before Olivia had stormed off.
“Is everything ready for our move to the country, Mother?” he asked.
The duchess nodded.
“It is, indeed,” she said. “I shall go and fetch Olivia and ensure she is ready. She, Sophia, and I will leave today, so we can prepare the staff for your arrival, as well as that of the new governess.”
Cedric gave his mother an approving smile
“Very good,” he said. “I will leave first thing in the morning, then. I will also order the servants to see that Olivia’s and your things are loaded before you depart.”
“Wonderful, darling,” she said.
He finished eating, then walked over to his mother. He kissed her on the cheek.
“I hope your journey is a safe one,” he said.
“May yours tomorrow be safe, as well, dear,” she said.
With another smile, Cedric left the room, setting out first to give the staff their orders. He spent the rest of the morning getting all his affairs in order and arranging for the servants to load his things onto the carriage for the following morning. Then, after a brief farewell to his mother, and a rather frosty one from his sister, he headed up to his bedchambers.
He had one final thing to do in London before leaving for their countryseat. And, after seeing his mother and sister off, he went to get ready himself.
Two hours later, his carriage pulled up in front of White’s. He saw the familiar figure he sought instantly; the fellow having apparently arrived just before himself. Cedric stepped out of the carriage and approached the man, just as he began looking around, undoubtedly for Cedric.
“Edgar, my friend,” Cedric said, holding out his hand.
Edgar Burton, the Viscount Burtondale, grinned at him, taking his hand and shaking it.
“Cedric,” he said, “I was unsure whether you would make it.”
Cedric rolled his eyes.
“And you yourself have been here a whole, what, two minutes?” he teased.
Edgar shook his head, looking horrified.
“I have been here five whole minutes,” he said. “Another two minutes and I would have written you off and gotten drunk without you.”
“I have no doubt of that, my friend,” he said, wagging his eyebrows.
Edgar narrowed his eyes at his friend, before chuckling.
“You talk bravely now, old fellow,” he said, gesturing toward the club, “but we have yet to break out our dealing box.”
Cedric winked at his friend.
“My talk shall not change, Ed,” he said. “Lead the way to the dealing box. And to your coin purse.”
The two men laughed as they entered White’s, each promising to clean out each other’s pockets. Cedric followed Edgar to his favorite booth at the back of the club, taking the liberty of ordering the first drinks of the evening.
“Is that your resignation to me, before the game has even begun?” Edgar asked.
“Not at all,” he said. “It is your consolation prize for whenever you lose.”
Edgar laughed enthusiastically.
The drinks arrived shortly thereafter, and the two men toasted to a fun evening of good sport. After their first hearty sips, Cedric looked at his friend.
“How are you finding the Season so far?” he asked.
Edgar sighed, grimacing.
“Have you ever had to chaperone a young woman during those abhorrent seasons?” he asked, rubbing his hair dramatically. “It is very tiresome, indeed. I wonder if my sanity will…”
Cedric glowered at Edgar, until his friend remembered himself.
“Oh, forgive me,” he said awkwardly. “Of course, you know how that is. How foolish of me.”
Cedric nodded, looking at his friend with sympathy.
“I take it, then, that it has not been going as you hoped?” he asked.
Edgar sighed again.
“Well, I had truly hoped it would go much better,” he admitted. “But I still believe Isabel will find a good husband.”
Cedric listened patiently. It looked as if Edgar believed anything but that his sister would find a suitable match. But Cedric had an idea.
“You are welcome to bring your sister to the house party I will be hosting at my countryseat,” he said. “I would be happy to help you introduce her to some of the men who will be attending.”
Edgar smiled at Cedric gratefully.
“You would do that for us?” he asked. “Even though you are already dutifully chaperoning Olivia?”
Cedric shrugged nonchalantly.
“Why not?” he asked. “It would be a pleasure to introduce you and Isabel to some business associates and peers.” He snorted again, masking it with a cough. “And I might even introduce you to your future wife, while we are at it.”
Edgar pulled away from Cedric, looking at him with wild, wide eyes.
“Get thee back, evil demon,” he said, hissing at Cedric. “I would no more marry than I would feed my family to a pack of wolves.”
Cedric burst into hysterical laughter.
“I predict that, by the end of the season, you will have changed your mind,” he said.
It was Edgar’s turn to snicker.
“I will take that bet,” he said, reaching for the dealing box nearby. “And speaking of bets, let us begin this very minute.”
Cedric motioned for the waiter, ordering a second round of drinks. They set up the game, put up the stakes they wished to gamble, and passed the hours with several rounds of faro, and as many more drinks.
It felt good for Cedric to leave his troubles and worries behind for a while, and it seemed as though Edgar felt the same way. He was, indeed, happy to help his dear friend. And he felt sure that he could.
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