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  • The Governess, the Duke and the Diary


Kent, England, 1812.

The Earl of Kincardine was dead. It had happened suddenly and unexpectedly. A fever caught after a ride through a rainstorm confined the elderly aristocrat to his bed, where he had died two days later, surrounded by his wife, Lady Louisa, and three daughters, Mabel, Sara, and Clare. Mabel was the eldest, and with her mother in a state of devastation, and her two younger sisters unable to understand the true implications of what had happened, it had fallen to her to be both comforter and mother. Even as her own grief was bitter and deep.

“It’s just too dreadful,” her mother repeated, as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Mabel put her arm around her and helplessly tried to comfort her. Her parents’ marriage had not been like that of so many other aristocrats. It had been a genuine love, born of true friendship and affection. With her husband’s death, Lady Louisa had lost her closest friend, her lover, and the man she had vowed to honor and obey until death did them part.

“Oh, Mother. Come and sit down. You’ve paced up and down the drawing room all afternoon,” Mabel said, leading her mother to a chair by the fire.

Kincardine Hall – the rambling old house in Kent which Mabel’s family had occupied for generations – felt terribly empty without her father. He had been a larger-than-life character. His empty chair by the fire, opposite where her mother now sat, was a reminder of the loss they now endured. The drawing room was richly furnished from a lifetime of the Earl’s travels, and everywhere she looked, Mabel was reminded of the man she had loved more than anyone else in the world.

“I can’t help it, Mabel. I can’t imagine life without him,” her mother exclaimed, as fresh tears welled up in her eyes.

Mabel kneeled at her mother’s side and put her arm around her. It had been two days since the death of the earl, and she could see nothing ahead of her but misery in the face of this tragedy. She missed her father terribly, and she knew her sisters, too, were feeling his loss bitterly.

“I know, Mother. We’ve got one another, though. We’ll get through this together,” Mabel replied softly, squeezing her mother’s hand. Just then a knock came at the drawing room door.

It was the maid, and she had with her a letter addressed to Lady Louisa.

“You open it, Mabel. It’ll no doubt be another letter of condolence. One of our neighbors writing to console me with kindly platitudes which mean little, but a duty performed. It’s kind of them, but it won’t change anything,” Mabel sighed and leaned back in her chair with her eyes closed.

Mabel took the letter from the tray and thanked the maid, who curtsied and left the room. The letter was addressed in thin, spindly handwriting, and bore a London postmark. A paper knife was lying on the table next to what had been the Earl’s favorite chair, and Mabel took it and sliced open the envelope.

“It’s from a man called Allington, Joseph Allington,” she said, glancing at the signature.

Her mother looked up in startled surprise, a look of horror crossing over her face.

“Your father’s cousin…oh no…what does it say?” she exclaimed. At her mother’s prompting, Mabel began to read.

My dear cousin-in-law, Louisa – if I may be so bold as to address you in such familial terms. I write with my sincerest condolences at the terrible news of my cousin’s death. It came as a terrible shock, and I have been unable to settle ever since. Your husband was a remarkable man, and his death leaves an empty chair, impossible to fill. But fill it, we must… Mabel read out loud.

At these words, her mother groaned.

“I feared this would happen. Oh…can’t we be left alone to mourn? Your father isn’t yet cold in the ground,” she cried out, pulling out her handkerchief and dabbing at her eyes.

Mabel read on.

The death of my cousin leaves a question of inheritance. With three daughters, the matter is a simple one. My cousin did not produce an heir, and since my own mother and father brought into this world but one child – myself, a son, the matter seems clear. It is I who inherit the title and the estate. I have taken the liberty of instructing my own lawyer in the matter and he will be contacting you in due course to make arrangements. I do, of course, intend to take possession of the house as soon as possible, and would be grateful to you if you were to make alternative arrangements in the meantime…

At these words, her mother let out a wail so loud it drowned Mabel out and was enough to bring the maid running to see what had happened.

“It’s all right, Lottie. Would you fetch us some tea, please, and a brandy for my mother,” Mabel said assuming correctly her mother needed something stiffer than a tea. The astonished maid stared for a moment at Lady Louisa, who had collapsed onto the rug in front of the hearth and was sobbing uncontrollably, before hurrying off.

The rest of the letter only added to its already devastating content. Joseph Allington was without a doubt the rightful heir to the Kincardine title, but his condolences at the death of the earl did not extend benevolently to the situation faced by Lady Louisa and her daughters. They were to inherit precisely nothing, and it was expected of them to vacate the house at the earliest possible time. The new earl – for that was what he styled himself – would take possession on the day of the funeral, which was scheduled for the day after tomorrow. Everything they had known, everything familiar, everything that had rightfully been theirs, was no longer so. It was a story of riches to rags; a cruelty so pronounced it was no wonder Lady Louisa appeared inconsolable.

“Everything…gone. That wicked man…that cruel man,” she kept repeating, as Mabel did her best to comfort her.

“We’ll challenge it, Mother. We’ll send for Mr. Bartholomew, he’s father’s lawyer. He’ll know what to do,” she said with firm conviction, even as she worried Mr. Bartholomew may be unable to do anything.

The question of inheritance had always been an unspoken problem for Mabel’s father. She knew how desperately he had wanted a son, and he had hoped that when Mabel, or one of her sisters, was married, a claim might be made for the right of any son produced to claim the title. His unexpected death had brought the matter to a head, and there was no doubting – as unfair as it seemed – that Joseph Allington was the rightful heir of the Kincardine estate. Mabel had heard her father speak of his cousin on several occasions, that too, only in the most disparaging of terms. There was no love lost between them, and Mabel could only imagine what her father would say if he knew of the scene now playing itself out in the drawing room of his own home.

“It’s no use, Mabel. He’ll only fight us all the more. We’ll have to leave. We’ll have to find a home somewhere in the village. A cottage to rent…reduced to the lowliest of circumstances…oh, it’s too dreadful. What would your dear father say?”

At that moment, the door to the drawing room opened, and Mabel’s two sisters, Sara, and Clare, were ushered in by their governess, Miss Davison. She was a stout woman of twenty-five, whose half-moon spectacles rested precariously on the end of her nose. She wore a black dress, as did the two girls – the color of mourning.

“I thought the children might like to spend an hour with you, my Lady, before they go up to the nursery for their supper,” she said. Lady Louisa nodded.

“Yes…come in, my darlings. We should be together at a time like this,” she said, beckoning Sara and Clare towards her.

Mabel was twenty-two, but her two sisters were still children at thirteen and fourteen, respectively. They glanced at Mabel anxiously, seeing their mother in her state of distress.

“What’s wrong, Mother? Have you been crying again?” Sara asked.

“Oh, please don’t cry, Mother. We hate to see you crying. What can we do to comfort you?” Clare asked, and the two of them hurried to Lady Louisa’s side.

Miss Davison glanced at Mabel, who nodded.

“Thank you, Miss Davison. I’ll see to the girls this evening. You can retire to your rooms,” she said.

“Thank you, my Lady,” she replied with a curt nod, leaving the room, and closing the door gently behind her.

Mabel did not know how to break the terrible news to Sara and Clare. They were already mourning the death of their father, but the thought of losing all that was familiar, too…

“Sara, Clare – come and sit down over here. Don’t crowd mother so,” Mabel said, beckoning her two sisters to sit on the chaise lounge next to her.

The two girls did as they were told. Mabel put her arms around them. She had always been a motherly type towards them – the older sister, caring for her siblings. Their mother began to sob.

“Our dear home, all our possessions. What can we hope to salvage from this tragedy?” she said. Sara and Clare looked at Mabel fearfully.

“What does Mother mean?” Sara asked, as Mabel took a deep breath. She decided it was better to be honest about their situation.

“We’re not going to live in the same way we’ve lived before. We’ve…got to leave Kincardine Hall and live…somewhere else,” she replied, and her two sisters gasped.

“But why? Why do we have to leave?” Clare asked, clutching at Mabel’s arm.

Mabel rested her head on Clare’s, kissing her and sighing. She felt just the same as her sister. It was a terrible injustice, and the thought of leaving Kincardine Hall filled her with dread. Where would they go? What would they do? To see them in such reduced circumstances would surely rouse the sympathies of the village, for the Earls of Kincardine had always been benevolent towards their tenants. But the adjustment would still be dramatic – no maids, no cook, no footmen, no carriage…Life would be very different from now on.

“Our father’s cousin has written to Mother. He tells her he plans to claim the inheritance, which is his, and we’re to be left with nothing,” Mabel replied, the slightest sense of resentment coming over her at the thought her father had made no arrangements, save relying on the kindness of a stranger who had proved himself the very opposite.

But he didn’t believe he would die, she told herself, not wishing to voice her feelings in the presence of her sisters.

Clare began to cry, and Sara looked at Mabel in astonishment, shaking her head as though she could not believe what she was hearing.

“But…it can’t be. Are we to leave everything behind? Are we to be…poor?” she asked in horror. Mabel reluctantly nodded.

As a child, Mabel had liked to pretend she was a poor peasant. It was a game she and her sisters would play in the gardens. They would put up a tent and take food from the kitchens, telling the gardeners they were living like those “beyond the walls.” But the reality of being poor was very different to make believe, and Mabel worried as to how she and her family would cope – what would life be like without the trappings of the aristocracy, and the wealth they had enjoyed all their lives?

“We are, Sara, and you must be brave – both of you,” she said, hugging her two sisters close to her, even as she knew whatever happened, they would always have one another.

Chapter 1

“Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” Mr. Aldenham, the curate pronounced the solemn words, as Mabel watched her father’s coffin being lowered into the grave.

The day was dark, and inky clouds hung ominously above. Rain was threatened, and now the first drops began to fall. Mabel was standing next to her mother, her arm around her as Lady Louisa sobbed uncontrollably. Sara and Clare stood silently in front, gazing at the coffin, adorned with a simple brass plaque bearing the earl’s dates and full name: “Lord Arthur Carmichael Louis Kincardine, 8th Earl of Kincardine.”

Dear Papa, Mabel thought to herself, remembering her father’s smile, his kindness, and his gentle humor.

She missed him terribly, and she knew she would always remember him in the fondest terms, even as she wished he had done more to prepare them for his death. Mr. Aldenham now invited the mourners to throw earth into the grave, as Mabel took a step forward, another figure moved in front of her.

“Me first, Mabel – as chief mourner,” Joseph Allington said, stooping down to take a handful of dirt from the pile beside the grave.

If not out of respect for her father, Mabel would have happily pushed him in. He had arrived that morning in a grand carriage from London and made his entrance to Kincardine Hall just as Mabel and the others were readying themselves for the funeral procession.

“I presume you’ve already vacated your rooms?” he had asked them earlier, inspecting the furniture in the drawing room.

Mabel had been impressed at the dignified manner in which her mother had comported herself. She had remained aloof and composed. Ever the gracious lady. Even as inside, Mabel knew her to be in utter devastation. But that composure – gained in the days gone by – had only lasted to the point at which the earl’s coffin had appeared in its cortege. Then she had wept, and still she wept, as Joseph Allington – now styling himself, the 9th Earl of Kincardine – tossed his handful of dirt into the coffin. Mabel gave him a withering look and stooped down to do the same.

“And the children,” Mr. Aldenham said, beckoning Sara and Clare forward.

Mabel’s sisters glanced at her nervously, and Mabel nodded.

“Why do we throw dirt on father?” Sara asked, and Mabel realized she did not know the answer to that question.

It was tradition, and tradition had dictated so much in the previous days she felt bound to continue it without question.

“Out of respect,” she replied, even as it appeared to be the exact opposite.

Lady Louisa followed, and now Mr. Aldenham pronounced the final blessing.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen,” he said, closing his prayer book and stepping back. His white surplice standing out starkly against the black clouds above, as the rain grew heavier.

Mabel’s mother was standing at the graveside, staring down at the coffin, as now the gravediggers stepped forward to complete their work. Mabel gently touched her arm; anxious her mother would not catch a chill as her father had done prior to his demise.

“Mother?” she said, and Lady Louisa turned to her and shook her head.

“Your poor father. I can’t bear to leave him here all alone,” she replied. Mabel took her by the hand.

“We can visit him every day, Mother. We can sit over there on the seat beneath the yew tree,” she said, pointing to a bench that had recently been placed in the churchyard.

Her mother nodded, and Mabel led her away from the graveside, fighting back her own tears as she did so. It was awful to think of her father lying cold in the grave, and the matter was made far worse by what they were now returning to – Joseph Allington had put them out of the house, thus it was not to the familiar comfort of Kincardine Hall they would return, but to a cottage on the edge of the village, rented in haste from one of the local farmers.

“God bless you, my Lady,” one of the villagers called out.

The mourners had formed two lines at the side of the path leading from the churchyard. The rain was falling heavily now, bouncing on the flagstones, and Mabel and her mother walked with their heads bowed, followed by Sara and Clare.

“Terrible…wicked…” some of the villagers murmured, as Joseph Allington strutted behind.

Word had soon gone around Kincardine that a change of legacy had occurred, and everyone had been shocked at the news of Lady Louisa and her daughter’s reduced circumstances. An outpouring of kindness had been the result, and Mabel knew they were at least going to a warm hearth and a fireside tea. She had seen the cottage earlier that day – the hearth laid; the table set. It was a simple dwelling, consisting of little more than a parlor and two small bedrooms. It had once been a pleasant dwelling, but years of neglect had seen it fall into disrepair, and it would take a great deal of work to make it properly habitable. But it would now be their home. As they left the churchyard, they turned right, rather than left, as Joseph Allington climbed into a waiting carriage.

“You’re always welcome at the hall, cousin-in-law,” he called out, but Mabel’s mother simply drew herself up and walked magnanimously in the opposite direction with Mabel at her side.

* * *

“Don’t put it all on at once. That wood needs to last at least into next week,” Mabel said, as Sara placed three logs on the fire.

“But I’m cold!” Sara exclaimed, huddling closer to the fire, wrapped in a blanket.

The wind was howling outside, and darkness had now fallen, rain lashed against the windows. The guttering of three candles flickered on the table, where the remnants of the tea provided by their kindly benefactors remained. Mabel did not know what the morning would bring – they had no bread, or anything to make their breakfast with, and only a few pennies with which to buy anything.

“Listen to your sister, Sara,” their mother said.

Their mother was sitting in a chair in the corner, her head bowed, lost, it seemed, in grief. Mabel did not know what to say to cheer her – how could she cheer her when such pity and sorrow hung over them?

“I want to go home,” Sara persisted, and Mabel went to put her arms around her and comfort her.

She knew how distressing this was for Sara – removed from everything familiar and forced into the uncertainty of what was now her new reality. She feared the strain of their ordeal would cause a reversal in her sister, and that her behavior would deteriorate into what it had once been – disruptive and unruly. It had taken much love and patience – especially on Mabel’s part – to help her sister in her troubles, and their new circumstances could so easily cause that good work to be undone.

“We’ve got to think of it as an adventure. We’ll find a way, I’m sure. It’s just…different, that’s all,” Mabel said, even as she realized her words were probably of little comfort.

Sara sniffed and rested her head on Mabel’s shoulder. Clare was sitting quietly by the fire, but now she looked up and sighed.

“I hate it here.”

Mabel nodded.

“I know you do. I hate it, too, but it’s how things are now. We must be brave,” she replied, for despite her words about adventure and finding a way, she really knew only the same uncertainty as the others.

Just two weeks ago, Mabel’s life had been happy and carefree. She knew nothing of the problems of the world. Everything she needed was hers, and what she did not have, she did not need. Now, even something as simple as acquiring a loaf of bread was a problem to be solved – and Mabel was at a loss as to how to solve it.

“But what happens now? What do we do?” Clare asked, for of Mabel’s two younger sisters, Clare was the more practically minded.

“Well…we’ll need a source of income. The two of you can sew – perhaps we can take in mending, and…I can get a job,” Mabel replied.

She had been thinking the matter over ever since Joseph Allington’s letter had arrived. Clare looked at her in surprise, as though the concept of working for a living had never occurred to her – which presumably it had not.

“A job? What sort of job?” she asked, as their mother looked up in surprise.

“Yes, Mabel, what sort of job?” she asked, and Mabel blushed.

“Well, the natural thing would be a governess, of course,” she replied with a blush. Clare stared at her in amazement.

“Like Miss Davison?” she asked, and Mabel nodded.

There were few jobs a woman such as Mabel might seek. Miss Davison had been forced to work as a governess after the sudden death of her aunt, whose fortune had been considerably less than expected. It was not unusual for women of reduced circumstances to take on such work. It was perfectly respectable, and with her fluent knowledge of French and Latin, her skill at drawing and painting, and her ability at the pianoforte, along with a passable command of history and geography, Mabel knew she was well suited to such a life and had already made up her mind to pursue the matter further.

“I’m sure it won’t be difficult to secure such a position. We’ve got to do something. We can’t live on goodwill and charity,” Mabel pointed out.

“Oh, but Mabel…I don’t know. It’s hardly the sort of thing the daughter of an Earl should undertake,” her mother said, but Mabel went to her side and kneeled by the chair, taking her mother’s hand in hers.

“I want to take care of you, Mother, and of Sara and Clare, too. My wages will be more than enough to send something back each week, and I won’t go far. There’re plenty of grand houses in the county, with children in need of a governess. I’ll soon find work,” she said. Her mother gave a weak smile and squeezed Mabel’s hand.

“You have your father’s spirit, Mabel,” she said approvingly, and Mabel nodded, glad to be compared to such a fine man as her father, and hoping she could live up to the expectation it bore…

Chapter 2

“Another brandy, yes, and one for Lord Fox. His glass is nearly empty!” Simon Walker exclaimed, calling out to the steward, who gave a curt nod and hurried off across the smoking room.

Simon and his friends were drinking at Boodles club. They had spent the afternoon in pugilistic pleasures at Whites tavern and had dined on roast beef and horseradish in the club dining room. Half a dozen bottles of claret had been consumed between three of them, and the atmosphere was a merry one.

“You certainly showed old Lowry Stock your left hook this afternoon,” Simon’s friend, Connaught, the Baron Rothschild, said, raising his glass to Simon, who laughed.

“All I ask for is a worthy opponent. So many of them don’t know their left from their right. It’s quite extraordinary. But we enjoyed ourselves, didn’t we? Foxy here got knocked down a dozen times, and still got up,” he said, slapping his friend Lord Algernon Fox across the back.

Lord Fox laughed and shook his head.

“Am I forever destined to be your foil in the boxing ring?” he asked, and Simon smiled.

“You just need more practice, my friend. That’s all. Find a sparring partner amongst your manservants,” he said, as the steward returned with their brandies.

Simon was happiest in the company of his friends. They were all of them young aristocrats – Simon was the son of the Duke of Brighton, with the title of Marquess of Downbury, his father’s lesser title – and had grown up together. Simon and Lord Fox had even attended Eton together in the same year. The pursuit of pleasure was their main aim, and it was not unusual for their debaucheries to last for several days at a time.

“I’d be lucky – they’re all old maids, even the men!” Lord Fox exclaimed, and the others laughed heartily.

Simon finished his brandy, swilling the last dregs in his glass before rising to his feet. He was tired, even though he did not wish to admit it.

“There was a time you could go on all night,” the baron said, but Simon only shook his head and smiled.

“Responsibility beckons. A meeting with my lawyer tomorrow,” he replied, rising to his feet.

The steward fetched his coat and hat, and Simon bid his friends goodnight. He crossed the smoking room at Boodles, where the great and the good of the English aristocracy occupied their drinking huddles, wreathed in clouds of pipe smoke, nodding to several of his acquaintances as he went.

“Is your father well?” one of them asked, and Simon gave a wry smile.

“Too well,” he replied, and the men all laughed.

It was well known amongst the aristocracy that the Duke of Brighton was an ailing man, but one who appeared to cling to life with dogged determination. It was Simon who saw to the day-to-day affairs of the estate, even as he preferred to reside in London, rather than at the ancestral home of Fulham Park. Life with his parents could be stifling, and Simon far preferred the freedom afforded him by London life.

“Shall I summon a carriage for you, my Lord?” the steward asked, and Simon nodded.

“Thank you, yes. And have another bottle of claret sent over to Lord and Fox and the Baron Rothschild – I doubt they’ll leave before midnight,” he replied, and the steward nodded.

In the carriage, Simon smiled to himself, settling back, and recalling the pleasures of the day. He was a fine boxer and had won several sizable wagers by betting on himself at Whites tavern. He enjoyed a challenge and often sparred with his own manservant, Wilkins, a man twice his size, but whom Simon was often able to overcome by sheer ingenuity in his tactics.

It’s not a bad life, is it? he thought to himself, glancing at his own reflection in the glass of the carriage window.

Looking back at him was a handsome face, albeit once a little worse for wear after enduring several rounds of boxing that afternoon. His hair was unruly, and always somewhat messy, even when he tried to tame it. He smiled, thinking back to the fights of the afternoon and shaking his head.

I’ll be back again next week. Then they’ll be sorry they bet against me on the Rollison fight. I’ll get him right between the eyes. I shouldn’t have fallen for his right hook, he told himself.

 His home – a part of the London holdings of the Duke of Brighton’s estate – was a fine townhouse in Mayfair. It was far too big for a bachelor, but Simon found it to his liking. When not with his friends, he spent his days in the library, or at his correspondence, which was sizable. He saw to most all the affairs of his father’s estate, even if he did not yet possess the title. Simon knew his world was changing – each day brought with it new responsibilities, even as he still clung to the last vestiges of the life of pleasure he so enjoyed.

There’re still opportunities,” he told himself, stepping down from the carriage a short while later.

He was surprised to find several of the windows of the house alight, candles burning in the rooms beyond. He had instructed Wilkins to retire early if it pleased him. But it seemed his instruction had been ignored. Hurrying up the steps, he let himself in, calling for his manservant as he did so.

“Ah, my Lord…” Wilkins said, appearing in the hallway and looking somewhat perturbed.

“Whatever’s going on? And what’s that noise?” Simon demanded.

A high-pitched sound – an intermittent wailing – was coming from somewhere in the house, and Simon could hear the shouts of a maid attempting to control someone’s behavior.

“You stop that, you naughty child…oh, Wilkins, help me,” a shout came from up above, and Simon stared at the manservant in astonishment.

“A child?” he exclaimed, and Wilkins nodded.

“My Lord, your sister is here. She arrived quite suddenly. She’s in a terrible state of distress. I’ve shown her into the drawing room, but your nephew…” Wilkins began, as a new shriek came from the landing above, and Simon’s nephew, Thomas, launched himself over the banister, sliding down it with a whoop and landing on the hallway floor as the maid came running after him.

“Oh, my Lord. I’m so sorry. I can’t control him,” she exclaimed sounding more distressed than apologetic. Simon shook his head.

“It’s quite all right, Lillian. Leave the boy to me,” he said, stepping forward to grab his nephew by the scruff of his neck.

Thomas was a difficult child. He had always been so. Simon’s sister, Anna, found him impossible to control, and with his father – a naval officer – always at sea, Thomas had little by way of discipline in his life. But more than that, there was a problem with the child’s development. He did not behave as other children did and had little understanding of the norms by which society lived.

“Your sister, my Lord. She’s terribly distressed. Will you go to her? I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” Wilkins said in a hushed whisper, as Simon tried desperately to restrain his nephew.

“Thomas, stop this at once!” he exclaimed, even as the child continue to scream and whoop.

“Shan’t!” Thomas yelled, and he struggled free from Simon’s grip and rushed off across the hallway, knocking a vase over as he went.

Simon groaned.

“Lock him in a bedroom. He’ll fall asleep eventually,” he said, turning to Wilkins who looked somewhat perturbed at being given such a responsibility.

“As you wish, my Lord,” he said, rolling up his sleeves in preparation for giving chase.

Simon retreated. He was not good with children, and certainly not with his nephew, who was forever getting into trouble and causing mischief. But now his thoughts turned to his sister, and he wondered why she had made the journey from her home in Plymouth to see him. Simon’s parents had disowned their daughter after her marriage to the dashing naval officer, Jefferson Edwards. They considered him beneath her and blamed their grandson’s failings on a poor choice of father. The matter was a difficult one, but Simon loved his sister dearly, and had never condemned her choice of husband. Now, he hurried to the drawing room, anxious to discover what it was that had so upset her.

“Anna?” he said, opening the door and stepping inside.

Wilkins had lit lamps around the room, and candles burned in the sconces on the wall. A fire was kindled in the hearth, giving off a merry glow, even as the figure sitting before it seemed anything but merry. Simon’s sister was a pretty woman, with long blonde hair and bright blue eyes. But today, her hair was unkempt, matted, and uncombed, her head was bowed, and she was dressed all in black. She looked up at Simon and shook her head, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Oh Simon…it’s Jefferson…he’s dead,” she wailed, and collapsed back on the chaise lounge on which she was sitting in a fit of sobs.

Simon hurried to her side, snatching up a glass from the sideboard and pouring her a large brandy.

“Oh, Anna. I’m so sorry. Drink this. It’ll steady your nerves,” he said, putting his arm around her.

She took the glass and sniffed it involuntarily, screwing up her nose, before shaking her head before burying herself in his arms. He held her, kissing the top of her head, and feeling nothing but sorrow for his sister, who had loved her husband with all her heart.

“Drowned…the ship lost. They brought word yesterday. I couldn’t stay. I had to come. I had nowhere else to go,” she whispered, as he tried to calm her.

“It’s all right. You don’t need to explain. You were right to come,” Simon replied, knowing the welcome – or lack of it – she would have received at the hands of their parents.

Simon had always liked Jefferson Edwards. He and Anna had met at a ball and been engaged a month later. It had been a whirlwind romance, one which their parents thoroughly disapproved of. They had not even attended the wedding, nor given their blessings for it. Anna had been cut off, and even the arrival of a grandson had done nothing to thaw their icy relationship.

“In the Caribbean. That’s where it happened. There was a storm, the ship sank. It was weeks ago…oh, and to think I lived in happy oblivion, not knowing my darling Jefferson was…dead all this time,” Anna began wailing again, as Simon shushed her and held her close to him.

“You mustn’t upset yourself like this, Anna. You’ll make yourself ill. Sit back, there we are,” Simon said, trying to sound comforting as he lay her back on the chaise lounge and wondered what was best to do next.

It was no wonder Thomas was behaving so badly. But Wilkins would see to him – albeit reluctantly. He was glad Anna had come to him. He loved her dearly and would have done anything for her, even against the wishes of their parents. But even they must be told of this tragedy. Perhaps it would be a chance to thaw their relations with Anna, and even affect a reconciliation.

“I don’t know how I can go on without him. We had such plans, Simon. We were so happy,” Anna said, staring up at Simon with such a look of sorrow as to quite break his heart.

“Don’t worry, Anna. You’re not alone. You’ve got me. I’ll take care of you, and Thomas,” he said, and she shook her head and sighed.

“Poor Thomas. He doesn’t really understand, I don’t think. I tried to tell him, but…you know what he’s like. I’m sorry if he’s causing trouble,” Anna said, but Simon shook his head.

“Not at all,” he replied, picturing his nephew sliding down the banister and the fragments of the vase he had smashed, scattered over the hallway floor.

“But what now, Simon? I don’t know what to do,” Anna said, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.

“You can’t be expected to. You’ve lost…the love of your life, its meaning, its all. But you must stay here as long as you wish. Permanently, for that matter. I won’t have you go back to Plymouth. What sort of life would you have there now?” Simon asked.

It was not a difficult decision to make. His sister was flesh and blood. He would have done anything for her, even as he realized such an arrangement would mean curtailing his own pleasures. There could be no more gatherings of the pugilists in the drawing room late into the night, or claret fueled dinners in the dining room lasting into the early hours. Responsibility had well and truly caught up with him.

“But I can’t ask that of you, Simon. What would mother and father say?” she said, but Simon only shook his head.

“I can well imagine what they’d say, and I don’t care for it. You’ll stay here with Thomas and let me take care of you both,” he replied, and he reached out and took her hand in his and squeezed it.

The look of relief on his sister’s face was palpable, even as now she began to weep once again. Simon rang for Wilkins and instructed his manservant – who also acted as butler and valet – to see to it a room was prepared for his sister and arrangements made for the coming days.

“Your nephew is sleeping, my Lord, but it took some persuasion to calm him down,” Wilkins said in a hushed tone, and Simon looked at him curiously.

“What sort of persuasion?” he asked, and the manservant rolled his eyes.

“A large slice of cake, my Lord, and a warm cup of milk,” he said, and Simon nodded.

“Very well. Bring my sister some chamomile tea. It may help to calm her nerves. She and my nephew will remain with us for some time,” he said, and Wilkins nodded.

“Very good, my Lord,” he replied, bowing, and leaving the room.

“I’ve asked for some chamomile tea, Anna. But I think I should see you to bed now. Thomas is asleep, and that’s just what you need, too. We’ll talk about things in the morning,” he said, going to Anna’s side and placing his hand gently on her shoulder.

She looked up at him and nodded. Her face was set in sorrow, and she had such a look as to make Simon wonder if she would ever regain her happy smile – the smile he always associated with her.

“I’m so grateful to you, Simon. And I know Jefferson would be, too,” she said, placing her hand on his.

“We’ll get through this, Anna, I promise,” he replied, hoping he could find a way to fulfill his responsibilities to both his sister and her difficult child…

Chapter 3

“Do I look all right?” Mabel asked, appearing in the parlor from the bedroom she shared with her two sisters.

Her mother looked up from her embroidery and smiled.

“You’d look pretty in anything, darling,” she replied, and Mabel smiled.

She did not think of herself as pretty. Her hair was a fair, strawberry blonde, which did not entirely match her gray eyes – or so she thought. She missed having dozens of dresses to change between – her Sunday best and a few dresses for weekdays now having to suffice. She had worn the same dress to her three previous interviews for governess positions, and not one of those had been a success.

The problem was not her ability, nor her enthusiasm, but rather that their neighbors – by which was meant the local aristocracy – seemed uncomfortable with the idea of her drastically reduced status. The daughter of the Earl of Kincardine should not be forced into such menial work – or such was the feeling, and Mabel had received three polite declines. Her tactics had now changed, despite her mother repeating her concern at Mabel’s foray into employment. But there was no choice in the matter. They were surviving on charity, and it could not last.

“But I need to look right. I’m going up to London. There’s a certain…expectation,” she said, and her mother sighed.

“Oh, Mabel…do you really think this is wise?” Lady Louisa asked, but Mabel’s mind was made up.

She had answered an advertisement in the periodicals for a governess to a boy of nine years old. He was the nephew of a Lord Simon Walker, whom Mabel’s mother recalled was the son of the Duke of Brighton. As to why it was the uncle and not the father placing the advertisement remained a mystery, but Mabel had sent her credentials – though she had made no mention of her aristocratic heritage – and duly been invited for an interview.

“Is it wise to dress Sara and Clare in their tattered old dresses? Is it wise for us to eat nothing but bread? Is it wise to sit huddled and wrapped in blankets because we can’t afford wood for the fire?” Mabel asked, glancing at the hearth where the charred ends of a burned piece of wood lay smoldering.

Sara and Clare were darning shirts, sitting back-to-back for warmth. They had taken in mending from some of the villagers, and that had at least provided enough money for food, if nothing else. But without a job for Mabel, the family would soon fall into even greater extremes of poverty, and Mabel was not about to see her mother and sisters suffer more than they already had.

“But London…it’s such a long way,” her mother said, shaking her head.

In truth, London was only twenty miles or so from Kincardine, but it felt like a different world. Mabel had only been there on a handful of occasions, but its dirty streets and thick fog ridden nights made it a place she was dreading returning to. But necessity had overcome her fears, and now she took up her bag and prepared to depart.

“I’ve no choice, Mother. We need the money. I doubt Joseph Allington will ever give up but a portion of his inheritance to see us comfortable, and in the meantime, our only choice is this,” she replied.

The question of the inheritance had been wrangled over by Mr. Bartholomew – Mabel’s father’s lawyer – and the lawyers appointed by the new incumbent heir. There was no doubt his claim was legitimate, even as his behavior left much to be desired. He had already proved an unworthy successor, raising the rents on all his tenements, and demanding greater productivity from each of the farms on the estate.

“I think you’re right, Mabel,” her mother replied, rising from her chair, and coming to kiss Mabel goodbye.

Sara and Clare did the same, and Mabel glanced out of the window, nodding to Albert Morrison, a groom from Kincardine Hall, who had agreed to take her to London in his horse and trap.

“I’m going to miss you, Mabel. I don’t know why you have to go,” Sara said, putting her arms around Mabel and resting her head on her shoulder.

“Oh, Sara, I’ll write to you, and you’ve got Clare and mother here. You’ll be all right,” Mabel replied, knowing how important the regularity of routine and the familiar was to her sister.

She would never have chosen to leave, but it was what she had to do. She had no choice, and if she was to support her family then leaving was her only choice. With their farewells exchanged, Lady Louisa and Mabel’s two sisters came to see her off.

“It’s very good of you to do this, Albert,” Mabel said, as the groom helped her into the trap.

He was a kind man, and very good with the horses. When she was a child, it had been Albert who had led her around the estate on her pony and taught her to ride. He was getting older now, but still had that same kindly face and gentle demeanor, dressed in an old straw hat and with a riding cloak over his shirt and breeches.

“I’m happy to, my Lady. Things up at the house…they’re terrible,” he said, shaking his head.

Mabel nodded. She knew many of the servants were finding life under the new Earl a trial. Joseph Allington had been the Earl of Kincardine for only a few months, but already there were many who saw him for the cruel and callous man Mabel and her family knew him to be. She felt as sorry for them as she did for herself.

“I know, Albert…it’s a terrible thing. I only wish my father had made better provision in his will. But then this was hardly expected, was it?” she asked, glancing across to the churchyard, which her mother visited religiously every day.

Lady Louisa, Sara, and Clare waved her off, and Albert geed off the horse, pointing them in the direction of the London Road. The day was bright and breezy, but there was a chill in the air, and Mabel was glad of her own travelling cloak, insisted on by her mother.

“And you’re to be a governess now, my Lady?” Albert asked, as they traversed the ridge above the village. The countryside now spread out before them, a patchwork of woods and fields, dotted with the occasional farm.

“If they see fit to employ me, yes,” she replied, and Albert shook his head.

“It isn’t right, my Lady. A woman of your position reduced to this,” he said, shaking his head and tutting.

“Oh, Albert, you’ve all been so kind. I know it’s come as a dreadful shock – for all of us. But you mustn’t worry about us. All will be well,” Mabel replied, even as she was finding it increasingly difficult to believe it would be.

* * *

The journey to London passed uneventfully. The dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral soon came into view across the river plains, and it was not long before they were amidst the streets of the city, making for an address on Mayfair. Mabel really knew anything about the position, save that the advertisement was placed with a mark as to the urgency of appointing to the position as quickly as possible. She had wondered what might have happened to the previous occupant, imagining that perhaps the child could be difficult.

“Here we are, my Lady,” Albert said, as they pulled up outside a large and imposing townhouse, with a flight of steps leading up to the well-polished front door.

Mabel was feeling nervous, but she took a deep breath and stepped down from the trap, thanking Albert, who was to wait for her – whether the news was good or ill.

“I’ll have a spot of dinner in one of the taverns we passed, my Lady, and return in due course,” he said, geeing off the horse.

Mabel turned, looking up at the house and thinking it was a very fine one indeed. I could be happy here, I’m sure, he thought to herself, just as the door flew open and a figure hurried down the steps.

To Mabel’s astonishment, it was Miss Davison, the governess to Sara and Clare, and who had sadly been let go when the announcement of the inheritance had been made. She stared at Mabel in surprise, shaking her head and throwing her hands up in the air.

“Oh, my Lady. The child…how dreadful. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t work there,” she exclaimed in horror, and muttering to herself, she hurried off down the street.

Mabel stared after her in surprise, as a manservant appeared at the door, peering out with a bemused expression on his face.

“Did she run away?” he asked, and Mabel nodded.

“She did…but I don’t know why,” she replied, and the manservant gave a wry smile.

“I think you will, too, if you’re here to be interviewed for the position of governess,” he replied, and Mabel’s eyes grew wide with astonishment, and feeling a good of trepidation, she followed the manservant inside.

The house was lavishly furnished. The hallway filled with exquisite furniture and ornaments, and the walls hung with pictures and portraits. A wide staircase led up to a landing above. Mabel wondered curiously as to why a large net had been strung up below it.

“I’ve come at the request of his Lordship,” she said, and the manservant nodded.

“Miss…Watson, I presume?” he said, and Mabel nodded.

She had discarded her title in favor of something less likely to rouse suspicion. It was not that she was embarrassed by her fall from riches to rags, but the facts of her past had counted against her in the local district, and she wanted the chance to prove herself without the distractions of who she was coming to the fore.

“That’s right. I answered the advertisement in the periodical, and his Lordship was kind enough to invite me for an interview,” she replied.

The manservant nodded.

“His Lordship’s found it difficult to fill the position. His nephew is…challenging,” he said, raising his eyebrows.

Mabel was about to ask what was meant by “challenging” when a shriek came from the landing above and, to her horror, a child – no more than ten years old – launched himself into the netting hung from the bannisters.

“Master Thomas, no!” the maid called out, but the boy simply laughed and rolled from the net, swinging from it, jumping down to the marbled floor below.

Mabel watched him in astonishment.

“Now, Master Thomas, let’s not have any bad behavior,” the manservant said, but the boy had already run off down the hallway, whooping and knocking into a maid who was carrying a large stack of bedding.

“Goodness me,” Mabel said, and the manservant shook his head.

“He’s like a wild animal, miss. This way, please. His Lordship will see you immediately, I’m sure. My name’s Wilkins, I’m his Lordships’…well, everything. Butler, valet, manservant – you’ll find me in a different guise at every hour. Here we are,” he said, pausing at a door at the far end of the corridor leading off from the hallway.

Mabel took a deep breath. She was fascinated by the child – he was certainly a boisterous sort, and he rather reminded her of her own sister, Sara. She had experienced a troubled childhood, often giving way to bursts of emotion like the one Mabel had just experienced in the hallway. There had been one incident in which Sara had cut the heads off ever rose in the rose garden at the height of their bloom. The sight had caused Lady Louisa to faint, and the gardener had muttered his threats for a month. But little by little, Sara’s behavior had changed, thanks in no small part to Mabel’s care and attention. There were still occasions when she exhibited strange or unusual behavior, and Mabel had feared the upheaval of their change of circumstances might cause a relapse into past traumas. But Sara had so far retained her composure, and Mabel wondered if the same techniques she had employed with her sister might also work with his Lordship’s nephew.

“Thank you,” Mabel said, as Wilkins opened the door and announced her.

She found herself in a study, the walls lined with books and with a bay window looking out over the gardens. Two chairs stood facing one another by the fireplace, in which burned a merry flame. Simon – his Lordship, as Mabel knew she must refer to him as – rose to greet her. He was an attractive-looking man, tall, with black and unruly hair, an aquiline nose, and large green eyes. He smiled at her and held out his hand in greeting.

“Miss Watson, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Lord Walker, Marquess of Downbury,” he said, and Mabel smiled.

The introduction of a title held no fear for her. She had spent her life in the company of men like the Marquess of Downbury. As the daughter of an Earl, she had been used to being such men’s equals. She had no fear of saying something wrong or insulting. In the past, such men had attempted to impress her, even as it was now the other way around.

“And you, my Lord. I believe I’ve already encountered the young man who might be my charge,” she said, and the marquess looked at her with a mixture of perturbed admiration.

“Ah…yes, my nephew is…” he began, but Mabel interrupted.

“A lively young thing, and a delight, I’m sure. Won’t you tell me a little more about him?” she asked, forgetting her place for a moment.

She had to remind herself that this was an act. She was here to play a role, and she certainly should not treat the man before her as an equal. He was to be her employer – if the position was to be hers – and that demanded respect.

“Oh…yes, sit down, won’t you?” he said, offering her the chair opposite him.

Mabel sat, glancing around the study, and pictured herself reading the myriad of books displayed on the shelves. She missed the library at Kincardine Hall, and particularly resented the new Earl for having forbidden the removal of even a few of their favorite books.

“I don’t mean to be too forward, but is the child…of an awkward temperament?” she asked, and the marquess sighed.

“My poor nephew. He’s just lost his father, you see. That’s why my sister came here to live. Her husband was a naval officer and died in the Caribbean some months ago. Word only just reached us, but the tragedy is simply awful. My nephew doesn’t fully understand, but his behavior has been like this for some time, and it’s getting worse” he said, shaking his head sadly.

Mabel felt sorry for him, and for his sister. What a dreadful tragedy it was to lose a husband. She thought of her own mother – a widow before her time, just like the marquess’ sister.

“I’m sorry to hear that. How terrible for you all. I offer my deepest condolences,” she said, and the marquess nodded.

“It’s very kind of you, I’m sure. Would you…be able to handle him?” he asked.

Mabel thought of the fleeing Miss Davison and Wilkins’ words about the position being difficult to fill. But no child was beyond hope, and Mabel had only to think of her own sister to know that. She nodded and smiled.

“I don’t think it will be a problem,” she replied honestly.

At these words, the marquess appeared visibly relieved.

“I see…and you’re proficient in French? Latin? Painting? The boy needs only the rudiments of an education, but the freedom to pursue his own interests, too,” he said, and once again, Mabel nodded.

“I had a governess myself. I speak French like a native, and my Latin is comparable with any man’s, I’m sure. I paint, and I play the pianoforte. I assure you, my Lord, your nephew would receive a thorough education at my hands,” she said, and the marquess smiled.

“Forgive me. I didn’t mean to question your obvious talents. I wonder…might I know something of your previous position?” he asked, and Mabel sighed.

She had known the question would be asked, but she was unsure how to answer it. Would the truth matter?

“My family were…wealthy. But my father recently died, and his cousin came to inherit everything. I’ve never worked in a previous position, but necessity has made it necessary for me to seek employment,” she replied, leaving her answer vague in the hope he would not hold her lack of experience against her.

But the marquess only smiled and nodded.

“I don’t wish to pry, Miss Watson. All I wish to know is if you could handle the boy in his…more difficult moments,” he said.

Mabel was about to reply, when a crash was heard in the corridor outside the marquess’ study, and the sound of a woman’s voice, raised in exasperation, echoed through the door.

“Oh, Thomas, please, no. My nerves can’t stand it!” came the cry, and now the door burst open and Thomas himself flew into the room, crashing into a pile of books and sending them flying across the floor.

Chapter 4

The marquess leaped to his feet, lunging at the child in a failed attempt to catch him, as now a woman – whom Mabel presumed to be the marquess’ sister – hurried into the room.

“What’s he doing, Anna?” the marquess exclaimed, as Thomas now leaped over the desk and crashed into a large aspidistra plant in the corner.

“I don’t know. He’s out of control, he’s…” Anna exclaimed, but Mabel now saw this as her chance to prove herself.

She had seen since outbursts in her younger sister, and she knew the only way to deal with them was firmness, coupled with surprise. As quick as a flash, Mabel hitched up her skirts and leaped onto a small table at the side of the desk, pointing at Thomas, who stared at her in surprise.

“What sort of way is that to behave in front a complete stranger, Master Thomas?” she exclaimed, fixing him with a stern gaze.

The manner of her confrontation and the bizarre spectacle of her balanced on the table was enough to stop Thomas in his tracks. It appeared he became suddenly aware of his behavior and looked around him in surprise.

“I…I’m sorry,” he said, as Mabel climbed down from the table and straightened her dress.

“I should think so, too. When a visitor comes to the house, we don’t want to show ourselves up, do we?” she said, and the tousled haired boy shook his head.

“No,” he replied, and Mabel rummaged in the pocket of her skirt.

She had some licorice wrapped in twists of brown paper – given her by Albert on their journey. Mabel detested licorice but had been too polite to refuse the groom’s kindly offer. Now, she held one out to Thomas, whose eyes grew wide with delighted.

“Why don’t you go and play in the nursery and give your poor mother a rest? Wouldn’t that be a kindness?” Mabel asked, and Thomas nodded.

“Thank you,” he said, unwrapping the sweet and chewing on it.

He went off quietly, his footsteps disappearing along the corridor. The marquess and his sister exchanged glances, and for one moment, Mabel wondered if she had overstepped the mark.

“I hope you didn’t mind…” she began, glancing at the table, which bore a scuff mark on its surface from her shoes.

“Mind? Not at all, Miss Watson. He’s not been quiet since he arrived. The peace is…palpable,” the marquess replied, glancing at his sister, who now sank into one of the chairs by the fire.

There were tears in her eyes, and she appeared to be exhausted.

“Oh, for peace. Thank you,” she exclaimed, and Mabel smiled.

“It just takes the right words. I used a similar technique with my sister when she was younger. Overawe them, distract them, do anything to break into their unruly behavior. Standing on the table must have seemed such a bizarre act for his senior to perform that it stopped him dead in his tracks. I then had the advantage and could take the authoritative stance,” Mabel replied.

She was feeling rather pleased with herself. She had not expected Thomas to submit quite so readily, but the fact he had done so, and that Mabel had succeeded where so many others had failed, was surely a mark in her favor.

“Miss Watson, you’ve performed a miracle. Truly, you have,” the marquess exclaimed, and his sister agreed.

“I’m at my wit’s end with him, Miss Watson. His father was able to discipline him, but without my darling Jefferson, I don’t know how to cope with him. His outbursts, his moods, his terrible behavior – it’s all too much. Yesterday, I took to my bed with the smelling salts because he caused me such distress, my nerves simply couldn’t take it. Do you really think you can continue to control him in such a way?” she asked, and Mabel nodded.

If her sister could be transformed, then Mabel was certain Thomas could be, too. It would not be easy, but she was willing to try, if only for the sake of having the job she so desperately needed.

“I’m not sure it’s just about controlling him, my Lord. It’s about understanding him and responding to him properly,” Mabel replied.

She had met other children like Thomas. One – the son of a viscount – was kept permanently confined to the house, and often locked in his nursery. His parents were too embarrassed to allow him to be seen, even as Mabel had tried to explain to them that such behavior could be controlled if only they would allow for the proper care of their son. She shuddered to think what might have become of Thomas if she had not arrived at the house today for the interview, even though she had not yet been formally offered the job.

“It’s not easy for us. Our parents aren’t sympathetic,” the marquess said, looking slightly embarrassed.

“They disowned me,” Anna said bluntly as shook her head.

Mabel did not like to ask too many questions, but she knew the world of the English aristocracy to be a cruel one at times – her own experience at the hands of her cousin had proved that. But she was grateful to Anna for showing such trust in her, even as they barely knew one another.

“I’m sure you only want what’s best for Thomas,” Mabel said, and the marquess nodded.

“Absolutely. Which is why I want you to have the job, Miss Watson. I’ve not seen the boy respond to anyone as he did to you. You’re the first to calm him down, and the first he’s paid attention to. He won’t listen to me, or his mother, or any of the servants. But he listened to you. Presumably the experience with your sister was the same?” the marquess asked.

Mabel thought back to Sara’s tantrums, her terrible behavior, and the way in which she would listen to no one but Mabel. It had upset their mother dreadfully, but only Mabel’s calm, but stern words had been capable of stopping Sara in her tracks.

“My sister behaved in a very similar manner. But you wouldn’t recognize her now. She’s a model of good behavior. There’s no reason why the same won’t be said for Thomas. It might take time, and there’ll be setbacks,” Mabel warned, but the marquess shook his head and smiled.

“You’ve already done more than enough to prove you’re the right person for the job. We can make the final arrangements later, but will you accept?” he asked, and Mabel nodded, hoping the look of relief on her face was not displayed too prominently.

But relief was what she felt. The position would be handsomely rewarded, and she looked forward to sending back a message to her mother with Albert, telling her, Sara, and Clare the good news.

“I’ll certainly accept. Thank you, my Lord. You don’t know what this means to me,” she replied, and the marquess smiled.

“It means a benefit for us all, Miss Watson. I assure you,” he said.

* * *

A short while later, Mabel was pressing a letter written to her mother into Albert’s hands. In it, she had explained her new situation, and that she would be remaining in London for the foreseeable future. She had asked her mother to send clothes and other necessary items at the marquess’ expense. He had been most generous in his offer of renumeration and had insisted on not only paying her moving costs, but also giving her an advance of a month’s wages in gratitude for the first peace to come over the house since the arrival of his sister and Thomas.

“And you’re sure about this, my Lady? You don’t wish to come home and think the matter over for a few days?” Albert asked, looking at Mabel with some concern.

But Mabel shook her head. She could hear the sorrow in her mother’s voice, her words of persuasion as she tried to make Mabel reconsider. But there was no choice in the matter. Mabel’s family was poor, and the marquess’ offer would mean a brighter future, not only for her, but for all of them. Sara and Clare could have new clothes and books, and her mother would not need to sit hunched over her mending at all hours of the day, trying desperately to make enough money to put food on the table. And for Mabel, the chance to work for the marquess and to do something to help his poor sister was an attractive proposition – she wanted to help, and she knew she could do so.

“I’m quite sure. Thank you, Albert. I’ve made up my mind. I’m staying,” she replied, glancing back up at the house behind.

To her surprise, she saw the marquess looking at her from a window at the front. He stepped back in embarrassment as she met his gaze, but it made her smile to think he had noticed her. He was an attractive man, handsome and intelligent. In another time and another place perhaps…

“Very well, my Lady. We’ll miss you,” Albert said, and Mabel smiled.

“I won’t be gone forever, Albert. I’ll visit my mother on my days off, and I’ll still come to the big house to see you all,” she replied.

“It won’t be the same, my Lady,” Albert muttered, and now he geed off the horse and the trap set off along the street.

No, it won’t be the same at all, Mabel thought to herself, even as she knew this was a new adventure, and an opportunity to make a difference.

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