I decided it wasn't fair to leave you with only half of Chapter one. So I thought I'd post the rest of it. If you have not yet read the first part, CLICK HERE. Enjoy!
Oliver Livingston paced back and forth in the small antechamber. A clerk sat bent over a desk by the window, casting occasional glares toward Oliver and his agitated movements. Two spindly wooden chairs were the only other furniture in the room. Oliver stopped. “Will they be much longer?”
The clerk looked up with a sigh. “I cannot say, sir. Please, have a seat.” A seat! Oliver hated this waiting. He could have been halfway to the comforts of home that he’d looked forward to throughout this grueling term at Oxford. Instead his father, at home in bed with the gout, had written to ask him to stop in London to extract his elder brother from the hospitality of London’s gaol.
“Oliver!” His brother’s voice rang cheerily across the room, drawing out the syllables. Oliver turned toward the sound. Edmund lounged against the doorframe, one hand resting on the lintel above his head. “Dear God, brother! You look as if you’re the one who’s been in prison.” He raked a hand through his hair, apparently much in need of washing, then smoothed it as well as he could.
“Yes, well, you’re the one who smells like it.” Oliver picked up his coat and shrugged it on. “While you’ve been playing the fool in London, I’ve been under a double course load.”
Edmund laughed, “You chose your path, my dear Ollie.”
“As have you. Come on then, Ed.” Oliver pulled open the door to the street and stepped out. He climbed into the waiting carriage and slumped into his seat, long legs bent awkwardly in the space between the two seats. Edmund could follow if he chose.
He was right, Edmund: Oliver was tired, and did not doubt that he looked it. He had crammed as much study into this past term as he could manage, reading law, as required by his father, as well as the science he had wanted to study. Edmund, a mere thirteen months older than Oliver’s twenty-three years, was first-born, and entitled to the majority of the Livingston wealth and property, as well as their father’s title. Oliver, expected to make his living at law, had from childhood aspired to be a scientist, an inventor. He sighed. Father’s repeated admonishments that, “Science is no way for a gentleman to earn a living!” had worn down his resolve. To keep the family peace, he followed the path his father had laid out for him since his birth.
The carriage lurched on its springs as Edmund bounded in. “Sorry, Ollie, I had a few papers to sign before they’d let me go.” He sat in the rear-facing seat and rapped on the sleek lacquered carriage wall behind him. In response, the driver started the horses moving with a jangle of harness and a clatter of hooves on cobblestone.
Beatrix sat, still and quiet in the alcove of her bedroom in the London townhouse, replaying her visit to Mr. Watkins’ offices that afternoon. He had again gazed at her with his kindly eyes and gave her his bad news. She was destitute? How could it be? Papa had never seemed poor, despite his lack of noble connections. He was always welcomed in the best of social circles as a well-to-do country vicar. His parish was prosperous, and their home in the country well-kept, in addition to the townhouse they had rented this spring. He’d never cautioned Mama to spare expense on Beatrix’s ball gowns and the accessories needed for her debut season. Yet apparently, he had been hiding his debt, shielding them from his creditors. Destitute! What was she to do?
Her eyes felt grainy from crying, and she knew they were red and swollen. Once the shock had worn away and Beatrix realized her parents really were gone, she had cried for what seemed like weeks. It had only been a few days since the accident. In the morning, Beatrix would say goodbye to all the staff except Wallis, who would come home with her to help pack her personal things. Everything else must be sold to pay her father’s debts.
A soft knock sounded on the bedroom door.
“Enter.” Beatrix wasn’t sure her tired voice had carried far enough, but the door softly opened.
Wallis peeked her head in. “Miss Beatrix, you have a visitor. Mrs. Cumberland.”
“I will be down shortly, thank you.” Beatrix stood as Wallis retreated. She walked to the washstand and splashed water on her face. Its coolness refreshed her eyes, although they remained red. After drying with a soft towel, she smoothed the skirt of her gown, one of three that Mrs. Randall had sent away to be dyed black the very evening Beatrix’s parents died. More mourning clothing would be needed, but it was a start. She turned from the washstand and made her way down to the parlour.
Mrs. Cumberland nestled cozily in a chair by the fire. She, too, wore black, her nicely plump form swathed in yards of rustling black bombazine. She held out her arm to Beatrix and purred, “Oh, my dear girl! I simply cannot imagine what you have gone through these past few days! Come and sit with me.” She patted the chair across from her and settled back into her own. Beatrix complied, sinking into the chair. She knew this visit would be just like all the others that she had endured since that horrible day, full of insincere platitudes, condolences, and tactless comments. “You’re so kind to come, Mrs. Cumberland,” She murmured. The woman was a neighbour here in London and had been her mother’s friend.
“Oh, I simply couldn’t stay away.” Mrs. Cumberland graciously accepted the cup of tea offered by a maid. “Especially since I’ve confirmed those dreadful rumours!” She sipped her tea and set it on a delicate-looking side table.
“Rumours?” Beatrix had heard nothing of rumours during the brief visits of her society friends.
“Of course dear! That you’re penniless! Many will stay away because of it, child, but I owe my duty to your sweet mother, not to the prejudices of snobbish society.”
Beatrix gazed down at her lap, absently twisting a bit of lace on her gown with restless hands. She hadn’t yet considered the impact her new situation would have on those she considered friends. “Yes, well—“
Mrs. Cumberland interrupted, “I’ve come to offer you a position.” She sat back, satisfied to let her words sink in.
Beatrix looked up, “A position? What am I fit for? Mama raised me to one day be a lady, but I have no practical skills.” She held up her smooth, pale hands, callous-free and unused to hard work.
“Which makes you perfectly fit to be a lady’s companion, dear girl!” Mrs. Cumberland leaned forward again in great excitement. “ Not for me, of course. I have a friend, a widow, who lives in the country and would very much like to have the company of a young girl to brighten her lonely days.”
“I don’t know, Mrs. Cumberland. This is so sudden.”
“Well, I don’t suppose you have anywhere else to go, do you? Not once that little cottage is closed up and sold.” The older woman handed Beatrix a folded sheet of stationary that smelled faintly like lilacs. “Here are Lady Dorothea’s terms and direction. You may write to her at your convenience to let her know if you accept and when you will arrive. You know, Lady Dorothea is normally very selective about her staff, but she has agreed to take you on as a personal favour to me.” She rose from her chair and leaned over to kiss Beatrix’s pale cheek. “I do hope you will embrace this opportunity.” Turning, she swept out of the room.
Written by Joanna Clark Dawyd. Please do not copy or repost without permission from the author.