Copyright 2018 by Shelley Adina
Chapter 1 (continued)
But talk of poor Mr. Fetherstonehaugh had brought the ghost of a smile to their companion’s face, so Daisy thought it prudent not to abandon the subject of gentlemen just yet, despite its uncomfortable nature. They had been in the air for three days, and after the second day, had found one another convivial enough company that they had begun looking for each other at meals, and spending the afternoons together embroidering or (in Daisy’s case) sketching. In all that time Daisy had not seen Miss Makepeace smile. Not a real one. But now, one had nearly trembled into life, and she would use poor Mr. Fetherstonehaugh ruthlessly if it meant coaxing it into full bloom.
“Have you ever been to Bath, Miss Makepeace?” she asked, spreading marmalade on the toast.
“Only once, as a child,” she said. “Papa’s business keeps him in London and New York nearly exclusively, and after Mama passed away, I did not have a companion with whom to go to such places. I remember it being very beautiful,” she said a little wistfully. “And at the bottom of the Royal Crescent is a little gravel walk. I wondered if it could be the very one where Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot walked after all was made plain between them.”
Frederica, being of a literal turn of mind, blinked at her. “They were not real, Miss Makepeace.”
The English skin colored a little. “I know. But it was a pretty little fancy, for the time it took me to walk down the hill to the gate.”
“Poor Mr. Fetherstonehaugh,” Daisy said on a sigh. “He attempted to quote Jane Austen to me as we were dancing in the parlor of one of my aunt’s acquaintance three weeks ago.”
“That sounds most promising in a man,” Miss Makepeace said. “Not that I have any practical experience along that line, mind you.”
“But it was the first sentences of Pride and Prejudice, Miss Makepeace.” She leaned in. “And they were said in reference to himself.”
To her delight, the smile she had been angling for blossomed into life. “Dear me. Miss Austen would be appalled.”
“My sentiments exactly. And when he turned up on my aunt’s doorstep the next morning proposing himself as the companion of my future life, I took my example from Lizzie Bennet on the occasion of her first proposal. I fear the allusion was lost on him, however.” She frowned. “I believe he called me a heartless flirt.”
Miss Makepeace covered her mouth with her napkin and Daisy could swear it was to muffle a giggle. “You are no such thing,” she said when she could speak again. “I should say it was a near escape.”
“Our aunt would not agree,” Freddie put in. “She and my uncle have very strong feelings about indigent relations and their burden upon the pocketbook.”
“Granted, it is not their fault their pocketbook is slender,” Daisy conceded. “But that is no reason to push us on every gentleman who stops to smell the roses nodding over the wall.”
“How do you come to be aboard Persephone?” Freddie asked their companion shyly.
She was not yet out, so had not had many opportunities to go about in company. Add to this a nearly paralyzing shyness—despite the misleading behavior of her hair—and it still astonished Daisy that she had had the gumption to follow her all the way to London with nothing but her second-best hat and a valise containing three changes of clothes, a small collection of the parts and pieces favored by clock makers, and a canvas driving coat against bad weather.
Now it was Miss Makepeace who leaned in, the lace covering her fine bosom barely missing the marmalade on her own toast. “Can you keep a secret?”
“Oh, yes,” Freddie said eagerly.
Which was quite true. She had concealed from everyone—except perhaps that deplorable Maggie Polgarth—her plans to run away and accompany Daisy on her mission.
“I am what is known as a mail-order bride.” Miss Makepeace sat back to enjoy the effect of this confidence on her companions.
“A what?” Freddie said after a moment, when no clarification seemed to be forthcoming.
“There is no such thing,” Daisy said a little flatly. Well, it was better than sitting and gaping like a flounder.
“There I must contradict you.” Miss Makepeace aligned her knife and fork in the middle of her plate, and the waiter, seeing this signal, whisked it away. “In the guise of a literary club, I have been meeting these last six months in London with a group of young ladies determined to make their own fortunes. An agency assisted us in finding the best matches of ability and temperament in places as far-flung as the Canadas and the Louisiana Territory.”
“There are agencies for this sort of thing?” Daisy managed under the shock of this fresh information. It was lucky that Aunt Jane was as ignorant of these facts as Daisy herself had been until this moment, or heaven knew where Daisy might be by now. And what was a young woman like Miss Makepeace, with every blessing of breeding and beauty, doing applying as a mail-order bride?
It defied understanding.
… to be continued.