It Started with a Scandal(8)

By: Julie Anne Long



She sat down hard on the bed, and it bounced promisingly. Her spirits bounced a little, correspondingly. There was a small writing desk, an unprepossessing wooden chair, a lamp, a modest little vase. A bit of polish and airing, some flowers stuffed in that little vase, a few of Jack’s drawings framed and hung—­voilà! Then, perhaps, this room would feel like home.

She sprang to her feet and peered into the little room adjoining hers.

Jack was standing on his bed, his knees bent in preparation for a good bounce.

He froze when he saw her.

“It would be such a shame to break the bed when you’ve only just arrived, and then to have to sling you up outside in a hammock. Perhaps you oughtn’t bounce?”

He grinned at that. “All right, Mama. Could I really sleep in a hammock?”

“Only sailors sleep in hammocks. You have a comfortable bed. Pretend you’re sleeping in a cloud in the sky, because I’m certain you will feel just that way.”

He mulled this over. “Could I sleep in the barn? In the straw. I saw the barn.”

“You could if you were a goat, but sadly for you, you were born a boy.”

He laughed. “You’re funny.”

“I am. I really am,” she agreed. “We’ll build a fire, Jack, because it’s a bit cold up here in the clouds. One day soon you can help the maid do it. Every boy should learn how to build a fire.”

“Hurrah!” he exclaimed. He dropped to his bottom and mischievously bounced a bit on the bed, then sat obediently still when she raised her eyebrows in warning.

“Well, my darling son, do you like your room?”

It was very like hers, only much smaller and less drafty, mercifully.

He looked around coolly. “It’s grand,” he said loftily. It was his new favorite word. Everything was “grand.” He thought it made him sound very adult. “When will I see the giant?”

“The giant will stay in his part of the house, and we shall stay in ours. You’ll be far too busy having lessons and helping the vicar, who may even allow you to ring the bell, to see Lord Lavay. And we mustn’t ever bother him. Promise me, Jack?”

“Oh. All right, Mama. Because he’ll eat us? I can run fast. Faster than Liam.”

He didn’t seem worried about the possibility of being eaten.

The vicar’s wife’s sister had told her that little boys often passed through a period when they considered themselves utterly invincible.

“He has plenty to eat, so he doesn’t need to eat ­people.” Not literally, anyway, Elise thought. “All the same, it’s best to give him a wide berth so he can go about his important business.”

Whatever that was. She thought of that crumpled-­then-­smoothed letter on the table, the heaped correspondence, the smashed vase.

Jack sprang from the bed to the window. “I can see the church from here! And a cow! And someone on a horse, and a carriage, and a . . .”

“ . . . and you can see Meggie and Liam Plum coming to fetch you off to the vicarage for lessons. See those little dots in the distance?”

“Hurrah!”

And with that, Jack scrambled back down the stairs, Elise following him at a more dignified pace.

They both had lessons to learn today.





Chapter 3



IN THE KITCHEN, ELISE found a cluster of ­people sitting around a great long slab of a table, each of them holding a hand of cards. Cheroots dangled from the lips of two of the women. Smoke rose spectrally.

The stink of unwashed dishes wafted in from the scullery. A light scum of dust and grease seemed to have settled over the entire kitchen, which clearly hadn’t been sprinkled with sand or swept in some time. It was appalling, and grand, because she loved nothing better than an opportunity to improve things.

She gave her impressive cluster of housekeeper keys a portentous jingle.

Not one of them budged. One of them slapped down a card, and the others muttered. They were transfixed by the game. Someone shoved over what appeared to be pennies.

Elise aggressively cleared her throat.

They all pivoted in startled unison.

“Five-­card loo, is it?” she asked brightly.

They stared at her, slack-­mouthed and blank-­eyed, apparently at a loss as to how to answer this question despite the fact that it was, of course, five-­card loo.

“Wots it to yer?” a woman finally drawled around her cheroot, which bobbed on her lips. Her face was broad and impassive, her forehead vast enough to project silhouettes onto, and one could have yoked her to a plow. Elise was impressed. She hoped this was the washerwoman, because this woman would beat and slap the very devil out of the linens, and Elise suspected they were all going to need it.

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