Here’s the rest of chapter five. Six more excerpts to go. Meanwhile, the artist showed me her rendition of the invalid’s chair for the cover, and I love it. And three of my four beta readers have given me the nod. I’m making some minor tweaks, and I still have to do a really intensive copy edit to do, but I’m on track to deliver on the 20th or 21st.
“So, Lord Avery,” Mr Bradshaw began, as soon as the door shut behind the two women. “You want permission to court my daughter.”
Candle hadn’t thought to have this conversation in front of witnesses, but if that was the way Mr Bradshaw wanted it, so be it.
Mr Bradshaw correctly interpreted his glance at Whitlow. “Daniel is Minerva’s cousin and my heir. If anything happens to me, you’ll be dealing with him.”
Candle nodded in acknowledgement. “Yes, Sir. I want permission to court your daughter.”
“Rumour has it that you’re a warm man, thanks to your uncle. Think you can keep it?”
“Yes, Sir. I think I can. I’m not a man of profligate habits, and I’m working hard to learn the estate my father left me and the business my uncle left me. I mean to make a success of them both.”
It was Mr Bradshaw’s turn to nod. “So I’m told.” To Candle’s surprised look, he said, “I asked questions, lad. She’s my one ewe lamb. Of course I asked questions.”
“I understand.” Little though Candle liked the idea of someone poking around and asking about him, he did understand Mr Bradshaw’s need to protect his daughter. “And were you content with the answers, Sir?”
Mr Bradshaw didn’t answer him directly. “She says she won’t have you. She says that the middle sort and the peerage don’t mix, and that a marriage between you won’t work. What do you say to that?”
“I hope to change her mind,” Candle said. “I think we can make it work. Yes, the Society cats will have their claws out, but we don’t need to live in Society. And my mother and I will love her just as she is.”
“Love, is it? You said so in your flowers. Do you say it straight, lad? To me, and to Daniel here?”
Candle met his eyes and said, firmly, “I love her. I love your daughter, Sir.”
“Well, Daniel?” Mr Bradshaw asked.
“I’d say give him your blessing, Uncle, and wish him luck. She’s stubborn, my cousin. You’ll find you need all the luck you can get.”
“My blessing? No. No offense, lad, but I’ll save my blessing for my lass if she decides to accept you. She’ll need it, and a powerful load of luck. Mixing your sort and mine; I’ve seen a lot of sorrow come that way. But I won’t deny my Minerv if you’re the one she wants. You can court her, Lord Avery. But as to where the luck lies…”
Mr Bradford shook his head and poured them all another glass of port.
Candle exerted himself to be agreeable, and by the time they joined the ladies, Candle and Daniel Whitlow were on first-name terms.
Miss Bradshaw was at a desk in the corner, and Mrs Bradshaw sat sewing by the fire. Her tambour was half filled with colourful flowers, bursting joyously across the canvas.
Candle stopped to admire the embroidery, then looked over Miss Bradshaw’s shoulder. Engineering designs. He might have known.
“It’s gearing of some kind,” he said.
She went to put her work away. “No, don’t let me stop you working,” he said. “But would you explain it to me?”
An hour later when he took his leave, he was much more knowledgeable about the benefits of differential gearing. He’d found it strangely compelling–Miss Bradshaw was experimenting with progressive changes in size so that less strength was needed to work the mechanism, while still keeping the mechanism light enough and small enough not to weigh down the chair.
They’d agreed he would come to the works in the morning. Candle was keen to get home to Avery Hall with the news of the battle, and he’d leave the White Hart as soon as the morning mail coach arrived with the newspapers from London.
“I’ll bring copies for you, Sir,” he told Mr Bradshaw.
Crossing the foyer of the hotel, he was hailed by a peremptory, “Lord Avery!”
He turned to see a dumpling of a woman whose generous figure was amplified by a plethora of floating scarves, fringes and ruffles in shades of purple. Lady Cresthover. She was bearing down on him, her daughter and Lady Norton in her wake. For a fleeting moment he contemplated pretending not to hear and bolting for the stairs. He resisted the temptation. The old besom was his mother’s friend. Sort of.
He pasted on his best social smile, and gave each lady a small bow. “Lady Cresthover. Miss Cresthover. Lady Norton.”
“Lord Avery, what brings you to Bath? How is your dear mother? And what do you think of this terrible news about Nelson? Do you think Napoleon is finished, as they are saying? How long are you in Bath?”
The questions came in quick succession, while Lady Cresthover took him by the arm and herded him into a private parlour.
“The girls and I were just about to have supper. You will join us, Lord Avery.” This was a royal command, not a question. When Candle protested that he had already eaten, he was bidden to sit and have a glass of wine, and to answer Lady Cresthover’s questions.
An experienced officer of His Majesty’s Coldstream Guard should show courage under fire. Besides, he was considerably taller than he’d been twelve years ago, last time Lady Cresthover had rapped him on the head with her formidable thimble. She would have trouble reaching his head now.
“Certainly, my Lady,” he said. “Could you repeat them one at a time, please?”
It was an hour before he was finally able to make his excuses, citing the trip he needed to take the following morning. By then, he’d drawn several conclusions.
Lady Cresthover’s incessant gossip, though often ill-informed, was not ill-intended, but Lady Norton was a cat of quite a different colour. Lady Norton had her knife out for Miss Bradshaw–she had made several derogatory comments, which Candle judged it best to ignore or deflect, since any defence would just encourage the lady to make trouble.
Lady Cresthover, on the other hand, proclaimed Miss Bradford, “a sweet girl, quite the lady, and a very good friend to poor Nelly Maybury, when her husband died.”
And Miss Cresthover also came to Miss Bradshaw’s defence, insisting that Miss Bradshaw was far more of a lady ‘than some who lay claim to the term’.
Lady Cresthover and her daughter might be allies if the new Viscountess Avery wanted to go into Society.
Oh yes, and he’d learned one more thing. Lady Norton’s schoolgirl nickname of Kitty Cat was an insult to felines everywhere.
Lord Avery collected the chair and was gone from Bath by 11 o’clock in the morning. Min found the rest of the day sadly flat. He hadn’t said anything lover-like as the chair was tied to the back of his carriage, but the warmth in his eyes had set her tingling.
Perhaps she only imagined it. Perhaps, too, she imagined the press of his fingers when he said, as he took his farewell, “I very much look forward to seeing you and your mother in three weeks, Miss Bradshaw.”
That morning’s floral tribute spoke of anxiety. If he felt anxiety, he didn’t show it. She was the one who was anxious, her heartbeat speeding up when she thought of him, the warmth uncurling in her belly at the mere thought of the warmth in his eyes.
She was the one who couldn’t keep her mind on her work, who had lost interest in food, who lay awake at night remembering every gesture, every word, every look.
She would not fall in love with a peer. She could not. She was not so foolish. Was she?