Gentleman Jim: Chapter Three
Maggie stood outside the monstrous structure in Grosvenor Square that the hackney-carriage driver had assured her was the town residence of the Earl of Allendale. It was cold and the mist had come up, blanketing the street in a gray fog barely penetrable by the glow of the gas lamps that lined it. She wrapped the folds of her fur-trimmed cloak tighter around her as Bessie paid the hackney driver.
Bessie hadn’t been as reluctant to accompany Maggie on her errand as Maggie had expected she’d be. Indeed, her former nurse had taken the view that any behavior resembling that engaged in by Maggie in her wild and headstrong youth ought to be encouraged.
“You were never a frail, wilting sort of female, Miss Margaret,” Bessie had said. “Not until you took sick. Who knows but that an adventure or two like you used to have might not put the color back in your cheeks?”
Maggie was oddly touched by her maid’s loyalty. Especially considering Fred’s all-too-frequent lectures to Bessie on the duty she owed her mistress, and his constant threat that, were anything to happen to Maggie, Bessie would be sent off without a reference. As if such a thing were in his power! He wasn’t Maggie’s husband. Not yet, at least.
“The driver has promised he’ll wait here to take us back to Green Street after we’ve seen the viscount,” Bessie said, approaching Maggie through the fog. Her own cloak, made of a nondescript drab, billowed around her large frame. “Though if you ask me, his lordship’s as like to be in bed asleep as anything.”
Maggie followed Bessie’s gaze to the darkened windows of the house. “It’s only one o’clock. I daresay there’s more of a chance he won’t be home at all. Most gentlemen hereabouts keep town hours.”
Bessie pursed her lips in disapproval as she accompanied Maggie to the front door. “Wrap yourself up tight, Miss Margaret. No need for you to be getting a chill on Master Fred’s account.”
Maggie nodded, and while Bessie rapped at the door, she tugged the fur of her cloak up around her chin. It had been a gift from her father, given to her over six years ago when she returned home from her first season in London. A fine, deep blue velvet trimmed in sable. “The same blue as the wildflowers at Beasley,” Papa had told her.
“Town hours, indeed,” Bessie muttered, rapping at the door again. “Where are the servants, then, I ask you?”
Maggie briefly closed her eyes. Her cheeks were warm despite the cold, and within her chest was the familiar feeling of heaviness she experienced whenever she’d overtaxed herself. The journey had worn her down. She hated for Fred to be right.
She was just beginning to consider whether or not she should tell Bessie that it was all a mistake—that they should get back into the hackney and return to Lord and Lady Trumble’s—when the front door opened and they were confronted by a stooped, white-haired butler with a candle held in his upraised hand.
He looked at Bessie first before dismissing her and turning his rheumy gaze on Maggie. His eyes swept her from the top of the sable-trimmed hood of her cloak to the toes of her kid half-boots. Seeming to have satisfied himself that at least one of the party was a lady, he lowered his candle. “Madam?”
Maggie stepped forward. “I’m come to see Lord St. Clare,” she said in the same firm tones she used when directing the servants at Beasley Park. “It’s a matter of some urgency.”
The butler’s face was devoid of expression. “Your name, Madam?”
She swallowed. “Mrs. Ives.”
It was Jane who had suggested that Maggie present herself as a married lady. “Servants are prone to gossip,” she’d said before Maggie departed Green Street. “It would be far better if St. Clare’s servants didn’t know you were Miss Honeywell. Indeed, it would be best if they didn’t know who you were at all.”
Bessie had heartily agreed, even going so far as to volunteer her own last name for Maggie’s use. It was a small deception and would surely harm no one, but Maggie was uncomfortable with it all the same.
“I will see if his lordship is at home.” The butler began to withdraw, moving as if to close the door.
Maggie delayed him a moment longer. “If he is at home, inform him, if you please, that my visit pertains to his dawn appointment.”
The butler betrayed no signs of knowledge about the duel, but Maggie suspected her own knowledge of it underlined to him the urgency of her visit. He disappeared into the house, and after a short time, during which Bessie grumbled incessantly about the rudeness of servants leaving young ladies to wait on the stoop with no care at all for whether they would develop an inflammation of the lungs, he reappeared and welcomed them inside.
The entry hall of the Earl of Allendale’s residence was far grander than that of Lord and Lady Trumble’s house in Green Street. An enormous crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, and a sweeping staircase curved up to the floors above. The floor was tiled in marble, and the silk-papered walls were lined with statuary and artifacts.
Maggie pushed back the hood of her cloak and looked around, her eyes settling first on a sculpture of a horse and then on an eerily shaped bust that, upon closer inspection, appeared to be some sort of a death mask. A shiver ran down her spine.
“His lordship will see you in the library.” The butler guided them down the hall to a set of closed doors.
Maggie raised a self-conscious hand to her hair, smoothing any stray locks back into the simple chignon in which Bessie had arranged it before they left Green Street.
The butler opened the door for her, and Maggie preceded him into the library, Bessie not far behind her. The room was lit by only a few candles and the crackling fire in the hearth. Its dancing flames cast the bookshelves and furnishings in an ever-shifting pattern of shadows.
A tall, broad-shouldered man stood in front of the fire, his back to the room. Lord St. Clare, Maggie presumed.
“Mrs. Ives, your lordship,” the butler said.
“Thank you, Jessup.” St. Clare’s voice was a deep, rich baritone. “You may leave us.”
As the butler withdrew, St. Clare turned and approached his visitors. He was a big man, standing well over six feet, and had the sort of lean, well-muscled build that set off the current fashion for skintight pantaloons and close-fitting coats to magnificent effect. Unlike Fred, whose bulky frame had made him look oddly uncomfortable in his snug garments, the viscount seemed perfectly at ease, moving with a languorous, masculine grace that put Maggie in mind of a great, predatory cat.
A rake, Jane had said. A libertine. A vile seducer of women.
He emerged from the shadows to stand in front of her, promptly executing a slight bow. “Mrs. Ives. I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”
Maggie stared up at him, her wide eyes meeting his stormy gray ones.
Her breath caught. “Oh,” she said weakly.
And then, she fainted.
Excerpt from Gentleman Jim copyright © Mimi Matthews, 2020.
Reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part, by any means, is forbidden without written permission from the author.