Monday, 27 October 2014

The fabric was thick and heavy, impossible to see through

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AN: I was reading Georgette Heyer and, in The Black Moth, the blackguard kidnaps a woman he wants to marry without asking her first -and she didn’t even know his real name.
circa 1750
The fabric was thick and heavy, impossible to see through. It had been flung over her head and she had been manhandled into a carriage. It rocked and bumped as it travelled; at one stage throwing her into the door. She let out a whimper of pain.
"Please," she begged him. "Can I see?" She knew he was there; she had heard him climb in and she could smell his cologne.
He didn't answer but the hood was pulled from her head.
She took a gulp of air; blinking quickly and trying not to cry.
He watched her; her kidnapper.
As she suspected, it was the man she had seen at Bath on a walk around the pump room. Visiting with her aunt she had noticed him noticing her. Even now, he was beautifully dressed, boots to the thigh, white silk breeches, and a brightly colored vest. Also, for once, he was not wearing a coiffured wig. The cloak around his shoulders was a deep dark blue. He outshone all of it with his black hair and flashing blue eyes. He was a very handsome man.
The carriage rolled on for a mile or so before she could ask, "What do you want?"
"You aren't going to ask who I am?" His voice was low and throaty.
"Why not?"
"I know who you are." She had asked after the bathhouse meeting. Or more strictly, it should be called a sighting. They were not even introduced.
He tilted his head. "You do?"
"You are the Marquess of Vidal.” Heir to the Duke of Avon.
He smiled and inclined his head in a half nod at her. "Indeed."
Another mile or so passed.
"Why?" she asked.
"I need a wife."
"A... w-wife?" That was not what she thought this was about.
She tried to think about it. He was one of the most eligible bachelors in the land. Even given his infamous reputation for womanising and duelling, why did he need to kidnap a wife? Her mouth clicked with thirst and nerves. "Do you..." She swallowed heavily. "Do you have any water?"
"No, only brandy."
She shook her head. It took her another mile to work up the courage to ask, “Can we stop at an inn?”
He knocked on the roof of the cabin with his cane.
With creaks and the stamping of horses the carriage started to slow. He didn’t tell her to stay but he removed his cloak and then half climbed out the door and spoke to the men sitting up on the seat. A shouted command and the carriage jerked into faster movement again. She tried very hard not to admire his rear but it was at her eye level and it was a very nicely shaped rear.
He threw himself back into the seat opposite. “We will stop at the next inn.”
“And then?” she pressed.
“We continue on to my estate.”
“I see.”
He was as good as his word; they stopped at a small inn where she was given refreshment and allowed to walk for a little before being ushered back into the carriage. No bag over her head this time.
She felt overwhelmed. This was hopeless. She was a young girl and he was a marquess. She had no hope of gainsaying him. She just wanted to know why her and why the rush?
At his estate, she was welcomed as if she was already the lady of the manor.
“Are you tired? Do you wish to retire?” he asked.
She startled at the thought of where she would be retiring.
“You would, of course, have your own rooms and a female attendant,” he added.
Of course she would. To make sure she did not leave. But also, it suggested that he had his own apartments and would not be forcing himself upon her.
She was confused and in her tiredness just told him her thoughts.
“I do wish to marry you,” he said.
“So... just ask,” she wailed.
He looked astonished. “Ask?”
“You just took,” she said.
He blinked at her; his mouth open. It had clearly not occurred to him to ask her. “I am not used to asking for what I want,” he confessed.
“And don’t bother now,” she hissed at him. “I don’t marry people who force me into things,” she continued before she turned on her heel and darted up the stairs. The maid showed her to her room.
She had trouble sleeping. She lay in the centre of the enormous bed sure that rest would elude her and still dressed in her undergarments. Habit had made her remove her dress and hang it over a door. There were clothes provided for her but she didn’t want to wear them.
A knock woke her in the morning and when, after a decent pause, the door opened it hit the chair she had dragged over and put against it. There was a feminine squeak of indignation. Clearly not the Marquess.
“Oh... sorry.” She leapt out of the bed and ran to shift the chair.
The young maid who peeked through the door didn’t look much older than her. “I have to help you dress for breakfast.” She sounded very nervous. “His lordship said,” she added.
Breakfast? It was a new fad. “What’s your name?”
“Millie, your ladyship.”
“Mine is Adelaide and I am not a lady.”
“But you must be,” she argued as she helped her dress. “If his lordship is to marry you.”
“Why does he need to marry so quickly, Millie. Do you know?”
The girl gave her an odd look before leaning in conspiratorially. “It’s his uncle,” she said. “I hear tell that he gave him an... what do you call it?”
“Threat...yeah.” Millie quickly buttoned up the dress that had taken her too long, and much gymnastics to get out of by herself the night before. “Before his birthday,” she added.
“His lordship’s.”
He must be turning thirty. She could not imagine he had managed to fit in everything he was reputed to have done in less time.
“I cannot do much with your hair, milady.”
“Don’t worry about it.” If he kidnapped her, he could not expect her to be at her best.
She stood, arms folded and point blank refused to sit or eat or take anything he offered her until he explained.
“Please sit, Adelaide, and I will explain.”
Ah, so he knew her name at least. A mute head shake.
He sighed and made a motion ordering the staff from the room. She was wondering if he thought that he had made a mistake. Would he return her undamaged if she proved too feisty?
“I admire your spirit. It is admirable under the circumstances.”
Oh dear. That was not the result she had been hoping to achieve. “Why?” she demanded.
“I will explain after the wedding.”
“No.” She took a deep breath. “Now.”
He raised an eyebrow.
She stood, holding that breath. Her lips pursed in what she hoped looked like determination. She prayed that her stomach would not growl; she was fiercely hungry and the breakfast smelt good.
“My uncle, the Duke, demands an heir.”
He continued, “He has no progeny of his own and not for want of trying. He wants proof that I am not so afflicted. The entire line rests on my shoulders.”
She frowned. In all his womanising he had not produced a by-blow?
“And you,” he added, “look fertile to me.”
She blinked. Fertile? She was unfashionably robust as her mother had often told her. She did not know what to say to his statement.
“And I saw how you looked at me.” He grinned at her.
“I did no such thing,” she argued. It would have been the height of rudeness to do so, even if she had.
“Yes, you did.” He laughed. “Confess it, Adelaide, you find me attractive.”
Her mouth hung open as she tried to think of a rejoinder but then her treacherous stomach growled.
He stood and held his hand out to her. “Please sit and eat, I do not want you to fade away.”
In the absence of servants, he piled her plate high with food and offered her tea and hot chocolate. Thus fortified, she attempted to negotiate. He needed her. And from his odd statement, he might even want her. He was not to know that he was the first man who had ever thought her ample virtues were attractive. Adelaide was not a fool, love matches were rare and he was the heir to a Duke. The marriage, even if she was forced into it and it was never consummated, would be valid and divorce was not easily obtained. She might be stuck with him, but he, also, with her. As the wife of the only heir she would be the Lady Avon and her son, if she had one, would be an Earl. His uncle could live for many years, but when he died, she would be Duchess.
She could help her family and if she was very honest, she did find him attractive. She just didn't appreciate his manners. But really, she got the best half of this deal.
She studied him as she ate and again, he knew she was watching him.
When she had eaten her fill she said, “You are very sure of yourself milord.”
“My name. You should know it if we are to wed.”
“When,” he corrected. He refilled her chocolate. “Have you changed your mind?”
“If,” she emphasised, “we were to wed... with this unseemly haste, my mother would require a later function.”
He nodded.
“Our private apartments would be-” she stopped, not sure how to proceed.
“-separate,” he finished, “As per the current fashion. Unless you preferred otherwise.”
She blushed. “No...” She fiddled with her napkin.
“Anything else?” He gazed at her expectantly. Those blue eyes twinkled.
“I confess that I am at a loss.” She probably should not have said that.
“Your father?” he asked.
“Died some years ago and I fear there is no dowry.” The lack of a dowry made her an even less attractive option for a wife.
“I know.”
Had he enquired about her as a prospect? Her mother hadn’t said anything.
He frowned.
“Nathaniel,” she corrected herself.
“I apologise for seizing you.” He looked very contrite.
“You do?”
“I promise to never touch you again without your permission.”
“I see.”
“May I hold your hand?”
He learned fast.
She nodded.
He knelt on the floor next to her and reached for her hand. “But I cannot let you go.”
She suspected that.
“I would prefer you to be my wife than a concubine.” Clearly either way, he was not returning her. Her reputation would be destroyed, even if they didn’t do anything. Unless he could return her without incident, but she feared her aunt may have already raised the alarm. And as she had previously calculated, this deal was a good one for her and a lot of wealth was at stake for him.
He waited for her answer.
She nodded quickly and he beamed at her.
“What if...?” she asked. “What if there is no child?”
“I don’t think that will be an issue. Do you?”
They never did settle into separate apartments and her dress had to be adjusted for the formal ceremony. Nobody cared to count the weeks from her official wedding day to her confinement and people said that babies often came early. Even ones as large and healthy as their son.
© AM Gray 2014

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