Authors: Virginia Henley
Dressing became a totally new and exciting experience for Summer. She had never even worn a lady’s hat in her life, so the silken stockings, ribboned garters, and high-heeled shoes astonished her almost as much as the busk, an invention which contorted the female form by reducing the waist and lifting the breasts. The effect might be unnatural, but it was also provocative and alluring and made her breasts swell above the neckline of any gown chosen.
Since she could not manage the muff and fan as well as the long handle of a face visor, she chose instead a simple black eye mask held in place with ribbons tied beneath the saucy hat.
When she was ready, Dora beamed and Lil clapped her hands. “Darling, you amaze me. You look more like you just arrived from Paris than Cornwall! I swear by the time you’ve painted your face for the evening and chosen your patches, you’ll be so addicted to life in London, you’ll never wish to leave.”
A great rush of guilt rose up to almost choke Summer as she pictured poor Spider coping on his own with the barrels of contraband tobacco and almost nothing with which to fill his young belly. Auntie Lil allowed her no time to dwell on her thoughts as she’d ordered her small carriage be readied to take them into the city.
As Summer emerged from her aunt’s house and descended the
steps to the street and the waiting carriage, she did not notice the mounted figure of Lord Helford.
Ruark was on his way to the Pool of London, where his ship was being readied for the voyage to Cornwall. He had taken a short detour from the Strand up Cockspur Street for some compelling reason he couldn’t explain to himself. When he spied her followed by Auntie Lil and a footman, the reason became crystal clear to him. “Summer,” he breathed, “Lady Summer.” She was absolutely exquisite!
Solomon Storm, the moneylender, lived in Cheapside in the City of London proper. Ruark Helford followed Lady Richwood’s small carriage down the Strand to Fleet, down Ludgate Hill, and over to Cheapside. He watched Summer emerge from the carriage and head toward where the goldsmiths and moneylenders did a brisk business paying out at a comfortable interest rate of six percent. Since there had been a death in the family, he assumed that Auntie Lil had wasted no time in taking her to collect some of her inheritance.
Reluctantly, he left them to their business and carried on toward Lower Thames Street and the Pool of London.
Solomon Storm ushered the two women into his office, noting with a shrewd eye their elegant clothes. Lil cocked her head on one side to watch Summer. She was ready to jump in the moment the waters threatened to become too deep for the young girl.
“Good morning, I’m Lady Summer St. Catherine,” she drawled in her attractive voice. She handed him a paper and lied without batting an eye. “I’ve come to make arrangements to pay this mortgage and reclaim the property my father squandered.”
“My dear Lady St. Catherine, I am by no means certain I will allow you to redeem this note. As you can clearly see by the date, it is overdue by a few days. With interest it amounts to eighteen thousand pounds, and I could easily sell the note for nineteen to a land speculator who buys and sells country estates.”
She gave a little laugh of disbelief. “Nineteen thousand pounds?” she asked incredulously. “My dear Mr. Storm, the art collection alone is worth more than that. The property adjoins Lord Helford’s, you know, and after the wedding …” Her hand flew to her mouth. “My dear Mr. Storm, I beg you to forget what you just heard. I’m in such an awkward position, you understand, being in mourning, we have to keep the engagement a secret. I can rely on your discretion, Solomon?” she asked intimately. “Let me
see if I can explain my position without using names. The Cornwall gentleman will generously buy back my estate for me, but in the meantime I find myself short of funds. Why don’t you add a couple of thousand more to this mortgage, at, say, eight percent for thirty days and I will be able to get on with the sad duty of burying my poor father.” The black silk handkerchief was lifted to tear-drenched eyes while Solomon Storm pursed his lips.
The tears did not move him one iota, he had seen women cry before, but there was something about this particular lady, something indefinable. She would never be defeated, no matter the odds. “Nine percent?” he suggested.
“You drive a hard bargain, Solomon Storm. Nine percent it is!” she drawled flirtatiously.
In the carriage Lil Richwood looked at her with new eyes. “You don’t need to see a play, darling, you’re a better actress than the ones on the stage.”
Summer grinned. “I want to buy my brother some new clothes, do you know of such a shop?”
Lady Richwood directed the coachman to drive to the Exchange. “Summer, you bought a little time and money, but when it’s gone, you’ll be in a fine mess.”
“With enough time and enough money I could change the whole world. With a little time and a little money I should be able to change some things … who knows?” And she gave Lil a secret smile filled with mystery.
They arrived at the playhouse in upper St. John Street after five straight hours of shopping. Summer had walked away with four hundred pounds’ worth of finery by parting with a hundred in cash. The remainder of the bill was to be settled anon.
Inside the theater she was filled with a restless excitement as she closed her nostrils to the overheated smell of the unwashed crowd. She enjoyed the stir she caused by arriving late, not minding at all the men’s frankly assessing stares or the drop-dead looks from the women. There was so much to see all at once that she had to absorb it a little at a time.
Velvet curtains had been drawn aside to display a small stage with painted scenery screens and tall lighted wax candles which illuminated the stage like a picture in the darkness. It did not take long for her to realize the audience was more important than the play. A buzz of conversation, flirting, and laughter made it necessary for the actors to shout above the noise, and they even occasionally
entered into heckling matches or ribald remarks with the audience.
The pit was filled with crowded benches of young men and bizarrely painted harlots. Above was a balcony of small luxurious boxes where ladies and gentlemen of quality had come to be seen. High above was a gallery of cheap seats known as “being up in the God’s” where apprentices thought it their duty to be rowdy and boo, whistle and catcall the entire performance.
During the intermission, pretty girls sold oranges and lemons, drinks and sweetmeats, and Summer was both fascinated and repelled by the scandalous way the men touched and fondled the orange girls. It seemed that the lowest neckline, the highest skirt, the sauciest behavior reaped the most sales.
Summer absorbed it all like a sponge. Though she listened to the play, her eyes again and again strayed to the fine ladies in the audience. She noted their clothes and jewels and hairdos, but mostly she watched their gestures, how they whispered archly and plied their fans and flirted and displayed themselves like peacocks. She could do all that!
By the time she arrived at the Countess of Shrewsbury’s party she had acquired an air of confidence which clearly said, “Here I am, if you’re not looking at me, you’re wasting your time!”
And look they did. Her cloak was the deepest shade of royal purple velvet. She removed it to display a gown the palest tint of mauve, fashionably low cut to display Auntie Lil’s imitation amethysts. Though it was not a costume ball, she had chosen to wear a tiny black lace mask and carried a black lace fan. Because of her mourning, she excused herself from the dancing, but in reality she did not know how to dance one step. Before the end of the evening, however, by paying undivided attention, she knew how to dance a courante, a pavane, a minuet, a saraband, and a pendant gavotte.
Sitting quietly with her features half-concealed made her the center of attention. The men clustered about her and the women whispered. Buckingham was without a mistress at the moment, and he arrived late and spent his time at the gaming tables. Though she did not dance, Summer indulged in cards and she found herself sharing a private joke with Buckingham when at the same moment each realized the other was cheating. Gallantly, he let her win but she withdrew from the gaming and knew instinctively he was a most unsavory man.
Supper also was an education for Summer. The buffet table fairly
groaned beneath its load of mutton, capon, beef, jellies, trifles, and syllabubs. The women who partook of the food and drink heartily were by and large boring lumps whose figures had gone to hell long ago. The women whom men paid attention to ate like birds, almost to the point of affectation. A tiny nibble or a sip, then a whole plateful of food was set aside. It was obviously fashionable to pretend no appetite in front of a man. Neither did men indulge in deep or intelligent conversation with the fair sex. Fashionable females tended to fall into two categories. Either they were shallow, sweet, and silly like Frances Stewart or they were practiced voluptuaries such as Barbara Castlemaine and Anna Maria Shrewsbury. The men adored both types but obviously respected neither.
On the carriage ride back to Cockspur Street, Summer rested her elegant new coiffure against the velvet squabs and fingered the tiny black patches stuck to her painted face. In twenty-four hours the world had been opened up and revealed to her. She had become an entirely different person and she had met her
Here was her one great chance to save Roseland and even the score with the rich for her life of poverty. She smiled into the darkness. If she went about things in the right way, she might even have some fun to boot—at Ruark Helford’s expense, of course.
Lil Richwood watched her beneath lowered lashes. She had been a total success tonight. Six men had made outright offers for her and four others had made overtures, but Lil wouldn’t have told her for a thousand pounds. There was no way she was going to introduce the beautiful, vibrant girl into the life. It was too tempting, too seductive, and before you came to your senses, it was too late. The name on everyone’s lips would be Lady Summer St. Catherine. She must get her back to Cornwall before she took those first tentative steps down the road to perdition.
ummer sat in the small breakfast room pensively sipping her chocolate. Guilt nagged at her for leaving Spider alone for so many days, but she reasoned that he was beginning to chafe at her mothering him and was probably delighted to be fending for himself, as a man.
Lil came in with sparkling eyes and Summer could tell she had news. “Darling, the most extraordinary thing! The King is sending Helford back to Cornwall.”
Summer’s quicksilver thoughts raced about to put this exciting information to advantage when Lil’s drawl dropped a bombshell.
“He’s been appointed magistrate of the whole of Cornwall to put a stop to smuggling.”
“Oh, no!” cried Summer, all her lovely prospects lying shattered at her feet and a small curl of fear threatening to knot inside her stomach. Again she saw clearly the dark, piercing eyes, the hard, dangerous mouth, and the risk and challenge he represented sent a shiver of excitement through her. She loved to sail too near the wind and knew in that moment she would hazard everything. Fortune favored the bold!
She saw her situation clearly, knew she was in danger of getting her fingers badly burned as she would constantly be between two fires, but the simple truth hit her.
She had chosen him.
She was going to get him.
It was fate.
She pushed the chocolate cup away, stood up decisively, and said, “Where can I go to meet him again?”
Lil made a moue with her lips. “It will be difficult if not impossible. The reason he wasn’t at Anna Maria Shrewsbury’s last evening was because he’s readying his ship. He’s leaving at the end of the week, so I don’t suppose he’ll be socializing at all.”
“Where is his ship?” asked Summer.
“In the Pool of London, of course. Oh no, darling, you can’t possibly go wandering about the docks,” insisted Auntie Lil. “There are limits to what a lady may do and still remain a lady. Perhaps we could get away with a discreet note asking him to call.”
Summer shook her head. “For God’s sake, Lil, I was on the docks in Plymouth and sailed to the docks of Portsmouth. How the devil do you think I got here? I’ll not wait about for discreet notes. I’ll go this morning.”
Lil took hold of both her hands and made her sit on the small satin-covered settee while she imparted some much-needed advice. “Listen to me, darling. You must make him think you are a lady. If he thinks you’re anything less, he will love you and leave you as casually as he would buy a jewel or a horse. You must accept nothing less than carte blanche.”
“I know that’s French, but I don’t know what it means exactly.”
“It means full powers of a mistress,” Lil explained.
Summer squeezed her hand. “Don’t be so serious. I promise I will accept nothing less.”
Lil sighed and relaxed her hold. “I’ll send the little maid with you, who brought your chocolate this morning.”
“Oh, no,” said Summer. “I want that older woman with a face like the back of a fishcart.”