A Lord Undone – Rose Pearson

There were whispers everywhere she went. Eyes giving her sidelong glances. Smirks on the lips of ladies she had only yesterday considered to be acquaintances. Beatrice simply could not explain it. Her cheeks began to burn with embarrassment, although she did not know the reasons behind her shame. Looking surreptitiously up towards the next shop on the busy London street, Beatrice saw with relief that it was a bookshop. A place of solace. She had always loved losing herself in a book and now more than ever, such a place felt like a refuge. Hurrying inside, she moved quickly to the back of the shop without so much as a glance towards the bookshop owner who was standing quietly at the small table near the door. Her face was still hot as she squirreled into the corner of the shop, pressing one hand lightly against her stomach in an attempt to push the tension from her frame. Everyone she passed had seemed to be whispering about her, although Beatrice had very little knowledge as to why such a thing might be. She had only been a fortnight in London for the Season and, of course, had ensured that she behaved impeccably at every single occasion. Her father, the Marquess of Burnley, had accompanied her to London and furnished her with a companion in the place of her late mother. Lady Burnley had passed away some two years ago, leaving Beatrice and Lord Burnley alone at the estate. Her elder brother – who was twelve years older than Beatrice – had already married, settled in his own estate and produced three lovely and healthy sons, meaning that the family line was well established. Her father did not much care for Beatrice but had brought her to London regardless, mostly because he wanted her removed from his estate and from her requirement of tugging on his purse strings! Her companion was a robust Mrs. Watson, who was some distant relation of Lord Burnley, but who was also a little lax when it came to her duties. If Lord Burnley had been in his cups the previous evening, then it was well known that he would remain abed for most of the following day – and Mrs. Watson would ignore her charge and do much the same as Lord Burnley. But whilst Beatrice did not think well of her companion, she certainly wished that she was present here this afternoon. Whilst Beatrice had taken a maid with her for her afternoon excursion, she was not much protection from the glances and whispers of others. Mrs. Watson, in her vigorous manner, would have brought Beatrice a little more courage than she felt at present. “Did you hear about Lady Beatrice?” Beatrice closed her eyes tightly, pressing herself even more back into the shadows that wrapped themselves around her. It seemed her bookshop was not to hold the solace she had thought to escape to.

“Lady Beatrice?” said the second young lady, their voices only a little louder than whispers and yet seeming to be shouted so loudly that the room reverberated with the sound. “The daughter of the Marquess of Burnley?” “The very same,” said the first, as Beatrice closed her eyes tightly, her hands clenched into fists. “I have heard it from Lady Dawson.” Beatrice’s breath caught. Lady Dawson was one of London’s most notorious gossips, which meant that whatever Lady Dawson had said of her, it would be all around the city. “Lord Burnley was with Lord Dawson last evening,” said the first young lady, eagerly. “There were more than a few gentlemen there too, of course, playing cards and the like.” The second young lady giggled. “With a good deal of liquor, I would surmise,” she said, sounding thoroughly interested. “So what did Lord Burnley reveal?” Beatrice held her breath. “Lord Burnley stated that he believes his wife played him false,” the first young lady whispered, as Beatrice’s whole body began to grow weak with shock. “And that, as such, Lady Beatrice is not his own flesh and blood!” “Good gracious!” came the reply. “Then it is not known to whom she belongs?” Beatrice did not hear anymore, for even though the other two ladies began to talk all the more in excited, whispered tones, she could hear nothing but what had been spoken. She had never once heard that her father considered her to be illegitimate, had never even thought that her mother might have made such an indiscretion. Had her father waited until his wife had passed away before making such an accusation clear? Or was it only because he had been in his cups that such a thing had passed his lips? A strangled sob left her lips as she pressed one shaking hand against her mouth, suddenly fearful of everyone around her. To have to return home now, to have to walk back through London knowing what people now thought of her was almost too much to bear. If only she had not left the house today! She would never be able to lift her head up in society again and certainly, all hopes of a match were quite gone from her now. No gentleman would marry a young lady who had a question over her parentage. Slowly, the roaring in her ears began to fade and the sounds of the bookshop began to come to Beatrice again. Her heart still hammered furiously and she could feel a bead of sweat dripping down her back, such was her angst. Everything in her told her to remain precisely where she was, to remain hidden and to stay completely out of sight, but Beatrice knew she could not remain so for good. “A Lady Smithton, you say?” Her eyes closed again tightly as Beatrice prayed that these new voices would not seek her out. “Indeed,” came the second voice. “By all accounts, she will be able to help me find a suitable match.” The first voice did not answer for a few moments.

Beatrice held her breath, not wanting to move even a fraction for fear of revealing herself. “Then you hope that Lady Smithton will be able to find you a match, then?” “I do,” came the first voice, full of confidence. “My limp may be pronounced but Lady Smithton will not notice it, I am sure.” There came a small, contented sigh. “I am quite determined to seek her out.” Beatrice let out a long, slow breath of relief as the voices began to fade. The name of Lady Smithton seemed to carve itself into her mind, even though, for the present moment, she could not seem to think of anything save for what the first two ladies had revealed to her. “Miss?” Catching her breath and feeling a flurry of fear rush all through her, Beatrice turned her head to see naught but her maid looking at her with huge eyes, clearly fully aware now of what had been said about her mistress. Beatrice did not need to ask whether or not the maid believed such a thing, for gossip did not require belief in one thing or the next. “Might I find a hackney for you?” The kindness in her maid’s voice sent tears swarming into Beatrice’s eyes. “Yes,” she whispered, seeing how the maid bobbed a quick curtsy. “That would be more than appropriate at this time.” “I shall only be a few minutes, my lady,” the maid promised, although her eyes still remained wide with evident shock. “You might watch for me from the window there.” Beatrice nodded and watched her maid hurry from the shop, feeling her tension only rising all the more as she walked to the window to watch for her maid. She would have to scurry from the shop to the hackney and only then would she feel a small modicum of safety. What she was to do thereafter, Beatrice had very little idea.


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