A Marquess for Marigold – Ellie St. Clair

arigold stopped on the path as she sensed a presence behind her. Nothing threatening, but just… something. Or someone. She saw nothing, but then heard a noise, a… whimper of sorts. She turned around in a circle, searching out the source of the sound. She was attuned to it, for it was the very reason she often walked the paths of these marshes. She foraged for herbs and for plants that could be added to her own remedies which she enjoyed making for her family as required — not that many of them thought much of her “witchcraft” as her father liked to call it, though jokingly. However, that wasn’t what drew her here. No, Marigold had always found herself far more at ease with the animals of the forests and marshes than the people of the town. Here, she was free to be who she was, without having to make polite conversation or ensure that all was in order within the inn or with her family. Now that her eldest sister, Daisy, had married and left both their family’s inn and the town, all seemed to be resting on Marigold’s shoulders. While she would never admit it to anyone, Marigold wasn’t altogether pleased by the situation. “Hello?” she called softly. She knew it was ridiculous — an animal wasn’t exactly going to respond — but she always found a calm voice and gentle touch could go rather far. Another slight whimper resounded, and then there was a rustling in the plants to the right of the path behind her. Marigold walked slowly toward the sound so as not to scare the creature away, and crouched down when the noise became louder. She slowly parted the long green stalks of strawberry clover with its pink flowers atop, her heart reaching out with her hands when she saw what awaited her. A little puppy lay curled in the plants, his head on his paws as he looked up at her with big, sad brown eyes. When Marigold reached her hand out to allow him to catch her scent, he leaned forward for a moment, interested, but then shied away once more. She attempted to fit a hand under his belly and lift him, but then she noticed what it was that had so aggravated him. His foot was caught in a trap — not a trap that would have injured him in any way but had rendered him immobile. She reached out gently, removing the rope from around his paw, and then scooped him up quickly into her lap before he had a chance to run away from her. “Where did you come from, little one?” she asked, for a puppy of this size should still be with his mother. He snuggled into her lap, and she stroked the top of his head. He was white with large brown spots, and she would guess he was only a few weeks old.

Marigold opened the basket she had brought along with her in order to collect any supplies she found and placed the puppy inside instead. She left the top open so he could peek his head out and look around him while she traipsed about this area of the marsh to see if she could determine from where he had come. After an hour of not finding any clues, and as worried as she was about the fact he might run away and be on his own once more, she figured he should have the opportunity to find his own way home. She returned to where she had found him and placed him on the ground, hoping he would begin to sniff his way back to his mother. But he did nothing. He only sat there beside her, looking up at her as though he was wondering why she had set him down. Marigold started a few steps down the path and he did the same. When she stopped, he sat down beside her again. “All right then,” she said, picking him up once more. “If we cannot find where you came from, I suppose you are coming with me. I’m not sure how else you’d survive out here on your own.” She kept an eye out for a mother dog or other pups on the way back to town, but she saw no sign of anything. She tucked the puppy deeper into her basket as she approached the inn. She had no idea what her parents might say about adding a dog to the household. They had a few cats, and back when they had owned the stables, they had been more amenable to animals who could live there. But Marigold had other ideas for this dog. She had a room to herself now, since Daisy had married her duke and moved to London, and she could use the company. She snuck in the back door of the house, making her way up the family stairs to her bedroom. There, she deposited the puppy, who did not seem pleased that he couldn’t follow her when she left the room, but thankfully he didn’t make a sound. Marigold ran down the stairs to the kitchens, filling a bowl with water and finding some leftover chicken from the fridge before making her way back up to the room. Now, the puppy was much more pleased with her when he saw what she was offering, and he quickly gulped down both before sitting back to look at her, his expression asking, “Now what?” “Now,” she said, answering his implied question, “you need a name. Pup? No. Too common. Max? No, you’re not a Max.” He tilted his head as she spoke to him, running through a list of potential names.

“I found you within the strawberry clover,” she said, finally. “But you are not quite a Strawberry, so how about Clover?” He gave a little woof at that, and she smiled, happy that he was pleased with her decision. “Very well, Clover,” she said. “I will sneak you out for a quick minute, and then it will be time for me to prepare dinner. And we will see what we can do about getting you out of this room. We’ll just have to convince my father first, what do you think?” He gave a happy small bark as he jumped back into her basket, though Marigold shushed him as she worried he might be heard throughout the house. After all had been concluded, she hurried to the kitchens to begin dinner. The inn was currently empty, which she enjoyed but at the same time, she was well aware that the situation was not ideal for her family’s income. They needed boarders, but her father assured them that more were on the way. He was not entirely certain when they would come, so they had to be prepared, but coming they were. Marigold had a feeling they were of the same ilk as Nathaniel Huntingwell, a former soldier who had stayed with them when he needed a place to hide following his actions in a battle against Napoleon. But for now, her duty was preparing supper only for her own family, which Marigold welcomed. She was not like Daisy, content to spend her time managing a home and directing others around. No, Marigold would far prefer to have more time alone, to not have to worry about the responsibilities — responsibilities of this type, anyway. When they finally sat down for supper, she took a moment to gauge her father’s current mood before she attempted to ask him about the dog. He seemed affable enough — for him. He tucked into his soup without a word and voiced no complaints, which was a good sign. There was no frown upon his face, so that gave her some hope. “Father,” she said, assuming her most disarming smile, “what would you say to having a dog around the house?” “A dog?” He looked up now, his thick brow furrowed as his gaze roamed over Marigold and her two sisters, Iris and Violet, as though he was unsure as to which of them had spoken. “Yes, a dog,” she said. “It would be a lovely addition to the home, do you not think?” “Sounds like another mouth to feed to me,” he said with a frown. “He would eat table scraps, Father,” she said patiently. “There would be no additional costs.” “I don’t see why we would bother, Marigold,” he said. “There’s enough to do around here already.

” “He would be no trouble,” she said, and now Marigold noted that her sisters were looking at her intently, as though they were well aware that she was no longer speaking of a fictional animal, but that she had one already in mind. As to how long it would take her parents to determine that fact… “Now that Daisy’s found a husband, perhaps you should attempt to do the same,” Iris said cheekily, a wide grin on her face when Marigold turned a glare upon her. “Why, Iris, so that you can run this inn by yourself?” Iris’ grin fled at that, as she obviously hadn’t considered that aspect. “Well, at some point, we will all have to marry, will we not?” “That day is not today,” their father, Elias Tavners, grumbled from the head of the table. “Your sister has only just married and will be returning here within a week or so for her visit. We have enough to do without talk of another marriage.” “Not to worry, Father,” Marigold said, tucking a strand of her reddish-brown hair — a color she abhorred — behind her ears. “It is not as though there are lines of suitors knocking at the door to ask to court me.” “Oh, not to worry, darling,” their mother said, placing a hand over Marigold’s in her attempt to reassure her. “They will come. I just know it.” Marigold managed a smile for her mother, though she knew that she was just being kind. They all jumped, however, in the next moment when a small bark came from just beyond the kitchen door. “What in the—” their father began, but then he jumped up and ran for the broom when a little creature streaked into the room, barking as he ran in circles around the table. “It’s a dog!” Marigold’s youngest sister, Violet, exclaimed with excitement. “A dog?” Elias bellowed, and Marigold jumped from her chair as she attempted to wrangle Clover before her father could get to him. Not that she thought he would hurt him, but to be on the safe side… Luckily, Clover came to her willingly, and Marigold scooped him up in her arms and held him tightly as she faced the rest of her family, who sat watching her with wide eyes. “This is Clover,” she said, biting her lip. “I found him today in the marshes. He is all alone, and he cannot care for himself at the moment, for he’s far too small. I was hoping we could keep him.” She looked up at her father pleadingly, and he stood there, his arms crossed over his chest in displeasure, yet when he looked at the dog, Marigold thought she noted the slightest bit of a turn to the corners of his mouth. Clover jumped out of Marigold’s arms, ran to Elias and sniffed his leg, licking his hand when Elias bent down to take a closer look at him. Finally, he straightened, a hard look on his face as he looked at Marigold. “He can stay—” Marigold clapped her hands together joyfully but then her father continued.

“—for now. Once we find him another home, away he goes.” Marigold’s glee faded at the thought of having to give Clover up. But then she looked at the dog and back at her father, who seemed rather torn. A little time was fine, she decided. It would be all she required to convince her father that a dog was what they needed in this house. “Very well,” she said, and then he held up a finger. “Whatever you do,” he said sternly, “do not allow that dog to bother any of our guests.” “Of course,” she said with assurance. “I’ll make certain of it.


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