Elizabeth Mansfield

Elizabeth Mansfield by Mother's Choice Read Free Book Online

Book: Elizabeth Mansfield by Mother's Choice Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mother's Choice
with her loved ones was devastating to her. All her instincts seemed to be begging her to follow Eva and make peace.
    But she couldn't. She had an obligation to protect her daughter. Eva, who'd had a good marriage, couldn't know how dreadful life could be with the wrong husband. And there was nothing about Jeremy Tate and this courtship that sounded right.
    She went slowly toward the stairs, her mind whirling. What if Eva made good her threat! she asked herself. What if the fellow did indeed try to entice Cicely into an elopement? Cassie had loudly declared that Cicely would never agree to it, but in her heart she wasn't at all sure. Her daughter was young, with a propensity for melodrama... and what was more melodramatic than an elopement?
    She stopped stock-still on the stairs, a plan forming in her mind. Yes, why not? she asked herself. She could go to see him herself, right now, and ensure that the fellow never came into their lives again. "Clemson," she called, turning about and running down the stairs, "run to the stable and tell Boyle to ready the carriage. I want him to take me to Inglesby Park. At once!"
     
     

 
    Chapter 6
     
     
    Jeremy had asked Mrs. Stemple, his housekeeper-cook, to prepare a simple country dinner, which he and his guest would take informally in the morning room. Since he and Lord Lucas expected no other guests, he told her, they would not use the enormous formal dining room as they'd been doing the last few nights. "We won't even bother to dress," he explained. "So you see, Mrs. Stemple, there's no need for you to fuss. Mutton and potatoes will do."
    "Mutton and potatoes indeed!" grunted Mrs. Stemple to herself as she stalked off. "Ye'll 'ave a proper meal, no matter where ye choose to eat it!"
    The outcome of this discussion was that Mrs. Stemple outdid herself. When the two men sat down in their shirtsleeves at the modest morning-room table, glum and dispirited by the continuing downpour, they were presented with a meal so delectable it would have lifted the spirits even of a man about to be hanged. Thus it was that Jeremy and his friend found themselves considerably cheered. One could not feel blue-deviled when devouring succulent glazed lamb cutlets, tiny carrots " à la hamonde , " cabbage flowers sprinkled with parmesan, and the half-dozen other dishes Mrs. Stemple had put before them. 'There's nothing so delicious as a simple meal prepared by a genius cook," Jeremy remarked as he eyed the praline cake and the apple pudding with cream that were still to come. "A meal like this makes me almost forget my troubled anticipation of being leg-shackled."
    "Mmmm," murmured Charlie, helping himself to a fourth cutlet, "I have heard it said that a condemned man will eat a hearty meal."
    "It's not that I feel condemned, exactly," Jeremy said in guilty denial. "Cicely will undoubtedly make a delightful wife."
    "Not if 'er mama has anythin' t'say to it," came a new voice.
    Jeremy looked round to find his man standing in the doorway. "Hickham!" he exclaimed, surprised but not annoyed by this abrupt interruption of his dinner. "Back already?"
    "Yes, m'lord, but the news ain't goin' t'be to yer likin'."
    Charlie, who did not permit his own man such familiarity, frowned at the fellow in disapproval. 'Took it upon yourself to read the lady's answer, did you?" he asked with heavy sarcasm.
    "She didn't send no answer," Hickham said in quick self-defense. "She was goin' to, but Lady Schofield didn't let 'er."
    "If there's no answer, why did you say I'll not like it?" Jeremy inquired, puzzled.
    "Because before Lady Schofield stopped 'er, Lady Beringer did gi' me a message fer ye. She made me repeat it verbatim."
    "Well, speak up, man. What was it?"
    "I don' know if I should say," the valet-butler-coachman taunted, fully enjoying the rapt attention of the two listeners.
    "And why shouldn't you say?" Charlie demanded.
    "Because after Lady Beringer gi' me the message, she an' 'er sister 'ad angry words. Then

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