Papa’s Captive – Sue Lyndon, Celeste Jones

Lord William Caldwell, the sixth Earl of Bridgeport, leaned against the fence surrounding the track at Hampstead Racecourse, his fist raised and mouth open as he exhorted the horse upon which he had wagered—Papa’s Girl—as the mare rushed toward the finish line. Exhilaration pumped through his veins. William preferred speed over slowness, change over staying the same, surprise over predictability. For him, the race track embodied all those things, as well as an opportunity to fatten his wallet. The horses thundered past his position, kicking up dust, and the smell of sweat, both equine and human, filled his nostrils as they roared by. Papa’s Girl was two furlongs in the lead with four furlongs to go. He had picked a winner. The crowd surged toward the finish line and he moved with them. Most gentlemen of his station observed the races from the reserved boxes, but not William. Within him burned a need to be in the thick of the action. Passive spectating was not for him. Amongst the cluster of working class men who had come to the track for a bit of merriment on a Saturday afternoon, he stood out by his dress and demeanor, as well as the amounts which he wagered. He fed upon the energy of the crowd and his pulse quickened. Earlier that day at White’s, a lively conversation had taken place over the virtues of various steeds which would be racing that day. He had intended to call upon his betrothed that afternoon, but when he glanced at the racing form and saw the name Papa’s Girl, he felt certain it was a sign from above and he had altered his intentions in order to visit the track.

Although he did not mention it in conversation with others, William believed in signs, fate, kismet, particularly as it related to his fiancee, Rosie. She had literally fallen at his feet a few weeks earlier and the moment he set his eyes on her, he knew the fates had intervened on his behalf, sending her to him in an unmistakable sequence of events which could only be the result of forces which were not of this earth. Rosie had not been so easily convinced. “I find it difficult to believe, sir, that my future should be decided by a weakened board that caused me to fall at your feet like a gift from the heavens, as you have so eloquently put it.” “But you would allow your guardian, Miss Wickersham, to choose your husband, is that not true?” “Miss Wickersham is a sentient being who has made brilliant matches for many young ladies over the years. A weakened board is best used for kindling, not matchmaking,” she had said with a sniff and a haughty lift of her chin. Oh, how he enjoyed the challenge of persuading her otherwise. Her prim and proper ways, adherence to the rules, ramrod straight posture….it all brought out something in him which he could not control, a desire to make her laugh and be silly. He wanted to be the one to see beneath her somewhat frosty exterior.

A stirring in his loins reminded him of his intense desire to see beneath her starched pantalettes as well. Her beauty arrested his thoughts, invaded his dreams and sent him into a near hysteria of desire. He had finally prevailed upon her to accept his proposal of marriage. Miss Wickersham had been nearly as hard to convince, though her resolve was softened with a bag of gold coins. Rosie, however, was nonplussed by his gifts. Or so she seemed, though he noted that upon his most recent visit she wore a broach which he had given her and the sight of it pinned above her breast had filled him with joy. ‘Twas though it was a badge of honor proving he had won her heart. Despite those successes, the young lady continued to put him off when it came to setting a wedding date. As he watched Papa’s Girl rushing around the track, he felt certain it was a sign that his Rosie was ready and would be his, running into his arms, very soon. He was removed from his thoughts when the crowd of spectators erupted in groans and shouts of dismay.

Glancing up, he saw that Papa’s Girl had, for no apparent reason, stopped stone cold in her tracks, nearly tossing the jockey over her head, while the rest of the pack surged past her. Uninjured, but determined, the horse refused to budge until the stable boy covered her eyes with a fabric sack and led her away. William wondered if this too was a sign from above. Perhaps Rosie simply needed a little push to help her overcome whatever anxieties were keeping her from agreeing to set a date soon. His mind filled with all the ways he might help her overcome her hesitancy, some of them not quite as innocent as his little bride-to-be. Indeed, some of William’s ideas were downright scandalous. EVERYTHİNG WAS CHANGİNG and Rosie did not care for it. No, she most certainly did not. Each morning for nearly two months, she had opened her eyes in the large bedchamber at Talcott House and the first thing she saw was the empty bed of her beloved friend Daisy. And each morning as her eyes took in the neatly arranged counterpane and lace edged pillows of the unused bed, loneliness and anxiety washed over her.

She missed Daisy. Truth be told, she missed Cynny and Cammie too. She wished with all her heart that things could go back to how they had been just a few months earlier when the four friends had lived together in the big corner bedchamber, their days filled with lessons and hijinks, their nights consisting of giggles and whispered secrets. Though they all knew their most important role in life was to be a proper wife for the papas their guardian, Miss Wickersham, would select for them, Rosie never imagined matters would move as quickly as they had in recent months. First Cammie got married, and that seemed fine, but when Cynny and Daisy got married in rapid succession, Rosie’s well-ordered world went topsy turvy. Rosie hated topsy turvy. Sitting up in bed, she gave herself a bit of chastisement at her unfair and selfish thoughts. Cammie, Cynny and Daisy had all married and were, if their letters were any indication, blissfully happy with their papas. And she was glad for them, truly she was. And yet… Fighting off the urge to bury her head under the blankets and hide from the world, Rosie reached into her nightstand and pulled out the stack of letters she had stored there.

During the two years since her arrival at Talcott House, she had never received a piece of correspondence. A letter for any of the residents there was rare, all of them having come from backgrounds which they were all too happy to forget and leave in the past. Had they any relations or connections in the world outside Talcott House, there would be no need for them to accept the benevolence of Miss Wickersham. Miss Wickersham was unlike anyone Rosie had ever met with her sharp eyes and sometimes sharp tongue, she cared for her charges with a firm hand—and sometimes a firm spanking—and singular devotion. Though not afraid to turn one of her little ladies over her knee or send her to the naughty chair for an infraction, Miss Wickersham also protected her girls with a ferocity which Rosie had come to see was unconditional. The walls of Talcott House provided safe haven. Rosie recalled her first few nights at the stately country home and how once she had realized she was truly protected, she had slept soundly for two days straight. The weight of the world which had pressed down upon her, nearly to the point of suffocation, had lifted. Not entirely. No, it would never be completely gone, for shame—once painted upon a person’s soul—always left a stain.

But being able to sleep without jumping to panicked wakefulness at every little sound had made a world of difference and helped her to begin the long process of healing. Or rather, trying to heal. To start feeling physically and mentally sound enough to finally move on with her new life. The sad truth was she would never feel completely untarnished by the stark circumstances which had led to her arrival at Talcott House. Her soul was besmirched and scarred, but somehow, she kept moving. Her new friends and the care of Miss Wickersham had certainly helped her become accustomed to her surroundings and vastly different life than what she had been used to. But now Daisy and Cynny and Cammie were gone. Another wave of loneliness rolled over her, a rush of familiar despair she wished she could learn to outrun before the first searing impact hit her. Forcing back the dark thoughts, she turned her attention to the letters in her hand, a physical reminder of friendships and affection which she held dear. There had been a time, not so very long ago, when she had felt utterly alone, despondent, desperate and friendless.

That she now had a home, friends and a fiance, was beyond miraculous. The thought of her soon-to-be-papa, Lord Caldwell, sent a variety of emotions pulsing through Rosie’s body, ranging from dreamy-eyed affection to bone chilling terror. No, of course, there was nothing frightening about Lord Caldwell himself. He was prone to carrying a gun, but somehow the sight of the firearm at his side filled Rosie with a thrill of excitement. Her fiance had an intriguing streak of daring and unpredictability, characteristics which in any other person, Rosie found most disagreeable. Yet, with Lord Caldwell, Rosie viewed his ability to move forward in life with complete confidence and faith in the future as engaging. His bravado was contagious and after a few minutes in his company Rosie began to believe his view of the world could be possible. But when he was absent, as he had been for an unusually long period of time, she noted with rising anxiety, she quickly returned to her usual way of thinking, which tended to be much more practical and cynical than her seemingly carefree Papa. Rosie looked to the future with trepidation. Was she a fool to hope happiness could be hers? Could anything wipe away the shadow of her past which loomed over her, and by extension, Lord Caldwell? She was tempting fate, and fate had rarely been kind to her.

To stave off her melancholy, she returned her attention to the missives in her hand. Cynny’s letter was full of excitement for the future and helped to elevate Rosie’s mood. Lord Grayson and I are thrilled to know you are to wed Lord Caldwell. How wonderful that our papas are already friends and we shall have the most delightful times once you are Lady Caldwell. I am overjoyed at the prospect of having all three of my dear friends from Talcott House here in London. We shall take the ton by storm and leave no prisoners. Though the thought of being in London did not bring Rosie joy, she was heartened by Cynny’s enthusiasm for her company and the notion of being reunited with Cammie, Cynny and Daisy made her heart sing. She tucked Cynny’s letter away and unfolded the numerous sheaths upon which Daisy had sent her latest correspondence. Other than the first page which contained Daisy’s monogram as Lady Kensington as well as the date and her salutation, the other pages were unnumbered and out of order. Trying to sort it all out had been like deciphering one of Daisy’s conversations and though it had frustrated Rosie, it also reminded her of her dear loving, but disorganized, friend.

Rosie was pleased to know marriage had not diminished Daisy’s exuberance, though it was Daisy’s rather cryptic postscript which lingered with Rosie. The most extraordinary event has happened to me, which almost surpasses my happiness at being married to my dear papa. I have been reunited with my father. I dare not put all of the details in writing—which Rosie found ironic considering the length of Daisy’s letter—and shall enlighten you when I next see you in the flesh. By that time, you shall be Lady Caldwell. For once, Daisy did not exaggerate. It was an extraordinary and shocking turn of events as Daisy had once confided in Rosie that her father had died before she was born, though she had also hinted at some mystery involving her mother. At the time, Daisy had been eager to share more of the story, but Rosie, fearing an expectation of reciprocity of family tales, cut the conversation short. She had no desire to revisit her family history. Though, she did allow herself a moment of happiness for her friend.

Having a father had been the most important part of Rosie’s pre-Talcott House life. And his loss had shattered everything. Before the memories could overtake her, Rosie opened Cammie’s letter. I am required to keep this brief as I have gotten myself into a wee bit of trouble due to what I am told is unladylike sharing in my correspondence, but I feel I must at least set pen to paper and tell you of my great happiness at knowing you are soon to be wed. Pray, there shall be much jubilation in London as we all await your arrival. A smile tipped the corners of her mouth as she recalled seeing Cynny behaving furtively with a letter just a few weeks after Cammie’s marriage. Rosie had been piqued when Cynny did not offer to share the letter which was obviously from Cammie—who else had such a distinctive script that it could be recognized from a distance? But, with Cammie’s confession, a vague idea of what the contents of the letter might have been flitted through Rosie’s mind. She suspected Cammie’s letter had likely included some private details about what happens between husbands and wives once they are wed. Of course, Rosie had no direct information about the happenings in the marital bed— the mere idea of even sharing such close quarters as a bed with Lord Caldwell gave her a sudden flush—but all of the little ladies of Talcott House were curious and sometimes whispered questions amongst themselves. It seemed such matters were to remain a mystery until a girl got married and dire warnings had been given by Miss Wickersham in an effort to quell curiosity.

However, unlike nearly all of Miss Wickersham’s stringent expectations, it seemed nearly impossible for the young ladies to obey and rampant inquisitiveness ran through the building. The questions and whispers tended to die down when there were no weddings, but as soon as a betrothal was announced or a marriage took place, the quest for knowledge on the topic spun up again, like a dust devil blasting across a barren field. Just before a resident of Talcott House got married she had a special appointment with Nurse Lister and Miss Wickersham who explained the secret things that happen between a husband and wife. Although Rosie was not prone to sneaking around, Daisy was and had often lingered near the door to Nurse Lister’s office while such talks took place and though she never admitted to being able to discern any of the words spoken, she did report the brides-to-be always left with a flush on their cheeks and a faraway look in their eyes. Daisy had even seen one or two who had to be supported on Miss Wickersham’s arm when they exited, due to an apparent weakness in the knees. It was a source of particular consternation that once so enlightened, none of the soonto-be-married young women could ever be prevailed upon to reveal the contents of the top-secret colloquy. Thinking about the unspoken events of the wedding chamber set Rosie’s pulse racing, as happened more than she cared to admit whenever she contemplated being alone with Lord Caldwell. Until recently—and her heart plunged to her stomach when she noted his absence—he had paid regular visits to Talcott House, though the ever-vigilant Garland had made it nearly impossible for Rosie and Lord Caldwell to have private conversations, let alone explore any of the physical needs which had been awakened in Rosie. She had no name for it, but a stirring had begun within her which grew stronger, sometimes to the point of distraction. She occasionally found herself restless in bed, tossing and turning as heated pulses affected her between her thighs.

When she dared to touch her privates in such circumstances, she often found herself wet and discovered she could quell the aching if she stroked over a swollen nubbin that protruded from her slick nether folds. But during such experiences, which she was certain she would receive a spanking for if Miss Wickersham ever found her out—the headmistress of Talcott House made clear to all her little ladies that they were only to touch their kitties for perfunctory matters—she felt as if she were nearing something wondrous and blissful that she couldn’t quite reach. Why couldn’t she make the aching go completely away? She felt desperate for more information. The prospect of being faced with the marital bed absent the vaguest understanding of what was expected of her sent Rosie’s wellordered mind into a tailspin of panic. How could she please a husband if she did not have the slightest notion how to do so? And if she could not please her husband, how could she prevent him from abandoning her and perhaps taking up with a mistress who knew the secrets no one would share with Rosie? Unlike Daisy, who flitted through life like a butterfly scampering from flower to flower without a care in the world, Rosie knew full well the importance of preparing for every eventuality, particularly the negative ones. Despite Miss Wickersham’s insistence that each of her girls got a new flower name and a fresh start when they arrived at Talcott House, it was not as though she had a magic wand to remove the words and deeds seared upon Rosie’s memory. Every day, Rosie struggled to forget, to blot those nightmares from her mind. Lord Caldwell’s entrance in her life had done wonders to improve her mood and put the dark thoughts further into the recesses of her memory. Why has he not come to call? Rosie recounted every look and word of their most recent time together. Had she been too distant? Should she have smiled more? During his last visit when Garland had been briefly distracted by a squirrel, Lord Caldwell had slipped his arm around Rosie’s waist and pulled her to his side.

Her breath had caught in her throat and she both hoped and feared he would kiss her. His nearness had stirred up the achy longing within her with a power which caused her to panic and she put her hands up to block his advances. He had taken it with characteristic good humor. “Ah, you are a shy one, my Rosie. So much sweeter the prize when won.” But she knew all too well how gentlemen were schooled in flattery and sweet talk. Enough so that they could easily persuade a young lady to believe herself in love, to believe his flim-flam. Often to their detriment, as Rosie could attest. And now, with his unexplained absence, the familiar fear crept in again. Hesitation had caused her to only tell Daisy about her betrothal, though she ought not to have been surprised when Daisy had not been able to keep such tantalizing information to herself.

However, if Lord Caldwell cried off the wedding and declined to be her papa, Rosie would be left with the humiliating task of informing her friends. Perhaps she hoped Lord Caldwell would call off the marriage. It would save her the heart wrenching decision and spare him the possible shame. It was not as though she did not wish for her married friends to know, but there was this bit of lingering doubt…perhaps more than a bit…that the marriage would actually happen. In those quiet moments when Rosie looked deep into her heart, she knew she loved Lord Caldwell and wished more than anything to be his wife and little girl. She also knew that pretending she could leave her old life and her family’s shame behind by calling herself Rosie and refusing to divulge anything about her past was not a sufficient barricade from her shame, and the shame she would bring to anyone or any family with whom she became aligned. The right and honorable thing to do would be to sever all ties with Lord Caldwell and send him on his way to find a proper wife who would not tarnish his good reputation. And yet, the mere concept of never seeing him again, his rogue-ish grin, his dancing eyes. Never hear his warm voice as it wafted over her and made her tummy do funny things. Rosie considered herself a moral and ethical person, always striving to do what she ought, but in this instance, she could not muster the courage to do so.

She told herself it would be cruel to shame Lord Caldwell by breaking off the engagement. But the honest, ugly truth of it was that Rosie wanted to be his bride. Wanted more than anything to be Lady Caldwell and live anew with the man she loved. It was a despicable risk. Did she have the courage to do the right thing?

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