Rescuing Lord Inglewood – Sally Britton

Esther Fox attempted to hide her amusement with her companion’s hopeless sighs. The poor girl had thought herself near to being engaged to a gentleman who had hardly been more than polite to her. Esther had never been so hopeful of a match as Miss Linton. She kept her arm linked with the younger woman’s as they walked past the stately homes of Grosvenor Square, the tall red brick homes guarding the street as soldiers guarded the palace lane. Perhaps when she returned to her stepbrother’s house she would try to paint the scene, but getting the shade of red for the bricks just right might prove a challenge. “We have all of summer before us to do as we please, and then you may try again,” Esther said, putting as much cheer as possible into her words, but the woman’s forlorn demeanor did not change. “Come now, Miss Linton. You mustn’t let one gentleman’s lack of interest disappoint you so.” Miss Linton, three years Esther’s junior and certainly less experienced in the ways of the ton, did not appear ready to let go of her tragic manner. Esther did not remember feeling that way at the end of her own first Season, but then, she was hardly a romantic sort. “He flirted so, and always danced with me twice,” Miss Linton said, directing her eyes to the ground. “I thought he would at least have the decency to make an offer.” Though uncertain as to how it had fallen to Esther to buoy up Miss Linton’s spirits, she determinedly did her best. Her sister-in-law, Diana, had insisted Esther pay a call to their neighbor. Esther had complied and soon found herself walking—and consoling—a dejected woman she hardly knew.

At least they were both getting some exercise. And perhaps Esther’s reasoning with Miss Linton would help. “He is rather young himself,” Esther said. “Perhaps he is not ready to give up bachelorhood.” That was the most likely thing, given the gentleman in question was but twenty-one years of age. Gentlemen could afford to wait until they were forty, if they wished it, before even considering marriage. Ladies, on the other hand, were given half a dozen years to make a match before spinsterhood set upon them. Esther cast about to find something to distract Miss Linton when the girl did not say anything. “Oh, look at the gardens, Miss Linton. Are they not lovely?” The garden park across the street was well tended, with rolling green lawns and beautiful flowers lining the walk.

“Would you like to take a walk there?” she asked, preparing to step in that direction. A few paces behind, their maids paused as well. “No. The blooms make my nose itch.” Miss Linton’s unfortunate nose twitched at the very idea, it seemed. What else might be a pleasant distraction? Esther ought to be adept at finding things to occupy the mind. She had done little else for herself the past two years, living with her stepbrother and his wife, Diana, while her natural brother was away at war. If she was not trying to take her mind off of Diana and all her kindly meant demands, she was trying to forget that Isaac faced French soldiers and their bayonets on a daily basis. Esther put those thoughts away, as hastily as possible, and gave her full attention to her walking companion. “Would you like to go to Gunter’s this afternoon? My stepbrother will loan us his phaeton and driver, I am certain.

” Miss Linton’s lower lip receded slightly, and her eyebrows drew together. “I do like the orange ice. It is most refreshing.” “I like the mint tea ices, too.” Esther brightened, pleased Miss Linton shared her weakness for the cold treats. She looked ahead, at number 21 Grosvenor Square, and stopped walking immediately. “Oh, Miss Linton, look. It appears Lady Sparton is redecorating in the Greek style.” “Dear me.” Miss Linton stared ahead, her mouth dropping open at the spectacle.

There were laborers before number 21, uncrating a very large statue. Ropes dangled from a window two floors above street level as other men put a pulley system into place. The marble statue was nearly life-size, and when the last side of the crate dropped it was plain to see the Greek god Hermes in full motion, with winged sandals and flowing robes. “My mother says people filling their homes with pagan statues is not at all appropriate,” Miss Linton murmured, sounding scandalized. “I think it interesting.” Esther watched the men scurry about, more ropes going about the statue while two ropes with hooks were lowered from above. “Emulating an ancient society, while purporting to be modern, is something of a paradox, isn’t it? We dress our hair like Grecian statues, quote their philosophers, and imitate their artwork. And yet . ” Esther glanced at Miss Linton and found her staring, her eyebrows drawn down in consternation. “Never mind, Miss Linton.

” Esther offered a soothing smile. “Come, let us go closer so we might watch Hermes rise into the air.” “Hermes?” the girl asked, looking back to the statue. “Is that someone important?” Esther refrained from giving an explanation but hurried her friend along the walkway. They stopped perhaps fifteen feet from the statue, just as the men prepared to hoist it from the ground. Rocking forward on her toes, Esther could barely keep hold of her excitement. Others along the walk had stopped as well, further back or across the street, to watch. She studied the different expressions people wore; some appeared as disapproving as Miss Linton’s mother would be, while others seemed amused. But a spectacle was a spectacle, and people would be speaking of Lady Sparton’s redecoration for days, if not weeks. Esther’s attention went back to the statue, rising slowly from the ground.

It was not the best rendering of the god she had ever seen, in stone form or otherwise. She rather suspected it was soapstone, too, merely painted to resemble granite. Perhaps a cheap copy of a finer piece. The statue soon lost her interest, so Esther allowed her eyes to travel to the men backing up as they pulled on their ropes. The path beneath the statue remained clear in all directions. People near them were talking animatedly. Though Esther knew few of the people surrounding her, being in the midst of a crowd enjoying the same sight as she gave her a blessed moment of belonging. She looked upward, studying the pulleys fixed to rods over the house, and then trailed her gaze down the ropes. Was that rope fraying? Esther shaded her eyes and peered more intently, and she gasped. Several cords were sticking out, untwisting from the braid.

She turned her attention to the men pulling the statue up, wondering if they were staring at the fraying rope as she had, seeing the possible dangers. The sun shone upon them, directly into their faces, obscuring what they could see. Esther looked from the men to the rope, to the statue, to the distance Hermes had yet to rise. It is only a statue, she told herself. If it falls, it falls. She bit her bottom lip, knowing that crying out would not help the situation. Perhaps the statue would make it to the top before the rope gave way. No harm done. Her gaze fell to the walkway and her heart stuttered. A man walked toward 21 Grosvenor Square, staring down at something in his hands, and moving at a fast enough clip, Esther felt certain he would not stop.

In fact, he appeared oblivious to the sight enthralling everyone else, his whole attention directed to a paper in his hands. Esther slipped away from Miss Linton, a cry of warning on her lips. Her eyes went up to the rope again and an invisible hand closed around her throat. Acting quickly, Esther ran forward as fast as she could. She stretched both hands out before her. She heard the snap of the rope above her head. Esther did not slow, but she ran directly into the body of the man with all the force at her disposal, knocking them both down to the ground. She landed atop him, a horrific crack sounding at the same instant her world went black. ∞∞∞ One moment, Silas seriously contemplated whether there were any men of sense in the House of Lords, and the next he found himself flying backward to the ground. His arms came up reflexively, wrapping around the slim figure of the woman literally flinging herself at him, as though doing so might protect at least one of them from the fall.

As he hit the ground with the woman atop him, the air pushed out of his lungs. A horrific crack assaulted his ears and echoed against the houses on the square, and somewhere a person screamed. His whole body protested, pain radiating from his spine outward. He looked down at the head of deep brown curls upon his chest, realizing the woman in his arms had not moved since their inelegant landing. Her bonnet hung askew, pulling locks of her hair to the side with it, obscuring her face. Silas started to sit up, cradling the woman in his arms, his heart pounding against his ribs almost painfully. Was she hurt? What had happened? As though hearing his muddled thoughts, a man knelt next to Silas and started speaking rapidly. “Oy, she’s bleedin’, sir. Looks like a bit of the rock clipped her on the head. Are you injured, sir?” Then the person turned away and shouted over the crowd.

“Someone run for a doctor!” People appeared in Silas’s line of vision, pressing forward in clusters, women with pale faces and men with deep frowns. “She saved your life, she did,” someone said. “Oh, Miss Fox,” a high-pitched voice wailed, another woman coming forward. “Is she dead?” Silas looked down again, tilting the woman back in his arms enough to see her face. Long dark lashes lay against her colorless cheeks, her lips parted and her features were relaxed. Yet he could feel her breathing, could see the rise and fall of her chest. She groaned and her eyelashes fluttered again. Worry clouded his mind. Why did her face seem so familiar? Miss Fox? It could not be—not Isaac’s sister? Dread gathered deep in his chest, forcing a gasp from him. Moving carefully, Silas got his legs beneath him and stood, holding the unconscious woman in his arms.

He looked around, seeing white stones scattered about the pavement, white powder everywhere with it. Men shouted from above, over an iron rail three stories in the air, and gestured wildly. The woman in his arms stirred and groaned, her eyes softly opening but closing before he could even make out their color. She remained limp. Silas swept the crowd pressing in upon them, then went to the house before which they stood. Lady Sparton stood on the steps, wrapped in a dressing gown, her hands pressed to her cheeks. Silas acted. Standing about and waiting for someone to explain things to him would not do. He barreled toward the lady, up her steps, and past her into the elegant house. He ignored her startled gasp, looking about the entryway for a door, a parlor, a suitable place to lay his burden.

He went to the first door he saw and kicked it open, entering what appeared to be a receiving room of sorts. There was a couch, and that was all he needed. Silas carried the woman there and laid her down, as gently as possible. He eased his arm from beneath her head, and he saw, at last, the blood the man on the street had spoken of. The gray sleeve of his coat was coated in red where he had cradled the back of her head. “Lord Inglewood, what happened?” a breathy voice asked from the doorway. He looked up to see Lady Sparton, still a sickly shade, staring at him in horror. “Make certain the doctor knows where to come,” he said, unwilling to admit he wasn’t actually certain what had occurred. She nodded and started to withdraw. “And send a maid in—and her friend from the street.

” “Of course, Lord Inglewood.” She disappeared to do his bidding, no further questions asked. Silas found a cushion for the woman’s head and attempted to reposition her on her side, keeping the injured place free of pressure. He pulled the pins out of her bonnet, allowing it to fall to the floor. Then he inspected the wound himself, which was somewhat difficult given the abundance of brown curls in his way. Why did women wear their hair in such ridiculous twists upon their heads? He glanced at her face, the pert nose and well-structured jawline. He knew her. But how? The sound of sobbing reached his ears, growing louder. A woman, the same who had been wailing outside, came into the room. Two other girls, dressed in the plainer clothing of servants, appeared directly behind her, clutching each other’s hands.

Silas stood, but did not move from the unconscious woman’s side. “Miss, is this woman your friend? Do you know her?” The weeping girl nodded, raising her hands to cover her mouth, completely overcome with her distress. Silas turned to the maids, fixing them with a stern glare. “Who is this woman?” he demanded, pointing to her inert figure. Though he already knew, it must be confirmed. One of the maids stepped forward and bobbed a curtsy, as though maintaining proper forms was important, and she spoke in a near-whisper. “If you please, sir, she’s my mistress. Miss Fox. Sister of Sir Isaac Fox. She must’ve seen the statue and she tried to help you….

” The rest of the maid’s words were unimportant. Silas stopped listening and turned to Esther Fox, the younger sister of one of his oldest friends. How many times had he seen little Essie trailing along behind Isaac, pleading to be included in their games? When was the last time he had seen her? Five years ago, perhaps. She hadn’t been out yet. He hadn’t paid her any attention, not serious attention. Yet, she had saved him from a falling statue. “I found a doctor right on the street,” a man said, pulling Silas from his thoughts. It was the same man from before, holding a cap and strangling it, staring at Esther. The doctor, a gentleman with gray hair and a narrow face, came inside with all haste. He knelt beside the couch, completely ignoring Silas except to ask, “How long since the accident?” Silas did not know.

Everything had happened too quickly, had been too confusing. “Not more’n a few minutes, sir,” the laborer said. It felt like longer. Isaac would kill him if something terrible happened to his little sister because Silas had been lost in his thoughts, distracted by a pamphlet printed by some idiot peer. Silas turned his attention to the doctor, then to the gathering in the room. He hated everyone standing about, gaping, intruding upon Esther’s privacy. He opened his arms and waved, as though herding geese, to move everyone toward the door. “Come, out into the hall. We must let the doctor work, and I have questions.” The sniffling young lady was the first to move away, then the maids, then the man from the walk.

Lady Sparton joined them in the entryway, wringing her hands. Several of her servants stood about as well, though one did slip inside the room Silas had just exited, holding a bucket and a stack of towels. Good. Any indication of someone using their head in this situation could only be appreciated. “I want to know exactly what happened,” Silas said, searching each of the faces before him. He let his gaze rest upon the man strangling his cap. “Why did that statue fall?” The man shook his head, the lines of his face deep with worry. “We checked the ropes, sir—” “Lord Inglewood,” the woman of the house snapped. Silas cast her a baleful glare. “Niceties are less important than this story, madam.

” She turned red and crossed her arms over her dressing gown. “We checked the ropes, my lord, and I thought one of them didn’t look right. Mr. Lampton, he’s the one in charge, said it would hold and we ought to use it. We didn’t bring more rope and he didn’t want no more delays.” “The statue ought to have been delivered last week,” Lady Sparton added. Silas gave her another warning glance and she bit her lip. “The sun was in our eyes, my lord. We didn’t see the rope had frayed past saving or we would’ve lowered it carefully.” He shuddered.

“That lady—I’m sorry for it. I truly am.” “And where is the man who told you to use the faulty rope?” Silas asked with a growl. The other man shook his head. “He left, my lord, before the accident even happened.” “Give information for contacting that man to—” Silas glanced around and settled on a footman. “To this man. I want his name, address, and place of business if he has one. After you have given the information, you may deal with Lady Sparton.” He turned to the trembling woman, now being consoled by one of the maids while the other stared at the room where her mistress lay.

“What did Miss Fox do, exactly?”

.

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