The Governess Deal – Emma Linfield

“Papa! Look! I see a bird!” Joshua cried out, scrambling across his mother’s lap in the jostling carriage to get a better look. The Marquess of Naitham smiled down at his young son, reaching out to tousle the boy’s hair. How was it these four years had passed so quickly? The babe Randolph had fretted over during the long night it had taken for him to be born was now a rambunctious little imp, taking delight in everything the natural world had to offer. “Come now, you mustn’t climb about, your mother is… well, it’s not good for you to knock into her in her state,” the Marquess said with a laugh as he plucked the boy up by the arms and sat him once again between himself and his wife. “Randolph, you almost divulged a very important secret,” the Marchioness chided playfully. “We were not going to say anything just yet?” “I remember, Claudia,” Randolph replied with a smile. “Though it is certainly difficult news to keep to myself when I wish to shout it in the face of every person I see on the road!” The Marchioness laughed merrily, glad of her husband’s joy. For his part, Randolph could not be more pleased—the son of a Duke, the husband of the most beautiful and loving woman he had ever known apart from his own mother, and the father to one delightful child already and another coming by the end of the year. He was acutely aware that he had everything in the world, and was the envy of every man he knew. “Papa, where are we going again?” Joshua asked, turning his small, angelic face up to look at his father. “We are going to London,” Randolph reminded him. “I have some business to conduct, and your mother wishes to visit with some friends of ours.” “But what about me? What must I do in London?” The Marchioness laughed at the seriousness of her son’s question, then answered, “I am fairly sure you have important business to see to at a bakery known for its cakes. They are as tall as you are!” “As big as me?” Joshua asked, his eyes nearly round with wonder. “Will I have to eat it all at once?” Randolph and Claudia laughed again, but their happiness was short-lived.

A shout from up ahead of the carriage startled them, followed by the sharp retort of a pistol shot. The carriage shook wildly as the horses reared up in fear, neighing and whinnying until the whole contraption seemed as though it would come apart. “Randolph! What’s happening?” Claudia cried as she reached for her son with one hand and braced herself against the wall of the carriage with the other. “It’s all right! The driver will correct it!” Randolph promised, though he knew this may well be beyond the driver’s control. When the cacophony died down, there was silence. Randolph looked to Claudia and Joshua, both of whom were too frightened to utter a sound. Randolph nodded gravely and opened the door on his side of the carriage intent on discovering the matter. A blow to the back of his head sent him sprawling to the ground. He heard the sound of Claudia’s scream and clung to it in order to avoid succumbing to unconsciousness. Randolph rolled to his side to avoid another unseen blow, wincing when the ground beside his head was splintered by the strike of an iron rod.

“Randolph!” Claudia screamed, her high-pitched cry telling his addled brain that she was in danger. His son’s cries were enough to drag Randolph out of his stupor and bring him to his feet. “You there! Stop!” Randolph bellowed at the man who’d struck him and was now running to the other side of the carriage, helping to drag Claudia and Joshua out of the conveyance. Randolph watched as three burly men, filthy thieves all of them, pounced on his wife and son. He sprung forward, striking one of the men in the soft meat of his back with his fist, an animalistic sense of satisfaction taking hold of him when the man grunted and fell forward in pain. “Get ‘im apart!” one of the thieves shouted, and suddenly the two who remained standing ran in separate directions, one of them still dragging Claudia by a handful of her long chestnut hair, the other sprinting away as best he could while holding Joshua. Randolph’s instinct was to race to his wife, but she threw out her arm long enough to point him the other way. “Save my son! Joshua!” she screamed, her cry silenced by a slap from the thief who held her. Rage burned inside Randolph at the insult his dear wife endured, but he followed her command. Turning on his heel, he gave chase after the man who’d absconded with his terrified little boy.

Randolph was spurred onward by the frightened calls of his son, screaming futilely for his papa to save him. Unencumbered by the weight of a thrashing child, Randolph caught the thief soon enough. Careful to pry Joshua out of the confused man’s hands before assaulting him, Randolph made quick work of beating the man with his fists until he moved no more. “Joshua, are you all right?” Randolph asked breathlessly, the fight still coursing through his veins. He felt of his son’s arms and head, though the boy was too scared to answer. Instead, Randolph scooped him up in his arms and held him tightly, soothing his fears. “Come, let us see to your mother,” Randolph said as he hurried back to the carriage, the boy’s weight now hindering him as he tried to run. Ahead of him, he could see his beloved Claudia still fighting desperately against her soulless attacker. Though his gaze was obscured by his own rage, Randolph’s anger burned brighter as the thief tore the bracelet from Claudia’s wrist and the modest jewels from around her neck. She fought relentlessly, kicking and clawing at the man in order to save herself.

“I’m coming, Claudia!” Randolph shouted, still holding Joshua tightly as he approached. Seeing the Marquess’ return, the thief looked up in fear. Claudia took advantage of his confusion and slapped the man as hard as she could, sending him a step backwards for only a moment before he shot out his arm and struck her as hard as he could. She cried out for a moment before falling to the ground in a heap. The man fled as Randolph reached the carriage and set Joshua inside, imploring him to stay still. “Claudia!” Randolph shouted as he dropped to her side, turning her over gently. A wave of nausea overtook him when he saw the gash on Claudia’s head where she had struck it against a large rock. Shaking, the tears pouring forth as he struggled to breathe, Randolph lifted his wife’s lifeless body and pulled her to him, holding her closely and whispering her name again and again through his tears. “V C H A P T E R 1 Two Years Later… alerie! Are you nearly finished with that piece?” the shopkeeper’s assistant, Madame Rochelle, inquired, sticking her head behind the curtain to the corner where Valerie sat at her work. “Almost done, Madame.

Please tell Monsieur LeBrec it will be ready within half of an hour,” Valerie replied, looking up from her delicate work. “Make haste, girl. The Marquess of Walton will be sending ‘round his valet to retrieve this waistcoat by three of the clock,” the woman said urgently. “He intends to wear it tonight at the Duke of Framingham’s ball and has already sent payment.” “Yes, Madame,” Valerie replied, dropping her head and hunching back over her work. To go to a ball such as that, Valerie thought as she delicately affixed the shank to the plate of another button then applied one of the emerald jewels to the face. It was hard for Valerie to imagine the splendor of such an event, but if the garments this modiste’s shop crafted were any indication, it must be the most glorious thing in the world to see. She spent her days hard at work at her bench, creating some of the most prized buttons in London. Unlike many of her peers in the industry, Valerie was paid rather handsomely in comparison—after all, Monsieur LeBrec was fearful of any other shop stealing her away, and often inquired about whether or not she was happy in her work. “You know I cannot run this business without you,” he would often moan, pressing a few more coins into her hand at the end of a long day.

“Your buttons are the only thing that keep the doors to my little shop open.” His “little shop,” as Valerie often laughed, was one of the largest clothiers in London and had a waiting list as long as her arm for commissioned garments. That poor Monsieur LeBrec thought he was near ruin at any moment was a ridiculous notion, as the income from the bridal trousseaus alone would keep all of them in good stead for years to come. “Valerie, mon cherie, you are a genuine artist,” Monsieur LeBrec said, coming closely on the heels of Madame Rochelle. “But I must have those buttons finished at once!” “Oui, Monsieur,” Valerie replied, her knowledge of French greatly increased from the two years she had worked for the modiste. “Merci, mon cherie,” the proprietor called out as he let the curtain fall around her work desk. Valerie set herself to her work with vigor, completing the miniature portrait she was painting of the Marquess’ wife on the top button. The other buttons, set with emerald surrounded by pearls to match the jewels the Marchioness would wear, were nearly dry and ready to be sewn to the garment. When she was finally finished, Valerie leaned back in her chair and stretched her arms over her head. Hers was painstaking work, but rewarding thanks to the generosity of the proprietor.

Her earnings were enough to let a room above the shop, to take her meals at a nearby inn most days, and to send some funds back to her aged grandmother and young cousins when her visits allowed. The designs that Monsieur LeBrec brought over from France were not so complex that she couldn’t make something resembling their style, and the scraps of fine fabrics that he permitted her to keep meant she had sufficient garments to keep her warm in the winters and stylishly attired in the summer months.

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