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A Lady Never Tells(10)

By:Candace Camp

In the ensuing years, Flora had come to bitterly regret marrying Cosmo. He had proved to be an unsavory sort, always involved in some moneymaking scheme or the other. Bad-tempered and given to drinking, he blamed everyone around him for whatever went wrong. Neither a good husband nor a good provider, he had been a dark presence in their lives. Once again, the actual running of the tavern had fallen to Mary, although Cosmo had time and again asserted his authority, insisting on changing a supplier or canceling an order, always with a detrimental result. Often he took money from the till and set off to pursue one or another of his schemes; and while all the girls—and Flora—were glad to be rid of his presence, this habit left the business perennially strapped for cash.

There had been other aspects to him that Mary despised even more, though she had been careful not to express such views to her mother. However mistaken Flora had been, she had sacrificed her own happiness for the future of her daughters, and Mary could not bear to increase her mother’s feelings of guilt. She had kept quiet about the drunken advances Cosmo made toward her and Rose, taking care of the matter herself with a sharp knee to Cosmo’s groin and a warning of what would happen should he ever try such a thing again. She had also made sure that all the girls slept in the same room and that their door was securely barred at night.

A few months ago, Flora had fallen ill, and as the weeks went by, it had become more and more apparent that she was not long for this world. She did not mind dying, she told them, for she would be reunited with her beloved Miles. But she could not bear to think of what would happen to her daughters upon her death. They would be at the mercy of Cosmo Glass, for in marrying her, he had acquired the entire tavern. She had nothing to leave her daughters except a few small pieces of jewelry. Finally, one morning she had called her daughters to her and told them about their grandfather.#p#分页标题#e#

Flora had never spoken much about her father or, indeed, about her life before she married Miles Bascombe. But now she explained that their grandfather was a powerful and influential man, the Earl of Stewkesbury. When Flora had fallen in love with Miles Bascombe, the penniless younger son of a minor nobleman, the earl had become enraged and had forbidden the marriage, telling her that if she disobeyed, he would cut her out of the family forever. Flora had defied her father and run away with Miles to America.

“But you must go to Father now,” she had told Mary, her worried face as white as the pillow beneath her head. “Surely he has forgiven me after all this time, and you are, after all, his granddaughters. He would not turn you away.”

“No, Mama, no.” Mary and the others had assured her that she was not going to die, but Flora had only smiled wearily, knowing as well as they that they lied out of love.

“Yes.” Her voice was firmer than Mary had ever heard her. “You cannot stay here with him .” Her emphasis on the word carried all the venom she felt for the man she had married. “Promise me, Mary. Promise you’ll take your sisters to my father.”

Mary had promised.

She had hated to leave the home they had known for the last twelve years as much as her sisters did—Rose was not the only one who had shed a few tears in the middle of the night. But she had given her word to her dying mother—and she knew her mother was right. They could not remain with Cosmo.

He had never been a good man, but after his wife’s death, he had grown worse. He took to drinking more heavily and at all hours of the day. He had turned his leering gaze on all the Bascombe girls and seized every opportunity to brush up against them, so that the sisters made sure never to be in his presence alone. He was apt to fly into a rage about the slightest thing—and sometimes about nothing at all. Once he had even swung at Camellia in a fit of temper, and it was only her quickness and his drunkenness that had kept her from being injured. She had picked up the closest thing to hand, a cast-iron skillet, and chased him from the kitchen, but it was clear that Cosmo was becoming a danger to them all.

Worst, when he returned from one of his weeks-long trips, he had brought with him a man named Egerton Suttersby. Suttersby was pale and quiet, with the dark flat gaze of a snake. He wanted to marry Rose, an idea Cosmo thoroughly endorsed. Suttersby had courted Rose assiduously despite her clear attempts to avoid him, and Cosmo had harangued her about it at every opportunity, alternating between threats and descriptions of the wonderful world that would await Rose if she accepted his suit. The two had been so insistent that Mary had begun to fear that they might try to spirit Rose away and force her to marry the man.