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A Lady Never Tells(9)

By:Candace Camp

“Perhaps Sir Royce is exactly as he seems,” Mary agreed, bringing the conversation back to its original topic. “But we can’t know that for certain. It’s better not to take strangers into our confidence. If you remember, even Sir Royce agreed with that. That’s why we can’t tell him all about us.”

“But he was kind to us,” Rose reminded her. “He brought us here, and you told me he stopped that thief and got back your case. I don’t know what we would have done if that man had gotten away with all our papers. How would we have proved who we are?”

“Yes, he did help us. But it’s one thing to go to the aid of four young women who are clearly of no great wealth or consequence. Even a thief or cardsharp or bamboozler might do so, particularly if it is no great trouble to him. But what if such a person then found out that these four young women were actually the granddaughters of the Earl of Stewkesbury? It isn’t just ourselves we have to consider now. We must think of our grandfather as well. We can’t waltz into his life bringing cheats and scoundrels along.”

“I suppose so,” agreed Rose with her usual amiability.

“I don’t know why we should care about the earl so much,” Camellia retorted. “He threw his own daughter out!”

“Yes, the way Mama described him, he sounds like a disagreeable old man,” Lily agreed.

“I’m sure he’s stubborn and autocratic,” Mary admitted. “And it was terrible of him to cut her out of his life. But Mama was certain that he would have come to regret his decision over the years. And he is our grandfather.”

“Besides,” Rose pointed out with the practicality that often surprised people, given her soft, almost angelic demeanor, “we are here to throw ourselves on the earl’s mercy. We have nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to. We cannot afford to offend him.”

“I hate that.” Camellia grimaced.

“I hate it, too.” Mary looked at her sympathetically. “But we cannot escape the truth. It would be different if we could have stayed and run the tavern. But with Mama dead and our stepfather inheriting everything, you know we couldn’t. What else could we do? Where were we to go? You wouldn’t have wanted to stay with Cosmo, would you?”

“No! Working for that old lecher?” Camellia’s face turned fierce. “He wouldn’t even have paid us. He’d have said we ought to be grateful for the roof over our heads and the food we ate.”

“And no way to escape except marrying,” Lily put in. “I refuse to marry just to have a house of my own. I want to marry for love, like Mama and Papa. Remember how happy they were?”#p#分页标题#e#

“We all were,” Rose agreed, her voice tinged with sadness.

Mary nodded. Until their father had died six years ago, their lives had been good. They had never had much money. Miles Bascombe, a charming man full of dreams and plans, had tried his hand at dozens of different things in an attempt to make a living—farming, teaching, even being an itinerant artist—but none of his careers had been successful. They had moved from one place to another, living first in Maryland, then in two or three different areas of Pennsylvania. Their mother, Flora, having been raised an aristocrat, had had little idea how to cook or keep house, much less manage a budget. As a result, their lives were often chaotic, to say the least.

But Miles and Flora had been fun-loving, kind, and terribly in love with each other. They had given their children warmth and love. If the Bascombes had not had much, at least they had not starved, and they had enjoyed life.

Their father’s last venture had been a tavern in a small town on the road to Philadelphia. In his usual careless way, he would doubtless have run this business into the ground, but for Mary. Fourteen at the time, she had become adept at keeping the household going, and she had taken over much of the operation of the business as well, not only keeping the books but also overseeing the day-to-day running of the tavern. She could not entirely save the tavern from Miles’s mercurial and usually ill-fated business decisions, but she did manage to keep the place running in the black.

But then her amiable father had died, and his partner in the business, Cosmo Glass, had arrived, intending to sell out. Instead, smitten by the lovely widow, he had remained, operating the tavern and wooing Flora. Their mother, grief-stricken over her beloved husband’s death and recognizing her own lack of competence in regard to business, had been persuaded to marry him. It had been the only way she could see to provide for her daughters.