Mary was to look back on those few days filled with air and light and blossom buds as through a magnifying glass. For, soon, she was sentenced to a further spell of seclusion in different lodgings in St George Street, Hanover Square. Thus began a nomadic pattern which lasted for some two years with the object of avoiding prattling tongues.
She endured it for a week, two weeks, three. And then a tumult of misery crashed in upon her and a fever raged. She wept with shame at being taken for a mistress instead of a wife. Again and again, she relived the horror of that night of her abduction, felt tainted and consumed with guilt, vainly wanting virginity restored. The Earl did not know what to do. He grew kinder with the passing months; his attentions in the bedroom were sporadic, but full of solicitude. He had no experience of tending ailing females. Moreover, the doctor’s remedies did not appear to be working.
One night, he lay awake in the adjoining room, listening to Mary whimpering weakly into her pillow. He went through to her, lit candles and lodged himself upon the bed
“What’s this, Polly? What’s this? How’s a fellow to sleep? Your eyes have been swollen these three days and your beauty quite spoiled.”
She shuddered out a half-stifled lament. “I’m homesick! Homesick! Homesick!”
“Well, I have been giving the matter some thought...”
“Homesick for what is lost and gone, for what will never be.”
“Ah Polly,” sighed the Earl, “that is the human condition. There’s no help for’t, not that I can see. The notion of limitless choice is a trick done with mirrors.”
He was forty that year and looked older in the dusty glow which muddled shade and tone. The slump of his shoulders bespoke one weighted with cares. In odd moments of contrition, a melancholy mood would surface and drive him to seek escape in the next irresponsible whim.
“Tis like living in a cruel fairytale, being a Countess.”
He took her hand and chafed it encouragingly. “Now you must go down to your friends and relations in Gloucester, breathe some West Country air and recover yourself. Spend the whole summer with them if you desire. In the morning, you can write to your sister and tell her when to expect you.”
“My lord, thank you! You can’t guess how much I have missed them all!” On a wave of gratitude, she put her arms about his neck and kissed him, a blandishment he received with cynical amusement. “You have demanded everything I have to offer, but you have never looked for love.”
“How could I?” he answered tersely, tearing her wrists away. “You are young and beautiful. My tender years were fouled by a knowledge of mankind long ago. I think no one truly loved me in my life!”
“Then I shall hope to learn the trick of it,” Mary said in a small voice.
read preview excerpts of THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS, Book Two of the Berkeley Trilogy.
Causes Rosy Cole Supports
World Vision, International Prison Outreach, Salvation Army, Emmaus Project, Poor Clares, DogsTrust, BUAV (against animal testing) WWT (Wildfowl &...