An Amiable Lady for His Lordship
Early August 1815.
The night sky was decorated with sparkling stars. They were spread across the sky beautifully, a soothing sight to behold. Jane Dawson lay on her back, gazing out of the window. She smiled, loving the cosmic spectacle she could see through her bedroom window.
It was one particular reason why she loved her room; she could stare at the sky for as long as she liked. But the downside was that it aided her in staying awake for hours on end without getting a wink of sleep.
Jane turned to her side and let out a heavy sigh. She picked the strands of her golden, sun-colored hair out of her face and brushed her hair down with her fingers. Her fascination with the night sky had not been the only thing keeping her awake almost every night recently―there were other things, too.
It seemed like a never-ending cycle; Jane would go about her daily activities feeling exhausted in every way, but when it was time to rest at night, even after having had a long, soothing bath, she found it hard to fall asleep. They lived in the countryside, so there was not much to do all day and not many people to see. But Jane liked the solitude.
Her father’s stubborn habit was one thing keeping her up half the night. Her father, the Viscount Nordale, had become a shadow of his former self. Jane remembered her father having been a bright, lively, and loving husband to their mother. Back then, he’d always had a smile on his face for her and her younger sister whenever he saw them. However, since his wife, their mother, had passed away, her father seemed to have buried his good traits along with her.
The viscount had begun to drink. He could barely go a day without finishing a bottle. At first, Jane had seen it as his way of grieving. She was fifteen when her mother died, and about a year later, they had to move to the countryside.
Her father had lost all their money to gambling, so there was little left to sustain them. After the move, Jane had taken it upon herself to help her father overcome his addiction.
During the day, Jane tried to assist her father with his accounts by keeping his ledgers, in which he kept track of his business interests. To start with, she hadn’t known much, but over time, she had learned from her father how it all worked.
Her father didn’t suspect that Jane was using the times when they worked together to monitor him, talk to him about how he might stop drinking and gambling all their money away. The viscount had told her countless times that he had quit drinking, but lately, Jane had seen many reasons to doubt him.
Jane rolled onto her stomach and sighed, recalling her last encounter with the viscount. They had been seated together in the study, going over a column of figures, and Jane could smell the putrid alcohol lacing his breath. Not only that, but the viscount had looked as if he was falling asleep, and he could barely string a sentence together.
It was at that moment when she had watched her father struggle to form a complete sentence that Jane became convinced he had been lying about quitting his drinking. There were no words to describe the horrible feeling the realization gave her in the pit of her stomach while tears formed in her eyes. She missed the man her father once was.
The worst part of it was that he had become the center of discussion for the servants. Jane had caught some of them gossiping about her father and his behavior.
She would often find them going about their work while chattering and giggling about him. Once, she had actually heard one of the maids saying that the viscount spent most of his nights at the village pub. He had already become a regular there, and sometimes, she knew he could barely walk out of the pub unaided. Of course, Jane had chosen not to believe any of the gossips before, but after the incident in the study, she could no longer deny his behavior, and she had changed her opinion.
Jane spent her days racking her brain, trying to find a solution to his problem. But she could never come up with anything she thought might work. Talking to him about it had proven futile. Showing him in the ledgers how his drinking and gambling habits were causing them financial hardship did nothing to deter him from visiting the pub.
But the only way their lives could return to normal was if the viscount stopped squandering their money on alcohol and gambling. Jane felt that only when that happened would she be able to sleep at night without having to watch the sky for solace.
Slowly, as she began to dive deeper into her thoughts, Jane felt drowsy. She pulled the covers up to her shoulders and snuggled under the sheets. It was a thing of relief, feeling that way after hours of thinking, so she welcomed a big yawn wholeheartedly. Then, slowly but surely, she drifted into sleep.
In town, it had been the sound of human voices, traffic, and horses trotting by that woke her up each morning. But since they had moved to the countryside, Jane woke up to relative silence.
She loved the time to herself she now had first thing in the morning, when she would simply stand by her window and gaze into space, listening to the sound of the birds, the rustling of the trees, and bask in the warmth of the sun.
Jane stretched and pushed the covers aside. Her hair was a mess from tossing turning all night. She rose from the bed and strolled to the window. She crossed her arms, breathing in the dewy smell of the morning. The thought of ringing for a cup of tea crossed her mind, but she figured that Georgia, her maid, would come in any minute, and she could request it then.
Georgia barged into the room without knocking, startling her. Jane jumped and turned around swiftly. She watched Georgia scurry to her side, panting.
“Georgia!” Jane rasped. “What’s the matter? Why are you shouting?”
Georgia dropped her hands to her knees for a few seconds. After gaining her composure, she straightened her back.
“My lady, there are two men from the village requesting to see you,” Georgia revealed.
Jane arched her eyebrows and turned to face Georgia fully. “Me? Not my father?”
“Yes, my lady,” Georgia said, nodding. “They are saying they have found the viscount’s body outside the village pub.”
Georgia’s words sent cold shivers running down Jane’s spine. She froze, her eyes wide open. “My father?” she managed to whisper.
“The villagers are saying it might be alcohol poisoning, my lady.”
Jane’s breath caught in her throat. Georgia was still speaking, Jane could see her mouth moving, but she heard nothing more. Suddenly, Georgia’s voice began to sound distant, like an echo. She could still pick out some words, but they made no sense.
Father’s body? Is he dead?
It couldn’t be. Jane shook her head and staggered back. Georgia reached for her, trying to prevent her from falling, but Jane crashed to the floor.
She struggled to breathe, taking in deep breaths as she lay on the floor. The room had begun to spin, and her thoughts were all over the place. Just as the tears fell from her eyes, her vision started to fade.
How was she going to live without her father?
Early Spring 1817.
The brightness of the morning sun had little effect on the atmosphere. The wind was quite chilly, but the air seemed vibrant, and the fields were an exuberant green. A calming effect came when the wind carried the scent of flowers, freshly cut grass, blossom, and earth with it after the rain.
Jane paused by the carriage. She wore a canary-yellow muslin gown with white gloves. Her hair was braided and packed into a high bun on her head. She had a white fichu around her neck and held a reticule containing the last of their money, plus all the essential belongings that would fit into it.
Jane glanced back at the house that had been her home for the last three years. She felt an overwhelming sadness as she recalled the memories made there. They were mostly bad ones, but they were memories that had, over time, shaped her into the person she now was. She could count the number of times she had smiled there on her fingers. No, there weren’t many happy memories she wished to keep from their time there.
Then again, she wasn’t thrilled to leave either. It had been their home, the one property of her late father’s left to them. But then they had lost it, to be sold off to cover the large amount of debt her father had incurred before passing on.
It had hurt when they lost their Mayfair townhouse for the same reason. And now, their house in the countryside was gone too. Jane clenched her fist angrily at the mere thought of the damage wreaked by her father’s gambling addiction.
She blamed herself because she hadn’t been able to stop him. It felt as though she had failed, that if only she had made more of an effort to put pressure on her father to quit, he might still be alive.
Jane drew in a deep breath. Her only consolation was knowing that she had tried her best. Unfortunately, things were simply beyond her control. She certainly wished her life had played out differently, but it was not up to her to decide. All she could do was take life as it came and hope things would work out for the best.
“Well, come on!” Edith whined, poking her head from the window of the carriage. “We must be on our way.”
Jane turned to her and patted her on the head. “We’re already going,” she answered.
Taking care of Edith had been very taxing after their father’s death. She was thirteen years old, a child still, and she acted like it. Edith had thrown tantrums at first and was harder to deal with than a panicky horse. However, Jane understood her younger sister’s attitude was Edith’s way of grieving, and when they finally sat down and had a long talk about their feelings and the future, Edith began to behave more appropriately. Life had been tough for them, and Jane surprised herself at how well she had coped.
“Jane!” Edith whined again from inside the carriage. “Stop looking at the house. We’re never going to see it again.”
“We don’t know that, Edith,” Jane answered, glancing back at their former home. “But still, just to be safe … I need to remember it.”
“Well, that’s true. But if I look too much, I might cry, so let’s make haste.”
Jane shook her head and smiled. The only thing she and Edith had in common was their appearance. They both had golden-blonde hair and eyes as blue as the summer sky. Other than that, their characters were polar opposites.
With one last glance of the house, Jane hopped into the carriage. She felt her chest tighten when it began to move off. There was no doubt in her mind that she was going to miss the country. Jane tried to be optimistic about the future, but at the same time, she couldn’t help but be anxious.
“Have you ever been to Aunt Sylvia’s home?” Edith asked.
Jane shook her head. “I don’t think I have, Edith.”
“Well, I’m just excited that we will be living in Mayfair again. Do you think we could go to our old house? We haven’t been to our Mayfair townhouse in years!”
Jane threw Edith a weak smile. “You know we can’t go back there, Edith. It’s not our house anymore.”
“I know, but―” Edith bit her lower lip. “I don’t know what I was thinking when I said that.”
Jane saw the sadness slowly take over Edith’s features. She shifted in her seat and took Edith’s hand into hers.
“I’ll tell you what,” Jane said, clearing her throat softly. “We can pass by the house and take a peek at it. I’m curious to know what it looks like too.”
“I’d like that.”
As the horse trotted out into the street, Jane pushed her head out of the window and watched their house disappear. Then, for the last time, she admired the scenery which she had come to love and the peaceful nature of the countryside.
Indeed, their country home was a beautiful place to live, and even though Jane missed Mayfair, she knew she would always prefer living in the country.
“Jane?” Edith called out to her. “What’s life going to be like from now on?”
Jane pulled her head back into the carriage and turned to Edith. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that things have already been difficult for us all these years. I really want things to change, but I’m not much help with that, am I? You have managed to keep us both alive all that time, though I don’t quite know how you did it. Now, we’re moving back to Mayfair to stay with Aunt Sylvia and her husband. I just know everything is going to change for the better.”
Jane bit her lower lip and dropped her gaze. “Yes, we’ll be fine, Edith. I’m sure of it.”
Edith’s question about the future had already crossed Jane’s mind countless times during her many sleepless nights. She had concluded that the best thing to do was to participate in the upcoming London Season. If she succeeded in finding a good match, then all their financial problems might be solved.
Jane wasn’t confident in her plan, but it was the only opportunity open to her that might work. Therefore, she must prepare well for the Season, and Aunt Sylvia had promised to help her with that.
Marriage was her only option. Jane knew that, and she had prepared herself for it. All she could hope for was that her aunt would be eager to help her make a good impression on society. If she managed to marry into a good family, she could get a governess for Edith, and her marriage would protect Edith’s future reputation.
Jane shut her eyes and let the wind brush past her skin. She could only pray things would work out as she hoped.
The carriage came to a halt in busy Piccadilly. Jane’s Aunt Sylvia lived in a typical house for that area, with tall windows. It was painted white, with a stucco façade. The flowers growing at the front of the house looked well-tended.
Jane got down from the carriage and stood on the pavement. All the houses in the area resembled one another, the same color, with the same architecture. The only significant distinction between them was the painted numbers that appeared outside each one.
Jane recognized the familiar air of Mayfair. She smiled, feeling a sudden but strange sense of relief, as if a heavy load had suddenly been lifted from her shoulders.
Their new home was like a clean sheet, an opportunity to try to fix what had broken or replace what was missing in her life. Jane had been presented with a chance to better her life, and she was going to work hard to do so. Edith’s wellbeing depended upon her success.
“Oh, my dear nieces!”
Aunt Sylvia suddenly appeared at the front door and came scurrying down the stairs to join them. She had her arms stretched out, with a bright smile on her face. She wore a floral print dress in vibrant shades of red. Jane watched her, grinning brightly. Sylvia looked so much like their mother. She had the same dainty nose and light-brown eyes, which shimmered when she smiled, and the same delicately chiseled jawline. She was beautiful, no doubt. But beauty was a trait that ran in the family.
“Aunt Sylvia,” Jane breathed, meeting the beaming woman halfway. She wrapped her arms around her and inhaled the scent of her perfume. It had been so long Jane had received such a warm hug.
“How are you, my darling?” Sylvia asked, letting her go.
“I’m well, Aunt Sylvia. Thank you for asking,” Jane beamed. “How is Uncle Harris doing?”
“He’s fine too,” Sylvia answered, assessing her. “Goodness! You have grown so big! A fine mature woman now. Look at those beautiful blue eyes of yours.”
Jane giggled and turned to search for Edith. She had already stepped down from the carriage, and she was standing a few feet away from them, waiting her turn.
“Oh Edith,” Sylvia cooed, brushing past Jane. “Look at you, my darling.”
Edith attempted a polite curtsey. “Good evening, Aunt Sylvia.”
“Oh, come here.”
Next, Sylvia wrapped arms around Edith and rocked her from side to side, hugging her tightly. Jane bit back a chuckle, watching Edith’s surprised face. She certainly had not expected such a pleasant, warm welcome.
“Come now,” Sylvia said, taking Edith by the hand. “Matthew will ensure that all your bags are put in your rooms.”
“Thank you, Aunt Sylvia,” Jane said, following the pair into the house. “And thank you for having us. You have not the slightest idea how much this means to us.”
“Nonsense! I am thrilled you have decided to come to London.” Sylvia paused and spun around immediately as they entered the entryway. She brought her hands to her mouth and blinked back, the tears starting to form in her eyes.
“I am even more thrilled that I shall be able to help you prepare you for your season,” Sylvia continued. “You don’t know what it means to me to have that honor, Jane.”
“Oh, Auntie,” Jane responded with a cracked voice, “I’m looking forward to it too.”
Sylvia took Jane’s hands into hers and smiled. “It’s going to be wonderful, I assure you.”
“I can’t wait to see Jane in her fancy dresses,” Edith chimed in excitedly.
They all laughed at her remark. Jane took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly, trying to relieve herself of the worry and burden she had been carrying for so long.
It was crucial not to appear tense or worried all the time. Her father had always said emotions were revealed with the face before a person had even spoken a word.
Sylvia led them into the drawing room. They sat down, had tea and cakes, and discussed the journey and how the girls had been living over the last few years.
She finally decided to let them rest, but Jane could tell Sylvia still had many questions for them. It was pleasing to see how thrilled she was to have them come to live with her.
Once upstairs, Sylvia showed them their respective rooms, and Edith didn’t wait a second before scurrying into hers. She was never one who liked to travel, and even the shortest trips exhausted her.
“Thank you again, Aunt Sylvia. For everything,” Jane said to her aunt before entering her room.
Her bedroom was cozy, with a decent amount of sunlight shining in through the windows. Jane sat on the bed and ran her hand over the white bedcovers. The walls were painted a warm blue. On one side of the bed was a small dressing table with a mirror. It reminded her of the one she’d had at their townhouse. She had loved to sit in front of the mirror, practicing different ways to style her hair.
The window to her new room was covered with sheer lace curtains. Jane had already begun to imagine herself standing by the window in the mornings, a cup of tea in her hand.
After a few hours of rest, Jane was awoken by Sylvia, who asked her to get ready for dinner. Jane obeyed and dressed appropriately before heading down the stairs. Edith was already there, seated in the dining hall and ready to eat. At the end of the table sat her Uncle Harris, sipping from his cup of tea. When he saw her, his face lit up, and he rose to his feet.
“How are you, Jane?” he asked, approaching her.
Jane did a polite curtsey and smiled. “I’m very well, Uncle, thank you. I trust you are well, and your business is flourishing.”
“Oh, it is, thank you. When Sylvia told me you were both coming to stay, I was thrilled. It’s a pleasure having you and Edith here with us in London. I hope you’ve settled in nicely?”
“Yes, Uncle. Thank you very much for having us,” Jane replied.
They both took their seats at the table. Jane exchanged glances with Edith, and they both giggled quietly. It was the first time in years they were sitting down to have dinner with people other than Father. They usually ate alone or separately.
“Jane,” Sylvia said after dinner had been served, “I already have a dressmaker in mind for you. Actually, I have two, but I favor one slightly more than the other. I want us to start with your dress fittings as soon as possible. I must also teach you a few things. You will be attending lots of balls, and I need to make sure you are ready so that you don’t get too overwhelmed.”
“Sylvia, let her eat,” Harris cautioned. “She’s only just arrived, and you’re already setting out to suffocate her with your ideas.”
Jane giggled. “It’s quite all right, Uncle Harris. I’m excited too.”
“See, she’s excited!” Sylvia said triumphantly. “I’m not suffocating her. I only want the best for Jane, and I will do everything to ensure she gets it.”
“Thank you, Aunt Sylvia.”
“Well, I insist that Jane and Edith rest tomorrow before you start bombarding them with fabrics and measuring tapes.”
“Certainly,” Sylvia answered. “They can rest all they want on the morrow. Perhaps we could promenade around the park?”
“That’s a lovely idea, Aunt Sylvia,” Edith chimed in.
They continued their meal, chatting about the upcoming season. Jane didn’t know much about the ton, but luckily, her aunt seemed to know everything. Jane could tell she was in safe hands, and that realization felt like another warm hug.
Two weeks later…
The rain had come down in torrents. The weather had gone from humid to chilly very quickly. Jane loved the rain; it enhanced the earthy smell of spring she always relished.
She crawled under her bedcovers, enjoying the sound of the raindrops pelting the window and drumming on the roof. It was a shame the cozy few moments ended when one of the maids knocked on the door to help prepare Jane for the day.
The short time Jane had spent in Mayfair at her aunt and uncle’s so far had proved wonderful. Sylvia had taken her and Edith promenading in the nearby park almost every day. Sylvia told them the names of people whom she recognized and all the information she knew about them.
Jane was now aware of at least half of the young women due to come out that season, most of whom were ladies of the ton. She tried to keep a smile on her face every day, but the truth was, she was tense.
The three women spent most of their days in the various dressmakers’ shops, where Aunt Sylvia knew many of the owners and staff, and Jane was soon talking to them like friends. Jane had originally left Mayfair over three years ago, but, even before then, she’d had no good friends of her own. She’d spent most of her time playing with Edith. Thinking about it now, she wished she had socialized more with her peers back then.
Jane had come to realize that her mother hadn’t been entirely correct about her dear Aunt Sylvia. Before her mother had passed, she often complained to Jane about how sad it was that Sylvia had married beneath her, to the son of the owner of a gaming house.
Sylvia was of noble blood, so she had been expected to find a husband from the ton. Instead, she’d fallen in love with a commoner at the age of eighteen, and she had never looked back since.
Her mother had also told Jane that gaming houses were places where gentlemen went to drink themselves into a stupor and gamble away all their money. Jane had spent years believing that, but recently, she’d discovered it wasn’t entirely true.
During the day, her Uncle Harris spent his time at the gaming house, which he owned. Harris had inherited the place from his father ten years ago, and he had been running it successfully ever since. Jane admired her uncle because, unlike many other gaming house owners, who accommodated and supported gambling, Harris kept his business strictly for gaming.
Thinking about gaming houses reminded Jane of her father and how she discovered he was squandering all their money on gambling. It was a relief to know that Harris hated gambling and never allowed it on his premises.
The rain had stopped abruptly and was quickly replaced by the glowing sun. It was as if the sun was eager to undo the cooling effects of the rain and assert its dominance in the sky. After the maid had helped her get ready for the morning, Jane headed downstairs and outside to join Sylvia in the chaise waiting outside. Sylvia had told Jane the night before that they would be going for Jane’s final dress fittings the following morning.
“Good morning, Aunt Sylvia,” Jane beamed, entering the chaise. “I trust you slept well.”
“Good morning, my darling. My night was peaceful, thank you.”
“Do you think the dressmaker will be in? It rained heavily this morning,” Sylvia said.
“Oh, she practically lives at the shop. She’ll be in. Plus, she knows your dresses must be ready today; there’s no more time to spare.”
“I know,” Jane said, picking at her fingers somewhat nervously.
The chaise set off. Sylvia soon became distracted, waving to people she knew on the street, and Jane poked her head out of the window, letting the breeze caress her face.
Sylvia had been a rock for Jane since her father died. On learning the news, she had written to Jane immediately, asking her to come to Mayfair. Jane recalled the countless times when she had written to her father’s family for help.
She had spent many sleepless nights turning in bed, wondering why no one had written back to her. Not one person from their father’s family had bothered about them after the viscount’s death. It got to the point where Jane grew tired of getting no response and stopped writing to them.
It was only Sylvia who had kept responding. Jane had received at least one letter every two weeks from Sylvia, in which their aunt regularly pleaded that the girls come to live with them.
Jane didn’t want to be a burden on her aunt, so she had always politely declined, stating that she and Edith were comfortable living in the countryside. It was only when she realized they were going to lose the house that Jane wrote to Sylvia, telling her they would love to come and live with her and Uncle Harris in Mayfair.
They arrived at the dressmaker’s shop and, just as Sylvia had said, Miss Francesca, the dressmaker, was in. After exchanging pleasantries, Jane mounted the stool and stared in the mirror while Francesca got her dresses read for the fitting.
Jane had noticed that Sylvia had an exquisite taste when it came to choosing fabrics and designs. Her aunt had argued with the dressmaker a number of times about the quality of the material, beading, or embroidery. She evidently hadn’t been joking when she’d said she wanted only the best for Jane. Unfortunately for Edith, who also needed new clothes, Sylvia had to focus all her attention on Jane’s coming-out wardrobe, and she pleaded with Edith to be patient for her turn.
“Oh, Francesca, this is lovely!” Sylvia beamed, holding up a particularly charming dress. “I especially like this one.”
Jane bit down a smile. She ran her hands across the satin fabric, admiring her reflection. The dress matched the color of her eyes, blue as the summer sky. Francesca had used gold-colored embroidery thread around the neck area, the arms, and the hem of the dress. The hue almost matched her hair, and Jane knew Francesca had chosen the color on purpose.
“Oh, if you think this one is pretty, then you should see the white one!” Francesca said.
They all giggled, and Jane continued trying on her new dresses to make sure there were no faults in their fit. Jane had no idea that dress fittings could be so entertaining. Francesca always made witty remarks at intervals, causing them all to laugh.
Sylvia and Francesca gossiped about some of the ladies who frequented her shop. Apparently, there were already plenty of scandals going on, although the season hadn’t officially commenced. Their talks made Jane wonder if Francesca discussed her and her aunt with her other customers.
“Jane, I must say that you are beautiful,” Francesca said after they were done with the fittings. “You look wonderful in every one of the dresses. Not everyone can achieve that. It’s as if I don’t even have to try making them look lovely on you.”
“Thank you, Miss Francesca,” Jane answered.
“Thank you, Francesca,” Sylvia chipped in. “My niece is beautiful, isn’t she?”
“We’re going to receive tons of calls and formal visits this season!” Sylvia cried excitedly. “Oh, I can’t wait for you to find love, Jane.”
Jane hadn’t quite thought about it in that way. All she looked forward to was getting married to settle their financial future. The thought of marrying for love had barely crossed her mind. Jane figured she was open to falling in love, but if she was honest with herself, financial security was more important.
Her mother and father had married out of convenience and ended up falling deeply in love. Jane recalled her father telling her the story countless times. His version always had slight differences with her mother’s, but Jane always got the point; they hadn’t married for love but love still happened. Jane wanted a marriage that was beneficial to her own and her sister’s security.
A marriage that would ease her of the worries which clouded her mind at night. Sylvia was already doing so much for them and Jane hoped not to burden her with the responsibility of taking care of Edith too after she herself was married. She must employ a governess for Edith. It was paramount.
That night was one of those restless, anxious ones again. Jane let out a frustrated groan and sat up on the bed. She missed the view from her window at their house in the country.
In her current room, Jane could barely see the sky even when lying down, and the Mayfair sky didn’t have the same soothing effect on her. There were not enough stars, and the sky was just … different.
However, she usually managed to sleep a little better there. That night, while she knew it was still the wee hours of the morning, and Jane couldn’t tell what exactly had woken her when she opened her eyes, she found it was impossible to go back to sleep.
Staying awake at night was a habit she had welcomed when they still lived in the countryside when she had so much to worry about. Back in Mayfair, lying awake over the past two weeks had been frustrating, to say the least, and Jane tried hard not to think too much.
She needed a clear head and good sleep if she didn’t want wrinkles to form on her forehead. That was what she feared would happen if she kept on waking up abruptly at night and lying awake aimlessly
In a bid to find a quick solution to her problem, Jane recalled her mother’s forever cure for insomnia was chamomile tea. She, too, had used to stay up at night, and Jane always saw her drinking chamomile tea. She claimed it had an instant healing effect. Jane had taken chamomile tea countless times, but not to sleep.
Determined, Jane pushed the bedcovers aside and rose to her feet. She adjusted her white nightdress, hitching up the hem with one hand.
The last thing she wanted was to wake anyone up while she went down to the kitchen. Surely, there had to be a permanent cure to enable her to sleep the night through.
The stairs creaked as Jane made her way downstairs. She hoped there was chamomile tea in the kitchen. If not, then she’d have to find other means to exhaust herself.
The thought of waking Edith up crossed her mind. However, Jane figured they could talk till the break of dawn, and when she had finally exhausted herself, she would be able to get a few hours of sleep. Although it sounded like a good idea, Jane didn’t think it would be fair to interrupt Edith’s slumber.
Just as she was making her way down the hallway, Jane heard a voice coming from Harris’ study. There was dim light seeping out from the crack under the closed door. She paused and approached the room quietly, trying not to make a sound.
When she reached the door, the murmuring grew louder, and she heard her uncle sigh loudly. Finally, Jane knocked and gently pushed the door open.
“Uncle Harris?” she called softly, meeting her uncle’s eyes. “Is anything the matter?”
“Jane, do come in,” he said, sighing. “What are you doing up so late? It is far from the break of dawn.” Harris had a mountain of papers on the desk in front of him. He looked tired, as though he hadn’t gone to bed at all. Harris was much bigger and taller than Sylvia. He had a Brutus haircut and a round, jovial face. He also had a very kind, reassuring smile, which Jane was convinced that he had used to charm her Aunt Sylvia. He mostly wore knee-breeches with white stockings, and he liked to dress colorfully, so it was rare to see him black.
“Well, I can’t seem to fall back to sleep,” Jane complained, taking a seat on the other side of the desk. “It’s one of those nights.”
“Those nights?” Harris asked. “What do you mean?”
Jane dropped her elbow to the table and rested her jaw on her palm. “Well, some nights, I can’t sleep, some nights, I worry, some nights, I daydream, and the other nights, I sleep quite well,” she explained.
Harris interlocked his fingers on the desk and stared at her. “Is your aunt pushing you too hard?”
“Oh, no, Uncle.” Jane shook her head.
“Because I can give her a stern talking to if you wish it.”
Jane giggled. “That’s not it, Uncle Harris, I promise you. Aunt Sylvia has been wonderful to me, and I love everything we do together. She has taught me so much in the short time I’ve been here.”
“That’s good, then,” Harris said, nodding his head. “Your aunt can be a little overenthusiastic sometimes. It’s rather endearing, but it can come off as overbearing if she’s not careful.”
“It’s not.” Jane smiled, scanning the papers on the table. “By the way, what are you doing up so late, Uncle Harris, if I may ask? You should be asleep too.”
“Oh,” Harris picked up the papers and fussed with them. “I can’t make head nor tail of the gaming house’s accounts this month. I find it’s always a problem getting the numbers to agree.”
“If it’s records or numbers, then perhaps I could take a look?” Jane said, stretching her hand out.
Harris didn’t hesitate to hand over the sheets to her. He drummed his fingers on the table, watching her assess them.
“I can help you with this, Uncle Harris,” Jane finally said.
“You can?” he asked, surprised.
“Indeed. I always used to help my father with his ledgers and accounting books when he was still alive. This is the same system.”
Harris sighed in relief and sat back. “I’d be extremely grateful if you could sort them out for me, Jane. You haven’t the slightest idea how long I’ve been staring at these damn papers!”
Jane chuckled and shifted the papers to her side. “I’d be happy to help, Uncle Harris. It’s the least I can do. It will probably take us all night, though, but I don’t mind if you don’t. I’d be glad of something to do, since I likely shan’t be getting any sleep tonight anyway.”
Jane immediately got to work on the accounts. It was a convenient alternative to chamomile tea; she thought that once she was done calculating and sorting out the records, she’d be too exhausted not to sleep.
Harris joined in and helped Jane in any way he could. Together, they slowly worked their way through the columns of income and expenditure for the gaming house, at the same time exchanging affectionate stories about Sylvia.
Jane couldn’t help but think that Harris had been waiting for someone to talk to about Sylvia and what he called his wife’s ‘silly little habits.’ Listening to him made her a little envious of what the pair shared. Jane found herself smiling throughout.
She hoped she might find a husband who talked about her so affectionately one day, the way Harris did about Sylvia.
I hope you enjoyed the preview of my novel with the title “An Amiable Lady for His Lordship”. You can easily get your copy by clicking the button below!