Authors: Kasey Michaels
Tags: #England, #Historical romance, #19th century
To my children:
Anne, Michael, Edward, and Megan.
Always look beyond that which you can see
Electronic Edition Copyright 2012: Kathryn A. Seidick
EBook published by Kathryn A. Seidick, 2012
Original Print Edition published, 1994
Cover art by Tammy Seidick Design,
EBook Design by
A Thirsty Mind
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photography, recording or any information storage and retrieval system without written permission of the author.
The Tenacious Miss Tamerlane
The Playful Lady Penelope
The Haunted Miss Hampshire
The Belligerent Miss Boynton
The Lurid Lady Lockport
The Rambunctious Lady Royston
The Mischievous Miss Murphy
A Difficult Disguise
The Savage Miss Saxon
The Ninth Miss Noddenly, a novella
The Somerville Farce
The Wagered Miss Winslow
A Masquerade in the Moonlight
And, after all, what is a lie? ‘Tis but
The truth in masquerade.
— George Gordon, Lord Byron
Innocence has nothing to dread.
— Jean Racine
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice, and everything nice:
That’s what little girls are made of.
arguerite Balfour sat on the very edge of the unyielding wooden pew, her slippered feet swinging freely some six inches above the wooden floor. Her plump, dimpled fingers twisted the satin sash of her pretty new gown—a lovely blush pink creation fashioned in the exact image of the merveilleux style worn by her dear mother and presented to her just that morning in honor of her fourth birthday.
It didn’t seem fair to Marguerite that her birthday should so inconveniently fall on a Sunday, so that she must spend a substantial part of this most precious of days in church, pressed in on all sides by Grandfather’s guests, people so very much larger than herself—her nose tickled by the overpowering odors of scent, powder, and perspiration.
Because her grandfather was Sir Gilbert Selkirk, and because Sir Gilbert’s great-great-grandfather had commissioned the building of the church, Marguerite sat at a right angle to the pulpit in the second row of the Selkirk family pews, the ones that rose higher than all the other pews. Mama and Papa had impressed upon her the necessity to never fidget, for all the people could see her, and it was her responsibility to set a good example, no matter how boring or overlong the vicar’s sermon.
Or at least Marguerite thought that was what her parents had said, for the child hadn’t paid very strict attention, considering that she was very small and the people around her were enormously tall, so that no one could possibly espy her anyway unless they climbed to the tip-top of the rafters like acrobats and looked down on her, to yell out accusingly, “Look, everyone—that godless little heathen is fidgeting!”
Grandfather had invited so many of his acquaintance to Chertsey for this house party that Marguerite felt she must be exceedingly careful of where she wandered whenever indoors, for fear of being stepped on by one of the odd, exotic creatures as they stumbled about, drinking and eating everything in sight as if they had been starving themselves for a fortnight in anticipation of a few days of feasting. She had been sternly told not to laugh at these people who clung to the old ways, or point her fingers at them for their strange clothing that was so unlike the relaxed country wardrobes she was used to seeing.
But she could not help but stare at them. They were all so thoroughly ancient, both the gentlemen and their ladies, and they wore brightly colored satins and powdered their ridiculously high hair, and patted her cheek while they tsk-tsked over the sad fact that Marguerite’s grandmother and namesake had died even before “the poor, dear infant was more than a gleam in her papa’s eye.”
It was all most bothersome, especially since Marguerite didn’t miss her grandmother in the least, for it was difficult to miss what she’d never had. Besides, she had Mama, and Papa, and even Grandfather, and all the servants at Chertsey as well. What need had she of such a nebulous thing as a grandmother?
Marguerite loved her parents very much, as she did her grandfather, and she always did her utmost to obey them, which was why she had promised to behave in church today. But this was her birthday, and Grandfather had promised her yet another surprise after luncheon, and, besides, the collar of her lovely palest pink merveilleuse gown was digging into the back of her neck in the most fearsome way, and she had grown again so that her best slippers were just that much too snug, and the vicar was talking about eternal damnation for ever so long—whatever eternal damnation meant. It certainly couldn’t have anything to do with birthdays.
She had been good—very, very good—for more than an hour, and the strain was beginning to show.
Marguerite sighed again, audibly this time, as she wriggled her stiff bottom from side to side on the unyielding wooden seat. She would much rather be back at Chertsey, sitting in the kitchens and listening to Cook tell her yet again of last night’s dinner, when Finch, the butler, and Snipe, one of the footmen, had collided in the hallway just outside the dining room—with Snipe laboring along under the weight of an elaborate ice sculpture especially designed for this same party of London ladies and gentlemen, who were already seated at the long mahogany table. Finch had been highly insulted to find himself rump down on the floor, a rapidly melting swan in his lap as all the ladies and lords stood around him clucking their tongues and commenting on the clumsiness of the hired help in today’s world while Snipe, who was a most fainthearted and generally useless person, had only stood by, to wring his hands and cry.
But there was nothing else for it; she would simply have to remain here, bored to flinders, until the vicar had done with his sermon and the choir had sung yet another dozen dreary hymns. Only then would she be set free.
How would she ever survive it?
“Hello?” she breathed, sitting forward. Something about the elderly woman in the pew in front of Marguerite had caught her attention.
The woman was most exceptionally unusual, even in this gaggle of rara avises. Her heavy gown smelled somewhat of bacon left too long in the smokehouse, and she sported an outdated coiffure that climbed a foot or more into the air. The latter was an immense creation of greased wool and horsehair and false curls overlaid with a paste of white powder—the whole of it crowned by a large feather hat in the shape of a bird. A molting bird.
Marguerite thought the woman looked silly in the extreme and did not suppose that anyone could possibly believe such a creation worth the trouble of sleeping with her head in a box in order to maintain it. But Maisie, one of the upstairs maids, had explained that the old woman had precious little hair of her own left after years of wigs rubbing at her scalp. She refused to give up the style that took hours and hours to weave into that sparse hair, so that it was most often kept intact for weeks on end before being “broken out.”
Maisie had also only yesterday sneaked Marguerite into the lady’s guest chamber to show her the pretty silver wire cage that the woman wore over her head at night, a trap guaranteed strong enough that no hungry mouse or rat could gnaw through it to sneak inside the creation and feast on the grease.
Or so Maisie had said.
Now Marguerite’s mouth opened in a small O of wonder as her hands flew to her cheeks and she blinked, then looked once again at what she thought she had seen. Yes! She hadn’t been mistaken. There it was again! As Marguerite peeked through her spread fingers at the lady’s head, a tiny, pink-nosed field mouse peeked back at her from inside the woman’s tower of fake powdered curls!
Poor little creature, Marguerite commiserated silently, imprisoned in a mound of hair, stuck in church, and forced to listen to the vicar prose on and on of everlasting damnation. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide—trapped inside a nest of greasy curls by day and locked up all night by the silver wire cage.
Obviously, something must be done!
Marguerite tucked her bottom lip behind her top front teeth and quickly slid her eyes to the left. Grandfather was sound asleep, as usual, his chin propped on his broad chest, his deep breathing ruffling the lace at his neck. Marguerite shifted her gaze to her right. Mama, delicately wielding an ivory-sticked fan whose panels depicted the martyrdom of Saint Peter in horrifying detail, appeared to be oblivious to all but the nasal droning of the vicar’s voice.
As for her papa, well, he might tell Marguerite how to behave in church, but he did not attend services himself, preferring to take up his pole and seek “heavenly quiet” at the stream behind the spinney, saying the best way to keep God in his heart was to keep his immortal soul as far removed from organized religion as possible.