Page 79 of Earl of Deception

Jenny laughed. “I nearly did.” She despised lying to Mrs. Rutley, but what choice did she have? After promising Lord Dowding to keep his secret, she could not go and blurt it out the first time she was interrogated!

Pushing away the feelings of guilt, Jenny led Louisa to Ruth’s room. After knocking twice, the door opened, and Unity peered through the crack.

“It’s Jenny and Louisa,” Unity said over her shoulder. “Should I allow them to come in?”

After Ruth affirmed that she could, Unity ushered in Jenny and Louisa, closing the door behind them. Ruth and Theodosia sat on one of the beds, an assortment of playing cards, dice, and coins between them.

“Shame on you, Theodosia,” Jenny said. “Imagine what Julia would say if she were here. She would be very disappointed in you.”

Theodosia jutted out her chin and sniffed. “And what do you think she would say about you cutting your hair and dressing in men’s clothing?”

Jenny hung her head in defeat. What argument could she possibly make to refute such a statement?

Taking a seat on the stool in front of Ruth’s vanity table, Jenny watched as the three girls played cards. Coins exchanged hands from time to time, but Ruth won most of them.

“Theodosia, you’ll never win if you keep smiling as you do!” Unity admonished. “Every time you smile, we know you have a good hand.”

“Leave her be,” Ruth snapped. “She’ll learn soon enough.”

“At the cost of her allowance!” Unity snapped indignantly.

As they continued to play, Unity asked, “So, where did you go the other evening, Ruth? I came searching for you, but you weren’t here.”

Ruth tossed a few copper coins in the middle of the bed. “I played with some servants at another house,” she replied. “I made ten pounds.”

“What will you do with the money?” Jenny asked.

Before Ruth could respond, a loud sob made the girls turn to stare at the closed door.

“That sounds like it’s coming from downstairs,” Theodosia said.

Ruth leapt from the bed and opened the door. The others followed immediately after.

Abigail Swanson rushed past them, tears streaming down her cheeks. She entered her bedroom and slammed the door shut behind her. Several students whispered among one another when Jenny caught sight of Amy Felton.

“Have you any idea what’s upset Abigail?” she asked the younger girl.

Amy nodded. “Her parents have come to collect her early.”

Jenny frowned. “But Abigail hates being here. All she does is complain that she wants to go home.”

Amy shrugged. “I think her parents found her a husband.”

Jenny walked to the railing that overlooked the foyer and looked down. Indeed, Mr. and Mrs. Swanson were speaking with Mrs. Rutley, but they were not alone. The man was tall, and his coat hung limply on an extremely thin body. His nose was long and stood out above two protruding front teeth. But that was not what made Jenny cringe. His laugh was more a bray than a laugh, reminding her of a donkey.

“Poor Abigail,” Unity whispered. “I may not like her, but I wouldn’t wish him on anyone.”

“Perhaps he has a pleasant personality,” Theodosia replied.

“After all the trouble she’s caused everyone here?” Ruth asked, then she turned on her heel. “I think I’ll go speak with her.”

“No, Ruth, wait!” Jenny said, grabbing her by the arm. The others gasped. No one touched Ruth without her permission, but Jenny did not care. “Mrs. Rutley says we should never rejoice in the suffering of others.” The man’s braying laugh echoed through the foyer once again. “He may be a stern husband. Perhaps he’ll even drive Abigail mad. Either way, do you not think she’ll suffer enough?”

Jenny released Ruth’s arm, and Ruth returned to her place at the railing. All was quiet until the door to Abigail’s room opened. With a bag in each hand, she lifted her head and marched down the stairs, ignoring the audience of girls.

“We’ll miss you, Abigail,” Mrs. Rutley said. “I wish you all the best in the years ahead.”

It was then that Jenny realized not one single student bid Abigail farewell. And despite her goodbye, Mrs. Rutley did not embrace her. Yet Abigail had no one to blame but herself.

Tags: Jennifer Monroe Historical
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