Page 90 of Earl of Deception

He bowed, mounted his horse, and rode away. Not long after, the carriage holding Jenny was trundling down the drive. Jenny pulled back the curtain and took one final look at the large oak tree where she and her friends had made their pledges. Then her gaze moved to the portico where she had sneaked past Lord Walcott dressed as a man. There were too many memories to count, but one would stand among the most important.

For when her eyes fell on Mrs. Rutley, Jenny raised her hand in farewell. And Mrs. Rutley responded in kind.

* * *

Jenny had left twenty minutes earlier, but Mrs. Agnes Rutley had not returned to the warm interior of Courtly Manor. Instead, she stood beside the great oak tree, her fingers tracing the initials that had been carved into the tree’s flesh the previous autumn.

Yet she was not alone. A rider had arrived just moments ago, joining her beneath the large boughs. Neither spoke as Agnes thought about all that had happened since she and those select students had shared their secrets and spoken their vows. Each girl held a special place in Agnes’s heart, and with each departure, the pangs of their leaving hurt more.

The man beside her spoke. “I did as you requested. I contacted the magistrates and gave them all the documents. It’s only a matter of weeks before Lord Tulk’s arrested for his crimes. Even his title can’t save him from the trouble he’s caused.”

With a smile, Agnes turned to her old friend. “Thank you, Tibbons. Your help in this has been invaluable.”

“I can say the same about yours, ma’am. It seems like it was just yesterday when I came to ask for your help. Do you remember?”

Agnes nodded, her mind drifting back to five years earlier. Lewis Tibbons, her husband’s former driver, arrived late one evening, frantic.

“Mrs. Rutley,” he said as they stood beside the old oak tree, “you once told me that if I ever needed anything, I could come to you. Well, I’m here to take you up on that offer. Oh, not to help me personally but rather my employer, Lord Dowding. If there’s anyone I know who can help, it’d be you.”

Agnes nodded, not wanting to think of the day they had made that oath. Regardless, she listened as he had explained to her the confession the former Lord Dowding—a man Tibbons had befriended during childhood—had made upon his deathbed. He had a daughter, born out of wedlock, who he had abandoned to a life of servitude.

“The father tasked the son with a quest to find his missing sister and make right the terrible wrongs he had made,” Tibbons continued. “And that’s where you come in. I have the sister’s name, but we’ve no idea where she could be. England is a vast land, ma’am, but you have connections. Will you see what you can learn?”

What Tibbons had done for her all those years ago could never be repaid, but she would make the attempt.

Her return to the same streets from where she had grown up had Agnes reacquainting with people she once knew well. She made several inquiries, which led her to a woman she had known as a child. Francis Jennings was now a prostitute, and it was through her that Agnes learned about Lord Timothy Stickler.

Once she had that information, Agnes passed it along to Tibbons to give to the newly titled Lord Dowding.

But not before Francis made a request.

“I’m glad ye got learned and all, Agnes,” Francis had said. “But do me a favor, will ye? I got a girl, and she’s clever. Can read ‘n write and speaks better’n I can. Get ‘er outa this life, will ye? Please, don’t let ‘er end up like me.”

That day, Agnes returned to the school, but she was not alone. A new student accompanied her.

Coming back to the present, Agnes took Tibbons by the hand and squeezed it. “Thank you for asking me to help,” she said. “Not only was I able to lend my aid, but I was also rewarded ten times over. My life was forever changed.”

“I’m glad for you, Mrs. Rutley,” Tibbons said, pulling his hand away, looking awkward. “Well, I’d best return home.”

Agnes looked at Courtly Manor and smiled. This had been her home for quite a number of years and would be for many more to come.

“I think I’ll go home, as well.”

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Dover, 1810

Jenny, Countess of Dowding, laughed as her husband romped on the carefully trimmed lawn. Their three-year-old son giggled with delight every time Nicholas leapt aside, moving with sinuous motions to keep from being touched. Patrick never tired of their games of tag, and if it were up to him, they would have played until he fell over from exhaustion.

A condition from which he rarely seemed to suffer.

Neither Jenny nor her husband had heard nary a word about Lord Tulk once he fled to Spain with nothing but his title and a few family heirlooms. As far as Jenny was concerned, he was lucky to have retained what he had at all.

“Patrick, your father has work to do,” Jenny called. They had chosen the name out of respect for the man who had brought them together. Who had helped Nicholas in his quest. Or at least the man’s son. “And you must wash for dinner.”

Patrick looked down at his hands. “They’re not dirty, Mama,” he said, holding up his palms for her to inspect.

“Not all dirt can be seen,” she told him. “And no, I cannot carry you.” She patted her protruding stomach. “You wouldn’t want to hurt your baby brother or sister, would you?”

Tags: Jennifer Monroe Historical
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