Letters to a Lady [NOOK Book]

Overview

Diana Beecham's only use for her neighbor Lord Harrup was to get him to provide a job for her brother Ronald. So she picked up the "documents" Harrup sought, only to have them stolen. Seems Harrup, seeking a high government position, was being blackmailed by his former mistress. Undeterred by a little setback--or a little housebreaking--Diana pursued where her heart led.
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Letters to a Lady

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Overview

Diana Beecham's only use for her neighbor Lord Harrup was to get him to provide a job for her brother Ronald. So she picked up the "documents" Harrup sought, only to have them stolen. Seems Harrup, seeking a high government position, was being blackmailed by his former mistress. Undeterred by a little setback--or a little housebreaking--Diana pursued where her heart led.
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940000089439
  • Publisher: Belgrave House
  • Publication date: 10/1/1987
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 636,093
  • File size: 439 KB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"You must not worry your head about Ronald's finding a position, my dear." Miss Peabody smiled fondly. "Chuggie will be only too happy to find him something with the government. Always so kind and thoughtful. You have only to say the word and Chuggie will do it. He is the most obliging creature in nature, and so well placed, too, in the cabinet."

Diana Beecham regarded her chaperon with a leery eye and smiled a noncommittal smile, wondering how a lady who looked so sane could be so foolish. Miss Peabody had a long, lean body and a long, thin face--the kind of face that looked intelligent and was frequently compared to a hatchet. Her eyes, too, were sharp and fast, but in the matter of Lord Harrup they were purblind.

Miss Peabody held strong and unique views regarding this selfish gentleman's obligingness. The reason for this, as for the dame's calling a thirty-five-year-old marquess and privy councillor "Chuggie," was old and well known to her listener. Miss Peabody, Harrup's distant cousin, had been his nanny. Having no babe of her own on whom to spend her maternal instincts and aspirations, she had lavished them with fine indiscrimination on her charge. Many a dull evening had Diana been regaled with Lord Harrup's nursery antics: walking at nine months, talking a blue streak at fifteen, reading at three years. It was really astonishing it had taken his lordship the usual number of years to graduate from university, when you stopped to think about it. That this mental marvel got no better than a gentleman's "C" was equally surprising. The professors, Miss Peabody had assured her, had all been jealous as green cows of Chuggie'sgenius.

Diana feared the tales of Harrup's obligingness were equally exaggerated. To her knowledge, all he had ever done for Miss Peabody was to pass her on to his neighbors, the Beechams, when he had no further use for her. There she had held sway over the Beecham nursery, later graduating to governess and finally to chaperon when Mrs. Beecham passed away.

Whether a young lady now in her twenty-fifth year required any other guide and protector than her father was a moot point. Diana considered Peabody a companion and friend. It was true Harrup called on Miss Peabody several times a year, often stuffing a fat envelope into her fingers. It was scanty enough reward from a gentleman who had ten thousand a year at his disposal, and lived in palatial luxury himself. But it was those envelopes, Diana thought, that really accounted for the high esteem in which he was held.

Whether he would be eager to find a position at Whitehall for Diana's brother Ronald, just graduated from Oxford and wanting to get started in a political career, was another matter. As Lord Harrup was their most influential neighbor and friend, however, the matter would certainly be presented for his consideration.

"I told Ronald to call on him. I thought we would have heard by now," Diana said, and rose to stroll restlessly about the blue saloon. The chamber, like the house, was comfortable and pretty without claiming much grandeur. Sun shone through the trees of the park, making patterns on the lawn. It was a fine day in late April--a shame to waste such a day indoors, when her mare would be champing for exercise. But Miss Peabody had ordered the dolly out, which meant Diana had to make frequent trips belowstairs to see the laundry was not being overbleached.

Unlike Lord Harrup, the majority of the world was in a conspiracy to plague Miss Peabody and thwart her every wish. The very weather itself had it in for her. Winds sought out her sensitive ears and caused them to ache with monotonous regularity. Servants purposely broke her favorite dishes. Indeed, any dish that hit the floor immediately became a favorite. Cook, knowing she liked her beef rare, burned it to cinders, and the laundress would certainly destroy her blue muslin with bleach if Diana were not there to monitor the application. Diana was another of the blessed ones. She and Ronald rated just a few notches below Harrup in the dame's esteem.

"Oh, there is the postman!" Diana exclaimed, and hastened to the door. "There should be a letter from Ronald."

The expected letter did not arrive. The new issue of La Belle Assemblée was there, the cover in shreds by the ill offices of the postman, but of greater interest was a letter franked by Lord Harrup and addressed to Miss Peabody, who blushed like a schoolgirl when Diana handed it to her.

"Dear me, what can Harrup have to say?" she exclaimed, and grabbed the envelope. Harrup was only Chuggie when she was extolling his virtue. She read the letter swiftly and said, "It is really to both of us. He writes, 'Dearest Peabody'--he always calls me dearest--'Would you or Di be kind enough to send a footman to Hitchin to pick up some documents for me? They are with a Mrs. Whitby (map enclosed). I had hoped to pick them up myself en route to London yesterday, but Mrs. Whitby was not at home. I left a note requesting her to have them ready. They are too sensitive to entrust to the mail. Please take them to Harrup Hall. The next carriage coming to London can bring them to me. I thank you in advance, knowing you will not fail me. Sincerely, Harrup.'" She smiled dotingly at this businesslike communication and peered closely into the envelope to see if any folding money was included.

"I wonder what the documents can be," Diana said, looking at the letter.

"Something to do with the government, no doubt," Miss Peabody assured her. "Very sensitive. I wonder who this Mrs. Whitby can be. I don't recognize the name. Very likely her husband works with Harrup at Whitehall. I shall be very happy to do it for him." Even though the letter was the only paper to be seen, Peabody still smiled.

"He might have asked his own servants to do it," Diana mentioned.

"His mama is not at home. He knows he can trust me to see the thing gets done."

"Why, Peabody, we shall be passing right through Hitchin ourselves tomorrow when we go to London to help Ronald settle in. We might as well pick up the documents and take them to Harrup," Diana pointed out. "He will get them more quickly that way. They're probably urgent."

Her chaperon knew by the twinkle in Diana's blue eyes that the minx was up to something. "Ha, you are a caution, Diana!" She smiled. "You are thinking that Ronald can come along when we take the documents to Harrup, and that will help his cause along."

"It won't do it any harm," Diana agreed.

"It is the very sort of special consideration Harrup likes." This came dangerously close to admitting Harrup was a tad high in the instep, and Miss Peabody quickly spoke on to remove the notion. "It does no harm to be polite to someone in Harrup's position. I'm sure he is so busy with meetings and Parliament and court that we must do whatever we can to help him." She carefully folded up the map and letter and put them in her sewing basket.

With a helpless look at Diana she said, "Would you mind just nipping down and seeing Jennie isn't pouring bleach all over my best blue muslin? I told her to dilute it first. I swear the girl is either simple or ruins all the colored wash from spite. I'd go myself but my knees are stiff today. These spring winds are piercing."

"I was just about to go," Diana said.

After ascertaining that the blue muslin was unmarred by their fastidious servant, Jennie, Diana went upstairs to begin her packing. She and Peabody were remaining in London for only two nights, but Ronald might take them out to the theater, so she would take an evening outfit. She took from the clothespress her two favorites--a deep blue satin that matched her eyes and a less fancy but more comfortable gown of glossy gold lutestring, striped with narrow bands of green. With a last longing look at the blue, she returned it to the clothespress. Its décolletage was too elegant for the sort of evenings they would have with Ronald. That gown would be more at home at a ball.

The extremely disobliging Lord Harrup could take them to a ball if he chose. Miss Peabody followed his activities closely via her connections at the Hall and reported his vertiginous social whirl to Miss Beecham. With the season in progress, Harrup would be out waltzing and attending plays and operas every night. He was top of the trees, but in the usual way of toplofty gentlemen, he did not deign to invite his country neighbors to visit him in town. Diana knew she must be polite to him, though--for Ronald's sake.

She found being polite to Harrup one of life's less pleasant duties. A lordly neighbor who continued calling a young lady "missie" into her twenty-fifth year is nor likely to inspire much affection. He ran quite tame at the Willows, taking potluck with her family three or four times for every invitation issued to Harrup Hall. But what really vexed her was that his invitations never coincided with the interesting parties at which he entertained his London friends. It was with the vicar and such local worthies that she and her papa were invited to dinner.

She put the lutestring dress on the bed and lay down beside it, looking up at the water marks on the ceiling. Seven of them, strung out like an archipelago right over her head, as unchanging as the continents and her life. They had been there, caught in plaster, turning from yellow to brown, for as long as she could remember. Would she go on looking at them all her life, turning dim along with them? Would she grow old and die here at the Willows?

Perhaps things would be different once Ronald got established in London. He was a brilliant scholar. He might advance swiftly at Whitehall. She fell into a delightful reverie in which Ronald was the mentor of cabinet ministers and kings, and she was his hostess--charming, well informed, suggesting a cabinet shuffle here, a war measure there, while fighting off the impassioned advances of half the government. Of course, it was all idle dreaming. She knew Ronald's scholarly mind wouldn't set Whitehall on fire. Ronald was the sort who would quietly and painstakingly do research for some more outgoing gentleman who would stand up and spout his words in the House and receive credit for them.

It didn't seem fair that a lady's hopes should ride on a younger brother whose social acumen was worse than mediocre. She was the firstborn; she should have been the man. Papa often said so himself. She was the better rider, the more spirited, the more venturesome of the two. She must bring Ronald into fashion somehow in London, when she finally got there. Ronald was only twenty-two--she felt a hundred.

How had she got so old? Where had the years gone? Life was pleasant at the Willows with Papa and Miss Peabody, but it wasn't enough. There was no challenge in it for her. She had mastered the Willows and its limited society. She was the real ruler of the house. Diana longed to have a home of her own or a life of some sort beyond this provincial round of little doings.

She sighed and went to the mirror as she did at least once each day to check time's ravages on her face, for other than the five thousand from her mama, that face was her fortune. A broad brow tapered to full cheeks and a small, somewhat pointed chin. Her nose was straight and imperious, not at all matching her lopsided smile. Simple living had been easy on her charms. No trace of crow's feet encroached yet at the corners of her blue eyes. The eyes still wore the luster of youth, still tilted up at the outer rims. Her best feature. Surely those eyes were made for flirting over a fan, not for monitoring the application of bleach to the laundry. A pixie's eyes, Peabody called them. Her hair was pale blond and lightly curled. Gray wouldn't show in it easily.

Worrying about gray hairs, and she had never had a real beau yet! Just a few flirts like Mr. Henderson, who walked out with her two Sundays, then switched his affections to her friend Sukey Dunton. Diana hadn't even had the solace of a broken heart. It was half a relief when Mr. Henderson defected.

The vicar smiled more warmly at her than at the other ladies on the church auxiliary. Dull little man with his dull little job. How did he stand it? How did any of them stand it, knowing there was a whole world out there to conquer?

Ah, well, tomorrow she was going to London to help Ronald set up his apartment. Perhaps Ronald would introduce her to someone, one of his friends or associates. All she needed was one ambitious gentleman, and she would be on her way.

The trip to London was the subject of conversation over dinner, and when Mr. Beecham had retired to his office, Peabody went to her charge's room to see what she had packed, for they were leaving early in the morning.

"Not taking your blue satin, Diana?" she asked, lifting a brow.

"There's no point wrinkling it. I shan't need such a fancy gown, Peabody."

"Take it," Peabody advised, a twinkle in her dim eyes. "I'm taking my good black. There is no saying--Harrup might invite us to dinner."

Diana thought this extremely unlikely, but with a hopeful thought to Ronald's friends, she folded up the gown and added it, just in case.

Mr. Beecham saw them off early in the morning, counseling his groom what hotel to take the ladies to for lunch and where to bait the horses. Though Hitchin was ten miles away, Peabody already had Harrup's map on her knee when they left, considering the best route to the Whitby house. "Tilehouse Street," she said. "Yes, I know where that is. An excellent part of town. Salam Chapel is in Tilehouse Street."

John Groom had been instructed to keep a slow and steady pace. It was going on ninety minutes later that the carriage entered the old coaching town and proceeded past a smattering of picturesque houses to its destination. The Whitby residence proved to be more than genteel, a fine old stone mansion.

"We shall not accept tea, Diana, much as I would like a cup. We want to reach London before dark," Peabody said.

They stepped up to the door and were admitted by a butler. Peabody was a little surprised an M.P.'s man didn't wear livery, but a glance was enough to tell her the house was done up in the first style of elegance. Not a mote of dust to be detected by an eagle eye, which Miss Peabody's certainly was. As she waited in the saloon, the words nouveau riche occurred to her. Nothing in the chamber had been sanctified by age, but it was all so pretty that she decided to overlook its lack of ton.

Before long, Mrs. Whitby herself wafted in, and all thoughts of the room were forgotten. The lady was fine enough to give ton to a hovel. Her age was hard to determine--Peabody pegged it in the vicinity of thirty. That rosy flush on the cheeks might be due to youth, but more likely to rouge. Hair as black and shiny as a raven's wing glinted with iridescent peacock tints in the window light. Peabody's experience with black dye in her younger years told her this fine color didn't come from a bottle. Dye made the hair a flat, matte black. The hair grew low on an ivory forehead. Large, limpid blue eyes were heavily fringed in lashes. Her nose was small and retroussé, and her lips were like rosebuds.

Diana made a swifter examination of the face and soon passed on to the toilette. An enviable morning gown of pale violet sarcenet encased a figure that bordered on the voluptuous while still maintaining the litheness of youth. Any hint that Mrs. Whitby was in half-mourning, however, was obliterated by her radiant smile and her décolletage. The smile turned quizzical when Mrs. Whitby beheld two unfamiliar provincials in her saloon.

Soon the name Lord Harrup was in the air, and the mystery was cleared up. "So if you have the documents ready, we shall take them and be off," Miss Peabody said.

"Ah, yes, the ... documents," Mrs. Whitby said with a quizzing little smile. Something caused a wicked gleam to enter her eyes. She took a parcel from the table and handed it to Miss Peabody. "Give my kindest regards to Harrup, and tell him I shall look forward to seeing him soon in London. I find the country does not suit me. I can't sleep for the racket of the grass growing."

"I shall be happy to tell him," Miss Peabody answered, determined to be polite to any associate of Harrup's. "You stay in London when Mr. Whitby is sitting in the House, do you, Mrs. Whitby?" she asked conversationally.

"Oh, I am not married," Mrs. Whitby said. "I have been widowed forever. Are you visiting Harrup for long?"

Her eyes strayed to Diana, where they lingered, looking up and down for all the world like a forward gentleman.

"No, we are not visiting him at all, except to deliver these," Miss Peabody replied.

Mrs. Whitby opened her lips and a silver peal of laughter tinkled forth. "You must also tell him for me that I think he mistreats his lady friends, using them for errand boys. But then, that is Harrup's usual way, to abuse us ladies, n'est-ce pas?"

Miss Peabody felt her spine curl. "I'm sure Lord Harrup has always treated me with the utmost kindness," she answered firmly. "We are very happy to deliver these government documents for him."

Mrs. Whitby's lovely face looked blank. Then a look of understanding flashed in her eyes, and again she laughed, more merrily than before. "Of course. We are all eager to help Parliament--especially certain noble members thereof," she replied in a strangely insinuating tone.

On this peculiar speech she turned and flounced from the room without so much as saying good day.

"Peculiar woman," Miss Peabody exclaimed as soon as they were outside the door. "Why is she still in half-mourning if she has been widowed for eons? She hardly looks old enough to have been married long."

"Wasn't she beautiful?" Diana sighed. "I would kill for that gown. I'm sure she must have a French modiste. I liked her--a little brash, but lively."

"Handsome is as handsome does. Not even the courtesy to say good-bye. I cannot think Harrup will be overjoyed to see that one in London. I wonder what she was doing with these documents."

She settled into the carriage and glanced down at the packet of letters. They were held together with a pink satin ribbon. The scent of lavender was noticeable in the closed carriage. It was soon borne in on the Argus-eyed Peabody that she had seen the handwriting on the top envelope before, most recently yesterday when she received her letter from Harrup. She looked askance at Diana, who had already realized a pink satin ribbon sat uneasily on government documents. Neither did the envelopes look at all official. There were no seals on them but only Harrup's frank. Her eyes moved to the handwritten address and she gasped.

"Peabody!"

Peabody stuffed the letters into her reticule and snapped it shut. "Yes, Diana?" she asked blandly.

Her charge looked her in the eye and laughed aloud. "Too late. The damage is done. I've already seen Chuggie's handwriting. Good gracious, how shocking of you, taking me to visit a member of the muslin company."

Blood suffused Peabody's saturnine face, lending a livid hue to its usually sluggish complexion. She had leaped to the same conclusion a moment earlier and, for once in her life, was uncertain what posture to take. Rumors of Harrup's affairs had reached her ears before this. She had been able to overlook intimations of a bachelor's London peccadilloes, providing they remained rumors and remained based in London. To have pretty convincing evidence that the rumors were true and had strayed so close to Harrup Hall and the Willows was hard to digest. With no one else to take her ill humor out on, she turned on Miss Beecham.

"Fine talk for a lady! Muslin company, indeed! I think I know Harrup a little better than to believe he would give that trollop the time of day."

"Nonsense, she was a very elegant trollop, and why else would Harrup have written her so many letters if he weren't her lover? What I cannot understand is why he sent her to Hitchin to rusticate and listen to the grass grow. Peabody, let us see the letters." A look of genuine outrage leaped to Peabody's long face. "I don't mean read them. Let us just see how many and how thick they are."

"Certainly not," Peabody said firmly. But before the carriage had gone ten yards, she decided she needed her handkerchief, which just happened to be under the letters so that she had to remove them. It wasn't her fault if the pink satin ribbon was a trifle loose and came off as soon as she tugged it a little.

A cascade of white squares fell to the carriage floor. Diana picked them up and placed them one by one in Peabody's lap. "Six," she said when she had finished. "I wonder how long he's been carrying on with her?"

Diana narrowed her eyes as she contemplated this puzzle. "I noticed he's come home very often since winter. I wager that's when he made this liaison, in late winter or early spring. And now she's going to join him in London."

"Harrup always comes home often in the springtime. He and his bailiff have many meetings to decide about rotating crops and things. You know Harrup likes to oversee the planting at the Hall."

Undeceived, Diana continued this line of talk, which was so distasteful, yet exceedingly interesting, to Peabody. "No, he took up with her at the end of January. You remember he darted home one afternoon and left for London that same night. He spent that night with Mrs. Whitby," Diana decided.

"He certainly did not. A courier arrived from Whitehall and called him back to an emergency meeting that weekend. It was the second week in March that it all started--that's when it was. He did not come home at all, but the vicar mentioned seeing him in Hitchin. That's when the hussy got her clutches into poor Harrup. That setup must have cost him an arm and a leg. Everything so expensive and brand new."

"And now he's taking her to London. I wonder if he'll use the same furnishings. Who can she be, Peabody?"

"Nobody," Peabody said angrily. She had finally found the villain in the piece. "You could tell by the bold eye in her head and the cut of that gown that she's as common as dirt. An actress or some such thing--did you see the rouge smeared all over her cheeks? That one would as soon tie her garter in public as she'd sneeze. The very sort of creature that preys on innocent young men."

"Harrup's thirty-five," Diana reminded her, and received a blistering stare for her foolishness. "I know all about his women, Peabody. His own mama complained to me last winter that she despaired of his ever marrying because he had his pick of all the prettiest lightskirts in town."

Sixty-five years of Christian living prevented Peabody from opening the letters and reading them. Even sixty-five years couldn't stop her from analyzing the handwriting, the franks, smelling the scent of lavender at close range, and conjecturing wildly as to the current state of affairs. "Why is Harrup so eager to get his billets-doux back that he couldn't wait for his next visit?" she wondered aloud.

"This explains his wanting me to send one of the footmen from the Willows to Hitchin. He wished to keep the story away from his own home. There is something very odd here, Di."

"Maybe he's broken off with her," Diana suggested, after a few moments' consideration.

This was balm to Peabody's spirit. "That's it!" she exclaimed. "He has given the hussy her congé--and I thank God for it. I wonder..."

"What?" Diana asked, with only mild interest. She was not so keen on Harrup's doings as her mentor. He was too highly placed to be a suitor to her, and too old to have featured as the hero of her girlish daydreams. As he never stirred a finger to introduce her to any of his eligible friends, he was out of mind as soon as he was out of sight. He had been a fully grown man for as long as she could remember, treating her as a mere youngster. When she thought of him, it was as a friend of her father's and Peabody's, and a neighbor who was more interesting than most by dint of his position as lord of Harrup Hall.

"Since he has had the sense to break off with that creature, I wonder if he is thinking of getting married. It is high time for it."

"That's probably it," Diana agreed.

"Who can the lady be?"

With such intriguing material to conjecture, the first lap of the trip passed quickly. Lunch was taken at the Red Lion in Welwyn, and there the conversation continued in their private parlor.

"Harrup will be embarrassed--that might be of some help when Ronald speaks to him about a position," Diana said. "I mean--well, he can hardly mount his high horse when he is looking so foolish, can he?"

"My dear, we must not let on we know a thing about these letters," Peabody exclaimed.

"Then we shall have to pretend we've suddenly become blind and stupid," Diana answered, laughing. "Now that we know what Mrs. Whitby is, I realize it was written all over her, and the love nest, too. Everything brand new, and good but not fine. Oh, you know what I mean."

"He doesn't know we were there."

"He'll know it the next time he speaks to Mrs. Whitby," Diana pointed out.

"I trust he has seen the last of her. We shall say we sent our own footman. And I'll wrap the letters in plain brown paper before I hand them over to him."

"Lying, Peabody? Tch, tch. I, for one, have every intention of ringing a good peal over Harrup."

Peabody pursed her lips and shook her head. "You are growing a little old to be still playing the hoyden with him, Di. It was all well and good to tease him and play off your tricks when you were a girl. Now he will expect better behavior from you."

Diana's smile showed that she did not mean to argue or to give in. "Are you ready to leave?" she asked, glancing at her watch.

"Just let me freshen up. You can go and have the carriage called while I do it."

Diana went to the desk and sent for their carriage. Several clients were milling about the lobby, and servants carried dishes to and fro in the area of the private dining rooms. She glanced at the newspapers on the desk, waiting for Miss Peabody. The first notion she had that anything was wrong was a high-pitched scream from their parlor. She recognized her chaperon's voice at once and darted forward. If she hadn't known Peabody from her cradle days, she would scarcely have recognized the wraith holding on to the table for support. Peabody was as white as paper, wide-eyed and trembling.

Diana flew forward, calling, "Peabody! What's the matter? Are you ill?"

"Somebody stop him! Stop that man!" Peabody begged in a quavering voice. A shaking finger pointed to the lobby.

"What man? I didn't see anyone."

The manager came pelting in to add to the confusion. Peabody had soon recovered sufficiently to enlighten him and Diana. "A thief! My reticule has been stolen. Somebody go after him. A tall, dark young fellow."

"Which way did he go?" the manager asked.

"He didn't go out the front door. He turned the other way," Peabody said. "I watched him dart out. I was too overcome to give voice for a moment. One doesn't expect to be robbed in a respectable inn," she added blightingly.

They all ran into the hall. "The other way" wasn't much help. The man might have gone into the taproom, upstairs, to the kitchen, or out the back door. All these possibilities were investigated during the next few minutes.

The other clients came forward to add their observations. One had seen a dark-haired young jackanapes peeking into the private parlor while Diana was glancing at the paper. He had inquired of the clerk if a Miss Peabody or Miss Beecham had hired a parlor and asked which one. This was deemed highly suspicious. Another had seen him hurry out but hadn't seen the purse. Still another had thought the lad was fair, not dark. After a quarter of an hour it was clear that the thief had gotten clean away on a mount tethered just outside the inn door. While a rumpus was being raised within, he had mounted and pelted away like lightning. The only useful thing learned was that the man had headed off toward London.

Miss Peabody marched straight off to the constable's office to lay a charge. Constable Shackley agreed to take a ride down the London road, but by then the ladies knew they would never see the purse again, and Constable Shackley knew Miss Peabody's opinion of his sitting on his haunches while decent ladies were robbed of ten guineas.

"All our money gone," Diana moaned. What fun was London without money? "How shall we pay for our hotel? It nearly cleaned me out, paying for lunch and the change of team."

"That is not the worst of it," Peabody said. Her face was pinched with chagrin and her voice weak with guilt. "Harrup's letters were in my reticule. I have failed him."

"The letters! That's it!" Diana squealed. "You remember the clerk said someone was asking for our parlor. We thought it very odd at the time. He was after Harrup's billets-doux."

"Don't be ridiculous. How could anyone possibly know I had them in my reticule? It was our money he was after. I never can step foot outside the house without something dreadful happening. Ten guineas gone. How can I tell your papa?"

"Mrs. Whitby knew you had them," Diana countered, and stared at her chaperon with a sapient eye.

It did not take Peabody long to agree with this delightful conclusion. Any possibility that the affair was still in progress was ended now. "I never did trust that sly blue eye in her head. But why would she agree to return Harrup's letters if she only meant to have them back?"

"She wouldn't incur his anger by refusing," Diana suggested. "But Mrs. Whitby has decided she shall be paid when she blackmails him with them."

Miss Peabody thought she was up to all the rigs, but the blackest idea that had occurred to her was that Mrs. Whitby wished to keep the letters for sentimental reasons, despite her sly blue eyes. A look of surprised admiration lit her face. "I believe you have hit on it, Di. Was there ever such a piece of wickedness in Christendom? And how am I to tell Harrup about it?"

Diana patted her arm consolingly. "Don't worry about it, Peabody. I shall tell him," she said with quiet satisfaction. Peabody was groaning into her handkerchief and missed the expression that Diana wore. Had she seen it, she would no doubt have recognized it as being similar to Mrs. Whitby's conniving face.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2011

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