Man of Honour Online - Jane Ashford

One

“What do you mean you have nothing available?” demanded Mr. Eliot Crenshaw. The cold anger in his eyes made the small innkeeper quail.

“I swear it’s true, sir. My missus has took the gig, being as my youngest daughter is about to be brought to bed in Hemsley, the next village but one, you know. She won’t be home for a sennight. There’s the old cob left in the stables, but he won’t draw a carriage, and with this snow now…” He looked out the window of the taproom at the driving blizzard. “Well I can’t see as how any animal could.” He paused apologetically, conscious of the gentleman’s impatience.

“Damn the snow,” said Mr. Crenshaw, but he too looked out the window. It was obvious that the weather was worsening rapidly, and having already endured one accident on the road, he had no wish to risk another. But his situation was awkward. “Your wife is away, you say? Who else is here?”

Mr. Jenkins showed signs of wringing his hands. “There’s just me tonight, sir, begging your pardon. Betty, the girl as comes from the village to help out, went home early on account of the storm. And my stable boy broke his fool leg last week, climbing trees he was, the witless chawbacon, at his age! I don’t see how I’ll serve a proper supper. And the lady!” This last remark ended with something like a groan, and the man shook his head. “This ain’t a great establishment, you see, sir, off the main road like we are and keeping no post horses. We ain’t used to housing quality, and that’s the truth. I don’t know what I’m to do.”

Mr. Crenshaw eyed the distraught host with some contempt. His mood had been decidedly soured by recent events. In the course of a relatively short daylight drive, his fine traveling carriage had been severely damaged by a reckless youngster in a ridiculous high-perch phaeton. His horses had been brought up lame and their high-spirited tempers roused, and though he knew he was fortunate to have escaped without serious injury, the problems which now faced him as a result of the accident did not make him thankful.

He had been escorting a young visitor of his mother’s to the home of her aunts. Only his parent’s most earnest entreaties had persuaded him to do so, and he was now cursing himself roundly for giving in, for Miss Lindley’s maid had been badly hurt in the accident, forcing them to leave her at a cottage on the scene and walk alone to this inn. Here he found there were no females to chaperone the girl; the blizzard was steadily increasing in intensity, and there was no conveyance of any kind available, even had it been possible to go on. Eliot Crenshaw was not accustomed to finding himself at a stand, but now he passed a hand wearily across his forehead, sat down at a taproom table, and stared fiercely at the swirling snow outside. He clenched a fist on the table top. “Bring me a pint,” he said resignedly.

In the little inn’s one private parlor, the Right Honorable Miss Laura Lindley, oldest daughter of the late Earl of Stoke-Mannering, sat miserably holding her hands out to the crackling fire. She was chilled to the bone, her bonnet was wrecked, her cloak torn and muddy, and her green cambric traveling dress was as disheveled as her black curls. There was a nasty scratch on her left cheek and a bruise above her eye. But these minor discomforts worried her less than the rising storm and the smashed chaise they had left leaning drunkenly by the roadside. What was she to do? Her aunts had expected her a full three hours ago, and these two elderly ladies, by whom she had been brought up, were notoriously high sticklers. The smallest deviation from the rules of propriety was enough to overset them completely. What then could they feel when they knew that their cherished niece was stranded alone at a country inn with a man she scarcely knew?

Laura caught her breath on a sob. She had only just persuaded her aunts to allow her to spend a season in London. Though her twentieth birthday was past, she had never been to the metropolis, and it had required all of her argumentative skills and the help of some of her aunts’ old friends, Mrs. Crenshaw among them, to get the necessary permission. She was to have gone to town next