a cold, wet day and Harry and his friend, Ethan Delaney, are riding
though the forest when they see a girl sitting on the back of a
slow-moving carter's dray.
She's drenched and muddy, her skin moon-pale and glistening, her
hair dripping with rain... and Harry is transfixed... He rides closer.
He's so bowled over by her, he can't think of a thing to say. But
she's getting wet so, without a word, he leans over and places his
hat on her head. And he sees her small, cold-roughened hands clinging
to the side of the cart, and he gives her his fur-lined gloves,
still warm from his hands.
"Well, that's a
turn-up for the books," Ethan said as Harry joined him. "Givin'
away hats now, is it? I thought that was your favorite." His
gaze dropped to Harry's bare hands. "And, no tell me
not your gloves, your Polish fur-lined gloves. I've envied you those
gloves for years.
Harry shrugged. "She was cold. And wet." He wasn't quite
sure what had got into him either.
Ethan snorted. "I'm cold and wet, dammit. Colder and wetter
because of the snail's pace you adopted beside that blasted dray.
I've been practically frozen many a time since I've known you and
I'm supposed to be your friend. If you'd wanted to give away those
gloves you could have given them to me."
Harry said nothing. He wasn't going to add to Ethan's enjoyment
of the situation by trying to explain the unexplainable.
Ethan persisted, an irritatingly knowing smile on his battered face,
"Harry Morant, we've traveled the length and breadth of the
peninsular for years, in ice and snow, through battles and burning
heat and I've never known you to give away a good pair of gloves,
or your favorite hat."
"That was different. I needed them then."
Ethan gave him an incredulous look. "And you don't need them
now? Man, it's pissing down if you haven't noticed."
Harry had noticed. He pulled his collar higher and rode on.
"So," Ethan said after a moment. "What's her name?"
"She wouldn't tell you?"
Harry shook his head. "I didn't ask."
"Well, where does she live?"
"She didn't say."
"What did she say?"
"God give me strength. And what did you say no don't
tell me, nothing, or as good as."
"Not everybody is as garrulous as yourself, Delaney."
"No, but Harry-lad, even stumps have to talk if they're to
find themselves a woman."
Harry said stiffly, "My aunt is finding me a wife as we speak."
He wasn't 'finding himself a woman.' The girl on the cart looked
pathetic, that was all. And he just. . . gave away his hat.
"Your aunt," Ethan said in deep disgust. "What kind
of man gets his aunt to find him a bride?"
"A prudent one."
Ethan made a rude sound. "And you with that pretty face of
yours why, the women line up for you, man!"
"I saw 'em at that ball for your brother's weddin', hangin'
around you like Spanish flies hang around meat. Now if it was me,
with my ugly mug, I'd understand bringin' in an aunt, but you. .
." He shook his head.
"They were about as welcome as Spanish flies," Harry told
Ethan exploded with laughter. "Pull the other one, boyo. I
heard you creepin' in around dawn every other morning, smellin'
of some lovely's perfume and a different perfume every time."
"That was the trouble," Harry muttered.
"Lord grant me such trouble."
"They didn't want me," Harry said.
"Could have fooled "
"They weren't even interested in talking to me." They'd
made Harry feel like a what was the word the Italians had
for it? gigolo. Called to my lady's bed at my lady's whim,
but never invited for dinner, never a ride in the park. And of course,
never a dance, for with his bad leg he looked a sight on the dance
"Talking?" Ethan's jaw dropped. He gave Harry a comical
look. "Oh, aye, you're famed for your conversation, aren't
Harry gave him a look. Ethan laughed and patted Harry's cheek. "As
silver-tongued as the black stump you are, me lad, but at least
the ladies appreciated your other qualities."
Harry shrugged. "It was just bed-sport." They might have
been ladies, but they'd never treated him as an equal, as a gentleman.
Just a gentleman's by-blow.
Ethan gave a deep sigh. "Just bed-sport, eh? A terrible thing
Harry couldn't help but smile. "No, but it was harder than
Ethan glanced at Harry's crotch and said, "Well it would have
to be, the amount of use it got."
They both laughed. They rode in silence for a short while, then
Harry said, "Every single one of them was married."
"Well, that's only reasonable, isn't it? You wouldn't want
to be ruinin' a virgin, now, would you? I'm sure those those fine
London ladies had done their duty by their husbands and produced
an heir or two, so what's the harm in them havin' a little fun with
a good-lookin' young feller like yourself?"
Harry thought about it. "They'd made vows, Ethan."
"Aye, but they'd probably no choice in the matter. You know
how it is with the aristocracy they arrange these things.
It's only lucky peasants like meself who get the luxury of marryin'
Harry seized the opportunity to turn the conversation away from
himself. "If it's so wonderful, Ethan, why have you never married?"
"Too busy up till now, fightin' wars for poor, mad, Farmer
George. But don't you worry, I've got me eye on a little filly.
I'll be married before the year's out, count on it."
"You? Who?" Harry was surprised. He couldn't think of
anyone, any girl or woman who Ethan had been seeing lately. "Anyone
"Ah, well, that would be tellin', and I won't be tellin' until
the lass herself agrees." He gave Harry a rueful grin. "She's
not an easy lass like yon London ladies - takin' a great deal of
difficult wooin' my girl is."
"Difficult wooing?" Harry couldn't believe Ethan was serious.
If Ethan was walking out with a woman, surely he'd have noticed?
"Aye, no doubt it's a foreign concept for you, boyo, with that
face of yours, but we lesser mortals are obliged to woo our intended.
I'm gettin' quite practiced at it want me to give you a few
pointers so you can woo a fine aristocratic lady of your own?"
Harry sniffed. "I've no time for lengthy wooing, and I have
no intention of marrying a fine aristocratic lady who'll happily
make a cuckold of me in a few years. I've asked my aunt to find
me a bride from the middle classes they're more moral than
the aristocracy. Respectability is a passion in the middle classes."
"But you'll still be after makin' an arranged marriage?"
"I suppose so."
Ethan pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I'm just bog Irish, so
what I know about the aristocracy or the middle classes you could
fit on the head of a pin, but it strikes me that any lass that's
been pushed into a marriage of convenience would be more likely
to develop a wanderin' eye a few years down the track than a lass
that married for love."
"I'm not marrying for love. It's all rubbish, anyway."
Ethan gave him a considering look. "Ah yes, I remember hearing
something about that. Lady Andrea or Anthea some name like
that, wasn't it?"
"I was a foolish boy then," Harry said curtly. "I'm
done with all that nonsense. I'm a practical man, now."
"Oh aye, of course you are," Ethan agreed. "That's
why your hair is sopping wet and your hands are frozen."
* * * * *
HIS CAPTIVE LADY (Berkley Sensation, 2nd September 08)