Lord Dancy's Delight [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Emily Hendrickson
eBook Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
eBook Description: Amelia Longworth, raised in the Orient, is traveling to England with her companion Chen Mei when she is rescued by Major Geoffrey Dancy. Geoffrey is on his way to London to claim his new title, but he manages to rescue Amelia twice more--and she, from her upbringing, feels it her duty to watch over him. Her attempts to rescue him are unique--and charming. Regency Romance by Emily Hendrickson; originally published by Signet
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, Published: 1993
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2009
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23 Reader Ratings:
Amelia Longworth picked her way with great care along the filth-strewn street of Lisbon. Her pelisse was travel-strained and worn. She had no desire to bring it to further grief by a careless misstep on the wretched cobblestones. Remnants of garbage tossed by residents and discarded by dogs not only left much to be desired, but were hazardous as well.
She turned to her companion, Chen Mei, and addressed her in Cantonese. "Mind your step. Those dogs look wild to me and certainly not to be trusted." Amelia gestured to the dogs that swarmed toward the Praca do Commercio, noting a pack of the most vermin-ridden, ill-tempered, nasty-looking beasts she ever recalled seeing.
"The cautious seldom err," the Chinese woman replied in agreement, looking at the dogs with disdain.
Ahead of them the square, open on one side to the Tagus River, was surrounded by government offices with an arcade beneath. The Custom Office stood on the far side of where they paused while looking about the square, supposedly one of the more splendid sights of the city.
"This is not as fine a city as I had hoped." she commented. Not waiting to see if Chen Mei followed, Amelia strolled forward to study the scene.
She did not care for what she had found so far, but was so thankful to be on solid ground once again that she could tolerate the uncleanliness. After all, other ports they had seen on the way to England from Macao were little better.
The trip had been a tedious and extremely long six months. She understood why her father had sent her off to London, for she suspected she had a great deal to learn about the ways of society. The English in Macao tried to retain hold on the manners and the mores of society, but to make a proper come-out, a girl needed London.
Besides which, Amelia had been raised by a Cantonese woman and imbued with many of the attitudes of the Orient. Amelia suspected she might find a shade of conflict between the two cultures.
But she missed the only home she could remember. There had been strolls along the sweeping promenade of the Playa Grande, which curved along the edge of the sea. White baroque buildings had glittered in the sun while she enjoyed her amble, with the young clerks of the East India Company vying for her attention. The ground rose sharply from the sea and the water front, where Amelia had been forbidden to stray. Chen Mei had scolded her at the mere mention of that area.
When Mama died things had changed. Papa was gone more, traveling to Canton to supervise trading for the East India Company. He worried, she knew, about the whims of the Chinese. They viewed the British as foreign devils and considered the goods brought for trade with utmost contempt. Papa--Sir Oliver Longworth to others--feared Chinese reaction to the opium trading sanctioned by the British government and the East India Company as an important revenue. Papa thought the Chinese might get angry enough to wage war against the British, not that the poorly equipped and trained Chinese soldiers could succeed. But it could get nasty.
Papa would have reaped a great fortune by this time had he participated in the opium trade. Each shipload brought immense profit. Still, Amelia possessed excellent letters of credit, for he had done well enough with his investments, and she expected to have all the money she required for her come-out once she reached London.
There were a few things she would like to purchase, but the shops held little of interest for her. An apothecary shop had yielded tooth powder. A milliner to produce a truly pretty bonnet seemed beyond possibility. It would have been lovely to find a pretty straw confection so her aunt wouldn't think her too provincial. Amelia sighed.
A group of soldiers sauntered across the square, ignoring the Gallegos, or water carriers, who, Amelia had been informed by the captain of her vessel, brought water to each of the houses from one or another of the thirty-one fountains in the city. As the ship had neared the quay where they were to dock, she had glimpsed an aqueduct that came down into the city from mountain springs. In the pleasant February sun the sight of even one of those fountains would be most welcome.
Just then four of the dogs attacked one of the Gallegos, causing him to trip and drop his precious cask of water. The crash and fearful cursing in fluent Portuguese brought Amelia to a frightened halt. She froze as the cask bounded across the square and directly toward her. Behind her Chen Mei burst forth in angry Cantonese, denouncing these hapless foreigners.
Then Amelia was captured up in strong arms and held tightly to a broad chest. The sensation of a man's arms cradling her legs and upper body ought to have rendered her speechless. Shocked, Amelia cried out as she was rushed to the shadows of the arcade at the side of the square.
The barrel rolled past them to smash against the wall of stone, water erupting in a fountain that cascaded everywhere. It was, Amelia considered, a peculiar way to see a fountain even if she had wished to do so. Fortunately she and her rescuer were spared a wetting. Her bonnet was quite shabby-looking as it was, and it was the last of her original five.
The man who had so abruptly snatched her from the path of the barrel checked the square behind them, and Amelia wondered if he intended to cart her farther. He smelled pleasantly of eau de cologne, although Amelia could not truly appreciate it at the moment.
Behind them the square was in total chaos. The Gallegos water carrier cursed the dogs, who barked loudly in response, their numbers augmented from a side alley. Barefoot fishwives, dressed in black and carrying trays of fish on their heads, hurried to loudly offer their advice. Bakers, bowed by the enormous weight of bread slung over their shoulders, prudently avoided the mob and skirted the square. The other soldiers laughed at the melee, offering their own pithy observations on the accident.
Geoffrey placed the young woman on her feet in what he deemed a safe enough spot not too far from the remains of the broken barrel. Then he studied the slender damsel who had frozen from fear, and in so doing, had endangered her life.
"I suppose I ought to thank you, sir, but I fear it is quite beyond me at the moment." She didn't appear to appreciate the rough handling, even if he did sweep her out of the barrel's path.
Her pelisse was out of date, but well-made and of a becoming color. That bonnet, now somewhat crushed, lacked style from what he had seen here in Lisbon. But when she raised her head to stare at him, he received a shock.
The girl possessed a fine pair of speaking blue eyes the color of the sky on a summer's afternoon--an English blue of a heavenly color in a face framed, by what glimpses he could detect, with hair like finest corn silk, a rich golden yellow. Her oval face was unbecomingly tanned however, and he wondered at her being allowed to wander about the city alone, with only that improper Chinese woman to chaperon her. Not gentry, he suspected, in spite of her cultured accents. She spoke Portuguese, he recalled, and wondered at that, for she wasn't a local girl. He'd seen what Lisbon had to offer, and few English resided here what with the war and all.
He scolded, "If you had any sense, you would have remained in your abode, out of harm's way. Young ladies do not wander unprotected about the city." His voice carried all the anger he felt at a young chit off without adequate protection.
Then he glanced down at a sudden movement by the Chinese woman and found a curved dagger pointed at his heart, while the woman gazed up at him with a menacing smile.
"You muchee bad man. You no talkee Tian Li." She gestured with the knife that Geoffrey ought to back away.
"Forgive me." Belatedly he remembered his manners and swept his hat from his head. "I am Major Dancy. I am only too happy to be of service to the young lady, who I trust is about to retreat to her inn." He bowed to both women, then waited to see what the blonde would do next. She did not reveal her name, but the companion appeared to be satisfied at his identity.
The dagger disappeared beneath the sleeves of the full frock the Chinese woman wore. The curious garment billowed about her knees above the baggy black trousers drawn together at the ankle by tasseled ribbons. Her incredibly tiny feet were compressed into black high-heeled slippers. He suspected that behind those dark eyes a suspicious mind worked at full speed, witness the swiftly produced knife. Even the long silver bodkins that were fixed into the wealth of black hair screwed up on top of her head appeared to be lethal weapons.
"Well. Major Dancy," the young lady observed in cultured accents, "I thank you for your kind rescue. I might have been injured," she admitted. Her face pale, eyes downcast, she dipped the faintest of curtseys before warily backing away from him. Then head bowed, she glided along the edge of the square, her curious-looking companion tottering along close behind her.
The chit was not at all to his standards, however. She exhibited precisely the sort of behavior he'd not have in a wife: adventuresome, bold, impetuous, although she did appear to be a resolute thing. And she had lovely eyes. But she was not the girl he'd choose. Not in the least!
While Geoffrey stood staring after them, his friends came up to him, still laughing over the incident of the dogs and the water-carrier. After months in battle it was a relief to find something to amuse.
"What ho, Dancy?" said Peter Blandford, the closest friend Geoffrey had made while in Spain and Portugal.
"Nothing much," Geoffrey replied absently. "A schoolgirl slipped the leash and received more than she bargained for, I'm sure she could have been killed, silly chit." He clapped his hat back on his head, then brushed down the plain jacket he had designed for his peculiar role while serving his government. His uniform was largely civilian in appearance, for he cared not for the fancy dress others affected, all gold tassels and braid.
"Or at the very least a nasty injury." Peter added, looking after the disappearing figures. He motioned with a hand, and the group set off in the opposite direction, bent upon finding a decent meal.
Once around the corner Amelia rested against the cool stone of the building to catch her breath. She had not wanted to admit how the feel of those strong arms about her had affected her emotions. She'd not been close to any man before. Clerks dare not touch the daughter of the supervisor, and there were few unwed officers around that Amelia had been permitted to meet.
At the speculative glimmer in Chen Mei's eyes, Amelia hastily moved to set off down the street once again.
"Soldier save your life," Chen Mei observed while shuttling along at Amelia's side.
"That does not make him a good man, however," Amelia replied a bit more sharply that customary. "Come, we had best seek out the inn where the captain said we are to await the sailing to England. I shall be grateful for a night in a real bed. We can only pray it does not have bugs."
Her companion agreed, having a more philosophical opinion about those creatures but not wishing to disagree with her precious charge. When the dainty blonde had first appeared, casting her smiling blue eyes on all around her, Chen Mei had fallen victim to her charm. Dubbing the infant Tian Li, or Celestial Delight, because of her remarkable blue eyes and good nature, Chen Mei had attached herself to the Longworth household and remained. Nor would she permit her girl to sail away to heathen parts without Chen Mei to guard her. From what had been observed, her Celestial Delight would need every trick in Chen Mei's bag. No dragon would defend its treasure better.
At the inn designated by the captain as being suitable for a daughter of an East India Company official, Amelia used her accomplished Portuguese to smilingly command a lovely bath and an excellent meal. Such ability with the language was rare in a foreigner, and it brought forth amazed compliance along with a desire to provide the best for the English lady who actually knew the language.
If the serving girl cast dismayed glances at the peculiar "Chinee" who stood glaring fiercely at her each time she entered the room, it mattered not. For the first time in ages Amelia was able to luxuriate in a decent slipper bath and partake of a truly good meal.
She chattered to Chen Mei all the while she bathed, then ate in subdued thoughtfulness. She had grown accustomed to Portuguese dishes while in Macao, and the flavor of her dinner made her rather ache for her father and the home she had left. Best not to dwell on the matter, hence the murmur of conversation.
"Eat something, Chen Mei," Amelia scolded gently. "It is not like what you prefer, but until we reach my aunt's home you will have to make do with what we have at hand."
Gesturing to the dish of prawns and rice with vegetables mixed in, Amelia nodded again. "It is quite good."
Obviously horrified at the thought of eating while her mistress consumed her own dinner, Chen Mei reluctantly heaped food on a plate and awkwardly fed herself with a fork while kneeling on the rug. As lovely as the day had been, the evening grew cool and the small fire was most welcome. It cheered the room while Chen Mei scowled at her plate.
"You do not like to use a fork yet," Amelia observed. "I know you carry your sticks. Why not use them?"
Her companion hastily rooted about in a capacious bag, and with a pleased smile pulled out a pair of ivory sticks. The remainder of her meal was enjoyed with relish.
Once Amelia was ensconced in her bed for the night, with Chen Mei unhappily settled in the adjacent room instead of at the foot on Amelia's bed so as to guard her charge, she was free to consider the day's activities. Chen Mei considered these parts of the world quite heathen and was determined to guard her charge from foreign devils.
The shops in Lisbon had little to offer. It was a pity, for it would be quite dreadful to appear before her aunt in her sadly crushed remaining bonnet.
Which thought brought her to the event that lingered in the back of her mind. The memory of being carried in those strong capable arms, cradled so close to that broad chest haunted her. Could she even sleep this night? She doubted it Having pushed the subject away the remainder of the day, she could not prevent it from filling her mind now she had nothing else to occupy her.
He had smelled of eau de cologne, she recalled. Odd. She couldn't recall that any of the naval men who came to meet with Papa had worn such a pleasing scent. It was light, yet sharp; pleasant, yet most masculine. Maybe it was only the army men who preferred to smell of something besides soap and boot polish.
He had been handsome, too. In spite of the wan words she had uttered to him and to Chen Mei, she had noticed everything about the man. His lean, sun-burned face held unusual green eyes that had made her think of palace jade once viewed in Macao. Auburn hair had curled nicely about his well-shaped head. His uniform fit him splendidly, which told her that he could afford an excellent tailor. She couldn't place his uniform, but then, she was not well-acquainted with army uniforms.
He was undoubtedly a dangerous man. Surely any man who possessed such quick thinking, such manly attributes, along with a form that was more than breathtaking could only be such. He looked to be the son that stole hearts as easily as smiling in that lop-sided manner he'd used when she had scolded him. Oh, he had been so amused with her! And she had been such a hen-witted creature.
On this unhappy reflection, Amelia drifted to sleep, determined to forget the handsome major and concentrate on her coming splash in London society. * * * *
Early the following morning, she and Chen Mei made their way down to the quay where they were to reboard the ship that would take them the final lap of their long journey to England and her father's sister. Aunt Ermintrude Spencer.
During the stop at Lisbon the cargo destined for Portugal had been removed, and port and other wines had been loaded, along with lemons, oil, cork, and leather among other goods the English wanted.
In the pale pink light of the early morning, Amelia glanced about her, taking in the sight of the men bustling about the quay, looking important as they ordered goods toted on board the ship.
The ship appeared to be fully loaded. Amelia's own small portmanteaus and bits and pieces of baggage were a mere nothing in view of all the rest of the cargo. A sailor came up to her, respectfully requesting that she come aboard. He swung her belongings up with ease, then marched off to the ship, leaving her to follow. She dawdled, fascinated with the scene about her.
There was an altercation somewhere behind her. Amelia paused, then turned to see what was going on. Lisbon was quite as noisy and smelly as any other port, and she held a scented handkerchief to her nose as she looked about to discover what the trouble might be.
Down the quay she espied the man from yesterday, the major. Again he wore the rather new-looking uniform, if that was indeed what it was. It had never seen battle, for certain. Unspotted, unfrayed, it bore no traces of duty unless duty involved nothing more than dancing.
His boots possessed great shine, but there was no sign of the gold tassels so beloved by most military men. The dashing red tailed-jacket seemed plain when compared to that of his friend. A discreet touch of gold braid at his collar and wrist made her suspect his tailor insisted upon the fancy addition, for it seemed unlike the major from what little she'd observed. Simple white pantaloons clung to strong legs.
Then she was struck with the notion that he had bought the garb to replace one ruined in war. He turned, walking along with his friend, and Amelia noted that he had a slight limp. She was assailed with dismay that she had harbored such doubts about this man. Of course he was a true soldier, and she was a ninny to believe otherwise.
She wished she might apologize for her graceless thanks of the day before. What he must think of her did not bear considering. But then, when she had examined her appearance in the speckled mirror at the inn, she had admitted she did not present a fetching picture. He most likely was happy to be rid of her presence. And that thought rankled the girl who had twirled her parasol and flirted with gentlemen while strolling on the Playa Grande--in far better looks than what the major had seen.
Instead she ought to avoid the major, boarding the ship with all due haste. And this could be none too soon. The characters who strolled about the area appeared most unsavory as they twirled black mustachios and glared at her from beneath black hats. In fact it seemed to Amelia that the throng had increased quite suddenly. She was pushed and jostled about with most disrespectful lack of care.
Impulsively she turned to seek the major. He had saved her yesterday; perhaps he might take pity on a rather unimportant girl, out of duty if nothing else.
The press of the crowd grew, and a flutter of fear rose within her. Where was he?
Then she caught sight of his trim form and blessed his distinctive, if plain, uniform. She slipped through the throng, Chen Mei not far behind. She had reached him, albeit his back, when she felt a distinct shove. Someone had pushed her.
Panic began to creep over her, building as she sought to catch the major's attention. She did not like this crowd in the least. The sooner she boarded the ship, the better off she would be. Why had she dawdled?
"Sir?" she began hesitantly, speaking up so as to be heard above the noise of the crowd.
This time the thrust was harder, and she lost her footing. Unwittingly she had come close to the outer side of the quay. Below her dirty water waited to receive her body as she teetered on the edge of the quay, desperately trying to regain her foothold. She'd never learned to swim, and with her heavy skirts and pelisse she'd not have had a chance even if she did know how. She stretched out a hand toward the major. In the distance she heard Chen Mei cry out.
"What the--" The major had whirled about at the sound of her faltering call to pull Amelia into the safety of his arms.
Amelia found herself caught once again against his firm body. They teetered for what seemed like endless seconds, then Major Dancy regained his balance and pulled her back with him in the direction of the ship.
"You again!" He glared at her with a most peculiar expression on his face. one she did not recognize at all.
"Please forgive me, Major Dancy," Amelia said in a shaky voice, summoning all her reserve of dignity. "I beg you will assist me to the ship. The press of the crowd became too much and I lost my balance. I did not intend to bowl you over like a tenpin. sir."
She feared her feeble attempt at humor had failed. Then he half smiled at her and nodded, much to her relief.
"I fear your bonnet will never be the same again after seeing Lisbon. Where is your companion?"
Geoffrey clasped her elbow in a firm grip as he searched the area about them, taking note of the unusual throng of men crowding the quay.
What was going on here? He hadn't expected to see so much activity so close to sailing time. All the cargo ought to be stowed by now, with only the last-minute parcels and luggage of passengers coming on board. In fact, if the young miss he steered before him truly intended to sail this morning, she ought to have been on the ship some time ago.
Once on board, Amelia pulled free of that tight clasp, then sank into a proper curtsy. Chen Mei bustled up, smiling in relief at finding her charge safe.
"Please accept my deepest appreciation. Major Dancy. I cannot begin to tell you how that crowd frightened me."
"You ought to have been on board long ago. Were you not informed of the sailing time? Or perhaps you had a last-minute delay, as I did?"
Even as they spoke, the sails began to billow out. Amelia could sense the now-familiar feel of the ship slowly moving out into the channel and underway. The wind was good, and they would have no trouble navigating along the Tagus and out to the ocean.
With the usual creaking of wood, the flapping of the sails, the shouts of the sailors, and the cries of the gulls that wheeled and dove about the stern of the ship as background, Amelia stared at the major, puzzled.
"I received no word from the captain, if I was to have been called. It has been my custom these many months to either remain on board--when the port looked unsavory--or present myself as early as possible. I trusted it would be the same here." She gave the major a speculative look. "Is there a problem, sir?"
"No, none," he assured her, hoping to calm any fears she might have. After seeing her walk. apart and converse with her companion, Geoffrey turned to stare back at the quay. Something didn't set right with him.
Why the devil would a Portuguese want to push a strange female over the edge of the quay, most assuredly drowning her if not rescued in time. Why, she had been shoved so forcefully that she had nearly taken him with her.
Then Geoffrey stiffened as possible implications struck him. Was the real target himself, and the young woman merely a means to the end? He turned his head to study her. Tian Li, the companion called her. What was that in English, he wondered.
When the moment presented itself, he inquired of the captain as to the girl's identity. They chatted briefly, then Geoffrey properly excused himself and returned to his place at the railing.
Amelia Longworth was nowhere in sight. She must have retired to her cabin. After six months it must seem almost like home to her. Well, he had no need to worry about the chit. She was safe now. After they landed in Portsmouth, he most likely wouldn't see her again.
What a drab little thing she was, although she did have promise, he admitted. He too vividly recalled the feel of that lissome body in his arms. Pity she had such an unladylike tan, dreadful clothes, and the inclination to be where she should not.
Geoffrey utterly forgot that tan can fade, Mantua makers existed to properly dress unfashionable young ladies, and that this particular one would likely go where she pleased no matter what.
The trip to Portsmouth was uneventful. Given the indication that things tended to happen wherever Miss Longworth appeared, he was grateful for the quiet.
"You will be glad to return home, Dancy?" Peter Blandford inquired as the two stood by the railing again, wondering when they would sight their homeland.
"I should have come home long ago to take over the reins of the household. It is too much to expect that my sisters can manage the estate. Now," Geoffrey said with a grimace and a glance at his injured leg, "I have no choice but to obey the command to sell out and tend to my family business again."
"Your father died not too long ago. What about your sisters?"
"Julia is widowed, you see, and has returned home to keep an eye on Victoria and Elizabeth. But they all need a man in the house to take care of things. You know how women are, can't manage without us." Geoffrey rubbed his chin, while contemplating the task before him. He knew his father had employed a good steward, but an estate needed the owner's interest to keep matters in line. He had the house in town to care for plus the estate in the country.
Peter nodded sagely, readily agreeing to the lack of capability among females in general.
"I shall have to report immediately, and hope there is nothing more they wish me to do," Geoffrey continued. "Then see to my sisters. Victoria is nearly on the shelf, and Elizabeth ought to be nearing the age for marriage."
"How long has it been since you last saw them?" Peter inquired.
"A few years," Geoffrey admitted.
"Given the mails, what makes you think they are still awaiting your guidance?" Peter grinned as his friend glanced up in frowning dismay.
"They wouldn't proceed without me."
"Would you like to bet on that?"
Since gentlemen would bet on nearly anything and everything, Geoffrey abruptly agreed, then stared moodily at the water. Would they? He'd wagered they were still at home, dutifully awaiting their brother to come to assist them in arranging their lives. * * * *
Landing at Portsmouth was as hectic as landing at any other port, Amelia decided. However England had the advantage of being her new home, and so she eagerly leaned against the railing, searching the shore to see what her England looked like.
"I fancy you are happy to arrive at long last, Miss Longworth."
Amelia turned to see the major moving closer along the rail. Just then the wind caught her bonnet, tearing at the worn ribands, and it went sailing over the side. Her hands flew to her head in utter dismay. How dreadful. He would think her quite the frump having one old bonnet to wear, and now that gone. For some reason she didn't care to examine she wished for the major's good opinion.
"I fear it is gone for good. It will give you an excuse to buy a new one," he said with a teasing note in his voice.
"Oh, dear." she wailed softly. "It is the fifth bonnet I have lost on this journey. Between rain, wind, and other things, travel is very hard on bonnets."
Geoffrey stared at the delicate-looking girl at his side and felt as though he were losing his grip. Beautiful thick blond hair curled about her face, framing her now-rosy cheeks with incredible beauty--even if she dressed like a dowd and needed a proper London wardrobe.
Pity he would most likely never see her again.
"Do you intend to stay over to take the morning coach? Or do you plan to hire a post chaise to reach your destination, Miss Longworth?" Then he found himself adding, "If I may be of any service to you, please do not hesitate to call upon me. I shall be staying at the Star and Garter." He had named a pleasant inn not far from where the coaches departed for London.
At the sight of her frown he cursed himself for being stupid. How could a young woman arrange for a carriage, or for that matter see to her coach fare?
"If there is no one else to assist you, I shall take care of everything."
Amelia stared in amazement, for she had thought he would be gone the moment the ship docked. The information that the captain was to see to her arrangements somehow was forgotten as she blushed and nodded.
"I would be grateful for your help, sir."
With that blush came common sense. Geoffrey Dancy wondered if he had taken leave of his mind.