Sophie Louisa Weatherly, Dowager Duchess of Rochester, mother of one and widow of Lord Ian Everard Weatherly, played willing victim to Fate’s stealthy hand on this day, the eleventh of February in the year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and seven.
“I say, stop the coach!” she hollered, thumping her bejewelled cane on the abused shoulder of her coachman. The young man gave her a petulant glare but jerked the reins and idled the ducal-crested phaeton to a disruptive stop on a bustling London street. No one ever dared disobey Sophie Weatherly.
The imperious woman, with great airs of import and significance, stood up and waited impatiently to be assisted down onto the street. “Hurry up, you oaf!” she snapped, thumping her cane on the phaeton’s polished interior. Once set firmly on her feet, she pushed forward with the determination of a stout greyhound chasing a hare. Lady Weatherly surged through the crowd, shoving people out of her way left and right, her feathered turban bobbing precariously atop her greying head, until she finally ensnared her target- a tiny child of approximately four years of age with a shock of bright red hair and eyes like emeralds set in a pallid face, thin from malnourishment. “I say!” she yelped triumphantly, looking about her for something as the child squirmed in her talon-like grip. “You, oaf!” Sophie pointed with her free hand towards the coachman who’d previously helped her alight from the phaeton. “Summon the guards! This child just stole that fool’s purse!” The gnarled, imperiously accurate finger now swerved widely to a gentleman of indiscriminate years who’d gathered with most of the crowd to ogle over the scene the renowned Dowager Duchess of Rochester was instigating.
Now victim to severe scrutiny and murmured speculations, the gentleman in question frowned in perplexity and dug his hands into the pockets of his coat, procuring nothing, an expression of surprised outrage on his face. “Tis true!” he cried. “The little thief!”
Sophie turned back to the writhing child. “Well?” she demanded. “You can’t very well deny it. I saw you with my very own eyes.”
Suddenly, those huge emerald eyes swam with tears and Sophie froze.
“Well?” demanded the gentleman who had just been pickpocketed by a tiny child of not more than five years. “Has he got my purse?”
Sophie Weatherly had lived a long life. She had borne one son and buried him; she had married one man and buried him, too. She was not averse to hardships and due to the trials she had faced in her life, she knew how to touch a soul and how to heal it, how to bring about ease. She also knew how to read signs and if this child was not one from the Almighty Creator, then she were Lucifer himself. Huge, wet eyes regarded her with such forlornness, with such solemnity, Sophie felt her cold heart thaw and instantly saw the future pan out before her with a clarity that shook her to the very core of her callous being. “This is a girl, you buffoon, now call back my man I sent to fetch the guards,” she ordered the gentleman with a piercing blue eye. “I have changed my mind.”
“W-what?” blustered the foolish man. “That child stole my purse-!”
“You’ll be duly reimbursed, you dithering idiot,” Sophie snapped. “Now do as I say or I shall throw my cane at you.”
An idiot he may be, but the gentleman knew better than to disobey an order from the Dowager Duchess of Rochester, and he stiffly made off into the crowd to summon her man back to her side.
“Emily!” A woman in rags, as malnourished as the child, ran towards them and dropped to her knees in front of the tiny girl, encasing her in her arms and snatching her out of the Dowager Duchess’s talons. Balefully, a matching set of green eyes glared up at the noblewoman, not intimidated in the slightest by Sophie’s authoritative presence. “What are you doing with my child?” the woman demanded hotly in a definitive Irish brogue.
“I caught your child thieving,” Sophie informed the woman coldly. “I assume you must be the mother? I suggest you take better care of your child in the future, madam. I was about to summon the guards and then Lord knows what would be her fate.”
The bedraggled, dirty woman flinched at the indiscreet barbs of Sophie’s words but she composed her features quickly and glowered up at her. “And you are?” she snapped.