31. Prospects of Matrimonial Misery

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Blast! If only he hadn't vanished that quickly! I might have punched him! Or bitten him! Or...

All right. I admit it. The thoughts that ran through my head as I walked through the streets of London, back towards home, weren't the most romantic ones for a girl to whom a man had just as good as proposed. But then, it hadn't been one of the most romantic quasi-proposal. In fact, even I, who was definitely not an expert on quasi-proposals, could say that it had been about as romantic as a bucket of vomit.

Which, by the way, was also a very fitting description of my suitor.

"Bloody bastard! Oh, the next time I see him, I'll... I'll..."

I couldn't even find the words. Maybe I would have to sneak into the room where Mr Ambrose was holding Simmons, to get some inspiration on torture.

"Something spiky... with wicked screws, maybe!"

Only when I got home and saw my aunt's delighted harpy-smile as she looked at the latest flowers Lieutenant Ellingham had sent did I fully realize the son of a bachelor had been right.

Bugger! She really expects me to marry him!

A shiver ran down my back when I also realized that I was not in a good position to do anything against it. I was still under age. My legal guardian could dispose of me however they wished – and my aunt was very efficient in the disposal of rags, hen droppings, penniless relatives and other garbage.

Even were I already an adult, what could I do? I was dependent on others to pay for the food I ate, the bed I slept in and the roof over my head. It was those people that ruled my life. I had no money of my own.

Or at least, the thought shot through my head, that was true until very recently.

"Thank the Lord!" I breathed.

Never before had I been so glad that I had run into a certain, stone-faced businessman that day on the way to the polling station. Never had I been so glad that I had taken the leap towards my own freedom. And never ever had I been so grateful towards Mr Ambrose. He could have turned me away. In fact, there had probably been nothing he wanted to do more. Yet instead he had kept his word and given me a chance.

My fingers travelled into the folds of my petticoats, where the ring of keys was artfully concealed.   More than that: he had given me his trust.

And soon, hopefully, he would give me some money. I just had to hold out until then.

Head held high, I started up the porch stairs, passed my aunt, ignoring her chattering. Now that my harrowing encounter with the lieutenant was over, my exhaustion returned with renewed force. I needed to lie down, and quickly, or I would just keel over and take a nap on the floor.

Up in my room, Ella was waiting for me with half-anxious, half-happy expression on her face. I walked passed her and let myself fall face-downward onto my mattress, not caring about the protesting squeak from my hoop skirt.

"So..." I heard Ella's hesitant voice from behind me, "did you have a nice walk with Lieutenant Ellingham?"

"No," I groaned into my pillow.

There was a pause. Then:

"Um... this might be a silly question... but is he the young man you went to meet the other day, is he? The one you have feelings for?"

With a gargantuan effort, I raised my head from my pillow and turned to stare at my little sister.

"You're absolutely right."

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