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Jane Stowe frequently finds her irritable father, peevish stepmother, and half brother Rupert a trial. Her only hope of eventual escape is her maternal uncle, Roger Markham, whose heir she is. When he dies under mysterious circumstances, Jane is the obvious suspect.
Alex Gordon, family misfit, has been sent to find out if there’s anything to Markham’s suspicions about the schooner Sea Mew. With half the Continent at war, and the Young Pretender recently landed in Scotland, the matter may be of critical importance. Once Alex ferrets out—with Jane’s assistance—the connection between the Sea Mew and Jacobite activity, he is told to leave the rest to the professionals. But the professionals have no stake in saving Jane from the gallows or Rupert from a charge of treason.
Page Count: 382
Word Count: 98622
“I suppose you are off to visit your cross-grained old uncle again,” Jane’s stepmother remarked. “As often as you go to see him, he ought to make you an allowance, to defray the cost of your keep.”
Jane concentrated on tying the ribbons of her bergère hat before the mirror in the narrow entrance hall. Did her mantua become her? The paneled walls were a pallid pea-soup green, which made her gown’s light blue look peculiar. She did not intend to argue with Elvira about her uncle with the footman standing ready to open the door for her.
“Furthermore, you are his heir, although that would change if he took a wife. He might even get a child of his own. Mind, if you see any sign of his marrying, you must scotch it.”
“He does not often go out in society.” How humiliating that the conversation would be repeated in the servants’ hall.
“It makes no difference, Jane. Mrs. Cosgrove tells me her brother has seen him often at Drury Lane, and you may imagine what that means.”
“Yes, indeed. Plays,” Jane agreed.
Elvira Stowe made a moue. “You are foolish to suppose that bachelors frequent the theater only for the plays.” She nodded knowingly. “And besotted men of Roger Markham’s age have been known to marry unsuitable women.”
“Uncle is very fond of the theater, which is but a short distance from his house.”
“Really, Jane! Unmarried men go to see the actresses. There is a chamber called the green room where men may meet the actresses when they are not on stage. We do not talk about the result of meetings with such females. Need I say you must not discuss such things? But I owe it to your papa to supply you with the worldly knowledge you lack. To return to important matters, it is not only actresses you must guard against. If his housekeeper designs to make herself a good marriage, you must prevent that, as well.”
“If that is how good marriages are made, perhaps I should seek a position as housekeeper to some well-to-do elderly gentleman, by way of ensuring my future.” She might otherwise have pointed out that the cost of a housekeeper should be considered as a credit against her food, clothing, and pin money. They had not employed one for several years, since the last one packed her trunk in disgust. Somehow Elvira Stowe never had the time to advertise the position or interview applicants. The prospect of such exertion quite overwhelmed her, though it never kept her from social events. Meanwhile, someone had to oversee the servants, make out menus for the cook’s guidance, order supplies, and keep the household account book. The week after the last housekeeper’s departure, before Jane had taken over her responsibilities, lingered in her memory as what it must be like to live in the American wilderness, or in the days before civilization. Late, ill-cooked meals, unwashed bed linens, dirt and disorder, no fires laid, the servants bickering.
Mrs. Stowe raised her pale eyebrows and attempted to look down her elegant nose; Jane was several inches taller than she.
“Really, Jane! I don’t wonder that you are unwed—at your age, too!—when you say such things. Please try to govern your tongue, at least when you are in company. You put us all to the blush.”
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