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Page 28


India

Dear India,

The bill from Sheraton was crippling, but in comparison, the cost of a “blue mirror” was truly astonishing. Do you wish to appear blue? Do I? Is this a reference to blue blood? Do I give a damn that the mirror is Venetian? No, I do not. Return it.

Thorn

Dear Thorn,

One does not “return” a work of art. You are striving to enter the upper ranks, and you will simply have to trust me to create a worthy atmosphere.

India

Dear India,

Return the damn mirror.

Thorn

Dear Thorn,

You’ll be happy to know the mirror and mantelpiece have been installed and look splendid.

In other news, I have managed to secure you an excellent cook. I had to lure him away from Lord Pistlethorpe’s household, and you will be paying him somewhat more than his normal wage. But given your boast that you are—I hope I have this right—more than a “rich bastard,” I knew you would not hesitate, because excellent food can make an otherwise uncomfortable house party bearable. He arrived with his kitchen crew in tow, and I hired them as well. I trust that Lord P does not send you a challenge, but if he does, I’ve no doubt you will be the victor at fisticuffs or something of that nature.

India

Dear India,

You may keep the mirror if you could restrain yourself from filching staff from other households. I have indeed heard from Pistlethorpe, who is not pleased.

By the way, we used to call him Mortar-and-Pestle at school, owing to his nocturnal activities.

Thorn

Dear Thorn,

I have no idea what you are talking about with reference to Lord Pistlethorpe, and I don’t wish to know.

Your new butler, Mr. Fleming, unfortunately cannot be in residence until the day before you and your parents arrive. I have also engaged four upstairs maids, two downstairs maids, a scullery maid, and a stablemaster. We are on the lookout for a bootblack and two hall boys.

The gatehouse has been cleaned, with some very basic furnishings installed, as I did not know whether you would care to hire a gatekeeper.

India

Dear India,

I was referring to a man’s wish to pleasure himself under the covers in the dark. Pistlethorpe treated his tool to a vigorous dubbing nightly in such a manner that every boy in the house knew it. Do women do the same? Were you sent to school?

I suspect that marquess’s daughters are too delicate and precious to leave the parental eye, but I have no idea. My sisters were kept at home, but then we were all special cases.

Thorn

Dear Mr. Dautry,

You may not write me in this manner or I shall cease to send you notice of what I am doing with your estate. I will simply forward the bills.

Lady Xenobia India St. Clair

Dear India,

I surmise from the irritation in your letter that ladies do not lie about at night touching their softer parts, which is a huge loss on their part. You should try it. It’s greatly relaxing, and you seem prone to vexation.

Thorn

Mr. Dautry,

I enclose the following invoices: £100 for wax candles, £50 for lye soap, and £200 for gold braid.

Lady Xenobia India St. Clair

Dear India,

If you intend to fleece me out of house and home, at least send along a word or two to blunt the pain. Surely what I wrote was not so horrendous? I was under the impression that you and I were becoming friends, in a strange sort of way. But I am sorry if you are genuinely offended; I suppose ladies don’t want to hear of such things, even in jest. What the hell is all that gold braid for?

Thorn

Dear Thorn,

I have no objection to being friends if you at least attempt to be witty rather than vulgar. The gold braid trims the dining room curtains. They were hung today and they are magnificent against the silk walls.

India

Dear India,

I’m not very good at wit. It’s probably to do with growing up on the streets. Can you forgive me? I didn’t say that I lie about pleasuring myself while thinking of you, after all. It was merely a polite inquiry.

Thorn

Dear Thorn,

Why on earth would I share such private information with you? This is a genuinely curious question.

India

Dear India,

I know from the tenor of your letters that you do it. Put the satyr in whatever room you’ve chosen. I’m sure he’ll be inspirational, and I don’t want him anywhere near me. I’ve no mind to look at a man’s arse.

I wish I was coming to Starberry tonight to see the gold-braided curtains myself. I would try to get you tipsy again; I have fond memories of our meals together.

Thorn

India had hired a housekeeper whom she’d had her eye on for some time—an excellent maid working in a London house where her abilities were underappreciated. She was younger than most housekeepers, but she had a stern backbone and would stand up to her new master. And perhaps as importantly, she would be a warrior on Lala’s side.

Over the years, India had realized that servants played an important part in a marriage, and not simply because a good cook made everyone in the house happier.

Lala’s bedchamber was, in India’s considered opinion, precisely what any lady would want. She had ignored Dautry’s instructions and given her a bed with barley-twist posts, hung in pale yellow silk embroidered with pansies. There was a graceful desk under the window, where the mistress of the house could glance out across the back lawn, with a view all the way to the willow trees that graced the riverbank. The bedchamber was a refuge, a place that would echo and replenish Lala’s sweetness.

She had also purchased a large Sheraton wardrobe, with shelves of different depths on which to place evening gowns, day dresses, and even a special shelf for a presentation gown.

Some parts of the estate would necessarily remain untouched, at least until the house had its own mistress. The dairies and the brewhouse were still in wretched condition; the nursery was clean, but bare; she had barely looked at the library, other than acquiring a few comfortable chairs and a few boxes of books. She meant to organize the shelves, but that would be all.

The privies were now clean, but even so she had set in motion the establishment of Bramah-designed water closets, with a float system for the water tank. She’d never seen one, but she’d read about them, and although they were very new, and very expensive, she determined they should be placed throughout the house, even though it would happen after the house party.

After spending a decade living in the margins between householders and servants, she had a keen understanding of the fact that life would be immeasurably better for chambermaids if chamber pots could be retired forever.

Because Dautry had given her no direction as to livery, she toyed with the idea of putting his men in a deep red, simply to vex him, but in the end she chose overcoats made of Italian wool in a blue just a touch darker than a robin’s egg.

Since the gardens had been ruthlessly pruned, they could not furnish blooms to adorn the house. Her solution was to trade an exorbitant donation on the part of Mr. Dautry to the parish church, which desperately needed a new steeple, for the head gardener’s freedom to take whatever he needed from the flowerbeds that stretched behind the vicarage.

Already the house was beautiful: glowing, elegant yet homelike, comfortable as well as luxurious.

Dear Thorn,

I offered the satyr to the village church, as you suggested. The vicar was so offended that you have had to make a major donation to repair the church steeple. Perhaps the Cellini should be relinquished to the Bank of England, where it could wait in a vault for your further instructions?

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