After pulling and twisting until her knuckle was swollen, Amelia gave up and finished her bath. She dried herself with a Turkish towel, its pile loose and soft against her skin. Entering the adjoining dressing room, she found Betty waiting for her with an armload of soft wine-colored wool.
"Here is the dress, miss. The dress will look right pretty on thee, with tha dark hair."
"Lady St. Vincent is too generous." The piles of crisp frothy undergarments looked so pristine, it was likely they had never been worn. There was even a corset, its white laces as neat as surgical sutures.
"Oh, she has many, many dresses," Betty confided, handing Amelia a pair of folded drawers and a chemise. "Lord St. Vincent sees to it that his wife is dressed like a queen. I'll tell thee summat: if she wanted the moon for her looking glass, he'd find a way to pull it down for her."
"How do you know so much about them?" Amelia asked, hooking the front of the corset while Betty moved behind her to pull the laces.
"I'm Lady St. Vincent's maid. I travel with her wherever she goes. She bid me to attend thee and the other Miss Hathaways?they need special care,' she said, 'after what they've endured.'"
Amelia held in her breath as the laces were tugged firmly. When they were finally tied, she expelled a quick breath. "That was very kind of her. And you. I hope my family hasn't been troublesome."
For some reason that produced a chuckle. "Tha art a shandy lot, if you don't mind my saying so, miss." Before Amelia could ask what that meant, the maid exclaimed, "What a small waist tha has! I expect Lady St. Vincent's dress will fit thee like a glove. But before we try it, tha'd better put thy hosen on."
Amelia took a handful of translucent black fabric from her. "Hosen?"
"Silk stockings, miss."
Amelia nearly dropped them. Silk stockings cost a fortune. And these were embroidered with tiny flowers, which made them even more expensive. If she wore them, she would be in terror of snagging them. However, there seemed to be no other choice, short of going without.
"Do put them on," Betty urged.
With a mixture of temptation and guilt, Amelia dressed in the most luxurious clothes she had ever worn in her life. The dress, lined with silk, was entirely ladylike, but it draped and molded over her figure in a way her own clothes never had. Straight, close-fitting sleeves went to her elbow, where they flared in spills of black lace. The same black lace trimmed the deep bias hem of the skirt, which was layered to suggest a multitude of underskirts. A black satin sash emphasized the neat curve of her waist, the ends crossed and pinned at the side with a sparkling jet brooch.
Sitting at the dressing table, Amelia watched as Betty dexterously braided black ribbons in her hair and pinned it up. Since the maid seemed friendly and talkative, Amelia ventured, "Betty ... how long has Lady St. Vincent been acquainted with Mr. Rohan?"
"Since childhood, miss." Betty grinned. "That Mr. Rohan, he's a fine doorful of man, aye? You should see the carryings-on when he visits the master's house—every last one of us fighting for a turn at the keyhole, just to gawp at him."
"I wonder..." Amelia strove for a casual tone. "Do you think the relationship between Mr. Rohan and Lady St. Vincent was ever..."
"Oh, nay, miss. They was raised like brother and sister. There's even rumors that Mr. Rohan is her half brother. Wouldn't be the only bastard child sired by Ivo Jenner, for certain."
Amelia blinked. "Do you think the rumors are true?"
Betty shook her head. "Lady St. Vincent says nay, there's no blood 'twixt 'em. And she and Mr. Rohan bear no likeness. But she's fair fond of him." With a wry smile, Betty added, "She has warned me and the other maids to keep ourse'en far away from him. She says no good could come of it, and we'd find ourselves tupped and left. He's a wicked one, that Mr. Rohan. Charming enough to steal the sugar from your punch." Finishing Amelia's hair, Betty viewed her with satisfaction, and went to collect the used linens that had been heaped by a chair, including the discarded nightgown.
The maid paused for the measure of two, three seconds, with the nightgown in hand. "Shall I make a pad of clean rags, miss?" she asked carefully. "For thy monthly courses?"
Still pondering the unpalatable phrase "tupped and left," Amelia shook her head. "No, thank you. It's not time for? She stopped with a little shock as she saw what the maid had noticed—a few rusty spots of blood on the nightgown. She blanched.
"Yes, miss." Folding the gown tightly into the bundle of bedlinens, Betty gave her a neutral smile. "Tha has only to ring, and I'll come." She went to the door and let herself out carefully.
Amelia propped her elbows on the dressing table, and rested her forehead on her fists. Heaven help her, there would be talk belowstairs. And until now she had never done anything worthy of gossip.
"Please, please let him be gone," she whispered.
Heading downstairs, Amelia mused that she believed in luck after all. It seemed as good a word as any to describe a consistent pattern of things. A dependable, predictable outcome for nearly every situation.
And hers happened to be bad luck.
As she reached the entrance hall, she saw Lady St. Vincent coming in from the back terrace, her cheeks wind-brightened, the hem of her gown littered with bits of leaves and grass. She looked like an untidy angel, with her lovely calm face and rippling red hair, and the playful spray of light gold freckles across her nose.