Dodd thought she had them in her power now. Escaping from authorities! The narrow smile on Mrs.
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Their employer would hide them, but at a price. In the push of maids moving past the stoves to collect the well-laden plates, Matilda had no time to make any important decisions, but she promised herself she would find a way to leave the posting house the following day. She and Polly had nothing but her hoarded allowance and the two weeks wages they had already received. Still, it would make enough to pay coaching fares to some other town, where, with their newfound confidence, they might easily obtain employment at an inn.
An hour later Polly made a furtive reconnaissance and could find no trace of the burly Jake. She did, however, see something else that stirred her romantic young heart to its core. She came to Matilda with a used plate. After Polly had thankfully departed. Matilda indulged her curiosity. Who or what could have caused it? Without thinking too much about her motives, she slipped through the kitchen door into the Commons. The large room was badly overcrowded, well-lighted, and full of a din, most of it cheerful.
The big man she was bending over stood out, too, even in that crowd. In the orange glow of the candles, his weather-beaten countenance looked like one of the paintings Miss Alford had taken her to see at a museum. Dark; dark and strong; the face of a man who had met the worst life could fling at him, and conquered it.
Runaway Debutante by Chater Elizabeth
Matilda drew a wavering breath. Black hair, cut short on a classic head. A strong nose, an even stronger mouth, just now relaxed into a grin of pleasure, but heavily marked with grooves that shouted self-control. Broad shoulders in the neat military coat— and, yes, one sleeve pinned up. So that is why Polly needed tender meat, she thought, with deep pity.
If must be hard to cut with only one hand! And then, almost as though aware of her scrutiny, the proud head lifted, and across that smoky, noisy room his hawk-gaze met hers. His eyes were almost colorless! Were they gray? The palest blue? She started to slip back into the kitchen, away from that powerful confrontation. The soldier had evidently asked a question as to her identity. Polly smiled over toward her mistress and said a few quiet words. Then she came over toward Matilda, who promptly vanished into the kitchen.
There Polly ran her to earth. A thousand objections, fears, doubts, thronged into her mind, chief of which was that the big man was playing a game on Polly, such teasing as it seemed men enjoyed when they talked with serving women.
The Runaway Debutante
She tried to bring Polly to a less excited state. Why did he tell you he needed servants?
Was he trying to hire you? Polly began again. Quite the nob he is, milady! Talks just like your papa and his friends. Whatever Matilda might have been going to say remained unsaid as she considered this striking idea. Fredricks, who had been butler to the Mountavons since before her own birth, had been dismissed last year as summarily as Miss Alford two weeks ago.
Lady Amelia had complained that he was too old and doddering to handle his duties, and had replaced him without ceremony. Miss Alford had kept in touch with the old man, and said he was living rather unhappily in a small village outside London.
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Would it be possible that she could persuade this soldier to employ the older man? Fredricks was devoted, and knowledgeable, and loyal. Matilda whirled. It was the big man from the Commons, and behind him stood a gaunt figure in the dress of a sergeant. His face had been darkened by exposure to all sorts of weather, and lined with pain. Still, it was a good face, strong and handsome in a style wholly male. Even in the strange light eyes, there was no hint of weakness, no vulnerability revealed.
Yet the thought persisted, even in clear view of those pale, dark-fringed eyes. The other three—Polly, the sergeant, and the big officer—all had their eyes on her face and were obviously waiting. To her horror, Matilda felt a deep blush burning her cheeks. It was absurd. The officer laughed ruefully. We are hoping to hire a full complement of staff for my home in Scotland, and Miss Polly seemed to feel that you might be able to help us.
I must take possession of my—new home as quickly as possible. A lonely Scottish castle, ringed round with sullen or angry natives, with the small garrison under constant, if covert, siege!
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The big soldier looked at her carefully, then a slow grin, quite unlike his former rather weary cynicism, softened his expression. Dodd swept into the kitchen at her most formidable. Dodd was ready to capitalize on the weakness she had noticed in her new cook. It had suddenly become an intolerable situation.
It was past time to make the needed break to any place away from London. With the planned wedding scarcely a week off, efforts to find the runaway would be doubled, and would probably succeed. He regarded her soberly and then smiled at the quivering Polly. Dodd furiously. She was obviously upset by the development but could not think of a way to stop its progress.
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The major gave a nod to his sergeant, who followed the departing females unobtrusively. When they were gone, Matilda began to have second thoughts. A strange warmth began to burn in her breast, and she could hardly meet that pale, inquiring gaze.
Finally she began to chuckle.