This Duchess of Mine Page 29


“That’s how long it took you. You finally had an affaire with DuPuy. It lasted only—”

“It lasted three days,” Jemma said. “You knew that?”

He nodded. “My friends were as assiduous in letter-writing as were yours. And of course the fact that DuPuy had fallen so deeply in love with you was considered tantalizing news for your husband.”

“So you came that Christmas.”

“I came as soon as the Parliament recessed. I had this foolish notion…”

“What?”

“That it would all be fine. But you were furious at me. And I—I found that for all my reasoned decision that it was your right to have an affaire, I wanted to throttle you.”

“The things you said drove me to more excess.”

He ran a finger slowly down the slope of her cheek.

“I know. I came again the next year, but…”

“We didn’t fight as much,” Jemma said, remembering.

“You thought I was moralistic and boring. And I was. You had become so sophisticated and beautiful. I had ruined everything, and I didn’t know what to do. So I went back to England, back to the House. But I never took another mistress, Jemma. I mean that.”

“I’m stunned,” she said. She kept searching his eyes, but it was too dark and she couldn’t see them well.

“The third rule of marriage,” he said.

She put her arms around his neck, feeling a huge wrench of emotion that she wasn’t even sure how to name. “What is it?”

“We never let anger or the sea stand between us again.”

It was too sad, all that time lost. She couldn’t even smile. Her throat moved, and then he was kissing her and she could have sworn that the same sorrow was in his mouth and his touch, in the way his hands twisted into her hair. Finally the sweet deep pleasure of his mouth made all the rest of it fade away.

After a while he unwound her arms and stood up, slowly putting her on her feet. “I need to get my duchess home safe,” he said. “You will be glad to know that I am not attending Pitt tomorrow. I would be happy if you would accompany me.”

“What shall we do?”

“Nothing as colorful as the flower market.”

“Dear me,” she said. “Shall I dress in black?”

“It’s not a visit to the cemetery,” he said. “But perhaps it would be best to avoid being very extravagantly duchess-like.”

“I shall eschew my jewels.”

“And no wig.”

“A hard bargain,” she said, smiling at him. “But I suppose I can be seen outside the house in such a pitiful state without my reputation suffering overmuch.”

Chapter Twelve

March 29

“We’re going to Cow Cross,” Elijah announced the next morning.

“Where’s that?”

“In Spitalfields.”

Jemma blinked. Spitalfields was one of the poorest areas of London, a tangled mass of grimy tenements and questionable businesses. Cook shops there followed no regulations and regularly were accused of serving rat stew, but who would know, since the entire district had the odor of cooking onions and aged chicken fat?

No duchess entered Spitalfields. In fact, Jemma would have ventured to say that the only ladies who entered Spitalfields were of the missionary variety, tough by nature and likely carrying defensive weapons to boot.

“I’m taking you to a house that is not as beautiful as the flower market but just as interesting,” Elijah said, acting as if he had said nothing much out of the ordinary.

“Is Cow Cross on the outskirts of Spitalfields?” Jemma asked, knowing she was a coward.

“In the very center.” He helped her into the coach.

“Cow Cross is a tiny lane, bounded on one side by a sewer ditch and the other by Simple Boy Lane. Most people don’t know these streets exist,” he pointed out, which was something she knew quite well herself.

“I can’t say that I’ve had the opportunity to call on anyone in Simple Boy Lane,” she said. “Who lives there?”

“Cow Cross is the home of glassblowers, for the most part,” Elijah said.

“Glassblowers. And?”

“My father owned a house there, which I inherited.”

“You own a house in Spitalfields?” She was stunned. Moralistic Elijah, champion of the poor?

“I can see that you think I should have torn it down.”

She chose her words carefully. “I am surprised to find that you are a landlord in such an area.”

“Someone must be,” he said reasonably. Then he relented. “In fact, I don’t rent rooms.”

“An orphanage?” she said, her frown clearing. Of course Elijah would be involved in good projects.

“No children,” he said. “And you might not like it once you learn more of the place. I inherited it from my father, and I maintain it. But it is shameful, all the same.”

“If it’s shameful, why don’t you sell the house?”

“It’s also complicated.” A moment later he added, “We own the Cacky Street Glassworks.”

“Oh,” Jemma said uncertainly. “Is that a large establishment? In Spitalfields?”

“It is certainly located there.”

He seemed to be in a fierce mood, and she wasn’t quite sure what to do. One good thing about being separated for the past years was that she hadn’t had to deal with anyone’s moods but her own. If she were in a bad mood, she stayed inside and played chess against herself until she felt better.

But what did one do with a grumpy husband? She stole a look at Elijah, but he was frowning out the window. Already the streets were growing smaller and grimier.

After a moment she took off her gloves and removed the diamond her mother had given her. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Elijah to protect her, but there was no need to be foolish. She dropped it neatly into the pocket next to her seat.

“Will Muffet wait for us?” she asked.

“Of course. Though we may wish to take a walk.”

Take a walk in Spitalfields? She had done very daring things in her life, as she saw it. She had ridden a horse bareback, once. She had left her husband and presented herself to the Court of Versailles before she understood how to look truly expensive (and thus irreproachable). She had provoked a woman into attempting to seduce her husband.

But she had never put herself deliberately in the way of bodily harm. Her native intelligence included a keen sense of self-preservation.

Out the window, everything looked slightly foreign. The shops were jammed together like an old man’s teeth just before they fell out: dingy, leaning, doubtless full of holes. She could see alleys snaking away to the left and right, but buildings bent over them, so the sunshine disappeared a foot or two from the entrance. The darkness looked rusty, as if it had solid mass.

She cleared her throat. “Elijah.”

“Yes?” He was staring sightlessly out the window, as best she could tell.

“I’ve never been into Spitalfields.”

“I’m perfectly capable of taking care of you.”

She bit her lip.

“It’s quite safe,” he added. “Of course, Spitalfields would not be a wise place to enter at night. But it’s not as if hordes of savages roam the streets, Jemma. Spitalfields is simply a place where the very poor live. And they are trying, rather desperately for the most part, to find their next meal, rear their babies, afford a blanket or two.”

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