Home > The Viscount Who Vexed Me

The Viscount Who Vexed Me
Author: Julia London



   London, England


   IT BECAME NECESSARY, the spring the Santiavan duke came to London, that every woman, no matter her age or place in society, should have a friend who could be trusted to tell her what no one else would.

   For Miss Harriet Woodchurch, that person was Miss Flora Raney, the daughter of the venerable Viscount Raney. Not only was she Hattie’s dearest friend, she was also Hattie’s employer of sorts, as her father paid Hattie a modest fee to accompany Flora as she flitted about town.

   Flora would explain what Hattie could not see for herself. Something terrible, something that Hattie could neither forgive nor forget...at least to begin.

   She did, in fact, put it completely out of her mind in the weeks that followed. But on that particular day, forgetting seemed impossible, as not only was the news heartbreaking, but it was wrapped up in the sighting of the most talked about bachelor in all of London.

   Hattie and Flora, and Flora’s oldest friend, Queenie, were shopping. The three women had attended the Iddesleigh School for Exceptional Girls at the same time. Flora and Queenie had come to the school as daughters of titles and wealth, which automatically set them apart from the other girls. Hattie had come on scholarship, which distinguished her in an entirely different and not complimentary way. But she and Flora had shared a room for a term and had become friends.

   They were in a millinery shop, standing at the large store window, examining the gloves for sale. Or rather, Flora and Queenie were. Hattie had no money for things like gloves or petticoats or hats.

   “But why haven’t you any money?” Queenie had inquired earlier. “Your father has the largest public transport company in all of London.”

   That was true—Mr. Hugh Woodchurch proudly provided hansom cabs, Clarence cabs, and horse busses to the masses of London around the clock. It was a lucrative business. But he did not believe in sharing that fortune with his daughter. What she needed, he said, she had at home. Money spent on gloves and hats and clothes was unnecessary when a young woman had two serviceable day gowns, a morning gown, and one evening gown. Never mind that the evening gown was handed down from her mother and was the style of a different era. Hattie’s father said if she wanted more, she ought to see herself married.

   Hattie would like nothing better than to see herself married and was looking forward to the day that she and her fiancé, Mr. Rupert Masterson, would settle in the rooms above his shop. But because her engagement was not yet official—although he’d promised to speak to her father any day now—she’d sought work to pay for the few things she would like to have. She now had four serviceable day gowns, one evening gown, and two morning gowns, thank you.

   Flora and Queenie had decided they must have eight-button gloves made of silk and linen in the event they were invited to a country house weekend this coming summer. Hattie had exactly two pairs of gloves, also handed down to her by her mother, with only three buttons. There was no room in her meager budget for new ones, so she followed along, refolding the gloves that Flora and Queenie handed to her without thought when they’d lost interest and moved on to the next pair.

   Suddenly, a woman entered the shop in such a hurry that she set all the bells above the door clanging. “Mrs. Perkins!”

   Mrs. Perkins, the shopkeeper, burst forth from the curtains covering the entrance to a back room like she thought the shop might be on fire. “What is it? What’s happened?”

   The woman rushed to the front window where Flora and Queenie were, forcing them aside. “What in heaven!” Queenie cried.

   “He’s there!”

   “Who’s there?” Queenie demanded—she’d never been shy about seeking answers.

   “Here?” Mrs. Perkins gasped and sprang to the window like a gazelle. “Where?”

   The woman pointed across the street, and Queenie grabbed Flora’s arm. “Look!”

   “You’re hurting me,” Flora said.

   “For once, will you do as I ask?” Queenie demanded. “Look!”

   Hattie watched the four ladies in the shop window, leaning forward and peering out over the glove displays, confused about what was happening. “Oh my. Oh my,” Flora said, then gestured wildly for Hattie. “Come here, come here, you have to see!”

   There was not enough room for the five of them, and Hattie had to stand on her tiptoes to see over Flora’s shoulder. “I can’t really see,” Hattie said.

   The rest of them ignored her. “Where?” Mrs. Perkins demanded, sounding panicked.

   Mrs. Perkins’s friend pointed.

   Hattie tried to make herself taller. The only thing she could see was a haberdashery across the street. Three gentlemen stood before it, chatting. “Is that it?” Hattie asked and sank down onto her feet again.

   “Not them,” the woman said. “The viscount.”

   There had to be at least a dozen viscounts on Regent Street on any given day. “Which one?”

   “Which one?” Flora repeated, and shot a disapproving look over her shoulder at Hattie. “Viscount Abbott, of course.”

   “Of course,” Hattie muttered. She didn’t know of any Viscount Abbott. Or why any of these women were interested in him.

   “Who is also the Duke of Santiava,” Queenie said. Hattie blinked. Queenie rolled her eyes. “Why do you never know these things, Hattie? It’s as if you live in a cave.”

   She never knew these things because she didn’t know anything. How could she? She didn’t exactly exist in the same social circles as Flora and Queenie. She knew what they told her, and they had not told her about this viscount.

   Just then, Flora grabbed Hattie’s hand and gripped it so tightly that Hattie winced. Queenie pushed a display of gloves out of the way, and the four women surged forward, Flora dragging Hattie with her.

   A man emerged from the shop, holding his hat in his hand. He was tall, with sun-drenched skin. His clothing fit him snugly, and it was apparent that he was trim with an athletic build. His dark hair brushed his collar, and when he looked up at something one of the other gentlemen said, he smiled. Only a little, but it was a smile that sparked through Hattie. That gentleman was quite possibly the most beautiful man she’d ever seen in her life—elegant, strong, and astonishingly agreeable in looks.

   No one spoke for a moment.

   A carriage rolled in between the shops and stopped, blocking their view of the haberdashery. When it rolled away, the gentlemen were gone.

   The ladies settled back. Queenie sighed and stepped away from the window, leaving the display of gloves knocked onto its side. The woman who had rushed in to announce the viscount sighting retreated to the back room with Mrs. Perkins. Hattie picked up the display and righted it in the window.

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