Lady of Devices
Author:Shelley Adina

chapter 7



The Times of London, June 14, 1889



VISCOUNT PASSES IN TRAGIC MISHAP

In a loss as tragic as the fortunes of those with whom he invested in the Persia-Albion Petroleum Company, Vivian Trevelyan, Viscount St. Ives, left his family bereaved on Friday last. While cleaning his collection of Georgian pistols, he apparently did not realize one firearm had been put away loaded. The discharge killed his lordship instantly.

At the funeral yesterday, a nursemaid carried 19-month-old Nicholas, now the fourteenth viscount, who cried during the service as loudly as if he really had been aware his papa was being laid in the ground. Lady St. Ives, who could be forgiven for ignoring the demands of fashion during such a time of grief, instead was careful to maintain her reputation for taste and distinction in a beaded mourning gown by the House of Elsevier in Paris, and a swansdown-trimmed velvet cloak and hat by Belleville. Her daughter Claire, whose only style is that she is now known as Lady Claire, stood silently at her mother’s side for the length of the service.

This reporter does not know the fate of the Persia-Albion Petroleum Company, of which the late viscount was a principal investor, along with several of society’s leading Bloods and, some speculate, even Her Majesty. However, disturbing rumblings have been heard regarding the company’s solvency. Please see the Business section for more details on this unhappy situation.



* * *



On a good day, Claire could pretend that her father was merely away—in the Lords overseeing matters of state, or taking a quick trip down to Cornwall to visit Gwynn Place. The viscount had been better known as a shrewd investor and one of the leaders of London society than as a family man. It was not as if Claire had been close to him. All the same, he was her father, and one of the anchors to her life, and without him the whole household had been set adrift.

On bad days, the only thing that could rouse Claire from the stupor of grief was the knowledge that someone had to answer the landslide of condolences and black-edged correspondence, whose brass tubes had piled up on the salver in the morning room to such an extent that Penwith finally had to fetch a wooden chest to hold them. The new viscount could not do it. And Lady St. Ives was in no shape to do it. Except for her appearance at the funeral, she had not left her room since that dreadful night and from what Claire could learn from Silvie, she had no intention of doing so in the immediate future. Claire counted the family fortunate that she had managed to attend the funeral. Had she not, gossip would have been delighted to fill in the blanks that the Times had so obligingly left open.

The doorbell rang for what seemed like the fortieth time since breakfast, and out of habit, Claire paused on the staircase, halfway between curiosity and duty.

“I’m sorry, miss, but the family is not at home,” Penwith intoned. He must be so tired of mouthing the same words time after time. On the other hand, at least she did not have to do it.

“But I must see C—er, Lady Claire,” came Emilie’s voice, raised in anxiety.

“Lady Claire is unable to receive visitors, miss. You will note the crepe upon our door.”

Crepe notwithstanding, yes, she was able. “It’s all right, Penwith.” Claire hurried down the staircase, her skirts trailing behind her in a welter of black silk ruching and pleats. “I am always at home to Miss Fragonard.” She dragged Emilie into the morning room and hugged her fiercely, the unshed tears backing up in her throat. “I’m so glad to see you I can’t even express it.”

“I’ve sent you a tube every day,” Emilie said with the merest tinge of reproach.

“Have you?” Claire released her and indicated a second pile of tubes on the escritoire, which was reaching the limits of its stability, too.

“Oh dear.” Emilie appeared to do a quick calculation. “There is two weeks’ worth of writing replies between here and the hall.”

“At least. I can’t bear to think of it.”

“Think instead of the kindness of all your family’s acquaintance,” Emilie said gently. “They wish you to know they’re thinking of you.”

“I know,” Claire took a letter out of a tube on top of the stack and smoothed it flat. “And I appreciate it. I do. But what do I say to everyone? No one really believes what the Times said and we don’t dare refute it.”

Emilie took the letter from Claire’s hands. “They would not be so crass as to speak it aloud. Stick to the main point—their condolences. And for that I have just the thing. Have you forgotten my Multiple Nib Scrivener?”

“You’re assigning me lines?” Was this meant to take her mind off her situation?

“No, you goose. Where is your mourning stationery?” She rustled through the pigeonholes of the escritoire. “Never mind, I have it. We line up the reply cards like so—” She laid them out like dominoes and seated herself at the table. The ten nibs of her device hung poised above the creamy stationery. “—and begin composing. What would you like to say?”

“What would I do without you?” Claire gathered her wits and tried to remember what she and her mother had done when Grandmother Trevelyan had gone to her eternal reward. “We so much appreciate your kindness during this painful time,” she began slowly. Emilie’s nibs scratched along, following her. “The viscount, Lady St. Ives, and I are thankful for your thoughts and trust that God will keep us in His hand.”

“Is His capitalized?”

“Yes.”

“‘... hand.’ Anything else?”

“No. Hand them to me and I’ll sign them. Fortunately we use the same ink. India Black.”

Emilie gave her a look over the rims of her spectacles. “Was that a joke?”

Claire winced. “No, I’m sorry. Merely bad taste.”

“I think it’s good. It’s a sign that maybe in time you’ll recover.”

“I suppose I will. And Nicholas will be fine, except for the tragedy of his never knowing Father. Never learning how to ride with him like I did. Never seeing him come in at dinnertime and running into his arms, as I did.” She reached into her sleeve for her damp handkerchief.

“But you can teach him how to drive the steam landau when the time comes.” Emilie’s eyes were soft with understanding, and Claire hung onto her self-control with difficulty.

“That’s true,” she said, swallowing the tears down. “That much I can do.” She picked up the next batch of tubes and began extracting their contents. All she had to do was reverse the address on each tube and pop a reply in. Emilie deserved to have won the all-around academic award. She was brilliant. “At this rate we could be finished by teatime, just in time for the next mail.”

“It almost makes you wish you had no acquaintance, doesn’t it?” Emilie bent to her task.

“Almost.” Claire directed her attention to the pile in earnest.





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