Four whole days I have been here.
On my first full day I stayed where I was put, in the Duchess's chambers, only descending to main dining room once summoned. Dinner was ... somewhat dismal. And I resolved to myself that I would take direction of the kitchen. Perhaps the cook was merely in want of some guidance. A thin, watery potato and leek soup with bread that has obviously been left on the shelf for longer than it should, is not the way to feed nobility. I felt rather proud of myself, and declared to my mirror that I would become the true London Lady and become the duchess that Holcroft was surely expecting me to be. Now that we are in London, of course, things will change.

With my firm convictions in one hand, and a list of potential items to go on the dinner table, I marched into the kitchen, and presented myself to the cook.


London was much as I remembered: crowded streets, unpleasant smells, and loud noises, until we entered the better section of the city, and turned into Mayfair, where something akin to peaceful tranquility ruled. Our destination was an elegant-looking townhouse in the heart of Mayfair.
The duke's London home was a study in opulence on the inside. Marble tiles, priceless vases and paintings, and plush rugs were in abundance. It was overwhelming, and I felt very small and insignificant inside. The housekeeper escorted me upstairs to my suite of rooms, with nothing more than a curt nod. The staff's deference was reserved for the duke himself, it seemed, through either loyalty or merely that they were mirroring the duke's obvious disregard for me. My rooms showed none of this, however, and were as large and elegant as a duchess's rooms should be.
Our room at the inn was devoid of luxuries. Naught but a simple washstand, privacy screen in the corner for the chamberpot, and a tiny bed that would barely fit me. I opened my mouth to complain but as I turned to look at him, Holcroft send me a look that withered all protest before I could even begin.
"There are no other rooms to be had, my dear," he said with a strange look in eye.
I couldn't quite interpret what it meant, but it looked strangely like he was gloating. What he had to gloat about at this very moment was beyond me. He bade me to wash the travel dust off and meet him in the common room for a late supper before retiring. I cast another skeptical glance at the bed and wished fervently for a much larger one. His Grace was not the smallest of men even though age had diminished what must have been bulk years ago, and I feared I would be all but on top of him if we tried to cram onto that small platform together.

The common room in the inn had started to fill and as I descended the stairs, I had to stop halfway down in order to locate Holcroft from a higher vantage point. Spotting him at a center table I made my way to his table and noticed that he had a supper of stew and bread ready for me. As I set to my meal, he told me he had invited a couple of men to join us. I nodded and finished my meal, though I was still quite hungry, I waited in silence for our company to join us.
Soon two men sat down at our table. Both were tall enough to make Lord Holcroft look like a small man, and well-dressed. Introductions were made and I took the time to study both of them while they talked with my husband.
The marquess of Ashbury was a beautiful man with golden hair that curled around his face and the bluest eyes I had ever seen. His shoulders were broad and his stomach flat, and he looked like he belonged in a museum carved out of marble with perfect, chiseled features. Before my staring could be noted, I turned my attention to his companion: the earl of Greystone.
This man would be at home on the throne of the underworld, I decided as I watched him from under my lashes. He was tall and lean, and gave off an air of coiled readiness, much like a deadly snake. I smiled into my mug of ale at my fanciful thoughts, and when I returned to my perusal of the snake-like lord, I saw that he watched me as well. His eyes were dark, almost black, and I couldn't make out their exact colour. His hair was as black as a raven's feathers, and had a slight curl about the ends.
A hand curled around my neck and I started at the unexpected contact. I turned my attention to my husband, but he gave no notice of either my surprise or my gaze and his hand caressed the side of neck as if to make his possession clear. And it did. I saw both men take note of the gesture and the earl's attention turned back their conversation. I returned my gaze to my mug and prayed that my cheeks hadn't reddened.
I tried to follow their discussion but in truth I was too weary to care what they talked about. Without the distraction of studying lords in these surroundings, I found my mind wandered and I wondered if we would see more of these two in London. I could barely remember any of the names or faces I had met during my brief season, but surely these two would have stood out.
Soon enough, Holcroft begged their pardons and escorted me upstairs to our room. I raised my eyes heavenward and silently asked the good lord for a peaceful night's sleep. I hoped that that Holcroft would forgo his new habit of heir-begetting, since we were in such a place.
He was in no mood to be put off however and as he grunted and moaned his way to completion, I could only pray that nobody could hear his enthusiastic noises through the walls. As I could hear people moving about in the rooms next to ours, I held little of that hope.

The morning made my humiliation complete, for as we exited our room, I saw the devilish-looking Lord Greystone leaving his, the room on the other side of the wall our bed was placed against. His dark eyes met mine as he closed his door and I felt my face grow hot. I dropped my eyes and hurried down the stairs, but not before noting he look of gloating that once more graced Holcroft's face.


"Prepare the household for a move to London."
I was stunned. London? London was a dirty place, full of vagrants and theives. Why did His Grace want to move to London?
"The season is nearly upon us, and I have a desire to show my pretty wife about the ton," he replied sharply, in a tone that left no room for disagreements.

I had no desire to view the ton. I may have become one of them, but I did not wish to actually become of a part of them. I had become accustomed to a quiet life and the thought of being put on display for the masses to view and criticize, like a mare at auction. But I had no choice, so with a sinking feeliung in my innards, I climbed the staircase in search of the housekeeper and head maid, so that she may start with the packing.

The journey to London, while not a comfortable, afforded me views like I had never seen. Rolling hills, mists, and lots of cows. I took great delight in watching the scenery pass by as my husband dozed on the opposite seat. The motion of the carriage wasn't smooth by any means, but thankfully I felt no nausea and after the first two hours I had settled into a comfortable swaying that kept the worst of the bumps from unseating me.

As the night descended, we pulled into a posting inn. A boy came to take my travelling case, and Holcroft's valet handed me out of the carriage first, and then turned back to assist His grace, while I stared around me in bemused wonder. Far from the luxurious hotel I was expecting, it consisted of a large square building, a taproom with a few patrons drinking quietly, and a large and dusty yard.

"I sent word ahead," Holcroft stated as he stood beside me, "they should have our rooms ready for us, and a light supper waiting."


This? This is what the marriage act entailed? A sweaty, heaving body, poking and prodding, under the cover of darkness. What a great lot of bother it all was, and certainly uncomfortable. Although he appeared frail and thin, Holcroft still weighed enough to near crush the life from me. After much ado, he sent me back to my rooms, thoroughly mussed and humiliated by the whole ordeal. I don't even know if I pleased him.

With the morning came a new sense of being. I was truly a woman now, and most irrevocably married. My body felt little different, but my mind had a whole new understanding of the heir-begetting process. For that is surely what it was. There was no love between us, but I knew Holcroft needed an heir, and at 68, he needed one quickly. Secure in the knowledge that I had done my wifely duty, I sat back to wait for the changes that would indicate impending motherhood.

But he summoned me again that night.
And the next; and every night for nigh on a month.
And still my monthly came upon me at its usual time.

When my menses appeared, Lord Holcroft began to change in his manner toward me. Little things that I did not notice at first: he ceased to inquire after my day, our pleasant conversation at dinner began to wane, and my wifely duties became even less pleasant than they were before. When he might have taken care while climbing over my body, he roughly mounted, and pinches replaced patting, and his grip became tighter to the point of pain. After the act I was released to return my room, but I would flee instead of wishing my lord a good night.


Nearly a month had passed since my wedding, and my days have become routine in their blessed blandness. As a child I hoped for an exciting adulthood filled with adventures, but as a married woman I now am thankful for the very sameness of my days. After living with Aunt Penelope's bizarre moodswings, these days seemed idyllic and comforting.
It was with mild surprise that evening, when I was summoned to my lord's quarters after my evening ritual of a bath and brushing had finished.
My time as Duchess of Holcroft started out very peacefully. The Duke made no demands on my body, and kept me hidden at his country estate. I read to him, I played the pianoforte for him, and he hired a music instructor to teach me to play the harp. I became the epitome of a meek and dutiful wife, silent until called upon to speak, undemanding, and content to live quietly.


I wed the 68 year old Lord Holcroft in a very small private ceremony. I said my vows and mentally prepared myself for a wedding night with a man old enough to be my grandfather. My wedding night was either a grave disappointment, or a vast relief, as my bridegroom fell into a slumber as soon as we were alone. I sat by his side in the marriage bed, and thanked the heavens for this repreive.
My resolve to shutter my emotions stood me in good stead over the next few years. Outwardly I showed nothing, and in a surprisingly short time, I began to feel nothing inwardly as well.

At seventeen Penelope presented me to the slavering masses of the London beau monde, as a "suitable marriage prize", a "strong young woman to breed healthy heirs". I knew nothing of polite society, but somehow muddled through a dozen calls and musicales by keeping my mouth shut and maintaining a dignified air. In truth, I was too scared to speak or make any sudden movements.

An offer of marriage was presented to my guardians, and accepted, before I even became used to the social scene. His Grace, the Duke of Holcroft, a seemingly feeble old man, bought me from my uncle and Penelope I later learned, for the sum of ten thousand pounds. With his purchase he gained a brood mare (me), and an inheritance of Clydeswalk Manour (my only unentailed estate) and my annual income of four thousand pounds. I did not learn this until much later. All in all, I was a fairly cheap bride, and he never let me forget it. I married the Duke five months shy of my eighteenth birthday. I would never mistake age for infirmity and frailty again.
My status as a new member of my uncle's household wavered between unpaid companion and poor relation. Neither is so very different from the other. Suffice to say I was relegated to the outskirts, not of the family, but not a servant, and was left very much alone except for the afternoons. Late afternoon was a quiet time in London, after the hectic hours of calling time, when friends and acquaintances made their rounds of each others' parlours. I sat these hours in my bedchamber, never daring to show my face, one of Penelope's endless rules. During the hours of two and three in the afternoon, Penelope (I refused to call her Aunt, and I refused to give her her title in my mind) had me read to her. Silly poems of love and romance, useless drivel, and when the correspondence arrived, I was to read that to her as well. I strongly suspect she could not read.

Through reading her correspondence aloud, I learned of the central figures in London society, the Earl of Broughton, the Viscount Markshire, and His Grace the Duke of Arlington, and his wife, the Duchess. The Ladies Swanlea (sisters, I assumed) were premiere hostesses, and every week Penelope had me shuffle through the invitations looking for their names. To no avail. It caused her no end of frustration, and myself a great deal of amusement that I was careful to hide.

Only once did I let my amusement show. Penelope had thrown a teacup at the wall in her vexation at, once again, not receiving the coveted invitation to a garden party, and when she turned back to too quickly, she caught my smirk. She was calm, and merely sent me to my chambers. I went swiftly, eager to be away, and grateful to have escaped with nothing more than a scolding glance. That night Penelope took advantage of my habit of sleeping deeply though, and cut off my night braid, leaving me with a shortened red cap of curls that barely reached my shoulders. It taught me a hard lesson, and I would never again show any kind of reaction, amused or no, in Penelope's presence.

When I awoke the next morning, I began to consider the possibility that Penelope was mad. I observed her closely over the next years, careful to watch my step, but silently taking note of every strange demand, every odd fit and sudden surge of temper that resulted in a backhanded slap I was not fast enough to avoid. By the time I had spent four months in her household, Penelope's odd humours descended into a maddening rage, as though she were jealous of my presence and any lingering affection my uncle may have harboured for me.

Not long after the hair cutting incident, I woke to find all my clothing had been slashed to ribbons. These incidences of petty vandalism escalated, to the point that I was sleeping very lightly and kept a candlestick under my pillow. When I had chased her out of my room for the second time, she resorted to jabbing me with needlework pins whenever I passed her in the hallway. She railed at my uncle, telling him I was an "impudent baggage" and should be married off immediately, my age not withstanding. My uncle listened silently but did nothing. Penelope continued her secret harassments.