Lady Ambleforth's Afternoon Adventure
Chapter Six - by Louise Allen
Three aristocrats, all in competition with each other, one highly-spirited stallion and a disapproving, red-faced clergyman jammed together in the tight confines of a rutted country lane did not make for the most comfortable of walks, Araminta discovered. An excess of masculinity might be exciting but one gentleman at a time – with the exception of poor Mr Hodges, of course – would be preferable.
Silverthorne, doggedly sticking to her right side, was far tenser than his indolent drawl suggested. His hand under her elbow was rigid and whenever the duke said anything his grip became almost painful.
‘Ouch!’ She shook his hand off and rather obviously curled her left into Dashing’s crooked elbow. ‘You should not tease, your grace,’ she murmured. ‘If Lord Torquil has some dreadful, devious, dastardly or disgraceful secret, you must share it with us.’
‘He will do no such thing,’ Silverthorne rapped out. ‘I’ll see to that.’
‘You and whose army?’ the duke enquired belligerently, promptly reducing the entire confrontation to schoolboy level. ‘You cannot expect to descend on some sleepy, unsophisticated country area –‘
‘We are not unsophisticated,’ Araminta protested and was ignored. Derek and Torquil were standing toe to toe in front of her, glowering at each other. Her indignation was overcome by a positively shameful excitement. These two magnificent specimens of manhood were about to fight, and, if not over her, then surely the stimulus of jealousy was contributing to their antagonism.
‘—and establish your ladybird, the most notorious actress in London, in a love nest and expect it to go unnoticed,’ the duke continued, unintimidated. ‘It is the talk of the Town that –‘
He got no further. Magnificent shoulders rippling, fist clenched, indolent elegance cast aside, Torquil bunched his right fist and hit him squarely on his rather too-pronounced chin. Derek Deverill landed on his ducal backside in a patch of thistles and let out a roar of pain and fury.
‘Hold the horse.’ Sir Ed pushed between Araminta and the curate and shoved the reins of the duke’s stallion into Mr Hodges’s pudgy hands. ‘Dashing! Silverthorne! There is a lady present!’
But it was too late for intervention, Araminta realised. The two men were rolling on the ground trading punches. She tried screaming in the faint hope that this would stop them, but she might as well have recited the works of the Poet Laureate for all the notice they took of her.
Sir Ed reached down, took hold of the duke’s collar and tried to drag him up. His reward was to receive Sir Torquil’s punch in the eye. With a bellow of rage he pitched into the fight, although quite who was attacking who now in the three-cornered conflict, Araminta had no idea.
‘Mr Hodges, you must intervene,’ she cried, but the stallion was rearing with the curate, no more effective than the skinniest stable boy despite his chubbiness, hanging onto the reins and shrieking in terror. ‘Men!’ Araminta muttered, casting around fruitlessly for assistance. Mr Probey the miller would be helpful. With his bulging muscles he could throw the lot of them into the mill stream and that would cool their ardour. But, of course, there was no help to be had.
‘Let go!’ she yelled at Mr Hodges, completely abandoning ladylike deportment. If the idiotic man did not release the reins he would be trampled. Thankfully he either heard her, or was shaken loose, for he let go, tumbled into the ditch with a splash and the stallion raced off back the way they had come.
Water – just what she needed. Araminta dropped her parasol, tore off her bonnet and pushed through the wild flowers to the ditch.
‘Lady Araminta, help me, please.’ Mr Hodges splashed feebly on his back like a stranded porpoise.
‘In a moment, sir. If you will only stop thrashing you will find you are in no danger of drowning, but those idiotic men must be stopped before they maim each other.’ Nobly sacrificing a magnificent (and expensive) example of Madame Mirabelle’s Modish Millinery (as advertised in La Belle Assemblée) Araminta scooped up brackish water in the deep-crowned straw bonnet, ran back and threw it over the heads of the combatants.
It worked magnificently. They fell apart gasping, then collapsed onto their backs, shaking their heads like so many wet water spaniels.
‘Let that be a lesson to you,‘ she began. But the response came not from the men at her feet but from a masked rider on a fine gelding that looked remarkably like Sir Ed’s missing mount.
‘Stand and deliver,’ he said and pointed a large pistol right at the group on the road. ‘Your money is safe, all I want is the lady.’
Louise Allen has a Christmas novella coming out in November - An Earl Beneath the Mistletoe. website www.louiseallenregency.co.uk for details of the Christmas edition it will appear inormation about her new novel, set entirely in India in the late 18thc and due in January 2013