The Trouble with Honor | Chapter 41 of 45

Author: Julia London | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2413 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

GEORGE WALKED INTO his house and went directly to the salon, poured himself a whiskey, downed that and then hit the wall with his fist again. The pain was excruciating, driving him to his knees.

It did not compare to the pain of humiliating Honor before half the ton. But what could he do? Dammit all to hell, why had she come? She thought she could publicly challenge him, force him to her will? She thought she could cheat her way into his heart? She thought she could make such an unreasonable, impossible demand and win?

On all fours, gasping at the pain, George smiled a little. That brazenness, that absurd sense of righteousness, was why he loved her. No other woman could compete with that audacity, and he found it alarmingly arousing.

But that did not change the fact that he was in no position to offer for her. He was working the gaming hells to keep food on his table—it was hardly anything to settle on a wife. There would be no servants, no gowns, no hats.... “She’ll never agree,” he whispered through his teeth.

“Agree to what?”

Finnegan had entered without George hearing him. George groaned with exasperation, fell onto his side and rolled onto his back. “She’ll not agree to marry a man with nothing, that’s what.”

Finnegan stepped over him, picked up the glass George had dropped before hitting the wall, and as George tested his fingers, Finnegan filled it. “Are you certain?” he asked as he crouched beside George. “Rather seems to me that the only thing the lass wants is you.”

George sat up, took the whiskey and downed it. “Because she is young and in love, Finnegan. After a time, she’ll want her gowns and shoes, and at present, I can’t even pay your bloody wage, much less provide for her and all the Cabots as they ought to live.”

“She has a dowry, does she not?” Finnegan asked practically.

George snorted and waved a hand at him.

“I suggest, sir, that if you want this lass as you apparently do, judging by the number of times you’ve slammed your fist into a wall, that you find employment so that you can provide for her and all the Cabots, as you say.”

“Pardon?” George asked.

“Employment,” Finnegan said, as if the word was foreign. “Work. It is an activity that other, less fortunate persons such as myself find necessary to do.”

George snorted. “What, do you suggest that I become a valet?”

“Absolutely not. You’d be utterly useless in that capacity. It would appear that your talents lie in the buying and selling of commodities. Cotton, for example. Were I you, I’d begin there.” Finnegan stood up, stepped over George again. “Shall I send for the physician to set your hand again?” he asked as he walked to the door.

“Yes.” George sighed and settled on his back, his injured hand on his chest, looking up at the painted ceiling.

Employment. A wage. It had been quite a long time since he’d worked for wages. But if he had even a modest income, he might sell this house—the symbol of the man he’d become, which, in hindsight, had been a bit of a cruel joke—and put himself, a wife and even a bloody cock of a valet in a respectable manor.

Honor would find the notion reprehensible, and if she didn’t, she was a bigger fool than he’d believed. But that was all he could do. Without a ship, without sufficient funds in the bank, his hands were broken. Quite literally.

George sat up, picked himself up, shoved his good hand through his hair. He’d lived through worse than this, that was certain. And he’d never been afraid of honest work. If there was one thing he might say for himself, it was that he believed in his ability to pull himself up.

Employment. He would call on Sweeney on the morrow. Perhaps he might partner with his agent. George certainly had the connections to buy and sell cotton, which Sweeney could use.

George went to find a comb to make himself presentable before the physician arrived a second time.

* * *

THREE DAYS PASSED before Honor finally stopped crying or lying listlessly about, staring into space. But it was Mercy who finally convinced Honor that the time for grieving had passed. “I think you should ring for a bath,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

“Fine,” Honor snapped. She wound her hair up, pulled on her dressing gown and stumbled down to the breakfast room while a bath was drawn.

Augustine and her sisters were in the dining room. Augustine came instantly to his feet, his fork clattering to the floor in his surprise. “Honor, darling,” he said, his eyes wide as he took her in. “You’re all right, aren’t you? You’re on the mend? You’ll return to yourself, will you?”

“She’s not going mad, if that’s what you think,” Prudence said.

Of course they all knew what had happened to Honor that night in Southwark. All of London knew it. Mr. Jett, her savior, had been unable to keep from telling the tale—casting himself in the role of hero, naturally.

“I’m all right,” Honor said, and sat heavily in a chair beside him. Augustine slid his plate to her, offering her bacon. Honor shook her head and turned away from it. The sight of food made her ill.

“I think you must pick yourself up,” Augustine said. “Rally and all, that sort of thing. Monica and I thought perhaps it might be best if you had a rest at Longmeadow.”

Honor gave him a wary glance.

“It would seem best until the Season is done, do you not agree?” he asked, wincing a little at the suggestion, as if he expected her to lash out at him.

“Actually, Augustine, I do,” she said, surprising her stepbrother. “I would like nothing more than to leave London and hopefully never see George Easton again.” She shook her head at the breakfast Hardy offered her, but allowed him to pour tea.

Augustine munched on his bacon, studying her. “Shall I send for anyone? Grace, perhaps?”

“No!” Honor said quickly, sitting up. “Please, no, Augustine. She will be quite cross with me, and besides, she should have a few weeks of happiness before word reaches her of what will surely be the Season’s most infamous scandal.”

“I suppose,” he said uncertainly. “Oh, Honor, I cannot help but ask—why did you do it? To Southwark, of all places! Alone! Mrs. Hargrove was quite beside herself, but I told her if you went, there was a very good reason for it. There was a very good reason for it, wasn’t there?”

“I had a very good reason for me,” she said flatly. “My feelings are entirely too complicated to explain properly, but perhaps you will understand if I ask if you’ve ever admired someone so completely that you believed you couldn’t possibly draw your next breath without them?”

Prudence and Mercy looked curiously at each other, but Augustine nodded enthusiastically.

“Or loved someone with every bit of yourself, and convinced yourself there is no point in carrying on without them?”

Again, Augustine nodded adamantly.

“Truly, Honor?” Mercy asked. “You wanted to die?

“Not die, precisely,” Honor said. “But I can’t explain how I feel for Mr. Easton, darling. It seemed so...important,” she said with a weary shake of her head. “I went to tell him how I felt. To prove it. But the only thing I accomplished was my complete humiliation and ruin.”

Augustine leaned forward. “But...but might you have told him somewhere besides Southwark?” he asked carefully. “Perhaps without a lot of gaming and such? Perhaps a more private venue.”

Honor smiled for the first time in days. “No,” she said with a slight shake of her head. “That’s the peculiar thing. Southwark was a perfectly natural place for George and me. That’s the sort of people we are—swashbucklers.”

“Oh, dear,” Augustine said, looking truly distressed.

“But—” Mercy leaned forward, pushed her spectacles up the bridge of her nose “—doesn’t he want to marry you?”

Honor ran her hand over her sister’s head. “No,” she said, her voice so low she scarcely heard it herself. Tears filled her eyes at the admission.

“Oh, dear,” Augustine said again. “It’s the Rowley business all over again.”

“This is nothing like the Rowley business,” Honor corrected him. “Lord Rowley didn’t love me. The worst thing about this tragedy is that George Easton truly loves me.”

“That makes no sense,” Mercy said, squinting up at her through her spectacles. “If he loves you, why will he not marry you?”

“Mercy, leave her be,” Prudence said gently.

They didn’t ask her more, all of them falling into contemplative silence.

Honor took the bath Mercy had recommended. She donned her mourning garb, left her hair loose, having no energy or desire to put it up. She padded aimlessly and barefoot about the house, staring solemnly at portraits, wondering after their wretched romances. She picked up books and put them down again.

She had no idea what to do, where to go after such colossal ignominy. There seemed no place for her life to go.

Honor wandered up to her mother’s suite to read to her. Lady Beckington stood at the window, staring out as Honor read listlessly from a book.

“He’s come,” her mother said as Honor read.

Honor looked up. “Who, Mamma?”

“That man. The earl!” she said, and smiled brightly. “He’s come. Oh, dear, have you any shoes?”

“I’ll put them on later,” Honor said, and returned to her reading.

Her mother was not listening, however. She leaned forward, her hands on the window, her nose pressed against it. “He’s coming, Juliette!” she said excitedly, calling Honor by her deceased sister’s name. “The earl is coming here.

Honor sighed and put aside the book. “Come and rest, Mamma.”

Her mother hurried to her vanity. She opened a drawer and rummaged through it, and turned around, her smile bright, and held out an emerald drop necklace to Honor. “Here, then. It will go very well with your gown.”

Honor looked down at her black gown.

Her mother was quickly at her side, turning her about, pushing her hair away to fasten the heart-shaped emerald at her throat. She turned Honor around again and stood back, nodding her head with approval. “You want to look your best for the earl!” her mother exclaimed. “Who stole your shoes?”

“No one stole my shoes—”

“Honor!”

It was Prudence, calling to Honor from down the hallway. “Honor, where are you?” She burst into her mother’s room, her eyes wide. “It’s him!” she exclaimed in a loud whisper, and for a moment, Honor almost believed the earl had come back from the dead.

“Who?”

“Easton!”

Honor gasped. She unthinkingly stepped back, bumping into her mother. “No! No, Prudence, you must send him away! I don’t want to see him!”

“You must!” her mother said, pushing her forward. “You can’t deny the earl!”

Prudence looked confused by that, but said, “Augustine told him you’d not see him, and Easton said, very well, he would stand in the foyer until he was forcibly removed.”

“What?” Honor’s heart began to pound painfully in her chest. She frantically looked down. “I can’t see him!” she said. “I can’t endure it!”

“Honor,” Prudence said, and grabbed her hand. “I must tell you, he was very stern with Augustine. He insisted that he see you, that he owed you this, that you deserved this call.”

Something snapped in Honor. She would never be entirely certain what it was Prudence had said that put the steel in her spine, but she was struck by a rare moment of clarity when all of the knowledge she possessed about the world and people came into sharp focus. The pieces of her life, of her heart, rearranged themselves into a crystal understanding.

Honor looked at her mother. Lady Beckington was smiling serenely. “You mustn’t keep the earl waiting, darling. That will only make him more determined.”

Truer words had never been spoken, and with newfound strength, Honor surged forward, wrapped her arms around her mother and held her tight. When she let go, she looked at Prudence. “How do I look?”

“A fright,” Prudence said.

“Good.”

She swept out of the room, marching down the corridor, then pausing at the top of the stairs. He was standing there, his legs braced apart, his arms folded over his chest. He had the growth of a beard on a clenched jaw. Her heart leaped, somersaulting in her chest. “Easton!” she shouted down at him.

His head came up. Augustine was standing to one side, looking as if he might faint. “Honor!” Augustine cried, “I tried to turn him away, but he’d not go!”

“He’ll go,” she said confidently, and ran down the stairs, her feet landing silently on the marble floor as she marched up to him, Prudence right behind her.

“What do you want?” she demanded. “Haven’t you done enough? As Augustine has said, I do not wish to see you. I’ve said all that I have to say to you, so, go!”

“Good God, someone should have taken you in hand many years ago,” he said flatly, his gaze traveling the length of her. “What did you think, Cabot, that you would dance into Southwark and force me to your will? That you would cheat to get your way?”

“You cheated?” Prudence exclaimed.

Honor ignored her. “What would you have had me do? You are so convinced of your own inferiority, it makes you blind and deaf to all reason!”

He took a menacing step forward. “Allow me to instruct you for a change, madam. Generally, it is the gentleman who makes the offer for the hand in marriage.”

She folded her arms. “Unless the gentleman is as stubborn as an old pig.”

A light sparked deep in his eyes. “And the gentleman generally makes the offer with an idea of how he might support the woman when she becomes his wife. Am I right, Sommerfield?” he demanded without looking at Augustine.

“Me?” Augustine squeaked.

“Yes, you!” Easton bellowed, his gaze locked on Honor’s.

“It is, yes, most certainly it is,” Augustine quickly agreed.

Honor’s eyes narrowed with her ire. “Is there a point to your call, sir? You have rejected my declarations not once, but twice. Am I to be rebuffed a third time? If that is your intent, it is not necessary, for I heard you quite plainly the first two times!”

“The first two times you assumed the role of the gentleman in this affair between us. I was not in a position to make that offer, Honor, but did that give you the slightest pause? No—you insisted on shaming me in front of all of London.”

Honor gasped with outrage. “Shame? You will talk to me of shame?” she cried, her hands curling into fists as she rose up on her toes.

“No one invited you to Southwark. In fact, my recollection is that several told you to leave!”

“Sometimes one must take matters into her own hands!”

“Oh,” he said, almost jovially. “And we’ve all seen how well taking matters into your hands has done for you, have we not?”

She gaped at him. “At least I’m not afraid.

“I never feared you!” he cried to the ceiling. “But I was not prepared for you. I don’t know that I shall ever be prepared for the likes of you, Honor Cabot, but nevertheless, I have done my best by seeking employment—”

“You see? You insist on making things impossible!” Honor cried, poking him hard in the chest.

“Employment!” Augustine said, confused.

“And I have obtained it.”

Honor had no idea what he was talking about. “Obtained what?

“Employment, I think,” Prudence said, sounding as confused as Augustine looked.

“That’s right,” Easton said, nodding. “I have sought employment. I am the new agent at Mr. Sweeney’s offices. I lost my fortune, and I could not provide for you, Honor. Now, at the very least, I can provide you a modest home. I can feed you. I might even feed one or two more of the virtues,” he said, gesturing at Prudence. “I can clothe you...somewhat. But I cannot allow you to buy bonnets for eight bloody pounds.”

“Pardon...what?” Honor said, as her heart began to flutter in her chest.

“And I must warn you, this loss of fortune may happen again and again. I live my life by taking risks. Sometimes my pockets are full. Sometimes they are not.”

Honor’s fluttering heart changed tempo. It began to race, feeling as if it might lift her off the ground.

“Do you understand?” he demanded, taking her by the elbow.

“Yes,” she said, her voice full of wonder. “I understand that this is a very bad offer for my hand.”

Easton smiled. “Do you still feel the same?” he asked softly. “Can you accept what I am telling you?”

She nodded. Tears began to fill her eyes again, only these were tears of utter happiness. “Yes,” she said. “I can accept it all as long as you are there.”

George stepped back and went down on one knee. “Honor Cabot,” he said, “will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”

Honor wasn’t certain what happened after that. She believed she shouted yes. She remembered George sweeping her up, and there was much more shouting, which she believed came mostly from Augustine, something about how he could not possibly allow it. She remembered George kissing her so completely that she was light-headed with relief, with love, with lust.

And with much happiness. Euphoric, ethereal happiness. And a wild belief that with George, anything was possible.

George kissed her neck. “You’re a bloody fool,” he whispered. “I’m near to penniless.”

“I don’t care,” she said dreamily.

“You might have very well done the most heartwarming thing anyone has ever done for me, do you know that?”

“I did?”

“You cheated to try to win me, Honor. I’ve never been so flattered. But good God, lass, learn how to cheat,” he said, and smothered her with his kisses again.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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