"That, too," he grumbled. "May I have another egg?"
Elizabeth's own stomach growled in sympathy. "We haven't any extras," she said.
Jane looked at her suspiciously. "You didn't eat anything, Lizzie."
"I eat breakfast with Lady Danbury," Elizabeth lied.
"Have mine." Jane pushed what was left of her breakfast—two bites of egg and a wad of bread so mangled that Elizabeth would have had to have been far, far hungrier even to sniff at it—across the table.
"You finish it, Janie," Elizabeth said. "I'll eat at Lady Danbury's. I promise."
"I shall have to catch a very big fish," she heard Lucas whisper to Jane.
And that was the final straw. Elizabeth had been resisting this husband hunt; she hated how mercenary she felt for even considering it. But no more. What kind of world was it when eight-year-old boys worried about catching fish, not because of sport, but because they worried about filling their sisters' stomachs?
Elizabeth threw her shoulders back and marched to the door. "Susan," she said sharply, "a word with you?"
Jane and Lucas exchanged glances. "She's going to get it because she forgot to cook the toast," Jane whispered.
"Raw toast," Lucas said grimly, shaking his head. "It goes against the very nature of man."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes as she walked outside. Where did he come up with these things?
When they were safely out of earshot, she turned to Susan and said, "First of all, I want no mention of this— this husband hunt in front of the children."
Susan held up Mrs. Seeton's book. "Then you're going to follow her advice?"
"I don't see how I have any choice," Elizabeth muttered. "Just tell me those rules."
Elizabeth was muttering to herself as she entered Danbury House that morning. Truth be told, she'd been muttering to herself the entire walk over. She had promised Susan that she would try to practice Mrs. Seeton's edicts on Lady Danbury's new estate manager, but she didn't see how she could do this without immediately breaking Edict Number Two:
NEVER SEEK OUT A MAN. ALWAYS FORCE HIM TO COME TO YOU.
Elizabeth supposed that was one rule she was going to have to break. She also wondered how to reconcile Edicts Three and Five, which were:
YOU MUST NEVER BE RUDE. A HIGHBORN GENTLEMAN NEEDS A LADY WHO IS THE EPITOME OF GRACE, DIGNITY, AND GOOD MANNERS.
NEVER SPEAK TO A MAN FOR MORE THAN FIVE MINUTES. IF YOU END THE CONVERSATION, HE WILL FANTASIZE OVER WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE SAID NEXT.
EXCUSE YOURSELF AND DISAPPEAR TO THE LADIES' RETIRING ROOM IF YOU MUST. HIS FASCINATION WITH YOU WILL GROW IF HE THINKS YOU HAVE OTHER MATRIMONIAL POSSIBILITIES.
This was where Elizabeth was really confused. It seemed to her that even if she excused herself, it was rather rude to leave a conversation after only five minutes. And according to Mrs. Seeton, a highborn man needed a lady who was never rude.
And that didn't even begin to include all of the other rules Susan had yelled at her as she left the house that morning. Be charming. Be sweet. Let the man talk. Don't let on if you're smarter than he is.
With all this nonsense to worry about, Elizabeth was rapidly warming to the idea of remaining Miss Hotchkiss, aging spinster, indefinitely.
When she entered Danbury House, she proceeded immediately to the drawing room, as was her habit. Sure enough, Lady Danbury was there, sitting in her favorite chair, scribbling out some sort of correspondence and muttering to herself as she did so. Malcolm was lazing on a wide windowsill. He opened one eye, judged Elizabeth unworthy of his attention, and went back to sleep.
"Good morning, Lady Danbury," Elizabeth said with a shake of her head. “Would you like me to do that for you?'' Lady Danbury suffered from achy joints, and Elizabeth frequently wrote out her correspondence for her.
But Lady Danbury just shoved the paper into a drawer. "No, no, not at all. My fingers feel quite the thing this morning." She flexed her hands and jabbed them in the air at Elizabeth, like a witch casting some sort of spell. "See?"
"I'm glad you're feeling so well," Elizabeth replied hesitantly, wondering if she'd just been hexed:
“Yes, yes, a very fine day. Very fine indeed. Provided, of course, you don't go and start reading to me from the Bible again."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
"Actually, there is something you can do for me."
Elizabeth raised her blond brows in question.
"I need to see my new estate manager. He is working in an office adjoining the stables. Could you fetch him for me?''
Elizabeth managed to keep her jaw from falling open at the very last minute. Brilliant! She was going to get to see the new estate manager and she wasn't going to have to break Edict Number Two doing it.
Well, technically she supposed that she still was seeking him out, but it couldn't really count if she'd been ordered to do so by her employer.
"Elizabeth!" Lady Danbury said loudly.
Elizabeth blinked. "Yes?"
“Pay attention when I speak to you. It is quite unlike you to daydream."
Elizabeth couldn't help but grimace at the irony. She hadn't daydreamed in five years. She'd once dreamed of love, and marriage, and of going to the theater, and of traveling to France. But all of that had stopped when her father died and her new responsibilities made it obvious that her secret thoughts were mere pipe dreams, destined never to come true. "I'm terribly sorry, my lady," she said.
Lady Danbury's lips twisted in such a way that Elizabeth knew she wasn't truly annoyed. "Just fetch him," Lady D said.
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