Toby looked back at the boys. His face flushed with embarrassment. “They’re not my brothers, m’lady. They belong to the family I am staying with.”

“Just be back in an hour and make sure you eat something healthy. Save the sweets for later,” she said, shoeing him away with a smile.

Toby nodded and took off running. Elizabeth watched as Toby gathered the boys who couldn’t be older than four and five years old. It broke her heart to see children on the street.

She thanked the footman holding the door open for her and walked inside the shop, not surprised to find her mother and sister frowning at her.

“Really, Elizabeth, Papa does not give you an allowance to waste on the likes of them. He gives his alms every month. This is insulting him to say the least,” Heather sniffed as she tried to look down her pudgy nose at Elizabeth, but she didn’t care.

“Don’t bother asking your father for more money. If you chose to waste it, then that’s your problem,” her mother added.

“I never do,” she said softly as she prepared herself for the torture that she’d have to endure over the next hour.

Her family didn’t understand why she used her allowance to help the less fortunate instead of on new trinkets, ribbons and such. Well, that wasn’t true. Mary understood perfectly. She was the one who’d taught Elizabeth compassion. Just thinking about Mary made her smile. She was going to see her tonight.

Her parents were dragging her to every ball, dinner and social occasion they could find as per their agreement. They were acting a bit desperate even though she was currently being courted by several men.  It wasn’t hard to guess why. She’d turned down fifty-five proposals in the last five years and her parents were becoming worried that they would have another spinster on their hands.

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to marry. She just didn’t want to marry for anything less than love. Mary found love and she was determined to as well. There was one thing that she was sure of; she wasn’t going to find love at one of the ton’s parties with the same old dreary lot that she’d grown up with. She knew that she wasn’t going to find love in some dusty old ballroom or among the group she'd known all her life. When she found love, it would be somewhere unexpected, she knew that much at least.

“Now come along. We have a lot to do today. We need to be back before five so that we can be ready on time. I want to arrive in time for you to dance the first waltz.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow at that comment. Why was her mother suddenly worried about her missing the first waltz? She usually liked to arrive late, everywhere. According to her mother, it made for a better entrance and left Elizabeth’s suitors nervous, which was the way a suitor should be left. Her mother expected her suitors to pine over her and be in despair if she didn’t arrive on time. Something was going on and she was afraid that she was going to find out too late to do anything about it.

An hour later, Elizabeth and her maid carried several large parcels out of the shop. She stopped in front of the store and looked around. Toby was nowhere to be found.

“I told you, Elizabeth. You’re far too trusting,” Heather said with a sniff as she walked past her carrying nothing. She walked arm in arm with their mother towards their next destination. A footman carried their large pile of parcels to the carriage.

“I was sure he would remain, m’lady,” her maid said with a smile that said otherwise.

“I was too,” she said, sighing heavily as she held the parcels higher. “No use fussing over it. What’s done is done.”

In truth, she didn’t mind one bit. If he’d returned, she would have found a way to give him more money without insulting his pride, but if he needed to leave then that was fine. She had no doubt the boy would use the money to fill his tummy and that was all she cared about.

“M’lady!” a small voice called out, sounding anxious and out of breath.

Elizabeth looked over her shoulder to see Toby running towards her. His brown hair was windblown and his pale grey eyes were as round as saucers. “I’m so sorry, m’lady!”

She nodded and handed her packages over to the boy. “That’s fine. You’re here now,” she said, smiling down at the boy, pleased that he’d returned.

“I was so worried you’d find another lad. I swear that I tried to get back sooner, m’lady.”

“What took you so long?” her maid rudely asked.

Elizabeth threw her a look of warning. That seemed to work, but unfortunately not before Toby’s hopeful expression turned worried.

“I'm sorry. Timmy isn’t used to a full stomach so I had to see him home," he explained in a rush.

“That’s fine, Toby. I quite understand. Shall we be off?” Elizabeth said with a smile, hoping to change the subject so that Toby would stop worrying about being replaced.

He nodded. “Which one is your carriage, m'lady?”

She gestured to the black carriage across the busy street that bore her family’s seal. With a nod, Toby took off running across the street and nearly gave Elizabeth heart failure when he narrowly missed getting struck by a passing carriage. He quickly handed the packages over to the coachman, ran back to take her maid's packages and delivered them to the carriage. When he was done, he returned to Elizabeth's side and walked with her to the next shop.

For the next three hours Toby was at her beck and call. He never complained about the number of packages or the length of the wait. When they were done for the day Elizabeth turned her back on her mother while they got into the carriage. Toby stood in front of her, shifting nervously.

“I'm sorry I was late,” he said softly.

She gave him a reassuring smile. “It’s okay. Do you know where Belford Manor is?”

He stood straight and nodded. “Well, if you can find Belford Manor tonight, go around the back to the kitchen and tell them Lady Elizabeth sent you. They shall have some very delicious treats for you,” she promised him, hoping the kitchen staff would do more than just give the boy some treats.


“Yes," she smiled, "and I suspect if you were to offer some help, you'd earn some food to take home to your friends.”

"I will! I'll work real hard!" he said excitedly.

She reached into her reticule and pulled out a pound note. She handed it to the boy. “This is for doing such a fine job, Toby. Next time I’m shopping I shall ask for you by name.”

His fingers shook as he reached out for the note. He looked as if he thought this might be some cruel joke. “Go on, take it,” she encouraged him. He did, slowly.

“Thank you, m’lady,” he said, looking up at her. Elizabeth had to bite her lip to stop herself from crying. Toby smiled shyly at her as if she were an angel.

“Go on now. Take care of yourself, Toby, and make sure to come by for some food.”

He nodded firmly. “I will, m’lady.”

He watched as she climbed into her carriage with the help of her coachman. He quickly hid the note in his shoe and walked away, smiling.

Chapter 3

“Oh, do stop pouting, Robert,” his mother said teasingly.

He glared at her from across the carriage. “I am not pouting,” he said firmly. “I just don’t understand why…no, let me fix that, how you managed to talk me into this.”