Home > The Nobleman's Guide to to Scandal and Shipwrecks

The Nobleman's Guide to to Scandal and Shipwrecks
Author: Mackenzi Lee

 

 

London

17—

 

 

1


In my defense, I did not intend to punch Richard Peele in the face.

I cannot imagine any scenario in which I would intentionally swing at a fellow member of the peerage, face or otherwise. I am not my soon-to-be brother-in-law Edward Davies, who just last month was expelled from the Kit-Kat Club for boxing Lord Dennyson in the nose when he suggested that whores should be publicly flogged more often as punishment for solicitation.

I would have wanted to do the same, but because I am Adrian Montague, not Edward Davies, notorious affable radical, I would have sat on my hands and kept my mouth shut as I composed a reply in my head that I could later put in a pamphlet. I would then write and rewrite and edit and rewrite and edit more and scrutinize the language until it no longer sounded like English and I had convinced myself I was illiterate and no one had ever had the heart to tell me.

Copies of the most recent of my certainly unreadable pamphlets are currently being foisted by Louisa Davies upon every pedestrian crossing the Hyde Park mall with the confidence usually only carried off by white rich men. Meanwhile I—said white rich man—lurk on the edges of the lawn, smudging the ink on my own stack with how much my palms are sweating. Even though I’ve now written four printed treatises on reform, I still don’t like seeing my words in print. It makes me want to reach for a pen and start striking things out. Anyone who says they enjoy my writing is clearly either lying or has terrible taste.

“We’re going to be arrested,” I say for at least the sixth time as Louisa returns to me, her stack noticeably thinner while mine remains robust.

And for the sixth time—perhaps the seventh, for she has a knack for speaking to my fears before I can voice them—Louisa replies, “We are not going to be arrested. There is nothing illegal about offering gratis literature in a public park.”

I tug down my knit cap, though I’m sweating so much it seems likely to slip from my head like I’ve been greased. “It’s going to rain.”

“It’s not going to rain,” Louisa replies, though with less conviction and a glance upward. The sky is gray, and the thin clouds leach all color from the world. The park around us looks like a charcoal drawing, the skeletal tree branches smudgy from the London fog. We could have picked a fairer day, one with more ramblers out along these trails, feeding the ducks or playing lawn games, so that every approach didn’t feel like such an event. Though were the park more crowded, my anxiety would easily rearrange itself into a fear of being recognized. Even though my father is currently at our home in Cheshire, all gossip, like the proverbial roads to Rome, finds its way back to him. The news that his only son was handing out a radical leaflet calling for the closure of his primary charitable cause, the Saint James Workhouse, will reach him before the week’s end.

A tall man with a greatcoat pulled tight around him passes us. He’s walking quickly, head down, but Louisa still thrusts a pamphlet at him. “Support the closure of the Saint James Workhouse, sir!”

He spits at her. She manages to dodge, and it lands on the path at her feet, foamy and yellow like an uncooked egg.

“Arsehole!” Louisa shouts at the man’s back.

“Bitch,” he returns, throwing a lewd gesture over his shoulder without turning.

“Very creative!” She shoves a strand of hair from her eyes, then, like nothing happened, steps into the path of the next pedestrian. “Support the closure of the Saint James Workhouse? I have a pamphlet.”

This man pauses. “You want money for it?”

“No, sir,” she replies. “It’s yours to take, free of charge. A plea for reform from a new and exciting writer who goes by the name John Everyman.”

He takes it, and as he starts again on his way, Louisa whirls on me with a triumphant smile. “See, it’s not so bad!”

“You were just spit at.”

“Spit is easy to wash out. And he missed!” She gestures victoriously at her still-clean skirt. She’s dressed much plainer than I’m accustomed to seeing her—her usual silk day dress has been swapped for a neckerchief and a rough-cloth short gown pinned over a gray wool skirt. Her cardinal cloak feels almost violently red. It puts the ruby stone on the ring I gave her for our engagement to shame.

My own attire is driving me mad. After months of wearing nothing but mourning clothes in black and gray, any sort of color—even the unobtrusive browns and olive green I’m currently sporting—feels garish. The collar of my shirt is so tight I can’t breathe right. Or maybe it’s the buttons on the waistcoat. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m wearing clothes at all. It all feels too small on me, and every spot on my body where the cloth touches my skin itches. The day is chilly and damp in the way London is always damp, even when it’s not raining, but I can’t stop sweating. How does sweat actually work? Does it leak out of every pore simultaneously? Because that feels like what’s happening to me. Is there a point at which I will have expelled all the sweat from my body and start dripping blood instead? I try to resist checking the front of my shirt, but if I don’t, it will be all I can think of, and maybe I am bleeding, in which case I really need to know—

“Adrian.”

I look up, and Louisa is watching me. I expect she’ll scold me for not doing my part—though I don’t know why I think that, for Louisa has never scolded me for anything. But I’ve been scolding myself the entire time we’ve been here for my limp participation, so I assume she’s thinking the same.

“Are you cold?” she asks, then arches a skeptical eyebrow when I shake my head. “Really?”

I’m always cold. I’m cold in the middle of summer. I’m cold even though I’ve sweated through my shirt. Since I was young, my father has told me I’m too thin, my appetite overly affected by my moods. After my mother died, I almost stopped entirely, gripped with a fear that whatever I ate would make me sick and I too would meet a sudden end like she had. That fear would quickly tumble into its most refined form, panic, and that panic would have me gagging up anything I tried to swallow, terrified of death by pheasant or porridge or lukewarm tea. It made no matter that her stepping off a cliff into the sea was entirely unrelated to my own hypothetical demise. It was the unanticipated nature, death as a sudden impact without even a warning fall to precede it.

While before it has only ever been my father who commented on my weight, in the eight months since Mum died, I have crossed whatever threshold makes strangers feel entitled to comment upon my body and its failings. And though Lou has been heaping sugar into my tea and slicking everything she makes for me in so much butter even toast feels slippery, I still haven’t taken the stitching out of the waistband of my breeches, and I can feel the jut of my hipbones in a way that makes me too aware of my own frame.

Lou thumbs the edges of her stack like a card dealer in a casino, and I catch sight of the title and attribution. Even the fake name under which I write Whig literature, John Everyman, makes me queasy. It’s such a stupid name; why did I ever think it was funny or clever? I can’t even come up with a decent nom de plume; what made me think I was smart enough to write an entire pamphlet on workhouse reform?

Hot Books
» House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
» From Blood and Ash (Blood And Ash #1)
» A Kingdom of Flesh and Fire
» Deviant King (Royal Elite #1)
» Sweet Temptation
» Chasing Cassandra (The Ravenels #6)
» Den of Vipers
» Angry God (All Saints High #3)
» Steel Princess (Royal Elite #2)
» The Sweetest Oblivion (Made #1)
» Serpent & Dove(Serpent & Dove #1)
» ENEMIES
» Credence
» Archangel's War
» Fake It 'Til You Break It