The Beggarmaid by Lesley-Anne McLeod

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Lady Iphigenia Brierley is trapped by a poverty that she must conceal from the beau monde. She lives on the fringes of society, satisfying her hunger at the ton parties to which she is invited and gambling to obtain money for clothing. The Marquess of Wessington is wealthy beyond her imagining, and has a respected and admired place in society. His return to London from travels abroad coincides with a time of crisis in her pitiable family. He offers himself first as her friend, then as her rescuer. Finally, he asks for her hand in marriage. But the question to which Genia requires an answer is...why?


The theatre was thronged with playgoers of all ranks although as they ascended the stairs to the boxes the crowds thinned. Boningale made a display of ushering her within his box, and when he closed the door, the click of the latch caused Genia's nerves to jump. Her misgivings were justified; within the box sat four of Boningale's cronies leering at her. It was immediately evident that they regarded her as something less than a lady.

Genia was relieved when the play began within minutes. Her relief was short-lived. Neither the performance on the stage nor the disapproval of nearby playgoers silenced the antics of her companions. Their lewd jests and indecorous behaviour brought a wash of colour to her cheeks, and temper sparked her eyes. Within the half-hour, she demanded of Boningale that he take her home. He ignored her request. He had never before behaved with such a degree of impertinence. She could only assume he was emboldened by his friends' presence. His talk was loose and his hands were free. Even a cold reserve on her part could not quell his ribald comments and lascivious regard.

She could pay scant attention to the stage in the first act of the performance. She was busy fending off Boningale's familiarities and planning for escape during the interval. She would not admit to worry, but she grieved that the remains of her reputation would be in shreds. As the act ended however, there was a firm rap on the box door.

It opened before any of the occupants moved, to admit the Marquess of Wessington.

Genia laughed outright, in nervous relief. "Wessington!" she exclaimed with unfeigned delight.

He said nothing at first, only stared blightingly at Boningale who had his chubby hand on Genia's silk-covered knee. When the hand was removed, he turned his hard black stare on each of the other young men in turn. To Genia, light-headed with relief, it seemed the men blanched. The marquess had an air of menace about him.

When he spoke, it was very quietly, his deep voice devoid of civility. "You will all vacate this box now. You may return in the next act. You will not discuss this matter with anyone and you will not approach this lady again...ever."

He looked for the first time at Genia. She coloured deeply as he regarded. He did not turn his head as the younger men filed sullenly out of the box. Genia's relief faded as she was left with him, for his expression remained very cold. Many faces were turned toward the box avid with curiosity, some reflecting disdain, some disapproval.

"You were in the country," she said, flicking her curls into place with nervous fingers. She stood, drawing up her peach gauze scarf, and moved into the shadows at the back of the box. She could bear the curious stares no longer.

"I am returned," he said, joining her out of the flaring lamplight. His broad shoulders completed the protection that the shadows offered.

Genia stared up into his face, searching for some emotion that she could understand, some feeling to which she could respond. There was nothing to be read in his still, cold features. She hurried into speech. "I wished to see the play so very much. I thought my only companion was to be Boningale. I did not was only that some of them were new to town. They thought..."

"They thought you were of a class of woman who could be treated with little respect, and no honour. They had as well likely heard of your stroll down St. James, and your gambling excursions. A touch of exclusivity would enhance your charms," he concluded with a snap.

Guilt fired Genia's temper and she blazed up at him despite her shame and regret. "Do not dare to speak to me as if I were a...a Cyprian!"

  • Published by: Uncial Press

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