A man, his hands behind his back, was staring into the depths of that fire, a man whose very shape and stance bespoke familiarity. Lord Fitzroy Rispian of Andover turned to eye his guests.
Charity’s too pale lips parted in desperation, disbelief! Her petite hand flew to her beating heart, her bluebell-shaded eyes parted wide with fear and loathing. “Ah, you are surprised Miss Cottrell?” The lordship’s voice held a jocular nuance of menace. “Mayhap my lovely little ex-governess, you did not anticipate this night's journey nor setting eyes ’pon me?” Charity was at a loss for words. “Come, dear Miss Cottrell, or should I deem to address you as Mam’selle Hélène de Noir? Ah, yes! I did find out the whole plan. Tush: my cousin sometimes can be the most transparent of men and servants are so mercenary. There is so little loyalty around these days!”
Lord Rispian, with an affected gesture, flicked back a rambling glossy tendril from his opulent wig. If anything, his girth seemed to have increased in size in the last few months and the brilliant sheen of his satin flounces and frills only served to outline more precisely his portliness.
“But... I am being uncharitable, my sweet girl, perhaps you might care to warm yourself by the fire and partake of some refreshments, for you have a long and arduous journey ahead of you.”
She was manoeuvred, none too gently, from behind, and pushed towards both the fire and his lordship.
“A long journey...? I do not understand.”
Lord Rispian, who had turned again his face to the fire, his large, square hands hogging the warmth, turned his face in a sideways profile towards Charity, so that he looked more keenly down upon her now seated form. “Indeed! Miss Charity Cottrell. A long journey. A long SEA journey.”
Charity all but gawped at him, her expression incredulous. “But that cannot be. Have you not done wrong enough by merely bringing me here?! No! No! You shan’t succeed in doing this thing! Why, Lord Seyton Clover . . .”
Lord Rispian butted in: "Ah yes, Lord Seyton Clover, your protector! Your cherished saviour, your mentor! Never fear, Miss Cottrell; he shall be hard pushed to find your future habitation!" Lord Rispian returned his gaze to the fire, idly kicking a fallen smouldering log with the tip of his boot. “Mellors”
“Me Lord?” “Stack this fire a little, will ya, and bring us some refreshment, some bevvies. Don't stand on ceremony man. You may sit with us and partake in some victuals too. In fact, “ – here he shot a scorchingly lecherous glance in Charity’s frigidly held position on the hard, cold, straight-backed chair – “ I daresay Miss Cottrell would be only too glad to, shall we say, share your chaperoneship.”
He laughed sinisterly whilst Mellors hurried to the fire and slung a few logs from the pile beside the fire, onto the glowing embers. He was as swift in his departure from the room, closing the door softly behind him. Lord Rispian’s voice again boomed into life, though he did not turn to look again at Charity. “I think I have you to thank for a certain extended hang-over I had the misfortune to sustain earlier in the year. Is that not correct?”
Charity, realising the enormity of her peril, began to shake, trying meanwhile to pull the cloak even closer about her. Lord Rispian was on one knee, beside her chair. She felt imperilled merely by the close proximity of the nobleman.
“Well, where’s your answer, wench? But maybe we should let bye-gones be bye-gones, eh? I do believe a small kiss, whilst we are alone, might commence to make some recompense for the ill you so cruelly dealt me those months past.”
Charity struggled to get free of the thick-set and heavily pungent arms which encircled her. She did not even have the chance to demur, for his lordship was even then in the process of landing heavy and lascivious kisses upon her. His thick, sensual lips were all but slobbering over her own; he was trying to thrust his hot, furry tongue into the crevices of her own orifice. Out came the tongue, into her mouth. She bit. Hard.
He recoiled. “You little vixen, madame! You are all set, eh, to draw blood again!” He snorted: “I shall teach you manners yet, my lady!”
He was examining the extent of his injuries with a thick, hairy finger, reaching out the spot of blood which glowed on his fingertip, so that he might scrutinise it more fully.
His eyes and his voice took on a mean, hard, timbre and style:
“I shall have you yet me dear, when I am true and ready and you are trained to serve me. And you will not, believe me, have the opportunity, nor the inclination to bat as much as an eyelash in disfavour, let alone, bite! Now...”
His eyes were roving over the expanse of marble-white bosom now showing since the cloak had come adrift during the course of their amorous fracas. He reached a hand out, letting it slip down the swanlike white throat, the other hand grasping Charity hard by the hair, so that she could not move without causing herself acute pain. He started to investigate the spillage of her breasts, letting his fingers slide under the edge of her gown, tweaking the full protuberance of her teats, his mouth now half opened and showing a film of lust coating the teeth, misting their small, glossy tombstone shapes. He would have had her full breasts all but tipped from their thin, taut coverings had he not become aware of the door opening and the sound of Mellor's footsteps echoing across the room.
He relaxed his hold on her and withdrew his hands, pulling up another leather-padded chair. “Put the food there, Me Horse.” He indicated a small but hefty and highly polished table: “Fetch a stool for yerself, man. Daresay you’re feeling the nip in the air. Eat,” he commanded Charity, who had wriggled her undulating breasts back under decent cover. With a high colouring now rising upon her cheeks, Charity did as she was commanded.
She had been without sustenance for the last nine or ten hours and she was ravenous. They ate in silence, or, almost.
Lord Rispian was a loud and untidy eater, the sound of his teeth crunching into cold chicken wings was all too clearly telegraphed. He sucked in heartily on the juices of tomatoes and fruits, letting the liquid join the grease stains upon his chin.
Presently the food had been demolished and the plates carried away. “Liquid refreshment if you please.” Lord Rispian spat the command out of the corner of his overladen and salivating mouth. Mellors walked over to a long trestle table and returned with a tray set with decanters and goblets. “Pour us some port, Mellors. And you, what will you have, our seductive and much-prized guest?” “I should like nothing more than a glass of cold milk. I have not the head for anything stronger.” Strange, she felt of a sudden, overcome with tiredness. “Come, come, Miss Cottrell, we have some very fine old brandy here. Why not partake of a glass of this golden nectar? Then have your cold milk if you will so persist! Do you not think it grossly impolite to refuse to join us gentlemen in a libation, a toast, to our general happiness and well being?”
“In that case. Lord Rispian,” she tried to stifle a yawn, “I will gladly have ...whatever ...you...
Oh, but her eyes felt so tired, her eyelids felt as heavy as lead. Lord Rispian smiled bleakly in conspiratorial, sardonic manner, looking towards Mellors, his bondsman. “Mellors, two ports and one brandy. Large.” Mellors himself chanced an oblique, self-congratulatory smile, the ends of which frayed in Lord Rispian’s direction, after first having encircled Charity’s by now slumping form. The hand which Charity held towards the acceptance of the goblet was sluggish and weighty. “Go on, girl, take it to your ruby lips and swallow hard!”
Lord Rispian’s tones were buoyant, keyed up; the very antithesis to the object lesson which Charity now made materially evident by the pose of her sumptuous body. She did as she was bid and within half a minute of replacing the goblet, she was unconscious on the floor.
“Rightie ho, pick her up Mellors: put her on the trestle bench. Never fails, does it?” Mellors did as he was bid: “No Your Lordship, never does.” “What time do we have before the coach picks us up?” “I should say about another five hours at the most Lord Rispian.” “Fair enough, fair enough; and you are sure all is ready?” “Absolutely Your Lordship. The boat will be ready to embark once we are aboard her.” “Good. Good,” Lord Rispian’s tones were thoughtful, his eyes surveying the recumbent form of Charity Cottrell. “I know one thing for sure, dammit, don’ I jus’! Seyton Clover’s goona be a deuced bit apoplectic once he knows his fair nightingale's escaped his gilded cage! What! Hee! Hee!” The servant did not reply, just smirked and toasted as he raised his glass high. “Refill, Your Lordship?” “Don’ mind if I do. Something to celebrate after all! Now, hearken to this, Mellors: I want not a hair of her head as much stroked, understood? You are to regard that wench as though she were a flesh and blood statue of some virgin saint come to life. Got me?”
Mellors twitched mildly, his own hand shaking a trifle, as he refilled the glasses: “Yes Sir, Me Lordship.” He had forced a rigid note into the overly stentorian shading of his reply. “Good. Good. That little bit is worth more’n a small fortune to me, and don’t you forget that! Let’s say, her price increases the longer she is kept inviolate.... if indeed," he cast a speculative glance upon the slowly rising mass of bosom, the dainty hand thrown out to emphasise the shapeliness of cloth-moulded thigh, "She is a virgin. Still there’s novelty to a piece like her and that’s for sure. Whatever happens, I cannot lose!” These last words he uttered low, so that Mellors did not quite catch his meaning. “Novelty and value, indeed, Your Lordship. I shall bide by your rules Sir!” “Good man. Then I feel convinced I can leave her in your very considerate, shall we say? – kid-gloved hands. I shall be at me Lady de Esprit’s house by early December. I shouldn’t like to hear of any molestation of the goods, d’you hear me man, and pass that message on to Madame de Esprit, will you?" He extracted a sealed sheet of vellum: “Here, take this with you too.” The manservant took it and gave his strongest oath that nothing should fall to injure further the abducted Charity Cottrell. Well satisfied, Lord Fitzroy Rispian laid his heavy wigged head against the back of the chair. “Time for a few winks yet I believe. Wake me, Mellors, precisely fifteen minutes before the conveyance is due.” “Yes, Your Lordship.”
Mellors took out his pipe and stuffed a wad of aromatic tobacco deep into its slender cup. He smoked quietly, bright-eyed and alert, whilst his two companions slept soundly; if in one instance, not exactly the sleep of the righteous. Bar the whimpering sounds which escaped from Charity Cottrell’s moist lips now and then and the rumble of Lord Rispian’s nasal snores that was.
Mellors continued to think. He was bracing himself for the success of this mission. If he did well and his lordship was pleased, why, he’d soon be the proud possessor of his own small estate and a house. For this much, Lord Rispian had promised him. And he was not a man for breaking his word. Just as well, he mused, he had ordered the over-ripe little floozie Charity Cottrell, to keep her mouth buttoned up about their journey together in the coach.