Masquerading the Marquess(4)

By: Anne Mallory

Lady Simpson was sputtering, and her fan mimicked the action as it madly twitched.

Calliope did not falter as weeks of pent up abuse spewed forth. "How kind of you to decide not to recommend me to your friends. What a nuisance to search for a miracle cream to shrink Lady Killroy’s nose. I believe you called it piglike?"

Calliope raised her chin. "No, I don’t believe a reference from you would do me much good." She started walking and then turned. "By the by, you would make a wonderful lady’s maid. Keep it in mind in case fate is unkind."

Calliope swept out of the ballroom. A swath was made for her, people too agog at the verbal interchange to do anything but move out of her way. She marched up the curved staircase and looked toward the green-and-gold-liveried servants. They were staring avidly and showed no sign of movement, so she decided to abandon her cloak.

She exited the Killroy residence and halted at the drive, rubbing her arms. She hadn’t given a thought to how she would get home. And she had forgotten her cane on the terrace, blast Angelford.

She had no trouble walking most distances unaided, the cane was more a part of her disguise. But her right leg would not hold for the long trek to her real home.

"Miss Stafford! Miss Stafford!"

Terrence raced down the steps, his face etched with anxiety. He skidded to a stop in front of her.

"Where will you go? For whom will you work?"

Calliope’s shoulders drooped. It was easy enough to disappear and reappear when one used a variety of pseudonyms and attracted little attention, but after tonight she would have a difficult time re-entering society in a new guise. "I’m not sure, Mr. Smith. I’ll think about that later. Right now I must find a way home."

Terrence cast an uneasy glance toward the mansion’s entrance. Any minute the curious would be exiting to see if the spectacle might continue outside.

"Take my carriage. My driver will drop you at your residence." He told her how to identify his carriage and slipped two worn cards from his jacket. One was embossed with a heavy red wax seal, probably the symbol of his father’s baronetcy.

The other was a calling card. He handed her the latter. "Give this card to my driver and tell him your destination."

The night’s events started to weigh on her. She gripped his arm. "Thank you, Terrence. "

He looked startled at her use of his given name, but patted her hand. "Send a note around and let me know how you’re doing. "

She nodded and walked quickly toward the row of carriages parked along the lane. The merged voices of the guests increased in volume, so she stuck to the shadows. She located Terrence’s carriage and gave his card to the sleepy driver along with her direction. He asked no questions.

Inside the carriage, Calliope slumped into the well-worn seat and leaned her head against the door as the conveyance moved down the drive.

What a fiasco. Even though a voice in her head cruelly taunted her quick tongue, she placed the responsibility for the disturbance on the Marquis of Angelford. He was undoubtedly the one who had advised Lady Simpson to dismiss her.

One nobleman at a time. The sentiment was sound.

Intent on her thoughts, she missed the thoughtful figure standing in the doorway swinging her forgotten cane lightly in his hand.

Chapter 2

"Cal, don’t you think you’ve become a bit preoccupied with the Marquess of Angelford?"

Calliope shot Robert Cruikshank, her mentor and caricaturist extraordinaire, a fuming glance and dropped into her soft leather chair. "He provides so much material. How can one not take notice?"

Robert shook his head and ran a hand through his fashionably cut locks. "Three more drawings on the same subject—'The Travails of a Marquess.' It’s a bad idea to concentrate on one person, especially a peer who values his privacy. "

"I know, but admit it, they are good illustrations."

Robert inspected the drawing in his hand. "Better than good, they are inspired. Just be careful. Angelford is a powerful lord and isn’t accustomed to this type of attention. None of the other artists portray him in such a narrow, unflattering manner. "

Robert tossed the sheet to her and leaned back, crossing his shiny Hessians on the edge of her worn mahogany desk.

"At this juncture of your career it would be much easier, as well as safer, to portray those who expect and encourage the notoriety. "

Calliope groaned. "They’ve all been overworked."

Robert shook his head with more than a little irritation. "Cal, that’s one thing you need to accept. Everything doesn’t need to be new. One of an artist’s greatest challenges is to create something exciting from the mundane. "

"I understand Robert, really I do. I just think Angelford is an interesting subject." and he deserves the comeuppance, she added mentally.

Calliope scanned the image. The marquess was dodging carefully laid traps set by society mamas and debutantes as he scampered after a dozen scantily clad courtesans. Examining the caricature, she felt an odd mixture of satisfaction, anger, sadness and regret. Across the lower right she signed the name Thomas Landes with a flourish and slid the sheet back to Robert.

He sighed and carefully placed the sheet on top of the other two caricatures of the marquess. "The publishers are very pleased with your work.

Sales have increased and they are eager for the mysterious Mr. Landes to provide more fodder for their presses. You will notice an increased compensation. "

He handed her the banknotes and she noticed the look of pride he tried to conceal. She swelled beneath it.

"Thank you, Robert. You’re a dear friend, and I don’t know what I’d do without you. I’ll have a new selection for you next week, and I promise to choose a different subject." Behind her back she flexed her crossed fingers and promised herself she would indeed try.

His expression turned serious. "See that you do, Cal. I have an uncomfortable feeling about the direction you’re taking with the marquess. Most likely these three sketches of Angelford will be published every two weeks, to whet the public’s appetite. The others you did of him were much different." He shook his head. "Tongues will wag over these new ones, so be prepared for possible repercussions in the next few months."

"Then again," Robert said, and shrugged in his offhand manner, "since your work is selling well, perhaps you shouldn’t take my advice."

Calliope laughed but couldn’t hide her nervousness. He looked at her questioningly and lifted his eyebrows. "Out with it."

"Lady Simpson terminated my employment. I need to retire ‘Margaret Stafford.’”

"Yes, I know. Even the men at the clubs have been talking about the 'Killroy Incident.' You made Lady Killroy’s ball the event of the Season thus far. She is fair to preening from the attention, despite being called porcine."

Some of Calliope’s embarrassment must have slipped through her reserve, because Robert reached over and patted her hand. "You should be relieved at this turn of events. If I’m not mistaken, I believe you called Lady Simpson something akin to a harridan quite loudly in front of the entire assemblage.

"Regardless of your feelings for the woman or the fact that the position gave you entree into the ton, by your own admission you had almost drained her of ideas."

He motioned to a blank sheet of drawing paper. "You really ought to illustrate the occurrence from Margaret’s point of view. Other artists are bound to capitalize on the subject, and it would be best to have yourself well represented."

Calliope nodded, opened her top drawer and handed him an already sketched and signed caricature of the event. He took one look at it and roared with laughter.

The picture illustrated a sparrow with a bandaged leg and spectacles applying tar and feathers to a large-mouthed harpy standing in shock. In the background, ornately plumed birds had wide eyes focused on the twosome, and the flock was depicted gathering up bits and pieces of grain on the floor.

"And here is another. " She withdrew a second caricature. It was a tribute to Lady Simpson, who wielded a knife as she carved into a roasted pig bearing Lady Killroy’s features.

"These are fabulous. The public will love them."

She allowed herself a small smile. Paybacks were quite satisfying. One noble at a time.

"However, it does leave you in rather odd straits." Robert tucked the sketches into his leather satchel. "You may not be able to get a companion position under a different persona. There are limited ways in which one can appear severely dowdy and not be recognized. And you have stressed to me several times the desire for your real identity to remain anonymous."

Yes, anonymity was essential. Calliope knew society. Lady Salisbury had countless friends who would keep her fully abreast of the latest on-dits. And since Margaret Stafford definitely was in the on-dit category at present, Calliope could only breathe a sigh of relief that she had persisted with the disguises.

Robert’s hands were crossed in a contemplative fashion as he waited patiently for her response to the dilemma.

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