“Mademoiselle Beauchamp! Please get that young woman out of the way,” said Mother Hildegarde.
“Of course.” I grabbed the girl by the arm. “Annalise darling, they can’t stitch up your poor Charles if you're laying on his wound.”
Annalise was in the middle of letting off a keening lament at the loss of a few drops of her beloved’s blood. Her eyes were puffy and full of tears, fear etched in every line of her face.
“He’s going to be alright, you know,” I said, handing her a cloth to wipe the downpour from her face. “It’s little more than a scratch.”
“Oh thank goodness. When he was struck by that Scottish sauvage, I feared I’d lost my darling Charles forever.”
“Oui. Seigneur Fraser. James Fraser.”
“And why did Seigneur Fraser strike Charles?”
“Oh,” she giggled. I tried not to roll my eyes at the young lady’s emotional lability. “Seigneur Fraser witnessed Charles bestowing affection on me and challenged him to a duel.”
“And where is Seigneur Fraser now?” I worried he was lying dead in a field somewhere, seeing as how Charles clearly won her hand.
Annalise shrugged as if it was inconsequential. “He injured my sweet Charles. The moment I saw blood, I rushed to my beloved’s side to offer him aid.”
I tried to picture what her “aid” was comprised of—tears and moans of agony, most likely. The foolish girl was probably enjoying every minute of this. I imagined the young, dashing Charles fighting a wild, tartan-wearing Scottish Highlander for the hand of the lovely, self-enamored Annalise.
What bloody idiots. It had the makings of a Shakespearean tragedy.
“I'm surprised you brought him to the charity hospital,” I said. “I would have thought you’d prefer to see a physician at your own house.”
“Oui. Our physician was not at his residence, and I was fearful that he would not be attended to in time.”
I looked once again at the injured abdomen. The wound hardly broke through his skin. “Hmm. It’s a wonder you got here in time. Who knows what would have happened if you had delayed.” Perhaps it would have healed on its own.
I kept her occupied until Charles was bandaged up and ready for a visitor. As Annalise rained kisses over his face, Mother Hildegarde came to my side.
“What a waste of time,” I grumbled, knowing the physicians had more urgent cases to attend to.
“Not a waste, my child,” said Mother Hildegarde.
The corner of her mouth turned up in amusement. “I’m sure the lovely young woman will be ever grateful for our life-saving intervention. God willing, she might offer a considerable donation to show her gratitude for our efforts.”
I chuckled as I unpinned my apron from my dress. “And hopefully encourage all her friends to do the same.”
“Well, I’d better be off. I was meant to meet my steward at the house an hour ago.”
“Will we be seeing you tomorrow? We could use your assistance with the expecting mothers.”
“I’ll certainly do my best. I have a meeting with a distributor in the morning, and you know how that can be.” I’d be lucky to remain sober before noon. “Bonsoir, Mother Hildegarde.”
“Bonsoir, my dear.”
“Miss Beauchamp, there you are,” said my young and excitable steward, Alex Randall. He rushed toward me with a quill and stacks of parchment in hand.
“Yes, yes. I’m sorry I’m late.” I removed my gloves and hat, dropping them into the waiting hands of my housekeeper. “Tell me. How is everything today?”
Alex was flushed and sweaty—more so than usual—which told me he was exceptionally nervous about something. “It’s the Comte de Maurepas, Miss Beauchamp.” He audibly swallowed and wiped his brow. “He...has decided…to...”
“Out with it, Alex.”
“He’s decided...to no longer continue his business arrangement with you. He’ll be purchasing his spirits elsewhere.”
“What? Why? Is it because I’m a woman?” It wouldn’t be the first customer I’d lost since Uncle Lamb died last winter because I didn't posses a cock.
“No, well, we can’t be certain of such things, but…”
“I was informed the Comte was charmed by Jared Fraser’s nephew who has been visiting from Scotland.”
“Fraser? Why does that...No!” The brute responsible for Charles winding up at the hospital! “His name wouldn’t happen to be James Fraser, would it?”
“I believe so.”
“Just so, Miss Beauchamp.”
“Alex, I don’t know how many times I’ve told you, please call me Claire.”
He gave an uncomfortable, formal bow. “Of course, Miss Claire.”
The problem was that Jared Fraser and his bloody nephew were men. They were able to woo customers away from expiring contracts, because I wasn’t allowed into half the places they had access to. Private audiences with the king, gentlemen’s clubs, and brothels. And Alex wasn’t really capable of socializing in the French courts because he couldn’t procure an invitation as a steward. I worried that what was left of the decades-long business relationships that my uncle and father developed would be dissolved by the end of the year.
I had to figure out a way to keep their business, and that meant finding a seat at their table—one I wasn’t invited to sit at, much less do business.
“If I may,” said Alex nervously, “it might be a good time to reconsider—”
“No!” I snapped. I cringed at my snappish response. “You know where I stand on the idea of marriage for the sake of the business. Nothing has changed in that regard since our last conversation.”
“Pardon me for overstepping, but—”
“The subject is closed, Alex.”
“But, Miss Beauchamp—”
“Miss Claire, apologies, but I cannot keep this business afloat for long if we don’t have someone to partake in social events with our clientele. I have word that Fraser’s nephew arranged a meeting with several innkeepers even at Mason Elise tomorrow night. If you were married, your husband could—”
“Could what? Take over my family’s business? Philander around with whores at a brothel? You’re out of your bloody mind.”
“Claire,” said Alex, shaking his head, “it’s the only way to—”
“I’ll tell you this, Alex Randall. The only way a man will take possession of what's mine will be over my cold, stiff, dead body. Do I make myself clear?”
“Of course, Miss Claire.”
“I don’t want to hear your suggestion of marriage again.”
Alex nodded and kept his mouth closed, but his objections were still painted clear on his face. And the worst part was, he was bloody right. If I refused to marry, my livelihood was as good as gone.