“I was sure he would remain, m’lady,” her maid said with a smile that said otherwise.
“I was too,” she said, sighing heavily as she held the parcels higher. “No use fussing over it. What’s done is done.”
In truth, she didn’t mind one bit. If he’d returned, she would have found a way to give him more money without insulting his pride, but if he needed to leave then that was fine. She had no doubt the boy would use the money to fill his tummy and that was all she cared about.
“M’lady!” a small voice called out, sounding anxious and out of breath.
Elizabeth looked over her shoulder to see Toby running towards her. His brown hair was windblown and his pale grey eyes were as round as saucers. “I’m so sorry, m’lady!”
She nodded and handed her packages over to the boy. “That’s fine. You’re here now,” she said, smiling down at the boy, pleased that he’d returned.
“I was so worried you’d find another lad. I swear that I tried to get back sooner, m’lady.”
“What took you so long?” her maid rudely asked.
Elizabeth threw her a look of warning. That seemed to work, but unfortunately not before Toby’s hopeful expression turned worried.
“I'm sorry. Timmy isn’t used to a full stomach so I had to see him home," he explained in a rush.
“That’s fine, Toby. I quite understand. Shall we be off?” Elizabeth said with a smile, hoping to change the subject so that Toby would stop worrying about being replaced.
He nodded. “Which one is your carriage, m'lady?”
She gestured to the black carriage across the busy street that bore her family’s seal. With a nod, Toby took off running across the street and nearly gave Elizabeth heart failure when he narrowly missed getting struck by a passing carriage. He quickly handed the packages over to the coachman, ran back to take her maid's packages and delivered them to the carriage. When he was done, he returned to Elizabeth's side and walked with her to the next shop.
For the next three hours Toby was at her beck and call. He never complained about the number of packages or the length of the wait. When they were done for the day Elizabeth turned her back on her mother while they got into the carriage. Toby stood in front of her, shifting nervously.
“I'm sorry I was late,” he said softly.
She gave him a reassuring smile. “It’s okay. Do you know where Belford Manor is?”
He stood straight and nodded. “Well, if you can find Belford Manor tonight, go around the back to the kitchen and tell them Lady Elizabeth sent you. They shall have some very delicious treats for you,” she promised him, hoping the kitchen staff would do more than just give the boy some treats.
“Yes," she smiled, "and I suspect if you were to offer some help, you'd earn some food to take home to your friends.”
"I will! I'll work real hard!" he said excitedly.
She reached into her reticule and pulled out a pound note. She handed it to the boy. “This is for doing such a fine job, Toby. Next time I’m shopping I shall ask for you by name.”
His fingers shook as he reached out for the note. He looked as if he thought this might be some cruel joke. “Go on, take it,” she encouraged him. He did, slowly.
“Thank you, m’lady,” he said, looking up at her. Elizabeth had to bite her lip to stop herself from crying. Toby smiled shyly at her as if she were an angel.
“Go on now. Take care of yourself, Toby, and make sure to come by for some food.”
He nodded firmly. “I will, m’lady.”
He watched as she climbed into her carriage with the help of her coachman. He quickly hid the note in his shoe and walked away, smiling.
“Oh, do stop pouting, Robert,” his mother said teasingly.
He glared at her from across the carriage. “I am not pouting,” he said firmly. “I just don’t understand why…no, let me fix that, how you managed to talk me into this.”
With a delicate shrug of her shoulders she explained, “While you’re in town you will spend some time with your family. Besides, you’re twenty-nine years old and should really make an appearance or two in society if you ever plan on making a good match.”
He opened his mouth to once again point out that he had no plans of marrying unless he absolutely had to, but she wasn’t done.
“It won’t kill you to attend a few balls, dinners, and the theatre to help James find a new wife. It looks good for him to have a close family. It makes mothers feel more at ease to have their daughter’s courted by suitors who come from a good family.”
James groaned next to him and he couldn’t help but feel bad for his brother. Years ago their mother had hounded James incessantly until he’d finally married. Robert had a feeling that his brother had married simply to get their mother to stop harassing him. Hell, he would do the same if she ever started on him, but thankfully she felt that he was too young to make any woman a good husband.
Sadly for James, he’d married a woman he hadn't loved. Actually, Robert was pretty sure that he hadn't even liked the girl. He couldn’t blame James if he hadn't. Miranda had been a vicious bitch. She’d prided herself on having the best of everything and shamelessly flaunted it in everyone’s face. She did her best to go through her dowry as well as James’ holdings before she died three years ago.
It had been an unfortunate accident. Well, Robert liked to think that fate had stepped in, dispensing a little poetic justice. The incident had been entirely preventable on her part. She saw a woman that she felt was inferior to her through the glass of a shop, speaking with a clerk while gesturing to a beautiful set of pearls. According to Miranda’s footman, she muttered something about the woman not having a better set than her and stormed across the street, completely oblivious of the mail coach rushing down on her.
Since then, James had enjoyed a short reprieve from their mother, but now she was in full force. James needed to get married, again. He was after all next in line for the title. It was his duty to marry and produce an heir. Robert cringed inwardly. If James didn’t marry and produce an heir soon, their mother would start ranting about him being their last hope, again. That wouldn’t do. Even if he had to knock James out and drag his body to the altar, James was getting married again. End of story.
“Did you hear what your mother said, Robert?” his father asked.