Devil in Winter Page 10

“Since your mother ended up married to a ruffian like Ivo Jenner,” St. Vincent replied sardonically, “I wouldn’t have put too much stock in her advice.” A quizzical pause. “However did they meet? It isn’t often that a gently bred girl encounters Jenner’s sort.”

“That’s true. My mother was riding in a carriage with my aunt—it was one of those winter days when the London fog is so thick at noon that one can scarcely see a few yards ahead. The carriage swerved to avoid a street vendor’s cart, and threw down my father, who happened to be standing on the nearby pavement. At my mother’s insistence, the carriage driver stopped to ask after his condition. He was just a bit bruised, nothing more. And I suppose…I suppose my father must have interested her, because she sent a letter to him the following day, inquiring once more after his health. They began a correspondence—my father had someone else write his letters for him, as he wasn’t literate. I know of no other details, save that they eventually eloped.” A smile of satisfaction curved her lips as she imagined the fury of the Maybricks upon discovering that her mother had run away with Ivo Jenner. “She was nineteen when she died,” she said reflectively. “And I’m twenty-three. It seems odd to have lived longer than she did.” Twisting in Sebastian’s arms, she glanced up at his face. “How old are you, my lord? Thirty-four? Thirty-five?”

“Thirty-two. Although at the moment I feel no less than a hundred and two.” He was staring at her curiously. “What happened to your stammer, child? It disappeared somewhere between here and Teesdale.”

“Did it?” Evie asked with mild surprise. “I suppose…I must feel comfortable with you. I tend to stammer less with certain people.” How odd—her stammer never completely vanished like this unless she was talking to children.

His chest moved beneath her ear in a huff of amusement. “No one’s ever told me that I’m a comfortable sort. I’m sure I don’t like it. I’ll have to do something diabolical soon to correct your impression.”

“No doubt you will.” She closed her eyes and slumped more heavily against him. “I think I’m too tired to stammer.”

His hand came up to her head, lightly stroking her hair and the side of her face, his fingertips massaging her temple. “Sleep,” he whispered. “We’re almost there. If you’re going to hell in a handcart, my love, you should be warmer soon.”

She wasn’t, however. The farther north they traveled, the colder it became, until Evie reflected dourly that a portion of devil’s brimstone or hell broth would have been quite welcome. The village of Gretna Green lay in the county of Dumfriesshire, just north of the border between England and Scotland. In defiance of the strict marriage laws of England, hundreds of couples had traveled the coaching road from London, through Carlisle, to Gretna Green. They came on foot, by carriage or horseback, seeking an asylum, where they could say their marriage vows and return to England as man and wife.

After a couple crossed the bridge over the Sark River and entered Scotland, they could be married anywhere in the country. A declaration before witnesses was all that was necessary. A flourishing marriage trade had developed in Gretna Green, with the residents competing to perform wedding services in private homes, hostelries, or even out-of-doors. The most famous—and infamous—location for a Gretna wedding, however, was the blacksmith’s shop, where so many hasty services had been performed that a marriage anywhere in Gretna Green was referred to as an “anvil wedding.” The tradition had started in the seventeen hundreds when a blacksmith had set himself up as the first of a long line of blacksmith priests.

At last, St. Vincent’s carriage reached its destination, an inn located next to the blacksmith’s shop. Seeming to suspect that Evie might collapse from weariness, St. Vincent kept a firm arm around her as they stood before the innkeeper’s battered desk. The innkeeper, a Mr. Findley, beamed with delight upon learning that they were an eloping couple, and assured them with broad winks that he always kept a room at the ready for situations such as this.

“‘Tisn’t legal till ye consummate the weddin’, ye know,” he informed them in a nearly incomprehensible accent. “We’ve ‘ad tae sneak a puir gruim an’ ‘is bride ou’ the back duir o’ yon smithy, whilst their pursuers were ‘ammering aweey a’ th’ front. When they came tae the inn an’ found baith lovers together abed, the bridegruim was still weering ‘is boots! But there was no doubt the bonnie deed ‘ad been doon.” He laughed uproariously at the memory.

“What did he say?” Evie mumbled against St. Vincent’s shoulder.

“I have no idea,” he said in her ear. “And I’d rather not speculate.” Raising his head, he said to the innkeeper, “I want a hot bath in the room when we return from the blacksmith’s cottage.”

“Aye, milord.” Eagerly the innkeeper received the coins that St. Vincent handed to him in exchange for a old-fashioned looking key. “Wad ye ‘ave a supper tray as weel, milord?”

St. Vincent gave Evie a questioning glance, and she shook her head. “No,” St. Vincent replied, “but I expect we’ll want a large breakfast on the morrow.”

“Aye, milord. Ye’re goin’ tae wed a’ the smithy, aren’t ye? Ah, guid. There’s nae better priest in Gretna than Paisley MacPhee. A literate man, ‘e is…‘e’ll serve as a clark tae the weddin’, an make oot a fine certificate for ye.”

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