The hero in The Bounce in the Captain's Boots, is the eldest son of Mr. Frederick Hathaway- successful businessman, publisher and ambitious status climber. Guy does not share many of his father's views on life, however, and his ambitions have taken him in another direction to the one Mr. Hathaway would have chosen for him.
At the age of fourteen, Guy left home to join His Majesty's Navy. His father did not approve. Since then it seems as if nothing he does can meet with his father's approval and he is always being compared to Edward, Mr. Hathaway's favorite son. In fact, Guy has long since given up trying to meet any expectations his father might have and has settled in to the post of "disappointing son". Brawls, duels and dangerous women litter his history. With a mischievous sense of humor, a hot temper and a reckless impulse to leap in with both feet, he sails along at a steady clip, determined never to be anchored too long in one place and never risking his heart.
But one day, when on leave and at something of a loose end, Guy is enlisted by Mr. Hathaway for an important task. Guy's sister, Georgiana, has been invited to a ball, along with two of her school friends from the Particular Establishment for the Advantage of Respectable Ladies, and they need an escort. Not a great lover of balls, or giggling young girls, Guy grits his teeth and agrees to provide the service. It's rare for his father to grant him any great responsibility so he feels the pressure to behave himself and be charming on this occasion. Even if he has much on his mind and is far from being in the mood to entertain.
* * * *
Guy turned for the next piece of luggage. Thankfully this one was lighter, neater, and tied with a good lock.
He looked around. "Where is she then?" he exclaimed somewhat impatiently to his sister. "The other one?"
Again he thought he heard that kittenish squeak. He looked down at his boots, worried he might have stepped on a paw. Georgiana also appeared confused for a moment and then, with a small cry, stepped aside to reveal the faint tracing of a girl in a wilted bonnet. She must have sidled out of the house and lurked behind his sister on the steps.
"Oh, here she is! This is Miss Emma Chance."
Parts of her had apparently been lost in the shadows and hidden by his sister's more substantial form, wedged between that and the fence railings which seemed to be holding the lurker upright. It was lucky indeed that she had not fallen through the bars, down the servants' steps and into the coal bunker below.
Guy had to look twice before she fully emerged into the light as a person of sorts. He bowed. "Miss Chance."
In reply the girl opened her lips and whispered a very unhappy-sounding, "Lieutenant Hathaway."
"Not Lieutenant any longer," his sister proudly corrected her friend. "He is now Captain Hathaway."
Nothing this time. The girl leaned precariously to one side, her eyes downcast. She breathed rather heavily and her fingers wound so tightly around the embroidered purse in her hands that he could almost hear the bones cracking.
"Is she...alright?" he muttered to his sister. The last thing he needed was one of his charges being ill on their journey. "She's not a swooner, is she? Or somebody who gets sickened by the motion of a carriage? She's white as a ghost."
"Oh, she's alright, aren't you, Em?" Miss Goodheart cheerily bellowed from inside the carriage. "She just doesn't get out much. I don't suppose she's ever ridden in a private carriage. And she's dreadfully shy."
In response to this assessment, the poor girl's cheeks flushed scarlet and her gaze remained on the pavement. A single strand of wispy, pale hair fluttered in dejected surrender against the brim of her bonnet.
"Don't fret, Miss Chance," he said, as brightly as he could, considering his own apathy for the event ahead of them. "You're in safe hands with me." Guy had often been told that he had a talent for putting folk at their ease, a genial ability that buoyed his smile and the spirits of others, even on days when he felt himself sinking.
But it seemed to have no good affect on this small, droopy creature. "Anyone might think you are on your way to the gallows, not a ball, Miss Chance," he added, teasing amiably. "Surely, all young ladies live for balls?"
Silence met this remark as both his sister and Miss Goodheart, who now leaned out of the carriage, looked at their pale friend.
Finally her lips parted and she exhaled a tortured sigh that stretched across the silence like a washing line, her words the limp but carefully spaced, wet shirts and stockings strung upon it. "It's a quarter past the hour of one, and we were meant to leave promptly at noon."
Suddenly she lost that bony grip on her purse and it fell. Guy's instincts were swift enough to save it in mid-air, but when he held it out to her, she wouldn't take it. In fact, she moved a timid step backward, tripping over an uneven crack in the pavement, leaving his sister to snatch the purse and pass it to her friend.
"It's my fault, Em," Georgiana explained. "My brother did try to drag me away, but I was in the midst of writing."
The wisp of a girl now seemed preoccupied with the cracks by her feet, looking down at them as if they might suddenly expand and leave her nothing upon which to stand.
"Well, let's advance, shall we?" Guy said, forcing another smile. "Since, as Miss Chance pointed out, we're already late."
When he put out his hand to help the trembling girl up into the carriage, she finally moved forward, stepping carefully to avoid the cracks. Her touch was so light, her fingers resting so briefly against his knuckles that he barely felt the pressure and had to look twice to make certain she had not actually taken flight back inside the house. But no, there she was, as far from him as she could put herself, and seated on Miss Goodheart's left side. Apparently on the verge of tears, she squeezed her knees together, bowed her head, and held her shoulders in a rigid fashion, as if she feared taking up too much room. The material of her spencer actually appeared to match the seat cover, making her disappear further into the upholstery.
"I was about to suggest that you sit facing the horses, Miss Chance, and lessen the possibility of feeling nauseated. But I see you thought of that for yourself already." He smiled. "If you need air, open the — ah, I see you already opened the sash window too."
She merely looked puzzled by his attempts to make her comfortable. Two wide eyes, the color of faded ink, peered out from the shadow of her coal-scuttle bonnet.
His sister poked him in the side. "Don't startle Miss Chance."
How the devil could he be accused of that?
"Stop staring at her," she whispered harshly.
The subject of Georgiana's remark turned her limp head away and shrank another few inches into her corner.
"I can assure you I am not staring at Miss Chance," he whispered, the words squeezed out between teeth still gritted in a smile. "There is nothing whatsoever to stare at." His sister stepped up into the carriage, and he followed, muttering. "Let's hope the journey is short."
* * * *
But Guy and Emma's adventure has only just begun and you can join the journey on September 13th with the release of The Bounce in the Captain's Boots - the third and final installment in the Ladies Most Unlikely series.
See you then!
copyright Jayne Fresina 2017
(image used above is a self-portrait by Leon Cogniet 1818)