The Handbook to Handling His Lordship

By: Suzanne Enoch


As usual on Sundays and Thursdays, Emily was the last to use the bath for the day. With her making the schedules, that feat was particularly easy to arrange. By now the water had moved past tepid and into cool and unpleasant, but it served its purpose. And she needed the extra time that being at the end of the line provided. It wasn’t that she felt a particular need to scrub herself clean; in fact she had stepped from the tub nearly an hour ago.

She currently sat in the simple wooden chair beside the bathtub, a warm woolen robe wrapped around her, and her latest gothic horror novel open in her lap. The Scottish Cousin featured a plot so convoluted she had no idea what was truly going on. It had passed the border of impossible five chapters ago, but it kept her entertained. And that was the point of it.

Finally the small, secondhand clock sitting on the cabinet ticked past three o’clock, and she set the book aside and stood. Making her way back to the cold bath, she knelt beside the brass tub and unceremoniously dunked her head. Immediately the water turned a reddish brown, spreading out from the long strands of her hair until the entire bath was the color of weak tea. Emily drew her fingers through the mess, shaking it out vigorously, then grabbed for the stained brown towel she always used and wrapped it tightly around the dripping cascade.

Immediately she went to the bowl of clean water she’d set aside and thoroughly washed her hands in the most abrasive soap she’d been able to find. No sense going through all this twice a week and then having stained brown fingers giving her away. Sitting on the chair again, she toweled off her hair, then combed through it until it was smooth and glossy. She would have to wait until it dried before she could take the straightening iron to it—only once had she made the mistake of putting metal to her hair while it was still wet, and she’d had to wear a matron’s turban for a week until the green tint faded.

Now, once the thick paste of henna and tea and lemon juice had been rinsed away, she would have a head of pretty, if utterly unremarkable, dark chestnut hair. The color of a bay horse, one of her intimate companions had once said. Nothing to write a poem about, certainly, and that was precisely what she wanted.

The door rattled, and she started. “Nearly finished,” she called, reaching over to collect her shift and pull it on over her head.

“It’s Jenny,” a feminine voice in a light French accent called. “I have the new gown you ordered from Gaston’s.”

Emily sent a glance at the tea-colored bath, then padded over in her bare feet to unlock the door and pull it open. “You know I didn’t order a gown from Gaston’s,” she said in a low voice, allowing the club’s majordomo into the bathroom before she closed the door again.

Genevieve Martine, her blond hair pulled tightly into a bun that bespoke a governess rather than the second-in-command of an exclusive and decidedly unconventional gentlemen’s club, shrugged her shoulders. “It sounded plausible, no? Not that I think anyone cares to hear that you color your hair, Emily.”

“It’s a matter of pride,” Emily lied with a short smile. “Not all of us have ravishingly lovely golden hair.” She fingered the mostly dry ends.

“Mm-hm.”

She would’ve preferred an even plainer brown color, actually, but the henna tended to turn everything red before it deepened to brown. The tea and the lemon juice helped, but to keep her hair from changing color every other day she had to apply the dye twice each week. “Was there a reason you wanted in here, then? The bathwater cooled past tepid an hour ago.”

“I thought I might assist you with carrying buckets to empty,” Jenny replied, “since you’ll be overseeing the dinner service in an hour.”

Emily blinked. “I did the schedule. You’re overseeing dinner service tonight.”

“I was,” Jenny countered. “Now I’ve been volunteered to speak at a meeting for women who wish to own their own businesses.”

“But—”

“Yes, I know. I don’t own The Tantalus Club. Diane does. She also asked me to attend, as she refuses.” Jenny grimaced. “I would decline also, but women who can envision owning their own businesses are also ones who can afford to wager here on ladies’ nights. In order to serve our own interests, I can be politic for an evening.”

“You’re always politic, Jenny. It’s a talent of yours.”

This time Miss Martine grinned. “One among many.” Walking over, she picked up a bucket, dipped it into the bathwater, and headed for the door. “You dispose of this in the back garden, do you not?”

“The roses seem to like the henna. Or the tea. Or the lemon juice. I don’t know which one it is.” She frowned as she pulled on the simple blue muslin she’d brought into the bathing room with her. If she was to oversee dinner, she would need to change into something more enticing. Being noticed intentionally seemed mad to her, but on the other hand this was a house of beautiful women. A plain one would stand out like a crow amid peacocks. “You don’t need to help me, Jenny. I’ll manage.”