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By Laura Moncur in The Dowager Moncur's Spectacles

Beyond Gretna Green: In which Miss Isabella Davenforth travels to Moncur Castle and remembers the chiding of the current Lord Moncur about her situation.

Moncur Castle by Gary Moncur from FlickrFor a young lady of meager means to be invited to the Dowager Moncur’s castle is a great honor, indeed. Despite the treacherous passage beyond Gretna Green, the hope of which has bespoiled many a maiden, the journey to Perthshire’s once great pastures and rolling greens is long. Isabella Davenforth was grateful and terrified of the blessing bestowed her by the current Lord of Inchture’s finest jewel, Moncur Castle.

“My mother has gone a bit daft, I’m afraid.” Isabella remembered Lord Moncur’s clean and well-manicured hands flitting lightly around the dinner party. “What she needs is a daughter-in-law to take care of her. A man of my position is usually married by now, but I have been unable to find a woman interesting enough to hold my gaze or witty enough to hold her own against me.” His wandering eyes alighted upon the young butler in attendance. Isabella steadied her mind for the worst that London’s upper class could offer her for employment and tried to think of a proper response, “There is no shame in being a confirmed bachelor, Lord Moncur.”

The two of them exchanged a knowing look. An offer of marriage was out of the question in her mind. No matter how destitute her situation, she would never accept a confirmed bachelor as a husband. She would rather be the governess of a hundred overindulged children than be the Lady to a man of his ilk. She drew in a deep breath to reject him with dignity.

“You wouldn’t be a companion to her so much as a governess.” The word governess bounced in her mind a few times. She let out her breath. This wasn’t an offer of marriage. It was an offer of a household position. The pain of it smarted. Just seconds before, she had been steeling herself to reject him, but now, she ached with the dual blade of rejection. Isabella gleaned the hurt and pain from her voice. “I am not a nurse maid, Lord Moncur. I’ve been educated in the finest schools for women that London has to offer.” The gentleman hurriedly replied, “She doesn’t require…” Lord Moncur hesitated, lowered his voice, and continued, “…intimate care.” He waited to see if she understood.

“Quite frankly, she needs someone to hear her talk. You seem to be…” Lord Moncur once again looked at the young butler. His voice paused and he looked at her again, knowingly. “…a good listener, Miss Davenforth.” Isabella nodded and discreetly checked to see if prying ears were listening. Madame Hurst was across the room playing whist. Their conversation was unheard, but was not going unnoticed. “I believe a man in your position need employ only the deaf and blind if he desires full discretion.”

Lord Moncur laughed. “Oh you will be paid by me, but you will see me but once a year. The Dowager Moncur lives in Moncur Castle in Inchture, Scotland.” Isabella drew in a sharp breath. She would be separated from her beloved London and all reasonable society. She felt her head shake a slow no. “I’m sorry, Lord Moncur. I cannot leave London.”

The Lord leaned back, watching the young butler move about the room. “Three hundred,” he said without taking his eyes off the lean man’s body. Isabella placed her hands in her lap, lifted her fan and stood up. “Thank you for the offer, Lord Moncur, but I cannot leave London.” The Lord was so unaccustomed to rejection that he didn’t notice her turn to leave, but he merely repeated the words with a bit more clarity. “Three hundred pounds a year, Miss Davenforth.”

Isabella stopped with her back to Lord Moncur. She saw the young butler bend over to help Madame Hurst pick up her purposefully dropped cards. Isabella watched the two of them gathering them under the table and saw the butler’s eyes pause on Madame Hurst’s ample bosom. Oh, Lord Moncur would be so disappointed. Isabella turned around and responded to the offer, “No, Lord Moncur, you will pay me one hundred pounds every three months. I may leave your employ at any time I desire and you will compensate me for passage back to London.” Lord Moncur hadn’t taken his eyes off the young butler’s buttocks. “Welcome to the Moncur family, Miss Davenforth. I believe you will fit in beautifully.”

The words rang in Isabella Davenforth’s mind as the lavish carriage turned past the clearing. The sight of Moncur Castle filled her with dread. “I believe you will fit in beautifully,” Lord Moncur had said. The next day, one hundred pounds was delivered to her humble room at Madame Hurst’s home and she was given instructions for travel. Within a week, she was bumping along a Scottish road watching Moncur Castle grow in the distance.

She had fully expected Lord Moncur to reject her demand of one hundred pounds every three months, but he paid it without flinching. Any gentleman willing to employ a woman of good reputation and education for a quarter of that would be considered generous and overindulgent. What sort of horrors lie await for Isabella at Moncur Castle that would be deemed worth four hundred pounds a year in compensation? She shivered as the thick bricks of the building came into focus.