The Marquess and the Maiden(8)

By: Robyn Dehart

Iris’s brow furrowed, then she dropped a card on the table. “What did you have in mind?”

Harriet kept her gaze on her cards. “There are how many deadly sins?”

“Seven. Pride, greed, sloth, gluttony, envy, lust, and wrath.” She ticked off each one on a finger.

“Yes, that’s right, seven. Now then, there are more than seven of us in the Ladies of Virtue,” Harriet said quietly. “We could each pick a sin, select a gentleman who clearly personifies such behavior, and assist him into a better way.”

Agnes choked on a sip of tea.

Was this a legitimate way for her to chastise Lord Davenport for his greedy lifestyle? Perhaps, but the truth remained that the way he flagrantly spent his money was wrong.

Iris rolled her eyes heavenward. “Are you suggesting we confront the cads and rakes in London to show them the error of their ways in hopes of converting them?”

Agnes coughed again.

“Consider how it is not much different than what you did last week with Mr. Miller,” Harriet said. “You discovered he had been stealing from his employer, and you showed him how what he was doing was wrong.”

Iris nodded. “Yes, and I reminded him that it would be easy enough to turn him in to the magistrate. But we certainly can’t do that to a gentleman simply because he cheats at cards or imbibes too much liquor.”

Agnes held up her hand. “You both make excellent points. And I do think Harriet might be onto something. We, of course, would need to run this by the others, but we could potentially do some good. Often people don’t realize how damaging their behavior is. Once we shine the light upon it, we might clean up some of the debauchery.”

Harriet had to admit she hadn’t expected Agnes to support her idea. Normally her friend was quite hesitant to go along with any of Harriet’s plans. Iris seemed as surprised by Agnes as she was.

“Have you taken leave of your senses?” Iris asked, looking at Agnes as if she’d suddenly grown a second head. “When have you ever thought Harriet had a good idea?” She turned and smiled at Harriet. “No offense, dear.”

“None taken,” Harriet said.

“As I said, I believe her idea has merit,” Agnes said, “not that we can all succeed, but it is worth a conversation. Worth an attempt to bring about some good. That is what we are about, is it not?”

“Well, yes, of course, but—”

“It is settled,” Harriet said, interrupting Iris. “I shall bring it up to Lady Somersby and see what she thinks.”

“I can’t imagine this is what she had in mind when she created the Ladies of Virtue,” Iris said.

“Perhaps not, but it is accomplishing similar goals,” Agnes said.

She instantly knew what she needed to suggest to bring Iris around to the idea. The poor girl had been worried sick about her younger brother and his obsession with a certain string of articles that were sending him down a path Iris was certain led to destruction.

“Yes, dear, and consider Lord Ashby and that gossip rag he edits,” Harriet said. “You were saying earlier today that you believe him to be irresponsible with the advice he publishes.”

Iris gave a tight nod. “I’m merely concerned with Jasper and his behavior. Those ‘How to be a Gentleman’ articles being published in that paper are ridiculous. He is looking to anyone for guidance. He has no men to look up to, and he’s latched onto those suggestions, and it is making his life all the worse for it,” Iris said.

“Precisely why speaking to Lord Ashby about his prideful nature in publishing such advice would be warranted,” Harriet said, knowing her encouragement at this point was heavy-handed.

But Iris slowly nodded, and Harriet could tell that she’d likely convinced her friend of the merits of her plan. Lord Davenport needed to be knocked down a notch. Now Harriet would have a perfectly acceptable reason to address Lord Davenport and his spending habits.

Harriet braced herself for the inevitable when Belinda and her friends walked over. Agnes and Iris and Harriet had been standing together discussing Iris and her upcoming dance with the Earl of Ashby when the unwanted guests passed by. Belinda Hoyt pretended to be kind, but she had a special kind of cruelty she reserved for Harriet. It was baffling, as Harriet had never done anything to the woman.

“You look positively gorgeous, Agnes,” Belinda said. “And your dress, Iris, simply stunning.” Then she turned her eyes to Harriet. Her brow furrowed in feigned compassion. “I do hope your poor mother is not losing too many funds buying the extra fabric required to make your gowns.” She looked down her thin nose at Harriet. She stood at least a head taller.

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