~March 22, 1807~
Beatrice Kendrick crouched on the floor of the carriage as it moved through the streets of London. It wasn’t easy to keep her balance in the moving vehicle and pull on the maid’s cloak at the same time, but somehow, she managed. She pulled up the hood covering her telltale red hair and ducked her head down so no one could see her face, identical to her sister’s, who was sitting and staring out the window. They moved ever closer to their aunt’s Mayfair home where they would be staying for the Season.
Bee carefully sat back on the seat next to her maid, Annie, making sure to keep her head down, so her hood wouldn’t be dislodged. They couldn’t risk anyone even getting a glimpse of her.
As planned, Bee arranged herself so she couldn’t be seen when the door to the carriage opened outside of Lord and Lady Blakemore’s home. Her sister Bel and Annie got down, making a huge fuss over the beauty of the house and the number of footmen pouring out of the house to take in all of Bel’s luggage.
The door to the coach opened again, causing Bee to hold her breath and scrunch down even farther into the tiniest ball against the side.
“Ach, ye don’t need to check inside the carriage,” Bee heard the coachman scold someone. “Miss Kendrick only had a luncheon basket in there with her, and I’ll bring it round to the kitchen meself.”
The door closed again, and Bee allowed herself to breathe. If she were caught now, their entire plan would be jeopardized. Months of arguing back and forth between her and Bel, weeks of Bee trying to convince her sister that she did, in fact, need to be there with her in London and that, no, simply relaying information by mail about the men she met would not be enough. Days of swearing to her sister that she truly had no desire to subvert Bel’s debut into society for her own ends. She was going to happily enter society on her own the following year just as their parents had planned, but there was absolutely no way that Bee was going to allow her sister, with her cavalier attitude toward rules and proper behavior when she got an idea in her head, to come to London on her own.
Bee loved her twin sister, but they could not risk Bel getting into scrapes the way she did when they went out to parties and assemblies at home. She had to find a husband this season, so Bee could be presented next year. Their parents had been very clear that they could only afford to present one girl at a time. But no amount of love could change the fact that Bel was, well, flighty and not always the best judge of character.
It had taken months for Bee to show her sister this truth and weeks for her to agree that maybe it would be best if Bee were there to actually meet the men she might consider marrying. And now the time was at hand for them to put this plan into action, and it was vital that no one knew both twins were there. Bee could not risk getting caught. God only knew if they would get this opportunity again, were she to be found now.
The carriage jolted forward as John Coachman started toward the back of the house. Bee almost toppled off the seat but caught herself just in time. They had planned for him to park the carriage at the back of the house and leave it there for a few minutes. John would then make a scene bringing the luncheon basket into the kitchen so Bee could sneak inside behind him. Annie would be on the lookout for her upstairs so she could guide Bee to Bel’s room.
This was going to be the trickiest part of their plan. Bee took in a deep breath and tried to calm her pounding heart.
The carriage stopped again, and Bee could hear John talking to the horses. He was so funny. He always talked to them as if they could understand every word he said. When they were little, Bee and Bel truly believed the animals could understand him because they always did exactly what John told them to do.
The door opened once again, and John popped his head into the carriage. “All clear,” he said, giving Bee a broad, toothy smile. He grabbed the basket and helped her down.
“You’re wonderful, have I told you that recently?” Bee asked, returning his smile.
“Ye told me when I agreed to this havey-cavey plan o’yers,” he told her. “Ready?”
She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yes. Let’s go.”
She followed in his shadow through the garden gate and to the back door of the house where, they presumed, the kitchen was. It was a question as to whether the door opened directly into the kitchen, in which case John would drop the basket, causing a ruckus . If it opened into a hallway, Bee could easily find the servants’ stair and sneak up.
He opened the door and then paused to peer inside. He gave a shake of his head, letting Bee know that he was about to make a mess, and she had to move fast and find the back stairs.
John took two steps into the kitchen and then deliberately tripped over a chair, sending the picnic basket and all its contents flying across the large room. Two maids screeched as they were hit by flying debris, the cook started screaming, and a footman shouted as he was covered with the messiest food the girls could find to leave in the basket just for this. Bee resisted the urge to watch John’s excellent acting skills—a privilege she’d been witness to before—and moved quickly for a door that lay open just enough to see that it led to the stairs. She slipped through on silent slippered feet, ignoring the curses and shouts behind her, and ran up to the first floor where she imagined Bel’s room would be.
A voice higher up the stair called out quietly for her, and she continued up to the second floor where Annie was waiting.
“The room is here, quickly now,” the maid said, gently pushing her down the hall and toward an open door. “Luckily, there’s a separate dressing room. You’ll be able hide in there whenever anyone comes into the room.”
Bee gave a nod, not daring to speak aloud until she was safely ensconced in the room. Once inside the dressing room with the door closed behind them, she finally took in a deep breath and threw off Annie’s stifling cloak.
“Ha…” She sighed. “We made it!” She took in a few more breaths just for good measure. She didn’t think she’d actually breathed for a good five minutes, and her heart was still pounding.
Annie giggled and shook her head. “You made it.”
“Yes. Now we only have three more months of hiding to manage, but I’m in.”
Annie dropped her head into her hands.
Bee rubbed the dear woman’s back. “It’ll be all right, Annie. We’ll get into a routine, and it will all be fine. Don’t you worry.”
Annie looked up, her forehead creased with worry. “I don’t know how, but if you say so, Miss Bee.”
“Come, I’ll help you unpack while we wait for Bel.”