O is for Other Woman. Miss Madeline (Mad) Grudge was Lord Cadblister’s mistress for many years- and the whole village knew it.
Mad Grudge sat in her cozy front parlor and wondered what was to become of her. She’d been doing just that for months, sitting, and wondering what would happen, and what Lord Cadblister would do if Randall’s final answer was no. Would he – would they- continue on as before? Or would Lord Cadblister go to Argentina alone, and leave her to fend for herself? He was quite capable of that. He had been, Mad considered, capable of damn near anything, in terms of wickedness.
So she’d sat, and pleaded, and wondered, and feared.
And then Lord Cadblister had died.
Had been murdered.
Had he signed the new will? If he had, all might be well. If not… if not…
Abruptly, Mad rose from her chair and examined her image in the large gilt looking-glass that had been a gift from Lord Cadblister. All of her nice things were gifts from Lord Cadblister. They could, at a pinch, bring in something, though the market for that sort of thing was terrible at the moment.
There was a knock at the door. Mad Grudge adjusted her veil in front of her face. Before she could move towards the door, though, there was the sound of a key in the lock. Mad’s eyes widened in terror. The key in the lock. Only one person knocked and then used his own key. And he was dead.
When Lady Cadblister came in, followed by a very reluctant Viscount, Mad had retreated to the corner farthest from the door, and was staring ahead of her in stark terror. Lady Cadblister smiled with satisfaction.
“I thought you was- I mean, I thought you were – someone else,” Mad blurted, in a rush of relief. And then she realized who it was who had just entered her home. “Whatever do you want?” She said, as rudely as she possibly could.
“Did you think I was my husband, dear?” Cooed Lady Cadblister. “Well, well. A ghostly visitant would be rather unnerving.” She looked her rival up and down. Her lips curled in disgust at the woman’s parody of widow’s weeds; her white teeth gleamed under her veil. Then her eyes travelled about the room. “Cadblister property, most of this. Gerald, we’ll take that mirror with us, and that little oil painting. As for you,” and she turned her icy gaze once more upon her husband’s mistress, and in her eyes burned an icy flame, “You will, of course, be quitting this cottage immediately.”
“It’s mine! You know he gave it me.”
Lady Cadblister raised a perfect eyebrow. “Oh no, my dear. Not quite, I think. In fact, not even close. He let you stay here, for a time. But he was perhaps getting just a touch tired of you? A joke’s a joke, after all, but after a time, it does wear a bit thin. In fact,” and she produced the document she’d found within the pages of Vicar Fallow’s book of sermons, “it rather looks as if he was evicting you.” And she dangled the notice in front of Mad’s face- and snatched it away as she tried to grab it.
“That was just his teasing! He- liked to remind me that he could, that was all.” Mad still had, at this point, a fingernail-grip on self-control. She spoke with an entirely assumed calm.
“Do you think,” Lady Cadblister’s voice dripped with honeyed venom, “that I care? The document is quite legal, and it rather looks as if it had already been served. Whatever could you have been doing, for him to want to keep you on such a short leash as that?” And her eyes travelled once more over Mad’s body, slowly and with unmistakable meaning. Mad felt herself blushing, and this fact maddened her. Self-control snapped.
“You cold, unfeeling old harpy! It’s no bleeding wonder he came to me, if you’re what ‘e ‘ad to come ‘ome to! ‘E hated you, ‘e did! And you too!” She pointed at the silent and squirming Viscount. “‘E hated the whole bleeding lot of you! ‘E and I was to run away together, and Randall with us, and then one of you killed ‘im, and now you think as you can do as you like!”
“Run away together? How very romantic,” said Lady Cadblister, in unbelieving tones. “First he evicts you, and then you run away together. Yes. Of course.”
“It’s true, damn your eyes! ‘E ‘ad it set up all nice for us, too. We was to go away to Argentina, where ‘e’d got a nice little nest egg as we could live ‘igh on for the rest of our naturals! Told me all about it, ‘e did.”
“Well, well,” Lady Cadblister was unruffled. “You won’t be going there now. But you will be going- somewhere. Back to whatever slum he found you in, I imagine. You don’t quite fit in, you know, in any more civilized society. You, in fact, Will Not Do. Gerald, sign that paper in Miss Grudge’s presence, and then take the oil painting and the mirror off the wall and we shall go.”
Gerald was standing, staring, at the face of his father’s mistress, as if he saw in it something utterly and unexpectedly monstrous.
“Eh? Oh, right. Right.” And he reached absently for the eviction notice. “Or, rather, not.” And he ripped the document through the middle, and then balled it up and threw it into the crackling fire.
Mad Grudge gaped, relieved incomprehension in every line of her face. She saw that Lady Cadblister had gone suddenly rigid. And for just a moment, Mad wondered whether she would fly at her son, and rip at his face with her fingernails. But Lady Cadblister merely snorted once, and then turned and left the cottage without another word. The Viscount followed, and Mad followed, too, stumbling after them as far as the door. Coming up the walk, she saw, were Randall and that Miss Meadows, back from tea. And Randall was- she blinked, thinking perhaps it was just some trick of the glaring winter sun. But no- Randall was smiling down at Miss Meadows. He actually looked happy. So did she.
And then they looked up- and barely managed to get out of the way of the Countess of Cadblister, who was not stopping for anyone, if she saw them at all.
It was while recovering from this dodging maneuver that Verity and Randall saw the Viscount, barreling along in his mother’s wake.
And the Viscount saw them. He stopped short. “Oh. I say, Verity- I – oh.” He looked at Randall. He looked at Verity. Slowly and with great care, he added two and two together. “Right-ho. Afternoon.” And he stumbled on after his mother.