1811, Near Bath
She was incorrigible. That was what Miss Lavinia
Chase of Miss Chase's Finishing School in Weston
said. It was what the curate said from All Hallows
down the road. It was what the Charitable Gift
Committee said, who traveled the few miles from
Bath to oversee her education.
Of course, all of the girls at Miss Chance's
Finishing School in Bath were incorrigible. It
was why they were there, at what was more vulgarly
known as Last Chance Academy. But even in that
pantheon of misbehaving, maladroit young women,
Fiona Ferguson stood out.
She was always thinking. Not in matters of poise
or etiquette, not even in the art of being agreeable.
No, that would have at least done them all some
good. It might have insured Miss Ferguson a place,
however tenuous, in society. But Miss Ferguson
preferred science over penmanship. Philosophy
over etiquette. And, dear heavens preserve them
all, mathematics over everything. Not simply numbering
that could see a wife through her household accounts.
Algebra. Geometry. Indecipherable equations made
up of unrecognizable symbols that meant nothing
to anyone but the chit herself. It was enough
to give Miss Chase hives.
The girl wasn't even saved by having any proper
feminine skills. She could not tat or sing or
draw. Her needlework was execrable, and her Italian
miserable. In fact, her only skills were completely
unacceptable, as no one wanted a wife who wanted
to discuss physics, or who could bring down more
pheasant than her husband.
Even worse than those failings, though, was
the fact that Miss Fiona had a definite lack of
humility. No matter how often she was birched
or locked in her room or given psalms to copy
out a hundred times, she couldn't seem to drop
her eyes, or bend her knee the appropriate depth.
In fact, when her benefactors visited to inspect
her progress, she looked them right in the eye
and answered as if she had something to say besides
“thank you for your benevolence to such
an unworthy girl.”
Incorrigible. And if they could find her brother,
they would deliver her back into his care.
But her brother, an officer with the Highland
Brigades, was fighting somewhere on the continent,
which meant they had no hands to deliver Fiona
into if they showed her the door. Only her sister,
but even the Charitable Trust knew better than
to deliver any human into the care of Mairead
“It's not that I don't think Miss Ferguson
doesn't deserve to be left to that unnatural family
of hers,” Lady Bivens sniffed at the board
meeting to consider the latest crisis Miss Ferguson
had fomented. “Plain, great gawk of girl.
Why, she'd be nothing without us. Cleaning out
pots or plying her trade at Covent Garden.”
Across the room Squire Peters snorted. “Not
likely. Rather ride an actual horse.”
As usual, Peters was ignored. The rest of the
board continued happily blackening Miss Fiona's
name until their carriages pulled up.
They wouldn't do anything. They all knew it.
Ian Ferguson might be poor as a church mouse,
and he might have questionable antecedents, but
Britain had made him an officer and a gentleman,
and his timely rescue of the Duke of Wellington
at the a place called Bussaco had made him famous.
His sister was safe. For now.
* * *
Fiona Ferguson was safe because she was locked
in the attic room where all misbehaving girls
were sent to ruminate on their sins. After all,
the board meeting had been called in response
to her attempted flight from school with a groom
from the local public stables. Fortunately, Miss
Letrice Riordan had discovered the scheme in time
and notify Miss Chase.
Fiona had said not a word when she'd been intercepted
by the headmistress and John the footman on the
back path leading to the mews behind Pierrepont
Street. She hadn't said a word all the way back
in and up the four flights to her prison, or when
they'd locked the door in her face. She had just
stood there, white-faced and silent, as if they
had been the ones in the wrong instead of her.
Not one person had asked why it was she had
packed one small bag and run off, a crumpled letter
in her hand. And not one person had thought to
check on her throughout the long October night,
to see if she was afraid or hungry. Miss Fiona
Ferguson was in punishment, and that was enough.
To be honest, Fiona didn't notice either. She
lay atop a thin blanket on the narrow rope bed,
fully clothed, staring at a water stain on the
ceiling that over the years had taken the shape
of Italy. But she wasn't paying attention to that
either. Fiona's attention was on the paper she
clenched in her right hand. The letter that had
come to the Bath receiving office five days ago.
It had taken her three days to sneak the money
to the cook to claim it without Miss Chase finding
out. It had taken a day to prepare her escape,
and another three hours to be found out and dragged
She was still lying in the frigid room thinking
of how to manage a more successful flight when
she heard the scrape of a key in the lock.