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Thomasina

Thomasina by Joan Vincent
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Thomasina Thait had watched her well-born father gamble away their estate and drive her mother to an early grave. So Tommi was determined not to marry but to remain a governess. The Marquess of Thornhill was the gambler who had ruined her family, but she found it difficult to resist his brooding eyes, his handsome face…and his kiss.

Regency Romance by Joan Vincent; originally published by Dell Candlelight Regency Special

Belgrave House; May 1980
115 pages; ISBN 9780440188445
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Thomasina
Author: Joan Vincent
 
Excerpt

Laughter trailed in bubbling echoes after the pair of schoolroom truants. Bright midafternoon sunshine pierced the trees they were running through, dappling the ground and infecting their gaiety.

The young boy freed his hand from the grasp of his companion and burst forward in triumph. Picking up her skirts, the young woman gave chase. It took a furlong before she came within reach of him; panting had replaced the laughter. A desperate lunge put her hands on the boy’s shoulders just at the moment he decided to end the race by dropping to the ground. She frantically attempted to vault over him but her legs foiled by her petticoats, succeeded only in tumbling down.

“Parker, that was decidedly unfair,” the young woman complained, striving to untangle herself from the nuisance petticoats while the cause for her tumble lay doubled over with glee.

“Tommi,” he gasped through his laughter, “that was splendid!”

A rueful smile appeared as Thomasina realized this was one of the few times the boy had been genuinely pleased about anything. She plucked at the small twigs and blades of grass that were tangled in her soft, fair-hued copper curls.

Parker rolled onto his stomach and propped his chin in his hands. Mischievous delight twinkled in his wide blue eyes—a look Thomasina had seen all too often since her arrival at her uncle’s home ten months past.

“Wait until mama sees you, Tommi,” Parker intoned seriously. “You will be required to dine in the schoolroom for a fortnight.”

Thomasina halted picking the leafy debris off her skirt and watched the boy’s features closely. Could it be, she wondered, that he desires company—my company? That he would do anything in seeking his parents’ attention was beyond doubt; his behaviour ranged from utterly despicable to awkwardly loveable, and almost all of it kept her in the bad graces of her aunt. Standing, she said, “You must play here for a short time, Parker. The fresh air will be very beneficial, and I must try and repair my toilet.”

“What is there for me to do?” he snapped, turning sullen at not having raised her ire.

“Run, jump. See how many different kinds of blades of grass or leaves you can find. We could look up what they are when we return to the schoolroom,” she added in despairing optimism.

To her surprise, Parker obediently bounded away.

She sighed and turned her gaze from him to her dress. It was fortunate, she thought, that she had chosen one of her own older day frocks instead of one of those that her cousin, Dianna, had haughtily ordered the abigail to bring to her. Thomasina shook her skirt with more vigour than necessary as she thought of Dianna.

“I will not allow her to make me miserable,” she said softly to herself. “I will not. No matter how much she talks of her London season.”

Having brushed the last of the greenery from her skirt and given a grimace to the irremovable grass stains, Thomasina looked about. Parker was still playing within her sight; it would be safe to rest. Seating herself next to a large tree, she leaned back against it. The fresh stem of grass she plucked was tasty. Swirling it over her tongue, she closed her eyes.

Visions from the past leapt out of the secreted chambers of her mind, confronting her as they were wont to do since her mother’s death, thirteen months before.

The tall, slim figure of her father appeared first—he was laughing as he entered their cottage and grabbed hold of her mother, singing and twirling her about the small parlour. Her mother’s face was lit with that cautious joy that always greeted her father’s happier homecomings. Thomasina had learned early in her life that his euphoria seldom lasted beyond a week, and then he would be gone again.

The panorama of her mind shifted to the familiar scene of her mother seated in the old ebony rocker before the open fire of the kitchen, leaning towards it, trying to catch the light as she stitched.

Thomasina’s eyes flashed open, bidding the scene away. At what age, she asked herself, did I realize it was mother’s needlework and the kindness of neighbours that kept food in our larder? When did I know father for the weak, irresolute man he was? Shaking her head sadly, she closed her eyes once more.

Immediately the next scene presented itself—all too vividly real. There she was, returning to the small cottage, smiling because she knew her mother would be pleased; Lady Glaxton had liked the work and had given two shillings extra for it. The door opened and she called out, but her mother did not answer.

In the tiny cottage it did not take her long to find her mother, rooted to a chair in the parlour.

“Mother,” Thomasina said, sinking on her knees before the chair. “Mother, are you ill?”

A lone tear stood on one of her mother’s cheeks. “I am sorry, Thomasina,” she said very softly.

“Come, mother. Let me help you to bed,” Thomasina urged.

“Your father has died—he...he killed himself after losing the little we had left to Lord Longeton. Everything is the Marquess’s now. I am sorry, child—you shall have no home,” came faintly from the alabaster figure of a woman.

Staring in frightening comprehension, Thomasina saw her mother’s face become set and her hand slide from the chair’s arm to dangle in the air.

As she jumped up, Thomasina shook the painful reality of the past from her. Angrily, she sermonized herself for thinking back. Her mother’s oft-repeated lesson echoed in her ears: “The most futile action is looking back and wanting what is lost forever.” Channelling her anger into a demi-hatred of Lord Longeton, she told herself how grateful she must be that her mother’s brother was willing to take her in charge. At least, she thought with a bitter smile, I will not have to concern myself with men or marriage. Dowerless, no one would give her a second look and this, she reasoned, was a true blessing. She did not want to repeat her mother’s fate, and even a more materially-endowed marriage, such as that of her aunt and uncle, was less than pleasant. At one and twenty, Thomasina had willingly resigned herself to spinsterhood.

A faint “Tommi” came to her ear, breaking her reverie.

Parker, she thought. What has he gotten into now? she asked herself as she hastened toward his panicked calling. Thomasina frowned as she saw the dark brown of the beaten path visitors sometimes used on their way to and from Buckley House contrasted against the verdant grass. They had come much too far. Surveying the large trees that stood along either side of the path, thickly grown over with vines, she sought sight of Parker.

“I am up here, Tommi,” the boy called.

“Where?” she called back in return.

“Look up. Up here!”

“Parker Buckley! What are you doing in that tree?” scolded Thomasina as her eyes finally located the boy midway up in the largest tree near her.

“I am frightened, Tommi. I cannot come down,” he whined.

“Of course you can come down,” she said firmly. “Follow the course you took in going up the tree.”

“I am afraid. I will fall, I know it! You must come and help me, Tommi. Please!”

“I am not dressed for climbing trees,” Thomasina scoffed. “Stop this nonsense and come down.”

“If you will not come and help me down, you must fetch father and some of the servants to do so. I know I shall fall and die if I let go.”

Thomasina lowered her head to ease her aching neck and considered the situation. Parker sounded miserable enough; perhaps this was not another of his pranks, she thought. Her eyes took in the tree. It was a perfect specimen for climbing, with its viny cover and ladderway of limb crotches. Possibly ...

Making one last attempt to avoid having to fetch him, she said, “Parker, you know you can come down by yourself. You can reach from one vine to another as you make your way down. Please try.”

“I shall fall and die! You just want to be rid of me,” the boy wailed agitatedly.

Thomasina looked up and down the path as she called to Parker to calm himself. It would not do to have someone come along and find them treed—after all, they were supposed to be in the schoolroom.

“All right, Parker. I will come—stay still now.” Coming as near to a curse as she knew how, Thomasina gathered her overskirt and the top two petticoats into a bunch. These she secured about her waist with her long sash belt. “Perfectly scandalous,” she piped, mimicking Aunt Augusta as she surveyed the result. With a last note of Parker’s position, she slipped her shoes from her feet and began the climb.

“Hurry, Tommi, hurry!” Parker called anxiously.

“Do not fear, Parker, I am almost there,” Thomasina answered as she paused briefly. In a few seconds she was on the same branch as the boy but, still distrustful of the reality of his plight, stayed next to the main trunk of the tree. “Come to me, Parker,” she ordered, reaching out her hand.

“I cannot,” he wailed, summoning two huge tears to the fore. “If I take even one step without you to hold on to, I shall die!”

“Nonsense,” Thomasina snapped. She saw the boy’s head cock, then heard the dull thump of a casually loping steed. They must not be seen here. Pushing aside all doubts and caution, she edged towards the boy, who stood just beyond mid-limb.

“Grab that vine above you, Tommi,” Parker urged. “You will “be safe from falling then.”

Looking up she saw the tail of a vine dangling just within her reach and caught it with one hand.

“No—take hold of it with both hands, tightly,” Parker urged, suddenly edging towards her as the hoof beats neared. “I will take hold of your waist.”

Not wishing to delay matters, Thomasina gritted her teeth and, with the vine firmly in the grip of both hands, she edged to the boy’s side.

Parker gripped her waist but would not move as she began to step back to the tree’s main trunk. Instead he braced himself in the opposite direction and screamed “Help!” at the top of his lungs.

Panic set in as Thomasina tried desperately to drag him with her. Murderous thoughts streamed through her mind at his treachery.

He tugged at her, screeching all the while. Fear of discovery left Thomasina’s mind as the scuffle changed from attempting to pry the boy loose to keeping her footing. As she wavered wildly she vaguely heard Parker yell, “Watch out below, sir!”

Then her mind momentarily blanked as she slipped and fell from the limb. The vine she clutched for security fell with her as she dropped in a wide arc across the path. It jerked her to an abrupt halt ten feet above the ground right before the galloping mount that reared at her sudden appearance.

The gentleman atop the steed controlled his mount easily and then proceeded to survey the shapely, hosed ankles and calves of the dangling, and thunderously angry Thomasina. He noted the odd adjustment of her skirt and petticoats and the lack of shoes. Thinking it had been a young boy who called for help, he scanned the upper branches of the tree but saw no one.

Twirling slowly and helplessly about, Thomasina’s anger grew as she caught glimpses of the large, scowling man who merely sat watching her.

“The least you could do is help me down,” she clipped through gritted teeth, as awareness of her appearance increased her discomfiture.

“And would you be suitably grateful, wench?” he asked unpleasantly. “The effort involved in your scheme does denote some recompense.”

Thomasina’s face flamed red. She sputtered indignantly.

This reaction brought a slight curve of the lip, which one familiar with the individual would have termed a smile. Directing his mount forward to Thomasina’s side, he stood in the stirrups to his full height, reached up, and grasped her firmly about the waist. “You are secure now—release your grip on the vine.

Thomasina looked down into the dark, angular face. His emerald-green eyes bore through her.

“I said, let go of the vine,” he commanded.

Involuntarily, Thomasina jerked her eyes from his to her hands. She let go of the vine as if it were a firebrand.

Relaxing into the saddle, the gentleman carried her down in his steely grip. “Now you must pay the price for my assistance—or get the reward for your effort—whichever thought agrees with your own.”

Thomasina searched his face for a hint of his mad reasoning and saw his intent too late to prevent his lips from capturing hers. In her surprise, seconds sped by before she erupted into a twisting, kicking bundle.

The mount, startled by her sudden movements, reared. Thomasina found herself released and dropped unceremoniously to the ground as the steed was once more brought under control.

Struggling upright her brown eyes flashing anger, she saw met man’s. They held her until he doffed his hat and said sarcastically, “May the next man you meet not have to pluck you from the tree like a ‘green’ apple. Good day.” And he was gone.

“Who was that, Tommi?” called Parker as he scampered down the tree. “Who was it? Why did you permit him to kiss you?”

Thomasina rose and forced herself to untie her sash calmly, brushed her skirts down and smoothed her hair before she looked at the boy.

Parker edged closer. In a contrite tone he asked, “You are unhurt, Tommi? I did not mean you any harm.”

“We are going directly to your father when we get back to Buckley House,” she answered, “and you are going to explain your reprehensible behaviour in this whole affair.”

“But he will be angry, terribly angry.”

“It does not matter.”

“Are you not afraid of what he will do to you? He will send you away. Mama will make him when she learns of it,” quaked a stricken Parker.

“He can do as he pleases. What loss is it to you if I must go?”

“No, Tommi, you must stay! Please, let us say nothing. You know both mama and papa are being dreadfully out of sorts these days.

“I wish that old man would come and marry Dianna, and then she would go away and everything would be fine.” He pouted. “Please, Tommi. I will not tell anyone, ever. Please?”

Thomasina glared at the boy coldly. Fear of his parents had caused him to blanch; at the worst, she had never had cause to fear her own. Her compulsion to tell of the happening weakened. It would go badly for him as well as for her if the incident became known. She might not be able to secure a position as governess, as was her hope, when Parker was sent to school in the fall.

The boy read the change in her and hugged her tightly. “Thank you, Tommi. I shall be good for you, you shall see.” He turned his brightened face upwards to her. “Let us hurry back. I would like to see who father’s caller is.” Contriteness appeared once more as he saw Thomasina’s reaction to this. “But not if you say I shouldn’t.” Turning, he started walking sedately in the direction of Buckley House.

Thomasina followed slowly. She had no desire to learn who the impudent caller was. If fate be kind, she thought, I will never set eyes on that particular “gentleman” again.