Poppy

Poppy by M.C. Beaton

Book: Poppy by M.C. Beaton Read Free Book Online
Authors: M.C. Beaton
only after one thing
.”
    Then what about all the sentiments—of love and longing and tenderness—in those little songs Poppy sang? She had thought those emotions luxuries of the upper class, but here she was in the upper class, and it was all just the same.
    Poppy gave a little sigh. She hoped she was not pregnant. That would be a terrible responsibility, added as it would be to the responsibility of providing for two children already.
Three
, mocked her tired brain.
Three… counting Freddie
.
    She shoved him over impatiently to one side, and then heaved herself up on one elbow and studied his face, searching in her heart for one spark of tenderness. His face was relaxed under its little waxed mustache, almost adolescent in repose.
    Sunlight was beginning to filter through a chink in the curtains. Poppy shrugged impatiently and climbed from the bed. She drew open the curtains and stared blankly at the glory of the morning.
    There was a clatter of hooves, and the duke and Freda rode out from under the window. Freda was wearing a very dashing green velvet riding habit with gold lace at the throat and cuffs. She looked a superb figure on a large dappled horse, which curvetted and tossed under her easy mastery of the reins. The duke called something to her, and she threw back her head and laughed, and then they cantered together, side by side, down the drive.
    Poppy watched them until she could see them no more, her eyes hard and dry and very bright.
    The words of the music-hall song rang in her ears:
    “
It’s the same the whole world over,
It’s the poor that gets the blame,
It’s the rich that gets the pleasure,
Isn’t it a bleedin’ shame?

    Lord Archibald Plummett and his wife, Lady Mary, arrived that very same day. Lord Archibald was a heavy, round, serious young man with a fat face, which wore a perpetual expression of disapproval, making him look like a discontented baby.
    The duchess went forward to meet them, wishing for the hundredth time that Mary were not quite so tall.
    Lady Mary stripped off her gloves in a threatening manner. “I gather Freddie’s made a fool of himself with some quite unsuitable creature,” she said.
    “Not at all,” said Her Grace. “We find her very pleasant and quite pretty. Hugo even goes so far as to point out that she is much too good for Freddie.”
    “Pretty, is she,” sneered Lady Mary. “Well, we can’t stand here. Have the girl sent for, and I shall look her over and give my verdict.”
    “You will do nothing of the kind, Mary,” came an acid voice from the main stairs, where the duke was making his leisurely descent. “Must you wear such repellent hats, Mary? I swear they are almost as bad as your manners.”
    Lady Mary went puce. The duke was the only person who could manage to get under her skin, since he was, after all, the only one with enough courage to stand up to her.
    “Good morning, Archie,” continued the duke. “What brings you here? You might have sent me a wire.”
    “Little bird told me you were in need of help,” said Archibald sourly.
    “Freda telephoned you, did she,” said the duke. It was not a question. “What an interfering lot of busybodies you all are. Well, since you’re here, you may as well stay. Unless of course you plan to treat the new Mrs. Plummett to any discourtesy.”
    “I shall treat her as I treat everyone,” exclaimed Lady Mary.
    “That is exactly what I am afraid of,” countered the duke.
    “Don’t speak to Mary like that,” grumbled Lord Archibald. “Girl’s as common as dirt, I hear. Lives in some slum in Bermondsey.”
    “Since you have invaded my home without waiting for an invitation, I shall speak to you any way I please,” said the duke nastily.
    “Really,” bristled Lady Mary. “I have never known you to be quite so rude. One would think you were in love with the girl yourself.”
    “Don’t be vulgar!” snapped the duke, and Freda, listening avidly at the top of the stairs, just out of

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