The husbands arrived back late on a Wednesday, their arrival heralded by Celine’s happy laughter as she ran downstairs to greet Daniel. Maria had not thought to bother going downstairs but did not want David to look upon her with that look of his. Her husband’s valet was far too overfamiliar with him, and thought himself worse off to have saddled himself with such a useless wife. Not so very useless, she thought. At least she could provide Sam with an heir.
‘Daniel, you will never in a thousand years guess what I have done,’ Celine told him proudly.
‘Something incredible I am sure.’ He let her lead him into the drawing room where the maid was frantically laying a fire.
‘I have found us a cook! For our new house.’ She was dressed in her nightgown and robe, and when she perched on the sofa she looked like a child, her hair in a long plait that almost reached her waist.
‘And what new house would that be?’ Daniel joked. ‘I have been gone not two weeks and you have been busy without me.’
‘Well, obviously there is no new house as of yet, but our cook can wait for us, and we won’t have to wait too long will we, my love?’
‘Who is this cook?’ Sam asked. ‘In my experience any staff worth having are like gold dust – they do not wait around for houses to be rented.’
‘Ah, well that is the beauty of it,’ Celine informed him. ‘She is from the Magdalen! They have said that she can stay so long as she is gone by year end.’
‘The Magdalen?’ Maria could feel Sam’s eyes on her as he spoke. ‘Maria?’
‘Well, why on earth not? It is a good cause and those poor women are in need our forgiveness, not our judgement,’ she retorted.
‘What is this place?’ Daniel asked Celine, who sat back suddenly.
‘Well it is a place for women who have fallen on hard times,’ she told him.
‘It’s a charity for whores,’ Sam corrected her. ‘Your wife has secured the services of a former streetwalker as your new cook.’
‘How dare you!’ Celine was suddenly furious. ‘You have not even met her. Ruth Simpson is a kind and meek woman and she has excellent cookery skills. We tried her meat pie, Maria and I, and it was as good as anything that I have tried from your own kitchen.’
‘Do I understand this correctly? Sam, your wife took mine to a whorehouse?’ Daniel stood and Maria took a step back when she saw the look on his face.
‘It is not such thing!’ Celine stood herself. ‘Don’t you dare blame Maria. She has been my only friend since you left me here on my own.’ She stormed off, Daniel in close pursuit of her.
Maria breathed a sigh of relief. She had thought Celine to be just the usual easily swayed upper class girl that she had grown up with, but she had proved herself on several occasions now.
‘What is wrong with you?’ Maria turned to look at Sam in surprise. There was a vehemence in his voice that had never been there before.
‘She was lonely. She felt shunned and I thought that she would be cheered to see that there were women worse off than her. And look – she was happy until you went and made her feel that she had done something wrong!’ Maria turned to leave but he grabbed at her arm.
‘Don’t you dare blame me for this, though you do everything else.’ She tried to wrench away from him but he was too strong, pulling her so close that she could smell brandy and tobacco on his breath. ‘I helped you when no one else would and all you have done is punish me. You are an unhappy woman. You have always been so, and I would not be surprised if this was not some malicious attempt to bring Celine down with you, to drive a wedge between her and Daniel.’
‘Your good intentions are like the leaves on the trees, Sam. They look so fresh in the spring, unfurling and new, but it is only so long before they shrivel and die, getting trampled underfoot.’ He let go of her suddenly and she staggered backwards, catching herself on the arm of the sofa.
Maria pulled herself upright as Sam left without giving her another glance, his valet David at his heels like a faithful old dog. She would have best described the look on David’s face as triumphant.