The Scandalous Lady Mercy

By: Maggi Andersen

The Baxendale Sisters Book Five

Chapter One

Highland Manor, Tunbridge Wells, 1825 Spring.

AN OWL HOOTED in the large oak near the corner of the house. As Mercy Baxendale crept along the drive to the parlor window, her dog, Wolf, gave a sharp bark. “Shush,” she whispered. She’d be in all sorts of trouble if Mama heard her. But she couldn’t finish writing a chapter of her book on beauty treatments until she’d checked on her latest formula for curing pimples. She’d rejected those she’d discovered in journals, which used a pound of boar’s cheek boiled up with pippins and a slice of veal, or advised bathing the face in urine. And she would never suggest the use of Gowland’s Lotion, which contained mercuric chloride—a corrosive and toxic acid. Instead, she employed a wash of warm water and oatmeal, followed by a lotion with oil of sweet almonds as a base, to which she added a mixture of nutmeg, black pepper, sandalwood, and honey.

But she knew no one who might endure testing it. The notion had come when she’d seen Mr. Timms, her father’s man of business, with a pimple on his nose. As she stared at it closely, she deliberated whether to ask him to try her formula, but decided against it when he recoiled like a startled horse and flushed crimson.

The book would have to be put aside again, plus her next venture, which was to make her own cosmetics, as the family was to go to London for her Come Out. Unlike her sister, Charity, who’d refused a London Season, Mercy eagerly looked forward to hers. She delighted in the pretty gowns, spencers, pelisses, dancing slippers and hats which filled her wardrobe, and shopping in London’s fashionable stores for additional accouterments.

Scattering gravel, Wolf skidded over the drive to sniff beneath a hedge. After a squirrel scampered up into a tree, the dog returned to her side. “Good dog,” she murmured.

So much rested on a successful Season. While the prospect was exciting, it also made her nervous. Father had outlaid a considerable amount of money on this endeavor. What if she became a wallflower? At least two gentlemen had promised to dance with her. Robin’s friend, Lord Bellamy, and the Scottish baron, Lord Gunn. Neither would suit Father though, as Bellamy was a second son and Gunn had been a suitor of Charity’s.

Mercy turned the corner onto the sweep of circular drive. Candlelight shone down from the upper stories. Mama was still awake.

With a beating heart, Mercy raised the window and put a knee on the sill, trying not to soil the embroidered muslin she’d worn to the assembly earlier in the evening. She fell onto the floor of the parlor, with Wolf vaulting the sill easily and landing beside her.

The door opened, throwing light into the room from the hall sconces. “Mercy?” A lamp flickered into life, and her mother’s face appeared with a pained expression. “The last of my daughters to see off, and I declare I shall not survive to witness it. Where have you been?”

“I’ve been to my laboratory. I needed to check on an experiment.”

“All the way to the barn?”

“I took Wolf with me.”

Mama smiled wearily. “Send Wolf downstairs and come to your bedchamber before your father sees you.”

Having relegated Wolf to his bed in the servant’s hall, Mercy followed her mother up to her bedchamber.

Mama gave a heavy sigh and sank onto the bed. “I do wish you could be counted on to behave as one would expect of a young debutante. Your father would be very angry if he learned of this.”

Mercy shrugged off her spencer and darted over to her. “Mama, please don’t tell him!”

Mama sighed. “It would serve no purpose to upset him further. He’s annoyed that young Geoffrey Linden swung you right off your feet during the reel at the assembly this evening! A good thing that didn’t happen in London. If it had you would be considered fast and may not get a voucher for Almack’s.”

“Geoffrey meant no harm. He is only sixteen.”

“Nevertheless, he should be better schooled in etiquette. I should speak to his mother. You cannot allow gentlemen to stretch the limits of respectability. All eyes will be upon you. But at least you won’t be able to vanish from Portland Square as easily as you do here.”

She rose and began to undo the hooks on Mercy’s gown. “Are you aware of how dangerous the streets of London can be? Town is not at all like Tunbridge Wells.”

“I doubt I’d have reason to leave the Mayfair house unescorted, Mama.”

“I suspect you might, Mercy,” her mother said ambiguously. “Now get some sleep. You of all people must know the first rule of beauty care is to be well rested.”