Chapter 35

Lord Spittleworth’s Proposal

A few days later, Lady Eslanda was walking alone in the palace rose garden when the two soldiers hiding in a bush spotted their chance. They seized her, gagged her, bound her hands, and drove her away to Spittleworth’s estate in the country. Then they sent a message to Spittleworth, and waited for him to join them.

Spittleworth promptly summoned Lady Eslanda’s maid, Millicent. By threatening to murder Millicent’s little sister, he forced her to deliver messages to all Lady Eslanda’s friends, telling them that her mistress had decided to become a nun.

Lady Eslanda’s friends were all shocked by this news. She’d never mentioned wanting to become a nun to any of them. In fact, several of them were suspicious that Lord Spittleworth had had something to do with her sudden disappearance. However, I’m sad to tell you that Spittleworth was now so widely feared, that apart from whispering their suspicions to each other, Eslanda’s friends did nothing to either find her, or ask Spittleworth what he knew. Perhaps even worse was the fact that none of them tried to help Millicent, who was caught by soldiers trying to flee the City-Within-The-City, and imprisoned in the dungeons.

Next, Spittleworth had set out for his country estate, where he arrived late the following evening. After giving each of Eslanda’s kidnappers fifty ducats, and reminding them that if they talked, he’d have them executed, Spittleworth smoothed his thin moustaches in a mirror, then went to find Lady Eslanda, who was sitting in his rather dusty library, reading a book by candlelight.

‘Good evening, my lady,’ said Spittleworth, sweeping her a bow.

Lady Eslanda looked at him in silence.

‘I have good news for you,’ continued Spittleworth, smiling. ‘You are to become the wife of the Chief Advisor.’

‘I’d sooner die,’ said Lady Eslanda pleasantly, and, turning a page in her book, she continued to read.

‘Come, come,’ said Spittleworth. ‘As you can see, my house really needs a woman’s tender care. You’ll be far happier here, making yourself useful, than pining over the cheesemakers’ son, who in any case, is likely to starve to death any day now.’

Lady Eslanda, who’d expected Spittleworth to mention Captain Goodfellow, had been preparing for this moment ever since arriving in the cold and dirty house. So she said, with neither a blush nor a tear:

‘I stopped caring for Captain Goodfellow a long time ago, Lord Spittleworth. The sight of him confessing to treason disgusted me. I could never love a treacherous man – which is why I could never love you.’

She said it so convincingly that Spittleworth believed her. He tried a different threat, and told her he’d kill her parents if she didn’t marry him, but Lady Eslanda reminded him that she, like Captain Goodfellow, was an orphan. Then Spittleworth said he’d take away all the jewellery her mother had left her, but she shrugged and said she preferred books anyway. Finally, Spittleworth threatened to kill her, and Lady Eslanda suggested he get on with it, because that would be far better than listening to him talk.

Spittleworth was enraged. He’d become used to having his own way in everything, and here was something he couldn’t have, and it only made him want it all the more. Finally, he said that if she liked books so much, he’d lock her up inside the library forever. He’d have bars fitted on all the windows, and Scrumble the butler would bring her food three times a day, but she would only ever leave the room to go to the bathroom – unless she agreed to marry him.

‘Then I shall die in this room,’ said Lady Eslanda calmly, ‘or, perhaps – who knows? – in the bathroom.’

As he couldn’t get another word out of her, the furious Chief Advisor left.

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