Home > Phoebe (The Bellamy Sisters #1)

Phoebe (The Bellamy Sisters #1)
Author: Minerva Spencer

 

Chapter One

 


Lady Phoebe Bellamy stopped yet again to wait for her younger brother Dauntry—or Doddy, as his family called him—who had been dragging his heels in a way that only fourteen-year-old younger brothers could do.

Phoebe huffed out an exasperated sigh and turned to scold him.

But Doddy wasn't behind her.

No, the only thing she saw was a rather spectacular butterfly.

"Why, look at you," Phoebe murmured, pausing to admire the large black and crimson specimen. "What are you doing all by yourself, Your Grace?"

The butterfly hovered closer and then landed on her shoulder.

It was an entrancing insect—large, brilliantly colored, and sufficiently ducal—and only the second Duke of Burgundy that Phoebe had ever seen.

If there was a butterfly within a quarter of a mile, it would land on Phoebe. And if she stood there long enough, more of the gentle, shy creatures would find her.

"Have you seen my brother?" she asked the butterfly, which was opening and closing its wings in a languid, showy fashion. "Yes, that is very nice," she said absently, raising her hand to shield her eyes against the sun and scan the area for Doddy.

She shifted the parcel of old clothing she was holding and clamped the awkward bundle between elbow and hip so she could cup her hands around her mouth.

“Dodddddyyyyyyyy!”

Her voice sounded unnaturally loud and Phoebe felt ill-mannered to be caterwauling amid such pristine quiet. It certainly convinced the Duke of Burgundy to flutter away and seek a quieter resting place.

She listened for a reply, but all she could hear was the low buzz of insects and the occasional tweet of a bird.

“You little wretch,” she muttered, laying her Sisyphean burden in the grass before stomping back down the path that led to Queen’s Bower, the quaint Tudor house she shared with her family.

Phoebe never should have invited the little monster to come along, but he’d been so downhearted lately that she had given in against her better judgement.

Not that Doddy was the only one who was downhearted.

It was difficult to remain cheerful when one’s circumstances worsened daily and one’s mother took every opportunity to point out said worsening to one’s father—loudly and often.

Phoebe cursed her brother beneath her breath as she trudged back in the direction she had just come.

She had hoped to deliver the clothing and be back in time to speak with Mrs. Parks, their housekeeper/cook, about the weekly menu.

It was Phoebe's task to stretch the meagre weekly food allowance so that it would feed not only the eight members of her family, but their three remaining servants as well. Mrs. Parks would be delighted to hear that Phoebe had—thanks to several small economies—scraped together enough money to afford a leg of lamb for Sunday dinner.

After Phoebe finished her marketing, she wanted to nip over to Nanny Fletcher's cottage to help with her weekly baking. At ninety years of age, and nearly blind, the old family retainer shouldn’t be allowed near a hearth, but she dearly loved her cream buns.

It was a shame that Nanny couldn't live with them, but there simply wasn’t room for her at Queen’s House. There was barely room for family, as her mother, the Countess of Addiscombe, was so fond of reminding her husband and children.

Phoebe had been so busy gathering wool that she was half-way home before she noticed.

"Blast!" She stopped and shouted again. “Doddy!”

“Over here, Pheeb!”

She shrieked at the sound of Doddy's muffled voice. "Where?"

"By the stream."

“You little rotter,” she muttered. “Just wait until I get my hands on you.” Phoebe stepped over a fallen log and picked her way through the trees, glimpsing her brother’s bright flaxen curls—yet another reason to be irritated with him. Why would God give a glorious head of hair like that to a mere boy?

Phoebe shoved the thought aside, along with the long, snaky bramble that reached out to snag her skirt.

Her brother was standing beneath a monstrous horse chestnut tree, staring up.

“You promised you’d behave and not make trouble, Doddy.”

Dauntry Bellamy's blue eyes were enormous, limpid, and deceptively innocent as he turned to her.

Her brother reminded Phoebe of the brightly colored jungle creatures that her sister Aurelia was frequently paid to illustrate. The animals were lovely, but only so they could lure their prey close enough to sting, bite, or poison them into submission.

Doddy looked like an angel, but he was a hellion from the soles of his scuffed boots to his curly blond head.

He pointed up at the immense tree. “It’s Silas, he won’t come down.”

“You brought your rodent to deliver clothing to the poor.”

His mouth tightened dangerously. “He’s a squirrel, Pheeb, as you are perfectly aware.”

“Don’t call me Pheeb.”

Phoebe lived in the rapidly dwindling hope that her family would stop using her appalling pet name if she was adamant enough.

“To answer your question, Pheeb, I didn’t bring him, he brought himself. Silas is his own master and goes where he pleases.”

“Fine, then let him find his own way down from the tree.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

Phoebe had to bite her tongue; she would only look like a fool if she argued with her irrational little brother about his verminous pet.

She planted her fisted hands on her hips. "Call him, then!"

Doddy squinted up into the tree’s frilly canopy, his brow furrowing. “I did. He is refusing to come down.”

“I’m sure he can find his way back home.” Phoebe gestured to the parcel she had tasked him with carrying. The brown paper bundle was dirty and battered as though he had kicked it all the way from Queen’s Bower. “Pick up the clothes and come along. We’ve not got all day.”

“I can’t leave him here.”

“He’s a squirrel, Doddy, he’d be happier living outside. He probably hates living in a hatbox in your messy room.”

“He’s only ever lived inside—he wouldn’t know what to do out here, all alone.” His lip quivered.

“Ha! Nicely done, Doddy.”

Her brother’s pitiful, beseeching expression dissipated faster than a cream cake at tea.

Phoebe clucked her tongue. “You little faker.”

Doddy looked proud at the accusation and crossed his arms over his chest. “Either you help me get him down, or you can take the clothing yourself.”

“I can’t believe you’d forego your duty to deliver much-needed clothing to your very own people to fish a rodent out of a tree.”

“Do you really believe Mrs. Thompkins wants my worn-out knee breeches and your threadbare old petticoats?” He fixed her with a sneering look that made him appear far older than his years. Phoebe thought of it as his lord of the manor look, which would serve him well when he became earl—if there was anything left to become earl of. "Give me a moment to get him down and I will go with you."

Phoebe scowled. “Fine. What do you want me to do?”

Doddy's triumphant grin showed off two rows of white, straight teeth that were more perfect than they had any right to be.

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