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Authors: Beaton, M.C.

Perfecting fiona

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M. C. Beatonis the author of the hugely successful Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series, as well as a quartet of Edwardian murder mysteries featuring heroine Lady Rose Summer, the Travelling Matchmaker and Six Sisters Regency romance series, and a stand-alone murder mystery,The Skeleton in the Closet– all published by Constable & Robinson. She left a full-time career in journalism to turn to writing, and now divides her time between the Cotswolds and Paris. Visitwww.agatharaisin.comfor more.

 

Praise for the School for Manners series:

‘A welcome new series . . . the best of the Regency writers again offers an amusing merry-go-round of a tale.’

Kirkus

‘The Tribbles, with their salty exchanges and impossible schemes, provide delightful entertainment.’

Publishers Weekly

‘A delightful Regency sure to please . . . [Beaton] is a romance writer who deftly blends humour and adventure . . . [sustaining] her devoted audience to the last gasp.’

Booklist

‘The Tribbles are charmers . . . Very highly recommended.’

Library JournalTitles by M. C. BeatonThe School for MannersRefining Felicity•Perfecting Fiona•Enlightening DelilahAnimating Maria•Finessing Clarissa•Marrying HarrietThe Six SistersMinerva•The Taming of Annabelle•Deirdre and DesireDaphne•Diana the Huntress•Frederica in FashionThe Edwardian Murder Mystery seriesSnobbery with Violence•Hasty Death•Sick of ShadowsOur Lady of PainThe Travelling Matchmaker seriesEmily Goes to Exeter•Belinda Goes to Bath•Penelope Goes to PortsmouthBeatrice Goes to Brighton•Deborah Goes to Dover•Yvonne Goes to YorkThe Agatha Raisin seriesAgatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death•Agatha Raisin and the Vicious VetAgatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener•Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of DembleyAgatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage•Agatha Raisin and the Terrible TouristAgatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death•Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of EveshamAgatha Raisin and the Witch of WyckhaddenAgatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam•Agatha Raisin and the Love from HellAgatha Raisin and the Day the Floods CameAgatha Raisin and the Curious Curate•Agatha Raisin and the Haunted HouseAgatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance•Agatha Raisin and the Perfect ParagonAgatha Raisin and Love, Lies and LiquorAgatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas GoodbyeAgatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison•Agatha Raisin: There Goes the BrideAgatha Raisin and the Busy Body•Agatha Raisin: As the Pig TurnsThe Hamish Macbeth seriesDeath of a Gossip•Death of a Cad•Death of an OutsiderDeath of a Perfect Wife•Death of a Hussy•Death of a SnobDeath of a Prankster•Death of a Glutton•Death of a Travelling ManDeath of a Charming Man•Death of a Nag•Death of a Macho ManDeath of a Dentist•Death of a Scriptwriter•Death of an AddictA Highland Christmas•Death of a Dustman•Death of a CelebrityDeath of a Village•Death of a Poison Pen•Death of a BoreDeath of a Dreamer•Death of a Maid•Death of a Gentle LadyDeath of a Witch•Death of a Valentine•Death of a SweepDeath of a KingfisherThe Skeleton in the Closet

 

Constable & Robinson Ltd

55–56 Russell Square

London WC1B 4HP

www.constablerobinson.com

First published in the US by St Martin’s Press, 1989

First published in the UK by Chivers Press, 1990

This paperback edition published by Canvas,an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2012

Copyright © M. C. Beaton, 1989

The right of M. C. Beaton to be identified as the author of thiswork has been asserted by her in accordance with theCopyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing inPublication Data is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-78033-312-0 (paperback)

ISBN: 978-1-78033-467-7 (ebook)

Typeset by TW Typesetting, Plymouth, Devon

Printed and bound in the UK

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For Sue Austin, with love1

A young unmarried man, with a good nameAnd fortune, has an awkward part to play;For good society is but a game,‘The royal game of Goose,’ as I might say,Where everybody has some separate aim,An end to answer, or a plan to lay –The single ladies wishing to be double,The married ones to save the virgins trouble.

Lord Byron

To practise economy was to be out of fashion. And so those two professional chaperones, Effy and Amy Tribble, were soon hard pressed.

Both were maiden ladies of a certain age, fallen on hard times. They had, on receiving their last piece of bad news – a dying relative had cut them out of her will – decided to go into business. They were well connected and had a fairly fashionable London address. And so they advertised themselves as chaperones, not to any ordinary misses, but to the difficult ones, the spoilt ones, the seemingly unmarriageable ones.

They had already had one great success, but strangely enough, offers for their services had not come flooding in. The fact was that society members felt that to engage the services of the Tribble sisters was to advertise to the world that one’s offspring was, to say the least of it, ‘difficult’.

Their first ‘job’ had paid generously and the Tribbles had enjoyed their first taste of luxury in a long time. But the inflationary prices of the Regency soon began to make enormous inroads in their capital.

And so, on one cold winter’s day when London lay under a blanket of suffocating fog, Effy awoke to the sound of whoops of delight from her sister Amy. An offer had arrived in the morning’s post.

‘Don’t be sonoisy, Amy,’ wailed Effy, struggling up against her lace-edged pillows as her sister erupted into the bedchamber.

Effy Tribble had gained a delicacy and beauty with age that she had lacked when she was younger. Her fine silver hair curled prettily around a sweet, only slightly wrinkled face. Her hands were still small and white and her tiny feet had high-enough arches to please the most finicky member of society.

Alas for Amy! She had been a plain girl and now was a large, plain, middle-aged woman with a tall flat figure and enormous hands and feet and the face of a trusting horse.

She sat heavily on the end of the bed and crackled open the parchment. ‘Listen, sis,’ she cried. ‘It is from a Mr and Mrs Burgess of Tunbridge Wells. They have a niece, Fiona, and they say that despite several advantageous offers, she remains unwed. The gentlemen ask leave to pay their addresses, are left alone with this Fiona, and the next thing the Burgesses know is that the suitor has fled the house, never to be seen again.’

Effy sighed. ‘Oh, if we could only say No. This Fiona sounds a difficult case.’ Effy could not imagine any lady refusing even one offer.

‘Nonsense,’ said Amy. ‘I am sure all she needs is a firm hand. How much more difficult our task would seem if the girl was an antidote and not capable of attracting any suitors at all. Let me see, the Burgesses are very hard on her. They say she is bold and brazen. Dear me! Slut on’t! We shall come about.’

‘Do not use foul language, Amy,’ said Effy primly.

Amy reddened and muttered, ‘Sorry,’ and then fell to studying the letter again. ‘Theydosound desperate. They will call here on January the fourteenth – that’s about a fortnight hence – and if they find us and the accommodation suitable, they will ‘‘deposit’’ Fiona with us.’

‘So soon?’ wailed Effy.

‘Can’t be soon enough,’ said Amy robustly. ‘Only think! Not so long ago we had very little money and no servants. Now we have a whole houseful of servants to be paid on quarter-day and . . .’

‘And no money at all,’ finished Effy in a hollow voice. ‘How could we manage to get through so much?’

‘Because we are in society,’ said Amy, ‘and just beingintakes a deal of money. Why, even when our last client paid up, we had little compared to others. What of the gentlemen who think nothing of losing thirty thousand pounds of an evening at White’s?’

‘They aregentlemen,’ said Effy repressively. ‘It is only the ladies who know how to balance the books and that is why the gentlemen marry us.’

‘Oh, really?’ said Amy cynically. ‘I thought it was because they wanted a legitimate ride at home instead of playing the beast with two backs around the brothels. Have you ever considered how many of our Pinks of thetonmust be Frenchified?’

‘AMY!’ screeched Effy, clapping her hands over her ears. ‘Frenchified’ was cant for contracting venereal disease.

Amy paid her no heed. ‘Mr Haddon calls today. He will be glad to hear our news.’

Effy dropped her hands. ‘Mr Haddon! Why did you not warn me?’

Mr Haddon was a nabob, and a friend of the sisters. Effy was always sure Mr Haddon was on the point of proposing to her – an assumption which never failed to infuriate Amy.

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