Star-crossed authors: Pippa writes Radical political tracts under her deceased father's pseudonym. Wynn Selworth writes spicy Gothic melodramas under the pen-name Valentine Dred. Then Wynn inherits a noble title and must make his maiden speech in the House of Lords. He begs for help from Pippa's father, whose writing he admires. How can Pippa aid him without giving away her secret? How can Wynn keep his racy authorship hidden from the Ton?
Here is a blog about the issue that brings Wynn and Pippa together, the horrid fate of chimney-sweeps' climbing boys: http://murderousmusings.blogspot.com/2013/08/not-exactly-murder.html
|The original paperback cover|
"Brilliant!" sighed Wynn, tossing the Political Register onto the table at his elbow. He leaned back in his chair and reached for his glass of brandy, a superb pre-Revolution vintage. "I'd give my right arm to write like that."
"If you gave your right arm," pointed out the Honourable Gilbert Chubb, "you wouldn't be able to write at all."
Wynn grinned, shaking his head at Chubby's invincible literalism. "My left arm, then. Don't you agree that 'Prometheus' is brilliant? His arguments are well-reasoned yet pithy, both incisive and persuasive. Whereas Cobbett's language is far too incendiary to be taken seriously by anyone but rabble-rousers and the starving masses. Just listen to this bit here."
Chubby groaned as Wynn picked up the Register again, the shilling edition. He no longer had to be satisfied with the twopenny pamphlet edition, reduced in size from the newspaper to avoid the stamp tax which put it beyond the reach of the poor.
"No, please!" Chubby begged. "I don't mind listening to your speeches, old chap, but I'll be damned if I'll sit still for any more Prometheus, however pithy."
"My efforts only make you laugh." Wynn kicked gloomily at the nearest of the sheets of close-written foolscap scattered on the hearthrug.
"I didn't laugh."
"You sniggered. I heard you. I don't blame you, mind. There's no denying that the style I developed to write those wretched Gothic romances is as unsuitable for a maiden speech to the House of Lords as a nightshirt in a ball room. Somehow I just can't seem to keep out the melodrama and bombast. "
"Seems to me," said Chubby judiciously, "you were a devilish sight happier writing your romances than you have been since your great-uncle popped off and made you Viscount Selworth."
What was Lord Selworth up to?
Pippa soon found out. He turned to her mother and said coaxingly, "Mrs Lisle, I must confess to being here under false pretences. I have come to speak to you about Prometheus."
Her head whirling, Pippa gripped her hands tightly in her lap. Had the Government sent him? Surely William Cobbett had not given away Prometheus's true identity. However much trouble he was in, blamed for civil disorders all over the nation, the publisher, editor, and chief contributor to the Political Register would not betray his friends.
Cobbett was a true and generous friend, who paid liberally for Prometheus's articles despite his own financial woes. Without that income, the Lisles would be in sore straits—and the income would cease if the world discovered who had taken over Benjamin Lisle's pen-name.
Cobbett could not afford to go on publishing articles the world did not take seriously. How much influence would they exert if it became known that the author was a mere female?
And a youthful female, at that!
"Prometheus?" said Mrs Lisle cautiously. Avoiding Lord Selworth's eye, she tucked a greying curl under her lilac-ribboned cap.
Pippa regarded her mother with affection. Mama's calm nature, especially in contrast to Papa's quicksilver intellect, led some to consider her slow-witted. Not so her elder daughter.
"Yes, ma'am. I know your late husband wrote under that name—I must offer my condolences, belated, I fear. A sad loss to the nation!"
"And to his family," the widow said with quietly sorrowful dignity.
"Of course. I...er...You are aware, I daresay, that someone else is now employing Mr Lisle's pseudonym?"
"Certainly. The person concerned very properly requested my permission."
"Then you know who he is?" Lord Selworth enquired eagerly.
"I regret that I am not at liberty to divulge the name."
His lordship's face fell, but he rallied. "Perhaps I can change your mind, ma'am, when you hear why I wish to approach the gentleman."
Mrs Lisle's mouth twitched, and she cast a quizzical glance at her elder daughter. For an anxious moment, Pippa feared her mother would be unable to repress the chuckle quivering on her lips.
However, with assumed gravity she replied, "I doubt it, Lord Selworth, but you are at liberty to try."
He smiled at her. "You are laughing at me, I see. I expect more persuasive men than I have badgered you in vain. But perhaps their reasons were less...altruistic. I hope you will consider my aims altruistic."
Once more his lordship ran his hand through his hair, increasing its likeness to an ill-made hayrick. As if suddenly recalling its unfortunate tendency to go its own way, he then hastily smoothed it down, with a rueful sidelong peek at Pippa.
It was her turn to try not to chuckle.
"May I enlist you on my side, Miss Lisle?" he begged."It is not my place to enlighten you as to Prometheus's identity, sir," she said, adding frankly, "I cannot imagine any circumstances which would change that."