“Beg pardon, sir.”
Danvers looked up at his assistant. “Yes?”
“There’s a man here, who would like to see you. He says it’s important.”
Danvers frowned. Everyone who wanted to see him said it was important. “Did he say what it was about?”
Willis nodded, looking more than a little nonplussed. “He said that he needs ‘a maiden all forlorn’.”
“That’s what he said, sir.”
The lawyer stared at his assistant for a moment, then shook his head and chuckled. “All right. Send him in. If nothing else, perhaps I’ll get a good laugh out of this.”
In a few moments the door opened again, and Danvers gazed with astonishment at the tall, broad-shouldered man who entered; for although they often corresponded, they had only met twice, their most recent meeting being when Gael married, more than thirteen years ago. Startling out of his amazement, he rose and warmly greeted his client.
“This is a surprise.”
Gael smiled. “I expect it would be, after all this time.”
Danvers motioned Gael to a chair and seated himself, marveling all the while at the farmer’s appearance. He must be in his mid fifties by now, but other than a slight graying of his hair near the temples and the lines on his brow, he looked more like a man in his early forties. And, Danvers ruefully realized, far more fit than he did, as he’d acquired a bit of a paunch in recent years, while there was no hint of the very substantial paunch Gael once carried.
“You’ve changed,” he noted with a tinge of envy. “You look far better than when we last met.”
Gael smiled. “Well, my wife has made me promise to live to see my grandchildren, and I’m doing what I can to keep that promise.”
“An admirable goal. I hope you achieve it.”
“Thanks. I sort of hope so, myself.”
Danvers smiled. “How is your wife? A pretty little thing, if I recall correctly.”
Gael nodded. “A very pretty little thing, though not so little at the moment, as she is seven months along.”
“Oh? Let me offer you my congratulations. What is this? The fourth, or the fifth?”
“The fifth. And that’s why I’m here.”
“It is? I thought you were looking for ‘a maiden all forlorn’,” Danvers smilingly observed.
“Well, yes, I am, in a way. The thing is, Mia is getting too big and too tired to take care of the house and children, and I want to hire someone to help her, so she doesn’t get exhausted or ill.”
Danvers nodded. “A wise idea. A wife is too precious to risk by being too thrifty.”
“Exactly. But there is one problem.”
Danvers raised an eyebrow. “And that is?”
“Mia won’t have it.”
Danvers looked at him with surprise. “She won’t? I’d think most wives very happy to have some help, especially under the circumstances.”
“So would I,” Gael agreed, “but she doesn’t want some stranger staying with us, and changing our way of life. So I’ve decided on a plan.”
“And what would that be?”
“I want to find someone who can help with the house and all, but who needs help of her own. A sort of maiden all forlorn, so to speak, who is in such desperate straits that Mia will feel obliged to hire her, if only to rescue her from her sad situation.”
“That’s an interesting idea, but you’ll have to give some thought as to how to advertise for such a girl without seeming to have some darker purpose.”
Gael nodded, as he’d rescued such a girl once before, and faced the same problem at first. That had ended quite well, as she and he were now happily married, but he couldn’t expect to repeat the process, and wouldn’t want to, even if he didn’t have Mia. “I know. Which is why I came here. I want you to do it, instead.”
Danvers pursed his lips, put his hands together in front of them, and nodded. “I see. Did you have any particular sort of maiden in mind?”
Gael shook his head. “No. Not especially. But I would like her to be old enough to watch the children, yet young enough to be willing to do it for some time before she wants a life of her own.”
“So... thirteen or fourteen?”
“Exactly. If she is older, she’ll be of age all too soon, and if much younger, she won’t be able to control the children.”
Danvers began to take notes, to ensure having the particulars correctly in mind.
“And as I said, I’d like her to be in desperate straits, so she is glad to be rescued, but exactly what kind of straits aren’t all that important. Though I wouldn’t want her to be unmarried and pregnant, or anything like that.”
“Naturally. That wouldn’t set a very good example.”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Gael agreed.
Danvers looked up at him. “What do you want to offer the girl?”
“I’d offer her room and board, and a small amount for spending money while she is living with us; but I’d want most of her wages set aside for when she leaves, so she can make her way in the world.”
“Depending upon the length of her service, that might be a substantial sum,” Danvers observed. “She may want some assurance that it will be there when she needs it.”
“I know. She’d be a fool if she didn’t. But I’d be willing to have you set money aside in some kind of trust, so she’d have that assurance.”
Danvers nodded, as he continued to write; then looked up again.
“And when would you like her?”
“As soon as you can find her, as I’ve put things off for too long already; but I’d understand if it takes you some time.”
“I could probably find someone by the end of the month. Would that do?”
“That would be fine, but of course the sooner the better. Will you want a retainer?”
Danvers shook his head. “No. If I find a girl, I’ll bill your account for any work that needs to be done. But if I can’t find one, I’ll absorb it into my regular fees.”
“That’s unusually kindly of you,” Gael noted.
Danvers chuckled. “Yes, it is. I must be getting old. Or perhaps I’m so taken by the idea of finding and rescuing ‘a maiden all forlorn’ that I’d want to pursue it, even if you changed your mind.”
Gael smiled as he rose. “I’m glad you find the idea so interesting. It should make your search easier.”
Danvers rose to see the old gentleman out, and smiled in return. “I’ll see what I can do, and contact you as soon as I have any news.”
“Thanks. I’d appreciate it, though, if you kept any note as vague as possible, as I don’t want Mia to know about this till it’s all done.”
“I don’t imagine you would.”
Danvers watched Gael leave, and shook his head.
“You don’t happen to know any unfortunate young maidens in desperate need of saving, do you?”
Willis’ eyes widened. “No, I can’t say that I do, sir.”
“That’s good, Willis. That’s good. Let’s hope that you never do.”
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