Authors: Judith B. Glad
A Regency Novella
ByJudith B. Glad
Uncial Press Aloha, Oregon2015
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places andevents described herein are products of the author'simagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construedas real. Any resemblance to actual events, locations,organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirelycoincidental.
ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-200-1
A Pitiful RemnantCopyright ©2015 by Judith B. Glad
Cover design © Copyright 2015 by Judith B. GladCountryside ManorHouse:© Khrizmo | Dreamstime.comSoldiers:© Bronwyn Photo
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Published by Uncial Press,an imprint of GCT,Inc.
Visit us athttp://www.uncialpress.comPrologueSoutheastern Yorkshire,Late January, 1809
"Good morning, Grandfather. You sent for me?"
Her grandfather's expression was more serious than usualas he tapped the newspaper on his desktop. "I'm afraid it's badnews."
He had to say no more. "Captain Foxworth?" The wordscame out a bare whisper, for all the breath seemed to have left herbody.
"Yes. His name is in the latest casualty list from Spain." Hisvoice shook. "A terrible battle...a victory for England, but..." As ifunable to go on, he handed her the newspaper.
Tears blurred her vision, but she knew. Lisanor let thenewspaper slide to the floor. "What will we do?"
"I don't know. If only--"
"Grandfather, you must not continue to blame yourself formy father's follies. You were ill, too ill to be troubled with estatemanagement. If there is fault, it is mine. I paid no attention--"
"How could you? I have never burdened you with financialmatters. Bad enough I used you as bailiff, allowed you to labor likea...a serf."
"I did nothing you did not do at my age. How many timeshave you told me that we Hights are yeomen, not peers? AckersleaFarm is my heritage. I can only learn how to best manage it byworking at every task, no matter how menial."
"But I could have kept your father on a tighter rein. We arefacing disaster. And it is my fault."
Grandfather's heart seizure two years past had forced himto relinquish much of the management of Ackerslea Farm to his onlyson. At first all had been well, but after the harvest her father hadgone to London, ostensibly to attend the opera and theatre with oldfriends, men from his carefree bachelor days. He had renewed hisacquaintance with the expensive crowd surrounding the prince and,instead of returning to his duties at home, he had reverted to oldhabits, living extravagantly, spending lavishly, and gaming wildly.Only after his death in a curricle accident this past October had theylearned that he had not only squandered the farm's income, but alsohad spent monies intended for seed and supplies. Even worse, hehad given vowels against Ackerslea Farm's future income.
"If there is a fault, it is my father's." She hated to speak ill ofthe dead, but her father's reckless improvidence would affecteveryone at Ackerslea Farm for some years, as they struggled to paycreditors and to recoup the financial loss.
"Mine was the final responsibility." Grandfather soundedtired, defeated. "And now we must somehow find another man foryou to wed."
"I fear so. While I have no doubt of your competence, thereality of the matter is that alone you will be vulnerable. You need ahusband whom the world will see as the master here, no matter thatit will be a fiction."
"Where will you ever find another man who will be willingto accept your terms? The concessions Captain Foxworth insistedupon were close to ruinous." She had protested strongly whenGrandfather revealed that Foxworth had demanded a generousallowance, and a munificent payment for each male child he fatheredon her. But finding a man who would yield total control of the Farmto a mere woman went against the grain of most men.All men, Ithink,but those words she left unspoken.
"I have an idea. If it comes to fruition, I will tell you."Chapter OneNorthern Lincolnshire,March, 1809
The sling chafed the back of his neck and the fingers of hisright hand refused to work. His breathing was impaired by thewrappings around his chest, the splint on his leg meant he couldn'twalk properly, and his arse hurt like bloody hell.Might as well bedead.
Major Clarence Lamberton knew he was indulging inself-pity, but somehow any sense of shame eluded him.
The action had gone on far longer than he'd been capable offighting. According to the sailors he'd overheard, Coruña wasbeing called a terrible defeat for the British, even though they hadwon the battle. And had lost it, too, for General Sir John Moore hadbeen killed. Now the ships were carrying the remnants of the Britisharmy back to England. Pitiful remnants they were, too. Fully half ofthe remaining men had taken an injury of one sort or another. Andthe rest were exhausted and disheartened.
I should be with my men. They need me.
His commanding officer had ignored his arguments and senthim off on a boat with other injured officers.
At least he'd been spared the stinking dark of the hold. Hispallet on the deck was only somewhat shielded from spume anddrizzle by tattered canvas stretched from rail to rail. He might bedamp, but he could see a small slice of the shore of England, slowlygrowing visible in the mist.
God, how he had missed Guillemot's Burn. But would he bewelcome when he got there? In his last letter--good lord, that wasin October--his father had threatened to cut off his allowance ifhe didn't sell out. But duty had been a stronger bond than family.Besides, he had nowhere to spend the money.
The wounded were loaded onto wagons for the journey toLondon. But before they set out, a command to halt came back alongthe line. They waited, shivering in the damp coastal air, until a manon horseback appeared.
A man he recognized, even through the film of pain thatdarkened his vision. Nettles. His sergeant, when he'd had a platoonto command.
He pretended not to hear.
Faint hope. Someone near the tailgate called, "He's here. Upfront." The mounted man commanded his minions to "Fetch themajor, but be gentle."
The journey home used to be long, but this time it happenedin mere hours. Or at least that's what his mind told him when hewoke as they were carrying him up the stairs. Familiar stairs leadingto a bedchamber he'd last slept in eight years ago. "My lord, thedoctor will be here soon," Carleton said.
Carleton? Why was a footman taking care of him?
For a long time after that, nothing made sense. Carletoncontinued to speak to him--kept calling him 'my lord' which made nosense at all. An old woman who vaguely resembled his mother cameto sit beside his bed and weep, until he wanted to tell her to go awayand irrigate some other floor. His sister, she of the bright golden hairand lilting voice, never came to visit. That was how he knew it wasall a dream. Phillipa would never leave him to Mother's tears or adoctor's callous ministerings. But hadn't Phillipa married thatScotsman? MacIvers? And gone off to live in the Highlands?I can'tremember.
"My lord, can you sit?"
"Father? Is that you?"
"My lord, your father--"
"Oh, my poor Clarence. Has no one told you?" Again theweepy woman was there beside his bed, watering the floor,dampening his bed linens.
"Madam, his lordship needs undisturbed rest, else he maynot recover."
Maybe the doctor wasn't so callous after all.
"My lord, let me hold this cup..."
The tea burned his lower lip, and he turned his head. Then itburned his chest.
"He can't manage a cup, you fool. Get a sauceboat. We'll haveto pour it into him."
The next time he woke, he had his wits about him enough tolook around. The room was familiar.Am I home? At Guillemot?How...
"My lord, are you awake?"
It was Carleton again. But this Carleton was older, moredignified. Dressed as a butler, not in a footman's livery. "Why?" wasall he could manage, but his fingers caught at the man's jacket andtugged.
"Oh, my lord, you've your wits about you at last. I must callmy lady." And before he could ask the questions that had barelybegun to phrase themselves in his mind, Carleton disappeared.
An interminable interval later, a very young footmanentered, bearing a steaming basin. He was followed by a silent olderwoman in a maid's uniform who proceeded to strip him naked andwash him all over. By the time she was done, both the water in thebasin and the skin on his body were chilled. He locked his jaw toprevent the chattering of his teeth and waited for the next round oftorture.
Eventually, still shivering, he plummeted into sleep.
After an eternity in Hell, he woke in a place devoid of light.No, there was a faint glimmer...under a door?
I'm weak as a newborn kitten.He felt as if he werecaught in the depths of some thick, clinging substance, one whichlimited his motion and weighed down his limbs. His left leg waswrapped in something stiff and heavy, his left wrist bore a thick,equally stiff bandage. And the pain in his arse was worse thanever.
The croak that emerged from his throat bore no semblanceto a human voice. He swallowed, or tried to, but his mouth seemedlined with the clinging, arid dust that had coated everything duringsummer's heat in the peninsula.
He collapsed back onto the bed--for he lay in a real bed, notupon the hard pallet that had served him during the last weeks inSpain. The sheets under him and over him were fine linen, not thecoarse fabric he'd grown used to. They were scented with somethingbesides human sweat. Lavender? He couldn't recall what lavendersmelled like, but the word sounded right for the soothing floralperfume. And there was a pillow behind his head. A soft, downpillow.
I've died and gone to heaven.No. Impossible. Therewas no place in heaven for him, or any of his troops. Not afterCoruña.
"Carleton," he called again, but this time it was a merewhisper.
No one answered.
A dark, squarish shape sat beside the bed. Atop it wassomething that glinted faintly. He groped, and his hand strucksomething hard. When he swept it forward, the object went flyingand landed with a satisfying crash on the floor.
Footsteps sounded outside the door, and then it swungopen. "My lord?" Carleton stood silhouetted in the doorway, acandlestick in his hand. Behind him, blessed God, was Nettles.
"Sergeant." This time the word was almostrecognizable.
"Aye, Major? What can I get ye?"
"Water." A mere whisper of sound.
Carleton came closer and set the candlestick on the bedsidestand. "Here, my lord."
Clarence saw the pitcher and glass, just out of reach. "Needlight," he whispered.
"In course ye do," Sergeant Nettles said. "How's a man to seewhen it's as dark as the inside of a horse's gut?" He elbowed Carletonaside and poured the glass full of water. "Can ye sit, sor?"
Tears gathered in the corners of his eyes as he tried. "No,"he gasped. "Help...me."
Nettles raised his head, held the glass to his lips. "Take itslow, then, sor. Little sips. You don't want to cast it up."
Clarence had tasted fine French champagne, but at thismoment, he couldn't recall anything tasting as good as the tepidwater that moistened the dry tissues of his mouth and soothed thesore lining of his throat. He sipped, again and again, until his headfell back with exhaustion. As Nettles reached to set the glass aside, hesaw that he'd only taken about half of its contents. Yet his belly feltfull.
After that, he regained his strength quickly. It seemed to himthat every hour someone was bringing him small dishes filled withgruel, and after a while, soft, creamy porridges and custards.Gradually the bowls got bigger and the pap was replaced by meatybroth, and yet later, by thick soups with pureed vegetables.
The first day he managed to eat a whole bowl of soup,Nettles returned after placing the bowl outside this room. "I reckonyou're well enough now, sor. I'll call her ladyship."
The elderly woman who entered was familiar. He had seenher before, on the day they had carried him into this house. She hadfainted. Later she had irrigated his hand and his sheets with hertears.
Now she hobbled to the chair Nettles had set beside the bed."Clarence," she said, in a voice that broke on the word. "You're goingto live."
He stared. She looked so much like his mother, but she wasold. "I'm sorry, madam. But who are you?"
She burst into tears. He couldn't understand but one word inten, but those he did comprehend answered his question. "Mother...Mother?"
She caught his hand and carried it to her lips. "How couldyou forget me? Your own mother?"
His mother was young and gay, with gleaming golden hairand sparkling blue eyes. This woman's hair was drab, her pale eyesrheumy. Her face was lined and careworn. "I'm sorry. My mind... It'snot clear." No lie, for his memories were confused, with events of hisyouth mixed with chaotic images of the hell he'd lived through thepast few years.
He stared at her, trying to make sense of the changes he saw.And slowly it all came clear. He had been gone for eight years, andhad carried no pictures of his mother with him, save in hismemories. In those long years, his own hair had gone gray at thetemples, his body had matured, so that the slender stripling who'deagerly purchased a lieutenancy had become a muscled man withlines of care and suffering replacing the youthful smile.
And his mother had grown old.
"Of course. I understand." But she didn't. He saw that in hereyes, saw the shadow of hurt.
Her tears only increased.
"Mother? What is it?"
"Your father..." She buried her face in trembling hands. Aftera moment she drew a deep breath and looked up. "Your father diedtwo months ago. I wrote--"
"I received no letter." Why was he surprised? How couldanything so ordinary as mail have been distributed in the rout thatended on the beach at Coruña?
"How?" He'd feel pain later. For now he only felt numb.
"He..." She buried her face again and sobbed loudly. After afew minutes, she said, "He shot himself."Chapter Two
Lisanor watched through the narrow slit between curtainsas the gentlemen descended from their carriages. Most of them,moved with hunched shoulders and tucked chins, shieldingthemselves from the icy rain.
Two old men led the procession through the front door.Uncle Percival, even more enormously fat than she remembered,shambled slowly toward her. The other, ancient, tall, but so thin thathe hardly cast a shadow, was a distant cousin whose name she'dforgotten. The two of them were the only male remnants of theonce-numerous Hights, and both were childless. She and Alanna were thelast of the line.
A pitiful remnant indeed, of proud Saxon yeomen, loyalfollowers of Ethelred the Unready, whose descendants had held theland he'd rewarded them with for six hundred years. And mostrecently, a follower of Wellesley in Spain.
Her brother had died at Roliça. In one fateful battle,the entire future of the Hights had vanished in a puff of canonsmoke.
Mr. Whitsomeworth, the solicitor, was a bent little man withpeculiar tufts of grey hair sticking out to the sides of his head like acow's ears. He stepped forward and to where she and Alanna stoodby the library door.
"Miss Hight...er... and Miss Alanna. Please join us in thestudy."
Alanna bristled. "Who does he think he is, inviting us intoour own study?" But she only whispered it, and she followed Lisanorthrough the door without a fuss.
Uncle Percival, his nephew Darius, and Cousin Wilbursettled in the comfortable chairs drawn up before the desk, leavingthe two straight chairs at the back of the room to Lisanor andAlanna.
Perhaps,Lisanor thought,they don't see us. Afterall, we are mere women.
Mr. Whitsomeworth seated himself behind Grandfather'sdesk. He shuffled papers for a moment, until the subdued chatteraround the room died down.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to read the last will andtestament of Gareth Caradoc William Hight, Esquire, late Master ofAckerslea."
"Get on with it then." Uncle Percival was a legend in thefamily. No one had ever seen him smile. Lisanor's grandfather haddisliked his younger brother intensely.
"Indeed, sir. If you will just be seated..."
Uncle Percival sat. The solicitor looked around the room, hisgaze resting on each of them in turn.
Mr. Whitsomeworth cleared his throat again. In ponderoustones he began reading Grandfather's will. For a short eternity heenumerated bequests to servants and distant relatives.
Some of those bequests would never be forthcoming,because the funds that would have paid them were gone, squanderedby her father. She silently vowed to fulfill her grandfather's wishes,no matter how long it took her.
The recitation of bequests had a soporific effect. She wascaught by surprise by a sudden silence. Mr. Whitsomeworth wasgazing at her expectantly. "Oh! I beg your pardon. Iwas...thinking..."
Again that quiet little clearing of the throat. "Indeed." Mr.Whitsomeworth tapped a finger on the remaining page of the will."Fully cognizant of the need for a strong hand to guide AckersleaFarm into the future, I have arranged a marriage contract betweenmy granddaughter, Lisanor Isolde Hight, and Major Clarence EustaceLamberton, son of Eustace Lamberton, Marquess of Guillemot, themarriage to take place by proxy, unless Major Lamberton returnsfrom the Peninsula within six weeks of the date of my death." Heraised his chin and looked straight at her. "This codicil to thedeceased's will was written shortly after the casualty reports fromthe Battle of Coruña were made public. Among those lost wasDunstan Foxworth."
Lisanor had known since childhood that she was to marryGregory Sealand, but he, like so many second sons, had gone to thearmy. He'd been posted to Spain, just in time to waste his life in thefighting in Vimeiro village. Not to be discouraged, her grandfatherhad found Dunstan Foxworth, nephew of an old friend in Devon, andanother who had no prospects of his own. She had met CaptainFoxworth and had found nothing to dislike about him, except that hewas a cavalryman. Military men had short life expectancies, butother than that she'd had no objection to him.
His few stilted letters had showed her little of the man, butshe'd believed Grandfather when he promised that if she dislikedCaptain Foxworth on closer acquaintance, she would not be forced tomarry him. In her admittedly meager experience, one man was muchlike another. He would have done, as well as any man. She knew herduty.
"Outrageous!" Uncle Percival snapped. "And who's to knowif this fella's alive either? Ain't they still reporting losses from thatdebacle at Coruña?"
"Indeed. Which is why Mr. Hight named two guardians whowill be responsible for Miss Hight until her marriage."
"Well, tell us, man," Uncle Percival said. "Who are named herguardians?" His tone made it clear he believed himself qualified forthe task.
Lisanor crossed her fingers.I pray he is wrong in hisexpectation.
"The Marquess of Guillemot and my humble self, if MajorLamberton is...unavailable. Until Miss Hight reaches the age oftwenty-nine or marries a man of whom we approve. Whichevercomes first. Unfortunately--"
Before he could continue, the room erupted with speech.Only Lisanor, Alanna and Mr. Whitsomeworth were silent.
She was still numb. Even before her grandfather's death, shehad been demoralized by the loss of not one, but two, prospectivehusbands. She'd numbly agreed to Grandfather's suggestion ofClarence Lamberton as a third candidate without really thinkingabout it. After all, he was another military man, and would probablynot survive long enough to marry her.
Now she was being told she would be under the thumb of anunknown nobleman for the foreseeable future. And Grandfather wasgone. His sudden death had left her reeling, especially since sheknew that nothing had really been settled. His death had been sosudden, so unexpected. The tears she had suppressed while she andAlanna waited for the men to return from the cemetery welled upand overflowed.
Mr. Whitsomeworth held up his hands. "Unfortunately," hesaid again, in a loud voice, "there is a further complication, one Mr.Hight was unaware of when he requested me to write thecodicil."
His gaze, as it traversed the room, from one face to the next,dampened all speech. "I learned just yesterday that Lord Guillemotpassed away two months ago. Unfortunately."
The gabble resumed, until Lisanor wanted to cover her earsand run, screaming, from the room.
Again Mr. Whitsomeworth tapped the papers, this time withsome agitation, as if he was reluctant to continue. "I am prepared toact as sole guardian, until such time as we can discover thedisposition of Lord Guillemot's affairs. Perhaps his heir..."
Uncle Percival asked the question Lisanor wanted to."What's to become of this estate until this is all sorted out? Last Iheard, the wolves were at the door. Drystan made a bloody mess ofthings, and m'brother was too ill to stop him."
"I believe the creditors are prepared to be reasonable, for ashort spell, at least. And I have already taken steps to resolve thisdilemma."
Lisanor wondered what steps, while at the same timethinking of what economies they could practice. The estate was solid;only funds were lacking. Creditors hadn't been paid for months, thehousehold account was empty. Unless they sold off much of thelivestock, they wouldn't even be able to buy seed when spring came,despite Mr. Fishman's strict economies. A few of the tenants werealready muttering of jobs to be had in the manufacturies.
"I've heard that Guillemot is under the hatches," DariusFortescue, Uncle Percival's nephew-by-marriage, said from thedoorway. Apparently he had been eavesdropping. "I doubt that amarriage to the new marquess would be likely to reassure yourcreditors. Or his." He sounded almost gleeful at the prospect.
"He's right," Percival sputtered. "Two bankrupt estatescombining? My good man, they're more apt to demand immediatepayment, rather than agree to delay it."
Darius strode to the front of the room, halted beside thedesk where Mr. Whitsomeworth sat. "Sell the place off. Pay thecreditors. Use what's left to give the girls dowries. That ought to getthem husbands. Solid yeomen, or maybe a hungry Scot. In fact..." Helicked his lips. "I'd marry the young one. Time I was settlingdown."
Lisanor would have attacked him, but before she could,Alanna picked up a vase and threw it, with excellent aim.
"I'd die a maid before I'd let you lay a finger on me, you...youlecher."
"Why you little bitch--"
"Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Let us have some decorum."
Although the lawyer's expostulations had little effect, UnclePercival showed some initiative. He caught the tail of Darius' coatand gave it a jerk.
"You ain't part of the family, nevvy. Got no say in whathappens."
Darius subsided, but only after a spiteful glare in Alanna'sdirection.
"M'brother would spin in his grave were this place be sold,"Percival said. "And I don't like the notion myself. There've beenHights here since before the Normans came. If there's a way to saveit, you find it, Whitsomeworth. And you, Miss Hoity-toity, you'llmarry as you're bid, if it means keeping Ackerslea in thefamily."
"I never said I would not," Lisanor said, while feeling strongresentment that he should doubt her devotion to Ackerslea.
"Good. That's the ticket." He patted his round belly. "Is thatall, Whitsomeworth? Can we have our dinner now?"
"Indeed, Mr. Hight. Why don't you gentlemen remove to thedining room? I have a bit more to discuss with Miss Hight and MissAlanna, but nothing to concern you."
Once the men had left, Mr. Whitsomeworth picked up thepapers, sorted through them, and pulled out one that was written onboth sides with crossed and recrossed lines. "I received this onlyyesterday. It is from the solicitor who handles Lord Guillemot'sbusiness affairs. Tsk, tsk. Most distressing." Mr. Whitsomeworthtapped both forefingers on the papers lying before him.
"Lord Guillemot was severely wounded in the retreat atCoruña. At present he is recuperating at Guillemot Burn, hisprincipal estate not too far from here, in Lincolnshire. The family hasnot yet told him of the situation, though I have no reason to believehe will reject the notion of a marriage between you." His slight smilereminded Lisanor of a cat who's just swallowed the last feather of itsavian prey. "Had anyone but the late Mr. Gareth Hight held themortgages on the unentailed Guillemot properties, they would havebeen called in long since. Your grandfather had considered it, but hadnot made up his mind when... Well, now they are part of yourinheritance. The present marquess has not been told of the situation,due to the severity of his injuries. Nor is he aware of the betrothal.Indeed, you are almost certainly unknown to him, and we can expectsome resistance when he is appraised of your grandfather'sscheme."
"But you believe something can be worked out?"
"I have no doubt of it. Furthermore, I am hopeful that a loansufficient to cover living expenses for the two of you and yourdependents, plus whatever is necessary to maintain the farms will beforthcoming."
"One good year..." Lisanor knew to a farthing howprosperous Ackerslea could be. Her father might have drained thefunds from the estate, but his profligacy had done nothing to itsproductivity. But would there be enough to support Guillemot aswell?
As if reading her mind, Mr. Whitsomeworth said, "TheGuillemot properties have suffered from poor management for anumber of years, and presently bear a heavy burden of debt.However, they have great potential. I know you've been filling yourgrandfather's shoes these past years. Even if Lord Guillemot knowslittle of farming, I'm sure I can persuade him to listen to youradvice."
"I hope so. Thank you Mr. Whitsomeworth. And now, ifyou've no more of great immediacy to say, I would like to retire tomy rooms." She summoned Alanna with a motion of her chin, and thetwo of them slipped out of the study.
"Will you really marry a perfect stranger?"
"Oh, Alanna, I've no choice. It's the only way to saveAckerslea."
"You could marry Darius-- No, I guess you couldn't."
"No, Never ever. Ugh!" Lisanor shuddered before sheembraced her younger sister. "Don't you worry. Everything will beall right."
If only she believed her own words.Chapter Three
"Clarence, you will suffer a setback if you don't calmyourself."
"The devil with that. I want to know what you mean, I'mgetting married."
"Well, it's a bit complicated, dear, but you're going to marryMiss Lisanor Hight. She's the heir to Ackerslea Farm, you see, but shemust be married in order to inherit. We had thought there was timefor you to recover, to become accustomed to the notion, but--"
"I had not planned to marry anyone." He wished his bodywere less weak. How could a man fight his own battles if he couldn'teven stand?
"Oh, but dear, you must. They have begun calling the banns.I believe it's been done once, so only another two weeks...well, tendays, actually, since today is Thursday. But since you cannot marryon a Sunday, it will be eleven days. We'll have to call in a tailor. Yourwardrobe is in sad state."
He pushed himself upright, held his body there by an effortof will. "Mother, I. Am. Not. Marrying. Anyone. Not now. Not in theforeseeable future."
"But you must," she wailed. "You must."
There had been a sincere note of panic in her voice. Clarencemade himself speak reasonably. "Why? Is there some reason why ithas to be so soon?"
His mother hiccupped and wiped her eyes with an alreadysodden handkerchief. "If you don't..." Another hiccup, and agasp.
He waited, impatiently, but refrained from proddingher.
"Your father--" She buried her face in her soddenhandkerchief. Disgusted, he pulled the case from the pillow his headhad rested upon and handed it to her, after taking the almostdripping scrap of linen from her limp hand. "Mother, calm yourself,please."
She sobbed for several minutes, in time subsiding into morehiccups. At last she said, "Your father--" but again broke off to wailwordlessly.
Clarence reminded himself that she was a mere woman, andsorely tried, if her manner was any indication. He remembered hismother as easily flustered, often upset by his youthful mischiefs. Butshe'd never, to his knowledge, given way to hysteria. Whatever itwas that had her so distressed must be serious indeed.
She took several deep breaths, heaving great sighs as sheexhaled. At last she said, "Over the last few years your father'sinvestments did poorly. Very poorly. And the income from the studfell off. He said it was the war, but I think... Never mind.
"In an effort to recover his losses, he borrowed against theestate. With those funds, he invested again, certain that he wouldrealize great profit. But...but the ship was lost in a storm. Hemortgaged everything that wasn't entailed, borrowed against futureprofits, and with what he received he again invested, this time inwhat he called 'a sure thing'.
"He let everything that was not entailed to tenants on asharecrop basis, but the income has been disappointing. What wereceived last year was barely enough to pay the interest on themortgages. And he refused to call in debts owed, because... Oh, I donot understand it all. You must speak to his solicitor. He attemptedto explain all to me, but I... YouknowI have never understoodfinancial matters. "
Clarence wanted to lay his hand over her mouth, for heknew the inevitable ending.
"I begged him not to commit everything, but he paid me nomind. When he discovered that his 'sure thing' was all a swindle,he...he--" She stared at him with eyes welling with tears.
Clarence wanted to curse his father for taking the easy wayout. For leaving his mother--and him--with the disaster he hadcreated. Instead, he leaned back against the pillows, laid a forearmacross his eyes, and said, "Go on."
"And now this year's payments on the notes, the mortgages,are due. And there are no funds to pay them. We could loseeverything, All but Guillemot Burn and Pinedale, and youknowPinedale has never been a profitable property. Becauseof his great respect for your father, Mr. Hight did not press forrepayment. When..." Her voice broke and she buried her face in thenow-sodden pillowcase.
"Hight? As in Miss Lis-something-or-other Hight?" Clarencewas conscious of a great rage building in his gut. The woman soughtto buy herself a husband? She was doomed to disappointment.
"Yes. I mean... Oh, dear. No, I do not believe Miss Hight hadany notion of...well, you see, if only young Foxworth had survived...orif Mr. Hight had not died so unexpectedly. These terrible wars. It'sjust not fair." The last word was uttered as a wail.
Like pulling teeth, he managed to drag the whole story fromher. His father had given notes to Gareth Hight, a wealthy farmerwith a large, prosperous holding some miles from Guillemot. Thenotes were secured by title to all unentailed holdings, includingabout half of the lands that presently made up Guillemot Burn. Ifthose properties were lost, they would be left with too little land toprovide the necessary income. Pinedale, in Northumberland, was theoriginal seat of the marquessate, and it had always been a drain onthe estate.
Eustace Lamberton and Drystan Hight had beenschoolmates, and in and out of each other's homes until Eustacemarried Clarence's mother and retired to bucolic bliss at Guillemot.Drystan stayed in Town, part of Prince George's crowd. Even afterhis marriage, he spent more time in London than at Ackerslea Farm,living high and wild. "Far beyond his means," Clarence's mother said,with a little sniff that had nothing to do with her distress. "And theywere considerable."
She wiped her eyes one last time and straightened in herchair. "It is a good thing Drystan killed himself in that silly curriclerace when he did, or Ackerslea might be in as desperate straits asGuillemot. I know little of the details, but your father did say it wasfortunate he'd mortgaged Guillemot when he did, for the elder Hightwas finding himself in tight straits, due to his son's profligacy. Thatwas when he offered to sign that terrible contract.
"When Mr. Hight came to Eustace's funeral, he promised methat he had no present intention of calling in the mortgages. Thatwas the first time he suggested that you and Miss Hight might wed.He babbled something about having a second string to his bow, but Ipaid no attention, as it made no sense at all. Besides, she wasbetrothed to someone else and you were in Spain and beingunreasonable about coming home, but there was a younger sister,so..."
"Am I to assume he understood that might be years fromnow, even if I were to agree."
"Well, yes. I mean, no, he knew it might be a month or twobefore you could sell out, but we thought...perhaps April?"
"Sell out? What made you think I'd sell out?"
"Oh, dear. You see, the first man she was betrothed to waskilled in some silly battle--"
Clarence ground his teeth. "Coruña was anything butsilly, Mother."
"No, it was another...last year. Or the year before, perhaps.Anyway, the second man she was betrothed todiddie atCoruña. So sad. Miss Hight must be devastated."
"So I am the third choice? I see." He fell back against thepillows.
He was the heir to his father's follies, his debts. No longerjust Major Lamberton, but the Marquess of Guillemot. He mustmarry. Ensure the succession. But surely not immediately.
Clarence silently prayed for patience. "Of course. But theyounger sister surely could be persuaded to wait until I haverecovered."
Face buried in the now-sodden pillowcase, she shook herhead.
"Mother, please contain yourself. Why must I rush intomatrimony?"
Her first few words were muffled, until she lowered thehandkerchief. "...and I wrote to Mr. Hight when you arrived, tellinghim of your condition. He suggested that the wedding take placeimmediately, and was planning to bring his granddaughter here. Butthen he..." Her words dissolved into a grief-stricken wail.
"But he what, Mother? What has changed?" He really didn'twant to know, but had long since learned that 'twas best to get overheavy ground as lightly as possible.
"He is dead."
"Yes, I know father is dead, but what does Hight want ofme?"
"Heis dead. Gareth Hight. And by the agreement, youmust marry his granddaughter. Oh, my son...my poor son. Doomed toan unhappy marriage with a dreadful woman. A mere peasant." Shethrew herself across his bed, weeping and wailing.
"Mother." He patted her shoulder, wishing she wouldremove herself from his leg. While it was protected by the splint, itwas still tender.
While he patted, he thought back over her words. His fatherhad signed "that terrible contract." What contract? And how could itbe worse than everything mortgaged and him in no position toredeem those mortgages?
The door, which had been slightly ajar, opened. "Perhaps Imight elucidate, my lord," Carleton said as he slipped inside. "Yourfather made me cognizant of the terms of the contract."
"Why the devil aren't you in livery?" Clarencedemanded.
"I have been butler for some time, my lord. Simpson retiredat the end of last year." His manner was stiff, his voice tight withdisapproval.
"Great God!" Clarence lay back on the bed, wondering ifthere was anything the same about his home. "Congratulations,Carleton. I think. If what my mother's told me, being butler may be ashort-lived career."
"I believe it will last, sir." He bent over Lady Guillemot andpatted her shoulder. "My lady, you are distraught. Why don't you letme help you to your morning room. I'll have Maisie prepare you awarm tisane and you can put your feet up and relax while it calmsyou."
His mother let Carleton lead her away. As the butler exitedthe room. He looked back over his shoulder. "My lord, I will return assoon as may be. I'm sure you have many questions."
"I damn well have," Clarence muttered. "But how the helldoes a butler know the answers?"
* * * *
"I do not understand why we must go to Guillemot. Is it notcustomary for weddings to take place in the bride's parish, wherethe banns were called?" In Lisanor's opinion, there was an indecent,almost furtive air about this wedding. For tuppence, she wouldrefuse to participate.
"Ordinarily it is," Mr. Whitsomeworth said, "but in thisinstance the bishop has given his permission for a change of venue.Lord Guillemot is still too ill to travel."
She set two slim volumes in the stack of books to take."Perhaps we should delay until his health has improved."
"That would not be practical. Until Ackerslea Farm comesunder your management--"
"You are certain that my intended husband is agreeable tothat?"
"The contract stipulates that you will have final say in alldecisions regarding Ackerslea."
"And that is the only reason I am willing to sacrifice myselfon the altar of matrimony." Lisanor firmly stifled the anger and fearshe had managed to keep at bay ever since Grandfather's death.Imade a promise, believing I had time to arrange everything to suitmyself. How could I have known I would be called to keep it sosoon?
"There. I believe that is the last." She looked around thestudy, Grandfather's favorite room. And hers. How she would miss it.Already the room felt empty, as if some of its soul had fled.Ah,well, perhaps there will be a place in Guillemot I can make myown.
"Guillemot." She whispered the word, and shivered. Whileshe had never harbored romantic fantasies as Alanna did, shecouldn't deny that the thought of marrying a man she had never met,never seen, one for whom she felt no affection, was daunting. Theprospect of sharing his bed, of allowing him access to her person inan...an intimate way... She shuddered. And hoped Clarence EustaceLamberton was a kind and thoughtful man.
He was a soldier. Kind and thoughtful are probably not hisstyle.
"I'm ready," she said and led the way into the hall. Was thishow Frenchwomen had felt, as they walked to the guillotine?
* * * *
"Your father behaved quite strangely the last weeks of hislife. For some reason, he trusted no one but my poor self, not evenyour mother. Perhaps because we had known each other sinceboyhood."
Carleton stood stiff and straight between him and thefireplace, blocking the meager heat it emitted. Clarence wanted toask him to step aside, but forbore, since the butler had not thebenefit of several down-filled comforters.I had forgotten howdamnable cold Guillemot could be when the wind blows from theeast.
"So, trusting you, he confided in you?"
"Indeed, my lord. It was wrong in him to do so, but his stateof mind was such that he had no inkling of its impropriety."
"Impropriety be damned, Carleton! If you can give me aglimpse of our situation, I'll double your wages."
"I would settle, my lord, for my wages to be paid.Ahem." The man's face had become bright red.
"That bad, is it? Maybe you'd better have the bailiff in."
"There is no bailiff, my lord. Your father...ah...discharged himnearly two years ago. He felt Mr. Inglewood should have been doingsomething to make the estate more profitable." If anything, Carleton,stood even straighter. His expression was that of a man smellingrotten fish. "He did not replace him. To be honest, I began to believethat something had occurred to damage your father's senses.Perhaps a small apoplexy?"
Clarence hadn't wanted to weep for a long time, but justnow he felt a terrible need to let the tears flow. Not in sorrow, but infrustration. "Had he taken to drink?"
"No, my lord. But his behavior was...inconsistent. At times heseemed in full possession of his senses, but more often he was proneto wild swings of mood, from elation to deep melancholy. Sometimeshe behaved as if he believed someone was determined to rob him, todrain the estate."
"I think you'd better send for the solicitor, Carleton. Itappears I am to be wed, but I want to strike the best bargain I can."Clarence breathed a heartfelt sigh and said, under his breath,"Someonewasdetermined to drain the estate, and apparentlyFa didn't recognize himself as the villain."
Carleton went away, leaving him to his dark thoughts.
No sense in laying blame on Fa. Long ago Clarence hadrecognized a streak of impracticality in his father. As long as all wasgoing well and he had enough excitement in his life to amuse him,Eustace Lamberton had been an exemplary husband and father, aresponsible landowner. But he'd also had a strong bailiff in the earlyyears after his succession to the marquessate. Kilbernie, atight-fisted Scot had been bailiff since Clarence's grandfather's time.Kilbernie had died, at the ripe age of eighty-six, shortly beforeClarence had sailed for Spain. He remembered his father writing thathe'd hired a new man, one who was easier to get along with thanKilbernie had been. That must have been Inglewood.
More amenable to allowing Fa his own way, I'llwarrant.
He'd have to ask Mother when Fa began hisinvestments.
Clarence lay back and closed his eyes. He had no desire to beleg-shackled, but even less did he desire to lose Guillemot. Hopefullythe heiress wasn't too much of an antidote. But if she had to buy ahusband, she couldn't be a great beauty. Or sweet tempered, either.Well, at least she wasn't a Cit or in Trade.
Ackerslea Farm. A vague memory of his father talking of hisfriend "with the proud Saxon name." Darren? No, Drystan Hight.There had been a hint of envy in his words as he described Hight'sassociation with Prince George and the extravagant life they led. "Notthat I want to live that way," Eustace had said in a thoughtful tone. "Itwould be fabulously expensive, far beyond my means. But perhapsjust once, it might be nice to sample the life."
Had he been attempting to finance a fling in the style of hisfriend when he made his first investments?
Poor Fa. If he'd had more than one season in town beforemarrying, perhaps he'd have sown enough wild oats to satisfy histaste for excitement. Instead he and Mother had married at the endof the Season and had immediately retired to the country.Grandfather had disapproved of wasting money on frivolities and hismother was too shy and nervous to enjoy London. So Fa hadremained at home on the infrequent occasions when the then LordGuillemot took his seat in Parliament.
He stretched out an arm and jerked the bellpull. WhenNettles stuck his head around the door, he said, "Sergeant, I seem tobe scheduled to be wed in a few days, but no one has told me exactlywhen. Can you gather intelligence? And while you're about it, askCarleton to set whatever domestic staff we have to prepare thehouse to receive its new mistress. Oh, yes, and send Mother here, willyou? I'm going to have to ask her to vacate the master's suite."Chapter Four
Nettles helped Clarence down the stairs and into the smalldrawing room. With relief, he settled into a chair beside the fireplace,grateful for its high back and enclosing wings. Wondering if he wouldhave the strength to stand and greet his guests, he leaned back andclosed his eyes.
I must. I'll be damned if I'll meet my bride as aninvalid.
Assuming the party from Ackerslea Farm had departed asscheduled and met with no catastrophes, they should arrive withinthe next hour or two. While wishing disaster upon them was the lastthing in his mind, he found himself longing for something to delaythem for another few days, even another week. He was not ready tobe wed, no matter how he had worked to mentally resign himself totaking the step that could save two ancient holdings.
The same sick, roiling sensation that always afflicted himbefore a battle filled his unready gut. Sheer, unreasoning terror. Hehad hidden it well, had learned to handle it but it had never gownless strong. Now he closed his eyes and concentrated on regulatinghis breathing.I will live through this, as I have every battlebefore.
That self-reassurance had calmed him in the past, but thistime it was not working. His heart pounded as if he'd been running,his palms were damp, and the roiling intensified. If they didn't arrivesoon, he was likely to disgrace himself.
* * * *
"We should be there within the hour," Mr. Whitsomeworthsaid, breaking a long, uncomfortable silence.
In a way Lisanor was glad he had spoken. Her thoughts hadbecome less and less coherent as the miles passed under the carriagewheels. Although Guillemot was scarce fifteen miles from AckersleaFarm as a crow might fly, by road it was nearly twice that. They hadset out after an early breakfast, and only made two short comfortstops. She imagined the horses were tiring, for they had slowed inthe last half-hour.
I am certainly weary, for all of that.Grandfather'scarriage was an old-fashioned one, although kept in repair, and thesquabs had lost any softness they might once have had. Perhaps ithad been the height of comfort when he brought Grandmother toAckerslea for the first time, but that was nearly half a century past. "Iwonder if my father brought my mother home in this samevehicle."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Nothing. I did not mean to speak aloud." She nudgedPammy, who had once again slumped against her. The maid gave alittle snore and bobbed upright, but her head soon came to restagainst Lisanor's shoulder again. With a sigh, she resigned herself todiscomfort and turned to the window to watch the hedgerows andfields slide slowly past.
In a way she wished the horses would slow even more,would delay their arrival forever. Having been brought up to believethat Ackerslea was her responsibility, Lisanor had never seriouslydreamed youthful dreams of a romantic knight in shining armorcoming to carry her off. Women of the yeoman class did not marryknights, however much those knights might dally with comelypeasant lasses. When young and naÏve, she had believed shewould marry a man who accepted that she was mistress of AckersleaFarm, one who would make no claims on the manor, other than aplace to reside. She knew now that the two men she'd beenbetrothed to had each demanded financial concessions in exchangefor allowing her to remain in charge of the farm. Grandfather hadcomplained bitterly, but had agreed.
Secretly she had held both Gregory Sealand and DrydenFoxworth in some contempt for their avarice, although she hadthought Gregory handsome enough and otherwise amiable. CaptainFoxworth she'd hardly known, but she had found his militarymanners arrogant. Clarence Lamberton, Marquess of Guillemot, wasanother matter entirely. She had no idea what his appearance, noinkling of his manner. Worse yet, she wondered if he knew he wouldnot become master of Ackerslea upon their marriage, no matter whatthe law said. He was a nobleman; their notions of property weresurely very different from her family's.
"His father signed the contract," she muttered, but not loudenough for Mr. Whitsomeworth to hear. What would happen if theson was not inclined to honor it? Would she have any recourse?Opening her mouth, she was about to ask that very question of thesolicitor when a loudHallooresulted in a rattle of harnessand a slowing of the carriage.
Mr. Whitsomeworth leaned out of the window. She couldnot hear his words, only that he spoke to someone who answered ina gruff voice.
When the solicitor reseated himself, he said, "We havearrived, at least at the estate boundary. They sent someone to showus the rear entrance, which will save us several miles."
She wanted to ask if they could not go on to the frontentrance. She was in no hurry.
Tomorrow is my wedding day.Perhaps if the queasysensation in her middle were to develop into biliousness, she wouldhave an excuse to postpone it.
The carriage made a sharp turn onto a drive with a surfacemuch smoother than the road they'd been traveling.We arehere.
She wanted to vomit. Instead her rebellious stomach settledand a strange calm came over her.
* * * *
Nettles supported him through the wide doorway openingonto the entrance hall. Clarence took a single step sideways and setthe flat of his hand upon the table that stood under a mirror with anornate gilded frame. "I can take it from here."
"Aye, sor." Nettles stepped back, but Clarence sensed hestood ready to serve as a prop if and when needed.
The woman who entered was clad in black, from her narrowskirt to the deep poke bonnet on her head. She was plain as apikestaff, and unsmiling. Behind her came a slip of a girl, also inblack, but with a lively, curious expression on her pretty,rosy-cheeked face. They were closely followed by a tall, solemn man whocarried a portfolio. The solicitor, no doubt. Whitsome... more? ...ton?...worth? Ah, yes, Whitsomeworth.
Carleton bowed them inside and stepped aside, after a quickglance at Clarence.On your good behavior, if you please, mylord,it said.
There was something to be said for hiring servants throughan agency, rather than raising them from childhood. Clarenceremained where he was. He was afraid that without the meagersupport of the table, he would fall on his face at their feet. "I bid youwelcome," he said, and looked between the two women, half hopingthe pretty one was his bride. "I am Guillemot." Saying so still feltstrange. For all his life, Guillemot had been his father.
The plain one stepped forward and curtseyed. "Thank you. Iam Lisanor Hight."
"I trust your journey was an easy one."
"As much so as is possible on wretched roads." She made nopretense to be lacking in curiosity, and looked him over very well. "Iconfess that it became tedious as the day wore on."
Reminded that they had been traveling for many hours, hesaid, "Carleton, would you ask Mrs. Smith to show Miss Hight and hermaid to the chamber prepared for her? Ma'am, will you come to themorning room when you've refreshed yourself?"
She inclined her head. "Of course." Turning away, shefollowed Mrs. Smith up the wide staircase, trailing the pretty littlemaid behind her.
He watched her go.Just my luck. Plain, humorless, stern.Ah, well, it will be dark in the bedchamber.
The solicitor stepped forward and introduced himself."While Miss Hight is absent, perhaps you would like to discuss themarriage contract. Have you any questions?"
"A few. Let's move upstairs, though, before I fall." Nettlesstepped forward. The very young footman joined them and, with twosets of strong legs to augment his own shaking ones, heaccomplished the journey to the morning room. Once Nettles hadhelped him to his chair, he said, "I confess, Mr. Whitsomeworth, thatI'm wishing I'd followed the doctor's advice and greeted you frommy bed." He closed his eyes and willed the nausea and tremblingaway.
After a few moments, the solicitor said, "This can wait, mylord, until you're feeling more the thing."
"No." Clarence forced his eyes open. "That's likely to be dayshence. I've read the contract. It's straightforward enough, ifsomewhat unusual. Miss Hight is to have sole authority to manageAckerslea Farm, and it is to be left intact to our second son, or, iffailing that we produce two male offspring, to our eldest daughter.Do I understand rightly?"
"You do. Miss Hight will also have sole control of Ackerslea'sfinances, but has agreed to combine the revenues with those ofGuillemot for the next five years, in order to put both estates back intrim."
"She will sign an agreement to that effect?"
"She already has." He held out a folded paper. It has beennotarized, my lord, and will go into effect upon your marriage.
Privately Clarence thought the agreement was the least thewoman could do, considering she was demanding that he violate abasic principle. A husband should control the finances. How could amere girl of tender years possibly be competent to manage a manorcomprising nearly a thousand acres? Good God! Ackerslea Farm wassomewhat greater in extent than Guillemot, if one considered onlythe principal seat. "Excellent," was all he said. Again he leaned backand closed his eyes.
"You are not as well recovered as we were led to believe, mylord. Will you be able to..." Whitsomeworth's face went crimson as hefaltered.
"Consummate the union? I will do my duty, though possiblywith less agility than one would wish." Privately Clarence wasunsure of his ability in that regard, but as far as he was concerned,what happened in the marriage bed was no one's concern but hisand his wife's.
He just hoped she would understand that he was not himselfat present.
* * * *
"He's not a well-favored man, is he, ma'am?"
Pammy's reflection in the mirror showed doubt. Lisanorpaused, holding the bonnet. "He has been ill." In truth, she had beentaken aback at Lord Guillemot's appearance. He looked old, althoughshe knew he was seven and twenty, just five years her senior. Hadshe been asked, his age, based only on his appearance, she wouldhave said five and forty or thereabout. The deep lines bracketing hismouth, the crow's feet at the corners of his eyes, and yes, even thedarkness of his complexion, all contributed to the impression ofage.
She hoped that as his health improved so would hisappearance. And if not, well, she was not marrying for love andromance, but for protection and conservation of property. His andhers.
Still, a small, romantic part of her had hoped he would behandsome and dashing.
Refreshed, she left Pammy to unpack and went to the door.Mrs. Smith had promised a footman to lead her to downstairs, butthere was no one in the corridor.Surely I can find my way to themorning room. Mrs. Smith did point it out to me as we passed throughthe first floor.
She failed to find even the staircase, until she had traversedthe entire corridor twice. It was concealed behind double doors.Fortunately a footman was on his way up and led her to herdestination. She arrived just as an elderly woman came from theopposite direction.
"Oh, my dear, you must be Miss Hight! I am Lady Guillemot.Dear Clarence's mother, you know. I cannot tell you how happy I amto meet you at last. I remember hearing of you often in the earlyyears, when Eustace and your father corresponded frequently. I evenhad a small portrait of you, painted when you were five or six, but Iam not certain where I put it. But you are just as pretty as Iremembered you, although perhaps your hair is a shade or twodarker. Don't you think it is unfair, that children who have flaxenhair often lose that slivery sheen as they grow up? But here, you willbe wanting tea. I've ordered some sent up. Shall we go in?" Shegestured Lisanor through the door, which the footman had beenholding open.
As they entered, Mr. Whitsomeworth stood, but themarquess did not.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I'm afraid I should have notattempted the stairs. As soon as Nettles returns, I shall leave you.Miss Hight, is your chamber satisfactory?"
Uncertain whether to be insulted at his rudeness, shemerely said, "Indeed it is, my lord."
"Oh, darling, is your wound paining you? I told you to stay inbed today. But no, you would play lord of the manor, just as yourfather would have. As if I am not capable of greeting guests toGuillemot. Let me--"
"Let be, Mother. I merely overdid it, going up and downstairs. A little rest and I will be fine."
"Mother." There was steel in that voice. Lisanor wasreminded that this man had led men into battle for many years. Hehad the habit of command.What have I let myself in for?
The rough-looking fellow she'd caught a glimpse of in theentry came in just then. "All right now, sor, let's get ye took care of.Up ye go." As if the marquess were a child, the man raised him to hisfeet, wrapped one arm around him, and all but carried him from theroom. Guillemot barely had time for a "Please excuse me..." beforethe door closed behind them.
She stared at the closed door, as if to find an explanationwrit there.
"You mustn't let Nettles take you aback, my dear. He is quiteadept at caring for my son, although I feel that his manners leavemuch to be desired. He is so...so common, but devoted to dearClarence. They were soldiers together, you know, in Spain. Hebrought--"
Mr. Whitsomeworth cleared his throat. "If I may interrupt,Lady Guillemot?"
"Oh, yes, of course. Sometimes I do rattle on. You mustn'tmind me. Oh! You must be wanting your dinner soon, so I'll just goand see what's holding it up. I'll send someone to guide you to thedining room when it's time." She all but scurried to the door, butpaused before exiting. "Oh, yes, I've invited some of our closerneighbors to a wedding breakfast tomorrow. I do hope that'sagreeable."
Before Lisanor could tell her that a wedding breakfast,celebrating her marriage to Clarence Lamberton, Marquess ofGuillemot, was the last thing she wanted, the lady was gone.
"Do you suppose Lord Guillemot knows about thebreakfast?"
Mr. Whitsomeworth actually smiled fleetingly. "I doubtit."
"So do I." Well, at least there was something amusing aboutthis day.
* * * *
Morning came all too soon.
Nettles, as was his manner, spoke as soon as he opened thedoor. "Up ye, go, sor! Got a big day ahead of ye. Her ladyship's beenflutterin' and frettin' since first light."
"Good God! Why?"
"She's invited a whole passel of folk to breakfast." Hedisappeared into the dressing room, but quickly returned carrying asteaming basin. "I'd call it luncheon, as it's not to be 'til after yerweddin', but I never did ken the ways of the fancy."
For a moment, Clarence was speechless. "Wait! Fetch mymo-- No, fetch Carleton."
"After I get ye shaved. You jest sit quiet there, sor, and I'll dome best not to slit yer throat."
Since the man had been shaving him without accident for ayear and more, Clarence had no fear for his throat. "Nettles--"
"Quiet, now, sor. I jest honed this razor."
He subsided. Powerless, he fumed instead. His mother wasmaking a big to-do of this wedding. Or was the culprit his wife-to-be?Did they not realize that he wished no public display. Shame enoughthat he was marrying a woman he'd never met, marrying her for herfortune. Any suspicion that Guillemot was in financial straits wouldbe confirmed by this hurry-up affair. Word would get out and sooncreditors would be clamoring at the gates.
Not to mention the damage to his reputation, to hispride.
How they'd laugh in the officer's mess. Clare Lamberton,fortune-hunter.Chapter Five
Carleton made sure the ignominious descent was made inprivate. Determined to make a brave showing at his wedding,Clarence agreed to allow Nettles and a sturdy young footman, tocarry him in their arms, chair-fashion, to the small anteroom just offthe main drawing room where the vicar and the guests were waiting.His bride, presumably, was in her chambers.
"There ye are, sor." Nettles and Syd lowered him carefullyinto a faux bamboo chair, one he did not recognize. Something hisfather had purchased when he began his grandiose redecoratingscheme.
The sound of a pianoforte, played with some exuberance,came through the closed door leading to the drawing room. After awhile the connecting door opened just wide enough to allowCarleton to enter.
"Miss Hight has come down, my lord. It is time."
Nettles stepped forward, helped him to his feet.
Clarence accepted his support as far as the door. "Turn meloose, Nettles. I will do this on my own two feet."
Before he opened the door again, Carleton reached to takesomething from behind a table. A walking stick. He held it out. "Yourgrandfather's favorite."
About to refuse, Clarence took a closer look, and acceptedthe cane. The amber head was warm in his hand, the malacca staffstrong. When he leaned upon it, his legs seemed less weak. For thefirst time he felt secure on his feet. "Thank you, Carleton. I amready."
The butler opened the door and Clarence made his slow wayto the fireplace, before which Mr. Stackdale stood. He had time tonotice the twin vases holding peacock feathers on the mantel, thetwo lines of chairs seating strangers, and the red-haired woman atthe pianoforte, pounding away industriously. She was a stranger. Aneighbor, perhaps?
He reached his goal and turned to face the spectators. Mostof them were vaguely familiar, although he could put names on noone but Squire Tomlinson and his wife. Had they forgiven him forsurviving Coruña when Rodney had not?
The door in the far wall opened. At first he scarcelyrecognized his bride, but as she slowly drew near, he realized thelovely young woman on Mr. Whitsomeworth's arms was indeedLisanor Hight. Her fair hair was piled high on her head and trimmedwith strands of pearls and two pearly-white flowers.
Mother's camellias!I'd forgotten...
Her gown was not black, as he had expected, but a soft pearlgrey, high-necked and long-sleeved, but narrow in the skirt, as hehad discovered fashion now dictated. The color complimented herivory complexion as the severe black she'd worn yesterday nevercould.
As she approached, she raised her chin and looked himstraight in the eye. A challenge? Perhaps. He looked back, just asresolutely. But then her lips twitched. Or had he imagined it?
Lisanor had to admire the man who waited for her besidethe vicar. He'd cleaned up nicely. The rich russet tailcoat and ambersatin waistcoat made his swarthy skin seem merely tanned from thesun and his legs, clad in black pantaloons, were well-muscled,despite his infirmity. For the first time she noticed his eyes, pale greyin that dark face. Firmly she suppressed the smile that threatened,for this was her wedding. A solemn occasion.
But she was relieved. She could not expect love in thismarriage, but if she was going to have to face this man across thetable for the rest of her life, she did appreciate that he wascomely.
"I will," he said in answer to something the vicar hadsaid.
She forced herself to pay attention.
"...obey him, and serve him, love, honor, and keep him insickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only untohim, as long as ye both shall live?"
"I-I will." The words came out the barest whisper, for shehad suddenly realized what she was pledging herself to do in orderto keep Ackerslea Farm.
I hope he is a kind man. A reasonable one. But he was asoldier, trained to battle...Lost again in her thoughts, she did nothear the vicar's question, but came to herself when Mr.Whitsomeworth placed her hand in that of Lord Guillemot. It waswarm, hard, callused as a laborer's hand might be. Without thinking,she raised her chin and looked up at the man who'd just been givenher hand, her body, her very life to rule.
All she could think was that she had lookedup. Eversince she was fifteen, she had mostly lookeddownat men.Except for grandfather, who always said she'd gotten her height fromhim, laughing merrily at his own terrible pun. She had never told himhow many times others--especially young men--had made the samejest, but cruelly meant.
He was speaking to her. "...to love and to cherish, till deathus do part, according to God's holy ordinance, and thereto I plightthee my troth."
Had his voice faltered? Was he as filled with trepidation,with questions about the rightness of this, as she was?
The vicar spoke, but she was lost in her thoughts and paidhim no attention. He cleared his throat, clearly waiting for her tospeak.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "What did you say?"
He led her through her response, her vow to love, cherishand obey this man--this total stranger--for the rest of her life.
His hand tightened around hers before releasing it, and hislips softened into the beginning of a smile. And then he was holding aring, a wide band of gleaming gold and saying something aboutworshipping her body and sliding the ring onto her finger, and shewanted to weep, to cry 'NO!' to run screaming from this room, fromthis man who forever after this moment would have complete andtotal power over her.
Instead she bowed her head obediently when the vicar said,"Let us pray."
Her thoughts were swirling, like tiny beasts scurrying inpanic, and she head the vicar's prayer as only a drone. Until he said,"...that they be Man and Wife together..."
"Good God." Little more than a whisper, yet she heard it overthe sound of the vicar's reciting a psalm. His grip on her handtightened. "Do you suppose he will ever stop talking?"
Something about the way he had spoken made her lookcarefully at him. His swarthy skin had gone pale, the lines around hismouth had deepened. His was the face of a man in grievouspain.
Lisanor decided that God would forgive them for ignoringthe vicar. She slid her arm around her husband's waist and guidedhim to an empty chair against the near wall. "You are an idiot, youknow," she said quietly, as she helped him seat himself. "Why didn'tyou demand a chair."
This time she was sure he'd smiled, although it was sofleeting that had she not been watching closely, she would havemissed it. "There are some things, my dear, that a man must stand onhis own two feet for."
"Yes, well, now that you have proven your mettle, you willremain in that chair for the rest of the morning."
"Only if you will seat yourself beside me. I cannot in allpropriety remain here if you plan to flit about the room."
Yes, that was definitely a hint of smile. She took the chairthat had magically materialized next to his. "I can see, my lord, thatyou are a manipulative sort of fellow."
"Only when I must be." He took her hand and laid it upon hissleeve, for all the world as if they were promenading among theguests. "Carleton, how much trouble would it be to move thefestivities into this room?"
"None at all, my lord. In fact, I think it an excellent notion."The butler slipped through the crowd that was descending uponthem.
"Oh, great God. They are like a pack of ravening wolves. Andmy mother is leading them. Brace yourself."
In the last remaining instant before the wedding guestsdescended with their congratulations, she realized that she mightjust grow to like this man she had married.
* * * *
The next hour was less of an ordeal than he had expected,thanks mostly to his wife and her new-found ally, Carleton. Togetherthey kept the guests from crowding around him, diverted their nosyquestions and smoothly moved everyone into the dining room assoon as the doors were opened.
Miss Hi-- His wife had only remained at his side for fewminutes after the prayer ended. When it became clear that thestrangers among the guests were bound on discovering all theypossibly could about the circumstances of his marriage, she hadrisen and diverted their attention with quick smiles andinconsequential chatter.
"We'll have you to dinner soon." The woman who'd spokenwas a perfect stranger. Clarence had no idea how to respond.
Miss Hi-- His wife, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere."Not too soon. My husband is still convalescent."
"Oh. Lady Guillemot, I am so thoughtless. Of course we willbe patient. We are just so delighted to have another young couple inthe neighborhood." Her smile was tentative. "I am Marianne Abbott.Our property is adjacent to Guillemot to the north. We've only livedthere two years."
"Thank you for understanding. We'll be delighted to becomebetter acquainted when his lordship has recovered completely fromhis wounds."
"Hold. I am no invalid."
"Of course you are not, my lord, but neither are you infighting trim. The last thing you need is a flock of guests wearing youto the bone. And our paying calls is completely out of the questionfor a while."
Mrs. Abbot tapped him on the shoulder. "My lord, you havethe perfect excuse to keep us all at bay. As newlyweds, you areentitled to a honeymoon. Since you have chosen to spend ithere--you have, have you not?"
Clarence had not given a honeymoon a moment's thought,but he thought it unwise to admit the omission. He nodded, hoping asilent agreement would be less a lie than the spoken word.
"A perfect notion," Miss Hi--his wifesaid.What thedevil is the proper address for one's brand new wife?He could notcontinue thinking of her as an attachment to himself. "We willannounce it at table."
The dining room door opened and Carleton emerged. "Mylord, are you feeling up to joining your guests at breakfast?" Hisexpression said he rather thought the answer should be yes.
"I suppose I must." Reaching for his walking stick, he steeledhimself to walk the distance to his chair at the head of the table. Atthe other end of the fifty-foot-long dining room.
"I have taken the liberty of rearranging the seating. You willfind your chair at this end of the table. Lady Guillemot suggested thatyou might be more comfortable there."
He glanced her way, and caught a fleeting expression thatmight have been concern. "Thank you both. I confess that the less Iwalk, the happier I will be."
When Carleton announced them, he accomplished the fewsteps to his chair without stumbling or wavering. He even found itpossible to stand straight and tall while his wife trod to the foot ofthe table and was seated. When Carleton pulled out his chair, hedidn't quite collapse into it.
Lisanor decided that Carleton was a jewel among butlers. Hehad somehow persuaded the dowager to limit the breakfast to fivecourses, and had even given her credit for the brilliant notion toswitch the tables' head and foot. With him on her side, perhapsadjusting to life at Guillemot would be less trying than she hadfeared.I wonder if he might give me some hints about how best tocope with my mother-in-law.
She had already discovered that the dowager marchionesswas a woman of instant enthusiasms, most of them impractical,many of them extravagant, a few of them actually sensible. She alsoseemed unaware that she should relinquish her duties andresponsibilities to her successor.A problem for another day. First Imust protect his lordship--my husband--from thesegibble-gabblers.
Lisanor had been her grandfather's hostess ever since she'dput her hair up. She was adept at managing dinner guests whowanted to linger. Today she did so with a vengeance, and withCarleton's able assistance. Within an hour, the sweet had beenserved and it was time. She rose, and when conversation faltered,she said, "I must ask you to allow a departure from custom. As youknow, my husband recently returned from the wars in Spain. Thejourney was onerous and exhausting. For this reason I beg you toexcuse us from further festivities."
A moment's surprised silence was broken by LordGuillemot's voice, a voice well suited to be heard above the sounds ofbattles, she decided. "AndImust ask you to allow us ahoneymoon. We have not seen each other for such a long time, andwe have more than the usual need to renew our acquaintance. Pleaserespect our wishes and do not visit nor invite us to visit you for amonth."
This bald request triggered a wave of babbling, but Lisanorignored it. She said, "Thank you all for witnessing our nuptials. Mayyour journeys to your chosen destinations be uneventful andcomfortable."
She turned and slipped out through the servant's doorbehind her chair, confident that Carleton would see to getting herhusband to his chambers.
Theirchambers. Mrs. Smith had said that herpossessions would be moved to the master suite today. Henceforthher bedchamber would be there.
A chilling sensation coiled in her all but empty stomach. Inonly a few hours it would be night.
Her wedding night.Chapter Six
"This is the sitting room, my lady. The bedchamber isthrough that door. Just beyond it is a bathing chamber." Mrs. Smithsniffed, her disapproval evident. "His late lordship had abathingfixtureinstalled there."
From the housekeeper's tone, thefixturewas eitherdreadfully decadent or just plain sinful. Lisanor was tempted torequest a viewing, but Mrs. Smith was opening another door in thewall to the left of the bedchamber's entrance.
"This is your dressing room. Your maid's chamber is justbeyond. She has already unpacked for you, and so I gave her leave togo to dinner. If you want--"
"If I need Pammy, I'm sure I can ring. Which of these?" Shegestured at the line of bellpulls on the wall beside the entrance.
Mrs. Smith identified each of the six pulls. "Will there beanything else, my lady?"
"Ah, yes, I have one more question. You said that is themaster bedchamber. But where is mine?"
"Why there, of course. The Ladies Guillemot have alwaysshared their lords' bed." She gave a regal nod as befitted her exaltedstation, and departed.
Lisanor's knees gave way and she nearly missed the slipperchair that was, conveniently, just behind her. She had assumed thatLord Guillemot would not claim his conjugal rights until his healthhad improved. While she knew that at some point they wouldconsummate their marriage, she had not expected it quite so soon.I am not ready. I don't know him. How can I possibly...
She sprawled there, unable to move while her thoughtsscampered like mice disturbed in their nest. But before she couldgather them into some sort of coherence, the door to the corridoropened.
"Here ye, go, sor. We'll have ye comfortable in a trice."
Guillemot's man--Needles?--edged past Carleton, again halfcarrying her husband. As soon as they were inside, the butler closedthe door and hurried across the room to an alcove Lisanor had notnoticed, half hidden as it was by shabby velvet draperies. "In here,Mr. Nettles. My lord, I believe you will be most comfortable on thischaise. You have overdone it somewhat. You must rest, but Iknow--"
"You're right. I won't go to bed like an invalid." Guillemotseemed to see Lisanor for the first time. "Good day, my dear. I seeyou've made yourself comfortable."
She bit back the sarcastic response that leapt to herlips.
Clarence was relieved to see Miss Hi--hiswife--relaxing in the sitting room. There was much they must say to eachother, and the sooner it was done, the sooner they would begin torub along together smoothly. He contained his impatience whileNettles saw him settled on the chaise, while Carleton fussed with thetray holding the cordial they forced upon him twice daily, fetched aglass from the breakfront cabinet, and unfolded the rug.
"That will be all," he said, as soon as he was established."Thank you."
"Carleton, I admit to weakness in my leg and a certainlightheadedness when I have been on my feet for too long, but I amnot ill. Iamnewly wedded, and my...my wife and I would liketo be alone. We will ring if we need you."
"No, Nettles. I do not need you to stay with me. Miss...LadyGuillemot is more than competent to cross the room and ring for youor Carleton, should I need you." He forced himself to smile, despitewanting nothing more than to relax into a semi-reclining positionand close his eyes.
"Yes, sor." Nettles turned to face Miss...
Damnation! She is my wife. Why can I not rememberthat?
"You'll not let him get overtired, my lady?"
"I will take very good care of him, fear not. Thank you both."There was no doubt that her words were a dismissal.
At least she knew how to deal with servants. Clarence hadwondered, coming as she did, from a farmhouse. Poor girl. She was infor a difficult period of adjustment. While Guillemot was not one ofthe great houses of England, it was one of the old ones, and it had itstraditions. Traditions he was determined to continue.
When the door closed behind Nettles and Carleton, he layback and let himself relax. The double vision that had plagued himever since he'd landed on his head when his horse was shot fromunder him had finally reduced itself to a slight blurring when hetired. He hoped the doctor was telling the truth, that it wouldeventually disappear entirely. His left wrist and leg, while both stillweak, were slowly getting stronger. Only the still draining wound inhis right buttock remained a problem.What a joke. Shot in thearse.Wouldn't Rodney...
No, Rodney wouldn't laugh his fool head off. Rodney wasdead. Along with so many more. Men he'd fought beside for four longyears, comrades he'd loved like brothers.
"Are you in pain?"
He kept his eyes closed. "No. Not more than usual. Just tired.I don't seem to have the stamina I should."
"Would you... Can you tell me about your wounds?"
"I'd rather not. They are really quite tiresome."
"My lord, I did not ask out of idle curiosity. I've long thoughtthat human wounds are little different from those suffered byanimals. For the past six years, I have treated our livestock and ourpeople when they were cut, broken, or shot."
He opened his mouth, but before he could speak, she wenton.
"Yes, my lord, shot. While we fought no battles at Ackerslea,we did see our share of hunting accidents, particularly when weopened the woods to hunting."
"Now, will you tell me about your injuries?"
"I fell on my head. Concussion, the doctor said; it's all buthealed. I was struck on the wrist by something heavy--a club,perhaps--and it apparently broke several small bones. At least that'swhat the sawbones on the ship said. My left leg was broken in theretreat and rebroken during the battle for the gates ofCoruña." He opened his eyes and watched her carefully as hespoke the last sentence. "And I was shot in the...the rightbuttock."
She didn't smile, gave no indication she thought the locationof his wound was amusing. "Tell me about your treatment."
"I hardly think--"
"My lord, we have much work ahead of us, putting yourestate back in condition and seeing to the spring planting atAckerslea. You are no good to me flat on your back. If my healingskills can help you, we would be abrogating our responsibilities if wedid not make use of them. I think you'd better let me have a look atyour injuries."
"Oh, don't worry. I've seen a man's naked buttockbefore."
For some reason, all he could do was laugh. Clarence layback on the chaise, roaring with laughter. After a few moments, hegot it under control, reduced to occasional snorts. Until he openedhis eyes and saw the outraged expression on her face, and it sent himoff again.
At last he was able to speak without chuckling. "This isnothow I envisioned spending my honeymoon."
Her sniff was eloquent. "I imagine not. It is, however, howwewill spend our honeymoon, until we have you back onyour feet, without your needing anything more than a walking stickto prop you up. Can you turn over on your own, or do you needhelp?"
"Can't this wait until we've retired? Just think how mucheasier it will be to lift my nightshirt than to pull down mybritches."
"Oh, stop laughing. There is nothing funny about this. Verywell, then. I will wait until tonight, but don't think I will forget."