Tuesday s Child
190 pages
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190 pages
English

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Harriet Stanton followed the drum until the deaths of her husband and father, army officers in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte. Destitute, on the verge of starvation, she returns to England, with her three-year old son, Arthur. Although she has never met her father-in-law, the Earl of Pennington, with whom her late husband had cut all ties, for Arthur’s sake, Harriet decides to ask Pennington for help. Turned away from his London house by servants, she is rescued by Georgianne Tarrant, who founded an institution to help soldiers’ widows and orphans. Desperate for an heir, the earl welcomes Harriet, and Arthur whose every wish he grants. At first, Harriet is grateful to her father-in-law, but, as time goes she is locked in a silent battle to control Arthur, who has tantrums if he is denied anything. After Pennington refuses his permission for Arthur to swim in the lake, Arthur defies him. About to drown, he is rescued by charismatic Dominic, Reverend Markham, the Earl and Countess Faucon’s son. At the lakeside, Dominic meets Harriet. She is so dainty that his immediate impression is of a fairy. Despite her appearance, he is mistaken. Harriet is not a pampered lady by birth. During brutal campaigns, she milked goats and cooked over camp fires.

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Publié par
Date de parution 04 décembre 2015
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781773621876
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0032€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

Tuesday’sChild
Heroines Born OnDifferent Days of the Week
By RosemaryMorris
 
Digital ISBNs
EPUB978-1-77362-187-6
Kindle978-1-77362-188-3
WEB978-1-77362-189-0
 

 
Copyright2 nd Ed. 2018 Rosemary Morris
Cover Art by MichelleLee
 
All rightsreserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reservedabove, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in orintroduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, orby any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, orotherwise) without the prior written permission of both thecopyright owner and the publisher of this book.
 
Dedication
 
To my grandson, Ketan, whom Ilove, and is an exceptionally kind young man, who has won gold andsilver medals for swimming, and is a county and nationalchampion.
 
 
 
“ Tuesday's child isfull of grace.”
 
Quote from Monday’sChild (Nursery Rhyme)
Author unknown.
Chapter One
St James Square,London
Late Spring, 1814
 
Harriet Stantonclutched her three year-old son’s hand while she waited, with theutmost trepidation, for the front door of the Earl of Pennington’simposing house to open. In desperate need of reassurance, Harrietglanced at her generous patroness, Georgianne Tarrant, who wore afashionable cream muslin gown and pelisse. With a sigh, Harrietaccepted she looked like an insignificant sparrow, in her shabby,plain black clothes, by comparison to Mrs Tarrant, whose clothesand every movement revealed the self-assurance of a beautiful youngmatron married to an extremely wealthy gentleman.
Harrietshivered, wary of the two bruisers, employed by Major Tarrant toprotect his wife, who stood behind them.
Protect MrsTarrant from what? She decided it would be impertinent to ask.
Ill-at-ease onthe verge of what might be a significant change in her life,Harriet turned her head to look over her shoulder at the muscularmen, and Johnson, an intrepid former soldier, whom Mrs Tarrantemployed to help with her charity, Foundation House for theBetterment of Former Soldiers and Their Families.
Well, she was asoldier’s widow, whom, with Johnson’s help, Mrs Tarrant rescued.Yet what would happen if the earl rejected her and her son?
While Harrietfought the familiar panic, which churned her stomach, the glossyblack-painted door with brass fittings swung open, revealing thehaughty middle-aged butler to whom she spoke on a previousoccasion. A quiver passed across his face at the sight of the groupon the doorstep. He took a small step back across the spotlessblack-veined white marble floor. Perhaps they alarmed him.
Georgianneoffered him her card.
The dignifiedservant did not accept it. Instead, he looked down his nose. “Hislordship is not at home.”
Harriet heldher son’s small hand a little tighter. “Come,” she told him,prepared to turn away from the door.
“Wait.”Georgianne’s imperious voice halted Harriet.
In response toa graceful flick of Georgianne’s gloved fingers, the burly bruisersstepped forward to stand on either side of the threshold.
“I think youshould reconsider,” the determined matron advised the butler. “Ifyou shut the door in my face, my men might prove themselves capableof breaking the door down. Admit us”
The butler’sface paled. He stepped back to allow them to enter the house.
Applause,however well-deserved, would be vulgar, so Harriet did not obey herinstinct to clap.
“Please followme.” The butler glanced at the bruisers and Johnson. “Not the threeof you.”
Georgiannesquared her shoulders. “It is not for you to decide who accompaniesme.”
His back rigidwith palpable indignation, the butler led them through a hall,perfumed by vases of white lilies and roses. When they followed himup a grand staircase with wrought iron bannisters, light from acircular skylight, set in the ceiling of the top floor, poured ontothem. On the first floor, still holding her son’s hand, Harrietwalked next to Mrs Tarrant along a wide gallery, hung with oilpaintings of ladies and gentlemen dressed in the elaborate clothesof bygone ages.
The butleropened one of a pair of doors. “Mrs Tarrant and her companions, mylord,” he announced.
Wide-eyed,Harriet stepped into the room. She looked around. No expense hadbeen spared in this house. A crystal chandelier hung above amahogany table set with hand painted china and monogrammed silverflatware.
While Johnsonand the bruisers chose positions by the walls in the room hung withstriped pea-green and gold wallpaper, an old gentleman, glared athis visitors from his seat at the table.
With keeninterest, Harriet scrutinised the peer of the realm. The earl’spurple turban did not flatter his wrinkled face with dark shadowsunder his eyes.
Penningtonglared at the butler. “What the devil, Jarvis? How many times haveI instructed you not to admit visitors when I am in the breakfastparlour in a state of undress?”
“Mrs Tarrantwouldn’t be denied, my lord,” the butler murmured, his faceashen.
Harriet glancedfrom the earl to Jarvis. Why should the man fear the earl?
His lordshipsmoothed a sleeve of his purple, gold embroidered banyan. “Don’tsuppose Mrs Tarrant would be denied - glad I did not marry thetermagant,” he muttered. “Jarvis, leave us.”
Harriet gasped,amazed by the earl’s unpardonable rudeness. Mrs Tarrant ignoredit.
Harriet’s upperlip curled inward. The idea of the elderly nobleman, with prominentveins and dark splotches on his hands, married to a beauty youngenough to be his granddaughter repulsed her.
The earl glaredat Mrs Tarrant. “Why are you here? Your husband will kill me if–”
The expressionin Georgianne Tarrant’s china-blue eyes hardened. “You wanted me tomarry you to produce a son. Why, when you already had a legitimateheir?”
The colour inthe earl’s cheeks deepened. “Don’t mention my nephew, WilfredStanton. The thought of that clergyman inheriting my title sickensme.”
Georgiannebeckoned to Harriet to step forward with her son. “I shall explainmatters after you have the courtesy to invite us to sit.”
Penningtonscowled. “Ladies, be seated at the table.”
Faint withnervous anticipation, with her son on her lap, Harriet perched on achair next to her benefactress.
“My lord, I amhere to inform you have another heir,” Georgianne informed him.
“Can it be?”Pennington asked in a broken voice.
“Yes. May Ipresent him? George Stanton, Viscount Castleton, and his mamma,Harriet Stanton, Vicountess Castleton.”
Harriet caughther breath. Would her father-in-law accept them? Surely he wouldnot reject her handsome son. “Don’t be shy, George, the gentlemanis your grandfather. Please get down from my lap to make yourbow.”
Her son shookhis head and plugged his mouth with his thumb.
Georgianneshrugged before she spoke. “My lord, there is no reason for you notto acknowledge your grandson and daughter-in-law. Syddon, myattorney, has examined their claim. He assures me a court of lawwill uphold it.”
Penningtonleaned forward. “Have you proof?” he demanded.
In response tothe earl’s sharp tone of voice, the bruisers, who had been standingstill as soldiers before a superior officer shuffled theirfeet.
“Yes, I assumedyou would be suspicious.” With her usual grace, Georgianne beckonedto Johnson, who stepped forward to hand a leather folder to theearl.
Penningtonpushed his plate forward to make space for the documents the foldercontained. His eyebrows raised, he rifled through them. “I acceptthese are valid because I doubt Syddon, who I know is a famousattorney known for his integrity, would have stooped to forgery oraided and abetted deception.”
He stared atHarriet, appearing to come to terms with the idea she and hisgrandson existed. Embarrassed, she fidgeted. A hot flush floodedher cheeks.
“LadyCastleton, why did not you come to me after my son died?” the earlenquired, in a tone that seemed to imply she was guilty of anoffence.
Intimidated bythe harsh old man, her mouth dry, Harriet swallowed before shemanaged to answer. “Despite the longstanding rift between you andmy late husband, my lord, I wrote to you many times from Portugal.When you did not reply, I came to England destitute and in despair.In your absence, your servants denied me entry to this house.” Shesummoned her courage, “Johnson, a soldier well-known to me and myhusband in the Peninsula, approached me in Brighton,” sheexplained, with more confidence. “Later, he introduced us to mygood angel, Mrs Tarrant. But for him, your grandson and I wouldhave starved, most probably to death.”
The expressionon Pennington’s face softened, the skin stretched less tightlyacross his forehead. “This is terrible,” he responded, in a softertone than the one he previously spoke in. “I did not receive yourletters. Last year, after my eldest son died, I searched theIberian Peninsular, walked the battle fields and visited manyplaces in search of information. I heard rumours that my youngerson married, and that after he fell at the Battle of Fuentes deOnoro his posthumous son was born. Alas, I could not substantiatethem. No matter how hard I tried, I found no trace of you or mygrandson.”
“Thank you forsearching for us.” She tried to calm her misgivings with thethought that age might have mellowed her father-in-law. Maybe hewas no longer the cruel, unreasonable nobleman her husband oncedescribed.
“No need foryou to tell me more about your desperate situation, Lady Castleton,you and my grandson are welcome here, most welcome. From now on,you shall live with me.” His thin lips stretched into a smile.
How kind ofhim. The tension seeped out of every muscle in her body. “Thankyou, my lord,” she replied, with great relief.
“Papa, you mustcall me Papa.” The earl turned his head to look at Georgianne.“However much I begrudge it, I am indebted to you, Madam.” Amalicious glint appeared in his eyes. “It seems my sanctimoniousnephew, Wilfred Stanton, will not be the next earl.” He chuckled.“Mrs Tarrant, I can only imagine the expression on his face whenthe news of my heir’s existence is broken to him.”
“My lord, youforget I am well acquainted with Mister Stanton whose wife is mycousin. You are unjust. I know Mister Stanton is a God-fearinggentleman worthy of respect from you and everyone else.” Georgiannestood. “Now, I am sure you wish to make a generous donation to mycharity and reward Johnson, who brought Lady Castleton and her sonto my attention.”
Penningtonnodded, a sour expression on his face.
The earl rang abell. The door opened; the butler preceded a pair of footmen intothe parlour.
“Jarvis.”
“My lord?”
“Instruct thehousekeeper to have my late wife’s apartment prepared for LadyCastleton, and the nursery made ready for Lord Castleton. Tell herto arrange for a maidservant to attend to the child until a nurseis engaged.”
Harriet shookher head. “My lord –” she began.
“Papa,” hecorrected her.
“Papa,” sheaddressed him with reluctance for this old man could never replaceher beloved father. “I would prefer to keep George with me until heis familiar with you and your servants.”
“Very well.”Her father-in-law agreed, his grey eyes suddenly cold as the sea ona winter’s day.
They remindedHarriet of tyrannical officers. She shivered.
“My lord, Ishall take my leave.” Georgianne informed Pennington in a neutraltone. “Lady Castleton, when I reach home, I shall send your baggagehere. Good day to you. She patted George on his head. “I hope tosee you and your son soon. Please visit me whenever you wish.”
 
* * *
 
Thoughtful,Georgianne stepped out of the house into sunshine. Should she havewarned Harriet about the earl? No, the young widow must judge himfor herself. It would be wrong to prejudice her against herfather-in-law. For all she knew, Harriet and her son might be theearl’s salvation. Georgianne ignored her inner voice, whichexpressed strong doubt. Well, she would keep in touch with Harriet,as she did with many other women who benefitted from her help.
Chapter Two
Hertfordshire
August 1815
 
Harriet lookedout of the drawing room window in Clarencieux Abbey – all stonecarving, arched windows and hideous gargoyles - now transformed byher father-in-law into a fashionable gothic mansion. On any otheroccasion, the view would have delighted her. Beneath a cloudless,azure blue sky, from which the sun poured its welcome warmth, therecently scythed lawn stretched down to the still surface of thelarge man-made lake fringed by graceful weeping willows on itsfarthest bank.
Alarmed, shewatched the Earl of Pennington, who rode a sleek gelding, and herfour year-old son, seated straight-backed on Prince, his strongExmoor pony, which he doted on. Compared to the eighteen hand dunwith black points his grandfather rode, George looked frighteninglysmall and vulnerable.
No matter howoften the earl assured her well-schooled Prince made an excellentriding pony for a young boy, Harriet could not control her fear ofan accident.
Moreover,throughout the last year her resentment of the earl’shigh-handedness over his grandson’s upbringing, and his totaldisregard of her wishes concerning it, had swelled to the point ofbitterness. Her jaw tightened when she remembered one of his mostunwelcome dictates.
“My child,” hislordship had commenced, shortly after she took up residence withhim, “in future, my grandson shall be known by his second name,Arthur.”
On thatoccasion, when her anger flared, she managed to control it. She andEdgar, her late husband, had decided that if they ever had a son,they would name him George. “Although I agree Arthur is a noblename, Papa, why do you want him to be addressed by it?” she hadreplied, in an attempt to sound reasonable, although her cheeksburned with suppressed wrath.
“Perhaps it islese majesty to admit that due to the present king’s madness andthe Prince Regent’s excesses, their Christian name is not one Iconsider suitable for my heir,” her father-in-law declared. “Afterall, my lineage is superior to the Hanover’s. They are nothing morethan jumped up minor German royalty with slight claim to Englishblood.” He paused to flick open his tortoiseshell snuffbox. “Mychild,” he continued after he indulged in a pinch of snuff, Ithink, Arthur, the Duke of Wellington’s given name, is moreappropriate for my heir.”
She was not hischild. Although her temper increased until she thought it wouldboil over, with great effort she managed to contain it and employguile. “Papa, I agree Arthur would be an appropriate name for myson, however-” A wave of the earl’s hand silenced her.
“You admire ourking, who has lost his wits, more than the hero of Waterloo?”
“No, though Ipity His Majesty.”
“I daresay, butperhaps you condone our future king’s excesses.”
She consideredthe Prince Regent’s shocking reputation and extravagance. “No,Papa.”
Immaculate in ablue coat, off-white nankeen pantaloons, the intricate style of hisstarched neckcloth faultless, and his silver hair in perfect order,the earl spoke. “We are agreed. From now on we shall call mygrandson Arthur instead of George.” His triumphant smile deepenedhis wrinkles in which powder and rouge clung.”
“Very well,Papa.” Grateful to him for saving them from destitution, sheconsented out of gratitude.
Informed of thedecision by his grandfather, when given his pony six months ago,her delighted son did not object. In fact, after jumping up anddown with joy, he petted Prince, and from then on answered to hisnew name. To Harriet’s chagrin, on one occasion, when she calledhim George, he stamped his small, well-shod foot. “Grandfather saysmy name is Arthur.”
“When,” sheasked herself, remembering the occasion, “would her father-in-lawrespect any of her wishes?”
The earl’sgentle smile, which masked an iron-will, repulsed her. Hisgenerosity and many gifts, for which she was obliged, made itextremely difficult to protest over his determination to dominateher.
This morning,in response to her request for the pair to walk their horses, theearl inclined his head, smiled, but made no reply. Now, without aleading rein, Prince trotted across the sweep of grass dotted withdaisies towards the house beside his grandfather’s well-manneredmount. Harriet’s teeth clamped together. Doubtless the smallflowers would be cut with ruthlessness to equal anything else thatdid not please his lordship.
She clutched afold of her expensive sprigged muslin morning gown, paid for fromthe generous allowance allotted to her by Pennington. Guilt andresentment warred within her. Guilt because before the earlacknowledged her and her son, they experienced such hardship thatshe prayed for death to claim them. Resentment because herstrong-minded father-in-law insisted on taking charge of everyaspect of Arthur’s life.
In spite of theluxury surrounding her, while she watched Pennington and Arthurride, her anger increased. The earl doted on Arthur. Indeed, hepandered to him so much that her son had become a small tyrant.
Her hithertoobedient, sweet-natured little boy now indulged in shockingtantrums if his demands were refused. To make matters worse herfather-in-law interfered whenever she attempted to discipline thechild. Harriet clenched her jaw. Regardless of what Arthur did, theearl did not even allow Arthur’s nurse to punish him.
Harriet wipedangry tears of frustration from her eyes. Her memories could not bewiped away so easily. If only her handsome, debonair young husband,a captain in The Glory Boys, had survived his last battle. SinceEdgar’s death, not a day went by when she did not yearn for thesound of his deep voice, his ready smile and their tender,passionate, love making. Even now, Harriet visualised him,magnificent in his black hussar uniform embellished with gold andscarlet. She could almost hear his words. “Smile for me, Harriet, Ishall always return to you sound in limb, and in the best ofspirits.” Until his demise Edgar evaded the grim reaper so manytimes that she had believed in her husband’s invincibility.
Harriet closedher eyes, trying to erase the memory of the mental and physicalagony of giving birth to a fatherless child in the best quarters inLisbon, the best her father, a major in the Glory Boy could affordfor her. She squeezed back involuntary tears at the recollection ofthe day on which she received the dreadful news of Papa’s death inthe Battle of Toulouse, the final engagement in the campaignagainst Napoleon before his exile to Elba. Until she glimpsed herchild’s frightened face when he returned from a walk with hisnurse, for a week she neither ate more than a morsel nor stoppedcrying.
Until herfather’s died, she and Arthur enjoyed his protection. Afterward,although in desperate need of a protector, she refused severalmarriage proposals. Of course, out of expediency, many army widowsdid remarry soon afar their husbands’ funerals, but Harrietrejected her suitors.
In spite of herimpoverished circumstances, she never considered replacing Edgar inher affections, and marry without love she would not.
Now, at the ageof four and twenty, at the thought of what might have been if Edgarlived, tears filled her eyes. After wiping them away with herhandkerchief, she watched Arthur and Pennington dismount. Her sonlaughed in response to something his grandfather said.
Harriet knewshe should not be unappreciative of her father-in-law,nevertheless, she resented her separation from Arthur by the nurseappointed by Pennington, in his words “to relieve her of thetiresome task of caring for a child”. Despite hardships she neverfound it “tiresome” to care for Arthur. Fortunately, she approvedof Bessie a young woman, whom Arthur liked, who took excellent careof him.
 
* * *
 
“Mamma,” Arthurshouted when he entered the breakfast parlour, “Grandpapa and Iwent riding.” Arms outstretched he rushed towards the table setwith Wedgewood china and an array of monogrammed flatware.
Relieved to seehim safe, Harriet stood. Regardless of the risk of her starchedmuslin gown being crushed, she spread her arms wide to embracehim.
Herfather-in-law stepped forward. “Be good enough to remember yourstation, Arthur. You are not a cottager’s brat.” One hand, marredby age spots gripped the child’s shoulder to prevent him fromrunning forward.
Arthur lookedup at his grandfather, a trace of anxiety in his large eyes, theintense blue of the sky on a summer’s day.
Harriet’seyebrows twitched. The earl did not have the right to insist onformality. Since Arthur’s birth she had cuddled and kissed him andwould continue to do so.
The earl smileddown at the child. “Make your bow, to Lady Castleton.”
Arthur’sshoulders drooped, but he obeyed.
Herfather-in-law’s eyes gleaming with unmistakeable triumph, heglanced at her over the top of Arthur’s head of shiny browncurls.
Harriet caughther lower lip between her teeth. No matter how much the earlprovoked her, she would not engage in a direct battle overArthur.
She releasedher lip. Nonsensical for her father-in-law to have said LadyCastleton instead of your mamma to Arthur, and to have preventedhim from running to her for a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Aware ofa surge of angry colour, which heated her cheeks, Harriet made upher mind neither to allow the old man to wean her son away from hisaffection for her, nor to permit him to be in full control of herson.
“Oh, Papa, whatharm can it do if Arthur embraces me?” she asked, looking down togive the earl an impression of a submissive daughter-in-law.Without waiting for a reply, she continued to hold out her arms.“Come, my boy, give me my morning kiss.”
Her son lookedup at his grandfather for permission.
“Arthur,”Pennington commenced, “Lady Castleton forgets you no longer wearskirts. You are a little man in your trousers and short jacket. Infuture, you must remember gentlemen are not forever hugging andkissing ladies. Take your place at the table.”
Harriet lookedup at her father-in-law. Confound it, none of her ploys to charmthe earl ever succeeded. Well, in her son’s presence, she would notwrangle with him like a fishwife. She checked her desire to expressher indignation. Instead she smiled at Pennington, pretending to beunaware that he did not consider her to have been a suitable wifefor his late son.
Although shewas not a nobleman’s daughter, her parents had taught her how toconduct herself with decorum. Moreover, she prided herself on thegood English blood she inherited from them. By birth, she hadnothing to be ashamed of, even if she were ineligible to beconsidered to be a member of the ton – the so called upper tenthousand persons considered the cream of society - amongst whom theearl numbered.
At the roundtable, her father-in-law seated himself opposite her with Arthur onhis right. The elderly chaplain, good-natured Mister Rivers tookhis place on the earl’s left.
Her spinestiff, Harriet sat between Arthur, whom the earl insisted shouldsit next to him, and the secretary, Mister Vaughan; a young man ofapproximately twenty-five years of age, whose eyes more often thannot nursed a merry sparkle, in spite of his patron’s haughtydisposition.
No one spokewhile the butler supervised the footmen, who put a silver coffeepot in front of Harriet and food on the table.
While MisterRivers intoned a short grace Harriet wondered what the sycophanticman of the cloth thought of the stone-pillared room decorated inthe gothic style.
Harriet’s gazestrayed beyond the arched window, through which she glimpsed therose garden, bordered by low box hedges, basking in sunshine.“Coffee, or ale, my lord?” Harriet asked.
“Coffee, mydear child.” Despite that gentle smile which Harriet consideredartificial, his forehead creased. “On numerous occasions, I havealready requested you to call me, papa.”
Although shecould not imagine him ever replacing her beloved father in heraffection, his request was not unreasonable. “How foolish I am,”Harriet replied with false meekness intended to soften his heart.“I beg your pardon, Papa.” She poured the fragrant beverage into aporcelain cup, hand-painted with Wedgewood’s famous Kutani Cranedesign.
A footmanstepped forward to hand it to his lordship.
“Will youpartake of coffee, Mister Rivers?”
“Yes please,Lady Castleton, you are too kind, too gracious.”
Harrietsuppressed her desire to giggle at such obsequiousness.
“Yes,” Arthurpiped up, while a footman served Mister Vaughan with ale, “Mamma isalways gentle not like Nurse, who pinches me.”
“What did yousay?” Pennington asked his quiet tone at odds with the outragedexpression in his eyes.
Arthur stareddown at the table.
The wrinkles onPennington’s face deepened. “Castleton, I expect you to answer mewhen I address you,” he reprimanded Arthur, his unusual severitywith his heir emphasised by addressing him by his title.
“Mamma is kindbut my nurse is unkind. She won’t let me drink from my silver mug.”He scowled. “She said it is too good for a naughty boy, and Ididn’t like it when she pinched my cheeks.”
“How dare she!”Pennington exclaimed, his cheeks puce beneath the light layer ofrouge. “Lady Castleton, I shall dismiss Bessie Cooper without areference. My grandson’s pluck to the backbone. I will not allowhim to be turned into a coward afraid of his own shadow. Damn thewoman.”
Mister Riversmurmured an almost inaudible protest on the subject of not swearingin a lady’s presence.
The earlignored his chaplain’s timid objection.
Harrietfrowned. The pleasant young nurse did not deserve such treatment.She reached out her hand to smooth the tumble of curls back fromher son’s forehead. “Look at me and tell the truth. Did Bessiepinch you hard?”
She hopedArthur still knew better than to lie to her.
“No,Mamma.”
Harriet lookedat the earl. “I don’t think there is any need for concern. Childrenneed discipline if they are not to turn into young tyrants. Perhapsyou judge too quickly, Papa. Is there really any need to dismissNurse?”
Pennington,whom she knew rode roughshod over any opinion, which did not concurwith his own, did not answer her.
An uneasysilence, other than instructions to the footmen to serve them witheggs, ham, kidneys, rolls or toast, followed until Arthur brokeit.
“Grandpapa,” hesaid, while he pushed a piece of ham around his plate with hisfork, “after breakfast I want to swim in the lake.”
The earlswallowed a mouthful of buttered toast. “You are too young.”
Arthur’s cheeksreddened.
Harrietfrowned. “Eat your breakfast, Arthur, and don’t speak withoutpermission.”
“Be good enoughto allow the boy to do so,” Pennington intervened.
Yet again,although he interfered, she forced herself to remain silent in anattempt to seem compliant and keep him in a good humour.
Arthur pouted.“I want to go swimming, Grandpapa.”
“No, the lakeis too dangerous. You might sink underwater and be caught in theweeds.”
Arthur drummedhis heels against the chair rails. “Grandpapa, you said I may haveanything I want.”
The earl’splucked eyebrows drew together. “I did not mean you may alwaysplease yourself.”
Harriet wantedto cheer. For the first time, her father-in-law thwarted Arthur’swishes.
Her son grabbedhis solid silver fork and hurled it at his grandfather. “I will goswimming, I will, I will, I will,” he screamed, pounding his smallfists on the table.
Horrified,Harriet stood. “Apologise to your grandfather.”
“No.”
“I am ashamedof you. Get up. I shall take you to the nursery where you will stayuntil you apologise to your grandfather.”
“Shan’t get up,Mamma. Shan’t say sorry. My clothes are too hot. I shall goswimming in nice, cold water.”
On such a warmday, even if Arthur’s skeleton suit, with trouser buttons fastenedto a shirt beneath a short-waisted jacket, was unbearably hot, itwas not an excuse for ill manners. Harriet pulled back Arthur’schair and turned it around.
“Don’tinterfere, Lady Castleton,” Pennington ordered her. “I admire mygrandson’s strength of mind.”
Interfere! Howdare he say that, to me?” Papa, please remember that in spite ofArthur’s … er …in your own words, ‘strength of mind’, he should notbe rude.” She spoke softly in an attempt to appease him.
Without undueforce, Harriet seized her son’s upper arms to raise him to hisfeet. When she managed to haul him out of his chair, she releasedhim. “Look at me,” she ordered. Instead, Arthur sank to the floorand drummed his heels on the flagstones.
Harriet noticedMister Rivers appalled expression and heard him murmur somethingwhich concerned sparing the rod and spoiling the child. She glanceddisapprovingly at him, for she never smacked Arthur and would neverbeat him.
Pennington, nota hair out of place in spite of his early morning ride, stood.“Arthur, I shall employ someone to teach you to swim, until then,you may not bathe in the lake.” He walked around the table. “Nowget up and behave like a gentleman.”
Her sonquietened. His delightful smile appeared. He sat and wiped thetears from his face with the back of his hands. “Thank you,Grandpapa.”
Infuriated,Harriet stood still. “To the nursery, Arthur.” She took deepbreaths to calm herself.
“But I amhungry.”
“That is yourmisfortune. In future, unless you promise to behave, you will haveyour breakfast in the nursery. “ She rarely spoke so firmly. Whenshe did, Arthur knew better than to argue.
“My dear child,I must protest-” the earl commenced.
“Please excuseme, Papa. I fear Arthur has a fever after such shockinghistrionics.”
Penningtoninclined his head towards her. “You may withdraw.
“Thank you.”Without a backward glance at either her father-in-law, MisterRivers or Mister Vaughan, Arthur’s hand in hers, she marched himout of the breakfast parlour.
Satisfied thatshe had acquitted herself well, Harriet pressed her lips into afirm line. Pennington would ruin her son if she did not find a wayto escape from their dependency on him.
 
* * *
 
Displeased withhis daughter-in-law, Pennington looked at the arched door, which afootman closed after she left the breakfast parlour with Arthur.Although his grandson should not have thrown a fork at him, LadyCastleton should appreciate that when the boy knew what he wantedhe went after it with admirable, single-minded determination solike his own. Well, at least his son’s widow deferred to him.Furthermore, she seemed grateful for her maintenance.
In his opinionladies should be dutiful and obedient. Their families expected themto marry well, defer to their husbands, organise their households,participate in society and amuse themselves with feminine pursuits.Lady Castleton should obey him without either argument orreluctance. Whatever the cost, regardless of the circumstances, hewould not allow Edgar’s widow to interfere with Arthur’supbringing.
Not for thefirst time, Pennington asked himself why his son married a woman ofunequal birth without a dowry. Oh, he supposed, her charm wouldappeal to some men, for although she was only some five foot twoinches in height, she kept her back straight and moved gracefully.After a moment or two’s thought, he conceded she had some goodfeatures – thick brown hair, bright blue eyes, which Arthurinherited from her, besides a good complexion. Yet, he concluded,she was not remarkable.
Thoughtful, hekept himself well in hand while he finished his breakfast. As forthe nurse, his grandson was not a common boy. How dare she pinchArthur’s soft round cheeks. What was more, she did not have theright to withhold his silver mug from him. Well, it would beungentlemanly to chastise the child’s mother for her protest whenhe had announced his decision to dismiss Bessie Cooper. Hisdaughter-in-law’s objection would not alter his decision.
Unruffled, heate the last morsel of kidney, dabbed his mouth with a monogrammednapkin and stood with no more effort than a young man. At the ageof sixty he prided himself on his slim figure, which, unlike somany of his contemporaries, did not require stays. Congratulatinghimself on his own elegant appearance, he shuddered at the thoughtof the Prince Regent’s corpulence.
ChapterThree
 
 
Dominic Markhamwatched his elegant mother leave the dining room, followed byGwenifer, his widowed sister, who kept house for him.
“Well, my boy,”began his father, who sat opposite him at the table, “when youarrived, I was pleased to see you and your sister looking sowell.”
“And I am gladto see you in good health,” Dominic replied. Indeed, his father,Joshua Markham, Earl of Faucon. was in fine fettle for asixty-eight year old man.
“Left yourcurate in charge, while you visit us?”
Dominicnodded.
“How long canyou stay? Your mother hopes you can spare us a few days.” Joshuasipped his port. To judge by his silence, before he spoke again, itseemed something pressed on his mind. “Several families you mightwish to become reacquainted with have left London and come toHerfordshire for the summer months. Unfortunately, they include theEarl of Pennington, whom I would not choose for a neighbour. By theway, the latest news in the area is of his daughter-in-law, LadyCastleton, and her son - what-is-his name? - ah, yes, Arthur, ofwhom little is known. They are living with the earl? Your motherhas decided we must call on them,” he ended, with a note ofdisapproval in his voice.
Dominic knewhis parent well enough to sense Pennington and his family were notthe matter uppermost in his father’s mind. “I can stay untilSaturday when I shall return to my parish to deliver my sermon onSunday.”
“Good.” Theearl cleared his throat. “I must speak to you concerning a painfulmatter.”
Dominic sat alittle straighter. “I hope gossip apropos my ill-doings has notcome to your ears,” he teased, in an attempt to lighten hisfather’s mood.
“No such thing,my boy. As befits a gentleman in holy orders, so far as I know yourbehaviour is irreproachable, and your good reputation is intact.”Joshua reached out for the silver bowl of nuts on the highlypolished surface of the mahogany table. “Delicate matter todiscuss.” He helped himself to a walnut. “However much I wish yourbrothers survived, we must face facts.”
“Yes, I know,”Dominic agreed, in a subdued tone of voice.
After so manyyears, he wished he could help his father come to terms with grief.Yet, although he was a thirty year-old rector, it seemed futile toremind Papa The Lord giveth. The Lord taketh. Blessed is the nameof The Lord.
Joshua passed ahand across his eyes. “If only Denzil had not died in thePeninsular, and Pascoe at the Battle of Trafalgar, I would not havea conversation with you in which we must face the truth”
The truth?Dominic sat a little straighter. So many fine men, including hisbrothers, had sacrificed their lives when they fought againstFrance to preserve the Rule of Law. What more was there for hisfather to say on the subject?
Joshua sippedsome wine before he spoke. “Painful although it is, I must speakout. You already know that after twenty years of childless marriageyour older brother and his milk-and-water wife are estranged.”
Dominic openedhis mouth to reply. Joshua shook his head to silence him andcontinued. “There is no possibility of them presenting me and yourmother with a grandson.”
After Joshuarefilled his glass he slid the decanter across the table.
Dominic pouredwine into his crystal glass, sensing worse would come. If only hisancestors, whose portraits hung on walls papered in rich red, couldfend off the verbal axe, which he knew hovered over his neck. “Isthere no hope of my brother and sister-in-law beingreconciled?”
“Even if theyput their troubled past behind them, it would be useless. There isno way to soften this news, although, I daresay a clergyman canbear it better than most men. Robert’s health has deteriorated. Iam sorry to tell you that, at the most, he has no more than a yearto live.” Joshua’s hand shook. A few drops of blood-red port fellonto the table.
Did the doctorapply loathsome leeches to Robert? Dominic quaked at the thought.My older brother whom I always admired is on the verge of death! Hereeled from the blow of the imaginary axe. “Are you sure, Papa, Iknew Robert was ill but did not imagine his condition is fatal.What is the cause of his malady?”
“Loose living,”Joshua explained, his voice bitter. “Don’t plague me for details, Icannot bear to speak of them.” He gulped his port as though it werea lifeline.
“Surely a curecan be found,” Dominic protested, while he struggled to come toterms with the news.
Elbows on thetable, Joshua propped his head on his hands. “The best doctors andphysicians have been consulted. They all say Robert’s case ishopeless. That is why I sent for you.” His eyes suspiciously moist,Joshua drank more port.
The youngestson of the family, Dominic had never imagined wearing a coronet androbes of state. He had neither been trained to become the futureEarl of Faucon nor to accept the responsibilities it would entail.Faced with the prospect, he did not know if he was capable of thechallenges that would arise. “I might predecease both of you,” hemurmured, unable to visualise himself taking a seat in The House ofLords.
Very much thearistocrat in his blue morning coat, primrose yellow waistcoat,perfectly arranged cravat, pale pantaloons and black shoes, Joshuaheld up an admonitory hand. “I have nearly reached my allottedlifespan of three score years and ten. Before my seventiethbirthday I hope you will have married and presented me with agrandson.”
Dominic studiedthe vivid colours of the Aubusson carpet’s hexagonal pattern.Although he could neither condone nor understand the reason for theplunge into degradation, which brought his eldest brother so low,he sympathised with him. Poor Robert entered into a disastrousarranged marriage, which drove him to take ever-increasingconsolation in alcohol and opera dancers. Indeed, last time he sawhim, Robert looked much older than his forty-two years, andsuffered cruelly from gout besides being liverish.
“Dominic.”Again Joshua’s voice broke into his thoughts. “It is your duty tofather the future Earl of Faucon. Unless you have a suitable bridein mind, your Mamma will introduce you to eligible youngladies.”
Dominicunderstood why his father emphasised the word ‘suitable.’ Hisfuture wife must be a flawless diamond. Nevertheless, he would notenter an arranged marriage, which might prove as disastrous asRobert’s.
His poorbrother! He should offer him consolation. “My lord, I must visit,Robert.” He used his father’s formal term of address to stress hisdetermination.
Joshua shookhis head. Tears rolled down his cheeks. “He refuses to see any ofthe family. I think it is because he is either too ashamed of hisfolly, or because he does not want our pity.”
“I must seehim,” Dominic repeated, tactfully pretending he had not noticed hisfather’s tears. “Maybe he will recover.” He clutched at an unlikelystraw. “There might be a miracle.” He suppressed his grief.Shocking enough to see his proud father succumb to anguish withoutadding his own.
 
* * *
 
Three daysafter he left Faucon House, Dominic sat at his desk in the spaciouslibrary in the rectory at Queen’s Langley in Hertfordshire. Hedipped his goose quill into the ink pot. After a moment’s thought,he added a few lines to his sermon, on the subject of “It Is Betterto Give than Receive”, in elegant copperplate handwriting. He woulddeliver it on Sunday from the pulpit of the Church of Saint Michaeland All Saints.
He tried toconcentrate and failed. The prospect of an arranged marriage didnot appeal to him. Only once, soon after he graduated from Oxford,had he fallen in love. It came to nought. Afterwards, despite thelures cast at him, no other lady ever tempted him to exchange hissingle status with matrimony. He repressed a smile at the thoughtof young ladies, who pursued him. Even when chaperoned by theirmothers, they tried to find an opportunity to be alone withhim.
Dominic knewfemales admired his good looks, which he placed little importanceon. He also knew their parents would not reject a suitor with anincome from three parishes, who had also inherited several legaciesfrom relatives. On the marriage market, he was considered ‘a goodcatch’. The question was, did he want to be caught? No, he did not,but regrettably love for his father and duty to his family demandedthe sacrifice of his comfortable bachelor existence..
His thoughtsreturned to the sermon. What should he write next? He put his quilldown.
While Dominicsipped a glass of home brewed birch wine, to which he was partial,he stared at the vista of his well-kept garden in front of therectory, on the border of the road to the village. Where wasRobert? If only he could bring him here to be nursed in the peaceand quiet of the country. On warm summer days, Robert could sitoutside and, maybe, recover his health.
Mrs Cooperopened the garden gate. What did she want? A word with Gwenifer? Hewrote another line of his sermon.
Several minuteslater, his dark-haired, dark-eyed sister, still as pretty attwenty-seven as she was when she married at the age of twenty,bustled into the room. “Mrs Cooper begs for a word with you.”
“Do you knowwhy?”
“No, when Iquestioned her she shook her head, and refused to confide in me.She insists the matter is only for your ears.” She shrugged. “Imust warn you she is tearful.”
“I hope I canhelp her. Please ask Lottie to show her in,” he requested Gweniferwas always aware of his duty to care for his flock, althoughwomen’s tears made him uncomfortable, even when they aroused hiscompassion.
At the time ofhis ordination, with three older brothers, it had seemed unlikelyhe would ever become head of the Faucon family. So, although he didnot have a divine calling, he accepted the career and provisionshis father made for him and entered holy orders.
A clergymancould not participate in every pleasure available to members of theton. Nevertheless, he enjoyed spring in his parish of Rivenden,which was near enough to the capital city to be advantageous duringthe London Season, the summer in Queen’s Langley, and autumn in histhird parish where he joined the hunt.
Lottie openedthe door, bobbed a curtsey and stood aside to allow the visitor toenter the library.
“Mrs Cooper,”Dominic greeted the middle-aged woman dressed in an old-fashionedbrown gown.
From thedoorway, she curtsied. “Mister Markham, I’m sorry for coming to seeyou.” She sniffed loudly. “I don’t know anyone else who might beable to help.”
Dominicindicated one of a pair of chairs, upholstered in faded greenbrocade.
Mrs Cooperlooked down at her sturdy brown leather boots. “I don’t want todirty your fine carpet.”
“How thoughtfulof you. Don’t worry, a little dust from the lane will do no harm.Seat yourself opposite my desk and tell me what your problemis.”
She perched onthe edge of a chair. “It’s my daughter, Bessie. Wicked he is, andshe’s a God fearing girl.”
Dominic restedhis elbows on the desk and made a steeple with his fingers on whichhe propped his chin. He supposed Bessie, a rosy cheeked youngwoman, was with child. Presumably, Mrs Cooper wanted him topersuade the seducer to marry her daughter. “Who is wicked?”
His parishionerwithdrew a large cotton handkerchief from her pocket. She dabbedher eyes and blew her nose before she answered his question. “Hislordship.”
Surely MrsCooper was not so naïve that she believed a member of thearistocracy would marry a country girl. For whom did Bessie work?He searched his memory and recalled the name of her employer. “Arelative of Lord Beringford?” he asked.
“No, sir, sheworked for him until his youngest son left the nursery. Next sheworked for Lord and Lady Woolsey. Recently, the Earl of Penningtonemployed her to look after his grandson.”
Dominicfrowned, aware of unpleasant rumours, which circulated withreference to the so called gentleman. One of them even hinted therewas little Pennington would not have done to father a son, whowould become his heir instead of his nephew. His frown deepened.Surely, even Pennington would not want to try to father the next inline to an earldom on a servant, whom he would marry if she becamepregnant. He sighed. “I think the best we can do for yourdaughter’s child is to persuade the earl to provide for it.”
Mrs Cooper’seyes opened wide. “I am shocked to the bone, sir! My Bessie is agood Christian girl. Surely you don’t think she would….would-”flustered, she broke off, colour flooding into her weather-beatencheeks.
Somewhatembarrassed by his assumption that Bessie was increasing, he lookedat Mrs Cooper. “I beg your pardon for my false assumption. Pleaseexplain your daughter’s problem.”
“I hardly knowwhere to begin, Mister Markham. My poor girl’s in jail in St.Albans. She’s accused of theft. I swear it’s not true, sir, I knowit isn’t. Bessie’s honest. Even if she were starving, which she’snever been because I’ve always laid a table with good food, she’dnever steal even a crumb of bread not rightfully hers.” At the endof this somewhat muddled sentence, she sniffed several times, herworkworn hands clasped tightly together on her lap.
“Did the Earlof Pennington accuse her?”
Mrs Coopernodded, seeming too overcome by Bessie’s dreadful circumstance tospeak.
“What is thecharge?”
“The charge?Oh, do you mean what did he say she’s taken, sir?”
Dominicnodded.
“Well, it waslike this. The earl’s only got one grandson whom Bessie told me hedotes on and spoils. She wasn’t allowed to punish him even if hewas rude and disobedient.” Mrs Cooper leaned forward. “I tell you,Mister Markham, if any of my sons ever spoke as Lord Castleton didto Bessie, after the sting of their father’s cane, they would havebeen rubbing their backsides.”
Dominic held uphis hand in an attempt to halt the aggrieved housewife’s flow ofwords. She ignored the gesture.
“Well sir, oneday, after Bessie told the boy to drink all his milk, he threw hissilver mug at her. To punish him, Bessie explained the mug was toogood for him and put it away. The nasty little boy complained tohis grandfather,” she spluttered. “What’s more, if any of one oursons ever threw a mug of milk at anyone Mister Cooper would havethrashed him.”
Thoughtful,Dominic gazed at her, grateful because his father never applied therod while he, his brothers and sisters grew up. Indeed Papa neverallowed anyone else to do so, although he had his own means ofpunishment. The worst were gentle reproaches and expressions ofdisappointment concerning the culprit’s lack of conduct. On suchoccasions Dominic’s guilt induced him to wish the floor would openand swallow him up. Anything would have been preferable to beingthe cause of his dear father’s displeasure.
Mrs Cooperbroke into his thoughts. “My poor girl’s in a cell with criminalsand women, who are…are no better than they should be.”
“LordCastleton’s father is dead, is he not?” Dominic asked.
“Yes, sir.” Hercheeks reddened. “If he weren’t been killed by Boney’s soldier, Ihope he would never have allowed his son to become a young limb ofSatan.”
‘Young limb ofSatan’! Too strong a term for a child, who lacked discipline. “Whatof the child’s mother, Mrs Cooper.”
She shook herhead. “Bessie says she is a sweet lady, but every time she tellsthe boy to behave the earl pokes his long nose in where it’s notwelcome. So the child thinks he can do whatever he pleases.”
“I see. Now,please tell me if I am wrong,” Dominic fought his way through thereal meaning of his parishioner’s distressed floods of words. “LordCastleton claimed Bessie would not allow him to drink out of hissilver mug.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Where didBessie put the mug?” he asked, not immune to the plea in hertear-filled hazel eyes.
“In thecupboard in the nursery along with the child’s silver porringer,his knife, fork and spoon, and I don’t know what else.”
“So, where isit? Why does the earl think she stole it and not the other silveritems? If Bessie were a thief, surely she would have taken all ofthem.”
“I only know,sir, that four days ago, after she ate breakfast in the servants’hall, the old limb of Satan was waiting for her when she returnedto the nursery. She says the earl was in a fair taking. He rantedat her for pinching his grandson’s cheeks. Then he ordered her tofetch the mug. She couldn’t find it, so he accused her of stealingit.”
Dominicfrowned. “Surely she was not the only one who could have takenit.”
“Yes, that’strue, Mister Markham. Bessie says the earl lost his temper when shetried to explain. Please, sir, speak to his lordship. He’ll listento you.” Mrs Cooper burst into noisy tears and covered her facewith her hands.
Of course, hemust do whatever he could to help the Coopers. Nevertheless,Dominic doubted the eccentric earl would yield to anyrepresentation he could make on Bessie’s behalf.
Chapter Four
 
 
Appreciative ofwarm sunshine and a slight breeze, Dominic considered it a perfectday on which to enjoy riding in the country. Familiar with the areain and around St Albans he approached Clarencieux Abbey from TheGallop through the woods.
After muchthought, he decided to try to reason with Pennington before hevisited the unfortunate Bessie in gaol. Although her mother wasconvinced of the girl’s innocence, he could not be certain of it.Nevertheless, Bessie had not been the only person with anopportunity to steal Arthur’s mug
At the end ofThe Gallop edged with oak trees, he rode his horse around the pathalong the perimeter of silver water lapping lazily on the edge ofthe lake. The immaculate lawns stretching towards ClarencieuxAbbey, came into view. Dominic chuckled. Pennington’s massivecountry seat no more suited Hertfordshire than domes of the PrinceRegent’s pavilion in Brighton, which once provoked a wit to say,‘it looks as though St Pauls Cathedral has pupped’.
His lipstightened. A fraction of the money spent on remodelling the earl’sGothic mansion could alleviate much suffering. Dominic only neededto think of the pitiful state in which prisoners were incarceratedto be convinced of reform was necessary. Guilty or innocent, he didnot care to contemplate the condition of the cell in which Bessiewas imprisoned. If he ever took a seat in upper house he would makehis voice heard, and not only on the subject of prison reform.
Dominic did notsubscribe to the common belief that since the poor were destined toeither slave for a living or be servants, they did not need aneducation, In his opinion, every man, woman and child should learnto read the Bible. Dominic sighed, his father rarely interestedhimself in such matters.
In his opinionhis father should address the House on the subject of appallingLondon slums in which sanitation did not exist and crimeflourished. Dominic condemned a society in which a substantialproportion of its capital city’s population of what? -approximately half a million people - lived in such conditions.Besides, for fear of rebellion, Britannia should not be blind tothe causes of the French revolution for fear of-
A scream endedhis thoughts. Where did it come from? The lake? Dominic scanned thewater. He cantered towards it, the mare’s hoofs rhythmicallythudding across the grass.
“Help,” ashrill voice cried out.
Good Lord! Achild was struggling some twenty-five yards from the shore. Dominicdrew rein and dismounted. He flung his hat and riding crop onto thestrand and tugged off his boots. Without pausing to tether hishorse, he waded into the cold water. When it reached his chest, heswam with strong, practised strokes towards the panic strickenchild.
Due to theweight of his sodden riding habit he made slow progress. The child,a boy identified by his jacket, sank beneath the surface. Dominicincreased his effort to reach him. When the youngster bobbed upagain, arms thrashing, Dominic fumbled for the back of jacket.
He towed thelimp boy towards the beach, aware that a more sensible man wouldhave taken off his jacket before he entered the water. In theshallows, somewhat out of breath, Dominic heaved the unconsciouslad into his arms and, carried him to safety.
Two women ranacross the lawn towards him.
“’Twern”t myfault,” the first one dressed in a plain grey gown and pinafore,repeated several times in between sobs.
“Is my sonbreathing!” the other woman called out, the words seeming to forcethemselves from her.
Dominic nodded.He laid the boy down on the grass, turned him over and thumped hisback.
‘Stop!” thesecond woman exclaimed. “You are hurting my son.”
“For his owngood. The boy is barely breathing. He needs to spew up the water heingested,” Dominic explained.
The childspluttered. Water trickled out of his mouth.
“Please don’talarm yourself, madam, he will recover soon. I suggest a warm bedand some hot milk laced with brandy.” With disfavour, he eyed thegrey-clad female. “Please order that young woman to stopwailing.”
“Jane, youheard the gentleman. Be quiet.”
Dominic lookedup into the lady’s tearful, bright-blue eyes fringed with long,thick lashes. The petite lady could not be more than some five feettall. He seemed to miss a heartbeat. A fairy woman, crowned with awealth of glossy dark brown hair.
The daintywoman fluttered her small hands. Beautiful ones with long fingersgraced by oval nails with white-half moons. His response struck achord in his heart. One which he did not care to examine, althoughhis body responded with its own urgent tune.
The boy coughedand vomited water. Freed from the spell unconsciously cast over himby the unknown lady, Dominic turned her son over, and helped him tosit.
“Arthur,” hismother murmured.
It seemed hehad rescued Pennington’s grandson.
Lady Castletonknelt. Heedless of her cream-coloured poplin morning gown becomingdirty, she clasped Arthur in her arms and muttered endearments.
‘LadyCastleton, I assure you he will recover without any ill-effects,’Dominic informed her, as he admired her flawless complexion,straight nose and pretty mouth which he wanted to kiss. He gavehimself a mental shake. Damn it, he was thirty years-old not acallow youth to be stirred by a beauty. Not a classic beauty, but alady with an exceptionally attractive appearance and manner.
‘I beg yourpardon, sir,’ Harriet murmured, most of her attentionunderstandably devoted to her son.
“I presume youare Lady Castleton,” he repeated, for the want of anything betterto say because, unexpectedly, he was almost tongue-tied.
“Yes, I am.”She glanced at Jane. “Dry your eyes and blow your nose, then go andlay out Arthur’s nightgown. Order a hot posset and prepare a bath.”She kissed the top of Arthur’s head. “My precious boy, thank Godyou are safe.” Tears shimmered in her eyes. “But you have been verynaughty. Your grandfather told you not to go swimming until hefinds someone to teach you.”
Arthur lay limpin his mother’s arms, his head against her breast. “I am sorry,Mamma.”
“Yes, I daresayyou are, but you must promise me to be obedient in future.”
“I promise,Mamma.”
With amusement,Dominic noticed Lord Castleton cross his fingers behind his back tonegate the promise. He did not comment for, in childhood, he hademployed the same deceit. Maybe, his conscience claimed, he shouldreprimand the child. As a gentleman guilty of many boyhoodmisdemeanours, he refrained.
“Can you stand,Arthur? Are you able to walk back to the house? Should I summon afootman to carry you?” his mother asked.
“I am not ababy. Course I can get up and walk.”
Arthur stood, alittle unsteady until he found his balance.
In spite of theheat from the fierce sun, Dominic shivered. “With your permission,my lady.” He stood and pulled off his sopping wet riding coat,conscious of water dripping from his hair over his forehead andalso down the back of his neck.
Lady Castletonrose to her feet. As though she saw him for the first time,wide-eyed she looked at him. seeming to pierce through his façadeto his heart.
Although he wasnot in the habit of making whimsical conjectures, the notion shewas fey entered Dominic’s mind, and heightened his impression of afairy-like being
 
* * *
 
Overwhelmed bythe stranger, who saved Arthur from certain death, Harrietscrutinised the black curls, which flopped over his forehead like abull’s poll. She admired his strong features in an oval face withdimples on either side of a well-shaped mouth, jade green eyes anda slightly sun-tinged complexion. To judge by the quality of hisclothes, he was a gentleman. She blushed as she observed his watersoaked waistcoat, shirt and pantaloons that clung to him,emphasising his tall, muscular figure.
Arthur clutchedher hand. “Mamma, I am cold.”
Should sheremove his jacket and trousers or wait until they returned to thenursery to undress him?
Her sonswayed.
“Allow me.” Thegentleman stooped to pick up Arthur.
Harriet smiledwhen Arthur snuggled against the stranger’s broad chest like afledgling in a safe nest.
Where were herwits? With regard to the gentleman, she only knew he did nothesitate to brave the lake and rescue Arthur. Moreover, he broughther boy’s limp figure back to life by thumping him on the back. Andhe was handsome. Too handsome! His good looks spelt danger forunwary females. No gentleman had the right to possess such gloriouseyes with the slightest hint of the devil in them. Harriet’s cheeksburned. Her thoughts betrayed her beloved Edgar, whom she missedevery day of her life. Whilst they neared the mansion, for thesecond time she asked herself where her wits were and gatheredthem. “Other than being my good angel, I don’t know who you are,sir?”
“My name isDominic Markham. I am the rector of Saint Michael and All Saints inthe nearby parish of Queen’s Langley,” the clergyman explained, atthe moment when the earl emerged from the front door.
Followed by aflock of servants, the old man hurried down one of the doubleflights of marble stairs. He glared at her. “I knew you are not fitto be trusted with my grandson.”
She squared hershoulders. “You, sir, do not deserve to have one. Arthur nearlydrowned. Due to your habit of granting his every wish, he could notaccept your refusal to allow him to swim in the lake. Your pride inwhat you term his “pluck” has resulted in an ill-mannered child,who has tantrums when he is thwarted.” She paused to take a deepbreath before she continued. “To make matters even worse, yourinsistence that you don’t wish him to be punished because you donot want his spirit to be broken nearly caused his death.”
“Later, youwill regret your thoughtless words.” Pennington patted her on theshoulder. “My child, as an upstanding Christian gentleman I forgiveyour foolishness. I understand you are overwrought due to Arthur’sescape from the Grim Reaper. You need a restorative to calm yournatural sensibilities. I suggest you seek repose in yourapartment.” He turned his head to face the rector. “You are, if Iam not mistaken, Mister Markham, the Earl of Faucon’s youngerson.”
“Yes, mylord.”
“Judging byyour wet hair, you saved my grandson, so I shall always be in yourdebt. You are welcome. Come indoors. You must change out of thosedrenched clothes and-”
Arthursquirmed. “I want Bessie.”
Mister Markhamset the child on his feet.
Penningtonbeckoned to a footman. “Take Lord Castleton to the nurseryand-”
Harriet shookher head. “No, I shall take him.”
Arthur burstinto tears. “I want Bessie.”
“Don’t blubberlike a baby,” Pennington ordered. “Bessie is in jail because shestole your silver mug.”
Arthur pressedhis face against the damp, soiled skirt of her gown. “Mamma, pleasetell Grandpapa to bring Bessie back. She did not steal the mug. Ihid it after she told me I could not drink my milk from it becauseI threw the mug at her.”
Penningtonknelt with the agility of a much younger man. “Come here, sir. Youare too old to clutch your mother’s gown. It was wrong of Bessienot to allow you to drink from your mug, but since she did notsteal it, Bessie may return to look after you.”
Once more theearl’s deceptively gentle smile appeared. Not a word of reprooffrom him to Arthur for the consequences of his lie. Furious,Harriet turned her attention to Mister Markham, whose frownexpressed his silent disapproval of Pennington. Too angry to speakto her father-in-law, she clasped her boy’s hand. “Come, Arthur,you must change into dry clothes.”
“Yes, yes,”Pennington agreed, as though God gave him the right to decide whatwas best for her son. “And you, Mister Markham,” he continued,“must strip off.” He frowned. “I am sadly lacking in hospitality.Some brandy to warm you, a hot bath and a change of clothes; thoughI doubt I have any which will fit you. Even if it will be a littleshort, I suggest you wear one of my banyans. I shall instruct myvalet to attend to you. In the meantime, I will send a servant goesto the rectory to collect a change of clothes for you.”
“Thank you, mylord, and perhaps you would be good enough to send an order for agroom to stable my mare, if she has not made her way back to herown stable at the rectory.” He looked down at his stockinged feet.“Maybe one of your footmen could collect my boots, coat and myriding crop from the riverbank.”
 
* * *
 
The earl sat athis desk in the library writing a letter, in which he withdrew thecharge against Bessie and gave instructions for her release.
His letterfinished, he sprinkled sand on it to dry the ink. After he shookoff the particles, he folded the message and sealed it.
To pleaseArthur, he would send a carriage to return the nurse to the abbey.His heart softened somewhat, while he thought of his handsome,mettlesome grandson. In his opinion, Arthur was too young to bepunished for the mischief that resulted in Bessie’s arrest.
Curse LadyCastleton! He only tolerated her because she was his heir’s mother.If Edgar had not married her she would have been an insignificantyoung woman, unworthy of his notice. How dare the upstart speak tohim with a total lack of moderation? It was unpardonable of her toaccuse him of responsibility for a small child’s naturalindignation and understandable tantrums. Well, he would not put upwith her interference in how he chose to bring up Arthur. Whatright did the under bred-granddaughter of a mere baronet and asquire have to criticise him? He must be done with her. It shouldnot be difficult to rid himself of a friendless widow.
Chapter Five
 
 
Dominic heldout his card to Pennington’s dignified butler. “If Lady Castletonis at home, please give this to her, and inform her I have come toenquire after her son. I hope Lord Castleton has suffered no illeffects after his misadventure.”
“Thank you,sir, Lord Castleton has almost recovered.” The butler acceptedDominic’s pasteboard card. “I shall ask if she is able to receiveyou.”
“Thank you,er-”
The butlerinclined his head. “Jarvis, sir.” He gestured to one of the archeddoors in the circular hall, which contained many gothic features.“This way, sir.”
Dominic crossedthe floor admiring the lancet windows fitted with stained glass,which spilled rainbow colours onto the pale grey flagstones. Hepaused to observe the realistic portrayal of St George, one of hischildhood heroes, slaying a fearsome, grass-green dragon thatbelched flames.
“Through heresir.” Jarvis opened one of the doors.
Dominic did nothave long to wait before the butler returned. “Her ladyship willreceive you.”
Since his firstencounter with Lady Castleton, Dominic could not dismiss her fromhis mind. The vibrant blue of her large, expressive eyes fascinatedhim. Her rosebud mouth still tempted him to kiss it. Inself-reproof he shook his head. Unworthy thoughts for a rector withan unsullied reputation. Yet, holy orders were thrust upon him.Without a calling to the church, he was as vulnerable as any otherbachelor appreciative of a lady’s neat figure.
He was temptedto laugh because he had escaped the machinations of so many youngladies, who would not refuse an offer of marriage from him, only tofall victim to a lady whose beauty seemed otherworldly. Curse hisromantic streak, which still attached him to fairy tales andlegends – stories of Tristan and Isolde, King Arthur and theKnights of the Round Table, amongst others, which Morwenna, hisromantic Cornish mother, had told him when he was a child.
A footmanopened another door before Dominic could complete his thoughts. Hestepped into a spacious drawing room with a large stone fireplaceand a high ceiling, from which four chandeliers hung at regularintervals. Bathed in sunlight streaming in through the windows,Lady Castleton stood, attractive in a high-necked, pale bluemorning gown, and a fetching lace trimmed, beribboned cornette,which only allowed a glimpse of her abundant hair. Handsoutstretched she walked gracefully towards him.
Dominic ignoredanother impulse to sweep her into his arms and kiss her delectablemouth.
“MisterMarkham, I am pleased to see you. Had you not called on me, I wouldhave waited on you after Arthur has recovered to thank you.”
“No need tothank me,” Dominic bowed, aware that he must not reveal even a hintof desire for the lady. He straightened his back. “Lord Castletonis ill?” he asked, concerned for the child.
“He is a littlefeverish and has worn himself out with tears because he wants hisformer nurse.”
“I am sorry tohear he is unwell. I presume it is the result of his unfortunateescapade.”
“Yes.” LadyCastleton frowned. “More than an escapade! Arthur deserves to bepunished for his disobedience after his grandfather forbade him toswim in the lake, and for his lie regarding poor Bessie, whichresulted in her imprisonment.” She fingered the end of one of thewhite satin ribbons that fastened the cornette in a coquettish bowunder her chin. “However, my son is only four and a half years-old.He does not understand the serious consequences of his lie.”
She pressed ahand over her heart. “Perhaps you will consider me incrediblyfoolish to reprimand my son instead of beating him.” Her blue eyesgazed mistily at him. “Even when Arthur misbehaves I cannot forcemyself to hurt him.”
Recalled to hisduty towards Bessie Cooper, Dominic opened his mouth to speak, butLady Castleton spoke first.
“Forgive me,sir.” When she squared her shoulders and composed her face insevere lines, it appeared she tried to suppress her maternalsensibilities. “How I bring up my son cannot be of interest to you.If my father-in-law were present, he might tell you I lack socialgraces. I should have invited you to take a seat and offered you aglass of wine.” She beckoned to one of the footmen, who stood oneither side of the door. “A glass of madeira, Mister Markham?”
“Yesplease.
“Madeira forthe rector, ratafia for me, and some caraway seed biscuits.” LadyCastleton ordered a footman.
“MisterMarkham, shall we sit by the window? It affords a splendid view ofthe knot garden.” Lady Castleton shivered. “Never again will I beable to look out at the lake in which my son might have drowned. Nowords could ever be sufficient to thank you.” Her lips quivered.“Not every gentleman would have plunged in at the risk of his ownlife.”
Dominic tookthe seat separated from Lady Castleton’s by a low table. “Though Iam flattered, you are mistaken, I was not in danger. I learned toswim with on my father’s estate.” Poignant memories of splashinghis older brothers, and other shared pursuits, which includedfishing, shooting and riding, clutched at his heart. When young,who would have thought Robert, whom he had looked up to, would, dueto depravity, be doomed to die at such a young age, and thatBenjamin and Pascoe would be killed in the long drawn out waragainst the French. His jaw clenched. What did the lady know ofwar?
Harriet’s softvoice broke into his thoughts. “Is something amiss?”
“No, I amsorry, my thoughts strayed.”
Her eyesexpressed concern. “Sad ones?”
“Yes, memoriesof my two older brothers. One died at the Battle of Trafalgar, theother at Salamanca.”
A shadow seemedto cross her face. “I sympathise with your losses. My husband diedat the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro and my father,” her voicequavered, “at the Battle of Toulouse.” Not before he glimpsed tearsin her eyes, she looked down at her hands.
“How tragic.Please accept my condolences.”
“Oh, although Imiss them every day, I am more fortunate than some widows. I havemy son to console me.” She smiled and gazed at him, her eyes brightwith those incipient tears before she spoke again. “You must notpity me. My father-in-law has taken us in, and we should beexceedingly grateful to him.” A blush stole across her cheeks.“Indeed, I am much obliged to him.”
The footmanserved wine and biscuits, then returned to his position by thedoor.
When peopleconfided in him, familiar with various nuances in their speech,Dominic sensed they found it difficult to completely unburdenthemselves. “I sympathise with your mother for the loss of herhusband,” he responded gently to encourage her.
“Thank you.”Her hands trembled. “Thank you, but Mamma, died of a fever in Spainsix years ago.”
He raised hiseyebrows. “She followed the drum?”
“Yes. I fearthis will shock you. From the day my mother eloped, regardless ofhardship, she could not bear to be separated from my father. Theywere devoted to each other. He always called her his goodangel.”
Somewhatsurprised, although this was far from the most deplorableconfession he ever received, Dominic sipped some more of theexcellent Madeira.
“Even if poorMamma could tolerate anything for my father’s sake, until the dayshe died, she found it hard to accept that her parents had disownedher. After all, it was not a crime to marry for love. To the end ofher days she hoped to be reconciled with them.”
“She was to bepitied,” Dominic commented, for he could not imagine his father andmother denying the existence of any one of their children under anycircumstances.
“Yes, she wasto be pitied,” Lady Castleton agreed in a subdued tone. “I hope youwill not consider me mawkish when I say that, in spite of theproblems faced by an army wife, who travels with her husband, Mammanever complained because she loved Papa so much,” sheexplained.
Dominic leanedforward, quelling his impulse to clasp one of her small hands. “Idon’t think you are maudlin. Despite the claims made by mostmembers of the ton that the prime reason for marriage is not love.Fortunately, my parents doted on each other from the moment theyfirst met. If my grandparents disapproved of the match I think,like your father and mother, mine would have eloped.”
He sighed. Papawas sixty-eight years old and Mamma was sixty-two. Inevitably,whichever one of his parents died first the other would bebroken-hearted. At their ages, out of love for them, and duty tohis entire family, he must marry and, if God willed it, have a son.Unbidden came the thought his parents would consider a match withLady Castleton unsuitable because she was not his equal bybirth.
Her ladyship’sexquisite face broke into a tender smile. “Please forgive me,Mister Markham, I don’t know what it is about you that invited meto confide in you.”
“Perhaps it isbecause I am an ordained minister of the church. Please, don’thesitate to be frank whenever you wish. I would be privileged to beof service to you.”
Her eyeswidened a little when she stared into his. As though she cast apowerful spell he could not wrench his gaze from those clear bluedepths. Nevertheless, he managed to speak. “Thank you for yourhospitality. Duty calls me so I must bid you farewell.”
Lady Castletonrose. “Good day to you, sir.”
Released fromthe inexplicable magic that seemed to bind him to her, Dominicstood. For a moment, they observed each other. This time, he didnot allow himself to be transfixed by her allure.
 
* * *
 
On the way backto the rectory, Dominic remembered he had intended to ask aboutBessie’s situation. Yet, fascinated by Lady Castleton’s charm andgrace he forgot the unfortunate nursemaid.
He hoped theearl had issued orders for her release. If not, although the nursewas an innocent victim of a child’s lie, she might languish in jailfor months before she appeared before the magistrate at the nextassizes.
Dominic’s jawtightened. His good-natured father did not like Pennington, andaccording to gossip, Pennington was unpopular amongst his fellowpeers and his tenant farmers. However, in spite of the earl’sunpopularity, Clarencieux Abbey was the talk of the neighbourhoodand beyond. People came from miles around to gaze at and comment onthe building. Young ladies prone to reading works of fiction,shuddered at the sight of it. He presumed they recalled MrsRadcliffe’s novel, The Mysteries of Udolfo, set in such a buildingwith gargoyles and massive stone walls.
Dominic hopedLady Castleton did not share their taste for the book. If she did,her imagination might be exacerbated by having a bedroom in agothic mansion, and the horror described in that novel, besidesClara Reeves’s book The Old English Baron. Reading such dreadfultales might cause her to have many sleepless nights.
His mare’s earspricked up. Deep in thought, he allowed her to amble towards therectory. When they neared it, she broke into a trot. Dominic tookcommand of her. Within little more than five minutes, he dismountedoutside the stable and handed the reins to his groom. He strodeacross the small yard, and through the ivy-wreathed gateway, whichled to a path around the side of the building.
“Ah,” breathedGwenifer, who opened a side door of the building before he couldknock, “I thought I heard the clatter of hooves oncobblestones.

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