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Authors: Judith B. Glad

Tags: #19th Century, #England, #marriage, #Regency, #Regency Romance, #Romance

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BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
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"We always have--"

"Not in recent history. The pigsties are in ruins and the dairy
barn is being used to store hay. Yesterday when I toured the home
farm, I saw no evidence that poultry had ever been kept."

Clarence closed his eyes and tried to envision the home farm
from his youth. He remembered geese, for one old gander had
terrified him until he refused to go there alone. "No, I don't recall any
chickens, but we did have a small dairy when I was a boy."

"The dairy cattle were sold off seven years ago, at the same
time your father purchased a stallion at an exorbitant cost." Her
pencil tapped rapidly on the ledger cover. "There is a note to that
effect in the home farm record. One of the last, I might add. For soon
after that, the records ceased. Apparently your father discharged the
bailiff who had been here for many years."

Clarence tried to recall what his father had said in a letter,
one he knew he'd read in India. "That would be when he hired
Inglewood. I wish I could remember what Fa said about him."

"Would your mother remember?"

"I doubt it. She never paid attention to anything outside the
house. But, wait. There was something. Yes, Fa met him when he
hunted with the Quorn. He was beyond elation, filled three pages
with descriptions of the hunt. And he hired Inglewood while he was
there."

"That seems peculiar circumstances for engaging a bailiff.
Unless Inglewood was not hired to supervise the estate, but to work
with the horses."

"By Jove, I believe you're right. That must have been exactly
what Fa wanted. Someone who would concentrate on what mattered
to him. The stables."

"Yes, but it is unfortunate that he didn't engage a
knowledgeable bailiff as well." Her sigh told him she thought it more
than merely unfortunate.

Since he agreed that his father had made some spectacularly
bad decisions in the last few years, he said nothing.
At least Fa did
one thing right. He promised me to Lisanor Hight. If anyone can save
Guillemot, I believe she can.

"So are we on the verge of going under?"

"We will not go under, my lord. We will merely have to
tighten our belts rather severely for a year or two and live frugally
for somewhat longer. Fortunately Ackerslea's less than ideal
financial position is temporary. One good season should ameliorate
the damage my father did. Of course, full restoration of the Manor's
profitability will be delayed by the necessity to divert funds to
Guillemot."

"My dear, I am sorry--"

"You should not be. We have a bargain, and in the long term
it will benefit both estates." She turned back to the desk and closed
the ledger she'd been working in. "You look tired, my lord. I believe
you should retire."

"I...ahh..." A sudden recollection of when he'd awakened
sometime in the dark of the previous night came to Clarence.
Somehow, in their sleep, they had both migrated to the center of the
wide bed. She'd been warm against him. Soft. The faint scent of
her--reminiscent of the ginger crisps Cook had always made at
Christmastime--had teased his nostrils.

He had reached out one hesitant hand, had touched her
cheek lightly. And for the first time since well before the retreat to
Coruña, he'd felt a faint stirring of desire.

"Yes...bed... Perhaps you're right. I am fatigued."

* * * *

"I have one question, my dear."

"Just one?" There was so much she wished to know of him.
The longer she knew him, the more she wanted to know of him. Chief
among her question was why the only son of a marquess had bought
his commission, had risked his life--and the succession--for eight
long years.

"Perhaps more than one, but the rest can wait. I must have
this answer."

"Ask away then. I do not promise to answer."

"When did you see a man's naked buttocks?"

Lisanor gaped. Of all the questions she had expected, this
was entirely unexpected.

Her husband met her gaze squarely, his expression perfectly
serious. He was not jesting; he wanted an answer.

Containing the laughter that bubbled into her chest, she
said, "I was fifteen."

"Good God! And your grandfather allowed it?"

"He had nothing to say about it. In fact, I doubt he ever
knew."

"But--"

Her urge to laugh only grew as his expression went from
shock to outrage to...suspicion? And died as she realized what
thoughts must be passing through his mind. "I had followed
Elmer--"

"Elmer?"

"Elmer Snead. He is head stockman at Ackerslea. What he
does not know about animal husbandry has probably not been
discovered yet. I was his shadow whenever I could escape the
schoolroom, from...oh, perhaps my sixth year." When me made an
impatient sound, she said, "Do you want to hear this or not?"

"Oh, I definitely want to hear." He folded his hands on the
counterpane covering his midsection. "You had followed
Elmer...?"

"They were cas-- The stockmen were altering bull
calves."

His eyebrow went up, but he said nothing.

"Steers make better beef animals. One of Ackerslea's main
sources of income is beef cattle." She wondered that he did not know
that, but then recalled that Guillemot had never raised cattle other
than dairy. "They must be clipped when young, and I had always
been forbidden to attend. That day I decided that as the heir to
Ackerslea Farm, it was my duty to become familiar with all
activities."

For a moment a vivid image of that day came to her mind,
but she quickly quelled the sick feeling it engendered. "I confess that
is one task I am entirely happy to leave to the stockmen."

"I can imagine." His voice was tight. "The very
thought..."

"Yes, well, I was determined not to let my weakness be
evident to the men, so I entered the pen and stood close to the fence.
Somehow--" As she brought back the memory, she once again saw
the gate swing, once again wondered who had left it open. "Somehow
a gate came unlatched.

"In the next pen a young bull was being held in anticipation
of a buyer's inspection. He was restive, disliking being penned, for
our bulls ranged free in a large pasture until they were sold."

"And the gate--"

"Yes, the gate somehow came unlatched. No one noticed,
and suddenly the gate slammed open and the bull was among the
men. He tossed them aside like tenpins. I could not move, but Elmer
said I screamed. The man holding the clippers struck the bull across
the snout with them and ran for the fence. He almost made it
over.

"But it was distraction enough. Elmer snatched off his coat
and waved it while shouting at us all to escape. The bull charged him
and he leapt aside, just as I've imagined a matador must do. Twice
more he faced the bull, each time drawing a little closer to a gate. He
was yelling something, but it made no sense to me as I perched,
horrified, atop the fence.

"With the bull's last furious charge, it collided head-on with
one of the stout posts that supported a gate. Stunned, it paused long
enough for two men to get behind it and, with prods, harry it into an
adjacent pen. Elmer had leapt onto the fence, and the impact of the
bull's charge dislodged him and he fell to the ground, fortunately
outside the pen where the bull was. But he was uninjured.

"Not so young Colin, an apprentice stockman. The bull's
horn had hooked him in the side on its first charge. All the while
Elmer fought the bull, he lay in the dust of the pen, bleeding."

She saw his eyes close, and wondered if he was picturing
other men lying in the dust, bleeding. Considering some of his shouts
in the night, he'd seen more than his share.

"I had already learned much about treating wounds from
Elmer and from our local midwife who often stood in place of a
doctor for our workers and tenants. Such knowledge is essential to a
farmer." Realizing she was attempting to distract herself, she forced
herself to continue. "I was the first one to young Colin's side, and I
used the knife he carried to cut his shirt open, to expose the wound.
It was immediately obvious that the horn had entered his back just
above his hipbone and had ripped through his flesh, tearing his
britches."

She drew a deep breath, as the image of that horrible wound
filled her mind. "Without thinking, I cut open his britches too,
barring his backside."

What followed next was as indelibly imprinted upon her
memory as the bull's attack.

"Elmer yelled, one of the other men snatched the knife from
my hand, and a third one covered my eyes. Someone picked me up,
slung me over his shoulder and, despite my struggles, carried me
from the pen."

Her husband's eyes snapped open. "You mean--"

"Indeed. My glimpse of his buttocks was brief, and I confess I
was concentrating far more on his wound than on that part of his
anatomy, which was uninjured, but sadly in need of a wash."

"You lied."

"I did not. I merely made a statement and left you to imagine
the worst. It accomplished what I intended, however, which was to
convince you that I was qualified to treat your wounds."

"You, my lady, are sly and devious." But there was a hint of
laughter in his voice, despite his disapproving glower.

"No, my lord. I am merely pragmatic. I will use whatever
tools are at hand to accomplish my aims. Remember that." Lisanor
smiled widely in his direction and scooted down until the
counterpane covered her shoulders. "Good night."

The next morning, as Clarence lay relaxed and conscious
that he should be doing something constructive, rather than
watching his wife write to her sister, Carleton entered bearing a
salver.

"The post has arrived, my lord, my lady."

"Thank you." Lisanor held out her hand, but then lowered it.
"His lordship will tend to it." She sent him a small smile, but the flash
from her eyes told him it was high time he began taking some
responsibility for his estate.

He waited until the butler had pulled the door closed behind
him. "Thank you, my dear."

"For what?"

"For reminding me that I have been playing the invalid far
too long." He broke the seal and opened the thick packet. Quickly he
skimmed the note, written in a flowing hand. "The devil!"

Before he replied, he shuffled through the several wrinkled
and blotched papers behind the note. His heart sank. Just
when--

"My lord?"

"Will it never end?" He closed his eyes, fought to contain the
anger he felt.
What possessed my father? Was he even
sane?

Lisanor came to his side, perched on the very edge of his
chaise longue. "Tell me."

"I sincerely hope that my father didn't dispose of the
furniture he replaced," he said, feeling he owed it to her to put a
positive light upon this latest setback. "We will need it to furnish
most of the public rooms."

She took the note, shuffled through the bills it referenced.
"This is for furnishings purchased a year ago. But...but never paid
for."

"And I hope that the merchant--who, I must admit has
shown remarkable patience--will repossess the furniture rather than
insisting upon payment."

"Nine thousand pounds? For some of the ugliest sophas and
chairs imaginable? This is outrageous!"

Despite himself, Clarence had to smile. "I am relieved to hear
you are not fond of them."

"My lord..."

"Yes?"

"This last bill. It is not for furnishings. I fear it will have to be
paid."

He took it back, read it more carefully. "Silk wall covering?
How could silk wall covering cost two thousand pounds?"

She laid the tip of an ink-stained finger on the small script at
the bottom of the bill. "Woven to his design, it says. It must be that
puce and orange pattern of pagodas and parasols in the dining room.
I cannot imagine it being a popular design."

"Not removable, I imagine."

"I don't believe so." Her chuckle was forced. "And at that
price, we shall have to live with it for the rest of our lives."

Refusing to be amused, Clarence said, "I make the total of
these new bills to be in the neighborhood of thirteen thousand
pounds. My God! You could furnish a palace for that price."

"Indeed. I much fear your father was seen as...what is the
term? A ready mark?"

"An easy mark. I think he was mad."

"You may be right. Certainly his actions that last year do not
appear to be those of a man in his right mind." She gathered the bills
together. "I will add these to the ones we already have."

"Perhaps we should ask Carleton to see what might be found
in the attics to furnish the public rooms, once we have removed my
father's extravagances. We must have seats and tables, however
shabby, when we start receiving again." Again he closed his eyes,
aware of a great fatigue.

"My lord?"

"Umm?"

"This is not a defeat. Merely a setback."

"If you say so." But he could not believe her.

"I do." She soothed a soft hand across his closed eyes. "Have
I ever told you what the Hights' motto is?"

"Umm."

"'
Nous contrive
.' We Hights have contrived to survive
and prosper for a thousand years, and a small thing like puce and
orange wall covering is not going to defeat us."

Catching her hand, he pulled it to his lips. "I want to believe
you. But you are no longer a Hight, so perhaps--"

"I will always be a Hight. It is the blood, not the name." Her
fingers pressed against his lips. "Are you able to match the
furnishings to these bills? It would be of great help to me."

Not sure if she was serious, or just inventing a task to lift his
spirits, he said, "I shall contrive."

Chapter Nine

Lisanor was increasingly satisfied with her marriage as the
days passed. Her grandfather had made a good bargain, probably far
better than he'd envisioned. Her husband, despite his habit of
command, was in general a reasonable man, putting the best
interests of Guillemot ahead of his masculine conceit.

BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
2.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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