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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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Even better, he lacked--or was able to overcome--the
deplorable attitude prevalent in every other male she knew above
the age of twelve that females were unable to think logically or act
reasonably. Except about the stables.

That was not to say he was ineffectual or malleable. She had
the impression that persuading him to allow the underservants to be
educated would require some effort and no little diplomacy on her
part. A waste of time and effort he had called it. "'Twill only make
them long for comforts above their station." In his words she heard
not strong conviction, but an echo of his mother's opinions.

She was just coming up from the kitchens when Carleton
approached the wide stairs, bearing a slaver on which were piled
several packets and letters. "Something from your sister, if I am not
mistaken, my lady."

Indeed, she recognized Alanna's hand on the top letter.
"Thank you, Carleton. Was there anything for his lordship?"

"Two journals, a letter from London, and a small package.
Shall I take them up?"

"Just put everything on my desk. His lordship is having his
daily soak and I have one more task before I go up." She turned
toward the breakfast room, but paused and turned back. "Wait. Let
me have my sister's letter."

As soon as he had ascended the stairs, she sat on the bottom
step and broke the seal on Alanna's letter. It was brief, but filled with
good news.

Sister,

Lady Guillemot has made a tremendous
difference. Within two days of her arrival, Uncle
Percival and the contemptible Darius had been
routed. She is everything you said--chatty, a bit
silly, and certainly scatterbrained, but I like her
quite well, for she is good-hearted, cheerful and
kind.

Yesterday a very strange man arrived,
and at first I was suspicious of him. But he handed
me a note from Lord Guillemot, and when I had
read it, I almost laughed. He is to be our savior,
our sentinel, and the guardian of our virtues; your
husband has said so. But Sister, he is terrifyingly
ugly, with a scarred face, a voice like a cranky
bear, and an accent so strong I can understand
only about half of what he says. He stands quite
tall, perhaps twenty hands from the top of his
shaven head to the bottoms of his enormous
boots. His shoulders are so wide that he must pass
through doorways sidewards. If Uncle or Darius
return, I feel certain Mr. Gadget will again set
them in retreat.

The most amusing thing: he is in awe of
Tamsen and positively cringes when she scolds
him for not removing his cap in the presence of
females.

Mr. Fishman has found a position in
Suffolk and has finally removed himself from the
cottage. Phil, Saxon and Elmer say good riddance.
So do I. Will you engage another estate agent? I
gave Mr. Gadget permission to reside in the
cottage.

Lady Guillemot sends her best wishes and
asks me to tell you that she is both comfortable
and content here. In her words, Ackerslea Farm
"beats the dower house all to flinders."

We are going to invite the vicar to tea
after church on Sunday. Lady Guillemot says that
it will perfectly correct to do so in spite of our
both being in mourning.

Your loving sister,
Alanna

When she stood, Lisanor felt fully a stone lighter. Alanna
was safe, she and the dowager were compatible, and Fishman was
gone. She still had to find someone to replace him; Tumos Hakon was
too old to assume full responsibility for Ackerslea Farm. She
wondered how one went about finding a bailiff. Perhaps her husband
knew another ex-soldier, one a trifle less
interesting
than
Gadget.

* * * *

Lisanor entered the master suite without knocking, as she
usually did. "The entire house has been thoroughly searched. The
stud book was not found. Could it be in the hands of your father's
solicitor?"

Her husband looked up from the pamphlet he was reading.
Despite her annoyance, she was pleased to recognize it as one on
fertilizer methods she had given him. "That's possible. I shall write to
him."

"In the meantime, there are forty-six horses out there, eating
their heads off. What do you intend to do about it?" She knew she
should not confront him while she was angry, but she had restrained
herself for too long. The estate was wasting money on the stables
that would be far better invested in improvements, seed, and
livestock.

"I have written to an agent my father used. He should be
here in a week or so. We'll sell off the two- and three-year-olds. It's
the wrong season, so we'll not get as much as we should. But it will
reduce the drain on our funds."

"How many?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"How many horses will that be? Thirty? Forty?"

"Good God, no. Twenty-one, if they all sell. But we cannot
count on that. Perhaps fifteen. Fa didn't breed his mares every
year."

She dropped into a chair and worked to hold onto her
temper. "I have been questioning Simms. He says that having six
stallions at stud is unusual. I believe he wanted to say more, but was
afraid to."

"Most of them are at stud." A small hesitation. "That means
mares are brought to them for breeding."

"I know what it means. But I don't know when." Clenching
her fists in the folds of her gown, she reminded herself that one
catches more flies with honey than with vinegar. "Simms says only
one mare has been brought to be bred in the past year, and in the
year before that, only three. My opinion is that those stallions are
worthless. They occupy one man's efforts almost exclusively, they
serve no useful purpose, and they are
costing us money we could
better spend on something useful
."

The hardening of his jaw told her she had gone too far.

"You admitted you know little of managing a stable."

"Indeed. But I know quite a lot about managing a farm, and
let me tell you, my lord, this estate is not a farm. It is a bottomless
well down which money is poured. I believe my grandfather was
cheated."

"Cheated?" He pushed himself to his feet.

Part of Lisanor's attention was diverted when she saw how
easily he rose, how steadily he stood, albeit with the aid of the
amber-headed cane. But only part. "Your father bargained for a farm
manager when what he needed was a keeper. He was clearly
deranged. For more than two years he mismanaged this estate and
his other holdings so badly that they may never recover. It is just too
bad that they are entailed. If I were to have a choice, I'd sell the
lot."

His eyes narrowed. "But you do not have a choice, my dear."
His voice was silky, dangerous.

"More's the pity." Overwhelmed with anger, she spun on her
heel and escaped. If she were to remain with him, they would both
speak in anger, saying words that could never be called back. Never
be forgiven.

Clarence remained standing for a moment, staring at the
door his wife had slammed behind her. How dare she take him to
task? Call his father a cheat? Had not her grandfather approached Fa
with the offer of her hand?

Seating himself, he picked up the pamphlet, one he'd
expected to find soporific, and it had turned out to be quite
fascinating. Who would have known that an application of urine
could improve the yield of the soil?

But he could not concentrate. His thoughts returned again
and again to her words. "...my grandfather was cheated." Did she see
herself as a chattel, sold to his father--to him, if the truth be told--as
someone to rescue Guillemot and the rest of the properties from the
morass of debt into which they had sunk? Had his father that much
foresight? That accurate a picture of the devastation he'd
caused?

"Wait!" Where was that correspondence file? He'd run
across it while going through the contents of Fa's desk. In one of the
boxes lined up against the wall? He transferred himself to the chair
with rockers, having discovered it could easily be scooted across the
well-waxed hardwood floor.

The file was in the third box, the letter in the middle folder.
He unfolded it.

...I believe it will benefit both our estates,
but even more an alliance between our families
will assure my granddaughter of a stable future
and will ensure that her inheritance is protected.
As my son's lifelong friend, you were the first I
thought of when seeking a possible husband for
Lisanor. The report I received of your son painted
him as a sober, responsible young man, a fitting
mate for my granddaughter, who is sensible,
even-tempered, and not given to the usual female
moods and vapors.

"Ha! When she sees this, she'll sing another tune." Clarence
refolded the letter and tucked it into his jacket pocket. Sensible and
even-tempered, indeed! What the old man had forgotten to mention
was that she was managing, dictatorial, and aggravating. No wonder
he'd sought a husband for her. He was probably doing his best to get
her out of his house.

I wasn't even Hight's first choice. I wonder how many
turned him down before he thought of me.
Twice she'd lost a
fiancé to the war, but how many others had refused her
grandfather's offer? A young woman with merely a token dowry,
who brought no land but instead came with a humiliating condition
that no man worth his salt would accept. The terms of the marriage
contract, terms he'd had only cursory knowledge of until he had
been married a full fortnight, were barbarous. Perhaps even illegal.
Had I but known...

Clarence spent the rest of the afternoon in a fine glow of
righteous indignation, but he did finish reading the pamphlet about
methods of increasing crop yields.

* * * *

For whom had the late marquess purchased the ruby
parure? Rubies would not compliment the dowager. The bill had
arrived in this morning's post and had been the real reason behind
Lisanor's temper, yet she had completely forgotten to tell her
husband. Ten thousand pounds! Yet another hemorrhage of future
income for her to cope with, until she began to wonder if it were
even possible for Guillemot to recover from indebtedness within her
lifetime.

Perhaps I should simply give up. Our marriage is thus far
in name only. An annulment might be possible.
The thought of
making something so personal a matter of public record sickened
her.

And with that thought came another, unexpected
realization. An annulment would mean she would never see Clarence
Lamberton again. That, far more than shame, made the prospect
completely unthinkable.
Good heavens, I have become fond of the
man.

She'd retired to the morning room, the only public room
they were keeping heated. Unable to concentrate, she sat at the
pianoforte and idly touched the keys. Although she had never had
lessons, she could pick out a few simple melodies. But even with her
lack of training, she could hear that the instrument was badly out of
tune.

She closed the lid and wandered to the window overlooking
the overgrown rose garden. Lady Guillemot had admitted that
after the head gardener had died several years ago, she had not
bothered to request that another be hired. "Flowers make me sneeze,
so I don't care for them in the house," she'd said, when Lisanor
wondered aloud why the small conservatory held half a dozen citrus
trees and little else.

"At least I can eliminate that expenditure," she muttered,
and made a mental note to have the trees brought inside and the
conservatory left unheated. In the fall she would see about
reactivating it, so they would have fresh vegetables through the
winter. And flowers too, if the Dowager remained at Ackerslea.

Unable to sit still, determined to stay away from her
husband until bedtime, she went to the library. But as before,
nothing interested her. Most of the titles were in Greek and Latin,
and those that were not leaned heavily toward equine topics. Giving
up, she went to the muniment room and opened the household
ledger. Surely there were other corners she could cut.

After a while she realized the futility of seeking for ways to
save pence when the hemorrhage was measured in tens and
hundreds and thousands of pounds. For a long time she stared at the
flickering flames, until they died into glowing embers. Setting the fire
screen in place, she blew out the candles lighting the desk and
headed upstairs.

That night Lisanor pretended to be asleep when her
husband came to bed after his nightly soak. She had skipped dinner,
certain that if they met across a table they would resume their
disagreement. Besides, she wanted time to consider how she could
convince him that keeping so many horses, especially the stallions,
was out of the question while they were working to recoup his
father's losses. No, not losses. Extravagances. Foolish, improvident
extravagances. Irresponsible, short-sighted, reckless expenditures
for vastly overpriced furnishings and ornamentation in a country
estate where no houseparties, no dinner parties, no balls had been
held for more than five years.

His "Good night, my dear" was little more than a whisper in
the darkened room.

Her throat tightened, but she did not reply.

* * * *

Clarence woke when his wife slipped from the bed. He
wanted to call her back, to apologize for his show of temper the day
before, yet he was reluctant to do so until he knew exactly what he
would be apologizing for. Sober reflection had brought the
realization that there was much he didn't know about his
inheritance. Had she deliberately concealed facts from him?

Or was she protecting him, while he convalesced? Difficult
as he found that to believe, he admitted that he must consider it as a
possibility. The sound of the opening door opening startled him.

"Mornin', sor."

"Ah... I am glad to see you, Nettles. I want to go to the stables
before breakfast."

BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
12.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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