Read A Pitiful Remnant Online

Authors: Judith B. Glad

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

A Pitiful Remnant (3 page)

BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
9.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

"One good year..." Lisanor knew to a farthing how
prosperous Ackerslea could be. Her father might have drained the
funds from the estate, but his profligacy had done nothing to its
productivity. But would there be enough to support Guillemot as
well?

As if reading her mind, Mr. Whitsomeworth said, "The
Guillemot properties have suffered from poor management for a
number of years, and presently bear a heavy burden of debt.
However, they have great potential. I know you've been filling your
grandfather's shoes these past years. Even if Lord Guillemot knows
little of farming, I'm sure I can persuade him to listen to your
advice."

"I hope so. Thank you Mr. Whitsomeworth. And now, if
you've no more of great immediacy to say, I would like to retire to
my rooms." She summoned Alanna with a motion of her chin, and the
two of them slipped out of the study.

"Will you really marry a perfect stranger?"

"Oh, Alanna, I've no choice. It's the only way to save
Ackerslea."

"You could marry Darius-- No, I guess you couldn't."

"No, Never ever. Ugh!" Lisanor shuddered before she
embraced her younger sister. "Don't you worry. Everything will be
all right."

If only she believed her own words.

Chapter Three

"Clarence, you will suffer a setback if you don't calm
yourself."

"The devil with that. I want to know what you mean, I'm
getting married."

"Well, it's a bit complicated, dear, but you're going to marry
Miss Lisanor Hight. She's the heir to Ackerslea Farm, you see, but she
must be married in order to inherit. We had thought there was time
for you to recover, to become accustomed to the notion, but--"

"I had not planned to marry anyone." He wished his body
were less weak. How could a man fight his own battles if he couldn't
even stand?

"Oh, but dear, you must. They have begun calling the banns.
I believe it's been done once, so only another two weeks...well, ten
days, actually, since today is Thursday. But since you cannot marry
on a Sunday, it will be eleven days. We'll have to call in a tailor. Your
wardrobe is in sad state."

He pushed himself upright, held his body there by an effort
of will. "Mother, I. Am. Not. Marrying. Anyone. Not now. Not in the
foreseeable future."

"But you must," she wailed. "You must."

There had been a sincere note of panic in her voice. Clarence
made himself speak reasonably. "Why? Is there some reason why it
has to be so soon?"

His mother hiccupped and wiped her eyes with an already
sodden handkerchief. "If you don't..." Another hiccup, and a
gasp.

He waited, impatiently, but refrained from prodding
her.

"Your father--" She buried her face in her sodden
handkerchief. Disgusted, he pulled the case from the pillow his head
had rested upon and handed it to her, after taking the almost
dripping scrap of linen from her limp hand. "Mother, calm yourself,
please."

She sobbed for several minutes, in time subsiding into more
hiccups. At last she said, "Your father--" but again broke off to wail
wordlessly.

Clarence reminded himself that she was a mere woman, and
sorely tried, if her manner was any indication. He remembered his
mother as easily flustered, often upset by his youthful mischiefs. But
she'd never, to his knowledge, given way to hysteria. Whatever it
was that had her so distressed must be serious indeed.

She took several deep breaths, heaving great sighs as she
exhaled. At last she said, "Over the last few years your father's
investments did poorly. Very poorly. And the income from the stud
fell off. He said it was the war, but I think... Never mind.

"In an effort to recover his losses, he borrowed against the
estate. With those funds, he invested again, certain that he would
realize great profit. But...but the ship was lost in a storm. He
mortgaged everything that wasn't entailed, borrowed against future
profits, and with what he received he again invested, this time in
what he called 'a sure thing'.

"He let everything that was not entailed to tenants on a
sharecrop basis, but the income has been disappointing. What we
received last year was barely enough to pay the interest on the
mortgages. And he refused to call in debts owed, because... Oh, I do
not understand it all. You must speak to his solicitor. He attempted
to explain all to me, but I... You
know
I have never understood
financial matters. "

Clarence wanted to lay his hand over her mouth, for he
knew the inevitable ending.

"I begged him not to commit everything, but he paid me no
mind. When he discovered that his 'sure thing' was all a swindle,
he...he--" She stared at him with eyes welling with tears.

Clarence wanted to curse his father for taking the easy way
out. For leaving his mother--and him--with the disaster he had
created. Instead, he leaned back against the pillows, laid a forearm
across his eyes, and said, "Go on."

"And now this year's payments on the notes, the mortgages,
are due. And there are no funds to pay them. We could lose
everything, All but Guillemot Burn and Pinedale, and you
know
Pinedale has never been a profitable property. Because
of his great respect for your father, Mr. Hight did not press for
repayment. When..." Her voice broke and she buried her face in the
now-sodden pillowcase.

"Hight? As in Miss Lis-something-or-other Hight?" Clarence
was conscious of a great rage building in his gut. The woman sought
to buy herself a husband? She was doomed to disappointment.

"Yes. I mean... Oh, dear. No, I do not believe Miss Hight had
any notion of...well, you see, if only young Foxworth had survived...or
if Mr. Hight had not died so unexpectedly. These terrible wars. It's
just not fair." The last word was uttered as a wail.

Like pulling teeth, he managed to drag the whole story from
her. His father had given notes to Gareth Hight, a wealthy farmer
with a large, prosperous holding some miles from Guillemot. The
notes were secured by title to all unentailed holdings, including
about half of the lands that presently made up Guillemot Burn. If
those properties were lost, they would be left with too little land to
provide the necessary income. Pinedale, in Northumberland, was the
original seat of the marquessate, and it had always been a drain on
the estate.

Eustace Lamberton and Drystan Hight had been
schoolmates, and in and out of each other's homes until Eustace
married Clarence's mother and retired to bucolic bliss at Guillemot.
Drystan stayed in Town, part of Prince George's crowd. Even after
his marriage, he spent more time in London than at Ackerslea Farm,
living high and wild. "Far beyond his means," Clarence's mother said,
with a little sniff that had nothing to do with her distress. "And they
were considerable."

She wiped her eyes one last time and straightened in her
chair. "It is a good thing Drystan killed himself in that silly curricle
race when he did, or Ackerslea might be in as desperate straits as
Guillemot. I know little of the details, but your father did say it was
fortunate he'd mortgaged Guillemot when he did, for the elder Hight
was finding himself in tight straits, due to his son's profligacy. That
was when he offered to sign that terrible contract.

"When Mr. Hight came to Eustace's funeral, he promised me
that he had no present intention of calling in the mortgages. That
was the first time he suggested that you and Miss Hight might wed.
He babbled something about having a second string to his bow, but I
paid no attention, as it made no sense at all. Besides, she was
betrothed to someone else and you were in Spain and being
unreasonable about coming home, but there was a younger sister,
so..."

"Am I to assume he understood that might be years from
now, even if I were to agree."

"Well, yes. I mean, no, he knew it might be a month or two
before you could sell out, but we thought...perhaps April?"

"Sell out? What made you think I'd sell out?"

"Oh, dear. You see, the first man she was betrothed to was
killed in some silly battle--"

Clarence ground his teeth. "Coruña was anything but
silly, Mother."

"No, it was another...last year. Or the year before, perhaps.
Anyway, the second man she was betrothed to
did
die at
Coruña. So sad. Miss Hight must be devastated."

"So I am the third choice? I see." He fell back against the
pillows.

He was the heir to his father's follies, his debts. No longer
just Major Lamberton, but the Marquess of Guillemot. He must
marry. Ensure the succession. But surely not immediately.

Clarence silently prayed for patience. "Of course. But the
younger sister surely could be persuaded to wait until I have
recovered."

Face buried in the now-sodden pillowcase, she shook her
head.

"Mother, please contain yourself. Why must I rush into
matrimony?"

Her first few words were muffled, until she lowered the
handkerchief. "...and I wrote to Mr. Hight when you arrived, telling
him of your condition. He suggested that the wedding take place
immediately, and was planning to bring his granddaughter here. But
then he..." Her words dissolved into a grief-stricken wail.

"But he what, Mother? What has changed?" He really didn't
want to know, but had long since learned that 'twas best to get over
heavy ground as lightly as possible.

"He is dead."

"Yes, I know father is dead, but what does Hight want of
me?"

"
He
is dead. Gareth Hight. And by the agreement, you
must marry his granddaughter. Oh, my son...my poor son. Doomed to
an unhappy marriage with a dreadful woman. A mere peasant." She
threw herself across his bed, weeping and wailing.

"Mother." He patted her shoulder, wishing she would
remove herself from his leg. While it was protected by the splint, it
was still tender.

While he patted, he thought back over her words. His father
had signed "that terrible contract." What contract? And how could it
be worse than everything mortgaged and him in no position to
redeem those mortgages?

The door, which had been slightly ajar, opened. "Perhaps I
might elucidate, my lord," Carleton said as he slipped inside. "Your
father made me cognizant of the terms of the contract."

"Why the devil aren't you in livery?" Clarence
demanded.

"I have been butler for some time, my lord. Simpson retired
at the end of last year." His manner was stiff, his voice tight with
disapproval.

"Great God!" Clarence lay back on the bed, wondering if
there was anything the same about his home. "Congratulations,
Carleton. I think. If what my mother's told me, being butler may be a
short-lived career."

"I believe it will last, sir." He bent over Lady Guillemot and
patted her shoulder. "My lady, you are distraught. Why don't you let
me help you to your morning room. I'll have Maisie prepare you a
warm tisane and you can put your feet up and relax while it calms
you."

His mother let Carleton lead her away. As the butler exited
the room. He looked back over his shoulder. "My lord, I will return as
soon as may be. I'm sure you have many questions."

"I damn well have," Clarence muttered. "But how the hell
does a butler know the answers?"

* * * *

"I do not understand why we must go to Guillemot. Is it not
customary for weddings to take place in the bride's parish, where
the banns were called?" In Lisanor's opinion, there was an indecent,
almost furtive air about this wedding. For tuppence, she would
refuse to participate.

"Ordinarily it is," Mr. Whitsomeworth said, "but in this
instance the bishop has given his permission for a change of venue.
Lord Guillemot is still too ill to travel."

She set two slim volumes in the stack of books to take.
"Perhaps we should delay until his health has improved."

"That would not be practical. Until Ackerslea Farm comes
under your management--"

"You are certain that my intended husband is agreeable to
that?"

"The contract stipulates that you will have final say in all
decisions regarding Ackerslea."

"And that is the only reason I am willing to sacrifice myself
on the altar of matrimony." Lisanor firmly stifled the anger and fear
she had managed to keep at bay ever since Grandfather's death.
I
made a promise, believing I had time to arrange everything to suit
myself. How could I have known I would be called to keep it so
soon?

"There. I believe that is the last." She looked around the
study, Grandfather's favorite room. And hers. How she would miss it.
Already the room felt empty, as if some of its soul had fled.
Ah,
well, perhaps there will be a place in Guillemot I can make my
own.

"Guillemot." She whispered the word, and shivered. While
she had never harbored romantic fantasies as Alanna did, she
couldn't deny that the thought of marrying a man she had never met,
never seen, one for whom she felt no affection, was daunting. The
prospect of sharing his bed, of allowing him access to her person in
an...an intimate way... She shuddered. And hoped Clarence Eustace
Lamberton was a kind and thoughtful man.

He was a soldier. Kind and thoughtful are probably not his
style.

"I'm ready," she said and led the way into the hall. Was this
how Frenchwomen had felt, as they walked to the guillotine?

* * * *

"Your father behaved quite strangely the last weeks of his
life. For some reason, he trusted no one but my poor self, not even
your mother. Perhaps because we had known each other since
boyhood."

Carleton stood stiff and straight between him and the
fireplace, blocking the meager heat it emitted. Clarence wanted to
ask him to step aside, but forbore, since the butler had not the
benefit of several down-filled comforters.
I had forgotten how
damnable cold Guillemot could be when the wind blows from the
east.

BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
9.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Third Transmission by Jack Heath
The Hunt for Snow by S. E. Babin
What I Didn't See by Karen Joy Fowler
Rowboat in a Hurricane by Julie Angus
Lullabye (Rockstar #6) by Anne Mercier
Mated with the Cyborg by Cara Bristol