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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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"So, trusting you, he confided in you?"

"Indeed, my lord. It was wrong in him to do so, but his state
of mind was such that he had no inkling of its impropriety."

"Impropriety be damned, Carleton! If you can give me a
glimpse of our situation, I'll double your wages."

"I would settle, my lord, for my wages to be paid.
Ahem.
" The man's face had become bright red.

"That bad, is it? Maybe you'd better have the bailiff in."

"There is no bailiff, my lord. Your father...ah...discharged him
nearly two years ago. He felt Mr. Inglewood should have been doing
something to make the estate more profitable." If anything, Carleton,
stood even straighter. His expression was that of a man smelling
rotten fish. "He did not replace him. To be honest, I began to believe
that something had occurred to damage your father's senses.
Perhaps a small apoplexy?"

Clarence hadn't wanted to weep for a long time, but just
now he felt a terrible need to let the tears flow. Not in sorrow, but in
frustration. "Had he taken to drink?"

"No, my lord. But his behavior was...inconsistent. At times he
seemed in full possession of his senses, but more often he was prone
to wild swings of mood, from elation to deep melancholy. Sometimes
he behaved as if he believed someone was determined to rob him, to
drain the estate."

"I think you'd better send for the solicitor, Carleton. It
appears I am to be wed, but I want to strike the best bargain I can."
Clarence breathed a heartfelt sigh and said, under his breath,
"Someone
was
determined to drain the estate, and apparently
Fa didn't recognize himself as the villain."

Carleton went away, leaving him to his dark thoughts.

No sense in laying blame on Fa. Long ago Clarence had
recognized a streak of impracticality in his father. As long as all was
going well and he had enough excitement in his life to amuse him,
Eustace Lamberton had been an exemplary husband and father, a
responsible landowner. But he'd also had a strong bailiff in the early
years after his succession to the marquessate. Kilbernie, a
tight-fisted Scot had been bailiff since Clarence's grandfather's time.
Kilbernie had died, at the ripe age of eighty-six, shortly before
Clarence had sailed for Spain. He remembered his father writing that
he'd hired a new man, one who was easier to get along with than
Kilbernie had been. That must have been Inglewood.

More amenable to allowing Fa his own way, I'll
warrant.

He'd have to ask Mother when Fa began his
investments.

Clarence lay back and closed his eyes. He had no desire to be
leg-shackled, but even less did he desire to lose Guillemot. Hopefully
the heiress wasn't too much of an antidote. But if she had to buy a
husband, she couldn't be a great beauty. Or sweet tempered, either.
Well, at least she wasn't a Cit or in Trade.

Ackerslea Farm. A vague memory of his father talking of his
friend "with the proud Saxon name." Darren? No, Drystan Hight.
There had been a hint of envy in his words as he described Hight's
association with Prince George and the extravagant life they led. "Not
that I want to live that way," Eustace had said in a thoughtful tone. "It
would be fabulously expensive, far beyond my means. But perhaps
just once, it might be nice to sample the life."

Had he been attempting to finance a fling in the style of his
friend when he made his first investments?

Poor Fa. If he'd had more than one season in town before
marrying, perhaps he'd have sown enough wild oats to satisfy his
taste for excitement. Instead he and Mother had married at the end
of the Season and had immediately retired to the country.
Grandfather had disapproved of wasting money on frivolities and his
mother was too shy and nervous to enjoy London. So Fa had
remained at home on the infrequent occasions when the then Lord
Guillemot took his seat in Parliament.

He stretched out an arm and jerked the bellpull. When
Nettles stuck his head around the door, he said, "Sergeant, I seem to
be scheduled to be wed in a few days, but no one has told me exactly
when. Can you gather intelligence? And while you're about it, ask
Carleton to set whatever domestic staff we have to prepare the
house to receive its new mistress. Oh, yes, and send Mother here, will
you? I'm going to have to ask her to vacate the master's suite."

Chapter Four

Nettles helped Clarence down the stairs and into the small
drawing room. With relief, he settled into a chair beside the fireplace,
grateful for its high back and enclosing wings. Wondering if he would
have the strength to stand and greet his guests, he leaned back and
closed his eyes.

I must. I'll be damned if I'll meet my bride as an
invalid.

Assuming the party from Ackerslea Farm had departed as
scheduled and met with no catastrophes, they should arrive within
the next hour or two. While wishing disaster upon them was the last
thing in his mind, he found himself longing for something to delay
them for another few days, even another week. He was not ready to
be wed, no matter how he had worked to mentally resign himself to
taking the step that could save two ancient holdings.

The same sick, roiling sensation that always afflicted him
before a battle filled his unready gut. Sheer, unreasoning terror. He
had hidden it well, had learned to handle it but it had never gown
less strong. Now he closed his eyes and concentrated on regulating
his breathing.
I will live through this, as I have every battle
before.

That self-reassurance had calmed him in the past, but this
time it was not working. His heart pounded as if he'd been running,
his palms were damp, and the roiling intensified. If they didn't arrive
soon, he was likely to disgrace himself.

* * * *

"We should be there within the hour," Mr. Whitsomeworth
said, breaking a long, uncomfortable silence.

In a way Lisanor was glad he had spoken. Her thoughts had
become less and less coherent as the miles passed under the carriage
wheels. Although Guillemot was scarce fifteen miles from Ackerslea
Farm as a crow might fly, by road it was nearly twice that. They had
set out after an early breakfast, and only made two short comfort
stops. She imagined the horses were tiring, for they had slowed in
the last half-hour.

I am certainly weary, for all of that.
Grandfather's
carriage was an old-fashioned one, although kept in repair, and the
squabs had lost any softness they might once have had. Perhaps it
had been the height of comfort when he brought Grandmother to
Ackerslea for the first time, but that was nearly half a century past. "I
wonder if my father brought my mother home in this same
vehicle."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Nothing. I did not mean to speak aloud." She nudged
Pammy, who had once again slumped against her. The maid gave a
little snore and bobbed upright, but her head soon came to rest
against Lisanor's shoulder again. With a sigh, she resigned herself to
discomfort and turned to the window to watch the hedgerows and
fields slide slowly past.

In a way she wished the horses would slow even more,
would delay their arrival forever. Having been brought up to believe
that Ackerslea was her responsibility, Lisanor had never seriously
dreamed youthful dreams of a romantic knight in shining armor
coming to carry her off. Women of the yeoman class did not marry
knights, however much those knights might dally with comely
peasant lasses. When young and naÏve, she had believed she
would marry a man who accepted that she was mistress of Ackerslea
Farm, one who would make no claims on the manor, other than a
place to reside. She knew now that the two men she'd been
betrothed to had each demanded financial concessions in exchange
for allowing her to remain in charge of the farm. Grandfather had
complained bitterly, but had agreed.

Secretly she had held both Gregory Sealand and Dryden
Foxworth in some contempt for their avarice, although she had
thought Gregory handsome enough and otherwise amiable. Captain
Foxworth she'd hardly known, but she had found his military
manners arrogant. Clarence Lamberton, Marquess of Guillemot, was
another matter entirely. She had no idea what his appearance, no
inkling of his manner. Worse yet, she wondered if he knew he would
not become master of Ackerslea upon their marriage, no matter what
the law said. He was a nobleman; their notions of property were
surely very different from her family's.

"His father signed the contract," she muttered, but not loud
enough for Mr. Whitsomeworth to hear. What would happen if the
son was not inclined to honor it? Would she have any recourse?
Opening her mouth, she was about to ask that very question of the
solicitor when a loud
Halloo
resulted in a rattle of harness
and a slowing of the carriage.

Mr. Whitsomeworth leaned out of the window. She could
not hear his words, only that he spoke to someone who answered in
a gruff voice.

When the solicitor reseated himself, he said, "We have
arrived, at least at the estate boundary. They sent someone to show
us the rear entrance, which will save us several miles."

She wanted to ask if they could not go on to the front
entrance. She was in no hurry.

Tomorrow is my wedding day.
Perhaps if the queasy
sensation in her middle were to develop into biliousness, she would
have an excuse to postpone it.

The carriage made a sharp turn onto a drive with a surface
much smoother than the road they'd been traveling.
We are
here.

She wanted to vomit. Instead her rebellious stomach settled
and a strange calm came over her.

* * * *

Nettles supported him through the wide doorway opening
onto the entrance hall. Clarence took a single step sideways and set
the flat of his hand upon the table that stood under a mirror with an
ornate gilded frame. "I can take it from here."

"Aye, sor." Nettles stepped back, but Clarence sensed he
stood ready to serve as a prop if and when needed.

The woman who entered was clad in black, from her narrow
skirt to the deep poke bonnet on her head. She was plain as a
pikestaff, and unsmiling. Behind her came a slip of a girl, also in
black, but with a lively, curious expression on her pretty,
rosy-cheeked face. They were closely followed by a tall, solemn man who
carried a portfolio. The solicitor, no doubt. Whitsome... more? ...ton?
...worth? Ah, yes, Whitsomeworth.

Carleton bowed them inside and stepped aside, after a quick
glance at Clarence.
On your good behavior, if you please, my
lord,
it said.

There was something to be said for hiring servants through
an agency, rather than raising them from childhood. Clarence
remained where he was. He was afraid that without the meager
support of the table, he would fall on his face at their feet. "I bid you
welcome," he said, and looked between the two women, half hoping
the pretty one was his bride. "I am Guillemot." Saying so still felt
strange. For all his life, Guillemot had been his father.

The plain one stepped forward and curtseyed. "Thank you. I
am Lisanor Hight."

"I trust your journey was an easy one."

"As much so as is possible on wretched roads." She made no
pretense to be lacking in curiosity, and looked him over very well. "I
confess that it became tedious as the day wore on."

Reminded that they had been traveling for many hours, he
said, "Carleton, would you ask Mrs. Smith to show Miss Hight and her
maid to the chamber prepared for her? Ma'am, will you come to the
morning room when you've refreshed yourself?"

She inclined her head. "Of course." Turning away, she
followed Mrs. Smith up the wide staircase, trailing the pretty little
maid behind her.

He watched her go.
Just my luck. Plain, humorless, stern.
Ah, well, it will be dark in the bedchamber.

The solicitor stepped forward and introduced himself.
"While Miss Hight is absent, perhaps you would like to discuss the
marriage contract. Have you any questions?"

"A few. Let's move upstairs, though, before I fall." Nettles
stepped forward. The very young footman joined them and, with two
sets of strong legs to augment his own shaking ones, he
accomplished the journey to the morning room. Once Nettles had
helped him to his chair, he said, "I confess, Mr. Whitsomeworth, that
I'm wishing I'd followed the doctor's advice and greeted you from
my bed." He closed his eyes and willed the nausea and trembling
away.

After a few moments, the solicitor said, "This can wait, my
lord, until you're feeling more the thing."

"No." Clarence forced his eyes open. "That's likely to be days
hence. I've read the contract. It's straightforward enough, if
somewhat unusual. Miss Hight is to have sole authority to manage
Ackerslea Farm, and it is to be left intact to our second son, or, if
failing that we produce two male offspring, to our eldest daughter.
Do I understand rightly?"

"You do. Miss Hight will also have sole control of Ackerslea's
finances, but has agreed to combine the revenues with those of
Guillemot for the next five years, in order to put both estates back in
trim."

"She will sign an agreement to that effect?"

"She already has." He held out a folded paper. It has been
notarized, my lord, and will go into effect upon your marriage.

Privately Clarence thought the agreement was the least the
woman could do, considering she was demanding that he violate a
basic principle. A husband should control the finances. How could a
mere girl of tender years possibly be competent to manage a manor
comprising nearly a thousand acres? Good God! Ackerslea Farm was
somewhat greater in extent than Guillemot, if one considered only
the principal seat. "Excellent," was all he said. Again he leaned back
and closed his eyes.

BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
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