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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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"You are not as well recovered as we were led to believe, my
lord. Will you be able to..." Whitsomeworth's face went crimson as he
faltered.

"Consummate the union? I will do my duty, though possibly
with less agility than one would wish." Privately Clarence was
unsure of his ability in that regard, but as far as he was concerned,
what happened in the marriage bed was no one's concern but his
and his wife's.

He just hoped she would understand that he was not himself
at present.

* * * *

"He's not a well-favored man, is he, ma'am?"

Pammy's reflection in the mirror showed doubt. Lisanor
paused, holding the bonnet. "He has been ill." In truth, she had been
taken aback at Lord Guillemot's appearance. He looked old, although
she knew he was seven and twenty, just five years her senior. Had
she been asked, his age, based only on his appearance, she would
have said five and forty or thereabout. The deep lines bracketing his
mouth, the crow's feet at the corners of his eyes, and yes, even the
darkness of his complexion, all contributed to the impression of
age.

She hoped that as his health improved so would his
appearance. And if not, well, she was not marrying for love and
romance, but for protection and conservation of property. His and
hers.

Still, a small, romantic part of her had hoped he would be
handsome and dashing.

Refreshed, she left Pammy to unpack and went to the door.
Mrs. Smith had promised a footman to lead her to downstairs, but
there was no one in the corridor.
Surely I can find my way to the
morning room. Mrs. Smith did point it out to me as we passed through
the first floor.

She failed to find even the staircase, until she had traversed
the entire corridor twice. It was concealed behind double doors.
Fortunately a footman was on his way up and led her to her
destination. She arrived just as an elderly woman came from the
opposite direction.

"Oh, my dear, you must be Miss Hight! I am Lady Guillemot.
Dear Clarence's mother, you know. I cannot tell you how happy I am
to meet you at last. I remember hearing of you often in the early
years, when Eustace and your father corresponded frequently. I even
had a small portrait of you, painted when you were five or six, but I
am not certain where I put it. But you are just as pretty as I
remembered you, although perhaps your hair is a shade or two
darker. Don't you think it is unfair, that children who have flaxen
hair often lose that slivery sheen as they grow up? But here, you will
be wanting tea. I've ordered some sent up. Shall we go in?" She
gestured Lisanor through the door, which the footman had been
holding open.

As they entered, Mr. Whitsomeworth stood, but the
marquess did not.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I'm afraid I should have not
attempted the stairs. As soon as Nettles returns, I shall leave you.
Miss Hight, is your chamber satisfactory?"

Uncertain whether to be insulted at his rudeness, she
merely said, "Indeed it is, my lord."

"Oh, darling, is your wound paining you? I told you to stay in
bed today. But no, you would play lord of the manor, just as your
father would have. As if I am not capable of greeting guests to
Guillemot. Let me--"

"Let be, Mother. I merely overdid it, going up and down
stairs. A little rest and I will be fine."

"But--"

"Mother." There was steel in that voice. Lisanor was
reminded that this man had led men into battle for many years. He
had the habit of command.
What have I let myself in for?

The rough-looking fellow she'd caught a glimpse of in the
entry came in just then. "All right now, sor, let's get ye took care of.
Up ye go." As if the marquess were a child, the man raised him to his
feet, wrapped one arm around him, and all but carried him from the
room. Guillemot barely had time for a "Please excuse me..." before
the door closed behind them.

She stared at the closed door, as if to find an explanation
writ there.

"You mustn't let Nettles take you aback, my dear. He is quite
adept at caring for my son, although I feel that his manners leave
much to be desired. He is so...so common, but devoted to dear
Clarence. They were soldiers together, you know, in Spain. He
brought--"

Mr. Whitsomeworth cleared his throat. "If I may interrupt,
Lady Guillemot?"

"Oh, yes, of course. Sometimes I do rattle on. You mustn't
mind me. Oh! You must be wanting your dinner soon, so I'll just go
and see what's holding it up. I'll send someone to guide you to the
dining room when it's time." She all but scurried to the door, but
paused before exiting. "Oh, yes, I've invited some of our closer
neighbors to a wedding breakfast tomorrow. I do hope that's
agreeable."

Before Lisanor could tell her that a wedding breakfast,
celebrating her marriage to Clarence Lamberton, Marquess of
Guillemot, was the last thing she wanted, the lady was gone.

"Do you suppose Lord Guillemot knows about the
breakfast?"

Mr. Whitsomeworth actually smiled fleetingly. "I doubt
it."

"So do I." Well, at least there was something amusing about
this day.

* * * *

Morning came all too soon.

Nettles, as was his manner, spoke as soon as he opened the
door. "Up ye, go, sor! Got a big day ahead of ye. Her ladyship's been
flutterin' and frettin' since first light."

"Good God! Why?"

"She's invited a whole passel of folk to breakfast." He
disappeared into the dressing room, but quickly returned carrying a
steaming basin. "I'd call it luncheon, as it's not to be 'til after yer
weddin', but I never did ken the ways of the fancy."

For a moment, Clarence was speechless. "Wait! Fetch my
mo-- No, fetch Carleton."

"After I get ye shaved. You jest sit quiet there, sor, and I'll do
me best not to slit yer throat."

Since the man had been shaving him without accident for a
year and more, Clarence had no fear for his throat. "Nettles--"

"Quiet, now, sor. I jest honed this razor."

He subsided. Powerless, he fumed instead. His mother was
making a big to-do of this wedding. Or was the culprit his wife-to-be?
Did they not realize that he wished no public display. Shame enough
that he was marrying a woman he'd never met, marrying her for her
fortune. Any suspicion that Guillemot was in financial straits would
be confirmed by this hurry-up affair. Word would get out and soon
creditors would be clamoring at the gates.

Not to mention the damage to his reputation, to his
pride.

How they'd laugh in the officer's mess. Clare Lamberton,
fortune-hunter.

Chapter Five

Carleton made sure the ignominious descent was made in
private. Determined to make a brave showing at his wedding,
Clarence agreed to allow Nettles and a sturdy young footman, to
carry him in their arms, chair-fashion, to the small anteroom just off
the main drawing room where the vicar and the guests were waiting.
His bride, presumably, was in her chambers.

"There ye are, sor." Nettles and Syd lowered him carefully
into a faux bamboo chair, one he did not recognize. Something his
father had purchased when he began his grandiose redecorating
scheme.

The sound of a pianoforte, played with some exuberance,
came through the closed door leading to the drawing room. After a
while the connecting door opened just wide enough to allow
Carleton to enter.

"Miss Hight has come down, my lord. It is time."

Nettles stepped forward, helped him to his feet.

Clarence accepted his support as far as the door. "Turn me
loose, Nettles. I will do this on my own two feet."

"But sor--"

"Now."

Before he opened the door again, Carleton reached to take
something from behind a table. A walking stick. He held it out. "Your
grandfather's favorite."

About to refuse, Clarence took a closer look, and accepted
the cane. The amber head was warm in his hand, the malacca staff
strong. When he leaned upon it, his legs seemed less weak. For the
first time he felt secure on his feet. "Thank you, Carleton. I am
ready."

The butler opened the door and Clarence made his slow way
to the fireplace, before which Mr. Stackdale stood. He had time to
notice the twin vases holding peacock feathers on the mantel, the
two lines of chairs seating strangers, and the red-haired woman at
the pianoforte, pounding away industriously. She was a stranger. A
neighbor, perhaps?

He reached his goal and turned to face the spectators. Most
of them were vaguely familiar, although he could put names on no
one but Squire Tomlinson and his wife. Had they forgiven him for
surviving Coruña when Rodney had not?

The door in the far wall opened. At first he scarcely
recognized his bride, but as she slowly drew near, he realized the
lovely young woman on Mr. Whitsomeworth's arms was indeed
Lisanor Hight. Her fair hair was piled high on her head and trimmed
with strands of pearls and two pearly-white flowers.

Mother's camellias!
I'd forgotten...

Her gown was not black, as he had expected, but a soft pearl
grey, high-necked and long-sleeved, but narrow in the skirt, as he
had discovered fashion now dictated. The color complimented her
ivory complexion as the severe black she'd worn yesterday never
could.

As she approached, she raised her chin and looked him
straight in the eye. A challenge? Perhaps. He looked back, just as
resolutely. But then her lips twitched. Or had he imagined it?

Lisanor had to admire the man who waited for her beside
the vicar. He'd cleaned up nicely. The rich russet tailcoat and amber
satin waistcoat made his swarthy skin seem merely tanned from the
sun and his legs, clad in black pantaloons, were well-muscled,
despite his infirmity. For the first time she noticed his eyes, pale grey
in that dark face. Firmly she suppressed the smile that threatened,
for this was her wedding. A solemn occasion.

But she was relieved. She could not expect love in this
marriage, but if she was going to have to face this man across the
table for the rest of her life, she did appreciate that he was
comely.

"I will," he said in answer to something the vicar had
said.

She forced herself to pay attention.

"...obey him, and serve him, love, honor, and keep him in
sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto
him, as long as ye both shall live?"

"I-I will." The words came out the barest whisper, for she
had suddenly realized what she was pledging herself to do in order
to keep Ackerslea Farm.

I hope he is a kind man. A reasonable one. But he was a
soldier, trained to battle...
Lost again in her thoughts, she did not
hear the vicar's question, but came to herself when Mr.
Whitsomeworth placed her hand in that of Lord Guillemot. It was
warm, hard, callused as a laborer's hand might be. Without thinking,
she raised her chin and looked up at the man who'd just been given
her hand, her body, her very life to rule.

All she could think was that she had looked
up
. Ever
since she was fifteen, she had mostly looked
down
at men.
Except for grandfather, who always said she'd gotten her height from
him, laughing merrily at his own terrible pun. She had never told him
how many times others--especially young men--had made the same
jest, but cruelly meant.

He was speaking to her. "...to love and to cherish, till death
us do part, according to God's holy ordinance, and thereto I plight
thee my troth."

Had his voice faltered? Was he as filled with trepidation,
with questions about the rightness of this, as she was?

The vicar spoke, but she was lost in her thoughts and paid
him no attention. He cleared his throat, clearly waiting for her to
speak.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "What did you say?"

He led her through her response, her vow to love, cherish
and obey this man--this total stranger--for the rest of her life.

His hand tightened around hers before releasing it, and his
lips softened into the beginning of a smile. And then he was holding a
ring, a wide band of gleaming gold and saying something about
worshipping her body and sliding the ring onto her finger, and she
wanted to weep, to cry 'NO!' to run screaming from this room, from
this man who forever after this moment would have complete and
total power over her.

Instead she bowed her head obediently when the vicar said,
"Let us pray."

Her thoughts were swirling, like tiny beasts scurrying in
panic, and she head the vicar's prayer as only a drone. Until he said,
"...that they be Man and Wife together..."

"Good God." Little more than a whisper, yet she heard it over
the sound of the vicar's reciting a psalm. His grip on her hand
tightened. "Do you suppose he will ever stop talking?"

Something about the way he had spoken made her look
carefully at him. His swarthy skin had gone pale, the lines around his
mouth had deepened. His was the face of a man in grievous
pain.

Lisanor decided that God would forgive them for ignoring
the vicar. She slid her arm around her husband's waist and guided
him to an empty chair against the near wall. "You are an idiot, you
know," she said quietly, as she helped him seat himself. "Why didn't
you demand a chair."

This time she was sure he'd smiled, although it was so
fleeting that had she not been watching closely, she would have
missed it. "There are some things, my dear, that a man must stand on
his own two feet for."

"Yes, well, now that you have proven your mettle, you will
remain in that chair for the rest of the morning."

"Only if you will seat yourself beside me. I cannot in all
propriety remain here if you plan to flit about the room."

Yes, that was definitely a hint of smile. She took the chair
that had magically materialized next to his. "I can see, my lord, that
you are a manipulative sort of fellow."

BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
4.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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