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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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"Oh, come now. Surely you know some ex-soldiers who are
honest men, but not enamored of the
ton
?"

His face remained blank and he reached for the doorknob, as
if eager to escape.

"Oh, go in, then. But give some thought to what I've asked
you. It is important."

She laid her letter aside, unsure of how to finish it. Alanna
needed protection from Darius. Ackerslea might need to be
protected from Percival's greed. And she could not leave Guillemot,
for her husband's estate was in far greater need of her talents and
energy than Ackerslea.

Still it galled that her own estate might suffer because she
was giving all her attention to Guillemot. She could--and
would--bring Alanna here, but she could not oversee Hakon from a distance
of twenty-seven miles, over wretched roads.

The door opened again. Her husband, leaning on Nettle's
capable shoulder, emerged. They made their slow way to the chaise
where Guillemot spent his days. She did notice that he was taking
more of his weight than he had on their wedding day and the lines of
pain bracketing his mouth were less pronounced. Once settled, he
leaned back and closed his eyes. "That will be all, Nettles. When
you've cleaned up the mess we made, you're free for the rest of the
day."

"But sor--"

"Nettles, you have served me day and night for months. It is
time for you to rest. The Duck's Nest stout used to be the best in
England."

"It ain't as good as what me granda served, back in Little
Bywater."

"You can't know that until you've tasted it. Go on."

Nettles disappeared, but his industry was evidenced by the
sounds coming from the half-open door to the bathing room. When
he at last emerged, carrying a wicker basket full of linen, he said, "I'll
be back in--"

"If I see you before tomorrow morning, I'll court-martial
you, Sergeant. Go."

Lisanor was amazed when Nettles dropped the basket,
straightened and saluted. "Yes, sor, Major, sor."

Guillemot chuckled. "That's better. Enjoy yourself."

When the door had closed behind Nettles, Guillemot said,
"Now then, my dear, what's this about your wanting an honest
ex-soldier who lacks respect for his betters?"

Chapter Seven

Oh, dear.
She'd never thought to tell Nettles that her
request was to be between the two of them. "I...ah... Oh, for goodness
sake! Here, my lord. Read it for yourself." She carried Alanna's letter
to him.

She sank onto the hassock before his chair and watched his
face as he read. His expression went from mild curiosity, to
amusement--Alanna had called Uncle Percival a fat little leech--to
narrow-eyed, thin-lipped wrath. When he at last lowered the crossed
and recrossed sheet to his lap, she wanted to sigh in relief. His
reaction was all that she could have desired.

"How old is your sister?" His tone was at odds with the calm
expression he wore.

"She is just turned eighteen, but what--"

"Was there some overwhelming reason why you left a young
woman--little more than a child--of eighteen alone and at the mercy
of predatory relatives?"

Speechless, she could only stare at him. Why was he angry
with her? When at least she found her voice, she said, "We thought it
best that someone in the family remain at Ackerslea, to
oversee--"

"You have a bailiff, have you not?"

"Yes, Tumos Hakon. He was bailiff for nearly forty years,
until my grandfather replaced him last year with an estate agent. Mr.
Fishman was...unsatisfactory. I discharged him before I left Ackerslea
Farm, and Tumos stepped in to fill the vacancy until I could find a
replacement. But he--"

"That would make him sixty or thereabouts. Is he a large
man? Strong?"

"He was, but these past few years have taken their toll on
him. That was one reason we felt Alanna should remain there." She
twisted her fingers together as she heard her own words and
realized how she had lied to herself. "She did not want to come here
with me, you see. It was her suggestion that she remain at Ackerslea,
in the event that Tumos encounter problems."

His brows, which had been drawn ferociously together,
raised. "Why did you allow it?"

"My lord, I am the best judge of what is good for Ackerslea
Farm, and I agreed with Alanna that it would be unwise to leave the
manor without someone in a position of responsibility."

"I see." Guillemot grimaced and shifted in the chair. "My
dear, might I trouble you to bring something for me to rest my foot
upon?"

She sprang to her feet. "Oh, I am sorry. Here. Let me--" She
scooted the hassock into its usual place. "There. Do you need
help?"

"No, not at all." Once his foot was resting on the hassock, he
seemed to relax, but the brackets about his mouth did not soften. "I
regret that I must ask, but could you also bring a chair close enough
for us to both be seated while conversing?"

While she fussed, he rested his head against the chair back
and closed his eyes. Lisanor knew that the improvement in his
mobility had not been accompanied by a lessening of pain in his
buttock. Elmer Snead, who had taught her all that she knew about
animal husbandry, had once said that muscle injuries always took
four times as long to mend as broken bones. Of course, he'd been
speaking of livestock, but still...

"My lord?"

His eyes opened. "I must apologize, my dear. I did not intend
to scold, but you must admit that a girl of your sister's tender years
is hardly qualified to oversee a holding like Ackerslea. And it seems
to me that your bailiff should have an assistant, or perhaps even two.
I cannot imagine how he has coped."

"Oh, I have been acting his assistant for these six years, ever
since Grandfather's rheumatism made riding difficult. Hights have
always overseen all activities at Ackerslea," she said, with no little
pride.

At that his eyes widened. "I believe you are two and
twenty?"

"That is correct. I--" His upraised hand caused her to bite off
what she had intended to say.

"So you were sixteen when you became the bailiff's
assistant?" He shook his head, clearly lacking words to describe his
amazement.

"That is correct." She leaned forward, determined to make
him understand how different life at Ackerslea was from that on an
estate like Guillemot Burn. "We Hights have always prided ourselves
on our heritage. We are proud of our yeoman ancestry and have
never sought to rise above our station. We are farmers--"

"Very wealthy farmers."

"Well, yes, but only because for hundreds of years we Hights
have cared more for our land, for our livestock, than we care for the
trappings of wealth. We are not afraid to bend our backs in the fields
nor to dirty our hands in the pens. Our wealth was earned by the
sweat of our brows, not inherited, nor won at the gaming
tables."

"As was ours."

"Ackerslea began as a small holding granted Hugh Hight, an
archer, in-- I beg your pardon?"

"Guillemot Burn was empty land granted Eustache
Guillelmus, a squire to a minor knight in William of Normandy's
army. He came from good peasant stock, and he and his sons began a
small farm, one which gradually grew through the labor of
subsequent generations. The title came later, after an ancestor of
mine saved Edward's life at the battle of Towton."

"So we are hereditary enemies. You Norman, I Saxon."

"I hope not, for the sake of this marriage we have entered
into. Now, then, my dear, let us discuss this situation at Ackerslea.
You must see that your sister, competent though she may be--and I
am not entirely convinced of that--cannot remain there,
unchaperoned, unprotected."

Stung at having her judgment questioned, Lisanor said, "I
assure you that no one who rightfully belongs at Ackerslea will allow
harm to come to Alanna. But I wanted to be certain she had a strong
protector, which is why I asked Nettles--"

His snort of derision startled her. "To hire her a protector?
My dear, that would be putting the fox into the chicken pen, if your
sister is anywhere near the beauty you are. But your idea is not
without merit. Just a trifle misguided."

His brows once again overshadowed his deep-set eyes and
the corners of his mouth were turned down. "Might I trouble you to
ring for Carleton?"

In the three days since their marriage, she had learned that
her husband was decisive, impatient, and intolerant of sloth. He was
also thoughtful of others, which meant that his servants were
completely devoted to him. None of the house servants had been
paid in nearly half a year, yet only the younger, newer ones had left
Guillemot. Although he had not been at home since a brief visit four
years past, the older servants' memories of him as a youth had kept
them loyal, for they had believed that when he returned, Guillemot
would once again be the prosperous estate it had once been.

Of all Lisanor had learned about her new home and her new
husband, that last was the most welcome. His dedication to
Guillemot was as great as hers to Ackerslea. His care for his
dependents equaled her grandfather's for his. And his sense of fiscal
responsibility was, if anything, stronger than hers. All but one of her
previous reservations had been cancelled by what she had learned
about him.

She still did not know what sort of a husband he would be to
her, but she was heartened by his equal reluctance to enter upon the
physical side of their marriage until they had become better
acquainted. Of course, she did wonder if he would have been so
accommodating, had his health been better.

Carleton had entered quietly while she ruminated. His "At
once, my lord," caught her attention.

"And Carleton, I'll have a letter to be carried to London early
tomorrow."

"Yes, my lord. Will there be anything else?"

To Lisanor's great surprise, her husband's face relaxed into
a boyish grin. "Could you perhaps manage to call me 'major'? 'My
lord' sounds so...so stuffy."

Carleton's lips might have twitched. "No, my lord." He
turned and walked out.

As soon as the door was closed, Guillemot laughed. "I never
could win an argument with him." He sobered. "Might I trouble you
for my lap desk, my dear?"

She took a page from his book. "Only if you will call me
Lisanor. 'My dear' sounds so stuffy."

"Ah, you're trying to turn me up sweet. Never mind. I'm no
longer angry with you, for I can see what you were about. Tell me. Is
your sister--Aline?--as terrifyingly competent as you?"

"Alanna. Yes, only more so. She is small, and dainty and
soft-spoken, not so interested in farming as I am, but there is little about
holding household she dies not know. And she is astonishingly
stubborn."

"Yet you felt she would be able to manage Ackerslea--which,
I understand, is a substantial farm--alone?"

"Well, not exactly. Hakon is there, of course, and so are Phil,
Swayne and Elmer. They would protect Alanna with their lives. They
are also quite large and muscular."

"But servants, are they not?"

"Not at all. They are tenants, and employees. Phil Dumont
oversees the stables under Tumos Hakon's supervision. Andrew
Swayne manages the dairy herd, and Elmer Snead is responsible for
the rest of the livestock."

"My compliments. It sounds as if Ackerslea is well organized.
But that still doesn't excuse your leaving a young gentlewoman alone
and unprotected."

"No, you are right. I suppose I hadn't thought it through. In
my defense, however, Tamsen insisted on staying with Alanna. She
was our nurse and can be quite a dragon when one of her charges is
threatened." Tapping a finger on the arm of her chair, she regarded
him in silence for some seconds. Finally, "Might I ask if you have a
solution to the problem of Uncle Percival and his nephew?"

"I believe I do, and it should arrive any mo--"

A knock on the door was followed immediately by its
opening. The dowager marchioness stepped inside, already in full
spate.

"...I simply do not understand why you could not have
allowed me to finish the flower I was stitching. I declare, Clarence,
you never used to be so impatient. Furthermore... Oh! Good morning,
my dear. I did not see you." Her smile was, as it had been ever since
Lisanor's arrival, sweetly insincere.

"If you will be seated, Mother, I will explain."

She fussed a bit more, and scolded him for receiving her in
his shirtsleeves. "Indeed, I should think you could at least don a
dressing gown. A gentleman--"

"I fear I am still more the soldier than the gentleman,
Mother. Now, if you will be at peace for a few minutes, I believe I
have a small task that no one but you is so well suited to
undertake."

She preened, tutted, and leaned forward expectantly.

Lisanor had to admire his adept handling of the dowager. It
was really unfortunate that he had not been well enough to do so the
day she arrived. Lady Guillemot's remarks about her appearance still
stung.

"And so," he concluded, "Miss Alanna Hight is needed at
Ackerslea to represent the family, at least during these early days
while we plan how to manage the two properties, so widely
separated. But until today, I had not been aware how advanced in
age her companion was. I confess to a fear that Miss Turbot may not
be able to fulfill her duties adequately. And besides, as a connection
now to Guillemot, the girl should have a chaperone more in keeping
with her station. I wondered if perhaps you might know..."

"Well, of course she should. That a mere maid could be
thought to be a proper companion... I declare, my dear, I do not know
what you might have been thinking. But of course, with your
grandfather so newly gone... Now let me think." She tapped her chin
with one finger.

His lordship turned his head and caught Lisanor's eye. He
winked!

BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
2.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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