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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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She bit her lip in order to hide its twitching. What a
complete hand he was.
I like him more each day. And he was right
to scold me. I should have arranged matters better.

Her admiration increased as he carefully manipulated his
mother into volunteering to travel to Ackerslea this very day, to care
for "that poor, abandoned child."

Upon hearing those words, Lisanor mentally revised the
letter she had been intending to send to her sister.
I must warn
her to use the utmost diplomacy.
But the very characteristic
which she most found irritating--Alanna's ability to gently and
sweetly convince almost anyone that what she wanted them to do
was their own idea--would be the perfect way to handle Lady
Guillemot.

When his mother finally took her leave, on her way to
harass her maid into packing everything she owned within the hour
so that they might depart immediately after luncheon, Lord
Guillemot collapsed back against the chaise. "I feel as if I've fought a
battle," he said. His voice was faint.

"You were magnificent, my lord."

"Clarence."

"Oh, yes. You were magnificent, Clarence."

"Pure self-interest, my...Lisanor. No honeymooning couple
should be saddled with the groom's mother." He drew one hand
across his brow, but kept his eyes closed. "I do not remember her
being quite so...so verbose."

"I wonder if she has felt lonely since your father's
death."

His snort was answer enough. "I cannot recall my parents
ever having what might be called a conversation. Now that I think on
it, Mother would chatter and Father would grunt at random
intervals." He shifted as if in some discomfort and opened his eyes.
"My lap desk?"

"Oh, of course." She fetched that item and settled it across
his lap. "Are you going to tell me what you have conceived?"

"I should not, but leave you in suspense. But yes, I'll tell you.
On the ship from Spain, Nettles made the acquaintance of a certain
somewhat unsavory Corporal Gadget. I had heard of the man in
Spain. He was quite infamous. Once he narrowly escaped a
court-martial, mostly because of extreme bravery under fire. During our
retreat, he was sentenced to fifty lashes, but I never learned what the
offense was. Before the sentence could be carried out, we were
fighting for our lives. All of us.

"I don't think anyone knows how many wounded men
Gadget dragged, carried or rolled off the battlefield, but it's a
certainty that many good British soldiers are alive today because of
him. He came to me, in one of my lucid periods aboard ship, pleading
that I keep him in mind if I needed someone to do 'dirty work.'
Nettles reminded me of that after you asked him to recommend an
unsavory character."

"But what could he--"

"My de--" He grinned, and she could not resist responding in
kind. "My dear Lisanor, Gadget is an ugly man, big and brawny,
coarse and profane. I propose to send him to Ackerslea to assist your
bailiff." One eyebrow lifted. "Pending your approval, of course."

She could not quite conceal her reservations. "Is he an
honest man?"

"I doubt it. But I think he will stay bought. I never heard of
him acting against a fellow soldier, but he'd steal anything Spanish
that wasn't nailed down. It caused no end of fuss with the local
authorities. Perhaps I should tell him to think of your relatives as like
to Spaniards."

"Uncle Percival will have a fit."

They both burst into laughter.

Chapter Eight

Once the dowager departed for Ackerslea Farm, life was
calmer, less complicated at Guillemot. Clarence had never quite
appreciated what his father had contended with all those years. Or
perhaps his mother had grown more scatterbrained, less sensible
with advancing age. How old...
Great God, she cannot be fifty
yet.

Lisanor was restful. Under her direction, he came to realize,
the servants accomplished more with less effort, particularly now
that his mother was no longer issuing conflicting instructions upon
the slightest whim. When he asked her how she had managed such
an improvement, she said, "Very simply, my lord. First I created a
schedule of who was to do what when. Once everyone mastered
that--I am shocked that some of your underservants are unable to
read, something I intend to remedy when immediate concerns are
less urgent--I had them close off all the rooms we are not using.
When you are more ambulatory, perhaps we will have to open one
or two, but no more than that." She stacked the papers he had left in
disarray on the lap desk he'd been using. "I also directed that only
occupied rooms will be heated and lit."

"Do you mean that we've been having fires in empty
rooms?"

"Well, only those on the first floor and in the small drawing
room next to the entrance hall. But since we are not receiving, I saw
no reason to heat any but the breakfast room, the morning room and
the library. I did direct that the fire in the servant's dining room
should be maintained. It seems a small expense, compared to the
total expenditure for coal."

"Very wise." This seemingly insignificant episode, added to
what he had learned during their conversations about a strategy for
the restoration of Guillemot's fortunes, gave him much food for
thought. He was certainly seeing his bride in a new light. She was not
the simple farm girl he had anticipated, but a wise and thoughtful
manager. No wonder her grandfather had trusted her with the
management of Ackerslea.

"My dear?"

"Yes my lord?" She sounded distracted and he looked across
to the writing desk where she sat, poring over a ledger.

"Never mind. Go on with your task. I merely had an
observation to share."

"I shan't be long." She bent to her work.

He knew he should resume his correspondence, but found
himself watching his wife instead. Her pencil moved slowly down the
page and her lips moved as she read what was written there. No, not
just reading. He'd wager she was totting up figures; his suspicion
was borne out when she paused to write something at the bottom on
the page before sliding the hand holding the pencil back to the top.
With her other hand, she tugged at the hair just behind her left ear.
How long, he wondered, before she completely destroyed her
already untidy coiffure.

At last she sat back. "I have good news, my lord."

"We could use some." Just this morning the post had
brought a depressing letter from his solicitor. Yet more bills had
been found in his father's desk in the London house. They had to be
for wine and viands long since consumed, for the pantry was all but
bare. The merchants were demanding their compensation, as they
had already waited the better part of a year.

"I've looked into selling Grandfather's hunting dogs. As you
may know, the pack is much regarded. Unless you wish to--"

"Great God, no! I've seen what damage a pack of hunt-mad
idiots can do to the countryside. By all means, sell the hounds."

"I shall. And it if suits you, I think the profit from that sale
should be invested in seed for the fields in three-year rotation. We
have ample set aside for this summer at Ackerslea, but I find no
record of the same here."

"Doesn't surprise me. Fa did not think of himself as a
farmer." Still thinking about hunting packs, he took a moment before
attending to what she'd said. "Three-field rotation? What is
that?"

For the first time since he'd met his wife, she appeared
caught with nothing to say. Her stare was eloquent though.

At last she said, "That may explain why it has been
necessary to purchase grain and hay. Excuse me. I must
investigate..." She closed the ledger and rose.

"Wait. Where are you going?"

"To the muniment room. I must examine the crop
records."

"I doubt you'll find anything. Unless someone other than my
father's bailiff kept them. From all evidence, he cared for little
besides the stable. And as I recall, we've never raised crops other
than grain for the stables. Oh, and what was planted at the home
farm. Most of Guillemot's land is in pasture. As far as I know, we
always purchased hay and grain."

Clarence could tell that she was keeping herself in check
when she returned, carrying two heavy ledgers. Whether the
emotion she contained was anger or amazement, he did not know,
but it has something to do with crops.
And I know damn little
about farming, by my own choice.

He'd been mildly interested in the stables as a lad, and had
shared his father's pride in their fame, but he'd paid little attention
to the oats and corn that fed the stables. All he remembered about
farming was that, from the age of twelve, he'd been forced to help
with the harvest. How he'd hated the dust and the itch from chaff
under his clothing. Even then he'd been mad for the army, and had
resented the fact that Fa had refused to purchase his commission
until his eighteenth birthday.

Even six years in India had not dampened his enthusiasm
for military life, and he'd been sorry to leave when orders came
transferring his regiment to Spain. Just in time for Vimeiro.

Some considerable time later, his wife cleared her
throat.

He looked up. "Yes?"

"I have one more question." For the first time since he had
met her, she appeared unsure of herself.

"Yes, my dear?"

"The stable. It seems...overpopulated."

"The Guillemot Stables are esteemed throughout
England."

"Ahh." She turned back to the ledgers, opened the thinner
one and leafed through until she reached the middle.

Clarence watched her for a few moments, before he realized
she had stopped perusing the ledger page. Her fingers were clenched
around a pencil and, if he wasn't mistaken, she was chewing on her
lower lip. As if to contain words unspoken.

"You brought up the stables. Why?"

For a long time she sat unmoving. At last she turned just her
head. "The sale of the horses would net enough to pay the most
pressing obligations, including those newly discovered bills."

"We will not sell the horses." The very notion appalled him.
Three generations of Lambertons had built the Guillemot stables into
the finest in England. No, Fa hadn't been a farmer--nor had his
father--but they were horse breeders beyond compare.

"As you wish. But--"

"It is not open to discussion."

"No, I was merely wondering... Never mind. Now, about the
croplands: is there some reason why so little of the land here at
Guillemot is cultivated and that so inefficiently?"

"Raising horses requires considerable pasturage." He'd been
unable to keep a snap from his voice. "Clearly you know little of what
is necessary to maintain a large stable." He wasn't about to admit
that he was nearly as ignorant.

"I confess my ignorance. However, my lord..." She steepled
her forefingers, tapped them against her lips. "It would seem to me
that an estate this size should be raising a surplus of oats and corn,
should be supplying the household and the farm workers from the
home farm, and raising poultry, pigs, and even beef enough to send
some to market." She took a deep breath and rushed on, before he
could speak, had he something to say. "Furthermore, isn't it
customary, when one raises hunters, to sell off the promising young
stock annually?"

Clarence stared across the room, unable to believe what she
seemed to be saying. At last he found his voice. "Of course. The
annual sale of two-year-olds has always been our main source of
income. At least that from Guillemot Burn."

"There is no record of any horse sales for two years."

Still disbelieving, he said, "Where is the stud book?"

"I-I am not sure. What does it look like?"

"A big book." He measured two feet with his hands. "Bound
in red leather, with a gold imprint on the front. Entitled 'Guillemot
Stables.' It was always kept in the muniment room, along with all the
ledgers."

Lisanor shook her head slowly. "I found nothing of that
description, sir. Could he have taken it to Town?"

"Possible. But unlikely. How thoroughly have you
searched?"

"Not at all, since this is the first I've heard of it. I shall
instigate a search immediately. Will you write to your mother and
ask her if she knows where it might be?"

"Immediately." As soon as she departed, he picked up his
pen.
What could have happened to the stud book? Surely Fa didn't
remove it to Town. Why the information in it is priceless.
Irreplaceable.

He lay back, eyes closed, and resisted the strong temptation
to curse his father.

When Lisanor returned to the master suite, her hair was
mussed and her skirt bore smears of dust. "The stud book is not in
the muniment room. I have asked Mrs. Smith to instigate a search of
the other rooms. She estimates it could take the better part of a
week, since I told her to include the attics and cellars."

"The letter to my mother will go out in tomorrow's post."
Clarence shook his head. "I can't understand what possessed my
father to behave so. Had he lost his mind?" He moved restless,
impatient with his continued infirmity, "I'm going to have Nettles
take me to the stables as soon as possible, if he has to carry me
pick-a-back. Perhaps--"

"He is already searching there. But I agree. Your presence in
the stables would be advantageous, if for no other reason than to
remind the grooms and trainers that they are employed there on
your sufferance."

"My dear, I am sorry--"

"Do not be. I honestly expected matters to be in worse hand.
We will not be thrown from the door, nor reduced to begging in the
streets." She smiled, albeit a little wryly, as she spoke.

"Now then, I must tell you that significant changes must be
made in how the land is managed. In the first place, we should
eliminate at least half the pasturage, converting it to crops in
three-field rotation. We will enlarge the scale of the home farm, raise our
own pigs and poultry--"

BOOK: A Pitiful Remnant
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