Read The Black Benedicts Online

Authors: Anita Charles

The Black Benedicts

BOOK: The Black Benedicts
ads

THE BLACK BENEDICTS

 

Anita Charles

 

When Mallory accepted the job of governess to Raife Benedict

s niece and arrived at Morven Grange, his beautiful house on the romantic Welsh Borderland, she had no idea how much the

Black Benedicts

—all of them as dark as gipsies, and strikingly handsome—as they were called, were to affect her own future.

There was Raife, her employer, arrogant and unapproachable—Adrian, the music-lover, who had been badly injured in an accident which had deprived him of his wife

and Adrian’s daughter, Serena.

The three of them wove a kind of spell about Mallory and drew her, inextricably, into the pattern of
their lives.

 

CHAPTER ONE

The h
ousekeeper

s black dress made a faint, whispering noise as she moved along the gallery. The bunch of keys at her waist jingled a little. At the head of the great carved oak staircase, with its shallow shining treads, she sent a house-keeperly glance of approval along the glistening
hand
rail,
failed to detect so much as a particle of dust
clinging
to it, and beneath the eyes of the men and women in the portraits behind her descended to the well of the hall.

Phipps, the butler, had already caught the sound of a car coming along the drive outside, and with the air of one performing a ritual he strode solemnly to the door and flung it open. Phipps would have made an excellent Archbishop had circumstances permitted him to follow the Church as a career, and, as it was, his; bearing and his dignity were magnificent. Not by so much as the flicker of an eyelid did he betray any signs of interest, as, with Mrs. Carpenter, the housekeeper, standing complacent and vaguely expectant at his elbow, he watched Fordyce the chauffeur hold open the rear door of his master

s long, grey, expensive-looking car for a young woman to alight.

Mrs. Carpenter

s eyes showed a faint glimmer of approval as the young woman stood for a moment looking up at the house, clasping a neat dark handbag and a chubby umbrella to her bosom.

She was not very tall, and the hair that escaped like floss-silk from under the brim of her small
but captivating hat (misty blue like the fleck in her sensible tweed coat) was as pale as the primrose light that was rapidly replacing the orange glow of sunset in the western sky. There was a
half-smile
on her lips, and between them her teeth gleamed white as almonds.

Young, thought Mrs. Carpenter—accustomed to making quick valuations, and assessing character and potentialities all in a single glance—but sufficiently ladylike. Looks bright and alert, too, which is important!

Doesn

t look like a governess, or so thought Phipps—without revealing that he was
thinking
anything at all by his expression.

Mallory Gower continued to gaze up at the front of the house while the chauffeur extricated her cases from the boot of the car, and her expression revealed that she was quite genuinely pleased by what she saw.

It was certainly much more impressive and attractive than she had either expected or hoped for, for her mother had spent years of her life before her marriage on this debatable Welsh borderland and had pictured for her a far more rugged setting, with, houses which still suggested the anxious eye of the English
covering t
he Marches for signs of the black-haired marauding men from the hills. But even on a late February evening such as this, when the dusk was beginning to descend, and the surrounding trees were still bare of leaf, this remote corner of Herefordshire Which she had first glimpsed from the train seemed to be nothing but an exquisite patchwork of fields and woods and valleys, with the view towards the west made up of the amiable Welsh giants brooding through the haze upon the scene.

And the house itself was more than enough to arouse admiration in any case. A house of obvious and carefully preserved antiquity, a mellowed poem in serene grey stone, long, low and gracious, with mullioned windows and an iron-bound front door, and terraces falling away from it on all sides. Below the terraces there were lawns, a rose-garden, a sunken Dutch garden, an Italian garden, as well as kitchen gardens and orchards and acres of rolling parkland. Nothing at all to suggest, as she had half anticipated, a bleak fortress in the watchful hills, and even the moat was now filled in and covered with turf like specially textured velvet.

Morven Grange...! A romantic and beautiful-sounding name, and a beautiful and romantic house in a perfect setting
...
!

But Mrs. Carpenter was awaiting her at the head of the steps, Phipps having withdrawn once more into the centuries-old hall where he passed so much of his dignified time, being comfortably aware that this was no important visitor who would require or desire any display of subservience on his part. And Phipps was not subservient to mere fellow employees, even if they were not underlings!

Mrs. Carpenter, however, had a warm hand held out to welcome the newcomer. Looking at her, Mallory was immediately pleased by what she saw. In her black dress, with her beautifully-ordered grey hair, her smooth, unwrinkled complexion and her level eyes, she had as much poise, and even elegance, as the chatelaine of the house might have been expected to possess.


My dear,

she said,

I

m afraid you

ve had a very long and tiring journey.

Mallory smiled at her, and when she smiled her face came alive with enthusiasm, and her grey eyes, that were very clear and direct in their gaze, seemed to hold some special sparkle of exuberance.


It was worth it,

she replied without hesitation,

to arrive at such a place as this!

Mrs. Carpenter looked almost as pleased as if she personally had been paid a compliment.


Morven
is
beautiful,

she agreed,

but at this time of year it is not at its best. In the spring, and in the summer
...
!

Her pause and her expression indicated that at the right season of the year Morven was really quite breathtaking.

We do our best to maintain it in the old tradition, but it is not always easy nowadays, with domestic and other problems. Rose!

She summoned a smart young parlourmaid from the rear of the hall and instructed her to relieve Miss Gower of her coat and hat, and to convey them and her luggage upstairs to her room.

And I expect your greatest need at the moment is a cup of tea, isn

t it?

with a smile at Mallory.

I thought we would have it together in my sitting-room, and then if you have any questions to ask I will do my best to answer them.


Thank you,

Mallory returned gratefully.

I
am
dying for a cup of tea. I had one on idle train but somehow tea in a restaurant-car never actually tastes like tea.

As they passed through the hall
sh
e caught a glimpse of Phipps the butler bending a most imposing back to add another log to the ones that were already crackling on the wide hearth,
and a scent like burning apple orchards—delectable and pungent—filled all the space between
t
he polished rug-strewn floor and the great open timber roof
w
hich seemed so many miles away above their heads. There were crossed broadswords on the panelled walls, and a series of heraldic shields let into the enormous west window admitted the last of the light tinted like the many hues in the rainbow. A long oak refectory table occupied the entire centre of the hall, and on it was a great gleaming copper bowl filled with golden sprays of mimosa—colour and perfume from the South of France!

But when Mrs. Carpenter

s sitting-room door was opened—a little room not far from the butler

s pantry, and conveniently close to the green baize door which shut off the kitchen quarters—a picture of much more homely comfort met and charmed the eyes. Here leaping firelight played in the solid depths of good old-fashioned furniture, and there were chintz covers and cushions and photographs, and all the little things and the knick-knacks which help to make attractive a room in which it is possible to relax.

The tea when it came was set out on a gleaming gate-legged table in front of the fire, and the service was silver, of William and Mary pattern, the traycloth lace-edged, the china flowered porcelain. There were crumpets and tea-cakes in a silver
c
hafing-dish, and an assortment of tiny sandwiches and little cakes besides.

Mrs. Carpenter pulled forward her most comfortable chair for her visitor, and did the honours at her own tea-table.


Tea first, and talk afterwards?

she suggested, with her barely perceptible smile, poising the sugar-tongs inquiringly above the sugar-basin.

Mallory was more than content that it should be so. It was good, after her rather wearisome journey from London, to lie back in the comfortably sprung chair and absorb all the luxury—the dainty, highly civilized luxury—of this most agreeable room, and let it seep into her innermost being. And in her mind she could not help comparing it with the condition of comfortable disorder which prevailed in her small cottage home on the fringe of a London suburb, where her mother coped with three still quite young children and ran a boarding kennels and bred Siamese cats in order to eke out a living and the small pension she received from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as a mark of distinction for being a clergyman

s widow.

The comparison, however, was almost ludicrous, for at this hour her two brothers, having arrived home from school, would
b
e occupying the sitting-room and littering it with their homework, and her fourteen-year-old sister Angela would be arguing about the right to listen to a favourite programme on the wireless. And her mother wouldn

t dare to interfere, because already there would be a chaos, and she disliked interfering, anyway.

The Gower family, even when her father was alive, had a strong tendency to assert themselves, but on the whole they were a good-tempered family. They probably each inherited the amiability in their dispositions from their mother, for she was amiability itself, and disliked any form of domineering.

Mrs. Carpenter, not naturally a woman of a great many words, thought it best to remove from the new governess

s mind any preconceived no
t
ion she might have formed that she would be interviewed on her arrival by her employer. And catching sight of her studying a photograph on the mantelpiece, which was actually a photograph, when young, of the present master of the place, in the usual cricket cap, and wielding a cricket bat, she accepted it as a directive, and a fitting start to essential conversation.


That,

she
informed Mallory, quietly,

is a photograph of Mr. Raife when he was about ten years of age. He is


she
paused—

a very busy man nowadays, and it is scarcely likely that you will meet him to-night, and perhaps not for a few days. He has, however, a great deal of confidence in the agency who sent you here—they supply, as a matter of fact, all our indoor staff—and I have no doubt at all that your references and so forth were most carefully checked?


I expect so.

Mallory permitted herself a faint smile, and her eyes twinkled a little.

But what I was more concerned about,

she confessed—

and this is a point the agency did not make at all clear it
t
o me!—is who, and what, is Mr
.
Benedict
...
? Mr. Raife Benedict? Is he the father of my prospective pupil?


Oh, dear me, no!

Mrs. Carpenter sounded suddenly almost prim.

Mr. Benedict is not married.


Then, who..
.
?”
Mallory puckered up her slim eyebrows a trifle.

A niece, perhaps, or a ward...?
Is there no Mrs. Benedict
...
?


There is no Mrs. Benedict,

the housekeeper stated, in her
cl
ear, clipped tones,

not since my late mistress died the year after Mr. Raife inherited the property. Miss Serena, whom you also will probably not see until to-morrow, is Mr.
Adrian

s daughter, and Mr. Adrian is Mr. Raife

s younger brother, and a widower.


But Mr. Raife is my employer?


Mr
.
Raife, is the head of the house,

with a quite noticeable touch of old-fashioned pride.

Mr. Adrian lives here only because of Mr. Raife

s generosity, and his sense of, the fitness of things would never allow him to live anywhere else, and that goes for Miss Serena as well. It is not entirely a satisfactory arrangement.


But, surely

—Mallory was thinking of the wonderful setting she had glimpsed outside, the ancient beauty of the house, the evidence of a great deal of wealth inside it—

surely it is an absolutely perfect place for a young child to be brought up in? There is so much room—such freedom for growth and development! I would have said that Serena is a very lucky girl indeed to live here.


Would you?

Mrs. Carpenter glanced at her a trifle obliquely while she handed her a second cup of tea.

But there are other things besides growth and development—physical growth,
that
is! You will find that Serena is a little bit—well, forward, is the best word I can use, for her age. She has been more than a little spoiled—but that is largely the fault of her uncle. Otherwise she is quite a pleasant child, and you

ll probably find her quick to learn.


I hope then in that case I

ll be able to keep pace with her requirements,

Mallory observed with her sudden, charming smile.

I

ve never done this sort of thing before, you know,

she confessed.

I

ve had plenty of experience coaching my brothers and sister, and I know a lot about all forms of pet dogs, and I can even cook quite well if necessary. But I

m not really a governess.


However, the agency must have thought you were suitable,

Mrs. Carpenter remarked looking at her as if she herself had formed the opinion, after such a brief acquaintance, that there were other things besides scholastic attainments when dealing with a precocious small girl, and that this Miss Gower probably had them. At least she had naturalness and charm, and a certain quiet poise, and that well-developed little chin of hers had not been bestowed upon her for nothing.


Well, my father was a bit of a stickler for cramming his
c
hildren

s heads with as mu
c
h of the information he thought should go into them as he could manage during his lifetime,

Mallory admitted.

And I think it

s quite true to say I cut my first teeth on the
Encyclopaedia Britannica,
and took my first steps with the classics, so I should be able to cope with a ten-year-old. But that remains to be proved,

she ended modestly.


And in the meantime your mother is going to miss you a great deal?

Mrs. Carpenter suggested
s
hrewdly.

Mallory looked unconsciously rather wistful.


Well, one of
us
had to go forth from the fold and earn some money,

she explained quite honestly.

There is very little profit to be made out of pedigree household pets these days, and we are quite a large family. I was the one to do the launching out, and gove
rn
essing seemed the only
thing
as I can

t even type or do shorthand.

ADS
15.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
READ BOOK DOWNLOAD BOOK

Other books

Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye
Lost Lake by David Auburn
The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Swords of Rome by Christopher Lee Buckner