Read The Hardie Inheritance Online
Authors: Anne Melville
âIt's been a long time,' said Grace; and indeed it had. She had been only sixteen years old when she fell in love with the head gardener's son, and not yet eighteen when he left to fight in the war. She knew that from time to time since then he had returned to visit his parents, because once she had glimpsed him from a distance and once his mother had mentioned his presence. But he had never come up the drive to see her. He was too greatly ashamed, no doubt, of his broken pledge. When the young Frenchwoman who hid him from the Germans while a battle raged became pregnant with his child, he had done the right thing by her, but at Grace's expense. Ever since his marriage he had lived in France.
He had stuck by the Frenchwoman, too. It was a curious coincidence that her unexpected visitor, the architect's son, should apparently have been trapped into matrimony in exactly the same manner. But Ellis Faraday had freed himself from the trap. Andy was less ruthless â and presumably had grown to love his wife, for there had been other children. He had always had green fingers and must have found congenial work on his father-in-law's vineyard. He was comfortably settled â and Grace was a realist. Many years had passed since she first fell in love with him and it was a long time, too, since she had wept for her lost love. There had never been any need for him to be afraid of meeting her.
âYes,' said Andy, âI'm sorry. Sorry about everything. I should have said that years ago, not left it till now.' He was silent for a moment, perhaps recalling the events of 1914. âBut they â
your parents, I mean â they'd never have allowed you to marry me.'
âThey might not have been able to stop me,' said Grace. âStill, no point in churning over past history.'
âNo. My mother did tell me â this is a long time ago as well â that you were engaged to be married. But that it didn't happen.'
âThat's true.' But she was not prepared to discuss that old story either â and at that moment Mrs Frith, looking distressed, appeared in the back doorway of the cottage.
âYour mother needs you,' Grace said. âI hope your father's condition isn't as bad as you fear. Give him our best wishes. And why don't you come up to Greystones later in the day, Andy, if you can be spared for an hour? Have tea with us, tell us all your news â and let us know whether your father would like to be visited or prefer to be left in peace.' After the first surge of excitement at finding herself in Andy's presence after so many years, her emotions were by now completely under control.
Nevertheless, the meeting â and the possibility of a visit â prompted a change in her usual routine which caused Philip to look at her in surprise and Mrs Hardie to tease. At three o'clock that afternoon she took off her working overalls, in which she normally spent the whole day, and dressed herself in a clean cotton frock. Andy must not be allowed to feel that he had had a lucky escape from an eccentric slut. She would prefer him instead to experience a moment's regret for what he had lost. âPetty!' said Grace aloud to herself as she brushed her newly-washed hair into shape; but to indulge in a little harmless flirtation would be an unusual form of entertainment. Her eyes sparkled with pleasure and amusement as she made her way from the tower bedroom to the kitchen.
âLet's have raspberry scones for tea,' she suggested â without giving a reason, in case Andy didn't come after all. âIs the oven hot? I'll make them.' Although Mrs Hardie was in charge of the kitchen, Grace had insisted on being taught to cook in
order that her mother could have a day off from time to time.
âPut an apron on, then.' It was only Grace's tidy appearance which caused surprise. Throughout the summer and autumn there was always a glut of one crop or another from Philip's fruit and vegetable gardens, and at the moment it was the raspberries which must be used in as many different ways as possible.
She made a cake as well while she was about it, and while it and the scones were baking she began to carry deck chairs out of the room which had once been a schoolroom but which these days held all the garden clutter: everything from Wellington boots to croquet mallets. By now the sun had gone from the area near the kitchen. The favourite place for tea in the summer months was near the tower, where Mrs Hardie could sit in the shade of the ill-sited oak tree while Philip and Grace enjoyed the sun.
By a quarter to four all preparations were complete. Grace took off her apron, washed her hands, ran her fingers through her hair and glanced into a looking glass, able for once to approve what she saw instead of laughing at herself. She had never been pretty â and certainly not beautiful â but her strong features and the dramatic contrast between her white skin and black hair gave her a striking handsomeness whenever, as now, she chose to make the best of herself. And so it was that when the next visitor on that day of surprises arrived at Greystones he did not find himself greeted â as Ellis Faraday had done â by someone who might have been an assistant gardener or handywoman on the estate. The mistress of Greystones was clean and neatly dressed, confident in manner and with lively eyes which sparkled with interest and curiosity. That next visitor, however, was not Andy Frith.
Grace heard the sound of the approaching motor car long before it came into sight. It rattled up the potholed lane, hesitated beside the lodge gates and changed gear to tackle the steep drive. Although she knew nothing at all about cars, she felt sure as soon as it came into sight that this must be an
expensive model: the length of its bonnet and the high polish of its fittings both spoke of money. It was an open model, suitable to the heat of the day. As it came to a halt in front of the house, the driver tugged off the scarf he had wound around his mouth to keep out the dust and jumped athletically out of the car before the uniformed chauffeur had time to move from the passenger seat to open the door for his master. Grace took a few steps forward and then waited for him to approach.
Without the scarf and cap he was revealed as being a young man, no more than eighteen years old. His blond hair was clipped close at the back and sides and his cheeks were smooth, although the beginnings of a moustache showed on his upper lip. From the deference shown to him by the chauffeur, and the easy friendliness with which he took it for granted, Grace suspected him of being not merely a rich man but an aristocrat. His assured voice turned her guess into a certainty.
âAfternoon,' he said. âI'm looking for Mrs Gordon Hardie.'
âMy mother takes a rest at this hour, but I expect her down at four o'clock. If you don't mind waiting a few minutes, I'll tell her you're here. Who should I say?'
âYour mother? So you're Miss Hardie? Jolly good. We're cousins of a sort, you know. Haven't bothered to work it out exactly yet, but we've got an ancestor in common. The eleventh Marquess of Ross.'
âSo you are?'
âRupert Beverley, at your service. Here's my card, for your mother.'
Grace glanced at the card as she took it.
Rupert Beverley. For a moment she stared at him, taken aback, before remembering her manners. Some of them, at least â for of course he ought to have been invited at once into the drawing room to be waited on by a parlourmaid while a footman carried his card on a silver tray. âWon't you sit down and enjoy the sunshine?' she said instead, indicating the shabby chairs which she had already arranged round a small table. âI won't be a moment.'
As she ran upstairs to her mother's boudoir she tried to work out the relationship. It was the Marquess of Ross, her mother's grandfather, who had provided the money to build Greystones and had insisted that the house should be the personal property of an asthmatic baby, Grace herself. But that was thirty-four years ago, and the marquess had been in his eighties at the time. The present holder of the title was probably his grandson â or even great-grandson. Lord Rupert must be a younger son. Her second cousin, then. She handed the card to her mother with a quick explanation before returning to do her duty as a hostess.
âYou must think us an unfriendly lot,' said Lord Rupert, accepting her invitation to stroll in the gardens. âNever coming to call on you, or anything like that. Speaking for myself, I never knew of your existence until Cousin Archie died. That's why I've come here today, to tell your mother that her brother's dead. Well, that's my excuse, anyway. Curiosity about my unknown cousins is a truer reason, I suppose. But I'll start by passing on the news. Don't imagine it's going to break her heart if they haven't seen each other for forty years, but someone has to go through the motions, don't you agree?'
âYes, I suppose so.' Should she address her companion as âmy lord' or âCousin Rupert'? The rules of etiquette had not figured greatly in Grace's education, so she did neither. âI never met my uncle, of course. He quarrelled with my mother long before I was born.' Did her visitor, she wondered, know what the quarrel had been about? Probably not, if he had only recently found out about this branch of the family. Although he spoke with the confidence of a much older man and seemed to take it for granted that he should speak as a representative of his family, he was hardly more than a boy. There might not be anyone, except Lucy Hardie herself, who still remembered how a beautiful young Beverley had disgraced herself and the family by marrying into trade.
It would be for Mrs Hardie, not Grace, to discuss past history if she chose. For the moment the conversation could be safely
confined to the gardens through which they were walking. Although the house was shabby, the grounds which immediately surrounded it were well-kept: there was nothing to be ashamed of there. Only when the visitor came face to face with one of Grace's carved shapes did he appear to be taken aback.
âI've heard about this sort of thing,' he said. âModern art. Causing quite a rumpus, the shows in London, according to the pater. First time I've met anyone who's actually bought a piece, though.' The lack of enthusiasm in his voice made it clear to Grace that if she were to confess that she had carved it herself he would be apologetic about an impoliteness, but not impressed. Yet Mr Faraday had seemed to like her work. Her interest in the two contrasting reactions made her slow to realize the implications of this latest comment. If her cousin thought she had bought it, did that mean that other people were creating shapes of a similar kind? She would have liked to ask questions, but he had moved on to another topic as they turned to retrace their steps.
âGood-looking house. Lutyens?'
âNever heard of him. But I suppose there's a lot I haven't heard of. It does you all right, does it?'
âYes, very well, thank you. Ah, here's Mother.'
Grace could not resist a smile as she performed the introduction. Lucy Hardie had changed into a tea gown of a style which had been fashionable fifteen years earlier. It could hardly be in fashion still, and yet it was so well cut and so confidently worn that it gave an immediate impression of elegance. Grace's mother was tall and slender and she had used the time since her relative's arrival to put her white hair up in a more formal style than usual. Grace grinned in approval, and saw her mother's eyes twinkle with amusement in response.
Excusing herself, Grace went first into the walled garden to tell Philip what was happening and then hurried into the kitchen to fill the newly-baked scones with the raspberries and
to prepare a tray with the best china and the silver tea service.
âA picnic!' exclaimed Lord Rupert. âJolly good!' He had a young man's appetite and tucked into the scones and the home-made cake enthusiastically as he apologized for the fact that the Hardies had not been notified of Archie Yates's death before the funeral.
âI was away at Eton,' he explained. âAnd Miles â that's my elder brother â is in India, in the army. But my mother's a great one for pedigrees. I'm surprised she didn't manage to track you down.'
âOh, I'm sure I was crossed out of the family Bible years ago,' laughed Mrs Hardie.
âNo. Matter of fact, that's where I found your name. I like keeping up these things, so I went to write in Cousin Archie's death, and there you were.'
âI don't suppose Archie himself ever mentioned my existence.'
âI didn't know him all that well either. He lived a jolly sort of bachelor life. Didn't come down to Castlemere much. Chambers and clubs in London and a lady-friend in Nice. Died in France, as a matter of fact, and wanted to be buried there. So the lawyers in England have only just got to work. No children of his own to leave anything to. But â'
âOh, he wouldn't leave anything to me, Rupert.' Mrs Hardie smiled at the very idea. âAnd he never met any of my children.'
âNo great fortune anyway, as far as we know. But look here, now that we've discovered you at last, you must come and visit Castlemere. I'm sure none of us believes in carrying on family grudges. And you must have been brought up in the house, Cousin Lucy, like your brother.'
âYes, I was,' said Mrs Hardie. âI had a very happy childhood there â and loved the house very deeply. But â I'm not sure, you know, that I want to go back. I very much appreciate the invitation, but â I wonder if you can understand how I feel. There are so many memories, but they may not all be quite true after all these years, and naturally some things will have
changed. I can remember, just before my elopement, riding with Archie early one morning and looking down on Castlemere. With the mist rising round it, it looked like a fairy palace, an enchanted place. It can't ever look quite like that again to me, and I might be disappointed. I think, if you don't mind â¦'
âYou eloped?' exclaimed Lord Rupert. âThat's another story nobody's ever told me. What happened? I thought that sort of thing went out a hundred years ago.'