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Authors: M. C. Beaton,Marion Chesney

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The Homecoming

BOOK: The Homecoming
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The Homecoming

A Novel of Regency England

Being the Sixth Volume of The Daughters of Mannerling

M. C. Beaton/ Marion Chesney

Copyright

The Homecoming

Copyright ©1997 by Marion Chesney
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2010 by RosettaBooks, LLC

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

First electronic edition published 2011 by RosettaBooks LLC, New York.
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795315619

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Epilogue

Chapter One

What’s the good of a home if you are never in it?

—G
EORGE AND
W
EEDON
G
ROSSMITH

B
ROOKFIELD HOUSE, HOME
of the Beverleys, was an unassuming place, nothing like their previous grand property, Mannerling. It was a square country building of grey stone with neat sash windows and a plain front door without pediment or portico.

It was hardly the setting for the dramatic scene that was taking place in front of it.

The great Duke of Severnshire stood there, tall, haughty and every inch the aristocrat, from his tall beaver hat and proud nose to his glossy Hessian boots.

Standing in front of him was the Beverleys’s governess, elderly but fashionably dressed and with clever sparkling eyes in a wrinkled face and, under a modish cap, brown hair which did not show a trace of grey. The youngest of the Beverley sisters, Lizzie, stood defiantly beside her governess, her green eyes blazing, for this haughty duke had found her visiting Mannerling, her old home, told her it was now his property, and had told her to get off it.

Lady Beverley was all amazement, her pale eyes goggling. For the Duke of Severnshire, whom she had often longed to meet, was actually here on her doorstep and claiming that the governess, Miss Trumble, was his aunt!

“I repeat my question, Aunt Letitia,” said the duke frostily: “What are you doing here?”

“I wish to speak to my nephew in private, Lady Beverley,” said Miss Trumble quietly.

“Of course. By all means,” said Lady Beverley, shaken to the core. “Pray use the parlour, Miss Trumble.”

Miss Trumble and the tall duke went into the house and into the parlour, and the duke firmly closed the door behind them.

“Come away, Mama,” hissed Lizzie as Lady Beverley pressed an ear against the door panels.

At that moment, the duke jerked open the door again. Lady Beverley jumped back. “Oh, Your Grace,” she cried. “I was just about to enter and ask if you desired any refreshment.”

“No!” he said, and slammed the door in her face.

“Insufferable,” said Lizzie, taking her mother’s arm and guiding her into the drawing-room across the hall.

“I do not understand,” wailed Lady Beverley. “Our Miss Trumble aunt to the duke? There must be some mistake.”

“I do not think so,” said Lizzie. “There was always a mystery about our Miss Trumble. You always said her gowns were too fine for a governess. And if she had to escort us to a function in London, she always disguised herself in a dreadful wig.”

Lady Beverley sat down. “Perhaps he might buy Mannerling.”

Time and again Lady Beverley had been thwarted in her schemes of regaining her old home: plots that had been built around one of her six daughters marrying one of the owners. But owners had come and gone and Lizzie’s five elder sisters had all married other men, much to Lady Beverley’s chagrin. With the exception of Lizzie, damned with a fey appearance and unfashionable red hair, the Beverley sisters were all famous for their beauty.

“The duke has already bought Mannerling,” said Lizzie.

“But he has a great palace of his own,” exclaimed Lady Beverley. “What can he want with Mannerling?”

“I neither know nor care,” said Lizzie.

Lady Beverley focused on her youngest daughter. “Tish, what is to be done with you, Lizzie? You look like a schoolgirl. Severnshire is unmarried still, I believe. If only one of your sisters were still unwed! What hope is there with the runt of the litter?”

This last was said in a low voice, not really meant for Lizzie’s ears, but Lizzie heard it and flushed miserably.

“How did you know he had bought Mannerling?” demanded Lady Beverley.

“I heard it from Barry.” Barry was the odd man. Lizzie decided she must warn him that he was supposed to have told her, for she did not want her mother to know that she had gone for a look round her old home and had been told to leave by the duke.

“Imagine Miss Trumble being his aunt. Dear me, she cannot possibly stay with us now. I wonder what her real name is? Lady Something, and she will exceed me in rank! I wonder what they are talking about? I wonder why she decided to become a mere governess? Scandal. It must have been because of some dreadful scandal. I wish I could hear what they are talking about.”

*   *   *

The duke was pacing up and down the small parlour. “Do sit down, Gervase, and stop towering over me,” begged Miss Trumble.

He sat down in an armchair and stretched out his long legs. “Why Trumble, of all stupid names?” he demanded.

“It was the name of my old nurse. I was very fond of her.”

“You had no need to go out and find employ.”

“Can you not understand that I was bored, Gervase? A spinster lady, a tiresome relation, not really wanted anywhere. I have been needed here, am still needed here.”

“You cannot possibly stay here now you have been discovered!”

“But only by you. A few of my old friends, Lady Evans, for example, who lives on the other side of Hedgefield, know of my true identity, and they will not speak of it, so why should you?”

“Such a position with such a family!”

“What is up with them?!”

“I have been long enough in the neighbourhood to pick up the gossip. Sir William Beverley lost everything at the card tables and so had to sell up, and ever since then the Beverleys have done nothing but plot and scheme to find ways of getting Mannerling back.”

“The five elder Beverleys have all married well, and to gentlemen they love. There is only little Lizzie left and I intend to stay in my post until she is wed.”

“That odd, rude little girl! I found her wandering about Mannerling as if she owned the place and sent her to the right about.”

“Oh dear.”

“Besides, it harms my dignity to have you here.”

“Oh, Gervase, that wretched family pride. I once shared it and it destroyed my chance at happiness.”

He raised his thin eyebrows in query.

“I was courted by an army captain. This is very old family history. I was very much attracted to him. But I was persuaded by my father that he was an adventurer, only interested in my money. I was taught to rate my looks very low, rather like poor Lizzie, and so I let him go. He was killed in battle. How I mourned! But”—she gave a little smile—“that is surely of no interest to you. I became interested in learning and then, as the years passed, I had a hunger to pass that learning on. I am persuaded that had the Beverley girls not had a good education and well-trained minds, then they would have succumbed to disastrous marriages.”

“But you must remember you are Lady Letitia Revine, my late father’s sister, and your situation here is a scandal and a disgrace.”

“No worthwhile work is a scandal or a disgrace. I promised Lizzie I would stay until she was wed, and so I shall. Until that time I
am
Miss Trumble, governess.”

“That little redhead will not take. Too farouche.”

“Lizzie has character and charm. You have not seen her at her best.”

“How old is she? Sixteen?”

“Nineteen now and of an age to be wed.”

“That is Lady Beverley’s concern, not yours.”

“I have made it mine, Gervase. I suggest you go away and forget you have found me. Why did you buy Mannerling? You have no need of the place.”

“It is a fine place and I always increase my holdings and property when I can. I thought it might be a fitting property for my son when he comes of age.”

Miss Trumble blinked. “I did not even know you were married. I heard nothing about it.”

“I am not married…yet, but I plan to change that situation as soon as possible.”

“You have found someone?”

“No, but I shall. It is difficult to find someone suitable to my rank.”

“Oh, Gervase, I despair of you!”

“To my rank,” he repeated firmly. “Mannerling is a pretty setting. I shall invite some suitable prospects from time to time. I desire a son.”

“There are a great number of so-called ordinary people who are well worth knowing, Gervase, and by armouring yourself in rank, you are cutting yourself off from them.”

“I am become expert at cutting myself off from adventuresses, toadies, mushrooms and counter jumpers,” he said coldly. “Do you really mean you wish me to help you prolong this masquerade?”

“I do not need your help. Simply do not talk about it and I will persuade Lady Beverley to do the same.”

“I never knew a woman yet who could keep a secret.”

“You are looking at one. And be assured that neither Lizzie nor Lady Beverley will speak of it.”

His odd silvery eyes under hooded lids looked at her cynically. “But Lady Beverley will no doubt see it as a means to push that dreadful little daughter of hers in my direction.”

“I think Lizzie has taken you in dislike. I will not be encouraging any matchmaking. I am very fond of Lizzie. She is too good for you, and too young. How old are you now? Thirty-four?”

The duke nodded.

“Nearly twice her age. But, Gervase, as your neighbours, Lady Beverley and Lizzie should be invited to dinner or to one of your parties.”

“I do not see why I should.”

“Because if you do not, I will make it known I am your aunt.”

“You are blackmailing me, Aunt Letitia!”

“Yes, I suppose I am. Shall we join the ladies? And do address me as Miss Trumble. I am accustomed to the name and by virtue of its long use, it has become my own.”

He wondered briefly if madness ran in his family, but the eyes surveying him were bright, intelligent and mocking. His aunt, he realized ruefully, was managing to make him feel like a pompous fool.

“Very well,” he said with a sudden charming smile.

“I shall summon them.” Miss Trumble rose to her feet.

“Ring the bell for a servant.”

“You forget, I am a servant.”

It was as well for Lizzie that her mother was nonplussed. Her own governess outranking her!

Lady Beverley entered the parlour very subdued, and curtsied low to the duke. Then she turned to Miss Trumble.

“I do not know how to address you.”

“I shall be remaining in your employ, my lady,” said Miss Trumble. “And Miss Trumble is my name.”

“But His Grace said—”

“We will forget what my nephew said. I promised Lizzie I would remain until she was wed.”

“Oh, my best of governesses,” said Lizzie, her eyes shining. “I thought you would leave me.”

“Make your curtsy to His Grace, Lizzie, and be seated.”

Lizzie gave a bob of a curtsy and sat down.

Lady Beverley ordered tea. Her mind was beginning to race. Here was the Duke of Severnshire in her parlour, the
unwed
Duke of Severnshire, and his aunt was Lizzie’s governess. She glanced impatiently at Lizzie. The child ought to have put her hair up.

But still trying to assimilate the fact that Miss Trumble was an aristocrat kept Lady Beverley quiet and correct where normally she would have bored the duke to flinders with apocryphal tales of the greatness of the Beverley family and she would have made her great ambition to possess Mannerling all too clear.

Out of courtesy to Miss Trumble, Lizzie was polite and respectful to the duke, although privately she considered him cold and haughty. Because he
was
a duke, most ladies would immediately think him handsome. But she found his great height and cold silvery eyes unnerving. His hair was worn long and confined at his neck with a ribbon. His clothes were impeccable and she wondered why he wore his hair in such an old-fashioned manner when most gentlemen now wore a Brutus crop or the Windswept.

“Why are you looking at me so curiously, Miss Lizzie?” asked the duke suddenly.

“I was wondering why you bought Mannerling when you have no need of the place,” said Lizzie, startled into saying the second thing in her mind, not wanting to ask him about his hair.

“As I have already explained to my aunt, it struck me that the place might do for my son.”

“Your son!” exclaimed Lady Beverley.

“His Grace is a trifle premature,” said Miss Trumble.

He smiled and Lizzie thought that his smile altered his whole appearance, making him look almost approachable.

“I do not understand,” wailed Lady Beverley, overset by the idea that this duke was already married.

BOOK: The Homecoming
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