How to Impress a Gentleman (13 page)

BOOK: How to Impress a Gentleman
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“No, let us eat. We can talk well enough in the carriage, on our way to our new home. I am eager to see it.”

“Well, it is just that I had hoped to arrive at Braxton Hall before you. As I was not expecting to wed so soon, we currently have only a skeleton staff. It will take them some time to prepare our beds, and a hot meal. I would like to have it ready for you when you arrive.”

“Beds?”

“You will want your bedroom aired out, will you not?”


My
Bedroom?”

“Oh, well, our bedroom, I meant, unless you would like a separate room? I could arrange to have one built. The manor is not so up-to-date as to have separate rooms.”

“No, I do not wish separate rooms, Charles, only for our servants. Are there rooms for them? What is the layout of the house?”

Hesitating, Charles formed his words carefully. “There is a fine entryway, with room to add mirrors and a hat stand. This opens into four rooms and a stairwell. The first room on the left is the sitting room. The second room is the parlor. On the right, the first room is the dining hall and the second is the butler’s quarters. On the living level, to the right of the main stair, are two small guest rooms. Then, on the right of the hallway is the master bedroom. Across from this room is a slightly larger guest room, boasting a small closet. At the far end of the hall is a nursery. Above the bedrooms sits a large attic, that will be fashioned into two separate quarters, when need be, to accommodate our personal servants.

“There are two outer houses that hold our kitchens, laundry, and household staff. We have accommodations for the maid, laundress, and cook. There are rooms for the stable hands within the stable. I shall have to build another outbuilding, for the addition of a manager, in the event that we turn a profit enough to require one. Until that time, I fear I shall serve as the farm manager and you as the head of the house.”

“Oh, that sounds lovely, Charles. The manor seems as if it will be large enough for comfort but quaint enough to run properly with a small staff.”

“Aye and as we have such a small staff at present, I shall immediately endeavor to check with the surrounding tenants for any available persons.”

“I see. Well, I assume that Harry and John can get me there just as well.”

And that was that. Grabbing a chicken leg and a hasty afterthought of a kiss to his wife, he was off again, traveling with the speed of light. As he departed the sky seemed to dim and the clouds creep in again.

~ ~ ~

Hot, tired, and unsettled, Linnie wiped her temple free of sweat with a forearm. Slumping in the side saddle, she pulled a handkerchief from her bosom and dabbed at her neck and chest. How much further from town could Braxton Hall be? As if reading her thoughts, John turned to claim, “The manor is just another mile around this bend, My Lady,”

Inclining her head, Lindsay sighed as she repositioned herself and the reigns. Clucking to Doc, she resumed the leisurely pace towards her new home. Breathing deeply to calm a racing heart, Lindsay began to imagine her arrival. She pictured how she might appear to her new staff, approaching in such a state of disarray, and atop a virtual work horse, to boot! Her mouth grew dry and her ears pink.

“John!” she called, “I have changed my mind. I would like to arrive in the coach after all.”

“Yes, My Lady, but we will be there in a matter of a few minutes. If you are fatigued it might make more sense to-”

“No,” she interrupted emphatically, “I would like to appear as lady of the house, in the manner in which my servants expect. I will climb down to the creek here and freshen up. If you would be so good as to stop the coach, when it approaches, John? Thank you.”

Ignoring the distressed look plastered upon John’s features, Linnie turned and picked her way down the embankment. Groaning and tugging at her thick habit as it caught on brambles, weeds, and holly bushes, Lindsay freed herself suddenly at the opening to the creek and skidded to a halt. Allowing water to lightly lick her boots, she squatted to cup the quenching liquid in her delicate hands. Splashing the refreshing coolness against her eyelids and cheeks, Lindsay smiled in relief. After rewetting and smoothing her hair, she climbed and pulled her way up the embankment, with the aid of several thick weeds as leverage.

Upon reaching the road, Lindsay had just enough time to straighten her blouse and short jacket before the carriage pulled up alongside of her. Without even waiting for one of the men to assist her, Lindsay opened the door and stepped up into the coach. Silently harnessing Doc to the back of his own saddle, John shook his head, disgruntled. Twice he walked toward the door of the coach and twice he walked back to his horse.

Should he enlighten Lady Donovan about what she was to find at the manor? No, better leave that to a discussion between man and wife. She would find out soon enough and he would prefer not to be the one facing her when she began demanding explanations.

Pulling up the tree-lined lane, Lindsay gasped at the grand beauty of the estate. Certain, the grounds were overgrown but they were open and green and would be splendid, when the gardener could be taken well in hand. And the house! Why, it was broad and tall and looked to be made of a dazzlingly light stone. Her excitement and amazement soon turned to shock and dismay as the full reality of the home’s structure came into focus. Nearly all of the windows were boarded up. The cracks in the wood showed clearly that no glass stood behind their cover. The once grand stairway was cracked and broken. What had appeared to be a brilliant stone, revealed itself to be a peeling, crumbling mortar and some spotty white lichen that had taken inhabitance across the manor’s facade.

“The grounds keeper can surely maintain the property better than this!” Lindsay scolded softly to herself. She was too much stunned by her new home’s derelict nature to notice that no staff had vacated the building to greet their new mistress. She was confronted by that fact, however, when John was obliged to knock on the front door. Removing herself from the stifling cabin, Lindsay joined him on the porch. It was a full five minutes before a haggard, decrepit looking man answered the door.

“Oh, tis you, John. I was out at the back, seeing to killing a rooster for tonight’s supper. If you can tend to the horses, I suppose I can show the Missus up to her room.”

Straightening herself up to her full five foot two, Lindsay offered a gloved hand to the only servant she saw in evidence. “You must be the butler, Bernard, I presume. I am Lady Donovan.”

Bernard looked at her hand as if she were presenting him with a cold fish and simply nodded. “If you’ll just follow me, Miss, I will show you to your rooms. Then, I will be needing to get back to preparing our dinner.”

Lindsay bristled at the deliberate omission of her title. Pulling her riding jacket down sharply, she retained her composure. “Yes, well, if you would be so kind as to assemble the staff, first, I should think, so that I might meet everyone at once, it might be a more efficient use of our time. I am perfectly willing to wait.”

“Staff? Oh, you mean Betsy. Bet-sy!” he bellowed up the brittle old staircase, “The new master’s wife would like to get a look at ye!”

Startled by the complete lack of couth, Lindsay struggled to find her bearings. It seemed as if she had entered into a bizarre new world with odd customs, standards, and expectations.

“I must be dreaming,” she told herself as she watched a portly ‘Betsy’ bobble down the stairway towards her.

Giving a tiny dip of a curtsey, Betsy mumbled, “Nice to meet you ma’am,” and silently waited to be dismissed.
No, not a dream, a waking nightmare! This could not be happening
, she thought, as she stared at the distracted, disheveled young woman.

Betsy’s hair floated about her face, sticking to her cheeks and temples, where a distracted forearm had plastered it to her sweat-soaked face. Her not-so-white apron, wrinkled from several hand wipes, added a lumpy appearance to her round midriff. Yet, Lindsay noted approvingly, her skin was clear and pink and her teeth white. The dust and grim upon her were the result of a day’s worth of cleaning and not a neglect of personal hygiene.

“This is the housekeeper, Ms. Thomas, and I am the butler, groundskeeper, and cook. We have been the sole care takers of this place for the last five years, since Old Master lost his health and had to lay off the rest of the staff.”

“We have not been paid in two years, either, Ma’am.” chimed in Ms. Thomas, “Not that we’re complainin’.” she quickly added. “Here now, let me take your bag and show you to your room,” Betsy offered briskly, with a sincere, if tentative smile. “I have the master’s room yet to air afore bedtime and dishes to do, I’d wager, so if you wouldn’t mind directing your questions to his lordship, then maybe dinner can get on the table before midnight.”

Lindsay gazed about her with a sinking heart. The exterior of the house had looked large and impressive but the reality was that the two wings of the house were boarded up. Only the center of the house was the slightest bit habitable. As Betsy led Linnie up the creaky old staircase, Lindsay had a moment in which she saw herself more clearly than she might have liked. All of her life, Lindsay had harbored a belief in herself as a philosophical individual. She was not superfluous. She cared not for material things or society’s strict constraints. Her wealth and reputation, or lack of it, were of no importance to her. Now, looking at her current living conditions, Lindsay began to question that image of herself.

No, it wasn’t just for Leah that Lindsay had strained to create a comfortable and admirable existence for herself. In truth, Lindsay had selfishly aspired to carve out a coveted niche in society. There was no denying that she had no interest in living in this broken-down skeleton of a house, so far from civilization. It seemed she had escaped from one remote and lonely household, only to find herself in an even more reclusive setting.

Her room, as she entered was clean enough, but tiny, with little light. There was barely enough space to reach the wash stand or use the chamber pot. She wandered what Charles’ room looked like and why she had yet to see him. “Betsy,” she called after the housekeeper, “could you tell me where to find Sir Charles?”

“Jest up the stairs, there, to the left, Dear. He has taken over an attic room as a study while his rooms are being repaired.”

Heaving a sigh, Lindsay took some moments, just standing in the center of her new room. She took stock. She had expected a shabby but classy home, one that would require some spit and polish but would be basically ready for entertaining within a fortnight. She had prepared herself for a staff of ten to twenty and had come home to two. She had not expected a large and airy suite of rooms after her exchange with Charlie, but she had envisioned a large master bedroom that she and Charles could share. Instead, here she was, feeling like the poor relation in her own house!

No, she was not ready to face her husband. Too many questions floated through her mind. Taking off her riding jacket and laying it flat across the bed, Lindsay’s allowed her mind to wander. Surrounded by such dilapidation, it was hard not to dwell on the reasons she had come to be here in the first place.

Charles, ever in need of funds, had established her as a limitless source of income. Had she not sold her own mount to fund his final year of university? Had he not abandoned her at the first flash of her father’s coin? And now? They were well and truly embroiled in a scandalous marriage pact because he had needed her dowry to fix up his family home. How could she not feel used? Never, thinking back, had their relationship ever been on equal footing.

Always, she had chased after Charles, admiring and longing for his attention, as some sort of replacement for the fatherly affection she so needed. No more!
But
, her weak heart retorted,
He must care more for me than that. After last night...
Ha! her higher conscious countered. Any man will whisper sweet nothings in a girl’s ear in return for sporting bed play. Were her offerings in that regard really all that different than offering him her money?

I want more
, her rebellious core spoke up.
I want a man who respects me and listens to me and spends time with me
.
I want a man who will sacrifice his own wealth for my greater good. Bed play is well and good, but without the deeper devotions, largely an empty act.
Thus determined, Lindsay set out to establish herself as the lady of this household, whether or not she could count on a gentleman partner.
I will find out where it is I have landed myself and, like the fish out of water, I will flop myself back into a familiar stream.

And if Charles does not want me?
If he abandons me here, in this God forsaken place?
her wicked thoughts encroached.

“Enough!” slashing her hand down as if to slice through the cloud of negativity encompassing her, Linnie turned her back on the solitary bed and strode from her small room.

 

 

Chapter Nine
- Sunset and Separation

 

“Distance lends enchantment to the view”

~18th Century Proverb

 

Intent on examining every inch of the property before making any action, Linnie peered up and down the narrow hallway. To the left of her room the hall ended in a broad and tall, ornately carved doorway. A narrow staircase opened to the right of that door.

Glancing up the stair, Lindsay thought to herself,
That must be the attic maids’ quarters that Charles is using for a study. I will avoid this room for now
. Strolling to the closed door, Linnie twisted the ornate brass knob and slowly pushed. Creaky and stiff, the hinge resisted her light pressure. Leaning in with the added weight of her hip and shoulder, Lindsay was able to persuade the door to push past the dirt and debris and open. Blinking away the floating dust particles, Linnie stepped timidly into the room. With the windows boarded up, she realized, she had need of a candle.

Quickly, she returned to her room. Grabbing a clean handkerchief and her candle, she cupped the tiny flame and retraced her steps. This time, her entrance lit the sizable room enough so that she could look around with minimal squinting. Being at a ninety degree angle from the other rooms, this chamber spanned the width of the house. About thirty feet long and fifteen feet deep, the room was mostly empty. Along the back wall, two grand windows stood boarded, with shards of shattered glass still unswept at their feet.

In front of these two cracked beauties a pair of drop cloths stood sentinel. Looking to the right, she saw where three more drop cloths loomed, and to the left, another four. With her first inkling of enthusiasm since arriving on the premises, Lindsay strode forward. Using her free hand to cover her nose with the handkerchief, Linnie pulled off the cloth. In a flurry of dust, a delicate mahogany rocking horse galloped to life.

“Oh!” Lindsay cooed, realizing she had discovered the nursery. To the right, the three clothes revealed two tiny beds and an ornately carved crib. To the left, one large desk and three small desks with chairs huddled together. Running her hand along the walls, Lindsay could see faded wall paper beneath layers of soot and grime. Set within the deep right wall, the culprit, a long unlit fireplace.

Lindsay smiled. Perhaps this house had more to it than just broken windows and offensive servants. Perhaps the history of this home could speak to her, helping her to restore it to its former glory. Excited, she was turning to race up the stairs and share her revelation with Charles when something stopped her.

~ ~ ~

He had been dishonest with her. He knew it. And now, he did not know how he would find the courage to go downstairs and explain himself. What would he say?

“I insisted on your marrying me, knowing you could do better, because I needed the money.” She would be headed home before he finished speaking.

“No! This is her home now. I, as her husband, will be supporting her for the rest of her life. I have every right to use her dowry to establish our household and turn a profit. Besides, it is her father’s money I have taken, not hers. It is money he owes in recompense for his foul behavior.”
I will make myself worthy of her
, he thought resolutely. Shaking his head free of the distraction that was Linnie, Charles bent back over his ledgers.

~ ~ ~

Something was not right with the scene. Looking back over the beloved nursery, Lindsay sought to jog her consciousness. There! Beside the study old fireplace, finger prints disturbed the dust upon wall paper, just at the seam in the paper. Approaching with the soft embroidered cloth again protecting her sensitive lungs, Lindsay bent to run her fingers over the spot.

Heart pounding, she looked expectantly over her shoulder. No one approached. Fitting the tips of her fingers beneath the edge of the paper, she discovered a gap in the underlying wainscoting. Following her instincts, Lindsay slid the thin wood to the side, revealing a small compartment within the wall. Again glancing over her shoulder, Lindsay knelt upon the filthy floor. Moving her candle closer to the opening, Linnie sat it upon the floor beside her and leaned her free hand into the opening.

Shakily, she rested her hand upon a small wooden box. Grabbing the box, she withdrew it from the ominous space and quickly tucked it beneath one arm. Grabbing her candle, Lindsay scuttled from the room, stopping only long enough to shut the door behind her.

Scrambling through her own door, Lindsay leaned against it, causing the metal latch to seal with a “click!” There she remained until her nervous panting slowed to normal breath. Giggling anxiously, Lindsay pulled her small wooden chair up to the bed. Spreading the handkerchief flat upon the quilt, Lindsay removed the dusty treasure box from beneath her arm and set it upon the white linen. There it sat, framed by the stitching of purple clovers, as Lindsay contemplated the object.

Walnut, the yellowed wood appeared to be. Not much larger than a snuff box, but thicker and finely made.
What a conundrum. How did such a stately looking item end up in the wall of a nursery? It could not have been a long ago child’s treasure box. The item was too solid to be an infant’s play thing. Not only that
, thought Lindsay,
but this box has been placed in that niche recently. Otherwise, I would not have discovered the fingerprints. And while the box is dusty, it shows no signs of deterioration from water or rodents.

Full of anticipation, Lindsay carefully pushed open the lid of the box. Within lay various correspondences. Scooping up the stack of letters, Lindsay lifted one and unfolded it. Glancing at the greeting, she noted that the letter was addressed to the old Baronet Donovan, dated about seven years agone. It seemed that the correspondent, a certain headmaster of a boy’s school, was responding to the master’s inquiries about his heir. Opening the remaining letters, Lindsay could see that they were from various acquaintances to Charles. Apparently, the old Lord had been attempting to discern the character of his new heir. In some correspondence, the authors had reassured the Lord that they would not mention the inquiry to Charles. In others, it seemed that the Lord had posed as a potential business partner seeking information about Charles’ character without giving away the true reason for his interest.

But, why not let Charles know of his impending inheritance? Why not make contact with Charles directly? And why had someone sought to hide these letters within the house recently? What possible motive might they have had in doing so? A glint of light caught Lindsay’s eye. At the bottom of the box lay a miniature frame and portrait. Carefully withdrawing the miniature, Lindsay peered at the face of a young man. Dressed in the style of at least thirty years agone, the youth posed with powdered hair and grim expression. The last heir? Something struck her about the boy’s face. Something about his demeanor, some look around the eyes that she couldn’t quite place.

Replacing the letters in their box, Lindsay wrapped her handkerchief around the bundle and secreted it beneath her undergarments in the trunk. The miniature, however, seemed too special to keep in such an ordinary place as a cedar chest. Instead, Lindsay slipped it into the pocket of her gown.
Should I tell Charles of my discovery?
she wondered briefly.
No
, she thought, taking childish pleasure in her newly found secret. By keeping her discovery to herself, she felt as if she had regained some power. A power she had lost the moment she overheard Charles’ quiet conversation with Aiden. So what if Charles had not told her of his need to marry for funds? She would not tell him of the old Baronet Donovan. She could have a secret of her own.

She felt very young; knew that she had yet to fully become the adult young lady she was supposed to be, and somehow did not care. “I have done quite enough growing up this past year. I shall allow myself this juvenile whim.” Smiling, she patted her pocket containing the visage and set out upon her original errand.

Now
, Lindsay thought,
let me at least look over the whole of the house before I speak with Charles. Perhaps I shall uncover more clues to this mystery.
Walking straight into the hall, she turned the first doorknob on the left, almost directly across from her current bedroom’s doorway. Armed with candle held high, she bumped open the door. Another nicely sized room, about 20 feet by 15 feet, stood empty. Walking its breadth, Linnie discovered a rotten, worm eaten door, which had half collapsed. The doorknob came free in her hand at her first gentle tug.

Wrinkling her nose, Linnie dropped the knob and hiked her brown habit to step over the wooden carcass. Inside, she saw what must be a changing room. An old, plain copper chamber pot stood in the corner with some rusty hooks and moth-eaten linen. She could not help feeling a little disappointed that she had not discovered another secret hiding place, as her eyes ran around the closet’s facade.

Withdrawing from the room, Lindsay noticed scarlet-hued, velvet and satin striped wall paper peeling around the classic wrought iron fire place. As overwhelmed and pricked as she was, the house was definitely finding its way into her heart. She could tell, like herself, the home had once been very proud and well cared for. She had a feeling the house would not be the only one feeling neglected, now that she was here. A sense of foreboding sent a chill down her spine.

Her journal! Whenever she had needed help sorting out her feelings, her journal always seemed to put things back into perspective. Dashing across the hall, Lindsay pulled out her carpet bag and dug around. Paper, pen, and inkwell in hand, Lindsay again sat at the bed and began to take notes.

 

August 14, 1788

Nursery-

refinish furniture and floor, repaper walls, replace rug, linen, windows, drapes, and mattresses

 

discovered old master’s portrait and inquiries about Charles, hidden by unknown person???

 

Master Bedroom-

Replace mattress, wash stand, hooks, bars, hangers, wall paper, windows,

 

Leaving her notes where they lay, Lindsay pushed back her stool and walked past the main stairwell, to the two remaining doors at the other end of the hallway. A quick surveillance of each showed a hodgepodge of broken down, mismatched furniture. Two tiny guest bedrooms it seemed.

Heading back down the stairs, Lindsay noted that the entire stairwell would likely need to be refurbished. Some competent, if uninspiring family portraits, dappled the stairwell to the main floor. Peering into each aged face, Lindsay was unable to discover any resemblance to Charles. A small landing halfway down displayed a door to the left and right. Lindsay’s mouth quirked. How odd was this floor’s design! Never before had she seen this type of architectural lay out. Her heart beat rapidly in anticipation of what she might find.

Turning randomly, Linnie opened the door at her left. “Aaaaaaah!” she screeched, nearly soaking her bloomers as a wooly creature dashed past her feet and down the stairwell.
The orange and tan fuzz ball had to have been a cat!
she thought, laughing out loud. On a whim, Lindsay followed her furry tormentor down the stairs. The dust prints stopped halfway across the entry, due to the mopped lower level, but Lindsay could tell by their direction that the cat had headed to the right, front room. This room too had shabby, threadbare furniture, but had been kept in repair and polish. A cheery fire waved happily on its grate. Purring contentedly on the armchair facing the flames, Tabby sat, one eye cracked, tracking her approach.

“We gave one another quite a fright,” Lindsay soothed gently, leaning over to offer her hand in truce. Tabby Girl sniffed cautiously, then rubbed her muzzle against Linnie’s pale knuckles in greeting. A deep feeling of contentment flooded Lindsay’s belly, as she scooped up her new friend and situated the cat on her lap. Leaning back in the arm chair, Lindsay enjoyed the simultaneous heat of the fire and the kitty, despite the sweat beading at her temples.

Taking a moment to let the cozy calm of the room seep into her bones, Lindsay sighed and sat up determinedly. “Let us seek the room you were haunting, shall we?” Lindsay asked Tabby as she rolled up her sleeves and snuggled the cat into the cradle of her left arm. Climbing the stairs, she turned right into the open doorway to find a room wider than it was tall. The ceilings on this floor were only a bit above her husband’s head, as opposed to the lofted ceilings upstairs. Yet, there was nothing stifling about the space, quite the opposite, in fact. The room was twelve foot square, with built in book shelves lining the walls from floor to ceiling. A round oak table and two rickety chairs were the only furniture. Merely a handful of books sagged on the shelves. The room left her feeling cold and unembodied. Lindsay felt lost in its aching emptiness.

A library without books is like a body without a soul
, she thought morosely. Turning, Lindsay left the room, determined not to return until she had at least a crate of texts to fill the space.

“I hope we can get windows in before the cold weather,” mused Lindsay, as she strolled across the stairway, to the opposite door. The other low-ceilinged room boasted a tiled floor and nothing else. “Billiards,” Lindsay thought. The pool table, along with his books and valuable furniture must have been sold. At the back of the billiards room, a door opened into a tiny dust-coated study. Only a diminutive, decrepit desk and straight-backed chair stood in the small space. Lindsay shut both the study and billiards’ doors before gliding down the steps.

Circling behind the staircase, Lindsay discovered a pair of ten foot tall oak doors. Opening with a tug outwards, they revealed a wood-tiled music room. The intricate pattern of oak and ash swirled inward, beckoning Lindsay to twirl with it. The room was open, tall and breezy. Leaves fluttered up and about the cracks in the boarded up French doors at the far wall, joining the rays of light and dancing to the whistle of the wind. Peering through the slats, Lindsay could see pansies and roses peeking through the bramble of weeds and broken lawn ornaments.
I will make order of the chaos here
, she silently promised the petite blooms.

BOOK: How to Impress a Gentleman
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