Authors: Allie Borne
“Harry! Tommy!” she called, as she entered the shadowed interior of the building.
“Why you’re like to give an old man half a fright,” Harold returned, approaching Lindsay. I thought when you didn’t come this afternoon that you had stood me up, lass.”
“Unfortunately, Harold, I cannot ride with you tonight. Something has come up and I need to speak with Thomas.”
“Alright, I’ll fetch the young man. Tommy!”
Lindsay’s time-proven patsy from her youth climbed down from his perch in the hay loft and approached, cocking his head warily. “What be the trouble, Miss?”
“Oh, Tommy do not look at me as if I were up to no good! It has been at least six months since my scheming has caused trouble for you. Besides, I see that your hair has returned to its naturally light hue. Might we let bygones be bygones? I must speak with you about a pressing matter.”
“I am sorry, Miss,” interjected Harry, “but your grandfather, Sir Stewart has given me clear direction that you are not to speak alone with Thomas anymore. You run rough shod over him, Miss. Since he was a tiny lad, your antics have caused him constant taunting. Ever since you stole his clothes from the creek and went gallivanting about the country side, not that we told the master about that, no Miss! But the servants know. Sir Charles sure read Tommy the riot act over that one, he did.”
Thomas stood straighter and looked expectantly at Lindsay.
“Very well, I will have to say my piece in front of Harry, then, Thomas. I have been feeling much out of sorts with the male sex this evening, and I have decided that I will ride out with Whitney instead of you, Harold. Whitney, it seems is also of a like mind, as a certain someone, who shall remain nameless, has been giving her unwanted advances. I hope to use this ride to calm her nerves, as well as my own.
“It would be most unfortunate if the lady were engaged in any conversation during her approach or leave taking at the stables, as I have promised her that she shall have to listen to no more poppycock. Do I make myself clear, Thomas?”
“Aye, Miss.” Tommy hesitated as he looked back at Harry, but continued. “Please, Miss, can you tell Whitney, I meant nothing by it. I only grabbed her hand is all, wanting her to stay and listen to what I had to say. I want to marry her, Miss. She is a right bonny lass, and clever. I know she is above me, having a better position and all, I just thought, it couldn’t hurt to try. She has her heart set on that James, the Mrs. Penchant’s butler. I know it, Miss, but I couldn’t help but hope she’d take me when she saw she couldn’t have the likes o’ him.”
“Thomas, you are a fine man, with a giving heart. You have never let a lady down, even at your own peril. You deserve a lass who will love you first and only. Don’t settle for being second best. I swear I never shall!”
“I know that is true, Miss,” Harry interjected, “but, not all of us have the gall to risk having nothing, in the hope of gaining everything our heart desires.”
“For me, it is everything, or nothing. I cannot bear a sliver of happiness. To be shown the wonder of love but have to look at it from the doorway, to not be welcomed in, it can destroy a person, Harry.”
“Aye, Miss. But who is it that does the welcoming, then? Someone must take the risk, it seems to me.”
“Someone stronger than me, I suppose, dear Harold. Now, I must be off, I see Whitney coming down the path and she’ll want to mount at the fence, no doubt. Don’t expect us back anytime soon. We plan to ride along the periphery of the farm lands. I promised Whitney we would see the new calves.”
“Your father will have my head if he knows I am allowing you out without a male escort. Allow me to follow you, at a decent distance, Miss. I’ll not listen in on your women’s talk, I assure you.”
“No, Harry. Much as I adore you, I cannot abide another male breathing down my neck for one more instant. I will snap, I tell you!”
“Then be careful, Miss. If you are not back by dark, I’ll be out to the cow pasture to check on ya’.”
“Thank you, Harry, we shall be most careful.”
"It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend."
~ William Blake, 18th Century Poet
Charles was disappointed, but not surprised, when Lindsay did not make an appearance at dinner. Her embarrassment and angst was to be expected. Lindsay had a tendency to pout when she did not get her way. This afternoon, Charles recalled, smiling, had most certainly gone
After dinner, Lady Elizabeth Beaumont wasted no time excusing herself and the other women, so that Sir Richard might withdraw with Charles to the study. When Sir Stuart stood to join them, Charles looked at Aiden, who also rose to join the ensemble.
The four gentleman made there way into the small study and stood, facing one another. Sir Richard moved behind his desk but did not take his seat. “How is it that, after four years, you are back at the first opportunity for more punishment? Did I not make myself clear the first time ‘round? My daughter is not for the likes of you.”
Charles took two strides toward Sir Richard before Aiden caught his arm, holding him back. “You are an evil, sadistic man, Beaumont. You have your wife committed and then have me impressed into the navy to cover up your misdoings. Well, your wife may not have survived your maltreatment, but, unlucky for you, I have.
“This time,” Charles raised his voice as he warmed to his subject, “there are witnesses and you will act as I demand, or suffer the consequences. Lindsay and her dowry are mine. I claim them by rights of a man wronged by you these four years hence, and by the evidence of her own willingness to accept my attentions.”
“I do not concede. You have taken advantage of my daughter’s trust in you not once, but twice now, and I will not reward your villainous behavior by handing her over to your mishandling.”
“How have I ever wronged your daughter? I told you afore and I tell you again, Sir Richard, that I have never before today laid a lustful hand upon your daughter.”
“You told me no such thing. You admitted your impropriety when last we met.”
“I admitted only the impropriety of meeting with her at night, without a chaperone. That impropriety was of a necessity, seeing as how you had planned to ship her mother off to the sanitarium the very next day! She came only to beg for my assistance, which I offered by coming to speak with you on Lindsay’s behalf.”
“I was rewarded by being knocked out and deposited at the nearest navy vessel. You owe me four years of my life back. You will pay recompense by giving me Lindsay, and two thousand pounds.”
“What? Why that’s highway robbery! I had planned to settle half that much and be gracious in doing so.”
“Two thousand pounds or I go to the London newspapers and tell them what you did to me and to your wife.”
“You press your luck, Charles,” Sir Richard ground out, his hands shaking in impotent rage. “I had every right as a husband and a father to act in the best interest of my family. You have no right to make private affairs public.”
“Then we are agreed. I will wed Lindsay in three weeks time, once the banns have been read and the money transferred.”
“And what guarantee have I that you will not then share your tale with others?”
“You have my word of honor. I, for one, have not sacrificed mine for political success and convenience.”
“And I have not achieved my success by leaving my circumstances to chance. Let me warn you, Sir Charles, that I make it my business to know many unsightly things about as many of the gentry as possible. This trait has served me well. It just so happens that I have evidence you are not your father’s get, and therefore, not the true heir and Baronet.”
“Lies!” Charles bellowed, stepping forward and punching Sir Richard with a right hook to the jaw.”
Sir Richard swayed, then rallied, pulling his handkerchief from his vest pocket and dabbing at his bleeding nose. “Tis true enough. Your mother was betrothed to a Mister Randolph, a wealthy wine merchant and friend of mine. He personally regaled me with stories of your mother’s talents in the bedroom. Unfortunately for her, the man died two weeks before the wedding date. Seeing as how she had anticipated the nuptials, she was forced to marry quickly, and to a far less prosperous man of genteel but lesser means.”
“You were born just seven months later. Check my story if you do not believe me. Others will, I warrant. Especially those that stand to benefit from inheriting your title.”
“I will marry your daughter, whether you blacken my name or not. Lindsay and the dowry are mine.”
“I will concede them to you, with the clear warning that even a hint of scandal from your godforsaken corner of the country and I will personally request an inquisition into the legitimacy of your birthright.”
Charles was stunned. Sir Richard seemed to be in ernest. “That includes,” Sir Richard smiled devilishly, “telling Lindsay about what has transpired between us.”
Charles sputtered. “You expect me to wed Lindsay, without telling her that I did not leave of my own accord; that I did not betray her for my own personal gain?”
“That is precisely what I expect. It would really be ungentlemanly of you to portray her father in a bad light, when I only acted in her best interest. How was she to make an advantageous match with you and her mother hovering on the periphery, compromising her reputation?”
“With her looks and sophistication, she could have easily married above her station, to a man active in the House of Lords.”
“That is what this all boils down to? Your political aspirations?! You sicken me! Sir Stuart, have your man of business draw up the contract immediately. I will have this signed and done with within the hour, and forget reading the banns. I want Lindsay out of this house tonight. Lindsay and I will be married immediately, by special license. I procured one the moment I learned of my new title and will now put it to good use.”
“Sir Charles, please do not be so hasty. While my son’s acts have been misguided, my wife and I have given Lindsay nothing but our love and protection. Do not pull her so suddenly from the only home she has ever known-”
“This house has never been a home to Lindsay. You have sheltered her and provided for her physical needs only. Now that I have shown my hand, I do not trust Sir Richard to honor his end of the bargain. Have a preacher here in the morning to wed us, or I will arrange for us to elope.”
“Very well,” Sir Stuart conceded, grudgingly, while Sir Richard glowered. Yanking the bell pull, Sir Stuart instructed the butler to send for the steward. An hour of mostly stony silence, interrupted by Charles’ intermittent dictation of the marriage contract. The pact signed and sanded, each party received a copy and Charles readily quitted the room.
Aiden followed, grabbing Charles’ arm. “So that is it? Do you return to your grandparents estate, tonight?”
“I must, if only to gather my things and get ready to bring Lindsay to my estate in Derbyshire.”
“Then, might I not offer to sit watch outside of Lindsay’s room, to insure that her father does not try to secret her off in the middle of the night? He seems right against this marriage, Charles.”
Charles nodded, accepting. “I would be most grateful.”
“It is the least I can do, after your help with Charlotte.”
“I bid you goodnight, then, Aiden.”
~ ~ ~
Charles had not so much as loosened his collar in his grandparent’s guest room before the butler, Duncan, came knocking. “Beggin’ your pardon, Sir Charles, but you have a most insistent messenger from the Beaumont estate. It seems a Mr. Brown needs to speak with you on a personal matter.”
Charles did not have to think twice before he was grabbing his jacket and heading for the door. “Could you see to packing my saddle bag, Duncan? I have a strong suspicion I will be heading out tonight.”
Not waiting for the older man’s nod, Charles rushed down the stairs and strode toward Harold Brown, pacing in the foyer, hat in hand. “I’m that sorry to be disturbin’ ya’, Sir, at this hour, but ye did say I was to come to ya’ if ever Miss Beaumont got it into ‘er head to be ridin’ out on her own and I know it’s been years since ye been keepin’ tabs on the lass, but with the impending nuptials and all...it just seemed the best thing-”
“Spit it out, Harold. What’s she gone and done this time?”
“I’m not one to be be sayin’ if she’s gone and done nothing, Sir, it just struck me as peculiar, is all, her wantin’ to head out right in the midst of dinner, and with not more escort than a lady’s maid, like she was goin’ for an afternoon stroll. Said she was to see the new calves...I rode out to check on her when it grew dark and I found her no where along the path she said she’d travel. It’s past dark now, how’s she to see a thing at this hour?”
“Which way was she heading?”
“Due north, when she headed out...course she could ‘ave doubled back ‘round to throw us off her trail.”
“And yer sure she is not returned, tucked in her bed, asleep?”
“Horses and all?” Harold snorted, “I doubt it.”
“I will check before I head out, nonetheless.”
Harold escorted Charles up the servant’s stairway and left him to explain himself to Aiden. “Lindsay is gone. I must get into that room and speak with her sister. I’ll wager Leah knows where Lindsay has flown.”
No light shown from under the door, so rather than scratching, Charles pulled out the lock pick kit he had acquired during his grammar school days and opened the door. Lighting a lamp, to avoid startling Leah, he waited for her to come awake.
“W-what?” Leah queried, confused and half asleep.
“Where is Lindsay?” Charles demanded, wasting no time on explanations. Ice sliced through his heart as he contemplated her meeting up with a lover.
“Where did she go?” He hissed in a stage whisper. “Your sister!?”
Glancing to the right, Leah slowly came fully awake. She patted the pillows she’d taken to be her sister, following the length up to the head board, where she found a note. Lifting it, she had not even time to open it before Charles snatched it from her hand. Tearing it open, he read it frantically:
Please do no raise the alarm. Please read this note in its entirety and consider my wishes when you act.
I have left with Whitney. We have taken two horses (Doc and Gus). I will return Gus but Doc stays with me. Whitney and I have decided to impose upon Great Aunt Bessie’s hospitality. She is now just eight months widowed and I feel certain she would appreciate my companionship. I know I promised to establish a good reputation for our family but trust me when I say that I will be unable to do so by marrying Charles. This is, therefore, the only recourse.
Do not set out to dissuade me, for I am certain of the rightness of my actions. You will be a very sought after wife, with the inheritance of our home as your asset. Please do no tell anyone I have left. Simply go down to breakfast and claim I have stayed in my room with a megrim. I would like to have made it to Aunt Bessie’s before anyone is sent in pursuit.
Best wishes and all of my love,
Anger roiled and bubbled up, meeting the ice around Charles’ heart. “That flighty little chit!” he ground out through clenched teeth as he crushed the letter in his fist. “Leah! Quickly, pen your sister a note, explaining how you need her to marry to preserve your good name. Explain how people will whisper she’s been carted off for mental reasons, when they hear she’s been sent to the home of a relation. Beg her to return- and be quick about it.”
Startled out of shock, Leah grabbed the robe Charles offered and wrapped it about her as she headed for the desk and foolscap. “I’ll need a sheet for myself, as well.” Each stood diagonal to the desk, sharing the same ink well, as they wrote furiously. Leah sanded both notes, rapidly swirling it about the pages, then pouring the sand back into the box before touching the ink to insure it was properly dried. Growing antsy, Charles whispered hushed instructions. “Do not raise the alarm. When it is discovered that she has left with Whitney, let it be known that she has eloped with me.”
Leah nodded, but stayed Charles’ arm before he could grab the letters. “You will be good to her, won’t you, Charles?” Leah asked, tears in her eyes. “You both were always fast friends before you left. You do have her best interest at heart, do you not?”
“Always, Leah,” Charles assured her. “Lindsay may be put out with me at the moment but she will come around. She always does.”
Leah offered him a wobbly grin and pressed the letters into his hands. “Then, God Speed, Charlie. Bring my sister home, safe.”
“Good bye, Leah. Do not hesitate to send word, should you need anything...I do not like the idea of leaving you here, alone.”
“Twill be fine, Charles. My father may be harsh, but never a threat to those that heed his wishes. Besides, my grandparents do a fine job seeing to our welfare. Now, go.”
Charles slunk out the door, closing it quietly.
“Aiden, will you ride next door, to my grandparents’ estate, and tell Duncan to ready two horses, one with four night rolls, two tents, food and cooking implements?”
“Of course,” said Aiden, rushing off.
Charles sneaked back down the servant’s stairs and around to the stables. Harry met him in the yard, awaiting further instruction. “Harry, can you spare Thomas? I believe I know where to locate Lindsay, but would appreciate some assistance.”
“And what will ye do with Miss Lindsay when ye find her, Sir?”
“I intend to take her to Bakersfield. It is about eight miles north of Mrs. Penchant’s home. I know the pastor there. He’ll marry us with the special license and a promise of a donation.”
Just then, the sky opened up, pouring down buckets of rain and shaking the stables with angry thunder. Thomas trotted Midnight within the cover of the out building and pulled on his over coat.
A cold foreboding goaded Charles’ haste and they were off again before dawn. According to Thomas, the trip typically took him just over an hour at a canter. Harry had explained to Charles that the two women had left at just after seven. They should have made it to Mrs. Penchant’s home before the storm hit. Chances were, they had arrived at the Aunt’s home and were safely tucked into bed. As Charles raced along the dark and muddied roadway, he desperately hoped that this was the case.