Authors: Blair Bancroft
Tags: #romance, #orphan, #regency, #regency england, #romance and love, #romance historical, #nobility, #romance africanamerican literature funny drama fiction love relationships christian inspirational, #romance adult fiction revenge betrayal suspense love aviano carabinieri mafia twins military brats abuse against women
by Blair Bancroft
Published by Kone Enterprises
Copyright 2011 by Grace Ann Kone
For other books by Blair Bancroft,
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~ * ~
Wiltshire, February 1809
She did not think of herself as a child, for
she was all of twelve. And the last four months had been harsh and
bitter, aging her from credulous schoolgirl to shrewd, calculating
survivor. But tonight, caught in the early dark of winter, with
snow beginning to fall, she feared the end was near. Exhausted,
hungry, and ever so cold, she could do little more than put one
foot before the other and pray for a light, any glimmer that might
signal a cottage, a farm, a wayside inn. A hovel or barn would
Her half-boots were worn through from
walking. She could feel the freezing dampness seeping through to
her equally worn woolen stockings. Her stomach growled. She
shivered and clamped her teeth together to keep them from
chattering. Then opened her mouth again to catch a snowflake on her
tongue, licking it greedily, for her throat was parched and her
lips dry from walking, walking, walking, searching for a kind face,
a slice of bread, a few moment’s warmth by a kitchen fire.
She must have taken a wrong fork after being
shooed out of the last village, for the road had dwindled to little
more than a cart track and, now, to a mere footpath. She trudged
on. If she’d had a tear left in her, now would have been the time
to shed it. But she’d cried them out—for the parents she wished she
might have known, for the grandmother she barely remembered, and
for her beloved grandfather who was all that was good and kind and
true. She’d cried for being sent to unwelcoming strangers. For
venomous words. For bruises that turned her fair skin every shade
of blue, black, purple and, later, green.
What was cold and hunger compared to what she
Yet somehow the freedom to die on a lonely
road to nowhere was not such a fine freedom after all.
The girl gasped, rocked to an abrupt halt,
her once fine cloak swirling around her. Too frightened to move,
she pulled the cloak tight about her shoulders and simply stared.
She seemed to have reached the top of one of the many low rolling
hills in the area, for below her was spread out the wondrous glow
of a tidy estate, an impressively large house and stables. Perhaps
a party was in progress, for the house was ablaze with lights and
torches lined the carriageway.
Her knees buckled. Clenching her fists, even
as she offered a swift prayer of thanks, the girl who had given up
childhood, vowed that this time things would be different. Below
her was not only shelter, but home. She would make it so.
~ * ~
Mad as a hatter, the master,” Cook
declared. “Goin’ off to fight the Frenchies when he could stay snug
as a bug right here. Don’t need money nor glory, not him. Got all a
man needs right ’ere at Farr Park.”
Indeed—if he feels so strong about
king and country, he could buy a commission for some local lad
without a feather to fly with,” declared Humphrey Mapes, butler to
Mr. Damon Farr. “Or get up his own militia. Many of the toffs are
doing that, I hear.”
Shame to you both!” cried Millicent
Tyner, Mr. Farr’s housekeeper. “The Frenchies came that close to
wiping out our army at Corunna, and you expect a lad of his courage
to stay at home and read of the war with his morning
But his uncle, the nabob, left him all
that money,” wailed Betty Huggins, the Cook. “Why should he go and
get himself killed?”
Because he’s two and twenty, too young
for sense,” Mapes grumbled.
Courageous,” said Mrs. Tyner
Foolish,” Cook sniffed.
Did you hear something?” Mapes
A scratching,” the housekeeper agreed,
“but couldn’t be someone at the door on a night like this. Perhaps
it’s time to put out poison for the mice again.”
There!” said Cook. “‘Twas the door,
All three stared at the rear kitchen door as
if they expected a ghost to walk through. No one would be foolish
enough to be out on a night like this.
A groom sent to fetch a pint or two to
warm their gullets at the stables,” Mapes pronounced, and all three
faces of Mr. Damon Farr’s primary staff smoothed with relief at
this reasonable explanation. The butler strode to the door with his
usual confident step, unbarred it, and inched it open. Snow swirled
in, instantly melting on flagstones warmed by the kitchen’s great
Merciful heavens,” said
Humphrey Mapes stared, even as he opened the
door wide enough to accommodate the slim width of the child
Not a mouse,” declared Mrs. Tyner,
“but she surely looks like something the cat dragged
She also looked wet, cold, hungry, utterly
exhausted, and very young. Not even the hardest heart could have
turned the girl away on a dark night in the midst of a snowstorm.
So, while Mr. Damon Farr enjoyed the company of a few friends
chosen to join him in a last riotous evening before he left for a
commission in the cavalry, a lost child gobbled food below stairs.
Her fingers might shake, her teeth might continue to chatter, but
her determination was hardening into Damascus steel. She had
finally found good kind people. Here she would stay. Somehow.
Well, child,” said Mrs. Tyner, when
the lost waif’s plate was polished clean and not a drop of milk was
left in her mug, “what’s your name, and how came you to be out
alone on a night such as this?”
The girl raised a pair of stunningly lovely,
long-lashed green eyes to the housekeeper, who was standing over
her, black bombazine gown bristling with the authority of her
office. The eyes widened, the child’s entire body radiated
Well?” Mrs. Tyner snapped. “Cat got
Solemnly, the girl nodded.
Mapes and Mrs. Tyner exchanged an incredulous
look. Cook shook her head.
You can’t talk?” the butler demanded,
none too gently. Again, the child nodded.
Everyone knows mutes don’t hear
either,” said Mrs. Tyner, “yet you—”
Are you reading lips, girl?” Mapes
The waif shook her head.
So you can hear me?” At an affirmative
nod, the butler forgot himself enough to whistle through his teeth.
“Well, what’s to be done with you I’m sure I don’t know.” He looked
at the two women and shrugged.
Ain’t you the one, Mr. Mapes,” chided
Betty, the Cook. “Think we’re goin’ to solve your problem for
With the master going off to war, we
don’t need extra help,” Mrs. Tyner mused. “She can find a warm
corner for the night, but in the morning she’ll have to be on her
way. Oh, for goodness sake, don’t shake your head, child. What else
am I to do with you? Stop that! You’ll shake yourself to
But the child had dropped to her knees,
clutching the housekeeper’s stiff gown as if she would never let
go. And all the time her head kept shaking.
No, no, no, no, no!
Good God,” Mapes muttered. “Stop that
at once!” He sighed. The child went still as a statue, still
clinging to Mrs. Tyner’s bombazine skirt. “Do you have any skills,
girl? Do you know how to serve in a gentleman’s
Slowly, with effort, the girl pushed herself
to her feet. The green eyes took on shadowed depths. Her lower lip
thrust slightly forward. She gave a sharp, decisive nod.
Mapes glared at the girl who stood before
him. A waif, a ragamuffin . . . yet her clothing had once been
quality. Her eyes pleaded, even as they shot defiance. Proud as a
peacock, she was. No second parlor maid, this one. With the
Frenchies causing trouble again, few houses were hiring staff. If
Farr Park turned her out, it was the workhouse. Or worse. Mapes
took another look at those eyes, rich as emeralds, proud as
Lucifer. No . . . as yet he judged her an innocent. A bud not yet
plucked by the raw cruelties that could befall a lost child.
Mapes pursed his lips, heaved a resigned
sigh. There were, after all, limits to how hard-hearted even a
butler could be. Looking down his nose at the bedraggled but
defiant child, he announced, “In the morning I will discuss the
matter with the master.”
With almost regal bearing, the girl inclined
her head in a nod of gracious acceptance. Almost, by God, Mapes
thought, almost as if she were granting Farr Park the privilege of
She’d been so desperate she’d gone on her knees. To a housekeeper!
Let her eyes beg favor of a butler.
found shelter, a possible home—yet after all she had suffered,
pride still rankled, threatening her safety. When would she learn
she had lost all claim to rank and privilege when she had run from
the shelter provided for her? When would she learn to be humble, to
fit into the world below stairs?
Now. Now was the
Her wandering days were done.
Meekly, with a smile of unfeigned gratitude,
the girl allowed herself to be led away to the attics. Warm and dry
and tucked up in a voluminous cotton nightdress, she settled into a
warm featherbed and bid pride goodbye. Whatever it took, she would
stay in this place. The unknown Mr. Farr must have a kind heart.
She willed it so.
Surely that wasn’t asking too much.
But before she could dwell on her morning
encounter with Mr. Farr, the child—safe, warm, and belly full—fell
Damon Farr charged down the massive staircase
at Farr Park, then instantly regretted it. Half-way along, he
staggered, clutching the banister for support before proceeding at
a far more decorous pace. He should never have had a party the
night before his departure. A full day to recover would have been
eminently sensible, but what his friends called his mad idea had
come on so suddenly there had been no time for proper planning. The
nightmare of Corunna had reverberated across the country. Half
Britain’s army lost, the rest escaped by the skin of their teeth,
thanks to evacuation by one of the greatest armadas since the
Spaniards tried to conquer good Queen Bess.
Of course he had to go. Britain’s honor
was at stake. The army had to return to the Peninsula, and he was
going to be one of them. But if he was to go off to war, he’d have
to develop a harder head.
, but it was going to be a nasty carriage ride to
With considerable relief, Mr. Farr
stepped down onto the marble tiles of his entry hall, leaving the
jarring demands of the staircase behind.
Feet. Legs. Livery. Skirts
. He forced himself to
look up, struggled to summon a smile. Of course his staff was
waiting to say goodbye. He stood stiffly before them, not daring to
nod, resigned, and vaguely pleased, that Mapes was undoubtedly
about to launch into a formal farewell.
Instead, the butler cleared his throat and
said, “Before you go, Mr. Farr, there’s a matter needs to be set to
rights.” He reached behind him, hauling forward a child Damon Farr
had never seen before. A girl child, dressed in a brown horror of a
gown obviously made for someone else. A child who held her
disheveled blond head high and whose eyes stared straight back at
him, equal to equal.