Read The Earl Next Door Online
Authors: Amanda Grange
The Earl Next Door
© Amanda Grange 2001, 2012
The moral right of the author has been asserted
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission in writing of the publisher. Nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters and incidents are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any real person or incident is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.
First published in hardback by Robert Hale Ltd. 2001 under the title of Anything But A Gentleman
Table of Contents
‘A new tenant?’ Marianne Travis, seated on her beautiful grey mare, looked out from her vantage point on Seaton Hill, across the neighbouring Billingsdale estate. It was the February of 1793, and the Billingsdale estate had been without a settled master for over a year. ‘Good. Then something will be done about the mantraps.’
‘I shouldn’t go counting on it, miss.’ Tom Gunther, groom to the Travis family for fifty years, spoke in his customary slow way. ‘The gennulman might not want to take an interest in the estate. He might want to leave it all to the manager.’
‘Do you know who he is, Tom? The gentleman?’
‘Lord Ravensford, Miss Marianne, if what they say in the village is true.’
‘It usually is,’ said Marianne with a smile.
‘Yes, miss. It is at that.’
‘It will be better, in a way, having Lord Ravensford as a neighbour,' said Marianne. 'Better than the Billingsdales. Mr Billingsdale has lived in
for so long that he has lost all interest in his estate. When I wrote to him and told him that his manager had laid mantraps in the woods he simply wrote back saying he had every confidence in the man. But if Lord Ravensford is the new tenant, then perhaps I may be able to persuade him to have the traps removed.'
Tom nodded. 'Terrible cruel, those traps are,' he said.
A chill breeze blew suddenly across the snow-covered hill and Marianne shivered. ‘It’s cold. We should be heading for home.’
She suited her actions to her words and turned her horse's head. Tom, wheeling his mount, followed her down the hill, northwards, towards Seaton Hall.
She’s a credit to my teaching, he thought ruminatively as they made their way along the border between Travis and Billingsdale land. And indeed Marianne did cut a graceful figure as she rode side-saddle on the back of her grey mare. A beaver hat was perched on her glossy black ringlets, which fell halfway down her back. A dark blue riding habit, with its white silk lapel
à la Minerve
, set off her trim figure, and Moroccan leather boots, blue to match her habit, encased her neatly-turned ankles.
Just as they reached the bottom of the hill, however, Marianne came to a halt.
‘Is anything wrong?’ asked Tom as he stopped behind her.
‘I thought I heard something.’
Tom, a little hard of hearing, had heard nothing.
‘There it is again. A cry.’
This time Tom heard it, too. A human wail. A human in great pain.
‘The mantraps!’ Marianne looked at Tom in dismay. ‘Someone’s been caught!’
She wheeled her horse and set off at a gallop. Tom rode after her. She jumped the stream that separated the two estates and galloped on, across the white fields and into the woodland, where she was forced to pick her way more carefully. The stark branches of the trees caught at her habit and she had to duck in order not to lose her hat.
‘I reckon it was from over there,’ said Tom, drawing level with her as she paused, unsure which way to go. He nodded north-eastwards.
The cry came again. Turning her mare’s head slightly she rode slowly between the bare trees until at last she caught sight of a man writhing on the ground.
‘Don’t you go any further, miss,’ said Tom, slipping off his horse. ‘It won’t be a pretty sight.’
‘You’ll need help,’ said Marianne, dismounting. Despite the lack of a block she accomplished the movement with a minimum of fuss, and steeled herself for what she knew she would find.
Since Mr Billingsdale's estate manager had taken to trapping the woods it was not the first time she had found a poacher caught in one of the cruel traps. When the winter was hard, many of the villagers had no choice but to catch a rabbit or two in order to stay alive. Even so, she could not prevent a shudder as she approached the man.
Tom was already beside him, examining the vicious trap.
‘You’ll have to pull it open, whilst I help him to free his leg,’ Marianne said. ‘Thank goodness the trap’s an old one. The jaws are bent. With any luck it will not have broken his leg.’
Marianne turned to the stranger, whose face was contorted with pain. ‘We’re here to help,’ she reassured him.
He was a short, stocky man and appeared to be about fifty years of age. His head was balding and he had a dark moustache. Despite his agony, he was trying desperately to free himself.
Marianne and Tom applied themselves to the difficult business of helping him, and at last he was freed; but at a price. The savage jaws of the trap had badly damaged his leg, and blood ran down his calf.
‘Easy now,’ said Tom, as he helped the man to rise.
The man gave a sharp intake of breath as he tried to put his injured foot to the ground. ‘Ah!’ He gasped, as beads of sweat stood out on his forehead.
‘Who are you? Where are you from?’ asked Marianne, but he was almost unconscious with pain and could not reply. ‘Do you know him, Tom?’ she asked, turning to her groom.
‘No, miss. He’s not local, that’s for sure.’
‘Local or not, he needs a doctor, and as we don’t know where he’s from we had better take him back to the Hall.’ She looked northwards to where the roof of Seaton Hall could just be seen. ‘He can’t walk. Somehow we have to get him onto your horse.’
Tom nodded. It would be a difficult business. But difficult though it was, it must be done.
‘First thing tomorrow morning I intend to call on Lord Ravensford,’ said Marianne, as the feat was at last accomplished. ‘We will set out at
, Tom. And I will see what I can do about putting a stop to this terrible business, once and for all.’
‘Oh, no, you don’t, Miss Marianne,’ declared Trudie in outraged terms later that afternoon when Marianne revealed her intention of speaking to Lord Ravensford on the following morning. ‘Going to call on a gentleman, and you an unmarried young lady? Your mother would turn in her grave!’
Marianne gave a tired smile as she sank down onto the
in the pretty sitting-room, back at the Hall.
She could not be angry with Trudie, although she would not have allowed such familiarity from anyone else. Trudie had always been much more than a housekeeper in the Travis household, she had been a valued and trusted friend. Ever since Marianne’s mother had died she had looked after the little girl, providing the motherly attention that Marianne’s father, however loving, had not been able to give her.