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Authors: Catherine Coulter

The Wyndham Legacy

BOOK: The Wyndham Legacy
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

WYNDHAM LEGACY

 

A
Jove
Book / published by arrangement with the author

 

All rights reserved.

Copyright ©
1994
by
Catherine Coulter

This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.

For information address:

The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

 

The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is
http://www.penguinputnam.com

 

ISBN:
978-1-1012-1419-0

 

A
JOVE
BOOK®

Jove
Books first published by The Jove Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

Jove
and the “
J
” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.

 

Electronic edition: May, 2002

Titles by Catherine Coulter

 

THE EDGE
THE COVE
THE MAZE
THE TARGET
BEYOND EDEN
IMPULSE
FALSE PRETENSES
THE COURTSHIP
MAD JACK
ROSEHAVEN
THE WILD BARON
THE WYNDHAM LEGACY
THE NIGHTINGALE LEGACY
THE VALENTINE LEGACY
LORD OF HAWKFELL ISLAND
LORD OF RAVEN'S PEAK
LORD OF FALCON RIDGE
THE SHERBROOKE BRIDE
THE HELLION BRIDE
THE HEIRESS BRIDE

To Karen Evans,

 

A sweetheart of a person and a wonderful friend, who's endowed with inexhaustible supplies of compulsive brain power. You're bright and funny and you deserve all the very best. You've got it all over Len D.

 

Thanks for always being there for me.

 

CC

Prologue

I
N
J
UNE OF
1804 on the second day of her first visit to Chase Park at the age of nine, she overheard one of the upper-floor maids tell the Tweenie that she was a “bastid.”

“A bastid? Go on wit' ye. Ye're not bamming me, Annie? The little nit's a bastid? But everyone said she were a cousin, meybe from 'olland, meybe from Italy.”

“Cousin from 'olland or Italy, me elbow! 'Er mum lives down near Dover—that's as close to them strange places as she gets. 'Is lordship visits 'er ever so often, at least that's wot I 'eard Mrs. Emory tell Cook. Aye, she's 'is lordship's bastid daughter, all right. Jest look at those eyes of 'ers, bluer than the speckles off a robin's egg.”

“The nerve of 'is lordship bringing 'is brat 'ere, right under 'er ladyship's nose.”

“Aye, but that's the way of the Quality. 'Is lordship probably 'as a quiverful of bastids hid about, so wot's one more? But this one's 'ere, so that means she's special. Aye, she's all smiles and sweetness and laughter, jest like she belongs 'ere too. 'Er ladyship will ignore the little twit, ye'll see. I 'eard she'd only be 'ere a fortnight.”

Annie snorted, shifting the now-empty chamber pot from one hip to the other. “ 'Tis more than enough fer the likes of 'er. Jest imagine, bringing yer bastid to Chase.”

“But she's awful pretty the little one be.”

“Aye, but 'is lordship is as beautiful as 'is grandda was—me grandma said 'e were as lovely a gentleman wot ever breathed—so it makes sense that she wouldn't be a prune pit. I'll bet 'er mum ain't no scrub mouse either. Twelve
years I 'eard Mrs. Emory say they were together—just like they was married, only they b'aint, so it's jest awful.”

The upper-floor maid and the Tweenie moved away, still gossiping and twittering behind their hands. She stood there in the shadow of one of the many deep-set niches along the first-floor corridor and wondered what a bastid was. It wasn't good, she knew that much.

The earl of Chase was her father? She shook her head vehemently even as she thought it. No, he was her Uncle James, her real father's elder brother who visited her and her mother every few months to see that they were all right. No, her real father had been killed by the French in February 1797 when French troops landed on British soil. She never tired of hearing her mother tell her how there were nearly two thousand Frenchmen, not really soldiers, but French criminals, all released from gaols and pardoned if they would sail up the Avon and burn Bristol. Then they would go to Liverpool and burn it as well. Ah, her mother would say, but those French criminals landed at Pencaern and there they fought and surrendered to the Pembrokeshire Yeomanry. And her father had led those brave Englishmen who had defeated those wretched French who'd dared come onto British soil. No, her real father was Captain Geoffrey Cochrane and he'd died a hero for England.

Her mother's eyes would always grow soft then, the deep blue glazing just a bit as she would say, “Your Uncle James is a nobleman, my dear, a very powerful man, a man with many responsibilities, but he will take care of us forever. He has his own family so he can't come to us all that often, but it's the way things are and the way they will always be. But don't forget, he loves us both and he won't ever desert us.”

And when she was nine years old, her mother sent her to spend a fortnight with her Uncle James at his magnificent mansion called Chase Park near Darlington in northern Yorkshire. She'd begged her mother to accompany her, but her mother had simply shaken her head, making her
incredible golden curls tremble about her beautiful face, saying, “No, dear, your Uncle James's wife isn't fond of me. You keep away from her, promise me you will. You have cousins there and you will become friends with them. But stay away from Uncle James's wife. Do remember, love, never to speak about yourself. It is a boring thing, don't you think? Much better to keep secrets and be mysterious.”

She had avoided the countess of Chase with little difficulty, for the lady, once she'd seen her, had frozen her with a look of utter contempt, turned, and left the room. Neither she nor any of her cousins joined the earl and his countess in the grand dining room each evening, so avoiding the countess in the evenings never came into it.

Uncle James was different here in this mansion, with all its servants in their immaculate blue and green livery and shining buttons, than he'd been the other times she'd met him. There seemed to be servants everywhere—behind every door and just around every corner, always there, always looking but never speaking. Except for Annie and the Tweenie.

Uncle James was quite attentive at Rosebud Cottage when he came to see her and her mother, but not here at this huge sprawling edifice they called Chase Park. She frowned, wondering why he hadn't even hugged her. But he hadn't. He had called her into his library, a chamber that was nearly as large as her home. Three of its very high walls were covered with bookcases, and there were ladders that stretched upward forever and they moved on rollers around the room. Everything seemed heavy and dark, even the luxurious carpet beneath her feet. When she came in, she had seen nothing but deep shadows, for it was late afternoon and the curtains were nearly drawn. Then she'd seen her uncle and smiled.

“Hello, Uncle James. Thank you for inviting me to stay with you.”

“Hello, my dear child. Come in and I will tell you how you are to go along here.”

She was to call all his children cousin, but, of course, she knew that already, for she was a smart puss, wasn't she? She would take lessons with her cousins, she would watch them and copy their manners and their behavior, all except for her cousin Marcus, her uncle's nephew, who was currently visiting Chase Park. He was the devil's own son, Uncle James told her, and then he'd smiled, an odd smile that seemed at once resentful and proud.

“Yes,” he said again slowly, “the devil's own son, that's what my brother spawned. He's all of fourteen, nearly grown, and thus very dangerous. Don't follow him or your male cousins into mischief. Of course, it is likely that the boys will ignore you for you're just a little girl.”

“I have another uncle?” she'd asked, eyes shining with excitement.

He frowned and waved away her question. “Yes, but you are not to say anything to your cousin Marcus. Just be aware of how people conduct themselves. If they behave well, then you will emulate their behavior. If they don't, close your eyes and turn away. Do you understand?”

She nodded. He came around from behind the huge desk and patted her on her head. “You will be a good girl and I will allow you to visit me here once a year. Never speak of your mother or of me or of yourself. You are to say nothing about anything personal. But your mother told you this, didn't she?”

“Yes, Uncle, she said I was to keep secrets and the better I kept them, the more fun I should have, and you and she would be very proud of me.”

His mouth curved into a smile. “Trust Bess to make it into a game. Heed her and heed me. Go now and get to know your female cousins.” He paused, then added, “They have been told to call you cousin as well.”

“But that is what I am, Uncle James.”

“Well, yes, there is that.”

She understood none of it. But she wasn't stupid and she loved her mother very much. She knew it was important that she be obedient and agreeable and pleasing. She would keep mum about herself. She didn't wish to bore anyone.

That first day, the boys had been civil, then ignored her, but her female cousins, the Twins, as everyone called them, were delighted to meet her.

Everything had seemed beyond glorious until now.

What was a bastid?

 

She didn't ask her Uncle James. She went directly to the person who disliked her—Uncle James's wife.

She knocked on the door to the morning room and heard a crisp, “Come in, come in!”

She stood in the doorway just looking toward the very pregnant lady who was seated on a settee, sewing something white and long and narrow. The countess was not only very pregnant, she was also heavy. She didn't understand how the countess could sew what she was sewing, for her fingers were very fat. Her face wasn't pretty, but perhaps it had been once when she'd been young. She looked nothing like her mama, who was slender and tall and so graceful. No, the countess looked old and tired and now that the countess saw her, she looked mean, and she didn't bother to hide it.

“What do you want?”

At the countess's very cold inquiry, she licked her lips, suddenly dry with foreboding. But she took a step into the room and blurted out, “I heard one of the maids tell another that I was a bastid. I don't know what that is but I could tell from hearing them that it was bad. You don't like me so I thought you would tell me the truth.”

The lady laughed. “Well, it's already out and it's only your second day here. I say, if one wants to know something—anything—just ask the servants, they never fail. Well, child, a bastid is properly called a bastard, and indeed, that's just what you are.”

“A bastard,” she repeated slowly.

“Yes. That means your mother is a whore and is paid by my husband—your so-called Uncle James—to be at his beck and call and you were the result of one of those becks.” And she laughed again, throwing her head back laughing and laughing, and she looked even nastier because her laughter was mean.

“I don't understand, ma'am. What's a whore?”

“It's a female who has no morals. Uncle James is your father, not your damned uncle. But I am his wife and your precious mother is nothing more than a rich man's mistress, a woman he keeps to provide him with . . . well, you won't understand that either, but given your budding looks, I imagine that one day you will quite surpass even your mother. Haven't you wondered why your dear Uncle James is a Wyndham and you are a Cochrane? No, well, it appears you aren't any smarter than your slut of a mother. Now, get out of here. I don't wish to see your face again unless I must.”

She fled, her heart pounding, her belly roiling with fear and nausea.

From that day on, she was very quiet, never speaking unless spoken to, never volunteering a word or a giggle or even a snort when she was with others so that she wouldn't draw attention to herself. It was toward the end of that visit that her cousin Marcus began calling her the Duchess.

Her cousin Antonia, only six years old, frowned up at Marcus and said, “Why, Marcus? She's a little girl just like me and Fanny. We're not anything but Wyndhams and ladies. Why is she a duchess when we aren't?”

Marcus, the devil's own son, looked down at her from his vast height, his expression very serious as he said to Antonia, “Because she doesn't smile and she doesn't laugh and she is aloof and more reserved than she should be for a child her age. Already she dispenses smiles and approving nods as if they were guineas and she only has three of them to last forever. Haven't you noticed how the servants rush to do small services for her? How they melt if she but nods
pleasantly to them? Also,” he added slowly, “someday she will be bloody beautiful.”

She said nothing, merely looked up at him and wanted to cry, but she didn't. She merely pushed her chin up and looked beyond him.

“The Duchess,” he said, tossed her a laugh, and went riding with her two male cousins.

 

She bore her title of the Duchess well, for she had no choice. When she heard someone say she was perhaps too proud, another would say, not at all, she was merely becomingly reserved, allowing for no forwardness, her manners a joy to all those in her company.

When she was at Chase Park in June of 1808 at age thirteen, Marcus was also there. He was down from Oxford, visiting his cousins. When he saw her, he laughed, shook his head, and said, “Hello, Duchess. I hear it is your name now. Has anyone told you that it fits you perfectly?”

He was smiling at her, but she saw it only as a disinterested smile, a smile he gave because he had nothing better to do at the moment than speak to her.

She looked up at him coolly, her chin going up a trifle, and said nothing at all.

He raised a black eyebrow at her, waiting, but she held silent, hating his mocking look as well as his mocking, disinterested voice, until he said at last, “Ah, how very aloof you've become, Duchess, how very haughty. Is it because of my prediction when you were a little girl? Perhaps not. And to go with that, you are well on your way to becoming as beautiful as I knew you would. You are thirteen, I hear. Imagine when you are sixteen or so.” He paused, adding under his breath, “Jesus, I don't believe I want to see you after you've grown up.” He laughed again, patted her shoulder, and strode out of the entrance hall to join Charlie and Mark.

She stood there with her two valises beside her, Mr. Sampson now coming toward her, smiling at her as he
always did, Mrs. Emory at his heels, Mrs. Emory smiling as well, calling out, “Welcome, Miss, welcome!”

And everyone now called her Duchess, even her father, Uncle James, even the Tweenie, who had first unintentionally informed her of her illegitimacy four years before. But everyone also knew she was a bastard. Why were they so nice to her? She would never understand it. She was James Wyndham's bastard and there was no way around it.

BOOK: The Wyndham Legacy
12.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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