A Woman's Estate
Series: Heiress , Book 5
By: Roberta Gellis | Other books by Roberta Gellis
Published By: Ellora's Cave Publishing Inc.
Published: Jul 30, 2009
ISBN # 9781419921315
By: Roberta Gellis | Other books by Roberta Gellis
Published By: Ellora's Cave Publishing Inc.
Published: Jul 30, 2009
ISBN # 9781419921315
Word Count: 164,834
Available in: Epub, HTML, Adobe Acrobat, Mobipocket (.prc)
Categories: Romance>Historical Other
DescriptionBlush: This is a sensual romance (may have explicit love scenes, but not erotic level)
Fifth in the Heiress series.
Abigail Lydden, widow of Francis, Lord Lydden, left America for England in the middle of the war of 1812 because her husband’s father had died and her son was now heir to an earldom. Sir Arthur St. Eyre was also taken by surprise by Lord Lydden’s death, finding himself executor of the earl’s estate. Sir Arthur and Lady Lydden are thrown together and find it an attractive association, which becomes more and more intense when Victor’s and Abigail’s lives are threatened.
But those threats are not the only problems. Sir Arthur is a Member of Parliament and eager for a British victory in America. Although British by birth, Abigail’s sympathies are mainly with “poor little America”, as a victim of Britain’s armed power. The heat of contention only adds to the heat of attraction, but can Sir Arthur allow Abigail the independence she needs—and can he forgive her when he discovers she has committed treason?
Accusation and enlightenment explode family ties, leaving Arthur and Abigail to reorder their lives… if they can.
Reader Rating: Not rated (0 Ratings)
Sensuality Rating: Not rated
Excerpt:An Excerpt From: A WOMAN’S ESTATE
Copyright ROBERTA GELLIS, 1984
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
“The most seemingly tender mothers can turn out to be exceedingly cruel and treacherous creatures,” Sir Arthur St. Eyre said. The plaintive tone of his remark fitted ill with Sir Arthur’s powerful frame, well displayed by a coat and breeches molded to him by the best tailor in London, or with his expression of aristocratic hauteur.
Roger St. Eyre, Sir Arthur’s half uncle, guffawed, and Bertram Lydden, his secretary, tittered delicately behind a fine, scented handkerchief, which he held to his lips. Neither paid any attention to Sir Arthur’s expression, partly because they were accustomed to it, but more because they were aware it was an accidental result of Arthur’s features. A long, narrow face, topped by carefully dressed brown hair over a high forehead, was dominated by a high-bridged, aquiline nose that gave Arthur’s rather heavy-lidded eyes the appearance of staring haughtily down its prominence. Unfortunately, the formation of his upper face added a supercilious tinge to the good-humored upward quirking at the corners of his well-shaped lips.
“You are spoiled,” Roger said, his blue eyes sparkling just as brightly as they had in his youth, although his thinning hair was gray and his face showed the marks of fifty-seven hard years. “You have worked Violet as if she were a dray horse, Arthur. Your mother has a right to a little peace. Between the diplomatic tangles Austria and Russia are making and the damned American war, this last Season was very hard on her.”
“If you ask me,” Arthur replied, “it was Joseph and Irma who wore her out. After all, it wasn’t until she went out to Niche d’Amour—”
He hesitated over the words, Roger wrinkled his nose in distaste, and Bertram shuddered delicately. All the years had not accustomed any of them to the fact that Arthur’s sister-in-law had named her house “Love Nest”.
But the negative reactions were automatic. Roger was so surprised by what Arthur had said, because he knew Arthur to be fond of his younger brother and heir, that he protested, “Oh, come now, Arthur,” before he noticed the lazy fall of the younger man’s eyelids, which betrayed that Arthur knew he was being outrageous.
“Well, wouldn’t it wear you out to be told every five minutes to sit down and rest or to put on a muffler if you were going out—and out for the appalling purpose, no doubt, of inspecting Joseph’s endless array of boars and sows and their squirming litters?”
“No,” Roger answered blandly, giving no sign that he knew he had been caught by Arthur’s teasing. “Pigs are very restful creatures.” However, he said nothing about Irma’s all-too-constant care for every person, young or old, who came within her reach. Irma was the kindest of women, but her unremitting and unquenchable quest to provide safety and comfort for others did tend to rub the nerves.
Bertram giggled again. “But if you find Irma so wearing, Arthur, and Violet persists in her intention of living in Bath, what will you do for a hostess?”
“You could always stop entertaining politically,” Roger suggested quickly. “That would probably be more of a relief to your own party than to mine.”
“Or he could marry,” Bertram offered, flicking the handkerchief and inserting it into his sleeve.
“A man with such kind and sympathetic friends,” Arthur drawled, “might be excused for seeking comfort in the bosom of his enemies. Was there one sprig displayed at the marriage mart this Season whom you would recommend, my dear Bertram?”
“Oh, several,” Bertram replied. “If I had the wherewithal, I’m sure I would marry.” He languidly waved graceful fingers. “But as my tastes tend to luxury and my good sense informs me that love in a cottage soon degenerates to boredom or hatred, I am spared needing to make a decision among the lovely flowerlets.”
“Bah!” Arthur replied. “You know I would murder any girl who threatened to remove you from my employ. Your system of managing my affairs is unique. I would fall into ruin if you left me, because neither I nor anyone else could disentangle it.”
“But there is no need to choose a sprig from the marriage mart,” Roger interrupted mischievously. “There are any number of women somewhat nearer your own advanced years who, for lack of dowry or because of…er…other minor faults—”
“Like a double squint,” Arthur said sardonically.
“Now, now. That would be an unusual case. But if you feel all girls who could not make suitable matches in their first few Seasons have such disabilities, how about a handsome young widow?”
“What? And sleep three to a marriage bed?” Arthur exclaimed. “Not for me! I have no mind to spend my time hearing that I do not measure up to a safely buried—and therefore perfect—mate.”
“I am afraid he is incorrigible,” Bertram said to Roger. “No matter what you say, he will find an adequate reason to avoid taking a wife.”
“That is perfectly true,” Arthur agreed. “No one knows me better than Bertram. And in any case, I invited you here, my dear and devoted uncle, to talk about the country’s affairs, not mine.”
“You started it,” Roger said mildly, “by complaining about Violet.”
“Well, you let it get out of hand,” Arthur rejoined, the plaintive note coming back into his voice. “You were supposed to sympathize briefly and then disclose the information I wanted, feeling that I had been harshly used and needed cheering.”
Roger first closed his eyes, then reopened them and raised them to heaven. “Does it not trouble you at all that we are of opposite political persuasions and that giving you information might smack of disloyalty to more partisan Tories than I?”
“Nonsense,” Arthur said cheerfully. “You’ve just been saying that the Whigs like me less than the Tories—and you have never been a party man. You aren’t even in the government. And you don’t have a seat in the Commons.”
“But I’m one of Liverpool’s friends,” Roger protested, “and much of what he tells me is in confidence.”
“That might be more significant,” Arthur pointed out, “if we had opposing views about the information I want, but you know we do not. I am as eager as anyone in the government to support Wellington and the war in Spain. What’s more, I agree completely that Bonaparte must be removed from power or some method devised to contain and control him.”
“Do you think the latter possible?” Roger asked.
“Frankly, no,” Arthur replied. “Bonaparte is far too clever and completely unscrupulous. You know he will promise anything, then do his best to cause dissension among Russia, Prussia and Austria—no very difficult matter, after all—and as soon as he has gathered strength, attack again.”
Roger sighed. “It won’t need Bonaparte to cause dissension. Russia wants Austria’s Galician territories and whatever Prussia controlled of Poland. To obtain Prussia’s agreement, the tsar offered King Frederick most of Saxony, on the interesting grounds that the king of Saxony had been Bonaparte’s ally—”
“But they’ve all been allies of France at one time or another,” Bertram interrupted.
“Yes, well, I suppose they feel it indelicate to remember that just at this moment.” Arthur’s lips curled with cynical amusement.
“It would certainly be inexpedient,” Roger remarked, smiling, “but I think indelicate is probably just the right word in this case. I have seldom come across a man more eager to deceive himself than Tsar Alexander.”
“Perhaps so, but I don’t think the emperor of Austria would be willing to cooperate in this particular self-deception,” Arthur said.
“Well, no,” Roger agreed, his lips twisting wryly, “although I doubt Emperor Francis himself is the one who has taken notice of it. I understand he prefers making toffee to conducting diplomatic business.”
Bertram flicked his handkerchief out of his sleeve and patted his brow and lips gently. “Oh, so do I,” he murmured.
“Just as well for Austria, probably,” Arthur commented, flashing an amused glance at his secretary, who, for reasons completely obscure to his employer, always pretended he was a fool. “Metternich has ten times the emperor’s brains.”
“Just as well for us too,” Roger commented. “Metternich is not only clever but sensible, and since he isn’t Austrian, his loyalty is never blind, though it’s perfectly firm. However, I don’t believe even Metternich would agree to cede Polish Galicia to Alexander. After all, one can understand that Austria would greatly prefer not to have Russia dominating territories right on her border. It would be much more to Austrian advantage to have a weak, divided state there. What’s more, for years there’s been a tug of war between Prussia and Austria over control of those German statelets between them. If King Frederick gets Saxony, the balance will swing toward Prussian predominance.”
“Obviously, then, pushing France back behind its natural boundaries and leaving Bonaparte in charge is foolish,” Arthur said. “No matter how the cake is divided, no one will be satisfied—and the greater the satisfaction of one, the more indignant and ill at ease the others will be. Ridiculous! Boney will have them at each other’s throats in no time. He must be got rid of completely.”
“Easy enough to say,” Roger sighed, “but who the devil is going to do it? Granted that the army Boney has now is not the quality of the one destroyed in the retreat from Russia and that a good many of his best officers are dead, or minding their own affairs, like Murat and Bernadotte. He still managed to defeat the Russians at Ltzen.”
“That so-called victory must have hurt Bonaparte as much as the defeat hurt the Russians, perhaps even more…” Arthur’s voice rose a little, giving his statement an unfinished, almost challenging tone.
“You do have large, flapping ears, don’t you?” Roger remarked, raising his expressive brows. “Where did you hear that an armistice has been proposed?”
Arthur laughed. “At a tea party, of course.”
“Don’t tell me Leonie or Sabrina let it slip!” Roger exclaimed.
“No, certainly not,” Arthur assured him. “I haven’t seen Leonie, and you can’t believe Sabrina would be indiscreet, even to me. If you want the truth, Lady Jersey just whispered a word into my ear.”
Roger groaned. “If I have warned Liverpool once, I have warned him a hundred times not to tell Prince George anything until he wants it to be common knowledge.”
“He must tell the regent something,” Bertram put in soothingly. “After all, he is officially our monarch, even if he has odd tastes in mistresses, and news of the possibility of an armistice seems harmless.”
“It is harmless,” Roger agreed, but his voice was tart with displeasure. “It’s just an example of the way information, sometimes important information, gets spread around.”
Arthur shrugged, dismissing a problem for which he was certain there was not, and would never be, any solution. “But if Boney agreed to an armistice, he must have been hurt. I think if Wellington can bring off a victory in Spain, Austria will declare war against Boney, too.”
“Very likely,” Roger said, amusement replacing his pique, “but even so, to get back to our original point, I have strong doubts that there will be any demand that Bonaparte give up his throne. Don’t forget that he is married to Emperor Francis’ daughter, so Francis is not going to agree easily to Bonaparte’s deposition. And while Alexander likes to think of himself as the ‘savior of Europe’, he really prefers the French to us. In fact, I believe the tsar is half convinced of the truth of Boney’s claim that it is English ‘inveterate hatred’ that has driven him to wars of conquest. Frederick William will, of course, be too cautious to agree to deposition, in case Boney should somehow return to power and hold it against him.”
“Then it will be up to us to insist,” Arthur said firmly. “I shall raise a Question in Parliament on the subject—and it will also serve the purpose of showing that every support must be given Wellington in Spain.”
“There is the little problem of the American war,” Roger remarked dryly. “However inept the Americans are, there must be some troops to oppose them, or they will overrun Canada.”
“It would be much more sensible to make peace with the United States,” Arthur said aggressively. He knew that the sentiment he had voiced was not popular. By and large the public and the majority in the House of Commons were vociferously demanding that America be beaten to its knees for daring to protest measures the British believed necessary for their national security. “Never have I heard of such a stupid war. It is totally purposeless, nothing but a minor nuisance—”
“I quite agree,” Roger interrupted, laughing, “but we did not start it, and we must protect Canada. It is no fault of ours that the United States declared war two days before the arrival of the ship carrying the news that their principal cause of complaint had been removed.”
“That may be true,” Arthur conceded, “but it is no reason to refuse to negotiate now. To send more troops to Canada is ridiculous. They are far more urgently needed in Spain or Europe. If that stupid business in America were settled, perhaps we might even have a division or two to add to the Prussian-Russian coalition—”
“You are being carried away.” There was reproof in Roger’s voice. “I do not really think you would like to hand over British troops to a Prussian or Russian general to use as he pleases. And to send troops with officers empowered to refuse to carry out the orders of the overall commander would only increase the conviction that England will not fight.”
“What the devil do they think we are doing in Spain and Portugal?” Arthur demanded loudly.
“Dear Arthur.” Bertram’s light voice somehow managed to cut across his employer’s rising excitement. “You know perfectly well that Russia and Prussia are indifferent to what happens to Spain and Portugal. There is no sense shouting at Roger about it.”
Roger laughed again. “I’m not likely to take offense, Bertram. Arthur’s been shouting at me since he was three and discovered injustice.” He rose, walked over to his nephew, who had also risen and gripped his arm affectionately. “You have the information you wanted, and I really must get home in time for dinner. Ask your Question in Commons about getting the government to push for deposing Bonaparte. You will only get a lecture on the politics of the possible. On the other hand, if you can inject some of your common sense into the argument about the American war, you won’t get any violent opposition from Liverpool or Castlereagh.”
“Now that is interesting, more interesting in its way than news of the armistice,” Arthur began, tightening the equally affectionate grip he had taken in response to his uncle’s gesture and detaining him.
But Roger interrupted him. “Oh, no,” he said, laughing. “That is all you will get from me on that subject. I meant just what I said, no more—Liverpool and Castlereagh will not oppose a peace with America if it can be accomplished without political damage. And speaking of damage—have you heard from Francis Lydden?”
“Not a word,” Arthur replied, his face suddenly taking on a worried expression quite foreign to it.
“You should not have allowed Lord Lydden to name you as one of his executors,” Bertram put in, his voice sharper than usual. Bertram was Francis’ cousin, the son of Lord Lydden’s younger brother.
“Probably not,” Arthur admitted, “but he was so very weak. He couldn’t, catch his breath, and he begged me with tears running down his face to do what was in my power to keep Francis from ruining himself and everyone else.”
“You could not have refused him,” Roger agreed sympathetically. “I could not have done so myself, but it is a thankless task you have taken on—and, I am afraid, a hopeless one. You must not blame yourself, Arthur, if you cannot control Francis’ self-destructive propensities.”
“I think I would have refused, though,” Arthur said, sounding exasperated, “except that I had been told he was on the mend, and I hoped he would recover. Unfortunately, a second seizure carried him off before I could see him again and convince him that I was the last person to whom Francis would attend. That was an odd thing, that second seizure. I spoke to his physician because I was annoyed at not having been warned, and he said it took him equally by surprise. The day before, when he saw Lydden, he was ready to declare him out of danger.”
“One can never predict that kind of seizure,” Bertram said, shrugging.
“That’s true enough,” Roger agreed. “But why would you say you are the last person to whom Francis would attend? I know you two had drifted apart, but I didn’t think it was anything more than a divergence of interests when you went into politics. Had you quarreled with Francis?”
Arthur laughed wryly. “Again and again, but that meant nothing. You know Francis never held a grudge. He was sweet tempered, even if he was bone selfish. No, unfortunately Francis knew I disapproved of his father’s refusal to pay his debts—”
“What else could Lydden do?” Roger interrupted. “I know he had paid in the past. It had been going on for years. Francis would have ruined him.”
“You didn’t let me finish,” Arthur complained. “I wanted Lydden to pay the tradesmen, not the gambling debts. I thought, you see, that the clubs would expel Francis if he was known not to pay his debts of honor, and that would put a stop to his gambling.” He shrugged. “You needn’t tell me it was foolish. It was a long time ago. I was young. And I never could resist Francis when he came out of one of those fits. He was so pitiful, so remorseful, so damned earnest when he swore he would never do it again.”
“You saved him from debtors’ prison!” Bertram gasped. “I should have known. Did you think sending him off to America would mend his ways? Nothing will,” he added bitterly.
Bertram turned away and walked toward the door, where he paused to pull the bell cord. While his back was to them, Arthur and Roger exchanged a swift glance. They had forgotten momentarily that Bertram’s father had been another Francis. But Bertram senior had not been checked because he had already been in possession of his estate when his proclivity for drink and gambling had become evident. He had ruined himself, reducing his wife and son to penury before he managed to drink himself to death. That was why Bertram was Arthur’s secretary rather than living on his own property on a comfortable income.
Both Roger and Arthur were sorry the subject of Francis had come up. Arthur was particularly disturbed. He had believed Bertram was perfectly happy with his work, income, and the comfortable rooms that were exclusively his in every house Arthur owned. Bertram was free to use any house at any time, whether Arthur was in residence or not, free to invite guests, to entertain, in fact, to act in every way as if Arthur’s property were his own. And every servant on all of Arthur’s estates obeyed Bertram as implicitly as Arthur—perhaps more implicitly, Arthur thought, since he knew himself to be by far the more lenient. Yet twice this very afternoon he had been shocked by his secretary’s bitterness.
When the footman who came in answer to the bell had been instructed to have Roger’s horse brought around from the stable, Bertram rejoined Arthur and Roger, who were talking politics again. A few minutes later, Arthur walked Roger out the large double doors of the library, through the beautifully furnished entry hall, and finally all the way down the broad steps to the driveway, where his hack was being held by a groom.
“Bertram wasn’t joking when he said he wanted to marry, was he?” Arthur said suddenly.
“No, I’m afraid not,” Roger replied.
“Well, why the devil shouldn’t he?” Arthur asked irritably. “His wife would be perfectly welcome to live with us.” He gestured at the huge country mansion behind them. “Surely he cannot think we would lack living space.”
Roger laughed, but then shook his head, his expression becoming sober. “It could not be easy to ask a woman to share his kind of life. You know he would not be considered eligible by many fathers, his ability to support a wife resting, as it does, on your goodwill. You know and I know that Bertram is as much your friend as your secretary, but there is no way he can prove that to a girl’s family. It is not as simple as you would like to make it seem, Arthur.”
“What the devil can I do?” Arthur asked. “I would hate to lose Bertram, but I would gladly—”
“I don’t think you should do anything at all just now,” Roger said decisively. “Just keep your ears and eyes open. If you find that someone in particular has caught his fancy, I imagine it will become obvious what is best to do.”
“Yes,” Arthur said, drawing out the word, and then his heavy lids dropped, obscuring the mischief in his eyes as he added, “I have always found Bertram to have a most discriminating taste. Perhaps I will have a ready-made hostess without my having to marry, after all.”