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Authors: Lyndsey Norton

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BOOK: Pride and Retribution
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‘We have witnesses as to this, Your Grace. Two hundred guineas off my debt.’ Sir Roger said coldly and the Duke nodded acquiescence, looking coldly at Wilfred. Sir Roger stood, gave the Duke a formal bow and left the table.

Wilfred fell in beside him and he could feel his cousin’s excitement. ‘Give me the gold, Roger.’ He said calmly and held out his hand for the money bag.

‘Do I have to?’ he whined.

‘Yes, you have to. If I hadn’t been dancing with your escort, I would have stopped you from playing. Now you know Dovedale’s terms. You are not supposed to gamble at all, no cards, no horses and no dice!’ Sir Roger scowled, but dropped the bag into Wilfred outstretched palm. ‘Thank you.’ Wilfred said as he tucked away the purse. ‘Now, Miss Hastings had to leave early because her Uncle is not well, so don’t bother looking for her.’

‘I don’t think I stand a chance with her anyway.’ Sir Roger grumbled and looked up at Wilfred. ‘Too proud!’ he spat. ‘She’s the kind that is all proper decorum when you’re courting and turns into a harridan in the marriage bed!’ He shu
ddered theatrically. ‘I need an heiress who is more like me.’

‘In that case, you should be looking at the debutantes instead of playing Faro!’ Wilfred said firmly. ‘They won’t marry you if they think their money is just going to vanish into Markham’s coffers!’ Sir Roger scowled, but didn’t disagree with his cousin. He spied a very pretty girl
as she sauntered by with her mama and followed without another word. Wilfred sighed and shook his head.

‘Did you manage to hoist him by his own petard?’ Howard asked softly as he appeared. Wilfred nodded solemnly. ‘Did you insult Miss Hastings again?’

‘I didn’t, they had to leave. Her Uncle has a fever and they were summoned to Leicestershire.’

‘How unfortunate.’ Howard was watching Sir Roger fawn over the debutante.

‘Is she one of your interests?’ Wilfred asked with an amused smile.

‘No. I’m waiting for your little sister. Ever since the first time I saw her and she stuck her tongue out at me, I have the most ardent wish to bed her and know that I will have to marry her to fulfil that wish.’

‘I don’t mind you courting her and marrying her, but just make sure you don’t make her unhappy or I’ll be pressed not to kill you.’ Wilfred said turning to his friend.

‘I wouldn’t dream of it.’ Howard said and smiled at the prospect. ‘Shall we have some more claret?’ he indicated the drinks room and Wilfred nodded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

The carriage pulled up outside the front entrance of Bassett Hall. There was an air of gloom about the place as the butler sedately walked down the steps and waited for them to step down.

Evelyn had insisted that they change out of their finery into travelling clothes and had the maids pack just enough clothes for a large valise each. They left almost immediately and Evelyn left instructions for the maids to pack everything and follow on with the luggage carriage as soon as possible.

‘Good morning, Mrs. Hastings.’ The butler, Egerton said calmly. There was no way to tell by his demeanour if the Earl had slipped away during the night.

‘Good morning, Egerton.’ Evelyn said
evenly. ‘Is there any news?’

‘None since last evening, Madam.’ Egerton said and smiled softly. ‘We are hoping the Earl will rally, but the fever is raging.’ Evelyn patted his arm compassionately. ‘Mr. Hastings is in the breakfast parlour, Madam.’

‘Yes, thank you, Egerton.’ Evelyn said and stiffly stepped up the wide terraced steps to the large and imposing front door.

Both Timothy and Lucy jumped out of the carriage and almost ran up the steps, throwing Egerton a quick ‘Good morning!
’ on their way past.

Robert was waiting in the hall by the time his siblings barrelled through the door. He held his arms out to Lucy, wrapped her in his embrace and lifted her off the floor, squeezing her so hard she groaned.

‘Hello, Poppet!’ he said as he kissed her cheek lightly, using her nickname and dropped her back onto her feet. ‘I missed you all.’ He held out a hand to his little brother and gave him a sad smile. Timothy shook the offered hand firmly and showed the same bravery he did when he’d been told that their father had died. Robert released Lucy and greeted his mother more sedately. ‘Mother, how are you?’ He murmured as he kissed her cheek.

‘I’m the same, Robert. But you look tense and tired.’ She answered as she smoothed her hand over his
cheek. Robert made her heart turn over every time she saw him, for he was the most like his father, both in looks and temperament. ‘How is your Uncle this morning?’

‘I don’t think anything has changed yet.’ Robert said as he offered his mother his arm. ‘The doctor is with him at the moment, but Mrs. Egerton has been beside him for most of the night.’
He checked Egerton and frowned. ‘Didn’t you bring anymore luggage than those few paltry items?’ he asked and gave his mother a stern glance.

‘The luggage carriage should be here sometime today.’ Evelyn said with a gentle smile. ‘We travelled
overnight so we could be here first thing.’

‘Well, I had your rooms prepared, so if you want to get some sleep, I’ll wake you if anything changes.’ Robert headed for the stairs. He knew his mother would be in agony and only wanted to be free of her back brace. He looked at Lucy. ‘Breakfast is out in the breakfast parlour, so help yourselves and I’ll join you in a few minutes.’

Lucy stripped off her bonnet and gloves, as Timothy dropped his gloves into his hat and handed it to Egerton. He held his hand out to Lucy and she took his hand and they went towards the back of the manor, where the breakfast parlour overlooked the herb and fruit garden.

Robert continued up the stairs with Evelyn. When they reached her rooms he looked at her with
compassion. ‘Would you like me to fetch a maid, or shall I unlace you?’ he asked softly.

‘If you would just take out the steel brace, I would be grateful.’ Evelyn murmured. Robert could see the dark circles under her e
yes.

‘Did the waters not help?’ he asked as she turned her back to him and removed her bonnet and gloves. Robert began unhooking the back of her travelling gown.

‘Not really.’ Evelyn said distantly. ‘It was useful while I was in the waters, but it didn’t take long for it to wear off.’ She hissed out her breath as he inadvertently yanked on her corset lacings. ‘I might as well have stayed here and had the maids fetch me a hot bath!’

‘Sorry.’ He murmured as he pulled her corset apart and gripped the top edge of the brace. ‘Are you ready?’ he asked and Evelyn nodded. He pulled the brace slowly, but firmly from inside her corset. As it came free, Evelyn sighed in relief.  ‘Do you want me to retie your corset?’

‘Please.’ She said and waited as he carefully pulled the laces tight and tied them in a bow before he closed the fastenings on her gown.

‘Would you like me to send up a breakfast tray?’ he asked as she turned to face him.

She placed her hands on his upper arms and looked at him sadly. ‘No. I think you need to tell me exactly what is happening.’

Robert looked at her for a long moment and she watched his emotions play across his handsome face. ‘I
think he will die this time.’ Robert admitted hoarsely, ‘his heart is taking an awful beating and the doctor is threatening to try to break his fever with a blister! And you know as well as I do that that might kill him. The shock of the blister....?’ he left his thoughts unfinished, but Evelyn could well imagine the burning sore that an applied blister would cause and the pain was horrific from such a treatment. But most apothecaries only used one as a last resort.

‘Is there a qualified physician with him?’ Evelyn asked instead.

‘There is a new doctor in the village. He’s interested in the mining diseases and lung infections. I met him at old man Turners cottage. His son, John has the black cough and when Uncle Rupert started coughing and spewing phlegm I called him straight away. He seems very competent.’

‘Yet he still wants to apply a blister?’

‘Only as a last resort.’

‘Where is your Aunt Edith?’ Evelyn asked coldly, she knew Edith would be better than useless.

‘She took to her bed and hasn’t been seen by anyone but her maid since.’

‘Well, I think you sh
ould take me to your Uncle.’ Evelyn said as she folded her hands in front of her, brooking no arguments. Robert nodded and led the way.

The Earl’s apartment was across the front of the manor and Robert opened the door slowly, checked the
doctor didn’t have his Uncle’s nightshirt off and beckoned his mother in.

The room was dim, as the curtains were across the window leaving a few inches of daylight to illuminate the room. It gave the room a ghostly appearance, as the smoke from the guttering candles drifted in the wedge of sunlight pouring through the gap.
Evelyn coughed, delicately putting her fingers over her mouth. ‘Good God! This place is like a chimney!’ She said hoarsely, marched across the room and threw open the curtains before opening the sash window a few inches. ‘He’ll suffocate in this atmosphere.’ She walked to the bed and looked at the frail man lying under the eiderdown. He looked wizened and dried out, as if his end was near. ‘Mrs. Egerton, he needs fresh air, I don’t want to find that window closed again until nightfall!’ Evelyn was here and the house would now be run properly. ‘It is a waste of money to burn candles when God gave us light. We should use it first.’ She said as she threw back the curtains on all the windows. As she saw the Earl wince she pulled the bed curtains on that side of his bed to protect him from the draught and the sunlight. She knew the old Earl had been bedridden for the last six months.

She gently took the
Earl’s hand. ‘Rupert? It’s Evelyn. Can you hear me?’ she asked gently. He groaned and opened his eyes, but looked straight through her. ‘Rupert, I’m here to organise your care. Robert called us home last evening.’ But the aging noble in the bed didn’t respond.

Evelyn sighed and straightened up. She looked at the young doctor standing by the fireplace and strolled over to him. ‘Good morning. I’m Evelyn Hastings. What is the prognosis for my brother-in-law?’ She extended her hand.

‘Doctor Martin Keyes.’ He said, his soft Irish brogue giving away his origins. ‘He is stable, for now.’ He said and looked towards the bed. ‘But with his advanced years, it is only a matter of time until his constitution can’t take any more punishment.’ He smiled at Evelyn. ‘I promise I would only use a blister as a last resort. At the moment his temperature has steadied, rather than fallen, but I live in hope that the fever powders will prove beneficial.’ He snapped his leather bag shut and smiled. ‘I’ll be back a little later. I have a baby to deliver now.’

‘Tha
nk you, Doctor.’ Evelyn said as she smiled graciously and watched Mrs. Egerton show the Doctor out. ‘You should go and have some breakfast, Robert. I’ll sit with your Uncle for a bit.’ Robert nodded and left quietly.

Evelyn sighed and perched her bottom on the edge of the chair. If she leaned back, she w
ould need help getting up. She looked at her brother-in-law with compassion. Evelyn met Rupert and Rufus Hastings at her debut. She had been filled with excitement as she lined up with the other debutantes at Carlton House. She remembered seeing King George and being intimidated by him. She curtsied for him and felt her legs give a tremble and as he passed by, Rupert Hastings, the Earl of Bassett looked at her with speculation in his eyes and smiled softly, extending a hand to help her from the deep curtsey she had perfected for the occasion. She was so young and innocent at eighteen and Rupert had seemed indomitable, as if he would live for ever. She had been introduced to Rufus during the evening and was immediately besotted with him. Their courtship wasn’t anything spectacular and it followed the course prescribed by her father, so that they never had a moment alone until their wedding night when she was filled with fear. She remembered Rufus laughing and saying he wasn’t exactly without apprehension, but their lovemaking had been gentle and intense. Because Rufus was ten years older they developed a lasting relationship that blossomed into love after Robert was born and large as life in the back ground was always Rupert. He made living easy, as every summer he opened Bassett Hall to the young family and Evelyn was proud to watch her five children explore the estate on horseback, go hunting, shooting and fishing. A part of her wished Lucy was a little more ladylike at times, but she admired her daughter’s strength. Robert had been trained to follow his Uncle into the House of Lords. Richard had trained as a lawyer and worked as a barrister for the courts. Benjamin was at Cambridge reading the Classics and Timothy hadn’t even left school. She hoped that Rufus would have been proud of his son’s, she knew that Rupert was.

‘Dear Rupert
,’ she murmured. ‘You’ve taught him well. You can let go if that’s what you really want to do.’ She said softly and relaxed back into the chair as she started to weep.

 

*****

Downstairs
the three siblings were subdued. ‘Has it been terrible?’ Lucy asked Robert as she poured him a cup of tea.

‘Yes and no. I think the worst thing about it is the expectation.
’ He sighed. ‘I’ve been doing the estate work for most of the summer anyway, but now there is a certain reality to it, that it will all soon be my responsibility.’ He said heavily.

‘I think you and I should go for a ride.’ Lucy said evenly. ‘I think you’ve been cooped up in this house for far too long.’

‘How did you know?’ Robert asked softly.

‘You have lost your tan. You look pale and disconcerted, so I think you need to get out either with me or with Tim.’

‘We should check in with mother first.’ Timothy said, ever mindful of duty.

‘Yes, Tim, you are right.’ Lucy left the table serenely and met Mrs. Egerton on the landing.
‘Hello, Mrs. Egerton, how are you?’

‘I’m worried, Miss Hastings.’ She sighed. ‘I don’t fancy his chances.’

Lucy patted her on the arm. ‘I think we all feel the same. How is Aunt Edith?’

‘She has taken to her bed and we won’t see her until after he passes or makes a full recovery.’ She spat nastily. She was a small, rotund woman and not the kind of woman to argue with. She looked up at Lucy, suddenly aware of what she was saying. ‘Begging your pardon, Miss Lucy, but she did this the last time the Earl almost died.’ She shook her head, ‘and I have a deal of trouble not understanding why she isn’t holding his hand and watching over him.’

‘Because she doesn’t love him.’ Lucy whispered calmly. ‘If she did, you wouldn’t be able to tear her away.’ Lucy sighed. ‘Mother told me years ago it was all about the title and money, so you can’t expect miracles.’ Lucy hugged the housekeeper. ‘She’ll wear black for him and hope he’s left her well provided for, otherwise Robert will have trouble with her!’

Lucy carried onto the front suite and knocked gently. When she opened the door she could see her mother wiping tears away from her cheeks. ‘Is he...?’ she left the question hanging there.

‘No.’ Evelyn whispered. ‘No, he’s still with us. I was just remembering when I first met him and how handsome he and your father were.’

Lucy had walked across the room and looked down on her Uncle. She was shocked at the change since the spring. ‘He looks so frail.’ She murmured.

‘Lucy?!’ burst from her Uncle’s mouth as his eyes flew open. ‘Tell Buxton I’ll see him in the morning!’ he shouted weakly and then fell back into his stupor.

Evelyn frowned. ‘What was that all about?’ she asked pointedly.

‘I asked him about the Earl of Buxton the last time I was here. We’d had a.....
contretemps
when we met briefly at Fotheringay’s Ball in the spring. Buxton insulted me and I slapped his face.’ She was quiet for a moment. ‘I asked Uncle about him, that’s all.’

BOOK: Pride and Retribution
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ads

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