Sunday, January 17, 2016

Excerpt Ladies of Dunbury -- Henry

     Stephen Carlton, the Duke of Cantin, had always been Henry’s best friend. Through long years at Eton, and then Cambridge, to the night Stephen was his second in the duel with Reginald Leighton over Olivia. Throughout the decades of Henry’s absence, Stephen’s quarterly correspondence kept Henry abreast of news with stories of home and their wretched acquaintance as Stephen liked to call them.
     At Cantin House, Edwards, the butler, showed Henry to the library. “The Marquess of Dunbury, Your Grace,” Edwards intoned.
     Stephen rose from his chair. “Good God, Henry, I never thought to see the day.” He walked around the desk and enveloped Henry in a great hug. “When they told me you were on your way home, I could scarce believe it. The indefatigable Henry Wade, finally returning from the wars.”
     Henry smiled. “Yes, here I am. Home at last. How’ve you been, old man?” Henry walked across the room as if he’d done it a thousand times before, and flung himself into a chair by the window.
      “Very well.” Stephen walked to the side table and poured two glasses of brandy. “The house is quiet with the children grown and married.” He handed Henry a g
lass. “Except for Robert.”
    Henry glanced at the glass Stephen offered. “Stephen, it is barely ten o’clock in the morning.”
     Stephen winked. “Yes, but somewhere it is half past four.” He raised his glass. “To you, Henry Wade, for coming home in one piece.”
     Henry slugged the brandy. He’d love to spend the afternoon drinking with Stephen catching up, but he would refuse any more. He didn’t wish to be addle-pated in front of the girls later on.
      Stephen sat in the opposite chair. “So what are you doing? When did you get in? Where are you staying? Out at the manor?”
     “We, my secretary and I, arrived last night around eleven. We attempted to sneak into the Hall, but the girls had decided to reside there whilst cleaning it for my homecoming. Gave them and the housekeeper a hell of a scare.”
     Stephen smiled. “Where are they now?”
“I sent them to the Manor. I’m going to reside in London. I do not think it is in any of our best interests for me to reside with them. Honestly, I would rather face the French with a battalion of untrained lads than live with the girls.”
     Stephen bellowed with laughter. “Nonsense, the ladies are all very charming creatures. My Joanna cannot seem to say enough about them. Especially to Robbie.”
     Henry smiled. “Oh, does she have any one in particular she wishes him to marry?”
     “I think any of them would do, although Mercy is her particular favorite. Robbie claims he does not wish to marry. A broken engagement when he was younger has sworn him off the fairer sex. A shame too. I would like to see the heir before I am in my dotage.”
     Henry smiled. “If he’s anything like you, Stephen, perhaps Robert needs to find himself in a compromising position.”
    “You may be right.” Stephen leaned back in his chair. “Unfortunately, he’s too smart to be compromised. Believe me, a few have tried.”
    Henry placed the empty glass on the side table and leaned forward in his chair. “The Marquisate is drained, Stephen. I need to find some fast funds.”
     Stephen furrowed his brows. “What do you mean? I thought your nieces brought money with them.”
      “Yes, so did I. Brinkley told me the right of it. They have been living off the Marquisate. The girls have nothing. I have twenty thousand, but will need five times that amount if I am to make something of them.” He leaned back into the chair and grunted. “The great hero returns.”
     “What about the house in Essex? Surely, you could sell that if needs be.”
     “Highly unlikely. It was a festering sinkhole when I was a lad. It has probably crumbled into the ground by now.”
      Stephen snorted. “Doubtful. I heard your groomsman made tremendous repairs when the girls were there this last summer.”
      Henry rose from his chair, stood in front of the windows, and looked out to the garden. “Who is this damn groom I hear so much about? He seems to own more than one occupation at Dunbury.”
    “He does.” Stephen cocked his head. “You’re lucky to have him. He takes good care of your estate.”
     “And of my nieces? Which one of the girls do you think he wants to marry?” Could he marry one of them off to a stable-man?
     Stephen shook his head. “None as far as I know. I’ve never heard a word about him other than to extol the virtue of his brute strength and home maintenance mastery.” Stephen raised his empty glass.      “Another?”
     “No,” Henry said. “I need to ride out to the manor.”
     Stephen rose from the chair and walked to the tantalus.
     “Who is Lady Gantry?” Henry asked.
     “Have you met her yet?” Stephen asked.
     “No. She is away to her sister Mary.”
     Stephen rolled his eyes. “Could never abide that woman. Always sniffling, complaining of an ague. Lady Gantry on the other hand, is quite the thing. An odd combination of mysterious refinement. She is cousin to both Olivia and I from our mother’s side. Bit of a bluestocking. Married a Captain on his way to Bombay to secure the unrest in ‘88. Said he would send for her.” Stephen shook his head. “He was killed a short time later. In the years since, Lady Gantry has acted as governess for several families. They say she has a knack for marrying them off.”
     “Then why hasn’t she done so for my brood.”
     “Henry, are you daft? You should have remained home when poor Harold died.”
     Henry held up his hand. “Yes, Stephen, I know, but I cannot erase the past. What else do you know about her…Lady Gantry? What is her first name?”
     “Catherine. Catherine Churchill Gantry. She is part of the Churchill-Spencer clan, younger than the rest of us, and still keeps some acquaintance with friends amongst Society. Although, I have never seen her in my sphere at parties. I must say, she is ever charming, and quite fine-looking for an old thing. I have met her on several occasions when Joanna has her at-homes. Catherine Gantry has the girls well in hand, each one turned out beautifully. You should thank her. She’s done a wonderful job.”
     Henry cleared his throat. “I heard Olivia placed her there.”
    Stephen raised a brow. “Since Caymore’s death, Olivia has been a frequent visitor to Dunbury Manor. When Harold died, she took a fancy to Mercy, felt badly for her. And rightly so now with your sisters’ gone and the other girls at the Manor. It is my understanding the girls needed a governess.”
     Henry shrugged. “I suppose.”
     “Well, ‘tis no matter now. Once the girls have made their come-out, you should have no trouble marrying them off.”
     “Yes, my solicitor said as much, which brings me to my current state of affairs. Stephen, are there any solid investments I could make quickly?”
     “How quick?” Stephen asked.
     “A few months. Six on the outside. It is November. I presume the girls are looking forward to next Season. Gowns, shoes, petticoats, and whatever else they need. They have been told to practice economy for years. Now that I am returned, I think they believe they will now have everything they ever wished for. How am I to tell them there is barely anything for their dowries? My sisters both made pathetic matches, and my brother could not even think to add his own daughter to his will.  What am I going to do?”
     Stephen took a sip from his fresh brandy. “Let me make you a loan.”
     “Absolutely not. ‘Tis the surest way to ruin our friendship.”
     “Henry, I will insist,” Stephen said.
      “And I must refuse. I will think of something. However, there is one thing you can do for me.”
      “Anything,” Stephen said.
      “Would you have a horse I could borrow for a few weeks? My own is residing in Plymouth until he gains his land legs back. I’m afraid the sea voyage took its toll.”
     “Of course.” Stephen strode to the door. “Edwards!” he yelled. “He will take you down to the mews.”
      Henry held out his hand. “Thank you, my friend.”
      Stephen shook it. “I’m glad you’re home.”
     “Yes, as am I.”
     Henry left with Edwards and went to the mews. Stephen certainly had a fine stable; something he hoped to acquire. Someday.
      After saddling his mount, Henry rode down Brook Street to Grand, taking a left on St. James. Dunbury Hall stood behind a few pretty trees and an iron gate. A hired hackney sat in front of his house, the boot open.
       Henry rode to the back of the house and left the horse in the garden. Once inside, he found Stone in the kitchen copying across two different pieces of paper. “Who is here?”
     “Here?” Stone asked.
     “Yes, the carriage out front?”
      “Oh, ‘tis Lady Gantry, sir. She is upstairs clearing out your bedchamber.”
Henry strode through the dining room to the foyer. Loud thumps from the second floor had him running up the stairs two at a time. At the end of the hall, the doors to the master’s bedchamber stood open. Two trunks sat in the hall.
Catherine now
      Movement from behind the door—a swish of lavender. Thump. Thump. An old man heaved a trunk across the floor. He looked as if he would fall over.
      “Wait,” Henry cried. “Leave it. I will attend the trunk.”
      The lady in the lavender gown stepped from behind the door. “And you are?”
       Henry sucked in a breath. Olivia! Could it be? No, the woman’s eyes were green. Olivia’s were brown. Yet the similarity was remarkable—as if she were the older version of the Olivia he had left
Olivia then
so long ago. “Henry Wade. Marquess of Dunbury.”
       Her eyes widened. She held out her hand instead of curtseying. “Catherine Gantry. I am the ladies’ governess.” She stood tall and proud and her eyes never wavered from his. She also had not smiled.
      Henry shook her hand. Stephen was right. She was beautiful for an old thing—could be no more than forty. She looked down at her hand still wrapped in his.
      Henry dropped her hand and took a step back. “I have heard nothing but the kindest words spoken of you.”
      “Thank you, my lord.” The left side of her lips twitched upward.
     Her voice reminded him of the desert—breathy, scratchy, steamy. He needed to focus. “The girls are at the Manor.”
      “Yes, Gray informed me. And that you were returned.” She waved her hand around the room. “Please forgive the chaos. I had not expected you so early.”
      Henry glanced at the empty armoire to the filled trunks. “You certainly have a lot of gowns, Lady Gantry. Tell me, do you have the girls gadding about like Mayflies?”
      She appraised him with a haughty stare. “My lord, the ladies and I do not gad about. The gowns from the armoire belong to them. I was using this room for storage, as the manor has no extra closets. Now that you are returned, and will obviously reside here, I am packing them up.” She flounced toward the bed. Shawls, pelisses, and capes, lay draped over the coverlet.
      “What are these things?”
       “Part of the girls’ trousseau.”
       “Where did you get them? Brinkley told me there is no money.”
       “They are reworked gowns I received from friends. The girls know they are here, are fully aware of what I’m doing.” She placed her hands on her hips.
       “I see.”
        She wrinkled her nose. “No, my lord, I’m afraid you do not. As their governess, I expected some form of communication over the course of the last several years for the girls’ direction. I had hoped you would have at least given me a portion of the household money to ensure the girls are properly attired when we do step out. I’ve spoken with Mr. Brinkley on several occasions—I know how dire the straits are. Still I hoped.”
         Lady Gantry eyed him like a second field captain awaiting the command to engage in mortal combat with a sworn enemy. And it looked as though he was that enemy. Unfortunately, Catherine Gantry knew more about his finances than he liked.
       But Lord, she was beautiful. Honey-colored hair hung down her back in a lush braid. Two small tendrils curled at her temples. Deep green eyes, the color of English ivy, stared at him through long lashes. Damn, if she didn’t remind him of Olivia. He noticed the lace at her collar wore thin. And the ribbon around her hem.
       “Perhaps you would like …” he began.
       “My lord, could you not have spared leaving Mrs. Partridge? How am I to have anything finished before nightfall with only Gray to help me?” Her tone demanded an explanation.

       Spoiled wench! Feisty, and in a fine fettle. “Forgive me, Lady Gantry.” Henry wanted to bow mockingly at her outrage. “I had no idea you were to arrive today from your sister Mary’s. I am on my way to the Manor now. I will return Mrs. Partridge with all due haste.” Fine looking Catherine Gantry might be, but with the attitude of a termagant. Henry would stay as far away from her as possible.

All Rights Reserved
Anne Gallagher (c) 2016 
Shore Road Publishing

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