There were those in Captain Morrison's Company who felt that something had happened to change the Captain's character during his stay in England the previous year. Sergeant Norris, who considered himself an expert in these things, had once confided in his particular friends that the Captain was showing unmistakeable signs of a man crossed in love. There was no spirit left in him, Norris had said, ever since they'd gone home to England the previous year.
Sergeant Norris' friend Wilson had contradicted him the man had more spirit than most, he'd said, and surely Norris did not mean to imply that the Captain had lost his courage? Heaven forbid that he should ever say such a thing, Norris protested. The Captain was as courageous as ever just as crazy a lad as he'd ever been; if anything he'd grown more reckless. But he was suffering from bouts of listlessness, which had not been his habit before.
"Which just goes to show," the sergeant ended his lecture. "There is a woman behind it all, you mark my words!"
The Captain's batman Collins, when applied to, kept his mouth firmly shut. The Captain's affairs were safe with him, he told them; he hadn't been engaged to tattle about his betters and surely they had better things to do than discuss the Captain's private matters?
"For the Captain's not going to thank you for this when he finds out, Sergeant," he said before returning to the hovel that, for the moment, was Captain Morrison's lodging. After a march of several weeks their regiment had arrived at their destination and they were at leisure to remain there for a while. At last, letters from home reached them, and Collins was carrying several to the Captain.
Francis Morrison did not expect many letters from England. Most of his friends were in Spain with him, for they were soldiers like himself. He had no family to speak of; his widowed mother was living in a cottage near Tunbridge Wells, and an uncle of his had an estate which was also situated in Kent. There were some cousins too, but Frank did not bother to keep in contact with those. Friendship between them had never been encouraged, and Frank was glad to have it that way.
He owed his uncle a debt of gratitude, for it had been he who had bought his commission for him, although knowing his uncle the way he did Frank suspected that his main object had been to rid himself of a nephew who might one day turn out to be troublesome rather than any benevolent motives. Still, Frank occasionally wrote a dutiful letter to his uncle to tell him how he was getting on, knowing full well that the letter was probably not even going to be read. He never received any replies to his missives, at any rate; nor did he expect any.
So Frank's only correspondent in England was his mother. She faithfully wrote to her son every week, informing him of her daily concerns, and adding a touch of ordinariness to his life during the campaign.
He was therefore surprised to find, among his letters, one that was not directed in his mother's hand. Opening it, Frank found that it had come from a solicitor in London, and informed him that his uncle, Mr Peter Hargreave, had died and left him his entire fortune. Frank shook his head in disbelief. This had to be a mistake, for he had no uncle by this name. His only uncle's name was Morrison; he was his father's brother. His mother's maiden name was Hargreave, that was true enough, but she had no siblings that he knew of. He therefore decided to ignore that letter, fully expecting to receive another one before long telling him that there had been a regrettable mistake, and turned his attention to his mother's letters instead.
It was not until he found himself in Belem Hospital some weeks later that this letter was brought back to his attention. He'd been severely wounded during the engagement on the Coa, and to his own surprise had survived in spite of his injuries. As his friend Gilbert had said when he'd found him lying on the flagged floor of a village church, more dead than alive, the man was not born yet who could kill Captain Morrison. But whoever he'd been, the man who'd shot him had succeeded in seriously incapacitating him, and left Frank worrying about his future.
That he would be unable to return to his regiment any time soon was evident. The doctor at the hospital, once he'd reached it, had made this quite clear to him right at the beginning.
"My dear sir, you are lucky to be alive with all your limbs more or less intact," he exclaimed when Frank asked him when his company could expect him back. "Be grateful for that!"
"I am profoundly grateful, but that's not the point," Frank told the doctor. "I do not wish to absent myself from my duties; I do have responsibilities and I want to assume them as quickly as possible."
"I will not permit you to go back within the next six months," the doctor insisted.
"Six months of hanging around in Lisbon? I cannot afford that." Frank said. "There must be some other option."
"You will do yourself no favour if you go back before that time," the doctor warned him.
"I'll do myself no favour by staying here either," Frank retorted, and advised the doctor to get out of his sight.
He spent the entire night considering his options. He could apply for leave of absence to recuperate, which, according to the surgeon, he was very likely to be granted. There was no doubt that his mother would be delighted to receive him at home, and nurse him back to health. It was a tempting prospect in a way; the comfort of his mother's cottage in Kent was vastly superior to that he was likely to find in any lodgings in Lisbon those that he could afford, at any rate. But Frank knew himself well enough to realise that six months of country idyll in his mother's cottage were not going to suit his nature at all; and there was also the financial problem to be dealt with. He simply could not afford to do it.
The only other possibility he could think of was to return to England to recruit new men for his regiment. Such recruiting parties often consisted of those unfit for active duty in the campaign. He could do valuable work, and would not think himself quite as useless as he was at the moment. Apart from that he was not going to earn his friends' as well as his own contempt by skulking about in Lisbon when he should be with his men.
This was the frame of mind Frank was in when he got a letter from his mother, telling him that a Mr Burke had visited her to discover his whereabouts.
Mr Burke is a solicitor from London, and apparently he has sent you a letter informing you of an inheritance. I told him that very likely the letter had not reached you; it may well have gone astray as I know some of mine have. Besides I explained matters to him; he was not aware that due to our family history you did not know I had a brother. It is my fault for never telling you anything about him, but in this I followed your Papa's orders he did not want him spoken of, and so I have remained silent for all these years. Mr Burke has begged me to let you know that it is quite true; that you have indeed inherited a fortune from your Uncle Peter, and has given me to understand that it is a most handsome one. You may imagine my delight upon receiving the news, especially now that I am in a state of constant apprehension regarding your wellbeing. I do hope they are looking after you the way they should, and that your health is improving
There was no longer any doubt now; the letter from the solicitors had not been a mistake. Frank wondered why his mother had never told him about her brother, but assumed that there was some kind of scandal at the root of it. Strait-laced as his father had been, he'd probably prohibited contact between his wife and her brother after said brother had committed some indiscretion or other. While Mr Morrison's sense of propriety and honour had not prevented him from gambling away his entire fortune and leaving his wife and son destitute, it had prompted him to wash his hands of such relatives as did not live up to his rigorous standards of conduct; including his son.
He'd never taken much interest in what Frank did he had not excelled in school or any kind of sport except, maybe, shooting; therefore he had not been worth his father's notice. Apart from reading Frank lectures on the conduct expected from him, and occasionally whipping him for some misdeed or other, he had preferred not to have anything to do with his offspring. Yet he had cheerfully left it to Frank to pay off his debts, leaving him with little to live on.
How ironic it was that the brother whom his father had told his mother to denounce should bring them back to prosperity, Frank thought, and wondered what the size of his uncle's "handsome fortune" was. Whatever it was, the matter needed looking into, and Frank could only do that by going to England. At least he could now do so without incurring censure he had important business to settle and so Frank wrote to his commanding officer, explaining his situation to him and asking for leave of absence to take care of an important family matter, since he was unlikely to be of much use to his regiment at the moment.
The reply was as he expected he was given permission to return to England to attend to business, and was not expected back in Spain within a twelvemonth. The Colonel regretted having to let one of his best officers go, but was confident that he was going to make the best use of his time and would be back to his energetic self by the time he returned. He advised him not to worry about his company in the meantime, they were taken care of. Nor should he return a moment sooner than the doctor permitted it; he had proved himself to be a courageous and reliable officer and need not fear censure for staying away.
His friend and brother officer, John Gilbert, told him very much the same thing in his reply to Frank's letter. He congratulated him on his fortunate inheritance, hoped for his friend's sake that it would be enough to rid him of his worst financial embarrassments and that it would enable him to achieve what he had not allowed himself to hope for. None of his fellow officers thought the worse of him for going back to England, he added. They all knew how serious his injury had been; some were surprised that he had survived the ordeal he'd been through. They wished him all the best, and hoped to see him again once he was back in form.
Gilbert also sent him a parcel containing some gifts he had bought for his wife and infant son, hoping that Frank would find the time to call on them and give him news of how they were getting on. It was one of Gilbert's greatest worries that he had not been able to see his son so far, and Frank promised to take the parcel to Mrs Gilbert in person and would send him a full report of the baby's progress afterwards.
As he prepared for his journey to England, he thought of "what he had not allowed himself to hope", as Gilbert had tactfully written to him. Gilbert was referring to his cousin, Eleanor Swinford, whom Frank had met during a visit at Gilbert's family home the previous year.
He'd never been a ladies' man, at least not to the point of losing his heart to one beauty this week and another the next. Miss Swinford had swept him off his feet, however. It was not only because she was beautiful; although when he'd first met her he'd been struck by her angelic beauty. Miss Swinford was perfection itself; and Frank had fallen deeply in love with her long before his friend had noticed the danger and warned him that her family was unlikely to countenance such a match. The Swinfords wanted Eleanor to marry a prosperous man; Frank did not blame them for it. Yet he had been unable to tear himself away from her until he'd become aware that Eleanor was growing as fond of him as he was of her. Only then he'd made a hasty exit, not without explaining to her why it was that he had to leave her. She'd understood his motives for leaving, or so she'd said, but according to Gilbert she had taken it hard nevertheless. Since they'd last seen each other, she had had several offers of marriage, but had refused them all which made Frank hope that she had not forgotten him and would accept him when he came back and asked her to marry him. Maybe his uncle's fortune was large enough to make him an acceptable son-in-law to Miss Swinford's father. His heart was as much Miss Swinford's as it had been on the day he'd left her; he hoped she felt the same and had not changed her mind about him.
So, while his heart was heavy for his friends when his ship left port in Lisbon for who knew if he'd ever see them again? there was also a spark of hope that his inheritance had changed his life for the better.
It was late in the afternoon when Frank arrived in his mother's house in Kent. Even as he paid off the post boys, the door opened and his mother came outside.
"Frank! My dear boy, how ill you look!" she exclaimed, hugging him tightly. "But I'll nurse you back to health, my dear! How glad I am to have you with me!"
Laughingly, Frank returned his mother's embrace and followed her into the house, leaving it to Collins to carry their luggage inside. His mother led him into her front parlour and made him sit down by the fire, which had been lit for his benefit, if Frank was any judge of his mother's character. Mrs Morrison, known for her frugality, did not usually have a fire in her parlour during what she called "the warm months"; which was in fact any month between March and November. A plate of freshly-baked cake and a pot of tea were awaiting his pleasure, and his mother urged him to eat.
"You're spoiling me," Frank protested. "I am not at all hungry!" Yet he took a piece of cake, not wishing to offend his mother who, he knew, had prepared tons of food for her poor, half-starved, invalid son and would be disappointed if he did not make a hearty meal of it.
"You must have changed indeed if there is no room in your stomach for a scone or ten," his mother laughed, and pushed a bowl of cream closer to him. She did not take any food for herself, but happily watched him tuck in. "They used to be your favourite food when you were a boy!"
"They still are," Frank assured her. He ought to have known that his mother would do her best to fatten him up, he thought, and regretted having stopped for luncheon on the road. It prevented him from doing justice to his mother's excellent cooking, though coming to think of it she was going to give him enough opportunity to do so during his stay. When he thought that he could not possibly swallow another bite, Frank finished his tea and thanked his mother.
She smiled fondly at him and said, "You will need some rest after your long journey. Your room is ready for you; your bed is made up I suggest you try and get some sleep. I have put off dinner so you can have a nap."
"Do not talk about dinner to me, ma'am, I beg you!" Frank laughed. "Right now I cannot imagine ever feeling hungry again!"
"You will, in an hour or two," his mother said with conviction. "Once you feel fresh and rested."
Frank wanted to protest against being treated like a small child, but to be honest he also enjoyed it it had been a very long time since someone had tried to cosset him. He did say, teasingly, "I hope you do not mean to tuck me in."
"Oh, I am sure that man of yours can do so," his mother said. "I will send for him so he can help you climb the stairs."
"I am well able to climb them without Collins's assistance," Frank informed her. "As long as I have my stick I do not need anyone to support me. I won't be able to dance for a couple of months, but I can walk."
Although she did throw a doubtful glance at his leg his mother wisely refrained from making any further comment, and merely watched him as he slowly and painfully ascended the stairs to his room. Frank would have been the last person to admit it, but he was feeling tired and the nap did something to refresh him. He was not yet back to his old, vigorous self, and reluctantly acknowledged to himself that it would take a while until he'd be able to keep up with the gruelling marching pace his regiment was accustomed to, even though he could go on horseback while the rank and file had to march. The doctor had probably been right after all.
Dinner was delicious, as it usually was at his mother's. Mrs Morrison was a notable cook and made do without the service of a cook ever since her husband's death had turned her into an impoverished widow. She did not manage to provide the number of dishes her guests had been accustomed to in her old home, but Frank had never been spoilt when it came to food and did not mind that in the least. He gratefully ate everything she put before him, and appreciated the effort she had made for his sake.
After dinner, when the maid had removed the dishes from the table, Frank followed his mother to the parlour and said, "And now I want you to tell me everything about my Uncle Peter."
"Lord, yes, of course I will," his mother said. "He was my brother, you know."
"I guessed as much, but why did you never tell me about him? What has he done to incur my father's censure?"
"Oh, it was a bad business, that," Mrs Morrison told him. "Peter was always a little wild in his ways."
"He never went beyond what was perfectly acceptable in a gentleman of breeding," she assured him. "Except once."
"And that one occasion was enough, I guess."
"Your grandpapa and papa appeared to think so," she said. "I did not; I saw no reason to condemn him the way they did, but naturally neither of them was willing to listen to my reasoning. They told me I had no idea how things were, and that he had effectively ruined himself."
"What did he do?" Frank wanted to know.
"He fell in love with a married woman and almost killed her husband in a duel," she said quietly.
Frank whistled in astonishment. "I hate to agree with my father for you know we rarely did, but this was rather serious," he said.
"I know that, and I am not trying to excuse his behaviour. What he did was very wrong, but I still feel that refusing to speak to him or of him for decades was too harsh. He was my brother; I loved him dearly, and not being allowed to speak of him or write to him broke my heart. He did not deserve to be treated thus by his own family, but naturally I had to obey your father in this matter."
"This happened when you were already married to my father then?"
"Shortly after our marriage, in fact. I have come to the conclusion that there would have been no marriage if it had happened before. It was a nasty scandal, and you know how your papa hated everything that put his good name in danger."
Frank knew that. Respectability had been his father's first and foremost ambition.
"I have to say though that Lady the lady your uncle fell in love with," she quickly corrected herself, and so Frank assumed that the lady was still living and would not relish her name becoming subject to gossip again, "was very lovely. A beauty of the highest order, and there was some talk that her marriage was not a happy one. Apparently Peter planned to elope with her and go abroad, but her husband discovered their plan before they could put it into action and demanded satisfaction."
Frank did not blame the man. It was what every husband would have done in a similar situation and the scandal must indeed have been a nasty one.
"Now, Peter was deadly with the pistols or so I have been told but so was the lady's husband; and none of them was willing to let the other off lightly. I am afraid your uncle really meant to kill Lord his sweetheart's husband, but for one reason or another he survived in spite of the wound he sustained in the duel. Yet when my father found out about the affair, he felt the only thing he could do was get Peter out of the country, in case his opponent died and he should be obliged to stand his trial for murder. No son of his should end his life on the gallows, he said."
"It is what I would have done, I suppose," Frank admitted.
"So Peter went off; to France at first and later he ended up in Vienna," his mother continued. "The last I heard of him was that he got married to a wealthy widow Russian, I think she was. He wrote to me informing me of his marriage, and your papa flew into one of his rages when he found out that I was still in contact with him. You know what he was like. By that time, you were already born, and he feared you might turn into just another one of that kind, as he said. There was bad blood in my family, he used to say, and made an effort to make sure it did not come out in you."
Frank nodded grimly. His shoulders still hurt when he thought of his father's efforts. He'd received many a thrashing for the slightest misbehaviour; the late Mr Morrison had not been one to spare the rod. He supposed he'd lost all the "bad blood" there'd ever been in him by the age of ten thanks to his father's brutality. The only times when he'd taken interest in his son had been during those beatings.
"I do not know whether your uncle was truly in love with his wife, although from what I read in his letter I assumed he was fond enough of her. I did not dare write to him after that, and so naturally I did not know what had become of him until Mr Burke arrived here and told me he'd died and left you all his money."
"He had no children of his own then?" Frank asked.
"It does not look as if he had, does it?" his mother replied. "For if he had children, why should he have left his fortune to you? His wife was some years his senior; maybe she was too old to have children. She did have a son by her first husband, or so your uncle wrote to me; but I do not know whether he still lives."
"I am sure Mr Burke will tell me all about my uncle's circumstances when I meet him in London," Frank remarked.
"You will meet him here," his mother told him. "No man in your condition should be travelling around unless he could help it."
"I have travelled here all the way from Portugal without any ill effects," Frank protested. "Surely I can go from Kent to London with no danger to my health!"
"I do not see why you should consider Mr Burke's convenience," his mother insisted. "He is used to travelling to see his clients do you really think any of his well-to-do clientele would dream of calling on him in his chambers in London? You will write to him, informing him of your return to England, and ask him to come and see you here. There is no need for you to put yourself to any inconvenience. You are a man of substance now!"
Frank laughed. "The moment you have found out that we are finally able to afford the elegancies of life again you become haughtier than my father ever was," he teased her.
"This has nothing to do with arrogance. It will not do for you to go junketing about the country with that leg of yours. What you need is peace and quiet to recuperate."
"I suppose you are right," Frank admitted peaceably. "Did this Burke give you any idea as to how much we can expect?"
"He did not. But naturally your uncle inherited your grandfather's estate which was not entailed, and as far as I know he sold it, being unable to come back to England. There was your grandfather's fortune in the Funds, which used to give him an income of about two thousand a year."
"This would be a honey-fall indeed if there is anything left of it," Frank said.
"Peter never was a man with expensive habits," his mother told him. "Like most of our family, he knew how to hold household, so I do not expect him to have wasted his fortune the way the way some men may do."
Men like his oh-so-respectable father, Frank thought grimly, who had managed to waste not only his own fortune but his wife's as well in an attempt to keep up with his more prosperous friends.
However, with two thousand a year Frank could provide his mother with everything she needed to lead a life in comfort and ease the kind of life her husband had never offered her. He'd keep his soldier's pay to cover his own expenses and leave her to manage the rest, knowing that it would be in good hands. They'd be able to afford a larger house and servants, so she need no longer slave in the kitchen.
It would even be enough to enable him to marry Eleanor Swinford, Frank hoped. As a penniless soldier he had been unacceptable to her family, but with an annual income of two thousand pounds he'd be able to provide her with all the things she was accustomed to. It would be worth a try, certainly, Frank thought, although he did not allow himself to raise his hopes too high. As long as he did not know the exact sum of his inheritance, he had better not make any plans for his future as he was likely to be disappointed. Over the years, Frank had learned not to trust his luck too far.
Since his mother was adamant that he was in no condition to travel to London yet, Frank followed her advice and wrote to Mr Burke, telling him that since his state of health prohibited his going to Town at the moment he would be much obliged to him if Mr Burke could call on him in his mother's house in Kent.
The lawyer did not keep him waiting for long he presented himself in Kent three days later. For probably the first time in his life, Frank was speechless. The inheritance exceeded his expectations by far. His uncle's capital was safely invested in the Funds, and yielded an annual revenue of some six thousand pounds. Apart from that, Mr Burke informed Frank, Mr Hargreave had intended to return to England, and had therefore bought an estate in Kent, Hanley Park. This property was also to pass into Frank's hands. In other words, Frank was no longer a penniless soldier, but the owner of a considerable fortune as well as landed property.
"I do not know whether you are acquainted with Hanley Park, but you must have seen the house occasionally, for it is not far from here," Mr Burke told Frank.
Frank had often ridden past Hanley Park; he remembered a large, rambling house, which had long been more or less abandoned by its owner and fallen into disrepair. As he told Mr Burke so, the gentleman assured him that extensive repairs had been made after Mr Hargreave had bought the property.
"In fact everything is as good as new, sir," Mr Burke assured him. "Mr Hargreave ordered everything to be of the best, and I myself was involved with the renovation to make sure it conformed to Mr Hargreave's wishes."
Mr Burke then excused himself, gave Frank a copy of his uncle's Will and an inventory of the items that were part of his inheritance, and left.
Frank spent half an hour poring over these documents, trying to come to terms with this change in his situation. When his mother had told him that her father's income had been two thousand a year, it had seemed to him an almost princely sum in comparison to what he'd had at that moment. As it now turned out, his income was going to be three times as much and he had a house; a fine place in the country to call his own at least it was going to be a fine place once they were done with the renovations. How did that fit in with what he'd been so far? With what options did this leave him? Should he return to his regiment at all, or would he be better advised to sell out and become a gentleman of leisure instead? He was going to miss his comrades and friends, however, and he had become accustomed to his busy life in the army. Here in England he'd feel terribly out of place he feared, and suspected he would not enjoy staying here doing nothing for long. However well-filled his purse was, he was still a soldier, and leaving his comrades in the lurch was something he could not even contemplate without becoming angry with himself for harbouring such thoughts.
As his mother entered the room again, he looked up at her and said, "Six thousand a year, ma'am. How can we possibly spend that kind of money?"
"Six thousand! Good grief!" His mother had to sit down and digest this piece of news for a while. "Well, we will just have to make the attempt," she finally said. "That is, you will. It is yours."
Frank shook his head. "This does not seem right to me," he said. "He was your brother, not mine. He should have left it to you. I do not deserve this."
"This is complete nonsense. Look at me, Frank, do I lack anything? I have a comfortable house just small enough for me to manage by myself, yet large enough to accommodate those who are dear to me whenever they come for a visit. There is food on the table every day, and a fire in the fireplace whenever I want one. What more do I need?"
"What would you say to Hanley Park instead of this cottage?" Frank asked.
"Hanley Park? A fine house to be sure, but much too large for me and falling to ruin besides! You cannot be in earnest!"
"I was hoping you would go there with me," Frank said. "When I move there."
"I thank you for your offer, Frank, but surely you have not considered what this would mean. Last year you told me about that lovely girl you met when you stayed with the Gilberts in Shropshire. What you should do is marry her, and take her with you if you really intend to take up residence in Hanley Park."
"There is plenty of room for you as well," Frank pointed out.
"And yet I am sure it would suit neither your wife nor me to be obliged to live under the same roof," his mother informed him. "Only think how awkward it would be me, who has been accustomed to arranging everything as she liked it for the past thirty years, compelled to give way to a daughter-in-law's notions! No; it would not work. This is not how it should be. But why all this talk about Hanley Park, Frank?"
Frank told her, and she had to hunt for her handkerchief in her reticule.
"Poor Peter!" she cried. "To think he wanted to come home and live here in Kent, not far from me! I so wish he could have done so; there is so much I would have wanted to say to him! Now, with your father gone, there would have been no one to object to it either!"
"Quite so," Frank agreed. "What do you say? Shall we inspect our new property one of these days?"
"We certainly shall," his mother told him, and amended, "As soon as the weather permits you to travel."
Frank thought of the weather conditions he had travelled in before, but refrained from commenting. His mother meant well, he knew. "Certainly," he merely said, and they left it at that.
It was not until four days later that Mrs Morrison declared the weather fine enough to travel the eight miles to Hanley Park. Frank had sent Collins to the local posting-house to hire a carriage and horses, so that his mother and he could travel in style.
"I don't think we will find a well-regulated household there," Mrs Morrison explained as her son noticed the large basket full of food which she chose to take with her. "And you will be hungry by the time we get there."
Frank wondered what was giving his mother the idea that he was in constant danger of starving. That she must be thinking so was evident; if he did not take care he'd soon grow fat.
The carriage took them across some beautiful country, until it finally reached the gates of Hanley Park. One of the post boys blew his yard of tin and a minute or two later a gatekeeper hobbled up to the gate. The man had only one leg, Frank noticed as he looked out of the carriage, and his bearing was very much that of a soldier a former soldier at any rate.
He let down the window of the carriage and addressed the man, asking him for his name.
"It's Shaw, sir," the gatekeeper told him. "You must be Captain Morrison Mr Burke did tell us that you were likely to come and have a look round the place. You should have sent word, sir, so the house would be ready for you to inspect. As it is there's only me and my wife here to take care of it, and we do what we can but we're not as young as we used to be."
"There are no servants here yet?"
"None. Mr Hargreave that was your uncle, sir, I think he meant to bring his own servants from abroad." Shaw did not bother to keep his disapproval out of his voice.
"Well, I won't," Frank said curtly. "Were you a soldier, Shaw? You have the appearance of one."
"Trooper, 12th Light Dragoons," Shaw told him. "Till I lost my leg. His lordship then did his best to find employment for me, and sent me here to keep his gate."
With "his lordship" Shaw must have meant Lord Jervis, Frank thought, whose property Hanley Park had been before Frank's uncle had bought it from him. Frank said what was proper, and the carriage continued its way towards the house. A large stable block was situated to their left, hidden from view from the house by a line of trees.
Originally, Hanley Park had been built as a small hunting lodge, but over the years the building had been considerably enlarged; usually in the prevalent style of the era. The latest renovation had been undertaken in an attempt to give the house a uniform appearance, from the outside at least. It was not yet finished; there was still scaffolding all over the place, but those parts that were already done gave Frank a fair idea of what it was going to look like when the work was completed, and he liked what he saw.
"It does look much better than last time I was here," Frank's mother, who'd also looked out of the carriage window, remarked. "A year ago it looked as if it was going to fall down any moment! It must have cost your uncle a tidy sum to have it put to rights!"
Frank had never crossed the threshold of Hanley Park before, although he had often ridden past the place on his way to his mother's house. Lord Jervis had not been in residence very often, and on those few occasions that he had visited his property in Kent he had kept himself to himself. So Frank did not know what was waiting for him inside the house, and was curious to see it.
The smell of fresh paint greeted them apparently the interior of the house had undergone some serious renovation as well as the exterior. Mrs Shaw, who was doing her best to establish herself in Mrs Morrison's good books right from the start, was eager to show them around.
"The house has not looked as good for ages," she assured them. "Mr Hargreave as bought the house wanted everything of the best, and Mr Burke saw to it that he should get it. The front parlour, ma'am."
Mrs Shaw opened a door to their right, and ushered them in. The parlour was a handsome room. The furniture was covered in Holland covers, but although the room had not been inhabited for years it was perfectly clean. Obviously Mrs Shaw was the kind of woman who knew her work, as Frank's mother, herself a model of cleanliness, remarked. The hangings were new, Mrs Shaw told them, unable to hide her pleasure at Mrs Morrison's praise, but the furniture was the same as had belonged to the house for several generations.
"Lord Jervis did not care for this place," she told them. "He didn't stay here often, so he didn't refurnish the house, saying it would be a waste of money. Mr Hargreave had some furniture sent here from abroad, but most of that went into the library and the master bedroom. Mr Burke said Mr Hargreave meant to furnish the place to suit his own taste once he got here, but he never had the opportunity, the poor man!"
Their tour of the house included the library, the dining room, the drawing room overlooking a large formal garden at the back of the house, the master bedroom and guest rooms on the first floor of the house, and finally the kitchen quarters, which particularly interested Frank's mother although he, knowing nothing of these matters, did not take any interest in them. He took his mother's word for it, however, that they lacked none of those amenities necessary for good housekeeping, and patiently listened to her and Mrs Shaw's eulogy of the newly-installed kitchen stove.
Mrs Shaw insisted on giving them tea and cake before they were permitted to leave. Frank then inspected the stables which, he was pleased to note, were in an excellent state of repair and large enough to house two dozen horses. Although he was not a hunting man mainly because he had not hitherto been able to afford the quantity of thoroughbred hunters one needed to hunt in the Shires he had every intention of filling those stables with such horses as he considered indispensable to a gentleman's establishment. Yet at the same time he had to smile at his own notions of grandeur things that he'd been well able to do without before his inheritance had suddenly become essential.
As the chaise took them back to his mother's house, Frank once more introduced the matter of his mother moving to Hanley Park with him, but again she would not hear of it.
"It is a lovely house," she said. "But I am perfectly content where I am, and mean to stay there. I admit it would be a comfort to have one or two more servants than I have now, and maybe a horse and gig so I need not borrow Mr Evans' "
"You shall have them," Frank promised her at once.
"But I will not live in Hanley Park with you," she finished her sentence. "Hanley Park will be your home; it is where you will take your bride and where your children will grow up. I will be happy to come and visit you whenever you wish to see me but, my dear boy, if I ever moved in there I'd only be in the way."
"You could never be in the way!" Frank protested.
"It is lovely of you to say so, but it is not true. I am too old to adapt myself to my daughter-in-law's ways, and she should not be forced to play second fiddle beside me. My advice is go to the girl your heart is so set on, and ask her to marry you. Her father can hardly have any objection to the match now that your circumstances have so greatly improved! If I can see you happily settled in Hanley Park, I shall be well contented."
"I keep thinking that this is what my uncle intended," Frank said in a final attempt to persuade her. "That you should come and live with him, and maybe keep house for him."
"And I should have been very happy to do so," his mother told him. "What is more I could have done so with perfect propriety!"
"You could do the same for your son with perfect propriety," Frank pointed out.
"Only for as long as my son is not married. Now do not tell me that you are going to remain single for my sake, for I will not believe you, and indeed it is the last thing I'd want you to do!"
Frank had to admit to himself that it was also the last thing he wanted to do, and spent the remainder of the journey wondering how best to get in touch with Miss Swinford.
A week later, Frank was on his way to London. His friend Gilbert had told him that Lady Gilbert, her daughter and daughter-in-law were planning to visit Town for some shopping in September and remain there for the Little Season, and Frank felt that there was a good chance of meeting not only the Gilbert ladies but also Lady Gilbert's favourite niece, Miss Swinford, in London. If she was not staying with them, it was likely that she was there with her own family; and in case she was not Lady Gilbert would be able to inform him of her whereabouts.
To say that Frank was looking forward to meeting Eleanor again would have been a gross understatement. Ever since he had realised that his new situation was such as would enable him to marry her, he could think of nothing else. Eleanor Swinford occupied all his thoughts, whatever it was that he happened to be doing. As he'd gone to Hanley Park he had looked out of the carriage window hoping that Eleanor would take a fancy to the scenery surrounding the place; during his tour of the house itself he'd wondered which rooms Eleanor would like best, and whether the house would suit her at all.
Now, apart from indulging in the unwonted luxury of having a carriage to himself except for Collins, who was naturally going with him Frank spent most of the journey imagining the circumstances under which he was going to meet her again. Would she be surprised to see him, or had she already heard of his return to England and his good fortune? How was she going to react to his lame leg? Frank hoped she would be able to endure seeing him as he was now. It was not that his wound had disfigured him, but Eleanor was easily upset; he remembered that well. He'd have to make sure to downplay his injury; to tell her that matters were not as bad as she might think. Of course she was not going to be fooled by this, he thought with a smile. She was intelligent enough to know that no soldier was sent back to England to recover from a trifling wound. Yet there was no need for him to let her know any details of how he had come by his injury, or of his long and painful journey to Lisbon in order to get proper treatment. Those things were in the past, and he preferred to discuss their future with her.
Frank followed his mother's advice and put up at Limmer's Hotel rather than a coaching inn, which had hitherto been his habit whenever business had taken him to London.
"A man's address says a great deal about him," Mrs Morrison had told her son. "You can afford to stay at an expensive place now; there is no need for you to think of the cost. If you mean to remain in London for longer, however, it will be wisest to seek lodgings somewhere in the fashionable part of Town."
This was what Frank was planning to do, but for the moment the hotel would suit him very well. The first two days of his stay in London, Frank attended to business. Mr Burke visited him at the hotel to offer his services in Frank's search for suitable lodgings and servants to wait on him, and to hand over some documents for his signature. To please his mother, who'd asked him to do so, Frank consulted one of London's most eminent physicians, to let him have a look at his leg and ask him what could be done to speed up his recovery.
Apart from that Frank assumed that he'd better look like an affluent man before paying his visit to Mr Swinford; he was not likely to believe Frank had come into an inheritance without having some visible proof. So Frank paid a visit to his tailor, and ordered new clothes to replace his serviceable but undeniably shabby wardrobe. It was when he left Mr Scott's premises that Frank chanced to meet his uncle, Andrew Morrison.
"My dear boy!" his uncle cried, shaking hands with him. "I had no idea you were in Town! You should have sent word!"
"I only arrived the day before yesterday," Frank told his relative, cursing himself for not having stayed in the shop for five minutes longer. Relations between him and his father's side of the family had never been the best; Uncle Andrew's character was too similar to his father's to endear him to Frank. In fact Frank had been very well suited with writing a letter to his uncle occasionally and having these missives ignored. It was a solution he could very well live with; just as, he suspected, his uncle did.
"I have heard from your mother that you have been wounded," Mr Morrison stated. "Nothing too serious, I suppose; you look rather well."
Frank felt his hackles rise. He'd have been the first to make light of his injuries, but he was not going to let his uncle treat him like a malingerer.
"Serious enough to keep me away from my regiment for several months although I could be ill spared," he therefore said between clenched teeth. "It is not the habit of military surgeons to send us off to England without there being a good reason; you may depend on that!"
"But there is no need to take offence!" Mr Morrison protested. "Nothing could be further from my intentions, to be sure! Nobody can possibly doubt your courage, or your sense of duty! It would be an insult to your poor father to think otherwise!"
Frank noted that the insult to him was obviously negligible in comparison.
"Since you are in town, Francis, you must come to dine with us tonight! Your aunt and cousins will be delighted to meet you again. How long is it since you have last seen your cousins? It must have been years!"
"It has been years," Frank agreed, not telling his uncle that as far as he was concerned it would be fine with him if he could add another couple of years to that period. The only tolerable one among his uncle's family was his cousin George, who was eight years his junior. George was in Oxford at the moment and no doubt kicking up all kinds of larks, enjoying the freedom of university life.
"There you are then. I dare say you would not recognise your Cousin Serena if you met her in the street."
"Most likely not," Frank said, silently adding that if he did he'd take care to cross the street before accidentally running into her. As a boy, he had detested Serena, who'd had a way of telling tales about George and him and thereby getting them in trouble. No matter what she might look like now, Frank thought, he was not going to like her any better now than he'd done then. Some memories were hard to get rid of. However, it was clear to him that his uncle was not going to take no for an answer. So he agreed to dine at his uncle's house that evening, and by that means got rid of him for the moment.
Why was his uncle, who'd always ignored him unless he had no alternative, suddenly so keen on welcoming him as a guest in his house? Enlightenment dawned as Frank approached the hotel to pick up the parcel his friend had entrusted in his care. It was his nephew's unexpected inheritance that had suddenly made Mr Andrew Morrison discover his fondness for him. From being the poor relation he'd suddenly been transformed into a tempting marriage prospect for his cousin Serena. With a grim smile, Frank decided to make it quite clear to his uncle that any plans he might have in that direction were destined to fail. Even if he had never met and fallen in love with Eleanor Swinford, Serena would not stand a chance. He'd sooner marry his packhorse than Serena the Sneak.
Frank's next stop was in Half Moon Street, at the Gilberts' town house. He was admitted immediately, and ushered into a spacious parlour where the ladies of the house were awaiting him.
Lady Gilbert was very much the same as she had been a year and a half earlier, when Frank had stayed as a guest in her house. She gave Frank a warm welcome, expressed her concern when she saw him hobble in leaning on his walking stick, and her cordiality exceeded his uncle's by far.
Miss Gilbert was thrilled to see him. She'd grown up in those months Frank had spent in Spain, and was a remarkably pretty young lady. Still, in spite of her good looks and immense charm she could not hold a candle to her cousin, in Frank's opinion.
Almost at the moment he had entered the parlour she told him all about her come-out, which was planned for the upcoming Little Season, and in a tone that did not permit any contradiction she told him that she expected him to attend her party which was to take place the following week. Laughingly, Frank pointed out to her that while he'd be happy to attend he was unfortunately unable to dance.
"I can hardly walk, you know," he said.
Miss Gilbert frowned. "That's bad," she said. "You used to be such a good dancer, Captain!"
"When I get back to Spain I intend to make the French really sorry for changing that state of affairs," Frank said, grinning.
"Now you're making fun of me!" Miss Gilbert accused him. "You always did."
"Not always, and certainly not now," Frank protested. "It is indeed my intention to make them sorry."
Miss Gilbert was still slightly put out, although his promise to come to her party in spite of his inability to dance did something to mollify her.
Frank turned to Mrs Gilbert, his friend Gilbert's wife, who had listened to his conversation with her sister-in-law with a slight smile on her face. She was her usual calm and dignified self, although when she finally got to speak to him there was an undertone of emotion in her voice. It was clear to Frank that she was imagining her husband in a situation similar to his, and although she did not say so Frank could tell that the thought frightened her. He did his best to reassure her, knowing as well as she did that the best he could do was to inform her of how her husband had been some weeks before. Frank banished that thought however, and answered her questions as well as he could. Finally, he handed over the parcel Captain Gilbert had sent him, and watched as Mrs Gilbert suddenly became very animated.
She opened the parcel, and exclaimed at the things it contained a golden locket with a portrait of her husband, some other trinkets Gilbert had bought for her, and, finally, a wooden horse that seemed quite out of place in the jewellery collection.
"This is a present for your son, Mrs Gilbert," Frank explained. "There is one Corporal Rush among your husband's men who has a talent for wood-carving, and who has spent many an evening by the fireside making this."
"It is lovely," Mrs Gilbert sighed. "Of course Tony is too young to really appreciate the gift, but I am sure he will love it when he is old enough to play with it. The necklace is lovely, too! How thoughtful of John to buy it for me! I have thought of asking Eleanor to paint a miniature of Tony and me and sending it to him; do you think he would like that?"
Frank told her that her husband was extremely likely to appreciate such a gift, since he had often talked about not having seen his son yet. While a picture was not the same as holding the baby in his arms, it would please him to receive a likeness of his wife and son. Glad that Mrs Gilbert had introduced the subject of Eleanor Swinford to the conversation, he asked, after a short pause, whether Mr and Miss Swinford were in good health.
"Oh yes, they are," Mrs Gilbert informed him. "They arrived in London last week; their house is in Brook Street."
"My aunt is making another attempt at finding a husband for Eleanor," Miss Gilbert said. "Only think, she has had two Seasons already and is still not married!"
"One can hardly credit it," Frank said, watching with some amusement the quelling look Mrs Gilbert gave her sister-in-law and reflecting that some things never changed. Miss Gilbert was still the outspoken creature she had always been; besides she had in all likelihood forgotten that their short acquaintance had been enough to make Frank and Miss Swinford fall deep in love with each other. Coming to think of it, Miss Gilbert had never taken any notice of what had been going on under her very nose; it had probably not suited her fancy to take notice of it.
"It was not for lack of offers, either," Miss Gilbert said, blind to the silent message her sister-in-law was trying to convey to her. "Some of them were most eligible, too. She even turned down an earl!"
"Enough of that, my dear," Lady Gilbert intervened. "It is true that my niece has not shown any inclination for marriage yet. There is no saying, however, when she will change her mind." She gave Frank an encouraging smile. Eleanor's aunt, it seemed, was on his side.
"She is under considerable pressure from her parents," Mrs Gilbert told Frank. "Her brother is her only support in this matter."
Frank remembered Walter Swinford, a shy and quiet young gentleman, and wondered how much support he could possibly offer his sister. Not that it mattered Miss Swinford would soon receive another eligible proposal and Frank flattered himself that she was not going to reject that one. He'd left Shropshire in the knowledge that her affection for him was as strong as his for her, and had no reason to suppose that this had changed why else had she rejected every suitor for her hand, if not because her heart still belonged to him?
His stay with the Gilberts lasted the correct half hour, and included an introduction to young Master Anthony Gilbert, the youngest member of the family, who loudly protested against having to entertain his visitors rather than having his lunch.
Satisfied that Master Gilbert was as happy and healthy a child as he could possibly be, Frank took his leave to return to the hotel, write some letters and, later, join his uncle's family for dinner although he could have done without that last point on his schedule.
The exertions of the past few days had done nothing to improve the condition of Frank's wounded leg. By the time he returned to the hotel after his visit to the Gilbert family he was in considerable pain, and would have infinitely preferred to stay quietly in his room and have an early night. Knowing, however, that his uncle would not rest until Frank had dined at his house at least once and feeling that one had better get one's family duty over and done with as quickly as possible, Frank decided to go in spite of the pain in his leg. It would provide him with a convenient excuse to leave betimes, at any rate, and spare him a long evening spent in company with his aunt and female cousins, all of whom Frank cordially disliked. This was what he told Collins when he cautiously suggested that an early night might be more conducive to his health than an evening out; and Collins, well aware that it was useless to argue with the Captain, held his tongue. Knowing him as he did however, Frank knew that he would find Collins waiting up for him upon his return, with a fresh bandage and a dose of laudanum ready for his use.
At the stroke of eight o'clock Frank found himself mounting the stairs of his uncle's town residence in Portman Square, and was ushered into his aunt's fashionably furnished drawing room. Both she and her husband greeted Frank with a cordiality that was quite different from the way they had ever treated him before; a discrepancy that Frank suspected even they must be aware of.
"Francis, my boy!" his uncle boomed jovially. "Come in, come in!"
Frank acknowledged his uncle's greeting with a faint smile and a bow, and then turned to his aunt. She gave him her hand and Frank dutifully kissed it, listening to her declaration of how shocked she had been when she had heard about his misfortune in Spain, and how glad she was to see him so well. Since at that moment a stab of pain shot through his leg, Frank was only able to thank her in the blandest possible manner, and began to wonder whether he'd have been better advised to follow Collins' recommendation to stay at home after all. It certainly was going to be a long evening he feared.
"You remember you cousins Serena and Elizabeth; don't you?" his aunt inquired, indicating the young ladies seated on the sofa next to her.
Frank turned to his cousins and bowed to them. "I certainly do," he said. Serena had not improved much, he thought. She had grown up and was quite pretty, but she had the charm and animation of a dead fish. "How do you do, cousin?"
"How do you do?" Serena echoed politely, giving him her hand to kiss. It was clear to Frank that she was about as impressed with him as he was with her, which suited him perfectly. He hoped she was not going to change her mind once she found out that he'd inherited a large fortune.
Elizabeth, although some two years younger than her sister, could have passed for her identical twin. She, too, greeted Frank formally but did not betray any pleasure at seeing him.
"Pray take a seat," his aunt said, and indicated a chair next to Serena. Frank thanked her, and sat down. This promised to be the most tedious evening he had ever spent in company.
"How is your dear mother?" his aunt wanted to know. "I have not seen her for ages!"
Frank suppressed the obvious retort, which was that it would have been easy for his aunt to see his mother if she had wanted to take the trouble, and merely told her that his mother was in excellent health.
"I am glad to hear it. Dear Mary! I must remember to call on her next time we find ourselves in Kent."
"She will be delighted," Frank said in the safe knowledge that his mother would be spared the ordeal. Like her husband, his aunt had thought her sister-in-law beneath her; probably she had also believed the theory that there was "bad blood" in the Hargreave family.
"I often wonder how she can endure life in that tiny cottage of hers," his aunt went on. "With only one servant to see to her needs!"
"She has grown accustomed to it I suppose," Frank replied. "Besides she will not be obliged to tolerate it any longer. I intend to make some changes to her situation."
"Oh yes, indeed! You have become a man of substance, haven't you?" His aunt tittered. "You are to be congratulated!"
"Thank you, ma'am," Frank said dryly.
"I hear Peter Hargreave has left you a substantial fortune," his uncle said.
"One might call it so," Frank said cautiously. He was not going to give them an exact sum of what his income was going to be, although his uncle had presumably invited him to discover just that.
"It was probably the only good thing that man did in his life," his uncle remarked.
"I would not know; I was not acquainted with him," Frank said. "But I imagine there must have been other good deeds as well; he was a married man and his wife was apparently fond enough of him to leave some of her money to him rather than her son. I cannot believe she would have done so if she had not thought him to be a good man."
"She would not have been the first silly woman in the world, nor the last," his uncle said dismissively. "I realise of course that your inheritance has made you inclined to think well of your uncle; it is very proper, and far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but in his lifetime Peter Hargreave has caused nothing but trouble to his family."
"My mother said as much," Frank told him. Luckily the butler came in at that moment and announced that dinner was ready. While the servants were waiting on them his uncle and aunt were unable to discuss the subject any further and Frank's aunt remembered to ask him about his experiences in Spain, a topic that could safely be talked about in front of them since it put the family in a good light - a nephew who'd sacrificed his good health for King and Country was something to boast of.
"Does your wound still cause you pain?" she asked once he had told her under which circumstances he had been injured, naturally omitting exact descriptions of the battle and his wound.
"Occasionally," Frank said. "My leg does not take kindly to being subjected to too much exercise. One reason why I have been sent home was the fact that I cannot possibly keep up with our marches. It takes able-bodied men for that I'd only hold them up."
"Then you will not be able to take part in the festivities of the season! What a pity!" his aunt exclaimed; thus betraying her priorities. Never mind that he might well be permanently prevented from working in his profession, or that his leg might hurt for the rest of his life; the problem was that he could not take part in society events during the Little Season.
"I can hardly take part in them, ma'am, considering I am supposed to be in mourning for my uncle," Frank said maliciously. "One does not wish to be lacking in respect."
"Indeed! I quite forgot!" His aunt looked annoyed, but was unable to berate him for keeping the proprieties in mind; especially while the servants were still listening. "You will be quite bored then."
"I do not expect to be bored," Frank said. "There is plenty for me to do. The renovation of Hanley Park is not yet finished, and once that is done I will have to buy new furniture for the place. By the time I return to Spain I'll be worn out and in need of some rest."
"The rumour is true then!" his aunt exclaimed. "Your uncle did buy Hanley Park!"
"So he did," Frank said. "As far as I know he was planning to come back to England and take up residence there; however he died before the refurbishment of the house was completed."
"It is a fine place," his uncle remarked. "A good estate, I have always thought, although Lord Jervis did not take much interest in it. It came to him through his wife, which might explain why he did not feel obliged to do much to keep it in order."
"Whether he did not feel obliged to or was merely short of funds I do not know, but he did not spend a groat on the upkeep of Hanley Park and so there is a great deal to be done until the house is habitable again," Frank told him.
After dinner, his aunt and cousins withdrew and left Frank and his uncle to drink their port.
Frank complimented his uncle on the vintage; a compliment that gave his uncle a great deal of satisfaction for he thought himself an expert in wines.
"Where are you staying at the moment?" his uncle wanted to know after a short silence.
"At Limmer's Hotel, but I am planning to move to lodgings very soon," Frank told him. "Mr Burke who was my uncle Peter's man of business has taken the matter in hand and I am confident that I will have a place of my own within a week."
"But why, dear boy? Why don't you just come and stay with us? Surely you must know that you will always be welcome in this house!"
"I am much obliged to you, sir," Frank replied. "But I would not for the world put my aunt to so much trouble! She must be very busy with my cousins' Presentation and would not thank me for putting up in her house at a time like this I am sure."
"On the contrary; when I made the suggestion she was all for it," his uncle assured him.
"But naturally she would it would not be proper for your wife to be anything but welcoming to any guest you choose to invite to your house. Nevertheless I fear she would find my presence most inconvenient. Apart from that, sir, I do not hesitate to tell you that I prefer to have lodgings of my own. As a man who is used to having things his own way I find it hard to submit to others."
"Only think how much money you could save," his uncle made another attempt at persuading him.
"Luckily that need not be an object with me any longer," Frank said smilingly. "I can well afford comfortable lodgings in a good part of town, and this is what I mean to do. I do hope you will not take it amiss; you will understand that I value my independence, sir."
Realising that Frank was not going to accept his invitation no matter how often he pressed him, his uncle gave up and merely expressed his regret that Frank preferred hired lodgings to the comfort his family's home could give him.
"But I do understand," he said. "Young men on the town are often up to mischief and do not wish their female relatives to get wind of it."
If this was how his uncle chose to see the matter he was welcome to, Frank thought and agreed. He'd never had the opportunity to enjoy town life, he said, and was going to make the most of it while he could.
"You will come to me for help if you get yourself in trouble," his uncle said, and Frank was well aware that this was not a request but an order.
"I do not expect to get myself in trouble, sir," he told his uncle. "I am past the age of youthful folly."
"I would not be too sure of that," his uncle said darkly. "I'd have preferred to keep an eye on you while you are making your first experiences of town life."
"I am past the age of needing a watchdog, too," Frank said coldly. "Never you fear sir, should I ever feel in need of your advice you may be certain that I will ask you for it."
Frank was well aware that his uncle was not concerned about him at all; he must know that he had no need to worry about Frank's conduct in Town. Frank had reached his twenty-eighth year without causing a scandal, and was not going to cause one now.
What his uncle wanted was Frank's fortune for his daughter Serena. A couple of weeks ago Andrew Morrison would have been horrified if Frank had shown any interest in his cousin beyond that of a distant relative, and would have done his utmost to prevent a marriage between them. But now Frank was a good catch, and his aunt and uncle were not going to let him slip through their fingers if they could help it. Had Frank agreed to move to his uncle's house, he'd have given them the perfect opportunity for pursuing that object. Another reason to settle matters with Eleanor as soon as possible, Frank thought. Once he was betrothed or even married to her, his uncle would have to accept that Frank was not going to keep his fortune in the family.
The night was horrible. Frank's leg hurt nearly as much as it had done during the first days after the battle of the Coa, and he was almost tempted to take laudanum to alleviate the pain. But he was none too fond of this treatment. They had given him laudanum in hospital, and Frank had disliked the side effects the medicine had had on him. He wished to keep a clear head, and therefore sent Collins about his business when he made that suggestion. At last, Frank managed to get some sleep, but by the time he awoke the next morning it was already too late to call on Mr Swinford. Even if it had not been, Frank reflected, it was not advisable to arrive at a gentleman's residence in order to propose to said gentleman's daughter looking as if he'd spent all night carousing. Mr Swinford would have to wait, and Frank spent the day settling some important business. Mr Burke had found a set of rooms for him at Albany, and being satisfied with its situation Frank prepared to move there. His tailor delivered the garments Frank had ordered, and Frank received several friends of his who'd got wind of his presence in Town. Yet Frank spent most of his time trying to come up with a speech that would impress Mr Swinford, and dreaming of his reunion with Eleanor. None of the things he'd imagined, however, came close to what happened the following day when he was finally able to visit the Swinfords.
Frank arrived in Brook Street looking precise to a pin in his new coat, pantaloons and shiny Hessians. Nervously, he rang the doorbell and handed his card to the footman who answered the door. He was asked to wait in the hallway while the servant bore the card to the master of the house, and some minutes later he was shown into a study where, he was told, Mr Swinford would receive him presently. The wait was not long enough to give Frank time to worry what his reception was going to be like. He'd hardly had a look-round in the room when the door opened and a middle-aged gentleman came in. He was tall, even taller than Frank who was of rather more than medium height himself. His bearing proclaimed his pride here was a man fully aware of his importance, Frank felt, and suspected that Mr Swinford had often succeeded in intimidating people with this attitude. It was not impossible that this was Mr Swinford's intention now; in fact it was rather likely, but Frank was not easily intimidated, and simply matched the gentleman's stare with one of his own.
"Captain Morrison?" Mr Swinford demanded, after a few moments' silent appraisal of Frank's person.
"Quite so, sir," Frank replied.
"Then you are the man who seduced my daughter." Swinford was nothing if not blunt, Frank realised, and certainly hostile.
Taken aback, he said, "I beg your pardon, sir?"
"I said you must be the man who seduced my daughter," Swinford repeated.
"I have not had that honour, I am afraid," Frank replied ironically. "I am not that kind of man, and which is even more important - your daughter is not that kind of girl. Surely you must have known that, at least, even though you knew nothing about me?"
"If this is not what happened between the two of you, why has she refused every respectable offer of marriage she's had?" Swinford asked. "Do not blame me for thinking that she must have been fool enough to succumb to your charm and was afraid of being found out if she married another!"
"You had better ask your daughter why she has hitherto chosen to remain single, sir, for I do not know," Frank said. "She never made me a promise to that effect, and I never demanded it of her. Nor has anything of an untoward kind ever happened between us."
"Well. Take a seat, Captain, and tell me why you're here," Swinford said with a sigh.
"Thank you, sir." Frank sat down in a chair to one side of the fireplace, and waited until his host had taken his place opposite him.
"You have been injured?" Swinford asked, indicating Frank's walking stick and outstretched leg.
"Unfortunately," Frank said. "This is one of the reasons why I have returned to England. There was some other business as well, which has forced me to reconsider the plans I had for my future. I think you must have guessed what my business with you must be."
"Have you come to apply to me for my daughter's hand in marriage?"
"Give me one good reason why I should give my blessing to the match," Mr Swinford said.
"I love your daughter," Frank told him, "and I have reason to believe that she returns my regard."
"What do you intend to live on? This talk of love is all very well; quite moving in fact, but when poverty comes in at the door love will fly out of the window, as the saying goes. I do not intend to permit my daughter to marry a man who cannot provide for her."
"There has been a material change in my circumstances," Frank said. "I did not apply to you last year when I first met Miss Swinford, being well aware that our marriage was not going to find favour in your eyes. However, an uncle of mine has left me a considerable fortune, which will enable me to support Miss Swinford in the style she is accustomed to."
"Had you come here and told me you had expectations, I would not have withheld my consent I believe," Swinford said. "Especially since my daughter appears to be fond of you."
"I had no expectations then," Frank explained. "The inheritance has come as a great surprise. My uncle lived abroad; I did not even know of his existence until his man of business informed me of my inheritance."
They spent some twenty minutes discussing Frank's new situation, and becoming acquainted with each other. Mr Swinford was on his guard, Frank thought, and did not blame him. The story of the lost uncle sounded fantastic enough; Mr Swinford was not going to accept it at face value. Frank had foreseen this, and had taken some papers to this interview with him. Among them was the letter from Mr Burke, and the inventory of his uncle's possessions that Mr Burke had given him.
"If you have any more questions, sir, I am sure Mr Burke will be at your service," Frank said as he handed them to Swinford.
Mr Swinford nodded. "I believe this is quite sufficient," he said after having read through Burke's letter. "I suggest you talk to my daughter now, for it will not do for us to discuss marriage settlements until we have heard her opinion of the matter." He rose. "I will send for her," he said, "and give you some time to speak to her in private."
Eleanor was still as beautiful as Frank remembered her; if anything her looks had improved. There was a decided air of fashion about her; she was wearing a white muslin gown with blue embroidery at the hem and a blue sash that exactly matched her eyes. Her golden curls were dressed becomingly, and her lips were just as kissable as they'd always been. She was not surprised to find him here; at least she betrayed no surprise but merely said, "Captain Morrison!"
Frank, who'd risen from his chair the moment she had entered the room, smiled. "Glad you still recognise me," he said.
Her eyes fell on his walking stick. "You are injured," she said, her voice trembling.
"It does not signify," Frank told her.
"That's why they sent you to England, I suppose," Eleanor said dryly. "Because of some insignificant wound."
"I should have said it does not signify any more," Frank amended. "I am feeling much better already, and the doctor is confident that it will heal in time without causing any lasting damage. But I have not come to discuss my state of health with you."
"Then what do you wish to discuss with me?" Eleanor asked, sitting down in the chair her father had vacated.
Frank drew a deep breath. "Last year when we first met I was soon made aware that your family was not going to consider me a suitable match for you," he began. "So while I was unable to stay out of your way, because every day I was falling more deeply in love with you, I knew that my suit was hopeless. I I hoped that you would not feel an equal attraction to me, and when I became aware that this was what was happening I did the only thing a man of honour could have done at the time I took my leave of you. I did explain my motives to you before I left, and I think you understood my meaning then."
Eleanor nodded. "You made it very clear to me that you had no expectations," she said. "But what brings you here now in spite of that?"
"The hope that your feelings for me have not altered," Frank explained. "A great deal has happened; an uncle of mine has died and left me his fortune. The moment I was informed of that inheritance I hoped that it would enable me to make my dearest wish come true you can have no doubt as to what it was that I wished so fervently. Will you marry me, Eleanor?"
That Eleanor was greatly agitated was evident; her hands shook and her cheeks had grown slightly pink.
"Do you mean to tell me that you lied to me last year?" she demanded indignantly. It was not quite the reply Frank had expected.
"I did not," he said, with dignity.
"You said you had no expectations!"
"I had none," Frank told her. "I was not lying!"
"Then how come you inherit a fortune all of a sudden? From an uncle no less! Surely you must have known that uncle of yours had something to leave! One does not acquire an uncle from one moment to the next!"
"He was my uncle from the moment I was born," Frank said with a smile. "Only I did not know him. He lived abroad, and there was no contact between him and the rest of the family."
"Do you expect me to believe that tale?" Eleanor asked. "You must take me for a fool indeed!"
"I expect you to believe it; not because I think you a fool but because I have told you the truth," Frank retorted. This was not going as he had thought it would; he was beginning to feel exasperated with Eleanor but he was making an effort not to show it.
She ignored this remark. "If only you had told me," she said. "I'd have waited for you I'd have faced my family's opposition in the knowledge that there was some hope for us!"
"How often do I have to tell you that I did not know, Eleanor? I'd have been a villain to engage your affections without having the means to support you. This was why I left, not because I'd grown tired of our flirtation or whatever it is that you appear to think. I love you, and leaving you behind broke my heart!"
"It also broke mine," Eleanor admitted. "This is why I cannot forgive you for putting me through all this. And do not say you did nothing to fix your interest with me although you had no intention of marrying me; it is what you did! And I have suffered for it!"
"But it's over, Eleanor. There is no need for us to be separated the way we have been, without hope for a happy ending. Marry me, and I'll do my best to make amends for that dreadful year, I promise."
"I I cannot," Eleanor said. "Had you asked me last year I would not have hesitated to accept a proposal from you; I would have waited patiently for the moment when you'd finally be able to marry me. But you did not choose to propose to me then instead you toyed with my affections, left me when you realised that you had gone too far, and now you come back to me with this this fantastic story of an uncle you did not know you had leaving you a fortune!"
"I could prove the truth of that, Eleanor, but if you do not take my word for it there is no more to be said," Frank replied wearily.
"Besides, how am I to believe that you hurried to my side, when I know very well that you have been in London for days without so much as calling on me to see how I was doing?" she demanded.
"Is this what irks you?" Frank asked. "While I do not think that I am accountable to you for my whereabouts not while we're not even betrothed, at any rate I have been taking care of some obligations I had, in order to be at leisure to spend more time with you once you have accepted my suit. If this is what bothers you, I hope you will accept my apologies; I did not mean to slight you. For the final time, Eleanor will you marry me?"
"I will not," Eleanor said quietly. "It is it's all so unexpected; I am not sure of your feelings, nor am I sure of mine. I don't know if I love you well enough to marry you; I oh, just leave me alone, will you?"
Sobbing, she hurried from the room. For a moment Frank felt an impulse to follow her, but decided against it. He was not going to force himself on a girl who wanted none of him; or said she did not want him.
The door opened and Eleanor's father came in again. He raised his eyebrows in surprise when he found that his daughter was not in the room. "Well?" he asked.
"She will not have me, sir," Frank said, trying to keep his disappointment out of his voice but not quite succeeding. Even to himself he sounded rather forlorn, though not as despondent as he was feeling.
"What? That foolish girl will be the death of me!" Mr Swinford cried. "Never you mind, Captain; I'll make her accept your proposal yet! I've had quite enough of her caprice! For it's nothing more than that, you may take my word for it!"
Eleanor had never struck Frank as capricious, and he did not think her refusal had its root in mere volatility. She really felt ill-treated, and had refused his proposal for that reason.
"I do not think I have reason to despair yet," he therefore said. "Miss Swinford may yet change her mind. Her refusal sounded definite enough, but I did win her heart before why should I not succeed in winning it again? I must ask you, sir, not to put any pressure on her. If she agrees to marry me, I want her to do so out of her own free will. I do not want an unwilling bride; nor do I want one who does not trust me, and it seems that she will have to learn to trust me again before she will contemplate marriage with me. What she needs is time, and peace and quiet to make her decision."
He rose. "Good bye, Mr Swinford," he said. "Thank you for giving me some of your time, and for allowing me to speak to your daughter. Please give my respects to your family, and tell Mrs Swinford that I greatly regret not having made her acquaintance."
Mr Swinford, probably realising the state Frank was in, did not press him to stay but assured him that he would always be a welcome guest in his house, and showed him out.
Frank walked to the Albany, where he had set up house the day before, considering his options. Nothing really mattered any more almost all his plans for his future had depended on Eleanor, and now that he knew she was not going to play a part in it he did not care to make any new ones. Frank suddenly found himself without a real purpose in life he did not have a marriage to look forward to, nor did he have his profession to take his mind off things. He felt like a sailor stranded on a foreign shore, without anything to do or anyone to talk to. It was not quite like that, he knew. He had friends in town; school friends as well as officers from other regiments who were currently stationed there. There were the Gilberts, but since Frank was likely to meet Eleanor in their house he did not think that he was going to visit them very often. Here he was in London, among thousands people who thought of nothing but enjoying themselves, and instead of following their example he wished himself back to the battlefields of Spain and Portugal. There, at least, he'd be on familiar ground.
Wallowing in self-pity was not one of Frank's habits, although he felt strongly inclined to make an exception on this particular occasion. From this he was prevented by an acquaintance of his; an old school friend he quite literally bumped into as he walked up the stairs to his lodgings. Septimus Edenthorpe had been in Harrow with Frank, and had completed his education in Cambridge although, Frank suspected, his academic success must have been extremely moderate. Edenthorpe was an athlete, not a philosopher; he was a keen rider and displayed rather well in the boxing ring, yet out of the ring he showed no tendency whatsoever towards violence. In school he'd been popular among his peers for being open-handed with the contents of the parcels his mother sent him every week, and for always taking the part of those less able to defend themselves than he. This might have been the consequence of his own experiences with his six elder brothers he'd once expressed the suspicion that his parents had planned to have seven sons from the start, in the hope of being able to call the youngest "Septimus", a name he cordially disliked but was more likely founded in Edenthorpe's kind and generous nature. Frank, who'd had no siblings, had often listened to his friend's tales of family life and greatly envied him for having six brothers to play with, even if this meant that he would have had to take part in the occasional fight or two. It was this friend who almost sent Frank reeling backwards down the stairs again, but caught him in time to prevent a fall and steadied him.
"Good heavens! I'm so sorry, sir, you almost " He broke off. "Morrison!" he cried. "Now that's a face I like to see! I haven't met you in ages where the hell have you been?"
"In Spain," Frank replied, taking the proffered hand and shaking it.
"I should have known! Got wounded, did you?"
"I'm afraid so," Frank said.
"That's jolly bad luck," Edenthorpe said.
"Could have been worse. I could have been killed," Frank said dryly.
"I suppose so. Good thing the Frenchies didn't get you, eh? Are you visiting someone here?"
"No; I've taken a set of rooms here," Frank told his friend.
"Really? What a coincidence, I've lodgings here as well! We're neighbours! Capital! Listen, Morrison, I have to be off now; nothing to be done about it my brother wants to see me, and he can have a dashed nasty tongue in his head if one's as much as five minutes late so I'm not going to risk that but what do you say to having dinner at my place? I've some decent burgundy from my brother's cellars, would you care for a taste?"
Getting drunk with Edenthorpe happened to be exactly what suited Frank's mood at the moment, and he therefore agreed to call at his friend's lodgings that evening. He then proceeded up the stairs, and Edenthorpe dashed out into the street in order to keep his appointment with his brother. Frank spent the afternoon writing some letters, mainly to keep his mind off Eleanor's refusal to marry him, and then went to Edenthorpe's apartment at the appointed time.
Whatever the changes that Edenthorpe must of necessity have gone through since their school days, his generosity was still evident. The dinner he offered Frank would not have disgraced a Duke's table, and the burgundy was indeed first-rate. Contrary to Frank's expectations, which had been none too high, they spent a most agreeable evening in each other's company. Edenthorpe showed considerable interest in Frank's career, explaining this by telling him that his brothers Joseph and Reginald were also stationed in Spain but hardly ever bothered with letting him know how they were getting on.
"They think as long as they write to my mother there's no need for them to send letters to anyone else at home," he complained. "But dash it, a fellow wants to know what his own brothers are up to!"
Frank agreed that it was gross neglect on Messrs Edenthorpe's part to ignore the claim their youngest brother had on them. He had not met either of these gentlemen, he told his friend; since they were both staff officers and he did not mix with that set.
Edenthorpe chuckled. "I've half a mind to tell my brothers so next time they come home," he explained his amusement. "You make it sound as if they're the scaff and raff of the Army!"
"Nothing of the sort, I assure you. It's merely that I haven't yet been admitted to their elevated rank," Frank retorted. "What are you doing with yourself? Any occupation to pass your idle days?"
"Not yet," Edenthorpe admitted. "But that was why my brother wanted to see me today, in fact."
"He's tired of paying your bills, is he?"
"Something of that kind. I'm to present myself at the Home Office, where he has found me a position as a junior secretary. Apart from that he wishes me to settle down and become leg-shackled to some female with nothing but a large fortune to recommend her. Do you know Haverford's daughter, Lady Penelope Burton?"
"No; I'm afraid I am not acquainted with the lady."
"Lucky devil! It's not that she's ugly, but she's ill-tempered enough to make her parents consider marrying her to a seventh son with no prospects, such as me, just to get her off their hands. That should be enough to draw you an accurate picture of her character but damme, I can't bring myself to do it! I'd much prefer staying single, but beggars can't be choosers you know."
"No one knows better than I," Frank agreed, and passed the decanter on to his friend. "I've been a beggar for most of my life, if you remember."
"You no longer are, then?"
"I've inherited a fortune," Frank told his friend. "Not that it has improved my situation much. I just happen to be able to pay all my bills now."
He told his friend about his meeting with Eleanor although without mentioning her name, for he feared her habit of refusing marriage proposals had already given her quite a reputation to which he did not wish to contribute. They ended up drinking up the burgundy in mutual sympathy, and tottering off to their respective beds afterwards. The quality of the burgundy made itself felt the next morning when Frank awoke expecting to have a splitting headache the moment he opened his eyes, but feeling none of the ill-effects he usually had after a convivial evening. He saw no point in rising from his bed; there was nothing he was looking forward to that day, but in the end he decided to have a look-in at Tattersall's to see whether any of the horses on offer there caught his fancy. Eleanor might have rejected him, Frank told himself, but that was no reason for him to hide under his bedcovers and refuse to face the world. He had to make the best of his situation, and at least he had the means to do so.
Frank was having a belated breakfast when a visitor arrived and a most unexpected one at that. Collins came in and gave Frank a visiting card belonging to Walter Swinford, Eleanor's brother. Wondering what young Swinford could possibly want of him, Frank told Collins to admit him and rose from his chair to welcome his visitor.
In looks, Walter Swinford had not changed much, but his bearing had undergone a change. Frank remembered a shy, tongue-tied young man, but there was nothing of that in Swinford now. It had given way to an air of quiet self-assurance that became him well. In short, Frank thought that Walter Swinford had grown up in those months since they'd last met. His manner was confident, although considering what had happened between Frank and Swinford's sister the previous day some uncertainty on his part would have been well justified. His demeanour was purposeful but amiable it did not look as if he'd come to berate Frank for what had taken place the day before; though he could hardly do that, Frank thought the unexpected turn events had taken were Eleanor's fault, not his.
Frank shook hands with Swinford, invited him to sit down and offered him a share of his breakfast. Swinford declined, telling him that he was not hungry, but did accept a tankard of ale while he was keeping his host company. It was not until Collins had removed the dishes from the table and left the room that Frank asked Swinford what had given him the honour of his visit.
"For I do not hesitate to tell you that after the treatment I received at your sister's hands yesterday you were the last person I'd expected to see," he said.
"I know that," Swinford replied. "If you kick me out of here I'll be well served, I suppose."
"I have no quarrel with you," Frank told him. "You're free to call on me whenever you wish; the question is whether your sister will like it if you do."
"Does it matter whether she likes it or not? I hope I may go to see my friends without asking for her permission," Swinford replied. "Yet, I've come here on her behalf."
Frank put down his glass. "Has she changed her mind about me then?"
"She hasn't, I'm afraid, but things have come to such a pass that I've had to remove her from my father's house."
Frank stared at him, dumbfounded. "What what do you mean by that?" he finally managed to say.
"My parents," Walter explained. "That is to say, my father has held himself back for once and didn't say much, just telling Eleanor that he was disappointed to discover such fickleness in one of his children; and that you'd deserved better treatment from her than you received. Having said that, he went off to his club; to keep himself from flying into a temper I believe. I suspect you said something to him to make him keep his peace; he would not have done so for Eleanor's sake."
"I did tell him that I did not want him to bully Eleanor into accepting me," Frank said. "I am glad he was making an effort to treat her kindly; it will not serve my case if he tries to force her. If he did that it would only set her against me, and rightly so if I had anything to do with it."
"It was good of you to think of that in spite of the way she treated you; you're not like those other fellows who didn't care what became of her the moment she'd refused them. She has earned herself a nickname, did you know that? The Cold-Hearted Beauty they call her all over London, though not to my face they don't."
"Nor to mine, if they know what's good for them," Frank said darkly.
"Don't you think that would only add to the talk?"
"Not if I'm known to be a friend of yours," Frank told him. "But why did you feel compelled to take El Miss Swinford away from home?"
Walter grinned. "You may call her Eleanor if you like; I've no objection," he said, and then his expression became serious again. "As I said, my father was for once behaving like a gentleman, but my mother gave her such a trimming! I've never heard her use the kind of language she used with Eleanor, and in front of us all, too! By the time she was finished with her, Eleanor was huddled up on the sofa and crying her heart out, thinking she'd effectively ruined herself and the family into the bargain. My mother said she'd lost all patience with her, and wasn't going to put herself to any trouble any more. She meant to send Eleanor off to Cumberland to stay with my great-aunt Persephone, where she'll be used as a drudge if I know anything about my great-aunt, and I could not let that happen. So I went to see Clara, and she came up with a better scheme."
This was probably the longest speech Walter Swinford had ever made, which showed Frank how much Eleanor's misfortune affected him. Frank was glad Walter had applied to Mrs Gilbert for help if there was one lady in Frank's acquaintance who could help Eleanor he was sure Mrs Gilbert was the one. Any scheme of hers was better than sending Eleanor to live with a great-aunt named Persephone, Frank suspected.
"I have the highest opinion of Mrs Gilbert's good sense," he said. "What is her scheme?"
"She has decided to remove to the country with her baby, and to ask Eleanor to accompany her. At least that is the explanation everyone will hear from me when they want to know why Eleanor has left Town so suddenly."
"I can see that my faith in Mrs Gilbert's good sense is well founded," Frank remarked. "So you are taking them to Colby Green?"
"No; for if they went to Shropshire there was no chance of you being able to visit them," Swinford said earnestly. "It is Clara's belief as well as my own that Eleanor is still in love with you, and that she needs to be in your company as often as possible to remind her of it."
Frank laughed. "I'd no idea one could forget such a thing as being in love," he said. "I certainly didn't."
"Maybe I've chosen the wrong word," Walter said. "Shall we say she needs to admit it to herself before she can accept you as her husband? That is, if you still have the intention of marrying her."
"It's my greatest wish," Frank said earnestly.
"Very well then; you must agree that it would be foolish to remove her beyond your reach. Clara has taken Eleanor to Milbrooke House, her home in Surrey. It's an easy distance from Town; you'll be able to visit them whenever you wish and Clara wished me to tell you that you will always be a welcome visitor and there's a decent inn in the village if you wish to spend the night in the country. Clara regrets that since her husband is not at home she cannot offer you a bed in her own house. You know what people are."
Frank nodded. There would be talk if a single gentleman stayed overnight in a house where two ladies, none of them related to him, were the only inhabitants. Mrs Gilbert's kindness to Frank and Eleanor must not be repaid in such a manner.
"So, if you wish to go and see Eleanor I can take you there tomorrow," Walter Swinford offered.
"I don't think that's a good idea," Frank said slowly. "Your sister has suffered a great deal; most of her suffering was for my sake. What she needs is a period of peace and quiet, not me hovering over her head like a vulture."
"You won't go to see her then?" Walter Swinford was surprised.
"I will, but not just yet. She'll still be there next week, I suppose, by which time she'll have recovered a little. If you care to accompany me then, I'll be happy to visit her."
Walter Swinford's visit had given Frank hope that not all was lost as far as Eleanor was concerned. If her brother thought that she loved him but was merely not ready to admit it to herself, time would help to change things for the better. All Frank needed to do in the meantime was show her that he was there for her, waiting for the moment when she would make her decision, and that his feelings for her had not undergone a change of any kind. Things were certainly looking up, and with the visit in Surrey to look forward to Frank could take part in London's social life or at least the part of it that he cared to take part in without having to fear the possibility of awkward situations arising between Eleanor and him in public. His engagements were mainly with those of his friends who had discovered his presence in Town, and consisted of the kind of entertainment that called for male company.
Edenthorpe took Frank to see a mill, and Frank regretted being unable to take part in a fight or two of his own. He hadn't boxed since his school days, but thanks to Edenthorpe's coaching he'd been pretty good at it once, and would not have minded refreshing his memory, had it not been for his unfortunate handicap.
"I'm afraid my footwork won't amount to much," he said regretfully, and so they gave up on that scheme until such a moment as Frank's health would permit him to take part in some sparring exercise in Jackson's boxing club, where Edenthorpe was a frequent visitor.
It was also Edenthorpe who introduced Frank to a place in Dover Street, where a gunsmith had set up a shooting gallery for gentlemen to try out his merchandise and improve their aim; a place that suited Frank's tastes and was sure to enjoy his patronage in the future, especially since Mr Manton's guns were first-rate. One morning spent on these premises was enough to make a dozen new friends Frank suspected that no one wished to be on the wrong side of a fellow whose aim with a pistol was as accurate as his. The news spread that Captain Morrison was a deadly shot but an amiable character; many young men admired and tried to emulate his skill at shooting and Frank became quite a favourite with some of the younger gentlemen.
There was one thing Frank did not care to become too involved with he stayed away from the gaming hells. It was with gambling that his father had squandered most of his fortune and had often caused his family great distress, and Frank was not going to follow his example. While he was perfectly willing to oblige his friends with a game of piquet or whist for moderate stakes, he refused to enter those exclusive clubs that would have been only too happy to welcome Captain Morrison and his newly acquired fortune. For Frank's inheritance was now the latest on-dit of the Ton, and without having any intention of becoming a part of Fashionable Society he found himself the recipient of dozens invitations; most of them from Mamas on the lookout for eligible marriage prospects for their daughters. This put him into a bit of a quandary.
Lady Gilbert wished him to attend her party the following week, and since Frank had given Miss Gilbert his word that he would come even though he was unable to dance he supposed he would have to keep his promise. Yet he remembered having told his aunt that he did not mean to attend any parties, out of respect for his late uncle, and while this was a convenient excuse to stay away from such functions as he did not wish to attend he was well aware that once he'd made his appearance at Lady Gilbert's ball it would no longer hold. He put the problem before his friend Edenthorpe, whom he'd met at Tattersall's and invited to dine with him. Although Edenthorpe was not known for his book-learning, he could be depended on to find a way out of any social problem. But even he was hard put to come up with a solution to Frank's difficulties.
"That's a tricky one," Edenthorpe said. "I suppose the easiest way out of this would be to accept Lady Gilbert's invitation but excuse yourself at the last moment, telling her that you are bed-ridden with a bout of influenza, or that leg of yours is giving you trouble, or something of that kind. People won't see you at the party and you're well out of it."
Frank pointed out that there were two faults with this plan of action. Firstly, there were several reasons why he really wanted to attend Lady Gilbert's party and had no intention of sending his excuses. Secondly, Lady Gilbert was not unlikely to approach Mrs Morrison and ask her how her poor nephew was doing, thus betraying that he had accepted the invitation at first.
"I suppose," Edenthorpe mused, "that you could make an exception for close friends and family; not having been acquainted with your uncle and the family having disowned him years ago."
"I have no reason to disown him," Frank pointed out. "He left me a huge fortune and has never done me any harm that I know of. Coming to think of it this makes him the best uncle I ever had besides, accepting his fortune but disowning the man is an act of hypocrisy I will not commit."
"No need to tell that to anyone, is there? Do you want to go to that party or don't you?"
There was some sense in what Edenthorpe said, and so Frank decided to adopt his friend's suggestion, should his aunt demand an explanation for his presence at Lady Gilbert's dance. She was certainly likely to do so if it happened to come to her ears. As for the matchmakers, he could still use his leg injury as an excuse for those parties he had no wish to attend. He'd come to England to recuperate, not to ruin his health for good by high-living.
Frank ran into another friend, Alexander Powell, Captain of the Life Guards, in the card room at Lady Gilbert's party.
"Morrison! What a sight for sore eyes!" Captain Powell exclaimed and approached him. "What are you up to, old layabout?"
"And what right does a Hyde Park saunterer such as yourself have to look down on idlers like me?" Frank demanded, shaking hands with Powell.
"None at all, I'm sure," Powell said, glancing at Frank's stick. "Sent home to recuperate, I gather."
"That, and to settle some personal business," Frank replied. "Such as calling out every fool that dares call me a layabout."
"Even if that fool happens to be a friend of yours?"
"Especially if that fool is a friend of mine, for he ought to know better."
"How about having a drink and forgetting all about it?" Captain Powell suggested.
"You may get me a drink while I consider that possibility," Frank said, grinning.
"We must have a comfortable coze one of these days, for I must and will hear all about your adventures in the Peninsula and how you came by that injury of yours." Captain Powell took a seat next to Frank and indicated to a servant that he was standing in need of some refreshment. "I'm afraid this is neither the time nor the place to discuss such matters."
"I have rooms in Albany," Frank said. "Drop by one of these days and I'll be happy to oblige you."
Captain Powell raised his eyebrows at this announcement. "Albany? Such grandeur! Come into a bit of the ready, have you?"
"You mean you haven't heard? And I thought the news was all over Town already!" Frank said. "An uncle of mine has left me a neat fortune."
"I try to shut my ears when my mother repeats the current gossip to me," Powell said. "I suppose that's why I didn't know. It's bad enough to have to accompany her and my sister everywhere they mean to go which is why I'm here, in case you're wondering."
"I wasn't wondering, but thank you for telling me nevertheless."
"But if you're a man of substance I'm afraid my mother won't rest until she's made your acquaintance. Just so that you are warned," Powell said gloomily.
"My feeble state of health does not deter matchmaking mamas; I've already been made aware of that fact," Frank stated.
"They're like vultures," Powell said, with feeling. "My mother's no better than all the rest when it comes to snabbling a husband for Constance. And I thought she was a woman of sense, for at the same time she condemns those who try to catch me in their lures."
"Female logic. It's prudent to look for an eligible husband for one's own daughters, while everyone else doing the same thing is intolerably greedy," Frank suggested.
Powell laughed. "I suppose so," he said. "But what are you doing here? Don't tell me you've come here to dance! Not with that leg of yours you won't!"
"Lady Gilbert is John Gilbert's mother," Frank explained. "He's a close friend of mine, and I was staying with the family last spring, which is why I'm acquainted with them. Gilbert commissioned me with some errands to perform for him, which was how Lady Gilbert came to invite me or, rather, her daughter did."
"Miss Gilbert is a charming girl," Powell said, rather too nonchalantly for Frank's taste.
"Very taking," he agreed. He might be mistaken, but there was a hint of jealousy in Powell's demeanour.
"I suppose you are well acquainted with Miss Gilbert," Powell remarked coldly.
"I am, rather having stayed with her family for several weeks I have come to regard her very much in the light of a younger sister."
Powell's brow cleared. It was apparent that he was willing to tolerate Frank's brotherly attitude to Miss Gilbert; a tolerance that he would hardly have displayed if Frank's affection for the lady had been of the un-fraternal sort. Frank wondered how long Powell had known Miss Gilbert to behave in such a possessive fashion. It soon became apparent that they were not acquainted at all while Miss Gilbert had been at the head of the stairs with her mother to welcome their guests and had therefore welcomed Captain Powell and his party, they had never met before. But what Powell had seen of her had pleased him well enough to make him eager to further their acquaintance, he confessed. He was going to dance the last dance with Miss Gilbert, he told Frank, which was the only part of the evening he was actually looking forward to. He'd asked her for the supper dance, which would have enabled him to take Miss Gilbert in to supper, but "some curst fellow had been there before him". Frank smiled, for the curst fellow taking Miss Gilbert to supper was him. He could hardly give up his place to him, but decided that he'd invite Powell and whichever lady he was escorting to join them at their table to give him an opportunity to talk to Miss Gilbert. Powell was an excellent fellow; one who never crossed the line of what was pleasing when dealing with the ladies, and an excellent catch besides. Lady Gilbert would hardly object to her daughter becoming better acquainted with him.
Miss Gilbert was at her liveliest when Frank sat down next to her. He'd asked her to sit out a dance with him, knowing that it would be expected of him to do something of the kind, but her willingness to do so had surprised him. That Miss Gilbert would sacrifice an entire dance at her own ball in order to sit and talk with her brother's friend was more than he'd ever expected her to do.
"I feel like a villain for keeping you from the floor," Frank said to her. "And I'm sure there is more than one gentleman hating me for it."
She laughed. "I do not care for them," she said. "What a friend would I be if I ignored a good friend just because he cannot dance through no fault of his own? If my mother is to be believed a good hostess must take care that all her guests are well entertained."
"Lady Gilbert is an admirable woman, so I dare say she is right. Who am I to complain, anyway? I am well content with my situation at the moment. Have you had any news from your brother?"
"I have had news from two of my brothers, but not from John. Clara might have had; he writes to her often."
"How is Mr Gilbert?" Frank asked, remembering the second of Miss Gilbert's brothers, a clergyman.
"Very busy, but most content with the way things are going. He is planning to leave Colby Green soon, did you know that?"
"Are there any particular reasons for him to consider doing so? I thought he was happy there?"
"He is still happy, but feels that there is more important work to be done elsewhere."
"Do not tell me Mr Gilbert is planning to become a missionary!"
"Not in the common sense of the word he is merely hoping for a parish in a manufacturing town in the north; he says the poor stand in need of education and believes he will be able to do some valuable work among them."
"I am certain he will do a great deal of good," Frank said. "Is he married yet?"
"No, he is not; and I think that is a good thing, for it must be difficult for a country parson's wife to endure the change of situation he is going to force on her. Her life would change a great deal."
"If she loved him that would not weigh with her I am sure."
"Is a wife obliged to like everything her husband does?" Miss Gilbert asked. "I do not think she is."
"Probably not," Frank agreed.
"However, Simon does not have a wife who might object to his plans," Miss Gilbert remarked. After a minute's silence, she said, "It is too bad that Clara had to go into the country and take Eleanor with her they'd have enjoyed this party, don't you think?"
"I am certain they would have," Frank agreed.
Miss Gilbert threw a swift glance at him and, noticing his expressionless face, said, "I know what happened, Captain Morrison, and I am truly sorry for it, and not just because it prevented Clara and Eleanor from being with us tonight. I think it was a great deal too bad of my aunt to treat Eleanor the way she has done, and wish there was something I could do for you. Will you go to Surrey soon? I think you should - I'm sure Eleanor will be happy to see you!"
Miss Gilbert had always been the outspoken sort, Frank thought, and this was probably one of the reasons why he liked her so much. One always knew where one stood with her.
At supper, Frank did ask Powell and a Miss Grant to join them at their table, and had the satisfaction to witness the promising beginning of an acquaintance between his friend and Miss Gilbert. As for his visit to Milbrooke House, Frank decided not to postpone it any longer. Provided Walter Swinford was at leisure to accompany him, he would go there the very next day, or the day after that at the latest.
Frank could not remember ever having been so nervous about seeing Eleanor or any other young lady, for that matter. But he knew that a great deal depended on how their next meeting went; and Frank was afraid that recent events had made matters between them worse rather than better. It was not inconceivable that Eleanor might blame him for her mother's conduct towards her; that she might think he'd asked her parents to put pressure on her to make her accept his suit. A year ago he'd have refused to believe Eleanor might think so ill of him, but she had not suspected him of being a liar then. Now she did at least that was what she'd said and there was no saying what other suspicions she might have, or what other acts of villainy she thought him capable of.
Walter Swinford drove them to Surrey in his curricle-and-four, and Frank had ample opportunity to observe his driving skill.
"Does Mrs Gilbert know we're coming?" Frank asked him as they left town, and turned their way towards Epsom.
"I informed her that I'd visit Eleanor one of these days."
"So you did not tell her that I was going to come with you?"
"I did not know for certain if you would, so I refrained from doing so," Walter replied. "But she will be happy to see you, I am sure."
Frank was not quite certain, but since he had no choice but to go along with Walter he hoped she would not take it amiss that he was coming too. Mrs Gilbert was a sensible woman; he supposed she'd foreseen it. He hoped she had, at all events. The butler who opened the door of Milbrooke House for them was not surprised to see two gentlemen, which hinted at the possibility that Mrs Gilbert had expected Frank to accompany Walter Swinford on his visit.
"The ladies are in the rose garden," he informed Walter, who wanted to know whether Mrs Gilbert and Miss Swinford were at home.
"They are making the most of this fine morning, I see," Walter replied.
"Quite so, sir. Shall I take you to the ladies?"
"By all means," Walter said, and followed the butler into the house. The servant led them across an elegant hall into a large parlour, where they left the house through some French windows. The rose garden was a formal garden just beyond the terrace, and they could see the two ladies as soon as they'd left the house. Eleanor was cutting roses and putting them into a basket, while Mrs Gilbert was sitting on a stone bench in the sun, with her baby on her knee.
"Mr Swinford," the butler announced. "And "
"Captain Morrison," Frank supplied.
"Captain Morrison, ma'am," the butler repeated.
Eleanor quickly looked up at this piece of news, and Frank noticed the flush on her cheeks. He would have to proceed warily if he did not want to frighten her off. It was for Eleanor to decide when she allowed him to be her suitor again. For the moment, he was just a friend calling on her and Mrs Gilbert. This was the manner he assumed when greeting the ladies, and he had the satisfaction to see the blush vanish from Eleanor's countenance. She seemed relieved that he had not come to resume their courtship.
"I had no idea you were going to accompany my brother, Captain" she managed to say.
"Did he not tell you?" Frank asked. "That was very bad of him. I hope you will forgive me for coming here unannounced London has quite lost its attraction of late, and so I was only too happy to leave it behind me when your brother offered me the opportunity."
One had to say this in Eleanor's favour she did not pretend ignorance in order to hear her praises sung. She understood Frank's meaning well enough but chose not to comment on it; not even a "What do you mean, sir?" escaped her lips. Probably she was afraid of the answer she might get.
"London will become livelier once the Little Season is under way," was what she said instead.
Mrs Gilbert, after having told the butler to bring refreshment for the gentlemen into the drawing room, turned her attention to her visitors. She asked Walter and Frank some questions about Lady Gilbert's party which she had unfortunately missed. Her sister-in-law's success with London Society pleased her. No, she had not doubted that Amanda would make a hit the moment she was introduced to the Ton, but it was good to have one's opinion confirmed by more impartial judges.
"You cannot get any more impartial judges than the London mamas trying to fire their own daughters off," Walter said.
"You are quite wrong," Frank said. "For those mamas will be very partial judges, quite ready to condemn Miss Gilbert in order to make sure their own offspring looks better in comparison. But they'd have a hard time of it considering Miss Gilbert's excellent looks and amiable manner."
"Amanda was a favourite with the young men at the party, and it had nothing to do with the fact that her parents were hosting it," Walter told Mrs Gilbert.
Mrs Gilbert smiled. "I am glad to hear it," she said, "and I do think Amanda will do very well."
She suggested going into the drawing room where some food and drink was waiting for them; and so Frank got up and offered Eleanor to carry her basket for her. She demurred, and her glance at his walking stick told Frank what she was thinking even though she was too well bred to utter the thought. For a moment Frank wondered whether it was his disability that had made Eleanor change her mind about him, but only to dismiss the idea. Eleanor was not that kind of woman, or he was much mistaken in her character.
"Come, Miss Swinford!" he coaxed. "I am supposed to take some light exercise in order to speed up my recovery! You will not be so unkind as to deny me the opportunity to follow my doctor's orders?"
After a moment's hesitation, she handed the basket to him.
"Were you able to enjoy yourself at my aunt's party?" she asked him as they followed Mrs Gilbert into the house.
"Not as much as I used to," Frank replied. "But it was pleasant enough. I stayed in the card room most of the time, though, not being able to dance."
"Why did you attend then?"
"Because I'd promised to do so. You know your cousin Amanda she will not take no for an answer. You do not expect me to shut myself up in my lodgings, Miss Swinford?"
"No no, indeed! I was merely wondering why a gentleman would choose to attend a party if he cannot take part in the dance. To me it would seem to be a tedious affair!"
"Not tedious at all, I assure you! I was well entertained."
Eleanor frowned; Frank suspected that this piece of news did not quite suit her. Probably she had expected him to lead a life in seclusion, mourning her loss, and was not at all happy to find out that he had no intention of acting according to her expectation. She made no comment, however. Frank wished she had. But like him she was cautious and determined to speak of safe topics only.
"We received a letter from my cousin John this morning," she told him.
"Mrs Gilbert must have been very happy to hear from him. He is well, I hope?"
"There is nothing in his letter that could make us think otherwise, but that does not mean anything. Clara says he never mentions anything in his letters that might make her uneasy on his account."
"The mere fact that he can write her a letter is good news," Frank remarked. "And I can well understand why he does not wish to cause his wife any anxiety. I am much the same in that respect none of the letters I wrote to my mother contained anything of the the unpleasant things I saw, or endured. The important thing was letting her know that I was still there, and thinking of her."
"You did not inform her of your injury then?"
"Naturally I did as soon as I was able and knew what we were to expect. There was no point in telling her before that. But I never wrote to tell her that I was well when I was not, Miss Swinford. My mother deserves better than being told lies."
Again, Eleanor flushed. She had accused him of having lied to her, or at least to have kept some essential facts from her. Their discussion might have reminded her of that, and Frank decided to follow Eleanor's example and turn the conversation back to such topics as could be considered safe.
"This looks like a very pleasant place to me," he said.
"It is. Clara told me her father bought it because of its situation so close to Town that way he could go there whenever his duties demanded it, and come back when he was at leisure to do so, without much loss of time. But in spite of its proximity to London, it is a very peaceful place, and I am enjoying the peace and quiet."
They had reached the drawing room by now; a nurse took charge of young Master Gilbert, and Mrs Gilbert invited them to sit down and have some tea.
"This is a beautiful home, Mrs Gilbert," Frank complimented his hostess. "Miss Swinford told me your father chose it for its situation so close to Town, but I feel certain that was not the only reason."
"Oh no; he also took it because my mother fell in love with it," Mrs Gilbert replied. "That alone would have been reason enough for him, even if it had not been so conveniently situated for his purposes. But I have been told you are the owner of a very fine place in Kent now, Captain. Do tell us all about it!"
Frank knew that Mrs Gilbert wanted to give him the chance to talk about his inheritance to Eleanor without speaking to her directly, and made good use of it. He described Hanley Park to her; what it had been before his uncle had bought the property and what he hoped to make of it, and noticed that Eleanor was listening to what he was saying with some interest. He ended his tale after a few minutes, so as not to become a perfect bore on the subject, and instead asked Mrs Gilbert whether she'd had any important news from her husband.
"Nothing of great importance, I believe," Mrs Gilbert said. "Merely that he is in good health, that they are currently on the march again, and that my uncle has offered him a position as his aide, which he has refused."
"Why would he do such a thing?" Walter asked. "Surely he must wish for advancement! As a married man he must welcome a rise in his income."
"Maybe he thinks he has not earned it," Frank remarked.
"There is a difference between modesty and foolishness," Walter said. "My cousin John is no fool."
No one knew that better than Frank.
"I am not in his confidence not in this matter, at all events," Frank told him. "But I know him well enough to guess his motives. Our regiment has been used as a stepping stone for ambitious young officers before the moment a better option was offered they were off to greener pastures; often at a time when we would have needed them. Gilbert may merely feel that the regiment cannot spare him at the moment; he may be afraid to be counted among those careerists, who are none too popular with their brother officers; he may even worry what people might say about the motives for his marriage to General Baines' niece especially since it was General Baines who offered him the post."
"I know my uncle would never offer a position of importance to a man who does not deserve it. He is a very shrewd man; too shrewd to even think of committing such a blunder," Mrs Gilbert said. "Family considerations would not sway him if he thought my husband unsuitable for the post he meant him to assume."
"No doubt you know that, and your husband may be aware of it too." Frank said. "But the world at large does not know your uncle as well as you do, Mrs Gilbert, and while I do not think your husband has no wish for advancement I am afraid he will rather do without it than give rise to rumours that might offend you."
"There is, of course, that possibility," Mrs Gilbert said, and chuckled. "But my belief is that an administrative occupation would bore him to death, and that he seized the most convenient excuse for refusing it and staying exactly where he is."
Frank laughed. "Your suspicion has some merit, Mrs Gilbert." Frank could not imagine Gilbert being content with a mere administrative position.
They did not start their journey back to London until some hours later, after Mrs Gilbert had offered them a hearty meal to fortify them for the journey. Frank took care to speak to Eleanor only when she'd addressed him first, and kept to the topics she suggested subjects she considered safe. He was rewarded with the distinctive impression that she was warming towards him again. It would still take a while, and a great deal of effort, Frank thought, and it was not going to be easy. But his case was not hopeless. Not hopeless at all.
Eleanor had not treated him with great cordiality during his visit, yet Frank was almost confident that she was going to welcome further visits from him. So even as they were on their way back to London he planned to call at Milbrooke House again the following week. Walter Swinford agreed with him Eleanor had been quite happy to see Frank again; although she had not actually said so Walter had been able to tell by her manner, and surely her brother had to be a judge of Eleanor's behaviour. This was what Frank hoped, at any rate.
"Don't you think it will cause comment if I call on the ladies in Milbrooke House too often?" Frank asked Walter. "Some people might believe that I am becoming too particular in my attentions."
"There may be talk," Walter agreed. "But that's nothing to worry about. People have been talking about Eleanor for over a year. If anything, you will be pitied for being the Cold-Hearted Beauty's latest victim."
"I wish you wouldn't call her that. Your sister is anything but cold-hearted," Frank said. "And you know it."
"I do, and you do as well, but as for the rest of London this is what she is known as. She has turned down four suitors already and I'm leaving you out of the reckoning."
"I don't know how many she managed to discourage before they'd even got to the point of making her an offer," Walter told him. "There may have been some Eleanor's beauty has many admirers. Those who actually offered for her were simply the most persistent; the most difficult to get rid of."
"You mean they did not realise that Eleanor had no wish of marrying them?"
"This may have been the reason in one or two cases. Others, like Lord Skelling, just found it impossible that any woman should consider refusing them once they decided to become leg-shackled. What a dust Skelling kicked up when Eleanor told him she wanted none of him!"
"Took it hard, did he?"
"He resented it still does, though I suppose it's his pride rather than his heart that has suffered most. Whenever they meet now his manner is chilly, almost hostile. He did ask my father to exert his authority over Eleanor to make her change her mind, which didn't help his cause at all as you can imagine. I don't blame Eleanor for taking him in dislike after that he could have handled the situation better."
Frank was rather grateful that Skelling had not handled the situation any better than he had. Who knew, Eleanor might have married him in that case; after all she had not known then that there'd still be a chance for them and might have decided to do the next-best thing. Getting married to a decent fellow who doted on her was not the worst thing she could have done. However, what Walter had said about the man made Frank suspect that Skelling was neither decent nor had he ever doted on Eleanor.
"Lord Skelling's conduct must have caused Eleanor some distress," Frank remarked.
"He was highly disagreeable with her on occasion. It came to a point where Eleanor was afraid of going out for fear that she might run into him."
Frank had no difficulty in believing that Eleanor was easily frightened, and excessively disliked unpleasant situations. If Skelling had made a nasty scene once, it was only natural that she would take pains to stay out of his way in the future. Frank knew her to be a thin-skinned young woman one who could not endure being treated unkindly, and her nerves had suffered a great deal of late as it was. Frank wished he could call Lord Skelling to book for the misery he must have caused her. He was certainly going to do so, one day.
"Poor Eleanor! I hope not all of your sister's rejected suitors behaved like Lord Skelling," he said aloud.
"Oh no; the others were very gentlemanly about it," Walter said. "I'm not saying they did not care, for they did, and Eleanor was sorry for them; but at least they refrained from troubling her once she'd made it clear to them that she wasn't going to marry any of them."
"Myself being the exception," Frank said with a wry smile.
"But you're not troubling her," Walter pointed out.
"Let us hope that your sister thinks so too and does not consider me a damned nuisance," Frank replied.
"If this was what she thought of you you'd have noticed by now. Why, do you think she'd have stayed with us all afternoon if she had thought you a nuisance? What stopped her from pleading a headache and rushing off to her room the moment she saw you'd come with me?"
Taking this into consideration, Frank thought, Walter was probably right and Eleanor had been more pleased to see him than she'd cared to show.
Frank was not acquainted with Lord Skelling, but Walter Swinford's report of how he'd dealt with Eleanor's rejection of his suit made him curious to meet the man. As luck would have it, he had the opportunity three days later.
It was at White's, where Frank and his friend Captain Powell had retired to the library for a quiet game of chess. Some other club members were present as well, some of them reading the newspapers or, in one case, snoring peacefully with the paper covering his face. The tranquillity of the scene was rudely interrupted when the door burst open and a young man strode in, demanding impatiently, "Foster! Where the hell are you?"
"Not here, obviously," one of the readers replied acidly. "Can't you lower your voice a little, Skelling? Some of us are trying to read in here! This is a library in case you have not noticed!"
Frank looked up from the chessboard upon hearing the intruder's name, and during the argument that naturally followed - for his lordship did not submit meekly to being addressed in this manner - he had plenty of time to form an opinion of Lord Skelling. Skelling was younger than Frank he looked younger, at any rate and his haughtiness and irritability appeared to be his most striking characteristics.
It was evident that Lord Skelling regarded his fellow men with contempt and fully expected to get away with anything he chose to do, though why he should think so Frank had no way of knowing. He was tall slightly taller than Frank and not ill-looking but, Frank concluded as he observed Skelling's quarrel with the other fellow, an arrogant bully. He could well believe that this man was not going to stop pursuing Eleanor since he'd made up his mind to have her. Skelling did not look like the sort of man who was used to having his will crossed, and Frank was afraid there was trouble brewing there. It would not hurt to keep an eye on him, at all events.
Not wishing to be caught staring at Skelling, Frank turned his attention back to the chessboard, and it was not until he and Powell walked back to Frank's lodging with the intention of rounding off the evening with a bowl of rum punch that he referred to Skelling. It was obvious that Powell disliked the man, but what he told Frank about him tallied with the impression Frank had had of him; and so Frank decided that in spite of Powell's prejudice against Lord Skelling his description must be fairly accurate. Lord Skelling did not have many friends among London Society, Powell said; for his top-lofty behaviour tended to put people off. However, being blessed with excellent birth and a large fortune, he was received everywhere. While no one really liked him one could scarcely avoid him, for he was moving in the best circles.
"He does have a couple of hangers-on," Powell concluded. "But no one with his mind intact will have anything to do with him if they can help it."
"He did strike me as a rather unpleasant character," Frank agreed.
Powell laughed. "That's a very nice way of putting it," he said. "He's nasty. I don't blame the Swinford girl for sending him about his business I don't think any woman could stomach being married to a bully like him. What's more I'm not alone in that opinion."
"Skelling offered for her then?" Frank asked, taking care to sound indifferent.
"He did, and from what I hear he wasn't well suited with the answer he got," Powell chuckled. "Put him into the devil of a temper, which made some people say that Miss Swinford did the right thing by refusing him."
"Yet people began to call her the Cold-Hearted Beauty," Frank pointed out.
"Oh no, that didn't start until she began to turn away every man who made her an offer," Powell said. "Decent fellows, all of them; no reason at all why she should refuse them."
"She couldn't have married them all, anyway," Frank said lightly.
"She could not, but it did make people think that something must be wrong with her." Powell gave Frank a sharp look. "Why do you take so much interest in the affair? It happened last year and no one talks about it any more, although I admit it created quite a stir at the time."
"I'm a friend of the family," Frank replied. "And don't forget that I've been away for a long time. I am simply trying to catch up with things, that's all."
Captain Powell's sidelong glance at him told Frank that he did not find this explanation satisfactory, but Powell wisely refrained from asking further questions. So did Frank he was not yet ready to tell his friend that he, too, was one of the men Eleanor Swinford had rejected, and by continuing to ask questions about her he'd make it plain to Powell that his interest in Eleanor's affairs went further than that of a family friend.
Frank's next encounter with Lord Skelling took place in Hyde Park during the Fashionable Hour. He was riding along Rotten Row when he noticed his cousins Serena and Elizabeth standing next to a curricle, talking to its occupant Lord Skelling. Unfortunately, Elizabeth became aware of Frank's presence and hailed him, and so Frank was obliged to rein in his horse and talk to his cousins although he felt no desire to do so.
His cousin Serena performed the introduction. "My cousin, Captain Morrison," she said to Lord Skelling and added, "He is quite the war hero, you must know."
Skelling eyed Frank and said, "How do you do, Captain?"
"How do you do, sir?" Frank replied with a slight bow.
"A war hero, eh?" Skelling demanded.
"Nothing of the sort," Frank replied. "While it flatters me that my cousins should think so well of me I am merely a soldier, and not a very distinguished one I am afraid."
"You did get wounded in Spain," Serena said.
"So I did, but there's nothing heroic about that, cousin," Frank replied dryly. "Nor does it add distinction to my person. Thousands of men have been wounded."
"Haven't I seen you before, Captain?" Skelling asked.
"You may have done so, my lord at White's, if my memory does not deceive me," Frank said. "I was in the library playing chess the other day when you came in looking for a friend of yours I believe."
"I remember," Lord Skelling said. "Erskine had the infernal impudence to berate me!"
"You were evenly matched I thought," Frank said, smiling. "I was not aware you were acquainted with my uncle's family, my lord."
"We made Lord Skelling's acquaintance at Almack's last year," Serena told Frank without waiting for his lordship to answer. "We have become quite good friends, haven't we?" She tittered. "He often visits us!"
It did not surprise Frank that his cousins would do anything to attract the attention of a titled young man and would not permit a casual ballroom acquaintance to forget them if they hoped it might lead to more. Frank did not think that either of his cousins had a chance to win Skelling however not if the man had, at one point, been in love with Eleanor.
"Which cannot be said about you, cousin," Serena continued. "You have not been next or nigh us for an age!"
"I was very busy, cousin," Frank said forbiddingly, and took his leave. The fact that Skelling was acquainted with his uncle's family did not improve his opinion of either, and the sooner he could get away from them the better it was.
© 2010 Copyright held by the author.