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Authors: Catherine Coulter

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BOOK: Lord Harry's Folly
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Looking at her father now, she realized he loved her, that he knew she was a good daughter, not at all bothersome, never demanding this or that from him. She never overspent the generous allowance he made available for her and ran his house with silent, uncomplaining efficiency. He made Hetty blink in an effort to understand his mood when he said sadly, “How very much like your lovely mother you are, my dear child. Never importuned me for a thing, did that wonderful woman.” He heaved a heavy sigh and turned his attention back to a wafer-thin slice of ham.

“Why thank you, Father.” Goodness, where had that come from? She was about as much like her deceased mother as Mr. Scuddimore was like her father. Poor Mother. Even as a small child, Hetty could remember Lady Beatrice complaining bitterly of her husband’s neglect, of his blind preoccupation with all that political rubbish. When she contracted a chill and died swiftly of an inflammation of the lung, it required a stirring eulogy by the curate to make Sir Archibald aware that an important member of his family had passed to the hereafter. He grieved for her perfunctorily, focusing his beautiful, vague eyes on Hetty and patting her on the head in recognition of their mutual sorrow for the better part of two weeks. But then, suddenly, there was an election. Perceval became Prime Minister, and as a result, the Whigs began to wield such political power that Sir Archibald sought to throw himself immediately into the fray. He patted Hetty on the head for a final time and set off to London to launch a counteroffensive. Hetty went back to her prim governess with the natural dread of a lively child condemned to sewing samplers in a cheerless schoolroom. And then Damien had arrived to rescue her. Wounded in a skirmish on the Peninsula, he was packed to the country to recuperate. How quickly he had realized that the country offered very little in the way of amusement. He had turned to her, recognized her deep loneliness, and instantly taken her under his wing. Miss Mills, Hetty’s governess, was charmed to her very soul by Damien’s brotherly treatment of her, and so raised no great fuss. Thus it was that Hetty had found herself riding to the hunt, shooting at bottles with Damien’s dueling pistol, and quickly becoming the most skilled ten-year-old piquet player in England.

Hetty felt a lump rise in her throat. Although she did not in the least resent her father’s vague dismissal of her mother’s demise, she couldn’t help but think Sir Archibald oddly selfish when he had shown no more emotion at his son’s death. She wondered with a tinge of bitterness if her father would even remember Damien if it were not for the large portrait of him that hung in the drawing room over the mantelpiece. Lady Beatrice, unfortunately, had never achieved a like immortality through the artist’s brush.

Hetty was brought up short by her father’s impassioned voice. “Of course, as true Englishmen, we would never consider the application of such vile methods as those employed by those more radical members of parliament. Yes, gentlemen, I speak of the incitement to riot, the unconscionable exploitation of the workers by the more irresponsible members of our company. Nay, I would not wish to indict the whole of the opposition”

“Bravo, Father,” Hetty said when he reached a long pause. “A speech for the House of Lords? You speak this afternoon?”

“Eh?” Sir Archibald jumped at his daughter’s interruption, the words of his next sentence waiting impatiently on his tongue. “Oh, excuse me, my dear, I did not realize that you were still about. You haven’t yet finished your soup? Didn’t we also have some ham? Oh dear, I dislike potato soup, and that’s what she brought, isn’t it? Do you think perhaps Mrs. Miller could bring us something else?”

“Certainly, Father. Is there anything else I may do for you, sir?”

“Do for me? Other than have Mrs. Miller fetch me some ham soup? No, my dear. Such a good, considerate girl you are, Henrietta. Now, my dear, I’m off to make a speech this afternoon. If you are dining in, my child, don’t have Cook hold dinner. Sir Mortimer and I will be discussing whether or not we should journey to Manchester, to determine if large scale insurrection is in any way a possibility. I will, of course, inform you if I am to leave London.”

“I would expect nothing less from you, Father.” Hetty rose and kissed her father’s brow. As she closed the dining room door behind her, she heard her father’s beautiful resonant voice rise to an impassioned crescendo.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Later that same day at Rose Briar Manor in Herefordshire, Lady Louisa Rolland pursed her lips and steepled her fingertips, tapping them lightly. “Jack, do listen. This is all very odd. I’ve a letter from Drusilla Worthington, that mousy little dab of a woman who is supposed to be chaperoning Hetty in London. She is full of apologies that she had to leave the dear child suddenly to attend to her sick sister in Kent.”

“Sounds proper for her to inform you.” Sir John didn’t look up from cleaning his favorite hunting rifle.

“What is odd, Jack,” Lady Louisa said, frowning at his bent head, “is that she left nearly four months ago. In fact, but four weeks after Hetty arrived in London. Neither Hetty nor Sir Archibald have mentioned it in their letters.”

Sir John looked up, a look of patent disbelief on his square, handsome face. “Surely you’re mistaken, old girl. Quite impossible, in fact.”

“I assure you it’s what she writes,” Lady Louisa said.

“But I’ve never known my father to write a letter to anyone. Something strange there, Lou.”

Fighting back an urge to cosh her husband, which seemed quite the natural thing to do, Lady Louisa managed to control herself. “Attend me, Jack, and cease your jesting. You know I didn’t mean that. I merely used Sir Archibald’s name in a manner of speaking. You know very well that Hetty is the only one who ever writes. And she,” Louisa continued, “hasn’t mentioned it at all.”

“Now, Lou, you’re not thinking about playing a dragon mother-in-law, are you? Lord knows if you want to, don’t. Send your own mother instead, she’d scare the sin out of the prince himself. She could give a dragon lessons. As for Hetty, I can’t say I blame her for not telling us. The Worthington woman was probably a damned nuisance, probably drove poor Hetty quite mad. Good thing she’s gone to that sick sister.” He paused a moment, looking worriedly at his rifle. “I hope the sister doesn’t die. That would mean the Worthington woman would be back in poor Hetty’s hair again.”

“Damned nuisance or not, my love, Hetty is but eighteen years of age. Even though she’s in mourning for Damien and won’t be attending Almack’s or any of the large ton parties, it concerns me that she’s not attended by anyone. It simply isn’t done.”

Finally, his wife got all his attention. Sir John put his rifle down for a moment and looked at her. “I don’t frown upon it. Do you mean that poor Hetty might have to forego the pleasure of having some elegant, worthless idiot asking for her hand in marriage? Really now, Lou, Hetty’s got a sound head on her shoulders. And I’ll wager she hasn’t even stirred much from the house these last four months, much less offended any of your great ladies.” He added on a sigh as he hefted his rifle over his left shoulder, “Maybe it would be better for her to kick up her heels and offend one of those stiff-butted old gossips. At least we’d know that she’s not still prostrated by Damien’s death.”

“My point exactly. The poor child should have someone with her. You know that Sir Archibald might as well be on the moon, for all the attention and comfort he offers her.”

“You said yourself, Lou, that Hetty hasn’t mentioned a word about the Worthington woman leaving. Shows you, doesn’t it, that Hetty is perfectly content not to have anyone with her.” He grinned and put down the now sparkling clean rifle again. “Got you there, old girl,” he said, grinned at her like a sinner and pulled her to her feet. “No need to worry about Hetty. We’ll be going to London next month anyway, you know. You can content yourself that your sister-in-law is feeling just the thing, before we continue on to” Sir John’s voice trailed mysteriously off.

“Oh, Jack, do you really mean it? You have arranged it? We’re really going to Paris? You’re not trying to get away with something, are you?”

“Give me a kiss and I’ll tell you the truth.”

Louisa gave him more than a kiss, she bit his earlobe, then hugged him until he groaned. He dropped a kiss on the chestnut curl that lay provocatively over her left ear, a delicious little ear that he loved to kiss. “Of course I mean it. Will you be satisfied to spend a few days with Hetty then?”

“Certainly. Hetty’s a lovely girl. I just hope she’s adjusting. I just want her to be happy.”

Sir John said quietly, his dark eyes hooded, “I doubt she’ll be happy for a very long time. Damien is dead now. When we saw Hetty at the funeral, the poor girl was so grief stricken that she barely spoke a word. Even without a chaperone. I don’t think you have to worry that she’ll get herself talked about. Lord, I just wish she would. I wish she’d go out and kick up her heels and make everyone stare at her. But she won’t. Damnation, I miss Damien, too. What a loss, what a damnable waste.”

“He died a hero for England, Jack. We must remember that. We must believe that he made a difference, that his death meant something.”

“To hell with England. Oh damn, now I’ve pulled us both down. Tell you what, Lou, let’s go see if Little John has driven Nurse to distraction.”

 

Less than a week before Miss Drusilla Worthington left Sir Archibald’s town house on Grosvenor Square to attend her sick sister, she had sat quietly in the drawing room across from her charge, Miss Henrietta Rolland.

She gazed up several minutes later to see that the young lady’s eyes were focused upon the brightly dancing flames in the fireplace. Yet, Hetty didn’t seem aware of the fire, much less the rest of her surroundings. Lady Louisa had told her that Henrietta was much affected by her brother Damien’s death at Waterloo. Miss Worthington had been with Henrietta for three weeks, but all her efforts to suggest appropriate amusements didn’t penetrate the shell of grief that enveloped her young charge.

Miss Worthington’s eyes clouded as she gazed at Hetty. All that unremitting black the girl persisted in wearing. What a pretty picture she would be if she but attended to Miss Worthington’s repeated, gentle suggestions. True, perhaps she was a trifle tall for society’s current whims, but regal in that straight, proud way she carried herself. Miss Worthington thought of Sir Archibald, a decided glint in her normally unassuming gray eyes. Probably off at some political gathering, all his mental energies focused upon his one passion. It seemed that there was scarcely a moment in the day when he was aware of the presence of his daughter, much less of Miss Worthington’s tireless efforts to provide a normal atmosphere in his home.

If the truth were told, Miss Worthington felt like a floundering fish in a fisherman’s net. It wasn’t that Henrietta was unkind to her or made her feel unwelcome in any way. But the only visitors to be seen were Sir Archibald’s political cronies, severely dressed gentlemen whose curt nods made Miss Worthington feel woefully inadequate and twittery as a caged chicken. To make matters worse, if Henrietta wasn’t sitting quietly in front of the fireplace, simply staring off at nothing in particular as she was now, she would take long walks by herself, an activity of which Miss Worthington disapproved. When she had very tactfully pointed out that a young lady walking about by herself was not at all the thing, Henrietta had merely cocked her head to one side and appeared to look straight through Miss Worthington. “You needn’t worry that I’m ogled by all the young gentlemen, Miss Worthington,” she’d said. “All these heavy black veils keep them at their distance.”

She saw that Henrietta’s hands were knotting and unknotting a handkerchief in her lap. She sighed and put down her needle. “Hetty, dear child, do look outside. The fog is lifting and I believe that the sun will be out soon. Would you like to accompany me to the Pantheon Bazaar? You haven’t visited there, you know.”

Hetty raised dark blue eyes, which looked suspiciously red about the rims, and slowly shook her head. “No, thank you, Miss Worthington. If you would like to go, I shall be happy to ring for John the coachman.”

Miss Worthington felt the familiar naggings of defeat. “No, Hetty, I am quite content to finish my mending.” They sat in silence until the afternoon sun began its descent into the distance. As Miss Worthington rose to light a branch of candles, a knock sounded on the drawing-room door.

Grimpston, the Rolland butler, and in Miss Worthington’s opinion, a man of great efficiency and tact, appeared in the doorway. “Miss Henrietta,” he said and waited. As his mistress did not turn, he cleared his throat to gain her attention.

Finally she looked up. “Yes, Grimpston?”

“There is a person here asking to see Sir Archibald, Miss Hetty.”

“Sir Archibald isn’t here at the moment, as you very well know, Grimpston.”

“I know, Miss, but there’s a man here, a Mr. Pottson. He tells me that he was Master Damien’s batman.”

“His batman?”

Miss Worthington watched her in surprise as Hetty nearly leapt from her chair. “Oh, do have this Mr. Pottson attend me in the back parlor. I shall be there directly.”

He returned to the entrance hall and said to the diminutive gray-haired man who stood still clutching a crumpled wool hat between his hands, “Miss Henrietta Rolland will see you. If you will follow me.”

Pottson was certain that he’d made a mistake in coming when he was ushered into the presence of a tall young lady who stood watching him come toward her, an unreadable expression in her eyes. Drat the butler anyway, he thought. What he had to say was for Master Damien’s father’s ears not for a gentle young lady all draped in black. He found himself gazing at her curiously, for unlike his late master, Miss Henrietta was very fair, with short curling blond hair framing her face. Yet, the eyes were the same a deep blue and wide, set beneath distinctively arched brows. There was a dreaming quality about such eyes, Pottson thought.

“Miss Rolland,” he said, stepping forward, his wool hat still between his hands.

BOOK: Lord Harry's Folly
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