Read The Bellerose Bargain Online
Authors: Robyn Carr
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Fiction
The Bellerose Bargain
This novel is a work of historical fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents relating to non-historical figures are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance of such non-historical incidents, places or figures to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
1982 by Robyn Carr
All rights reserved. no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
For Mary Tondorf-Dick, editor and friend, who makes writing more than a craft.
She did not actually stand taller than other women, but her bearing made her seem of larger stature.
Her rich brown hair flounced around her shoulders, and one stray curl teased her cheek. Her eyes were a gray blue. The looks that generally drew the eyes of men were of another style—blue-eyed blonds with full, round figures. This maid was slender of form and had long, delicate fingers. She could not have exceeded seventeen years, yet she held her chin high and her eyes were as self-possessed as those of a woman with power.
Rodney Prentiss cast his eyes back into his tankard of ale and commanded his thoughts to cease. He had stopped at the inn for food and drink. Wenching was for the young bucks, and only old men who were soured with drink chased the maids.
He was traveling on business that had gone badly, and he was plagued with worrying about how he would explain his failure to the young lord who had commissioned him. On such a night he would have chosen a quiet country inn, and when he rode upon this one it looked to be such a place, but when he entered the common room he found he was mistaken. The seamen from a ship recently put in to Southampton were crowding the room, and locals eager for a raucous evening formed a quick but temporary camaraderie with those sailors. Ale was gulped, prostitutes were plentiful, and those who weren’t singing were fighting.
He turned his head in search of the maid he had been watching. Not far behind him she leaned against the stone wall near the hearth, listening to a young minstrel sing. The young man’s song was directed toward a harlot, who was attempting to prevent another man from nibbling her neck. Eyes half closed, the maid moved her head with the beat of the tune. It was plain her mind was miles away, her world being only the song and not the sights, sounds, and smells of this bawdy room. Rodney noted that a large, swollen bruise marred her upper arm, and with a frown he wondered if its cause could be the reason she allowed her thoughts to wander.
The innkeeper, a squat and balding man of over fifty years, walked through the crowd as far as Rodney’s table. He was red in the face and was wiping his hands on a towel. He paused there for a moment and scowled at the serving maid. "Alice!" he barked.
Rodney saw the lass flinch at the sound of her name. She looked at the angry keeper, but did not cower in fear. She seemed to gather some internal mettle as she walked calmly over to him. They moved toward each other in the direction of the kegs and kitchen. As he scolded her for laziness, she did not change her manner. Rodney watched, fascinated. She moved through the room with an easy pace and a somewhat regal demeanor. Her clothes were merely poorly fitted rags, obviously worse in quality than those the other wenches wore, and her hands were rough and red, yet she held herself proudly. She did not seem right in the role of tavern wench. But then, he could not think what her role should be. She did not seem the wifely sort, he thought, for there seemed nothing soft and compliant about her. Were she a lad she would make a good seaman or guard. Something of determination was settled over her features. He noted strength and, strangely, an isolation. Though she was surrounded by people, she seemed all alone within herself.
He shrugged and drank deeply. A plate was virtually dropped before him, the gravy from the stew slopping over the sides and onto the table. A few greasy drips fell to the leg of his breeches and he scowled at the serving maid. It was the best pair of pants he owned.
"Ye’ll pay the keeper, sir," the maid who served him said. "There ain’t no rooms, but yer horse is stabled. Arman’ says ye can bed with ‘im if ye’ve a mind to."
Rodney nodded absently but looked at the wench closely. This copper-haired lass seemed to fit the tavern scene. She was not what one would call pretty except after too much ale, but neither was she hard to look at. She was short and full-breasted and her curls bounced around her face. Her lips were red and her smile quick and eager. He had observed her earlier and found that she did not put any unnecessary distance between herself and the patrons.
" ‘At’s a fine coat, milord," she said, her voice something of a whine.
"A gift from a beautiful woman," Rodney confided.
"Ye’re from London, milord?" she asked. He nodded once and waited for her next question. "King’s messenger?"
Rodney shook his head. "Not exactly, mistress."
"‘Ave you seen ‘im, then? The king? I seen ‘im. It weren’t close, but..."
"You’ve been to London?"
"For the coronation. I was a bit young then, but me pop was sellin’ ‘is pots an’ bowls. Mostly to the nobles, ye see. Me pop’s pots an’ bowls is the best in the south of England."
Rodney smiled at the maid and wondered about her age. She was probably not over seventeen years either, but seemed older. Perhaps it was the atmosphere in the inn that aged her.
"Ye’re noble, milord?"
He smiled at her. The question was strange only in that it hadn’t come sooner. If one’s clothing was substantial, one’s hat plumed, and one’s horse decent, there was always that possibility. Children and young women questioned men who traveled, and tried to find a way to determine their wealth. Many would trade the country life for the excitement of the city. And this lively lass would gladly trade what she had for a pocketful of lies.
"Gert!" the innkeeper shouted from behind her.
"I ‘ear ye," she bellowed back, turning away from Rodney.
It was then that he was clear on the difference between the maids. This one called Gert was tough, at least as tough and quick with her retort as her employer. In this setting the lass who poured and served the ale had to be tolerant of the smells and foul language. The other maid, Alice, seemed to detest her chore. She had not smiled or tried to talk to the patrons. And a serving wench had to be resistant to the groping hands—or even appreciative of them. The bouncy little tart called Gert seemed to consider the grabbing and fondling a compliment of sorts.
He realized that he was musing about these maids because it was easier than thinking of the business that had failed. Charlotte Bellamy had failed him, when all should have gone well.
Fergus Bellamy had not been a rich man, but he had possessed a large estate west of London. He was baron to fertile lands and hard-working people. When his daughter, Charlotte, was born, his wife died. For a while, Fergus could manage with a wet nurse and a small staff of servants within the manor to care for the child. But then Cromwell had usurped all of England, sending nobles fleeing in every direction. Fergus went where one might expect a loyal Royalist to go, in the same direction that Charles, then the Prince of Wales, had gone. Charlotte was sent to Fergus’s sister, a woman much older and not as well-to-do as Fergus, while Fergus fought by the side of young Charles throughout the years preceding the Restoration.
After eleven years of exile, Charles returned to England to claim the throne. Fergus did not immediately rush to his daughter’s side, though he saw her once or twice after the coronation. He had petitioned the king to restore his family lands, but Charles was so besieged with petitions that he had not acted on Fergus’s quickly. It was not a question of Lord Bellamy’s loyalty, but rather a question of how much a king could do to restore the country to what it once was. Fergus Bellamy died before he could see his lands restored or take his daughter there to live.
There was another young man who had fought loyally beside Charles for many years, as had his family. He, like Lord Bellamy, had not come from much wealth, but his family had been loyal to the king’s cause throughout years of exile. Geoffrey Seavers fled with his family into exile and was his family’s only survivor after years of bleak living conditions and war. He should be granted some reward for his great sacrifices, but again, King Charles could only do so much. The offer of land in Virginia was common and easily made by the king. Seavers, like many other young men, found that offer desirable, but insufficient.
"I should like to travel to the Colonies and set up a post of sorts," he told the king. "But my dream is to serve Your Majesty on the sea, privateering and trading. I’ve proven myself capable."
Unfortunately, if that was truly his desire, he would have to wait, for with no lands in England, Seavers could hardly buy ships or pay ship hands.
Charles was not a man to be unappreciative of Seavers’s skills. Seavers had a reputation for being an outstanding warrior and, since returning to England, had a captaincy under Prince Rupert, who reported him to be an exceptional navigator. Certainly with the right financing the young noble could earn money for the crown, not to mention further protection for the English government. This time Charles’s work was made simpler. When Charlotte Bellamy was left as the heiress to her father’s lands, which were finally ready to be returned to the family, Seavers had one ship and was eager to be financed for more: a fleet. Charlotte would be a ward of the king; Seavers would be returning regularly to ask for money. A man as quick and logical as King Charles saw the answer clearly. He offered Seavers a bride, one Charlotte Bellamy, complete with estate and considerably more money than Seavers had asked for.
Rodney, a family friend for many years, had been Geoffrey’s manservant and adviser since the Restoration. He had been sent to the manor where Charlotte had been raised to take her to London for her wedding. He sent word ahead and then rode quickly to the place. When Rodney arrived she was gone; she had fled from her marriage proposal.
The manor where she had been raised was in poor repair. The nearest village was not much to speak of either. When Rodney questioned the villagers on the whereabouts of Lady Charlotte, they first looked at him queerly and then repeated the title uncertainly. "Lady?" they questioned. And the only information they had was that she had left the country with a man who claimed to be a noble from London. The nobleman, of course, had not given his name. If he were truly of noble class, Rodney would be surprised. And the description the aunt and village people had given of the lass could fit any country maid within miles. No one else but Fergus Bellamy could be expected to recognize her—and he was dead.
As Rodney looked around the common room of the Ivy Vine, he could well imagine the fate of Charlotte Bellamy. Tavern wenches, farm girls, and maids, from every conceivable country station, would have illusions of dukes and earls riding through their villages, being stung by the pure loveliness of the country lasses, and taking them out of their humdrum lives to an existence of wealth and leisure in the fabulous London. But in the city they would be abandoned and left to find their way home—if they lived that long. Home for Charlotte would be uncertain, should the debonair man she fled with turn out to be a liar. Her ancient aunt was near death and lay uncaring in her dilapidated manor house. There were no servants to tend her save a washwoman, who visited only weekly, and the money they lived on must have been nearly nothing.