Read The Folly Online

Authors: M. C. Beaton

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Historical Romance, #Regency

The Folly (5 page)

BOOK: The Folly
11.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Shall we return to the company?” asked Charles stiffly. His conscience was hurting him. To see his own son run with gratitude to a stranger had shown him how very afraid and ill-treated the boy must have been.

They returned to the drawing-room in time to hear dinner being announced. Lady Beverley rose and shook out her skirts. “I am sure the servants’ hall will provide you with something, Miss Trumble,” she said.

“Can’t have that,” exclaimed the general. “Told Miss Trumble to come. Guest.”

“How very kind,” said Lady Beverley with a thin smile. “Your arm, General. It is such a long time since I have been on the arm of such an
attractive
gentleman.”

Rachel cast a covert look at Miss Trumble and she in her turn took Charles’s arm and Miss Trumble gazed blandly back before slipping away to guide Barry into the house.

What is Mama about, to behave so stupidly? wondered Rachel, as Lady Beverley flirted with the general over dinner.

The general tried to address several remarks to Miss Trumble, but Lady Beverley treated each remark as if it had been addressed to herself.

And then Rachel surprised a mocking, rather speculative look on Charles Blackwood’s face as he looked at her mother. Then he said, “I had the pleasure of calling on an old friend, Lady Evans. You are acquainted with her, I believe?”

“We have had that pleasure,” said Lady Beverley
and then remained comparatively silent for the rest of the meal.

So that was it, thought Rachel. He had heard of the vulgar, ambitious Beverleys, and although he thought his own age saved him from being a target, the mother had decided to set her cap at his father. Rachel felt herself blush with shame, her appetite fled and she picked at the food on her plate.

Her mother is embarrassing her dreadfully, thought Charles. He set himself to talk to her, asking her many questions about the neighbourhood and about the market town of Hedgefield until he felt her begin to relax.

“What did Miss Trumble wish to speak to you about?” she asked finally.

“Something to do with Mark’s education,” he said. “But you must ask her if you wish to know more.”

“I do not know what we would do without our Miss Trumble,” said Rachel with a little sigh.

“You should soon be making your come-out,” he said.

“My sister, Abigail, Lady Burfield, has invited me to London.”

“And when do you go?”

“To tell the truth, I have not made up my mind.”

“But why? A young lady like yourself should be enjoying balls and parties.”

“We have balls here in the country.”

“Ah, the local assembly. But can it compete with Almack’s?”

She smiled. “I have not known much of the grand life of late. I should probably feel sadly out of place and provincial.”

“With your appearance and Miss Trumble’s schooling, I do not think you have anything to fear.”

And Rachel, who would have accepted such a compliment with flirtatious ease before the revelation that he had called on Lady Evans, found all she could do was stare at her plate and wish the dinnerparty were over.

After dinner, the general suggested they promenade in the Long Gallery. “I see you have placed the portraits of yourself, your son, and your own ancestors here,” exclaimed Miss Trumble.

“Why not?” demanded Charles Blackwood crossly. “You could hardly expect us to hang the Beverleys. They are in the attics, I believe.”

“I meant that there is no portrait of Judd,” said Miss Trumble quietly.

Rachel saw Charles look at Miss Trumble with dawning realization on his face. So little Mark must have confided in his father and governess about the sighting of the ghost. Rachel herself had assumed the boy had seen that portrait and his imagination had done the rest. But perhaps he had been in the attics. Children loved poking around in attics.

“As to your ancestors,” said Charles, turning to Lady Beverley, “I cannot understand why the previous owners held on to them. If you wish, I will send them over in a fourgon tomorrow.”

“That will not be necessary,” said Lady Beverley. She raised her quizzing-glass to study a portrait of the general.

“May I ask why? I thought you would be delighted to have them back.”

“They belong at Mannerling,” said Lady Beverley.

There must be something about this place that
deranges people, thought Charles. I am glad I have not felt it. To him, on first viewing the property, it had seemed peaceful and beautiful with its great hall and painted ceilings.

They moved to the Green Saloon, where the general promptly sat next to Miss Trumble and engaged her in conversation until Lady Beverley could not bear it any longer. She raised her voice. “Miss Trumble! I have left my fan in the carriage. Pray be so good as to fetch it.”

“Your fan is on your wrist,” said Rachel sharply.

“Oh, so it is. You have some pretty pieces and ornaments here, General. Do tell me how you came by them.”

“Here and there. I am not the artistic one. You must ask my son.” And the general turned his attention back to Miss Trumble.

Lady Beverley fell silent while her mind worked busily. She must get rid of this governess who was taking up so much of the general’s attention. But if she gave her her marching orders, then Miss Trumble would simply move to Mannerling. How dare Miss Trumble adopt the manners and attitudes of a duchess. She simply did not know her place. Hitherto Lady Beverley had been too grateful to have a governess so cheaply that she had not wondered overmuch why Miss Trumble’s promised references had never arrived. Her eyes sharpened. There must be some mystery. There was something in Miss Trumble’s past that lady did not want her to find out. She would demand those references and then write to Miss Trumble’s previous employers and then she would know all.

The Beverley sisters were very subdued. Belinda
was so ashamed of her mother’s behaviour that she had made no attempt to flirt with Charles. Rachel looked awkward and uncomfortable and kept looking at the clock, as if she thought the evening would never end.

So much for the scheming Beverleys, mused Charles ruefully. The sisters were certainly not interested in engaging his attentions, and Rachel almost seemed to find him a bore!

At last Lady Beverley announced they must leave. She could hardly wait until they were home so that she could confront Miss Trumble.

She did not know that the shrewd governess had anticipated the summons and was already making plans, so that, when Lady Beverley asked her for a word in private, Miss Trumble acquiesced with every appearance of calm, a calm that did not desert her when Lady Beverley said she must now insist on seeing those references.

“I will arrange for them to be sent directly,” said Miss Trumble. “But why this sudden concern, my lady?”

Lady Beverley paced up and down the room, showing no sign of the recent ill health she had claimed to have suffered from.

“The reason is,” she said haughtily, “although I consider it impertinent in you to ask my reasons, that because of your position in this household you are tutoring the Mannerling children. It is up to me to make sure you have perfect references should the general ask to see them.”

And all that translated into, thought Miss Trumble, is that you see a chance of marrying the general and do not want me to get in the way and
you are hoping to find some fault in my past and therefore have a reason for dismissing me.

Miss Trumble curtsied. “Will that be all, my lady?”

Lady Beverley looked at her, baffled. She had been hoping for some sign of worry or distress. “That will be all,” she said grandly.

Miss Trumble paused in the doorway. “Perhaps I should mention one little thing.”

“Go on.”

“Now that the Mannerling children are here every weekday and dine with us, perhaps the food supplied could be more appropriate fare for the children of Mannerling.”

“The food is good and nourishing.”

“I heard Mark telling his grandfather that he had sat down to rook-pie for the first time. I just thought I would mention it.”

Miss Trumble smiled sweetly and left, closing the door very quietly behind her.

Lady Beverley could not know her governess had been lying and that Mark had said nothing of the kind. She turned pink at the idea that the Blackwoods might think her parsimonious or, worse, poor. Josiah, the cook, must be ordered to spend more money on his cooking.

Lady Beverley thought about getting out the accounts books to see if the extra money required could be pared from some other household expense but she caught the reflection of her face in the mirror over the fireplace. She thought she looked faded and tired. Lady Beverley had once been a great beauty, but lines of petulance, added to the lines of age, had given her face a crumpled look. She
must start using proper washes and lotions. Her hand reached for the bell. Miss Trumble would know what to do. Then she hesitated. With any luck, Miss Trumble would soon not be around for very much longer, so it was better to get used to doing without her.

In her room, Miss Trumble sat down before her travelling writing-desk and began to write busily. While she wrote, she decided to call on Lady Evans the following day.

“Letitia!” exclaimed Lady Evans the following afternoon as Miss Trumble was ushered into the drawing-room of Hursley Park by the butler.

“You look a trifle guilty,” said Miss Trumble, stripping off her gloves, “as well you should.”

“What can you mean, my dear? Come, be seated and tell me your news.”

“My news is that General Blackwood and his son, Charles, called on you and you saw fit to warn them against the Beverleys. Considering the totally criminal behaviour of your little friend Prudence Makepeace, I am surprised at you.”

“You must admit, Abigail Beverley’s behaviour in snaring Lord Burfield was disgraceful.”

“The thing you will not admit is that Burfield was and is madly in love with Abigail.”

“Pooh, love is all a fancy.”

“It seems to me that you must think so. I, on the other hand, love my charges dearly and do not want anything, or any malicious gossip, to stand in their way.”

Lady Evans bridled. “‘Malicious’ is too strong a word. The general is an old friend. Even you
must admit, Letitia, that the Beverleys have been guilty of blatant plotting and manipulation to regain Mannerling.”

Miss Trumble gave a little sigh. “That is in the past.”

“And so it should be. Charles Blackwood is too old for any of them. Come, let us not quarrel. I swear I will not say a word against the wretched girls again. There. You have my promise. Are you still bent on keeping on such a demeaning job, one which is well below your position in life?”

“No one knows about me except you, and no one must.”

“Oh, very well. But it is all very strange.”

“Lady Beverley is demanding my references.”

“Awkward. Do you want one from me?”

“No, I have written to several ladies who will supply me with the necessary letters.”

“Why should she ask for them now?”

“I do not know,” lied Miss Trumble, who had no intention of telling Lady Evans that Lady Beverley was setting her cap at the general and did not want competition.

“I saw you arrive and driving yourself! Where is that servant, Barry?”

“Oh, he is on an errand,” said Miss Trumble vaguely, and then began to wonder again how Barry was getting on.

Barry was bored. He had slipped down the back stairs and had hidden on the grounds while the maids came in during the morning to clean the boy’s room. He planned to creep back when the coast was clear and get some much-needed sleep, for he had
been awake all night long, without the sign of a ghost or even hearing a creaking floor-board.

He wandered over in the direction of the lake and went and sat in the folly, smoked his pipe, and admired the view. If there was no sign of the ghost the next night, he would beg leave to return to his duties at Brookfield House.

When he finally decided it was safe to return, he strolled back by a circuitous route, keeping all the while out of sight of the many windows of Mannerling. Then he sprinted out of the shelter of some concealing shrubbery and ran for the back door. If any servant surprised him on the stairs, he would say he had a letter to deliver to Mr. Charles Blackwood personally. With a sigh of relief, he gained Mark’s bedchamber, drew the truckle-bed out from its hiding place in the closet, lay on top of it, fully dressed, and fell promptly into a deep sleep.

He was awakened in the early evening by Mark leaping on top of him and crying, “Wake up. Miss Trumble read us some more about pirates. We could play pirates on the lake. Please!”

“Keep your voice down, young man. I’m not supposed to be here.”

The door opened and Charles Blackwood came in carrying a tray of food and a tankard of beer. “You must be very hungry,” he said ruefully to Barry. “I had forgot you could not even go to the kitchens.”

Barry scrambled to his feet and gratefully took the tray. “I do be sharp set, sir. Most good of you.”

“Papa,” pleaded Mark, “I learned all about pirates today and would like Barry to come to the lake and play with me.”

“And what about this ghost?”

“Oh,” said Mark in a disappointed little voice. “Perhaps I imagined it.”

“We’ll see,” said Charles. “One more night and then we will review the situation. You may go and play with Beth and leave your guard here to enjoy his meal in peace.”

Mark ran off. “Do you think he imagined the ghost, sir?” ventured Barry.

“He described his ghost most vividly. As I said, we will try again tonight.”

Charles left and Barry settled down to enjoy his meal in peace, noticing that Charles had made sure there was enough food for a very hungry man. Barry did not want to see any of the Beverley girls ever again plotting and scheming to get back to Mannerling, but there was no denying Mr. Blackwood was a fine-looking man. He must have married late, for the children were young. He wondered what the late Mrs. Blackwood had been like.

Back at Brookfield House, Rachel was wondering the same thing aloud as she sat with Miss Trumble in the parlour. “For it suddenly occurred to me that there were portraits of Mr. Blackwood and his father in the Long Gallery and a charming portrait of the children, but no portrait of Mrs. Blackwood, although there was one of the general’s wife. There were various portraits of ladies but in such old-fashioned gowns that they must have been the ancestors.”

BOOK: The Folly
11.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

This Body of Death by Elizabeth George
Quite Ugly One Morning by Brookmyre, Christopher
The Major's Daughter by J. P. Francis
The Colonel's Daughter by Rose Tremain
Bone and Jewel Creatures by Elizabeth Bear
Chosen by Chandra Hoffman