Authors: Beryl Matthews
Tags: #General Fiction
Table of Contents
BATTLES LOST AND WON
A DEBT FROM THE PAST
DIAMONDS IN THE DUST
A FLIGHT OF GOLDEN WINGS
THE FORGOTTEN FAMILY
HOLD ON TO YOUR DREAMS
A NEW DAY
THE OPEN DOOR
A TIME OF PEACE
THE UNCERTAIN YEARS
WINGS OF THE MORNING
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First published in Great Britain and the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright © 2013 by Beryl Matthews.
The right of Beryl Matthews to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A debt from the past.
1. Hampshire (England)–Social conditions–19th century–
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8302-5 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-427-0 (epub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
‘I must go to Helen!’ Elizabeth Langton was immediately on her feet, her face white with horror. ‘Why did she not send word to us? She knew where we were staying while on this trip to buy new stock for the estate. I would have returned immediately.’
‘Wait, my dear.’ Lord Edward Sharland caught Elizabeth as she headed for the door and made his god-daughter sit down again. ‘This happened four days ago, and if Helen had wanted our help, she would have sent word.’
‘But why would she not do so? I am her friend, and she was a great support to me when Father died. I would do the same for her.’
‘She knows that, Beth.’ Edward pulled up a chair and sat opposite her, running a hand through his still abundant but greying hair. ‘You know your friend has always been fiercely independent and will face the shame by shouldering this tragedy alone. We will do all we can to help her through this, but we must respect her wishes.’
Beth nodded. ‘You are right, of course. Tell me what you know, for I cannot grasp why Lord Denton should do such a terrible thing. He was always laughing and joking.’
‘That was but a facade. Helen’s father liked to gamble – we all knew that – and evidently it got out of hand when his wife died two years ago. He hid it well, but he was in deeper debt than anyone guessed. In the end he could see only one way out.’
‘So he shot himself, leaving his daughter to deal with the mess he has left behind.’ Beth’s deep blue eyes blazed with anger. ‘How could he do such a thoughtless thing?’
‘He was obviously a desperate man, and desperate men do not think clearly. I have been informed that Helen will not accept help from anyone, and she has kept it a secret for as long as possible. She has a strong character, and I am sure she will cope with what has to be done. Nevertheless, we are her closet friends and neighbours, and we should offer our help. If she turns us away, then we must accept that.’
‘I understand.’ She gave her godfather a sad smile. ‘You have shown me that I must not rush in emotionally and upset her any more than she already is. I will go to her now. It will take me just a moment to change into a riding habit.’
Within fifteen minutes they were on their way. The Denton estate was only a journey of four miles, but Elizabeth was anxious to see her friend and urged her mount into a steady canter.
When they reached the mansion, she stared in disbelief. Furniture and small items such as pictures and ornaments were being carried out and loaded on to waiting carts by an army of workers. It looked as if Helen’s beautiful home was being emptied of its entire contents.
She heard Edward swear under his breath and looked at him as she dismounted. ‘Is she moving?’
‘I think she’s doing more than that.’
Beth didn’t stop to discuss the subject but ran into the house. Her friend was standing in the grand entrance hall, now stripped of all its furniture, and talking to a man as he ticked off items on a list he held in his hand. She stopped, unable to believe what was happening. Helen was wearing a plain brown dress, one more suited to a servant, but her back was straight, and a tight control was being held on her emotions, the only sign of strain showing in dark smudges under her glorious green eyes.
When the man walked away, Beth rushed up to her and put her arms around her, kissing her cheek. ‘I am so sorry, Helen. Why didn’t you send for me? I would not leave you to deal with this on your own.’
‘I know.’ Helen gave a tight smile and then stepped back. ‘But I do not want you to be associated with this scandal – or me.’
Frowning at the puzzling statement, Beth shook her head. ‘We have been friends since childhood, Helen, so why would you say such a thing? And what is going on here?’
‘Everything is being sold.’
‘Yes. It is the only way I can pay off my father’s debts. I am determined to clear every penny of the debts, but it will take everything I own to achieve this.’
‘They are that huge?’ Beth whispered in disbelief.
‘I’m sorry to say they are.’
‘Let us help, Helen.’ Lord Edward had joined them.
‘No, thank you, your lordship. I have gone over the figures most carefully and am confident that I shall be able to pay off everything owing.’
Beth was devastated for her friend, but she knew that when Helen set her mind to something she always triumphed, no matter how hard the struggle. But this was asking too much of a young woman, surely?
‘Will you be able to keep the house in Bath?’ Edward asked.
‘No. My father lost that in a game of cards three months ago. As soon as everything is sold I will need to obtain a position as a governess.’
‘But you can’t do that. You are a lady!’ Beth was horrified.
‘I shall not be using my title or the Denton name again. I fear that my family name has been disgraced beyond repair, and I must find employment as soon as possible.’
‘No! No!’ Beth grasped Helen’s hands. ‘Whatever your father did was not your fault. You have nothing to be ashamed of.’
Helen shook her head sadly. ‘Word will already be circulating through society, and I will not endure the whispers behind fans or open snubs that will occur should I be seen in society again.’
‘I am sure that won’t happen. You are not responsible for your father’s actions, and everyone knows that. You are well respected, Helen. Sympathy will be society’s reaction, not scorn.’
‘You have a higher opinion of people than I, Beth, and I do not want – or need – sympathy from anyone.’
‘Especially you, my dear friend. Sympathy or pity will not help me in the task I have before me. I need you to be strong for me.’
‘Then I shall be.’ Beth tried to smile, though that was almost impossible because it was breaking her heart to see her friend brought so low. ‘You stood by my side when my father died so unexpectedly, and your steadfast nature helped me through. Now it is my turn to repay that debt. You must let us help. What can I do?’
‘Very well.’ Helen relented, knowing they were determined to stand by her and grateful for their support. ‘There are two men going through the house valuing everything, so would you watch that they are doing the job properly? You have a good head for figures, and I cannot afford to be cheated.’
‘I will see they put a fair price on everything.’ Beth was relieved to be given the chance to help, but there was one thing she could not allow Helen to do. Before turning away, she said, ‘And when you have finished this dreadful business, you are to come and stay with me. I will not have you living with strangers as a servant.’
‘I have no choice. I will be penniless and will need to make a living somehow.’
Lord Edward had been standing by, listening to the young ladies talk, and now he stepped forward. ‘Elizabeth is right. You should move in with her, and I will make you an allowance.’
‘Oh, your lordship, that is exceedingly generous of you, but I cannot allow you to support me in that way.’ For the first time Helen’s voice broke with emotion.
‘Indeed you can, for you will be doing us both a favour.’
‘In what way?’
‘In a month from now I have to journey to India. I have important business to settle and shall be away for six or more months. It would ease my mind considerably to know you are with Elizabeth.’ He gave his god-daughter an affectionate smile. ‘And I know she would be most grateful for your company.’
Helen looked at her friend, who was nodding enthusiastically, then back to Lord Edward. ‘That is an extremely generous offer, Lord Sharland, but the only way I could accept would be if I came as Elizabeth’s companion. I cannot allow you to support me unless I give something back in return.’
After a brief glance at Elizabeth, Edward nodded. ‘You have your pride, Helen, and I understand that. You are hereby employed as my god-daughter’s companion.’
‘Thank you, Lord Sharland.’ Helen bowed her head, relief threatening to spill over into tears.
‘Splendid. That’s settled, then,’ Edward said briskly. ‘Now, what can I do to help?’
After glancing at the chaos around her, Helen took a deep steadying breath. ‘There is someone in the stables who is interested in purchasing the horses. I would be most grateful if you could deal with that for me. You are an expert on horses and know the value of each animal.’
‘I will gladly see to that for you. Are you selling all of them?’
‘They must all go.’
‘Oh, Helen, not Honey, surely.’ Elizabeth knew how much her friend loved her horse.’
‘Even she must go, but make sure she has a good home, Lord Sharland.’
‘You leave everything to me.’ He nodded and strode out of the house.
The next few days were frantic and heartbreaking. Helen insisted on dealing with most of the sales herself, but she did allow Elizabeth to help her with the figure work. Beth watched as her friend meticulously began paying off the debts as soon as there was enough money available.
After only two weeks Helen had cleared every debt her father had left behind. When that was done, she only had small trunk of simple clothes to her name, all the more elaborate gowns having been sold, and only one piece of jewellery remained, a small emerald pendant her mother had given her on her eighteenth birthday.
Her friend was now destitute, but there was one thing Helen didn’t know. Lord Sharland had purchased Honey, and she was already happily installed in the Langton stables, awaiting her mistress.
Helen had insisted that she handle the final winding-up of the estate on her own, and Beth knew that was because she didn’t want anyone to see the distress that losing her beloved home was going to cause. She understood and respected Helen’s request that they leave her until everything was settled. Now she waited anxiously for Helen to arrive.
It was a lovely day, showing a hint that spring was not far away, and Helen gazed out of the library window at the scene she would never see again. She felt as if the heart had been ripped out of her piece by piece as each of her father’s creditors had been paid. The last one had just left, and the new owners would be moving in tomorrow. All she had left was the money in her purse – three pounds, ten shillings and sixpence – but she had done it and could now hold her head up. She had acted honourably, and every debt had been paid in full, even though that had meant beggaring herself. Her future would have been bleak indeed if Lord Sharland hadn’t made his generous offer to her. It was a huge relief to know she had somewhere to go, and staying with Beth would give her time to recover from this ordeal before deciding what she could do to earn a living for the rest of her life.