Authors: Donna Lea Simpson
Books by Donna Lea Simpson
Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark
Revenge of the Barbary Ghost
Curse of the Gypsy
The Viscount’s Valentine
A Rogue’s Rescue
A Scandalous Plan
Beyond the Page Books
are published by
Beyond the Page Publishing
This novella was first published under the title “A Father’s Love” in the anthology
A Match for Papa
by Kensington/Zebra in 2003, copyright © 2003 by Donna Lea Simpson.
Beyond the Page edition copyright © 2013 by Donna Lea Simpson.
Cover design and illustration by Dar Albert, Wicked Smart Designs
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“I think it is hideous that Mr. Martindale is trying to foist that child off on polite society instead of decently placing him with some family that can be paid to decently take care of it in their own home.” Mrs. Greavely, the acknowledged village gossip, spoke emphatically, her jowls waggling as a string of spittle flew and hit the candelabra.
Lady Theresa counted the times the woman used “decently” in her speech and added it to the five hundred and thirty-four times she had used it previously through the long years of their acquaintance. The total was now five hundred and thirty-six. She also made a note to herself to have the servants pay special attention to the spit-daubed candelabra.
Miss Tratt stared, her gooseberry eyes wide with disapproval. “The poor creature is all about in the head, it’s true, but why does that mean he must be sent away from his family?”
Lady Theresa would have been impressed by the spinster’s compassion had she not believed that the woman was only taking the hitherto unknown Mr. Martindale’s side—that mysterious gentleman who had just rented Meadowlark Mansion on the far edge of the village of St. Mark-on-Locke—because Mrs. Greavely had come down against him. Miss Tratt had a long-standing grievance with Mrs. Greavely and always took whatever side was opposed to her.
The three ladies, among whom at thirty-one Lady Theresa was the youngest by a couple of decades at least, sat in a parlor of the “big” house, as the villagers called Lady Theresa’s home, a lovely old mansion set in the Somersetshire countryside. No one called it Galatea’s Garden House, the awkward if picturesque name her mother had many years before tried to make stick.
“What is wrong with the child?” Lady Theresa asked, frowning down at the piece of needlework she was doing, a tapestry that would eventually be framed and raffled at the harvest festival in September. It was supposed to be a lovely little conceit on the house name, a depiction of Galatea hiding in the willows, but it was not working out. She was a competent needlewoman, but this may have been a bit ambitious for her abilities. It looked lopsided.
Mrs. Greavely leaned forward over her own needlework, a surprisingly lush silk-embroidered seascape, expertly rendered, and said, “He is demented, of course. He makes odd noises, doesn’t talk at all otherwise, and he has his own odd . . . well, for want of a better word, ‘nurseman,’ a strong-armed fellow who looks like he used to be a seaman, to keep the idiot. Who knows of what the boy is capable! We could all be murdered in our beds!”
There was a bloodthirsty gleam in the woman’s eyes. Miss Tratt looked like she wanted to ask for more details, but her enmity with the other woman prevented her.
Theresa tossed aside her work. “I think we have done enough for one day, haven’t we, ladies?” Disgusted and unsettled by the ghoulish Mrs. Greavely, she wanted to be alone for a while.
Disconcerted but obedient to the foremost lady in the village, the two women trotted off in separate directions.
It was a gorgeous June day, but Theresa restlessly roamed the house, the long dark halls and the ancient chapel, the small turret rooms and the new wing, now three hundred years old and only “new” in appellation.
What was wrong with her? She had no patience anymore and could not bear the tittle-tattle of gossip, nor the small-minded backbiting inevitable in a closed village society. In past years, she had been able to balance the spiteful venom of the few against the genuine goodness of most of the citizens of St. Mark-on-Locke.
From an upstairs window she spied her papa coming back from the horse stables and descended the stairs, accosting him in the hallway and twining her long arms around his rotund waist, leaning her head on his shoulder. He patted her arm, made uneasy, she could tell, by her outpouring of affection.
“What is it, poppet? The old biddies got you down again? I saw them leave, or I wouldn’t have come in yet.”
“It’s not them. I’m bored and restless.”
“You’re always like that when we come back from the London season, all that gaiety, balls and so forth. Takes a while to settle into the village routine, my dear.”
“It’s not just that, Papa.” A sudden daring scheme entered her head. “Would it be horribly impolite if I were to call on the new resident of Meadowlark Mansion before you do?”
“Yes, though I needn’t have answered, for you know the answer as well as I; a lady must never call first on a stranger, before her father or husband or brother, et cetera. So I must assume that was a rhetorical question and you mean to be guided by your own wishes anyway, as you usually do.”
She straightened as they walked into the great hall. Lighter of heart, she headed to the stairs leading to the family chambers in the west turret, throwing one mischievous glance over her shoulder. “How well you know me, Father. I do like to stir things up, don’t I? It is why no one wants to marry me despite my many charms.”
“Now you are talking nonsense.”
• • •
A half hour later Lady Theresa Barclay, daughter of the Earl of Leighton and the preeminent lady of St. Mark, as the village was tidily shortened to, mounted her gig with the aid of a strong groom and, placing her capacious basket on the seat beside her, clicked at the gray mare. Down the long, twisting avenue from the mansion and through the high wrought-iron gates, and then out onto the rutted country lane, she guided her rig expertly. It was past St. Barnabas Day but not quite Midsummer Day, and summer, though days away in truth, was verdant upon the countryside.
The day was sunny, perfect for a drive between the high green hedgerows. Swallows swooped and dipped in the shade. Beyond the hedgerows the heavy perfume of clover, driving the bees to distraction, hung over the grassy fields. A willow warbler trilled a warning to his brood as Theresa drove the gig past, and robins chattered uneasily.
At first she took it all in but after a while became lost in thought. In the normal course of the drive she would stop many times to gather self-heal and great burnet, or to see if the wild roses had begun to bloom yet. Coming home from London after the season was always thus, getting back in touch with nature and her home county of Somersetshire after the hustle and bustle and tumult of London. Usually she felt a little at odds for a while, for she loved London, with all of its distractions and entertainment. But she had, for only the second time, not enjoyed London this spring, and she was still puzzling out why. The previous time was because she had been jilted; the pain and humiliation had made that year a black memory to her.
But this year had just seemed flat and boring, though she met the same people and did the same things. Perhaps that was the problem. Her whole life had become predictable.
It was time to disturb the surface and see what happened.
She approached Meadowlark Mansion with some trepidation. How did one go about breaching polite behavior without alienating people?
As it happened, she really didn’t need to worry about that.
• • •
The Honourable Mr. James Martindale was mired in muck; any time he tried to move, he got sucked in deeper. How had this happened? He was raised on the land and ought to be familiar with its pitfalls, but he had never tried farming before. The third son of an impoverished viscount, he had made his fortune in the city in the trade so despised by his peers. Now, with a comfortable fortune, he had rented Meadowlark Manor with a view to buying it if it suited him and his family.
He was trying to think of a way to get out of the muck without losing his boots when he heard the high keening wail that meant trouble, and then Angelica’s screams started.
Wasting no more time, he abandoned his boots, waded out of the mud as quickly as possible—not that quick, since he was five feet from the edge of the boggy quagmire—and ran. He stumbled, his stockings sliding down from the weight of the odorous muck, and he half hopped, half ran, shedding them as he went and praying that nothing too terrible was going on.
That was the problem. The screams could mean nothing or something dire; there was never a way to tell ahead of time. But one thing was for sure, Bobby Turner was going to be sacked. This was the third time in as many weeks the screams had erupted.
He circled the stable and started up the long path to the mansion but halted abruptly, his mucky feet soggily coated with grit from the track.
Jacob, squealing like a banshee, was under the arm of a determined-looking young woman who was marching, with her wriggling burden, across the grass toward the house. Angelica, leaping and flailing her arms, screamed at the lady while she, in turn, shouted back in his daughter’s face with equal vehemence.
“What in God’s name is going on here?” he yelled, striding forward, forgetting what a sorry sight he made as he approached the melee. “Angelica, shut up. Jacob, it is all right, young fellow, and whomever
are,” he said to the woman, “let go of my son!”
“Oh,” she said, letting Jacob slide down to his feet. “Do you not care then that he was about to step into the stew pond fully dressed, hatted, coated, and wearing boots?”
“Angelica, what is she talking about?”
The girl sullenly scuffed one foot over the other and glowered at her brother. “Jacob wouldn’t listen to me,” she said. “I told him he couldn’t, but he was going to walk right in. He saw a fish, I think.”
James put one hand over his heart and closed his eyes, muttering a prayer of gratitude. “Where is Mr. Turner?” he bellowed when he again opened his eyes. He then gazed in consternation at the elegant young woman in front of him. “I must beg your pardon, since I haven’t the foggiest notion who you are, and yet it appears I must be grateful to you.”
She put out her hand. “I am the Earl of Leighton’s daughter, Lady Theresa Barclay. I am committing the unpardonable social sin of calling before a proper introduction, but in light of circumstances, I do believe you will forgive me.”
Dazed, he took her hand and shook it. Her tone was so matter-of-fact she might be speaking of the offer of a receipt for pickled quince rather than just saving his son from almost certain death. He turned from the young woman and knelt by Jacob, who was staring with fixed attention at a spot on the ground.
“Jacob,” he said gently, forcing his son to look directly into his eyes. “You must remember to obey Angelica when Mr. Turner isn’t about.” As usual, he had no idea if he was being understood, though he had suspected for some time that Jacob understood far more than he was given credit for. “Where is Mr. Turner?” he asked Angelica.
“Cook insisted that he was to mend the clothesline in the laundry yard.”
“But I specifically told her never to take him away from his duties with Jacob!”
says that you don’t understand a thing, and that household duties won’t wait, and anyway Jacob is perfectly able to mind without some great lout of a fellow watching over him.”
James sighed and shrugged, glancing up at the lady who stood, politely, hands folded in front of her. He saw her gig in the lane, and stood, saying, “We won’t keep you, Lady Theresa, if you’re on your way somewhere?”
“I was on my way here, so it does not signify how I arrive at the house. If you’ll have your groom drive my gig to the stable and care for my horse, I’ll walk up to the house with you, as I’m sure you need someone to mind Jacob while you, uh . . .” She looked down at his muddy bare feet and legs and colored delicately, averting her gaze. “While you wash up.”
Lord preserve him from a managing female, he thought. But she was right.
• • •
The house was as lovely as she remembered, Theresa noticed as she was guided to a parlor by Angelica, but sadly in need of a good clean. There was dust on the lintels and picture frames, and windows were smudgy. Jacob pressed his nose to the window, kneeling on a chair and gazing out on the sloping front terrace down to the stew pond.
Theresa took a deep breath and examined Angelica. Other than the sullen expression, the girl was quite pretty. If only she did not grimace so. “Are you happy, Miss Martindale?”
The girl blinked once and glared. “What?”
“Do not say ‘what’; say ‘I beg your pardon?’”
Jacob turned and sat on the upholstered chair and watched them.
“You have no right to tell me how to speak.”
“That is absolutely correct,” Theresa said, lowering herself onto a hard upright chair and folding her gloved hands on her lap.
The girl waited, but Theresa had nothing to add.
“Aren’t you going to tell me that I ought to listen anyway, just because you’re a grown-up lady?”
“No.” Theresa maintained her position, her gaze unwavering.
“Then why should I do what you say?”
“Because politeness is self-serving.”
“Is your hearing impaired?”
“No. I meant, what do you mean?”
“Then that’s what you should say.” Theresa glanced around the room and smiled at Jacob. He was solemn and unblinking.
“What do you mean that politeness is self-serving? Shouldn’t one be polite just because society says one must?”
“If you like. But also, being polite will serve you better in the long run. When you’re polite people like you, and then they’ll do things for you and give you things.” The ladies of the village would be horrified if they could hear her feeding this impressionable girl such dangerous philosophy. However, it got the child’s attention.
Angelica blinked, opened her mouth to say something, and then shut it again.
“I didn’t know Mr. Martindale had a daughter as well as a son,” Theresa said.
“I may as well not exist,” Angelica grumbled, throwing herself into another chair. “It’s only Jacob that is important.”
Theresa turned her gaze from admiring the room. If she were mistress she would change only the color from blue to yellow to take advantage of the glorious sunshine that flooded it. She stared at Angelica. “Do you really think that or do you say it because you are pouting and feeling sorry for yourself?”
“You’re very rude!”
“So are you.” She smiled brightly. “There, isn’t that nice? We have something in common.”
“I’m not rude, I’m a child.”
“How old are you?”
“That’s practically grown up! Certainly old enough to know how to be courteous. Haven’t you been to school?”
“No. I had a governess, but she left because she wanted to go back to London. She didn’t like it here.”
“I often feel that way, but then when I’m in London I’m convinced that only home will do.”
Angelica stared at her. Jacob slipped off his chair and came to stand at her knee. His gaze was unblinking still, but now his eyes were focused and alert. He reached out and touched her bonnet, which had a small bird perched on the brim. He began to pull it off, but Theresa put up one hand and gently said, “No, Jacob. You may not pull it off.”
“He can’t understand you,” Angelica said.
“Oh? Can he hear me?” Theresa looked directly into Jacob’s eyes. “Can you hear me, Master Martindale?”
“Nobody’s sure. He . . . he was like this when he was born. My mama died giving birth to him.”
Theresa wondered if the girl was saying that trying to shock her, for no one in polite society should have spoken of such things. But no, Theresa did not think the intent was to shock. Angelica had a hurt look in her blue eyes.
“Do you remember your mother?” Theresa was aware that Jacob had gotten even closer, his eyes fixed on her face. He touched her cheek once and then slipped away from her, wandering the room, touching things and humming.
“Just as a smell, or a feeling.” The girl blinked and frowned, fighting back a tear that was threatening to trickle from her left eye. She sniffed. “I was only four when . . . when it happened. Governess said Mama was too old and that she had no business marrying a young man like my father and having children. It wasn’t natural and she was being punished for trying to move up the . . . the ‘social ladder’ improperly.”
Theresa felt a slow anger burn. She would have to make sure that governess never came back, poisoning a child’s mind against her poor dead mother that way! “That is incorrect and your governess was a very ignorant woman.”
“Ah, here you all are,” Mr. Martindale said, striding into the room. He rubbed his hands together and clapped them once. “Shall we have some tea, and maybe some biscuits? Lady Theresa, would you do us the honor of taking a late tea with us? I know it isn’t the done thing to eat this time of day, nor to take tea with company, but I’m so very grateful to you for rescuing Jacob and I’m also famished. Where
Theresa said, “He’s behind the large blue sofa trying to pretend that he has escaped us.”
Angelica’s eyes widened and she raced around the sofa and dragged him out by his shirt collar. “How did you know that? I didn’t notice him hiding there.”
“If you have ever hunted a chiffchaff in a copse of alders,” Theresa said, “you would know that one keeps one’s eyes and wits sharp if one is to see where their nests are. I have excellent vision and hearing. A boy is a great deal larger than a chiffchaff.” She was disconcerted to see Mr. Martindale trying to suppress a smile. What was there to smile over?
“Shall we have tea in the summerhouse?” he said. “I’ve just had it cleaned out; it should be lovely this time of day. Cooler.”
“Certainly,” Theresa said, standing. “I will follow you, sir.”
• • •
What an odd young lady she was, James thought, watching her demonstrating to Angelica the proper way to pour tea. In his few conversations with local people, before they learned of Jacob’s problems and began to shun him, he had heard that she was a spinster and over thirty. She had lovely skin, clear gray eyes, and a regal manner, but no one would mistake her for a dewy twenty-year-old. She was not pretty, more handsome getting perilously close to plain, and unmarried with a good reputation. He would have to be careful.
Dora, a maidservant, brought a covered tray out to the summerhouse and laid it down on the rustic table, curtseyed, and took the cover off to reveal sandwiches: tongue and cress and goose liver paté. There were also some delicate petits fours and seed cake.
James stared at the tray. He hadn’t ordered this, nor had he had any idea they even had such delicacies in the house. It wasn’t that he couldn’t afford it; he could afford whatever they wanted, for he had made his fortune and was very well off indeed. But where had it come from?
“Lady Theresa, you seem to have brought good fortune with you, for I have never had such a lovely repast.”
“On our way out she snuck into the kitchen and told Cook that you worked very hard and deserved a proper luncheon and that if she didn’t provide it she ought to be ashamed,” Angelica said, calmly taking a tongue sandwich and biting into it with relish.
managing female. And one looking for a husband? She was calmly handing Jacob a cress sandwich and telling him where cress came from and how to gather it. The boy appeared to be listening, though he opened the sandwich and picked out the green herb and ate it first, and then the bread and butter. Lady Theresa seemed not the slightest perturbed.
“So, have you managed to browbeat my nurseman, Bobby Turner, yet?” he said wryly, taking a paté sandwich and finding it very good. “Where on earth did Cook get this marvelous paté? And why haven’t we had this before?” he mumbled, chewing.
“I brought the tongue, paté, and cress. The tongue is from the village butcher—if you bully him adequately, he will have Mrs. Butcher cook it to perfection for you—the paté my own cook makes, and the cress I gathered myself.”
He swallowed. She was watching him with a measuring look as he ate, and he just knew she was measuring him for a wedding suit. The unmitigated gall, he thought, trying to work up some anger toward her. She was ordering his life already, though he barely knew her. The anger was being stifled by his mouth watering over the wonderful taste of the paté. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was.
Angelica, her gaze flicking back and forth between her father and their guest, said, “Papa, Lady Theresa says she can show us where to get the cress.”
“Hmm. How did you manage to intimidate my cook into compliance in such a short time?”
“I’m an excellent manager of staff,” she said with a challenging tilt to her head.
“I’m a good manager myself, Lady Theresa,” he said. “I have successfully built my business into one of the best cloth manufacturers in England. My mills now produce cloth for military garments, flags, upholstery, drapery fabric—”
“I haven’t disparaged your own abilities, sir, by claiming my own,” she said with a lift to her eyebrows. “I’m sure you are a very good manager . . . of your manufactory.”
It went without saying that his vaunted abilities had not stopped his son from almost tumbling into the stew pond. He huffed a bit into his collar, but Jacob was watching him—still eating cress but watching his father, too—and so he couldn’t retort as he would like to.
“I intend to engage a housekeeper. The last one left a week ago. She was not suitable anyway.” She had quit over a dispute with the cook, in truth, but he hadn’t liked her. She had a mean spirit and said despicable things about Jacob when she thought he could not hear.
“So you have, in three weeks, lost a governess and a housekeeper. Female staff are troublesome to you.”
“Females of all sort are troublesome to me,” he said, and then regretted his rash words almost immediately, despite their honesty. He had been plagued, in London, with the attentions of numerous ladies looking for a husband. That his newly minted fortune came from trade didn’t wholly exclude him, since, as the younger son of a viscount, he had aristocratic ties to counter the ugly business in which he was engaged.
He was about to frame a reply to delicately say as much, but she surprised him by standing.
“Mr. Martindale, would you consent to allowing your daughter to come for a ride about the countryside with me? I’m on my way to visit a gentleman who has broken his leg and lives alone. I am taking him some of the same tongue we have been enjoying, and I would very much like Miss Martindale’s company.”
“I suppose . . . if Angelica would like to go, but I doubt if she would.”
“I would like to go, Papa. May I?”
He shrugged. “I shall order your gig, my lady.”