Authors: Lord Greyfalcon’s Reward
Lord Greyfalcon’s Reward
To the Grey Falcon
His own book because he is and always will be an inspiration to us all
WAS MOST INCONSIDERATE OF
Greyfalcon to leave me so suddenly,” moaned the dowager countess, reaching with one slim, well-tended hand for her crystal salts bottle but keeping her gaze firmly fixed upon her slender, young companion.
Sandy-haired Sylvia Jensen-Graham hid a smile as she turned away toward the heavily draped windows of the countess’s vast, overheated drawing room. “I am persuaded that his lordship can have had no particular intention of dying, ma’am,” she said in rallying tones. From his widow’s lachrymose attitude, one might think his lordship had passed away the previous night instead of a full six weeks before. “Do let me open these curtains,” Sylvia added. “’Tis a wonderful bright day outside and I do so admire your view down to the Thames from here. Moreover, I wonder that you can breathe in this stifling atmosphere.”
“Oh, no, Sylvia, pray don’t!” begged her ladyship. “You know how the sunlight hurts my poor eyes, and I am persuaded that you will let in a draft as well. Straight off the river, too, so it is like to be damp. Just put another log on the fire, if you will be so kind, and light some more wax tapers if it is too dark for you in here.” She gestured vaguely. “There are some on the shelf behind me, I believe. And then, dearest, if you will just mix some of my restorative cordial in a glass of water. Doctor Travers prescribed it for me. Such a nice young man, don’t you know.”
Sylvia’s gray eyes twinkled beneath their thick, dark lashes as she moved to obey the last of her hostess’s requests, and with no small effort she managed to keep her voice free of laughter when she replied that Dr. Travers was a very estimable young man indeed.
“He ought to find himself a good wife,” her ladyship said predictably as she pushed an errant curl of snow-white hair off her temple and tucked it back into her intricate coiffure. “A doctor needs a wife, don’t you agree, my dear?”
“Ma’am, really, I’ve no intention of marrying simply to provide Dan Travers with a wife, no matter how skilled a doctor he may be.”
“Well, as to that”—her ladyship sighed—“if he were really good, he might have prevented Greyfalcon’s death and spared me all this distress. Such an awkward time, you must agree. Why, Mr. MacMusker, our steward, has never made a single decision on his own, and Francis hasn’t set foot on the place since that dreadful row he and his papa had after Christopher’s death, and … Oh, I’m so sorry, dearest, how thoughtless of me!”
She looked truly distressed, so Sylvia hastened to reassure her. “You needn’t apologize, ma’am. ’Tis all of three years now since Christopher’s death, and as you must know, there was never anything settled between us.”
“Nonsense, everyone knew from the time Christopher was out of short coats that he meant to marry you just as soon as you became old enough. And then he went off to the Continent just to spite his papa for refusing to purchase him a commission in the Cold Stream Guards. Too expensive, Greyfalcon said, and look what it got him—Christopher dead as a common foot soldier on foreign soil and, not being an officer, like to be buried there as well, had Francis not intervened.”
Sylvia remembered only too well. And she knew, too, that the quarrel between Sir Francis Conlan and his irascible sire had sprung from the fact that Sir Francis had “wasted his blunt” bringing his younger brother’s body home for burial in the family graveyard deep in the beech wood at Greyfalcon Park. “Damn-fool nonsense” was what the old earl had called Sir Francis’s action, and remembering the stories she had heard of Sir Francis’s brutal observations to his sire on that occasion, Sylvia could only marvel that the earl hadn’t suffered an apoplectic seizure then and there, rather than waiting three years to do so.
She gave Lady Greyfalcon’s cordial a final stir and stepped to the settee to hand it to her. “When does Sir Francis mean to return to Greyfalcon Park, ma’am?”
“I’m sure I couldn’t say.” The tone was long-suffering, but her ladyship straightened a little in order to drink her cordial.
“Can’t say? But surely you must have written to inform him of his father’s death.” Sylvia stared at her in dismay. “I never thought to ask before, for it simply never occurred to me that you might not have done so.”
“Well, of course I did, directly after it happened,” replied her ladyship with a touch of asperity. “And even if I had not, your father must certainly have done so.”
“Papa? Why on earth would you suppose any such thing as that, ma’am? You of all people must know that Papa rarely raises his nose from his books—except to sit for the Assizes, of course, or to shout for his supper or his pipe.”
“Don’t be disrespectful, Sylvia. Your father is a very great scholar. Of that I make no doubt. Why, even Greyfalcon respected his vast learning.”
Knowing that the old earl had gone in awe of anyone with patience enough to read an entire book, Sylvia made no comment. Instead she repeated her question. “But why should Papa have written to Sir Francis?”
“Because Lord Arthur is his chief trustee, of course,” the countess said impatiently. “Surely, you knew.”
Sylvia shook her head. It occurred to her then that the man they had been discussing ought no longer to be styled as Sir Francis Conlan. He was now eleventh Earl of Greyfalcon. And her father was his principal trustee?
“Who are the others, ma’am?”
Lady Greyfalcon sighed again. “Myself, of course, and my brother, Yardley, though we are mere ciphers, as you might guess. Nothing can be done without Lord Arthur’s say-so. Greyfalcon wrapped it up tight. Told me so at the time. Said I’d be too easily swayed by Francis’s glib tongue, and called Yardley an old woman—which he is, of course,” she added with another sigh. “Really, Sylvia, this conversation is making my head ache abominably.”
Sylvia apologized but persisted. “Did you receive no reply at all to your letter, ma’am?”
“Merely a brief note, declining my invitation and expressing his apologies.”
“How rude! He did not come for the funeral, either. I did wonder about that, but of course you were in no fit condition to be cross-questioned at the time.”
“No, I was utterly prostrated,” admitted her ladyship complacently. “Anyone would have been, to be sure. The shock—”
“Of course, ma’am, but surely you must have been distressed by his absence.”
For the first time, the countess’s pale-blue eyes shifted and she failed to meet her companion’s gaze directly. “As to that, my dear, I was not really very surprised.”
“Well, you see, I had felt it necessary to explain in my letter to Francis that he had caused his papa’s death, don’t you know, so I could scarcely be amazed when he did not show himself at the funeral.” In the face of Sylvia’s clear astonishment, her ladyship’s final words trailed into an uncomfortable silence.
When Sylvia found her voice at last, she said faintly, “Surely, ma’am, you never told him he was to blame.”
“But he was, my dear, and someone else would have told him so if I had not.”
“Do you mean to say it was true that his lordship suffered an apoplectic fit merely because he learned that Sir Francis had got into debt again?”
“Heard he lost over twelve thousand pounds in one sitting at Brooks’s, that is what he heard, and from an unimpeachable source.” Lady Greyfalcon sat up straighter and carefully adjusted her paisley shawl to sit more firmly upon her shoulders. Then, looking more directly at Sylvia, she added, “He also heard tales of one or two young women, no better than they should be, if you must know the worst.”
“Well, Sir Francis has certainly never been called a saint, ma’am.”
“No, but one of them has designs, Yardley said. An actress, he said, and a high-flyer, though I’m sure he oughtn’t to write such stuff to me, nor should he insinuate that my sole surviving son is a rake.”
“No, that he oughtn’t, nor should he have written as much to his lordship, which I’ll be bound he did, for if Lord Yardley is not your unimpeachable source, ma’am, I shall be much surprised.” When Lady Greyfalcon only looked selfconscious, she added gently, “Sir Francis ought to have been left to deal with his own business in his own way.”
The countess tossed her head. “I daresay Greyfalcon would have heard about the twelve thousand pounds, you know, without Yardley to tell him, and that was what sent him off, poor man. And what I am to do now, I’m sure I cannot say, with so little money of my own and no gentleman to look after things except Lord Arthur, for I am persuaded that, learned though he might be, he will forget to see to things more often than not.”
Since Sylvia could not, in good conscience, disagree with this sentiment or, with propriety, agree with it, she changed the subject to one better calculated to cheer her hostess. Having with no small effort succeeded in this endeavor, she waited only until she had got the lady settled with a new gothic romance to read before gathering her gloves, her hat, and her riding whip and taking herself off to home. As she let her dappled mare pick her own route home through the water meadows along the gently flowing Thames, she looked back for a last glimpse of the magnificent Elizabethan chimneys that stretched above the beech trees surrounding the great stone house, and wondered whether her father even remembered that he had responsibilities toward Lord Greyfalcon. She discovered over supper that she had wronged him.
“Well, of course I have attended to all that,” said Lord Arthur Jensen-Graham as he peered suspiciously through his silver-rimmed spectacles at a platter of grilled sole being presented for his inspection. “Just a morsel,” he added for the maid’s benefit.
“Do you mean to say you’ve written to Greyfalcon?”
“Of course not. Thought he’d be home long since, demanding pocket money. Since he ain’t here, daresay he’ll come when he’s of a mind to. In the meantime, I’ve set matters in train for probate. Dashed nuisance, too, I can tell you. Can’t think why that old scoundrel didn’t leave all this to his own man of affairs. Have to work with the fellow anyway. And I’ll tell you this, my girl, ’tis just as well young Francis ain’t about. Like as not he’d only complicate matters.”
“His debts will be paid, will they not?”
Her father blinked at her. “Has he got debts?”
“His mother said he lost twelve thousand pounds in a single sitting at Brooks’s.”
“Good God. Well, the estate can stand it, if it must, but he ain’t asked for the money, and I don’t propose to go looking for debts to pay. The usual notices will appear in the papers, of course.”
“Papa, I think you ought to write to him and tell him to come home.”
“By and by, perhaps, if it appears he’s needed.”
“But I have been looking after his mama for six weeks now, and I can tell you he
needed. He simply must come home and take control of that place before she falls into a decline or burns the house down through ordering too many wax tapers lit or too large a fire kindled in her drawing room.”
He peered at her over his spectacles. “I daresay the woman has little sense, but surely she can’t burn that huge stone house to the ground through mere carelessness.”
“Well, no, perhaps not, but I can tell you this, Papa, I am in a fine way to dwindling into an unpaid nurse companion, and I don’t believe such a career will suit me at all for very long.”
He grinned at her, the expression lighting his long, rather narrow face. “Then, the solution is clear, daughter.
write to him.”
Sylvia opened her mouth to expostulate with him, but she saw at once that it would do no good. Though he certainly knew as well as she did that it would be thoroughly improper for her to write to Greyfalcon, he had said all he meant to say on the subject. Indeed, he had opened his book and propped it against a fruit bowl, and was paying her no further heed at all.