Authors: Jennifer McNare
“Will you obtain Monsieur Theroux’s whereabouts please?”
“Of course, My Lady, I shall see to it at once.” He turned, but stopped short at the sudden appearance of Monsieur Theroux on the threshold of the breakfast room.
“Oh, good morning, Monsieur Theroux. I was just sending Henry to find you,” Melody said. “Have you attended the earl this morning?”
“No, My Lady. The earl has yet to summon me,” he replied in his heavily accented voice. His expression was somewhat anxious as he looked at her questioningly. Obviously he was concerned and had come to seek her instruction, unwilling to disturb Charles without good cause.
“I see. Well, perhaps he merely required a bit of extra sleep this morning.” It seemed unlikely, but Charles
getting on in years. Perhaps his advanced age was no longer compatible with his stringent routine. “If he hasn’t summoned you within the next quarter hour please let me know. I shall be in the library.”
Nodding, Monsieur Theroux quietly left the room.
Fifteen minutes later, Melody was seated in her favorite overstuffed chair reading a worn copy of
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
when Monsieur Theroux appeared in the doorway of the library. Glancing up, she met his troubled expression. Evidently Charles had yet to summon him. Placing the book on a nearby table, Melody stood up. “Perhaps we should find out what is keeping him.”
The petite, olive-skinned Frenchman nodded in agreement, stepping to the side to allow her to pass. He said nothing as they exited the room, merely following a few steps behind her as they moved down the hall and up the front staircase in the direction of Charles’ room.
Stopping outside of her husband’s door, Melody hesitated for a moment and then lifted her hand to knock softly upon the heavy wooden panel. When there was no answer she knocked a second time, more loudly this time. Once again she was met with silence. She turned toward Monsieur Theroux, and for a
moment their eyes met in silent speculation. He nodded his head, the movement barely discernible. Turning back to the door she grasped the handle and pushed it open.
Melody’s hand flew to her mouth at the sight of Charles lying on the floor a few feet from his bed, his nightshirt twisted around his bony frame, his vacant, unseeing eyes open and staring into nothingness. She wavered for a moment and quickly pressed her other hand against the doorframe to steady herself. In the next instant, she heard the valet’s sharp indrawn breath behind her. Recovering herself, she stepped forward, calling to Monsieur Theroux over her shoulder as she swayed slightly and then moved toward Charles on unsteady legs. “Send someone to the village to fetch Dr. Blackburn at once.”
“It isn’t necessary, Mrs. Grimes. Truly I’m fine,” Melody insisted, though her voice seemed weak, even to her own ears. She felt fine physically, but mentally she felt drained. She had spent the better part of the past hour, as they’d waited for the arrival of the local physician, in a state of relative shock, trying to get her mind around the fact that Charles Cavendish, her husband of less than a year, had just died. And now that Dr. Blackburn had arrived, and officially pronounced her husband dead, the enormity of the situation seemed to have finally hit her. “There is so much to be done. I have to notify Charles’ family, and-”
“Nonsense,” the older woman interrupted, her expression uncompromising as she determinedly steered Melody toward the bed. “The first thing you need to do is to allow Dr. Blackburn to examine you.”
Elizabeth, standing a few feet behind Mrs. Grimes, bobbed her head in agreement as the kindly housekeeper continued to guide her toward the bed.
“You have suffered a terrible shock, My Lady, and Monsieur Theroux said that you very nearly fainted when you found…that is…err…earlier.”
Of course she’d nearly fainted. She had found Charles lying dead on his bedroom floor. It didn’t seem like such a shocking, and certainly not an
response to her, despite her aversion toward her now
husband, but apparently Mrs. Grimes felt otherwise. She might have continued to argue, but a soft knock sounded on the connecting door between Charles’ room and her own, diverting her attention.
“Come in doctor,” Mrs. Grimes called out, continuing to ignore Melody’s feeble resistance as she pushed her gently toward the edge of the bed.
Dr. Blackburn entered the room a moment later, his dark leather medical bag in hand. “I am finished with my examination, Lady Edgington,” he said, his tone solemn. “It appears to have been his heart. Please accept my condolences.”
“I see,” she nodded, sitting down with a weary sigh on the edge of the mattress. “Thank you, Dr. Blackburn.
He studied her for a moment. “How are you feeling, dear?” he asked, quickly slipping into a more familiar address, his expression concerned.
“I’m fine,” she said, managing a weak smile for the kindhearted physician she’d known since childhood. “It’s just, such a shock, that is all.”
“Of course, of course,” he nodded.
“She nearly fainted earlier,” Mrs. Grimes piped in with a dogged look at Dr. Blackburn.
Melody suppressed a groan of frustration. Mrs. Grimes, bless her heart, had become her self-appointed caretaker since Dr. Blackburn had confirmed her pregnancy several months earlier, always watching over her and fretting about her delicate condition. Arguing was sure to prove pointless, she realized. She might as well give in and allow the doctor to check her over.
“Did she now?” Dr. Blackburn said, looking to the concerned housekeeper, and then to Elizabeth who was once again nodding her head in confirmation. “Well then, perhaps we had best take a look at you, dear.” He turned his attention back to Melody with a gentle, yet determined look on his face.
“Fine.” Melody fought the urge to roll her eyes and relented without further argument.
With Mrs. Grimes and Elizabeth hovering anxiously nearby, Dr. Blackburn methodically checked her heartbeat, temperature and other vital statistics, before moving the tube-like instrument he referred to as a stethoscope, to her enlarged abdomen.
After several minutes of watching him as he listened intently through the earpiece, and intermittently pressed his hands with varying degrees of pressure along the rounded planes of her stomach, Melody was beginning to feel a bit uneasy. His expression, decidedly more intent than it had been during her previous examinations, was making her nervous. “Is… something wrong?” she asked hesitantly.
Dr. Blackburn looked up, seeming surprised by her question. “No, dear, nothing at all,” he said, pulling the listening piece from his ear. “Everything is fine.” He smiled reassuringly. “It’s just that… well…I believe that I may have a bit of a surprise for you.”
“A surprise?” What on earth was he talking about?
“Your mother has a twin sister, does she not?”
“Yes, my aunt Esther,” Melody answered haltingly, caught off guard by the unexpected question.
“I thought I recalled your mother mentioning it once before.” He nodded knowingly, as if her answer had confirmed something for him. “Did you know that twins have a tendency to occur more often in families whose members have had twins previously?”
“Twins?” She regarded Dr. Blackburn searchingly as understanding slowly began to dawn.
“If I am not mistaken, and I do not think that I am,” he said, smiling warmly now, “you are carrying twins, my dear.”
Good heavens, she certainly hadn’t expected that. “Oh my.” She raised her hands, placing one on each side of her stomach, her eyes wide with wonder.
“The timing is unfortunate of course,” he said, his tone growing somber once again, “discovering it only now, when the earl has just passed.”
“What? Oh yes, of course,” she agreed quickly, having completely forgotten about Charles for a moment. “I am sure he would have been most pleased.” In truth, she wasn’t so sure that Charles would
have been pleased at all. But for her, it was as if she had just received the most amazing gift, another child, another part of
for her to cherish and love.
Unaware of the sudden joy that soared within her, Dr. Blackburn nodded solemnly, patting her hand in a sympathetic gesture.
“To my sister, Lavinia Bingham, I leave a lump sum of twenty thousand pounds,” Mr. Stewart, Charles’ solicitor for the past twenty years, read from the document he held in front of him. He lifted his eyes then, directing his gaze briefly toward the grey-haired woman seated to Melody’s right.
Melody glanced at Charles’ sister from the corner of her eye, noting the look of satisfaction upon the older woman’s face. They had met for the first time the day before, when she and her son had arrived at Edgington for Charles’ funeral. The meeting had been awkward to say the least. On the surface, Lavinia had been coolly polite, but there had been a definite undertone of dislike, perhaps even contempt, that Melody had not failed to miss. Her son Nelson Bingham, Viscount Hattford’s attitude however, had been blatantly hostile. He’d glanced at her enlarged midsection with loathing in his eyes before the introductions had even been made. He sat now, on the other side of Lavinia, leaning slightly forward, his expression anxious as he waited for Mr. Stewart to continue. Mr. Stewart however, turned his attention back to her.
“To my wife, Melody Cavendish, I leave my estate in Lancashire and a lump sum of forty thousand pounds.”
Melody’s mouth fell open in shock. Charles had left her a home and more than enough money to support herself and her family in comfort for as long as they all lived. Even if it were only a fraction of her husband’s immense fortune, it was still an enormous sum and much more than she had ever expected to receive.
Turning his gaze back to the document, Mr. Stewart continued to read. “The remainder of my estate shall be held in trust for my son and heir, accessible to him on his twenty-first birthday.”
Melody had no time to absorb that shocking revelation, as a sharp indrawn breath immediately drew all eyes toward Nelson. His expression was livid. It appeared that he had been cut out of Charles’ will completely. He opened his mouth to speak, but his mother quickly placed a calming hand upon his arm.
“And if Lady Edgington fails to produce a son?” she asked, directing her question to Mr. Stewart, her voice cool and businesslike. “What then?”
Mr. Stewart didn’t seem surprised by Lavinia’s interruption. He met her cool regard for a moment, and then turned toward Melody. “As per the earl’s instructions, if Lady Edgington produces a daughter, the child will receive a sum of twenty thousand pounds to be held in trust until her twenty-first birthday, or upon her marriage, whichever comes first.”
Melody’s mouth fell open. She had never expected Charles to be so generous. But then again, she supposed it would seem quite odd if he had left the child nothing. Even if the child was a girl, he wouldn’t want anyone to suspect that it wasn’t his. It only stood to reason that he would continue to protect his pride even after his death. But whatever his reason, she didn’t care. Her children’s futures were secure regardless of their genders, and that was all that mattered to her.
Mr. Stewart cleared his throat, his expression suddenly uneasy. “His title, all entailed assets, and a sum of one-hundred pounds would then pass to Lord Hattford,” he continued, glancing briefly at Nelson
and then back to Lavinia, “and the remainder of the estate would be divided equally among the afore mentioned charitable organizations.”
“That son of a bitch!” Nelson exploded, his expression furious, his face a mottled red as he rose angrily from his chair.
Lavinia looked equally aghast, her own expression shocked and dismayed.
It appeared that Melody was the only one, aside from Mr. Stewart, who wasn’t completely surprised by what Charles had done. She knew how he felt about his nephew. Even so, she too was somewhat shocked by the blatant insult.
, it was like a slap in the face. She felt a moment of pity for Nelson, but then he turned toward her, his eyes full of accusation.
“This is your doing!” he spat, pointing his finger at her.
“My doing?” Melody gasped, pinned beneath his murderous stare.
“You bewitched him, poisoned him against me.”
“How dare you!” Melody rose from her chair, albeit somewhat awkwardly thanks to her enlarged shape, her own temper flaring.
Nelson took a step toward her. “That baby isn’t even-”
“Nelson!” Lavinia stood and quickly placed a restraining hand on her son’s arm. “Calm yourself,” she said firmly. “There is nothing to be gained by losing your composure.” She ignored Melody, turning instead to Mr. Stewart, who now stood behind the desk, his eyes wide behind his bronze-colored, wire-rimmed spectacles. “My brother was obviously not in his right mind when this ridiculous will was drafted.” Her voice was as cold as ice as she spoke. “I shall see that it is overturned at once.” Her spine ramrod straight as she quickly turned to back to her son. “Come along, Nelson. We shan’t remain here a moment longer.”