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Authors: Ann Barker

Ruined

BOOK: Ruined
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Ruined

Ann Barker

For Martin, in the hope that he will continue in his endeavour to ‘do a good deed in a naughty world’.

Spring 1776

I
t was not long after her tenth birthday that Jessie Warburton discovered that the man she called ‘Papa’ was not in fact her father. This discovery did not come as a complete surprise. Over the years, a gradual suspicion had crept into her mind, nurtured from half heard conversations, and from the unconsidered things that her parents had sometimes said during their frequent arguments. She had become used to the scenes, Squire Warburton shouting in his drunkenness, and her mother responding with rather tired sounding sobs. At such times, she had tried to make herself scarce, glad of her old, drab clothes which meant that she was as
inconspicuous
as a rather tall, slim girl could be.

She had always been aware that she was a terrible
disappointment
to the man she called father, and vastly inferior to her five little brothers who had all died before they could be properly born. At one time, she had wondered whether the squire would have loved her if she had been pretty and dainty, with blue eyes and golden curls, like Alice the vicar’s daughter. The Rev’d John Smedley could often be seen with Alice perched up in front of him on his horse, both of them beaming with delight. Jessie had never seen her father look at her with anything warmer than cold
indifference
. More often, his expression was one of undisguised hostility. It must have been dislike, she concluded later, that had made him give her that horrible name – the name that made all the children snigger behind their hands, and grown ups, especially Mr Smedley, look at her in pity. 

Every so often, Mama would take to her bed because she was expecting another child. At such times, the squire’s mood would improve slightly. He would even address remarks to Jessie which were not orders barked in her general direction. Then the baby would be born too soon, there would be another little funeral, and Mr Warburton would disappear to London in a bad humour.

When Jessie was ten years old, her mother was brought to bed once more. Jessie, who had by then perfected the art of blending into the surroundings, was listening unobserved when the doctor explained to the squire that the birth had been particularly difficult. There would be no possibility of Mrs Warburton bearing any more children. Jessie never forgot the squire’s words as he had addressed his wife later.

‘Damn and blast you,’ he had sworn, his tone full of anger and bitter disappointment. He had not even waited until his wife had risen from her bed to berate her. ‘You could give that bloody artist a daughter – you can’t give me a son. Damn you to hell!’ Jessie, who had been waiting in her mother’s dressing-room, had heard the tired murmur of her mother’s reply, but had not been able to distinguish the words. ‘Yes of course I knew,’ the squire said by way of answer. ‘Your father paid me to marry you, didn’t he? Well it wasn’t enough for such a poor bargain.’

From that day on, Jessie resolved that she would never again call the squire ‘father’. It was after this that he began to disappear to London on more frequent visits. It was much more agreeable when he was away because there was no shouting and Mama smiled more and talked to her about things instead of crying all the time.

Mr Warburton did return occasionally, but never for long, and when he went away again, some painting or ornament always went with him. Jessie could not remember a time when there had been paintings all over the house, but she knew that that had once been the case. The differently shaded marks on the walls bore silent witness to the fact that pictures had hung there.

There was a painting to which Jessie knew her mother was very much attached. It was of a small girl with a kitten, and Mama had told her that it was very like a sister of hers who had died in infancy.

One day, when Jessie was about twelve, she had gone with Mama to pay a visit to the vicarage. Mr and Mrs Smedley and Alice had all 
been there and, as usual, Jessie sat looking on in wonderment at the way in which mother, father and daughter had talked cheerfully together, without raised voices or contemptuous looks. When they had arrived back at home, it was to discover that the squire had returned on horseback, stayed only briefly and gone out again, this time in the carriage. On hearing this news, Mrs Warburton, shaken by some kind of presentiment, had run upstairs to look for her picture. It had gone, along with several others.

The squire’s wife was distraught. Jessie so much wanted to comfort her mother, but only dimly understood what was happening and could not think of the right words to say. All she knew for sure was that when the squire returned, there would be a scene. Her hope was that he would go straight off to London, and that the shouting would be postponed. Unfortunately, she was to be disappointed.

Perhaps Mr Warburton had thought to evade his wife, for the confrontation between them took place in the square, wood-lined hall. Jessie had taken refuge in the library, which opened out from the hall. Her mother’s loss had made her think of her own particular treasure, a pink and white shepherdess figurine. She had gone into the library to find it, where she had placed it in the window seat earlier, to be near her while she was reading. She had not closed the door, so when she heard raised voices, she went to peep through the crack to see what was happening, the figurine in her hand. The squire was dressed for travelling in a tricorne hat placed on top of a brown tie wig, a long caped greatcoat and shiny boots. His clothes looked much newer than anything that she or her mother possessed. He was a tall, well-made man with a strong, square face, and rather a high complexion. At moments such as these, before the shouting started, she was conscious of a rush of pride in him, and a feeling of wistful longing that he would like her, rather than regard her with his usual cold indifference.

‘Where is my painting, Edgar?’ her mother was saying. ‘What have you done with it?’

‘Not now, Chloe,’ said the squire irritably. ‘I’m due at Maskill’s and you’re making me late.’

‘Due at Maskill’s?’ repeated her mother. ‘What, pray, is so urgent that you must go rushing over to Maskill’s?’

‘I’m expected,’ was the short answer.

‘Oh, I’m sure you are,’ said Mrs Warburton scathingly. ‘No doubt 
everyone there is rubbing their hands in gleeful anticipation at the thought of easy pickings.’

‘Don’t talk about what you know nothing of. A man’s entitled to a flutter or two.’

‘A flutter or two! Our pictures and furnishings are disappearing by the day – by the hour, almost.’


Our
pictures?
Our
furnishings? I’ll remind you, woman, that the law says everything here is my property to dispose of as I choose.’

‘Half of what is here is mine – over half! But you sell it without so much as a by your leave.’

‘Why the hell should I say “by your leave” when it belongs to me?’

‘That picture was mine! You knew how fond I was of it. What have you done with it? Where is it?’

‘What difference does it make to you what I’ve done with it?’ He laughed derisively.

‘I could get it … redeem it …’ Her voice tailed away.

‘Redeem it? With what? It’s gone – thank God.’

‘How dare you call upon the name of the Almighty!’ demanded Mrs Warburton, her voice shaking. ‘When you squander your substance on your gambling and drinking and women, and leave your wife and daughter to—’

She was not to finish her sentence. Until that point, husband and wife had been standing confronting one another, not touching, the squire slapping his gloves on to his left hand with his right. At her words, Mr Warburton dropped his gloves, and seized hold of his wife by her upper arms, pushing her hard up against the panelled wall. They were now no longer within Jessie’s vision, but she could hear very well.

‘Daughter! Hell, that’s rich. The bastard isn’t even mine!’

‘Edgar, pray!’ came her mother’s voice, breathless and fearful.

‘Pray, what? We both know it. My mistake was to think that it proved you fertile. I should have let you run after the spineless dauber who painted that worthless piece of trash.’

‘If it was so worthless, then why did you sell it?’ Mrs Warburton demanded swiftly.

‘Because I chose to; and because every time I looked at it, I saw his blasted face.’ A gasp following this speech told Jessie that the squire was hurting her mother once more. Without thinking, she ran out of the room, and laid her hand on Warburton’s arm. 

‘Please don’t hurt Mama,’ she cried.

He swung round, his arm upraised, Jessie stepped back, the figurine fell from her grasp and broke into several pieces on the wood block floor.

The sound gave them all pause. Then the squire stepped back, whirled round and strode out of the house. Mrs Warburton shrank wearily against the panelling, and Jessie, weeping, gathered the precious fragments into her apron and ran outside and into the wood just beyond the garden. She sat down beneath her favourite tree, opened her apron and, still sobbing, laid the pieces on the grass in front of her.

 

Lord Ilam had not intended to ride such a distance, but at least while he was out of the house, he was not obliged to associate with the cold, hard man who had fathered him. The morning had not begun well. Lord Ashbourne, who had himself insisted that his son should go on the Grand Tour, had done nothing but criticize the ideas and acquisitions that he had brought back with him.

Raphael Stafford Montgomery, Viscount Ilam, was Ashbourne’s only son, so in an attempt to secure the succession, his lordship had arranged a marriage for the young man when he was not quite seventeen. The young lady had been of Ashbourne’s choice, and was over two years older than her bridegroom and barely known to him. Perhaps the marriage might have worked, given time, but the union was never given an opportunity to succeed, for the young viscountess had died giving birth to their son only ten months after their marriage.

Lord Ashbourne, who had exercised firm control over his son’s life from the very beginning, now proceeded to take charge of his grandson’s fate too, sending him to a local farming family to be brought up, whilst ordering Raphael’s departure to the Continent. The viscount had had no choice. If he had had a single penny that his father had not grudgingly given to him via his steward, he would have walked away and never come back. He might even have done so anyway, had he not had his own son’s needs to consider. Like it or not, his life was constrained by people and events that were quite beyond his power. His father wanted neither his help nor his interest either in the Ashbourne estate, or even at Illingham Hall 
and in the surrounding land which should properly have been his to administer.

‘Now you have fathered a brat, you may go to hell as fast as you please,’ the old man had told him that very morning, not even looking up from his desk as he spoke. The only thing that seemed to please Lord Ashbourne was if his son was away in London playing the rake. Of course, that was what a lot of young men did, up to a point. Having it forced upon one was a different matter.

After that interview, Raphael had gone to visit his son, Gabriel, the child whom he had hardly seen since his birth six years before. The child had stared at him uncomprehendingly, then hidden behind his apologizing foster mother’s skirts. He might as well go to hell as his father had recommended.

So preoccupied was he with his gloomy thoughts that he had strayed further into the wood before he had realized it. He was about to turn around when he heard someone crying. It was a girl with long, brown hair, dressed in a drab brown gown, and she was bending over something in the grass. Thinking that it might be an injured pet, he urged his mount forward, and spied some pieces of what looked like pottery in front of her. At the same moment, the girl heard the sound of the horse approaching and turned her head, her eyes drowned with tears, her expression fearful. Quite
unexpectedly
, his heart was touched.

‘It’s all right. I won’t hurt you,’ he said gently. ‘What’s the matter? I’m Raff, by the way.’

Looking up, Jessie saw a man who, even to her immature eyes seemed to be quite extraordinarily handsome. He was tall, dressed in a tricorne and a frock coat, with buckskin breeches and high black boots. He had glossy black hair, tied back with a ribbon, expressive grey eyes surmounted by finely arched brows, a thin lipped mouth which still somehow managed to look generous, and well-shaped cheekbones.

‘I’m Jez … Jessie Warburton,’ Jessie replied, ‘And I am very sorry for sniffing, but I’ve lost my handkerchief.’

Raphael took a snowy white handkerchief from his pocket. ‘Here, Jez Warburton, have mine,’ he said. She took it, dried her eyes, blew her nose, then looked down at the handkerchief with a doubtful expression on her face. 

He laughed. Like his voice, his laugh was low and cultured. ‘Keep it,’ he said. He crouched down next to her and picked up one of the pieces. ‘Ah, that’s a shame,’ he said, and it seemed to Jessie as if he was speaking as much to himself as to her. ‘Meissen, I think.’

‘I don’t know,’ Jessie answered, not understanding his meaning. ‘But it was my special thing …’ She could feel tears coming into her eyes again.

BOOK: Ruined
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