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Authors: Kathleen Kirkwood

Shades of the Past

BOOK: Shades of the Past
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Table of Contents

 

SHADES

of the

PAST

 

Kathleen Kirkwood

 

©Copyright 1999, 2012 Anita Gordon

Revised Edition, 2012

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.

 

License Notes:

 

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents, other than those in attributed quotations or references, are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. All characters are fictional and any similarity to people living or dead is purely coincidental.

 

Cover art: Bydand Designs

 

Cover image: Leeds Castle image licensed from Deposit Photos / Filip Fuxa at
www.depositphotos.com
, Eyes image licensed from Deposit Photos / Carlo Dapino at
www.depositphotos.com
, Couple image from Jimmy Thomas at
www.romancenovelcovers.com
.

 

 

Dedication

 

To Josephine S. Williams, Dean of Arts & Letters, retired, Charles County Community College of Southern Maryland, my English 101 professor an eon ago. You lit a fire in my mind and heart for the art and craft of fiction and for its boundless possibilities.  To you, my endless thanks.

 

Author Appreciation

 

A very special thanks to the members of
The First Thursday Book Club:
Marie Allison, Crystal Caterra, Robin Coburn, Gail Gibbs, Diane Hollington, Stephanie Kelly, and Shannon Yun For sharing their insights and suggestions as I revived and revised this new edition of
Shades of the Past
. Ladies, you’re the greatest!

 

And also, huge thanks and deep appreciation to Dee Gordon for lending her eagle editorial eye to the final revision of
Shades of the Past.

Chapter 1
 

 

September 17, 1882 

Royal Sherringham, ancient seat of the Viscounts Marrable

Herefordshire, England

 

Vanessa fought back a fresh rush of tears as she slipped the small, cloth-covered Bible into Lady Gwendolyn's still hands.

"Rest, dear friend.  You are home at last at your beloved Sherringham."

Bending, Vanessa placed a kiss to her late employer's snowy head, then withdrew, lips trembling. 

Lawrence Marrable, the younger of Lady Gwendolyn's twin nephews, stepped quickly forward.  Steadying Vanessa by the arm, he drew her gently back into the small, black-clad circle of the Marrable family where they stood at the fore of Knights Chapel.

Vanessa's gaze lingered a moment longer on Lady Gwen's quiet form, lying pale in the open casket.  But then her control slipped, and hot tears spilled over her cheeks and dampened the bodice of her dress.

"There now.  Just a little longer," Lawrence heartened.  "When all is done you can seek the privacy of your room and have it out."  Producing a crisp handkerchief from his coat pocket, he offered it in place of her sodden one.  "Poor Vanessa.  How crushingly hard this must be for you.  I dare say you were closer to Aunt Gwen than any of us these past few years."

Vanessa blotted her cheeks with the large square of monogrammed linen, ignoring his intimate use of her given name since he had been so good to her otherwise.  Ignoring, too, his disregard for what she'd made clear earlier.  She would depart Sherringham directly after the interment and funeral feast.

Majel, the elder of Lawrence's two younger sisters, turned from her husband's side, her gaze flicking to Vanessa then to her brother.  "It's not as though Auntie couldn't return.  Had she wanted to, that is."  Her gaze cut to Vanessa once more.

Vanessa froze in place, stunned by the inference.  Did Majel believe
she
had prevented Lady Gwendolyn's return to her childhood home these past two and a half years?  Vanessa started to assure Majel it was her aunt's dearest wish to make the journey back to Sherringham, but it had always been Lady Gwen’s decision to put off returning home in favor of some other unexplored locale.

Before Vanessa could voice her thoughts, Majel turned toward her husband, Lord Nigel Pendergast, at the same time looking once again to her brother and encompassing him with her hazel gaze.

"We've delayed long enough, Lawrence.  Mourners from the village have been gathering all morning at the mausoleum, and the children and our guests are waiting in the carriages for the procession to commence.  We simply must begin the services."

"Oh, no, but we can't!" Cissy, the youngest of the Marrable siblings protested, sweeping forward from her own husband's side.  "Adrian has yet to arrive.  We cannot conduct the service without him."

"And precisely how long do you suggest we wait?"  Majel's nostrils flared delicately.  "It's deplorable he's not seen fit to join us already."

"Why do you assume the fault is his?" Cissy's voice rose defensively.

"And why do you assume it is not?"

At that, the two sisters dissolved into a peppery discussion, with their brother and spouses attempting to inject their own opinions and a measure of calm rationale.

Vanessa stepped apart of the animated clan, rubbing the space between her brows.  It was not the first time the high-spirited family had disagreed over some aspect of the funeral arrangements.  Poor Mr. Marrable—or rather, “Lawrence,” as he insisted she call him.  He'd overseen every detail, doing his utmost to ensure the very finest provisions be made for his aunt and that all proceeded smoothly.

As the voices continued to rumble in her ears, Vanessa drew a breath and sought to regain hold of her own emotions.  For a moment, she allowed her gaze to wander over the chapel and its rich Gothic interior. 

Knights Chapel was exquisite, centuries old but carefully maintained, filled with a profusion of oak and stained glass.  A huge clerestory window rose behind the altar while other, narrower ones, filled with bearded saints, lined the side walls.  Before the railing of the sanctuary, bronze candelabras flanked Lady Gwendolyn's casket, while flowers overflowed the steps and stands, their heavy floral scent underlined by a slight mustiness of ancient wood and stone. 

Sherringham, Vanessa had discovered, held many treasures such as Knights Chapel.  In truth, she'd seen only a small portion of the entire complex, but she could easily understand Lady Gwendolyn's longing to return. 

And yet she hadn't.

Vanessa shifted her stance along with her thoughts as she walked toward a row of splendidly canopied stalls, intricately carved, the seats lined with cushions of crimson velvet.

Lady Gwen
had
intended to return, one day.  Certainly, there had been opportunity.  And yet, from the moment Vanessa first entered Lady Gwendolyn's employ as her companion, the two of them were ever bolting off in diverse directions throughout the Isles and the Continent. 

These past years had been grand, exciting, breathless.  But the choices of their destinations had all been Lady Gwen's.  She'd meant to visit Sherringham, truly.  But time suddenly ran dry.  Lady Gwen died this week past of a massive apoplectic attack in their Paris apartments.

Vanessa glanced to where Lawrence stood with his sisters and brothers-in-law, the top of his bright head visible above theirs.  She didn't know what she would have done without him.  She'd known nowhere else to wire the sorrowful news but Sherringham, or rather "Royal" Sherringham, as it was properly called.  Fortunately, Lawrence was in residence when her telegram arrived.  He came at once to Paris and took charge of preparations to see herself and his late aunt home to England.

Vanessa's gaze drifted to the row of banners overhanging the family stalls and fastened on one in particular.  It carried the distinctive coat-of-arms of the Marrables—a black panther with gold spots, rising from an equally black helm, surmounted by a viscount's coronet.  The beast reared up in fight, its claws extended and painted blood red.

"No, no!  We
cannot
begin without him," Cissy's cry snapped Vanessa's attention back to the group.  "Adrian is Viscount after all, the family patriarch.  Oh, Henry, convince them," she pleaded with her husband, Lord Norland.  "It would be unseemly to bury Aunt Gwendolyn without him present.  She was like a second mother to us all." 

The remark elicited a sharp retort from Majel which, in turn, brought further debate over the "inexcusably absent" viscount. 

Vanessa tried to envision an identical copy of Lawrence—hair full of sunshine, sky-blue eyes, a pronounced dimple in one cheek which gave him a boyish look.  Patriarchs should be grayed or balding, she mused.  But Adrian Marrable, like his twin brother, was but one and thirty years.

"My dear Cissy, we might delay a very long time indeed and never see poor Auntie laid to rest if we wait on our brother," Lawrence reasoned, as though he were solacing an hysterical child.  "You know he hasn't returned since . . . well, since the accident."

Silence descended abruptly over the group like a pall.  It was as though Lawrence had just uttered the unspeakable, something forbidden, taboo.  As the foursome stood momentarily mute, Vanessa's mind scrambled for what little she knew of Lady Gwen's eldest nephew, the viscount. 

"Notable but ill-fated," she'd once called him.  Despite his age—midway through his twenty-eighth year when Vanessa first met Lady Gwendolyn—he had already been twice wed, and twice widowed, with each of his wives having died after brief marriages and each quite tragically.  Lady Gwen shared nothing of the specific circumstances surrounding the women's untimely deaths.  Still, it was evident she ached for her nephew and for his great misfortune. 

Instinctively, Vanessa felt her gaze drawn once more to the banner where the fierce panther of the Viscounts Marrable seemed to rage against life itself.

"Then, it's settled," Lawrence declared.  "For whatever reason Adrian has chosen not to appear, or to communicate his wishes or regrets with us at this sad time, it is our duty to continue in his stead." 

Consulting his watch, he signaled to Mr. Brown, the undertaker, and his assistants to attend to the casket. 

"The mourners have now waited an additional quarter-hour thanks to our indecisiveness.  We shan't leave them a moment longer."  Returning his timepiece to his pocket, he turned and started toward Vanessa.

As Lawrence moved to her side, Vanessa stole a parting glance of the banners overhead.

"Are you ready?"  He encircled her shoulders with his arm and gave her a gentle squeeze. 

Vanessa stiffened, surprised by his familiarity.  But before she could object and step from his embrace, the Marrable banner, with its angry panther, stirred to life.  The folds rippled conspicuously, as if caught on a sharp and sudden breeze.  Yet there was none.  None that she could perceive. 

"Is something the matter?"

Too late Vanessa realized she had released a soft but audible gasp.  "There.  Do you see that?"  She gestured to the fabric still swaying above them as it settled back into its original position.

"A draft, no doubt."  Lawrence shrugged, releasing her shoulder.  "Bound to have a good many of them in a place like Knights Chapel."

"But the other banners were not affected," she observed, drawing his attention to their dormant forms.

Again he shrugged.  "Just an oddity.  Sherringham has an abundance of those.  Come along now.  It is time."

Drawing her gaze downward, Vanessa glanced toward the coffin, glimpsing Lady Gwen's narrow hands and the volume they clasped as the lid closed over her.

Tears welled in her eyes once more.  Death was not unfamiliar to her, but that did not take away the awful finality of each passing. 

"May you rest ever in peace, dear lady," Vanessa whispered softly.  "You are home at last."

Slipping her hand through Lawrence's arm, she braced herself for the coming hour and allowed him to lead her out.

»«

Despite the chill that clung to the morning air, the sun shone strong enough to warm Vanessa's cheeks as she stepped into its brilliant light.

A long row of carriages lined the drive, at their lead the windowless hearse, adorned with black ostrich feathers.  Its four midnight horses bore the same inky plumes upon their heads, plus black leather trappings studded with silver and black velvet coverings on their backs. 

Behind the hearse, in place of honor, stood the Marrable carriage which Majel and Cissy now mounted.  They were assisted by two official "mutes," the undertaker's solemn-faced staff, cloaked and sashed in lusterless black, with long crape weepers flowing from their tall hats. 

Next came the Pendergast and Norland carriages containing the children—girls all—who sat straight and silent, awaiting their lordly fathers to join them.  A fourth conveyance held two more of the Norland children, Beatrice, the youngest, and Geoffrey, the eldest and the only boy between both broods.  Accompanying them were Nurse Ridgely who attended Baby Bea, and Nanny Pringle who, as Vanessa understood it, had raised all four of the Marrable siblings and now lived in permanent retirement at Sherringham.

An assortment of family friends and acquaintances filled the remaining carriages, though positioned at the very rear were a number of empty equipages, sent by those unable to be in attendance.

Vanessa started to withdraw her hand from the crook of Lawrence's arm, thinking to seek a place in the latter vehicles.  At the same moment, he paused before the fourth carriage and turned to assist her up. 

Young Geoffrey, Cissy's eleven-year old son, smiled broadly and scooted close to Nanny, freeing a place beside him on the cushioned seat.  Realizing Lawrence's intent and Master Geoffrey's expectations, Vanessa took a polite step back. 

"Thank you, you are most kind.  But my place is properly in the back carriages."

"We won't hear of it, will we, Geoffrey?"  Lawrence shared a conspiratorial glance with his nephew who promptly shook his head.  "Aunt Gwendolyn certainly would wish it.  From her letters, we—that is, the family—know you brought her immeasurable happiness." 

A deep-felt pleasure stole through Vanessa at his words.  "I do hope that's true, still it would be inappropriate for me to—"

"As a personal favor then," Lawrence interrupted, leaning close for her alone to hear.  "The lad could use a bit of help with Nanny despite what my sister thinks."

Vanessa glanced past his shoulder to where Nanny sat beside Geoffrey, fumbling with the ribbons that dangled from her bonnet.  Suddenly the boy's presence in the carriage became clear.  Nanny tended to be a "bit fuddled" these days, according to Cissy.  Lawrence, she knew, deemed Nanny's condition more serious, her lapses in memory progressively worsening, though she could recall the past with astonishing clarity. 

From what Vanessa had observed during her brief stay at Sherringham, she tended to agree with Lawrence.  Still, it was both thoughtful and perceptive of Cissy to arrange a companion for Nanny, even one so young as Geoffrey.

Vanessa looked to the boy and smiled.  "I would be honored to ride with you," she agreed, though in truth she felt completely out of place to be included within the family circle. 

BOOK: Shades of the Past
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