Gideon Beattie, or Viscount Beattie as he was known, trudged through the mud, carrying three large planks of wood. They were needed to mend one of his stables. The place was falling apart. Everything was falling apart. Gideon hadn’t realised just how bad things had got in the past few years. His father had allowed the estate to fall into rack and ruin. Many staff had left due to the fact his father hadn’t paid them. Gideon couldn’t blame them. If only his father had told him. He could have helped. Gideon had made a modest fortune in the years during and after university. With the money his father had given him monthly, he’d lived the life of a young buck but had also saved and invested wisely. He had a bit of a talent for sniffing out a good investment and some of his investments, especially in the shipping trade, had paid off handsomely. He also knew when to quit when he ventured into a gaming hell. If you are losing quit.
If you win big, quit. It seemed this had not been something he’d inherited from his father’s side of the family. The man had drunk, gambled away the family fortune and after one final bad investment, Gideon’s father took his own life. Gideon’s sister had found him, face down, on his desk, a bottle of laudanum spilt over the surface. He’d taken enough of the opiate to kill a horse; the doctor had said. No one in the house had said anything and against church rules, Gideon’s father had been laid to rest in the family graveyard, next to the church on the estate. The fact they had lied to the vicar still pricked at Gideon’s conscience, but better that than upset Sophia any further. He walked into the stable and dropped the planks of wood. He’d much rather have done this with the animals out in the fields but the weather this year had been awful. Cold, wet and damp.
Everyone was reporting failed crops and the newspapers said that people in Wales were rioting as a result of food shortages. Some people were predicting the beginning of the prophecies from the Revelation of Saint John the Divine in the Holy Bible. He believed it was just a year of bad weather and suspected it had nothing to do with God or apocalyptic prophecies. Fixing the stable was going to upset the animals if he was hammering away at the wood in their vicinity, but there was nothing else for it. The weather was too awful to put them outside and he couldn’t leave the stables in such disrepair any longer. He picked up the hammer, a large nail and placed the wood over the large gap in the horse’s stall. Honestly, it was a miracle the beast hadn’t escaped yet. As he started to hammer, Caesar, his black gelding started to neigh. “Hush, Caesar. Tis fine,” Gideon crooned, hoping the animal would recognise his voice and be calmed.
He took a second nail. Best to hammer each one in a little and get the plank on straight at first. He might not be used to doing manual labour, but as a boy, he’d watched the men around the estate and sometimes asked to help them. They had occasionally obliged when no one was looking. Gideon suspected it was more to get peace than because they liked the young baron. As he hammered in the second nail, Caesar stamped his foot and snorted. “Easy boy. It’s me. I’m just sorting your stall to stop the wind coming in. Don’t you want that? Must be cold in here at night.
” Everything that happened next seemed to happen so quickly that Gideon could not have prevented it, had he tried. Caesar whinnied and reared up, his hooves catching the back of Gideon’s head as he came back down. Gideon fell against the upright stake of the stall, his hand catching on a nail. He pulled it free and was aware of the upright post giving way and a creaking sound. Dirt and dust fell around him then pain like he had never experienced cracked his head. As the light faded he heard himself as if from a distance. “’S fine, Caesar. Shh boy!” Chapter 1 “I do not need to be chaperoned, Aunt. I shall be with Sophia and her brother is asleep. He is most likely dying.
He won’t wake up. He has been like this for three weeks. She shall be my chaperone. She is a widow so she is quite respectable.” Lady Emily Beresford, the sister of the Earl of Whitsnow was determined. She would not be remaining in her aunt’s townhouse in London one moment longer than was necessary. Her friend needed her. Her brother had insisted that once again she go to town in search of a husband, but honestly, it was pointless. No man wanted her. She knew what they said about her.
The whispers behind her back. Oh, she was pretty enough, she supposed, and she had a good dowry. She’d had a few men showing interest in her first few seasons because of her large dowry but not now. Lady Clumsy—that’s the moniker they had given her because she trod on gentlemen’s toes when she danced. She also invariably spilt her drink on her gown. She almost never accepted drinks at balls now. How debasing having such a nickname. Now she was three and twenty years old and she was almost officially on the shelf. “You shall never find a husband at this rate, Emily.” “I doubt I shall find a husband anyway, Aunt.
No one is vying for my hand in marriage. No one is interested.” “What about Cedric Onslow.” “The illegitimate son of the Duke of Hartsmere?” “You can’t afford to be fussy at your age, Emily.” “I can afford to be fussier than Mr Onslow. He’s a dandy. He wears inexpressibles. You can see everything.” “How would you know. You should not be looking at men below the waist.
” “It is hard not to, Aunt. It’s difficult to ignore.” “Hmm, well, perhaps even I would draw the line at Mr Onslow, on reflection. Perhaps we should contact the Duke of Hartsmere and see if his legitimate son, the Earl of Cindermaine, wants a wife.” “He is never seen in town because of his ill health. I doubt he would be interested.” “No harm in asking.” “Perhaps not.” Emily shook her head. “However, I am going to Herefordshire to see Lady Rutherford, and you cannot stop me.
I shall take my maid and obviously, there will be a coachman and a stable boy. We shall be fine.” “I forbid it, Emily.” “I am three and twenty, Aunt. You cannot forbid it. Besides, I already wrote to tell her I shall visit. If you do not let me go, I shall take the mail coach.” Of course, Emily would never consider taking the mail coach and Aunt Gertrude would never countenance such a thing but Aunt Gertrude believed Emily to be ‘a bit of a hoyden’, so Emily knew her Aunt would half expect her to do it. “I shall summon Robert.” “Robert is in Cumbria, Aunt.
You know he cannot get here in time to stop me. I leave early tomorrow morning. I do hope you will wish me well.” “I shall do no such thing. Have you seen the rain? You shall drown in the mud no doubt.” Emily blanched. It was a concern. She had heard so much of the terrible weather conditions and the poor state of the roads. She may very well end up in trouble, but Sophia seemed so lost in the pages of her letter and Emily knew she had to get to her friend and comfort her. She left the room but as she went she turned to her aunt.
“I must go. I would want someone with me if Robert was dying.” Emily walked down to breakfast the next morning, determined not to argue with her aunt. There was no point. She would simply smile and wish her a cheerful goodbye and thank her for her concern. There was nothing else for it. When she walked into the breakfast room, Aunt Gertrude was sitting eating toast and raspberry jam. What caught Emily’s attention, however, was what Aunt Gertrude was wearing. She wore her green carriage dress. “Good morning, Aunt.
” “There is not much good about this morning, Emily. It is still raining.” Emily glanced through the French doors and grimaced. “It has been raining every day since March I think.” “We had a few nice days in May I believe.” “Oh yes. I do recall. You appear to have put on your carriage dress this morning, Aunt.” “That is what one usually wears when one is going on a long carriage ride, is it not, Emily?” “It is. Are you going somewhere nice?” “I have no idea.
Is the Beattie estate nice?” “You are coming with me?” Emily nearly dropped the teapot she had just picked up. “Don’t be ridiculous dear. I cannot have you wandering about the countryside on your own. Robert would never forgive me.” “But you’ll miss the entertainments of the Season.” Aunt Gertrude rolled her eyes. “Emily, my dear, the Season is completely washed out this year. No one is feeling frivolous and happy. No one cares about the gossip and the jolly japes. No one is getting up to any jolly japes for that matter.
Everyone just wants to sit at home by the fireside and read or write letters. It really is rather miserable. I would rather be with you, and, as you said yesterday, you would wish someone would be there for you if Robert was ill and perhaps dying.” Emily nodded. “Yes, I would. I appreciate the offer but please do not feel you ought. I can go on my own.” “It would be a pleasure. You are a true friend to this young lady. What is her name?” “Sophia.
She is Lady Rutherford. Her brother is Viscount Beattie. She is the widow of the late Lord Rutherford who died just five months ago.” “Ah, I see. Perhaps he is not at death’s door. We shall see when we get there.” Emily hurried to the sideboard to fill a plate of food for breakfast. Aunt Gertrude was not a bad old stick really. In fact, she had a heart of gold. She was just a little strict and had rather oldfashioned views about how young ladies should behave.
But Emily felt a warm glow and, she had to admit to herself, a little less apprehensive about this trip now that she would have company. She had been a little scared to venture out on her own, albeit with a maid and a coachman to look after her. With Aunt Gertrude snoring away beside her all the way to Herefordshire, Emily knew she wouldn’t feel lonely until she met her friend again. Chapter 2 It took four days to get to Herefordshire. It was a long journey anyway, but the weather conditions just made it longer. Emily insisted that Martha, her maid, ride inside the coach with them. She couldn’t do anything for the stable hand and her coachman but they both assured her that they were fine and a little rain wouldn’t kill them. It was more than a little rain. It was torrential. As expected, Aunt Gertrude slept through the journey.
Emily had been wise enough to put a couple of books under the seat of the carriage to keep her occupied and Martha had brought along her crochet. “What are you making?” She asked Martha. “Lacy doilies for under the vases on my ma’s sideboard.” Emily peered at the little circle in Martha’s hand. She had barely started but already Emily could see the intricate pattern forming. “Oh my. I did not realise crocheting was so…” “Delicate? Pretty?” “I think of it as being warm shawls for winter.” “Oh, you can make lace shawls for the summer. We just make the warm stuff because we have no need for the fancy stuff, my lady.” “But you could make the fancy ones and sell them to the ladies of the ton.
They would pay handsomely for work such as this.” “Like this?” She pulled a doily out of her bag that she had already made. It was intricate and finely made. “It’s beautiful, Martha.” Emily allowed the thin lacy material to run through her gloved fingers. “Would you teach me how to crochet?” Martha pulled her head back in shock. “Oh, my lady, I don’t think that would be right.” “Oh, I suppose it would not.” “What would not be right?” asked Aunt Gertrude, clearly having just woken up. “Oh, I… Martha makes these beautiful items by crocheting.
I foolishly asked her to teach me.” Aunt Gertrude took the doily from Emily and considered it. “It is a beautiful piece. It is a long way to Herefordshire, my dear. You may as well put your time to good use. Perhaps Martha would be willing to teach you as we travel.” She looked over her spectacles at Martha. The maid nodded furiously. “Of course, my lady. It would be my pleasure.
” “That is settled then. I shall go back to watching the scenery.” Emily smiled at her aunt. Watching the scenery indeed. The woman had been no more watching the scenery than she had been playing cricket on the village green. Emily was bored. It was now nearing the end of the third day of their carriage ride. She didn’t understand how Aunt Gertrude could sleep so much. Crochet was much harder than she thought and she began to wonder if Martha was a witch. Not that she believed in witches of course, but crochet seemed like it must be a dark art.
The whole concept eluded her. Martha’s wrist worked furiously as she created yet another doily. Just then shouts from outside drew her attention as the carriage came to a halt. They hadn’t pulled in to a coaching inn. She could tell they were still on the road. Her coachman was shouting angrily. What on earth could be going on? She was about to nudge Aunt Gertrude awake when the door flew open and a man with his face covered in a handkerchief waved a pistol at them. “Give me yer jewels and money.” Emily’s heart started to race and her mouth went dry. She had no idea what to do or say.
She had on her pearls but how did one deal with highwaymen. Should she fight, refuse, do as she was told? The man’s dirty blond hair stuck out from under his tricorn hat. It was overly long. His voice had a slight tremble to it as he waved the pistol about wildly. He was soaked to the skin. Had it not been for the fact he was in the process of stealing from them, Emily would have felt sorry for him. He must be freezing. “Huh!” Aunt Gertrude jumped awake. “What’s going on?” she asked in her imperious way. The man rolled his eyes.
“I’m a highwayman. Give me yer jewels and money.” “Oh of course. Emily. All the jewels and money are in the blue reticule under your seat. Give it to the man.” Emily gasped but something in Aunt Gertrude’s voice made her obey, and the fact the man was pointing a pistol at her meant Emily did not wish to argue the point. Now was not the time for debate. She didn’t, however, offer to hand over the pearls that were around her neck and could not be seen under her pelisse. She handed him the bag and the highwayman looked inside.
She would wait to see if he asked if they had any jewels on before offering. She noted that Aunt Gertrude did not offer up the jewels she was wearing either. “This is a nice stash. Thank you kindly my ladies.” “You are a brute. You should be ashamed of yourself. I hope your mother is ashamed of you.” Aunt Gertrude’s face was red with indignation. “She likely is, Your Ladyship. She likely is.
” With that, he closed the door and disappeared into the trees next to the road. “He will burn in hell,” muttered Aunt Gertrude. “Oh Aunt, all your jewels.” Aunt Gertrude tapped on the roof of the carriage to tell the driver to go on. Then she turned a gleeful grin on Emily. “Don’t be ridiculous, Emily, my dear. Do you honestly think I would have handed over my jewels to that little weasel? He has a few coins and some jewels made of paste. I really am surprised these highwaymen haven’t worked out this trick yet. Though he did not seem the cleverest of fellows, did he? He did not even ask for the jewels we were wearing. “I did notice that.
I was waiting for him to ask if I had any on my person.” “He is an imbecile, obviously.” She sniffed disdainfully as if she had expected more. A higher class of highwayman maybe. Aunt Gertrude nestled back into her seat and continued to “watch the scenery” as if nothing had happened. What a strange little occurrence. It almost was as if nothing had happened. They had been robbed but Aunt Gertrude had handed over fake jewels and gone right back to sleep. Just wait until she told Sophia. She caught Martha’s gaze.
That was more like it. The maid’s eyes were popping out of her head. “Now we know how to deal with highwaymen, Martha.” “We do indeed. Perhaps the Prince Regent should have sent Her Ladyship over to fight Mr Napoleon instead of sending The Duke of Wellington.” Emily stifled a laugh. “Don’t say that in front of any gentlemen. They would be rather offended to hear someone suggest a mere woman to be braver than the Duke.”