Someone to Love – Mary Balogh

Despite the fact that the late Earl of Riverdale had died without having made a will, Josiah Brumford, his solicitor, had found enough business to discuss with his son and successor to be granted a face-to-face meeting at Westcott House, the earl’s London residence on South Audley Street. Having arrived promptly and bowed his way through effusive and obsequious greetings, Brumford proceeded to find a great deal of nothing in particular to impart at tedious length and with pompous verbosity. Which would have been all very well, Avery Archer, Duke of Netherby, thought a trifle peevishly as he stood before the library window and took snuff in an effort to ward off the urge to yawn, if he had not been compelled to be here too to endure the tedium. If Harry had only been a year older—he had turned twenty just before his father’s death—then Avery need not be here at all and Brumford could prose on forever and a day as far as he was concerned. By some bizarre and thoroughly irritating twist of fate, however, His Grace had found himself joint guardian of the new earl with the countess, the boy’s mother. It was all remarkably ridiculous in light of Avery’s notoriety for indolence and the studied avoidance of anything that might be dubbed work or the performance of duty. He had a secretary and numerous other servants to deal with all the tedious business of life for him. And there was also the fact that he was a mere eleven years older than his ward. When one heard the word guardian, one conjured a mental image of a gravely dignified graybeard. However, it seemed he had inherited the guardianship to which his father had apparently agreed—in writing—at some time in the dim distant past when the late Riverdale had mistakenly thought himself to be at death’s door. By the time he did die a few weeks ago, the old Duke of Netherby had been sleeping peacefully in his own grave for more than two years and was thus unable to be guardian to anyone. Avery might, he supposed, have repudiated the obligation since he was not the Netherby mentioned in that letter of agreement, which had never been made into a legal document anyway. He had not done so, however. He did not dislike Harry, and really it had seemed like too much bother to take a stand and refuse such a slight and temporary inconvenience. It felt more than slight at the moment.

Had he known Brumford was such a crashing bore, he might have made the effort. “There really was no need for Father to make a will,” Harry was saying in the sort of rallying tone one used when repeating oneself in order to wrap up a lengthy discussion that had been moving in unending circles. “I have no brothers. My father trusted that I would provide handsomely for my mother and sisters according to his known wishes, and of course I will not fail that trust. I will certainly see to it too that most of the servants and retainers on all my properties are kept on and that those who leave my employ for whatever reason—Father’s valet, for example—are properly compensated. And you may rest assured that my mother and Netherby will see that I do not stray from these obligations before I arrive at my majority.” He was standing by the fireplace beside his mother’s chair, in a relaxed posture, one shoulder propped against the mantel, his arms crossed over his chest, one booted foot on the hearth. He was a tall lad and a bit gangly, though a few more years would take care of that deficiency. He was fairhaired and blue-eyed with a good-humored countenance that very young ladies no doubt found impossibly handsome. He was also almost indecently rich.

He was amiable and charming and had been running wild during the past several months, first while his father was too ill to take much notice and again during the couple of weeks since the funeral. He had probably never lacked for friends, but now they abounded and would have filled a sizable city, perhaps even a small county, to overflowing. Though perhaps friends was too kind a word to use for most of them. Sycophants and hangers-on would be better. Avery had not tried intervening, and he doubted he would. The boy seemed of sound enough character and would doubtless settle to a bland and blameless adulthood if left to his own devices. And if in the meanwhile he sowed a wide swath of wild oats and squandered a small fortune, well, there were probably oats to spare in the world and there would still be a vast fortune remaining for the bland adulthood. It would take just too much effort to intervene, anyway, and the Duke of Netherby rarely made the effort to do what was inessential or what was not conducive to his personal comfort. “I do not doubt it for a moment, my lord.” Brumford bowed from his chair in a manner that suggested he might at last be conceding that everything he had come to say had been said and perhaps it was time to take his leave.

“I trust Brumford, Brumford & Sons may continue to represent your interests as we did your dear departed father’s and his father’s before him. I trust His Grace and Her Ladyship will so advise you.” Avery wondered idly what the other Brumford was like and just how many young Brumfords were included in the “& Sons.” The mind boggled. Harry pushed himself away from the mantel, looking hopeful. “I see no reason why I would not,” he said. “But I will not keep you any longer. You are a very busy man, I daresay.” “I will, however, beg for a few minutes more of your time, Mr. Brumford,” the countess said unexpectedly.

“But it is a matter that does not concern you, Harry. You may go and join your sisters in the drawing room. They will be eager to hear details of this meeting. Perhaps you would be good enough to remain, Avery.” Harry directed a quick grin Avery’s way, and His Grace, opening his snuffbox again before changing his mind and snapping it shut, almost wished that he too were being sent off to report to the countess’s two daughters. He must be very bored indeed. Lady Camille Westcott, age twenty-two, was the managing sort, a forthright female who did not suffer fools gladly, though she was handsome enough, it was true. Lady Abigail, at eighteen, was a sweet, smiling, pretty young thing who might or might not possess a personality. To do her justice, Avery had not spent enough time in her company to find out. She was his half sister’s favorite cousin and dearest friend in the world, however—her words—and he occasionally heard them talking and giggling together behind closed doors that he was very careful never to open.

Harry, all eager to be gone, bowed to his mother, nodded politely to Brumford, came very close to winking at Avery, and made his escape from the library. Lucky devil. Avery strolled closer to the fireplace, where the countess and Brumford were still seated. What the deuce could be important enough that she had voluntarily prolonged this excruciatingly dreary meeting? “And how may I be of service to you, my lady?” the solicitor asked. The countess, Avery noticed, was sitting very upright, her spine arched slightly inward. Were ladies taught to sit that way, as though the backs of chairs had been created merely to be decorative? She was, he estimated, about forty years old. She was also quite perfectly beautiful in a mature, dignified sort of way. She surely could not have been happy with Riverdale—who could?—yet to Avery’s knowledge she had never indulged herself with lovers. She was tall, shapely, and blond with no sign yet, as far as he could see, of any gray hairs. She was also one of those rare women who looked striking rather than dowdy in deep mourning.

“There is a girl,” she said, “or, rather, a woman. In Bath, I believe. My late husband’s . daughter.” Avery guessed she had been about to say bastard, but had changed her mind for the sake of gentility. He raised both his eyebrows and his quizzing glass. Brumford for once had been silenced. “She was at an orphanage there,” the countess continued. “I do not know where she is now. She is hardly still there since she must be in her middle twenties.

But Riverdale supported her from a very young age and continued to do so until his death. We never discussed the matter. It is altogether probable he did not know I was aware of her existence. I do not know any details, nor have I ever wanted to. I still do not. I assume it was not through you that the support payments were made?” Brumford’s already florid complexion took on a distinctly purplish hue. “It was not, my lady,” he assured her. “But might I suggest that since this . person is now an adult, you—” “No,” she said, cutting him off. “I am not in need of any suggestion.

I have no wish whatsoever to know anything about this woman, even her name. I certainly have no wish for my son to know of her. However, it seems only just that if she has been supported all her life by her . father, she be informed of his death if that has not already happened, and be compensated with a final settlement. A handsome one, Mr. Brumford. It would need to be made perfectly clear to her at the same time that there is to be no more—ever, under any circumstances. May I leave the matter in your hands?” “My lady.” Brumford seemed almost to be squirming in his chair. He licked his lips and darted a glance at Avery, of whom—if His Grace was reading him correctly—he stood in considerable awe.

Avery raised his glass all the way to his eye. “Well?” he said. “May her ladyship leave the matter in your hands, Brumford? Are you or the other Brumford or one of the sons willing and able to hunt down the bastard daughter, name unknown, of the late earl in order to make her the happiest of orphans by settling a modest fortune upon her?” “Your Grace.” Brumford’s chest puffed out. “My lady. It will be a difficult task, but not an insurmountable one, especially for the skilled investigators whose services we engage in the interests of our most valued clients. If the . person indeed grew up in Bath, we will identify her. If she is still there, we will find her. If she is no longer there—” “I believe,” Avery said, sounding pained, “her ladyship and I get your meaning.

You will report to me when the woman has been found. Is that agreeable to you, Aunt?” The Countess of Riverdale was not, strictly speaking, his aunt. His stepmother, the duchess, was the late Earl of Riverdale’s sister, and thus the countess and all the others were his honorary relatives. “That will be satisfactory,” she said. “Thank you, Avery. When you report to His Grace that you have found her, Mr. Brumford, he will discuss with you what sum is to be settled upon her and what legal papers she will need to sign to confirm that she is no longer a dependent of my late husband’s estate.” “That will be all,” Avery said as the solicitor drew breath to deliver himself of some doubtless unnecessary and unwanted monologue. “The butler will see you out.” He took snuff and made a mental note that the blend needed to be one half-note less floral in order to be perfect.

“That was remarkably generous of you,” he said when he was alone with the countess. “Not really, Avery,” she said, getting to her feet. “I am being generous, if you will, with Harry’s money. But he will neither know of the matter nor miss the sum. And taking action now will ensure that he never discover the existence of his father’s by-blow. It will ensure that Camille and Abigail not discover it either. I care not the snap of my fingers for the woman in Bath. I do care for my children. Will you stay for luncheon?” “I will not impose upon you,” he said with a sigh. “I have .

things to attend to. I am quite sure I must have. Everyone has things to do, or so everyone is in the habit of claiming.” The corners of her mouth lifted slightly. “I really do not blame you, Avery, for being eager to escape,” she said. “The man is a mighty bore, is he not? But his request for this meeting saved me from summoning him and you on this other matter. You are released. You may run off and busy yourself with . things.” He possessed himself of her hand—white, long-fingered, perfectly manicured—and bowed gracefully over it as he raised it to his lips.

“You may safely leave the matter in my hands,” he said—or in the hands of his secretary, anyway. “Thank you,” she said. “But you will inform me when it is accomplished?” “I will,” he promised before sauntering from the room and taking his hat and cane from the butler’s hands. The revelation that the countess had a conscience had surprised him. How many ladies in similar circumstances would voluntarily seek out their husbands’ bastards in order to shower riches upon them, even if they did convince themselves that they did so in the interests of their own, very legitimate children? * * * Anna Snow had been brought to the orphanage in Bath when she was not quite four years old. She had no real memory of her life before that beyond a few brief and disjointed flashes—of someone always coughing, for example, or of a lych-gate that was dark and a bit frightening inside whenever she was called upon to pass through it alone, and of kneeling on a window ledge and looking down upon a graveyard, and of crying inconsolably inside a carriage while someone with a gruff, impatient voice told her to hush and behave like a big girl. She had been at the orphanage ever since, though she was now twenty-five. Most of the other children—there were usually about forty of them—left when they were fourteen or fifteen, after suitable employment had been found for them. But Anna had lingered on, first to help out as housemother to a dormitory of girls and a sort of secretary to Miss Ford, the matron, and then as the schoolteacher when Miss Rutledge, the teacher who had taught her, married a clergyman, and moved away to Devonshire. She was even paid a modest salary.

However, the expenses of her continued stay at the orphanage, now in a small room of her own, were still provided by the unknown benefactor who had paid them from the start. She had been told that they would continue to be paid as long as she remained. Anna considered herself fortunate. She had grown up in an orphanage, it was true, with not even a full identity to call her own, since she did not know who her parents were, but in the main it was not a charity institution. Almost all her fellow orphans were supported through their growing years by someone—usually anonymous, though some knew who they were and why they were there. Usually it was because their parents had died and there was no other family member able or willing to take them in. Anna did not dwell upon the loneliness of not knowing her own story. Her material needs were taken care of. Miss Ford and her staff were generally kind. Most of the children were easy enough to get along with, and those who were not could be avoided.

A few were close friends, or had been during her growing years. If there had been a lack of love in her life, or of that type of love one associated with a family, then she did not particularly miss it, having never consciously known it. Or so she always told herself. She was content with her life and was only occasionally restless with the feeling that surely there ought to be more, that perhaps she should be making a greater effort to live her life. She had been offered marriage by three different men—the shopkeeper where she went occasionally, when she could afford it, to buy a book; one of the governors of the orphanage, whose wife had recently died and left him with four young children; and Joel Cunningham, her lifelong best friend. She had rejected all three offers for varying reasons and wondered sometimes if it had been foolish to do so, as there were not likely to be many more offers, if any. The prospect of a continuing life of spinsterhood sometimes seemed dreary. Joel was with her when the letter arrived. She was tidying the schoolroom after dismissing the children for the day. The monitors for the week—John Davies and Ellen Payne—had collected the slates and chalk and the counting frames.

But while John had stacked the slates neatly on the cupboard shelf allotted for them and put all the chalk away in the tin and replaced the lid, Ellen had shoved the counting frames haphazardly on top of paintbrushes and palettes on the bottom shelf instead of arranging them in their appointed place side by side on the shelf above so as not to bend the rods or damage the beads. The reason she had put them in the wrong place was obvious. The second shelf was occupied by the water pots used to swill paint brushes and an untidy heap of paint-stained cleaning rags. “Joel,” Anna said, a note of long suffering in her voice, “could you at least try to get your pupils to put things away where they belong after an art class? And to clean the water pots first? Look! One of them even still has water in it. Very dirty water.” Joel was sitting on the corner of the battered teacher’s desk, one booted foot braced on the floor, the other swinging free. His arms were crossed over his chest. He grinned at her. “But the whole point of being an artist,” he said, “is to be a free spirit, to cast aside restricting rules and draw inspiration from the universe. My job is to teach my pupils to be true artists.

” She straightened up from the cupboard and directed a speaking glance his way. “What utter rot and nonsense,” she said. He laughed outright. “Anna, Anna,” he said. “Here, let me take that pot from you before you burst with indignation or spill it down your dress. It looks like Cyrus North’s. There is always more paint in his water jar than on the paper at the end of a lesson. His paintings are extraordinarily pale, as though he were trying to reproduce a heavy fog. Does he know the multiplication tables?” “He does,” she said, depositing the offending jar on the desk and then wrinkling her nose as she arranged the still-damp rags on one side of the bottom shelf, from which she had already removed the counting frames. “He recites them louder than anyone else and can even apply them.

He has almost mastered long division too.” “Then he can be a clerk in a counting house or perhaps a wealthy banker when he grows up,” he said. “He will not need the soul of an artist. He probably does not possess one anyway. There—his future has been settled. I enjoyed your stories today.” “You were listening,” she said in a mildly accusatory tone. “You were supposed to be concentrating upon teaching your art lesson.” “Your pupils,” he said, “are going to realize when they grow up that they have been horribly tricked. They will have all these marvelous stories rolling around in their heads, only to discover that they are not fiction after all but that driest-of-all realities—history.

And geography. And even arithmetic. You get your characters, both human and animal, into the most alarming predicaments from which you can extricate them only with a manipulation of numbers and the help of your pupils. They do not even realize they are learning. You are a sly, devious creature, Anna.” “Have you noticed,” she asked, straightening the counting frames to her liking before closing the cupboard doors and turning toward him, “that at church when the clergyman is giving his sermon everyone’s eyes glaze over and many people even nod off to sleep? But if he suddenly decides to illustrate a point with a little story, everyone perks up and listens. We were made to tell and listen to stories, Joel. It is how knowledge was passed from person to person and generation to generation before there was the written word, and even afterward, when most people had no access to manuscripts or books and could not read them even if they did. Why do we now feel that storytelling should be confined to fiction and fantasy? Can we enjoy only what has no basis in fact?” He smiled fondly at her as she stood looking at him, her hands clasped at her waist. “One of my many secret dreams is to be a writer,” he said.

“Have I ever told you that? To write truth dressed up in fiction. It is said one ought to write about what one knows. I could invent endless stories about what I know.” Secret dreams! It was a familiar, evocative phrase. They had often played the game as they grew up—What is your most secret dream? Usually it was that their parents would suddenly appear to claim them and whisk them off to the happily-ever-after of a family life. Often when they were very young they would add that they would then discover themselves to be a prince or princess and their home a castle. “Stories about growing up as an orphan in an orphanage?” Anna said, smiling back at him. “About not knowing who you are? About dreaming of your missing heritage? Of your unknown parents? Of what might have been? And of what still might be if only . ? Well, if only.” He shifted his position slightly and moved the paint jar so that he would not accidentally tip it.

“Yes, about all that,” he said. “But it would not be all wistful sadness. For though we do not know who we were born as or who our parents or their families were or are, and though we do not know exactly why we were placed here and never afterward claimed, we do know that we are. I am not my parents or my lost heritage. I am myself. I am an artist who ekes out a reasonably decent living painting portraits and volunteers his time and expertise as a teacher at the orphanage where he grew up. I am a hundred or a thousand other things too, either despite my background or because of it. I want to write stories about it all, Anna, about characters finding themselves without the hindrance of family lineage and expectations. Without the hindrance of . love.

” Anna gazed at him in silence for a few moments, the soreness of what felt very like tears in her throat. Joel was a solidly built man, somewhat above average in height, with dark hair cut short— because he did not want to fulfill the stereotypical image of the flamboyant artist with flowing locks, he always explained whenever he had it cut—and a round, pleasant face with a slightly cleft chin, sensitive mouth when it was relaxed, and dark eyes that could blaze with intensity and darken even further when he felt passionately about something. He was good-looking and good-natured and talented and intelligent and extremely dear to her, and because she had known him most of her life, she knew too about his woundedness, though any casual acquaintance would not have suspected it. It was a woundedness shared in one way or another by all orphans. “There are institutions far worse than this one, Joel,” Anna said, “and probably not many that are better. We have not grown up without love. Most of us love one another. I love you.” His grin was back. “Yet on a certain memorable occasion you refused to marry me,” he said.

“You broke my heart.” She clucked her tongue. “You were not really serious,” she said. “And even if you were, you know we do not love each other that way. We grew up together as friends, almost as brother and sister.” He smiled ruefully at her. “Do you never dream of leaving here, Anna?” “Yes and no,” she said. “Yes, I dream of going out there into the world to find out what lies beyond these walls and the confines of Bath. And no, I do not want to leave what is familiar to me, the only home I have known since infancy and the only family I can remember. I feel safe here and needed, even loved.

Besides, my . benefactor agreed to continue supporting me only as long as I remain here. I— Well, I suppose I am a coward, paralyzed by the terror of destitution and the unknown. It is as though, having been abandoned once, I really cannot bear the thought of now abandoning the one thing that has been left me, this orphanage and the people who live here.” Joel got to his feet and strolled over to the other side of the room, where the easels were still set up so that today’s paintings could dry properly. He touched a few at the edges to see if it was safe to remove them. “We are both cowards, then,” he said. “I did leave, but not entirely. I still have one foot in the door. And the other has not moved far away, has it? I am still in Bath.

Do you suppose we are afraid to move away lest our parents come for us and not know where to find us?” He looked up and laughed. “Tell me it is not that, Anna, please. I am twenty-seven years old.” Anna felt rather as if he had punched her in the stomach. The old secret dream never quite died. But the most haunting question was never really who had brought them here and left them, but why. “I believe most people live their lives within a radius of a few miles of their childhood homes,” she said. “Not many people go adventuring. And even those who do have to take themselves with them. That must turn out to be a bit of a disappointment.

” Joel laughed again.


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