Teaching His Ward – Noël Cades

From the back he looked tall and commanding. Dark hair and a well sculpted head, tapering down to broad, powerful shoulders. But this was the only glimpse that Jemima had ever caught of her guardian, the Earl of Southwell. When her parents had died five years ago, the Earl had arranged for Jemima to be sent to the house of a widowed aunt, and then he had returned abroad for several years. Jemima could not blame him for showing little interest in an orphaned girl. After all, she should have been his father’s responsibility. But the old Earl had died suddenly and his son had effectively inherited his ward, along with the rest of the estate. Formidable and distant. This was how Jemima thought of Marcus Harlington. Certainly not someone from whom she could seek a favour. But this was exactly what her best friend Kitty was urging her to do. “Only write to him, dearest, and ask that he grants permission for you to make your debut in society. I simply couldn’t bear to face my first season without you! I am sure he cannot refuse. Have you not said yourself that he will be only too glad to have you out of his hands?” Catherine Elstone had been the one consolation in Jemima’s life. Mourning her parents, Jemima had been torn from her beloved home in Ireland and sent to England, a foreign land.

Her Aunt Harlington was a dutiful woman but the kindest thing one could say about her was that she had little time for sentiment. Her demeanour towards her nephew’s ward held very little warmth. For the orphaned girl, it had been a cold and lonely welcome. She missed her parents and her former home with its kindly servants, so much less formal than Aunt Harlington’s brisk and silent staff. Most sorely, Jemima missed the horses in her father’s stables. She had a natural affinity with animals but her aunt did not consider riding to be a necessary pursuit for young ladies. And then Jemima had met Kitty. One year older and also motherless, Kitty Elstone lived on the neighbouring estate. The two girls were immediately inseparable. They visited one another’s homes nearly daily and had even managed to persuade Aunt Harlington and Lord Elstone to allow them to share art and music lessons.

Both girls showed some promise at sketching. Their enjoyment of these lessons made up for the disappointment that their tutor was a respectable elderly gentleman, rather than the wildly romantic young artist they had hoped for. The only other males they encountered were the shy and not terribly attractive young curate, and odious Sir Hubert Frobisher who owned the neighbouring estate to Lord Elstone. Art was certainly a welcome diversion for Jemima, endlessly steeped in Latin and Greek according to her guardian’s instructions. The Earl of Southwell apparently knew little about how a girl should be raised. He had simply ordered his aunt to arrange the same lessons he had been schooled in as a boy. Jemima feared his ignorance of feminine needs would extend to her present request. “What if he does refuse, Kitty? It will be unbearable to be left here while you go off to London.” “I am sure he cannot. Let me help you with the letter.

” Over the years, Jemima had dutifully written to her guardian on her birthday and at Christmas. She had never received a reply. In her first year there she had tried to write him an honest letter of how she felt about her situation. “I cannot imagine anyone ever enjoyed Greek grammar. It is an absolute torture. I suppose if you managed to endure it as a boy, then I must suf er it too, out of gratitude. But really I would much rather have dancing lessons or learn archery.” Aunt Harlington had taken one outraged look at this missive, ripped it in two and tossed it into the fire. “I realise you may have run wild in Ireland, Jemima. But now you are in my care I will see to it that you learn how to compose appropriately respectful correspondence to your guardian.

” From then on Aunt Harlington had supervised every one of Jemima’s letters. The result was a series of dull and spiritless missives, sent twice-yearly to the Earl. Each one thanked him for his continued generosity, expressed gratitude for Jemima’s lessons, and contained whatever Bible text Aunt Harlington had required her to learn that week. As such, there was no chance that Aunt Harlington would sanction a request for Jemima to have her first season. The letter must be written in secret, smuggled out by Kitty before it could be intercepted. My Lord, I hope that you are well and will not be inconvenienced by this uncustomary correspondence. I am well, and as ever grateful to you and Aunt Harlington for your continued kindness. However, now that I have attained the age of seventeen years I feel ready to make my debut in society. If you could please grant your permission for this, I would be most eternally thankful. Yours very sincerely, Jemima Carlow Now all they had to do was wait for a reply.

It came, three weeks later, in an envelope addressed to Jemima. She was thrilled to receive it, for it was the first time her guardian had ever written back to her. She was less thrilled when she read its contents. My dear Jemima, A girl of seventeen has no place flitting about London ballrooms and every place in the schoolroom, continuing her education. If and when my aunt deems it fit for you to enter society, she will advise me accordingly. Yours sincerely, Marcus Harlington. The two girls’ disappointment was bitter. “Another year of Homer and Cicero, without even your presence to relieve my misery. I do not think I can bear it!” Jemima lamented. “At least you are spared all that classical torment.

” Lord Elstone was no great scholar and Kitty’s own education was a far lighter affair. Kitty wept with frustration. “It will be no amusement for me, for I shall know no one. To think what fun we might have had, attending balls and dances together. It is too cruel, really. Your guardian is indeed a very unfeeling man.” “Ah well. I shall languish here, I expect, in my loneliness. Each day I shall sit and muse upon all the diversions I am missing, and I shall grow thin and pale and waste away. And when they find my dry bones, fallen upon the pages of some interminable speech to the Roman senate, then they will all be very sorry,” Jemima said.

This at least made Kitty smile again. “Your imagination is too wild. I could not enjoy myself for a moment now, thinking of you in fatal decline here.” Jemima was too generous to want her friend to suffer. “You must enjoy it all the more, for my sake, so that you have more to tell me when you return. Or perhaps you will not return, because you will be swept off your feet by some rich and handsome nobleman. A Duke or a Prince. He will be so enamoured of you as to insist on an immediate marriage, and carry you off you to his palace.” This vision, unlikely as it was, offered little comfort to Kitty. She wanted her friend’s companionship for the Season.

Lord Elstone had summoned an elderly spinster cousin from the wilds of Somerset to present his daughter at court. Kitty feared she would be dreadfully strict and dull. Miss Beatrice Berystede was of impeccable pedigree, being the granddaughter of a duke. But she herself had preferred to live quietly in the country for many years, and thus mixed little in society. Kitty was anxious that her first season would be a very staid affair without Jemima to enliven it. She felt great resentment towards her friend’s guardian. Why should this man, who had never even bothered to meet Jemima, hold such sway over her life and happiness? The next day Jemima visited Kitty at Elstone Court. She was ushered into the drawing room to find her friend bursting with barely suppressed excitement. They sat in the parlour, where Kitty was clearly impatient for the maid to finish serving them refreshments and depart, so that they could speak privately. As soon as the servant had gone, Kitty revealed her news.

“I have the answer, Jemima dear! You are not the only one with imagination.” She produced a letter, written in a fair imitation of Lord Elstone’s hand. My dear Cousin Beatrice, I wonder if you would be so good as to extend your chaperonage to a close friend of my daughter, a Lady Julia Carlingford. She is engaged to Lord Dalrymple of Dublin and was to have stayed with his family in London while making arrangements for her marriage. Due to an illness in the Dalrymple family which has necessitated their absence from London this is not currently possible. As such I request that you extend your kindness to Lady Julia during the weeks until their return. Yours, Elstone. Kitty was very pleased with herself. “Do you not think it is wonderfully clever? I did not know the names of any Irish lords and ladies, but I am sure it does not matter. I doubt Cousin Beatrice will know of any either.

” “But what do you mean by this? Surely you cannot mean to send it to your cousin?” Jemima said. “That is exactly what I mean to do.” “But what if your father finds out?” Jemima asked. “I am sure that he won’t.” Kitty was clearly enraptured with her plan. “He has no interest in the ton and only sends me because it is customary. You may share my clothes and invitations, and we can attend all the balls and receptions toget her. Is it not a perfect plan?” It sounded like a very risky plan to Jemima. But after years of obeying Aunt Harlington’s strict command, she was ripe for rebellion. “How on earth did you choose those names?” she asked.

“I thought it had better be similar to your own name, lest it slips out on my tongue,” Kitty said. “And then I could not think of anywhere else in Ireland, save for Dublin. He sounds splendid, your Lord Dalrymple, does he not? What sort of a man shall he be?” Jemima thought about it. “He is the richest and most fashionable man in Ireland, and drives a carriage with eight black stallions. He is twenty-five and an eldest son, and he has black hair and eyes and gypsy blood.” “Gypsy blood?” Kitty did not look at all as though she thought this was a desirable trait. But Jemima was resolute. “His great great grandmother was rumoured to have been a gypsy princess, bought from her tribe by a former Lord Dalrymple with a ruby the size of a goose egg.” “This is all such nonsense,” Kitty said. “We do not want people getting interested in him and making inquiries.

Your imaginary betrothed must be very nondescript and uninteresting. And the same for you as Lady Julia. Do not let your imagination run too wild, or we shall never get away with this.” “If we do get discovered and cast out, at least you will have a lucrative career as a forger,” Jemima observed, looking at the letter. “Heaven forbid your father ever discover how closely you can imitate his handwriting. But in all seriousness, what am I to do? Aunt Harlington will hardly fall for such a scheme.” Kitty smiled. “It is quite simple, dear. You must wait until I am established in London with Cousin Beatrice, and then run away.” Chapter 1 Marcus Harlington, Earl of Southwell swore under his breath when he opened the letter.

Written in his Aunt Hortensia’s crabbed hand, it informed him that his ward had disappeared without warning. “She left a note to inform me that she was leaving for Ireland to visit ‘old friends’. You can imagine what this must mean, a girl of her age. It is quite insupportable and I cannot think who may have influenced her. To travel unchaperoned, to bring certain disgrace upon herself and this family! Something must be done at once. I trust that you will appoint the necessary people to bring about her swift recovery, after which I can only imagine that she must be accepted into a convent.” Marcus was not convinced that such a drastic solution would be needed, but if the girl had attempted to elope, her prospects might be bleak. The type of man who would induce a young girl to abscond was hardly a man who would make any kind of husband. It could not have come at a worse time. He was due to be leaving for Spain on a highly delicate diplomatic mission, which he could not now embark upon until the girl was found.

A man of considerable intelligence and charisma, Marcus’s diplomatic skills had been in increasing demand following his successful military career. He hated to be idle, and was fearless in accepting even the riskiest of assignments. Once breakfasted, he set off for his club. On the way he recalled the letter that had unexpectedly come from the girl some weeks ago, and pondered at a connection. After sending his reply it had crossed his mind that he may have been too curt in response, even harsh. Though really, she was but a child. Far too young to be exposed to the roués and rakes that frequented the gatherings of the season. Even the sharpest-eyed mamma was little match for their predatory guile. George Gresham, one of Marcus’s oldest friends, was seated in his usual chair. Marcus sank down opposite him, having requested his preferred refreshment from the servant in attendance.

“Southwell, and at a far earlier hour than customary. I had not expected to see you this morning.” George Gresham knew that the Earl was bound for Spain, but had the tact not to voice such sensitive information in the club. “Indeed.” Marcus made no comment, and George saw a thundercloud across his face. Hoping it was not yet another complication with Lady Caroline DeClere, an alluring and ambitious widow who was angling for Marcus’s suit, he made a careful inquiry. “All is well, I trust?” “All is far from well,” Marcus informed him. George made no comment, knowing that Marcus would disclose further information if he were able to. If the problem pertained to his diplomatic work this would not be possible. The two men sat in silence.

The manservant returned bearing a glass on a tray, which Marcus received. After downing the entire contents in a single draught, he spoke. “You recall I have a ward, Gresham?” “I do recall such.” “My father’s sister writes to inform me that she has absconded.” This was an unexpected piece of news. “Absconded?” “Apparently gone to Ireland. Though there is no proof of that, save a note she left. She may well be headed to Scotland.” George understood the implication of this. The village of Gretna Green, just over the Scottish border, was notorious for elopements.

Scotland’s marriage law made it much easier for young couples to marry without parental consent. “Is she of marriageable age? What kind of a girl is she?” George asked. Marcus shrugged. “She is still in the schoolroom. There has never been any issue with her conduct before, so far as I am aware.” He had felt little interest in his ward over the years. When she had first come into his responsibility he had been too caught up in matters relating to his father’s death and his own affairs to think much about her or even meet her. He had placed her in the care of Hortensia Harlington and provided some instructions regarding her education. And these only because his aunt had appeared to expect them. Without sisters or daughters, Marcus had no real notion of what a young woman’s education should be.

“Engage a tutor in Latin, Greek and history,” he had said to his aunt. “At least she may not bore a future husband utterly, if there is something in her head other than gossip and novels.” Marcus continually had such empty-headed females thrust upon him by matchmaking hostesses and hopeful mammas. Rich, young, handsome and now the Earl of Southwell, he was in high demand on the marriage market. Accepting diplomatic engagements in Europe had been one way to escape this nuisance. In the years following his father’s death, Marcus had spent considerable time abroad and thought very little further of his ward or of any other young chits. Thus it was hard to answer George’s question with anything of substance. As far as Marcus was aware, Jemima Carlow was a regrettably dull girl. He received two dutiful and unimaginative pieces of correspondence from her each year, which he no longer even bothered to read. He had only opened her most recent letter because it had come at an uncustomary time.

“If she is not of age, and the worst happens, it may be possible to annul it,” George said. “It will be annulled regardless. She is but seventeen years old.” George chuckled. “You have been too long out of society, Southwell. London is full of young women of such tender years, angling for a matrimonial prize. Why, my own mother was betrothed at sixteen.” “Regardless, she must be found and returned. It is a highly annoying business.” George was privately entertained.

For Marcus, the master of diplomacy, to be confounded by the behaviour of a teenage girl, caused his friend no little amusement. “What will you do?” “I will appoint inquiry agents, and if necessary, ride to Scotland.” It meant the end of the Spanish business for now. Saving the girl’s honour would require the swiftest of actions, which additional travel time from Spain would jeopardise. “A trip to Scotland may be no bad thing, if word gets out that you are in town for the start of the season,” George remarked. He was well aware of the many matrimonial designs upon his friend. He privately hoped that Marcus would accept any of them rather than the wily Lady Caroline. At least if Marcus was determined to do his duty and beget an heir for Southwell. Marcus grimaced. “This continental business will have to be postponed, at any rate.

” “You might kill two birds with one stone and marry this ward yourself,” George suggested. “Don’t be absurd.” Marcus’s reply was curt. “Green maidens fresh from the schoolroom have hardly ever been my preference.” “They don’t remain so. Green, I mean.” But Marcus was resolute. “If and when I feel the need to establish a wife at Southwell, it will be a woman of culture and intelligence. Someone who will not drive me to distraction with chatter about her dressmaker and tawdry social gossip.” George laughed.

“You are too hard on the fairer sex, Southwell. If they have not the minds of men, it is because they are instructed in nothing but maidenly matters. Let a girl be taught alongside her brothers, and you will see far more sense and much less silliness.” Marcus doubted this, since his experience of young women had not so far impressed him. He considered that Lady Caroline’s own sophistication was due to the influence of her late husband, a wise and worldly man. Marcus did not for a moment imagine that Lady Caroline had possessed sufficient wiles of her own to land such a husband, deliberately choosing one both rich and titled, and in fragile health. He was not yet determined on matrimony with the widow, but from the brief time he spent in the company of women, she had thus far irritated him the least. And Southwell needed an heir, lest the estate and title pass to a distant cousin. “With all you say, I wonder you don’t follow your own advice,” Marcus said to George. George was one of London’s most confirmed bachelors.

As a younger son, he had faced less pressure to take a bride, and could enjoy a life of delight rather than duty. George remained equanimous. “Perhaps I shall, one of these days.” He liked women, and saw no reason not to marry, if and when the time came. He regarded Marcus, noting his friend’s dark, currently scowling brow, his tall, soldierly physique, and the strong and well-cut features that the ladies were evidently so enamoured of. It would have been a good thing for Marcus to have been raised with a few spirited sisters. They might have knocked some sense into their brother, George thought. But Marcus’s mother had died giving birth to him. The late Earl, stricken with grief and fury at the callousness of Fate, had never remarried. George attributed some of Marcus’s attitude to his father’s embittered example.

“There are some fine women out there, if one has the patience and discernment to find them,” he said. Marcus looked at his friend with mild derision, and commanded another drink from the attendant who had just entered. O, to be on his way to Madrid, far from all this nonsense. The Spanish sun, the political intrigue, sipping a cup of sack in the shade of an orange grove. If only his ward had been a boy, Marcus could have had him soundly whipped and sent into the military. What he would do with a wayward girl, he had no idea.

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