The Portrait of His Winter Marchioness – Patricia Haverton

Phillip paced up and down the hall outside of the chamber of his wife, Mary. His eyes felt heavy and they burned from lack of sleep. In the last forty-eight hours he had only dozed in the armchair in his study, in front of the roaring fire. But sleep, proper sleep, eluded him. The fear of what terrible news he might wake up to would not let him rest. “My Lord, would you care for something to eat, at least? You must keep up your strength,” his valet, Pierre, asked. Phillip shook his head “No, thank you, Pierre. I cannot eat. My stomach feels as though it is in knots. Has there been any news of my wife?” His valet shook his head, his wavy blonde hair gently swaying from side to side. “I am afraid not, My Lord. Her Grace has not emerged from her ladyship’s chamber since last you spoke to her.” Phillip sunk into a chair outside of his wife’s door and buried his head in his hands. Mary had been in labor for almost forty-eight hours now and still there was no sign of their child—their first born. How they’d longed for this child, how happy they’d been at its imminent arrival.

While a son was all but demanded, so there would be an heir, neither Phillip nor Mary cared as long as the child was healthy. If this one was a girl, they mused, the next one might be a boy. Or the next one after that. For the two of them planned a large, happy family. Phillip sighed. His mother, Her Grace, the Duchess of Weavington, had taken charge of Mary’s confinement as well as treatment, given that Mary was an orphan, having lost both of her parents at a young age. Suddenly, from inside, a blood-curdling scream emerged and Phillip jumped to his feet. He wished for nothing more than to burst through the doors and see his wife for himself. He wanted to encourage her, and soothe her. Yet, he knew it would not be possible.

“My Lord,” Pierre said. “Remain calm.” Phillip shook his head. “If I had known it would cause her so much pain, so much suffering, I would’ve gladly gone without an heir. I do not care if it would mean losing the title back to the crown. I cannot stand to hear her in such pain.” He said the words to himself as much as to Pierre, but the young man nodded in agreement anyhow. “I understand, My Lord. However, I assure you these things take their time. Growing up, I saw many young girls in labor for much longer than this, and they always came out the other side with a bouncing baby.

As will you.” It was a lie, one spoken with good intentions but a lie nonetheless. Phillip knew it. Yet, there was something soothing and comforting in the young man’s voice. Perhaps it was the slight French accent he still carried with him from his childhood in Marseille. Pierre Lombard had been in the family’s employ for several years and worked his way from a lowly footman to that of the future Duke of Weavington’s valet. He was now his closest and most trusted advisor. To Phillip, Pierre was almost a friend. He did not make friends easily, nor did he truly care to, but with Pierre he’d felt an odd kinship right from the start. He was glad to have him by his side now.

To think that my closest friends are my valet and my wife… and yet, I do not mind it. No, I would not have it any other way. Before another word could be spoken between them, his mother threw open the door to Mary’s chamber and stepped out. The Duchess’ normally pristinely arranged hair hung around her sweaty face in disarray, and she wore a white apron over her fine gown to protect it from getting soiled. She glared at the valet. “Pierre, you are not needed here right now. We will call for you should his Lordship need your assistance.” She waved a dismissing hand at him and turned away. Phillip saw the way his valet flinched. Ordinarily he would have protested his mother’s tone of voice as he did not like the way she spoke to their servants, especially the ones in Phillip’s employ.

Pierre bowed and departed. Once they were alone, the Duchess looked at Phillip. He could see from her expression that the news she carried was grave. “What is it, Mother? I take it the news is bad?” She nodded. “Mary is very weak and the child is a breech. The physicians inform me that the time has come to make a decision.” “A decision?” Phillip frowned and brushed a strand of his brown hair out of his face. “Who should they save? Mary or the child? For it seems they cannot save them both, lest both die in the attempt.” The words struck Phillip like a dagger directly to the heart, burning and sharp. He could never have imagined to find himself in this situation with this impossible choice.

He still remembered the day he found out he was to be a father. The joy, the elation—had it all come down to this? Choose who is to live and who is to die? He walked to the window, looking out into the garden before him. I can recall the first day of our courtship. We walked in this very garden and I admired her beautiful green eyes and her soft heart-shaped lips. She was so beautiful, so kind, and she held my heart from the very first moment. And now I am to decide if she, or the child we so longed for, lives? He turned and looked at his mother. “Mary, of course. Tell them to save Mary at all costs. We can always have another child, but I will never have another woman by my side as perfect for me as she.” His mother only nodded in reply and then returned to the chamber.

Leaving Phillip to, once again, sit in agony as he could do nothing but wait and pray. He stood silently beside his father and looked on as the coffins were being lowered into the ground. One was large and made of beautiful white mahogany with a single white rose, the symbol of his grief, placed upon it. The smaller one was so tiny that it was inconceivable that a little life lay within it. It was made of the same materials. A red rose, symbolizing the name Mary had intended to give the newborn should it be a girl, adorned the lid. They were being lowered in adjacent graves while Phillip stood in silence and watched. There they go. The loves of my life. Gone forever.

His father placed a hand on his shoulder. “I know this is difficult. Your mother and I buried many children before you and after you. But let me assure you, the pain will pass. You are still young. There is still life ahead of you. You will love again, and you will wed again. Mary would want it, I am sure.” Phillip did not reply as he watched the coffins disappear from view. Momentarily, earth was being shuffled upon them.

Is it what she would want? They had pledged their undying and unconditional love to one another, sworn that they would never love another as much as they loved each other. Would she really want him to find somebody else to make a similar pledge to? He could not imagine it. If it were the other way around, he knew that he would not want her to look at someone the way she had looked at him. He turned to his father. “I know that you mean well. But hear me. I shall never love again. This is a promise I make now before my dearly departed wife and my child, who never so much as got a chance to take a breath. They will never be replaced; not in my heart, and not by my side.” The older man swallowed hard and rubbed his lips together.

He was an older man, nearly sixty. There was more white in his hair than brown these days, and his face wrinkled more as each day passed. His posture, once tall and strong, was now that of a much older man. “Even if you do not love again, my son, you must wed. It is required of you. Our family has held the title of Duke of Weavington for generations and we must not allow it to die out. Love is not a requirement for marriage. Indeed, you were lucky to love the one that matched with you. Most of us are not that fortunate.” Phillip frowned, vexed that this conversation was taking place as he laid his beloved to rest.

He shook his head. “I do not wish to wed again, either. I will if I must, but I pity the woman who meets me at the altar, as I will never love her nor cherish her as I did Mary. There will never be another.” He turned on his heel and marched back toward the house, leaving the small cemetery behind. He knew then and there that the woman he was leaving behind in the beautiful coffin, dressed in the most exquisite of gowns, would be the only one he could ever love. Yes, of that he was certain. C H A P T E R 1 A TWO YEARS LATER nnabelle stood before her easel, her head slightly tilted to one side as she examined the results of her morning’s work. This was her third attempt at painting the lake behind her parents’ small estate. Stalkton Village, her home for the past twenty-two years, was a most picturesque place and she’d painted much of it thus far.

The only place that always seemed to elude her was the lake. Try as she might, it never came out the way she imagined. Until today. She nodded, pleased with the results for the first time. The colors were vibrant, and the details impressive even to her own eyes. She’d captured minute details that usually escaped her artistic eye. “What a lovely picture,” Charlotte, her family’s maid, said as she walked up behind her. “Might be one for the collection.” “I should hope so,” Annabelle replied with a smile on her lips. “If only someone would offer me a spot in a gallery.

Yet, it seems like every time I write to a gallery owner, they show interest in displaying the work until they find out that I, the artist, am a woman.” She shook her head, sending blonde hair flying out from underneath her straw bonnet. Annabelle did not care for the restrictive manner in which societies’ ladies wore their hair at all. She preferred to allow it to cascade down her back, unless in company. “Perhaps I should chop off all of my hair, borrow some of my papa’s pantaloons and waistcoats, and present myself as Mr. Eric Fernside instead of Miss Annabelle Fernside. I might have more luck that way.” Charlotte chuckled, completely unaware that Annabelle was not entirely joking. She had a vast collection of paintings, all of them originals. Once upon a time, she copied the works of famous painters for practice in an attempt to perfect her skill.

These days she no longer felt the need. Accumulated over several years, her originals were ready to be displayed in any gallery, such was their quality. Indeed, she was certain if she were born a man, she would already be well-known. Alas, she was born a girl and thus considered only good enough to be someone’s wife, or somebody’s mother. Neither of which interested Annabelle in the least. No, she had no plans to marry until the right man came along. Someone who’d love painting and the arts as much as she. A true prince. “Have you never wanted to be something other than a maid?” She fixed her clear blue eyes on Charlotte, who shrugged. “The likes of me haven’t got any choices, Miss Annabelle.

You become a maid, or you become a governess if you’re lucky. Not much choice in it. Eventually you might marry; a merchant, if you’re lucky. But that hardly ever happens.” She shook her head. “At least you are of a higher rank in society, your father being a General. You have some choice in your future.” Annabelle shook her head. “Not if you speak to my parents. All they see in my future is a husband.

But I will not be pushed into a marriage. No. Not I. I am determined to have my work shown around the world. I will be England’s first famous female painter. You just wait and see.” Charlotte glanced at her. Clearly, she was not quite sure what to say. She didn’t have to say anything. Annabelle was well aware that others frowned upon her passion.

Her mother had called her selfish for wishing to pursue her artistic streak, while abandoning her other lessons, such as music and embroidery. None of those gave Annabelle anywhere near the pleasure that painting did. While painting, especially water coloring, was considered an activity very fitting for a young woman, to make a career out of it certainly was not. Annabelle shrugged. “Truly, my work will one day speak for itself. I know it. I will make a living off of the one thing I truly love: painting. And when I have my own little house, bought with the money I make off my work, you will come live with me and all doors shall be open for you, too, Charlotte.” “Yes, Miss Annabelle,” Charlotte replied. It was evident she did not believe in Annabelle’s ability to determine her own path in life any more than anybody else did.

However, it didn’t bother Annabelle at all. The only person whose opinion counted was hers. Yes, she was sure she would be the one to determine her own future. And her own fortunes. Nobody else. Later that evening, Annabelle made her way to the dining room and found her parents already seated at the table. Her father was at the head, her mother at the foot, as usual. She frowned as she entered, as in addition to her parents, a third party had joined them. An older woman, her hair greying and in a knot at the back of her head, clad in mourning black, sat where Annabelle usually ate. Not wanting to be impolite, she curtsied to the stranger and took her seat across from her.

“Good evening,” she said as she greeted the room. The older woman nodded a greeting her way and looked her up and down in a manner which irritated Annabelle a great deal. She did not like being looked at as though she were a pig at the market. At last, her father thought it proper to introduce the stranger. “Annabelle, this is Mrs. Claire Umberton. She is here to provide us with some guidance.” He paused and looked at his wife, who nodded at him. “Regarding your future.” Annabelle looked up at the woman with renewed interest.

Was she perhaps affiliated with a gallerist? Or some noble with an interest in the arts? Her heart fluttered at the idea of it. Alas, her hopes were soon dashed.

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