Link to chapter 1 here
Chapter 2 here
Chapter 3 here
“I finally killed him,” Harry said once he and Sheppard were seated in a serviceable breakfast room on the eastside of the stylish Belgrave Square townhouse.
“Harry, for the love of God, he’s seventy-six years old. Besides, I told you I think he’s pretending to force me into marriage.”
“I know how old he was Sheppard but Jerrold told me his physician said –”
“This is idiotic. Don’t flatter yourself. you couldn’t kill him even if you tried. He survived the death of both his wives, three of his five children and our adolescence,” Sheppard stated dismissively.
“Don’t you dare make light of what I did.”
“What exactly have you done?”
“This is tiresome,” Harry said unhappily, “I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to America.”
“Go to America if you must, but before you go, tell me why you didn’t leave before now?” Sheppard asked belligerently.
“You know grandfather wouldn’t let me.”
“That’s absolute nonsense. You are independently wealthy and have been so your entire life. You stayed because you are as fond of him as I. That is the only reason we allowed him to hold us so close. He did not rob us of our independence we gave it to him. After our fathers died, something in him died along with them and we tried to repair it by assuring him with our proximity.”
“An exceptionally astute observation Sheppard,” Harry said contemptuously. “It’s moments like these that give me a true appreciation for your advanced knowledge and age.”
“Come now,” Sheppard, said in a smug superior voice, “Even with your limited understanding, you can see my rationale.”
“Of course,” Harry proclaimed with mock enlightenment, “I didn’t give him heart failure… we all did. It makes absolute sense. So as my accomplice, you should come with me to America. In fact, I think we should bring the entire family, after all with the exception of Aunt Gertrude we all brought him to a weakened state with our proximity.”
“You damn well know that our proximity did not injury him so much as it hindered us,” Sheppard spat back combatively.
“Even if I know it, it does not change the facts. He is still bedridden and I must leave.”
“I know,” Sheppard said with miserable acceptance. “I’ll go now and talk to grandfather.”
“Yes, all right, I’ll follow shortly.”
It was imperative for Harry to have his own life and Sheppard would have to get the old man to see that. They both owed him that for ten years ago, when Sheppard, eighteen, and Harry, seventeen, were called down from Oxford because of the Marquess’ failing health, Harry sacrificed his independence to help restore the title Sheppard would one day inherit.
They had come home to Brighton only to realize that the estate had fallen into decline and without a shrewd eye, there to oversee the day-to-day management their greedy relations would soon bleed them dry.
The Marquess had a brilliant steward but he was almost sixty and quite ill equipped at dealing with the parasitic members of their family. He was however, able to guide them through the maze of paper work and make them knowledgeable enough to run the estate before retiring.
This would not have been a problem on its own, but add in the greedy relations, an estate in decline, the war, and a Marquess hell bent on interfering only when he was certain, it would make matters worse and you have the makings of a grand disaster.
As heir to the title, Sheppard was able curtail the vultures who did not want to risk the rancour of the future Marquess. He was even able stop the estate’s decline and to keep his grandfather in check. What he was not able to do however, was all this and generate new ventures to keep the estate thriving. He was not yet Marquess and he needed a capable ally.
Thus, Harry’s appointment as temporary steward and ultimately his reason for wanting to leaving for America now. It seemed the perfect solution for everyone involved. The three of them fulfilling the role of one, it worked like a dream and in less than four years the cousins had not only restored the estate to its former glory they had also doubled the family’s net worth.
Then, add to that, the Marquess’ health mending to the point where he was able to take on a few of his duties. And it would be easy to see why Harry thought it the perfect time for him to purchase a commission and pursue an occupation more befitting a gentleman of his birth and station.
Sheppard was in total agreement and was prepared to purchase Harry’s commission when the Marquess first voiced his reservations. When he realized that his qualms were not cutting muster with his grandsons, he resorted to blackmailing them with threats of his impending death. It worked until Sheppard vowed to make it a reality if he did not cease and desist at once.
Which led to Harry’s stunt and the Marquess’ failing health or so they thought. When Sheppard arrived at their home in Connaught, it was to find his shamefaced grandfather stuffing his face.
“What is the meaning of this?” Sheppard demanded.
“Jerrold was to warn me of your return and help me to bed to make the ruse convincing,” the old man said without shame.
“So there is nothing the matter with you?”
“If you call having to return to the marriage mart because my grandson refuses to do what is required of him nothing, then no. But, my heart is nonetheless broken after having to suffer the humiliation of going to Almacks at my age.
“What the devil are you going on about?”
“Duty,” the Marquess barked, “I will do my duty and marry so I can produce an heir who is fitting. Then you and your damnable cousin can go off and get yourselves murdered.”
Sheppard’s answer to his grandfather’s little tirade was a statement, not really intended to garner a response since he truly believed it to be a statement of fact.
“The devil! I am not senile. Fletcher did it and he’s my age,” argued the Marquess.
“First of all Fletcher is twenty years younger than you are, which leads me to believe that your mind has deteriorated farther than I originally suspected,” Sheppard mocked.
“It matters little what you believe so long as the ton believes it,” the Marquess scoffed.
“That’s extortion,” Sheppard shot back in disgust.
“I know,” laughed the Marquess.
“Well I won’t stand for it and neither will Harry.”
“Still, there are your Aunts to consider and they each have a daughter out this season don’t they?”
“You know they do,” Sheppard spat.
“Conduct, my Lord,” chided the Marquess in perfect delight.
That did it.
Sheppard’s only objective now was murder. He took two very deliberate steps towards his fool of a grandfather and fixed a menacing smile on his face. He stood in front of the old man’s desk and glared down at him. His entire persona now reading organized fury and that is when Harry walked in.
He looked at both men, smiled, then said, “Alibi or saviour… How will history remember me after this conflict I wonder?” It was rhetorical of course but it did the trick. His grandfather looked visibly relieved and Sheppard… well, he still looked murderous. Only now, he was doing so from the other side of the room out of arms reach of his grandfather’s neck.
“This will lighten your moods considerably,” said Harry, “Especially yours grandfather. For once, you were right; Lord Powis’ dependency on that damned lorgnette has finally caught up to him. He swears that he saw you leaving Almack’s last night.”
“There is nothing wrong with Powis’ bloody eye sight. He was there last night,” Sheppard snapped.
“What the devil for?”
“He was looking for a wife.”
“Who’s wife?” Harry inquired
“My wife,” informed the Marquess.
“You don’t have a wife,” the cousins replied in unison.
“Hence, Almack’s,” snarled the Marquess peevishly.
With a look of genuine concern, clouding his beautiful face Harry turned to Sheppard, pointed to his grandfather and asked, “Do you suppose this could be the onset of senility?”
“This too was my initial reaction, when he gleefully informed me of his little outing, but I’m afraid something far more sinister is afoot.”
“My leaving?” Harry asked.
“Of course, and he means to get his way.”
“What will this cost me?”
“That I am not yet privy to.”
“The cheek,” bellowed the Marquess furiously.
“Let’s have it grandfather, what will it take for you to let Harry go,” Sheppard asked resignedly.
“I was not aware that he was being held prisoner,” spat the irksome Marquess.
“Out with it old man,” commanded Sheppard.
“All I ask is that you both perform your duty to this family,” said their long-suffering grandfather.
“What duty might that be, sir,” demand Sheppard.
“Your duty to marry and produce heirs of course,” the old man informed them irritably, “Once you have done so then you may do as you please.”
“That could take years besides having a family changes everything. Doing what one pleases would no longer be an option,” Sheppard pointed out.
“That is curious,” said the Marquess contemplatively, “For you have a family now and yet you do as you please.”
“If that had been the case we would not be having this conversation,” interjected Harry angrily, “Your argument is flawed sir, for as the second in-line of succession to this title my duty is to king and country.”
The conversation was starting to take a toll on the Marquess who now looked physically exhausted and every bit his seventy-six years. He put his hand on his brow and closed his eyes before saying. “I lost two sons in service to king and country and I will be damned if I’m going to lose a grandson as well.” He got to his feet looked them both square in the eyes and said, “I would sooner die than put one more of my offspring in the ground.”
Both Sheppard and Harry knew it to be true. He turned, walked from the room and was immediately taken in hand by his man Jerold who seemed to have appeared from out of thin air to assist his master back to his chambers where he could rest and recover from his ordeal.
It took Sheppard almost a full week to get his grandfather to agree to a compromise that would satisfy everyone involved. According to the agreement, Sheppard as the heir apparent would marry and procure an heir in a period less than one year. Once he married and his bride was with child the Marquess, as a sign of good faith would give Harry his blessing to purchase a commission.
To this end, Sheppard enlisted the aid of his Aunt Gertrude to locate the beauty from her garden but had to turn to his Cousin Cynthia after Gertrude flat out refused due to her loyalty to Lady Eloise Spencer, the girl she felt he aught to marry.
Cynthia was reluctant to help him for fear Gertrude would get wind of it and sent him to Lady Herwich, a known gossip and all around busybody. Lady Herwich asked for description of the maiden but only after she had him swear it would not get back to Gertrude that the information came from her.
He promised then offered this descriptions: A lady of about three and twenty, fair of hair and eyes, buxom almost to the point of plenty, oh and taller that the average maiden standing at about five and one-half feet.
To this Lady Herwich said, “That my lord is Miss Theodora Cromwell, recently jilted bride and long past her twenty-third year.”
He thanked her and she made him swear once more that it would not get back to Gertrude that the information came from her.
Link to chapter 5 here
Part four of six
by Simone Ogilvie