Eight Years Ago…
Ellen pressed her nose to the fragrant flowers in her hand, appreciating their scent.
“They are marvellous, Lewis! Thank you for picking them for me, but I daresay that your gardener will not be impressed that you snatched a few blooms from under his nose.”
Lewis, tall and handsome, stood with his hands in his pockets, a hint of blush upon his cheeks. How he has grown! Lewis had just returned from his last year in boarding school, looking far older and refined than Ellen remembered. He had been away for three years, and she had missed him terribly, but his letters had always been entertaining and a sort of comfort to her. Now at eighteen, Ellen knew that the young women would set their hopes on him. He will likely bring about many broken hearts when he makes his first appearance in London as a young man. She wished that he would not go, but his father was adamant that he should introduce himself before the Ton as an educated son of a Duke. Lewis would need to prove himself, but just what there was to prove, Ellen did not know. She was worried that once he left for London, he would meet a beautiful girl and fall in love with her. There would be many girls attending the Season, and while he may be too young to get married just yet, there was still the worry that he might meet a young woman. Ellen was in love with Lewis herself, a fact that she kept secret from all who knew her. Although he only sees me as a little sister.
“Do not scold me so, Ellen. Charles will not miss a few flowers, and even if he should notice them gone, I shall not own up!”
“Lewis! How absolutely daring of you! But I do not believe that you would do such a thing for you are an honest and upright boy.”
She gazed at him from beneath her lashes, waiting to see how he would react to being called a boy at his great size.
“A boy?” he spluttered. “You would call me a boy? Has your eyesight deteriorated so much since I have been gone?”
Ellen’s laughter bubbled right out of her, clearly not impressing her idol one bit. For she did idolise him, although if someone accused her of it, she would never admit to it. I still have my pride! Her eyes were alight with mirth as she regarded him, noting the upward tilt of his chin. And what an excellent chin it is, so well-formed and noble. Ellen felt her heart flutter, catching her unawares. Ignoring the feeling, she sought to tease him further.
“My eyesight is as sharp as ever; it is your humour that has deteriorated. Do they teach young men to be severe and humourless at your prestigious school? I only said it in jest, but you were most offended!”
She laughed harder when he narrowed his eyes at her, folding his arms across his chest.
“I see that three years has done nothing to cure your mischievous nature, Ellen. You are as childish today as you were when I met you six years ago.”
That shut her up rather quickly. Ellen pouted, sticking her tongue out at him.
“At least I can still laugh which is far more preferable to a serious boy who has only just become a man!”
When Lewis threw his head back and roared with laughter, she realised that he too had been joking with her.
“Who has lost their humour now?” he said.
She was so happy to see him that she could not remain annoyed with him, although she did not appreciate being called a child. Perhaps she had been but a child when he left, but now she was considered to be a young woman. Ellen knew that she was blossoming into a great beauty as she had once overheard her mother and her friends say so. She had taken pride in that, hoping that Lewis would notice her as well. She playfully tapped him on the chest with her flowers, being careful not to bruise the petals.
“Oh, Lewis, you do so love to tease. I am glad that you have not changed all that much. I was afraid that you would come back and no longer wish to see me.”
“No longer wish to see you? Where on earth would you get a notion like that?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “Mama said that you would now be a busy man and that I should put away any hope of seeing you once you return.”
Her mother had also told her that her childish affections for Lewis were not the same as the affections of a woman. Lewis would no longer be interested in having a child as a companion, she had said, and would not want her shadowing his every step. The news had been devastating for her, so when he had come home, she had waited with bated breath to see if he would acknowledge her.
“Mrs Campbell is a wonderful woman, but she was quite wrong to put into your head that I would no longer wish to see you. Have my letters not been evidence enough that I have not forgotten about you?”
Ellen smelled the flowers again, hiding her smile. She was pleased that Lewis had sought her out today, coming to the very spot where they had often played as children. His parents had organised a special welcome home lunch, inviting his friends and acquaintances to celebrate his return. Of course, she had been invited as well as her parents, and his parents were old friends who had known each other for quite some time now. She had not been able to speak with him at first as he had been crowded by guests who all wished to talk to him, so she decided to slip away unnoticed to their secret garden. This was where they had played games and carved their names into the bark of the oldest tree on the estate. Just when Ellen believed that he had forgotten about her, Lewis had appeared with a hastily picked bouquet of flowers and made a show of gifting them to her.
When her expression was composed, she looked up at him with adoration.
“Your letters have been most fascinating, Lewis. I am glad that you still thought about me while you were away.”
She saw his thoughtful expression, not understanding the intense look in his eyes.
“How could I have forgotten the prettiest girl I have ever seen?”
Lewis could not quite believe how beautiful Ellen had become. Of course, there had always been the promise of it before, but never would he have guessed that she would have changed so much. Gone was the braided white-gold hair and impish smile she had always worn. Instead, her hair had darkened to a bright shade of the purest gold, and her smile had the beginnings of a woman who would have men fall at her feet by one devastating smile. As she smiled up at him, he longed to plant a kiss on each of her dimples, surprising himself. Where on earth did that come from? I have never thought of Ellen in such a way! The thought was disconcerting, bothering his conscience. Ellen was like a little sister to him, but he could not seem to help the turn of his affections. I shall have to be more careful with my thoughts. Ellen must have seen the frown on his face because her smile dropped.
“Are you unwell, Lewis? Would you prefer to return to the house?”
Was that what he wanted? No, he would much prefer to remain with Ellen than return to a house full of guests that he would rather not associate with. The girl before him was far better company than most, bringing her sunshine wherever she went.
“No, I am fine. Let us sit for a bit in the shade, and you can tell me all about your daily life.”
She frowned. “But I have told you all there is to know in all my letters to you. Do you not read them?”
“Of course I have read them, but you do tell the most entertaining stories in person. Do you still trouble your governess?”
Her impish smile returned, bringing him great relief. There is the Ellen that I know! I was afraid that I had lost my Little Shadow. The nickname had come about when he had caught her continually following him around when she was but nine years old. He had not minded for Ellen had not been like the other girls her age; she enjoyed the activities that he had experienced, spending hours together in their secret garden. That will all come to an end now, for I am too old, and she has become a young woman. It would not be proper to spend as much time with her anymore. The thought saddened him.
They sat on a wooden bench he had made before his banishment to boarding school, for that was what he had believed it to be, a banishment from the place and people he loved. Ellen placed her flowers between them before embarking on a scathing report of her governess.
“Miss Blunt truly is a foolish woman! Do you know that she sleeps while I work? If she should wake up and find part of her dress dipped in ink, then it cannot be my fault.”
Lewis smiled. “And who should be the one to dip her dress into the ink? I am sure that she would not do it herself.”
He watched her pinch the bridge of her nose, her remedy for stopping threatening laughter. She may have changed in appearance, but her willful spirit has remained the same. I hope that she never becomes like so many other women who exchange wonder and intelligence for gossip and dullness.
“I am not sure what you mean, Lewis. I am nothing but the perfect student.”
His short bark of laughter startled the birds about them, forcing them to take flight into the clear blue sky. Ellen ceased to pinch her bridge and let out a giggle, clamping a hand over her mouth as she did so. Lewis noticed how the sunlight seemed to fall across her face, emphasising her delicate bone structure and the way her eyes twinkled with laughter. The charming sight seemed to shift something within him, a shift that he could not control. Lewis, so intrigued by her, gently removed her hand from her mouth.
“Do not ever seek to block that wonderful sound, Ellen.”
He saw her surprised expression as she stared at her hand in his, looking back up at him questioningly.
“You do seem strange now, Lewis. Why are you looking at me in that manner?”
“I do not know myself,” he said truthfully. “But I seem quite captivated by your beauty. You have changed, Ellen.”
Her cheeks coloured prettily. “I hope that I have changed for the better.”
“I hope that you do not change too much, Little Shadow or I might become a jealous man.”
She laughed, but it sounded strained. “Jealous? Whatever for?”
Lewis blinked, letting go of her hand. “I think that we should return to the house, Ellen. They surely will be looking for us.”
He noticed her puzzled expression, but he would do nothing to clarify what he meant by that. It seems that my heart has chosen for itself. They walked back to the house, neither of them saying much.
“Do you suppose that I will find a good man to marry?” Ellen suddenly asked. “Mother says that she will have difficulty finding a husband for me due to my childish ways. Would having fun be considered childish? I do not think so. I could not bear to be with a boring man!”
“I might marry you myself,” he mumbled.
“I beg your pardon?”
“What man would want an impish wife such as yourself? I am the only one who can withstand your … amusing ways.”
“Then I shall marry you.”
He stopped walking. “But you are too young to get married now.”
“Then will you wait for me?”
He did not answer but continued to walk, Ellen following slowly behind him. Lewis would not admit it out loud, but he knew in his heart that he would wait for her no matter how long it took.
Present Day- 1813
Ellen drew her black gloves on slowly, her mind a web of conflicting thoughts. The heart of her troubles was that she was torn between circling emotions that threatened to overwhelm her should she succumb to them. For she was angry that her husband had died and left her a young widow, but she was also choked with sorrow and regret. His death had been sudden but common, so common that gathering relatives were less grieved for the tragedy and more so interested in the proceeding actions to be taken.
“There had been no reason for him to go riding at dawn when the mist was so thick! And to have taken an unusual path? What had he been thinking?!”
She had warned him not to go, but he had remained his stubborn self. Never did either of them think that he would fall off his horse and break his neck. When he had failed to return at his usual time, Ellen had not immediately become worried. Perhaps that was why she felt so guilty. Her husband had laid on the cold hard ground of a seldom-used pathway for hours before she had sent servants to look for him.
“I suspect they all believe that I neglected my wifely duties, but I cannot be blamed for his death! Did I force him to harness his horse and ride away? Did I cause the horse to rear back and loose his owner?”
No, she had done none of these things, but his death would nevertheless be seen as a strike against her. Ellen had seen the hated looks from the servants, heard the whispered tales of her failure as a wife. And had that been her doing as well? She had endured four long years of a loveless marriage to a man twelve years her senior, but rather than look to the man as the source for the lack of love, the blame for the sorry state of their marriage was placed squarely on her shoulders.
Ellen sighed heavily as she secured the sombre-looking bonnet to her head.
“What good will it do to think on these things? He is dead, and now I must deal with the consequences of that.”
Days had passed since Harcourt had been laid to rest, but her troubles were far from over. His will had yet to be read, and with him being a wealthy Baronet, there was much interest in what his last will and testament contained. Relatives had continued to call on her, all requesting a moment of her time. It had not taken Ellen long to realise that they all wished to know if they had been included in the will, or at least be informed of the wealth that would fall to her as his wife.
“I cannot know what will happen until Mr Gregory informs me of it.”
Lawrence Gregory, her husband’s long-time friend and lawyer, had recently called her to his office to discuss Harcourt’s will. Rather than he make his way to the estate, he had called her to his offices in the middle of town. Ellen frowned as she recalled the contents of his letter. His written words had given her a twinge of worry, in particular the immediacy of it. Harcourt had been a wise man who tended his finances well, he had not been a man given into gambling or drinking and seldom had he taken risks. As Harcourt’s wife, she was entitled to a great piece of his assets and finances, but the knowledge did not precisely fill her with joy. Wealth brought problems, and as a young woman, there would be plenty. Is there an element of worry in Lawrence’s letter, or have I merely imagined it?
“Perhaps I am more sensitive than usual.”
The last to complete her mourning attire was a crepe veil she had hurriedly purchased soon after Harcourt’s death lest she set the whole of London ablaze with her lack of decorum. Ellen gave herself a brief inspection in the mirror, grimacing at her appearance. The black velvet dress she wore seemed harsh against her pale skin, giving her a sickly pallor. Her black shawl still hung on a chair, and she was loathed to don it, but wear it she must. She was officially in mourning and was to be for the next year.
“I shall have to purchase more dresses to ensure that I have sufficient number of mourning attire, or people who call on me may have something to say.”
Unfortunately, she needn’t go far to be unkindly spoken of, for the servants most loyal to Harcourt had much to say about her. Ellen did not know whether they were careless with their words or intentionally wished her to hear their cutting remarks, but they had hurt all the same. There were but a few servants who were sympathetic towards her, including her abigail, the cook, and their carriage driver.
A quick rap on the door before it opened revealed her abigail, Susan, dressed in similar black garments, but those that denoted her servant’s status.
“Are you all set, Lady Balfour? Benjamin is ready to take you to the lawyer’s offices.”
“I think so, Susan, but I find myself increasingly fretful of what will take place in Mr Gregory’s office.”
Her abigail frowned. “But surely it will be a simple matter? You are the late Baronet’s wife, entitled to all he has.”
“I know, but I did not like the tone of Mr Gregory’s message. I feel that there is something wrong, Susan.”
The servant smiled. “You are fretful for nought, my Lady. Sir Harcourt was first a fair man before all else. His last will contains instructions for your financial well-being, I am sure.”
Ellen wished that she could be as confident as her abigail, but her instincts would not allow her mind to rest. However, she did not wish to give Susan a cause for concern, so she mustered up a smile.
“Perhaps you are right, Susan. Come along, let us conclude this matter before any more relatives wish to call on me this morning.”
For there would undoubtedly be relatives that morning as they had come every day since Harcourt’s untimely death. Her decision to see Lawrence first thing that day was a calculated move on her part, for once the relatives arrived, it was difficult to get them to leave without it seeming as though she were chasing them. Which she was secretly doing, but it would not do for them to know that. Before they reached the front door, the cook came out, flour still on her hands and apron.
“Lady Balfour, I have prepared your breakfast. Do you mean to leave before you eat?”
“Oh, Mrs Perold, I cannot eat at this moment. I must see the lawyer, and I wished to do it before any other activities of the day. Perhaps you can prepare my plate, and I shall eat once I return?”
Mrs Perold nodded, but she looked none too happy about it. She wiped her hands on her apron, although it made no difference for both were well-floured.
“Very well, but you must give me your word that you will eat. You need to keep up your strength for these meddling relatives.”
“Mrs Perold!” Susan scolded. “Do not let the other servants hear you say such a thing! What will they think of our Lady if they hear you say these words to her? Will they not find further fault with her?”
The cook waved her hand. “I think nothing of those foolish servants. Have I not worked in this house for many years? I know that the heart of Lady Balfour is good and pure, she is not to blame for Sir Harcourt’s death or his lack of true affection for his wife!”
Ellen dipped her head as she coloured, but she needn’t have as the veil provided good coverage. It was a shameful situation to have one’s servants so intimately aware of the relationship or lack of one between a wife and husband. While Mrs Perold did not mean any harm by her comment, it remained an uncomfortable matter to publicly speak of.
“Do hush, Mrs Perold,” Susan said. “Lady Balfour has no need to hear of this right now. We will return soon.”
Ellen felt her arm gently taken by Susan, and pulled to the door.
“Do not mind her,” her abigail whispered. “She is an honest sort that speaks before she considers her words.”
“Oh, I am not concerned about Mrs Perold, Susan, but that my life is an open book for all who choose to look inside. The truth always hurts when spoken of out loud.”
“Think no further of it,” Susan advised. “Let us focus on the matter at hand, and then we may decide what to do about these servants.”
Ellen stopped at the steps leading to the carriage that waited below, turning to look at her abigail.
“What do you mean by that? What should I do about the servants?”
“Why, you must be rid of them! You cannot expect to live a quiet existence when they are living under the same roof! They will never leave their skewed beliefs about you, Lady Balfour, mark my words. If anything, their attitudes are likely to worsen once they believe that they can get away with treating you as they wish. They lack respect for you, and while they did not dare do anything while the Master was still alive, I fear that they will become unruly over time.”
Ellen had not thought of that possibility. “Do you truly believe that they wish me harm? Are they not merely grieved by the death of their Master?”
Susan sighed. “My Lady, if there is one thing that I have learnt these past four years of being your servant, is that you have a heart of gold. You are not one to see the faults of someone, rather, you choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, this will not be a solution for this matter. You may have heard some of their whispers, but I have heard a great deal more. I shall not be able to rest my head at night knowing that they do not respect you as the Lady of the house.”
Ellen touched her temple, feeling the beginnings of a migraine. This was not something that she wished to discuss now.
“Please, Susan, I know that you mean well, but I would prefer that we do not discuss this just yet. Let me settle matters with the lawyer and then we will deal with this situation.”
“Oh, my Lady, I did not mean to cause you to be unwell! Come, let us forget this matter and climb into the carriage, Benjamin awaits us.”
Ellen could see the young man waiting with the carriage door open and portable steps to help her climb in.
“Yes, come. Let us be going.”
Now with her mind back on her husband’s last words to the living, her uneasy feeling returned. What could possibly await her at the lawyer’s office? I can only hope that it will not bring me any more trouble, for I have enough on my plate.
Ellen sat on the edge of the offered seat, watching the lawyer’s face. He gave nothing away, but his prolonged actions spoke volumes. There is something terribly wrong, and I am quite afraid to hear it.
“Mr Gregory, I have now sat in your office for the better part of ten minutes, but you have not yet opened the will in your hands. Is there a problem?”
The lawyer placed the sealed envelope back on his desk, sitting forward to lean on the surface with clasped hands.
“Lady Balfour, I wish to extend my deepest condolences to you for this tragedy. I have been a long-time friend of your husband as you very well know.”
Ellen nodded. “Yes, you were his trusted friend.”
“I hope that you considered me to be a friend to you as well?”
In all sincerity, she had thought him too crafty and misleading. Harcourt had loved his company, but she had always had an uneasy feeling about him, as though he were continually looking for something. Whenever he had been to the house, money matters had been his favourite topic, so was appraising the items in her home. Perhaps it is because he is a lawyer, but I doubt that his need to place a price on each furniture piece of the house or enquire after Harcourt’s monthly expenditure was any of his concern. Harcourt was always capable of seeing to his own affairs, but for some inexplicable reason, he always humoured Lawrence.
“Yes,” she lied. “A good friend indeed.”
He nodded. “That is good, very good indeed. That is precisely why I feel that I am the right person to tell you this. I believe that a lawyer with whom you are not familiar with would not have been able to handle this situation appropriately.”
Ellen felt a trail of fear coil about her neck. The will was not yet opened, what could Mr Gregory have to tell her? But he was Harcourt’s lawyer, thus he better than anyone will know the contents of that piece of paper in his hand. She looked at the envelope anxiously, wishing that the man would just get it over and done with.
“Mr Gregory, is something the matter?”
The man sighed. “I am afraid that there is, Lady Balfour. There have been some changes that you will not think favourably upon. I shall break the seal of your husband’s last will and testament, but please, do not put yourself in high hysterics once the truth has become known.”
Ellen closed her eyes for a moment. Her heart beat at a hurried pace, so much so that she placed a slender hand upon her chest. A deep breath was taken, and another, before she felt able to continue with the reading of her husband’s will. The lawyer had an understanding look on his face, but it did not seem genuine. There was slyness to his eyes that remained, making her shudder just a bit.
“Proceed, Mr Gregory.”
The man took a letter opener from a drawer in his desk and proceeded to slit open the top of the envelope. He unfolded it, smoothing it out with his hand. Oh, why must he prolong it? I am already in high fidgets! Finally, the man cleared his throat.
“I, Harcourt Balfour, Baronet of Darkwell, hereby declare that I wish to leave my estate in all its entirety to my son. Furthermore, I name Lawrence Gregory as the executor of my estate.”
The lawyer proceeded to name every asset included in the will, as well as the yearly stipend intended for the son. Ellen sat glued to her chair, her mind not knowing what to make of what she was hearing. Her hands gripped the armrest like a lifeline, the nails digging the upholstery without a single thought to damage. Hardly a breath could be heard, her appearance looking like that of a deaf and mute person.
Ellen slowly blinked. “Yes?”
To her surprise, her voice was calm, giving nothing away of the turmoil within her.
“Are you all right, Lady Balfour?”
The man frowned, unconvinced. “Perhaps I may get you some water?”
Ellen did not believe that she could swallow anything at that moment. Panic rose within her, but her proper upbringing allowed her to push it down enough to speak.
“No, thank you, Mr Gregory. I assure you that I am fine.”
“I am afraid that your husband has not provided for you, Lady Balfour. You will have to leave the estate.”
She heard him all right, but there was another part of the will that kept on turning over and over in her head.
“Why have I never heard of this son before?”
She could see that the question made the man uncomfortable, but she could not have been less bothered at that moment. Her husband had a son, and she had known nothing about it! And now he would leave her penniless as well?
“Well, uh, I cannot break the confidence of my oldest friend, Lady Balfour.”
“But you can destroy my life with a few words.”
The man looked away for a moment, fiddling with the paper in his hand. When he turned to look at her, she saw a glimmer of guilt in his eyes.
“I have done nothing, Lady Balfour. I am but a humble lawyer and the executor of Sir Harcourt’s estate. And as the executor, I feel that I must tell you that you will need to leave the estate soon.”
Anger erupted within her. “So you mean to kick me out? And where shall I go?”
The lawyer looked down. “Well, uh …”
The man was a coward, just like her husband! She would have never believed it of Harcourt, but the evidence was written in ink upon the accursed paper in the lawyer’s hands.
“I will ask you again: who is the son, Mr Gregory? I demand that you let me know.”
“I cannot tell you something that I do not know, Lady Balfour.”
The lawyer looked at her with widened eyes. “Lady Balfour, I ask that you calm down! Nothing can be resolved if you fly off into such a state.”
“And what can still be resolved, Mr Gregory? What is left to say? All I ask of you now is to reveal the truth of this illegitimate son. Do I not have the right to know who my husband has given the entirety of his estate to despite having been married to him for the past four years?”
Her chest was heaving, her body half out of the chair as she pointed her finger at the man. He looked worried as he sat there, no doubt concerned that she may decide to fly at him. Never before had Ellen felt such anger course through her veins, giving her the courage to shout at the man before her. The lawyer suddenly stood up, still holding the will in his hand.
“I shall leave for a moment, Lady Balfour. I can see that you have taken leave of your senses, but I shall not hold it against you. After all, you are the wife of my good friend, and he would not want me to act unkindly towards you. I shall return once you have calmed down.”
The lawyer left quickly, his coat flying behind him as though a wind blew in the office. When the door slammed, Ellen fell into her chair, trembling. A shaking hand touched her lips, disbelief filling her. Had her mother seen how she had acted … Shame filled her as she covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, Mama, it is good that you are not here to witness this moment. What would you think?”
Her parents had been gone for two years already, having succumbed to typhus. How she wished that they were here to advise her, to comfort her. They would surely have been shocked that the man they believed to be the perfect husband had turned out to be nothing more than a liar. Not only did he never tell her about his son, but he also changed his will and left her out of it. She was a woman all alone, her husband was meant to take care of her even from the grave. Why could he not have left something small for her to live on? She had never been a demanding wife, a woman not given into fashion and the need for expensive gifts. Had she not been a good wife to him?
“Why would he do this to me? I know that there has been no true affection between us, but it was not through a lack of trying!”
Harcourt had not cared to show her anything but his duty as a husband, holding any affection from her. While she may never have loved him, she had hoped to at least have the affection of a good friend, but even that had been withheld from her. Her husband had ignored her for much of their marriage, his mind always somewhere else.
“Did he have his son whilst he was married to me?”
The thought hurt, but it was a possibility. A memory suddenly surfaced, one that she had not thought about for quite some time. Ellen was but eighteen when her parents had informed her of a favourable match between her and a wealthy Baronet. She had been shocked, never thinking that her parents would take away her choice from her. She had been due to attend her first London Season, in fact, had been quite excited about it. Ellen’s mind had filled with thoughts of being asked to dance, the balls that she would attend, and witnessing the finery and lavish lifestyle of the Ton. It was not the prospect of marriage that drew her to the Season, for she had already given her heart to someone else, but the experience of it. Most of her friends had previously attended a Season the year before, and based on their colourful descriptions of it, she had wanted to see it for herself. Never did she think that her parents would keep her from the Season through an arranged marriage.
“Never did I think that of them, for they doted on me and granted me my every wish.”
Even so, she had never acted like one who was spoilt by her parents, for she had a good heart. Ellen recalled how she had refused to accept the betrothment, saying that her heart belonged to another. However, in the end, she had had to do as her parents wished although it hurt her terribly. Her first meeting with Harcourt had been a surprise, and not a good one either.
“My parents withheld his age from me, allowing me to find out on my own.”
He had been handsome, but not as handsome as the man she loved. Her parents’ reasoning for the match was that the Baronet would be able to provide handsomely for her, and that love would eventually come.
“Mama, Papa,” she spoke to the air. “I am glad that you are not here to see that the man whom you believed would provide for me has left me penniless. Furthermore, he never did try to show me affection no matter how hard I tried to please him.”
Love had never blossomed, the chemistry between them had been absent, and it seemed as though there was always an imaginary wall between them.
“What could I have done to deserve four years of a loveless marriage? Why did he never tell me that I was beautiful? Why did he never make an effort to be a loving husband?”
As a result, Ellen had retreated into her shell to become a shadow of the vibrant and carefree woman she had been. And now she had no husband and no provision. What was she to do? She would return home and have some rest, that should do her well. However, her home was no longer hers, but surely she would not be chased away immediately? Ellen needed time to gather her things and find an alternative plan.
“I cannot sit here and mull over everything that has happened to me for it will not help my circumstances. But I find myself at a loss at what to do! I am to be in mourning for a year, but what sense is there when my own husband has snatched my dignity away in his death? This will just reaffirm to many that I was not a good wife, that Harcourt refused to provide for me because I was not good to him. What is this mess I have fallen into?”
She quickly stood up, knowing that the longer she sat in the lawyer’s office, the more time she wasted. What if the son were to arrive and started to claim everything, including the items that were hers such as jewellery and the little money she had put away?
“I shall have to pack up everything and have it ready for when I can find somewhere to go, or when I am driven out of my own home.”
But what of her abigail? Susan currently sat in the carriage waiting for her, unaware of all that had happened.
“She will have to find employment elsewhere, it is best that I tell her straight away.”
The son would have no use of an abigail, but perhaps he would take her as a servant? It was still vital for her to inform Susan so that she may decide to do whatever she felt was best.
Ellen did not bother to find the lawyer as she left his office, knowing that he would be no help to her. If anything, he was the one who would remove her from her home. Once outside in the bustling street, she hurried to the carriage where Benjamin and Susan were speaking with each other. They came to attention when they saw her, immediately opening the door.
“My Lady, what has got you into such a state?” Susan asked.
“Let us enter into the carriage, and then I shall tell you. I am afraid that it is terrible news, Susan, simply terrible. I do not know what is to become of me.”
Her abigail’s brow creased heavily. “My Lady, how you scare me so!”
Ellen climbed into the carriage, closely followed by Susan. As soon as her abigail had settled, the questions started to flow.
“My Lady, what has happened? What is so terrible? Has the lawyer done something? You know, I never liked the look of him, not one bit!”
Ellen took in a deep breath. “My dear Susan, it seems that Sir Harcourt Balfour has not provided for me in his death.”
The servant’s mouth gaped, her hand going to her chest. That is precisely how I felt when I was told, but somehow it looks rather comical on Susan!
“Not provided for? Do you say this in jest?”
She shook her head. “No. My husband must have changed his will because he has left everything to a son whom I know nothing about.”
“A son?” Susan repeated. “But I do not understand! I have heard nothing of a son, not even from the older servants.”
“It is as much a shock to me as it is to you, Susan. In fact, I do not know what to make of it.”
“What did the lawyer say? Did he reveal the identity of the bas–”
“Susan!” Ellen interrupted. “There will be no talk like that. Illegitimate is a better word. I may not know the boy, but he has done nothing to deserve our ire.”
The woman’s cheeks coloured. “Yes, of course, I do forget myself at times. Did Mr Gregory reveal the boy’s identity?”
“He refused to tell me anything about the boy, much to my displeasure. Is it not right for me to know something of the child who would take everything that belongs to my late husband? Susan, I do not wish to sound horrid, but at this moment I have the utmost dislike for Sir Harcourt.”
“My Lady, forgive me when I say this, but that man was never a husband to you as he should have been! To think that he would afflict you in death as he did in life? It is simply all too unfair!”
Yes, Susan was quite right. Could Harcourt not have left something for her? He was her husband, for goodness sake! He was meant to take care of her and protect her, that is what he had promised her parents. Enough! I am not the only one to be affected by this.
“Susan, what shall you do?”
“What do you mean, My Lady?”
“I do not know what this son will do with the property and wealth Harcourt has left behind for him, but I am concerned about some of the servants. You have been my abigail throughout my marriage, what shall you do once the new Master comes to take over the house?”
“I will go wherever you go, My Lady.”
“But you cannot, Susan, for I have no money to give you, and you have a family to support. I would feel better if you were to look for another job immediately.”
The maid’s eyes were wide with surprise. “Leave you, My Lady?”
“I wish that you could remain with me, but the reality of the situation does not enable us to. I shall be sad to see you go, but I shall feel worse if you are left stranded.”
Susan leaned forward and took Ellen’s hands into her own. Her abigail’s hands were rough, not at all like her own soft hands, but that did not concern her. The calm strength in the woman’s hands was enough to keep her going, for once she returned home, everything as she knew it would change.
“For the Love of a Gracious Duke” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Ellen’s marriage was not at all what she expected it to be. When tragedy strikes and she is left a penniless widow, she has no choice but to give up her life of comfort. However, when she crosses paths with a man from her past and he offers to help her, it only further complicates things. She is suddenly faced with the only man who could make her heart skip a beat, only now she is not his equal. Could she defy their differences and give him a chance?
Lewis, Duke of Cornwall, is hesitant to take on his childhood friend as his servant when she shows up at his door. But she’s too stubborn to accept charity and he is not prepared to have her walk out of his life again. His efforts to rekindle their friendship are thwarted by Ellen’s insistence on propriety but he will not give up that easily. The heart wants what it wants and he believes that finding her again is a sign they were meant to be together. Can he make her forget her past heartache and betrayal and trust him?
Fate meant for them to find each other again at a time when a true friendship is needed. What happens when the lines between friendship and love are slowly blurring?
“For the Love of a Gracious Duke” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.