The lettered affair, p.3
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       The Lettered Affair, p.3

           Alice Ayden
 
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  Part Three

  Letter 53 ~ Cassandra to Henry

  August 20, 1810

  My love,

  I do so wish I did not have to write this letter for I do not want to add to your burdens. It is about your brother, and I will convey events exactly as they occurred.

  I had just walked back from town and had stopped in the gardens to bring my aunt some flowers. She is feeling so much better, and I am hoping that a few more weeks of recovery will see her well enough for me to travel again.

  When I returned to the house, Aunt Grace’s maid raced to the gardens, and I feared the worst.

  “Lady Bering, please come at once.”

  “Is it Aunt Grace?”

  The poor girl could barely speak. She was so flushed and could only shake her head violently.

  My thoughts immediately sank as I feared for Juliana or you.

  “No, Madame,” she said, grabbing my hand. “It is a Mr. Nathaniel Seaton. He has greatly upset your aunt.”

  I rushed into the house and found Aunt Grace sitting in the parlour and looking much as she did the first few days of her illness. Her colour had ceased and she had trouble catching her breath.

  Your brother paced back and forth with such force the figurines Grace cherished on the mantle shook.

  As soon as I entered the room, Mr. Seaton looked me up and down with a disdain I did not know existed. I realize now that was the look I had always expected to receive from James. From him it was well deserved, but he was too kind of a soul to ever produce it. I did not know what I had done to deserve such anger from your brother.

  He stared at me as if expecting me to say something. “Well?”

  “Mr. Nathaniel Seaton. We have not been properly introduced. Why are you here?”

  “Why am I here?” He laughed at me. “My brother does not mind the simpletons, does he?”

  He waited for me to respond, but I stood in silence. I have to admit that after all I had heard about him, I was a bit frightened.

  “The letter?”

  I looked at my aunt. He continued to glare at me, but Grace could not look directly at me.

  “Aunt Grace, do you know what he is referring to?”

  She sheepishly reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out a letter.

  “You never gave it to her!” Nathaniel screamed. “No wonder you look so stupid at my question. Unless that is how you normally look.”

  I took the letter from Grace and opened it:

  Lady Bering,

  I know it unwise to seek your help, but I hope you are not so swayed by my brother and still have your own thoughts about you. I cannot ask your sister’s help because she is too smitten with my cousin, Retton. Since you are so recently widowed, I hope your judgement is still intact.

  I will not bore you with anymore platitudes for I lack the will to proceed further. I need to talk with your step-mother. I have written her many letters, but they remain unanswered. Where is she? Please inform me as to her whereabouts. I traveled to Ashland, but your insipid husband’s family is already ensconced and were of little help or use. Patience and I long to be together. Given your inappropriate relationship with my brother during your very short marriage, you can understand my plight. If you cannot understand, then you and my brother deserve each other and will most assuredly make each other as miserable as you two make everyone else.

  Write me with Patience’s address or I will be forced to seek you out in person.

  Nathaniel Seaton

  I relaxed a bit upon reading the letter. Upon first seeing Nathaniel, I was worried as to his intentions, but knowing that Patience was behind his behaviour made me feel a bit better. She has the ability to induce madness quickly.

  I handed him back the letter. “I do not know where Patience is,” I said as calmly as I could. “My step-mother does not discuss her itinerary with me.”

  Nathaniel glared. “Why is my brother so smitten by such an ordinary little thing like you?”

  I should have been more scared, but I thought of you, Henry, and drew strength. “You need to leave.”

  He stepped closer to me. “Are you going to threaten to tell my brother?” He shuddered making fun of me. “Terrified.” He stepped closer.

  “What if I tell Patience?”

  This gave him pause. I do not know where I found the courage, but I thought of my sister and tried to do what she would have done. She always has a way of knowing someone. She can be around someone for a few minutes and instantly pick up on their strengths and weaknesses. “What if I tell Patience that you were here to say you wanted nothing more to do with her?”

  His eyes grew large while the blood rushed to his face colouring his cheeks. Then he grinned at me. “You are more like her than you think.” He grinned at me for a few more seconds and then left.

  I closed my eyes and immediately attended to Aunt Grace. He gave her quite the fright, but I think I have calmed her down enough for her to rest. Having never met your brother, I was not sure what to expect. Please be careful. I have seen that look before in many a young man obsessed with Patience. It rarely ends well.

  Please take care and know that we are fine. Aunt Grace has hired a temporary butler and an extra footman for the time being. She always prided herself on having the bare minimum staff, but she does feel better with more in the house.

  Cassandra

  Letter 54 ~ Cassandra to Henry

  August 21, 1810

  Henry, what a wonderful surprise! I had only sent your letter yesterday when Aunt Grace and I heard a carriage. She immediately jumped up and called for her new butler. We waited as the carriage stopped outside of the house. Then, my beautiful sister emerged. I was so excited to see Juliana!

  She immediately ran to me and checked on our aunt. I was so excited that I did not realize she had traveled with someone. A young man stood silent in the doorway, and Juliana grabbed my hand as we approached him.

  “My beautiful sister, Cassandra...” she could barely contain herself, and her smile was broader than I had ever seen. “This is Lord Kemnay.”

  He smiled and bowed. “Retton, Countess Abbot…Lady Bering, please call me Retton. It is a pleasure to met you. I have heard much about you from Henry.” He stopped quickly as if he had caught himself saying more than he ought. “Are you sure Nathaniel is no longer here?”

  “Fortunately, he left,” I said.

  Retton’s glance darted around the parlour. “Do you mind. Would it be highly improper if I check the house for myself?”

  “Please do,” Aunt Grace said. “I would be much obliged. I liked that young man not at all. There was something evil in his eyes.”

  Retton sighed. “Evil indeed.”

  Juliana smiled as she handed me a letter. “This is from your intended.”

  I tried to grab the letter from her, but she quickly took it back.

  “To say he was absolutely terrified for you was an understatement. He read part way through your letter and could not continue. Retton had to finish it for him. Then Henry rang for a carriage. Then he paced. Then he tried to run out the door and wanted to come here on foot because the horse was taking so long. Oh, Cassie, he was so scared for you.” She held onto me. “We all were. Are you sure you and Aunt Grace are safe?”

  I nodded. “He was frightening, but then I thought of Rebecca.” I looked around hoping Retton was still checking the house. “Did he ever scare her like that?”

  Juliana looked down at the ground. “I do not know. I hope not.”

  I used the distraction to grab the letter.

  My Cassandra,

  Are there words to express my shame over my brother’s actions? I am so sorry he caused your aunt any distress. I read through your letter with such anger and fear that I was unsure I could continue. Luckily, Retton was with me when I received it, and he was able to read it as well.

  I wanted to send for the carriages. I wanted to send for the constable. I wanted to send for anyone and everyone that would h
elp you. What he did was unconscionable. I will never forgive him for scaring you and your aunt. I wish I could inform you that he is harmless, but I do not know myself. He has changed so much that I am unable to measure the depths of his depravity. Rest assured, he will never get close to you again.

  I long to be there with you, but Retton persuaded me to stay and deal permanently with my brother. Your sister has promised to hand you this letter. Please let me know if I can do anything, and I will be by your side immediately.

  Yours,

  Henry

  I am fine now, Henry. Juliana is here. Lord Kemnay has organized everything and has had a meeting with the servants about what should and will be done. I wish you could be here, but I understand. Please be careful concerning your brother. I fear he is unwell and unhinged. He might not be aware of his actions. No matter what you decide to do, know I fully support any decision you make.

  Cassandra

  Letter 55 ~ Patience to Nathaniel

  August 24, 1810

  Mr. Seaton,

  It is come to my attention that you have mailed quite the few letters to me, and I urge you to cease at once. It is entirely improper for a young woman to receive unsolicited letters from a strange man.

  Please cease all communication with me. I do not wish for your friendship. I am recently married and prefer not to burden my new husband with such trivial matters from some unwanted and obviously delusional infatuation.

  Countess Patience Quesh

  Letter 56 ~ Nathaniel to Patience

  August 28, 1810

  Lovely Patience,

  Please toy with me not. When I first received your letter I was distraught to say the least. My emotions got the better of me, and I am afraid I did one or two things I do actually regret. Then I allowed myself a few moments of calm, and I began to think.

  You are married. You would not do that to me. Not me! We are one. You and I. You would no more throw me aside than I would you. I have come to the conclusion that you mean to tempt me, or tease me, or taunt me, or teach me. I am unsure which, and it matters not.

  I will right myself and await your next letter. I will not fret about as I did before. You will be proud of me, Patience.

  Nathaniel

  Letter 57 ~ Patience to Cassandra

  September 5, 1810

  Miss Bering,

  I write this letter begrudgingly only because I believe it my duty. Please use whatever sway you for some reason have over Lord Halithorpe to beg him to persuade his inane brother to leave me be.

  We had only the slightest of companionships, so I do not see the reason why I must continuously be harassed by his inadequate suggestions. I am a married woman (or I should be if all goes according to plan by the time you receive this letter), and I refuse to have him ruin my chances at happiness.

  I intend to be a Countess again. It is not too difficult to get a Lord’s attention and their promise of marriage. I just have to endure their clumsy and unwanted affections.

  I am giving this to a friend who owes me a favor. You are not to know of my present living arrangements and will most certainly never be able to write me back.

  Soon to be Countess again,

  Patience

  Letter 58 ~ Cassandra to Henry

  September 6, 1810

  My love,

  Oh, Henry, if only you were here when I received a letter from Patience. Juliana and I did have quite the laugh which lasted well into the night and the next morning. As much as we did enjoy Patience’s letter, I do so feel for Juliana who must bear such a burden as to be of her blood.

  Suffice it to say that Patience - if the letter can be believed - is about to be married and wants nothing more to do with your brother. Apparently, he continues to plague her with letters. I cannot write her back because she refuses to divulge her whereabouts. It is just as well to believe there are oceans which separate us; although, Patience is normally as near as moldy stew.

  I do hope you can convey to your brother the facts and that she is lost to him - better for all involved I am sure.

  Please be well,

  Cassandra

  Letter 59 ~ Nathaniel to the Marquess

  September 12, 1810

  Uncle,

  I know it has been ages since we’ve seen each other, and I understand the reasoning behind your disappearance from Ramsbury. I am sorry to say I was more than acquainted with your daughter, Lady Rebecca, and am so sorry she brought such fear into your hearts. I am sure your heartache will subside in time, but I regret I must bring you more.

  I am unsure just what your son, Retton, did tell you concerning your daughter’s circumstances, but I fear the rumours will further tarnish your family’s name. It is a delicate matter which is why I feel it best not to inform the Marchioness. There is no easy way to say this, but your daughter’s death I do not believe was entirely her fault. Yes, she did take her own life - a grievous sin which even I admit. However, her circumstances did prevent her from seeing a future without shame.

  She did not tell even her closest companions whose child she was carrying. Forgive me my bluntness. Were you aware of those circumstances? It is difficult for me to say this, but I do believe, as do those who witnessed events of the past few years, that Retton was unnaturally close to his sister. I have heard the whispers themselves and did not believe them to be true, as much as I admired Retton myself. However, I did notice quite a few times that his gaze lingered upon Rebecca much longer than it ought. He spoke of her in a way that was very unlike a brother and more a betrothed.

  I do not believe Rebecca was entirely in her right mind. She is blameless in the entire affair, but Retton must have known how wrong it was, the type of damage he was doing, and the consequences.

  Unfortunately, Rebecca saw little escape from her predicament once she was aware of her plight and the future of her unborn child, and so she must have seen the only honourable action was to take her own life and that of a child which should never have been conceived.

  It is with a heavy heart I must convey this. Currently Retton has engaged himself to the youngest daughter of Lord Bering. Unfortunately, there have also been rumours concerning her. If Retton had attached himself not to Lord Bering’s youngest but to his eldest… At least she was born of the honourable Lady Adess, the daughter of a duke. But his youngest? Her very existence is questionable given the concerns about her mother. Few believe Juliana Bering should be the wife of the eldest son and heir of a Marquess. If Retton is allowed to marry her, he will continue to bring shame to your title and family name.

  I am sorry to be such a bearer of burdens. Forgive me if this is indeed impertinent, but I fear for our family reputation.

  Your nephew,

  Nathaniel Seaton

  Letter 60 ~ Juliana to Retton

  September 13, 1810

  My dearest Retton,

  I do so miss you and am longing to see you again. I hesitated upon writing this letter to you. I have started it many times and put it away, but, alas, I should tell you everything for I never want to keep things from you. Just promise me that you will not be upset or worried…

  A few days ago, I went to town to pick up a few things for Aunt Grace. Upon my return, I saw a carriage I did not recognize. I slipped in the back of my aunt’s house because I enjoy being forewarned of visitors. Knowledge can allow for time and excuses as to why a visit was not possible. I crept though the kitchen as I have done in the past and managed to open the door ever so slightly. That particular door has always been at the whim of the breeze which steadily makes its way through the open windows. No one pays attention if it is somewhat ajar, and I can easily listen to every word without granting suspicions to more devious minds.

  I recognized the voice as Mrs. Crollope, a neighbor of Aunt Grace, who possesses the sole preoccupation of spreading misery and distrust upon everyone she meets. Unfortunately, she also managed to bring her equally devious nephew. He is a particularly loathsome thing desperately in search of
a wife since most girls of marrying age managed to slip his grasp either through moving abroad, marrying young, or sheer madness. Chester. That is right. That is his name. He has bright red hair. Forgive me, but I have not met a ginger man I trusted. Ginger boys are compulsorily odd.

  Unfortunately, Aunt Grace is quite hard of hearing, and the unscrupulous take advantage. I hear more than I probably ought but enough that I need. Here is what my ears heard:

  “Grace, why must you be so generous?” Mrs. Crollope spoke. “She has always been that way,” she whispered to her nephew.

  I managed to catch a glimpse, and she was only able to say a few words in between stuffing her face full of the sandwiches Grace’s cook had made for us earlier. I did hope the sandwiches had already turned since this morning and would catch the evil Mrs. Crollope sickly later. Sorry, but it is true.

  “You know I do not trust that younger wife of your dear brother,” Mrs. Crollope cleared her throat, stuffed in a few more sandwiches, and wiped her mouth off on not the napkin provided but her sleeve. “His eldest, Cassandra, is blessed with grace and the blood of betters, but his second daughter does have that pure blood flowing through her veins. You remember that Patience do you not, Chester?”

  “Indeed,” Chester said as he nodded his head and continued to stare out of the front window. “Is she here? Cassandra I mean?” He smoothed out his jacket and tried to gather up the unruly ginger strings hanging from his sweaty head. “Is she still in mourning? Is she ready to wed again? Did she receive much of the inheritance? She is not already sullied with a child, is she?”

  I managed to stifle a sigh which most surely would have given up my whereabouts, but I did allow myself quite the few eye rolls which are normally silent.I did not hear Cassandra’s voice and assumed she had wisely faked some malady to avoid the visit.

  Grace smiled. I admire my aunt for many things, but her ability to be nice to the rude is amazing. “My niece is resting,” Grace said. “She has had quite the time with losing her husband.”

  Chester grunted or sighed or something and placed his arms over his chest as if he were trying to pout. “Pity. What about that sister of hers?”

  “Chester!” Mrs. Crollope screamed. “I will not allow you to lower your standards.”

  At this insult, I did spy Aunt Grace look in my direction as if she knew I was listening.

  “And why are we visiting Grace?” Mrs. Crollope demanded of her nephew.

  He stared up at the ceiling as if answers would suddenly appear. “Right. To warn Grace about her.”

  “Exactly,” Mrs. Crollope said as she stuffed some more sandwiches in her pocket. “That younger daughter has blood that has been tainted. My dear friend, Lady Ewands heard from one of her more reliable maids who knew that nice farmer, Mr. Clarke. One of his sisters used to be one of the kitchen maids at the Bering estate. She knew firsthand of the disgrace of the birth of the youngest.”

  Grace held up her hand to stop her cruel neighbor. “Have you heard the news of Juliana’s engagement?”

  Mrs. Crollope coughed and choked on the last sandwich. “Engagement! But who would have her?”

  I did so want to bust out of the door and into the room and screech at her or scare her or at least inform her that the sandwiches had turned, but I did not.

  “She is engaged to Lord Kemnay.”

  I peeked further in just to see Mrs. Crollope’s reaction. Her face turned as red as a too ripe radish.

  “The eldest son of the Marquess?” Mrs. Crollope jumped up. “His family knows! But that cannot be! Surely his family knows not the truth. They would never allow it!”

  “What truth?” Grace asked.

  Mrs. Crollope stopped at Grace’s question and then deviously smiled. “Oh, you will soon know. Everyone will soon know. I do hope Lady Cassandra has been left some income to support her for her options have become even fewer now. Come along Chester.” She grabbed her nephew and they walked to the door.

  Before they were out, Chester turned around to face Grace. He looked behind him to make sure his aunt could not hear him. “Let Juliana know that I will not hold her blood against her. I am not attracted to her for obvious reasons, but I would give her the stability of a decent and honourable name. She would probably be very grateful to me.” He lost himself in thoughts that even I dared not contemplate. Then, he left.

  I regret I did not see to Aunt Grace after they left. I did not find Cassandra. I did not write you straight away. I took a walk. I had to consult myself. I know rumour and innuendo have little acquaintance with the truth, but sometimes there is but a small part that must be attended to. I just wish I knew what that part was. All I do know is that it concerned me and not Cassandra which means it has nothing to do with our father and absolutely everything to do with Patience. Everything always returns to Patience.

  Retton, I do not know if any sort of rumour has crawled to you, but please be aware that something is definitely amiss. Rumours are spreading in the wind, and I do not know what their intentions are. I will most assuredly determine the origins, but I did want to warn you in case Patience has done something that might bring shame to me since I am her blood and to you since you are engaged to me. I will write when I learn more.

  Juliana

  Letter 61 ~ Cassandra to Henry

  September 16, 1810

  My love,

  I must write you about Juliana. I am dreadfully worried about her. We have not heard more from Patience, but Juliana did tell me about the gossip she overheard from Aunt Grace’s neighbor. Juliana knows Patience too well and is very concerned that she might have done something that will threaten your cousin. Please let me know if you hear anything.

  Cassandra.

  Letter 62 ~ Henry to Cassandra

  September 21, 1810

  My Cassandra,

  I do wish I could tell you better news. Personally, I have not heard anything concerning Patience or Juliana as I have been trying to keep busy whilst I await you. Retton has been more quiet lately and preoccupied.

  I normally would not have thought much about it since I am not as conscientious as my beautiful Cassandra. Since I did receive your letter, I have been more aware of events that might enlighten the mystery. I decided to seek out the one person I knew would be aware of all things: my grandmother.

  Grandmother had been staying at Ramsbury to help Retton, and I decided to pay her a visit.

  I found her reading by the fire. “Grandmother, as beautiful as always.”

  She smiled. “And what do you need, Henry?”

  “Can I not pay you a compliment without you fearing the worst?” I asked.

  “You are of my blood which means you have been blessed with manners and the means to get what you want through compliments.”

  I nodded. She knew me too well. I sat down beside her. “I am worried about Retton.”

  She sighed. “As am I.”

  “So there is something to worry about?”

  She looked around to make sure we were alone. “I do not know exactly what is happening, but Retton has received word from his father.”

  At that knowledge, even my own stomach did produce something unearthly. I have only seen the Marquess a few times in my life. Grandmother spoke highly of her brother, and she spoke highly of her nephew’s title but not so much of him. From Retton, I know he is of short temper and values his position and title above everything and was devastated that his daughter might tarnish the family’s reputation. His wife, I fear, is even worse.

  “What are their plans?” I asked.

  My grandmother shook her head. “I am unsure. But it is not like him to send word that he is coming home and arrive so soon after.”

  I sighed. “Usually it is preceded by months or years of advance notice.”

  “Indeed,” she said. “Plans must be changed. Parties must be advanced. Even the royal family is informed and makes an appearance.”

  “When are they arriving?”

  She shook her h
ead. “I do not believe it is an official visit.”

  I frowned. “Personal. Perhaps they wish to congratulate their son on the engagement? Or pay their respects to their late daughter?”

  My grandmother produced a look that I lack the description to detail. It was at the same time both incredulous and was, I believe, done to ensure I understood myself to be an idiot for suggesting such lunacy. “Then why?”

  “Retton only spoke of him coming.”

  My stomach ached at the thought. The Marquess without the Marchioness was unusual to say the least. “And what did the letter actually say?”

  My grandmother stood up at once. “Henry, I am shocked you would suggest I would betray your cousin’s privacy to search through his private letters.”

  I scowled. “What did the letter say?”

  My grandmother smirked. “You know me too well.” She sat back down and leaned towards me. “The letter was short and precise. It matters not as much as what was said but what he refused to say.”

  Again she looked around to ensure we were not invaded by servants or guests. “The Marquess succinctly stated he had heard of Retton’s impending engagement to Lady Cassandra’s younger sister. At first he believed Retton was engaged to Cassandra herself. He mentioned how much he respected Lord Bering and that no matter where they traveled no one had an unkind or unflattering word to say concerning Cassandra’s late mother.”

  I narrowed my focus. “Nothing about Lady Juliana?”

  Grandmother shook her head. “Only something ominous…” she learned closer. “He said that he hoped for the young lady’s sake that she received some grace from her sister, but that her other parentage was not as pristine.”

  I closed my eyes. “Patience.”

  My grandmother shook her head. “That woman has the ability to destroy even when she is not present. I have not heard nor has anyone had the good sense to inform me of rumours that are obviously spreading.”

  “Surely they do not blame Lady Juliana for anything her mother does?”

  “You know the times we live in, Henry.” She stared into the fire. “I hate to say this, but I do not think that was the first letter Retton received from his father. I hope I am wrong, but I believe my nephew has been trying to persuade Retton to seek Cassandra’s hand.”

  I won’t shy away from the fact that I jumped to my feet. “You do not believe…It could not be true…Retton does not have feelings for my Cassandra?”

  My grandmother scoffed. “Do not be daft, Henry. Your cousin’s heart belongs solely to Juliana, as hers belongs to him. You have nothing to worry about concerning Cassandra.”

  Forgive me, Cassandra for thinking thoughts that I should not have allowed to cross my mind. Love does tend to bring about madness at times as jealousy tempts nefarious thoughts. I hope you are not offended by what my grandmother conveyed, and I am unsure if this will assuage or deepen your worries. I am adept at saying things that will help smooth indelicacies since I had plenty of practice in dealing with events Nathaniel brought about, but I cannot and will not lie to you.

  I can only promise that I will help in whatever way I can, and I am always here for you. I will let you know immediately when I learn more.

  Yours forever,

  Henry

  Letter 63 ~ Nathaniel to Patience

  September 25, 1810

  Devious creature!

  Do not think you can evade me for long. I realize this has been your plot all along. I have found your location and will by tomorrow night be there. I hope it did not take longer than you assumed, and I hope you will welcome me or scold me properly.

  I have spent much in order to find you, but everything has been worth it. I cannot wait to see you again, and we can be married before anyone stops us. I know I do not have the title or estate you deserve, but I can offer you something much better.

  I did as you suggested and contacted my uncle, the Marquess. He is dim witted and dull, but I hope even he could understand what I was insinuating. Oh, I wish I could have been there to see his face! Without you I would not have had the courage to write him directly. I am ashamed to admit that I have little trouble intimidating brothers or fathers or husbands of less than moral maids. They are simpletons and easy to sway.

  But the Marquess! My uncle is as cold as the dead, but I shall think he will do the right thing and bring his full weight upon Retton.

  His title is the only thing he loves. Even my own grandmother speaks little of her nephew and admits he was born and raised to admire his title alone.

  I only wish you could have been with me when I wrote the letter. It was most difficult to do so without your persistent inspirations.

  I cannot wait until we are united. I am always a bit unsteady without you by my side to guide me. Just know I will be only a few hours behind this letter.

  Yours,

  Nathaniel

  Letter 64 ~ Patience to Nathaniel

  September 27, 1810

  Nathaniel,

  I am sorry I will not be able to greet you. How arduous you worked to ascertain my whereabouts. I do not believe any gentleman has quite been so determined. Normally they give up within a week of supposed pursuit, but you are indeed unique. I shall not be able to relinquish you.

  I must admit your latest letter did catch me by surprise. I was entirely upon a different path and saw my future, but, perhaps, I could live without the title. I had it once, and it made me not a wit happier.

  Besides, marrying yet another self-important earl who believes their title alone somehow should induce me to perpetual awe is so tiring. I would definitely miss your wit and deviousness, and we always think of such naughty things to do together.

  But you give me too much credit, my love. I might have inspired you to contact your uncle, but it was indeed your own idea that he would be easy prey given a few hints to the conduct of his heir. I only gave you the needed push, but you are indeed worthy of that push. I have never met someone who is so willing to do anything to ensure we both get what we are owed and deserve.

  I am inspired by your bravery and will try something myself. If it succeeds…Oh, what am I saying? I always get what I set my mind upon. People like us are not humbled by convention or society’s pettiness. We will be richer than even people like us could imagine and rightly so. Riches should be bestowed upon those willing to fight for them not those whose silly morality prevents them from achieving their dreams.

  I have one odious chore to conquer, but wait for me. Together we will bring them all to their knees.

  Patience

  Letter 65 ~ The Marquess to Lady Seaton

  September 28, 1810

  Aunt,

  I must write you before I see you. As you know I will be returning to Ramsbury shortly, but I have been in such a state.

  Rather than wait upon seeing you in person, I must entreat you concerning the events surrounding Rebecca. I have been informed of things the likes of which I would hardly have imagined. Surely they cannot be true!

  Forgive me, but I started this letter to seek your counsel. Perhaps, I needed only to convince myself into action. Just the act of starting a letter to you has calmed me considerably. Father always spoke so highly of his younger sister, and indeed you have always been a most excellent counsel to your grandson, Henry.

  Whether the rumours are true or not, the fact they exist at all is something that must be addressed. I hope for his sake that Retton’s actions are innocent, but changes will have to be made for the family.

  Please be aware of this and do your best to continue to provide counsel for my son. The coming weeks are likely to be most difficult for him.

  Aunt, please forgive me in advance. You know how my father, your brother, was concerning Ramsbury and the title. He bestowed upon me the utmost belief in sacrificing all to ensure the title is safe and beyond reproach. Retton will not understand, but I must set an example. I will see you soon,

  Charles, Marquess of Merrington

 
Letter 66 ~ Henry to Cassandra

  September 30, 1810

  My love,

  I wish you were here at Edenfield right now. I long to see you again but understand how it is much too soon. Unfortunately, I have some news. Grandmother fears the worst. She has received a letter from her nephew and Retton’s father, the Marquess of Merrington.

  He did not detail everything exactly, but Grandmother can understand words even if unspoken. From what she has deduced, Retton’s reputation has fallen to scrutiny. I cannot be sure the nature of the accusations or the source, but I intend to find out.

  Retton has not been made aware of anything. Grandmother and I have only allowed his concerns to remain unconfirmed since we are not aware of their exact nature. We will of course know everything once my uncle arrives, but his letter did hint changes were to be made concerning Retton. Grandmother fears it concerns his right to the title, but I have tried to assure her that Retton has always done what was expected. It was never his will to be the next Marquess of Merrington. Perhaps it is my own sensibilities which I am trying to place onto Retton, but he was never the sort to seek out such a title. Sure, he would never do anything to abandon or belittle it, but he would have been perfectly happy as the younger son eager to spend his days in a library or church. Now that he has met and fallen in love with your sister, she is his sole preoccupation.

  I give your sister much credit to know that her feelings for Retton are true and genuine. Should the worst happen, I do not believe Juliana will care a wit other than the affect it has upon her beloved. I am sorry to say so many things, and my grandmother would not wish me to put my fears into writing. But you are my heart and soul. Without you, I am aimless wondering how I ever spent my days not lost in thoughts of you. I will not write more of that because not seeing you brings about a very melancholy state which has led to the complaints of everyone around me.

  I will conclude this letter with a plea to be prepared for whatever is to come. Please be confident that Retton’s feelings for your sister will never change, and we are all dedicated to their happiness.

  Now, I must stop because writing to you is such a pale imitation of being in your presence. Every morning when I wake, I try to convince myself that the time had somehow passed and it is the day when I will see you again. I am a most selfish man who only seeks his own happiness, and since you have the unenviable task of being the source of my happiness, I fear the burden of my entire existence falls to you. I do pity you for that.

  Please continue to keep me in your thoughts, my love, until we are one.

  Forever,

  Henry

  Letter 67~ Nathaniel to Patience

  October 1, 1810

  Lovely Patience,

  We must congratulate ourselves on being so thorough in dealing with our enemies. Everything seems to be falling into place. My idiot cousin will lose everything. Now, I hear your daughter is about to lose as well.

  Together we are quite a force. Once everything is concluded, I fear my brother will not treat us kindly. Perhaps we should retreat in order to gloat from afar.

  I cannot wait to see you again. When do you think that will be? I grow impatient without you.

  Nathaniel

  Letter 68 ~ Patience to Nathaniel

  October 2, 1810

  Nathaniel,

  I refuse to retreat until they are all affected. They deserve everything we do to them and worse, and please do not flatter your brother with believing he could do anything to harm us. We will gloat exactly where we are. I wish to see their faces in person and not imagine their hurt. That will do me no pleasure, and you know how I demand my pleasure.

  I am glad the letter to the Marquess will produce the required affect. Now, I am about to let Juliana know the truth. She will soon fall, and then we will truly celebrate.

  I have a few more details to work out. I always have plans in place. I will let you know when I require you again.

  Patience

  Letter 69 ~ Cassandra to Henry

  October 4, 1810

  My love,

  I am so glad to have received your letter, but I am afraid I was not able to prepare Juliana for anything concerning Lord Kemnay. I had just finished reading your letter… Fine, I must admit that I read your letters over many a time. I only wish they were written upon stronger paper so that creases would not develop so soon. What kind of paper does not allow for hundreds of readings!

  I had just finished reading and re-reading your letter trying to ascertain a plan to inform Juliana when a carriage stopped and Juliana and Grace both quickly jumped out. The front door door flew open and Aunt Grace smiled at me and quickly slipped away into the house. Juliana followed.

  “Can we talk as I pack?” Juliana asked as she rushed upstairs before I could answer.

  When I got to her room, she was in a flurry of activity pulling dresses and clothes.

  “What are you doing?”

  “Grace has to go to Bath,” she said barely stopping long enough to take a breath.

  “Why? When?”

  “Now, and I am to go with her.” Juliana stopped long enough to grab my arms. “I wish you to stay here to complete your recovery. And I can be back quickly should you need me.”

  “But why now?”

  Juliana hesitated. “One of Grace’s oldest friends has taken quite ill and has not much time left.”

  I know my sister better than anyone, and her words were clear and concise. Her actions, however, worried me. It was not what she said but the hesitations that accompanied each word precisely chosen more for brevity than description.

  “But I could…” I stopped when Juliana shook her head.

  “Let me do this, Cassie.” She looked into my eyes. Her eyes held depth of pleadings that her voice would never betray. Tears quickly formed but then just as quickly were forced away.

  I grabbed her hands to stop them from packing up her entire room. “Juliana, talk to me.”

  Juliana forced a smiled as she nonchalantly wiped away a misplaced tear. “Nothing has happened. Nothing will happen.”

  I frowned and wished I had Juliana’s power to understand people. “Is it that horrible Mrs. Crollope again?”

  “It is nothing of the sort.” She smiled, but it lacked conviction or her usual ferocity. “I am just concerned for Grace. She was in a state upon hearing about her friend. She must see her before it is too late.” She bowed her head. “I know what it is like not to say goodbye.”

  I did not believe Grace’s friend was the entire reason for Juliana’s behaviour, but she invoked the fact that I sent her away upon father’s request during his final weeks. She never mentions that. It is an unwritten rule that Juliana does not mention that which she has already forgiven unless in desperate need. I wanted to give her dignity to go without forcing her into confessing the truth. “Can I help you pack?”

  Juliana breathed easier and smiled broader. “Thank you, Cassie. I knew I could count on you. I am fine here. Have them fetch you some tea and I will see you before we go.”

  I had only been downstairs a few minutes before Juliana flew into the room, said her goodbyes, and was gone.

  So, Henry, I was unable to do as you requested and prepare my sister for whatever is to come. Please be careful how you convey this to Retton. I am sure he will be as worried as I am, but we all have to remember Juliana is stronger than we realize. She will be fine. At least that is what I will try to convince myself.

  Do not worry about me for I am not alone here. At Retton’s insistence, there are more maids, footmen, and butlers than a house fifty times this size requires. Juliana informed them that I was not to be bothered with visitors or gossiping neighbors and will spend my time resting and perhaps re-reading your letters.

  All my love,

  Cassandra

  Letter 70 ~ Lady Seaton to Cassandra

  October 4, 1810

  Lady Bering,

  I do hope you do not feel this letter impertinent for we have
only met once. I will not attempt to be innocent of the feelings you have for my grandson. And I must convey to you how happy I am that he has found you. Your presence in his life has lifted his spirits. I have never seen him in the grasp of life’s happiness.

  I cannot convey the depth of my sadness concerning your losses. First your father. Then your husband. I admire you more than anyone for doing what you believed to be right by your family. There would be quite a few young ladies who would have endeavored to release themselves from the burden, but you never once hesitated. You are a credit to both your parents.

  I know my grandson is in constant contact with you. I rarely see him that he is not either writing to you or reading one of your letters. I can always tell the difference in correspondence. His business duties, I can only assume, require much frowning and quite the few growls. His face brightens, and he cannot stop smiling when there is anything concerning you. For that I will ever be eternally grateful. He too has had to deal with quite the few losses in his life. Most he refuses to burden me with, but he deserves the happiness that you can give him.

  I am sorry this has rambled along, but Henry did tell me that Lady Juliana has taken your aunt to Bath to be with her dying friend. I am very sorry for that, but he also told me you believe there is more to her escape. I also fear the worst. I hope this does not burden you further, but I too am worried about the future of Retton. This also concerns your sister. I admire her greatly and find her to be such a grand friend. Even though we are much different in age, we are certainly alike in spirit.

  Retton wished to write you concerning Juliana but he thought it improper and was also afraid to task Henry. We are expecting my nephew, the Marquess of Merrington, in the next few days and wanted to prepare you for what I fear will come to pass.

  I hope your sister is aware and is prepared for it. While your reputation is untouched, your sister’s has been questioned. I do not understand why. Henry is determined to seek the source so that he might stop anything before it happens.

  Please do not fret. I promise I will not allow your sister’s name to be affected by this madness. I vow to keep her reputation safe whatever the cost.

  Mary Seaton

  Letter 71 ~ Cassandra to Henry

  October 5, 1810

  My love,

  I am sure your grandmother informed you that she wrote to me. When I first saw her name, I feared she might not approve of me or your feelings towards me. I was most pleased that she spent the majority of the letter in her admiration for you and her acceptance of us. Juliana is quite taken with her, and I would be horrified if your grandmother thought ill of me.

  Oh, Henry, a most horrific event! While writing this letter, I heard footsteps and was greeted by a truly horrid sight: Patience!

  Why must she continue to vex us? She greeted me by throwing herself down beside me.

  It did not take her more than a few seconds to wince and squirm. “What a horrid bench! I am sure that imbecile Grace picked these out. They are as uncomfortable and dull as she is.” Patience tried several different positions before giving up in a sigh. “She never liked me.”

  “I know,” I said matter of factly without even a hint of remorse. “Why are you here?”

  She sighed. Then got up. “I am staying with a friend. Have the money I am owed waiting when I return.” She started to leave.

  “Wait,” I said, stopping her. “What money? Do you not want to see Juliana?”

  She squinted as if an intense pain had emerged. “Why on earth would I want to see her?”

  I steadied myself and both wished Juliana were here to help and glad she was with Aunt Grace in Bath. “Why do you need money? I thought you were married or nearly married.”

  “That idiot Nathaniel.”

  I could not help but smile. Why does she bring out the worst in me? Unfortunately, Patience did not appreciate my humour. The glare in her eyes frightened me, and I saw for the first time why Juliana used to be so scared of her when she was younger.

  Patience tried to grab my arm.

  “Don’t touch me.”

  She smirked. “Well, someone has found their voice. You do know I married your father for the title and money. Since he had the good fortune to die, I assumed I would be settled for life. It all went to the estate and whomever settled there.”

  “It was his legacy.”

  She looked me up and down. “Of course he had to leave you enough to live on.”

  I nodded. “He provided for Juliana as well.”

  “And what about me?” She asked while stomping her foot. Then, that unearthly grin emerged again. “I am sure he knew I would marry again. I am young and beautiful.”

  I sighed. I am sorry to admit it, but I did sigh. I think I am learning from Juliana.

  She glared at me. “You do not know how lucky you are. You have never wanted a day in your pathetic life. Your precious mother is still mourned. You do not know what it is like to be forsaken.”

  Her glare at me subsided a little, but it did not comfort me. Instead, she looked at me as if she were a mighty hawk and I a small, helpless mouse seeking comfort in the fields. “You will give me money. You will give me whatever money your misguided father left you.”

  I did not know what to say. I recognized her madness and did not want to tempt her.

  “I know you are engaged to Lord Halithorpe, and I know my insipid daughter is engaged to the son of a Marquess. I cannot go to him or his family for they would not bequeath me anything and only refuse to see my idiot offspring again.”

  I let her speak. She was not actually talking to me but rather I believe thinking aloud. I naively hoped she would provide me the clues needed before her devious mind stopped.

  She must have known what I was thinking because she smirked at me. “You love her don’t you? You love Juliana?” She spit out her name as if it was poison.

  “She is my sister…my best friend.”

  Patience laughed. “Will she still be your best friend if she was not really your blood?”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “If you want her happiness…if you care at all about her…do not let the Marquess know what I know. She will be ruined, and even I would hate it if she had to survive like I did in my early years. Some men demand much and can be so cruel to young girls who have no protection, no father, and no name.”

  At this, she left.

  Henry, it cannot be a coincidence that Patience has mentioned the name of the Marquess. I would not be surprised if she is either the sole reason or part of the reason for the Marquess’ visit. If apologies alone could cure Patience, she would have been a decent person when I was but five years old. Juliana will be mortified. She has spent her life trying to make amends for the actions of her mother.

  I do not know what to make of that dreaded woman’s hints. My mind swirls at her words and smirks. I am unsure of everything. I need more time to think.

  Cassandra

  Letter 72 ~ Patience to Nathaniel

  October 7, 1810

  Nathaniel,

  I have just returned from a visit with my horrible step-daughter. I am so glad we share not any blood. She is as insipid as ever. Although, forgive my deviousness, but would it not be delightful if you were to seduce her. Oh, your brother would be absolutely destroyed.

  Oh, that would be grand, and we would have such a laugh at that. I know your skills, and surely she would fall for your charms. Although, perhaps she is too dour to allow herself even the slightest hint of happiness. But, we can think upon that. At least, it would be fun indeed.

  Anyway, Cassandra was probably filled with disdain at the sight of me, but her upbringing forced her to be pleasant. I hinted as to what I was going to tell Juliana. I am unsure if Cassandra is smart enough to deduce. Surely, the thought had crossed even her small mind. You would think she would be grateful to me. She would be released from yet another family burden. I must chastise her for her ingratitude. I would have thought her
governesses would have done a better job. No matter.

  Now, have you written to your grandmother yet? I am only asking coyly. I know full well you have not. Do not put that chore off any longer than you ought. All of our plans are in place. We have only to give things but the slightest push, and everything will be ours.

  Nathaniel, remember what we have discussed. I might have to do some things you may not want me to do, but I always have our best interests in mind. Even if my body belongs to someone else, my heart and mind will always be yours. Besides, marriage or even the threat of marriage has never stopped us!

  When we met, I believed you to be yet another forgetful but fun dalliance. You have proved so much more. Together, we are unstoppable.

  Write to me once your tasks have been completed.

  Patience

  Letter 73 ~ Henry to Cassandra

  October 10, 1810

  My Cassandra,

  It is rather a mess. I wish I had the words to write in detail what has taken place, but I would not do the events justice. I wish Lady Juliana were here to convey everything to you.

  Oh, my grandmother has just informed me that she will be writing to you. You have been spared my attempts! Since she will tell you all that has happened, I will use this space to once again wish you were here. I cannot wait until we are united. Although, given recent circumstances, I wonder if you would ever wish to join my family. We do have such drama!

  I wish you were here to calm me. Upon Retton’s insistence, I did stay out of it which was most difficult given the circumstances. My grandmother will detail everything. Suffice to say, I was most proud of Retton and most ashamed of my uncle. How he could value his title more than his own child I hope to never find out.

  Unfortunately, the Marquess arrived with Retton’s younger brother, Charles. I rarely saw him growing up. Retton and I are closer in age, and the younger brothers were mostly away at school. Now that things have changed, I am afraid we will have to see more of Charles. But, perhaps not. Upon thinking of it, perhaps it will be easier to avoid him than I now imagine. I am sure Grandmother will have quite the few hints concerning ways to avoid the unpleasant. Since she has lived on this earth longer than most, she would be the first to admit she excels at identifying and then avoiding unpleasant things.

  I must ask if you have heard from Lady Juliana. Retton is most concerned about her, but I do believe I…

  Again, grandmother has informed me that I should limit my letter to things I know more about. She did this in a most congenial manner.

  While lost in thought with this letter, I felt a breath against the back of my neck. I looked over my shoulder to see her standing over me reading through what I had just written. “Can I help you?”

  She quickly scanned through my words before answering. “No, but may I make a suggestion to limit yourself.”

  “What do you mean?”

  She shook her head. “Henry, you are writing to the woman you claim to love more than life itself.” She waited for me to understand a hidden meaning.

  It must have been very hidden because I did not ascertain her hints.

  She rolled her eyes and patted my shoulder. “You are a credit to your gender.”

  I winced for I did not know if I understood or wanted to inquire as to her meaning.

  “Do not attempt explanations that are beyond your understanding, but I do thank you for your compliments in the letter.”

  At this, she left the room. Cassandra, you will have to explain things better to me. I assumed I was most skilled in quite a few things but, apparently, my grandmother believes me to be quite the imbecile. That is sad indeed. Usually I know my limits. I do not meddle in events that I could not possibly understand, but apparently, I have blindly stumbled upon something that I am so incompetent in that I do not even realize the depths of said incompetence.

  I had better close this letter and ensure that my grandmother writes you. When she does, please write me back and explain to me where I am so lacking. I want to be worthy of you in everything.

  Henry

  Letter 74 ~ Lady Seaton to Cassandra

  October 10, 1810

  Lady Bering,

  My grandson has attempted to write to you concerning recent events. Please forgive him if he wrote in a more befuddled manner than usual. It is not his fault. He did not possess all of the facts. Suffice to say, that all will soon be well.

  I should wait until I hear from Retton, but I feared Henry’s letter would have left you more confused than ever.

  Now, upon rereading what I have written, perhaps I should wait for Retton. I would hate to lead you to a conclusion to events that have not yet occurred. I am sorry, Lady Cassandra. Please forgive this confusing impertinence. Since Henry informed you I would be writing to explain, I sought about immediately to accomplish the task. Now, my mind worries over things that have not come to pass. It really is not my place to tell you what has happened, what is about to happen, and, most importantly, what I am anxious to happen.

  I know this letter is more confusing than not, but this is not my story to tell.

  Mary Seaton

  Letter 75 ~ Cassandra to Juliana

  October 10, 1810

  Dearest Sister,

  I am in desperate need. I have received two very confusing letters and do need your counsel as to what I am missing. Oh, I wish you were here to make me understand.

  How is Grace? And her friend? I hope the burdens are not too overwhelming for you. Grace is very lucky to have you in her time of need. As I was. I fear you have only yourself to blame. You are much too dependable, have such sharp wit, and are relied upon to be of great use to those who need you most. I hope that you will not overtire and spend time taking care of yourself as well.

  And in thinking about all you have gone through lately, I did start this letter needing more from you. Forgive me. It matters not what I am confused about. Being confused is not new to me nor will it be the final time I do not fully understand what is taking place. I will survive. In due time, all will be revealed. I only hope you are enjoying Bath.

  Do not worry about me. I am taking your advice and resting. No one has bothered me, and the staff are taking excellent care of me. It is only my mind now that is restless, but I must heal that in due time. I do miss James. I feel sad when I write that because it is final and useless. If I were truly honest - which I know I can be with you - I should say that I wish I missed him more. Things should have been different but were not. I wish he was allowed to marry someone who loved him completely as I believe all should be loved, but he did not. There is little I can do for him now other than honour his memory by keeping my distance from Henry for an appropriate time. I will not allow gossip to shadow his memory.

  Anyway, I have digressed yet again. My first intention upon writing you was, of course, concerning myself when my first priority should have been your welfare.

  I am sorry for that and hope to do better in the future.

  Cassie

  Letter 76 ~ Henry to Cassandra

  October 11, 1810

  My Cassandra,

  I cannot stand this anymore. Grandmother told me she did not tell you about events in her letter. I will not do it justice, but I am going insane without your counsel.

  Forgive my inabilities, but here is what happened…

  As you know, the Marquess threatened to arrive and then did. He requested Retton’s appearance, and Retton convinced me to go with him. I never much liked my uncle, but I would do anything for Retton.

  We arrived at the dedicated time. Luckily, my grandmother declined to come with us. She too never much cared for her nephew and did not wish to ignite any animosity. I digress. I told you I was not good at detailing events as they happened. Usually, my mind wanders to such things as the hotness of the fire, wondering how long I will have to make an appearance before I can leave, how your eyes looked when you smiled at me, if my horses are happy, and so forth…

  We waited in my uncle
’s office. And we waited. And we waited. It seemed an eternity, and I wondered if I could factor in the time waiting to the entire visit. Retton was not at all nervous. That was odd. I did not know why at the time.

  The Marquess finally arrived. I am sure Lady Juliana would detail exactly how he looked, his movements, his expressions, but I did not notice much of anything. He was the Marquess. He had not changed since the last time I saw him. He still lacked hair. His eyes were still beady. His breath was still shallow as if he had just swam the Nile. His clothes were still the darkish blue that he wore. Aside from his title, he would never be noticed in a room of a thousand or of two. He was distinctly indistinct.

  He glanced at me with disdain as he usually did. “Henry, why have you come?”

  “I asked him to,” Retton said matter of factly.

  The Marquess shrugged. “Well, let us get down to everything.” He sat down at his desk.

  “Are you even going to ask?” Retton said. “Surely, you will at least ask…”

  The Marquess’ eyes narrowed which I thought impossible given their normal smallness.

  Retton sighed. “Pretend we are in a room of your peers.” He waited but the Marquess did not comment.

  “My sister? Your daughter?” Retton waited.

  The Marquess allowed but a slight expression of pain to flash across his face before he caught himself. “There is nothing to discuss. The matter is concluded. You did honour by the family by doing what you could. It was not enough. That is all.”

  To this, I had to stop myself from saying something. Retton’s body clenched, and I knew he had to restrain himself as well.

  “Now…” The Marquess began. “Since the unpleasantness has been concluded, let us—”

  Retton raised his hand to interrupt his father. “I know what you are about to say. Or maybe I do not. It matters not. I relinquish it. All of it.”

  I was not sure what Retton spoke of. I leaned closer thinking I could somehow figure everything out.

  The Marquess waited. “Surely you do not mean…”

  “Is that not what you intend?” Retton asked.

  The Marquess stared down at his desk.

  “Is that not why Charles is here as well?”

  “Charles is here?” I quickly looked around the office thinking I had somehow missed my other cousin. I did. The forgettable Charles lurked in the corner’s shadows accompanied by his usual inane grin.

  Retton’s younger brother was just like his father: completely forgettable. Charles has his father’s baldness, beady eyes, and contemptible glare. He also profusely sweated a lot. As a child, I could discern when he had visited by carefully avoiding various sweaty puddles he would leave around the estate. “Charles,” I said. “I am sorry I did not notice you before.”

  Charles snorted. Luckily, Retton inherited none of his father’s looks and took after his beautiful mother.

  “Henry,” Charles hissed. “Have not seen you for ages. Hear you are now Lord Halithorpe and in love with a married woman.”

  The Marquess raised his hands as if to stop his son’s ineptitude. “I am sorry it must be this way, but you brought this upon yourself, Retton.”

  “I say again.” Retton cleared his throat and spoke louder. “I relinquish the title, the lands, the estate, the name.”

  “The wealth that comes with it?” The Marquess asked. “I will provide enough to live upon, but that will be a mere fraction as to what you are owed given your birth.”

  “I want nothing from you,” Retton said.

  Charles clapped. “More for me.”

  It was then that I finally understood. “Retton, what are you saying?”

  He looked at me for the first time. “You know my father came here to disown me.”

  I had heard my grandmother discuss and hint upon such things, but I did not believe them to be true. I looked at the Marquess hoping that his expression would contradict my cousin. It did not. “Why?”

  “This is not your concern, Henry,” Charles said. “Things have been brought to light. Unforgivable, disgusting things that should never have—”

  “Charles,” the Marquess stated.

  Retton looked to the ground. “An accusation has been made that…forgive me, Henry, but I refuse to speak about that.”

  “Why protect him?” the Marquess finally moved away from his desk. “Why protect him when he has done nothing to protect us?”

  Charles glared at me, and I finally realized the source. “Nathaniel.”

  The Marquess shook his head. “It is quite the mess, Henry. If you could have controlled your brother…”

  Retton stared at his father. “No more than I could have controlled mine.”

  Charles sneered at Retton. “Now that I am the heir, I will not allow you to bring this family to ruin.”

  Retton laughed. “Oh, yes, Charles. You are just the epitome of grace and class.”

  The Marquess met Retton’s glare with one equally as dangerous as his own. “You have brought this upon yourself.”

  “Then, there is little left to say. Henry, are you ready?” Retton waited.

  I nodded and looked to Charles. “Never change.”

  He smirked but it quickly faded as his little mind tried to decipher my meaning. Retton and I left.

  We spoke not on the walk out of Ramsbury. We did not speak on the ride back to Edenfield. Upon entering the hall, my grandmother accosted us.

  “Are we expecting guests?” I asked her since I had never seen her lingering in the hallway waiting for anyone.

  She looked at me as if I were suddenly insane. “Of course not.” She hugged Retton. “Are you sure?”

  Retton nodded.

  “He offered me a stipend. I refused.”

  She nodded. “You will not have to worry. I will not discuss the matter with Henry for I know he would agree with me.” She glanced at me. “It would matter not even if he did not.”

  I shrugged. “Am I visible here? Everyone can see me, can they not?”

  My grandmother scoffed. “Do not be so dramatic, Henry.”

  “Then tell me what is going on!”

  Grandmother winked at Retton. “You tell him, Retton. I have much to do.” She left.

  I waited. Retton stared into the fireplace for what seemed an eternity. Now, I am not known for my patience, but I did manage to stop myself from interrupting his silence. Luckily, I was rewarded with him finally sitting down and looking at me.

  “I am sorry I did not discuss things with you. I know you would have written Lady Cassandra right away, and I did not wish to burden her.”

  At the sound of your name, I was even more interested in what he was about to say.

  “Promise me, Henry, that you will not…that this will not upset…”

  I worried more about what Retton had trouble saying. “If it concerns Cassandra…”

  Retton hesitated. “I wish I did not have to tell you. Nathaniel…”

  Once I heard his name, my patience eroded. The mere mention of his name does bring about a fit. “What has he done this time?”

  “He wrote to the Marquess.”

  I could not imagine what he would say to his uncle or how he would word it.

  “He, of course, did not detail his involvement with…Rebecca…”

  “Then what on earth did he discuss?”

  Retton again hesitated.

  I feared the worst. “Please, no matter what you say—”

  “Nathaniel hinted I was closer to Rebecca than… a brother ought to be.” Retton stopped as if he could say nothing else.

  At first, I was uncertain of his meaning. Perhaps I can give myself credit that it took me awhile to understand the deviousness that so easily comes to my brother. “He…You mean to say my brother hinted that you…”

  Retton nodded.

  I jumped up and paced. “Will there ever be a time when I am not ashamed of him? Is there any amount of apology I could provide?”

  Retton shook his head.
You are not responsible for him. Anymore than I was responsible for my sister.”

  We stared at the fire for what seemed like hours thinking about our collective burdens. “I do not understand what the Marquess was intending.”

  Retton smiled. “My father does not like gossip.”

  “Surely he would not entertain such madness.”

  “To the Marquess, his title is everything. Anything that threatens that must be extinguished. I wanted to spare him the duty,” Retton said matter of factly.

  “He is going to give your title to Charles,” I said with a contempt that I could not hide. “To Charles…Retton, he is a quarter of the man you were when you were but two.”

  Retton nodded. “I never wanted it. You know that. I only worry about Juliana.”

  “You do not think she would care about such things?”

  “I want the best for her. Is being with such a disgrace really what is best for her?” Retton stood up and walked to the window. “I woke this morning as Lord Kemnay. My father’s heir - the future Marquess of Merrington. I will go to sleep tonight as Mr. Frome.” He smiled. “I have never been called that in my entire life. I have no title. No money. No place to live.”

  “You will live here. You have always loved Edenfield.”

  Retton smiled. “Surely your future wife would not want to share her house with…”

  “Cassandra loves you. This house is bigger than anyone needs, and she will adore living with her sister again.” I did not think I spoke out of turn.

  “Juliana…” Retton whispered. “Unless I have lost her as well. I must go to Bath and tell her in person. I cannot allow her to hear this from someone else.”

  That is what happened, Cassandra. Do not worry. If something can be fixed, I will see to it. If it affects you or is in danger of affecting you, I will ensure it is changed.

  Please have faith in me.

  Henry

  Letter 77 ~ Charles to Nathaniel

  October 13, 1810

  Cousin,

  You were so right! Father did exactly what you believed he would do. A few hints as to my brother’s impropriety with our sister was enough to set everything else in motion. I never cared for either of them, so I am glad that at least she will not disgrace the family further. He will finally get what he deserves. He was always so proper. It was disgusting!

  Retton is finished. He will not get anything. He has given up the title, the lands, the estate, and all the money. It will all go to me now. I, of course, will honour our previous agreement once I have access to everything.

  We will both be very rich indeed! Now, you will be able to marry your intended and be very happy. Please consider coming for an extended time at Ramsbury. I know from Father that Retton will be staying with your brother at Edenfield.

  Would it not be delightful to see Retton every day and to act as disdainful to him as he has always done to us. He never understood me, and I know from your letters, your brother never understood you either. Pity we were burdened with such weight.

  Please let me know of your future plans. Perhaps there are other ideas we might put into motion. I look forward to seeing you again.

  Charles, Lord Kemnay

  Letter 78 ~ Nathaniel to Lady Seaton

  October 16, 1810

  Grandmother,

  I know I am the last person you wish to hear from. I have made a mess of things. I realize that, and I know you will not forgive me easily. I will not blame Patience for my actions because she was not entirely at fault. I have done quite the few things before I met her that brought shame to you and the rest of my family. I wish I could feel something for my actions, but, as I can hear you say, I only regret because I have been caught. In rare moments, I worry about myself. I do not know why I lack the capacity to feel for others and think of everyone as only to what use they can be to me. Perhaps there really is something wrong with me as I long heard my parents discussing.

  You are the most intelligent of the family and tried to be faithful to me long after you should have. I will recover in time. Do not try to contact me. I will not burden the family again. I am no longer your concern. I will not bother my brother. You do not owe me anything, and I will be a source of embarrassment no longer.

  Do not be shocked when you hear news of me. Thank you for trying to love me.

  Nathaniel

  Letter 79 ~ Cassandra to Juliana

  October 18, 1810

  Dearest Sister,

  Not hearing from you is aching my nerves. Please inform me that you are fine. My mind wanders through various dire scenarios. I have thought about arriving in Bath just to see you myself, but I do not want to be so dramatic.

  I hate to be a burden of horrific news…well, now you must know that I am referring to Patience. She is the only of our acquaintances that can be defined by that description. She has written me. I do regret receiving any communication from her, but I must admit I would rather a letter than another personal visit.

  Receiving any sort of word from Patience is enough to fill me with dread, and I worry what she is planning next. She mentioned that she contacted you directly. I do so hope that was just a benign threat and not something she greedily pursued. Please write me. Let me know how Grace is, and tell me what you are doing in Bath.

  Please alleviate my worries! I understand this is probably how you felt when I did not answer your letters when I grieved. For that I am profoundly sorry. I knew not the affect I had. I thought only of myself and wished to ease everyone’s burden by fading away quietly. That was selfish, although I did not realize that at the time. We are all part of each other’s lives - entwined if you will like the mightiest and greediest vine. When one is in pain, the rest will suffer. I wish I could take my actions back, but I cannot. Thanks to you and Henry, I finally found myself. Please do not follow in my horrible example. You must write me soon!

  Cassie

  Letter 80 ~ Nathaniel to Patience

  October 19, 1810

  Lovely Patience,

  I did as you asked and wrote to my grandmother. I wish I did not have to burden her, but you were right…My brother would never have read a letter from me. It is best that our grandmother convey to him the lie that I will no longer be a burden. I wish I could see his face in thinking he was finally rid of me.

  You are so devious to allow our enemies time to drop their guard and falter a bit before our final strike. Have you informed your offspring yet about the truth? I would assume you would not do so in a letter. I know you too well. You will wish to savor every exquisite reaction to the news. Oh, I cannot wait until everything is out, and we will celebrate our victory over our enemies as they face ruin and ridicule.

  I am so glad we met. My life had become too tedious with the usual seductions and blackmail. You have induced such pleasures and deviousness into my otherwise banal existence.

  Yours,

  Nathaniel

  Letter 81 ~ Retton to Henry

  October 19, 1810

  Cousin,

  I know not what is happening. By the time I arrived in Bath, Juliana was gone. Her aunt told me she had written to me before she left, but I must burden you to see if the letter has arrived yet. I am sure the issue of me leaving Ramsbury abruptly has forced many of my correspondence to languish unattended. I am beside myself. Her aunt would not convey the details, but she did mention the name Patience.

  I am beyond reason. Please find that letter at once!

  Retton

  Letter 82 ~ Henry to Retton

  October 21, 1810

  Retton, I found the letter. You were right. It would have arrived before you left for Bath, but it was waiting for you at Ramsbury. I have since organized everything so that all of your items and letters will now be located in your office at Edenfield.

  No matter, I have included Lady Juliana’s letter. I read it not, but I hope it can alleviate some of your concerns…

  Lord Kemnay,

  I am most sorry for everything. I wi
sh…I wish a lot of things…I have started this letter a thousand times and every one has ended its life in the fire. But I cannot be selfish. Things cannot proceed as planned. You will understand why shortly. I cannot explain fully in this letter.

  Just know that I cannot marry you. It is not that I do not wish to, but I cannot. Things have changed. I have not even written to Cassie yet. I know if she received this news, she would travel to Bath immediately, and I cannot see her right now. It is better this way. By the time she learns the truth, I will be gone.

  I am not sure if the gossip has reached you, but I am sure it will. I wish it were merely the hurtful words of my vengeful mother, but I am afraid of their veracity. I will not allow you to be brought down by my circumstances.

  Please forgive me and forget about me.

  Juliana

  Letter 83 ~ Juliana to Cassandra

  October 22, 1810

  Sweetest Cassie,

  I wish I did not need to write this. Please know that I will always love you, but I must leave. Grace promised that she would not send this letter until I was already gone. I will not marry Retton. I must try to find my own way and find out who I truly am.

  Know that I will always cherish your loyalty and friendship but will not burden you any longer. I hope I was a good sister when I could be, and I hope you and Henry will be married and happy. Please do not worry about me or think about me. I have arranged for Aunt Grace to have companionship and help. Do not seek me in Bath. By the time you get this letter, I will be gone.

  You will know soon enough my reasonings. Suffice to say that Patience is responsible. She came to see me in Bath, but I will not convey the ugliness of what she said. I do not know what the truth is anymore. Perhaps it is another of her schemes, but it matters not. The rumours alone, even if they be not true, are enough to destroy us all.

  What I do know is that I will not allow my predicament to affect you in any way. Please know that I always looked up to you, and will always be grateful for your counsel and loyalty. I wish I could be a fraction as good as you, but I fear it may be impossible given the blood of my mother.

  I hope you will continue to see yourself as I have always seen you - the best person I have ever known. You sacrificed for your family and almost lost yourself because of it. Unfortunately, your father should not have forced you into that marriage in the first place. He should have placed his own daughter above the estate, and I hate to say this but I always thought he blamed you for your mother’s death. I was able to see him when he thought no one looked, and his eyes did not gaze upon you as a proud father. Instead, his gaze held a sort of hatred and blame. I am not saying this to burden or hurt you.

  You have to be strong enough to know the entire truth and not allow the sting to harm you. Nothing is your fault. You only made the best of everything, and for that, I know your father was grateful. Now, it is time to put yourself first. Demand your own happiness and expect nothing less. It is everything you deserve. I know Henry will make you happy. I have never seen a man look at another with such love.

  I could go on an eternity, but I fear my ink would finally run dry. Do not worry about me. Do not fret over me. Do not waste another tear. I will be fine. I will discover the veracity of what Patience claimed, and I will accept my fate.

  Recover and convince yourself of your own worth. Do not ever allow yourself to fall into disarray again. You must not atone for a sin that is not your own. You are much stronger than that. I wish I could see you again, but I fear I would not be able to say goodbye in person. Please be strong. Take care of Grace. Take care of yourself. Be happy with Henry. Do not allow Retton to fall into disgrace. He will find another and soon my presence and name will be but a memory. I do hope you think of me kindly. That is all I can request.

  I will love you always as a sister.

  Goodbye,

  Juliana

  Letter 84 ~ Patience to Nathaniel

  We have achieved it! Oh, it is too delicious, is it not? We should be celebrated everywhere! We managed in such a short time to destroy our enemies. Juliana has now vanished to parts unknown. Since she was born to such luxury and pampering, she will find the world very cruel indeed especially with the nasty question of her birth following her like a malicious cloud.

  For your cousin, the former Lord Kemnay, he too will have to live without title and estate. His prospects are very grim indeed since he was groomed from birth to be a Lord and then a Marquess. He has little else to offer the world other then the useless skills naturally bestowed upon heirs. I will not have to remind you what became of his stupid sister, Rebecca. She obviously got exactly what she deserved.

  As for your brother…Oh, Nathaniel, my mind swirls in thinking of the various ways you will need to thank me for bringing your brother to his ruin. I was not sure that I would do it, but it is done. You will be so proud of me. When I last visited with the Cassandra person - which I can barely say her name without disgust - I hatched a most devious plan.

  I stole a few of her letters. She was going to write to that brother of yours, and I wanted to see exactly how she wrote. It was very much a nauseating display of love and longing, and I will not bore you the bland details of such useless creatures.

  When I spotted her letter, my mind proceeded to hatch a plan that even I must congratulate myself. I practiced her handwriting and her inane phrases. I did not even think myself capable of such genius. But, of course, I am. You, darling, are well aware of that!

  Suffice to say, your brother is about to receive quite a shock. I wrote to him, but not as myself. I pretended to be Cassandra. It might be just enough to plant the seeds of doubt into his furious mind. Whatever befalls him… Whatever we have set in motion… it serves him right for the way he has treated you. None of your family ever appreciated your skills. I have included a copy of the letter I sent to Henry so that you, as well, can revel in my genius.

  Lord Halithorpe,

  I wish I need not write this, but I have been fooling myself. I am not the sort of person I thought I was. In this time of seclusion, I have realized my love for my husband did exist, and my feelings for you were but a fleeting dream. I am sorry I allowed this to continue for so long. Please do not think harshly of me.

  Perhaps, I did have feelings for you. Obviously I did, but they were not of the romantic nature. Since I have never had a brother, I believe you fulfilled that for me in providing me guidance and direction.

  You are a decent and honourable man, and I know you will soon forget about me. Please endeavor to find a good mate - one that loves you as much as you love her. Any union between us would have indeed been unwise, and I am grateful that it never proceeded. I am to stay in Bath for a few weeks more and then I have been invited to stay at Ashlands. I do miss my old home intensely, and I must admit to you that I have been in contact with Edward Hawksley who is a cousin of James’. I am unsure if you two ever met, but he does write highly of you. In his letters, I hate to admit I did find my heart again. I believed it to be lost for so long after James. Then, I foolishly believed my heart had been found by you, but something about that did not quite ring true until I met with Edward. In him, I do believe I have finally found the love I have sought for so long.

  Please do not be angry and please do not contact me again. I believe further correspondence would be unwise and a betrayal of my true feelings towards Edward.

  Lady Bering

  Is that not grande, Nathaniel? Oh, I cannot wait until your brother reads that letter and believes his true love to be such a simpleton who has made him into a fool. Cassandra has just lost her husband and now her sister. Henry will soon be gone as well. Would it not be grand if Henry were so distraught he impulsively married another? That would be more than we could ever hope for. Can you think of a young, insipid girl who minds not that she is being used? We must think upon this.

  Actually, I do have someone in mind. A Lady Jana tried to warn Lord Bering about me. She had caught me in the midst of a dal
liance and sought to inform Lord Bering of the kind of ‘woman I had become.’ It matters not that I never needed to ‘become’ anything. I am always what I have always been.

  Perhaps we can throw Jana into your brother’s path. Imagine having the high and mighty who dared to cross me be forever linked to a man who will never love her. Delicious! I do prefer to combine insults. It takes less energy, and then we will be able to truly celebrate.

  We are about to receive everything we have ever been denied. Our enemies will all soon be punished and not quickly recover from their losses. I cannot wait!

  Patience

 
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