Tuesday's Child

By Rosemary Morris

Historical fiction, Romance

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394
7 mins

 



Tuesday's Child

Chapter One

St James Square, London
Late Spring, 1814

     Harriet Stanton clutched her three year-old son’s hand while she waited, with the utmost trepidation, for the front door of the Earl of Pennington’s imposing house to open. In desperate need of reassurance, Harriet glanced at her generous patroness, Georgianne Tarrant, who wore a fashionable cream muslin gown and pelisse. With a sigh, Harriet accepted she looked like an insignificant sparrow, in her shabby, plain black clothes, by comparison to Mrs Tarrant, whose clothes and every movement revealed the self-assurance of a beautiful young matron married to an extremely wealthy gentleman.
     Harriet shivered, wary of the two bruisers, employed by Major Tarrant to protect his wife, who stood behind them.
Protect Mrs Tarrant from what? She decided it would be impertinent to ask.
     Ill-at-ease on the verge of what might be a significant change in her life, Harriet turned her head to look over her shoulder at the muscular men, and Johnson, an intrepid former soldier, whom Mrs Tarrant employed to help with her charity, Foundation House for the Betterment of Former Soldiers and Their Families.
     Well, she was a soldier’s widow, whom, with Johnson’s help, Mrs Tarrant rescued. Yet what would happen if the earl rejected her and her son?
     While Harriet fought the familiar panic, which churned her stomach, the glossy black-painted door with brass fittings swung open, revealing the haughty middle-aged butler to whom she spoke on a previous occasion. A quiver passed across his face at the sight of the group on the doorstep. He took a small step back across the spotless black-veined white marble floor. Perhaps they alarmed him.
     Georgianne offered him her card.
     The dignified servant did not accept it. Instead, he looked down his nose. “His lordship is not at home.”
     Harriet held her son’s small hand a little tighter. “Come,” she told him, prepared to turn away from the door.
     “Wait.” Georgianne’s imperious voice halted Harriet.
      In response to a graceful flick of Georgianne’s gloved fingers, the burly bruisers stepped forward to stand on either side of the threshold.
     “I think you should reconsider,” the determined matron advised the butler. “If you shut the door in my face, my men might prove themselves capable of breaking the door down. Admit us”
     The butler’s face paled. He stepped back to allow them to enter the house.
     Applause, however well-deserved, would be vulgar, so Harriet did not obey her instinct to clap.
     “Please follow me.” The butler glanced at the bruisers and Johnson. “Not the three of you.”
     Georgianne squared her shoulders. “It is not for you to decide who accompanies me.”
     His back rigid with palpable indignation, the butler led them through a hall, perfumed by vases of white lilies and roses. When they followed him up a grand staircase with wrought iron bannisters, light from a circular skylight, set in the ceiling of the top floor, poured onto them. On the first floor, still holding her son’s hand, Harriet walked next to Mrs Tarrant along a wide gallery, hung with oil paintings of ladies and gentlemen dressed in the elaborate clothes of bygone ages.
     The butler opened one of a pair of doors. “Mrs Tarrant and her companions, my lord,” he announced.
     Wide-eyed, Harriet stepped into the room. She looked around. No expense had been spared in this house. A crystal chandelier hung above a mahogany table set with handpainted china and monogrammed silver flatware.
     While Johnson and the bruisers chose positions by the walls in the room hung with striped pea-green and gold wallpaper, an old gentleman, glared at his visitors from his seat at the table.
     With keen interest, Harriet scrutinised the peer of the realm. The earl’s purple turban did not flatter his wrinkled face with dark shadows under his eyes.
     Pennington glared at the butler. “What the devil, Jarvis? How many times have I instructed you not to admit visitors when I am in the breakfast parlour in a state of undress?”
     “Mrs Tarrant wouldn’t be denied, my lord,” the butler murmured, his face ashen.
     Harriet glanced from the earl to Jarvis. Why should the man fear the earl?
     His lordship smoothed a sleeve of his purple, gold embroidered banyan. “Don’t suppose Mrs Tarrant would be denied - glad I did not marry the termagent,” he muttered. “Jarvis, leave us.”
     Harriet gasped, amazed by the earl’s unpardonable rudeness. Mrs Tarrant ignored it.
     Harriet’s upper lip curled inward. The idea of the elderly nobleman, with prominent veins and dark splotches on his hands, married to a beauty young enough to be his granddaughter repulsed her.
     The earl glared at Mrs Tarrant. “Why are you here? Your husband will kill me if –”
     The expression in Georgianne Tarrant’s china-blue eyes hardened. “You wanted me to marry you to produce a son. Why, when you already had a legitimate heir?”
     The colour in the earl’s cheeks deepened. “Don’t mention my nephew, Wilfred Stanton. The thought of that clergyman inheriting my title sickens me.”
     Georgianne beckoned to Harriet to step forward with her son. “I shall explain matters after you have the courtesy to invite us to sit.”
Pennington scowled.“Ladies, be seated at the table.”
     Faint with nervous anticipation, with her son on her lap, Harriet perched on a chair next to her benefactress.
     “My lord, I am here to inform you have another heir,” Georgianne informed him.
     “Can it be?” Pennington asked in a broken voice.
     “Yes. May I present him? George Stanton, Viscount Castleton, and his mamma, Harriet Stanton, Vicountess Castleton.”
     Harriet caught her breath. Would her father-in-law accept them? Surely he would not reject her handsome son. “Don’t be shy, George, the gentleman is your grandfather. Please get down from my lap to make your bow.”
     Her son shook his head, and plugged his mouth with his thumb.
Georgianne shrugged before she spoke. “My lord, there is no reason for you not to acknowledge your grandson and daughter-in-law. Syddon, my attorney, has examined their claim. He assures me a court of law will uphold it.”
     Pennington leaned forward. “Have you proof?” he demanded.
In response to the earl’s sharp tone of voice, the bruisers, who had been standing still as soldiers before a superior officer shuffled their feet.
     “Yes, I assumed you would be suspicious.” With her ususal grace, Georgianne beckoned to Johnson, who stepped forward to hand a leather folder to the earl.
     Pennington pushed his plate forward to make space for the documents the folder contained. His eyebrows raised, he rifled through them. “I accept these are valid because I doubt Syddon, who I know is a famous attorney known for his integrity, would have stooped to forgery or aided and abetted deception.”
     He stared at Harriet, appearing to come to terms with the idea she and his grandson existed. Embarrassed, she fidgeted. A hot flush flooded her cheeks.
     “Lady Castleton, why did not you come to me after my son died?” the earl enquired, in a tone that seemed to imply she was guilty of an offence.
Intimidated by the harsh old man, her mouth dry, Harriet swallowed before she managed to answer. “Despite the longstanding rift between you and my late husband, my lord, I wrote to you many times from Portugal. When you did not reply, I came to England destitute and in despair. In your absence, your servants denied me entry to this house.” She summoned her courage, “Johnson, a soldier well-known to me and my husband in the Peninsula, approached me in Brighton,” she explained, with more confidence. “Later, he introduced us to my good angel, Mrs Tarrant. But for him, your grandson and I would have starved, most probably to death.”
     The expression on Pennington’s face softened, the skin stretched less tightly across his forehead. “This is terrible,” he responded, in a softer tone than the one he previously spoke in. “I did not receive your letters. Last year, after my eldest son died, I searched the Iberian Peninsular, walked the battle fields and visited many places in search of information. I heard rumours that my younger son married, and that after he fell at the Battle of Fuentes de Onoro his posthumous son was born. Alas, I could not substantiate them. No matter how hard I tried, I found no trace of you or my grandson.”
     “Thank you for searching for us.” She tried to calm her misgivings with the thought that age might have mellowed her father-in-law. Maybe he was no longer the cruel, unreasonable nobleman her husband once described.
      “No need for you to tell me more about your desperate situation, Lady Castleton, you and my grandson are welcome here, most welcome. From now on, you shall live with me.” His thin lips stretched into a smile.
How kind of him. The tension seeped out of every muscle in her body.

     “Thank you, my lord,” she replied, with great relief. 
     “Papa, you must call me Papa.” The earl turned his head to look at Georgianne. “However much I begrudge it, I am indebted to you, Madam.” A malicious glint appeared in his eyes. “It seems my sanctimonious nephew, Wilfred Stanton, will not be the next earl.” He chuckled. “Mrs Tarrant, I can only imagine the expression on his face when the news of my heir’s existence is broken to him.”
     “My lord, you forget I am well acquainted with Mister Stanton whose wife is my cousin. You are unjust. I know Mister Stanton is a God-fearing gentleman worthy of respect from you and everyone else.” Georgianne stood. “Now, I am sure you wish to make a generous donation to my charity and reward Johnson, who brought Lady Castleton and her son to my attention.”
     Pennington nodded, a sour expression on his face. 
    The earl rang a bell. The door opened; the butler preceded a pair of footmen into the parlour.
     “Jarvis.”
     “My lord?”
     “Instruct the housekeeper to have my late wife’s apartment prepared for Lady Castleton, and the nursery made ready for Lord Castleton. Tell her to arrange for a maidservant to attend to the child until a nurse is engaged.”
     Harriet shook her head. “My lord –” she began.
     “Papa,” he corrected her.
     “Papa,” she addressed him with reluctance for this old man could never replace her beloved father. “I would prefer to keep George with me until he is familiar with you and your servants.”
     “Very well.” Her father-in-law agreed, his grey eyes suddenly cold as the sea on a winter’s day.
     They reminded Harriet of tyrannical officers. She shivered.
“My lord, I shall take my leave.” Georgianne informed Pennington in a neutral tone. “Lady Castleton, when I reach home, I shall send your baggage here. Good day to you. She patted George on his head. “I hope to see you and your son soon. Please visit me whenever you wish.”

* * *

Thoughtful, Georgianne stepped out of the house into sunshine. Should she have warned Harriet about the earl? No, the young widow must judge him for herself. It would be wrong to prejudice her against her father-in-law. For all she knew, Harriet and her son might be the earl’s salvation. Georgianne ignored her inner voice, which expressed strong doubt. Well, she would keep in touch with Harriet, as she did with many other women who benefitted from her help.



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