In Which an Identity Is Mistaken
A fortnight of rain and indecent weather had left the horses lethargic and indifferent to the commands of the rider. What they wanted was a good fast chase across the downs to get their pure blood racing again and remind them what sort of creatures nature intended them to be. At least, that was Lady Fayth’s assessment-a view upheld by her father.
“Capital!” cried Lord Fayth when informed of his daughter’s wish to ride across the estate to the next village. “Tell her that I will accompany her. We will take tea on our return.”
“Of course, my lord,” replied Chalmers, Sir Edward’s butler. “Shall I notify the stables of His Lordship’s intentions?”
“No need. I shall do it myself. I will be going out as soon as I finish reviewing the accounts.”
“As you will, sir.”
After a light lunch of kippers and toast, Sir Edward went to the stables where Lady Fayth was checking the straps and harness on her mount. “Hello, my darling.” He bussed her cheek, then noticed the saddle. “I hope you are not thinking to ride with… that,” he said, distaste tugging down the edges of his mouth.
“Hello, Father,” she replied sweetly. “Why? Whatever do you mean?” She glanced around at the saddle. “Is there something wrong with the tack I have chosen?”
“In all honesty, Haven, if you insist on riding like a man, I do believe you deserve whatever fate befalls you.”
“The only thing likely to befall me today is a splash of mud on my new boots.” She lifted the hem of her dress and extended one shapely, booted foot for his inspection. “Do you like them?”
“Yes, very nice. But see here-”
“No, you see here. Do you really expect me to ride sidesaddle in a samite gown and wimple?”
“You think this a cause for levity, do you?”
“Perish the thought, my lord. I assure you, I give this matter all the seriousness it deserves.”
Seeing there was no arguing with her-there was never any way to gain the upper hand with the headstrong girl-Lord Fayth relented. “Have it your way, my dear,” he said. “But do not come crying to me when you find yourself a wizened spinster of twenty-five because all the eligible young men have shunned you as a pariah.”
“Is that likely to happen?” She seemed to consider this, and then smiled. “No.” She laughed. “I cannot foresee that at all. In any event, it is years away, and by then the shocking indiscretion of this day will be long forgotten-if not overshadowed by some other, ever greater transgression. So, come, Father dearest.” She looped her arm through his. “Let us ride while the sun is shining and we still have our good name. I will race you to the village green.”
The ride over the open hills and uplands of the western portion of Clarivaux’s vast acreage was an exercise in exhilaration. Lady Fayth, whose regard for her mount was suspect at the best of times, gave herself to the race and easily outdistanced her father-which was not entirely surprising for a man with both weight and age against him. She was strolling on the village green when he joined her.
“You ride like a hellion,” he told her bluntly. “It will be a miracle if you do not break your pretty neck one day.”
“Thank you, Father,” she replied. “But I thought you were constitutionally unable to believe in miracles. Your brother Henry believes enough for both of you-is that not what you always say?”
Lord Fayth patted the neck of his mount and looked around. “I fancy a tot of ale. Let us have a drink.”
“None of that,” his daughter chided. “It is much too early in the day, and besides, we will have tea waiting for us at home, remember.”
He gave another snort and dismounted. Lady Fayth strolled to her father and took his hand. “Someone has to keep an eye on your well-being, my lord. What will you do without me?”
“Do without you?” he wondered. “It is what to do with you that keeps me awake nights.”
“I am in earnest, sir.” She pressed her father’s hand for emphasis. “You know I only have your best interest at heart. Who will look after you while I am away?”
“I daresay I shall survive the ordeal, my dear, onerous as it may be. I only hope Henry can say the same when the year is out. All being well, I shall come up to London for Christmas.” Across the green, His Lordship’s eye caught the sign of the village bakery. “If we are not to imbibe a stirrup cup, let us at least bring home something tasty to have with our tea.”
They tethered their horses on the green and strolled to the bakery, where Lord Fayth selected an assortment of sweetmeats and fruited breads to be boxed and taken back to the manor as an accompaniment to afternoon tea. Owing to his seat on the board of the East India Trading Company, Lord Fayth, like his father before him, enjoyed a ready supply of the new commodity and saw it as his sworn duty to propagate the use of the substance in every way possible.
Upon their return, they saw that another horse had joined theirs on the green. The rider was nowhere to be seen. “There is a splendid animal,” Sir Edward said approvingly. “The man who owns that knows something of horses, I daresay.”
Lady Fayth regarded the creature with its shiny black coat, white fetlocks, and white blaze star in the middle of its broad forehead. She did not share her father’s passion for all things four-legged, but knew a good nag when she saw one. “It is a fine specimen,” she agreed. “I wonder whom it belongs to.”
As if in answer to her question, they heard a voice calling to them and turned to see a man just then emerging from the inn. “I say, hello there!” he called again.
They stopped and waited for him to approach. “Is this your horse, sir?” asked Lord Fayth.
“Indeed it is, sir,” replied the stranger. Lady Fayth cast an appraising glance over the tall man striding quickly across the green towards them. He carried himself with a bold confidence that seemed well-suited to his dark good looks. “This is Aquilo,” he said, indicating the horse.
Lady Fayth regarded the man instead: with his long black hair, proud moustaches, and flamboyant sideburns, the stranger gave every appearance of one who was part horse himself.
“I hope you do not mind sharing a bit of the green?” Before either of them could answer, the fellow bent his long torso in a crisp bow. “Archelaeus Burleigh, Earl of Sutherland, at your service. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
“I am Sir Edward Fayth, and this is my daughter, Haven,” answered her father.
Lady Fayth smiled and offered her hand, which the man who called himself Burleigh accepted and, after the briefest hesitation, raised to his lips. His eyes, however, never left her face. “Charmed,” he said, as she pulled her hand from his grasp.
“You are a long way from home, Sutherland,” observed Lord Fayth mildly. “What brings you to our patch-if I may be so bold?”
“Not at all, sir. It is a long story-which I shall not presume to inflict on you-but suffice to say that I am thinking of buying a property hereabouts. It is so very cold and dreary in the north. I have reached the time in life where I believe one must have a southern redoubt if one is to survive from one winter to the next.”
“Indeed, sir,” barked Sir Edward, all amiability and smiles. “I could not agree more.”
“If not for the tenants, I would consider a more permanent southern sojourn,” Burleigh explained, almost apologetically. “But with such a great many of them, what with seven towns and villages within the Glen Ardvreck boundaries…” He paused. “Forgive me, I am woolgathering. Northern habit, I fear. I am sorry.”
“Think nothing of it, sir,” offered Lord Fayth grandly. “I quite understand. This is a beautiful corner of the world, I say.” He brightened with a sudden thought. “If you are at a loose end this evening, would you like to come to dinner? Nothing fancy, mind, just an informal private supper. Bring Lady Burleigh, of course, and anyone else in your party.”
Lord Burleigh glanced at Lady Fayth and hesitated. “Well, I-”
“Ah, I have sprung it on you. Thoughtless of me. I suspect you have another engagement.”
“No, no, nothing like that,” Burleigh countered hastily. “I am so newly arrived I have no other engagements at present. And as for ‘Lady Burleigh,’ well-I am entirely on my own. My dear wife died several years ago, and I have never remarried.” He offered a wistful smile. “I am entirely without encumbrance at present, and I would be delighted to accept your kind offer.”
“Capital!” replied Lord Fayth, moving towards his horse. “We will expect you around half seven.”
“I will be there.”
They left the Earl of Sutherland on the village green. Lady Fayth made a point not to look at him again; there was something about the man she did not trust entirely-a touch of ruthlessness around the mouth, a coldness in his dark eyes… something she could not name but which put her on her guard.
Later, when they had returned their horses to the stables and were walking back to the house, Lord Fayth observed, “Good man, that Burleigh.”
“Oh? Really?” She stopped walking. “You had heard of him, then?”
“How should I have heard of him? He said himself he’s only just come south.”
“He is an earl, my dear,” asserted His Lordship. “Sits a peg or two above our station, I daresay. A fine gentleman-as anyone can plainly see.” He glanced sideways at his daughter. “Do you disagree?”
“I do not profess to know the man. I fail to see how anyone can form a cogent opinion based on a few pleasantries muttered in passing.”
“Ha!” Her father continued striding across the gravelled yard. “Obviously, you are no judge of character, my dear. Breeding always tells.”
These words were still echoing in her mind when, after their cosy meal of cold mutton and turnip mash, talk turned to families and mutual connections the men might share. The three were sitting in her father’s study where a fire had been laid; the men were sipping brandy and Haven was pretending to occupy herself with a swatch of needlepoint, the same piece she had been working on for over a year to no appreciable effect. She was listening to their talk and trying to decide where to place Burleigh precisely in her estimation-an ordinarily simple matter for a young woman of strong opinion and quick judgement. But for some reason, the earl was proving extremely elusive in this regard. Every time she felt she had gained an understanding, he would say something-a turn of phrase, an observation, a single word even-that confused her and put her usually reliable feminine intuition out of joint.
“Of course,” Burleigh was saying as he swilled his brandy around the rim of the bowl, “as a student of the natural sciences myself, I am sure I would find your work fascinating. I hazard a surmise that we might even share some of the same interests.”
“My work?” Lord Fayth frowned. “I must confess that I do not dabble in the sciences, sir. These modern men of inquiry,” he sniffed, and took a sip of brandy. “Not worth a boot rag the lot of them, if you ask me.”
For the first time that evening, Burleigh’s expression betrayed confusion and something else. Shock? Whatever it was, Haven thought she had glimpsed something of the real man beneath the veneer of aristocratic indifference. “Perhaps I misunderstand you, sir,” he suggested delicately, and his manner resumed its easy bonhomie.
“I do not think I could be any clearer on the subject. This science will be the death of us all.”
“Father,” said Lady Fayth, speaking up, “I think our guest has confused you with Sir Henry.”
“Oh? Is that so?” Lord Fayth turned to Burleigh once more. “Ah, yes, I see. Of course.”
“Sir Henry?” wondered Burleigh.
“My lunatic brother, Henry Fayth-he’s completely taken in by all this natural science tosh. A wicked waste of a man’s time, if you want my opinion.”
Before Burleigh could respond to this provocative sentiment, Lady Fayth challenged her father’s assertion. “He is not a lunatic, dear Father. Far from it. Uncle Henry is one of the wisest men I know.” She smiled at Burleigh, adding, “My uncle is a charming and gracious man-and one of the leading lights of the new sciences.”
“Mad as a March hare,” put in Edward. “Always has been. Lives alone in London like a monk in a cell-a miserable hermit. Never married. Claims it would interfere in his valuable work. Though what that is, God knows. Can’t make head or tail of his gibberish.”
“Father, really,” chided Haven. “You give our guest entirely the wrong impression.”
“Please, I assure you I have formed no impression whatsoever,” offered Burleigh. “I prefer to take things as I find them-a practice that has served me well all my life.”
“Good for you, sir,” affirmed Lord Fayth. He reached for the decanter. “More brandy, my lord earl?”
Conversation moved on to local matters-chiefly farming, horses, and hounds-and Lady Fayth, having endured enough of what she considered boorish blather, announced that it was time for her to retire. “I will leave you two to set the world to rights,” she said lightly. “Lord Burleigh, it was very nice making your acquaintance. I pray your stay in the southlands is entirely to your edification and profit.”
“I thank you, my lady,” he said. “Even in my short acquaintance I have found the folk hereabouts very much to my liking. Edification will surely follow in its course.” He rose from his chair and took her offered hand. “I wish you a good night and pleasant dreams.” He patted her hand, then kissed it. “Until we meet again.”
“I very much doubt that we shall,” replied Lady Fayth. “I am away to London in the morning and plan to be there for some time. But inasmuch as I expect you and my father will find all sorts of pursuits with which to occupy yourselves, you shan’t miss me in the least.”