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Working Man, Society Bride

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Working Man, Society Bride Mary Nichols HarperCollins EUR Well over six feet tall, with broad, broad shoulders, he was the best-looking man Lady Lucinda Vernley had ever seenand the most insufferably rude! With her family expecting her to make a good marriage according to her station, how could she possibly be fantasizing about a man she had seen working on her father's estate? It was tempting, though, to dream of a world where there were no social boundaries or rules.Myles Moorcroft didn't dress the gentleman, but by his manner there was something about him that had Lucy well and truly attracted and intrigued. . . . Can I tempt you to a boat trip, my lady? Lucy became aware of a man in a rowing boat pulling toward her, but she was so mesmerized that she felt no fear. A few more deft strokes with the oars and he had drawn up by the bank beside her. She knew who he was, of course, had known almost from the beginning, and the strange thing was that she wasnt at all surprised. How did you know I would be here? I didnt. I simply hoped you would be. His hand was outstretched. She could reach out and take it and seal her own fate, or she could turn and run and her fate would still be sealedin another way. The choice was hers. She took the hand. Working Man, Society Bride Harlequin Historical MARY NICHOLS Born in Singapore, Mary Nichols came to England when she was three, and has spent most of her life in different parts of East Anglia. She has been a radiographer, school secretary, information officer and industrial editor, as well as a writer. She has three grown children and four grandchildren. Mary Nichols Working Man, Society Bride TORONTO NEW YORK LONDON AMSTERDAM PARIS SYDNEY HAMBURG STOCKHOLM ATHENS TOKYO MILAN MADRID PRAGUE WARSAW BUDAPEST AUCKLAND Available from Harlequin Historical and MARY NICHOLS The Incomparable Countess #156 Lady Lavinias Match #163 A Lady of Consequence #169 Mistress of Madderlea #177 The Hemingford Scandal #196 Marrying Miss Hemingford #199 Bachelor Duke #204 Dear Deceiver #213 An Unusual Bequest #218 The Reluctant Escort #226 Talk of the Ton #236 Working Man, Society Bride #244 DONT MISS THESE OTHER NOVELS AVAILABLE NOW: #911 THE SHOCKING LORD STANDONLouise Allen Encountering a respectable governess in scandalizing circumstances, Gareth Morant, Earl of Standon, demands her help. He educates the buttoned-up Miss Jessica Gifford in the courtesans arts. But he hasnt bargained on such an ardent, clever pupilor on his passionate response to her! 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As they travel together, both keeping secrets, attraction flares, but Reynaud knows he cant offer Leonor what she deserves. Travel on a thrilling journey through Medieval France and Spain! #243 A WORTHY GENTLEMANAnne Herries Miss Sarah Hunter was delighted at the prospect of a Season in Londonand at the opportunity to spend time with the man whod once saved her life! But Mr. Elworthy was much changed. The final exciting novel in Anne HerriessThe Hellfire Mysteries Contents Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter One July 1844 After waiting outside the station for twenty minutes while a train from another line passed through, the train from London drew into Leicester and hissed to a halt. The Countess of Luffenham and her daughter, Lady Lucinda Vernley, waited until a porter came along to open the door before stepping down on to the platform. Lucy was glad to leave the sticky heat of the carriage and breathe fresh air again. She would have liked to open the window as soon as they left London, but her mother forbade it on the grounds that they would be choked on the smoke and covered in black smuts, which they would never be able to clean off their clothes. And as their clothes had cost the Earl a pretty penny, they would have to put up with the heat. And so, for six interminable hours, they had sat and cooked. Mama did not like travelling by train and would have much preferred to go by coach, but that would have taken even longer and necessitated changing the horses every dozen or so miles and staying at least one night somewhere on the road. The Earl, for all his apparent wealth, was a careful man and begrudged the cost when they could travel first class by rail and reach London inside a day. When his wife had mildly pointed out that they still had to be taken to the railhead by carriage and fetched again on their return, he had given her a lecture on the economics of using his own horses for a short ride and railways for a longer trip, and she had fallen silent. Arguing with the Earl was something she was not prepared to do. Good afternoon, my lady, the porter said, touching his cap and taking her small valise from her to carry it out to the waiting carriage. Shall the wagon be coming for your luggage? Yes. You will find everything labelled. See that it is all loaded properly. The last time we travelled a hatbox was lost and it took days for it to be found and returned to me. I was very sorry about that, my lady. Ill make sure it doesnt happen again. They swept past the luggage van where two porters were busy disgorging boxes, trunks, portmanteaux and hatboxes on to the platform. They looked up from their task to watch the ladies go. The Countess, who did not deign to notice them, walked past, looking straight ahead, her back ramrod straight. She was dressed in a gown of some silky, striped material in three shades of brown: chocolate, amber and coffee. Her hat, trimmed with feathers, flowers and loops of ribbon, echoed these colours. Her daughter was in deep pink, the bodice of her gown closely fitting, its voluminous skirt arranged in tiers each trimmed with matching lace. She wore a short cape and a tiny bonnet set on the back of her pretty head. They were followed by a maid in dove grey. When all three disappeared from sight, the men shrugged their shoulders and returned to their task. The carriage was waiting with the hood down and they were soon on their way through the familiar countryside of Leicestershire. This was rolling terrain, with hills and dales, some quite steep, good hunting-and-shooting country. Cattle and sheep grazed in the meadows and cut hay lay on the fields to dry. Field workers, who were turning the hay with rakes, looked up as they passed; some who recognised the carriage touched their caps or gave a little bob of a curtsy. The Countess graciously acknowledged this with a tiny inclination of her head. At the halfway point the carriage drew into the yard of a posting inn where Mr Downham, the Earls steward, had arranged for fresh horses to be brought to complete the journey. The ones that had met them at the station would be taken on to Luffenham the next morning after they had been rested. While the change was being made, the Countess and her daughter went inside the inn for refreshment. It was a time-honoured practice that was rapidly dying out as the new railways spread their tentacles across the countryside. But there was still no line near enough to Luffenham Hall to obviate the need for a change of horses. When they returned to their seats, the hood had been put up because they would not be home before late evening and by then it would be dusk and growing cooler. Well, Lucy, the Countess said, when they were on their way once more, nearly home. Yes, Mama. In one way Lucy was glad to be going home after two months in London as a dbutante; she loved the countryside and countryside pursuits, especially riding her mare, Midge. On the other hand she would miss the excitement of the balls, soires, picnics and other outings, which had filled her days and evenings while she had been in the capital, not to mention the young men who had danced attendance on her. It would have been flattering if she hadnt known it was because she was the daughter of an earl and therefore a catch. It is to be hoped you have benefited from your season, her mother went on. Your father was of a mind that something might come of it. I know, Mama. You did like Mr Gorridge, didnt you? Mr Edward Gorridge was the son of Viscount Gorridge, a neighbour and old acquaintance of her father, although Lucy had never met the young man before being introduced to him in London. He had been away at school and then university and after that had been on the Grand Tour and their paths had never crossed. Yes, Mama. But I am not at all sure that I should like to be married to him. Why ever not? Lucy found it hard to explain. Edward Gorridge had been polite, fastidious in his dress and behaviour, but there was something about his pale eyes she found disturbing. I dont know, Mama. I think he is a cold fish. Fish! Lucy, how can you say so? I thought he was charming. Charming, yesbut was he sincere? And is charm a good basis for marriage? It is a start. Her mother had used every opportunity, every wile known to her, to throw her and Mr Gorridge together without breaching the bounds of propriety and Lucy had more than a suspicion that her parents had already decided he should be her husband. She did not know why they were in such a hurry to have her marriedshe had not yet reached her twenty-first birthday and, as far as she was concerned, there was plenty of time. She wanted to enjoy being a young lady a little longer, to find just the right man, and was convinced she would know him when she met him. Why him, Mama? Why not one of the others? Did you find yourself attracted to one of the others? If so, you gave no indication of it. You said Mr Gorridge was a cold fish, but you did not appear to warm to anyone yourself. I found them all a little shallow. No doubt some of them were, but surely not all? I thought you would take to Mr Gorridge. He has a little more about him. Lucy laughed. More about him! You mean hes heir to Viscount Gorridge and will come into Linwood Park one day. It is a consideration. For you and Papa perhaps, but not for me. I want to be in love with the man I marry. Love is not the only consideration, Lucy, nor yet the first. It grows as you learn to live together and accommodate each other. Papa has a great regard for me, you know he does, and I hold him in deep respect and affection, but that was not how it started. How did it start? Lucy would never have dared to ask such a question a few weeks before, but her mother seemed to be inviting it. We met at a ball, during my come-out Season. My papa had looked over all the eligiblesthats what we used to call them in those daysand decided your father was the best choice. He was already a Viscount, heir to the old Earl, whose country home was Luffenham Hall. The family, like my own, was a very old and respected one. I had nothing against the match and neither had he and we met frequently at balls and soires and tea parties, and it was taken for granted he would propose. Which he did. Yes. Very properly, after our fathers had agreed a settlement. Were you never carried away by passion? I should think not! Ladies, Lucinda, do not speak of passion. I believe you have been reading too many novels, or perhaps Miss Bannister has been filling your head with nonsense. If that is the case, then we shall have to reconsider her position. Lilian Bannister was governess to the family; though Lucy no longer needed her, she was still employed looking after Rosemary and Esme and young Johnny until he was old enough for a tutor. Oh, Mama, of course she has not. Ill swear Banny doesnt know the meaning of the word. In spite of herself, the maid smiled. She was not supposed to hear the conversations of her betters, much less react to them, but she could not help it. A more stiffly correct figure than Miss Bannister would be hard to imagine, but as Bert, the footman she was secretly walking out with, was fond of saying, Still waters run deep. Perhaps not, but I beg you not to let your papa hear you say such things. You must conduct yourself with decorum, or you will find Mr Gorridge looking elsewhere. Lucy would not have minded if he did, but decided it would be unwise to say so. Is he looking at me for a future wife? she asked innocently. If he is, he gave no sign of it. Perhaps he was waiting for a little encouragement. Lucy doubted it. They had been carefully chaperoned the whole time, but on one occasion, when she had been strolling in the garden to cool down after a particularly strenuous dance at one of the balls they had attended, he had come upon her and flirted outrageously, even taking her hand and bending to kiss her cheek. She was sure that given the encouragement her mother was talking about he would have behaved even more disgracefully. She was glad when other dancers came out to join them and he returned to being the polite, courteous man he had been hitherto. I cannot dissemble, Mama, it is not in my nature. When I meet the man of my dreams, he will need no encouragement to know how I feel. Oh, I am losing all patience with you, child. When we go to Linwood Park next month, it is to be hoped you will have come to your senses and realised you cannot let such a chance slip through your fingers. I wonder if Mr Gorridge is being told the same thing, Lucy mused. Very likely, her mother said. There didnt seem to be any answer to that and Lucy sat back and mused on what her mother had said. She did not think she was truly ready to commit herself to marriage and she was afraid of making a terrible mistake. It was all very well to talk of the man of her dreams, but who was he? How was she ever going to meet him? And what about Mr Gorridge? Why could she not oblige her mama and take to him? Was she doing him an injustice calling him a cold fish? Perhaps, in the surroundings of his own home, he might improve. Its been a long day the Countess broke in on her thoughts and not over yet. I would much rather have travelled in the old way and stopped for a night somewhere. We could have stayed at a good hotel or put up with Cousin Arabella in Hertfordshire and arrived home feeling fresh. I am exhausted. You will be able to stay in bed until luncheon tomorrow if you want to. The Countess laughed. I might very well do so, seeing that your father is not due back until tomorrow evening. I do not know why he could not have done his business days ago and returned with us. The Earl had escorted them to some of their social engagements, but much of the time was closeted with bankers and lawyers on business; as he did not consider it necessary or desirable to acquaint his wife with the nature of the business, she had no idea what it was all about. They fell into silence as the heat of the day cooled and the shadows lengthened. The clip-clop of the horses hooves and the rumble of the wheels were soporific and they were almost dozing when the carriage turned off the main road on to a lane that wound uphill. When they topped the rise, they could see down into the valley where Luffenham Hall nestled, shielded from the prevailing east wind by the hill down which they were descending and a small stand of trees. Lucy roused herself to look out of the window as the carriage turned in at the wrought-iron gates. Ahead of her, at the end of a long drive, was the imposing fa?ade of the house, with its redbrick walls covered in generations of creeper. At each corner of the building was a white stone turret with glazed slits for windows. Lucy always supposed her fathers forebears had been undecided whether to build a warm country house or a castle. The result was an incongruous mix, which she was happy to call home. Before the carriage came to a stop on the wide sweep of gravel at the front entrance, the door was flung open and a small figure in a nightshirt dashed down the steps to greet them. He should be in bed, the Countess said, but she was smiling because Johnny had wrenched open the door before the coachman could do so and clambered inside to embrace his mother. Oh, Mama, Im so glad to see you. Youve been gone ages and ages and I wanted you to see me riding Peggy. I jumped him over a fence and Collins said Id make a huntsman yet. The little pony had optimistically been named Pegasus by Johnny, who was convinced he was a flyer, but the name had been shortened to Peggy. Ill see you ride tomorrow, his mother said, pushing him off her lap. Do let us go indoors. They trooped into the house, the inside of which was an eclectic mix of old and new, some large airy rooms, but many smaller rooms that had, over the years, been designated for particular purposes, which in a more modern house would have been included in the overall plan. The hall itself was large and covered in black-and-white marble tiles. Here they were met by the butler and Miss Bannister, who had come looking for her charge. Im sorry, my lady, but he would come down. So I see, but take him to bed now. And in answer to her sons wails of protests that he wanted to hear all about their trip to London, she said, Tomorrow will be time enough for that, Johnny. I am very tired after my journey, so run along, theres a good boy. He went reluctantly. Lucy could not help comparing the way he was treated by their mother with the way she and her sisters had been brought up. They would never have had the courage to defy Miss Bannister and come downstairs after they were supposed to be in bed and would certainly not have dared to argue with their parents about it. But it was understandable, she supposed. After having three daughters, her mother had given up hope of a son, and then Johnny had arrived, eight years after Esme, so was it any wonder he was the apple of his parents eye and they could not bring themselves to punish him when he was naughty? Annette, the maid, followed the governess and the boy upstairs to take off her bonnet and make sure there was hot water for her mistress in her room and her nightclothes were put out in readiness. Sarah, the most senior of chambermaids, would have done what was necessary for Lady Lucinda. Miss Rosemary and Miss Esme are in the small saloon, the butler told them. They have waited supper for you. Oh, dear, and I thought I would have supper in my room and go straight to bed, her ladyship said, not to the butler, of course, but to Lucy, as they made their way past an anteroom that served as a cloakroom and, ignoring the doors that led to the large reception rooms, proceeded down a gallery lined with pictures to one of the smaller rooms towards the back of the building where they sat when they had no visitors. I really do not think I have the energy for their chatter. Then go to bed, Mama. I am sure they will understand. I will tell them all they want to know. I think I will, she agreed, joining her other daughters. Rosemary, at seventeen, was as tall as Lucy, but her hair was darker and piled up in loops and ringlets that had taken the maid who looked after her ages to produce. She was wearing a yellow-and-white striped dress with a cream lace bertha and tight sleeves ending in a fall of lace. Lucy, who was not so particular over her appearance, except when Annette was helping her to get ready for an important function at which she was expected to shine, had often thought that her sister was more in tune with what their mother expected of a daughter than she was. Lucy did not have the patience for elaborate hairstyles, preferring to tie her hair up and back and let the light-brown tresses fall in ringlets where they would. After her long journey, she yearned to brush it out. Fourteen-year-old Esmes hair was lighter and was worn very simply tied back with ribbon. She had not yet lost her puppy fat and had plump, rosy cheeks and blue eyes. Her dress was a pale cream colour with a wide green sash. She was sitting on a stool beside the window, but jumped up when her mother and sister entered. The Countess stayed long enough to receive a dutiful peck on the cheek from each girl and a murmured, We are glad to have you home, Mama, before leaving them. As soon as she had gone the girls launched into quizzing their sister. What was it like travelling by train? Did you meet the Queen? Did you see Prince Albert? Is he as serious as they say he is? Did you go to many balls? What did you wear? Did you have all the beaux falling at your feet? Did you get a proposal? Hold you horses, I cant answer all your questions at once, you know. Ill tell you all about it while we have supper. She hurried to her room, washed and changed into a light sprigged muslin and brushed out her hair. Feeling fresher, she rejoined her sisters in the smaller of the two dining rooms. Lucy was ravenous, having eaten only a light repast at the inn two hours beforeand that had been the first food to pass her lips since they had set out from London before eight that morning. The meal was a cold collation and, once it was on the table, they were left to serve themselves. Now come on, Lucy, dont keep us in suspense, Rosemary chided her as she filled her plate. We want to know everything, dont we, Esme? Lucy indulged them with a description of her first ride in a train, which had had her heart in her mouth until she became used to the speed, of tales of the balls she had attended, the picnics she had enjoyed, the rides in Hyde Park, the people she had met. Did you really meet the Queen? Rosemary asked. I was presented in a long line, if you can call that meeting her. Shes very tiny and quite pretty, but I could see she was determined to stand on her dignity. I imagine Prince Albert has his hands full, though she seems besotted by him. Its funny, isnt it? Mama was only telling me today that one could not expect to fall in love with the man one marries until after the wedding. It seems to have happened to Her Majesty. What about you? This from Esme. Did you fall in love? No. Why not? Did no one express undying love for you? No. Oh, how disappointing. Not at all. Theres plenty of time. I did meet one young man Mama and Papa seem quite keen on. But are you? I dont know what to think. Hes pleasant enough, I suppose. Pleasant? Is that all? Who is he? Mr Edward Gorridge, heir to Viscount Gorridge. Of Linwood Park! Rosemary exclaimed. Oh, Lucy, thats a palace. Just think about being mistress of all that. Did he propose? No, he did not. Its much too soon. We have to get to know each other better, so Mama says. How are you going to do that? Esme asked. Is he coming here? No, Mama and Papa are taking me to Linwood Park at the invitation of the Viscount. We are going to visit for a few days next month. Oh, how I envy you. Lucy smiled at her younger sister. At fourteen she was not yet out of the schoolroom. Your turn will come. Not before Ive had mine, Rosemary said. And you can be sure I shall not turn my nose up at someone like Mr Gorridge, simply because he is merely pleasant. Pleasant will do for me if a place like Linwood Park comes with it. Rosie, how can you say that? Esme said. That would be asking to be miserable. Wealth is no guarantee of happiness. Rosemary laughed. No, but I could be miserable in comfort. Love is all very well, but it cannot survive in a garret. I certainly should not like it. Its a good thing we are not all alike, Rosie, Lucy said. Or no poor man would ever marry. Like marries like, Rosemary said flatly. Its the way it is. A lady cannot marry a labourer, any more than a princess would marry a pauper. Well, I am determined not to wait until after Im married to fall in love with my husband, Esme put in. Supposing you married someone and then met someone else and fell in love with him, it would be too late, wouldnt it? I would rather not risk it. It was a sentiment with which Lucy concurred. She would give herself a chance to fall in love with Mr Gorridge and she hoped it would happen because, if she refused him, she did not know what her parents would say or do. Did the labouring classes have these problems? she wondered. Did their parents dangle prospective partners in front of them and expect them to marry on the slightest acquaintance? What incentive would there be to do that? They were not encumbered by titles and wealth and the need to marry well. Sometimes she regretted her fathers rank and the need for her to conform. On the other hand, Rosie was right; she would not like living in a garret at all. If garrets were anything like the servants rooms on the top floor of Luffenham Hall, they were too small to swing the proverbial cat and where would she keep all her clothes? There wasnt much chance of that happening, considering she was unlikely to meet a labourer socially. How else did couples meet and fall in love? She resolved to try very hard to love Mr Gorridge and the best way to do that was to concentrate on his good points and ignore those she found less attractive. As soon as they had finished their meal she told her sisters she was tired after her journey and, dropping a kiss on the cheek of each, went up to bed. She woke early next morning to the sound of birdsong and, without waiting for the chambermaid, hurried out of bed to draw the curtains. The window looked out on the stable yard; beyond that was a paddock and on the other side of that the park that made up the grounds of the Hall. The village of Luffenham could not be seen from the house because of the screening of trees, but the top of the steeple was visible against a clear blue sky. It was going to be another scorching day. She washed in the cold water left on the wash stand, scrambled into her habit, tied back her hair with a ribbon and pulled on her riding boots. Grabbing her hat, she hurried downstairs to the kitchen. My, youre about early, Miss Lucy, Cook said. Ive only just started preparing breakfast. A glass of milk and a piece of toast will do, Mrs Lavender. Ill have it here, like I used to when I was little. I want to have a ride before it gets too hot. Miss Lucinda, you are not little any longer. You are a young lady who is well and truly out, and I am not sure your mama would approve of you eating in the kitchen. Oh, dont be so stuffy, Mrs L. Besides, Mama is still fast asleep in bed. It was said with an engaging smile. If I wait to have breakfast in the dining room, the morning will be half gone. And with that she put her hat on the table and sat down, knowing she would have her way. The cook sighed and poured her a glass of creamy milk, just delivered from the cowshed, and pushed a toasting fork into a slice of bread. Ill do it, Lucy said, taking it from her. You get on with whatever you were doing. She sat on the fender in front of the range and opened its door to toast the bread. Youll spoil your complexion sitting so close to the fire, Cook said. Her own cheeks were rosy from working in constant heat. Hold something in front of your face. Lucy laughed and ignored her. What has been going on while Ive been away? Has Sally-Anns young man proposed yet? Sally-Ann was one of the maids who was walking out with a groom. Has your sister had her baby? Have they started haymaking on Home Farm? The cook laughed. You dont change, Miss Lucy. Still as full of questions as ever. How can I learn if I dont question? And thats another one. In answer to your first, yes, Andrew has proposed, but theyve decided to wait a year before naming the day, and you are burning that toast. Lucy hastily pulled it off the fork and turned it over before holding it to the fire again. And the rest? My sister has had a boy, but it was touch and go. It was a difficult birth and she lost a great deal of blood and the infant was weak She stopped suddenly, remembering her audience was an unmarried and carefully nurtured young lady. But I should not be telling you such things. Suffice to say he is beginning to put on a little weight now and is to be called Luke after his father. And I forget your last question. Have they started the haymaking? I heard they were going to make a start today. Why do you want to know that? I like to watch the men at work. Miss Lucy! The cook was shocked, knowing, as Lucy did, that the men worked in shirtsleeves, many of them with their sleeves rolled up, displaying muscular arms and, in the absence of collars and ties, a certain amount of neck and chest. Lucy, laughing, removed the toasted bread from the fork and returned to the table to spread it thickly with butter. Theres no harm in seeing how the work is done. I admire the skill of the men, all working in unison. It must be back-breaking, but they are all so cheerful. So they would be, considering the wet winter we had and everything so late. They are glad to be working again. Are you sure you wont have any more to eat? Thats hardly enough to keep you going all morning. It is quite enough, Cook. For the last two months Ive had nothing but seven-course meals, tea parties and complicated picnics. I have had my fill of food. You enjoyed yourself, then? Oh, yes, it was wonderful, but Im glad to be home. She finished the milk. Now Im off to have Midge saddled. With that she picked up her hat and danced out of the kitchen door, munching the last of the toast as she went. The outside staff were all busy. Some were working in the garden, others grooming the horses that had brought her and her mother home. Some were cleaning out the carriage; others were saddling up some of the riding horses to exercise them. The horse master had a young colt on a long lead and was training him to answer to the bit. She watched for a moment in admiration and then went into the stables where Midge put her head over one of the doors and snickered. She stroked her nose. Have you missed me, old thing? Well, lets go and have a good gallop, shall we? She opened the door and slipped inside to saddle her. Miss Lucy, Ill do that for you. It was young Andrew, Sally-Anns intended. Thank you, Andrew, but, if you are busy, I can do it myself. Not too busy, miss. I mean, my lady. He hurriedly corrected himself, remembering she had just returned from her dbutante season in London and that meant she was grown up and a proper lady now and must be treated as such. I must make sure the girth is properly tightened or his lordship will have my head on a plate. She laughed. Miss will do fine, Andrew. She watched as he deftly saddled the mare. I believe congratulations are in order. And, because he looked puzzled, added, I understand you have spoken for Sally-Ann. Oh, yes, miss, thank you, miss. He led the horse out into the yard and bent to clasp his hands for her to mount. Mind how you go. She hasnt had much exercise lately. I will. She accepted her crop from him and trotted out of the yard towards the drive. Halfway down she turned and cantered across the grass and on to the parkland that surrounded the Hall. Midge was frisky and Lucy decided that the park was too restricting and made her way to a gate, which led on to a lane. From there, she found her way on to a wide, grassy track between a meadow and a field of growing wheat. Due to a cold, wet spring, the second year in succession, the wheat had struggled to grow and the harvest would be late. She had heard tell that there was new machinery being tried that would do the job of several men and wondered if they would accept that, or would they be afraid of being thrown out of work, as the cotton workers had been a few years before? Life was hard enough for them as it was, what with one poor harvest after another and the price of corn kept artificially high, but how would they fare if farmers began to mechanise jobs that until now had been done by men? The haymakers were busy in one of the meadows and she reined in for a minute to watch. The men were moving steadily forward, their muscular arms, tanned from the sun, working to an age-old rhythm. Swathe after swathe fell to their scythes and behind them the women raked it out to dry in the sun. She rode on and up on to the heath, where she let the mare have her head and before long they left the cultivated fields behind. The heath was covered in scrub and a few trees, where sheep nibbled at the heather and sparse grass. Skylarks nested up here, and butterflies flitted from flower to flower. Overhead a kestrel hovered. She drew the horse to a walk as they topped the rise and then stopped to sit, looking down on to a valley with a river snaking along the bottom. Down there were more cultivated fields, and a few farm buildings. Across the valley more sheep grazed on more meadows. It was all her fathers land, acres and acres of it that had been in the family since the Reformation, as he was very fond of telling anyone who would listen. It was good hunting-and-shooting country, too, and later in the year her father would invite friends and relations to stay for a weeks shooting and again just after Christmas for the hunt, as he did every year. She put her hand up to her face to shade her eyes when she spotted three men in the valley. They were certainly not labourers, because two were dressed in top hats and tailcoats. The third was more casually dressed. They appeared to be examining something on the ground and she spurred her horse down the steep slope towards them, crossed a narrow wooden bridge over the river and cantered up to them. She realised as she drew near that they were using a theodolite and one carried a notebook in which he was making notes. They looked towards her when they heard the horse and the youngest of the three, who had been squatting down examining the ground, stood up. He was a hugely impressive specimen of manhood. Well over six feet tall, his shoulders were massive, straining the cloth of his tweed tailcoat. His chest was broad and his hips, clad in plain brown trousers, were slim. He wore a loosely tied neckcloth and, unlike the other two, he was hatless. His curly light brown hair was worn collar length. He had large hands that, at the moment she reined in and stopped, were crumbling the soil between his fingers. He smiled, displaying even, white teeth. Good morning, miss. His accent, while by no means uncouth and certainly not betraying the patois of the peasant, was not refined as a gentlemans would be. She found it difficult to take her eyes off him and, though she knew there were two others present, she was facing him and him alone. What are you doing? she asked, without returning his greeting. Surveying, miss. Surveying what? The land, miss, for a railway. Here? She was astonished. She had heard her father say more than once that he abominated railways and would not have one on his land, which was inconsistent considering he used trains himself when it suited him. It looks as good a route as any, but we cant tell until weve walked the whole way. From where to where? Leicester to Peterborough, to join the Eastern Counties Railway to the Midland. I find it difficult to believe my father has agreed to it. And who is your father? He did not appear at all overawed, which made her all the more determined to stand on her dignity. The Earl of Luffenham and, before you ask, you are on his land, which, if you are surveying, you surely know already. The young man bowed, though it was more a formality than any show of respect. I am sorryif I had known who you were, my lady, I would have addressed you correctly. He saw before him an arrogant child of wealth and class on a superb horse. Judging by the size of the horse and the easy way she sat on it, she was quite tall. Her riding habit, which was spread decorously over her feet, was of dark-blue taffeta with military-style frogging across the jacket. Her tiny riding hat, with its wisp of a veil, was perched on top of dark golden ringlets. Her eyes, looking fearlessly into his, were greeny-grey. He would have liked to despise her, but found himself admiring her spirit. She was evidently not afraid of approaching three men and telling them exactly what she thought of them. That doesnt answer my question. Has my father agreed? We are not seeking the agreement of anyone at the moment, my lady. We have yet to establish the feasibility of such a line. And to do that, it appears you must trespass. One of the others gave a little cough, which made her drag her eyes away from the young man towards him. My lady, I think you will find the Earls land begins on the other side of the water. And he pointed in the direction of the river behind her. It does not. It extends up to that ridge. Her riding crop indicated where she meant. This whole area is Luffenham land. She swept her arm in a wide arc. Until we see evidence we must beg to differ, my lady. Then I suggest you apply to the Earl, who will no doubt supply it. In the meantime, desist whatever it is you are doing. The youngest man laughed and she swung round to face him again. It is not a laughing matter. His amber eyes were alight with amusement. I am sorry, my lady, but we have been given a job to do and we will not meekly leave it on the say-so of a young lady who can have no idea what she is talking about. I suggest you continue your ride and we will talk to your papa when the time is right. His condescension infuriated her; though she would have liked to go on arguing, she was not sure enough of her facts, and instead wheeled round and cantered off. Once back over the river, she slowed to a walk, though she did not look back. She was sure that if she did, she would see that they had resumed their inspection of the terrain. She ought to have asked their names so that she could tell her father who they were, but nothing on earth would persuade her to humiliate herself further by turning back to do so. The man had been insufferably rude and the two others, who were older and should have tried to curb him, had said nothing, except to back him up. But my, he was a handsome devil, all bone and musclebut he had a warm smile and laughing eyes, which in some measure made up for his insolence. Of course he would not approach her father, that would be done by his superiors, which was a pity because she would have liked to meet him again, if only to confirm her first impressions that he was a conceited brute of a man who had no idea how to behave towards a lady. She wondered what her father would say when she told him of the encounter. He hated change, anything that might interrupt his ordered way of life, and she had heard him rant against the railways so often, she knew he would send the deputation away and threaten to shoot them if they came back on to his land. And he would be angry with her for even speaking to them, so perhaps it would be best to say nothing. He would find out for himself soon enough. Myles had not returned to his task, but was standing watching her go, admiring the way she rode, her back held straight, the reins held easily in her gloved hands. He realised he had been arrogant and had not explained carefully enough that he and his colleagues were simply trying to find the best route for the line and that the Earls land, far from being compact, was sprawled all over the place, taking in a farm here, a hamlet there, woodland, heath and pasture, as small parcels had been added over the years. A broad strip stuck out like a tongue between the Gorridge estate and the land on the other side, which his father had bought a few years before to build himself a mansion. The railway, if it took the shortest route, which it was almost bound to do because it was costed per mile, would cross straight over that small tongue before going on to the Gorridge estate. Viscount Gorridge had agreed to sell his section to the railway company and had also assured them that he could guarantee that Luffenham would consent to part with his piece of land. He had intimated that he had some influence over the Earl. So that was one of the Earls daughters, Joe Masters commented. I heard he had three. I wonder if they are all like her. Masters laughed. He was in his fifties and had worked for Myless grandfather and father since he was old enough to work at all, which made him more outspoken than most employees. God help the Earl if they are. He has to find husbands for them. And dowries. Are we really on the Earls land? He shrugged. Doesnt matter if we are. If he wont agree to sell, then the land will be compulsorily purchasedyouve been in the railway business long enough to know that, havent you? Yes, of course I have, but I hate dissension. It makes for bad feelings all round. You know your trouble, lad, Joe said, laughing. Great lump that you are, youre too soft. Ill show you whether Im soft or not, Myles said, putting up his fists and punching the other man lightly on the shoulder. Martin Waterson, the third man of the party, watched in amusement as they began sparring, though neither would have dreamed of hurting the other. Pax, Joe said, holding up his arms in surrender. I give in. Youre not soft. Myles, who was hardly out of breath, dropped his hands. Come on, lets get on with the job. I dont fancy a run in with the Earls men. Not until it becomes necessary, anyway. They worked on and by late afternoon had surveyed the land along the valley bottom, which would be the easiest route for the line, and were approaching the village of Luffenham. I reckon this is as far as we need go today, Waterson said. I suggest we start again at the other end tomorrow and work our way back to this point. We might find a better route. Right. Well call it a day, Myles said, finishing his notes and putting them in his pocket. After arranging where to meet, they mounted the horses they had been leading and went their separate ways. Masters and Waterson went north where they had lodgings while Myles rode home over the hills on a huge black stallion called Trojan, which his father had bought for him four years before on his twenty-first birthday. The size youre getting, you need a big horse, he had said. Im blowed if I know where you get it from. Im not much above average in height. As for your mother, shes tiny. Must be a throw-back to some distant ancestor. His mothers ancestry was unquestionable. She was the daughter of Viscount Porson, the last of a long line, which had not thrived in the way the Gorridges and Luffenhams had thrived. His lordship had been glad enough to let his daughter marry the son of a mill owner with no pretensions to being a gentleman, but who had become wealthy through business. It was that money, and a generous contribution to Wellingtons army in the shape of uniforms, that had led to his being created a baron. Myles could just remember his grandfather, who worked all the hours God made, driven by ambition and a fear that whatever wealth he had created could disappear in a puff of wind and he would be back where he started. It was a trait he had passed on to his son, Myless father. My father worked himself into the ground, Henry Moorcroft told his own son. He was either at the mill or the factory every morning before seven and we didnt see him home again until late evening. His efforts meant I could be educated and learn new ways, but that doesnt mean I could take my ease. I worked, too, and so must you. You can take your pick where you start, but start at the bottom you will. Of his fathers many interests, Myles could have chosen the woollen mill in Leicestershire where the original fortune had been made, or the engineering works in Peterborough, but he had plumped for building railways, which his father had only then begun to contract for. They were the transport of the future and the whole concept excited him. Starting at the bottom, he had become a navvy and developed muscles, along with a clear understanding of how the men worked, shifting tons of rubble every day with nothing but picks and shovels. He had discovered how they lived, married and looked after their children. Under the tutelage of the contractors employed by his father, he had learned about explosives, cuttings and viaducts, bridges and tunnels, about surveying and costing and keeping within a budget, which was of prime importance if the shareholders were to be paid. He considered himself the complete railway man. He had been so busy he had had little time for the ladies, but he supposed that sooner or later he would have to begin thinking about marriage. His father, who was still rooted in his working-class past, would not care in the least whom he chose, so long as she was not extravagantly frivolous, but his mother might be more particular that he chose someone of breeding. The Earls daughter certainly had breeding, but was she frivolous? Judging by the riding habit she was wearing, she was certainly accustomed to extravagance. She was spirited, too, but he could deal with that. His laughter rang out, startling a flock of starlings who had settled on a tree beside the road. What on earth had made him think of her, the spoilt child of a stick-in-the-mud peer, who would certainly not consider him a suitable husband for his elegant daughter? He would probably never meet her again. On the other hand, if he had cause to visit the Earl on railway businessHe laughed again, raising his face to the sun. You never could tell. Chapter Two The Earl of Luffenham arrived home that evening in time to take dinner with his family. He was, Lucy noticed, not in a good mood. He snapped at the servants and criticised Rosemarys gown, saying it was unsuitable for a young lady not yet out. What is that shiny stuff? he asked. Taffeta, Papa. Whats wrong with muslin? Nothing for day wear, Papa, but it is not the thing for dining. You are getting above yourself, miss, and I wonder at you, madam, for allowing it. This last was addressed to his wife. It is not new, my lord, she explained. It is one of mine I had remade. That deep pink colour suits Rosie and I thought it would recompense her a little for not having all the new clothes Lucy has had this year. Slightly mollified, he grunted and nodded at the footman to begin serving. His economies seemed unnecessary and inconsistent to Lucy. He grumbled about money spent on clothes, yet would never have dreamed of managing with fewer servants, particularly those, like the footmen, who were seen by visitors. He insisted on frugality at family meals, having only four courses, but, when entertaining, the food on his table was lavish in the extreme. His horses were the best money could buy, his hospitality at the annual hunt meeting was legendary, but he begrudged the repairs to his farmer-tenants buildings, maintaining that if they let them go to rack and ruin, why should he have to stump up for their negligence? They ate in silence for some time until Lucy ventured, Did you have a good journey, Papa? It was as abominable as usual. Did you come home by road, then? No, I did not. I came on the railway, but it kept stopping for no reason that I could see. I expect it was because you went from one companys lines to another, Lucy said. You have to be coupled up to their locomotives. What do you know of it? I read it in the newspaper. There was a report about a debate in the Commons about the number of lines being agreed to and Mr Hudsons plans to amalgamate them so that there is no need for constantly changing in the middle of a journey. Not suitable reading for a young lady, Lucinda. And Hudson will come to grief, you mark my words. Why are you so against the railways, Papa? I should have thought they brought enormous benefit. He looked sharply at her. What is your interest in them, young lady? It is only that I journeyed by train for the first time when we went to London and I found myself wondering about them. It is a very fast way to travel. Over forty miles an hour, we were told. It felt like flying. So it may be, but the countryside where they go is ruined for ever. They run over good farm land and are so noisy they frighten the cows so they dont produce milk, the sparks from their engines are a danger to anyone living near the line, and they ruin the hunt because the fox can escape on to railway land where horses cant follow. And that is after all the desecration to the countryside the navvies cause when they are building them. They throw up their shanty towns wherever they fancy and spend their free time drinking and quarrelling. Their children run round in rags with no education and no notion of cleanliness. Does that answer your question? Yes, Papa. What would happen if a landowner refused to allow the railway to go over his land? Then they would have to go round it. Now, enough of that. Let us have the rest of our dinner in peace. Lucy decided it was definitely not the time to mention seeing the surveyors, and after a few minutes of eating in silence her mother began to talk about their visit to Linwood Park. I do not know how big the house party will be, she said. Nor exactly what plans have been made for our entertainment, but we must go prepared. Naturally we must go prepared, the Earl said. There will be riding and excursions, shooting and cards in the evening and undoubtedly at least one ball. I wondered if you might consent to allow Rosemary to accompany us. The invitation was for the whole family. Whole family, echoed Esme, speaking for the first time. May I go? Certainly not! snapped her father. But I will think about allowing Rosemary to go, if she behaves herself. Rosemary always behaves herself, Lucy put in, winking at her sister. And I shall be glad of her company if we are to be with a crowd of strangers. They wont all be strangers, the Countess said. Many of them you will already have met in London. Lucy did not see the surveyors again and supposed they had either decided she was right about their trespassing or they had finished what they were doing and gone elsewhere. In a way she was sorry because she could not get thoughts of that tall man out of her head. She could see him in her minds eye, standing facing her with his feet apart, his hands carefully crumbling soil, his head thrown back and his lively eyes looking up at her. His stance had been almost insolent and she should have been repelled; instead, she found him strikingly attractive. She found herself wondering what it would be like to be held in those powerful arms and, even in the privacy of her room, blushed at the scenario she had created. She must stop thinking about him, because he was nothing but a labourer, a brute of a man used to working with the strength of his broad back, and, though she might be attracted by his physique, he would never fit in to the kind of life she led. He would, for instance, never be at home in a ballroom. On the other hand, Mr Gorridge was to the manner born and knew how to dress and behave among ladies. And Mama and Papa approved of him. Linwood Park was not above thirty miles from Luffenham Hall and, for a short stretch, their lands abutted, so it was an easy carriage ride to go from one to the other, which was how the Countess and her two daughters travelled, followed by a second coach containing Annette, Sarah to look after the girls and the Earls valet, together with all the luggage piled in the boot and strapped on the roof. The Earl decided to ride so that he would have his own horse with him. Lucy would have liked that, too, but he had said arriving on horseback would not create the right impression; if she wanted to ride, she would undoubtedly be provided with a mount from the Viscounts stables. The house stood halfway up a hill above the village, which in times gone by had been known as Gorridgeham, from which the first Viscount had taken his name, but was now simply Gorryham. The house, at the end of a long drive, was surrounded by a deer park, an enormous lake, a large wood in which game birds were reared and several smaller woods and farmsteads. Behind the house the land rose to Gorridgeham Moor, shortened by the locals to Gorrymoor, a wild, uncultivated tract of country ideal for riding and hunting. The house itself was built of stone with a fa?ade at least a hundred feet in length. There was a clock tower at one end and a bell tower at the other. In its centre above the imposing portico with its Greek columns was a huge dome, above which fluttered the Gorridge family flag. The evenly spaced windows on the ground floor reached almost from floor to ceiling, though matching rows on the first and second floors were not quite so deep. I was right, Rosemary said in awe. It is a palace. Fancy being mistress of that, Lucy. Lucy did not comment. It was not the place that concerned her, but the people. The size and opulence of a house could never make up for arrogant, unkind people. Not that Viscountess Gorridge had ever been arrogant and unkind on the few occasions when Lucy had met her before going to London. And in London, when they had attended the same events, she had been most affable. She could not speak for the Viscount because she had hardly exchanged half a dozen sentences with him. He had a way of ending all his pronouncements with a barked, Eh, what? As the carriage drew up, the doors opened and Lady Gorridge came out to welcome them. All the corsetry in the world could not disguise the fact that the Viscountess was fat. She had a round, rather red face, which gave her the appearance of jollity. And her welcome seemed to bear that out. My dear Lady Luffenham, how glad I am to see you here at last, she said, as the Countess left the coach followed by the girls. And Lady Lucinda. How do you do? Lucy curtsied. Very well, my lady. May I present my sister, Rosemary. Rosemary curtsied. My lady. Lady Gorridge acknowledged her and then said, Do let us go inside. Tea is about to be served. As she spoke, the second coach rolled up the drive and disappeared round the side of the house. Oh, good, your servants have arrived. They will be directed to your rooms and will begin unpacking while we drink our tea. She took the Countesss arm to lead her indoors. Come, my son and daughter are in the drawing room, waiting to welcome you. Gorridge will come in later. He had some business on the estate to deal with, which he could not leave. I understand, the Countess said. Lord Luffenham is coming on horseback. He will arrive shortly, I expect. The hall into which they were conducted was vast. It was big enough for a ballroom, with a huge brick fireplace at one end. A lackey in livery sprang from a chair beside the door as they entered and stood stiffly to attention. The visitors were divested of capes and gloves, which were piled on his outstretched arms, and then Lady Gorridge hurried the little party forward into a second smaller hall lined with doors, one of which was open. Here we are. Edward, Dorothea, our guests have arrived. Edward, who had been standing by the hearth where the empty grate was concealed by a screen painted with flowers, came forward to take the Countesss hand. Welcome, my lady. He turned to Lucy. And you, my dear Lady Lucinda. Welcome, welcome. Before she could move, he had seized her hand and raised it to his lips. Startled, she withdrew it and put it behind her back. She had not liked the damp pressure of his mouth on her skin. Mr Gorridge. She bowed her head. And this is Lady Rosemary. He looked her up and down, as if sizing her up, and Rosemary blushed to the roots of her hair, bobbing a curtsy as she made a polite reply. And this is my daughter, Dorothea, Lady Gorridge put in. I hope you will become great friends. Dorothea, make your curtsy to Lady Luffenham and the Ladies Lucinda and Rosemary. Dorothea was about the same age as Rosemary, but, like her mother, on the plump side. She wore her dark hair in two plaits looped around her ears. She was evidently shy, because her response was hardly audible. By the time all these introductions had been made, the tea tray had been brought in and her ladyship busied herself dispensing tea and sandwiches. We have arranged some little amusement and diversions for your stay, Lady Gorridge told them. But not immediately. We thought we would have a quiet evening with a little homemade entertainment and music. Time enough for jollity tomorrow when our other guests arrive, dont you think? The Countess murmured her assent. Lucy, sipping tea and nibbling delicate sandwiches, used the opportunity to study Mr Gorridge. She wanted to see if he was any different in the country from his persona in town. Was he more relaxed, less formal? Was he dressed any differently? Were his eyes any less cold? Had he had time to change his mind about her, even supposing he had made up his mind in the first place? She realised suddenly that he had turned from speaking to the Countess and had caught her looking at him. She quickly turned her head away, but not before she had seen him smile. She could not make up her mind if it was one of amusement or condescension. She dare not look at him again and turned her attention to the room. It was sumptuously furnished, with a thick Aubusson carpet, several sofas and stuffed chairs, like the one she occupied. There were little tables scattered everywhere on which small ornaments were displayed. The walls were crammed with paintings, from very small ones to large, formal family portraits. She rose, teacup in hand, and wandered over to the window, which gave her a view of a terrace with stone vases and statues lining the steps down to a lawn with flower beds brilliant with colourful summer blooms. It was all too perfect to be true. Beyond that was a park, and she could see the sparkle of water and longed to be outside. Shall you like to explore? She whipped round to find Edward standing so close behind her he was brushing against her skirt. Perhaps later, Mr Gorridge. Oh, yes, later. After dinner, perhaps. It depends whether Mama feels like it. She is often tired after a journey. Ah, the need for a chaperon. We must not forget that, must we? Perhaps Lady Rosemary would like to join us, if Lady Luffenham doesnt feel up to it. The sun setting over the lake is a particularly beautiful sight. She did not commit herself, but he appealed to her mother, who graciously said she would allow Rosemary to chaperon her sister, which was not at all what Lucy wanted. She was reluctant to be alone with him and she did not think Rosies services would be adequate. Tea over, they were shown upstairs to their rooms to rest before changing for dinner. Lucy had barely sat down and kicked off her shoes, when Rosemary arrived from the adjoining room. It is perfect, Lucy, just perfect, she said, sitting beside her sister on the bed. My room is huge and there is a canopied bed and a dressing room that has a bath. Just imagine, a bath all to myself. She looked about her. Yours is the same. Oh, Lucy, I am entranced and full of envy. Its all show. If Edward Gorridge proposed, she could, one day, be mistress of this magnificent house. She had as yet not explored it and had no idea how many servants there were, but it was plain there were many more than were employed by her father. She could entertain, buy extravagant clothes, ride magnificent horses. But was that what she wanted? Dont be silly, even a show needs pots and pots of money. I thought we were wealthy, but this far exceeds anything we have. Our house is poky by comparison. Lucy laughed. In that case, you dont know the meaning of the word poky. Try going into one of the cottages on the estate and youll see truly poky. Ugh, no, thank you. And I did say by comparison. And I would rather have our comfortable home than this opulence. It frightens me. Why ever do you say that? You cant stay at home for ever. You have to marry and move on, thats the way things are, and you would soon get used to it. It isnt as if Mr Gorridge is an ogre. He isnt ugly, hes handsome, and his manners are perfect. What more do you want? Lucy declined to answer. Instead she said, Go and change. We mustnt be late down for dinner. Rosemary left her and she sat a little longer, musing on the day so far. If she was going to do as her mother had asked her and try to think of Mr Gorridge as a husband, she was going to have to make an effort. A month before it would have been easier; she had returned from London thinking that perhaps she could learn to love him, but that was before she met a certain giant of a navvy who had warm brown eyes and a ready smile and who had somehow managed to mesmerise her. How else could she explain why she was constantly thinking of him and seeing things through his eyes? What would he make of Linwood Park and its occupants? What did he think about inherited wealth? He would despise it. Had he forgotten her the minute she had disappeared from his view? It was all so silly and so impossible and she was thoroughly vexed with herself. The maid came in to help her to dress and she forced herself to concentrate on what she was going to wear. It took an hour, but at the end of it she was ready. She had chosen a simple gown in lime-green silk. It had a boat-shaped neck and small puff sleeves; its only decoration was a band of ruching in a darker shade of green, which ran from each shoulder to the waist in a deep V and then crossed to spread in a wide arc down and around the skirt. The ensemble was finished with elbow-length gloves, a fan and a string of pearls her father had bought her for her presentation. Her hair was parted in the middle and drawn to each side, where it was secured with ribbons and allowed to fall into ringlets over her ears. Taking a last look in the mirror, she made her way downstairs. A footman in the hall directed her to the drawing room. She was, she realised as he opened the door for her to enter, the first lady to arrive and the room contained her father, Viscount Gorridge, Mr Gorridge and Mr Victor Ashbury, Edwards cousin, whom she had met in London. They stopped their conversation to acknowledge her little curtsy, and for a moment there was silence. Am I too early? she asked, wondering whether to retreat. No, no, the Viscount assured her. It is refreshing to find a lady who is punctual. Would you care for a cordial or ratafia, perhaps? No, thank you, my lord. She seated herself on a chair near the window some distance from them. Please dont mind me, she said. I shall sit quietly here until the other ladies arrive. Edward came and stood by her chair. I fear you will be immeasurably bored by the conversation, he said. They are talking about the railway. I do not find that boring. Lucinda has a lively curiosity and interests herself in many things, her father told the others, though whether he was praising her or excusing her, she could not tell. At least he was smiling and seemed more relaxed. And her first journey in a railway carriage has excited her interest. How did you find it? the Viscount asked. Not too noisy or dirty? Eh, what? It was both, she said. But exciting, too. Do you think the railway will be the transport of the future? Oh, undoubtedly, he said. It is exactly what I have been saying to your papa. The door opened to admit Lady Gorridge and Dorothea, followed by the Countess and Rosemary, and the conversation was dropped. Lucy was sorry, in a way; she wanted to learn more and it was all because of a certain navvy who had somehow inveigled his way into her head and would not go away. She could not tell anyone about him, could not talk about him, but discussing the burgeoning industry of which he was a part was the next best thing. She wanted to learn everything she could, though when she asked herself why, she could not provide herself with an answer. She looked up suddenly to find Edward holding out his arm and realised that dinner had been announced and he was offering his escort into the dining room. She stood up and laid her fingers on his sleeve and they followed in line behind Viscount Gorridge with her mother, and Lady Gorridge with her father. Rosemary and Dorothea brought up the rear with Mr Ashbury. Only a small, intimate gathering tonight, Lady Gorridge said as they took their seats and the table. Almost, you could say, en famille. Tomorrow the rest of the company will arrive. Lucy looked at Edward to see if he had reacted to the obvious hint that they would all soon be related, but he was busy signalling to the wine waiter to take round the bottle. She felt as if she were being dragged into a deep pool and, unless she swam as hard as she could against the current, she would be dragged under. But it was definitely not an appropriate time to strike out. Because it was informal, the dishes were set upon the table for them to pass round and help themselves and before long the conversation, which had begun with talk of the weather and the hope it would remain warm and dry for their stay, returned to the subject the men had begun before the meal. You should invest in the new railways, Luffenham, Lord Gorridge said. There promises to be rich pickings for anyone who gets in early. I have already made ten thousand pounds into fifteen. Everyones gone mad, the Earl said. Railways here, railways there, loop lines, branch lines, connections. Its becoming a mania and, like all manias, it will go out of fashion. Dont agree, my friend. Its here to stay. Ive taken shares in the Eastern Counties. Hudsons paying dividends on the promise of profits to come. A fool thing to do, the Earl maintained. The line wont earn a penny until its opened and in use and hell find himself in dun territory. His problem, not mine, eh, what? Anyway, Ive put my profit to good use by taking shares in the Leicester to Peterborough. Its being built by Henry Moorcroft and hes solid enough. The line is going to cross my land down in the village and that in itself has netted me a few thousand for a tiny strip of land I wont even miss. And Ill get my own station into the bargain. I advise you to do the same. Gorridge, do you have to discuss business at the dinner table? his wife queried. It is not polite. Our guests will become bored. Let us change the subject. Lucy was disappointed; the conversation was just becoming interesting. The navvy had told her he was surveying a line from Leicester to Peterborough, so it must be the one Viscount Gorridge was interested in. Would it go ahead? Or would her fathers opposition put paid to it? If the line went ahead, she might see the man again, but why did she want to? Striking and handsome as he was, he was no more than a common labourer and far beneath her socially, so why think about him? The trouble was that there was nothing common about him. He was extraordinaryhe must be if he could set her pulses racing and her mind in a whirl. And he didnt talk like a labourer. Lucinda. Lady Gorridge interrupted her thoughts. I may call you Lucinda, maynt I? Yes, of course, my lady. Do you sing or play? A little of both, my lady, but neither especially well. Lucy is being modest, Rosemary put in. She is more than competent on the pianoforte and she has a pleasant singing voice. I am no better than you, her sister said. Capital! their hostess said. When the gentlemen join us, we shall entertain each other. Edward has a fine baritone. And perhaps later we will have a hand or two of whist. Mama, I promised to take Lady Lucinda and Rosemary for a walk in the grounds, Edward told her when the idea was put to the men. You can do that tomorrow. It will be too late tonight by the time we have finished dinner. The sun will be going down and it will turn chilly. Dont you think so, Lady Luffenham? Lady Luffenham agreed. When the meal ended the ladies retired to the drawing room and the teacups, leaving the men to their port and cigars and their talk. Now, Lady Gorridge said, setting out the cups. We can have a little gossip of our own. Did you enjoy your London Season, Lucinda? Yes, indeed, Lucy replied. But I must admit to being glad to be home. London is all very well for a visit, but I prefer the country. I quite agree, which is why I did not stay in town the whole time. Gorridge wanted to come back for reasons of businessrailways again, I am afraidand I decided to come back, too. No doubt you saw something of Edward after we left. Yes, he was most attentive. What he needs is a good wife, and so I have told him. It is time he set up his own establishment. There is our house in Yorkshire, which is unoccupied except by a skeleton staff, and it needs to be lived in. It will make him an admirable country home. Lucy had no idea how she was supposed to respond to that and so she sipped her tea and smiled and said nothing. I believe there is good hunting country in that area. The Countess added her contribution to what Lucy saw as persuasion. Oh, yes. Edward loves to hunt. Do you hunt, Lucinda? No, I do not care for it. Rosemary is the huntswoman of the family. Is that so? Her ladyship turned reluctantly to Rosemary. Yes, my lady, she answered. We girls have been encouraged to take part since we have been old enough to leave our ponies behind and ride proper horses. We shall naturally invite you and Viscount Gorridge to bring Mr Gorridge with you to our next one, the Countess said quickly. The Earl was famous for the hunts he held on the Luffenham estate, which Viscount Gorridge had attended in the past. That goes without saying. Thank you. I am sure Edward will enjoy that. Alas, my hunting days are over, but I shall enjoy watching from a distance with Lucinda. The gentlemen rejoined them at that point and Lady Gorridge busied herself with dispensing tea for them and then calling on Lucy to sing and play, which she did to warm applause. Then she played a duet with Rosemary, while Edward stood by the piano ready to turn over the music. After that he was persuaded to sing and chose Greensleeves, the old ballad supposedly composed by Henry the Eighth, saying it was in honour of Lucys beautiful gown. He looked at her the whole time he was singing and she felt her face growing hot. When she tried to look away, he stepped round her so that he was in front of her again and took her hand so that she had no choice but to look at him or appear rude. Dorothea was next and sang to her own accompaniment, then the Countess played for the Earl to sing and they rounded the entertainment off by all singing a round song together. Now, what about a hand or two of whist? Lady Gorridge said. Mama, there are nine of us, Edward said. I beg you excuse me. I have something I want to do. Me, too, said Victor, standing up to follow his cousin. Edward, that is very uncivil of you, his mother complained. And if Victor goes, too, we shall be seven. Cant be helped, Mama. Find a game that does not require fours. He turned to Lucy. If you wish, I will give you a tour of the house and grounds tomorrow after breakfast. And with that he took his leave and Victor scuttled after him. Oh, he is too trying, his mother complained. I prefer a game of billiards, Lord Gorridge put in. How about it, Luffenham? Ive a good table. The Earl jumped at the suggestion, leaving the five ladies to amuse themselves. Myles and his two companions, having surveyed the proposed line from Leicester back to Gorryham village, arrived there late that evening. Waterson elected to go back to his lodgings, but Myles and Joe Masters decided to spend the night at the Golden Lion before continuing the work next day. They would need to take their calculations and findings back to the office and work on them, but they could see no great difficulty, except the short stretch to avoid the village. They were discussing whether a cutting or a tunnel would best serve when Edward and Victor burst in, talking and laughing. Landlord, your best ale, Edward called out. Dining at home and being polite to my mothers guests is thirsty work. He leaned against the bar and looked round the company, which had fallen silent at their entrance. Most were villagers: tenant farmers, agricultural labourers, the blacksmith, the harness maker and the cobbler, all known to him, all in some measure dependent on the Viscount for a living. They touched their caps or forelocks to him, but none looked particularly pleased to see him. Then he caught sight of Myles and his friend. Whom have we here? he asked. Not the usual peasantry by the look of it. He picked up the quart pot the landlord had filled and put at his elbow and wandered over to them. What business brings you here? Whos asking? Myles demanded, deciding he didnt like the man. He had seen the look of exasperation on the landlords face when he had taken his drink and made no effort to pay for it. I am. You are not the usual sort of labourers, but certainly not gentlemen, so I guess youre railwaymen. Am I right? You are. Ah, then you must be the advance guard of the Peterborough and Leicester. You could say that. There are some and he waved the pot at the company who will not welcome you in their midst. Heathen rabble, some say, not fit to mix with civilised folk. And overpaid into the bargain. If you mean the navvies, sir, they are as hard a working set of men as youll find anywhere and earn their wages. You being one, I suppose. Hes Joe began, but stopped when Myles laid a hand on his arm. Aye, and proud of it. Is that so? What have you got to be so proud of? That you can outswear, outdrink and outwench any ordinary man? Myles laughed. If you like. We can also outwork him. How many men do you know who can lift twenty tons of muck a day from the ground into a wagon, with nothing but a shovel? None, and Ill wager you cant, either. Oh, but I can. Would you care to prove it? He ignored Victor, who was pulling on his sleeve to persuade him away from the confrontation. Twenty guineas says you cant. Very well, twenty guineas, but youll have to wait until we start building this line. Im not disrupting work or any other works in order to satisfy you. The men in the room, who had been listening to the conversation with undisguised curiosity, began to laugh. Oh, theres a put-off if you like, one said. Hell be long gone afore hes put to the test. I don reckon heve got twenty guineas. For answer, Myles fetched a purse from his pocket and counted out twenty guineas. Theres the stake and the landlord can hold it. He handed it over to the landlord, who looked to Edward for his stake, but he just laughed. Why would I carry cash about me? I have no need of it. Youll have to accept my word as a man of honour. It was a statement that made Myles laugh. As you have declined to give me your name, how am I to know that? Edward Gorridge, at your service. The Viscounts heir, I presume. You presume correctly. Very well, when the line reaches this village, you will find me among the men, doing my share of the work. Myles Joe protested, but Myles took no notice of him. He held out his hand to Edward who, after a moments hesitation, took it. Landlord, Edward called. Lets have a drink to seal the bargain. Drinks were brought and Edward and Victor sat down with Myles and Joe. Myles could see that Gorridge was already a little tipsy and wondered if he would remember the wager by the morning. Or perhaps he did not consider a bet with a navvy one that needed honouring. It did not bother him one way or another; he could make good his boast. His father might not be too pleased when he heard of it, but he was tired of having to defend the navvies reputation and it might help when it came to recruiting men for the works. Edward, who had imbibed freely at dinner that evening, was not in a mood to be discreet. Had to get out of the house, he said, by way of a confidence. Its full of women, chattering about clothes and balls and picnics. Want me to marry, you know. Myles smiled. And you are not keen on the idea? Dont see why I should when its just as easy to have my cake and eat it. He laughed and quaffed ale. You married? No. It isnt as if she has a decent dowry, though I dont need money. No one in these parts would dare refuse me whatever I ask for. I bet I could take that whole barrel of beer off mine host and he would not ask for payment. He pointed to a giant barrel on its stand beside the bar. Why would you want to do that? Because I can. What would you do with it when you got it? Could you carry it off? Course not. Id send someone to fetch it. Myles was aware of the look of consternation on the landlords face. Supposing mine host refused to hand it over? He would not dare. The place belongs to the estate and he can easily be sent off with a flea in his ear. A bit hard on him, dont you think? And it seems a waste of time to me to send someone to fetch it when you could have the pleasure of drinking it tonight. Myles was beginning to enjoy himself. Pick it up and carry it out. If you can, Ill undertake to pay for it. Youll pay for the whole barrel? Yesunlike you, I do believe in money transactions. What happens if he fails? Victor asked. Myles shrugged. A gentleman would offer to pay He left the rest of his sentence unsaid. Being a gentleman, I never welsh on a debt of honour, Edward said with heavy emphasis. Myles ignored that and went to the bar counter to speak quietly to the publican, watched by everyone in the room. This was the best entertainment they had had in years and they longed for the Viscounts pup to be taught a lesson. No one could lift that barrel single-handed, not even the giant navvy. Myles returned. You can have it if you take it now. Right, lads, give us a hand, Edward said, addressing a group of labourers. Bendish, go and hitch up your cart, well put it on that. No, thats not the deal, Myles said. You have to carry it out of the door single-handed. Dont be daft, man, its not possible. Pity. I was looking forward to sharing it with you. You can and welcome, if you help me get it out to Bendishs cart. So, you will not take my challenge and yet you expect me to take yours. If youre so clever, lets see you carry it. Myles laughed and took off his jacket. Hold this for me, Joe. He walked over to the barrel, flexed his muscles and, bending his knees, heaved it on to his shoulder. A gasp went round the crowd. It was three-quarters full and for a moment he wondered if he had taken on more than he could chew, but he stood for a moment to get the balance right and then walked out of the door, which was hurriedly opened for him by the nearest bystander. He set off up the street, the barrel on his shoulder, followed by everyone in the bar, including the publican. It was incredibly heavy and his knees began to feel wobbly, but just to prove a point, he broke into a trot. Everyone cheered. After a hundred yards he felt he had done enough and carefully set the barrel down on a low wall. Joe joined him. Youre mad, he said, as everyone rushed up, laughing and cheering. Yes, but I might have made a few friends and that will stand me in good stead when the works reach here, he murmured, for Joes ears only. Is that why you did it, to make friends? Not altogether. He had taken a dislike to Edward Gorridge for his arrogance. Well, lads, he said to the men as Edward came puffing up, trailing in everyones wake. I think we should take this back where it belongs and drink to the health of the navvies, dont you? This was greeted by a resounding cheer and the barrel was rolled down the hill back to the inn and manhandled back on its stand. Two hours later, the men, in various stages of inebriation, returned to their homes, until only Myles, Joe, Edward and Victor were left. Victor had tried his best to persuade Edward to leave but he would not go. The whole barrel had been bought and, as it still had some ale left in it, he was of a mind to try to drink the navvy under the table. Joe decided to go up to bed and advised Myles to do likewise. I cant leave him like that, Myles said, pointing at the comatose Gorridge. How did he get here? In his gig, the publican said. Its in the backyard. Hes in no fit state to drive it. Myles had taken a few more than he was wont to do, but he was still reasonably in control of his faculties. No, and neither is his friend. Nothing for it, Ill have to see he gets safely home. Why? Joe demanded. Its not your fault he cant hold his ale. Nevertheless, I feel responsible. You go to bed. He bent down and threw the drunken man over his shoulder and marched out with him, followed by Victor, who was just able to stand, though he rolled all over the place when he tried to walk and giggled like a girl. One of the inns servants lead the gig out of the yard and Myles deposited Edward on the seat, helped Victor in and squeezed in beside them. Both men began to sing a bawdy song as they trotted down the street and took the turn on to the lane leading to Linwood Park. Lady Gorridge was leading the ladies out of the drawing room towards the stairs, when they heard the sound of a carriage arriving and loud singing. They looked at each other in surprise that anyone should arrive so late at night, and Lady Gorridge looked embarrassed. They had not reached the foot of the stairs when whoever was on the outside beat a loud tattoo with the door knocker. The duty footman opened the door and a man marched in with the Gorridge heir slung over his shoulder like a sack of coal. Where shall I put him? he demanded of the footman, and then, catching sight of five ladies standing in the hall with expressions of horror on their faces, checked himself. I beg your pardon, ladies. The gentleman is a little under the weather. I think the other one can make it under his own steam. As he spoke Victor staggered into the hall. So I see. Lady Gorridge moved forward, her face a mask of barely controlled fury. Follow me. And to the ladies, Please excuse me. If you need anything, I am sure Dorothea will be able to help you. She started up the stairs with Myles and his burden behind her. Victor, looking sheepish, bowed to the ladies and almost fell over in the process and then followed the little cavalcade, leaving the rest of the ladies looking from one to the other. I think I had better inform Papa, Dorothea said and disappeared in the direction of the billiard room. I think, girls, we had better go to our rooms, their mother suggested. And tomorrow we will behave as if nothing has happened and not mention it. It is only youthful high spirits, but Lady Gorridge was clearly embarrassed and the sooner it is forgotten the better. I wonder who that man is, Rosemary murmured. He did not look like the sort of person Mr Gorridge would associate with. Lucy did not answer, but she had recognised the navvy and, though she had tried to hide behind her mother, she was quite sure he had recognised her. It was only a glance, an exchange of messages. From him a kind of Well, well, so we meet again, which was accompanied by a slight twitching of his lips that looked as if he might break into a broad smile if she gave the slightest encouragement. Her message was simple: Do not, I beg you, betray the fact that we have met before. He must have understood, for he had quickly turned away and followed Lady Gorridge. No, but it is nothing to do with us and we must forget all about it, the Countess said, preceding her daughters up the stairs to their rooms. She kissed them both goodnight outside her own room and disappeared inside. Rosemary and Lucy moved on and were standing outside Rosemarys door saying goodnight, when Myles came out of Edwards room and made for the head of the stairs. To do so, he had to pass the girls. Good evening, ladies, he said, maintaining his navvy persona. Fine evening, dont you think? You may think so, Lucy said. She was unaccountably angry with him, as if he had somehow affronted her. That Mr Gorridge was drunk was clear and it was his fault. She had never seen Mr Gorridge even slightly inebriated the whole time they were in London and attending balls and parties, so he must have been plied with drink by the navvy. Everyone knew they were hardened drinkers and hardly ever sober. She ignored the fact that the man had been perfectly sober and polite when she had met him before and did not appear to be more than a little tipsy even now. And how had the two men met? She wished they had not, though she could not have said why she wished it, unless it was her own strange, mixed-up emotions that wanted them kept apart. She did not want to find herself comparing them, mentally listing the faults of each against their virtues. It was a futile exercise, anyway. Myles compounded his unpopularity by smiling broadly. It is indeed a fine evening when a man is privileged to meet two such charming young ladies. Rosemary giggled and Lucy pushed her into her room, hoping he had not noticed, but she knew he had. Goodnight, sir, she said and turned on her heel to leave him. He reached out and caught her arm, making her turn back to him. I am sorry, he said contritely. I had no idea you were here and I would not have subjected you or any of the other ladies to the spectacle we must have presented when we came in. She looked down at his hand on her arm. It was a large hand, brown and tough from the work he did, but surprisingly neatly manicured. It was not gripping her tightly; in fact, there was a gentleness about him that decried his size. She knew she should stand on her dignity, and demand to be unhanded, but found herself tongue-tied. He was so close to her, close enough for his legs to be brushing against her skirt. And for a second, discomforting time, she found herself wondering what it would be like to be held in his arms. Unable to look at him, she turned away and he released her. Goodnight, sir, she said and disappeared into her room, shutting the door firmly behind her. He went downstairs and met Viscount Gorridge and the Earl of Luffenham in the hall, apparently on their way to find out what was happening. Good evening, gentlemen, he said cheerfully, as the footman opened the front door for him. Who are you? Lord Gorridge demanded. Myles Moorcroft, my lord. Your wife will explain my business here. You will find her with your son. And before he could be detained further, he hurried from the house. He wished he had never become involved with Gorridge. He certainly would not have done so if he had known the Earl of Luffenhams daughter was staying at Linwood Park. She had been disgusted with him and who could blame her? Carefully nurtured, she could know nothing of drunkenness and the japes working men got up to to amuse themselves. And he had made matters worse by maintaining his pretence of being a navvy and teasing her. His apology had been too little and too late. And how to redeem himself he did not know. But, oh, the pleasure of besting that young pup was not to be denied. The villagers would have sore heads in the morning, but he did not doubt they had enjoyed their evening and, when the navvies came to work in the vicinity, they would remember it with pleasure and there would be no trouble between the two communities, as there so often was when the railway builders arrived in a district. That would not be for some time because the survey had yet to be completed and approved, the legal side to be concluded with any landowners along the way, sub-contractors employed to do the work and a labour force assembled. When all that was done, he would make a point of inspecting the work at regular intervals and then he might meet the young lady again. Seeing her tonight, he realised she was even more beautiful than he remembered. Her hair was as lustrous, her eyes as lively, her figure as perfect and that green dress, simple as it was, had been just right, setting off creamy shoulders and a long neck. She had been angry, though. He smiled as he let himself in through the back door of the Golden Lion; he would meet her again, he was convinced of it, and perhaps in more favourable circumstances. And he would do his best to win her round. It was a question of pride, though. If anyone had suggested he was falling in love, he would have hotly denied it. Chapter Three Edward did not appear for breakfast. Nor did Victor. Lady Gorridge, who felt some explanation was called for, told the Countess, in Lucys hearing, that her son had been taken ill while conducting some business with the railway engineer, a Mr Masters, who was staying at the inn in the village, and Mr Masters had asked one of his men to drive him home. She was sure that he was not to know that dear Edward would be so brutally manhandled. Of course they had been obliged to thank the man, but had made their disapproval clear. I felt sure it was something of the sort, murmured the Countess, lying just as nobly as Lady Gorridge. It can hardly have helped his recovery to be carried in that way. She frowned at Lucy, who was doing her best not to laugh. I hope he is better this morning. Yes, indeed. I asked his valet, who assures me he will make a full recovery by luncheon. I am sorry that you will be deprived of his company this morning, Lucinda. No doubt he will make it up to you this afternoon. Oh, please do not worry about me, Lady Gorridge, she said. Rosemary and I can amuse ourselves, I am sure. They were in the breakfast room, a small, sunny room looking out on to the park, which was dotted with fine specimen trees and grazing deer. In the distance she could see the sparkle of water. Perhaps we will take a stroll in the grounds. Oh, yes, go wherever you please. You will find the path through the park to the lake a particularly pleasant one when the weather is hot. I would ask Dorothea to accompany you, but she has a music lesson this morning and her teacher is a little temperamental. He will not accept excuses. Thus it was that Lucy and Rosie found themselves dressed in pale muslin with a parasol apiece, wandering across the short grass of the park. The conversation naturally turned to the events of the previous evening. Do you think Mr Gorridge was drunk, Lucy? Rosie asked her. His mother said he was taken ill. She would have to make excuses for him, wouldnt she? I am sure he was drunk. If he was, I expect it was because that navvy plied him with drink and he is not used to it. It is well known that navvies are great drinkers. How do you know he was a navvy? Lucy was caught out for a moment, but recovered quickly. Lady Gorridge said the man worked for the railway engineer, so I guessed he was. He was magnificent, wasnt he? I never met such a strong man, and the way he had Mr Gorridge slung over his shoulder, it was so funny, I wanted to laugh. It is as well you didnt. It would have affronted Lady Gorridge. And he was so bold, wasnt he? Later, I mean, when we met him in the corridor. He did not seem at all overawed. Overawed! I am sure he doesnt know the meaning of the word. I expect that is the disrespectful way he speaks to all the women of his acquaintance and thinks nothing of it. He probably thought he was being gallant. He was handsome though, dont you think? I am sure I dont think of him at all, Lucy lied. He is nothing but a common labourer. So he may be, but not many labourers are that good to look at. He was clean for a start and I liked the way his hair waved and the gleam in his eye, as if he found the whole world amusing. Rosie! How could you? Oh, go on, Lucy, dont be so stuffy. I am sure you noticed it, too. You turned scarlet when he spoke to us in the corridor. If I did, it was with mortification. Is that why you pushed me into my room, or was it because you wanted him all to yourself? Rosie, I am losing all patience with you. I wish I had not told Papa I wanted you to come and keep me company, if that is all you can talk about. Whatever has got into you, Lucy? I havent done anything wrong. Talking about the man is not a sin. I am not about to fall into his arms and run away with him. Now you are being silly. Yes, of course I am. I would never jeopardise my future in that foolish way. I mean to make a good marriage, and that means at least eighty thousand a year, a house in town, a country estate and a hunting lodge in good hunting country. That doesnt mean I cant admire specimens like that navvy. If he really was a navvy. I have my doubts about that. Lucy was beginning to wonder about that herself, but decided not to encourage her sister by admitting it. You have high aspirations, Rosie. Why not? I want my husband to be at least Mr Gorridges equal. Maybe there will be someone among the guests coming this afternoon who will fit the bill. You are still only seventeen. There is plenty of time to enjoy being single first. And I mean to, dont worry. They had arrived at the shore of the lake and stood looking across the water. It was so wide they could barely see the bank on the other side. It was edged by reeds and bulrushes and a flock of water birds bobbed up and down, too far away to identify accurately. Its big, she murmured. I wonder how far the Viscounts land stretches. I dont know. Just think, you will be mistress of it. Only if I marry Mr Gorridge, and then only on the demise of the Viscount. Well, you are going to marry him, arent you? I dont know. He hasnt asked me yet and perhaps he wont. Of course he will. Thats what this stay is all about, isnt it? For you and he to come to an understanding. But I am not sure I do understand. I do not know why Papa and Mama are so keen on him. If a man can leave his house guests to go and get drunk Oh, you are not going to hold that against him, surely? All men get drunk sometimes. Why, I have known Papa to get a little tipsy on occasion and Mama thinks nothing of it. Perhaps he was a little nervous of the future. It must take courage to propose, especially if the poor man has no encouragement from his intended. Lucy laughed. You are probably right. Let us turn back. It must be nearly time for luncheon. They turned and made their way back to the house, which was just as imposing from the side as it was from the front. It was perfect; there wasnt a window that did not gleam, not a step that did not dazzle with its whiteness, not a blade of grass out of place nor a weed in the flower beds. It needed an army to keep it like that. When they arrived they discovered more guests had arrived and luncheon would be taken in the large dining room at the front of the house. Lucy and Rosie went up to their rooms to tidy themselves. The atmosphere of an intimate family gathering disappeared during lunch. The company consisted of Sir Edwin Benwistle and his wife and daughter, Ursula, distant relatives of Lady Gorridge; Mr and Mrs Ashbury, Victors parents, who evidently knew nothing of the previous evenings escapade, for Mrs Ashbury continually commented on the fact that her son did not look quite the thing, to which he replied irritably that he was perfectly well. Others of the party were friends of Viscount Gorridge who were there for the fishing and shooting and who had brought wives and daughters, so that the party numbered twenty. The lake is well stocked, his lordship told them as they enjoyed a sumptuous luncheon. I propose a little competition to see who can bag the greatest weight. A magnum of champagne for the winner. Supposing the winner is a lady, Rosemary asked. A lady? he queried in surprise. Why not, my lord? I shouldnt think the fish are particular whose bait they take. Well, I suppose a lady could take part. He beamed at her in a condescending manner. A separate prize for the winning lady, then. A new bonnet, eh, what? Silly idea, Edward murmured to Lucy, who was seated beside him. What, that a lady can fish or that she should win a new hat? Neitherthe idea of fishing as a pastime. He was feeling decidedly under the weather, but to have absented himself from luncheon would have been unforgivable in his fathers eyes and he was already in trouble as it was, having to beg the price of a barrel of ale because a gambling debt was a debt of honour and he had spent his monthly allowance. But hed be blowed if hed let that navvy have the last laugh. He didnt remember being brought home, but Victor had furnished the details and said his mother had put it about that he had been taken ill and Mr Masters had asked the navvy to drive him home in the gig. But, damn it, the fellow did not have to carry him into the house. You do not care for it? No, I would rather go for a ride. What about it, my lady, shall you leave them to their fishing and allow me to show you the countryside on horseback? If Mama agrees, I would like that. Lady Luffenham, will you allow me to take Lady Lucinda for a ride this afternoon? he asked. Lady Luffenham looked at her husband, who gave a small nod. Very well, but take someone with you. Victor will come, wont you, Cousin? I meant a lady, the Countess put in quickly. For appearances sake. Perhaps Rosemary. Oh, Mama, she protested. I want to go fishing. Then you have been nominated, Dotty, Edward told his sister before Lady Luffenham could insist. We shall be four. That should satisfy the proprieties. As soon as the meal was finished, everyone dispersed. The fishermen and women went to select their rods and bait and to be shown their stations round the lake, others who preferred to stroll set off down the drive and the elderly went up to their rooms to take an afternoon nap. The four riders went to the stables, where Edward made a great fuss about choosing a mount for Lucy. Cinder is a good ladys mount, he said, pointing to a horse with a mottled grey coat. Will he do? Yes, thank you, she said, realising that calling him a ladys mount probably meant he was docile to the point of sluggishness. She was a good rider and would have preferred an animal with a little spirit, but decided not to make an issue of it. Dorothea had her own horse, which was only slightly more lively, and the two men had big bays. Once they were all saddled and mounted, the four riders set off at a gentle trot across the park. Well go up on to Gorrymoor, Edward said. It has some spectacular views. He led the way, skirting the village and trotting through the wood that lay behind it. The path was narrow and there was little opportunity for conversation, which Lucy was glad of. She was studying Edwards back and was obliged to admit he sat a horse very well. It reminded her that she had promised herself to concentrate on his good points, so, while they walked their horses through the leafy shade, she began to list them. There was, of course, his obvious wealth and prospects. He was handsome in his own way, had a slim figure and was well turned out. The cost of clothes would not be an issue with him. He was educated, but how well she had no idea; his manners were polite and he did not appear to be governed by temper. Perhaps she had been unkind to call him a cold fish, because any show of passion would not have endeared him to her. And then she came to a stop. She had no idea of his likes and dislikes, whether he would be a loving and affectionate father to his children, what his plans were concerning the life he meant to lead. Surely not one of indolence, which appeared to be the case at the moment. No doubt Lord Gorridge was grooming him to take over the estate and that was no mean task. Could she learn to love him? Was love something that could be learned? According to her mother, it was. But her mother belonged to another generation, when young ladies were expected to obey without question, to marry from a very narrow selection of gentlemen. Society was changing and changing fast and the old ideas were dying, but not quickly enough to help her. They emerged from the trees, trotted up a narrow lane past a single cottage with a few chickens pecking in the yard and a dog on a chain, which barked ferociously as they passed the gate. Then they were on the moor and Edward urged his horse to a canter, followed by Victor, then Dorothea. Lucy kicked hard, hoping to find Cinder had a little life in him. He obeyed after a time and she realised his sluggishness was habit; he had never been given his head before. Once urged into a canter, he went well and she soon caught the others as they reached the highest point and stopped. There! Edward said, waving his crop about him. All that is Gorridge landthe farms, the village of Gorryham and goodness knows how many smaller hamlets and farms. There, on the far side of the lake, is Luffenham land. See the riverits the same one that flows past Luffenham Hall. What are those white posts? Lucy asked, having noticed a row of them following the line of the river. Thats the line of the proposed railway. I see. It looks as though they are going to cross my fathers estate after all. So they are. There is Gorridge land, then a strip of Luffenham and then Moorcrofts grounds. After that there are several small holdings before it reaches Peterborough and joins up with the proposed line to Grantham. But I do not think Papa will agree to it. He is against the railway going over his property. Oh, he will change his mind. My father will persuade him that it makes sense. We need the railways to carry freight as well as passengers and having to avoid the Earls strip will cause no end of problems and put the cost up. You sound as if you know a great deal about it. Now they had touched on the subject of railways, she began to ponder the navvy again, just when she thought she had put him out of her mind. Would it remind Mr Gorridge of him, too? It was Victor who laughed and said, We had a lesson in railway building last evening, didnt we, Teddy? He looked daggers at his cousin. From Mr Masters, the engineer, yes. I met him to discuss progress. Is that what it was? Dorothea put in. I thought it was to enjoy a convivial evening with the hoi polloi. I cannot think why you like to frequent that common alehouse. It is full of peasants. Why should I not go there? he demanded. It belongs to our father and the men I see there owe him their living and they know their place. And they know mine, too. Lucy wasnt sure what to make of that statement. But the railway engineer wasnt one of those, she said. No, of course not, but hes working in the area and so decided to stay there. What about the man who brought you home last night? Dorothea posed the question Lucy did not like to ask. His assistant, I think, some sort of jumped-up navvy. I cannot be sure, for we were not formally introduced and then I was taken unwell. Are you fully recovered? Lucy asked him. Yes. It is a weakness I have that occurs now and again, but nothing to concern yourself with, my dear. I am, as my physician will confirm, hale and hearty. Goodness, I wasnt questioning the state of your health, Mr Gorridge, simply making a polite enquiry. I suggest we change the subject. I could not agree more. Shall we ride on? They walked their horses in silence for a moment, not at all sure what subject would be acceptable, then Edward suddenly said, My horse is getting lazy. Im going to give him a gallop. And with that he set off across the moor, followed by a determined Victor. You must forgive my brother, Lady Lucinda, Dorothea said as they followed at a more sedate pace. He knows he ought to be thinking of marriage and he has said how much he favours you, but he is perhaps a little anxious as to your reply and that makes him behave in a silly fashion. He has always been the same, ever since childhood. I suppose it is a kicking over the traces, a way of showing he is not to be coerced and will make up his own mind, even when it is what he wanted in the first place. I hope he does not think he is being coerced into marrying me. If I thought that, I should never entertain the idea. But it would be such a good match. You would be good for him, I think. Mama thinks so, and of course Papa and the Earl have so much in common, both from ancient families with adjoining estates. I cannot see how having adjoining estates matters. I am not an heiressI have a brother, you know, so no advantage would come to Mr Gorridge through that. Yes, I know. I heard your mama talking to mine about him. She is devoted to him, isnt she? Of course she is, but she has no favourites and loves us all. How fortunate you are. I think I should like to have you for a sister-in-law. Thank you. She did not want to continue with the conversation. Even if Edward was not being coerced, she felt as if she was, and, like Edward, she wanted to rebel. How could two people who had been pushed into a marriage expect it to be happy? She pointed at the men, who had stopped and dismounted a little way ahead. Shall we join the gentlemen? She spurred her horse and this time he responded a little more enthusiastically. Edward and Victor were standing on the highest point of the hill deep in conversation, but stopped when the ladies rode up. Lucy noticed they were standing with their backs to a large boulder, which was a shelter from the wind that blew across the moor, and were facing a second valley. Here, too, were white stakes, but they stopped short on the opposite slope. More of the railway surveyors work? she queried. Yes. They are down there, can you see? Edward said. Her heart jumped into her mouth when she saw where he was pointing. The tall navvy and his two companions were pacing the ground, quite oblivious to the people who watched them from the opposite hill. So I see. She tried to sound indifferent. I want a word with that fellow, Edward said. I must go back, Dorothea said. My horse is tiring and I promised Mama I would visit Nanny this afternoon. To Lucy, she explained, Nanny is our old nurse and lives in a little cottage in the village and Mama likes to keep an eye on her to see she wants for nothing. Would you like me to come with you? No, you enjoy the rest of your ride. Victor will keep me company, wont you, Victor? The young man was addressed with heavy emphasis. He looked surprised for a moment, but a meaningful look from Dorothea stopped him protesting and he chuckled and remounted. Delighted, my dear. Before Lucy could say a word, they had ridden off and she was left with Edward. Not very subtle, are they? he commented. But no matter, we will continue our ride. You will not mind if I stop and speak to those railway people, will you? You need not speak to them yourself, or even approach if you think it will be distasteful. I shant be above a minute or two. He did not sound like a man with marriage on his mind, though he undoubtedly realised why Dorothea had inveigled Victor away. Lucy smiled. I shall not mind in the least, Mr Gorridge. With you to protect me, what have I to fear? He looked sharply at her, but decided to take her words at face value and began the downward descent to where the men worked. Myles heard the horses and looked up as they approached. Hey up, he said to Joe. Heres our friend of last night. I said we hadnt seen the last of him, Masters said. And hes got the Earl of Luffenhams daughter with him. So he has, Myles said, as if he had only just seen the mans companion, though she was the one he had noticed first. Good afternoon, gentlemen, Edward greeted them and dismounted. Good afternoon. My lady. Myles spoke guardedly. You know Lady Lucinda? Edward queried. Myles saw Lucy shaking her head behind her escort. No, sir, I have not had the honour of being presented. Nor will you have, Edward said. Lucy, my dear, take no notice of him. Wait a little way off. My business will not take long. Lucy had no intention of being dismissed in that fashion and she resented Mr Gorridges condescending attitude towards her. She dismounted and stood beside her horse. He started to nibble the grass, while both she and Myles waited to see what would happen next. He was looking at Edward, but he was all too aware of Lucy. She was wearing the same elegant habit she had worn before; it clung to her breasts and waist before flowing out around her feet. Her face was slightly flushed and her eyes were alight. With amusement? Mischief? He could not tell and wished the others could be made to disappear so that he could be alone with her. He might be able to explain many things he wanted her to know, but there was no chance of that, so he prepared to listen to whatever it was Gorridge had to say. I believe I owe you the price of a barrel of ale, Edward said. It has been left in cash with the publican at the Golden Lion. Let it not be said Edward Gorridge does not honour his debts. It is of no account. A barrel of ale was a small price to pay for an evenings entertainment. No doubt. Edwards voice was clipped. But a debt is a debt. On the other hand, there was no call to extend it beyond the hostelry and humiliate me when I was too ill to protest. Ill? Myles smiled, knowing exactly what he meant. I would have done the same for any man. No doubt you would, having no pretension to the manners of a gentleman. I say, Joe protested. That was uncalled for. Hush, Joe, Myles said. Mr Gorridge is right and I should apologise. It was more than Edward had expected. Apology accepted. But that doesnt mean the other matter is forgotten. Other matter? To shift twenty tons of rubble in a day. When the line goes through. When do you think that will be? As soon as the surveying is done and the rest of the finance raised. I believe Viscount Gorridge is one of the principals, so I do not envisage any problems. Except, of course, the Earl is holding back. He will come round. He and my father were discussing it only yesterday. I am sure, when the advantages are pointed out to him, he will let you have his piece of land. He might even be persuaded to invest some of his own money and you will need to look no further for your finance. That would certainly hurry things up. What are the advantages? Lucy asked, determined not to be left out of the discussion, though what she could contribute she did not know. It was simply that she did not like being ignored and she wanted the navvy to notice her. Why, with our own railway station we can hop on a train any time we like, go wherever we like, Edward answered. Once the line from London to York is completed, I can reach our house in Yorkshire inside a day. . . , (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39925282&lfrom=390579938) . Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, , , , PayPal, WebMoney, ., QIWI , .
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