The Viscount and The Orphan
This classic historical romance erupts in 1703 England.
Gabriel, Viscount Cavanagh is bankrupt, his fortune wasted on mistresses, extravagance, and gambling. Orphaned, emotionally neglected, deprived of his inheritance and his own person by his grandfather, Adam Maynard, his only option to avoid disaster is acceptance of an arranged marriage proposed by Adam, a ruthless merchant prince.
Adam summons his sixteen-year-old ward, wealthy Dorinda Davenport, from boarding school to be Gabriel’s bride. An orphan, she yearns for love. Well-educated, but naïve, she clings to her fantasy of a happy-ever-after marriage to a gentleman as handsome, and charming as her favourite fictional hero. Gabriel is the romantic hero of her dreams, but bitter disillusionment follows the wedding.
A connoisseur of beautiful women, Gabriel conceals his distaste when he meets dumpy, sallow skinned, socially inept Dorinda. Nevertheless, he soon appreciates her innocence, intelligence, and kind heart.
This classic historical romance erupts in 1703. Emotionally neglected since his parents died, freed from control over his person and inheritance by Adam Maynard, his grandfather, Gabriel, Viscount Cavanagh rebelled. His fortune wasted on mistresses, extravagance, and gambling Gabriel is bankrupt. His only option to avoid disaster is acceptance of an arranged marriage proposed by his grandfather, a ruthless merchant prince.
Adam summons his sixteen-year-old ward, wealthy Dorinda Davenport, from her residential school. Orphaned immediately after her birth, she yearns for love. Well-educated, kind-hearted but naïve she clings to her dream of marriage to a gentleman as handsome, and charming as Tancred, her favourite fictional hero, and live happily ever after. She marries Gabriel, a romantic image of Tancred. Her false assumption that he loves her generates bitter disillusionment.
Gabriel a connoisseur of beautiful women conceals his distaste when he meets dumpy, sallow skinned, socially inapt Dorinda. He assures her he has never mistreated a woman and promises to respect her.
Dorinda resentment of Adam’s conditions in the marriage contract which give him control over her and Gabriel for two years, widens a gulf between her and Gabriel. An unforeseen circumstance prevents annulling the marriage by mutual consent. To achieve happiness, they must appreciate and trust each other.
Dorinda Davenport obeyed Mistress Tutchin’s summons. Apprehensive, she could not think of a reason for the strict headmistress of the boarding school for gentlewomen to punish her. A few minutes later, fear turned to delight at the unexpected news. Her guardian, appointed by her late parents, had decided her education was complete. She shut the door of the small room behind her.
“What did Mistress Tutchin say?” her loyal friends Charlotte and Sophie demanded simultaneously.
“If she chastised me for yet another misdeed, I would not be surprised, but what could you have done to deserve punishment?” Sophie asked. With a riot of fair hair, a perfect complexion, and soulful eyes that shifted from silver grey to morning mist to darkened clouds, at first sight, strangers compared her to an angel.
Charlotte fingered one of her red-gold curls and waited for an answer.
“She told me I shall leave school and return to my guardian today.”
Charlotte’s eyes widened. “Why?”
“He decided my schooldays are over. I shall miss you and hope we will meet again.”
“And we shall miss you,” Sophie said.
“Will you write to us?” Charlotte asked.
“Yes.” Dorinda blinked.
A bell rang. Their cheeks moist, after her friends embraced her, they proceeded to their French lesson, glancing back repeatedly until they entered the classroom.
Within an hour, wondering what the future held, Dorinda sat in her strict guardian’s town coach, eyes shut, her head against the squab. The final scene and words from her favourite novel smuggled into the dormitory by Sophie repeated themselves in her head.
‘Noble Lord Tancred knelt before Lady Amanda, who sat on a bench in her father’s secluded garden.
His hair fair as barley glistened in the sunlight, and his eyes, the colour of a clear midsummer blue sky, shone adoringly as he clasped her small, white hand. “My true love, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”
Her face suffused with blushes Amanda nodded.
“My dear heart, I shall treasure you for as long as we live.” His face ablaze with love, Tancred pressed a kiss onto her hand.’
Dorinda sighed, her breasts straining uncomfortably against her drab grey bodice. One day, she would marry a gentleman as tall, handsome, and charming as fictional Lord Tancred, and they would live happily ever after. Lost in fantasy, dressed fashionably, she imagined herself as her husband’s beloved dear heart. She frowned. Most gentlewomen married when they were twenty or twenty-one. Dorinda doubted her guardian, Adam Maynard, a merchant prince, would consent to her marriage for at least another four years, a long time to wait for her own home.
Dorinda sighed again. Novels did not explain what transpired between husband and wife after the wedding. She wanted to know how a woman became with child. Charlotte and Sophie were equally curious but could not find out when they returned to their family every year at Easter, during summer, and Christmas. Sophie told them that when she had put a few tentative questions to her mother she had replied: ‘You will find out when you are married.’
In his mistress’s elegant closet next to her bedchamber, Gabriel, Lord Kaye, Viscount Cavanagh looked thoughtfully at Olivia, Lady Ingram, across the breakfast table. Her piquant face, perfect complexion, ebony hair, and pink brocade mantua gown, looped back to reveal a cream satin petticoat, pleased him as much as she satisfied him in bed. Swounds, he wished she had not become too possessive.
She smiled across the rim of her coffee dish and looked expectantly at him. “Shall I have the pleasure of receiving you this evening?”
Gabriel pressed his lips into a firm line. There was never an easy way to terminate a liaison. “Neither this evening nor any other.” He always tackled his fences without faltering.
Her forehead creased. The glow in her eyes faded. “B…but my future is with you.”
Confound it. Before he bedded the charming, thirty-one-year-old widow, he warned her not to anticipate more than a mutually agreeable affair. He should have foreseen she did not believe his assurance that he did not have marriage in mind. “Since you first admitted me to your bedchamber, you knew the time would come for us to part.”
Olivia’s hands trembled as she put down the coffee dish. “Why?” She reached across the table and gripped the wide cuff of his burgundy-coloured broadcloth coat. “Cavanagh, we are well matched and would be happy as-”
“I beg you not to say anything you will regret. Before we enjoyed bed sport, I told you I would not enter the parson’s trap with you.”
She released his cuff and pressed her hand over her heart. “Why not?”
“One reason is because it would be an injustice to deny a fortunate gentleman the opportunity to court you with marriage in mind.”
Her eyes glistened. “And the other?” she asked in a small voice.
“My lady, you force me to be frank.” Gabriel winced, remembering the tearful scene his previous mistress inflicted on him when he announced the end of their relationship. He hoped Olivia would not force him to endure another one. “I am not the first lover you have entertained since Ingram’s death.” Dressed as befitted his title but not his means, Gabriel stood. “If I marry, my bride will be innocent and virtuous. I suggest we part with dignity on amicable terms. He bowed. Adieu.”
She stared at him. Tears spilled down her cheeks. He turned and left the closet before she could speak.
Light-footed as a satiated tiger, Gabriel padded down the broad stairs. He crossed the parquet floor in the entrance hall. A footman helped him into his black greatcoat lined with blood-red silk. His three-cornered black beaver hat tucked under his arm he stepped outside.
Gabriel’s hand tightened until his signet ring, inherited from his father, dug into his finger. A former gambler because capricious Lady Luck had not favoured him his pockets were still to let. Gabriel chose his destination carefully. Protected from the cold February air by his warm clothes, he walked briskly toward Burton’s, the coffee house he patronised on Henrietta Street. His conscience clear, he spared a moment or two to consider Olivia’s future. If she wished to remarry, she might not find it as easy to secure a husband as he would to replace her.
He ignored a street harlot’s murmured invitation and strode past her weaving his way between pedestrians. Gabriel inclined his head toward Lady Rutherford and her young daughter. Too wily to arouse hopes of marriage in the bosoms of parents who brought their daughters to London to find a suitable husband, he walked fast to prevent the lady detaining him. He twisted his mouth into a ghost of a smile. Only the most callous parents would consign their daughter to a man of his ilk—one who had squandered most of his patrimony. Neglected Cavanagh Castle and his large, dilapidated London House on the Strand, and a few other run-down properties, were all that remained of it.
Eighteen-years-old when he inherited his fortune, he left Cambridge University. Drunk with freedom from his grandfather, a merchant prince, for seven years he gambled at cards, on the throw of the dice, at horse races, and wild, fashionable bets such as which raindrop would first reach the bottom of the window. He drank the finest wine and alcohol without restraint and enjoyed a liaison with an experienced married lady before he sought her replacement.
Gabriel laughed harshly as he remembered his follies and three challenges from outraged husbands, who he had cuckolded. Refusal to accept them would have branded him a coward. An expert with the rapier, he regretted inflicting serious wounds on two adversaries and the death of the third. On the brink of bankruptcy, he had vowed to reform.
He reached Burton’s. Unlike most coffee houses its proprietor did not allow customers to gamble or light their pipes. Smoke did not wreathe the fine glass lantern suspended from the ceiling. He put a penny for his coffee on the counter in front of the bar where plump Mrs Burton presided and exchanged a brief pleasantry with her.
Seated on a bench, Gabriel enjoyed the fire’s welcome warmth while waiting for a boy to serve coffee. A gentleman of leisure, for a mere penny, he could stay here for as long as he wished, reading, listening to, and participating in conversations with other customers, and reading newspapers provided by Burton. With the intention of whiling away his time until noon, as he did on most days, he would leave at four o’clock to dine. Afterward, he might return and pass the time until he went to the theatre, to a ball, or mingle elsewhere in society.
A boy put a dish of steaming coffee on the table in front of him. Gabriel sipped as he read The Daily Courant, the first and only daily paper published a few days after Queen Anne’s accession to the throne almost a year ago in March.
“My lord,” someone said.
Gabriel ignored the voice and finished reading the small newspaper printed on one side of the sheet. He picked up the London Post published three times a week.
“My lord,” the voice repeated closer to his ear.
A hand holding a sealed message reached between Gabriel and the gentleman next to him.
“From Mister Maynard, milord.”
Gabriel shifted to the end of the bench, turned around and looked at his grandfather’s footman garbed in silver-laced, slate-coloured livery embroidered with a silver emblem of a ship in full sail.
“Thank you, William, you may go.”
Gabriel broke the red wax seal. He read the terse message. His grandsire ordered him to attend him at twelve o’ clock. His first instinct was to ignore the summons, his second to obey it. He scowled and crushed the summons.
“Bad news?” asked the stranger seated opposite him.
“I could say so,” Gabriel replied, tight-lipped. “I said you may leave, William.”
“Begging your pardon, milord, Mister Maynard’s coach is waiting for you.”
If he did not obey his grandfather would bombard him with orders. Gabriel followed William outside.
During his time in the coffee shop the cold had intensified. The wind drove chilly drizzle onto his face. He swiped the moisture away with the back of his gloved hand. Harnessed to the coach, six sedate, long-tailed Flemish horses waited patiently. William opened the door and lowered the step. Gabriel entered and sat down.
He placed no dependence on his grandfather relieving him of his own impoverished state and settling his bills, but it might be worthwhile finding out why the old man sent for him. He hoped he would not have to endure another long, tedious lecture. If he declared that he intended to take an interest in government and sit in the House of Lords, it would soften Grandfather’s temper.
He peered out of the glass window. Between familiar warehouses he glimpsed River Thames crowded with ships, barges, and small boats ferrying passengers across it, up or downstream. He arrived at Puddle Dock where Grandfather’s ships moored when they returned from foreign countries with valuable cargoes. Above loomed two warehouses belonging to the merchant prince. Behind them stood a three-storey house built of plain grey stone with a slate roof. High red brick walls enclosed the building, stables, coach house, and garden.
Gabriel adjusted his fringed neckcloth that suddenly felt too tight. He twitched the lace-edged shirt ruffles at his wrists into place. The coach passed through a pair of tall iron gates topped with spikes and halted outside the house. He would welcome a measure of brandy to prepare him for the ordeal when he faced the old tyrant. He considered returning to Burton’s to find congenial company. Not a coward he dismissed the thought.
The front door opened in response to William’s application of the brass doorknocker shaped like a ship. Gabriel got out of the coach, strode to the house, and up the shallow stone front steps toward the butler, who bowed.
“My lord,” the elderly man greeted him.
“Finch, I hope I find you in good health.”
“I am. Thank you for asking, milord.”
Gabriel entered the spacious entrance,” hall. “My grandsire?” He stared down at the marble floor.
“Mister Maynard awaits you in his closet Finch replied.
A footman relieved Gabriel of his greatcoat and hat.
“Thank you.” Gabriel glanced at the stairs wide enough to accommodate three or four people abreast. The plain exterior of the house gave no clue to the merchant prince’s wealth proclaimed by the beautifully carved balustrades, wainscotting, painted ceilings, and glass in all the windows.
Gabriel breathed deeply as he followed Finch upstairs to the study. The butler knocked. He opened the door without waiting for a response. “The Viscount Cavanagh,” he announced.
“He may enter. You may leave, Finch.”
Gabriel walked into the study. He stood in the centre of the parquet floor facing his grandfather seated beneath the window on a chair with a high back. He would appreciate a word of welcome. No longer an easily intimidated schoolboy aware of misdoings, he did not fidget while his grandsire scrutinised him.
“To judge by your fine clothes, Cavanagh, no one would think that you barely have a feather to fly with.” He pointed at a chair. “Sit down. I have a proposition which will enable you to line your nest.”
If he accepted it, what would his grandfather demand in return? Gabriel sat at right angles to his grandsire’s chair. Instead of looking at the sixty-eight-year-old man’s lined face, he studied exquisite oriental pottery displayed on top of and inside white-painted beechwood cabinets with glass doors. The proceeds from selling some of those bowls and vases imported by the East India Company would settle his debts.
During a protracted silence Gabriel guessed the old man waited for him to ask how he could line his nest.
Adam Maynard pressed the tips of his fingers on each hand together. “Cavanagh, you are disgraceful. I am ashamed of you. Gambling has cost you a fortune. If you had not stopped playing for high stakes and losing more often than you won, you would have forfeited another when I removed your name from my will. Do you think I prospered for you to squander the results of my hard work?”
Gabriel studied a pair of exquisite vases.
Grandfather glared at him. “Answer me!”
“I don’t think that is why you amassed a fortune.” Gabriel’s nostrils flared. He wanted to tell the old man to go to the devil instead of threatening him.
“I am ashamed. Three outraged husbands accused you of having criminal conversations with their wives. May God forgive you for wounding two and killing the third in duels.”
“I did not want to accept the challenges.” Gabriel hoped his puritanical grandsire had nothing else with which to upbraid him.
Adam Maynard squared his shoulders. “My father, a courageous, honourable Puritan, who supported Cromwell, would have disowned me if I had been steeped in vice like you.”
Honourable? A man who approved of the first Charles’ execution and would have willingly signed his death warrant?
“The only solution is for you to agree to marry an heiress I have chosen to be your bride.”
Gabriel pressed his hand to his throat as though a parson tightened a noose around it. Wealth forced many doors open. Did his grandsire have a hold on a prim, Puritan maiden’s parents which forced them to consent to the match?
“Are you shocked? I was fourteen when my gallant father, who served under Fairfax, was rewarded with Oakwood, the magnificent estate sequestered from a Royalist. Although I inherited it and a fortune when my father died, I was dissatisfied because I wanted my daughter to have a title. I arranged her marriage to your father, whose family, as you know, fought for the king, and were impoverished during the war.”
The memory of his gentle, sweet-natured mother, who taught him to read, drove Gabriel to speak. “You sold her to my father to further your ambition.”
“You are mistaken. Your parents wanted to marry. I approved of your father, so I bestowed a large dowry on my dear daughter and gave her an allowance to be certain she lacked nothing.” He cleared his throat. “I was delighted when you, the future Viscount Cavanagh, was born.” He sighed. “After your parents died, I ensured you received an education suited to your rank. Mayhap you would not have become a wastrel if I had kept you with me instead of sending you to school and university and been less severe during your vacations.
“I survived the restoration of the throne to the second Charles, his brother James’ brief reign, his niece, Mary, and her husband William of Orange’s rule. Now, I am well-placed in Charles’ other niece, Queen Anne’s reign. I depend on you to accept the prudent marriage and reform.” He picked up the handbell and rang it to summon a footman. “It is time for you to meet your prospective bride.”
William entered the study. “You may go, and don’t forget to shut the door behind you,” Gabriel commanded.
Adam Maynard cracked his knuckles. “Cavanagh, you forget I am master in this house.”
“I don’t, but you are no longer my master. Until I know who your candidate for my viscountess is and the terms of the marriage contract, I refuse to meet her,” Gabriel stated.
“Perhaps you would prefer to flee the country to escape your creditors.”
His self-assured grandsire’s harsh, flint-grey eyes gazed at him.
Gabriel’s teeth clamped together as he choked on his indignation. Instead of insisting on marriage to an heiress, Grandfather could settle his debts, give him an allowance, and the wherewithal to repair his long-neglected castle put the estate in order, refurbish his house in London, and his other properties.
“I daresay you want to curse me. I commend your restraint,” Adam Maynard drawled.
Determined to maintain his self-control, Gabriel did not allow the old man to goad hm into incautious speech.
“Your bride will be my orphaned ward, Dorinda Davenport. Her father was a merchant whose wealth matched my own. He named me as her guardian in his will. When he and her mother died, I accepted responsibility for the girl, who received an excellent education at Mistress Tutchin’s school for gentlewomen.”
“Gentlewomen? Is she connected to a noble family?”
Adam Maynard shook his head. “I suspect the exorbitant fees I paid exceeded those charged to those not in trade.”
“When did Mistress Davenport leave school?”
Gabriel’s fists tightened. Grandsire had surprised him. He looked up at the man accustomed to manipulating others. “How old is your ward?”
Gabriel grappled with the thought of a young wife nine years young than him. Though he no longer overindulged in wine and spirits, he needed a strong drink. He stood, crossed the floor, and poured a glass of brandy.
“I excuse you for not asking my permission to serve yourself,” Adam Maynard said. “You may serve me with port.”
With an unsteady hand Gabriel gave a full glass to his implacable grandfather.
“You expect me to wed a fledgling who has not spread her wings?”
“Yes, for her protection, to pay your debts and provide you with a large income.”
As though he were about to pass a test, the old man scrutinised him. “I am duty-bound to take care of Dorinda by my promise to her parents. If she does not have a wedding ring on her finger before I die, she might be kidnapped and forced into marriage.”
Gabriel’s breath caught in his throat. His grandsire looked healthy, but who knew what might happen at his age. “Are you ill?”
Adam Maynard chuckled. “I presume you pray for my imminent death for fear you will not be my heir.”
Gabriel looked at the ice-cold expression in his grandsire’s eyes. “You insult me, sir. I daresay you will live beyond the three score years and ten allotted to you in the Bible.”
“Cavanagh, you restore my belief that mayhap you are not completely beyond redemption. Marry the child to please me, protect her and gain a fortune.”
Gabriel glowered. “Has Mistress Davenport agreed to accept my proposal?”
“No, it is for you to persuade her.” Her attorney and mine have drawn up the marriage contract in which her portion and settlements are stated. “Sign it, then meet Dorinda, who is waiting in the small withdrawing room with my sister to be introduced to you. Your great-aunt has explained to Dorinda that it is her duty to marry a man I choose, but she has not named you.”
“Confound it. I shall not sign until I know what the terms are.”
“Don’t look so horrified, Cavanagh,” Adam Maynard said drily. “As you had the wit to assume, there are conditions in the contract, but they are reasonable.”
Gabriel pitied young Mistress Davenport, trapped like an insect in his grandsire’s web. It would be hypocritical to deny the heiress’s fortune would be welcome. “What are the provisions?”
“Dorinda has scant knowledge of the world beyond Mistress Tutchin’s school. For two years the marriage will not be consummated. You shall have sufficient to restore your properties and receive an allowance. Your wife will live at Oakwood, where a lady will train her to take her place as your viscountess.” Adam Maynard studied him from head to foot. “Instead of being a useless fop, you shall sit in the House of Lords and play your part in governing our sovereign lady’s realm. In return for marrying my ward, you will sign a document. It stipulates that if you have the marriage annulled, you must reimburse Dorinda. You may study the marriage contract.” He waved a bony finger at him. “If you reject it, you will be bankrupt.”
Gabriel refilled their glasses. “I shall not sign until I have met Mistress Davenport,”
“Very well. Don’t forget the consequences if you refuse to marry her.”
* * *
Ill at ease, almost unable to breathe, Dorinda sat upright on a comfortable chair resentful of her guardian’s widowed sister, Ellen Leigh. Despite her protests, the woman insisted she exchange her schoolgirl’s plain garments for fashionable ones. She squirmed, tortured by stays covered with gold silk, lined with flannel, and laced painfully. Did a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis suffer as much as she did?
Dorinda gripped the arms of her chair, conscious of her elbow-length sleeves edged with several lace frills that spilled over her wrists. She stared down at her scarlet Italian silk mantua open down the front and looped back over her emerald green and gold brocade petticoat to fall in graceful folds at her side and back. Mister Maynard had ordered his widowed sister to purchase clothes for her. She suppressed a groan. These brightly coloured ones and many others did not suit her.
“Don’t sit there looking like a timid cat,” plump Mistress Leigh said, her hazel eyes amused. “You may trust my brother to determine your future.”
Dorinda toyed with the end of her long ringlet arranged to fall from her neck to her right breast. “Has Mister Maynard decided what it will be?”
“Please don’t disarrange your hair.” Mistress Leigh smiled and hesitated before she continued. “All I may say is that after your excellent education, it is time for you to master social graces to put you at ease in society.”
Dorinda’s common sense told her she had nothing to fear, but she longed for her friends Charlotte and Sophie’s company to bolster her courage.
A footman opened the parlour door to admit her guardian and a gentleman.
“Dorinda, may I present the Viscount Cavanagh, Lord Kaye, my grandson?” Adam Maynard asked. “Cavanagh, my ward, Mistress Davenport.”
Her eyebrows arched, and her eyes widened. With his flaxen hair arranged in long curls, and large, brilliant blue eyes, the viscount could be the twin brother of the hero of in her favourite novel. Her cheeks warm, she knew that, like the heroine in the romantic tale, her face was suffused with blushes. Unfortunately, she and the viscount were not alone. Lord Kaye merely bowed instead of holding her hand and declaring his love as the fictional gentleman had when he first met Amanda.
“Dorinda, your curtsy!” Mistress Leigh prompted in an artificial, honey-sweet voice. “Lord Kaye, Mistress Davenport is new come from school. Please forgive her for her breach of etiquette.”
Dorinda stood. She executed a graceful curtsy frequently practised at dancing lessons. Scarcely able to breathe, not only because of her painful stays, she glanced up at the tall viscount, who had the story tale hero’s perfect proportions and angelic face.
Lord Kaye held out his arm. “Mistress Davenport, please allow me to assist you.”
Her fingers quivered as she supported herself on the smooth broadcloth that covered his arm. An unfamiliar thrill startled her. Dorinda gazed up into brilliant, blue eyes. It seemed they were alone in a beautiful bubble. Afraid it might burst, she took slow, deep breaths.
* * *
Gabriel’s gaze flickered from petite Mistress Davenport to his grandsire and back to her upturned, oval face marred by chubby cheeks. Almost impossible to believe the old man expected him to marry this fat, unprepossessing heiress with dull, light brown hair, podgy fingers that rested on his arm, and lace frills around the bracelets of fat at her wrists.
He inclined his head toward her. “Mistress Davenport, shall we be seated?”
Her cheeks scarlet as her mantua, a colour which did not flatter her pallid complexion, she released her grip on his arm and sank onto a chair. He seated himself opposite the young lady, no, the child whose eyebrows arched above her best feature, a pair of large, expressive green eyes fringed with long lashes. Well-versed in desirable and undesirable female admiration, Gabriel had never conversed with a sixteen-year-old female. He did not know how to respond to this one, whose eyes glowed with unmistakable adulation as she stared at him. Unable to continue looking at her, he glanced at his great-aunt, dressed as garishly as Mistress Davenport in an orange silk mantua with bright yellow stripes. A popinjay’s vivid plumage could not rival either her ensemble or her protege’s.
Pity for the child surprised him. Swounds, she should not wed for at least another two years. Marriage to her would enable his grandsire to dispose of his ward, who resembled a stodgy dumpling wrapped in scarlet and green. Gabriel frowned. Did the wily old man have another candidate for her hand if he rejected the match? A man who might mistreat the young girl regardless of any conditions stipulated in the marriage contract he had signed. Unless a husband murdered his wife, the law remained indifferent to a married woman’s mistreatment by her spouse.
Gabriel swallowed his sensibilities. He remembered how tenderly Papa had treated Mama. He visualised them holding hands in the grounds of their country estate and how fondly they always looked at each other. During childhood, he took their affection for each other and himself for granted. An adult he understood how deeply they loved each other. Since they died, no one had loved him, and he had loved no one. His affairs with beautiful women were pleasurable but not of the heart. He could not imagine ever falling in love.
Marriage to Mistress Davenport would clear his debts. In return, he would always treat her well. A sigh escaped him. In time, she might stop eyeing him like an adoring puppy.
The pendulum swung behind ebony-framed glass door of the grandfather clock that chimed four times.
“We shall dine.” Adam Maynard led the way to the dining room, where he sat at the head of his rectangular table. His sister sat at the other end. Gabriel sat opposite his potential bride to be Miss Davenport, who looked shyly at him.
Eyes closed Adam Maynard bowed his head. He pressed his palms together. “Lord, we thank thee for thy bounty and humbly ask thee for thy blessings on this food and wine.”
Humbly? Grandfather never spoke or acted with humility. During the lengthy invocation which followed, Gabriel’s thoughts strayed to English chefs and popular French ones.
“I prefer roasted or boiled meats,” Grandfather often declared. “Give me a fine boiled pudding, buttered rabbits, pigeons and other fowl or game. I defy you to enjoy victuals swathed in sauce that disguise their taste in the French manner.”
Eyes open, Gabriel put a hand over his mouth to conceal a yawn.
“Amen,” Adam Maynard concluded and looked at him.
“Amen,” Mistress Leigh and Mistress Davenport said, heads bowed, and hands pressed together, while Adam Maynard frowned at him.
“Amen,” Gabriel intoned.
Although the old man attended an Anglican church, Gabriel suspected he did so to cultivate influential men while remaining a Puritan at heart. He grinned as he glanced at his great-aunt, certain she harboured no puritanical sentiments. She always chose vivid colours and dressed in the latest fashion, regardless of how extreme it was and whether or not it suited her. His grandsire’s clothes were well-cut, made from fine fabrics in sober colours. The latest style was unimportant to him.
“Cavanagh, I hope your grin is not a reaction to my request to the Almighty to bless our food,” Adam Maynard said, his tone and eyes cold as hoar frost.
“Grin? You are mistaken, sir. I smiled to express my appreciation.”
“Indeed?” the merchant prince raised his bushy, white eyebrows while Finch supervised the footmen.
Adam Maynard carved the roast beef and boiled mutton put before him. He put slices on porcelain plates rimmed with gold. “Eat hearty.” He gestured to Gabriel and the ladies to help themselves from seven large bowls filled with different greens and vegetables – cabbage, carrots, turnips, other roots, and herbs all salted, peppered and swimming in butter. “Finch.”
“Serve the excellent chianti, not the previous inferior consignment from Florence, to me, my grandson, and Mistress Leigh. Water Mistress Davenport’s. She is unaccustomed to wine.” Adam Maynard forked mashed turnips into his mouth and swallowed them. “Tell Cook there is too much pepper in these.”
Gabriel raised his glass. “Good health, Mistress Davenport.”
His Grandsire and Great-aunt also raised their glasses. “To Mistress Davenport.”
They said little while eating other than about the weather, the food, and the war to prevent France dominating Europe if the French heir succeeded to the Spanish throne.
Gabriel smiled at Mistress Davenport and his great-aunt before he spoke. “Grandsire, I doubt the effect of the war on trade interests the ladies.”
His future bride put down her fork laden with mashed carrots. “You are mistaken, Lord Kaye. Mistress Tutchin, my headmistress, obliged me when I asked her to explain the cause. She told me the childless, late King of Spain named Louis IV’s grandson, Philip of Anjou, as his heir.” Her eyes shone. “To restrain France and Spain’s power in diverse parts of the world, Marlborough leads our gracious queen’s brave, disciplined army.”
“Well-spoken,” Gabriel said.
Adam Maynard’s cutlery clattered onto his plate. “Dorinda, I sent you to school to be taught everything genteel and fashionable, which, when you marry, will please your husband. With your attorney, Mister Sutton’s approval I spent money from your inheritance on your school fees. I did not send you to Mistress Tutchin’s school, to fill your head with anything else. Your time would have been best occupied with needlework, which English women excel at, dancing, singing, and playing musical instruments.”
Mistress Davenport’s face reddened. “I…I also learned much more, sir—to read and write, cast accounts, and make sweetmeats that I hope will like.”
Adam Maynard glared at her. “Do you, indeed! Well, remember this. I don’t require you to busy yourself in the kitchen. I expect you to have mastered the art of playing the small harp I commissioned for you. Enough said about your education.” He cut a piece of roast beef and speared it with his fork.
Gabriel pitied Mistress Davenport. “I shall be honoured if you will play for me after we dine.”
Adam Maynard turned his head to stare at him with rare approval.
“Y…you are very kind, Lord Kaye, but I fear I will disappoint you,” Mistress Davenport said.
“I insist,” her guardian said.
* * *
In the music chamber decorated with wallpaper, a recent fashion, Mistress Davenport sat before them, her harp on her lap. She plucked the strings and played The Nightingale, a famous song by Mister Welsted arranged for the instrument.
Her face rapt with emotion, her faultless soprano delighted Gabriel as she played perfectly and sang the familiar words.
While in a bower with beauty blessed
Ye loved, ye loved, a Mintor lies.
While sinking on Lucinda’s breast,
He fondly kissed her eyes.
A wakeful nightingale,
Who long had mourned within ye shades,
Sweetly renewed her plaintive song,
War bled through the glade.
Melodious songstress cried the swain,
To shades, to shades less happy go,
Or if thou wilt with us remain
Forbear, forbear your tuneful woe,
While in Lucinda’s arms I lie,
To song, to song, I am not free,
On her soft bosom when I die,
I discord find in thee.
Gabriel stood and clapped his hands.
His great-aunt tittered and wafted her painted fan in front of her face.
His cheeks purple as ripe plums, Adam Maynard scowled. “Who taught you that inappropriate song which refers to laying in a man’s arms and a soft bosom?” he demanded, his loud voice as hard as steel.
Mistress Davenport sprang up from the stool.
Gabriel caught her harp before it shattered on the tiled floor.
“I await your answer,” Adam Maynard said, his quiet tone more menacing than his previous one.
“Charlotte, er Charlotte, my friend,” Mistress Davenport whispered.
“I presume I should thank God because your music master did not teach it to you with Mistress Tutchin’s permission. Who are Charlotte’s unfortunate parents?”
“Baron Chesham is Queen Anne’s ambassador in Russia. Her mother is dead,” Dorinda quavered.
Gabriel saw tears glinting in her beautiful jade-green eyes as she ran to the door so fast that the footman barely had time to open it.