Crestwell Abbey, Cumberland, April 17th, 1816
Alex watched Rowena lift the Holland cover from a small escritoire. It was of Louis XV style in delicate rosewood with mother-of-pearl inlay and had multiple small drawers in its upper part.
“Of course, you will find nothing in it, my lady,” Philby warned. “The master made certain that everything was removed before we were allowed to take it from the room.”
His wife was touching the inlays with a trembling hand, tears in her eyes, so Alex could not help himself. “We could take it with us if you are fond of it, Rowena.”
“How well I remember this,” she breathed. “My mother often used to take me on her lap when she was writing letters. She taught me every hidden little hole the desk possessed. I doubt Roderick knew them all, since he never came to her chambers. He was away for the best part of the year to London or elsewhere anyway. I do not think he would have known this hidden space.”
She drew the fingers of her right hand under the top of the inlaid desk until they met a hidden catch. The top went up, revealing a shallow section almost as broad as the top itself. In there was a slim bundle of papers wrapped together with a red ribbon and sealed with red wax. Rowena took it and showed it to Alex.
Last Will and Testament of George Philip Matthew Drake, Baronet Daveston
The rest of the day passed in a flurry of activities, the one even more surprising than the other. Alex took Rowena straight away to Carlisle and Mr Thaddeus Beaumont in Blackfriars Street, who was Lord Carlisle’s solicitor. He sent a note to the lord himself, asking him to join them at the office of Horace Bleak, Roderick’s solicitor. While they were heading toward their destination, Rowena sat listening to the conversation between her husband and the solicitor.
She was still dazed – and extremely happy – by what they read in her father’s will. Papa had not left her penniless after all but granted her the considerable sum of ten-thousand pounds in addition to Fairhaven, the small property near Thursby. Roderick had deliberately fooled her into thinking she would receive nothing but to succeed, it was clear that Bleak must have agreed to go along with the scheme. So now they were going to confront the man.
They arrived before Lord Carlisle did, but that did not dissuade Alex from barging in forcibly. He smothered Bleak’s protests by grabbing him by his lapels and literally lifting him from the floor.
“I will see the will of the late Baronet Daveston now, Mr Bleak, so ask your clerk to produce it right away.”
The scrawny, weasel-like man started to protest as soon as his feet touched the ground again.
“Sir, I am not at liberty to do that. You would need to acquire Lord Daveston’s permission.”
Mr Beaumont interfered. “Mr Bleak, are you aware that your client is at death’s door? He suffered major injuries in a fire at his house yesterday. Lord and Lady Ketteridge are entitled to request that you show them the will. If this does not convince you, I can tell you that Lord Carlisle is on his way here with a search warrant.”
Bleak’s narrow face blanched. “But … but … Lady Ketteridge was appraised of her father’s will last year after he died. She knows the contents well enough to understand that there were no provisions made for her by her father.”
His face contorting in a wicked grin, Alex pulled the papers from his pocket and trust them under the solicitor’s nose. “Kindly take a look at this, Mr Bleak. You will be unpleasantly surprised, I assure you.”
Bleak reluctantly took the documents, read the first page and blanched. “I do not understand,” he started wining. “This is unknown to me, I swear.”
Rowena stood in awe at her husband’s display of sheer authority. He did not yell or use unnecessary violence, apart from the initial lifting of the man, who clearly was intent on defying him. Alex only raised himself to his impressive, full height and coldly stated what he wanted.
“My good man,” he said in a deceptively neutral voice, “let me present the two options that lie before you. You can give me the will of your own accord or, while we wait for the constables to arrive, I start tearing apart your pathetic excuse for an office, until I find it. Now, what will it be? I warn you that my patience is running dangerously thin, so do not tarry overlong.”
Horace Bleak was not a brave man nor was he a simpleton. He uttered a deep sigh and went to a filing cabinet behind his desk. After a few moments, he retrieved a document similar to the one Alex put under his nose.
“This is what Lord Daveston gave me after his father died.”
Mr Beaumont took the paper and began reading. “It is the version we already know, my lord,” he said to Alex after a while and handed it to him. “Were you present when this was drawn?”
Bleak looked positively embarrassed now. “No, indeed, sir, I was not. Lord Daveston summoned me the day after his father’s demise and produced the document. All I had was the will the late Lord Daveston had me draw up years ago. I was not even aware that he had made a new will in the first place.”