Ketteridge, Leicestershire, April 12th, 1816
It was quite the company leaving Ketteridge House a few days later. There was the travelling coach driven by the coachman-cum-stablemaster, Thomas Anderson, with Rowena, Emma, and Alex. Gregson Mortimer, first footman, was in attendance. A large cart driven by Frank Whitman, Anderson’s head stable boy, carried their luggage, while Porter and David Howe, second stable boy, drove the second coach with the nanny, Bessie Cooper, and lady’s maid Trixie. Reese Mortimer, second footman, stood guard here.
The journey promised to be long with some two-hundred-and twenty miles to cover. They would travel in short stages, because of Emma, and only stay in the best inns on the way. Anderson knew them all throughout the whole of England, so Alex could rest assured. All in all, it would probably take them four days and three nights. Alex got a letter from Carlisle in response to his own, that they would be very welcome at Crestwell Abbey, his Cumberland estate. He did, however, send one of the footmen ahead to secure rooms at each inn he considered well-suited for his large company.
The little caravan reached Crestwell Abbey on April 16th, only to find that Lord Carlisle was still in London. He had sent word to his butler and housekeeper, however, that they could expect company. Alex was thus relieved to find the house ready for him and his group, so as soon as Rowena was kept busy settling in, he rode to Carlisle to meet with the earl’s solicitor, Mr Thaddeus Beaumont in Blackfriars Street. He was a large man in his late fifties with short greying black hair and dark, almost black eyes. He welcomed Alex, saying his lordship had already appraised him of the earl of Ketteridge’s coming.
“I have already done some investigation on Horace Bleak, my lord. The man is reputed to conduct underhand business, but so far no one has been able to prove anything untoward. What I can prove is this; Lady Ketteridge was indeed mentioned in the will of her mother, the late Clarissa Maud Daveston née Stowe, for the sum of some eight thousand pounds, to be handed over on her daughter’s twenty-first birthday. I understand that her ladyship never received her inheritance?”
“That is correct. Her father died months before her birthday, so it was left to her half-brother to make sure she got her inheritance. I am still unsure to what really occurred after my late father-in-law’s demise but I am beginning to have an inkling, which I would like to investigate thoroughly before I make accusations.”
“A wise decision, my lord. If I might make some suggestions?”
“By all means, Mr Beaumont.”
It took Rowena a while to comprehend that Alex had gone. Settling in with a three-month-old required some organizing, and little Emma needed much more attention than usual before she fell asleep in the nursery assigned to her and her nanny. So when Rowena finally entered the mutual sitting room in their vast and luxurious quarters, she asked her maid if Alex had gone downstairs. Trixie shook her head.
“No, my lady, I believe his lordship has gone riding. I saw him and Mr Porter heading for the stables a good hour ago.”
Rowena quickly turned away to hide her immense disappointment. Alex had not heeded her wish to confide in her about his actions. How foolish of her to believe she had convinced him of her true interest in his life. Fighting back her silly tears, she tried to think where he could have gone. Alex had no acquaintances that she know of in this part of the country. Lord and Lady Carlisle were on their way home from London, and Alex would need the earl’s authority to take steps against her half-brother. Unless, of course …
Cold fear enveloped Rowena as she realized Alex could have gone to Daveston Hall without Carlisle’s backup. Roderick was mean-spirited and did not shrink from using violence, while Alex, on the other hand, considered every nobleman to be subjected to honour first and foremost. Roderick had no honour. He was evil personified. There was only one thing she could do, Rowena realized, and of course, she would rise to the challenge.