Manon’s heart skipped several beats, then began racing wildly. A fear as black as night enveloped her, threatening to paralyze her. She staggered backwards until she felt the much-needed support of a wall. Her knees buckled only for a second, but she steeled herself; this was not the time to faint and be missish. She had to leave at once for Bearsham Manor.
“Pru, would you please arrange matters with Matron so that the daily running of Greenhaven is secured?” she said simply and handed Jake’s letter to her friend, who read it at once.
Pru blanched and anxiously asked. “Are you going to make the journey ? I fear it is unsafe.”
“Of course I must go,” Manon said briskly. “And you are coming with me. If Jake is right about this, then both my uncle and Jéhan are in need of me, Pru. I will need your help in return.”
She left the ward, ran into her office, and snatched up her bonnet and pelisse. With a gesture of her hand, she summoned the footman whose task it was to accompany her to and from the infirmary. The young man sprang to attention, and Manon signalled him to follow her.
“Of course I will accompany you, Manon,” Pru answered. “That brooks no argument; you are my friend and you will need an ally if matters stand as Jake describes.”
Pru had followed Manon to the office, and she looked at Manon when the younger woman turned towards her.
“I was planning to visit Bearsham Manor in August anyway, Pru. I am sure my uncle will have informed his mother about it. We will arrive a little earlier, in all our best finery, as befits the niece of a baronet.”
Daniel Brownslow, who had been ignored by Manon so far, stepped forward.
“Miss Manon, can I be of assistance? Two ladies cannot travel unaccompanied for such a long distance. Let me come with you, I beg you.”
For a brief instant, Manon considered Daniel’s offer. From the tone of Jake’s letter, she gathered that the situation at Bearsham Manor was to say the least peculiar, if not dire. Richard had never talked about his mother to Manon, but from what Jake had once told her, the Dowager Baronetess must be a cold-hearted woman. Nonetheless, Manon was barely able to grasp that a mother would want to endanger her injured son’s life by not properly caring for him.
Furthermore, Manon realised that she and Jéhan could very well constitute a thorn in the dowager’s flesh. They were the offspring of Sir Robert’s beloved daughter Lily who had been the child he begot by his first and most cherished wife, Elizabeth. Lady Mildred de Briers might see a chance to hurt Richard by harming Jéhan. That horrifying thought settled the matter at once. Manon would present herself at Bearsham Manor but not in the company of Daniel Brownslow. If matters were dire, Manon felt no compulsion to show them to a stranger.
All these matters needed clarification, but Manon’s first duty was to Greenhaven. Mrs Lynver, the matron and her two nurses, Janet and Eleanor, would take care of the daily duties. However, Manon decided she would leave the finances in Pritchard’s capable hands for the time she would be at Bearsham Manor.
“I thank you for your kind offer, Mr Brownslow,” she said, smiling at the young man. “But I am fairly certain that I will be safe enough with the coachman, two footmen, Miss Butterworth and my maid as fellow travellers.”
Daniel knew a rebuttal when he received one. He bowed and left the infirmary.
The company set off in Richard’s well-sprung travelling coach the next morning at dawn. Manon was accompanied by Pru and by her maid, Bessie. Mr Daniel Brownslow had seen her off and had insisted that two sturdy footmen ride on the footboard, as well as a coachman and helper on the box. With the weather being fine and dry, the roads were passable. They made the sixty-two miles in eight hours and arrived at Bearsham Manor at four in the afternoon.
With anxious anticipation, Manon watched as the coach turned into a gated driveway flanked by tall beech trees and shrubbery laden with flowers of all colours. After a while, the coach emerged onto an open lawn, and for the first time, Manon was able to see Richard’s home.
It was utterly charming, she thought. Her heart lifted when she saw the well-proportioned, red brick house with the slate roof, the abundantly flowered borders gracing the flat stoned terrace, and the well-kept gardens surrounding the building. It was a house, Manon knew, that her grandfather Robert had created based on an earlier Elizabethan structure. Richard had not told her much, but that bit of information was one of the things he had mentioned. Manon already loved the house, because it felt like a home. A home for Richard, she realised. He was the one who filled the house with safety and caring.
The carriage stopped before the front steps, and Manon alighted when the footman opened the carriage door.
“Wait for me, Pru, until I have been allowed in,” she told her friend.
She strode towards the door, the footman in her wake. The man purposefully tapped the polished oak door.
A thin, elderly butler opened it partially, lifted grey eyebrows at the footman, and let his gaze drift towards the carriage.
“Yes?” he asked, his voice hoarse with age.
“I am Miss Manon Favier, Sir Richard’s niece. I was informed that my uncle was in need of my presence at Bearsham Manor. Please be so kind as to let Sir Richard know that we have arrived.”
An expression of sad uncertainty slid over the old man’s face.
“I am truly sorry, Miss Favier, but Sir Richard is…”
A gentleman, well past his prime years, Manon had never encountered before came striding through the hall, a hint of reproach tainting his light voice.
“Thornton, what is all the commotion about? Who are these people?”
The butler cleared his throat to answer, but Manon quickly responded in his stead.
“I am Miss Manon Favier, and I have come to visit my uncle, Sir Richard de Briers. Who are you, sir, if I may be permitted to ask?”
The man did not reply, but his eyes wandered over Manon in an appreciative manner. Manon, dressed in a bottle-green travelling gown, her beautiful red hair blazing in the afternoon sunlight, stared back at him, determined not to be browbeaten.
“I say, what a delight to have you here, Miss Favier!” the man exclaimed and grasped Manon’s hand. “Welcome, welcome! I am Jeremy Lawson, Viscount Banbury, at your service.”
Manon started when the tall, dark, handsome man grasped her gloved hand and placed a kiss on the back of it. The viscount had abundant dark locks dusted with grey at the temples, and eyes that were a crystal-clear blue with a hint of grey. He displayed a tall, lean body with broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He was, Manon acknowledged, a handsome man, but there was a glint in his eyes that made her suspicious. Her uncle had never mentioned this man before. Why was he here at her uncle’s estate?
To mask her surprise, Manon performed a deep curtsy and lowered her eyes. When she raised them again, she smiled brightly at the viscount, but her mind was racing.
“How do you do, my lord?” she said, taking the hand the viscount offered. They entered the hall where Thornton led them to a drawing room.
“If you would be so good as to wait here, Miss Favier,” Thornton said, “I will inform Lady de Briers of your arrival.”
“Thank you. I have also brought my companion, Miss Prudence Butterworth, and my maid, Bessie Crampton. Furthermore, there are my coachman and three footmen from the Brighton household. I trust that accommodations can be organized for them as well. Furthermore, I would like to see my brother, Jéhan Favier, as soon as possible.”
While she made this little speech, Manon took the precaution to have her back to Sir Jeremy. She caught Thornton’s gaze and mouthed the words ‘Sir Richard’. The butler gave an almost invisible nod, bowed, and disappeared. To Manon’s relief, Pru chose that moment to enter the drawing room, which allowed Manon to introduce her companion to Sir Jeremy.
Pru curtsied graciously to the viscount and started a conversation with him about the beauty of the estate. This allowed Manon to slip from the room. At the back of the hall near the green baize door, she spotted Thornton, who beckoned her inside and down the stairs to the servants’ hall. A few men and women were gathered there.
“Miss Manon,” the elderly man beamed, “I am so grateful that you are here. Mr Davies told us all about you, and we all feel as if we know you well. Allow me to introduce you to the staff.”
“I know of you, as well,” Manon confessed. “Jake described you all to me so vividly that I find you all to be exactly as he told me. You must be Mrs Briskley, are you not?” she said, addressing an elderly woman.
“Aye, miss! And here are Tobias and Zackary, our footmen. And these are the maids, Franny and Mabel.”
“Pleased to meet you all,” Manon continued, acknowledging the girls’ curtsies. “But now I would first like to see Sir Richard. I need you to tell me what that charlatan has said about my uncle’s condition. Mr Thornton, be so kind as to bring me my medicinal bag. Bessie will know where it is.”
It was a shockingly horrible sight. Richard was lying on his stomach, his upper body bared and one arm flung over the side of the bed. His face was damp with perspiration, and his cheeks were ashen under a two-day beard. The sheets that covered him to the waist revealed black bruises on the tanned flesh of his back. An unpleasant stench rose from the bed, and Manon realised that her uncle had been lying in the same position for two whole days without having been washed.
Manon swallowed her fear and hurried to his side. She felt his pulse with her left hand and touched his face with the other. Oh, dear Lord. Matters were not looking at all right. Richard’s heartbeat was rapid, and his skin felt damp and hot. With trembling legs, Manon knelt beside the bed, laid her hand against Richard’s cheek, and spoke softly to him.
“Uncle, can you hear me? I have come to help you. Uncle, please open your eyes?”
There was no reaction, not even a fluttering of his eyelids. With a pang of anxiety, Manon also noticed that Richard’s breathing was frighteningly shallow. She stood and turned to Thornton.
“Mr Thornton, I will need some assistance. Could you please ask the two footmen to come up here? I will also need a table, a washbasin, clean sheets and several buckets of hot water. If you have a screen that I can put next to Sir Richard’s bed, I would be most obliged. I also require the assistance of Sir Richard’s valet, if you please.”
“I will send up the maids, Miss, but I fear Sir Richard does not make use of a valet, ” Thornton replied.
“Is there anyone who could serve as a valet? A footman, perhaps?”
“I can ask Bright, Sir Robert’s valet to perform the task, miss,” Thornton said and left the room, when Manon nodded her consent.
Manon then turned to the housekeeper. “What did the doctor say, Mrs Briskley? I need to know.”
“He spoke about a severe concussion, Miss Manon, but that was all, according to him. I think Sir Richard has broken several ribs, so we dare not move him. I also have no inkling of how to bandage his torso. I am feeling most guilty, but it has been extremely difficult for us to take proper care of him.”
Manon nodded in agreement, but before she could reply, the door swung open.
Like a little whirlwind, Jéhan burst into the room with Jake in tow. Manon opened her arms to her brother and clasped him to her heart.
“Oh, mon chou, comme tu m’as manqué! How I have missed you!”
“I missed you more!” Jéhan exclaimed, in perfect English and without the slightest accent, other than a light Cockney one. No doubt that was Jake’s influence, Manon thought fondly. With a pang of regret, she released her little brother and gestured towards the still figure on the bed.
“Jéhan, my sweet, you must let me tend to Uncle. He is ill and needs my care. I will come and see you when I am finished. We will talk as long as you wish, mon chou.”
Jéhan cast a concerned look at the still figure on the bed. “Jake told me Uncle was not well,” he said quietly. “You can make him better, Manon, can you not?”
“I will do everything that is in my power, I promise. But now you must let me work.” Jake smiled at her and took her brother by the hand to lead him out of the room.
With a flurry of activity swirling around her, Manon began laying out the contents of her medicine bag on the table beside her uncle’s bed. She found that doing so soothed her frightened thoughts which was all for the best; Richard needed her undivided attention.
“All is ready, Miss Manon,” Mrs Briskley said, a quarter of an hour later.
“Mr Thornton,” Manon inquired, “the mattress on this bed seems ruined. Is there a spare that we may replace it with afterwards?”
“I am certain I can accommodate you, Miss,” Thornton replied, unperturbed.
Manon nodded and turned to her team. She handed the housekeeper a cotton bag filled with dried lavender, marigold, and white willow bark.
“Mrs Briskley, I want you to ask your cook to prepare a poultice with these herbs. Ask her to use calf fat, which is the most effective. The poultice will help to heal the bruises. I also want a tisane, made from camomile and eucalyptus and sweetened with honey. Cook must prepare it with boiling water and keep a stock of it. I want a pitcher on Sir Richard’s nightstand at all times. It will reduce his fever.”
The housekeeper hurried out of the room. To the rest of the staff, Manon only said, “For the moment, I need only Mr Bright with me. We need to undress the patient so that I can tend to his injuries properly.”
Mr Bright, a tall, thin man of some fifty years, stood at the ready while Manon turned the sheets back from Richard’s still body. She gasped when she saw the extent of the bruising on his back.
Richard’s fall from his horse had surely been harsh, and Manon wondered if these outward signs were also a measure for his internal injuries? She bent low so that she could listen to the sounds of Richard’s breathing. If there was a rasping sound, it could point to rib fracture. To her relief, Richard was breathing shallowly but silently.
With the utmost caution, she then began probing Richard’s spine, touching each vertebra and applying a tender pressure to ensure it was unharmed. Again, to her relief, there was no damage and thus she could now examine the ribs. None of them had been torn from their fixation to the back vertebrae. To be entirely certain, Manon slid her fingers under Richard’s torso to probe the front part of the rib cage for broken bones. There were none. The breastbone also seemed undamaged.
Manon now wanted to turn Richard onto his back, but she needed to ascertain that there was no danger in doing so. She moved her hands to Richard’s shoulders. The collar bones also seemed to be whole, which gave Manon additional latitude to move Richard.
“Mr Bright, if you please?”
“Just Bright is fine, miss,” the valet replied calmly.
Manon smiled. “Well, Bright, would you strip your master and cover him with this sheet, please?”
“Certainly, miss. Would you please retire behind the screen?”
Manon rapidly complied, eager to continue her work on her uncle’s injuries.
After Bright had finished the task of baring his master’s body, Tobias and Zackary lifted Richard from his bed and laid him on his back onto the white sheet that covered the extra table. The lower part of Richard’s body was decently shielded by a clean white sheet so as not to offend the virginal eyes of the womenfolk. While her uncle was out of his bed, Manon asked the maids to change the mattress and bedding.
In Brighton, Manon devoted herself to the running of the infirmary, due to her desire to ensure everything was firmly established. Richard wanted her to come to Bearsham Manor at the beginning of August, and that moment was fast approaching. It would be marvellous to see Richard’s estate, knowing how proud he was of his ancestral home. Manon also longed to see her little brother again. She fiercely missed Jéhan and was eager to know how much he had learned under Jake’s tutelage. The letters that Jake sent her weekly only teased Manon’s appetite for learning of her brother’s progress.
First, however, she needed to have Greenhaven firmly on track.
Before leaving, Richard had discussed the financial plan Mr Brownslow junior had designed for Greenhaven. Manon had been interviewing nurses and other staff, and now the infirmary was running smoothly even though the number of sufferers was increasing day by day. Manon was particularly pleased with the new matron nurse, Amelia Lynver. She proved a capable, sensible woman who ruled her staff with a firm, yet friendly hand. In time, Manon hoped to give over Greenhaven’s reins into Mrs Lynver’s capable hands, so that Manon herself would be able to direct her skills to the doctoring and caring. She was determined to train some of her nurses into becoming genuine healers with a thorough knowledge of the medicinal herbs.
Mr Daniel Brownslow proved a considerable asset when it came to keeping Greenhaven running smoothly. He frequently called on Manon and always brought a new idea or a better way to run matters.
Manon liked being in his company. Daniel had insisted upon informality from the start of their encounters and he was witty, smart, and kind. When she was with him at the infirmary or in the library at The Wild Rose, Manon was able to forget the troubles of her aching heart.
Banishing Richard’s image from her mind had been nearly impossible. Manon could manage it from time to time but she was unable to exile him from her heart. Richard was a part of her, she knew, even if they would never belong to each other. In consequence, Manon gave Mr Daniel Brownslow her full attention on matters of Greenhaven.
Mr Brownslow senior observed his son with a benevolent eye. Daniel was readying himself for that day’s appointment with Miss Favier, and his father was most anxious to see him decked out properly.
“Do not forget that the young lady is a member of the landed gentry, my boy,” Mr Brownslow said. “She might have been born and raised in Paris, but she has been out and about in English society to a small extent. You must act with the utmost propriety when in her company, even though you have a right to court her as much as all the other young bucks in Brighton. Miss Favier is sought after by all the unmarried sons of the impoverished London nobility that flock to Brighton in the Prince Regent’s wake. They are after the money Sir Richard’s niece stands to inherit when she reaches her majority. You must attempt to pay her a discreet courtship. We do not want Sir Richard to find fault in Brownslow & Sons, now, do we?”
Mr Brownslow rubbed his pudgy hands together in the universal gesture that embodied spotting a first-class opportunity to enhance one’s personal finances.
Daniel looked away from the mirror in which he had been inspecting himself, and in mild surprise, asked. “Father, what are you implying? Of course Miss Favier is a lady and always behaves impeccably when we are working together. I daresay I do the same. However, you need to understand that I do not intend to court her. A baronet’s niece is far too high for the likes of me.”
“You cannot be serious, my boy!” Mr Brownslow replied in dismay. “Why ever would you not take a chance with her? We Brownslows are highly respectable and of considerable circumstance. Why would you want all that lovely money to go to some hare-brained womanizer in London? Miss Favier would be subjected to the snubs of all the mistresses he might take!”
“Father,” Daniel replied in an earnest voice, “I do not harbour romantic feelings for Miss Favier. Furthermore, I think she may have taken a liking to Lord Blackthorn, who has been paying her an assiduous courtship over the last few weeks. I am certain Sir Richard would prefer her to marry nobility instead of a tradesman, no matter how respectable and well-to-do he might be.”
Mr Brownslow huffed in indignation. “Now, Daniel, my boy, you think too little of yourself. I am sure that…”
“Father,” Daniel interrupted him, “when I marry, it will be for love, just like it was for you and Mother, all those years ago. I saw how happy a marriage the two of you had and I want that for myself, too. You cannot blame me for that.”
“No, you are right,” Mr Brownslow sighed, resigning himself. “Your dearest mother and I have been blessed with happiness since the day I asked her to be my wife. Very well, my boy just provide Miss Favier with your best services as a solicitor, then.”
“Do come in, Daniel, and make yourself comfortable in the office. I will be with you in a moment,” Manon said smilingly before following Pru into the women’s ward at the infirmary. She gestured to one of the serving girls to prepare tea. These days, there was no shortage of helping hands, ever since the female population of the harbour quarter had quickly realised they could better themselves by working at Greenhaven.
“I do not entirely trust that one,” Pru muttered as soon as they were out of earshot. “To be honest, Manon, he seems to be calling on you too frequently to be interested in only the project he has been engaged for. I think other intentions might lie below that polished facade.”
“Pish!” Manon laughed. “Daniel is harmless and utterly charming. He is a powerful asset to Greenhaven, Pru.”
Miss Butterworth gave no further comment, because Manon was already heading for the first patient, a young woman who had given birth to a healthy baby daughter the day before.
She greeted the pale young mother with her best smile, although she knew Jenny was terribly weak and listless after the birth. Jenny had no husband and did not have the slightest idea how to raise little Daisy on the meagre wages she made by working as a tavern wench.
Manon inwardly sighed with frustration. How was she to help all these unhappy creatures? Even with the funding she had amassed during the last two weeks with Daniel’s help, she knew it would only be a small relief to Daisy’s eventual financial needs.
Both Manon and Pru jumped when the door to the ward was thrown open, and a street urchin burst inside, waving a letter at Manon.
“Miss, miss, ‘ere’s a le’er for ye! Brought by a man on an ‘orse, and ‘e said I was to give it to ye right away!”
“Thank you, Tommy,” Manon replied and took the letter from the boy. Tommy held up his hand with a grin on his grimy little face, and Manon chuckled while she handed him a sugared almond from the paper bag in her apron pocket. The boy rushed off, and Manon looked at the letter.
Her heart leapt with joy – it was from Jake!
Jake had sent her a weekly report on her brother’s progress from the day they had left for Bearsham Manor, and those letters had become the most anticipated things in Manon’s life. Jake’s style was humorous and witty, and she pictured the boy’s image as if he were there with her. Eagerly, Manon ripped open the missive and started reading.
Dear Miss Manon,
Your presence is needed at Bearsham Manor as soon as you can manage to leave Brighton. Two days ago, a terrible accident befell the master. He was thrown from his horse and has not regained consciousness since the incident took place.
A doctor, summoned by the Dowager, declared he suffered a severe concussion. He might be unconscious for a long period of time, so Sir Richard’s care has been left to Thornton and Mrs Briskley, but neither of them has any notion of how to deal with a person who is in a deep coma. You have such knowledge, Miss Manon, and it is vastly needed here. Both Thornton and Mrs Briskley are of the same opinion as I am. You are the only one who is able to help the master.
We cannot understand a mother such as Lady de Briers, who is haplessly playing with the life of her son. My lady has not sat by her son’s sickbed at all. It is as if she does not care about the master. Why did she not hire a nurse to assure he is being cared for throughout the day and the night? We are all mystified.
Miss Manon, there is yet another reason why I beseech you to come. I fear for Sir Richard’s welfare, because of trouble that comes from a direction I could not ever have imagined. The Dowager Baronetess forbade us to inform you of the incident. She even threatened to dismiss Thornton, if he wrote to his friend, Mr Pritchard about it. Thornton is at a loss because it is Sir Richard’s explicit order that the butlers at each of his residences should be kept informed about what occurs at the other.
I must be extremely careful not to attract the Mistress’ attention. So far, she does not seem to notice me or Jéhan so I will venture to send you this missive by the hands of a stable lad. The boy’s uncle lives halfway between Bearsham Manor and Brighton and offered to bring it to you.
P.S. Jéhan is well, but truly distressed by what has occurred. He, too wishes you here.
Your faithful servant,
James Philip Davies
Here’s a refresher on how some of our former patriots handled negative comments about our country.
JFK’S Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was in France in the early 60’s when
DeGaulle decided to pull out of NATO. DeGaulle said he wanted all US
military out of France as soon as possible.
“Does that include those who are buried here?”
DeGaulle did not respond.
You could have heard a pin drop.
When in England ,
at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked by the
Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of
’empire building’ by George Bush.
He answered by saying,
“Over the years, the United States has sent many of
its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom
beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for
in return is enough to bury those that did not
You could have heard a pin drop.
There was a conference in France
where a number of international engineers
were taking part, including French and American. During a break,
one of the French engineers came back into the room saying, “Have you
heard the latest dumb stunt Bush has done? He has sent an aircraft
carrier to Indonesia to help the tsunami victims. What does he
intend to do, bomb them?”
A Boeing engineer
stood up and replied quietly: “Our carriers have three
hospitals on board that can treat several hundred people; they are
nuclear powered and can supply emergency electrical power to
shore facilities; they have three cafeterias with the capacity to
feed 3,000 people three meals a day, they can produce several thousand
gallons of fresh water from sea water each day, and they carry half a
dozen helicopters for use in transporting victims and injured to and
from their flight deck. We have eleven such ships;
how many does France have?”
You could have heard a pin drop.
A U.S. Navy Admiral
was attending a naval conference that included
Admirals from the U.S., English, Canadian, Australian and French
Navies At a cocktail reception, he found himself standing with a large
group of officers that included personnel from most of those countries.
Everyone was chatting away in English as they sipped their drinks but a
French admiral suddenly complained that, whereas Europeans learn many
languages, Americans learn only English. He then asked, “Why is it that
we always have to speak English in these conferences rather than
Without hesitating the American Admiral replied, “Maybe it’s because the
Brit’s, Canadians, Aussie’s and Americans arranged it so you wouldn’t
have to speak German.”
You could have heard a pin drop.
THIS STORY FITS RIGHT IN WITH THE ABOVE…
an elderly gentleman of 83, arrived in Paris by plane.
At French Customs, he took a few minutes to locate his passport
in his carry on
“You have been to France before, monsieur?” the customs officer asked
Mr. Whiting admitted that he had been to France previously.
“Then you should know enough to have your passport ready.”
The American said,
“The last time I was here, I didn’t have to show it.”
“Impossible.. Americans always have to show their passports on arrival in France !”
The American senior
gave the Frenchman a long hard look. Then he
quietly explained, ”Well, when I came ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day in
1944 to help liberate this country, I couldn’t find a single Frenchmen
to show a passport to.”
You could have heard a pin drop.
“I hate him.”
The sentence was uttered through clenched teeth, in a voice, low with malice. Mildred de Briers stood looking over Bearsham Manor’s sunny lawn from the window of her boudoir when she spoke the words that had simmered in her heart for twenty-seven years.
“Yes…” The voice of her lover drawled, “you have said that before, more times than I care to recall, darling. It is time you acted upon it.”
Mildred turned towards her large four-poster bed, where Jeremy Lawson lay sprawled in all his splendid nakedness. They had just made love, and Mildred, now physically satisfied, was able to give her attention to the matters at hand. More precisely, her acute shortage of funds. Funds that her son, Richard de Briers, refused to hand over to her.
“What do you mean, act upon it? I have asked my son for money countless times, but he has refused me over and over again. Apart from the meagre allowance he so stingily doles out to me every month, I have no other income. God! When I think of the fact that the money came from my father, my blood boils!”
Jeremy laughed, a sound that came from deep in his throat and could still make her tingle with the rapture of anticipation. He had not aged a bit, she thought. Men were fortunate. They only seemed to grow more attractive with age, provided they managed to keep their slim forms. Jeremy’s waist and stomach were still slender, and his chest and shoulders were muscular. His black hair was barely sprinkled with grey.
“Ah, well, we know that women cannot control a fortune, do we not?” Jeremy drawled. “Especially you, my darling; you have a tendency to fling out your blunt in every direction without even knowing the cost of things.”
Mildred huffed, which made the robe she had thrown around her shoulders slide down in a rustling heap at her feet. Jeremy appreciated the sight of her slim, lithe body and still full breasts. Mildred was a stunningly beautiful woman, despite her forty-eight years.
“What virtue is there in being rich if you cannot spend heaps and heaps of money? That blunt is mine, Jeremy, and I intend to get it back,” Mildred said determinedly and turned towards him with a gleam in her eyes.
Jeremy Lawson, Viscount Banbury, son of the Earl of Donbridge, eyed her with a mocking scepticism in his blue-grey eyes. “Have you still not had enough, my vixen, that you should uncover yourself to me? Fear not; my time is yours, you know. Come back to bed, my darling, and forget about that skinflint of a son of yours.”
Mildred did not react to his plea but retrieved her robe and put it back on. She seated herself in a chair near the window and cast a pensive glance at her lover.
“At first, I believed Richard was yours, Jeremy,” she said in a voice so low that Jeremy could barely hear her words. When he did comprehend the full meaning of her statement, his heart jumped in sudden fear.
“Mine? How could that be, Millie? We did not meet for several weeks before you married de Briers. My father had one of his apoplexies, remember? I had to see to estate matters in his stead.”
Mildred gave him a smile that chilled his heart to the core with its slyness.
“It is possible, you know. My courses were late to arrive during the fortnight before the wedding. I was fearful that they would be present on the wedding night, but to my relief, they stopped the day before.”
When she did not continue speaking, Jeremy anxiously prodded her. “So your son is truly his father’s, I take it? No doubt about it?”
“Richard arrived ten months after the wedding, Jeremy. De Briers never doubted his son was his.”
Viscount Banbury felt hugely relieved to hear that. He inwardly shuddered at the thought of being morally bound to Mildred by the sole fact that he might have begotten a son with her.
“Richard could have been your son, Jeremy, had you proposed to me as was my due. We had been lovers for several weeks before my wedding.”
Her voice took on a slight wailing sound that grated against Jeremy’s nerves. Mildred de Briers was a lovely woman but a harpy as well, and the idea that he could have easily been leg-shackled to her for life created goose bumps all over his body. He forced himself to be unruffled and coolly answered.
“Yes, we know all that, Millie dear. It is all water under the bridge. You know I could not marry you. My father would never have consented to a marriage with a commoner.”
Now Mildred was truly irritated. She stamped her foot like a twelve year old, a gesture that made her full breasts jiggle attractively – at least, in Jeremy’s eyes.
“No, instead you married that nitwit Mary Breckenridge and have made her pregnant every single year of your ten years of marriage. How does it feel to copulate with a limp, apathetic skeleton of a woman, Jeremy?”
“An extremely aristocratic skeleton, darling! Let us not forget that Mary’s father is His Grace, the Duke of Beaufort. That makes up nicely for her less-than-average looks and her thin, unattractive body.”
He rose from the bed, fully aroused now. In two strides, he was at her side, and Mildred found herself wrapped in his strong arms within seconds.
“Whereas you, my darling Millie,” Jeremy said in a low voice, “are simply delicious. You know you are the one I love, my vixen, so come to bed, and I will make you soar into heaven once again.”
God help me, Mildred thought, but I cannot resist him when he speaks thusly.
She let herself be taken to the bed, where she opened herself to him once more. While her lover proceeded to do as he had promised, a small part of Mildred’s brain was still fretting over her son. How might she put enough pressure upon Richard, so that he would consent to give her a more generous allowance? She had tried everything, flattery, threats and bouts of rage, but nothing seemed to unsettle that imperturbable mind or that cold heart. Robert de Briers seemed to have passed his own nature on to his son. Both men had the same unfeeling heart and were not easily persuaded to change their minds once they had decided upon a course.
A few days later, Richard was back at his estate. It was the only thing he could do to make his life bearable. The sixty-two-mile distance between him and Manon was sufficient to dull the pain he suffered when he was in her presence. No, that was not so. It was indeed painful, to have to set eyes on her the whole day long and not be allowed to touch her, beautiful and sweet as she was. Yet Richard craved that pain, because it meant he was in the same house as she was. It meant that he breathed the same air as she did.
At Bearsham Manor, matters had not changed much. His mother was still entertaining a few young bucks and taking her pleasure with them. Just this morning, Mrs Briskley, the housekeeper had complained about the extra work they gave the maids by making a mess in every room they set foot in. Richard had granted her permission to hire a few extra hands for the time the aristocratic pests stayed in the house. Fortunately, they would depart shortly, Thornton informed him. They had been absent from the London Season too long.
After his daily contact with his steward, Mr Waldham, Richard had taken to the stables. Now he was riding towards one of his farms. The joy of cantering through the Hampshire countryside on Spartacus was a much-needed diversion from his gloomy thoughts about Manon. The stallion seemed to appreciate the exertion as much as his master did. He was happily stretching his long legs in a fast canter. Richard felt the horse’s back muscles work against his thighs as if Spartacus longed for a gallop. On an impulse, Richard gave Spartacus free rein. The horse jumped forward, and Richard gave himself over to the exhilarating speed for a time. Eventually, he reined Spartacus in and patted the stallion’s neck.
“Well done, boy, “ he praised. The horse whinnied softly in response.
Then Fate struck.
From the forest undergrowth, a bunch of village lads came bursting into the open. They ran straight into Spartacus’ path. Still cantering at a fair speed, the large stallion reared in fright. With desperate effort, Richard tried to keep the strong animal from trampling one of the boys, who had rolled under the horse’s deadly hoofs. Spartacus reacted against the painful pull his master exerted on the bit. He bucked, swung his large body sideways and threw Richard off. Richard’s body crashed onto the surface of the road, which had been hardened by several days of summer drought. A spooked Spartacus broke away from his master in a fast gallop.
Richard was unconscious when the villagers came rushing towards him. His body was bent at a weird angle, and he was bleeding from a deep gash on his head where it had hit a roadside boulder.
At The Wild Rose, Richard found Pritchard, on duty as he always was. The rest of his staff, his housekeeper, his cook, and all the footmen and maids, even the tweenie and scullery maid were at the infirmary.
It seemed that Manon had commandeered his entire staff into her service. Since even her maid Bessie was absent, Richard carried Manon to her room and laid her on the bed. She had not stirred, not even when he removed her apron, shoes, stockings and mobcap. Not even when he spread a blanket over her and tucked her in. She must have been exhausted, he realised.
In her usual brisk manner, she had made her plans and had diligently worked to make them come true.
Richard watched her while she was sleeping. She had instantly turned onto her side, and now she lay curled up, her hand tucked under her cheek.
His heart ached at the sight of her.
“Sir…” Pritchard’s hesitating voice sounded from the doorway.
“Yes, what is it?” Richard replied, turning to his butler.
“Miss Manon is well, I hope? She…well, she was so set on this infirmary scheme, and she convinced us all of its urgency, and…”
“And you all pitched in when she needed you. Yes, Pritchard, she is well, apart from being exhausted. I understand why you helped her. And fear not; I approve, but I will need to know everything there is to know about this infirmary scheme. Let us go downstairs, to my library.”
Half an hour later, Richard understood he had to take the matter firmly in hand, lest Manon should steer his entire household into chaos. It appeared that she had convinced Pritchard to use the funds Richard provided for daily expenses. It also became clear that Manon had been occupied for some time with her task. Her letter to him had come too late in the day, but maybe that had been her purpose from the start. To present Richard with a fait accompli so that he would have no choice but to condone it. Yes, he smiled to himself; that must be it.
Nonetheless, Manon needed his help. If she wanted to go through with this, she would be in urgent need of proper funding, and of a manager. Pulling out a sheet of paper from the top desk drawer, Richard began scribbling down some figures.
Manon woke with a start from a dream of horror and human suffering. She did not know where she was in those first moments of slowly returning awareness. She was also sore in her lower back and calves, as if she had walked for miles the day before. Which, of course, she had. And then it all came back to her. She gasped. Richard! Richard knew what she had done!
In a panic, she leapt from her bed and ran to her dressing room, calling for Bessie. Her maid was nowhere to be seen, nor was there hot water ready for her, and there were no clothes laid out on the chair. It was then that Manon realised she was still wearing the clothes she had worn the day before while working at the infirmary. That was, of course, why Bessie was absent. Manon herself had set her maid and everybody else in the house to work at the infirmary.
She hastily washed in cold water and dressed in a muted dark brown gown. With something of an effort, she combed and plaited her hair, the way she had done when she was living in Paris, just one thick tress down her back. She missed Bessie already, Manon thought.
There was not a footman in sight either, in the corridors and hall. Even the ever-present Pritchard could not be found.
The house seemed strangely quiet this morning. When Manon opened the door to the morning room, she registered with a shock that no breakfast was laid out on the polished round table near the window. Again, that was her own doing. She had waylaid Richard’s entire staff, and must go to see how she could put matters to right. She turned back into the hall and headed for the green baize door that led to the servants’ quarter. The door to Richard’s library stood ajar, and seemed to beckon her to come and investigate.
At his desk, slumped in his chair, sat Richard, still deeply asleep. His long legs, still in breeches and boots, lay stretched out before him. His arms were crossed over his chest, and his head rested on the back of the chair, slightly tilted to one side. His black hair looked ruffled, his face a bit drawn, even in repose.
With a stab of guilt, Manon realised Richard must have spent the entire night at his desk. The scattering of papers and books was testimony to that.
She picked up some documents, then stilled when she saw what was on them. It seemed that Richard, in his usual thorough and efficient manner, had worked out a scheme for the daily management of the Greenhaven Infirmary. There was a rudimentary financial plan, and a fund had been constructed for the daily expenses and staff wages that would ensure the infirmary could continue to be run. The fund would have to be provided for by charity events, such as fundraising balls and concerts. Richard himself would donate the money needed to get started.
Manon’s eyes filled as she realised what Richard had done. He had made her project possible and viable. Then, for the first time she took a moment to reflect on what she had done.
She had been a truly ungrateful and selfish creature. With his preparations of the past night, Richard had given her a chance to start a new life, even though she had gone behind his back and ruined the perfect routine of his household. Good heavens…she had even taken his money and used his staff, all without asking him face to face.
Yet he had never said a word the previous night. Instead, Richard had come, and when he saw she was too tired even to stand on her own two feet, he had brought her home, and had then started to work out her project.
“Well? Does it meet with your approval, niece?”
His sudden, teasing voice startled Manon, and she dropped the papers she was holding. She could only nod and swallow the tears that seemed to come so easily this morning. Richard rose and picked up the fallen documents, swiftly arranging them back into the right order.
“Look,” he said, matter-of-factly, “I will ask my solicitor, Mr Brownslow, to help us out with the funding management. We will go to Eastbourne today and discuss it with him. I want him to find us an accountant for Greenhaven. I am sure one of the young clerks he employs will be eager to take the job. Then we will need to hire a proper staff of nurses, although that might prove to be difficult. Not many girls would want to do such a demanding job.”
“I can train them!” Manon found her voice and pitched in with enthusiasm. “I learned from the best in Paris, the nuns of Les Dames de Marie! We would need to fit up free rooms at Greenhaven so that they could stay on the premises instead of having to rent. That would make it profitable for them to stay as on our staff.”
“An excellent idea! Now, let us work out some more arrangements. Take a chair.”
They worked like a team of accountants, efficiently planning the daily routines, the supplies that would be needed, and the people that would be indispensable, until Pritchard knocked to announce that breakfast was laid out. They had worked for two hours without even noticing the passing of time. Now they were famished.
After breakfast, during which they further talked and planned, Richard and Manon set off for Eastbourne in the gig. It was a Stanhope, which Richard had purchased after his father’s death so that he would have a fast carriage if he needed one. The twenty-two miles were covered in one and a half hours by a swift little gelding named Phineas.
Mr Brownslow, Richard’s solicitor, was a man in his early sixties, large and heavyset, with a shock of white hair above a pink, round face. His clear brown eyes smiled at Manon when Richard introduced her. His large mouth with surprisingly healthy teeth opened wide under his bushy white moustache.
“I am honoured, Miss Favier, to make your acquaintance. Sir Richard informed me of your coming to England, and it is my privilege to bid you welcome to our beautiful country.”
He bowed and took Manon’s right hand into his large, pudgy one. He placed a kiss on the back of her hand, surprising her with the subtle bending of his wide girth.
“Mr Brownslow,” Richard said evenly, “I have several matters to lay before you for careful consideration.”
Something in his tone must have spurred the solicitor into action, because he now bowed to Richard. “Forgive me, Sir Richard, for having done some research of my own already, but the messenger you sent me last night seemed adamant that I do so.”
Messenger? Manon looked at Richard in surprise, causing him to smile sheepishly at her.
“I sent Pritchard to convey my request to Mr Brownslow,” he explained.
“Now, sir, if you and Miss Favier would follow me into my office, I would be honoured to lay out what I have worked out.”
With his words, the solicitor effectively cut short any reply Manon would have made to Richard’s comment. He led them to a room at the back of the large townhouse he occupied. This chamber was airy, light, and beautifully furnished in the latest Oriental style that the Prince Regent loved so well. Elegant black-lacquered cupboards with coloured inlaid images of birds and flowers stood against the walls, which were covered in delicate, light green silk. Gold-painted sofas and chairs, upholstered in dark green silk, and with fragile curved legs, surrounded a Chinese tea table of finely carved wood.
From one of the chairs, someone rose when Manon entered.
“Allow me to present my eldest son, Daniel,” Mr Brownslow beamed. “He asked if he could act as your accountant, Miss Favier, and assist you with the running of Greenhaven.”
Daniel Brownslow was in his early thirties; he was not much taller than Manon and had a figure that was just a little too plump. Yet he showed an easy charm and a kind smile that lit his hazel eyes and kindled a warmth in Manon’s heart. He placed his right hand on his heart and bowed deeply from the waist, albeit with a bit of difficulty. “It will be my utmost pleasure and honour to serve you to the best of my humble abilities, Miss Favier,” he said in a warm voice.
Manon politely listened to Mr Daniel Brownslow as he explained what his scheme was for Greenhaven. He certainly was intelligent and diligent; she had to give him that. He had thought of everything, from hiring a staff to calculating what would be needed for the efficient working of the infirmary, and even how they could make a modest profit by investing their excess money once they were in business. Needless to say, for the moment, there was no excess money yet, but that did not deter Mr Brownslow junior from the course he had set.
Mr Brownslow senior had drawn up a contract, which was signed by Richard, after a careful reading and approving of its contents. After a celebratory glass of brandy, Richard and Manon left the Brownslows and returned to The White Rose.
“So what is your opinion on young Brownslow?” Richard asked once they were out of Eastbourne on the road to Brighton. The countryside was lush and slightly hilly with fields of barley and wheat, interspaced with meadows dotted with sheep.
“He seems a competent and intelligent man,” Manon replied. “And a truly kind one, too. I like him, Uncle, and I think he will be an asset to our scheme.”
They drove on for a few minutes while Manon felt struck by a feeling of guilt; she had forced her uncle to spend money on this scheme, when he probably had no wish to do so.
“I have not even thanked you yet for what you did, Uncle,” Manon said, clasping her suddenly shaking hands in her lap.
He did not answer right away but cast a sideways glance at her. His expression was unreadable. After a while, he replied, “I was furious with you at first, but once I saw what you accomplished in so little time and with so few means, I had to admit that it was an excellent idea, Manon.”
He fell silent again, and Manon’s pulse suddenly raced at the gentleness of his tone. She could hear his approval clearly, and she was ridiculously happy with it.
“I…I was not sure if you…,” she tried, but the words got caught in her throat.
“If I would approve?” Richard said, turning his head. Then his beautiful smile hit her in full force. “You think singularly little of me, Manon, if you feared my judgement. I could never disapprove of a job well done – and it was, Manon, it certainly was. I admire your pluck, and your tenacity, in striving to reach the goal you set for yourself.”
After a brief pause, he continued, “Have you been seeing Blackthorne again in the week that I was at Bearsham Manor?”
“Only once. We went out riding. He has not returned since.”
“I take it that Blackthorne has not come up to scratch, then?”
“No,” Manon answered quietly. “He was kind, and always the gentleman, but he did not ask for my hand.”
“Fool…” Richard muttered, under his breath.
“I would have refused him,” Manon said, clearly and determined.
That statement was a surprise for Richard, so much so that he steered the gig to the side of the road and stopped it. Phineas instantly started to graze on the road shoulder’s lush grass.
“Why? I thought you liked Lucian.”
Manon turned to look him in the face, unsettling him with the intensity of her gaze.
“I do like him, Uncle, but I could never marry a man that I do not love, especially when I like him. It would be a living hell for both of us, to live a life without love. Companionship is not enough for me, Uncle, nor is friendship. I want love, and passion, and the joy it brings. I could never do without those. I would rather stay alone and live my life the way I want. I think I have found what I want in Greenhaven.”
She is so lovely, Richard thought. How many times had that same notion crossed his mind, lately? Yet it was the absolute truth. His Manon was the loveliest woman he had ever set eyes on.
The way she looked at him now, with love glowing in those green eyes, set his heart racing, and he welcomed the feeling like the air he breathed. Even if they could never be together, he would always want to see the love she felt for him, Richard, in her eyes.
Then, suddenly, Richard stopped fighting the searing urge and surrendered. With a sigh escaping his lips, he leaned over and kissed her.
They did not touch other than by the joining of their mouths. Richard felt Manon’s answering jolt as clearly as he felt the sparkle of lightning run down his own spine. From that moment on, he lost himself in the feel of her soft, pliant lips as they parted to welcome him. She was as hungry as he was, and he steeled himself to keep from losing every shred of control and jumping from the gig with her in his arms so that he could…
Soft little moans escaped Manon, as she threw her arms around his neck. He felt her shaking body press against his, and suddenly, all his rational thoughts left him. He grunted with frustration, rose and lifted her into his arms. When he jumped down from the seat of the gig, Manon wrapped her legs around his waist and she never stopped kissing him. Her small hands were entwined in his hair as if she had to hold onto him for dear life.
Manon felt as if she were on fire. She could no longer think, no longer breathe, no longer contain herself. She had to cling tightly to Richard; she wanted to feel him and touch all of him! She was vaguely aware of him, carrying her through a hole in the hedgerow, and laying her down onto cool, soft grass.
And then they were tugging at each other’s clothes, breathing hard, seeing nothing but each other. Her breasts sprang free of her bodice as if they had a life of their own, but Manon did not stop to cover herself. She tore at Richard’s coat, shoving it from his shoulders while he lifted her skirts up to her waist. His hands were on her inner thighs, stroking harder and harder, and covering her sensitive skin with liquid fire everywhere they touched.
God, she was exquisite! She was all subtle, soft curves, firm femininity in a skin of pure silk. Her breasts begged for his lips, his tongue, his teeth, and Richard kissed, licked and sucked the hard, puckered nipples until she was moaning with need. He was so hard that he would burst any moment, if he did not…
Stop! You blithering fool, stop! He could not do this. He could not!
When he tore himself loose, the pain was agonizing. He heard Manon’s soft moan of protest and hated himself for letting her go. Hated the cruel God that installed this love in their hearts yet crushed it with the forbidding laws of sanity.
“I am sorry,” he whispered, his mouth still very near hers. “I did not want to do that, yet I wished it with all my heart.”
Then he released her, pulling up her bodice and lowering her skirts. He shrugged into his coat, stood, and reached for her hands to pull her to her feet.
Manon’s small hand touched his cheek in a gesture that gave comfort as well as understanding. “I know, my love and I feel the same pain as you do. Do not ever apologize for loving me.”
They stood frozen in their agony for a few moments, their brows touching; breathing hard in an effort to overcome their distress, they clung to each other.
Finally, Richard led Manon back to the gig and helped her up. He climbed up beside her, took up the reins, and clucked Phineas into a trot.
How on earth were they to survive this agonizing torture? Richard inwardly raged. How were they to shrug off the uncertainty that weighed upon them like a curse?
Next to him, Manon averted her flushed face to hide her hot tears from the man she was doomed to love.