Sense and Sensibility (2008)

Hattie Morahan, Charity Wakefield, and Dominic Cooper star in screenwriter Andrew Davies’ adaptation of the classic Jane Austen tale of love and class conflict. Marianne Dashwood (Wakefield) has fallen deeply in love with John Willoughby (Cooper), yet despite their feelings for one another the wealthy Willoughby is considered an improper suitor for the financially destitute girl. Marianne’s sister Elinor (Morahan)’s pleads with her sibling to end the romance or risk becoming the subject of gossip in their chatty social circle, all the while struggling to suppress her own romantic disappointment. So how does one find happiness in a society where the rules are set according to status and money? Perhaps a winning mix of sense and sensibility is the key to striking a harmonious balance, and living a life without regrets.


 

 

Dearest, loveliest Meg – Part Thirty-Five

Dear Reader, this is the last installment for Dearest, loveliest Meg. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support.

Margaret_001

 

Chapter Thirty-Five

Before I could even draw another breath, Douglas enfolded me in his arms. I settled comfortably against him and, while I began tugging at the bows of my dressing gown, Douglas hissed in sudden disagreement.

“Oh no, my little vixen! Uncovering your exquisite body will be my privilege!” His voice was shaking with suppressed need. An answering tug of desire sprang to life low in the area between my thighs and heat suffused me as Douglas carried me to his bed. He placed me on my feet then shook off his trousers. My eyes roamed over his bare form; what they saw pulled at every nerve in my body! Oh, sweet Heaven, he was magnificent!

With few manipulations, Douglas undid the fastenings of my dressing gown and pulled it from my frame. As his fingers loosened the bows of my nightgown, he held my gaze with his own – a very earnest one.

“My love, are you certain of this? You can only pull away up until a certain point, Margaret. Beyond that point, I will no longer be able to draw back. Do you understand?”

“I do, Douglas. I do not want you to hold back any longer. I want you completely as my lover and beloved.” I almost lacked the breath to finish my sentence!

Soft flicks of his fingers removed my gown from my shoulders and it slid silently to the floor. Douglas’ gaze reflected my own as he let it roam over my naked body.

“Sweet Mother of God, Meggie … you are exquisite! I have imagined you in my dreams but nothing could have prepared me for this lovely sight of you.”

Warmth and desire spiralled up from low in my belly and my toes curled with need. My stomach seemed to be sucked empty with ache as my eyes roved over Douglas, head to toe and back. I extended a trembling hand to him and he took my hand to lace his fingers through mine. Without words, he led me to his bed and invited me to lie down between the silk sheets and rest my head upon the silk-rimmed pillows. Easing down beside me, Douglas settled his long, lean body against mine – a complete unison of touch.

He leaned upon his elbow and slowly began roaming his free hand over my now very trembling flesh, from my cheek and neck, to the swell of my breast and the flatness of my stomach to the curls of my womanhood; his touch sparkled fire all the way down. I caressed his shoulder in needy return and revelled in the long, smooth muscles of his torso under my palm. A sudden urge to kiss him flushed over me and I succumbed, attacking his mouth with a fierceness I did not know I possessed. In the blink of an eye, his arms were around me with a grip as tight as I could stand! His tongue ravished mine in a dance of love as old as mankind and I pressed myself against him in a desperate need to get as close to him as was possible. Mounting need made me wriggle and writhe against the hardness of his manhood until I was almost driven over the edge with impossibly hot desire. Oh, this play of flesh was delicious! I never could have suspected this!

Suddenly, he was on top of me, and, for an instant, the weight of him pressed the breath out of me. Then I instinctively adjusted my position to accommodate my body under his pressure and it felt marvellously good! Under my own eager volition, I parted my legs and arched up to be even closer to him. Blood pounding in my ears and a sweet ache churning in my belly, I felt my heart stop when the tip of his length probed for the opening of my secret place. I moved slightly and, all of a sudden, felt it slide inside and fill me completely and somewhat overwhelmingly. I gasped when a sudden sharp pain made me clench my inner muscles in response.

“Shhh, shhh, my heart, lay still. It will only be a moment, the pain will pass,” he most lovingly whispered. His lips soothed mine in a deep, warm kiss and I relaxed again as I returned his kiss. The pain subsided as abruptly as it had come. It was replaced by a strong, throbbing sensation of sweet, churning desire. I moved my hips up and down, seeking a position that brought me closer to Douglas than I ever felt before. He gasped and uttered a low, long pleasurable groan.

“Meggie, I cannot keep back … I must have you now, my sweetling.”

“Have me, then, Douglas, my love … please …”

Douglas’ hands slid around to cradle the back of my head and again he kissed me while his hips started to move gently against mine. Every move of his powerful body brought on a sensation of ever growing and well-being of excitement. The rubbing of his hard chest against my peaked, oversensitive nipples not only increased my desire but also, at the same time, pained and pleasured me to the extreme. I was driven higher and higher on the waves of seething pleasure and suddenly, was pushed over the edge into a sea of swirling, bright white lights. I was spun into the spiral, warm, exquisite ripples of delight drowning me! It was impossible bliss! How could I recover from this? Did I even want to?

Douglas’ hoarse cry reached the depths of my isolated bliss and I felt his body stiffen and harden as he ground his hips against mine under the strength of his long-lasting release. My inner muscles responded as they clenched around him and, once again, a fresh wave of pleasure rippled through me. It was even more exquisite than the first and I threw my arms around his lean waist to keep him close to me. My face resting against the hollow of his shoulder, I inhaled his unique, manly scent, saturated with the flavour of orgasm. I desperately longed to preserve the marvellous sensation! He collapsed on top of me with a gasp for breath, hurting me a little with his dead weight, yet I did not care. It felt so good, so right.

 

We stayed in that divine position for a while, revelling in each other’s warmth and closeness. Then Douglas’ mouth was upon mine and he whispered:

“Am I crushing you, my sweet? I will move away and …”

“No!” The thought was simply unbearable! I did not ever want him to move away from me and abandon me to loss and cold!

Douglas chuckled and the low rumble sent a new stir of pleasure up my body.

“I will be of no use to you, darling, for quite a while. I need to recover a bit.” And, with a sigh of utter well-being, he rolled over onto his side and drew me to him, so that I covered him now. Our bodies had, however, disconnected which filled my eyes with sudden tears that spilled over and down my cheeks.

“Do not weep, my sweetling. I know you must be in a bit of pain but it will not stay that way. The sexual deed becomes easier in time until there is only pleasure.” His big hands gently caressed me as he said this.

How could I put this remark to rights and tell him that it was the unbearable loss of him that prompted my tears? He would think I had become a sorry wanton under his lovemaking and that would not do. Or would he?

“I should scold you, my rakish lord, for not giving me all this sooner! How could you keep this heavenly experience from me? Shame on you, my lord!”

Douglas quickly stole a kiss from me and then grinned wickedly.

“So you liked it, my vixen? Well, why am I not entirely surprised about that? I knew from the start what a shameless creature you were! You and those cornflower blue eyes of yours, fluttering those lashes at me and beguiling me unabashedly from the first moment we met! Maybe I should punish you for seducing me tonight and send you to your room, right now!” He could not hide his impish grin!

“I am not moving from this bed, Douglas Spencer, and neither can you. Now, show me that I am about to shackle myself onto a real man and not a mere green boy!” I had to suppress my laughter.

Before I could finish my sentence, I was again back on the mattress and immediately convinced of the strength of my beloved’s bedside skills.

****

Epilogue

 

As I recall the events of those August days of the previous year, I now cannot fathom how I lived through the last two that preceded our wedding day. I still shiver under the onslaught of all the different feelings that besieged me then – anticipation, fear of discovery and bliss, being only a few of them.

We were married August twentieth as planned. After an agonizing time of two long days in which we could not keep from finding ways to be alone and touch, kiss and arouse each other like young fowls in springtime, a mutual agreement was decided on which not to share a bed again before our wedding day. It was hard as hell and, yes, we barely manage to live through that time of exciting agony.

The day of our wedding was a glorious, warm, sunny one. It was fragrant with the scents of harvest and the joy of storing food away for the coming winter. Everybody was in high spirits, from stable hands, to our maids and footmen, to family and friends. Everyone wanted to share our joy and happiness.

Edward Ferrars performed his clerical duties to perfection and pronounced us husband and wife in Watcombe Manor’s chapel after we spoke our wedding vows. Douglas, now Baron Watcombe, slid his mother’s wedding ring onto my finger. His eyes glistened with emotion and I wept uncontrollably while he kissed me before the assembled congregation of my family, friends and servants. After we exchanged our wedding vows, they all cheered us whole-heartedly .

After our wedding breakfast, Douglas and I slipped away and sneaked to our bedchamber where we renewed our physical union for the rest of the day and night.

 

I do not think – in fact, I am sure – I shall ever tire of my husband’s marital attentions. Douglas never ceases to amaze me with new ways of arousing and pleasing me and I dare say I am returning his caresses in just a most satisfactory fashion, since he does not complain from the lack of attention.

My hand is resting on the slight swell of my stomach, where our child is just now beginning to stir into life. An ever so tiny ripple goes through me, like the caress of a breeze over a field of barley -very fluttering but oh, so real! If everything goes well, I will be a mother come Christmas.

The sound of booted feet on the hall way marble causes me to turn to the morning room’s door in eager anticipation! An instant later, it is thrown open under the forceful hand of my husband.

“Dearest, loveliest Meg ….” he breathes, just before he wraps me and our child into his loving embrace. Our life together is just beginning!

The End

Please join me next week for a continuation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Will Anne and Wentworth finally be happy?

A Magical Letter

Persuasion_2007_DVD_Cover

Dearest, loveliest Meg – Part Thirty-Four

Margaret_001

 

Chapter Thirty-Four

Before I could even draw another breath, Douglas enfolded me into his arms. I settled comfortably against him and, while I began tugging at the bows of my dressing gown, Douglas hissed in sudden disagreement.

“Oh no, my little vixen! Uncovering your exquisite body will be my privilege!” His voice was shaking with suppressed need. An answering tug of desire sprang to life low in the area between my thighs and heat suffused me as Douglas carried me to his bed. He placed me on my feet then shook off his trousers. My eyes roamed over his bare form; what they saw pulled at every nerve in my body! Oh, sweet Heaven, he was magnificent!

With few manipulations, Douglas undid the fastenings of my dressing gown and pulled it from my frame. As his fingers loosened the bows of my nightgown, he held my gaze with his own – a very earnest one.

“My love, are you certain of this? You can only pull away up until a certain point, Margaret. Beyond that point, I will no longer be able to draw back. Do you understand?”

“I do, Douglas. I do not want you to hold back any longer. I want you completely as my lover and beloved.” I almost lacked the breath to finish my sentence!

Soft flicks of his fingers removed my gown from my shoulders and it slid silently to the floor. Douglas’ gaze reflected my own as he let it roam over my naked body.

“Sweet Mother of God, Meggie … you are exquisite! I have imagined you in my dreams but nothing could have prepared me for this lovely sight of you.”

Warmth and desire spiralled up from low in my belly and my toes curled with need. My stomach seemed to be sucked empty with ache as my eyes roved over Douglas, head to toe and back. I extended a trembling hand to him and he took my hand to lace his fingers through mine. Without words, he led me to his bed and invited me to lie down between the silk sheets and rest my head upon the silk-rimmed pillows. Easing down beside me, Douglas settled his long, lean body against mine – a complete unison of touch.

He leaned upon his elbow and slowly began roaming his free hand over my now very trembling flesh, from my cheek and neck, to the swell of my breast and the flatness of my stomach to the curls of my womanhood; his touch sparkled fire all the way down. I caressed his shoulder in needy return and revelled in the long, smooth muscles of his torso under my palm. A sudden urge to kiss him flushed over me and I succumbed, attacking his mouth with a fierceness I did not know I possessed. In the blink of an eye, his arms were around me with a grip as tight as I could stand! His tongue ravished mine in a dance of love as old as mankind and I pressed myself against him in a desperate need to get as close to him as was possible. Mounting need made me wriggle and writhe against the hardness of his manhood until I was almost driven over the edge with impossibly hot desire. Oh, this play of flesh was delicious! I never could have suspected this!

Suddenly, he was on top of me, and, for an instant, the weight of him pressed the breath out of me. Then I instinctively adjusted my position to accommodate my body under his pressure and it felt marvellously good! Under my own eager volition, I parted my legs and arched up to be even closer to him. Blood pounding in my ears and a sweet ache churning in my belly, I felt my heart stop when the tip of his length probed for the opening of my secret place. I moved slightly and, all of a sudden, felt it slide inside and fill me completely and somewhat overwhelmingly. I gasped when a sudden sharp pain made me clench my inner muscles in response.

“Shhh, shhh, my heart, lay still. It will only be a moment, the pain will pass,” he most lovingly whispered. His lips soothed mine in a deep, warm kiss and I relaxed again as I returned his kiss. The pain subsided as abruptly as it had come. It was replaced by a strong, throbbing sensation of sweet, churning desire. I moved my hips up and down, seeking a position that brought me closer to Douglas than I ever felt before. He gasped and uttered a low, long pleasurable groan.

“Meggie, I cannot keep back … I must have you now, my sweetling.”

“Have me, then, Douglas, my love … please …”

Douglas’ hands slid around to cradle the back of my head and again he kissed me while his hips started to move gently against mine. Every move of his powerful body brought on a sensation of ever growing and well-being of excitement. The rubbing of his hard chest against my peaked, oversensitive nipples not only increased my desire but also, at the same time, pained and pleasured me to the extreme. I was driven higher and higher on the waves of seething pleasure and suddenly, was pushed over the edge into a sea of swirling, bright white lights. I was spun into the spiral, warm, exquisite ripples of delight drowning me! It was impossible bliss! How could I recover from this? Did I even want to?

Douglas’ hoarse cry reached the depths of my isolated bliss and I felt his body stiffen and harden as he ground his hips against mine under the strength of his long-lasting release. My inner muscles responded as they clenched around him and, once again, a fresh wave of pleasure rippled through me. It was even more exquisite than the first and I threw my arms around his lean waist to keep him close to me. My face resting against the hollow of his shoulder, I inhaled his unique, manly scent, saturated with the flavour of orgasm. I desperately longed to preserve the marvellous sensation! He collapsed on top of me with a gasp for breath, hurting me a little with his dead weight, yet I did not care. It felt so good, so right.

 

We stayed in that divine position for a while, revelling in each other’s warmth and closeness. Then Douglas’ mouth was upon mine and he whispered:

“Am I crushing you, my sweet? I will move away and …”

“No!” The thought was simply unbearable! I did not ever want him to move away from me and abandon me to loss and cold!

Douglas chuckled and the low rumble sent a new stir of pleasure up my body.

“I will be of no use to you, darling, for quite a while. I need to recover a bit.” And, with a sigh of utter well-being, he rolled over onto his side and drew me to him, so that I covered him now. Our bodies had, however, disconnected which filled my eyes with sudden tears that spilled over and down my cheeks.

“Do not weep, my sweetling. I know you must be in a bit of pain but it will not stay that way. The sexual deed becomes easier in time until there is only pleasure.” His big hands gently caressed me as he said this.

How could I put this remark to rights and tell him that it was the unbearable loss of him that prompted my tears? He would think I had become a sorry wanton under his lovemaking and that would not do. Or would he?

“I should scold you, my rakish lord, for not giving me all this sooner! How could you keep this heavenly experience from me? Shame on you, my lord!”

Douglas quickly stole a kiss from me and then grinned wickedly.

“So you liked it, my vixen? Well, why am I not entirely surprised about that? I knew from the start what a shameless creature you were! You and those cornflower blue eyes of yours, fluttering those lashes at me and beguiling me unabashedly from the first moment we met! Maybe I should punish you for seducing me tonight and send you to your room, right now!” He could not hide his impish grin!

“I am not moving from this bed, Douglas Spencer, and neither can you. Now, show me that I am about to shackle myself onto a real man and not a mere green boy!” I had to suppress my laughter.

Before I could finish my sentence, I was again back on the mattress and immediately convinced of the strength of my beloved’s bedside skills.

 

Dearest, loveliest Meg – Part Thirty-Three

Margaret_001

 

Chapter Thirty-Three

At Watcombe Manor we were immediately greeted by Mother, who came out of the drawing room with her arms full of cloth samples.

“Margaret, for Heaven’s sake, where have you been? Marianne’s seamstress is here to see to your wedding gown! God knows we have only so scarce a time to have it finished for the day after tomorrow!”

“But Mama, that is impossible! How can poor Madame Grenier finish it so quickly? No, come with me. I will show you what I had in mind for my gown.”

I took the two of them up to the bedchamber which would be mine and Douglas’ after our wedding. The previous night, I had not been able to find sleep and decided to investigate the contents of the large dressing room cupboards. To my great surprise, I found them filled with gowns and accessories. A closer examination revealed an old- fashioned cut and fabric. The richness of the cloth, and the excessive fine taste of the finishing touches of the dresses, told me they must have belonged to Phoebe, Douglas’ mother. Appalled as I was, realizing that Sir Matthew must have kept his wife’s personal wardrobe for all these long years, I nevertheless could not help myself from extracting a few of them out of the closet for closer inspection. Stunned with unmitigated appreciation, I eventually chose one of them for my wedding gown.

The gown that I now tried on brought forth gasps of beatific surprise from Mama and Madame Grenier told me I had chosen well. The fabric was rough silk, shimmering with every step I made, and its pale blue colour reminding me of forget-me-nots, enhanced the blue of my eyes to perfection.

“Hm …,” the seamstress remarked. “We will have to remove the crinoline, I suppose. The gown will still be too full, so I guess I will have to close the skirt front. We do not want to see the underskirt. It is no longer in fashion. The neckline is very fetching though, and if I remove the lace rushes of the sleeves, which will allow the fabric to reach beyond your elbows, I believe I can make puffed sleeves out of them. Oh, Mon Dieu, just touch that silk! It is exquisite!” The seamstress could not hide her enthusiasm.

So it was. Measurements were taken and Madame and her girls went to work. I escaped and decided to check on our unfortunate guest, Douglas’ half-sister Amata. I had lodged her in a set of rooms on the third floor where the guest rooms were located. That way the maid she would eventually come to employ, would be sleeping in the dressing room. For the moment, Amata could not bear human company. She howled at every person WHO entered her room and hurled objects at them, especially my Douglas, which gave me great sorrow. At first, I was the only one who was allowed to approach her but my impending wedding took too much of my time and I felt chagrined by it. I liked Amata and wanted her to become a full member of society again.

Upon entering her room, I found Amata sound asleep in her bed. Elinor sat beside her in a chair, doing her mending. My sister motioned me outside. We withdrew to the downstairs drawing room.

“How is she, Elinor? She has not been given any laudanum, I hope. The poor creature has been drugged long enough, at least in my opinion.”

“No, Margaret,” my sister emphasized, “ she is sleeping in a normal way. Amata passed a quiet night and ate a good breakfast. She still needs a great deal of rest so I read to her from one of Mrs Radcliffe’s novels, which she seems to like. It kept her peaceful and she went back to sleep.”

“Oh, Elinor, what am I going to do with her? She seems to resent Douglas extensively. It hurts him because he wants to do her right. It is all such a befuddled, confounded mess!”

Elinor put her arms around me and hugged me for a while, which made me feel better just a little. Then she spoke softly. “Meggie, just give me a chance to talk with Edward. He is a very good listener and he will know what to do.” “Yes,” I replied. “Yes, that is just the thing, Elinor. Talk to Edward.”

 

The day seemed to wear on interminably and I busied myself with wedding preparations, all the time longing to see Douglas at dinner. He was away from the manor all afternoon on estate business but sent for me around five. I hastened to the library where I found him in the presence of his business man and of Mama.

“Ah, Margaret, your betrothed and I have been discussing the wedding arrangements. You will be pleased to know that His Lordship has settled a yearly allowance for you of 7500 pounds. You will now be able to keep up a proper standard of living.”

I turned to Douglas in astonishment, my eyes widened.

“Money, Douglas? There is money to settle on me? How is that possible? I thought your cousin had squandered it all away!”

“Meg, with all that has been happening during the last days, I have not had the chance to tell you about the cache of stocks my father had kept. Jack and I have been searching for them after I found his diary. That is also how I knew where to go look for you. He wrote down the story of his relationship with Mrs Bernard but kept hidden Amata’s existence. He settled a small allowance for her in a will that postdates the one that favoured Wilkinson. So I would have inherited the title and estate after all. He just omitted to inform his lawyers of this later will. Meggie, we are not rich but we have a little nest egg to get us started re-establishing Watcombe Manor.”

I just could not fathom what I just learned. All this dreadful business had just been for nought? Douglas had had no need to be married before he turned thirty after all? I must have looked confused for Douglas came to me with concern.

“Meggie, my heart, what is it? Are you unwell?”

“No, no, it is only that I am stunned, baffled, and in need of air! What a development of affairs this is! Mother, we will now be able to surround you with all possible comfort and …”

But Mama interrupted me and what she said baffled me even more.

“No, my darling, I am not planning on living at Watcombe Manor. Marianne needs me more, especially when the baby arrives so I am taking up quarters at Delaford, Meg. A newlywed couple has no need for a mother-in-law to living with them.”

 

Sleep eluded me, yet I again lay tossing and turning in my bed that night. On the other hand, Becky was sleeping like a baby on a nearby cot. Her snoring made it hard for me to find my own sleep. I rose and donned my nightgown. Maybe a glass of milk would restore me. The house was deathly quiet when I stepped into the corridor and directed my footsteps toward the stairs. A thin, faint line of light glowed from under Douglas’ bedroom door. He must be wide awake too, I mused. In an impulse I laid my hand on the door handle and pushed it down. The door opened soundlessly and I sneaked through it. In a chair by a fireless hearth sat my rake, clad only in a pair of loose cotton drawers. The sight of his bare chest – with the candlelight dancing over the smooth expanse of muscle – wreaked havoc with my already precarious self-control.

“Margaret!” His soft outcry was followed by a gasp as he swiftly rose from his chair. Two long strides brought him to me and I threw myself into his arms, aching with a sudden and overwhelming need to touch him, feel him and lose myself in him!

“Meggie, oh, my sweetest girl! What are you doing here? Darling Meggie, you have to go! Seeing you in your adorable nightgown is too much for me, my sweetling. Oh, the feel of you …” He gasped his words, his hands were roaming over my body, starting flames wherever they went. I made my decision then and there – tonight, I would become his!

I pushed my trembling body against his hard and demanding physique. Douglas groaned and buried his face in the soft mass of my long, curling hair. I let my hands wander downwards to touch the rim of his trousers, only to revel even more in the silken smoothness of the skin beneath it, as my trembling fingers pushed down the fabric. Douglas gasped when I bared him, my own breath catching at the feel of his hard length – steel and silk in one. Irresistibly, my eyes were drawn from his narrow hips and flat stomach to the ebony nest of curls beneath from where his proud manhood lifted proudly. The swift pulse of his life’s blood raced against the palm of my hands when I cupped him. I looked up to meet the darkened blue of his eyes. They glistened with unmitigated desire.

“Prove to me that you love me, Douglas. Take me to bed, here and now, and make me your own.”

 

Dearest, loveliest Meg – Part Thirty-Two

Margaret_001

 

Chapter Thirty-Two

My poor Douglas sounded so bitter that my heart ached in sympathy. He was right. Sir Matthew, who begot at least one illegitimate child, surely had no right to cast off his only son over one misstep. While being held prisoner at the Bernards’ house, I discovered the result of Sir Matthew’s own misstep, Amata, the daughter he had with Mrs Bernard before her marriage. We had taken in Douglas’ half-sister at Watcombe Manor after the fire destroyed Nicholas Bernard’s house. The poor creature was in no state to be left on her own after thirty-six years of imprisonment. Indeed, for that was the length of time in which Amata Bernard had been locked up in a dismal, almost cell-like room, she with no education at all with only in the company of a nurse, who was more of a jailer to her than a companion.

“What are you going to do about Amata?” was my next and obvious question.

Douglas turned to me with sad eyes. “What is there to do for me but to care for her as best as I can, Meg? She is – to say the least – emotionally disabled and with little wonder, after the way she has been treated, locked up like an animal. I must confess I have no idea as to how we are to deal with her. She refused the help of the nurse she had for all those years. As you well know, she threw a chair at her when the woman tried to come into her room. And she definitively abhors me, does she not? She cannot abide looking at me or being in the same room with me, even though she never set eyes on me before the day of the fire.” Douglas, I knew, hoped for an answer to the problem Amata caused. His compassionate nature could not bear the distress she was in.

“Yes, I do know. I reckon it has something to do with the Spencer name. Amata has been persuaded of thinking that name to be the personification of evil. It is a good thing, though, that Elinor took matters in hand and managed to sit with her for a few hours, yesterday.”

“Oh, if anyone can help poor Amata, it is your sensible eldest sister. Of that, I have no doubts at all.” He paused and gave me an odd little look before he shrugged his shoulders.“Meg, I have been such a fool. I thought my father was an honest and righteous man with firm principles. I have been cursing myself for hurting him so badly by what transpired with Christina and I considered myself no less than his murderer when he died before I could beg for his forgiveness. Now it seems that he was just a fake and a liar and no better than me.”

I had no comment to that, knowing full well that Douglas was still in shock over what he learned these past few days. Not for the first time did I become aware of the awe in which he had held Sir Matthew until recently. I recognized the feeling for it was one I myself had experienced at my own father’s demise. How I had loved and respected Father, only to learn that he had left us to my half-brother’s mercy for our survival!

“Douglas, what about Bernard and his mother? Does anyone know about their whereabouts?” My betrothed shook his head. “No, they seem to have fled after the fire. I do not care where they are, Meggie. People like that should be severely punished but I am afraid the authorities would have no charge to lay upon them, should they be found.” I could see anger in my love’s eyes.

“What do you mean, they cannot be charged?” I enquired.  “They abducted me and they held poor Amata a prisoner for years!”

“Meg, use your head!” he said, looking quickly at me. “You are very well aware that a female relative, living in the house of her half-brother, has no rights to speak of. Amata cannot sue Bernard and his mother for treating her like a recluse and you cannot prove that you were taken by force. It is Bernard’s word against yours, my love, and he was, up until now, a respected member of Torquay society for generations past.”

“Bah!” I exclaimed. “How unfair!”

Douglas laughed and lay his arm around my shoulder. “Rest assured, my darling, when I get my hands on that rascal, I will give him a good piece of my mind! I ache to give him a good, old-fashioned thrashing, to say the least!”

Then, all of a sudden, he pushed me down onto the soft, mossy bank. In the blink of an eye, his long, lean body covered mine completely and the blue fire of his gorgeous eyes burned into mine.

“My dearest, loveliest Meg … have you not noticed that we are completely alone in this quiet and remote spot of the woods? I have a mind to do some wicked things to you, my love.” His mouth captured mine in a kiss that spoke of his ardent love for me and I answered him, fire being kindled in my belly, when I felt the proof of his arousal pressing against my most womanly place.

I tugged at his cravat and shirt, aching to touch his naked skin, the warmth of him already burning through both our clothes. My hands revelled and quivered when they found the heat of his torso beneath his clothes and I let them roam all over the smooth, satin muscles of his back. Douglas groaned when I unfastened his breeches, never releasing my mouth and inserting his hand into my bodice to cup one of my breasts. Oh, God! Pleasure began curling upwards from low in my stomach upward in a slow, hot spiral of desire. My fingers found his sleek, silken hardness and caressed it in rapt exuberance until Douglas moaned in pleasure!

“Meggie, please, stop! If you continue in that way, I swear I will not be able to hold back!” Douglas growled through clenched teeth. Clasping me to his chest with one arm, he fumbled with the front of his breeches. “Douglas, no! I want you, Douglas, I want you so much!” I was weeping with frustration and need but Douglas sat up and restored my clothing with trembling fingers.

“Meggie, I want you too but not like this, my sweetling. I want our first lovemaking to be sheltered in the closeness of our room, our bed, but not here, where anyone could happen upon us.”

With gentle gestures, he put back my stockings and boots before donning his own. “Tell me you understand, my love? Tell me you know I do this out of love?” His pleading was clear in his eyes.

I lay my hand against his cheek. “I do know, my darling, and you are right, of course. This would not do at all.” But it was the hardest thing I had ever done in my whole life. I vowed myself I would put an end to this nonsense, once and for all!

Dearest, loveliest Meg – Part Thirty-One

Margaret_001

 

Chapter Thirty-One

Drat! What now, I thought, instantly feeling irritated and nervous. I hastily stood, tucked Douglas’ diary under some documents and retreated to the window to wait for Mother to enter. She did so but I instantly saw that she was not in her usual sour mood. She took a few faltering steps toward me, then stopped in the middle of the room; there was a deep concerned look on her face.

“Good morning, Mother,” I said, my voice level and face remote, determined to weather whatever reproach she undoubtedly would throw at me for living in Douglas’ house without being married to him yet.

“Oh, my sweet Meggie!” Her face was wet with tears, her voice quivering. Mother looked so very upset that I did not know what to think and I was about to say something comforting when she suddenly rushed forward and threw her arms around me and hugged me.

“Oh, my darling baby girl, I am so immensely grateful that you are unharmed! Oh, to think that you might have perished in that fire! Those awful, wretched people! And me playing their game with my stupid habit of trying to keep up appearances! Please, Meggie, forgive me? I have done you very wrong, my darling, but I will never do so again, I swear!” Looking at Mother’s face, I realised there was no doubt she meant what she said.

I was so utterly bewildered and surprised that I could not do anything but embrace her and hold her tight, when the door suddenly burst open and Douglas rushed in, a piece of paper in his hand.

“Meg, Meg, I have it! Here is our marriage license!” He took no notice of Mama, who hastily jumped aside, but instead swept me into his arms and whirled me around. “Oh, my darling, we can marry tomorrow! Edward Ferrars has agreed to perform the service and my cook tells me she can whip up a meal for a hundred people, if necessary! Meggie, please, let us get married! I cannot wait a day longer!” His mouth came down on mine and we kissed, oblivious to everything else but to savour each other. Douglas, my love! There was only him! I craved his hard, loving embrace, his firm, warm mouth, his body and most of all, the overwhelming love he gave me and the feeling I was his as he was mine.

A discrete cough abruptly tore us out of our bliss. Mother! Oh, my goodness, I feared  she would be absolutely shocked by our behaviour! Yet I was wrong! She surprised me yet again, by smiling so sweetly at us and my heart melted. I had not seen her smile like that since Father was still with us.

Douglas was the first to regain control.

“Oh, Mrs Dashwood, please forgive me for not acknowledging you were with us. I … I somewhat lacked propriety but … please, forgive me. It will not happen again.” Douglas was obviously embarrassed but Mother put him at ease.

“No, my lord, do not apologize for your display of love for Meg. I hope the two of you will always feel the necessity to show your mutual love for each other. It is only natural.”

Mother gave a small sigh that sounded so sad that, for the first time since Father died, I realised how lonely she must have been and how she must have missed him. I knew they had loved each other very much.

“Mama,” I said, stepping toward her and taking her hands in mine. “Is there something that concerns you? Is it my living here under Douglas’ roof without us being joined in matrimony?” Mother smiled and replied. “Yes, I am concerned about your reputation, as I always am, dearest. But I also understand My Lord Watcombe’s deep concern for you, after the abduction. So, I will allow you to stay here with him.”

“My dear Mrs Dashwood,” Douglas cut in. “May I offer you a room in this house, next to Margaret’s? No one will have to gossip about us when you are also in residence here. I also want to offer you a permanent home at Watcombe Manor. You cannot stay at Barton Cottage on your own with just two servants for company. They can have a position here if they desire. No need to turn them onto the streets.”

I was as surprised as Mama, to say the least! Douglas would take in my meddlesome mother in order to preserve my reputation and even have her after we married? Mama looked up at my handsome rake with stunned speechlessness and, after a moment, managed to stammer.

“My Lord, I … I am thankful beyond words! I shall gladly accept your gracious offer and ask my servants to move my belongings from Barton Cottage, this instant.” She turned on her heels and disappeared from the room.

“Douglas,” I asked, “why have you done that? You do not – in the least – have an inkling to what you have done!  Mama – even though I would love to have her save and well-provided for – is a fearsome busy-body and she will try and take our lives into her hands whenever she has the chance! We will not be safe in our own house, Douglas!”

My rake just chuckled, took me in his arms and spun me around yet again.

“Dearest loveliest Meg, no one but me rules Watcombe Manor, so keep that in mind. I might – on occasion – ask for your opinion on some matters – when the whim takes me, but I am the one and only one setting the rules. Your mama will have a suite of her own and a staff of servants to do her bidding but she will never tell me what to do. You, on the other hand, are a different kettle of fish! I am sure you will – in a short time – become the only ruler in this house.”

He tilted my head back and kissed me sweetly and passionately alike, setting all my senses ablaze in the space of seconds. His mouth released mine abruptly. Blue eyes burning with fire, his breath against my lips, he teased. “I will gladly transfer my ruling powers to you, my Meggie, as long as you keep me satisfied – between the sheets of our marriage bed, that is.”

Every part of my body tingling with need, I had to gasp for breath before I was able to answer yet I managed.

“Then I will make it my solemn task to lift those powers from your shoulders, my dearest rake, and as soon as possible.”

 

Of course, we could not settle the ceremony for the next day for there were too many arrangements that had to be made. Mother, who absolutely loved a nicely organized marriage, volunteered to make them. We agreed upon a near future date, August 20th, which was a Thursday and only two days away from Douglas’ thirtieth birthday. Mama stated that she would need those two days, as it was already the 17th. That left Douglas and me virtually alone during the days that proceeded our marriage. I was determined to spend them in a useful way by accompanying him on his daily trips to the estate.

On one of these days we had just visited several tenants, who were engaged in some new agriculture methods Douglas wanted to try. The morning and afternoon was satisfying and we returned home through the woods. The August weather was characteristically hot and I reckoned the temperature must have neared the 30 C. However, the vast height of the old forest trees effectively blocked the sun’s blazing rays. When we stopped at a large pool to water the horses, I could not help myself and dismounted. The water looked so enticingly cool and the pool’s bank so grassy and soft under the canopy of trees that I let myself down, pulled off my dusty boots and dipped my bare feet into the cool, green water.

“Oh, this is Heaven!” I exclaimed. “Come and try it, my love!”

Douglas quickly complied and gave a big sigh of sheer bliss when his long, strong-boned feet touched the water. We relished the first moments of blessed solitude we had not for days – what with the shocking events that had come to pass, before I decided this was the perfect moment to breech a subject that had been nagging me for some time.

“Douglas, tell me about your time on Jamaica please? You have spent ten long years there and I reckon they were not easy after what happened here.”

“No,” Douglas sighed. “No, sweetheart, they were downright awful, at least the first year was. I do not have a clear recollection of the journey on the “Bristol Maiden” because I was sick as a dog the whole six weeks of the voyage. I was too ill to even wallow in my misfortune and I lost two stone during the trip, dragging myself ashore like a man twice my age when I arrived in Kingston. My cousin John received me rather cordially, to my surprise. He did not seem to think I had crossed that big a line in England, just by lifting ‘some chit’s skirts’, as he called it. With Father’s bitter reproaches still ringing in my ears, I could not help feeling offended and crossed. During my first weeks on the island, I roamed the plantation in silence. I grimly sulked, ruminating the events which drove me out of my home and country. Eventually, I grew less bitter and took an interest in John’s business. He had been wise not to badger me into confiding to him my misfortunes. When I did tell him, his main comment was that Father was a fool, to let me go for such a minor misstep. I scolded him about that attitude but he persisted and has always done so. Now, after what we discovered at the Bernards’ house, I am forced to admit John was right about Father. Not only was he a fool but also a hypocrite. He must have been a womanizer in his youth, even more than I have ever been.”

 

 

 

 

Dearest, loveliest Meg – Part Thirty

Margaret_001

 

Chapter Thirty

Even when a stab of remorse pierced my heart, I could not, for the world, have stopped myself from reading Douglas’ diary. The thoroughly feminine urge of a woman, to delve deep into the secrets of the man she loved, washed over me. I wanted to know my Douglas and everything that was in his life.

This year’s diary’s first entries in January were about his stay with his cousin on the isle of Jamaica and reports about the tobacco plantation. I rapidly browsed through them, but the entries made little sense to me. Every now and then an entry appeared in black ink while the reports were in blue. Those entries were in some kind of code; there was always a sum of money, usually about two pounds, and initials, some of them recurring and others new. I could not figure out what they meant.

The pattern stayed the same until February when Douglas made a note of a letter from his solicitors, announcing Sir Matthew’s death. From then on, he began preparing for his journey home:

 

Made an agreement with Captain Whitaker of “The Valiant Maiden”. She sails for Bristol in a fortnight and I plan to be on board. Cousin John and I are settling our business as I will not be back soon. He gave me the handsome sum of 1250 pounds, which I will need, once I am back in England. God only knows in what state I will find Watcombe Manor.

                Had a row with Regalia. She wants me to take her to England but John refuses to make her a free woman. Shall miss her. She was a good girl and gave me much pleasure. Could not take her with me since she is as black as ebony. I tried to explain it to her. Said I had barely enough money to keep me alive, let alone the two of us. Poor girl, she wept her heart out.

 

                Regalia, I thought. That was something I had to ask Douglas about. Had she been his mistress or was she just a prostitute he visited? I was a bit taken aback. This was certainly one side of my future husband I did not know. Was this what men did when they had no wife of their own? Or when they needed to lie with a woman and they did not have enough love from their wives? Would Douglas do this after we married? The thought was appalling! Again I realised I did not know much of life or men – a sudden sorrow pierced my heart.

 

The next entrance that drew my attention was made on April 25th:

 

Father’s lawyers again told me what I already knew – I must marry before August 22th or I will not inherit. What I did not know was that Phineas Wilkinson now lives at Watcombe Manor. Apparently, he has taken residence there when I left for Jamaica. Father never wrote me about that. I wonder why.

Yet, I can understand his need to have his heir under his roof and become acquainted with him.

Blast! If only Christina were still alive! I would have married her in an instant, provided of course, she was still free.

Oh, Christina … I never encountered anyone like her after I left for the Caribbean, though I tried hard enough! How well I recall my deep distress when I realised I could not give my heart again to anyone. Christina imprisoned it for the rest of my miserable life.

There have been a few affairs which gave me pleasure but nothing more. No attachment, only relief. That is why I was drawn to Regalia. She accepted me as her lover without asking for anything. I  paid her handsomely for her services and pretended not to see the hurt in her eyes. I liked Regalia but I did not love her. Love, for me, is forever forbidden.

 

Dear God! How lonesome Douglas must have been all these years! And how much he must have loved Christina ! That thought burned my heart like a brand.

No, Margaret, stop it! What nonsense! Douglas loves me now. He proved that on numerous occasions during the few weeks I was with him. With determination, I continued my reading:

 

                Moving to Devonshire today. Will take Jack with me, for he has nowhere else to go and I have grown fond of the boy. He is smart, witty and loyal. Could be the best friend I ever had. Oh, the irony!

 

April 30th, I saw. The next entrances were scarce. Mostly, they reported on how he had fitted the house and how he had to juggle his finances in order to pay his bills. May was uneventful. He visited Wilkinson and was received very coolly. He attended some parties in Torquay but found himself thoroughly rebuffed. Now, we knew that had been the Bernards’ work. I flipped the pages to the beginning of  June until I found what I was looking for.

 

June 4th. Had a most interesting experience today. Someone shot me and an angel came to my rescue. Her name is Margaret Dashwood, my dainty damsel. Margaret, Meg … Meggie. So beautiful and lively! She actually bullied me into letting her care for me and she did not listen to anything I said about her reputation. With the patience of an angel, she took care of my wound and brought me home. She stayed with me until the healing woman came. I had to banish her with my most stern attitude. Even then, she was very reluctant to go. But she had to. I am poison for dainty damsels.

 

An angel! He called me a bloody angel! Drat!

In my recollection, I had not behaved in a very angelic way, at least I had not wished to do so. How is it that no matter how much we try to present ourselves, people always seem to see the opposite side of us? I continued to read:

 

                June 8th. Feeling like bloody hell! My shoulder aches like the blazes and my spirits are as low as they come! The gypsy woman has come to look at the wound and she said all was fine and healing splendidly. Would that she could also make my spirits heal!

Oddly enough, I find myself being besieged by some strange mood changes – feeling black as the devil at one time and exhilarated with joy the next. The exhilaration usually comes when I think of Miss Margaret Dashwood, my dainty damsel, which is stupid, of course. She is barely out of the schoolroom and still very pure.

I do not understand myself in this. Except, of course, if this strange attraction is caused by the fact that I have never bedded a virgin and am now relishing the thought of it. Blast!

 

Oh, my sweet Douglas … so he was attracted to me from the start, at least physically. I would say it was a good start then. Physical attraction, and the actions that come with it, are a good start for any marriage.

 

June 29th. I am doomed. I have fallen for Meg and it took me nearly a month before it finally dawned on me. She came here tonight, half naked and confused and upset and … I did not know what to do; I just wanted to pick her up and take her to bed. I could not, though. My heart turned to water when I saw her distress. I did not trust myself to even touch her or take her in my arms, so I tried being cool and distant. I sent her home though my heart broke when I saw her leave in the curricle with Jack Twinkler. I think I love her.

 

Reading Douglas’ confession of love started a glow deep down inside me, and I swallowed. So he had loved me since that night, or perhaps even earlier? It seemed that both our feelings had risen and grown from the first day we met. And I, in my foolish inexperienced way, had had no inkling of that …

The study door opened to let Raleigh in. He bowed and solemnly announced a visitor.

“Mrs Dashwood of Barton Cottage, Miss!”

Dearest, loveliest Meg – Part Twenty-Nine

Margaret_001

 

Chapter Twenty-Nine

A journey through hell began as our little group struggled to find the front door of the Bernard house. We stumbled through thick blackness, caused by the vile smoke and the dust of falling debris as pieces of the walls and beams began falling down around us. At one point I tripped and fell, releasing Douglas’ shirt. I could not breathe and nearly coughed my heart out, which only caused my lungs to ache even more. Douglas groped for me and I clutched his hand in a death grip. He hauled me back to my feet, shouting in my ear. “Hold on, for God’s sake! We are nearly there!” Poor darling, he was coughing and wheezing as hard as I was!

Finally, helping hands pulled us out from the entrance hall of the house, to where we had  fought our way, and I found myself on hands and knees on the cobles outside, gulping down the sweet night air like a person starved.

“Oh, Margaret!” That was Elinor’s voice and I was extremely glad to hear it. “Come, my sweet, let me cover you. Here, put this around you. Are you hurt? Do you have burns?”

“No, Elinor, I think not. Where is Douglas?”

“Here, darling!” Strong arms engulfed me and squeezed me tight. “Margaret, you little fool, I swear you will be the death of me, one day! I thought I would succumb then and there! Why did you run from me to save that girl? Who is she that you were prepared to take such a risk for her?”

I looked up into his soot-streaked face and red-rimmed eyes and raked my hands through his hair, standing-on-end like that of a scarecrow. “Douglas, she is a child of Mrs Bernard and Sir Matthew,” I said, keeping my voice as level as I could. Douglas received the shock of his life.

“My father? But … you mean he fathered a child out of wedlock?” he asked incredulously.

“No, it was before he married your mother! He seemed to have – well, to have been quite a dashing young man who …”

“Who could not keep away from rich, young women! In short, he was a rake – damn and blast, but … Margaret, this girl – woman, I should say, for she must be older than me – is my sister!”

“Yes, she is. Douglas, they have kept her locked away all those years. They have secluded her from the rest of the world, simply because she was born out of wedlock and Mrs Bernard could not bear the shame to own up to her! It is appalling!”

“So she must be the ‘Bernard’s child’ …” Douglas whispered, face frozen with shock. Even in the poor light of the street lanterns, I could see how the blood had drained from his face. I was feeling exactly the same myself. The lights grew dimmer and dimmer …

 

Private Diary of Douglas Alexander Spencer

 

Watcombe Manor, August 16th 1818, ten o’clock in the morning

 

                I have brought my Meggie home to Watcombe Manor. Here we hope to build our lives together so, when I moved her to a carriage last night, after the fire, I decided she should rest and mend here in our house.

                Mrs Dashwood did everything she could to stop me. She wailed, she cursed, she screamed and wept but it all slid down and off my back like raindrops off a duck. Elinor was more subtle and very gentle. She pleaded me not to do this, pointing out that the whole of the county knew Margaret had been abducted by Bernard and would think her ravished by him. I did not listen to her. I brought my Margaret home, just the same, to Watcombe Manor, even if I had to fight off Brandon and Ferrars. They bombarded me with reasonable arguments but it left me stone cold. I am the only one from now on who is going to care for Margaret.

                And now I am sitting here beside her bed, just watching her. My heart aches when I see the paleness of her lovely face. I cringe inwardly at her pretty locks, now singed and damaged where the fire touched. I cannot help myself but something seems to have shifted deep inside me. I could not protect her so I have failed her. I, who claims to love her, have let her down. I will never forgive myself.

                To redeem myself – at least, a part of me – I took in the girl she risked her life for. I cannot begin to comprehend what Margaret told me last night, about the girl being my sister! I shirk away from that thought as violently as I would from a leper! No, this cannot be true.

                Yet, I took the girl in, despite the fact that I owe her nothing. But I owe it to my Margaret and that is enough.

 

Bernard’s hand on my mouth prevented me from screaming and, along with rage, panic rose in my throat! He was determined on ravishing me! He wanted to force himself on me! Fighting with all my strength, I strained against his hands that held me pinned onto the bed. I could smell his breath and the odiousness of it choked me, just before his tongue invaded my mouth. I could not breathe. I would die.

When he ripped off my dress, I finally screamed – and sat up in bed, pounding at my attacker, sobbing, panting.

“Shhh, shhh, my darling, all is well. It was but a horrid dream. You are home, with me.”

Confused and my body hurting all over, I stared – merciful heavens – at Douglas, who was gazing into my eyes and smiling his beautiful smile. I slumped against him, clasping my arms around his neck in huge relief.

“Oh Douglas, I was so scared! He … he was …”

“Shhh, it is over now, my love. I am with you, here in our home of Watcombe. Everything is safe and fine so go to sleep, my sweet. I will stay here at your side.”

He gently pushed me back onto the mattress and pulled the covers high. However, I could not stop shaking and fresh sobs kept coming from my constricted chest. I clasped Douglas’ hand tightly as if it were a lifeline, that prevented me from slipping back into the nightmare.

“I am so cold. How can I be cold when I have been in those horrible flames?”

“Shhh, I will make you warm again, my dearest Meggie. Close your eyes, my darling.”

And then, to my infinite delight, he slipped under the covers beside me, curled his arms around me and then pulled me close to his heart. Oh, the warmth of him! It was exquisite and I gave myself completely over to this heavenly feelings. All was well. I was with the man I loved and would always love.

 

The cheerful voice of my maid, Becky, woke me the next morning, from a delicious dream.  I felt a trifle out of sorts with her for doing so. She drew open the high window curtains in, – oh, sweet Lord – the bed chamber at Watcombe Manor destined for Douglas and me after our wedding! I had just passed the night in our marriage bed.

“Good morning, Miss Margaret! Oh, what a beautiful room this is! His Lordship ordered me to bring you breakfast in bed and, afterwards, he awaits you in his study. Oh, what a handsome man he is, Miss Margaret, and so gracious and friendly and …”

“Becky, please!” I tried to sit up but my head was pounding with a huge headache and all I could do was groan.

“Oh, miss! Are you unwell? I could put some drops of laudanum in your tea, if you want. Come, let me help you.”

It occurred to me that the young maid had learned quite a lot in a short time as she expertly helped me to sit up against freshly fluffed-up pillows. A few moments later, she handed me a cup of fragrant Indian tea and a plate with scrambled eggs, crisply fried bacon, along with a piece of toast.

“Did you prepare this, Becky? It looks delicious and so perfect!” The girl beamed and curtsied. Another thing she seemed to have mastered, I mused.

“How come you are here, Becky? Did my mother send you?”

“Oh no, miss! His Lordship pays my wages from now on. He asked Mrs Dashwood to let me go and stay with you as your chaperone until the wedding.” She pointed to a small cot behind a screen in one of the room’s corners. “His Lordship asked me last night if I would be so good as to sleep there and I did.”

So Douglas had not stayed with me through the night. I could not decide if I wanted to be angry or relieved about that. While I was savouring my excellent breakfast, I worried over Douglas’ continuing efforts to keep up appearances. Surely by now, my reputation must be completely lost, with Bernard’s abduction becoming known to all and sunder. In an impulse, I decided to hurry on with my breakfast and ablutions and afterwards I would go look for my betrothed forthwith.

 

The library was deserted when I burst into it, barely half an hour later. The footman, startled by my rush past him, which prevented him from opening the door for me, made hasty excuses but I cut through them.

“Where is His Lordship?”

“He has been called away, Miss. He told me to inform you he would be back by eleven.”

“Thank you – erm, Broderick, is it not?”

“Yes, Miss.” the footman bowed. I was glad I had remembered his name. It is what servants find important – to be remembered and known by name.

“Tell Mr Burroughs I will await His Lordship here and be so good as to bring me some tea, please?”

Burroughs was our newly acquired butler and he was a very punctual man. He wanted to know the whereabouts of every person under his roof, be it upper or down stairs.

“Yes, Miss.” Broderick left and closed the door behind him.

I took my time taking in the vast room where Douglas was about to spend all his free hours in the years to come. A typical masculine room it was, with bookcases filled with thousands of leather-bound volumes, deep, battered, leather chairs, a huge mahogany desk littered with ledgers and documents, and behind it a big, straight-backed chair. I came closer to the desk and picked up a piece of paper. It was a lease contract, issued to a tenant called Jonas Pickery and a cottage with the name of Blackberry Cottage. The land to go with it was about 25 acres, which seemed large for one man to work. At the same time, I realised I had not much knowledge of agricultural matters and still had a lot to learn before I would be of use to Douglas.

It was when I replaced the document that I saw a small booklet with a burgundy-coloured cover. The year 1818 printed in gold peeped from under the pile. A diary! Without thinking I picked it up, sat down in the chair and leafed through it.

Dearest, loveliest Meg – Part Twenty-Eight

Margaret_001

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Private Diary of Douglas Alexander Spencer

 

Watcombe Manor, August 15th 1818, three o’clock in the morning

 

                Jack and I are hurrying into Torquay and to the Bernards’ town house. Thank God I found my father’s will in time in the wall panelling above the bed where Father kept his most cherished belongings. That was how I learnt about his connection with the Bernard family! Margaret must be there, she must be! A message has been sent to Brandon and the magistrate. Pray God we should arrive in time …

 

 

                Dobson’s hand was crushing my arm while he dragged me through the house. We came into what I assumed was a part of the servant’s quarters because the walls were bare and painted  a drab brown. This was not the ground floor yet because the stairs continued downwards, but Dobson pushed me into a side corridor and halted before one of the many doors. His mistress opened it with one of many keys on her bunch and thrust me inside.

It was a bare room without so much as a carpet or draperies on the small window. The shutters were closed. There was a narrow cot with a coarse grey blanket and rough cotton sheets, and a table and chair, both plain and without ornamental carvings.  What was this? By the table sat a woman in nurse’s clothing. She wore an unadorned grey woollen dress and starched white apron and cap. She was busily mending sheets but put down her work when Mrs Bernard entered, she rose and curtsied respectfully to her.

Then, in one corner, I saw something that overwhelmed me with horror and pity alike. In a high-backed chair, hands tied to the arm rest, and her feet to the chair’s legs, was a girl. Her slumped slender body was dressed in a plain, grey cotton dress and she sat with her feet bare on the floor boards. She was sitting with her head bowed down so that I was unable to see her face. She seemed unconscious or sleeping – I could not tell. Her breathing was heavy and the front of her dress was wet with what must be drool. Instinctively I took a step toward her but Mrs Bernard roughly drew me back. The explanation of this girl came quickly – and cruelly.

“Leave it! It must not be disturbed! It is an animal, not a human being and must not be treated as one. This is what I got for trusting Matthew Spencer, for loving him, for giving myself to him! This is God’s punishment for me, doomed as I am to take care of it for the rest of my life. I must redeem myself by caring for it but why must I be the only one to pay? I never understood that …”

Her voice trailed away and she let go of my arm to stare at her daughter.

My mind was reeling under what she had just told me. This unfortunate girl was a child of Sir Matthew, Douglas’ father? I looked at Mrs Bernard and suddenly understood. Her father had been extremely wealthy and established in society. She must have been a beautiful girl; remnants of that beauty were still there in the structure of facial bones, in the form of her mouth and – most of all – her hair, now a coarse grey. How luxurious it must have been in her youth. I could easily picture a waterfall of thick, dark curls tumbling down her back and shining like a raven’s coat of feathers.

“What happened, Mrs Bernard? Why did you not marry Sir Matthew?” I asked, my voice calm. She turned to me and slowly focussed again after she abandoned her reverie of the past. “He was a rogue,” she replied, her voice listless, almost lethargic. “He went from girl to girl and not one of them could resist him. I was one of many and easily fooled by his title and looks and his suave voice, uttering sweet nothings. Of course, none of us was good enough to become Lady Watcombe. It took me too long a time to comprehend that and, when I discovered I was increasing, I did my duty and married Randolph Bernard, who was courting me at the time. God knows how long I kept him at bay before I finally gave in. I was honest to him and confessed what I had done. Good man that he was, Randolph let me keep the creature and gave it his name. But from the day it was born, he started working on the Spencers’ downfall by buying everything they coveted right from under their noses. He sealed bargains before they could and expanded his empire at the expense of theirs. Matthew Spencer tried to save his fortune by marrying that goose, Phoebe Wilkinson, and it gave him some slack for as long as she lived. But after her death, the Wilkinsons again attempted to take over.”

“But, what is wrong with your daughter, Mrs Bernard? Is she mentally incapacitated? Or deaf or blind?”

“She is Spencer’s daughter! That is enough to keep her locked up!” Mrs Bernard’s voice dripped hatred. There was such a ring of madness in her words that a dire foreboding crossed my mind. Both mother and son must be insane! I could not stand it any longer and went to kneel before the girl’s chair. Gently, I stroked one of the pale, slender hands. There was no reaction. The girl just sat bent forward and I could hear her heavy breathing and I saw her saliva drip into her lap. I slid my hand over her black and sleek hair. The nurse had left it untied and it hung on both sides of her face like a curtain.

“What is your name?” I asked. “Will you not tell me your name?” Still there was no movement from the girl but she uttered a soft whimper, which went straight to my heart.

“What are you doing?” Mrs Bernard’s shrill voice sounded. “Leave it alone, I said!”

“She must have a name, does she not?” I retorted, angry with her cold and distant ways. “Everybody has a name! Tell me!”

Mrs Bernard’s distress was obvious and she was clearly confused about my compassion. How was this possible? How could a mother not love her child, even if it was conceived out of wedlock? But it was the nurse who answered. “ Her name is Amata. She knows her name, Miss. Just you try it.” When I looked up at her, I saw that the woman was smiling at me in encouragement. She must like her patient, I thought, for she is kind to her.

“Good day to you, Amata. I am Margaret. You have a beautiful name.” I touched both of her hands now and said her name again. “Amata … the one who is loved …”

Slowly the girl lifted her head and I was caught in a gaze I recognized immediately. Amata’s blue eyes were exactly like those of her half-brother Douglas and they looked at me with fear – dreadful, bone-chilling fear – but also with subdued awareness. This poor, suppressed creature, locked away for years, certainly was not mentally disabled!

Shock overwhelmed me as I struggled to take in all the horrors this girl must have been subjected to over the long years being locked up in this room. I rose to my feet, ready to release the stinging reproaches on my lips, when the door burst open. Nicholas Bernard grabbed my arm and dragged me outside, causing Amata to shriek like a banshee.

 

I was dragged back to the room I already experienced . Although I was too frightened to resist when Bernard tossed me back onto the bed in the chamber with the locked windows, I could only think of that poor girl in the downstairs room. I could not comprehend why someone would do such a thing to an innocent child! It was not until I felt Bernard tug at my bodice’s buttons that I realised what he was doing.

“Nicholas, wait! Please, Nicholas, we have to talk!”

I pushed at him but his weight was already upon me. Vaguely I wondered how such a slight man could be so heavy! When his mouth was on mine, forcing my lips to open under the pressure of his tongue, I gasped and tried to turn my head aside. He wrenched my chin back and held it in an grip of iron, trusting his tongue into my mouth. There was nothing I could do, I realised. He was too strong and too determined to have his way with me. Far away downstairs, there were unusual noises as I heard crashing and thudding and breaking, but my stunned mind could not understand. Bernard’s hands were ripping open my dress and groping at my breasts. Horror washed over me when he tore aside my ruined bodice and began unfastening the front of his breeches with one hand while the other held me firmly by the neck. I felt no desire, no warmth, only horror, frightful and revolting. Tears streamed down my face as I realised I was being raped, ruined by a man that was not Douglas. Tears, so hot that they choked me … oh, how I longed for death to come and take me …

Suddenly the weight was lifted off me and I drew a deep breath when I heard a voice that was more dear to me than my own life! Douglas! He had come! I tried to sit up and my stunned eyes had trouble taking in what was happening. Douglas and Bernard were fighting, dealing each other hard punches. Although Bernard was several inches shorter than Douglas, he was also wiry but well-muscled and was holding his ground against Douglas’ blows. Bernard was also quick and agile, darting around Douglas and stinging him with hard blows which the latter took on easily before punching back. Douglas might succeed only now and then to connect with Bernard’s jaw but his blows were much stronger. The force behind them was fuelled by so fierce a rage that his eyes seemed to burn with liquid blue fire.

The fight went on for a few minutes but eventually Douglas gained the upper hand and a crushing blow put Bernard down and he did not come round again. Douglas, panting and covered with blood, turned to me. The burning rage in his eyes suddenly frightened me and, groping for the blanket to cover myself, I backed away. God! He looked as if he was going to throttle me! Someone was whimpering but it took me a while to realise it was me.

“Margaret …” Douglas kneeled beside the bed, the rage gone from his eyes. “Meggie, it is me, Douglas! Do not look at me that way, my love, please?”

“Douglas … oh, Douglas …” Suddenly I was in his arms, sobbing my heart out. I wanted to feel him, to revel in his warmth, to inhale his scent, to hear the beating of his heart. Through the fabric of his shirt, I could feel his steel hard muscles and I rubbed my face against that muscled wall of chest, crying with relief because I was finally home. “He did not … I am not …” I heard myself stutter and attempted to say the words but they would not come.

“Shhh, shhh, all is well, my darling, all is well. I have you back, thank the Lord! Never, ever, will I let you out of my sight again, I swear it! Oh, my sweet, sweet darling, I have died a thousand deaths, not knowing where you were!” He was covering me with hard kisses, on my face, my neck, my hands and I was trying to give them back to him but, when our lips finally met, his mouth was greedy and fierce! Heat shot through me when my breasts, already bared from Bernard’s attack, rubbed against Douglas’ shirt. All conscious thinking faded, all reasoning died and only desire leapt, flared up and burned with incredible heat. Now was the time to give myself to him! Now!

Through the red haze of need a very urgent voice pierced the air. “Master, ‘urry! Master, the ‘ouse is on fire! We must leave, I beg ye, master!” Jack Twinkler, I realised with shock!

Douglas was already wrapping me in the blanket, in an attempt to shield my nakedness.

“On fire? How is that possible, Jack? What has happened?”

“It was the old woman, Master! She set fire to the ‘ouse and fled, together with Bernard! Master, it started in the downstairs rooms and the stairs are already in flames! We must leave now!”

Douglas scooped me up and carried me out of the room and down the stairs. A thick, black smoke had already filled the whole staircase and all of a sudden, I was coughing.

“Cover your mouth and nose, Margaret!” Douglas shouted. I could barely hear him over the roaring of the flames. How had this fire developed so quickly? Then, as I recalled Jack’s words, a horrible thought crossed my mind.

“Douglas, the girl! We must find the girl!” I leapt out of his arms and ran down the stairs, vaguely aware of the heat and the flames, toward Amata’s room. I could barely see a hand before my stinging eyes but eventually I found the door of Amata’s room, threw it open and froze! They had abandoned her! She was still tied to that chair, screaming in heart-wrenching panic now as she was pulling and straining against her bonds! I fell to my knees and began tugging at the ropes’ knots. They were strained too hard and I could not even begin to loosen them.

I must have been screaming myself because, all of a sudden, Douglas and Jack were beside me. “Margaret, leave that! We are taking her with us, chair and all! Come on, follow us! Here, put your hand on my shirt’s tail and, for the love of God, do not let go!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dearest, loveliest Meg – Part Twenty-Seven

Margaret_001

 

Chapter Twenty-Seven

“Mrs Bernard, please? Do not let them do this to me!” I cried as Dobson carried me from the room and down the stairs. No answer came from the mother of my abductor. I could not understand! Why? What had I done to her or anyone else to be denied mercy like this?

I was also denied the leisure to ponder over this because Dobson headed for a door on a lower landing. He kicked it open and forcibly threw me on a large four poster bed. My head banged against the headboard, leaving me vertiginous for a short period of time. When my vision cleared, I saw Nicholas Bernard sitting in an armchair beside the bed. He placed his fingers under his chin forming  a steeple and drew up his lips in a smile that did not reach his eyes. I tensed and instinctively crawled away from him. Glancing at the windows, their curtains still open, I saw that night had come.

“I demand that you stop this outrageous behaviour, Mr Bernard! Please take care that I should return home this instant. My family and friends will be in great concern over my safety.” I did my best to look at him with a scowl because I was afraid to let him see my fear. My life could very well be at risk.

Bernard’s smile widened but did not grow softer.

“Oh, you feisty little vixen!” he exclaimed. “Good! Gather your courage for you will need it for what I have in store for you!”

That remark sent a chill down my spine because his voice had been laced with cruelty and viciousness. His eyes, which were a soft hazel, now showed a hint of green. It gave him a devilish look. It also did nothing to put my mind to rest.

“Mr Bernard, pray act like the gentleman that you are. You are a young man of fortune and proper upbringing and one who enjoys the respect of his fellow citizens. Why would you want to throw that away on my behalf? How would you be able to face society if you acted as you intend?”

“Ah, but that is where you are mistaken! I am no ‘gentleman’, no ‘gentry’ like that bastard Spencer and I have no standards, moral nor societal, to uphold! I am a commoner, a wealthy one but nevertheless, a commoner. How do you think my father gained his fortune? Not by playing it fair, sweetheart, I can tell you that! My father was as cunning as a lion. He searched for prey and was ruthless in cutting out the competition. Moreover, do you think I will let my actions be known to all and sunder?”

Bernard suddenly stood and loomed over me, his hands gripping my arms and pinning them onto the bed. I noticed a drop of saliva running down his chin and had a sudden fear that he might be insane! In a cooing voice he continued. “You will be ruined and shunned as a loose woman but I will appear clean as a whistle because no one knows you are here. I have, however, set things into motion already. Rumours are being spread throughout the city that you have eloped with a hitherto unknown lover.”

One of his hands began unfastening the buttons of my riding jacket and all the while, Bernard kept on talking. “The members of my mama’s little card club have already dispersed the scandalous lies my mother fed them about your hypocrisy. How you deceived society by your dainty and innocent ways. How you tricked Spencer into your confidence and, on the verge of marrying him, stole his mother’s jewels to run away with your lover.”

“His mother’s jewels?” I exclaimed, now utterly bewildered. “I had no knowledge of their existence! Douglas never spoke of them.”

“Ah!” Bernard cajoled, his hand now inside my bodice. “But he has not told you even the half of it, my pet.”

Desperately swallowing against the nausea that threatened to overwhelm me at Bernard’s cold fingers on the soft skin of my breast, I ventured. “The half of what, Mr Bernard? Can you not tell me? I would like to know, please.” And with a courage I did not know I had, I laid my hand against his cheek and caressed it. “Please, Nicholas?”

My aggressor leered and drew back, seating himself on the chair again. “Margaret, my sweet, are you beginning to like me, then? Or are you just attempting to beguile me with your feminine wiles?” His eyes raked over me so vilely that my heart nearly stopped in fear. That man was the devil incarnate. Nevertheless, I had a sudden understanding that I could actually have an influence on Bernard which restored my courage. For the sake of mine and Douglas’ future, I had to try everything within my power to escape this lunatic and his mother. I ached to go back to Douglas and our love, to the bond we would soon forge. Already I missed him so acutely that nothing else mattered! I would do anything to be united with him, anything! I would even let this madman think I would succumb to him. So I shamelessly batted my eyelids at him and tried to make my voice sound sultry.

“Nicholas, had I but known you sooner, who knows what might have transpired? We were so isolated, my mother and I, that we did not pay enough attention to what life had to offer us in Torquay. A foolish mistake, I realise now. It deprived me of the pleasure of your company. We will remediate that, won’t we?”

“Margaret …” Bernard now said hoarsely, his eyes softening ever so slightly. “Margaret, are you sincere? How do I know you are not deceiving me? You could easily be tricking me into softening my vigilance and leap to freedom when I let my guard down.”

I dared not answer with words because I needed all my presence of mind to make the expression on my face longing and seductive. A faltering of my voice would surely betray me. Instead I kept stroking his face with a faint smile curving my mouth. Bernard bent over me again and tested my sincerity by pressing his mouth on mine, his tongue pushing for entrance.

“Oh, Douglas!” I begged inwardly. “Please, forgive me, my love …” And opened my mouth to Bernard’s kiss. It was as vile as I had imagined! His lips were thick and spongy and his breath tasted sour. His tongue was like a piece of rotting vegetable that probed all the way down into my throat. It was incredibly hard for me to prevent myself from choking and gagging. I do not know how I managed. Maybe it was the memory of Douglas’ kisses that kept me sane, the feeling of his mouth and tongue, so sweet, so alluring, that made me sustain Bernard’s onslaught. But I achieved it, for Bernard withdrew with a sigh of satisfaction.

“Ah, sweet nectar! My lovely Margaret, how I long for us to join our bodies in unison and pleasure!”

“We will, Nicholas, we will. Could I beg you for a small favour? What day is it?”

“August 14th. Why?”

“I am extremely thirsty and starving for food. I think I have not eaten in two days and I feel a little queer. Please, let me partake of some refreshment so that I can devote myself to the full to our union?”

“Very well, my sweet. You must give yourself to me in complete concentration and for that, you will need all your abilities. I will go and order a tray.”

 

 

Private Diary of Douglas Alexander Spencer

 

Watcombe Manor, August 15th 1818, two o’clock in the morning

 

                I cannot believe it! For hours I have been reading Father’s diaries and found nothing but estate business and every day goings-on being described in full and boring detail. Until now … until I read this hastily scribbled and badly worded paragraph in a shaking hand on the last day of his life, April 4th 1818, a few weeks before I reached home.

 

‘Made a new will. Had to. Must preserve some funds for Douglas in case he comes back to England, even if it means I have to bring down the Bernard child’s allowance. My cousin in Jamaica wrote to me in February to confirm Douglas was still unmarried and had not formed an attachment to any young lady. Stubborn young sod! Anyhow, the will is drawn and secured away in the usual safe place, where I found unending comfort and where I keep all my secret correspondence. If Douglas is the man I hope he has become, he will look there and find it, along with the rest. If he does not search for it, then he will have to marry to get his inheritance. Otherwise, all goes to Wilkinson and Douglas be damned!’

 

                Understandably I was in great confusion! A will subsequent to the one guarded in the lawyers’ practice? The Bernard child? What child? I had to find this will! What could he have meant by ‘the usual secret place’? A place of safety and comfort … Then, suddenly, it dawned on me! It could only be in my parents’ bedchamber.

 

                I went to wake up Jack Twinkler and the two of us went to the bedroom where I had almost deflowered Margaret and, in the process, spilled myself into my breeches, fool that I am!

                Jack and I turned the room inside out, searching every cupboard and closet, tapping the panels on the wall, and even probing the floor boards for hidden spaces. It was all to no avail. Jack, sensible lad that he is, then fetched me a glass of brandy and told me to sit quietly and concentrate on my father and mother. I was stunned to find such an awareness in a young man who had scarcely known his own parents! Yet, I did as he asked and let my eyes wander through the room.  I recalled my strong father and my sweet mother and how they had loved and cherished one another, here in this very room, where their love had blossomed. And then I knew …

 

As soon as Bernard left the room, I jumped up from the bed and ran to the window. Not only was it locked tightly and situated at the street side of the house, it was also on one of the upper floors and the drop to the street level was at least 30 feet down! That had slipped my mind completely. I tried to open the latch because I might have a chance to call out on someone walking by. It was useless. I could not shift the handle because it was weld shut. This fact assured me of Bernard having acted under premeditation to abduct and ruin me. He had even prepared a prison for me.

My thoughts raced through my brain and I felt panicked like a caged bird trying to find a way to escape. I looked around the room for a weapon of some sort, in case I needed to strike Bernard down. The place was as bare as a monk’s cell, the only furniture being the bed and the chair! There was not even a closet or a chamber pot! My shoes had been taken away, along with my riding crop and hat. My spirits suddenly plummeted as I sank onto the bed, sobbing in aching despair.

What was I to do when Bernard would return and claim me? Well, I scolded myself, to sit here and snivel like a baby will not solve a thing! I needed to gather my thoughts and think!

I had been taken two days ago, halfway afternoon. Douglas would be searching for me and – oh, no! – not if he reckoned I had pinched the family jewels! Here I was, it all came to only one fact; did I trust Douglas’ love for me? If Douglas loved me, truly, utterly loved and trusted me – and I was sure he did – then he would not believe I deceived him. I had to trust Douglas completely and, with a jolt of pure joy, I realised I did!

But how would he know where to look for me? And how would he recognize Bernard’s doings in this? In truth, I had not the least notion if and when my rescuer would come. So, in the end, the only thing I could do was to hold off Bernard as long as possible or – to knock him unconscious and escape on my own accord.

                I was still considering my possibilities when the door opened to let Dobson in and – Mrs Bernard. I stood and curtsied politely while I covertly studied her. She was short and stout with an ample bosom and a broad, plain face. Her once pleasant looks were blurred by plumpness. Her eyes were the same hazel colour as her son’s but she must have been dark-haired in her youth instead of fair like Bernard. Her mouth was thin and her nose snub. Her double chin quivered with agitation when she addressed me.

“You foolish, vain creature!” she growled. “Do you even have the slightest idea what a family you plan to marry into? The Spencers are a race of villains who do not place the slightest value upon the lives of others. They see, covet and take what they want with no regard for man or devil!”

“Mrs Bernard, I do not have an inkling about what you are talking of. I beg you to enlighten me about the Spencer family, Ma’am. What is it that I need to know?”

The woman did not reply but gave Dobson a sign whereupon the brute grabbed me and took me outside after Mrs Bernard and down a flight of steps.