Chapter Twenty-Three (continued)
Ketteridge, Leicestershire, April 12th, 1816
All in all, Alex was satisfied of his afternoon’s work. Mr Beaumont had pleaded with him to wait until Lord Carlisle would be there to back him up against Bleak solely by pulling rank over the man. It was vital for them to know what happened to the late Lord Daveston’s will before they took measures against Roderick Daveston.
Alex would have wanted to go straight away to the shabby little office Bleak kept on the outskirts of town. He would have lifted him off his feet by his neck and bullied him until he came up with the will, but Mr Beaumont dissuaded him from showing his hand too early. If the will was in Bleak’s office, he told Alex, only a magistrate’s warrant would allow them to search for it. For Cumberland, the first magistrate was the earl of Carlisle, so no harm was done by waiting a little bit longer.
If they found the will, legal action could be taken to summon Daveston and Bleak before a court of law. Here again, the support of Carlisle would be most valuable. If, on the other hand, the will was not at Bleak’s office, they had a large predicament on their hands. Daveston, a baronet and therefore a member of the landed gentry, could disregard a warrant. The will could have been destroyed or hidden on Daveston’s estate, which would make it impossible to prove foul play.
Well, Alex vowed to himself, if that came to happen, he would personally bully Daveston to produce the will. He would trash the blackguard within an inch of his life, if necessary. It would, however, be best to also have some legal leverage against Daveston, and Alex had been amazed that Mr Beaumont had come up with a solution to that. His own solicitor, Middlebridge, had not thought so far, but the man was but a simple country solicitor.
Alex would wait for Carlisle to come home. In good spirits, he went back to Crestwell Abbey.
Daveston Hall, a small but elegant house in pure Georgian style lay basking in the dapper April sunshine, its three-story front bright golden with rows of winking windows. The image reminded Rowena of the last summer her mother was alive. Clarissa had taken her daughter for a ride in the curricle, and they had stopped because Rowena wanted to count the number of windows. She could not yet, of course, because she was only five and there were so many windows, so Mama helped her and made her practice until she knew all the numbers up to one hundred. They had been at it for hours, the sheer fun of being with her dearest Mama thrilling Rowena deliciously as only a child could enjoy the loving attention of a beloved parent.
Not long thereafter, Mama was gone. A bad cold resuming in pneumonia took away her in barely three weeks. Weeks in which Rowena had been sent away to her aunt Charlotte in York to prevent her from catching the illness. When she returned, her Mama was gone and buried. Rowena had been five, and the deep grief and sorrow that had stricken her then still had the power to bring tears to her eyes, even after all these years. Fortunately for her, Papa had been there to comfort her.
Poor Papa had also been devastated because he had loved Mama as deeply as she had loved him. They had comforted each other by being close, and Rowena had helped her aging father in running his estate after she left the schoolroom. Of course, Meg had been a comfort, too, until she and John left after they retired.
How strange that all these painful as well as happy memories invaded her at this moment when she would need all the strength she could muster.
“My lady?” Gregson, her footman, stood waiting for her to descend from the carriage.
Rowena extracted a sealed note from her reticule. “Gregson, please, knock on the door and give this to the butler to be delivered to the master of the house. I will await his answer in the carriage.”
“Of course, my lady. David, keep an eye on her ladyship, will you?” Gregson said to his brother who was still on the coach driver’s bench.
“Right ho!” David shouted back.
As she saw Gregson mount the steps to the front door, Rowena was glad she took the two strong brothers with her on this trip. Roderick was not to be trusted.
The front door was eased open, but not enough for Rowena to see who answered it. The note was taken and the door was closed once again, leaving Gregson to cool his heels on the doorstep. After what seemed an interminable amount of time, the door opened again, and Gregson bowed and came back to Rowena.
“You are invited in, my lady, but you are to go alone. Beg pardon, my lady, but that is unacceptable, in light of what his lordship pressed upon us all to protect you at any cost. Might I suggest we return to Crestwell Abbey and come back in his lordship’s company?”
“I appreciate your concern, Gregson, but that is what I do not want to happen. His lordship must not meet with my half-brother lest he would be attacked and injured, or worse. No, I have to do this on my own, but you and David will stand guard. If something occurs, you can both step in.”
“Very well, my lady.” Gregson offered his hand to help Rowena alight. She shook out her skirts and straightened. Taking in a deep breath, she started walking towards her former home.