Sunlight shone through the windows in the library onto the settee where a young woman sat reading. She smiled from time to time, enjoying the peaceful afternoon, and being surrounded by her father’s many books which he had loved as much as she did now. She eagerly turned the page of Northanger Abbey. It had been written by Miss Jane Austen, one of her favourite authors. Making her pause to wonder what it would be like to have an adventure. Despite this probably not being the most suitable thing for a young lady to do in early June, 1818 but which didn’t deter her in the least.
Sophia Barlow had a mind of her own, and privately considered herself to be a bluestocking. It wasn’t long before her thoughts returned eagerly to the Abbey, and what would happen next to Catherine, the heroine in the story. Nevertheless however independent she might like to think she was, Sophia had been under her eldest brother’s guardianship for the last four years. After their father’s sudden death because of a heart attack. This had proved to be a highly unsatisfactory arrangement. Mostly because Lucas had been trying his best to marry her off to a succession of gentlemen during the last twelve months. Despite Sophia being of the opinion that he would eventually lose interest in this, he still hadn’t given up.
She sighed to herself. Any one of the gentlemen he had insisted she should consider could easily have qualified as the worst bachelor in the current London season! However, trying to remain optimistic about the future, she continued to hope that Lucas would change his mind. Not realising that it had become increasingly clear to everyone else that he didn’t have any intention of doing so, until she had married a gentleman of his choice. Justifying his actions by taking a high moral stance. Often reminding her that it was his duty to look after her well being, now that Papa was no longer with them, and he really did only have her best interests at heart.
Sophia took a very different view of the matter, and couldn’t wait until she had reached her twenty-first birthday. When she believed, without any knowledge of the wider world or legalities of her situation, that she would be able to do as she pleased in matters of the heart. Consequently in the meantime she had little regard for Lucas or his opinions, but still tried her best to keep out of his way as much as possible. Remaining determined to marry for love, if she was fortunate enough to find the right gentleman, and nothing Lucas did or said was going to persuade her to the contrary.
Sophia was dismayed when the door of the library was thrown open, and her brother walked in with that horrible smile he used when he was up to something, which would usually be to someone else’s disadvantage. Lucas Barlow had no hesitation whatsoever in doing as he pleased. If others didn’t like the man he was, or what he did, it was of little concern to him. In his far from humble opinion he had been badly treated by life when he failed to inherit a title on his father’s death, and it didn’t worry him in the least that he was disliked by the majority of people he came across. If not feared. He also had no hesitation about treating his family in the same way. He enjoyed the ruthless side of his nature a little too much. Whilst being egotistical, and spiteful, came easily to him.
In reality, and irrespective of what Sophia might believe, he was very angry that she had dared to thwart his wishes for so long. He still couldn’t understand why she believed she had the right to do so. As the eldest son it was only right and proper that he was head of the family now, with their father’s blessing. He also firmly believed that if he couldn’t have a title then this shouldn’t stop him from becoming very rich, however he had to go about it, and he certainly wasn’t prepared to allow his sister to stand in his way.
Lucas glanced around his father’s library where Sophia usually spent every available minute of her time. Instead of devoting herself to doing needlework in the parlour, as she ought to. He was fully aware that her infernal love of books was at the heart of her disobedience. Also scribbling those words she called poetry. She had a book open on her lap now! She had clearly been reading it, and even if she did think of herself as one of those ridiculous bluestockings, it was completely unacceptable.
From what Lucas had seen of the debutantes coming out this year, those who were acquiescent and didn’t appear to consider it proper to think for themselves, fared much better. He suspected too that the money he had spent in sending her to a finishing establishment, once the mourning period for Papa had passed, had been a waste of time and money. He had hoped that receiving this tuition would result in her changing her ways, to become a much better proposition for a suitor. Someone of his choosing who would help him further his business interests, and quest to become a much richer man than their father had been. Whilst if anything, Sophia had come back more feisty and difficult than before she left.
Lucas stamped his foot in temper. Confound the girl! It was her duty to obey him, and he couldn’t wait to pass the responsibility of guiding her onto her husband. It would be an added benefit when he secured a marriage proposal for her. He only had one sister, so one chance at getting the most he could out of matchmaking for her. He had been scouring the London clubs since the start of the season looking for the wealthiest and most desperate men he could find, who would easily succumb to his way of thinking. That in exchange for getting a beautiful young wife immediately, without having to endure the season and its host of ruthless mamas, Lucas would receive an agreed sum of money. Followed by an introduction to his newly found brother-in-law’s lucrative circle of business connections.
However due to Sophia’s obvious lack of interest in any of the suitors he had selected so far, and wilful behaviour when they met, she had forced him to lower his sights. As well as completely ignoring any of the threats he had made, to get her to comply. Essentially it had now become a case of her marrying anyone who had a title, and more importantly, a large enough fortune who might possibly take her on. Lucas snorted in disgust.
Despite her natural beauty, his sister had made certain that she didn’t appear suitably attractive to any of the gentlemen he had introduced her to. Despite the small fortune he had spent on her dressmaker’s bills, shoes, and hats.
Hadn’t he also made sure that she was presented to Queen Charlotte at the start of the season? Despite her only being a merchant’s daughter, and the family deemed by some not to be sufficiently wealthy to be entitled to this privilege. Lucas smirked when he recalled how he had got around that. All it had taken was a word from him in the right ear, and his sister was added to the list of those who had been recommended for presentation to the Queen. Although Sophia had dared to ask him afterwards how he had managed it, and no doubt thought it was somehow connected to his business arrangements, he didn’t explain. Why should he? It was enough that he had been able to arrange it, and she ought to be grateful.
Suffice to say that he did have something else in mind for her now. Judging by the look of alarm on her face, she was also aware of it. Not a man to waste words he dispensed with the niceties of asking how she was and said, as persuasively as he could, “Sophia, my dear, a very important business acquaintance of mine will be joining us for dinner in two days’ time. I would like you to make a good impression on him. I am giving you sufficient notice of it, so that you will have time to choose the most charming dress in your wardrobe, and do something with your unruly hair.” He remarked staring at her light brown tresses, which he still didn’t believe she had done her best to style.
Moreover, continually using this lack of attention to her hair as a means of silently objecting to his dismissal of her ladies’ maid, shortly after their father’s death. Lucas had congratulated himself at the time, believing that the woman was an unnecessary expense. Despite his sister’s insistence that she needed a maid to help her dress properly. Thankfully she seemed to have lost heart in making this objection, and even though he was reluctant to admit it, she did look reasonably well groomed now most of the time. Although it had taken her a while to reach this point.
Meanwhile Sophia’s hazel eyes flashed defiantly, as she returned her brother’s stare, knowing full well that the gentleman to which he was referring would be another suitor. Lucas could also guess by this time what would be going through her mind, and he grabbed the book from her lap, threw it onto the carpet and said, “You will stop wasting your time reading, and do as I ask on this occasion. Showing me you understand the necessity of making a good match before your next birthday.” Having dispensed with any subterfuge, he paused to give his next words greater emphasis.
“I expect you to secure a marriage proposal, Sophia. Do you understand me? You will shortly be twenty-one years of age. Far too old then to be considered as a prospect by the majority of decent men, who might be prepared to ignore your bad character and personality. Unless you wish to find yourself out on the street, my dear sister, you will not defy me again.”
Lucas glared menacing at her, before he turned around and strode out of the library. Slamming the door behind him as hard as he could, so that the glass ornaments in the nearby cabinet shook. Sophia’s face turned pale. Lucas really did mean it this time. She had never seen him so angry before. Maybe her life wasn’t an adventure after all. More importantly, she had been wrong in believing that she would be able to marry for love, once she was old enough to choose a husband for herself.
Sophia clenched her hands in despair. If only mama was still here, she couldn’t help thinking. Why did she have to die? She would have given her guidance now, and dear papa would never have treated her like this. His marriage to mama had been a love match, so of course she wanted the same. Why was Lucas unable to discern that? All of these circumstances, coupled with the unfortunate demise of her parents, appeared exceedingly unjust.
A solitary tear slid down her cheek. For once, Sophia Barlow felt completely helpless, and didn’t know what to do for the best.
Edward Carlisle yawned as he left his carriage, and walked the short distance to the front door of his late father’s townhouse in Belgravia, which had been opened for him by the butler. After greeting Jenkins he gave him his hat, and made his way into the drawing room where he knew that his mother would be waiting for him. It was late, almost eight o’clock, and he assumed that for once she wouldn’t object if he didn’t change for dinner. After a laborious day managing his business affairs, he was quite fatigued and eagerly anticipated a tranquil supper before retiring early to his chamber. Thankful that despite it still being part of the London season, it would be just the two of them this evening. Not a more formal occasion when they would be receiving guests.
Cynthia, the Duchess of Carlfield, was clearly delighted to see her son and she put her embroidery onto the table next to her as soon as he came into the drawing room. Edward kissed her cheek affectionately, before pouring himself a brandy. Seeing how tired he looked, she decided not to reveal the distressing news she had received earlier until later on. When she asked Ned, as she had called him since he was a boy, he admitted that he hadn’t had a lot of time during the day to stop and eat. So he was delighted to agree to them having dinner, without delay. He drank the brandy quickly, and held out his arm to escort the Duchess into the dining room, after she had rang the bell to tell Jenkins that they were ready for dinner to be served.
When a hearty soup had been enjoyed by them both, the bowls cleared away and the main course served, Cynthia couldn’t wait any longer. “In truth, Ned, I must impart some disheartening tidings,” she uttered, struggling to hold back her tears.
The Duke looked up immediately from his plate of roast beef, potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding. Clearly alarmed after his father’s death from an unexpected illness nine years ago, and to whom he had been very close, he tended to fear the worst when his mother became upset. Fortunately, this didn’t happen very often. Despite Cynthia Carlisle being almost in her seventh decade and her hair turning grey, he still thought of her as a strong and capable woman. Realising however, especially after how suddenly his father had passed away, that this could change at any time. “I hope you aren’t ill, Mama,” he said, anxiously.
“No, fret not, Ned. I am quite well, thank you. It is Ruth, my companion, who has caused my distress. She tendered her resignation this morning, and I am at a loss as to how to proceed without her. She was used to my way of doing things, almost like one of the family, and I shall miss her terribly. She was very upset when she had to tell me she would be leaving. Her mother has been taken ill. Naturally she wished to go home as soon as possible to care for her, and her younger siblings.”
Edward sighed, inwardly. His mother was understandably very upset. Ruth had been with her for six years, and this couldn’t have come at a worse time. They were due to leave London in the next three days for his country seat in Yorkshire, to spend the remainder of the summer there. He had been looking forward to walking through the grounds of his estate again, and the gardens. However the possibility of him being able to enter into a highly lucrative business deal with an acquaintance of his, Lord Watson, had recently come to light. So that it looked as if he would have to travel to France instead, to discuss the details with him, and meet the other gentlemen with whom his Lordship and him would be trading.
Not wishing to cause his mother any further distress or worry, he stood up immediately, with the intention of going to her. Only after she had assured him with great determination that she was indeed well, and commanded him to be seated forthwith to finish his dinner, did he relent. The matter had only been a momentary shock, nothing more.
Assured of his mother’s well-being, Edward resumed his utensils and spoke hastily, “Fret not, Mama. If I must journey to France, I shall ensure your company is not forsaken.”
I shall make some enquiries tomorrow morning about finding a new lady’s companion for you, to replace Ruth. If it isn’t possible to get someone suitable then I shall put off going to Paris for the time being.”
“Edward, despite you continually ignoring my opinion that you work far too hard when you don’t need to, I can still understand the importance of you entering into an agreement with Lord Watson. From what you told me earlier, it would be extremely advantageous for you to be able to trade in France. Especially after all the trouble there has been the last few years with Napoleon, and his dreadful war. I am assuming that it would be highly beneficial for you to have a friend like Lord Watson who has already established business connections there.”
Edward smiled, and tried to make light of the situation without confirming that what his mother had said was right. He would cancel his trip if need be, and he surely would. Also make the enquiries for a replacement companion himself. Even though one of the servants could easily do this on his behalf he wasn’t prepared to take any chances that it wouldn’t be done to his high standard when it came to looking after his family. Furthermore, he was fully aware what the loss of Ruth must mean to his mother. Cynthia Carlisle was still an independent woman, but the older she had become the less she liked change. Especially after his father’s death, Ruth had grown accustomed to the way she liked things to be done. He had often felt relieved that he could leave her in such capable hands when he did need to travel on business.
The Duchess of Carlfield still hosted numerous social soirees, and other events, when they were at the family’s country seat. It gave her a lot of pleasure, and, he surmised, a certain amount of pride. She had relied heavily on Ruth to help her with them, and he wasn’t prepared to contemplate the thought of her cancelling them because he hadn’t found a replacement. Absolutely not! This definitely wasn’t a task he could delegate to a servant. Although how he would find someone suitable in such a short space of time he didn’t know. Assuming it would be a miracle, if he did.
Meanwhile, even though the Duchess felt much better, now that Ned was at home, she was still reeling from the news. Irrespective of how upset she felt, she had still reacted to Ruth’s resignation in her usual sensible manner. Quickly considering the practicalities of what needed to be done, to help the woman who had turned into a friend. At the same time obviously wishing that this hadn’t happened. Poor Ruth had been distraught, clearly torn between the two women, but Cynthia had insisted that she must go to her mother. Fully intending to ask Edward to continue paying her servant’s wages for as long as she needed the money. She also instructed Jenkins to get one of the footmen to accompany Ruth back to Yorkshire. Making sure he was told to carry her bags, and arrange for the rest of her belongings to be sent to her.
Both Ruth and her had cried, and hugged each other. Ignoring Ruth’s insistence that it was improper for the Duchess to do this, Cynthia had replied in her usual matter of fact way that she was speaking complete nonsense, and held her even tighter until she stopped trembling. Completely ignoring the social impropriety of what she was doing. She also gave Ruth her favourite shawl for the journey, and insisted that she had to keep it, which brought a fresh round of tears to her companion’s eyes.
After Cynthia had told all of this to Edward over their fresh fruit and ice cream, he wasn’t in the least surprised that his mother had done it. In a time when many would not have acted so, she did.
She deserved having someone good and kind to help her. Making him even more determined than before, to find the perfect replacement for Ruth. While Cynthia wished that Ned would also let her help him, he was always the perfect gentleman. Impressing upon her that he was no longer a boy, and it was his duty now to care for her, which had equally made her feel very proud of him. He always tried to appear strong, however tired he might be or unhappy within himself. The reasons for which he hadn’t always shared with her, although she had her own thoughts on what might be troubling him, and why she sometimes caught him brooding.
As Edward carried on eating, he was thinking quickly. Wondering what the alternative might be, if he couldn’t find a lady’s companion at short notice. The Duchess wouldn’t of course be entirely alone in Yorkshire. She would have the servants there. Not all of them travelled to London to spend the season at his townhouse, and they had mostly been with the family for years. Undoubtedly, he trusted Jenkins implicitly, along with his land steward, Tindle. There was also mama’s ladies’ maid, Florence. He often heard them laughing about something or another when he passed the door of his mother’s bedchamber. All of them loved her as much as he did, so he shouldn’t feel that any harm could come to her. Nevertheless now that Papa had gone, it was his duty to see that she had every comfort in life.
Again, following his father’s example, the servants were also well cared for. Edward made sure personally that their wages were more than enough to cover all of their needs, so that they could in turn take good care of their own families. As far as he was concerned there was little point in being rich unless you could help others, especially those less fortunate. His mother shared this sentiment in the events she organised to raise charitable funds, also in the way she treated others. So much so that his duchy continued to thrive, and there was a part of him which did regret not spending as much time there as he would have liked to. However, Yorkshire held a lot of memories for Edward Carlisle which he still wasn’t entirely comfortable with.
He glanced at the Duchess who was cutting the food on her plate into dainty morsels, before popping them one at a time into her mouth. He couldn’t help smiling. Despite her elegant appearance, she could be equally formidable when the occasion demanded it. Fiercely defending an injustice, and riding a horse in her younger days like no other woman he had seen. His father had loved her dearly, and he assumed, from a place deep within his heart. Edward sighed, for what might have been. He still missed Papa’s deep and reassuring voice at times like this when life seemed overwhelming. Also Joey, his best friend, who had been the Duke of Westling. Neither of them should have died when they did, but he had gradually learned to accept that death was a part of life. Whilst despite Mama’s spirit remaining strong, he could also see a frailer side to her now, which hadn’t been noticeable before.
Edward knew that it would have given her so much pleasure if he had been able to fill their large house and Yorkshire estate with grandchildren, and for him to have had a wife she could have sat with, treating her as a daughter. Edward sighed more deeply to himself. Making a proposal before now had crossed his mind. He knew that he was considered to be highly eligible by the mamas who followed his every move when he attended a ball, but which he chose to ignore. It seemed to him that unless a marriage had love as its foundation it was a sham, and he wasn’t prepared to treat his spouse in that way. She deserved to be loved by him properly. From the little he knew of women, this should be deeply, and passionately. Although he had at one time been prepared to try to do this, he soon realised that he wouldn’t have been able to unless he was truly in love. Irrespective of his mother’s wishes, that was a moral decision he wished every day that he hadn’t had to make.
“I will find you a new companion, Mama!” Edward said, repeating his earlier words, to stop her from worrying that she might not be able to cope without Ruth’s help. Also to appease his own guilty conscience, and belief that he had failed her in not marrying sooner.
Two days later Sophia was in her bedchamber, looking through the small collection of gowns Lucas had paid for in the belief that this would be enough for her to be suitably attired for the season. It was late afternoon, and she had been upstairs since not long after lunch. Ostensibly trying to choose what to wear for dinner tonight, to please her brother and obey his wishes, but in reality writing a nature poem which had distracted her during her walk in the garden that morning. The birdsong, early sunlight, and different varieties of flowers in the small garden had stayed with her. So much so that she knew from experience if she didn’t get her observations onto paper the thoughts and poem would be gone. Something which had become an endless frustration for her, since she was unable to regard her time as her own.
There was so much she wanted to explore, and write about, while cautiously appearing not to be interested in anything of the sort in front of Lucas. She had become used to hiding her paper and pen under a cushion when she heard his voice in the hall, or the front door opening if he had been out. Picking up the same piece of embroidery she had been working on since the start of the season, adding only two or three more stitches to it if he came into the room. Thankfully he had so far failed to notice her lack of progress.
She was glad at times like this that her brother had been frugal regarding the number of servants he kept, and hadn’t hired a replacement maid to help her dress. At least this meant that she could be alone with her thoughts when she stayed in her bedchamber, and relatively undisturbed. Trusting that the housemaid, Amy, who was of a similar age to herself and sympathetic to her plight, wouldn’t reveal the amount of time she spent writing. Least of all to Lucas. The two women had developed a quiet friendship which didn’t go beyond the bounds of propriety, but helped both of them to cope in different ways. Sophia spoke kindly when Cook was being unkind, and Amy’s quiet voice often made Sophia feel better after Lucas had been spiteful again.
She had spoken to Amy about finding another position, since she wasn’t particularly happy being part of Lucas’ household. Even though in her heart it was the last thing she wanted her to do. Amy was however adamant that she would stay with Miss Barlow, and not leave her alone. She had seen how much Sophia suffered at Lucas’ hands, and dried her tears on more than one occasion. She also did her best to help Sophia with her hair when her arms were tired from struggling with holding the weight of it for too long. Although styling it simply was the best both of them could manage, without any of the bits and pieces of ornament the other debutantes used to intrigue their eligible gentlemen.
Sophia knew only too well that none of this mattered to Lucas. Far better in his eyes that he should continue to accumulate wealth, and keep what he already had. Whereas from what Owen had told her, Papa had left sufficient funds in his estate for all of them to live quite comfortably, without this penny pinching. A disturbing thought came to her then. She hoped neither Mama nor Papa knew what Lucas was doing, as they would surely turn in their graves and not be able to rest easily. Tears trickled down her face again, until she rubbed them away impatiently. This simply wouldn’t do! She had left it late enough to choose from the gowns she had already worn many times before, and couldn’t delay her decision any longer.
Without further ado she chose the nearest dress from the pile on her bed, and began to brush her hair as the words of the poem came back to her. Determined that they wouldn’t be lost, until she pushed them wearily again to the back of her mind. The dress she had chosen was pretty enough, she supposed. White, with sprigs of pale pink rosebuds on the skirt, and ribbons to tie under the bodice. She had certainly been glad to receive it at the start due to not having had many new clothes since Papa’s passing. She could wear Mama’s pearl necklace with it. This was her favourite piece of jewellery. Lucas had said that she could have the rest of the things Papa had given to her when she was twenty-one. However, as awful as it was, she hadn’t completely believed him when he said it. Since he had that strange look on his face. She realised afterwards that she hadn’t seen the box the jewellery was in since Papa’s passing. It had always been kept on Mama’s dressing table, and when she kept on asking Lucas about it, he eventually told her that it must have been lost.
She only had the pearls and coral necklace, since these had been in her bedchamber. Papa didn’t have any objection at all to her wearing anything that had belonged to her mother, but she had no idea now what had happened to everything else. Another mystery, she thought, sighing to herself but Lucas would no doubt know the exact whereabouts of the box. With a heavy heart she returned the other dresses to the wardrobe where she had left her two ball gowns. These were made of heavier cloth, and for more formal occasions. Not that she cared particularly about what she wore any more. Especially after hearing two of the other debutantes discussing her lack of dresses, and the shame of not apparently having any new ones. They had attributed this to her lowly position socially, as a merchant’s daughter, and to not having a mama to guide her.
Catherine’s observations about romance in Northanger Abbey came to her mind in an instant, and the realisation that she completely understood why she had yearned for adventure. Sophia knew only too well by now how it felt to be trapped in a dilemma which didn’t seem to have a solution. Unless of course Lucas presented her with a suitor she was drawn to and felt she might be able to love, which seemed highly unlikely. Her other greatest fear, and reason for refusing to accept any of the earlier proposals she had received, was that any one of the gentlemen who had made them might forbid her to carry on reading. Possibly even worse than that, refuse to give her permission to continue writing the poetry she loved. Sophia knew that if this happened her life would truly no longer be worth living, as some gentlemen did expect complete obedience from their wives. Without them ever daring to express an opinion of their own, let alone use their imagination, or think of having an adventure.
Sophia frowned in a most unladylike manner. She couldn’t summon any enthusiasm at all for tonight, or their unknown guest. Wishing again that she still had time to put the finishing touches to her poem while recognising the futility of this. Nevertheless she was starting to wonder who their visitor might be, and her optimistic nature dared her to hope again that Lucas had for once invited a gentleman whose company she might actually enjoy.
A short while later, Sophia stepped into the drawing room where Lucas and Owen were engaged in a loud conversation. Their voices were raised, and it appeared to be some sort of disagreement. They stopped speaking as soon as they noticed that she was there. Sophia was alarmed to see the concerned expression on Owen’s face when he greeted her. Something clearly wasn’t right, and her suspicions were confirmed when the butler announced the arrival of Lord Dilley. Much to her horror, and dismay.
Sophia stared at Lucas, realising that he had tricked her into having dinner with such a horrible gentleman. Taking the chance away from her to plead illness, and need to have a tray brought upstairs to her bedchamber. He had that look on his face again which she equated to someone being about to suffer at his hands, and this time it was going to be her. He was staring at her now, with a mean and hard look in his eyes. A year ago, Lord Dilley had offered for Sophia’s hand, and if it hadn’t been for Owen’s intervention at the time, Lucas would have forced her into an unwanted marriage with him. Owen’s persistent defence of her wishes was the beginning of Lucas’ stream of suitors being invited for dinner. She had been right in her earlier assumption that her brother was angry. This was his way of seeking revenge on both Owen and her, for daring to argue with him when he was head of the family.
As Owen and her had anticipated, dinner was an extremely awkward affair, with Lord Dilley staring across the table at her throughout in a lewd manner. As she continually rebutted his attempts at drawing her into conversation about inconsequential matters. Being unable to believe her brother had done such a dreadful thing, and not being prepared to make it any easier for her prospective husband. However it was clear that Lucas was enjoying Owen’s and hers, obvious discomfort. Whilst they couldn’t help feeling relieved when dinner eventually came to an end.
The following morning, Amy knocked politely on the door of Sophia’s bedchamber, and told her that she had been summoned by Lucas to have breakfast downstairs with him. Instead of the tray she had asked to be brought to her room. As she stepped into the drawing room, Owen caught her eye and shook his head slightly warning her not to cross Lucas any further. She could also tell by the look on Owen’s face that something was very wrong.
Lucas smiled, and told Sophia to take a seat. “Dearest sister, I have some delightful news for you before breakfast is served.” He paused, enjoying every minute of her obvious discomfort. “As I rightly anticipated, Lord Dilley has made an offer for your hand in marriage, and on this occasion I have given my blessing to it.”
Sophia stood up, immediately after the words left her brother’s mouth. “You can’t do this to me, Lucas,” she said, feeling that the bottom had dropped out of her world.
“But, my dear, you haven’t given me any other choice,” he replied, in such a way that it would have sounded quite reasonable if it had been concerning anything else.
Owen tried at that point to intervene, expressing his dissatisfaction at the arrangement. Also much to Sophia’s surprise, reminding Lucas that she would shortly receive the benefit of the trust fund left to her in Papa’s estate. It was a modest sum, but if she was careful she would be able to get by. No longer being an expense that his brother had to pay for. Also since she would soon be twenty-one, there surely shouldn’t be any reason for her to be forced to marry against her wishes.
Lucas also stood up then, with two spots of red on his cheeks showing how angry he was. “Owen, I am fully aware of my sister’s trust fund, given I am trustee of it, and this really is none of your concern. However, for your information, the majority of the funds were invested in such a way that they received a poor return and what remains is practically worthless.”
Owen was clearly very angry when he heard this, also seeing how upset his sister now was, and he demanded an explanation for what he described as the misappropriation of the funds. Suspecting correctly that they had somehow been removed from the trust by Lucas, to find their way into his brother’s own pocket. He also mentioned the trust monies his father had wanted him to receive when he was twenty-five years of age, and said that he surmised they had been dealt with in the same way as his sister’s.
Lucas had by this time a snide look on his face. Without raising his voice he said, coldly, “You must wait and see, dear brother. In the interim, let us not speak of it further for it does bore me. Pray, sit down and let us take our breakfast as a family.I have already spoken to Lord Dilley this morning. The matter is non-negotiable, and the arrangements are already in hand for your wedding, Sophia. He wishes shortly to travel abroad, taking his new wife with him.”
Lucas smiled at her then. “I am sure you will also not have any objection to your husband handling the small amount of money which is left in your trust fund. He will be spending some of his time when you are abroad negotiating business deals with his connections, which will effectively result in both sides of our family becoming richer. The first meeting has been arranged, so you will need to board a ship crossing the Channel as soon as possible. With this in mind, Lord Dilley intends to obtain a common licence so that you can be married by the end of the week.
As soon as Sophia tried to object more strongly, and give an outright refusal to go along with this charade, Lucas reminded her that the situation was entirely of her own making. If she had been more reasonable and considered the other gentlemen properly, whom he knew were interested in her, she could have been happily married by now to the man of her choice.
Sophia began to cry in earnest and Owen intervened again, trying to protect her. “Lucas, that’s hardly fair! Sophia didn’t have any choice of who would be on your list of eligible suitors. I demand that you reconsider what you are doing. You must know full well that Papa would never have countenanced something as cruel as this, or used Sophia’s trust fund to further his own aims. Especially since a lot of the money in it came from our grandfather,” Owen said, sadly. Knowing before the words had left his lips that he was wasting his time.
Lucas laughed, as he looked from Owen to Sophia then back at his brother again, before the tone in his voice changed to one which was as cold as ice. “You dare to try and interfere, brother. Accusing me of going against my father’s wishes for the family. Let me remind you that I am well within my rights to do this, as your sister’s guardian.” He cleared his throat before he continued.
“Also to arrange for you to secure a small living in the country as a curate which shall be befitting for your status and, as you rightly mentioned, depleted trust funds which I am again entitled to do. I intend to look into that as soon as Sophia is married. Lord Dilley will be an excellent addition to our family. I am very much looking forward to having him as a brother-in-law. I will not have any more objections to it from either of you. Do you understand me?” He said, glaring at both of them.
“But Lucas…” was all Sophia managed to say before he had turned on his heel with a face like thunder, and strode from the room.
Owen hurried to Sophia’s side, and held her as she sobbed. Whispering how sorry he was, and that he would think of something to put a stop to this gross injustice, but without having the least idea what that might be. Also knowing that he would only have a very short time to do it and unconcerned whether or not Lucas would find his behaviour unseemly in comforting his sister like this. As far as he knew he was only doing what his father would have wished while Lucas didn’t seem to have an ounce of compassion, let alone love in his body. Owen knew for certain then that he had been right to fear the worst after their father died.
Owen knew that Papa did have doubts about leaving everything in Lucas’ control, and this was the reason he had told him about the trust funds. Sadly however, the knowledge was insufficient for Owen to stop Lucas from stealing the money from them. Their father hadn’t disowned Lucas when he should have done, because Mama had by this time died and she would never have a word said against her first born son. Sophia had only been eight years old at the time, and Papa let the matter drift. So that even when Lucas began to behave badly, and he doubted him nothing was done about it.
Owen wasn’t concerned for his own needs since they were few, but he was exceedingly worried about his sister being married and then under the control of a man like Lord Dilley. Lucas should have had the backbone to help her choose someone suitable. As he would have done, had it been his place to do so. He welcomed the thought of no longer being in his brother’s household, or anywhere near him. The stipend would be small, but if he was careful he could manage. Although he was well aware that his own hope of marrying for love and having children would be thwarted, if there was insufficient money to support them all.
“Have faith, Sophia! All will be well,” Owen said, gently. Hoping in his heart that it would be so, or that they might have been able to turn back time if fate had been kinder to them. But their father wasn’t to blame. Lucas had always been manipulative and difficult, as a child. So that he mostly got his own way, but he had waited until now when he was in a position of strength, to reveal the full extent of his bad character.
All Owen could do was carry on hoping that he would find a way to help Sophia get away from Lord Dilley, and him, before it really was too late.