Reckless in Innocence
Reckless in Innocence
~ Read the earlier parts listed in the index
Elizabeth heard raised voices and stopped outside the door of her father’s office to listen.
“I cannot give you it! I have no money! Not enough to meet these sums or anything near them!” Her father’s bellow echoed from his office out into the hall. “I cannot raise this kind of money!”
“Perhaps your wife should have thought of that before she continued to play.” A stranger’s voice bit back in anger.
“My wife, sir, would have thought no further than the turn of the next card, as you well knew. Had you any sense you would have stopped her and known she had no money to honour the debt.”
“Lady Derwent believed the funds would soon be available.”
“Indeed…” Her father responded sharply, with a disgruntled query in his pitch.
“She implied that the Duke of Tay had made an offer for your daughter. In fact she made it very clear that there would be an announcement soon. Therefore these debts were taken in good faith, and now that I have heard evidence to the contrary, I am calling in the debt.”
“Evidence… What evidence?” Her father’s voice was sour and slightly slurred with liquor.
“It is all about town, Derwent, the news of your daughter. Her reputation is in ruins. If the Duke will not take her then no other man will have her now.”
“His Grace, will not take her…” Her father sounded surprised. Did he still believe anyone would want her for a wife?
“I should never have believed it,” the stranger bewailed. “Why would such a man wish to link himself to a family like this?”
“The Duke of Tay will take her.” Her father’s voice quivered with anger and denial. “He called here every day for a month. He cannot be indifferent. She accompanied him out of town. They have spent a weekend together!”
“From what I have heard, Derwent, he will not even have your daughter as a mistress!”
He will not even have your daughter as a mistress. How did this stranger know? Elizabeth felt cold, as though her blood solidified to ice.
“The word in White’s is that he does not wish to recognise the child.”
“Child!” Her father’s voice rose and the sound of glass shattering on the floor echoed about the hall.
“She has not told you.” The stranger laughed. “Your plan has rebounded on you, Derwent.”
“Get out!” Her father yelled. “Get out! You are not welcome in my home. Get out! And if you seek repayment of your debt then you must appeal to the courts, for I have no intent to pay!”
Elizabeth stepped aside as the door opened. The man, a stranger, stopped before her, his hand still on the open door. His gaze swept over her, looking up and down sharply, then his eyes focused on her stomach where her fingers gripped her shawl. The look he gave her before he walked away was insolent, a crude smirk. Elizabeth drew her shawl tighter about her as the man let himself out of the front door. It slammed shut behind him as her father stepped out of his office.
Her father’s bleary eyes fixed on her. He was a little drunk, and angry. He barked in disillusionment, “A child, Elizabeth… Why have you said nothing of this to me?” His disappointment was not concern, nor even disgust, his reaction was edged with calculation as well as anger. He was annoyed because his commodity, her, had not told him of this new tool he could apply. The child meant only power to him.
“I have said the same, Husband.” Elizabeth turned. Her mother stood before the open parlour door.
Her father walked past Elizabeth, stumbling slightly. “How has this come about? She has had no offer. How can she not have had an offer?” His contemptuous, bitter accusation was thrown into her mother’s face.
“I have done my best. She has been in all the right places and I have not interfered. I have left her alone as you advised.”
Her mother turned to her. “How long, Elizabeth? How long have you known?”
“When did you tell the Duke?” her father challenged as they both glared at her.
Neither face showed any anxiety for her. When she had told her mother earlier instead of offering comfort, or promising support, her concerns had turned inward, she’d feared telling Eilzabeth’s father. It seemed that chore had been taken from her hands.
When she did not answer her father’s attention turned back to her mother. “This has been poorly done. I expected you to know. I expected the girl to say. I had intended that it would be I who presented the detail to His Grace, not the girl. I would have made his position clear. He would have had no choice but to do the decent thing. No wonder he has not taken her. No wonder. The girl cannot have been forceful enough. He has not thought of marriage before. Given time he would have become used to the idea. But our time has run out!” he looked back and yelled at Elizabeth, his eyes glinting with sharpened rage. “I will not support you, or the child. It will not be done! The Duke must take you! He must…” The bite in his words died on his lips as Elizabeth shook her head, and the heat of a blush burned in her cheeks.
She held his gaze as his eyes opened wider in disbelief.
They had planned this!
They had wanted her to make the choice she’d taken. Touche me. It had never been her choice alone.
How foolish then that she’d believed that giving her body to Marcus was in some way escaping her parents. In reality she’d been entirely within their bonds, following exactly the path they’d wished. She saw it so clearly now.
Her father’s investment in her clothing. Her mother’s poor chaperonage. It had all been a trap. Like baiting a bear with honey. The dress that her mother had chosen for her to wear. Her deliberate oversight in introductions. She’d taken Elizabeth to the gambling den that Marcus frequented. It was no accident that they had met there.
Marcus was right! “Was it always the Duke of Tay that you intended?” Elizabeth’s question was quietly spoken and when her father did not answer she turned to her mother, her voice rising with revulsion. “Was it always Tay, Mother?”
“You are a pretty, young woman, Elizabeth. Any man such as His Grace would not be able to resist you.”
“You intended me to look forlorn. You wanted me to seem alone. You planned this before we ever left home. Why could you not have made the introductions – simply introduced me to suitable men?”
“Elizabeth.” Her mother came forward and reached a hand out. Elizabeth swept her arm aside before her mother might touch it.
“Elizabeth, a gentleman your father may be, but we live too humbly to be recognised by families like the Campbells. The Duke would not have received us had we approached, but there is something very enticing about a beautiful woman whom no one knows.”
“So he was lured.” As he’d said.
Elizabeth’s hand covered her mouth. Her hand was trembling. She’d never felt a true closeness to her parents; or rather she had never felt that she’d received that bond from them. But this was not lack of care, or concern – this was betrayal. She had not known that she had any love for her parents until now, but the pain in her heart cut so deep that she knew, despite their appalling behaviour, she had loved them. But she could not love them any more. Any bond had been severed forever now.
She looked at her father, staring at him full in the eyes, as she’d never done before. She would never be afraid of him again. There was nothing left for him to do or say that could hurt more than the pain already in her heart.
“His Grace came here to offer me marriage.” Her voice was bland but her lips curved, hinting at a smile. It felt like a smile which came from insanity. “He overheard a conversation, Papa. He heard you speaking, and I gather that he must have determined your intent. He will have nothing to do with me, or the child. It was not I who lost the fish, Father. It was you who threw him back, and in truth, I am glad. Had I found this out once I was wed, I would never have been able to live with the knowledge of your deceit.” She did not wait for his response, but turned and walked past him, the skirt of her dress brushing over his feet.
She stopped on the first stair and glanced back across her shoulder, to throw her final cut with the same contempt her father had always shown her. “And have no fear, Papa. I do not want your support. I do not wish my child to even know you. I will leave your house tomorrow.” A smile lifted her lips higher as she turned away and continued climbing the stairs. It was a smile for herself. She had nowhere to go, no one to go to, but she did not care, she would be free of them.
* * *
“Miss!” Abigail shook Elizabeth’s shoulder. Elizabeth felt as though she was being dragged up from the bottom of a deep sea. She had been in blackness, deep blackness which consumed everything. Her hand touched her stomach in concern.
“Miss!” Abigail had stepped back. It was still dark, but Abigail was dressed and gripped a candle.
“What is it, Abigail?” Elizabeth sat up.
“There are men downstairs, in the hall. They ‘ave come for Lord Derwent, miss.”
“For my father…” Elizabeth blinked the sleep from her eyes. “What hour is it?”
“Four hours past midnight, miss.”
“Is my father meeting them?”
“I couldn’t wake him, miss. I don’t know what to do. The men say they have an order from the court.”
“At this hour, could their business not have waited until morning?”
“They said he must come immediately. They won’t go away, miss.”
“Help me then, Abigail. Where is my dress? I will not go down like this; they will have to wait longer.” Elizabeth stood as Abigail set down the candle and then turned to the wardrobe. “Where is my father? In his bed.”
“No, miss. He is sleeping in his office.” Abigail turned holding a simple grey day dress.
Elizabeth held up her arms so that Abigail might slide the dress over her head. “Then he is drunk and nothing changes.” Except I no longer care. The strength she’d discovered earlier surged through her. “Show the men to the parlour. I will wake my father. Is my mother at home?”
“She is in her room, miss.”
“Then call her on your way past. She will wake easily.” Elizabeth turned her back so that Abigail could secure the buttons which were able to close over her expanding figure.
Once she was dressed, as Abigail left the room, Elizabeth picked up her shawl. She wrapped it about her shoulders and secured it with a brooch. Then she quickly twisted her hair into a knot and slid a hairpin into place to hold it up, as her hands trembled.
What had her father done?
She hurried down the stairs, her feet light on the steps.
The sound of her father snoring heavily seeped through the office door, which Abigail had left ajar. Elizabeth pushed the door open.
Her father, the drunk, was slumped over his desk, with one hand still clasped about a half full glass, as he snored loudly.
She gripped his shoulder and spoke sharply. “Papa! Father! Wake up!”
He snorted as his head lifted and turned to one side. But he was still asleep and merely seeking a more comfortable position. His next in-drawn breath resonated as another heavy snore.
“There are men who wish to see you, Father!” Elizabeth shook his shoulder. His head rolled awkwardly. “Father!” He did not wake.
On his desk stood an open bottle of brandy, of which he’d only managed to drink half. Her father’s preferred poison. How apt an awakener. She picked up the bottle by its neck and tipped its contents over his head. It ran over his face, into his nose and mouth.
Her father came to life, coughing and spluttering, as his bloodshot eyes opened to the candlelit room. His hands lifted to stop the liquid, then tried to wipe it from his face. “What there devilll are you doing, Ellllizabeth?” he stumbled over and slurred the words his lips fought to form.
Elizabeth set the empty bottle aside and gripped his arm to draw him up from his seat. But he was not a small man and once he’d been encouraged to his feet he overbalanced and fell forward into the desk, dragging her with him, catching her hip on the corner of the desk. She winced and hunched against the pain, letting go of her grip on her father. He tottered a little, as though trying to balance alone, then fell and landed back in his chair.
“Father, you must get up. There are men here to see you.”
“I shall not see them. I refuse them,” he drawled drunkenly, his voice resembling that of a spoiled child.
Elizabeth frowned as her hand pressed over the pain at her side. This was her sire; nothing but a drunk. Why had she been afraid of him?
“The gentlemen are in the parlour, miss.” Abigail leaned about the door to say.
“I will go.” Elizabeth turned away from the wretched man who’d created and then ruined her life. She wiped the spilled brandy from her hands on her skirt, and with it she wiped away her responsibility and any obligation she felt towards her parents. She owed them nothing. They’d made their own fate, and they had made hers – but she would be free of them now.
“I apologise for keeping you waiting, gentlemen.” Elizabeth closed the parlour door behind her as her chin lifted defiantly and her right hand hovered at her waist.
The men were all standing about the room. One stepped forward. “Miss Derwent, forgive me, but we have come to see Lord Derwent. I have papers from the court.” He held out a folded, sealed document.
Elizabeth did not take it. “It is an odd hour to come with such a thing. Must you turn people from their beds.”
“The hour is not my choice. I am undertaking the court’s order.”
Elizabeth smiled as she visualised the position her father would have returned to. Her smile put the man on edge, his lips twisted in a bitter expression and his grip on the document tightened.
“My father is indisposed.”
“I am sorry, but we must see him. If you will direct us to where we may find him?”
The room became silent as Elizabeth did not respond.
“Miss…” It was a threat; his tone implied if you do not tell me… But the consequences were left unspoken. They were being courteous, but if she denied him they would search the house with her permission or without it.
“May I see the court order?” Elizabeth held out her hand.
She broke the heavy wax seal and unfolded the paper. It was an order of bankruptcy, signed by a magistrate, for a debt of over ten thousand pounds, and the list of people that her father owed included more than three dozen names. How could he have accrued such a sum? He would never be able to repay it.
“What is happening here, Elizabeth?” Her mother opened the door. She gripped a lace handkerchief, and looked agitated and as though she had been in tears. Her intent was to draw the attention, and pity, of their visitors.
Elizabeth ignored her with cold indifference. “You may find my father in his office across the hall.”
The man who’d spoken to Elizabeth beckoned the others to follow him. Elizabeth moved out of their way. Her mother was physically set aside and flew into dramatics as she followed them from the room. Unwilling to be her audience, but unable to think clearly, Elizabeth followed too. It was as though she watched from within a dream, she could see the room and all the people in it from afar, including herself.
The men entered the office.
“What is happening, Elizabeth? Why are they here?” Her mother’s voice had changed its lilt from drama to concern.
“They have come to take father to the Fleet, the debtor’s prison.” Elizabeth held out the document to her mother.
She took it and looked down. “But these are… they are… the men with whom I have played cards.” Her eyes rose to look at Elizabeth in shock. “I never thought, not once, that Tay would not take you.” The paper crumpled as her grip tightened on it. “These are my debts.”
“I’ll not pay them!” Her father’s loud, slurred voice echoed about the hall. “You cannot ask me to meet the debt! The man took my wife’s promise when he knew there was no assurance!”
There was a screech of chair legs against the polished floorboards, and then the sound of a chair falling to the floor, as her father shouted, “Hey.” Then the men were at the office door, her father, in the midst of them. He was unable to hold himself on his feet, he was being carried by a man on either side; they gripped his upper arms.
“I’ll not go!” Her father yelled trying to pull away, attempting to heave his arms from the grasp of the men. Instead of freeing himself he lost his balance and, when he fell, his weight dragged both men to the floor. Elizabeth watched him, silent and unmoved.
A stronger looking man stepped forward and took a hold of him. “You’ll come, Lord Derwent.” The pitch of his voice was placating. “What of a Mr Harvey Jones, lately arrived from America. It is not only your wife who gambled with sums she did not have. You joined a business venture you could not afford. Come, sir.”
“His hat! His coat!” Her mother thrust the paper back at Elizabeth and rushed forward to take her father’s articles from Abigail who had already thought of them. Elizabeth did not move.
Her mother followed the men to the door, holding out her father’s hat and coat.
One man took them both but made no move to dress Elizabeth’s father.
“My papers, Miss Derwent?” The man who had spoken to her stopped before her and held out his hand. She gave him back his order. “You have until midday to leave the house.”
She nodded. Was she asleep and merely dreaming this? Would she wake in a moment?
The draught from the open door made her shiver. It worked as strongly as a pinch; you could not feel the cold in a dream.
“To leave?” The question came from her mother’s lips. “To leave, sir?”
Elizabeth had known this was the outcome the moment that she’d read the order from the court. Her mother and father had lost everything. Her father would be made bankrupt and any possessions in this rented house, the few acres and the manor at home would all be taken by the court.
The man ignored her mother’s exclamations and merely bowed his head slightly. “Until midday, Lady Derwent. Miss Derwent, if you are not ready to leave, your personal items will be sealed within the house.”
When the door closed behind the men, bewildered, Elizabeth walked back into the parlour. She sat down, her hands clutching one another in her lap.
Abigail hovered beside the door. Elizabeth’s mother moved to stand at the window, looking out at the dark street.
It was a tableau from a painting, not life.
Her mother remained silent, unmoving – unable to accept their situation.
Elizabeth watched her, knowing that any affection she’d held for her had died, but unsure if she had the courage to leave her to her fate.
Midday… It was so little time. The deadline which drew the line ending life as Elizabeth had always known it. She could not just sit here.
Elizabeth rose and left the room. She went to her father’s office, picked up his chair and moved it to a corner of the desk which was not sticky with the brandy she’d poured over his head. Then she sat and took up his quill.
“Who will you write to, miss?”
Elizabeth looked up. Abigail had followed her. The girl was clearly looking for direction, wondering what she should do. There was no position for her now. Her mother deserved her fate, she’d brought it on herself. Abigail had worked hard, she deserved more than to be cast aside.
Elizabeth smiled. How many weeks in wages did her father owe their maid?
“I will write to Lord Percy again, Abigail. There must be a reason why he has not replied. You must make your own choice, I will understand if you decide to go, yet if Lord Percy will take me, I can request that he keep you on as my maid. Or perhaps he would offer you a position in his own home.”
“I will not go to Lord Percy.” Abigail’s hands curled into fists at her sides as she frowned at Elizabeth. Then suddenly her eyes opened wider. “Write to the Duke, miss. ‘e will help. I’m sure ‘e will help you.”
Elizabeth looked down at the blank sheet of paper on her father’s desk. “You have more faith in His Grace than I, Abigail.”
“The girl is right, Elizabeth.”
Elizabeth looked up as her mother walked into the room, flicking her fingers to send Abigail away. “It is Tay we must turn to. He has a responsibility to the child, so he has a responsibility to us all. It is Tay who has led us into this mess, so it is he who must get us out of it.”
“I will not beg for you, Mama. If you wish to plead with the Duke then you may do so, but on your own account not mine. I am not asking for his help. I do not want it. By all means write your letter when I am done. I doubt he will even break the seal. Yet in the meantime I would be grateful if you left me alone. I neither need nor want your help, or to listen to your opinion.”
Her mother’s lips pouted in the manner of a sulking child before she turned her back. “Churlish and ungrateful, Elizabeth, that is what you are. Your father has been sent to prison and you only think of yourself.”
“Absolutely,” Elizabeth snapped. “I have finally realised that I must think of myself because I cannot remember you or father ever thinking of me.”
Her mother turned back, glaring her anger. “Well if that is how you feel, do not expect me to support you from now on.”
“I did not imagine for one moment that you would.”
“Do not be spiteful.” Her mother turned and walked away then, leaving the room.
Elizabeth felt no pity, her mother had played with her emotions ever since she was child.
Elizabeth dipped the quill into ink and closed her eyes briefly.
How to ask? What to say?
When the quill touched the paper, her fingers shook, sending the letters askew. She did not wish to write to Lord Percy any more than Abigail would wish to be in service to him, yet he was her only choice, and she was making it to protect her child.
Dear Lord Percy,
I am writing to request your most urgent help. Bad fortune has befallen my family and I am in need of your support. You have been a good friend to me in recent months and so this is why I have turned to you. You must understand that I have no family to whom I may appeal and that my situation is desperate. If you would help me, my Lord, then you must send word to me at my parents’ home before midday. I trust in your former kindness and in the hope that you will come to my aid. I am still willing to accept your former offer.
To be continued…
If you cannot wait until next week for more of Jane Lark’s writing there’s plenty to read right now 😀 And if you have read them all already, then there’s another treat out now, you can begin devouring, The Dangerous Love of a Rogue
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The Marlow Intrigues
The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all
Capturing The Love of an Earl ~ A Free Novella #2.5
The Desperate Love of a Lord ~ A second Free Novella #3.5
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Go to the index
- the story of the real courtesan who inspired The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
- another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
- the prequel excerpts for book #3 The Scandalous Love of a Duke
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional Historical and New Adult Romance stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark