I was partially sane by the time we docked in Liverpool. A newly hatched specimen not steady on his feet and unfamiliar with his foreign surroundings. I stood there amongst my trunks and baggage until a man dressed in chauffer livery came forth and asked me if I might be Blackwell.
"I might be," I answered.
Having established my identity he soon returned with another man small and tweedy who took me in hand.
I say I was partially sane and that may have had to do with the silver capped flask that I had acquired aboard ship and kept about my person. The remedy did not work for my mother or for me but at least it eased the pain.
I thought I might be delivered to Blackwell’s house but I was mistaken. I was to meet with his solicitors first. I presented myself and after all the formalities were exchanged the reason for my visit became apparent. Blackwell wanted to meet with me and find out if indeed I was his son and if I was then this is what I am to expect. It was laid out before me. The house, the lands, the title would be mine at his death. It was quite an extensive estate.
Since the circumstances of my birth were in question he alone would make the decision. I asked about his health and was told he was not expected to live much longer, a month perhaps.
I found Mr. Briggs had kept them abreast of my education and standing in society. Had I ever stood in society? Had word of my latest sins crossed the ocean with me? I would never forgive myself for Julia.
I might say a word here about my reasons for traveling to England. As I have said before Julia weighed heavy on my decision to leave New York. I saw it as an opportunity for us. Had I bodily carried her out of her house that night and into my car she might still be here with me. I made an assumption and a big mistake. She was unable to face it and took her own life and that of my unborn child.
Blackwell’s estates meant nothing to me. Whether or not he is my real father meant nothing to me. I had a father and did not need another. I was not there for monetary gain or titles or anything else. I was there out of respect for Mr. Briggs efforts on my behalf. Blackwell would see through me in an instant and I would be on my way. I more or less burnt my bridges behind me.
I don’t know what I expected, perhaps a hospital with nurses in attendance and doctors by the bedside. The car pulled up to the door of a massive house. Servants lined up and in the center of the door stood Lord Blackwell leaning on a cane. He did not look to me like a man on his deathbed.
I was introduced to the staff and taken inside to a large brightly lit living room. The multi paned windows sent sunlight across the room bouncing off chandeliers, mirrors, and the polished brass fender at the fireplace.
He lit a cigar and offered me one, I declined.
"You’ve come at last…come to see if the old man is dead or alive."
"I came at your request, Sir."
"You’re an American." He chewed his cigar. "That is unfortunate but it can’t be helped. You are correct I did request your presence. I’m dying without an heir. My wife and children have preceded me in death. To keep Blackstone intact and out of the hands of scoundrels like my cousins who are eagerly awaiting my death, I’ve scraped the bottom of the barrel and come up with you."
It fairly fit my description.
He came near me and looked me over. "You look like your mother. Come with me."
I followed him to another room and there over the fireplace was the portrait I’d heard so much about from my father. The one he’d painted of my mother. I went to it and looked up at her soft features.
"My mother. How beautiful she was. I recall that ring…she always wore it on her right hand. Lovely, lovely creature."
"That she was. I loved her dearly. You see now what she left behind to live with that wastrel. Oh he was talented with a brush and also blessed with a gift of blarney."
"She loved him." I stated in her defense.
"Love is highly overrated. Come and sit down I can’t stand any longer."
"What’s wrong with you, if I may ask, Sir?"
"My heart is worn out. It hardly pumps at all." He sat down heavily in his chair. "You’ve met with my solicitors and know what is at stake. I thought if you were in anyway presentable, articulate and intelligent you might be my son. What do you think, Mr. Blackwell?"
"It matters not to me. I had a father in Charles H-. I’m through with fathers…they are highly overrated."
He laughed. "If I decide you are my son you will be through with me very shortly. I need a son and whether you are or are not is irrelevant. If I say you are then you are." He waved his arms about. "All this will be yours…if I say you are my son."
"I did not come here to claim an inheritance. This…grandeur does not impress me. I’m not here to convince you of my parentage."
"Well it damn well better impress you," he said with some feeling. "Your parentage is not in question. It is only if I say so. You have an opportunity here to carry on a tradition that’s hundreds of years old. To keep it intact. You carry my name…that is significant."
"I carry your name because my mother included it. John Charles Blackwell H-. I dropped H- after scandal of my parent’s death."
"She didn’t know. Covered all possibilities by naming you as she did. It matters not. I will teach you, God give me time, what a Blackwell is and how he lives and what his responsibilities are. I will teach you how to run this estate, how many people depend on you and how you must conduct yourself. I will teach you what it is to be a Lord. I say you are my son and what say you to that?"
"I say you may regret your decision. I say I may very well be the son of a painter who wooed and seduced his clients’ wives. Who gets them with child without a thought as to the consequences of his actions."
"But I won’t live to regret it, will I? I’ll put my trust in you, John Charles Blackwell"
I moved bag and baggage into Blackstone. Lord Blackwell declared he found his long lost son. Why did I do it? Perhaps because at the time I had nothing else. I was empty, painfully empty and needed something. Lord Blackwell was not an unpleasant man. I got on well enough with him.
There were others living in the house. Relatives of his late wife and guests that came and went. He kept up his entertaining until the end. It was his way of introducing me to his society and making sure they knew who I was.
I didn’t know who I was. I was Lord- in- waiting- Blackwell learning to play a part. I had help from him and from my valet, the butler, the footman and whoever in uniform might be observing my errant ways. I was an American and not expected to know. They were patient but insistent with me.
I had duties to perform and when Lord Blackwell took to his bed I performed them alone. No rumors of complaints ever reached his ears.
His doctor came daily; the solicitors were in and out of the house. I had tea with him in his bedroom. He was propped up in his enormous bed and looked at me quite seriously.
"You have to marry, John." He went on to describe the type of woman I should be looking for.
I indulged him but I had no intention of getting involved with another woman. My heart had been broken into and left in that state.
He went on to name several prospects. Daughters of friends. I was to stay within my class. I had to laugh at that. I who was born in a one room flat at the bottom end of Boston. Class…I had none except what I’d been taught.
The day he died I had to lean over to hear what he was saying.
"Say it," he said.
My mind whirled about and I said, "Father." His lips formed a smiled and he breathed his last.
The day of his funeral something entered the empty shell that was me. A sense of responsibility. It was the deference paid to me, the upturned faces looking to me, the starch in the butler’s back when I entered the house. I had become Lord Blackwell.
He defied the odds and lived for three months. Intense months trying to instill in me what he’d lived and known all his life. He would have been happy to know that something had taken root.
The house filled and emptied with mourners. They all went away fed. I complimented the butler on a job well done, took a bottle of brandy to what was now my study and closed the door. I poured myself a drink and toasted my mother. Never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined I would be standing before her portrait as Lord Blackwell.
The will was read and I inherited everything as his only surviving son. That would forever lay to rest the question of my parentage.
The house was in mourning and thankfully I was relieved of dinner parties and other forms of entertainment. However, we did have dinner and I noticed from time to time a young lady would be presented to me by the relatives I referred to earlier. There were three elderly women living here connected with the second wife of my father. I refer to him as my father. It seems only fitting. I was always pleasant as required but they held little interest for me. I supposed I was outwardly reserved. I kept my feelings close to my breast. No one there knew of the damaged heart hidden beneath my skin.
After the dust settled, so to speak, I was able to mourn, not for the father I never knew until three months ago but I mourned for Julia. I kept it all bottled up inside of me. There hadn’t been time to take it all apart and have a good look. One night I sat in my room tearing the pages out of her journal and tossing them into the fire. I did not want to read again that she loved me. It was a cursed affair from the beginning. She may have loved me…but not enough. Not enough to leave her husband and face what might follow. Death is so final.
I was just getting into the routine of the estate when the holidays were upon us. There would be no celebrations due to the state of mourning but I did as the butler suggested and I know is common and expected, hand out monies to each servant according to their station. I attended church and read the lesson. All the things expected of me I did. Including gifts for the three elderly ladies.
Two days before the New Year a car appeared in the drive. I had met the occupants somewhere, perhaps in church or at my father’s funeral. They were sons of Lord Beckinsdale.
I greeted them in the hall and we retired to my study where I spent a great deal of time.
"We’ve come to rescue you old man." Beck stated with a wide smile.
"Right, we’re off to London for the New Year’s celebrations." His younger brother was called Cutty and I’m not sure what his given name was.
"Celebrations…but I’m in mourning, " I replied intrigued by their invitation.
"Hah, your father would have approved he was a great one for celebrating anything…really."
"We can’t leave you hold up here in this mausoleum with only the three harpies for company. You need a bit of fun. We won’t tell will we, Cutty?"
"Not I. There will be song – dance –maybe and just maybe – women."
They were full of themselves and their enthusiasm was infectious. I rose from my chair and walked the length of the room while they prattled on about the advantages of London at New Years Eve. I’d been buried here in this house since August.
"All right." I agreed. I was only twenty-two and the thought of putting aside the heavy mantle I carried for a few days was too great a temptation. I was off to London.
I now owned a town house in London but it was not open and I’d never been there. Beck and Cutty had opened their father’s house and I stayed with them. The house was full of young men and women. I was introduced around and soon found my footing amongst the young and titled and rich sons and daughters of the older titled and rich. It was much like the summer I spent on Long Island. I could hold my own.
Much to my dismay I found myself the center of attention. I was new, an American and unattached. I carefully navigated not giving too much away when asked where I’d been all their lives. Once introduced to the ‘set’ I was flooded with invitations. I let Beck guide me as to which to accept and decline. I would have declined them all if given a chance. I found the restrictions and rules of proper etiquette confining and amusing but I played the game.
It was New Year’s Eve at someone’s house, I forget now whose, it doesn’t matter. I’d stepped out on to the balcony for a breath of fresh air and to smoke, a habit I’d picked up in the last few days. My head was beginning to pound with champagne bubbles.
"May I?" A woman had silently approached me.
"Yes, please." I offered her a cigarette and lit it for her noticing how her dark lashes curled away from her cheeks in the light of the flame.
"Thank you." She moved away.
"I don’t believe we’ve met." I began.
"We have. I’m not so remarkable as you would remember. I’m Faith Holcombe."
"Hope and Charity are inside…I do not lie."
I laughed slightly, "And what of love?"
"There isn’t any. They never got to love."
"What a shame," I answered.
"Perhaps not. Three daughters are enough."
"I have been introduced to so many people, Miss Holcombe-"
"Please it’s not necessary to apologize. Is this your first trip into London?"
"It is my first trip to London. I am impressed. It reminds me somewhat of New York. Older but still a busy city."
The countdown inside had begun.
"Do you live here in London?"
"No…at Holcombe House."
"There is a custom in America…at midnight."
"To kiss someone."
I put my free arm around her and kissed her very gently and feeling no resistance kissed her again before parting.
"Happy New Year." We touched our glasses of champagne.
A rather debauched looking threesome we were when we arrived back at Blackstone. I will admit I had a marvelous time and a much needed break. They were great fun and we made some sort of promises for future entertainment. I waved them away and turned to my butler, Mr. Makewell- full- of- starch, who ordered my luggage inside and raised a brow at me. Had I crossed the line of acceptable behavior for a newly made Lord? I smiled at him as I passed.
Once again I took on the yoke of Blackstone and attended my duties. There were times, however, when I thought of a certain young lady who I kissed at midnight in London. Beck said her family had a lot of money but I got the impression they weren’t quite the ‘thing’. Her father was some sort of firebrand minister and her mother had turned their estate into a home for wayward women.
I didn’t question further as I didn’t want to give the impression I was at all interested. He suggested we might visit some wayward women and I will admit I was ready. Beck and I were becoming friends slowly as one does with people you don’t know. Cutty was a wild buck but Beck was more serious minded. I had what lay before him. Responsibility of an estate.
We were still discussing the sinking of the Titanic three weeks after when Mr. Makewell informed me one day that I had a visitor. He looked at me seriously but I could not translate that half raised brow. I entered the drawing room to see a slight young man in front of the fire. He introduced himself as Peter Blackwell. I detected some sort of speech defect.
"Won’t you sit down," I asked.
He limped and I had not noticed the cane before then.
"I am a distant cousin, Sir. My father was also Peter Blackwell. He…he was drowned with the Titanic."
"I’m so very sorry. May I offer my condolences. You say we are related?"
"In a way we are. My father was Lord Blackwell’s second cousin once removed."
This must have been the greedy cousin my father mentioned. "How may I help you, Mr. Blackwell?"
"This is rather awkward. With my father gone to his rest, I am, ah, obliged to…leave the house where we resided."
"I’m sorry, I don’t-"
"If I may speak plainly, Sir. I am the bastard son of Peter Blackwell. I was more or less delivered to his doorstep when I was a babe. I was only allowed to live there because he insisted. His wife has now told me I must leave."
I sat back in my chair and listened as he told me about his unlucky life. He was born with a club foot and a cleft palate which had been repaired but left him with a speech problem. Something else began to enter my shell. Compassion.
His father had been on his way to New York for evidence that would restore his rightful inheritance. Peter was apologetic for his father’s actions. He was an embittered man stuck in an unhappy marriage with only daughters as legitimate children.
"Of course you must stay here." I summoned Mr. Makewell to have a room prepared for him.
Peter was twenty-five but looked much younger with a shock of ginger hair and pale blue eyes. He had a delicate look about him but I thought he displayed a lot of courage and fortitude. The ladies made a pet of him and I think probably that was the first time in his sorry life that anyone had made a fuss over him.
I suppose I should explain about the ladies. They are, in order of age, Clarise, Meredith and Edith. The last two were twins. They were the unmarried (twins) and widowed (Clarise) aunts of Lord Blackwell’s second wife. My father took them in and they’ve been a part of this house for many years. I would never think of changing that arrangement. They are amusing if frustrated for I have kept well out of their clutches. They had Peter now and perhaps the string of ‘suitable’ young ladies would stop appearing around my dinner table.
That last hope was soon dashed. There was Peter to think of.
We were, however, still a house in mourning and therefore thoughts of serious matchmaking were out of the question. Still they tried.
Peter was musical and treated us frequently with a piano recital after dinner. It livened our forced solemn atmosphere. I have never regretted including him in our household.
Peter was good company through the long summer when Berk and Cutty were in London for the season. Being in mourning, which was becoming tiresome, I couldn’t go. We visited the home farm frequently. There was a saucy young miss there who tried to catch my eye. I tried not to notice. It wouldn’t do. I took the opportunity to introduce Peter to the wayward women Berk had introduced me to. I had no idea he was a virgin.
Berk and Cutty returned at the end of August and with Peter we had a foursome for cards. We spent some time tearing around the countryside visiting the wayward women and drinking too much. It was good to get out and play but unlike these son’s of a Lord I was a Lord and wasn’t as free as they were. I found it depressing to stand on the doorstep and wave good bye to Peter, who they included as one of us, and then don my hat and attend a meeting at church.
There came a rainy evening after dinner and the ladies had retired to their quarters leaving Peter and I with a bottle. We moved to my study, a more intimate setting with the fire blazing and facing leather sofas.
"You mother was beautiful, John."
"Yes, she was. Even at the end although she’d begun to lose the bloom of youth painted here."
"What happened to her?" He asked.
"She drank, Peter. She killed herself after shooting my father."
"Well, he was all I knew for a father. What about your mother?"
"I never had one. I don’t even know who she was. Mrs. Blackwell let it be known as soon as I was old enough to wonder that she was not my mother."
"That must have been horrible."
"I suppose when you don’t know any different you think it’s that way for everyone. This is the way it is. It was…not very nice. I was sent away to school at eight. I was different you see. I couldn’t engage in sports and so I drug myself to the libraries. I’m well read. I taught myself to read music and then a teacher at school took pity on me and taught me to play the harpsichord and piano."
"What about your father? What sort of relationship did you have with him?"
"I don’t think he knew what to do with me after I finished my education. You see I was there and not going away to school in a few weeks. He tried to set me up in an accountant’s office before he went to America. After he’d gone I left the job. I hated it."
"I should imagine you did. He was going to America to find evidence to have me thrown out of Blackstone?"
"I think he was, John. When he heard that Lord Blackwell had found his long lost son he nearly choked at the breakfast table. His wife was just as bad, red of face."
"Hmm, I wonder what sort of evidence he hoped to find? I didn’t come to Blackstone to collect an inheritance, Peter. I came because Lord Blackwell summoned me. I’d been adrift without family since I was fourteen. It was only when he was dying that he remembered me."
"I think it was to do with a certificate of birth."
I laughed, "One can put anything down, don’t you realize that? My mother could have put you down as my father. She was just divorced from Lord Blackwell and I’m sure not very happy with him."
"Was it a good home you had with them?"
"No…it wasn’t. Like you said earlier if you don’t know better, you think this is how it is. We moved constantly. I didn’t go to regular school until after their deaths. My mother taught me."
Later that night I thought about the certificate of birth. I’d never seen it but it must be registered in Boston Hospital. I did not come into the world as Lord Blackwell’s son but I intended to go out of it as his son.
That train of thought put me in mind of the child I’ll never know. It too could have come into the world as Mr. Bennett’s child but it wasn’t given a chance. I pulled out the letter from Mr. Hammond and the newspaper clippings he’d sent to me. My name wasn’t mentioned at all in the double suicide of Julia and her husband. I felt…cheated. I threw them in the fire and that ended my American life.
At long last our year of mourning was over. The sun came out in the house and smiled over all within. Not to say that my father was not loved and missed by his servants and the ladies but a year is a long time and a long time to go about dressed in black.
Somehow during this year I had gained the respect of my servants and even of Mr. Makewell. He went so far as to say I reminded him daily of my father. I suppose this was meant as a compliment. I began to involve Peter in the estate to a degree. He kept the accounts and was quick to draw my attention to anything that appeared untoward. He was a good right hand man and would prove to be invaluable in the years to come.
The holidays were upon us again and this year I planned to celebrate. I intended to open the town house in London and travel back and forth. With Berk and Cutty for a help we worked out guest lists for Blackstone and for London. The ladies contributed names for the house parties and we included them.
I suppose I’d been finding my feet under the guise of mourning but now I was ready to break loose. I’d been to enough parties during the year to know how one was supposed to play it. I left it to Mr. Makewell to see to the opening of the London town house. Beneath his thick layers of reserve I know he was as excited as I was for the coming Christmas season.
We began with the neighboring families, Berk and Cutty’s included. It was a grand dinner party. I had not met with these people since my father’s funeral. They were good neighbors concerned as I was with their own lands. Cash flow was a large problem for some but somehow we managed to keep our heads above water at Blackstone.
Something else entered my shell that night. Pride of ownership, pride of place, pride of my servants who never missed a beat. Dare I say I was proud of myself for what I had accomplished in the past year. Me, son of an errant painter born at the bottom end of Boston. I do not know for sure who my father was. No one can say, not even my mother who is no longer with us. Lord Blackwell acknowledged me as his and so it is.
The dinner party was a success and I was launched. It amazed me how simple it seemed. Blackstone took over and I only had to move about and be pleasant to all attendees. It was not lost on me, however, what went on behind the scenes. Mr. Makewell was commended for a job well done.
A few days later Peter and I left for London. I attended parties the year before at Berk’s and at others houses. They were of newer construction built during the reign of our King Edward V. Blackstone’s town house was Victorian. I won’t say I was disappointed for it was elegant and large but it had not been electrified. The décor appeared dark and moody. A strange way of putting it, I know, but that was my first impression.
Peter and I explored the house. There was a ballroom on the second floor, large and of good proportion. This was essential for dancing and music. I had an orchestra hired for the first party I planned to give. I learned that my father rarely came to London after his wife died. I could see why.
We had Berk to dinner the first night in London and discussed the coming party I was to give on Friday night.
"You’ve invited the Holcombe virtues." He stated having a look at the guest list.
"The virtues…Faith, Hope and Charity…yes I did."
"Their mother has made a spectacle of herself…but you would have known that."
"I do not keep up with what her mother is involved in…why do you bring it up?"
"She’s leading a woman’s suffrage contingent. Marched in the streets. How very common." Berk lit a cigarette and pulled a saucer over.
"Oh but you are a snob, Berkinsdale." I smiled.
"It’s not snobbish. Do you want a league of nanny’s leading the country? I can’t imagine it will ever lead to anything she’s only an embarrassment to her daughters. Three daughters, mind you, they are trying to find good marriages for.
"Cutty has his eye on Hope but I don’t think Mother will approve. Too sad."
Peter joined in, "I personally cannot see what all the bother is about. Why not treat women as equals. We expect so much from them and give them no say at all. They cannot inherit their father’s estates. It’s a man dominated world."
"As it should be," Berk looked over the table at Peter. "Women are not equal. Their minds do not work as men’s do. They would do well to stay at home and tend their children and, and look after their husbands needs."
"Oh what a lot of bother," I laughed. "It’s only a party I don’t intend to join the march to Parliament."
"I should hope not. I was only saying you must be careful, John. You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot. The three virtues will be cut if this sort of thing continues."
"You can’t hold them responsible for their mother’s actions."
"They are already tainted. Look at Faith, she must be twenty- six if a day. She should have been married years ago."
I thought I might like to look at Faith and hoped fervently that she would appear on Friday.
I had no views on women’s suffrage . My perusal of the newspapers consisted of the latest sports. I wasn’t political and as long as I kept up with the King and the Prime Minister of Great Britain I was content out in the country. Here in London there was a different atmosphere. Berk was political and in my ignorance I deferred to him. I should have been listening to Peter who seemed to know something about everything.
The Blackstone town house took on a different mood on Friday. Lit from top to bottom with the soft glow of gaslights and candles it looked as though it might impart some secret from its darkened recesses. I was up and feeling grand. The orchestra was up to Peter’s standards and the table laid with every known sweet and savory. Champagne flowed.
I made my rounds as host, danced with whoever I happened to be talking to at the moment and was enjoying the evening. I was pulled along by a comely lady to meet another American who’d accompanied someone to the party. I knew him before he turned around and somewhere inside of me a painful memory cracked open. I was presented as Lord Blackwell.
"J.C." he smiled and pumped my hand. "Why didn’t you tell us you were titled?"
"I wasn’t. How are you Teddy?"
He was a young man I’d spent a good deal of time with on Long Island. As I knew it would the subject of Julia came up and thankfully we were somewhat alone when it did. Julia entertained a number of young men and women that fateful summer but it had been a well known fact that I was her favorite. It wasn’t well known how intimate a favorite I was.
"We were shocked, absolutely shocked." He went on. "She was the last person on earth I would ever have thought would commit suicide. We believed for a long time that her husband had done her in. Evidence spoke different, however. It was a sad, sad business. You were lucky to be at sea. We were all questioned, you know." He moved in closer, "It was rumored that she was pregnant...oh yes but of course that never came out in the newspapers. I suspect her father had something to do with hush-hush."
I felt myself going pale and cold, "Excuse me, please." I fled the ballroom. For a moment the light and glitter of the ballroom brought back the Christmas party I attended with Mr. Briggs. The party where I first became aware of Julia as a woman. Mindlessly I fled down the stairs into a dimly lit sitting room and closed the door and leaned against it trying to calm myself and restore my even breathing.
"You look as though you’ve seen a ghost." Just out of the pool of light sat Julia Holcombe. "I can almost believe it this house. It’s lovely in its old fashioned dress."
"Why…why are you here instead of upstairs in the midst of it?" I was regaining myself.
"I’ve been upstairs. I wanted a quiet place. It gets to be rather tedious after awhile. There goes spinster Faith…ah but she has faith that someday… I’m sorry."
"It seems you and I are destined for darkened places. Last time I saw you-"
"Happy New Year. I remember. I’ll go back upstairs…I didn’t mean to be prowling about your house."
I moved from the door and into the light. "Don’t go."
"Really, I should." She stood and moved into the light. "Thank you for inviting us. I hope our presence will not prove to be an embarrassment to you."
"Don’t be ridiculous. I’m so very glad you came. I will admit I’ve thought about you many times this past year. We’re finally out of our year of mourning and I hope to be…I…would it be possible to call on you?"
She laughed lightly, "I live in a madhouse, Sir. No one comes there."
"My name is John."
"How long are you in London?"
"We are staying with my Aunt until next Sunday."
"May I call on you?"
"You will not be doing yourself a favor. You’re new at this and perhaps you do not understand."
"If you are referring to what my friends may think of me then do not worry because I don’t."
"You’re very kind. My aunt is upstairs, perhaps you would like to meet her?"
"Yes…and I would like to dance with you."
"I would like to dance with you but I’m not sure it’s a good idea."
"It is…yes it is a good idea." I didn’t trust myself to touch her there in that softly lit room. I stepped back and opened the door.
We met Peter on the top step. "I was coming to look for you, good evening Miss Holcombe."
"Good evening," she replied.
He was good foil, the three of us entered the ballroom together along with another couple. I was introduced to her Aunt May and then I waltzed with Faith; as light on her feet as a feather she followed my lead around the room. She really was a lovely thing with wide blue eyes and dark hair. There was something deep and sensual about her. Something I’d sensed the first time I met her on the balcony. She was someone I wanted to get to know. I will admit I was quite smitten.
Soon after I danced with her younger sister, Charity. Charity was full of giggles and interested in everyone else on the floor. I wasn’t sure she knew she was dancing with me at all until she said, "She likes you. When we arrived I heard her say, ‘doesn’t he look grand in formal dress.’ I’m so glad" she smiled and looked up at me with mischievous blue twinkling eyes. I thought it a fabrication on her part.
The evening had been a success. Berk’s ‘well done’ meant a lot to me. It was my first contribution to London society. Faith’s quiet presence in my sitting room had pushed the Julia panic to the back of my mind. It had been the appearance of Teddy Chamberlain that set me off and sent me back…back to where I no longer wanted to be.
The next day I presented myself at Faith’s aunt’s house only to be told that her father had been taken ill and the girls had been sent for. Although I expressed my wishes for his recovery I thought it bad timing on his part. I met Cutty on the walk as I moved along with hands in pockets.
"It won’t do you any good. The father has taken ill and the girls have gone home."
He looked at me for a moment. "That was bloody well timed wasn’t it?"
We consoled each other with a bottle of port at Berk’s house. Cutty was my age and Berk three years older. Cutty was seriously interested in Hope Holcombe but faced an uphill battle with his parents. I thought it very sad. He wished me luck with Faith and envied the fact that I had no one to please but myself.
That put a damper on our festivities in London but as men will, we soldiered on.
Berk’s party was next and it was a grand affair highlighted by a fight that broke out in the hallway by two young men over a glass of champagne. No doubt they would be cooling their heels for the rest of the season. The four of us; Berk, Cutty, Peter and myself finished off the drink by dawn.
We left London four days before Christmas. I did my shopping in London and hoped the ladies would be pleased. We were invited to a small dinner party at Berkinsdale’s on Christmas Eve and had our Christmas dinner with all the trimmings at Blackstone.
There was talk about going back to London for the New Year but with Faith out of the picture I wasn’t very enthused about it. Berk was insistent. I soon found out why, he was actually going to ask a lady for her hand in marriage. Cutty and I were amazed. Berk can keep a secret when he wants to.
Cutty, Peter and I came home on New Year’s Day leaving Berk to his fate with his fiancé’s family. His intended was a lovely girl and well suited to Berk. We were pleased for him.
No sooner had we got home when word came from Berk that Holcombe had passed away. He thought it suitable that we both attend his funeral. Neither of us cared for Mr. Holcombe but the odd chance that we might have a word with his daughters sent us packing back to London. My house had been closed and Peter and I resided with Berk and Cutty.
"You know of course what this will mean?" Cutty said. "The house will be in mourning for the next year."
"I ‘d thought of that," I replied. "Bad timing, bad timing all around."
We met up with Berk and his intended at the church. It was pouring rain and the drive down had been a splash. The only sighting of Faith was the side of her face briefly as we entered the church. It was standing room only and I was impressed that the minister had such a following.
We trudged on to the gravesite and Cutty and I managed to find a place to stand opposite the grave so that we might look across beneath the drip of our umbrellas. I stared across at Faith in her black and from time to time she looked up at me during the graveside service. It came to me as I looked upon her pale face…that’s the woman I will marry.