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Courting Lord Dorney

Courting Lord Dorney by Sally James
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Rosabella Traherne is wealthy, thanks to her Nabob uncle. Wary of fortune-hunters in Harrogate she goes to Bath incognito, hoping to find a man who will love her for herself. Lord Dorney is impressed by Bella’s spirited defense of the helpless, but when he discovers her deception, he turns away. Following him to London, Bella finds herself in trouble with the ton and her enemies… Regency Romance by Sally James writing as Marina Oliver; originally published by Robert Hale [UK]

Belgrave House; September 2007
ISBN 9781610846769
Read online, or download in secure EPUB or secure PDF format
Title: Courting Lord Dorney
Author: Sally James

Bella twisted round in her seat and looked thoughtfully out of the window at the black clouds gathering ahead. She hoped they would reach home before the storm broke. Then her thoughts reverted to her own affairs. What did she really want? She had to resolve her dilemma before arriving at home. They were almost at the top of the pass, and in a few minutes would be rolling down towards Trahearne House, the large stone square-built house set in a deep valley which sheltered it from the worst north winds. It had been in her father’s family for hundreds of years, and named after them, although it had been sadly neglected since Mama died and Papa had retreated into his own world. Bella loved it deeply, however, as she loved the fells which surrounded it, and the river which flowed through its overgrown fields and woods.

As the chaise reached a stretch of level ground and picked up speed Bella came to a decision. With a brisk smile and a nod to her companion, she rapped on the panel and gave the postilion new directions. She would visit her cousin Jane before facing her father.

‘There won’t be time for visiting, Miss Bella, it’ll be dark before we get home as it is,’ Meg, the elderly maid, protested. She had been with the family long before her young mistress had been born, and didn’t fear to speak her mind. She had done so continuously for the first twenty minutes of their journey, and had subsided into an offended silence only when she realized that Bella wasn’t even listening to her tirade.

‘Don’t exaggerate, Meg. But we won’t be going home tonight. We’ll stay with Jane. Since Papa doesn’t know we’re coming he won’t worry, and Jane’s groom can drive us over in her carriage tomorrow. Stop being so grumpy.’

Not that he’d worry if he did expect them, she thought with amused acceptance. He’d most likely forget all about them.

Meg sighed loudly, but clearly decided she’d wasted enough breath.

Bella grinned at her. Meg knew she wouldn’t listen to anyone when she’d made up her mind to something. ‘Don’t fret, Meg, you’ll be home tomorrow, and then you can tell Cook all about it.’

Bella sank back into the corner of the chaise and shut her eyes, the better to think. She hoped she was a dutiful daughter. Indeed Papa, when he infrequently emerged from his obsessive study of Greek literature, often remarked on her compliant nature.

Perhaps, she reflected a trifle guiltily, it was because he was so withdrawn from the real world that he scarcely noticed her occasional lapses. He’d never enquired into the real reason for her governess, Miss Watson’s sudden and unexpected departure five years ago, for instance. If he had, and Bella’s action in forging his signature on her dismissal letter had been revealed, he would have received a severe shock. As it was, he’d accepted that at eighteen she had no more need of a governess, and since then she had run her own affairs.

This time the shock would not, she hoped, be severe. He could hardly fail to wonder why she was returning home so abruptly after a visit to Harrogate. He need not be told about the furious duenna whose lucrative employment had been abruptly terminated, the five disgruntled suitors whose offers she had rejected out of hand, and other hopefuls whose attentions she had equally briskly spurned.

If she had not been a dutiful daughter, Bella reflected as the post chaise crawled up the steep Pennine slopes, she would have deeply resented her Mama. If that lady had to die in giving birth to her, Bella heartily wished she had done so before settling on so ridiculous a name for her only child.

Rosabella, though a mouthful, was a pretty name, she conceded reluctantly, but she was not a pretty girl.

The name conjured up a vision of slender delicacy, golden hair which nature curled unaided, creamy skin with cheeks tinged a pale pink, and deeper pink lips. In fact, exactly like the portrait of Mama painted on her seventeenth birthday, a few months before her wedding.

Whereas she was dark-haired and brown-complexioned, too short, too fat, her eyes too large and her nose too small. Not even a besotted lover could call her pretty, let alone beautiful. And none of her would-be suitors had been besotted by her face or figure.

Her musings were halted as thunder crashed above them. The sudden April storm had caught them. Rain and hail stones clattered on the roof, and the coachman struggled to control the nervous horses who showed every desire to bolt. Meg clutched Bella’s arm and moaned in terror.

‘The horses will run away with us and overturn the chaise! We’ll be killed!’

Bella peered out of the window. ‘Nonsense, Meg! They’re under control, they’re slowing down and walking. And the sky’s lighter ahead.’

As the pounding rain diminished slightly Meg sat back, still muttering, and Bella sighed in exasperation. Meg was devoted to her, always had been, but she lacked common sense and Bella often resented having to calm her fears and control her sometimes annoying starts.

They were a mile from Jane’s home and the rain was still heavy when Bella glanced out of the chaise window and exclaimed in dismay. Once more she rapped on the panel and this time commanded a halt. As the vehicle drew to a stop she gathered her skimpy skirts about her and leapt nimbly down, ignoring Meg’s fretful demand to be told what in the world was the matter now.

Bella ran back a few yards until she could kneel beside a child huddled in the ditch. It was a boy, no more than six or seven, though his stunted frame might house an older lad. He was incredibly dirty and dressed, if having a few scraps of material clinging to his skinny frame could be called dressed, in a motley collection of indecent rags, and he was snivelling loudly.

‘I won’ go back, Miss! I’m ascared of ‘im!’

Bella lifted him bodily and thrust him into the chaise, ignoring Meg’s indignant protests.

‘Miss Bella! What are you up to now? What do you want with a scruffy urchin? And he’s soaking wet, he’ll ruin your gown,’ she added, pulling her own well away from the child, who was indeed wet though, his curly hair slicked down and hanging over his eyes, and his clothing clinging to his body.

‘It’s little Jed Tanner,’ Bella informed her maid curtly as she scrambled in after him. ‘He’s miles from home, and appears to be running away.’

There was a despairing howl from the child, and Bella was just quick enough to seize his arm and prevent him from leaping out of the chaise.

‘Stop that row and tell me what’s wrong!’ she commanded briskly, and recognizing a stronger will than his own Jed tearfully complied.

It emerged that he had been caught stealing hen’s eggs from the garden of his employer, Mr Josiah Ramsbottom, when he should have been at work in the latter’s mill mending the constantly breaking cotton threads.

‘Why did you steal, Jed? You know it’s wrong to steal,’ Bella said sternly.

‘I was ‘ungry,’ he replied simply. ‘E don’ gi’ us much food, an’ I didn’t fink ‘e’d miss a few eggs.’

‘You’re a naughty boy!’ Meg chastised him.

‘He’s no more than six years old, Meg, and working twelve hours a day in that awful mill!’ Bella protested.

‘I ‘as ter sleep there now, wi’ the work’ouse lot,’ Jed said, a sob escaping him.

‘With the children apprenticed to Mr Ramsbottom? In the mill?’ Bella asked. ‘What about your mother? And your sisters?’

‘Mam got caught in one o’ they machines,’ Jed whispered. ‘It cut off ‘er arm, an’ they buried ‘er last week. Sal and Bet were sent ter Liverpool, ter the work’ouse there, and I ‘ad to sleep in. I’ll not see ‘em ever agin.’

Bella put her arm about his skinny shoulders. He shuddered, but swallowed his sobs and went on.

‘At mill, they keeps us in a big ‘ouse, an’ mek us work all day. I ‘ates the noise! An’ they don’t gi’ us much food. We’m allus ‘ungry! An’ they meks us learn ter read an’ stuff like that what’s no good ter us,’ he added resentfully.

‘Well, you can’t run away, and live by stealing eggs. It’s not so bad with summer coming, I suppose, even when it’s raining, but what will you do in the cold weather? Your clothes are too thin. You’d soon die of cold and starvation.’

He looked at her, and the sheer misery in his eyes made her blink hard. He sobbed anew, and Bella, ignoring his filthy rags, gathered him to her and did her best to comfort him.

‘We’ll see about that!’ she declared. ‘You won’t have to go back, Jed, I promise. I’ll look after you, and we’ll find Sal and Bet too.’

‘But Miss Bella,’ Meg intervened. ‘What can you do with him? It’s not lawful to take away an apprentice! He’ll have to go back.’

‘But when I did summat wrong ‘e said ‘e’d send me ter work fer a chimney sweep!’ Jed burst out. ‘I’m ascared o’ chimneys! An’ they lights fires ter mek climbing lads go up!’

‘He won’t do that, Jed. Don’t worry. I doubt Mr Ramsbottom will take me to court!’ Bella said cynically. ‘He owed my uncle money, and still hasn’t settled his debt. Jane’s cook can feed you, Jem, and find you some decent dry clothes, then we’ll take you home. You can help in the garden for now. You’d like that, Jed, wouldn’t you? And we’ll go and find Sal and Bet, and somewhere you can all be together again. And you’ll have as much to eat as you want.’

‘Miss? Yer means it? Why?’

Because I’m sorry for you, she thought. Because I hate the idea of little children being forced to work twelve hours or more a day, and brothers and sisters separated when they have no parents and have to go to the workhouse.

‘Can you read?’

Jed looked at her suspiciously. ‘I dain’t like lessons,’ he insisted.

‘But did you learn to read?’

‘Bits, but what good’s that?’

‘It might help you to get a better job, when you’re older.’

‘Yer’ll not mek me ‘ave lessons?’ he asked apprehensively, and Bella suppressed a grin.

‘Not if you don’t care for it. Come on. I’m spending the night with a cousin, and she’ll give you some cleaner clothes, and a good supper.’

He smiled and sat up. ‘Cor, I ain’t never bin in a carriage afore,’ he said.

‘And ought not to be in one now,’ Meg said, breaking her offended silence. ‘Miss Bella, have you gone quite mad? He’s no doubt covered in fleas and lice!’

‘Then we’ll give him a bath and some clean clothes.’

‘ ‘Ere, I ain’t ‘avin’ no bath!’

‘You will if you want me to find Bet and Sal for you. Or shall I take you back to the mill?’

He snivelled, but subsided. Meg retreated into a corner as far away from Jed as she could get, and Bella was free to fume silently about the iniquities of the mill owners who ill-treated young children.

* * * *

Lord Dorney rode out of the short drive, thankful the rain had ceased, and pulled his horse to the side to let the carriage turn in. He hesitated and looked back at the house, wondering whether it was his friend’s wife returning. Though Philip Grant had been married for several years, their various duties, Philip’s in the navy, and his own in the army, had prevented meetings. He’d sold out after Waterloo, when his brother had died, but Philip was still involved in navy matters. A pity Mrs Grant had been out when he called, to deliver a book his and Philip’s importunate godmother had pressed on him when she’d heard he was visiting his small estate in Lancashire. He’d never met Mrs Grant, and she would have more recent news of Philip. It must be at least a year since they’d met.

He wondered whether to retrace his steps, whether it would be intrusive to call the moment Mrs Grant, if it were her, had just arrived home. The butler who had opened the door had seemed puzzled when he’d asked for her, but had simply muttered she was not there. Had he understood the message? He hadn’t seemed particularly bright. Perhaps he ought to make certain. Lady Fulwood would not have hesitated, and would call him a poltroon for doing so, but just as he decided to go back and make a brief explanation of his call, he was startled to observe an elderly maid, followed by an elegantly gowned young lady emerge from the chaise. She was too far away for him to distinguish her features, but he could see that her gown was soiled, clinging to her legs as though it were soaking wet, and her dark hair dishevelled. She seemed quite unconcerned as she lifted a small ragamuffin boy down from the chaise. Who on earth could she be, and what was she doing with such an urchin? She was too young to be Mrs Grant, who in any case was, Philip had told him, a blonde, and intrigued though he was, he decided it was inappropriate to become involved in whatever drama was happening. It was none of his affair, it was late in the afternoon, he had to decide whether to accept the somewhat paltry offer he had received for his house near Lancaster, and he would have to make haste if he were to reach the inn where he intended to meet his friend and stay that night.

* * * *

Jane Grant, Lady Hodder since her husband had unexpectedly inherited a cousin’s title six months before, lived alone while Philip, an officer in the Navy, was at sea. She had been out visiting a friend when Bella arrived, but reached her home almost immediately after Bella’s many trunks and valises had been transferred to the hall and the post chaise dismissed.

She found Bella directing her harassed servants to pile the trunks near the door, explaining that she would be staying just one night and only needed her small dressing case.

‘Bella! What in the world brings you here? I thought you were to be in Harrogate for another month? And who is this?’

Ignoring the first question Bella rapidly explained Jed’s plight, and he was despatched to the kitchen for food and a bath. Meg, disassociating herself from such goings on, retired to unpack what her mistress would require for the night. Bella went into the small neat drawing room laughingly trying to stem Jane’s avalanche of comments and questions.

‘Have mercy, Jane! I’m cold and hungry. When do you dine?’

‘In half an hour, but you know we can’t talk freely then, Bella, for Bates insists on waiting on me, doing everything ceremoniously as though Philip were here. Though he didn’t bother to discover the name of the gentleman who brought that book. Just said he looked a well set up cove who’d strip to advantage and was riding a bang-on horse!’

Bella grinned. She knew exactly what Jane meant. Bates was an old friend, a seaman Philip had taken pity on when he’d lost a leg as a result of an encounter with a French cannonball. Now he stumped round on his wooden peg, ordering the other servants about, and behaving as he thought a butler in a ducal residence would behave. But no ducal servant would treat his mistress as though she were a helpless child, or join in his employers’ dinnertime conversation as with equals. Bella had even known him, when moved to vehement expostulation about conditions for the ordinary seaman aboard most ships, to pull out a chair and sit down with his employers.

‘I wish I’d met your visitor,’ she said. ‘He sounds a pleasant change after the fops I’ve been seeing in Harrogate.’

Jane sniffed. ‘Even the note Lady Fulwood sent with the book didn’t say who she was making use of this time! For all she cared he might have had to ride dozens of miles out of his way. But forget him.  Tell me why you’ve come home now, or I shall die from curiosity!’

* * * *

Before they could sit down at the table, though, a harassed maid appeared to ask what Lady Grant wished them to do with Jed.

‘Cook says she won’t have the little varmint - beg your pardon, ma’am, but that’s what she said - in her kitchen no more.’

‘What has he done?’ Jane asked. ‘Bella, I won’t have him upsetting Cook.’

‘We filled the bath in the scullery, ma’am, but he wouldn’t get in, and while Ann and I were trying to undress him, he kicked the bath over. Then he ran out into the yard and hid in the hay loft. He won’t come down. He’s got hold of a hay fork and won’t let Walter get near him.’

Bella stood up. ‘I’ll make him come down. Get another bath ready, please, but in the yard this time.’

She marched across the stable yard and halted under the opening to the hay loft. She could see Jed peering down at them, and the prongs of the hay fork were visible at the edge of the opening. Walter, the groom, looked abashed as he stood beside the ladder.

‘He’ll come down when he’s hungry,’ he said, but without much conviction in his voice.

‘He’ll come down now. Jed, if you don’t come down at once I’ll take you back to the mill. I won’t go to Preston and find your sisters, and somewhere for you to live together again.’

Jed protested that he didn’t want no bath, but in the face of Bella’s repeated threats he gave in. Bella’s last view of him was of Walter holding him firmly as he squirmed, while the maids stripped his skinny body and dumped him unceremoniously in the hip bath.

* * * *

‘Bella, it’s a mad idea!’ Jane was sitting behind the tea tray in her elegant drawing room, looking at Bella and frowning.

‘Why? It’s the only way I can see of finding someone to marry who doesn’t want me for my fortune. Aunt Maria and Cousin Gareth made such a fuss when Uncle Peter left me everything, the whole country must know how much it was.’

‘You could always give it to him! You’re not poor. You have quite a respectable income from what your mother left you.’

‘Why should I? I’m a Trahearne, he’s not. And Uncle Thomas Carey left them both well provided for. Besides, if I did give him any he’d wager it all in a twelvemonth. I have a better use for it.’

‘But if you married your husband would have control over it.’

Bella sighed. ‘I know, but if anyone wants to marry me for myself, I’ll insist he allows me to use the money as I wish. I want it partly to repair Trahearne House, there’s so much needs doing and Papa never even notices if the chimneys smoke or the roof leaks. But Papa won’t hear of using it for that sort of thing. Yet if I’m married and have a son who can inherit it after me he’d agree, I know he would. Besides, if I don’t marry and have a child the wretched Gareth or his equally wretched children would claim it. He said he’d go to law if I tried to give it to the houses for orphans I’m setting up. He’d get a crooked lawyer and probably convince a court I was mad! Then he’d try to get control of my money.’

‘Surely not! He can’t do that. Your father would stop him.’

‘But Papa won’t live for ever. And Gareth’s very convincing when he wants something badly enough. How do you think he persuaded Helen to marry him? She had far better offers. There’s no one else I can leave it to but you, and you say you won’t take it, and you’re older than I am anyway. I have to have a child, and to do that I need a husband!’

Jane was persevering. ‘Gareth is older than you are.’

‘Only by a couple of years. But he could start to try and prove I’m mad as soon as Papa died.’

‘He doesn’t have any children. He only married Helen six months ago.’

‘But she’s increasing.’

‘And you want to use the rest of money to house your orphans?’

‘Yes. Most of it, I’m not saintly enough to give it all away! I found one house in Preston before I went to Harrogate, and left Papa’s attorney to deal with the purchase, and hire a decent couple to run it.’

‘Does the attorney approve?’

‘It wouldn’t matter to me if he didn’t, he’d do what he was told if he were being paid for it! But as it happens he’s all in favour, and so are his brother, who’s a Wesleyan preacher, and their wives. They will find more children, supervise the house, start to raise money to finance it, and perhaps find other people to help.’

‘Can you trust them?’

‘Yes, they’re all good people. They’re not of the Evangelical persuasion. They’ll give the children a good Christian upbringing, but they won’t be forever preaching duty and virtue at them, and not permitting innocent pleasures. I’ll take Jed there and get his sisters out of the workhouse. It’s iniquitous to split families like that, especially when their mother has just been killed in a horrible accident! They’ll all go to school and get a better start in life.’

‘What about their father?’

‘He was a soldier, he died at Waterloo. They all had to work in that wretched mill just to earn enough to eat. ‘

‘You can’t rescue all the mill children,’ Jane said.

‘But we can persuade other people to help, to give money, set up decent small houses, so much better than those horrid, monstrous workhouses where families are split. We’ll employ sensible couples, who are kind yet firm, to look after them and see that they are trained for decent trades.’

‘Was it really so dreadful in Harrogate?’ Jane changed the subject.

‘I hated the whole business. The men were all odious. I could see their busy little despicable minds calculating exactly how much a year I’m worth. They wouldn’t have cared if I’d been a hideous old hag with unspeakable diseases if only they could have laid their hands on my beastly money.’

‘Were they all fortune hunters?’

‘Yes, hateful ones. And the distressing thought is that now I could never be sure anyone wanted me and not my money. So I determined on this plan and I need you to help me.’

‘I thought you might,’ Jane said, with a laugh that was partly a sigh. She’d been involved in the younger girl’s exploits many times before, and although she normally enjoyed them in retrospect, at the time she was too apprehensive to appreciate them. ‘What are you going to do?’

Bella grinned at her, knowing quite well what she was thinking. ‘I mean to find a husband who doesn’t know about my wretched fortune.’

‘But how can you do that?’ Jane asked.

‘I know I’m not beautiful, tall and slim and blonde like you are, but I’m not a complete antidote, even if I am three and twenty!’ she declared indignantly. ‘Someone might wish to marry me. I did have two offers when Aunt Maria brought me out with cousin Caroline.’

‘Yes and you told me one was a widower of fifty, a parson who had six children under ten and wanted someone to undertake parish duties.’

‘No wonder his poor wife expired! And the other was boy only a year older than I was. How could I even contemplate marrying a boy of eighteen, even if he hadn’t had dreadful spots he tried to hide with some sort of flour paste? Besides, you know how pretty Caroline is! She had a dozen offers, good ones.’

‘And married a rake who gambled away his fortune and her portion too. No wonder her mother is eager to get your uncle’s money. She must have been devastated when Gareth married so imprudently last year, and Helen had only a couple of thousand.’

‘She was, and I’m sure she’s hoping Helen dies when the baby is born! Then dear Gareth could offer for me. But let’s forget them. I’m determined on my plan, Jane. And I suppose I can lose weight if I eat less,’ she added more doubtfully.

‘I didn’t mean you were ugly!’ Jane protested, laughing. ‘You keep saying you’re not pretty, but Philip says you’re very attractive when you’re animated.’

‘Does he? Truly?’ Bella asked wistfully. Since her only season in London she had known few people, apart from neighbours and her father’s elderly friends, until her visit to Harrogate. No one had ever complimented her on her looks before she had unexpectedly inherited her uncle’s fortune a year before. She had soon grown suspicious of compliments after the first few days in Harrogate when she’d found herself surrounded by attentive men, old as well as young.

‘What I meant,’ Jane went on, ‘was that everyone here knows about it, and now everyone in Harrogate too. How can you meet a suitable man who doesn’t?’

‘Yes, that’s the difficulty, but if I change my name it ought to be possible to find someone, especially if I let it be known that I have a modest dowry. I have to do it soon or I’ll never know whether a man can love me for myself. And soon I’ll be too old for even a desperate parson or widower to consider!’

‘Will you go to London?’

‘I’d love to,’ Bella sighed longingly. ‘But how can I? Some of the people I met in Harrogate will be there for the Season, as well as some of our neighbours here in Lancashire, and they’d recognize me, even if the ones I met six years ago don’t remember me. No, I mean to go to Bath.’

‘Bella, do think! If you do as you say it will cause all sorts of complications. And there could be someone from Harrogate who’d know you.’

‘No one I know in Lancashire goes there, it’s not so fashionable now, and from what those horrid men in Harrogate said they regard it as dreadfully slow. I didn’t meet many of the older people who went to take the waters, so if any of them move to Bath they probably won’t recognize me. But I need you to chaperone me.’

‘They can’t all have been old.’

‘Well, some of them were young, but they were mainly the sons of wealthy mill or mine owners who’d never been out of Yorkshire in their lives except to go to London.’

‘And none you felt even the slightest tendre for?’

‘Not a whit! But they all knew I was rich and it was almost a race to see who could make me an offer first.’ She chuckled. ‘Lady Salway was afraid her job would be over almost before it began. It was, but not the way she expected. Really, Jane, I didn’t think even Papa would have foisted such a dreadful woman onto me.’

‘She answered an advertisement, didn’t she?’

‘With all sorts of glowing recommendations. I imagine they said those things to get rid of her. If they were genuine and not forged.’

‘So what happened?’

‘It was when she left me alone with her nephew. He’s a beastly creature, and he tried to kiss me. Ugh! His lips were wet and flabby, and he kept trying to paw me. I kneed him where it hurt, and then told her she wasn’t fit to be a duenna, and she could pack her bags and go that very night. I don’t know if she did. I didn’t see her again before Meg and I set out early this morning.’

‘Then it’s unlikely she’ll complain to your father?’

‘She knows I’d tell him what happened. But Jane, I can’t endure to be foisted off with another woman like that. Please won’t you help me? Philip is away for another two months and you must be lonely here on your own, so why not?’

‘It’s being deceitful,’ Jane said slowly. ‘Your father would be horrified.’

‘He won’t even know. Jane, it could be fun!’

Jane shuddered. ‘For you, no doubt! You have no shame!’

‘If you won’t do it I shall have to travel on my own and hire someone from an agency when I get there.’

* * * *

Sir Daniel Scott clapped Lord Dorney on the shoulder.

‘Well met, Richard. It’s months since we last had a good talk. But what brought you up to Lancashire? I thought you only visited Fellside in the autumn, for the shooting?’

Lord Dorney frowned. ‘I do, and so I decided it had to be sold. I’ve found a  buyer but he has not yet offered a good enough price. He’s a wealthy cotton merchant who wants a country seat, and if he can offer what I think it’s worth it would allow me to carry on with the renovations at Dorney Court.’

‘I thought Robert had made all good, after your father died?’

‘He repaired the roof and the windows, but neglected to do anything for the farms. The rent roll is pathetically small. And Selina ruined the inside. I can’t live in her monstrous extravaganza.’

‘So you are selling the properties your mother left you to finance it?’

‘I have little choice. They are my only source of capital. I still have the hunting box, and I’ve rented out the town house for the season. I don’t want to have to sell them if it’s at all possible to keep them.’

‘And you will be back in London soon?’

‘I have to go to Bath first to see Alex.’

‘Then save yourself the expense of hiring rooms and come to stay with me. My town house is small, but big enough for two bachelors.’

‘Thank you, I’d like that. I’ve some good friends. Now tell me all about America.’

Soon he was listening enthralled to Sir Daniel, who had just returned from a few months at the British Embassy in Washington, and forgot all about his abortive call on Mrs Grant.

‘So you think the matter of the boundary between America and Canada will soon be settled?’ he asked.

‘It’s in everyone’s interest to settle it. Wars are too costly. The Americans don’t want another war with Britain, and we’re too exhausted, we need a few more years to recover without indulging in more heroics.’

‘Is that what you thought about our little disagreement with Boney?’ Lord Dorney asked, laughing.

‘We had to stop him, but peace with America will be good for trade. They have cotton, which we need, and they buy many goods from us.’

Suddenly he yawned. ‘I must sleep. We’ve a long ride tomorrow to Cheshire, and I hope you’ll stay with me there for a few days while I deal with matters at home before I go and report to the Foreign Office.’

‘And I to see how the work goes on at Dorney Court before I go and see Alex and this chit he wants to marry.’