The Scandalous Lady Mercy(9)

By: Maggi Andersen

A half hour later, tidily kitted out in a tailcoat of Spanish blue and fawn trousers, Grant was admitted by the footman to the long drawing room, cozy despite its size and crammed with family memorabilia. A favorite spot of his grandfather’s with the long windows facing south. Grant walked the length of the Turkish carpet toward the two men huddled by the fireplace. A pair of china, King Charles spaniels grinned at him from the stone mantel each side of a French guilt mantel clock, and two spaniels in their image lolled in baskets beside the fire. The saffron yellow papered walls were covered in ornate gilt frames, paintings of family members with their children, dogs, and horses. The largest and most impressive of the oils hung above the stone fireplace. Lady Anne, Grant’s grandmother, seated in the garden dressed in an eighteenth-century poppy-red gown; his father, James, a gangling boy beside her. Well-thumbed leather tomes with gilt bindings were stacked on a table and potted orchids crowded the window alcove.

In wing chairs before the fire, his father and grandfather faced each other over a wood and marble chess set, nursing ruby-filled wine glasses. “Good afternoon, Father, Grandfather.”

“Grant, my boy!” Grandfather beckoned him with a gnarled finger. “Ridden up from London, have you? Sit down and rest your bones. You’ve been a bit tardy of late. Haven’t seen you for over a month.” He gave a wry smile, deepening the crags in his leathery skin. “I won’t be around forever you know.”

Grant took a deep breath at the palpable sorrow tightening his chest. Death hung unspoken in the air with the realization that change was inevitable. The day would come when his grandfather’s vital presence would be gone. How cold and unwelcoming the house would be then. He forced a smile. “You’ll live to be a hundred, Grandfather.”

His father managed a grim smile. “Your grandfather and I have been trying to make sense of this distressing news.”

As the well-worn, emerald-green plush cushions on the sofa settled beneath him, Grant stretched out his tired legs. “I can hardly bring myself to believe it.”

“Bring a glass of wine for my grandson, Charles.”

The footman complied and handed the glass to Grant.

“What have you heard about Nat’s death?” Grant asked, after the footman left the room.

“Nothing much at all,” his father said with a frown. He smoothed his abundant dark hair sprinkled with silver. “His groom found him dead. He’d been missing for hours.”

“I’m sure you’ve sent a message of condolence, but I thought I’d ride up there and offer the family’s sympathy in person,” Grant said. “Perhaps I can discover something to ease Jenny’s distress.”

Grandfather gave a nod of approval. “Good lad.”

His father’s gaze roamed over him, no doubt searching for signs of dissipation. “Any news from London?”

“Nash is busy reconstructing Buckingham Palace for the king. But His Majesty looked very unwell when I last saw him.”

His father nodded. “His abuses are killing him.”

“The fourth George overindulges,” Grandfather said. “Nothing like his father. ‘Farmer George’ was a good man, until his illness sent him mad.”

“Why anyone would want to halt the progress of Locomotion Number One from Stockton to Darlington, beggar’s belief,” Father said with a worried frown. “As if the country isn’t in enough pain, with the stock market on a dangerous downward trajectory since those Latin American countries cannot repay their loans. And the Bank of England vacillating about whether to shore up support.”

Grandfather nodded. “Precarious times.”

His father put down his glass and mulled over the chess board. “Your sister Arabella has begun her Season with Aunt Jane as chaperone.” He moved his knight. “I trust you will make time to escort her to balls when you return to London. Keep those wolves from the door, eh?”

“I have made that promise to her, Father.” He was very fond of Bella, his only sibling. They’d seen too little of each other in the last couple of years, for she was eight years younger than him, and had been a schoolroom miss when he’d left home.

Grandfather pounced on the knight and moved his queen. “Checkmate.”

Father laughed and pushed back his chair. “That will teach me to be more observant. We’ll talk more later, Grant. I believe I’ll read for a few hours before dinner.”

When the door closed, Grant studied his grandfather’s concerned face. “Is Father in good health?”