Home > Silent on the Moor (Lady Julia Grey #3)

Silent on the Moor (Lady Julia Grey #3)
Deanna Raybourn

THE FIRST CHAPTER

London, 1888

For now sits expectation in the air.

—William Shakespeare

Henry V

“Julia Grey, I would rather see you hanged than watch any sister of mine go haring off after a man who will not have her,” my brother Bellmont raged. “And Portia, I am thoroughly appalled that you would not only condone such behaviour, but abet it by accompanying Julia. You are her elder sister. You ought to set an example.”

I sighed and stared longingly at the whisky decanter. Portia and I had known that the summons to our father’s London townhouse was a thinly-veiled ambush, but I do not think either of us had expected the attack to be so quick, nor so brutal. We had scarcely taken our seats in Father’s comfortable library before our eldest brother launched into a tirade against our proposed visit to Yorkshire. Father, ensconced behind his vast mahogany desk, said nothing. His expression was inscrutable behind his half-moon spectacles.

Catching my wistful glance, Portia rose and poured us both glasses of whisky. “Take this, dearest,” she urged. “Bellmont is in rare form. He will surely rail at us until supper unless he has an apoplexy first,” she finished cheerfully.

Bellmont’s already high colour deepened alarmingly. “You may well jest about this, but it is unacceptable for Julia to accept an invitation to stay with Brisbane at his country house. He is an unmarried man, and she is a widow of thirty. Even if you are there to chaperone, Portia, you must admit, it would be a complete violation of propriety.”

“Oh, Julia hasn’t been invited,” Portia responded helpfully. “I was. Julia rather invited herself.”

Bellmont clicked his teeth together and drew in a deep breath, his nostrils going white at the edges. “If that is supposed to offer me comfort, it is a cold one, I assure you.”

Portia shrugged and sipped at her whisky. Bellmont turned to me, deliberately softening his tone. At more than forty years of age and heir to our father’s earldom, he had long since grown accustomed to having his own way. It was only with his eccentric family that his success was mixed. With a cunning blend of sternness, cajolery, and logic, he was sometimes able to bend us to his will, but just as often he found himself not speaking to more than one of his nine siblings. Now he attempted an appeal to my reason.

“Julia, I understand you were quite bereft when Edward died. You were very young to be a widow, and I am sympathetic to the fact that you felt compelled to search out your husband’s murderer.” I raised my brows. He had not been so sympathetic at the time. When I had unmasked my husband’s killer in a dramatic scene during which my townhouse was burned down and I nearly lost my life, Bellmont had actually stopped speaking to me for two months. Apparently, murder is a failing of the middle classes only. Aristocrats are supposed to be above such unpleasantness.

He went on. “I realise your connection with Mr. Brisbane was a necessary evil at the time. He has proved himself a thoroughly capable inquiry agent and, mercifully, a discreet one. But your association with this man cannot continue. I do not know what Father was thinking to invite him to Bellmont Abbey at Christmas, but it was badly done, and it has given you ideas.”

“And God knows women mustn’t have ideas,” Portia murmured into her glass. Bellmont did not even bother to look at her. We were well-accustomed to Portia’s pointed asides.

I looked helplessly at Father, who merely shrugged and poured himself a glass of whisky. If Bellmont continued on we should become a family of inebriates.

“Monty,” I began, deliberately sweetening my tone, “I do appreciate your concern. But Father has already explained to you Brisbane was there to pursue an investigation. He left before the family arrived for Christmas. You did not even see him. I have never invited him to accompany me to your home, nor have I ever foisted him upon you in any social situation, although he would not be entirely out of place. His great-uncle is the Duke of Aberdour, you know.”

Bellmont rubbed a hand over his face, smoothing the furrows that marked his handsome brow. “My dear, his antecedents are quite immaterial. He is in trade. He is a half-Gypsy vagabond who makes his living by dealing in the sordid miseries of others. His exploits are fodder for the newspapers, and we have been dragged through those rather enough at present,” he finished, shooting Father a look that was ripe with bitterness.

Father waved an indolent hand. “Do not blame me, boy. I did my best to sweep the entire matter under the carpet, as did Brisbane.” That much was true. The newspapers, through Father’s influence and Brisbane’s connections, had taken little enough notice of the events at Bellmont Abbey, although a few rather distasteful morsels had found their way into print.

Bellmont swung round to face Father while Portia and I huddled closer to one another on the sofa and drank our whisky.

“I am not unaware of your efforts, Father. But the press have always been interested in our little peccadilloes, and you have simply not done enough to keep them at bay, particularly when you were so indiscreet as to entertain your mistress at the same Christmas party as your children and grandchildren.”

“A hit, a palpable hit,” Portia whispered. I stifled a giggle. Bellmont was being rather unfair to Father. He had exercised as much authority over the press in the matter as he could. Considering what had actually transpired at the Abbey, we were lucky it had not become the scandal of the century.

“Madame de Bellefleur is not my mistress,” Father said, puffing his cheeks indignantly. “She is my friend, and I shall thank you to speak of her respectfully.”

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