Author: Saamii PM
In one night, Esme's world is shattered, being torn away from the only family who loves her and being married sight unseen to a Scotsman. Now she must start alone and anew. Her husband could be of some help except he has his own issues...like being blind.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Chapters: 11 - Words: 50,715 - Reviews: 112 - Favs: 49 - Follows: 77 - Updated: 03-22-10 - Published: 03-05-08 - id: 2484873
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The carriage and four pulled up in front of the large hunting lodge owned by Lord David Brooke, youngest son of the Marquis of Brookestone. His father had gifted it him the year previous when his second son attained majority, along with a very generous yearly allowance. As the vehicle came to a standstill, Lady Elisabeth Brooke, Lord David's youngest sister, stumbled down upon the arm of her escort with one hand whilst clutching a bottle of very expensive - very illegal - French champagne in the other. All three were laughing too hard to walk in a straight line up the unrolled red carpet, leaving the footmen to sigh in relief as they had allowed someone sober to drive tonight.
The youngest Lord Brookestone was known around the county for his wild escapades, and as his sister was already considered too old – not to mention too wild – to enjoy the entertainments of a debutante, he enjoyed having her as a tag-along. The rumour floating around society's drawing rooms was that Lady Elisabeth was the instigator of their more deleterious high jinks. Their father and three older siblings tried - to no avail - to keep them on a tight leash.
Now they were returning in the early hours of the morning after having enjoyed a most riotous party at a neighbour's. Their friend, a Baron of something or other, was lodging in the vicinity but as the night was dying fast and the day was coming to life, David wouldn't hear of his friend leaving his home; such hospitality took a load off a great many staff members' heart. Though they should have been miles away in Derbyshire with their family, David and Esme – as she was called among friends - had slipped out before dawn to drive at a madman's pace to reach Leicestershire in near record time. Walking through the door no one noticed a figure sitting in a chair in the dim centre hall as they did away with their outer vestments.
"I say, that was a damn good party Ashley gave! He needs to put me in touch with his men inFrance. With brandy like that coming into the country, I need to be in on the business. It is a shame I do not have an estate conveniently on the coast inSussexlike he does." The Baron, free of his evening coat, uncorked a bottle of said brandy and swallowed a healthy swig.
"I think Ashley would have our heads on his tarnished silver platters if we snuck up on his turf! This is his only source of income, you know, to support that estate inSussex of his." David had just relieved himself of his coat and tie to reach out for the champagne bottle resting where Esme had placed it to hand off her furs.
"Yes, David, it is unfortunate that Ashley's tenants have decided to join the army, but at least we are being true friends and keeping food in his larder, though that bottle plus the barrel you're having delivered has cost you your new horse I'm afraid." The friendly trio had now moved into the drawing room. Esme took back her champagne bottle to put it on ice to chill again.
"That is too bad about White Star. I have envied him for a while now." David was sitting in a big arm chair opposite the fire and stared into it, shrugging off thoughts about the beautiful stallion that wouldn't be waiting for his return to London.
"Oh dear, don't be too melancholy. Persuade Adam to pay for it; the poor sod has too good a heart." Esme gave her brother a very intimate smile, as they both knew their eldest brother, heir to their family fortunes, was only too willing to be generous to his 'fallen' siblings in hopes his generosity would touch their hearts and consciences.
"It has been entertaining David and Esme, but now I must bid you both good night so that I can pretend to be noble tomorrow. Are we still on next week, David, to visit Mrs. Herbert's? She has a new shipment of down-on-their-luck French beauties fresh from the continent. You know how much I like bestowing charity on those who need it." The Baron, after tossing the drink back the remnants of his drink, placed his empty glass down on a side table, narrowly dropping it, and hobbled towards the door. David put his own down to help his friend to the door and most likely to the stairs.
"Of course, how could I deny my own countrywomen?" Esme watched the two men leave and only when the door softly closed did she release her pent up laughter, since the copious amounts of alcohol she'd consumed that evening couldn't be contained. The Baron was already a drunk and becoming one of the more licentious man of high society, but his ancient family name, title, and money only just kept social doors open to him, not that he would have minded much if they were closed. He was a gentleman who preferred the gutter and the two-bit wenches that were found in it. Nevertheless, he was a decent fellow when sober, at least when she was in his presence. Esme was still convulsing when the door soon opened again and a large figure entered. Believing it to be her brother she turned her head with a wide smile.
"Come finish this bottle off with me David, it would be a shame- Oh, but it is you Papa! What are you doing here at this time of night? Surely you want to be warm and cozy in your state bedroom at home." Ordinarily, on the rare occasions she spoke with her father, Esme preferred to pay lip service then continue her previous deviant course. Unfortunately, tonight was not one of those nights Esme felt inclined to be ordinary.
"It is with equal surprise that I find you here as well, Elisabeth." As if on cue, David walked into the room rolling his shoulders after unburdening them of the weight of his friend. He too did not notice his father's presence at first and entered with a smile even as the Marquis turned to face his son. David was twice just as inebriated as Esme, if not more so, and could not temper his good humour either.
"Sir, but we did not expect you! Come and have a drink in front of the fire. We now have some very excellent, and very expensive, brandy to add to the cellars." David was moving towards the sideboard to pour a glass, but his father put his hand out to stop him and motioned for him to sit down. David shrugged, flopping back into the same chair as before, sitting sideways while pulling up and crossing his legs over an arm with a glazed smile on his face. Esme had reclined on a sofa directly in front of the fire. As well as she knew her brother sober, she knew him drunk, and in about five minutes he wasn't even going to know his own name; their father had better keep his business brief.
"Now that you are both present, I cannot tell you how very angry and ashamed I am to call you both my children, and that this will be one of the few remaining occasions I will acknowledge you as thus. By the end of this week, I'll have washed my hands of you. Tonight, however, my purpose is to discuss your futures." Ignoring the barely repressed fury in his voice, David and Esme were not capable of any other reaction but a synchronous cacophony of laughter.
"Sir, but you are droll! Why think about tomorrow when there is good drink tonight! Come by the fire to warm you're your old bones. Tomorrow, when Esme and I are much more sober, we can talk about the future." David smiled at the thought since the future to him was plans for what horse to ride in the morning, what carriage to ride in the afternoon, and what woman to ride at night. The Marquis again refused his son's invitation to sit, but moved to stand with his back to the fire, glaring at his children's wax complexions and glassy eyes.
"Silence! Not another word from either of you. Listen closely and receive your instructions." For the first time, the Marquis' serious tones were not lost on his children. The realisation caused them to stop speaking, but each only half paid attention, knowing that whatever plagues their father called down on their heads, they would easily disregard in the morning before planning their social schedule.
"Papa! We are sorry that we left without notice but-" Esme tried to soften the tirade she knew would come, but her father's expression hardened even more when he looked down at his youngest daughter.
Since the fireplace was very large, the light was shining over the long line of her slim body lying in front of him, the flickering flames turning her thin gown transparent. Esme tried to keep her dresses fashionable, even though not always suitable for the season, resulting in few layers even with the coming winter months.
"Stop it Elisabeth! I will not have you using your feminine charms to get what you want, as they will not work! I should have thought being my daughter, you would have inherited the decency to behave like the lady your title calls you."
With effort, Esme thought that their father's animosity was not because they were playing truant, but more so over the accumulation of their scandals. Esme would have to be deaf or dense to not know that her and David's name was spoken of in the same tones as the Barron; like him, only their respectable family and personal fortunes made them socially respectable, if only in theory. Recently, many mothers had shuffled their daughters, and especially their sons, away from Esme whenever she chanced attending a ball or reception hosted by her peers. Tonight's excursion must have proven to be the proverbial 'straw that broke the camel's back'.
"Sir, please, could we not speak of this in the morning? It is getting late-" David was whining with exhaustion, his head leaning against the wing of the chair, his eyes half closed. He had forgotten his glass on the table and was too comfortable to reach for it so he crossed his arms over his chest.
"Enough! I do not want to stay under this roof any longer than necessary, but the roads are too dangerous at this time of morning. You will both not remain silent until I have finished what I need to say." The Marquis took a deep breath, slowing releasing it, daring the persons before him to defy his command again. "As you well know, your behaviour this season has caused a multitude of scandals that me and your family have had to cover for you more time than we should, and now I have no choice but to cut you off from our family - completely!" The Marquis glared strongly towards David, than Esme, waiting for any signs of rejection or resistance. When none came, he continued.
"Your sisters are complaining that respectable sponsors for their charities are refusing to meet them or are refusing their invitations. Even your poor sister-in-law has complained to me of being shunned, even though it is not her fault that she married into our family at such a time. There are so many reports of scandal that they have told me I cannot allow you both to continue living as you are. So I have come to a solution which will be in effect immediately."
The Marquis turned first to David, who had turned his legs round and sat in the chair properly in an attempt to at least appear like an adult.
"You are well aware, David, as you have been taught from infancy that the Brookes are a great military family. We have been in His Majesty's Service since the time of Charlemagne. Your brother, Adam, had a promising career before he married and now I am expecting you to follow in his place. My last business inLondonwas to purchase you an officer's commission in the Royal Navy. How I convinced them to accept it is a miracle, but know this. You are officially a member of His Majesty's Service; should you in any way not accept this commission, or be considered absent without leave, you will be convicted of the crime of desertion, punishable by deportation. My secretary will accompany you when your ship departs on Thursday until you reach your final destination." If the Marquis had thrown the champagne ice bucket at his son's face, it could not have startled David more. Unfortunately, his head was less than clear, affecting his reasoning abilities and his function of speaking levelly.
"Never, sir! I am of an age to disagree with you, and that certainly includes now. I would never raise a rifle against-" Before David could finish his sentence, his father slapped him twice square across the face. Since he was not expecting the blow, David fell back into his chair, a stunned expression in his eyes. Esme started to rise and try to help him but her father kept her away.
"Leave him, Elisabeth. He needs to take his hits like a man. Hopefully his future training will teach him so and make him aware of his duties and responsibilities." David rose up shakily from his chair, not meeting eyes with anyone, to walk wordlessly to the door of the drawing room.
"David, stop, do not-" Esme tried to grab his hand or sleeve, but he brushed her off without hesitation, continuing to the door until he was gone. Now she was alone with her father, physically aware enough to feel tension between them, and her father did not look as if he would spare her his wrath.
"As for you, Elisabeth, I have something entirely different in mind. As you know, you are now nineteen years of age, and I have allowed you to remain unmarried for far too long. It should be no surprise to you that all your previous suitors have withdrawn their proposals, all but one, for whom I have accepted his offer of marriage. In five days time you are to be married."
"Married, Papa? With whom? I am not in my best mind, currently, but I'm sure I'd clearly remember being engaged."
"His name is of no consequence, but know he is a Scotsman. No decent peer of the realm will have you, and I cannot blame them, so I have been forced to look outside the immediate borders of our nation. I have been in correspondence with this man for some time and have acquainted myself with his historical family name and large land holdings. The only reason he is marrying you, Elisabeth, is for your money in order to maintain the upkeep of his main residence, so you will not immediately be able to continue to live in your accustomed manner. Not that anyone, in particular himself, will be able to admire you either, since your nearest neighbour is some miles away."
"You would give me to a Scotsman, Papa?" Esme didn't bother to listen to the rest of what the Marquis was sating. This was the only sentence that mattered. "You must be mad! You would hand me over to some ill mannered, ill bred Scotsman, Papa? You cannot be serious!" Even with a short laugh of defiance, in her mind Esme knew it was stupid of her to fight her father on his decision. But she was not about to let herself be palmed off to someone she had never met or even seen, whom she knew nothing about.
"Do not raise your voice at me! I am your father, Elisabeth, and you are still a minor in the eyes of the law, under my care and discretion. I have the authority to tell you whom to marry and you will not disobey me. You need a man to take charge of you, and who better than one who will keep you in your place at home and keep you from parading your seductive powers all over Town. I once forgave you and took you back into the family. I also warned you to behave yourself, but you just had to prove yourself as the most notorious society whore of London! Even the most acclaimed actresses of Covent Gardenare less infamous then you, or toasted to by every drunkard in the realm! No, Elisabeth, I am not going to tolerate your behaviour anymore, nor is your fiancé. You will not be able to charm him so easily with your body as you have other men. He will keep you in line and no more will your name be heard of inEngland. We leave for Brooke Park tomorrow morning, as you will be married the day after, when your husband will take responsibility of you. You will never speak of your antecedents should you ever be asked."
Esme could not manage a breath as she sat back down on the sofa, staring into her father's hard face with determination in her own. After his first outburst, his voice became steadily calmer, making his edicts irrevocable. She wasn't shocked he had called her a whore; it was a common enough occurrence. As stupid as she knew her decision to be, Esme wasn't going to accept his word without fighting for her side.
"No Papa! I am not going to shut myself away in a crumbling ruin somewhere in a foreign country married to a half savage man who only considers me worthy of marrying because money and that I am readily available! I am not-"
She could only put up as much of a fight as David before her father struck her face the same as he had his son, only this time he wouldn't stop after one round. He raised his hand twice more before the Marquis paused in his punishment. Esme was stunned immobile. When the warm sting grew harsher, she could only lightly lift her fingers towards her cheek.
"This is how the sluts in all families are treated. I have taken note of every man you have seduced into your wickedness. I can only hope Argyll punishes you further for your sinfulness."
Esme looked up at her father for a brief moment, hearing the unnatural sound of his voice, but before she could defend herself, the Marquis had grabbed her shoulder to throw her face down onto the floor. A second later there was an oddly familiar hot flash against her back, then another, and then another before the area became numb. For three full agonising minutes her father laid his whip into her back until she couldn't even feel the blood rolling across her sides and he believed her unconscious. Esme had trained herself not to scream since the first time, as that was the satisfaction he was looking for. She didn't even cry, just lay there helpless. All servants who had ever worked for nobility knew the law was not written for the side of minors, who could be disciplined in whatever manner their guardians saw necessary.
When he was finished, the Marquis threw the whip down hard beside Esme's torn and bloodied body, leaving the room without another word. Esme didn't try to move, her mind becoming more sober by the second, replaying the future her father set before her. The best part about the scenario was that she wouldn't ever see the Brooke's again; she had been running away from them since the first moment she knew she could. The only person Esme would miss would be her brother. David was her closest and only friend in the world and she didn't know how she would survive without him. He was the only one who knew how to keep her from falling apart.
Esme fell asleep on the floor, just waking when the door to the drawing room was being opened and someone was walking towards her. Her heart froze in fear of it being the Marquis again. But these steps were lighter than her father's, walking about the room sure footed, identifying the man before David spoke a word.
"Esme! Mon Dieu." David took a large, deep breath, regretting it when a slight metallic scent filled his nose. His near wasted state from a half hour ago had almost vanished with a cold bath and fresh air he had in his bedroom. "Why did you not call for me?"
David knelt down by Esme, gently removing the stray strands of hair and fabric that had settled on the wounds. Esme hadn't spoken, but he knew she was awake and knew of him being there. David wasn't sure how to lift his sister without causing her even a moderate amount of pain, but leaving her on the floor was not an option. The fire in the drawing room had now died down and the frosty air could be felt from outside. The blood was starting to dry, no longer running over her skin. Even by bandaging her tightly, he knew she wasn't going to sleep tonight without great discomfort. David lifted Esme as delicately as he could from the ground. Moving slowly towards the open door, he started up the staircase, taking one step slowly at a time. Esme still had not spoken, but David knew she was at least aware and not comatose.
After what seemed an eternity, David reached the top step and turned right, towards Esme's room located in the same corridor as his. Somehow he managed the handle and opened the door, feeling the pleasant warmth coming from the fire. But it was short lived as Esme immediately started as the air settled over her wounds, the sensation akin to the feeling of a hundred bee stings. This was her first reaction to the assault, and with it came the rest of her emotions. But after only giving into a light bout of tears, which David could feel wetting his shirtsleeve, Esme forced herself to stop.
"It is alright, Esme, you are going to get better. I am here now, and Jane is here to help and take care of you." David was thankful to the forethought of keeping Esme's maid upstairs until he had made sure his sister was in bed for the night. He would not have been able to do anything for Esme on his own.
When the maid caught sight of the multiple crisscrossing wheals, she almost fainted. Putting her years of service to good use, Jane directed David to put Esme on the turned down bed and admonished him to gently pull some of the loose pieces of silk away from the wounds. There was no way to remove most of Esme's dress without warm water and a salve, so the maid hurried away from the room to prepare what was needed.
Alone for a few minutes, David pulled Esme's dark hair away from her back and found a long pin inside the strands to keep it securely away. Esme was lying as still as when he had first found her, though her breathing was steadying, which David considered a good sign. To keep Esme awake as he ministered to her back, David began speaking. Instinct made him speak in French, their mother's native tongue.
"I will not ask you to torture yourself and tell me what happened, but I am not going to allow him to get away with this. I cannot sail away from here and believe incidents like this are continuing to occur. If I didn't need to be here, I would go to the bastard's room now and shoot him in his sleep. It might be the coward's way of dealing with problems, but it would solve more than a few problems." Esme turned her head slightly since her neck was stiff to at least look into David's eyes. A wave of anger came over him as he saw the pain etched in Esme's face and pouring out from her dark eyes. Despite their loose morals and free spirited personalities, David wouldn't sink to a standard of letting anyone treat his sister badly. But now, once again she would be alone, without his protection.
"This won't happen again, at least not here. Papa told me I am going to be married. He has chosen for me a husband." David could not believe what Esme was saying, but he knew she would not play a joke on him now of all times. His anger was followed and replaced by sadness and grief since they were both being taken away from the other; depending on how long Napoleon was in power, this meant they wouldn't see each other for a long time, if ever again. David gently placed his hand on his sister's head and stroked her temple.
"We leave tomorrow, and I'll be married the day after. I hope you will be allowed as a witness."
"Who is the man?" David was afraid of Esme's answer as, knowing the Marquis, she might be married to a man like him or worse.
"I'm not sure of his name, only that he is a Scotsman. Were you aware of this?"
"Unfortunately no, my knowledge is as limited as yours."
Esme didn't have time to be disappointed since Jane came rushing back into the room laden with supplies. David rose to take them from her and put them down on a table close to the bed. Helping the maid, they each sat on either side of Esme and together removed the deeper ribbons of fabric stuck to her skin. Not worried about getting blood on the sheets, Jane and David worked quickly and as gently as possible. Soon Esme was out of her dress, bandaged from waist to neck, and covered only with a single bed sheet. Jane left the room, taking the soiled materials and bed linens, still not believing that she had witnessed such treatment, and on a Lady no less.
David had not yet left Esme's room and was debating whether or not he even should. He and Jane had made her as comfortable as she possibly could be with circumstances as they were, but he wished there was more he could do. Their rapidly shrinking hours together were all he could think about.
"Go to bed David. You are as tired as I am. As entertaining as our evening was, and as much as you would hate to admit it, you look as if you will drop any second. I am sure if you don't yet have a headache now, you will soon. You need your sleep as much as I do. Your valet and Jane are going to be busy in the morning and I need you to help me walk as proud as a queen would to her throne."
"I, teach deportment to Marie Antoinette for her appointment with Madame la Guillotine?" Esme puffed out a dreamy laugh, as David had wanted her to.
"Go to bed. I...am...tired..." Esme's eyes closed on the last word and in a minute her breathing was short and even with sleep. David bent down to kiss her forehead before turning to leave the room silently. Opening his door, he stripped naked and fell into bed. Esme was right about that headache...
A/N: Update 7/11 - So I've done a sizable update/overhaul/revision on this chapter and the rest of the chapters so far in this story. I'll upload them as they become available. I didn't realise how many holes this story had until I reread the chapters. I hope to revise all of my errors before moving on with the story. For those rereading the chapter: I've changed Esme's full name to Elisabeth, and changed a few details of the story so that it made sense and less forced.