|The Marriage Contract
Author: LindseyInTheSkyWithDiamonds PM
In ninetieth century London, a handsome Duke and a hidden away heiress are tricked into a marriage contract that neither want.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Chapters: 3 - Words: 4,249 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 14 - Updated: 08-13-12 - Published: 05-23-12 - id: 3025325
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Lord William Cartwright, the Duke of Sutherfield, entered the gambling hall to escape the rapidly increasing storm. After taking a moment to allow a servant to take his soaked through overcoat and top hat and telling another his drink order, he continued into the smokey hall. Inside he was surprised to find so few men, even at this late hour. Most of the men who frequented the gambling hall had decided to go home after the various parties and operas of the night, instead of battling the now vicious storm.
William glanced around at the various tables, spotting a few men he would call friends, but mostly just acquaintances. At one table sat Lord Anthony Parish, the Earl of St. Peters. The man was a notoriously bad gamester; it was rumored that he had squandered most of his once impressive estate on bad bets.
Tonight didn't seem to be a turn in the tide, William noted. The Earl was visibly pale and sweating, his eyes darting around the table as each man made their moves. William watched as a man that hardly knew won the round of cards, gathered his winnings, and stood from the table, bidding each of the men good night and wishing them well. Parish looked even more defeated than he had a more moment before, so with a long drink of his whiskey, he made his way to the now vacant seat.
"Gentlemen," he said, nodding to the men as way of greeting, "Deal me in."
Maybe I can help change one mans rotten evening.
Lord Anthony Parish could hardly believe his luck when the Duke of Sutherfield sat down at his table. He had just been about to make his move when Henry Beaufort left the table. Anthony thought he was going to have to put off his plan for yet another day when out of nowhere a Duke sits down. A Duke! Beaufort had only been a measly Baron!
Anthony had to remind himself to hide his jubilation as the next three hands played out as though he had planned it. He soon found himself at odds with the Duke, each of the other men bowing out in turns as the stakes reached dangerous heights. The Duke paused, staring thoughtfully at his cards and then at large pot in the center of the table. For a moment, Anthony thought that the Duke was about to give up and he allowed himself to glance longingly at the pile of money; it had to be £500, at least. A rush of sadness hit him when the Duke reached for a piece of parchment and a quill; though he forgot all about it when reminded himself that he was trying to lose.
With a flourish of his hand, the Duke wrote out the note for £1000 and added it to the pot. A collective gasp went around the group of men who had gathered to watch the stand off.
Anthony couldn't believe his eyes. £1000? It was literally like the Duke was begging for what Anthony had in store. Mustering up all of his acting ability, Anthony reluctantly reached in his pocket and pulled out the carefully drafted contract he had written the week prior. This move only added to the excitement buzzing through the crowd; they assumed the paper was the deed to one of his homes.
Now or never, the Earl thought and laid out his meager hand, a pair of sixes.
All eyes shot to the Duke, awaiting his next move. No positive emotion lit up the mans face; if anything, he looked resigned.
For a split second, Anthony thought he had actually won. Then, the Duke of Sutherfield laid out his cards for all the greedy eyes to see; three fours.
The Earl couldn't believe it. He had done it. He lost to the Duke of Sutherfield. Standing up from the table, Anthony signaled for his coat and then turned to William, graciously offering his hand, "Good game, Sir."
William shook the mans hand, but couldn't help feeling bad. If he hadn't written out that unnecessarily large note, this man wouldn't have been forced to add the deed to his home to the pile of money. William had no need for yet another home, or any of the money that he had just won. Struck with an idea, William leaned into the handshake to avoid being overheard by any of the men still milling about after watching their game.
"If you want to just forget that last bet, I would not mind in the least."
Anthony pulled his hand back and looked at William, aghast. "Please do not insult me, Sir. I am not a foolish man; I do not bet anything that I cannot afford to lose." Anthony turned to the the table and grabbed the folded parchment that he had lost a movement before; for a second, the Duke thought Anthony was going to take it back, though he just refused such action. Instead, the Earl pulled at the seal and spread the document flat on the table.
"Sign it now, please. I wouldn't want this finding it's way back to me," he picked up the forgotten quill and impatiently handed it to the Duke.
Exasperated with the Earls foul attitude, the Duke signed the document quickly and laid the quill down. That's what you get for trying to do someone a favor.
Seemingly satisfied, the Earl refolded the document with the signature and placed it inside his jacket pocket. He then pulled out a second copy and placed it back in the stack of winnings.
"I will have my lawyer send you a redrafted copy to sign, until then I will keep the original for myself. Enjoy your spoils, sir."
With that he stalked from the room.
Worried that he just signed something awful, William returned to the table to read the document. Picking of the new folded parchment and pulling at the seal, his eyes quickly scanned the page. He read it twice, all the while his emotions flying from all ends of the spectrum before settling on anger. Oh, definitely anger.
An hour later, William Cartwright sat across from the proprietor of the gambling hall as the man looked over the marriage contract to the Earl of St. Peter's younger sister.
By this time, and with the aid of multiple glasses of whiskey, William had calmed down enough to speak rationally with the man.
"Well, I'm no lawyer, but this contract looks quite well written. Whomever wrote this knew what he was doing," the man said, pulling off his spectacles and squeezing the bridge of his nose between the thumb and middle finger. He couldn't believe something like this happened in his establishment. A man betting away his own sister to a complete stranger? This was the kind of place that catered to nobility, for God's sake! If word got out that those kinds of bets were being handed out, everything he built would go down the loo. He stole a glance at the young man in front of him, staring moodily into the fire.
"I'm aware that the last thing you want to hear right now is that I would never allow this sort of thing to happen in my venture, but it is the truth. I have worked hard to keep those sort of rotten bets from ruining the pleasure of my esteemed patrons, such as yourself," the old man paused, unsure if the gentleman in front of him was listening to him, "But, I am sure you could imagine what this sort of thing would do to my reputation. If there is anything I could do to implore you to keep hush, I would be more than happy."
William turned his gaze from the fire to the older gentleman in front of him. He could feel the uneasiness wafting from the man. William had no intention of holding the man or his business accountable for his misfortune and he told him this; the man visibly relaxed and took a drink from his glass of wine.
William took another long drink from his glass of whiskey and cleared his throat to help alleviate the burn of the alcohol. Unsure of himself for what felt like the first time in his life, William turned to this stranger and asked his help.
"What should I do?"
Surprised that this young man, so far above him in stature, would seek his guidance, the man thought for a moment, and then gave him the honest advice that he would give his own son, "I would send this contract the best lawyer in England to try and find a loophole, but in the meantime, I think you should head to the country to meet your betrothed."