A/N: Sorry for the confusion about the last chapter. Basically, right after I posted the last chapter, I had another idea and so I squeezed in a chapter before that, hoping that no one had read the chapter that I had posted. Sorry!
Brighton could hardly think as he stepped on the cobble-stone paved path leading to the front, wide, porch of the large white house before him.
It hardly seemed possible that he was here.
Though weeks ago, it only felt like yesterday that he had received the life-altering letter from the Duke of Covington…his father. The letter not only confirmed that what Irene Molloy had been proclaiming all along as truth, it also was an invitation for Brighton to London.
He had not wanted to go. He had not wanted to look upon the face of the man who had abandoned him, the man who had ruined his mother, the man that his mother still worshipped and adored. But his mother had beseeched and pleaded with him until Brighton felt that he must go.
What his father intended, Brighton still did not know.
His feet had moved him until he was standing before the wide, double doors that guarded the entrance to the house. Brighton lifted the brass knocker on the door, and let it drop. The thud seemed to echo in his stomach.
Very quickly, a butler opened the door. He did not look surprised to see Brighton. "My lord," the butler bowed deeply, and then quickly took the bundle that Brighton held in his hand. "I will fetch His Grace." Before the butler could move, however, a man had appeared in the foyer. A man who was, without a doubt, Brighton's true father.
The man descended the stairs of the foyer; he seemed to stare at Brighton in utter astonishment. Brighton returned the gaze, he felt as if he were gazing into the clear pond of his village; the face in front of him was but a little more lined than the reflection that greeted him. The man had the dark brown, nearly raven hair, of Brighton, the finely chiseled cheekbones, aristocratic nose, and fiercely green eyes.
"Gather the rest of his items from the carriage." The Duke commanded.
"Yes, Your Grace," the butler turned to go. Before long, he had returned. "It seems that…this," he gestured at Brighton's bundle that he held in his hand. "Is all the boy brought."
Brighton felt himself turn red with shame.
"Ahh…yes…follow me…Brighton." The Duke sounded as if he had difficulty saying his own son's name.
Head down, careful not to gaze at his fancy surroundings, Brighton followed the Duke into a room upstairs. After he had entered, the Duke closed the door behind him. "Sit."
Brighton obeyed, and sat down in the armchair that his father had indicated. The armchair's value was at least three times greater than that of all the items in the Molloys' cabin combined, Brighton knew. The Duke himself took a seat in a matching armchair. They sat silently for a long while; Brighton took the chance to gaze around the room. It was the library, filled from floor to ceiling with books, books, and more books.
Finally, the Duke cleared his throat. "It is good to see you again, my boy."
Brighton felt anger prick within him. "Again? Have you ever set eyes on me ever?"
"No…" the Duke admitted deliberately. "No. I have not. Rather, I should say that it is good to meet you."
Brighton folded his arms across his chest, but did not answer.
There was a long pregnant pause, finally broken when the door was flung open and a young lady dashed in. "Father! Jacqueline has destroyed my new bonnet!" The girl was of medium height, with plain brown hair and brown eyes. She looked not a bit like the Duke, except for her nose, which was very straight. The girl seemed not to notice Brighton, in her fury about her bonnet.
The Duke swore. "I thought all of you were to be at Hyde Park for the afternoon?"
"Yes, we were, but I hurried home to get a new bonnet, now that Jacqueline has splattered mud all over the one I wore earlier…" the girl stopped talking abruptly when she spotted Brighton. Her gaze flickered quickly from Brighton, to the Duke, and then back to Brighton again.
"I've business to take care of, Colette." The Duke said roughly.
"But…" Colette protested, looking wide-eyed at Brighton.
"Ask your mother, she will explain everything…it is time that you knew. Now, back to Hyde Park!" He commanded.
Colette did not argue, but backed out and closed the door behind him, wide-eyed.
"That was your sister," the Duke said to Brighton. "There are eight more of them."
"That is correct…eight of them…and it has unfortunately, worn their mother out…she cannot have anymore children…"
It was the bond of father and son, Brighton was for certain. Otherwise, why had he been able to take one look into his father's eyes, and understand why he had been sent for. "And I…am I your only known son?" Brighton added the last spitefully.
The Duke nodded without so much as a flinch. "You will be making the acquaintance of my, our, family tonight. There is Charlotte, my wife, the Duchess of Covington. Then Michelle, my eldest daughter, followed by Claire, Jacqueline, Colette…"
Brighton did not hear the remainder of his father's words…he did not know whether to laugh or fly into a rage. If his path of thought continued…he would be the heir, the heir to his father's immense fortune.
"Look! I can see Boston now!" Twenty-one-year-old Jacob Hamilton called in a positively delighted tone of voice.
"Well…I cannot." Amy said, a bit huffily, as she squinted into the silver mist. She saw nothing but grey, grey, grey, not even a trace of the fine harbor city that she had been promised by her father, the sailors, and the other first-class guests onboard, including the Boston-born Jacob Hamilton.
"I daresay…there is the chapel on Beacon Hill…" Jacob murmured softly. Amy watched as a wide smile spread across the young Bostonian's face. "Oh," he sighed. "How good it is to have returned home finally. You will enjoy Boston, Amy. It's the finest city in all of America."
"I'm sure I will, if I could only see the place." Amy craned her neck all the more.
"I cannot see it, either." Amy's father said. He stood on the other side of her.
"That is because it is only in Jake's imagination." Jacob's older brother, Quentin, had joined them. "It is near impossible to see Boston on a rainy day."
"There is no use staying out in the rain if one cannot see the city, then." Mr. Phineas sighed. "Come Amy, boys, let us stay inside the cabin, where we can be warm and dry, at least, so that we may present an acceptable appearance when we go on shore."
Both the Hamilton brothers followed her father obediently back into the cabin that was shared by the first-class passengers, but Amy stood outside. She did not care how wet or cold she was…it was the closest to shore that she had been yet, and she was determined to see the country she was to be taking a Grand Tour of.
"Amy!" Her father bellowed impatiently from the cabin door. Before setting sail for America, David Phineas would not have dared yell in so crude a manner in public. But two months of travel on a ship surrounded by none other than two wealthy Americans and a rather tatty crew had made both father and daughter less conscience of their behavior.
As it was, Amy turned and yelled back to her father, "In a bit!"
"Hurry then, and don't catch a chill!" Her father returned, before shutting the door.
Amy thanked the heavens that she had been born of stout and strong health. There were many girls she had known in London who seemed to be perpetually ill, one of whom was the Lady Thaylene Wentworth, the eldest spinster daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Wentworth, who did not seem to be able to set foot outdoors without catching a whooping cough. Amy, meanwhile, had never grown sicker than a mild round of megrims and coughs.
She stood at the railing, gazing intently into the mist, searching for a sign of the American city.
"Looking for Boston?" A light, teasing voice came from behind.
Amy turned to see a young man with laughing blue eyes. "Hello, Nat," she said cordially. "Yes, indeed, I am looking for a sign of Boston."
Nathaniel Foster, first mate of the ship Boris Walton, ran a hand through his pale blonde hair. "You won't see it."
"When the rain clears, I will." Amy said determinedly.
"This rain won't clear until we've at least hit shore, and in rain and mist this thick, you can't hope but see more than five feet in front of you…"
"Well then, I shall stand here and wait until the Boris Walton comes within five feet of dock, won't I?"
"I'm afraid even then, you will not see it."
"You are joshing me." She accused. "Joshing" was a term she had heard a good many of the sailors use.
"I josh you not," Nat smiled. "You are standing on the wrong side of the ship…to see Boston, you must at least stand on the starboard side. Can you not tell that we are moving in the opposite direction?"
"No." Amy sniffed. She turned to cross to the starboard side, but she saw Nathaniel laughing, and she changed her mind and stood at the bow of the ship.
"Ah, the bow, a most safe position to take. No mistaking which way Boston is from the bow." Nathaniel said, and followed her.
Surprisingly, he stayed with her, and kept her company. Amy did not mind. He was a handsome young man, and though nowhere near as charming as Lord Farnsworth, Nathaniel Foster could be pleasant when he put his mind to it. "Where do you plan to go after the ship docks, Nat?" Amy did not feel as if she needed to properly address a mere sailor, even if he was the first mate. "Will you sail back to London with it?"
Nathaniel shook his head. "No. I've a mind to set out west, perhaps to Wisconsin or Minnesota, or Oregon, even."
"I did not know you were a farmer, too," Amy said, positively delighted. She had never known a young man to have so many talents. To think, in addition to climbing masts and steering a ship, Nathaniel Foster was capable of turning an empty plot into a fruitful land!
He laughed. "I've never farmed in my life, except if you count the hours that I labored away in my mother's vegetable garden, and I daresay I learned little there. No, I will be a trail hand, an aid in immigrants and city-folk going west. There are some who know not a thing about traveling, but seem intent to go…the Hamilton brothers being one of them…" Quentin and Jacob Hamilton had made it known to everyone on-board that after a brief visit to their family in Boston, the two intended to set off for Oregon. "…I will be a guide to Eastern greenhorns."
"How exciting!" Amy exclaimed.
"Yes," Nathaniel shook his head. "How exciting indeed." He did not seem to mean his words.
Suddenly, Amy was inspired. "Where do you come from, Nat? You surely could not have been born in Wisconsin or out west or on the ocean?"
"Quite to the contrary," Nathaniel said. "I was born on the ocean. My mother was returning from a visit to London when she went into pre-mature birth."
"Oh!" Amy clapped a hand over her mouth. Not only was it strange that he had been born on the ocean, it was odd that a gentleman would speak of birthing to a lady. Of course, Amy quickly reminded herself, Nat Foster was no gentleman, and would not know of such etiquette. "Did you grow up on the ocean, too?"
"Regretfully, no. My grandfather owned a horse farm in Virginia that my father and mother helped manage, and that is where I spent my childhood days."
"What made you leave Virginia for the sea?" Amy hardly cared that she was being so pressing for information; he was naught but a sailor.
"A quarrel." Nathaniel said shortly, and Amy sensed that that was the end of the matter, as he did not offer anymore words upon the subject.
"Miss Phineas," Quentin had walked out into the rain. He looked a pathetic sight, with his pale brown locks plastered on his skinny face. "Would you care to join me for a cup of tea?"
"No, thank you." Amy said coldly. Quentin had been attempting to gain her favor ever since they set sail from London. But Amy would not be won over. She found the tall, thin young man pretentious and awkward. His mannerisms indicated that he was an American who thought he knew proper etiquette, but really truly had no knowledge of it.
"I rather feel sorry for the fellow," Nathaniel remarked, as they watched Quentin stumble across the slippery deck, back inside the cabin. "I do believe he's grown quite fond of you, Miss Phineas."
Amy hid her disgust. "Even so, I am not at all fond of him. The only man that I would have onboard this ship for a suitor is Mr. Jacob Hamilton." She hoped he would not notice that he had not been included.
He didn't. "That is very well, but I thought you were engaged?"
"How did you know?" Amy was surprised. Fearing that her most valuable possession might be damaged in the long journey, Amy had placed Lord Farnsworth's signet ring in her reticule, so that she could have it on her at all times but also protect it from outside hazards.
"Your father told me when he purchased tickets. He's quite proud of you, I daresay, the next Viscountess Farnsworth, and then the Countess of Kenton."
"Ah well," Amy shrugged and pretended she did not know. The truth was, her father had been from a rather poor background, and still desired all the connections to high nobles that he could, though he had already done very well with his wife, who had been the sole child of a duke. Uncomfortable with the topic of her father, Amy returned the subject to Nat's origins. "Do you enjoy horses, if you grew up on a farm, then?"
"Of course. One cannot help it," Nathaniel said evenly. "My grandfather's horse farm contained all sorts of breeds. Beautiful, elegant Arabians, long-legged thoroughbreds, solid and dependable ponies, sturdy morgans and quarters. But the horsing life was not for me. I was not content to stay on the family farm and breed horses all day. I've much more that I want to see, that I want to do. That is why I am heading west after this trip."
"Yes." Nathaniel said emphatically, though Amy had not asked for elaboration. "My father headed west himself when he was young…he was from London, like you. He did not much like it there; he seldom speaks of it, except to say that it was a place where birth and ancestry mattered more than the person within. I suppose that is because he was without noble ancestry…" his face suddenly darkened. "He would not have left if it had been comfortable for him there…so, instead of staying and battling in London, he came to America, to seek an easy way out…he married my mother."
Amy nodded in understanding. "It is the same too, in London; there are plenty of penniless men who marry wealthy heiresses instead of seeking out their own living."
"I believe my father would have done just that, if he had had good blood." Nathaniel looked at her. "You are one of those heiresses, are you not?"
"Yes," Amy admitted reluctantly. She knew she was an heiress only because her mother had told her before her debut season, and warned her that fortune hunters might seek to take advantage of her position. But Amy did not know how many pounds she had, nor did she know how much a pound could purchase her, as she had never handled money directly before. "I do not know my worth, though."
"Everything that your family possesses, which currently is around two hundred thousand pounds, but before your father's death, he allows you an allowance of one thousand five-hundred pounds a year."
Amy was nonplussed.
"I've heard enough of Quentin's interrogating your father to know." Nathaniel said wryly.
"Yes, Quentin," Amy murmured. Quentin Hamilton was an American fortune hunter, he had sniffed out early how much Amy was worth, and had been trying to impress her ever since. His efforts were all quite useless, though, since she was already engaged to a young man who was wealthy on his own and had no need of her fortune. And as a further disappointment, Quentin was not so charming, though try hard he might. "Tell me, Nat," Amy said seriously. "How much does a thousand pounds buy?"
Nathaniel laughed in disbelief. "Good God…how shall I explain this? Have you really no experience with money?" Amy shook her head. "A thousand pounds would take me anywhere in the world I wanted to go," Nathaniel said slowly, "though to make it last, I would not be able to travel in as much luxury as you and your father."
"Then, I am rich." Amy said. She had never thought about money before. Only the time that she had spent aboard a small ship, among people not as fortunate as her (mainly, the immigrants who lived in the crowded cabins below) had made her question the wealthy things that had surrounded her all her life.
"By far, I daresay." Nathaniel agreed.
They stood in silence for a while, Amy contemplating her newly-realized wealth. Finally, her thoughts turned to other matters. "I should like to see your grandfather's horse farm, I think."
"Is that so?"
"Very much. Where is it?"
"Kentucky. He was one of the first breeders there."
"That is not so far from Virginia…will I see your father, too?"
"No." Nathaniel's jaw tightened. "My parents have finally broken to their own. They manage their own ranch a distance away."
"Oh…" Amy wanted to ask more about his parents; Nat's father sounded fascinating, but before she could, Nathaniel bid her a crisp farewell and walked off into the rain.
Men. Amy thought with dissatisfaction; they always seemed so ill-at-ease with their parents.