Thursday, 12 June 2014
New Book - The Wronged Wife - first chapter
"What are you doing?"
Lord Morton stopped on the threshold of the large sitting room when he found his mistress seated beside the window where she was admiring the embroidery cleverly crafted by his daughter. She looked up and greeted him with a dazzling smile but the smile froze on her lips when she saw his expression; he was angry and it showed. She had no right to be here, he had never wanted her here and now to arrive without warning and start talking to Madeleine as though she belonged......His Lordship was furious.
"Just talking to the child," she replied with a hesitant smile, which he did not return. She had positioned herself, deliberately he thought, so that the sunlight caught her blonde curls and made them glow. "I had no idea there were children in the house," she went on.
The little girl looked at him with a smile of pleasure.
"Hello father," she said.
Olivia arched an eyebrow, and directed a look of surprise at Lord Morton.
"Madeleine," he replied. His face lit up with a smile for the child but he made no move to approach. "What have you got there?"
Madeleine got to her feet and ran toward him, holding out a finely embroidered scene on white silk. It was the view from the ground floor balcony of his Cornish house, copied from the painting which hung in her bedchamber. He held it up to better appreciate it and his heart skipped a beat. His daughter was very accomplished. She had captured the scene perfectly with her silks; the waves crashing against the shore were so lifelike he could almost hear them, could almost smell the salt sea air. She had even cleverly copied the footprints her mother had crafted in the sand when she painted the picture. He felt a note of pride mingled with sorrow and swallowed.
"Is that the screen cover for your mother?"
"Yes. I was finishing it in the garden, beside the lake, and this lady kindly expressed an interest. She was very complimentary about it."
He turned an angry frown on Olivia, who blushed and turned quickly away, then his expression softened as he looked back at the screen cover.
"So she should be," he said. "It is beautiful. But if it is finished you had best get it packed up and ready to send. We have time for the afternoon coach."
Madeleine folded the cover carefully, taking her time so as not to damage the delicate stitching, and placed it carefully into the fabric bag she held, another accomplishment of her needle.
"Yes father," she answered. "I have written a poem for her as well."
"What about?" He asked with a frown.
"It is only about Puddle."
Madeleine looked hopefully at her father and had begun to search in her bag for the poem, when Olivia asked:
"Who or what is Puddle?"
Richard scowled at her; he did not want her on friendly terms with his daughter and he wished she would leave, but he had no wish to cause any unpleasantness in front of Madeleine.
"He is my dog," Madeleine replied breathlessly. "We called him puddle because when he was little he left puddles all over the place. Is that not right, Father?" He nodded with an indulgent smile. "Can I send it with the screen cover?"
She spoke rapidly and joined all the words together, as though she had to get them all said before she forgot what she wanted to say or before somebody stopped her.
"You had best let me read it first," he said.
Madeleine took the parchment from her bag and passed it to her father, waited patiently while he quickly cast his eyes over it, smiling at the little dogs she had attempted to paint in the corners. Animals were never easy to draw and Madeleine's talent did not run in that direction, unlike her mother who was an accomplished artist. It did not matter; Philippa would be delighted with it whatever it looked like. Finally he nodded and smiled.
"It is delightful," he said giving it back to her. "She will love it. I'll wager she will put it in a little frame and hang it on her wall." He paused and waited expectantly for a few moments. "Anything else?" He asked. "No letter?"
Madeleine reluctantly produced an unsealed letter from her bag and passed it to her father. He had always read every letter she wrote to her mother but of late he noticed that he had been obliged to ask. He thought it likely that as his daughter was growing up, she felt it an imposition for him to approve her letters, or she might have something to say that she had no wish for him to read. Whatever it was, he did not like it.
His eyes narrowed as he read her neat handwriting. It told of her life here in London, of her exploits out and about with her dog and about the small academy he had found for her to attend; all harmless news until he reached the end.
"What is this?" He asked. He held out the letter and pointed to the last line where she had written: Father misses you. He arched an eyebrow.
"Well it is true," she said stubbornly. "You do miss her. Do you think I do not notice you gazing at her portrait in my chamber?"
He would have to be more careful. Madeleine was no longer a child and her instincts were developing along with her body. She had begun to notice things and soon she would voice the questions which were in her mind. He would have to consider carefully what his answers would be. She had a right to an explanation, but she must never know the truth.
Gently, he put his arm around her shoulders and led her to the other end of the room, to the window which looked out on to the courtyard and where Olivia could not overhear. He glanced at the woman quickly to be sure she had not moved and lowered his voice as he spoke.
"You have to be very careful, before you express your own feelings, to be sure those feelings do not hurt someone else," he explained patiently. "If you tell her that I miss her, she might think there can be a reconciliation between us and that is simply never going to happen. Far better that she does not know. Do you understand?"
He told her the truth, but not the whole truth. His other reason for wanting that last line removed from the letter was because his own pride would not allow it. He never wanted her to know how much he missed her.
Madeleine nodded reluctantly.
"If you would only allow her to write back," she muttered, "you might discover that she misses you too."
He had made it a condition of allowing Madeleine to write to her mother and send gifts, that she did not write back. He was afraid of the things she might tell her and he was afraid of knowing what she was doing, who she spent her time with. She sent gifts, but nothing else.
He shook his head impatiently. He was trying very hard not to be angry but his daughter was growing up, of marriageable age according to the law, and it was only natural she wanted to know why her parents lived apart. He never wanted her to know the reason they parted or why they can never be reconciled. The truth might diminish her mother in her eyes and he did not want that.
"Madeleine, some things must be kept private and I refuse to discuss it, with you or anyone else." He squeezed her shoulder tighter and kissed the top of her head. "Now go and cut off that last line and pack the things so we can despatch them on the next coach."
"I suppose you will want to see it to be sure," she said with an obstinate pout which made him laugh.
"Do I need to?" He replied. "Or can I trust you?"
Madeleine nodded and ran from the room, clutching the bag containing the precious gifts for the mother she never saw, while he watched her go, feeling unsettled by their conversation. Once certain she was out of earshot, he turned an angry scowl on Olivia who still sat beside the window, her green velvet gown spread out around her, her blonde hair curled on top of her head, her perfume permeating the air and overpowering the scent of flowers from the various vases about the room. His eyes swept over her with distaste.
"What are you doing here, My Lady?" He demanded. "I did not invite you."
"I was riding close by and I thought to surprise you," she answered nervously. "We never spend time in your house, only in mine."
"There is a reason for that."
He could see he was making her uncomfortable, but he could not care much. She should not have come here, she had no right. He saw her attempts to dismiss his mood, but he would not help her.
"You did not tell me you had children, My Lord," she remarked. "If you had I would have understood why you did not want her to see us together."
"Madeleine is private. I talk about her to no one." Still he made no move to approach her and she began to look even less comfortable. "I did tell you I was married."
Lord Morton scrutinised his mistress, knowing that by coming to his house, by intruding into the home of his daughter, she had put an end to their relationship. He felt no particular sadness about that, only the inconvenience of having to replace her.
"You did not tell me you still had contact with your wife," Olivia said. "You gave me the impression you had no contact with her at all, that your marriage was over."
"The marriage is over. I have had nothing to do with her since I left my house in
seven years ago. Not that you need to
know that." Cornwall
She still looked uncomfortable and was trying desperately to lighten the mood, that was apparent. Lord Morton could see she was regretting her invasion of his home, but it was too late now. One aristocratic whore was easy enough to replace with another.
"Yet you allow the child to write, to send her gifts," she went on with a disapproving frown.
He did not feel the need to justify his decisions to her or anyone else, but he had the strong suspicion that if he refused to answer her questions, she would never give them up. All he wanted from her now was her absence, from his house and his life.
"She is her mother," he said at last. "She has not seen her since she was five years old, but she was a good mother, if a poor wife. Madeleine must never believe she was abandoned by her mother."
Olivia studied the scowl on his handsome face for a few minutes before she spoke again.
"You have never told me why you live apart," she went on.
"It is not your affair. I will not discuss her; it would be unfair to Madeleine."
It would also be too hard for him, too painful, although he would never admit that to anyone, especially not to this woman for whom he had little, if any respect. Olivia stared at him warily, her eyes filled with doubt.
"Was she an adulteress?" She asked at last in a sympathetic tone.
His eyes met hers but he said nothing for a few moments. He did not want to answer that question for many reasons, not least of which that he did not trust her to keep the knowledge to herself. He wanted no one to know how his wife had betrayed him, not to salve his own vanity but because one day his daughter might get to hear of it and that he never wanted.
"That is not your business, Madam," he replied at last.
Olivia got to her feet and walked quickly toward him. She stood before him and gripped his folded arms with her hands and her expression was one of compassion.
"Your refusal to condemn her speaks to your goodness," she murmured. "How awful for you, my dear."
He made no attempt to unfold his arms, to touch her. He was still angry; he wanted nothing of his life outside the house to touch Madeleine and Olivia had broken that rule, albeit a rule she had no knowledge of. He had avoided telling her where he lived, he had even told her it was private. She must have made enquiries to learn the whereabouts of his house, enquiries which would draw attention to him and to his daughter.
She had apparently decided to take his refusal to answer as an affirmative.
"If my wife is an adulteress, My Lady," he asked harshly, "then what are you?"
She released her grip and took a step back.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Are you not an adulteress as well?"
She gave a fleeting smile.
"I am a widow, My Lord," she argued. "I am no longer married."
"But I am and you know I am. That state does not prevent you from sharing my bed. I believe that makes you no better than my wife."
"Richard!" She gasped. "That is a terrible thing to say to me. What are you trying to do to our relationship?"
"We have no relationship, Madam," he answered coldly. "You have come here, uninvited, against my wishes, and intruded on my private life. You have had the audacity to introduce yourself to my daughter. I hope you were not asking her inappropriate questions about her mother."
"Of the kind you have been asking me. My wife is none of your concern, my life is none of your concern. I am sorry if that is not what you wish to hear, but I would be thankful if you would leave now and not return. I wish never to see you again."
Olivia merely stood and stared at him, her cheeks flushed and her eyes round and frightened.
"I am sorry, Richard," she murmured. "You are right; I should not have come here without your permission. It will not happen again."
"No, it will not." He still stared at her threateningly for a moment. "I will thank you to keep to yourself what you have learned this day. If you do not, you will regret it. I am quite sure there are things I know about you that you would not want the world to know."
She was silent for a little while, then she turned her back on him and went to look at the garden outside. For a
house, it had a lot of ground and the
gardens were beautiful, full of lovely flowers and shrubs. She saw a ball in the air followed by a dog
chasing after it, Madeleine chasing after him.
It was quite a big dog, long haired and a beautiful golden colour, and Olivia
imagined it would be very smelly when it got wet, as it was doing now, chasing
the ball into the lake. Madeleine
laughed and Olivia smiled at the scene.
She turned back to look at Richard but found him still in the same
place, still with his arms folded, still showing his anger. London
"Can you come for supper tonight, My Lord?" She asked. She moved toward him and let her fingers trail along his arm as she murmured seductively: "I can make it up to you."
He stood rigidly, made no attempt to respond to her advances in any way. She had been a good mistress, but he had lost all interest in her now and all he wanted was for her to remove herself from his presence.
He only stared at her coldly.
"I thought I made my position clear, My Lady. You and I are no more. I will not have my privacy invaded. Leave, please, before Madeleine returns and finds you here."
"But Richard," she said softly. "You cannot mean that. I love you."
He frowned and glared at her with a clenched jaw.
"I doubt that," he said. "But in any event, I do not love you."
"You thought wrong. Please leave."
Then he heard his daughter returning and he turned and left the room in order to forestall her.
"Come, Madeleine," he said, catching her hand as she approached. "You need to go to the kitchen and dry that dog and give him a good brush before he comes in the house."
She smiled happily, and passed him the parcel containing her gifts.
"You will take them to the coach?" She asked.
"I will." He took the parcel and released her hand. "Now go, before Puddle stinks the house out."
Once more he watched her go, feeling the affection of a proud father. Seeing her beside Olivia had unsettled him, made him realise that she was fast becoming a woman. He could see tiny buds which promised full breasts in the not too distant future and her figure was slowly forming. He needed to find a responsible female companion who could instruct her in the ways of life, not the nurse or maids she had now. She needed to know how a woman's body worked and he did not feel qualified to teach those lessons himself.
He sighed heavily, wishing with all his heart that the teacher could be her own mother. He made his way to Madeleine's bedchamber where hung the landscape in oils of the view from the back of his Cornish house, the original from which Madeleine had copied the embroidered screen cover she was sending. His wife had painted it, had sent it to decorate Madeleine's chamber shortly after they came to live in
. She was a very accomplished artist and had
even sold some of her work privately.
Richard had always been proud of her talent and he felt that glow of
pride even now as he stared at the painting. London
He recalled the letter which had accompanied it, a letter addressed to him, begging that Madeleine be allowed to hang it, to remind her of her home.
His throat ached when he recalled those words, her home.
would never be her home, not really, not when as a small child she so loved to
run along the beach, to take off her shoes and stockings and play in the waves.
He caught back a sob as his memory showed him the pair of them, Madeleine and
her mother, running back to where he stood laughing on the balcony, with their
skirts soaked and waving their shoes and stockings in the air. The wind would
catch their hair and pull it away from their flushed faces and he sharply
recalled the joy he felt at the sight; he well remembered his daughter's
disappointment to find there were no huge, crashing waves in London , no proper sand. The mud banks of the London Thames
simply would not do.
That is when he bought her the puppy, a companion to play with in the vast grounds of the
house, and what a
wonderful companion he had turned out to be.
Madeleine adored that dog and Richard had to admit that he had sneaked
his wet snout into his heart as well. He
had a sudden vision of Philippa with the dog, although they had never met, and
he knew that she too, would love him.
She loved animals, all sorts of animals.
He imagined her running through the waves with Madeleine and Puddle, how
she would laugh. He could almost see her
beautiful smile and her wave to him as they ran up the beach to the house. The memories brought tears to his eyes and he
wiped them away with his fingers. London
He missed his house, he missed walking along the beach with his daughter and his wife. He began to toy with the idea that it might be possible for Madeleine to learn those essential lessons from her mother, from the one person who should give them. But she would have to come here; he could not allow Madeleine to go there, that was something he would never consider. But would her mother leave
He had no idea but it was an idea to ponder. Cornwall
As one of the King's courtiers he had been called upon to help find a reason for him to dissolve his marriage to Queen Catherine and it occurred to Richard that he could have dissolved his marriage to Philippa without too much effort. Adultery was a crime as well as grounds for divorce, although such claims went on for years sometimes. But he had no desire to punish her or to be free of her and he would never marry again; that path led only to heartache.
Hanging on Madeleine's wall, beside the picture of the beach, was a small portrait of his wife, as she had looked the day he went off to fight the King's war. Just looking at her made him angry and he was never sure if it was because of her betrayal or because he still yearned for her, still loved her. Had he not been away for so long, it might never have happened, but the fact that it did would always haunt him.
He had a lot to think about and he was still pondering his ideas when he retired to bed for the night. He had grown used to sleeping alone, at least in this bed. None of the women he had taken to satisfy his needs had been allowed to visit his house, much less share his bed, and he was still angry with Olivia for having the effrontery to think she could come here, to the home he kept pure and sacred for his daughter.
As he had told her, Philippa was a good mother, if a poor wife. She would be the ideal person to teach Madeleine what she needed to know but although he had always tried to put his daughter first in all things, he could not bring himself to contemplate seeing his wife again. Just thinking about her made him angry and hurt, even enraged him, so heaven alone knew if he could tolerate actually living under the same roof with her. He would not trust her alone with Madeleine. He was not really sure why, perhaps because she had been unfaithful to him and he was afraid she might corrupt Madeleine's innocence with her immorality.
He had been away for a year, fighting alongside the King in his war against
, and had
secured his brother's promise to run his estate and care for his wife. Perhaps Stephen had misunderstood what he
meant when he asked him to care for his wife, perhaps he thought he meant more
than to be sure of her safety. Had he
any suspicion that Stephen could not be trusted to keep his hands off his
brother's wife, he would never have left her alone with him, much less
extracted his promise to keep her safe.
If that was his idea of keeping her safe, it certainly was not Richard's. France
All he could really remember now was his blind rage when he had returned from that war, when he had made the long journey to
by coach feeling happy and excited at the idea of seeing his wife, anticipating
the warmth of her arms, the touch of her flesh against his, only to find her
with child. Cornwall
He had ordered Madeleine's things packed, he had ordered his own things packed and he had left. Despite Philippa's attempts to talk to him, despite her pleas, he brought his little girl to
and never saw her or his brother
He shook his head in an attempt to banish the image his thoughts had dragged up from the past, where he desperately tried to keep it buried. No, he did not believe he could face her again. Seven long years had done nothing to ease his pain, nothing to dispel his fury. He thought it likely he would kill her if he met with her, as he almost killed her then, as he would have killed her had she not escaped him.
There was one thing which stopped him going after her and that was Madeleine's pale little face at the nursery window, her pale and frightened little face which looked down at him from her bedchamber on the nursery floor where she had hidden away from the unfamiliar shouting and weeping.
He still dreamed about that day, still woke in the night angry enough to kill, his fists clenched, his heart broken and he wondered why he deserved the torture of reliving the whole, horrible scene over and over again.
His manservant woke him early the following morning and he was grateful to be roused from dreams of that day, from the murderous thoughts which had followed him into sleep.
"I have an urgent message from your brother, My Lord," the servant told him.
Richard frowned angrily. It was something of a coincidence that he should be greeted with this after a night of dreaming about the man, of dreaming about him sharing his wife's bed, in her arms, sharing with her that which only her husband should share.
"What does he want?" He demanded.
"It is from the Monastery of Blackfriars," said the servant. "I regret to inform you that your brother is dying, My Lord. He is asking for you."
The idea that Stephen might be dying actually filled him with pleasure and he was unsure how to cope with that emotion. Whatever he had done, he was still his brother but Richard felt no sorrow for his anticipated passing. He would have been dead seven years ago had he not escaped into the fields surrounding the house, had he not hidden away while Richard was desperately trying to console a terrified five year old whose world had exploded into screams and sobs.
He would have killed him then and felt no sorrow, so why should he feel sorrow now. The man deserved nothing, certainly not a visit from the older brother he had betrayed.
"What is he dying from? Something painful, I hope."
The servant drew a deep breath of disapproval. He knew about the rift between the two brothers, although he knew nothing of the details, but he thought it very bad form to deny someone their dying wish, especially a brother.
"I was only told that he was stabbed and the wound was left untreated, My Lord."
Richard knew it was unlikely that his brother was stabbed in a fair fight, knowing his character as he did and he was curious, but not curious enough to want to see him. He remembered his feelings last night about his wife, how he was sure he would kill her if ever she appeared before him, and he felt no different about his brother. The fact that he was already dying and likely bedridden, made no difference. He would still want to kill him and he had no desire to drag up those emotions again, but he might have to satisfy his curiosity.
All these years Richard had assumed that Stephen was living in his house, continuing his relationship with his wife. He had not bothered to find out otherwise, just made sure neither of them received any funds from him. She was having his child so it seemed logical that they would be together once he had gone and taken Madeleine away from the corruption in the house. So what was he doing in
, living out his final days in a
monastery? Perhaps they had not been
content in their treacherous relationship, after all or perhaps he thought he
would more easily earn forgiveness for his sin in a religious establishment. London
He wondered what on earth he could possibly have to say to the man. Should he reminisce about their childhood, share fond memories of their parents, their youth? He only had one memory to share with Stephen and that was not one he ever wanted to share with anyone. Yes, he would definitely feel that murderous fury if he ever laid eyes on him again; indeed he could feel it now, just talking about him.
"I have no interest in seeing him," he said at last. "If he has anything to say to me, he can write it down."
"He is dying, My Lord," the servant persisted. "Forgive my impertinence, but will you not regret it if you ignore him, if you deny him his last wish?"
"No, Thomas," Richard replied, "I will not forgive your impertinence, any more than I will forgive my brother's betrayal."
Thomas waited a few moments to see if His Lordship would have more to say, to see if he would change his mind.
"Very well, My Lord," he replied reluctantly. "Will you come down for your breakfast?"
Richard shook his head then wondered how his brother had got this injury. The way he had taken himself off that day seven years ago, told him that he was a coward. He had bedded his brother's wife, left her with child, but did not have the courage to stay and defend her. Richard was rather pleased about that, when he had time to stop and think. At least she would know the manner of man for whom she had thrown away a good marriage.
But he was intrigued. If he knew the name of the man who had stabbed Stephen, he could seek him out and thank him.
Thomas had a hand on the door knob and was about to leave the chamber when his master stopped him with a question.
"Who stabbed him?" He asked.
Thomas stood still and turned back to look at him, hopeful that His Lordship might have changed his mind about visiting his dying brother.
"A woman, I believe, My Lord," he replied. "A serving girl from the local tavern. She is in Newgate awaiting trial. Have no fear; she will be punished."
Richard was even more intrigued by this information. He could think of few reasons why a woman would stab a man she did not know, especially a nobleman. Either she was trying to rob him and a struggle ensued, or he did something to her to which she objected. Or perhaps she did know him; perhaps he had been living with her and there was an argument. It seemed unlikely; Stephen was always conscious of his elevated position in life, but then he had not seen him for eight years and he had no idea how he had been living. Richard cut off all financial assistance when he discovered his betrayal, so there was no telling what he had come to. Suddenly, from not caring either way, he felt he had to know.
"Do we know why she stabbed him?"
Thomas shook his head but continued to look at his master, until he was dismissed by a nod of His Lordship's head. Of course nobody knew why the woman had stabbed his brother; nobody would have bothered to ask. He was a viscount, she a mere serving girl and one from a tavern at that. Nobody would care why she stabbed him, only that he was dying and someone had to pay.
Richard thought the most likely explanation was that the woman was a pickpocket, that Stephen had tried to hold on to his purse and had been stabbed in the struggle. But something was telling him he needed to learn more, if only for his own peace of mind.
The door opened and Thomas returned, carrying bread and ale.
"I will go," Richard said reluctantly, "see what he has to say."
The monk he followed through the dark and cold stone corridors of the monastery was ancient. He seemed to Richard to be almost as old as the building itself and he had difficulty in walking. Richard was anxious to get this over with and wanted to hurry the man, but he knew it would do no good. He was obviously incapable of walking any faster.
At last he stopped before an arch shaped door and turned to look at Richard.
"Your brother is in here, My Lord," the monk said in a very quiet voice, as though afraid of waking the occupant, or waking the ghosts of this dismal place. "He is very weak. I think it unlikely he will be with us much longer."
Richard was growing impatient and wanted to shake the man or push him out of the way so he could get this done. The knowledge that he was about to face the one man in the world he wanted to murder did nothing to calm his mood.
"Then you had best hurry, brother," he said. "There is little time to stand and gossip."
The monk drew himself up as much as possible in his crooked body and pushed open the door. Inside was a narrow bed beside a small table, a barred window and a crucifix on the wall above the head of the man who lie sleeping. Richard stepped inside and turned to be sure the monk had left them. He wanted no witnesses, just in case he felt an irresistible urge to hold the pillow over his brother's face.
He leaned over and looked at him. He had not changed much, still had the same unlined face, still the same trimmed beard although there was a little grey at his temples. He had lost a lot of weight, and Richard knew he had not been well off during these years as he had refused to subsidise his limited income.
He could only stare at him, hoping he would die there and then and he would be spared the need to talk to him. He was toying with the idea of turning round and going home when Stephen's eyes opened slowly and he gave a small smile of satisfaction.
"You came," he murmured.
"Obviously," Richard said.
"Richard, thank you so much for coming," Stephen said. He struggled in vain to sit up but his brother made no attempt to assist him.
"What do you want?" Richard demanded.
"Did they tell you I am dying?" Stephen spoke in a self pitying tone, as though expecting sympathy and affection from his only brother. He would be disappointed. All Richard felt was a need to hurry him along, to tell him to die now if he was going to and leave him to continue with the lonely life to which he had condemned him with his treachery.
He waited for a reply, but when none was forthcoming he went on in a painful whisper.
"I do not want to leave this life estranged from my only brother," Stephen explained. "I need your forgiveness."
"That you will never have," Richard answered icily.
He took a step back, away from the bed. Much as he tried to fight it, his memory was full of that day, of how this man had made him feel, and he wanted to take his throat between his strong hands and squeeze out what little life was left. He was not sure he could control himself if he had to stay in this room much longer. His fists clenched and his jaw shuddered as he ground his teeth together, wanting to lash out with those fists to relieve his anger. Even after seven years he felt almost as angry today as he had then.
"Please, Richard," Stephen begged. "Take my hand. I do not have long and if you forgive me, my time in purgatory will be shortened."
Richard did not want his time in purgatory shortened; if he had the power, he would lengthen it.
"You do not want me to come closer, Stephen, believe me. That would not be a good idea at all."
"What can I do to make it up to you? I am so very sorry."
"If that were true, you would have sought forgiveness years ago, not waited until now when you are afraid of what lies beyond. Just as then, you are a coward; I disowned you as my brother then and I see no reason to change my mind now." He paused thoughtfully for a few minutes, wondering again about the woman awaiting trial in Newgate. "Why did this woman stab you?"
"She had no reason. I only wanted to touch her; she should have complied."
Richard stared at him, stunned into silence, wondering if there could be another interpretation of his brother's words than the one he was hearing.
"You wanted to touch her?" He demanded. "And she was unwilling?"
"No. She said she was, but we all know what that means."
"I know what it means, yes, but apparently you do not."
"They all say that to fire our passions. They do not mean it and when I did as she obviously wanted, she drew out a knife and stabbed me with it. Bitch!"
Lord Morton stared at his brother for a few moments, trying to gather his thoughts together. A voice in the back of his mind was crying out, desperately trying to be heard: He forced me, Richard! Please believe me! He would not listen; he was too angry, his only wish was to get as far away from her as possible, to take Madeleine, protect her from the corruption in the house. He thought he knew his brother well, thought he knew that Philippa had to be lying, that Stephen would never take a woman by force. And there was another voice, the voice of his old nurse who had raised him from birth. He had forgotten she was there, that she had pleaded too. Wait, Richard! Tell me what has happened! She had called to him as he strode away from the nursery, carrying Madeleine in his arms.
He began to shake his head, unbelievingly, trying to tell himself he had not been wrong; he could not have been wrong. Now his anger was growing again and he took another step away from the bed, using all his willpower to summon the courage to ask the question.
"Did my wife also tell you she was unwilling?"
Whatever the answer would be, he was very much afraid of it. Either reply would bring his world crashing about his ears, collapsing just as it had seven years ago.
Stephen drew a deep breath, a shuddering breath which was obviously painful, and at last looked ashamed.
"I thought she was teasing, like all the others. Richard, I saw the way she was with you. It was obvious she enjoyed being touched, so why should she refuse me?" His voice began to fade and he closed his eyes for a moment. He reached out a hand to the water jug on the stand beside him. "Can you pass me some water, please?"
Richard made no move to help him, only stared in disbelief at this man who he had loved, who he had played with as a child, who he had grown to manhood beside.
"You asked me to look after her," Stephen said.
"I did not ask you to take my place in her bed!" Richard shouted. "What sort of depraved monster are you?"
"It was only once, Richard," Stephen replied. "That is all, just once. She locked me out of her chamber after that, so I realised that perhaps I had a made a mistake."
He could only stare at him, not sure whether he trusted himself to speak. He felt that if he tried to voice a single word he would burst into tears and he never wanted to break down before this man. At last he drew a deep breath and swallowed hard.
"After the row, when you had gone, I went home and
threw me out. Can you believe it? Of all people to turn against me, our nurse
who was like a mother to us. She would
not listen, said if I did not leave she would kill me herself." Alice
Richard looked at him with disdain; he heard nothing of regret, no thought for Philippa, for Madeleine, for his brother - all he heard was self-pity.
"Were you ever going to tell me this? Why did you not write, tell me the truth?"
"I was afraid of what you would think of me."
"What I would think of you? What about what I thought of her? Did it never occur to you the damage you did? You destroyed my marriage, you have stolen seven years of my life, of Philippa's life, you have caused Madeleine to grow up without a mother. Am I hearing this right?"
"You were angry, I could see that the night you left. I was afraid; I thought you would kill me so I rode away."
Richard felt his knees growing weak and he desperately wanted to sink down on the bed, but he would not trust himself that close to his brother. He wanted to kill him even more now. He had believed his wife was still living with him, still being unfaithful to him. He had imagined the three of them, her, Stephen and their bastard child, living happily together in his house, and now he was telling him it was only the once and she had locked him out. What had she suffered these seven years, alone, unable to make him believe the truth.
He recalled one of her early letters, the one that came first though some weeks after he had left. She explained then what had happened, but he did not believe it. He had read it once then tossed it into the fire in contempt. How dare she accuse his brother of rape? He thought. But she was telling the truth and he stole all these years from her and from Madeleine, he had deprived both his wife and himself of the love they had treasured since the day they wed. He felt sick.
"Richard," Stephen was whispering reaching out his hand, which his brother ignored. "You will forgive me?"
"For ruining my life and the life of the woman I love? Do you have any idea what I did to her while you were galloping away to safety? Do you care? No, I will not forgive you. I hope you burn in hell for all eternity."
"Richard, please, it was nothing. You did not have to make such a big thing out of it. I told her not to tell you; it was foolish of her."
Again he was stunned. Stephen did not even know that his depravity had born fruit. Oh, God! What a mess his life had become.
"You are not even sorry, are you?" Richard demanded. "You are only sorry you might go to hell for your crimes. You have no regrets for what you did, only that you got caught."
"Richard, I am sorry, I swear..."
"This woman who stabbed you, did you bother to learn her name?"
Stephen turned his head to look at his brother hopefully and there was a little smile on his lips.
"You are going to the prison to take revenge?" He said hopefully.
"I am going to the prison to free her and give her my heartfelt thanks."
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