The Lady and the Lawyer
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by Melissa McCann
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: When Caroline Hedley, an unpaid spinster governess for her cousin's children, is asked to pay a visit to her aunt Hepsibah, she is inclined to refuse of bad blood between her family and her aunt. There is something decidedly smoky going on at Puck Hall, however, so Caro agrees to go to Puck Hall. There she finds Aunt Sibby is dying. The old woman has put her trust in a steward and a housekeeper who seem more anxious for her death than they should be. Indeed, if Caro were a suspicious sort of person, she might think of poison. Bewildered by the plots and schemes of the servants, and horrified to learn the extent of her aunt's wickedness, Caro is in danger of losing her own soul. Will she fall in with their plan to kill the old woman, or can she save herself with the help of the good people of High Fielding and a handsome barrister with a penchant for rescuing lost and unwanted creatures?
eBook Publisher: Awe-Struck E-Books, 2004
eBookwise Release Date: June 2004
18 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [245 KB]
Reading time: 166-233 min.
"...like opening a door in an unfamiliar house and not being sure what is going to be behind it. You hold your breath in anticipation! Good read, full of all the elements that make up a chilling mystery. Love, betrayal, hatred, greed, murder and goodness. Just which one will prevail?"--Shirley Johnson, MidWest Book Review
Mr. Cumberland furrowed his brows. "What brings you here, Miss Hedley?"
Unhappy memory made Caro stiffen. Cricket or Lizard raised her head and complained in a peevish chirrup. "Mr. Stapleton and Mrs. Follick have decided to move Aunt Sibby to the hospital in Podlitton. I am sure it is the worst thing for her. She was finally beginning to show some improvement last night, but Mrs. Follick keeps dosing her with laudanum against my orders. I have sent a letter to my cousin, but I do not know when it will reach him, or when he might come. I hoped you had found something that would make them obey me."
Mr. Cumberland stroked the rabbit who rolled onto its side for a belly rub. The broken leg stuck out at an odd angle. The lawyer nodded. "I tried to get hold of your cousin to confirm your position as his proxy, but he had gone into the north. I left a message with the family solicitors to contact him and inform him of the situation as soon as they possibly could. And I got them to write a letter to Stapleton advising him to cooperate with the family and to regard you as the duly appointed spokeswoman for the heirs. Mrs. Pucker's solicitors promised to send a similar letter, but they refused to oblige me on the spot."
"But they were getting Mrs. Pucker ready to go as I was leaving the house. We must stop them at once, or it will be too late."
He sat up. "What, do you mean they are moving her this minute? And you came on foot to find me? Miss Hedley, why did you not send someone on horseback?" He leaped up, offending the rabbit in the process, and set his tea cup on the table.
"They wouldn't let me send messages. The grooms said I could not even have the donkey to ride to the village lest I steal it."
Cumberland clenched his fists. "The villains."
"It wasn't their fault. Mr. Stapleton threatened to put them out of their places if they helped me."
The lawyer's intelligent eyes darkened. "That is no excuse. None at all. Make yourself at ease, Miss Hedley. I will put Champion to the curricle, and we'll catch them before they spirit Mrs. Pucker away."
She stroked the cat and waited for him to return. The Puckers did not keep animals in the house with the exception of Cousin Nora's bad-tempered pug that made both Joshua and Sophy wheeze. Caro would have liked to have a little cat to be company for her in her attic room, but Nora would not hear of it, and even good-natured Robert disapproved of animals in the house. He tolerated the pug, but cats, he said, belonged in the stable keeping mice out of the grain. Mr. Cumberland probably had a dozen respectable tabbies to look after his stables for him. Caro smiled at the thought.
Riding along in the curricle behind Champion's knobby haunches, Caro began to be anxious again. There was no telling what the staff had gotten up to since she had been gone. Mrs. Pucker might already have been spirited away to die in a dank hospital somewhere.
Caro had calculated without the lethargy of the stable staff. Mrs. Pucker's big, black coach was just pulling up to the front door when Mr. Cumberland's shabby equipage stopped.
Caro slithered down from her high seat and hurried to the door. As she reached it, Mrs. Follick came out. Behind her, two footmen carried on their shoulders a Bath chair in which Mrs. Pucker sat grey of face and bundled in blankets. The old woman caught sight of Caro, and her mouth opened. She made raw, animal bleats and clutched at the air with her free hand.
Caro said, "Stop. Put her down at once."
The footmen hesitated.
Mrs. Follick sighed. "I should think you would be happy to see Mrs. Pucker getting the care she requires under Doctor Barrymore."
Mr. Cumberland left Champion standing and came to Caro's side with Mrs. Bagby's package under his arm. "Mrs. Follick, I have here a letter from the Pucker family solicitors directing you to follow Miss Hedley's wishes explicitly."
Caro could have recited Mrs. Follick's reply along with her. "You'll have to speak to Mr. Stapleton about that."
"I intend to, Mrs. Follick, but I think I will wait until I see Mrs. Pucker carried back inside the house. Not that the fresh air needn't be good for her, but I'm sure we will feel more secure when she is indoors."
Mrs. Follick drew her dark brows together across her nose. "I will send for Mr. Stapleton to join us here." She went inside.
The footmen set the chair on the stairs, and Caro went to her aunt's side. She patted the hand on the blankets. "Don't worry, Aunt Sibby. Mr. Cumberland has managed everything. You will stay here at Puck Hall, and I will nurse you until you are well."