The Return of Lord Rivenhall
Click on image to enlarge.
by Fenella Miller
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Amelia Rivenhall is delighted when Richard arrives to claim the title left vacant by the death of her father eighteen months previously. Then William Rivenhall arrives, claiming that Richard is an impostor and that he is the real Lord Rivenhall. Amelia discovers that when a huge inheritance is at stake, impostors and rogues will try anything to claim the money. Regency Romance novella by Fenella Miller; originally published by DC Thomson (England)
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: January 2007
19 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [125 KB]
Reading time: 79-110 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
Lady Rivenhall sighed as she spoke to her daughter. 'How long do you intend to stand at the window, Amelia? The rain will not stop because you stare at it.'
"I am not staring at the rain, Mama; I am certain that I saw a carriage approaching. It is hidden now behind the stand of trees.'
"Nonsense, my dear; who could possibly be calling so early and without an invitation?'
Amelia finally turned; her green eyes alight with excitement. 'Exactly, Mama. Who indeed?'
Her mother joined her at the drawing-room window that overlooked the sweeping drive. To Lady Rivenhall's astonishment, and Amelia's delight, a smart carriage bowled into sight. The face, of the many caped driver handling the ribbons, was muffled from their sight.
They both stepped smartly back from their vantage point, unwilling to be caught in such a vulgar act as peering from a window.
"It is, no doubt, a mistake. The visitor has lost his way and has driven to our door to ask for directions.'
"Whatever the reason, Mama, it will at least break the monotony. It must be six months since we had a caller of any sort.'
The Dowager Lady Rivenhall re-seated herself upon the sofa, nearest to the meagre fire, and smoothed down her green velvet skirts. 'I know it has been hard, my love, but your poor father's sudden death, last year, has left things so undecided. Until matters are clear it is better that we remain closeted here, and receive no visitors.'
"But it has been over a year now, Mama; how much longer will it be before the lawyers can find a male relative to take charge of the estate and release to us the funds to which we are entitled.'
"I do not know. It is a great pity your Papa did not stay in contact with his younger brother, your Uncle Edward. Heaven knows where he is now, or if he even lives. His profligate lifestyle, which caused the rift in the first place, may well have caused his death.'
Amelia almost stamped her foot with frustration. 'It is so unfair that we should be in this sorry state, unable to pay our bills, or the few staff we still have, when there is so much money sitting in the bank. It was typical of Papa not have the foresight to organise his affairs before killing himself.'
Lady Rivenhall was shocked. 'Please do not speak so, Amelia. Your father did not kill himself; he died in a riding accident, as you well know. How was he to anticipate that he would meet his maker at only two and fifty?'
Amelia was immediately contrite. 'I am sorry, Mama. It is just so frustrating, waiting for news.' But the news they were waiting for, at that moment, was the identity of the mystery visitor.
There was a discreet tap on the door and Foster, their antiquated butler, stepped in; his expression for once, almost animated. 'There is a gentleman below, My lady, desirous of speaking with you. I have taken the liberty of placing him in the library.'
Amelia jumped to her feet. 'I will come at once, Foster.'
"You cannot attend on your own, Amelia, it would not be seemly. You must have Martha with you.'
"Oh, very well, Mama.' She turned to Foster. 'Please ask Martha to come here immediately.' A
few minutes later Martha, her mother's abigail, joined them in the drawing-room. 'We have a visitor, Martha, and you are to accompany me to the library.' Amelia told the middle-aged woman, waiting for instructions. 'I will return here as soon as I have any information for you, Mama.'
Amelia, closely followed by Martha, hurried downstairs, eager to discover the identity of the stranger. Foster was waiting downstairs to announce her. The library, the only other room where a fire was still lit every day, was at least warmer than the cavernous, marble tiled, entrance hall.
The butler opened the door and announced her. 'Miss Rivenhall.'
The tall, dark haired man turned from his thoughtful contemplation of the fire. He bowed low. 'Good morning, Miss Rivenhall. Thank you for receiving me. I have brought some information from your lawyers, Metcalf and Metcalf. Perhaps you could oblige me with somewhere to change whilst you read them, for as you can see, I am somewhat damp.'
Amelia realized that he was, in fact, standing in an ever-growing pool of water. 'Good heavens, of course you are. I shall have you taken upstairs immediately. Martha, could you ring for Mrs Higgs?' The housekeeper, Mrs Higgs, bustled in, all anxious enquiry. 'Good,' Amelia said, hiding a smile. The woman must have been waiting almost outside the door, in order to have arrived so quickly. She was not the only one enjoying the unexpected break from tedium. 'Could you show this gentleman to the Blue room? And please find him something suitable to wear whilst his own garments are being restored.'
The gentleman in question exuded good taste, and full pockets, from the cut of his dark blue, superfine topcoat to the superb fit of his buff inexpressibles, and once shiny black Hessians. He bowed again. 'Thank you, Miss Rivenhall, but that will not be necessary. My man, Peters, will bring up my boxes as soon as he has seen to the horses.'
Although rather surprised by this presumption Amelia returned his bow politely, with a nod of her head. 'Mrs Higgs, please direct Peters to the blue room, when he appears.'
"Very well, Miss Amelia. Come this way, sir, if you please.'
The man picked up the package of papers that he had placed on the mantle shelf, and offered them to Amelia. 'I am sure that these, Miss Rivenhall, will explain my unexpected arrival here.' Automatically she reached out and took the proffered documents. 'I shall rejoin you soon. Then we must talk.' At this, the man strode after the departing housekeeper.
Amelia, her hand shaking, already suspected what she would find amongst the legal papers she had been given. Inside she found several certificates and a letter from the family lawyers, Metcalf and Metcalf.
The first document she looked at was a record of the marriage between, Edward Rivenhall and a Miss Mary Marshal. The second, a birth certificate for Richard Edward Rivenhall; from the date she realized it made him almost eight and twenty. The third, and final, document was the death certificate for Edward, dated scarcely three years after his marriage.
Amelia barely glanced at the letter of introduction from the lawyers. At last their worries were over. There would be money to pay the bills and life could return to normal. The privations of the past eighteen months, which had so damaged her mother's delicate health, would soon be forgotten.
She gathered up the papers and rang the bell. Almost immediately the door opened, and Foster appeared, bristling with curiosity.
"Foster, please take these documents up to Lady Rivenhall.' She paused, enjoying for once, the opportunity to have more information than the butler. 'Lord Rivenhall will be rejoining me here. I would like luncheon served at noon, in the small dining-room. Tell Cook that we would like soup, cold cuts, and the remainder of the game pie. Thank you, Foster, that will be all.' She turned to Martha beaming beside her. 'This is wonderful news, is it not, Martha. You had better go to Lady Rivenhall for she will wish to come down to meet her nephew.'
The butler retreated clutching the papers and Amelia knew he would know their contents before her mother. His officious manner was a constant irritation to her, but his loyalty to the family could not be questioned. Martha, still smiling hurried after him.
The sound of footsteps approaching heralded the imminent arrival of her new relative. Quickly Amelia sat down, not wishing to appear too eager. The door swung open and her glance was drawn to the man who appeared to fill the entrance. For a second their eyes locked, and something, she did not understand passed between them.
He smiled and immediately looked less intimidating. His teeth gleamed white in his darkly tanned face. Remembering her manners, Amelia gestured to the large leather Chesterfield opposite her position by the fire.
"Please be seated, my Lord. We obviously have a lot to discuss.'
The fact that this time they were alone, unchaperoned, appeared to have escaped the attention of both them. Richard Rivenhall flicked aside the tail of his coat and sat down, relaxing instantly against the sofa, his long booted legs crossed casually at the ankles.
"Miss Rivenhall, you have obviously read my papers and must know that I am your cousin, Richard.' His voice was deep and attractive, his expression sincere.
"I did not know I had a Cousin Richard until now.'
"I realise all this must be a shock, but I hope it is a welcome one. Mr Metcalf explained how intolerable things have been for you. And I can only apologize for my tardy arrival.'
"We have managed, but I must admit that I am delighted you have come at last. My mother is not well and the worry has made her worse.'
"It is to be hoped that her health will improve when the rooms are warmer and the pantry full.'
Amelia smiled. 'Indeed, I hope so. But now I am curious to know why it has taken you so long to get here. Where have you been all this time?'
"I was fighting in the Peninsula when your father died and had no reason to read obituaries. My mother had never told me that I could be heir to a title and a large estate.'
"I see, but, my lord...'
He interrupted her. 'Do you think we could dispense with formality and use our given names? After all we are cousins, are we not?'
This unexpected request caused Amelia to blush. Surely it was too soon for such intimacies? 'I am not sure it would be correct, my lord. We have only just met.'
"I intend to address you as Amelia; you must, of course, please yourself.' This statement was accompanied by a charming smile.
"Oh, very well then, I suppose I must call you Cousin Richard,' she replied a trifle ungraciously. Then she smiled, feeling her reply had been rather churlish, and her face was transformed.
Up to that moment Richard had not realized quite how lovely his young cousin was. It was going to make his task so much easier.
"Now, let me continue. On my father's death my mother had sufficient funds of her own, to keep both of us. She reverted to her maiden name, and I grew up using the name of Marshal, and did not even know I was a Rivenhall.' He paused, his expression sad. 'My mother died when I was twelve and there was just enough money left to purchase me a set of colours, and so I joined the Army.'
"So young? You were still a child.'
"Not for long; the army is a place where you grow up fast, if you are to survive.'
Amelia could imagine how difficult it must have been for a young boy, recently orphaned, to make his way in the army. 'Please go on, Cousin Richard. Did you make good progress in your career?'
He nodded. 'Yes, moderate; when I resigned my commission last month I had reached the rank of major.'
Amelia was not surprised. She had sensed immediately that her cousin was a man used to command. 'I am impressed. But how did you finally discover you were the heir to Rivenhall?'
"Quite by chance; after Waterloo I returned to London and visited Blake and Sons, my mother's lawyers. I had been sending them my prize money, over the years, and they have been investing it for me. I needed to know how my affairs stood. I did not know, however that they had been holding that pack of documents in safe keeping. My mother had left instructions for them to be given to me when I reached my majority. They had no idea of their contents. Because I had not been to see them since my mother's death they had remained unopened.'
He leant forward; his dark eyes glittered in the firelight. 'I was astounded when I learnt that I was now a lord, and not only heir to vast estates but guardian to a cousin and responsible for an aunt. Naturally I came down here immediately. And I can only apologize again, for the unforgivable distress my absence has caused to yourself and Lady Rivenhall.'
The intensity of his gaze made Amelia uncomfortable. She rose, her butter yellow muslin swirling around her slippers, in her agitation. 'Thank you for being so frank. I must go and speak to my mother; tell her all you have told me. Luncheon will be served at noon, in the small dining-room. Will you be joining us?'
He nodded, already on his feet. 'Of course; I have sent for the Estate manager however and shall be fully occupied until then.'
Amelia couldn't help thinking that the new Lord Rivenhall was taking over the estate rather more quickly than one might have expected. Outside Foster waited to speak with her. 'Yes, Foster?'
"Miss Rivenhall, Lady Rivenhall has asked me to tell you that she wishes to see you.'
"Thank you, Foster, I am on my way up. Lord Rivenhall is expecting Masters; show him into the study when he arrives.' Amelia walked briskly across the hall shivering and she did so. She stopped. 'Foster, could you have fires lit in here, and the dining-room?'
"Yes, Miss Rivenhall, I will have it seen to at once.'
Lady Rivenhall was waiting, desperate to discuss their good fortune. 'Come in, my dear. This is so exciting, is it not? After so long we will finally have things as they should be. What manner of man is he? Did you like him? Sit down and tell me everything.'
Amelia sat beside her mother. 'He is a tall, dark haired, dark complexioned, man; not exactly handsome, for his features are too irregular for that. He has, of course, the Rivenhall eyes. He has a commanding presence and is certainly a man used to taking charge.'
"But did you like him, Millie? It is so important that we all get on; for he is now the head of the family after all.'
"It is too soon to be sure, Mama. But, yes I think I do. He is charming and polite and his manners are easy. He is obviously a man of intelligence as well. He told me that he was a major, and he fought at Waterloo. Do you think he was a hero? I shall have to find out; for sure he will not tell us himself.'
Amelia collected the documents scattered across the side table. The introductory letter from the lawyers caught her attention. 'Good grief! This letter bears yesterday's date.'
Her mother looked up, puzzled. 'Does it, I had not noticed?'
"If it is dated yesterday, he must have driven through the night in order to arrive, as he did, this morning.'
Lady Rivenhall began to look uncertain. 'Perhaps he was very eager to take over his inheritance, Millie?'
"But why? After all we have been waiting for more than eighteen months; why should a few more hours matter?'
"I am sure I do not know, Amelia. And please do stop pacing around the room; you are making my head spin.'
Amelia paused in front of the window. The rain had stopped, at last. 'Luncheon will be at noon; you shall meet your nephew then. But now I am going for a ride, Mama. It will clear my head. There has been too much to think about this morning.'
"Very well, my love. But please take care; you know how I worry when you ride that huge horse of yours.'
"Sultan is a perfect gentleman and in spite of his size he would never dream of running off with me.' Amelia dropped a kiss on her mother's faded brown hair and headed upstairs to change into her habit. Maybe a good gallop across the park would clear her head, but would it remove the doubts she now had about Cousin Richard's story?