15 September 1801
“LAUD’S HEIR RETURNS FROM GRAND TOUR. In search of wife, says reputable source.”
Della’s brother threw down the latest copy of The Teatime Tattler and snickered. “Poor sod’s too young for a leg-shackle. Doubtless Lady Laud’s pressing for grandchildren. Mothers!”
Their father lifted an eyebrow. “If your mother were still alive, you’d be wed by now, Thomas. I suppose I’ve been negligent on that front. You’re what, thirty now? Ought to be settled down.”
Thomas’s fork clattered when it hit his plate. “And who would I marry? Some farm girl like Della here? If I were a banker’s son I could look higher.”
Della winced and her father’s face turned red. “THOMAS! Apologize to your sister this instant!”
“Sorry,” he mumbled. But Della could tell he wasn’t sincere, even before he added, “But dammit, she should be wed by now too. But what choices does she have, as a cattle breeder’s daughter? We should all be better off if we sold out and went into banking.”
Thomas Sr. pounded the table hard enough to rattle his plate. “ENOUGH!”
Both of his children stiffened and stared at him incredulously. Their father rarely lost his temper, and never at the breakfast table. But there had been more than a few arguments recently, Della mused.
“This farm has provided you an easy life, Thomas. You’ve been handed everything you need and want, even a chance for a superior education at Cambridge, which you squandered by neglecting your studies in favor of—er—” he swallowed as he glanced at Della “studies of a different sort.”
Della snorted and promptly looked down at her lap when her father gave her a stern look. Well really. She was twenty years old, the same age as Thomas when he returned home from Cambridge in disgrace. Did they really believe she hadn’t heard all the stories about his misdeeds there? Rumors had been rife at the time, and although she might not have understand exactly what they meant at the age of ten, she had since apprehended them more clearly.
“I’m inclined to believe that this self-indulgent lifestyle you’ve embarked on can be attributed to the influence of the useless young lords with whom you caroused first at Eton and then at Cambridge.” He shook his head. “Your mother would be ashamed, Thomas.”
His son had the decency to drop his chin.
And well he should, thought Della. He’d had the good fortune to have had a mother, at least. She’d never had that opportunity, her mother having died at Della’s birth.
Their father pushed back his chair and rose from table. “Thomas, your jaunts to London and York and all points in between are now cancelled. Henceforth, you will spend your time at Humberstone Farm, employed in furthering the interests of our sheep and cattle.”
Folding his arms in front him, he glared at his son. “In case you’ve forgotten all you’ve been taught over the years, I’ll put the lad in charge to refresh your memory.”
With that, he marched out of the room.
Della giggled. The image of Thomas being bear-led around the farm by the much-younger estate manager seemed dubious at best.
He slapped the table. “It’s not funny! I don’t care a jot about sheep and cattle, and you all know it! Besides, I have a shooting party next week. It’s almost the end of the grouse season.”
Della’s hands curled up. “You should care. This farm will be yours someday! It’s in your own best interests to ensure its prosperity.”
Thomas’s lips curled. “It’s been losing money for years. By the time it comes down to me, it’ll be worth a pittance. Best to sell out now and put the capital where it can do some good.”
Tilting his head, he studied her with a gleam in his eye.
“If I’m not mistaken, you are out there with the cattle everyday. And Kit too. Now there’s a match for you—the rustic farm girl and the penniless estate manager.”
Della tossed the remainder of her sausage at him. “You are horrid, Thomas.”
“And you’re a twit,” he threw back as he exited the room.
Della heaved a sigh. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Kit. He’d been one of her best friends forever. But as for marriage, she had something else in mind.
Reaching for the Teatime Tattler, she smoothed her fingers over the headline. Toby was looking for a wife, was he? Well, she intended that he look no further than the neighboring estate.
This story will be part of a 2024 Christmas anthology for the Maumee Valley Romance Authors, Inc. (Susana’s local writers’ group). We’ll keep you posted on our Book Lovers Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/251624704125214.
Susana Ellis loves reading, writing, and sewing, but deadlines not so much. Besides being a part-time caregiver for her elderly mother, she enjoys her retirement and her kind and considerate author friends, particularly the Bluestocking Belles and the Maumee Valley Romance Authors!