The arrival of another country heiress in the Metropolis is hardly cause for excitement, at least in our considered opinion, for they are two a penny, if you will pardon the pun. That these all-too-often underbred innocents are beset by suitors will amaze no one, for there are at least as many gentlemen with fortunes needing to be mended, and they are none of them nice in their requirements. Let her be well endowed in the stocks, and her other charms—or lack thereof—need not signify.
The particular country heiress who has excited the latest rage, a Miss Lenora Breckinridge, while possessing somewhat more by way of refinement than her contemporaries, appears quite as susceptible to flattering attentions, and may require a hint. She has made no secret of her admiration for a certain gentleman, and is forever being seen with him, at Society parties and driving about town, and has raised both eyebrows and concerns. One can only wonder at her parents for neglecting to advise her in this matter, for they surely must be privy to the rumors which blaze through the town regarding her beau, and if she cares not to safeguard her fortune, her father at least should.
For the man whom our young lady has singled out is none other than the mysterious Lord Helden, whom we do not scruple to style a fortune hunter—though this may be the least of his sins. It is commonly known that his estate is ruined, its bounties wasted by his predecessor for reasons too sordid even for our pen, and he can offer not even a sound roof over the head of his future bride.
But even more shocking, if rumors are to be believed, his lordship may prove to be nothing more than an imposter. The thought makes one stare! However, upon reflection, one will acknowledge that for the lost heir to a viscountcy to suddenly reappear just as an heiress has made no secret of her admiration for his estate, is a fact that must bear more scrutiny than Miss Breckinridge, or her parents, appear to deem necessary.
The near impossibility that anyone but his lordship could prove himself to be Lord Helden, we cannot but allow; however, creditable sources have confirmed that the man claiming to be Lord Helden has been, for the past six months, performing the duties of caretaker to the Helden estate; moreover, he did not show himself to Society in his present guise until after Miss Breckinridge came upon the scene. If this does not arouse suspicion, we know not what could, and we call upon those in positions of responsibility to more seriously consider the matter.
One shudders to reflect upon the depravity of a man who will stop at nothing, be it the entrapment of an innocent maiden or the heinous sin of impersonating a nobleman, to gain a fortune. While such cannot be proven against the man in question at this time, this observer holds it as the duty of all loyal citizens to be vigilant against the mere possibility of evil. At the very least, if neither Miss Breckinridge nor her parents choose to alter her course, and she bestows her hand and fortune upon this Lord Helden, they only will be to blame when his true character is unfolded, as it must certainly be, in their married life. We have done our poor best to undeceive her, and can only hope that our friendly hint will be heeded before it is too late.
–a Disinterested Observer
About the Book
The ruined manor promised her romance, but its master was maddeningly elusive.
Prey to Gothic sensibilities, Miss Lenora Breckinridge is smitten with the air of tragedy and romance surrounding an abandoned mansion. Convinced that she is fated to become its mistress, she sets out to find the master, secure in the belief that he will fall madly in love with her and they will use her fortune to restore the manor together.
Mr. James Ingles is disillusioned by the short hand fate has continually dealt him, but goes to be caretaker to the ruined mansion in a last effort to seek his fortune. When he discovers Miss Breckinridge’s fascination with the ruin, however, he recognizes an opportunity to get the better of fate, if only he can play his cards right.
Would Mr. Ingles have done something so rash and dangerous as attempt to impersonate a nobleman? Lenora could imagine that the situation was indeed a tempting one, and the family bible might have given him all that was necessary to prove his claim. It may have contained histories, besides the names, with birthdates and places that would come in useful.
But she could not credit it. Mr. Ingles was not that kind of man—she knew that without a doubt. And the Lord Helden she had danced with was a perfect gentleman. How could a rough, coarse, uncouth man suddenly become well-versed in etiquette and possessed of refinement, unless he had been raised and educated so? His years in the army could very well have driven him to hide his finer virtues, and had he not—though briefly and under the influence of spirits—claimed himself a gentleman, at their first meeting?
That Dowbridge had so quickly believed the worst was worrisome, however, and the more she reflected, the more anxious she became. How many others would do as he had done, and would their suspicion be without foundation? Was it possible that Mr. Ingles was a consummate criminal, so conniving that he could touch her heart, even as he played the drunken fool?
Distressed, she took refuge in her room, sinking down into the chair by her fire and gazing unseeing into the flames, her hands wringing in her lap. She was discovered in this attitude some time later by Tess, who instantly strove to discover what ailed her mistress.
Lenora brushed her away impatiently. “Tess! I was merely thinking, for I have a thorny problem, and I am at my wits’ end to know what to do about it. Mr. Ingles is in London professing to be Lord Helden, and I do not know if it is true, or if he will be taken up by the magistrate and transported.”
“Good Lord, miss, I never!” responded Tess, correctly interpreting this cryptic utterance. “To think that such a hairy man could be Lord Helden!”
Lenora shook her head. “And yet he is Lord Helden. At least, I must believe so, for though he has been so rough and rude, and was a drunkard, and a common soldier, and—and so very hairy—I do not believe that he would do so dangerous a thing as to impersonate a nobleman! It defies reason.”
“That it do, miss, and I wonder that he’d have the pluck to try it! He’d have to be bold as brass! But if he fancies himself a gentleman, there’ll be no stopping him, for he’ll be living too high to wish to leave off.”
“You are right, Tess! He will soon be ruined!” responded Lenora, startled. “Who knows how he came by the money to rig himself out in fine clothes and set himself up as a gentleman in town, for even if he is Lord Helden, it cannot last for long, and when he comes to the end of it, he may be driven to desperation to keep up his appearance! He may turn to gaming, or to thievery—or worse!”
As neither young lady liked to think what could be worse than thievery, they did not attempt to envision such vice, but bent their minds to discover a way to save the unfortunate gentleman.
About the Author
Judith Hale Everett is a writer of low-heat traditional Regency romance. She is one of seven sisters, and grew up surrounded by romance novels. Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen were staples, and formed the groundwork for her lifelong love affair with the Regency. Add to that her obsession with the English language and you’ve got one hopelessly literate romantic. You can find her at: