The Loveday Scandals (extract)
Senara pushed her misgivings of the visit to Trevowan aside as she walked to the grass slopes on the far side of the wood in search of horehound which would ease cases of consumption or rheum of the lungs. As she worked raucous cries from pheasants in the undergrowth and magpies and rooks in the treetops were accompanied by the songs of linnets and blackbirds. A fox carrying a dead rabbit peered at Senara through a lace fretwork of meadowsweet and tansy before continuing to his lair.
Senara gathered a bunch of comfrey and laid it in her basket enjoying the tranquillity and solitude of Boscabel. Here she could enjoy the peace which only nature could bring her. The constant hammering and shouts within the shipyard of her current home was an alien world where she still felt ill at ease.
A distant shout made her look towards the crest of a hill that sloped down towards an inlet of the River Fowey. A woman in a blue riding-habit galloped at a dangerous pace over the rough ground speckled with granite boulders. At recognising the sable Arab mare belonging to Gwendolyn Druce, Senara frowned. It was not like Gwen to be so reckless. Then a second rider appeared: a man, who was pursuing Gwen. Was the second rider another suitor encouraged by Gwendolyn's mother, the Lady Anne? How galling that must be for Gwen? She would love only one man and he was as feckless as he was charming. Gwen had been in love with Japhet Loveday for years, but Japhet relished his freedom far too much to consider marriage. Whilst Gwen steadfastly refused all suitors, the Lady Anne Druce was equally resolved that her daughter would marry any man except Japhet Loveday.
Senara shook her head as she stooped to slice the sharp blade of her dagger through the stems of a bunch of St Peter's wort that she would use in a purge to ease the sciatica of a shipwright's wife. Dew from the lingering morning mist still clung to its leaves. Unaccountably, the hairs at the back of Senara's neck tingled. A sign that forewarned her something was amiss.
Her eyes narrowed as she straightened to study the two riders. Gwen's mare had stumbled and her companion was gaining on her. The man was dressed as a gentleman and, as there was no accompanying groom, Senara guessed that he was known to the family. There was a grim determination in the posture of Gwen's companion which increased Senara's unease, and she could not dispel the feeling that Gwen was in danger. Her intuition was rarely wrong.
Senara ran to where she had tethered her mare Hera. Abandoning her herb basket, she called to Scamp, her husband's dog who had accompanied her. As she swung into the saddle, the liver and white cross-breed spaniel appeared out of the undergrowth where he had been chasing squirrels.
Senara had covered less than half a mile when she heard a scream, which was abruptly cut off. Her unease turned to a sickening dread. Senara urged Hera faster. She was a fearless horsewoman, raised by her gypsy father to ride bareback as a child. A fast running inlet of the River Fowey cut her off from the direction of the scream. The two riders would have crossed by the stone bridge further upstream but Senara fearing for the safety of Gwendolyn Druce, plunged Hera into the reed bed at the edge of the bank. Startled moorhens and coots squawked and flapped their wings noisily as they flew away from feeding in the reeds. The water was several yards wide but not so deep that Hera would lose her footing. Scamp loved water and shot like an arrow into the water at her side. The cold water swirled around Senara's legs, drenching her green riding habit but she did not falter.
A horse whinnied in the trees on the opposite bank, followed by the sound of scuffling and a muffled cry. There was a flash of blue through the branches and waist high bracken, then silence. Scamp swum ahead and clambered out of the water to run barking into the undergrowth. The wood was too thick to ride through so Senara dismounted. She staggered under the weight of her sodden gown that wrapped around her legs making walking difficult.
Fear churned her stomach. 'Is that you, Gwen?'
A loud growl was her only reply. Senara pushed through the bracken into a small clearing to discover Gwen pressed against a tree trunk fighting to push away a man who held and was kissing her. The pins had fallen from her chestnut hair and it was in disarray about her shoulders. Also her stock and lapel of her jacket had been ripped in the struggle.
'Stand away from Miss Druce, or the dog will attack,' Senara commanded. 'Are you unharmed, Gwen?'
Gwen nodded too shaken too speak as she struggled to regain her composure. The man turned and pulled a pistol from his breast pocket. 'Set that cur on me and I shall shoot it.'
The arrogance of his tone roused Senara's anger. She recognised the thin figure and haughty features of Lieutenant Francis Beaumont. All summer Lady Anne Druce had encouraged him to call upon Gwendolyn.
'Sir, how dare you force yourself upon Miss Druce in such a despicable manner.' Senara summoned Scamp to her side and ordered him to lie down before moving forward to confront the man. As she approached, his expression became sullen at her intrusion. His hair was powdered and curled and he wore a naval style uniform excessively decorated with gold braid. There was chilling derision in his eyes as he viewed her wet skirts and Senara could feel his scorn for her gypsy blood. If he intended to intimidate her he had failed. Senara despised such men.
'You mistake the matter, Mrs Loveday.' The words were a venomous hiss.'I hold Miss Druce in the highest regard. We are to be betrothed. I have the blessings of her family.'
The colour was returning to Gwendolyn's cheeks and she shook her head, her voice shaking with outrage. She was not an established beauty but when animated the soft lines of her oval face and almond shaped eyes were striking. 'You lie. I never agreed to wed you. You do not have my blessing, sir. Neither shall you. You sought to compromise me this day. I will not be browbeaten into a marriage that is repugnant to me.' He rounded on Gwendolyn, his hooked nose pinched with anger and a sneer twisting his thin lips. 'Your conceit astounds me, mistress. You should be grateful that a man of my position and family would even consider you as his wife. Your reputation has been tarnished this summer by consorting with that rake-hell Japhet Loveday.'
Gwendolyn flushed but the anger continued to spark in her eyes. 'It is your conduct which is reprehensible, sir. Japhet Loveday is a man of honour. He would never give false evidence in a court of law as you did at the last Assizes. Your lies could have hanged St John Loveday. You sicken me.'
He squared his shoulders and stuck out his narrow chest. 'I was carrying out my duty as an officer of His Majesty's Excise Office. St John Loveday is a smuggler and murderer. I spoke the truth.'
Senara had heard enough. 'Mercifully, your evidence did not hold up in court. St John was acquitted. There was no evidence that he murdered Thadeous Lanyon. Lanyon had won many enemies as a smuggler and he killed anyone who crossed him.' She strode to Gwendolyn's side, the two angry women flanking the officer.
Senara bristled. 'No gentleman would force their unwanted attentions upon a gentlewoman of Miss Druce's position as you have done.'
'What would a gypsy brat know of gentlemanly conduct?' Beaumont sneered.
The insult had no power to hurt Senara for she felt no shame in her heritage.Pride lifted her head. This man had been her husband's enemy for years since the days that Beaumont and Adam had served together as midshipmen in the navy. After instigating a duel with Adam, Beaumont had been dismissed from the navy to serve upon an excise cutter. Unable to get his revenge upon Adam, Beaumont had taken up a vendetta against Adam's twin, St John. Again he had failed. Beaumont had abused his position as an excise officer, taking bribes from Thadeous Lanyon to turn a blind eye to the smuggler's trade.
'A true gentleman is a man of honour and integrity both in word and deeds,'.her tone was scathing. 'I see no evidence of that in yourself.'
There was hatred in his eyes as he glared at Senara. He clearly held her responsible for thwarting his plans to compromise Gwendolyn's honour in such a way that she would be forced to marry him. It was not love that drove him but greed for her substantial inheritance.
Beaumont grabbed Gwen's arm. 'You will marry me.'
Gwen cried out at the pain he was inflicting and wrenched her arm free to slap his face. 'I will marry the man I love or no man at all. And certainly not an arrogant bully as you have shown yourself to be this day.'
Beaumont did not move and is face was rigid with fury.
'I will have you as my bride.' The menace of his threat was charged with the malevolency of a lightning bolt.
Senara's flesh prickled in growing fear for the heiress. Scamp growled, his fangs barred as he edged closer to the lieutenant.
'You are on private land, Lieutenant Beaumont.' Senara informed him. 'My husband's land. Leave now or I shall be forced to summon the gamekeeper and bailiff to arrest you for trespass. I will also bear witness if Miss Druce presses charges of assault. That would ensure that you are never accepted within polite society again.'
His belligerence was frightening but Senara refused to back down. She had lied for there was no gamekeeper or bailiff at Boscabel. Adam had acquired the property in recent months and they could not afford servants to work here while they continued to live at Mariner's House. Gwendolyn added her vehemence.
'If you present yourself at Traherne Hall again I shall inform my mother and Sir Henry of your conduct today.'
Lieutenant Beaumont smirked, the shadows from the trees darkening his face with a satyr's mask.
'The Lady Anne said you would be difficult. She has already placed an announcement in the Sherborne Mercury and informed the Reverend Mr Snell that the ceremony will take place in the old chapel at Traherne Hall in one months time.'
'Mama, would neverů'
Beaumont's cruel laughter cut across her words.
'It is all arranged. Unless you wish to create a scandal and be shunned by society, you have no choice but to marry me.'
He turned on Senara.
'The Lovedays think that they are invincible. But they are not. They had better stay out of my affairs in the future.'
He bowed mockingly to the women and marched away.
'I will never marry you, Lieutenant Beaumont.' Gwendolyn sagged against the trunk of a beech tree, her legs stripped of the strength to support her. He whirled and flung out his arm in an intimidating manner.
'Marry me you will, or you and anyone who crosses me will live to regret it.'