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"It shall not be tolerated," roared the Earl of Furness, his pallid, powdered complexion highlighted by dulled patches of anger. "This time she has outdone the extremes of folly! Was a father ever more cursed with such a vexatious child?" he asked, turning to Lady Evelyn.
In answer his timid sister ventured nothing despite the multitude of words rioting to break the barricade of her lips. She was accustomed to her brother's outbursts in regard to his only daughter. Instead she chose to inspect the puffs of her polonaise gown.
"What can be done with her? What action have I not tried?" Lord Furness continued, his ire growing. "I shall seal her in her chambers for this. She shall not flaunt...
"Dear brother," Lady Evelyn interrupted, "calm yourself before you bring on apoplexy. Surely Joanne's behaviour cannot--"
"Cannot! Exactly," he thundered and waved the missive in his hand. His lace cuff brushed his sister's face. "She has undone all my efforts. None in the realm but riffraff and scum will have her after this becomes known. Even they will succumb only if the temptation is generous enough."
His port-laden breath assured Lady Evelyn that her brother's ravings were just a continuation of the usual tone regarding his daughter.
"Have you nothing to say? You could have aided me with this child," he baited as he meticulously arranged the ruffles of his shirtfront.
"I was repulsed in my offer to do so," she said angrily. She jumped up, her ire roused at so unjust a charge. "I told you I would raise the child as my own--see to her education. Butt you protested. Now live with the results of your education of Joanne." She regretted the words as soon asthey were said. Not for any element of untruth, but for their effect on her brother.
"Damn the whole bloody business," said Furness in a much milder tone than Lady Evelyn had braced for. The touch of despair in his voice drew her eyes to his face. Troubled, pained, his eyes burned into hers. She was lost for words of comfort, consolation, or confident solution.
The eyes, she thought, how like the daughter to the father? Would either ever be free of anguish?
Lord, that I might help them both, Lady Evelyn prayed. The prayer was instantly crushed by her acknowledgment of her habitual submission to her brother. The time for correcting the wrong had long since passed. She had not been able to withstand his decision to isolate his infant daughter upon the death of the mother.
Nor had she been able to take hold when she had visited Furness House and seen the child, then only seven years of age and already filled with a growing bile. At so young an age, the child was already tormented by the realization that her father begrudged her life. There had been no way to help her. Lady Evelyn's timid soul shrank from the memory of the child's unharnessed hostility. How her hostility must have grown in the three and ten years of continued neglect.
Lost in these thoughts, Lady Evelyn had not followed her brother's mumblings.
"Her education lacked for naught. The best governess to be had. Why you even recommended some that were used over the years." He strode to the slab table at the side of the small sitting room and poured a glass of port. Downing it, he refilled and emptied the glass once again. Furness mused in gentler tones when he turned back to Lady Evelyn.
"If only Joanna had not died ... The gentleness, peculiar to any thought of his wife, flitted across his features. They altered forcibly a moment later. "Or at least if it has been a son who had caused her death," he ended bitterly.
Lady Evelyn sighed hopelessly. Her brother had never reconciled himself to his wife's death. Joanna had survived the childbed only six months, her frailty tested too far by the difficult birth.
"What is it she has done?" she asked, absently wondering about the cause of his verbal violence this time.
Anger creased his face. "She has poured a vase of putrid flowers on the Viscount of Fordingham and told him he was lucky she did not crack his skull with it," Lord Furness said as if a magistrate citing a death-warranted offence. "This after he had offered for her hand in marriage."
"Fordingham--Blayworth's son? That spindly, balding fop?
"There is no wonder. I dare not comprehend how he had the courage to approach Joanne. They say he will not even put a hand to the reins," Lady Evelyn noted. Suspicion entered her voice. "How--"
"Well you are to wonder how. For months I plied that snivelling coward--endured his presence and worse, his discourses. What is the reward for my labours?
"This," he again waved the missive, "is from Fordingham withdrawing his offer. I should never have permitted him to see her until the day they were to wed. If all the land and wealth I have will not induce him to tolerate marriage with her, not even one of convenience, who am I to find?"
"Why, I had no idea you intended her to marry. You have never even brought the child to London, never given her a ball. Never let her go beyond the grounds of Furness. Your behaviour regarding the child has not prepared her for...
"But, why not find a genteel woman to educate Joanne in the finer arts of society. Prepare her for a London season? Next spring would be the time--shortly before she gains one and twenty birthday.
"A bit old, I must say so myself," she said, fanning herself with her bejewelled, painted fan, "but some rumour can be put about--ill-health mayhap.
"This woman could teach Joanne the manners of the beau monde since you feel she is lacks gentle womanly qualities. She would refine her and teach her how to dress."
Lady Evelyn gave a trill of false laughter. Her tall periwig of massive curls swayed as she offered, "I--I would be willing to sponsor her."
"When did you last see the child? Ten, four and ten years past? You would not believe--I myself was astounded upon my last visit to Furness to see what my daughter had become. Admittedly it has been over a year, perhaps longer, but..." A tremble ran through him.
"It is as if she were a changeling and no daughter of my Joanna. A coarse, fat bull ready for market. Why the animals of my poorest tenants surpass her cleanliness and her manners are those of a--" He shuddered.
"The servants shun her and her chambers." Furness turned back to the decanter and quaffed three more glasses of port in quick succession.
"I must be off to White's," he stated abruptly as he thumped down the once again empty glass. With a stiff bow he departed as quickly as he had entered, leaving his sister in unhappy contemplation.
Joanne was nearing her majority. Some solution must be found before then, Lady Evelyn realized. A shiver ran through her as she thought of both father and daughter in London. If half the tales concerning the former and all Furness said of the latter were true, London--certainly she, herself--would have a stormy season.
But it would relieve the dreadful news of the rebellion o those bothersome colonies, she thought, and stepped to the looking glass above the slab table. The heart shaped patch on her left cheek was not placed to her liking.