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Conspiracy Theory

 

 A reluctant signatory and an inquisitive governess can only make for trouble

It was a Sunday morning at the beginning of Lent. They had chosen Sunday because most of the servants would be at Parish Mass in the Minster. Mr Carrington would be conducting the service and Price would superintend the boys in the family pew. The Countess had pleaded a headache. She showed all the signs of being on the cusp of an ague.

   As it happened, the governess did not go to church, but left the children in the charge of their Nurse. Five years old Francis Henry eloquently threatened to be sick. He did not like the smell of incense, nor the doleful, breast-beating phrases, and finding that his mother was not to accompany them, thought he might be let off, too, if he kicked up a dust. He would rather be arranging his wooden mosaics into a Roman viaduct, or propelling marbles around his bagatelle board. One of his favourite books was a children’s version of a famous tale, Gulliver’s Travels in Lilliput, set in a land of tiny people. Dean Swift, its author, had been chaplain to his great-grandpapa, long before Mr Carrington was born.
   Her ladyship had retired to an inner chamber adjoining the bedroom and requested that she be not disturbed. It boded no good, then, when the Earl and his brother-in-law crossed the courtyard below and, ascending an outside staircase, were admitted to the sanctum. The door closed with a click. Price noticed all this from the room on the other side of the chamber. She could hear the rumble of subdued conversation, the cadences waffled by collusion. No one had said William Tudor was coming. He had turned up after breakfast, a provisional air about him, as if he were on his way elsewhere. Price bent her ear to the wall but could barely distinguish a word.

   “I don’t mind telling you, Berkeley,” said William, “that I am not easy about lending my hand to this. I don’t relish losing my skin for my nephew. I have a wife and offspring who depend upon me.”
   Berkeley was in no mood for dissension in the ranks. “Let me remind you, Tudor, that all you have is from my hand. You were free to make your own way in the world, but you chose to milk me instead.”
   “Gentlemen!” hissed Mary. “Please desist. This is profitless. Let us do the deed and be gone!”
   “I cannot see,” protested her brother, “that we shall ever get away with this. The records of the Parish of Lambeth state you to be Mary Cole, spinster, and your lordship, a bachelor. Thereafter, at the baptism of Thomas Moreton, your sixth child, you pronounced him Lord Dursley.”
   “On paper,” the Earl reminded William.
   “Ain’t that what the Heralds will see? They are entries you cannot doctor.”
   “These are my anxieties, not yours,” said the Earl imperiously. “When it comes to light, there will be a full explanation given. By then, evidence of an antecedent rite will have been discovered and will support the statement.”
   “Tis a blundering, ham-fisted way to go about things and I don’t like it above half,” William said, “but it would please Mary to see Fitz gain his dues.”
   “This is a chance to show that, in truth, I have not lived dishonourably. We have the original Banns, even if Hupsman did not publish them. All we are doing is creating a facsimile of the registry. It did once exist, Billy. You know it! You saw it! You signed it!”
   “I signed it William Cole as I recall. It was afterwards your lordship suggested the name of Tudor.”
   “Sign it Tudor now,” ordered the Earl, thinking of what he had said to Carrington. “In this context, Cole smacks of conspiracy. The Countess must sign herself Cole, since that is the maiden name declared at the second marriage. How it strikes the eye is important.”
   William noted he had prevailed in the dispute over written testimony, but forbore to say so. His signature had been Tudor for the past fourteen years. He had built a new identity upon it, was employed upon it, married upon it and had attested fatherhood upon it. It was his children’s surname. The notion of Billy Cole of Barnwood was unreal at this distance.

 

(to be continued in the next excerpt of THE WOLF AND THE LAMB, Book One of the Berkeley Trilogy.)

If you love Anya Seton, Jean Plaidy, Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, you'll love this!

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Read preview passages from THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS, Book Two of the Berkeley Trilogy.

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