| Golden Girl |
By Joan Wolf
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William Patterson was amazed when he received a request from the Earl of Linford to call at his house. Patterson knew that Lord Linford headed the Treasury Board for the government, and all the merchant could suppose was that the earl wanted his advice on some matter pertaining to government finance.
For William Patterson was enormously rich. He had started life as the son of a poor cottager in Lancashire and from those humble beginnings he had amassed a fortune in the manufacture of cotton cloth. His humble origins would always exclude him from a position in government, but he was certainly one of the most formidable financial powers in all of England.
He looked once more at the note that had been delivered to his office in the city:
I would very much appreciate your calling upon me at 17 Grosvenor Square tomorrow morning at eleven o'clock. Very truly yours, Linford.
Patterson leaned his broad shoulders back in his big desk chair and contemplated the note, a frown between his thick gray eyebrows. He was in his middle sixties, and his strong frame carried more fat than it had when he was younger, but he was still a powerfully built man.
An invitation to the Earl of Linford's house, he thought. Well, well, well.
In all the years that he had kept a home and an office in London, Patterson had never been to Grosvenor Square. That venue was restricted to the upper classes only; city merchants, however rich they might be, were not encouraged to taint its purity with the stink of commerce.
William Patterson was a hard and ruthless man. He'd had to be in order to achieve what he had achieved in his lifetime. But it never once occurred to him that he might refuse the Earl of Linford's invitation.
The following morning, at precisely eleven o'clock, a hackney cab dropped William Patterson in front of the home of the Earl of Linford. After instructing the cab to wait for him, Patterson approached the stairs that led to Number 17. Before he raised the knocker on the door, however, he paused to cast his eyes around the sacred environs of Grosvenor Square.
A pretty, formal garden lay in the center of the square, and around the garden's four sides were arranged a symmetrical panorama of elegant brown-brick houses with red dressings and stone cornices. The sun was shining and two children with hoops were playing in the garden under the watchful eyes of a nursemaid. A town chaise with an earl's coat of arms painted in gold upon its door drove past the waiting cab. Otherwise the square was empty.
Patterson lifted his hand to the polished brass knocker in front of him and rapped with authority on the heavy wood door.
It was opened almost immediately by a footman dressed in blue satin livery and a white wig.
"William Patterson," the merchant said gruffly. "I'm to see Lord Linford."
"Yes sir," the footman said. "His Lordship is expecting you. If you will come with me, I will take you to him."
Patterson followed the long, straight back of the footman across the marble-floored entrance hall. They proceeded down a wide passageway, past an elegantly carved staircase, then finally the footman stopped in front of a closed polished oak door.
He opened it and announced sonorously, "Mr. William Patterson, my lord."
"Send him in," came the earl's voice.
The footman held the door for Patterson and he entered the room slowly.
He saw immediately that he was in the earl's library, which surprised him. He had expected to be shown to an office.
He was even more surprised to find that a woman was in the room with the earl.
Linford stood up behind his desk and held out his hand. "Mr. Patterson," he said pleasantly. "I am grateful for your visit. Please allow me to introduce you to my wife, Lady Linford."
Patterson was too shrewd to allow any of the bewilderment he was feeling to show on his face. Instead he nodded gravely to the countess, who had remained seated, and murmured, "Pleased to meet you, my lady."
She inclined her head regally. "Mr. Patterson."
"Sit down, sit down," the earl said, gesturing to a chair that was drawn up to face the desk.
Patterson slowly lowered his big frame to a sitting position. He was dressed in the old-fashioned clothes he always wore: a full-skirted frock coat and buckled shoes. His still-thick gray hair was cut short, however, in the newest style.
"No doubt you are wondering why I wished to see you," Lord Linford said genially.
"That I am, my lord," Patterson replied.
He could not stop himself from casting a quick glance at the countess.
She gave him a gracious smile. She was a woman in her late forties and still quite good-looking. Patterson noted automatically that she had splendid breasts.
"I am not totally unacquainted with your family, Mr. Patterson," she said in a rich contralto voice. "Your granddaughter was at school in Bath with my own daughter for several years."
"Is that so, my lady?" Patterson replied.
"Yes. On one occasion Sarah even visited us at our country home in Kent."
"Did she, now?" Patterson said. "Fancy that."
In fact, he remembered perfectly the time Sarah had visited the Linfords. He had been hugely pleased to know that his granddaughter was hobnobbing with the aristocracy, and he had been acutely disappointed when she had not been invited again.
"She is a very pretty-behaved girl," Lady Linford said with gracious approval.
"She should be. She's had the best education that money could buy," Patterson said bluntly. "She's my only grandchild and I've had the raising of her since her parents died when she were but a little girl."
Lady Linford settled herself into her chair, much as her ancestors must have settled themselves upon their horses before advancing into battle.
"Mr. Patterson," she said, "it is about Sarah that we wished to speak to you today."
Patterson could not quite hide his amazement at this extraordinary statement. "Sarah?"
"Yes." Lady Linford made a motion with her hand that almost looked as if she were raising a sword. "My husband and I have a proposal to put before you, and we would greatly appreciate it if you would hear us out."
"Aye, my lady," said Patterson cautiously. He glanced at Lord Linford, but the earl was sitting quietly with his hands folded on the desk in front of him. Evidently this was Lady Linford's show.
"The proposal relates to my nephew, Anthony Selbourne, who is the Duke of Cheviot," the countess said.
Something flickered behind Patterson's blue eyes. Selbourne of Cheviot was one of the most famous names in all of Britain. Since the days of the early Middle Ages, it had figured in nearly every battle the country had fought, and in the lineup of numerous governments as well.
"Perhaps you are familiar with the Cheviot lineage," Lady Linford said.
"Aye, my lady," Patterson replied tersely.
What the bloody hell is this all about? he wondered.
"Then you know the position that my nephew occupies," Lady Linford went on. "I might add here that his mother was a French princess and through her he is related to half the royalty of Europe."
William Patterson had never been good at circumlocution. His was more the style of the juggernaut.
"My lady," he said with sharp impatience, "will you get to the point?"
The faintest look of annoyance crossed Lady Linford's face, and then it was smoothed away. She smiled. "Very well, Mr. Patterson. The truth is that my nephew has found himself in a very awkward situation. His father, the late duke, was not a good steward of his property. My own father, Anthony's grandfather, was also a profligate. Consequently, when Anthony assumed the title six months ago, he found himself in a position of near bankruptcy."
Light began to dawn in the merchant's brain.
"He needs money, eh?"
Lady Linford's face was grave. "He needs money badly, Mr. Patterson. I can assure you that Anthony is nothing like his father or his grandfather. He was bitterly opposed to my brother's reckless gambling. In fact, they had constant rows about it. After he finished school, Anthony left home and went out to the Peninsula. He fought in Spain for a number of years and then was part of our delegation to the Congress of Vienna. When Napoleon returned from Elba, he rejoined his regiment and fought bravely at the Battle of Waterloo."
Patterson was looking at her with shrewd blue eyes. "And what does this paragon of a duke have to do with my Sarah?" he asked.
For the first time, Lady Linford hesitated. She looked at her husband.
Lord Linford stepped in to answer the merchant's question. "Cheviot must marry a girl with money," he said. "Not to put too fine a point on it, Patterson, he must marry a girl with a great deal of money. His debts are enormous."
He paused to glance at his wife. When she said nothing, the earl continued, "We thought that your granddaughter might be suitable for our purposes."
Patterson shifted his bulk on his chair. "Let me get this straight, my lord," he said bluntly. "You are offering your nephew as a husband for my Sarah?"
The earl inclined his head. "That is what we are offering."
Patterson slowly ran his eyes around the comfortable book-lined room in which he sat. A portrait of one of Linford's ancestors wearing a white wig hung on the wall above the carved wood fireplace. A large globe was placed in one of the room's corners and the Persian rug under his feet was old but magnificent.
Patterson returned his gaze to the man sitting behind the large mahogany desk.
"Why pick a girl from the merchant class, my lord?" he asked with real curiosity. "Surely some blue-blooded heiresses must be available."
Lord Linford sighed. "Unfortunately, Patterson, most of the nobility have their money tied up in land. Cheviot has plenty of land-most of it heavily mortgaged, I'm afraid. What he needs at the moment is ready cash."
The merchant folded his arms across his massive chest and said bluntly, "So what you are saying is that the duke is for sale."
Lady Linford made a sound of indignation.
Lord Linford looked the merchant squarely in the eyes and replied with equal bluntness, "Yes."
Patterson's eyes narrowed. "How much?"
The earl looked a little pained. "That will be for the lawyers to arrange. But we are talking millions here, Patterson. Let me make that quite clear. The debts are crushing."
Patterson tipped his chair back a little and balanced it on two legs. He knew he had the upper hand, and he was feeling considerably more comfortable.
"I already have plans for Sarah," he said. "She is to marry Neville Harvey."
"Neville Harvey?" Lord Linford drummed his fingers on the polished top of his desk. There was a frown on his aristocratic face. "Do you mean the owner of Harvey Mills?"
"The very man," Patterson said with satisfaction. "It has long been my dream to consolidate our two companies. The result will be a veritable cotton empire."
"I have not heard of any engagement between Sarah and Mr. Harvey," Lady Linford said sharply.
The merchant returned the two front legs of his chair to the ground. "Well, they ain't exactly engaged yet, my lady. Sarah only just came home from school."
The countess said firmly, "If nothing has been formally arranged between Mr. Harvey and Sarah, then I suggest that you consider our proposal, Mr. Patterson." A faint look of distaste crossed her face. "To speak in merchant's terms, we are offering you the best merchandise on the market."
Patterson was beginning to enjoy himself. "Well, I don't know . . . ," he began with feigned doubtfulness.
Lady Linford snapped, "We are offering you the Most Noble Anthony George Henry Edward Selbourne, Duke of Cheviot and Marquis of Newcastle, Earl of Alnwick, Baron Selbourne of Corbridge and Baron Selbourne of Bellingham. My nephew also holds the hereditary title of Warden of the Scottish Marches, a position held by the Dukes of Cheviot since the days of Edward III."
Lady Linford looked down her nose at the merchant. "That is what you are being offered, Mr. Patterson. That is the blood that will flow in the veins of your great-grandchildren. What can Mr. Harvey offer you that could possibly compare with that?"
She was right, and Patterson knew it. He was fiercely proud of being a self-made man, but he was English to the marrow of his bones. The superiority of the aristocracy was something that had been ingrained in him since early childhood.
To think of Sarah as the Duchess of Cheviot!
But Patterson was a shrewd merchant, and he knew enough not to give himself away. Let them sweat a little, he thought.
"You said his mother was a princess?"
"That is right," the countess replied grandly. "Through her, Sarah will be connected to the great families of France."
The merchant pretended to ponder this piece of information.
Then, "How old is this duke?" he demanded. "My Sarah is only eighteen."
"Cheviot is twenty-seven," the countess replied with admirable calm. "You need have no fear for your granddaughter if she should marry my nephew, Mr. Patterson. I can assure you that Cheviot will know how to make her happy."
The merchant snorted through his nose. "A ladies' man, eh?"
The earl answered that question. "Cheviot will know the respect that is due to his wife."
Patterson tried a different tack. "What makes you so sure my money won't go the way his father's money went?" he demanded of the earl.
"As I said earlier, Cheviot is not at all like his father," Linford replied calmly. "He is a very responsible young man. You will have nothing to fear for either your granddaughter or your money should she marry him, Mr. Patterson."
"Neville Harvey is a responsible young man, too," Patterson said triumphantly.
Lady Linford drew herself up in the manner of a knight getting ready for a joust. "Perhaps he is," she said icily. "But my nephew can make your granddaughter a duchess, Mr. Patterson. What can Mr. Harvey make her? The Queen of Cotton?"
The merchant narrowed his eyes as he acknowledged the accuracy of her thrust.
"You are an intelligent man, Mr. Patterson," the countess continued. "I do not think you will turn your back upon an opportunity to ally yourself with one of the greatest families in the country. Just think, someday your great-grandson might be a prime minister."
If he has my brains, he might very well, Patterson thought.
"You have a point, my lady," he said mildly. "I won't deny it."
The countess permitted herself a small smile. "Well then," she said, "I suggest that we bring the young people together."
The merchant looked at her speculatively. "And how do you propose we do that?"
Lady Linford's reply was prompt. "I will invite you and Sarah to visit us in Kent. My daughter Olivia, whom Sarah knows, will be there. And, of course, my nephew."
Patterson tried not to show his glee. He was to be a guest at the country home of the Earl of Linford!
"Very well, my lady," he agreed, his face carefully grave. "I won't object to the young people meeting. But if Sarah don't like this duke of yours, I ain't going to push her into marrying him."
Lady Linford smiled. "There is no question of that, Mr. Patterson. No woman in her right mind would not like my nephew."
The merchant snorted.
Lord Linford made a suggestion. "Perhaps it would be wise not to tell Sarah about this conversation, Mr. Patterson. It might cause her to feel constraint when she meets the duke. Let her meet him under seemingly ordinary circumstances. I think we can safely leave it up to Cheviot to do the rest."
The merchant grunted.
Lord Linford rose from his chair and held out his hand. Patterson heaved himself to his feet and took it.
"Shall we say that you will come to Hartford Court this Thursday?" the countess said pleasantly. She did not extend her hand. "There is no point in delaying this, is there?"
Not with all those creditors, Patterson thought cynically. The sooner the duke gets his hands on Sarah's money, the better it will be for him.
"Thursday it is," he said, and, turning, he stomped to the door and let himself out.
Excerpted from Golden Girl , by Joan Wolf . Copyright (c) 1999 by Joan Wolf . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top