A Capital Investment

Part I

Goldfarb and Sons was a well-known bank in the City of London. It had been established in the late seventeenth century, had survived the South Sea Bubble and other crises, and had been passed on from one generation of Goldfarbs to the next. Only the present Mr. Goldfarb, being so absorbed in his business that he had forgotten to marry and produce an heir, had broken with his family tradition. When he had realised that his energy was not what it had been in his younger days, he decided to retire while he still had the chance to enjoy his vast fortune, and set about finding a junior partner who would steer Goldfarb and Sons into a new era. He found that junior partner in the person of Mr. Peter Trenchard - a young, ambitious insurance underwriter who was keen to get his fingers into as many pies as possible. Mr. Trenchard was ambitious, zealous, and had an instinct for profitable investments. In short, Peter Trenchard was the ideal candidate.

After having worked with Mr. Goldfarb for several years, Mr. Trenchard was able to buy Goldfarb's shares in the bank, and took over the ancient family business. Nothing changed for the bank's noble clientele. Mr. Trenchard was aware that the members of the nobility were well-known for their sense of tradition and that changes of any kind were repugnant to them. Therefore, everything remained the same - even the name of the firm - and Mr. Trenchard suspected that few of his clients knew who was in charge of Goldfarb and Sons now. Not that many of them would have cared, he thought. To most of them, one Cit was as good - or bad - as any other, and names were only a minor detail when there was no title attached to them. One could not expect the aristocracy to remember the names of the likes of him, Mr. Trenchard thought cynically. Especially not if one owed them money. No one relished being reminded that there were people who were richer than the average earl - and had earned all that money with their own hands' work. The whole idea of earning money was probably alien to their way of thinking.

A young sprig of nobility had just entered Mr. Trenchard's office along with his solicitor, and Mr. Trenchard was sure that young Viscount Scarsdale would not forget the encounter in a hurry, try as he might. Henry Maitland had inherited his father's heavily encumbered estates and, though he had made a push to pay his father's most pressing debts, he was ruined. He had not enough money left to pay off a loan his father had taken in one of his attacks of conscience - one that had been as short-lived as futile. The loan was due to be repaid in a month, and Lord Scarsdale had come to negotiate.
His lordship's man of business did most of the talking, for which Mr. Trenchard was glad. He abhorred discussing business matters with people who had no clue, and it was obvious that his lordship had no clue whatsoever.

"You know very well, sir, that the late Lord Scarsdale has left things in a pitiable state," Mr. Morris, the solicitor said.

Mr. Trenchard agreed. He was well acquainted with the Maitland family's financial situation - they had had their account with Goldfarb and Sons for decades, an account that had always hovered on the brink of being overdrawn, if not worse.

"But his heir intends to bring his family about," Mr. Morris continued.

"Most laudable," Mr. Trenchard said. He was curious by what means Lord Scarsdale would achieve his goal.

"His lordship knows that loan is due next month," Mr. Morris said. "But, to be frank, sir, he is temporarily short of money."

"Temporarily?" Mr. Trenchard asked, raising an eyebrow. "I was not aware that there was an end to his lordship's predicament in sight." Mr. Trenchard liked plain speaking, and he was not going to make an exception to spare Lord Scarsdale's feelings.

"Well, I have managed to pay off my father's most pressing debts," his lordship defended himself. "But that loan, I am afraid, is going to break my back. Is there no way to defer it for a year or two, until I have got back on my feet?"

Mr. Trenchard opened the file that lay on the desk before him and studied it thoroughly. He deliberately took his time, giving his visitors the impression that he was thinking about a solution when, in fact, his decision had already been made.

"Since it was you who suggested being frank, Mr. Morris, I know you will not take it amiss if I am frank, too," he finally said. "When, do you think, will his lordship be able to repay the loan?"

Dead silence filled the room and was, in itself, an answer to Mr. Trenchard's question. He had not expected any other. Lord Scarsdale was, more or less, bankrupt. He had been obliged to sell almost every part of his inheritance that had not been entailed to pay his father's gaming debts. The estate was in a pitiable condition after having been exploited for years, and not a penny had been spent on keeping things in order. It would not yield any profits for years. Mr. Trenchard pitied young Lord Scarsdale - he had to face the consequences of his father's spendthrift ways. But there was nothing he could do. A bank was not a charity institution.

"Is there any way for you to raise the sum?" he asked, in a kinder tone than one was used to hearing from him.

"Fifteen thousand?" Lord Scarsdale shook his head. "No one can spare that kind of money."

"Then, I am afraid, there is nothing I can do," Mr. Trenchard said. "If the money was mine to do what I please with - but it isn't. It belongs to the bank, to my clients. I cannot rob them of what is theirs."

"Still, you are going to turn us out of our home!" Lord Scarsdale said scathingly.

"For all I care, sir, you may stay," Mr. Trenchard said with a cold smile. He understood Lord Scarsdale's anger, but he refused to be made responsible for the late Viscount's mistakes. "You have still got the house, and as for the land - you could become the new owner's tenant." He knew that suggestion would infuriate Lord Scarsdale. Anyone in his position would consider it an insult of the worst sort.

"I was told you held the Ton in contempt," his lordship said. "I did not know you would go so far as to insult me in such a manner, though. What have I ever done to you?" One had to give his lordship credit for his self control, Mr. Trenchard thought. A lesser man would have assaulted him.

"Let me assure you that I regard you - like the other members of your class - not with contempt but with indifference, sir. There is nothing personal in my claim. You, as your father's heir, owe my bank - my clients, that is - fifteen thousand pounds. What do you want me to do? Burn the promissory note and forget all about it?"

Lord Scarsdale sighed. "I wish my father had died twenty years ago," he said despondently.

"It would have been very prudent of him," Mr. Trenchard agreed. "But take heart, my lord - there's still a month left. Plenty of time for you to win the heart of a lady whose generous portion will relieve you of your burden. I can think of no one more deserving." Or in need, Mr. Trenchard added silently.

"Thank you very much," his lordship spat out. "Good day to you, Mr. Trenchard." Then he left, and Mr. Trenchard did not blame him for his bad temper. Not for all the money in the world would he have swapped places with Lord Scarsdale.

Despite his large fortune, Mr. Trenchard was unmarried and lived the life of a bachelor in reduced circumstances. He had lodgings on the outskirts of Mayfair, the less fashionable part of Town, and he was the only tenant in the lodging-house who derived his income "from trade". The others were mostly young gentlemen whose income did not match their ambitions - and who greatly resented being obliged to share their address with a Cit, however wealthy he might be. Their dislike was fully reciprocated. Mr. Trenchard did not like them any more than they liked him - he despised their attitude, and the less he saw of his neighbours, the better it was.

He was therefore greatly surprised when his valet announced a visitor, a Mr. Maitland.

"I did not invite anyone," Mr. Trenchard said ungraciously. He was not in a very sociable mood, for it had been a hard day at the bank.

"The young gentleman says it is important, sir," Crowley insisted. He was good at showing his disapproval without losing his respectful demeanour.

Mr. Trenchard sighed. "Very well," he said. "But you'll remind me of an appointment in ten minutes."

"You do not have an appointment, sir," Crowley said.

"I want you to remind me of one nevertheless," Mr. Trenchard said. "Now go and show my visitor in, will you?"

Crowley went, and came back with a young boy, no older than sixteen, still dressed in his overcoat and wearing his hat.

"Mr. Maitland," he announced and, at a wave of his master's hand, left them alone. Mr. Trenchard, remembering his manners, bowed.

"To what do I owe the honour?" he asked, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

"I am sorry to disturb you at this hour, and I will not stay long," the youth said hurriedly. "But I need to speak to you - urgently." The tremor in the boy's voice betrayed his tension. Mr. Trenchard offered his guest a seat and a glass of Cognac to soothe his nerves. Mr. Maitland accepted the former, but declined the latter, for reasons of not being accustomed to strong drink.

"My brother was at your office today," he began hesitantly while Mr. Trenchard helped himself to a glass of wine and settled into a chair facing his visitor's.

"Your brother?" Mr. Trenchard asked.

"Lord Scarsdale."

"Oh! Yes, he was there." Mr. Trenchard wondered what the boy was getting at. What did he want?

"Is there really no chance for us to stay in our home?" The youth gave him an entreating look and, for a moment, looked almost like a girl.

"Unless your brother finds a way to pay his debts, I am afraid there is none," Mr. Trenchard said. It was a cruel answer, but raising false hopes would have been worse. He had always been in favour of putting one's cards on the table and playing fair.

"It was not Henry's fault." The boy sounded utterly convinced of his brother's integrity.

"I know. But it is not mine either, if that is what you mean to imply," Mr. Trenchard said. He wondered whether Lord Scarsdale had sent his brother to plead his cause.

"I know that," the boy said. "But you could help him if you wanted to, and you don't. You are the only person I know who could easily spare fifteen thousand."

Mr. Trenchard laughed at the boy's naiveté. "That does not make me inclined to spend it on Lord Scarsdale's debts," he said. "Nor do I see why I should."

"It would be a capital investment."

"Hardly. Investments are supposed to be profitable. I'd make better profits by simply throwing the fifteen thousand into the Thames. - Tell me, does Lord Scarsdale know his brother is meddling with his business?"

"I am not his brother," the boy said and finally took off his hat. Soft curls surrounded a face that, though not exactly pretty, was certainly feminine. Mr. Trenchard wondered at himself for not having realised this before.

"I am his sister," the girl continued. "I only dressed up as a boy to be able to visit you. I needed to see you -- to talk to you!"

"I think this is the point where our conversation ought to stop," Mr. Trenchard said.  "You cannot be aware of what you are doing! If anyone found you here, in my lodgings, at this time of night - it does not bear thinking of! Let me - let my man get a hackney for you to go home. I've no use for a scandal, Miss Maitland, and neither have you."

"I know what I am doing is wrong," she said timidly. "I am surprised at myself for performing such a rash and improper act! But this is the only way I could think of to help my brother, so I had to take the risk. Listen to me, Mr. Trenchard - it will only take a minute or two, and then you will be rid of me!"

"You seem to have taken the odd notion into your head that I am going to use my hard-earned blunt to help your brother," Mr. Trenchard said. "Why on earth should I do that? What would I gain?"

"Acceptance," Miss Maitland said. "I know this is what you want."

"Acceptance? By whom?"

"The Ton," she said. "Yes, you act as if you hated the lot of us, but in truth it irks you that the gentry does not count you as one of them."

"And my giving your brother fifteen thousand would change that? Hardly," Mr. Trenchard said cynically. The girl had to be touched in her upper works, he decided.

"Perhaps not that," the girl admitted. "But your marrying me would."

"Out," Mr. Trenchard said, suddenly furious. He opened the door and told Crowley to find a hackney for "Mr. Maitland".

"Why? What have I done?" Miss Maitland protested, looking at him with an innocence that was, without doubt, the opposite of her true nature. Mr. Trenchard wondered when the irate brother would arrive, demanding compensation for his sister's ruined reputation, for this was most likely the plan they had hatched between the two of them.

"Just think about it, ma'am," he said coldly. "Perhaps even you will realise that what you said was not only improper but also grossly insulting. Tell your brother his scheme has failed. Good night, Mr. Maitland."

Miss Maitland could not have been aware of how much she had upset Mr. Trenchard. His father had been a steward, a hard-working, respectable man, who had been ruined through no fault of his own, simply because his employer had been unable to admit a mistake.

He had managed an earl's estate in the North, but when money had disappeared from his lordship's coffers, Mr. Trenchard Senior had been blamed and dismissed for dishonesty. Even though Mr. Trenchard had been able to prove his innocence, he had not been able to retrieve either his position or his good name. For it had been his lordship's own son and heir who had committed the felony, and one could hardly expect My Lord to incriminate his own offspring. So Mr. Trenchard had had to leave his native county and, in order to support his family, seek employment which under normal circumstances would have been beneath him. Mr. Trenchard Senior had never forgiven his lordship for this - sacrificing his steward's honour to keep his family honour intact - and neither had his son. And now another member of that despicable race was trying to take advantage of a Trenchard - but it would not be. This lordship would pay for trying to fleece him.

After a night of unquiet sleep, Mr. Trenchard went back to work. There was a meeting with some shareholders scheduled for ten o'clock, and he needed to prepare for the meeting and re-read some papers before it started. First, as always, he wanted to read his correspondence and answer his business letters. Then he would settle down with a cup of coffee (provided by the coffee house across the street) and would take notes for his meeting. His plans were destined to fail, however. He had hardly opened the first of his letters when there was a knock at the door and one of the junior clerks hurried in, looking frightened. It was well known among Mr. Trenchard's employees that he did not relish being disturbed during the perusal of his letters.

"I beg your pardon, sir, but there is a young lady wishful to see you," he said nervously.

"Make an appointment for some time next week and tell her to go away," Mr. Trenchard said curtly.

"She wishes to see you as soon as possible, sir," the clerk said.

"As soon as possible will be some time next week," Mr. Trenchard insisted. "Tell the lady so. If she is in a hurry and wants to discuss a matter of business, she can well do so with one of the other gentlemen, can't she? If she insists on seeing me, she'll have to wait until I've got the time to see her. I'm a busy man."

Knowing when opposition was useless, the clerk went to deliver the bad news to the unknown visitor. Five minutes later, there was a knock on the door again, and the same clerk returned to Mr. Trenchard's office.

"Now what?" Mr. Trenchard demanded testily, looking up from a tricky business letter he was composing. "Can't a man get some work done without being interrupted every two seconds?"

"The lady, sir," the clerk said nervously. "She refuses to go away. I asked her to leave, and she said she would not leave before she had had a word with you."

"Get some of the younger fellows and remove her then," Mr. Trenchard said, not quite in earnest. Couldn't the fellow deal with this without bothering him?

"Sir!" the clerk exclaimed in horror. "Think of the scandal, should the lady make a scene! I can readily believe her to be capable of that, sir."

With a heavy sigh, frustrated with both his clerk's lack of humour and the visitor's obstinacy, Mr. Trenchard said, "Fine. Show her in. But tell her to be brief. Five minutes, and not a moment more."

Relieved, the clerk left the office only to return to it a moment later. "Miss Maitland," he announced. Mr. Trenchard looked up. Whomever he had expected, he had not thought that she would have the nerve to show her face anywhere near him again. He rose from his chair, and greeted the young lady in a tone not calculated to make her feel welcome. She looked different from yesterday evening, he thought. For one, she was wearing a dress. Neat, but not very expensive, he was pleased to note. He did not mind if a woman wore expensive clothes, but Miss Maitland's brother could not afford a costly wardrobe for his sister. The modesty of her attire gave him a clue as to her character. Perhaps she was not quite as bad as he had thought.

Her hair looked different too. Undoubtedly she had made an effort to appear boyish the evening before, while today she had seemingly done her utmost to appear to advantage. Not without success either, Mr. Trenchard thought. Miss Maitland, though not exactly a beauty, was easy on the eyes nevertheless. Her face was nothing out of the ordinary, but her hair was of a beautiful, golden-brown colour, and her figure was light and pleasing.

Mr. Trenchard waited until the clerk had left his office, and then he said, "Well? Why are you here, Miss Maitland? Do you want to finish yesterday's work? I see you have again dispensed with the necessity of taking a chaperon with you."

"Not at all," Miss Maitland said smilingly. "At this moment, my chaperon is in Hookham's Library, safe in the knowledge that I have gone to call on my friend, Miss Fortescue."

"Does Miss Fortescue know you are calling on her?" Mr. Trenchard asked, amused in spite of himself.

"Oh, I will call on her as soon as I have finished my business here, so my chaperon will never know where I was." Miss Maitland said lightly. "When I got home yesterday evening, I told my brother what I had done, and he was rather shocked."

"Not shocked enough to keep you from repeating your act of folly, apparently," Mr. Trenchard said dryly.

"Mr. Trenchard, he had no idea I had gone to visit you," Miss Maitland said. "You must believe me -- Henry had nothing to do with this! Please do not hold him responsible! You may blame me as much as you like, sir, but be assured that Henry, had he known what I was about, would have locked me into the coal-cellar rather than let me make such a cake of myself. He intends to come to see you today, to beg pardon for what I have done, but I am not a child! I am fully aware that I have made a dreadful mistake, and if anyone has to apologise, it is me. This is why I am here. I wanted to tell you how sorry I was."

"For what, Miss Maitland? For your most obliging offer?" Mr. Trenchard said coldly.

"No, but for the things I indicated when I said you could gain acceptance by marrying me. As if you were not able to gain it by any other means. I did not mean that, you know."

"The fact is that I could not even gain it by marrying you. I'd still be an encroaching mushroom, a Cit. Rather than accept me, the Ton would pity you," Mr. Trenchard said. "I am very well off where I am, thank you very much, and I mean to keep my contact to the members of the Ton to a tolerable minimum."

"You do not think very well of us, do you?" Miss Maitland asked, looking mortified.

"Define us, Miss Maitland."

"The Ton."

"I have no reason to think well of them," Mr. Trenchard said. "To be fair, I daresay there are some excellent people to be found among the aristocracy, but I have yet to meet them."

"You know," Miss Maitland said quietly, "in a way you sound as snobbish as my Aunt Clarissa. You will not mix with the likes of THEM, she used to say, THEM being people who she thought were beneath her notice. You are just the same -- only them has a different meaning to you. Well, I have to leave. No doubt you have a great deal to do, and I do not want to keep you from your business. I am very sorry for what happened yesterday evening, and I hope you will believe me when I tell you that I did not mean to trick you in any way, as you seemed to believe. Good bye, sir."

Without waiting for a reply from him, she curtsied and left the room, leaving Mr. Trenchard dumbstruck. No one had ever called him a snob -- in fact, he had always prided himself on not being arrogant. But Miss Maitland had been right. He was just as high in the instep as any member of the Ton, though for different reasons. He would have to call on her and apologise for his behaviour. Without doubt she believed him to be an ill-mannered brute, and that piqued him, though he had no idea why it should.



Part II

Lord Scarsdale did indeed call on him in the afternoon, apologising profoundly for his sister's misbehaviour. His surprise was great when Mr. Trenchard assured him that he did not resent Miss Maitland's visit and admitted that he, too, had not been behaving as he ought.

"I believe I was very uncivil to Miss Maitland," he said with an apologetic smile. "Once I found out who she was, my only object was to get her out of my lodgings and back to her home without anyone being the wiser."

"In other words, you acted like a true gentleman," Lord Scarsdale said. "Had my sister been discovered in your home ... God knows what a scandal that would have been. I told her as much when she confided in me, and it seems the thought had not even occurred to her. She is still young, Mr. Trenchard, and such an innocent ... I am glad this foolish start of hers will never be known."

"I would still like to apologise," Mr. Trenchard said. "In person, if possible."

Something in him wanted to see Miss Maitland again -- badly.

"Why?" Lord Scarsdale asked. "You may be certain that my sister bears you no grudge. I have explained her mistake to her, and she has quite understood why you did not react the way she had expected you to. Believe me, there is no need for you to apologise."

Mr. Trenchard had no wish to disclose to Lord Scarsdale that Miss Maitland had called on him again. Maybe Miss Maitland did not resent his behaviour of the previous evening, but what about this morning's encounter? On both occasions, she had seen him at his worst -- ill-tempered, rude, overbearing. He did not want her to have the impression that this was him. She should realise that he could be completely different, though coming to think of it, what difference did it make? They were not likely to ever meet again, so her opinion of him did not matter at all.

"Perhaps if I called on you on some pretext or other ... could you arrange a meeting?" Mr. Trenchard finally asked. "No matter what you seem to believe sir, I really feel apologies are necessary."

"If you insist," Lord Scarsdale said. "I shall be at home tomorrow morning, and I will try to get my sister to stay at home too."

"Thank you," Mr. Trenchard said. "You have relieved my mind of no inconsiderable burden."

That evening, Mr. Trenchard was to dine with Mr. Goldfarb, who in spite of his retirement took a lively interest in his former junior partner's career and the proceedings at Goldfarb and Sons. When Mr. Trenchard arrived at Mr. Goldfarb's house in Queen Square, he found his former employer in a melancholy mood. This was not surprising -- Mr. Goldfarb had never had any interests apart from his trade, and now that he had withdrawn from business he found he had too much time on his hands and nothing of importance to do. Sometimes Mr. Trenchard suspected that if he offered Mr. Goldfarb an opportunity to come back, he'd be only too happy to grab it.

The dinner was excellent, as usual, and they passed their time pleasantly, conversing on business topics and mutual acquaintances. Mr. Goldfarb, for want of a more useful occupation, was still very much in the know when it came to the businessmen in the City of London and their activities and plans, and he was eager to share this knowledge with Mr. Trenchard -- even more so because the bank still bore Goldfarb's name and he wished it to do well. But despite their easy conversation, Mr. Trenchard saw that Goldfarb seemed depressed, and when the covers had been removed and port had been served, he asked Goldfarb how he was.

"Fine, thank you," Mr. Goldfarb said, looking faintly surprised. "What makes you ask such a question, I wonder? Last time I shaved the reflection in my mirror did not look so ill that my acquaintances should worry about my health."

Mr. Trenchard laughed. "I was not talking about your health, sir. I simply got the impression you are not ... very happy."

Goldfarb sighed. "If I told you I was it would be a lie," he said. "I am beginning to realise that there is a great deal I have missed out on during my life, and it's too late to start these things now. All I ever thought about was business -- and money. Now I've got more money than I could possibly spend, but what else have I got?"

"Excellent health," Mr. Trenchard said. "That surely must count for something, sir."

"It does," Mr. Goldfarb admitted. "But the point is I have no one to look after me, should my good health fail me. Do not talk to me about servants and hired nurses -- I'd rather die than be left at their mercy. I should have thought of this when I was younger -- that I'd be lonely in old age, with no one to care for me and no one to care for either."

"You have many friends who are very fond of you, sir."

"I daresay I have many friends," Mr. Goldfarb said. "How many of them are truly fond of me I dare not guess, though. How many could I depend on, I wonder? No, I should have married when I was younger, I should have found myself a proper wife, and I should have had children. I'd be a grandfather by now, and that would give me something to do - if only avenging my children's misbehaviour by spoiling their brats."

The mental image of the distinguished Mr. Goldfarb playing with his grandchildren and feeding them sweetmeats until they were sick greatly amused Mr. Trenchard. To him, it seemed more likely that Mr. Goldfarb's grandchildren, if he had any, would be afraid of him. He did not say so, however.

"You could still marry," he merely pointed out. "Is there no lady of suitable age and character among your acquaintance?"

Mr. Goldfarb laughed. "No, there isn't, and even if there was I do not think I'd marry. My time for marriage is over; I am far too old to embark on such an adventure. I am grateful for your concern, Trenchard, you are almost like a son to me. Which gives me the right to advise you, I hope. I do not want you to make the same mistake I made. How old are you now?"

"Thirty-two," Mr. Trenchard said.

"The perfect age for marrying and setting up one's nursery," Mr. Goldfarb said. "You should do so, Trenchard. Look at me and see what will become of you if you don't."

Mr. Trenchard could not stop thinking of Mr. Goldfarb's words that night. Goldfarb had been right -- he was on the way to becoming the same lonely old man Goldfarb was, and he had no taste for that. Besides, he needed an heir, for he wanted another Trenchard in charge of his bank once old age had rendered him unable to manage his business. He had never wasted a single thought on marriage so far -- probably, he thought, because he had never met a woman who had made him think of it. On the other hand, he had never sought to meet any such woman. His work had been his chief interest, and when his work had been done he had been happy to retire to his home and enjoy the peace and quiet there.

His pastimes were not of the sort to get him into company either. He was fond of reading, and no companionship was required for that. He had friends and business partners with whom he spent the occasional convivial evening, but he had no taste for noisier activities such as balls or masquerades. He kept a couple of horses, for sentimental rather than practical reasons -- he had grown up on a country estate, and had always been fond of them. Mr. Trenchard enjoyed a riding excursion into London's surrounding country as well as any gentleman, but he did not find the time for such an outing very often. He did like to go to the theatre now and then, but unlike others he could name he went there to see the play, and not to see and be seen -- or to flirt.

Mr. Trenchard's name was well-known and respected among the bankers and tradesmen in the City, and he supposed that any of their sisters or daughters would consider themselves very fortunate if he made them an offer of marriage. But among those he knew, there was none who interested him enough to tempt him.

There was one easy solution to that dilemma, Mr. Trenchard thought. It would cost him fifteen thousand pounds, but that would prove to be an excellent investment into his future. Miss Maitland was very young still, but that was not important. The younger the better, perhaps, for he could instruct her and model her into the kind of wife he wanted. She was intelligent, though a bit naive due to her lack of experience with the world and its evils, but that fault would be remedied before long. Her manners left nothing to be desired, and her looks were tolerable, too. Most of all, no great deal of wooing was expected of him. She had already made it clear to him that she was willing to marry him, should he agree to help her brother out of his financial straits. Having no time to look about him for a wife, let alone court her once he had found a candidate, Mr. Trenchard decided that he would make Miss Maitland an offer when he saw her the next day. If she had, in the meantime, thought the better of her idea, fair enough, he would not repine. Still, the idea of spending the rest of his life with her was not an entirely unpleasant one.

Mr. Trenchard was not going to do anything behind Lord Scarsdale's back. Therefore he informed his lordship of his intentions when he called on him the next morning. Lord Scarsdale left him in no doubt as to his opinion of the idea.

"I am not going to sell my sister into marriage," he said indignantly.

"I am not asking you to," Mr. Trenchard explained. "If the match is repugnant to your sister, she is free to tell me so."

"And what will happen if she refuses your offer?" Lord Scarsdale asked.

"Nothing," Mr. Trenchard said, not pretending to have misunderstood Scarsdale's meaning. "I hope I know better than to mix up private and business matters, sir."

"Still you are prepared to give me fifteen thousand pounds in return for my sister's hand in marriage," Lord Scarsdale said.

"But I am not going to put Miss Maitland under pressure. The decision is hers, not mine -- or yours, for that matter."

"I know Sarah will do anything to help me out of this scrape," Lord Scarsdale said. "So you must be aware that even though you do not mean to put any pressure on her, my situation will leave her no choice but to accept you, whatever her opinion may be. And this makes me uneasy, I confess."

"Certainly you will be able to convince your sister that she need not sacrifice herself for your sake, sir," Mr. Trenchard said.

"I still do not like the idea," Lord Scarsdale admitted, after a minute or two of silent reflection.

"Would you like it any better if I were a titled gentleman?" Mr. Trenchard asked sharply. "If I were a baronet or a viscount like yourself, or even a duke -- what would you say then? You'd expect your brother-in-law to assist you, certainly, so where do those scruples of yours come from, sir?"

Lord Scarsdale did not answer the question, but said, with a sigh, "Very well. You may speak to my sister, sir, and I will accept her decision, whatever it may be. But you must give me your word that you will not make the marriage appear like some kind of ... bargain."

"I will try not to," Mr. Trenchard promised.

Five minutes later, he found himself alone with Miss Maitland. She was not surprised to see him - without doubt her brother had informed her that Mr. Trenchard wanted to call on her.

"Do sit down, Mr. Trenchard," she said, sitting down on the sofa opposite him. "My brother told me you had something to say to me."

"Quite so," Trenchard said. Her gaze rested on him, and he found it a bit disconcerting. Bashfulness was certainly not one of her faults. "I meant to apologise for the way I behaved yesterday morning -- and the evening before. You have seen me at my worst, Miss Maitland, for which I have been sorry ever since."

She smiled. It was a calm smile, and a very friendly one. Mr. Trenchard found it greatly encouraging.

"There is much truth in the things you said," he admitted with a shy smile.

"Is there?" Miss Maitland asked.

"Indeed there is," he said. "One thing struck me most -- you pointed out that I was, in my way, just as snobbish as those people whose arrogance I have always despised."

"I did not mean to offend you, sir."

"I know that, Miss Maitland. I have found out that you never meant to offend me, and that I completely misunderstood your intentions when you called on me the day before yesterday. I have done you an injustice -- please forgive me."

"You are already forgiven, sir," she said with a charming smile. Why had he not noticed the loveliness of her smiles before, he wondered. Maybe because she had not had any reason to smile in his presence so far?

"There is ... one more thing," he said. "I have been thinking about the offer you made me. Mind you, I am not striving for acceptance among London's Haut Ton, but..." His self-assurance suddenly vanished. "I'd consider myself most fortunate if you were to become my wife, Miss Maitland," he finally said, having mustered all his courage for these words. For a few moments, she was silent, earnestly studying his face.

"Why this change of heart, sir?" she finally asked. "Considering your reaction to my offer, I must own this proposal comes as a bit of a surprise."

"Your visit brought one thing to my mind," Mr. Trenchard said. "That I needed a wife -- and that you are just the kind of wife I need."

"This sounds very much like a marriage of convenience," Miss Maitland said.

"Did you have anything different in mind when you called on me?" Mr. Trenchard asked. "I did not suppose you had fallen in love with me at first sight. I may be snobbish now and then, but I am not conceited enough to believe such a thing."

Miss Maitland blushed -- most becomingly, Mr. Trenchard thought. "True, this is what I had in mind," she murmured. "But when you were so indignant, I thought you had different ideas about marriage."

"I have never had any ideas about marriage," Mr. Trenchard said with a smile. "Which makes it much easier for me to adjust to yours, should you accept my offer."

"Are you going to help my brother?" she asked, after a short pause.

"Miss Maitland, I promised your brother not to mention anything about financial transactions to you. He told me it should not influence your decision, and I quite agree with him. If you'd rather not marry me, tell me so and I will never bother you again. Your brother will not be any worse off for your refusal than he is now. I may not be a gentleman, but my word does count for something. -- I can assure you that I will do my best to make you happy -- or content, at any rate -- should you consent to this marriage."

"This means you will help him," Miss Maitland said.

"You have given me the impression that you cannot be content, let alone happy, as long as your brother is in trouble," Mr. Trenchard said. "Does this answer your question?"

"I think it does," Miss Maitland said with a radiant smile. "Very well, sir -- I am going to marry you."

"I am honoured," Mr. Trenchard said, taking her hand and kissing it. "I need to talk to your brother once more to acquaint him with the outcome of our meeting. If you should be at home tomorrow, I'd like to call on you again to give you an engagement present."

"Is this it?" she asked, slightly taken aback when he bowed and walked to the door. "Aren't you going to kiss me?"

"Do you want me to?" Mr. Trenchard asked. He had not meant to take any liberties with her, especially considering the circumstances of their engagement. She hardly knew him, and he had not been sure whether she'd welcome any kisses from him. But the idea was an appealing one.

"I think it is customary," Miss Maitland said. "Betrothed couples kiss, don't they?"

Hesitantly, he went back to her and took her into his arms. "If you want me to kiss you, I shall," he said. It felt good to hold her, he thought, and the thought of kissing her was more than pleasant. It was ... thrilling. Still, he was unsure how to go on. He did not want to move too fast, he wanted her to get accustomed to the thought of having him around -- and the thought of kissing him. There was no use in disgusting her by wanting too much too soon.

"Please do," she said, looking up at him and smiling. Her smile was irresistible, and his qualms disappeared. He kissed her, gently at first, but when she responded to his kiss he became bolder. It seemed to him that he had so far underrated the effect a simple kiss could have on a man. It quite took his breath away, and only with great reluctance he let her go.

"I'd better be going," Mr. Trenchard said once he trusted himself to speak in his normal voice again. It would not do to stay any longer.

"I suppose so," she said softly. "But before you go, I'd like to know your name."

"You do know my name," he protested. Really, what was she thinking?

"Not your given name," she pointed out. "I'd like to know my future husband's Christian name, if you please."

He laughed. "I quite forgot," he said. "Peter. Not an extraordinary name, but then I'm not an extraordinary man either so I daresay it suits me."

"I do think you are extraordinary," she said quietly. "To me you are. - My name is Sarah, by the way."

"I know. Your brother told me. -- I will come back with your present tomorrow, Sarah."

"Until tomorrow then," she said, sounding somewhat disappointed. She did not appear to be happy with the prospect. Didn't she want him to come back? Or didn't she want him to leave? He hoped it was the latter.

"Until tomorrow." He kissed her hand and left her, feeling confused. He could not possibly be in love with Sarah Maitland -- he had met her only two days before, and knew virtually nothing about her. Still, that kiss - there had been something between them. There was a strong attraction, which was not bad, he thought. But it was not a thing one could call love just yet, he decided. He was not in love with his bride -- but that did not mean that he might not be, one day. If this happened, he did not want to be the only one in their marriage to be in love, he thought. No good could come of such a thing. Perhaps some courting would not hurt after all.



Part III

Mr. Trenchard spent the rest of the day in his office, trying to get as much work done as possible to be able to spend some more time with his fiancée the next day. But somehow his thoughts always seemed to stray from the tasks at hand -- they were with Sarah most of the time, and Trenchard found himself rather inefficient, an affliction that was new to him. Everything was fine while he was with someone -- during meetings with his employees he was his usual curt and businesslike self. Still, whenever he was alone, his face assumed a dreamy expression and his mind was miles away from business matters.

There were many things to consider. First of all, he needed to apprise his parents of his upcoming nuptials. He wondered what they would think about the entire affair. His father would object, Mr. Trenchard thought. Ever since his experience with his former employer, Mr. Trenchard Senior had been extremely distrustful towards anyone belonging to "Quality", as he termed it, and the prospect of having a daughter-in-law who had been born an aristocrat would not meet with his wholehearted approval. His mother would probably stand by her son, whatever he decided to do. If anything, she would be proud that her son had managed to marry into such exalted circles -- a certain sign that the Trenchards were somebody, despite the scandal attached to their name in their native county. A carefully worded letter to his parents was soon dispatched, and Mr. Trenchard turned his attention to the next task -- finding a present for Sarah. So far, he had only bought presents for his mother, who had been delightfully uncritical and had never found fault with any of the gifts she had received from him. Sarah, he felt, would be different. This was his first chance to prove himself, and it would be a bad start if the engagement present was not to her taste.

Luckily, the task turned out to be not quite as difficult as Trenchard had imagined it to be -- at the jeweller's, the proprietor of the establishment recognised him and, upon hearing that Mr. Trenchard was looking for a present for his future wife, took the matter into his capable hands. Fully aware that once Mr. Trenchard was wed he might well become a valuable customer, the man spent almost an hour showing him the most exquisite pieces in his collection. After some deliberation, Mr. Trenchard chose a set consisting of a brooch, a necklace and a matching bracelet, and the jeweller, though disappointed that he had not chosen one of the most expensive sets that had been on offer, commended his good taste.

When Mr. Trenchard finally returned to his home that evening, he realised that there was one more problem he had to tackle -- he had to find a house for them to live in. His lodgings were sufficient for a single gentleman, but once he was married they would not do. He decided to take Sarah house-hunting with him. It was going to be her home as well as his, so she should have her say in this matter as well. Besides, house-hunting was a good opportunity for spending some time with Sarah and getting to know her better, even though he was aware that she would have a chaperon with her.

When he arrived at Lord Scarsdale's town residence the next morning, he found not only Sarah but also the Dowager Viscountess Scarsdale and a Miss Holroyd, who served both as Lady Scarsdale's companion and Sarah's more than inefficient chaperon.
Lady Scarsdale's welcome was anything but warm -- but Mr. Trenchard had not expected her to jump for joy when confronted with her daughter's intention of marrying a Cit, and so he did not resent her coolness. She was polite and seemed to have resigned herself to the inevitable, which was all he could reasonably hope for. Miss Holroyd kept herself in the background during his entire visit, but she did not seem too happy to make his acquaintance either. Only Sarah was evidently pleased to see him, and when she saw the present he had bought for her, her delight knew no bounds.

"No one has ever given me anything nearly as beautiful," she exclaimed, and excused herself for a moment to put on her new jewellery. "I cannot wait to see how it suits me," she announced. While she was gone, Lady Scarsdale subjected Mr. Trenchard to a great deal of questions regarding his family, his upbringing, his schooling, his career and, as if that had not been her main object from the beginning, his fortune.

"Are your parents still alive, sir?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am, they both are. They are living in Surrey -- they own a small estate there." He could have added that he had bought the estate for them once he'd been able to afford it, but decided that it was none of Lady Scarsdale's business. Besides, a landowner made a better father-in-law for a peer's daughter than a former steward did -- in the gentry's opinion, at any rate.

"Such a beautiful place, Surrey," Miss Holroyd said blandly.

"My mother is very fond of it," Mr. Trenchard said, deciding to go along with the small-talk for as long as the ladies wished to keep it up.

"Do you have any brothers or sisters, sir?" Lady Scarsdale wanted to know.

"No, I grew up quite on my own." He smiled, but Lady Scarsdale pretended not to notice. Apparently she was not inclined to be on friendly terms with her future son-in-law.

"In Surrey?"

"No. We used to live in the North -- near Durham -- when I was little, but my parents moved to the South when I was nine years old." They had had to move, he thought bitterly, but he was not going to tell Lady Scarsdale any particulars about that.

"How so?" Lady Scarsdale asked.

"My father was looking for employment," Trenchard said curtly. "Besides it was my mother's opinion that the southern schools were better than the northern ones."

"Which school did you attend, then?" Lady Scarsdale sounded faintly surprised -- she had evidently not expected him to have attended anything but a village school.

"Neither Harrow nor Eton," Mr. Trenchard said dryly. "But I can read and write, and am rather good at calculating, which comes in handy in my profession." Miss Holroyd giggled, but stopped immediately when she encountered a reproachful look from Lady Scarsdale. Realising that his future mother-in-law had been born without a sense of humour, Mr. Trenchard continued, "It was a small school in Kent, belonging to a Mr. Jeffreys. I doubt you have ever heard of it, ma'am, but Mr. Jeffreys was an excellent tutor."

Lady Scarsdale continued her cross-examination without a comment regarding his previous answer. Perhaps it had not pleased her to hear that the Cit had had a proper education.

"Did you attend university?" she asked.

Mr. Trenchard laughed. "No, I did not. Once I had finished school, a friend of my father's -- an underwriter -- took me in as a clerk, and I have worked my way up from there."

"I am told you are quite successful in your ... business." She spat out the word business as if it were something indecent. He had not inherited his fortune, but had worked for it -- no doubt an unpardonable sin in Lady Scarsdale's eyes. In that respect, she appeared to share the common opinion of her class.

"I am," Mr. Trenchard said, without false modesty. He was proud of the things he had achieved, and no one was going to spoil this for him. "I had to work hard in order to become what I am now." Surely that gave Lady Scarsdale something to digest, he thought grimly, hoping for her to say something derogatory so he could give her a piece of his mind right there and then. She did not, however. Sarah chose that moment to return to the drawing-room, wearing her new trinkets and glowing with happiness.

"Only look, Mama!" she said, holding out her hand to Lady Scarsdale to show her the bracelet. "Is this not absolutely wonderful?"

Lady Scarsdale admitted that her new jewellery suited Sarah very well, and Miss Holroyd observed that the present was just the thing for a young lady. Sarah turned to Mr. Trenchard.

"Thank you so much for giving this to me," she said. "I cannot remember getting such a wonderful present ever before. You're spoiling me, sir!" After a moment's hesitation, she took his hands and kissed his cheek, which made him wish her mother and Miss Holroyd were not present so he could kiss her properly. Or perhaps he should kiss her despite their presence, to convince them of his vulgarity? It was probably what they had expected him to do, he thought with some amusement.

"I am glad you like your present," he said.

"Like it? I am delighted with it," she exclaimed. "Mama, may I wear this at my engagement ball?"

"A ball?" Trenchard asked, alarmed. No one had ever mentioned a ball to him. Certainly there must be a mistake, he thought, and became uncomfortably aware of the fact that he had never bothered with learning to dance. If there was to be a ball in honour of his engagement, he strongly suspected that he was supposed to dance. Was there no means of averting that disaster?

"Oh yes, Mama said there is going to be a ball in my honour," Sarah said. Trenchard was, for one moment, tempted to ask whether the Maitlands had enough money to afford such an event but decided against it. One did not make friends with such questions, he felt, and instead resolved to offer Scarsdale some financial aid in addition to the fifteen thousand he needed for paying off his debts. A wedding was an expensive pastime, it seemed, though in Mr. Trenchard's opinion all it required was a bride and bridegroom, a church, and a parson. He had been wrong, apparently.

"We were wondering whether the ball should be held here or in your house, Mr. Trenchard," Lady Scarsdale said cautiously.

"I have no house in London yet," Mr. Trenchard said. "So far, I have been staying in lodgings -- a single man who spends most of his time in his office anyway does not need much in terms of accommodation. I am going to find a house now, of course. In fact, I wanted to suggest that Miss Maitland should accompany me when I go house-hunting."

"That will be delightful!" Sarah exclaimed. "Mama, may I?"

"I see no reason why you should not," Lady Scarsdale said. "I find it very generous of Mr. Trenchard to consider your taste when making such a decision."

"Do you, Lady Scarsdale? I do not think I am generous at all. But I do think the future Mrs. Trenchard should have a say in such matters as where our home is going to be, since it is her business as much as it is mine. Perhaps you would like to accompany us, madam? Your daughter might wish for your advice."

Lady Scarsdale graciously accepted his invitation, and an appointment was made for the next day. Since this was also the day when the announcement of his betrothal appeared in the Gazette, Mr. Trenchard was not surprised to find Lady Scarsdale's drawing-room crammed with visitors when he arrived in her house the next morning. There were many curious looks directed at him, but not many people actually bothered to talk to him. He was a Cit, after all, and though wealthy enough to be permitted to marry a young lady of Quality whose family was in straitened circumstances, he was not the sort of person one wanted to mix with. It was just as Trenchard had expected, and he found it did not upset him overly much. It did upset Sarah, though. By the time they were in Lady Scarsdale's carriage which was to take them to the first house they wanted to look at, she said indignantly, "I do not know what has got into some friends of mine. They completely ignored you -- I am sorry. I cannot understand why they were so uncivil!"

"I am not surprised at their behaviour," Mr. Trenchard said soothingly. "I told you how it would be -- it is just what I expected, and I am not upset."

"But I am," Sarah said. "I never knew I was associating with such a pack of snobs!"

"Sarah!" her mother protested.

"Why, it is true Mama! They congratulated me on my engagement and yet they failed to acknowledge my fiancé's presence! Surely they should have offered him their felicitations as well? Or do you believe that there is no reason for them to felicitate Mr. Trenchard?"

"I believe there is more than enough reason for that," Trenchard said, smiling. She blushed.

"I was not fishing for compliments," she said quietly.

"I did not think you were. But I beg you not to let your friends' supposed coldness towards me upset you. We come from different spheres, and it will take our friends some time to get used to the idea of our marriage."

"Do you think there will be some of your friends who condemn our marriage?"

"Condemnation is too strong a word, perhaps," Mr. Trenchard said. "But I am sure not all of my friends will approve of it. Most of them strongly believe we should keep ourselves to ourselves and should not try to rise above our station -- neither by marriage nor by any other means."

"In other words, I might be received among your friends just as frostily as you have been received among mine?"

"I hope not, but I cannot deny that there may be some coldness, perhaps."

"It is only fair there should be," Sarah said determinedly. "After the welcome my friends and family have accorded you, I'd be rather uncomfortable if your friends and relations received me cordially."

"Their reasons for reserve may be different, though. Your friends probably think I am coarse and ill-mannered, and incapable of polite conversation."

"Not too long ago, I would have been tempted to agree with them," she said dryly.

Trenchard laughed. "Touché," he said. "Whereas my friends will believe you are too sophisticated to wish to associate with them."

"Sophisticated in the sense of haughty?"

"I am afraid so."

"Do you think they will come to realise their error?"

"No doubt they will before long."

"Then I have nothing to fear." Sarah smiled. "I am going to do my best to become acquainted with them. I am not at all high in the instep, you must know."

"This is one of the many things I like about you," Mr. Trenchard admitted. Sarah blushed. The compliment seemed to please her. Unfortunately, they arrived at their destination at that moment and the discussion of the things Trenchard liked about Sarah had to be postponed. Instead, they were discussing the house and its possibilities and finally came to the conclusion that it was not what they were looking for, though for different reasons. Mr. Trenchard thought the house was cold and draughty and a great deal of repairs would be necessary to make it habitable. Sarah thought the rooms were small and gloomy, while Lady Scarsdale believed the location was not fashionable enough for her daughter.

They fared better with the second house. Its situation left nothing to be desired, and the rooms were light and airy enough for Sarah's taste. Besides, it had a ballroom, which charmed both ladies though it filled Mr. Trenchard with a sense of foreboding. A ballroom meant balls hosted at his house, after all, and he was not sure he was going to like that. But the house was in tolerable order and would not require many repairs and changes before one could move in. So they decided that the house was a very likely option, but wanted to have a look at the third possibility anyway. The third building failed to please them as much as the other one had, though, and so Mr. Trenchard took the ladies home and then went to see his man of business to give him instructions regarding the purchase of the house they had liked best. As he handed Sarah out of the carriage, she gave him a smile and said, "I have enjoyed myself very much today. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but ... it was a very pleasant day. Do you have any plans for the fourteenth of May already?"

"None that I know of," Mr. Trenchard said with a smile. "Why?"

"Mama thought it would be a good day for our engagement party," she said. "If it is convenient for you."

Mr. Trenchard did some quick arithmetic. He had two weeks to learn to dance. Was that enough? He was not sure, but he would have to tackle this somehow.

"It will be difficult, but I believe I'll manage," he said.

"Difficult? Why will it be difficult? I thought ... I thought you said you did not have any appointments on the fourteenth?" She gave him a puzzled look.

"I do not have any appointments on that day. It is only..." He broke off, unsure whether he should tell her. The very last thing he wanted was for her to laugh at him. On the other hand, he'd better warn her that he was not a proficient dancer -- that way she could prepare herself for the mortification of having to stand up with him.

"It is only what?" she asked, looking up at him, giving him an expectant smile. "What is the problem, Peter?"

He noted with some satisfaction that she had used his given name. "It is not a problem really," he said and finally admitted, "It is only that I need to learn to dance."

"You cannot dance?" She looked surprised, but did not laugh at him, which made him feel at ease.

"It never seemed necessary to me, so I never learned it," he confessed.

"Oh, but that can be remedied," she assured him. "I will teach you."

"I was thinking of hiring a dancing master," Trenchard said. "You'll have enough to do as it is."

"I will not hear of it," Sarah said determinedly. "I'll teach you to dance. It is for selfish reasons, really," she added.

"Indeed? Why?"

"If I am the one to teach you, you won't feel comfortable dancing with other ladies," she said with a playful smile. "Which means you will dance with me often."

"I see," he laughed. "Fine, have it your way then. But I warn you, I am afraid I am not a very talented pupil."

"I like a challenge," she said. "When shall we start?"

"Considering I have only two weeks to learn, the sooner the better I'd say." The prospect of dancing lessons with Sarah was a very agreeable one, he had to admit. More than agreeable. It gave him something to look forward to every day.

"Tomorrow then." She smiled, and gave him her hand. He kissed it, wishing he could kiss her lips instead. Hopefully Miss Holroyd would forget about her duties as a chaperon when he came to Sarah for his dancing lessons. Their betrothal kiss had left him wishing for more.


Part IV

Mr. Trenchard was disappointed when he came to Lord Scarsdale's residence the next morning. Miss Holroyd had not forgotten her duties as a chaperon but was waiting in the music room with Sarah. He had to muster all his self-control not to show the direction his thoughts were taking when he greeted her. It was not Miss Holroyd's fault that he considered her de trop.

"Are you ready for your first dancing lesson?" Sarah asked. She looked particularly pretty that day, he noted. It was her dress, probably, that brought out the best in her.

"I admit I am a bit nervous," Mr. Trenchard said. "It is not often that I find myself in the position of a pupil, and I am not sure if I am going to like it."

"You will," Sarah said reassuringly. "I love dancing, and I am certain you will love it, too. Jane will play for us, won't you Jane?"

She turned to Miss Holroyd, who immediately sat down at the pianoforte without a comment. She kept her eyes on Mr. Trenchard and Sarah, though, watching closely as Sarah introduced her fiancé to the steps of some country dances. As long as he did not have to follow the pace of the music, he was fine, but once Sarah pronounced him good enough to try his hand at "real" dancing, he had trouble remembering the correct steps and often collided with his partner. These mishaps amused rather than bothered Sarah, but her laughs were good-natured and free of mockery. So Trenchard assumed that she was enjoying herself in spite of his clumsiness, and realised that she was none of those superior society belles who would ridicule a man as soon as look at him. He felt comfortable with her, and found the amiability in her manner and her inclination to laugh with him entrancing. It did not look as if she disliked his company, which boded well for their marriage. But it was early days yet, Mr. Trenchard thought. There was still a long way to go.

After an hour of practising his steps and dancing with Sarah, he had to take his leave. He was sorry to do so, but there was plenty of work waiting to be done at the bank.

"I had better turn back to the things I am good at," he said. "I am afraid I'll never be a good dancer -- or even a tolerable one."

"I do not see why you should not," she countered. "My impression is that you are able to achieve anything if you think it is worth your while to make an effort."

This was a rather accurate description of his character, Trenchard thought, and for some reason it gratified him that she appeared to see through him. "I will do my best not to make a complete fool of myself at the ball, I promise," he said, with a laugh. "Thank you for taking the time to teach me and putting up with my ineptness. No doubt you have suffered a great deal."

"Thank you for trying to learn," she said and quickly gave him a kiss on his cheek when Miss Holroyd was not looking. "But I am not finished yet. Shall I see you again tomorrow? You need to learn the waltz."

"What is so special about the waltz?" Trenchard asked, braving Miss Holroyd's disapproval, taking Sarah into his arms and caressing her cheek. "Why is it necessary for me to learn it?"

"You will see when I teach you," Sarah laughed, disengaging herself from his embrace. "And I am certain you will want to learn once you know what it is like, for you won't relish it if I waltz with someone else. Gentlemen tend to be possessive about their wives, I have been told."

By the end of their second dancing lesson, Trenchard knew what Sarah had talked about, and was inclined to agree with her -- he did certainly not want her to waltz with anyone else but him. He refused to admit to jealousy, but the feeling he had when he thought of Sarah in another man's arms came quite close. Still, he was in not love with his bride, so he could not possibly be jealous. It would be unwise to fall in love with Sarah Maitland before she loved him. He did not want to end up as a laughing stock, a besotted husband whom his wife manipulated at every turn. What he needed was a plan, Mr. Trenchard decided -- a strategy to make his bride fall in love with him.

The next morning Mr. Trenchard was in his office, humming to himself while working on his business correspondence. He was very pleased with himself -- he had just sent a bouquet to Sarah, and imagined her delight at receiving it. He had never met a female who had been able to express her joy as delightfully as Sarah did, and he regretted not to be able to be with her when she got those flowers. No doubt she would tell him how much his gift had pleased her the next time they met, and Trenchard derived some pleasure from envisioning the event.

One of the junior clerks came in, interrupting his musings and announcing a gentleman. Before Trenchard could say anything in reply to the clerk's announcement, the clerk was pushed aside and his father came in, looking thunderous.

"You're not going to deny me access to your office, are you?" he asked indignantly.

"Certainly not, sir. I did not expect you, and Willis does not know you, that's all." He sent the clerk about his business and turned to his visitor.

"Since when are you in London, father?"

"We arrived yesterday," his father replied. "We started the journey immediately when we got your letter."

"Mama is here, too?"

"You don't think she would have let me leave her behind, do you?" his father countered.

Trenchard laughed. "No, I suppose she wouldn't," he said. "Where are you staying?"

"The Red Lion, as always."

"You should move to Grillon's Hotel," Trenchard said. "Mama will be much more comfortable there."

His father snorted. "I don't think so," he said. "She'd feel out of place among all those society dowagers. Do you want us to move because that bride of yours is too fine a lady to visit us in a common inn? It's a perfectly respectable place, and I prefer it to any hotel, I can tell you, so if she doesn't want to come to see us there she'll just have to give it a miss."

"Father, this has nothing to do with Sarah," Mr. Trenchard said. "I really thought you'd be more comfortable at Grillon's, but if you prefer to stay where you are, you're welcome to do so."

"So your bride won't have to call on us," his father said grimly.

"Father, I must ask you not to speak ill of Sarah. You don't even know her. Give her a chance!"

"I need not see her to know what kind of woman she is," his father said stubbornly. "And now that you are going to have such grand relations, you seem to be ashamed of us."

"That's not true," Mr. Trenchard exclaimed angrily. "Why should I be?"

"I don't know, but perhaps your new family will tell you," his father said.

"My new family, as you call them, mean nothing to me," Mr. Trenchard said. "I do not want to lose you, father, not even for ten new families."

"Then why did you insist on marrying a gentlewoman when you finally chose a wife? Answer me that question, if you please."

"It was not a question of choice, father. It just ... It just happened," Trenchard said. It would be difficult to explain to his father just why he had picked Sarah Maitland, of all the available females in London.

For a moment, his father was speechless. "You do love her then?" he finally asked. His voice had undergone a change from one moment to another. Had his tone been accusatory before, there was now a softness to it Mr. Trenchard had not heard very often, a softness he found encouraging.

"I do," he said, realising that this was nothing but the truth. He was in love with Sarah, and had probably been for some time. The realisation came as a bit of a shock, and it took Mr. Trenchard some time to recover.

With a heavy sigh, his father said, "I hope she deserves you."

"I hope I deserve her," Mr. Trenchard said simply. "Wait until you meet her -- she is wonderful. I know you will like her."

"Is there any way for us to see her?" his father demanded. "We're not likely to move in the same circles as she usually does, Peter."

"There certainly is a way," Mr. Trenchard said. "If you wish, I can arrange for us to go to the theatre together tomorrow."

His father gave a bitter laugh. "The steward John Trenchard in the same box with His Lordship's family! What a sight we'll be! Do you think they'll come?"

"Don't judge them until you have met them, father. They are people like you and me, not monsters."

Smiling faintly, his father said, "I will try for your sake. And your mother will, too. Though I have to say she is very happy with the idea of your marriage. In her eyes you can do no wrong."

"Sensible woman," Mr. Trenchard laughed.

That evening, Peter Trenchard visited his parents at the Red Lion Inn. Like his father had said, it was a respectable hostelry and probably more suitable for a middle-aged couple from the country than Grillon's. The landlord and landlady were the sort of people he knew his parents felt comfortable with, the rooms were clean and the bill of fare was said to be good. His parents did not need to buy new clothes in order to dine without being stared at, and if his father preferred to drink a pint of ale with his dinner instead of wine, no one objected.

Upon his arrival, the landlady took him to his parents' room where his mother was waiting for him.

"Peter! I am so glad to see you!" she said, embracing him and looking up at his face. "You look thin," she said after having surveyed him critically. "You're not eating."

"I am eating, Mama," Trenchard said laughingly.

"Not enough, at any rate. About time you're getting married. Tell me about Miss Maitland! What kind of girl is she?"

"She is simply wonderful, Mama. You'll love her."

"Will she be able to look after you?" Mrs. Trenchard asked doubtingly.

Trenchard laughed, thinking of their dancing lessons. "Yes, I think she knows how to handle me," he said.

"Good. Just the kind of woman you need then," she said. "You are quite a handful, dear son."

"Am I?"

"Always were, and I don't think that has changed," Mrs. Trenchard said decidedly. "I am glad you are getting married at last. You know I always wanted you to."

"In fact, I don't. Did you? You never said so!"

"Of course I never said so. I'm your mother, but you wouldn't like me to meddle in your affairs, so I kept quiet. You're old enough to know what you want, and I did not want to push you. I'm not that kind of mother. But I can't wait to meet the girl who finally made you think of marriage. I owe her eternal gratitude."

His father entered the room just as Mr. Trenchard told his mother that he had arranged a meeting for the next day -- he had invited Sarah and her family to the theatre, and wanted his parents to come along.

"Tomorrow!" Mrs. Trenchard exclaimed. "That means I don't have much time to buy a decent dress."

"You've a dozen decent dresses, my dear," Mr. Trenchard Senior remarked. "I don't see why you should need another one."

"Of course not." Mrs. Trenchard sighed. "Men! Thank God I'll soon have a daughter who can commiserate. I want to look my best for my first meeting with my future daughter-in-law, John. Don't look so indignant, it won't hurt you either to dress up a bit."

Mr. Trenchard heard his father mutter some protest, but did not understand what he was saying. His mother did.

"John!" she said sharply, raising one of her eyebrows at her husband. With a sigh, he gave in and promised to buy a new suit for the occasion.

The impending meeting at the theatre caused Mr. Trenchard a great deal of anxiety -- it was to be the first meeting between his parents, Sarah and Sarah's family, and he knew very well that the meeting could end in a disaster. He knew what his father could be like if he found himself in company he did not want, and he also knew that Lady Scarsdale's stiff, aloof manner might well provoke his father. He counted on his mother's calming influence, and on Sarah's ability to make friends easily.

His mother had kept her word, and had bought herself an evening dress that was stylish and yet becoming a lady of her age and station. She had never been in favour of buying hideous dresses just because they were expensive and she could afford them. His father, too, was dressed neatly, and though his attire could not be compared to Lord Scarsdale's (who was, as always, dressed in the first style of fashion), there was no need to be ashamed to be seen with him.

Lord and Lady Scarsdale, Miss Holroyd and Sarah were already in the box when the Trenchards arrived. When Mr. Trenchard made the introductions, Lord and Lady Scarsdale were reserved but not unfriendly, as were his parents. Miss Holroyd's greeting was lukewarm at best, but Sarah made Mr. Trenchard's qualms disappear. She greeted his parents with a dazzling smile, and Mr. Trenchard could see that she was taking his mother's heart by storm, even though his father seemed a bit reluctant to like her.

With a curtsey, Sarah held out her hand and said, "Mr. and Mrs. Trenchard, I have so been looking forward to meeting you!"

"And I wanted to see you ever since I had Peter's letter," Mrs. Trenchard said, taking Sarah's hand. "She is lovely," she said, turning to her son.

"I have not promised you too much then." Mr. Trenchard smiled at Sarah, and she blushed. His father greeted Sarah stiffly, but his tone of voice betrayed no aversion to her, which was a good sign. Mr. Trenchard was glad the first meeting seemed to go well.

Until the play started, they whiled away the time with some small-talk, and Trenchard was pleased to note that not only Sarah but also her brother and mother were doing their best to be accommodating. Then the play began, and they all took their places and watched the proceedings on the stage. It was a comedy, but unlike his usual practice Trenchard did not pay much attention to the play. Sarah, who was sitting next to him, was a much more interesting object to watch. He loved how she concentrated on the play, how she seemed to sympathise with the characters, how she smiled and laughed at the right places, and how she sighed almost imperceptibly when there was a touching scene among the entertaining ones.

At one point, she realised that his eyes were on her, and she turned to him with a smile.

"Aren't you enjoying yourself?" she whispered.

"I'm enjoying myself very much," he replied.

"So you like the play?"

"I am not talking about the play," he said, and took her hand. She did not draw it away from him, but gave him a smile and turned back to the play. He kept holding her hand almost until the end of the first act, and she did not make an objection.

During the intermission between the first and second act, the door to their box opened and admitted an unexpected visitor -- Lord Copley, the man who had been responsible for Mr. Trenchard Senior's ruin, the man who had stolen money from his father and had managed to lay the blame on the steward. Mr. Trenchard and his father recognised him at once, but if Lord Copley did recognise them as well, he gave no sign of it.

"I did not dare trust my eyes," he said, strolling towards Lady Scarsdale. "My cousins here in London!"

Mr. Trenchard noticed how his father stiffened upon hearing the word cousins. This was an unpleasant piece of news, he had to admit -- he had not known Sarah was related to Copley.

His lordship kissed Lady Scarsdale and Sarah's hands and bowed to Lord Scarsdale, but ignored the rest of the company assembled in the box. Sarah, perceiving that he had not acknowledged their presence, went over to Mr. Trenchard and took his hand.

"Cousin Charles, may I present my fiancé? Mr. Peter Trenchard."

Lord Copley favoured Trenchard with a slight nod. "I read the announcement of course," he said. "How do you do, Mr. Trenchard?"

"How do you do?" Mr. Trenchard had a hard time hiding his disgust at meeting the man who had brought so much misfortune on his family's heads.

"You are ... in trade, I understand," Lord Copley said.

"Quite so."

"Why, you almost look like a gentleman," Copley said with a hint of surprise. The insult was obvious.

"So do you, my lord," Mr. Trenchard countered.

Lord Copley laughed. "Your name sounds familiar ... Trenchard. Have I heard it before?"

"You may have," Mr. Trenchard said.

Lord Copley gave him a close look, and then shook his head. "You do not look at all familiar to me," he said, and turned to Mr. Trenchard's father. "I do believe I have seen you somewhere, sir," he said.

"Quite possible," Mr. Trenchard Senior said coldly.

By that time, the second act was about to begin and Lord Copley took his leave and left the box. While everyone settled down on their seats again, Mr. Trenchard felt his father's hand on his shoulder.

"I need to talk to you, son," he whispered. "Now."

Compliantly, Mr. Trenchard followed his father to the entrance of the box.

"She is his cousin," his father whispered. "Did you know that?"

"No, I didn't," Mr. Trenchard replied.

"Under these circumstances, you cannot marry her," his father said determinedly.

"Father, we are engaged and I'm not going to go back on my word," Mr. Trenchard said.

"Ten to one she won't have you, once her cousin has told her about us," his father said. Although he was whispering, Trenchard could detect the fierceness in his father's voice.

"In that case, you have nothing to fear, father," Trenchard said. "If she won't have me, I won't be able to marry her."

But the mere thought that Sarah might cry off upset him. He could not allow this to happen.


Mr. Trenchard found himself unable to enjoy the remainder of the evening. He kept thinking about what Sarah would say if he told her about his connection with her cousin, and whether she would still want to become his wife if she knew. Still, he had to tell her -- before Copley did. Mr. Trenchard thought him still capable of making mischief, and he would try to separate Sarah and him -- Trenchard was not fooled by Copley's apparent forgetfulness. Lord Copley would not allow a relation of his to marry his former steward's son, and would try to prevent their wedding at all cost. It would be better to forestall him.


Part V


Before they parted company that evening, Trenchard arranged for a meeting with Sarah the next morning. He was going to ride to Hyde Park with her, and hoped to get an opportunity to talk to her without an interested audience to watch them.

Sarah was eagerly waiting, already dressed in her riding habit when Trenchard came to her home to pick her up.

"I did not know you were a horseman," she said smilingly.

"There are many things you do not know about me," Trenchard said.

"Are all of them such pleasant surprises as this?" Sarah wanted to know.

"I doubt it," Trenchard said, trying to think of a way to introduce the topic of her cousin into their conversation. Sarah noticed Trenchard's silence as they rode to the park and, once the opportunity presented itself, asked him whether anything was wrong.

"Have I offended you?" she wanted to know.

"Not at all," Trenchard said and, after ascertaining that the groom was far behind them and unlikely to overhear them, continued, "I only need to tell you something and do not know how to begin."

"I suspected there was something not quite right ever since Cousin Charles arrived in our box yesterday," she said. "He insulted you, I know, but please do not heed him. We do not see much of him, thank God."

"You do not like Lord Copley?" If Copley was not on the best terms with his cousins, there was still a chance that he would not speak up -- though Trenchard would not place a bet on that chance, even if he were fond of gambling.

"No, I don't. He is shifty," Sarah said. The tone of her voice made Trenchard laugh in spite of himself.

"You do not know him," Sarah said indignantly, taking offence at his laugh. "He is not to be trusted. The less I see of him, the better - you need not fear having to see him often when we are married."

"I do know him, Sarah." Trenchard said. He had decided that the sooner he got this matter behind him, the better it was.

"You...you do?" Sarah looked at him incredulously. "Does he know you, too?"

"I suppose he does."

"Then why did he act as if he did not?" Sarah asked indignantly.

"For reasons best known to himself, but he must know me. My father was his father's steward," Trenchard said, not quite successful in keeping the bitterness out of his voice. Sarah was quick to notice it.

"I did not know Lord Copley's father, even though he was my mother's uncle. What kind of man was he?"

"I do not remember him well. I believed he was kind enough, but then he dismissed my father and that naturally changed my opinion of him."

"Why did he do that?" Sarah asked, startled.

"This is a long story," Trenchard said. "It may sound unbelievable, especially to someone related to Copley. But it is true nevertheless - I can prove it."

"Tell me then," Sarah said, looking at him expectantly. Slowly, Trenchard began to recount his tale.

"My father was the late Lord Copley's steward for fifteen years. Lord Copley greatly respected him, and since he did not interest himself in the management of his estate my father was free to act for him in every way he saw fit. Everything went well until, suddenly, large sums of money were withdrawn from his lordship's accounts, and it appeared that my father had done so. Lord Copley came to the estate to demand an explanation - which my father was unable to give. He had never drawn any money from Lord Copley's account without his lordship's express permission and was naturally upset by his lordship's subsequent behaviour. Lord Copley told us to leave the place immediately and not to show our faces there ever again."

"How terrible!" Sarah exclaimed. "How could he not believe your father? After fifteen years of faithful service one might think he'd at least listen to what your father had to say in his defence!"

"Lord Copley did not want to hear anything my father had to say. His decision was made and whether it was right or wrong did not bother him. It is my opinion that my father only served as a scapegoat - my Lord Copley needed to cover up the truth."

"What is the truth?"

"My father had friends in some unexpected places. They provided him with evidence - the papers he was supposed to have signed. The signature bore some resemblance to his, but in comparison to his real signature one could spot the difference. The rest of the papers was written in young Copley's hand - he had forged my father's signature to get the money. My father wrote to Lord Copley, demanding to be able to prove his innocence in a trial, but Copley refused, saying he did not want to ruin my father and that it would be better to hush the matter up. There case has never been taken to court - for obvious reasons, if you ask me. My father's reputation was damaged beyond repair - he had to move south to get employment, and even there he had to accept positions that were decidedly beneath him. To my knowledge, nothing ever happened to young Copley."

"I knew he was shifty!" Sarah cried. "What an infamous thing to do!"

"And now I am afraid Copley will use this story to separate us," Trenchard continued. "Your brother will not consent to our marriage once Copley has poured this tale into his ears. I doubt he will disclose his share in my father's ruin."

"He will never be able to separate us!" Sarah said determinedly. "You said you could prove it was a lie!" The thought that their engagement would be at an end once Lord Scarsdale heard his cousin's story clearly upset her, but she seemed willing to fight.

"So I said, but I know enough about the aristocracy to know that your brother will not want to see my evidence if it is a matter of a gentleman's word opposed to mine." It would be the very first time anyone did, Trenchard thought. So-called gentlemen got away with many things because no one doubted their word.

"I will make him if he does not," Sarah said fiercely. "I am not going to let Cousin Charles ruin our happiness."

"Our happiness?" Trenchard asked, smiling. Sarah believed marriage with him would make her happy - that thought warmed his heart, and hardened his resolve to do what was within his power to get even with Copley.

Sarah flushed, and said, "I will marry you, Peter - if you can bear to be married to Lord Copley's cousin."

"What he did to us has nothing to do with you," Trenchard said. "I do not see you as his cousin - to me you are my intended wife, and that's all that matters."

Sarah stopped her horse, and Mr. Trenchard followed suit.

"I would not blame you if you cried off," she said quietly. "Well, not very much," she added, blushing.

"I have no intention of doing so," Trenchard said. "I only wanted you to know the truth about your cousin and me. Your brother will not hear about this unless I am forced to tell him, but it may well be he will not see me once Lord Copley has set him against me by telling his version of the story."

"He will heed me, Peter. I will talk to Henry, and he'll believe me because I have never lied to him. He is not too fond of Cousin Charles, so I daresay he'll be inclined to listen. I will not let you down, Peter. You can count on me."

Trenchard took Sarah's hand and kissed it. "I know, Sarah," he said, keeping her hand in his for a moment longer than necessary. "Thank you for having faith in me."

Even though Sarah's reaction to his disclosure had been heartening, Mr. Trenchard did not believe their problem could be solved too easily. He neither doubted that Lord Copley would try his utmost to prevent his cousin's marriage to his ex-steward's son, nor did he believe Lord Scarsdale would credit his account rather than Copley's. People who had been bred to believe in the integrity and superiority of their own class would not overcome their prejudices easily. Even though he knew Sarah would plead on his behalf, Trenchard was uncertain what the outcome would be. Lord Scarsdale might assume his sister had been deceived, and might not take her defence of Trenchard's character seriously.

Lord Scarsdale's visit that afternoon did, therefore, not surprise Mr. Trenchard. What did surprise him was his lordship's unwillingness to hear his explanation of his connection to Lord Copley's family - he would have supposed he'd get the chance to do this before being condemned. But it was obvious to Mr. Trenchard that Lord Scarsdale saw this as a welcome opportunity to get rid of his sister's unsuitable betrothed, and that he was determined not to let go of it.

"I must ask you to break off the engagement," Scarsdale demanded, after having made his point clear to him.

"There is no chance of my doing so." Trenchard replied. "If Sarah wants to end our engagement, she is most welcome to, but I refuse to put myself in the wrong by jilting a respectable girl for no reason at all."

"No reason?" Lord Scarsdale cried. "A man of your reputation, your history cannot expect a respectable woman to marry him."

"Once again, my lord - if Sarah wants to cancel the wedding, I won't stop her, but I won't do it. As to my reputation - and my history - if you took the trouble to inquire into it you'd find out it is spotless, but I daresay that does not really interest you. The blemish on my father's character is too convenient to be disregarded."

Mr. Trenchard had been in business for long enough to be able to conceal his emotions, but during this interview he had to make some effort to keep up his cold, unapproachable façade.

"If your reputation is as spotless as you say, sir, why is your bank still called Goldfarb & Sons? Why not Trenchard's or something like that? Are you ashamed of your name?"

"To explain this to you would take up too much of my valuable time," Trenchard said coldly. "It has nothing to do with the scandal attached to my father's name. Besides, I am certain Sarah told you..."

"She is Miss Maitland to you, sir." Lord Scarsdale said spitefully. "And you will not see her again."

"Is this your last word?" Trenchard asked.

"It certainly is." Lord Scarsdale said coldly. "My sister will not marry such a man. She may not find anyone as wealthy as you, but I am sure she need not look far for a more respectable man."

"Fine," Trenchard said, seething with anger but outwardly cool. "We will meet again, surely - either when you pay your debts or at the auction if you cannot pay them."

If Scarsdale could be spiteful, so could he.

"I am not looking forward to it, either way," Lord Scarsdale said, and left without favouring Mr. Trenchard with a greeting.

Contrary to the impression he had given Lord Scarsdale, Trenchard was not going to give up Sarah without fighting for her. He loved her too much to meekly accept a separation, and flattered himself that Sarah's view of the affair coincided with his. Perhaps she did not love him yet, but undoubtedly she was somewhat fond of him. They had a bright future before them, if only they'd get a chance - and Trenchard would see to it they got one.

He was in his lodgings working on a plan to foil Copley when his valet came in and announced Miss Maitland. Mr. Trenchard did not have to wait for long before she made her appearance - dressed in the male attire she had worn at their first meeting. Seeing her like this again Trenchard could not help but wonder how she could ever have been able to fool him with her masquerade - she looked certainly feminine and, Trenchard thought, very attractive in her get-up.

"What are you up to this time?" he asked her and, with a wave of his hand, dismissed Crowley. The moment his valet had left the room, Sarah threw herself into Mr. Trenchard's arms.

"I have come to stay," she said.

"Sarah, you cannot be serious," Trenchard said, letting her go and giving her a stern look. "Do you know what you are suggesting? Do you know what will happen if you are found here?"

"We'll be forced to marry," Sarah said cheerfully. "Once I have spent a sufficient amount of time here, not even my poor deluded brother will be able to stop us -- or even want to."

So this was Sarah's plan -- she wanted to force her brother's hand by spending the night at Trenchard's lodgings.

Trenchard shook his head. "No, Sarah."

"It is a perfect way of getting what we want," she said.

"Sarah, we will get married. There is no need to employ such drastic means as that. I cannot let you ruin yourself. I'd be a villain if I allowed it."

"Don't you want to marry me?" Sarah asked, clearly disappointed at his reaction to her plan.

"More than anything else, but I won't let this happen to you. You won't live with a shadow on your name, as my father did. I will not allow it. I'd rather give you up."

"Don't you care for me then? Is it true that you only wanted to marry me to get even with Cousin Charles?"

"Who said so?" Trenchard demanded. The fury in his voice made Sarah go pale, but she answered his question nevertheless.

"It is what Cousin Charles said to my brother," she said. "I overheard it."

"And you believed him?"

"I had no reason to believe him. I think ... I think you are quite fond of me, aren't you?" She glanced up at him.

"More than that," Trenchard said. "I am in love with you, Sarah, and I give you my word that my proposal had nothing to do with your relationship to Lord Copley. I did not even know you were related."

"You are in love with me?" There was some wonderment in her voice, as if she did not quite believe her luck.

"Very much, actually," Trenchard said, caressing her cheek. "This is why I cannot allow you to do anything that you will regret later. Trust me to deal with Lord Copley and your brother. There is no need for me to compromise you. We'll be respectably married, without any scandal, I promise."

"To say the truth, I'd prefer that, too," Sarah said quietly. "Only when my mother said I was never to see you again I was so desperate that I thought anything would be better than that..."

"Desperate? Why?" Mr. Trenchard asked.

"How can you ask, Peter? Haven't you noticed that I'm in love with you, too?"

He took her in his arms and kissed her. "I must admit I suspected you were a bit fond of me," he said. "But nothing more."

"How foolish of you!" she said with a laugh. "Did you think I only wanted your money?"

"Surely when you called on me here that was what you wanted?" he asked, with a playful grin.

"Only until I saw you," she said, smiling back at him. "Then I thought I could be quite happy being married to you."

"I threw you out!" Mr. Trenchard said dryly. "Is that the way to win a woman's heart?"

"You won mine by doing so," she laughed. "It showed me that you had principles -- I could never love an unprincipled man. Of course it did not hurt that you were handsome, too."

"Me? Handsome? No one ever said I was handsome," Trenchard said. He had never thought his looks were anything more than passable, certainly.

"Oh, but I think you are," Sarah laughed. "Too handsome for my peace of mind. - But tell me, what will you do to Cousin Charles?"

"I'll make him tell your brother the truth or suffer the consequences of what he did twenty years ago," Trenchard said grimly. "I don't think we'll cancel that wedding yet, Sarah."

He gave her another kiss, and then gave Crowley orders to get Miss Maitland out of the house without being seen, and to convey her to her home. Sarah had told him she loved him -- and now it was more imperative than ever to clear his name in her family's opinion. Lord Copley had better take care, he thought. This time he had Peter Trenchard to deal with.

Mr. Trenchard abhorred duplicity, but he was not fool enough to assume Lord Copley would agree to a meeting with him if he used fair means. He therefore employed one of his friends, a Mr. Wallace who was one of the major shareholders of Lord Copley's bank. Mr. Wallace informed his lordship that they needed to discuss some highly advantageous investment, and Lord Copley was so keen to discuss anything involving an increase of his fortune that he made an appointment for the very next day. His surprise was as great as his indignation when he realised that he had been tricked. Not Mr. Wallace was waiting for him, but Mr. Trenchard.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded furiously. "Where is Wallace?"

"Mr. Wallace is indisposed," Trenchard said. "But we shall not need him."

"Had I known you would be here..."

"You would not have come, I know." Trenchard smiled. "I must ask you to stay, though -- you'd regret it if you left now. It must be rather difficult for you to face me, I daresay, though I do not suppose the things you did to my family weigh heavily on your conscience."

"I don't know what you are talking about," Copley said, sitting down opposite Mr. Trenchard.

"No? Shall I refresh your memory then?" He put one of Copley's incriminating letters on Mr. Wallace's desk. "Care to take a look, my lord?"

Copley took the letter, read it and grew pale. For a moment it seemed as if he was going to rip up the letter, but when Trenchard reminded him that there were more of these papers and that all of them were in his possession, he refrained from doing so.

"How did you get these?" Copley asked.

"Connections," Trenchard said. "You know one cannot trust Cits and bankers -- they always stick together, don't they?"

"What do you want for them?" Copley asked.

"They are not for sale," Trenchard said. "There are some things one cannot buy -- even I know that." Though, he had to admit, he had only realised that fairly recently. "Do you think I'll put incriminating evidence in your hands? I may still need it."

"What for?" Copley demanded.

"Considering you have started rumours which throw a bad light on my trustworthiness, I might demand compensation," Trenchard said coldly. "I do not know exactly how much harm has been done yet, but it may cost you the better part of your fortune to reimburse my losses. You see, in my position I cannot allow anyone to upset my customers by telling them false tales. My name has its value, my lord, and you may be called upon to pay for its restoration."

"Are you blackmailing me?"

"Blackmail, sir? Not at all," Trenchard said. "It was you who started the affair by telling your cousin about my father's history -- and now it is up to you to put things right. Tell your cousin what really happened, and no one else will hear about this."

"Whereas if I do not?"

"If you do not, I am afraid this case will be taken to court -- and publicly known. Do not underestimate me, my lord -- I have nothing to lose, on the contrary."

"A gentleman would never act in such a dishonourable way," Copley complained.

"Oh, but I am not a gentleman, am I?" Trenchard asked, smiling derisively. "I'm only a Cit. By this time tomorrow, I will call on Lord Scarsdale, and he will be in the possession of the true facts. If not, my solicitor will be happy to take over. Good bye, Lord Copley. Don't worry; you need not come to my wedding."

Although the whole matter was more than unsavoury, Mr. Trenchard could not deny that he had enjoyed having Lord Copley at his mercy. For a short while he had contemplated handing the evidence of Lord Copley's guilt over to his solicitor, and to make the matter public, but then he had hesitated. What could he win? His parents had found a new, comfortable home in Surrey, in a parish where they were well liked and respected. Why pull this old, sordid history to the surface again if he did not need to? He had a good name among his friends and business partners, and had earned it during long years of good and reliable work. The only thing he cared for was that Sarah's family should know the truth. If they knew, and his good name had been re-established in their eyes, he did not care what else happened. Copley was unlikely to spread any more tales -- he now knew Trenchard had the means to crush him and would not hesitate to do so. Copley would keep quiet -- it was in his own interest.

Lord Copley apparently thought it wiser not to try Mr. Trenchard's patience -- only two hours after their meeting, Trenchard received a note from Lord Scarsdale. The note contained a profuse apology for his injustice, and an invitation to dine with Sarah and her family that evening. By the time the gentlemen had finished their port, they were in perfect charity with each other and suggested to Sarah that the wedding should not be delayed too long.

In absolute agreement with their point of view, she suggested the wedding should take place on the fourteenth of May. Her mother had been quick to cancel the ball in celebration of her betrothal, Sarah said, and so the wedding would be a perfect opportunity to use up all the foodstuffs that had been prepared for that occasion.

She turned to Mr. Trenchard. "What do you think?"

"This sounds very prudent to me," he said with a smile. "I had no idea you were so thrifty."

"Surely a good trait in a banker's wife?" she asked laughingly.

"An excellent trait in anyone's wife," Mr. Trenchard laughed. "But I'll have you know I am not at all closefisted."

"Aren't you sorry you need not open the ball with me?" Sarah asked, with a grin.

"After all that practising? It's a great pity, to be sure, but I mean to dance with you often." Trenchard replied with a laugh. "Surely we'll get an opportunity to dance during our honeymoon - I have heard there are plenty of balls and assemblies in Brighton."

So it happened that, after a sumptuous wedding breakfast, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Trenchard set out towards Brighton on the fourteenth of May. It was a bright spring day, and the countryside was charming, but none of them seemed to be greatly interested in the view from their carriage windows. They spent their time talking about many things that occupied their minds, and were not averse to interrupting their conversation from time to time to exchange a couple of kisses.

At one moment, Mr. Trenchard was looking at his young wife with a smile, but not saying anything. His smile made her curious, and she demanded to know what he was thinking.

He laughed. "I was only thinking you were right the other day," he said.

"Of course I was," she said. "I always am."

"You do not want to know which particular thing you were right about?" he asked, laughing at her assumption that she was always right.

"Not if you do not want to tell me," she said with a smile.

"You told me it would be a capital investment if I gave your brother the money he needed and married you," he said. "And, honestly, I cannot think of a more profitable investment of capital than this." Mr. Trenchard pulled his wife towards him and put his arms around her. "Can you?"

Sarah laughed and admitted that she could not.



The End



©2005 Copyright held by the author.




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