The Chadwick Ring

The Chadwick Ring by Julia Jeffries Read Free Book Online

Book: The Chadwick Ring by Julia Jeffries Read Free Book Online
Authors: Julia Jeffries
I don’t marry Lord Chadwick?”
    Her father rasped, “I will lose everything.” Ginevra stared at him, incredulous. He amplified, “I am in debt, child. The credit sharks are after me.”
    Ginevra frowned thoughtfully, full of remorse. This possibility had never occurred to her. “Oh, Papa, I’m sorry, I should have realized! But the harvests have been so plentiful that I never dreamed ... These must be difficult days for you, with all your responsibilities. I know from reading the Gazette that since the end of the war corn prices have plummeted. Why, they say already that many small farmers have been forced to—”
    Assailed with compunction at her unwarranted sympathy, Sir Charles said sharply, “My money worries have nothing to do with economics, Ginevra, and I wish to point out that it ill becomes a young woman to pretend knowledge of so unfeminine a subject.” He rubbed his temples, vainly attempting to stave off the headache settling behind his eyes. How could he explain to her the pressures that had driven him to London, there to fall victim to the wiles of ivory-turners and the meretricious delights of the muslin company? He had tried frantically to soothe the anguish caused by the loss of his wife, and he succeeded only in hurting the child she had left in his care.
    As penance he now confessed bluntly, “Ginevra, for years I have borrowed money on the strength of your upcoming marriage to Tom Glover, putting off the creditors with assurances that someday my daughter would be a rich woman. Time has run out. They will not wait even a few months longer, much less two or three years until young Bysshe is old enough to marry. If you do not wed as scheduled, I shall undoubtedly go to the Fleet Prison, and you and those who serve us will be evicted from our property. The Bryant name will be disgraced, and we shall probably starve like the other poor homeless wretches wandering the countryside these days.”
    Ginevra shuddered. She was conscious of the element of bathos in her father’s plea, for she knew that she and he, well-educated and of gentle birth, would manage some way, no matter what happened—she could always become a governess!—but if there was a genuine danger of losing the estate to the moneylenders, what would become of the tenants, the servants who had devoted their entire lives to the comfort of the Bryant family? How would they survive? Now that the war was over, the country was in a depression. Farmworkers who only four years before had barely subsisted on twelve shillings a week now tried to live on less than ten. Thousands were unemployed.
    She gazed at the flickering fire in the hearth as she asked quietly, “Are you saying then that everything will be well if I marry Lord Chadwick?”
    Sir Charles nodded. “The Glovers have always been as proud as Lucifer. Family is all-important to them. The man would never let his wife’s kin come to grief.”
    Ginevra sighed, still not looking at her father. She wondered if she would ever be able to look at him again. But despite his betrayal, she knew where her duty lay. “Then I really have no choice, do I?”
    Lord Chadwick was lounging negligently on the settee, leafing through a small volume, when Ginevra returned alone to the drawing room. For a moment she stood in the doorway, watching the way the candlelight played on his dark curls. Her husband ... She shivered. He glanced up, and with one fluid, unbroken movement he uncrossed his long legs and stood erect, waiting until she perched nervously on the opposite end of the sofa before he sat down again. When Ginevra remained mute, he passed the book to her and noted in his deep voice, “Your maid brought this in while you were closeted with your father. I can see he is still lax about your reading material, or does he really believe that A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is suitable for a girl of your tender years?”
    Ginevra bridled at his superior tone. “As I told you once, I read

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