A Rational Proposal

By: Jan Jones
(Furze House Irregulars Book 1)


Kennet End, Newmarket, October 1817

Miss Verity Bowman, undoubtedly by design, was looking particularly fetching, framed in the window seat of the dower house wearing a demure black mourning gown. Only the cut of the material and the subtle sheen of the satin and perhaps the double row of tiny black buttons gave away the fact that it had come from one of the more exclusive establishments on Bond Street.

Charles Congreve, invited to sit down and be comfortable, appreciated the picture she presented, fully understood why her uncle had made her his heir, and desired nothing more than to strangle the pair of them. Sadly, there was little to be gained in strangling a man who had departed this earth just ten days since. In addition, the legal brotherhood tended to look askance at those of their members who took to throttling clients. Which, he was very much afraid, Verity was about to become.

Unaware of his less than affable thoughts, Verity smiled warmly as he took a seat. “Charles, how lovely, such an age since we have seen you. Mama and I are so glad it is you dealing with this sad business, though I do hope nothing very dreadful has happened to poor Mr Tweedie?”

Verity had happened to poor Mr Tweedie. Charles’s senior partner had taken one appalled look at the codicil appended to Admiral Harrington’s will (a document that had been perfectly sound in wind and limb when it had left his own chambers), made an astringent remark about amateur notaries in Newmarket who didn’t have the wit to know better, and announced himself to be at a delicate stage with several cases, too much so to travel into Suffolk to undertake the process of winding up the late admiral’s affairs. Not that there would be any, he’d added as an aside, the admiral being a very clean-living gentleman. Just the small weakness when it came to the turf. He was confident Charles would manage.

“Thank you,” Charles had replied, feeling anything but grateful. “You have recollected Miss Bowman is my mother’s goddaughter and a particular friend of my sister?”

Mr Tweedie had looked at him over the rim of his spectacles. “Naturally, I have remembered. A family attorney never forgets anything. Nor, as I am sure I do not need to remind you, does he allow personal considerations to influence his judgement. I repeat, I repose complete confidence in whatever decisions you might find yourself making. You had best leave directly after the funeral.”

So now Charles murmured his partner’s excuses about having a great deal of urgent work, was pressed to take tea and macaroons by mother and daughter, and his portmanteau was carried up to a guest bedroom just as if he was an invited visitor and not a common attorney. And all he could think of was how far Verity’s intelligent blue eyes were going to widen when he broke the terms of Admiral Harrington’s will to her. And then how far they would narrow. And how he had rarely, if ever, managed to get the upper hand of her in all their dealings together.

Ah well, there was nothing to be gained in shuffling around the matter. The sooner the business was concluded, the sooner he could be on his way. Charles cleared his throat and addressed Verity’s mother. “You will be glad to hear, Mrs Bowman, that we laid your brother to rest in sufficient style for his calling and with a large number of mourners in the funeral party, all of them decently and respectfully arrayed.”

“Thank you,” said Anne Bowman in a low voice. Like her daughter, she was wearing black. “It seems dreadfully wrong, losing James this suddenly, and doubly cruel, coming just as we were able to offer him a settled home whenever his interests brought him to Newmarket. Such a vital man, always.”

Vital was one word for it. Energetic, opinionated and meddlesome were others. A complete contrast to his sister, although Mrs Bowman did seem less crushed and faded than Charles remembered her from previous years.

He gave a professionally encouraging smile. “The admiral impressed me as a very industrious man. He must have been a fine officer to serve under. Many crew members from his past ships were at the funeral and they all said as much. He had, of necessity, a roving life until very recently, but he was fully sensible of your kindness in extending the invitation to reside here whenever his affairs permitted it. He has directed us to purchase a lifetime annuity for you, in order to increase the comfort your coming years. It will effectively double your income.”

Verity clasped her mother’s hand and turned a glowing face to Charles that momentarily robbed him of speech. “Oh, that is good news! How very thoughtful of my uncle. And it will be forever, Mama. The income will not be dependent on your remaining single, as Papa’s niggardly jointure is.”

Charles sipped his tea, arranging his phrasing. “As I understand it, the admiral was particularly concerned to make reparation for what he considered to be a lack of flexibility in the late Mr Bowman’s dispositions.”

Verity lifted her chin. “You mean Uncle James disapproved of the unfair way Papa left everything to John, cut Kitty and me out completely apart from my settlement that he could do nothing about, and allowed Mama a pittance and the right to reside in this dreary house, only if she remained a widow?”

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