A Speaking Likeness

By: Sheila Bishop

About the Book




* * * * *

Henry Lambert came out of a small ruined turret at the end of the bridge, as though he had been lying in wait for her.

“Mrs. Pentland? I should like a word with you, if you please.”

Diana stopped, her heart thumping. “Yes, Mr. Lambert?”

“May I ask what you are doing in Brandham?”

“I am staying with Mr. and Mrs. Turner,” she said coldly.

“You know very well what I am asking. What is your ulterior motive?”

Diana did not answer. She was struck dumb by the strangeness of disliking a person who reminded her so strongly of her darling Hop. In a sort of trance she saw the oddly shaped finger on his left hand.

“Are you after money?” enquired Henry Lambert disagreeably. “Or have you simply come to make trouble?”

But the trouble had already begun…



* * * * *



When penniless young widow Diana Pentland befriended a rich and terrified girl who was about to bear a child out of wedlock, she never dreamed this small act of kindness would change her life. It was arranged that she should adopt the child, promising never to reveal the truth. Diana was content with motherhood.

New romance and marriage were far from her mind until she accepted an invitation to Brandham Castle, where she witnessed the astonishing resemblance between her son and the arrogant young heir to Brandham. Nor was this the only surprise. Something else was waiting for her. Love… and a stranger who would no longer be a stranger.








PART ONE


* * * * * * * * * * * *



The Love Child





Chapter One




A grave-looking man at the bank explained the financial situation to Diana Pentland. She understood him easily; there was not much to understand. Coming out into the mercantile bustle of the streets around Charing Cross, her first thought was that she had better walk back to her lodgings. She could not afford to take a hackney. She crossed the road, keeping her wits about her and a wary eye on the fast coach to Brighton which was just leaving the Golden Cross.

At the top of Whitehall she paused. There was King Charles, remote and aloof, riding above the populace, and some way further down, equally statuesque, the two mounted sentries on duty outside the Horse Guards. She had gazed at that building with considerable awe six years ago, when she and Oliver had come to London on their wedding tour. In the long war against Bonaparte, the schemes and decisions of the powerful beings in the Horse Guards were of vital importance to a junior officer in a line regiment and his young bride… The war still dragged on but scarcely affected her now.

You can’t stand here moping, Diana told herself briskly. Which was the best way back to Hans Town? Up the Mall, skirting St. James’s Park, across Green Park, and then along the edge of Hyde Park to Knightsbridge.

Having chosen her route, Diana set out, walking rather fast. She was very slender with fine, small bones; this made her seem taller than she actually was, and now, in her deep mourning, she looked almost a wraith, yet she moved so swiftly and gracefully that many people stared after her as she passed. The heavy black veil over her bonnet hid not only her grief, but her fine eye and brilliant complexion, and discouraged the sort of men who might otherwise have accosted her. She would have been grateful for this if she had thought about it, but her mind was elsewhere.

What was she to do? How were they to live? She had no one to advise her. Unprotected, she was not alone, thank God, for there was her precious little Susannah to love her and be loved, and to remind her of Oliver, yet the existence of a three-year-old daughter made her problems far greater.

Diana Bonnington had grown up in Chester where her father was an architect. After his death, when she was thirteen, she and her mother had continued to live in a good style (and perhaps a little too extravagantly), keeping open house and especially popular with the young officers of the garrison, whom kind Mrs. Bonnington treated as though they were a large family of nephews. Oliver Pentland had been a particular favourite. He was an orphan; all his family, he said cheerfully and without self-pity, were killed either by the French or by the Indian climate. He and Diana had fallen in love when she was eighteen. Their friends and connections in Chester had thought it wildly imprudent of Mrs. Bonnington to let her young and very pretty daughter throw herself away on a penniless ensign; perhaps she had been anxious to see Diana settled as soon as possible because she guessed her own life was ending. And there was not a great deal of money left when she died. Although Diana missed her mother very much, she was certainly happy with Oliver, following the drum and living in the closed circle of his brother-officers and their families as the regiment moved about England during the next six years. The husbands chafed a little because they longed to go and have a crack at Bonaparte; their wives hoped secretly that they would never be sent.

It was odd, Diana reflected, how the things one dreaded most often came out differently in the end. The week before the regiment was ordered to the Peninsular, Oliver went down with a fever which the doctors diagnosed as a rare disease he had piked up in the East. They recognised the symptoms but could not cure them. The regiment had sailed for Portugal without him, the wives and children scattered, mostly returning to familiar neighbourhoods where they belonged, and Diana stayed on in Deal to nurse her dying husband. The anguish of the next six months was so great that she dared not look back on it. When everything was finally over, her only remaining wish was to escape from the place where she had been so miserable. At first she could not think where to go. She did not want to return to Chester, had not even written to her cousins there to tell them Oliver was ill. They had not approved of her marriage, and though she was too generous to bear a grudge, she was also too independent to sponge on them. Besides, Chester was such a long way off. And her closest friend among the regimental wives was in Scotland, which was further still. Then she thought of Mrs. Barridge and her comfortable rooms in Hans Town. Mrs. Barridge had been letting lodgings for twenty years; Oliver had stayed there with his parents when he was a child, and he had taken Diana there on several leaves, when they had come up to enjoy the London shops and theatres. Mrs. Barridge was an old friend, and she had welcomed poor Mrs. Pentland and sweet little Miss Sukey into her best rooms on terms which could barely cover their board.