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Elizabethans: The Earl's Jealousy
beautiful, my love,” Michael said with a wistful smile.
He bit back the
quiver which touched his lips. Seeing his little sister standing there in his
wife’s pale blue wedding gown, little sapphires glittering all over the skirt
and the sleeves, took him back to the day he had stood in the church and
watched Christine slowly walking towards him.
That had been the
happiest day of his life, although he did not know it then. He had no idea why
his sister was so insistent upon wearing the gown, and he had tried to talk her
out of it, but in truth he could refuse her nothing. She was very fond of Christine
and Michael thought she wanted to wear the gown because she would not be here
to see her wed. He thought it was so Grace could feel closer to her. He was
The first time he saw
Christine was at the coronation of the new Queen, and at the banquet afterwards
he found it difficult to take his eyes off her.
It was not just her
beauty which attracted him; there were many beautiful women there, all richly
dressed and sophisticated, yet Christine’s natural beauty set her apart. Her
blonde hair fell about her shoulders in waves and curls, not twisted into
impossible shapes by some clever hair stylist. Her skin had its own sheen, free
of powder or potions to obscure its natural glow.And he watched her every move, the gentle way
she touched her father’s arm as he sat beside her, the soft laughter when
something amused her, the shine in her bright blue eyes as she watched the new
Queen presiding over the feast.
The several parts
of her gown were of a combination of pink satin and white lace. Her bodice was
quilted satin, pulled tight so that her high bosom swelled and bounced gently
as she moved. Her overskirt was pink satin and her petticoat was of gleaming
white lace. Her sleeves were the same pink satin, but quilted and interspersed
with pearls and she wore a necklace of matching pearls.
Her hair reflected
the light from the candles overhead and Michael longed to discover how her lips
opinion, she outshone the new Queen, who was a pretty young girl, too young to
be occupying the throne of England, but hopefully she would marry soon and seek
guidance from a foreign Protestant prince.
Elizabeth had red
hair, like her father, and her gown was impossibly heavy, with layer upon layer
of elaborate brocade, stitched with many copies of the Tudor rose and trimmed
with ermine. Her bright hair hung loosely down her back, as befitted a maiden
lady, and the crown perched on her head was solid gold with many rubies
glittering in the candlelight.
After the five year
violence of Queen Mary’s reign, all the people here were hoping for great
things from this Queen, young as she was.
But she could not
compete with the lovely young girl who had caught Michael’s attention. He had
to know who she was, had to know if she was someone he was entitled to pursue.
looked his way and smiled, the most glorious smile he had ever seen. Her even
teeth were white, her lips smooth and her blue eyes kind. He felt sure she had
sensed him watching her, and he blushed, glanced away, but not before that
smile had captured his heart.
When he asked about
her, the disappointment almost brought him to tears.
“She is Lady
Christine,” the steward told him. “The daughter of the Duke of Westerbury.”
The daughter of a
duke! Oh, no! He tried not to look at her again, but it was too late; he was
enchanted. He was but the second son of an earl, important though that earl
might be. He was not even the heir to his father’s title and estate; his elder
brother held that privilege. She was the daughter of an important duke and a
lady in her own right; he could offer her nothing. His Grace would intend her
for an earl at the very least, possibly the heir to a duchy; certainly a
viscount of small fortune, with no prospect of climbing higher would never do.
All four brothers,
along with their father, were in high spirits. The Queen’s claim to the throne
was easily challenged, but the people had cheered her enthusiastically along
the route of the procession the day before and on her way to Westminster Abbey
today for the coronation. They were as sick of the brutal reign of her sister,
Mary as the Melfords and they had come out in their thousands, despite the cold
January weather, to show their approval and sniff the fresh, clean air to be
sure the stench of burning flesh had left no residue to linger over the city.
There were a lot of
noblemen who still wanted a Catholic monarch, despite the brutality of Queen
Mary’s five year reign of terror. There would always be those who wanted things
their own way, especially where religion was concerned. As to that, Michael and
his brothers were not pious in any religion and were quite happy to go along
with what was safest.
The fact that
Elizabeth had not attended her own coronation mass, held in Latin, and had
retreated whilst the holy communion was performed, told them all that this may
well be the last Catholic mass.
Michael stayed away
from court circles after that. He had no wish to meet Lady Christine again, not
when his ambitions toward her were so hopeless. The following months crept by
slowly, as he tried his best to put her out of his mind, to look to other
maidens as a possible Viscountess for him. But his dreams would not comply with
his wishes; he often woke from a deep sleep thinking Christine was his after
all. He had even reached out for her in the night, only to awake with a start
and feel the disappointment all over again.
And those dreams
always brought with them a stab of jealousy which was alien to Michael. He was
of a placid disposition and had never been jealous of anyone or anything in his
life before. He had no real idea of the meaning of the word, but now he knew,
now he was very jealous of whoever would be chosen to be husband to Lady
As the months went
by, he knew she would not stay free for long, that even should she not have
been married, she would definitely have been promised. What manner of man would
be fortunate enough to win her hand? And would he feel for her as Michael felt
for her? Would he appreciate the treasure he had won, or would he think merely
of her riches and lands, her status in the world? Michael often woke to find
his hands clenched into fists, ready to do battle with whatever man had won the
love of his life.
It was foolish; he
had not even spoken to her. How could he be in love with her? She could be a
spiteful, envious sort of female for all her knew. But he could never believe
that. Anyone with that smile, with eyes as kind as hers, had to be perfect and
perfection did not come along twice in a lifetime.
He tried hard to
focus his interests in other directions. He nagged his father about building a
new house, one in the shape of an E, as was the fashion since Elizabeth Tudor
took the throne. Melford Manor, in which the family had lived for generations,
was badly in need of modernisation as well as major renovations.
There was plenty of
land going spare, but the old Earl would have none of it; he did not like
change. Michael had little hope of his brother ever building such a house when
he inherited; Malcolm was not averse to change, but he was very much averse to
Michael also had
his eye on a beautiful black stallion, 17 hands and a wonderful beast, but his
father was in control of the money and he would not spend that much on an
animal. To the old Earl, a horse was no more than a convenient form of
transport and one such mount was as good as the next. His only requirement in
such a creature was that it was healthy and strong and fitted its rider.
all these plans which occupied his thoughts were mostly to suppress his real
desire, and no amount of money would buy her for him.
He had begun to
think he would remain unmarried, that no woman could ever come close to meaning
to him what Christine had come to mean to him, when the unthinkable happened.
It was a family tragedy which should have left him devastated, but instead
filled his heart with hope. He had always felt guilty about that, but it was
out of his control and there was no help for it.
Both his father,
the Earl of Melford, and his elder brother, Malcolm, were killed when their
carriage was swept down a hillside during a gale. Suddenly Michael was the
powerful and wealthy Earl of Melford himself and in a position to petition for
the hand of Lady Christine in marriage.
Wealthy people were
building houses in the shape of an E in honour of the new Queen and Michael was
suddenly in a position to do the same. So much power was very intoxicating; his
first action was to send word to the owner of the stallion, telling him he
would be prepared to buy the creature. Then he sent word to a well known
architect to design his new house.
Both these deeds
could be accomplished within minutes, while he was dressing with care for his
visit to the Duke of Westerbury and his most important acquisition.
He could not even wait
a decent period after the double funeral to race to the Duke’s estate some ten
miles away from Melford Hall in Essex. He had to get there before it was too
late, if it were not already too late, and he mounted his late brother’s horse,
which was faster and fitter than his own, in order to get there as quickly as
fluttered throughout the journey as he turned over in his mind the best way to
ask for Lady Christine, and what he would do if the Duke refused, or if he was
too late and she was already promised to another man.
The latter would be
worse. He could do his best to persuade the Duke, but if she was promised
elsewhere it would be much harder.
She was barely
fifteen but by the standards of her class, she should have been promised years
ago. Why had Michael not considered that before? Why had he not realised? He
had no idea, but still he was determined to try. His success depended on who he
had to compete with. Betrothals had been broken before.
When he arrived at
the Duke’s country mansion he saw her, walking in the formal gardens with a
young man. Michael recognised him at once; Edmund Carstairs, the younger son of
a minor baron whom he had met at the occasional local function.
Michael sat on his
horse and watched the couple for a few moments, trying to judge how friendly
they were with each other. He noted that they did not touch, that she did not
hold his arm or even walk close to him. Good; at least he seemed to be only an
Carstairs was not
at the palace for the coronation nor for the banquet afterwards; his family
were not important and were unlikely to have been invited.
treacherous surge of jealousy rose up, but he forced it down. Christine would
not be promised to this man; if he thought for one moment he had kept quiet
because of his low status while she had been betrothed to a man of less
importance, he would never forgive himself.
He could not
believe his good fortune when the duke agreed to his proposal.
“As you may know,
Your Grace,” he began nervously, “I have recently inherited the Melford title
and estates on the sudden death of my father and brother.”
The Duke shook his
head slowly, his mouth turned down.
“I have heard, My
Lord,” he replied. “You have my condolences.”
“Thank you. I hope
you will not think me impetuous, or acting in bad taste to take advantage of
the situation so soon after the event. Their deaths have left me in a position
of holding the title and the wealth, but of having no bride. I was hoping to
speak to you about your daughter.”
His Grace raised
Christine? I have no idea what her situation is, or what you might have
arranged for her future, but I hope you will look favourably upon my petition
for her hand in marriage?”
A smile escaped the
Duke’s mouth, quickly forced away but not before Michael saw it. His hopes
soared; it seemed the Duke did look favourably upon the request.
“My Lord,” he
replied. “I am very pleased to hear your petition. The fact is my daughter has
been keeping company with young Edmund Carstairs, a nice enough young man, I
suppose, but the youngest son of a northern baron. He can offer her nothing, in
addition to which his family are Catholic. I will not be sad to have a good reason
to part them.”
It never occurred
to Michael that Christine might have a preference for Carstairs; she was very
young and in his opinion not old enough to know her own mind or heart.
He had inherited
everything which would have gone to Malcolm, but he had no intention of
inheriting his brother’s betrothed. She was not to his taste; he found her
manner dour, she was far too thin and he never did understand how Malcolm could
be so content to wed her. One night in his cups he had let slip that he had no
intention of giving up his mistress for her and that he was marrying her only
for her lands which adjoined Melford lands. He intended to stay with her only
long enough to sire an heir.
nothing to his brother at the time, but that was not the sort of marriage he
wanted for himself. What happened to Geraldine when Malcolm was killed, he had
never enquired. She was sent back to her father along with her dowry and he
never gave her another thought until now.
Comparing her with
Lady Christine, comparing the swell of that lady’s bosom over the satin bodice
with the almost flat chest of Lady Geraldine, almost made him laugh.
No, he had not
thought about Christine’s wishes; all he knew was that he wanted her. He wanted
to stroke that smooth skin, wanted to run his fingers through those lovely
tresses, wanted to slip that bodice from her shoulders and hold her silken body
against his own.
Did he even ask if
she felt the same, if she wanted him? No, he did not. He had made the mistake
of assuming she would be grateful for an illustrious title and wealthy husband.
He was handsome enough and generous; he thought he could make her fall in love
He was wrong.
That had been three
years ago and now, watching his sister in his wife’s wedding gown, with that
same fair hair cascading over her shoulders, he could almost believe it was
Christine, back in his home again.
“Thank you, Michael,”
Grace said, her expression grave. “I want to look my best for the Viscount you
have told me I am to marry.”
impatiently. He thought they had finished with these discussions, but
apparently he was wrong.
“You told me you
liked him,” he said. “We have discussed this many times; you have had every
opportunity to decide whether you would suit each other and you told me you
were happy with the match. It could cause no end of problems to break the
betrothal now; such an act could ruin your future, you know that.”
Michael had gone to
a lot of effort to find a man who would suit his sister. After the collapse of
his own marriage, for which he blamed himself for his lack of respect for
Christine’s wishes, it was very important to him that Grace was happy with this
“Oh, it has nothing
to do with liking him,” she said with a mischievous little smile. “I like him
very much; he is handsome, personable and very charming. I am grateful for all
your efforts on my behalf, Michael, really I am.”
Grace paused, her
lips twisting into a little thoughtful pout, before she replied.
“I will not marry
him unless My Lady Christine is there to see it.”
He stared at her. Their
mother died giving birth to her and Christine had been the only mother she had
ever known, albeit only briefly. She was almost as heartbroken as Michael when
Christine left him, so why was he surprised at this turn of events?
She had done this
on purpose, he was sure of it. She had made no mention of this before, had
waited until it was too late to change things without scandal. This was the
reason behind her insistence on wearing his wife’s wedding gown, when she could
have had her own newly made one; she wanted him to see her in it and remember
his own marriage.
He tried to keep
the anger out of his voice, but was not very successful.
“Grace, you know
that is impossible.”
“I know no such
thing,” she replied with a little pout. “I do like Viscount Jason. Given time,
I might even learn to love him, just as you love your wife.”
“That is all in the
“Is it? Then why
does her portrait still hang above the hearth in the great hall? Why does her
likeness still look down on you in your bed?” She gave him a stubborn look. “I
would have thought you might have put those images away in the attics, or even
destroyed them altogether, were Christine really in the past.”
“Grace, you are
being unreasonable. She left us; you know that.”
“Again, I know no
such thing. She may have left you; I cannot know the truth of that as you have
never shared it with me, but I know she would never have left me, not without a
word of goodbye, and she certainly would never have left her baby daughter. You
should have known that much, if nothing else.”
Grace stepped down
from the stool where she had been standing for the dressmaker to finish her hem
and allowed the woman to remove the gown. She stood in her shift and petticoats
studying her brother, and he knew she was hoping for the right response to her demand.
She had made these
same arguments before, but always Michael had swept them away, afraid to
remember the rift between him and his wife and he had always ended by telling
his sister she was too young to understand. Now she was to be a bride herself,
he could hardly use her age as an excuse.
Her words resounded
in his brain, made him catch his breath. She was right; Christine would not
have left little Lisa. The child was not even a year old and Christine adored
her; was it likely she would leave that baby girl for a man? And why the hell
had Michael never even considered it before? Could it be because he was so
blinded by jealousy he thought only of himself, just as he had thought only of
himself when he asked for Christine in the first place?
“You are going to
marry Jason,” he told Grace. “There is no choice now, not for you.”
She laughed. He
knew why she laughed, because she knew very well he would give her anything
within his power. He might threaten to be the heavy handed guardian, but in
truth she was always able to manipulate him as easily as Christine could.
He often wished he had
stopped his wife from leaving, from going to the man she had wanted before her father
forced her into a marriage with Michael. But when he saw them together, it hurt
too much and he was consumed by a rage he had never felt in his life before. He
allowed his jealousy to get in the way.
He had walked into
her bedchamber in this very house and seen them, kissing. Edmund Carstairs was
holding Michael’s wife in his arms, pressing her lips against his, her breasts
against his chest as he kissed her passionately and Michael’s heart twisted
then as it twisted now to remember it. She pushed Carstairs away when she saw
him there, but not before he had decided in his fury that she was not worth
“I knew it!” He
shouted. “I knew you would never be able to give him up!”
she begged as she took a step toward him. “It is not what it looks like.”
He heard no more;
he marched out of the chamber as quickly as he could and although he knew she
called after him, he had put too much distance between them to hear what she
said. He was desperate to get away from them both. Tears were welling and he
needed to hide those tears from this treacherous pair.
“Go!” He shouted
back at her. “He is welcome to my leftovers. Whore!”
Michael returned to
London and his little daughter and tried to calm himself. But he got no rest;
he missed Christine so much, he ached for her. His dreams found her beside him
in his bed, her sweet lips on his chest, her soft arms wrapped around him.
It was a week or so
later that he returned to Essex; he could stand it no longer, and thinking
about her sharing herself with that man produced in him an unfamiliar and murderous
rage. Nothing had ever hurt him as much as losing Christine and if there was a
way back for them, he wanted to find it.
He felt a fool for
even thinking of forgiving her, told himself it was for the sake of their
child, but when he arrived at Melford Hall it was to find she had gone.
It was early spring
and not yet time for the household to return from London, so only a pair of
caretakers visited the house once a day. Christine had left their London house early,
had come here to his country estate because, she said, she had promised one of
the tenants she would be godmother to her new baby.
Now he realised
that was only a ruse and her real reason for coming to Essex had been to meet
with her lover. He suspected that, which was why he followed her. He wanted to
come with her, but she said there was no need, that she would be gone but two
nights. Two nights spent in his house with Carstairs!
Michael had never
been able to trust her, not since shortly after their marriage when Carstairs
appeared at Melford Hall in pursuit of his lost love.
The man hung about
outside, probably waiting for an opportunity to see Christine alone, but
Michael was not going to allow that. He crept up behind him, not wanting to
give him a chance to flee.
“What do you want
here?” He demanded.
Carstairs drew a
“I have come to see
“Lady Christine to
you,” Michael snapped angrily. “What do you want with my wife?”
“I want to talk to
her, to be sure you are treating her well.”
“How dare you?”
“I dare because you
stole her from me. She was mine! She is still mine in her heart and always will
be. Did you even ask her if she wanted to marry you? Did you?”
Michael was silent.
No, he had not asked her. He had asked her father for her but never once had he
asked her. The Duke had said she was keeping company with this man, but Michael
had thought nothing of it. He had never even considered that she might be in
love with him.
“You know as well
as I do,” Michael replied, “that His Grace would never have allowed a marriage
“That does not
answer my question, My Lord. She loved me before you came along and ruined
everything. You do not simply turn off your feelings; she loves me still and
“Get off my land!”
Michael yelled at him.
But he had always
had his doubts, ever since that day. Even then he did not ask Christine if
Carstairs spoke the truth. Why had he not asked? Because he feared the answer, but
the man’s words ate away at him and that was not the only time he heard them.
Carstairs returned after the birth of their daughter, rousing Michael’s
jealousy and insecurity even more, until the day he followed her from London
and found her in his arms.
He had his
suspicions; he would not admit that at the time, but it was true. He wanted to
trust her, he wanted to show her that he trusted her by allowing her to go to
Essex without him, but he let his fear of losing her decide for him.
He arrived at his
country house just a few hours after her and saw the strange horse tied to a
post outside. Jealousy flared and twisted him into some sort of monster he did
not recognise and when he ran up the stairs and marched into her bedchamber, saw
her in the arms of another man, he fled before his rage took him too far.
He could have
killed the man, easily, but he never wanted to hurt her. She was still the love
of his life, even if her heart did belong to another.
When he returned,
the house was deserted as it always was at that time of year. Villagers came in
once a day to keep the dust from accumulating, but that was all. The full staff
were with the family in London.
He clung to the
hope that he might be wrong. He mounted his horse and rode to the village, to
the woman who had wanted Christine as godmother to her baby. There was a small
gathering in the cottage, where the woman had only recently given birth, and
the priest was there, ready to take the child to the village church. But there
was no sign of Christine and Michael’s heart sank.
“Has Lady Christine
been here?” He asked, feeling foolish.
The new mother sat
up in her bed and shook her head.
“No, My Lord,” she
replied. “She did promise to be here, but she never came.”
He asked no more
questions, just mounted his horse and rode away. He could scarcely believe that
Christine had disappointed that simple woman, it was so unlike her, but he
supposed it was her only chance to escape with Carstairs.
He questioned the
few cleaners who were in the house, but they had seen nothing, except
Carstairs’ carriage driving away.
bedchamber he searched her clothes chests, found some of her clothing gone, but
not all. Michael had lavished many fine garments on his wife, as he always
wanted to see her in the best his inheritance could buy and it was difficult
for him to know how much was gone and how much remained.
necklace he had bought her when they married was still there, in her jewellery
chest. In fact, she had taken none of her jewellery; Michael assumed she felt
some flicker of shame which prevented her from taking jewels her husband had
bought for her. But her ring was gone, presumably still on her finger where he
had placed it on their wedding day.
There was little
point in continuing with the search. It seemed to him she had taken enough
clothes for but a few days, but he could not be sure. She had a lot of clothes,
a lot of fine garments, and all of them seemed to be here in her chests. Perhaps
her lover would replace the ones she had left behind. His mouth turned down in
a bitter grimace as he left the house.
That had been almost
six months ago and now he stood and gazed at the portrait above the fireplace,
his Christine with her beautiful, thick fair hair, with that same pale blue
satin gown his sister would wear for her own wedding. He did not want her to
wear it; he thought it would hurt too much to see her in it, but he had said
nothing. Why spoil her day because he had failed to make his wife happy? That
is what he had thought when she made her request; now he suspected Grace had an
As he stood and
studied that sweet face, his sister’s words forced their way into his memory. She certainly would never have left her baby
daughter. Why had he not considered that before? He was driven by jealousy,
had believed then that her desire for another man was her priority and she knew
her child would be safer with her father. That had to be the reason; he had
thought he knew her well, but seeing her in the arms of that man made him
realise he knew nothing about her, nothing at all. And his jealousy consumed
him, made him wild with fury until he could think of nothing but the pain he
wanted to inflict on Edmund Carstairs.
He had made no
further attempt to find her. He loved her enough to want her happiness, no
matter the cost to him, and if she was in love with another man, he wanted her
to be with that man. It made him look weak, he knew that, but he cared nothing
for appearances, only for Christine and her happiness.
Now he suspected Grace
of wanting to wear Christine’s wedding gown intentionally to remind her brother
of what he had lost, to force him to bring his wife back whether she wanted to
come or not. And if she did not want to come, did he really want her? The
answer was yes, even if she never spoke to him again, at least she would be
here with him, where he could look at her if nothing else, where he could drink
in her beauty and live on dreams of what might have been.
His sister was
devious, knew how to slowly and patiently contrive a situation in order to get
her own way, and he now believed this was it. Why else would she insist on wearing
a three year old gown when she could have the finest fabrics and the best
dressmakers to make her a new one? She must have known all along the affect her
appearance would have on him. She had even curled her hair to resemble
He was angry, but
more angry with himself for not realising before this what she was up to. He
was also a little amused and impressed by the way Grace had managed to
He retreated to his
bedchamber and lie down on his back, staring up at the embroidered velvet canopy
above his bed as he remembered when he first saw Christine and tried to decide
the best way to find her and persuade her to return, if only for that one day.