The Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh
Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Copyright © 2018 Savdek Management Proprietary LimitedISBN: 978-0-7783-6881-6
All rights reserved.
July 1843 Berkshire
Lord Randolph Cavanaugh — Rand to his family, friends, and associates — tooled his curricle down the leafy lanes and reveled in the fresh country air. After spending the past four months in London, he was more than ready for a change, and a long-scheduled visit to Raventhorne Abbey to catch up with his brother and sister-in-law and their children had provided the perfect excuse to leave the steadily escalating heat of the capital behind.
However, as matters had fallen out, the trip to the Abbey in Wiltshire had coincided with an unexpected need to check up on one of the projects Rand's firm, Cavanaugh Investments, had underwritten. For the past five years, ever since he'd reached twenty-five and come into his full inheritance, Rand had worked steadily and diligently to carve out a place — a life and a purpose — for himself. He wasn't content to simply be Raventhorne's half brother. He'd wanted something more — some enterprise to call his own.
Through Ryder — Rand's older half brother, now the Marquess of Raventhorne — and Ryder's marchioness, Mary, Rand had come to know the Cynsters. Gabriel Cynster, one of Mary's older cousins, had long been a renowned figure in investment circles. Rand had shamelessly apprenticed himself, albeit informally, to Gabriel. After several years of learning from the master, Rand had struck out on his own. He'd made managing investments in the latest inventions his particular area of expertise.
One of his syndicate's current investments was an exclusive stake in the Throgmorton SteamPowered Horseless Carriage. There'd been steam-powered horseless carriages before — Trevithick had demonstrated the principle in 1803 — but none had solved the various issues that had kept such inventions from becoming widely adopted. William Throgmorton had made his name through a spate of steam-powered inventions that had refined the machines of earlier inventors, making the modified engines much more commercially attractive.
When it came to inventions, Throgmorton was a known and established name. Investing in his latest project, while still ranking as definitely speculative, had seemed a good wager, one with possibly very high returns.
Rand had known William Throgmorton for several years. Through his syndicated investment fund, Rand had supported several of Throgmorton's earlier projects, all of which had delivered satisfactorily. Rand was entirely comfortable with his current investment in Throgmorton's latest project.
What he wasn't so comfortable with — what had necessitated this side trip into deepest Berkshire — was Throgmorton's recent silence. The last report Rand had received had been over three months ago. Until March, Throgmorton had reported more or less every month.
Rand trusted Throgmorton. More, he knew that inventors sometimes became so caught up in the actual work that they lost track of time, and all other responsibilities faded from their minds. Yet over the years Rand had worked with him, Throgmorton hadn't missed reporting before.
What was even more troubling was that Throgmorton had failed to respond to not one but two letters Rand had subsequently sent. That wasn't like Throgmorton at any time, but now, with the Birmingham exhibition — at which the presentation and demonstration of the Throgmorton engine had already been widely touted — less than a month away, Rand needed reassurance that all was progressing smoothly with the invention, not just for himself but for all his syndicate's investors.
The cream of British inventing would be at the exhibition.
Prince Albert was scheduled to open it, and the Prince could be relied on to take a keen interest in the inventions on show. Success at the exhibition was crucial for the future of Throgmorton's engine and also for Rand's status in the investment community. If Throgmorton failed to deliver ...
Rand pushed the thought from his mind. Throgmorton hadn't failed him yet.
Nevertheless, Rand needed to know what was going on at Throgmorton Hall. He needed to hear of progress from Throgmorton himself, and as the man wasn't answering his letters, Rand had decided to call in person.
He hadn't visited Throgmorton Hall before; he'd always met William in the City. All he knew of the Hall was that it lay close to the village of Hampstead Norreys, buried in the depths of Berkshire. Aside from all else, Rand would admit he was curious to see Throgmorton's workshop.
So instead of continuing west out of Reading and thus to Raventhorne Abbey, on reaching Reading, Rand had taken the Wantage road. He'd stopped at an inn in Pangbourne for lunch, and his groom, Shields, had consulted with the ostlers. Armed with the information Shields had gained, Rand had elected to drive on to Basildon before turning off the highway onto the narrower country lanes and steering his horses first to the west, then the southwest. He'd passed through Ashampstead some time ago. According to the signposts, the village of Hampstead Norreys lay just a mile or so on.
Rand held his bays to a steady trot. After calling on Throgmorton and reviewing his progress and receiving the assurances Rand and his investors required, Rand would have plenty of time to drive on to the Abbey. With any luck, he would arrive before his eldest nephew and his niece had been put to bed. His youngest nephew was just two years old; Rand wasn't sure what time he would be tucked in.
Rand had discovered he enjoyed being an uncle; he and his two younger brothers, Christopher — Kit — and Godfrey, openly vied for the title of favorite uncle to Ryder and Mary's three offspring. Rand grinned to himself; he was looking forward to spending the next few days — perhaps the next week — with Ryder, Mary, and their noisy brood.
An arched gray-stone bridge appeared along the lane; Rand slowed his horses and let them walk up and over. A small sign at the crest of the bridge informed him he was crossing the Pang, presumably the upper reaches of the same river he'd earlier crossed at Pangbourne.
"Looks like the village we want just ahead," Shields said from his perch behind Rand. "Seems it stretches away to the right."
Rand nodded and shook the reins. The horses picked up their pace, and the curricle bowled smoothly on.
To the left, the lane was bordered by trees, with more trees behind them — a thick forest of oaks and beeches, much like the old outliers of the Savernake that still lingered near Raventhorne.
The trees thinned to the right, where the village stretched parallel to the stream; Rand glimpsed roofs of thatch and lead through breaks in the canopies.
A sign by the road declared they'd reached the village of Hampstead Norreys. As Shields had predicted, the village street lay to the right, stretching northward, with shops and houses on either side. An inn — the Norreys Arms — squatted at the nearest corner.
Rand drew up in the lane opposite the inn. The lane led on, heading west through an avenue of trees before curving to the left — to the southwest.
Shields dropped to the lane. "I'll go and ask."
Rand merely nodded. He watched as Shields strode into the inn yard and spoke with the stable lad sweeping the cobbles by the inn's side door.
Then Shields passed the boy a coin and hurried back.
The curricle tipped as he clambered up behind Rand. "We follow the lane on," Shields reported. "Apparently, the drive to the Hall lies just around that curve ahead, and there's no way we'll miss it. There are stone gateposts with eagles atop, but no gate."
Rand dipped his head in acknowledgment and gave his pair the office. They obediently stepped out, and he guided them on.
Sure enough, just yards around the curve to the southwest, a pair of stone gateposts marked the entrance to a well-tended drive. Rand slowed the horses and turned them onto the smooth, beaten earth. As the carriage bowled along, he glanced around, taking in the cool shade cast by the surrounding trees and the shafts of sunlight that filtered through, dispelling the gloom. The drive was bordered by woodland — primarily beech and oak, but with occasional poplars with their shimmering leaves randomly interspersed here and there. After the warmth of the summer day, the tree-lined drive formed a pleasant avenue; indeed, all he'd seen of the area suggested it was one of those pockets of quietly contented, lush and green, rural countryside that could still be found dotted about southern England.
No house or building had been visible from the lane. Eventually, the drive emerged from the woodland into a large clearing in which Throgmorton Hall stood front and center, dominating the space between the trees.
The Hall was a three-storied block clad in the local pale-gray stone. Rand suspected the house's Palladian façade had been added to an older building, yet the remodeling had been well done; Throgmorton Hall projected the image of a comfortable gentleman's residence. The house faced west, and the long-paned white-framed windows of the lower two stories and the dormer windows of the upper story overlooked a wide swath of lawn. More lawn ran away to the south, dotted with several large old trees and ultimately bordered by the woodlands, which, as far as Rand could see, completely encircled the house.
He'd slowed the horses to a walk. As they drew nearer the house, to his left, he spotted a shrubbery backing into the woodland, with a decent-sized stable tucked tidily beyond it.
The drive ended in a large oval forecourt before the steps leading up to a semicircular porch shielding the large front door. A small, circular fountain stood in the center of the forecourt, directly opposite the door.
Rand drove his curricle into the forecourt and around the fountain and drew up beside the edge of the lawn opposite the front steps. He set the brake, then handed the reins to Shields and stepped down. "I don't know how long I'll be." He spotted a lad coming from the stables.
"Perhaps an hour — maybe two. Do what you think is best."
Rand left him to deal with the horses and carriage and set off across the forecourt.
He'd taken only two paces when a muffled boom!
fractured the slumbering silence.
The sound came from inside the house.
Rand checked, then his face set, and he ran toward the house.
Wisps of vapor seeped out from around the door, then the door was wrenched open, and people — maids, footmen, and others — came streaming out, along with billowing clouds of steam.
Even as he raced toward them, Rand registered that none of those coughing and waving aside the steamy clouds seemed the least bit panic-stricken. He slowed as he neared the steps. Those escaping from the house looked at him curiously — then an older lady came tottering out, one hand clutched to her impressive bosom.
Rand leapt up the steps. "Here — take my arm."
The lady blinked at him, then smiled. "Thank you. No matter how often it happens, it's always a shock." The rest of those who had emerged from the house had gathered around the fountain and stood looking expectantly at the door. The matronly lady pointed down the steps to a bench set before the flowerbed along the front of the house. "I usually sit there and catch my breath."
Swallowing the many questions leaping to his tongue, Rand assisted the lady down the steps and guided her to the bench.
She sat with a heartfelt sigh, then looked up at him. "I don't believe we've been introduced, but thank you." She looked past him at his curricle, then raised her gaze — now openly curious — to his face. "I take it you've just arrived."
"Indeed." Before Rand could give his name, a commotion in the open doorway drew his and the lady's attention.
Someone was attempting to propel a slender gentleman outside. He was clad in a long, gray inventor's coat and sported a pair of goggles, now hanging about his neck. The coat was smudged in several places, the gentleman's dark-brown hair was sticking out from his head in tufts, and he appeared rather dazed.
The person behind him prodded more violently, and staggering somewhat, the gentleman stumbled out of the steamy interior onto the front porch.
He was followed by a young lady. Scowling ferociously, she planted her hands on her hips and glared at the hapless gentleman.
Rand blinked, then looked again.
Slender, of middling height, with a pale complexion and fine features, clad in a sky-blue gown and all but vibrating with reined emotion, courtesy of her stance, the young lady looked every inch a virago with rosegold hair.
Rand had never seen a more fascinating creature.
"That's it!" the virago declared. Her voice was pleasingly low, yet presently carried the razor-sharp edge of frustrated ire. "Enough!" she continued, still addressing the gentleman, who was shaking his head as if to clear smothering clouds from his brain. "You have to stop! You can't keep blowing the wretched contraption up!"
The gentleman frowned into the distance. "I think I know what went wrong." He turned toward the virago, clearly intending to argue her point. "It was the feed —"
As the gentleman swung to face the young lady, his gaze landed on Rand, and his words died.
The virago followed the gentleman's gaze. She saw Rand and stiffened. Her expression blanked, and she lowered her arms to her sides. Along with the apparently dumbfounded gentleman, she stared at Rand.
The gentleman faintly frowned. "Good afternoon. Can we help you?" His gaze flicked across the forecourt, and he took in Rand's curricle — an expensive equipage drawn by top-of-the-line horseflesh. The gentleman's eyes widened, and he looked back at Rand.
With a murmur of "Excuse me" to the older lady, Rand left her on the bench and climbed the steps to the porch. He halted a yard from the younger lady and the gentleman. Now he was on the same level, he realized the gentleman was nearly as tall as he was, although of slighter build. By the cast of the gentleman's features and his bright hazel eyes, he was plainly William Throgmorton's son. As for the young lady ... despite her eyes being more green than hazel and her wonderful hair a tumbling mass of rose-gold curls, judging by the set of her lips and chin, Rand rather thought she must be William's daughter. He inclined his head to her, then focused on the gentleman. "My name is Lord Randolph Cavanaugh. I'm here to see Mr. William Throgmorton." He paused, then added, "I assume he's your father."
Silence greeted his announcement.
The gentleman continued to stare even as he paled; Rand had little doubt he'd recognized Rand's name.
Rand glanced at the virago. Her eyes had widened in what had to be shock; as Rand looked, she paled, too.
Then her green eyes narrowed, her lips and chin firmed, and she looked at the young gentleman. "William John ...?" Her tone was both questioning and demanding.
Judging by William John's expression, all sorts of unwelcome thoughts were tumbling through his brain; they left him looking faintly terrified. He glanced at his sister, and guilt was added to the mix.
What is going on here?
Rand laid a firm hand on the reins of his own temper. He glanced past the pair into the house; the steamy haze was evaporating. Evenly, he asked, "Is Mr. William Throgmorton at home?" He looked back at the younger man, apparently William John Throgmorton.
Finally, William John focused on Rand's face and somewhat sheepishly said, "Ah. As to that ..." When, apparently lost for words, William John fell silent again, Rand looked to the virago.
Briefly, she raised her eyes to his, then dipped in a curtsy. "Lord Cavanaugh. I'm Miss Throgmorton, and, as you've no doubt guessed, this is my brother, William John Throgmorton." She paused, then clasped her hands before her, tipped up her chin, and met Rand's eyes. "As for our father, I regret to inform you that he passed away in January."
It was Rand's turn to stare. In his case, unseeing, while his thoughts turned cartwheels in his head. Eventually, his accents clipped and curt, he stated, as much for himself as anyone else, "William Throgmorton is dead."
It wasn't a question, and no one replied.
Rand blinked and refocused on William John. "In January?" Despite his hold on his temper, incensed incredulity underscored his words.
Helplessly, William John stared back.
From the corner of his eye, Rand saw Miss Throgmorton, her gaze fixed on her brother, her expression close to an open accusation, confirm that telling detail with a decisive nod.
Rand returned his attention to the pale and blinking William John. If William Throgmorton was dead, then presumably William John was his heir — legally and financially. The question burning in Rand's brain was whether William John was his father's successor intellectually as well.