“I really must finish packing. I have so much to do. My family has imposed on your hospitality for so long. Much, much too long.”
“I want to tell you about Trevelyan and my mother,” Leatrice said.
Claire’s hands paused for a moment then she began again. “I really don’t have time. The footmen will be here at any moment and I must be ready.”
“No one is coming. I’ve told them to wait.”
“But I must leave,” Claire said. “I can no longer stay here. I have to go. I have to…” She trailed off because she knew it was useless to argue. She
wanted to hear what Leatrice had to say and at the same time she didn’t want to hear. At the moment all she wanted in the world was to get out of that house that held so many good, as well as so many horrible, memories for her.
Slowly, Claire walked to a chair, seated herself, then looked up at Leatrice expectantly.
Leatrice took a deep breath. “I never wanted to live here with my mother. I never wanted to become the cowardly spinster who you first met. But what I don’t think most people understand is that hate is as strong as love. Maybe stronger. Hate can keep people together just as much as love can. My mother and I hated each other.”
“I don’t think you should say that about your mother,” Claire said.
“I merely say the truth. You see, I knew something about my mother that no one else did and she hated me for it. More than hated me.”
Claire didn’t say anything.
“You’ve done something for me that I’ll never be able to repay. You’ve given me something that can replace the hatred that has ruled my life.”
“Love.” There was cynicism in Claire’s voice.
“Yes.” Leatrice smiled. “It does sound melodramatic, doesn’t it? I think that since you helped me, I should help you. I want to tell you about my mother.”
“You don’t have to.” Claire was somewhat afraid of what she was going to hear about the formidable Eugenia. She thought she might believe anything she heard about the woman.
“I want to tell this story. I’m tired of carrying the burden of it.” Leatrice took a deep breath. “When my mother was a young woman, she was very beautiful and full of passion.” She smiled at the look of disbelief on Claire’s face. “Yes, it is difficult to believe, isn’t it? But she was. She fell madly in love with a handsome young man who was an officer in the navy. She loved him more than she loved anyone or anything on earth. She worshiped him.”
Leatrice sighed. “Unfortunately the young man was no one. He was from a middle-class background and had no money at all. But Mother didn’t care about any of that. All she wanted was the young man.
“But then something happened to change her life. Mother went to a ball, and since her young officer was there, she was happy and lively and beautiful and the young duke of MacArran—my father—fell in love with her. The duke was an impetuous man and the next day he went to my mother’s father and offered for the hand of Miss Eugenia Richmond.”
Leatrice paused. “You’d have to know my grandfather to appreciate what an odious man he was. I don’t think he had a bone of kindness or softness in him. He thought there was only one way to do anything: his way. He told his daughter of the offer and told her the date he’d set for the wedding. He didn’t so much as ask his daughter’s opinion of the match. Mother, who had some stubbornness of her own, told her father she planned to marry her young officer. My grandfather didn’t even get angry. He merely told his daughter that if she did not accept the duke’s offer and act as though she were in love with the man, he’d see that her young officer was killed.”
Leatrice smiled at Claire’s expression. “The old man didn’t want to risk allowing my mother to spend time with the duke. He allowed them to see each other seldom and never alone. It whet my father’s appetite. He thought the woman he was marrying was modest and sweet tempered.”
Leatrice’s mouth turned into a straight line. “She married my father, but at the wedding she decided that since she couldn’t take her anger out on her father, she would take it out on the man she’d married. On her wedding night she told my father she hated him, and would always hate him.”
Leatrice paused and took a breath. “I think that at first my father thought he could win her love, that he could make his wife love him, but he soon found out that in stubbornness she was just like her father. She hated her husband as much as she loved her officer.”
Leatrice’s face began to show anger. “She bore my father three children. I think that I, the youngest of the three, was unplanned. I think there was an argument, and afterward, my father went to my mother’s room in a rage. Nine months later I was born. After that night I don’t think my parents had much to do with each other. I think they lived separate lives.”
Leatrice paused and looked as though she were thinking. Her voice calmed. “But then, when I was about three years old, my mother’s officer came back into her life. I think they met by accident the first time, but she found that she loved him just as much as she always had. He had never married. He told her he had loved her and her alone and always would.
“My mother felt she’d done her duty to her husband and had given him his required two sons, and so she planned to leave him.”
Leatrice took a breath. “And us. She planned to leave her husband and her children because she hated us as much as she hated her husband. We were dark like all the Montgomerys, and the man she loved was blond.”
The anger came back into Leatrice’s voice. “My mother schemed with her lover and planned for the day they would leave. She secretly removed treasures from the house, things that could be sold, for she knew that when she divorced my father she would get nothing, and if anything her officer was poorer than he had been.
“The day arrived and everything went all right. My mother escaped the house easily enough and met her lover some ten miles away where he had a coach waiting. They hadn’t gone very far when a dog or something ran across the road, the coachman lost control of the horses, and the wagon overturned. My mother’s lover was killed instantly, as was the driver. But my mother was pinned under the wagon and lay there for several hours before she was found. Her leg was crushed.”
Leatrice paused. “Six months later Harry was born. My father knew the child couldn’t have been his, and by then he knew all about the family treasures she’d taken from the house.
“When Harry was about a week old, my father went to see his wife and her blond son. He looked into the crib, then went back to the bed and tossed a packet of bills onto her bed and left the room. The bills were charges made by my mother’s lover for horses and gambling debts and clothes. The security for the debts was that he was marrying the duchess of MacArran.”