"Your father made the arrangement long before he and your mother were drowned returning from France with your sister. Your grandfather knew of it but put it from him until just before he died a few months ago. It was then he reminded me of this betrothal. We both agreed it was past time you were wed. Since there was no one else, it seemed best to keep to these preplanned nuptials. I sent a letter to Robert Kimberly, your prospective father-in-law, a few weeks back, saying that you would be arriving at the end of March to wed your bride." She handed him a leather folder containing a copy of the betrothal contract.

Valerian Hawkesworth's deep blue eyes scanned the heavy parchment with its clear, precise wording. He was indeed betrothed to a Mistress Charlotte Kimberly, born April the sixth, in the year 1743. The chit was approaching her seventeenth birthday, the time set forth in the document for their marriage. He frowned, and glanced up at his grandmother. "What does she look like?" he said.

The dowager duchess shook her head. "I have not the faintest idea, dear boy, for I have never laid eyes on the child." Then, seeing the mutinous look in her grandson's eyes, she continued. "I am certain that she is lovely. Robert Kimberly brought his bride to England on a wedding trip. She was a very pretty girl, as I recall, and he a handsome young man. Their offspring cannot be unpleasing to the eye, dear boy. Just before the Kimberlys departed England, Mistress Kimberly discovered that she was enceinte. Your father and Robert Kimberly drew up a marriage contract between their children then. Of course it was not known if the child Mistress Kimberly was to bear would be a son or a daughter, but it was decided between the two men that Robert's first daughter, whenever she was born, would be your wife. You will see that the girl's name is in your father's hand, and not in the hand of the rest of the document. Two years after the daughter was born, young Mistress Kimberly died in childbirth with a son.



2 из 334