by Georgette Heyer
Since Lord Dorrington and Mr Eaglesham showed no disposition to bring their acrimonious dialogue to an end, and Lord Spenborough's polite attempts to recall them to a sense of their surroundings were not attended to, Rotherham intervened, saying impatiently: "Do you mean to continue arguing all day, or are we to hear the Will read?"
Both gentleman glared at him; and Mr Perrott, taking advantage of the sudden silence, spread open a crackling document and in severe accents announced it to be the last Will and Testament of George Henry Vernon Carlow, Fifth Earl of Spenborough.
As Serena had foretold, it contained little of interest to its auditors. Neither Rotherham nor Dorrington had expectations; Sir William Claypole knew his daughter's jointure to be secure; and once Mr Eaglesham was satisfied that the various keepsakes promised to his wife had been duly bequeathed to her he too lost interest in the reading, and occupied himself in thinking of some pretty cutting things to say to Lord Dorrington.
Serena herself still sat with her face turned away, and her eyes on the prospect outside. Shock had at first left no room for any other emotion than grief for the loss of her father, but with the arrival of his successor the evils of her present situation were more thoroughly brought to her mind. Milverley, which had been her home for the twenty-five years of her life, was hers no longer. She who had been its mistress would henceforth visit it only as a guest. She was not much given to sentimental reflection, nor, during her father's lifetime, had she been conscious of any deep attachment to the place. She had taken it for granted, serving it as a matter of duty and tradition. Only now, when it was passing from her, did she realise her double loss.
Her spirits sank; it was an effort to keep her countenance, and impossible to chain her attention to the attorney, reciting in a toneless voice and with a wealth on incomprehensible legalities a long list of small personal bequests. All were known to her, many had been discussed with her. She knew the sources of Fanny's jointure, and which of the estates would furnish her own portion : there could be no surprises, nothing to divert her mind from its melancholy reflections.
She was mistaken. Mr Perrott paused, and cleared his throat. After a moment, he resumed his reading, his dry voice more expressionless than before. The words : "...all my estates at Hernesley and at Ibshaw" intruded upon Serena"s wandering thoughts, and informed her that her share of the bequests had been reached at last. The next words brought her head round with a jerk.
"..to the use of Ivo Spencer Barrasford, the Most Noble the Marquis of Rotherham -"
"What?" gasped Serena.
"..in trust for my daughter, Serena Mary," continued Mr Perrott, slightly raising his voice, "to the intent that he shall allow her during her spinsterhood such sums of money by way of pin-money as she has heretofore enjoyed, and upon her marriage, conditional upon such marriage being with his consent and approval, to her use absolutely."
An astonished silence succeeded these words. Fanny was looking bewildered, and Serena stunned. Suddenly the silence was shattered. The Most Noble the Marquis of Rotherham had succumbed to uncontrollable laughter.
Serena was on her feet. "Was my father out of his senses?" she cried. "Rotherham to allow --~ Rotherham to consent to my marriage! Oh, infamous, abominable!"
"Pray, Serena ---! Pray, my dear child, be calm! Abominable indeed, but try to compose yourself!" he besought her. "Upon my word! To appoint a trustee outside the family! It passes the bounds of belief! I suppose I am not nobody! Your uncle! What more proper person could have been found to appoint? God bless my soul, I was never more provoked!"
"Certainly one may say that eccentricity has been carried pretty far!" observed Mr Eaglesham. "Very improper! I venture to say that Theresa will most strongly disapprove of it."
"It must be shocking to any person of sensibility!" declared Spenborough. "My dear cousin, everyone must enter into your feelings upon this occasion! No one can wonder at your very just displeasure, but, depend upon it, there can be found a remedy! Such a whimsical clause might, I daresay, be upset: Perrott will advise us!" He paused, looking towards the attorney, who, however, preserved an unencouraging silence. "Well, we shall see! At all events, the Will cannot be binding to Rotherham. It must be within his power to refuse such a Trusteeship, surely!"
"He!" The word burst from Serena's lips. She swept round, and bore down upon the Marquis, as lithe as a wild cat, and as dangerous. "Was it your doing? Was it?"
"Good God, no!" he said contemptously. "A pretty charge to saddle myself with!"
"How could he do such a thing? How could he?" she demanded. "And without your knowledge and consent? No! No! I don't believe it!"
"When you have come to the end of all this fretting and fuming, perhaps you may! Your father desired nothing so much as our marriage, and this is his way of bringing it about. It's a cock that won't fight, however!"
"No!" she said, cheeks and eyes flaming. "I will never be so enforced!"
"Nor I!" he said brutally. "Why, you featherheaded termagant, do you imagine that I wish for a wife upon such terms? You mistake the matter, my girl, believe me!"
"Then release me from so intolerable a situation! To be obliged to beg your consent --! Something must be done! It must be possible! My whole fortune tied up - pin-money - Good God, how could Papa treat me so? Will you assign the Trust to my cousin? Will you do that?"
"Poor devil, no! If I could, I would not! You would bully him into giving his consent to your marriage to the first wastrel that offered, only to break the Trust! Well, you won't bully me, so make up your mind to that, Serena!"