Bewitched (Bantam Series No. 16)

BEWITCHED

Barbara Cartland

The handsome Marquis of Ruckley was in a fit of temper. He raced his horses up the drive to his country estate with such speed he couldn

t swerve to avoid the girl in the path of his carriage.

Greatly relieved she was still alive, the Marquis carried the beautiful girl up to one of his guest bedrooms. When she recovered consciousness the next morning, Ruckley discovered that his emergency houseguest was a gypsy.

His unfortunate accident could turn out to be a stroke of luck: only the day before at his London club, the Marquis had bet he could pass off a common girl as a lady of quality.

The enchanting, intelligent gypsy was perfect for the impersonation. What an easy way to win a thousand pounds! But the Marquis hadn

t wagered on falling madly in love with his pretty imposter.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

I am indebted for the facts about the Gypsies, especially about the Kalderash and those in Russia, to the works of Jean-Paul Clebert, C.G. Leyland, John Hoyland and George Borrow.

I know myself how strictly the true Romanys keep to their Moral Code. In 1960 I fought a bitter, lengthy battle for Gypsy Camps so that their children could be educated. I considered it a gross injustice that any race of people should be moved every twenty-four hours or pay exorbitant fines. I was opposed and abused over my championship for three years.

In 1964 I founded the first Gypsy Romany Camp in the world near Hatfield in Hertfordshire, which the Gypsies themselves christened ‘Barbaraville.’ I was helped by the Earl of Birkenhead and the Earl of Onslow. Entirely due to our efforts the Minister of Housing and Local Government issued a Directive—which then became Law—that all County Councils must provide camps for their local Gypsies. Hertfordshire now has five camps and other Counties are following suit.

The Betting-Book at White’s Club still exists. The Bets recorded in this novel, other than the one referring to the plot, are genuine.

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

1818

“I must say, Fabius,” Captain Charles Collington remarked, “this is the best Port you have ever offered me.”

“I am glad you appreciate it,” the Marquis of Ruckley replied.

With the candles from two silver candelabra on the polished table lighting his face, it was impossible to imagine any Gentleman of Fashion could be more handsome or more elegant.

His high cravat was tied in the intricate manner which was the envy of the younger Dandies, the points of his collar high against the sharp line of his firm, almost aggressive chin.

“My father was wise enough,” the Marquis went on, “to put down a pipe of this particular wine, and in my opinion it is now worth drinking.”

Captain Charles Collington laughed.

“At one time,” he said, “we would have been prepared to think any wine delectable after that unspeakable rubbish we drank with the Army in Portugal.”

“We were glad enough to find a bottle of anything,” the Marquis replied dryly. “I was always convinced that the peasants hid their stores from us.”

“Of course they did,” Charles Collington agreed. “Would you not have done the same if an Army of foreigners was drinking your country dry?”

“I remembered in the summer when we were down on those dusty plains,” the Marquis remarked reminiscently, “feeling so damned thirsty that the mere thought of Prinny swilling champagne at Carlton House used to make me grind my teeth with rage.”

“A great many thoughts about ‘Gentlemen in England now a-bed,’ made me do the same,” his friend replied.

The Marquis poured himself out another glass of Port and passed the cut-glass decanter.

“All the same, Charles, I often regret we are not still at war.”

“Good God, what an assertion!” Charles Collington exclaimed. “After eight years in the Army I do not mind telling you that I have had enough of it!”

“Going to buy yourself out?” the Marquis asked.

“I might,” Captain Collington replied cautiously, “but at the same time I have not enough money to do nothing.”

“You mean that you might spend what you do possess drinking and gambling?” the Marquis questioned. “There is nothing more expensive than leisure.”

“That is just what I have been thinking,” Charles Collington agreed.

“I have been thinking about it too,” the Marquis went on, “not because I cannot afford to do nothing, but because it is so damned boring!”

“Really, Fabius, that is doing it a bit brown!” his friend protested. “You have large estates, some first-class racehorses, you are the pride of the Four-in-Hand Club and acknowledged to be the best gameshot in England. What more do you want?”

There was a silence and then the Marquis said:

“I am not certain, but I do know it is not enough!”

“Are you hipped in love?” Captain Collington asked cautiously.

“Good God, no!” the Marquis exclaimed. “What you call ‘love’ is the least of my troubles.”

“I thought it seemed unlikely,” his friend said with a laugh. “You are too good-looking! That is what is wrong with you, Fabius. You have only to smile at a woman and she is ready to cast herself into your arms or march you up the aisle!”

The Marquis did not reply.

There was a frown between his eyes as he stared reflectively at his glass of Port.

Since he was one of the greatest matrimonial catches in the
Beau Monde
, it was not surprising that a large number of females were, as Captain Collington had put it, ready to throw themselves into his arms if he so much as looked in their direction.

The Marquis, however, was known to be extremely fastidious.

He had, since the war had ended, spent much of his time in London and had therefore become involved in a number of amatory adventures. These had naturally been gossiped about in the smart Social circle in which he
moved. But
there had been no open scandal because either the Marquis had been exceptionally discreet, or the ladies in question had complaisant husbands.

As was the fashion, the Marquis kept a mistress in a house he provided for her, and in the more exclusive night resorts he was a familiar figure.

But at the same time there was always something reserved, or perhaps the right word was “aloof,” about him which made women of every class feel in some extraordinary way that they were not good enough for him.

Among the members of the Corps de Ballet, who were so attractive that they were courted by all the Beaux and Dandies of St. James’s, the Marquis was known, behind his back, as “Lord High and Mighty.”

It was perhaps significant that none of his friends had been brave enough to inform him that this was his nick-name.

Looking across the table at him now, Captain Collington thought it was true that the Marquis had, while he was in the Army, appeared to be much happier and more carefree than he was at the moment.

“You know what is wrong with you, Fabius?” he said suddenly. “You ought to get married!”

“Get married?” the Marquis exclaimed, obviously startled at the idea.

“You are twenty-seven,” Captain Collington said. “We are the same age and we are both in fact getting on in years. A whole generation of beardless boys has come after us. They are snapping up the heiresses and considering themselves arbiters of fashion.”

“Most of them would run a mile if they heard a shot fired in anger,” the Marquis said scathingly.

“That is not entirely true,” Captain Collington protested. “At the same time I must admit that most of them seem a trifle immature. There is no doubt, Fabius, that war ages a man.”

The Marquis smiled. It gave him a kind of raffish, beguiling quality which his face did not have in repose.

“So you think marriage is the cure for all our ills?”

“I did not say that,” Charles Collington said. “I merely suggested it as an alternative to your boredom.”

The Marquis threw back his head and laughed.

“I think the remedy would be far worse than the disease! Can you imagine what it would be like to be tied to one woman indefinitely?”

“All the same, Fabius, you will have to produce an heir.”

The Marquis was suddenly serious.

“You are thinking of Jethro?”

“I am!” Charles Collington replied. “I suppose you know he was borrowing heavily on the chance that you would be killed before the end of the war?”

“I am aware of that,” the Marquis said. “If there was one thing which made me determined that Napoleons troops should not blow a hole through me, it was the thought of Jethro setting himself up at Ruckley as the Sixth Marquis.”

“I agree, the idea is quite intolerable.”

Charles Collington finished his glass of Port before adding:

“We cannot sit here all night glooming over your unpleasant cousin, or wondering how to solve the problem of your ennui. How shall we amuse ourselves?”

The Marquis glanced at the clock on the mantel-shelf.

“I thought we might go to the Opera House when the performance is ended. There is a rather attractive red-head I contemplated taking out to supper.”

“I know the one you mean,” Charles Collington said. “She comes from Vienna and she should certainly sweep away your doldrums for tonight at least!”

“She may do that later,” the Marquis said. “It is the boredom of talking to those pretty doves, especially the foreign ones, which makes the hours pass slowly. You had best join me at supper, Charles. Is there not someone in the Company who takes your fancy?”

“I seem to have exhausted most of the attractive ones already,” Charles Collington said. “I agree with you, Fabius, one really has nothing to say to them.”

The Marquis sighed.

“ ‘You think I pretty—yes?’ ” he mimicked with a broken accent. “ ‘You give me nice brooch? So very hard for me pay ze rent!’ Oh, God, I have listened to the whole gamut of it!”

“I expect they think you are a soft-touch,” Charles Collington laughed. “At the same time it is always amusing to speculate if they will be more entertaining than the Fashionable Impure with whom one spent the previous night, or the bit o’muslin one entertained the night before that.”

“You know the trouble with you, Charles,” the Marquis remarked, “is that you are becoming a regular Casanova! You tell me I ought to settle down! What about you? You are quite warm enough in the pocket, or at any rate you will be when your father dies.”

“He is extremely hale and hearty at sixty-five,” Charles Collington replied, “and I have no intention of saddling myself with the expense of a wife and family until I can afford them. It is another kettle of fish where you are concerned.”

“It is not a question of affording them, it is enduring them,” the Marquis said. “A very different thing, Charles.”

He pushed back his chair and stood up.

“Come on then, let us hope that this evening will sweep away the dismal idea that we are getting too old to enjoy the fluffy frivolities of the Corps de Ballet.”

“The trouble with you,” Charles Collington said as he rose from the table, “is that you do not drink enough!”

“I know,” the Marquis answered, “and perhaps that is another pointer to the fact that I am getting old. I dislike waking up in the morning with a splitting head.”

“We are two decrepit old campaigners from a war that most people are trying to forget,” Charles Collington said solemnly. “Before we go to the Opera House, let us look in at White’s and see if there are any other veterans of Wellingtons Army feeling as we do.”

“That is not a bad idea,” the Marquis agreed.

In the Hall of the Marquis’s house in Berkeley Square, there were a Butler and four footmen in attendance.

One handed the Marquis his high-crowned hat, and he refused the suggestion of a cape to wear over his long-tailed close-fitting evening coat.

Setting his hat firmly on his dark head, the Marquis walked ahead of Captain Collington.

Outside in Berkeley Square a carriage was waiting, and as he appeared a footman hurried to open the door.

A red carpet had been run across the pavement, but as the Marquis stepped onto it he suddenly remembered that he had not told the Butler that he wished to be called particularly early next morning.

He proposed to attend a Mill that was being held at Wimbledon Common and it necessitated his leaving London by eight-thirty at the latest.

He turned back.

“I wish to be awakened at seven...” he began.

As he spoke there was a resounding crash behind him.

A large piece of masonry had fallen from the upper part of the house with a deafening noise and in a cloud of dust onto the very spot where he had stood a second earlier.

Splinters from the stone spotted his legs, and there was dust on his immaculate evening clothes.

“What the devil was that?” Charles Collington ejaculated.

The footmen had all jumped and the Butler with a note of deep concern in his voice asked:

“You’re not hurt, M’Lord?”

“No indeed,” the Marquis replied calmly. “Although if I had not turned back to speak to you, Burton, I might easily have received the full force of that coping stone, or whatever it was.”

“Indeed, Your Lordships had an extremely fortunate escape!”

“It must have been loose and perhaps the wind blew it from the top of the house,” Charles Collington suggested.

“I cannot understand it, Sir,” the Butler replied. “On his Lordship’s orders the roof was overhauled only a month ago. Surely if there had been anything amiss the workmen would have reported the matter?”

“They should indeed,” the Marquis said.

He looked down at the heavy stone as it lay broken but ominously menacing on the red carpet.

The noise had frightened the horses and the coachman was having trouble getting them under control again.

The footman who had been about to open the door was looking at the scene with a dazed expression on his face.

Charles Collington walked forward to stand beside the Marquis.

“If that had hit you, Fabius, it would undoubtedly have killed you.”

“That is just what I was thinking,” the Marquis said.

He stood patiently while a flunkey brushed the dust from his clothes; then he stepped over the debris and went towards the carriage.

He settled himself comfortably inside, putting his feet up on the opposite seat.

“You had a lucky escape, Fabius,” Charles Collington said as they drove off.

The Marquis did not answer. He appeared to be deep in thought.

The carriage, a D’Orsay Cabriolet which was the latest fashion amongst the aristocracy, was extremely comfortable and built for speed.

The two horses drawing it were examples of the outstanding horseflesh that was to be found in the Marquis’s stables.

It was only a short distance to White’s Club in St. James’s Street, and the Marquis and Captain Collington entered through a door beside which stood the famous bow-window.

The window had been converted by Beau Brummel into a Holy of Holies and had become the centre of attraction for men in the fashionable world.

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