Home > Remember Love (Ravenswood #1)

Remember Love (Ravenswood #1)
Author: Mary Balogh













Chapter One



   Ravenswood Hall in Hampshire, home and principal seat for a number of generations of Barons and Earls of Stratton, was the center of the universe to most of the people who lived within five miles or so of its imposing splendor.

   The current earl, the sixth, was Caleb Ware, a handsome, vigorous, genial man in his late forties who was well liked by all who knew him, and even loved by many. He had done his duty to family, title, and community early in life by marrying the lovely and charming Clarissa Greenfield, daughter of a neighboring landowner of some substance, when both were very young. They had produced a family of three sons and two daughters before he reached the age of forty. The fact that his lordship had also fathered a son prior to his marriage, shocking though it was when it was first disclosed, was not ultimately held against him, for he had had the decency to acknowledge the child and bring him into his own home when the mother died three years after giving birth to him. The earl and his countess had raised the boy in almost every way as one of their own, and he enjoyed the affection of both.

   Ben Ellis, the earl’s natural son, now twenty-five years old, was the steward of his father’s vast estates, having chosen to stay home and learn all the intricacies of the profession from his elderly predecessor when he might have gone off to study at Cambridge and pursue some other career. The position had been his when the older man retired. His father had even insisted upon paying him the same handsome salary and upon increasing it a year later.

   Devlin Ware, Viscount Mountford, the earl’s eldest legitimate child, was twenty-two. He had completed his studies at Oxford the year before and returned home to assume his responsibilities as his father’s heir. Fortunately, he and his older half brother, who had arrived in their home a scant three weeks after Devlin’s birth, had always been close friends and worked well together.

   Nicholas Ware, aged nineteen, a handsome, fair-haired, sunny-natured young man who closely resembled his father in both looks and disposition, was about to begin the career as an officer in a cavalry regiment that had been intended for him from birth. He was looking forward to it immensely, especially since he was likely to see plenty of action, with hostilities heating up between Britain and France under the ambitious leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte.

   Lady Philippa Ware—Pippa to her family and close friends—was fifteen and rapidly turning from a pretty girl into a lovely young woman, to her mother’s great regret. She was slender and dainty and blond haired and lively, and she was yearning for beaux and balls and a come-out Season in London in three years’ time, as soon as she turned eighteen. An eternity away, in her opinion. Just around the very next corner, in her mother’s.

   Owen Ware was twelve. His mother sometimes described him as one-quarter pure sweetness and three-quarters undiluted mischief. He was intended for the church when he grew up, but both his parents agreed that the church might very well heave a collective sigh of relief if he eventually insisted upon another career—as a pirate upon the high seas, for example, or as the inventor of some mechanical horror, such as a hot-air balloon that would carry him off all the way to America and turn his mother’s hair white long before he got there.

   Lady Stephanie Ware was nine years old and everyone’s favorite, though she sometimes felt that it was a real nuisance to be the youngest in the family, and the youngest by a long way when one thought of Ben and Devlin and Nicholas. Even Pippa. But what irked her more than anything else was the constant assurance by everyone around her—mother, father, siblings, governess, and nurse, to name a few—that any day now she would lose her baby fat and grow into a tall and slender beauty. Was she still a baby at the age of nine? When exactly was this miracle going to occur? And did her family love her so dearly just because she was fat and ugly and they felt sorry for her? But she tried hard not to be a complainer or whiner, for none of the rest of her family were either of those things, even Ben, who was not quite their brother and did not have the courtesy title even though he was older than Devlin. Stephanie wanted to be a worthy member of her family. She loved them all dearly. Especially her papa. And especially—never mind logic—Devlin. Not especially Owen, who was a pest of the first order and was always trying to frighten her in silly ways, like putting frogs in her rainy-day boots—as though she would not hear them croaking to be let out!—and long-legged spiders in her bed, which she simply picked up in her bare hand and transferred to his room. He was such a child.

   Ravenswood Hall had been built and refashioned and added to and repaired and even almost totally pulled down and rebuilt once in the dim, distant past. The new hall, as it was still sometimes called, had in turn been altered numerous times since then, with the result that now, in these early years of the nineteenth century, though it was an imposing structure of gray stone, it could not be described by any distinct architectural name. It still had elements of its medieval predecessor. It was almost but not quite classical. And it had touches of almost everything between those two extremes. It was not particularly beautiful, though most people who were familiar with it might be surprised to hear that. To them it was simply Ravenswood, the grand house about which their lives revolved.

   It was a familiar sight even to those who did not live within its walls, for it was clearly visible across the river that separated it from the village of Boscombe. Many grand homes were hidden for privacy within high walls and behind thick woodland. Not so Ravenswood. Grassland, dotted with a few ancient trees and liberally strewn with crocuses and daffodils in early spring, bluebells a little later, and assorted wildflowers through the summer and autumn, sloped gradually upward from the wrought iron gates and the low, moss-covered stone wall on the Ravenswood side of the river to the ha-ha, the steplike device that was invisible from the house but prevented grazing sheep from wandering too close to it and titillating their appetites with the cultivated flowers in their beds there and fouling the closely cropped lawns with their droppings.

   The middle of the central, south-facing block of the house was one story higher than the rest of it and was approached by a steep flight of marble steps leading up to a pillared porchway with a carved stone frieze and peaked roof above and to a set of high double doors opening onto the grand entrance hall beyond. The massive east and west wings on either side of the central block and jutting forward from it were topped at the front rather incongruously with octagonal turret rooms. A visitor to the house had once compared them to onions—it had not been a compliment—and remarked that they completely ruined any claim to classical beauty the housefront might otherwise have presented to the world. The world did not appear to agree. Young people who lived at the hall or visited it frequently invariably loved those rooms. They had windows facing in every direction and were bright with natural light and warmed by the sun. They made wonderful playrooms and reading nooks and romantic retreats, though they did not necessarily perform all three of those functions at once.

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