Marrying Money: Lady Diana's Story

Glenys O'Connell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARRYING MONEY

By Glenys O'Connell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the events and characters in this story are  from the imagination of the author and have no connection to any real persons or events, present, past or future.

Text Copyright @ Glenys O’Connell 2009

Cover Art by Ramona Lockwood

All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used in any form without the express permission of the author and publisher.

CHAPTER ONE

 

You could say having an ancient pile in the family was a pain in the you-know-what. You could say that, and you
would be right.

I am the latest and sole
direct descendant of the Ashburnham family, aside from Uncle Billy and we don’t talk about
him
. The family has the dubious distinction of owning, or being owned by, an ancient pile named Alexandria House. The place is beautiful, if you like ancient crumbling stone threatening to fall down around your ears at any minute, and shrinking acres of wooded estate where the peasants poach your pheasants and don’t acknowledge the
droit de signeur
- the right of the Lord of the Manor to first dibs on anything - to so much as a barbecued leg.

And all this despite the fact that the estate ha
d already chomped its way through several family fortunes over the centuries.

Fortunes belonging to several other
families besides ours, that is. The house and grounds wolfed down the last of Ashburnham family fortune about three hundred years ago, spitting out bits of bone and gristle of family pride. Since then, it's been living like a vampire off the dowries brought by dewy-faced young brides whose portraits hang in the upper gallery.

I moan a great deal about my lot in life. Especially
since I recently had a long, serious and very boring talk with the family accountant. I meet with old Chatterton every month, a form of masochism indulged in by many previous generations of Ashburnhams and Chattertons. But this time was different. This little chat was intended to give me a wake-up call.

According to Chatterton, it was important for me to realise my responsibilities. A
s the last of the family line, I couldn’t continue in my thriftless and shiftless ways.
Sheesh, the nerve of the man!
He looked quite pained when I voiced my opinion that if he'd been any good as an accountant he never would have let us get into this mess in the first place.

I think he decided not to chuck the job because the Chattertons have been accountants to the Ashburnhams since the year dot or maybe a bit earlier.
Maybe he considers juggling our books his volunteer charity work – after all, he's probably not expecting to be paid anything from us in this lifetime.

I was moaning on about all this to my best friend and confidante, Sally Barnes, one day as we loitered in the bar of the Scraggy Duck.

“So why don’t you just sell the freaking place and be rid of the trouble?” Sally suggested. All right for her to say when the nearest thing
her
family has ever come to a venerable pile is a two bedroomed house on Ludsey Common, a municipal housing estate. Speaking of her family,
common
is definitely the operative word. You should see the way her dad….no, I'm rambling.

I took a deep breath, and plunged in. I had a
great idea, and I wanted to run it by Sally – you'd have to take my Chanel lippy away from me before I’d ever admit it, but Sally is so grounded and down to earth. If she thinks a plan is nuts, she says so, and she’s usually right.

F
ortunately, that never stopped her going along with me.

I needed her
opinion right now.

So here goes.
Deep breath.

“I
definitely have to do something about the state of things. We can’t go on this way, what with money leaking out left, right and centre. The east wing needs a new roof and…”

S
ally raised an eyebrow at me over her pint of lager and lime. It’s her way of saying
get on with it
. I don’t think she has any idea just how badly her eyebrows need plucking. When she raises one brow like that, it looks like a caterpillar is crawling up her face.

Where was I? Oh yes.

“I
made a decision this morning, after going over the accounts one more time with Jim Chatterton. After realizing that I don’t have a pot of my own to piss in, as your dad would so charmingly put it, I've decided on a course of action.”

“Ohh
,
'I've decided on a course of action.'
Well, if that ain't just the lady of the manor, and all,” Sally said before honking loudly and banging her forehead on the table.

“Stop
it, everyone's looking,” I hissed at her. “Anyway, I
am
the lady of the manor. And I'm going to get married.”

I should have waited until Sally swallowed th
e mouthful of lager and lime. That way she wouldn’t have sprayed it all over the vicar when I made my marriage announcement.

“You’re
not serious! You? Get Married? Never!”

People really were staring now. The Reverend Morrison was edging quietly away from our table
. I wasn't sure whether he wanted to avoid another lager spray or was afraid I’d ask him to conduct the service. The vicar and my dear nutty Aunt Kay, the family witch, have had a few spats in their time. I think it once involved an exorcism.

“You’re
not really going to marry Larry the Lettuce, are you?” Sally's eyes were wide.

“Well
he's as good as any other option around here. And he has money. It's simple: He gets me, and the Ashburnham Estate gets his money.”

A
ctually, this was only a variation on my ancestors' behavior. Whenever the estate was down to its last few hundred thousand, they sent out a hunting party to bag a nice rich bride and dowry. I couldn’t see any difference in my bagging Larry the Lettuce and my great great-great-great-great-grandfather, Lord Ralph, age 70, bringing home pretty little 15- year- old Alice de Clancy and her accompanying gold dowry.

“I
need a wealthy husband. No, more to the point, Alexandria House needs a wealthy husband.”

Sally looked unconvinced.
“But
Larry
? You'd sacrifice yourself to Larry? You do know what being married means, don’t you? You'd have to sleep with him! Ugh!”

I sniffed.
“Larry and I have been an item for ten months now. I'm already sleeping with him.”

“Ugh
! Yuck!”   When Sally started the embarrassing retching noises, I grabbed my bag and headed for the door.

Of course, she followed
, after paying our bar tab.


So, come on, I paid for the drinks! Payback – what's he like? Is Lettuce limp in bed?”


Larry Prendergast is a gentleman.” I sniffed loudly.

The cackling and gasping sounded like an asthmatic mule pounding along behind me. Sally's laugh is anything but ladylike.

“Ah! I knew it! He is limp! And you're going to marry him! When's the big day!”

I sniffed again.
“We haven't discussed a date yet.”

Sally danced in front of me and peered into my face. She's myopic without her glasses, and says contact lenses make her
feel like puking’

“You
haven't discussed a date? And I don’t see any ring on your finger. He hasn’t asked you yet, has he?”

Dammit!
Sally isn't the brightest bulb on the tree, but somehow she always guesses when I'm trying to hide something.


Not yet, no. But he will. Tonight. He's coming over for a romantic dinner.”


And how do you know marriage is on the menu?”


Because I'm going to propose to him.” It's hard to speak when your teeth are gritted together.

Sally went very quiet. Then she said:
“Well, in that case I hope you're not doing the cooking.”              

CHAPTER TWO

 

Maybe
it was my cooking. Whatever the problem, Larry did a runner when I brought up the question of marriage.

In fact, he waffled and ducked out so fast, I couldn't even console myself that the idea was just too sudden and the honor just too overwhelming for him to take in.

To put it bluntly, that bastard turned tail and fled the premises. Fortunately, his rush to escape my clutches was so quick he forgot to take the bottle of decent, vintage vino he brought over for dinner.

I had just poured myself a hefty reviving glass and settled down to
think about my defeat at the hands of Larry the Lettuce when the doorbell rang. I peered out the leaded windows and, lo and behold, who should be standing there but Larry! Obviously the chump thought better of his behavior and decided to come crawling back.

I threw open the door, looking forward to a good half hour of watching him crawl and beg me to marry him before I said
yes
, when his beady eyes fixed on the bottle in my hand.

“I
…um…came back for the wine,” he muttered.

And I let him have it, yes, I did. It'll probably take a few days before the bump on his balding scalp finally goes down. You could certainly call him a star-crossed lover.

Saddened by spilling so much lovely wine, I returned to the living room and got back to rethinking about my course of action.

If I wanted to save Alexandria House and not become the Last of the Ashburnhams, I'd better do some pretty smart acting
- and soon!

 

 

I fell fast asleep long before I came up with a new
plan, snoring gently before the dying fire, and waking up freezing with a stiff neck and a hangover worthy of my Uncle Billy; now you see one of the reasons why we never talk about him.

I'd drowned my sorrows at losing Larry the Lettuce with the small bit of wine remaining in the bottle that hadn’t spilled all over him and me when I’d wacked him over the head with the bottle. The cheeky sod le
ft me heartbroken when he turned down my generous offer of marriage into our noble lineage. Then he came back for the wine he left behind!

The more I thought about it, the more indignant I got. And to think I’d actually thought of marrying the receding hair
-lined, receding brained, little genetic failure! Maybe he’d done me a favour in not taking me up on my offer. Suddenly I remembered Sally’s exaggerated shudder as she pointed out if I married Lettuce, I’d actually have to sleep with him. She didn’t actually mean
sleep,
of course that was the working class euphemism for having sex.

Years and years of married sex with Lettuce? Producing a
n heir and a spare with the man? Oh, barf!

Yes, maybe it was a lucky escape. I just wish he hadn’t seemed so, well, so horrified at the idea of marrying me.

The phone rang as I was thinking deep thoughts.

“Hello
, Honeycakes, how are we today?”

“I’m
just fine. I have no idea how you are,” I snapped. It was my other best friend, Greg Arnold, who has one huge fault. He’s disgustingly cheerful in the mornings and I hate him for it. He also has an awful habit of using the royal ‘we’. Greg may well be the grandson of an earl, but he’s the son of the ‘spare’ and unlikely ever to have an earldom of his own. Therefore the royal 'we' is really in bad taste. However, I still liked the guy.

“Do
I detect a hint of bad temper there? What’s biting your little ass, honey?”

“I
have a mild hangover and a king-size bruise on my ego,” I replied.  Greg was one of those guys you could tell anything to.

“Oh
, Sweetcakes, tell me what happened. You know I’m always here for you. We girls must stick together.” Greg is gay as a bird and deeply in love with his long-term partner, Dave Gatsby.

I told him
the brief version. “I met with Chatterton a couple of days ago.”

“Ah
, yes, the mandatory meeting with the faithful retainer, the estate accountant. Always a bore and guaranteed to depress.”

“I
doubt you’d be depressed after meeting your accountant, the Hazelmere Estate must be worth a small fortune,” I snapped. Not likely to inherit his family estate, Greg had got rich in the stock market and brought his wealth to Hazelmere when he became partners with Dave, Lord Brookmere. But his family were rolling in it anyway. While my ancestors had been busy throwing money away Greg’s seem to have had the Midas touch. Where mine had turned their backs on the ‘commonness’ of the Industrial Revolution, his had thrown themselves merrily into the whole corporate idea of
where there’s muck there’s money
, and made fortune after fortune.

“It
is depressing, dear. I have so much money I’ll never be able to waste it all in my lifetime,” Greg moaned.
Yeah, right.
I know for a fact , like the Queen, Greg is as frugal as they come. He even squeezes the toothpaste tube and rolls it up tightly to get the last couple of dollops out. He’ll make sure that Hazelmere will have a future, a future including an heir. Greg’s son, Adam, born by surrogate and brought up in adoration by Greg and Dave, was already at the ripe old age of five being groomed for aristocratic responsibility. In other words, the spoiled rotten kid is a right royal pain in the ass.

But that‘s Greg‘s problem. Back to my own.
“Anyhoo, Greg, I’ve decided to get married.”

“I’d
be flattered to think that was a proposal but as you know, I’m already spoken for. And Dave would kill both me and the lucky bride if I married anyone else.”

“Darn
it, Greg that’s my second refusal in less than 24 hours.”

“Well
, I know you weren’t seriously asking me. Who was the other idiot who turned you down? Come on, girl, give.”

“Larry
the Lettuce. Or, sorry, Larry Prendergast. I proposed to him, Greg, and he turned me down.” There was an uncomfortable prickling behind my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was near to tears. How could I have let a jerk like Larry humiliate me so?

“Larry
is a first prize arsehole, and you know it. I wish you’d talked to me first.”

“Why
?”

“Because
I would have told you the guy is useless. Now I’ll have to dust off Great-Great Granddad’s pistols and challenge him to a duel for besmirching your honor.”

“Greg
! You’re not serious!” The beginnings of panic made my chest tight. You never could tell with this Greg.

“No
, not really, but if you want me to, I will.” And he would, too. I gave a silent prayer of thanks that I at least had friends, if not a prospective husband in sight.             

“So
what’s your next plan of action? I could introduce you to a few guys, but most of the ones I know you know, too.”

“Yeah
, and most of them wouldn’t be interested in me, I’m the wrong gender,” I teased gently.

“That’s
where you’re wrong, pet, lots of gay guys are married to straight women. It’s all marriage of convenience, you know. I know quite a few who married to get their fathers off their backs about providing the heir and the spare.”

“God
, who’d have thought this still goes on in this day and age? But then again, look at me, so terrified of letting the family down by losing the estate I’d consider marrying someone like Larry the Lettuce.”

“But
why did you consider marrying him?”

“It’s
not obvious? The bloke’s as rich as Croesus.”

“Marrying
for money is not a good idea.”

“Says
you, who isn’t about to have five hundred years of family history go into the bankruptcy courts.”

“Listen
, if things are that bad, I could always give you a dig out. You know that.”

The tears really did come to my eyes then.
“Ah, Greg, you’re a good man, you know that. Thanks for the offer - and give my best to Dave. Tell him he’s one lucky bloke.”

Just as I put the phone down there was a wild screeching and banging from upstairs. Millie, our cleaning woman, popped her head round the door.

“She’s at it again.”   Millie said.

“Oh
, hell, what is it this time?”

“Yer
Aunt Kay has locked herself up in the attic, silly cow, and she’s nailing boards across the door. She says evil spirits are out to get her and she’s only safe at the highest point of the house.”

“So
what set her off this time?”

“Who
knows? I’d say it’s definitely the evil spirits, but ones coming out of the bottle of vodka she found last night.”

“There
was a bottle of vodka on the premises?”
And to think I’d been reduced to sucking the dregs out of Larry’s bottle of wine.

“You
know your Uncle Billy has them hidden all over the house. This must have been one we missed in the search after his last visit. Anyway, she was at it all night, and now the evil spirits want to get her and if you don’t do something about that racket pretty soon, I’m quitting.”

I breathed a quick
entreaty to the ancestors for a bit of help in my hour of need. If I had to try and find someone else to take care of this place and put together some sort of meal in the evenings, I’d be lost. And if I had to fend for myself and nutty Auntie Kay, well, we’d starve to death.

“Please
don’t do that, Millie. I’ll go on up and get her sorted out. And maybe we can see our way clear to giving you a bit of a pay raise, eh?” I knew I was fawning, but I was really scared she'd up and leave.

“A
pay raise indeed! I wouldn’t mind getting some of the back pay you owe me!”

“I’ll
write a cheque for you before you leave this evening,” I promised.

“No
, not a cheque. I’d rather have the cash, maybe tomorrow?”

It was an ultimatum, I knew. I’d have to come up with cold hard cash for her or she’d be off
. There’s no shortage of people trying to poach good help, believe me. Not that everyone would put up with the kind of cheek I get from Millie but then, not every cleaner would put up with the kind of family we have, either.

Speaking of which, I’d better get up the four flights of stairs to the attic and see what I could do about getting Auntie Kay out of there before she freezes to death, or before Millie really does quit.

Those attics have no heat, and I imagine she’s still prancing around in her flannel night-gown. She usually does this time of day. She dresses for formal dinner at seven. She doesn’t realise that the Era of Elegance is over at Alexandria House, poor dear.

I was wheezing and panting when I got up those stairs. The family had been talking for a couple of generations about putting in an elevator, but it never happened, and now the upper two floors were
hardly used except for storage. It no longer seemed worth thinking about. Not at the kind of builders’ quotes we received, anyway.

Auntie Kay had locked herself into the very last room at the end of a corridor thick with dust. As I coughed and sneezed my way along it, I wondered whether I had the nerve to remind Millie she
was supposed to clean up here, too. As the dark shadow of being Millie-less loomed over me, I decided maybe a bit of dust on the fourth floor wasn’t such a bad thing. But the hammering and banging from the old maid’s room
was
a bad thing. Kay was obviously barricading herself; this was not a good sign. The last time she really went over the top I had to call out the fire brigade to get her down from the very top of the old oak tree by the stable block. She claimed she had a dream where she’d been told to go to the highest point on the estate, and there she’d be given the answer.
What was it with Kay and the highest point of things?
.She never actually said what the answer was, or even what the question was. But after suffering the humiliation of having half the village watch as she was rescued from the tree by Ted Simmons and his cronies in the fire brigade, I wasn’t much interested in hearing her side of the story.

Other books

In the Eye of the Storm by Jennifer Hayden
Cold Blue by Gary Neece
Sweet Insanity by Marilyn
Star Cruise: Marooned by Veronica Scott
Cat to the Dogs by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Cover to Covers by Alexandrea Weis
Granada by Raḍwá ʻĀshūr
Gestapo Mars by Victor Gischler