Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

Book: Belgravia by Julian Fellowes Read Free Book Online
Authors: Julian Fellowes
the soup she caught the look on Caroline’s face and fell silent.
    Caroline was not in fact angry. She was bored. She’d lost count of the number of times Grace or Stephen had regaled her with stories of their numerous boisterous grandchildren. She wasn’t sure if they meant to be hurtful or if they were just profoundly tactless. Peregrine always thought they were being deliberately unpleasant, but Caroline was more inclined to blame their stupidity. She was convinced Grace was too slow-witted to be that studiedly malevolent.
    The footmen cleared the plates in silence. They were used to his lordship not making much of an effort when it came to small talk around the luncheon table, or in fact at any time, and in his brother’s company he was always particularly taciturn. Having put considerable energy in his youth into revitalizing the estate, he had lost his taste for it when his son died, and in his later years he was more inclined to spend the time alone in his library.
    “So,” began Stephen, taking a mouthful of claret, “I was wondering, dear brother, if I might have a little word in private after luncheon.”
    “A private word?” queried Peregrine, leaning back in his chair. “We all know what that means. You want to talk about money.”
    “Well.” Stephen cleared his throat. His pale, sweating face shone brightly in the sunshine that poured in through the windows. He fingered his bands as if to loosen them. “We don’t want to bore the ladies.” His voice was faltering. How he hated being in this position. His brother knew exactly what he wanted, what he needed, and to think it was only due to timing, to chance, to bad luck that he was in this spot. How else could anyone describe his being born a mere two years later than the handsome and once popular Peregrine? Why should he be forced into this humiliating situation?
    “Well, you don’t mind boring me.” Peregrine helped himself to some port and sent the decanter on around.
    “If we could just—”
    “Come on. Out with it.”
    “What my father is asking for is a loan against my future inheritance,” said John, staring at his uncle.
    Peregrine snorted. “Your inheritance, or his?”
    John clearly did not think his father would outlive his uncle, and nor did anyone else in the room. “Our inheritance,” he said smoothly. Peregrine had to admit the young man was well groomed, well dressed, and looked every inch the heir he intended to be. He just didn’t like him.
    “He wants another loan against his inheritance.”
    “Very well. Another loan.” John held his uncle’s stare. He was not easy to outface.
    Peregrine sipped his port. “I think my little brother has chipped away at his prospects quite substantially already.”
    Stephen hated being called “little.” He was sixty-six years old. He had two living children and soon to be five grandchildren. He was seething. “You will agree that the family’s honor demands we keep up appearances. It is our duty to do so.”
    “I wouldn’t agree at all,” said Peregrine. “You must live decently, I grant you, as a country vicar should. But more than that, any kind of show in a man of the cloth the public neither expects nor approves of. One has to ask oneself what you are spending the money on.”
    “On nothing of which you would disapprove.” Stephen was skating on thin ice. Peregrine would disapprove very much if he knew what the money was intended for. “You’ve released funds in the past.”
    “Many times. Too many.” Peregrine shook his head. So this was why his brother had suggested luncheon in the first place, as if he hadn’t known it.
    Things were getting awkward, and Caroline decided to take control of the situation. “Tell me some more about Maria Grey.” She sounded quite surprised in a way. “I thought she’d only just been presented.”
    Grace helped herself to a mutton chop. “No, no. That was the year before last. She is quite out by now. She’s

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