Our story begins with a broken clock found in the drawing room of Walmsley Manor. Neighboring manors looked at it with distain and vexation for if it had been given an ounce of care, Walmsley Manor would be the grandest in all of Kent. The doors of the manor whined when opened, the floor groaned when quick feet passed, and the curtains seemed to move without the presence of a draft.
Years ago, the estate had boasted grand trees, bursting fountains, and more wealth than one could spend in a hundred life times. The grass seemed to always be green, the members of the Walmsley Manor always smiling. However, the family’s wealth was always a mystery. They produced nothing, held no true titles, and remained disconnected from higher society. Yet they were wealthy. Oh how wealthy they were, dear reader.
Lord Norman Walmsley was the only son of the first Lord and Lady Walmsley that anyone could remember. He married for love when he was young, but his first wife died only a few years into their marriage, leaving him without an heir. For years he maintained the property as his mother would have wished. Yet, he began to age and was not able to maintain the grounds since his marriage to Lady Leanna Milford, his second wife.
Leanna was far too young to be married to a Lord older than her father. Her parents were embarrassed by her eccentric way of speaking and her disinterest in lady-like proclivities. Worse yet, the young Milford tried to run away and marry a Preacher’s son who she fancied herself in love with. Leanna stole money from her family and made it a few miles out of London with her lover before her brother found her and brought her back home. The Preacher’s son was punished and Leanna was ruined.
When Norman Walmsley showed interest despite the scandal, Lord and Lady Milford were quick to send their daughter off to Kent. The Lord Walmsley needed an heir, the Lord Milford needed to get rid of the ruin associated with his family name.
The marriage took a toll on both partners. Leanna was determined to make her displeasure known. She scared off almost all the staff, broke furniture and plates when displeased, and rarely spoke to her new-old husband. Truthfully, the young woman had never been meant for the life of a Lady. Every instinct she had told her to do the opposite of what was appropriate, and she never thought twice.
Merely months into the union, the entire manor aged and decayed. Neighbors whispered that the mysterious money had been dried up by the wicked new wife. Some theorized that it was never truly there to being with. Romantics claimed that the manor only thrived on love and happiness, and without it withered away.
A rather nice evening about a year into the marriage was interrupted by a clatter that shook half the Manor. Norman heard the bang from the library, which he rarely left, and found Leanna standing over the cracked grandfather clock shaking in fury.
Her once lovely face was twisted in anguish. “I am with child,” she stated through clenched teeth.
Marnelle Walmsley was not born from love. Her mother Leanne tolerated her presence for a few hours at a time, but had little maternal instinct. Unfortunately for Marni, she took after her father’s side in looks, which didn’t help her mother build any attachment to her. Not to say that Marni was an unattractive young girl, but everything was a little off. Her smile was just a little too wide, her hair a little too dark and wild, her eyes a little too close together. But her aging father doted on her, his only child.
It was a big enough manor where a small girl with an overactive imagination could hide for hours without ever being seen, but Norman would always find her. Lord Walmsley had a talent for knowing exactly which curtain she was hiding behind or cabinet she was inside of. Despite his age, Norman would walk the length of the family manor to search for his bubbly daughter and be certain she went to bed on time.
Marni’s governess swore the young girl was the most entertaining child she had ever taught. The small amount of servants that were not scared off by Leanna remained faithful to the Walmsley name primarily to be certain Marni was looked after and cared for.
When Norman Walmsley passed away, his seventeen-year-old daughter went missing for hours. Leanna, on the other-hand, was in the drawing room and drinking a bottle of celebratory wine.
“Bring her to me once you find her, I have news.” Leanna instructed one of the Manor maids, a small hiccup to her voice.
There was a rustle in the corner of the drawing room by the cracked grandfather clock, “I am right here, mother.” Marni’s voice called, her hair and dress disheveled.
Leanna’s hand rushed to her chest in surprise, “My God, girl, aren’t you a little old to be playing?” Marni merely shrugged in response, “Well, that behavior won’t fly in London. You’ll be going to live with your grandfather and grandmother there. They have hope that you will become a Lady and one day make a suitable match.”
“Match?” Marni asked, her gaze studying her mother’s slender figure. Leanna looked much older than she truly was. Her body was skin and bones and her mouth was permanently tugged downward into a frown.
The Lady of the house sighed, “Husband. Marriage. A woman’s only purpose.” She drawled on, “Hopefully you won’t have as horrible luck as I did when I got saddled with your father.” Leanna’s mouth tugged down even farther, “Surprised the old man held on that long, I thought I would be rid of him much sooner.”
Marni’s fists balled up at her side and she strode out of the open door of the drawing room. The laughter from her mother followed her, “Bring that attitude to London and you’ll be just as much of a disappointment your dear, sweet mummy was. That’ll show them.” Leanna continued to laugh when a new presence entered the doorway. A man with a thick brief case and a stern expression. What he had to tell Lady Leanna Walmsley caused her happiness to disappear.
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