“I don’t wish to marry him. I do not like him.”
“Like him, Bess? You’ve never met him.” Her father smiled tolerantly.
“I could not like a man from such a horrid family.” She had expected more help on this score from her mother, but Katharine, whatever her opinions might be in private, was a woman to stand publicly with her husband. “It is not for you to refuse this match, Elizabeth. You will marry him. You are a widow, after all; it is most suitable that you remarry.”
“Why can’t Joan marry him? Her father was beheaded too. They would have much more to talk about.”
William’s lip twitched upward, but he still managed to say testily, “Hugh asked for your hand, not Joan’s. In any case, he would have asked in vain, because we have decided that Joan will marry your brother Will, quite soon as a matter of fact.”
So now he can stare at her breasts all he likes, Bess thought, then remembered the matter at hand. “I don’t want to marry him, Papa.” She looked up into her father’s face and gazed at him sadly with her large brown eyes, a trick that up to now had never missed with her father, though Bess to her credit had used it sparingly. “Please don’t make me.”
“I must, child. I cannot have you dictating to me whom you shall marry. I would not marry you to a man I did not esteem; you should know that. His father did disgrace his family’s name, but Sir Hugh has done much to restore it. But I will allow you to sit with us when he comes to visit tomorrow or the next day. You will see for yourself that he will make a good husband for you, and you will get a chance to come to know him.”
“And Hugh is a rich man,” added Katharine. “You will be Lady of Glamorgan, and have many castles, you know. It won’t be bad, I promise.”
Nor, thought Bess, had she promised that it would be good.
* * *
Hugh pointed out the window toward the row of Genoese galleys. Bobbing in the water, they made a pretty picture; sunk beneath the waves, they would have made an even prettier one. “Pity our father isn’t here. He pirated one of them, do you remember? He’d have kept them from ever reaching the port.”
“One pirate in the family is enough,” said Edward. He had begun to pace around the room. “What if she’s with child?”
“Then you’ll have a pleasant surprise waiting for you when you return to England.”
“Aren’t you worried about Bess? What if she’s with child?”
The two older brothers being alone together, Hugh said, “There’s only been one virgin birth known to man, Edward.” This confidence at least made Edward stop pacing. “What? You haven’t—”
“She’s put herself off limits.” Hugh decided it was his turn to pace.
“Surely she’s old enough?” Edward saw the look on Hugh’s face. “I’m sorry, Hugh. I don’t mean to pry.” “It’s one way to pass the time.”
Copyright © 2007 Susan Higginbotham