The Remittance Man by Jan Selbourne
(One of four stories in the Regency Romance Anthology, Gift From My Lady)
Banished to the colony of New South Wales, Adam Stamford’s life is one of backbreaking work and few comforts until a letter from his father. The man who disowned him now begs him to come home, to stop the blackmailer before the honourable family name and estate are shamed and bankrupted.
Adam is not the man he was when he arrives home to England celebrating Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo, and the extortionist’s demands have doubled. It is beneath the aristocratic walls of his ancestral home that Adam discovers the depth of his brother’s treason and betrayal, but nothing makes sense, until Carolyn and the truth.
Adam pulled off his wet boots and coat and leaned against the door. After the cracking wild storms last night, the rain had eased to a steady drizzle. The barrels and buckets under the eaves were full and the dark sky promised more. He dipped a pitcher into the barrel beside the door and put it on the grate over the fire. Finally, a pot of tea with fresh rainwater.
Feet squelching in the mud made him turn around. Ben Gilmore from the main house, snake saver and now employer, stood at the doorway.
“Morning Ben,” Adam pointed to the pot on the stove. “Tea?”
“No thanks, just had one.” His thumb jerked over his shoulder. “Mud, beautiful mud.” He handed Adam a thickly bound envelope. “Got back this morning. First chance I’ve had to come down here.”
His eyebrows rose at Adam’s bemused expression. “Three ships were in the harbour. I checked the Gazette’s mail arrivals for the Bensons and myself and noticed your name on the list.” He grinned. “Cost me a shilling I might add.”
Adam’s eyes were on the envelope. “Take it out of my pay.”
Ben moved back to the door. “Finish your tea and your mail, then come up to the house. The storms made a mess of the barn roof.”
Adam waited until he was alone before cutting the twine from the first letter since he’d arrived in the colony. The familiar strong sloping handwriting looked back at him. Dated five months earlier, it began without salutation,
You would not be receiving this letter, assuming it arrives after such a long journey if circumstances were not forcing my hand. The reasons why my son of twenty-seven years left England still bring me much shame. Even worse was your refusal to acknowledge the appalling behaviour or the fact it was your family name and money that got you out of England. A man of the lower classes would have hanged.’
Adam leaned back against the chair and closed his eyes. For God’s sake, it’s been three and a half years! I don’t need this. His fingers gripped the pages to tear them apart, but he didn’t.
One of the circumstances was my being informed by the magistrate that you were not responsible for Cranston’s death. While that does not excuse or forgive your many vices, I have no choice but to beg you to continue reading.
The cold winters and a severe leg injury have taken a toll on my health. My doctor strongly advised I hand the estate responsibilities to your brother. Unbeknown to any of us, he had led a double life. I cannot elaborate more in this letter except he’s being blackmailed. The threat and fear of exposure of this other life was so great he paid until there was no more, forcing him into the clutches of the money lenders. The reasons for banishing you from England pale beside the revelation of your brother’s folly and the horrific consequences if exposed. I have no one else to turn to but you. I ask, no beg, you to return to England to find and stop this despicable creature before he ruins our family and our good name and our home.
Adam skimmed through the next page. If he agreed, he was to approach the Colonial Secretary for assistance with the ship’s passage. His father would reimburse the War and Colonial Office in London.
Plain paper and no names, in case it fell into the wrong hands. Stunned, he stood up and not knowing what to do, sat down. Paul had lived a double life. A bigamist? A coachman or a Bow Street Runner? The thought of his pompous dandified brother running for a living made him chuckle then the smile faded. Horrific consequences? His father’s rubbing the salt into the old wounds told him a lot of pride had been swallowed to write this letter. But, papa, it is all about you and Paul and the 17th century home on four hundred acres of lush green English land. Not one word asking if I were still alive or buried six feet under in a penal colony thirteen thousand miles away.
Damn them. Paul can get out of his own mess. There was work to be done and the barn won’t fix itself. He got to his feet again and clutched the back of the chair as the pain of homesickness hit him like a brick. For the first time in years his eyes were stinging like hell.
A remittance man was usually the black sheep of a British upper- or middle-class family who was sent away from the United Kingdom to one of the colonies and paid to stay away. These men were often an embarrassment to their families and banished after disgraces at home.
The colony of New South Wales was established when the first fleet of convicts landed at Botany Bay in 1788. By 1815, the penal colony, 13,000 miles from Britain, had grown and flourished, with many free settlers calling this new land home. I am sure a lot of them left shady pasts behind and arrived with a new name. I wanted my character to be one of them.
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