Scandal in Spring Page 77

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Matthew’s breath caught. Yes, he had found his father, and had decided against all reason or caution to trust him. The need for connection with someone, something, had been too overpowering. His father was a wreck of a human being—there had been painfully little Matthew had been able to do for him aside from finding a place for him to live and paying for his upkeep.

Whenever Matthew had managed to visit in secret, there had been bottles piled everywhere. “If you ever need me,” he had told his father, pressing a folded note into his hand, “send for me at this address. Don’t share it with anyone, understand?” His father, childlike in his dependency, had said yes, he understood.

If you ever need me…Matthew had wanted desperately to be needed by someone.

This was the price for that self-indulgence.

“Swift,” Thomas Bowman asked, “are Waring’s claims true?” The familiar bluster was tempered with a note of appeal.

“Not entirely.” Matthew allowed himself a cautious survey of the room. The things he had expected to see on their faces—accusation, fear, anger—were not there. Even Mercedes Bowman, who was not exactly what anyone would call a compassionate woman, was regarding him with what he could almost swear was kindliness.

Suddenly he realized he was in a different position than he had been all those years ago, when he had been poor and friendless. He had been armed only with the truth, which had proved a poor weapon indeed. Now he had money and influence of his own, not to mention powerful allies. And most of all Daisy, who was still standing at his shoulder, her touch feeding strength and comfort into his veins.

Matthew’s eyes narrowed in defiance as he met Wendell Waring’s accusing stare. Whether he liked it or not, Waring would have to listen to the truth.

CHAPTER 18

“I was Harry Waring’s servant,” Matthew began gruffly. “And a good one, even though I knew he regarded me as something less than a human being. In his view servants were like dogs. I existed only for his convenience. My job was to assume blame for his misdeeds, take his punishments, repair what he broke, fetch what he needed. Even at an early age Harry was an arrogant wastrel who thought he could get away with anything short of murder because of his family’s name—”

“I won’t have him maligned!” Waring burst out furiously.

“You’ve had your turn,” Thomas Bowman bellowed. “Now I want to hear Swift.”

“His name isn’t—”

“Let him speak,” Westcliff said, his cold voice settling the rising ferment.

Matthew gave the earl a short nod of thanks. His attention was diverted as Daisy resumed her place in the nearby chair. She inched the piece of furniture closer until his right leg was half-concealed in the folds of her skirts.

“I went with Harry to Boston Latin,” Matthew continued, “and then to Harvard. I slept in the servants’ quarters in the basement. I studied his friends’ lecture notes for the classes Harry had missed and I wrote papers for him—”

“That’s a lie!” Waring cried. “You, who had been educated by ancient nuns at an orphanage—you’re mad to think anyone would believe you.”

Matthew allowed himself one mocking smile. “I learned more from those ancient nuns than Harry did from a string of private tutors. Harry said he didn’t need an education since he had a name and money. But I had neither, and my only chance was to learn as much as possible in the hopes of climbing up some day.”

“Climb up to where?” Waring asked in patent disdain. “You were a servant—an Irish servant—you had no hope of becoming a gentleman.”

A curious half-smile crossed Daisy’s face. “But that is precisely what he did in New York, Mr. Waring. Matthew earned a place for himself in business and society—and he most certainly became a gentleman.”

“Under the guise of a false identity,” Waring shot back. “He’s a fraud, don’t you see?”

“No,” Daisy replied, looking straight at Matthew, her eyes bright and dark. “I see a gentleman.”

Matthew wanted to kiss her feet. Instead he dragged his gaze away from her and continued. “I did everything I could to keep Harry at Harvard, while he seemed hell-bent on earning expulsion. The drinking and gaming and…”

Matthew hesitated as he reminded himself that there were ladies present. “…other things,” he continued, “became worse. The monthly expenditures far outstripped his allowance, and the gambling debt grew to such unmanageable proportions that even Harry began to worry. He was afraid of the repercussions he would face once his father learned the extent of his trouble. Being Harry, he looked for the easy way out. Which explains the holiday at home when the safe was robbed. I knew at once Harry had done it.”

“Poisonous lies,” Waring spat.

“Harry pointed the finger at me,” Matthew said, “rather than admit he had robbed the safe to take care of his debts. He had decided I would have to be sacrificed so he could save his own skin. Naturally the family took their son’s word over mine.”

“Your guilt was proven in court,” Waring said harshly.

“Nothing was proven.” Anger bolted through Matthew, and his breath deepened as he struggled for control. He felt Daisy’s hand seeking his, and he took it. His grip was too tight, but he couldn’t seem to moderate it.

“The trial was a farce,” Matthew said. “It was rushed to keep the papers from reporting too closely on the case. My court-appointed lawyer literally slept through most of it. There was no evidence to connect me to the theft. A servant of one of Harry’s classmates had come forward with the claim that he’d overheard Harry and two friends plotting to incriminate me, but he was too afraid to testify.”

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