In the spring of 1792, Dominick Edward Guy de Ath Ballister, third Marquess of Dain, Earl of Blackmoor, Viscount Launcells, Baron Ballister and Launcells, lost his wife and four children to typhus.
Though he’d married in obedience to his father’s command, Lord Dain had developed a degree of regard for his wife, who had dutifully borne him three handsome boys and one pretty little girl. He’d loved them insofar as he was able. This was not, by average standards, very much. But then, it wasn’t in Lord Dain’s nature to love anybody at all. What heart he had was devoted to his lands, particularly Athcourt, the ancestral estate in Devon. His property was his mistress.
She was an expensive one, though, and he wasn’t the wealthiest of men. Thus, at the advanced age of two and forty, Lord Dain was obliged to wed again and, to satisfy his mistress’s demands, to marry pots of money.
Late in 1793, he met, wooed, and wed Lucia Usignuolo, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a wealthy Florentine nobleman.
Society was stunned. The Ballisters could trace their line back to Saxon times. Seven centuries earlier, one of them had wed a Norman lady and received a barony from William I in reward. Since then, no Ballister had ever married a foreigner. Society concluded that the Marquess of Dain’s mind was disordered by grief.
Not many months later, His Lordship himself gloomily suspected that his mind had been disordered by something. He had married, he thought, a very beautiful raven-haired girl who gazed at him adoringly and smiled and agreed with every word he uttered. What he’d wed, he found out, was a dormant volcano. The ink was scarcely dry on the marriage lines before she began to erupt.
She was spoiled, proud, passionate, and quick-tempered. She was recklessly extravagant, talked too much and too loudly, and mocked his commands. Worst of all, her uninhibited behavior in bed appalled him.
Only the fear that the Ballister line would otherwise die out kept him returning to that bed. He gritted his teeth and did his duty. When at last she was breeding, he quitted the exercise and began praying fervently for a son, so he wouldn’t have to do it again.
In May of 1795, Providence answered his prayers.
When he got his first look at the infant, though, Lord Dain suspected it was Satan who’d answered them.
His heir was a wizened olive thing with large black eyes, ill-proportioned limbs, and a grossly oversize nose. It howled incessantly.
If he could have denied the thing was his, he would have. But he couldn’t, because upon its left buttock was the same tiny brown