Summary: David Fairfax is a country parson, denied a valuable living by his elder brother. When his aunt’s husband makes him his heir, he discovers he is also heir to an estate he can claim no kinship to. Desiring to fulfil a vow to his uncle, and out of Christian charity, David seeks out the Cole family to make amends and marry one of three eligible daughters. Rachel Cole accepts marriage to a stranger and the heir to her family’s home in an attempt to heal a several generation dispute and secure her family’s fate. Marrying with only friendship this couple endeavors to find happiness and to reconcile their families in an era filled with class and economic prejudices, a devastating war and dividing politics.
*This story began as a piece of Jane Austen Fan Fiction and has evolved. I have gone through and changed the names of characters and places but have not yet begun to edit out the Austen-like scenes and wording.
November 3, 1813
Rachel Cole collected the morning’s post and placed it on the tea tray she carried into the library. Her father did not look up from behind his newspaper but she knew he smiled at her entrance anyway. This was their routine for many years now; long before her mother died and her widowed aunt moved in, Rachel would take morning tea with her father. It was the one constant in her life from then until now.
They sat in silence for many minutes. Rachel sipped her tea and slathered her bread with jam while Mr. Cole read his paper until at last he laid it aside and nudged his cup forward on the desk. Rachel shook her head even as she complied with the unspoken request. He really ought to drink less tea, or at least less sugar in his tea. She would try only using two cubes but he would slyly watch from the corner of his eye as he leafed through the mail. This morning when he did not raise his eyebrow in silent rebuke as usual, she was surprised. He seemed frozen over a particular envelope.
“Father, what is it?”
Seemingly jolted from intense reverie, he startled and handed the unopened letter to her before replying.
“A letter from our cousin David Fairfax.”
Rachel’s eyes grew wide when her father nodded. While her mother lived she had always fretted over the entail. Mr. Cole’s grandfather had favoured his younger son—born of his second wife—and made a strange provision in an entail on the estate. It was not unusual, of course, for the land to fall to the line of the younger son if the elder one begat no male offspring. Henry Cole, however, decreed that his younger son might pass the estate on to anyone he wished, even a non-blood heir.
The elder son’s family was scandalized. The estate had been passed down without restraints for many centuries and in one generation was entailed to heirs-male, but not of the body. If Henry Cole did not care that the lands of Ashford would leave Cole blood, then why must it go to the line of the younger son at all?
As fortune would have it Philip Cole had no surviving sons nor did his cousin, John Hall. As a youth John had vowed to Philip to put aside their father’s dispute over the estate. John would never claim a right to the estate and should Philip bear no sons, John would help break the current entail and step aside for any female heirs of the elder line. Philip’s wife died when Rachel was fifteen and he chose to not remarry. Having a male heir of his own was now impossible, but Philip foolishly saw no urgency in breaking the entail.
When Rachel came out, Philip finally saw the need to establish his daughters as legal heirs to the Ashford estate. The family was shocked to learn John had experienced a change of heart in the intervening years. His wife had requested on her deathbed that John take care of her favourite nephew, who was always slighted by his father. Philip tried to hold John to their original agreement. He even sued his cousin and former best friend for breach of contract, but John’s stake to the estate was upheld. Philip dropped all pretence of friendship and refused to even read any correspondence from John. When he died a year later and David Fairfax was named the heir to Ashford, Philip was reconciled to the breach in both families.
That was two years ago and they had heard nothing from the heir to Ashford since; until today. Rachel took the letter from her father’s outstretched hands.
In a firm, masculine hand she read aloud the words:
Middletown, near Chelmsford, Essex, 1st November.
I have long been grieved by the circumstances of my inheritance, as helpless as I would be to alter it. It was only on the eve of my uncle’s death that I was informed he had once promised to break the entail. At such news I was then charged to offer amends to your daughters.
I regret I was not in a position earlier to contact you on such a subject. Although ordained two years ago I have only recently received the patronage of my aunt, Dowager Lady Wren. I am now entirely resolved to do my duty and heal the breach between our families.
If you should have no objection to receive me into your house then I would be available to wait on your family on November 14th and can stay until the Saturday se’ennight following.
“Father, what do you think he means by suggesting to make us amends?”
“Marriage, of course.”