MY childhood had been unusual. My father had not prepared me well for the marriage mart. The irony was that he had instead given me knowledge that meant I was an excellent governess.
“Along with accomplishments, there must be love.”
I blushed and looked down at my hands. I struggled to explain.
“I believe that Mary’s health is best served by learning and being surrounded by people who love her.”
“Do you think my daughter lacks love?” He said shortly.
“No, not that she lacks it but… she needs to be shown it.”
“What do you suggest, Miss Thorne?” Was that a hint of humour in his voice?
I risked a glance at him. The side of his mouth was quirked. Yes, he was laughing at me. A little.
“I think it would be good for Mary if you spent some time with her. Play a game or read her a story,” I said boldly.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
There was a silence. Charles stared out across his lands. A scattered band of crows streaked across the tops of an ancient oak, their raucous cawing reached us on the breeze.
My hair tickled my cheek. I realised it had loosened from its style during the ride. I tucked it in as best I could, only to find his attention on me.
“Mary doesn’t need me,” he repeated firmly.
Then, when I refused to agree, he picked up Raven’s reins.
“Let us go back now. I have work to do.”
There was nothing for it but to follow him back across the grass to the stables. I wasn’t going to give up, though. He was wrong. His daughter did need him.
There was a carriage at the front entrance to Bowerly Hall. A rather grand one, gleaming and brightly coloured with heraldry.
As we drew near, a couple descended from it.
Charles led his horse and went over to greet his visitors. I followed, unsure what to do. Grace’s warm breath tickled my neck as I led her.
I was conscious of strands of my hair escaping from under my hat. My riding habit was flecked with mud and stems of grass from our ride.
The young woman looked at us. She was beautifully dressed in the latest fashions. Her dress was blue with ribbons and furbelows.
Her bonnet was excellently trimmed with matching ribbons. She carried a delicate parasol to complement her outfit.
The worst thing was, I recognised her. We had been friends, of sorts. She had visited with me at Chelmley and I, in turn, had been invited to her home.
“Charles, how good it is to see you,” the man said heartily.
Charles shook his hand and welcomed them both. Politely, he drew me forward and introduced me, too.
The young man bowed and she inclined her head briefly as if we had never met before.
Then she linked her arms with her beau and Charles and swept them towards the door and I heard her tinkling laughter.
If I had queried my place in the world, I knew it certainly now. If my father hadn’t died, if my aunt and uncle had been different people, I would have been in her shoes.
I, too, would have stepped out gaily in my gorgeous clothes and married well, confident of my wealth and status.
I returned Grace to the groom who had appeared to lead Raven back to the stables.
Feeling unsettled and strangely bereft, I went to find Mary.
Sarah and Charlotte came to call and I ushered them away from the house. I did not want them to catch the illness that plagued Bowerly.
Mary and I walked with them through the walled garden and along the cliff path. The two girls held hands and skipped along. Sarah and I walked more sedately, our heads together, talking.
“Look what James has given me,” Sarah said, showing me a small leather-bound book with gilt letters on its front cover. “It’s his favourite poetry. He says he hopes it will be mine, too.”
Her face shone.
I hoped for Sarah’s sake that James would ask for her hand soon. They were made for each other.
“It is lovely,” I said, sharing her pleasure.
“Are you and Mary quite well?” Sarah asked. “How awful that Bowerly is in the grip of illness.”
“That’s a good way to describe it. Once the fever has burned out, the patients require days of recovery. Mrs Dane is exhausted and so is Peggy. Luckily the butler hasn’t caught it although both footmen are sick.”
“How are the family coping?”
“Admirably. Lady Anne is tougher than she looks. She has ordered Mrs Bell to simply lay out the food in the kitchen and she and Charles go down to help themselves. It’s like one long picnic in the house.”
“Charles?” Sarah said archly, raising an eyebrow at me.
I felt the heat rise in my face.
“Oh, I meant his Lordship, of course. It was a slip of the tongue, nothing more.” She placed her hand on my arm.
“Amelia, dear, it’s me you’re talking to. I hope I am your friend. I certainly consider you to be mine. We must have no secrets between us. Do you really think of him as Charles?”
“He is not the ogre I initially believed him to be,” I said. “He can be abrupt and a little sombre, but there is more to him than that. I truly believe it to be so.”
Sarah smiled but said no more on the matter. I was keen to change the subject too. I described the dinner I’d attended and the appearance of Francis Williams. “You must keep your distance from him,” Sarah warned.