The Ladies Of Eastgarrow – Episode 01

The Barnabas family had lived on the south coast of England for generations. The lawns of their estate, in a dip away from the worst of the sea winds, sloped gently up to lofty chalk cliffs. Below, the waves hurled themselves against the rock on stormy days.Sometimes the Barnabases could be a stormy family, at least when the late Sir Wesley Barnabas was alive. People observed how his daughter Celestine, now eighteen, took after her father. She could be forthright and knew what she wanted, though all who knew her were fond of her. Celestine had the same strong-set chin as her father, but hers had a feminine curve that gave her considerable beauty. She had her papa’s abundant dark hair, which she tried in vain to control.Sir Wesley Barnabas had died when Celestine was twelve, so any similarities were, alas, only in the memory of the household at Eastgarrow Court. The son of Sir Wesley and Lady Barnabas, Edward, was now a soldier of twenty-five, and down on the Peninsula with his regiment. He was a credit to his family, and his mother Louisa and sister Celestine missed him every day. Letters passed back and forth, although Edward was busy with military work, and the carrying of mail in these days just before the 18th century began was unreliable.Lady Louisa, the late Sir Wesley’s wife, was very different from Celestine, a fair-haired, softly spoken lady who more resembled her son. She was also kind, and much beloved of the household. Lady Louisa had recently become unwell. Her physician suspected consumption but was reluctant to tell her the worst. Everyone knew, and everything was done to make sure that her Ladyship was as well looked after and healthy as possible. Sometimes she was well, and walked around the grounds cheerfully; sometimes she kept to her bed.Celestine still had a tutor, Mr Thomas Meredith, although her education was nearing completion. She had her own lady’s maid, by the name of Em Willis, who was indispensable, especially when Celestine’s mood was changeable. Em, a practical, pretty girl, had a gift for smoothing troubled waters. Em was always handy, always ready to provide whatever her mistress needed.Life at Eastgarrow Court went on smoothly, and so when Lady Louisa introduced a gentleman an admirer the surprise was great.“It is as much an astonishment to me, my darling, as it is to you,” Lady Louisa said to her daughter. “I never thought to feel affection for another man after your papa, but Patrick has come into my life like a whirlwind.”Celestine was seated at her dressing table as Em brushed her wayward hair. Her Ladyship stood behind, a little nervous but glowing with excitement.“We met at Victorine Benson’s soire a month ago, and then again in town when I went to look for new fabrics for the summer. Patrick is a dear friend of Victorine’s.” Lady Louisa blushed, and it made Em smile with pleasure. “And now,” Lady Louisa went on, “he is a dear friend of mine.”Celestine looked at her mother’s face in the glass, amazed. “I long to meet the gentleman,” she said. “When can we all have dinner together?”Her Ladyship stepped quickly forward and laid her hand on her daughter’s shoulder, and Celestine laid her own little hand upon her mother’s. Em moved away so that mother and daughter could enjoy this moment, and smiled.Mr Patrick Delaine had, of course, visited before, and Em knew his face. He had come three times to the house to take tea with Lady Louisa, but at moments when Celestine was absent. Em could see how much Lady Louisa was taken with him, and also that she wished to be as gentle as possible in introducing him to Celestine. Such tact was typical of her Ladyship.“He’s young,” Celestine whispered to Em as soon as they went upstairs to her bedroom after dinner. “He’s barely older than I am!”Em smiled. “I wouldn’t say that, miss. He’s about forty, I’d guess, and your mama is barely older. His good looks make him seem younger. He is so in love with your mama!”Celestine was unbuttoning her bodice. She twisted round to face her maid. “In love? Do you think so?”Em laughed. “Why, of course.”Celestine returned to tugging at her laces, and soon lost patience, getting them in a bad knot. Em untangled them.“Well,” Celestine said, “I am delighted that my mother has found happiness. I wonder when it will be my turn.” She flung herself on her bed. “Do you think they’ll marry? What a strange idea!”Mr Delaine became a very frequent visitor at Eastgarrow. He was attentive to Lady Louisa, and often anxious if she coughed or showed signs of fatigue.“I know it’s wicked of me to say it,” Celestine said one morning to her maid, “but you don’t think there is any chance that Mr Delaine is . . . well, is interested in my mother’s fortune?”Lady Louisa had inherited all Sir Wesley’s estate and had a large independent income as well.Em shook her head firmly. “No, miss, I don’t. I’ve seen men who are in pursuit of money from a woman, and declare their love for that reason only. It’s an ugly sight. I was in service twice where that occurred. Mr Delaine, I believe, is not like that.”Celestine sniffed. “You seem to have considerable experience, Em.”“A little,” Em replied.


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