About the book
That is what people call fate...sometimes even the worst turn of events, can lead to absolute happiness...
Lydia Fernside must leave her home to live with a sour and demanding aunt after her family falls on hard times. She has the occasion to meet the Duke of Shropshire, and they find they have common interests as well as mutual attractions.
But, with the difference in their social stations the Duke’s mother forbids any thought of a romantic alliance. However, two such headstrong and determined lovers are not to be denied, and they must struggle however they can to form a satisfactory alliance.
But will it be enough?
Lydia Fernside studied herself in her dressing table mirror. She tilted her head from side to side and turned to look at herself from all angles. Very pretty face she decided. A slender non-obtrusive nose. A pleasing figure—her mother had told her so many times. Although, she also had much to say about Lydia’s poor posture. Lydia noticedher hair could use some attention, but her complexion was fair and she thought she had bright and intriguing eyes—but who was she to conclude that? Certainly one could not see oneself as others might.
She let out a fulsome sigh as she realized that at twenty years of age she still lacked what she would describe as a suitable suitor. Oh yes, Henry Howell currently filled that position. But Henry? Really? She sighed once again and stifled a yawn as she contemplated a life with one so dull and uninteresting. He maintained a small accounting establishment and his conversation was laced with stories of sheep farmers and shop owners struggling with debts or taxes—stories he found eminently fascinating but which she could only feign the mildest of interest. More often than not, when in conversation with Henry, her eyes glazed over or she looked down at her embroidery and nodded into a slight slumber.
But enough of this self-centered contemplation, she advised herself. It was time to rise from her dressing table and meet the morning full on. She grabbed the current novel she was reading and raced downstairs for breakfast.
“Good morning, darling Mother—and dearest sister, Margaret,” she announced as she entered the dining room where breakfast was being served.
“You are looking well this morning, Lydia,” her mother said, scarcely looking up.
Lydia had pinched her cheeks to add a bit of color before she came downstairs.
“And how is your barrister? Is he to call on you today?” Lydia asked Margaret, as she sat down at her place at the breakfast table and shook out her napkin, laying it across the lap of her charming lemon yellow morning dress.
Margaret looked up from her kipper and squinted. She needed eyeglasses but vanity kept her in a fuzzy world of ill-defined shapes and colors. But it mattered not, as everyone could see her just fine, as she could see the admiring glances from those who appreciated her slender figure, dark curly hair, and fair creamy complexion.
“Charles had a court date he’d forgotten about. I’m afraid he had to cancel. But perhaps you and I could go for a stroll later this morning? I believe the weather promises to be fine and Culum Daniels is installing a new stile at Brompton corner. If it’s complete we could enjoy a walk along the river path.”
“I would like that,” Lydia answered.
“But isn’t Henry coming by for a visit this morning?” Mother asked.
“Not until tea,” Lydia responded. “He is visiting with a new client this morning."
Mother seemed agitated. She adjusted her cap and fiddled with the tassels on her dress. “I really don’t know what the matter is with that young man. He has been calling on you for over a year and yet he never seems to have the nerve to ask.”
“Ask what, Mother?”
“Ask for your hand. I can’t possibly understand his hesitation. Your father had words with him but a fortnight ago, and still he dissembles.”
“Perhaps he’s bored with me,” Lydia teased, knowing it would ruffle her mother’s feathers—which, indeed, it seemed to do.
Mother dabbed at her constantly watery eyes with the edge of her napkin and proceeded to blow her nose with a hoot. And as she did so,a cloud of powder exploded from her over-powdered face and she waved her napkin in the air to disperse it.
“Nonsense, you are a tribute to this family. You are well read, you practice the domestic arts and are accomplished in piano, reciting, watercolors, and you embroider the most charming cushions.”
“Yes, Mother, but perhaps he desires a more buxom lady. I have a much more modest figure.”
Mother brushed away the comment. “Oh, Lydia, how can you say such things, let alone think them?”
“She reads too many novels, Mother dear,” Margaret added. “It’s not ladylike and I’m sure she puts off young Henry with her babbling on about heroes and heroines.”
“I dare say, you have a point,” Mother replied, as she rang the silver bell to summon Lucy.
“Yes, mum,” Lucy said, as she entered from the kitchen.
“You may clear the table after Mistress Lydia has finished her breakfast.”
“And Vicar Fernside? He’s not breakfasted yet, mum.” Lucy said.
Mother looked up. “Oh, bother. Has he lost himself in his morning reveries again? Go see if he’s in his study. And if he is, tell him I require him to come to breakfast before the morning is entirely spent.”
“Yes, mum.” And Lucy departed.
“Honestly—how I am bothered. Not one moment of tranquility. Your father, I swear, will be the death of me. Fiddling with his little wooden carvings, or lost in his Sunday matters, and forgetting to pay the bills. Why, only the other morning, butcher Barns threatened to delay delivery of the lamb chops unless we made some payment on the account. I had to use my pocket money to satisfy him.”
“Mother, you know Father tends to be forgetful of such trivial domestic matters. His mind is on loftier ideals. His sermons soar to the heavens,” Lydia said, defending her father.
“That’s all good and well on a Sunday, but come Monday and the butcher, the baker, and the candle maker all demand their just and due.”
Mother sat straight upright, placing her hands righteously in her lap.
Father burst into the dining room. “Oh, my. Have I been a bad little boy again?” he asked, plopping down at his place at the head of the table. “I get so carried away in my studies and I lose all track of time. I hope the kippers haven’t gone off.”
Mother humphed, and rose from the table, training her glare at Vicar Fernside. “I have finished my breakfast so you must breakfast alone. Someone must run this household,” she said and swept out of the room.
Lydia reached over and put her hand on her father’s. “I am still eating breakfast, Papa. I was late too. So we can have a nice chat.”
Father looked over at Lydia and smiled. “Good morning, darling daughters,” he said, also turning to Margaret.
“Father,” she acknowledged, but, having finished her breakfast, stood to leave. “Lydia, how is ten o’clock for us to have our stroll?”
Lydia nodded. “That will be fine.”
As Margaret left the dining room Lydia studied her father. The Vicar of Piddlehinton, Dorset was short of stature with a rosy round face, framed with small round glasses and a brush of white, wiry hair that surrounded his bald pate. Not what one would call attractive, she thought, but when he smiled, his eyes lit up and he radiated aloving warmth that surely others must observe besides herself.
But she also noticed that his skin had a pale pallor and he looked tired.
“Papa, are you getting enough rest? You were still up when I went to bed last evening, and I heard you in your study when I first awoke.”
He smiled wanly and waved her concerns away with a wave of his hand.
But he sighed, and said; “My darling Lydia, there is always so much that needs attending to. Old Miss Caruthers is doing poorly and, with no family of her own, she so looks forward to my daily visits. The bellows are giving out on the foot organ; there’s a persistent leak in the vestry roof; the pigeons continue to congregate in the steeple; and I find it increasingly difficult to come up with a fresh and lively sermon each week. I have needed to poach the occasional work from years gone by. But I am not sure anyone really notices.”
“Your sermons are much beloved, and if a parishioner were to notice, I am sure it would be with fond remembrance.”
Her father looked at her. “What a loving daughter you are, my dear. You are my little treasure. Not like your self-serving sisters who seem to care for nothing but their fine dresses, ribbons, and town gossip.”
“Father, that is not fair. Emily is married and expecting. She will have much more to care about with a child arriving soon—and she has a fine, sound husband. And Margaret is to be married in but a month. Neither are what I would call self-serving.”
The Vicar picked at his kipper but didn’t seem that interested in it.
“You are quite right, as usual. But how about you? Has your young man still not declared himself?”
Now it was Lydia’s turn to sigh. “No, Papa. And I have to say, I am not particularly anxious to hear such a declaration either.”
Her father seemed surprised. “Lydia, my pet, how can this be? He has been attentive to you for over a year, and I thought you welcomed his intentions.”
Lydia twisted her napkin. “Yes, he is a decent man, with a good living. That I can vouchsafe. But is that enough?”
“You do not have feelings for him?”
“There is a certain warmth between us, but hardly a flame.”
“Oh, my dear… Believe me, you must have a firm foundation
for your marriage. Your mother and I, despite our occasional differences, care a great deal for each other. You must have a sound basis of love to sustain a marriage over the many years. Without that, you might find yourself living a life of misery.”
Lydia studied her father. She was so used to him as a parent she had never considered him as a man—a lover—a husband—a person with passions.
“I shall give your thoughts consideration. But as of now, Henry has still not declared himself.”
“But if you are not content with him as a husband, you must tell him so. It is not fair to him to let him think that you care when you do not.”
Feeling chastened, she lowered her eyes and folded her napkin. “Thank you, father, for your wise counsel. I shall certainly give it my full consideration.”
The Vicar’s Anglican Church and rectory were at the western edge of the small, charming village of Piddlehinton—comprised mostly of whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs, and half-timbered shops. The countryside opened up along the road that passed the church. Hedgerows bordered the narrow road that eventually led to the river and crossed over to the estate of Lord Piddlehinton—after whom the village was named. His vast estate comprised a large wooded area by the river, where Lydia and her sister loved to walk; vast grazing fields for sheep and cattle; and the great house of Hollyoaks—a rambling seventeenth century manor that was in somewhat disrepair.
The ancient Lord Piddlehinton, now in his eighties, had no immediate heirs and there was much speculation as to what would happen to the estate when he passed away. There were rumors of nieces or nephews from London, but no one seemed to know for certain.
Lydia loved the solitude of the rectory. It was stationed in the middle of a large parcel of land, and included a charming flower garden with roses and hollyhocks in front, and in back a kitchen garden, an orchard, and a yew studded meditation alley where Lydia had a bench tuckedaway in the shade of an apple tree at the edge of the orchard where she loved to read on a mild summer morning.
As books were hard to come by, Lydia was reading a torrid novel she’d borrowed from her friend, Dorothea. It was far too gothic and lurid for her taste, and her mind kept wandering to the conversation about Henry with her father at breakfast. She laid the book open in her lap and lifted her face to feel the warmth of the sun filtering down through the leaves of the apple tree. She sat back against the bench and enjoyed a moment of peaceful serenity with her eyes closed.
“My darling, Lydia.”
She opened her eyes to see Margaret walking toward her.
“Are you ready for our stroll?” Margaret asked. “I brought you a shawl in case the woods are too cool.”
“How thoughtful,” Lydia said, as she stood up and placed the book on the bench.
Margaret came over and took Lydia’s arm, leading her along the alley to the front garden and down the walkway to the road. They walked along in silence past the church and out into the open countryside.
Finally, Lydia asked, “Why are you having the wedding at Pulfordinstead of in our church?”
Margaret frowned. “Charles’ parents are insisting. And I don’t mind really. I would rather have Papa give me away than marry me. I would feel silly if he were the one to officiate.”
“But will he not feel slighted?”
“No, I have talked to him about it. And he understands that the Bolts have a much larger house that can accommodate the entire wedding party.”
“Are you excited?” Lydia asked.
Margaret glanced over with an apprehensive expression. “Oh, yes. But nervous too. Mamma has explained all about… you know. But I’m still not sure that I understand completely.”
Lydia laughed. “Well, I’m afraid I cannot be of much help. I know the basics, of course, but I am certain there are aspects that one can only discover on the night. You should talk to Emily, she should certainly know all about it by now. And after all, she is about to have her first child.”
Margaret leaned into Lydia and they both giggled and blushed.
They came to the newly finished stile and crossed over, lifting their skirts and carefully watching their steps as they descended into the field. They walked through the tall grasses that had not yet been grazed and finally entered into Lord Piddlehinton’s woods on the near side of the river where the air was cool, smelled of loam, and sent a shiver through Lydia. She tightened the shawl around her shoulders. The path was strewn with leaves and pine needles and was soft underfoot. The leafy canopy was thick overhead and admitted little sunlight. It reminded Lydia of the novel she had been reading earlier, where the heroine was lost in an enchanted forest. She took hold of her sister’s arm again, and said, “I think I’d rather walk in the open. It’s very dark and close in here, don’t you think?”
“My thoughts, exactly,” Margaret responded.
They took a shortcut through the woods and came out in an open field filled with clover and small daisies. A flock of sheep was grazing nearby and gave them a curious stare as the sisters floated through the field, their dresses rustling against the bracken.
“I am quite worried about Papa,” Lydia said. “He does not look at all well to me. Have you noticed?”
“Oh, I am certain he is just fine. He was working in the garden with Mother the other morning and they were chatting and laughing, and wielding their spades with great abandon.”
“I certainly hope so.”
They had made a full circle and were back at the stile.
“I think it must be near noon and dinnertime. Shall we head back?” Margaret asked.
“If you like. I had a late breakfast so I am not all that hungry, but Mother will have a fit if we are late.”
“I believe we are to have some of those very tasty lamb chops.”
“The one's Mother made such a fuss about because the butcher was insisting on payment?”
“The very ones.”
The both laughed.
Henry Howell walked down the alley toward where Lydia was, once again, attempting to get into her novel. At his approach, she looked up.
This was her beau, she contemplated. Yes, he was handsome in a regular way, but he had a pinched face and a slightly pained expression that never seemed to relax. He had a full face and a stocky body. She could easily foresee him adding many additional pounds as he aged. And while portly husbands could be considered prosperous, as far as she was concerned, she tended to favor a leaner gentleman who did not need to have the waist of his trousers let out every six months.
At three and thirty his hair was already thinning, and while he dressed conservatively, he did not tend to turn many of the lady’s heads as he paraded down the post road in the middle of Piddlehinton.
He looked nervous as he approached and he took out his pocket handkerchief and wiped his brow several times.
“My darling, Lydia. You look cool and refreshed.”
“Thank you, Henry. Won’t you take a seat,” she said, patting the bench at the place next to her.
He hesitated and proceeded to pace before her, again mopping his brow.
“Shall we go inside for tea?” she asked.
“Not yet, if you don’t mind. I was hoping we might have a conversation alone first.”
“Of course. But won’t you sit?”
“Ah… no, thank you. I am much too nervous.”
Oh no, she thought, is this to be the proposal? She closed her book and placed her hands in her lap. Her mind was racing. What should she say? Was she prepared to take this man as her husband? An involuntary shudder swept over her.
This was going to be the moment of truth. She’d not consciously made up her mind whether to accept him or not, but now she must make that decision. Could she be his wife? In all honesty, she could not. She steeled herself to politely refuse his offer, but she must first hear him out.
“Please, be at ease. What would you like to converse about?” she asked.
“Lydia… My darling, Lydia, as you know we have been in close conversation this past twelvemonth.”
Oh dear, she thought, “And you know how greatly I esteem your many fine qualities and accomplishments,” he continued.
“And I am certain you have certain expectations surrounding our long courtship.”
Lydia spoke up, impatiently, “And you as well, I believe.”
This seemed to throw Henry out of his rhythm. “Yes. Yes, of course. And that is what I wish to discuss with you.”
“Then please proceed,” Lydia said, wanting to get to the conclusion.
“Yes. Yes. Well, you see, I have given our circumstances a great deal of contemplation and it seems that I must say, with all honesty, that it has come time for me to declare my intentions.”
“Please do, Henry. The suspense is almost beyond bearing.”
“Yes. Certainly. And Lydia I have come to the conclusion that we are perhaps not suited for each other.” He took a deep breath and looked at her with a certain amount of apprehension.
“Henry, are you saying that you are not interested in marriage?”
“Oh, yes… marriage certainly?”
“Then this is a proposal?”
“Yes. No. Marriage. Yes, I am interested in marriage… but just not with you.”
Lydia couldn’t help herself and she let out a hearty laugh—both from his confusion and her relief.
“Then there is someone else?” she asked.
“Yes. Yes, there is. I recently made the acquaintance of a MissCaroline McAlister of Upper Windom. It was quite by chance and we… well, we formed an instant bond.” He began pacing again. “I am so very, very sorry. I know you had expectations, and I am most mortified to disappoint you. But I must be honest. And I, therefore, beg you to release me from any commitment you may feel I have given you.”
“Henry. Sit.” She patted the bench again.
“It is quite all right. Please take a breath and settle yourself. I don’t want to marry you either.”
He looked at her with shock. “You don’t?”
“No. I have come to the same conclusion. Well, not because I met a Miss McAlister, but because… well, let us be honest, Henry, we are not really a match.”
“Oh, what a relief. I was so afraid…”
“It is quite all right. You need not bother yourself any longer.”
Henry’s face lit up, and his pinched look disappeared. Never for one moment did she suspect that she was the cause of that. But it seemed she was. And she felt a great release, and a lightness overcame her.
“Henry, please answer a question for me if you can.”
“Why ever did you court me this long if you were not interestedin our marriage?”
“I only recently met Miss McAllister, and it never occurred to me that we might not be the perfect match. You were close by, available, and you came highly recommended.”
“By whom?” Lydia asked in astonishment, seeing herself in his eyes like aprime piece of real estate.
“Why, your sister Emily always spoke so highly of you. And you have the most charming mother and father. It just seemed like the thing to do.”
“How flattering,” she said, amused at his denseness.
“Think nothing of it. It has been a great pleasure knowing you and I hope that you will visit Miss McAlister—but by then she will be Mrs. Howell—and me when we tie the knot. I am sure you will find her to be a charming companion. And she seems eager to make your acquaintance.”
“I’m sure we will become fast friends.”
Henry took a deep breath and smiled the first genuine smile she had seen from him. “Well, then. That is that, is it not?”
“Indeed it is. So, shall we go in to tea?” Lydia suggested.
“Yes, I am quite parched.”
Lydia was sitting in the sitting room window seat that overlooked the back garden. She was attempting to mend a petticoat hem but was not having much success as her gaze kept wandering to the beauty of the garden in the late afternoon sun and shadows. The casement was open and a soft summer breeze wafted through, enchanting her with its soft caress. She sighed in deep satisfaction and leaned back against thewall, and for a moment was in a state of simple peace.
It was three weeks after she had announced to the family that her expectations with Mr. Howell had come to naught. She was so relieved, she thought nothing more of it, and had begun to settle into the comfort of being unattached once again with no expectations other than to be a supportive and productive family member.
Margaret opened the sitting room door.
“Lydia, if you have a moment Mother and Father would like you to attend to them.”
Lydia was surprised that Margaret had spoken of ‘mother and father.’ It was so formal. At home, they always spoke of Mamma and Papa.
“Of course. Where are they?”
“In Father’s study.”
“I shall attend to them shortly. But first I must put away my mending or I shall forget it and who knows who might be embarrassed to see a lady’s undergarment lying about the sitting room.”
“If you like, I can take care of that for you. I don’t think you want to keep them waiting.”
A most ominous reply, Lydia thought as she gathered her mending together and handed it to Margaret. Lydia glanced at Margaret to see if she could fathom what was going on, but Margaret averted her gaze and wouldn’t look at her.
What have I done? Lydia thought as she climbed the stairs to her father’s study.
She knocked on the door.
“Come,” her father called out.
Lydia opened the door and entered. Her father was seated at his desk—his glasses perched on the end of his nose as he gazed over them to look at his daughter. Her mother was seated in the comfortable chair by the empty fireplace, fanning herself in the closed room.
Her mother extended her hand and indicated that Lydia should sit in the chair prepared for her—equidistant from each of her parents. When she was seated, her mother turned to Father for him to begin speaking.
Lydia was apprehensive of this situation. Again, it was so formal and she felt as though she was at an inquisition with the guillotine about to descend upon her neck.
“Lydia, we need to have a serious conversation with you,” her father began.
At the loving and informal ‘Papa,’ her father hesitated but regathered himself when Mother gave him a stern look and nodded for him to proceed.
“Your mother and I were shocked when you announced that there was to be no engagement between yourself and Mr. Howell.”
“It was a mutual decision, as I told you previously.”
“That is as it might be. But the crux of the matter is that you are not to be married and with no other prospects. Is that correct? There is no one else waiting in the wings?”
“That is correct, Father.” Lydia was not about to be intimidated by this inquiry. She looked over to her mother who frowned but said nothing.
“Please tell me what is on your minds. I feel like I have committed some terrible crime.”
Father looked to Mother, who spoke up, as it seemed Father was unwilling to get to the heart of the matter.
“Emily is married, with a fine husband and with a child on the way. Margaret is engaged and to be married in but a week. And then there is you…”
“That is certainly true, Mamma. You make it sound like that is the problem.”
Mother glanced down briefly, as though to gather her thoughts. “Well, not you specifically, but certainly your situation. You are twenty years old.Most young ladies are married or engaged by that age. And now you have diverted a possible engagement…”
“I most certainly did not divert, Mother. It was Mr. Howell who declared that he had met someone else and wished to marry her.”
“And why would that be? If you had been more attentive to him… more willing… perhaps he would not have needed to look elsewhere.”
Lydia stood up and scowled. “So you are blaming me for the failed engagement?”
“Certainly, not my dear,” her Father said. “But what you don’t understand is that…” He looked down at his desk and adjusted his glasses. “Well, how can I put this?”
Mother spoke up. “Your father has not managed our paltry living from the church wisely and in short, we cannot afford to continue supporting your living here at home.”
Lydia was shocked. “Oh… I see.”
“It has absolutely nothing to do with you, my darling,” Father said. “But I am ashamed to say I have not been a good steward to our family and we have a great deal of debt and thus we must cut back drastically on our expenses.” He looked greatly embarrassed and he pushed again at his eyeglasses.
Mother spoke up. “We have had to give Lucy notice. That is how serious this matter is.”
Lydia was stricken now—not with guilt, but with grave concern. “Oh, how can I help? There must be something that can be done.”
“I have previously written to your Aunt Lavinia. Since she is so recently widowed, we thought she might welcome you as a companion and a housekeeper.”
Lydia was again in shock.
“Not as a housekeeper, exactly, but rather as one who can help her maintain a stable home,” Mother said. “She attends the Duchess Patience Templeton of Honeyfield Hall most days, and it is a great strain for her to maintain her own home as well. She has replied in the affirmative, but she says she would not be able to pay you much. But you would have a home and a living. And, in addition, there is a small living from her husband that she has indicated would go to you when she is no longer with us.”
“If there is any remuneration I shall, of course, pass it on to you, to help in these difficult times,” Lydia said, as her mind whirled with all the implications of these changing circumstances.
“That would not be necessary,” Father said.
“That would be most useful,” Mother insisted, giving her husband a stern look.
“When is this to take place, and how am I to get to… Where exactly does Aunt Lavinia live?”
“Upton Magna in Shropshire.”
“So it has been arranged and confirmed?” Lydia asked.
Father answered. “It has. And you are expected as soon as possible after Margaret’s wedding next week.”
Lydia could no longer hold back and she began to cry, turning away from her parents and looking out the window at the beautiful garden she must now leave and would sorely miss. She pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes.
Her father came over and put his hands on her shoulders and leaned his forehead against the back of her head. “I am so very sorry, my princess. It is my entire fault. But think of it as an adventure and a new life. Surely, you will make new friends and have many wonderful encounters.”
“Harcourt, leave her be,” Mother said to her father sternly.
He turned to her and said, demanding—not requesting. “Abigail, don’t you need to see to supper?”
“Humph,” she uttered and left the room.
“How am I to get there?” Lydia asked, turning to her father and putting her handkerchief back in her sleeve. She was ready to accept the inevitable and move on.
“Post carriage. It will require several days and a change of carriage or two but it shouldn’t be too tedious, I trust.”
“And where shall I stay along the way?”
“The trip includes accommodations, although, I suspect they will not be very elegant.” Her father went to his desk and opened a drawer. “I have put aside a few pounds for your expenses,which might be able to afford a nicer room if possible.”
“No, Father. I will not take your money when the family is in dire straits. I have a little money put aside myself, and I shall use that. As I said before, I will do everything I can to send you money. I may be able to take in some sewing work or be able to make some additional money helping some gentlewoman or other once I am settled in Upton Magna.”
Father came over and put his hand on Lydia’s cheek. “You are the precious jewel of my life. I will miss you greatly.”
“Papa, I fear for your health. You must promise me to take great care of yourself and Mamma.” She leaned in and embraced him.
“I promise. Although, at my age, there are aches and pains sprouting up more frequently than weeds in the garden.”
Lydia kissed her father on both cheeks. “There, that will ward off all toils and troubles, until I can once again come home.”
Lydia’s good friend, Dorothea, was helping her pack the trunk for her journey. She was a petite blonde with naturally curly hair, baby blue eyes, and a pert nose.
“What am I going to do without you, dearest sister?” Dorothea asked.
“I shall write you weekly, and you must write back to me. I want to hear all the news of Piddlehinton. I shall be bereft of news unless you write. My mother and Margaret are useless and boring correspondents, and Emily is far too caught up in her new family life to be of any use at all.”
Dorothea held up a petticoat sadly in need of repair. “Surely you are not taking this?”
“Oh, no. Put that away. It must be torn up for rags.” She sighed. “But the rest of my undergarments are not much better. I can see that I am going to spend most of my free timeduring the next few months mending, as there is no possible way I can afford new petticoats or bloomers.”
Dorothea folded up another petticoat and placed it in the trunk. “What is your Aunt Lavinia like? Do you know her well?”
“Not at all. She is my grandmother’s sister on my mother’s side. I have never met her, but she writes my mother regularly and always asks that Motherpass on her best wishes to the three daughters. I have no idea what to expect.”
“I wish I could go with you. I long for an adventure or two.” Dorothea giggled. “What do you know about the young men of the area? Any prospects ripe for plucking, do you think? Are there any military officers in that region?”
“Dorothea, I have no idea and even less interest. Really, in my situation, with no living and no prospects, I will not be able to attract even the most humble farmer or rat catcher.”
“Oh, Lydia, how unfair. You are a charming and beautiful young lady of breeding, refined manners, and accomplishments. Surely there must be many young gentlemen who could fall madly in love with you.”
Lydia gave her a sour look. “Really, you are too extravagant with your fantasies. I have come to terms with my lot in life and shall endure it with perseverance and a good humor.”
There was a knock at the door and Margaret peeked inside.
“What are you two up to?” she asked.
“Packing my trunk,” Lydia replied.
“I have just finished all my packing for the wedding. It seems so strange to think that I will not be living here anymore.”
“Are you excited?” Dorothea asked.
“It’s all such a whirlwind. I don’t know what I feel, quite honestly.” She came over and sat on the edge of the bed, picking up a novel from Lydia’s side table. “Need any help?” she asked, absently.
It was clear she had no real intention of helping. Lydia speculated that what she really wanted was a good gossip.
“Will you be staying on in Pulfordafter the wedding?” Dorothea asked.
“We will. Charles’s parents have a quite charming cottage on some property down the road from the family home and we shall be setting up house there. His practice is quite close by and I expect he shall be able to come home for dinner at noon each day. It’s been very difficult to be separated, and we look forward to starting up our life together.”
“It sounds delightful,” Dorothea said. “You must be very happy to be marrying so soon.”
Margaret cast a warning glance at Dorothea and shook her head, indicating they must not speak about such happiness in front of Lydia who had no such happy prospects.
Margaret looked up at Lydia. “Mamma says dinner will be served soon, can you leave your packing?”
Lydia nodded, and then turned to Dorothea, “Can you join us? I am sure there will be plenty. I saw quite luscious beets being pulled from the garden this morning. And I heard a chicken squawking her last cries, meaning she’ll be on the table as well.”
“Oh, no. I’m expected back home, although it sounds delightful.”
“I’m off then,” Margaret said, jumping up from the bed. “Now that Lucy is gone, I’m expected to help set out the dinner. Ten minutes?”
Lydia nodded, and Margaret left the bedroom.
Dorothea began to tear up. “I’m going to miss you so very much. Will I see you again before you leave?”
“We head off to Margaret’s wedding the day after tomorrow. And then I’ll be on the post carriage at ten o’clock the morning after that. Maybe you could see me off.” Now Lydia began to cry as well.
They embraced, then Dorothea pulled away to discretely blow her nose and dab at her eyes with the handkerchief from her pocket.
“I must go before I become a sobbing mess and we both collapse into puddles of sorrow,” Dorothea said, as she gave Lydia a kiss on each cheek and swept out of the room.
Lydia sat on the edge of the bed. She looked around the room, trying to memorize its every detail, for she did not know when she shall be here again—if ever.
She walked around the room touching familiar objects and trying to decide what she absolutely needed to take with her. She wanted to travel light and start afresh in her new home. There was no point in taking anything she didn’t need. Certainly, her aunt would have books to read so she decided to take nothing with her other than her most essential necessities and one book to read on the journey.
She heard her mother calling from the dining room. It was time to go down.
She must be brave she told herself for the fourth or fifth time that morning. She would miss her lovely home, her mother, Margaret and, most especially, her father.
There would be no one to console her. She must stand alone, bear the grief by herself, and hope and pray that she might find a safe and welcoming harbor when she arrived at her new home. But Lydia realized and accepted the fact that she had no one but herself that she could count on.
Margaret’s wedding had been a raucous success. The wine, beer, and cider had flowed freely, and her father’s cheeks were even rosier than usual. Her mother sobbed on and off most of the day, and Margaret and Emily were now the proud married ladies of the three siblings.
The morning of Lydia’s journey, the sky was overcast. A cool wind blew in from the east and it seemed there would certainly be a storm brewing before long.
Papa had borrowed a carriage from a parishioner, as he did not have one of his own, to transport what was left of his family and Lydia’s luggage to the carriage stop in Piddlehinton.
Dorothea had come to see Lydia off. She was wrapped in a woolen knitted shawl, pulled tightly around her shoulders to keep out the wind.
Mother was the only one rattling on as they waited for the carriage.
“Here, this will keep you fed until you reach the first post house inn,” she said, handing Lydia a small basket. “There are several cheese sandwiches, a small prune cake and a flask of brandy if you get light headed riding in the carriage.”
“Thank you, Mother,” Lydia said.
She had her arm through her father’s, and she snuggled up close to him to shield herself from the bite of the wind.
Lydia turned to Dorothea. “Now, you will write, won’t you? I’ll depend on your biting observations on the foibles of our little village. No one else has quite your eye for shenanigans.”
“You can count on it,” Dorothea said, looking up at the sky. “I really should be getting home. I know it is going to pour down any moment and I cannot afford to catch a chill.”
“Go. Go,” Lydia said, disengaging from her father and embracing Dorothea. “I shall miss you,” was all she could say or she would burst into tears.
Dorothea ran off just as the post carriage came into view.
Her father once again counted all the pieces of luggage, although he had already done that three times since they arrive at the carriage stop.
Mother pulled her apron up to her face and covered her mouth in an attempt to stop from crying.
The clacking, bouncing, swaying carriage came to a stop in front of them. The huff and snort of pawing horses filled the air under the shouts of the drivers hoisting the luggage onto the carriage, as Papa assisted Lydia into her seat.
She opened the carriage window and leaned out, reaching out to take her parents’ hands.
Now her mother was covering her full face with her apron, trying to stifle sobs. Her father took her hand and just nodded as he couldn’t find the words to speak.
“All hail,” one of the drivers shouted. “Ho, ho…” He snapped the reins and the horses strained on the harnesses to start the carriage rolling.
“Good-bye, good-bye,” Lydia shouted as she strained to see them before her parents disappeared.
“Godspeed,” her father called out, and the carriage turned the bend leading out of the village and she could see them no more.
Lydia, back in her seat, took out her handkerchief, held it up to her eyes and pressed hard to help staunch the flow of tears.
After a short while, she was able to compose herself and she looked around the carriage. There were two other passengers—a middle-aged mother and her - what looked to be - ten or eleven year-0ld daughter.
“Are you traveling far?” the woman asked Lydia.
“To Shropshire,” Lydia answered.
“Oh, that will take several days will it not?”
The woman rummaged in a large traveling bag. “Would you like an oatmeal and raisin biscuit? I made them for the journey. They aremy Cynthia’s favorite. Oh, I am Betsy, and this is my daughter, Cynthia.”
“I am Lydia Fernside.”
“Pleasure,” Betsy answered.
“Thank you, but I am not hungry just now. I am still a bit upset about leaving my parents and my home.” Lydia said.
“Oh, Iam sorry. That must be difficult,” she said as she handed her daughter the biscuit.
“Where are you going in Shropshire?” She closed her bag and set it on the seat between her and her daughter.
“Upton Magna. I am staying with my great-aunt.”
“For an extended visit?”
“Permanently. It is to be my new home.”
“Oh, my. That is a big change.Are you very fond of your aunt?”
“I have never met her. But she is kindly taking me in. She is elderly and I will be looking after her.”
“That is very kind of you.”
“Oh no, it is she who is being kind. My sisters are married and it seems it is time for me to be out in the world and earning my living.”
“You are not engaged, then?” Betsy asked, with just the slightest hint of disapproval.
“I am not,” Lydia answered firmly, and with no hint of an apology.
“Well, perhaps you will meet a suitable gentleman in Upton Magna. It is quite a lively community with many respectable citizens. I am sure your aunt will be able to introduce to many suitable gentlemen.”
“Anything is possible.”
Lydia had had quite enough of this conversation, and she turned and stared out the window at the passing countryside. Soon they entered another village and the carriage slowed down and stopped.
A new passenger boarded—an elderly, and rather heavyset, gentleman. And as the carriage started up again he introduced himself.
“Ladies,” he said, tipping his hat. “I hope you have had a pleasant journey thus far.”
Betsy nodded. “Agreeable enough. And where may you be heading, sir, if you do not mind me asking?”
“Not at all. I am on my way to visit the Duke of Shropshire, Edwin Templeton. Do you know him, perhaps?”
“I am not of that area,” Betsy said, “But our traveling companion, Miss Fernside, will be residing in Upton Magna, quite near the Duke’s residence, Honeyfield Hall.”
“Indeed. But you must excuse me. Let me introduce myself. I am Doctor Bernard Winston, at your service, ladies.
“Betsy Butley, and my daughter Cynthia.”
“Ladies.” He tipped his hat once again.
“Miss Fernside,” Lydia said in greeting.
“And you are from Upton Magna,” he said.“Then you must know His Grace, the Duke.”
“I am afraid I do not. This is my first visit,” she responded.
“Ah… Then you are in for a most pleasant surprise. It is quite a charming village.”
“And you are a Doctor of…” Betsy asked.
“Philosophy. I am a professor at Trinity College, Oxford. Latin, Greek, and classics.”
“Do you know His Grace well?” Betsy asked. “I understand he only recently inherited his title.”
“Quite so. Unfortunately, the old Duke passed away less than a year ago. And the young Duke is still finding his bearings.”
“Have you come on business with the Duke?” Betsy asked.
“He was my student. It is just a friendly visit.”
“How nice that you have been able to keep close ties,” Betsy continued. “So many young men these days just fritter away their educational opportunities in partying, drinking and... other activities, she said discretely.
“Quite unlike the Duke, I assure you,” the Doctor said rather firmly.
Lydia did not wish to engage in this conversation as she observed that Mrs. Butleyseemed to be more interested in gossip than serious enquiry. And it appeared that Doctor Winston felt the same, as he soon withdrew into reading a book.
The rest of the day’s journey was mostly uneventful. Lydia was still too upset to enjoy any of the food her mother had prepared, but she thought she might have that for dinner and not need to spend any money the rest of the day.
Just before dark, the carriage arrived at the Post House Inn
where they were to spend the night. This was the final destination for Mrs. Butley and her daughter and they bid farewell
Dr. Winston invited Lydia to dine with him in the Inn’s dining room, but she declined, as she was still emotionally distraught and extremely exhausted after the long day’s journey.
Later that evening she ordered a barley water from the dining room, ate a cheese sandwich, and retired to bed quite early.
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