About the book
After losing her whole family in a fire accident, Lucy Brighton is taken as a ward in the Greyson estate, home of the Duke of Sutherland. Her stay with her new family quickly turns into a nightmare, with writing becoming her only escape and George, the Duke’s son, being her only friend.
Growing up developing a deep love for the arts instead of the family business, as well as a secret infatuation for Lucy, George Greyson suffers his parent’s continuous disapproval.
Along with the sudden arrival of a mysterious man, claiming to be Lucy’s lost brother, a series of unexpected events start to take place, that bring chaos into the Greyson home, having everyone’s fates hanging by a thread.
The cottage was nestled in a grove of trees not far from a stream used for personal washing, watering the cow, irrigating the vegetable garden, and beating clothes on the rocks on wash day. But now the cottage was silent on this sultry summer’s night—its inhabitants asleep—under the starry night sky. A light, but not cooling, breeze was picking up and fluttering through the willows along the stream and causing the treetops to begin a soulful dance.
It was very early in the morning, and the crickets and frogs seemed to be taking a break, when the first tuft of smoke snaked its way skyward from the thatch of the roof over the back door that led to the stable. But soon a second plume appeared, followed by a third—not only at the back of the house but now toward the front.
A burst of hot wind came sweeping along the valley floor and crashed like a wave over the house as the whole roof bust into a fireball of flame. The house had been constructed of half-timber and mud stucco, and within the blink of an eye, every piece of wood in the house was ignited and set ablaze—fanned by the dry, devil wind. At first, there seemed to be no movement. Then the front door burst open, but that created a backdraft, and the fire intensified, with flames and smoke being sucked in from the top of the house, through the front door, and into the interior.
No one heard the screams. There were no houses close enough and the nearest road was along a cart trail, through a spinney, and down a hill. The Manor House was a good mile away out of sight of the cottage and too far away to be of any help even if someone had seen the fire.
By dawn, all that was left was the kitchen garden covered in ash, the stable and a pile of smoldering rubble. By then, the wind had died down, and, as the sun began to rise, it was clear it was going to be another blistering hot day.
Ben Goodbody, the cartwright, who lived around the bend and downstream from the cottage, had taken his cow to the water’s edge. While she took her morning drink, Ben lifted his head to look at the dawn sky.
“Gonna be another brutal one,” he said to his Maggie, who only swished her tail as she drank. She appeared to have no opinion about the weather.
Ben noticed there was a haze, low along the bank of willows across the stream. He recognized the unmistakable smell of smoke.
“Who be lighting a fire for breakfast in this heat?” he asked himself. “Those crazy Brighton’s,” he said, even though they were friendly neighbors. He had more than once sought their help for an excavation or to corral them to hold up the axle of his wagon as he slipped on a new wheel. Without the Brighton boys, he could not manage by himself with a house full of daughters and small boys.
He was about to turn and lead Maggie back to the barn when he heard what sounded like the sobbing of a child.
“Huh,” he grunted as he tied his cow to a tree and started walking along the bank of the stream to find where the cry was coming from.
Ben was a sturdy, beefy man in his forties and as he followed the sound, he splashed across the stream to the other bank until he came to a clump of bushes.
“Hello,” he called out. “Hello.”
There was no answer, but the sobbing had now become a whimper, and he ascertained that it was coming from the bushes. He separated the branches between two bushes and looked down to see a young girl child curled up into a ball and seeming to be in a state of shock.
“Eh, what be this?” he called out, reaching down and picking up the girl.
The child flung her arms around his neck and held on for dear life. Ben looked around, smelling the smoke even stronger now. He recognized the girl as the six-year-old daughter of the Brightons and figured he should take her home to her family. Perhaps she had wandered out of the house during the night and become disoriented.
He walked toward the Brighton house with the child still whimpering on his shoulder.
“Eh, now, lass. Ye be all right. Get ye home to your mama, and all be well.”
But as he came around the bend of the stream, he came across the horror. The Brighton house had burned to the ground. There were no living souls around anywhere in sight.
He put the child down, even though she tried not to let go of his neck. He ran to the house to see if he might discover any remains, but the coals were still too hot to even get close to the collapsed house.
“Oh, baby, baby…” he moaned, pressing his hands against his head. He went back and picked up the girl. “You got no mommy, no daddy, no brothers or sisters. Ye be an orphan now, lass. May God be w’ye.”
The Grayson estate took up a large portion of north central Dorset. The Grayson family was descended from a long line reaching back to King Richard the Second. Everard Grayson had thwarted some horrific plot to disgrace His Highness by someone intent on revealing one of his many personal indiscretions. Out of gratitude, and being partially drunk at the time, the King had granted Everard lands in faraway Dorset and bestowed upon him the hereditary title of The Duke of Sutherland—yes, out of gratitude, but also to keep him out of the London court so the king might not be reminded of his near, personal humiliation. The Grayson coat of arms thus bore the description Out of Sight – Out of Mind in Latin.
Matthew, the current Duke of Sutherland, considered himself a country gentleman in the truest British sense in this year of 1828. He took great pride in his extensive lands and holdings. His family had thrived over the centuries, expanding the original estate grant to its present size—a vast area of land supporting and being supported by many tenant farmers.
Every morning before breakfast, His Grace would march outside and stand at the front of the Manor and survey his estate stretched out before him, as the Manor was high on a hill—the estate falling away below and spreading across a large valley, surrounded on either side by gently rolling hills.
The Manor house was elegant by not showy. The Graysons generally shied away from ostentation, so the house had been constructed of sturdy local stone with large windows looking out across the valley. The back of the house looked out over a modest formal garden bordering a tidy grove of trees.
The Duke stood with his arms akimbo and legs spread apart looking rather like the monarch, Henry the Eighth. He was a sturdy man with thinning hair, a rosy face, and a jolly good laugh.
“Another hot one, Stevens,” he said to his butler, who always accompanied him outside with an umbrella in case the weather turned inclement if he decided to stroll around the property before breakfast—as he often did.
“Yes, Your Grace.”
As the sun was shining directly in his eyes, Matthew put his hand up to shade from the glare.
“What is that?” he asked pointing to a man walking up the hill toward the Manor.
Stevens strained to see. “I believe it is a gentleman with what appears to be a child, Your Grace.”
“And I believe you are correct. Exactly what I was thinking, Stevens.”
“Would you like me to see to it?”
“If you would be so kind. We cannot have just anyone roaming around the estate as though we were a public thoroughfare.
“Quite right, Your Grace.” And Stevens headed out toward the approaching man.
Matthew could see his butler had approached the man and they were conferring.
“Huh,” he exclaimed, as Stevens started returning, accompanied by the man.
The Duchess of Sutherland had been born Judith Elkins, a renowned local beauty, who snatched up the young Matthew Grayson, heir to the Grayson estate, as soon as it was known his family was searching for the future Duchess of Sutherland.
It could be said that Miss Judith was the perfect match for the young Matthew. She came from a grand local merchant family—her mother was deceased, and she had no siblings. She would inherit the entirety of her father’s estate. And she was comely and socially graceful, although it was rumored she could be a little light headed when it came to serious discussions. But what use was an intelligent wife, Matthew’s mother often stated—intelligence would only hamper what might otherwise be a very calm and tranquil marriage.
Judith stood at her bedroom window, on the second floor of the Manor, looking down at her husband as Stevens and a gentleman with a child approached. The harsh morning light was not kind to a woman who had just turned forty. And she appeared to have a rather pinched-looking face from her habit of scowling at anything that upset her even moderately—which was often. But she still had her lovely blonde hair, she maintained her svelte figure, and she was still considered as handsome if no longer the fresh beauty of her early years.
She was holding a cup of tea—always her first each morning—delivered when she was awaked by her personal maid, Flossy. Judith parted the drapery a little further and peered down at the commotion going on below her. She was intrigued as to what this kafuffle might be about, but she was not intrigued enough to leave her room until she was properly dressed. And that would take at least another hour.
“Flossy, my dear, might you pour me another cup of tea and then go downstairs and see what is going on? There seems to be some agitation, and I cannot for the life of me tell what it is all about.”
“Yes, your Grace,” Flossy said topping up the tea from the teapot.
“Uh, the tea is cold,” Judith said with a grimace.
“I will fetch a new pot when I go down,” Flossy said as she scooted out of the bedroom.
Judith sighed and examined a small tear in her dressing gown. “Bother,” she said, and headed to her dressing table where the morning’s hair and facial reconstruction would begin once Flossy returned.
Ben Goodbody was not one of The Duke’s tenants. He was from a long line of cartwrights that maintained a business in the village of Chiseldon, but he was known to Matthew by name and by trade.
“But what am I to do with this child,” His Grace asked with some astonishment.
“Know not, Your Grace. But I can do naught. I got three daughters and two young lads. Cannot take another,” Ben said, handing the distraught child over to Stephens, who grimaced and knew not what to do with the creature.
Matthew was flustered. “But my good man how am I to be held responsible?”
“The Brightons be your tenants, sir. And as far as I can tell, there be no survivors. All burnt down to the ground and not a flicker a life nowhere to be found.”
Matthew sighed, and turned to Stephens. “Take the child inside and let Mrs. Wilks have a look at her. She probably needs a wash-up and a feed.”
“Very well,” Stephens said, as she tried to take the child from Goodbody. But she clung to the man’s neck and resisted letting go, sending up a wail of grief until she was forcibly pulled away. Finally, Stephens had a good hold on the girl and started up the stairs to the entryway.
Matthew reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a gold sovereign. “Thank you, Goodbody. I shall send some of my fellows over shortly to take a look at what is left of the house. Off with you now.”
Ben touched his cap, turned and left, walking back down the hill toward his own house.
Feeling his serene morning had been fractured Matthew ascended the Manor steps and went back inside.
He strode directly to the kitchen where he found Mrs. Mead, the cook, fussing over the child with several of the kitchen maids. Mrs. Wilkes, who was the nanny and governess, was undressing the child just before one of the maids sponged the young child down.
The poor child kept calling out for her mommy.
“Hush now, child, your family is no more. You will be cared for here for now.”
“Humph,” Matthew sounded out as he cleared his throat to announce his appearance.
“Oh, your Grace, what a tragedy,” Mrs. Mead said, tucking a wayward strand of hair under her kitchen cap. “What is to be done with the lass?”
“Damned if I know. Is her Grace down yet?” Then he waved his hand in the air. “No, of course, she is not. Way too early for her to appear.” He then addressed Mrs. Wilkes. “What can be done here? Damn situation.”
“I shall take her to the nursery, your Grace. Poor child needs a bit of gruel and a nice lie-down. I shall care for her for the time being if it suits.”
Matthew waved his hand again. “Yes. Yes. But I need to speak to her Grace before anything final can be decided.”
“I understand. And I shall inform the girls of this development. I know they will take a keen interest in the child.”
“Humph,” Matthew declared again and, waving his hand, abruptly left the kitchen.
After the child was cleaned up and a tray with warm milk and gruel prepared, Nanny Wilkes took the girl’s hand and asked, “What is your name, child?”
“Lucy Brighton, Miss.”
Nanny frowned. “You may call me Nanny Wilkes. And be sure you mind your manners, pray each morning and evening, and address everyone according to their rank.”
“Yes, Miss Nanny Wilkes.”
“Just Nanny Wilkes will do,” she said taking hold of the girl’s hand and leading her out of the kitchen followed by a kitchen maid with the tray.
The Duke and Duchess of Sutherland had three older daughters and one younger son. The daughters were fairly close together in age as his Grace was desperate to have a son and heir. Then her Grace insisted three children were quite enough and instituted a time out—but accidents do happen and their son, George, came along two years after the last daughter.
Judith had learned from Flossy what the fuss at the front door had been all about, but she was in no rush to finish her toilette early so as to see this child for herself. The child was absolutely of no importance to her. She figured that Matthew would somehow arrange for the disposal of the child and she need never concern herself with these unpleasant facts.
The Duchess had made a habit of having mid-morning tea with her father, David Elkins, who now lived with the family in his own suite of rooms in the east wing of the manor. Her mother being deceased, her father had moved in with the family almost ten years ago.
She considered her exercise for the day to be the walk from her sitting room to his, each morning at eleven.
“Father, dear,” she said as she breezed into his rooms, “Have you heard about our early morning incident?”
David looked up from his reading, the tea tray already prepared on the low table before him. “I do not believe so. Is something worrisome?”
“It appears there was a fire at one of the tenant houses last night, and we have ended up harboring a young girl child for safekeeping.”
“Was anyone hurt?” he asked with some concern.
“It appears that the family was wiped out except for this one.”
“Why, that is terrible.”
“Yes, it is. That means no crops from that family this year. And Matthew constantly complains that the income from the tenants seems to decrease from year to year.”
David frowned. “Daughter, my concern was not for your income but for the family lost.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Terrible. Just terrible.” She then turned her attention to the tea. “Shall I be mother again this morning?” Judith asked as she began pouring.
Her father was in his mid-sixties. His health had not been good these past several years, and he exhibited a frailty that mostly confined him to his rooms. He rarely came down to have lunch or supper with the family, existing almost exclusively in his rooms.
As Judith passed a cup of tea to her father, Ann, her daughter, knocked and entered. Ann was the eldest at fifteen. She had her mother’s slim, wiry figure, but she had dark hair and her father’s middling, plain features.
“Mother, there is someone I would like you to meet,” she said with a smile.
A face peeked around the doorframe. “Hello,” the child said in a tentative but wavering voice as she looked around the strange room with wide eyes. The girl took Ann’s hand, and they came into the room.
“This is Lucy Brighton,” Ann said, shepherding the child up to the tea table.
David’s face brightened. “Hello, pretty young lady. Come. Would you like a cup of tea?”
Lucy looked up at Ann as though seeking permission.
Ann led the girl around the tea table and said, “Mother, Grandfather, Nanny Wilkes says Lucy has just lost her family and is to stay with us.”
Judith pursed her lips and sat up straighter. “What makes her say that?”
“She has nowhere else to go,” Ann said.
David emptied his teacup and poured a new one. “What do you like in your tea, child?” he asked.
Lucy looked up at Ann who nodded that she was allowed to answer.
“Cream and sugar, if you please, sir.”
David proceeded to prepare her tea in his cup. Judith looked Lucy over but did not approve of this scrawny ill-kempt child.
“Come sit by me,” David said, patting the place on the divan next to him. Lucy went over and sat, accepting the cup of tea he offered. She held the cup in both hands and sipped slowly, looking up with her large brown eyes and studying the Duchess who sat opposite. Judith stared back as she examined the gamin, young girl with her dark hair and lovely petite features.
“Very pretty child,” she said, without meaning to.
David put his hand gently on top of Lucy’s head. “Yes, and she must still be in shock.”
Judith turned to Ann. “Have you and your sisters had your morning tea yet?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ann answered. “We had tea with Nanny, but she wanted me to bring Lucy to meet you, as she said you had not seen her yet.”
Lucy finished her tea and handed the cup back to David. “Thank you, sir.” She then turned and faced the Duchess once again.
“How can she be so calm,” Judith asked. “She unnerves me.”
“I suspect she is in shock and has yet to realize the enormity of what has happened to her,” her father answered.
Judith turned to Ann. “You may take her back to Nanny now. Your father and I will discuss what is to happen to her next.”
Ann took hold of Lucy’s hand and began leading her out of the room when the Duchess stopped her by saying,
“Where did she get that dress?”
“Nanny found it for her,” Ann replied.
“But is that not Betsy’s?”
“It was. But she outgrew it.”
“Why is she not wearing her own clothes?”
“Nanny says there were ruined by the fire and smelled horribly of smoke.”
The Duchess mumbled something indistinguishable and waved for her daughter to proceed.
George Grayson was almost more than Nanny Wilkes could handle by herself. At ten-years-old, the rambunctious boy had much rather be outside, currying his horse, striding across the fields, climbing a tree or—most importantly for him—drawing. Anything, rather than memorizing the absolutely boring succession of kings and queens. Not to mention grammar, maths, or-God forbid-Latin, although he did rather enjoy reading adventure novels, when Nanny would let him, and music.
Fair-haired, good-looking, and with a generous smile, he had avoided the sturdiness of his father or the wiriness of his mother and fell somewhere in between with a strong, slim body well adapted to the many outside activities he enjoyed.
His sisters—Ann, Charlotte, and Betsy had their classes early in the morning, but George was tutored by himself in the late morning and afternoon, as he was the heir and it was thought that he needed a more substantial education.
However, this morning, George was surprised to find a young girl, named Lucy, also attending his instruction.
After being introduced by Nanny Wilkes, Lucy sat very quietly looking up at George as he wrote out his maths assignment on a blackboard. Lucy began touching her fingers in strange ways that made no sense to him. For some reason, this unnerved him, and he finally turned to her and asked, “Miss Lucy, what are you doing with your hands?”
“Just following along with what you are doing,” she said. “And the answer to the second equation be wrong.”
“Is wrong,” Nanny corrected without looking up.
George returned to the problem, studied it, and made the correction. He turned to her with a big smile and asked, “You did that all in your head?”
“Oh, yes,” she answered.
Nanny Wilkes who had been attending to other matters asked Lucy, “Do you attend a school?”
“No, Nanny Wilkes. I just know these things.”
Now George was intrigued, and he intently studied the young girl. How pretty she was, he realized, and smart too it seemed. He went over and kneeled down before her.
“Can you read?” he asked.
“My brother, Harold, taught me some, but I have no writing except with a stick on the ground.”
George looked up at Nanny. “Can you teach her?”
Nanny prevaricated. “Oh, I do not know if there will be time. The Duke and Duchess are yet to tell me how long she will be here.”
Turning back to Lucy, he asked, “Do you have other family somewhere else?”
“Just my family here.” She began to tear up. “Sisters, brothers, Mommy, Papa and me Nan. All gone.”
She threw her arms around George’s neck and began to sob. “I will never see them no more.”
George was moved and held her in his arms.
Nanny tutted and fussed with the papers on her desk. “Master George, it is still lesson time. Best get back to it.”
Lucy let go of George and sat back on her small chair and wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands.
George turned to Nanny and asked, “What will happen to her if she has nowhere to go?”
“Oh Master George, there is no way to know. Your mother and father will sort it all out for whatever is best, I am certain. Now finish your math problems and let us move on to Latin grammar, shall we?”
George stood up and offered his hand to Lucy. “No, Nanny. This is a matter that needs to be resolved right now. “Lucy? Come with me.”
She took it, and they left the schoolroom.
George marched directly to his father’s study, where he thought he might be at this time of the morning, but he was not there.
“Come, Lucy, Father is not about. Let us find my mother.”
They went next to her sitting room, but Flossy said her Grace was with her father.
Finally arriving at his grandfather’s rooms, he entered and found not only his mother, but his father seated facing his grandfather.
They turned to see who had entered.
“George…” his mother said, “Why are you not at your lessons?”
“I need to know what is going to happen with Miss Lucy. She has suffered a great loss and she tells me she has no other family.”
“We are just now discussing this,” Grandfather said.
“But this is for us to decide,” Judith added, “Now leave us, please. We are discussing where we might send her.”
George was not having that. “No, Mother. She should stay with us. It is right and proper that we do so, as they were our tenants, and if there are no other family members, we should care for her.”
Matthew stood up and came over to George and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Son, these are adult matters, and you can be certain we will do what is best for the child.”
“And what is your solution, then?”
Matthew and Judith glanced at each other with troubled looks.
“We are discussing the options.”
“There should be no options,” George insisted. “Lucy has no home, she has lost the only family she has, and she should remain with us.”
“And what interest do you have in this child,” Judith asked.
“I like her. She is smart, and I believe a fast learner. She would be great to have as one of our family. Heavens only know my sisters are not all that sharp or interested in learning almost anything.”
“George, that is totally uncalled for,” Judith said, raising her voice.
David leaned forward, not being able to suppress a smile, and placed his hand on his daughter’s arm.
“My dear, the boy has a point.” He then addressed Matthew. “It seems to me that you, as the Duke of Sutherland, have an obligation to your tenants in a situation like this. If they have served you well, you have a responsibility to care for this child. If she has no family what else can you do with her?”
“I believe there are such things as orphanages, are there not?” The Duchess said, primly.
“I believe there are, but they are dreadful places. And if this child is as lovely and intelligent as she seems, it would be a great disservice to send her to such a place.” David sat back in the divan. “But that is just my opinion.”
“And well spoken, Grandpapa,” George spoke out.
Now Judith stood up. “George, you are a ten-year-old child and know nothing about these matters. It is far better if you leave these types of decisions to us, your parents.”
“I know what is right and wrong. It has nothing to do with my age. I insist Lucy stay with us,” George said, pulling Lucy close to him and facing his mother directly on.
Judith turned to her husband. “Oh, Matthew, what is to be done here?”
Matthew drew his fingers along his jaw several times while thinking. Then he nodded.
“I agree with George and your Father, my dear. The girl is our responsibility. I would have her stay with us. She can be trained and eventually when she is old enough, she can be found a service position in some home of standing. In the meantime, Nanny Wilkes can look after her.”
“And me,” George insisted. “I shall make certain she is properly educated.”
Judith and Matthew looked at each other with some surprise. This was not at all the rambunctious young boy they knew up until now.
It was twelve-year-old Betsy’s thirteenth birthday today. As the youngest daughter, she and been fussed over by her mother and her two elder sisters. It was thought she would be the last child, so she was given special attention until George surprisingly came along, and as the male heir, reigned supreme.
But the sisters paid little attention to George. The three were a tight- knit unit unto themselves. They took their lessons from Nanny Wilkes together, fussed over each other’s hair and dresses, and sequestered themselves in their wing of the house away from the adults.
Betsy was the only sister to give any attention to Lucy, the newest addition to the family. Ann and Charlotte resented her, but Betsy, who liked to read, took an interest in her when Lucy asked Betsy to help her with reading.
Soon Lucy and Betsy were reading the same books and discussing whatever they were reading.
Betsy had fair hair like her mother and brother. She was a little plump, but it was considered baby fat and would soon disappear when she reached puberty. Sweet-tempered and studious, she was turning from the company of her sisters and seeking out Lucy more and more, and even her brother who was developing his intense interest in drawing, painting, and the study of art.
There was to be a birthday party at tea time in the library. Ann and Charlotte had already dressed themselves in their party dresses and had turned their attention to Betsy.
It seemed that Betsy had grown an inch to two since she had last worn her party dress and it was tight across the shoulders, and the hem was above her ankles.
“Oh, no. This just will not do,” Charlotte said, standing back and examining the hapless Betsy. She twiddled her fingers as she thought. “I know, I have just the thing in my armoire. It is a dress I have outgrown, and it would be just perfect for you.”
She dashed to her armoire and pawed through her selection of dresses, finally pulling one out.
“What do you think about this?” she asked Betsy as she held it up before her.
It was a yellow dress with lace, ribbons, and frills—not at all to Betsy’s simple taste.
Betsy made a face. “Oh, Charlotte… it is dreadful. It looks like a mangled daisy.
Charlotte pouted and put the dress away.
Petite—and the shortest of the three sisters—Charlotte at thirteen, generally seemed distracted, dreamy, and in a world of her own. With auburn hair, and soft, gentle features she was considered the loveliest of the three, although her mother would never tell her that in front of the others.
“Then what are we to do?” Ann asked, folding her arms across her chest and studying her newly sprouted younger sister.
“Do you have anything amongst your dresses?” Charlotte asked.
“Everything I have would be too big for her,” Ann said, but then had a thought. “Wait. There might be one dress that will do.”
She scrummaged around at the bottom of her dresser and pulled out a dress that had been folded up. She shook it out and held it up for Betsy’s examination.
“There, what do you think about this?” she asked beaming.
Betsy leaned her head to the side as she studied it. “It looks like a flour sack,” she said with disdain.
Charlotte threw her hands up in the air. “Then what is to be done?”
There was a knock at the door, and Lucy appeared with a dress draped across her outstretched arms.
“What are you doing in this part of the house?” Charlotte demanded. “Servants should not appear unless called.”
“I was sent, Miss Charlotte,” Lucy said.
“Hello, Lucy,” Betsy said, happy to see her friend.
“George asked me to bring this to you,” Lucy said holding up the dress and offering it to Betsy. “He said it is his birthday present to you.”
“Why did he not bring it himself?” Ann asked. “Is he using you as his personal servant now?” Ann asked with a mean chuckle.
“His Grace has taken George with him into town on some business, and George wanted you to have this in plenty of time for the party.”
Betsy smiled. “It is beautiful, Lucy. I love it. George is such a wonderful brother.”
It had only been a few months since Lucy started living at Grayson Manor, and already she had fairly well acclimatized to her new situation. A week after living at Grayson there had been a short memorial service for the lost Brighton family members in the Manor chapel—attended mostly by other tenant farmers and His Grace, David, and George who were there to comfort Lucy. After the ceremony, Lucy was quiet for a few days but her natural exuberance soon returned, and she was once again totally immersed in her new life. Lucy was given a bed in one of the kitchen maid’s rooms. She was also expected to be in the kitchen at five o’clock in the morning to help with breakfast and lunch. However, Mrs. Mead let her slip away in the afternoon to study with George.
To Nanny Wilkes’ surprise, Lucy was mastering her classes, unlike any student Nanny Wilkes had ever seen before. Even her brightest student, George, was outshone by this young girl. But that was more because of George’s lack of interest in many of the academic subjects than to his lack of intelligence.
Because they studied in the classroom together, George and Lucy were forming an even closer bond. Each day Nanny Wilks gave them assignments to prepare for the next day, and they often stayed together after class to discuss the day’s studies and to work together on their assignments.
However, George sometimes neglected his assigned studies and turned to his drawing instead—using either pencil or charcoal. But he often complained to Lucy that he longed to work with color but so far, his parents had not allowed him the use of oil paints, hoping to discourage him from his artistic pursuits.
But today there were no classes as it was Betsy’s birthday, and everyone had a day free from the classroom.
Nanny Wilkes was in charge of decorations for the party, and Mrs. Mead was preparing the food. When George returned from town with his father, he immediately rushed to the schoolroom where he had his drawing materials. He was surprised to find Lucy sprawled out on the floor with several books open in front of her.
“What are you doing here when there is no school?” he asked.
“I could ask you the same,” Lucy said looking up at him with a grin.
“I came to draw. And you?”
“I was studying my history book. I am not very good at that. But then I found this book,” she said picking up one of the open books. It is all about the Renaissance, and I got a really good idea.”
“What is that?”
“It is to be a surprise. But I know you are going to like it.”
“Tell me now,” George insisted.
“Not now. It is time for Betsy’s party. Come.” she insisted as she got up off the floor and took George’s hand. “And she liked your present, by the way.”
“Yes, I thought she might. She always complains to me that all she ever gets to wear is hand-me-downs from her sisters and never anything new for herself.”
“Like me,” Lucy said with a touch of sadness.
“I would talk to Mother about that, but she is not very giving when it comes to you.” George thought for a moment. “I am afraid you will have to make do for the time being. I do not know about buying clothes for girls—except for party dresses—and besides, my allowance is very small.”
“That is all right. And besides, we have a party to go to right now.”
Judith always said she had no preference for any of her children—they were all equal to her. But nobody believed her. Of course, George was the little prince, but to her, the little princess was Ann, her first child. They were also much alike in temperament, and this afternoon at the birthday party they were sitting next to each other passing whispered comments to one another like conspirators.
In particular, the two often conspired against Lucy—the outsider. Unfortunately, the entire rest of the family was arrayed against them, in that they appeared to be under the thrall of this cunning waif—much to their displeasure. But there was nothing they could do about it as his Grace was adamant in his support of Lucy. They also noted that George absolutely doted on her and would never hear an unkind word against her. How it galled the united mother and daughter.
Nanny Wilkes was hopelessly trying to organize some party games in the library where the party was being held, but no one seemed the least bit interested. Betsy kept eyeing the table with her birthday presents. Ann was sequestered to the side of the room with her mother, and Charlotte, who had just had a spurt in growth and sprouted a fresh array of spots on her face, cowered in the corner to avoid the crowd of neighborhood children invited to the party.
Only George and Lucy interacted with the guests. Finally, Nanny Wilkes was able to organize a game of Cock-a-Roosty—a rowdy game where an “it” player stands before the group, and each player must try and get past “it” to home. But everyone has to hop on one leg.
The noise level increased manyfold, and Grandfather David was forced to retreat to the seclusion and peace of his quarters. His Grace escaped to his study, and Judith and Ann looked on with disapproving pinched faces.
Eventually, Betsy was allowed to open her presents, most of which were books-which she liked, undergarments-which embarrassed her, and a saddle from her father and mother-which perplexed her, as she seldom rode and had a perfectly suitable saddle already. Maybe it was a hint for her to get outdoors more.
A cake was presented; the guests were fed, and before long, parents were whisking their children away in carriages, carts, and on horseback.
With so much food so late in the afternoon, there was no thought of a sit-down supper, and, if anyone was hungry later in the evening, trays could be brought from the kitchen.
The Duchess was the first of the family to rise and say as she clapped, “That is the end of the party. Betsy, make certain your presents are taken to your room. We must leave the library in the condition we found it before the party.” She turned then to Lucy and said, “And you help clean up. It seems you have done nothing useful all afternoon.”
Ann stood next to her mother, and the two marched out of the library together. Charlotte followed with her head bowed. Betsy looked at her presents and sighed, before searching for a chambermaid to help her remove the loot to her room. She did not want to call upon her friend, Lucy, to help her, despite what her mother had just said. Nanny Wilkes had disappeared after the games and only George and Lucy were left. They were seated on a window seat overlooking the rolling hills of the valley.
It had only been a couple of months since the fire and Lucy, her head leaning against the window frame asked, “Do you think I could go back to see my house?”
George was surprised by her question and said, “I believe father has sent some of his staff over there to see about rebuilding. After all, it is an active tenancy, and he wants it to put it to good use.”
Lucy lowered her eyes and quietly asked, “Was anyone found after the fire?”
George’s sympathy was aroused, and he answered, “Oh, Lucy, the fire was much too intense. I was told there was nothing to recover except for ashes, pieces of metal, and a few crockery pieces. I am so sorry.”
Lucy turned her head and looked out the window, but not before George saw tears appearing in her eyes.
“I would still like to go back to see for myself.”
“I will take you over on my horse sometime soon.”
Lucy crouched before the foundation of her home. The debris had been cleared away, and there were indications that workmen had started rebuilding, but there was no one working there at the moment. George stood by a large tree and waited silently for her to pay her respects.
Lucy had a stick in her hand and she scribbled something in the earth, and then wiped it away with the palm of her hand. After some moments of silence, she stood up and went over to George and asked, “Are your parents going to make me come back to live here after the house is rebuilt?”
George had to laugh. “No, they are going to find new tenants. They want the property to be productive and will need more than you to get what they want.”
She nodded. “Good. I do not want to come back.” Then she took hold of his hand and said smiling, “There are some things I want to show you. It is the surprise I promised you.”
George was relieved she had finished here, as it made him uncomfortable to think about his friend losing her family in such a terrible way.
“Fine. Where do we start?” he asked.
“Over there,” Lucy said, pointing toward the stream.
They walked along the stream’s bank, Lucy with head down examining the stream bed and bank, several times poking with her stick. Finally, she stopped and began digging with her fingers.
“Here, see this?” she asked as she held up some yellow clay.
“What is that?” George asked.
“It is for the colors you want to paint with.”
George was astonished. “What? How am I to paint with that?”
“I do not know. How are paints made?”
“Color materials are mixed with linseed oil, and then the different colors are mixed to make the color you want to use when painting.”
“And where do those colors come from?”
George thought about that. “I have no idea. From the shop, I suspect.”
Lucy laughed. “Yes, but where do they come before they go to the shop?”
“You know, I have no idea.”
“Why not collect colors from around here and mix them with your linst oil?”
“Linseed oil,” George corrected.
Lucy nodded, and then took George by the hand and led him farther along the stream to an exposed earth bank. There were streaks of dark red, terracotta, and more of a deeper yellow color.
“See. If you were to collect these colors and more along here, you could make your colors. And my nana also showed me some plants that have colors I think you could use.”
“Your nana showed you?”
“Yes, we used to go looking for plants to use in making medicines when the twins got a cough, or I fell and scraped my knee, or mommy was feeling poorly. And some of them were wonderfully colorful, and I often thought they were parts of the rainbow broken off and dropped to the ground to take root.”
George laughed. “Oh, I like that. Can you show me some of those plants?”
“Of course.” Lucy left the stream and headed along a trail that led toward a grove of trees. She stopped along the path, picked a few plants and then headed into the trees and began looking for more plants and mushrooms.
After an hour or so, Lucy had her apron filled with clippings, scrapings of rocks and soil, and leaves, roots, and fungi.
“There. That should be enough to get you started. And if you need more colors, you tell me what you need, and I may know where to find them.”
“What a clever child you are, Lucy Brighton.”“Maybe. But it is just what I know and what my nana taught me. And when you said you needed color, I thought of these.”
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