I now have feedback from two of my five beta readers for Candle’s Christmas Chair, and am feeling very energised by their comments. Thanks, ladies. This first half of chapter five has a tiny tweak at the end to implement one of Carol’s suggestions.
Begin at the beginning: Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 1
Or go back to the previous episode: Candle’s Christmas Chair excerpt 7
Candle arrived in Bath on the evening of the 6th, and had to fight the urge to go immediately in search of Miss Bradshaw. He wandered down to the florist shop. Mrs Brown, the florist, greeted him with enthusiasm
“Have the deliveries gone as planned?” he asked, and was reassured that flowers had been delivered every morning. He and Mrs Brown had spent nearly two hours planning the flowers to send and the order to send them.
“My delivery boy tells me that the whole household waits each morning to see what’s next,” Mrs Brown said. “It’s the Christmas Roses for tomorrow, sir?”
Candle nodded. ‘I am all anxiety until I see you,’ they meant. The large pot of honey from the estate’s hives should have been delivered this morning. He had sent a note presenting his compliments to Mr Bradshaw, and asking leave to call on him tomorrow afternoon. Half his anxiety was for what Mr Bradshaw might say, and the rest for his beloved. Had his persistent assault by flower and food softened her towards him? He could only hope so.
He made his way back to the White Hart Inn, surprised at the number of people on the streets. His friend Michaels was in the crowd in front of the inn.
“There’s been a great battle,” he told Candle, not bothering with greetings. “Someone who’s come in on the coach is going to read the Gazette. They’re just setting him up in a window so everyone can hear.”
“Where? A battle where?” Candle was torn between staying to listen and rushing across the river to assure himself of Miss Bradshaw’s safety.
“A sea battle. A victory, they say, but Nelson is dead.”
The great Nelson, dead. It was hard to believe.
“Is it true?” Candle turned at the new voice. Miss Bradshaw’s cousin, with a much older man. “Is Nelson dead?”
“So I’m told, Mr Whitlow.” Candle introduced Whitlow and Michaels, and was in turn introduced to the older man, Mr Bradshaw. He was built on the same powerful lines as his nephew, but had eyes as grey as his daughter’s.
“So you’re Lord Avery,” he said.
“Quiet,” Michaels interrupted. “He’s starting.”
From an open window on the second floor of the inn, a stout man in a florid waistcoat began, “Dispatches, of which the following are Copies, were received at the Admiralty this day, at one o’clock a.m., from Vice-Admiral Collingwood, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s ships and vessels of Cadiz: -”
At the words ‘Commander in Chief’, a murmur ran through the crowd, followed by whispered commands to hush.
“Euryalus, off Cape Trafalgar. October 22nd, 1805,” the reader continued.
He paused, and looked out at the people, silent below him.
“Sir,– The ever-to-be-lamented death of Vice-Admiral, Lord Viscount Nelson, who in the late conflict with the enemy fell in the hour of victory, leaves to me the duty…”
The crowd listened for the most part in hushed silence, though they cheered when the reader reported, “…it pleased the Almighty Disposer of all events to grant His Majesty’s arms a complete and glorious victory” and groaned at, “His Lordship received a musket ball in his left breast…and soon after expired.”
It took nearly 40 minutes to read the two closely printed sides of the newsheet. Afterwards, the crowd dispersed in small clumps, all discussing the news.
“I don’t know whether to cheer or weep,” Candle said.
“I know, lad,” Mr Bradshaw agreed. “Napoleon has suffered a heavy loss, that’s certain. But Nelson is a heavy loss to our dear England.”
Michaels muttered something about an appointment and left. Candle didn’t fancy going into the inn. The noisy public bar or a lonely private room–neither appealed. For want of a better option, he walked with Mr Bradshaw and Whitlow around the Roman Baths and past the Abbey towards the bridge.
“So you’re the young lord who has turned my house into a flower shop and who wants to come and see me tomorrow,” Mr Bradshaw said.
No time like the present. “Yes, Sir. I wish to ask your permission to court your daughter, Sir.”
“You’re already courting my daughter, seemingly. Unless you are carrying on a clandestine affair with my dear wife.” Mr Bradshaw looked stern, but one of Candle’s colonels had displayed just such a twinkle when apparently chewing out a subordinate he was pleased with.
“After all, Uncle, he has sent Aunt Gavrielle all those flowers and most of the notes,” Whitlow offered, finding his own remark enormously amusing.
“You’d better come to dinner, then,” Mr Bradshaw said, and led the way onto the bridge. “Do you think this victory will stop the Corsican?”
“It will at least stop him from invading England until he has built some more ships,” Candle said.
“Yes,” Whitlow agreed. “We don’t know the details yet, but the losses of our own ships will be made up by the ships we’ve captured from the French and the Spanish.”
“Nothing will make up for the loss of Nelson,” Mr Bradshaw said.
Candle nodded, but was still thinking about stopping Napoleon. “We can hold Napoleon off by sea, but we’ll need to meet him on land to end his ambitions.”
They continued discussing the battle and its implications for the rest of the walk, until Mr Bradshaw opened his front door and ushered Candle inside.
Miss Bradshaw and a much older woman, clearly related, were just descending the stairs.
“My love,” Mr Bradshaw told her, “I have brought Lord Avery for dinner, and we have sad but glorious news.”
It was Lord Avery. Here. In her house. She had been steeling herself to be indifferent to him tomorrow, when he came for the chair. Now was too early. She wasn’t ready.
He smiled at her, and her knees turned to jelly. Yesterday he’d sent asters (‘I love you’), a watercolour of a country house, and a note that said his mother had asked him to send her mother a painting she’d made of their home, Avery Hall.
This morning, it had been damask roses and stephanotis, plus a large pot of honey. The flowers, Mama said, meant ‘I send these flowers as an ambassador of my love, and I look to be happy in marriage’. The note that asked for an interview with Papa needed no interpreter.
And now he was here. In her house. Almost a whole day early.
Something they were saying caught her ear; something about Nelson?
“Dead?” Mama was asking.
“Just a moment,” Papa said. He turned to the butler. “Heath, assemble the staff in the drawing room. They’ll want to hear this.”
Min took a seat with Mama in the drawing room, and–once the house’s staff were gathered–listened to the report of the battle, the great victory, and the great loss.
Lord Avery stayed with the two women after the staff had dispersed and Papa and Daniel had gone upstairs to change for dinner.
“Will this loss of all his navy stop Napoleon, do you think?” Mama asked.
“It will stop him invading us, Ma’am,” Candle answered, “at least for the moment. It won’t stop him rampaging all over the continent.”
Mama had more questions, and Min was content to sit and watch Mama and Lord Avery talk. The other two joined them and they all went in to a much delayed dinner.
Napoleon and Nelson continued to dominate the conversation. Lord Avery was knowledgeable and ready to defend his own opinion, but also willing to change his mind if someone else offered a persuasive argument. And he showed no signs of distinguishing between the arguments of the women and those of the men; none of the condescension Min was used to from every man she knew. Even Papa and Daniel were not quite exceptions, since she was sure that they’d just learned to keep their condescension veiled from her and Mama.
By the second setting, Min had forgotten her wariness. Lord Avery behaved as if he came to dinner every day, and the family all treated him as if he belonged.
“Cook used your honey in this, lad,” Papa told him, taking a spoonful of the syllabub.
“It is good, isn’t it,” Lord Avery replied. “My beekeeper tells me that this year’s honey is particularly strong in orchard flavours. The fruit trees blossomed well, I’m told.”
Mama’s eyes crinkled at the corners, as she smiled at Lord Avery. “I have not thanked you, yet, for all the lovely flowers you sent me. Such charming messages.”
He took her teasing in his stride. “A fitting tribute to your beauty, Mrs Bradshaw.”
After dinner, Min reluctantly left the dining room with Mama. What would Papa and Daniel say to Lord Avery with the women out of the room? What would he say to them?
“I like your Lord Avery, child,” Mama said, breaking into her thoughts. “But he is still an aristocrat, however nice he may be.”
“He is not mine, Mama. I am not foolish enough to think I could marry a peer.”
“I worry, my love. I do not want to see you hurt. And he is not our sort.”