20 December and publication day is almost upon us. I’m currently reading the novella into a voice recorder on my iPad so that I can play it back while I follow on a paper copy with a red pen in my hand. So watch this space, folks. But meanwhile, here’s the first half of chapter six.
The flowers kept coming, the type repeated, but in different combinations each day. Each day, Mama interpreted the message for her, and Daniel took great delight in offering an alternative reading. According to Mama, Christmas roses and asters with sprays of mimosa meant ‘My concealed love is now disclosed. How will it be received?’ Daniel suggested, ‘I wish to hide because the thought of love makes me anxious.’ Blue salvia, irises and yellow roses meant ‘I think of you, miss you, and long for your friendship’ to Mama. But Daniel claimed it meant ‘When I think of you, I miss having friends’.
The gifts of produce from the estate kept coming too, prompting Cook to tell Daniel (who passed it on to Min) that she hoped Miss wouldn’t turn the young Lord down too soon, because his presents were so useful.
Walking home from the workshop one afternoon, Polly in attendance, she had to stop suddenly to avoid a fashionably-dressed young woman who burst out of a shop door without looking, to stand frozen in the road, her hands clenched at her sides and her face stiff with the effort of holding back tears.
Min, who had been about to circle around her, took a second look. “Cara? What’s wrong? May I help?”
Caroline Cresthover had been closer to a friend than any of the other girls at the select girl’s seminary Min’s parents had sent her to.
“Min? Min Bradshaw? Oh Min, if I had stayed in the shop I would have killed that woman.” The tears had escaped, spilling down Cara’s cheeks.
The shop door opened to let out a maid carrying a reticule that matched Cara’s pelisse. Min could see past her to Lady Norton and a gaggle of her friends. Kitty Cat was clearly up to her usual tricks.
“Do not let her see that she upsets you,” Min counselled Cara. “Come; let us move away where they cannot see us.”
“I know I should be charitable, but…”
“Never mind being charitable. Just do not give her a stick to beat you with.” Min turned to the maid. “Do you have a handkerchief for your mistress? Here, Cara, dry your tears and let’s go and have tea and tear Kitty Cat’s character to little tiny shreds.”
Over tea, Cara confided that Vivi Norton loved to commiserate with her about being ‘on the shelf’, which Cara mostly ignored. But today’s nasty remarks had included a series of snippets about the activities of one Captain Marsh who, according to Lady Norton, had cut a swathe through the widows of London and was about to announce his engagement to a debutante of 17.
“And Vivi says she is blonde and slender, and everyone knows that slender blondes are more fashionable.” Cara, whose hair and eyes were brown, and who was generously curved, began to cry again.
“Captain Marsh is special to you?” Min ventured. It seemed a safe enough guess.
“He said we would announce our engagement as soon as he had the approval of his grandfather. His father is the third son of the Earl of Scuncester. He said we had to keep our courtship secret in case his grandfather did not approve.”
“If it was a secret, Cara, how did Vivi find out?”
Cara blushed. “I might have hinted. Just a little. Only in the strictest confidence, and only because she teased me so about being twenty and unmarried.”
Several cream cakes cheered Cara up. She was not, Min deduced, particularly attached to Captain Marsh. His status as the grandson of an Earl and his professed interest in marrying her seemed to be the sum total of his attractive features. Cara found his conversation boring, his lack of dancing skill annoying, and his repeated attempts to kiss her frightening.
“Mama said I should never be alone with a man because he would try to kiss me, and then I would be ruined,” she told Min. “I wasn’t even alone with Captain Marsh; well, not really alone. The first time was in the garden, and there were other people there, but it was dark and we couldn’t see them. And Mama was right. He did try to kiss me. I did not let him, though.” She nodded, pleased with herself.
“And then the next week he stopped me in the hall at a party. He said he was dying of love for me, which was very romantic, I thought. And he asked me to meet him outside and tried to kiss me again when I said no. I told him I did not want to be ruined. He said I would not be ruined for just one kiss. That was when he said he planned to marry me. He said it was alright to kiss the man you were going to marry. But Mama came and he went away.”
“Then what happened?” Min was finding the whole saga morbidly fascinating.
“He kept trying to get me on my own so he could kiss me. And in the end, I let him. It was not very nice.” Cara frowned. “It was wet. And I could not breathe properly. Has anyone kissed you, Min?”
Min shook her head, mostly to dislodge a sudden wish to know how nice Lord Avery’s kiss might be. Certainly she had, on several occasions, seen Mama and Papa kiss, and Mama seemed to like it very well.
“I do not recommend it,” Cara said.
“Perhaps Captain Marsh is not very good at it,” Min suggested.
Cara shrugged. “Anyway, then he went off to London. He said that he could not write because we could not yet announce our betrothal, but that I should just wait and he would come back. He did not mean it, did he Min?”
“I do not think so, from what you have told me, Cara.”
“Well, I do not care. But I would have liked to have one over that cat Vivi. You know that she had to marry? She would have been ruined if she did not, my Mama says. But now she is Baroness Norton and she takes precedence over me, and it is just not fair, Min.”
Cara helped herself to another cream cake, which seemed to console her.
“Vivi is not very popular you know, Min. I only spend time with her because she is my cousin. Most of the girls we were at school with do not like her at all.” This seemed to console Cara even more. “I know, come to my afternoon at home tomorrow. The girls would be so pleased to see you.”
Min refused, but Cara was so enthusiastic about the idea that, in the end, she went. To her surprise, she enjoyed herself, and even accepted an invitation to walk in the Sydney Gardens with a group of the ladies later that week.
It seemed that most of them had suffered under the rule of Vivi Kitteridge’s little group. Min, sunk in her own misery, had never realised that the school was split into two groups. On the one side, the vast majority, trying hard not to be noticed. On the other, Kitty Cat and her three disciples.
But outside of the enclosed environment of the school, the small group of bullies had lost their power. Even Cara, most of the time, ignored Lady Norton’s spitefulness, though she couldn’t completely cut herself off from her cousin.
“Randall, darling, do stop pacing. You have been to the window so many times the carpet is developing a groove.” Mother was smiling. His nervousness amused her. How nice.
“I wish they had let me escort them,” Candle said. Had he met them in Bath, they would be here by now, or–at the very least–he would know the delay was because they had left Bath late, and not because of any of the disasters along the way he could picture all too clearly.
“Do you think she’ll like her room,” he asked.
“Randall, you have asked me the same question three times in the last hour. And driven Mrs Howard nearly demented in changing her room six times in as many days, moving furniture in and then out again, and I do not know what else. I know you want everything to be perfect, my love, but just relax. I’m sure your Miss Bradshaw will like her room.”
“My Lord.” It was Howard, the butler. “Young Jem has just arrived my Lord.” Jem was the youngest groom, and had been posted on a hill overlooking the road from Bath as an early warning system.
“Yes, my Lord. A chaise, my Lord, coming fast.”
Not too fast, he hoped. That bend at the bottom of the hill could be tricky at speed. He should have had the curve reformed in the summer.
“Whatever you are worrying about now, Randall, don’t,” Mother said.
The chaise arrived safely at the foot of the stairs, and Candle was at the door with an umbrella almost before it had come to a stop. Daniel descended first, but stepped under the umbrella a footman offered him and waved to invite Candle to hand down first Mrs Bradshaw, then her daughter, and then the maid, Polly.
He handed Mrs Bradshaw over to Daniel and escorted Miss Bradshaw inside himself, leaving the footman with a third umbrella to bring the maid in.
Daniel wouldn’t stay, saying that he needed to get back to Bath. After a cup of tea and a plate of sandwiches, he took leave of his aunt and cousin.
“I’ll be back for you in four days,” he told them, then met Candle’s eyes over their heads. “You’ll take care of my family, Candle,” he said; a statement, not a question. Candle agreed, anyway.
Mrs Bradshaw went to rest to recover from the trip. Miss Bradshaw refused the suggestion, and instead closeted herself with Mother to ask questions about the chair. At a loose end, Candle took himself off to his study, but he couldn’t settle to work. Not with her in the house at last.
He wanted to show her everything. He wanted to hold her and kiss her till she agreed to stay forever. No. That would frighten her off. But somehow he would find a way to convince her that she belonged with him. She was only here for a few days. He would have to make the most of them.