In preparation for it's release on Wednesday the28th of November, this #SampleSunday brings you an exclusive sneak peek at the first three chapters of my new novel, Degrees of Hope.
What's the book about?
At 23 years old, Lady Hope Beaumont's wild and independent ways, make her quite unladylike in the opinion of many people. However her beauty, the fact that she is the daughter of the Earl of Marchwood, not to mention her fortune, still makes her an appealing marriage prospect for some.Newlyweds, Honoria and Malcolm Arundell, have just moved to Marchwood and quickly befriend the Beaumonts but it soon becomes clear to most that their marriage is a far from happy one and when the true extent of Malcolm's cruelty is revealed, Hope helps Honoria to escape. Her disappearance however, has unforeseen and far reaching consequences for everyone at Marchwood Hall.When Honoria's brother discovers the truth about his sister's marriage, he goads Malcolm into an illegal duel. Before events are settled there will be a murder trial, unlikely friendships will be forged and amidst this chaotic backdrop, new love will blossom.With a perfect mix of romance, suspense and sumptuous Victorian elegance, Degrees of Hope will keep you turning pages and leave you wanting more.
Martha Beaumont was in her study sketching when her butler came in. As soon as Martha looked up, she could tell that something was wrong.
“It appears that Miss Hope has had an accident, Lady Beaumont,”
“Where is she?” Martha got to her feet
“The horse made her way back to the stables alone. Barry, has gone to look for Miss Hope.”
Martha quickly made her way out of the back of the house and headed towards the stable block, but before she was even half way there, someone called to her from her right. She turned to see Barry, the steward, carrying Hope in his arms across the paddock, Hope's dog, MacDuff, at his heel.
Martha resisted the urge to run across the field and waited patiently by the gate, opening it for them as they approached.
Martha was quite skilled at resisting her impulses and keeping her composure, acting like a lady, if you will, although if Hope had looked in any way distressed, Martha would have flown across the field to her child, mud and new kid boots be damned!
“Are you all right?” Martha asked as they stopped before her.
Barry finally set Hope back on her feet, and Martha was pleased to note that her initial impression seemed correct and that Hope wasn't too badly injured. Her riding habit was a little dirty, her face had a tiny scratch on her cheekbone and the hand she seemed to be cradling was muddy and abraded, but that seemed to be the worst of it.
“I'm fine, Mama, it's just a small accident.”
Martha was well acquainted with Hope's horse, Shelly, and in her opinion, no fall from its back could be called small.
“She was spooked by a fox and I fell, but it's just a sprain, I'm sure.”
“Where is the horse?” Martha asked Barry.
“Alf's looking after her; she galloped straight back here. I might not have found Miss Hope if it hadn't been for MacDuff's barking.”
“Thank you,” Martha nodded to Barry then turned to Hope. “Let's get you inside and cleaned up.”
Martha led her daughter into the house through the servants entrance, then led her into the housekeeper's sitting room to assess her wounds, since the medical supplies were kept in there. She gently prodded and accessed Hope's wrist as the housekeeper, Mrs Lassiter, looked on. Hope hissed in pain a time or two, causing her collie dog to raise her head in case Hope needed help, but the dog soon settled again. Although it was swollen, Hope still had full mobility in her wrist, so Martha agreed that it was just a sprain.
She bathed the cuts and abrasions with warm water, then used the bandage that Mrs Lassiter handed her to tightly bind her wrist.
“Did you hit your head?” Martha asked as she worked.
“No,” Hope assured her.
“Do you hurt anywhere else?”
“There,” Martha said as she fastened the bandage with a pin. She leaned forward and kissed her daughter's forehead. “Now stay off that damn horse until it's healed, all right?”
“I will, Mama, but it wasn't Shelly's fault.”
“I don't care whose fault it was, that horse is dangerous. I don't know about Shelly, you should have called it Frankenstein's Monster. Your father should never have bought her for you.”
“She's not a bad horse, Mama, she's just young and easily spooked.”
“Here,” Mrs Lassiter handed Hope a small glass of something brown. “That will help with the shock and your pain.”
“I'm not in shock,” Hope argued but actually she did feel a little shaky and so after both women had shot her a warning glare, she took the drink and downed it in one go.
The liquid burned and being unused to spirits, it made her cough a little. As she handed the glass back to Mrs Lassiter, the sitting room door burst open and Lord Beaumont stormed in.
“What happened?” he demanded.
“I'm fine, Papa. Honestly, everyone is making a big deal over nothing.”
“It's just a sprain, Lucien,” Martha confirmed, getting up and going to her husband.
She knew how much he worried about all his family and she looked into his eyes, willing him to believe her. Finally he took a deep breath and seemed to relax. She reached up and kissed him quickly on the lips then stepped aside, knowing that he would want to embrace their daughter, who was also on her feet and waiting for her turn.
Lucien opened his arms to his eldest daughter and she stepped into his embrace. She was a grown woman now but there was nothing like a cuddle from your father when you needed one.
At 23, Hope was the oldest child in her family by eight years. Augustus, better known as Gus, was the next oldest at 15. After him came Bartholomew, also known as Bart, who was 13 and Charity was the youngest child, just 10 years old.
Lucien kissed the top of Hope's head and held her until she pulled away. Hope smiled at him.
“At least it wasn't the right wrist,” he said, his tone light and teasing. “I can still claim my pound of flesh from you!” He gave her a comically stern look and both Hope and Martha laughed, whilst Mrs Lassiter smiled indulgently. “Just go easy for a while, please?”
Lucien gently guided Hope and Martha from the room, pausing to thank Mrs Lassiter for the use of her sitting room, then the family headed up to the parlour. MacDuff followed them, as usual.
“MacDuff alerted Barry to her position,” Martha told her husband. It had been his idea that they should get the dog, so that Hope would have some protection as she rode about the countryside.
Lucien smiled, pleased that the dog had helped.
“I didn't take you away from work, did I?” Hope asked her father.
“No, I was already on my way home,” Lucien assured her. “Our guests are arriving this afternoon, remember?”
“The couple looking to build their own estate?” Hope asked.
“That's them,” Lucien nodded. “Honoria and Malcolm Arundell.”
“Someone should tell them that you inherit an estate, you don't build one.”
“Hope! Don't be so judgemental,” Martha said sharply.
Hope blushed. Whilst she had been raised to be a lady, her mother was from very humble beginnings, and had once been a servant in the very same house that she was now mistress of. Martha had taught all of her children that it was one's character that mattered most, not their title or wealth, but all the children forgot that lesson sometimes.
“Make them feel welcome when they arrive,” Martha said. “And please, try not to appear too wilful.”
Whilst Martha loved Hope's free spirit, indeed she had encouraged her to think for herself and stand up for what she believed in, she tried hard to make the girl realise that there was a time and a place for such displays and in public, where one's reputation could be called into question, was neither.
“I will, Mama.”
“What are they like?” Martha asked her husband.
“He imports tea from the Far East and seems to have an excellent business sense. On the whole though, he seems rather cool and detached. His wife is about fifteen years younger than he and very handsome indeed, although she appears quite meek. She hardly said a word on the occasion I met her.”
“Do they have any children?”
“No, not yet. I don't think they've been married long.”
“Do you think they will be good neighbours?” Martha asked.
“That's why I invited them to stay,” Lucien admitted. He wasn't about to sell part of his estate to someone he didn't like very much, and so far he hadn't spent enough time with Malcolm Arundell to know if he liked the man or not.
As well as large areas of woodland, the Marchwood estate consisted of eleven farms of differing sizes which were let to local farmers. The Hall's own farmland had long since been turned into grazing land for the Merino sheep, who provided most of the wool for one of the family businesses.
Lucien had no desire to break up the estate, but selling one farm wasn't going to do much damage and besides, Mr Williams had died leaving no heirs (or none who wanted the farm) and Lucien's steward was taking care of the property at the moment.
He disliked finding new tenants, since those who were not raised to farming had little idea of what they were doing, and often did more harm than good in the beginning. Those who were raised to farming, perhaps younger sons who wouldn't inherit, usually had their own ways of doing things and it tended to cause friction with the other farmers and the the steward, who managed the estate.
Lucien intended to offer the Arundells Mr William's farm land to build their home on.
As well as the estate, which provided a steady income, the family also had two businesses.
Gus Aldercott had been Martha's guardian when she was young. He had given Martha his surname as well as leaving his glove business, Aldercott & Daughter, to her and Hope upon his death. Beaumont & Aldercott was started by Martha and Lucien and it made outerwear, such as cloaks, coats and shawls.
The combined income from all three meant that whilst some of the aristocracy were floundering, the Beaumonts were now one of the wealthiest families in the north of England.
Malcolm and Honoria Arundell arrived in the afternoon, and Martha showed them and their servants to their rooms. Whilst the servants unpacked, Martha and Lucien gave them a tour of the house.
Both Malcolm and Honoria were polite but reserved, as Lucien had described. After the tour, Lucien and Malcolm went to view the farm, whilst Honoria had tea with Martha and Hope. Honoria opened up a little once her husband was gone and the conversation flowed quite freely between the women.
“Is your husband here?” Honoria asked Hope once the introductions were out of the way.
“Oh, I'm not married,” Hope answered with grin. At nearly 24, she knew that she would soon be considered too old for marriage but she was determined that someone who loved her wouldn't mind her age.
“I'm sorry, I just assumed, given your age that- I mean-” She was becoming flustered and Hope decided to put her out of her misery.
“It's fine,” Hope assured her. “I know that I'm unusual in choosing to marry later, but I won't marry for anything less than true love.”
“But what if you never fall in love?” Honoria asked, rather bluntly.
“Then, I shall remain single and breed horses or something,” Hope said breezily.
Honoria looked to Martha, wondering how she felt about her daughters declaration, but she was smiling indulgently at Hope.
“And your father doesn't mind?”
“Not at all. All he wants is for me to be happy. Although I realise that I am luckier than most, as I was left a sizeable fortune in trust when I was young, so I shan't become a burden to anyone.”
“That must surely make you an appealing prospect for some men,” Honoria noted.
“Indeed, but it doesn't necessarily make them an appealing prospect for me,” Hope said with a smile. “Although in truth, my assets are kept in trust so that my husband won't be able to access them.”
“Although she has no inheritance,” Martha interrupted, “our youngest daughter will also be afforded the same luxury. I want all my children to be free to marry whomever they want.”
“That is very unusual,” Honoria said.
“What about you, how did you meet your husband?” Martha asked.
“My father thought that he would be a very suitable match for me,” Honoria answered, although her expression became slightly forlorn.
“And what did you think?” Hope asked, causing Martha to give her a warning glare.
“Tell us about your father?” Martha suggested.
“He is Lord Ashdown, the Baron of Norfolk.”
Martha knew of him; unfortunately he was rumoured to be a degenerate gambler.
“It's unusual for a member of the gentry to recommend a marriage to someone in trade, isn't it?” Hope asked.
“Not that unusual.” Martha could have kicked Hope for her insensitivity. Yes, on the whole marriages to the lower classes weren't ideal, however since some of the gentry were feeling the financial pinch these days, as the middle classes became more and more affluent, marriages to it's wealthier members were becoming far more commonplace. Poor Honoria had probably been auctioned off to the highest bidder. Martha tried to move the conversation on to another topic.
“Do you know much of Marchwood?” she asked.
“No, I'm afraid I don't yet.” Honoria blushed and kept her eyes downcast.
“It's rather odd to build a house somewhere that you don't know isn't it?” Hope asked.
Martha finally had enough of Hope's continued insensitivity and questioning of their guest.
“Hope!” Her sharp tone caused Honoria to jump, something that Martha noted but Hope was oblivious to. “I believe your earlier accident has worn you out, my dear; why don't you go and have a rest before dinner.”
“Mama, I'm fine.”
Martha raised her eyebrows. She would repeat herself if necessary, but her expression said that there would be consequences if Hope disobeyed.
“Yes, Mama.” Hope did feel a little out of sorts today. She knew that she could be brash at times but it felt as if today she couldn't help herself. Duly chastened, she got up and bid her mother and Honoria goodbye.
“Take MacDuff with you,” Martha added, knowing that the dog would comfort her whilst Martha was unable to. “I'm so sorry,” Martha said once Hope had left. “She does not mean to be rude, but she fell from her horse earlier today and was given some brandy for medicinal purposes. I believe it has gone to her head.”
“That's quite all right,” Honoria looked relieved.
“So,” Martha picked up the teapot and topped up their cups. “Whilst you are here, why don't I take you into Marchwood and show you around. If this is to become your home, a little knowledge of the closest town will be very useful.”
“Thank you, Lady Beaumont.”
“Please, call me Martha. If we are to be neighbours, it would be good if we could also be friends.”
“Thank you, Martha.”
They chatted amiably for another half an hour, until Martha suggested that they retire to their rooms to rest a little before dinner.
Martha entered her bedroom to see Hope asleep on her parent's bed and MacDuff sleeping by the fire. She smiled as she approached, gently brushing a strand of Hope's dark hair behind her ear and placing a soft kiss on her cheek.
Martha then looked out of the window but neither Lucien or Malcolm were visible, so she picked up a book and sat by the unlit fire to read for a few hours. MacDuff came and sat beside her, and Martha absently reached down and scratched behind his ears whilst she read.
Hope awoke after another hour and wiped her eyes, looking every inch like the little girl that Martha remembered so fondly.
“Did you sleep well?” Martha asked with a smile.
“I'm sorry, Mama. I was waiting for you to apologise, I didn't mean to be rude to Honoria. I must have fallen asleep-”
Martha held her hand up to stop her. “I know, sweetheart. You have had a long day and I know you didn't mean to make our guest uncomfortable.”
Hope could be insensitive and thoughtless at times, but at heart she really was a kind and loving young woman.
“Then let's put this behind us and move on.”
Hope came to join her mother by the fireplace.
“What do you make of her?” Hope asked.
Martha frowned and considered her words for a few moments before answering.
“I think that she could use a friend, and if they do decide to move here, you would be a good choice for her.”
“But she is so... stiff and formal. She would never want to be friends with someone as uncouth as I was today.”
“I don't think she will judge you too harshly, my dear. Just try to be a friend to her; I have a feeling she will need it.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Honestly? It's just intuition. I know that many marriages are founded on things other than love, but I have the feeling that Honoria is struggling in her marriage.”
“She does give off an air of quiet despair,” Hope agreed.
Martha smiled, pleasantly surprised by her insight.
“What did you make of the husband?” Hope asked since she hadn't met him yet.
“I honestly don't know,” Martha answered. “He seems pleasant enough on the surface, but there is a coldness about his manner which I didn't like. Honoria also didn't speak much when we were with him and she always looked to him before replying, as though seeking his approval.”
“Well, seventeen is awfully young to be married,” Hope said. “And he's in his thirties; she must still feel like a child around him.”
“Maybe,” Martha wasn't so sure it was that innocuous. Hope had been relatively sheltered in her young life but Martha had grown up in abject poverty with an abusive father. Going into service at 'the big house' when she was ten, had been a merciful escape from her life, despite the long hours and hard work. Honoria's expression when around her husband reminded Martha of the looks her mother used to give their father, after he'd had a few pints and she was worried about his temper.
She could be wrong, of course and she hoped that she was, but part of her now wanted Honoria and her husband to buy the land and come to Marchwood to live. There was little that she could do for another man's wife, but at least Honoria would know that she had people nearby who cared.
Although they did not usually bother with such formalities, the family dressed for dinner that evening since they had company.
Martha eschewed the crinoline cages that were so popular these days, wearing a very small one, only for the most formal of occasions. Day to day, she preferred simple lines with perhaps a few petticoats so that she didn't look too out of place. Although she usually still wore a corset, many mistook her look for that of the artistic dress movement, which was preferred among artists, intellectuals and their wives, a look which was rather more in keeping with Georgian fashions at the turn of the century, than modern fashions.
Martha's reasoning had nothing to do with artistic temperament although, she was far was more interested in practicality than fashion, although she kept her wardrobe current with the use of rich colours and silks, which were also popular.
Hope on the other hand, was rather taken with crinoline, although it was so impractical that she too only wore it for special occasions.
This evening, Hope had opted for a deep purple gown with a wide, crinoline skirt, whilst Martha had opted for a simpler outfit in midnight blue, with a full skirt, supported by petticoats.
Charity, their youngest daughter, joined them as she did every evening, but she too had dressed for dinner. It was unusual for children of her age to dine with their parents but she was on her best behaviour and acted every inch the young lady. Their sons were away at boarding school in Rugby, so sadly unable to join them.
The dog was banned and spent the evening downstairs in the servants hall.
Dinner that evening was a rather stilted affair, not even helped by the social lubricant of wine. Malcolm seemed very taken with the views from the farm that he had been shown. He intended to ask an architect to come and look over the land, to see if it was suitable for the house he had planned. Other than the house and business although, he had very little conversation. They steered clear of politics, since it was an impolite topic to discuss among women (not that it would usually worry the Beaumonts when they dined alone) and Martha tried to steer the conversation to the Arts, hoping to entice Honoria to join in. Unfortunately Malcolm dismissed the Arts as the folly of the rich and idle, which put an abrupt end to that avenue of conversation.
Hope attempted to discuss a few novels, both recent and classics and whilst Malcolm didn't raise any specific objection to that subject, neither did he join in, which seemed to make Honoria hesitant to venture her own opinions.
Finally Lucien struck on a topic that they could all discuss, save for Martha; horses. Lucien and Malcolm began discussing bloodlines whilst Hope took the opportunity to talk to Honoria.
“Do you ride?” Hope asked.
“I did when I was a child but I haven't ridden for... oh, I suppose it must be four or five years now. Mother said it was unladylike.”
“Unladylike?” Lucien piped up from the other end of the table. “Why, only the truly noble know how to properly handle a horse. Indeed I would call it one of the signs of good breeding, wouldn't you, Malcolm?”
Lucien had quickly figured out that whilst Malcolm wanted to be a part of the aristocracy, at the same time he disliked many of their ways, feeling them foolish. He seemed to respect Lucien since whilst an Earl, he also earned his own living and as such, he thought that his proclamation might help secure Hope's friendship with Honoria.
“I haven't really given it much thought,” Malcolm confessed. “But I suppose if the pony has a gentle nature, there's no harm in it.”
Hope discreetly pulled her sleeve lower to cover more of her bandage. So far neither guest had asked how she had injured her wrist.
“Then that's settled,” Hope proclaimed. “We will view the estate together before you leave, Honoria. I'm sure I have a spare saddle in the tack room and you can ride Queenie, she is quite the sweetest horse that you could ever hope to meet.”
After dinner the men and women separated, Lucien and Malcolm remaining at the table to enjoy brandy and cigars, whilst the women retired to the parlour. Charity was taken off to bed by her nanny.
Away from her husband once again, Honoria seemed to open up, although she refused to join in the conversation when Martha and Hope began discussing the Overend, Gurney & Company Bank, which had gone under two days before, causing a run on the branches in Manchester and Liverpool, the two closest cities to Marchwood.
Thankfully the Beaumonts didn't have any stock or money in the bank, but everyone in the upper classes knew of someone who did bank with them. The future looked bleak for many of those people now.
“Do you think it will affect the business?” Hope asked her mother.
“Trade is already slowing, thanks to the difficulties of trading with America during their civil war. I dare say we will weather the storm because we run a tight ship but we shall surely feel some effects. I understand that Sharps Milliners banked with Overend, and they were already feeling the pressure of the financial crisis. If they have lost their reserves, they may now go under.”
The Aldercotts had a shop on the same street as Sharps, in Penchester and the glove workshop was still in that town, since that had been set up by Gus Aldercott. Aldercott's and Sharp's had each carried some of the other's wares and it wasn't unusual in quiet times for 'old Mrs Sharp' to pop into Martha's shop and share a cup of tea by the fire.
Martha hadn't lived in Penchester for 16 years now, but she did still try and visit the Sharps a few times a year, when she accompanied her husband there whilst he oversaw the gloving workshop.
Although Hope wasn't nearly so well acquainted with the family as her mother, she had once developed a fondness for John Sharp, the middle son. Other than being friendly to her, he had hardly given her a second look and four years ago, had married a girl named Clara. Hope still had a soft spot for him though, and it pained her to think of him or his family in trouble.
“You seem to know rather a lot about business,” Honoria observed.
“A little,” Martha lied. Women of her adopted class weren't supposed to take an interest in such things, and so she kept her involvement relatively quiet.
“Do you know about your husband's business?” Honoria asked.
“I design for both businesses,” Martha stated, for that was well known. Her beautiful designs and more recently, Hope's too, were what both companies were built on. However, mindful of her position in society, although she still took an active interest in all areas of the business, she only met in person with the wealthiest and most respected of clients these days, to design them bespoke gloves and capes.
“Well yes, but surely you do not understand the financial matters?”
Martha and Hope each owned 37.5 percent of the gloves business, which Gus Aldercott had put into trust for them so that the business would always be theirs. Lucien owned only a 25 percent of that business.
The outerwear business on the other hand, was started as a partnership between Martha and Lucien, although upon their marriage, it legally became Lucien's in its entirety.
Lucien still discussed most matters with his wife though, not because he had to but because he valued her opinion. Any major decisions on the gloves he discussed with both Hope and Martha, since they were majority owners.
Mostly they were content to design the gloves and outerwear and happy to leave the day to day running of the business to him, as they trusted his business sense. Still, it wasn't unusual for business to become a topic of discussion over dinner, so both women were reasonably well informed, although Martha took a greater interest than Hope.
“Not wholly,” Martha agreed with Honoria. “I leave the running of the company to my husband, but he does like to talk matters through with me. I think it helps him to organise his own thoughts.”
Honoria looked astounded.
“Malcolm doesn't discuss business with you?” Hope asked.
“No, although I confess,” her voice lowered conspiratorially. “I do often read his daily paper once he has left for work. I know that it is frightfully unladylike, but I am interested in the world. Please do not tell him; he disapproves of such behaviour in women.”
“Your secret is safe with us,” Martha assured her with a warm smile.
They chatted amiably for a while longer until the men joined them and soon afterwards, Martha and Lucien excused themselves to prepare for bed. Many of the aristocracy didn't retire until the early hours of the morning but Lucien had businesses to run, which required an early start. Malcolm seemed happy to retire then also and as they all headed upstairs, Hope noticed that Malcolm and Honoria each went into their own bedrooms, without even a kiss goodnight.
She frowned as she entered her own room, and wondered what it must be like to be a part of such a loveless marriage. Separate bedrooms were normal among the upper classes and even Hope's parents had their own rooms, however Hope couldn't remember her father sleeping in his bedroom since Charity was born. In fact, he only seemed to use it for housing his clothes and for dressing.
Even when her parents disagreed, which wasn't that unusual, they still shared a bed at night.
Hope's lady's maid came in to help her disrobe and take her hair down, and she chattered away about this and that. Hope usually enjoyed listening to the gossip from the servant's hall but this evening she was distracted. As she settled under her covers, she suspected that she would have a restless night ahead of her, and she was right.
Over the next two nights, after they had retired to bed, Martha and Lucien repeatedly returned to the topic of whether to allow Malcolm to buy the land he wanted.
Lucien was opposed to the idea as the longer he spent in Malcolm's company, the less he was inclined to like him but Martha pushed him to accept, as she felt rather protective of Honoria.
“I'm not sure I can stand to live next to such a man,” Lucien said on the second evening of discussions. “And don't forget, we will be required to socialise with them.”
“Only occasionally,” Martha argued. “He works away during the week, and we won't be socialising every weekend. Besides, there are already a number of people in our group that you find distasteful, what is one more?”
“You make me sound like a curmudgeon,” he said. “There are a few people of our acquaintance that I dislike, I admit it, but that is hardly 'a number'.”
“You are right, I'm sorry.” Martha smiled. She had been lying with her head on his shoulder, but she pulled away and propped her head up on her hand so that she could see his face.
“What?” he asked, noting her troubled expression.
“I just feel bad for Honoria,” she admitted. “Her father arranged this marriage and I think that she is desperately unhappy.”
“And you think that living here will make her happy?” he asked, confused by her argument.
“No,” she admitted. “I do however, think that Malcolm's plan in bringing her here to live, is to isolate her from her friends and family. I cannot help but think that if they are on the estate, Honoria will at least have someone sympathetic near by, and possibly even a friend in Hope.”
Lucien still wasn't inclined to agree to the sale, but he could see her point.
“Do we really want to get involved in their marriage?” he asked.
“We aren't getting involved,” she assured him. “I just want Honoria to know that she has friends around her.”
“And what if she comes to us, asking us to help her?”
“Then we help.”
“We don't have that right,” he said. “A marriage is between a man and a woman. Even if we wanted to, we have no right to intervene.”
“Perhaps not legally, but morally we do.”
Lucien just glared at her, upset at the idea of being embroiled in a fight that wasn't his.
“Darling,” Martha said, leaning down to kiss him gently. “The chances are that we will never be asked to become involved, Honoria is far too dutiful to ever consider leaving her husband, but we can still be a friend to her. And you never know, there is a chance that her quiet ways may rub off on Hope and help to calm her.”
“We couldn't be that lucky,” Lucien smiled.
Martha knew that she was winning, and played her trump card. “Please, for me?”
Lucien sighed, knowing that he had lost this round. “Fine. Tomorrow I will inform Malcolm of our decision and get started on drawing up the deeds.”
“You owe me,” he said, only half teasing.
“And how would you like to be repaid, sir?” she asked, coquettishly.
“I'm sure you'll think of something,” he answered her, a smirk on his lips.
Martha leaned down and kissed him deeply and when she pulled away, they were both breathing heavily.
“How's that?” she asked.
“It's a promising start,” he told her.
Over the course of the next two weeks, Hope did her best to befriend Honoria; a task that was made considerably easier when her husband left for London during the week to oversee his business interests, returning on Friday night. Honoria remained reserved but she was much easier to talk to without Malcolm around.
As soon as Hope's wrist had healed, she took Honoria all around the estate, showing her the plot of land that her husband was interested in. Hope would have been livid if her husband built a house somewhere, without even showing her the land first, but Honoria simply accepted it.
Overall, Honoria was a very dutiful girl, taking seriously her duty to both her husband and her God and her favourite phrase seemed to be, “It is God's will” or some variation on that theme.
At the same time however, she seemed to find Hope's abandon quite appealing; watching and laughing as Hope jumped gates on her horse that she had been warned not to, or made a very unladylike joke or observation. Whilst Honoria wasn't going to overstep the moral boundaries placed on her, she seemed perfectly happy to live vicariously through Hope.
She smiled freely whilst with Hope, and it made her beauty radiate out from her. So much so that Hope thought it a pity that her husband didn't try to make her smile more often.
As soon as her husband returned, her levity vanished, and she would beg Hope not to speak of their antics in his presence.
On the Thursday afternoon of the second week, just two days before she and her husband were due to leave, Hope and Honoria were having a picnic lunch in the unoccupied paddock.
MacDuff accompanied Hope everywhere she went outdoors, and was at this moment stretched out beside them on the grass, enjoying the sun. Honoria liked the dog and often petted him when her husband wasn't around, but today she had no interest. In fact she seemed very subdued that day and when Hope thought about it, she had been getting quieter all week.
“Is something wrong?” Hope asked.
Honoria looked up at her and smiled sadly. “Not at all, I am just a little sad to be leaving, that's all.”
“But your house will be ready before the end of the year, and then you'll live here most of the time.”
“Yes,” she sighed. “Removed from all my old friends and family. At least in London, I had some friends visiting me during the season, and my brother came see me regularly. Here I shall have no one but you.”
“Then why are you moving up here? Surely there is land closer to London or your family's estate available.”
“There is,” Honoria admitted. She looked down, as though ashamed of what she was about to say. “Malcolm can be very jealous,” she said softly. “Not just of men but of anyone who claims my time. Malcolm says that he wants to live here to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life but the reality is... well, I think he wants me away from the London life. He wants me isolated so that he can have me all to himself.”
“Then he has failed,” Hope said, reaching over and taking Honoria's hand. “No matter what happens, you and I will always be great friends, and I am but a ten minute ride from your new home.”
Honoria glanced up into Hope's eyes then quickly looked away again.
“I am worried that he will forbid me to see you.”
“So? He is in London most of the week, he cannot know what you do.”
“But he can. The servants do as he asks them and they report my movements to him.”
“Well then, I shall just have to be exceedingly nice to him, so that he has no reason to forbid me from seeing you.”
Honoria was silent for a long while before speaking and when she did her voice was barely above a whisper.
“He already disapproves of you. He believes that it is unseemly for a woman, such as yourself, to be independent and still unmarried at almost twenty four.”
“Honoria, look at me,” Hope said, gently squeezing the other woman's hand, silently giving her strength.
Honoria looked into her friend's eyes.
“You will never lose me,” Hope assured her. “Even if he moves you to the outer Hebrides, all you have to do is write and I will come running.”
To Hope's surprise, Honoria began to cry. Hope put her arms around her and held her tightly until her tears subsided.
The Arundell's house was finished by Christmas, and although nothing when compared to Marchwood Hall, it was a fine home. With six bedrooms, a small stable block, a landscaped garden at the rear and with no expense spared, there was no doubting the status of its residents.
Malcolm and Honoria moved in over the Christmas period, and in the New Year their pattern of behaviour began to formulate. Honoria lived full time at the house, whilst Malcolm left for London during the week to manage his businesses, leaving on the Monday morning and returning on the Friday evening.
Honoria quickly made a few friends among Marchwood society, but Malcolm seemed to have little interest. Indeed, they hardly socialised at all on the weekends and it seemed that the only activity that could tempt Malcolm away from his wife, was the shooting parties that Lucien or another local gentleman organised on the weekends.
Sadly he had moved to Marchwood too late to partake in the game shooting for very long, as the law prohibited hunting game birds after the first of February. However hare had no season, so although the hunting parties were less frequent in the spring and summer, there was on average a shooting party at least every other month.
Malcolm expressed an interest in hunting deer but whilst there were a few on his estate, Lucien didn't cultivate them or hunt them, although he did allow the steward and gamekeeper to cull them when their numbers grew too large.
Lucien thought deer to be a proud animal and disliked killing them, though his excuse to other gentlemen was that there was less skill required to chase a deer to exhaustion and then shoot it whilst it was cornered. Hitting a pheasant, grouse or hare on the other hand, was difficult and much more sportsmanlike.
Since the Marchwood estate was the largest for easily thirty miles and offered the best sport, local gentlemen abided by his likes and dislikes, even when one of them hosted a shooting party. Some of the gentlemen ventured further afield, to other estates in the county where they might hunt big game, but Lucien always declined such invitations if deer were being hunted.
Besides which, deer stalking took place at dawn, whilst game shooting was an all day activity and therefore, much more sociable. The ladies would congregate by the picnic tables in the garden whilst the men hunted, and then both parties would come together for lunch. Usually that was the end of shooting for the day and the afternoon would be spent eating and drinking, either outside in the sunshine if weather permitted, or in the Beaumont's new orangery if the weather wasn't so kind.
Today was one such day in mid-March, and after the spring showers turned into actual rain, the ladies had decided that the gazebo tents they were sheltering under weren't going to be enough, and they rushed inside.
Hope was giggling as they entered the orangery, having enjoyed the dash through the rain. Some ladies were upset that their gowns or hair had become wet, but most seemed to have enjoyed the excitement.
Martha oversaw the rearrangement of the tables and furnishings as the servants brought them inside, whilst the ladies checked their appearance and wiped their damp faces with handkerchiefs. Honoria and Hope were over to one side, looking out at the garden through the windows as the rain fell harder still.
They were looking in the wrong direction to see the men return, but Martha spotted them and greeted Lucien with a smile and a kiss. Each man had a servant with him to reload his guns and at this time of year, they also carried umbrellas. The rain was so heavy though, that in the dash to get indoors, most had made a hard target for their servants to shield, even with the umbrellas.
Lucien didn't look too perturbed by his drenching. He had spent a large part of his childhood outdoors, roaming the estate on foot or horseback, so a little rain was nothing to him, nor to many of the other gentlemen. However, Martha noticed that Malcolm looked decidedly less happy, almost angry.
She heard Hope and Honoria begin to laugh as MacDuff shook himself, spraying them with water. She watched as Malcolm's eyes narrowed as he observed them. Martha looked over to her daughter and her friend but they looked innocent enough, chatting and laughing as young women should, in her opinion. She couldn't see what might have upset Malcolm, but she thought it best to divert them before Malcolm became any more disturbed.
“Girls! Go and fetch some towels for the gentlemen, please.”
Although that was a servant's job, neither woman looked upset by the request, and they returned a few moments later and began handing towels out to the men who wanted one.
The men had returned early, so it took a little while for lunch to be served. Most were content to drink and talk in the meantime, but Malcolm remained in a bad mood and Honoria remained at his side. Hope joined them but quickly sensed that she wasn't helping to reduce the tension between the couple, so she decided to leave them alone.
Malcolm's mood improved somewhat as the afternoon went on, and Lucien did his best to engage the younger man in conversation.
Lucien had never warmed to their neighbour, but he wasn't sorry that he had given in to his wife's demands. Over the course of his life, Lucien had needed to mix with many people that he didn't much like, so remaining cordial with Malcolm wasn't too difficult. Besides, it wasn't so much that he disliked the man, it was more that he couldn't warm to him.
The rain didn't let up for the rest of that day, so there were quite a few shrieks as the couples made their way to their carriages in the late afternoon. The family headed to their rooms to change, then met again in the sitting room before dinner.
The gas lights had already been lit and the fires built up, thanks to the cold and gloomy day, giving the room a warm feel, despite the overcast evening. The Hall had been fitted with gas lighting about five years ago, which on dark days like this was a blessing, because not only did they produce more light, gas was far cheaper than candles.
Since it was just family this evening and they had been dressed up all day, both women had opted to change into the corset-less, artistic dress.
“I think that went well,” Lucien began the conversation, as he sipped a glass of wine before dinner.
“Very,” Martha agreed. Everyone had seemed to have a good time, despite the inclement weather.
Gradually the talk turned to Easter, which was at the beginning of April this year and of course, Gus and Bart would be returning home from school.
“Honoria's brother will be visiting too,” Hope injected into the conversation.
“Do you know anything about him?” Lucien asked.
“Only that Malcolm doesn't like him, which is a fine character assessment in my book.” Hope smiled. “All I really know is that his name is James, he's training to be a priest and Honoria adores him, which is most likely why Malcolm doesn't.”
“That should make for an interesting visit.” Martha said.
“That's one way of phrasing it,” Lucien smiled at his wife's tact. “We will have to invite them over whilst he's here.”
“Maybe we could have a family day,” Hope said. “Take the boys, Charity and Honoria's family out for a picnic or something. Hopefully the weather will be a bit better by then.”
“That sounds lovely,” Lucien smiled. He missed his boys when they were at school and always lessened his work load during their holidays. His only complaint about the day Hope suggested, was that the Arundells would be there.
“I'll speak to Honoria and make arrangements,” Martha said.
Lucien shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I, um, I should mention that it was noted by a few gentlemen today, that Malcolm doesn't seem to be returning invitations. He has accepted invitations from many other gentlemen without even a dinner in return,” he said, changing the subject slightly.
“He does work in London all week,” Hope argued.
“I know and believe me, I don't mind him imposing on our hospitality because his wife is your friend, but you should have a discrete word with Honoria.”
“Why can't you have a word with him?” Hope asked.
“Because these things are better done behind the scenes. A gentle word in his ear from her, will save him the embarrassment that my talking to him would cause.”
Hope couldn't argue with that but, “What if he won't listen to her?”
“Then his invitations will begin to dry up.” Lucien shrugged.
“Sometimes I think he'd like that,” Hope said softly.
“What do you mean by that?” he asked.
Hope had not shared her feelings about the marriage with her father, because she didn't want to break Honoria's confidence.
“I just... sometimes I think that he wants to isolate Honoria, to keep her like a princess, locked up in an ivory tower.”
“I'm sorry?” Lucien looked confused.
“He does seem possessive at times,” Martha supplied, sparing her daughter. “I think that ideally, his wife would see no one but himself. He even seemed jealous of Hope today, because they were laughing together.”
Lucien frowned, not because he disbelieved his wife, for he trusted her instincts almost as much as his own, but he had simply not observed such behaviour before. Indeed he thought Malcolm rather too cold a man to ever be possessive or jealous which, whilst they were negative emotions, did imply a certain amount of passion.
“Trust me,” Hope told her father. “The next time they're here, I'll occupy Honoria for a while and you take a close look at him. I can almost guarantee you that he won't like it.”
“I will,” Lucien nodded.