Friday, 18 December 2009
Letters from a Regency Lady
Here is the first letter. The story will unfold in letters - one a month
To Captain Robert Jenson, from his sister Lady Horatia Melton. 27th December 1815.
My very dear Robert.
How we have missed your company this Christmas, dearest. Even Melton remarked that it was "damned slow without Robert" – which was unusual, for, as you know, his lordship is not one to crave company. I am sure if I did not insist upon it, we should go from one week to the next without dining with our friends. I, on the other hand, cannot be happy unless I am either dining out or entertaining, and since Melton is in no mood to deny me anything after my loss, he allows me to do much as I please.
Mama is staying with us, of course. I believe she spends more time with us here than in the dower house at Little Hall, which, given her delicate health, is a blessing in disguise. Melton has to bite his tongue often but Mama has never been the easiest of companions, as you know only too well, dearest. I never cease to wonder that she allowed you to escape to the army and the freedom I know you craved. Our sister Antoine is very well and sends her love. I may have further news on her account another time but I shall not even whisper it yet in case she is disappointed again. You know of what happy event I speak but the earl has not been told of her hopes so I shall not breathe a word to anyone.
Antoine and Bathurst were here for the affair on Christmas Eve but did not stay over night. I am fortunate to have my sister settled not more than ten miles distant. She was a great comfort to me at the time of my loss but I shall not dwell on that! for I have something of importance to tell you. Melton's cousin James is engaged to a very rich and beautiful young lady.
Miss Mary Jenkins is a sweet little thing with huge blue eyes and pale curls. She is an heiress of some note, which is a good thing for Melton's cousin; however, Melton feels she is too slender for child bearing and did not approve of poor James's choice for that reason. He never reproaches me, but I know that he feels our loss deeply, and, if the doctor is right, James may be called upon to provide the heir for Melton – but I shall say no more on that subject. I am determined to be quite gay and smile again. There have been too many tears these past months.
We have received an invitation to dine with the Regent at Carlton House next week and I dare say we shall go. I find Prinny's houses too warm for he invariably overheats them but he is a kind and generous host and Melton likes him so I shall have to bear it for his sake. I am determined to give a ball at Melton House next season and I pray that you will manage to come, dear Robert. You look so smart in your regimentals and I felt very proud of you going off to fight the way you did with Old Hookey, as you so wickedly call your commander. I know it to be a show of affection, but dare not think what he would make of such a term – though you say he is well aware of what his men call him and he named them far worse. Indeed, I know he believes in calling a spade a spade and some of the things he says are quite shocking, but he is charming. I shall allow no fault in him despite what others may say, for he spoke so kindly of you to me. His Grace told me you were a brave soldier and a man of honour, which I have always known, of course. It was a truly wonderful victory against Bonaparte and the country owes you all a debt of gratitude.
The Christmas Eve party passed off very well, though on Christmas Day itself there were only seven of us besides Melton and I. Melton's aunt Hortense is staying with us until after the New Year. She always brings her pug dog – a smelly little brute – but Melton feels obliged so we must put up with the creature; the pug not Hortense! Dear Hortense is always welcome, of course. Melton's sister Joan and her husband stayed for a week but left this morning. I shall miss her and her two boys. Matthew and Jack are as lively and noisy as ever. Melton felt I might be upset by their presence in the nursery, but it was a relief to hear a child's laughter again. George would have enjoyed their visit so much. They are two years older than he but were always so good with him. No more! I must not or I shall not see to write.
You must not think that your sister is sunk in grief, Robert dear. I promise you it is not so. I can write of my darling to you in the knowledge that you will not reproach me. Mama weeps if I mention his name, and Melton will not hear it. He cannot bear me to speak of our loss. I know he is grieving but I do not wish to forget my darling child. Antoine understands a little because of her two miscarriages but even she does not know what pain comes from losing a child and the heir Melton so desperately wanted. He does not blame me for producing only the one child thus far, but I know he wonders if he ought to have chosen his wife more carefully. I wish it were otherwise but I must not give up hope.
On Boxing Day we handed out gifts to the servants. Melton is very good at that, you know, and so generous. Each man received a gift of boots, cloth and some ten shillings; every woman received cloth, shoes and five shillings. I am not certain this is exactly fair. I think the maids work quite as hard as the footmen, perhaps more so at times. However, I sent the housekeeper, Mrs Benson, five pounds to distribute amongst them as she thought fit so I am content. Melton would no doubt think me extravagant but it is my own money so he does not need to know. You must not think I am in the habit of keeping secrets from my husband, dearest, but you and I always shared everything and so I tell you things that perhaps no one else hears. You will not think the worse of your sister, for if I had not your approval I should be bereft. I remember that you were not certain when I married Melton. Mama thought it an excellent match and everyone was of the same opinion, but you had reservations. Now do not think me unhappy, dearest one, for it is not so. I promise you I am much happier now than I was, though I did miss you this Christmas. Perhaps you will be home in the spring. You must promise to come to us for I long to see you and your letters are a ray of sunshine.
I shall not write more at this time for I must visit Mama and see if she has all she wants. Melton has gone out with the hunt. I think he was glad to see the guests go for his mood does not much improve.
Write to me soon, dearest. Your loving sister, Horatia
PS. Your present has just arrived. What joy is to be had in a book of poetry. Only you would understand my need. Thank you so much, dearest brother.
PPS. I forgot to say that Mama sends her love.
Happy Christmas to all my friends and readers.
Posted by Anne Herries Author at 05:03
Monday, 30 November 2009
A Damnable Rogue was the book that won me the Romantic Novelists Association Romance prize in 2004. It is now in the shops as a double issue with another author. I have fond memories of the day I won. I was also short listed for An Improper companion, but A Damnable Rogue was the first time I entered and I was lucky.
Enjoy the excerpt. The new book can be found at number three on my page at amzon. Just put in Anne Herries and you can't miss it. I'm with a good author too.
Now read on!
'I cannot tell you how sorry I was…' Sir William Heathstone looked at the young woman standing so silently before him. In truth she was not so very young, being less than two months from her twenty-seventh birthday and therefore unlikely to marry. In the light of events this past year, she had but a bleak future before her. 'As you know, Emma, your father was my lifelong friend…'
His tone and sympathetic expression made Emma's eyes smart with tears. The shocking manner of her father's tragic death had stunned her, and her mother's near collapse on hearing the dreadful news had given her no chance to grieve. For the past eleven months she had devoted herself to the care of her mother and the estate, which left little time for thinking about her own life.
Nor was there time for tears now. The future must be decided before Sir William and Lady Heathstone left for their long winter holiday in the warmer climes of Italy.
'It is because of that friendship and your kindness that I have dared to ask so much,' Emma Sommerton replied with quiet dignity. 'If Mama is forced to spend the winter alone at the house I think she may sink into a decline and die.' Her clear eyes were deeply expressive, carrying as they did a look of appeal, which touched the older man's heart.
'If it had not been for that damnable rogue!' he exclaimed with a flash of temper. 'He led Sir John into a trap, my dear…taunted him the way he does all his victims from what I've been told.'
'I have heard that the marquis of Lytham is scrupulous in matters of play,' Emma said, managing to control the rage she felt inside against the man who had ruined all their lives. 'Papa's lawyers assure me that he was warned not to put up his whole estate to the marquis that night, but ignored all advice. And the marquis has been considerate in the matter of claiming his rights, you know. His lawyers assured us that we must continue here as if nothing had happened and that he would not trouble us until our year of mourning had passed. He has been as good as his word, for we have heard nothing from him. We were told we might apply to the lawyers if we needed anything, but of course we have not. Mama has her own small income and we have managed on that.'
'Oh, I am not saying there was any question of anything underhand,' Sir William said frowning. 'Just that Lytham managed to get underneath your father's skin, driving him to do something that I am convinced he would not otherwise…'
'Please, sir,' Emma said, blinking hard against the sting of tears. 'It does no good to speak of these things. Papa was foolish to gamble, but he chose to do so that night with…' She choked back a sob. 'Disastrous consequences.'
'I never realised Edmund was so desperate,' Sir William said looking distressed. 'He must have known I would have helped him.'
'I dare say he was too proud to ask,' Emma replied. 'Besides, it seems there was nothing of any consequence left.' She lifted her head proudly. She was not pretty by the standards of the day, her thick hair dark brown and drawn back in a sleek style that made her look older than her years, but her eyes were extremely fine, a wide clear grey, and her mouth was attractive, especially when she smiled. 'Which brings me to my request. Will Lady Heathstone take Mama with her to Italy? I know it is a great deal to ask…'
'Stuff and nonsense!' Sir William said stoutly. 'It was our intention to ask you both to come and live with us when Lytham takes over the estate. Your mama and Lady Heathstone have always dealt well together, and we shall all put our heads together in the matter of your future, my dear.'
'I thank you for your kindness,' Emma said and smiled. It was a smile of rare sweetness and made Sir William catch his breath for a moment. Had his own sons not already been married he would have welcomed Emma as a daughter-in-law, for she would surely make some worthy gentleman a good wife. He knew of one or two widowers who were comfortable enough as regards money, and he might see what could be done to help the gel towards a suitable match. 'But all I ask is that Mama shall be taken out of herself this winter. As for myself…' She drew a deep breath. 'I have found myself a position as a companion.'
'A companion? No!' Sir William was outraged. 'You a companion – that is impossible, my dear. Most unsuitable, Emma. I am sure your mama would never allow it.'
'I am afraid poor Mama has no choice but to allow it,' Emma replied. 'As you know, Papa quarrelled with his family some years ago, and Mama has none living. There is no one to whom we could apply for help other than you, Sir William – and although I am grateful for your offer of a home, I believe it would not be right. I am young and perfectly capable of earning my living, and as long as I know that Mama is well…'
'I must beg you to reconsider.'
Emma shook her head as she saw the anxious look he gave her. 'I assure you I shall be quite content, sir – which I should not be if I were a burden on you and dear Lady Heathstone. Not that you would consider me such, I know that, but…'
'It would not sit comfortably with your pride?' Sir William was thoughtful. Emma Sommerton was a woman of independent spirit, and perhaps it was as well for her to be allowed a little freedom for once in her life. She had not taken in her season for some reason, and after that her mother's delicate health had kept Emma tied to her apron strings. Perhaps it would be a good thing for Lady Sommerton to learn to do without her daughter, and it might give Emma a chance to live her own life. Who knew what might happen then? Emma was not pretty, but there was something attractive about her. It might be that she would catch the attention of some worthy gentleman, a man in his later years perhaps who would appreciate her qualities. 'Then I shall not interfere with your plans, my dear – but you will give me your promise that if you are ever in need of help you will come to me?'
'Who else would I turn to?' Emma said and took the hand he offered her. 'You have always been as a kind uncle to me, sir – and Lady Heathstone is a good friend to Mama. I shall be able to leave her with a quiet mind now.'
'Then you must do as you wish, Emma. When do you take up your position?'
'At the beginning of next month,' Emma replied. 'I shall then be almost at the end of my mourning and can go into company without fear of giving offence. The position is with a lady who has recently come from Ireland. Her name is Mrs Bridget Flynn and she is a widow.'
When Emma had spoken of becoming a companion, Sir William had imagined it would be to a lady of quality, and to discover that she was planning to work for an Irish woman of no particular family shocked him.
'But you cannot!' he exclaimed. 'She sounds…common…'
'I know her to be extremely wealthy,' Emma said, a little amused by his expression. 'Her husband was a distant cousin of the Earl of Lindisfarne, and a favourite with the earl apparently. She herself comes from a good family, though gentry not aristocracy, and the earl is sponsoring her in society.'
'Lindisfarne? I have heard the name though I know nothing of the man. This all sounds a little dubious,' Sir William was still doubtful, his heavy brows lowered as he looked at her for some minutes. He was a worthy man of broad stature and kind, though perhaps not the most imaginative of fellows. 'Are you perfectly sure this is what you want to do, Emma?'
'Yes, perfectly,' Emma replied, crossing her fingers behind her back. She had not told her generous friend the whole story and hoped he would not learn of the true nature of Mrs Flynn's relationship with the earl. 'I – I knew Bridget a little when I was younger. We attended Mrs Ratcliffe's school together. Bridget's parents were in India, her father was a colonel in the British army, and she was left at the school for a year before she went out to join them. I think that was where she met her husband, who was a major before he was killed.'
'And she returned to Ireland after her husband was killed.' Sir William nodded. One of his own sons had served with Wellsey in India some years previously, and a widow of a British major naturally assumed more respectability in his eyes. 'She is to spend some time in London? And she will be sponsored by Lindisfarne?'
'Yes.' Emma crossed her fingers once more. 'Bridget is a year younger than I am, sir. I believe the earl hopes that she will find happiness again.'
'Yes, she is young to be a widow,' Sir William agreed. He was not sure why he felt that Emma was not telling him the whole truth, for he could not see why she should lie to him. However, at the age of six and twenty she was at liberty to do whatsoever she pleased with her own life, and since he was not her legal guardian, he could not gainsay her. 'Then I shall not question you further, for you have made up your mind on this. Yet I ask you to remember your promise to come to me if you are ever in trouble.'
'You have been kindness itself, sir.'
'Then I shall take my leave of you,' he replied and held out his hand. She gave him hers and he pressed it warmly. 'We shall call for your mother on Monday next – and you leave a few days later for London. Will you be comfortable here alone for that time, Emma?'
'I shall not be alone,' Emma replied. 'I have received instructions from the marquis's lawyers that all the servants are to be retained, and that I am to await his coming at the beginning of next month.' A flash of temper showed in her eyes. 'When he will presumably wish to be shown whatever treasures the house contains. I am afraid he will be sadly disappointed. Papa had sold off most of the silver and pictures before he threw away the estate.'
'So you will have Mrs Monty with you, that will be a comfort to you, Emma.'
'And Nanny – at least until I leave here,' Emma said. 'Poor Nanny has talked of retiring to live with her brother for years, and at long last she may do so. I shall be sad to see her leave, but pleased that she will not have the trouble of looking after us in future.'
Sir William thought privately that in recent years it was Emma who had cared devotedly for Nanny as well as her mother, rather than the other way around.
'Well, I must wish you happiness, my dear. And now I must go.'
Emma went to the door with him, pausing as he climbed into his carriage and was driven away, then sighed as she turned back to the house. That was her first hurdle over, now for Mama…
Her expression was determined as she went upstairs to her mother's boudoir, for she knew that Lady Sommerton would resist being sent off to Italy with her kind friends. She had been insisting on staying to meet the marquis, and was prepared to throw herself on his mercy in the hope of retaining her own home. Emma, however, was not. Nor was she willing to allow her mama to debase herself to that…that monster!
What had Sir William called him? Ah yes – a damnable rogue! Indeed, he must have been a rogue to provoke Sir Edmund to gamble away his entire estate. Not that there had been so very much to gamble, Emma admitted privately, for she better than most knew that her dearest Papa had been worried to death about various debts. He had she knew been contemplating the sale of yet another stretch of land by the river, and it would have gone on that way until they had nothing left.
Why must men throw their fortunes away at the gaming tables? It was a mystery to Emma, and although she did not entirely blame her father's gambling for their troubles, for there had also been unwise investments, she believed it was a curse.
She put her distressing thoughts away, smiling as she went into her mother's room to find her lying on a daybed, a kerchief soaked in lavender pressed to her forehead.
'Are you feeling any better, dearest?'
'A little.' Lady Sommerton raised her head. 'I am sorry to be such a trouble to you.'
'You could never be that, Mama,' Emma said and meant it sincerely. Her decision to give up all thought of marriage to look after her mother had not been entirely the fault of a disappointment in love. She had been happy at home with her parents, despite their faults, of which she was perfectly aware, and she had long ago made up her mind that she would never make a marriage of convenience. 'I have some wonderful news for you, dearest. Sir William was just here. He and Lady Heathstone have begged for the favour of your company on their travels this year.'
'No…no, I could not possibly leave,' Lady Sommerton replied. 'I must be here to greet the Marquis of Lytham when he arrives. Besides, there is Tom. Supposing he should come home?'
'That is unlikely, Mama,' Emma said. 'If Tom had wanted to come home he might have done so at anytime these past months. He must surely have heard of Papa's accident.'
'My poor boy is dead,' Lady Sommerton declared dramatically, pressing a hand to her breast. 'I know that he would have come to me if he could.'
Emma wondered if that might be the case. Her brother had disappeared three years earlier after a terrible row with his father and they had not heard from him since. Like his father before him, he had a temper when roused. It was quite possible that he had done something foolish, which had resulted in his death.
'I am sure that is not the case,' she told her mother despite her own fears. 'Please do not distress yourself, dearest. It may be that Tom has gone abroad to take service in the army. You know he always wanted to be an officer.'
'If his father had only bought him his commission,' Lady Sommerton said with a sigh as a tear rolled down one cheek. 'But he would not and now I have neither son nor husband – and that wretched man will take my home away from me unless I am here to throw myself on his mercy. He will want to see everything. I must be here to greet him, Emma.'
'Not at all, Mama,' Emma replied serenely. 'I shall do all that is necessary myself.'
'That would not be proper, Emma.'
'I shall keep Mrs Monty with me,' Emma said. 'And I also have dear Nanny. It will be perfectly proper. Besides, I am hardly a green girl in the first flush of youth, am I?'
Lady Sommerton looked at her doubtfully. 'No, and of course I have perfect trust in your good sense, Emma…but I still think I should be here with you. We must take the greatest care not to alienate him, my dear. He might decide to let us stay here if I ask him.'
'Supposing he refuses your request, Mama – would you not find that embarrassing? Besides, there is the rest of the winter to consider. You know that I am pledged to Mrs Flynn and you will be here alone.'
'But I cannot live with Sir William and Lady Heathstone for the rest of my life…' Lady Sommerton choked back a sob. 'If only your Papa had not quarrelled with Tom.'
'There is nothing Tom could have done to prevent this,' Emma said. She too had often wished that Sir Edmund had not disowned his only son after their violent quarrel, for it was only after their breach that his gambling had become much worse. 'It is useless to upset yourself,
'But why has Tom not been in touch with us if he is alive?'
'I do not know but he must have his reasons,' Emma said as she had a thousand times before. 'Do not fret so, dearest.'
'I do not know what is to become of us when Lytham turns us out,' Lady Sommerton said and dabbed at her eyes.
'Sir William and Lady Heathstone have offered you a home for as long as you need it, Mama,' Emma said, trying not to see the tears in her mother's eyes. 'It really is the best thing for you. Even if Lytham were to allow you to stay here you could not manage on your income. This house is far too expensive to run. But if you accept Sir William's offer, you can afford to buy your own clothes and make your hosts the occasional little gift. Otherwise, you will have to manage with what I can give you, which will be very little.'
'Oh, no, I do not wish to be a burden to you,' Lady Sommerton said instantly. 'You have already given up too much for my sake.'
'I have given up nothing, Mama,' Emma said and smiled oddly. 'You know very well that I did not take in the drawing rooms of London.'
'I have never understood that,' Lady Sommerton said. 'I remember thinking that one or two of your suitors would definitely come up to scratch.'
Emma reflected that they might well have done so given the slightest encouragement, but in the throes of first love for a man who was not the man she'd imagined him, she had positively discouraged the more worthy gentlemen who might have offered for her. Her father had suffered some reverses at the card table that season, which had meant that she had never again had a chance of another season, something she did not particularly repine.
'Are you sure this is what you want?' Lady Sommerton looked at her daughter. 'I am aware that Mrs Flynn was a friend when you were at school, but what will she be like as an employer? Have you thought of that, Emma? People often change when they go up in the world, and if she is to be sponsored by her husband's relative…'
'Oh, I think I shall be quite happy with Mrs Flynn,' Emma replied. 'She is very eager for me to go to her, and though she means to pay me a wage, she says I am to think of myself as her guest.'
'Then I suppose I must let you go to her.' Lady Sommerton pressed her lavender-scented kerchief to her head. 'There is nothing else for it, Emma.'
Had things been different, Tom might have managed to save something from the ruin of their estate, but as it was there was no hope – either of saving the estate or of his returning.
There was nothing else for either of them to do. Sir Edmund's folly followed by his tragic death had left them little choice but to accept the generosity of their friends.
Posted by Anne Herries Author at 01:14
Thursday, 12 November 2009
This is from the third in the A Season in Town trilogy, due out in January 2010
Amelia stood for a moment on the steps of her house in Hanover Square, gazing across to the Earl of Ravenshead’s London home, which was at the far side. She knew that he was not in residence and supposed that he was at his estate in the county. It was only because she had wanted to do some shopping for Christmas and deliver some gifts that she and her companion had come to town for a few days. She had hoped that she might perhaps meet the earl, at the theatre or some other affair, but it had not happened.
‘Is something wrong?’ Emily Barton asked.
Amelia looked at her in surprise and then realised that she had sighed. Her companion was a sensitive girl and always seemed to know when Amelia was out of sorts.
‘No, I was merely wondering if I had forgotten anything. I should not wish to arrive at Pendleton and then remember something I had left behind.’
‘I am sure you will not.’ Emily smiled at her. ‘I helped Martha pack your trunks and I am certain nothing was left out.’
‘Thank you, my love. I know I can always rely on your good sense.’
‘You are not upset by your brother’s visit?’
For a moment Amelia’s eyes clouded. Her brother, Sir Michael Royston, had paid her a brief but intensely unpleasant visit to complain. He always seemed to be in a temper these days and Amelia had come to dread his visits.
‘No, dearest. As you know, my brother is…difficult. However, I am not upset.’ She took Emily’s arm. ‘Come, we must not keep the horses standing. I want to make good time for the sky has all the appearance of bad weather and I would like to get to Pendleton before it turns to snow.
‘I am looking forward to spending Christmas with our friends,’ Emily said and smiled as she glanced across the carriage. They had been travelling for some time now and the streets of London had given way to pleasant countryside. ‘Before I came to you, Amelia, Christmas was always a time of regret.’
‘Was it, my love?’ Amelia Royston looked at her companion in concern. She was aware of her companion’s secret sorrow, but it was something Emily hardly ever spoke of. ‘Are you happier now that you have been living with me for more than a year?’
‘Oh yes, much. If only…’ Emily broke off and shook her head. ‘No, we shall not think of things that make us sad. Do you think that the Earl of Ravenshead will be at Pendleton this year?’
‘Susannah said nothing of it when she wrote to invite us,’ Amelia said, and a faint colour stained her cheeks. It almost seemed that Emily was reading her thoughts. ‘Why do you ask, Emily?’
‘Forgive me, perhaps I ought not to have spoken, but I thought…in the season and at Helene’s wedding earlier this year…I did think that perhaps there might be something…’ Emily broke off and shook her head. ‘It was not my place to ask…’
‘Have I not told you that you may say anything to me, Emily? We are friends and have no secrets from each other. Since you ask, I shall tell you that I did think Gerard might speak some eighteen months ago but he was called to France on family business. When we met him in London this year he paid me some attention, but…’ Amelia sighed. ‘I think now it was merely friendship. ‘There was a time when we might have married but my brother sent him away. He married some months later, which must mean that he did not suffer from our parting as I did…’
‘You cannot be sure of that, Amelia. The earl may have married for various reasons. Perhaps it was on the rebound?’ Emily frowned. ‘I think you told me his wife has since died?’
‘Gerard told me she was ill after the birth of their daughter and never recovered. I think that perhaps he is still grieving for her.’
‘He will surely wish to marry again, if only for the sake of his daughter.’
‘Yes, perhaps – though I am not sure I should wish to be married for such a reason.’
‘I did not mean…please do not think I meant that he would marry you for the sake of his child,’ Emily apologised and looked upset. ‘I believe he likes you very well, Amelia.’
‘Yes, I believe we are good friends,’ Amelia agreed.
She leaned her head back against the squabs, closing her eyes. It would be very foolish of her to give way to emotion. She had cried too many tears when Gerard went away the first time. He had vowed that he loved her with all his heart, asked her to be his wife and then simply disappeared. When she was told he had joined the army she had suffered a broken heart. She had not understood then that her brother had forced him to walk away from her – and threatened him and used violence. His desertion had left her feeling abandoned and distraught. When she first saw him again in company some four years later, she had been overwhelmed, and it had taken all her self-control not to show her feelings.
Posted by Anne Herries Author at 00:24
Saturday, 7 November 2009
An Excerpt from the second book in the Hanover Square trilogy
‘Oh, no you don’t!’ Max Coleridge said as the urchin attempted to pluck a kerchief from the pocket of his companion. His hand shot out, grasping the dirty boy around his wrist with a grip of iron. ‘That is thieving, my lad, and it will land you in prison. You will end with your neck stretched at the nubbing cheat if you continue this way.’
‘Let me go guv,’ the boy whined. ‘I ain’t done nuffin’ bad, honest I ain’t – and I ain’t had nuffin’ ter eat fer a week!’
‘Indeed?’ Max’s right eyebrow arched. ‘Should I believe you I wonder? And what should I do with you supposing that I do?’
‘Let the ruffian go and be done with it,’ Sir Roger Cole advised. ‘I dare say he deserves to be handed over to the beadle, but it requires far too much effort.’
‘Your trouble, my friend, is that you are too lazy,’ Max replied with a smile that robbed his words of any offence. ‘No, I shall not let the boy go for he would simply rob someone else and eventually he will die in prison or at the rope’s end.’ His grasp tightened about the lad’s arm. ‘Tell me your name, lad. I shall take you home and tell your father to keep you off the streets.’
‘Me name’s ‘Arry,’ the boy muttered sullenly. ‘I ain’t got no home nor no farvver or muvver neivver. Ain’t’ got no one. Let me go like the gent said, sir. I won’t trouble you no more.’
‘No family at all?’ ‘Arry shook his head and Max sighed. ‘Unfortunately, if I let you go, you would trouble my conscience far more than you imagine. I shall take you with me. You are going to school, ‘Arry – whether you like it or not.’
‘School? Wot’s that?’ ‘Arry asked and wiped his running nose on his sleeve. He eyed the large man suspiciously. ‘You ain’t one o’ them queer nabs are yer?’
‘I am certainly not,’ Max denied with a wry smile. ‘If you are hungry you will like school – you will be fed three times a day, if you behave yourself.’
‘Food fer nuffin’?’ ‘Arry stared at him suspiciously. Wot’s the catch, guv? ‘As to be a catch. No one does nuffin’ fer nuffin’…’
‘No, I dare say they do not where you come from,’ Max said. ‘In return you will have to give up a life of crime – and grime – and learn a trade…’
‘I ain’t goin’ up no chimneys!’
‘Good grief, I should hope not,’ Max said. ‘You might like to be a carpenter or a groom perhaps – or even a politician?’
‘You shouldn’t put ideas into the boy’s head, Coleridge,’ Sir Roger said. ‘A politician indeed!’
‘He could not do much worse than those we have in power at the moment,’ Max replied wryly. ‘But I would advise an honest trade – perhaps a baker?’
‘I like cake,’ ‘Arry said his eyes suddenly bright. ‘I pinched some orf a baker’s stall once on the market.’
‘There you are then,’ Max said, hiding his smile. ‘The future looms brighter already, ‘Arry – a baker you shall be…’
‘You are mad, quite mad,’ Sir Roger said and grinned. ‘It is hardly surprising that you are not married, my dear fellow. I do not know whether any sensible woman would have you.’
‘I dare say she wouldn’t if she knew my habit of picking up boys from the streets,’ Max replied and smiled at his friend. ‘Excuse me, I have a rather dirty ruffian to scrub before I present him to someone who will teach him a few manners…’ He neatly avoided a kick from the struggling urchin. ‘I should give up if I were you, ‘Arry. I could always change my mind and hand you over to the constable, and then you might never eat cake again…’
Posted by Anne Herries Author at 01:20
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Excerpt from A country Miss in Hanover Square
Three men lay slumped on the earth, which had been baked hard by the fierce Spanish sun. Harry Pendleton had his back against a rock. Of the three he was in the best shape. Max Coleridge was lying with his eyes closed, his blood-soaked shirt stuck to his chest in this damned awful heat. Gerard Ravenshead was fanning Max with a large leaf, trying to keep the flies from settling on his wound. A neck-cloth was wound around a deep cut at the side of Gerard's head.
'I thought we were done for,' Harry said. He was speaking his thoughts aloud, saying what they all felt. 'What a mess!'
'You can't blame yourself for it, Harry,' Gerard said and looked at him. 'They knew we were coming. Someone must have warned them.'
'Ten killed, and the three of us only got out by the skin of our teeth.' Harry stood up and walked over to take a look at Max. 'Somehow they must have got wind that we planned a surprise raid to take prisoners…'
'One of the servants,' Gerard replied and shrugged. 'In this damned war I'm never sure whether we are fighting the French with the Spanish or the Spanish and the French.'
'I wouldn't trust their generals as far as I could throw them,' Harry growled. He looked at the blood trickling down Gerard's face. They had wrapped a kerchief round his head, but it wasn't doing much good. 'Your wound is still bleeding. Do you want me to take another look at it?'
'You saved my life once today,' Gerard said and grinned at him. 'You don't have to nursemaid me, Harry. I'll manage. We have to get Max back to the village, and by the looks of him that means carrying him between us.'
Harry pulled a wry face. 'The way you've been behaving out here I've sometimes felt as if you meant to throw your life away…' Gerard had gained a reputation as something of a dare devil.
'There were moments when I didn't much care if I died,' Gerard admitted. He took a swipe at a fly buzzing about his face. 'But when you're facing death things come into perspective. I intend to live and return home and one day…'
Gerard left the sentence unfinished. Harry nodded. He knew something had been eating at his friend. He suspected it was to do with a young woman Gerard had been courting – and the tiny scar at his temple that he'd noticed when they first met in Spain after a year of not seeing one another. Gerard often rubbed at it when he was thoughtful, and the look in his eyes told Harry he was remembering something that made him angry.
'I know what you mean,' Harry said. 'Soldiering is blood, sweat and tears – and that is the easy part.' It was listening to the screams of dying men and knowing you couldn't save them that hurt the worst. 'Come on then. Help me get Max on my back and I'll carry him.'
'I can walk…' Max mumbled. 'Just give me a hand up…'
'Don't be a damned fool,' Harry replied. 'You'll be carried as far as we can make it. When we get near the village Gerard will fetch help.'
'I could walk with help.' Max's face set stubbornly as he attempted to rise. 'Damn you, Harry. I'm not a baby…'
'But I'm the superior officer here so you will do as you're told,' Harry muttered. He grinned at Gerard. 'There's one thing, we're bound for life by this day's experience. It's something none of us will forget – and if any one of us can help the other in future we will…'
Max grunted as they hauled him to his feet, and Harry took him over his shoulder. Gerard nodded, his eyes hard but appreciative of his friend's stubborn determination to take on the burden. He wasn't sure he could have done it himself, though he would have tried.
'Comrades in war and peace,' he said. 'Let's get back. My head is fit to burst and Max needs attention…'
Posted by Anne Herries Author at 00:33
I write under various names but for the purposes of this blog I am Anne Herries. I write Regency and historical books for Harlequin Mills and Boon and sagas for Severn House. My fiftieth book for Mills and Boon will be published next year and others are in the pipeline. I've done about six Anne Herries for Severn House and one for Harper Collins called the Marriage Chests.
Here on this blog you will find news of my Anne Herries books, excerpts and the occasional story. I shall also run competitions.
Posted by Anne Herries Author at 00:09