Authors: Gloria Gay
Copyright 2015, by Gloria Caballero Gay
All Rights Reserved
Published by Gloria Caballero Gay, 1605 Sombrero Way, San Diego, CA 92154, United States of America. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Acknowledgment: Edited by Juliana Gay
Manufactured in the United States of America
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to any person or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover Design and Interior format by The Killion Group
To the peppers: Enrique,
Julie, Fernando, Mariana, Bob,
Henry, Isabel, Emily, Joe,
Robby and Christian
“Miss Molly, a word with you, if you please.”
“Oh, yes, certainly my lord.” The lady addressed stopped on the verge of going up the stairs and looked up at Lord Merrick who had come to a dinner given by the Delaneys at Rook’s End. As the tall dark haired man gazed earnestly at her with his ocean blue eyes, Miss Molly suppressed a sigh.
“That lady that was here last year for Mrs. Delaney’s funeral—Miss Meade, it was,” he went on. “I was introduced to her but I did not get her given name…”
“Oh!” Miss Molly looked startled and pleased all at once. “
, my lord,” she went on hurriedly to say, “It’s Miss Celia Meade.”
“Thank you, Miss Molly, thank you very much,” said Lord Merrick. “And could I ask one more favor of you, ma’am? Would you please supply me with Miss Meade’s direction in London if you have it? She does live in London with her family, does she not?”
“Oh, yes!” replied Miss Molly with a wide smile. “But my lord, correspondence to her would just be re-directed, because Miss Meade and her family are on their way
They are to make their home with their relations, the Delaney family, at Rook’s End!”
London, mid-Spring 1819
Celia Meade stared unseeing at the faded rose drapes and only half listened to her mother who was complaining about Celia’s painting to their old neighbor, Mrs. Bundy. Her mother’s voice was barely audible above the racket from the noisy street where their small house was located.
From this subject Mrs. Meade went on to her other favorite, her connection to Sir Hugh Downing, heir to Farley Hall on her grandfather's death and who refused any contact with them. She had written the baronet dozens of letters and Sir Hugh had yet to answer one of them.
Mrs. Meade went on to her third favorite obsession – their relations, the haughty Delaneys,Uncle Worth, Celia’s father’s cousin, was warm and gracious toward the Meades, but he could not change the past. His wife, who had died the previous year, had held a feud against Margaretta Meade most of her life. And even in death her influence was still felt, for her children continued the feud in her name, egged on by Caroline, the eldest.
Uncle Worth was warm to Celia, but he was overwhelmed by his daughter Caroline, who made sure her mother’s wishes continued to keep the families apart.
Celia was suddenly flooded with embarrassing memories of her trip to Rook's End, the Delaney's huge estate near Bath, where she had gone to attend Aunt Solace's funeral at her uncle’s invitation.
She realized in retrospect she should never have gone where she was not wanted. She felt a blush steal up her neck at the memory of Caroline's greeting – or rather, non-greeting, for Caroline had looked her up and down deliberately, while she examined Celia's faded, outdated black gown with obvious derision.
Caroline hung from the arm of their neighbor, Lord Robert Merrick, Viscount Merrick, heir to his father, the Earl of Shelton. She had not hidden the fact that she was tooth and nail after the viscount.
Celia had learned of Caroline’s obsession over Lord Merrick from Miss Molly, the only one in that household besides Uncle Worth who spoke to Celia in a civil manner.
Miss Molly had been governess to the three Delaneys and had been kept on as companion to Caroline and Sylvia on the death of their mother. But she had no love for Caroline, who never passed up the chance to demean Miss Molly. Miss Molly confided this and many other things to Celia, who had listened in silence.
During her stay for her aunt’s funeral, Celia had been made to share Miss Molly's bedroom. A cot had been placed in the small bedroom, which was a step removed from the servant's quarters, in an obvious attempt by Caroline to keep Celia in her place as the penniless relation she was.
Celia remembered looking into Lord Merrick’s eyes when they were introduced. “This is Miss Meade,” Caroline had said, and had avoided introducing Celia as a cousin. Lord Merrick had looked deeply into Celia’s eyes with interest and asked her a few questions. And Caroline, obviously impatient at the amount of time he was spending with Celia, had tugged at his arm, urging him away from Celia.
Celia wondered if Caroline had succeeded in securing the viscount, for Caroline seemed to be the kind of girl who always got what she wanted.
Celia remembered Lord Merrick’s eyes, which were of a dark sapphire hue and of the way he had looked into her eyes and smiled with genuine interest. Celia sighed deeply. A thrill had shot clear to her heart as her eyes had locked with those of Lord Merrick and an unfamiliar physical effect had pooled in her stomach at his glance. She had never been as attracted to any other man before in her life as she had been to Lord Merrick. Silly and senseless, for such an attraction could never go anywhere. Yet no admonition to herself kept her from going back in her mind to that moment, nor of wishing…
"Now you’re as quiet as a mouse," said her mother, "What's come over you? What are you thinking about, Celia? Not of your painting again, I hope.”
"I was recalling Aunt Solace's funeral," Celia replied, "I never should have gone – oh, there's Fred!" she interrupted herself as her young brother walked past the window and shortly thereafter his steps were audible in the small dark foyer.
The watercolors Mrs. Meade deplored made possible an additional, if small, income. Celia sold her watercolors and drawings at the London shops that had agreed to place them on consignment. This, she did not tell her mother, who would have been horrified that Celia was earning money through what she would consider trade. Celia’s work often sold to merchant families and Celia never joined in the disparaging of these families. These families that society referred to as "cits" often made for Celia the difference between providing for her family a fair dinner or no dinner at all. No, she certainly had no disparaging words for them, only gratitude.
"Goodness, Fred, why the rush?" Celia asked as her brother walked hurriedly into the stuffy little parlor where they were having their tea and kissed them all in great haste. In his hand he held a letter which he handed to Celia.
"Our neighbor, Mr. Tanding got this letter by mistake, Celia, it's addressed to you. I was on my way to Harold's when he stopped me. I only came back to give it to you because I thought it might be important." He then strode quickly to the front door. "I'm off."
"Probably another bill…" Celia stopped herself as she glanced at the remittance line. "Why, it's from Uncle Worth!"
"Worth!" exclaimed her mother, rising quickly and rushing to where Celia sat. "Open it at once, Celia—or shall I do it?"
"No Mama, I shall open it myself, and do calm yourself," Celia said as she saw her mother wringing her hands nervously.
Celia had written Uncle Worth for help. The lease on their house was not going to be renewed and they could not afford a lease in another house. Rents had gone up considerably during the many years they had held the lease, yet their income had declined. They would soon be forced to live in a boarding-house and in a worse neighborhood than the noisy, crime-ridden one they lived in.
Celia ripped open the missive and read hurriedly.
Uncle Worth had listened to her plea and now revealed in his letter his wish that the whole family should move to Rook's End.
Celia was astounded. She had hoped for an offer of help with another lease. But an invitation to move to Rook’s End?
She silently handed the letter to her mother.
Ever present in Celia’s mind was Caroline's pointed dismissal of her when she had attended her aunt's funeral. She was certain this had been an impulsive move on her uncle’s part which he hadn’t discussed with Caroline. Celia knew her uncle’s character well enough.
”I can’t believe my eyes," said her mother, "Worth is asking us to make our home with him and his family and to have me direct his staff! Celia, Bella – dear Lord, this is the answer to all my prayers! We shall again belong to society!"
"Mama, do calm down," said Celia as she took the letter from Mrs. Meade's trembling fingers and returning it to its envelope, added, "Uncle Worth may welcome us, but Caroline will most certainly be against it when she finds out about it. I’m certain this was an impulsive act of Uncle’s that he did not consult with his daughter.”
“I must warn you,” Celia went on, “that life in a place where we are certain to be made aware day and night of our dependent state by Caroline, however much Uncle Worth may try to make our stay comfortable, will not be pleasant. I had hoped for assistance from Uncle Worth in the leasing of another small house but a transfer to
house – I just don’t see…"
"Celia, how can you talk so? Have you not been witness to my anguish, of our living below our station, of being forced to beg credit from tradesmen?” Mrs. Meade's voice had become high and strident.
"I think I know our situation better than most, Mama," answered Celia, "since it is
who begs credit from tradesmen. But that does not change the fact that Caroline despises us. She showed nothing but contempt to me at Aunt Solace's funeral. And Sylvia and Tom, though of not as acid a temperament as their sister, are forced to follow her lead."
"I can’t believe my dear niece, Caroline, could be as her mother, Celia, for no one could be as bitter as that woman. Mrs. Bundy," Mrs. Meade turned to Mrs. Bundy and again recalled for Mrs. Bundy’s benefit a story often told, about how Solace’s beau had preferred her, Margaretta. For this Solace had despised Margaretta from that day forth and refused contact with her, even though the young man in question was declared to be afflicted by insanity a few weeks later.
“One would suppose she should have been relieved to be saved from marriage to the young man, Mrs. Bundy,” said Margaretta, “but instead, Solace carried this against me for the rest of her life and refused contact with me, even though we later married cousins who had been as inseparable as the front paws of a cat—until Solace came between them."
"Mama, perhaps Mrs. Bundy does not care to…"
"Oh, I'll listen, dear Celia," interposed Mrs. Bundy. "I haven't anything pressing to do. I would hate to rush next door to my house in this foul weather and be alone in the gloom of the approaching storm."
"If you cannot bear the storm, Mrs. Bundy, by all means spend the night with us and leave in the morning, when the threat of the storm is past," said Celia, with a warm smile.
"Thank you Celia, I shall take you up on it. But let me send your girl over to my house and bring back a few things from my kitchen. I have a side of ham and a basket of bread fresh from the bakery."
"Celia, ring for Nellie." Mrs. Meade said quickly. Celia saw her mother’s eagerness and sighed. It was true they hadn't tasted ham in months. Nellie was the daughter of Mrs. Meade’s cook from better times who had died from the typhus when Nellie was a year old. Celia and her mother kept her because that was Nellie’s wish. Nellie loved the family and ate what they ate, went through what they went through and often gave back the meager wage they provided her with, saying she was ‘family’ and hadn’t the heart to take bread from their mouths.
Once Nellie had been sent on her errand and Mrs. Bundy settled back on the threadbare rose settee, Mrs. Meade recounted the story of the feud Celia’s mind wandered to the myriad problems their move to their uncle’s house would present.
Her thoughts drifted to her uncle and her father, who had been cousins. Of the two, thought Celia, her mother had chosen the one least likely to increase her fortune. Worth was steady and reliable and had a nose for the smell of money. Her mother’s choice, Edmund, the more charming of the two, had little regard for the value of consistency and a taste for gambling, into which he poured a large part of his small income.
By the time Bella was born he had run through his fortune and had become a marked contrast to his cousin, Worth Delaney.
Edmund died when Celia was sixteen and from that date forth, Uncle Worth sent the family a gift of cash at Christmas. This cash gift made it possible for them to continue to pay the lease of the house. But because of his wife’s insistence to continue the feud, he had never visited them until a few months after Solace's death.
In his letter Worth told Celia that he had been aghast at their threadbare existence. And when he went back to his home, he had pondered how he could improve the conditions in which she and her family lived. He went on to say in his letter that when he received Celia’s letter explaining their predicament at not having their lease renewed, he decided that the whole family should move to Rook’s End and Margaretta would manage his household. He had no intention of marrying. Rook’s End was enormous and there were many unused rooms. His daughter Caroline had steadfastly refused to direct the household, and left everything to the housekeeper to decide.
Celia thought of her brother and sister and of the opportunity this would be for them. Bella had no hope of marrying well, without dowry as she was, and Fred had little future before him. In a place such as Rook's End, Bella might meet a young man who would overlook Bella’s lack of dowry. Bella, thought Celia proudly, was easily the loveliest girl at any gathering.
As for herself, thought Celia dejectedly, what kind of life awaited her in Rook's End? She had just turned twenty-six. Her chances at marriage would remain as non-existent as they were at Spitalfields. Her painting, moreover, would probably come to a complete stop. Word that she was pressing her paintings in Bath shops would spread quickly in such a small city and Celia was certain that Caroline would see to it. Perhaps she could discreetly continue to send her drawings to the small establishments with which she already had connections in London and bypass Bath altogether.
Lost in these upsetting thoughts, her mother’s excited voice cut through Celia’s consciousness. "Celia," said her mother, “here we are, blessed by Providence, for once, and you have the look of a moonling. Do come down from whatever cloud you are in and listen to what I am saying."
"I'm sorry, Mama," Celia responded. "What were you saying?"
"I was telling Mrs. Bundy that there are many things must do before we can even begin to think of packing. And I am counting on you, Celia, to direct us all. I am quite put out by the daunting tasks ahead of us, my dear, and am trembling with almost an attack of the nerves.” There was a pleading look in her eyes.
“Do not distress yourself, Mama,” Celia exclaimed, alarmed at how her mother sounded. She stood up, kneeled before her mother and taking her mother’s hands soothed her with assurances.