Table of Contents
“Diana Norman has a passion for history . . . Undoubtedly it's this passion coupled with her perpetual thirst for knowledge that has made her one of the bestselling historical novelists of today . . . Educational and exciting.”
âBristol Evening Post
“Norman . . . is very good on serious social issues.”
âThe Sunday Herald Evening Times
“This is a riveting novel, full of interesting characters and a âpage turner' of a story. Where Diana Norman scores is bringing history to life, highlighting lots of interesting details so you can really picture what life must have been like.”
A Catch of Consequence
and Diana Norman's previous novels
A Catch of Consequence
moves at a cracking pace . . . Diana Norman creates an exhilarating sense of those times and their possibilities.”
âThe Daily Telegraph
“Diana Norman is, quite simply, splendid.”âFrank Delaney
“Drama, passion, intrigue and danger. I loved it and didn't want it to end ever.”
“It's all good, dirty fun shot through with more serious insights into the historical treatment of women and perhaps, in its association of sex, sleaze, greed and politics, not so far removed from present realities after all.”
âIndependent on Sunday
“She captures the feel of the period with wit, verve and emotion.”
Also by the Author
THE VIZARD MASK
THE SHORES OF DARKNESS
A CATCH OF CONSEQUENCE
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A Berkley Book
Published by The Berkley Publishing Group
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Copyright Â© 2003 by Diana Norman
Readers Guide on page 449
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Berkley trade paperback edition: November 2004
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Taking liberties / Diana Norman.â1st pedigree pbk. ed.
eISBN : 978-0-425-19815-5
1. United StatesâHistoryâRevolution, 1775-1783âPrisoners and prisonsâ
Fiction. 2. Great BritainâHistoryâGeorge III, 1760-1820âFiction. 3. Prisoners
of warâFamily relationshipsâFiction. 4. AmericansâEnglandâFiction.
5. Female friendshipâFiction. 6. WomenâEnglandâFiction. 7. Devon
(England)âFiction. 8. SmugglingâFiction. 9. NobilityâFiction. 10. Widows
âFiction. I. Title.
To my friend and agent, Sarah Molloy
As the immediate family and the priest emerged from the crypt in which they had delivered the corpse of the Earl of Stacpoole to its last resting place, his Countess met the gaze of the rest of the mourners in the chapel and saw not one wet eye.
Which made it unanimous.
Perhaps, for decency, she should have paid some of the servants to cry but she doubted if any of them had sufficient acting talent to earn the money. For them, as for her, the scrape of stone when the tomb lid went into place had sounded like a gruff, spontaneous cheer.
Nevertheless, she satisfied herself that every face was suitably grave. The lineage of the man in the crypt was ancient enough to make William the Conqueror's descendants appear by contrast newly arrived; there must be no disrespect to it.
Despite twenty-two years' sufferance of many and varied abuses, the Countess had never encouraged a word to be spoken against her husband. Under her aegis, existence had been made as tolerable as possible for those who lived and worked in his house; floggings had been reduced, those who'd received them had been compensated and she had learned to employ only servants too old or too plain to attract sexual assault. But in all this she had refused to exchange confidences or criticism with any. The man himself might be vicious, but his status was irreproachable; if she could distinguish between the two, so must others.
A snuffle from behind the Countess indicated that her daughter-in-law at least was indulging the hypocrisy of tears. Yes, well.
Perhaps she should have acceded to the King's suggestion and had the service in Westminster Abbey but . . . â
They're not putting me alongside foreigners and poetic bloody penwipers. You see to it, woman.
The air of the chapel was heavy with incense. Heat from the closely packed bodies of the congregation rose up to stir hanging battle banners emblazoned with the Stacpoole prowess for killing people. The day outside being dull, only candlelight inclined onto walls knobbly with urns and plaques, increasing her impression that she and the others were incarcerated in some underground cave.
They'll bury me here. Beside him.
Beloved wife of
. . .
Even without the veil, the suffocation would not have shown on her face which long training kept as still as the marble countenances of Stacpoole effigies around her.
Nearly over. The priest intoned the plea that their dear brother, Aymer Edmund Fontenay, Earl of Stacpoole, might be raised from the death of sin into the life of righteousnessâthough not as if he had any hope of it.
A last clash from the censers.
âGrant this, we beseech thee, O merciful Father, through Jesus Christ our mediator . . .'
Outside, on the gravel apron, her hand resting on her son's arm, she paused to take in the air. The gardens of Chantries had never been to her taste: too artificial, more Le NÃ´tre than Brownâthe Earl had seen little use for nature unless he could set his hounds on itâbut today her soul sailed along the view of knotted parterre, fountains and lake to the utmost horizon of Bedfordshire. She was free.
Fred North bumbled up to her, bowing and blinking his weak little eyes, apologizing. She hadn't noticed him in the congregation; it appeared he'd arrived late. âMy deepest apologies, your ladyship, and my sincerest commiseration.'
âThank you, Prime Minister. It was good of you to come.'
So it was; a less amiable man would have pleaded the war with America as his excuse to stay in London. Perhaps, like so many here today, he'd wanted to assure himself that her husband was safely dead. The Earl of Stacpoole had been among the tigers of the poor man's government, harrying him into standing up to the Americans against his inclination to conciliate. âFeeble Fred,' the Earl had called him. â
I told him: it's castration that rabble needs, to Hell with conciliation. And the German agrees with me
Always âthe German', never âHis Majesty'.
As they went along the terrace, the mourners were reduced to a train of grey and black Lilliputians against the vast frontage of the house.
She was allowed to go first up the steps but in the hall there was a bustle as her daughter-in-law came forward, taking Robert's hand and her new precedence to lead the procession into the State Dining Room for the funeral meats.
Again, Diana's face showed nothing but its usual boredom. Her daughter-in-law had the undeniable right to display to the gathering that she was now mistress of Chantries, though a better-bred female might have waited until the corpse of its former master was a little chillier in its grave. Alice, however, was not well bred, merely moneyed.
The new Countess was aged twenty and the Dowager nearly thirty-nine, but their appearance narrowed the difference. Alice Stacpoole was the shorter by a head, muddy complexioned and a slave to fashion that did not suit her. Diana Stacpoole, on the other hand, had skin and hair the colour of flax; she might have worn sacking and it would have hung on her long, thin frame with helpless elegance.
She could also have been beautiful but lack of animation had settled the fine bones of her face into those of a tired thoroughbred. Enthusiasm for any creatureâa dog, a servant, her own sonâhad brought reprisals on them and, for their sake, she had cultivated an ennui, as if she were bored even by those she loved. It had been a matter of survival.
Marriage to Aymer, Earl of Stacpoole, though it was his third, had been representedâand acceptedâas an honour to a sheltered, sixteen-year-old girl, the desirable joining of two ancient estates; yes, he was her senior by twenty or so years but charming, wealthy, still in need of an heir; she owed the match to her family.
She never forgave her parents for it. They must have known, certainly suspected; the first wife had been a runaway and subsequently divorced, the second a suicide.
After the first year, she'd seriously considered following one or other of her predecessors' examples but by then she was pregnant, a condition which, as her husband pointed out, made her totally subservient. Kill herself and she killed the child. â
Run off and I'll hunt you down
.' He had the right; the baby would be taken from her to be at his mercy in its turn.