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Authors: Charlotte Betts

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The Chateau on the Lake

BOOK: The Chateau on the Lake
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Praise for
The Apothecary’s Daughter

 

‘A colourful story with a richly-drawn backdrop of London in the grip of the plague. A wonderful debut novel’

Carole Matthews
 

 

‘Romantic, engaging and hugely satisfying. This is one of those novels that makes you feel like you’ve travelled back in time’

Katie Fforde
 

 

‘A vivid tale of love in a time of plague and prejudice’

Katherine Webb
 

 

‘If you are looking for a cracking good story and to be transported to another age, you really can’t beat this’

Deborah Swift
 

 

‘A thoroughly enjoyable read which will keep you enthralled until the very last page’

Jean Fullerton
 

Charlotte
Betts
began her working life as a fashion designer in London. A career followed in interior design, property management and lettings. Always a bookworm, Charlotte discovered her passion for writing after her three children and two step-children had grown up.

Her debut novel,
The Apothecary’s Daughter
, won the YouWriteOn Book of the Year Award in 2010 and the Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers, was shortlisted for the Best Historical Read at the Festival of Romance in 2011 and won the coveted Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Historical Romantic Novel RoNA award in 2013. Her second novel,
The Painter’s Apprentice
, was also shortlisted for the Best Historical Read at the Festival of Romance in 2012 and the RoNA award in 2014.
The Spice Merchant’s Wife
won the Festival of Romance’s Best Historical Read award in 2013.

Charlotte lives with her husband in a cottage in the woods on the Hampshire/Berkshire border.

 

Visit her website at
www.charlottebetts.com
and follow her on twitter at
www.twitter.com/CharlotteBetts1
.

The Apothecary’s Daughter
 

The Painter’s Apprentice
 

The Spice Merchant’s Wife
 

The Chateau on the Lake
 

The Milliner’s Daughter (e only)
 

COPYRIGHT

 

Published Piatkus

 

978-0-3494-0450-9

 

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

Copyright © 2014 Charlotte Betts

 

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

 

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, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

 

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

 

PIATKUS

Little, Brown Book Group

100 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DY

 

www.littlebrown.co.uk

www.hachette.co.uk

The Chateau on the Lake

For our children,

Polly, Tom, James, Michael

and Katherine

August 1792
 

It is often said that an educated woman is an abomination in the eyes of God. Since I am such a creature, my belief is that God is far too busy to worry about such things and that it is only in the hearts of men that women like myself engender such extremes of feeling. It is, however, discouraging to be constantly reminded that many of my own sex, my pupil Amelia Wainwright for example, have no wish to be other than a decorative accoutrement to hang on a husband’s arm.

Barely a breath of air enters the stuffy schoolroom and my hair weighs heavy on my neck as I pace the floor, reading aloud to my pupils from Johnson’s
Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets
. I can bear it no longer. I go to the window and open it wide.

Down below in Soho Square four horses drawing a landau trot by, the iron-rimmed wheels clattering and grinding over the cobbles. The scent of hot horseflesh rises up to the window along with the raucous cry of the knife grinder. Two sedan chairs are carried by in quick succession, followed by a boy driving a squealing herd of pigs.

My gaze is drawn to the garden in the centre of the square. The gravel paths and the green lawn with its central fountain appear cool and inviting. All at once I’ve had enough of the confines of the schoolroom.

‘Come along, girls!’ I say, gathering up my books.

We hurry down the staircase, chattering like a brightly coloured flock of birds, and out into the dusty street.

A moment later I’m sitting on my favourite bench in the dappled shade of a lime tree with my pupils in a circle at my feet. They make a pretty picture. Nine girls on the verge of womanhood, their cheeks delicately flushed in the warmth, their hair glossy, their brows smooth and, as yet, untouched by care.

A nursemaid runs past, calling to a small boy rolling a hoop, and a couple of scarlet-coated soldiers watch us as they loll on a bench a few yards away; otherwise we are alone in the garden. A warm breeze, delightfully scented with honeysuckle, teases my hair as I begin to read aloud again. But sixteen-year-old Amelia Wainwright is not listening. As slender and delicate as a young doe, she twists a strand of sunlit hair around her fingers. Her rosebud mouth is slightly open and her lips moist as her languishing gaze rests on the infantrymen, who laugh and josh with each other.

‘Amelia!’ I say, sharply.

Reluctantly, she turns her face towards me, eyes unfocused and dark with longing.

I had hoped that Johnson would be sufficiently interesting to capture the attention of even the shallowest of my pupils but it seems I am to be disappointed. I put on my most severe expression and hold out the book to her. ‘You may continue, Amelia.’

Pouting, she begins to read, glancing at the soldiers all the while.

One of the infantrymen laughs and nudges his companion, who pulls a booted foot on to his knee the better to display one elegantly turned calf encased in tight white breeches. Really, he’s no better than a cock robin displaying to a female of his species! The other girls begin to toss their hair and smooth their skirts and it’s perfectly clear to me that they are not in the mood to improve their minds.

After a while, the two young men rise from the bench and swagger past, their swords jingling and brass buttons glinting in the sun.

Mouths turned down in disappointment, the girls watch them go and even I must confess the sight of them is enough to set any young female’s heart aflutter. Silently, Amelia hands the book back to me and I resume the lesson.

An hour or so later a number of carriages roll into the square and draw up outside the three-storey townhouse that is my home and which accommodates my father’s Academy for Young Ladies. The sound of a handbell, vigorously shaken, drifts out of an open window and my pupils scramble to their feet and brush grass off their skirts. I close my book with a snap. School has ended for the day.

Arm in arm, the girls hurry through the iron gates in a flurry of muslin and silken ribbons.

My mother and the school’s dancing master, Signor Brunetti, are on the front steps making sure that their young charges are safely stowed into their carriages or returned to the care of their maids. When they have all left, Signor Brunetti kisses my mother’s hand with a flourish and bows to me before tripping off home to his own mother.

Mama links her arm through mine and we go inside.

I find Papa standing beside the open window in his library, pouring wine into three glasses. ‘Ah, Madeleine
chérie
, there you are!’ he says, a smile creasing the lines around his eyes.

He hands me a glass of wine and the sun catches the gleam of the gold signet ring with its shimmering moonstone that he always wears.

‘The schoolroom was so hot we went into the garden,’ I say, in French. We always speak in Papa’s native tongue when we are alone, but generally revert to English when Mama is with us.

‘Sometimes it is necessary to enjoy the moment.’ He sits down with a sigh of contentment.

Papa is dark and lean, the same height as myself, which is short for a man but tall for a woman. His high-bridged Gallic nose and penetrating brown eyes give him an uncanny resemblance to an eagle. People say that I look like him, though my eyes are an unusual shade of violet and, thankfully, my nose is less pronounced than his. Mama, fair-haired and blue eyed, was an only child and became estranged from her family before I was born, but she tells me that none of them had violet eyes. Papa, however, has always refused to discuss his family so my curiosity about my looks remains unanswered.

This infuriating obduracy of his fuelled wild fantasies in me throughout my childhood and now, at twenty-two, I consider myself perfectly mature enough to accept the truth, however unpalatable, but still they remain silent. What terrible act could have caused my parents to reject their families? Or did my mother and father do something so dreadful that their relatives cast
them
out? Papa’s gravitas and natural elegance of bearing used to make me wonder if he was perhaps some by-blow of royalty, never to be acknowledged.

I am determined I will discover the truth one day.

Mama pushes open the library door and Papa rises to his feet, his eyes shining. Whatever may have happened in the past, the love my parents have for each other remains undimmed by the passage of time.

‘How was your day, Philippe?’ asks Mama.

‘I had a visitor.’

‘Mr Jephcott? I spoke to him briefly on my way to oversee the drawing class but he wouldn’t tell me his business. He was most insistent that he would wait until he could speak to you.’

‘He has a proposal for us and I am not sure what to make of it,’ says Papa.

‘What did he want?’ I ask, curiosity getting the better of me.

‘Mr Jephcott is a teacher of science and mathematics with an interest in philosophy, both natural and experimental.’

Mama raises her eyebrows. ‘And he is seeking a position in our school? I’m not entirely sure that it’s a good idea to disturb the minds of our young ladies with philosophy, natural or otherwise.’

‘But why not?’ I ask. ‘There is no inherent reason why a girl’s mind should be any less fit for such subjects than that of a callow youth, is there?’

Papa frowns. ‘Not so sharp to your Mama, Madeleine.’

‘I beg your pardon but you know my opinion.’

‘We do,’ says Papa with a wry smile, ‘since you so frequently remind us of it.’

‘But you do not disagree with me,’ I say indignantly. ‘The whole ethos of this school is to allow the girls’ minds to flourish.’

Mama reaches out to touch my arm. ‘But we must never forget that whilst a girl’s natural intelligence must be cultivated, she will also need to find a good husband.’ She smiles. ‘Just as you will.’

I open my mouth to retort that once a girl has a nursery full of babies it doesn’t matter how much Greek she knows, she’ll never have time to continue her studies of the Classics, but Papa holds up his hand and I subside.

‘Mr Jephcott,’ he says, ‘has nothing but praise for our Academy and wishes to invest in it. He proposes to buy the house next door and his plan is to use the drawing room as another schoolroom and to convert the attics and bedrooms into dormitories. He believes it would be beneficial for the pupils to board, affording us greater opportunities to mould their young minds.’

‘But if Mr Jephcott invests his fortune in the Academy, will you still be able to call the school your own?’ I ask.

Papa smiles. ‘As always, my clever daughter goes straight to the heart of the matter.’

‘There’s a great deal to discuss,’ says Mama, looking doubtful.

I glance at the clock on the mantelpiece. ‘Look at the time! Sophie will be waiting for me.’

 

 

My friend Sophie kisses me, her brown curls tickling my cheek. ‘I thought I might be late,’ she says as we hurry towards Grosvenor Street. ‘Henry didn’t want me to leave.

‘And is my little godson well?’

‘Bouncing with energy and asking when his Aunt Madeleine will come to see him.’

Sophie Levesque is the sister I never had. Her parents belong to the silk-weaving Huguenot community and she became a pupil at my father’s Academy when we were both eight years old. Small and plump, her brown hair worn in tight ringlets, she greeted me that first morning with eyes sparkling with mischief. When she smiled I stared, fascinated, at the dimples in her cheeks. She’s very little changed, except that she rarely giggles any more and shadows are now ever-present under her eyes.

‘Have you heard the news?’ she asks.

I shake my head. ‘I’ve been in class all day.’

‘King Louis is under arrest! A great mob descended on the Tuileries and killed all the guards. They wanted to break the palace down just as they did with the Bastille.’

‘I can’t say I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘King Louis has had every opportunity to change his ways and I can attach no blame to the revolutionaries when their children are starving and Queen Marie Antoinette wears diamonds and plays at shepherdesses.’

‘The royal family escaped when the mob broke in but they were brought back and imprisoned.’

I’m still pondering on this momentous news when we arrive at Lady Georgiana Woodhouse’s imposing townhouse in Grosvenor Street, where she holds a fortnightly salon. Politicians, authors, artists and scientists regularly gather here to exchange ideas and opinions, and I eagerly anticipate the meetings.

The front door opens and a footman admits us into the drawing room. A buzz of conversation arises from the twenty or so people already crowded together. I recognise the Honourable Charles James Fox, the Whig politician, holding forth to a rapt audience, Daniel Stowe, writer of abysmal poetry, and Mary Wollstonecraft, fearsomely argumentative author of
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
.

Lady Georgiana comes to greet us, her auburn hair curled over one shoulder and her Junoesque curves barely contained in diaphanous layers of damp and gauzy muslin tied with an emerald green sash. The slim silhouette of the garment is no more substantial than a chemise, quite unlike the full skirts most of the ladies are wearing.

‘The latest Paris fashion, Georgie?’ asks Sophie.

‘But of course!’

‘I understand that society ladies in France are choosing to dress simply so as not to inspire jealousy amongst the working women. Revolutionary fashion, in fact,’ I say, smiling at the pun.

‘But isn’t it pretty? And so delightful to be free from tight stays,’ Georgiana whispers as she kisses my cheek.

Although a few years older than myself, Georgiana also attended my father’s school before she went on to marry a wealthy peer. I am gratified, however, that she has not allowed the demands of the nursery to constrain her thirst for learning and enlightenment.

She slips her arms through ours and leads us towards a small group of people. ‘Knowing your great interest in the Revolution in France, I want you to meet Comte Etienne d’Aubery,’ she says, ‘one of France’s most eligible widowers. Utterly charming… but, be warned, there’s a whiff of scandal about him!’

‘How interesting!’ says Sophie.

‘It’s whispered,’ says Georgiana in an undertone, ‘that he murdered his wife.’

‘No!’ Sophie claps one hand to her mouth.

There’s no time to discover more as we stop before an elegantly dressed man in a bronze brocade coat and close-fitting breeches. His hair is raven black and his olive skin darkened by the sun, unlike most of the aristocratic
émigrés
who are arriving in London with increasing regularity these days.

‘May I present Miss Madeleine Moreau and Mrs Levesque?’ says Georgiana.

The comte is tall for a Frenchman, dark-eyed and with his curling hair cut short in the latest French style, to expose the firm angles of his jaw and long nose.

‘I no longer use my title,’ he says, ‘since the nobility was abolished in France.’ His expression is severe until he smiles, when his eyes seem illuminated from within. He speaks English with a light accent and, in spite of my dislike of the spoilt and frivolous French aristocrats, I find his looks extremely pleasing.

Georgiana turns to his companions, a middle-aged woman with bewildered eyes and a corpulent man with pudgy white hands. ‘The
former
Marquis de Roussell and his wife are recent
émigrés
from the Revolution,’ she says. ‘Mr d’Aubery has accompanied them on their journey to London and is introducing them to society.’

I can’t help studying his face covertly. There’s a curiously exciting frisson in talking to a man with a disreputable past. ‘So you are not an
émigré
, too, Mr d’Aubery?’ I ask.

‘Not at all but I often visit London.’

Sophie and I make conversation, in French, with the new arrivals since they have a poor command of English. Mr d’Aubery, I notice, watches me carefully all the while I speak. I do not take to the marquis, who is altogether too ready to talk of his plans to join the
émigré
army and ‘whip the tails of the bloody revolutionaries’.

BOOK: The Chateau on the Lake
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