Thursday, 2 July 2020

English County Law & Order 17th -18th- early 19th centuries.

Before the introduction of Robert Peel's Peelers in the City of London 1829, many parts of the countryside in England and within the City of London and other notable cities were hives of lawlessness barring when a local Constable was keen on Law & Order. In modern terminology, if a Constable in the countryside rocked up on your doorstep he had good cause, and if you were a poacher, God help you when you went up before the Magistrates bench.   

In brief: 

County Court or Market Town - “Quarter Sessions”.

County and large Market towns boasted a Constable and several officers of the court. The Constable had the power of arrest, to charge immediate fines, impound goods or animals and impose restrictions, imprison offenders, investigate crimes such as poaching, rustling, rape etc, and then set offenders before the local Justice of the Peace (Magistrate) usually a local squire/lesser aristocrat (baron) at the Quarter Sessions held four times a year. A Constable often called on local county militia to assist in cases of smuggling, riots, and other where armed soldiers were required to keep the peace.

For centuries, Justice of the Peace also had local administrative responsibilities, upkeep of roads and bridges etc. Those appointed to the Courts Commission were usually substantial land owners whose social position and economic power meant their authority would not be questioned. Also as landowners, the JPs had the reputation of being particularly tough on poachers. Usually JPs’ study of the law was rudimentary. 'Stipendiary magistrates' were introduced in the mid-eighteenth century in London. They were legally qualified, either as barristers or solicitors.

County Court – Standard Assizes.

When it came to murder, highway robbery, and other more serious criminal acts outside of London, the offenders were kept in custody until the local “Assizes” were held within a “county town” and attended by “Circuit Court Judges”. CCJs were men trained in the law (lawyers), thus circuit court judges could preside over legal matters brought to court in any location. CCJs travelled from London or other large cities such as Bristol, second most important city port in the 17th -18th centuries. Sentences were often harsh, hanging, transportation to the colonies as bond slaves, etc.

In trial cases where lawyers were not present, judges also played a major role in conducting trials. They examined witnesses and the accused. Their summing up of the case often clearly stated their views on what the potential outcome should be. Sometimes judges would also place pressure on the jury, asking them how a verdict had been reached or asking them to reconsider it. A Jury consisted of 12 persons with no former criminal past.

County Court – Royal or Parliamentary Assizes.

In cases of Rebellion against the Crown (Treason & High Treason, County Assizes were unpleasant events: hanging, drawing, and quartering, and worse. Look up Judge Jeffreys and the Monmouth Rebellion. I cover that in my book s “Love & Rebellion” and “Lady of the Tower- Monmouth’s Legacy.”

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Why should Historical Romance be less educational than Historical Novels?

For some die-hard romance readers historical input is irrelevant in their little book of reference as to what constitutes a romance novel, the more fancifully romantic the better as far as they are concerned. Other more historically minded readers expect some historical relevance as the backdrop, in other words history adds to the setting, the time, the place in which the romance unfolds. What is a grand house or merely London, Paris, or other (landmark) without some aspect of the period as a true mark of who the characters are and what is going on around them. Some authors and readers will say yes but who wants to read about war, and poverty, give us a fairy tale romance and no historical facts please. They often put forth Jane Austen's works as fanciful and how romance should be written with no violence, no sex, and history itself has no part in HR. But just one moment, Ms Austen was writing "contemporary" to her time, escapist romance. She was not writing historical romances, because everyone who read her novels in her lifetime and shortly afterwards were well acquainted with the period and experiencing the shortages of imported goods, not that I will venture to that in depth here (tea coffee, brandy, wine, cloth etc). After all, war was raging across the channel in Europe, and England was at war with America 1812. Aside from that, all manner of things became costly, were in short supply, and all due to war! Even after Waterloo and the final defeat of Napoleon it took a great deal of effort to maintain peace across and between nations. Nothing was quite as it seemed - all rosy on the surface! Hence a little of underlying mistrust between the once allies at Waterloo began to emerge, and here's a taste of that underlying unrest from To Play for a King, in which the heroine ventures to Vienna!                     

“And if I say I have been a spy, and that my largesse as a maestro has been that of a convenient mask, would that heighten or lessen my esteem in your eyes?”
Quite taken aback and mindful of the enormity of what he had said, required sage thought.
“Aaaaaaaaaaah” exclaimed he. “I thought it would be safe to tell you my secret, and now you are wondering who I spied for and for what reason.”
“No, not especially curious, and I promise your secret is safe with me. Presumably your interest has and does remain with Austria. Although Austria allied with England and other armies against the French there have been differences and breaches in diplomacy at times. I believe several treaties between Napoleon and Austria within Italy infringed allied agreements, as father mentioned from time to time, though Napoleon reneged on those treaties and drove you out of Italy. But please understand— all those things are irrelevant to me, for we are all now at peace.”
He swung round to face her and gripped both her hands in his. “That is how it is meant to appear on the surface, that we are all allies, whilst beneath the diplomatic smiles and greetings no one fully trusts the other. Every country has its ambitions one way and another, as happened in who should decide the fate of France after the second defeat of Napoleon. Much argument arose as to what was best for neighbouring states and became of prime importance. Argument as to whether to reinstate the French monarchy or embrace the notion of France as a republic also arose. Austria’s main desire was to see the throne reinstated in France, and to regain Lombardy, Veneto, and surrounding regions in Italy. That very notion was met with disdain amidst the Italian aristocracy, to them rightly so. Many who survived the wars had prior despised us as Austrian overlords, almost as much as despising Napoleon when he declared himself King of Italy and his viceroy, his step-son Eugène de Beauharnais became as good as Prince of Italy.”
“But Austria regained the most northern territories, and are you saying there is threat of war simmering below the surface somewhere?”
We aristocrats in Austria now have to contend with Prussian German ambitions since General Blücher’s victory at Waterloo alongside the Duke of Wellington, all with our help of course. Never let it be said Prussians are magnanimous in victory, for they are annoyed by Austrian influence across the Continent in the aftermath of Napoleon’s defeat. The Dutch too, and many principalities and duchies are aware of active Prussian agents, not least here in Vienna, but from Venice to Rome and to Naples, and from France to England.”
“Beg pardon for asking, but why?”
“Empirical ambitions are underway to create a deeper alliance of which lesser Prussian houses will become equal to greater Germanic speaking duchies and neighbouring principalities. Naturally we Austrians are averse to other than close alliance during war against a greater enemy such as the French, whom we fought long before the allied Prussian army marched on France. For us Vienna is the nucleus of the Austrian Empire and the duchies of Königsberg nor Brandenburg, shall dictate terms. Damn it all, the French be-headed our grand duchess Marie Antoinette, therefore we had a greater axe to grind against that upstart Corsican General Bonaparte and his French cohorts than any other neighbouring state.”
He drew her hands to his chest and half chuckled: “See how angered I become when others seek to undermine us when we Austrians have regained sense of pride in peace and stability once more. Heavens to mercy, for here you are, a delightful and wondrous being, and I am spoiling your birthday.”
“Oh no, for all that you have put forth bears merit, and I am so very pleased you felt able to trust me and confide elements of your past and present. All of which I would never have envisaged a maestro capable of. Though I can now see how music is the perfect guise for a spy. Besides, I’ve had a wonderful birthday, but may I ask one topical question?”
A jolly chuckle ensued, and then: “Ah— will I be able to answer with absolute honesty?”
“Do you fear the Prince Regent seeks to usurp Austrian dominance in the Germanic speaking duchies and principalities? I had heard father talk of such and he was given to thoughts of a Germanic Federation not unlike the United Kingdom of Scotland and England along with the Principality of Wales. He said Austria would like as not fight tooth and nail to prevent such a federation if of a mind to.”
“It is not beyond possibility for allies one day to become enemies the next, and whilst many Austrians trust Count Metternich to see right by Austria, there are those who look on him as a collaborator to a greater alliance in which he mistakenly concedes more ground than is good for us. We of the old families do not want a Federation of Germanic states which could lessen Austrian influence, and enhance outside influence over Austrian territories?”
“Oh my goodness— and you say Austria is at peace?”
“For the moment, yes, and perhaps for many years to come with diplomacy and cunning, though I sense a weakening of Austrian aristocratic impulse to do more than enjoy life and leave politics to ministers of state who are ambitious in their own right, as are their minions. That is oft where revolutionary mindsets begin seeding discontent, and latterly seek ways to seize power from the upper elite with help from traitorous factions. It happened in England when Parliamentary forces seized power from the king. It happened in France, and it could happen almost anywhere, thus we must guard against corrupt mindsets who will seek support from citizens with false promises of equality.  Dear heaven, what starts as a peasant revolt can end with an emperor such as Napoleon, a common man who places a crown to his head and embraces all that he supposedly abhorred at the outset. Aside from which the English king and his regent are of the House of Hanover and keen to expand their Germanic reach far and wide, not least here on the Continent. Never underestimate the English, who will embrace revolution abroad if it is of benefit to the English. Austrians are of like mind and will not cede to another without a fight, whether in war or by diplomatic measures.”
“Are you then spying against the English? After all, I am English and such would be unsettling for me.”
“Precisely my angel, you are English, the Hanovarians are not.”
“Oh but the Prince Regent is as English as could be, and are you not a friend of his?”
“Indeed I am, and as I said, a friend one day can become an arch rival the next. The Prince Regent is far from blind to ministerial mischief though it seems he is easily persuaded with extremes in flattery. It is known he complies with notions when formerly averse to the very same, barring a sentence or two altered within papers. He peruses them with flair though with lack of due diligence and applies his signature in haste to vacate his duties and engage in pleasurable pursuits elsewhere.”
“Lady Constance once said his vanity masks a shrewd man beneath the finery, but feed the man well and ply him with cherry brandy and he will agree to almost anything one desires.”
Sebastian fell to laughter. “Ah yes, that is very true of the man. Though once crossed he will cut a person out of his circle and look upon them as a traitor, as he did with Brummell. I hasten to say— I pray he and I will remain friends.”

Saturday, 4 April 2020

New Series - Bath Tangle

How in the deuce did one book inspire a second, and the second inspire a series?
 I'll tell you why- books are like an Aladdin's Cave, one antique gold chain, a sparkling diamond ring, and who wore it sets the mind alive with possibilities, probabilities, and surety of Love and Romance, and Ghosts, yes Ghosts.       

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My new series the "Bath Tangle Series" for the greater part is set within and around the City of Bath. In the first book (the prequel) two leading characters venture to France during the time of the French Revolution, and all is not well at Versailles. The leading characters in book one are: 

Press on images to see enlarged version. 

At this time women wore lavish gowns and often powdered their hair as did the men folk who didn't wear wigs but wore high-heeled shoes: the very height of fashion for the male wardrobe during the early Georgian period.   

The Highwayman's Mistress was written years ago as one-off. But, in book two, the sons of the original characters have returned from Waterloo and Bath is not entirely where Mattiajs de Boviere's romance had started, and for Randolph Courtenay, Viscount Somerton. it is the beginning: a peek into what lies ahead for him if he can convince a young lady he is a gentleman officer and not a dastardly rake in disguise.  The daughters likewise are all entering into the marriage mart. 

Thus The Runaway Duchess is Mattijs and Juliana's love story: Book 1.

Hence, a generation farther on than the Whitaker sisters and the men they fell in love with, it is 1817 and the Courtenay and de Boviere children begin melding with others as betrothals are sworn, upsets arise, and much else plays havoc with romantic notions.  

In book 2 it is Chloe de Boviere's story, and as did her cousin Randolph, she encountered her future destiny when least expected, and whilst on a ghost hunt!

In Book 3 it is the middle Courtenay sister who takes centre stage, and Lady Octavia is a young woman who, when she sets her eyes on a young man will apply every means at hand and feminine guile to steal him away from those she surmises as competition for his favour. But Major Harry Davenport understands her motives too well, and he sets her the greatest challenge of her young life!  

For someone who courts male admiration Octavia learns a hard lesson when Harry sets demarcation lines she must not cross! 

In book 4 it is the eldest Courtenay sister Lady April, who, in a brief encounter is smitten by a naval lieutenant. Little does she know he's smitten too and will do everything in his power to become acquainted and court her if given the chance. Unfortunately he's a Courtenay too, a distant cousin, one her mother thoroughly disapproves, thus the pair resort to clandestine meetings.    


 In book 5 Randolph Courtenay truly sets out to win Rachel Davenport. As did his sister April, he resorts to clandestine meetings at the outset, and daringly risks the wrath of his lady love's four brothers. 

If ever the Davenport four should catch him on the family estate and find him given to pleasurable pursuits there is no telling what they would do to him. But Randolph Viscount Somerton knows what he wants and will get it one way or another, and moves heaven and earth to achieve it.    

And there is a bonus and unexpected romance within this novel,
that of Jasper (youngest Davenport brother) and the wickedly naughty Mary Chambers - the oracle all things man's sexual bent!

In book 6 the youngest Courtenay sister Lady May, is a talented pianist, and although a little taken with an Austrian Maestro who arranges recitals and concerts for kings, princes, and grand dukes, never did she dream she would one day be gracing grand chateaux, fairy tale castles, and all the glories of Venice. 

Although her dreams have often revolved around Count Sebastian Waldburg, never did she think he looked on her as more than his young protege until the day he kisses her, the day of her awakening to womanhood.        

In Book 7 Margarite de Boviere has given her time as companion to her cousin Lady May Courtenay. On her final return to England she  faces the reality many chances for love and romance had come and gone whilst travelling on the Continent, She thus settles to family visitations and quite unexpectedly encounters a young man she neither knows, nor feels it appropriate to approach him but something about him appeals.         

Meanwhile the extremely young duke of Weare has noted Margarite and is quite taken with her, but his past youth has damned him and although he is a much changed young man the past haunts him. His greatest fear remains, the devil that once plagued him will destroy any hope of happiness with a young woman, more especially one as lovely as Margarite. Can he be all that he ought to be, an admirable suitor?

Clarence first appeared in the book "An Earl in Disguise" where he learned something about himself that stunned him and self destruct came easy to a young man who had lost his way. If not for another's compassion and forgiveness he may never have sought the healing required to turn his life around. 

Of course there is the second eldest Davenport brother too, who with his wife Rose, first appeared in two novels Infamous Rival and The Dark Marquis. (The Bath Series) a murder mystery series.       

Book 8 is Laurence & Sophia's story, both characters who were part of the Bath Tangle Set. 

Laurence is creator of Automata Dolls.

Sophia is Rich Heiress.


And what of the ghost, or ghosts who are ancestors of the above, who feature in book 2?

When writing a series of novels, there has to be a point where the writing ceases, but that said, I do intend writing the Ghosts' love story, because it is not quite as surmised by Brock Davenport who found a journal, one he failed to read in full when discovered. I say intend because at the present moment with a worldwide pandemic we have no choice but to take each day as it comes, and I am also in my dotage and may be pushing up daisies sooner than hoped for. Thus, on that happy note of eternal rest, I hope you've enjoyed perusing my charcoal etchings and cover paintings. The e-book versions will have the occasional etchings, the paperbacks far more when I get to them.    

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Wednesday, 4 March 2020

A Character's perspective of our world!

A message from Christina Napier (character in Scandalous Whisper).


I have seemingly slipped through time.

Until this morning I had no concept of my existence in this other world. So what or who am I? That is something I too must come to terms with. Nevertheless, I am here, in some nether world. My very thoughts are my spoken words and now appearing before me on a rather peculiar device. But let me begin at the begin:

Awakened by a bright light this very morn the concept of book and stepping from its pages became a whole new experience for me. I am, it would seem, a character within a book and my name is Christina. I was born into a fictional world and have no recollection of existence before my 21st year, for that is where my story begins, along with that of the man I love, Robert Lord Devonish. 

Do I like this other world? Hmm.

It has many benefits, I shall grant it that: quite luxurious benefits. Though I cannot imagine why one would wish to have a metal carriage, and one that has to be driven to a strange place to be fuelled so that it functions, and then driven away again. Horses are so much more practical: fed and watered on one’s premises, and can be driven away at mere request of carriage ordered to the front door at a specified time.

The greatest benefit of this 2012 world, of which I approve most sincere, is that of a bathroom. What a delightful experience!  Oh, and there are wonderful machines for kitchen staff, not least a contraption that washes clothes, washes dishes, and another which sucks dirt from rugs. Just think of the saving in house staff numbers, if all these things could be taken back to my fictional world of England in the year 1818. But of course, they would be useless in our world. 

Another device I find most amusing is that from which I hear a voice, and likewise I can be heard, yet both speakers are miles distant. There is also what is referred to as The TV. It’s a rather fun contraption, but the device it requires to function correctly seems to malfunction with regularity. I think I shall be glad to get back to my own world, where women are feminine and men are men, for I have seen breeches everywhere and worn by men and women alike. But I thank my creator for giving me a glimpse of her world, and if not for her New Year’s resolution to publish in paperback I might be trapped inside a Kindle contraption instead of crispy new paperback book. 

Farewell New World, and farewell to those who may read my missive farther into the future.  

Yours Faithfully
Christina Napier.  

Blurb Scandalous Whisper:

England, September 1818, and the Hon Mrs. Napier views the Earl of Kilder as a most desirable suitor for her daughter’s hand in marriage. Forced to engage with the extremely handsome and charming earl, a darker side to his nature is revealed and Christina despises his very presence. Worse, her twin brother cavorts with the earl in unmentionable pursuits, and equally bent on seeing her married to his favoured friend. Luckily, with the return of the 11th Dragoons from France, their eldest brother’s homecoming affords Christina brief respite from the earl’s overt attentions. 

So too, the man Christina admires above all others has returned to the Netherwood Estate. A chance meeting and lingering eye contact with her heart’s desire stirs rebellion within her. Her mother impervious to an act of wilful subterfuge insists Christina will marry the earl, but Christina indulges in secret liaisons with the man of her dreams. With deception retribution must follow and a cruel price is to be paid when Robert Lord Devonish is recalled to duty, the regiment bound for India. What will become of her now there is no one to save her from the earl’s clutches? 

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Free Chapter Read - The Waterloo Legacy

The Waterloo Legacy
Chapter 1
Pennard Hall, Somerset 1815: 24th June
Having escaped to the garden, sitting alone and utterly devoid of distractions, it was so very difficult to brush aside the image of light blue eyes turning smoky grey in sunlight, and of manly lips curving to a quirky smile. Would that she could erase that special memory of her heart’s desire and the relaxed manner of his basking in the afterglow of mutual bliss. But it was all too vivid: even the remembered sweet scent of flattened meadow grasses, where they had lain surrounded by moon daisies swaying gently on a balmy summer breeze.
   Both had known the love expressed between them was oh so wrong, but heady euphoria had taken hold in the madness of the moment. Although it was true love back then, illicit love, he still expressed undying love within his letters: letters she kept hidden.
   Oh how oft she had pondered over portraits hanging in the upper gallery, and studied the likeness between her son and that of Earls’ of Weston down the centuries. Mathew’s appearance bespoke untainted bloodlines, as did that of the present earl’s younger brother, whilst her husband, the earl, resembled none of the former.
   It was quite bizarre, for Michael Melrose, Earl of Weston, was fair, with light brown eyes, and florid features. Albeit of good height, he was so unlike the taller, dark-haired, blue-eyed Melrose trait, it was little wonder there were those within society who had looked upon Michael with a curious eye. Similarities to his mother, the dowager countess, had always excused his appearance. But his sister, May, had let slip observations from time to time of a curious bent in relation to her brother’s likeness to that of an unrelated family; and the very fact the family were not of Isobel’s acquaintance, she had no means to verify May’s comments.
   Thus daydreaming, and duly caught unawares, a sudden flash of pink in her peripheral vision drew her attention, and her heart sank. Oh lordy. So often, when she slipped away to write in her journal, someone would come looking for her.
   “Izzie . . . Izzie . . .” came a plaintive plea from her sister-in-law. “Where are you?”
   Holding her breath whilst tempted to take flight, instead she remained seated behind the trunk of a favoured walnut tree, half hoping the lovely May would pass her by unnoticed.
   “Izzie. . . Izzie, I know you are out here, somewhere,” yelled May, quite unladylike in manner, followed by a sharp: “Isobelanswer me.”
   If May was resorting to Isobel then something was amiss, and she called out in response: “I’m here, by the walnut tree.”
   May flew to her side, cheeks flushed almost as pink as her muslin day gown, her bright blue Melrose eyes alight with excitement. “It’s over. Can you believe it? Oh how glorious it must have been for Michael, for Luke, and your brother?”
   Isobel’s heart somersaulted; part joy, part apprehension. “Over . . . you mean . . .”
   “Yes . . . Yes . . . They’ve done for Boney, all over again, despite rumours of a humiliating retreat and desertion of Brussels.”
   “May, excitement is all very well,” said Isobel, snatching up her journal before getting to her feet, “but remember you are a lady, not a soldier given to barrack room slang.”
   “Oh piffle and stuff-shirt,” declared May, a hand thrust to her hip in recalcitrant stance. “I’m quoting Luke’s very words, and might I remind you, I am more than of age. Besides, it’s officially declared Wellington was victorious at Waterloo. It’s all clearly written within the London Gazette, and dated twenty-second of June.”
   Isobel laughed whilst smoothing out creases from her skirts. “Have we letters, then?”
   “From Luke,” replied May, leaning forward to scoop a soft weave carriage wrap from the seat, which circled the tree.
   “Oh, then no news from Michael?”
   “Not as yet, and Luke had so little to say, hence mother is beside herself with worry.”
   “For what reason, when we are blessed with the end of war?”
   “You know mother and her intuition,” said May, as they began strolling from the lower lawn to the upper paved terrace.
   “Well yes, I do, but on such a joyous occasion as this, we should be of mind in how best to celebrate the homecoming of our heroes.”
   “My thoughts exactly, though I wager mother will never sanction preparations for a grand affair for their homecoming, which could be weeks, perhaps months hence.”
   “Why ever not, pray?”
   “My intuition tells me mother has a suspicion Luke might have been holding something back. His missive was very short, of which he dispatched post-haste on the nineteenth,” declared May, whilst trailing her fingers over a marble statuette of a shepherdess with a lamb tucked under arm. “Mother will in no way condone any celebration of Wellington’s victory, until both her sons are standing before her.”
   “But that is nonsense, for it is I who shall organise a celebratory ball for their homecoming.”
   May let slip a sigh of delight in one breath; and in the next breath, as they hurriedly ascended steps to the upper terrace, sense of unease spilled forth. “I wish you and mother liked one another better.”
   Linking her arm in May’s, she chuckled. “Your mother and I like one another well enough.”
   “Piffle. Only in respectful manner, as you do with each other’s acquaintances and friends.”
   “Is that not better than mere tolerance of each other?”
   May sniffed; pointed in extreme. “I try my very best to bridge the divide between the pair of you, and I fail miserably so. And yet, both of you are as one when it comes to Mathew.”
   “Oh May . . . he’s but a child.”
   “I know, and believe me when I say: I am not in the least bit jealous of your son.”
   “Nor should you be, for your mother dotes on you.”
   “I think not, for it is Michael she dotes on. After all, don’t all mothers dote on their first born?”
   “As Mathew is my first and only child I cannot in all honesty answer that question,” nor dared she reveal the truth, for Mathew was special, very special to her. “I hope, if ever I am blessed with more children, I shall love them all with equal measure.”
   “So shall I, if ever I should find a man who will wed a girl of height matching that of a young buck. Oh, harebells, Izzie. I am all but an old maid.”
   Aware of movement within the drawing room, the garden doors before them, Isobel lowered her voice. “I would give anything to have your height and graceful countenance. Besides, you are but twenty and three years, and you have admirers at present, and soon shall have a veritable array of young titled officers returned from war and seeking a wife.”
   May paused in step and laughed: mocking in tone and mocking self. “I’m about as graceful as a goose, and although Luke is by far, a head taller than Michael, I can stay abreast of Luke at any time.”
   Preferring May’s company to that of the dowager countess, now standing watching them from the drawing room, Isobel dallied too: “I always found it impossible to keep abreast of Luke, for he used to set a gruelling pace.”
   “Yes, but you are so dainty, and Luke . . . Oh, but I don’t recall your walking out with Luke.”
   “It was but a couple of times, when Michael was indisposed with estate matters, and Harry was here, at the time.”
   “Well, of course Luke and your brother became good friends, and no doubt still are. Oh, just think, Izzie. Think what it will be like when they are all here: finally at home.”
   “Precisely, and what could be better than a grand ball to bring old friends together?”
   “But we have not set eyes on them in so long, I dare say Michael’s dark moods will be darker still or pray, knocked out of him, entirely. I do pray it is the latter.”
   Isobel commiserated with May in regard to Michael’s moods, but said: “He had much to contend with before leaving home shores, and perchance, what he saw as a weighty burden back then, will seem less so upon his arrival home. After all, he earned Wellington’s respect as that of his military attaché and spymaster in Vienna.”
   “I have oft pondered why you ever married Michael. And yes, I know it was more or less an arranged marriage, or at least, so arranged you had little choice but to go through with it.” May’s eyes purposefully collided with hers, an overtly inquisitive expression. “I have no right to ask, but do you love him, Izzie, truly love him, or is it familial love as might be between good friends?”
   “I barely knew him before we were married. Our courtship was conducted by formal letter after we had danced but a few times at Almack’s. Then of course, during that grand picnic party here at Pennard, with parents and friends in attendance, he suddenly announced our betrothal, of which my father had already approved. Thence an engagement ball was held two weeks later. All, I might add, planned and plotted between your mother and my parents without my knowledge, and as you well know, Michael and I were then married but one month, and he went off to war.”
   “As did Luke, two-months later.”
   “And Harry, likewise,” intoned Isobel, not letting May ponder too long on past events
   “Yes, but Luke and Harry had already said they were going to war, and neither of them had any of the responsibilities Michael had. By rite of his title, he should have stayed here to protect us women. What if Napoleon had won every battle and then sailed across the water with his army? What of us? What might have become of us?”
   “Don’t you see, May? That is why he went. Michael went to war to defeat Napoleon, to protect us and the country at large. They all went for that very reason and just when it seemed safe to venture home, Napoleon escaped from Elba, and thence they were again forced to take action.”
   “I might forgive Michael, in time, but I shall make my thoughts known to him. Besides, I think his recklessness in rushing off to war was to show Luke and Harry he was no liver-bellied coward.”
   “Harry would never have accused Michael of cowardice for staying here, and I cannot imagine Luke thought any differently. Do allow Michael a little respite from war on his return, before slapping a war of words to his ears.”
   May laughed. “Oh I shall like as not box him about the ears and forgive him there and then.”
   The garden door fronting the drawing room was thrust wide, and the ever imposing portly dowager countess duly stepped forth in a purple silk gown. Her countenance was somewhat austere with grey hair pinned up and tucked beneath a black lace frilled mobcap as though the silly woman had taken to mourning a great loss rather than celebrating a glorious victory. Though for once, a smile as broad as her beam suddenly swept to her face.
   “Well, Isobel, what are your thoughts on the matter of Napoleon’s defeat?”
   “Much as your ladyship’s, I should imagine, and I am so very pleased to hear Michael will be coming home,” said she, when in reality she was living in dread of his homecoming.
   “At first I had wondered at Luke’s less than informative correspondence, and having feared the worst I dressed appropriate for the coming of bad news, and now it has occurred to me, what else was there to say, other than ‘Napoleon is done for’.”
   “Precisely, your ladyship. After all, if something was amiss, it would be stated within the letter.”
   “Then dear girl, how shall we celebrate their homecoming?”
   “I had thought a ball would be a grand gesture, not only for them, but for friends and fellow officers.”
   “Then a ball it shall be, and the preparations I shall leave in your capable hands.”
   “Did I hear correctly, mother?” queried May. “You want no say, in how the ball must be organised?”
   “Good heavens. No, not at all. I am away to London; on the morrow.”
   Shocked by her mother’s statement, incredulity swept to May’s face. “Might I ask why?”
   “It is merely a matter of business I must attend to before Michael sets foot in the house.” With that said, the dowager countess let slip a furtive smile. “It’s nothing too awful, but as my eldest son is a stickler for well-balanced ledgers, there are a few discrepancies in need of setting to rights.”
   “Mother,” exclaimed May. “You have not borrowed monies from . . . Oh, but you have, I can see you have.”
   “Yes dear, I lost heavily a week or so ago at carding, and must repay my dues forthwith, else my eldest boy shall see the error of my ways.”
   May’s brows arced, her tone erring moral high ground. “Michael, will like as not, curtail your expeditions to Almack’s, should he get to hear of your laying high stakes.”
   “I think not,” rallied the dowager countess, “Who shall tell him, eh? More to the point, he‘s my son, not my keeper, and I shall do as I will.”
   “As you will,” murmured May.
   “As I will,” intoned her mother, a dark look.
   And with a dismissive wave of the hand the dowager countess turned about and hurried back inside the house.
   May, let slip a deep sigh: “I do believe mother has just threatened to cut out my tongue should I breathe a word of her gambling to Michael. And how do you suppose she hid the discrepancies from Mr. Pomphrey?”
   Isobel laughed, and made toward the drawing room. “I suspect Michael was well aware of your mother’s penchant for carding long before he set sail for the Peninsular. As for Mr. Pomphrey. The dear man is simply petrified of your mother, albeit he is supposedly this household’s advisor and holder of the earl’s purse in his absence.”
   “I dare say, but how is mother to repay borrowed monies, when she was clearly short of funds in the first place?” May stopped mid-stride, as though struck by lightning. “Oh no. . . Do you suppose her intention is to sell something? Jewellery perhaps . . .”
   “If that is her only means of replacing stolen money, then it might . . .”
   “Stolen?” screeched May. “How can it be construed as stealing to borrow money from the housekeeping kitty?”
   Pausing before entering the house, Isobel lowered her voice. “Let us take the scenario of a cook, any cook in any household. Or a manservant for that matter, who borrows money from the kitchen’s kitty, being that of the tin set aside for paying the fish boy and the coal merchant. Would your mother consider such action, as the stealing of monies from the house?”
   “Well yes, of course she would.”
   “Then how is your mother’s borrowing of monies from the house any different?”
   “Oh Izzie, there is no comparison.”
   “I disagree, and if your mother has to sell a jewel or two in order to replenish that of which she has spirited away, it might serve to rein back her carding hand a little.”
   “Yes, you are right, and heaven knows what Michael would say to the discovery of a theft.”
   “Precisely, and I suspect he would suppose the thief dwelt below stairs, and what of us then? Could we stand by whilst servants are questioned, humiliated, and accused of stealing money, when not one of them had a hand in the kitty tin?”
   “There is that, I grant you, but neither would I dare betray mother.”
   “Perhaps not, and I dare say it would fall to my shoulders to protect the innocent from false accusations.”
   “But Izzie, you are the countess, and you, must do, as you see fit.”
   “Oh, I see. So it is I who will be placed in the perilous position of having a quiet word with Michael, that is, if your mother should fail to cover the shortfall in household funds.”
   May screwed up her nose in mischievous manner. “He is the lord and master, and you his wife. Moreover, I would not truly have the courage to shame mother in Michael’s eyes. He is her favourite, after all.”
   With that said, May brushed past her, and fled into the house.
   Heavens above, his sister nor his mother knew him at all well, or instead chose to ignore the fact he would likely accuse his wife of having overspent on frivolous items of a fashionable bent. How then could she plan a welcome home ball and account for its expenditure?