Horningsham House, Somersetshire
The Horningsham Estate was a great rambling property between the Mendip Hills and Cranborne Chase. Surrounded by acres of arable land, landscaped parkland, and ornamental- and Tudor-knot-gardens, it had been the ancestral seat of the Marquesses of Warminster for more than four hundred years, and they were the wealthiest landowners in the county. Built in the 1500s, when Queen Elizabeth was on the throne, the house itself could be seen from miles around. Constructed out of mellow sand-coloured stone and looking very square, Horningsham House contained no fewer than one hundred and thirty-five rooms. Eighty of these were bedrooms. The remaining rooms included twelve large reception rooms, three dining rooms, an impressive library, not one but two ballrooms, along with numerous smaller rooms and offices off the many halls and corridors.
Despite the obvious opulence, it was a cold and draughty building, even in July. Although this year was possibly one of the coldest summers on record. Due to this, every room still had a fire lit each morning by the servants, even in their own quarters.
Only two people were currently seated in the large servants’ dining room. However, a fire roared in the grate, and a range oven was permanently alight. Everyone else was still about their duties or taking a well-earned rest before the next round of chores began.
The big old bible sat discarded and forgotten, pushed to one side on the scrubbed pine table in favour of that week’s newspaper from Bath. The large pages of the weekly Chronicle were torn and untidy, a sure sign that it had already passed through several hands in the household. However, before it finally made its way to one of the many kindling boxes throughout the house and used to start a fire, Lord James, Viscount Frome and future Marquess of Warminster had apparently grabbed it and redirected it for his own purposes. Sarah Payne was glad that he had, for while she loved to listen to passages being read from the bible, trying to learn to read from it was quite another matter. At least the newspaper was a little less archaic in its language, and the news stories meant something, even if they were simply a long line of advertisements for vacancies or coming auctions.
Auction. Now there was a word Sarah had struggled with on this very day. Lord James had held his finger over the second half of the word, as he usually did whenever there was a new one for her to learn, but this one was not so easy to work out as many of the others had been.
“To…be…sold…by…” she had said carefully and slowly. And then she had struggled. She opened her mouth, stretched her lips this way and that, and then closed her mouth again. Stumped, she shook her head and stared blankly at her tutor. Sarah had no idea what the marks on the page meant.
“Yes,” said Lord James. “I suppose it is somewhat of a devil. Come on now, let us break it down as we usually do. Although,” he admitted, blowing his cheeks out, “I must say, even I know not where to begin.” He stared at the word for a few moments before holding his thumb over the second half. “There you are,” he said. “What does that say?”
Sarah looked at the first three letters. “Ack?”
“That is good, but the A and the U there make it an OR sound,” he said. “A long OR sound – ORRRK.”
“Orrrk…” said Sarah.
“No,” said Lord James kindly. “There is no need to roll your Rs in that manner. Try again.”
“Awk…” said Sarah.
“That is it!” said Lord James, now covering the first three letters with the index finger of his other hand and removing his thumb. “Now, what does that say?”
Once again, Sarah stared at the letters. “Tie on? Awk-tie-on?”
“Again, you are very close,” he said. “But when you have the letters T, I, O and N together like that, they are pronounced SHUN.”
Puzzled, Sarah frowned and looked at the letters again. Pointing at the word ‘sold’, which she had already correctly read out, she said, “But there is no S. Nor is there an H, or even a U. How can T, I, O, N spell ‘shun’? And does ‘shun’ not mean to ignore a fellow?”
Lord James raised his bushy eyebrows and opened his bright blue eyes wide. “I am very glad to know that you know how to spell ‘shun’,” he said. “You are quite correct,” he said. “On all counts. Such is the English language. It is said that ours is one of the most difficult to learn.”
“Perhaps someone should simply decide to spell things how they are said,” said Sarah.
“Now then,” said James, nodding his head and rubbing his chin, “there is a good word for that as well.” Sarah stifled a smile because he had transferred some of the newspaper print onto his fingers, and now he had a smudge on his chin. She stared at the smudge, right there next to the dimple…and slowly, her eyes travelled upwards, lingering for but a moment on his lips, then up along his nose, and into his eyes again. Oh! He was staring right back at her!
Feeling her face flush, she quickly looked down at the newspaper again. Erm…wh-what is the word?” she asked, trying to cover up her embarrassment.
“Phonetic,” said Lord James, as though nothing had transpired.
“Fon-ett-ick,” she repeated.
“That is correct!” said Lord James. “You are a very quick learner.”
“Fon-ett-ick,” Sarah said again. “What does it mean?”
“It is from the Latin phoneticus, and it means ‘to represent vocal sounds’.”
“And is it spelt ‘phonetically’?” she asked.
Lord James laughed. “Absolutely not. It is spelt with a P and not an F for a start. This is the English language, after all.”
“But you said that it is Latin,” said Sarah cheekily.
“From which much of the English language is derived,” he replied. “And Germanic,” he added.
“And French!” said Sarah. When he gave her a sideways look, she continued. “You see, I do listen, and I do learn.”
“Did I not this moment say that you are a quick learner?” he said, smiling. He jabbed at the newspaper lying on the table with his ink-stained index finger. “Now, back to this work. Let us try it again, shall we?”
She held his gaze for only a moment longer than necessary, looked down at the word, and said, “Awk-shun.”
“That is it!” he said again.
“Auction. Oh, is that like ‘attention’?”
“It is indeed,” said Lord James with some indulgence.
“What is an auction?” asked Sarah.
“It is like a sale of goods,” he replied.
She frowned again and looked down at the line of print. “To…be…sold…by…a sale of goods? Is that not a, what is it? A doobler ontondra?”
“Double entendre?” he replied. “Not quite, but it is a good expression nevertheless. Double entendre is French for something that has two meanings, one of which is often a little…shall we say risqué?”
Sarah nodded. She often thought that it would be easier to learn French than it would to learn to read English. One of the other maids was French, Anne-Marie. She often chattered away to herself in her native tongue, sometimes in her sleep, for Sarah and Anne-Marie shared a bedroom. Anne-Marie would also say something in French and then repeat it in English, and Sarah would mimic her, parrot-fashion. Lady Marguerite Blackstone, the daughter to a very good friend of the duke, was a regular visitor to the house as well, and she often made a great show of the fact that she had been educated by a French governess, and in quite the superior manner too. Sarah would love to know what Lady Marguerite was saying half of the time, certain that most of it actually came from Her Ladyship’s own imagination.
Once she had conquered the reading, Sarah would ask Anne-Marie to teach her some French.
“What is the correct word for an expression like ‘sold by sale’?” she asked.
“The word from the Latin is pleonasm, or pleonamus, and it means that there is a redundancy of words, that there are more than enough words that say the same thing. A better word might be ‘superfluous’, in that ‘to be sold’ is quite sufficient, but ‘to be sold by sale’ is unnecessary.”
Sarah nodded her head up and down again as she listened to him, taking it all in. His Lordship was so clever. Sarah wondered if all of the nobility were so well educated or if perhaps Lord James was the exception.
“However, an auction is where several people want to buy the same item, and they place bids of money. That is, they offer a price they think is fair and can afford. The person who places the highest bid wins the item, which is called a lot.”
“There is ‘a lot’ to learn,” she said sagely, yet managing to keep her face straight.
“There is that,” he said, pulling the newspaper towards him. “Where is this auction?” He silently read the few lines that followed the main headline, moving his lips as he did so. “Marksbury?” he said, raising one of those bushy eyebrows once more. He turned his head and gazed in the general direction of the library, where Sarah knew a map of England hung on the wall, His Lordship’s eyes glazing over slightly as he did so. “That is in the Chew Valley.” He shook his head. “Alas, it is too far to travel in but a day or I would take you to show you.” He scanned the paper again. “Perhaps there is another…” he said, muttering away. “There is one in Bath, mutter-mumble, and another in Bristol, ho-hum, but none any nearer. Or not in the next week or so at any rate.” He met Sarah in the eye again.
“I should like very much to go and see one of these auctions,” said Sarah carefully. “However, perhaps when I have learnt to read? I only have very little free time after all.”
“Yes, of course, you do,” said Lord James. “How silly of me. I always forget.”
“And Ma will be needing a little more help from me in the future, I expect,” she continued.
“Ah, Mrs Payne. How is our housekeeper? I do not see her as often as I would like, or certainly not since…well…you know…”
Sarah saw the blush creep up his neck and smiled. He was so sweet at times, which simply added to his charm.
“We think she may be expecting two babies,” said Sarah.
“Twins?” said James, the surprise shaking his embarrassment away. “How marvellous.” He frowned again. “Nevertheless, it must still be a great worry for your father.”
“She has lost so many babies,” said Sarah sadly, before brightening again. “However, she is almost to term now, which is further than she has managed before. We are hopeful that all will be well.”
“Are you looking forward to having brothers or sisters?”
Sarah sat back in her chair. “Yes, I do believe that I am.”
“What would you prefer?”
“One of each would be nice,” she replied. “However, so long as they are healthy and strong, I will be happy.”
Lord James bumped her with his shoulder. “Our Mrs Payne is a strong woman. You are a strong daughter. If she does see them to term, and I pray that she will, I believe that they too will be strong. Especially if they are girls, like their sister,” he added, making Sarah blush again. “Do you remember when we were both little?” he asked quietly.
Sarah sat forward again and folded her arms on the table. “I do not remember a time that you were not there,” she said truthfully.
“Apart from when I was away at school,” he reminded her.
“Well, yes. But you always came home for the holidays. And when you did, you always had such stories to tell me, all about the adventures that you had with your friends.”
Lord James laughed. “I am sometimes surprised that I was not expelled.”
After the briefest of pauses, Sarah said, “Tell me again how you managed to set light to the school.”
Lord James noticed the ink from the newsprint on his hands now and rubbed the tips of his fingers together to clear some of it away. “It was not quite the entire school,” he said. “It was only a waste basket in our house master’s study.” Giving up on cleaning his fingers, he thought back to his schooldays and possibly the worst day he had ever had, even though he could look back and laugh now. At the time, it had frightened him. And Tommy had burnt his hand trying to put out the flames. James did not mention that when he retold the tale. He felt guilty enough as it was. Besides which, most people noticed that Tommy had a scarred hand, but it was up to Tommy to tell that part of the story.
“It was a magnifying glass,” said James. “A rather fancy brass thing that had recently been patented, apparently.” He spotted the look of puzzlement on Sarah’s face. “That means invented, and the inventor claimed it as his own invention.”
“You never described it before,” said Sarah.
He shrugged and wondered if he was embellishing the memory as time passed. “Tommy and I were waiting for Mr Eccles to return from an errand,” he continued, “when Tommy noticed that the sun was shining in through the window. We had only recently learnt about starting a fire using glass and parchment in our science class, and when we saw the glass lying on his desk, we thought it would be a hoot to try it out. We did not think that we were doing anything wrong. We were not doing it for devilment or anything like that. We simply wanted to try out what we had learned and see if it worked. The last thing we expected was for the entire contents of the basket to catch fire and to set light to the curtains as well.”
“It was lucky for the two of you that Mr Eccles returned when he did, or you would have never been able to put the fire out.” He saw her shudder. “Imagine if you had not been able to get out!”
“The door was unlocked, so we could get out of the room well enough. But yes, I am afraid that Tommy and I did cost the school a bit of money that time. After all, they did have to repair the damage and replace what was burnt.”
“Your father did help out a little,” she reminded him. Sarah knew the tale almost as well as he did, it seemed – apart, perhaps, from the patent part. She even knew about Tommy’s hand, although she never mentioned it either. It was as though she understood his discomfort.
James shrugged again. “I believe my father made a donation to the school that more than covered the damage. Indeed, had they not used most of the donation to pay for the repairs, they might have been able to build a whole new science laboratory.” He rubbed at his chin, wondering if Tommy’s father had also made a donation in the wake of their little…incident. He caught a little smirk flit across her face. “What?” he said. “What is it?”
Sarah giggled and pointed at his chin. “You have newsprint all over your face.” He rubbed at his face, and she burst into peals of laughter.
“Have I made it worse?” he said. Sarah nodded. “I had better go and wash my face before Father sees it.” Sarah’s expression dropped. She looked crestfallen. “I am sorry,” said James. “I know I promised you that I would teach you to read and write, but each time we sit down to practice your reading, we change the subject and talk about everything and anything else, and we barely manage even a few lines.”
“I too have noticed this,” said Sarah softly as she tidied up the edges of the newspaper, folded it as neatly as she could, and held it out to him. “And then, if it is not you having to dash off for fear of your father catching you, then it is I who have to run along and do my chores.”
“I apologise on behalf of my father,” said James. “He is rather…set in his ways.” In fact, the marquess was actually quite strict and conservative. James’ father believed that the lower classes should be kept firmly in their place and did not think they had any reason or business for learning. James was not about to tell Sarah that, however.
“I am grateful for everything you do for me,” she said.
“Would you like to keep the newspaper?” he asked. He had taken it from her but was holding it out to her again.
“May I?” she asked brightly.
“Certainly,” he said.
“But how will I know if I am reading something correctly?”
“Say it out loud, like you do when you are reading to me. If it sounds wrong, then it probably is. Next time, you can read it out to me again, and we will make a mark on each of the stories with charcoal or ink so that we know you have read it successfully.” She took the newspaper, and he went to pick up the bible. “I had better put this back in the library before my father misses it,” he said.
“Perhaps you had better wash your hands first,” suggested Sarah, nodding at the smudges and the ink that was starting to get beneath his fingernails. “There is a block of soap in the scullery.”
He left the bible on the table and went through to the small room next to the kitchen. “You are quite right, again,” he said over his shoulder. “It will not do to put a grubby bible back in the library.”
She started to follow him but seemed to hold back when she saw one of the scullery maids in there. The maid was agitating some laundry in the large posser tub. As soon as she saw His Lordship, she dropped her possing stick into the warm, soapy water and bobbed into a curtsy. James did not like to disturb her work. He reached into the tub and retrieved the stick for her, holding it out of the water, so it did not fall in again, soaking his sleeve in the process.
“Now I must change my jacket too,” he told her with a kind smile.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, mi’lord,” apologised the scullery maid.
“It was my own fault for not rolling up my sleeve first,” he said. The maid glanced up at him and gave him a quick but grateful smile. When the possing stick was safely in her hands once again, he turned to the copper and rinsed his hands.
“Now,” he said to Sarah, joining her in the dining room once more, “I must return the bible to the library and then I will go and change my clothes.”
“Thank you,” she said, walking beside him. “For helping me learn to read. As I have said on many an occasion, it will help me perform certain duties, and I will be another step closer to becoming a lady’s maid.”
“Everyone should be able to read,” he said.
They parted ways at the end of the short corridor that linked the servants’ quarters to the main house. He knew that Sarah was only permitted in the family part of the house if she was carrying out her housemaid chores, and while he despised the unfairness of it all, he did not wish for her to get into any trouble. It was true that her own mother was the housekeeper, who was in charge of the female house staff, but James had heard that housekeepers often treated their own family far more strictly than they treated any of the others. They did not wish to be seen showing any kind of favouritism.
James slipped into the library, placed the bible carefully on the lectern where it usually lay, and opened it to Genesis XI, remembering that the bible was open at the same page when he had gone to collect it. The story of the Tower of Babel was perhaps apt under the circumstances, for was this house not similar to the tower to the likes of Sarah and her fellow servants? He turned and surveyed the book-lined walls, breathing in their musty smell. He did love them so, but why should only the upper classes be able to read the fabulous words within their covers? He had meant what he said to Sarah: everyone should be able to read. However, he particularly wished that Sarah could read.
They had been friends since childhood. Still were, and they would often find themselves in each other’s company, albeit mostly behind his father’s back. James was very fond of her. She was a youthful, pretty maid but, sadly, uneducated. And yet she was so bright, so smart, and with a good memory. See how she remembered those French words she had heard and how quickly she mimicked him with the longer words.
The door to the library burst open, interrupting his thoughts.
“Oh, pardon!” said the maid in French. “My apologies,” she translated in her heavy accent, and she started to back out of the room.
“Please do not go,” James called out to her. “I am leaving. You may go about your business.”
She came back into the room, bobbed into a curtsy, and said, “Merci, thank you, My Lord.”
James loped out of the room, along the hallway, and up the staircase, taking the steps two at a time. When he reached his rooms in the west wing, he checked his face in the looking glass and started to laugh. “My, my,” he said out loud. “Sarah was not wrong.” He took a handkerchief from his pocket, licked a corner, and wiped at his face. Then he tested the water in the bowl on the washstand. “Brr!” he muttered, shivering. Nevertheless, it would do for a very quick wash or a cat-lick, as his old nanny used to say.
Less than an hour later, James was in the blue drawing room where his mother, his sister and Lady Paulette Chiswick were sewing, and his father was reading a newspaper. “Would anyone like a sherry?” he asked, striding across to the cocktail cabinet. He was wearing a fresh suit of clothes, and he had tried to tame his messy blond hair with some of the ice-cold water from the bowl.
Lord Bartleby, the Marquess of Warminster, grunted but did not raise his eyes from the paper until he was ready to turn the page.
“I was going to ring for some tea,” said Lady Amanda, the marchioness. “However, if you would prefer a sherry…” she left the sentence in mid-air as she was wont to do, always keen to fall in with whatever everyone else was doing.
“Mother, if you would like some tea, then you shall have tea!” said James, taking a glass of sherry and placing it at his father’s elbow on the table. He went to the chimney breast, pulled the cord, and returned to his task. “How about you, My Lady?” he said to Lady Paulette. He did not like the woman, the widow of a distant cousin on his father’s side who, in James’ opinion, was bleeding the marquess dry by living in a suite of rooms in Horningsham House rent-free due to some long-forgotten pact between Lord Bartleby and the late Lord Chiswick. However, for as long as Chiswick’s widow was a guest in his father’s home, then he would treat her with respect, good manners and good grace.
Lady Paulette looked up from her embroidery and licked her thin lips. “I am not sure,” she said, her tiny black eyes darting from the sherry decanter to the marquess to the marchioness. Instantly, James could tell that the woman would truly like both tea and sherry, even if she hesitated to say it out loud.
He poured a glass of sherry anyway. “When the tea tray arrives, you can make up your mind then,” he said with a cheerful smile, determined not to allow his own misgivings to show.
“I think that I should like both as well,” chirped Lady Melissa.
Lord Bartleby looked up from his newspaper and grumbled, prompting his wife to say something.
“Erm…Melissa, darling,” said Lady Amanda, brown eyes darting from her husband to her daughter. “Do not forget, you are not of age yet to be drinking spirits. Wait for the tea tray with Lady Paulette and I.”
Melissa pouted at her brother, who put the stopper back in the decanter after only pouring a glass of sherry for himself. He shook his head. “My apologies, sister. Next time I will ask you when there are no parents around to spoil your fun.”
She smiled back at him and then looked sadly at her sewing. “Sherry is not even a spirit in any case,” she said sulkily. “It is a wine, and nobody seems to mind me drinking wine.”
Her father growled again, and her mother said, “But sherry is fortified wine, my dear. Therefore, it is a spirit.”
“Would you like a glass of wine instead, sister?” asked James.
Lady Melissa blew her cheeks out, rather as he had done earlier, and shook her head. “No, thank you,” she said. “I will await the tea with Mama.”
Cradling his sherry glass in his hand, James swept over to his mother, planted a kiss on her cheek, and sank down on a settee opposite the ladies.
“What have you been doing all day, my dear?” asked Lady Amanda.
“Oh…” he hesitated, glancing over at his father, whose eyes were still firmly focused on the newspaper. “I have been reading,” he said at last. Well, it was not really an untruth, even if it was not strictly the entire truth.
Lord Bartleby growled again and turned a page.
After tearing her eyes reluctantly from Lord James’ back as he had retreated along the servants’ corridor, Sarah Payne had given herself a thoroughly good shaking and returned to her duties.
She longed to be a lady’s maid instead of a lowly housemaid, but her inability to read and write had held her back, even if her own mother was indeed in charge of the hiring and firing of the female domestic staff at Horningsham. Lord James had at least given her some hope in that regard, and she tried to convince herself that it was their reading lessons that she looked forward to whenever he was home and nothing more. She delighted in the opportunity, for she craved learning.
As soon as she could, she ran up to the room in the attic that she shared with Anne-Marie and, after hugging it once more to her chest and breathing in the smell of the paper along with the fading aroma of the newsprint, she hid the newspaper under her pillow. She knew it was only a news sheet, but he had been holding it, and he had helped her to read from it. I will treasure it until it falls to pieces, she told herself. Then she shook her head. When did this silly attraction of mine towards the viscount first manifest itself? she wondered, furrowing her brow as she tried to pinpoint the exact moment that they had gone from childhood friends to…what? A grown man and a grown woman? But he is heir to the entire Horningsham estate, and I am just a servant. She knew that it was a hopeless dream, and yet she allowed herself the occasional indulgence to dream it, regardless of the unlikelihood of anything ever coming from it.
Now he was teaching her how to read and write, she would at least have a genuine excuse to spend a little more time in his company. So long as the marquess does not catch us together, she reminded herself. For if that ever happened, she knew that the lessons would come to an end or, far worse than that, she would be forced to leave the estate. After all, for a woman to be alone in the company of a man, even a gentleman, would cause a scandal. What would she do then?
“I will be able to read!” she said out loud. “And I will teach some of the other villagers how to read as well!”
Would Lord James allow her to be banished from the property? It would probably be of no interest to him one way or the other. Why would he argue with his father over her? It was well-known amongst the servants, and indeed the villagers, that Lord Bartleby was a snob and could be somewhat cruel, and there were often stories among the staff of Lord James disagreeing with his father and the two of them having the most almighty rows. But for the son to argue with the father over her, Sarah? No, it was unlikely, even when she knew the viscount to be a fair and good warm-hearted man.
“He keeps his promises, if nothing else,” she said softly, smoothing down the thin cover on her bed and straightening her uniform.
She hesitated at the door and glanced back at her bed to ensure it did not look as though she had hidden anything under her pillow. Then, with a nod of her head, she pulled the door closed behind her and almost collided with Anne-Marie.
“Oh, mon dieu!” exclaimed the girl in French, almost dropping the pile of pressed sheets she had in her arms. “Goodness,” she translated, even though Sarah knew by now that it was only a rough translation. “I am not surprised that you are in such a hurry!” said Anne-Marie. “Madame Payne, she is looking for you.”
“Did she ask you to come and find me?” asked Sarah with one hand straying up to her head to ensure that her cap was straight and her hair tucked in correctly.
Anne-Marie shook her head, causing some of her curly auburn locks to escape from her own cap. “I said I would tell you if I saw you.”
“Thank you,” said Sarah, nodding. “I had better go and see what she wants me for.”
Anne-Marie nodded this time. “And I will go and put these clean sheets in the linen cupboard.”
Mrs Payne was pacing up and down in the housekeeper’s room with one hand in the crook of her back and the other to her brow. The door was ajar, but Sarah gently tapped on it in any case. The woman dropped the hand from her brow as she turned to see who was there. Sarah noticed that her expression was pained, but it softened when the housekeeper saw her daughter.
“Come in, close the door,” said her mother, gesticulating with her free hand now for Sarah to come into the room. The other she kept firmly at her back.
Sarah looked up and down the corridor before doing as she was asked. “What is it? Are you feeling unwell?” She closed the door carefully behind her.
The housekeeper sighed and sank down onto her chair. Almost immediately, she was on her feet again. “No more than usual,” she said.
“Will you not be seated?” asked Sarah, dashing now to her side to take hold of her mother’s elbow in order to give her some assistance.
Mrs Payne shook her off and glared at the door as if it were still open and the entire household were watching them. “My feet are so sore and swollen, but the moment I sit down, the pain becomes too unbearable, and I must stand again. Anyway, enough about me. Lady Melissa has asked for your services this evening.
Sarah opened her eyes wide with shock. “She has asked for me?” she said, pointing at her own chest.
Sometimes, when she was feeling grown-up, Lady Melissa would summon one of the maids, any of the maids, and ask her to help her with her toilet. Lady Melissa was only seventeen, however, and did not yet merit a lady’s maid of her own. As far as the marchioness, her mother, was concerned, the family nanny was still doing a perfectly adequate job with the girl. Lady Amanda did occasionally lend her own maid to her daughter, and once, when Lady Amanda’s maid was too busy, and Sarah was the maid who had been summoned, Lady Melissa had allowed Sarah to arrange her hair. The young lady did not attend many society events. After all, they were a few miles from Bath, where most of the balls and teas and fundraisers took place, and even further from London. And, again, she was still too young.
On this occasion, the family had been expecting company for dinner, and while Lady Melissa did not expect the housemaid to do anything grand with her coiffure, she did still wish to look at least presentable. Sarah thought that she had done well with Her Ladyship’s hair, but Lady Melissa had not sent for her again to carry out that particular task. Or not by name at any rate, and she had sent for some of the other maids by name.
Like her father, the marquess, Lady Melissa was a snob, and it was well-known among the servants that she held her older brother, Lord James, in some disdain. Apparently, he was too quiet in his nature and carried an unorthodox streak that was alien to both his sister and his father. An anxious girl nonetheless, she could sometimes be mean-spirited and spiteful, according to some of the other maids.
“Well, do not dilly-dally,” scolded her mother, who was having another attempt at sitting down. Sarah saw her wince, but Mrs Payne worked through the pain in any case, and as the pain etched on her face was suddenly replaced with relief, the housekeeper blew out a big breath.
“Are you comfortable now, Ma?”
“How many times must I remind you not to call me Ma when we are at work?” hissed the woman.
“I am sorry,” said Sarah, lowering her eyes. “I worry about you, that is all. And so does Da.”
Her mother sighed again and forced a smile. “I know you do. But when we are at work, you must refer to me as Mrs Payne, the same as everyone else must.”
“Yes, Ma…ma…Mrs Payne.”
“Now run along and see what you can do for Her Ladyship. She has asked for you by name, so do not make any mistakes.”
Sarah was hesitant. “I do not wish to leave you if you are unwell,” she said.
The housekeeper flapped her hand at her daughter’s face. “I am merely with child,” she said. “I am not ill. When you have finished your chores, you may tend to me then. However, I would be willing to suggest that this is but a phase, and it will pass soon enough. Now go.”
“If you are sure…?”
Sarah pressed her lips together and left the room, leaving the door ajar again so that anyone passing might see if her mother was suffering and would be able to assist her.
She ran up the narrow staircase the servants used to access all areas of the great house and flinched when she twisted her knee. “That is what one gets for rushing,” she said out loud, rubbing her sore leg. Gingerly putting her weight on the offending foot, she carefully made her way to Lady Melissa’s suite of rooms.
“Where have you been, you lazy girl?” said Her Ladyship when Sarah limped into her chamber. “I asked for you more than twenty minutes ago.”
“I do beg your pardon, My Lady,” said Sarah humbly. She did not waste time explaining that she had been busy elsewhere attending to her other chores, for she knew that Lady Melissa did not really wish to know. “What is it that I may do for you?” she asked politely.
The young woman glared at Sarah’s reflection in the mirror for a moment, then flapped her hand for the maid to come closer and see to her hair. “I want you to do the same to my hair that you did the last time,” she said, surprising Sarah that she even remembered it was Sarah who had done her hair previously.
“Is the family expecting company this evening?” asked Sarah, picking up the silver-backed hairbrush from the dressing table in front of Lady Melissa.
“Lord and Lady Blackstone and their daughter are coming for dinner.”
Sarah frowned as she brushed Lady Melissa’s hair. “Oh, I did not know that they were coming again,” she said. Lady Melissa did not usually worry about her hair as they were such regular visitors to the house. “They seem to spend more time here than they do at their own home.”
“Oh, you silly goose. Why would you know that they are coming?” Without waiting for Sarah to answer, and in any case, Sarah knew better than to even try, the young lady continued. “They are bringing with them a guest, a newly knighted gentleman who served in Lord Blackstone’s regiment.”
Ah, so there was the reason behind the extra attention. “Then he must have served in your father’s regiment too,” said Sarah. She knew that Lord Blackstone was a former war buddy of the marquess and that the two gentlemen were very firm friends. She wondered how old this new knight of the realm might be, but she did not voice her meandering.
Lady Melissa shrugged her shoulders and pulled a face. “I suppose that he must have done, yes. Jimmy’s friend Tommy is coming to dinner as well.”
“Oh, how…er…interesting,” said Sarah. It had been a long time since Lord Thomas had visited the house and she had almost said ‘how strange’ but stopped herself at the very last moment, for she would have been at a loss of how to explain to Lady Melissa how her brother had only mentioned his oldest friend that very day, and to Sarah of all people. Fortunately for Sarah, Lady Melissa was not the brightest member of the Horning family and did not notice Sarah’s slip-up. Either that or she was too engrossed in her own self.
Suddenly Lady Melissa pinched Sarah’s arm and Sarah only just stopped herself from crying out in pain.
“You drifted off somewhere,” snapped Lady Melissa. “Pay attention and hurry up and finish my hair. I am already going to be late, thanks to your tardiness. I am of a mind to ask for one of the other maids in future.”
Sarah bit down on her lip and concentrated on her task, trying to ignore the pain that was growing in her knee. If she truly wanted to be elevated to lady’s maid, unfortunately, Lady Melissa was the only likely person to whom Sarah would be assigned, for she could not imagine Lady Amanda’s maid Laura leaving her position any time soon.
Or Lady Melissa was the only likelihood for as long as Sarah remained with this household.
“Where a Maid’s Dreams Begin” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Sarah Payne is an uneducated but intelligent maid who craves learning more than anything. Luck smiles on her when her kind employer and secret crush, James Thynne, promises to teach her to read and write. Before long, Sarah is caught up in an emotional whirlwind after realising she is hopelessly in love with a man she could never have. She knows very well that marrying a nobleman will remain a pipe dream…
Is there any chance that Sarah could be with the only man that has ever made her feel special? Or will social rules and expectations eventually let her heart down?
Lord James, the Viscount of Frome, is an honourable and good-hearted young man, loved by all his servants and people in the village. Ever since he took the youthful and pretty Sarah under his wing, he finds himself drawn to her remarkable intelligence and kindness. Yes, he knows that he has to hold himself back if he wants to protect himself from a scandal, but could he sacrifice his happiness on the altar of Society and ignore his strong feelings?
Only a miracle could bring those two souls together…
It doesn’t take long for Sarah and James to realise that they cannot bury their mutual growing feelings. The distance between them becomes bigger though when Jame’s tyrannical father dismisses Sarah and her family and forces James into a loveless betrothal… Will Sarah and James overcome each and every obstacle to embrace a life together? Or will they allow the actions of others to keep them apart forever?
“Where a Maid’s Dreams Begin” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.