A Cruel Suspicion

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Logline or Premise
Life will never be same again when Antheia is forced to leave her childhood behind. A mystery and a cruel secret sends her on a quest for the truth as she tries to settle in her new home and negotiate a family who don't seem to care if she exists or not.
First 10 Pages



“You’re only seventeen, my dear and as such you must live with your next of kin.”

Mr Dodwell’s soulful expression told her everything she needed to know and his words confirmed it.

“I didn’t know I had an uncle. My mother never mentioned her family.”

The solicitor studied the young girl sitting across from his huge and rather busy desk almost obscuring her. She was growing into a beautiful young woman, with auburn hair and the widest blue-green eyes he had ever seen.

“Your mother had… difficulties with her family. She was estranged from them for many years. But yes, she had an older brother.”

“And now I’m expected to go and live with this uncle and his family? A family I’ve no knowledge of!”

He glanced down at the letter. “Your uncle says he’s happy to provide for you until you decide to marry.” Seeing her disdainful expression, he added, “Although you must admit your father gave you an excellent education. You know Latin and Greek and you could very well teach.” He coughed slightly. “It would be up to you, of course.”

“But this uncle lives in Lancashire you say. Isn’t that in the north of England?”

He nodded. “The north west to be precise. It’s a beautiful part of England I’m led to believe. Not far from Morecambe Bay. A wonderful habitat for butterflies and birds because of the coastal salt marshes and…”

Antheia stopped listening, her mind in turmoil. Did she have to leave Herefordshire and the village in which she had been born and raised? How could she bear to leave Bromyard with its medieval half-timbered houses, market square but most of all, how could she leave her friends and those she had known her entire life? And to live in a place where there were ‘coastal salty marshes’ whatever they were. It sounded bleak and cold and worst of all, quite dangerous. She blinked hard and tried to concentrate on what the solicitor was saying about her uncle showing such kindness to send the funds, so she may buy her train ticket for the journey to the north of England.

She couldn’t hide from the fact she must leave the vicarage. The new vicar of St Peter’s and his wife had been kind to let her stay with them since they had no family of their own. However, to discover her father had stated in his will she must go to her maternal uncle had come as a shock. But the biggest shock was losing her mother and father in only ten days. The cholera outbreak in Leominster had swept into Bromyard and it didn’t seem possible such a terrible illness could strike a pretty village in the valley of the River Frome where farmers grew their hops. Tainted water had tainted her life and she sighed, knowing she had to accept it.

The Reverend Brown and his wife were more upset than Antheia as they waited outside The Falcon Hotel for the stagecoach bound for Leominster. The day before, the young girl had said farewell to friends and neighbours and their touching parting gifts were to be packed up and sent on the next mail train.

“Have you got everything? Did you pick up the clean handkerchief I left out for you?” Mrs Brown wiped her eyes with her own lace handkerchief. “Such a long way for a slip of girl to travel.”

The Reverend Brown agreed. “Why didn’t your uncle come down for you? He shouldn’t have left you to travel on your own. If I’d had the time, I would have accompanied you myself. And what about your solicitor! Surely Mr Dodwell could have…”

The Browns had been a delightful couple to live with these last six weeks, but she didn’t want them to fuss. “I’m old enough to make the journey on my own. And I’ll write as soon as I arrive at my new home.”

The Reverend nodded. “Yes, you must. I’ve made a note of the trains you must catch. Do you have it?” Antheia patted the carpetbag. “Good! Good! Now you refer to that itinerary often then you won’t go astray.”

“And I’ve packed you sandwiches and a flask of orange juice. You must purchase something to eat at the stations. But please don’t miss your train when you do.” The concern on the face of Mrs Brown was painful to see.

Antheia kissed her cheek. “Please don’t worry, I’ll simply catch the next one. I will be all right.”

The stagecoach came round the corner; the four horses ready for a drink as they pulled up outside the hotel. A few young men seemed to have the same idea as they dropped to the ground from the cheaper seats on the roof, bound for a quick ale in the hotel before continuing their journey.

“At least your luggage has gone before you. It’ll be there ready for you when you arrive, my dear,” said the Reverend, peeping inside the coach. “Two seats available. Come on, let me help you inside.”

Antheia was glad when the horses were watered and the young men returned to take their seats. Pulling away from the front of the hotel, she waved until the stagecoach swayed and lurched its way round the corner and out of the village. Suddenly she felt afraid. She had visited the market town of Leominster many times in her seventeen years, but had never travelled further than that. She looked out of the window and decided to enjoy the beautiful August weather. The sky was a brilliant blue and as they rumbled along the country lanes, she knew the twelve miles to Leominster would take about ninety minutes. But she had caught the coach at six-thirty and she delighted in the early morning freshness. Asking the two couples who were travelling with her if she may, she pulled down the window sash to allow fresh air to circulate the carriage. The scent of the hedgerows drifted into the interior along with the birdsong.

Precisely at eight o’clock, the coach pulled up outside the small railway station and Antheia climbed down clutching her carpetbag to her with one hand and holding up her skirt with the other. How glad she was she had chosen to wear a modest crinoline cage since she couldn’t contemplate travelling with wide encompassing skirts. Even so, she had worn her best white blouse and black skirt with a short jacket that didn’t quite reach her waist. Her straw bonnet was simple in design and tied with a black ribbon. But in her luggage, sent ahead of her, she had placed her favourite Sunday hat; with a small crown and narrow brim and decorated with ostrich plumes and a long veil tied round the brim that hung down the back. This was her best hat and she was determined to look smart when attending church with her new family.

She passed the time waiting for the train in a tearoom with a cup of tea and a currant bun contemplating the large piece of paper on which was written the Reverend Brown’s itinerary. It was impressive and detailed. Smiling at the fact he had not only written down the stations, times and platforms, but also the railway companies that would take her north, she wouldn’t have been surprised if he had listed the number on the locomotives. Kissing the paper in memory of the life she had left behind, she tucked it back in her carpetbag.

The next part of her journey was quite pleasant as she kept her eyes on the scenery outside of the window, munching the sandwiches Mrs Brown had packed for her. One hundred and twenty-three miles to Manchester Piccadilly Station. It seemed an unbelievable distance; almost like travelling to a foreign country.

She climbed down from the train to use the facilities and stretch her legs at Shrewsbury and Crewe, but it was after Crewe the landscape deteriorated into factories and mills, belching smoke. The ‘engine house’ of the country Reverend Brown had called it. But Antheia knew the war in America had almost destroyed the cotton industry, to the detriment of the workers’ livelihoods. Although she couldn’t believe how people tolerated the working conditions in these huge buildings and lived in a place where the sun disappeared in a haze of grime, the accounts in the newspapers of starving people, tugged at her heartstrings.

How relieved she was to arrive at Manchester Piccadilly and board the next train that would take her to Lancaster, passing through countryside more pleasing with undulating hills and vast fields where sheep grazed. And then she was embarking on the last part; Lancaster to the small station of Carnforth and further into the wilds of North West Lancashire. When she stepped down from the carriage at four o’clock that afternoon she felt as though every muscle in her body had been pummelled. She stretched on the platform, raising herself up on her toes to ease the ache in her legs and then made her way out of the station. The sharp tang of salt air made her breathe deeply. Thankfully, the good weather had stayed with her all through her journey, but how glad she was it was done with. Outside she searched for the transport her uncle was supposed to have sent for her.

At first her eyes swept over the sumptuous landau waiting at the roadside, pulled by two black horses. As well as the driver and a liveried footman standing by the door, a woman of ample proportions was sitting in one of the red plush seats. Antheia looked about for a waggon or dogcart. Her mother had been forty-five when she had died so Antheia expected her uncle to be a few years older. A farmer perhaps, or a blacksmith. A man of the cloth would be wonderful. If she were to live in a vicarage she would feel very much at home. She should have questioned Mr Dodwell more thoroughly.

The woman in the landau waved to her. “Miss Vale? Is that you? Come over here, my dear.” Clutching her carpetbag, Antheia walked across to the waiting carriage. “Ah, you look so like your mother, you must be she.”

Was this the wife of her uncle? She looked the right age, perhaps in her forties or fifties. Antheia smiled up at her. “Have you come to meet me?”

The woman nodded and a pleasant smile filled her face. “Indeed I have. Jump up here and we’ll be on our way. It’s only four miles to Brawton and we’ll have a little chat while we travel along.”

Antheia climbed in helped by the footman who then took his place at the rear on the footboard. She settled comfortably on the seat across from the woman, her back to the driver and studied her companion dressed in a plum coloured coat and elaborately decorated black bonnet. She had an authority about her, plainly shown when she called out a command to the driver to ‘get us home and quick about it’.

It was Antheia who started the conversation. “Are you my aunt?”

The woman threw back her head and chuckled. “Goodness no. I’m Mrs Hadwin, the housekeeper.”

The housekeeper? So, her uncle had a housekeeper, which meant he might not be married. She felt pleased hearing such news and realised she could be some help to an unmarried uncle. Perhaps she could help with his accounts and paperwork? She had helped her father in the same capacity and prided herself on her skill and efficiency.

She glanced at the footman, feeling confused. “Mr Dodwell, the solicitor said I was to live with my uncle, but I didn’t ask for any details I’m afraid.”

“I’m not surprised after losing your parents within a few weeks. How you were able to breathe, I have no idea. It must have been a terrible shock.”

Antheia noticed the smell of the sea was getting stronger. “I was devastated and there seemed such a lot to do. Thank goodness for the Reverend Brown and his wife. They were wonderful helping me through it.”

The housekeeper leaned forward and patted her knee. “You’ll be happy at Sedgwick Abbey. After all, it was where your mother was born and raised.”

Sedgwick Abbey? She was to live in an abbey? That was impossible. She must mean her mother was born and raised on the estate of the Abbey. Perhaps her uncle worked on a farm or was a stable hand. Although he could be the butler.

She swallowed hard and decided to ask about her new home later. “You remember my mother?”

“I do indeed. I was heartbroken when she left, especially when we heard nothing from her for the next twenty-five years. In fact, not until she died and Mr Dodwell wrote to your uncle.”

“Goodness, you’ve been a housekeeper a long time.”

“Thirty years at the Abbey, my dear. Started as a kitchen maid, then housemaid and then parlour maid and finally housekeeper.”

“So, you work alongside my uncle?”

The housekeeper chuckled with delight. “I do try, but he can be a contrary individual and often won’t take advice. But he is the master.”

Antheia licked dry lips. “My uncle is the master?”

Mrs Hadwin stared at her. “Mr Dodwell did tell you your family connections?”

She shook her head. “No nothing. And I failed to ask him.”

One of the wheels hit a large stone and the carriage lurched slightly to one side.

“Mind how you’re driving, Wilson,” the housekeeper called, straightening her bonnet. Wilson turned his head and muttered something inaudible over his shoulder. Mrs Hadwin shook her head in exasperation and her blue-grey eyes sparkled. “He does it on purpose, you know. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, your uncle is the Earl of Sedgwick and Sedgwick Abbey is your family seat. Before her marriage your mother was Lady Anne, the only daughter of the late earl.”


The housekeeper had told her it was four miles from the railway station to the village of Brawton and for the rest of the journey, Antheia felt she couldn’t speak. Her mother was Lady Anne and daughter of the late earl. And the late earl would be her grandfather! This was a revelation she hadn’t expected. She could have accepted living in a small cottage belonging to a tradesman. But to live in the ancestral home of an earl? Suddenly she felt inadequate and unequal to the position. Did she have a title? She decided she didn’t since her mother had married a humble clergyman.

As the carriage rumbled through the pretty village of Brawton with its cottages, shops and church, she wondered if the Abbey was within walking distance. She would like to visit the village since it did remind her of Bromyard. But they continued on down the lane and yet more lanes until they turned in at elaborate wrought iron gates decorated with swirls of metalwork in the shape of leaves and flowers. Passing woodland and lawns, the Abbey came into sight and Antheia felt shock sweep through her. It was huge and ugly. It seemed to have at least two three-storey wings adjacent to the main part of the building, jutting out like wayward limbs that seemed out of place. To one side was a tower and at the other the windows of a conservatory. A portico sheltered the main door and Antheia couldn’t take her eyes from it. It was a monstrosity.

“Over four hundred years old,” said the housekeeper, nodding in the direction of the building. “It has a great deal of history. In the fifteenth century the earl fought for the Plantagenets during the Wars of the Roses and as we know, the Lancastrian side won. The family then went on to support Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth.”

“An enterprising family! Has the building any hidden nooks and crannies?”

Mrs Hadwin stared at her in amazement. “How strange you should say that, my dear. During the time of Elizabeth the family were of the catholic faith and hid their priests away in priest holes.”

Antheia smiled. Perhaps it would be exciting living here? It would take her days to explore the whole building and the grounds. She could still taste salt on her lips and decided she must find the sea. She had never seen the sea and suddenly happiness filled her. The earl was her uncle and the only family she had left. For that she had to be grateful.

Why was it called the Blue Room when the décor was cream and chocolate? The cream wallpaper was printed with vertical bands of small blue and pink flowers, but as far as she could see the room was mostly painted cream with brown trim. There was no fire in the grate and a large vase of chrysanthemums filled the space. At the side of the room, next to the armoire were the two trunks that had arrived before her. The room was comfortable with a large window overlooking the front of the house. The land seemed fairly flat and she hoped the sea was out there waiting for her to explore.

She untied her bonnet, shrugged off her jacket and placed them on the chaise longue, before stepping across to the trunks. “I’d better unpack.”

The housekeeper looked about the room and pulled the bedspread straight. “Already done, my dear. You’ll find everything in the armoire and chest of drawers. I’ll get one of the footmen to take the trunks to the storeroom. However,” her face flushed with embarrassment, “as we were unpacking your clothes, I noticed your skirts and gowns are…simple and plain.” She coughed and pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her lips. “I think we should get the seamstress to make you a full wardrobe of clothes. You’ll need evening gowns and warmer clothes for when the colder weather arrives. The winters up here can be quite harsh.”

“My mother taught me to sew and we made our own clothes,” said Antheia. Her cheeks became hot with humiliation that the housekeeper had gone through her clothes and passed judgement on them. “I’m sorry you don’t feel they’re quite up to scratch for such a prestigious family home as Sedgwick Abbey!”

To her surprise the housekeeper chuckled. “My, you have your mother’s temper.” A frown crossed her face. “Yes, I remember. Your mother was quite adept with the needle.”

Antheia nodded. “Yes and she made all my clothes when I was a child and then we made our clothes together.” She bit her lip. “We couldn’t afford a seamstress and unfortunately, I could afford the cloth for only a few mourning clothes. Crape is so expensive.” She turned her attention back to their former topic. “So, you think I need more fashionable clothes?”

Mrs Hadwin gave a bright smile and pointed at the skirt and blouse the young girl was wearing. “I can see you’re fashionable already, although I can never understand the attraction of a crinoline. They take up far too much room. But I saw no evening attire in your luggage and you’ll need some gowns when you take dinner with the family and while she’s at it why not let the seamstress make you some day dresses too? All within the parameters of your mourning.”

It made sense and Antheia nodded in agreement. “What time does my uncle dine?”

“Ah, not this evening, Miss Antheia. It’s been decided you’ll have a tray in your room since you’ve had such a long day of travelling. Now, I’ll get one of the maids to bring hot water so you may freshen up and also a cup of tea and sandwich to keep you going till dinner.”

“Would it be all right if I explored the building?”

“Of course, but this is a big house so try not to get lost. This floor is the bedrooms and upstairs is the servants’ quarters. The ground floor houses all the main rooms.” She turned on her heel to leave the room, but stopped in her tracks. “Oh, I nearly forgot. His lordship wants to see you at five-thirty in his study. That’s the room by the main door.” She looked at the fob watch pinned to her black dress. “You have forty minutes. Don’t be late, his lordship doesn’t care for tardiness.”

After she had left, Antheia went to the window and looked out. The sweeping lawns and winding drive gave her the view of where they had arrived and looking up at the sky she calculated her room must be facing east, therefore should get the morning sun. She shivered. It was getting chilly and she could have done with the fire lit. She stepped across to the fireplace and removed the chrysanthemums, discovering they were made of silk. The grate had been swept clean and there wasn’t a scuttle nearby filled with coal. A knock on the door made her start and she went to open it. Outside stood a young girl in apron and frilly cap, strands of red hair springing out of its lace confines; her cheeks and nose peppered with faint freckles. She carried a large pitcher from which steam arose, making her cheeks shiny with the moisture.

“Good afternoon, miss. I’ve brought you hot water so you may freshen up.” Antheia smiled and opened the door for her, watching her walk towards the oak washstand by the window where she placed the pitcher by the large ceramic bowl. The young girl turned to her. “You have soap and there’s a towel ready for you on the rail. Just pull the bell by your bed if you need anything else.”

Antheia stepped forward her hand outstretched. “My name is Antheia Vale. I’m so pleased to meet you. What’s your name?”

The young girl stared at her hand as if it were a snake and bobbed a curtsey, grinning. “My name is Mathilda, miss. But I get called Matty. Mrs Hadwin said I’m to be your personal maid and help you dress for dinner and deal with your needs.”

This was an eye opener for Antheia who dropped her hand quickly. “I won’t be any bother I promise,” she said hurriedly.

Matty gave a giggle. “It’s no bother, Miss Antheia. It’s my job. I’ll just bring in your tea.”

“Thank you, you’re very kind.”

Matty gave her a quizzical look, before bringing in a tray containing a plate of sandwiches and a pot of tea.

Antheia waited until she could hear the rustle of the maid’s skirts moving down the corridor before crossing the floor to the washstand and pouring water into the bowl. As she washed her face she peeped behind the ornate Japanese screen and smiled at the large hip-bath surrounded by towels and bottles of bath salts and oils. She devoured the sandwiches and tea in five minutes, so hungry was she.

Glancing in the mirror, she sighed at the untidy strands of hair falling from the pins and searched through her vanity case for the gold-coloured silk hairnet and tucked her hair inside so it looked tidy and out of the way. It was time for her interview with his lordship.

She descended the wide curved staircase slowly, her hand slipping along the highly polished banister until she reached the newel post at the bottom. The hallway was huge with quite a few doors leading off plus passageways to other parts of the house. Antheia waited for a moment to get her bearings. Flowers adorned the vases standing on the three occasional tables round the room and on the walls were many portraits Antheia supposed must be her ancestors. She would study them later.

The minute hand on the tall grandfather clock was approaching the half-hour and she looked at the doors either side of the main entrance. Remembering she had seen huge bay windows at the left-hand side, she decided that door must lead to her uncle’s study. She stepped across to it and knocked, as the clock struck half-past. There was a sharp call of ‘enter’ from within and she turned the handle and stepped into an extensive room filled with light from the bay window. This room also faced east and she wondered if the morning sun warmed the room since there was no fire lit and the chill made her shiver.

The man sitting behind the desk was slender in build and clean-shaven on his top lip but sported a beard. In many ways he reminded her of the drawings she had seen of the American president, Abraham Lincoln. His clothes were neat and tidy with dark blue trousers and frock coat, a black silk waistcoat, pale blue cravat and white linen shirt. She was surprised to see he wore a black armband on his left arm and felt touched that he should show such respect for a woman he hadn’t seen for a quarter of a century.

He stood as she entered the room and she could feel his grey eyes appraising her. “So, you are Antheia, my niece? Daughter of my late sister, Anne?” Was he unsure? She decided his question was rhetorical and nodded. “I would ask you to take a seat, but I’m rather busy at the moment. I’ll have to find time to get to know you better. You must be tired after your long journey so I’ve told Mrs Hadwin to arrange a tray in your room tonight.”

“Yes, I know. And I’m happy with that.”

“Good! You may join us for luncheon tomorrow. Is your room comfortable?”

She wondered if she should tell him her room was a bit on the cold side, but decided against it. “It’s a lovely room. Thank you.”

He grunted and stroked his beard, his gaze flicking over her clothes. “I’ve informed Mrs Hadwin to commission new clothes for you. I expect evening attire at dinner and I also expect good timekeeping. None of this ladies’ prerogative of being fashionably late.” She didn’t know how to reply and stayed silent. “So, we’ll talk more tomorrow.” She felt as though a disgruntled headmaster had dismissed her when she had done nothing wrong.

But she needed to ask him one thing. “How must I address you?” He looked puzzled and she explained. “Should I call you my lord?”

For the first time he broke into a smile and his severe expression disappeared. It was as though the sun had come out. “Certainly not! You’re my niece and therefore you may call me Uncle. If needs must, Uncle Henry.”

Uncle Henry! It sounded wonderful and made her feel more like a member of the family instead of part of the staff. Dipping a quick curtsey she left the study and fled into the hallway, closing the door behind her. Standing with her hand on her hip, she tried to catch her breath not realising she had been breathing shallow all through the interview, so scared had she been.

The doors round the vast hallway intrigued her and crossing the floor she decided to try the one on the far side of the main entrance. Opening the door, she peeped round and found herself in the library where three long windows cast shadows on the walls of shelving filled with books of all shapes and sizes. She gasped and stepped inside, gazing at the shelves that dominated three walls from floor to ceiling. There were comfortable armchairs and sofas round the room and a large table in the middle scattered with volumes.

And then she saw him. Lounging in a leather chair was a young man, one leg flung over the arm of his chair in a casual manner. He had a book on his knee and seemed to be reading it by skimming through the pages. He was dressed almost identically as her uncle except his fair hair was too long and the fringe kept falling over his forehead, which he would flick back occasionally.

He lifted his head and blue eyes stared at her until he remembered his manners and hauled himself to his feet, placing the book on the table.

“Ah, the country cousin I assume. Ariadne?” He was tall and slender and moved awkwardly as though he couldn’t work out what to do with his arms and legs.

Antheia bristled at his impertinence and rudeness. “The name is Antheia and I don’t see you living in a bustling city so what kind of cousin does that make you!”

He lifted his chin. “I’m Felix and I take your point.”

If it was an apology it was given grudgingly, but she decided to accept it. “How do you do, Felix. I’m pleased to meet you, Cousin.”

He stepped towards her and gave a sharp bow. “So, you’ve come to live in this monstrous pile. I pity you. I’m going up to Cambridge in October and I’ve never been so relieved in my life.”

She looked round the room, breathing in the musty smell of books. “It’s not a very attractive building but I’m sure it has its advantages.”

“I fail to see any.”

She decided to change the subject. “So, you’re eighteen? And the…heir?”

His reply came in a snort of derision. “Yes, I’m eighteen and no, I’m the spare.”

“You are Lord…Felix?”

“My goodness, I go back to my earlier observation. You really are the country cousin.”

Antheia sighed. “Then why don’t you enlighten me.”

“I’m nothing more than The Honourable Felix Martindale.”

“Not Sedgwick?”

“Sedgwick is the title, Martindale is the family name.” His eyes swept over her clothes, one corner of his mouth lifting slightly. “My elder brother is the heir. Viscount Keasden. You may call him Lord Keasden if you wish, but I’d stick to calling him Will as we all do.”

“And where is Will may I ask?”

“In foreign parts.”

A thought flashed through her mind. “Ah, yes. It’s called the Grand Tour, isn’t it? Young men go abroad to see the world.” She frowned. “I didn’t think they did that any more.”

“My dear brother isn’t on a Grand Tour as such. He’s gone to dig up dead bodies.”

“Oh, what’s he going to do with them? Sew them together like Doctor Frankenstein?”

“Ah, the country cousin knows Mary Shelley’s work.”

She pulled a face at him. How she wished he wouldn’t keep referring to her humble but happy life in a Herefordshire vicarage. “Yes, I do. So, why has he gone to dig up dead bodies.”

“I exaggerate,” he smirked. “Actually he’s studying archaeology and he’s on the dig at Pompeii. You’ll have not heard of Pompeii I take it?”

Blinking rapidly, her words came at him like bullets from a rifle. “Pompeii. An Italian City where Vesuvius erupted in 79AD burying the inhabitants under volcanic ash and debris.”

“Well done. I’d ask your opinion on the war in America, but I’m sure…”

She raised her eyebrows at him. “You mean the one that started at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay in April 1861? The Confederate army opened fire on the fort claiming it as their own…”

Felix made a quick bow. “I must take my leave, dear cousin. I need to get ready for dinner.” It seemed he wanted the last word. “You do know your mother married your father out of spite? She hated the late earl. Little wonder since he murdered his wife, our grandmother.”

And then he was gone leaving Antheia with a sour taste in her mouth. How disappointed she was with herself, since her reaction to her cousin had surprised her. It seemed as though he brought out the worst in her and she didn’t relish the feeling. They had had a battle of one-upmanship and she had never encountered that in her life. But it was obvious he felt superior. He thought her an ignorant country girl with little education, in her plain clothes and her hair tucked inside a hairnet.

But the one thing she was sure of was her mother certainly didn’t marry her father out of spite. They loved each other and besides, her mother had been employed as a governess in Leominster for two years before meeting and marrying her father.

She left the library and immediately met Matty. Her bright smile cheered Antheia and she could have kissed her for lifting her spirits.

“Oh, there you are, Miss Antheia. I’ll be bringing your dinner to your room in ten minutes and then I thought you might like to bathe after such a long journey. It’ll help you sleep.”

Antheia nodded in agreement and made her way up to her room. To her surprise the fire had been lit and she warmed her hands over the welcoming flames. Matty brought in her dinner tray and placed her meal on the occasional table already set with a white tablecloth, cutlery, napkin and a crystal wineglass. A small vase containing a bunch of deep pink peonies sat in the middle of the table. The maid pulled up a chair so she could be comfortable and Antheia noticed everything on the table was beautiful. She might not be dining with the family that evening, but she was certainly receiving first class service and as she tucked into her meal she realised the ‘family’ comprised only her uncle and cousin. Perhaps she was better off dining alone in her room. When the maid returned forty minutes later, Antheia had enjoyed a bowl of chicken soup with a bread roll, salmon salad and was finishing off a slice of chocolate cake. And all washed down with a glass of white wine.

She smiled as the maid knocked and entered the room. “You lit the fire, Matty. I’m grateful for that.”

Matty tilted her head and thought about it before replying, “I put it to Mrs Hadwin this room hasn’t been used for years and being on the east side of the house does get a little chilly in the afternoon. Sometimes a fire is needed in these old rooms even though it’s August.”

“I can imagine.” She took the last mouthful of chocolate cake, licked the spoon and noticed the maid turning her head away as if to hide a smile. Perhaps licking the spoon was not polite and she must remember not to do it in future. She placed the spoon on her plate and wiped the corner of her mouth on the napkin. “Please tell the cook the meal was delicious. My uncle is very lucky to have such excellent staff. Are there many of you?”

The maid grinned and began to count up on her fingers. “There’s the housekeeper, Mrs Hadwin and the butler, Mr Winder. There’s about twenty indoor servants. Maids for house and parlour and those for kitchen and scullery. There’s five footmen. And then the men in the stable and the grounds.”

“I’ve met…Wilson,” smiled Antheia. “And one of the footmen.”

Matty nodded. “Wilson is the driver and it’ll have been Charlie what accompanied Mrs Hadwin when she met you from the station. He’s the tallest footman I’ve ever seen and usually takes the footboard. And then there’s his lordship’s valet and her ladyship’s maid.”

Antheia stared at her. “Her…ladyship?”

The maid’s expression became pained. “Oh yes, I forgot. Her ladyship wishes to see you in her parlour tomorrow at ten o’clock.” Seeing her stunned expression she explained, “The Countess of Sedgwick, your uncle’s wife?”

“I assumed my uncle was unmarried. I have an aunt too?”

Matty thought about this before saying, “I suppose she’s more your step-aunt. The second wife of his lordship since the first countess died shortly after Master Felix’s birth and when Lord Keasden was only a nipper. That was before I came to the Abbey, of course. I’ve been here only three years.” She peeped behind the screen. “Now I’ll take your tray away and prepare your bath.”

It felt lovely to be pampered and spoiled and she allowed Matty to do her work, filling the bath with at least two full buckets of hot water brought up from the kitchen and sprinkling jasmine oil in the water. Antheia lowered herself into the scented balm and relaxed, enjoying the feel on her skin as she washed away her cares. It had been an eventful day, starting at five o’clock that morning and although it was only eight-thirty now, she decided to get straight into bed after her bath.

As she snuggled under the covers she thought about her interview with Lady Sedgwick the following morning. How would that turn out? Would they like each other and become close? Or would she be like Felix? But perhaps she was being silly worrying so. No doubt her ladyship would be a lovely, sweet lady who would welcome her into her new home with a gracious smile and a cup of tea. Felix was a different matter. To say such things about her parents was unforgivable.

Antheia thought back to the many morning services she had attended and how when they arrived home for lunch, she and her parents would debate her father’s sermon. The fact they challenged him didn’t upset him at all and he enjoyed the heated discussions they had and the exchange of ideas. Her father’s eyes would gleam with delight as he proposed counter arguments. It was round the table as they ate their meal that Antheia thought her mother the happiest and her opinions were as much respected as her daughter’s.

Was her life at Sedgwick Abbey so confined and stultifying she had to escape to Herefordshire when only twenty years old? Felix’s declaration her grandfather murdered their grandmother was poppycock. He might be a year older than her, but he was years younger in maturity. She would ignore him until he went to Cambridge. Only two months and she wouldn’t have to suffer him any longer.

Antheia shivered and lifted her head from the pillow. The fire was dying and there was no coal to build it up. Jumping out of bed she fetched her coat and black cape, spread them across the bedcovers and clambered back under. Reaching out she turned down the oil lamp beside her bed, smiling at its beautiful glass fluted shade and ceramic base depicting a pastoral scene. She would become warm soon but at least she now knew why it was called the Blue Room and it had nothing to do with the décor.