Far Beyond Rubies
Set in 1706 during Queen Anne Stuart’s reign, Far Beyond Rubies begins when William, Baron Kemp, Juliana’s half-brother claims she and her young sister, Henrietta, are bastards. Spirited Juliana is determined to prove the allegation is false, and that she is the rightful heiress to Riverside, a great estate.
On his way to deliver a letter to William, Gervaise Seymour sees Juliana for the first time on the grounds of her family estate. The sight of her draws him back to India. When “her form changed to one he knew intimately – but not in this lifetime,” Gervaise knows he would do everything in his power to protect her.
Although Juliana and Gervaise are attracted to each other, they have not been formally introduced and assume they will never meet again. However, when Juliana flees from home, and is on her way to London, she encounters quixotic Gervaise at an inn. Circumstances force Juliana to accept his kind help. After Juliana’s life becomes irrevocably tangled with his, she discovers all is not as it seems. Yet, she cannot believe ill of him for, despite his exotic background, he behaves with scrupulous propriety while trying to help her find evidence to prove she and her sister are legitimate.
“Bastards, Juliana! You and your sister are bastards.”
Aghast, Juliana stared at William, her older half-brother, although, not for a moment did she believe his shocking allegation.
It hurt her to confront William without their father at her side. At the beginning of April, she and Father were as comfortable as ever in his London house. Now, a month later, upon her return to her childhood home, Riverside House, set amongst the rolling landscape of Hertfordshire, his body already lay entombed in the family crypt next to her mother’s remains. Would there ever be a day when she did not mourn him? A day when she did not weep over his loss?
A cold light burned in the depths of William’s pebble-hard eyes.
Juliana straightened her neck. She would not bow her head, thus giving him the satisfaction of revealing her inner turmoil.
William cleared his throat. His eyes gleamed. “Did you not know you and your sister were born on the wrong side of the blanket?”
Anger welled up in her. “You lie. How dare you make such a claim?”
Hands clasped on his plump knees, William ignored her protestation. “You now know the truth about your whore of a mother,” he gloated.
Well, she knew what William claimed, but did not believe him. “You are wicked to speak thus. My mother always treated you kindly.”
“As ever, you are a haughty piece.” William’s broad nostrils flared. Anger sparked in his eyes. “My dear sister, remember the adage: ‘Pride goeth before a fall’. However, do not look so worried. I shall not cast you out without the means to support yourself.”
William rang the silver handbell. When a lackey clad in blue and gold livery answered its summons, he ordered the man to pour a glass of wine.
Juliana watched William raise the crystal glass to his lips. What did he mean? How could she maintain herself and her sister? She had not been brought up to earn a living.
She looked away from her half-brother to glance around the closet, the small, elegantly furnished room in which she kept her valuables and conducted her private correspondence before her father’s death.
Now it seemed, William, the seventh Baron Kemp, and his wife, Sophia, had sought to obliterate every trace of her by refurbishing the closet. Where were her books and her embroidery frame? Where was Mother’s portrait? Rage burned in the pit of her stomach while she looked around her former domain. Juliana wanted to claw William’s fat cheeks. It would please her to hurt him as he was hurting her. No, that wish was both childish and unchristian. She must use her intelligence to defeat him.
At least her family portrait—in which her late mother sat in front of Father, and she and William, dressed in their finest clothes, stood on either side of Mother—remained in place. One of her father’s hands rested on her pretty mother’s shoulder, the other on the back of the chair. A handsome man, she thought—while admiring his relaxed posture and frank expression, both of which depicted a man at his ease.
At the age of five, she already had resembled Mother when Godfrey Kneller painted her family in 1693. They both had large dark eyes and a riot of black curls, as well as fair complexions tinged with the colour of wild roses on their cheeks. She touched her narrow, finely sculpted nose. Judging by the portraits, she inherited her straight nose, oval face, and determined jaw from Father.
Her hands trembled. After Father died, she knew life would never be the same again. Yet nothing had prepared her for what would follow.
Today, when she first stepped into the spacious hall, it seemed as though she had also stepped over an invisible threshold. From being a beloved daughter of the house, she had become her half-brother’s pensioner. Knowing William and Sophia’s miserly natures, she doubted they would deal kindly with her. Yet, she could not have anticipated William’s appalling accusation of illegitimacy, and his arrangement—whatever it might be—for her to earn her living.
The lackey served William with another glass of wine.
William jerked his head at the man. “Go.”
Her head still held high, Juliana looked at tall, fleshy William. She liked him no more than he liked her. Indeed, who would not dislike a man so parsimonious that he neither offered his half-sister the common courtesy of either a seat or a glass of wine? Infuriated by his gall, she clasped her hands tighter, trying to contain her anger and keep her face impassive.
She shivered. Today, when she alighted from the coach, rain soaked her clothes. On such a wet, grey day, why did no fire blaze in the hearth? Here, in the closet, it was scarcely warmer than outdoors. She clenched her hands to stop them trembling and imagined the heart of the house had died with Father.
“You shall put your fine education, which our father boasted of, to good use,” William gloated. “You shall be a teacher at a school in Bath.”
Fury flooded Juliana’s chilled body. “Shall I?”
“Yes. Our father saw fit for you to have an education far beyond your needs. You are more than qualified to teach young ladies.”
“Beyond my needs? Father admired Good Queen Bess and other learned ladies of her reign. He deplored Queen Anne’s lack of education. Our father decided no daughter of his would be as ignorant as Her Majesty and her late sister, Queen Mary.”
The purple-red colour of William’s cheeks deepened. “Enough! I despise over-educated women.”
She stared at him. Undoubtedly his mean-minded wife had influenced him. Sophia was jealous because her own schooling comprised of only simple figuring, reading, and writing learned at her mother’s knee, whereas Juliana benefited both from the tutors her tolerant father, the sixth baron, had engaged, and her father’s personal tuition.
William interrupted her thoughts. “You have no claim on me. Moreover, our father left you naught in his will. To make matters worse the estate is so neglected, I cannot afford—”
“Cannot afford,” she broke in, outraged. “What nonsense is this? I have lived here for most of my life. Father encouraged me to familiarise myself with Riverside estate. I know every detail of it. Father even encouraged me to examine the accounts. I assure you everything is in perfect order, and the estate is profitable.” Scornfully, she assessed the poor quality of William’s black broadcloth coat and breeches. “You are a wealthy man. Besides the income from the Kemp estates, you have the revenues from those you inherited from your mother, God rest her soul. You could bear the expense of half a dozen siblings.” She glared at him. “I shall ask nothing for myself, but what of my sister?”
Despite her pride, Juliana’s heart pounded with fear for Henrietta. Although she cared little for William, who had rarely spoken a kind word to her, she adored her eight-year-old sister. She would do all in her power to care for and protect the child.
While she waited for William’s answer, she thought how different their lives would have been if, when she was ten-years-old, Mother had not died after giving birth to Henrietta. Although she should not question the will of God, sometimes it was almost impossible not to.
William shifted in his seat. The brass buttons of his waistcoat strained in the buttonholes due to the pressure of his sizeable girth. Juliana wrinkled her nose. Unlike their fastidious father, her half-brother did not bathe regularly. In fact, he reeked of stale perspiration, partially masked by musky perfume, which nauseated her.
“Henrietta shall go to school.” William averted his eyes from her. “After all, I am a generous man. I shall pay for her education. She may think herself fortunate. I am under no obligation to support her.”
Juliana did not doubt he would send Henrietta to a school which charged the smallest possible fees, one which skimped on good food—a school at which clever Henrietta would learn little.
William sipped his wine. Did he want her to cry? If so, he would be disappointed. She would no more do so now than when she was a child, when he pinched her or pulled her hair out of jealous spite because he believed Father favoured her. Yet William never had any reason to envy her because Father had told her he loved William as much as he loved her and Henrietta.
How heartless her half-brother and his wife were. When Father died, they ordered her to remain in London, and at the time of Henrietta’s greatest need, confined her to Riverside House. For the first time since their marriage two years earlier, William and Sophia had returned to Riverside. Now, William’s cruel plan to send Henrietta away from home astonished her.
“Pay attention, Juliana!”
“I am all attention. You told me you will send Henrietta to school,” Juliana said, jerked from her still raw grief by outrage, yet determined not to make a fool of herself by pleading with him. “Be good enough to excuse me, I must see Henrietta. Where is she?”
“I have no patience with the snivelling brat. On my orders, she is not allowed out of the nursery.”
Juliana’s dislike of William flamed like a live coal. She could not endure the unreasonable fool’s behaviour for another moment. The sight of Father’s favourite gold ring, set with a diamond, on the puffy finger of William’s right hand, brought a lump to her throat. The diamond, of the finest quality, caught the light, displaying the colours of the rainbow. She coughed to check rising emotion. “I am going to the nursery.”
William raised his hand. “Grant me a moment more of your time.” He smirked. “Those of your clothes my lady wife deems suitable for your new position are in her tirewoman’s chamber, where you will sleep tonight.”
So, Sophia had appropriated her silks and satins, velvets and furs, before relegating her to a servant’s bed!
An outraged tremor ran through Juliana. More than likely, instead of the large bedchamber reserved for the mistress, Sophia had moved into the smaller, more comfortable one she, Juliana, had always slept in, the one adjoining the large bedchamber traditionally used by the Master of Riverside.
The thought of William sleeping in her courtly father’s bed intensified her grief. Never again would Father summon her in the morning to partake of hot chocolate and read to him while he lay abed, or while, on cold days, she sat snuggled up on the large wingchair by the fire.
“You may go, Juliana.”
How dare William dismiss her as though she were a servant?
She regarded William with acute distaste, but mindful of her training in the ways of society, Juliana curtsied before she straightened her back, hands clenched at her side to control her impotent wrath.
After she withdrew, she hurried not to the nursery, but to the closet which had been her father’s.
Without hesitation, Juliana opened a drawer and then pressed a knob at the back which opened a secret drawer in a lacquered cabinet. Smiling, she removed a drawstring purse bulging with gold coins.
Juliana sank onto a chair. Furious with William, she considered her situation. Until now, she took Riverside House—with its pleasure gardens, fruitful orchards, outbuildings, stables, and home farm—for granted, as she did the fertile acres encompassing villages and tenant farms.
Why did Father will the estate—which her maternal grandfather settled on Mother and she left to Father—to William? Deep in thought, she frowned. Why, in spite of his promises not to do so, did Father appoint William to be not only her own, but also Henrietta’s guardian?
Despite her love for Father, resentment stirred deep within her. She stifled it. Throughout his life, her father’s word was always as good as his bond. Now, although broken promises were his only legacy, he would not have failed her without good reason. But what could the reason be?
She frowned. Notwithstanding William’s words, Juliana believed she and Henrietta were legitimate. No lady as virtuous as her mother would have lived in sin with any gentleman. She cupped her chin in her hand. Bitter laughter escaped her. If William lied about that, what else was he lying about? Yet could he have spoken the truth? Could she and her sister be bastards? Surely not, for in that case her mother would not have been accepted at court as her father’s wife. Would it not have been impossible for a mistress to masquerade as a wife?
Nothing made sense. If Mother had been Father’s mistress and their daughters were illegitimate, how could Father have acquired the right to leave the estate to William? She had been told her grandpere settled Riverside on her mother, but was it true? What of her mother’s will? The will in which Mother had left jewellery and other personal possessions to both her daughters? Did Mother leave the estate to Father, or had she married him? If she had, the property would have become Father’s. But she had been told that under the terms of grandpere’s will, Mother’s eldest child would inherit Riverside. Was it true?
Well, she would not accept William’s claims. She would go to London immediately and consult Father’s lawyer, but first she must see her sister.
The previous day’s storm had yielded to the sun in a cloudless sky as blue as periwinkles. Gervaise Seymour would have enjoyed riding on such a day if his thoroughbred had not become lame. He cursed under his breath while leading her by the bridle along the dirt road which hugged the riverbank.
According to the local post-master’s directions, the tall red chimneys ahead marked the end of his journey to Riverside House.
Gervaise wiped the dust from his glossy jackboots with his handkerchief, and then brushed his clothes with gloved hands. Although he preferred not to dress in the extreme of fashion like an accredited London beau, his expertly tailored cinnamon-coloured riding coat, waistcoat of a delicate shade of biscuit, and his buckskin riding breeches pleased him.
He checked the angle of his dark brown, three-cornered hat, smoothed back an errant curl, and then made sure the broad black ribbon bow still secured his hair at the nape of his neck.
How he tried not to laugh when his cronies warned him against being judged eccentric for neither cropping his hair, nor wearing a full-bottomed wig, the artificiality of which he disliked. However, he did laugh out loud when they suggested he should powder his tanned face, which they claimed clashed with his chestnut hair.
The dappled mare snorted. Gervaise patted her neck. “Easy, girl, you will soon be in a comfortable stable.” At least he hoped she would, and after, he planned to deliver a letter to Lord Kemp, whom he hoped would invite him to pass a comfortable night at Riverside House.
He led his mare away from the river lapping the pebbled shore and the lush green banks, and along a wide path leading across a close clipped greensward dotted with daisies. They crossed a hump-backed stone bridge which spanned a stream leading into an ornamental lake. Beyond it stood a wooden pavilion painted white, and banked by trees hazed with new leaves. Gervaise drew close to the small building. From inside, he heard a child weeping and a melodious voice offering comfort.
“I am sorry, sweetheart. Don’t cry. I promise to look after you.”
“Juliana, why didn’t you come home after Father died? Why did you stay in London?” the child wept.
“Hush, Henrietta. Now I am here, you will not be confined to the nursery.”
“Nurse went to London to tend Father. I needed her but she did not come back,” the child said between sobs.
“Yes, I know. However, she left her new address for us after William dismissed her.”
“Nurse should have stayed with me. William and Sophia told me they would beat me if I left the nursery. I was scared and hungry.” She sniffed. “I am still hungry. I would like something to eat.”
“You shall not go hungry again. Dry your face. We are going to have a picnic.” The exquisite voice had hardened.
“I will not go away,” the child wept. “Do not let them send me to school. I want to stay at home.”
“Sweetheart, we cannot stay at Riverside House.”
“It seems it does not belong to us. Stop crying. I am going to tell you a secret, but first you must promise not to speak of it to anyone.”
“Instead of going to school, you shall come with me to London. But before I can take you there, you are going to stay with Nurse. Sweetheart, do stop crying. You must be brave.”
“I do not want to go to Nurse. I want to live with you.”
“Look at me, Henrietta. Decide whether you would prefer to go to school or stay with Nurse for a little while.”
“If I must leave here, I will go to Nurse. But why are you going to London?”
“To consult Father’s lawyer.”
Could they be the baron’s poor relations? Whoever they were, they seemed to be in a desperate situation. Gervaise’s sympathy for them increased. Ashamed of eavesdropping, he drew closer to the pavilion with the intention of announcing his presence.
Feet pattered within. A young woman peered through an open window. Her pale oval face looked troubled, and her coal black hair was slightly disordered.
For a moment Gervaise could not speak. The sight of her drew him back to India. Her form changed to one he knew intimately—yet not in this lifetime. He recognised the mark of a crescent moon on her right cheekbone, and sensed the love they once shared. A tremor ran through him. Never before had he thought the Hindu belief in reincarnation was worthy of serious consideration. Yet, in spite of the teachings of the Anglican Church, what if—?
“Sir?” The lady’s indignant voice recalled him from his trance-like state.
He doffed his hat and executed his finest bow. “Gervaise Seymour at your service.” He hoped his presence would not offend her. “My apologies, madam, I could not avoid overhearing you.”
The door opened wide. It revealed a slender lady who held herself with dignity, and a slight, fair-haired child dressed in mourning, who clutched the lady’s black silk skirts.
“Why is Mister Seymour here?” Henrietta asked, simultaneously rubbing her tear-swollen eyes.
Gervaise took a clean handkerchief from his saddlebag. He offered it to the little girl. “Take this to dry your eyes.”
Henrietta stumbled when she stepped forward to take it. He caught hold of her to prevent her from taking a tumble, clasping her upper arms until he was sure she would not fall.
Henrietta smiled up at him. “Thank you, sir.”
Although the little girl aroused his compassion, he concentrated on the young woman, whose beautiful voice tugged at his heart. He noted dark shadows under her eyes, which must be the result of many sleepless nights.
“Why is Mister Seymour here?” Henrietta repeated, her voice louder than before.
The lady put a hand on the child’s shoulder. “If you say good day to the gentleman, I daresay he will tell us.”
Henrietta bobbed a curtsey. “Good day, sir.”
Could Henrietta be the lady’s daughter? He doubted it, for the black-haired beauty did not appear old enough to be Henrietta’s mother. Yet, if she was, he envied her husband, for who would not seize an opportunity to take such a jewel to wife?
Conscious of the gentlewoman’s gaze, he put his hand on his heart, and bowed again.
He would be happy to stay and admire her for as long as she permitted, but good manners must prevail. “Mistress Henrietta is hungry so I will not detain you.”
“Yes, she is ravenous. Henrietta, please go and eat in the pavilion. There are chicken pies, ham, gingerbread, and all manner of other good things in the basket.”
Instead of asking him to explain his presence at Riverside, the lady clasped her hands while looking at him with trustful eyes. Although he might be a highwayman, a licentious rake, or some other rascal, she did not seem alarmed.
A tidal wave of emotion swept through him. His soul cried out to her, although he could not grasp the details of their previous life together. Previous life? No, here in Christian England it was illogical to believe such a thing.
The lady’s heart-shaped mouth curved in a smile. She curtseyed low. “I am pleased to meet you, sir. I am Mistress Kemp. The child is my sister, Henrietta Kemp.”
* * *
Juliana pressed her lips together. At first sight of Mister Seymour, her skin had tingled and little thrills had run up and down her spine. Although she had not previously met Gervaise, she trusted him instinctively, but illogically. Unfortunately, though she had never heard his name mentioned, he might be William’s friend. Why did this handsome stranger come to Riverside? How well did he know her half-brother? Would he repeat her conversation with Henrietta to William? For all she knew, if she confided in Mister Seymour, he might not believe her.
Juliana’s shoulders slumped. Her thoughts whirled. Summoning her courage, she straightened her back. Thank goodness Henrietta had chosen to stay with Nurse. Ah, how it would hurt to send her little sister away. A humble village cottage was not a fitting place for Henrietta, but it should be a safe haven, and she did not doubt Nurse’s loyalty. Would she have a tranquil moment until their reunion? Yet she could not tolerate the thought of leaving her sister with their half-brother. William cared nothing for Henrietta. Until their father’s death, the child knew nothing other than love. Juliana could not bear to think of the unhappy little girl going to school, where she would be at the mercy of strangers. Yes, she had made the right decision.
Mister Seymour’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Forgive me, madam, for being blunt enough to say I believe you need help. If I am correct, it would be my privilege to help you by any means at my disposal.”
How good of him to offer his assistance. How kind of him to have given Henrietta his handkerchief to dry her tears before steadying her with infinite gentleness. She scrutinised his face, knowing full well she should be wary of a stranger prepared to rescue her. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, she really did trust him. How foolish of her. Her eyes misted at the realisation she might never see him again.
“Madam?” the gentleman prompted.
“You are too good, sir. However, I must not impose on you. I bid you farewell.” She spoke in a deliberately gentle tone to soften her dismissal.
He bowed again, this time not so low. “My mare is lame. I hope to borrow a horse after delivering a letter to Lord Kemp.”
Juliana frowned. “Is it addressed to my late father, or to my half-brother, who recently inherited the title?”
“I presume you are in mourning for your father, Mistress Kemp.”
She nodded, her lips quivering.
His eyes softened by obvious sympathy, he gazed at her. “I am sorry to hear of your loss. With regard to the letter, it does not specify which baron.”
“May I save you the trouble of delivering it to my half-brother?”
There was no reason not to trust her with it. Gervaise unfastened his saddlebag. He withdrew a sealed missive, and then handed it to her.
“Thank you, Mister Seymour. I suggest you go to the stables. Ask for Sam. Tell him I gave you permission to borrow a horse.”
Although her smile bewitched him, he found no excuse to linger other than to make a bow and say farewell.
* * *
Two hours before dawn, Juliana crept out of Riverside House with Henrietta. Holding her sister’s hand, she led her to a clearing in the woods where Sam waited for them.
Henrietta’s hand tightened around hers. “I am scared of the dark.”
By the light of the horned moon, Juliana peered at the pale blur of her sister’s face. “Be brave,” she said, sick with fear for the child. After all, she was defying William by sending her beloved sister away. She could not imagine what would happen if they were caught. If only she could have summoned the boldness to ask Mister Seymour for his protection. No, what was she thinking of? It would be dangerous to entrust her safety to a stranger. “It is cold tonight, and the wind is rising. Perhaps it will rain. I do not want you to take a chill.” She fastened the ribbons of Henrietta’s cosy hood. “Sam will take you to Nurse. Until I come for you, I am sure she will look after you well.”
“Promise to fetch me soon?”
Juliana knelt. She drew Henrietta into her arms, unable to endure her sister’s tears. Should she take Henrietta with her to London? If she did, what would happen if William found them? No, she must not weaken. “God willing, sweetheart, we shall soon be together again. Please do not cry. You will be happy with Grace.”
“I would be happier with you. If you allow me to come with you, I shall be good.”
“Yes, I know you would, for you are always good. Unfortunately, you would soon become bored because I have so much to do.”
The lantern Sam had lit earlier illuminated a small space around them. “Time for you to be leaving.”
Juliana stood. She smiled at Sam. Thank God some of the servants put loyalty to her before loyalty to their new master and mistress. Without Sam’s help, she and her sister might not have escaped.
Sam settled Henrietta on a stout New Forest pony. “Mistress Juliana, won’t you wait for me to come back so I can see you safe on your way?”
She shook her head. “No, I must be gone before the household stirs.”
When William found them missing, most likely he would order a search for a woman and child travelling together. With good fortune, and by travelling separately, neither she nor Henrietta would be traced.
Juliana handed Sam a drawstring purse full of coins, together with a letter she had penned earlier. “There is enough here to pay for Henrietta’s keep for a long time. Tell Grace to keep the letter in a safe place. If I have not returned by the end of the year, she is to take it to the vicar in her village and ask him to act on it.” She forced herself to smile. “If God so pleases, it will not be long before I collect my sister.” Juliana handed him a smaller purse that contained more gold than he would earn in a year. “This is for you. Now be off with you, Sam, so you can return well before daylight. I do not want you to suffer for helping us,” she said, her voice unsteady in spite of her effort to conceal her distress.
His face creased with concern, Sam mounted a strong roan gelding. “Will you not travel on horseback, Mistress?”
She shook her head. “A description of the horse might lead my brother’s men to me.”
Juliana handed the pony’s leading rein to Sam before she turned to look at Henrietta. She forced herself not to reveal her acute anxiety to the child. For fear she might cry if she reached up to embrace her sister, she patted Henrietta’s knee. “You must leave now. Farewell. Godspeed. Oh, Henrietta, do not cry, we shall soon be together again.”
After Sam left with her sister, clouds like dark curtains veiled the sickle moon. The wind blew more fiercely. Within minutes, rain, like fast flowing rivulets, poured down. Juliana took a ragged breath. Would her gamble be justified? Her earlier misgivings tormented her. What would the consequences to Henrietta be if William regained custody?
She peered beyond the lantern light, through the downpour into the darkness. Slowly, Henrietta and Sam’s shadowy forms passed out of her vision. No time to lose. There would be nothing to gain by giving way to her unshed tears. Juliana braced herself and stepped out of the pavilion.
With increasing force, the wind urged her along the path edged by tall trees. In the far distance, she heard harnesses jingle. A horse whinnied. “Farewell, Sister,” Henrietta called, her voice thick with tears.
Juliana pressed her hand to her heart. She wanted to run after the little girl to reassure her. The person she loved more than anyone else in the world had set out on a ten-mile, cross-country journey to their nurse’s cottage.
While uttering a prayer for Henrietta’s safety, Juliana hurried to the pavilion where she collected a bag she had packed while Sophia’s tirewoman lay snoring. Her conscience pricked for putting an opiate in the tankard of ale the woman drank with such gusto. Yet, what else could she have done? Without doubt the servant would have thwarted her plans by acting as Sophia’s spy. Besides, did she not have the right to have tiptoed to the chapel, where she searched for the record of her parent’s marriage, her own and Henrietta’s births in the family bible? Curse it! Someone, probably William, had removed a page. Nevertheless, one day she would prove her own and her sister’s legitimacy. No, she did not suffer guilt over the opiate in the woman’s drink. It was her right and her sister’s to have a few of their treasured possessions, ones, in the silence of the night, she had tiptoed around the house to collect. She shuddered. If William’s men found her, she might be accused of theft.
When she left the shelter of the pavilion, she again cursed her half-brother and his wife. They had deprived her not only of her fine clothes but also of most of her jewellery, some of which she inherited from her mother, and some her rich father had given her. She fingered the perfectly matched, large pearls of her oriental necklace. She planned to sell it in London along with her gold earrings, from each of which dangled a priceless pear-shaped pearl.
The wind rose. The candle in her lantern went out. Rain lashed down. Juliana stumbled and clutched an overhanging branch to prevent a fall. Afterward, she tried to pick her way with greater care, but could barely distinguish the path ahead, which led to the riverbank.
What should she do when she reached it? Wait for the storm to abate or unfasten the dinghy and try to make her way downstream? If she kept to the bank, would she be safe? No, in this turbulent weather it would be dangerous to trust her life to the river.
On days when the water stretched calm beneath a tranquil sky, Father had allowed her to row on this tributary of the Thames when they went fishing. Nevertheless, he would never have allowed her to travel by water when the wind howled and the rain fell in torrents.
In spite of her desperate situation, Juliana smiled at the memory of Mister Seymour’s kind eyes. Logic deserted her. She really did believe charming Mister Seymour—who upon first sight set all her pulses racing—would be prepared to guard her life, as though it were his own. What nonsensical thoughts! She had already accepted it was more than unlikely they would meet again.
Distant thunder alarmed her.
Although her feet, encased in stout boots, remained dry, the weight of her sodden cloak, and the hems of her skirt and petticoats added to her discomfort. Her arm ached. Grateful for the leather gloves that protected her hands, she put the heavy bag down.
Juliana flexed her fingers; her teeth chattered. Fatigued, she sought shelter beneath an ancient oak tree. Thunder sounded in the distance. She hoped the tree would not be struck by lightning. Her hands fumbled when she took off her woollen cloak, shook it, and wrung out as much water as possible. A hot toddy would be welcome. She put her cloak on, picked up her bag, and struggled on.
She tripped over a fallen branch, and then steadied herself. Thank goodness Henrietta was mounted on a pony instead of tramping through mud.
At last she reached the riverbank. The willow trees, which trailed their branches in the water, devised a mad dance. The rain flailed. Juliana bent her head while the wind tried its hardest to push her back. She forced her way to the edge of the rushing water.
It would be folly to pit her strength in the dinghy against the current. From here, a winding path led to Riverside village, no more than two miles away. If she made haste, in spite of the weather, and if Rodgers, the post-master, co-operated—and why should he not? —she might be on her way to London within an hour or two.
The wind and rain lessened as she trudged on. By the time Juliana reached Riverside Village, a pale sun peeped over the edge of the horizon and birds twittered in the trees.
In desperate need of a change of clothes, Juliana entered the stable yard of the post inn. Even at so early an hour, it bustled. She picked her way across the rain-slicked cobblestones. A skittish horse escaped. It pranced toward her. Dodging to one side she skidded, and then fell on her rump into a puddle.
Not one of the sniggering stable lads recognised her. No one came to her assistance. She heaved herself to her feet. Her hood fell away from her head and her waist length hair escaped its pins and cascaded down her back. Humiliated by her ragtag appearance, she bent to collect her jet hairpins and pick up her bag.
“Eef you permit,” someone said.
She looked up at the powdered and rouged narrow-faced young man. He wore an elaborately curled, pale yellow periwig, a knee length coat of dark green wool, and matching breeches. A pale green waistcoat embroidered with flowers—so improbable she doubted nature designed them—completed his ensemble.
Accustomed to being served, Juliana waited for him to pick up her bag. Instead of doing so, the creature, with a waist so small it must be constrained by cruel stays, fingered her hair. “Magnificent, I ’ave a customer for eet.”
“Sir!” Shocked by his suggestion, she took a step toward the inn.
The impertinent fellow halted her by catching hold of one of her ringlets.
“Allow me to introduce myself, Mademoiselle. I am Monsieur Lorraine, an ’air merchant. For ze privilege of purchasing your ’air, I will pay you three pounds an ounce. I daresay your ’air weighs twenty ounces or more. It would make a magnificent wig.”
“Sell my hair!” She picked up her bag, and then hurried indoors.
Inside, despite all her troubles, Juliana leaned against the closed door and laughed. What would her Huguenot mother—with whom she had conversed as often in French as in English—have made of Lorraine’s false accent?
After entrusting the letter to Mistress Kemp—because he was unwilling to intrude in a house of mourning—Gervaise had decided to put up at the local post inn. He intended to continue his journey on the following day. Yet, he asked himself, how could he journey on, knowing he might never meet the young lady again? He wanted to rail against fate, to scream out at the indifferent elements.
After a night during which Mistress Kemp occupied his thoughts and dreams, Gervaise rose early. He made his way downstairs to partake of breakfast. When he reached the bottom tread, he heard a strangely familiar voice which seemed to call to him from the past. He looked across the hall to where Mistress Kemp faced the postmaster, who stood behind a wide counter. At the sight of her muddy clothes, Gervaise’s eyebrows rose. He advanced toward her.
She tilted her chin. “Rodgers, I require a horse.”
From a slight distance, Gervaise observed curiosity flicker in the man’s small eyes.
Rodgers drummed his plump fingers on the oak counter, behind which he, or one of his underlings, received guests. “You don’t need to hire a horse from me. I’ll send to Riverside House for one.”
Colour flamed in her cheeks. “No, it is unnecessary.”
cleared his throat. “Are you sure?” Rodgers looked her up and down. “Begging your pardon, you’re in a sorry state. I’ll have a chaise brought around to return you to Riverside House.”
“Do not trouble yourself. Please provide me with a room in which I can dry myself. Later, I require a horse. I shall ride home by and by.”
Rodgers shook his head. His double chin wobbled. “Without an escort?”
“Just so. As I said, I want to hire a horse—” she said in the firm tone of a lady accustomed to being obeyed.
“I’m sorry to disoblige you,” Rodgers said, although he did not sound apologetic, “I haven’t got a horse trained to carry a lady riding side-saddle.”
“Please try to find one, Rodgers. In the meantime, at least provide me with a room.”
The inn keeper shook his head. “I repeat, I haven’t got a suitable horse. What’s more, sorry as I am to disoblige you again, I haven’t got a room which is not taken.”
“A moment,” Gervaise interrupted. He smiled at her. “I am on the verge of departure. The lady may have my room. It will take me no more than moments to vacate it.”
At the sound of his voice, she turned. Her eyes widened. His heartbeat increased. Did vanity prompt him to think it pleased her to see him?
Never could he have imagined any member of the female sex retaining her allure while garbed in wet, dirty clothes. Yet neither her dishevelment nor her untidy hair, falling down her back in a riot of curls, detracted from her charms. To the contrary, the sight of her unleashed hair increased them. He decided this would not be his last encounter with the young lady.
* * *
After Juliana hung her cloak on a wooden peg, she removed her wet gown and petticoat and draped them over stools by the fire to dry. Warmth spread through her body. Fortunately, her stays and bodice were no more than damp. She did not need to completely disrobe.
A servant girl brought a pot of steaming chocolate. Comforted by hot drink, Juliana took her quilted, scarlet dressing gown out of her bag. After the girl helped her put it on, she smoothed the soft folds. While she was in mourning, everything she wore should be black, but the garment served its purpose of keeping her warm.
She removed her cloak from the peg to search the pockets. Horror overwhelmed her. Where was her drawstring purse? Did she pack it in her bag? No, she remembered putting it in her pocket. Heaven help her, it might have fallen out when she handed the other purse to Sam. Yet, more than likely a skilful thief had picked her pocket in the stable yard. Or perhaps the purse fell out when she wrung the water out of her cloak on her way here. She fumbled in the pockets again before rifling through her bag, pulling out the letter from Mister Seymour to William. She cast it aside.
Thought after thought raced through her mind concerning the whereabouts of the missing purse.
Without her money, how would she manage? Juliana did not dare to retrace her footsteps to find it, for fear William or his men might locate her. If they did, what would happen?
Juliana needed to travel to London to consult her father’s lawyer. With his help, she hoped to prove she and her sister were not bastards. How long would it be before they were reunited? Fury—caused either by her father’s broken promises or William’s lies, the root of her present situation—overwhelmed her. With her knuckles, Juliana wiped away a few angry tears which spilled down her cold cheeks.
Her mind continued to race. Rodgers claimed he could not provide a horse. Yet, whether her clothes were wet or dry, she must set out for London on foot if necessary. The longer she delayed, the greater the chance of her brother finding her here at the post house. She took a deep breath to calm her agitation. For the moment, she was safe. William never left his bed until noon.
How would she settle her reckoning with Rodgers? She pushed her hair back with her hand. Her hair! Of course, the hair merchant! Juliana took off her night gown, and then replaced it with her damp petticoat and black gown. Her hair tied back, Juliana repacked her bag before going in search of the pretentious little man who pretended to be a Frenchman.
After a brief, urgent search, she found Monsieur Lorraine in an outhouse in the stable yard paying a giggling servant girl for her shorn locks.
“Monsieur, I have reconsidered.” Too dispirited to haggle over the price, she did not mince her words.
The monsieur grinned. “Bon, please be seated.”
Her hands trembled while he opened a large bag. Her limbs would not obey her. He guided her to a rickety stool. She sank onto it. He stood behind her to spread out her hair. “Beautiful. So thick, so silky, with a natural curl. Please bend your ’ead, Mademoiselle.”
His warm hands brushed her neck. Sick in the pit of her stomach, she shivered, imagining Father’s outrage in response to William’s atrocious behaviour causing her to sink so low. At the touch of cold steel scissors against the tender skin at the nape of her neck, she shuddered.
“Do not be sad. Your ’air, eet will grow all ze better for ze snip.”
It took Lorraine no more than a minute to cut off all her locks. She fingered her head. Her hair clustered in ragged curls. She needed a hat to cover them. No respectable woman had short hair. Thoughts of the curious stares she would suffer sickened her. Although nausea rose in her throat, she forced herself to stand. Miserably conscious of her shorn head, she watched Lorraine weigh her long locks before wrapping them in a clean cloth. He took a drawstring purse from his bag, opened it, and counted some coins. “Your ’air weighed twenty-three ounces. ’Ere is your money, sixty-nine pounds.” He put the coins in a ragged cloth, and then knotted the ends to form a pouch before pressing it into her limp hand. “Adieu.” He walked away before she could count the money.
How light her head felt. Previously, the weight of her hair tilted it back. She passed her hand across her bare nape, and then stood still as though frozen by adversity. Feeling more wretched than ever, she wrapped her arms around her chest. How ugly she must look. She caught her lower lip between her teeth. With other more pressing concerns to deal with, she should not mourn the loss of her hair.
Head bent, Juliana entered the stable yard.
“’Swounds, Mistress Kemp! Your hair, your beautiful hair!”
Juliana recognised Mister Seymour’s deep voice. Ashamed of her immodest appearance, she turned to hurry back into the post house.
A hand caught hold of her elbow. “Mistress Kemp, will you not speak to me?”
Mister Seymour released her. She tried to cover her head with her hand, conscious of his voice stirring her as no other man’s ever had.
For no reason, an unwelcome memory flooded her mind. William wanted her to marry his exceptionally handsome friend, Ravenstock, a notorious libertine. Of course, when he suggested it, she had laughed sarcastically at William, suppressing the temptation to spit at him. She remembered other suitors, any one of whom her father would have considered a good match. However, none of the gentlemen had appealed to her, so Father had not tried to persuade her to marry. “You are still young,” he had said. “There is plenty of time before I must hand you into a husband’s safekeeping.” How solicitous he had seemed. Surely he did not leave Riverside to William.
Mister Seymour’s voice interrupted her memories. “Did you sell your hair to that poxy fellow touting for business in the stable yard? The one I noticed pestering maidservants?”
Before she nodded, Juliana eyed his shocked face in silence.
“If only I knew you were in such need. Should you require more money, a travelling companion or aught else, I am at your service.”
Although she despaired of ever experiencing happiness again, his concern for her welfare cheered her.
Juliana took a handkerchief from her cloak to wipe her face. “Thank you, sir, you are more than kind. I lost my purse. Without the means to go to London, I would have been undone if—”
“You cannot travel alone.”
Mister Seymour did not have the right to tell her what she could and could not do. “Yes, I can, my boots are stout enough to walk to the next post house where I shall hire a horse, and I have enough money to purchase food on my journey.”
“You cannot walk so far. I will not permit it.”
“You will not permit it?” Although his concern warmed her, she stared at him, angered by his presumption.
“Mistress Kemp, please forgive me for my arrogance. I’faith I have no right to prevent you going to London alone, but it is obvious you are in distress. As a gentleman, it is my duty to assist you. Will you not permit me to help you?”
Juliana fingered the crescent moon, shaped by tiny moles, on her cheekbone. Tempted to share her troubles with the stranger, she wondered whether she should confide in him. No, she could not. “You are generous, sir. There is naught to say other than I must reach London without delay.”
“The matter is easily solved, Mistress Kemp. I am on my way there and would be happy to escort you. Indeed, you should not travel alone. Footpads and highwaymen are the curse of the land.”
“Are you sure I would not inconvenience you, Mister Seymour?”
“How could someone as ‘far beyond rubies’ as you, discomfort anyone?”
Conscious of her blushes in response to his complimentary biblical reference, she looked at his square face with its cleft chin, slanting eyebrows and large cornflower blue eyes, fringed with long, thick lashes the same shade as his chestnut hair. Everything about him—his pleasing features, his fashionable yet not ostentatious clothes, and his respectful tone—inspired trust. In spite of her uncertainties, she smiled. “To be honest, desperation drives me. So I thank you and am pleased to accept your kind offer.”
“I shall partake of breakfast in the public room while you order breakfast to be served in your bedchamber. Can you be ready to depart within the hour?”
“Yes, but first I must assure you I am not ‘far beyond rubies.’” Her eyes threatened to brim over with tears. “God rest his soul, my late father would have told you I am often wilful.”
* * *
At first sight of Mistress Kemp’s clipped hair brushing the vulnerable white nape of her neck, Gervaise had wanted to cradle her in his arms and comfort her. When she turned, the sight of her loose-fitting gown flowing over her shapely breasts and curvaceous hips had sent a jolt of desire through him. He blotted the delicious image of her from his mind. It was ridiculous for a man with his experience of foreign climes and beautiful women to lust like a mere youth.
Later, after he ate a hearty breakfast, Gervaise made haste down the stairs. The lady’s image returned. The thought of intimately touching her satin smooth skin thrilled him. He squashed the vision in his mind’s eye, and swore on all he held sacred that, even if the opportunity presented itself, he would never, under any circumstances, take advantage of Mistress Kemp. Her shorn hair, and the glimpse of the tender white nape had not only aroused his sympathy, it made him want to protect her. His unruly imagination quenched, he decided to be the lady’s knight-errant. Prepared to face any number of dragons on her behalf, he controlled his desire. Yet he could not help wondering whether she would be his prize if he vanquished the fiery creatures. However, did he want such a prize? No, he did not. In the past, he had known profound love and harmony. To be honest with himself, he admitted he believed he would never again achieve such exquisite happiness with any other lady.
At the sound of Rodger’s voice from below, he paused half way down the stairs.
“Do you take my meaning, Tom? Go to Riverside House. Tell his lordship his sister’s here. Doubtless he’ll reward me for the information, and he might give you a penny or two.”
Gervaise proceeded down the stairs in time to see a thin lad scurry away from the landlord.
“Wait,” Rodgers called after the boy. “You might be turned away by the servants. I’ll pen a few lines for his lordship.”
Because Gervaise had overheard Juliana and Henrietta’s conversation in the pavilion, he harboured no doubt that Juliana had good reason to flee from Riverside. Damnation, the lad would betray her. Without hesitation, he retreated quietly back upstairs. He thought quickly. A post house of this size must have another exit. A plump maidservant, all rosy cheeks and smiles came toward him.
“Where are the back stairs?”
Her eyes widened, yet in spite of her obvious surprise, she bobbed a curtsey. “I’ll show you, sir.”
She bobbed a curtsey. “Mary, sir.”
“Thank you, Mary.” He paced after her through the rabbit warren of corridors to a side door. To avoid unwanted attention, he sauntered into the cobbled stable yard where he sighted his quarry. He followed the lad, finally catching up with him behind a hawthorn hedge. “Would you like to earn some money for delivering a message?”
The lad kept his distance from him, regarding him with suspicious eyes. “Yes.”
“Good. Give me the letter you are taking to Riverside House.” He pointed at a ploughed field before continuing, “Wait on the other side of the gate until I return.”
When Tom hesitated, Gervaise held a sovereign up to the light. “No need to be scared. Think of all this will buy.”
A grin almost split Tom’s face in two, probably at the thought of receiving a substantial part of his yearly wage. Without looking away from the coin, Tom pulled a sealed missive out of his pocket and handed it to Gervaise.
“Thank you, lad. Now, keep out of sight until I return with another letter for you to take to Riverside House.”
“I don’t know if I should’ve agreed. What if Mister Rodgers finds out?”
“If you say naught, how could he?”
“That’s so.” Tom nodded. “I’ll deliver it, sir.”
The sunshine warm on his back, Gervaise strolled to the post house in the languid manner of a gentleman enjoying the morning air. Without so much as a glance around the busy stable yard, he re-entered the half-timbered building through the side door. Inside, careful not to attract attention, he made his way to a comfortable parlour reserved for travellers putting up in the establishment. It boasted a window overlooking the village High Street which led to the London road. Seated at the desk placed below the window, sharpened crow’s quill in hand, Gervaise dipped the quill into the inkpot, and then penned a brief note to his damsel in distress. Next, he wrote a letter to Lord Kemp.
This letter replaces one, which the fool of a postmaster, Rodgers, wrote to you that unwittingly contained false information.
In pursuance of my duty as an honest gentleman and your well-wisher, I take pleasure in serving your lordship by informing you that your sisters, Mistress Kemp and Mistress Henrietta, have taken the road to Northampton.
I have the honour, my lord, to remain your humble servant and beg your lordship to reward the honest bearer of this missive.
Satisfied with it, he decided to give the letter to Tom and then find a maidservant to deliver a note to Mistress Kemp.
Gervaise scowled. A pox on Lord Kemp, he thought with fury.
* * *
“Enter,” Juliana called in a voice loud enough to be heard on the other side of the door. As it opened, she ate the last morsel of buttered bread, which comprised her hasty breakfast, and then sipped the rest of her coffee. When she looked across the bedchamber she recognised the daughter of a dairywoman at Riverside House. “Mary, I did not know you had a position here. How is your mother?”
The wench bobbed a curtsey. “In good health, thank you.”
“What about you? Do you like working here?”
“Yes, Mistress, it’s more exciting than dairy work. But, begging your pardon, a gentleman asked me to give you this note.”
“Thank you, Mary, you may go.”
“If you’ve finished eating, may I take the tray?”
Juliana nodded absent-mindedly, while curiosity, mingled with excitement, bubbled up in her; for only one gentleman could have penned the note. While she read it, Juliana ignored the girl who collected the pewter dishes, coffeepot, cream jug, and sugar basin.
“Leave that for now, Mary. Fetch me pen and ink.”
The girl obeyed, and then waited while Juliana rapidly wrote a reply.
“Please take this to the gentleman who sent you to me.”
Mary bobbed another curtsey, took the note, and picked up the heavy tray.
Certain William would instigate a search, Juliana frowned. “A moment, Mary. Will you do something for me?”
The girl turned so fast that the cutlery and dishes rattled and the cream jug fell over with a clatter. “Mistress Kemp?”
* * *
A half-hour later, not used to garments of an inferior quality, Juliana left the bedchamber accompanied by Mary, who carried Juliana’s heavy bag while they tiptoed along the narrow corridor.
In her haste, Juliana nearly tripped over the hem of her lemon-yellow petticoat, worn under a blue and white striped gown, left open down the front of the skirt in accordance with fashion. She steadied herself, wiped the perspiration from her forehead, and then fingered the frayed ribbon ties of a straw hat worn over a white frilled mobcap, which concealed her short curls.
Mary grinned at her, still obviously well-pleased to have swapped her best clothes for expensive black silk garments which she would be able to sell for sufficient profit to buy a new petticoat and gown.
Juliana followed Mary through the maze of passages, down a flight of narrow stairs, and finally to the back door of the old building.
Mary handed the bag to her. “Good luck, Mistress Kemp, I’ll not tell anyone I helped you.”
“Thank you, Mary. I shall never forget you assisted me.”
Juliana slipped out into the stable yard where she skirted a riderless horse, a coach, and several grooms. To avoid notice, she forced herself to walk slowly to the side gate. “Mary,” a man’s deep voice called, “is that you? What are you about, girl?”
Juliana’s breath caught in her throat. She pretended not to have heard the man who mistook her for Mary because of the clothes she wore. Without a backward glance at him, which would betray her identity, she quickened her step and left the stable yard.
Juliana followed the winding lane, bordered by native hedging, to a fork, where she turned onto a path through the wood. She had described this in her note to Mister Seymour. It led to an ancient grey stone Celtic cross, covered with a fine tracery of yellow-green lichen and pincushions of emerald green moss. To one side of it Mister Seymour waited for her. In a leather-gloved hand, he held the reins of a black gelding.
He indicated her clothes. “You are well-disguised.”
“I am grateful for these servant girl’s clothes, although they are far from what I am accustomed to.” Self-conscious, she smoothed the cheap bodice, hoping he would not think any less of her.
* * *
Gervaise looked at the beech trees on either side of the path. Gilded by sunshine, their trunks soared to the sky like graceful pillars supporting a cathedral roof.
A ray of sunshine illuminated the pure lines of Mistress Kemp’s face, intensifying the delicate colour of her cheeks and lips. While she regarded him with wide-open, still trustful eyes, his breath caught in his throat.
“You shall ride pillion.”
“Thank you, how kind you are.”
Her obvious admiration flattered him. He looked away from her. Upon his word, this lady’s steady regard had nothing in common with other females, those who tried to capture his interest, either by fluttering their fans and eyelashes or by making bold advances. Bless her soul, she looked at him as though he was her hero. Only his late wife had ever regarded him thus. Embarrassed, he pretended to adjust the stirrup.
Again, a jolt of desire shuddered through him. He wanted to kiss her pretty mouth and—
She looked at him with such innocence that his cheeks burned. He turned aside, reminding himself of his vow never to take advantage of her.
“I am glad you ride,” he said to break the silence. Too many ladies fear to entrust their lives to cumbersome side saddles. “At the next post inn, I shall hire a saddle horse fit for a lady.”
“Thank you Mister Seymour, however, I insist you allow me to meet my expenses.”
Gervaise put a hand on each side of her tiny waist, controlling his fervent desire to hold her close. He avoided looking into her eyes for fear she might read the lusty thoughts in them. Instead, he swung her up, seated her sideways, and then mounted after he strapped her bag behind her.
“Walk on,” he ordered the horse. “Mistress Kemp, either hold onto my belt or put your arms round my waist.”
“Listen, Mister Seymour.”
In the distance, harnesses jingled, horses crashed through the woods, and men spoke in harsh voices.
Her hands tightened on his belt. “I fear my half-brother woke early and sent out a search party.”
“Spread out, men, his lordship ordered us to search every path,” a hoarse voice commanded.
Juliana clutched him around his waist.
“No need to be frightened. I am well armed.” He urged the horse to trot, but the gelding, burdened by so much unaccustomed weight, balked.
“Set to lads,” a voice urged, “his lordship will reward us after we find his sisters.”
“Mister Seymour, turn right along the narrow path ahead of us.”
He looked up at an oak tree. “Shall we hide in the branches?”
“Very well, but if I am to risk life and limb for you, I hope you will confide in me later on. After all, it is not every day one meets a young lady running away from home,” he said with a hint of laughter in his voice.
“Ride on, Mister Seymour. My dinghy is moored on the river. We can escape in it and leave our pursuers behind.”
“No need to worry about him, I am sure he will find the way back to his stable.”
The sturdy gelding forged ahead along a path beneath a tunnel formed by the spreading branches of oak, chestnut and sycamore trees, which flourished in the native woodland, until Gervaise drew rein at the tranquil water’s edge.
After he helped Juliana dismount, he withdrew a blunderbuss from his saddlebag. Juliana clutched her skirts, holding them high above her ankles to keep them dry. She stepped into the dinghy and sank onto the seat in the stern. Gervaise grabbed their baggage, throwing it into the small vessel, which rocked alarmingly, before clambering in and casting off.
“There’s the mistress,” a triumphant voice yelled.
Gervaise seized the oars.
One of their pursuers flung himself off his horse and raised a firearm.
“Lie down, Mistress Kemp,” Gervaise ordered. He raised his primed blunderbuss, ready to shoot if necessary.
Fortunately, the boat drifted away from the shore, but although a swift current bore it downstream, their pursuers rode along the towpath. One of them fired a shot which missed them by less than a foot.
“Row,” Mistress Kemp shouted.
He laughed in appreciation of his spirited companion.
* * *
With the benefit of a strong, tidal current, they travelled some fifteen miles upstream before landing, leaving their pursuers far behind.
At the post house, Mister Seymour hired horses on which they rode to London. They reached the capital within three hours, having had only one disagreement over her insistence on selling the dingy her father had given her.
“Thank you for your assistance, sir.” She reached out for her bag. However, instead of releasing his hold on it, her travelling companion gripped the handle more tightly.
Juliana regarded him, her heart torn with conflicting emotions. The necessity of being beholden to this stranger made her uncomfortable. Yet, at times, he did not seem a stranger. He seemed to be someone she had known and loved forever. Loved? No! How foolish she was to have such thoughts.
“Please give me my bag,” she said, forcing herself to speak calmly.
“Not so fast, Mistress Kemp, where are you going?”
“To seek lodgings.”
“Most improper, come, you shall put up with some friends of mine who are a respectable married couple.”
Juliana shook her head. “I cannot be indebted to strangers.”
“I am no longer a stranger. You accepted my help.”
“And I am grateful for it but—”
“If you insist on taking lodgings, at least allow me to pay for them.”
“To take your money would be even more improper,” she replied, embarrassed by his generous offer. “Put your mind at rest, I will fare well enough now I am in London.”
“You will find it harder to survive alone in this wicked city than you anticipate. It would be my pleasure to fund you. If you insist, you may repay me at your convenience.”
Juliana shook her head to signify she must reject his offer of financial assistance.
“At least permit me to help you find somewhere to stay. Come,” he replied, clasping her arm and leading her into a tavern.
Juliana’s cheeks burned. No lady should enter such an establishment. She avoided the curious gazes of men with tankards in their hands, and did not hear what Mister Seymour said to the tavern keeper.
Moments later, her escort led her out of the establishment and up the street to a narrow house. The door was decorated with a brass knocker which he rapped hard.
His figure partially obscured the woman who opened the door. After a minute or two—during which she could not hear what they said because of the noise in the street—he beckoned to her and entered the house.
She went up the narrow flight of steps and looked questioningly at him.
“Mistress Kemp, this good lady assures me she has snug lodgings which will suit you.” He gestured to a plump girl. “I suggest you go upstairs and view them.”
Too tired to protest over his high-handedness, she hastily inspected the small rooms, decided they were adequate for her needs, and then returned to Mister Seymour.
“I shall rent them. Thank you for your help, sir.”
“Then I bid you good day.” He smiled, bowed, and left without any trace of regret that she could discern. The front door closed, leaving her alone and bereft. Would she ever see him again?