Sunday, June 29, 2014

More Field Research

Had a chance to do more field research. The natives were somewhat interested in what we were up to.

It was climbing "sugar loaf" near Abergevnny in Wales. The cycling festival meant we had a few traffic detours diversions, but it wasn't a hard drive.

This view from the top shows the Severn in the distance.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Charlotte in London (Draft)


Charlotte's first visit to a faro house and an opera in London. I've changed Lady Maplerod to Lady Bellingham.

Charlotte is beginning to warm to Freddy.  The manuscript is just over 30,000 words, and I have a few more twists in the plot to implement.



Charlotte's experience was somewhat different. Lady Bellingham immediately retired to recover from the exigencies of the journey leaving her guest hungry and confused. There were only a few servants, ill-dressed and surly. They were not inclined to help her either with her luggage or her dinner. As dusk firmly settled in the evening, Lady Bellingham arose from her slumbers, chased up Charlotte and proposed a journey to one her favorite hells.
Saying, “Lady Luttrel's house parties are always good for a little flutter and they'll give us dinner,” She bore Charlotte off on her first visit to a gambling or faro house.
Faro is a relatively simple game to play, and an easy one for a card sharp and his confederates to control. The punters place bets on which card will be turned up from a deck. Pairs of cards are turned, the first looses, the second wins. The dealer and his chums can know exactly which card will be dealt when by using a little misdirection and slight of hand in the shuffle, or if brazen enough gain advantage with a slightly marked or a 'stripped' deck. They can lure the muggins into placing successively larger bets, then wipe him or her out. High class and honest gambling dens would never use such techniques. Lady Luttrel's parties were neither high class nor honest.
Charlotte found herself at the faro table. She naively asked, “How do I play this game?”
Lady Bellington explained the rules, “You place your money on one of the cards on the table, like so.” She put a few guineas on number seven. “It's my lucky number.” Then the dealer dealt two cards. The second was a seven. “You see.” She took her winnings. “Now why don't you try it?'
Charlotte asked, “Is that all?”
“Well, you can bet against a card by putting a copper on top of your bet.”
“So if I thought the next card wouldn't be a seven I'd put a copper on my guinea?”
“No quite, that's if you'd expect the first card to be a seven.”
“Oh. I think I've got it.”
“Good, would you care for some Champagne?”
By the end of the first night a decidedly tipsy Charlotte returned home with Lady Bellington a couple hundred pounds to the plus side. The cards just seemed to be going her way.
The next morning Charlotte could barely contain her excitement. Early in the morning, that is to say while it was still morning, and before Lady Bellingham even stirred in her sleep, Charlotte rushed out to find the Oswith's house on Portman street.
“Lizzy,” she excitedly began after threading the maze of doorman, butler and parlors, “I went to Lady Luttrel's faro house last night. Look what I won.”
“I see. Charlotte, you know they're just luring you in. You won't win that much again.”
“It was so fun. You really need to go. Food, wine, even some music, and gambling.”
“If you say so.”
“I do. You should come sometime.”
“Maybe.” Elizabeth searched her mind for any diversion that could steer her friend from the dangerous waters she was heading into. The idea she found revealed the depth of her friendship. Even though she was profoundly tone deaf and found the high screeching sopranos painful, she asked, “There's an opera performance at the King's Theatre in Haymarket tonight. I'd much like to see it, would you come?”
“Which opera?”
“I don't remember, I think it's”
Freddy knocked on the door, “Adelasia e Aleramo, in Italian by Simone .” Elizabeth gave a sigh of relief. “At least, that's what I remember, either that or 'Boadicea Queen of the Iceni' by Pucitta. They're both worth a hearing.”
“Mr. Oswith, what are you doing here?”
“I live here. Lizzy and I were up late talking last night, so I'm on the late side for the city. Would you like me to pick up tickets?”
Charlotte thought, then politely replied, “If you could? I've long wanted to see a real opera. But Lady Bellingham will be disappointed, she wanted me to visit Lady Luttrels again.”
“Some other time. She can wait a day or so.”
Lady Bellingham was initially disappointed, but realized that giving her guest time to build anticipation for her next visit to the faro house, would simply make the plucking easier, gave her reluctant assent to Charlotte's visit to the opera.
Charlotte found the opera, which was actually Puccitta's Aristodemo, entrancing. The box Freddy rented a quarter the way around from the stage and halfway up the row of boxes gave her a fine view of the action, clear sound, and a chance to look with wide eyes at the cream of London society. At intermission she turned to him and said, “Mr. Oswith, Thank you so much for getting the tickets. I don't deserve this after all the things I said to you.”
“I know, but Lizzy wanted to see the opera, and it would be boring to attend with only one's sister.”
“Now you are being silly, aren't you?”
“A little, but I'm truly pleased that you don't see me as such an ogre.”
“Lizzy, wasn't that divine music.”
“If you say so.”
“Didn't you like it?”
“It was alright, for Italian opera.” Charlotte shot a glance at Mr. Oswith. He whispered in her ear, “Lizzy is a bit deaf, she doesn't really appreciate music.”
Charlotte blushed, then hugged her friend, “Lizzy, I didn't know you weren't keen on opera. Thank you so much for suggesting it.”
“I come for the society, endure the noise. It's a fair swap.”
The conductor strode into the orchestra pit and the agony for Elizabeth, or ecstasy for Charlotte began again.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Field Research

Over in the UK, near Bristol. Doing a bit of field research to capture the locale. That and enjoying the often underrated native cuisine.

Avebury

The view from Hackpen hill. Avebury is behind the hill. In the distance is Cherhill hill. The Bath road runs through there, at this scale largely unchanged. In Cherhill, there is the Black Horse, which was supposedly a gathering point for highwaymen. I have my doubts, though, as the pub is right on the A4 which means it wouldn't have been a very good hideout.
 The farmhouse at Wickwar woods at sunset.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Corn, Crime and Piety

Just doing some background reading while on a trip. I realized that there are a few things that need to be brought out for Charlotte.

  • Corn Laws. The book is partially set in rural England in 1814-1815. The rents farmers paid were very high, but the prices they could get for their corn (wheat and oats, not maize) were very low. Except when the had a crop failure, and then they had nothing to sell. The corn laws were an early attempt at price supports, where the price of corn was set. Unfortunately this meant that the price of bread was set too high for most people to afford it. Unlike pre-revolutionary France, Parliament didn't tell the commoners to eat brioche instead. None the less the bill, the riots and the rents would be a major concern.
  • Crime. Nothing like modern police, a system of unpaid appointed magistrates, and a plethora of homeless beggars. Unlike today, where it would be relatively safe to wander around London in the evening, you might have been taking your life in your hands. Highwaymen were reasonably common, and people would have been careful about them. However, without sensational 24/7 TV news, I get the distinct impression people weren't scared all the time.
  • Piety. Hannah More and the evangelicals opened and encouraged the opening of many schools for the indigent and poor. One of the characters in the book is thinking of doing the same thing, and frequently has pious impulses that could have been influenced by her. Like today's evangelicals, at least in the US, Ms. More was against teaching science and mathematics. Instead she wanted to teach just enough reading that her students could read the bible and learn to be content with their place in society. I can't see this character accepting that idea as he's a 'self-made' man, more along the lines of Horatio Alger than a full acolyte of Hannah's.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

On the road from Bath to London.


Oddly I haven't forgotten about Simon and Katherine, and they've been insisting that I get back to their story. I've written a bit more of it, but not enough to share (yet). That said, here's a bit more (draft) copy from Charlotte.
Charlotte and Elizabeth are riding from Bath to London, in the company of the rather shady Lady Maplerod, and run into a few complications on the way.

 

 

To London.

Elizabeth's predictions about Lady Maplerod and the chance of a free ride were spot on. She hemed and hawed, claimed she didn't want to be a burden, but quickly acquiesced to the idea of taking a seat in the Oswith carriage. The Answorths were pleased as well, while they couldn't put their finger on the reason, something about their erstwhile neighbor bothered them. Having a steady young female like Miss Oswith near their friend was reassuring.
The post chaise Elizabeth hired left Bath for London early in the morning. Not as early as Elizabeth wished, but earlier than either Lady Maplerod or Charlotte would normally rise in the morning. Naturally this lead to a certain amount of matutinal silence. They took the Bath road through Chippenham, Marlborough and Newbury. In Newbury the Bath road changed to the London road and Charlotte asked if anyone else was perhaps a little in need of refreshment. Elizabeth took the hint and asked the driver to stop at the next respectable pub. Lady Maplerod was visibly distressed, “Could we move on?”
“Why?”
“This place has unfortunate associations, poor Lord Maplerod took ill in Newbury.”
Elizabeth innocently inquired, “On a race day, perhaps?”
Lady Maplerod gave her a hard stare, “No, of course not.”
“If you say so. Driver, can you drive on?”
The driver pointed out that they had to change horses at the next post house and were stopping no matter what. He was not about to lame his horses simply to satisfy a woman's whim.
Charlotte smiled at her friends, “So I guess we're stopping after all, LIzzy.”
Lady Maplerod quickly left the coach and fled to a table in the back of the house, while Charlotte and Elizabeth followed at a more leisurely pace. “LIzzy, why was Lady Maplerod so worried?”
“Probably she made a bad bet at the races, owes some money to a bookie, and left town in a hurry to avoid payment.”
“LIzzy!”
“Of course I could be wrong about it. It's just I tend to be cynical about people, especially when there's money involved.”
Elizabeth wasn't wrong. A rather large and somewhat greasy and ill-dressed man had cornered Lady Maplerod in the back of the room. He was loudly demanding that she settle her debts with him, now.
“I'm sorry who are you?”
“Gentleman Jack, the bookie. Now my fine lady, will you settle your account, or do I call the bailiffs?”
“I- I-” she stammered, desperate to find a way to avoid paying or, worse still, being trotted off to debtor's prison. Seeing Elizabeth, she threw one last desperate toss of the die. “Miss Oswith, I seem to have mislaid my pocketbook. Can you help me settle with this individual?”
Charlotte was dismayed to see her friend in a difficult situation. Elizabeth was amused by it. “You know Lady Maplerod, my brother told me never to loan money without collateral.” A hard, ugly expression flickered on Lady Maplerod's face, then she was sweetness itself. “Of course, my dear. It's not a loan, I'm temporarily a bit short. I left my money in the luggage.”
'Gentleman' Jack growled, “There's plenty of time to retrieve it.” Elizabeth thought quickly, while she would prefer to remove Charlotte from the company of this old leech, she was acutely aware that exposing Lady Maplerod and causing a fuss could have more bad effects than good. Especially if it led to difficulties with the Answorths or Charlotte.
“How much is the debt?”
Gentleman Jack studied Elizabeth with a measuring eye, he liked what he saw and recognized a lady of means. “Miss, this old croaker ain't worth it.”
“How much?”
“Fifty pounds.”
Elizabeth gasped in pretend amazement, “Why Lady Maplerod, I'm shocked that you wouldn't carry such small change with you. Especially on a journey like this where there are bound to be expenses.” Charlotte's expression was puzzled, and she asked, “Lizzy, are you making fun of Lady Maplerod?”
Lady Maplerod, desperately suggested to Elizabeth, “I'll pledge my necklace to you, it's worth at least ten times that.”
“Paste, most likely.” Gentleman Jack unhelpfully interjected. Elizabeth had already noticed that the diamonds lacked brilliance and the silver mountings were unusually tinny. She replied, “Undoubtedly and not very good paste at that.” Elizabeth thought about leaving Lady Maplerod to dangle in the basket, but the driver of the chase came in and said the horses were nearly ready. “Charlotte, why don't you go purchase some food? I'll settle with these two.”
After Charlotte slipped off, Elizabeth pointedly told Lady Maplerod. “Ma'am, Miss DeVere is a bit naive, a sweet little bird unused to the ways of the world, I'm not. Please remember that she is my friend, and my family looks after its friends. Understand?” Lady Maplerod, aghast at such blunt, almost threatening, language from someone she assumed was a refined gentlewoman, nodded. Elizabeth pulled a sheet of paper from her reticule, and drew up a repayment contract. She abruptly commanded Lady Maplerod, “Sign this. Here.”
Once that was complete, she paid Gentleman Jack. “Thank your Miss, but you know that vowel is only scrap paper to her kind.”
“I know, but I have a few friends who are good at getting my debtors to pay up.”
“As good as me?”
“You'd be surprised. You've heard of the Kennet County Bank?” // needs a better name here.
“Yes. They financed the canal. It helps bring in the punters.”
“That's us.”
He turned to Lady Maplerod and grinned, “You'd best pay that vowel, Milady. Don't say I didn't warn you.” His gap-toothed smile only added to the menace of his suggestion.
He then thanked Elizabeth and left.
Reinstated in the chase, Charlotte's needs relieved, Elizabeth amused and Lady Maplerod exhausted from the day's struggle, they continued with a change of horses at Calcott Green outside of Reading to London.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Some more draft writing.


More draft manuscript. This fits in before the last post and describes the developing relationship between Elizabeth and Charlotte. The manuscript is just about 20,000 words.

SKIPPING ABOUT 2 CHAPTERS.
// Elizabeth and Charlotte have largely buried the hatchet by now. Charlotte isn't sure about the rest of the Oswiths, especially Freddy. But Elizabeth is a good friend.
// Freddy is already in London, having argued, if it rose to that, with Charlotte. Elizabeth will go join him when Charlotte goes there. He always is on her wrong side. Somehow this bothers him. He's not sure why.
// Freddy will be surprised, pleasantly when Elizabeth shows up.
While Dr. Answorth was consuming his prescribed morning dose of the hot sulfurous brew dispensed in the pump room, Miss DeVere and Mrs. Answorth were introduced to a distinguished looking woman of an uncertain age. She wore fine clothes, was heavily powdered and wore a colored wig over her close cropped gray hair. The woman began,“Why Mrs. Answorth, what brings you to Bath?”
Seeing that Mrs. Answorth did not quite recognize her, she continued, “It seems so long since we met, but it was only last year. Have you been keeping well? No don't answer for I can see that you have.”
Mrs. Answorth searched her memory and put a name to the face. “Are you Carol? Lady Maplerod?”
“The same.”
“It has been a long time since we last met. You should visit us more often, Maplerod isn't far from Staverton. What brings you to Bath?”
“The waters, and the company. London is so gauche nowadays. I don't know why I spend so much time there.”
“My husband, Dr. Answorth is here for his gout.” She pointed to Dr. Answorth as he grimaced and tried to swallow more of the water.
“Is that so? Mine has long since departed to meet his maker. I suppose that is why I spend so much time on diversions in London.”
Mrs. Answorth remembered Lady Maplerod as a flighty young woman, and replied, “Diversions? Surely by now you have begun to settle down, to reflect on life.”
“I still feel the need for entertainment, it helps the time pass. Otherwise life would be so tedious and dreary. Who is this beautiful young lass that you have attending you?”
“Miss Charlotte DeVere, Lord Staverton's daughter. She has been kindly lending us her continence.”
Lady Maplerod immediately attached herself to Miss DeVere with an inspired devotion. Her devotion was inspired by her fond remembrances of Lord Staverton. He was a sure mark for a sucker-bet, and remarkably generous when he was in funds. She hoped his daughter was a similarly inclined. There was one way for her to find out so she talked to Charlotte.
“Miss DeVere, I knew your father and mother. Back in the '90's.”
“Really? I barely remember my mother. She died when I was not long out of leading strings. You must tell me about her.”
“She was one of my best friends. Both she and your father.”
Charlotte's naive response played right into Lady Maplerod's wishes. “What did you do together? I've never been to London, I'd like to see the sights. See where they lived.”
“Miss DeVere, next week I am headed to London. Would you like accompany me? You can stay in my town house.”
“I would love to, but I should ask my companions, Dr. and Mrs. Answorth.”
Elizabeth came into the pump room in search of Charlotte. “Miss DeVere, I hoped I would find you here. Would you like to ride up Claverton Down this afternoon, maybe a bit beyond if we have the time?”
Charlotte introduced her friend to Lady Malperod. “Lady Maplerod, this is Miss Elizabeth Oswith.”
The two women coldly examined each other. Lady Maplerod, because she knew that the Oswiths were a difficult nut to crack, and Elizabeth because Lady Maplerod plainly bore all the hallmarks of an adventuress. She had seen enough of them in London for her tastes. Lady Maplerod was the first to speak. “Miss Oswith, I was just telling your friend that I knew her parents, and invited her to stay in London with me next week.”
“Really, have you met mine?”
“Maybe, but I don't mix in social circles that are below my rank.”
Elizabeth gave her an ambiguous response, “Neither do I.”
Charlotte replied to Elizabeth, “I'd love to come riding with you. Lady Maplerod did you wish for my company?”
Lady Maplerod replied, “Go ride with your friend, my pretty one. There is plenty of time to arrange our trip later. There is so much I should discuss with my old friend Mrs. Answorth.”



Riding together up the Claverton Down with Elizabeth's groom discretely in tow, Charlotte turned to Elizabeth and asked her, “Lizzie, I had the impression that you were not overjoyed to meet Lady Maplerod. Why is that?”
“Nothing I can say directly, with those manners, that dress and that horrible wig she doesn't move in the first circles of London society, at least not the parts of those circle I inhabit.”
“You move in the first circles?”
Elizabeth blushed, “Well, Charlotte, I think I do, or at least as much as I want to.”
“As much as you want? What wouldn't you want to do?”
“I don't gamble, at least not for real stakes in a gambling hell. When I'm there, Freddy and I get invited to so many balls, that I have to turn some down.”
“Turn down an invitation?”
“It's either that or be very rude and just show up for a few minutes, then leave.”
“I do wish I could persuade Lady Maplerod to invite you to come with me.”
“You can try, but I doubt you'll succeed.”
“Oh, but you were so helpful here in Bath, and London is ever so much bigger. I'd be lost without a friend.”
They looked out over Bath from the top of the down. Elizabeth replied, “You don't get such a good view of the city. Should we try a ride to Farely Castle?”
Her groom coughed, “Ma'am it's a three hour ride from here.”
“Darn. That is too far. Is there anywhere closer? I am so enjoying this ride. It's far too soon to return to Bath.”
“Monkton Coombe is not too far Ma'am. We could return by Warminster Road.”
“That's on the canal, isn't it?”
“Yes Ma'am.”
“Charlottte are you game for it?”
“I've been so idle these last few weeks that any ride will do.”
“Then Monkton Coombe it is.”
They worked their way down the other side of the down to the small town of Monkton Coombe and the Somerset Coal Canal. Charlotte was surprised at the level of traffic.
“Good Lord Lizzie, it is so busy.”
“It is, isn't it.”
The followed the towpath towards the junction with the Kennet and Avon. Part of the way there, Charlotte suddenly asked Elizabeth, “Lizzie, have you ever been in love?”
“Where did that question come from?”
“I don't know, it's just, well I don't know what it feels like, and since you seem to know so much, maybe you'd know.”
“Charlotte how old are you?”
“Twenty three.”
“I'm only twenty two. So why do you keep making me feel like an ancient crone?”
“Lizzie, you've done so much more than I have. So what's it like to be in love?”
“I don't know. I once thought I was in love with one of Freddy's friends. He visited while he was in college. Freddy in college, that is, his friend was in the army. I doubt he even looked at me. I was a gangly young girl at the time. Still I wonder from time to time.”
“So you think about him?”
“Not often, anyway he's either a casualty in Spain or happily married by now. I'm sure when I really fall in love, my fantasies about him will evaporate like the dew.”
“I don't know. I've met many men in the last few weeks, but somehow they just don't make an impression. Not even a bad impression like Freddy.”
“Now you're being silly, Charlotte. If you expect to meet the love of your life during a few weeks in Bath, I think you will be disappointed.”
“I don't know. It's just I keep thinking about your annoying brother. Why can't I get him out of my thoughts?”
“Don't ask me about that. I can't get away from him either.”
“But you're his sister. Why would you want to get away from him?”
“Didn't you ever want to get away from, what was it, John?”
“Yes, but he wasn't as nice to me as Freddy seems to be to you.”
They reached the junction of the two canals, and much to their surprise there was a party of men examining the aqueduct and the locks around it. One of them was Freddy.
Elizabeth shouted, “Freddy! What are you doing here?”
He walked over and greeted them. “Inspecting one of father's special investments.”
“What is it this time?”
“This damned canal. It's making a decent return for now, but I don't think it's a good long term solution to moving goods. We've put too much capital into it, so now the question is how to get some of our money out without crashing the company.”
Charlotte quietly watched as Elizabeth queried her brother.
“What's the problem with it?”
“High maintenance costs, and the damp.”
“The damp?”
“Everything has to float. Just try keeping your grain dry in one of these barges.”
“I see. Also, if everything is horse drawn.”
“You're right Lizzie, it can't go any faster than a wagon, and the horses themselves will wear out. It's just too expensive to last.”
“So is there any alternative?”
“Stephenson, Trevithick. Steam engines.”
“Sounds risky.”
“It is. The trouble is doing nothing is even more risky.”
Elizabeth remembered her manners. “Freddy, Charlotte and I were riding on the downs. We'll return to Bath presently. Would you or your party care to dine with us this evening?”
Freddy finally seemed to notice Charlotte, but unfortunately he had to reply, “I'm sorry Miss DeVerre, I'm due to take the next boat back to Reading. I'll probably be dining, if you can call it that, in a canal-side pub at Chippingham, if not Devizes or some other such damned place.”
Charlotte wondered why, despite her nominal antipathy to this bounder, it was a disappointment that he wouldn't be dinning with them. “I'm truly sorry to hear that Mr. Oswith. I'm planning to visit London in a week or so, could we dine then?”
“It would be my pleasure.”
The two women bid Freddy adieu and headed back to Bath.
As they approached the town, Charlotte asked Elizabeth, “Lizzie, is it my imaginings or did your brother seem more tired, almost worn down and drawn than when we last met?”
“I think he is. The weight of responsibility is on his shoulders now and it shows.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Can be. Charlotte I've just had an idea. How about I post down to London next week? You and Lady Maple-what'sit can ride with me. That way I can surprise Freddy and cheer him up. You're welcome to stay with us, if you want.”
Charlotte looked dubious, “I'm not sure Lady Maplerod will accept your offer.”
“Want to bet?”
“You don't gamble.”
“Except on sure things. She'll hem and haw about it, but in the end a free ride in a luxurious post chase is something she won't miss.”
“I thought you and your family always rode the mail?”
“Freddy does, but he likes it.”
“Really, Lizzie? I've never done it, but John did. He said it was awful, full of common folk and smells. Very leveling.”
“I expect he does it to show his employees he will do anything he asks them to do. Besides, we're common folk too.”
“I thought you said you moved in the first circles?”
Elizabeth laughed, “It's amazing what money will do.”
“Lizzie!”
“Remember I once told you that I was only accepted as a wealthy heiress?”
“Yes, but that was long ago.”
“Only seems it. One reason I've not 'fallen in love' is most of the men seem more interested in my cash than me.”
“That cannot be true.”



Saturday, June 14, 2014

Nonlinear writing

Sometimes the best way to write is to work ahead. It can get you out of writer's block, and develop the characters. You do have to go back and make sure what you write is supported in the earlier bits, but that's usually not too hard.

This is from about the middle of the next book. Still a draft document. The lines that start with '//' are comments.

By the way, a Lady Luttrel appears in one of Georgette Heyer's books. This isn't where mine comes from. There was a real Lady Luttrel who ran a 'faro house' and was prosecuted for it. A 'Mr. Strot' was prosecuted as well at the same time. While we're at it 'Gropecunt lane' was a real place in London where ladies of easy and dubious virtue plied their wares.


Charlotte in the Suds.




// this is about halfway into the story. After Bath, Lady Maplerod (need a much better name) invites Charlotte to London. Elizabeth and Charlotte are sort of friendly but not as close as Elizabeth hoped.
// Maplerod takes Charlotte to the cleaners.
// Colonel Sam will probably a) complicate things by also falling for Charlotte or b) be a love interest for Elizabeth. (possibly appear to do a but do b).



Freddy rarely ventured into gambling hells, and it was only at the urging of his sister Lizzy that he accompanied her to Lady Luttrel's house. “Freddy, I so much want to see one of these Faro houses.”
“Lizzy, I'd rather you not. The odds in the games are always rigged for the house, the wine is poor and the food vile. The company is tedious, ill-tempered, noisome and noisy at best.”
“So? Charlotte has told me so much about it. I thought just once wouldn't be too awful. She said she would be at Lady Luttrel's tonight.”
“I'm not going to make good your losses.”
“Freddy! I'm not going to gamble, at least not much, where's the fun in that?”
In the end, they didn't make it into the house. There sitting on the stoop, crying, was Miss DeVere.
Lizzy stopped and asked her, “Charlotte, what is it?”
“I'm completely rolled up. I've lost everything I had, no it's worse than that. I owe as much again. There's no way I can ever pay it, and Mr. Strot has hinted that maybe I can earn my keep down at Gropecunt lane.”
Lizzy was shocked at what her friend said, but somehow Freddy wasn't. “Miss DeVere, look at me.”
Charlotte turned her tear-streaked face to him and looked up at his face. “Do you promise not to gamble again. I know it runs in your family, but can you promise?”
“Yes-s, I'll promise anything.”
“I don't want 'anything'. I want you to do one thing in specific.”
“Yes. I won't gamble again.”
“Good, I'm sorry Lizzy but you're not visiting the hell this time. Please keep Charlotte company while I sort things out.”
“Freddy!”
“Mr. Oswith!”
He didn't listen any of their objections but entered the hall. After he presented his card, Lady Luttrel greeted him as yet another fat pigeon fit for plucking. With the Oswiths, even detaching a couple of feathers was worth the game. “Mr. Oswith, how pleased I am to see you. May I show you to the faro table, or is piquet your game?”
Freddy rather rudely replied, “Neither. I understand Miss DeVere has some gambling losses that need to be paid. Can I see the books?”
Lady Luttrel put her nose in the air and assumed a patrician attitude, “Books? This is an affair of honor.”
Freddy, as usual when confronted by members of the tinsel aristocracy, was not impressed. “I fail to see the honor in skinning a young woman of her last savings.”
“What business is this of yours?”
“It's mine because I make it mine. Miss DeVere is under my protection.”
“Why? She's just another silly female.”
“Do you really think I'm a flat? Before I lay evidence,” at which words a pair of rather muscular and decidedly menacing gentlemen approached him on either side and momentarily interrupted his conversation. “I presume you keep track of your winnings somewhere. I need to see the records.”
“You bloody clerk, you're sticking your nose where it doesn't belong.”
“If you don't have records of her debt, then I'm leaving. If anyone menaces her, you will hear from a magistrate. I have more than one friend on the bench.”
The gentleman on his right moved between Freddy and Lady Luttrel and gathered his hands into fists. “Do you want some of this?” He stood there breathing heavily with his nostrils flaring in and out. He was prepared for a fight, and hoped to intimidate this young gentleman into striking first. The other moved behind him, ready to stop Freddy from returning any punches once the 'fight' started.
Freddy calmly looked at him with deep disdain. “Please. Physical violence will only add to the charges against you. I didn't come alone.” The stand off continued for a few moments, when Freddy continued, “So Madam, what will it be? Do I see Miss DeVere's vowels or do I talk to my friends at Old Bailey?”
“Bloody bastard!” Lady Luttrel nodded to her assistant. “Get Mr. Strot and tell that lazy bugger to bring the books.”
“Thank you.”
It only took a few moments in the end. Satisfied that the debt was properly totaled, he peeled a monkey from his billfold and handed it to Lady Luttrel. “I would like a receipt please. Miss DeVere will not be bothered about this again. Do you understand?”
“Yes, damn you.” Lady Luttrel stormed at her two muscular gentlemen. “Make sure that neither Miss DeVere nor this Mr. Oswith ever darkens my door again.”
“I assure you I have no intent of ever entering your,” he paused to show his distaste for the place, “house.”
With that he turned sharply and left. Once outside he addressed Lizzy and Miss DeVere, “Come, let us find a cab or a chair, and leave this verminous neighborhood.”
“Mr. Oswith?” Charlotte began to ask, “did you fix-”
“You debts. Yes.”
“How much do I owe you?”
Mr. Oswith refused to say. Instead he hailed a jarvey and bundled the two of them into it. He told the coachman to take the women to the house on Portman street. Miss DeVere objected to his high-handed treatment. “Mr. Oswith, I would like to go to my own place.”
“Where? You were staying with Lady Maplerod, weren't you?”
“Yes.”
“Where is she?”
Charlotte pointed to the 'faro house', “In there.”
“Then you will go with Miss Oswith. Lizzy, have a footman send a message to the Maplerod residence when you arrive.”
Lizzy intently studied her brother's face. While he could hide his emotions most of the time from most onlookers, she could still read them. She whispered to her brother, “Freddy, are you fine? There's room in the cab for you.”
Freddy smiled at her, “Thank you, but I'll walk. The exercise will do me well.”



It wasn't until the two women had arrived back in the Oswith's house at Portman square that Charlotte summoned the courage to ask Elizabeth something that had been bothering her, “Miss Oswith?”
“Yes.”
“Your brother, did he just settle my debts for me?”
“That's what he said he did. He's generally honest about things like that.”
“What does he expect me to do?”
“Nothing. It would be nice if you said thank you.”
“What do you mean by 'nothing'?”
“Exactly that, nothing. He would probably dislike it intensely if you tried to repay him.”
“I don't understand.”
Elizabeth studied her acquaintance, “You really don't understand, do you? My father and Freddy, for that matter probably me as well, have a talent for business. It's a blessing, much nicer being rich than poor, but it's also a curse.”
“A curse?”
“Do you remember how Freddy dressed when we met?”
“What a lark, he was dressed up to the nines in the latest fashion. He almost looked silly”
“and now?”
“So sober. What of it, tastes change?”
“He dresses like that because of his responsibilities. He has to look serious if he wants to be treated seriously.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are many people who depend on him making the right decisions. If it were just us Oswiths, well, we have more than enough in the four-percents to live high for a long time. It's just there are others who depend on the firm for their livelihoods. He can't just leave them to starve.”
“But?”
“If you really want to repay him, help him to laugh. He needs relief from the difficulty of being the one man in charge.”
Charlotte stood there speechless. This way of looking at Mr. Oswith hadn't occurred to her. He was always so stiff and distant, or at least had seemed so, almost from the day she met him.
Elizabeth continued, “It's late and I doubt Lady Maplerod will be home before dawn. There are probably more pigeons for her to pluck. I'll ask my maid to set up the spare bedroom for you.”
“More pigeons? I'm not a pigeon.”
Elizabeth laughed, “No, Charlotte, more of a silly goose. How did you think Lady Maplerod supports herself?”
“I thought by her inheritance, maybe from her estate, but you're saying by gambling?”
“Not just gambling, but bringing young inexperienced ingĂ©nues to the table. It's called 'plucking a pigeon'. I've been told it's very lucrative.”
“I'm confused.”
“You're tired, it will seem clearer in the morning.” Elizabeth made good on her suggestion to find a bed for Miss DeVere. Then she returned to the front parlor await for her brother's return. Mrs. Radcliffe's latest would do to keep her occupied until he returned.
Freddy stopped off at White's for a snifter. The other members considered him a bit of an odd stick, but good company just the same. One of his friends came over and suggested he join the game of Hazzard underway.
“Sorry, but I can't.”
“What do you mean you can't, it's just chicken stakes.”
“Samuel, you know I'm a banker.”
“If you're just a banker, I'm an ensign.” Colonel Samuel Travers was a well-respected officer in the Coldstream Guards.
“You know what I mean. It could leave the wrong impression if I play the tables.”
“Hmmn, I see. Have a point there. Pity though, you used to be dashed good at it.”
“But never for more than copper stakes.”
“True, I say, how about you advise me? I could use the help.”
The other men at the game suggested that he come and join them. Freddy sat down next to his friend and soon was immersed in calculating the odds and advising his friend.
It didn't take long before they were cleaning the table. “Damn Freddy, it's a good thing we're playing for chicken stakes. You and Sam would be leaving us in damned low water.”
Freddy chuckled then stood, “Thank you Sam, gentlemen, I'd forgotten how much I missed your company. When you get run off your feet tomorrow, come see me. I always need some more clerks in my office.”
Freddy returned home in a much better mood than he left. As he pulled his latchkey from his pocket to open the door, one of the footmen opened it. “I thought I told you not to wait up for me, that Miss Oswith and I might be late?”
“Sir, Miss Oswith is waiting for you I the front parlor.”
Elizabeth immediately saw that her brother was in good spirits, “Freddy? What have you been up to?”
“Stopped in White's and met up with some old friends. Do you remember Sam Travers?”
“Wasn't he the one who joined up? A captain or something.”
“A colonel now. Still we had a nice chat, and I kept him from losing his stake at Hazard.”
“You gambled, after what you told Miss DeVere?”
“No, I advised him on the odds, though. Amazing how few of these fellows think those out in advance. It was only chicken stakes anyway.”
“I put our guest to bed.”
“I thought she was going to Lady Maplerod's”
“That old harridan? You know she was setting up Miss DeVere to be plucked?”
“Very probably. She does that doesn't she?”
“But?”
“It's a bit rude to just skip out as a guest.”
“I'll send her a message in the morning. Now that her pigeon is well plucked, I doubt she'll want to keep her.”
“Wouldn't surprise me, but Miss DeVere can't stay here.”
“Why ever not? You won't compromise her or anything stupid like that, and I'd like to get to know her better.”
“Lizzy, she detests us. What makes you think she would change her opinion?”
“I have my reasons.”



Early the next morning, barely before breakfast was started let alone the last cup of tea drunk and Freddy was off to the city to do whatever mysterious things he did, a footman entered the room and announced, “Mr. Oswith, you have a visitor.”
“This early?” Freddy looked at his sister who usually managed to rise early enough to see him off. She was dressed informally, in a morning gown, since it was far too early to be out and about the village. Miss DeVere blissfully slumbered on, unaware of the Oswith family's unsocial hours. “Who is it and was it important?”
“It is a Colonel Travers, and he says it is confidential.”
“Nonsense, show him in, he's an old friend.”
A few minutes later Travers entered. He stopped and staggered, there was a beautiful woman in the room.
“Sam, you remember my sister Lizzy?” He did, but the last time he met her she was a scrubby schoolgirl, all legs and arms, and here she a dashing and well-posed woman. She was smiling at him. It was unnerving. He stammered, “I s-s-ay Freddy, last night, when you said you had positions for clerk's?”
“Yes?”
“Did you mean it?”
“What happened Sam?”
“This.” He held out a missive from his father. Freddy quickly read the letter. It was not good news.
Sam continued while Freddy read, “He put the family fortune into Barlow's East Timor venture.”
Elizabeth had been listening during family dinners, “Oh, dear, he was a 'Captain Sharp', wasn't he? I remember you and father refusing to have anything to do with him.”
“Yes, I'll have to sell out, there isn't enough to keep going as a Colonel.”
Elizabeth asked her brother, “Freddy, could we lend -”
“No,” Sam stopped her, “I don't borrow from my friends, besides, Freddy always requires collateral.”
Freddy looked up from the letter. “Not always, but a loan won't help you with this. Sam, I'll see what I can salvage for you. Barlow's venture didn't completely collapse.”
“M'guvnor used the shares to back a mortgage on the family manse.”
“Oh, so you really are deep into the suds, aren't you? I might be able to salvage a shilling on the pound, but that won't be enough, will it?”
“I wasn't joking when I asked about a clerk's position.”
Elizabeth looked stricken, while Freddy was a generous employer, Colonel Travers would be hard pressed to live on a clerk's salary. Freddy was thoughtful, then asked one important question, “Sam, before you were in the guards, weren't you in an engineering battalion?”
“Yes, not so dashing, but a good place for a young soldier to start.”
“Remember any of it?”
“Why?”
“Come see me in the city this afternoon. I don't think a clerkship is what you want.”

Revised, but still draft, version of the first three chapters.


I've read that the process of writing is interesting 

Working Title Charlotte
author Amelia Treader

1. An Unfortunate Sequence of Events

Gout and dropsy plagued old Lord Staverton's last years, but it was the pneumonia he caught during the hard winter of 1811-12 that finally carried him off. A hardened gamester, he had left his estates encumbered with so much mortgage debt that the income barely covered the interest payments. His son and heir, John had similar expensive tastes in entertainment, and as a captain in the army of occupation in Paris had many chances to indulge them. His daughter Charlotte secretly yearned for the chance to experience the exciting life of the ton in London, but was by far the most level headed of the last of the DeVere's and merely hoped to keep clearing housekeeping. No sooner had his vicar and somewhat more sober crony from the old days, Dr. Answorth buried him in the churchyard than an express bearing bad news arrived from Paris.
John enjoyed the night life in Paris after Napoleon fled to Elba. He and his brother officers sought release from their memories of the real dangers and hardships of the Spanish campaign with the thrills of gambling, drinking and whoring late into the morning. His particular road to perdition was dice. In a desperate attempt to clear himself from his debts, he threw double or nothing hoping to sum more than double threes. He threw snake-eyes. Left with 50,000 pounds in debt and no way to pay it, he quaffed his last glass of champagne then headed upstairs do to 'the honorable thing' in his room. The gamblers below hardly noticed the bang when he blew his brains out.
A few days later the family solicitor, Mr. Cruise, gathered Miss Charlotte DeVere and her friends Dr. Answorth and Mrs. Answorth together to read the will and decide what to do with the estate. The situation was dire.
“Miss DeVere, your father's estate was severely encumbered, and your brother Mr. John's debts were the last straw. I'm afraid you will have to sell Staverton Hall, its contents and grounds. As you know the London house went years ago. Maybe we can keep some of your mother's jewels.”
“Surely my mother's portion should come to me. I can live on that.”
“Yes it should, but the interest on 10,000 pounds is hardly sufficient for the costs of the estate. To be blunt, even if we sell the Hall at a favorable price there may not be enough proceeds left over to cover the portion due you.”
Charlotte gasped, “Surely.”
“I'm sorry but until the estate is fully settled, there is nothing for you. I could give you 5000 pounds in return for your signing your portion over to me when it is finally settled. I'm confident that the settlement will not be much higher.”
Dr. Answorth hardly needed the prodding his wife and helpmate gave him to speak. “No! None of this. Miss DeVere, you can stay with us while this is sorted out. At the vicarage. I mean your father helped with my preferment and I am glad to repay the favor.”
Mrs. Answorth continued in a more coherent manner. “Miss DeVere, you know we've never had children and the rectory is so big. Dr. Answorth and I just rattle around in it. It would be a great favor if you'd come and stay with us. We'd like to have the company of young people again.”
Charlotte started to refuse, then realized that there was no way to refuse without hurting her friends. “I – I couldn't impose on you, but if you insist, I'd be happy to stay at the vicarage.”
Mrs. Answorth clapped her hands with joy. “Then it's settled, you'll move in with us. We'll make a happy family while you sell the hall. Then we can see what fortune awaits.”






A few days later Mrs. Answorth looked exhausted in the morning at breakfast. “It's Dr. Answorth. He's caught a chill again and I was up all night nursing him.”
Charlotte inquired after his health.
“It's not bad, but he sinks so low when he is ill. Unfortunately, I am promised to visit with the old widow Mrs. Chatsworth this morning.”
“I could do it Mrs. Answorth, if you'd like. I'd like to be helpful. You've done so much for me.”
“If it's not an imposition. I don't want to make you a drudge Miss Charlotte.”
“No it's not. I need the walk. Is there anything I should bring her?”
“Just your company. Her son looks after her wants, but she's housebound and gets so lonely. She used to be able to make it to church on Sundays, but recently even that's become too difficult for her, poor thing.”
Charlotte went back upstairs to her room and changed from her delicate muslins into the coarse woolen dress she wore when she went rambling about the countryside. As she descended, Mrs Answorth remarked, “You look just like a farmers daughter, Miss Charlotte. Shouldn't I send for the carriage and have you dress as befits your station?”
“My station? The daughter of a profligate old gambler who spent us into the poorhouse. No I've had enough of these airs. Besides, this way I can wander about for the exercise.”
“But?”
“Surely Mrs. Chatsworth will appreciate my company, even if I dress like this.” She looked at the weather when she left the vicarage. It looked from the clouds like the weather were changing, but the morning promised to remain fair.



The Chatsworth farm was a few miles away from the vicarage, but the weather held clear and Charlotte made good time. She was nearly there when a young man in a curricle pulled up beside her and stopped. He was dressed in the latest London fashion with a tall almost conical hat with a curly brim, stiff collars so high that he could only turn his head with difficulty, a tie whose mathematical excellence required an hour in the morning to achieve and a traveling cloak with several layers and buttons as wide as his hands. His horses were showy horses that had been advertised as 'fifteen miles an hour tits'. Charlotte looked at them with dismay, they may have been showy, but they were in poor condition and exhausted. If they did fifteen miles an hour, it was only for a few minutes at a time. The man's tiger evidently agreed and met her glance by looking away in shame.
“I say, countrywoman, is this the way to Staverton Hall? The directions they gave at the pub in the village were so confusing. This road is so small and muddy, I'm sure we must be lost.” The road was one of the better ones in the district.
“Why do you ask?”
“I'm thinking of buying it, but my old man told me to always inspect the goods before laying out my blunt. He is a canny one he is. So before I offer, I want to see it.”
“Oh. Well, yes. You're on the right path. It's a mile past the next farm, on the right. Though you might want to return by the main road. Go out the front gate and you can't miss it.”
“Well, that's simple then. Thank you. Just to show that Frederick Oswith isn't a welsher, here's this.” He tossed her a shilling, then hied his horses and drove off.
Charlotte fumed, “What a mushroom, a bobbing block and a fool, I hope he doesn't buy my hall.” all the way to Mrs. Chatsworth's.
Mrs. Chatsworth was overwhelmed by her visitor, the daughter of the lord of the manor, and last of the DeVeres. Charlotte did her best to reassure the old woman, and in the end, after an hour or so of conversation she departed.
Charlotte climbed the down to see her beloved home, so soon to become the abode of someone else. Possibly even that detestable mushroom she'd met on the road. She shuddered at the thought, then turned and started towards the main road to make a loop out of her walk. The weather, which had started so clement began to darken with the threat of rain. The threat became real as a steady drizzle began to soak down.
The noise of a curricle approaching from behind interrupted her reverie. That young man was driving past her again. She forced herself to look away. It didn't help. He stopped and asked her, “Countrywoman, since you were so helpful and it is starting to rain, would you like a ride to the village? I have to find that blasted solicitor.”
The raindrops coming both larger and more frequently forced Charlotte to accept. With the help of the tiger, she mounted the curricle. The man introduced himself, “I'm Freddy Oswith. My father saved up the readies and wants me to find a suitable country estate for my family. I've been looking for one for the last two years. It seems like forever. Finally found it.”
“I'm glad.”
“And you are?”
Charlotte looked away, both in shame and shyness. Freddy muttered “Suit yourself,” to himself and urged his pair onwards. After a few moments he shot a glance at his fair companion. She was uncommonly good looking, not at all what he expected a farm woman to look like, and yet, somehow she looked familiar. He thought for a moment then realized he'd seen her portrait at the hall.
“You're Miss DeVere, aren't you? The owner of the hall.”
Charlotte reluctantly admitted that was true.
“Then what are you doing out here, dressed like a farm woman? I'd like to know.”
“Visiting an elderly neighbor who needed the company.”
“Ah, the noblisse oblige. I guess I might have to learn to do that.”
No, usually Mrs. Answorth visits her. She couldn't do it today so I did.” Charlotte looked away. This conversation was over as far as she was concerned. Closer acquaintance hadn't improved her opinion of Mr. Oswith. Freddy, in his usual style, didn't understand subtle messages. He turned to her and asked, “Why are you selling? It's a spanking place, just what the doctor ordered.”
Unfortunately Freddy should have concentrated on his driving. He wasn't a good enough driver to let his concentration lapse, no matter how charming its object. His leads got caught in the near horse's feet, then wrapped around the right axle of his curricle. In a moment, the horse stumbled, the thill snapped and the curricle pitched sideways dumping him and his fair passenger into a tangled heap in the mud and slough on the side of the road. After a few physical intimacies that went well beyond the normal bounds of social etiquette, Charlotte and Freddy managed to disentangle themselves and stood by the side of the road.
His tiger, normally taciturn started to speak. “Governor, she's broke, and the near horse probably lamed.”
Freddy, despite his supercilious manner, was not dim. “I can see that Henry.”
“What are you going to do?”
“If Miss DeVere is fine, we will lead the horses to the nearest village and see if there is some carriage available that isn't insufferable to ride.”
Having adjusted her dress and dusted as much muck from it as she could, Charlotte gave Freddy her fiercest gaze. She shouldn't have done that because it was also her prettiest gaze. Freddy was dazzled rather than threatened. “Mr. Oswith, we will never speak of this again.”
Fine, suits me. Not my finest hour, you know. Can you walk to the village?
Charlotte took a few trial steps then collapsed.
“I guess not. Looks like your ankle is banged up.”
She nodded. The pain only added to her intense dislike of the parvenu. Freddy addressed his tiger, “Henry, it looks like you'll have to manage the horses and curricle yourself. I'll support Miss DeVere.”
“No you won't! I'll wait here.”
I'm sorry Miss DeVere, but it's raining hard already, and will only get worse. You're coming with me.”
“I could ride your horse.”
Freddy gave a hopeful glance at his tiger Henry, expecting deliverance from his burden. Unfortunately, Henry replied, “Miss, no, they've never borne a rider.”
Henry interjected in the vain hope of having the more pleasant task, “Sir, I could carry her.”
“Sorry Henry, the horses are your responsibility. Miss DeVere, if you will pardon me.”
With that Freddy picked Miss Charlotte DeVere up in his arms and started down the road. When she objected, he replied, “Sorry Ma'am, but the rain is getting even harder, evening is coming and I want to have a change of clothes and then my dinner.”
A quarter of a mile onward, Freddy asked Miss DeVere, “I'm sorry Ma'am, but you're heavier than I thought. If you would try to walk, I could support you on one arm.”
Charlotte remained silent.
“Oh well, it can't be helped then.” He started to shift her from his arms to carry her over his shoulder.
“Stop!”
“Miss DeVere, it's your choice. I can't carry you in a ladylike manner much longer.”
“I, I can't let you.”
“Why not?”
There wasn't any good reply to this.
“Miss, the last thing I want to do is to carry you off for an improper purpose. I can't imagine anyone I'd less want to marry. It's either this, or you walk.”
Charlotte relaxed, a little. To be held this close by a man, even one she heartily detested, was a novel experience. She couldn't quite relax completely, but it was strangely enjoyable despite her substantial misgivings about its propriety. Freddy continued, “I'm headed to the pub, then to find that blasted solicitor. Where should I drop you off?”
Charlotte's stoney silence continued.
“The pub it is.” Freddy shifted his load, despite her objections, to over one shoulder, carrying her like a sack of corn and strode off.


They entered the village, and Freddy stopped. He asked his burden, “Where is the King's Arms?”
“It's in Staverton, this is Holt.”
“How far is that?”
“Six miles, back the way you came.”
“Damn and blast!”
“Mr. Oswith!”
“Sorry, I presume there is a hostelry in this benighted village?”
“The Royal Oak. James used to say the beer was excellent there.”
“James?”
“My late brother, Captain James DeVere the last Lord Staverton.”
“You have my condolences for your brother. The Royal Oak it is.”
“I can't go in there.”
“Why ever not?”
“It's a low place.”
“I'm tired of carrying you, very thirsty and more than a bit hungry, so that's where we're bound.”
Freddy found the inn and entered it. Much to her dismay and the amusement of the pub keeper and attendant farmers, he unburdened himself. “Do you have a private parlor for Milady? With a fire, she's shivering.”
“Aye, we have one, upstairs. Bit dusty as there's not much call for it.” The publican took a look them, and continued, “Miss DeVere's credit isn't good here, her good for naught brother still owes me a hundred pounds for drink, and I don't know you. Who's going to pay?”
“I will,” Freddy replied reaching for his pocket book. It lay somewhere in the mud along their route. “Damn, I'll have to send to my man Phelps at the King's Arms. I seem to have lost my pocket book.”
“Then sir, Miss DeVere can sit by the fire in the main room.”
Charlotte glared at them, but let herself be helped to a settle by the fire. Freddy laughed, “It's warm enough Milady”
“Please don't call me that.”
“Yes Milady, do you still have that shilling I gave you?”
With as much grace, dignity and condescension as she could manage, Charlotte retrieved it and presented it to her tormentor.
“Good girl!” Freddy handed it to the publican. “Get her some food and see that she's comfortable. Would you please send for the surgeon or apothecary to see to her ankle. I'll walk back the Red Hart and return with the readies.”
The publican took the time to examine this stranger. His clothes might be ruined with the wet and mud, his boots certainly were, but underneath the layers of grime it was clear that they were of the first stare. The stranger surely couldn't be on speaking terms with Miss DeVere if he were totally shiftless.
“Sir,” the pub keeper interposed, “perhaps one of my grooms might carry the message?”
“Really? I'd be much obliged if he could. My curricle,” he paused, chuckled, and continued, “Well, you see, we had a little accident, half way to Staverton Hall.”
Charlotte added, “Had a little accident? You, Mr. Oswith are a horrible driver, I've never seen worse.”
An idea slowly dawned in the dim recesses of the publican's mind, “Sir, Mr. Oswith, aren't you that young swell come to look at the hall?”
“As a matter of fact, yes I am. Do you know where I can find the DeVere's blasted solicitor or even better, their steward?”
“It's evening sir, best call on Mr. Cruise in the morning. Mr Barford lives in the village. I'll send for him.”
“Now about that parlor, and where can I send an express to London?”


With Charlotte ensconced alone upstairs in the one private parlor, Freddy began to write his express to his father describing what he'd found. The noise in the common room of the pub was disturbing him and making it difficult to concentrate.
“Landlord? Is there another place I can work?”
“Nay Sir, only this room and the parlor. Miss DeVere is in the parlor.”
“Bugger it. Is there a maid or someone who can attend Miss DeVere so that I don't compromise her?”
“My daughter Betsy was a housemaid at the Hall, would she do?”
“Don't see why not. Send her up to prepare Miss DeVere for my arrival?”
“Sir?”
“I don't want to surprise her.”
Shortly thereafter, seated in an opposite corner of the parlor and as far from Charlotte as he could be, Freddy began his express while Charlotte switched between studying the fire and glaring at him.
Mr. G. Oswith
Portman Street London
Dear Father,
I've looked at Staverton Hall, and it appears to suit our needs. The house itself is poorly maintained, but appears sound and dry. The land is mostly in corn, appears fertile, but could be managed better. The location is ideal. The new canal will be dug just to the south and it's not far from the Bath road to the north. The land is heavily mortgaged. If you move quickly, before the creditors find that we're buying the house, you may be able to purchase old Staverton's debts for pennies on the pound. His credit was not good. The one DeVere left standing, his daughter, couldn't even get service in a local pub without my help.
I'll start negotiations with their solicitor and check with the steward to discuss the expected income on the estate.
I know you and mother are a bit ambitious and have hopes that I'll marry into a country family like a real country gentleman. I don't expect that will happen with the Staverton family. The daughter, while pretty, is insufferably proud and disagreeable. It will be best if she goes to Bath or some other safe place for spinsters.
Sincerely & etc.
Frederick.


He folded and sealed the sheet, then left the parlor in search of a messenger. He found his tiger instead. Having safely delivered the horses and what was left of the curricle, he was just sitting down to a well-earned pint and a meal.
“Henry, old chum. I have a job for you.”
Henry looked at his master in dismay. He had just had a trying walk, bringing a broken curricle, a lame horse and a healthy but skittish horse to this benighted little pub in the middle of nowhere. “Old chum nothing, Mr. Oswith. What now?”
Freddy showed him the letter. “This needs to get to my guvnor, as quick as possible.”
“Just quickly?”
“Well, privately too. Important business correspondence.”
Henry understood. Freddy was usually an easy master, willing to defer to his tiger's superior knowledge of horses and carriages, but when it came to business matters, he demanded and expected instant attention. Of course he paid well for it.
Freddy continued, “I'll hire you a horse and you can ride up to the Bath road, then catch the mail into London.”
“If you're going to hire a horse, then this might be useful.” Henry held out Freddy's pocket book.
“Damn me, you found it. Thank you, dashed useful to have cash, you know.” Freddy quickly pulled out a large note and handed it to his tiger. “So you'll be off?”
“I can always sleep on the mail.”
“Good fellow. Now off you go.”


With his message sent, Freddy could turn his attention to normal things, like dinner. The groom he sent and his valet, Phelps, hadn't yet arrived from Staverton. In the mean time his appetite had arrived with a vengeance. It felt like he hadn't eaten in a week. He was about to look up the publican and see what could be arranged about it when a short, but rather chubby young woman with brown hair and a plain dress attracted his attention. It took him a few moments, but he recognized her as the maid from the parlor.
“Sir!, Sir!”
“Yes, Betsy isn't it?”
She curtsied and continued, “Please Sir, Miss Charlotte wonders if there was any chance of a dinner, Sir?”


// NOTE just to the east of Holt is a farm a Whaddon ln and semington brook. Fits the bill.

2. Negotiations.

Early the next morning the gig from the rectory arrived for Miss DeVere. Dr. and Mrs. Answorth drove to retrieve their charge from her dire straights. While Mrs. Answorth ascended the stairs to help Charlotte get ready, Dr. Answorth interviewed Freddy. Since his valet hadn't arrived from Staverton, Freddy was still dressed in his partially cleaned clothes from the day before. He felt embarrassingly scruffy, but compared to the rest of the clientèle of the pub, including the local farmers who dropped in to see this foreigner from London who might become their new landlord, he was still elegantly dressed.
Dr. Answorth began the conversation, “Mr. Oswith, how do you find our little village?”
“Primitive, but surprisingly pleasant.”
“Primitive?”
“Look at my clothes, I say, there is no laundry here that could properly clean them. This jacket is thoroughly ruined. On the other hand, I spent last night drinking in the company of the farmers. Decent folks.”
“You liked them?”
“I'd better learn to like them, if I'm planning to plant my family here I'll have to work with them.”
“Is that your intent? To settle here.”
“The hall is in an excellent location, and the land around it seems fertile enough. I still need to talk to the steward, but I'd be surprised if I don't. Do you think the locals will take to a new owner?”
“Not to speak ill of my late patron, if you invest in the estate, you'll be welcomed. It might take a 'summering in', but they'll take to you in the end.”
“That's what I thought. They certainly appreciated my standing them a round of ale.”
“True, but don't expect you can bribe them.”
“Bribe them?”
“They'll take your ale, but it doesn't change their minds. If they think you're trying to buy friendship they'll reject you.”
Freddy chuckled, “No I don't expect that. But it did get the conversation flowing. Now at least I know a few names and faces, as well as a little of the local history.”
Mrs. Answorth descended from upstairs, with Charlotte behind her. Her erstwhile housemaid Betsy supported Charlotte as she painfully limped down. At the bottom of the stairs, they stopped and had a few words of parting with Freddy. At least Mrs. Answorth did, Charlotte mostly glared at him.
“Mr. Oswith,” Mrs. Answorth began, “I have to thank you for the care you extended to Miss DeVere. From everything she's said, you must have been most attentive to her needs.”
“It was nothing, after all it was my accident that-”
Charlotte's commentary stopped him. “Accident, Hmmp. Sloppy driving, that's what it was.”
Freddy smiled, “Perhaps, after we've concluded our business about the hall, you could give me a few lessons in how to drive in style.”
The Answorths' laughed, while Charlotte reddened with embarrassment. She blurted, “I could, but not with such a backward student.”
Mrs. Answorth snapped, “Charlotte! Please!”
Freddy took it in good form, “No offense taken, Miss DeVere is uncomfortable, in pain from her ankle, and I'm sure that must try even the most uniform of tempers.”
Charlotte continued to glare at him as they left. Was there nothing she could do that would pierce his calm demeanor?



The steward paid Freddy a visit between Miss DeVere's departure and his valet's arrival. Mr. Barford was impressed with Freddy. This young man demanded, then carefully read and questioned, the account books for the hall and the farms that made up the estate. Neither Lord Staverton nor his son had ever bothered with them.
“Mr. Barford, this item, drainage and road improvements, doesn't add properly.”
“If you would look on the second page, you will see it is proper.”
“Ah yes, I see. Very good.”
“Thank you.”
“The farm leases all seem to be short term. Surely a longer term lease would be better?”
“Lord Staverton was always in need of ready money.”
“Ah. That explains many things. This land could produce more if it were properly managed.”
“Mr. Oswith, not to speak ill of the dead, but Lord Staverton was not able to maintain the estate as it should be.”
“I thought so. I would very much dislike to waste my blunt. In its current state the estate is hardly worth anything, but it has capability. To make it really profitable will need a serious investment.”
This exchange left Mr. Barford in the tentative hope that Mr. Oswith intended to develop the estate as it should be developed, to bring it up to its potential. Lord Staverton's continued neglect and disinterest had been a constant thorn in his side. Even his proposals for inexpensive and simple improvements had been consistently ignored for various abortive 'get rich quick' schemes that further improverished the estate.
Having reviewed the books, and more importantly received a message via his long-suffering tiger that his father approved the deal, Freddy approached the solicitor. Though first he told Henry, “Good Lord man, you must be exhausted.”
Henry admitted that maybe, perhaps, he was a little bit fagged. Since Henry never, ever admitted weakness, Freddy understood this to mean he was ready to drop where he stood. “Well then, I'm not planning on a trip for the next few days. Why don't you get some sleep?”
Three days after their initial meeting, Miss DeVere and Mr. Oswith met in the offices of her solicitor. Somehow Mr. Oswith brought his solicitor from London and the steward, Mr. Barford was invited. Dr. and Mrs. Answorth accompanied their friend to the negotiations over the disposition of her inheritance.
Freddy was resplendent in a yellow and blue striped waistcoat, a tight-fitting coat of red superfine, yellow calf-clingers, high starched collars, and an intricately tied tie. His man, Phelps, had restored most of the gloss to his boots, but their sojourn on country roads was not completely repairable with the resources at hand. He cheerfully rapped on the solicitor's door and then walked in.
“Am I late? My sense of time has become deplorably inaccurate recently.”
While the others merely acknowledged his entrance with a nod of their head or a brief wave, Charlotte glared at him. Impervious to hints, as usual, Freddy continued, “Miss DeVere, how is your ankle?”
“Better.”
“Good, capital, capital. Are you up to dancing yet? There's always a ball in Bath and it isn't too far away to make a dash.”
“No.”
“No? Oh well then, pleasantries aside, on to business.”
Mr. Cruise began, “Mr. Oswith, do you have an offer for the house, contents and the demesne, that is the grounds surrounding it?”
Freddy, suddenly serious, replied, “That's barely worth a thousand, but I'll be generous, say eleven hundred.”
“Please be serious and don't waste my time.”
“I am always serious, the hall is run down, and the demesne is not large enough to produce income. Now if you were talking about the whole of the estate, I could go higher, say twenty thousand.”
Charlotte interjected here, “The farms are not for sale. I intend to run them.”
“If you say so, but they are heavily mortgaged and you are already late on the payments.”
“Moulder's bank has always understood that we will pay after the harvest, when we receive our accounts from the farmers.”
“True, they are a bit overgenerous when it comes to business matters, but have you checked with the new bond holders?”
Charlotte gasped, shaken, “New bond holders?”
“Yes, the mortgage bonds were for sale, pennies on the pound. Your father's and now your ability to repay was considered highly suspect and the bank was very happy to settle. They often are willing to write off bad debts and clear their books.”
“Oh, and I suppose you know the new bond holders.”
“Intimately.” Freddy smiled.
Charlotte suddenly realized what he meant. “You own them, don't you!”
Freddy looked down, in what could be thought to be shame, but in reality to hide his amusement. It was refreshing to deal with a novice, a pretty novice, albeit one who seemed to intensely dislike him, but a novice at business nonetheless. Once he had his facial expression back in control, he looked up at Charlotte, “Well, yes. Now are you serious about making a go of the estate without the hall?”
“Of course. In the past the income covered the interest, so I don't see why it shouldn't succeed.”
“If you say so, but foreclosure is such an ugly word. There is this little matter of principle as well.”
“Principles? I didn't think you had any.”
“In business, no, none at all. In private matters, of course I do. But I mean the principle of the mortgage. You can't just pay some of the interest forever, the debt will just grow. After going over the estate's books with Mr. Barford, I don't think you don't have much choice in the matter.”
Charlotte gave a concerned look at her solicitor. She appeared lost and helpless. It made her look especially pretty to Freddy. He found himself unaccustomedly softening to her, thinking that she really was out of her depth in dealing with business like this.
“Tell you what,” Freddy continued, “Since you're new to the business, I'll go take a walk. Let you discuss it with your people. I'll be back in, oh, say a quarter of an hour or so.” Addressing his solicitor he continued, “Mr. Bayliss, if you would and if it doesn't put you in a conflict, could you stay and advise them?”
“Advise them sir?”
“Assure them of my ability to pay, business credentials, general reputation, things like that they may question.”
“Sir, as long as you are not expecting me to advise them on terms.”
“Oh no, not at all. That would be unethical.”
With that Freddy left.
Charlotte shot a panicky look at her solicitor, Mr. Cruise. “What am I going to do? He wouldn't leave me destitute would he?”
Dr. Answorth interjected, “That would be wrong, wouldn't it?”
Mr. Cruise wasn't sure, so he asked Mr. Bayliss, “Your employer, Mr. Oswith, would he do such a thing?”
Bayliss coughed, and carefully considered his words before replying. “While they are personally charming and generous, if perhaps a bit vulgar and not to everyone's taste; the Oswiths are ruthless in business matters. They won't cheat you, but they will drive a hard bargain and expect you to hold to the letter of the contract.”
Charlotte queried, “Contract, what contract?”
“Your mortgages, for example are a contract where you promise to pay back funds with interest on a given schedule. They're all legal and correct, but if you default on them, he won't hesitate to foreclose.”
“Oh. Mr. Barford, doesn't the income from the farms cover the payments? Father thought it did.”
“On a good year, yes.”
“This year?”
“Maybe.”
“So I don't really have many choices, do I? It's either sell my estate to him or he will take it from me.”
Mr. Bayless frowned, dealing with clients whom his employers had cornered was his least favorite part of being the Oswith's solicitor. “Miss DeVere, Mr. Oswith often arranges matters that way in business. I'm sorry for you. Why do you think they are successful?”
Mrs. Answorth added, in a very quiet voice. “You do have one choice, Charlotte. I hesitate to suggest it, but Mr. Oswith is single.”
“No!”
“It's not as if you would be able to marry for love in any case.”
“But not him. Not someone I detest.”
Dr. Answorth added, “Think about it. He's personable, seems to have decent manners and morals, and more importantly, he is rich. That rich marzipan can help you swallow an otherwise bitter pill.”
His wife continued, “You know you can't marry freely, where you'd like. There are few of your rank who will or for that matter can marry a penniless bride. Mr. Oswith might, if you were nice to him. If he saw it as an advantage. At least he isn't vicious.”
“Nothing will ever induce me to marry that bounder. Why just look at how he treated his tiger. Sent him to London and back in a day's trip, and that was after a hard day riding around Staverton Hall.”
Mr. Bayliss coughed to draw attention to himself again. “Henry has nothing to complain about. He is very well paid to be a confidential messenger for the Oswiths.”
Charlotte replied, “Is being well paid all that matters to you? How about loyalty?”
Bayliss continued, “Loyalty goes both ways, Mr. Oswith is very loyal to his employees, looks after their needs and expects their loyalty in return. Henry's invalid mother is at the rheumatic hospital in Bath. Henry thinks it's on charity. It's not.”
Freddy, on entering, overheard that last exchange. “I'd appreciate it if you could keep that secret. Henry would be upset if he found out.”
Bayliss thought, “I'd be willing to bet Henry knows.” but kept his thoughts to himself. He added aloud, “Mr. Oswith, I wish you would let people know about your charities.”
“Sorry Mr. Bayliss, no, that's a private matter. I don't desire the attention. Charity is not charity if you use it to publicize yourself. I might be wealthy, but thank God I'm not a Pharisee.”
Freddy then sat down at the table across from Charlotte and asked simply. “Have you made a decision, or should I go back to the pub and get a pint while you continue discussions?”
Charlotte gave Freddy an intense look of dislike. Mrs. Answorth broke in, “Dr. Answorth had a suggestion. You and Miss DeVere could get married. That way she could stay in her estate.”
Freddy laughed. It took him no little time to compose himself. “Are you serious?” He gave Charlotte an unsettlingly serious examination, as if he were examining a lot of defective goods. “What did you think of this Miss DeVere?”
Charlotte started to stammer out “No,” but ended up saying, “I'm not sure.”
Dr. Answorth replied, “Miss DeVere is a highly eligible young woman with a distinguished bloodline. Marrying her would buy, pay your, sorry introduce you into polite society.”
“So does my fortune. I don't have trouble mixing with the ton in London, especially when they need a loan. She may have a distinguished bloodline, but she's poor. She'll be lucky to attract a husband of her own station.”
Charlotte, highly annoyed with the turn the discussion was taking, interposed, “Mr. Oswith, please!”
Freddy thought for a moment, Charlotte was clearly a pretty woman and he had a suspicion that if he were on her good side, she would be pleasant company. He could almost imagine falling in love with her. At least if he could be sure that, unlike so many of the beauties he'd met, it was him and not his money that she loved. He made his final and best offer, “This is a new development. It merits careful consideration on both our parts. Tell you what. I was going to foreclose on you if you didn't sell out. My offer of eleven hundred pounds for the house and demesne still stands. The interest and principle due on the mortgages is about five hundred. I'll pay you six hundred cash and count the difference to the mortgage payment.”
“Mr. Oswith!”
“That's my best offer. Can't say it's not fair. Otherwise I will just foreclose and take the lot.”
Mr. Bayliss added, “Remember what I told you about the Oswith's and business.”
“What did you tell them, Mr. Bayliss?”
“Just that you play for keeps in business.”
“Damn right, how well you know me.”
Charlotte looked at Mr. Cruise. He nodded, “You won't get a better offer for the house.” She looked at Freddy, then extended her hand to him. “You have a deal.”
Freddy was relieved, had Miss DeVere been difficult, he would have proceeded to foreclose on her. It might have been with reluctance, but it would have been the inevitable result. Taking her hand he replied, “Thank you.”
As they were leaving, Mr. Bayliss asked Freddy, “Would you really have given them cash for the whole thing? That's very unlike you. Normally you'd just foreclose.”
“There is a minor matter of the locals good will. It would create a pile of difficulties for my guvnor and me later if I 'did down' the beloved daughter of the old lord when she was in trouble.”
“Ah. Sentiment. I thought it had no place in business.”
“It doesn't, and don't you forget that. But I'm not about to damage the property by acting in a daft manner.”
“If you say so. I still think you're acting a bit daft. Don't let her pretty face sway you. She's a minx, not worth it.”
“Don't worry, I won't, and I'm well aware of Miss DeVere's low opinion of me. Now you'll arrange the contracts with Mr. Cruise?”



In their gig on the way home, Dr. and Mrs. Answorth asked their young guest what she intended to do now that she had sold the hall. “I'd love to get out of this village. See society.”
Dr. Answorth replied, “600 pounds won't last long in London, nor in Bath. Better put it in the four percents.”
“Live on twenty-four pounds a year? I'd rather try my luck in the marriage mart and become a governess if I don't make a hit. Besides the farm income will help.”
“Mr. Oswith was correct about the income, debt and principle, Miss Charlotte. You might be able to hold onto the land for a year, if you're lucky.”
“I can always sell some land.”
“Not with Mr. Oswith holding the mortgages. He will have to be paid off first, for the full value of the debt.”
Charlotte was disconcerted. “Dr. Answorth, I had hoped when I sold the hall, I would be free of it. I'm still stuck here, glued in place still, aren't I?”
There really was nothing to be said in reply to this.
Mrs. Answorth finally broke the silence and asked her husband, “Dr. Answorth, how is your gout?”
“My gout?”
“Didn't you want to go to Bath, for the waters?”
“Yes, but”
“Why don't you arrange for your curate to take over for a month or two? Mr. Cartwright needs the practice if he's to find preferment. We'll take lodgings in Bath and you can take the waters. I'm sure Miss DeVere would be pleased to accompany us. That way we'd know someone in Bath.”



3. The Oswiths Take Possession.

Never ones to let the grass grow under their feet, Freddy's sister, father and mother arrived within the week. The good people of the nearby village of Holt found this to be a mixed blessing. The bulk of the servants at the hall were immediately rehired, much to their relief, but the new family didn't keep a proper distance like old Lord Staverton. Worse still, they had brash London manners and were prone to say what they meant and push hard for bargains when making a deal. Still, on the whole, and here both Freddy's and his father George's willingness to stand rounds in the pub as well as general cheerful attitude helped immeasurably, they were accepted.
One person who was not pleased was Miss DeVere. It would be a dreary and tedious few weeks before she and her friends the Answorths could depart for Bath. Early on, in what she could only describe as 'the occupation', she found that when Freddy said 'house and contents' he meant it.
The day after the sale, Mrs. Answorth and Charlotte drove the rectory gig to Staverton Hall in order to retrieve Charlotte's dresses and the odd bits of jewelry she had left in her room. When they knocked on the hall door for entrance, Freddy himself answered it.
Seeing Charlotte's shocked expression, he said, “Sorry, I haven't gotten the hang of waiting for a footman to come and open the door for me. Always thought it dashed rude to leave our guests waiting while a servant ran up here to do something I could easily do myself. What can I do for you?”
“I've come to retrieve my wardrobe.”
“Your wardrobe?”
“My gowns, I need them for Bath.”
“I'm sorry but they are part of the 'contents' of the house, are they not?”
“Surely you don't want them?”
Freddy stood back and surveyed Charlotte with his measuring eye. She found it oddly disconcerting. “No, but you're about m'sister Elizabeth's size. She might want them.”
“You must be joking.” She looked Freddy directly in his face and did not see the smallest trace of a smile or humor, let alone any sign that he comprehended her dilemma. He shrugged, “No, if not Elizabeth, then the rag merchants. See what we can recover for them.”
“But my things, I left them here expecting to be able to take them.”
“I'm sorry but the contract for the sale clearly states 'house and contents'. You should have read it before you signed it.”
Charlotte bit her tongue to hide her feelings. She turned on her heels and returned to the gig with Mrs. Answorth. As they left the grounds a torrent of her opinion came forth. It started with “That unreasonable, impertinent, unbearable man,” and ended several minutes later with a plaintive lament of “What am I going to do for gowns when we go to Bath?”
Freddy was a bit disconcerted himself. He was reasonably sure that Elizabeth would laugh at the idea of using this woman's gowns. That comment was a feeble attempt a humor which went astray. After all Lizy had access to the best modistes in London and their father, while extremely prudent with money in business, gave her a more than adequate clothing allowance. On the other hand, that upstart little, the word beauty came to mind, only to be dismissed with the word minx, deserved the difficulty. Finally the clothes had to have some value in the second hand market. He went in search of his man Phelps to discuss the problem. Mayhaps a solution would present itself.
It was Elizabeth who solved the problem for him, by accident. The rest of the Oswith family arrived late in the afternoon. She debarked from the carriage, looked around, and pronounced the place met with her approval.
“Freddy! It's perfect. There are cows and horses and everything is so fresh.”
“London has been getting a bit rank of late. All those people and all that coal smoke. I've felt so much cleaner since I've been looking for a house in the country.”
Elizabeth asked, “Do we have any horses? I could so do with a ride.”
“Henry! Can you help my sister?”
Henry came running. “Sir! Mr. Oswith, what?”
He paused, there were the two Mr. Oswiths, father and son.
“Henry,” Freddy asked, “Is there a horse Lizy can ride?”
“There's the mare, but” Freddy's father interrupted.
“But nothing, Get Lizy mounted, please.”
“Mr. Oswith?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“The mare isn't like her horse in London. She's a bit hard to handle and riding in the country isn't like traipsing around Hyde park.”
Freddy generally respected Henry's judgment, but his father didn't.
“See that my daughter has her ride!”
“Yes, Sir!”
Mounted sidesaddle on what had been Charlotte's least favorite hunter, Elizabeth began to wonder if the horse was possibly a bit more than she could handle as it sidled along in an ill temper. A few moments later she knew it was much more than she could handle. It started acting up while they were still in the stable-yard. Once they left the yard the horse shot off at a fast canter. Lizy held on for all she could as the horse raced over the fields, jumped hedges and generally ran wildly out of control. The horse decided to jump one last fence, shied at the last minute and Elizabeth slid forward over the horse's neck to the ground. She lay there, in the mud, stunned, while the horse ran off.
Charlotte was riding down a shaded country lane on her favorite mount. It was an old mare, a bit of a slug really, but she was even tempered and friendly. Charlotte had brought her along to the Answorths because she couldn't bear the thought of leaving her behind. Her beloved mare, her first horse, the one she learned to ride on, was more of a pet than a mount.
A dark hunter, bearing an empty sidesaddle crashed into the lane in front of her and sprinted away.
Charlotte thought out loud, “Somebody's had an accident, I wonder who?” She traced the horse's path back through the fields, and found a disheveled woman sitting in the mud and holding her head.
“Are you fine?”
The woman looked up at her and gave her a sheepish smile with her mud-streaked face. The bits of grass and weeds stuck to her hair only added to her comic appearance.
“Yes, just a bit shamed. I thought I knew how to ride well. Henry was right. The countryside isn't like Hyde park.”
“Henry?” That name was familiar. Charlotte looked carefully at the woman. “You're not from around here, are you?”
“Not yet.”
“But you look familiar. You are one of the Oswith's, aren't you?”
The woman carefully stood up, straightened her skirts and brushed off some of the muck and grass. She held out her hand. “I'm Miss Elizabeth Oswith, you can call me Lizy if you like, everybody does.”
“I know your brother.”
“Freddy? How droll, isn't he a riot? He can keep a straight face and tell the most outrageous whoppers.”
“I hadn't noticed. By the way I'm Miss Charlotte DeVere.”
“Oh, you're the woman he bought the hall from, aren't you?”
Charlotte rather tersely replied, “Yes.” Meeting Freddy earlier in the week was enough of the Oswith family for her tastes. She was decidedly not enthusiastic about meeting any more of them.
“Freddy's last letter talked about you. You're much prettier and nicer than he described.”
“What?”
“You must have made some sort of impression on him. His letters are usually full of business deals, interest rates, and boring things like that. You'd never think he could be any fun if you read them.”
“You think he can be fun?”
“I wouldn't want to go up against him in a business deal, but yes, when he's not cooking up some complicated financial scheme he's a blast, a great gun.”
Charlotte was momentarily lost in thought. This was an aspect of that man's character she hadn't considered. No one could be totally rude, boorish and ill-mannered, though so far Mr. Oswith had done a thoroughly effective job of appearing that way. His sister seemed to be decent and well-mannered enough.
“Miss DeVere?”
“Yes?”
“Do you know which way is back to the hall? I should get back there soon or they will be worried about me.”
“It's too far to walk, especially if you've been thrown from your horse.”
“I wasn't thrown, just sort of slid off the front.”
“That's what I mean by thrown from your horse. If you can walk to the far side of that field, there's a lane.”
“Yes, I see it.”
“Wait there, and I'll be along in the Vicar's gig to take you home. We can chat on the way.”
Lizy smiled, “That would be top notch. I was hoping to make some friends quickly, and we could get started.”






Elizabeth cornered her brother in the morning. “Is it true that you wouldn't let Char- Miss DeVere take her clothes from the hall?”
“Yes, they're part of the contents of the house. If she'd wanted them, she only had to say so before we drew up the contract.”
“Freddy! That's incredibly rude and vulgar.”
“Is it? I thought you might want them.”
“Me? Are you out of your mind? There isn't a gown there that is even vaguely in fashion. As if I'd ever wear second hand clothing. I know mother and father did, once back when they were young and poor, but not any longer.”
“Then we'll sell them to the rag merchants.”
“What do you think you'd get for them?”
“I don't know, ten, at most twenty pounds. They probably have some value on the resale market.”
Liza reached into her reticle and pulled out a banknote. “Here's twenty. They're mine now.”
“I thought you didn't want them.”
“I don't, but I know someone who does.”
Freddy tried to return the note to his sister, “No, please not her.”
“Sorry, yes. Charlotte's a sweet, well-mannered and gentle young lady. I like her and think we'll soon be close friends.”
Freddy pushed the note back into Lizy's hand. “Lizy, I'm not going to do business over this with you. It's not as if these clothes are worth much. Take them to that woman, if you want, but please do not involve me in it.”
“Did you know there's going to be a ball in Staverton, Thursday next week, before the Answorth's go to Bath?”
“No. Should I?”
“If you're going to be the new land owner, I would think so.”
“Did you plan on going?”
“Yes.”
“Is Miss DeVere?”
“Probably, it's to see off her friends the Answorths. I'd be very surprised if she's not there.”
“We haven't been invited. So I'm not sure we can.”
“I'll bet we get invited.”
Freddy laughed, “Twenty pounds we don't?”
“I never gamble, you know that.”
Lizy went in search of her maid, and eventually found her upstairs unpacking Miss Elizabeth's wardrobe.
“Martha?”
“Yes Miss?”
“I need to you help me pack Miss DeVere's gowns and things.”
“But Miss Elizabeth, I should like to finish with your clothes.”
“They're not going anywhere are they?”
“No.”
“I have things ready that I can wear for the next few days, don't I?”
“Yes.”
“Then you can help me with hers first. That way we have space for mine.”
“Miss, I'd rather get these done.”
“Martha!”, Despite her cheerful and well-mannered surface, Elizabeth Oswith was fully capable of being just as demanding and iron-willed as any other member of her family. Martha knew that dangerous tone of voice and was well aware that implied an order rather than her usual pleasant request.
“Yes, Miss.”
“Thank you.”
In what had been Miss DeVere's room, as they started taking the dresses and gowns down from their hangers and carefully folding them into a traveling case, Elizabeth commented, “Martha, I'm not sure that Freddy wasn't right to just sell these. They're all so out of date and frumpy. I'd be ashamed to wear one as a masquerade costume, let alone to a ball.”
Martha agreed. Elizabeth continued, “But if Miss DeVere wants them, then she'd best get them.”
They were about half-way through the clothes when Freddy joined them for a few minutes. “I heard what you said about these clothes. You're right, even a mere male like me can see that they're so gauche as to be only suited for a dowd or a frump. It's almost a sartorial solecism to be in the same room with them.”
“It's a shame because Charlotte would look much nicer if she were well-dressed. She needs to catch a husband if she can.”
“Not me.”
“I didn't mean that.”
“Good. I hope that's clear. But you're right, she would look much better in a fashionable gown.” Freddy quietly pulled out an old and worn hundred pound note and slipped into a sleeve on one of the dresses lying on the top of the pile. It would look like it had been misplaced a while ago and was just now found. Lizy noticed. “Freddy, that's so sweet.”
“No it's not sweet. It's a speculative investment. If she gets married, then maybe I can deal with a rational man about the farms. Failing that, it won't be so evil when I foreclose on them. Not if she has somewhere else to live.”
“Freddy, it's still sweet.”
“If you get the chance, make sure she's decently clothed in Bath. I can give you another note if you need it. Please don't tell her where the note came from.”
“Why not?”
“She'd just send it back and I'd have to find another way to shift her.”
Once the clothes were packed, Lizy wrote a short note and had the village carrier take them to Miss DeVere.



The reason the invitation to the ball had not arrived was that Dr. Answorth was going to deliver it when he called on the Oswiths to welcome them to his parish. He and his groom pulled his gig up in front of the house, and were directed to the stable-yard. There was a knot of farmers sitting and discussing something. Most of the farmers stood up and touched their foreheads in salute when he climbed down from the gig. One man didn't. While he was dressed much the same as most of his companions, he was older than most of them and far less sunburnt. Dr. Answorth walked to him and asked, “I'm looking for Mr. Oswith. Have you seen him?”
“Yes.”
Dr. Answorth stumbled a second at this apparently unhelpful answer. “Where?”
“Unless you're looking for my son Frederick, here. I'm George Oswith, and you're?”
“I'm sorry. I'm Dr. James Answorth, the vicar.”
“I was wondering when we'd meet. I'd heard about you.” He turned to the farmers and suggested that they continue discussions later. “You've given me much to consider. I'd best entertain this gentleman.”
Joyfully pumping Dr. Answorth's hand, Mr. Oswith asked, “What can I do for you? There's some decent sherry in the hall, and I'm sure you're thirsty.”
“I wouldn't say no.”
Mr. Oswith led his guest into the house and sat him in the main parlor. He rang and when his butler arrived asked, “Bring us some sherry please, and if you would please, the sherry I brought from London.”
“The sherry from London?” The butler waited, hoping to have that part of the order rescinded.
“I suppose Lord Staverton's was saving his blunt on his sherry. Awful stuff.”
“It was Mountain Malaga sherry. It was very fine.”
“Really?” He turned to his butler, who hadn't left, “Why don't you bring us a glass of both? That way we can see. Also can you see if Mrs. Oswith is free.”
While the butler was on his errand, Mr. Oswith asked, “So what brings you to the hall?”
“To welcome you to the parish, and to pass on this invitation to a ball at the parish hall next week.”
“A ball? Lizy will like that. When?”
“Thursday evening.”
“Good, Freddy will be back from London by then.”
“He's in London?”
“Business. There were pressing issues that required his presence.”
“I was curious, is he intending to settle here?”
“Freddy, no. Me, yes.”
“Can I ask what your plans are?”
“Martha and I started poor and worked damned hard to make something of ourselves. Well, we've done it and raised two fine children on the way. Too many of my friends worked until the day they dropped and never did anything good with the money they raised. That's avarice for you, money for money's sake.”
“So are you planning to retire to the countryside?”
“Not quite. Freddy's sharp so I'm letting him spread his wings in our London house. I'll still keep an eye on things, of course. Meanwhile, thought we'd see what we can do in the country.”
“I don't understand.”
His wife silently came in, and curtsied to the rector, “Vicar, so pleased to meet you.”
The vicar rose, somewhat belatedly, and bowed in return. “Mrs Oswith, I'm pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Martha,” Mr. Oswith continued, “I was just telling the Reverend about our plans.”
“We want to give some poor children a chance. Make life a little easier for them.”
“Was that what you were discussing with the farmers?”
“Not directly, I asked about the parish school, but mostly how their farms worked.”
“Farms worked?”
“How did they make money, what banking did they do. The business of farming.”
“How dull.”
“Nay, not at all. Most of their needs were very small, a new plow blade might be ten pounds. If you don't have ten pounds when you need it then it might as well be a hundred or a thousand. Also I was wondering if some form of insurance would be useful.”
Mrs. Oswith beamed, “That's my George, always thinking of how to make money work.”
“Insurance?”
“Thinking of organizing a pool or a farmer's bank, so if the crops fail, there's something for them. Wouldn't take much capital to start and it could make their lives a great deal easier.”
Looking at the clock on the mantelpiece and realizing that he'd outstayed a social call, the vicar rose and started to make his excuses.
“Dr. Answorth, please stay and try the sherry. I'm no connoisseur and if the mountain wine is better I'd like to know why.”



Finally freed from the garrulous and tenacious Mr. Oswith, Dr. Answorth found his gig and headed back to the rectory. It was his opinion that the Oswith family, senior, was definitely best endured in small doses. At least the man could learn to appreciate the difference between that dreadful London plonk and Mountain Malaga.



Back at the rectory, Charlotte, as well, was finding the younger Oswith's were best kept at a distance. As she and her maid unpacked the dresses, they came upon the 100 pound note Freddy had secreted. Immediately she knew what happened, or thought she did. There was simply no possible way her father would either have given her a ton or have forgotten about it if he had.
“That Elizabeth Oswith! Thinking she can buy my favor with a bribe. I'll give her a piece of my mind when I see her next.”
Charlotte didn't have long to wait for her chance. There was a loud knocking at the front door, which penetrated even to her upstairs room, and shortly afterwards a maid came up and asked, “Miss DeVere, Miss Oswith was here and wondering if you would like to converse with her.”
“Yes,” Charlotte fumed, “dearly.” She strode downstairs, banknote in hand, and confronted Miss Oswith.
“What is this!”
“It's a banknote, a hundred pounds from the look of it. I wouldn't wave it about like that.”
“That's right. What was it doing in my dresses?”
“Didn't you forget it in your dress and just find it?”
“I've never had this much money in my hands, my father would never have given it to me if he had it.”
“Oh,” Lizy smiled, “I'm sorry, that was the idea.”
“Whose idea?”
“Freddy's. He said you would look pretty if you were dressed in a fashionable gown, and that this might help.”
Charlotte paused, Elizabeth's naivety about things was shocking. “Don't you understand why I can't accept this?”
“No, not at all. It's not like it's that much money. Please accept it as a gift.”
Charlotte was speechless with anger. Lizy, completely puzzled with her reaction, continued, “I'm deeply sorry if you're offended. It was meant for the best. I thought you'd rather have the chance to pick out your own gown, than if I offered you one of mine.”
“One of your castoffs? I'd never.”
Miss Oswith sounded lonely, slightly shy and sad as she said,“I'd hoped we could be close friends, like sisters. I've never had a sister and always wanted one. You'd accept it from your sister, wouldn't you?”
Charlotte noted the dismay on Elizabeth's face. “Are you really that lonely?”
Lizy sniffed, “I know we're vulgar and parvenus, encroaching mushrooms that stink of the shop. I'm not daft. In London I was only accepted socially because I am a rich heiress. The men at Bootles were making book on who I'd marry. Freddy had it a little better. He had some friends from school. Even then I think most of them tried to touch him for a loan when they were scrapping bottom. It only stopped when he made it clear that he didn't loan money without security. I can't fake it like Freddy can.”
“So, here?”
“Here, I hoped I might just have some friends, normal friends.” She paused and sniffed, “I'm sorry if I bothered you.” She turned and started to walk to the front door. The footman called for “Miss Oswith's carriage.” Soon after, the noise of the carriage crunching its way down the vicarage drive could be heard.
Charlotte was left behind, sitting in the parlor, unsure of what she should feel, and equally unsure of what she did feel. Anger at being 'bribed', but shame at not recognizing it as a genuine gesture of friendship. She said to the clock on the parlor mantelpiece, “I suppose this is what vicars are for.”