Today's Reading

Just before she turned the corner of the square a carriage arrived at the door. She paused to watch her aunt and uncle leave for their dinner with Lord Antwerp, a man whose eldest son had once courted her rather assiduously. If he saw her now in her drab plain cloak, gray gown, and respectable bonnet, he wouldn't even acknowledge her existence. She increasingly felt that the girl she had once been was disappearing in front of her and being replaced by—what?

That was the question she was still unable to answer even to herself. She started walking again as the carriage with its oblivious occupants swept past her. All she knew was that the forgiveness that she was supposed to feel for those who had wronged her was far from occurring and that the only thing sustaining her through her current existence was that cold, hard store of pride buried deep in her soul.

She relished it, she fed it, and until something happened to show her that the world was not the unforgiving place it had turned out to be, she would bank those fires within her without shame.


CHAPTER TWO

"Well, I never!" Mrs. Frogerton exclaimed as their rented carriage drew up at the entrance to Greenwood Hall. "What a very grand residence!"

Caroline had spent so much time at Greenwood Hall after her mother's death and her father's attempts to foist his two children off on various relatives that she almost considered the place home. Seeing it through the eyes of the Frogerton ladies was both entertaining and instructional.

The flint-fronted house was set on a level plain between several water channels both natural and man-made in a landscape that contained few trees and no visible hills. The immense gray sky hugged the low scrubby marshland where a constant breeze blew in off the cold North Sea to surround and enfold the house.

"It's huge," Dorothy whispered, for once more silent than her mother.

"The original house was built in Tudor times and the two additional brick wings were added about a hundred years ago," Caroline explained as she waited for a footman to emerge from the house, open the door, and let the step down. "My aunt often laments the complexities of the layout, but my uncle will not hear of changing it. His family have lived here since the civil war."

"When was that?" Dorothy asked.

"The sixteen hundreds, I believe." Caroline rolled down the window and stared inquiringly at the still-closed door. "It is most unlike my aunt's staff to be so tardy."

She reached down and released the exterior door handle of the carriage herself. "Perhaps they have been overwhelmed by too many guests arriving at the same time."

She raised the massive brass knocker shaped like a stag that adorned the oak-studded front door and knocked twice before she detected the sound of approaching footsteps. One of the maids opened the door and stood there panting.

"Oh! It's you, miss. I thought it was someone important."

"Good afternoon, Peggy." Caroline concealed a smile and indicated the occupants of the carriage behind her. "Can you get one of the footmen to bring in Mrs. Frogerton's baggage? And where is Mr. Woodford?"

"He's rather busy, miss, what with the party guests arriving, and her ladyship not having come down yet, and two of the footmen being ill..."

"Then we will just have to manage by ourselves, won't we?" Caroline offered the girl a bright smile. "Do you know which rooms have been allocated for Mrs. Frogerton and her daughter?"

"Oh, yes, miss. I cleaned out the grates and put some nice fresh flowers in them this morning." Peggy lowered her voice. "Her ladyship wasn't sure if your lady had a maid or not, and told me I should be ready to step in if necessary."

"Excellent." Caroline turned back to the carriage where Dorothy was already beginning to pout. "Do you need help, Miss Frogerton, or shall I just aid your mother?"

Dorothy emerged with a frown and straightened her bonnet. "I knew this was a mistake."
 
Caroline helped Mrs. Frogerton descend from the carriage and supported her into the house.

"This is Peggy. She will accompany us to your rooms."

Mrs. Frogerton beamed at the maid. "You're a pretty lass, indeed."

"Thank you, ma'am." Peggy bobbed a curtsy. "Please follow me."

Both Dorothy and her mother paused as they entered the marble entrance hall with the six alcoves containing stone statuary, three on either side of the wide curving staircase that led up to a wide landing.

"Ooh, it's grand," Mrs. Frogerton said approvingly. "Like a palace."

"My aunt and uncle will be delighted to hear that you think so, ma'am." Caroline walked her employer toward the stairs. "Lord Greenwood spent some of his youth traveling the world on his grand tour and brought back many treasures to the family home."

Dorothy was looking up, her mouth open at the interior of the dome that was painted to resemble the Sistine Chapel. She didn't say anything but even Caroline could see she was impressed.


This excerpt ends on page 14 of the hardcover edition.

Monday, May 30th, we begin the book Abiding Conviction by Stephen M. Murphy.
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