Monday, December 9, 2013

NEW RELEASE! TAMING A GENTLEMAN SPY - The Spies of Mayfair Series, Book Two

Out in e-book! Print released in February.

Reviews: This book hit all the happy places for me: great characters, a touch of intrigue, family, the royals and even a villainous suitor! Gaele.
Will Sibella forget this man who gave her this sweet kiss? Will she choose the man of her life by listening to her heart or her reason? All these questions will be answered when you read this novel. Ms. Andersen's style of writing kept my interest throughout the whole book. I recommend this novel. 
Nicole Laverdure

BLURB: John Haldane, Earl of Strathairn, is on an urgent mission to find the killer of his fellow spy. Has the treasonous Frenchman, Count Forney, returned to England to wreak havoc? Or has someone new landed on English shores to stir up rebellion in the Midlands? After visiting the young widow of one of his agents, Strathairn strengthens his resolve. A spy should never marry. And most certainly not to Lady Sibella Winborne, with her romantic ideas of love and marriage. Unable to give Sibella up entirely, he has kept her close as a friend. And then weak fool that he is he kissed her... Lady Sibella Winborne has refused several offers of marriage since her first Season years ago -- when she first set eyes on the handsome Earl of Strathairn. Sibella's many siblings always rush to her aid to discourage an ardent suitor, but not this time. Her elder brother, Chaloner, Marquess of Brandreth, has approved Lord Coombe's suit. Sibella yearns to set up her own household. She is known to be the sensible member of the family. But she doesn't feel at all sensible about Lord Strathairn. If only she could forget that kiss...


Linden Hall Yorkshire, 1818

            “I trust we’ll bag a few birds on the moor tomorrow, Chaloner.” John Haldane, the 4th Earl of Strathairn, glanced at the guests enjoying the Hunt Ball in his ballroom. Bright chatter rose in the warm smoky air as decorative ladies mingled with the more soberly dressed gentlemen. “My chef plans a grouse dish flavored with juniper berries for our dinner.”

            “Excellent.” The Marquess of Brandreth raised his glass. “We will be out at the crack of dawn, I daresay.” He took Strathairn’s arm and drew him into a quiet corner. “I don’t wish to strain a friendship I value, John, but I must offer a word of advice.”

            “Oh?” Strathairn eyed him warily. He had liked Chaloner better before his father died. The man seemed to lose his sense of humor after inheriting the title.

            “You are often seen in Sibella’s company. Don’t get too fond of her.”

            Strathairn moved his shoulders in a shrug of anger. He glanced over at Sibella in her white muslin, talking earnestly to Mrs. Bickerstaff. “Your sister is intelligent and good company. I enjoy our conversations. Nothing strange about that.”

            “I struggle to believe it is just that. I may not be privy to the details of the work you perform for the military, but rumors do float about the House of Lords. You must admit that due to those circumstances alone, you would not make her a good husband.”

            Chaloner’s determination put him in mind of a robin with a worm. Useless to argue. With a sigh, Strathairn acknowledged that he only strove to protect his sister from possible hurt. “No need for concern,” he said. “I have no wish to marry your sister, or anyone else for that matter. I do intend to ask Lady Sibella to dance, though. Unless you think my waltzing with her will ruin her reputation.”

            Chaloner huffed out a laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. “Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t enjoy having to say this to you, John, but it befalls me as head of the family. Sib has a love of home and hearth. She looks for a husband who will sit by the fire with her at night. That isn’t you, is it?”

            “She deserves the best, and no, it isn’t me, Chaloner.”

After a fruitful day in the fields shooting grouse, Strathairn and his guests made their way over the lawns to the Hall.

            The gamekeeper, beaters and handlers departed for the stables with the hounds while servants came to take the birds to the kitchen.

            On the terrace, Lady Sibella, in a gown the color of lilacs, sat playing cards and drinking tea with the other women in the late afternoon sun.

            Strathairn mounted the steps, carrying his shotgun over his shoulder, intent on returning it to the gunroom. “I trust you ladies enjoyed your day?”

            “We did, my lord.” Lady Sibella’s sister, Viscountess Bathe, smiled. “Or at least those of us who have not lost our pin money at whist.”

            “I see you had a successful day, my lord.” Lady Sibella eyed his gun with a faint shudder.             “I saw your kill on its way to the kitchens.”

            He smiled. “I hope you’ll enjoy our efforts once served in a tasty sauce.”

            “I expect I shall. It’s contrary of me, isn’t it?” Lady Sibella frowned up at him. “But please don’t suggest that all women are so.”

            He eyed the expectant faces of the other ladies and held up his hands with a laugh. “I wouldn’t be so bold.”

            “Perhaps you would like a cup of tea, Lord Strathairn.” Lady Sibella gestured to the teapot a servant was refilling with hot water. “You must be thirsty after your arduous day.”

            She well knew how much he hated tea, for he’d been forced to drink it at a morning call at their house in Eaton Place. She had naughtily offered to pour it into a potted plant when her mother was distracted by another guest.

            Her playful smile was delicious, and he couldn’t help grinning back. Aware of the sharp-eyes on him from around the table, he shook his head. “I’m afraid I must decline for I’m not fit for company. But, thank you.” He bowed and entered the house leaving them to resume their card game.

            Strathairn cleaned his gun and left it on the rack in the gunroom. He’d enjoyed Lady Sibella’s friendship like no other lady of his acquaintance. Her humor seemed so in tune with his and he often found she understood his thoughts before he expressed them. Damn Chaloner, he was such a stickler for convention.

 My book is set in 1819 during a period of great unrest in England. The result of the unpopular Corn Laws brought people together in St. Peter's Field. A riot ensued. Named for Wellington's Waterloo, the Peterloo Massacre shocked England and the government during . Here's more about it:
St Peter's Field
After the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century, Manchester began expanding at an astonishing rate in the 19th Century as part of a process of unplanned urbanization.  In August 1819 on a cloudless, hot summer’s day, a peaceable crowd of some 60,000 to 80,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Field (an open piece of cleared land alongside Mount Street) to hear orator, Henry Hunt speak and to demand reform of parliamentary representation. What happened next was as unnecessary as it was shocking. Cavalry charged into the crowd with sabres drawn, and in the ensuring confusion, 15 people were killed and between 400 and 700 injured.
In March 1819, Joseph Johnson, John Knight and James Wroe formed the Manchester Patriotic Union Society. All the leading radicals in Manchester joined the organisation. Johnson was appointed secretary and Wroe became treasurer.
The local magistrates were concerned that such a substantial gathering of reformers might end in a riot. The magistrates therefore decided to arrange for a large number of soldiers to be in Manchester on the day of the meeting. This included four squadrons of cavalry of the 15th Hussars (600 men), several hundred infantrymen, the Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry (400 men), a detachment of the Royal Horse Artillery and two six-pounder guns and the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry (120 men) and all Manchester's special constables (400 men).

Map of the Peterloo Massacre
At about 11.00 a.m. William Hulton, the chairman, and nine other magistrates met at Mr. Buxton's house in Mount Street that overlooked St. Peter's Field. Although there was no trouble, the magistrates became concerned by the growing size of the crowd. Estimations concerning the size of the crowd vary but Hulton came to the conclusion that there were at least 50,000 people in St. Peter's Field at midday. Hulton, therefore, took the decision to send Edward Clayton, the Boroughreeve and the special constables to clear a path through the crowd. The 400 special constables were therefore ordered to form two continuous lines between the hustings where the speeches were to take place, and Mr. Buxton's house where the magistrates were staying.
           Shortly after the meeting began, local magistrates called on the military to arrest well-known radical orator, Henry Hunt who was asked to chair the meeting, and several others on the hustings with him, and to disperse the crowd. Arrested along with Hunt for inciting a riot and imprisoned was Samuel Bamford, who led a group from his native Middleton to St. Peter’s Field.
Bamford emerged as a prominent voice for radical reform.
Hunt became MP for Preston 1830-33.
To understand what happened in Manchester one must look at the period of economic upheaval between 1783 to 1846, when Britain shifted from being a predominantly agricultural and commercial society to being the world’s first industrial nation. Many of the most contentious political issues of the day, corn and currency laws for example, were really questions of whether government policy should be directed towards encouraging this shift, or trying to reverse it.
Original blue plaque replaced in 2007

 Accompanying the economic changes was the most sustained and dangerous cycle of revolutionary discontent and working-class protest in British history. This prompted a few political concessions on the part of the governing aristocracy, but more significant was the emergence of governmental machinery designed to maintain law and order, which in turn led unintentionally to the foundation of the modern centralized and bureaucratic state.
The power of the Crown declined significantly. Although George III (until he became incurably mad in 1810) George IV, William IV, Victoria, and her consort Albert, could all influence the course of political intrigue, the monarch’s power to control the policies of the state was severely reduced.
As the scope and scale of government business increased during the long French wars, less and less passed through the monarch’s hands. Except possibly where foreign policy was concerned, the Crown was being reduced to little more than a figurehead of state. Effective power remained in the hands of a territorial aristocracy, whose representatives still dominated both Houses of Parliament. They faced an active and vociferous radical movement, particularly strong in 1792 and in the economically depressed years after the end of the war in 1815, when a period of famine and chronic unemployment came into being, exacerbated by the introduction of the first of the Corn Laws.
Postwar adjustment brought depression, with agrarian disturbances, machine-breaking and revival of popular reform agitation. Two meets at Spa Fields 1816 and an attack on the Prince Regent led to suspension of Habeas Corpus and restrictions on public meetings.
 Historian, Robert Poole has called the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester one of the defining moments of its age. It left an enormous psychological scar on a polity which prided itself on its ability to contain discontents. Yet the aristocracy survived, largely because the middling ranks, terrified by the violence of the French Revolution, rejected any sort of revolutionary radicalism.
The Peterloo Massacre called on the Government in 1819 to pass what is known as the Six Acts which forbade training in arms and drilling, authorized seizure of arms, simplified prosecutions, forbade seditious assemblies, punished blasphemous libels and restricted the press.
Resource: The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland.

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Medieval Christmas Gifts, then and now

During the Middle Ages, Christmas was seen as a sacred time, the time for the three Christ-Masses. Charitable giving to the poor was encouraged on Saint Stephen's day, December 26, which we know as Boxing Day.  On Boxing Day in the middle ages, the poor received money in hollow clay pots with a slit in the top, nicknamed 'piggies'. Unlike modern piggy banks, these clay pots had to be broken to extract the cash.

A page from the Bedford Hours.
What about gift-giving among other classes?

Sacred gifts - of prayer books and so on - were seen as being appropriate for the holy Christmas period. Anne of Burgundy presented the Bedford Hours to Henry VI, her eight-year-old nephew, in 1430. The book is now at the British Library.

Gifts were sometimes given at the New Year. New Year's day, known at the time as the étrenne, a word derived from the Latin strena,  (used to mean both the gifts and the ritual exchange) was the traditional time to do so. Gifts might be food -Christmas was a time of feasting and, for example, it was considered bad luck to refuse a Christmas mince pie given by a host. A Christmas kiss of peace might be given under the green kissing bough of holly and other green-stuff and mistletoe, the plant of peace. Sometimes the 'gift' might be a joke, such as the 'book' given by the illuminators of Les Tres Riches Heures to the Duke de Berry, which turned out to be a block of wood. 

At times the gifts were part of very formal processions and ceremonies. At the courts of Henry Tudor and Richard II the king rose on the day of the New Year and seated himself in his chamber ready to give and receive presents, given and received in strict order or rank. Sometimes the heralds and messengers bringing such gifts could also find themselves rewarded, as happened in the court of Richard II when the carver of the King was given a gold cup by the French King Charles. Kings and Queens could exchange gifts, often of rich jewels, as a public show of respect and affection. Rulers were expected to be generous but at the same time the size and value of gifts were ranged in order of class - kings and queens, their families, nobles, servants, right down to laundresses and cleaning-women. In some years, certain symbols might be used in gifts. In 1422 at the court of Charles VI, small jewels shaped like peacocks were given out to courtiers -  the peacock being one of Charles's badges. 

In medieval England, such gift-giving also went on. People gave New Year’s gifts to those above and below them in the social hierarchy. For example, peasants who worked on landed estates brought gifts of farm produce to the local lord during the Twelve Days of Christmas. Custom dictated that the lord respond by inviting them to a Christmas feast. Personal gifts between people of equal status might have taken place but there are few records of such. In the records and for many kings and nobles, gift-giving meant ostentation and display.

Christmas and gift-giving features in several of my books:

'The Snow Bride' is a Winter Solstice and Christmas story, less than £2 or $3 on Amazon. You can read the first three chapters here.

A lighter-hearted read, still concerned with Christmas and gift-giving, is my medieval fantasy, 'A Christmas Sleeping Beauty.' This is half-price at Muse it Up.

'Twelve Kisses' touches on a young newly-married couple in early Tudor times and their first Christmas together. This is also half-price at Muse it Up.

All this didn't start in the Middle Ages, naturally. The Roman mid-winter festival, Saturnalia, had its own range of festivities which feature in my Flavia's Secret.

Lindsay Townsend

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Witch in Medieval England - Lindsay Townsend

Witches, in a series of sketches attributed to
Pieter Breughel (or to Hieronymus Bosch)
(Source: Wikimedia Commons).
One of the difficulties of considering the situation of witches in medieval England is the sources. Most of our information comes from trials in clerical or secular courts, and often these were motivated not by fear of sorcery but by greed, spite and politics. In England some kings feared witches – or found that accusing former mistresses or wives of witchcraft was an easy way to dispose of them, much as later Anne Boleyn was accused of sorcery by her disgruntled husband Henry Tudor.

These events were partly high politics. What of the position of witches in more everyday, village settings?
One clue comes from the folklore surrounding plants. Peonies, rowan and St John’s Wort, for example, were believed to protect households from sorcery, which shows how much witches were feared. At the same time, there were those men and women, known in many part of England as ‘cunning folk,’ or ‘wise men/women,’ who were turned to for help in fortune telling, charming and healing.

In the Middle Ages in England everyone was a bit of a witch because everyone believed in magic, often as a curious blend of pagan, folk and Christian ideas. Peasants would chant the Lord’s Prayer over their penned cattle each night, ending with singing ‘Agios, Agios, Agios’ around them every evening as a piece of protective magic. A mixture of charms and prayers were used to solve all manner of problems, and ranged from curing toothache by appealing to the Lady Moon and then praying, to the Anglo-Saxon prayer-charm ordering the devil of pain to flee 3 times and give way to Christ. 

Rowan, a protection against witches.
Nobles had magic gems and amulets to protect them from evil.  A medieval  ring discovered at the Palace of Eltham, Henry VIII’s childhood home near London, was set with ruby and diamonds and carried an inscription promising the wearer luck. Merchants also had  gems and rings to protect themselves, much as people in modern times might wear a St Christopher to give them luck on a journey.  A burglar would  throw a crushed magnet over hot coals to inspire the household  to leave and let the thief work in peace. Priests would use blessings and  prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer and add a charm or two to effect an exorcism or expel illness.  Even the legends of saints have them using charms and magic to cure ills. When all sickness was seen as the result of evil, then it made sense to use ‘good’ magic to counter it.

If a man had to go to court, he might tuck a spray of mistletoe into his clothes to ensure he was not convicted. If he wished to inflame a woman’s lust, then he could slip some ants’ eggs into her bath. However, there were times when such simple ‘magic’ might not work (believe it or not) and people would seek out a recognised practitioner of magic.

To raise the dead or a demon needed a person skilled in rituals, who knew Latin, Greek, writing, astrology and fumigation and many of these necromancers were ex-priests or clerics. Some could be involved in the dangerous business of assassination by magic. In 1325 the necromancer  John of Nottingham was accused of taking money in return for killing the king by making a wax effigy of  Edward II and sticking pins into it. John was acquitted.

For love magic, however, and to inspire or stop affection, most people turned to their local ‘cunning folk’, especially the local midwife/healer or perhaps a white witch - who would use magic and witchcraft to good ends and within a Christian setting, using prayers as well as charms. These people could be both feared and revered  and were vulnerable to being accused of evil-doing if a person or animal fell sick. 

Throughout the Middle Ages good witches were mostly tolerated in England. It wasn’t until 1401 that the first act of parliament against witchcraft was passed. If a person was convicted of witchcraft, it was regarded as a form of heresy and the offender was excommunicated. In 1438, Agnes Hancock was excommunicated by a clerical court when she could not account for the meanings of some of the words she used in her love charms. The church took a dim view of love spells, feeling that they interfered with people’s free choice, but it wasn’t until the late Middle Ages or beyond that women casting such spells were threatened with burning.

If you are interested in learning about an English medieval ‘good’ witch in a fictional setting, please see The Snow Bride and its sequel,  A Summer Bewitchment.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Restless Dead in the Middle Ages - Lindsay Townsend

Did people in the Middle Ages believe in ghosts? They certainly believed in restless spirits, which they called revenants, from the Latin meaning ‘to return’. It was believed that the unquiet dead, particularly those who had died by violence or by reason of a grudge, or those who would not give up strong passions and carnal pleasures, would return to haunt the living. These revenants might appear within a graveyard or in a particular area, known to them in life, and terrorize the living.

In Dark Maiden I have a woman who is tormented by a lusty revenant who comes to her bed and tries to lie with her. Yolande, my heroine, learns that in this case the restless dead is the woman's husband. As an exorcist, Yolande takes certain steps to ensure that his widow is no longer plagued. You can find out what she does in the novel.

Here's an excerpt to give you a flavour. Yolande is talking to the villagers in their church. All the things she speaks of were believed or done in the Middle Ages.

“Godith, I have said it already. This is no vampire,” Yolande repeated for the third time.
       “How do you know that?”
       “Because there is no plague, pestilence or disease here. There is a restless soul, a revenant, yes, but one drawn by love and desire, not by hate.” Her lips quivered slightly, the only sign of tension in her. “I will write a letter of absolution and the soul will find his rest.”
       “Does that mean the dreams—”
       “Another matter altogether. I will work on that when I have finished with the revenant.”
       “Yet how can that be, and so simple? A letter?”
       “Being a sacred scribe is not simple,” Geraint put in. He wanted to wag a finger at the noisy goodwife, but confined  himself to folding his arms across his chest. “Can you write, Mistress Reeve?”
        Even in the dim orange flames, he could see Godith blush. “We heard his dogs outside,” she exclaimed, as indignant as a hen pushed off its nest and determined to have her say. “They come because they dread him and how is that good? How can he be good?”
       “Whose dogs?” Yolande stepped forward into the heart of the nave and bore down on Godith. “Was he a huntsman, a forester? I promise I will harm nothing, do no injury to any of your kin, be they living or passed on.”
        She stood tall and slim as a lily, a gentle dark Madonna. The drooping garland of Christmas roses hung from her belt like a perfumed cloud, the candle and brazier flames surrounded her like a halo. “Please, let me help you. Let me help this poor soul to his final, honored rest.”
        “He was a huntsman for our lord. Martin, his name was,” remarked a quiet, weary voice. “He was my husband. He owned the dogs, though they come to me now, and often not only them… We buried him last month by the church gate so he can see our house.”
        A squat ball of a woman pushed through the reluctant villagers, with a son and daughter trailing behind like ducklings. When she looked up at Yolande, Geraint saw the grooved shadows under the woman’s eyes and could not help but notice how her homespun dress bagged on her.
       Martin liked his woman very plump, but she has lost much flesh of late.
       “Perhaps we buried him too close,” she was saying. “He can find us—find me—so easily. Father William said he would rest.”
        Father William knows little of rest himself these days. Geraint disliked the clergy but even he could find a little pity for this less-than-holy father.
       “Daughter, I can give him peace,” Yolande said gently. “He loved you greatly, yes?” And more gently still, “He seeks to remain with you? By day and by night? Does he come as himself, or as shadow?”
       “Shadow. Ah God!” The woman shuddered and fresh tears burst from her. Yolande swiftly drew her aside to the south wall of the nave, talking to her and her children in a low, urgent way. Geraint could tell it by the set of her shoulders and by the way she lifted and stretched out both arms as if to shield the stricken family.
       “She yours?”
        Geraint deigned to glance at the smith, disliking the fellow already, the more so because the fellow was still looming in church. “My lady is her own.”
        “Bitten off more than she can chew here, I wager.”

More details of 'Dark Maiden' here.

Can be ordered from Ellora's Cave here.
Can be ordered from Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.
Can be ordered from Barnes and Noble here

Ellora's Cave (June 13 2013)

Read Chapter One

Lindsay Townsend

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Excerpts from The Folly at Falconbridge Hall,and What the Butler Winked At.

Review: The author deserves high praise for her ability to capture the reader's attention and engage one in both the mystery and the romance of this delightful story!

Margaret Faria

InD’Tale Magazine
Nominated for the RONE Award 

Approaching the 20th Century, life was changing for British aristocrats. It was becoming increasingly difficult to afford to run a huge house full of servants.  When Vanessa Ashley arrives at Falconbridge Hall, there is no butler or footmen to greet her. 

This excerpt comes from WHAT THE BUTLER WINKED AT, Being the Life and Adventures of Eric Horne, Butler by Eric Horne. It set after the Great War, but highlights the changing landscape of the late Victorian and early 20th Century aristocracy. Shades of Downton Abbey here.
"Now that Old England is cracking up, as far as the Nobility is concerned, who are selling their estates, castles, and large houses, which are being turned into schools, museums, hospitals, homes for weak-minded-things entirely different from that they were built for-it seems a pity that the old usages and traditions of gentleman's service should die with the old places, where so many high jinks and junketings have been carried on in the old days, now gone for ever. The newly rich, who filled their pockets while Tommy was fighting-many of them have bought these fine old estates-are a poor substitute for the real thing...They may spend their money in giving fetes, parties, balls, and use every device to get into Society, or what is left of it, but all their doings will only be a sham, a poor substitute. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sourced mackerel, neither will they command the same respect; it is simply so much work for so much money, and there the matter ends. "


Blurb: Vanessa Ashley felt herself qualified for a position as governess, until offered the position at Falconbridge Hall. Left penniless after the deaths of her artist father and suffragette mother, Vanessa Ashley draws on her knowledge of art, politics, and history to gain employment as a governess. She discovers that Julian, Lord Falconbridge, requires a governess for his ten-year-old daughter Blyth at Falconbridge Hall, in the countryside outside London. Lord Falconbridge is a scientist and dedicated lepidopterist who is about to embark on an extended expedition to the Amazon. An enigmatic man, he takes a keen interest in his daughter's education. As she prepares her young charge, Vanessa finds the girl detached and aloof. As Vanessa learns more about Falconbridge Hall, more questions arise. Why doesn't Blythe feel safe in her own home? Why is the death of her mother, once famed society beauty Clara, never spoken of? And why did the former governess leave so suddenly without giving notice?


Vanessa Ashley planned to arrive at her destination cool and composed, but she felt like a wilting lily. She dabbed her handkerchief at the sweat trickling into her collar as heat gathered beneath her chip-straw bonnet. Clapham High Street Railway Station was a noisy and smelly hub of activity, luckily the residence that was to be her new home lay in the countryside.

A short, bearded man approached her and politely touched his hat. “For Falconbridge Hall, miss?”

“Yes, I’m Miss Ashley. Thank you . . . Mr.?”

“They just call me Capstick, Miss Ashley. This way.” He led her to a trap. After he’d loaded her trunk and her bicycle on board, they seated themselves. He slapped the reins and told the horse to walk on. “You’re the new governess?”

She smiled. “Yes.”

“Another one,” he muttered and shook his head.

Startled, Vanessa stared at him. “How many have there been?”

“A few. They don’t stay long.”

“But why?”

Capstick declined to comment. He just grunted and shook his head.

“Well, I intend to.” Vanessa straightened her shoulders. It was true she had never wished to be a governess. Even though she was still quite young, her wish for children of her own now seemed unlikely, and if this was to be her fate, she intended to make the best of it. A person without funds, indifferent looks, and a lack of grace had no other course open to them.

“Good luck to yer, then.” Capstick grinned at her, revealing a large gap in his front teeth.

With reassuring skill, he negotiated around a horse-drawn tram as they passed the bandstand on the common and then drove down tree-lined avenues. Villas were soon replaced by streets of gracious homes set amid beautiful gardens. A sign, reading Clapham Park Estate, appeared, followed by larger country houses on acreages.

They passed the last of the houses and were out in the countryside now. Green fields crisscrossed by hedgerows stretched away to a line of forest in the distance. The trap followed the road beside a high brick wall for about a mile until they came to a pair of impressive wrought iron gates with Falconbridge Hall emblazoned on them in gold lettering. Capstick drove through, and a house appeared above the trees. Many chimneys rose from the massive slate roof.

Ahead of them, a stocky dark-haired man rode a magnificent bay horse across the lawn and vaulted a hedge. Vanessa had a glimpse of dark, gypsy eyes and a white smile beneath a black moustache. Before they drew level, he turned the animal and rode towards the woods.

“Who was that?” she couldn’t help asking, watching him disappear into the trees.

“That’s the groom, Lovel, exercising the master’s horse.” Capstick shook his head. “The gardeners will not be pleased.”

The gravel drive bordered by lime trees curved around through formal gardens to the front of the house where he left her, disappearing with her trunk and bicycle toward the rear entrance and, she presumed, the coach house and stables.

The sprawling red brick house had sandstone trim around the windows and a tower at one end, ivy covered its walls. It was older and far bigger than those they’d passed on their way from the station. The house had settled into its surroundings, and she had the feeling it had been here for a very long time while the urban sprawl of Clapham edged ever closer.

Conscious that she looked rumpled and untidy, Vanessa smoothed the skirt of her olive green linen dress and straightened the limp white collar with travel-stained cotton gloves. She picked up her bag and stepped up to the paneled door flanked by stout white columns. 
Before she could knock, a maid wearing a mobcap and a white apron over her grey floral dress opened the door. “Miss Ashley? Please come in.”

Surprised not to be met by a butler in such an establishment, Vanessa stepped into the wide entrance hall. One of those new inventions, the telephone sat on a table. A fine Persian carpet ran the length of the parquet floor, pale green satin papered the walls, and fringed and tasseled emerald velvet drapes hung from the windows. Potted ferns clustered in corners, and a gracious staircase led upward. Despite fractured light filtering down from a stained-glass window above the stair, the house was so gloomy inside dusk might have fallen.
“The master’s in his study, miss. Please wait here while I announce you."
Vanessa sank gratefully onto the edge of a straight-backed chair. It had been hours since she’d had a drink, and her mouth was horribly parched. Now her knees had developed a worrying tendency to tremble. To distract herself, she studied the remarkable flesh tones on the naked woman’s torso of the oil painting hanging on the opposite wall. A François Boucher if she was not mistaken. More flesh than was decent, surely.
Her father had preferred the sea and boats as his subjects. He considered the naked body to be soft pornography and not fine art but altered his opinion after nudes became an important asset to any wealthy man’s collection and began to fetch high prices. More than once, Vanessa had come across nude models posing in his studio, barely covered by drapery and, sometimes, wearing nothing at all.

Labels: Historical Romance, Maggi Andersen, The Folly at Falconbridge Hall, Mystery, England, Victorian Romance, Viscount, Victorian explorer.