You are cordially invited to Christmas at Hembry Castle.
In the tradition of A Christmas Carol, travel back to Victorian England and enjoy a lighthearted, festive holiday celebration.
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Finally, and not a moment too soon, he saw a checkerboard of properties that looked gray under the stormy nighttime sky. Then, with a bang! rain fell from what must have been upside down buckets in the sky. Soaked to his very bones, Frederick arrived at the door of Poppy Farm and knocked.
Mrs. Clayton’s open eyes and wide mouth betrayed her shock. “Your lordship? Whatever brings you here?”
“I came straight away, Mrs. Clayton. Have you heard from your husband? I had a suspicion he was up to no good, though I never could have guessed it was something as dreadful as this. Are you well? And what of your children?”
“But how did you know?”
“I received your note this evening.”
Mrs. Clayton’s open eyes closed in confusion.
“Did you not send for me?” Frederick asked.
“I haven’t sent for anyone, your lordship. I certainly never sent for you. I would never trouble you with such a thing.”
“With such a thing? When you’re so in need of assistance?”
Frederick pulled his overcoat closer in an attempt to keep the water away but it was too late. He could feel his blood shivering in his veins.
“Come in, your lordship. You’re soaked through.” Mrs. Clayton pulled a simple chair before the hearth. “Please, dry yourself. You’ll freeze to your death in this weather.” Frederick nodded his appreciation and sat before the high, hot fire. “Forgive the mess, your lordship.” Mrs. Clayton gestured at the home that looked perfectly tidy to Frederick’s eyes, but he nodded, wishing to make the woman at ease in his presence, which she clearly was not.
“Would you like some tea, your lordship? It might help to warm the wet away.”
“Only if it’s no trouble, Mrs. Clayton.”
She was a small woman, Mrs. Clayton, plump and pretty in her simple gingham dress under a homespun woolen jumper. As she busied herself with the tea things, Frederick held his hands out to the fire. It was quiet, too quiet for a house with five young children.
“And the children are…?” Frederick asked.
“With my neighbors,” Mrs. Clayton said. “I asked them to take the children for a bit so I could pull myself together. I don’t want to fall to pieces in front of them. I can’t…” She exhaled loudly. “I don’t want the children to know. I won’t say anything bad about their father in front of them.”
“That’s very good of you, Mrs. Clayton. You and your children are our first priority right now.”
Mrs. Clayton pulled a coarse woolen sleeve to her eyes to wipe the streaks away. “It’s good of you to inquire after us, your lordship, but we’re not any of your concern, surely.”
“If you are not my concern, then whose concern might you be? You are my tenant. Your husband, when he was worthy of the title, farmed my land. As the Earl of Staton, I’m responsible for the well being of those who live here. It’s what my father believed, and his father believed, back to the time of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth who created the title for my forebear.”
Mrs. Clayton wept freely now. Her hands clasped the wood table before her as if it were the only thing holding her up.
“There there, Mrs. Clayton. All will be well. After we’re certain that you and your children are cared for, our next job is to find that scoundrel husband of yours and get him to divorce you.”
“Don’t call him a scoundrel, your lordship. He’s waylaid is all.”
“Waylaid? I would use another word, but as you wish. Now.” Frederick sipped his tea and studied the simply furnished room. “What do you need?”
“What I need, your lordship, is to return to my mother’s. I don’t want to live here any more. There are too many painful memories with my husband gone. This house is my nightmare now. It feels like a prison. I don’t mean to offend your lordship.”
“No offense taken, Mrs. Clayton. I understand you perfectly. I remember when Hembry Castle felt like a prison to me.” Frederick stopped himself. He had to focus on Mrs. Clayton. “Where does your mother live?”
“In Yorkshire, but with my husband gone…” She turned red, but Frederick nodded, encouraging her. “I haven’t any money, your lordship. Not even enough to buy bread to feed my children.”
“You needn’t worry about a thing, Mrs. Clayton. You’ll have plenty to eat and I’ll take care of the passage for you and your children whenever you’re ready. If you want to be with your mother in Yorkshire then in Yorkshire with your mother you shall be. When would you like to leave?”
“As soon as possible, my lord.”
“Tomorrow is Christmas day. How about in three days? Will that give you enough time to prepare yourself and the children?”
“If it can be managed, your lordship, us leaving so soon.”
“Very well then. In three days you’ll be on the train to Yorkshire if that is your wish.” Frederick thought of Clayton’s apple face and sighed. “I am sorry it’s ending this way, Mrs. Clayton. My greatest wish for you is for things to become easier as soon as possible. I believe they will, with time and healing. And even if you don’t want to call him a scoundrel, what he did to you, abandoning you and your children as he has, well, I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but in time I hope you’ll see that you’re better off without him.”
Meredith Allard is the author of the bestselling paranormal historical Loving Husband Trilogy. Her sweet Victorian romance, When It Rained at Hembry Castle, was named a best historical novel by IndieReader. Her latest book, Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction, was named a #1 new release in Authorship and Creativity Self-Help on Amazon. When she isn’t writing she’s teaching writing, and she has taught writing to students ages five to 75. She loves books, cats, and coffee, though not always in that order. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit Meredith online at www.meredithallard.com.
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