Forsaking All Other
By Catherine Meyrick
Bess Stoughton, waiting woman to the well-connected Lady Allingbourne, has discovered that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and wrests from her father a year’s grace to find a husband more to her liking.
Edmund Wyard, a taciturn and scarred veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, is attempting to ignore the pressure from his family to find a suitable wife as he prepares to join the Earl of Leicester’s army in the Netherlands.
Although Bess and Edmund are drawn to each other, they are aware that they can have nothing more than friendship. Bess knows that Edmund’s wealth and family connections place him beyond her reach. And Edmund, with his well-honed sense of duty, has never considered that he could follow his own wishes.
With England on the brink of war and fear of Catholic plots extending even into Lady Allingbourne’s household, time is running out for both of them.
Love is no game for women. The price is far too high.
The room was unusually quiet. All that could be heard was the slither of thread through cloth and, outside, the sleepy cooing of doves. Eloise rose from her seat and wandered to the window. She stood, both hands in the small of her back, arching backwards, the swelling of her belly obvious through the folds of her gown. She leant forward, resting her hands on the windowsill, a frown on her usually cheerful face.
‘What is it, Eloise?’ Dame Margaret asked, her voice sharp with concern. ‘It is far too soon.’
Eloise turned back to the room and brushed her hand impatiently through the air. ‘No, nothing like that. We have visitors. One is the image of Sir Christopher.’ She smiled at her good-mother. ‘Perhaps I should go down and greet them.’
Dame Margaret concentrated on her sewing. ‘Wait here—let whoever it is seek you out.’
Eloise returned to her seat and took up her sewing. After a few stitches she put it aside once more and sat back, her fingers spread on her belly, smiling to herself.
Dame Margaret held her needle still in her fingers and waited as the door to the solar swung open and her youngest son, Edmund, was led in by the footman. So like his father! He had Sir Christopher’s build and light brown hair. He would have been as handsome too but for the discoloured pockmarks spread across his forehead and his cheeks above his neatly trimmed beard.
Dame Margaret did not rise to greet him.
Edmund stopped six feet from her chair and bowed formally. He was still in his dusty travelling clothes, the faint smell of sweat and horse a sharp reminder of his father too.
Dame Margaret wrinkled her nose. ‘You have arrived, finally.’
‘I came as quickly as I could, Mother.’
‘But a month?’ she asked, incredulous.
‘I could not walk away from my responsibilities at a moment’s notice. Travel from Ireland is nothing like an unhurried ride from London.’ Edmund scowled at his mother, ‘I supposed Father had been buried long before I even received the news.’
The other women watched him from beneath their lashes while pretending to sew. Only Hester Shawe, Dame Margaret’s woman, stared openly at him.
‘I have been to the church. Is that all that will be done for Father—a flat stone in the floor?’
‘Oh, no,’ Eloise said as she rose from her chair. ‘John will explain when he returns home.’ She laid a hand on his arm and smiled. ‘I am John’s wife, Eloise, and I am delighted to meet you, Edmund.’ She stood on tiptoes and kissed his cheek. ‘John has organised a mason to come from London and is planning a monument with both your parents and all the children on it. He is certain your father would have approved.’
Dame Margaret watched as Edmund turned his attention to Eloise, saw him take in the glowing skin, the reddish-blond hair, dark eyebrows and smiling eyes. She pressed her lips together in a tight line. All men were the same—it was the nature of the beast.
‘Father would indeed be pleased,’ Edmund said.
‘Now Edmund, you must come and meet your nephews.’ Eloise linked her arm in his and guided him through the door.
Dame Margaret glared after them. Eloise should not have pushed herself forward and drawn attention to herself. She would need to remind her, yet again, of the standard of behaviour expected of her as John’s wife.
Catherine Meyrick is a writer of historical fiction with a particular love of Elizabethan England. Her stories weave fictional characters into the gaps within the historical record – tales of ordinary people who are very much men and women of their time, yet in so many ways are like us today. These are people with the same hopes and longings as we have to find both love and their own place in a troubled world.
Catherine grew up in regional Victoria, but has lived all her adult life in Melbourne, Australia. Until recently she worked as a customer service librarian at her local library. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also an obsessive genealogist. When not writing, reading and researching, Catherine enjoys gardening, the cinema and music of all sorts from early music and classical to folk and country and western and, not least of all, taking photos of the family cat to post on Instagram.
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