Monday, March 24, 2008 - A DEBT OF HONOUR

I'm delighted to announce that my first full length novel is now available from This means that anyone with a suitable gizmo can download my book and not have to pay postage. It's only $5 - which is a huge difference from the full UK price of £18.99!!
Here's a taster- I hope you like it.

Chapter One

'Eliza, you cannot possibly go outside the house looking like a farm labourer; we are expecting the Reverend Clarkson to visit us today.'
'Mama, I have no choice. I am needed in the barn, the mare is foaling and there is no one else competent to oversee this.'
'But men's britches and your brother's old shirt and waistcoat are hardly suitable, even if you must go and help. I have spoken of this repeatedly, it's not right for you to dress in such a way. ' Mrs Fox shuddered dramatically. 'Mama, do you not agree with me? Your granddaughter is making an exhibition of herself. Should she not behave as befits the daughter of a well respected family?'
Mrs Victoria Dean, looked up from the novel she was reading avidly. Her bright eyes summed up the situation at a glance.
'Hannah, as usual you are overreacting. Eliza has a job to do and unlike anyone else in this godforsaken place she is prepared to do it no matter the cost to herself . If your daughter had not taken the estate in hand when your husband drowned five years ago, then where should we be today? In the poorhouse, that's where.'
Eliza grinned; she loved her grandmother and she rather believed it was from her that
she had inherited her feisty spirit and total disregard for convention. 'Grandmamma, thank
you for your support. I am doing no more than I want. After Dickon died I would have fallen into a decline without the occupation I found here. I am merely a caretaker of Grove House and its farms until Edmund comes of age.'
She pulled on a flat cap which fitted snugly over her cropped blonde hair, smiling ruefully as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mantel-mirror. Mama was correct; dressed she was, it would be hard to distinguish her from one of their workers. Unfortunately she had not been given the regular features and slender build of her younger brother Edmund, nor had she been given the ravishing beauty of her younger sister Sarah.
All she had to recommend her was a pair of startlingly blue eyes fringed with dark lashes, a striking contrast to her streaked fair hair. She knew when Dickon had offered for her on her debut, five years before, she had been lucky beyond belief. She had spent every ball, every rout and every party as an overlarge, plain wallflower sitting with the matrons watching the other debutantes dance and flirt with their potential suitors.
Eliza smiled faintly as she recalled the humiliation of being dressed in pastel muslins more suited to young women of delicate features and dainty stature. She stood head and shoulders above most of them and her statuesque figure did not show to advantage in such garments. She never knew why Captain Dickon Caruthers had given her a second look - nobody else had - but one wonderful night, at Almack's, he approached and asked her to dance a quadrille. As soon as his strong, battle hardened hand had gripped hers she felt her clumsiness fall away and she became one of the chosen.
She had floated around the ballroom radiant with happiness and for some
extraordinary reason Dickon had felt the same way. Her eyes filled and she blinked hard
to clear them; they had so little time together before he was recalled to his regiment. She had received three letters, three wonderful loving letters, before the final one came from his commanding officer reporting that her beloved fiancé had died a hero's death in a battle, somewhere unpronounceable, in Spain .
She had already been in mourning for her father when she received this dreadful news. For several weeks Grove House had fallen into disarray with no-one making any decisions. Her mother, prostrate with grief, her grandmother also at a loss of the man she's considered as a son. Her brother, at fifteen, away at school untouched by the chaos at home.
Her little sister, Sarah, who had been blessed with the most amazing features, like a golden angel, Mrs Turner, the cook often said. However the good Lord had seen fit to give Sarah an overabundance of beauty but little intelligence. Her younger sister would remain forever a small child, trusting and loving, but unable to function as the adult she now was.
With no one making decisions, rents remained unpaid, the tenants grumbles' went unheeded and revenues from the farms fell drastically. It took the death of one of their labourers to rouse her from her misery; a young man struck on the head by falling masonry in the unrepaired tithe barn.
Enough was enough, Eliza decided. Dickon would not want her to grieve for him the rest of her life . He had died a hero, she must live as a heroine.
From that moment she had taken control and within twelve months Grove House was
back to normal, the cottages in good repair and the land also. Crops were sown and cottages cared for and everyone prospered once more. It was about this time that Eliza had
decided to cut her hair and adopt men's clothing while she oversaw the farms and estate.
In spite of her mother's anguished protests she did as she pleased. When her beloved
had died so had her wish to appear desirable. She would never love another and had no intention of ever appearing at a formal occasion dressed in a hideous pale muslin gown again. When her bother came of age next year, he could resume control and then she might reconsider her sartorial decision.
Eliza turned from the fireplace to gaze out across the park and saw a pony and trap approaching the house through the trees that ran either side of the long straight drive.
'Botheration, the vicar is here. I was waiting for Jane to bring Sarah down as I promised she could watch the foal being born. I shall have to go, I cannot risk meeting him dressed as I am.
'Give me your arm, Eliza dear, I'm not staying in here to listen to that old bore prosing on for hours; I hear quite enough of him on Sunday morning.'
Mrs Fox was shocked by her mother's comment. 'How can you say such a thing? The Reverend Clarkson is a charming old gentleman and does nothing but good in the village. I have promised to help him raise money for the families whose breadwinners no longer have employment on the fields.'
Eliza leant down to offer her arm to her grandmother and assisted her from the chair. The old lady moved with surprising speed for someone of her advanced years and vanished through the wide doors, across the long narrow entrance hall and into the
library. She heard the door close with a decided snap.
'Mama, could you send Jane to the stables with Sarah when they do come down?'
Mrs Fox sniffed. 'It is the outside of enough, Eliza, that you spend most of your time
up to your knees in unmentionable substances, but now you are encouraging your younger
sister to do the same.'
'Sarah has no concept of what is suitable for a young woman of seventeen summers, Mama. She is a child, and enjoys getting dirty and running about freely.'
She hurried from the room and, as she walked towards the back of the house, she heard voices on the stairs and, looking up, saw her sister running down to meet her.
'Liza, Liza, are you waiting for me? I'm just coming. Jane took so long to do up my boots that I am late. Has Princess had her baby yet?'
Eliza braced herself, knowing what was coming next as Sarah launched herself from the fourth step and arrived with a thump in her arms. Eliza swung her sister around - no mean feat - but Eliza had developed a strength that most young women would be horrified to own.
'Come along, Sarah, the vicar is almost upon us. If he sees me like this poor Mama will have the vapours.'
Clutching her sister's hand she dashed to the back stairs that led to the servants' hall; she was halfway down when she heard the front doorbell clang loudly . Mrs Green, the housekeeper, appeared from her small room to answer the summons.
'Good morning, Miss Fox, Miss Sarah, are you going out the stables?'
'We are. Liza says I'm to watch Princess have her baby; we don't want to see the vicar so we're running away.'
Eliza heard the housekeeper chuckling as she hurried upstairs to answer the door. They kept no male servants in the house, there was no need; a cook, housekeeper, two chamber maids plus two parlour maids were more than adequate . Grove House was a substantial property, but not in the grand style and footmen and a butler, even if they could afford them, would be falling over each other.
The servants' hall was empty at that time of day and she could hear Mrs Turner banging about in the large kitchen issuing instructions to the kitchen and scullery maids whilst she did so.
They exited through the back door which led out into the courtyard. Fred Smith, the head groom and coachman, was waiting anxiously shifting from foot to foot.
'There you are, Miss Fox, I was beginning to think you were never coming down. Princess will not settle without you beside her.'
'I'm sorry, Fred, I'm here now.'


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