I’m delighted to announce that my new novella is now published. Here’s a taster of the life of Thomas Marchant and a link for downloading. https://books2read.com/u/4EPGKM
Chapter 1. Like Theseus and Ariadne
The drawing room of Strand House was crowded with wedding guests enjoying a lively rigadoon. Augusta Marchant smiled coyly at her groom, and her Uncle Thomas observed them. His scrutiny was particularly marked when it came to his niece’s new husband. The man was dressed in a pale blue silk coat, embroidered with scrolls and leaves. He strutted through the dance like a peacock admiring his own reflection in a lake. Tom Marchant’s darkest suspicion was that the man was a fortune hunter, and would prey on her. She was a lady with a plentiful fortune, and a trusting nature, and his interest in her came partly from the fact that they were close relatives, and partly from their shared past as pupils in the schoolroom of Strand House under the tutelage of Mr. Dimmock.
His older brother’s child had always been influenced by her friends and acquaintances, and in the case of Sir Henry Jenkins, she had seemed blind to his less attractive qualities. The thing had all come about rather quickly too, in Tom’s opinion. Nevertheless, he noted that she seemed to be very happy, as she basked in the attention of the other guests. Perhaps he was mistaken. He certainly hoped that he was.
The house was garlanded for the occasion, with swags of festive greenery from the grounds of the house, and there was a general air of festivity that, try as he might, he could not shake off. He had been determined to remain quietly disapproving, but, catching his brother’s eye across the crowded room, realised that it was not his place to express an opinion one way or another. For this Christmas festive period, his views would remain private. Biting his tongue might prove to be a difficult task, but the parties would soon disperse, and then he could slip off to his beloved workshop to continue his latest experiment, and he would no longer be in danger of seeing the peacock again that day.
Tom’s older brother Robert and Robert’s wife, Serena, led the next dance round the room. They had been very concerned that the family would not find they had much in common with the Dowager Lady Jenkins, Sir Henry’s mother. But they needn’t have worried. The smiles that were exchanged with that lady, as they sailed past her together, confirmed that the match of the young couple was approved of by all parties. Serena had put great effort into the preparation for the occasion and the provision of comforts for Sir Henry’s mother, and her pains had been rewarded. She had also spent hours on the adornment of the drawing room for both Christmas and the wedding, and it gleamed with foliage, and the shine of wax polish.
Until the moment came when Tom could slip off, he decided to concentrate on circulating among the other wedding guests, making conversation with their friends and neighbours, and admiring one particular young lady from afar. Her blue gown was particularly fetching this evening, an unusual choice for her. It was a perfect match for her eyes.
Emily Evans eventually noticed his glances, and made her way towards him.
‘Tom, you really must not frown so,’ she said. ‘You can return to your musings once the guests have gone.’
‘Hm?’ he said.
She tapped him on the arm lightly. ‘I wonder whether your brother and his wife will hold any more events, now that Augusta is married. She used a great deal of persuasion whenever she felt it necessary to enliven the house, but I suspect that her parents will be quite satisfied that they have now no need of balls and parties.’
‘Parties? No indeed. Robert has no time for such entertainments.’
Tom did a passable impression of one of his brother’s pronouncements. “‘I am far too old at forty three for such things.” Robert would much prefer to be talking to his foundry-men. Their conversations can last for hours.’ They both laughed.
She put her arm through his, and walked him to a window that looked out over the river. It was only four o’clock, but the sky was rapidly becoming suffused with moonlight. It created a path across the river like a pale jetty. A fine mist hovered just above the surface of the water, a strange, ethereal effect. No matter how many times he had read descriptions of the moon, and examined Hevelius’s maps, the sight of that celestial body never failed to overawe him. It put him in his place, a tiny creature among many others, one that would soon disappear whilst the universe continued, unaware of his passing. He loved this view from the house, even on a gloomy winter’s afternoon. It reminded him of the view from his rooms near the Cam at his student lodgings.
‘What a magnificent river we have!’ he remarked aloud. ‘I should be sad indeed to have to leave it.’
‘But you are surely home now, where you may be Robert’s valuable assistant. There is no cause to leave this place, is there?’
‘Yes, my brother has welcomed me to Chiswick to give me the chance to decide on my future. But will this be where I shall build a career? Robert has very particular plans for the future, and I am not sure that I can do the work I have always dreamed of. It is a puzzle, and I do not know how to solve it. I can only hope that time will show me the path of my future.’
He did not dare to say that he could also be near to Emily again, to renew their precious friendship. Coming home to Emily had more than made up for the loss of his student life. At Cambridge, he had often thought of her sweet face, and now he could bask in her presence as often as he wished. He smiled to himself.
‘Tom, you are away from me for the second time today,’ she said. ‘You really must learn to pay more attention to the social niceties. I cannot conceive what it is that you must be considering so deeply. I can only pray it is not the calculus of infinitesimals again. If it is, I shall go and talk to Robert and Serena.’
Tom grinned. ‘No indeed,’ he said. ‘I am merely wondering about the latest addition to our family, Sir Henry Jenkins.’
‘Yes,’ I can understand that,’ she said. ‘He is a striking adornment to our otherwise dull neighbourhood.’ Emily’s blue eyes flashed with mischief, and he realised that she was mocking him very gently.
‘Do you remember, from our schoolroom days, how Augusta would scour our textbooks for heroic characters to admire? It would seem that she has found a real live one.’
‘Do you believe so?’asked Tom, in surprise.
‘No, of course not!’ she scoffed. ‘But the important thing is that she believes him to be so.’
‘Well, I hope I am proved to be wrong about him, but I have a horrible suspicion that all that glisters is definitely not gold. However, Robert and Serena seem to approve. Who am I to object?’
‘I could not agree more,’ she whispered in his ear. ‘But still, he comes from a good old family and has impeccable manners. He dresses so beautifully too. What more could a well-bred young lady wish for?’
‘It has all happened too suddenly,’ said Tom, cautiously putting his thoughts into words. ‘Far too suddenly.’ He turned away from the view outside. ‘Should you like some Christmas punch?’
‘I should very much enjoy that,’ she said.
He made his way through the throng to a footman. He guessed that Emily too, had reservations about the suitability of Sir Henry for his niece despite her humorous comment, but there were only so many warnings that one could give another, without seeming to be envious or insulting.
The three young people had always been close, so he felt better to have unburdened himself about his doubts. Augusta was in the man’s thrall. It was true what Emily had said about the past. Augusta had always found characters in history books to moon over. Whilst she was supposed to be paying attention to quadratic equations, she had actually been reading ‘Fables Ancient and Modern’. For himself, he had been secretly reading ‘Principia Mathematica’ under the desk and under the guise of studying his Greek grammar, so “pot” and “kettle” came to mind.
On one occasion, Augusta had announced that Theseus was the ‘perfect man’, forgetting to mention that Ariadne would probably not have agreed with her, especially after she had been abandoned on Naxos. There had been a good deal of ribbing in the schoolroom about Augusta and her views on the subject, particularly when the trio performed extempore dramas for the entertainment of their families on special evenings. Tom recalled the dressing up that had been involved, the lines that had had to be written and learned, and the fuss that Augusta had made over the sheet that had served as a gown for her rôle as the stricken Ariadne.
With two glasses of punch in his hand, he returned to Emily, anticipating that they would find quiet seats in a corner of the room. But she was no longer alone. She was in conversation with Viscountess Rochford, Augusta’s friend, and had fallen into her habitually shy behaviour. He marvelled that such a wit as Emily should be so completely overwhelmed, when faced with unfamiliar faces.
‘Your Ladyship,’ he said bowing, and gallantly handed the two cups to the pair. ‘I understand you will be in Gunnersbury for just a short time before your return to Versailles.’
‘Indeed yes,’ she replied. ‘My husband is required to attend on His Majesty, King Louis, on New Year’s Eve, at the gift-giving. It is expected, and so I regret that we cannot stay much longer.’
‘In that case, I must marvel at your fidelity and friendship for my niece. You will have travelled many uncomfortable miles in a short space of time to be here.’
She smiled, ‘I could not miss such a joyful occasion.’
Tom had the impression that Her Ladyship, or Miss Sophia as she was, would willingly have remained in England, surrounded by her friends and loving family. In any event, her husband crossed the floor to join her, and the couple smiled warmly at each other. They had only just become husband and wife themselves, and seemed to be able to ignore those around them, in order to concentrate on each other. The Viscount kissed the tips of his wife’s fingers and she gazed long at him. Tom wondered idly if such gallant was what was expected of gentlemen at the French court. and whether he could risk seizing Emily’s hand in his own hot grasp, in order to earn that kind of look. He thought probably not; it would take a bold man indeed to carry out such a manoeuvre with Emily. Her capacity for mockery was finely tuned, and swift to come.
Tom grinned at his own imagined daring, and further emboldened said to Sophia, ‘I understand that your father is at home at the moment. Perhaps I could call on him soon.’
‘I am sure that he would welcome a visit from a fellow enthusiast for Cornish tin mines,’ she said. ‘Mama and I have so little knowledge of the subject that he is rarely able to discuss the works. Your conversations with him entertain him vastly, and he frequently names you as a man of common sense and enthusiasm. I shall tell him to expect you, and you can wax lyrical about beam engines and similar, until you are both thoroughly blue in the face.’ Thomas’s family, had had dealings with Mr Pocock in the past, being licensed to build pumping equipment for his mines, and in fact, it was his own brother’s recommendation that had brought George Pocock to Gunnersbury in search of a property in the first place.
‘I should very much enjoy that,’ said Tom, without a trace of irony. ‘I always look forward to a conversation with your papa. His knowledge of machinery is second to none, and he is open-minded.’
The viscount led his wife away gently towards the dancers.
‘I admire the man’s manners, said Tom, with a sigh. ‘He is so elegant, sophisticated, and so obviously in love with the lady he has married. What a handsome couple they make. It proves the point that it is possible to marry for love rather than for convenience, position and four hundred pounds a year.’
‘A very specific amount of money!’ declared Emily. ‘I wonder what brought that sum to your mind.’ She giggled.
She was mocking him again.
Thank you for reading the first chapter. Drop me an email if you would like to read more.