About the Author

Evie Grace was born in Kent, and one of her earliest memories is of picking cherries with her grandfather who managed a fruit farm near Selling. Holidays spent in the Kent countryside and the stories passed down through her family inspired her to write her Maids of Kent trilogy.

Evie now lives in Devon with her partner and dog. She has a grown-up daughter and son.

She loves researching the history of the nineteenth century and is very grateful for the invention of the washing machine, having discovered how the Victorians struggled to do their laundry.

Her Mother’s Daughter is Evie’s second novel in the trilogy, following on from Half a Sixpence. The third and final novel is out July 2018.

Also by Evie Grace

Half a Sixpence

title page for Her Mother’s Daughter

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorized distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

Epub ISBN: 9781473538313

Version 1.0

Published by Arrow Books 2018

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Copyright © Cathy Woodman 2018

Cover image © Larry Rostant

Cathy Woodman has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this Work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in Great Britain by Arrow Books in 2018

Arrow Books
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 9781784756239

To Rich


Chapter One

A Small Miracle

The sound of hooves slipping and scraping on the stones outside announced the arrival of an unexpected visitor at the Berry-Clays’ residence early on a cold February morning.

Agnes was eating at the table in the nursery while Nanny, wrapped in a heavy woollen shawl, sat in the straight-backed mahogany chair beside the fireplace, flicking through the pages of a book. With a quick glance to see if she was looking, Agnes abandoned her porridge and hurried to the window.

‘Miss Agnes, where are you?’

Hearing Nanny’s voice, she sat down quickly on the window seat, pulled her legs up and drew the heavy drapes closed behind her. She breathed on the ice inside the glass and rubbed at it with her sleeve, making a clear circle through which she could make out Papa’s groom holding on to a dark horse. Its rider, a man dressed in a hat and dark overcoat, dismounted and detached a brown leather bag from the saddle.

What business did he have at such an isolated place as Windmarsh Court? she wondered.

‘Good morning, Miss Treen,’ came another voice. ‘I’ve come to lay the fire if it isn’t too late. I would ’ave bin up before, but the mistress asked that I did the rooms in a different order this morning with the nursery last. The word is that the doctor’s bin summoned for.’

‘Thank you, Miriam, but we should mind our tongues when it comes to the family’s affairs,’ Nanny said.

‘It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the mistress has bin unwell for some time.’

Mama was sick? Agnes looked out across the yard and the walled garden where the gardener and his boy faced a constant battle to keep the surrounding marsh at bay. She could see the Swale estuary and the Isle of Sheppey on the far side of the water, clothed in its winter ochres, greys and greens, and a barge with its brown sails unfurled, heading between the mudflats towards the coast. Agnes felt a twinge of guilt that she hadn’t noticed her mother was ill, but then how could she when she hardly saw her? She hardly saw anyone, apart from the servants. She had no friends her own age. She only had Nanny for company.

She rearranged her velvet skirt and pinafore over her petticoat and hugged her knees, shivering with cold.

‘It would be a miracle if Doctor Shaw confirms our suspicions,’ Miriam went on.

‘It isn’t for us to speculate,’ Nanny said firmly. ‘Do go ahead with your duties, for we are about to freeze to death.’

‘I’ve never known a winter like it.’ Agnes heard the swish of the brush and the scrape of the shovel as Miriam began to clear the ashes from the grate. ‘Where is Miss Berry-Clay?’

‘It seems that she has completely disappeared.’ Agnes suppressed the giggle that rose in her throat as Miss Treen continued, ‘You don’t happen to have seen her? I’m beginning to wonder if she’s gone and found the tunnel this time, and got herself lost.’

‘I ’aven’t sin her,’ Miriam said, ‘although … can you see the curtain, the way it trembles without the slightest draught to disturb it?’

Agnes caught her breath. Was she about to be found out?

‘I think your imagination has got the better of you.’

‘I believe that it has.’ Miriam chuckled and Agnes began to relax.

‘Oh, but perhaps you’re right. Your eyes don’t deceive you after all.’ Agnes froze as she heard footsteps draw close. ‘The tunnel is said to be haunted.’

The drapes flew open and a grey skein of silk fell from the ceiling and landed on Agnes’s head. She screamed. She couldn’t help it.

‘It’s only a cobweb,’ Nanny said, helping her brush the offending item from her hair. ‘I believe that our talk of the tunnel has given you an attack of the frights.’

‘No, not at all,’ Agnes said, collecting her wits. She was fourteen years old, not a child. She wasn’t scared. Not much.

‘The spirits of the smugglers haunt the schoolrooms of impressionable young ladies who don’t admit the truth at all times,’ Nanny said chidingly. She was smiling, though, and Agnes realised that Nanny and Miriam had known exactly where she was all along. It wasn’t surprising, because Agnes had used up all the hiding places on the top floor of the house many times over.

‘Oh dear, the poor little soul will ’ave nightmares after this,’ Miriam said.

‘I will not,’ Agnes said adamantly. She gazed at the two women. At five foot and one inch in height, Agnes was taller than the maid and shorter than Nanny, who was wearing her uniform of a dark serge dress and black slippers. Nanny’s eyes were hazel and ringed with dark lashes, while her hair, the colour of the sienna in Agnes’s paintbox, was coiled in a plait around her head with a white cap on top.

Miriam was hardly the epitome of neatness. She had a smut on the end of her upturned nose, her apron was grubby and strands of her blonde hair had fallen from her bun. She was about twenty-five, and Miss Treen had once let slip that she was thirty-seven.

‘May I have a go at lighting the fire?’ Agnes asked.

‘Oh no, miss.’ Miriam chuckled. ‘That’s maid’s work. You’ll never ’ave to know how to light a fire in your life.’

‘But I should like to learn all the same.’

‘Nanny wishes you to stick to l’arning from books, don’t you, Miss Treen?’

‘Indeed I do. Our little miss is to become a lady with more servants than she needs. Although …’ Nanny paused for a moment. ‘It doesn’t hurt to know enough to make sure that one’s maids are doing the job properly.’

‘So I can light it?’ Agnes asked, watching Miriam place some dry sticks in the grate.

‘No,’ Nanny said. ‘You will soil your dress.’

Agnes was disappointed.

‘I wonder how long the doctor will spend with the mistress,’ Miriam said, taking the tinderbox from the mantelpiece and striking the flint. ‘Do you think that it’s possible after all this time?’ The flint sparked and soon a curl of smoke rose from the kindling in the box. Miriam blew on it gently and transferred the flame on a thin taper to the sticks in the grate.

‘It’s no use asking me – I’m not a medical man,’ Nanny said briskly.

‘I thought you might ’ave some idea. You are the most l’arned person of my acquaintance.’ Agnes, Nanny and Miriam watched as the flame took hold of the sticks.

‘That’ll do,’ Miriam said eventually, and she tipped the coal from the scuttle on top.

‘Thank you. Please remove the breakfast dishes.’ Nanny looked towards the mantel clock. ‘This will not do. We are already five minutes late for our lessons. Agnes, sit down at your desk. You will practise your letters first.’

As the maid left the room with the tray of breakfast dishes, Agnes sat down and opened the lid of the desk, a miniature version of Papa’s, and took out her writing materials: paper, pencil and pen, ink and a wooden rule. She pulled up the upholstered stool, blew on her fingers and began to draw lines across the page. The second line wasn’t quite parallel with the first, and in a fit of annoyance she scribbled it out.

‘Oh dear,’ Nanny sighed. ‘It’s going to be one of those days. It’s only natural to be concerned about your mama, but you mustn’t let it get in the way of your lessons. Is there anything you’d like to ask me? I shall answer if I can.’

‘Well, yes, I’d like to know if Mama is going to die.’

‘My dear child, of course she isn’t! There’s no danger of that.’ Nanny smiled as she placed an open book on the desk. Mama’s opinion was that she was suitably plain, but Agnes thought her quite pretty when she smiled. ‘I should like you to copy this poem in your best copperplate and curlicue, before committing Mr Wordsworth’s verse to memory.’

‘Why?’ Agnes said. ‘Why should I have to learn it when I could read it straight from the book?’

‘Really, you are becoming quite rebellious.’ Nanny cocked one eyebrow, making Agnes smile. ‘Suffice to say, we all have to do things we don’t want to do. You would be wise to practise obedience until it becomes a habit. When you marry, you will be required to carry out the duties of the lady of the house without question or complaint.’ She walked over to the window seat and sat down to do some sewing.

Agnes tried to concentrate, but the clock was ticking and the lace on her collar was pricking at her neck. She ruled lines on a second piece of paper, wrote an ‘I’, and was halfway through ‘wandered’ when she became aware of a shadow falling across her work. She looked up.

‘Are you ready to recite this poem to me? No, I thought not. Make haste, or we will have no time to study geography this week.’

She looked towards the cupboard on the far side of the room where Miss Treen kept the globe locked away. Papa had brought it home with him one day in payment of a debt owed to the brewery and Agnes had fallen in love with it: the colours of the lands and oceans; the names of the magical-sounding places far away. Mama disapproved of geography – she said that young ladies had no need of such knowledge. Their horizons should be limited to accomplishments suitable for the drawing room, such as painting, music and deportment.

Perhaps it was for that reason and because she was always cooped up at Windmarsh Court that geography had become Agnes’s favourite subject. The threat of missing out was enough to ensure that she became familiar with Mr Wordsworth’s daffodils very quickly. When the clock struck ten, Agnes recited the poem, keeping to the rhythm of the beat of Miss Treen’s rule against the desk.

‘You spoke that beautifully,’ Nanny said when she had finished. ‘You will do it again for your parents this evening to demonstrate your progress.’

They were her adoptive parents, not her mother and father by blood. Papa had never kept it a secret from her. He had taken pity on a poor orphan infant dressed in rags whose mama couldn’t look after her and brought her back to Windmarsh Court, where he had kept the names Agnes Ivy that had been given to her by her true mother, and honoured her with the surname of Berry-Clay.

‘I think they will be very proud of me,’ Agnes said.

Nanny frowned and shook her head. ‘What did we talk about the other day?’

‘Paris?’ Agnes said, her thoughts drifting back to the globe.

‘We discussed the importance of being humble.’

‘Did we?’ Agnes felt her forehead tighten as she tried to remember. It was all very well, but what was the point of being deferential when she was only speaking the truth? ‘Isn’t the truth more important than being humble?’

‘My dear child, people warm to those who don’t brag about their accomplishments.’

‘Mama isn’t humble,’ Agnes said.

‘It isn’t our place to offer that opinion,’ Nanny corrected her gently, and for that tiny indiscretion, she condemned Agnes to a discussion of etiquette for a whole hour before luncheon.

‘This instruction will serve you well in the future,’ Nanny said, as though reading her mind. ‘I hope that one day you will recall fondly how your nanny taught you how to be the perfect hostess, for I am sure that when you are married, you will entertain all kinds of interesting guests at your house.’

‘I don’t wish to be married. I should like to become a nanny and governess like you.’

‘You are destined for better things.’ Nanny smiled ruefully.

‘Don’t you like being a governess, then?’

‘Oh, I like it very much. I have loved you since I first set eyes on you when you were a baby.’ Nanny stopped abruptly. ‘That’s enough. I believe you are trying to distract me from my purpose.’ She ran her finger down one of the pages in her book and began to read again. ‘A gentleman may take two ladies upon his arms, but under no circumstances should a lady take the arms of two gentlemen.’

‘Why should that be so? We are all blessed with two arms,’ Agnes said lightly.

‘It would be improper for a lady to conduct herself in such a manner. Ladies are expected to behave with decorum. Gentlemen, especially the younger ones, are allowed more latitude when it comes to how they deport themselves.’

‘I don’t think that’s fair.’

‘Life isn’t always fair, my dear.’ She put the book down beside her with its cover facing upwards and its pages spread out. Agnes reached out to pick it up and close it properly as she had been taught, so as not to break its spine. What was wrong with Nanny today?

‘Oh, I can’t concentrate on etiquette either,’ Nanny admitted. ‘Why don’t you fetch the globe and we will look for the capital city of Italy?’

‘Italy?’ A frisson of excitement ran down her spine. Mama owned a piece of Italian glass from Murano, a vase that glinted in the sunshine and cast rays of different colours across the windowsill in the drawing room. Its exotic appearance hinted at royal palaces and shimmering heat, far away from the ditches and dykes of the bleak Kentish marshes.

‘We will learn about the history of Rome and the canals of Venice.’

‘How do you know so many things?’

‘I was attentive in lessons at school.’

‘Was that the school for downtrodden ladies?’ Agnes said, even though she had heard Nanny’s stories before.

‘It was a charity school run by Mrs Joseph for young ladies whose families had fallen upon hard times.’ Nanny touched the corner of her eye as if she was pressing back a tear. ‘My poor father lost everything through no fault of his own, God rest his soul.’

Agnes didn’t ask about Nanny’s mother. She had broached the subject once before and Miss Treen had become very upset.

‘You have an uncle still living. Is he well?’

‘Oh yes. I shall visit him and my cousins once removed quite soon.’ Miss Treen’s mood brightened again. ‘Samuel – Mr Cheevers – paid for my education. I’ll always be grateful to him for making sure that I acquired the means to make my own way in the world.’ She took a key from her pocket and handed it to Agnes, who went to unlock the cupboard.

Her heart beat faster as she wheeled the globe on its brass castors and mahogany stand to the centre of the schoolroom. Nanny lit one of the oil lamps and held it up close to the magnificent painted sphere, illuminating the text inside a circle in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean: The new Terrestrial Globe, exhibiting the tracks and discoveries made by Captain Cook; Together with every other improvement collected from Various Navigators to the present time.

‘Can you find Italy?’ Nanny asked, lighting up the northern hemisphere.

Agnes pointed at the toe of Italy’s boot which had kicked Sicily into the Mediterranean Sea.

‘You have remembered well,’ Nanny said, before going on to tell her about Venice and Rome, the Sistine Chapel, the mountains and lakes.

‘May I look at another place?’ Agnes asked when they had exhausted Italy.

‘One more.’

Agnes spun the globe and stopped it with her fingers straddling the Indian and Pacific oceans. She leaned in close and read the names of the nearest countries.

‘Australia,’ she said slowly, ‘and Tasmania.’

‘Oh no.’ Nanny leaned across and forcibly turned the globe back with Europe uppermost. ‘We won’t be studying those. They are too far away to be of interest.’

‘I think I should find them at least as fascinating as Italy,’ Agnes protested. Even more so now that Nanny had drawn her attention to them by her reaction.

‘No, I have very little knowledge of those’ – Nanny flicked her hand as if to push the globe away – ‘distant lands.’ Agnes stepped back, astounded. It was the first time that Miss Treen had ever admitted to a gap in her learning. ‘We must put the globe away. Immediately.’

They wheeled it back into the cupboard, then Nanny locked the door and put the key around her neck. Miriam delivered soup, ham and bread to the schoolroom.

Agnes returned to the nursery next door to wash her hands, catching sight of her reflection in the mirror above the washstand. Sometimes her eyes looked green, sometimes hazel, depending on the light. Her mouth, she thought, was too wide, but her nose was small and her cheekbones high and well shaped. She ran a brush through her wavy dark brown hair, wishing that it was lighter, more like Miriam’s. She yearned for some womanly curves and a time when she didn’t have to wear her skirts to just below the knee.

As she returned to the schoolroom she overheard Nanny and Miriam talking.

‘The master has sent for a second doctor, would you believe?’ the maid said, and Agnes’s throat tightened. Mama had to be very sick to require the services of more than one medical man.

‘But why? Cannot Doctor Shaw give an opinion?’ Nanny demanded.

‘Apparently, the mistress is not satisfied with his diagnosis.’

‘What did he say?’

‘We don’t know.’ Miriam’s voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Mrs Catchpole has bin plotting to find out.’

‘I beg you not to be part of the housekeeper’s plan,’ Miss Treen said. ‘I’m sure we will find out what was said soon enough.’

Miriam left the schoolroom and Nanny said grace. She and Agnes ate in silence then rested for half an hour to aid the digestion before going for a walk across the marsh. The sun was already low in the sky and the light was growing dimpsy when they set out by the back door, crossed the yard and entered the kitchen garden.

Agnes glanced back towards the imposing mass of Windmarsh Court with its brick walls, tiled roof and numerous chimney pots. The southern aspect of the house, on the advice of the architect who had designed it many years ago, had no windows to prevent the Black Death gaining entry on the prevailing winds. Fortunately, he had compensated for the lack of light by including tall arched windows to the grand rooms on the first floor on the other three sides in his plans.

At the far end of the kitchen garden, beyond the rows of winter cabbages and raspberry canes, they passed through the gate in the wall and stepped on to the path. The tang of salt and cold air caught Agnes by the throat, making her cough.

She tucked her hands inside her fur muff and set out along the embankment across the marsh. They went through the hamlet of Windmarsh, passing the church, two houses and a row of cottages built from grey Kentish ragstone and flint on the way, and back along the road beside the long, reed-lined ditch of brackish water to the house. They took the same route every day since her parents forbade any deviation from it. Mama had a fear of strangers. She didn’t like open spaces and crowds. In fact, she rarely left the house. Papa said they should keep to familiar paths to avoid mishaps, whatever those might be. Nanny had explained that he was being protective of his daughter, just as any other father would.

They returned indoors. Agnes left her outdoor shoes in the boot room and put on her slippers, then caught up with Nanny in the kitchen. The oak dresser held an abundance of plates, fish kettles and a colander, and a meat chopper and a brass pot of skewers glinted from the table. Cook was standing red-faced over a pan that threatened to bubble over on the range, while the scullery maid wielded the bellows over the flames in the hearth.

‘How was your walk, miss?’ Mrs Nidget said, looking up from the pan.

‘It was very cold,’ Agnes said. ‘I should like some hot chocolate.’

‘A “please” wouldn’t go amiss,’ Nanny muttered from beside her.

‘Please,’ Agnes added petulantly.

‘Of course you can, ducky. I’ll send it up to the nursery with some freshly baked scones and lemon curd.’ Mrs Nidget had eyes like raisins, set deep above her doughy cheeks. She was almost as wide as she was tall, but Agnes had privately concluded that her ample figure bore no relation to the quality of her cooking.

‘I fear that you are spoiling the child,’ Nanny said, removing her gloves.

‘It isn’t me. If you want my opinion, it’s the way she’s being brought up. She has everything she can possibly need, and more, but no friends her own age.’

‘I didn’t ask for your views, thank you,’ Nanny said.

Mrs Nidget shrugged.

Not for the first time, Agnes noticed the tension between the two women. She felt sorry for Nanny, who didn’t quite fit in with either the servants or the family. It wasn’t her fault – it was due to her position in the household, not her character.

‘I was wondering if there was any news – the doctor?’

‘Oh, that?’ Cook scooped up some stew and sucked it noisily out of her ladle. ‘I should ’ave thought you would ’ave bin the first to know, the way the family favours you.’ She smiled, but it wasn’t a friendly smile, Agnes thought. ‘If the rumours are true, your position here will be secure for many years to come. I don’t know what it will mean for our young lady here.’

‘It won’t change anything. She will be loved just the same for her disposition, which never fails to bring sunshine to a dull day and a smile to everyone’s faces,’ Nanny said. ‘So it is true, Mrs Nidget? The doctor has confirmed it?’

‘Mr Turner overheard the master congratulating the mistress on her news.’ Turner was the butler who did everything from managing the indoor servants to ironing Papa’s newspapers in the morning. He was also in charge of the safe.

Mrs Catchpole, the housekeeper, was supposed to be responsible for running the household, subject to the mistress’s instructions, but it was Turner and Mrs Nidget who ruled the roost at Windmarsh Court.

‘I don’t know how it is possible after all this time, and at her age,’ Cook said. ‘She is forty years old.’

‘God has answered her prayers at last.’

‘I don’t think He had much to do with it.’ Mrs Nidget gave a coarse laugh.

Nanny frowned with displeasure as Cook went on, ‘I’m planning some new dishes to help the mistress keep her strength up. I’ve ordered oranges and lemons for a posset served with a dainty sugared almond shortbread. What do you think of that?’

‘I think that you will bankrupt the Berry-Clays,’ Nanny said.

‘They are made of money. It pours into the master’s hands on tap like the beer that flows from the brewery. We aren’t doing anything wrong. The mistress doesn’t like to be worried by trivial matters. She trusts us to do right by the family. She’s never complained, not once.’ Cook gave Nanny a long, hard stare. ‘You’ll keep your nose out of my business if you know what’s good for you.’

Agnes shrank back, shocked at the way Mrs Nidget had spoken to her governess.

‘I thought Cook was rather impolite,’ she ventured as she and Nanny made their way upstairs to the schoolroom on the third floor.

‘She is no lady. She is without manners, breeding or education,’ Nanny agreed. ‘You, however, should have more delicacy than to criticise your elders. Children should be seen, not heard.’

Agnes sighed inwardly at the expectation that she should behave like one of her dolls, sitting in perfect silence on the shelf in the schoolroom. Nanny was much stricter than anyone else she knew.

After the hot chocolate and scones, she practised reciting the poem she had learned in the morning and read quietly for a while before a meal of chicken and potato stew that didn’t taste of anything at all.

The mantel clock chimed five and then six.

‘Look at the time!’ Nanny exclaimed. ‘Wash your hands and face, and brush your hair. Quickly. We mustn’t keep your mama and papa waiting.’

Agnes didn’t take a second bidding.

She loved all the rooms on the middle floor of the house, their extravagant decoration in marked contrast to the starkness of the nursery and schoolroom. In the drawing room, a fire danced in the marble hearth, bringing the cherubs carved into the mantel above to life. Gold and turquoise brocade drapes hung across the tall windows and rich tapestries decorated the walls. There were chairs with sumptuous upholstery, a chaise longue for Mama, a gleaming piano and all kinds of trinkets and curios that Papa’s grandfather had brought back from the voyages he made around the world upon his retirement from the brewery.

The precious Italian glass vase had been removed to the safety of a side table when the drapes had been closed for the evening, and the candle that flickered in the sconce above scattered rainbow fragments on to the cloth on which it stood.

Dodging the clutter and ignoring Miss Treen’s pleas for decorum, Agnes made straight for her father who was sitting in his leather armchair, dressed in a jacket and patterned cravat. He was tall with wide shoulders, flamboyant copper hair and a beard.

She threw her arms around his neck, catching his scent of malt and cigar smoke.

‘Agnes, you are getting far too old for that,’ her mother sighed. She reminded Agnes of the Snow Queen in a fairy tale Nanny had once read to her. Her long fair hair was caught back from her thin face by two silver combs and she was wearing a pale grey bodice and skirt, lace undersleeves and an ivory shawl with a sparkling silver thread running through it. She was very beautiful, but her frozen features rarely softened to a smile, and her touch was like ice.

‘Mama, are you sick?’ Agnes asked.

‘I’m so sorry, Mrs Berry-Clay. Please, miss, come here,’ she heard Nanny say in vain.

‘Don’t worry, my dearest child. Your mother is quite well,’ Papa said. ‘Nanny, let her be a child for a little while longer. She’ll have to grow up all too soon.’

Reassured as to Mama’s state of health, Agnes pulled away from her father and took up position in the middle of the room.

‘I’m going to recite a poem for you,’ she said, and without hesitation, she straightened her spine, took a deep breath and plunged in.

‘Never was the word “daffodil” enunciated in such a clear and enthusiastic way,’ said Papa admiringly when she had finished. Agnes smiled at his glowing praise. She knew he was exaggerating, but that was what he always did, as though he was deliberately compensating for Mama’s more critical appraisal of her talents.

‘It was decidedly average,’ Mama said, patting her hair into place. ‘What would Mr Wordsworth think upon hearing his delightful words put through the mangle like that? I’m sure I would have taught you to recite with far more expression.’

But you didn’t, Agnes thought. Mama had this way of hurting her feelings, implying that she wasn’t good enough to be her daughter.

‘How can you say that?’ Papa said. ‘How can two pairs of ears hear so differently? I heard the voice of an angel.’

‘Really, James. You do exaggerate.’ Mama pouted.

Papa stood up and walked across to his wife. He stood beside the chaise and rested his hand on her shoulder.

‘There, my dear Louisa, you have every reason to be distracted. Why don’t you tell Agnes our wonderful news?’

‘What is it?’ Agnes said. ‘Are we going to Italy?’

‘Where did you get that idea from, you peculiar creature?’ Mama said.

‘Perhaps I should leave,’ Nanny said.

‘You may stay,’ Mama said. ‘This announcement concerns you.’

‘There will soon be a new arrival in the house,’ Papa said, beaming.

‘A puppy?’ Agnes had always wanted a lapdog.

Mama touched her stomach where the sides of her bodice met at a point at the front.

‘I have had my suspicions for a while, and now not one, but two doctors have confirmed that I am with child.’ She had dark circles beneath her eyes and her complexion, which was always fashionably pale, looked whiter than ever, but a smile played on her lips. ‘I never thought I would live to see this day. I thank God for this miracle.’

‘In a few months’ time, Agnes, you will have a baby brother or sister,’ Papa explained, but it didn’t help.

Mama said she was with child, but Agnes couldn’t see a child anywhere. She was confused. Having led such a sheltered life at Windmarsh Court, she had no idea about babies and where they came from.

‘Pay attention to your father,’ Mama said.

‘I said, you’ll have a brother or sister,’ Papa repeated.

‘Oh, I’d like a sister, please.’ She clapped her hands together with delight.

‘No, it is a boy. I am certain of it,’ Mama said.

‘It would be better all round if that was the case,’ Papa said.

‘Indeed.’ Mama’s voice was suddenly brittle with resentment. ‘My husband has put me in a situation where, if he should die without a son, the brewery will pass to his brother and then his brother’s elder son, and I shall be dependent on their generosity and a small annual income given to me by my parents upon my marriage. It is a sorry state of affairs which has caused me much anxiety in the past.’

‘I have no intention of dying for a very long time, but if anything should happen, our son will inherit the brewery. Don’t fret. I am but fifty-two years old. My father was hale and hearty until he was eighty-three.’ Papa slapped his thigh with delight. ‘My brother will be one of the first to congratulate us, I’m certain.’

‘May I offer you my felicitations,’ Nanny said calmly.

‘Felicitations accepted,’ Papa guffawed. ‘Of course, we will continue to require your services until the boy is eight, when he will go to school.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ Agnes could hear the relief in her governess’s voice.

‘Can I go to school?’ she asked.

‘No, Agnes,’ Mama said.

‘Why not, Mama?’

‘What sensible young lady would wish to go to school in preference to remaining here at Windmarsh Court with her mama and papa and Nanny’s excellent teaching?’ Papa said, but no one gave her time to reply.

‘Nanny, remove Agnes to the nursery,’ Mama said. ‘Mr Berry-Clay and I have much to discuss.’

‘Kisses first.’ Papa pointed to his whiskery cheek. Agnes stepped up and kissed him as she always did. She walked across to kiss Mama, who turned away as she always did, and then she followed Nanny back to the nursery.

‘Where is the baby now?’ Agnes asked when she was getting ready for bed. ‘How do they know it will be a boy?’

‘They don’t,’ Nanny said sternly. ‘It is wishful thinking. It’s just as likely to be a girl.’

‘Who will bring it to the house?’ Agnes thought she recalled one of her cousins telling her that there was a stork that delivered babies.

‘It is far too delicate a subject for a young lady’s ears and one that shouldn’t be discussed until the day of her marriage.’

‘I imagine it is painful.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Nanny’s eyes widened with apparent shock, quickly veiled.

‘I mean the way that the baby is dropped down the chimney. I’m glad that we don’t remember that part.’ Agnes changed the subject. ‘Will Mama and Papa still love me?’

‘Of course they will. What a strange thing to say! They have always loved you as their daughter, and always will. That will never change. When they adopted you as a baby, they took you on as their own. No one could have been more delighted with you than your papa.’

‘And Mama?’

‘She was happy too.’

‘How could she be when she really wanted a boy?’

‘She would have loved a boy or a girl equally.’ Agnes wasn’t sure that Nanny was convinced. ‘Goodnight, Agnes. Sweet dreams.’

As soon as her head touched the fragrant, lavender-scented pillow, she fell asleep, reassured that she would soon have a companion in the nursery, someone she could call her brother, and her life would carry on as before, but with more joy in it.

Chapter Two

The Golden Linnet

Winter turned into spring and Nanny’s enthusiasm for geography did not return. In spite of Agnes’s entreaties the globe remained locked in the cupboard. The weather grew warmer, the marsh turned green, and the sheep grazed with their lambs gambolling around them. In May, preparations began in earnest for the birth of the son who would eventually inherit Windmarsh Court.

Agnes and Nanny were obliged to move to freshly whitewashed bedrooms, converted from the attic storage area where Papa had stowed unused furniture and possessions that were too precious to throw away, yet too ugly or damaged to put on display. The schoolroom remained the same, but the original night and day nurseries were redecorated, and a cot installed with soft cotton sheets and knitted blankets.

One morning at the beginning of June, Miriam was delivering breakfast while Agnes was getting dressed. She could see her across the landing, wiping her hands on her apron.

‘’Ave you heard the gossip?’

‘You know I don’t listen to telltales.’ Nanny was smiling as Miriam continued anyway.

‘You may recall that the doctor was sent for last week.’

‘And the week before that, if I remember rightly,’ Nanny said. ‘The doctor has been called out every time the mistress has sneezed or suffered the slightest alteration in her nerves.’

‘She is better now. Doctor Shaw blamed her illness on Cook for serving up undercooked chicken pie, and now Cook is up in arms. Apparently, the master has heard that the French style of cooking is in fashion. He’s most determined that the mistress will not ’ave to suffer food poisoning for a second time and wishes his son to ’ave the best start possible. To that end he has found a French cook. If the monsieur is agreeable, then Cook will be dismissed forthwith.’

‘A monsieur?’ Nanny gasped. ‘A man in the kitchen? That is most improper. That won’t do. The mistress will never allow it.’

‘He has bin employed in the best kitchens in Paris.’

‘Why on earth would he choose to come to Windmarsh, then, if not to cause trouble among the maids?’ Agnes frowned, wondering what kind of trouble Nanny meant. ‘What is Mr Berry-Clay thinking of? Children require plain fare, not fancy foods that will inflame their tempers and palates. No confectionery, fresh fruit or puffed pastries.’

‘Well, I’m looking forward to something other than dry roasts and soggy cabbage,’ Miriam said. ‘I like a bit of fat on my meat and the juice left running through it.’

Agnes began to feel hungry as Miriam went on, ‘I don’t know what poor Mrs Nidget will do.’

‘She has a sister in Faversham. I expect she will stay with her until she finds another position, which may depend upon the mistress providing her with a character,’ Nanny said. ‘Is the monthly nurse here yet?’

‘She arrived from London late last night. She is sleeping in one of the guest rooms until her room is ready. Her name is Mrs Pargeter.’

‘I shall find it hard to have another woman sharing my domain,’ Nanny murmured.

‘I’d better go before Mrs Catchpole starts wondering where I am,’ Miriam said. ‘By the way, don’t let Miss Agnes stir the porridge today – it’s burned to a crisp underneath.’

Agnes wished for a breakfast like Papa’s: fillets of beef and game pies, boiled eggs; bread, jams, orange marmalade and fruits in season. She wondered what a French breakfast would be like.

She asked Papa the question later that day when she met him for their customary hour in the drawing room. Mama was there as well, having been absent on the previous two occasions. Agnes sat down on one of the Chesterfield fireside chairs opposite her father while her mother reclined on the chaise, her figure draped with layers of skirts and a pleated bodice that appeared to have been let out to accommodate her belly.

‘Nanny said that it would be café au lait and petits pains or bavaroises.’

‘Did she? Well, I’m not sure what those things are, apart from the coffee. I regret that I didn’t take full advantage of my education. School was something which had to be endured.’ Papa turned away and called for the butler, who appeared from the room beyond in his white gloves, carrying a large object covered with a black cloth. ‘I have bought you a present. I saw it on my way through the market today and thought of you.’

‘Oh, Papa, thank you.’

‘You haven’t seen what it is yet. You might not like it,’ he chuckled. ‘Turner, place it on the table.’

‘What is it?’

Papa nodded to the butler who took the top of the cloth and whisked it away with a flourish to reveal a brass cage with a scalloped top, and a small bird perched on a twig inside it.

‘Oh, how pretty!’ Agnes’s heart filled with joy and gratitude.

‘For you, my dear child.’ She noticed how Papa didn’t call her his dearest child as he’d used to. ‘It is a golden linnet,’ he added as she peered at the bird. She – she wanted it to be a girl – was brightly coloured with red, white and black feathers on her head, a golden body and white belly and her wings were adorned with bands of yellow. The bird chirruped and sang. ‘Listen to how sweetly it sings.’

‘Oh, James, you spoil that child,’ Mama complained. ‘Don’t forget that you will have a son to buy gifts for soon.’

Agnes felt hurt at her mother’s comment. She had been mean to her many times before, but she was beginning to make her feel distinctly unwanted.

‘I hope you aren’t suggesting that I treat them any differently, apart from giving presents that are appropriate for their sex,’ Papa said.

‘They are different, by virtue of Agnes being an adopted child. The infant will be ours through and through.’

Papa’s beard seemed to bristle with resentment.

‘We will consider them as full brother and sister, the Master and Miss Berry-Clay. Please don’t strain yourself by making yourself disagreeable to your husband. Remember the infant that grows inside you and treat him with some consideration, or he will be born with a sour look on his face.’

Mama fell silent, but she sat sucking on her lip as if she still had plenty that she wanted to say.

‘We have never hidden the fact that you are adopted from you, Agnes,’ Papa went on. ‘Can you remember what we’ve told you?’

‘Yes. You chose me to be your daughter, Papa. The lady who was my mama couldn’t look after me so you gave me a home at Windmarsh.’

‘That is correct,’ Papa said.

‘Where is my other mama?’ The promise of a new sibling had made Agnes think about her own parents. No one had ever talked about the mother and father who had given her up. When she had asked, the conversation had always been broken off or the subject abruptly changed.

‘She is gone. Dead, my dear Agnes,’ he said softly. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Oh?’ She was overwhelmed with a wave of sadness. ‘And my other papa?’ She assumed that she had one.

‘Both of your parents are dead and buried. You have us now. Let’s have no more thought of them.’

‘But who were they?’ She needed to know who these mysterious people were.

‘It doesn’t matter. Suffice to say that you could be the daughter of a baronet or descended from royalty, but whatever the circumstances of your birth, you are being brought up to be a lady.’

‘And shall I marry a prince?’ she said, smiling. She felt a vague sadness that her other parents were gone, but they had left her the legacy of intelligence, good humour and the knowledge that she had been high born, because Papa had said so.

He smiled. ‘You will need to wed a prince to keep you in the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed. Your mother has expensive tastes and a profligate manner of spending.’ His voice hardened when he turned to Mama. ‘I saw the bills from the tradesmen today. Don’t you think that the cost of refitting the nursery was somewhat extortionate? I’m sure that it could have been done for less. Why did you need wallpaper from London when a fresh coat of whitewash would have sufficed?’

‘Cream damask is quite the rage,’ Mama countered.

‘For a fleeting moment until printed flowers or Flemish tapestries become à la mode. I noticed that Cook was wearing a rather pretty lace collar – it reminded me of one I’d seen you wearing recently.’

‘I gave some of my old things to the servants.’

‘It looked brand new.’

Mama shrugged. ‘I can’t help it if my preference for a particular style has altered. James, I’m finding this talk of money quite vulgar.’

‘I’m asking you to make small economies where and when you can, that is all. I’m not telling you to go around in rags. We have a good income, but there are investments to be made in new machinery and adaptations to the brew house.’

‘Are you saying the brewery is no longer profitable?’

‘No, I’m not.’ Papa sounded exasperated. ‘Oh, how I hate to talk about business at home! This is supposed to be my haven of peace and repose. But it is important. Let’s speak of this again after our son has been safely delivered into the world. I remember that the doctor has said that your nerves must be made a priority.’

‘So has Mrs Pargeter. If she had her way I would be locked away in my room. She has been here less than one day and she is driving me to distraction with her attentions – the windows have had to be sandbagged against draughts, the baby clothes have had to be laundered three times and Mrs Catchpole has to direct all her enquiries about the running of the household through her,’ Mama said sulkily.

Agnes smiled to herself. She had thought that her mother would have been delighted to have an excuse for laying abed all day.

‘Talking of household matters,’ Mama went on, ‘is there any news of the French cook?’

‘I have sent him a letter inviting him to meet me at the brewery at the end of the week to discuss terms.’

‘I do hope he will agree. You have persuaded me that French cuisine is much superior to the English way of cooking.’

‘Nanny says that it is all garlic and snails,’ Agnes said, wrinkling her nose at the thought.

‘Hush,’ Nanny whispered, reminding her of her presence. She seemed to have blended into the background like part of the furniture, and the Berry-Clays weren’t at all concerned about speaking in front of her.

‘We must hold a dinner party soon for your brother and his wife, and our neighbours,’ Mama said.

Agnes felt ignored. Rejected.

‘Let us not be in too much of a rush. Monsieur hasn’t accepted my offer yet. And you must consult with the guard dog—’ Agnes noticed how Mama raised one eyebrow and Papa corrected himself, ‘Mrs Pargeter – the occasion of hosting a dinner party is too much for your constitution at the best of times.’

Agnes sat in silence, listening to her parents and watching the bird. This was supposed to be their time for her, but Mama and Papa seemed too wrapped up in their own affairs. She felt quite cross with them.

Eventually, the clock on the mantel chimed seven times, signalling that it was time for her to leave. Papa called for the butler to carry the birdcage upstairs.

‘Thank you again, Papa, but I wonder if you should take it back to the market,’ Agnes said.

‘What are you saying?’ He frowned. ‘Don’t you like it after all?’

‘No, I love it, but wasn’t it rather expensive? I shouldn’t like to end up poor. I heard you talking to Mama about the brewery.’

Papa’s lips curved into a smile before he broke into loud laughter.

‘Oh, don’t let that conversation worry your head. It’s very thoughtful of you, offering to return my gift, but we have more than enough riches to cover the price of a bird and gilded cage. You will never be poor, I promise. Goodnight, Agnes.’

‘Goodnight, Papa.’ She wished Mama the same and returned to the nursery, reassured by her father’s words, but her peace of mind was soon broken, for in the middle of the night, the whole house awoke to the sound of an eerie scream.

She scrambled out of bed, her first thought being that it was one of the ghostly smugglers come to haunt them. Her second was that something terrible had happened to the bird. She made her way to the schoolroom where the butler had left the cage. As her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she saw that the linnet was asleep on her perch with her head to one side and her feathers fluffed up. She sprinkled some of the seed that the butler had left on a plate on the mantel and placed the cloth back over the cage as Nanny, looking flustered and dressed in her nightgown, joined her. The candle she was carrying flickered and went out.

Another scream pierced the darkness, making Agnes almost jump out of her skin.

‘What’s that noise?’ she whispered.

‘I believe that it was one of Heaven’s angels heralding the arrival of the mistress’s son.’

‘Oh? How does that happen?’

‘You will find out one day,’ Nanny said as Miriam came hurrying in to the room with a small lantern.

‘Everything is upside down and inside out,’ she exclaimed. ‘Mrs Pargeter has the whole household on its feet, running errands. Turner has sent Mr Noakes with the carriage for the doctor, and the footman to the cellar for fresh supplies of brandy. Cook is making gruel and the other maids are collecting clean sheets and hot water. Oh my, I can’t for the life of me remember what I’m here for.’ She paused for a moment. ‘That’s it. Mrs Pargeter wants me to light the fire in the mistress’s room and I’ve come to look for spills.’

‘That seems rather wasteful, a fire in June, but I suppose that these are exceptional circumstances,’ Nanny said. ‘Please, let me light my candle.’

‘Of course.’ Miriam opened the door on the lantern. Nanny placed the wick of her candle in the flame where it sputtered back to life. ‘The mistress is about to deliver her child.’

‘I fear that it may take some time. My dearly departed mama laboured for two whole days—’ Nanny stopped abruptly.

‘The poor lady,’ Miriam said. ‘I don’t wish for children of my own.’

‘The gift of a child is a blessing. If I could marry and bear a child, I would undergo any trial or tribulation.’ Nanny touched the corner of her eye.

She was crying, Agnes realised with astonishment. Nanny had mastered the art of controlling her emotions to such an extent that her pupil had wondered if she actually ever felt anything at all. She suppressed an impulse to reach out and comfort her.

‘I’m sorry to ’ave upset you,’ Miriam said quickly.

‘It’s all right. I’m content with looking after other people’s children, but there are occasions such as this when I wish … Oh, what does it matter? There is nothing that can be done.’ Nanny cleared her throat. ‘There will be much joy and celebration when Agnes’s brother is here. We are all looking forward to having an infant at Windmarsh Court.’

‘I had better be on my way,’ Miriam said, hurrying off.

‘Dearie me, she has forgotten the spills after all that,’ Nanny said. ‘Run after her with them, will you?’

Agnes grabbed a handful of twisted papers from the spill-box and caught up with the maid at the end of the landing.

‘Here you are,’ she said, placing them in Miriam’s hand.

‘Thank you, miss. I’m all of a flap.’

There was another bloodcurdling scream that sent Agnes fleeing back to the schoolroom.

‘Mama is dying,’ she sobbed.

‘Calm yourself,’ Nanny said. ‘She is quite well. It is perfectly natural.’

‘She is in pain. Why? It is inhuman.’

Agnes couldn’t help wondering if Queen Victoria had suffered in the same way when she had produced her eighth child a couple of months earlier. It didn’t seem possible to contemplate having one child – let alone an eighth – if it caused such agony.

‘We should go out for a walk,’ Nanny decided. ‘Make haste. Get dressed and meet me downstairs.’

‘It is dark,’ Agnes observed.

‘Dawn is about to break.’

Agnes didn’t even brush her hair. She put on her clothes and ran down the first flight of stairs, her heart pounding. In spite of Nanny’s reassurances, she was convinced that both Mama and the infant were going to die. She hadn’t wanted a brother, but now that God was about to take him up to Heaven, she was distraught.