Excerpts

Redway Acres excerpts that have been shared on various social media sites in the past.

Possible SPOILERS! Proceed at your own risk.

When Helena drove the Redway cart down the lane with Issie, Ruth, Rachel and plenty of food and drink for the men, she spotted the colonel standing astride the pinnacle of the roof admiring the finished product of Reg Smith’s handiwork. Old Joe’s place was single-storey, and the thatch finished low past the eaves. The colonel stood in his shirtsleeves, his sun-streaked hair waving in the breeze and a smile on his handsome face. Helena’s dream of being kissed came into her mind, and she sighed.

At that moment, the colonel looked up at the cart approaching and noticed her watching him. Suddenly, he lost his balance and started to fall. Helena screamed as he rolled over and over, down the slope of the roof.

“COLONEL!”

None of the men moved. Leaping from the cart and running the moment her feet hit the ground, she shouted at them, “Move, you blaggards, move and aid the colonel, what is the matter with you all?”

She rounded the corner and immediately realised why they had not moved. At the side of the house was a large cart half-full of loose thatch. Safe in the middle of the thatch that had cushioned his fall as he had planned was a grinning Colonel Ackley.

“Thank you for your concern, madam!” he said, as he sat up.

Realising he had hoodwinked her, Helena picked up a large armful of thatch and shoved it at him none too gently, pushing him back again and covering his face. “You bloody bastard. You have easily taken five years off my life.”

Delight that she had used such words showed on his face as he bantered with her, “Only five? You have hurt my feelings.”

“It might have been more if your face were prettier,” Helena countered, acting up to the crowd of men who laughed heartily. She had learned much of a man’s sense of humour, working around them in her stable, but she was also covering up her heart’s reaction to thinking he was hurt. She turned away to prevent him reading the fear in her face.

“If prettiness determines years lost, then I would have lost fifty, had you fallen half as far,” he called out to her retreating back. That got an Ooooh from the men which prompted him to add, “but let us deduct ten from that, for the unladylike language.”

More laughing was followed by a stern Ruth who was sitting with Issie in the cart. “There is food to be had, you men. Why are you all horsing around?”

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Maria Wyndham knew that if she were to ask Harriet, her sister would not remember the time when they had been called Eldridge. Their father had died on the day they were born, but Maria never thought much of it, as she had never known him.

They were so identical that to look at them, not even their mother could tell them apart until she spent a minute with either one. Eliza Wyndham would say that, as a baby, Maria cried much more than Harriet, demanding more attention than her sister. Whereas Harriet would coo and be content to look at her surroundings or play with her toes. Harriet received more cuddles because she would lie still in someone’s arms. Many praised her as being well behaved, of an amiable nature and pleasant.

Later in her life, Maria would swear that the first words she ever remembered being said to her were, Why are you not more like your sister? Everyone found it much easier to love Harriet.
And who can blame them? Maria wondered. When I am the one who loves Harriet the most.

Maria recalled how, even from an early age, she was more inquisitive than Harriet. After being set down, she would get up, insisting on doing things for herself, and would be frustrated when she could not or was not allowed. She drove her mother, nanny and governess to madness with her constant questions and then questions about the answers she received.

Maria considered two people in her life who accepted her for the curious, mischievous creature she was. The first, the brave Lieutenant Wyndham, who was a wonderful step-father. When answering her questions, he had infinite patience, giving her the confidence to know, figure out, be up and about. The second was her cousin, Nathaniel, who planned to be in the army. Maria wondered if she could join the military. It seemed to her to be an extraordinary life, full of travel and danger, sword fights and excitement. Much more interesting than music and sewing.

Nathaniel was fun-loving. He enjoyed playing tricks and sneaking food from the kitchen. Nathaniel only laughed when Maria’s mother told them off calling her stuffy. He often visited with his friend, Mr. Davenport, who told exciting stories of London and Europe. Places he had ventured with his family.

In between the times when Maria’s father was at home, or Nathaniel visited, were chasms of boredom. She was not as interested in her studies as Harriet. Though she was intelligent and the basics came naturally to her, geography was the only subject she loved. Maria knew by heart every country in the world, their trade, their capital city and the languages spoken. If they were told to Maria, she could memorise historical dates and events, but reading was boring.

Fortunately, Harriet loved to read. She read aloud to the impatient Maria who would make up stories about who was with Columbus when he discovered America and different things he might have said as he saw land come into view.

Life was good for the two young girls. Their only wish was to see their step-father more often, but he came when he could. The handsome lieutenant would arrive home and look wistfully into their mother’s eyes. Harriet and Maria wondered if a man would ever look at them with such love.

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“Mr. Harker, I should like a few minutes of your time if you can spare it. It can wait if this is not a good moment.” Martha had noticed his countenance was not at its best.

“Not at all, Miss Martha. Please take a seat. Nathaniel?” he gestured for her and Colonel Ackley to sit in the seats in front of him. However, the colonel chose the armchair further back allowing her to take the lead.

“I would like to thank you again for your generosity at the Norris’ shop the other day. I would not have chosen so many things had I known I would not be the one paying for them,” Martha began.

“Precisely why I asked Harriet and Maria to wait to tell you until after you had gathered all you wished.”

“Then they added the cloth, and such, too. It was far too much.”

“You could have bought the whole shop, Miss Martha. I believe my coffers could bear it.”

“You should not tempt me, sir. I might suggest a return visit to the village before we leave.”

Mr. Harker laughed at that, and she felt his mood lighten. Martha wondered if her sister crossed his thoughts because he became wistful. His expression changed to surprise when she laid a folded handkerchief in front of him, the likeness of Genevieve embroidered upon it.

“I hope I do not presume too much in presenting you with this by way of thanks, sir.”

“It is astonishing! Nathaniel, have you seen it?” Mr. Harker snatched it up to inspect it more closely.

“Indeed, the lady is very skilled,” Colonel Ackley smiled and nodded encouragement as Martha turned to look back at him.

“Mr. Harker,” as she spoke again, he looked up from the image on the handkerchief, “I wonder if I could trouble you for your advice and assistance?”

“Certainly.” He placed the handkerchief on his desk, his attention still upon the face now looking up at him.

Martha subdued a smile as she noticed Mr. Harker run the tip of his finger along Genevieve’s cheek. “As you know, Thornbane requires tremendous repair.”

“I did observe as much when I visited.”

“Although I do not know the particulars, I believe my father has very little income to improve it.”

“I have been given to understand the same,” he nodded as he spoke, seemingly impressed that she was astute enough to be aware of her family’s situation.

“My father has mentioned that, in the event of his passing, there would be a small fund for each of his daughters and his widow, but I fear even combined, it will not be enough for us to remain at Thornbane.”

“I believe that to be a certainty,” Mr. Harker confirmed with some appearance of sympathy in his eyes.

“Since I became aware of this situation several years ago, I have set aside as much of my own money as I was able. I am confident I have sufficient to buy Mr. Croucher’s shop in Wenster village. He was taken ill some time ago and has not fully recovered. I understand he is willing to sell as he cannot afford to pay someone to run it for him.”

“You cannot think your father would find you working in a village shop acceptable?” Mr. Harker sounded rather stern, and Martha felt some self-doubt creeping into her mind.

“Hear her out, Harker,” the colonel spoke from behind Martha, and his earlier confidence in her ability bolstered her confidence.

Mr. Harker spared a look at his friend, leaned back in his chair and waved for Martha to continue.

“If I wait until—if I wait, someone else may purchase the shop and not wish to sell when I am free to buy. Besides, I indirectly broached the possibility of loving to own a shop to Mr. Croucher. He laughed and called me a weak-minded woman who could not possibly understand the intricacies of running a business. Therefore he would never consider selling to me—for my own good.

“How can I be of assistance?” Mr. Harker had scowled at Mr. Croucher’s responses, and her heart rose that she might yet secure his help.

“If I could buy the shop now, with your support, I could have someone run it for me and put in place my ideas for improving it. Unlike Mr. Croucher, I do not need an income while I live at Thornbane. My father need never know. However, when the unthinkable happens, I will have a modest business of my own.”

“Would you not marry?”

“I think we can agree Mr. Woodhead will not be making further addresses to me. Thus, I do not consider myself marriage material. I know what a lady looks for when she is shopping. I can improve Mr. Croucher’s shop for the benefit of myself as well as the patrons. You can see I have a talent for it, and it is my passion. I should like the opportunity to try.” Martha stopped the emotion welling in her throat. She did not want Mr. Harker to think her too sensitive. She only needed him to act as her agent in procuring the shop.

“These are my terms, and they are not negotiable. We will set up a company jointly. I will match your funds, and when you are in a position to buy me out, I expect a five per cent return per annum. I will arrange for the shop's purchase and pay for a gentleman to be its manager, ensuring he will be discreet. You will be able to discuss your plans with him, for which I give you free rein. Your father will not know of this, ever. You can sew as much as you can get away with at home, without anyone suspecting, as you have been doing already.”

“I find your terms are more than acceptable, and thank you, sir. May I also ask that you advise me if ever Mr. and Mrs. Norris decide to sell their shop in Eastcambe?”

Mr. Harker stood, a smile on his face at her ambition, thinking of a second before she had even purchased the first. Martha had adored the Norris’ shop from the first moment she walked into it. He reached out his hand for Martha to shake it. It was an odd sensation for her, but she did her best to shake firmly in the same fashion he did.

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As each day rolled by, Harriet’s anticipation, excitement and nerves raised their heads in turn and with equal intensity. On the final day of travel, her courage rose, and she felt ready for the challenge of running Wyndham House and all it entailed.

The carriages pulled up to the front door in the late morning. When Harriet descended, she stared open-mouthed at her new home, at least double the size of Eastease. Nathaniel looked towards Harriet apologetically, and she realised his memory of the large property failed him when he spoke of it.

She stood there awed by the house she owned. Three rows of windows looked down on her expectantly, with more attic room windows above those. It continued around the sides into two large wings towards the back of the property that she could not see. She wondered how many other houses and cottages stood on her land? How would she manage this by herself? How foolish had she been to think that she could?

If she wanted to start her new life as a new Harriet, it would be best not to fall at the first step. Symbolically, she placed her foot on the first of the half dozen, wide steps that led to the large front door. Before she reached it, the dark-wood door opened, and a distinguished-looking butler in his late twenties appeared. As tall as the colonel, though slimly built, he addressed them with the soft burr of a Scottish accent, his blonde hair touched with red, and his bright, blue eyes, friendly.

“Miss Harriet Wyndham, I assume? I am Mckinnon, the butler.”

“Yes, I am her. Thank you, Mckinnon.” Harriet stepped through the door and gestured behind her. “This is my cousin, Colonel Nathaniel Ackley, his wife, Mrs. Helena Ackley, and their children Davy and Isabella.”

“Whatever happened to Lewis?” Nathaniel asked, presumably referring to an older butler at Wyndham House in his younger days.

“He left, sir. Did nae wish to serve Mr. Horncastle. Only tolerated him because of Mr. Wyndham. The stable manager left, too, sir. Though in my opinion nae much of a loss.”

“Strictly speaking, Lewis would have been working for me,” Harriet interjected. “Why would he not serve Mr. Horncastle?” Though Harriet was glad of Nathaniel’s support, she owned this home. The servants should have to learn to answer to her, not Nathaniel nor this Mr. Horncastle.

“He is an unusual man, Miss Wyndham. He is—let me take you to him. If you would follow me, please.”

Harriet allowed a servant to assist with her outerwear, frowning slightly at what the butler said of Mr. Horncastle. The Scot did not seem disturbed by his revelations. In fact, she felt him rather amused.

They followed Mckinnon to a parlour, its overall appearance rather manly due to the dark, bulky furniture within it. Detracting from the masculinity was golden-yellow, embossed wallpaper covered one wall from floor to ceiling. It held a decorative, diamond-shaped pattern, upon which the expansive windows cast enough light to brighten the room considerably.

Harriet found her attention caught immediately by the magnificent views of the back of the property and away from Mckinnon’s announcement of them. The gardens continued for some time before rolling hills dipped out of sight. The horizon beyond, a mass of trees, must have been miles away. A man cleared his throat behind her, and she turned but saw no one until she looked down.

A handsome man with fair hair, of possibly thirty years old, stood over a foot shorter than she and looked up at her, his face pleasant and his smile large. His body seemed of regular size, but his arms and legs much shorter than one might expect. Harriet noted his superior style of dress despite his odd size and found his blue eyes and wide smile too much to resist.

She broke into a smile of her own. “I apologise, Mr. Horncastle. The view is captivating.”

The short man continued to look at her as he said, “I agree, Miss Wyndham. If I may be so bold.”

Nathaniel harrumphed at the blatant flattery, causing Harriet to scowl in his direction.

“I apologise again, Mr. Horncastle. We did not expect you to be…”

“Short?” he seemed amused at their astonishment.

Nathaniel made to open his mouth, but Harriet cut across him. “Of short stature, sir. If I may say so.”

“You may. I like the sound of it! I have been called much worse.”

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When Amelia stepped down from the Eastease carriage, she found Doctor Grosvenor waiting to escort her back to Bernier. She felt happy to take his arm and looked up at him with a smile. When her sister left in the carriage, Amelia was glad to see the back of it and allowed her freedom to settle upon her shoulders.

After she tucked her gloved hand into the warm crook of the doctor’s arm, he spoke, “Miss Hopwood, would you accept my most sincere apology once again for my actions yesterday. I had no idea Reynolds and Young were in cahoots with Locke. I should have been more aware.”

“Doctor Grosvenor, I have no doubt Locke would have cooked up some other scheme had you stopped him. Possibly one I could not have escaped. You cannot blame yourself.”

“I will not if you will allow me to serve you in some capacity to make it up to you.”

“I accept, and I have something in mind,” she said in a teasing voice, pleased when the man’s eyes widened. Whatever he might have been thinking she could possibly ask for, she was sure would not be remotely close to what she requested. “Would you describe to me how to surgically remove a man’s leg?”

“Miss Hopwood, it is hardly appropriate for a lady such as yourself to ask such a thing. Why, on God’s green earth, would you want to know?”

“I am curious.”

“Mr. Harker would not forgive me for talking to you of such things. A female is a delicate creature, and such a violent act, albeit of a medical nature, is not something one needs to witness.”

“Then Doctor Grosvenor, though it pains me to say so, you are not forgiven.”

Oliver stared at her, surprised at her determination. Her chin tilted up to him, and her eyes shone with a hardness that could rival Colonel Ackley. She had an intelligent mind—he was confident of that from their conversations. How she dealt with Locke spoke of an astuteness that was often lacking in men, let alone women.

“Miss Hopwood, if you required a vocation, what would you choose to do?”

“A governess, I suppose. I know I could do that, but women’s choices are limited,” her tone was resigned.

“And if you were not so limited?”

“A doctor.” She seemed to surprise even herself with that, but it had come to her so easily. Frustration suddenly crossed her face. If she were a man, she could have learned to become a doctor in the same way as himself.

“If I were to invest my time teaching you, would you run back to your sewing or books the moment the information was distasteful?”

“No, I would not. Would you teach me?”

There was such an eagerness in her voice that he could not prevent a smile from crossing his face. He asked another question he knew concerned many young women. “What of marrying?”

She waved his concern away. “I do not give it a thought, except to deter Gennie in marrying me off to Colonel Greenham.” She heaved an exaggerated sigh. “I must dine at Eastease this week with him. I am afraid I asked her to include you in the invitation, too. I hope you do not mind.”

Oliver realised at that moment that he could not refuse her anything. He hoped that his interest in her would have waned by now but had finally come to the conclusion it never would. She was an astonishing woman, and what astonished him most was that she had no idea.

“You will have to do what I say. Follow my word to the letter. You cannot disagree with me in front of a patient, though I welcome polite discourse otherwise. There are books to read, and I will test your knowledge.”

“I love to read. My mother told me I would never get a good husband if I always had my nose in a book.”

“Then, I am glad you did not listen to her.”

“Thank you, Doctor Grosvenor. I would not really have withheld my forgiveness.”

“My dear, Miss Hopwood, I completely fear you would have.”

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Charlie stood with Mrs. Ackley watching a new purchase for Redway, a lean and well-muscled Yorkshire coach horse named Leonidas. Colonel Ackley had been thrilled to acquire the young, energetic bay stallion. Compared to Perseus currently stomping around the same paddock, Leonidas seemed small but more agile and no doubt faster than the ageing grey.

On this peaceful spring day, the only other noise that Charlie and Mrs. Ackley heard came from the garden of the new school built by Mr. Harker, situated between Redway Acres and the church. There, Charlie knew the children were planting vegetables to harvest for their families, enjoying themselves from the laughs and giggles carrying on the spring breeze.

Observing the young stallion with Mrs. Ackley, Charlie was about to broach the subject of Annie Brown when a loud splintering of wood pierced his thoughts. He gaped in astonishment as Perseus barged through a broken section of fence and thundered away towards the school.

“Charlie, the children!” Mrs. Ackley exclaimed.

In an instant, Charlie had scaled the paddock fence and vaulted astride Leonidas, bareback, without even a bridle or reins. He could hear Mrs. Ackley calling for Davy to fetch the doctor as he fisted his hands into the black mane. Whether she thought he or the children would need Doctor Grosvenor, he couldn't be sure, but better him than them.

With Perseus galloping away from him, Charlie urged his mount on. He could feel the Yorkshire coach horse’s stride lengthening beneath him, cutting away Perseus’s lead. The school garden came into view, the children still laughing and shrieking, unaware of the danger approaching. Their shrill voices seemed to incite Perseus as he continued to thunder ahead. Using pressure from his heels and knees, Charlie tried to guide his mount towards the grey, hoping to jump from one horse to the other, but the stallion would not obey him. Without reins to control the animal, Charlie knew his only chance was to get in front of Perseus and distract him.

Hearing a scream, he spotted Harriet Wyndham frantically waving her arms as she stood in front of three oblivious children playing in the dirt. Some of the other youngsters began to scatter. As Leonidas forged ahead of the grey into the school garden, Charlie had mere moments to leap down and position himself between Harriet and Perseus.

He braced his feet, raised his arms to make himself appear larger, and shouted at the beast, “Perseus, it’s me! WHOA there. Easy, boy, easy.” For a moment, he thought Perseus would heed him, but the immense creature hurtled on.

Lowering his shoulder to meet at least a thousand pounds of charging horseflesh head-on, Charlie shut his eyes as the thought that this was the horse that crushed George Stockton to death crossed his mind. Dear God.

The impact hurled him backwards onto the soft earth turned for planting, his sensibilities eluding him as his head hit the ground. As Charlie came back to himself, pain stabbed through his shoulder, radiating into his chest. Firm hands examined his body as he roared in agony.

“It’s alright, Charlie. I’ve got you.” The soothing voice of Doctor Grosvenor penetrated his distress. Panting from the effort of reaching Charlie quickly, the doctor continued to check him over for injuries.

“Shoulder,” Charlie managed through gritted teeth.

“I see that, son, but I want to be sure nothing else is wrong.”

Charlie quivered, willing the pain to subside.

“Your shoulder is dislocated. Lie still while I put it back into place. This will hurt like the devil, Charlie, but then you'll feel much better.” With that, Grosvenor seized Charlie's wrist and pulled his limp arm out and up to shoulder height.

Unable to contain his suffering, Charlie bellowed to the heavens as the doctor manoeuvred his arm higher still until Charlie felt a pop. Though the whole of his body remained sore, in particular his shoulder, the unbearable pain was gone. “Thank you,” he groaned.

“You will need to keep it in a sling for a week or so while it heals, but you will make a full recovery." The doctor smiled and shook his head. "I must say, I’ve never seen man versus horse quite like that before.”

Charlie sat up to see the wide-eyed children and Miss Wyndham crouched all around him, studying him in awe.

“Thank you, Mr. Mickleson,” said Miss Wyndham, a catch in her voice.

The children chorused in unison, “Thank you, Mr. Mickleson."

He nodded, feeling inexplicably embarrassed. Just then, he noticed John leading Leonidas away, while Mrs. Ackley was calming a still prancing Perseus. Taking off a glove, she held the grey face firmly as she poked a finger inside the horse’s nostril. Brave woman, Charlie thought.

“Bee stinger,” Helena pronounced as she fed Perseus a carrot. Thank you, she mouthed to Charlie before leading the subdued horse away.

Why is it always Perseus? Charlie thought with a shake of his head.

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The inside of Aysthill House proved as dark as the outside with low ceilings, small windows and rich wood furniture. During Emmalee’s introduction to key staff in the house, Lady Aysthill was shown all due deference, with the exception of the butler, Harris, who referred to her as Mrs. Ackley and still called David’s mother the Countess of Aysthill. There were fewer names to remember than she had at Morhall, but each of these staff members was in charge of many more to whom she may never even have the opportunity to speak.

Emmalee’s biggest challenge came in the overbearing form of the Dowager Countess of Aysthill, David’s mother. The older woman awaited them in the parlour when David and Emmalee entered. After tea, and what Emmalee could barely refer to as pleasantries serving for conversation, the dowager expressed to her son that she wished to talk to his wife alone and David made the excuse of having letters to attend to in his study.

The dowager lost no time in speaking her mind to her daughter-in-law. “My husband never believed David’s denial of your child being his. I could tell, in the way only a mother can perhaps, that David spoke the truth. He was in love with that Miss Oakley, not you.”

Emmalee quickly covered her shock at the woman’s forthrightness and wondered what David would want her to say. That he loved William and was happy to have him for his heir was self-evident. He would never deny the child now, no matter what he had said before they were married. Neither would she. “You are mistaken. William is his son.”

“Oh to have this house so degraded that this bastard interloper will inherit after David. My husband must turn nightly in his grave to know of it.”

Stewart had advised Emmalee to assert her position in the household at the earliest opportunity. She must not allow the incumbent Dowager Countess room to put doubt into the servants’ minds as to who was in charge. She straightened her back and set to her purpose.

“But you just said he believed William to be an Ackley, and my son is named for his grandfather and uncle. I am sure the earl rests peacefully.”

“I do not believe it. I will never accept this son of goodness-knows-whom roaming these hallways,” the dowager spat insult after insult at Emmalee until… “and what of my happy boy? David, my angelic child with a happy smile and infectious laugh. What have you done to him?”

Emmalee was stunned. She could recall the man she met at the new year ball that seemed a lifetime ago. He had been happy. She wished for that man to return to her, but that shadow of David belonged to another woman. Still, she refused to give ground to the bitter dowager, for the sake of her own children. David’s forced marriage to her could not solely take the blame for forging his character. This much she realised from the night he had given her the child growing within.

“What have I done to him? His situation is not of my doing. His father forced his hand in marrying me. I could have easily been secreted away to bear William alone had the earl not wished for this connection. What of David’s own treatment at the hands of his father? The punishment he forced upon him as a child. And you must have known. That’s what happened to your angelic boy, Mother.”

Emmalee stood and towered over the dowager. She was the countess now, she was the woman of the house, and it was high time to put David’s mother in her place. “I understand that David has situated you most comfortably in the dowager house on the premises. It is time for you to take up your residence there and you may call upon your son whenever he deigns to permit you.”

“You cannot throw me out of my own house, upstart girl.”

“It is not your house. It is mine. Take your devoted butler, Harris, with you too. I will not have his disrespectful face serving me, and his snide remarks poisoning the other servants.”

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Mrs. Andrews rode out with determination. Within minutes her hair was flying free, and her bonnet holding on by its ribbons, pulling at her neck as it bobbed.

Nathaniel’s breath caught at the almost ghostly vision that appeared out of the darkening gloom of the day. A streak of blue gown barely visible under a man’s overcoat, her long hair blowing freely in the wind as if red fire chased her, the stormy sky silhouetting horse and rider. Studying her, he realised Mrs. Andrews was not riding side-saddle. She was up in a half-seat and giving that horse of hers free rein to gallop across the terrain.

As she rode, she scanned the horizon. Recognising a sense of urgency, Nathaniel wondered what caused it. Could the child be lost? That was his first thought as she slowed slightly and looked in his direction. His redcoat must have been easy to spot across the terrain. Without acknowledgement, she rode on. Curious and keen to offer help, he urged Thor towards the racing duo.