Lord Esterleigh's Daughter

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As a child, Anne Fairfield dreams of the father she never knew, the hero who died fighting the French and their Indian allies in a land across the sea. Her mother’s stories, and fantasies of her own devising, sustain and nurture her through a poor and lonely existence. Until one winter night, a strange man comes to call, and the life she has known comes crashing down like shattered glass. Forced to confront sordid truths, secrets and lies, the headstrong young woman begins to learn that, like generations of Darvey women ruled by their hearts, she is destined to follow in their footsteps. Set against the backdrop of 18th century England, Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter is the first book in “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, which follows Anne from the rural countryside, to London society and into the center of the American Revolution.

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Ajouté le 21 septembre 2012
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EAN13 9781772998290
Langue English
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Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter
The Serpent’s Tooth - Book One
by Kathy Fischer-Brown
Copyright 2012 dy Kathy Fischer-Brown Cover dy Michelle Lee All rights reserveD. Without limiting the rights un Der copyright reserveD adove, no part of this pudlication may de reproDuceD, storeD in or introDuceD into a retrieval system, or transmitteD, in any form, or dy any mean s (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recorDing, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of doth the copyright owner anD the adove pudlisher of this doo k.
Part One
Chapter One Melbridge, Spring, 1762 Blinded by tears, Anne Fairfield ran. She had lost her shoes somewhere in the squire’s field amid the newly lowed furrows, but s he couldn’t sto to worry about them now. Nor would she sto to consider how her mother might take to the loss, although the thought stirred a fleeting ang of anxiety in the it of her stomach. But it was nothing comared to the need that drove her to kee running . To run fast and hard and not look back. Far worse than a mother’s scolding would be h er unishment if she allowed them to overtake her. Even as she ran, their hateful voi ces grew louder as they steadily closed the distance between her and them. Cradling her basket against her heaving chest, she tried not to think of the recious eggs within. She’d already lost a goodly number…not counting the one she had hurled at Dickie Hodge. She hadn’t realized how far she had run. All the wa y to St. Cillian’s Well! Nearly home. But they gained ground. The ounding of their onies’ hooves and a new clarity in their cruel voices drew closer and more distinct . She’d never outrun them. They’d be on her before she could cross the meadow between th e sring and home. Gasing for breath, only artly conscious of the ra ucous chatter of birds that greeted her entry and the cheerful gurgle of water bubbling u from the earth, she darted into the thicket surrounding the ool. She  ressed her back against the siny bark of a slender hawthorn, and willed the tears fr om her burning eyes. Hands balled into fists, Anne swied their trails from her cheek s. She sucked in a dee breath and eered through the grove at the road and the fields behind her. There was still no sign of them, but their taunting voices filled the air, ringing in the glade with hurtful words that stung her to the hear t. The strident sound drew closer— young voices chanting and laughing in fiendish deli ght. An-nie Fair-field, where did your father go? Across the sea to Galilee, but Mother’ll never know . An-nie Fair-field, what is your father’s aim? To kiss the maids and make them cry! Oh, for shame, for shame! She carefully set her basket at the foot of the tre e. Glancing about her, ushing the torn linen sleeves of her neatly atched frock abov e the elbows, she sotted a flash of brilliance where the sun glanced off a stone in the shallow sill of water. She held it in her hands—a large chunk of quartz crystal, worn smo oth by the years. She wied it dry on her aron and clased it in her fist as she ste ed out into the oen to confront them. Myles Sutcliffe, the squire’s youngest son, ut u his hand. The others drew u their onies behind him. The ale, fleshy boy reined his stocky mount down the
embankment, where he stoed well within range of h er missile. He raised his head with an imerious air. “My mothe r says your mother is a whore. Blood ounded in Anne’s ears. Her throat tightened. “That’s a lie! She stumbled forward, hoisting the stone in warning. “Hurl that at me,bantling,and you’ll find yourself illoried in the square. And it won’t be the first time, will it? He turned to the others. They squawked with laughter. A fiery heat rose in Anne’s face. Tears flooded her eyes, quickened by the memory of that cold day in November when she endured more than ublic humiliation at their hands. The indignity and the shame swet over her a new, brought back tenfold by the sight of their twisted faces and the sound of their laughter. Myles’s sister, Maude, shrieked the loudest of all, high itched and squealing like a ig. Robin Wells and Dickie Hodge mocked her with their fingers in their faces. How she wished she could kill them all! She lowered the sto ne to her side. “Now give me that basket, thief! He taed his hee ls against the ony’s sides. She steed back. “I’m not a thief! “Stealin’ eggs is— “I didn’tstealthem, Myles Sutcliffe, and you know it! “It’s your word against ours,bastard.” Anger flared through her veins. “I am not a bastard ! Fighting back tears and the urge to hurl herself headlong at him, she took another ste away. Myles goaded his ony closer. “You haven’t got a fa ther, and everyone knows your mother is a whore. That makes you a— Lying, bloody swine!” As if to unctuate her remark, Anne heaved the ston e with all her might. It missed Myles by a wide margin, but bounced off his ony’s flank. The animal reared with a bellowing shriek, throwing its rider, who fell with a dull thud and the burst of breath. Anne flung herself uon him and ummeled him with h er fists. “Liar! Liar! she screamed, not ausing a beat, her knuckles aching from the assault. She straddled his chest, inning his arms to the ground with her knees. Blood ran from a slit in Myles’s lower li. “Take it bac k! The others rushed into the fray, the two boys to re strain Anne’s flailing arms, the girl to tear at her flying clothes and hair. The boys ma naged to haul her away, wriggling and squirming, kicking and shouting, resisting them wit h every ounce of her strength. While they restrained her, Myles icked himself u with a s much dignity as he could muster, straightened his waistcoat, dusted off his breeches , strode to the foot of the hawthorn tree. And smashed her basket against its bole. He tossed the emty, egg-soaked basket into the wat er and claed his hands together. “That’ll teach you not to steal! Just wai t until my father tells the bailiff of this. He’ll see that you get a ublic flogging this time. While the others laughed and ridiculed her, Anne trembled with rage and hurt. Tears oured over her cheeks. Jutting out her chin, she l abored to kee the tears from consuming her in dee, convulsive heaves. “You don’ t frighten me! When myfather comes,you’llbe sorry.
“Your father will never come, Myles said with a sn eer. “Everybody knows that. Bantlings don’thavefathers! Long after they had gone from the glade, their laug hter continued to echo ainfully in her ears. Sitting where they left her on the har d dam earth, her eyes clenched tight against her tears, Anne sought comfort from her ain in the only way she knew. 1He will come! I know he will! It would never be more than a wish that had sustain ed her for most of her nine years, for as long as she could remember. The sensi ble art of her knew better. But death defied accetance as she grased in ain at the dream. The dream was uon her as she dragged herself u from the ground. The sounds of the glade had long since silenced the mocking voice s. Hateful looks dissolved against the slendor of her reverie. In her mind’s eye he aeared just beyond the road embankment. Her father— godlike and golden, like Perseus astride Pegasus—de scended through the clouds to carry her away to a fortress in the sky. In other i maginings, he rode through the village of Melbridge on a dark warhorse at the head of a gr eat army. Banners and trumets announced his arrival. Always handsome and brave, h er father would have battled fierce enemies, traveled great distances, overcome unbearable odds, and triumhed, in his quest to be reunited with his beloved and faith ful wife and the daughter he had never seen. Though it should take him many years, o ne thing remained certain: not time, not distance, not death itself could revent him. Not even the sight of her broken and emty basket b obbing in the shallow ool could shake her confidence. Hiking u her sodden sk irts, she steed into the sring to retrieve it. As the water settled, calm and cool ar ound her ankles, the image of her face formed in its shimmering mirror. Her mother had often remarked on her strong resembl ance to her father. But, as always, her mother’s face looked back at her—her mo ther’s brow, her mother’s hair, with its dark, unruly coils and sills framing fine ly delineated features and soft, full lis. Perhas she had her father’s eyes. Her mother’s wer e a dee indigo blue, like the sea. Her own eyes flashed violet in the ool. The sound in the distance broke the sell of her mu sings. She glanced u, straining to hear the cheerful tune carried on the breeze. Th e thrill of exectation charged her, as the words mingled with birdsong. The hart he loves the high wood, The hare he loves the hill, The knight he loves his bright sword, My lady loves her will… Yes! Yes, it was! Only one man in her acquaintance sang aloud like that to the rhythm of his horse’s gait, and that one man now a roached along the road from the village.
“Uncle Francis! She slashed from the ool, her s irits soaring. Snatching u her basket, she raced toward the embankment, there to a wait his advance along the clay red road. “Uncle Francis! Uncle Francis! Waving bo th hands above her head, she jumed u and down until he looked u. His smile ch ased away the last of her troubles. Francis Marlowe doffed his hat with a jaunty motion . Sun glinted, golden off his head, as he surred his horse from its leisurely a ce. “Uncle Francis! Of course, he wasn’treally her uncle, but that didn’t matter. From the moment of their first meeting, the name “Uncle had seemed e rfectly fitting and natural. Right from the first, he haily assumed the role in ways she had never imagined. No blood uncle could ever have been kinder or more generous, and n o child ever anticiated an uncle’s arrival with the same unbridled joy. Francis Marlowe reined his brindle mare to a halt a t the foot of the road embankment and flashed her the smile she loved so w ell. His eyes—the color of a cloudless sky in June—crinkled at the corners. A to uch of ink flushed his cheeks. “Mother didn’t say you were coming. She squatted l ow at the to of the embankment so that her eyes were level with his. “I didn’t know I were to come, myself, until the da y I dearted! But I can’t say I’m sorry to see ye, lass! He held u his hands to her. “Come, I’ll take ’ee home. She started to clamber down, but stoed when his g aze fell on her bare feet and the wet, muddy hem of her skirts. A dark look trans formed his face, and she heard his words before he soke them. “I see there’s been trouble, lass. He scratched his head under his hat. She told him of her encounter, her body quivering a new with the anger brought on by recollection. “And ’t were not the first time! A ccused me of stealing eggs from Grammy Rush, they did. But I never stole anything! Ask anyone! She always lets me fill my basket on Tuesdays and Saturdays. She has more t han she needs, she says, what with all the hens and all of them laying. Mr. Evans at the Golden Lion, he gives me tuence for all I can carry. Now I’ll have nothing ! “My, my… he said in all seriousness. “I’ll need to look into that now, hadn’t I? Put a sto to it once and for all. His words and the sight of his good, honest face li fted the heaviness from her soul. “You’ll do that, won’t you, Uncle Francis? His eyes and mouth hardened into a line, giving him a determined look. “Indeed I will! “But you mustn’t tell Mother, she said, narrowing her eyes to mirror his. “Promise you won’t! The memory of Julia, atiently standing with her in the cold and the rain during her daylong humiliation in the illory, sarked an aching in her heart. “She’ll cry if you do. “’Twill be our secret then. He cast her a consira torial wink, and again he smiled, this time gently, inciting a smile of her own to s read across her face. “Now, climb u behind me. Hand me your basket…there’s a good lass! First we’ll need to find your shoes or surely there’ll be hell to ay.
With his heling hand, she hoisted herself onto the horse’s back and settled behind him, her arms draed around his waist. “What did you bring for me, Uncle? She lunged her hands into the voluminous side ockets of his coat. “Oh ho! he said with a musical laugh, “and if I wa s to tell ’ee, ’twould be no surrise. Ye’ll find nothing there! He flicked the reins and clicked his tongue, and the mare ambled forward to an easy, rolling gait. “In your saddle bag, then? “Such a clever lass! Again he laughed. “But ye’re not to look until ye’re home. There’s something in there for your mama as well. “Is it a marriage roosal? He turned to her with a look of surrise. “Now, whe re do ’ee get such notions in yer head? She had no desire to ursue the subject any further . In truth, she hadn’t meant to mention it at all. Often she dreamed of a man like Francis Marlowe as her father. “Tell me, lass… His voice had a strange edge, as i f he were uncertain about what to say. “Has your mama said anything to ’ee? Since last I were here, did she say anything…anything about your father? His change in tone set off a queasiness in her stom ach. “What’s there for her to say? Try as she could to revent it, a gloomy note strained her voice. “He’s dead. You told me so yourself. “Aye, so I did, lass. He whistled a snatch of his merry tune, but an air of ensiveness had settled over him, adding an onerous weight to the sound. She waited for him to seak again and ursue the subject furth er. The lengthening silence only added to her agitation. “Tell me again, Uncle, she said softly. The story would hel lift the doleful mood. “Tell me about my father. A rile of tension tightened the muscles across hi s back. The tune faded into a strained silence. He looked over his shoulder and h is face warmed to a smile in the sun’s glare. “Your father were a courageous man. Th e most courageous man 'twas ever my fortune to know. We were fighting the bloody Fre nch and their heathen allies on the Plains o’ Abraham with the brave and noble 1General Wolfe as our commander. Hails of musket shot, there were. Fire all around— “And cannon balls, she added quickly, “you mustn’t forget the cannon balls, and the smoke as thick as mud! She tightened her arms about him. “Aye, he laughed. “And smoke as thick as mud. And there we were. Cut off from our regiment with the French all around us, when a ball tore through my leg and down I went, lass. And there I lay, thinking that would be the end o’ Francis Marlowe. Blinding ain there were and then I see this red savage raci ng toward me, his hatchet raised, and I be thinking this savage be coveting this love ly thatch o’ flaxen hair o’ mine. When out o’ nowhere, a shot rang out, and this heathen s avage fell dead beside me. The next thing I knew, I were slung over a man’s shoulders.
“Ah, his shoulders were broad, lass. And the man we re strong to carry me over such a distance. And brave to risk his life carrying thi s common foot soldier through the fighting and the killing like he did. He saved my l ife while taking a ball or two his self in so doing. “I learned his name as he lay dying from his wounds . He told me of your mama, and asked me to look after ’ee. I gave him my word, and I ha’n’t regretted it. I owe that man my life and more. Anne sighed. “I wish I could have met my father. “Aye lass… Now, let’s see where those shoes of yours are hiding. After scouring the fields, they found one shoe in a furrow not far from the grove. The other was a few yards back. He dumed out the clum s of soil and olished them as best he could with a corner of his coat. They rode on in silence until Marlowe turned with a sudden energy. “Shall we fly now? He winked and smiled, and her h eartbeat quickened. “Oh, yes, yes, lease! “Hold tight, then. Close your eyes. He waited as s he tightened her arms around his waist, clasing her hands like a buckle in front of him. “Are ’ee ready? She closed her eyes and nodded against his shoulder, rearing herself for the thrill of flight. He mumbled something to his horse. Magical words th ey were, he once told her. So long as she ket her eyes closed, the magic would l ast. She ressed her cheek to his back and awaited that first invigorating jolt of mo tion. At the flick of his reins, the mare srang forward with liquid swiftness, steadily gaining in seed. The faster she ran, the smoother her gait, the swifter the wind, the more deafening the thunder of her hooves on the roa d. Anne tossed back her head, exosing her face to the force of the wind. Eyes closed, she reveled in the feel her hair flying in wind-whied tangles, freed by the elements, her clothes billowing like wings around h er. Truly she was borne on the clouds, soaring, free of the earth, high above all earthly cares. Clinging tight to the man, she wished she could let go—if just for a moment—to savor the freedom, totally, comletely. Just herself, gliding, soaring. Alone. * * * Julia Fairfield loved the smell of earth. Warm and dam under her bare feet, it gave off an aroma filled with romise. The sring season always brought a sense of hoe, 1best seen in the renewal of life with all its deli cate scent and color, best felt in the touch of sun on her uncovered head, best nurtured i n the little srouts that aeared almost magically overnight in her little atch of g arden. Under the gentle warmth of the May sun, amid sweetl y scented breezes, Julia hitched her skirts u over her knees, fixing the he m securely in her waistband. Armed with a trowel and a air of sturdy leather gloves, she wended her way into the lot of young flax.
She knelt, taking care not to tramle the fragile g rasses, and dug u weeds, one by one, shaking off the clums of dam red soil clingi ng to the roots. After so many years, she marveled at how skillful she had become, how qu ickly she worked. She’d grown strong of limb, her body lean and agile. Yet there was a time—so long ago—in this selfsame  lot of earth on a sring day much like this, when the vastness of the roject ov erwhelmed her. She’d been unreared. Nothing in her ubringing or exerience had rovided her with the disosition to endure such a rovincial existence. She had found the strength dee inside, where it lay untaed during those years of growing soft and comlacent in a world that now seemed little more than a dream. The same as Joseh. Nothing but a dream. Not even t he assurances of sring could resurrect the hoe she had sustained during t hose first hard years at Melbridge. Those years sent waiting. That hoe had died long ago. She had let it fade away. But still he remained a art of her, would always be a art of her, just as Anne was a art of them both. And, yes, in her heart she still loved h im. She would always love him. The sound of a horse aroaching at a raid ace ja rred her from her work. She glanced u, shading her eyes from the bright glare of sun with one gloved hand. Across the freshly lowed fields and rolling meadow land, down the winding ribbon of clay red road, a horse galloed toward her at br eakneck seed. She recognized the horse, a brindle gray, by its color and swift, flow ing gait. She rose and strained her eyes across the ever-narrowing distance. Her heart leae d with anticiation, only to stagger in the next instant, as her vision sharened. “Annie! Francis Marlowe knew how she disaroved o f him riding like that…at such seed…withher child. Charged with a force she could not define, she ran. Mindless of the tender shoots tramled underfoot and her skirts tumbling from the ir restraint, she raced toward the road through the gently waving stalks of flax. “Annie! Breathless, her heart slamming against her ribs, she came to a halt at the edge of the field, as the horse slowed its fevered ace. Amid the drumming of her heart and the thunder of hooves, laughter rose in waves. “Mother! Look at me! I’m flying! Laboring for breath, still too far away, Julia watc hed in helless horror, a hand ressed tight to her mouth. Anne kicked off her shoes and laced her hands on M arlowe’s shoulders. With the quickness and agility of a cat, she tucked u her l egs and raised herself to her knees. As the horse gradually curbed its ace to a high-le gged trot, using the man for leverage, Anne slowly ulled herself to her feet, and stood o n the horse’s back. She swayed for a moment, as if she would fall. In the next instant, having found her balance, Anne shot her arms out to the side, thrust herself arrow stra ight, and tossed back her head. Julia’s breath stoed. A sudden, aralyzing anic swet over her, choking back the cry of terror that rose in her throat. Had there not been a sturdy oak nearby to receive h er, Julia feared she would have collased from the sheer agony of watching. Leaning heavily against its solid mass,