A Regrettable Reputation takes us to Yorkshire in 1816 where the former Captain Nicholas Witham of the 110th Infantry is adjusting to civilian life as land agent on the Ashberry estate…
In the event it was several weeks before Miss Dorne made an appearance. It was a damp afternoon and Witham had spent the morning writing letters and doing accounts before joining the grooms as they exercised the racehorses. He rode back to the stables with the lads to find a post-chaise drawn up on the carriage drive with luggage strapped to the roof.
Witham sighed and waved for one of the grooms to come and take his horse. He had no desire to converse with a spoiled woman with a lost reputation, but common civility demanded that he at least introduce himself. Giving the lad some brief instructions about the horse, he walked up to the house as the driver was lowering the carriage steps and opening the door. Mrs Hogan, the housekeeper was standing stiffly at the front door.
The woman who climbed down from the coach was of medium height, clothed in a dark travelling dress with a dark green pelisse over it and a small bonnet trimmed with feathers. She paused for a moment, looking up at the red brick of the house which was to become her home for a while. Witham could see no sign of a maid although he could not believe she had been allowed to travel without one. The girl looked at Mrs Hogan and the woman bobbed a reluctant curtsey. “Miss Dorne. I am Mrs Hogan, the housekeeper.”
“How do you do?” the newcomer said quietly. “I’ll try not to be a trouble to you.”
“Not at all,” Mrs Hogan said. “In his letter, Lord Ashberry suggested I serve meals in the east parlour since you’ll hardly be wanting to use the big dining room on your own. Your room is ready, if you’ll follow me. Ah – Mr Witham. Miss Dorne, this is Lord Ashberry’s agent who runs the estate. He lives in the Dower House which you will have passed on the drive.”
Witham approached the two women. Miss Dorne turned. “How do you do?” she said again.
Witham held out his hand. “Welcome to Ashberry Hall, Miss Dorne. We’ll try to make your stay as comfortable as possible.”
Her youth startled him. He had been expecting an older woman given her unfortunate reputation but this girl could be no more than eighteen. She was slight and fair, with a pale oval face and expressive blue eyes. There were dark shadows under her eyes which looked like bruises. She looked painfully thin with a fragile delicacy which unexpectedly touched his heart. Whatever she had done wrong, somebody should be looking after this girl and she was here alone many miles from home and family.
He realised he was staring and that he had failed to release her hand. With a laugh he did so. “I’m sorry, Miss Dorne, you must think me a half-wit standing here staring. Mrs Hogan will show you your room and get you some tea.”
The well-shaped mouth twisted in a wry smile. “Don’t think of it, Mr Witham. Recently I have become very well accustomed to being stared at.”
There was bitterness in her tone. Nicholas smiled. “I wouldn’t worry about it here, Miss Dorne, you’re in the middle of nowhere, you’ll find yourself an object of interest to the horses and sheep but not much else. You must be exhausted, so I’ll let you get within and rest and eat. When you’re ready in a few days, come to the stables and I’ll find you a horse to ride. The grooms are at your disposal.”
“I prefer to ride alone, but thank you.”
“Well take one with you at least until you’ve learned your way about,” Witham said. “Good day to you.”
She disappeared inside the house and Witham stood watching as the servants began to unload her luggage from the top of the carriage. There was a sense of immense loneliness about her. It was hard to imagine her laughing and flirting with her lover before disaster had overtaken them. She looked defeated.
Mrs Hogan reappeared at the door, watching the last of the boxes being carried inside. “A hussy if ever I saw one!” she said sharply.
“God save us, Mrs Hogan, she’s a child!” Witham said shortly.
“Not such a child that she couldn’t disgrace her poor family by behaving like a common whore! She says she needs little from me, which is just as well because it’s bad enough to have to have her in the house…”
“You’ll show her the courtesy that’s due a guest of Lord Ashberry’s, ma’am!” Witham cut in sharply. “And if you don’t, I’ll see to it that he finds another housekeeper who will!”
The woman took a deep indignant breath and opened her mouth. Witham held up a hand. “Enough! You’re a narrow minded woman, and that’s fine by me, but I’ll be watching you and if there’s a sign of rudeness to that young woman, you’re out!”
He watched, amused, as she stormed back into the house, and then turned and walked towards the Dower House wondering with some sympathy how Camilla Dorne would cope with the lonely isolation of Ashberry Hall.
In 1816 war is over, Napoleon in exile and Regency England is at peace.
Mr Nicholas Witham, land agent at the Yorkshire estate of Lord Ashberry has found a haven of quiet, far from the bloodshed of war and the horror of Waterloo. With poachers and lost sheep his most pressing concerns, Nicholas is not seeking anything more exciting than the occasional trip to York and a game of cards with friends.
The tranquillity of Ashberry is about to be disrupted by the arrival of Miss Camilla Dorne, a young woman of doubtful reputation, sent away from London by her guardian to avoid the consequences of a disastrous and very public love affair with a disreputable officer which has broken her heart.
An army officer, past or present, is the last man Camilla wishes to spend time with. But she discovers that a lost reputation can bring unexpected freedom and possibly a second chance at happiness.
With the shadow of war firmly behind him, Nicholas is ready to move on, but poverty and rising prices bring rumblings of discontent and rumours of Luddite activity in the industrial towns, and as violence erupts, the land agent of Ashberry finds himself swept up in a new conflict where the enemy is hard to identify. Faced with a stark choice between love and duty, Nicholas is beginning to realise that he may not have left the regiment behind at all…
A Regrettable Reputation, a Regency romance, is the first book in the Light Division Romances which follow the varying fortunes of the men of Wellington’s elite troops once war is over. Now available on Amazon kindle and in paperback at the Amazon store.