At Somerton: Secrets & Sapphires

One house, two worlds, dark secrets...The year is 1910. For the past decade, the Averley family has lived a life of luxury in India, but now they must return to Lord Averley's ancestral estate, the sprawling, majestically beautiful Somerton Court. As the household staff hastily prepare for the family's arrival, they receive shocking news: Lord Averley is bringing back a fiancee with three children of her own, and on top of that, there are rumours of a terrible scandal surrounding Lord Averley's resignation as Lieutenant Governor of Bengal. As the family settles in, tensions arise both upstairs and downstairs. Lady Ada must choose between her honour and her heart, Sebastian must fend off ruinous threats from a former servant (and lover...) and gentle housemaid Rose will find herself at the centre of a scandal so enormous it could destroy the Averleys' reputation forever.

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2. Chapter One

The clock in the housekeeper’s parlor had been there since before Mrs. Cliffe had come to Somerton Court. It had a solid, squat oak casing, with brass workings and a face that had to be polished daily by the second housemaid. The numbers were inscribed in the old-fashioned script of the early years of Victoria, and its slow, heavy pulse never missed a beat. The years passed and people came and went, but the ticking of the clock was always there, behind the clash of the pans and the rattle of the tea things and the shrill summons of the servants’ bells. The clock stood for Somerton Court itself; eternal, unchanging. The land had been part of the estates of the Earl of Westlake for five hundred years; there had been a house on this spot for four hundred, though the current building with its Adam ballroom and neoclassical frontage dated only from 1815. The lineage of the family they served was a source of great pride for Mrs. Cliffe and, she felt, the entire household staff.

Now, as she went over the estate accounts, it seemed the tick of the clock stood for something sinister. Time running out.

Sir William could talk all he wanted about investments. She knew it was gambling and speculation that made the money escape like water from a leaky bucket. It was a good thing Lord Westlake was coming home—for the estate, at least. Of course, it might also cause problems.

Her thoughts turned to Rose, and she got to her feet abruptly, walking over to the mantelpiece. In the mirror above it she surveyed her own face closely. How many of those lines had been there ten years ago? It was hard to remember. At least her eyes were still clear and large, and as deep a blue as a summer evening. Like Rose’s eyes.

She had always encouraged Rose to wear her hair in such a way as to show those vivid blue eyes off. Any wise mother would do the same, especially now that Rose was sixteen. But the rest of Rose’s face . . . her full mouth, the way she smiled . . . if anyone looked too closely, those could give away the secret.

None of the servants she oversaw would have believed her capable of such an emotion . . . but today Mrs. Cliffe, head housekeeper, was frightened.

“I don’t know how we’ll ever get it all done in time!”

It was Cook who said it, but they were all thinking it. Rose had been thinking it since she stumbled out of bed that morning before light, shivering as she swept out the grates and lit the fire in the breakfast room, polished the brass, and ran downstairs to get the hot water for the family’s baths. Lord Westlake was due back tomorrow and although the master bedroom was in order, the young ladies’ rooms were still only half ready. It didn’t help that they were understaffed. The hall-boy had just been sacked for being drunk when he opened the door to the Marquis of Sunderland’s eldest son, no less, and the nursemaid had given notice, to no one’s surprise. Sir William and Lady Edith’s son, Augustus, was generally considered below stairs to be a small demon sent from hell two years ago specifically to torture the inhabitants of Somerton. So the parlormaid had been sent up to the nursery, and she was in a fury about the insult to her dignity, and of course all her work had fallen onto the other house- maids, including Rose.

Mary, the second housemaid, passed her as she went down the servants’ stairs with the last empty can of water. Rose caught her arm.

“Mary! Have you finished Lady Ada’s room yet?”

“Lady Ada?” Mary shook her off. “Have a heart, I’ve been scrubbing the steps all morning. My knees are killing me. Then there’s the drawing room to get ready—” She headed off down the stairs, her cap askew and her mousy hair escaping.

“Then I’ll begin on Lady Ada’s room, is that all right, Mrs. Cliffe?” Rose called after her mother as she hurried along the passage.

“Yes, Rose, and after you’ve done that you need to—” She broke off as Martha, the scullery maid, came bursting through the back door, practically shouting. “The luggage is here. And they’ve brought a tiger!”

Rose and her mother exchanged a glance and ran back along the passage to the back door. Rose burst out onto the cobbles, not sure whether to believe Martha. She was the greatest gossip in the world, but on the other hand the noise outside seemed to warrant a tiger at the very least.

In the courtyard, the station horse was pulling at his reins madly while the driver tried to calm him. Bandboxes and trunks were piled high upon the wagon. Tobias, the stable boy, looking sweaty and nervous, was handing the luggage down to James.

“Oh, Martha, that’s a rug!” Rose said with relief, as she saw the tiger, rolled up with its tail between its legs. But there was still something in the dead, glaring glass eyes that made her flatten herself against the wall while James carried it in. It smelled of India. She reached her hand out to touch the fur, half expecting the fiery colors to burn her.

If colors were music, she thought, this would be a wild dance. She could almost hear its rhythms in her head. Her fingers itched to try it out on the piano. But there was no time for that; instead she sang under her breath so she would remember the tune. If only she could have a quiet evening to herself to write the music down. But then she would have to steal a pencil and some paper, and there would be all the trouble of hiding it from everyone. Maybe it was better this way.

“You wouldn’t believe how much luggage they’ve sent,” James was saying as he unloaded. “And there’s more coming up from the station!”

The servants were clustered in the passage around the unloaded luggage.

“Look at all them hatboxes! How many heads have they got between them?” Martha exclaimed. “And what’s that?” She made a face as she looked at a thing like a huge metal flower fixed to a wooden base, which teetered on the top of the pile.

Rose gasped. “It’s a gramophone.” She couldn’t believe what she was looking at. Sir William and Lady Edith didn’t care for music, and they had never troubled to get one.

“A what? A grampus?” Martha said.
“No, a gramophone. It plays music,” Rose replied. “How?”
“Oh, don’t ask me. Maybe that electricity does it.” Rose

looked at it longingly. Of course she would never be allowed to touch it, probably not even to dust it. It was far too expensive to be entrusted to a mere housemaid. But how wonderful it would be if she could carry music around with her, to listen to any time she pleased.

“Have you felt the weight of Lady Ada’s trunk?” Martha was round-eyed. “Must be packed with sapphires and rubies at least. I’ve heard some of them Indian jewels are cursed—”

“Martha!” Rose’s mother’s reproving voice silenced them all. “That’s none of your business. Back to work.” Martha scurried off to the kitchen. “James, Roderick, get Lord Westlake’s luggage up to his room.”

“What about the unpacking?” James asked. “Is his lordship traveling with a valet?”

“I’m not sure. Communication has been very difficult.” She looked at the butler. “Mr. Cooper—perhaps you would be kind enough to unpack just this once? You used to valet for his lordship. You’ll know how he wants things.”

Mr. Cooper nodded his bald head, saying, “As this is an emergency, Mrs. Cliffe, I am glad to be of service.”

“Thank you.” Rose’s mother looked around at the luggage. “Annie and Rose, you’ll have to take care of the young ladies’ luggage. The footmen will carry it up when they’re done with Lord Westlake’s.”

Rose bent down to inspect the nearest trunk. She wanted to see what kind of unpacking lay ahead. On the brass clasps there was a monogram picked out in brass studs: FT.

“Who’s FT?” she said. “Those aren’t family initials.” She scanned the luggage. “And, look, those bandboxes. They’ve got the same mark on them. Whose are they?”

“You’re right. Blow it!” Roderick said. “They’ve sent the wrong luggage.”

Rose immediately ran to the door. “Tobias, don’t let the man go!” she called. “He’ll have to take it all back—” She fell silent as the station wagon rattled away, to reveal a girl with very fair hair and neat, almost doll-like features, carrying a small leather suitcase. She glanced around at the courtyard, with a careful, assessing gaze and began picking her way across the cobbles toward the door.

“Who’s she?” Rose whispered to Annie, who was peering round the door with her.

The girl wore a pale green traveling gown and primrose- yellow gloves, and the feathers in her hat nodded as she crossed the threshold. The dress was not in the latest style, but to Rose, whose own wardrobe consisted of two uniforms, flannel petticoats, and a spare apron for best, it was an elegant dress. She couldn’t be a lady, though. A lady would have entered through the front door, not the servants’ entrance.

With her chin lifted delicately the girl examined the open-mouthed servants as if she were a duchess considering a selection of unpromising scullery maids.

“Why was no one at the station to meet me?” she demanded.

The servants looked at each other blankly. “Miss—excuse me—who are you?” Mr. Cooper said.
The girl frowned.
“My goodness! I understood that things would be slow in

the countryside, but I did not expect quite such ignorance.” She handed Mr. Cooper her parasol and went on down the servants’ passage.

Rose’s mother recovered herself first.

“She can’t go that way! The master will see her.” She darted after her, and Rose followed, just in time to see the girl rustling up the steps into the main house. Cook came out of the kitchen as she passed, and stared after her in astonishment.

Rose caught the door on the back swing, and she and Martha and James and even Mr. Cooper pressed themselves to the gap, watching and listening. The girl had stopped in the center of the hall, right under the chandelier, looking up and around her. Portraits of Lords Westlake from centuries past lined the walls, and statues brought back from the grand tour of Italy and Greece loomed in the corners like naked guests turned to stone by the basilisk gaze of the house’s former masters. Rose half expected the girl to be turned to stone too for her presumption, but she remained stubbornly flesh and blood.

“Show me to Mrs. Templeton’s rooms at once,” she commanded. “Why do I see no evidence of preparation for the wedding? Please tell me you have at least begun the cake!”

Mrs. Cliffe folded her arms. “You have made a mistake. This is Somerton Court, home of the Earls of Westlake. We expect Lord Westlake any day now, from India. There is no wedding, and we know nothing of any Mrs. Templeton.”

The girl’s mouth twitched with a slight, disbelieving smile.

“You mean,” she said, “you did not receive the telegram?” “Telegram?”
“Lord Westlake will be followed by his betrothed, Mrs.

Fiona Templeton, and her children. I am Stella Ward, Mrs. Templeton’s lady’s maid. Lord Westlake and my mistress intend to marry as soon as possible after they reach Somerton.”

“Marry?” echoed a man’s furious voice from above them.

Rose gasped and looked up. On the main stairs, one hand upon the polished oak banister, below the painting of Cupid and Psyche, stood a young man with red, curling hair and a sizeable belly. It was Sir William, Lord Westlake’s nephew, and until Miss Ward’s announcement, his undisputed heir.

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