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.


3. Chapter Two

“Hey, I’ve just come from the breakfast room. Sir William’s in a right temper!” James was grinning as he came down the steps carrying the empty tray. Rose, who had heard about the master’s ludicrous tantrums, couldn’t help grinning back. “He threw the deviled kidneys across the room. That little dog of Lady Edith’s was eating ’em when I came out.”

“Glad you can laugh.” Cook clattered the plates back into the sink. “A waste of good food, I call it. Annie, where have you got to with that salt?”

“That Miss Ward’s something, isn’t she?” Annie came running back in with the salt. “Here, do you think her hair’s all natural? It’s that blond!”

“And have you seen her waist? It’s tiny, like a lady’s.” Martha brought her hands out of the washing-up to show her.

“Will you stop splashing everywhere and get on with the work?” Cook demanded. “I don’t care about Miss Ward’s waist, all I care about is she’s brought a lot of hard work and trouble with her.”

“Why is it trouble?” Rose asked.

“Don’t be dim, Rose! Fancy London folk like that, they’re going to want to make changes. If we’re not up to scratch, Her ladyship’ll have us out on our ears. And I don’t want to try and find another position at my time of life!” She thumped the bread dough down on the table.

“You think they’d sack us?” Rose was shocked. She had lived at Somerton ever since she was seven and her mother had moved from the village to take up the post of house- keeper. It was impossible to imagine being forced to leave. Even though she knew she had no right to it, really, she had come to think of the great house as her home.

“Yes, so you’d better get a move on, hadn’t you? You should be up there helping your mother get the rooms ready, not dawdling down here gossiping!”

Rose ran upstairs to begin the mountain of work ahead of her. So there were big changes ahead! It was exciting, and a little frightening, too. Usually life at Somerton ticked along quietly enough. Sir William and Lady Edith were mostly in London, and so long as Cooper made sure that the income from the Somerton estate went to their London address, they were happy. But now there would be new people, and perhaps some of them would play music, or bring musicians to play for balls. She longed to learn the piano properly more than anything. But her mother would never hear of it; lessons were far too expensive and it would be what she called “getting above her station.” Rose sighed. Sometimes it seemed as though everything she wanted to do, everything she found fascinating, was somehow “above her station.”

Rose came running up the servants’ stairs with hatboxes piled high in her arms, to the sound of bumps and thumps as the footmen maneuvered the trunks into the bedrooms. With no hand free, she backed out through the servants’ door into the east wing. Doors had been thrown open on rooms that had not been used for ten years, and the quarters seemed to blink in the sudden sunlight. She could smell polish and hear the swish and slap of Annie sweeping the carpets in the white rooms. She glanced into the music room as she hurried past. The piano had been uncovered and James and Roderick were unrolling the carpet. The house had never been so noisy.

“That’s the last of Miss Charlotte’s luggage,” Rose announced, as she carried the boxes into the blue boudoir.

“Finally!” Annie looked up from making the bed.

“That’s enough cheek, Annie.” Rose’s mother surged in, a crease between her eyebrows the only sign of the stress she was under. “Help her with the bed, Rose, and then go and see if Miss Ward needs any help with Mrs. Templeton’s room.”

“This trunk for Lady Ada’s room?” James demanded, pushing open the door. “Oh, excuse me, Mrs. Cliffe, didn’t see you there.”

“Yes, take it to Lady Ada’s room, and the other one to Lady Georgiana’s. Is the gramophone Master Sebastian’s? Take it up to the Chinese bedroom. That thing, too, whatever it is.” She nodded at a slender vase decorated with Arab-looking gilding, from which a long, snakelike pipe coiled.

“It’s a Turkish pipe,” James said with some pride.

“Yes, well, don’t break it.” Mrs. Cliffe did not look impressed.

“I think it’s going to be exciting to have young men in the house,” Annie announced, plumping the pillows. “Don’t you, Rose?”

“If you’ve any sense, you’ll stay well away from that kind of excitement.” Her mother’s voice was sharp. “And you, Rose, hear me?”

“I wasn’t thinking of—”
“Well, don’t.” She added, “We’re here to work for the gentry, not become familiar with them. They’re different to us, and if you forget it, you’ll be sorry indeed.”

“They’re not that different to us,” Annie pouted. “If Rose put on a fancy dress and a nice hat, she could pass for a lady, I’d bet.”

Rose was not prepared for her mother’s reaction. Mrs. Cliffe turned on Annie angrily.

“Listen, Annie, we all have a place. We’re born to it, and we need to stick to it. You step out of your place, and you’ll regret it. The gentry can be as friendly as they like, but if you make a mistake, it’s you who’ll be out on your ear—not them.”

“What’s up with her?” Annie scowled after Mrs. Cliffe as she left. “She’s scratchy as a cat.”

“She’s just worried we won’t get it all done in time,” Rose said. But as she ran off to the blue boudoir, she wondered if that was the whole truth. Her mother had been on edge since the news of Lord Westlake’s return.

She found Miss Ward by the window, holding up a diaph- anous beaded dress. A half-open monogrammed trunk stood nearby, clouds of tissue paper rising from it.

Rose couldn’t think of anything to say. The whole house had been speaking of nothing but Miss Ward ever since she had arrived. How small her waist was, whether the color of her hair was all natural, the elegant cut of her gloves, her London way of speaking. If her maid was so impressive, Rose found herself wondering, what must Mrs. Templeton be like?

“Er . . . Mrs. Cliffe sent me to see if you need any help,” she said.

“About time! These belong to Miss Charlotte. Hang them up.” Miss Ward thrust an armful of satin at Rose, who staggered to the mahogany wardrobe and hung the dresses carefully inside, adding sachets of lavender and violet to the hangers as Miss Ward passed them to her. She glanced around the bedroom. It had been transformed. A huge cheval glass had been set up to catch the best light, and a pretty chintz armchair was next to it. The trunks, standing here and there, half unpacked, gleamed in the afternoon sun, and the studded brass initials CT burned like gold. Silver-backed brushes and combs, ivory jewelry cases, and cut-glass perfume bottles stood on the dressing table. Dazzling light blazed from them as if the room were coated with precious stones.

Rose guessed by the size and style of the dresses that Miss Charlotte was around her age. “Is Miss Charlotte out yet?” she asked shyly.

Miss Ward took her time before replying, arranging a pearl-encrusted fan in its velvet-lined case.

“Not officially, but she has been attending balls and parties with her mother for a couple of months now. She’s a great hit with the gentlemen. Lord Fintan was quite taken with her, and the Duke of Brentfordshire’s youngest son danced with her three times at the last hunt ball.” She glanced out of the window. “But I suppose there will be a change of pace now. What is the society like here? What do you do for amusement?”

“Well . . . we have a little piano in the servants’ hall, and we sometimes have dances and there’s always the village . . .” Rose trailed off, feeling for the first time that her life lacked something. “I suppose it must seem quiet to you, after London. It must be so exciting there.” Rose had forgotten the dresses she was clutching.

“Of course it is.” Miss Ward nodded. “The countryside is all very well for Saturday to Monday, but London is the center of fashion and society. There’s the theater, and balls and parties every night.”

“With music?” Rose’s eyes shone.

“Of course, how would the ladies and gentlemen dance otherwise? Then Mrs. Templeton belongs to one of the new ladies’ clubs, so she often lunches there. I really don’t know how we shall accustom ourselves to living here.” She tucked a strand of her hair over her ear and practiced pouting in the mirror. Rose watched, wide-eyed. If she had ever primped in the mirror like that, her mother would have given her a strict lecture on vanity.

“It must be wonderful being a lady’s maid,” she found herself saying. “I mean . . . you’re like a lady yourself.” Miss Ward caught her eye in the mirror and smiled.

“It’s hard work, but worth it. And a lady’s maid always attracts more followers than a housemaid. We live close to St. James’s, so there are always handsome young guardsmen to walk out with.”

“You’re allowed followers?”

“Well, not officially. But a girl has to amuse herself somehow.” She winked, and Rose found herself smiling.

“Well, I hope you won’t be homesick,” she said warmly. “Just tell me if you need help finding things.”

Miss Ward finally turned from the mirror and smiled at her. It was a warm enough smile, but her eyes remained assessing. “That’s so nice of you. I’m sure we’re going to be great friends.”
She lifted the last hat out of the box and to Rose’s shock

set it on her own head, tilting it and glancing up under the brim of flowers.

“Are you—are you allowed to do that? Doesn’t Miss Templeton mind?”

“What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” She tilted her chin, admiring herself in the mirror. “It’ll be mine soon enough, anyway. Miss Charlotte never wears a hat more than once or twice. Truth be told, she hasn’t the face for a fash- ionable shape like this, but she keeps on trying.”

Rose came to the mirror, arranging the hat until it framed Miss Ward’s face perfectly. “Very elegant! You may make a lady’s maid yourself one day,” said Miss Ward with a laugh.

“I couldn’t. I’d never know how to do things.” Rose was a little frightened by the idea; lady’s maids always seemed so grand to her.

“Oh, you’ll learn. I did.” She tilted her head in the mirror, looking up under the brim of the hat.

The door flew open, and Rose’s mother came in.

“Rose? You’re needed in the music room. It seems Lady Georgiana plays the piano, and she wants it all set up for when she gets here.”

Rose was already scurrying away when her mother called her back. The corridor was empty, and she placed a hand under her chin and looked at her blue eyes.

“Don’t forgot to wear your hair back, Rose, so people can see your eyes,” she said in a whisper. She stroked Rose’s hair away from her face, something she hadn’t done since Rose was a little girl. “And keep your chin down, and try not to smile.”

Rose stared. “Er—yes, Mother.”
“I do love you, you know that.”
Rose knew her mother loved her, but she very rarely said
it. “What’s wrong?” Rose asked in a low voice.
But her mother was back to her brisk self. “What’s wrong is that we only have one more day to really get the house in order and organize the wedding. Now go and make sure
the tower bedroom is ready for Lady Ada. I quite forgot her, what with the Templetons arriving.”

Lady Ada’s room was up a twisty staircase. Rose had begun the process of readying her room for the big homecoming, but as she pushed open the door and saw the trunk lying in the middle of the floor, she thought the room looked bare and cold compared with Miss Charlotte’s accommodation. She began by making the fire, then the bed. Once the shut- ters were opened and the room cleaned she turned to the unpacking. She felt more confident now that she had seen how Miss Ward had arranged Miss Charlotte’s room. She unstrapped the trunk and looked in, wondering if Martha’s idea of cursed jewels was right.


She stared at them in astonishment. Greek books, Latin books, histories, and works of politics and philosophy . . . Where on earth was she going to put them all? In the end, she stacked them inside the wardrobe and hung the few dresses above them. It was hard not to draw a comparison between Lady Ada’s sensible cotton and muslin dresses and Miss Charlotte’s delicate embroidered gowns. She looked around. Perhaps Lady Ada cared more for books than for clothes and trinkets, but it still seemed a shame not to make the room more welcoming.

On the corridor below, a huge arrangement of roses had been placed under a window. Somerton was famed for its roses and especially this one, the Averley Pearl, first bred by Lord Westlake’s great-grandmother. They had a powerful, sweet scent and a dewy sheen to the white petals that gardeners everywhere had tried and failed to reproduce. Rose carefully plucked a single bloom and carried it upstairs. She put it in a silver bowl, fetched some water, and placed it on the dressing table.

“There,” she said aloud. “I hope she likes it.”

She stood for a moment, looking at the rose thoughtfully. She knew she ought to go downstairs and help, but she was suddenly overcome by memories of her childhood, when she and Lady Ada and Lady Georgiana had played together in the gardens. They hadn’t really been allowed to, but they hadn’t thought of being mistress and maid. They had just been three little girls, making up stories about fairies in the orchard. How strange it was that now she no longer knew what Lady Ada liked and didn’t.

Did she dare remind them of those days? Her mother would be angry if she did, and she was probably right. It was important to know your place, and none of them were children anymore. Rose sighed, and went downstairs to arrange Lady Georgiana’s room.

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