Martha Price entered the study carrying a large, silver tray. The master, the Earl of Harrowby, would not be finished with his business until later in the afternoon and had requested refreshments to keep his hunger at bay until then. Holding tightly onto the tray as she elbowed her way into one of the darker rooms of Sandon Hall, Martha eyed the shaking crockery and china as it rattled with her manoeuvrings.
‘Ah, Price. Thank you.’ The earl smiled up at her as she pressed her ample bottom against the door to close it behind her. ‘Please, place it over there on the table,’ the Earl said again, gesturing to the table across the room.
The Earl of Harrowby was of a good age. Martha had guessed that there could not be many years difference between them. His dark hair was more silver now than brown, and the once thick adornment had thinned to reveal the pale of his skin beneath. When he smiled, soft wrinkles creased at the corner of his eyes, yet he was still vigorous and full of energy.
‘Will I pour your tea, my lord?’ Martha asked, looking over at him enquiringly once she had placed the tray safely down.
‘No, no. Do not worry. I will take a short break soon, Price.’ He raised his pen to show her he was still working. ‘I do not like to interrupt myself when in full flow.’
‘As you like, my lord.’ Martha nodded toward him respectfully. She turned and was about to leave his study when giggling voices caught her attention. Knowing well who it was, Martha could not help but step toward the window and look outside. The little girl, with her jet black ringlets bouncing around her shoulders and down her back, giggled joyously as the young boy with his own dark hair and rosy cheeks chased after her. He too was laughing loudly, and clearly, the children were having great fun.
Martha absently pressed her dress down over her wide hips with a feeling of slight anxiety, and before she realised it, the earl stood right beside her.
‘I am so sorry, my lord…’ Martha began.
‘Please, Price. Look at them. They are having such fun.’
‘I do know that, my lord. Yet, I have spoken to Rose before and told her that she ought not to be playing with the viscount.’
‘It seems that it does not matter how often the subject is broached, Price.’ The earl smiled. ‘The children enjoy each other’s company. It is not such a terrible thing, really.’
The earl had always been so very kind in all of his ways, just like his wife, the Countess of Harrowby. Martha knew well that she had been fortunate in her placement at Sandon Hall, for there were many whispers about other employers who were not so kind or accommodating. However, it had not been she who had found employment there first. Instead, it had been the loyal service of her husband to the earl that had enabled Martha to be employed also.
‘I have spoken to Rose, my lord. I do assure you of that.’
‘And I believe you, Price. The countess and I have also spoken to Henry. As you can see,’ the earl gestured through the window as the children continued to play, ‘it appears Rose listens to you as much as Henry listens to us.’
The pink bow on Rose’s summer dress flounced behind her, the tails of the ribbon flapping by her actions, and as the two children continued to laugh gaily, Martha could not help but allow herself a smile.
‘Oh, to be young and free again,’ the earl continued whimsically. ‘No responsibilities and not a care in the world. Watching them now, I find myself rather jealous. They are children, Price. They do not yet know the ways of the world.’
‘Yet, they must learn, my lord.’
‘It will not be long before they are both grown, Price. There will be time enough then for them to realise their place. For now, I think we should leave them be. No harm is being done.’
‘I am very grateful for your understanding, my lord. Rose is a very clever girl, but she does have a lively and curious way about her.’
‘Oh, I have heard about it, Price. I also know well that she sneaks into Henry’s lessons and listens intently to the instruction given.’
‘Oh, I am so sorry…’
‘Please, Price.’ The earl raised a hand to quieten her. ‘It bothers me not. In fact, if she is to go into service here at Sandon Hall when she is older, it will serve both her and the household well, will it not?’
‘It is hardly fitting for my daughter to poach upon such lessons, my lord.’
The earl suddenly beamed a smile. ‘I find it quite ingenious, if I am honest, Price. Rose wishes to learn and grow. We cannot deny her that desire. I do believe your daughter will be adept and resourceful, and I can assure you, in the world into which she will grow, both will be beneficial qualities to have.’
‘I am extremely grateful to you, my lord. To you and the countess.’
‘You are very welcome, Price. I feel it is the least I can do to show my gratitude. Your husband served me with a loyalty I had not experienced previously, and doubt that I will again. He was not only an excellent stablemaster, but he was also a very patient and capable instructor. The result of which has given me an array of hard working stable hands with impeccable manners and the ability to think on their feet.’
‘Yes, my lord. My husband was indeed a fine man.’
‘I cannot profess to know how you dealt so graciously with his loss. I, for my part, do miss him greatly. Your husband was not only the epitome of discretion but also a great confidante. Much of what he witnessed or heard when he came with me on ventures went with him to the grave, and I cannot tell you, Price, how rare it is in this day and age to find a man such as your husband.’
Martha smiled softly and lowered her gaze. She felt a considerable ache in her heart, and at the same time, a swell of pride, for Tom had been all of the things that the Earl had described. To her though, he had been much more; a loving husband, a wonderful father and a bulwark for the entire family. She missed his warm embrace, wise words, and ability always to know what to do. Once he had gone, all that had been placed upon her shoulders.
‘And what news of young Jack?’ The earl asked out of the blue.
‘Oh, Jack is doing much the same, my lord.’ Martha nodded. ‘The medicines seem to be helping, and I am fortunate that my mother is well enough to take care of him.’
‘You do know that you only have to mention to me, Price, and I will do anything I can to help. While I never met Jack, your husband talked about him sometimes, and I know there was a worry of his health when he was younger.’
‘He is still quite weak, my lord, though nothing like he used to be. The physician is rather stumped with his diagnosis, but they are doing what they can. I do thank you, however, for your kind offer.’ Martha suddenly felt as though she had imposed upon the earl for long enough. ‘I ought to be getting back to my duties, my lord. I will come to collect your tray when you are finished.’
Martha closed the door and allowed herself to think of Tom for a moment as she moved back toward the stairs leading to the kitchen. The horse had been frightened by something in the nearby vicinity where Tom had been riding. In its panic, the terrified horse had thrown Tom and trampled him. The severity of his injuries had been such that nothing could be done when he was eventually found and brought back to the house. After three days of keeping him as comfortable as possible, Martha and the children had tearfully had to say goodbye. It would have been better had he died without having to suffer, but Martha had taken some solace that they had a little time with her loving husband before he left them forever.
His death had left her in a quandary, though. For a while, Martha had stayed at home and taken care of the children and the running of the household. However, they now had to survive without her husband’s wage. It had been the kindness of the earl and the countess that had saved her from a more dire fate. Having offered her work, knowing her circumstances with the death of her husband, Martha had told them that her mother was hardly fit to look after both Jack and Rose.
Jack needed constant attention given that he was unable to walk and hardly able to feed himself, for he was so weak. Rose had only been small, and Martha had always been there for the two of them, yet even then, she had relied on her mother’s assistance. In the end, the countess had kindly allowed Martha to bring Rose with her to live at Sandon Hall. There was mention of perhaps training her up as a servant when she was a little older, which had given Martha hope, for her future security would be set.
That had been two years ago. Rose and Henry had found friendship, and it had been an arduous task to keep them separate, though Martha understood their motivations. They were the only children at Sandon Hall – of course, they were going to find a connection. Neither parent could have foreseen their children’s tenacity, however, for no matter how many times they had been told; they could not be pulled apart.
Martha worried more about it than either the countess or the earl, and in his words, he had offered her comfort. Of course, he was right. They would learn their places soon enough, for time would pass, and Rose would become a servant and Henry a viscount, heir to Sandon Hall and all the estate it encompassed.
Rose replaced the evening gown in the huge wardrobe as the countess sat at her dresser. Rose had only finished repairing the lace on one of the sleeves last night and, having pressed it again, ensured that it looked as immaculate as it had done before the countess had worn it to the dinner last week.
‘Now, my lady. How would you like your hair today?’
‘Oh, I do not know, Price. Where is that lovely bonnet we bought in the market last week?’
‘The pink one, my lady?’
‘Yes. I do like that one, and I have yet to wear it. I suppose I am all a fluster with the news, Price. I am just so very excited.’
‘I can imagine, my lady.’ Rose smiled. ‘It has been some years since your son has been at Sandon Hall.’
‘It has, Price. Though it seems like only yesterday when I watched you and Henry playing in those very gardens.’
‘Yes, my lady,’ Rose let out a soft laugh. ‘We did nearly live in the gardens. It does not quite feel like yesterday to me, though. I was nearly twelve years old when the viscount left for boarding school. After that, our playing days were over.’
‘Time does fly, does it not? I do believe the last time Henry was here was just before he left for university,’ the countess sighed.
‘You are right, my lady.’
‘My goodness, where does the time go, Price? One moment your child is a little boy, and seemingly in the next, he has left for Oxford and has travelled around Europe. Truly, I cannot wait to see him, for I know he will have so many wonderful stories to tell us of his adventures.’
Rose smiled perfunctorily through the mirror at the countess but hid her own thoughts. It was true, she and Henry, as she had called him all of those years ago, had spent many a giddy afternoon in the gardens when they were small. Both her mother and Henry’s parents had attempted to separate them but to no avail. As they had grown older, however, Rose’s mother had pressed the importance of Henry’s title. They were no longer young children, and the expected behaviours of the heir of Sandon Hall did not include socialising with the servants.
Of course, that had not stopped them. Sneaking away and meeting in their hiding place, they had spent many an afternoon lounging under the giant willow tree on the very periphery of one of the gardens, talking of what life might be like once they were older.
‘Clearly, I am to serve here in Sandon Hall,’ Rose had said proudly on one of those very afternoons. ‘I have followed my mother’s every direction, and I am already helping in the kitchen.’
Henry had huffed.
‘Whatever is the matter with you, Henry?’
‘You are far too good to be working in the kitchen, Rose. You and I both know it. I hate that you are a servant. You are smart and clever and could do great things.’
‘I am only smart and clever by listening to your tutors,’ Rose had shrugged with a smile.
Henry had not smiled in return. ‘Who cares how you became clever? I certainly do not.’
‘Oh, do not be so grumpy, Henry. I could have a worse fate.’
‘I suppose,’ he had replied sullenly.
‘Besides, in another year, you will be going off to boarding school, and I will not see you again for a lifetime,’ Rose had said dramatically with a smirk.
‘You will too,’ he had defended. ‘I will come back for holidays, and when my education is over, I will return to Sandon Hall, for this is where I belong.’
‘You do not want to see some of the world, Henry? To travel and do all of the things that I would love to do? You must do it, Henry. You must do it for the both of us. Then when you return, you can tell me all about the exciting places you have seen.’
Rose had more than fulfilled her desire and, following her mother’s guidance carefully, had slowly moved up through the positions in the household until eventually, she had been appointed the role of lady’s maid for the countess. Some of the servants came and went, but those who had known her as she had grown up had proudly been delighted in her accomplishments. The servants were an extension of her family, and though she had her older brother Jack and her grandmother living a little distance away in the village, Rose and her mother lived in Sandon Hall amongst everyone else.
Henry had gone on to travel and during and after his education in Oxford, had seen many places in Europe. Or so she had been told by the countess. Henry had not written very often over the last few years, but when he had, the countess had read the letter out loud to Rose, and she had secretly delighted in hearing about his adventures.
While still in boarding school, he had returned for the holidays, and they had met each other with great excitement on each occasion. Henry had eagerly told her of what his life was like away from home; the strange places, the friends he had made, the things he was learning and the antics he and the other boys got up to. Rose had listened intently, utterly amazed at what the outside world was like.
As they got older, their feelings for each other had grown, and Rose had missed Henry even more on each occasion he left. However, the time he left to go to Oxford had been the most difficult. Not just because he was going so far away, but Rose knew he would not be back to Sandon as often, even though he promised her he would.
Rose had struggled with her reaction when the countess had received word of Henry’s imminent arrival only three days ago. First and foremost, she had felt excitement deep in the pit of her stomach. After all of this time, Henry was returning home, and she was delighted to see him again. Swiftly following her excitement was a sudden feeling of dread.
Would he remember the closeness they had shared? Had he thought about her as often as she had about him?
While Rose wished it to be so, she had doubted it very much. She had only received two letters from him after he had left for Oxford, and both had been in the first year. After that, the letters had stopped, and he sent word only to his parents. At first, Rose had learned about his life through overheard conversations between the countess and the earl. When she was given the position of lady’s maid, she heard the letters read to her first hand from the countess, for her mistress entrusted her confidences to Rose daily.
‘When is it that the viscount returns, my lady?’ Rose asked as she pinned the bonnet to her mistress’s soft curls.
‘By his letter, it could be as early as tomorrow, Price. Is it not exciting?’
‘I am happy for you, my lady. Truly, I am.’
‘There will be much delight on his return, Price. I cannot put into words how excited I am. We must organise a ball to celebrate. An evening of dancing and happiness. Yes. That is a splendid idea. A great feast for my only son. We must get busy, Rose, for there is much to organise.’
‘I will write a list of items you wish Cook to order, my lady. Then, perhaps after breakfast, we can sit and decide on whom you wish to invite.’
Once the countess had departed her bedchamber for breakfast, Rose moved around the room and eyed all that needed to be attended to. She first opened the windows wide to air the room, then tying the drapes back on the bedposts, Rose worked at making the bed. When she had finished, it looked as though no one had ever slept in it at all. Just the way it ought to be.
She gathered the nightclothes that had been draped over a chair and sorted through those and other clothes that may need to be taken to the laundry. Nothing needed repairing today, which made the job a little easier. After setting them to the side, Rose then fetched water and cleaned the basins and jugs, for there were finger marks from the creams and pastes that she had used on the countess that morning, as there were on most mornings. Rose set them in their places and, gathering the water and clothes, took them all with her downstairs.
As always, Cook was working hard in the kitchen when Rose entered. In her usual cheery disposition, she welcomed Rose warmly.
‘Good morning, Miss Price.’ Cook beamed at her.
Rose rolled her eyes. ‘You know I hate it when you call me that.’
‘Well, we have a new recruit starting this afternoon, so we will all have to adjust a little. The girl comes from a much smaller household but has a good recommendation, so there will be no one calling you Rose today, my dear.’
While the servants called her Miss Price when in the presence of the earl and the countess, for that was what was expected of them with her position, behind closed doors, most of the servants simply called her Rose. Most of them had, after all, watched her grow up in the rooms and corridors of Sandon Hall, and Rose could simply not reconcile such formality when they were out of earshot of the mistress and master. It was even more evident with Cook, for, over the years, she had taken on the role of a loving aunt as Rose had grown. As caring as her mother, she had taken care of Rose when her mother had not been available, and now, their bond was as close as ever.
‘Is she for the kitchens?’ Rose asked as she poured the dirty water from the jug into the sluice sink.
‘She is indeed. Mary is her name.’
‘And how old is she?’
‘Oh, I could not tell you, Rose. From what I hear, she is still quite young, maybe fourteen years old.’
‘That is good. Old enough to do her job and young enough to teach.’
‘Hmph,’ Cook replied.
Rose raised her eyebrows as she walked back into the main kitchen area. ‘What was that for?’
‘Well,’ Cook smirked, ‘you were hardly teachable at that age. In fact, if I remember well, you were rather sullen, especially after the holidays.’
‘I was not,’ Rose laughed.
‘You were too, and I know why.’
‘Do tell me, Cook.’
‘Well, it was obvious. Each time the young viscount came home for the holidays, you were happy as a bird, and each time he left, it nearly broke your heart.’
Rose remembered clearly when Henry had left for boarding school, for she had indeed been quite devastated. They were both so young and not realising how his absence would affect her, Rose had sulked for months. Henry had been such a huge part of her daily life, and though she had been excited for him to see the world, she had not realised the gaping hole his absence would leave. It had not been long until the holidays came round again, and Rose had spent those years in emotional troughs and peaks, delighted when he was home and devastated when he left again.
The more the years passed, the more handsome he grew, and Rose could not help her attraction, though she knew that it was wrong with his higher station. But, if it was wrong, he too committed the same sin, for Henry did not hide his feelings for her either. Stolen moments seemed to pass too quickly, however, and all too soon, it was time for him to leave for Oxford.
Henry had come and found her in the kitchens, and they had snuck out to the willow tree. Rose had been worried she would be discovered, for she had duties to attend to, but Henry had told her it was important that she go with him. Once they had arrived and knew they could not be seen by any other, he had turned to look at her.
‘I have news, Rose, and I wished to tell you it myself.’
Rose had looked at him and watched the expressions that crossed his face, for partly there was excitement, and partly there was sorrow.
‘What is it, Henry?’
‘I am going away, Rose. I am leaving tomorrow.’
‘Yes. I know. I have wanted to tell you before now, but I did not know how. I could not leave it any later, and I would be a coward if I left without telling you at all.’
Rose had processed his words, but instead of showing her true feelings of despair and sadness, she had lifted her chin and held herself as though she had been unperturbed by the news.
‘Well,’ she had said plainly, ‘it is not as though we did not know that this day was coming, Henry. You must away to Oxford, and I must stay here and work at Sandon Hall. It is the way it has to be.’
Henry had glared at her, clearly surprised by her reply. ‘You are not at all dismayed, Rose?’
‘Why would I be dismayed?’ Rose had said, attempting to keep up her appearance.
‘Well, I…I do not know.’ Henry had sounded so uncertain. ‘I thought that perhaps, you might miss me.’
‘Of course, I will miss you, Henry,’ Rose had replied. ‘Yet, there is little point in allowing myself to be melancholy, is there?’
‘I do not know, Rose. I am melancholy when I think of leaving you. Am I mad to feel such a way?’
Rose had sighed and turned away from him, for she did not want him to see her misery. They had spent years together, so many years, and losing him even though she had known it was coming was still heartbreaking. Yet it had hardly been fair for him to see her sorrow. It had not been his choice, and she knew, after the many conversations between them, that although he did want to go and see the world, he would miss her dearly.
‘Rose,’ Henry had stepped forward, taking her arm and pulling her to face him.
Rose had not been able to help herself, and as her eyes had glistened, a tear had fallen onto her cheek. Henry had looked at her with deep sorrow and, lifting his hand, had gently wiped the tear away with his forefinger.
‘I am sorry, Rose. I know we always knew this day would come, and yet, it does not make it any easier.’
‘I should not cry,’ Rose had sniffed. ‘It is hardly fair to make you feel badly.’
‘I would feel that way if you cried or you did not, Rose. You do realise how much you mean to me?’ he had asked softly.
‘There is a whole world out there for you to discover, Henry. You ought to forget all about me. Go and discover new things and different people. People who you do not have to hide away to speak to. This is a new chapter in your life now. We are not children anymore, and we must accept what has to be.’
‘And what if I do not wish to accept it? What if I do not care that other people see me speaking to you?’
‘Well, you should, Henry. I am a servant, and you are a viscount.’
‘I do not see you as such, Rose. I see you as my…friend. More than my friend,’ he had said softly as he gazed at her.
His warm expression had only made her eyes water once more, and as another tear escaped down her cheek, Henry had taken hold of her hands and brought them to his lips, kissing her knuckles softly.
‘You will not forget me, will you, Rose?’
Henry had not moved her hands from near his lips, and his hot breath had tingled over her skin as he had gazed up at her.
‘How could I ever forget you, Henry?’ Rose had cried.
‘I will not forget you, Rose. Every passing day will feel like a lifetime.’
‘I think you ought to forget me, Henry,’ Rose had said, though her heart felt as though it might break in two in that very moment. ‘You are only still young. There is much that you will experience, and I do not wish to be the millstone that hangs around your neck.’
‘I will never forget you, Rose,’ Henry had replied as he straightened a little and took a step away from her. ‘How could I, for you are etched into my very soul. Yet, this is farewell for now. I will return, and it will not be soon enough.’
They had only been young, and yet, Rose came to realise why Henry’s departure had affected her for such a length of time afterwards. It was in a conversation with her mother a few months on that the truth came to her.
‘You cannot continue to mope, Rose.’ Her mother had said as they had been polishing the brass in one of the corridors. ‘The young viscount has gone, and who knows when he will return? What are you going to do? Pine for him until you are twenty?’
‘I am not pining for him, Mother. I am sad, that is all.’
‘You are indeed pining for him. I am hardly surprised, but still, you must face the fact that whatever there was between you has now come to an end.’
‘What do you mean, whatever was between us?’
‘Oh, come now, Rose. Do you think I could not see it?’
‘Your love for Henry?’
‘I do not love Henry.’
‘Of course you do, my dear. You have loved him for some time. The two of you were closer than any other here at Sandon Hall. You always have been. When you were small, it was only friendship and a play companion. As the two of you have grown, I have seen the excitement bubbling up in you when he returned from boarding school and the whimsical looks in your eyes when you have come from being with him.’
Rose had stopped polishing the brass ornament in her hand and stared into the reflection of it without really seeing it. Was she truly in love with Henry? She knew she loved him, yet that was hardly the same, for she also loved her mother and her grandmother and Jack. But to imagine that she was in love with Henry quite took her breath away.
‘I know well, my dear, that he had affection for you too. I am a mother. I see these things. But now, you must pull yourself together and move on. Nothing was ever going to come of it, and I suppose I ought to have stopped it all before now. I only thought that he would be leaving soon enough and you would forget about him. Unfortunately, you have not forgotten about him, and I now regret not stopping you from losing your heart sooner.’
It had taken Rose nearly a year to get over her sorrow. Henry had sent a couple of letters in his first year, but after that, no more came. Rose had tried to forget about him to protect her heart, though it had not been easy at first. It became easier as each year passed, for instead of returning to Sandon for any holidays as he had promised, Rose heard of the travel he took with the new friends he had made in university instead.
It now made Rose wonder what it would be like between them when he finally did arrive. Of course, Henry’s return would be a celebration for the entire household, yet, Rose could only wonder how she would truly feel when she saw him again. Would Henry remember how close they once were, or would it be a stranger who arrived at Sandon Hall in the next few days?
“The Return of Her Dear Viscount” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Rose Price, maid in the service of the Earl and Countess of Harrowby, is an intelligent woman with a fiery spirit. When she learns that Henry Ryder, the Earl’s son and her childhood friend, returns home, her heart skips a beat. However, she will soon realise that he is not the kind and caring person she once knew, and she will feel foolish for ever having feelings for him…
Could Rose be the one who will guide Henry back to his forgotten gentle soul? Or will she realise that falling for him was the greatest mistake in her life?
While Henry is shying away from Rose, pretending there has never been a connection between them, he soon realises just how much she has always meant to him. When he discovers that his friends have humiliated Rose, causing her to run away, he feels furious, but also guilty. Will Henry convince Rose that he is capable of change and worthy of forgiveness, showing her the true colours of his heart? Or has his misbehaviour cost him her love?
In the midst of this chaos, the only certainty is this; he will never let the love of his life get hurt again…
Even though they cannot hide their love for each other anymore, Rose and Henry have to confront class differences, and people that insist on tearing them apart. Will the two of them find the courage to defeat social expectations? Or will they find themselves fighting for a love that could never flourish?
“The Return of Her Dear Viscount” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.