Scandal at Greystone Manor

By: Mary Nichols
Chapter One

April 1817

‘Stand still, Issie, do,’ Jane said. ‘How can I pin this hem if you will keep dodging from one foot to the other? And stop admiring yourself in the mirror. We all know what a beautiful bride you will make.’

It had taken weeks of indecision about colour and style before the heavy cerise silk had been bought and then they could not decide on who was to make it up. ‘You do it,’ Isabel had told her sister. ‘You are every bit as good a seamstress as any London mantua-maker and a great deal better than poor Miss Smith.’

Jane laughed at the compliment. ‘Very well, but we’ll ask Miss Smith to do the plain stitching. She could do with the work.’ The elderly spinster came from the village three times a week to make petticoats for the ladies as well as repair torn garments and mend the household linen.

Jane had been doing as much as possible towards the wedding to save a little on the expense. Her mother was determined it would be the wedding of the year, in spite of Sir Edward’s pleas they should not be too extravagant. Jane was perhaps the only one of the family to take any notice of him, but that did not mean Isabel’s wedding would be anything less than perfect if she could help it. She had taken great pains with the gown, making sure it fitted perfectly. It had the fashionable high waist, long sleeves, loose at the top but tight from the elbow down, a heart-shaped neckline and a flowing skirt, trimmed with lace and embroidered with white-and-pink roses. All that was left to do now was stitch up the hem and add the decoration to the neckline and sleeves—yards of ribbon and lace, interspersed with tiny coloured beads. Sewn on by hand with minute invisible stitches, they were going to take some time to do. She did not begrudge the time, nor her sister her happiness, not even at the sacrifice of her own.

Isabel was to marry Mark Wyndham, heir to Lord Wyndham, who lived with his parents less than three miles away at Broadacres. The families had known each other for years and often visited each other, so the girls and their brother had grown up in close proximity and there was no formality between them. A marriage between Mark and Isabel had been talked about for years as if it were a foregone conclusion, though Mark had not formally proposed until he came back from the Peninsular War, where he had distinguished himself as an aide to Sir Arthur Wellesley, now the Duke of Wellington. The engagement pleased both families and it had relieved the girls’ father, who did not want Isabel to go the way of Jane and become an old maid. To have two unmarried daughters was not good for his self-esteem, and nor, come to that, his pocket.

Jane was perhaps the only one of the family, apart from her father, who realised that they were living beyond their means, trying to maintain a status and lifestyle not commensurate with income. The estate was run down, fences needed mending, ditches needed cleaning out, some of the cottages needed repairs and the house itself was in urgent need of refurbishment. Greystone Manor was a lovely old house, solidly built to withstand the ravages of the east wind that blew in off the German Ocean, but that didn’t stop it being draughty. Its large withdrawing room was icy in winter and cool in summer; its huge kitchens and dairy with their stone floors were hard on the servants’ feet. The family tended to use the smaller parlour as a sitting room and the breakfast room as a dining room except on formal occasions. Today the girls were working in Isabel’s bedchamber, whose window overlooked the front drive. Outside the spring sunshine was warm and inviting and everyone hoped that this year there might be a good harvest, which would make up for the terrible failure of the year before.

‘There, that’s done,’ Jane said. ‘You can take it off now and I’ll get Miss Smith to stitch the hem while I gather the flounces for the skirt.’

She helped Isabel out of the gown and carefully folded it ready for the seamstress when she came that afternoon.

Isabel hugged her. ‘You are so good, Jane, I wish I could be more like you. You are clever at whatever you do, sewing, cooking, managing the servants and you have such a way with the village children. You ought to be getting married, too, and having children of you own.’