The Creative Peak

New inspired writing from an independent publisher

Whispers of Marriage

‘No daughter of mine shall keep a journal. They are the work of the devil.’

G M Terry

Historical Fiction

In the harsh world of 18th century provincial life, how would three young woman fare? Would their nuptials be ones of love or would the only option be arranged marriages to older men seeking an heir? Anna was a dutiful daughter, and would, when the time came, reluctantly follow her father’s wishes. She had now reached the age for the arrangement of her marriage. Her father a stalwart member of the Cathedral’s clergy would soon be searching the local families for a suitable match. Her dowry would ensure a man of substance, but would she be able to give her heart to him?

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Chapter One

In the first rays of a new dawning day, The Three Ladies of the Vale look benignly over their domain.

Having written the opening line to her letter, Anna put down her quill, and gazed out of the window. The three tall spires of Lichfield Cathedral were in her full view as they reached up into the first weak yellow rays of the morning sun. She was nine years old when this house became her home. Since then she had always thought of the spires as three ladies.

It was cold, even though the fire basket was blazing in the grate. It had been for several hours, but her own blue drawing room was large, and it took many hours to warm on a February morning. She pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. Her fingers were cold from the grip of the quill. From a desk drawer, she took out her little ivory knife and sharpened the shaft to relieve the numbness in her fingers.

The tallow candle on the desk gave an unpleasant odour. The candle tax made sure she didn’t use the expensive, fragrant beeswax light for her early morning writing.

The desk was set in the window with the view over Cathedral Close. She loved the early mornings. There was no one to disturb her. She could think and write. Such precious time was her enjoyment. Later, the business and bustle of the household would absorb her, but for now it was her own thoughts.

She stayed watching the scene from the window as the ornate red brickwork of the cathedral gradually changed hue with the increasing light. Her mind drifted and she wondered what the new day would bring for the three young ladies in the house.

She was the oldest and had recently reached her twenty-first birthday. Then there was Sarah, her younger sister by two years, who was such a delight. The youngest was her parent’s ward, Honora, aged fourteen. It was so wonderful that she was part of the family. Her parents treated her as a daughter. To Anna and Sarah, she was a beloved sister.

She looked at the letter she was writing. Her mind had drifted and so the ink was hard on the quill. Emma wouldn’t mind waiting for the letter.

Anna felt it was going to be an important day in her life. She sighed at little at the thought of what might happen. Her father, Thomas Seward, a Canon Vicar in the cathedral, had been visiting many of the noble families in the town. He wasn’t generally a social visitor, which meant that he had a specific purpose in mind for his trips. Anna feared it was to arrange her betrothal. It was a very solemn thought. Marriage would be good, but what of a loveless marriage? She took a deep breath as she knew of many young women, close to her own age, who were forced into a union. Some were very sad, but many accepted it as their fate and did not complain. Could Anna accept such a fate? She really did not know.

Her mind had been drifting for a while now. She had intended writing a little poetry this morning, but marriage had gripped her thoughts. Everyone told her that she was a sensible and practical young woman. It wasn’t the time to drown herself in sorrow, so she would finish her letter to Emma. She would share some of her misgivings. Emma was always a good person to write to.

When Anna was a young girl she had learned that many women secretly kept a daily journal, and had intended to do the same. But her father’s words kept ringing in her ears, ‘No daughter of mine shall keep a journal. They are the work of the devil!’

She returned her concentration to her letter and she wrote at length about the desire to avoid an unsuitable marriage. Feeling a little better as she finished the letter, she signed the last piece of writing paper.

Anna made sure the ink was dry, by sprinkling pounce sand on it. She re-gathered the sand and tipped it back into the little ornate dish kept at the side of the desk. She carefully picked up the letter and walked across the room to the drawer cabinet, where she kept paper and writing materials. She bent down, opened the very bottom drawer in the corner, and took out a thick pile of letters. She untied the blue ribbon that bound them.

On the top of the pile, she read the letter she had written last week to Emma. There had been no mention of a looming marriage then. The letter was happy and joyous. She carefully placed the letter that she had just written on top of the pile, re-tied the ribbon, and put them all back into the same drawer. They were letters that would never be posted. With a small smile to herself, she went towards her dressing room to get ready for the day.

As they walked through the cathedral’s nave Abigail whispered in the quietest possible voice, ‘Have you heard the news?’

‘No,’ replied Anna equally quietly.

‘The regiment is back in town, they arrived last night,’ responded Abigail.

‘So Lichfield today will be alive with the red of army uniforms,’ answered Anna, and a large smile crossed her face, but her voice reduced to a whisper as she spoke into Abigail’s ear, ‘I do so much like a soldier!’

‘We have already told out fathers that we are walking into town after the service!’ replied Abigail. Both of the young ladies gave small and polite giggles to themselves. They chatted quietly about the likelihood of accidentally meeting the soldiers, during their walk.

Abigail, Anna’s friend was slim and tall. Her hazel eyes matched her brown hair, which was set high and well powdered. She wore a dark red dress and a pearl necklace. Anna was wearing a long crimson full-following dress. Her long auburn hair, was immaculately presented, and flowed over her shoulders. Her round, well proportioned face showed a healthy glow.

The midday service had just finished in the Lady Chapel of the cathedral, which they left by main doors onto an open apron of ground. The area was enclosed by the majestic houses of Cathedral Close. The sun shone brightly in a clear blue sky, but the chill wind that blew across Stowe Pool, was still vigorous. Snow showers were expected before the end of the day. Anna pulled her bonnet tight and drew her cloak closely around her.

As they were both fine young ladies of the community, they greeted people they knew in a civil and respectful manner. The anticipation on their faces was difficult to suppress for long. Finally, they engaged each other’s arm and walked slowly past Minster Pool, along Dam Street, towards Lichfield Town Centre.

‘The street is busy today,’ remarked Anna as they walked slowly through the crowds.

‘It is now a fine spring day, and the people of Lichfield do like to greet the regiment on their return,’ replied Anna.

Anna gave her friend’s arm a little tug and a glance was all that was needed. The scarlet uniforms could be seen in the distance near the market. Anna said, ‘As we have a visit to make in Market Street, shall we go through the market?’

Abigail replied immediately, ‘It would be the quickest way.’

Their eyes darted around. The increase in the number of uniforms that they could see in the distance quickened their pace slightly, but they remained dignified and controlled. The two young ladies turned into Market Square. It was busy and bustling from the day’s trading. Anna glanced up at the town’s parish church, St Mary’s, that dominated the south side of the market, but her interest did not lie in ecclesiastical matters.

Anna started a little as she realised that two officers, in uniform, were standing in their path. They both bowed to the two ladies. Anna gave a small nod, but showed no enthusiasm for the meeting as they had not been introduced.

Then one of the officers said, ‘Miss Levitt. Captain Robertson at your service. If I might be permitted to address you in the street as we have been formally introduced when I met your father.’

Abigail replied, ‘Yes, of course, Captain.’

‘May I introduce my regimental colleague, Captain Temple.’ Abigail responded with a nod and then said, ‘This is my lifelong friend, Miss Anna Seward.’ With the introductions complete Captain Temple said, ‘May we walk with you to your destination?’

They immediately agreed and the foursome set their direction along Market Street. The eagerness of the slightly hurried walking before, had now gone. They were content to stroll slowly with the officers of the regiment. It gave Anna a chance to have a good view of Captain Temple, who was walking at her side. He was a tall, slim, able-bodied man, with short blonde hair that could only just be seen under his regimental cap. His eyes were blue and alert, his complexion robust.

He started the conversation by saying, ‘I am familiar with the name of Seward. My uncle, who lives in Lichfield, has talked of a man of letters, Thomas Seward, who is a Canon at the cathedral.’

Anna smiled graciously, ‘I am proud to say he is my father.’

‘Then I hope I may meet him some day soon. Perhaps I might be able to ask Mr Levitt to introduce me.’

‘I am sure my father would be proud to invite a member of the local regiment to his house.’ They walked a little further and then Anna asked, ‘May I ask whether your regiment will be in Lichfield for long.’

‘I know nothing for certain, although there are rumours that we will be deployed in the King’s name in London fairly soon. Although we do expect to return to our barracks on a regular basis.’

‘I have never been to London,’ said Anna as the conversation lulled.
Captain Temple replied, ‘It is a fine city with many attractions for ladies. It would be my delight to show you some of the more famous aspects of our capital city when you visit.’

‘Thank you, Captain, I shall remember that.’

As they had now reached their destination, the officers left them. Anna entered a young curate’s house with a present for his wife. It was a knitted bonnet for her new born child.

With their visit complete Anna and Abigail decided to return to Cathedral Close. They had cleared the crowds and were walking along the street to Minster Pool. They could not be overhead as there was no one near them.

Abigail said, ‘Captain Temple took a liking to you, as soon as he saw you.’

‘He looks a very fine officer to me,’ replied Anna with a smile. She then glanced at her friend, ‘You seemed to like Captain Robertson.’

Abigail giggled, ‘It’s the first time I’ve met him, but he has already promised to call at the house.’

‘What will your father say?’

‘He always asks me to tell him when a young man might call and whether I want to see him again. He passes the message on. So I shall tell him Captain Robertson will call, and he will invite him to an evening or other social event.’

‘What happens if there is not one planned.’

Abigail laughed, ‘He decides, then and there, that we shall have one.’

Anna said with a sigh, ‘I wish my father was like that. He tells anyone who calls, that I am not available.’

‘Oh! Poor Anna, it must be so difficult for you.’

They walked in silence for a little while, as Anna thought about Captain Temple. Finally Anna said, ‘Is you father giving you any hint about marriage?’

‘No, all that he has said to me, is that I’m still a young lady and there is no rush to be married.’

‘I wish my father would think the same, but he seems intent on finding me a husband.’

‘Perhaps nothing will happen quickly.’

Anna was thoughtful for a moment, ‘Will you help me?’

‘Yes, of course, Anna. What do you want me to do? Find you a husband?’ and she laughed.

‘Almost!’ came Anna’s reply. ‘Can you get your father to arrange a meeting and introduce the Captain to my father?’

‘I see! I see! You are going to try to find a husband before your father does.’
‘Well, it is better than letting my father choose, and Captain Temple is very good looking.’

‘Do you think it will work?’

‘It has a good chance, because father respects Mr Levitt. He wouldn’t want to offend him by dismissing an introduction.’

Abigail replied, ‘I’ll speak to him this evening. He said that he is meeting your father tomorrow about some business.’

Anna was a little more cheerful as they walked around the edge of Minster Pool, to return home. Mr Levitt had left his coach for Abigail. She took her leave of Anna with the promise to do her best with Captain Temple’s introduction.

‘There you are at last,’ said her father as she walked into the hall.

‘Good afternoon, father,’ Anna replied. She then made a small curtsey and smiled at him, but did not take a great deal of notice of his unusual impatience.

‘Come into the drawing room, I need to talk to you,’ he said as he led the way. Canon Thomas Seward was a tall, upright man, approaching his mid-fifties, dressed entirely in black, with a small wig on his crown.

‘Yes father,’ and she followed him into the main drawing room.

‘Sit down, sit down!’

She sat on the chaise longue. On the small side table there was a bag that contained her current embroidery. Next to it was a copy of Alexander Pope’s, ‘Eloisa and Abelard.’ She took up her embroidery bag, and swiftly gathered its contents onto her lap.

‘Are you fiddling with that?’

‘No, father. You requested that I spend more time on needlework, rather than reading. I can listen to you as I get started.’

‘You are at the age...’

Anna said, ‘Father, I am twenty-one as you know.’

‘Don’t interrupt!’ he snapped. Anna didn’t reply, but looked serious and focused her eyes on her work. ‘You are a young woman with a good dowry, as you know.’

‘Yes, father.’

‘And it is time to find a suitable husband for you.’ Anna put down her needlework and looked directly at her father. He had now turned his gaze to the light afternoon snow that was falling outside the window. She waited. His head spun round so that he could see her, ‘Why do you not answer me?’

Anna engaged his eyes and replied, ‘I’m sorry father, I did not realise you had asked me a question.’

‘Pshaw! You always try to be too clever with words.’

Anna continued to catch her father’s eyes, ‘You speak of marriage, father.’

‘Yes, we need to find a suitable husband for you. As you are my eldest daughter, it is right and proper that you are the first to find a husband.’

‘Yes, father. Am I allowed an opinion on the matter?’

He looked uncomfortable, but turned to look at the fire. With an intensity that made Anna jump he shouted, ‘William!’ There was an instant response as the door of the drawing room opened. He snapped, ‘The fire needs seeing to.’ Anna smiled a little to herself at the distraction to their conversation.

‘Yes, sir.’ The servant took two logs from the basket at the side of the fireplace and placed them in the centre of the roaring fire. The servant carefully watched his master, who flicked out his hand at him.

‘Thank you, sir,’ he said as he bowed and withdrew.

‘It is important that we make a good match for you. I would want a good family, preferably from our own Lichfield, that can hold its head high, both in the town and in the cathedral.’

‘Yes, father that is very important.’

‘I’m glad we agree.’

‘On very many points, I am sure we totally agree.’

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘Father, I mean exactly what I say.’

He glared at her, ‘Do you think there might be points where you would disagree with my judgement?’

‘No father, definitely not.’

‘Then what do you mean? You really are the most obtuse girl at times.’

‘Do you expect to meet with a suitable family and conclude my marriage with the head of the house.’

‘Yes, of course,’ he replied.

‘Father, the spring in Lichfield is know for its number of balls and other gatherings.’

‘Yes, I know,’ he replied irritably. ‘What has that got to do with the matter in which I am instructing you.’

‘What will happen if...’

‘Theoretical nonsense Anna! I’m not interested in a young woman’s halcyon thoughts.’

‘It is possible that at one of these balls, I could meet a man.’

‘Anna!’ he raised his voice a little.

‘The man would have to be from a prestigious family.’

‘If they were from Lichfield, I would know them.’

‘Yes, father, you would. But what if they were further away in the county. Not too far. Might I suggest Ashbourne.’

‘Do you know a family from Ashbourne?’
‘No, father.’

‘Then stop all this ridiculous conjecturing. You will marry who I determine.’

‘Yes, father.’ At that point a small knot appeared in Anna’s embroidery. She looked down with ardent concentration. Her father stormed out and slammed the door.

Anna listened intently. She heard the second door slam and breathed a sigh of relief. He had gone to his study. That often meant he would not come out for hours. A smile crossed her face, at least he hadn’t found a man for her, yet! She would write to Emma to tell her that good news, and all about Captain Temple.

Anna was just tidying her needlework, when the door burst open and in rushed her sister, Sarah, who was with young Honora.

‘Well! Well!’ Sarah said in excitement. ‘Has father told you who you are going to marry?’

‘This is so exciting!’ added Honora.

Anna laughed because she so much enjoyed their enthusiasm. ‘No. Father has only said that he is finding a husband for me.’

‘I hope he is handsome,’ said Honora.

Anna replied, ‘Honora to you, every man has to be handsome or you do not like them. There are many men, who would make excellent husbands, but are not necessarily good looking.’

Honora said indignantly, ‘I wouldn’t marry anyone who wasn’t handsome.’

Sarah said, ‘I do hope he finds you a husband soon.’

‘Do you want me to leave the house?’ said Anna.

‘No, of course not, my darling sister. If father finds someone for you, then I will be next. I dream of being married.’ Her eyes glazed and she gave a big sigh.

Anna smiled with affection at her sister. Sarah had a much slighter frame than Anna. She wore a dark blue dress and her brown hair was lifted into a small bun, which she had lightly powdered. The beauty with her blue eyes shone in a smooth almost perfect face, but it lacked the healthy complexion of her sister.

Honora’s early burst of enthusiasm had now subsided as she sat back in one of the chairs. In complexion and size she could have been Sarah’s sister, as they looked so much like each other, despite an age barrier of six or so years. The sharp clear eyes missed nothing that went on around her.

Anna could see both of them were now day dreaming with slightly glazed looks on their faces. Sarah would be thinking about being married, whilst Honora’s mind would be drifting in general about handsome men.

Anna said in a quiet voice, ‘I’ve a secret and it’s about a man.’ The glazed looks had suddenly gone. Both rushed across the room and sat on either side of Anna. They tucked in close to her. ‘But can I trust you to keep a secret?’

Both nodded vigorously, but Anna said, ‘No one must know.’

There were two eager faces watching her and waiting. Anna teased Honora, ‘Did I hear a noise by the door?’

All three listened, but the room was silent. Anna said in a whisper, ‘Go and check that William is not listening at the door.’

Honora scampered to the door opened it and peered into the hall. She closed it and rushed back, ‘No one there.’

‘Very well,’ whispered Anna, ‘when I was out today, with Abigail, we met two men.’

‘Were they handsome?’ said Honora in a little hissy whisper.

‘Very handsome indeed. They looked perfect officers in their scarlet uniforms.’

‘Ooo! They were soldiers as well,’ said Sarah quietly, ‘how wonderful!’

‘What were their names,’ asked Honora, looking around to make sure no one was listening.

‘Captain Robertson and Captain Temple,’ replied Anna.

‘Which one is yours?’ asked Honora.

‘Well, it was Captain Temple, who walked alongside me. Captain Robertson walked with Abigail.’

Sarah sighed, ‘Does father know?’

‘I’m hoping both of the captains will be introduced by Mr Levitt. Father will then invite them here, so as not to be impolite to the Levitt family.’

‘When are they coming?’

‘Shhh! Honora, that’s why it’s a secret at the moment. I want Mr Levitt to introduce them first.’

‘Come on,’ said Sarah to Honora, ‘let’s go up to my bedroom. We can then imagine what Captain Temple is going to look like.’

Anna breathed a sigh of relief. At least there was no man lined up today. Captain Temple she had only met once so there wasn’t much hope, but he was going to be better than some aged old man, who had lost his second wife and still wanted an heir.

She was sullen. Even getting to the next meeting with Captain Temple would be difficult. Her father would put a stop to it as soon as he knew. It was time to pack up her needlework, and enquire whether her mother needed any help. The mundane duties of the household were coming to the fore, because she had been busy all day. Anna accepted that she would have to do her duties for the rest of the day and left the drawing room.

William, the butler, was answering the front door and in stepped Mr Levitt. Should she say anything? No course not, because as soon as her father heard Mr Levitt’s loud voice, he would come out of his study.

Anna smiled and curtsied. He was a big man, with a large waist, but always had an avuncular smile for Anna. He was dressed in a brown hacking jacket and wore his riding boots. As always he greeted Anna fondly.

‘My dear Anna, I heard the weather kept fine for your visit to deliver the baby clothes for the curate.’

‘It did, sir,’ she replied as she curtsied.

With the hearing of Mr Levitt’s voice, her father opened his study door and stepped into the hall. He was a meticulously polite man, so would never consider interrupting his guest, who was speaking.

‘I left my coach for Abigail to return.’ He glanced at the Canon, and acknowledged him with a nod. ‘I am afraid I wasn’t as lucky as you to have a walk around Lichfield, I settled down to business.’ Anna glanced at her father, who nodded his approval of such a statement. ‘But there was one matter, about turnpikes, that I thought I would like to consult with the Canon. So I got into my carriage and came straight back, hoping he would have time to see me.’

‘Of course,’ said the Canon, ‘come into my study.’ He turned to lead the way into his room. Mr Levitt followed, but as he went past Anna, he winked and then whispered, ‘A Captain!’ He immediately changed to a loud voice and said, ‘This new turnpike from Sheffield looks very interesting.’ He followed the Canon into his study.

Anna went to help her mother with a smile on her face.