A Marriage of Fortune
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'Anne O'Brien gets right inside the heads of her medieval characters!' JOANNA HICKSON
'A compelling tale of a family caught up in the turmoil of the Wars of the Roses... Be warned: it's dangerously addictive' TRACY BORMAN
'Magnificently researched... an enthralling story of strong women and advantageous marriages. I was completely hooked!' CLARE MARCHANT
A beautifully researched novel told with understanding, subtlety and a deft touch. Time travel at its best' JOANNA COURTNEY
A fortunate marriage will change history.
A scandal could destroy everything...
Margaret Paston, matriarch of the Paston family, knows that a favourable match for one of her unruly daughters is the only way to survive the loss of their recently acquired Caister Castle. But as the War of the Roses rages on, dangerous enemies will threaten even her best laid plans.
Margery Paston, her eldest daughter, has always strived to uphold the Paston name and do her mother proud. But when she loses her heart to a man below her station, she must make a terrible choice: will she betray her family and risk everything for a chance at true love?
Anne Haute, first cousin to the Queen, is embroiled in a longstanding betrothal to Sir John Paston, the eldest son and heir to the Paston seat. But despite his promises, Anne can't help but doubt that he will ever keep his word and make her his wife...
In the midst of civil war, each of these women must decide: Head or heart? Love or duty? Reputation- or scandal?
Release date: January 19, 2023
Print pages: 336
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A Marriage of Fortune
The Paston Family
Prologue Margaret Mautby Paston
CHAPTER ONE MARGERY PASTON
CHAPTER TWO MARGERY PASTON
CHAPTER THREE MARGERY PASTON
CHAPTER FOUR MARGERY PASTON
CHAPTER FIVE MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER SIX MARGERY PASTON
CHAPTER SEVEN ELIZABETH PASTON POYNINGS
CHAPTER EIGHT MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER NINE MARGERY PASTON
CHAPTER TEN MARGERY PASTON
CHAPTER ELEVEN MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER TWELVE MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER THIRTEEN ELIZABETH PASTON POYNINGS
CHAPTER FOURTEEN MARGERY PASTON
CHAPTER FIFTEEN MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER SIXTEEN MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN MARGERY PASTON
CHAPTER NINETEEN MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER TWENTY MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE MARGERY PASTON CALLE
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT ELIZABETH PASTON BROWNE
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER THIRTY ELIZABETH PASTON BROWNE
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO MARGERY PASTON CALLE
CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE MARGARET MAUTBY PASTONS
CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR MARGERY PASTON CALLE
CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER FORTY MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER FORTY-ONE MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER FORTY-TWO MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER FORTY-THREE MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE MARGERY PASTON CALLE
CHAPTER FORTY-SIX MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN MISTRESS ANNE HAUTE
CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT MARGERY PASTON CALLE
CHAPTER FORTY-NINE MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER FIFTY MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE ELIZABETH PASTON BROWNE
CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO ELIZABETH PASTON BROWNE
CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE ELIZABETH PASTON BROWNE
CHAPTER FIFTY-FOUR MARGARET MAUTBY PASTON
CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE ELIZABETH PASTON BROWNE
CHAPTER FIFTY-SIX MARGERY (GILLY) BREWS PASTON
About the Author
Also by Anne O’Brien
Why is it that an unsuitable marriage can all but tear a family apart? My children, in spite of all the care I lavished on them, to instil in them a sense of duty, are becoming a wound to my heart.
My neighbours in Norwich say that I have enough trouble heaped on my new silver platters with the fate of Caister Castle, that the siege and loss of such a notable possession is the greatest calamity that could befall us. I will not refute it. To hold on to Caister, a castle which seems to be desired by every warring family in the land, not least the mighty Duke of Norfolk, is becoming far beyond Paston means. But in my frequent moments of despair, I might reply that the failure of my children to make desirable marriage alliances is threatening to hack all respectability from beneath Paston feet.
Our attaining some semblance of gentry status as castle-holders is recent.
My children, without any help from our enemies, might wilfully destroy the whole edifice.
My two eldest sons, Sir John and Jonty, with unfortunate, but truthful reputations for dalliance, are incapable of bringing a successful marriage proposal to fruition. Bestowing kisses and promises is a weekly occurrence; signing a marriage contract is anathema to both of them.
But it is my daughters who cause me anxious hours and sleepless nights. One estranged from me; the other infused with an unsettling dose of disobedience. These marital missteps might prove an even greater cataclysm to us than the loss of Caister Castle.
That is not all. I have a sister-in-law struggling to hold on to her children’s inheritance, amidst all the horrors of treason and hostile relatives. Will she accept Paston help? Not willingly. She is as intransigent as any Paston.
Once, I was considered to be a woman capable of good humour. Laughter is now no longer a recognisable element in my life. Joy is a distant memory. How have I become so morose and manipulative, like a spider sitting in the centre of its web, spinning endlessly to keep the family protected?
I can fight to hold on to a castle under threat. And I will do it.
But in the name of the Blessed Virgin, what do I do with errant daughters, to bring them safe-returned into the Paston fold? I could never have believed that Margery and Anne, my once-compliant daughters, could cast our family into such a maelstrom of social censure. I believe it now.
The Paston House in Norwich, Autumn 1467
I was given the task of helping him to collect up the documents appertaining to rents owed to us in Norwich. My mother was short of money and our tenants, as ever, slow to pay, and so must be chivvied with a visit. He took them from the coffer where they were stored, passing them to me. I looked at the street named on every document and placed them in order of distance from our Norwich house. He handed me another. Our hands touched, his fingers just brushing mine. Not deliberately, for he had too much honour for that, and knew that it would not be appropriate for him to make so intimate a gesture, yet with that briefest of contacts he turned his head and we regarded each other. The sorting of documents was abandoned.
How often had our hands touched in such a manner, how often had our eyes met in concern or laughter or merely acknowledging our existence, before sliding away. That morning, it was different. Slowly, he stood, taking the document from me, taking care not to touch me again.
He was taller than I with a shock of fair hair that had fallen over his forehead. There was dust on his hands and the cuffs of his well-worn houppelande, fit for nothing but a morning’s hard work amongst the Paston documents, but he was dressed with his customary neatness in well-cut russet wool as befitted a man of professional rank. I studied his face with deliberate courage, refusing to allow my gaze to fall away in case it expressed too clearly the thoughts that raced through my mind. What did I see? The fair skin, pale brows, straight lips that rarely smiled. His eyes were clear and grey, always alert and assessing. This was Master Richard Calle, bailiff to the Paston family, the most highly trusted man in our household.
‘I think the task is complete, Mistress Margery. My thanks for your help,’ he said, his voice cool and calm as always, even when under duress from a recalcitrant tenant. ‘I will arrange a visit to those in arrears. If you would be pleased to inform your mother that all is in hand.’
But today I did not wish to speak of rents and business. ‘What do you think of me, Master Calle?’ I asked.
I thought that he sighed, just a mere exhalation of breath. I had never been so forward, so provocative, but now I was almost twenty years of age and had acquired a Paston mind of my own. It was difficult not to, living in close proximity to my mother and grandmother, both women with a will as strong as the iron lock on the abandoned coffer.
Master Calle did me the honour of not pretending to misunderstand my question, or being shocked by it.
‘I cannot say, Mistress Margery.’
‘Why can you not say?’
He placed the document carefully on the table with the rest, turning away from me, yet he answered.
‘I must not say. It would be highly ill-advised for me to speak what is in my mind.’
‘That is no more of an answer,’ I replied, concentrating on the skill of his hands as he deftly rerolled a number of documents. They were long-fingered, broad-palmed, and I wished that I might feel the touch of them again. Would he never take my hands in his, as a lover might do with his beloved?
‘Because what I might think of you must not be, Mistress Margery. As I must not ask what you think of me.’ A single line developed between his brows. ‘It is wrong of you to ask me.’
I allowed an awkward silence to develop after this statement, waiting to see if he would break it. When he did not, I ventured a mild reply.
‘We have known each other a long time, Master Calle.’
‘I am aware.’
‘For many years. Since I was a child.’
‘Do we not know each other well?’
‘Yes. As well as any member of your family knows its bailiff.’
Ah. But there was the crux of the matter. I continued my pursuit of him.
‘I think that I may say that we do not dislike each other.’
‘We may say that.’
I walked round to stand in front of him. Now there were tiny lines of disquiet beside his mouth.
‘Would I be a good wife to you, Master Calle?’
This time it was Richard Calle who paused, as if in astonishment that I should ask. Then:
It was an explosive answer, his voice not quite as level as it had been.
‘Why would I not? I only ask that you answer me truly, Master Calle.’
His expression remained severe, giving me no indication of what might be in his heart.
‘Then yes, if it is truth that you want. You would be the perfect wife.’
My throat dried, my own heart gave a sharp beat.
‘Would you, then, be a good husband for me?’
This time there was no hesitation. Denying his usual care, he had picked up one of the documents again, his hands clenched around it, creasing the legal agreement between Paston and some unknown Norwich citizen.
‘No. And no. I would not. And do not ask me why not. You know well the answer without my spelling it out for you.’
Now there was anguish in his eyes, in the twist of his mouth, but I would show no mercy.
‘I want to hear you say why you will reject what I think has grown between us, unspoken. I wish it to be unspoken no longer.’
‘But why, Mistress Margery? Of what advantage would it be, other than to bring heartbreak for both of us?’
It was not a comfortable question. It was full of despair.
‘A whim?’ I replied. ‘A desire to know that a man might admire me?’
‘I am too old for you.’
‘That is not it.’
‘No. But it does not weigh well in the balance of why I am no husband for such as you.’
‘Then why are you not a fit husband? Speak truly, Richard Calle.’
‘My family is not appropriate for a marriage between us.’
I would make him say what I knew was in his mind, because it was in mine, too. Was it not in the mind of every member of the Paston family, so strongly rooted that they would never even consider that I would see marriage with this man? I would have someone speak it aloud, even though I knew that his reply could indeed break my heart.
The ravaged document was finally cast aside.
‘Margery, you know full well why not.’ And he proceeded to destroy the pleasure I experienced in hearing him call me simply Margery. ‘I come from a family of shopkeepers. What do they say of us? Selling mustard and candles in Framlingham. My brother is not even a merchant but merely a seller of commodities. What would a Paston say to that? You have your feet planted firmly on the edge of becoming a reputable gentry family with a castle to your name and Sir John Paston betrothed to the Queen’s cousin. A Paston daughter does not marry a bailiff, a man in employment, a son of a shopkeeper. A Paston daughter does not wed an employed man without land, a man for the past year without income since your family is in dire financial need and I have had no payment. What have I to offer you? You would be sneered at by the notables of Norwich. You would not be invited across their threshold or to eat at their table with a husband such as I would be. What would your mother say? What would your grandmother Mistress Agnes say? They would damn me for my presumption, and probably you for your recklessness.’
‘But I know all of that …’
‘Of course you do. You also know how important marriage in the family is to Mistress Agnes: prestige and income and land. Do I need to remind you of the sufferings of your aunt Elizabeth? Of course I do not. The story of your grandmother’s failure to find her a husband with enough money to please the Pastons is legendary. Your aunt was beaten and whipped because she could not attract a suitable betrothed. Look at me, Margery.’ He spread his hands wide at his side. ‘I have no security in money. I have no land. I have no connections to help me take a step up the social ladder, other than through my employment.’
‘I know all of that,’ I repeated, for indeed I did. None of it was new to me. ‘And yet …’
‘I do not denigrate my skills,’ Richard Calle said. ‘I know my own worth, and particularly to your family. I am the perfect bailiff, hardworking and loyal. I can be trusted with any task, to handle any amount of money. Would I thieve from my employer? I would sooner become a beggar in the gutters of Norwich. My relationship with your tenants is excellent. But that does not make me a suitable Paston husband.’
Bitterness coated those final words, sharp as the aloes with which my mother dosed us as a purgative. It was damning and all true. There was no way forward.
‘Even if I want you,’ I said.
I watched as the muscles of his throat constricted. Never had I been so outspoken, unless it was on my knees to plead that my dreams for the future might be realised. It was one thing to beg the Blessed Virgin’s indulgence, it was quite another to speak my yearnings out loud to the man I wanted.
‘Even if you want me, Margery.’ Richard Calle remained adamant, yet I sensed that beneath his unyielding demeanour his self-control was becoming compromised. ‘You know that what I speak is honest. I have a care for your reputation. And, before God, for my dignity, too.’
I turned my face away in an anguish that matched his.
‘So I will be sacrificed for your dignity.’
How stern he remained despite my challenge. ‘You don’t want me. You don’t need me. Months from now you will realise that to offer yourself as my wife would be the greatest mistake of your young life. Instead, you will wed a man who will give you wealth and honour.’
‘But will I love him?’
‘That is not important. As you well know.’
I looked down at my hands that were clasped around the beads of my rosary, although there were no prayers in my mind. Only grief and impending loss.
‘Then you will reject me.’
‘Yes. My dear girl, I must reject you. I admire your courage in speaking, but I cannot accept the offer of your love, even though it is an invaluable gift.’
‘Even if I weep for it?’
‘Even if you weep.’ He stretched out a hand as if he would have touched mine and then let it fall. ‘Oh, Margery, in God’s name do not … It breaks my heart.’
‘But mine is broken, too. I beg you to reconsider, Richard.’
I deliberately called him by his given name.
‘I cannot. I will not. I am a servant. That is enough. It will be easier for both of us if you do not seek me out. I regret that you should ever have fallen in love with me.’
He walked away, pausing at the door as if all had still not been said between us, but if that were so, any such intention on his part was brutally rejected. With an obvious firming of his shoulders, he lifted the latch, closing the door quietly behind him, leaving me with a pile of unsorted rental agreements and an outpouring of despair. Just as he had closed the door on any possibility of love between us. A door that I had deliberately, heedlessly, opened. I had offered myself to him and he had refused that offer. I should have felt humiliation, but it was not that that made me sweep the documents to the floor in a surge of temper. It was desolation and regret that he should reject me for finer feelings. I could not doubt that he was a man of honour; every word he had spoken about his own position in the world had been unquestionably true, while I had been ungracious. My mother would have been horrified if she had heard me. My grandmother would probably have beaten me, as she was used to beat my aunt Elizabeth when displeased with her. I did not care. I loved him and nothing would change that.
I opened the door to find him still standing there in the shadowed passageway, his back to me, his face turned towards the wooden panelling. With the courage with which he had graced me, I placed my hand flat against his shoulder.
‘What would you say, Richard, if I told you that my heart is full of love for you?’
‘I would say that your heart is mistaken.’
Now he walked away, turning into the hall. He did not look back.
I had no doubts that he loved me, too.
Which did not soothe the hurt at his rejection.
I had known Richard Calle all my life, it seemed. How old was I when he first came to join our Paston household as our new bailiff? I was a child of no more than six years, while he was a man full grown with much experience. Tall and fair, lithe and graceful, unlike my brothers, who were dark and strongly built, he was there in all my memories. As I grew older, he took my notice. He sometimes gave me tasks to do, to fetch and carry, sometimes even to write lists at his dictation, for I had been well taught by my mother to wield a pen. He said that I was a most capable and loyal daughter. It pleased me and made my heart grow warm. It seemed that he had a care for my happiness within a family that was ever busy. When he offered his grave smile to me, I felt reassured and of value although I could have no complaint in my upbringing.
When I was a little girl, I recalled being the recipient of much love in our Paston household. When I was ill, Mistress Margaret, my mother, sent to London for a pot of treacle, a costly medicinal paste, including the flesh of a roasted viper, taking twelve years to age and credited with curing everything from inability to sleep to the mortal effect of poison. Not that I suffered from either, and I could not recall what had urged my mother to pen a letter to demand its immediate sending. The concoction had a curious aroma and a lingering taste that was not altogether pleasant but, despite my childish resistance, I was dosed and I was cured. I recall my mother’s embrace when I recovered.
I also remembered a new girdle, purchased for me at my mother’s request in London. I think it was to celebrate the day of my birth. It was cunningly stitched with an intricate fastening, and much admired although it was now too small for me to wear and was folded away, perhaps for use by my own daughter in the future. There was never any doubt that I was a beloved daughter of the house, even if my father was a distant figure and infrequently at home.
It was a comfortable life despite the legal disputes that engaged my father and my brothers. We were a family on the rise, and I was expected to marry well. If I found love, or even affection with my husband, who would be chosen by my father and mother, I would be a fortunate woman. I was told that plans had been made for me when I was a child of six years, but they had come to naught. One was to a ward of my mother’s cousin, Sir John Fastolf, the man who had willed his whole inheritance to us, including Caister Castle. It would have been an excellent match, but it seemed that we were not sufficiently important. We might be related in cousinship but money and status meant everything. It mattered little to me. I never met the boy who might have been my husband.
I remember travelling to London with my mother to visit my father when he was incarcerated in the Fleet Prison for the third time. My mother was worried for his health and so made the long journey to encourage him and dose him in equal measure. My brother Jonty told her, in a moment of levity, to allow me to kneel at the Rood at the north door of St Paul’s and St Saviour’s Abbey in Bermondsey while we were there, to pray to the two saints that I might find a good husband. My mother was in a gentle mood when she found my father in robust and argumentative health and so allowed it. She knelt with me for a time, I suppose offering prayers for my father’s release. I prayed for a husband.
My mother would not have approved of the man for whom I offered prayers. She would have rebuked me most severely, but she would have failed to change my mind. How could it have been possible? I had fallen in love.
What did I know of love? Nothing, except that to be in the vicinity of Richard Calle gave purpose to my days. I woke in the morning with the anticipation of seeing him, speaking with him, spending time with him, even if we only passed in a corridor. Some days he was absent on estate affairs, but I knew that he would return. I went to my bed aglow with the knowledge that he had a work-room in our own house where I might find him unless he was abroad about Paston business.
Why did I love him? I could not say. It was no single event that had struck me with enchantment as it might in the old stories. It was no single thread in a tapestry where a knight meets his lady in a magic forest. Instead, it had crept up on me, day by day, a stealthy hunting to capture my emotions, until I could not imagine living without him.
Did he feel the same?
I thought that he did, although nothing was said between us, nor were there any overt gestures that could be misconstrued. Did we not both know that any words of affection spoken between us would have been a matter for censure which might cost me my freedom and him his position?
We loved and yet we did not love.
Until that day when I declared my love for him and he repulsed me. From that day there was an awareness between us that careful distancing could not hide. What my mother would say if she ever suspected, I could not bear to think of it. I trod lightly, as guilt ran hand in hand with desire, and fear of discovery.
The Paston House in Norwich, April 1469
My mother sent for me to come to her chamber where she sat with a new sheet of paper before her and a pen in hand. It was her custom to dictate most of her letters, but this one she had decided to write for herself. She had already dipped the pen into the little carved ink-pot with its domed lid. I noticed that no strips had been torn from the full sheet of fine-quality paper that she was about to use; the letter must be appertaining to some matter of importance. I curtsied, expecting an errand to complete.
I had no intimation of what was to come.
Instead of writing, she put down the pen, the ink drying in the warm air. Spring had come early to Norwich, and my mother’s chamber, its windows ajar, was full of birdsong and the scent of blossom on the early plum tree. Her expression was severe but not out of the way. She was calmly in control of her daily affairs, as I awaited my instructions.
My mother steepled her fingers together. In her youth she was esteemed a striking woman with fine features and dark eyes. She was handsome still, despite her predilection for confining her fading hair in a short hennin made of dark broadcloth, or in a linen coif. I did not think either flattered her, but Mistress Margaret would care nothing for that. Her hands were fine and capable, her fingers well used to wielding a needle or a pen, or any household implement that demanded her attention. She was forty-eight years old and as neat and healthy as she had always been.
‘Margery,’ she announced, ‘I am arranging for you to be boarded out, to go and live in the house of some noble lady in London. I am writing to your brother Sir John to see what is possible.’
My heart slowly sank as I took in what seemed to be a banishment for me, knowing better than to question why. Not that it was out of the ordinary for young women of a gentry family to be boarded with one of higher consequence. My younger sister Anne was living with the Calthorp family, cousins of ours, to learn the ways of a family of good repute. But why was I to be sent now? And where would I go? I waited for an explanation, if my mother chose to give me one.
‘You do not seem surprised,’ she observed, her eyes resting on my face.
‘I am astonished,’ I replied. ‘I thought that I was beyond the age to be boarded out.’
My mother shook her head. ‘Your aunt Elizabeth,’ she explained, now chill as a puddle of ice, ‘was sent to be with Lady de la Pole when she was considerably older than you are, and benefited much from it. And she found herself a worthy husband in Sir Robert Poynings.’
So now I knew. All that was unspoken was clear.
‘Where will I go?’ I asked.
My mother’s reply was prompt; she had given it careful thought. ‘It is in my mind that the Duchess of Oxford or the Duchess of Bedford might take you. Both are women of high repute. It would be good for you to see something of Court life. Sir John will ask if either would be willing. It would be excellent for your education of how to manage a larger household than ours.’
‘Will it be soon?’
How biddable I sounded, when everything within me lurched with horror.
What did she see as she looked at me? Not a copy of herself, for certain. Instead, a self-effacing young woman of twenty-one years with a quiet demeanour although capable of a direct, grey stare. I did not think that I possessed the indomitable spirit that was my mother’s when faced with challenges in life.
‘It will be soon indeed, if Sir John can arrange it.’
Not once in all that interview was Richard Calle mentioned.
Yet why should my manner towards him be the cause of my mother’s decision? There had never been any inappropriate behaviour between us, nothing that could rouse any degree of suspicion. I tried to remember if I had ever appeared too close to him, too willing to keep his company. I could not. There had been nothing, not even a hint of intimacy that Father Gloys our priest could find distasteful. Our priest was always watchful over possible sins, but there had been nothing to watch after that one painful conversation over the rent rolls. No gifts, no innocuous posies left by my door. If I entered a room, Master Calle made an exit, but not so quickly as to draw attention to us. He was polite, courteous, protective of my reputation and his own. The old easy association of bailiff and daughter of the house had gone, replaced by a coolness, deliberately cultivated.
Yet I was being sent away.
Another thought crept into my mind. If my mother had her suspicions, would they cast Richard off? I doubted it. He was far too valuable in these troubled times. But they would send me away, the elder daughter, effectively separating us for ever, and a sudden terrible sense of hurt assailed me, that Richard might prefer such an estrangement. It would remove him from a deplorable situation. As Father Gloys would preach, where there was no temptation there would be no sin.
‘Forgive me if I have displeased you,’ I said to my mother.
‘You have not displeased me. I do not think that you ever could.’ Pushing back her stool, she stood, abandoned the pen and moved around the table to take me in her arms. It was a warm embrace when she kissed my cheeks. ‘You are my dearest daughter. I know that you will do well for the family. You will discover a husband who will bring you and the Pastons honour.’
A final dry salute to my forehead and she returned to her seat. Dipping the pen, she began to write. ‘I will inform you when our request has been accepted. I swear that you will enjoy the experience. It was one that I never had.’
The spasm of guilt in my throat was unbearable. My mother was doing this for love of me. I was betraying her.
I did not have long to wait. April was still bringing us mild sunshine and sharp showers when my anxieties leapt into fevered life. My eldest brother had been busy indeed on my behalf, in the household of his new patron, the Duke of Oxford. My mother had clearly spurred him into action.
‘The Duchess of Oxford will be pleased to receive you,’ my mother informed me with a falsely casual air, passing me in the scullery as I entered from the herbarium, shaking the rain drops from a fistful of soft herbs for our cook. I knew that she had been lying in wait for me. ‘Sir John will arrange the travel as soon as may be.’
To me it seemed like a death knell, an exile from which I would never return.
‘Do be careful, Margery,’ she admonished. ‘Your skirts are drenched.’
An exaggeration, since I had wrapped myself in a length of coarse frieze to prevent the fine wool being spotted, but obediently I brushed the drops away while the only thought that came to me, supplanting the need to deliver the sage and rosemary to the waiting cook, was that I needed a kindly voice to plead my cause for staying in Norwich. My brothers surely would be the obvious source of aid, but that idea did not linger long. Sir John was too wrapped up in life at Court, his wooing of Mistress Anne Haute and his reputation at the tournament. Mistress Haute was cousin to the Queen, thus taking precedence in Sir John’s schemes above an unimportant sister. Nor were my other brothers any more likely wielders of a chivalric sword on my behalf. For all my life they had treated me with a shallow affection, to be smiled upon or brushed aside as their interests took them away from home. I was merely a sister to be wedded to a man who would bring esteem to the family. They would do their best for me, of course, but now Jonty was beguiled by estate problems; Edmund, the most self-sufficient, was still c
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