The landlord’s wife saw it all. What do you make of this? Is she guilty? I rather think she is.
Overheard in the Ferry Inn, Flushing August 15th 1796.
‘Honest to God, it’s the absolute truth.’
‘Slower, please. Start from the beginning. They entered together? What time was this?’
‘Must have been about ten. She came in first – not even a backward glance. Went straight to the table near the door. The place was laid like I was told to lay it, and she just sat there with her baskets in front of her. Straight away I could tell it weren’t right. Not at all.’
‘In what way wasn’t it right?’
‘She kept her cloak tight around her – tight like she was cold – an’ it was that hot in there. An’ then I saw why. She was one of them Society of Friends – the ones that visit prisoners. Now, you tell me, what would she be doing waiting for a man at that time of night?’
‘Describe her, please.’
‘Brown hair, high cheek bones. Couldn’t see much under her wide-brimmed bonnet. Black cloak. Softly spoken – local accent.’
‘She sat at the table and you gave her a meal – one that had been ordered by a man the night before?’
‘Yes, as God’s my witness. My best rabbit pie it was. Yet she didn’t eat it. Just sat there waiting for the man to come.’
‘She was definitely waiting for a man?’
‘Yes. He left a message – I was to tell her he’d be along later.’
‘And the man who came in with her, or rather, just after her – the one she left with? Describe him for me.’
‘Tall, handsome, fine-boned in a gentlemanly sort of way. And polite, yes, very polite. I’d say he was definitely a gentleman, though he was wearing working clothes – a coachman’s coat an’ hat. Pulled so low ye couldn’t really see his face.’
‘And he sat separately?’
‘Yes. He was sat by the back door – watchin’ out for her. But I can tell you one thing. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Kept staring at her when she weren’t looking. Even in the dark I could see the love in his eyes.’
‘And you can swear, on oath, that they showed signs of surprise when the fire was sighted?’
‘Yes, I’d say so. But maybe more anger than anything.’
‘And yet that could have been fabricated?’
‘I’m sorry, sir. What do ye mean by that?’
‘Their surprise and anger might have been made up. In other words they might have pretended to be surprised. To fool you. To make you swear, on oath, that they were innocent, when really they were guilty?’
‘Well, I don’t know about that.’
‘No. Well, never mind. Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.’
About the Book
The Cornish Lady
Educated, beautiful and the daughter of a prosperous merchant, Angelica Lilly has been invited to spend the summer in high society. Her father’s wealth is opening doors, and attracting marriage proposals, but Angelica still feels like an imposter among the aristocrats of Cornwall.
When her brother returns home, ill and under the influence of a dangerous man, Angelica’s loyalties are tested to the limit. Her one hope lies with coachman Henry Trevelyan, a softly spoken, educated man with kind eyes. But when Henry seemingly betrays Angelica, she has no one to turn to. Who is Henry, and what does he want? And can Angelica save her brother from a terrible plot that threatens to ruin her entire family?
The fourth novel in a stunning series set in eighteenth-century Cornwall, perfect for fans of Poldark.
Henry stood against the taproom bar, nodding to the man beside him. The landlord was red-faced and bald-headed, drying a pewter tankard with a cloth, turning the tap on the barrel. The men who had stared at my arrival turned back to their ale and I settled against the hard wooden bench, trying to stop my heart from hammering. A woman in a tight bodice and large mobcap saw me and smiled. She made her way towards me, holding aloft a plate and jug of wine.
‘Pie an’ wine fer ye, my love,’ she said, wiping her brow with the cloth hanging from her apron. ‘’Tis that hot in here, but he likes it like that fer they drink more. Yer friend left a message – said he’d be along soon. Ye just sit tight an’ enjoy that rabbit.’ She smiled and turned and I stared down at the huge crust of pie with carrots and cabbage spilling from the plate.
Henry must have ordered food. He made his way round the tables, sitting nearest the back door. His hat and coat made him merge with the crowd but even so, he looked out of place. He was sitting slumped forward, his arms on the table, his elbows wide, but there was no hiding his manners. No hiding the charm with which he thanked the landlord’s wife, the elegant way he unfolded his napkin, the shy nod to his fellow diners as he began his meal and I looked away. I glanced back. He seemed somehow vulnerable, a rather charming man doing the wrong job.
Any other circumstances – any other time or place – and I would have enjoyed his company. I would have enjoyed dining with him, enjoyed discussing his choice of poetry, asked him what he had done in America, how his mother was…which of my plays he had liked the most. I pushed my plate away untouched. He was my brother’s gaoler, yet no man drew me so completely. It was as if I became alive in his presence. The touch of his hand on my cheek making my heart beat faster.
Sweat trickled down my back, the tight wig making my hair itch. I wanted to take off my cloak, but no woman would sit in a tavern in a prudish grey gown with stiff white collar and cuffs and I pulled the cloak tighter. Henry had finished his meal and was stretching back against the hard bench, cradling his jar of ale in both hands. He was staring straight ahead as if too tired to talk, yet the moment the man took my baskets, he would clasp him in handcuffs.
The tavern slowly emptied, only a number of men left scattered among the tables. Thin curls of smoke coiled from the guttering candles, the room growing darker. Two men had fallen asleep on their folded arms, two others staring moodily into their empty pint pots. Martha Selwyn had said the man could keep her waiting for hours; it must only have been an hour, yet it seemed so much longer. I glanced at Henry and caught my breath. He was staring at me so intently, the ferocity in his eyes making my heart jolt. I had never been looked at like that before. It felt like pain. Like my body was on fire.
About the Author
Nicola Pryce trained as a nurse at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. She loves both literature and history and has an Open University degree in Humanities. She’s a qualified adult literacy support volunteer and lives with her husband in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. She and her husband love sailing and together they sail the south coast of Cornwall in search of adventure. If she’s not writing or gardening, you’ll find her scrubbing decks.
‘Pengelly’s Daughter’ is her first novel, ‘The Captain’s Girl’ second, ‘The Cornish Dressmaker’ third, and The Cornish Lady comes next. Her fifth novel will be published next summer.
Nicola is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Historical Writers Association. You can find her at https://www.nicolapryce.co.uk/ and https://www.facebook.com/nicolaprycebooks/ and https://twitter.com/npryce_author