My dearest Madeline

You will never believe who I met coming out of the church this morning. You shall not be able to guess, so I shall tell you. Lissette Parslow.

Yes, I know. We were both certain she would never dare to show her face in Fairview again. Not after what she did. But there she was, chatting to the vicar for all the world as if butter would not melt in her mouth. You would think Vicar would know better, for he was curate back then, when it all happened.

But there. He is too good for this world, as I’m sure all of Fairview would agree, and that wife of his encourages him in his misplaced kindness. Well. She would, would she not? We do not forget that she remained friends with Lissie Parslow even after it became obvious what the trollop had been up to. Yes, and who with, for who else could it have been, when she never left the manor, and him with an eye for a pretty girl, as all the village knew–and most of England, too, come to that.

“Lissie Parslow,” I said to her. “You have come back.” I should have thought my expression was enough to put the fear of God into her, for she knows what she did. But she always was a pert baggage. The countess made too much of her, and I always said so, did I not, Madeline?”

“I am Mrs Penworth now,” she replied. “And is it still Miss Albright?”

The cheek of it, Madeline. “Is there a Mr Penworth?” I snapped back. A fair question, given her history!

“Now, now, ladies,” said the vicar. “A little Christmas charity, if you would be so kind.”

So I put him on the spot, right there in front of the brazen hussy. “Do you suppose, vicar,” I said, “that Christian charity applies to those who seduced their lady’s husband and got themselves with child?”

You will never, in a million years, guess what he said. I tell you true, Madeline. He said, “Yes, that is exactly what I suppose. I also suppose that we are instructed not to judge the circumstances of others, when we do not know the facts. Judge not, Miss Albright, lest ye be judged.”

I was so shocked, I did not know what to say, and before I could recover, they both said good day. The Parslow woman–or Penworth, if that is her real name–walked off along the road, and Vicar went back into the church.

But that is not the whole story. On Sunday, when I went to church, she was there, sitting with a man whom I must suppose is Penworth, whether she is married to him or not. Madeline, they were sitting in the earl’s pew with the new earl himself, and with a girl of about the age our dear departed countess was when she came to our village. I could not see her face from where I was sitting, but I had to suppose she was Lissie Parslow’s daughter, and how she came to be sitting in the earl’s pew, I could not fathom.

Not, at least, until the homily was over and the vicar invited the earl to stand up and speak. What he had to say, Madeline, changed everything.

Find out more in A Countess by Christmas, by Jude Knight, a novella in Christmastide Kisses, the Bluestocking Belles with Friends collection that is coming out on 26th December.

Story blurbs and the buy links for the book will be added to our project page over the next week.