Cherishing Charlotte is Book 3
of The Hertfordshire Hoydens
by Susana Ellis
Charlotte Clark is the oldest child of John (Jack) and Marianne Clark, who operate a charity school for boys in Oxford. Her maternal grandfather, a wealthy landowner who disinherited his daughter for running off with the tutor, appears to have relented somewhat, having invited his granddaughter to visit his estate, Heatherwyck. But does he have an ulterior motive?
Charlotte agreed to have tea with me at Miss Clemens’s Oxford Street Book Palace and Tea Rooms on Mount Street in London.
Susana: Thank you so much for meeting me today, Miss Clark. I know it is a bit of a journey for you from Oxford.
Charlotte: Indeed. It is only the second time I have been to London in all of my nineteen years. If not for Mama needing my help with Papa, I would have remained home with the boys. My twin brothers Robert and Thomas. They are ten. They are looking after the pig and chickens in our absence. [grinning] And the neighbors are looking after them.
Susana: Is your father in poor health, then? Is that why you have come to London?
Charlotte [taking a deep breath]: Yes. Unfortunately, he is afflicted with consumption. The local doctor doesn’t give much hope, but Mama wanted to consult a London physician. We didn’t have the money, but one of Papa’s former pupils graciously offered to provide the fee and lodgings at his home. Papa wanted to refuse, but Mama would not hear of it.
Susana: Your father must have made quite an impression on his students, then.
Charlotte [nodding enthusiastically]: Oh yes! He is a first-rate teacher. Many of his students who have been to Oxford or Cambridge have said that Papa is superior to most of the dons. I’m sure he would have been one himself had he not married Mama instead.
Susana: So dons cannot be married, then?
Charlotte: That is correct. But after he met Mama, nothing else mattered. He’s such a romantic, you see.
Susana: And your mother?
Charlotte [smiling]: Oh, she loves him madly too, of course. But she’s the practical one. Which is really quite fortunate for us, because it was she who managed to keep us fed all these years. Papa is more of a dreamer, and as she is fond of saying, dreams don’t keep food on the table.
Susana: And yet, she agreed to elope with her tutor. More romantic than practical, wouldn’t you agree?
Charlotte [shaking her head]: She was young and silly and at loggerheads with her father. Her mother had just died, and I don’t think she really believed he would cut her off, since there was just the two of them. But hurt pride can be pernicious. Mama has it in full measure. I’m sure she is determined to show him she could make a success of things. [sighing] Although she couldn’t have known how difficult it would turn out to be.
Susana: Do you think she regrets the decision she made, then?
Charlotte: No. Yes. Well, in a way I believe she resents having to struggle so hard to survive when her father has Heatherwyck all to himself.
Charlotte: Yes. Heatherwyck is my grandfather’s family estate. The Chapmans have owned it for five generations. Mama says it is one of the largest estates in Hertfordshire. [biting her lip] Only recently I discovered she has hopes of reclaiming it. My grandfather invited me to spend the summer with him, you see.
Susana: Just you? Not the rest of the family?
Charlotte [stiffening]: : Yes. Just me. And his nephew, Wyatt.
Susana: Ah. So you suspect matchmaking.
Charlotte [teacup rattling vehemently as she sets it down on the saucer]: I know it!
Susana [delicately]: I don’t suppose there’s any harm in going, at least. It’s not like you can be forced into marriage, after all.
Charlotte [nostrils flaring]: That’s just what Mama says! Perhaps I shall like him. Or Grandfather will take a fancy to me and effect a reconciliation regardless. And it would be so good for the boys, you see, if he would sponsor them to Eton.
Susana: Why Eton? It sounds as though they are getting an equally good education at your father’s school.
Charlotte: True, but Mama has high hopes for them. So many political and social connections are made there. And they really are bright boys. [closing her eyes briefly] I shall feel obligated to fall in line with Grandfather’s plans for them. And for Papa. And Mama. What shall we do when Papa can no longer teach? [swallowing and holding back tears]. Mama might be a good manager, but when-if Papa is gone, there won’t be anything to manage.
Susana: It is quite a dilemma. I understand that you feel it is on you to become the sacrificial lamb for your family. That is a very great burden to put on such a young girl.
Charlotte [chin quivering]: Perhaps I should be more grateful to have the opportunity to make a difference in the future of my parents and brothers, but in all honesty, I have no wish to be a martyr. I am no Maid of Orléans, Miss Ellis. Burning at the stake does not appeal to me, any more than a marriage of convenience does. Do you not think me a wretched person?
Susana [reaching forward to stroke her forearm]: Wretched? No. Human? Yes. And a bit dramatic, perhaps. [takes out a handkerchief] Now, stop crying and and take another biscuit. I always think things look better after I’ve consumed a good dose of sugar. I wonder if we can order some fruit scones here, with strawberry jam and clotted cream?
Cherishing Charlotte, Book 3 in The Hertfordshire Hoydens, is due for release in March 2017. Book 1, Treasuring Theresa, is available on Amazon. Book 2, Valuing Vanessa, is part of the Belles’ 2016 collection, Holly and Hopeful Hearts.
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