The carriage ride to the manor was a blur, and I fell asleep before we made it to the front gate. I awoke in a strange bed in a stately room, which had molded ceilings, papered walls, and intricately carved furnishings. The hangings and the bedspread were pink and blue brocade, and the corners of the room were decorated with gold-leaf angels.
I sat up a little and saw, sitting at the end of the bed, a maid dressed in a starched white uniform. As I sat up, she stood and came to the bed, carrying a silver tea-tray.
“Good morning, my lady. I am Chastity, and I have been assigned to be your personal maid. “
“Thank you,” I said blearily, accepting a cup of hot, black tea. “What time is it?”
“It’s thirty minutes past one, my lady. I have laid out your clothes. It is a very hot day, so I thought a white muslin gown- the one with the blue trim- would be comfortable.”
“Thank you, that’s fine. Tell me, is Lord Frey awake?”
“Lord Frey did not go to sleep. He has some business to attend to, and has been in his study all morning.”
I took another sip of tea, feeling just a touch of guilt for keeping Hope awake all night when he’d had business the next day.
“Lord Frey has instructed me to give you a tour of the manor, once you are dressed. You are welcome to go into any room in the manor, except for the Library and the cellars. Lord Frey does not wish for you to enter either of these places by mistake.”
“I’m not allowed in the library?” I burst forth, now wide awake.
Chastity raised her eyebrows, and I could feel my face grow hot.
“Well- I mean- not to question…”
“You may ask any question,” Chastity said. “Lord Frey knows that you love books, so he has arranged a private study for you filled with books from his collection. If the books he has given you are not sufficient, you can give me a list of the books you need.”
I was unable to speak for a moment, but finally managed to reply. “He is very kind.”
Chastity continued to stare at me, her eyebrows still raised, and I felt very small. It was kind of Hope to arrange a private study for me, and to give me so many gifts, but at the same time, I felt a message in his forbidding me to enter the Library.
I was a welcome guest in his house, but I was not its mistress.
Chastity and I spent most of the afternoon going over the house, lingering in halls full of portraits for far too long.
My father’s house had been venerable. Each crumbling wall had been covered by a rich tapestry, and the stone floors covered with plush rugs, which left it feeling cushioned and close. Here, however, the halls were light and airy, with white crown molding and walls papered in light blue. The floors were gleaming marble, and the furnishings clean and new, with fresh tea roses on every table.
Chastity led me down the widest hallway just to the double doors at the end.
“This is the library- remember it. You cannot open the door, but if Lord Frey is inside and you need him, pull this cord.” She gestured to a tasseled cord by the door.
Just as we turned to leave, however, the doors opened, and a young girl wearing a white cap and apron emerged, pushing a cart that appeared far too heavy for her, which was full of books.
“Mercy!” Chastity said. “What are you doing?”
“I beg your pardon,” the girl said, bobbing a curtsey, “but the master told me to take these to the new mistress’s study.”
“All of these are for me?” I said, stepping forward to see the books.
“Oh- my Lady!” the maid said with a deeper curtsey.
The door opened again, and Hope emerged. He looked at me, smiled, and bowed deeply.
“Good Afternoon, Lady Frey. I hope you are well rested.”
“I am, thank you,” I said.
“Chastity, you may go back to your usual duties. I will escort Lady Frey, and her books, to her study.”
“But, my Lord, I haven’t-“
“That’s alright, Chastity. The steward is waiting for you in the kitchens- he’d like to have a word with you.”
“Very well,” Chastity said, and left.
Hope offered his arm, and the three of us went back down the hallway, the cart’s wheels squeaking on the marble floor behind us as we went.
The study was near the drawing room, and was comfortably furnished with a desk, table, and shelves that were already filled with books. On the far wall there was a window that opened to the rose gardens.
“It’s lovely,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. I confess that I set this up for you to keep you from being cross about the library.”
“Why…” I began to say, and then stopped.
Hope stood silently for a moment, and his usual charming smile faded slightly. Then he turned to the maid and said, “Mercy, I will shelve the books. You may leave us.”
“Thank you, my Lord,” she said with a curtsey, and I belatedly realized that when Chastity had shouted “Mercy” it hadn’t been an expletive, but rather, the girl’s name.
When we were alone, Hope turned back to me, his smile gone. He even frowned slightly as he leaned against the cart and pulled out a selection of books.
“Astronomy, trigonometry, alchemy, philosophy- I even brought you some of the liturgy. I was going to burn the liturgy, you see, after my father died, but I didn’t. I’m glad someone in this house can use them, now.”
“Burn them!” I gasped.
“I told you in the cabin, Grace, that I am a heretic. I’ve grown dissatisfied with the universal order you admire so much. The stars shine in the heavens, while we crawl like worms on the Earth below. Some live in splendor,” he gestured to the intricate furnishings around him, “while others suffer immeasurably.
“I’ve done things that may cause trouble, later,” Hope continued. “The less you know about it, the less it can touch you. You’ve come to my house at the worst possible time, but I will protect you. I promise.”
Hope pushed his heavy, dark hair away from his eyes and smiled again. “I will either gain the power to protect you, or I will set you free, Grace. Until then, keep to this part of the house, and don’t ask too many questions.”
I sighed, then, with unexpected relief. Strangely, in confirming my worst fears with his confession, he’d set me at ease. Perhaps, I thought, an honest villain was safer than a masked one.
There was a knock on the door.
“Enter,” Hope said graciously.
The door opened, and Chastity stepped through.
“I beg your pardon, my Lord, but we have visitors.”
Chastity opened the doors to a magnificent drawing-room, hung with velvet and gold, with an oval ceiling tiled with gold medallions. In the center of the room, seated on a red-cushioned couch, was a short-haired officer wearing black gloves. By his side, with her short legs swinging over the edge of the couch, sat a brown-eyed little girl.