This is another excerpt from my historical novel, A Weaver’s Web, set in the UK in the 1810s and 1820s. Benjamin brings home a girl, Charlotte, for dinner. His parents, Henry and Sarah, don’t know she is an orphan, a cripple, and expecting. Ellen, an aunt who isn’t really a true aunt, is to pretend to be her mother …
When it got to eleven o’clock, he [Benjamin] and the driver set off in the carriage to pick up Ellen and Charlotte from Ellen’s house. Benjamin sat up next to Jacob, something he didn’t normally do when Henry was there. As they approached her house, he saw Charlotte waiting outside. He was relieved to see her dress almost touching the ground and her boots couldn’t be seen. The driver stopped the horses and Benjamin jumped down.
‘How are they?’ he said to her.
She was about to hitch up her dress and show him, but he waved to her not to, and poked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the driver.
‘Keep them covered, at all times, until you get home.’
Charlotte scrambled aboard, first sitting on the step and then swivelling around and standing up on it, before entering the cabin. Ellen appeared, and fastened the door behind her. She gathered her dress and with some difficulty climbed into the carriage and sat down. Neither had been in a carriage before and they marvelled at the posh interior. Benjamin leapt in and they set off. The women gazed out the windows at the people and traffic and buildings, hardly saying anything.
‘Here’s your two shillings,’ he said to Ellen.
She took it and smiled.
‘And remember you’re Mrs Frawley.’
Within ten minutes, they arrived at the Wakefields’. The carriage pulled up and they got out. Charlotte and Ellen were again awestruck, this time by the house, palatial by their standards. A welcoming party had gathered on the front steps. Benjamin led his guests to his parents and brother and sisters, stopping just in front of them. Ellen and Charlotte stood behind him. But he said nothing, and residents and visitors stared at each other. At last he breathed in, held it a second, and spoke nervously.
‘This is Charlotte, and this is her aunt, Mrs Frawley,’ he said.
There was silence. He could see his father inspecting them. His mother looked as if she wanted to speak, but perhaps didn’t want to be first. And the children were sullen. It was Sarah who finally came forward.
‘Won’t you come in,’ she said with a sweeping movement of her arm in the direction of the front door.
(front cover of A Weaver’s Web showing the Peterloo Massacre)
Initially no one moved. Then Benjamin took a couple of steps towards the house. Ellen and Charlotte did the same, but were quite tentative. Their clothes were shabby though clean. Henry, in his Sunday suit, kept staring at the pair, especially at Charlotte, unsure if she was good enough to be keeping company with his son and be seen about town with him. It made her feel uneasy. And he noticed Mrs Frawley’s mouth was caved in and apparently toothless. Fancy arriving at someone’s house for dinner without one’s teeth in, he thought.
Once inside, everyone stood awkwardly in the hallway. Benjamin hoped Charlotte wouldn’t sit on the chair and take off her shoes, like she had done in his dream. Instead, she stood motionless and goggled at the size of the hall and its luxurious furniture and decorations.
Sarah did an apologetic little cough and forced a smile. ‘I’ll see if dinner’s ready.’ She hurried to the kitchen.
Alice saw her and sensed there was a problem. ‘What’s happened, dear?’
‘I think there’s a clash of classes. They’re all standing near the front door. No one’s saying anything. It’s dreadful.’
‘Sit them down at the dining table and tell them roast dinner is coming. That’ll bring a smile to their faces.’
Sarah took them into the dining room and showed them to their seats, Ellen between Charlotte and Benjamin.
‘It’s a roast,’ Sarah said.
There was no reaction. Instead, the children, no longer used to people of lower class appearance, gaped at the visitors. Henry glared uncertainly at Charlotte, then at Benjamin and back at Charlotte. Emily looked at her disapprovingly. Both guests just gazed around the room. Sarah hoped dinner was nearly ready.
– end of excerpt –
My historical novel, A Weaver’s Web, is available at the following sites:
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H52SEEK
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H52SEEK
Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00H52SEEK