Authors: Sisters Traherne (Lady Meriel's Duty; Lord Lyford's Secret)
Happily, there had been none. The Tallyn estate had been entailed right along with the title from the time Edward I had awarded Tallyn to Henry Traherne, Baron Beaufort of Shropshire, one of his favorites. Merioneth was then a center of Welsh resistance to King Edward’s dreams of conquest, for it was just over the hill in nearby Denbighshire that Dafydd, brother of Llewelyn the Last, had had his headquarters. After Dafydd’s defeat, the defense of the district was entrusted to Traherne, later first Earl of Tallyn, with his king commanding that the fortified manor house at Plas Tallyn be fully garrisoned to keep the surrounding countryside loyal to the crown. The task of taming the Welsh had proved from time to time to be nearly impossible, and it had been said more than once that they were scarcely more civilized in this new century than they had been in centuries past.
“We have strayed somewhat from the subject,” said Lady Cadogan severely, bending a basilisk eye upon Meriel that effectively startled her from her musing. “Your brother’s whereabouts need not concern us at the moment, but I can certainly assure you that he would never countenance your traveling into France. To go to Rouen is bad enough, when you might employ another to attend to the matter, but to go on to Paris—”
“Indeed, ma’am, I must.”
“Poppycock. Your sister is perfectly safe. Indeed, her most recent letter indicates that she is misbehaving quite as much as ever she did. Parties and balls, with her poor husband locked away in the Bastille or wherever that dreadful Bonaparte is keeping him.”
Meriel smiled. “I doubt the Bastille, ma’am, but you are correct in saying that Nest sounds undistressed. She is such a shatterbrain, you know, thinking of little beyond her own pleasure. Still, she loves her husband, so I fear she is merely putting a good face on the matter. I must see for myself.”
“Aye, you were that way from a child,” said Lady Cadogan, grimacing. “You never learn.”
“Do you think to convince me you will not manage without me in London, ma’am? I promise you, I shall not believe such a faradiddle. You will enjoy yourself hugely, and I am persuaded that Eliza at least could not be in better hands then yours.”
Lady Cadogan preened herself. “That is true,” she said. “No one else could fire the girl off as well as I shall.”
“But I do not wish to be fired off,” said Eliza, pouting.
“I for one should like it above all things,” put in Gwenyth. “You are a fool, Eliza, to wish to be stuck with that Bugg person.”
“His name is Gwilym,” said Eliza angrily, “and you are not to call him by that dreadful nickname again, Gwenyth, or I shall … I shall box your ears until they ring a full carillon, do you hear me?”
said the unrepentant Gwenyth.
“Speak English,” pleaded Lady Cadogan.
Gwenyth grinned at her. “Very well, but it seems a pity to say three words when one will do.” She turned to Eliza. “I heard you, Eliza, perfectly. Is there anything else you wish to say to me?”
“Meri,” begged Eliza, “only let me have five minutes alone with her.”
“No, my dear. A lady does not indulge in physical violence.”
“Oh, what a plumper. Why, you kicked Joss and pushed him into the river the week before he left only because he refused to let you ride his black Thunder. And you nearly scratched Nest’s eyes out the time she told Papa you had been climbing the mountain alone again.”
“That was different,” said Meriel with grave dignity. “I do not like tale-bearers.”
“You didn’t like what Joss did when he hauled himself out of the river, either,” said Gwenyth with a chuckle. “I was only seven then, but I remember.”
“I don’t,” said Davy. “What did he do?”
“He put her straight across his knee and thrashed her soundly, and when she complained to Papa, he said it was no more than she deserved and that she was lucky he didn’t repeat Joss’s lesson.”
Meriel chuckled at the memory. “I don’t know whether I was angrier at the thrashing or the fact that Joss was still soaking wet when he caught me,” she said. “I was as soggy as he was when he was done, and Papa scolded me dreadfully for coming into his presence in such a bedraggled condition.”
The others laughed with her then, and the conversation turned safely to the subject of the next day’s journey and the three days they would spend in Barmouth before the coastal packet sailed. As Meriel went upstairs later that evening, she felt a tightening in her throat. This would be the first time she had left Merionethshire since her single unsuccessful Season in London seven years before, and her feelings were mixed. There was sadness at the leaving, but underlying it was an undeniable sense of excitement. Adventure lay ahead. For once, she could almost imagine herself as the heroine in one of Eliza’s idiotish books. Shaking her head at such foolishness, she turned her thoughts firmly to last-minute details that must be attended to before their departure.
WO CARRIAGES WERE REQUIRED
to transport the Traherne party to Barmouth. The ladies and young Master Davy occupied the first, a large and lumbering traveling coach with the Earl of Tallyn’s crest emblazoned upon the door, while two abigails, Mr. Glendower, Marwyn, and piles of luggage occupied the second. The journey began early in the morning, and Davy, being the youngest, found himself occupying the forward, rear-facing seat between the younger two of his three sisters. In the short space of time it took the two carriages to reach the outskirts of Dolgellau, a scattering of neat stone houses and narrow streets at the confluence of the Wnion and Mawddach rivers, his squirming and stretching to see the passing countryside had begun to annoy them both.
“Do, for heaven’s sake, stop wriggling!” exclaimed Eliza.
“I want to see,” was his simple response. “Why are there so many people about at such an early hour?”
“Because Dolgellau is a market town, of course,” responded Gwenyth loftily. “Don’t you know anything? Sit still.”
“There’s a man with a pig on his shoulder!”
“Davy, sit back where you belong,” commanded Eliza. “You are crushing my dress. Really, Meri, cannot you make him be still?”
Meriel smiled. “We have a half-day’s journey before us, so the three of you will have to settle yourselves as best you can. Perhaps if one of you were to exchange seats with him, you would all be more comfortable.”
“Well, I shall not,” said Gwenyth firmly, “for I wish to look out also. Besides, if I sit in the middle I shall more than likely be sick.”
“That’s true enough,” said Eliza with a sigh. “Very well, Davy, you may sit here. But don’t scramble over me like a puppy, for heaven’s sake,” she added hastily. “If you will stand up a little, perhaps I can slide under you.”
This feat was accomplished, and Davy was soon happily engaged in peering out at the passing populace, his button nose pressed against the glass. “Dolgellau is a very important town, is it not?” he said a moment later as the coach passed the Golden Lion, a bustling inn that had been nearly as famous in the days of the Tudors as it was now, and lumbered over the cobbles toward Saint Mary’s church with its distinctive oak pillars and tall spiked steeple.
Gwenyth snorted. “Only wait until you see London, Mr. Know-all. Then you will think Dolgellau quite paltry.”
Meriel chuckled at Davy’s wide-eyed expression. “London is a much larger city, you see, but Dolgellau is certainly important to Wales, for besides being a marketing town, it is also a manufacturing center.”
“Indeed,” put in Lady Cadogan. “Do you recall from your lessons with Mr. Glendower just what is manufactured here, Davy?”
The boy nodded without taking his eyes from the view. “Flannel. He told me that the wool from our sheep is used for that purpose. Oh, look, we are coming to a bridge.”
Once over the ancient stone bridge crossing the Wnion, it was but a short distance to the Barmouth Road, which wound through a dark and gloomy vale to the village of Llanelltyd, then beyond through the mountains, following the course of the River Mawddach. Both road and river were hemmed in by rocky cliffs and steep banks hung with plantations of larch trees. To their left, kingfishers dove into the river, which flowed swiftly as it carved its way through the rock, its tumbling, rushing progress audible even over the noise of the carriage wheels. It seemed to Meriel, who had traveled the route several times before, that each curve brought a new and more magnificent burst of scenery to view, so she could not be surprised that her small brother continued to peer from his window without any sign of incipient boredom. She exchanged an amused glance with Lady Cadogan.
“I daresay we are all looking forward to a change,” that lady said, smiling.
“’Tis early days yet, of course, but I daresay we shall not find Barmouth thin of company.”
“Who will be there, do you think?” demanded Gwenyth.
Meriel leaned back, settling herself more comfortably against the squabs, as the conversation drifted on between her sisters and Lady Cadogan. It did not much matter to her who might be in Barmouth, so long as the Earl of Uxbridge was there with the papers he had promised to obtain for her. The three days they would pass waiting for the packet boat that would carry them south along the rugged coast would go quickly enough. For herself, she would have been content to remain two more days at Plas Tallyn, but she had let the weight of the others’ arguments persuade her to depart early enough to enjoy several days at the seaside resort. Her senses stirred only when she thought ahead to her journey into France. Despite the peace, she could not help thinking that adventure, perhaps even danger, lay ahead. Tiny thrills raced up her spine at the thought.
The river alongside which they traveled began to widen considerably, and within the hour they reached the head of the Mawddach estuary, a broad, somewhat boggy arm of Cardigan Bay. Two more hours of winding road lay ahead, however, before they topped a rise and were able at last to look down upon the sea and the thriving little resort town that was their destination.
Despite the fact that Barmouth was the main port of Merionethshire, it was not a large town and was situated, Meriel thought, in one of the most undesirable places that could have been chosen for it. The golden beach that stretched for two miles on either side of it was pleasant enough, but while some of the picturesque houses had been built right upon the sand at the bottom of the huge rock cliff that entirely sheltered the town on the east, others occupied seemingly impossible positions at different elevations right upon the cliffside and were connected by a series of narrow, winding, entirely precipitous flights of stairs cut out of the rock.
“Goodness,” Davy breathed, gripping the doorframe with white knuckles and struggling to lean forward enough to see out the window as the carriage began the steep descent toward the sea.
Eliza had closed her eyes as the carriage lurched over the rise, but Gwenyth peered from her window, craning her neck to see what lay ahead, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “Only look,” she said, grinning. “I daresay that the people in some of those houses might almost cure their bacon by simply hanging it out the window over their neighbors’ chimneys.”
Meriel, bracing herself against the increasing incline and hoping the coachmen knew their business, smiled at her sister’s comment. Certainly the houses were curious ones, looking as though they ought to slide into one another or topple into the sea at any moment. She had spent the summer here more than once as a child, however, and knew they were quite solidly built.
Since their stay this time would be a short one, she had arranged for them to put up at the most comfortable of several inns located at the bottom of the cliff where the road—the only road in Barmouth—ran between the cliffside and the quay. Instead of watching the steep, winding road ahead, she turned her attention to the wide, curving bay, where afternoon sunlight sparkled on green water and where at least fifty boats of assorted sizes rested at anchor.
Within the hour they were settled in their rooms at the lovely old inn and Mrs. Lewis, the proprietress, had begun to serve a light luncheon in their private sitting room. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the town and the quayside, and by suppertime Lady Cadogan had discovered that not only were the Earl and Countess of Uxbridge in residence at their home just north of the village, but that a number of her other acquaintances were in Barmouth as well. Thus, it was not surprising that the following morning found the Traherne ladies happily engaged in poring over a number of invitations that had been delivered to their sitting room with their breakfast trays.
“A boating party!” exclaimed Gwenyth, reading over Meriel’s shoulder. “Oh, may I go too, Meri? Please?”
“You will only be sick,” said Eliza calmly.
Meriel glanced up at her youngest sister. “I daresay you would be, you know, but the question will not arise—or not so far as that party is concerned, at any event—for it is not to be until Saturday and by then, you know, we will be aboard the packet. Half these invitations are for events that take place after our departure, I’m afraid.”
“Not this one,” said Lady Cadogan with a broad smile. “Only look, Meriel, my love. The Countess of Uxbridge desires our presence at a dinner party Thursday evening. How very kind of her, to be sure.”
“Indeed,” Meriel agreed, “though perhaps we ought to call at Uxbridge Hall earlier to obtain my passport and the letters his lordship promised.”
“Am I included in her ladyship’s invitation?” Eliza asked, her casual tone belied by the spark of excitement in her eyes.
Lady Cadogan twinkled back at her. “Certainly you are, my dear. It will be the perfect way to begin your come-out, for I daresay it will not be an extremely large party, since her ladyship is but lately delivered of her second son. Uxbridge, you know, is a distinguished military officer with the highest connections. Moreover, he is a most delightful and obliging gentleman, for you know he must have had to go to Aberystwyth in order to procure your sister’s passport, there being no customs office in Barmouth, or anywhere else in Merioneth that I know about. Her ladyship, Meriel, mentions that he will have your documents for you Thursday evening, by the by, so we need not exert ourselves before that.” She turned back to Eliza. “Lady Uxbridge, you will find, is as delightful as her husband, though, to be sure, she is a daughter of the Earl and Countess of Jersey, of whom you have often heard me speak. Caroline is a little like her mother, I’m afraid, but of course, such behavior is not at all odd in a
woman. You will wear your white muslin with the lavender silk sash, my dear.”