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Authors: Abigail Blanchart

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Historical Fiction

Lydia Trent

BOOK: Lydia Trent
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Lydia
Trent

A
novel

by

Abigail
Blanchart

About
the Author

Born
in Yorkshire, Abigail Blanchart is an English teacher, writer and
designer, living in Japan with a spinning wheel, an enormous pile of
yarn, and a collection of Victorian 'sensation' novels.

Acknowledgements

The
author would like to thank those sadly long dead writers who inspired
this work – Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Charles
Reade.

Thanks
to the NaNoWriMo crew and forum members, who kept me on track, and to
my friends and colleagues who put up with my constant scribbling for
a whole month.

Thanks
also to my beloved sisters, the only thing I truly miss about
England; the children I teach, who keep me young at heart; and most
of all to Jesse, who inspires me every day.

Chapter the 1
st

To
the modern city dweller, eyes and ears accustomed to the everyday
clangour of gas-lights and railway-stations, advertising-hoardings
and omnibuses, there are few sights more pleasant than the English
country house. The house with which we are concerned, a modest, airy,
modern gentleman's residence set amongst rustic scenery and soft
hills, was just such a one. Its honey-coloured stone blushing gently
in the slanting rays of the sinking sun, which glanced its ruddy
light from the casemented windows, conveys the very image of peace
and prosperity.

The
house is surrounded by a pretty sort of garden-ground, which though
not extensive, is laid out with a pretty rusticity. The abundance of
all the sweetest and simplest cottage flowers which lend charm to an
English country garden, the taste with which they are arranged, seems
to proclaim that the garden's planning was the work of at least one
of the two young ladies we now see strolling on the wide gravel walk
beside the house, their arms entwined around one anothers waists.

Some
seventeen years previously, the widower William Trent, a prosperous
merchant, now retired from business, had loved and married a
penniless widow, Mrs Evelyn Wade, This lady's two-year old daughter
Adeline had become sister and companion to Mr Trent's 6-year-old
olive branch, Lydia.

Adeline
and Lydia were now fine-grown young women, but there still remained
between them the same sisterly feeling - the elder to comfort and
advise, the younger to lean and confide - as there had been when
little Lydia had shared her sweets and playthings, and kissed bruised
knees when her Adele's toddling steps went astray, and when little
Adeline had picked flowers and nestled up to 'my Widdy, for a 'tory,
and a tiss'. Let us meet them now, as they round the corner of the
house.

If
we notice Miss Adeline first, we shall be no different to ninety-nine
of a hundred other persons. Though none of her features was, in and
of itself, worthy of exceptional comment, there was something in
their symmetry and arrangement which seemed to tap into some primal
aesthetic sense, the same which finds beauty in a landscape or a
flower. It was of a flower that Lydia most reminded one, with a
clear, almost transparent complexion of the same creamy white and
blush pink as the old-fashioned rosed she loved. Her eyes were large,
fringed with thick black lashes which drooped captivatingly upon her
blush-rose cheek, the eyes themselves being of a peculiar hazel hue,
which seemed to change colour with her mood, from dazzling green to
cat-like yellow, to limpid and fascinating brown. Her hair was as
changeable as her eyes and her cheeks, the chestnut locks which
curled softly from low on her brow, and seemed always on the verge of
escaping those feminine confinements, in the form of pin and comb,
with which she daily tried to tame her tresses, glinted with golden
lights by day, rich auburn by candlelight.

Now,
at nineteen years of age, Adeline's figure was fully developed to a
blooming womanliness, but was yet slender and girlishly graceful as
she clung to her sister-in-law like a climbing rose.

Lydia,
at twenty-three the elder of the two, was less arresting, though far
from utterly unlovely. Her brownish complexion and mass of dead-gold
hair (of a shade called sandy by the uncharitable) were relieved by a
pair of sparkling grey eyes, expressive of much intelligence and good
humour (except when she was angry, which was not often, when they
hardened to chips of slate), and a wide, mobile mouth which, while
unremarkable in repose, was as expressive as her eyes, and just now
was rendered lovely by the tenderest of smiles as she bent her head
lovingly over her sister's.

Lydia's
stature was greater than Adeline's, her figure less formed and less
graceful, but there was nevertheless an elasticity in her step, a
spring in her movements, and a firmness in the set of her shoulders
which suggested energy, spirit and resolution.

Forgive
me if I have lingered too long on the image of these two girls, the
younger leaning on the elder, the fading sun dyeing their simple
white summer gowns the shades of a peace-rose. I saw them so once,
and it is a sweet and tender picture that will remain forever in my
memory.

On
this particular soft June evening, the girls were taking a stroll
before retiring to dress for dinner, to examine the progress of
sundry tender seedlings that Adeline had recently had planted out,
and to talk over the day's small events (oh, whenever are they large
events, that young ladies - cabin'd, cribbed, confined – can ever
find to talk about?).


How
kind it was of Alfred to bring me the new song from London,”
murmured Adeline, then in a tone of more enthusiasm, “I shall learn
it directly – he was obliging enough to express a wish to hear me
play it.”


Yes,
Mr Denham is obliging indeed.” dryly observed Lydia, with a hint of
amusement.


Oh
Lyddy, you are always so cold, with your 'Mr Denham this' and 'Mr
Denham that'. Anyone would think you held dear Alfred in aversion!”


I
should be monstrous indeed to dislike one who is so pleasant to all,
and so very kind to my dearest Adele – but still you are a grown
woman now and there are proprieties to be thought of.”


But
to call him Mr Denham now, when he has been Alfred since I was 6
years old, and you went to school, and he took pity on me and made me
a whistle and took me birds-nesting, after he found me crying for
very loneliness in the lane one day, and he has been my friend ever
since – why, how heartless he would think me, he would wonder what
on Earth he had done to offend me!” exclaimed Adeline, spirited in
the defence of her childish champion.


When
you left school last year was the time that the change in your
relations should have taken place – however I accept it is probably
now too late to change the habit now. I only beg that you try to curb
yourself of speaking of him as 'Dear Alfred', which you know you are
sadly wont to do. I do not wish to be stuffy, but it does sound very
particular, almost as if he was your accepted lover.”

Though
this matronly speech was made in a good-humoured tone, Adeline
started imperceptibly, and was silent, as if a new and surprising
thought had just arisen in her head, and she remained thoughtful
until the girls went inside to dress for dinner.

Chapter the 2
nd

The
rest of the evening passed uneventfully, and the girls retired to
dream of... who knows. Whatever wild fancies whispered themselves in
the fair sleepers' ears that night did not, however, disturb their
rest, and they met at breakfast the next morning composed and
refreshed.

After
this meal, Adeline decamped to the instrument, to make what headway
she could against the vagaries of the fashionable song, while Lydia
busied herself writing letters for her father, before taking up a
piece of knitting to sit with her stepmother.

Mr
Trent was a fine and hearty gentleman of two and fifty summers. The
one great sorrow of his life was the loss of his first wife shortly
after Lydia was born, and the great consolation of his life was his
two daughters – for Adeline also filled a daughter's place in his
heart. He was a kind and indulgent father, who genuinely enjoyed the
company of his girls. He was never too weary or too bowed down with
care to talk to them, listen to their little concerns, share their
joys and sorrows, advise, inform and guide them. And truth be told,
amongst the treasures hid deep in the recesses of his desk, sharing a
lavender-and-rose-leaf fragranced drawer with the precious packet of
letters and lock of hair from his beloved Sylvia, lay a somewhat
larger packet of letters, all more or less blotted and misspelled, in
the large round hand of a couple of unruly schoolgirls. These letters
had been his solace and refuge when weighed down with business cares
- for prosperity had come and gone and come again for old William
Trent, and he had supped at their contents as other men sup
brandy-and-water – and he could no more bear to part with them now
than he could bear to part with the writers. If he had been
disappointed in his second wife, if she was not the all-in-all to him
he had found in Lydia's mother, then he at least had the tact and
gentlemanly feeling not to show the world, or his daughters, his
disillusionment. Though loving words and tender gestures had long
since been laid aside, he showed the second Mrs Trent every
consideration. Though he could not love or respect her, he could
still treat her with the gentle courtesy he felt was due to his wife.
No harsh word was spoken, no request refused, no expressed wish
unfulfilled if it was in his power.

What
of Evelyn Trent? Perhaps the greatest cause of the fading of her
husband's love was not a lack of affection for himself after their
marriage – that he had hoped for but never expected in a second
attachment. It was rather the lack of tenderness she displayed toward
his beloved Lydia. To give the lady her due, she did not play
favourites, nor attempt to advance her own daughter's claims at the
expense of her stepdaughter's – she showed the same want of
motherly regard to both girls. Although in their early years William
had devoted what time he could spare to their education, Evelyn had
argued strongly for their being sent to school, and though to be
parted from his two bright comforters gave him many a pang, to
Hastings House, a smart gynaeceum on the outskirts of London, some
fifty miles distant, they went. Mr Trent would visit them often when
he was in town, winning a reputation as a 'perfect love of a papa'
amongst the Hastings House girls by the judicious distribution of
ices and drives in the park. During vacation times, Mrs Trent on the
other hand had been all in favour of them accepting this or that
invitation, or else visiting friends herself. Now they had both
returned, she seemed ro regard them in the same light, somewhat, as
one would regard a paid companion. It was necessary to have them
around, to dress and feed and guard them. It was not necessary to
love them.

Mrs
Trent and Lydia sat together now in the morning-room, Lydia ensconced
in the window-seat, knitting industriously at a scarlet worsted
comforter destined for the throat of one of the poor children of the
village, Mrs Trent picking at an endless piece of fancy embroidery,
and complaining of the poor light – though she habitually seated
herself in the shadiest corner, conscious of the signs of age
advancing across her visage despite cold veal and patent wrinkle
removers. That is not to say that Evelyn Trent was not a handsome
woman – at six-and-forty she still had a fine, imposing figure and
a mass of dark auburn hair. Her complexion, though showing a trace of
the crow's-foot about the eyes, was still relatively smooth and
unblemished. Her eyes were of a steely blue which could either freeze
or melt the object of her gaze, depending on which effect she wished
to accomplish. She affected a simple style of dress, choosing to
display her wealth and taste in the choice of luxurious fabrics and
modish cut rather than abundance of trimming and gaudy baubles. By
candle-light, she could have passed easily for eight-and-thirty.

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