To the Historical Fiction Critique Group
for their invaluable help in telling Helena’s story.
In 1675, a private Whig society met at rooms in the King’s Head Inn, Chancery Lane. They called themselves the Green Ribbon Club. On special days their votaries wore ribbons in their hats, of “Leveller Green”. Their patron, James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, the eldest illegitimate son of King Charles II, was a regular visitor. He wore “the green”, and they honoured him by tilting their hats and brims over one eye in the “Monmouth Cock”, toasting him openly as Prince of Wales.
The members swaggered across the cobblestones of Whitehall, talking of the days when “Jemmy” travelled through the West of England, “dancing the green” and “carrying of the Plate”.
Toasts were drunk to “Bless his Majesty and confound the Duke of York”, with little fear of the pillory or Newgate prison. Monmouth’s popularity was high, particularly in the West Country, with its mines and rich woollen trade, owned by non-conformists who had been severely punished for their dissent.
June 11, 1685 was known as the first of the Duking Days, called so because that was the day Monmouth sailed into Lyme Bay, accompanied by eighty-one hopeful men.
His aim was to wrest the British crown from his uncle, James II, the newly crowned king, and within days, six thousand West Countrymen had rallied to his cause. Monmouth was declared “King” in Taunton market place in front of an enthusiastic crowd. But his army was poorly armed and badly disciplined, and many of the promised gentry did not arrive to support him.
In retaliation, James II sent his troops to the West under Lord Feversham, with John Churchill as Second-in-Command.
On the night of July 5, Monmouth launched a surprise attack on the royal army, on marshland outside Bridgwater, in Somerset.
The Battle of Sedgemoor was the last encounter ever fought on English soil.
Loxsbeare, Exeter, June 1685
Helena clung to the hanging strap of the bulky wooden carriage as it clattered down St David’s Hill and took a stomach-lurching turn into Northgate Street.
“Make way there!” the haughty footmen clinging to the rear yelled at a driver of a slow-moving cart who rounded the corner into their path. The journeyman’s face, twisted into a snarl, flashed by the window as he hauled his barrow onto the verge, narrowly avoiding a collision.
Helena flinched at the man’s distorted features, though she doubted his bad temper was directed at her. However, recent events had sharpened her perception of disrespect, and she expected less than perfect manners from strangers these days. Bayle sat opposite beside her mother, dwarfing her younger brother Henry, who would have surely fidgeted more had there been room.
Their manservant did not usually attend church with the family, though that morning his insistence was accepted by her mother without comment.
Nathan Bayle had been part of Helena’s life forever. “Ask Bayle” was the watchword at Loxsbeare, where house servants and estate staff alike called him Master Bayle, whether he was within earshot or not. Only her father ever called him Nathan.
Despite his imposing size, he was a gentle soul, with wavy brown hair slicked back from a high, flat forehead, and expressive brown eyes. His mention of their needing protection puzzled Helena. Or did the entire city know Sir Jonathan Woulfe had gone to join the Duke of Monmouth? Even so, surely there were those among them who would applaud him.
The aromas of hot leather and horses, sunbaked grass and starched linen within that confined space made Helena queasy. Her mother sat, silent and upright, her delicate features turned toward the window. She kept her face averted, but Helena sensed her unease as she tugged repeatedly at a lace lappet dangling from her headdress.
Exeter sported few private carriages; therefore the knot of curious onlookers who watched them roll to a halt on the cobbles outside St Mary Arches Church was little cause for concern.
Bayle did not wait for the footman to let down the wooden step, but leapt onto the ground in one fluid movement. His hand reached back to help the other occupants down.
Helena nodded in greeting to several of their acquaintances at the lytch gate, though, unusually, no one acknowledged her. Instead, self-conscious or scornful eyes raked her as they entered through the church door. A woman started forward, a hand raised in greeting, but at her husband’s shake of his head, she hesitated and returned to his side.
Others made no pretense of their revulsion, and hurried inside, hushing children who chattered and pointed.
Seated in the family pew at the front, her mother sat stoically, her gaze fixed on the altar, feigning unawareness of curious eyes, or low murmurings from adjacent pews.
“Let them whisper and gossip,” Helena muttered under her breath. She was proud that her menfolk had stood up for their principles and joined the Duke’s cause, although she had not slept a full night since they had left for Lyme two weeks before.
Before the service began, the Minister, a humourless man with a weak chin, paused before the altar. “I have been instructed,” he said, swallowing, “to read a pronouncement issued by his Majesty.” His myopic eyes flicked to the figure of the magistrate who hovered in the transept.
“Didn’t he read a declaration last week?” Henry asked, sotto voce.
“That one was Monmouth’s,” Helena said out of the corner of her mouth. “The one he read at Taunton saying he was the rightful king.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, louder. “Father said Monmouth didn’t seek the throne.”
“Hush!” Helena nudged him, deflecting a scowl from their mother.
Triske coughed, and began reading from a rolled parchment. “His Majesty King James decrees that his nephew, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, and all his, adherents, abettors and advisers are traitors and rebels.”
As the words reverberated round the church, rage swept through Helena’s veins. Traitors? How dare this insipid cleric call Sir Jonathan Woulfe such a thing? Rebels indeed! Didn’t he realize Monmouth protected the very church where Triske condemned his loyalty?
The minister reached the end of his short speech. After a nod from the magistrate, he commanded the congregation kneel in prayer. There was the shuffle of feet and the odd self-conscious cough.
Only self-righteous anger sustained Helena through the rest of the interminable service, aware as she was of the whispers and hard looks thrown their way.
Before the last notes of the choristers trailed away, her mother rose abruptly and swept back down the aisle.
Staying close to her skirts. Helena followed, looking neither right nor left, drawn by the shaft of sunlight thrown onto the flagstones by the open church door.
A young friend of Henry’s started forward from the last pew, his face alight with greeting. A male hand clamped down on the boy’s shoulder and after a brief, fierce exchange, his father guided him away.
Helena narrowed her eyes at the man, angry for Henry, who had harmed no one. Was this what they were to expect from townsfolk who relied on the wool trade provided by Sir Jonathan Woulfe? Were it not for him, where would they find the food for their families, and the clothes on their backs?
Her mother paused to acknowledge Master Triske at the church door, but did not linger to chatter with friends, as was her usual custom. Instead, she walked rapidly back along the path, past a glowering Lord Blanden and his sneering wife, Lady Maude.
The Blandens owned an ancient manor at the top of St David’s Hill, and though it had been built before that of the Woulfes, possessed a less noble heritage. According to Helena’s father, the respect of the city’s citizens had so far eluded the Blandens, a fact which still rankled.
On her seventeenth birthday, Helena had made no objection when her family announced she would be betrothed to their son. She liked Martyn well enough, though she had hoped to feel something other than brotherly affection for the man destined to be her husband.
That her father granted her a generous portion, commensurate with the Woulfe name, went some way to igniting her enthusiasm. Dazzled by his generosity, she had moved through a haze of over-indulgence, exhilarated to be the centre of so much attention.
Despite the heat of the churchyard, Helena shivered at the memory of the morning, in the previous December, when Martyn fell ill during a visit to Loxsbeare. His manservant had carried him to his horse and bore him away before Helena could bid a proper farewell.
In the days that followed, her enquiries as to his well-being were deflected with vague responses, until a messenger arrived from Blanden Manor to tell them Martyn was dead.
Relieved the marriage would not go ahead, guilt made Helena exaggerate her tears.
Lord Blanden had appeared more frustrated than grief-stricken, an observation made by her mother, who claimed he had instigated the betrothal so he might bask in the reflected glory of the Woulfes’ reputation.
Recalling her mother’s scorn, Helena hurried through the sun-filled churchyard, conscious of Blanden’s sharp eyes boring into her back, all the way to the carriage.
“What do you suppose he wants?” Henry cocked his chin at the black-garbed City Magistrate, who strode grim-faced down the path in their direction, a hand raised to command their attention.
Bayle rapped the roof smartly and the vehicle lurched into Fore Street, leaving the Magistrate standing in the middle of the road, scowling.
“His duty can wait a little longer,” Bayle muttered.
Helena gave him a thin smile, unable to bring herself to ask what that duty might be.
The carriage rumbled beneath the stone gatehouse over the north gate and climbed the steep Longbrook, the precarious sway forcing Helena to hang on to the strap over the door, to prevent colliding with her brother.
Henry remained silent during the short but oppressive journey home, his chin propped in one hand, his elbow on the sill. He would never complain of his treatment at the church, though Helena knew he felt the rejection keenly. She pouted and blew air upwards creating a breeze that lifted the “favorites” at her temples. She would be glad to get out of this stifling coach, albeit suspecting the rest of their Sunday would be no more restful.
* * *
Helena strolled the lawn in the garden, tearing off leaves from the thick hedge, only to drop them at her feet as she walked. Her mother relaxed on a bench piled with cushions set against the garden wall, while their steward Lumm played a game of ring taw with Henry.
“Shouldn’t that game be played on a hard surface, and standing up, Henry?” Helena asked, irritated by Lumm’s attitude. Their steward would never have lounged on the grass so casually in her father’s company. His shirt lay open at the neck and he had removed his cravat. Even the buttons on his jerkin were undone.
“It’s too hot to go racing about,” Henry answered. “Besides, I’m winning.” His marble hit Lumm with a crack and sent it out of the makeshift circle of stones they had arranged on the grass.
Defeated, Helena turned away, waving her feather fan lazily in front of her face, the fronds catching on her damp skin. The heavy fragrance from the overblown eglantine blooms clinging to the wall threatened to give her a headache. A dribble of sweat trickled between her shoulders, and her skirt clung to the back of her legs. A housemaid appeared from the rear kitchen door carrying a pewter tray on which were a jug and goblets. She crossed the lawn and set it down on the stone table between the three curved stone benches like a miniature amphitheatre.
“Thank you, Milly,” Helena said, eying the tray. “I thought my tongue would shrivel up in this heat.”
“Pity you can’t sweeten it a little too.” Henry laughed at his own joke. Lumm punched his arm playfully.
Helena swallowed her sharp retort, suddenly aware she had been brittle, and maybe snappish, lately. Who could blame her? With nothing to do but household chores best fit for servants, and waiting for news, no wonder she was bad-tempered.
A window on the floor above opened. A hand appeared, waved a white cloth, then pulled the window shut again with a bang.
“I wonder where Father is now.” Helena asked no one in particular.
“Seeing off King James’ men, I expect,” Henry said. Teeth gritted, he spun his marble as he threw, sending Lumm into the longer grass. The steward groaned, and Lady Elizabeth clapped politely.
Helena caught her brother’s set jaw, something no one else appeared to notice. He was almost sixteen, hardly a child any more. Yet their father had almost laughed when Henry asked to go with him to Lyme.
For weeks beforehand, Father and Uncle Ned had shut themselves up for hours with a succession of anonymous visitors he forbade anyone to see, much less ask about.
Helena had tried to listen at the door once, but heard only a low murmur of male voices, the chink of glass on glass, and an occasional short laugh. When the distinctive sound of a chair being scraped back had threatened discovery, she had turned on her heels to flee, barging straight into Lumm.
Strong hands had closed on her upper arms, and his eyes had danced with amusement. “I beg your pardon, Mistress.”
Her thoughts raced in search of a credible reason for her being crouched outside the door. She squirmed from his grasp.
Lumm’s smile remained when he dropped his hands, as if what he held had no more effect on him than a sack of flour. “May I assist you, Mistress?” he had said with a smile, reaching past her for the handle.
Mumbling that she had changed her mind, Helena retreated. With a mocking bow, he disappeared into the room, blocking her view of the occupants.
His triumphant laugh, followed by Henry’s yell of protest, brought her back to the present with a jolt. She studied the steward from the corner of her eye, resentful of his easy smiles and the way his thick brown hair hung loose on his broad shoulders. Aaron should be here, laughing and playing marbles with Henry, not him.
As if he sensed her thoughts, Lumm’s gaze slid toward her, and he gave a slow wink.
Annoyed he had caught her looking at him, Helena turned away, just as Bayle hurried across the grass. His frantic face and the papers clutched in one hand confirmed her suspicion that his return to the city that day had little to do with obtaining supplies, as he had said. On a Sunday? Did he think her so easily fooled?
Her mother’s face tensed at his fixed expression. “What news, Bayle?” she asked, pointing to the bench opposite her.
He sketched a bow as he sat, then removed his wide-brimmed felt hat, leaving a ridge in his hair. “Well, don’t keep us in suspense!” Henry demanded, his tone reminiscent of their brother Aaron. “What does the newssheet say?”
Bayle swiped a hand across his brow, smudging a white streak in the dust there.
He offered Lady Elizabeth the newssheet, but she waved it away. “You may as well read it to us,” she said, sighing.
“According to this, Lord Feversham and the King’s men have reached Somerset, my lady.” He waved the page instead, showing he knew the contents by heart.
“Feversham is in command?” Lumm looked up in surprise. “Hah! John Churchill will feel slighted by that.” He handed Bayle a cup of elderflower water from the tray. “Being overlooked in favour of a Huguenot is a blatant insult.”
Helena brought her cup to her lips, then grimaced, lowering it again and picking flecks of petals from the surface. Bands of Huguenots arrived in Exeter each day with stories of families in France being dragged apart, with children of Protestant parents forced to accept the Roman faith. She and her mother distributed alms to them sometimes at St Olive’s, these days referred to as the French Church.
“If King James is a Catholic.” Henry shielded his eyes with the newssheet Bayle handed him. “Does that mean we all have to be Papists?” He had discarded the peruke and tied his sandy hair back into a queue. Helena liked him better that way.
“I fear, Master, that if he isn’t stopped.” Lumm rolled into a crouch, his arms wrapped round his knees. “What is happening in France may affect us here, too.”
Helena closed her eyes briefly, the sun glowing red behind her eyelids. Isn’t that why her father had gone to join Monmouth? To stop King James turning everyone into Papists?
“Perhaps not that,” Bayle said, his voice soft. “From what I hear, he was more in favour of removing the restrictions on Papists. Give them equal status to Anglicans.”
“Huh!” Henry snorted. “How can they have equal status? This is a Protestant country.” Henry quoted their father word for word. Did he even fully understand what he was saying?
Helena opened her eyes and caught the look of understanding that passed between the steward and manservant. Circumstances had wrought a change between them these last weeks, where Bayle deferred to Lumm on duties he had performed since he was a boy, and Lumm, for his part, often sought the older man’s advice. Lumm might wear more velvet and fine linen than any steward she had seen, but despite her misgivings, their combined presence was reassuring.
“Monmouth and Churchill used to be such good friends,” Mother said, her voice low and distracted. “I met him once, such a handsome man.” Mother gave a sigh, her eyes empty. Helena was surprised she had been listening. Since her father had left, Mother’s concentration had suffered. Her conversation had become discordant and rambling at times, or she panicked so badly she had to be given sleeping draughts by her maid Ruth.
“Says here,” Henry read from the newssheet, “that Monmouth and his rebels have gained possession of Axminster, and saw off Albemarle’s militia outside the town.” He pushed strands of damp sandy hair away from his forehead.
“Don’t call them rebels, Henry,” Helena snapped, nibbling at a thumbnail. “I hate that expression.”
“When they reached Taunton,” Henry continued, ignoring her, “the townsfolk lined the streets to welcome the duke. A party of schoolgirls presented him with a pennant.” He slapped the page, grinning. “You see, Mother? They love Monmouth.”
“It’s not all good news, Master Henry.” Bayle batted away a persistent fly with a hand the size of a small shovel. “There was that skirmish at Ashill.”
Helena jerked up her head and stared at him. “What skirmish?”
“A party of Lord Oxford’s Horse tried to roust the rebel outposts.” A rivulet of sweat worked its way down Bayle’s forehead. “Monmouth lost four of his men, and many were wounded.” Lumm offered him a lace kerchief, but at Bayle’s dismissive snort, returned it to his pocket with a flourish. Lumm’s cavalier ways had always been a source of amusement between them.
“Did the rebels kill any troopers?” Henry asked, tugging a wide leaf from a nearby shrub and chewing the stem.
Helena winced but chose not to reprimand him again. Bayle already knew she was a trial to her parents and suspected Lumm was fast coming to the same conclusion. “Not subservient enough for an unmarried girl,” she had heard Bayle say once.
“They lost three men.” Lumm leaned back on one elbow. “Churchill’s Lieutenant Monoux got a pistol shot through the head for his trouble.”
Henry raised a fist, and gave a loud whoop, which was greeted by amused laughter from the two men.
“There wasn’t supposed to be any fighting.” Helena slumped down on the nearest bench, replacing her empty cup on the tray. “Father said Monmouth was to take a contingent of men to London and demand King James establish the supremacy of the Anglican Church. Now all the talk is of armies marching and who has claimed which town…it’s as if we are at war.”
“Mistress Helena,” Lumm said gently. “The king was hardly going to sit back and let his nephew usurp his throne.”
“That wasn’t the plan.” Helena brought her fist down on her thigh. She recalled the day a messenger who came to tell them Monmouth had landed at Lyme with eighty men. No dark, brooding stranger riding a sweating horse into the courtyard under cover of night, but a nondescript labourer on an old carthorse.
How delighted her father had been to receive his summons to Lyme. Uncle Edmund and Aaron could hardly wait long enough to saddle their horses before they were gone.
The snap-snap-snap of a startled pigeon crashed through the canopy above brought back her thoughts to the present.
“Helena’s right,” her mother’s voice held tears. “They should never have challenged the king. He’ll crush them.”
“Monmouth’s cause might still prevail, my lady. The people still want him,” Bayle said
“Don’t try to humour me!” Mother snapped, her eyes flashing now where they had been lifeless a second before. “King James has declared Monmouth a traitor. His own nephew—and he wants him dead! What will he do to my husband for the same offence?”
She grabbed the newssheet from Henry and thrust it under the manservant’s chin. “Monmouth has accused King James of killing his father and appropriating his crown while the rightful heir was out of the country.” She jabbed the sheet with a fingernail, reading aloud. “And here, it says that his nephew must be, ‘seized and apprehended, together with all his, adherents, abettors, and advisers.’” She flung the pages onto the grass. “They’re signing their own death warrants.”
“But Monmouth says….” Henry began, but she cut him off with a snort.
“Monmouth says,” she mimicked. “James the Second is our crowned King, and Catholic or not, anyone who says otherwise is putting themselves on the side of the devil.”
“Mother!” Helena’s stomach lurched. How could she talk of Father in that way?
“What are we to do?” Mother muttered, her eyes darting round as if on the lookout for eavesdroppers. “We’ll lose everything, and I’ll never see my husband again. We’re doomed.”
Henry’s face blanched and he eased away from her reaching hand, clawing at his sleeve.
“Bayle!” Helena rose, a hand flapping toward him. “Do something!”
However, it was Lumm who scrambled to his feet, calling to a passing servant. “Fetch Lady Elizabeth’s maid.”
Tense moments passed until Ruth arrived at what passed for a run on her tree-trunk legs. She swept the occupants of the garden with accusing eyes, then ushered the distraught woman through the rear doors into the house, slamming them shut.
Helena stared at her lap, dismayed at how Mother’s outbursts had become more frequent in their vehemence, though what she said made awful sense. To the world outside Loxsbeare, Sir Jonathan Woulfe was a traitor. Traitors were executed in the most horrible way; their heads displayed on pikes on London Bridge, their possessions seized by the crown, and their families disgraced.
Her throat felt dry and tears threatened. She palmed them away, unwilling to let Henry see her cry. What would happen to her father and Uncle Ned? Aaron was only twenty; his life had hardly begun. What sort of future could any of them have with their father disgraced and their name sullied?
Then her fears turned inward, and her selfish bone intruded. Would any respectable man want to marry his son to a traitor’s daughter?
In the space of a few days, the weather changed from blistering heat that dried up ponds and cracked the earth to relentless rain that battered the standing corn to the ground. Damp crept into every crevice of the house, tracing patches of green slime on north facing walls, dragging Helena’s spirits even lower.
During a brief lull in a summer storm, a visitor trotted his sorrel Percheron through the manor gates, and dismounted. Familiar with its surroundings, the sturdy horse stood passive, and would likely remain so until he was led away.
“Good Morrow, Master Ffoyle.” Helena strode forward in greeting. “And how is this soft old boy today?” She cupped the horse’s wide muzzle in both hands, and was rewarded with a gentle whicker.
As tall as Bayle, though he carried less bulk, Samuel Ffoyle’s smiles were infrequent, the sound of his raised voice even more so. He always dressed in unadorned earth colors, which Helena’s father always said was less a religious display inherited from his Puritan parents than his aversion to wasting time visiting tailors. The changing times of Charles Stuart’s reign had fostered a close relationship between Samuel Ffoyle, sheep-farmer-turned-merchant, and Sir Jonathan Woulfe, landed gentry and courtier.
“A good man in a crisis,” her father always said of him.
“Mistress Helena.” Samuel Ffoyle inclined his head, though did not slow his stride toward the front door.
Helena hurried to keep pace with him.
The footman bowed the visitor into the great hall but refused Helena’s offer to sit.
“You are an honest Anglican, are you not, Master Ffoyle?” Helena asked, drawing his attention away from a painting of a long dead Woulfe wearing a ruff he must have seen a hundred times before.
Instead of an answer, Samuel’s eyes swiveled to her face and remained there, waiting.
“I know you are, of course,” she said, aware of having already stepped beyond the boundaries of propriety. “Yet you chose not to go to Somerset and uphold that faith?”
His eyes widened fractionally, then with sigh, he placed his hat on a table. “I have a wife and six children to protect, and a large farm to run. Indeed, my eldest sons would have taken themselves off to Somerset by now, had I not reminded them of their duty.”
“You forbade them to go?” Helena pictured the faces of Elias, who was Aaron’s age, and Seth, a year older than Henry.
“When they have households of their own to manage, they will be free to abandon them as they choose.”
About to voice a disrespectful retort, Helena clamped her lips together, resentful of the fact the Ffoyle offspring were safe at home while her menfolk were not. It didn’t seem fair. Before she could voice her feelings, the rustle of heavy silk heralded the arrival of her mother. With a flick of her hand, she indicated Helena should withdraw.
She was about to obey, but at the last second took the window seat, telling herself she would accept whatever punishment Mother would mete out later.
Samuel perched awkwardly on a spindle-legged chair, his knees angled outward from the narrow squab.
“Lady Elizabeth,” he began slowly, as if unsure how to approach the subject, “King James has demanded Prince William of Orange return the Scots Brigade from Holland to add to the forces against Monmouth.”
“Prince William did not acquiesce, surely?” she said, her manner calmer than she had been lately. “He supports Monmouth, who was brought up with the Princess Mary. They are cousins, and very close.”
“The prince can hardly refuse.” Samuel sighed. “Those troops were on loan only in his fight with the French. They are King James’ men after all.”
Lady Elizabeth’s delicate hands fluttered to her throat. “Do you think Monmouth knows?”
“If we know, then we must assume he does too.” Samuel shrugged his shoulders resignedly.
“Also…the news from Scotland is…disappointing.” Samuel rubbed his hands along his thighs. “A strong militia presence ensured the few men who dared turn out in support of the Earl of Argyll. He managed to elude the militia for a couple of weeks, but few gathered to his standard, for fear of reprisals. He’s been arrested and taken to Edinburgh.” He closed his eyes and exhaled.
“Argyll made Monmouth promise not to declare himself King,” Mother said, demonstrating a rare moment of lucidity.
“He was, my lady. However,” Samuel paused. “In Cheshire too, the number who arrived in support of the duke fell short of that anticipated.”
“I see.” Lady Elizabeth stared blankly, the colour draining from her already pale face.
“The rebels are having a rough time in Somerset,” Samuel went on. “Their supplies are nearly gone, and rumour has it that they have resorted to pilfering and free quartering on the locals.”
“I doubt that made them very popular,” Lady Elizabeth gave a snort. “Is it true King James has pardoned those rebels who have agreed to return to their homes?” She rocked back and forth in her seat.
It was a bad sign. Samuel saw it too, and winced.
“How many have left the rebel army?” Helena demanded.
Samuel swung his head in Helena’s direction, his eyes sad. “Hundreds maybe. Possibly a thousand.”
Lady Elizabeth’s delicate fingers picked at the lace on her cuffs until it tore, and for long seconds no one spoke.
Helena’s glanced out of the window. How much bad news could there be? Beyond the leaded panes, slate clouds gathered their skirts to bustle away and deluge another part of the Devon hills. The silence stretched, broken by Samuel’s cough as he rose and bowed. “I must take my leave.”
“So soon?” Lady Elizabeth looked distraught. “I hoped you would dine with us.”
“Forgive me, my lady, but the roads will be quiet at this time of day, and the fewer who know I am here, the better for you.”
Helena followed him out, and loitered beside the open front door, as a groom brought Samuel’s horse to the mounting block.
She frowned, wondering why the lad was not Parry, then remembered with a pang that the cheerful boy with the permanent grin had gone to join the rebels.
Helena retreated, then paused as Lumm appeared from the stables and engaged Samuel in conversation.
Helena watched, bemused by the intensity of their exchange. She would have given half her dowry to know what they were talking about.
If she still had a dowry.
* * *
“You didn’t show Lady Elizabeth the other newssheet then, Tobias?” Samuel nodded to the folded pages that peeked from the steward’s jerkin, signalling to the boy who held his horse to wait.
“What good would it have served?” Tobias glanced down, but didn’t remove the paper from his coat. “Monmouth has marched toward Bath.”
“Bath, eh? Samuel stroked his chin. “A brave move, since the Royalist troops are there.”
Tobias shrugged. “They were attacked at Norton Saint Philip by the Duke of Grafton’s troops.”
“Grafton fighting his half-brother,” Samuel mused, nodding. “I expect he’s eager to prove disloyalty doesn’t run in the family. What happened?”
“A disaster for both sides.” Tobias’s gaze raked the courtyard. “The report says they were penned in by the hedges, and that blood ran like a river down the lane where they fought.”
Samuel winced. “I suppose there’s no way of knowing the names of those killed?”
Tobias shook his head.
The lad holding his horse shuffled and the animal whickered, stamping his massive hooves.
“Trust you to use a working horse as a personal mount,” Tobias reached to stroke the horse’s soft muzzle.
“I like him, he’s slow, steady, and nothing will topple him. He suits. Now what else do you have to tell me?”
“Monmouth cut his losses and retreated to Frome,” Tobias went on. “They got as far as Trowbridge, but the royal troops men cut off their escape route.”
“Where’s Monmouth now?” Samuel asked, frowning.
“The report ends before that.” Tobias tapped his pocket. “Though gossip in the city says he reached Wells two days ago. The rebels damaged the west front of the cathedral. They tore lead from the roof and smelted it into bullets.”
“The fools!” Samuel mounted the block and slipped into the saddle. “Monmouth won’t get to Bristol now, let alone London.”
“Gets worse,” Tobias added. “They broke the windows and smashed the organ and the furnishings. They even stabled their horses in the nave.” He squinted up at the mounted man, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand.
Samuel adjusted his hat before replying. “You’re right not to upset Lady Elizabeth further, Tobias.” He turned the horse toward the gate. “However, if I were you, I’d keep that newssheet away from Mistress Helena. She’ll be asking awkward questions soon enough.”
“She distrusts me, that one.” Tobias pulled a face.
“She doesn’t know you, Tobias.”
“Doesn’t know who I am, you mean?” His voice held bitterness.
Samuel turned his horse away, not prepared to discuss the subject further. Not at the present moment.
Tobias rushed forward and grabbed the reins, halting the horse who champed noisily at the bit. “I would never have raised the subject in Sir Jonathan’s presence. But now?”
“It’s a bad time.” Samuel grimaced, urging his horse forward. He had reached the gates before he heard Tobias’s angry shout.
“It’s always a bad time!”
At the top of South Street, Samuel slowed his horse to a canter, his thoughts dwelling on recent events. Two hundred Whigs had been arrested in London, among them prominent cloth workers and members of Samuel’s guild. He had written letters of protest on their behalf, while reassuring the City Magistrates of his own loyalty to the king despite his own Whig leanings.
Unsurprisingly, Samuel had come under scrutiny since the Duke’s landing, although he chose not to mention that to Lady Elizabeth. His father had been a Puritan, but disinclined to martyrdom, Samuel had furrowed a less controversial path. Although he still had to watch out for accusing fingers.
There would always be those willing to throw suspicion on others, to further their own ambitions.
With a nod to the porter at the West gate, Samuel urged the plodding horse on the Exe Bridge. Entering St Thomas, he pulled his cloak tighter against a gust of damp wind, and peered beneath the rim of his hat at the darkening sky. Leaning forward, he patted the animal’s steaming neck, murmuring reassurances.
The big old horse didn’t like the rain.
An image of Tobias’s discontented face floated unbidden into his head. Samuel sighed, recalling a year before when he had come across him lounging on the cobbles outside the Ship Inn in St Martins Lane; a restless air and an eye for mischief.
Over a jug of fine ale, Samuel had struck up a conversation with the landlord.
“Tell me, Jim,” he lifted his jug towards Tobias, who stood with his arm round a serving girl, making her blush. “Why’s your Tobias hanging about with nothing to do but annoy the wenches?”
Jim’s eyes slid sideways resignedly. “Aye, he’s a puzzle that.” He poured a jug of ale and served another customer, then balanced an elbow on the back of the chair opposite Samuel. “Too proud fer this place, and restless. And him all o’ three and twenty. Dunno what’s to become o’ him.”
Samuel nodded, thoughtful, just as Emily Lumm sashayed into his line of sight.
“Master Ffoyle.” She bobbed a slow curtsey, which for all its simplicity held a solicitation. She impaled him with her brown-eyed stare in a look Samuel recalled from her childhood. As if she knew something, but had promised not to tell. The years had given Tobias’s mother a more voluptuous body, but she still possessed the bearing of a girl.
And that look.
After a brief word with Sir Jonathan, Tobias had been installed at Loxsbeare in the post of steward.
His new employer found the young man entertaining and intelligent, with ideas of his own to improve the estate. Even Bayle accepted him as an asset without resentment, and Henry certainly liked him.
The older son, Aaron, didn’t seem to take much notice. His position as crown prince of Loxsbeare was secure, giving him no reason to be on the lookout for usurpers.
Helena, on the other hand, cast suspicious eyes in the direction of Tobias. Headstrong young man that he was, Tobias teased the girl without a thought for how she, or the other servants, might view such forward behavior.
What did his future hold, should Sir Jonathan not return?
Fat drops of rain drummed onto Samuel’s cloak. His horse nickered and shook his mane, sending an arching spray of water into the air.
Samuel sighed again, too weary to tackle that particular problem today, and gave himself up to the old horse’s canter until he turned into his own gate.
* * *
Jonathan’s boots scuffed the well-worn steps, an occasional clang of a sword against stone followed by a muffled curse, audible from below. Evidently, he was not the only one who found St Mary’s church tower a hard climb.
Below the tower, the River Parret snaked like molten silver through the centre of Bridgwater, toward the flat expanse of marshland. Jonathan bowed to the man in head-to-toe black at the parapet, the garter star emblazoned on his breast. He stood taller than most men, with the air of someone used to the subservience of others. In his case, though, his status had been achieved later than most.
The wind lifted his black periwig from his shoulders, threatening to tear his wide brimmed hat from his head and launching it into Cornhill, below.
On any other day this would have amused him. Yet today, his handsome features twisted into an expression of irritation. James, Duke of Monmouth was a troubled man in no mood for levity.
Lord Grey handed the Duke a spyglass, as Captain Hucker and Major Wade emerged through the low door onto the roof.
“Would you say they are about three miles away?” Jonathan asked, his spyglass trained onto the rows of white tents dotted with red coated figures spread on the moor; men Monmouth once commanded to defeat the Scots Covenanters at Bothwell Bridge in seventy-nine. Friends who were now his mortal enemies.
“More like four,” Lord Grey said. “Our plan might work.”
“What might work?” Jonathan folded his arms across his chest and regarded Grey with suspicion, his normal stance since he had learned how manipulative the man could be.
“Attack under cover of darkness.” Gray’s unctuous voice made Jonathan squirm. “If we surprise them, we have a good chance at victory.”
“Better, maybe, but not good,” Jonathan muttered. “What about the original plan to blockade the town?” This, too, seemed an equally bad move, as the townsfolk were unlikely to commit their cattle and grain to what they must by now consider a lost cause.
“A ploy only, Jon.” Grey waved a dismissive hand. “Attack is our best option.”
Jonathan fell silent, resigned to the fact that Grey always spoiled for a fight. With flattery and false assurances, he had swayed Monmouth to his way of thinking. The Duke still believed they could reach London, where, Grey had convinced him, the Capital would welcome him as their king.
“Feversham’s men are well-trained, many with battle experience,” Jonathan said. “Churchill is a good soldier, and then there are Percy Karce’s men.” Those infamous ‘Lambs’; men who wouldn’t be cowed by a bunch of farmers wielding nothing more threatening than sharpened scythes attached to pitchforks, though Jonathan forbore to say so aloud.
“They look to have no more men than I.” Monmouth swung his spyglass over the horizon “However, I know those men. They will fight.”
“Tell His Majesty what you told me.” Lord Grey beckoned to a nervous-looking young man in shabby clothes who hung back by the tower door. He had given his name as Godfrey, and claimed he possessed useful intelligence.
Jonathan flicked Grey a glance of distaste. He wished the man wouldn’t insist on calling Monmouth that. Wasn’t the duke already full enough of his own importance as it was? He had even started retelling the story of Lucy Walter having married King Charles when a prince in exile, a claim dismissed as lies by his father, King Charles, years before.
Godfrey crept forward, kneading his felt hat in both hands. “There be two thousand on the moor, sir—Your Majesty. ’Bout a thousand in Middlezoy and the same in Otherey. But they don’t know the ditches like I does.” He sidled closer to the Duke. “If you makes for ’ere, sir.” Godfrey dragged a grubby finger across a hand drawn map pulled from inside his coat, “…go along the old Bristol road towards Bawdrip, and then turn south along Bradney Lane and Marsh Lane. It’s the longer route, but your chances of being seen are low.” His dirty-nailed finger stabbed at the page. “Here be the Black Ditch, which is marked by a large rock. I could get you the other side of the Bussex Rhine and right into their camp before they know what’s happenin’.”
Monmouth lowered his spyglass and stared at the man down his nose, then raised the glass again. “The horses are set far apart from the foot. If we can infiltrate their lines and keep them apart, we may have the advantage. Our spies tell us their discipline is not good.”
“Indeed not,” Captain Hucker gasped, still winded from the climb. “They drink themselves into a stupor on local cider every night.”
“No guards have been posted,” Nathaniel Wade added. “Though they have guns laid out on the town road.”
“We could avoid those by making a detour north of Chedzoy.” Grey arched a brow at each of them, looking more sly than reassuring. “Our chances of victory are doubled.”
“The Cavalry could lead, your Majesty.” Gray’s lip curled into a leering half-smile.
Besides, by now the whole countryside knew what they were about. Perhaps anything was better than dodging Ogelthorpe and his troop through the countryside, until they ended up back at Lyme where they started, or being captured and hanged by Feversham’s men.
Nothing had gone the way he had thought it would. They should have been in London by now, cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd, not still being harried across Somerset by the King’s troops. Besides, his lodgings were squalid, and the landlord sour-tempered, although more civil since being assured his guest intended paying his bill.
Most of their men were camped out in peoples’ houses, or in fields sodden by days of rain, with no shelter at all, ransacking the local farms for horse feed. No wonder Bridgwater had been less than happy to receive them.
Their march into Taunton had been the high point of the expedition. The celebration that followed at Captain Hacker’s house was reminiscent of those heady days of the Green Ribbon Club, when they would drink the night away at the Kings Head, speculating on a world under Monmouth’s kingship.
Those days were an illusion, Jonathan realised now, and King Charles, aware of his bastard son’s involvement in a traitorous society, had protected him, and in doing so, his friends too.
It was one thing drinking to Monmouth’s health and damning the Duke of York when King Charles was still alive. Now, King James had the perfect opportunity to exact his revenge on the nephew he hated.
Jonathan glanced across at Monmouth, whose head was bent over Geoffrey’s plans, a frown on his handsome face. Was his resolve still strong? Jonathan’s brother, Edmund, seemed to think so, but then for years Edmund had been straining against his domestic tethers in search of adventure.
Now, they were cornered, unable to get to Bristol, let alone London, with that Frenchman out on the moor biding his time.
“We shall do it.” Monmouth snapped the spyglass shut for the third time in as many minutes. “That Huguenot would never expect it.” He handed the spyglass over his shoulder without looking to see who took it.
“We march tonight at midnight, with strict orders to maintain total silence. Every man is charged with dispatching the man beside him with a knife, should he utter a sound to betray our presence.” He looked into each of their faces in turn, gave a curt nod, then clattered down the tower steps, the others following.
“How many of the men do even have knives?” Jonathan muttered. Sighing, he pushed himself away from the wall and set off back to the inn and his flea-ridden bed in the hope of a few hours’ sleep.
Henry leaned against a wooden stall and watched his sister through a crack in the half-closed door, as she stomped over clumps of wet hay scattered across the yard.
“She doesn’t know I’m here, does she?” Bayle said from behind him.
Henry jumped and swung round, having thought himself alone. “No, she’s going toward the kitchens.”
Bayle half rose in a stance that preceded a bow, halted by Henry’s impatient gesture that sent him back down again. Henry sported more manure on his clothes than a cowshed, and had hay sticking out of his shirt. This was hardly a time for formalities.
“I suppose I cannot avoid her forever.” Bayle hooked his foot round a stool and dragged it toward him, gesturing Henry to sit.
“What does she want?” Henry asked, straddling the stool.
“She read something about Colonel Percy Kirke in the Gazette. When asked, Lumm said he knew nothing about the man, so he warned me she would search me out instead.”
“Who is he? This Kirke, and what do you know about him?”
Bayle picked up a small tool and applied it to a piece of leather.
“The Queen Dowager brought Tangier as part of her dowry when she married King Charles.”
“I know. Father told me about Tangier, though I don’t recall much. It’s a far-off place he said, very hot, and with savage people.”
“No more than our own,” Bayle said under his breath, then continued, louder. “Kirke maintained the garrison there, in command of the regiment. Their emblem was a Paschal Lamb, which earned them the nickname “Karce’s Lambs”.
“A strange emblem for fighting men,” Henry mused, frowning.
“I believe the Lamb is from the house of Braganza, and signifies Christian men against the Infidels.”
“Don’t the Moroccans and Berbers call us infidels too?” Henry asked, aware he was being provoking. However, at least his present audience wouldn’t threaten him with a whipping for insolence.
“I believe so, Master, though if you don’t mind, I won’t argue the point with you just now.” He twisted the softened leather round his fingers, snapping it gently. “As I was saying, Kirke has a fearsome reputation. His men are brutal, taking pride in their savagery.”
“How do you know that?” he whispered, wishing now he had not asked.
“I grew up with a man who served with ’im. He’s been dead these two years.” He shrugged, as if this fact made a difference. “Karce’s a drunken brute, in charge of a drunken regiment, who would kill a man merely to test the edge of his weapon.” Henry’s horrified gasp was smothered too late. “Don’t listen to me, Master,” he rushed on. “Who knows the truth of it? When a man’s belly is full of cider he’ll say anything.”
“And these Tangier soldiers? They are to fight against Monmouth?” Henry fought to keep his voice calm.
“Aye,” Bayle exhaled slowly, muttering, “and may God protect those poor boys.”
The smell of manure clogged Henry’s throat, and the need for fresh, untainted air became suddenly urgent.
He leapt to his feet, sending the stool over behind him and headed for the house, ignoring Bayle’s voice calling after him.
He slammed the heavy oak door behind him, and took the stairs two at a time, startling a maid on her way down.
In the comparative safety of his room, he wrenched off his filthy work clothes and hurled them into a corner for a maid to rescue. The words, “a drunken brute, in charge of a drunken regiment” kept repeating in his head as he struggled into a clean shirt and wrestled with the drawstrings.
Father may be able to fight Karce’s men, and perhaps Uncle Edmund could handle himself against soldiers, though neither had ever been in a real fight before. What of Aaron? His big brother’s only experience with a sword had been played out on the grass on the Weare Cliffs. Surely in a proper battle he would be killed.
His panic for his family was slowly replaced by burning shame that Bayle’s talk of the Tangiers brought such overpowering relief for himself. How he had argued and ranted with both his father and uncle against being left at home, insisting he could fight as well as any of them.
“There’ll be no fighting,” his father had laughed. “This isn’t a battle. It’s more of a protest under arms.”
Father had been wrong. They all had been. King James wasn’t sending veteran fighters to meet a protest.
* * *
On his way downstairs again, Henry paused on the half-landing. His mother would be with Ruth at this time of day, and the Great Hall was a lonely place on one’s own.
Instead, he retreated to the window seat, one leg bent and his arms wrapped around his knee.
A heavy rainstorm had moved west, changing to cloudless heat in the space of an hour, the stillness disturbed by an occasional call of a bird or bleat of a sheep from the fields beyond the courtyard walls.
Henry came to a decision. He would keep his cowardice to himself in front of Mother and Helena. How else could he describe the giddy relief he felt at not being expected to wield a sword against another Englishman?
The sound of Helena’s familiar footsteps as she climbed the stairs brought a smile to his lips. “I’m convinced Bayle is hiding from me.” She threw herself onto the seat beside him, forcing him to budge to make room. “They treat me like a child still, when I am quite old enough to be an adult. I mean, I was betrothed this time last year, I—Henry, are you listening to me?” She nudged him roughly.
Her voice droned on beside him like a demented bee. She jutted her chin close to his face. “I said, have you noticed how bad-tempered Mother is lately?”
“She misses Father.” Henry sighed, not looking at her. “All this talk of fighting makes it worse.”
“I’m aware of that. I’m not dense,” Helena complained. “Even Lumm is making himself scarce.”
“Tobias is busy. He doesn’t have time for idle chat.”
“Why do you always call him by his given name?” Helena asked, her head tilted to one side.
Henry shrugged. “He calls me Henry, so I pay him the same compliment.”
“Exactly. As if it’s necessary to compliment a servant.” She sniffed. “It’s not as if you need a friend, you have plenty of those, with your sunny nature.”
Henry was about to ask whether she had noticed any of these ‘friends’ coming to call, of late, but restrained himself. The only visitor they had had in the previous month was Samuel Ffoyle.
“To refer to your first question,” he began. “I have noticed Mother’s bad temper. She’s either raging round the house, or in her chamber, sunk in apathy. I don’t know what to make of her. She ordered me to my room earlier, for no reason at all.”
“Is that where you’re supposed to be now?” Helena slanted a look at him through long lashes, her pigeon-wing eyes flecked with yellow.
Her chestnut hair was wet and hung down her back in waves. Then he remembered she had had to wash it after an incident in the dairy with a cow that had a particularly good aim. The memory made him smile, though he had more sense than to refer to it. “She won’t care where I am,” he snapped. “She spends all her time with Ruth these days.”
He continued watching Helena from the corner of his eye, surprised at how he had forgotten how good-looking she was—for a sister.
She didn’t walk; she glided. She had a unique smile that began slowly, like a flower opening up. Then as you watched, it spread over her face, until you realised you were smiling too.
“You miss her don’t you?” Helena’s voice dropped to a near whisper.
He shrugged. “How can I miss her, when she’s still here?”
“Because I do, too.” Her startling grey eyes looked suspiciously moist, and she kept sniffing. He suppressed an impulse to wrap his free arm round her, afraid he might open the floodgates for them both. Instead, he leaned back against the cushions with a sigh.
Mother had been so unpredictable since their father left. She had abandoned her elaborate gowns, and went around déshabillé in a loose manteau over a plain linen shift. Her physical change upset him every bit as her mental one, though he had no idea what to do about it.