Authors: Brenda Jagger
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Brenda Jagger was a writer of historical fiction, best known for her three-part âBarforth'family saga.
Jagger was born in Yorkshire, which was the setting for many of her books including
. The recurring central themes of her work are marriage, womanhood, class, identity, and money in the Victorian Era.
Her work has been praised for its compelling plots and moving storylines as well as its exacting emotional descriptions. Her later novel
A Song Twice Over
won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 1986.
who was with me every step of the way
It would have been easier, perhaps, had my father's wife been a truly wicked woman, in which case I could have detested her with a whole heart and a clear conscience. But her villainy was of a mild enough variety, the result, mainly, of her desire to be my father's wife rather than the mother of his child. And, in all fairness, it must be said that I made no great effort to be lovable.
Her name, when first we knew her, was Mrs. Tessa Delaney and she was a handsome woman of large proportions, very smooth and wise and persuasive; not virtuous, of course, in any conventional sense since she had first taken up residence in our thriving factory city under the protection of one of its most distinguished aldermen, the elderly, childless and reputedly self-indulgent worsted-spinner, Mr. Matthew Oldroyd of Fieldhead Mills. Yet their affair had been so discreetly conducted that even the Oldroyd relatives came to regard it on the whole as a good thing, the keeping of so sensible a mistress being preferable in their eyes and working out much cheaper than the greedy sixteen year olds to which his aging fancy had hitherto been prone.
Indeed, the Oldroyd nephews and nieces who certainly expected to inherit his money would have been much inclined to offer Mrs. Delaney some material token of their gratitude at the endâallowed her to keep his watch or even the lease on the house he had taken for herâhad not his last will and testament revealed that for the twelve secretive and shameful months before he died she had been no mistress at all but Mr. Matthew Oldroyd's second and decidedly legal wife.
Clandestine marriages, need it be said, did not suit the taste of our plain-spoken, strait-laced town of Cullingford in the County of Yorkshire, and there had been immediate talk of breaking the Oldroyd will. And even when the Oldroyd lawyer, my father Mr. Jonas Agbrigg, declared himself unable to place any legal obstacle in the lady's way when she proceeded to move into the mill-house at Fieldhead, it was felt that she would not reign there long. After all, she had cheated the Oldroyd nephewsâCullingford men every oneâout of their rightful inheritance and if the Law as represented by Mr. Jonas Agbrigg could not touch her then surely a Greater Law might be relied on to prevail? Surelyâand Cullingford men were deeply moved by thisâFate could not allow any female so rapacious, so cunning, to actually
her ill-gotten gains?
But the proud, easy carriage, the clear skin and excellent white teeth we had seen in Mrs. Delaney continued to flourish in the new Mrs. Oldroyd to such a degree that my father, who had won a reputation for shrewdness rather than kindness of heartâalthough he was always kindness itself to meâmarried her as soon as he was able, thus making himself absolute master of her fortune and creating a scandal of a magnitude rarely seen in the cautious, conventional Law Valley.
No-one thought any the worse of a man who married for money, since most men did so, and a widower with an eleven year old daughter to raise and whose ambitions had always been larger than his pocket, could not afford to be too romantic when it came to matrimony. But my father's hasty union with Mrs. Delaney marked him not merely as a fortune-hunter but as a conspirator. And Cullingford had a thing or two to say about that.
He had been Matthew Oldroyd's lawyer, after all, and Cullingford well remembered how completely Mr. Oldroyd had trusted him. He had certainly been aware of the secret ceremony which had transformed Mr. Oldroyd from Mrs. Delaney's lover, who might have left her a few hundred a year, to a doting husband who had bequeathed her everything. Even more certainly he had been aware of Mr. Oldroyd's new will, signed in my father's office on that furtive wedding morning, when the decaying bridegroom had virtually disinherited every one of his relations, his first wife's family it was true, not his own blood kin, but decent Yorkshire folk just the same who had deserved better of him than that. And afterwards my father had moved quietly through Cullingford's dining-rooms and drawing-rooms, a close-mouthed man accustomed to secrets, listening as the Oldroyd nephews hinted at their plans for Fieldhead Mills, for the railway shares and brewery shares, the coal deposits and bank deposits of which Mr. Oldroyd had been so amply possessed.
He had listened without comment, without encouragement, but when the awful truth burst upon them the mere fact that he had listened at all was enough to condemn him. He was marrying the whore Delaney not for her money but for
; for the fortune which he, with his lawyer's cunning, had helped her to steal from a bemused and senile man. They had conspired togetherâ
they hadâMr. Jonas Agbrigg and Mrs. Tessa Delaney, the cool, fastidious man of law, the mature and sensible Jezebel, and Cullingford did not intend to countenance treachery such as that. No Cullingford woman of any standing would ever receive the new Mrs. Agbrigg, at least so they said and probably believed, while Cullingford men would be interested to see what use the Cambridge educated Jonas Agbrigg might make of his Latin and his Greek in the spinning-sheds at Fieldhead.
My father's own mother, my outspoken and unbending Grandmother Agbrigg and my grandfather, who had several times been mayor of Cullingford, would not attend the wedding and retired soon afterwards to Scarborough unable to tolerate their son's disgrace. My mother's mother, my dainty and sentimental Grandmamma Elinor, could not bring herself to attend either and she too, with a rapidity I could not help associating with these painful nuptials, soon lost her taste for Cullingford, exchanging her house in imposing but narrow-minded Blenheim Lane for a villa in the South of France. Only my mother's sister, Aunt Faith, was present in the Parish Church on my father's wedding day among the Fieldhead managers and their wivesâproving they knew on which side their bread was butteredâand a handful of others, Mr. Septimus Rawnsley of the Cullingford Commercial Bank, Mr. Outhwaite, a local architect who could not afford to ignore the rumours of repairs and extensions at Fieldhead; a few ecclesiastical gentlemen who believed in the forgiveness of sinners, a few commercial gentlemen for whom the only real sin was poverty and who could detect no trace of it in the regal bearing of my father's bride. While I, banished to the seaside for the duration of the honeymoon, felt my solid, reliable world turn suddenly to an uncertain angle and then start to slip awayâas my grandparents, my home, my father's good name, our shared and precious affection had slipped awayâbetween my hands.
My memories of my mother at that time were recent and uneasy for she had died only a year before my father's second marriage and it was a matter of great concern to me that I did not really miss her. She had been an invalid since my birth, tense and timid and often very low in spirits, the tumult of her nerves demanding drawn curtains, hushed voices, a great walking-on-tiptoe on my part through her sufferings which oppressed me, sometimes annoyed me and then instantly filled me with guilt. And I knew two things about her relationship with my father; that he was not happy with her and that he had been lucky to get her.
My father was the academically brilliant son of a man who had risen from great poverty to become a mill-manager, a rise quite astonishing in itself although never quite enough to satisfy the social ambitions of Grandmother Agbrigg who had decided very early to make at least a cabinet minister out of her son. And since a mill-manager can earn so much and no more and political careers are notoriously expensive, it had been essential for my father to marry well, his choice falling on my motherâMiss Celia AycliffeâI suspect because she had been very young, exceedingly innocent, and so crammed full of romantic notions that she had been ready to fall in love with the first person who asked.
She had brought him a substantial dowry for her father had been a master-builder, responsible for the erection of most of Cullingford and its environs, and he had left his widowâmy pert little Grandmamma Elinorâand his daughters very well provided. But the dowry had been sufficient only for the purchase of a suitable house and a partnership with a local solicitor, my mother's interests had all been domestic, her disposition retiringânot at all the stuff that cabinet ministers'wives are made ofâand they had not been content together.
Perhaps he felt she had given him less than he deserved. No doubt, in her view, he had received more than any man in his position could reasonably expect, for, money apart, she had brought him family connections worth their weight in gold. Her own family, the Aycliffes, were themselves people of enormous local consequence. Their cousins, the Barforths, were the most powerful industrialists the Law Valley had ever known, the Barforth brothers, Nicholas and Blaizeâwho had married Aunt Faith, my mother's sisterâappearing to own outright or to have a controlling interest in everything of value in Cullingford. While the Barforth sister, my Aunt Caroline, being unable to compete on the battleground of commerce on account of her sex, had chosen to devote her quite formidable energies to the pursuit of social advancement, becoming Lady Chard of Listonby Park, thus widening our horizons by allying us to the landed gentry.
With connections such as these my mother was at a loss to know what else she could offer her husband. She concluded it should be a son, miscarried eight times to produce a daughter and devoted herself thereafter to the supervision of her servantsâby no means so numerous as those of her sister, Aunt Faithâfretting over specks of dust, smears on silver, stains on linen, wearing out her nerves and my father's patience until the day she died. And exactly one year later her well-dusted, well-polished house was sold to strangers, the daughter whose birth had cost her her health believed herself to be unwanted and lonely, while her husband was a poor relation of the mighty Barforths no longer but the master of Fieldhead.
Fieldhead mill-house was a square, sombre pile built at the start of the Oldroyd fortunes, large, high-ceilinged rooms, functional and plain, a vast, stone-flagged kitchen equipped with a strict eye to efficiency, no eye at all to comfort, not even a rocking chair by the hearth on the day I was invited to inspect this new setting for my life. âA very handsome house'the Law Valley called it yet the only concession I could see to beauty was the profusion of polished wood, each room oak-panelled, fragrant with beeswax and the winter hyacinths set out everywhere in copper bowls, a combination of odours which even now returns me to the afternoon I first stood there, tall for a girl of not quite twelve, long legs, thin shoulders that were too wide, dark brown hair Aunt Faith had brushed and plaited for the approval of my father's wife, although for my part I could not see the necessity for that approval, feeling, I believe, that she should have been anxious to gain mine. And had I been old enough to cope with the hostility she at once aroused in meâfor he was my father,
, and not even my own mother had expected him to love her better than meâperhaps I would have admired her.
They had called her the whore Delaney and nowâAunt Faith had explained to meâin order to be considered respectable at all she would have to be very respectable indeed. Her housekeeping, if it was barely to satisfy her ill-wishers, would have to be superb, her manners altogether beyond anyone's reproach. She had far more important things to do, in fact, than cater to the whims of a green and awkward girl, having made up her mind to take the entire fortress of polite Cullingford society by storm. And when she received me that first time in the Fieldhead drawing-room she had not only the air of a woman born to these surroundings but of one at whose christening all the virtuesâhonesty, chastity, industry and the restâhad attended. She wore a dark silk dress, jet beads, narrow gold chains, her black hair smoothly parted at the centre and drawn down in two modest wings to frame a countenance of placid dignity. She walked erect and very slow, sat straight-backed, her large brown hands quietly folded. She spoke words of authority, her voice low, gentle, inescapable. She had presence and power and she was very handsome. I detested her and for the five years that remained to me before childhood officially ended and my upswept hair and long skirts proclaimed me a young lady my life was marred constantly and foolishly by our mutual resentment, the thoughtless cruelty of my youth, the anxious cruelty of her middle-age, which caused us to struggle for the same not always happy man.
At no time did it occur to me that he might be fond of her. He had married her for money,
for money, I insisted upon that, and although privately I did not think it worthy of him I justified it all on the grounds of his frustrated brilliance, the long bitterness I knew he had felt on seeing other men succeedâthe Barforth men, for instanceânot because they surpassed him in intelligence or energyâwho, I wondered, could surpass him in that?âbut because they had been born to fathers who could pay. And although my faith in him had wavered I soon learned to be proud of him again. He had come late to the spinning trade, a soft-skinned lawyer in middle life, and the thoroughness with which he mastered each technical process, the determination which took him to the mill-yard at the grim morning hour of five o'clock and kept him there, often enough, until midnight won him not only my regard but the grudging respect of many who had firmly intended to despise him. Cullingford might never again consider him a good man. He was beyond question a fortune-hunter. He may even have tipped Mr. Oldroyd's scales a little in the direction of matrimony and that scandalous will. But, very soon, he was
making a profit
and after a year or two it became the considered opinion of the Piece Hall and the Wool Exchange that much could be forgiven a man who did that.
The new Mrs. Agbrigg, who had been the new Mrs. Oldroyd, who had been the whore Delaney, had won her battle and all might have been peace and contentment at Fieldhead had I not been there to question her slightest command, to pick disdainful holes in her explanations, to neglect no opportunity of letting her know that the bond between father and daughterâor at least between
father and daughterâwas of a far higher order than anything that might exist between a man and his second wife.
âYou see it all through such young eyes,' Aunt Faith murmured once or twice, attemptingâas my mother's sister and therefore my closest female relationâto console and advise me. But youth is not compassionate and at fourteen, fifteen, even at sixteen when I found my eyes on a level with hers, I could see nothing in the new Mrs. Agbrigg to arouse my pity. She had wanted wealth and security. They were hers. She had desired, from the colourful remains of Tessa Delaney, to create a new woman of intense, heavy-textured respectability. She had achieved that too. Yet this same woman who assembled her servants each morning for prayers, who served tea and charity to this clergyman and that each tedious afternoon, had also retained a weapon I had not yet learned to call sensuality. Her sombre dignity, her suave piety stifled me, but the sight of her hand on my father's arm at dinner time, the voluptuous curve of neck and shoulder she offered him through the lamplight aroused in me a prickly sensation I recognized as shame.
âJonas darling, it is late,' and to avoid the hush that fell around them whenever she spoke those simple words I became an almost professional guest in other people's houses, lingering with Aunt Faith and her daughter Blanche from Christmas to Easter, spending easy, if well-chaperoned summers at the sea with my other Barforth cousin, Venetia. A guest, a close friend, not quite a member of any family not even my own, so that growing sharp-eyed, self-contained, careful of how and where I might tread, it was no hardship to me to go abroad to Italy and Switzerland, to acquire the accomplishments thought appropriate to the heiressâno lessâof Fieldhead.
I was as tall as my father when he came to Lucerne to fetch me home, my hair piled high and swept back in a cascade of curls, my skirts most fashionably tight in front, most fashionably and intricately draped behind, over a bustle I had learned to manage with style, having acquired by studious practice the art of kicking my train aside in order to turn smartly around, the equally precise art of sitting down. And as I demonstrated my knowledge of Italian and French and German Swiss, of painting and sculpture and as much philosophy as they had thought safe for a young ladyâmy flair for mathematics being considered quite unladylikeâI found him far less exacting, an easier or perhaps just an older man than I remembered. I had gained not only an understanding of art and science but of humanityâor so I imaginedâand now that my father was no longer the centre of my universe, now that I was the polished Miss Grace Agbrigg whose experiences had ranged far beyond the confines of Cullingford, I believed I could be at peace with him.
âYou see it all through such young eyes,' Aunt Faith had said, but my eyes were kinder nowâI thought, I hopedâwhile my tongue might even school itself, in the interests of domestic harmony, to call my father's wife âmamma'.
She was on the carriage drive to greet us, smooth, impassive, her gown of chocolate coloured silk drawn into a modest bustle, nothing but a fall of lace at neck and hem to relieve its housekeeper's plainness. But the fabric itself was very rich, the cross at her throat was of massive gold, there were rings of great value on her patiently folded, housekeeper's hands, her voice speaking its soft welcome, her eyes going beyond me to my father, wryly conveying to him, âSo she's home again. Ah wellâwe must make the best of it, you and I.' And everything was the same, exactly as it had always been and as I had known it would be.
There were great things astir in Cullingford. My cousin Blanche was to be richly married, which was the destiny Blanche Barforth had always envisaged. My other Barforth cousin, Venetia, was believed not for the first time to have involved herself with an unsuitable man. While as to myself, for all my new found philosophy and compassion, it was very clear to me from the hour of my return that the only way I could ever restore harmony to my father's house was by leaving it.
My cousin, Blanche Barforth, was married on a sparkling summer morning, her veil of gauze embroideries mistily revealing the silver and ivory tints of her hair and skin, her long, quiet hands clasping their bouquet of apricot carnations and white roses. She looked fragile and mysterious, passive as a lily, the prize men seek for their valour and expect for their cunning. A most perfect bride.
She was not, of course, in love nor did she wish to be. She was merely following to its logical conclusion her personal and undeniably excellent strategy of doing the right thing at the right time and doing it magnificently. In the manner of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert she was marrying her first cousin and in true imperial fashion appeared to believe that her own role in the proceedings was simply to be looked at.
For the past six months she had been âthe fiancÃ©e'offering herself up tranquilly to the world's admiration and envy while her harassed mother and her Aunt Caroline, who was soon to be her mother-in-law, arranged her wedding around her. Today she was âthe bride', offering herself once again with that air of cool serenity to a bridegroom who, by the untimely death of his father on the hunting field, had recently been transformed from a supercilious and, in my view, not entirely good-tempered young man into an extremely eligible if no better-humoured Sir Dominic Chard of Listonby.
Without his lands and titles it would not have occurred to Blanche to marry him. Had she been obtainable to him in any other way he would not have married her, since a gentleman of only twenty-four summers with health and wealth and boundless opportunity on his side rarely feels the need to limit himself in matrimony so soon. But pale, silvery Blanche
her loveliness and her calm, infinitely challenging purity. Dominic
his baronetcy, his three thousand ancestral acres, his beautiful, quite famous ancestral mansion. There was no more to be said.
âI am to be married,' Blanche had written to me in Switzerland. âI am to be Lady Chard of Listonby, just like Aunt Carolineâexcept, of course, that I am taking her title from her. You are to come home and be my bridesmaid.' And so, feeling the moment opportune, I returned to Cullingford to divide my time, as I had so often done, between my Barforth cousins, Blanche who was to be splendidly married and Venetia who would quite like to be married but would much rather fall intensely, no matter how unwisely, in love.
I had, of course, envied Blanche from time to time as most people did, not only for her looks, her composure and her placid, sometimes comic, belief that she could always get her way, but for the possession of so affectionate a mother as Aunt Faith, so generous a father as Uncle Blaize who was not, perhaps, the richer of the two Barforth brothers but certainly the more agreeable.
âThat child is the image of her mother,' they had been saying in Cullingford ever since the days when a fragile, fairy-tale Blanche had first taken her daily airings in the Barforth landau, her gown a miniature copy of Aunt Faith's, each silver ringlet bound up with silver ribbon, exhibiting even then a certain cool graciousness far beyond her years which came, perhaps, from an inbred knowledge that her abundant pale silk hair and startling blue-green eyes would be quite enough to open any door
might be likely to choose in life.
And what she chose at the tender age of seventeen was to be Lady Chard of Listonby Park, a decision which had disappointed her mother who believed ardently in love and was saddened to see that her only daughter did not, and which had infuriated the existing, dowager Lady ChardâAunt Carolineâwho, having been the absolute ruler of Listonby Park for the past twenty-five years did not feel at all inclined to abdicate her authority, her keys, her place at the head of the baronial table to lovely, lazy, self-indulgent Blanche.
So strongly, in fact, did Aunt Caroline Chard feel that, at the merest hint of an engagement she had despatched her son Dominic to London, hoping at worst that he would find distraction, at best the earl's or the cabinet minister's daughter she believed
ambition deserved. For although Lady Caroline Chard had once, long ago, been Miss Caroline Barforth, a mill-master's daughter just like Blanche, she had shed that commercial identity and very nearly forgotten it. Barforth money, indeed, had enabled her to shine at Listonby, her own share of Barforth energy, tenacity, the urge all the Barforths felt to pursue success had enabled her to place it among the most luxurious and hospitable houses of the North. The Barforth in her had caused her to break down, trample underfoot, or simply to ignore all obstacles in her path, but that same Barforth driving force, even as it had swept her on from triumph to social triumph, had, by some strange act of metamorphosis, converted her entirely into a Chard. And in her heart of hearts she did not believe that Blanche Barforth, who was beautiful and rich and her own brother's daughter, could really be good enough for her eldest son.
But Dominic had always been stubborn. Blanche had made up both his mind and her own, and here they were, an exquisite bride, a handsome groom, with myself and Venetia standing behind them in our bridesmaids finery of apricot silk, thinking, I suppose, that next timeâquite soonâeventuallyâwe would be brides and wives and mothers ourselves.
Venetia was the daughter of the second Barforth brother, Mr. Nicholas Barforth, a gentleman whose restless ambition and overwhelming shrewdness had not allowed him to be content with the fortune his father had left him and which he and his brother had divided between them. Blanche's father, Uncle Blaize, had taken good care of his money, making absolutely certain that it amply sufficed for the very pleasant life he enjoyed with Aunt Faith. But Venetia's father had set himself, with a singleness of purpose rare even in the Law Valley, to increase his inheritance, had extended and diversified it to become the owner not only of the original Barforth mills of Lawcroft Fold and Low Cross where worsteds of the very finest quality continued to be woven, but of such gigantic undertakings as the Law Valley Woolcombers, the Law Valley Dyers and Finishers, and, more recently, a brand new structure of Italianate design built on the site of an old mill at Nethercoats where the weaving of silk and velvet was making Mr. Nicholas Barforth's fortune for the second, the third, or even for the fourth time.
Yet his acute judgment in the field of commerce had not extended to his private life and even his well-wishersârelatively few, it seemed, in numberâwere forced to admit that none of his personal relationships had prospered. He had quarrelled violently and unforgiveably with his brother and no hostess in Cullingford would have dared invite both Blaize and Nicholas Barforth to her table at the same time. He had quarrelled with all his mill-managers in turn, making no secret that although he paid high wages a man needed nerves of steel and the stamina of an ox to earn them. He was known to live in a state of bitter discord with his son, to have little time for Venetia, his daughter, while his relationship with his wife had been a source of gossip and speculation in Cullingford for many a long day.
Unlike his brother who had chosen Aunt Faith from the manufacturing middle-classes, Mr. Nicholas Barforth, following his sister Caroline's lead perhaps, had married into the landed gentry. But while Caroline Barforth's marriage had brought her Listonby Park and the title that went with it, Nicholas Barforth had received nothing but a fine-boned, high-bred, quite penniless lady andâit was rumouredâa great deal of trouble. For once, long ago in Venetia's early childhood, her mother had run away from her father and had been brought back againâor so we believedâa mystery Cullingford had never solved to its satisfaction, the gentleman in the story being unapproachable, the lady well-nigh invisible.
âHow is your dear mamma?' Cullingford's matrons, unwilling to be cheated of so promising a scandal, were fond of asking Venetia.
âVery well indeed,' was her only reply. But the fact that her mother lived almost exclusively at her house in the country, the ancient estate of Galton Abbey with its few hundred scrubby acres and its decaying mansionâa far cry from Listonby Parkâwhich had been in Mrs. Barforth's family for generations, while her father resided permanently at
house in Cullingford, troubled Venetia deeply. And this pall of scandal hovering around her parentsâfor if they
separated then there must have been a mighty scandal indeedâhad drawn us together; Venetia about whose mother strange things were whispered, nothing proved, and myself, Grace Agbrigg, motherless daughter of a man who, by his marriage to a rich and disreputable woman, had invited scandal and for most of the time managed to ignore it.
Venetia was not beautiful like Blanche, her figure being of an extreme quite boyish slenderness, something sudden and brittle about her movements, an airâevery now and thenâthat was both vulnerable and eager; for whereas Blanche had always known what she wanted from life Venetia quite simply wanted everything life had to offer, its joys and sorrows, triumphs and disasters, as soon as she could lay her hands on them and in double measure. She had a thin, fine-textured face, a delicate skin, eyebrows that flew away at a wide angle, hair the rich colour of a woodland fox, her pointed auburn looks owing nothing to her tough-grained Barforth father but coming entirely from her mother, the lady who had been the subject, or the cause, of scandal. And although Venetia herself had done nothing of a scandalous nature Cullingford believed, on the whole, in the saying âlike mother like daughter' and many would have advised Mr. Nicholas Barforth, had they dared, to get his daughter married while he was able.
But today, standing meekly behind immaculate, triumphant Blanche, we were shielded from past gossip, being simply âthe bridesmaids', anonymous girls in pretty dresses provided like the icing on the cake, the lace frills around the bridal posies, simply to decorate. It was, of course, a lovely wedding, somewhat to the surprise of the bridegroom's mother, Aunt Caroline, who, with her vast enthusiasm for entertaining, her twenty-five years experience of balls and dinners, house parties, hunting parties, parties of all shapes and sizes at Listonby had found it hard to leave to Aunt Faith the planning of so vital an event as the wedding of Listonby's eldest son. But, despite her predictions that Aunt Faith would forget this and neglect that, nothing had been overlooked, nothing left to chance.
The horses which brought the bridal procession to church were all high-stepping, glossy with good health and good grooming andâas Aunt Caroline had insisted was essential for a weddingâall perfectly, correctly grey. The carriages were lined with white satin, the church transformed into a flower-garden of white and apricot blossoms, the aristocratic Chards on one side of the aisle, a sprinkling of baronets and Members of Parliament, at least three bishops, half a dozen generals and one real duke among them; the manufacturing Barforths on the other side, millmasters, ironmasters, bankers, builders, although the differences between them were less marked than they had once been. A commercial gentleman of a generation ago might have felt a sense of achievement, of having breached a stronghold hitherto impregnable to men of his station had he succeeded in bestowing his daughter on a High Church, High Tory squire. But now, although all three of those Chard bishops still preached the doctrine that God, having called all men to the position he had selected for them in life wished them to stay there, the Barforths knew better than that, my manufacturing Uncle Blaize escorting his daughter to her noble bridegroom with grace and good humour, perfectly at ease among the âruling classes', especially nowadays when, in many cases, their power to go on ruling depended on the co-operation of hisâand his brother'sâmoney.
A lovely wedding. There was a flood of golden sunshine as we left the church, a cloudless summer sky, no need at all for the huge marquee spread like the palace of an Arabian prince on the lawns of Aunt Faith's home in suburban Elderleigh. There were bowls of pale roses on every table, in accordance with Aunt Caroline's oft repeated suggestion that in Aunt Faith's place she would be
with the flowers. The menu-cardsâprinted in silver and in Frenchâhad the additional extravagance of silver lace borders. The cake, which Aunt Caroline had feared would never be big enough to conform to Chard standards of size and grandeur, was immense, intricate, surrounded by sprays of the same white roses and apricot carnations which made up the bridal bouquet and which would be distributed later to each female guest.
There was champagne, violins concealed romantically by the swaying summer trees, curiosity, a little mild envy, a few sentimental tears. âA handsome couple'everyone was saying and so they were, Blanche looking more fragile than ever among the dark, large-boned Chards, her bridegroom and his two brothers with whom I was not well acquainted, for unlike the young commercial gentlemen I knew who had all been educated at our local grammar school, the Chard boys had gone away to school at an early age, returning at midsummer and Christmastime when I had found their loud, drawling voices irritating, their manners condescending. And they had looked so much alikeâDominic, Noel, Gideonâthat they had seemed to me to be quite interchangeable; self-opinionated boys who would grow to be haughty men of the kind one encountered on the hunting field, in fashionable regiments and fashionable London clubs or half asleep on the benches of the House of Commons.
Dominic's future, of course, had been mapped out for him at birth for he was the eldest, the heir to his father's lands and titles, Squire of Listonby, Master of Foxhounds, Chairman of the Bench of Magistrates, while his twin brother Noelâborn ten vital minutes too late to claim the inheritanceâand Gideon, 18 months younger still, were simply the extra sons whoâunless some tragic fate should befall the heirâwould be obliged to make their own way in the world, their father having no secondary titles, no spare estates to bestow on them. Following the family tradition of service Noelâit had been decided as Aunt Caroline first looked into his cradleâwould go into the army, Gideon into the church where, having completed the preliminaries of promotion their mother saw no reason why they should not join the prosperous ranks of Chard generals, Chard bishops and make advantageous marriages while they were about it. And Aunt Caroline had expressed these aims so often, with such total certainty, that in my half-attending mind they had become aims no longer but realities. Noel
a general, Gideon
a bishop so that I had been mildly surprised on my return from Switzerland to meet a very gallant Lieutenant Noel Chard and to hear some very strange rumours indeed in respect to Gideon.
âI suppose one can feel for Aunt Caroline,' Blanche had informed me airily. âFor she has never liked her plans to be upset, and first there was Dominic who was supposed to be a bachelor until his fifties, or so she hoped, so she could go on queening it at Listonby. And now there is Gideon.'
And when I had expressed a degree of interest I did not feel, she went on, âYes, indeed. Poor Aunt Caroline. She had set her heart on making Gideon a bishop and he has turned her down flat. He says there is no money in religion, which surprises me since all the clergymen we know seem to live very wellâexcept that I think Gideon means a
of money and spending it on things clergymen don't have, or shouldn't have. I expect you are dying to hear what it is he means to do?'
âI expect you are dying to tell me.'
âHe says he will go where the money isâheavens, I can picture Aunt Caroline's face when he said thatâand so he has made an approach to my Uncle Nicholas Barforth with a view to joining him in his mills. Yes, you may stare, indeed you may, for I stared too. A Chard in trade! Whatever next? The Barforth blood coming out, I suppose, and Aunt Caroline cannot bear to mention itânot to her London friends and her foxhunting friends at any rate. But since we all know the trouble Uncle Nicholas Barforth has with Cousin Gervaseâalthough Venetia, of course, will not hear a word against her brotherâwell, I think he may be glad of Gideon. Poor Aunt Caroline, indeed. For if Gideon does well with Uncle Nicholas he will surely try to marry Venetia. Well, of course he will, Grace. In fact he
marry her in order to secure his position, for if he does not then someone else surely will. And that “someone”, if he has the sense he was born with, will be bound to cut Gideon out of the business. It absolutely stands to reason.'
So it did, and remembering it now on Blanche's own wedding day, I shivered, for I was an heiress tooâlike Venetia, like Blancheâwho might be so easily married not for the pleasure of my company but because marriage to me brought with it the eventual ownership of Fieldhead Mills. Naturally my father would take care in his selection, would look for a bridegroom who was sound in business, high of principle, even kind-hearted. But I knew that the dread of it, the sheer humiliation of being courted for anything other than myself, had made me aloof and suspicious of men since I first understood the size of my fortune and its implications. I could not accept it. I did not think Venetia could accept it either and, watching Blanche for whom it all seemed perfectly natural, who considered her money a fair enough exchange for Dominic's title, I shivered once again.
Aunt Faith received her guests with enormous tact and skill, necessary accomplishments in a family gathering such as ours where the Chards were uncompromisingly Tory and High Church to a man, the Barforths Liberal in politics and Nonconformist in religion; where it was vital that my father's wife and my father's mother should be kept apart; where my father himself must not be allowed to stray into the company of anyone connected at all closely with the Oldroyd nephews; where Mr. Nicholas Barforth, the uncle of the bride, had not spoken a civil word to his brother, the bride's father, in twenty years; where Mr. Nicholas Barforth's wife, if she came at all, would only come under suffrance, to âkeep up appearances' and must be sheltered from the curiosity of Cullingford's ladies, the occasionally ribald speculation of our gentlemen.
On Aunt Faith's instructions my Grandmother Agbrigg was at once surrounded by a screen of elderly ladies, my Stepmother Agbrigg just as swiftly introduced to one of the Chard bishopsâsince what in the world could convey more respectability than that?âand to a merry little gentleman who happened to be the Duke of South Erin, neither particularly rich nor particularly important but a
just the same, and a frequent visitor of Aunt Caroline Chard's at Listonby. But no skill of Aunt Faith's could halt the sudden whispering, the turning of heads, the eyes that pretended not to look and the eyes that looked openly, avidly, when Mr. Nicholas Barforth's carriage was seen on the drive, a lady in a tall green hat beside him, for this was no local scandal, no simple tale of prickly middle-class morality but was of interest to everyone. Mrs. Tessa Delaney had been notorious in Cullingford. Mrs. Agbrigg was still somewhat suspect there. But the whole County of Yorkshire, or the sporting, landed portion of it, was acquainted with Mrs. Georgiana Barforth who was usually to be found not under her husband's imposing roof but in her decaying manor house at Galton Abbey. All three of the Chard bishops knew her. The Chard generals and colonels had served in the same regiment or played cards at the same clubs as her father; the Duke of South Erin had shot grouse over her moor at Galton many a time. And if these gentlemen were inclined to take a broader, easier view than Culllingford, she remained nevertheless a woman who did not appear to lead a regular life, who might be socially very dangerous, or very interesting, to know; who could, in fact, be approached with a familiarity and with an intent no man would permit himself with a lady who was
to reside safely in her matrimonial home.