Miss Pippa Post masticated her liberally buttered toast vigorously then took a quick swig of black Darjeeling tea from a rather clunky but serviceable cup. It was hardly a decorous thing to do, but when one was about to travel halfway across the country to visit a notorious lord, it really was the wisest choice to do so fortified. Besides, the journey she was about to undertake was no small thing. Long hours in a public coach would, no doubt, be trying. And much to her own amazement, she was going to be riding up top, unsheltered and fully exposed to the elements. She could not afford one of the coveted seats within the conveyance. It was a new adventure for her. One she could hardly wait for, and one she could scarce believe was occurring! Freedom was about to be hers! Oh, how her life was about to be full of new adventures! A most welcome thing. Those adventures were not occurring out of sheer chance. Oh no, her freedom and boldness were a product of a moment of clear decision and meticulous planning. She looked up from her plain plate at the small table and gazed upon her other three audacious friends, brave and marvelous friends. Pippa drew herself up, quite proud to be amongst them. She could not stop beaming as her other companions drank their tea in a moment of silence, which was rare for them. Together they had made an agreement just half a year before. They would not sit on the edge of ballrooms any longer.
They would not be mere wallflowers, waiting to fade into spinsterhood and ignominy. No, they would be bold young ladies who chose to have lives rather than relegate themselves to becoming chaperones and spinsters that would have to watch other young ladies throw their lives upon the ton’s mercy. No, no. That would not be their fate. They were grasping life with both hands, and in the three years that the King’s Head Coaching Inn had been attending guests traveling to all parts of England and sometimes parts unknown, she knew it had never witnessed as marvelous a group as theirs. “Do you really think the Earl of Roxley is going to allow you to enter his house?” Helena asked suddenly, her brow furrowing as it was want to do under her simple cap of yellow straw and green ribbons. “Indeed, I do,” Pippa said firmly, unwilling to display any doubts, even if her own stomach did leap at the possibility of being turned away. She put her teacup down. “I have a remarkably good resume for the position he has advertised for.” “Of course you do, Pippa,” said Lucy, who was an optimist, pluckily.
Such optimism was almost certainly the product of her idyllic childhood in Scotland. Something rather like a fairy story of castles, glens, and magic if one was to hear of it. “Thank you,” Pippa said with a nod of gratitude at her russet-haired friend. “Of course,” Lucy said, picking up another piece of toast and shoving it quite happily into her mouth. Lucy was the one out of the four of them who could eat whatever she pleased and never gave a thought about it. It was quite nice to see someone be able to do such a thing. Pippa had to be quite careful because if she ate too much buttered toast, she found she would have to walk a good five miles. Not that she minded walking five miles, but it was rather irritating that one had to be careful about such things. The clothing of the day was unforgiving to young ladies, or at least, so her governess, and then her chaperone, had told her time and time again. Their castigations had instructed her to eschew toast almost altogether.
Those machinations had fallen upon deaf ears. After all, Pippa liked toast. She wasn’t about to stop eating it to suit others. “And you,” Pippa asked, turning to her blonde friend who had a penchant for paper, quill, and stories. “What do you think will happen when you arrive at your new post, Helena?” “Oh,” Helena exclaimed happily, her gray eyes lighting with pleasure. “I shall have a marvelous time educating the children.” Her friend plunked her cup down then hastily poured another from the blue-painted pot. “I love children, and I think it’s going to go very well. I quite like the north of England.” “Yes, you do like the wilds, don’t you?” Pippa enthused, determined to bolster her friend who did sound a trifle nervous.
“Indeed, I do.” Helena took up a piece of cake and ate a rather large bite. “I shall be able to walk and walk and walk, and no one will think anything of it. And I still have a great deal of time to write my stories. I will be able to sit up late at night with my candle, and no one will say a word against it or worry that my brain is rotting.” She scowled. “Or insinuate I have lost all touch with the real world.” Helena squared her shoulders and declared, “There shall be no condemnation of my literary pursuits. I promise you, within a year, I shall publish a three-volume novel and everyone will know my pseudonym.” Eloise applauded happily, her ruddy cheeks the deepest pink, a clear indication of her pleasure at the unfolding events.
“Hear, hear. Here’s to all of us having our goals met within the year.” All three of her friends stared at her. Pippa thought for a moment with concern about the possibility that one or all might fail in their pursuits, but she refused to acknowledge it. She knew what they were thinking about her own endeavors. There was a good chance the Earl of Roxley wasn’t going to even allow her past his threshold. After all, she was a woman. And the position she was applying for was almost certainly meant for a man. But she was not about to let such a thing bother her, which of course, was why she had submitted her resume under the name of M. Post.
She would deal with the trifles of it once she had arrived. For, now was the time for her three friends and her to do as they had promised. They would not diminish, their value fading as they aged, as so many wallflowers had done before them. They would not allow their fathers to foolishly handle their lives and shunt them off to the side when marriage was clearly not something on offer for them. No, no. They would handle their lives themselves. “I shall miss you terribly,” Pippa said, her throat tightening for a single moment before she cleared it and said proudly, “All of you.” “Indeed,” Helena agreed. “We must write to each other as often as possible.” “Every day,” crowed Eloise.
“I’m sure we shall have time. We’re all great writers.” “Especially I,” said Helena. They all laughed. “Especially you, Helena. We shall expect especially entertaining stories of the Yorkshire Dales and all of the characters you meet there. And, Pippa, we want to hear all the tales of the Egyptian artifacts you’re going to see.” “Of course, with drawings to match!” Pippa assured. “After all those years reading Herodotus in Papa’s library, one would hope I would at least get to see some of the things he wrote about. Imagine if I would get to touch something from Egypt?” “Who knows what shall happen in the next year,” mused Lucy.
“Exactly,” Pippa said. “Who knows, indeed?” She was ready for this adventure. She had been too fearful for too long, allowing society to dictate her path, and now she would not allow herself to overly think about it. When the coachman came into the room, shouting for the destination of Cornwall, she stood, wiped her hands with a linen napkin, and announced, “That’s me. It is time to leap.” Her three friends jumped up, rushed towards her, and embraced her. “We shall be thinking of you all the way on your journey,” said Lucy. “You must let us know as soon as you arrive safely,” said Helena. “Of course I shall,” said Pippa. And Eloise hugged her even tighter.
“Do not allow yourself to be bullied by him. I’ve heard he’s a great bully,” warned Helena. “Quite gruff.” “Don’t you dare allow him to be gruff with you,” instructed Lucy, her gaze warm but insistent. Eloise tsked. “I bet his bark is absolutely absent and he’s just a gruff old fellow.” Pippa nodded. She wasn’t about to back down regardless of the Earl of Roxley’s bite or lack thereof. She had no other choice, for this was a dream she could not miss. Oh, no.
She was absolutely going to be the new assistant of the Earl of Roxley and curate his collection of artifacts that he had brought home from his travels in Egypt. And there was nothing anyone was going to do to stop her, not even Roxley himself. With that, she kissed her friends, each one upon the cheek, and squeezed their hands. She gave them one last look, turned on her heel, picked up her parasol and her traveling case, threw her shoulders back, and stepped happily into the future. Chapter 2 Merciless, Cornish wind whipped Pippa’s straw bonnet right off the top of her head. The ribbons yanked at her neck. She grabbed at the practical hat, attempting to keep it from flying off her person altogether, only to be lashed with Cornish rain from the other side. And then, to add insult to injury, the wind and the rain lashed her at once. She stood, lips pursed, frock plastered to her, and stared down the long drive leading to the Earl of Roxley’s house. In all her life, she’d never been so pummeled by the elements.
She was as wet as a bedraggled London rat. It was not something to her liking. Still, she was not about to be daunted. A little wind and rain wouldn’t intimidate her. She squared her shoulders once again, gripped her sopping travel case, looked about at the wild landscape, the sound of the sea crashing in the distance, and knew she had only one choice. To keep going. Pippa had been dropped off unceremoniously, like an unwanted parcel, at the crossroads nearest to Roxley Hall. Fortunately for her, that was at the front of his, no doubt, long and winding drive. At least, she did not have to wander country lanes in the pursuit of her destination. Even so, she stood ankle-deep in mud.
Her cloak trailed heavily behind her, and her gown was more or less a second skin. Worse, her traveling case’s leather was drenched. In truth, it was ruined, but really, there was nothing she could do about it and prayed her precious books, the few she had managed to bring with her, wrapped in a few spare garments, were still dry. She looked again towards the long drive, focused straight ahead, and did what had to be done. She took step after step, nearly losing her boots in the process. It was no easy thing. She was going to have a word with the Earl of Roxley about the state of his road. Surely, he could do something to keep it from being such a dreary mess. He was not a poor man, after all. As she understood, he had one of the greatest fortunes in the country.
A man such as he could ensure it was not such an untraversable mire. Refusing to be dissuaded, she trudged along, rain and wind lashing her in irritating turns all the way. Pippa had no other choice but to continue on. Unless she wished to admit defeat early. And she wasn’t going to admit defeat for anything. Certainly not for a bit of weather. She had not realized the coach would deposit her so quickly and so efficiently, without any advice as to how she was to get her trunk to the house. The trunk had been left at the crossroad for there was no way she could bring it with her. She was not so foolish as to believe she could haul it behind her. Contrary to the commentary of some, she was not a mule.
At long last, she spotted, in the distance, an ancient Tudor brick house. It was most impressive, but the grounds about it were a remarkable surprise. Pippa had expected manicured gardens. But no! The lush landscape about the house was positively wild. The trees were magnificent: sweeping oaks and ash, weeping willows around the large lake. There was nothing formal about the landscape, and she wondered if, in some way, this was a precursor to its master. For she had heard rumors that he was a bit of a wild fellow who did not like to be told what to do by the dictates of society. She understood. Frankly, if she had been born a man, she would not have liked to be dictated to, either. She soldiered on until, at last, she came to the gravel drive that curved in front of the house.
Pippa marveled that he had bothered to gravel this part of the path at all. If he was to do that bit, surely, he should have done the other as well. Was he a nonsensical person who eschewed logic? It did not matter. She’d managed to arrive. And nor did it matter that the rain was pouring down in ever heavier sheets. If such a thing was possible. It was a miracle she could see the house. Cornwall, it seemed, was a landmass somehow afloat in the sea, but afloat though it may be, it was still drenched. She supposed it made sense. For, as she understood, the vast majority of the inhabitants of this land were quite seaworthy.
She hauled herself up the few steps before the massive, iron-studded door. Pippa lifted her chin, wiped back her dripping hair from her face, and prayed she was not overly doused in mud from head to toe. Her skirts, she knew, were a lost cause, but she would not worry about those. A good wash would set them right. If her face was splattered, there was nothing she could do. She lifted her gloved fist, and just as she was about to rap upon the door, it swung open. A man. No, a veritable Hercules. Stood in the frame. A cup rested in his large hand.
His jetty hair tumbled wildly about his face, and he held an open book crooked under his arm. She had no words for a moment as she took in his ruggedly handsome form. His shirt was open at the neck. He bore no cravat. He wore no coat. In fact, his linen shirt was not even tucked into his tight black breeches. Breeches which clung to legs that suggested they had the power of tree trunks. His perfect Hessian boots did shine, but his face was covered in a most interesting dark stubble, and his hair, my goodness, his hair was wild and curly and dark about his face like a mane that had never been tamed. He stared at her with assessing emerald-green eyes.