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The Rake's Daughter — excerpt

Prologue

Studley Park Manor,

 Hampshire, England  

1808

For the first eight-and-three-quarter years of her life Clarissa Louise Studley had given nobody any trouble. The servants at Studley Park Manor all agreed: Miss Clarissa was a most agreeable child—quiet, biddable and obedient. No bother at all. You barely even noticed she was there.

But several days before her ninth birthday, she changed. Radically.

And the servants knew exactly who to blame.

The change had come unexpectedly, as change usually did, with the arrival one afternoon of a dusty black traveling carriage. It pulled up in front of the house and a soberly dressed man of about thirty years stepped down.

A Studley Park groom came running but the gentleman waved him off with a curt, “No need. I won’t be long.”  

“Don’t move,” he ordered an unseen person inside the carriage. He marched up the front steps and rang the doorbell with a hard yank that set the interior bell jangling horribly. And when the butler answered, the visitor demanded—not asked—to see Sir Bartleby Studley, in quite the same brusque tone in which he’d spoken to the groom. If not harsher.

#

It was a warm summer’s day and Clarissa was playing in the garden. Nanny, who was supposed to be watching her, had fallen asleep under a shady oak and Clarissa, tired of endlessly bowling her hoop back and forth along the path, heard the carriage arriving and was intrigued. Visitors didn’t often come to Studley Park Manor.

She wasn’t supposed to venture out of Nanny’s sight but, curious as to whom the caller might be, she ran to the front of the house and peeped around the corner. All she saw at first was the traveling chaise with a bored-looking coachman sitting atop it.

She was about to return to Nanny when the sound of voices raised in argument drifted out through an open window.  Papa and a strange man. Shouting.

Her whole attention on the source of the shouting, she crept closer and just as she was almost underneath the window, she stumbled and almost tripped. And stared at the small black-clad girl crouching under the window, almost hidden by the shrubbery, eavesdropping.

“Who are y—” she began.

“Shhh!” The girl jumped up, clapped her hand over Clarissa’s mouth, and pulled her down into the shrubbery.

Clarissa was about to object to this rude treatment when, her hand still over Clarissa’s mouth, the girl jabbed a fierce finger at the window and hissed, “Listen.”

“She’s your bastard and your responsibility,” the strange man was shouting. “You ruined my sister and disgraced my family, and now that the child’s mother is dead—”

“The child is not mine.”

“She is yours,” the man insisted. “My sister was a virtuous girl until you seduced her.”

Clarissa’s papa snorted. “So you claim.”

“There’s no question that she’s your daughter—wait until you see her. She’s sitting in the carriage—anyone with eyes in their head can see the resemblance. You’ll have to admit paternity then, and you’ll damn well take responsibility for the raising of her. Because I refuse to take on the raising of another man’s bastard.”

“What’s a bastard?” Clarissa whispered.

“Me,” the other girl whispered back, and when Clarissa shook her head in bewilderment, she added, “It’s something bad.”

Clarissa glanced at the black clothes the girl was wearing. Was that because she was bad? She didn’t look bad, but the clothes weren’t very nice. “That man said you were Papa’s daughter.”

The girl nodded. “He told me that, too—that he was bringing me to my father. He says he’s my uncle—my mother’s brother—but I think he hates me.” She pulled a face. “Sounds like they both hate me.”

“But if you’re Papa’s daughter,” Clarissa said slowly, “and I’m Papa’s daughter, that must make us . . . sisters.”

The girl turned her head and stared wide-eyed at Clarissa. Clarissa stared back. The girl didn’t look much like Clarissa, with her dark curly hair and brilliant green eyes, but she did look a lot like Papa.

“Well, I’m not taking her back with me,” the words came from the open window. “I have a decent respectable family to worry about, and I won’t pollute them with a bastard child. She’s yours—you can do what you damned well like with her.”

Clarissa heard her father say, “I’m off to London this afternoon. I’ll dump the brat in the first orphan asylum I come to.” 

The two girls exchanged glances. An orphan asylum? Clarissa had heard about them. Betty the little maid-of-all-work had come from an orphan asylum and every time she made a mistake—even a small one—she was terrified she’d be sent back.  Papa was going to put this girl—her sister?—in one of those places?

Suddenly she knew what to do. She grabbed the girl’s hand. “Quick, come with me. I’ll hide you.”

Hand in hand the two girls took to their heels, running like rabbits to Clarissa’s favorite place in all the world—the old walled garden.

“What are y—” the girl gasped as Clarissa dragged open a rusty gate set into a high brick wall and thrust her through it. She followed and pulled it closed after her. “What is this place?” the girl asked, looking around her in bemusement.

“Nobody ever comes here,” Clarissa panted. “They won’t look for us here—it’s my secret place. Nobody even knows the gates are unlocked. I found the key last summer. Come this way where we can sit down and talk.” She led the girl to a circular arbor over which roses flowed in a tangled waterfall of color and fragrance. Inside, a wooden bench was set around the walls. It was a perfect hidey-hole.

The girls sat, breathing in the scent of roses and gazing at each other in silence. Clarissa had just one thought in her head—could this girl really be her sister? She so wanted her to be. She had always longed for a sister. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Izzy. Isobel, really, but Mama always calls—called me Izzy.”

Clarissa eyed Izzy’s black clothing. “Is your Mama . . . ?”

“Dead, yes. That man, my uncle”—Izzy jerked her head in the direction of the house—”I met him for the first time today. He came to Mama’s funeral and told me he was Mama’s brother and that I was leaving.”

“Leaving where?”

“Home. Mama and I live—lived in a little cottage on the outskirts of the village. I didn’t even know she had a brother. Or that I had a father. Oh, I knew people called me a bastard but I always thought a bastard was a person who didn’t have a father—and I didn’t have a father. But he—my uncle—said I was my father’s responsibility. And so he brought me here.” She eyed Clarissa cautiously. “Do you really think we’re sisters?”

Clarissa thought about everything they’d overheard.  “Yes. I don’t look like Papa—everyone says I take after my mother—but you, you look like Papa, except for being a girl. You have his eyes and his hair and—”

“His hair?” Izzy tugged a long spiral of dark hair. “This horrid stuff?”

“Horrid? I think your hair is beautiful. Like elf locks. In fact for a moment when I first saw you, I thought you might be an elf . . . but you’re not, are you?” Izzy had an elfin look about her, with her pointy chin and wide green eyes and the tumble of dark, silky corkscrew curls. Clarissa had to spend an uncomfortable night with her hair in rags to get even half that number of curls.

“No, I’m not an elf.”

“I’ve never seen an elf,” Clarissa said sadly.

“Me neither. Though I wouldn’t mind being one if I could do magic.”

“Yes, and I’d be one too. Or maybe a fairy. Wouldn’t that be fun?” 

“Yes! I could turn my uncle into a toad.” Izzy said, and they both laughed. 

After a moment, Izzy sighed. “What are we going to do? I can’t stay hiding here forever.” 

“Not forever, but for a while,” Clarissa said. A plan was forming in her mind. “I’ll have to go now—Nanny will be missing me—but I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Izzy glanced around the deserted garden. “But what will I do? They’ll be looking for me.” 

Clarissa nodded. “I know, but they won’t think to look in here. And Papa has very little patience, so he’ll end up leaving everything to the servants as he usually does. He was about to leave for London when your uncle’s carriage arrived, so he’ll probably go soon anyway. And you can leave the servants to me.” She grinned. It was just like an adventure in a story. “Are you hungry? I’ll bring you some food later if I can, but you must hide here until it’s safe. Then I’ll come and fetch you.”

Izzy frowned. “And then what?”

Clarissa hesitated. “We are sisters, aren’t we?”

Izzy nodded. “I think we must be.”

Clarissa had prayed for a sister all her life, but she needed to be sure. “Yes, but do you want to be my sister? It’s quite lonely here,” she added honestly. “There’s only the servants and most of them are old. And I’m not allowed to play with the village children.”

Izzy pulled a face. “Where I come from the village children are not allowed to play with me.”

“Why?”

Izzy shrugged. “Because my father didn’t marry my mother.”

“No, he married my mother. But that’s not your fault.”

“Doesn’t matter now, and I don’t care what they say.” She grinned at Clarissa, an elfin smile full of mischief. “I’ve always wanted a sister, too. And I like you.” 

“Good. I like you too, so from now on you’re going to live with me, and we will be sisters together and play as much as we want.” Clarissa couldn’t keep the smile from her face. She darted forward and hugged Izzy. “Now, here’s the key to the gate. Lock it when I leave so nobody can get in even if they want to. I’ll come for you as soon as I can. I shan’t be long.”

She returned to the house and found servants busily scurrying thither and yon and her father standing in the hallway bellowing orders. 

Nanny pounced on her. “Where have you been, child? I’ve been beside myself wondering where you were. Bad enough that one child has gone miss—” She broke off. “But never mind about that, come away upstairs. There’s a nice glass of milk and some  of Cook’s best shortbread waiting for you.”

Clarissa didn’t move. “Who’s gone missing, Nanny?”

“Oh nobody, no-one of any account. I’m sure it’s all a misunderstanding and that fellow took the child away with him after all.”

“What child?”

“There is no child,” Papa snapped from the hallway. “It’s all a lot of nonsense. I’ve had enough of it. I’m off.” He snapped his fingers and a footman ran out the front door and whistled a signal to the grooms. 

Clarissa heard her father say to the estate manager, Mr Edwards, “Find the brat and deal with her.” 

“What should I do with her, sir?”

“I neither know nor care.”The carriage arrived, the luggage was swiftly loaded and a few minutes later Papa was driving away. Without even saying goodbye to Clarissa.

He rarely did. She was a disappointment to Papa, she’d always known it. He’d told her to her face, more than once. She was plain and unattractive. She was dull like her mother. She was no use to anyone. And she should have been a boy.

But it didn’t hurt so much now, because now she had a sister. And she wouldn’t ever be lonely again.

She went upstairs with Nanny, drank her milk, ate a piece of shortbread, slipped the rest into her pocket and added an apple. Then, telling Nanny she’d left her book in the garden and would be back in a minute, she ran downstairs and took the food to Izzy.

Izzy ate hungrily and when she had finished, Clarissa smuggled her upstairs via the servants’ stairs. She settled her in the nursery bedchamber with a couple of books and some more shortbread. Nanny, who was in her sitting room knitting by the window, didn’t notice a thing.

It wasn’t until evening, after Clarissa had eaten her supper—slipping half of it into a napkin for Izzy—and gone to bed that the deception was discovered. Nanny came to check she was sleeping and found two little girls curled up in the bed, instead of one.

She gave an almighty shriek, and within minutes several servants were crowded into the bedchamber, exclaiming and speculating. 

Nanny, recovering from her shock, said firmly to Izzy, “Now come away, child. You don’t belong here.”

But the two girls clung to each other, and when Nanny reached for Izzy’s hand, Clarissa flung her arms around her sister, and shouted, “Don’t touch her! She’s my sister and I’m keeping her!” 

Nanny and the other servants stopped, shocked—Clarissa never shouted—and eyed one another cautiously.

And when a footman went to grab Izzy, intending to drag her away by force, the two girls fought and scratched like furious little cats and Clarissa proved she could out-shriek Nanny any day.

The footman retreated. Nanny and the other servants tried to reason with her, but Clarissa dug her heels in and refused to give up her sister, repeating, “Izzy is my sister and I’m keeping her!”

Finally the estate manager was summoned to deal with the problem. Nanny turned to him. “What shall I do, Mr Edwards? Miss Clarissa will make herself sick if she keeps carrying on in this fashion.”

Everyone waited for him to speak.

Mr Edwards looked at Clarissa, tear-stained and desperate, clutching her white-faced sister to her. He eyed Izzy thoughtfully, and said, “That child is the master’s get and no mistake.”

“Yes, but what do we do?” Nanny repeated.

There was a long silence, then Mr Edwards spoke. “He did say he didn’t care what I did with her.”

“But what does that mean?” Nanny wailed. “We must do something.”

Mr Edwards glanced at the two little girls huddled on the bed. “Let her stay. When the master returns, he can decide. I won’t be responsible for tossing a child out into the night.”

“No, no, of course not,” Nanny murmured. “But what should I do?”

“Leave them be for the moment,” Mr Edwards said. “There’s been enough upset tonight. We’ll make the necessary arrangements in the morning.”

“No arrangements. She’s my sister and I’m keeping her!” Clarissa said again.

Mr Edwards smiled. “Nobody’s taking her anywhere, child. She can stay here until your father comes back. He will decide what to do.”

Clarissa could hardly believe it. Papa didn’t visit very often. “Promise?”

“I promise. Now go to sleep,” Mr Edwards said. “Both of you.”

#

Six months later Sir Bartleby returned to Studley Park Manor for one of his infrequent and irregular visits—what was the point, he’d often said, when he had an estate manager to run things, and no son to interest him. 

Even so, since Mr Edwards was away at the time and none of the servants could rouse sufficient courage to broach the matter, it was almost a week before he realized his bastard daughter was living in his house. 

He’d been riding back from paying a call on a neighbor, a juicy widow, when he noticed two small girls, one dark, one fair, playing on the side lawn. He frowned. His daughter was not permitted to play with peasants. 

He returned to the house and sent for the nanny. And discovered who the dark-haired child was. In a rage, he ordered the wretched brat brought to him. But though the servants searched high and low, there was no sign of her.

He then sent for Clarissa and demanded she tell him where the other girl was. Pale and trembling, Clarissa answered in a small, firm voice.  “No, Papa.”

He could hardly believe his ears. He frowned, but moderated his voice. “Now be sensible, Clarissa. That girl is nothing to do with us. She’s an orphan. She belongs with her own kind.”

His daughter regarded him solemnly. “Izzy’s mama is dead, but so is my mama. Does that mean I am an orphan too?”

He could barely repress his impatience. “Of course you’re not an orphan, you stupid child. I am your father.”

“But if you are Izzy’s father, she cannot be an orphan, can she?”

Big as a bull and just as angry, Sir Bartleby shouted, “I am not that, that creature’s father! And I won’t have her in my house. Now where is she?” He slammed his fist on the desk before him.

Clarissa flinched, but with a white, set face she stared him down. “Izzy is my sister, Papa. She looks just like you. And I won’t give her up.”

“How dare you defy me, you miserable child!” He rose from behind his desk, stalked around it and loomed over her with a raised fist. “Tell me at once where she is or else. . . “

Clarissa  braced herself.

The door flew open and a small dark-haired whirlwind burst in. “Leave my sister alone, you big fat bully!” Izzy flew at him and butted him hard in the stomach. Then while he was still wheezing, trying to get his breath back, she grabbed Clarissa’s hand and the two little girls fled.

They were not seen for the rest of the day.

Sir Bartleby shouted and stormed and ranted. He offered the servants bribes and when that didn’t work he made threats. But nobody could—or possibly would—produce either girl. 

The estate manager, when he returned, tried to reason with him, pointing out that apart from her irregular birth, the child was essentially harmless, and that she was company for Miss Clarissa. Who had been very lonely with only servants for company, and mostly elderly ones at that.

Sir Bartleby snapped at him to mind his own damned business.

Night fell but the girls did not appear. When morning came, still with no sign of them, Sir Bartleby gave up in disgust. “Let her keep the brat then, if she must,” he growled. “But she’s not to set a foot outside the estate boundary—not to attend church or go into the village. She’s not to mix with local people at all—especially not the gentry.” He glowered at his servants, adding, “And if I ever lay eyes on the misbegotten little bitch, I’ll make her sorry she was ever born.” 

He called for his carriage and returned to London in a filthy temper. The first thing he did on his arrival in the capital was to send for his lawyer. 

It was another year before he made another visit to Studley Park Manor, and for the whole of his time there he did not acknowledge either daughter. He did not send for Clarissa. He did not speak to her or even look at her; in fact he gave orders to the servants that the girls were to be kept out of his sight. 

No problem there—the girls had as little desire to see him as he to see them, though it did grieve Clarissa that her father was even more set against her than ever. But she had a sister now, and that more than made up for it.

Life with Izzy was full of fun and excitement. They spent hours every day in the walled garden, playing games, creating make-believe fairy villages, and gathering rose petals to make perfumes and pot-pourri. In wet weather they created cosy nests in the attic and read books and played games of make-believe. 

On hot days they splashed and cavorted in the lake, squealing with joy and delight, dressed only in their chemises. Until Izzy, Clarissa had never swum in her life. Never even paddled.

They climbed trees. Clarissa had never even thought of doing such a thing, but now they nestled high in the branches, gazing out over their domain, captains of a pirate ship, or princesses in a tower, prisoners of an evil wizard, and once, hiding from a pack of wolves. 

They made friends with the shepherd who let them feed an orphan baby lamb, and oh, the fun of holding the tiny wooly creature with its wiggly tail as it greedily sucked down the milk. 

They discovered a blackberry patch and returned to the house with scratched arms and stained and torn dresses, their mouths purple with blackberry juice.

At Izzy’s instigation, they learned to ride, secretly at first and bareback, because of Sir Bartleby’s restrictions, but then Clarissa fell off and broke her arm. Forbidden to ride again, Clarissa said with apparent placidity, “Very well, but only until my arm has healed.” 

In despair, Nanny sent for Mr Edwards, who, after interviewing the two girls, arranged for them to have proper riding lessons. “No use penning them up,” he told Nanny. “They’ve tasted freedom and there’s no stopping them now. Besides, riding is a useful skill for a lady.”

Sir Bartleby’s visits became more infrequent than ever and when he did come the girls simply avoided him. He never even mentioned Izzy, acted as if she didn’t exist. And as the girls grew older and he brought guests with him to go hunting or shooting, the girls learned to avoid his guests, too.

The walled garden remained their retreat. The servants knew their secret now, but they never told. 

For the next ten years, Clarissa and Izzy grew up, side by side, as close as two sisters could be.

And then Sir Bartleby died.