First Page: The Jedburgh Conspiracy (Historical Fiction)
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My cousin Lady Cathcart promised an introduction to Court in exchange for three months’ companionship at Goodtrees.
I sunk all my hopes in the scheme. The rate of return might be lower than a South Sea stock, but it was far less risky. Goodtrees was part of my brother Sir James’s estates, an hour’s ride from Edinburgh. It wasn’t taxing to give up my chamber to the countess and share a room with one of my younger sisters for awhile.
I had only to read aloud to Lady Cathcart from the latest verses and miscellanies, calm her recalcitrant daughters when they escaped the governess’s tutelage, maintain a pleasant disposition through the vagaries and complaints of her child-bearing—and keep her confidences.
I retreated when the earl entered to embrace her and consoled her after their arguments. When she grew bored watching the snow fall on Goodtrees’ gardens and woodlands, I appealed to her for instruction in what she knew best: political secrets and courtly intrigue.
She had a bounty of amusing, salacious stories, which I turned to good account in my writing, certain to bring a nicer profit than the droll advice of The Polite Philosopher. Its several editions had enriched my brother’s printer-friends but brought me little income and no accolades as the unknown author.
Neither Lady Cathcart nor I had any expectation I’d put her scandalous wisdom to use with prospective suitors, though she tempted me with assurances we’d make the journey to London before the season was out. There a better sort of publisher paid well for fanciful memoirs and romans-a-clef. And there ambitious, admiring soldiers and diplomats would crowd her salons. We’d only need wait a few months after the birthing.
The Ides of March passed uneventfully, boding well for us all. The babe, big and kicking, pressed hard to meet the world. Lady Cathcart rode to town for lying-in at our grandfather’s house, near the Medical School. My mother and aunts joined her.
Goodtrees, left to me and my siblings and the Cathcart girls, was dull as ever.
I chafed at our constrained habits and orchestrated an outing to mark the first day of spring. Had my English-born cousins not protested, I’d have summoned my brother’s carriage and climbed Arthur’s Seat for a view of the castle, the Forth, and the mountains beyond.
Any good Scot preferred to walk uphill.
Instead, we spent the afternoon tramping through the woodlands at Goodtrees. Pine straw crunched beneath our feet. My petticoats snagged. I caught them up with one hand and tugged my sister Anne closer with the other. Two years my junior at sixteen, she was as well-tutored as I, though her tastes inclined to the mathematical. She’d brought a volume of poetry for the occasion and was chirping her way through Thomson’s “Spring.”
“And shiver every Feather with Desire…” At this Anne broke off, laughing.
I snorted. “A guinea for such verse? You cannot say it!”
“Jamie claimed as much.” She closed the book and turned it over in her hands. “Perhaps the fine binding is where the value lies.”
A woodlark sprung up a few yards from us, driven aloft by the girls’ playing hide-and-seek among the lilacs and willows.
“Up-springs the Lark!” I mocked, quoting Thomson. “Perhaps our poet had keener insight than we’ve credited.”
“Lord, I hope not. How dispiriting, Peggie, if your London suitors prove little more than a ring of glossy-plumed, Roving Tricksters.” Her eyes spoke her fondness, if slanted a bit in disappointment since she couldn’t accompany us.
“I shall make them dance in circles and Retire disorder’d.”