Penelope

By: Anya Wylde

Acknowledgement


Thank you, John, for everything

And Thank you, PG Wodehouse, for coining the word ‘canoozers’. It’s bloody brilliant!





Prologue


It was April in England. Therefore, it stood to reason that it was raining.

The English, it also stood to reason, were delighted because the weather was horrible and they had a reason to complain. But today the Londoners, specifically, were even more ecstatic because it was not only raining but also storming. Thunder, lightning and raging wind swept through the streets of London carrying with it pounds of garbage, scrawny cats, chimney sweeps, and the unfortunate young lady in ballooning pink skirts who had decided to sneak out of her respectable home to canoodle with a not so respectable man.

In the better parts of the town the plump aristocrats sat on plump cushions deploring the state of the economy, politics and literature. The exception to this was the Blackthorne Mansion, a veritable fortress where the current Duke of Blackthorne, Charles Cornelius Radclyff, resided. It was said that the history of the Radclyff family could be traced back hundreds of thousands of years. That is if one kept an open mind, a trusting mind, or better yet no mind at all.

Sir Henry Woodville, the oldest living creature in the Blackthorne Mansion, could not be sure how far back the history could be traced, but if one tried, he was positive that the ancestors of the Radclyff family were the original creators of Plato’s Atlantis, and after bit of drink, he confessed they could possibly have been Adam and Eve. (It is whispered in expensive drawing rooms that Sir Henry Woodville could be a teensy weensy bit senile).

So the Blackthorne Mansion stood bold and proud fighting the onslaught of stinging rain while within its grey walls the dowager and her daughter, Lady Anne Radclyff, sat huddled by the fire, wincing ever so delicately every time the thunder roared. They did not discourse on appropriate topics but awaited the arrival of our heroine, Miss Penelope Winifred Rose Spebbington Fairweather, and this is where we begin our tale.





Chapter 1


The dowager cast a worried glance at the door while Lady Radclyff stared at the grandfather clock willing its giant needles to move.

“She is late, Mamma.”

“She will be here soon enough.”

“Do you think she is dead?”

“Annie, she is not that late!”

“Yes, but she is coming all the way from that … that Finny village. It has been raining all day and she refused our offer of a carriage. The post-chaise could have lodged itself in a pothole and overturned. I suppose she is lying in some gully, blood pooling underneath her awkwardly twisted body and not a soul in sight.”

“It’s Finnshire not Finny, and she has her maid with her.”

“Well, then the maid is dead too. The weight of the carriage finished her off well before her mistress. Poor Miss Fairweather twitched and trembled for eons fighting for that last breath.”

“I will seriously contemplate your very vivid scenario if Miss Fairweather does not arrive in the next five hours. Until then can we converse like gently bred women? If your brother heard you speaking like this, he would have you sent to the country for the next three seasons.”

“I am bored. I can’t go to the shops, go riding or feel excited about the season. Do you know that I attended a hundred and five balls last year alone, and that does not count the dinners and tea parties?”

“Miss Fairweather would have loved to attend a hundred and five balls last year. You have had the pleasure of three seasons, while the poor dear has never been to anything but the village dance.”

“What do you think she is like? Have you ever met her?”

“I have not met her, but her mother and I attended the same ladies academy. Her mother Grace was bright, full of life and laughter, and if her daughter is anything like her… ”

“Was?”

“She died giving birth to Miss Penelope Fairweather. Mr Thomas Fairweather, Penelope’s father, married the vicar’s daughter, Gertrude, within a year of Grace’s funeral. Gertrude went on to have five more children. I initiated a correspondence with Gertrude to ensure that Grace’s daughter was being well looked after—”

“You couldn’t have the stepmother drowning the child,” Lady Radclyff interrupted.