The Lady's Maid by Susan Page Davis | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Lady's Maid

The Lady's Maid

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by Susan Page Davis
     
 

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Travel along with Elise Finster and her British mistress, Lady Anne Stone, as they search for the new but missing earl of Stoneford. Determined to follow David Stone’s somewhat cold trail leading to Oregon, greenhorns Elise and Anne secure livestock and supplies to join a wagon train. Will the ladies succeed in their quest or succumb to the malfeasance

Overview

Travel along with Elise Finster and her British mistress, Lady Anne Stone, as they search for the new but missing earl of Stoneford. Determined to follow David Stone’s somewhat cold trail leading to Oregon, greenhorns Elise and Anne secure livestock and supplies to join a wagon train. Will the ladies succeed in their quest or succumb to the malfeasance of the mysterious man dogging their heels? Scout Eb Bentley’s initial disgust with these ill-prepared women eventually turns into admiration for one lady in particular. Can he protect her long enough to win her over, or will prairie dreams turn into a Wild West nightmare?

Editorial Reviews

RT Book Reviews

Davis hits a grand slam with her new historical romance series, Prairie Dreams, which has romance and mystery, with some thrills thrown in.  The characters are well-rounded and the hero has grit and determination.

— Patsy Glans

Once Upon a Romance

By mixing regency and western genres, Susan Page Davis has crafted a story that will satisfy the draw to both eras. As the story was set up, before the actual wagon train journey began, I found the story dragged a bit, but as soon as the train left Independence, the story moved right along. It was heart-warming to find two pampered ladies wanting to pull their own weight and not expecting that their rank and privilege would carry them. All the characters are well-rounded with lots of heart, with human-like qualities.

A surprise ending kind of took me aback for a moment but I trust that the next book in the Prairie Dreams series will pick up where The Lady’s Maid left off. Will Lady Anne’s story be the next one to be told? I look forward to the next Prairie Dreams tale.

— Trudy Smith

RT Book Reviewss
Davis hits a grand slam with her new historical romance series, Prairie Dreams, which has romance and mystery, with some thrills thrown in.  The characters are well-rounded and the hero has grit and determination.
Patsy Glans
RT Book Reviews - Patsy Glans

Davis hits a grand slam with her new historical romance series, Prairie Dreams, which has romance and mystery, with some thrills thrown in.  The characters are well-rounded and the hero has grit and determination.
Once Upon a Romance - Trudy Smith

By mixing regency and western genres, Susan Page Davis has crafted a story that will satisfy the draw to both eras. As the story was set up, before the actual wagon train journey began, I found the story dragged a bit, but as soon as the train left Independence, the story moved right along. It was heart-warming to find two pampered ladies wanting to pull their own weight and not expecting that their rank and privilege would carry them. All the characters are well-rounded with lots of heart, with human-like qualities.

A surprise ending kind of took me aback for a moment but I trust that the next book in the Prairie Dreams series will pick up where The Lady’s Maid left off. Will Lady Anne’s story be the next one to be told? I look forward to the next Prairie Dreams tale.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781616264390
Publisher:
Barbour Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date:
10/01/2011
Series:
Prairie Dreams Series, #1
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
860,925
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Lady's Maid

Pairie Dreams Book 1


By Susan Page Davis

Barbour Publishing, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Susan Page Davis
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61626-439-0


CHAPTER 1

January 1855 Stoneford, near London


Come with me, Elise. I can't face him alone."

Lady Anne gripped her hand so hard that Elise Finster winced. She would do anything to make this day easier for her young mistress.

"Of course, my lady, if they'll let me."

They walked down the sweeping staircase together, their silk skirts swishing and the hems of their crinolines nudging each other. Lady Anne kept her hold on Elise's hand until they reached the high-ceilinged hall below.

At the doorway to the morning room, Lady Anne straightened her shoulders. A pang of sympathy lanced Elise's heart, but she couldn't bear this burden in the young woman's place. Anne Stone had to face the future herself.

"Good day, ladies." Andrew Conrad, the Stone family's aging solicitor, rose from the velvet-upholstered sofa and bowed. "Lady Anne, you look charming. Miss Finster."

Elise murmured, "Hello, sir," while Lady Anne allowed Conrad to take her hand and bow over it.

From near the window, a tall, angular man walked forward—Anne's second cousin, Randolph Stone. Ten years older than Anne, the studious man lived in a modest country home with his wife and two young children and eked out a living on the interest of his father's meager fortune. Elise gritted her teeth, a reaction he always induced in her. With great effort, she had managed to keep Lady Anne from guessing how much she loathed Randolph.

"Anne." Stone took his cousin's hand and kissed it perfunctorily. He nodded in Elise's direction but didn't greet her.

"Randolph. I didn't expect to see you here." Lady Anne arched her delicate eyebrows at the solicitor.

"Mr. Stone had some questions, and I invited him to come with me today so I could explain the situation to both of you."

Lady Anne said nothing for a long moment then nodded.

"Er, if it pleases you, my lady, this is confidential business." Conrad shot a meaningful glance Elise's way.

Elise felt her face flush but held her ground. She wouldn't leave until Lady Anne told her plainly to do so. Besides, he'd brought along an extra person. Why shouldn't Lady Anne have that right as well?

"I would like Elise to stay." The lady smiled but with a firmness to her jaw befitting the daughter of an earl.

Conrad nodded. "As you wish. Shall we begin, then?"

Lady Anne sat on the upholstered Hepplewhite settee and signaled for Elise to sit beside her. Elise arranged her voluminous skirt and lowered herself, avoiding the direct gaze of Randolph Stone. He didn't care for her either, and Elise knew exactly why, but she didn't believe in letting past discord interfere with the future.

"You must have news," Lady Anne said. "Otherwise, you wouldn't have come."

"That is astute of you, my lady." Conrad reached inside his coat and brought out an envelope. "I've had news that is not really news at all from America."

"America?" Lady Anne's tone changed, and she tensed. "Is it my uncle David?"

Conrad sighed and extracted a sheet of coarse rag paper from the envelope. "You are aware, dear lady, that I sent letters the week after your father died, hoping to locate your uncle—that is, David Stone."

"Earl of Stoneford," Lady Anne said gently.

"Yes, well, that's the point, isn't it?" Conrad sounded tired and the tiniest bit cross, as though he hated being beaten by the Atlantic

Ocean and the American postal system. "If your uncle were alive, and if he were here, he would inherit your father's estate and be acknowledged as earl of Stoneford, it's true. But after three months of dillydallying, all we have is a letter from the postmaster in St. Louis, Missouri, declaring that while a Mr. David Stone did reside in the city some ten to fifteen years ago and apparently ran a business at that time, no one by that name lives there now."

Anne's shoulders sagged. "Surely they're mistaken. The last word we had from him came from there."

Conrad shook his head. "I'm afraid we've reached the end of our resources, my lady. I had that letter a couple of weeks ago stating that the city had no death record for your uncle."

"That was a relief," Lady Anne said.

"Yes, but all it tells us is that he did not die in St. Louis. Now, the courts agree on the procedure. The trustees will continue managing your father's estate, but the peerage will remain dormant until your uncle is either found or proven to be deceased."

Lady Anne stirred. "And why is Randolph here?"

"You cousin is next in the line of succession, provided David Stone is proven dead and does not have a male heir. However, it is my duty to tell you both that those things may be impossible to prove."

"And the title will stay dormant and the estate unclaimed for how long?"

"As long as it takes." Conrad brought out a handkerchief and patted his dewy brow. "There are titles that have been dormant for decades—one for more than a hundred years. It will probably never be claimed."

"But the estate, the property—"

"The Crown may decide to dispose of it in time."

"Surely not, if Uncle David is still out there."

"The trustees will not spend your father's fortune in an attempt to find his heir. If you or Mr. Randolph Stone wants to spend your own money trying, that is your affair."

Lady Anne and her cousin glanced at each other. Randolph looked away first.

"And my situation is as you indicated previously," Lady Anne said.

"Yes. You will have the modest fortune your father left to you. The bulk of the estate will remain in trust for the proven heir."

"Then I cannot stay here any longer."

Conrad lifted a hand. "The trustees might allow it, but you would have to pay all household expenses and the wages of any staff you wished to keep, other than the minimum they would retain to maintain the property."

Elise schooled her features to remain impassive, as she'd been taught since she entered domestic service more than two decades ago, but her heart was in turmoil. Her own fate was closely entwined with Lady Anne's. Her mistress's inheritance would hardly enable her to keep living in this huge manor house or to pay the staff that would require. She and Lady Anne had discussed it several times in the past three months, since the earl's death. The young mistress would probably lease a cottage somewhere or go to stay for a while with friends.

"I cannot do that," Lady Anne said. "I shall have to make other arrangements."

Randolph leaned forward. "Surely you've been expecting this outcome, Anne."

Lady Anne's chin shot up. "No. I did not expect it at all. What I expected was that my uncle would be found and that he would come home and take his rightful place as head of the family."

"That isn't going to happen," Randolph said.

"It seems most unlikely." Conrad's voice held a tinge of regret.

Elise felt great sadness for her young mistress, but she could do nothing but sit beside her now and be available later when she cried.

Randolph shook his head. "So there's no hope of my ever inheriting."

"None, unless you can prove that David Stone is dead and has no male children."

They sat in silence for half a minute.

"Your uncle David was much loved," Conrad said at last. "Let me add my condolences, my lady. This must seem a fresh bereavement to you, on the heels of your father's death. I had hoped for a better outcome."

"As did we all," Randolph said hastily.

Lady Anne looked impassively at Conrad. "I shall let you know what I decide to do."

"Thank you. Then I shall be going." Conrad rose.

Elise stood, along with Lady Anne and her cousin.

"Thank you for your work on this," her mistress told Conrad.

Again he bowed over Lady Anne's hand. "I hope I can continue to be of service, my lady."

Elise stood slightly behind Lady Anne and did not offer her hand. It wasn't her place.

Randolph said, "I wish it were otherwise, Anne."

"Of course you do."

Randolph's mouth twitched, but he didn't respond other than to clasp her hand and take his leave with Conrad. How was his wife taking the news, Elise wondered. In the past year, since Anne's other uncle, John, had died in battle, Randolph and Merrileigh must have speculated much on their chances of becoming Earl and Lady Stone. Now it seemed that would not come about. Merrileigh, who loved to entertain beyond the means her husband's current income afforded, must be distraught.

Elise walked into the great hall with the visitors and opened the front door, rather than summoning the one remaining housemaid to show them out. The butler and three quarters of the staff had already left to seek other positions before the money ran out, and Lady Anne had bid them sincere good-byes and Godspeeds. Some had served the family all their lives—and many since before Anne's birth.

Elise herself had started as a parlor maid at sixteen, hired by Anne's mother. What days those were! Elegant house parties at Stoneford and social seasons at the town house in London. When the mistress died three years ago, the family had lost much of its sparkle, but Elise had stayed on with Anne out of love as much as convenience. The seventeen-year-old girl had blossomed into a lovely, refined woman of twenty, and Elise felt that Anne relied on her almost as much as she once had her mother.

When she got back to the morning room, Anne sat once more on the settee. She looked up at Elise with a thoughtful gaze. "I shall have to make plans, Elise. I should have before now, but I couldn't believe Uncle David wouldn't turn up."

"He'd have let you stay here," Elise said.

"Perhaps. Who knows? And I admit I've never given much thought to his hypothetical offspring."

"No need to."

"Isn't there?" Lady's Anne's brown eyes widened. "Uncle David might be dead, though I don't want to think that. Still, he could have children. Father didn't hear from him once in the last ten years. He might have married and settled down to raise a passel of little Yankee Stones. There could be half a dozen of them out there, standing between Cousin Randolph and the peerage, though they have no inkling."

Elise cringed at the mention of Randolph's name. She'd done rather well in concealing her dislike of him while he was in the room, but she couldn't hold it in forever. Best to change the subject.

"Would you like your tea now, my lady?"

"I can't stay here, Elise."

For a long moment neither of them spoke. At last, Elise said, "I understand."

This was Lady Anne's way of saying she could no longer afford to keep her on. Elise's wages were near the top of the scale for lady's maids. The Stones had always prided themselves on paying their staff well and treating them humanely. Should she offer to work for less? If she took another position—and Elise had no doubt she could find one, with Lady Anne's recommendation—Anne could hire both a general maid and perhaps a cook-housekeeper, though not a very good one, for the price. If she wanted to keep a frugal household in the country, Anne could live in comparative comfort. Nothing like what she was used to of course, but she could be independent.

Lady Anne rose. "I believe I shall lie down. If I don't ring for you, please wake me in an hour. I shall take my tea then and—and lay plans."

"Yes, my lady."

Anne walked slowly into the hall and up the stairs. Her steps dragged, and her chin nearly touched her chest. Her heart aching, Elise descended to the servants' hall, where the last kitchen maid jumped up from a chair in the corner. Her eyelids were puffy from weeping.

"The mistress will take tea in an hour," Elise said.

"Yes, mum." Patsy sniffed and wrung her hands in her apron. Her hair looked disheveled, and several strands hung down from her cap. "What's to do, Miss Finster? Should I give my notice?"

"If you hear of another opening, it might be wise."

"Would you tell me if you learn something, mum?"

"Yes."

Patsy nodded. "Thank you."

Elise suggested Patsy serve a simple meal of fruit, cheese, and scones. "If there's any butter or honey in the pantry, so much the better. If not, perhaps Hannah could run to the grocer's."

"Hannah's left, mum, and Lucy is packing."

"Indeed?" That was bad news. They would be left in the huge house without servants—only Patsy. "Is Michael still out at the stable?"

"He came in for breakfast this morning, but he said if the mistress hasn't any horses to keep, he might as well go with the rest. He went out to look for a new position."

Elise went up to her room, her heart heavy, opened the doors of the large cedar wardrobe, and took out her best silk and wool gown. If Lady Anne was going to move to different quarters, Elise would have to pack all of her mistress's clothing, which comprised much more than her own. She might as well pack her personal things now and have it out of the way, so that she could give her full attention to Lady Anne's wardrobe when the time came.

How would she bring up the subject of a letter of recommendation? She hated to ask, but certainly Lady Anne would give her one. And she probably knew of several highborn ladies who would love to have a maid of Elise's experience—although lady's maids usually retired by the time they reached Elise's age. Ladies going out in society liked to have a pretty young woman accompany them.

Elise tried to put that depressing though out of her mind. Lady Anne had once told her she wouldn't part with her no matter what the fashions were. But now, Elise was nearing forty. Her savings wouldn't be enough to retire on, and she had no prospects of marriage. Necessity would force her to remain in service, but in what capacity? She didn't know if she had the energy to work as a housemaid. Perhaps one of Lady Anne's acquaintances was in need of a companion or a governess. Neither would pay much, but she'd be comfortable and have lighter duties than most house servants.

Elise shook off the thoughts and went to the large room down the hall designated as Lady Anne's wardrobe. The room was filled with racks of gowns and petticoats. Cupboards along one wall held shoes, lingerie, and tools of the lady's maid's trade. Elise fetched a bundle of tissue paper and carried it to her room. She had a valise in her armoire, but she'd have to get a trunk down from the attic. Too bad she hadn't thought of getting out the trunks before all the menservants left. Perhaps she and Patsy could manage.

She put the clothing from her dresser into the valise and nestled the gown on top. The rest of her dresses and other clothing would go into her trunk.

Of course Lady Anne hadn't instructed her to pack, but what else could she expect? The earl was dead, and Anne would inherit nothing but the meager fund her father had set up for her. He'd expected his only daughter to marry a rich man before he died, and failing that, to have her two uncles to depend on.

Tears spilled over. David, David, why did you leave us? And now John was gone, too. And the earl—Anne's father and the eldest of the three brothers—had succumbed to pneumonia three months past, and Anne was alone. But Elise was alone as well—and perhaps in a worse predicament. She snatched a handkerchief from her dressing table and blotted her cheeks carefully before reaching for her rouge pot. She would not feel sorry for herself.

A quick tap on her door stayed her hand, and she turned toward it, recognizing Lady Anne's method of announcing herself when she was in a hurry, rather than using the bell pull in her chamber. So close they'd become that this seemed normal. Elise would have to get used to new ways and a new mistress, one who would probably not be so lenient and informal as Lady Anne.

She opened the door. "What is it, my lady?"

Anne stood in the doorway, her chin high. Her eyes gleamed, though the whites were reddened from her recent weeping and her eyelids puffier than usual.

"Elise, I need your help."

"Anything, my lady."

Lady Anne's gaze lit on the piles of garments scattered over the bed and Elise's open valise. "What are you doing?"

"Packing. I assumed...." Elise faltered to a stop.

"But ... You can't leave me now!"

"Of course not, my lady. I'll stay with you for as long as you wish."

Lady Anne sobbed and lurched forward into Elise's arms.

"There, there, my dear." Elise patted her heaving shoulders. "I shan't leave you unless I have to. Nothing would please me more than to stay with you. I only assumed...."

Lady Anne sniffed and pulled away, wiping her face with the back of her hand. "You assumed I'd toss you out? I should hope not."

Elise grabbed one of her daintiest lawn handkerchiefs from the stack on the dressing table and held it out to her. "I'm sorry. I know things will be difficult for you, and I didn't want you to feel guilty if you couldn't keep me on."

"Not keep you on? Elise, I should die without you. How would I live?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Lady's Maid by Susan Page Davis. Copyright © 2011 Susan Page Davis. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than sixty Christian novels and novellas, which have sold more than 1.5 million copies. Her historical novels have won numerous awards, including the Carol Award, the Will Rogers Medallion for Western Fiction, and the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Contest. She has also been a finalist in the More than Magic Contest and Willa Literary Awards. She lives in western Kentucky with her husband. She’s the mother of six and grandmother of ten. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com.
 

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