After growing up on a farm in Virginia, Walthingham Hall in England seems like another world to sixteen-year-old Katherine Randolph. Her new life, filled with the splendor of upper class England in the 1820s, is shattered when she discovers the corpse of her brother George in a lake on the estate-the tragic accidental drowning of a young man, the coroner reports, despite the wound to George's head.
Katherine is expected to observe the mourning customs and get on with her life, but she can't accept that her brother's death was an accident. A bitter poacher prowls the estate, and strange visitors threaten the occupants of the house. There's a rumor, too, that a wild animal stalks the woods of Walthingham.
Can Katherine retain her sanity long enough to find out the truth? Or will her brother's killer claim her life, too?
About the Author
Lucinda Gray is the pseudonym of an American novelist who lives in New York.
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The Gilded Cage
By Lucinda Gray
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2016 Working Partners
All rights reserved.
"Arms up, dear."
I lift my arms over my head.
"Good," says Cousin Grace. "You'll make no move more sudden than that, and it seems your bosom will stay in place."
I don't see how my bosom has any choice. It and the rest of me are bound fast in a mercilessly tight concoction of cream satin. I keep catching glances of myself in the mirror, and each time the girl I see looks a little less like me. My black curls are pinned up in an elaborate style that leaves my neck bare. I'd almost forgotten the mole in the hollow of my left clavicle. Shimmering white gloves wrap my arms to the elbow, reflecting the glow of the strand of pearls that clings to my throat. Katherine the farm girl is in there somewhere, beneath the finery — I see her in the obstinate jawline, a touch too wide, in the dark gray eyes that can't hide their boredom. Grace surveys my bare arms with satisfaction — though the taut lines of my muscles are still visible, they're slackening from disuse. There are no buckets to heave up from the well here, and someone else chops the firewood.
What would Connor think if he could see me now?
"Arms back down," Grace murmurs as Elsie, our dressing maid, fusses with another hairpin. If I don't turn my head too quickly, her work might just survive the evening ahead.
Grace suddenly shrieks, and Stella scurries out from under her skirts, yapping. "I don't understand, Katherine dear, why you insist on keeping that mutt in your room!"
"Because I love her with all my heart." And because you can trust animals, I think but don't say. There's nothing fake about a dog. "Besides, she's very fond of you," I add sweetly.
"Well, the feeling is one-sided. She's got hairs all over my dress."
Elsie flutters over to tend to my cousin's skirts, and I manage a crouch, tickling Stella under her chin. She was a gift from George the day after we arrived in England, and I adore her — she's the only one here even less polished than I am.
I walk to the window and tug aside the thick brocade curtain. The estate sprawls out in the dimming February twilight, a wintry tapestry of browns and faded greens. Over its horizon, to the south, is the quarry that once supplied stone to build the house and many others in the area. It fell into disuse some ten years ago, according to George. At the bottom of the smooth lawns, the lake lies black and still, and the trees beyond carpet the valley in a great swath. The forest of Walthingham, planted two hundred years ago, covers several hundred acres. I hold a hand to the chilly glass, listening to the evening song drifting from the aviary.
There's movement at the forest's edge, something darting from trunk to trunk.
"Someone's in the trees," I say, pointing to the spot.
Grace comes to my side, but when I look again the thing has gone. "I can't see anything," she says.
"I'm sure. ..."
"Just a deer," she says. "They come sometimes to the lake to drink."
"I think it was a man," I say, staring until my eyes blur and sting, and I have to blink.
In the glass, Grace's reflection flinches. Then two shapes emerge from the trees on the long driveway leading to the house — carriages. "Your guests!" says Grace, her voice light. "We haven't long."
My guests. Cold seeps into my fingertips from the windowpane, and my ghostly, black-eyed reflection stares back at me mockingly. I turn away.
Grace looks me up and down. "Don't furrow your brow. You'll perform just perfectly."
I don't want to perform at all, thank you very much, I think. I'm not a traveling show.
Grace must mistake my strained smile for nerves. "You've done wonderfully over the past four weeks, Katherine. You'll be a sensation!"
Has it been only four weeks since we arrived here? America, and Connor, seem to belong to another lifetime. I feel a swell of guilt, not for being here, but for starting to forget.
"Thank you," I say. "For everything you've done for me."
Grace stands up and adjusts her skirts. She is wearing lace as well, but it is dyed a rich scarlet, and cut higher to her neck. Though she asks me to treat her like a sister, she is technically the same generation as my father — his cousin, in fact. She acts very much like a maiden aunt, steering me patiently through the convoluted channels of English society.
"I have enjoyed every moment," she says. "Now, I must go speak with Mrs. Whiting. Just relax and enjoy the night — we've been over everything that's important. Come along, Elsie."
She sweeps from the room, followed by the serving girl, and I'm alone.
Everything that's important. She means the rules, I suppose, the ones she's spent a month drilling into me. The rules for eating, the rules for dancing, the rules for talking. The way to dress, to curtsy, to be an English "lady" rather than a girl from a farm in Virginia. The rules for snaring a husband, that's what they add up to.
It's a wonder these people can walk in a straight line with so many rules in their heads — but, of course, there are rules for walking, too.
I practice now, stepping toward the mirror, placing one foot in front of the other, trying to maintain perfect alignment from toe to heel. It's harder than it looks, like crossing the slippery log over the creek toward Miller's Pond. All that was at stake back then was a soaking in muddy water.
It's been three months since Herman DeLaney, the lawyer from the city, did indeed change our fortunes. His firm, Cryer and Thompson, took care of all the details — getting us to New York, finding a berth on the St. Elizabeth. George and I were simply swept along. I still blush to think of DeLaney's face when I asked how it was all being paid for. "By you, of course, Miss Randolph," he'd said with a grin.
I don't think either of us really threw much of a backward glance at Miller's Pond or the life we were leaving behind. Edward and Lila saw us off with tears, and there were vain promises that we would see them again. But after that, we let the current carry us away. During the monthlong wait in New York, I was too busy wandering the streets in awe to think properly about how life was changing. I think the reality began to dawn for both of us during the wretched twenty-eight days we were tossed around on the crossing. The only moment of levity on the whole voyage was when we toasted the New Year with a bottle of wine given to us by Herman. He'd scribbled a note on the label — May you have a prosperous 1821.
George had to explain to me five or six times what was in fact quite a simple, if improbable, stroke of luck. A grandfather we hadn't even known had died. Thrown from his horse at the age of seventy, he had died instantly of a broken neck. And with our father, his direct descendant, dead, his fortune passed to us. Now, where we were from, wealth was a relative concept. Just about everyone we mixed with, Connor included, had little, though we all had enough. Maybe the McConnells, with eight horses and twenty acres, were doing a lot better than us. Herman DeLaney, with his handsome town house in Manhattan, was definitely well off.
I didn't know what real wealth was, of course.
"What are you doing here, Katherine Randolph?" I whisper.
At the sound of my voice, Stella looks up from beside the hearth, where a fire is stoked hot against the chill. In our old home, we had a single fireplace. This house has more than two dozen. But then, this bedroom is the size of our entire farmhouse. The bedding and walls are done up in dusty gold with warm red accents, and the carpet is a thick plush that I never tire of digging my toes into.
But will it ever feel like a home? I feel like a plant brought in from a greenhouse, potted in strange soil. It's not right, this place, this air. I feel like I'm withering.
A gentle rapping pulls me from my reverie. I turn and see George framed in the doorway, and force a smile. Our elevation to the gentry looks effortless on him, as everything does. He wears a midnight-colored tailcoat, and a collar that drapes his neck in velvet. He used to wear rugged breeches and boots in all weather, but now he's traded them for silk stockings and pointed leather shoes with shining buckles. He is only twenty, four years my senior, but his clothes give him a dignity befitting an older man.
"My grubby George!" I say. "I didn't truly believe the dirt could come all the way off."
He pulls a monstrous face at me. "Look who's talking!"
"It's Grace and Elsie's doing," I say. "Don't come too near or you'll make me a mess again."
"Mother and Father would be so proud," he says simply, and holds out his arm. I know he means well by saying such things, but I wish he wouldn't mention our parents like that. It undermines my defenses, and threatens to make me teary. "Of you also," I reply simply as we clasp arms. My hands look like someone else's — the nails, once kept short by hard work and a hundred little accidents, have grown longer.
"Oh, look," I say, gripping his wrist, where a splotch of cerulean blue is dried onto his skin. "You're letting us down."
"Blast," he says under his breath. "I was doing the vista from the west window."
"I don't see where the blue came in. These English skies seem to be gray most of the time."
He tries to tweak my nose, like he used to when we were small, but I duck out of the way as quick as my styled hair will let me. He knows I'm teasing — George's paintings are something to behold, and at last he's getting the recognition he deserves. Tomorrow we go to London to speak with a curator at the Royal Academy. They've seen the landscapes George painted back home, and already they're talking about exhibiting his work.
In the hallway we meet John, the under-footman, coming from the servants' stairs with an armful of pressed linen. He moves aside and offers a shallow bow as we pass; for a moment, before I lower my gaze, his eyes catch on mine. I find it hard, sometimes, to meet his looks. His sun-paled hair is so like Connor's, and from the back, with their broad shoulders and height, they could be mistaken for each other. But John does not share Connor's easy smile. He often looks sad, I think, when he doesn't know he's being watched.
John's was the first face I saw on English soil, waiting with my cousins the day we docked in Bristol. He'd carried my ancient blue trunk, weathered almost to whiteness, to the waiting carriage.
Now I feel his eyes on my exposed throat, and I am sure I'm blushing. "My lord, my lady," he murmurs. George nods a response. He's adjusting better than I am, learning to treat the servants, as Grace instructed, like part of the furniture.
George's hand is tight on my arm as we reach the stairs — he's more nervous than he's letting on.
"I may need to use that arm again after tonight," I say.
"I'm sorry," he replies. "It's just — are you actually looking forward to this?"
"This is our introduction to society," I say. "Think of it like branding cattle. A sharp pain, then we belong."
"And then to the slaughterhouse?" says George.
From below come the silvery sounds of the hired strings, and the low swell of voices. "They can't scare us, George," I say.
"We may not be as fine," I say. "But we're far richer."
We stifle our laughter as we walk down the stairs, and I try my best not to tangle my feet in my dress. The butler, Carrick, is waiting at the doors to the ballroom. Cousin Henry Campion, Grace's older brother, limps from the drawing room to the bottom of the stairs, smartly dressed in his dragoon's uniform. Until we were identified as Randolphs by Crowne & Crowne, the family's lawyers, he was custodian to Walthingham, and since our arrival he's welcomed us with great kindness. I haven't dared ask about his wound, but Elsie tells me he got it fighting in France, and that he nearly lost the leg to infection.
"The young lord and lady are ready for their audience, I see," he says. "Katherine, you look beautiful tonight! Mr. Carrick, if you wouldn't mind."
George's grip tightens on my arm again as the butler swings open the doors. His voice rings across the room beyond. "Ladies and gentlemen! Lord George and Lady Katherine Randolph!"CHAPTER 2
"You were raised on a farm, they say. Was it dreadfully messy?" The woman in yellow lace grimaces.
"There was a fair amount of dirt," I reply.
"But surely you knew all the time that your place was elsewhere. You must have felt it. The blood will out, as they say."
"I was too busy, perhaps, to notice it."
"But it's all very romantic, is it not?"
I think the romance would have worn off for Lady Flint after a single winter on our tiny farmstead, but I laugh politely all the same.
The conversation bubbles on, and I look for George across the expanse of the ballroom. I wonder if he has told the story as many times as I have. Of our parents' deaths five years before, our simple life under the kindness of our guardians, Edward and Lila, and the lawyer's visit that changed everything.
I've met so many people; their faces and titles are a blur. Several are men from Cousin Henry's regiment; others are local landowners and their wives and children. Everyone seems to know each other, which makes sense: George and I are the strangers here.
"It must have been such a shock," says Lord Flint, "living in some dusty shack one moment, and now this." He throws a meaty hand around to indicate our present surroundings.
It wasn't quite a shack, I almost say, but then I suppose, to these people, it probably would be. Over our heads, candles reflect off glittering chandeliers, and the guests move below in a crush of richly clothed elegance and breeding. The evening is going better than I expected. Though I have made a few slips, none have been, in my cousin's parlance, fatal. True, the cords of Grace's neck tightened when I took a glass of champagne before George, but she quickly recovered her composure. From time to time she taps me on the arm, with a murmured "Well done," so perhaps I am learning the way of things slightly more quickly than Stella.
My brother is surrounded, as he has been for the last hour, by a group of young ladies and their mothers. It's been dawning on me slowly, what this evening means for him. Walthingham is his; at a stroke he has become one of the most eligible bachelors in the country. He's on display, like one of his own paintings on the wall, and these finely dressed guests are lining up to assess his worth. George and I are in this together for the moment, but soon enough he will be taken from me as well.
"... and you've encountered snakes, I've heard ..." Lady Flint is saying.
Grace sidles up alongside us. "Forgive me," she says to my companions, "but I must steal my cousin from you for a moment." She takes me by the arm and leads me away. "Lady Flint is but two generations removed from a fortune-hunting lady's maid," she says out of the side of her mouth. "I think we can do better than that." As she steers me between the other guests, I wonder what she would have to say about me and George, if she could see where we'd come from. I decide it's best not to think so much, as we reach a plump older man with a rough and ruddy face, standing beside a young, fair-haired woman.
"Mr. Dowling," says Grace. "May I introduce your hostess?"
I hold out my hand, as Grace has taught me, and Mr. Dowling stoops to kiss it. "What a pleasure it is to meet you," he says.
"Mr. Dowling is our local magistrate," says Grace. "And this is his daughter, Jane."
The blond girl offers a curtsy and a smile, her gray-green eyes snapping with intelligence. Her dress is deep blue satin, with frothing underskirts of ivory lace and scalloped black ribbon below the bodice. I like her at once.
"I trust Miss Campion has been taking good care of you," says Mr. Dowling. "Showing you the ropes, as they say."
"Grace has been extremely patient," I reply. "Life here is very different from what I'm used to."
"She'll soon have you singing and embroidering with the best of them, I dare say." Mr. Dowling nods with certainty. "I sometimes wonder whether my Jane would have benefited from a bit more guidance. Her singing is quite abominable."
But he's smiling as he speaks, and Jane bats his arm playfully. "Father!"
"Though I should add that she is possessed of other accomplishments," continues her father. "Her harpsichord is tolerable."
Excerpted from The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray. Copyright © 2016 Working Partners. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
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.
Reading Group Guide
Magic is the difference between the seen and unseen. Magic is performance. Magic is hard work and practice. But, sometimes, great magicians can make it into something truly mysterious.
The word "magic" has changed over timefirst used for centuries to explain natural happenings like earthquakes and illnessesbut we still use it to describe things we see but don't understand. Now, H.P. Newquist explains how (nearly) all the famous tricks work in this nonfiction narrative of magic through the ages, from the legends and oracles of ancient Egypt, to the exploits of Houdini and David Blaine.
Illustrated with photographs and line drawings, this book will have middle-grade readers spellbound.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) Publication Date: August 2, 2016 Rating: 2 stars Source: ARC sent by the publisher Summary (from Goodreads): After growing up on a farm in Virginia, Walthingham Hall in England seems like another world to sixteen-year-old Katherine Randolph. Her new life, filled with the splendor of upper-class England in the 1820s, is shattered when her brother mysteriously drowns. Katherine is expected to observe the mourning customs and get on with her life, but she can't accept that her brother's death was an accident. A bitter poacher prowls the estate, and strange visitors threaten the occupants of the house. There's a rumor, too, that a wild animal stalks the woods of Walthingham. Can Katherine retain her sanity long enough to find out the truth? Or will her brother's killer claim her life, too? What I Liked: Yet another "okay but not great", "I liked it but didn't love it" type. Actually, I don't even know if I liked this book? I think it was okay and worth the read (for me, since I had a review copy), but not really that good. I'm still between three stars and two stars, honestly. You're not missing out - I'd recommend skipping it if you don't have a review copy. This book starts with the prologue, in which Katherine Randolph and her older brother George are living on the farm in Virginia with their foster parents. One day, a man arrives, and asks for George, who isn't there. The man tells Katherine that he'll wait for George to come back, and that her and George's futures are about to change. Then the story really starts, at chapter one, with George and Katherine in England, four weeks later. Their grandfather died, and since their parents are also dead, everything goes to George, and Katherine. Their cousins Grace and Henry are their guardians at Walthingham (the estate/land/property George and Katherine inherit). But then George dies mysteriously, drowned in an icy lake. Katherine knows his death is no accident, but no one believes her. Though she is to be in mourning for the next six months, Katherine is determined to find out what happened to her brother, and what is really happening at Walthingham. I like historical fiction novels. I read a lot of adult historical romances, and so reading a YA historical fiction novel is usually pretty fun. Gray does a good job of making the setting very believable and authentic, with all of the customs and traditions and proper behavior and manners. Though I hated it, the author got Katherine's helpless right - as a young, newly titled woman, Katherine could not do much at first, to figure out what happened to her brother. She is often ushered from the scene, sent to bed, told not to worry about things. This is true of the time period, and heartbreaking. I didn't mind Katherine - though she is often helpless to do anything, she is inquisitive and very determined. She has good instincts, but she often tries to see the best in people. She's sweet, but she also has a temper. I liked reading from her perspective. I had my suspicions, in terms of who killed George. I wasn't really sure what was going on in the estate and the woods in general though. Many were afraid of the "Beast of Walthingham", which Henry and Grace dismissed as folklore. Read the rest of my review on my blog, The Eater of Books! - eaterofbooks DOT blogspot DOT com :)
Orphaned at a young age, Katherine Randolph and her brother suddenly find out about a grandfather they never met and an inheritance they can hardly imagine. Moving from their Virginia home to Walthingham Hall in England catapults them both to the highest echelons of society. Katherine is unprepared for the wealth and luxuries suddenly at her disposal. She is uncertain how she will fit into this new world that seems to accept her brother so much more easily. When her brother drowns unexpectedly, Katherine refuses to believe that it was an accident. Everyone at Walthingham is keen to see Katherine observe proper mourning customs and move on. But how can she when she suspects foul play in her brother's death? With no one to trust and far too many likely suspects, Katherine will have to sift through Walthingham's many secrets and sinister lies if she hopes to unearth the truth before it's too late in The Gilded Cage (2016) by Lucinda Gray. Katherine is an interesting heroine and narrator. Throughout the novel her American, working class sensibilities come up against the strict standards of British high society showcasing the contrasts between both. Although set slightly before its start in the 1870s, this book's depiction of 1820s England hearkens back to the gilded age of the US as well. While Katherine is persistent and headstrong, it is unfortunately often the male characters in this story that discover vital clues to unraveling the mysteries surrounding Walthingham. The Gilded Cage is a solid gothic mystery. While the story is atmospheric and spooky (complete with a truly chilling asylum), details beyond that about the time period are sparse in this thin novel. Readers familiar with mystery tropes will also likely realize what's happening at Walthingham long before Katherine. Short chapters and a few genuinely jaw dropping moments make The Gilded Cage a fast-paced story ideal for readers seeking a quick diversion. Possible Pairings: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
3.5 stars I loved the premise to this and I was eager to get started. I really liked Katherine. She's not made of the same things the regency women are and it was amusing to see her maneuver around in English society. There are a few other secondary characters, but it felt like we only got to see the surface of them. It was a very effective way to show Katherine's feeling of isolation. There were a couple of twists that I didn't see coming and a satisfying ending. Overall, a quick, enjoyable read. **Huge thanks to Henry Holt for sending me the arc**