|The English Roses: The Hamilton Saga
Author: aims80 PM
This is the story of five women, all related, all from different eras, and all of different situations in life, but all of them remarkable. From Elanor in the time of the Crusades, to Jane in Tudor times, to Vera in WW2 London, all are Hamilton women.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 74 - Words: 321,399 - Reviews: 60 - Favs: 31 - Follows: 16 - Updated: 06-12-13 - Published: 09-08-10 - id: 2845745
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The next few days passed slowly. I missed the children and Warwickshire and, to my surprise, I even missed my mother. I wanted to go home but Mr. Cromwell had said I could not leave the city. I felt a bit like I was a leaf on one of the Autumn trees outside my windows- being blown along at the whim of somebody else, having no say in my life. And this did not sit well with me. After David had died I had gained control over my life and I had grown used to having it. I was not like many of my female friends who had no say in their own lives and had not been for many years now so simply sitting around and waiting did not work well with me. And then, to my shock, I had an afternoon visitor who I had not expected in my wildest dreams.
"Me lady, there's a man here ter see yer." Martha told me in a hushed voice.
"Who?" I asked. Not Master Percy because he would not invoke such a reaction from my maid and he had been avoiding me the past few days studiously. "Is it Mr. Hamilton?" I found myself asking hopefully.
"No." Martha shook her head but before I could wonder at my disappointment she said, "It's the Earl of Cleveland. Come here ter see yer! An' he's all dressed up like an' pretty."
"He's here?" I asked, shocked.
"Waitin' right outside. Him an' his men." Martha replied, her voice still hushed. "What do yer want me ter do?"
"Show him in. You can't leave him outside in the cold." I said, curbing my impatience.
"It's just…" Martha hesitated.
"What?" I demanded.
"Well he's so pretty. He's a bit too grand fer this place ain't he?" Martha said.
"He shall just have to make do. After all he came calling on me." I said loftily.
Martha hurried off and I made an effort to straighten my pale pink dress and smooth back my hair. Receiving an Earl in the small London apartments didn't seem quite right but the Mason apartments had been sold and so the Stanley ones must make do. At first I'd felt like I was trapped in a prison in the house given the Mason London home had been very grand but this felt more like home than any home of the Mason family had ever done to me. Just as not spending a fortune on clothes and jewelry but rather spending it on food now felt natural to me. I had thought I would miss the grand lifestyle once I was no longer a Marchioness but I had not. The Stanley family were still wealthy enough but it was nothing like the riches of a title. Yet I thought in the time since David's disgrace, since I had stopped being the wife of a favoured Marquis of the former King, I thought I was many times happier.
I stood when the Earl came in. Martha was right to be intimidated because he was dressed in fine clothes that even David could not have afforded at the height of his wealth with chains of office around his neck as a status symbol. "My Lord Earl, you are welcome to my home." I said with a curtsy.
The Earl came to my side and gave a little bow over my hand as he kissed it. His moustache tickled my hand and I had to bite my lip not to laugh. "My Lady Mason, I thank you." He said.
He released my hand and I gestured to the seat closest to the fire. "Please have a seat my lord." I said.
He did so and I sat in the other one. "Would you like something to drink or eat?" I asked politely despite being taken aback by his presence. I hoped I appeared unfazed, as though men like the Earl of Cleveland came calling on me all the time.
"No thank you my lady. I have come from a lunch of state." The Earl responded.
I nodded. What was I meant to say to that?
"I suppose you are wondering what brought me here." The Earl said.
"It had crossed my mind once or twice." I answered.
The Earl laughed. "I wanted you to know something. After the…meeting the other day I was rather discomforted by my Lord Cromwell and his son's reactions. I don't know what you did to the man but it is like you are some sort of threat to him, some kind of enemy perhaps. But, to be blunt, it makes no sense to me. You are just a woman. Once a Marchioness, once the wife of a man executed for treason, now a widow and looking after the Stanley and Mason names. What did you do to Lord Cromwell?" He asked, serious again.
I hesitated. I could hardly say that it was possible I had done something bad to one of Mr. Cromwell's ancestors in a past life after all. "In truth, my Lord Earl, I know not. As you say I am just a woman and hardly a remarkable one at that-"
"Oh I don't know that I would agree with that. Do not sell yourself short my lady. I have a feeling you could be very remarkable." The Earl interrupted smoothly.
Blushing furiously I finished, "I do not know why Lord Cromwell would dislike me so. I have only met him on a couple of occasions and our conversations were very brief or filled with small-talk made over the dinner table when he and Mr. Pym were visiting David."
The Earl frowned. "He and Mr. Pym?"
"Yes." I said.
"When was this?" The Earl asked.
"Uh…a couple of months before David's death, no, his execution." I said.
"Are you sure?" The Earl asked.
"Yes." I said, a bit too snappily.
"What about my father?" The Earl asked.
"He was not at that meeting." I replied.
"But did he ever visit your husband?" The Earl asked.
"I believe so…" I said slowly. Something was telling me to answer that question evasively and my instincts were always correct.
The Earl seemed to deflate. "I see." He said.
"I wish I did." I said.
The Earl shook his head. "No. You do not. Believe me my lady you do not want to see. In fact if you know what is good for you you will never admit to wanting to see or seeing." He said vehemently.
I just stared at him in complete confusion. Had he drank too much ale and wine at his important lunch?
"You must hear me my lady. These are dangerous times and you must be very careful about what you do and who you see. Like visiting Samuel Pepys, like visiting your friend Katherine…" The Earl said. At my shocked look he nodded. "I know. And if I know no doubt so too does Lord Cromwell."
"Am I not allowed to visit old friends?" I demanded of him. "I did not think I was under house arrest."
"You're not. I don't believe Lord Cromwell wants you under house arrest. He wants you dead like your husband and like Sir Peter- a man you know as he went to your home in Oxfordshire to arrest your husband. Yes, he was put to death yesterday." The Earl said.
"Why?" I almost whispered.
"Why was he put to death or why does Lord Cromwell want you dead?" The Earl asked.
Through dry lips I croaked, "Both."
"Sir Peter was executed for treason. It did not matter to Lord Cromwell that he was innocent. Innocence is no barrier to our Lord Protector." The Earl said.
"How can you just accept that? Why are people not doing something?" I demanded of him.
The Earl's face darkened and he leant forward. "Do not speak like that. I am an Earl, my lady, you shall not question me." He snapped.
I glared back at him. "Listen, I'm in danger even though I haven't done anything wrong, so, with all due respect, I do not give a damn about who you are and who I am. You came here for some reason but thus far you've done nothing but give me more questions and worries." I snapped back.
"I came to warn you you naïve woman. If Lord Cromwell wants you to suffer you will suffer. I sat there during your questioning and I did not speak up even though I wanted to. Self-preservation comes before doing what you know is morally right after all. If you have ever seen now you need to but you must not let anyone know that. It would give Lord Cromwell the ammunition he needs." The Earl said.
'Believe me my lady you do not want to see. In fact if you know what is good for you you will never admit to wanting to see or seeing.'
"If this is your warning I find it rather cryptic." I said lightly.
The Earl's movement was so sudden it was as though in the blink of an eye he had risen from his seat, crossed the space of the small parlour to where I sat, and gripped my hands between his tightly, painfully, making me cry out. "My lord!" I said.
"Your father was a friend to my father throughout a difficult period in his life. He always said he owed Lord Stanley his life and told me so many times that if he did not repay the debt in his lifetime then I should carry it and if ever it should be needed now is that time. He said that women like you, like your ancestors, are important and should not die. I have some idea of why that is but I shall not speak it because the less said on that topic the better. Instead I am telling you, no, I am imploring you, to leave England." The Earl said. He let go of my arm and I folded them in my lap, hoping to hide their shaking. He remained kneeling before my chair.
I tried to think back, to whether I had ever heard my father speak about Thomas Wentworth but I could not think of it. That didn't mean it wasn't true. The Earl certainly believed he owed my family something. "I do not know what to say." I said.
The Earl smiled slightly. "I'd be surprised if you did. I imagine you do not get told someone owes your family a debt, a blood debt, everyday."
"No. Very rarely actually." I found myself joking. Somehow the Earl had put me at ease. Was it his earnestness, his conviction that what he was saying was true? Or was it the fact that my instincts told me he was correct? It did not really matter what.
"Really? I would have thought your family, the remarkable women of your line, might hear that often." The Earl said.
I shook my head. An image popped into my head: a woman who looked very much like me, with the same dark blonde hair and hazel eyes. But she was not a woman I recognized. In times of our families prosperity portraits of the men and women had been painted. There was Eleanor, there was Jane- who incidentally was also related to Henry Hamilton distantly-, there was Maria, there was Stephanie. All remarkable women. But the woman in my mind was not one of those women. It took me a long moment to realize what was wrong with the picture: the woman's clothing was from no history book. It was clothes of the future. And she was saying something. I closed my eyes, shutting out the present to see the future. "Protect yourself. Protect me."
"My lady? Are you all right?" The Earl asked anxiously.
I opened my eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm fine. I was just…thinking…" I said weakly.
"You are not safe in the Stanley home. Nor are your children or your mother. Not the way things are right now." The Earl told me fervently.
I shook my head.
"I am serious my lady. If you do not believe me now you will tomorrow." The Earl said.
"Tomorrow?" I asked.
"Lord Cromwell is determined to get to everyone who might stick up for you. There is a man who's imprisonment and death he thinks would get to you most." The Earl said.
"Who?" I managed to ask, my heart thumping furiously against my chest in fear.
The Earl shook his head. "I don't know. Perhaps Lord Cromwell suspects I do not support his vendetta against an innocent woman where too many women and men have been hurt. Perhaps he fears a leak somewhere else." He said.
"My lord you must find out!" I implored him. "I cannot save them if I don't know who they are!"
The Earl shook his head impatiently. "Don't you understand it yet my lady? You need to save yourself and your family! Not others!"
"I will not ignore a friend in need, in danger-" I began.
"If you value your life you will do just that. You, your children, and your mother should leave England. Go to Calais by stealth and then another country where you would be safe while Lord Cromwell is our Lord Protector and running this country. You could take jewels to sell for safe passage and to live on and then no doubt find a way of making money in another country. You are an educated woman after all thanks to your father." The Earl told me.
I didn't want to leave England, I did not want to flee with my tail between my legs like a coward. If it were just my life I would stay and fight. But I had three people dependant on me. My other option would be to send my mother with the children where they would be safe and I could remain here.
"You are going to do it." The Earl said, relieved. He stood up and moved back to the chair. "You know I am right."
"I don't know that I shall be doing it for sure but I am strongly considering it, yes." I answered.
The Earl nodded. "You will do what is right." He said.
"It's just…" I started to say and then stopped.
"Just?" The Earl prompted.
"I wish I could know who Mr. Cromwell has his target upon. The person I care about." I said.
"I can't help you with that. I don't even know if they will be arrested tomorrow or next week. I hope it is done after you leave the country. It may sound callous my lady but my debt is to your family." The Earl said.
I didn't tell him that what worried me the most was that it did not sound callous. The lives of my children and mother were more important to me than my own. Could I sacrifice someone else for them? I thought it very likely I could and that worried me.
After the Earl had left, content in the fact he had done his duty as he had promised his father, I got my coat on and, with an escort, went to Church. Had the sign I had prayed for the another night been delivered to me? Should I take my family and leave the country I loved? Could I risk my life though I knew I could not risk theirs? If I expected an answer from Him it did not come. Perhaps He knew the answer was not to be found in a church but rather inside myself.
I began making preparations to have my children and mother safely taken out of the country. This was the sort of thing a man would normally do but I had become very independent and self-sufficient over the years since David's death. I did not need a man in my life. I sent a letter to my mother with a trusted family friend apprising her of the situation and the need to bring as much valuables as possible and as quickly as possible. I told her I would be going with them but I was not so sure that would be the case. I could not, in good conscience, let someone I cared about suffer because Mr. Cromwell hated me. I knew I had to see things through, no matter if they ended badly for me. So long as the children and mother were safe I would be satisfied.
Two days after the Earl warned me my friend Katherine was taken from her house arrest to jail. It was said she would be charged with treason but Master Percy tried to convince me that Mr. Cromwell was doing this to force me to do something that might lead to my own arrest. He told me there was no way she could be tried and convicted and that even Mr. Cromwell, powerful man that he was, could not ensure this. His advisors, the Parliament, men of wealth and integrity would not allow such an abhorrent act, he promised.
One more day and Sir Edward Hastings was charged with treason. Another innocent man.
I spent hours pacing my home. Was I responsible for these deaths? Or was it egotistical of me to assume I was so important? Did I have blood on my hands or did the Lord Protector simply want me to believe this? And, most importantly, how had I angered him so that he would extract such vengeance? I had taken the side of Greta, a mere servant, yes, but wasn't that such a small thing to result in such a major reaction?