Prologue

Mr and Mrs Hearth had, as all couples must, ventured into the business of marriage. Both being from respectable families and of complimentary temperaments, they were a happy couple, for a time. Mr Hearth was of reasonable wealth and owned a handsome estate in the country. Mrs Hearth's dowry bolstered their yearly income and thus they were living off three thousand a year.

Liked by their neighbours and acquaintances, Mr and Mrs Hearth set about completing their marital bliss by starting a family. They had one daughter, Lucinda.

Lucinda Hearth was, like her parents, a sensible and cheerful child, although known to have a more fiery temper than her mother and father.

This idyllic lifestyle was not to last, as by the age of four Lucinda was motherless and her father a widower. Her death was the source of great alteration in the household, and after Mr Hearth had began mending his heart and an appropriate amount of time had passed, the proposition was made that Mr Hearth should remarry. Above all things he believed that it was important for Lucinda to have a mother figure and for him to have some form of companionship.

It so happened that the item of his new found affection was a widow, as they found comfort in their common predicament. Mrs Haughton, who had two daughters by a former marriage, took up her role as mother and wife quite seriously, but not as seriously as her social climb. She was not an inherently cruel woman, but her circumstances and sex had lead her to develop the sort rabid ambition that was invariably unfavourable to those around her. However she was beautiful, charming and canny and Mr Hearth in need of consolation; therefore their relationship was inevitable. Her daughters Arabella and Frederica bore the brunt of their upbringing and were unbearably ineffectual and vain.

Lucinda, in her youthful innocence did not notice these faults at first and did as best she could to welcome the three women into the family. They were once again content, but only for a time. Mr Hearth fell ill and died.

By the age of twenty Lucinda had been deserted by both her parents, and Mrs Hearth né Haughton was once again a widow. The estate was entailed to Mr Hearth's cousin, and therefore had set aside a small fortune for his wife and daughters. The cousin, Mr Harrow, was a scholar and did not overtly covet wealth, however now that fortune had been presented before him he discovered a new found interest. Mrs Hearth né Haughton, who had the intention of regaining her late husband's estate quite soon, conveniently switched her affections in grief to Mr Hallow with the intention of taking a third husband. In the meantime, when she was not coaxing her way into the heart of her late husband's cousin, she busied herself in the most important market of all: that of husband hunting. Her two daughters were of marrying age, and she wished to make sure to find them both suitably wealthy bachelors. Despite her father's planning, certain economies were had to be made and Lucinda found herself to having to make do with whatever her stepsisters and stepmother did not want. Indeed no extra expense or attention was spent on her and she was destined to become a spinster. Her stepmother and stepsisters' vanity had now almost entirely corrupted them and bitterness and jealousy commanded their actions. Unfortunately, Lucinda had grown up to be a very beautiful woman, which enraged her family.

Lucinda, although realising that her family treated her unfairly, understood the futility of any resistance and treated her stepmother and sisters with civility, and did as she was told. Her father's will indeed ensured that Lucinda could not be cast out, for although Mrs Haughton inherited the substantial some from her late husband, she was compelled to look after Lucinda as well as her own two daughters. However, through excessive rationality and an overly restrained view of compassion, her stepmother whittled her duties down to the barest minimum. But Lucinda was thankful for the food on the table and the roof over her head. For now she exercised the virtue of patience and hoped for a more prosperous future.