SPAIN 1995 Senora Feliz allowed herself a faint smile of smug satisfaction
as her alert eyes meandered the magnificent vista before her - the sun was
approaching its zenith and from the senora's vantage point in the hills
above Marbella,the Mediterranean beckoned with a thousand sun-kissed ripples
to come on in for a leisurely sail or swim and relax in the placid waters.
For a moment she was tempted to take the Alfa Romeo and drive to Puerto
Banus to go aboard Stephen's luxury yacht,but she had promised to visit
Ronda with Isabel who was travelling down from Granada and already one hour
YORKSHIRE 1899 The pony and trap turned in at the gates and set off along the two- mile avenue to Lord and Lady Blanchford-Carter's Stockswell Hall.The driver,silver- haired Harry Hobson,a rotund,red-faced individual, turned to his only passenger and struggling with a speech impediment stammered, 'His lo-lordship's estate,Nell.Not fffar to go,nnow.'
Helen,a delightful girl of sixteen with jade-green eyes and hair of luminous gold,smiled in reply and looked ahead anxiously.She was on her way to Stockswell to begin work as a scullerymaid, and wondered what sort of reception awaited her there.And if at that moment approaching high-noon with the wind rising and rustling the trees,she could have foreseen even the tiniest blip of the future awaiting within those walls,she would have run from that place as if possessed and not have so easily dismissed the ghostly shivers traversing her spine.But there was neither palmist,nor gypsy,nor diviner to warn her,only the unfathomable voice of the angry gusts,which if listened to, might possibly be screaming across the cobbles, awaaay...awaay...away!
Understandably,her concerns just then were centred on her imminent arrival and of how she would be received,not so much by Lord Edward and Lady Cynthia but by the servants themselves,having been warned that there was far more class distinction and terrorizing below stairs than ever existed above. Then as Stockswell came into view,she straightened a fold in her freshly-laundered dress which though patched and well-worn was still very presentable and as Hobson had observed earlier,accentuated admirably her youthful silhouette.
'That be Mr H-H-Hawkins at dddoor,yonder.Servants' entrance,th'a knows,Nell.An' a rrreet taskmaster he be too,b' all accounts.'
Harry's stammer brought Helen's deliberations to an abrupt end and as they approached the rear of the great house,she looked in the direction indicated to discover herself under the fierce scrutiny of a gigantic gentleman with a dour face and the blackest eyes in creation.As house steward at Stockswell,James Edgar Hawkins's priority was to ensure the smooth operation of the entire household,for the greater wellbeing of his lord and the lesser displeasure of his lady in whose excesses he was sometimes expected to participate...
STOCKSWELL HALL built in 1892 for Lord and Lady Blanchford-Carter was really two individual mansions that came into being through the inability of their lordships to agree on the composition of a single dwelling acceptable to them both. Whereas her ladyship craved a showpiece mansion with busts of kings and emperors gazing down from arched niches,his lordship favoured a much less ostentatious display,wishing only a habitable abode planned along lines of Elizabethan symmetry.The architect,astutely recognising a golden opportunity to indulge his many fantasies at once,seized the moment and sold them on the notion of building,not one manor,but two - the ideal solution,he assured them,of catering for their numerous and multifarious specifications. So it came about that Stockswell Hall was composed of two huge houses,one known as the Edifice,the other known as the Habitat - all her extravagances built into the Edifice and the sum of his lesser indulgences contained in the Habitat.
His lordship's greatest worry was the colossal expense of maintaining two mansions,but as things worked out he had indeed worried needlessly because while he idled his hours away in the Habitat,her ladyship,free as a bird in the Edifice,had taken to entertaining sundry gentlemen - some young and some not so young - and events at Stockswell changed forever when Lord Edward unexpectedly entered his wife's boudoir to discover her exhibiting a total wantoness of animal passion and screaming with uninhibited bliss,clutched in the ape-like arms of their indomitable house steward. Edward had entered quietly thinking his beloved Cynthia might be sleeping;consequently neither she nor Hawkins noticed him as he stood in a state of shock watching their disgusting cavortings.The purple and roseglow gaudy decor of the room ;the arrangement of cheval glass, console and wall mirrors - their frames richly carved with scenes inspired by ancient Rome,laurel wreaths, palmettes, cornucopias, scantily-clad females - the mirrors specially set at angles to focus on the bedstead; the actual performance on the bed itself,all helped to convey to his shaken- from-complacency mind a scene reminiscent of a house of ill-repute he had once visited in London...