The Mackerby Scandal - Extract

Chapter One

Catherine Haywood was destined to make an excellent marriage. This was spoken of as a certain fact everywhere she was known, which so far encompassed only Farringdon, the small parish in Hampshire in which she lived. Her father, a Mr Charles Haywood, was not a wealthy man, but by dint of careful saving, had early settled the sum of five thousand pounds on his favourite child. Catherine, at nineteen, was extremely pretty, with wide blue eyes and dark brown, naturally curly hair. She had a very lively, playful spirit and a sweet temper, qualities that ensured she remained high in the estimation of all the worthy young men in the neighbourhood.

There were two other Haywood children, an elder boy of five and twenty, named Charles after his father, and Emma, who was fifteen and, much to her dismay, not yet out. Their mother, fond of idle pleasures and easy distractions, had been used to let them go very much their own way, but she had died when Catherine was still only ten years old. Mr Haywood, who had a rather soft disposition and had been really fond of his wife, took many years to recover from the shock and grief. Catherine’s naturally happy disposition had often been the sole relief to her father’s heavy heart, and thus it was with some surprise that his neighbours saw how eager he was for this beloved daughter, almost the sole pleasure of his advancing years, to marry now that she was of age. Yet Mr Haywood was most earnest in speaking this wish.

His reasoning centred on his own delicacy, which had frequently been offended by Catherine’s vivacious, open character. It led her to be, on occasion, more concerned with her own immediate wishes, and less with the impositions of polite society, than befitted the behaviour of a well brought-up young lady. As Catherine had no mother to guide her, Mr Haywood was certain that, chosen carefully, a husband would be ideally placed to temper that want of propriety he had gravely witnessed on many a social occasion.

Of course, the gentleman concerned must live within the environs of Farringdon, that Mr Haywood might take as much pleasure from Catherine’s company as he did at present. He must also be a sensible man with a sober manner, if he was to be of any use and, in order that the gentleman might inspire the desired respect, he ought also to be as wealthy as possible.

Unfortunately for Mr Haywood, there was no such gentleman living in Farringdon and, indeed, Catherine seemed so far from wishing to be married at present as to have declared on more than one occasion, ‘I do not think I shall ever marry, Papa. How could I ever bear to leave you and my dear brother and sister at Redlands?’ He was resolved, however, to pursue his aim and, to this end, inspected every new gentleman’s arrival into the neighbourhood with an anxious curiosity.

As the family were all seated together one afternoon at cards, Sarah Beckindale, a fair-haired, freckle-faced girl, who was Catherine’s closest friend, was announced and came rushing in.

‘Good day, Mr Haywood, Mr Charles, Emma. Catherine, you must come at once, for I have got a new pony that goes like the wind and a new stable boy to teach me and, oh, do hurry and come along, for I told Mama it will be no fun at all if you are not there!’

Catherine, who had started up at her friend’s hurried entrance, now laughed with delight and, quickly gathering up her bonnet, exclaimed, ‘A new pony! You know how I love to ride, Papa! I shall be sorry to break up our game, and just when I was winning so many fish, but, well, Papa, may I go?’

Mr Haywood shook his head, but could not avoid a little smile escaping his lips. ‘Good afternoon to you, Miss Beckindale. Very well, then, child, for I suppose I am to have no peace if I do not allow you to go?’ Catherine took Sarah’s arm before bending down to kiss her father’s cheek.

‘You should have no peace at all, Papa.’

It was a fine spring day and Catherine found she was very glad to be out of doors. She and Sarah soon walked the half mile that separated their two homes. Mrs Beckindale was waiting in the lane to greet them. With Sarah and Catherine she shared a lively temperament, although her understanding could not be said to match theirs.

‘Come along, girls, you have kept poor John waiting long enough. He has had Chestnut saddled up and ready to go this half hour!’ All three hurried to the stables, where Sarah’s pony was being led in a wide circle by John, the new stable hand. Catherine could see at once that Chestnut was an excellent thoroughbred and sure to allow Sarah many hours of spirited riding.

‘What a fine animal! Sarah, how good of Mr Beckindale to be so extravagant in his choice of horse!’

‘Oh, tush!’ Sarah replied, with a careless wave of her hand. ‘It is of no consequence. I have been haranguing him about it these last weeks so, ever since Elizabeth got her new pony, I dare say.’ Elizabeth was Sarah’s elder, more reserved, sister. With a nod to John, Sarah mounted Chestnut and led him into a swift canter, to prove, no doubt, that he did indeed ride like the wind. She pulled up breathlessly almost at Catherine and Mrs Beckindale’s feet, but when John suggested a gentler handling of the animal, she would not hear of it. ‘Don’t fret so, John, for I am sure he is very pleased to meet with a rider who knows how to have some fun!’ Then Catherine took her turn and she was glad to listen to John’s advice on one or two points, for the stables at Redlands were too small to admit of a pet pony of her own, so that, as she freely acknowledged, she did not as yet make a very elegant horsewoman.

After this brief trial, Sarah suggested taking Chestnut a little further afield, on a ride across the country. ‘Catherine may take Elizabeth’s pony, you know,’ she said carelessly. Mrs Beckindale nearly swooned at the idea of trusting her daughter on so new a horse, but seeing the girls were really determined to go, she relented, only adding, ‘John, now I am trusting you to take good care of Miss Beckindale and Miss Haywood, as they will not listen to my advice and wait until the animal is truly broken in.’

‘Don’t you worry, Ma’am, I’ll look out for the ladies, and if that new horse don’t mind his manners, he’ll feel the touch of my whip.’

They set out and were soon galloping through the surrounding fields and woodland. Chestnut was as good a mount as he looked, and the conversation was entirely taken up with eulogies as to the wonderful addition he must be to the Beckindale household. Catherine was in high spirits, for riding most gratified her impetuous nature. She had discovered that her father, who truly hated to criticise her in any way, was always most stern just after a ride, when her excitable mood would lead him to reflect more seriously than ever that it was high time he found her a suitable husband.

Farringdon was but two miles from Portsmouth and, as they neared the town, the trees gave way to cottages and then townhouses. They slowed their pace and trotted as far as the ramparts, where it was the custom to stop and admire the view. It was quite spectacular. The port was busy with boats and ships of every description. The sea was dazzlingly bright in the sunshine, while seagulls flocked above. Persons of fashion were taking their daily stroll along the promenade.

They dismounted and, on Catherine exclaiming that the boats were being caulked, Sarah confessed that she very much looked forward to the summer, when there would be picnics and cricket for the gentlemen. ‘I should like to play cricket myself,’ Catherine declared, and when Sarah looked at her in astonishment, she hastily added, ‘if propriety permitted ladies to play the game.’ John appeared interested and asked if they had yet seen the vast lake on the grounds of Ellis Park, which was certain to be the scene of some fine picnics and outdoor games when the weather improved. Sarah smiled indulgently. ‘What can you possibly mean, John? There is no-one to give a picnic at Ellis Park; why, it has stood empty since the Mackerbys quitted it eight years ago at least. Is it not so, Kitty?’

The Beckindales were intimately connected with the Mackerby family. Mrs Beckindale’s sister had chosen a much older man for her husband and moved to live with him in London. Unfortunately, Mr George had not lived to see the third birthday of their only child, a son. Mrs George doted on this boy and, when the young Mr George came of age, and was paying a visit to his aunt in Farringdon, he happened to fall in love with the eldest and prettiest Miss Mackerby. As is usual in such cases, he promptly asked her to marry him. She accepted and the match was considered a happy, though not a very prudent, one on her side. They then settled in Lyme, where they were able to indulge their mutual love of society.

Despite this near connection, however, Sarah rarely spoke of her cousin, for he and his fair wife were no longer invited to Beckindale Hall. Catherine did not fully comprehend it. In the eight years that had passed since the Mackerbys left their ancestral home, few had been able to discover the truth as to why they had gone, but there were whispers about an upstart servant and some gross misconduct on the part of the youngest Miss Mackerby.

Catherine always felt rather awkward when the subject came up, for she knew Sarah was forbidden ever to speak about the case. She found she must make some reply, however. ‘They went off to Northumberland in a great hurry, I believe. But Ellis Park is the finest estate in all Hampshire, and it is indeed a pity that there is no-one to give parties or picnics there now.’

‘The park alone is six thousand acres at least, with no-one but the old gamekeeper to tend it. It must be quite overgrown. And the stables,’ Sarah continued, for her mind could not stray long from the subject today, ‘are quite the largest I ever saw, possibly larger than any in England.’

The estate of Ellis Park had dominated Farringdon for generations; the prize of the Mackerby family as far back as could be traced. The main house was a masterpiece of early Georgian architecture, with its carved Doric columns and grandiose symmetry. It was ideally situated to overlook the lake, in a park that boasted many acres of lush woodland. Several pretty paths wound their way among the herb and rose gardens, and a little brook, with a footbridge at its widest point, ran through the whole.

Inside, likenesses of the Mackerby ancestral line graced the stairwell, while the adjoining rooms enjoyed high ceilings and sash windows with charming views. The splendid library with its well-stocked shelves of leather-bound volumes had once made Catherine’s eyes as round as saucers, for she was a great reader. She had often been to tea there with her mother as a young girl and her memories of playing on the estate were among the most treasured of her childhood. It was now so long since she, or indeed anyone in Farringdon, had set foot in the place that she dearly wished to see it again.

‘But there is to be a master at Ellis Park,’ said John, as soon as he was able, ‘for my brother James has just taken the post of head groom there and expects the master any day.’

‘A new master at Ellis Park! Why did you not tell us at once? I wonder my mother did not know of it! What is he like? Does he look well? He must certainly be very rich!’ Sarah could hardly contain her excitement at the news, for she was always keen for more beau than Farringdon could well afford. Catherine exclaimed, ‘Now what a summer it will be! We shall sit beside the lake and do nothing but laze in the sunshine!’

‘The master is quite a young gentleman,’ John told them, ‘who inherited a good deal on his father’s death. My brother James, who knows about such things, tells me that Mr Larkin is an excellent rider and means to profit from the vast grounds of the estate. James is a well-known horse-breeder in that part of town where Mr Larkin used to stay, and no-one can handle a horse as he can.’ But Sarah was far too eager to speak of Mr Larkin to care for John’s brother, and she interrupted him with, ‘Quite young! And an excellent rider! This is good news indeed! Catherine, we must hurry home, that we may tell Mama!’ The conversation on their return journey did not hold nearly so much interest for Catherine as that of their outward one, for Sarah would talk of nothing but Mr Larkin and his stables. However, she had much to think on herself, as she envisioned the reanimation of the magnificent estate that was Ellis Park.

© Omma Velada 2004

The Mackerby Scandal
(UKA Press, 2004)
Novel £7.99
Available to order from Waterstones, Borders and all good bookshops
(quote ISBN no: 1-904781-10-1)

Buy from Amazon >>

10% of royalties from the sale of this novel will be donated to SANDS, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society.