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This is an extract from the new novel, 'Bittersweet'

Sylvia's Story

Part one


"Visitors, Mama." Here they came again, despite the bitter Yorkshire cold, riding down the mossy gravelled driveway. It puzzled me and it puzzled Mama. "The County have never bothered us before and certainly not since your Papa became the member for parliament and pipped their lordships' choice. And here are the younger sons and even an heir or two, visiting. It's most peculiar." We'd been out when they first called, but their cards had amazed us. Now here they were again.

Mama moved into the bay window and frowned at the small group of well wrapped riders, hats firmly over ears to keep off the nippy January wind, trotting briskly to the stable yard. I admired their glossy coated horses moving so smoothly and easily, not a bit like our dear old plodders. My sisters, both younger, and both social butterflies, seized Mama by each arm.

"Pipped, Mama, such slang language." They tutted and teased her, flustering her into blushes. "It's because we entertain all the young people in our community," said Charlotte as they swung Mama away from the bay window. "That's why they have come." "And I did suggest to them, when we met briefly in church, that they come visiting if they sought some younger company," Eugenie said as they settled Mama in her chair by the fire, plumping her skirts around her to fluff out like a sitting hen.

"After all we do have a rambling old house which is more fitting for amusing parlour games than the grand homes these young men come from."

Mama frowned. "You are too forward, Eugenie. We live a country quiet life. We do not have a town life in London…" She frowned down my sisters' impertinent mutterings of "London…we long for London…seasons, parties, balls….."

"Oh, Mama," sighed Charlotte.

"Girls, your father has to be in London for Parliament but he needs to be here in his electorate, and he prefers the country life." She rose and patted Charlotte's cheeks. "Be good." She smiled at us as she returned to the window, fidgeting her fingers amongst her shawl fringe. "I wish your father was here to quiz these visitors. We do not know them. They may be officers in respectable regiments, but it is most bold of them to come without introductions, and more than a little arrogant."

"They did leave cards," I reminded her. She observed Eugenie's grimace and raised eyebrows as she tried to convey some message to Charlotte.

"Please keep your amusements limited to parlour games in the drawing room, and only those fit for strangers." She frowned as severely as she could. "No Squeak Piggy Squeak, or Tiddlywinks, but I will allow Consequences, Twenty Questions, and I Spy."

"Oh, Mama," from Eugenie this time, "Charades please, do let us play Charades."

"You may only play Charades, Blind Man's Bluff and Snap Dragon with my approval, and I shall monitor your games myself."

"Oh, Mama." This from both sisters who liked to gently flirt, were excited by our handsome, aristocratic visitors, and had been whispering about them ever since they glimpsed the young men in church.

She relented a little. "Well, well, girls, we have few enough visitors in the winter…""Or anytime," Eugenie whispered in my ear. "…if I approve you may ransack the trunks in the attics for costumes." She received a kiss on each cheek before my sisters swished away, their petticoats peeking under raised skirts as they darted out.

"And you, Sylvia, my wise child, I trust you to see that your flibbertigibbet sisters do not harm their reputations . No more than squeezing hands, no kisses on the sly or sliding away on their own with one of those young men."

"Dear Mama, as if they would."

Mama knew her giddy girls and raised an eyebrow.

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