The House in the Hollow written and self-published by Allie Cresswell is available NOW in ebook and paperback format.
The Talbots are wealthy. But their wealth is from ‘trade’. With neither ancient lineage nor title, they struggle for entrance into elite Regency society. Finally, aided by an impecunious viscount, they gain access to the drawing rooms of England’s most illustrious houses.
Once established in le bon ton, Mrs Talbot intends her daughter Jocelyn to marry well, to eliminate the stain of the family’s ignoble beginnings. But the young men Jocelyn meets are vacuous, seeing Jocelyn as merely a brood mare with a great deal of money. Only Lieutenant Barnaby Willow sees the real Jocelyn, but he must go to Europe to fight the French. The hypocrisy of fashionable society repulses Jocelyn—beneath the courtly manners and studied elegance she finds tittle-tattle, deceit, dissipation and vice.
Jocelyn stumbles upon and then is embroiled in a sordid scandal which will mean utter disgrace for the Talbot family. Humiliated and dishonoured, she is sent to a remote house hidden in a hollow of the Yorkshire moors. There, separated from family, friends and any hope of hearing about the lieutenant’s fate, she must build her own life—and her own social order—anew.
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I am so pleased to welcome the author, Allie Cresswell, to my blog today sharing an extract with a brief explanation. Thank you for joining my blog Allie …
The House in the Hollow has as one of its themes the idea of things that are concealed beneath the veneer of Regency respectability. To this end I decided to introduce characters who work for the Talbot family in the capacity of servants; those who, out of sight, make their elegant lifestyle possible. Researching what life was like for Regency servants, and how a large country house functioned with what seems to be smooth and effortless efficiency, was very interesting. Obviously life was much harder for servants than it was for the wealthy and privileged but the tenets of essential morality remained the same, and this included the appalling way that women were victimised for moral lapses whereas men were forgiven. Girls who were compromised by men always got the blame, and had to suffer the consequences alone. This was true for women at all levels of Regency society.
Here a servant girl, Sally, has been found injured and unconscious in the middle of the night by Annie, another maid.
‘You did right to wake me, Annie,’ the housekeeper said, ‘although I wish Miss Nugent had been here. She is more practiced than I. Now we must examine every inch of Sally to see where her injuries are. You begin at the head and I will start at her feet.’
Annie ran her hands carefully over Sally’s skull, feeling for swellings or cuts. Sally’s hair was badly matted and tangled with straw—she would be upset, Annie thought, to have it so. Sally’s one vanity was her lovely, lustrous hair. Annie could feel no contusions, however. She inserted a finger into Sally’s mouth, feeling for loose teeth. One on the left felt spongy but otherwise all were firm. She leant closer and smelled Sally’s breath. Cider.
‘Is she intoxicated?’ she asked Mrs Butterwick. ‘Perhaps she drank too much cider, and fell? She may have hit her face …’
‘I don’t think so,’ Mrs Butterwick said grimly. She had lifted Sally’s wounded knees and now peered up beneath the material of her chemise. ‘There is much swelling here, bleeding and bruising. I think she has been forced.’
‘Forced?’ Annie’s mouth was dry.
‘Yes. A man has forced her.’
Mrs Butterwick turned to Sally’s hands. ‘Her nails are broken. I think she tried to defend herself.’ She felt gently up the length of Sally’s arms. ‘No bones broken, though, and no fever that I can discern.’
Annie thought of Jackie Silver, but did not voice her thought.
‘Her knees,’ Annie said.
‘Yes, she has crawled on them. There is gravel in them that will have to be got out.’
Between them they managed to lift Sally on to Annie’s bed. It was unusual for Annie to see the housekeeper engage in any physical endeavour. Her habit was to direct and supervise and then to confirm that her orders had been carried out. She might sweep a hand over furniture that should have been dusted, pull back a sheet to ensure that a bed had been properly made. But now Annie found Mrs Butterwick quite capable of the lifting and shifting required to settle Sally comfortably, by no means shirking of what needed to be done.
They removed the rest of Sally’s clothes and bathed her body, applying salves to her injuries and packing the place between her legs with some of the rags the girls used for their courses. Mrs Butterwick picked the gravel from Sally’s knees and cleaned them with liniment. Sally winced and whimpered, but did not wake. Annie washed the dirt and crusted blood from Sally’s eye and put a pad of clean material over it. She combed the worst of the straw from her hair. All the time she murmured reassurance although Sally made no sign of being able to hear. If anything the girl looked worse rather than better. Her jaw and cheek became blacker and more bloated as the night went by. She spoke no sensible word. Her good eye was glazed and unfocussed.
‘I fear concussion,’ Mrs Butterwick said, ‘and her jaw may be broken, but I cannot tell.’
They worked in the light of a single candle. Its flame flickered in the draught as they moved about their task, throwing shadows across Sally’s distended features, rendering them even more horrific. Annie’s throat was clogged, tight with anxiety, and tears pressed the backs of her eyes. Beneath her concern lay a ventricle brimming with caustic anger at the man who had done this.
‘Will she live, do you think?’ Annie asked when they had covered Sally with a clean sheet and managed to dribble a little willow bark tea between her poor, swollen lips. They sat either side of the little bed. A greyish glow divided the square of skylight from the gloom of the rest of the room. Above them, in the eaves, the first sparrows began to stir.
‘She will, if there are no injuries that we cannot see. If she is not awake and sensible by morning the surgeon must be called. She has been badly used, that’s clear enough. But Sally’s character speaks against her.’
‘Because she is a flirt?’
Mrs Butterwick nodded. ‘We must hope and pray there is no child. However it is come by, whether Sally be guilty or no, she will be dismissed.’
‘And the man who did this to her? I believe it might have been Mr Silver. I know he has hurt her before. I saw the bruises on her arms. Surely he’ll be sent packing?’
Mrs Butterwick pressed her lips together but did not reply.
About the Author
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.
She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.
She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, two granddaughters, two grandsons and two cockapoos but just one husband – Tim. They live in Cumbria, NW England.
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