Monday, 2 April 2012

The Highclough Lady

The Highclough Lady is set in West Yorkshire, the area of the Pennines where I now live.  Perhaps that is why it feels so special to me.  It has just been released as an e-book by Regency Reads, so it is now available to a new audience.  However, I still like the original cover used on the hardback version, published by Robert Hale Ltd.  This was created by artist David Young and anyone who is familiar with West Yorkshire will recognise the architectural style. Also, a note about the title.  The word "clough" (pronounced "cluff") is an old English word, still used in the north for a steep sided valley, or ravine.


Governess Verity Shore longs for a little adventure, then Rafe Bannerman arrives to carry her off to Highclough and Verity discovers that life can be a little too exciting! An estate the edge of the wild Yorkshire Moors, Highclough is Verity's inheritance, but she soon discovers that the land is coveted not only by her handsome cousin Luke but also by Rafe Bannerman and soon her very life is in danger…..

A lively tale of intrigue and romance in the turbulent final years of the eighteenth century

The extract I have chosen to give you is part of Verity's journey to Highclough.  Rafe Bannerman is escorting her to her new home, but they have run into bad weather.  This actual scene is based on my real life experiences of battling along an icy, exposed lane in the dark during a snow storm to reach home. It is much nicer to read about it when one is sitting safe before a warm fire!  enjoy.


  As they left the shelter of the valley the wind began to buffet the carriage, and the snow became finer, until it was hard, icy particles that rattled against the sides of the coach with each new gust of wind.  Verity huddled into her cloak, listening to the storm.  She tried to peer out of the window, but could see nothing in the near darkness.  The road grew steeper and the coach groaned on its back springs as the horses struggled to drag it upwards.  To Verity the journey seemed interminable.  She had no idea how fast they were travelling but just as she had decided that they must be climbing a mountain rather than a hill, the carriage came to a halt.
  'Wait here.'  Rafe Bannerman jumped out, slamming the door behind him to keep out the storm.  Verity sat alone in the darkness. She could just make out the sound of voices raised against the wind, then the door jerked open and she was obliged to hold her cloak tightly against the sudden icy blast.  Mr Bannerman leaned in.
  'John Driver says the horses can get the coach no further.  The house is less than half a mile from here – do you think you can walk?'
  'Of course.'
  'Let me see your shoes.'
  She pulled one foot from the snug sheepskin and put it forward for inspection, wrinkling her nose at the well-worn leather.
  'One of the advantages of a life of a governess,' she said, a laugh in her voice, 'one's footwear is always serviceable!'

Mr Bannerman helped her out of the carriage, one hand clasping the brim of his hat as he shouted over his shoulder to the coachman.
  'Leave it here, no-one is likely to be coming this way tonight.  Get the horses to Highclough, then have some of the lads come back with the sledge for the baggage.' He turned to Verity. 'Are you ready?'
  She looked down at her feet: the snow was so fine there was very little on the ground, but it was building up at the sides of the road, and she could feel the icy surface beneath her boots. They set off along a rough lane. The light was nearly gone, but she could just make out the high dry-stone walls on each side.  The wind swirled about, tugging at Verity's thick cloak.  The lane carried on upwards, and as they crested the highest point they were suddenly exposed to the full force of the wind, and Verity gasped as the icy rain hit her cheeks like dozens of tiny blades.  She gripped her hood, pulling it tightly around her face and trudged on, her head bent into the wind.  The storm howled about her and she found her feet slipping on the uneven surface.  Unable to look forward, she kept her eyes on the ground, just visible in the fading light, gritting her teeth against the biting cold and the icy wind that cut through the thin kid gloves, stinging her fingers.
  'Here, let me help you.' She felt a strong arm about her shoulders. 'Keep your head down.  I'll guide you.'
  She found herself clamped firmly against Rafe Bannerman's solid figure and he marched her steadily forward. A few minutes later, the wind dropped and Verity peeped up to see that they had turned onto a sweeping drive and had reached the shelter of a building.  She was aware of a large oak door being flung open and she was bundled across the threshold into an echoing stone passage.  Breathing heavily, she swayed as she found herself free of the gentleman's reassuring grip. She blinked, dazed by the quiet calm of the entrance hall.
©Melinda Hammond