With the publication of Under the Bright Saharan Sky only three sleeps away, here’s a little insight about how Lady Clara is feeling…
“Good afternoon, won’t you sit down?” Lady Clara Farnley indicated a chintz covered chair and turned to the butler. “Please could you bring tea and refreshments.”
Miss Adelia Davenport took a seat and pulled a notebook and pen from her commodious reticule. “Thank you for agreeing to see me, Lady Farnley, especially after your recent loss.”
Clara managed a smile. Her mother had braved the new-fangled telephone and spent several hours explaining to Clara why she would help out the daughter of an old friend with an interview with The Lady magazine. She hadn’t mentioned it to her brother-in-law, the new Lord Farnley, and she wasn’t sure what he would think. “My mother spoke very highly of you.”
Adelia readied her pen. “Your late husband died very suddenly I believe.”
“Yes, it was a great shock.” Lady Clara kept her composure with an effort. The reminders of the loss of her husband still stung.
“How did it happen?” Adelia asked with a blandly enquiring expression.
Clara took a deep breath. That was an incredibly impertinent question, but how to answer? The woman in front of her, barely older than a schoolgirl, had relentlessly pursued this interview and now was demanding inappropriate answers. She was saved as Leighton returned with the tea tray. “Thank you, Leighton.” She watched as Leighton set the tray down on a mahogany side table and poured the tea before leaving. “It was a dreadful shock when my late husband died so unexpectedly. Fortunately my brother-in-law, Lord John Farnley, was able to return home immediately. He was a very successful aether pilot and he flew all over the world.” Clara gently stirred her tea. “He has frequently been out of the range of telegrams, but fortunately our man of business managed to track Lord John down in Munich.” She watched Adelia add two large sugar lumps to her tea. “I believe he was returning from piloting an academic expedition to Greece. Would you like a petit four?”
Adelia made some notes before helping herself to a tiny cake. “You must miss your late husband very much. How did you meet him?”
“I was helping at a village fete in support of missionary work in East Africa.” Clara smiled at the memory. She had been hot, flustered and exasperated when she had dashed towards the tea tent with a box of tea and collided with someone so handsome that it had made her blink. “He takes, that is, he took a great interest in the local charitable causes.” She hadn’t recognised him at first, as she had only seen him at a distance, and had scolded him for being in the way like she would have scolded any ordinary gentleman. “He had the most exquisite manners.” He had insisted on carrying the box of tea for her, saying that a delicate creature should not carry such burdens. “I couldn’t but help have a favourable impression of him.”
Adelia made some notes. “But you were used to moving in the same social circles, I believe.”
Clara kept her face blandly polite with an effort. “Indeed. My late husband had a title and considerable estates. I was the second daughter of a country doctor. In fact, it proves my point about Lord Nicholas’ excellent manners. He never alluded to the differences in our backgrounds.”
“He sounds a perfect gentleman,” Adelia said, scribbling furiously.
“Indeed he was,” Clara said, with a strained smile. She was not going to discuss her dead husband’s flaws.
“And he asked you to marry him?” Adelia said. “You must have been grateful.”
Clara felt a strong urge to dump her earl grey tea over Adelia’s wretched notebook. “I was very much in love with Lord Nicholas. When he was so kind as to propose to me, I did not feel gratitude, I felt loved and adored.” She watched Adelia’s pen race over the page with some misgiving.
“You were not blessed with children,” Adelia said. She looked carefully over Clara’s tightly corseted waist and drew her own conclusions. “So your brother-in-law inherits everything.”
“Lord John inherits the title, yes.” Clara said, refusing to be drawn on any details.
“And what is your role now?” Adelia asked. “What does your future hold?”
“My role will remain the same,” Clara said, “At least for the foreseeable future. It is of greatest importance that a household such as Farnley Grange has strong direction for the household staff. The staff take their tone from the family, as you know. When Lord Nicholas was alive, I was the captain of the domestic ship, the leader of the home and I provided a haven in a hostile world, just as any wife would do, regardless of rank. As Lord John may still be called away on his pilot duties, it is of utmost importance that I continue the direction of the household.”
In the air hung the unsaid words, ‘until Lord John marries’. Adelia made some more notes. “I can see the evidence of Lord John’s travels. Is that vase Chinese?”
“It’s Japanese,” Clara said. She always adored the rich colours and delicate gilding. “It’s Satsuma Ware. I believe Lord John actually received it as a gift in Malaya.”
“And that looks American.” Adelia stared at the richly coloured rug that was thrown so casually over a footstool.”
“It came from Chile, when Lord John had a stayover in Santiago,” Clara said. “It’s very hardwearing, and made from wool from the native alpaca.” She smiled. “I am not merely the one giving direction to the cook and housekeeper as the leader of the household. I am a curator of treasures.”
“Lord John is quite the adventurer, isn’t he?” Adelia said. “He must be grateful to know that he will be coming back to a well-tended home. Are you close?”
The blatant question of whether Lord John would now inherit Clara as a wife along with the lands and title was a little too much for Clara. She stood. “It has been such a pleasure speaking with you, Miss Davenport. It is such a shame that I have so little time to spare under these circumstances. I shall ring for our butler to show you out.”
“Perhaps we could arrange another time?” Adelia said, quickly stuffing her pen and notepad back into her reticule.
“I’ll be in touch,” Clara smiled politely. “Unfortunately I have found myself unexpectedly busy dealing with the aftermath of my husband’s passing. I will certainly let you know the next time I’m in London.”
Adelia managed an answering smile, knowing that Clara was unlikely to return to London for some time. “Thank you for seeing me, Lady Farnley. I look forward to our next interview.”
“As do I,” lied Clara. “Ah, here’s Leighton to show you out.” She waited until she heard the front door shut on Miss Adelia Davenport and then sagged back against the cushions. Now she was alone, she was able to cry.