Vol. 1 of the Helena’s Stories series
Will turning a dream into a plan make it come true? In a remote corner of 1780’s England, young Catherine Nelson wants to marry, but knows the damage love can cause. Her dream is to control and protect her own life.
In India, restless, worldly George Matcham wonders how he can create the life he dreams of in the countryside of far-away England.
For each of them to reach their dream, they must learn and overcome a great deal about themselves and their worlds. As different as they are, how can they make room for each other in their own, very different, perfect plans?
Based on real people in a colorful time, this is a very personal view of an historic family, and celebrates a love that lasted forty-seven years.
A Perfect Plan is the first book in the Helena’s Stories: Britannia series, which brings personal points of view to history through the stories of remarkable families from the 11th through 19th Centuries.
Romantic fiction based on a lovely history, A Perfect Plan will be coming out in June, 2016. Watch this site for more information.
About the portraits: These pencil and ink portraits of Catherine and George were apparently made not long after their marriage in 1786. They are clearly by the same artist (look at the noses) who is unidentified. As of the 1911 publication of The Nelsons of Burnham Thorpe, both the miniatures with these images were at Newhouse, according to the author.
Portraits from: Mary Eyre Matcham, The Nelsons of Burnham Thorpe, London and New York, John Lane Company, 1911
Here’s a sneak preview from A Perfect Plan:
The Rectory, Burnham Thorpe, Norfolk, England – November, 1779
“NANCY… NANCY, HOLD tighter to my hand! I can help you: I know I can! Just don’t let go of me!” Kitty was terrified. Her sister had been knocked off her feet by the wind and was twisting in the clutch of a powerful storm, anchored only by Kitty’s grip on her hand.
Staring at her little sister, Nancy actually looked as calm as always. “No, Kitty, I cannot hold on… there is too much wind.” Kitty grabbed the corner of the house with her free hand and held tightly to her while the violent storm pulled at them both. Nancy’s blonde hair had blown loose and, with her wide skirts, was catching the wind. She was perilously close to being swept away.
The wind shifted direction a little and Kitty used the chance to grab her sister’s hand more firmly, but Nancy was still in the air, strangely, floating. “I have you Nancy. Try to get your hand around my wrist. Do it quickly!” Kitty could see by the way the tree branches were bending that the wind was veering back into a threatening direction.
“No. I just can’t… I can’t do this.” Her slender white hand loosed its hold and slipped out of Kitty’s grasp. The fierce wind pulled Nancy away, up into the stormy sky, her hair spread around her face like a halo, her blue skirts belled around her like an angel’s wings, and her face totally calm.
“Oh, no! Oh Nancy…!” Kitty woke up abruptly, trembling and panting with fear. “Oh, Nancy!” The covers had twisted up on the bed she shared with her sister. “Nancy?” Kitty looked over and there Nancy was, lying next to her, fast asleep.
Oh, thank God, thank God! What a horrible dream! Outside, the dawn was breaking on a stormy morning, and cold November winds howled around the corners of the old house. She straightened the covers, tucking them in carefully around her sister. It would not do for her to catch a chill.
Still shaken, Kitty started to get dressed. That is just dreadful! Why am I so fanciful sometimes? Though dreams did not trouble her often, those that did were nearly always about her mother, who had died so young, or about not being able to save Nancy.
But, she is here. She’s safe at home and sleeping peacefully. Mama died so long ago that I can’t even remember her. I must consider why I have these dreams: what they mean to me. Not yet fifteen years old, Catherine Nelson had already learned that even troublesome dreams could be the source of useful ideas. She pulled her dress on quickly and went downstairs, to sit in the kitchen and consider.
Bidwell Manor, Newton St-Cyres, Devon, England – April, 1780
IT IS SO very nice finally to have George here! Elizabeth Bidwell Matcham had missed her son.
They were in her India room. When the room was completed, months earlier, she decided that when George arrived, she would first spend time with him there. Although it was part of her family’s very old, very traditional manor house, this one room was different from the others because of its decor. Almost as soon as she had arrived from Bombay, Elizabeth had designed it to be her retreat, where she could feel closer to far-away India, her home for so very many years. All that had been missing was her son’s presence, and now he was here, at least for a while.
George really has become a fine looking man! I always thought he would. Her mind went back to her favorite image from his childhood: a grinning, excited, dark-haired little boy with a mongoose perched on his shoulder. Simon, my dear, we have done well. I wish you could see our boy now.
But, how is he, really? Well, I shall just ask. “George, are you heart-whole now?” Only his mother would dare ask him such a thing. She was not at all sure he would answer her.
Though he had become a poised and worldly man, he looked uncomfortable. Clearly, he was struggling with her question. “I have just traveled, essentially by myself, for nearly a year. I’ve been in Asia, Europe and part of Africa. What is not mended now may never be. I am not trying to be evasive, Mother. That is as much as I know, now.”
My poor son. He is wounded still. “Just tell me none of this grief is for that… Patricia.”
“It was never Patricia. The rest does not matter, Mother. I’m here now. There is nothing more to say about it.” George sat back a bit, looking somewhat grim.
They talked about family matters and old friends, and in a short while he started smiling again as he told her his plans. His voice became enthusiastic. “After I conclude my business in London, I shall travel over as much of England as I can. Mother, I will find my answer to that question you and I both have asked ourselves so often: ‘Which are you, English or Indian?’ It is fine to be a man of many countries, but I need to finally decide where to establish my home and family. When I find the answer, I can plan the rest of my life. I have been looking forward to this little journey of discovery in England for more than two years.”
“I am glad you’re making this trip. I think you’ll enjoy your journey greatly.” Perhaps it will heal his sorrow.
“And I am glad to see you comfortably here, Mother.” George looked around the room. “It’s very nice to see the Manor again, and you have made this room into a lovely retreat.”
The whitewashed room was furnished with dark wood chairs strewn with embroidered cushions. Bright Kilim rugs contrasted with the polished wood floors, and lined drapes of Indian stamped cotton obscured the rainy April day. The walls were bright with Elizabeth’s collection of fine Indian textiles and embroideries, interspersed with the dark wood shelves and cabinets that displayed the many artifacts she had collected.
She smiled, gratified. “I am so pleased with this room that I moved a bit early from the winter house in Bath to visit with you here, first. I’m so glad you like it.” Elizabeth took great pride in the collection she had built.
She glanced around the room and her eyes stopped at the cluster of carved ivory gods and goddesses. “Does the little Sarasvati still travel with you?”
“I have never thanked you for her, have I, Mother? Well, I do thank you. She has journeyed faithfully with me wherever I have gone these past years. I believe she will return to you at some point, but I am not yet ready to part with her. She’ll travel with me on this journey, too, and help me keep India in my mind.” George’s deep blue eyes became even darker.
To keep India, and Gita, in his mind, I fear. Elizabeth’s heart ached for her son’s pain. He is like his father: he loves so deeply. Perhaps it was a mistake giving the Sarasvati to him, but I meant well, and I cannot change that now. I must not say anything.
THAT NIGHT, GEORGE Matcham took the Indian figure from his luggage and carefully unwrapped it. He looked at her lovely, delicately carved ivory face, and smiled, then gently set her on the table by his bed. “We have traveled very far, little goddess. Soon, we will travel together again, although perhaps for the last time.”
Chapter One: Guests are Expected
Burnham Thorpe Rectory – October, 1780
GUESTS ARRIVING TODAY… there is so much I must do! Kitty Nelson awoke with a start, brushing at her face. Some of her sister’s blonde curls had escaped their nighttime braid and spilled onto her pillow. They were making her nose itch. She saw that the room was already brightened by the morning’s sunshine. It was time to get up.
She sat up and shook Nancy’s shoulder. “Nancy, wake up, wake up!”
Nancy rolled over, pulling Kitty’s pillow over her head. “Oh, dear God! Kitty, let me sleep a bit more! I had such a poor night!”
But, there is so much left to do! Can I rely on her at all? Kitty had to stop herself from saying, ‘Don’t you dare leave all of this to me!’ Her surge of anger caught her by surprise, but directly turned to regret. Stop that! You are being unfair. Nancy never chose to be ill. She will do what she can, and the visit will be fine. Collect yourself. She is your sister!
As she had learned to do in recent years, Kitty drew a deep breath through her nose to calm herself, and then smiled at her sister. Nancy was still buried beneath Kitty’s pillow, so could not see that smile, but it was good to do it anyway. I really do love you, Nancy.
“Up in ten minutes then, lazy one! Remember that Cousin Howman and his guest will arrive early this afternoon: they only have three or four hours’ ride from Beccles.” Kitty continued chattering nervously while unbraiding her hair and teasing out the tangles with her comb.
“I do wish we’d had more notice, Nancy… I am sure Howman did not consider that. They have a house full of servants and are probably ready for guests at any time. I imagine he and Maeve must spend much of their time in company. Here, it is just you and me,” and mostly, that is just me “and of course Agnes, so we must prepare for them! I think if we had guests more often, it would be easier in some ways, do you think?” She pulled her dress on hastily.
Pushing the pillow aside, Nancy gave her sister a baleful look. “Is this sleeping for ten minutes? I don’t believe it is!” She sighed and sat up, rubbing her eyes and shaking her hair behind her shoulders. “Yes, it would be easier if we had guests more often, or if we had more servants than Agnes and Tom. We do not, though. Are all the menus set?”
Kitty pinned up her hair hastily and pulled a cap over it to get it out of her way. “Nearly complete. Agnes and I will finish them this morning. It can be a bit difficult, of course: we must not spend too much on food, but we must not run short, either. So, we plan and plan, and we somehow will succeed. Our Aunt and Uncle Howman were always very good to us, and now we must be good hostesses. Besides which, I like Cousin Howman. I wonder who he is bringing as his guest?”
“Someone he knows from the East India Company, so likely he’s some fat old merchant.” Nancy shrugged off the question, but then paused. “To be fair, he is probably well-off, and he must also be either nice, or interesting, if Cousin likes him enough to bring him here.”
Oh! Kitty had been so busy planning and preparing for guests that she not taken time to consider the purpose of the visit. “Do you think Howman is match-making? Perhaps he’s bringing someone splendid for you.” Certainly not for me!
“Likely he is matchmaking!” Nancy grumbled. “I am one-and-twenty, just the age. That is what I am supposed to be doing — getting married. I also am supposed to be excited about it. I am not, though.
“Thankfully, Papa is not pushing me. He was so good to Susannah, letting her take her time and make up her own mind. She married well, and I think she seems very happy. We will probably not be tumbled out of our cozy nest any time soon. Ugh— why am I talking about this anyway? This is your fault, Kitty. I should still be asleep!” She threw the pillow at her younger sister.
Easily dodging it, Kitty tossed the pillow back. “We must get busy. You know Papa has not thought for even two minutes about being a host. With Susannah married and the boys at school, there remains only you and me here to manage this visit.”
“You’re right, I suppose.” Nancy stretched, yawned, and started to get up. “I do look forward to seeing Cousin Howman. He is such a good person, and so amusing.” She smiled. “He always makes me think of a friendly bear.”
Sunshine through little bedroom window touched Nancy’s hair, and the loose curls around her face were like a halo of light. Kitty thought the effect was striking. “Dear sister, if you knew how lovely your hair looks before you even straighten it up, you would want to have fine gentlemen calling on you all times of the day, and would hold levee, like the Duchess of Devonshire! As for me, I am glad I am young enough to not have to worry about men.” Well, not worry very much yet.
“Soon, Kitty, very soon.” Nancy sighed a little, and started on her hair. “We need to ensure that the dresses we had for Susannah’s wedding are in good order for this afternoon. I’m glad you finally have a good dress you are not outgrowing.”
Feeling livelier, Nancy started planning. She grinned. “Kitty, we should divide the chores into upstairs and downstairs. The work will be done easily, for we shall be our own staff of servants!”
Her half-combed hair flying every which-way, she scrambled out of the bed. “We should be housemaids first. Would you and Agnes take care of kitchen and dining room matters, and the downstairs, and help me make up beds in the Boys’ room for our guests?”
She whisked around the room in her shift, pretending to use a feather duster. “I will be the Upstairs Maid, and will get all other things just right up here.” Nancy set down the imaginary duster and stood very still. She assumed a haughty look and gave her voice a false, fruity tone. “Mmm… Madame…When we dress for our guests’ arrival, Madame, I shall be your Lady’s Maid, and then I shall be my own Lady’s Maid…mmm.” She grinned. “It is lovely, is it not, to have, or else to be, such a complete, competent household staff when you know guests are coming?”
Kitty laughed at Nancy’s charade. It was good to see her having fun. “Yes! That is a good plan. I shall start by being baker, cellarer and poulterer, and then shall be a housemaid.” She assumed the haughty tone Anne had been mocking. “And this afternoon, my deah gel, we shall be host-esses!”
Grinning, Kitty headed for the door. “I hear Papa on the stairs now, so we will break fast soon. I will talk with Agnes, do my morning chores and see you at the table!”
NANCY FINISHED DRESSING, straightened the bed and swept all the bedrooms and the hallway before going downstairs. The day was looming long ahead of her. Curse it all, Nancy, pull yourself up. You are the lady of the house now!
She felt bad that Kitty had been doing so much of the housework in the months since Susannah had married, even handling the budget and working with Papa on the household accounts. She does not seem to mind though. Nancy’s fifteen-year old sister had so much energy and excitement about life that she and Agnes together could make a feast out of one turnip. Nancy could not remember if she had ever been that enthusiastic.
Well, maybe, before London. Before – all of that. All of that…
And here, today may bring me a possible match. Perhaps, but it is not likely and it is, really, not appealing. I fear that I just don’t deserve marriage. What I really want is just to be left alone, to live my life peacefully here.
But there’s nothing to be done, is there? I must put a good face on things. I will be as good a hostess as I can, and always be good to Kitty and Papa… and just live my life. And hope. Hope for… some form of redemption? A happy ending…? I do not know what to hope. I love my family: that must be enough. If only I…
Stop this. Stop all of this. Just stop. Nancy forced her thoughts aside. She carefully arranged a smile on her face and raised her chin.