Jean Plaidy

Sweet lass of Richmond Hill

A Birth in Tong Castle

Dusk was beginning to throw long shadows across the Red Room in Tong Castle as Mary Smythe pushed aside the red hangings about the bed and sat down uneasily. It was too early as yet for the child to make its appearance—but how could one be sure? Children had a habit of coming before their time.

She wished that the child could have been born in their own home. Walter had said that as soon as they had a child they must certainly look for a house, and she anticipated with great pleasure the prospect of choosing her own furniture and making her own home; it would be quite different from living in her brother-in-law's mansion at Acton Burnell or here in Tong Castle.

It was of course very kind of the Duke of Kingston to lend them his castle until after the birth of the child; he preferred to have someone living there during his absence, to keep the servants in order and see to the running of the place, so why not his good friend Walter Smythe whom he knew was longing to leave the parental roof now that he had acquired a wife?

She had been delighted to come to Tong Castle, as grand and impressive an edifice to be found not only in the county of Shropshire but in the whole of England. But it was not one's own home. She had tried to make it so by installing the prie-dieu in a corner of the room, the crucifix over the bed and the flask of holy water on the carved mantelpiece. But whenever she was conscious of the manner in which the servants eyed these things, an irrepressible indignation swept over her. She would never be reconciled to the laws of England which, while they did not go so far as to forbid Catholics to worship as they pleased, excluded them from their civil rights and penalized them in a hundred ways.

Mary clenched her hands together and reminded herself that she would be ready to die for her faith in the same way in which those of her own faith were murdering those not of theirs throughout the world.

Walter came into the room. He was the best of husbands, good looking, financially secure and, most important of all, a Catholic. The marriage would never have taken place if he had not been. She had brought him a good dowry; they were even remotely related to each other, which was often the case with Catholic families in England, for few married outside their own religion.

He looked startled when he saw her. "Mary?'- he cried questioningly. She nodded. "I am not sure. But it may be."

"It's a little soon."

"It often happens so, I believe."

"Should I call the midwife?"

"Not yet. Wait a little. She will laugh at me for being overanxious."

He sat down beside her and took her hand.

"It's strange," he said, "that the child should be born in a castle."

"I'd rather he were born in our own home."

"We'll find a house as soon as you are ready."

"I should like to settle near my brother in Hampshire."

"In Red Rice?" mused Walter. "An excellent spot, as it is not far from Winchester."

"Walter, after your adventures in the Austrian Army do you think you can settle down?"

"With you ... to raise a family, yes."

To raise a family. She saw the gracious house, the garden with its peaceful lawns and the children they would have clustered about them. It was a pleasant picture; and the subsequent births would be less tiresome than this one. The midwife had told her that the first was always the most difficult.

"A house," she mused, to take her mind off the pains which she fancied were becoming a little more frequent, "with a chapel."

"Perhaps it would be a little unwise to have a chapel in the house, my love."

"Oh, Walter, why should we be persecuted?"

Walter admitted that the intolerant laws were a burden to all Catholics, but being a fair man he pointed out that they were less severe in England than in any other country in the world.

"Yet ... we are penalized," cried Mary, her eyes flashing. "If this were not so we should have our own house now. You would not have had to leave England to follow a career."

"Well, I have at least travelled and seen service in the Austrian Army."

"And that was England's loss," cried Mary vehemently. "Oh, Walter, if only it had gone differently at the '45."

"But it did not, Mary, and we know full well that the Stuarts lost all hope after Culloden. Charles Edward will never come back now. He is drinking himself to death across the water and the Hanoverians are firmly on the throne. They say young Prince George is a good young man, and popular with the people. No, Mary, the Hanoverians arc here to stay so we had better make the best of it."

"But to live as we do ... hearing Mass almost by stealth, being debarred from privileges. What of our children? Are they going to grow up in a society which will deprive them of their rights because they worship God in the only true way?"

"You must not excite yourself, my dear. One thing is certain. Our children will worship God in accordance with the laws of the Roman Catholic Church no matter what the laws of the country."

Mary sighed. Anything else was unthinkable, of course.

"You should not concern yourself. As long as the laws are not made more harsh we shall be able to look after ourselves."

Dear Walter! He was so resigned. Perhaps she was apt to become excited over this matter simply because she was about to bear a child. The future looked bright enough. Soon the uncomfortable business of child bearing would be over; they would have their house and she would be a happy matron. How different that would be from sharing her brother-in-law's house at Acton Burnell—large and comfortable though it was. Perhaps the Duke of Kingston hoped they would buy Tong Castle, for he wanted to sell it. But no, Tong Castle was too grand for them; they would not be able to keep it up, for in spite of her dowry they were not rich according to the Duke's standards as Walter was the second son of the late Sir John Smythe and naturally his inheritance could not equal that of Sir Edward, his brother, who had inherited the title and the bulk of the family estates.

She caught her breath suddenly. "Walter, I think ... I am almost certain ... that my time has come."

Walter lost no time in summoning the midwife.

Mary was right. Within a few hours she had become the mother of a daughter.

She was a little disappointed, having hoped that the firstborn would be a son; but the child was healthy and perfect in every way. She was named Mary Anne; but as her mother was Mary the baby soon became known as Maria. Little Maria grew prettier every day; and very soon her mother was once more pregnant.

Mary Smythe was determined that her second child should be born in a home of her own; so when Maria was only a few months old her parents gave up their custodianship of Tong Castle and came to Red Rice to stay with Mary's brother, Mr. Henry Errington, while they searched for a suitable residence. This did not take long to find; and before the birth of little Walter they had settled into a large country house in Bram-bridge which was not very far from Red Rice and had the additional advantage of being close to the town of Winchester.

Here Mary settled happily and during the next few years increased her family. John followed Walter; and after him came Charles. Henry and Frances—a pleasant little family, living comfortably in the country, undisturbed by great events in the capital. The old King died and young George came to the throne; they heard of his marriage to Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, of his coronation and the birth of the Prince of Wales, which was followed in due course by the birth of a second son.

"Oh yes," repeated Walter Smythe, "the Hanoverians arc here to stay."

Life in Lulworth Castle

Maria Smythe lay on the hard pallet in her sparsely furnished room—which was more like a cell—and wept silently, asking herself how she could bear to be torn away from this place which had been her home for so many years.

Tomorrow Papa would come to take her away and she would leave her school-fellows, the dear nuns, the Mother Superior, the routine of the convent and Paris, and go back to England. How strange it seemed that when she had known she was to come here she had wept as bitterly at the thought of leaving her home in Brambridge as she was now weeping at the prospect of leaving the convent.

Maria sat up. Perhaps there was comfort in that. Perhaps she would become reconciled to life in Brambridge just as she had to life in the convent before she had grown to love it. But it would be different, of course. At home she would have to think about marrying for she knew well enough that this was the reason why she was being brought back to England. It happened with regularity to all the girls. They came here to be educated as good Catholics in the Convent of the Blew Nuns; then they returned home where suitable husbands were found for them; they produced children and, if they were girls, they in their turn came to the Convent. That was the pattern of Catholic girlhood.

The door opened slightly and her sister Frances appeared. Frances's eyes were red with weeping and she sniffed pathetically as she ran to the pallet and threw herself into Maria's arms.

"It's all right," soothed Maria. "You'll be all right when I'm gone. And in a very short time it will be your turn"

Frances looked up at her sister with adoration. Maria was not only the most beautiful person she knew; she was the kindest. What was little Frances going to do—newly arrived at the convent—with no Maria to protect her?