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Archive for March, 2013

I have such a treat in store for you today-I’m delighted to welcome the author Maria Grace to the blog! She’s celebrating the release of her new novel, All the Appearance of Goodness and I’m so glad she’s had time to stop here on her blog tour. Over to you, Maria!

Thanks for hosting me Jane. I’m so excited to be able to share an excerpt from my latest book, All the Appearance of Goodness.  It is the third volume of the Given Good Principles series, the long awaited volume where Darcy and Elizabeth finally meet.
Maria Grace
Though their experiences in the first two books have helped them to overcome their pride and prejudice, all is not smooth sailing for Darcy and Elizabeth. What is a young woman to do? One handsome young man has all the goodness, while the other the appearance of it.  How is she to separate the gentleman from the cad?
When Darcy joins his friend, Bingley on a trip to Meryton, the last thing on his mind is finding a wife. Meeting Elizabeth Bennet changes all that, but a rival for his affections appears from a most unlikely quarter. He must overcome his naturally reticent disposition if he is to have a chance of winning her favor.
Elizabeth’s thoughts turn to love and marriage after her sister, Mary’s, engagement. In a few short weeks she goes from knowing no eligible young men, to being courted by two. Both are handsome gentleman, but one conceals secrets and the other conceals his regard. Will she determine which is which before she commits to the wrong one?
Excerpt from Chapter 2:
Their preparations to go into town attracted much notice. Soon all five sisters donned gloves and bonnets and headed out.
“I am off to the linen draper to find ribbons and lace and new patterns.” Kitty skipped ahead, basket swinging at her side. She turned to face her sisters and walked backwards. “Mama asked me to attend to her gown—”
“What of mine?” Lydia folded her arms across her chest.
“I have done so many of yours already.”
Lydia stomped. “You promised.”
Kitty turned around. “It will be finished in time for the assembly.”
“And the other one?”
“Lydia,” Mary said firmly and wrapped her arm in Lydia’s.
“You will tell me to be patient—but I do not want to be patient. I do not like patience!”
Elizabeth looked away. Lydia was not the only one who disliked patience.
“It is a necessary virtue.” Mary smiled a lopsided smile and shrugged.
Kitty called over her shoulder. “I will sew as quickly as I can.”
Lydia screwed her face into an ugly scowl.
Mary sighed.
“You will come with us to visit Miss Bingley, will you not, Lydia?” Jane asked.
“Oh, yes! I have had no entertainment since the Miss Carvers and Mrs. Forester left.” Lydia pulled away from Mary. “Oh, do not glare at me. I like to have fun, but I learned my lesson. Did you not notice that I did not ask if she has a brother? I do not care, so do not tell me.”
Elizabeth hesitated and stared at Lydia. How had she neglected to note Lydia’s failure to inquire after the possibility of eligible young men? She needed to pay more attention to her youngest sister.
“I think Miss Bingley might appreciate a bit of fun. It is difficult to come into a new place,” Jane said.
“Well then, let us hurry.” Kitty stepped up her pace for the last half block to the Green Swan Inn.
They paused at the base of the stairs to straighten their bonnets and brush the road dust from their skirts.
Jane led them into the parlor. The room was snug and neat, decorated in an older style. The furnishings were worn, but not worn out. Shelves along the far wall were populated with a few books that probably knew little use. Lydia would call it shabby, but Elizabeth found it cozy. Only three patrons occupied the space, two older men playing cards and a fashionably dressed young woman sitting in a sunny corner, focused on her needlework.
“There she is.” Jane approached her. “Miss Bingley.”
Miss Bingley jumped and looked over her shoulder. “Miss Bennet.”
“I brought my sisters with me.” Jane beckoned them nearer. “This is Elizabeth, Mary and Catherine—”
“Kitty if you please,” she interjected with a quick curtsey.
“Certainly, Miss Kitty.” Louisa stood and curtsied.
“And my youngest sister, Lydia.”
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Will you not sit with me? The innkeeper will bring tea soon.”
Jane looked over her shoulder. “Were you expecting other company? We do not want to intrude.”
“It would be no trouble for us to return later, or on another day, if you like,” Kitty added.
“No, no, not at all! It is only my brother and his friend. I am certain he would not want you to leave on his account. He is a great lover of company and has wanted to meet you since I first told him of you. Please stay.”
Miss Bingley looked so lonely, only the coldest of hearts could have denied her.
They moved several chairs into a close group as the innkeeper arrived with the tea service.
Jane sat near Miss Bingley. “What do you think of Meryton?”
Miss Bingley handed her a cup. “I find it charming.”
“It is nothing to the diversions of London, I suppose.” Lydia sniffed.
“Oh, I meant no insult at all,” Miss Bingley stammered. “I quite like the quietness of this place. The hurried pace in town is not what I prefer.”
“We take no offense, Miss Bingley.” Elizabeth flashed a brief scowl at Lydia. “Different places accommodate different tastes. I am pleased Meryton will suit you.”
“Do you know when you will take the house?” Mary folded her hands in her lap.
“Not yet, but soon, I think. My brother meets with the landowner this evening to finalize the plans.”
“What fun to keep your own house!” Kitty clapped softly. “Will you be allowed to decorate?”
“I hardly expect my brother to be interested in redecorating a place he only leases.” Miss Bingley pressed her lips tightly.
Elizabeth suspected she struggled not to laugh.
“You shall get to do that when you are married, though,” Lydia said.
“I hope to.” Miss Bingley twisted the pearl ring on her left hand. “He is on the continent attending to business matters. I shall be here until he returns.”
“How long you do expect that to be?” Mary’s cheeks colored.
Miss Bingley gripped her hands. “His last letter suggested it might be as much as a year.”
Kitty frowned slightly. “It must be difficult to be away from him for so long. If you do not mind my asking, what is his business?”
Miss Bingley caught her breath and bit her lip. “He inherited his father’s estate—”
“I meant nothing untoward by my question. Please do not be offended!” Kitty stammered. “Our Uncle Gardiner in London is in trade, and I just wondered if Mr. Hurst’s business might be similar.”
The little creases at the corners of Miss Bingley’s eyes disappeared. “I fear I am a bit sensitive. My sister objects to Mr. Hurst’s connections in trade. I am sorry if I have offended.”
“It is forgotten.” Jane smiled.
“You have a sister?” Elizabeth asked. “Will she join you here?”
“No. She stays at my brother’s house in London. Country life holds little appeal for her.”
“What a shame! She shall never know how jolly a country assembly can be.” Kitty traded wide-eyed glances with Lydia.
“What are the assemblies like?”
Lydia giggled. “They are ever so much fun!”
“Well, that is a relief to hear!” A warm voice called from the doorway.
Two gentlemen stood just inside the parlor, and one looked very familiar.
“Charles!” Miss Bingley hurried to his side. “Please, allow me to present my brother, Mr. Bingley, and his friend, Mr. Darcy. May I present my friends? These are the Miss Bennets of Longbourn—Miss Jane Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary, Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia.”
They rose and curtsied as Miss Bingley introduced them.
The men bowed and followed Miss Bingley in.
Mr. Bingley took a seat beside his sister. “How kind of you to call on Louisa!”
Mr. Darcy sat in the lone remaining chair, next to Elizabeth. Miss Bingley poured tea for the men, and soon the conversation resumed with Kitty and Lydia detailing the last assembly to a rapt audience.
Elizabeth felt Mr. Darcy’s gaze on her. He stirred in his seat, hands laced together. Odd that he should have been quite glib in their earlier encounter, yet so aloof here. “Did you enjoy your share of my father’s raspberries, sir?” she asked softly, eyes on her sisters.
“Of what do you accuse me, Miss Elizabeth?” He glanced at her. One corner of his lips drew up.
“The last time I saw you, you sported drops of berry juice on your fingers and on your chin. I fear you are a most ineffective thief.” She arched an eyebrow.
He colored and looked aside. His brows drew together until a deep crease formed between. “I suppose I must practice more. Pray tell, does your father have another garden I may sample from? Preferably one not so far from the main road.” He ran a finger along the edge of his cravat.
“I think not. He prefers to keep them well hidden from the likes of gentlemen such as yourself.”
Mr. Darcy squirmed in his seat.
Guilt nipped at her heel. She should not tease.
Darcy snorted. His cheek twitched with the hint of a smile.
Then again, perhaps he was capable of enjoying a good joke after all.
Bingley regaled them with yet another amusing tale. What a contrast to his reserved, quiet friend.
“We meet tonight to finalize Bingley’s plans for Netherfield. He and his sister will soon be your neighbors,” Darcy whispered.
“And you, sir, now that his business is completed, will you stay on with him or return to your own estate?”
He studied her with piercing eyes.
What did he seek? Only her old music master had scrutinized her so. Mama had dismissed him for it, too. A tiny shudder raced down the back of her neck, though she was not certain why.
“I believe I will stay on for a few weeks at least.”
“I pray you will find it pleasant. Though we cannot boast the sophistication of London, many find Meryton a welcome respite from better society.”
“I am sure I will.” He shuffled his feet and glanced about the room. “Are you acquainted with Mr. Bascombe?”
“A little. Why do you ask?”
“I prefer to know the reputations of those with whom I do business. What sort of man do you find Mr. Bascombe to be? What is his reputation in the community?”
Elizabeth frowned. “I do not wish to be branded a gossip.”
“So, your opinion of him is hardly positive.” His eyebrow rose.
“What have your dealings with him suggested?”
Darcy pressed his lips together. His eyes drifted to the ceiling roses. “Netherfield is clearly in need of repairs. Either he does not keep up his property, or he is short of the capital needed to make them.”
She dipped her head and blinked.
“The condition of the tenant farms, the cottages and outbuildings suggests a man who is neither interested in the details of management, nor in the lives of his tenants.”
“My sisters and I regularly call upon several of his cottagers—”
“He does not attend to their needs, but allows others in the neighborhood to fulfill his responsibilities.” Darcy’s gaze held hers.
His eyes were striking—and expressive—startlingly so. She looked away.
“Would his tenants agree with me?” He leaned in closer.
“I do not believe they would disagree,” she whispered, cheeks uncomfortably hot.
“I have heard his name spoken in several establishments in town, with little fondness.”
“But neither with animosity. He is not a quarrelsome man.”
“Nor is he a generous one.”
She turned to focus on a carriage passing by the window. “He is a proper gentleman.”
“Faint praise, indeed.”
“It is the best praise I can offer. Please do not press me further in this matter.”
“Of course, forgive me. I appreciate your assistance. What would you prefer to speak of?”
She bit her bottom lip and cocked her head. “Pray tell me, do you grow raspberries on your estate?”
He chuckled.
Several hours later, Darcy and Bingley waited in the best room of the public house nearest the Green Swan. The tables around them were filled with loud men, talking, laughing and eating. Smells of food and hard work mingled into something less than appealing. Darcy reached into his pocket and pulled out the leather case containing his silverware. The plates on the other tables appeared none too clean as it was—eating off the forks in this place was not to be borne. The serving girl dropped two pints in front of them.
“Not the service or the victuals to which you are accustomed.” Bingley lifted his pint and took a long draw from the tankard.
“My preferences are not the relevant ones here.” Darcy examined his mug. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the lip. “The real question is whether or not you are comfortable in these environs or will you pine for the refinements of London in a few short months? The society here may be too confined and unvarying for you. A lease on a house like this one is a serious commitment.”
Bingley parked his tankard on the table. “Three times you repeated that today. Rest assured; I take your point. I find country manners charming and am never as at home as I am in the country.”
“As long as you are certain. Bascombe has arrived.”
“How did you know? You could not possibly have seen him.” Bingley peered over Darcy’s shoulder.
“His nasal whine.” Darcy did not look up. “Listen, it carries to all points in the room.”
Bingley paused and cocked his head. “So, it does.” He laughed and waved to Bascombe.
“Good evening, gentlemen. I took the liberty to instruct the girl to bring three plates.” Bascombe dropped into the chair with all the grace of a sack of chicken feed. He spilled over the edges of the seat. The wooden joints groaned under him.
“Capital.” Bingley bowed from his shoulders.
Bascombe waved at a passing serving girl and pointed toward the pints already on the table.
She returned a moment later and bounced a third mug in front of him. Bascombe took a long drink and wiped his mouth on his coat sleeve.
Darcy turned his head and shielded his eyes with his hand.
“The neighborhood is to your liking?” Bascombe asked.
“Very much so! Several of the local ladies have already visited my sister to welcome her.”
“I am not surprised. Meryton is renowned for its friendliness.” Bascombe leaned forward on his elbows. “I should warn you, not all the families here may be suitable company for your sister.”
The server appeared, balancing three plates along her food-stained sleeve. She dropped them and utensils on the table with a grunt and turned away before they could comment.
Bascombe crammed his napkin between collar and cravat and plucked a knife and fork from the center of the table.
Darcy unrolled his utensils and polished them with his handkerchief. He carefully slipped a napkin into his collar and watched Bingley do the same.
“Indeed?” Bingley asked.
Bascombe sawed at his meat. “Absolutely, every neighborhood has its families to avoid. We are no different. My advice, keep a wide berth between your sister and the Bennet family.”
Darcy straightened in his seat and drummed his fingers along his leg. “Why?”
“You have not heard? Even they have supporters, I suppose.” He rolled his eyes. “My previous tenant found them unsuitable companions for his young sisters, not that those girls were exactly proper themselves.”
How ironic. Miss Elizabeth refused to speak of the man who so freely voiced his opinions of her. Darcy ground his teeth until they squeaked together.
“The eldest Bennet girl is quite lovely, I grant. Our curate pays the plain middle daughter a great deal of attention, though I cannot make out why. The younger girls,” he flicked his hand, “are nigh unmanageable. The entire town knows that the youngest one attempted an elopement, stopped by the next eldest, no less, not above two months ago. Such a thing taints the whole family—”
Darcy struck the table with the flat of his hand. The tankards rattled. “We are here to discuss the house and the lease, not the neighbors.”
Bingley nodded. “Quite.”
Bascombe pulled back and placed his fork and knife along the plate. He rubbed his palms together. “As you say, sir.” He eyed them narrowly. His brows rose, and he cocked his head. “You already met them and found a bit o’ that sort o’ muslin to your liking?” A lewd smile twisted his mouth.
“Enough!” Darcy growled. “I take umbrage at your vulgar insinuation. If you do not cease, this conversation is at an end.”
“Forgive me, sir. I mistook your meaning. I meant no offense.”
Darcy grunted. If he walked out now, he would be throwing Bingley to that wolf, Bascombe, to be fleeced. He could not permit that. Though it took all his patience, he would stay.
“Yes, to business then.” Bascombe cleared his throat and made a show of turning toward Bingley. “You and your sister toured the house and grounds. What say you of my humble home?”
“The manor is certainly ample for our needs.” Bingley sent a pleading look at Darcy.
“However…” Darcy leaned in on his elbows.
Bingley relaxed into his chair.
Though Bingley might be at home in a ballroom, he was utterly lost in business negotiations. Here, Darcy was at his ease. He suppressed a smile. “Several matters need to be addressed before my friend will consider letting the place.” He removed a folded paper from his coat pocket.
“I see, sir.” Bascombe pulled at his cravat. “I cannot imagine any impediment to a speedy settlement.”
“As you say.” Darcy unfolded the paper and smoothed it on the table.
“What? No need for such formality—” Bascombe covered the list with his meaty hand.
“Do not trifle with me.” Darcy snatched the notes and glared. “You and I are both well aware of the shortcomings of Netherfield Park.”
“Who are you? Bingley’s solicitor?”
Darcy rolled his eyes.
“You are a candidate for his steward, then? Well, you are not needed. The lease does not include—”
Darcy shoved his chair back. The legs squealed against the floorboards. A man who resorted to insults was not one with whom he wished to deal. “We can discuss the terms I have here and come to an agreement, or we can leave now. The choice is yours.”
“Mr. Bingley! This is highly irregular. I am not accustomed—”
“To treating clients with courtesy and respect?” Bingley pushed back from the table. “I asked my friend’s advice in this matter. If you will not treat him with the consideration due a gentleman of his standing, our conversation is at an end.”
Bingley was a quick study.
“Do not be so hasty, sir. Of course, I would welcome his interfere—ah—assistance.” Bascombe took a deep draw of his pint.
“Let us begin with the matter of the roof…” Darcy tapped the list.
Two hours of heated negotiations followed. Bascombe argued, pounded the table, turned red in the face, and capitulated to Darcy’s requirements. Finally, when only one other table of patrons remained, the papers were signed and Bascombe trundled off, muttering invectives under his breath.
“I must say that was prodigious good fun.” Bingley drew on his gloves and dusted off his hat.
“I am glad you found it so rewarding.” Darcy smirked and led the way outside. “Do you still find country manners charming?”
“Not his.” Bingley sniggered.
The night air held lingering traces of the day’s heat, mingled with reminders of the horse traffic along the main street. A full moon lit the street for the pedestrians.
“I am not sure I would choose him as an example of country manners, though,” Bingley said. “I believe the Miss Bennets a much better standard of comparison.”
“Indeed.”
“What think you of the insinuations he made of their family?”
Darcy deftly avoided Bingley’s gaze. An imprudent younger sister? What a hypocrite he would be to condemn another family for a misbehaved relation! The Bennet sisters’ graciousness toward Miss Bingley—and the fact they did not throw themselves at Bingley and himself—spoke of their character much more than the foolish actions of one. He tugged his sleeves. “I believe Bradley would say it is best to judge them on their own merits, not on the prattle of a man like Bascombe.”
“Sensible advice.” Bingley straightened his cravat.
Bingley liked one of the sisters. Naturally, he found a new angel wherever he went. Which one? Or had he even decided yet? Darcy shook his head. Bingley was free to like any of them he chose, except Miss Elizabeth.
The next morning, Darcy and Bingley left on an early ride. On their return, they found three of the Miss Bennets with Miss Bingley in the inn’s parlor.
“Please come and join us.” Miss Bingley beckoned them in
They removed their hats as the ladies rose.
“Good day.” Bingley bowed.
Darcy did likewise.
“Good day.” The ladies curtsied and returned to their seats.
Bingley settled between his sister and Miss Kitty. Darcy’s cheeks heated as he sat beside Miss Elizabeth.
“I told them everything has been settled for the house.” Miss Bingley beamed.
“We will take possession in a fortnight,” Bingley added.
Miss Elizabeth glanced at her sisters. “If it is agreeable to you, our mother wishes to hold a dinner on your behalf. She thinks it a fitting way to welcome you to the neighborhood and be introduced among us.”
“How very kind! We would be most delighted.” Bingley sat a little straighter in his chair.
Miss Kitty clapped softly. “Mama hosts the most delightful dinners—everyone here will agree. We dine with four and twenty families! You must tell me your favorite dishes. She wants to make sure to serve them at dinner.”
Darcy felt himself smile in spite of his best effort not to. Miss Kitty’s exuberance reminded him comfortably of Georgiana.
“You too, of course, Mr. Darcy, if you will be continuing on here for a while.” Miss Kitty added.
Bingley turned to Darcy, eyebrow lifted. The ladies all looked at him.
A flush crept along Darcy’s neck. “I…that is…yes, I will be staying for some time yet. Thank you.”
“Excellent.” Miss Elizabeth smiled.
Was her smile for him or mere politeness? Hopefully the former.
“Now, we must wait for our father to visit so we may officially begin our acquaintance.” Miss Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled.
Bingley laughed. “Rest assured, I will welcome him when he does.”
After another quarter hour, the Bennet ladies left, and Darcy excused himself to attend to a stack of correspondence just arrived from Pemberley.
Upstairs, seated at an awkward little writing desk shoved in the corner near the sunny window, Darcy leafed through the packet of letters. He responded to several.
“Beastly hot window,” he muttered under his breath and mopped his forehead with his handkerchief. Groaning, he stretched out the cramps in his legs.
If he could only walk in the cool woods now—as he had when Miss Elizabeth first appeared like a fairy-tale creature out of the woods.
He chuckled. Perhaps he had found the mythical creature of which his cousin Fitzwilliam spoke. What would Fitzwilliam think of the Bennets?
He pressed his pen to paper.

Fitzwilliam,
Come quickly. She has four sisters.

FD
_________________________________
Author bio
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.
She can be contacted at:
Visit her website Random Bits of Fascination (AuthorMariaGrace.com)
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace
English HistoricalFiction Authors (EnglshHistoryAuthors.blogspot.com)
Austen Authors(AustenAuthors.net)
Thank you so much for joining me today on my blog, Maria, and for sharing such a fabulous excerpt from your book! 

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I’ve got a bit of a thing about Elizabethan stone-built manor houses, especially those with mullioned windows and so when I decided to invent my own for inclusion in Searching for Captain Wentworth – Monkford Hall in Somerset – you can imagine that I had a lot of fun doing the research.

The photo above shows Owlpen Manor – a stunningly beautiful house in the Cotswolds which is the epitome of the type of house I love. You can visit virtually here, read all about its history and even stay in cottages on the estate.

I wanted to include a knot garden or parterre in my novel where I could place a sundial that held a special motto for my heroine, Sophia, to find. They were usually laid out in formal designs with aromatic herbs and plants like marigolds, pansies, rosemary, thyme, lemon balm etc. A later addition enclosed the planting with low box hedges.

My heroine Sophie goes back in time to visit the house her ancestors lived in before they travel on to Lyme. It’s called Monkford Hall – some of you might realise the connection between Monkford and Jane Austen’s book, Persuasion, as the village where Captain Wentworth’s brother had his curacy. Sophie has returned as her ancestor Sophia in the year 1802 and in this scene is with her sister Marianne. From Searching for Captain Wentworth:

We entered a small courtyard styled in the old Tudor fashion of parterres with squares of columbines dotted in between low box hedging, their lavender heads nodding in the breeze. I was drawn to the Elizabethan sundial on a plinth in the middle. Carved in a stone spiral with many embellishments around the circular face was the motto: Time is but a shadow; Too slow, too swift, But for those who love, Time does not exist.
I shivered. My mother would have said someone had just walked on my grave and the doves up in the church beyond the house flew from the bell tower, their wings flapping against the still air. The words on the sundial resonated with me, but I couldn’t think where I had read them before. They seemed so fitting. I couldn’t think of a more apt description to the way I was feeling.
Whenever Charles and I were together time did not exist. Time made up its own rules and like shadows we were at its mercy, floating between the layers like sunlight passing through lace to leave its patterns fleetingly marked in shade.
‘What are you thinking about, Sophia? You have a most faraway expression. But I think I know and I’ve guessed why you seem so different since you arrived. You are in love!’
The challenge in her voice brought me up fast. Was that what I was feeling? Was I truly in love with Charles Austen?
‘You’re blushing, so it’s true!’ cried Marianne, pulling me down to sit beside her on a stone seat. ‘Tell me about him, Sophia.
Is he rich like Mr Glanville? What do Papa and Mrs Randall think of him?’
‘I am not in love,’ I began and hesitated, as I didn’t wish to confide in anyone about the complicated feelings I had for Charles. I was doing my best to deny them knowing that his love could never be mine.
‘But, I am sure you’ve met someone,’ Marianne insisted. ‘I can see that you have and I shall feel most put out if you do not tell me all about him.’
‘I did meet a very interesting family when we were in Bath, a set of the most delightful people. I fell in love with them all … they have such a funny way of saying things that show them to be sincere and openhearted, quite unlike other people who present a smile, but then have no real interest in you at all. The Austens are a creative, artistic family. Cassandra is an accomplished artist and Jane is a talented writer. I also met their parents, a brother James and his family, all literary and interested in books. There is a sailor brother, too.’
‘And I believe that this brother is the very one who has stolen your heart.’
‘Lieutenant Austen is very gentleman-like, but my heart is intact, I do assure you.’
‘But you do like him?’
‘Yes, I like him, as a girl might like a brotherly figure. In any case, he has yet to make his way in the world and has no time to fall in love.’

Sundial in a formal garden

There is something so very beautiful and romantic about the soft greenery of the planting seen against the stone. Gardens like these are the stuff of dreams (and novels)!

This is the kind of bedroom I imagined Sophie would have slept in at Monkford Manor with draped curtains at her bed and a cosy bedcover – perhaps a quilt stitched from pieces of ancient fabric.
From Searching for Captain Wentworth:

White-washed walls and a fire burning in the grate set off a vast four-poster bed, hung with crewel work drapes, along with a huge press and a beautiful cedar chest on a carved stand in the corner. There was also a bookcase, which on closer inspection contained a wonderful selection of “horrid” novels such as Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey might enjoy, and a dressing table set before the window with a toilet mirror, a set of silver brushes and two glass bottles holding scent.
It was the personal objects that held the most fascination for me. A doll, dressed in worn Indian muslin with jet-black hair pushed under a satin bonnet, sat on the window ledge next to a wooden cup and ball game, along with another object that I knew so well. I ran to the rosewood box and traced my fingers over the familiar scrolls and inlays, the sight of which filled me with a strong sense of nostalgia.
‘What is it, Sophia?’ asked Marianne. ‘Have you secrets in there?’
‘Of course not, I’m just so pleased to see all my things. I really miss my home when we are away and the sight of such a familiar object is a joy to behold!’

‘I do understand, whenever I’m feeling upset at school, I wrap myself up in Mama’s shawl and imagine she’s putting her arms around me like she used to when I was a little girl.’
Her face crumpled as if she might cry and I suddenly felt very sorry for her. ‘Do you remember much about Mama?’
‘Not as much as I’d like. I remember her voice and I recall the feeling that whenever she occupied a room, it always seemed that the sun was shining and the house was full of laughter.’
I remembered my own mother. It felt as if a light had gone out when she was no longer there and I thought how hard it must have been for the young Marianne to have her mama taken away at a tender age. It was no wonder she was always fancying herself ill. She probably just needed a little more love and attention. I would try to be extra patient and spend some time with her.
‘What shall we do in Lyme?’I asked. ‘Do you prefer walking, or collecting shells and fossils?’
‘I do not like walking, it is so fatiguing and I am not interested in collecting anything.’
‘Then, how about some sea-bathing? We will hold hands and go in together!’
‘Cold water is perfectly horrid and sea water so salty, that after our visit to Weymouth last year I declared I should never dip my toes in the water again!’
‘Well then, we’ll just sit on the sands in the sunshine and enjoy doing nothing. I shall read to you if you like.’
‘Oh, Sophia, I would like that. Please can you read to me now, just a little of “The Mysteries of Udolpho” before I have to go to bed? We’d just got to the black veil before you had to go away! You’re the only person after Mama, who can read so well.’
Half an hour later, by which time she seemed in a better humour and tired enough not to protest too loudly about going to bed, I took the candle and escorted Marianne along the dark corridor to her room, tucking her into bed and wishing her goodnight. I made my way back along the creaking floorboards, grateful that I had such a short distance to walk in the dark by the light of one small flame. My chamber felt very homely and quite my own. I can only describe the feeling like a memory, something so deep within my soul that had been awakened by unknown senses. I knew I had been there before, that I had lived and loved in this house. Opening the cedar chest initiated an onslaught of impressions and emotions, most of which were so fleeting that the memories are as hard to write down as a dream on waking. I pulled out the gowns one at a time discovering new muslins, brocade skirts from the past, ribbons and tassels, scented leather gloves, and sheer gauze fichus. Selecting some of the finer muslins for our seaside trip, I threw them over a chair in readiness to take on the journey the next day and turned my attention to the rosewood box.
 
Some other favourite houses include:
Well, the list goes on and on… Do you have a dream house? I’d love to hear about it!

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The White Gate – Sydney Gardens
If you’ve read my latest novel, Searching for Captain Wentworth, you will know that the white gate in Sydney Gardens plays a very important part. At the start of the book, my heroine Sophia is invited to Bath by her aunt who understands that she is in need of mending a broken heart and also has a dream of becoming a writer. Sophia sees her neighbour, the mysterious Josh Strafford, drop a glove outside the house where she is staying (which just happens to be next door to Jane Austen’s Sydney Place address) and when she follows him in an attempt to return it, she finds herself at this gate and with no sight of Josh who seems to have disappeared.

Here’s a little from the book: 

The only way he could possibly have gone seemed to be screened by hedges but, as I approached, I saw a white cast-iron gate hidden in the greenery. I must admit to feeling a little uneasy at this point. The gardens were deathly quiet and felt more than a little eerie. I was totally and utterly alone. All my Mum’s advice about never going into parks by myself came back with a flash. I could easily be murdered and no one would know anything about it. I looked behind me, but there was not a soul around so I pushed the gate open and stepped down onto to the canal path. I didn’t want to go any further, I couldn’t see my neighbour anywhere and there was something very melancholy about the place. Under a beautiful cast-iron bridge, studded with moss jewels upon its stone façade, a ribbon of jade water snaked slowly along to the echoes of dripping water as two seagulls swooped in a race to the end of a long, dark tunnel.
I was getting soaked through; it was time to go home. I turned, walked up the steps and put my hand on the gate. It opened with a rasping scrape and as I placed my foot to step through the entrance back into the gardens, I thought at first I’d been hit so hard that I reeled and clutched at the gate to steady myself. The world went black and then so dazzlingly bright that I was blinded. I instinctively closed my eyes and how I managed to stay upright I couldn’t later figure out, but the greatest shock came when I opened my eyes again. From my place, half hidden behind green bushes, I saw a scene that made no sense.

An original bridge in Sydney Gardens
Whilst I leave what happens next to your imaginations, I will tell you a little about the gate in the gardens. It does indeed lead onto the canal path of the Kennet and Avon canal and it’s possible to take a walk in either direction. Last week, I turned right as I stepped down onto the canal path and you can follow the path along as far as Widcombe and beyond. Here are some photos I took – it was a very chilly day but there are still some lovely views. I hope you like them!
Narrowboats seen from a bridge
Gardens extend down to the water
Georgian architecture sits beautifully in the Bath landscape
A heron takes a dip in the water
Views of Widcombe in the distance
Widcombe – it is here in my novel that Sophia walks with Jane Austen

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