In the early morning hours of the 3rd October 1806, a fishing boat sailed out of the harbour at St Helen's, Jersey, ploughing through the heavy seas of the Atlantic Ocean as it journeyed towards the English Channel. In addition to the fishing tackle of nets, lines and hooks, the vessel was carrying three passengers, a clergyman and his wife, returning to England to take up a parish on the Isle of Wight, and a young woman who travelled alone. The young woman's determination throughout the rough voyage, kept her from taking to her bunk in the cramped space below deck, and as the vessel rolled and dipped in the heavy swells, she concentrated her mind on what lay ahead.
Lady Fallows stood in her drawing room at Sion Hill. One hand gripped the back of a chair. Her other hand held a letter. She turned quickly as her daughter entered the room.
"Come in and be seated, Rowena," she said, waving the letter in her hand. "I have just received some unsettling news which concerns you. Pray be prepared for what I am about to say is both shocking, and dangerous in implication. Here. Read this, if you will, and tell me what we must do."
Newly arrived on a visit to her parent's home, Lady Rowena Brickdale sighed, certain that this was yet another display of the theatricals. She was well used to her mother acting out a Drury Lane melodrama. What on earth had put a bee in her bonnet now, she wondered? Past experience made her certain it was nothing more than a trifling matter, which could be attended to without much trouble.
She took the letter and quickly cast her eyes over the contents. It had been penned in fine script. She took a seat upon a sofa and began to read, her lips moving as she absorbed the contents of the page.
"My goodness!" She lowered the letter to her lap, her eyes wide in astonishment.
"Indeed," said Lady Fallows heavily. She sank into a chair by the fireplace, turning her face to the steady warmth emanating from the hearth.
Rowena eyes returned to the letter.
My situation in life is new and strange; I am now completely in charge of my own fate and am able to take my chance, rough or smooth, without the smallest interest expressed in me. I am now alone at the Ship Tavern, which is situated on the Barbican in Plymouth. I have no servants, pages, carriage, horse nor fine rooms, and having barely escaped with my life from France, I must submit to whatever fate holds in store for me. I have no husband or even a maid for company and the melancholy of my situation in this little dingy room is heightened as I listen to the loud noise from the bar below my room and jovial laughter of my neighbours who are carousing in the next room.
I beg that you will send for me and rescue me from this wretched existence.
Rowena Brickdale re-reads the letter in disbelief. "Poor Heloise. How dreadful," she said, returning it to her mother.
Lady Fallows pushed the letter back into its envelope and tossed it onto a table. "Poor Heloise? I think not! It really is too bad of her. What are we to do to do?" She could barely contain her agitation.
"I should think the answer to that is quite clear," said Rowena, "Our duty to our cousin is clear. This is a cry for help and we must not delay in our response."
"I agree that something must be done but she must not set foot in Clifton," said Lady Fallows, her lips compressed in a thin, determined line.
"What else do you suggest? We can hardly leave her there, can we, Mama?" said Rowena decisively. She made to rise from the sofa.
"Tch. I know, I know," retorted Lady Fallows. "But I'm exceedingly fearful of what the consequences might be if she comes here."
"Consequences? Whatever do you mean?" frowned Rowena, sitting back against the sofa's silk brocade padding once more.
"Please don't act the feather-brain. Surely you realise it could soon be known that you were never in Wooten-under-edge."
"Listen to me. Rowena, the gossips will have a heyday," said Lady Fallows, the colour rising in her cheeks. "You mark my words. Tongues will wag and it will be all over the county before a cat can flick its tail."
Rowena could feel her irritation rising." I think you are being unnecessarily-
"I am being unnecessarily what?" interrupted Lady Fallows sharply. "You know how evil tongues embellish the truth. You will be vilified!"
"Mama!" Rowena was shocked.
"Poor Brickdale will be scorned and none of us will ever recover from the scandal."
Rowena had no such sense of impending doom but seeing the effect the letter had on her mother she put aside her irritation. "Oh Mama. Please don't distress yourself so. I'm sure we need not fear Heloise being indiscreet."
"If only I had your faith," moaned Lady Fallows. " But I am certain we are doomed."
"We are not doomed," replied Rowena, fast tiring of Lady Fallow's histrionics. She was utterly convinced her mother had no cause for concern. "Now do be calm. You are worrying unnecessarily, Mama," "For my part, I am only too glad to know that she is safe. I'm looking forward to seeing her for she will have much to tell - "
"Oh, I am in no doubt of that!" said Lady Fallows gloomily. "How like Heloise to get herself into a scrape. I might I add that I, too, shall be interested to know what indeed happened to her."
Rowena crossed the room to stand at the window, biting her lip as, for a brief moment she fought back a sense of impending doom. What had happened to Heloise? What had happened to her husband?