An excerpt from my new book
A Secret Heiress
By Anne Herries
‘Eliza my dearest.’ Mrs Bancroft held out her hand to her beloved daughter, the child not of her body but of her heart. ‘Sit with me, my love. I have something to tell you.’
Eliza smiled and did as she was bid, sitting on the edge of the bed and reaching for her mother’s hand. ‘What is it, dearest Mama? Are you feeling worse? Is there anything I can do for you?’
‘No, I am just as always but I think we should talk. You know that it is unlikely I shall see the winter out…’
‘Mama please…’ Eliza begged. ‘Doctor Morris said that you were a little better when he called. When the spring comes you will start to get up again and then…’
Mrs Bancroft squeezed her daughter’s hand. ‘I know it is hard for you, dearest. We lost Papa two years since and now…’ She shook her head as tears sprang to Eliza’s eyes. ‘No, you must not grieve for me, Eliza. I have loved you dearly but I fear we have not been quite fair to you. We should have tried harder to discover the name of your true mother.’
‘You are my mama,’ Eliza said. ‘I know that you did not give birth to me, but I love you dearly.’
‘You have been everything a daughter should be,’ Mrs Bancroft said. ‘Yet I know that somewhere you have a mother and perhaps a father too who will love you and take care of you. Papa found you left in the church behind the altar one Sunday morning. He told me that he saw a gentleman’s carriage driving away and I believe you were the daughter of quality. Your clothes were of the finest materials and the ring I found tucked in with them is beautiful. I have kept it safe for you, Eliza.’
‘You showed it to me,’ Eliza said. ‘It is very beautiful but I do not see what use it can be. If my mother abandoned me she must have had her reasons.’
‘Perhaps she had no choice. I do not think that any mother would give up such a beautiful baby as you were willingly.’
‘I dare say you are right,’ Eliza smiled and kissed her. ‘I only know that I was fortunate to have you and Papa.’
‘The ring is at the bottom of my sewing box if you should need it.’
Mrs Bancroft sighed. ‘My head aches again. I think I should like a tisane if you would make it for me, dearest.’
‘Yes, of course.’
Eliza rose and went downstairs to the kitchen. She had always known she was not the true child of her parents but their kindness meant that she lacked nothing. However, if she were truthful she had sometimes thought of her birth mother and wondered who she was and why she had been forced to abandon her newly born baby.
Mrs Bancroft had mentioned a valuable ring amongst her clothes. Why had her mother placed it there – was it in the hope that one day her daughter would look for her?
Eliza had wondered if her mother would one day come to visit and tell her why she had given her up. Since she had not there was no way of knowing who she was or where she lived. It would be almost impossible to find her – unless she could find someone who recognised the ring, of course.
If the Reverend Bancroft was right about the carriage he had seen driving away belonging to a wealthy man, then her parents might be gentry or even aristocrats. Eliza was not used to moving in those circles, except for the occasional invitation to the local landowner’s house at Christmas for the tenants’ party. How could she ever hope to find her mother?
She put the bothersome thoughts from her mind as she entered the kitchen. It was small like the rest of the cottage but there were only the two of them these days, and though they had missed the beautiful rectory that had been their home they had become accustomed to their situation. Eliza did most of the work and the nursing herself, though Betty came in once or twice a week to clean. She had been Mrs Bancroft’s maid for years and insisted on doing what she could for them even though they could pay her very little.
‘I would work for nothing,’ Betty had told Eliza a few days previously. ‘If your mama were not so proud I would never have left her at all.’
‘Mama does not wish to be a burden.’
‘It is hardly right that you should do everything, love,’ Betty said. ‘You know where I am if you need me.’
While the kettle was heating, Eliza gathered the ingredients for a blackcurrant tisane, her mother’s favourite. Despite the unfortunate start to her life, she had been loved, cared for and guided in the way she should go. At the moment she all her thoughts must be centred on the sick woman upstairs. There would be time enough to think of her future when she was alone.
To be published first in USA and then in UK
I hope you enjoyed this little taster