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Authors: Dilly Court

The orphan's dream

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Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Dilly Court

Title Page

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Copyright

About the Book

Motherless since she was five, Mirabel Cutler was raised by her father to be a lady. But when he dies suddenly, Mirabel finds herself cast out on the street by her ruthless stepmother.

She is taken to a place of refuge by charismatic sea captain, Jack Starke. But the safe haven turns out to be house of ill-repute. Here she becomes a parlour maid and catches the eye of an elderly, retired army officer, Hubert Kettle.

Mirabel has fallen in love with Jack Starke but when she hears that his ship has foundered and all were lost, she has little choice but to accept Hubert's offer of a home and marriage. Although desperately unhappy, Mirabel is determined to make the best of her life.

Until she receives unexpected news and her life is thrown into turmoil once more.

About the Author

Dilly Court grew up in North-east London and began her career in television, writing scripts for commercials. She is married with two grown-up children and four grandchildren, and now lives in Dorset on the beautiful Jurassic Coast with her husband.

To find out more visitwww.dillycourt.com

Also by Dilly Court

Mermaids Singing

The Dollmaker's Daughters

Tilly True

The Best of Sisters

The Cockney Sparrow

A Mother's Courage

The Constant Heart

A Mother's Promise

The Cockney Angel

A Mother's Wish

The Ragged Heiress

A Mother's Secret

Cinderella Sister

A Mother's Trust

The Lady's Maid

The Best of Daughters

The Workhouse Girl

A Loving Family

The Beggar Maid

A Place Called Home

The Orphan's DreamDilly Court

For Jonathan, Sarah and Sophie, with love

Chapter OneCatherine Court, Great Tower Hill, London, 1881

THE LOCALS CALLEDthe house Cutler's Castle, and it was not intended as a compliment. Mirabel was painfully aware of the fact that her father was not the most popular man in the City, having acquired his wealth by sharp trading and a ruthless desire to put his rivals out of business. Jumped-up Jacob Cutler was one of his more repeatable nicknames, and if people were polite to his face Mirabel knew that they laughed at him behind his back. Her father's cock-of-the-walk attitude and boastful nature were unlikely to endear him to his neighbours or the other city merchants, and Mirabel had realised long ago that this was why they were shunned socially.

She hitched her basket over her arm and let herself in through one of the wrought-iron gates which separated the court from Seething Lane at one end and Trinity Square at the other. Their intended purpose was to keep out thieves and vagrants, but at times Mirabel felt as though they had been designed to create a prison for the residents, herself in particular. Her weekly excursions to help at the soup kitchen were her one way of escaping from a life bounded by her father's strict rules.

She headed for the house which had been her home for almost as long as she could remember. Cutler's Castle dominated the Georgian terraces in a way befitting a man of considerable means. Double-fronted, with a porch supported by ornate Corinthian columns, it satisfied Jacob's desire to show off. He employed a cook, a maid of all work and Septimus Wiley, a manservant who varied his duties between valet and butler and ruled his small empire with ruthless disregard for the feelings of others. But Wiley had a weakness: Mirabel had discovered that he was a secret drinker, imbibing his master's best brandy at every possible opportunity. How he managed to conceal his drunken state from her father she was at a loss to know. She had tried to warn Jacob about his employee's shortcomings, but her father's refusal to take her seriously made her wonder if the despicable Wiley held some sway over him. He seemed to get away with behaviour that would not be tolerated in any other household, and he treated her with barely concealed contempt. Wiley in his black tailcoat with his stick-thin arms and legs put her in mind of a spider, spinning his web, ready to strike at any moment.

She was about to knock on the door when she saw Harriet Humble emerge from the house opposite with her maid in tow, as well as a small boy whose duty was to carry his mistress's purchases home at the end of her frequent shopping expeditions. Mrs Humble's husband was a prosperous gun maker with premises in Thames Street, and if she chose to out-rival Jacob with her spendthrift ways he always managed to outdo her in a spectacular fashion, which was unlikely to win their friendship. The Humbles were pleasant enough and passed the time of day with Mirabel, but had little to say on the rare occasions when she was with her father.

‘Good afternoon, Mrs Humble.' Mirabel nodded and smiled.

‘Good afternoon, Miss Cutler.' Harriet acknowledged her with a pitying look and walked on, but then she paused and came to a halt, turning to stare at Mirabel with her head on one side and a calculating expression on her doughy features. ‘I see your father has a new companion, Miss Cutler.'

‘I beg your pardon, ma'am?'

‘Such a handsome woman,' Harriet continued slyly. ‘I'm sure you must have met her on many occasions. They seem quite a devoted couple, and I've been told that it's some time since your mother passed away.'

‘My mother died when I was five,' Mirabel said coldly. ‘I think you're mistaken, Mrs Humble. My father comes in contact with many people in his business capacity.'

Harriet shrugged her plump shoulders. ‘I daresay you're right, Miss Cutler. But she is a very handsome woman and I should think she's quite a lot younger than your father, and if she's in trade, well . . .' She allowed the sentence to hang like a cobweb, floating in the air.

‘I'm sure I don't know what you mean.' Mirabel raised her hand to knock on the door.

‘I imagine that you'll find out soon enough, Miss Cutler. Come, Mary, don't dawdle or we'll be late.'

Harriet seemed determined to have the last word, and she marched off with her entourage trotting along at her heels like well-trained puppies. Mary looked back and stuck her tongue out at Mirabel and the boy copied her, cocking a snook.

Mirabel raised her hand once more and rapped on the lion's head doorknocker. She waited for a moment but no one came. She knocked again, and finally she heard footsteps and the door was wrenched open. Wiley peered at her, bleary-eyed. ‘Oh, it's you.' He turned on his heel and staggered off along the narrow hallway, leaving the door swinging on its hinges. He headed for the stairs which led down to the basement kitchen and the tiny room he had commandeered for himself, styling it as the butler's pantry when in truth it was little more than a glorified store cupboard.

Mirabel said nothing. She closed the front door and made her way up the winding staircase to her bedroom on the second floor. For all its width the house was relatively narrow in depth. There were only two rooms on each floor, although these were large and well-proportioned with front aspects and uninspiring views of the houses opposite. The exception to this was the top floor which was divided into much smaller rooms, one for Cook and another for Flossie, the maid of all work, a boxroom, and finally, and most important to Mirabel, was her own special room, her dreaming place. Spending hours in solitary confinement had been a punishment meted out by her ill-tempered governess, but the attic room had become a place of sanctuary. Here she would sit on the window seat and look out over the rooftops to the spire of All Hallows Church and the vast expanse of sky. It was here that she would escape into a world inhabited by handsome princes who fought fiery dragons in order to win the hand of a princess, who coincidentally bore a strong resemblance to her. Then as she grew older her dreams altered and she imagined herself travelling the world, visiting foreign countries where the sun shone every day and there were no peasouper fogs, drenching rain or the bone-chilling cold of an English winter.

She smiled as she took off her bonnet and shawl and laid them on a boudoir chair placed between the two tall windows. Her room, like every other part of the house was decorated lavishly. The rose-patterned wallpaper and curtains matched the coverlet on her bed. The delicate pink of the flowers was repeated in the upholstery on the chairs and the dressing-table stool, and in the rugs which were scattered about on the polished wooden floorboards. It was unashamed luxury, but Mirabel could remember the time before her father fought his way out of poverty, using whatever means came to hand.

She had been born in a room at the top of a warehouse in Shad Thames overlooking Butler's Wharf on the south bank of the mighty river, and that was where she had spent the first five years of her life. The scent of roasting coffee beans and spices had the power to take her back to those days when her father had been a humble clerk, working for the rich merchant who owned the building and several ships which traded with the Americas. The small family had scraped by on his meagre wages, frequently going hungry, and more often than not she had gone barefoot even in the coldest weather. Then, as if by a miracle, everything had changed. The merchant had died, some said in suspicious circumstances, leaving the warehouse and his entire business to his clerk, Jacob Cutler. They had risen in the world, but too late to save her mother from the dreaded consumptive disease that claimed so many lives. It was then that Jacob had purchased the house in Catherine Court, and Mirabel's life had changed, seemingly for the better. Acting on a whim, her father had decided that she should be educated as befitted a young lady of means, and Miss Barton had been employed to act as governess. Mirabel's days of freedom had ended abruptly.

Miss Barton was a termagant who inhabited the schoolroom, sleeping on a truckle bed concealed behind a curtain, and she ruled every aspect of her charge's life from the moment Mirabel awoke in the morning until she retired to bed at night. She ordered her meals, chose her clothes, organised her lessons and never let her out of doors unaccompanied. Any hint of rebellion was quickly and thoroughly crushed, and if Mirabel did not mend her ways immediately her rebellious conduct was reported to her father. Jacob was not a patient man, and he gave Miss Barton leave to deal with his daughter as she saw fit. Going without supper was the least of the punishments meted out, and caning was used for more serious offences, such as not having a handkerchief or falling asleep during lessons. But Miss Barton's favourite form of correction was to lock Mirabel in the attic for hours on end. Poor Betty Barton, Mirabel thought with a wry grin, if only she knew that her efforts to terrorise and subdue her charge had all been in vain. The attic had become her friend, the spiders her companions, and the mice might at any time be turned into horses to pull a carriage provided by a good fairy, who transformed her into a beautiful princess with a wave of her wand. It was a quiet place away from the hurly-burly of the city streets and the sounds of the river that continued day and night. It was a place to dream. It was Mirabel's own private place.