Britain, 1934. Hester Blake, an ambitious girl from an industrial Northern town, finds a job as a lady’s maid in a small aristocratic household. Despite their impressive title and glorious past, the Fitzmartins are crumbling under the tribulations of the new century. In the cold isolation of these new surroundings, Hester ends up hopelessly besotted with her young mistress, Lady Lucy. Fragile and enthralling, Lucy can weave fascinating stories like a spider weaves her web. Armed with shrewd wits and an iron will to match, she is determined to carve out a new life for herself.
They are drawn to each other as kindred spirits, eager to take advantage of the new opportunities the world has to offer. Moreover, soon Hester gets to accompany Lady Lucy on her London Season, and readily plunges herself into the heady mix of passion, art and excitement of the glittering city.
However, there are plenty of dark undercurrents swirling beneath the majestic imperial capital. The country is rife with discontent, and radical political movements are growing in influence day by day. There is a controversy, surrounding the new dictatorships of Europe, and struggles are breaking out in the press as well as in the streets. The hushed whispers of yet another war are still rare, but the battle for hearts and minds has already started, and Lucy’s talent can be employed for very sinister ends.
Meanwhile, Hester seems to be harboring some secrets of her own…
Over time, these projects turned from daunting into exciting, and then they became almost routine. Almost. They never became, nor could they ever become entirely mundane. She enjoyed the diaphanous touch of silk beneath her fingers, enjoyed turning a shapeless expanse of cloth into something worthy of a newspaper remark. If she has learnt something during this year, it was that behind every Society beauty stood a diligent maid.
She was almost an artist, then; creating something beautiful from scratch.
Someone else’s beauty, of course. Someone else’s fame.
But then, didn’t a great many artists pass through history unrecorded, faceless shadows behind the Old Masters? Who would now remember an apprentice, who painted the nymph’s hands or Madonna’s gown?…
Besides, it wasn’t as if there was too much for Hester to create. Her Lucy was a pleasure to look after…
In more ways, than one.
The reassuring sound of the sewing machine working couldn’t quieten these thoughts. They intruded in all the routines of the day; they grew, leading her astray.
It was as if Hester was once again cycling down the hill and feeling the wind roaring in her ears; only this time the brakes were broken, and the map was lost, and the landscape around her was dark.
Where did you get yourself into, little Hettie, the reasonable daughter, her mother’s pride? And how will you find your way back?
Do you even want to?
Annabel is a London-based PR professional and a self-professed history geek. Her other allegiances include swing music, strong tea and travelling around Europe