The Lady and Her Quill by Ruth A. Casie
Lady Alicia Hartley clutched the heavy parcel under her arm and hurried along Fleet Street through the thick fog. She took scant notice of the people rushing past her or the church bells chiming noon. New ideas fluttered and flittered through her mind. Success had led to opportunities she never dreamt possible until now. Her lips pursed as she tried to suppress a satisfied smile.
Caution.The small inner voice broke through her dreaming and her brows knitted together. Don’t be reckless.
Alicia rubbed the amber stone she wore around her neck. The pendant was a gift from her father.
Confidence is everything, though, was one of Mrs. Bainbridge’s guiding principles.
It started with Miss Whitlock. Since Alicia was a little girl, Miss Greta Whitlock had been her governess. Alicia was fond of the tall, pleasant woman who at times was more like an older sister. Some of her best memories were sitting in the window seat in the attic room, staring at the sea and just talking about hopes, aspirations, dreams, and well, everything. Nothing was prohibited. If anything, the woman encouraged her to be an independent thinker and draw her own conclusions.
Alicia soon became proficient in drawing, needlecraft, music, and dance. While only a passing knowledge of French and Italian was expected, Alicia excelled past songs and snippets of poems and stories presented in the romantic languages. Her natural curiosity eventually drove her to acquire fluency in both, and proficiency in Greek and Latin.
Her schooling included the practical study of household management that went beyond managing the staff and counting the silver, but also included training in hiring, purchasing, and gardening.
Decorum ruled a lady’s life from her core to her habits. Nothing less was tolerated. Everything she did was scrutinized and criticized, but Miss Whitlock had done her job well.
They spent hours in the attic at her desk and looked forward to those days her father was not home. He agreed she could use his library when it wasn’t occupied. She sat at the large table, surrounded by books, and enjoyed their sweet, musky scent.
Of all the subjects, her true love was writing – taking the actions, colors, sounds, and emotions of imaginary people and places she conjured in her mind and translating them into words for others to read and enjoy.
She had all but driven Miss Whitlock dizzy with her thirst for knowledge and her quest to improve her writing.
By the time she was fifteen, she mastered all the acceptable subjects a young woman was expected to learn and others some people would think unnecessary, a waste of time, or worse, scandalous.
With her parents’ agreement, her governess sometimes submitted her essays to the village paper, the Sommer Sentinel. Mr. Leon Hawkins, the elderly owner, enjoyed her short story about Margaret’s Miracle, a long-held folk tale about the village mayor’s daughter Margaret and a Scottish trader. It was a reflective essay that spoke about the tale and introduced ideas based on facts she researched.
Hawkins also printed her more creative pieces. One in particular, her story that featured an upper-class lady and her plight in London society, had been very well received.
“You make me proud,” Miss Whitlock had said, standing next to her at the library table, her hands clasped in front of her.
Proud.Alicia glowed brighter than the light from the oil lamp at the compliment.
“Put your books away and bundle up. It’s bitterly cold out, and we’re going to the tearoom today.”
It was an innocent excursion. One they had made many times before. One she thoroughly enjoyed. Or was it the biscuits that drew her there?
When they arrived at the tearoom, Miss Whitlock led the way to a table by the window, where they joined another woman.
“Honoria, I’d like to introduce you to Lady Alicia Hartley.”
Miss Whitlock turned to her.
“Lady Alicia, this is my dear friend, Mrs. Honoria Bainbridge.”
Everyone knew Mrs. Bainbridge – if not in person, then most definitely by reputation. She was the head of the Sommer-by-the-Sea Female Seminary, an elite school that every girl in the district, if not all of England, wanted to attend.
One didn’t apply to the seminary. Admittance was only by Mrs. Bainbridge’s personal invitation.
She and Miss Whitlock took their seats. Tea was already laid and waiting for them. At first, Alicia thought she would be a silent observer and given an opportunity to occasionally add her voice to the conversation.
Instead, she sat at the table as if she was a pane of glass, one both women saw right through. As tea progressed, she became anxious, and she had no idea why.
“Lady Alicia.” Pulled from her star-gazing, she faced Mrs. Bainbridge. “Have you seen the London papers? Edmund Kean has signed a contract with Drury Lane. He is to play Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. They are expecting a comedy,” Mrs. Bainbridge said as she picked up her teacup. “What do you think of the play?”
It was a straightforward question.
One she was prepared for. She had studied Shakespeare and knew the play. “To me, the play is a drama, especially when Portia, disguised as a lawyer, begs Shylock to show mercy to Antonio. Her speech on the quality of mercy is dramatic and moving.” Alicia took a breath and leaned forward, eager to go on. “The characters are sensitive and engaging. I don’t see this play as a comedy. Although, I do think there are scenes where Shakespeare inserts comic elements to provide relief for the story’s tension. But is the play a comedy? Not to me.”
Mrs. Bainbridge smiled and gazed at her thoughtfully, then turned to Miss Whitlock.
“With the cold temperatures this last month, the Thames has frozen. There are plans for a frost fair between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge on the first of February.” Mrs. Bainbridge set down her teacup and sighed. “I was a little girl when they had the last one.”
Alicia really didn’t want to talk about Shakespeare or the frost fair. She stared out the window at the cold gray sky and willed herself to stay in her seat.
“I read your story in the Sommer Sentinel.”
Alicia whipped her head around and again faced Mrs. Bainbridge.
“Your story, the experience of a young upper-class woman who must navigate London society for the first time and falls in love with a social superior, was very good. I thoroughly enjoyed the way you re-created the social world. Your characters are sensitive and engaging. I like the way you let your reader experience their distress and tenderness.
“The conflict is well-planned and given with enough context to maintain a good pace and keep your reader turning pages. You are a good storyteller.”
Alicia felt her face flush at the compliment. “Thank you, Mrs. Bainbridge. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.”
“I do see room for growth.”
Alicia stared at the woman and tamped down her annoyance. What was wrong with her writing?
She didn’t think the headmistress would wait long to tell her.
“Draw out the conversations. Just because you know where it is going does not mean your reader does. And give a little more exposition within the narrative itself as an anchor.”
“It is very kind of you to give me some direction. I will certainly keep your comments in mind.”
“I expect you will. I see a young person eager to succeed. You will, you know. You are a gifted storyteller.”
Mrs. Bainbridge gave her a smile, not one of those smiles that didn’t reach the eyes, but a smile that came from her heart.
Alicia took a biscuit and finished her tea. She gave Miss Whitlock a fleeting glance. Her governess sat proudly by as she engaged in a conversation with Mrs. Bainbridge.
She liked her governess, but she wanted to learn more. In truth, she longed to be under Mrs. Bainbridge’s tutelage. The headmistress worked with her students to create a plan filled with courses that surpassed anything Miss Whitlock could teach. Some were usually only available to men.
Mrs. Bainbridge’s words kept repeating in her head.
You are a gifted storyteller.
With tea over and the snow beginning to fall, they said their good-byes and departed.
“What do you think of Mrs. Bainbridge?” Miss Whitlock asked as they walked along the river.
“She’s an excellent judge of writing talent.”
Miss Whitlock stared at her for a heartbeat or two before she burst out laughing. “Yes, she is,” she concluded. “And I think she gave you excellent advice.”
Mr. Dodd, the butler, opened the door as they reached it.
Alicia and Miss Whitlock went into the drawing room, laughing like schoolgirls. The soft scent of violet on the air announced her mother was present.
“Did you have a nice outing?” Lady Hartley said, looking over her spectacles as she stitched a sampler.
“It was wonderful. We had tea with Mrs. Bainbridge. And I was careful, I didn’t spill my cup and I only took one biscuit.”
Lady Hartley smiled and put down her stitching. “Yes, I know you can be quite civil when you put your mind to it.”
“Mrs. Bainbridge complimented me on my essay that was in the Sentinel.”
“Then she must have good literary taste,” her mother said. “Before I forget, you received a letter.”
“It must be from Hattie in London. She told me she’d write to tell me when she was returning to Sommer-by-the-Sea.” Alicia took the dispatch from the salver and opened the letter.
She took a seat next to her mother, read the contents, then stared at the note without saying a word.
“Alicia, is anything wrong? I’ve never seen you so quiet,” her mother said, glancing at Miss Whitlock.
Alicia looked at her governess, then her mother.
“What is it?” her mother asked.
“It’s an invitation.” Her heart was beating so loud she was sure her mother could hear it. She lifted her chin. “Mrs. Bainbridge has invited me to be a student at the Sommer-by-the-Sea Female Seminary.”
Looking back, shehad no idea that tea with Mrs. Bainbridge would change her life. That was seven years ago. She spent five wonderful years at the Sommer Female Seminary learning everything she could. Now, two years later, she still heard Mrs. Bainbridge’s words warning caution.
She clutched the parcel to her chest. This completed project was a good one. Better than her last. As soon as she presented it to Mr. Caulfield, he too would be enthusiastic.
Remain calm. Be gracious and pleasant but remain firm.
By the time she had mentally repeated the words several times, her doubts quieted. Of course, Caulfield would bargain. She would remind him their past achievements were for the most part her doing. She no longer wanted to sell her story to Caulfield Publishing for a fee and receive nothing beyond that. Her books sold well and made a profit, but only for Caulfield.
The sales gave her the confidence to ask for a change in their financial arrangement on this last book in her contract. She would gladly pay all the production costs for publication. Caulfield Publishing would distribute them and get ten percent from the profits, a reasonable and more equitable financial arrangement. It would also give her more control of her work. She pressed her parcel closer to her chest. If he wouldn’t budge, there was the letter that arrived in yesterday’s post.
How could he refuse?
Her smile dropped and her step faltered. Question her project, perhaps, but refuse? He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. Would he? A cold chill that had nothing to do with the weather ran up her spine.
A passing carriage startled her, shaking her out of her moment of distraction. Alicia looked about. Temple Church was to her right. Her destination wasn’t much further. She resumed walking, but at a slower pace.
What if he did not agree to her request? She stared at the ground as if by some miracle the answer lay at her feet.
“I admire your conviction, Alicia, but you can’t always have your way. In all things there is a give and take, a bargaining. Coming to a mutual understanding is the way both you and the other person will be successful.”
More wisdom from Mrs. Bainbridge. The woman had an uncanny way of always seeing the truth of a matter.
It would be best for her to be prepared to listen, then bargain. See a way for both she and Mr. Caulfield to come away a winner. Satisfied she had a plan, she quickened her step, eager to come to an agreement with her publisher and present him with her finished manuscript. She crossed Fetter Lane and came to her destination, Number 32.
Alicia entered the building, climbed the stairs, and stood at the door to Caulfield Publishing. Isaac Caulfield was a congenial gentleman for the most part, but occasionally he acted like most men—opinionated, closed-minded, and unrelenting.
Caulfield Publishing was not the first publisher she approached. She had set her sights on the renowned William Lane. With grace, he declined her manuscript and advised her the best and probably only way her story would be published was if she paid to have it printed and sold copies to her family and friends.
As an afterthought, he suggested a small, unknown company, Caufield Publishing.
She returned home heartbroken. Her sister, Beatrice, and brother-in-law, Captain Douglas Elkington, tried to soothe her. She told them Mr. Lane suggested another publisher, one more willing to produce her type of story. It was Elkington’s approval that made her consider the idea. Intent and undeterred, she approached Isaac Caulfield.
He was not enthusiastic when she brought him her first manuscript.
Not at all.
He was ready to reject her story before he read a single word. Desperate, she cajoled him into reading the piece before he passed judgement.
That was two years ago. Now, their business arrangement was a successful one. Earlier this week Caulfield released and sent her fifth book, The Lost Dowry, to the library on Leadenhall Street.
Her triumphs were on her side.
Alicia took a deep breath, straightened her spine, turned the latch, and entered. “Good day, Mr. Caulfield.”
The publisher sprang to his feet.
“Lady Alicia.” He pulled out his pocket watch. “You’re early. What a pleasant surprise. Please, be seated.”
“I apologize for my early arrival, but I am eager to speak with you.”
“Are you here alone?” He came to her side and glanced out the door.
“Yes.” She winced at the trace of defiance in her voice. Another social blunder. Beatrice warned her London propriety was different from that at home in Sommer-by-the-Sea. It amazed her that a different world existed three hundred miles south of the village.
The idea made her teeth itch. Today, Beatrice was otherwise engaged and in truth, Alicia’s patience ran thin waiting for her.
She stepped inside. The office was cramped not because it was small, but because it was in disarray. Everywhere she looked, there were books and papers. Dark walnut bookcases stuffed with unorderly books lined the left side of the room. Light filtered through bedraggled curtains on the large windows to her right. Several stacks of papers filled Mr. Caulfield’s desk, which was positioned in front of the window. Similar bookshelves were on either side of the fireplace on the far wall – but were hidden behind a pile of papers on a second desk across from Caulfield’s. The clutter of papers and books rendered that desk unusable. A modest fire burned in the grate to take off the chill.
She was surprised the entire place didn’t go up in flames.
She stepped with care around crates that littered the floor, removed the London Gazette laying on the chair, and settled into the seat.
“My sister was unavailable to join us. She and her husband are preparing the family for a trip north to join our parents for the village’s Harvest Festival. I wanted to speak to you before we left.”
Had he heard her? She followed his stare. He was focused on the Gazette in her hand. She glanced at his desk, the chair next to her, but there was no place to put it.
“I’m leaving with the family for Sommer-by-the-Sea. I look forward to reading at Mrs. Miller’s Circulating Library. I wanted to thank you for seeing that my books were delivered.”
“You’re most welcome. I’m sure reading small segments of your story will encourage people to either borrow or buy your book. I am glad you’re here. I wanted to speak to you today on another subject. I too, will be leaving London.” He reached for the Gazette. “Here. Let me have the newspaper, if you please.”
Alicia took a quick look at the headline: Missing Walmer Castle Chest Found – Empty?
She glanced at Caulfield’s extended hand. She was about to give the newspaper to him when she spotted a corner of the paper was turned down, exposing the book review page. She opened the paper and stopped.
One review was circled: The Lost Dowry.
She read the article out loud.
“This is the fifth little story by Lady Alicia Hartley. While her other stories held promise, this book does not reach the standards the author established in her previous publications. Perhaps the author’s muse has gone astray. The characters and conflicts inThe Lost Dowryhad potential but only the heroine, who is quite good, shines. It is unfortunate that the others appear to have lost their way. They are forced, mechanical, and obstruct the story. In a word, they are disappointing. In this story…”
Skipping the summary of the plot, she went to the final paragraph.
“She should read J. C. Melrose’sIn My Brother’s Shadowor any of the other eight stories in that series.Thereis an author who evokes a man’s emotion, albeit the author could use some assistance with the female point of view. Can you imagine if these authors combined their skills? They would lay out a plot with characters that would keep you reading until the last page or the last flicker of your candle.”
The newspaper trembled in her hand. She went back to the beginning of the article to find the name of the reviewer. Anonymous.
Her eyes focused on the review. The small quakes and quivers of the paper she held attested to the state of her nerves.
“How did an appraisal of my story turn into a review for…” Her words clipped, her tone chilly, she spoke with as reasonable a voice as she could manage and scanned the article. “J. C. Melrose?”
She lowered the paper. Mr. Caulfield’s lips moved as the empty feeling in her stomach built into a furious storm. She wasn’t aware of anything he said, until his words filtered through at last.
“Lady Hartley, are you listening? Reviews like this are…not unusual. Keep in mind, you can’t please every reader. I’m glad to publish your little stories.”
“Little stories.” Her heart galloped like a horse in the steeple chase. Her hand touched her pendant. Remain calm.
But soothing herself was getting more difficult by the moment. Even rubbing her stone didn’t help now.
People were buying her novels, all of them. Alicia thrust the offensive paper at him.
“Perhaps we should give the readers some time. We plan to publish your next story in the summer. I want to speak to you about my plans for the company. I’ve bought a new press—”
“The plan was for my new story to be published in February. Now you want a delay? Or do you mean to cancel our agreement?”
His face closed, as if guarding a secret. Her heart sank. He accepted this review. He may be tolerating her tirade, but he agreed with Anonymous.
Unable to remain calm a moment longer, she shot him a penetrating glare as she rose, her parcel in hand.
“Not at all.” He sprang to his feet, his chair scraping the floor behind him. “Being an author is not easy, Lady Alicia. I warned you before we began you would be at the mercy of the reading public, a capricious lot. I knew you were persistent and had promise.” He studied her over the rim of his glasses. “I believe you still do, but with the new press I have plans to—”
How often had she heard that insignificant word in front of every variation of the word no, a weapon men used to deny a woman her due?
“This is one review.” Alicia paced the small space in front of his desk. “Caulfield Publishing has published five of my,” she turned and faced him, “‘little stories’ to your financial advantage.”
He gave her a sheepish glance.
“Before I let you read this…” She paused and held up her parcel. “I’ll give your suggestion to delay publishing more thought, then send you my decision.”
As disappointment and despair dimmed her enthusiasm, she questioned what happened to yesterday’s excitement and celebration. The Lost Dowry was in the circulating library. Congratulatory notes from friends were piled on the salver on the foyer table.
And there was the letter.
She couldn’t believe her good fortune when she read William Lane’s message, although Elkington believed it. She had never seen her brother-in-law so excited. He took out the sherry and they all toasted the occasion. But now…her dream was dissolving in front of her eyes.
How could one awful review ruin everything? Mr. Lane would not want to read her manuscript now, and Mr. Caulfield questioned publishing her next story. Remaining calm was out of the question.
Her secret was out. She had done a good job and convinced herself and everyone else Lady Alicia Hartley was an author.
Everyone but one reviewer. Her breath came in small bursts. She stared at the Gazette on his desk and wanted to tear it to pieces.
“Lady Alicia, please sit down. We’ll discuss this and come to a decision that is satisfactory to us both.”
She glanced at the man, remained motionless, and held her words behind her teeth, not trusting herself to speak. Afraid she’d say something she would regret, Alicia turned and marched to the door with as much dignity as possible.
“My ‘little stories,’ as you like to refer to them, are all the rage.”
She grabbed the latch and hoped he didn’t observe her trembling hand or her watery eyes. At the moment, her single thought was to escape.
“Please, come sit and we can discuss our course of action without any—”
“Womanly emotions?” Her voice was heavy with sarcasm.
“No, not at all. I’ve been trying to tell you about some changes.”
“Another time, perhaps. My family is traveling north, and I mustn’t delay.” By all that was holy, she needed to get away from the man.
“I understand. My regards to your sister and brother-in-law.” He called to her as she pulled open the door and collided into a solid obstacle. Startled and thrown off balance, Alicia lost her grip on her parcel and sent the bundle tumbling to the floor.
Strong hands grasped her shoulders to steady her. Alicia’s head snapped up. She stared into concerned gray, silver-streaked eyes. She took a deep breath and was surprised by the scent of lavender and citrus.
“I… I… forgive me, sir.” She lowered her gaze to the gloved hand on her right shoulder and back to his penetrating stare. “Release me, please. I assure you I have recovered.”
The man’s concerned expression vanished, replaced with a humorous glint. He removed his hands and stepped away.
His great coat flowed around him as he bent and retrieved her parcel from the floor. Her shoulders felt the ghost of his strong yet gentle grasp. As he stood, she looked away eager to leave.
“There is nothing to forgive.” He bent his head toward her and handed her the bundle. “I, too, would want to make a fast escape from Mr. Caulfield.”
“Thank you,” she said without any humor, pulling the parcel close.
“My pleasure, I assure you.” The gentleman tipped the brim of his hat.
Alicia turned and rushed down the stairs.
Justin Caulfield enteredhis uncle’s office. He glanced around, but found no place for his hat. He settled on putting it on the stack of books on the mantel.
“Lady Alicia is a determined woman.” Isaac went to the grate for a taper to light his pipe. “And she was correct.”
So, that was the illustrious Lady Alicia Hartley.Ever since his uncle shared the accounts with him, he’d been going on and on about the woman and her so-called little stories. That the man was distressed was an understatement. What had upset him and his treasured author?
“Correct? What do you mean?”
“She is correct that her stories generate a considerable amount of money for the company. I won’t lose her. Her reaction to that review surprised me.” His uncle pointed to the paper. “She’s received other reviews that have not been favorable. But this one upset her.”
Justin picked up the London Gazette.
“Don’t blame yourself. She would have read or heard about this in due course.” He tossed the paper onto the desk without reading the review. “We both are aware reviews are subjective. An author will not please everyone. Did you get my message?” His uncle asked, then looked up at him.
“I found it when I arrived last night. I’m going to visit Lord Barrington in Sommer-by-the-Sea and will make your delivery for you. How did your favorite author react when you told her you were retiring to the country, and a new publisher and editor was taking your place?” Justin leaned over the desk and searched through the papers in the in-basket.
“I tried more than once to tell her my plan, but the woman didn’t give me the opportunity.”
Justin, still bent over the basket, stopped his search and glanced at his uncle.
“You didn’t tell her.”
“Her new manuscript was in that parcel. But she was like a dog with a bone and wouldn’t let go of the review. I suggested we publish the story later in the year, perhaps this summer.”
Justin straightened and put down the papers that were in his hand. “Let me guess. That’s when she rose to her feet and stormed out.”
“Near weeping. I prayed she would keep them at bay. I can’t abide a woman’s tears. I’m certain she doubts my confidence in her writing. But I assure you, I’m quite convinced of her ability. I wanted to inform her of our plans for the company. About you stepping in, but the Gazette review held her full attention.” The man leaned forward with his face flushed in anger. “A dog with a bone, I tell you.”
“Now, now. There is no need to get upset. She is emotional and will come around if she wants her next story published.”
“My intent to delay publishing her story had nothing to do with that… that article.” He pointed to the Gazette. “I wanted the new publisher, you, to work with her on her story.”
“It’s not easy listening to criticism of your work.” He held papers in his hand and stared at the desk. A heartbeat later, he let out an exasperated sigh and returned to his search. “I know. I’ve had my share of disappointing reviews. Whether I work with her or not, I don’t agree with you putting off her publication date. If anything, I would publish her next story ahead of schedule. Releasing a new book close to this review may be to your advantage. If the review is as bad as you say, a new release could encourage curiosity.”
“That may not be a bad idea.” His uncle sat back in his chair. The flush subsided from his face. “I leave the decision up to you and her.”
“You’re not out the door yet.”
“No. I’ll always be close. But dealing with creative people is not easy. Their work is an integral part of them, and at times they are not able to separate their story from themselves. Like the reviewer has his bias, the author has theirs. To them, their work is perfect. Take your writing.”
“My writing? I thought you enjoyed my stories. I write big ones, not little ones.” He teased his uncle. He was halfway through the pile.
“I do enjoy your stories. Big or little, they are excellent. Your understanding of soldiers and the battlefield are exceptional. It’s no surprise to me that Lord Barrington and the Duke of Wellington call on you even though you are no longer in the service. You’re the epitome of a fine Highland warrior.”
Justin, with one eyebrow raised, gave him a sideways glance. “Me? A fine Highland warrior. You’ve been reading too much Walter Scott.” He returned to looking through the papers.
“You mock me? Well, I’m not surprised. You always did underestimate your abilities. Put you in a kilt with a claymore in your hand, and your bloodline will show. It did on the battlefield. You were fierce – a force few men wanted to cross. But it is much more than your broad chest and handsome knees. There is another side to the Justin Caulfield I know.”
“And what is that other side?” he asked, chuckling, still digging through the pile of papers.
“There is a very human side to you. I remember the rambunctious lad who filched tarts from the kitchen, ran the fields with his friends, and stood up to those who thought to bully him. You weren’t fast to take to your fists, no. You tried to settle things with words. But when needed, you stood up for yourself and others. You never backed down. You’ve grown to understand what drives people. You don’t abuse it, but rather, you help them to be their best. It is what makes you a good leader… and you bring all that knowledge and expertise to your stories. However, even they have room for improvement.” His uncle glanced briefly at the door. “You could learn a few things from Lady Alicia. It says as much in the London Gazette.”
Justin picked up the paper and searched for his book on the review page.
“Where? There is no review of my story here.” He gave his uncle a questioning stare.
“Read the review for The Lost Dowry. The reviewer mentioned you as well.” The publisher pointed to the paper in his hand. “The last paragraph.”
The room was quiet except for the fire snapping in the grate. His uncle worked on the papers in front of him while Justin read the review.
“Anonymous likes my Captain Mallory well enough.” Justin’s mouth curved into an unconscious smile as he continued reading.
His amusement quickly died. He lowered his hand to his side still holding the Gazette.
“By all that is holy,” he said, his Scottish brogue unmistakable in his words. “What does he mean, I need assistance with the female point of view?”
A mention in a review of her book? Not even a review of the entire story. He reeled as he re-read the paragraph and grasped the meaning. Rubbish. Learn from Lady Alicia? An absurd idea. He gave an indifferent chuckle, returned the paper to his uncle, and continued to search the basket while he seethed.
“You laugh. Read her stories. Especially her last—”
“The one with the scathing review?” Justin interrupted, not lifting his head.
“Read it, Justin, and you will understand my meaning. She portrays her female characters in a unique manner.”
“How do you accept a review from someone who is ashamed to use his name, or…” Justin picked up his head and gave his uncle a questioning glance. “Do you know who wrote it?”
“I spoke with Herbert, the editor of the Gazette. Questioned him about the review. He confided one of their trusted reviewers wrote the piece.”
“Could Anonymous be a competitive author?”
Would an author question a fellow writer’s work publicly for their own gain? The idea was not impossible.
“No. Not at all. This was a constructive review.” Uncle Isaac sat in his leather chair with an air of authority. His adamant response startled Justin.
The man protected the woman as if she were his own daughter. Justin had no intention of conducting business in such a manner when he took over the reins.
Where is that list?He didn’t have time to spend all day here.
“What are you pecking around for?” His uncle pulled his chair closer to the desk.
“The titles of the books you wanted me to deliver to Mrs. Miller.”
“I’ve sent the list to the press room and asked that the books be bundled and ready for you tomorrow. Pick them up on the press floor before you leave in the morning.”
He put the papers in his hand back into the basket.
“I’m finished here. I’ll see you when I return from Sommer-by-the-Sea.” Justin stood and retrieved his hat from the mantel.
“You have my thanks.”
“What are you thanking me for? Your request was not inconvenient. I already had plans to stay there.” Justin glanced at him. The man was full of surprises today.
“Mrs. Miller has a solid business and increases her orders with us each month.”
Justin inclined his head and murmured, “She’s an important client and needs special care.”
“True, but my gratitude extends beyond you delivering the books. Your idea to purchase a new iron press was brilliant. The men were spending more time repairing the old one than printing. The quality of the books, as well as the quantity, is much improved as well.
“I had no one to take over the company. That is, until you came to us. Your stories, your leadership, and your ideas proved to me you were the perfect person to succeed me. I decided then and there I would leave you with everything in place, the authors and updated equipment. I’m eager to see how you will grow the company.”
Justin had suggested the purchase months ago. However, once his uncle approached him to be his successor, he was sure his plans had changed. Justin saw his responsibility as winding down Caulfield Publishing.
Buying a new press was not the action of a man closing his business.
No one was more surprised than he was when he met Lord Stanhope at White’s. His lordship told him all about the hard bargain his uncle struck with him.
“And that’s not all. Your Aunt Lavinia is making demands on my time, and I haven’t yet retired. I’ve worked hard to make Caulfield Publishing a success. You are loyal and worthy to be my successor. I leave the business in your capable hands. Now, be off with you before I say something sentimental.”
Justin hesitated a moment before he put on his hat, avoiding his uncle’s stare, afraid the man would see his shameful expression.
“Have a safe trip,” his uncle said. He picked up a manuscript from the stack on his desk and began to read.
He loved his uncle for his encouragement, support, and sincerity. He built a small but mighty company that was sound, from the work he produced to the income he made. This turn of events was unforeseen.
Loyal. Worthy. Capable hands.
Justin closed the door behind him. His blood turned cool as he went down the stairs. He left the building and at the corner, removed a letter from his pocket.
His uncle pushed him to be more ambitious with his writing.
“Seek out a publisher who can get you places I can’t.”
He could have strangled the man for sending Lane his manuscript without telling him.
The unsolicited message from William Lane Publishing informed him that he was one of two authors under consideration for the last position on their list. The message came at the right time, or so he thought. He had to find another publisher with Caulfield Publishing closing. This was the opportunity he and his uncle had spoken about months ago.
He glanced up at the office window. His uncle never planned to close the company. He walked on. What was he to do now?