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Jake eyed them both with barely concealed astonishment, but he said nothing.
“What about Jéhan?” Manon asked. “Could we not take him into the room also?”
“I want to sleep with the other men!” Jéhan protested. “Jake is my friend, and I have to watch over him!”
Manon saw her uncle’s sweet smile curve his lips before he answered, “Of course you must, my boy! Jake will watch over you also; will you not, Jake?”
“Yes, master, I will. Rest assured, miss, he is safe with me.”
Manon pressed Jake’s hand in gratitude, glad that the young man had sensed her anxiety over her brother.
“It would ruin our scheme of deception if we were to take him with us,” Richard whispered. “You understand that, do you not, niece?”
“Yes, I do, Uncle. So, how do we proceed?”
“Just follow me up when I summon you,” her uncle replied.
They finished their repast in silence, and afterwards Richard made a great show of rising from the table and making a hand gesture towards Manon. Amidst the snickering of the other guests, she followed Richard upstairs to a lofty room. Her gaze fell upon the large four-poster bed, which dominated the entire space. She froze, swallowed, and began to tremble with a trepidation she had never experienced before in her life.
“Have no fear, niece. I shall go to the tap room for a last drink whilst you prepare yourself for bed.”
Richard strode towards the bed and picked up a blanket and a pillow.
“I shall sleep on the floor,” he said, and tossed the items behind the screen in the corner. “There,” he joked, “you will not even know I am in the room. I promise not to snore.”
Manon gratefully smiled at him, as he left the room.
Her uncle was such a kind and thoughtful man, Manon reflected. She had only seen a similar kindness once before, and that was in her own father. The way Richard always put her needs before anything else was the way her father had been towards her mother, too. The way Richard watched her at all times, as if he were afraid something might happen to her, had been the same caring concern her father had shown her mother.
While she was donning her nightclothes, after a much-needed wash at the stand in the corner, Manon fretted over the disturbing feelings she was rapidly developing towards Richard. In the past days, she had forced herself to call him “Uncle” stubbornly refusing to reflect on other terms concerning him. That was who he was – her uncle, her mother’s brother, even though all she could see was a strong, extremely handsome, and brave gentleman in the very prime of his life. They were only seven years apart, despite being of different generations. Manon realised that, had she met Richard under different circumstances and not known he was her uncle, she would have easily fallen in love with him. He was a wonderfully loveable man, was Richard.
Feeling utterly disheartened by this whole impossible situation, she climbed onto the high mattress of the bed and slid under the covers, pulling them high under her chin. Soon, he would be coming up. How would she be able to sleep, knowing he was in the same room, only a few yards away? She was certain to lie awake all night, listening to his breathing, waiting for… oh, heavens! Waiting for what, she dared not hope. She felt the acute conviction that her feelings for Richard were utterly disturbing. And forbidden, too. Oh, merciful Lord … she loved Richard de Briers!
With a muffled cry, she sat up. No, no, no! This could not be happening, it was too appalling for words, too sinful! What was she to do? She was cursed!
Downstairs, in the nearly empty taproom, Richard sat staring into his ale, his head full of passionate reflections of the very young woman upstairs. It was no good trying to deceive himself. He was in love with the lively, beautiful, and sweet creature that was Manon. How had this happened? He was no green boy, freshly out of the schoolroom, for God’s sake! He was a distinguished and wealthy country gentleman, sought after by numerous mamas who hoped he would show an interest in their daughters. Many of them were even more beautiful than Manon, and English to boot. Many of them had their own fortune, were lively and sweet, and were eager to become Bearsham Manor’s next baronetess. Why, he had even considered his neighbour, the Honourable Miss Adèle Brinslay of Bishop’s Keep, as a suitable bride, and he had been sorely tempted to make her an offer. Miss Adèle was the daughter of Sir Eustace Brinslay, a dear friend of his father since childhood. She was stunning, with golden waves of silken hair and the clearest blue eyes one could imagine. They were the colour of a summer sky in the morning, and combined with a perfect complexion, a heart-shaped face, a pert little nose and a rosebud of a mouth, Miss Adèle was fit to capture any man’s heart, conquer it and keep it in her small hands forever.
At eighteen, Richard had thought himself in love with the captivating young miss of fifteen, but the feeling had not lasted through his Cambridge years, where other female temptations had lured him.
He knew for certain, however, that what he felt for Miss Adèle was but a bleak, shallow part of what he was harbouring now for Manon. She had courage, spirit, endurance and a savvy intellect he had never witnessed in other women. Manon was an unbearably sweet torture.
With a sigh, Richard finished his ale and went upstairs, bravely repressing all disturbing thoughts that inhabited his brain. Manon would be sound asleep, by now, he mused. He would stretch out on the floor behind the screen, without bothering to undress. And he would assiduously strive not to look at the bed.
Just as he reached the top of the stairs, the door to his room opened, and Manon emerged, fully clothed and carrying her travel bag.
“Where are you going?” Richard blurted out, startling her with his accusing tone.
“My conscience will not allow me to stay the night in your room, Uncle,” Manon replied, eyes downcast and cheeks flushed. “Please, let me return to the common room.”
“Why, Manon? Why would you lay yourself open to danger when you can be safe with me?”
To his utmost sorrow, Richard saw tears rolling down her cheeks. She was weeping! Why? What had transpired while he was downstairs?
“What is it, Manon? Please, tell me,” he urged, thinking she was going to let propriety stand in the way. “We do this only to keep you alive and unmolested. I hope you understand that.” Down deep, Richard knew that was not the only reason..
“I…I feel so greatly confused,” she sobbed. “I do not know what to do. I feel that I am damned and that my happiness is lost.” She dropped her bag and raised her hands to her face, sobbing into them. Her whole fragile body was trembling, and the sight of her ripped through Richard’s heart with a painful force.
“Come,” he said softly, taking her bag and guiding her back into the room. “We must talk, and you will tell me all.”
Manon allowed herself to be seated in front of the empty hearth, already feeling comforted by her uncle’s compassionate tone. He knelt before her, gently taking her hands in his.
“What is the matter, dearest? Is it me? Have I accidentally hurt you? Do you feel unsafe with me?”
Manon’s eyes flew towards his in shock. “Oh, no, Uncle! Not you! You could never hurt me, you are the soul of gentleness! No, it is my stupid ignorance of the world and all its doings. Forgive me for behaving so childishly. I will endeavour to keep my composure from now on.”
His endearment, uttered so sweetly, still rang in Manon’s ears and caused her pulse to race madly. How she adored the way he was looking at her just now, concern and avuncular affection burning in his gaze. What a devilish creature she was, allowing her heart to be filled with such feelings of a forbidden love.
She rose. “I will go now,” she whispered. “You are our anchor during this journey. In the morning, you need to be rested, because we all depend on your strength and intelligence.”
Richard also rose from his knees and said, “Oh, and how will I manage to sleep in peace, when I know you are alone in the common room? This is what we will do, since we both need to be at the full capacity of our strength; we will both sleep in the bed, but fully clothed and above the covers. The night is warm enough for us to do so. We will talk some more until we get tired, and then we will sleep. I know we will.” His control would have to be stalwart but he would try anything to keep her safe in his room.
The earnest expression in his blue-grey eyes convinced her, and Manon nodded. They stretched out on the bed, a small distance away from each other, so that they were not touching anywhere. Strangely enough, Manon felt once again at ease, and when her uncle began inquiring about how she fared after her strenuous first day of riding, she was able to reassure him that she was fine.
“Good,” he said, “now that we are on horseback, we can proceed much quicker on our journey than before. I hope to reach Boulogne by three days hence. The distance we have to cover is fifty-six miles, and at our current speed, we are bridging seventeen miles a day.”
“I like riding,” Manon smiled. “I would like to learn it the way I ought to, once I am in England.”
After a small pause, she continued, “What will my life be like, Uncle? How will I spend my days?”
Richard had no immediate answer to her question, so he reflected on it for a while. At long last, he said, “You are of an age that you will begin to seek a husband, Manon. I hope you realise that. I will have to provide you with a female companion who will introduce you to English society, with all its rules and traps. You will have to learn how to run a large house and manage its inhabitants, because that will be your task once you are married.” God! These words I speak to her are cutting to me. I cannot think of her with another man, Richard thought.
She sat up at once, hugged herself and huffed, “You must think me a very coarse person indeed, and unfit for polite society. I do know how to behave, Uncle; have no fear. Maman taught me, and you will agree with at least, that she was a true gentlewoman!”
“Manon,” Richard said, sitting up and turning her towards him, “you misunderstand me. Of course, you are fit for any society you would like to belong to. My offer of a companion was not only given because you must learn the English way, but also because society demands that you have a proper chaperone when attending soirées and balls.”
“Oh … forgive me, Uncle; I had not thought so far ahead,” his niece said in a little voice.
“No, do not apologize, dearest. But you will have to learn to control that feisty temper of yours. I love it when you are brazen, but others might take offence.”
He had said it again, Manon registered with a shock. Again, he had called her by a name that was only associated with affairs of the heart. Her blood was coursing through her veins in a frenzy; her skin was beginning to feel hot. She lifted her eyes to his. Shock struck her when she saw the deep feelings that lingered there. For a few interminable moments, they gazed into each other’s eyes, exchanging what was in their hearts. Time stood still. Then, with every ounce of effort he had, Richard tore himself away and turned his back to her, saying, “We should sleep now, niece. Tomorrow will be a tiring day. Goodnight.”
Manon swallowed the lump in her throat, then returned his wish.
Mini series coming this year. First trailer. Click title for large screen video.
‘WHITE PRINCESS’ EPIC SERIES
WHITE QUEEN is officially getting a new season but just on Starz, since BBC has opted out of the project (European audience didn’t like it as much as the US one). Following the previous season in which Rebecca Ferguson played the WHITE QUEEN, new eight part series, also based on Philippa Gregory book THE WHITE PRINCESS charts the rise of the House of Tudor through the tortuous marriage between Princess Elizabeth of York and King Henry Tudor. The year is 1485 and Princess Elizabeth has been pledged in marriage to the newly anointed King Henry Tudor in hopes that it will bring peace to a war-torn country. England is united, but their marriage is soon divided, as rumours circulate that Elizabeth’s long-lost brother Prince Richard is alive and planning to take the throne. Now she must choose between Tudor wife and York princess, between her new husband and the boy who claims to be her own blood and the true heir to the crown.
Longpré was reached in the late afternoon, and the travellers were all exhausted, hungry and downtrodden. They hid in the surrounding woods while Jake went into the village. He was the least conspicuous of them all; he could pass as a harmless farmhand.
Jéhan was fast asleep, his head on Manon’s lap. She gently brushed the boy’s auburn hair from his brow, a gesture that went straight to Richard’s heart.
“You both have Lily’s colouring, Manon,” he said, his voice a bit hoarse, “and she was the image of her own mother, Lady Elizabeth. There is a large portrait of her in Bearsham Manor’s great hall. Your mother’s picture is in my library, where I can look at it while I work. I loved your mother very much, Manon. I was but a child when she left, yet I acutely felt her absence for years. When my father informed me of her demise, five years ago, I was downcast for months.”
“Your father informed you? How can that be? How did he know?”
“Our fathers kept up a correspondence, apparently. They started it soon after Thibaut Favier settled himself in Paris with Lily. My father, though heartbroken because she ran away with his valet, never stopped loving his daughter. I learned of the connection between our fathers when your mother died giving birth to Jéhan. After my father’s death, I found the letters in his desk. You may read them, if you wish it.”
“Thank you, Uncle; I know for certain I will enjoy reading them. So my father wrote to yours for years? He never told me.”
“My father, your grandfather adored Lily, just like I did. Lily was …”
He stopped, and in his eyes, Manon could see a dreamy sadness. “Lily was beautiful,” he went on. “Not just pretty, but truly exquisite, with her wavy hair the colour of the purest copper and her sparkling green eyes. She was smart, lively, and sweet. Graceful she was, with a natural elegance, combined with a perfect figure.”
“Maman was always perfect in everything she did. Papa was devastated when she died, and we missed her terribly. I talk about her to Jéhan whenever I think of her. It is a shame that my brother never knew her.”
“We will show him her picture when we reach my home.”
“Your home …” Manon whispered, as if the words meant something unreachable for her.
“Yes,” Richard replied, a sudden constriction in his throat at the forlorn expression on her face. “Bearsham Manor, which will be your home and Jéhan’s from now on, Manon.”
“So I will never see Paris again? How will we fare in England, Jéhan and I? It is another country, another language.”
“I will hire a tutor for Jéhan, to prepare him for a decent boarding school. He has to learn English, of course, and so do you.”
Manon bowed her head so that her uncle would not see her face. She was inwardly debating if she should tell him that she already spoke his language. After what he had done for her the previous night, she knew she could trust him unquestionably. Her decision made, she looked up and said, in perfect English, “No need for language lessons for me, Uncle. Maman insisted that I should learn her mother tongue to perfection.”
Her slight French accent was the arrow that struck him, Richard realised. She was irresistible with those finely clipped consonants and those stretched vowels. As if she had not been utterly striking and charming already. She had pulled her bow and pierced his heart.
“Why did you not tell me before?” he asked, in a voice hoarse with emotion. The answer mattered to him, for some reason.
She shrugged, then smiled. “You were a stranger. I did not trust you, but I do now. Since last night, when you saved me.”
Before Richard could go further into that topic, they both heard Jake’s whistle. He had returned with fortunate news.
“There is this farmer called Bontemps, master,” Jake grinned. “He was part of a gang that raided the local squire’s manor after the family fled. Now he is stranded with four thoroughbreds, and he has no inkling what to do with them. Their upkeep costs him an arm and a leg, he says. I figure we could relieve him of at least two horses.”
“Good, that is what we will do. Listen, Jake, there is no need to speak French anymore, except with the boy. Miss Manon is fluent in English.”
Jake looked at Manon with delight. “She is? Oh, that’s capital! I was growing tired of having to speak the damn …”
“Jake!” Richard threatened, but with a grin on his face.
“Sorry, miss! I was about to speak nonsense, of course!”
“It is of no consequence, Jake. You are my friend, so you may speak to me about whatever you like.”
Richard cleared his throat, waking Jéhan in the process. The boy peered around sleepily before he said, “I am terribly hungry, Manon. When will we have breakfast?”
“Soon, mon chou,” his sister answered in French. “For now, you must pay attention to what our uncle is planning.”
“We must change tack,” Richard explained. “When we buy the horses, it will be under a different disguise. I will pose as a wealthy Parisian shopkeeper, and the three of you as my servants. Having just acquired a large house in Paris from a former aristocrat, I am in need of skilled horses. You, Jake, will do the talking, as I, your master, will be too haughty to speak to riffraff. Manon and Jéhan, you will be there to serve me and see to it that I have everything I need while on the journey. It will be just a pretence, in case someone is nosy enough to ask who we all are. The keyword is haughty. Do not offer information, not even when you are asked, unless it is by soldiers. If that happens, Jake will do the talking. Are we ready? I am counting on you, friends!”
They readily pulled it off, the farmer being all too keen to sell three of the horses, for which he was handsomely paid by Richard. Richard rode the largest animal, a big black hunter of seventeen hands by the name of César. Jake had a much smaller bay gelding who answered to the name Cyrano, and Manon, with Jéhan behind her, was to ride a placid chestnut mare named Mélissande.
Richard had decided on three horses so that they could carry their travel bags and food supply more conveniently. Manon, who could not ride, received a quick, elementary riding lesson, with regard to her position in the sidesaddle and how to find and maintain her balance.
“I hope you will manage, Manon,” her uncle said. “We will go slowly, and you must ride beside me. I noticed that the mare and my own steed are comfortable with each other. When you stay at my steed’s side, Mélissande will be more at ease.”
“I will manage, Uncle. Have no fear.”
After a much-deserved breakfast at the only inn Longpré boasted, they repaired to the main road and covered the ten miles to Abbeville in time for dinner and a bed in one of the inns. Abbeville was smaller than Beauvais, with a population of eighteen thousand. In one part of the city, nearly a thousand houses had been destroyed twenty years before when the ammunition depot exploded. A hundred and fifty people had been killed and trice as many had been gravely injured. The gaping holes where the houses had been had not yet been filled in with new ones.
According to what they had agreed upon earlier, the travellers acted as a company of servants to a Parisian bourgeois. Understandably, they dressed in character. Richard donned his breeches and riding boots, and his frock coat, with white shirt, black waistcoat and cravat. He wore his beaver hat and riding gloves and made use of a riding crop. Jake was dressed in modest but well-cut attire, with buckled shoes instead of boots, and a tricorne hat. Jéhan kept his own Parisian clothes, which were suitable for a servant lad and Manon donned one of the gowns her uncle had purchased. It was a morning dress of pale blue cotton with a navy blue bodice. Over her auburn curls, which she had pinned up in a bun at the nape of her neck, she wore a mob cap. That way, she could hide the too noticeable beauty of her long, shining locks in order to avoid unwanted attention. With her eyes downcast and her hands demurely folded in front of her, she truly looked the part.
Jake haughtily requested a private room for his master, Messire Jean-François Breton, master draper of Paris, and three beds in the common room for himself and his companions. While they were having their supper, Richard softly spoke to Manon in French.
“I must ask you to trust me once more, niece. I am not at ease with the riffraff that is staying here, tonight. In the common room, you will doubtless be bothered again. As a gentleman, I cannot allow that. You must stay the night in my room so that I can watch over you.”
Richard paused to look at Manon’s reaction, but she merely nodded.
“You know what people will think, do you not?”
“Yes,” she stated, looking him in the eye, “they will assume that you take your maidservant to bed. I do not care what they think, Uncle. I am ever so grateful that I will be safe and can have a decent night’s rest.”
Fans of talented and attractive British actors, get ready: BBC America is about to capture your attention with its new show London Spy. now ending The five-part series stars notable British actors Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, and Charlotte Rampling, but London Spy also features Edward Holcroft. The series already aired in the U.K., and, while the newcomer Holcroft may not be too familiar to American audiences right now, there is reason to expect that the young actor’s career is about to to pick up some serious momentum — and it could all start with this BBC show.
According to the show’s synopsis on the BBC America website, London Spy tells the story of Danny (Whishaw), a frequent party-goer, who falls fast in love with Alex (Holcroft), a brilliant introvert. The relationship takes a mysterious turn, though, when Alex goes missing under suspicious circumstances and Danny decides to pursue the case.
“It’s a challenge that every actor dreams of, to play someone that is so not like you,” Holcroft told Harper’s Bazaar about playing Alex. “It has been hard, but it’s a learning experience, a really enjoyable one, and I feel like I am pushing myself.” But, just because Holcroft takes his role seriously doesn’t mean he takes himself too seriously. He joked about the popularity of British actors in America recently in an interview with Rollacoster magazine. “I think Hollywood will wise up soon and realise we’re all pretty sh*t,” he said.
Holcroft also told Rollacoster that he plans on keeping an “air of mystery” about himself, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t able to find out a little bit more about this rising star. Ahead of London Spy’s Jan. 21 premiere, here are a few things to know about the actor.
If you hadn’t heard of Edward Holcroft before, don’t feel too bad since his film and TV career is still growing with only six projects listed on his IMDb page to date. His first films were in 2014 with Vampire Academy and Kingsman: The Secret Service, the latter in which he played the rival of the lead character Eggsy. In 2015, he was in the acclaimed miniseries Wolf Hall as George Boleyn and in the TV film Lady Chatterly’s Lover. And, after this BBC America miniseries, Holcroft will next be seen in The Sense of an Ending, with London Spy co-stars Broadbent and Rampling.
Just because Holcroft is pretty new to American audiences doesn’t mean he isn’t an experienced actor. He is currently in the stage adaptation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in London with Dominic West and Janet McTeer, which will be broadcast to some movie theaters (including those in the U.S.) starting on Jan. 28, thanks to National Theatre Live. Before landing that prominent gig, Holcroft earned a masters in acting at University of the Arts: London, and he starred as Romeo in a 2011 stage production of Romeo and Juliet.
Holcroft was the subject of celebrity gossip in the summer of 2015 when he dated Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriend — model, dancer, and actress Cressida Bonas. But, only a few months later, the pair broke up.
Screen International releases its U.K. Stars of Tomorrow every year and, in 2014, Holcroft was among the young actors named. Along with Game of Thrones‘ Maisie Williams and his Kingsman co-star Taron Egerton, Holcroft is part of a group of talented young British thespians who are expected to make waves in Hollywood.
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The Daily Mail referred to Holcroft as the “son of Worcestershire’s Lord Lieutenant Patrick Holcroft and his wife Annie, the publishing director of Vanity Fair.” That might possibly be the most British and classiest explanation of parentage I’ve ever read.
Holcroft may be new to the American viewership, but London Spy‘s BBC America premiere on Thursday is sure to help his career in Hollywood really take off.
Images: Joss Barratt, Ed Miller/WTTV Limited; 20th Century Fox; Masterpiece