Open Road Media 2015
(first published by Frederick Warne, 1982)
In this powerful young adult historical fiction classic, a young man serving a sad and secretive lady in an isolated English manor makes a shocking discovery that could destroy those he loves.
Young Geraint does not know what to expect when he enters the remote, crumbling estate of Rhuddesmere. The unloved illegitimate son of the cold and scheming Baron of Wallestoke, Geraint has been sent to serve the beautiful, melancholy lady of the house and her brilliant, crippled son, and the warm welcome he receives surprises and pleases him greatly.
But even as his affection grows for these strangers who have accepted him without question, the boy becomes ever more troubled with the passing of days. A suffocating atmosphere of tension and mystery surrounds this place and its mistress. When Geraint stumbles on the dark secret that the Lady of Rhuddesmere so carefully guards, he is forced to flee, setting in motion a series of devastating events that could have dire consequences for everyone who dwells within the castle walls.
The Lady of Rhuddesmere bridges the gap between historical fiction for youth and adults with a chillingly provocative Gothic tale that sheds a stark, revealing light on human cruelty, ignorance, and intolerance.
- A Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Nominee -
Riveting historical fiction…a compelling, suspenseful read, with fine accuracy and integration of historical detail.
- School Library Journal -
The time, setting, and situation are not often encountered in juvenile literature, and the story is well plotted…There’s much to be said for the novel’s broad canvas.
- Booklist -
Seldom is a title so striking in its suspense and simultaneously so thought-provoking as The Lady of Rhuddesmere…If one were to choose only one novel as leisure reading material, this would rate high on the list of “best” choices.
- Midwest Book Review -
Well written and believable…An exciting novel with the frightening message of how close man’s inhumanity rides to the surface.
- Provident Book Finder-
A spine-chilling story…a dramatic demonstration of what happens in a society that is intolerant of knowledge and differing beliefs.
- The Reading Teacher -
The doorway seethed with people: The innkeeper and his wife, flanked by hovering serving maids and grooms. Excitedly the keeper rushed to the baron’s horse, bowing and scraping–I suppose he did not often have so important a guest. The baron ignored him. He dismounted and strode into the inn, brushing past those in his way as if they did not exist.
Not quite sure what to do, I loitered outside the private room into which the baron had been shown, leaning against the wall and dreading the interview before me. After a time the innkeeper returned, accompanied by a serving girl carrying a tray loaded with food, wine, and ale.
“My lord wishes to see you now,” the innkeeper told me when he and the girl came out again.
I waited till they were out of sight before I pushed open the door and slipped inside. I dropped to my knees before the baron, bowing my head. There was a silence. I could feel him looking at me, measuring me, finding me wanting.
“Get up, boy,” he said.
I rose. The room was small, with half-shuttered windows and a low ceiling. The baron lounged in a cushioned chair, the tray of food conveniently close to hand. He had made a start on it already: In one hand was a tankard, in the other a leg of fowl.
“So, boy.” He chewed, swallowed, tore off another bite. “How do you find Rhuddesmere? You are of discriminating taste, if I recall.”
“I like it well enough, my lord.”
“How very pleased I am to hear it.” The baron tossed the drumstick onto the tray and wiped his fingers on the hem of his robe. “They keep you busy, I suppose?”
“Yes, my lord. I tend the horses and the falcons. I do whatever I am told to do.”
“And the lady. She is kind to you?”
“She is, my lord.”
“You’ve spoken with her?”
“Y-yes, my lord.”
I stared at him. Why should he be interested? But his eyes were narrowing, and I hastened to answer. “Just everyday affairs, my lord. She was concerned that I was comfortable at Rhuddesmere. She spoke of her children and…and the others of the household, and the tapestry she’s making.”
“How charmingly domestic.” He turned and pulled another piece of meat off the fowl. “What do you think of her?”
“The lady, you idiot, the lady. What do you think of her?”
“I–I think she is kind. At least…she has been kind to me.”
“Ah, yes. She is kind.” He spat out the word like an insult. “But don’t be fooled, boy. Under all that beauty, all that sweet softness, is cold stone. She loves her own way as dearly as she loves herself–and she loves herself very dearly indeed.”
I bit my lip against my anger, hoping it did not show in my face. I hated to hear him speak of her so.
“You will learn, if you are with her long enough.” Shaking himself a little as if shaking away memories, the baron reached for the food again, tearing a large hunk of bread off a loaf. “What brings you into Walleston, boy?”
“Business for the lady, my lord.”
“What sort of business?”
I felt the bundles the Jew had given me, hard against my chest under my cloak. Should I lie? But I was never able to lie to the baron; I always turned red and stuttered, and he saw through me as if I were a window. “I came to buy some…some unguents and other things, my lord.”
“Unguents? For the lady?”
“Yes, my lord. And for her daughter. Anfelise.”
“Where did you get these unguents?”
“At the Jew’s, sir.”
“The Jew’s.” His tone was thoughtful. “You know that the Jew is more than just an apothecary, don’t you? You know that he is a sorcerer?”
“All I know, my lord, is that the lady sent me with a list of things, and I gave the list to the Jew, and when he was done I paid him.”
“That’s all very well, but it doesn’t answer the question of what the lady might wish to buy from a sorcerer, an unholy heathen blasphemer. They say that Jews drink the blood of Christian children, you know. What if they are not unguents, the things on that list? The things in that package you are trying to hide under your cloak? Hmmm?”
I stared at him. “Why, my lord, what else would they be?”
“I am asking you. Did you not see what went into the package?”
“No, my lord. He didn’t let me watch.”
“Indeed.” The baron took a swig of ale. “I think I shall see for myself. Give it here, boy.”
Instinctively I clutched the bundles to my chest. “But my lord, I have orders. The lady said not to let anyone open it.”
“And her orders take precedence over mine?” He banged his tankard down on the tray. “Your natural father?”
I stood dumb, my head bowed. God, I thought, give me strength to resist him.
“Don’t defy me, boy.” His tone was dangerously quiet. “You are at Rhuddesmere only by my will. You are mine, and you’ll do as I tell you.”
“Please, my lord. Don’t make me break my promise.”
“Ha! What does a creature like you know about promises?” He rose to his feet, towering over me. “Now give me the package, boy. I am asking in a pleasant, civilized manner, but I can easily ask less kindly.”
I hated myself for my craven fear of him–the fear that had ruled my entire life, and from which my months at Rhuddesmere had been only a brief respite. He would get what he wanted–he always did–and the lady’s trust in me would be betrayed.
But then I remembered that there were two bundles, not one, and that he did not seem to know this. Perhaps if I could give him Anfelise’s package, I could slip the lady’s behind my back where he would not see it…I tried to remember which bundle was the lady’s, and by touch decided it was the one on the right. I slipped my left hand out of the cloak and was maneuvering my other hand to get it behind my back when I realized, to my horror, that the bundle I had produced was the lady’s after all.
“No, boy,” the baron said softly. “I want the other one. The one you don’t want to give me.”
A moment of incomprehension, then a rush of relief that made me dizzy. With a show of reluctance I held Anfelise’s bundle out to him. He took it and sat down again, then set it on his knee and untied it, revealing several clay bottles and a silver pomander. The baron sniffed at the pomander, then uncorked the bottles and raised them one by one to his nose.
“A pomander!” He sounded disgusted. “Scented ointments! Only unguents after all.”
He re-corked the bottles and tied the bundle up, just as it had been. He held it toward me, twitching it impatiently when I did not step forward quickly enough. I feared he would demand the other package, but his interest seemed to have shifted back to the food. He selected a meat pastry and popped it into his mouth.
“This has been a most unenlightening interview,” he said, his mouth full. “Still, I’m satisfied you are not keeping anything from me–I would read it in your face if you were. In a few month’s time, though, who knows? Who knows?”
He swallowed his pastry. For a moment he regarded me–a measuring gaze, as if I were a curious insect or an odd bit of stone he had picked up on a whim.
“You may go now, boy. But remember what I said to you the last time. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you. We shall speak again.”