Sir Richard Belvoir of Cymberie, Essex, hanged woodcarver Thomas Fisher for a murder he did not commit, leaving his young widow, Elaine, and newborn son, Samuel, alone and destitute. Richard falls ill with cancer and pays Elaine to come to Cymberie and nurse him (in every sense of the word). She anxiously goes to her husband’s graveside to explain the situation.
Walter Vernon, the candlemaker, tells her that talking to the dead will lead the villagers to suspect she is a witch. He waits each day for her return from Cymberie, where slowly but surely her caring and diligence begin to make impressions on the servants and the recovering Richard.
Elaine learns quickly and is trusted enough to become the estate steward, having been taught to read and write by her employer. Returning home, she is attacked by a stranger because of the clothing she wears. The next morning her attacker is revealed to be Richard’s son, Gabriel, a seafarer, who is ashamed of his actions and attracted to her.
This debut novel is a pleasant, evocative novel, capturing rural village life, local superstitions, and traditions. That said, Elaine is paid to suckle but instead of expressing her milk lets Richard latch on to her. Richard, a powerful man capable of sentencing men to death, fails to investigate stolen valuables from his own home. Elaine decides one thing then does another. Much is made of her adversary Miss Margery’s avariciousness, but the reason for this is later glossed over in a sentence. I enjoyed the story, but with greater attention to detail, this debut author could have created a memorable novel.