Prequel to the much-loved Hartford Manor Series
by Marcia Clayton
Publication Date: November 18th, 2022 (series since 2016)
Publisher: Sunhillow Publishing
Genre: Historical Fiction / Family Saga / Romance
Set in 1820, Betsey is the prequel to the much-loved Hartford Manor Series.
Betsey, a sadly neglected child, is shouldering responsibilities far beyond her years. As she does her best to care for her little brother, Norman, she is befriended by Gypsy Freda, an old woman whose family is camped nearby. Freda's granddaughter, Jane, is also fond of the little girl and is concerned about her.
Thomas, the second son of Lord Fellwood, happens across the gypsy camp and becomes besotted with Jane. However, Jasper Morris, the local miller, also has designs on the young gypsy, and inevitably, the two men do not see eye to eye.
Betsey is drawn into their rivalry for the attention of the beautiful young woman, and she finds herself promising to keep a dangerous secret for many years to come.
Back at the gypsy camp, Betsey was happily tucking into a bowl of tasty rabbit stew. It was too hot to eat, and the little girl could barely wait for it to cool; so hungry was she. In the meantime, she contented herself with dipping the thick crust of bread into the delicious gravy and blowing on it to cool it before she could put it to her lips. Gypsy Freda watched her thoughtfully.
"Is everything all right at home, Betsey? I know you lost your mother, so it can't be easy. Is your father looking after you?"
"Well, I miss my mum, and Dad has to work, so me and Norman are on our own a lot since Barney got a job at the mill. We're both going to school now because Mr Billery said Norman could go, even though he's only three. He gives us milk and some dinner, so that's good. It's just after school, and at the weekends, when we haven't got much to eat."
"Doesn't Mrs Carter from The Red Lion keep an eye on you? I thought she was friendly with your mother?"
"Aunty Kezzie is kind and she would like to look after us, but she fell out with Dad a week or two ago, and he told her she was not to come to our house anymore. I miss her because she used to come in every day, and hug us too. Dad never cuddles us anymore. I cuddle Norman to sleep, and I sing to him like Mum did because he likes that."
"Have you finished your stew?"
"Aw, yes, thank you; it was lovely. I've warmed up now, but I must get home to Norman; he doesn't like being on his own and he's hungry too."
"Well, I think Jane’s looking for a pot for you to carry some stew home for him, so while she does that, why don't you come over here and sit on my lap and I'll tell you a story? Would you like that?"
Betsey nodded, the unexpected kindness bringing tears to her eyes. She climbed onto the old woman's lap and was soon encircled by a warm embrace and covered with a cosy blanket. She rested her head against the gypsy's bony chest and relaxed, delighted to be treated as a child for once. Ten minutes or so later, Jane reappeared at the entrance of the wagon and smiled when she saw Betsey snuggled up cosily on her granny's lap.
"My goodness, Betsey, you do look comfortable; that used to be my favourite spot when I was little; has she been telling you the story about the barn owls?"
Betsey nodded. "I must get home to Norman, though."
"Yes, of course, you must; now here’s some stew for Norman; I've put it into this old jar so you'll have to be careful not to spill it. It's hot so be careful not to burn yourself, but it will soon cool in this weather, and there's some more bread for both of you. Do you think you can carry it all right?"
The little girl nodded. "Thanks ever so much, Jane; the jar will keep my hands warm. I feel much better now, and I loved hearing your story, Gypsy Freda."
"Aye, I thought you would. I'll tell you what, when the weather's a bit better, bring that little brother of yours; I've got two knees, so there's room for one more on the other one, and I know plenty of stories. See you next time."
Betsey hurried home as fast as she could without spilling the precious stew. She let herself in through the back door and called out to her brother. He was hunched in front of the fire, and was delighted to see her.
"Are you all right, Norman?"
The little boy nodded, gazing intently at the container in her hands, as a delicious smell reached his nostrils. "Is that some food for us, Betsey?"
"No, this is all for you, Norman. I wonder if you can eat it all up?"
Betsey is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.
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Marcia Clayton was born in North Devon, a rural and picturesque area in the far South West of England. She is a farmer's daughter and often helped to milk the cows and clean out the shippens in her younger days.
When Marcia left school she worked in a bank for several years until she married her husband, Bryan, and then stayed at home for a few years to care for her three sons, Stuart, Paul and David. As the children grew older, Marcia worked as a Marie Curie nurse caring for the terminally ill, and later for the local authority managing school transport.
Now a grandmother, Marcia enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She’s a keen researcher of family history, and it was this hobby that inspired some of the characters in her books. A keen gardener, Marcia grows many of her own vegetables. She is also an avid reader and mainly enjoys historical fiction, romance and crime books.