In early May 1914, James “Win” Bradley, Viscount Winterdale cantered his magnificent stallion, Black Orchid, along a lane that passed in front of a small cottage owned by a gentleman named Roderick Chambers. The cottage sat outside of . The quaint hamlet, surrounded by rolling countryside, rested in a lovely valley near the river Hart, from which the village took its name. Though his Christian name was James, no one in his memory had ever used that name when speaking to him. His more distant acquaintances called him Winterdale, and closer friends, along with family, always knew him as Win.
It was a spectacular day, with the bluest sky and trees that were filling with young leaves, turning the surroundings into a green, misty veil. Win was feeling on top of the world—it was wonderful to be young, free, and unencumbered. As his horse ran rapidly ‘round a curve in the road, he spotted a woman standing in front of the cottage he had seen from a distance. She appeared to be a fetching young lady who was pruning roses on an arch over the gate leading to the cottage. She wore a simple, ankle-length frock printed with violets and a wide-brimmed sunhat adorned with lavender ribbon.
Win glanced towards her, and she looked up, her attention no doubt drawn by the sound of hoof-beats. Pulling on the reins, he came to an abrupt halt. He dismounted. The young lady removed her gardening gloves and moved rather timidly towards the white-picket fence. Win secured Black Orchid to the hitching post outside the gate, and he began to stride in the girl’s direction. He studied her closely as they approached each other. Drawing nearer, he was astounded to find that he had apparently stumbled upon a young lady who appeared to be uniquely impressive, in the midst of what was primarily sheep-herding country. Her hair was chestnut -coloured, and it reached her shoulders. She had as fine a complexion as he had ever seen, with a definite pale-pink luminosity on her high cheekbones. Win was particularly taken with her eyes. They were vivid blue, topped with straight, dark brows and matching long lashes. She was taller than average, with a minuscule silhouette and a tiny waistline, which contributed to an overall impression of willowy delicacy.
“What a splendid stallion,” she exclaimed, leaning against the fence, her curls stirring a bit in the breeze.
He wasn’t surprised to note that her voice was as lovely as her other attributes. She reached up and brushed a strand of hair from her eyes.
“What is his name?” she asked.
“Black Orchid. I’ve just brought him over from Ireland. I plan to race him at Ascot in June. He holds an outstanding pedigree." Win paused. Reaching across the fence, he took hold of her hand.
"Forgive me. I should introduce myself,” he said, smiling broadly. “My name is James Bradley. Actually, my given name is James. But I’ve always been known as either Winterdale or Win. My father is the Earl of Winthrop, and I am officially known as The Viscount Winterdale. My acquaintances call me Winterdale, but my close friends and family refer to me as Win. Please, feel free to address me as Win. I thought I was acquainted with most everyone in this area, but I don't recall ever meeting you. Are you new to the region?”
“Yes, Win, I’m rather new to this area,” she answered, displaying a sweet, dimpled smile. “My name is Josephine Chambers. My uncle owns this cottage. His name is Roderick Chambers. Since your father is the earl of Winthrop, does your family have a conectioi with the nearby village, Winthrop-on-Hart?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, it takes its name from our home, Winthrop Manor, a holding just outside Winthrop-on-Hart. The village was a coach stopover during Henry VIII's reign. It's said he was a guest at Winthrop Manor many times.”
She placed her hand over her heart, drawing in a deep breath. “Oh, how truly grand,” she said. “Of course, I’m well aware of England’s marvellous history, but having spent the majority of my life in London, I’ve not had the occasion to view a home such as yours. I would think you’d be overcome by its yesteryear surroundings.”
As she spoke, Win noticed a certain shyness revealing itself. A soft blush coloured her face. He also detected a habit of listening intently when he spoke to her. Her eyes opened wide, and she obviously concentrated on every word he spoke. Clearly, she was genuinely interested in what he was telling her. He suspected she was unaware that her lack of sophistication added immensely to her charm. He would have wagered she hadn’t been introduced to society and was probably unfamiliar with the world of nobility.
Miss Josephine Chambers vastly intrigued Win. After twenty-four years as an elite gentleman among the gentry, he was weary of aristocratic ladies, to whom he felt obligated to pay homage, especially when the London Season came ‘round. London then became an enormous marriage market. The Season, as every member of the nobility knew, consisted of endless balls, debutante parties, punting on the Thames, tennis matches, and countless nights of frivolous nonsense, during which each young lady tried to outdo the others with jewels, diamond tiaras, and superb gowns, all designed to attract a titled husband. Josephine gave the impression she was unaware of young ladies who counted the number of gentleman they might charm until settling upon the one who offered the most magnificent manor house and most distinguished title. She probably didn’t know that such a goal was the aim of most gentlewomen who participated in the Season. Nor did he believe she’d ever learned the art of attempting to deceive a suitor, by batting her eyelashes and whispering perfectly rehearsed lines on warm summer nights in country house gardens amidst roses and lilacs. Apparently, she was a simple girl with simple ways.
How delightful, thought Win. She seems so shy and innocent. “Josephine… I think you have a very pretty name. Where were you raised, since you aren’t from this region?”
“I lived in Nottinghill, London, before moving here. My father was quite a well-respected architect. He designed some magnificent structures and had a world-wide reputation. My parents were on their way to New York City when they were lost on the Titanic. He was to meet with a gentleman regarding a plan to construct a large building there. Both Mother and Father died after the ship collided with the iceberg. Needless to say, my life changed enormously following their deaths."
"I imagine so,” Win exclaimed. “What a disastrous tragedy. That wasn’t such a terribly long time ago. When did the ship go down? Wasn’t it April of 1912? That was only a bit over two years ago! I'm so sorry to hear of the wretched loss you sustained.” He did feel true sadness upon hearing that an enormous catastrophe had happened to her at such a young age.
"Thank you, Win. That’s very charitable of you. I appreciate your kind words. I was devastated, of course. To be honest, if such a horrid thing had to be, I’m grateful they perished together. They loved each other so dearly. I cannot imagine one of them having to continue living without the other."
“Have you brothers or sisters?" Win asked.
"Yes, one brother. His name is Andrew. He’s just graduated Oxford and will be a barrister. I have no doubt he'll do very well. He has found employment in London. I came to live with my Uncle Roderick after my parents’ death. I stayed in the City and continued my studies with my governess until our house was sold. It's awfully different, living in the country, but I do like it. However, it still seems quite new.” She was silent for a moment. “So, Win, do you spent a lot of your time in the country, or do you find yourself bored here?"
"I spend a fair amount of time here. I'm the eldest son, so I’m expected to take over the reins at Winthrop Manor someday. There's a lot to learn about overseeing such a large holding. Nevertheless, I do enjoy a trip to London on occasion. My family owns a townhouse in Mayfair. I find that a few days there is enough. I actually prefer the countryside. I'm not terribly taken with City life. I've learned most London ladies in your age range are seeking a wealthy husband with a title.”
“Oh, goodness. I can’t imagine.” She frowned. "I do think your home sounds lovely. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t marry you just because you live in an old, historic mansion.”
Win roared with laughter. "Josephine, that was a delightful comment. I don’t recall mentioning marriage, but your outlook is superb. It does appear that London graced you with sound sense and poise."
She blushed more profoundly. "If I have sense and poise, it's due to my upbringing. My parents were keen on keeping a proper balance in one’s life. Money was not their primary interest."
“Have you participated in a London Season?” he asked.
"Oh, no. That isn’t for me. I have no title, and, to be honest, I find the entire affaire rather ridiculous. I think it's a silly bit of nonsense," she answered. “London becomes a place I don’t care to be during The Season. You described it perfectly. All the girls are seeking wealthy husbands. What possible difference can such a thing make? Love is all that should matter, as far as I'm concerned." She paused, clearly in deep thought. Before Win had a chance to respond, she continued. "At any rate, eighteen years is far too young to set up housekeeping and begin to produce children."
“You truly are quite naive, Josephine." He chuckled. “Love has very little to do with marriages among the aristocracy. I’m twenty-four years now, and my parents are beginning to badger me about finding a bride, but that’s a subject upon which I intend to hold firm. I'd prefer a marriage like that which your parents appear to have enjoyed."
“Yes, they had a wonderful marriage. I agree with your outlook," she responded. “After all, living day in and day out with another person would surely be terrible if no love existed between them.”
“I shall hold out as long as possible, but sooner or later, there will be no more arguing about the matter,” answered Win. “I’ll have to satisfy their wishes and take responsibility as heir to Winthrop Manor. I can only hope that between now and then, I’ll be fortunate enough to find a special young lady to be by my side forever. Most of the women I’ve met during past Seasons have been so impressed with family names. It's nearly unbearable to spend much time with them. As I said, they’re primarily seeking a wealthy, titled gentleman. The thought of spending my life with that sort of creature is appalling. However, as the eldest son, it will be my duty to carry on the family name."
What an extremely attractive young lady, Win thought. She was absolutely adorable. Still, in addition to the myriad of other reasons she would never be considered suitable for him, she appeared to be decidedly too young. His parents would never approve of her. Not because of her age, but because she was not of the aristocracy.
"Elisabeth, my sister, will definitely be doing the Season next year. Though I want her to have a splendid time, I don’t wish to see her become engaged at an early age. I’ve never spoken with her about my feelings, but I intend to. She generally sets great store by my opinions.”
Josephine smiled. “I’m sure the Season is a most enjoyable time for some young ladies. However, as I said, I wasn’t brought up to participate in such fanciful activities. To be sincere, the entire ordeal sounds perfectly wretched to me,” she said, frowning.
Win found her honesty refreshing. There was absolutely not one iota of artifice associated with her. This was exactly the sort of lady he hoped to meet one day. Yet, he had to keep reminding himself that she definitely would never meet the standards his parents had set long ago.