Millicent Wentworth and her attorney are on their way to a meeting with the Dowager Countess of Aytoun. Millicent has one stop to make first. The carriage pulls up to the docks. Millicent’s attorney doesn’t want Millicent to get out of the carriage. It turns out that there is an auction for a certain Dr. Dombley’s possessions. One of these possessions happens to be a slave. Dr. Dombley worked on the plantations in Jamaica. Ever since the death of her husband, Millicent has been trying to do what she can to help all those people that her dead husband tried to destroy. The poor old slave is dressed in rags and not in the best of shape. It turns out that Jasper Hyde has his attorney at the auction as well. He wants to buy the old woman too. Jasper Hyde has been buying up everything of the late Squire Wentworth’s that he possibly can. The bidding goes up to an unbelievable 110 pounds, but Millicent wins the auction. Now, the attorney wants to know how Millicent plans to pay for her. Millicent has been struggling under a mountain of debt ever since the Squire died.
They eventually make their way to their appointment with the Dowager Countess of Aytoun. The Countess has an outrageous proposal for Millicent. It turns out that she has had Millicent thoroughly investigated and knows everything about her, including the fact that Millicent’s late husband was physically abusive. The Countess offers to pay all of her late husband’s debts if Millicent will marry her eldest son, Lyon Pennington, the Earl of Aytoun. It turns out that the Earl is a cripple. He was in an accident involving a cliff and his late wife. His wife died and the Earl ended up with two broken legs and his right arm was broken as well. The Countess has had all kinds of doctors for the Earl, but they have been unable to help him. He is in a chair and the doctors don’t give him long to live. Millicent remembers the abuse she suffered from her late husband and demands that a clause be added to the marriage contract. She requests that if the Earl should somehow manage to regain the use of his legs, that she be granted an uncontested divorce. The Countess doesn’t believe this will happen, so she agrees and her attorney draws up the marriage contract and Millicent and Lyon are married.
Millicent returns to Melbury Hall. She has the former slave, Ohenewaa, put into a guest chamber across from the Earl’s chambers. Millicent is very happy now. She has had all the former slaves moved into the house and it is quite crowded. Now, she can begin construction of some cabins for some of them. Millicent and Ohenewaa come to a bargain. Ohenewaa has been freed by Millicent. Millicent asks her to stay at Melbury Hall and Ohenewaa agrees. Ohenewaa is a healer and Millicent can use her skills with her servants.
Lyon finally arrives at Melbury Hall. He has a man servant, Mr. Gibbs, and two valets with him. Millicent discovers that Lyon is not eating. The new treatment that his doctor has prescribed is laudanum. Lyon is not even aware of what is happening around him most of the time. Millicent talks to Ohenewaa about Lyon. Ohenewaa encourages Millicent to break the laudanum addiction first. Millicent refuses to give Lyon his medicine until he eats something. Lyon has a terrible temper and loves to throw things. Eventually, Millicent manages to break the addiction. She is in the habit of sitting with him during the night and this is taking its toll on her health. Finally, Lyon is no longer in a daze. Millicent manages to get him interested in her estate. Things are finally starting to look up around Melbury Hall.
Jasper Hyde is furious that he didn’t manage to acquire Ohenewaa. He is convinced that she laid a curse on him and will not be satisfied until he has her in his possession. The lengths that he is willing to go to achieve this are unbelievable.
Millicent and Lyon both had bad first marriages. Lyon was accused of killing his first wife, Emma. Millicent doesn’t believe that he actually did it. Lyon was injured pretty badly in the accident. He feels responsible for the death of his wife. Because of his injuries, he sunk into apathy and has no desire to live. It was truly amazing watching the change that came over him under Millicent’s tender care. He changed from an embittered man with no desire for anything but his medicine, into a vibrant man, very much alive. He knows that this change is due to Millicent and he realizes that he cares about her very much. Millicent’s first marriage was a nightmare. Her husband was abusive and beat her when he was pregnant, causing her to miscarry. He beat his slaves and Millicent feels guilty over this. She did whatever she could to help all of the slaves. It was very touching watching her come to realize that she does care about Lyon and she wants their marriage to work.
This is a very tender, touching tale. There is plenty of action involved due to the machinations of Jasper Hyde, but this is more a story of this whole estate trying to overcome the abuse of Millicent’s first husband. They are all totally loyal to Millicent and will do whatever is necessary to protect her. This is a story that I definitely recommend reading.
Chere Gruver, August 2003