Lord Louis de la Rochelle, 23rd Earl of Pilling and Preasall, sat in his bath chair holding a letter and with a quiet smile of satisfaction on his face. Until this moment he had been reconciled about the demise of his line after so many generations. He had been sickly almost from birth, which had meant that he had spent the greater part of his life in a wheel chair. His title had ensured that he would obtain a wife, but as everyone thought, she was doomed never to have issue. Louis’ father had put his faith rather in his second son Charles, who grew up strong, became a soldier, as second son’s do and looked quite dashing in his uniform. The 22nd Earl, had followed tradition and bequeathed all the estate, except the one farm, to his eldest son. The earnest hope of all the family was that Charles would marry a nubile girl and produce a male heir to take the title on the death of Louis. Disaster struck when Charles lost his leg and the last hope for the survival of the P&Ps (as they were commonly called, not always behind their backs) had been left in the blood and gore of an Indian field hospital.
Louis was so pleased when he opened and read the letter. Charles, against all odds had found a woman to take him on. She must be very special, Louis thought to take on such a burden, especially when there was no title and only a small army pension and the farm to provide him with income. However the letter contained some interesting comments. His fiancé, apparently had a small fortune of her own, but was of very independent mind and was insisting on keeping her fortune to herself. How would that work, he asked himself? They were to visit Presall Hall on the morrow, so he would be able to judge the woman for himself. Louis was most pleased by the ps in the letter which read ‘I have high hopes that this union will provide issue to maintain the family name and title’ The devil, thought Louis, sounds like he has already tried himself and the girl out, and he let his mind fall on how a one legged man could accomplish such a feat! He dismissed the thought as too personal.
The following day, Amelia, escorted by Charles, was on her way to the family seat in B-shire. They were both very nervous, Charles because he had no idea how he would be received by his brother and Amelia was panic stricken about meeting his esteemed family. She had had only a slight inkling of the family’s status when she had finally consented to marry him. Charles broke the silence “I think I should tell you a bit about our family. We will not be affected because the inheritance descends through the eldest son and as Louis was the eldest, he got the lot except for the farm. However, you should be aware of why the country seat of the Earl of Pilling and Preasall should have the name of a small village in the Fylde of Lancashire and be situated in the County of B-shire. The original title was granted to my forebear by John O’Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, known as the kingmaker, at the height of his power and one of my ancestors took advantage of his support for the restoration of King Charles to do a swap, of the Fylde lands for a more prestigious place here. Lots and lots happened in between and since, but those are the essentials of the story”. Amelia had listened carefully, as she did not know which way the conversation would go and did not want to be completely in the dark. As the second son, she and Charles were likely to unaffected by the family’s traditions. The coach passed through the imposing gateway of Pilling Hall and as it passed through the trees and swung round the curved road, Amelia looked out of the window and caught her first glimpse of the imposing facade of Lord P&Ps ‘pile’ It reminded her of the comment made by Elisabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, referring to D’Arcy ‘I could marry a man with a pile like this’ (or words to that effect.). She tightened her grip on Charles’ arm, gave him a flashing smile and gently pressed her lips to his. The great adventure was about to begin!
The coach pulled up outside the imposing front door of Pilling Hall. Charles clambered down first in his usual ungainly way. A butler helped Amelia. She straightened her skirts. She had thought long and hard about what to wear, and decided early on to turn on the style in a big way. The fashion for Victorian ladies in Society may need much support and inordinate amounts of time in preparation and were almost totally impractical for modern living, but by Jove, done properly it was dramatic, striking and totally controlled any space it wearer entered. Amelia had finally selected her pale blue silk, a matching highly ornate hat and parasol. She followed Charles as he clumped through the entrance hall and into the reception room. As he passed through the door, he moved aside, leaving Amelia to make her grand entrance. She had not told him that ever since she had known of the visit, she had been taking deportment and etiquete lessons. With head held high and a steady ladylike stride she walked into the room, staring straight ahead. As Louis moved towards her pushed in his wheelchair by a servant, she looked at him and gave him her most dazzling smile and raised her hand as they came together. “Good day My Lord” she said “I am most pleased to have the pleasure of meeting you.” Louis looked her up and down. The dress may have made a dramatic statement, but what drew Louis’ attention, where the firm breasts, the trim waist, exaggerated by the hidden corset, and the generous curve of her hips. Yes he thought Charles has chosen well and he wondered how his peg-leg brother had been able to land such a catch. “Welcome to Pilling Hall” he said, “Charles has told me a lot about you but my dear, he has totally underestimated your beauty” Amelia blushed. She had made a great first impression. Would it be all plain sailing from here?
There followed the usual housekeeping measures of allocating rooms and moving luggage. Charles and Amelia exchanged many knowing looks and ‘casual’ touchings during this process. They were to stay a few days during which intensive discussions about the wedding and their future life together would include quite a few members of the family and the staff. The wedding would take place in the small chapel on the estate where many of the the family had been married (and buried). Louis complained, but only a little, about the request that he put pressure on the Vicar to omit the ‘obey’ word from the service, but in the event it was easily done. The Vicar was aware of the trend for women to be more independent in marriage than heretofore and the 1888 law change. Neither was he totally dismissive of to whom he owed his living. For the honeymoon, Amelia was thinking in terms of Paris, Rome, Venice, Budapest, but Charles put his foot down and said that he would take her north to Lancashire to show her his ancestral home and the beauty of the Bleasdale Fells, the Lake District, the rich countryside and the striking Fylde coastline. She smiled, dropped her eyes and said “Yes sir” He smacked her on the bustle for her cheekiness.
Amelia became engrossed in the arrangements for the wedding. With Alice she decided on a gown of ivory silk with a long train with a red silk lining, which started at the shoulder and would be carried by two bridesmaids. Alice was the maid of honour and her husband McKenzie was enlisted to give Amelia, as she was totally bereft of any close relatives, man or woman. The sun shone, the village turned out, everything went without a hitch. Waiting at the altar for Amelia to arrive, Louis said to Charles “What a pair of decrepit human beings we are, me in this wheelchair and you on your crutch. I hope to God she will produce babies and a strong, healthy male heir.” And as an afterthought he added “You have made clear to her that it will be your son who inherits the estate and that she will never be mistress of Pilling Hall?” Charles was fussing about whether Louis still had the ring and anxiously look at the time to notice that she was already 10 minutes late. Then the familiar chords on the organ started up and the service began.