From the hilltop vantage of the gate Penelope could see that the surrounding property numbered not in the hundreds, nor the thousands, but in the tens of thousands of acresin fact, the forest she had just passed through was part of the estate. There were orchards and farms and groups of other, much smaller houses as well. These were the cottages in which the servants lived, and where the blacksmith, tinsmith, and tanner plied their trades. There was even a smokehouse for the curing of fresh bacon, ham, sausage, and all sorts of meat-based delicacies that would nowadays be purchased in a supermarket, uninterestingly wrapped in plastic.
And Penelope noted with delight: There was a barn big enough to house a whole herd of ponies, with their long, lovingly brushed tails and red ribbons braided prettily through their manesoh, how Penelope wished the job were already hers! But the interview was still ahead, and she resolved to keep her wits about her.
The driveway approaching the main entrance curved around formal gardens of great beauty, now tinged with the first brushstrokes of autumn color. The coachman brought the carriage straight to the front of the house and assisted his passenger brusquely to the ground. A kind-faced, square-built woman of middle age was waiting to greet the new arrival.
"Miss Lumley, I presume?"
"I'm Mrs. Clarke, the head housekeeper. Thank goodness you've arrived! Lady Constance has been asking for you every quarter hour the whole blessed day. Don't make such a stricken face, dear. You're not late. Lady Constance tends to be impatient, that's all it is. But look at youyou're hardly more than a child yourself! Jasper, see to her bag, please!"
The carpetbag was whisked inside by a young man who appeared from nowhere. As for the trunk of books, which the coachman was struggling to lift"Leave that in the carriage for now," Mrs. Clarke directed. She jangled the large ring of keys she wore at her waist and gave Penelope an appraising look. "Until we see how things go."
Excerpted from The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood. Copyright © 2010 by Maryrose Wood. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Children's Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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