When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.
Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.
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An Interview with an Adventurous Young Lady“The Girls’ Friendly Companion of New England” takes this opportunity to interview a young lady who is about to commence a considerable journey. Seventeen-year-old Miss Sophia Petheram, of Boston, is shortly to leave the bosom of her loving family to travel the great distance southward to Mississippi, a destination that many in the more long-settled regions of our great country consider “the back of beyond.”
Q. Miss Petheram, will you tell our gentle readers what causes you to launch on this undertaking?
SP: My dear father passed away during the spring, and so my godfather and guardian, Monsieur Bernard de Cressac—along with his wife, of course—has invited me to come live with them at their home. It’s a house with a name—isn’t that charming? Wyndriven Abbey. He wrote once that it was brought all the way across the ocean from England. In pieces, of course.
Q. And is your guardian well-known to you?
SP: Not in person. He only came to our home once when I was a mere babe, and of course I do not remember that meeting, and neither do my siblings. It makes him quite mysterious. My brother Harry calls him my fairy godfather, and plagues me by descriptions of M. de Cressac as an ogre with tusks of pure gold. Harry is a silly goose. But my father knew my guardian from long ago and says he is a distinguished gentleman. I do feel I know him, though, through his letters to me. Such lovely letters. Through the years he has written of his travels and explorations with great detail. He even penned fanciful little tales in which I was the heroine. And that he would take so much time for a motherless little girl, makes me believe he is a person composed of kindness itself. And then there’s the delightful gifts.
Q. Has he been generous with you? I believe he is internationally well-known as a successful man of business.
SP: Indeed he has. I cannot tell you how we all anticipated the arrival of his parcels. Sumptuous is the only word for them. There was a rocking horse with a mane of real horse hair—his name is Araby, since he is an Arabian steed. And a doll with a wardrobe fit for a princess—her name is Elodie, since she is French. Oh, I wish your readers could see her clothing! Glorious gowns in the height of style and underthings trimmed with the daintiest broderie anglaise. Tiny kid slippers and plumed bonnets. I still love them, even now when I am grown; there is something so enchanting about miniature things, isn’t there? I visit Araby and Elodie now and again in the attic. Of course when I was older the gifts were more appropriate for my age.
Q. Did he never send presents for your siblings?
SP: Well…no. But then he is not their godparent. They were not jealous. I do not think. I have always shared everything.
Q. Did you ever expect that the day would come when you would actually live with him and his wife?
SP: I suppose it has always been one of my fancies. For one thing, he has arranged for me to take riding and music lessons, and I have wondered if, perhaps, he were preparing me for at least an extended visit to his estate.
Q. The southern states of our country are very different from our own New England. Have you any trepidation?
SP: Of course. Some. I shall miss my family dreadfully. I have never been anywhere, so everything will be new to me. Also, my people have abolitionist leanings. I must worry about living in a region that does not share those views. However, mostly I am excited. My heart begins palpitating when I think of where I am about to go. I hear that Mississippi has a lush and beautiful landscape.
Q. You appear to be a modern young lady, most brave and adventurous. Thank you so much for your time. We wish you great good fortune.
SP: Thank you for speaking to me. I adore your periodical. Especially the serial stories. They provide such scope for imagination. I sometimes daydream that I am living in one of them. I hope I would be as brave as those heroines.
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What do y'all think of Sophie going to live with the godfather she's never met? Would you be willing to go live with a mysterious relative or family friend at a far away estate?