In the summer of 1812, Miss Isabel Ellerby anticipates the contract of an advantageous marriage with a wealthy and respectable man. But the emergence of a long-forgotten Faerie Rade throws Lincolnshire society into turmoil, and their appearance sparks a whirlwind of change in Isabel's familiar world.
Carried into the faerie realm of Aylfenhame by a handsome Aylfen Ferryman, Isabel is caught up in an adventure she could never have predicted – for he is cursed, condemned and forgotten by all. Isabel is his only hope, for she alone possesses the heart, the will and the strength to unravel the dark curse which binds him.
Charlotte English takes us to a Regency England full of class distinctions, proper behavior… and faerie folk! Miss Ellerby & the Ferryman is a tale of enchantment, secrets, manners, and a bit of romance – Jane Austen meets the magic of the Faerie Realm. – Anthea Sharp
"This book is pure joy. I couldn't put it down."– Amazon UK reviewer
"Another winner from Charlotte English! A lovely story; creative, fun, a happy ending."– Amazon US reviewer
"I read into the wee hours of the night."– Amazon US reviewer
Now, halt just a moment if ye'd be so kind! There's a toll to pay, if ye wish to pass over the Tilby bridge, an' I'm the toll-keeper. Balligumph's my name! I may be a troll but I'll not be hurtin' ye. No, I'll not ask ye to step out o' yer fine carriage, but yer coachman won't do. I need a toll from ye. Nowt o' any particular importance, mind. Just a bit of information. Yer name, an' yer business in Tilby; that'll do. An' one little tidbit o' somethin' else — somethin' secret-like. That'll do nicely. An' on ye go!
Or, no! Stay a while. I fancy I've heard yer name before. Maybe I'm mistaken — I'm no young troll, ye may notice, an' I sometimes forget things. Remind me. Was it yer good self to whom I told the tale o' Miss Sophy Landon an' her husband, Aubranael? It's tales I like. I like to hear 'em, an' I like to tell 'em. Ye'll remember, perhaps, about Miss Sophy, an' what a fix she was in. No home, no money, an' no one to look after her! But she's well an' settled in Grenlowe now — that bein' a town in Aylfenhame, ye'll recall — an' mighty happy she is.
But she's not the only young lady o' Tilby to get 'erself entangled wi' the faerie realm. She 'as a friend, Miss Isabel — oh, she's one o' the kindest young ladies in these parts, no doubt o' that! Perhaps ye'd like t' hear her story? It's a jolly tale, for all tha' she came to — well, no, I'll no give away the ending! Come, sit wi' me a while an' I'll start from the beginnin'!
'Isabel, my love, do come and look! The shoe-roses have arrived. Now, these will do very well with your lavender gown, do you not think?'
Mrs. Ellerby's voice, penetrating in its enthusiasm, carried easily over the sounds made by the Ellerby household brownie as she vigorously swept the parlour hearth. Isabel's mother chattered on, holding up handfuls of ribbons, shoe roses and other trifles for her daughter's perusal and approval. With an inward sigh, Isabel set aside her needlework, and went to the parlour table.
'They are beautiful, Mama,' she said in a mild tone, 'but I had thought we had decided upon my gown for tomorrow? Is it not to be the blue?'
Mrs Ellerby nodded absently, her attention fixed, apparently irrevocably, on the ribbons in her hands. 'It is what we agreed upon, but think, my love, how much the lavender becomes you! It is the very thing to go with your hair. If you had been light-haired I should not venture to recommend it, for it can be a trifle insipid! But with your colouring I should think it the very thing!' Mrs Ellerby continued on in this style for some time while her daughter listened dutifully, playing about with a piece of gold ribbon which had fallen from the box.
In due course came the inevitable. 'And I am persuaded, you know, that it is the very thing which Mr. Thompson would like.'
'Mama,' said Isabel gently, 'we must not allow Mr. Thompson's supposed preferences to rule us entirely. I should prefer the blue.'
'Yes, yes, I am sure you are right.' Mrs. Ellerby paused, and bent her attention to a fresh pair of shoe-roses she had at that moment pulled from the box.
'But I am persuaded you might reconsider, if only you were to think —'
'Mama! Please! It is decided: I shall wear the blue.' Isabel dropped her ribbon and stood up. 'It is time for my walk, now that the rain has cleared. Please, put the shoe-roses away.'
Mrs. Ellerby subsided with only one more faint protest, and Isabel made her escape.
It was early in July, and the morning was warm. Isabel regretted the bonnet and spencer jacket that propriety insisted she should wear, though the former was of straw and the latter of the lightest sarsenet. A breeze ruffled her dark brown locks as she turned in the direction of Tilton Wood, and for a wistful moment she considered removing her bonnet entirely, and tucking it under her arm. After all, there was no one to see her.
But no, it would not do. A passerby may happen upon her at any moment, and even were it but a farmer, Miss Ellerby of Ferndeane must not be seen to commit so great an impropriety as to wander the fields of Tilby without a hat. Her Mama would be appalled.
Resigned, Isabel heaved a great sigh and walked on, turning into Tilton Wood with relief. The great oak trees offered cooling shade, and the sunlight filtered through the green, green leaves cast pleasing dapples over the earthen floor. Isabel slowed her pace to a stroll, and her tumbling thoughts slowed to match it.
Mr. Thompson was the son of an old friend of her Mama's — at least, Mrs. Ellerby chose to claim Mrs. Thompson as a friend. In truth, they had merely been at school together, and Isabel could not find out that they had ever been close. But her schoolfellow had married well. The Thompsons were a family of consequence, settled some fifteen or twenty miles south of York, and Mr. Thompson was, as yet, unmarried.
By some means beyond Isabel's comprehension, her mother had re-established contact with Mrs. Thompson, coaxed her into renewing their acquaintance and had at last persuaded her to attend an assembly in Lincolnshire — with her son. That assembly was due to take place tomorrow night, hence all Mrs. Ellerby's anxious preparations today.
Nothing had been said to Isabel in so many words, but she understood that she was to be offered to the young man as an eligible bride. Her family was not wealthy, but they were respectably endowed with a genteel fortune, and Isabel could expect to inherit some twelve thousand pounds someday. Mama hoped that this, together with Isabel's person, manners and accomplishments, might be sufficient to tempt the young man.
Isabel's own feelings upon the matter were undecided. She had long known that she was expected to raise the credit and position of her family through her marriage, and now that her brother Charles had engaged himself to Miss Jane Ellis — a very pleasant, unobjectionable girl, but one who brought neither money nor connection to her marriage — the obligation had fallen more heavily upon Isabel herself. She had rejected the advances of Mr. Reed, Tilby's new parson, not long since. He was neither rich enough nor important enough to satisfy her parents, and he had not been congenial enough to satisfy her. But having failed to accept one proposal of marriage, her parents were beginning to grow anxious that she should soon receive another.
She was ready to perform her duty, and willing to be directed by her parents if it must be so. Their ambitions were not such as to lead them to bestow her upon anyone unworthy, or to give her in marriage to anyone she had taken in dislike. But she felt all the pressure of their hopes and expectations keenly, and she knew very well that Mama especially had set her heart upon Isabel's liking Mr. Thompson well enough to marry him.
Of course, since his marriage with Isabel would bring him little by way of connection or standing and only a moderate fortune, it fell upon her to try to capture his heart. This she was not at all certain she was equal to. Mrs. Ellerby sensed this, and had tried to make up for Isabel's reluctance with a fever of preparation over her dress, hair and ornaments. If Mr. Thompson did not instantly fall in love with her daughter's beauty, it would not be for lack of trying.
These reflections weighed heavily upon Isabel's mind as she strolled and sighed through Tilton Wood, paying only the barest attention to the route she took. Her abstraction was such that she wandered deeper into the wilder parts than she would normally choose to do, and soon began to feel that she had lost her way.
She walked about for some minutes, attempting with all of her natural good sense to calm the flutter of worry which began to intrude upon her peace. But it would not do. She could not convince herself that she recognised any of the several winding pathways which presented themselves to her searching gaze, and the flutter of alarm grew. Tilton Wood was not known for being especially expansive, but it was fully large enough to detain her some hours should she lose her way. Severe would be Mama's alarm should she fail to reappear within an hour.
Schooling herself to calmness, she paused to consider that walking about aimlessly was as likely to render her situation worse, as to bring about any solution. She stopped instead, reposed herself upon a great branch which had fallen nearby, and applied herself to the question of how best to extricate herself from her predicament.
She had not been about this for more than a few moments before it occurred to her that the cluster of leaves at which she had been vacantly staring was not a cluster of leaves at all, but something living. Its limbs were as slender and gnarled as twigs, its head a shade too large for its body, and it sported a great pot-belly which strained against the ragged leaf-brown dress it wore. The creature's nose was as knotted as a whorl of wood, its ears long and twisted, its eyes bright, azure blue — and fixed upon her.
Isabel started, but before she could speak a word, the creature said in a high, lisping voice, 'Goodest of mornings to you, Mistress! What is your bidding?' She — for Isabel felt, by some instinct, that the creature was female — bowed low as she spoke, and offered Isabel a tiny violet flower.
Isabel opened her mouth; found, in her surprise, that she had nothing to say; and closed it again.
'Mistress?' prompted the little fae creature, staring fixedly up into Isabel's face.
'I think there must be some mistake,' said Isabel. 'I am not your mistress! Indeed, I do not think we have ever before met.'
'This is our first meeting,' agreed the fae, 'but without doubt, my mistress you are! For did you not summon me?'
'I assure you, I did not!' cried Isabel. 'I do not know how I could have done so! I am sorry, if you have been put to any trouble.'
The fae creature considered this in silence, her tiny lips pursed. 'Then you are not lost?' she said at last.
'I am lost,' Isabel admitted. 'But I feel sure I shall find my way at any moment; pray do not be put to any trouble on my account.'
'It is that way,' said the fae, pointing out the direction with a finger as thin and delicate as a new shoot.
Isabel glanced in the direction indicated. A pathway opened up through the thick undergrowth, clear and inviting. It was odd, but in beholding it now, it was perfectly evident that therein lay her route home.
Isabel came to her feet and shook out her skirt. 'Thank you,' she said, and curtseyed.
The little fae bobbed an ungainly curtsey in response and smiled with sunny enthusiasm, revealing a mouthful of green teeth.
'I am Tiltager,' she offered. 'This is my wood.' With that, she vanished. Isabel found herself staring at a cluster of leaves which so nearly resembled Tiltager, she wondered whether she had imagined the whole.
No; she had not. She paused a moment in indecision. Should she trust Tiltager? Fae were a common enough sight in England, but while some of them devoted themselves to aiding their human counterparts and sometimes formed the deepest friendships, others were equally dedicated to causing harm. Tiltager's path may not lead back to Tilby at all, but to somewhere else entirely; somewhere Isabel could have no wish to go.
But the little fae had seemed friendly. Nothing in her behaviour or her manner had led Isabel to suppose that she intended any harm. Isabel began walking in the direction Tiltager had indicated, tentatively at first and then with growing confidence as the pathway soon took on proportions that were familiar to her. It even seemed, as she walked, that the tranquil oaks sped by a little faster than was entirely reasonable, and she found herself restored to the outskirts of Tilby sooner than she had imagined possible.