Jane Orcutt: All the Tea in China

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Jane Orcutt All the Tea in China
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    All the Tea in China
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    Триллер / на английском языке
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All the Tea in China: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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The good young Englishwoman knows that her destiny depends upon a good marriage match. But Isabella Goodrich is not your typical good young Englishwoman. After an encounter with those less fortunate than she, witty and fun-loving Isabella makes a shocking decision. Against everyone's advice and wishes, she is going to become a missionary in the Far East. Fighting against cultural expectations, common sense, and a mentor who is not as he seems, Isabella leaves her predictable Oxford life behind and sets sail to a new world fraught with danger. Can she trust the mysterious missionary Phineas Snowe? Or will her adventure end before it even begins? This first novel in the Rollicking Regency series will delight readers who like high adventure, twisting plots, and a fun bit of romance.

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Signor Antonio broke free, gesturing with dismay. “Signorina Goodrich, it is not like you to lose your concentration. If you are not willing-”

“I am sorry, Maestro,” I said, bowing. “Please forgive my lack of attention.” I assumed the stance.

Uncle Toby paid poor Signor Antonio handsomely every week not only to keep my unladylike secret but to train me well. Why, I do not know, but I had accepted my practice all these years without question. Before my first failed social season, however, I fretted that the skill would be all for naught. When I thought I would marry, I knew I would eventually have to put away my sword as a childish plaything; it would serve no purpose in my womanly future.

Now, however, I could foresee a future of freedom to pursue my beloved sport. Oddly, the idea of being a spinster did not sadden nor frighten me, but it did leave me yearning for some divine call. An evening with Snowe had showed me one thing: a high purpose would no doubt help me fill the many days of solitude ahead of me. Most of the men with whom I was acquainted were men of leisure or academicians. The former seemed to have no desire for busyness, and the latter found employment enough in mental athletics.

Snowe, however, was a man with purpose. He could scarce sit still for ten minutes last night without resorting to a nervous pace. I could see the hunger in his eyes as he talked about the poor heathen Chinese. He had obviously spent much time among them and desired to improve their lot in life, particularly regarding the spread of the gospel.

If only I had not been forced to play the simpleton young woman. I would have dearly loved to ask Snowe an intelligent question about his work. Most of the evening he spoke down to me, but on an occasional moment, his eyes seemed fixed on a distant spot, and he seemed to speak a trifle more freely. Almost as if he had quite forgotten I was even present.

I felt the faintest tip of a fleuret at my heart. A touch. Signor Antonio had not landed one so lethal for years. “Be careful, Signorina Goodrich!”

I could almost see him smile as I bowed. “I am sorry, Maestro.”

“Bah! That is all for today. You are wasting my time.” He waved his hands in the air, pretending anger, but I knew he was secretly pleased. Signor Antonio was not usually a teacher to berate me for carelessness, thank goodness. In truth I believe we both knew that I had surpassed his abilities as my teacher several years ago. Old age and dissipation had overtaken his better days. Signor Antonio had trained under Domenico Angelo, both of them Italians who excelled in the French school of fencing. Though Uncle Toby and I never spoke of it, we knew that Signor spent most of his payment on the wine he loved dearly. After every lesson I somehow managed to send him ’round to Cook for some hearty victuals before his next lesson. Despite his once-proud reputation, he had lately been shunned by many of the students in favor of other fencing masters, ones who taught fencing as a competitive sport and not as a true martial art. I worried about the leanness of Signor’s purse and feared he did not sup well during the week.

We finished, bowing low to each other. “I believe Cook said something about making two extra meat pastries today by mistake, Maestro. She would be pleased if you would help by eating one now and taking the extra one for later,” I said.

“Grazie, Signorina Goodrich,” he said as he did after every lesson. “I would not mind just a taste from your kind uncle’s kitchen. Just a taste, per favore.”

After I changed from my fencing clothes back into my morning dress and adjusted my hair into a less disheveled style, I walked home, accompanied by Flora. We spoke little, for I felt as sober as a vicar. Was fencing to be the highlight of my future? Was there no higher goal to which I should aspire? Surely there was some lifelong service on which I could fix my sights!

Our home, the deanery, was a residence in Christ Church’s main quadrangle, affectionately known as Tom Quad. Normally I marveled at the fountain in the center as I passed, but instead I hurried Flora and myself home. As we entered, I thought to spend time alone in my room, in contemplation of my future, when I passed Uncle Toby in his study. I doubled back. Because he spent much of his time here, it was our accustomed sitting room. Full bookshelves lined the walls, and cozy chairs were arranged in front of the fireplace. Silhouettes of my mother and father-created, I am told, a few years before my birth- stood on the mantel as though watching us. Down through the years, Uncle Toby, Frederica, and I had passed many a pleasant moment together before the fire in either solitary reading, chess matches, or long discussions of political or religious nature.

Now he sat in his favorite leather wing chair, pondering a dusty tome between his hands. Unaware of my presence, he smiled faintly to himself, and I knew him to be lost in a world of literature that excluded all reality.

I cleared my throat at the doorway to gain his attention. Uncle Toby had been known to read straight through dinner if not alerted.

“Oh! There you are, Izzy.” Uncle Tobias looked up, peering at me through the spectacles perched on the end of his nose. He gestured to the high-backed chair beside his own and waved the book in his other hand. “I was just reading the most amazing story. Have you time to share your opinion?”

I admired that he thought me an academic equal, but at the moment my conscience was preoccupied as I sat. “I am afraid not, Uncle Toby, but perhaps you can answer a question for me. How do I learn my life’s calling?”

He shut the book and removed his spectacles. “I had feared that last night would reveal the truth to you. I hoped to soften the blow beforehand, but I-”

“You were nothing but kindness, Uncle.” I patted his hand fondly. “I was a silly goose to be enamored with my new slippers when you tried to speak to me about my future.” I straightened in the chair, feigning maturity as I folded my hands in my lap. “So now I am all attention. How do I learn my life’s calling?”

Uncle Toby smiled anew. “Society would tell you that it is to become some fortunate man’s wife.”

I lifted my nose a trifle. “Society has not helped much in that regard, then. Perhaps I like being unwed.”

His eyes twinkled, and he chucked my chin. “I am not sure that I quite believe you on that, dear Izzy, and I wish I could help where you feel society has not. I have no doubt that my poor dead sister would despair to hear you say such words.”

I swallowed, glancing up at the silhouette. From what Uncle had told me of my mother, I knew his words to be truth. Mother would have reveled in Frederica’s chosen life and no doubt been appalled to have a younger daughter turn out to be a… dear, I hate to use this word, but it is becoming more true each day. I am a spinster.

I squared my shoulders. “Nevertheless, Uncle, I know God chooses a path for each of his children. If it is not marriage, I would like to know mine. A life of solitude, perhaps?”

Uncle Toby smiled. “I do hope it is not in a cloister, Izzy. You are far too intelligent to seal yourself away in a life of contemplation.”

“All that seems left to me is to be a governess then.” I sighed. “Some days I fear that is my only ordained path.”

He raised his brows. “‘Fear,’ Izzy? Do not embark on a journey of unhappiness, for I do not believe that we are called to tasks that make us miserable, but rather those that bring joy not only to others but to ourselves, as well.”

“Then I should be a modiste, for I love fashion.”

He frowned. “You are also too intelligent to spend your days hunched over fabric and thread.”

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