Nell Hawkins nimbly looped a string through a hole in a slender length of wood. Pulling it taut and securing it on the base of the instrument, she smiled.
This was her newest invention, and she was eager to give it a try. She intended that it should have eight strings and be played with a device similar to a violin bow. First, however, she would need to get the strings in tune. Only then would she discover whether she might be successful.
A wisp of blonde hair fell in her eyes, and Nell paused from her work to tie the hair back. She didn’t have time for little distractions like this. The most important thing was ensuring that she got the rest of the stringing done today.
At the sound of footsteps, Nell looked up and saw Mary coming up the path through the trees and approaching the cottage. She smiled and sighed with relief.
“Thank goodness you have come. I was worried that I might not be able to finish today,” Nell said.
“You know I would not neglect you,” Mary teased. “Here. I do believe this is what you were asking for?”
Nell took the piece of metal in her hand. It would act perfectly as a wrench for the tuning pegs she had crafted.
“This is ideal. Thank you, Mary. I would not be able to finish this were it not for your help,” Nell said.
“And what exactly are you finishing? This is … well, I have never seen something quite so strange,” Mary said.
“It is quite similar to a harp, actually,” Nell explained.
“A harp? I can see that it has strings and is a good length, but what of the shape?”
Nell smiled once more and looked at the unique form of the instrument. It looked as though it held the form of an S at certain angles, but the top leaned away, giving something of a loop. The strings stretched from their position in the loop to the base, which was held steady by a plank.
“The shape gives way for more movement with the bow, and I can play with more liberty. I do believe this is the most beautiful instrument I have ever designed, and I am hopeful that the sound and quality shall match it,” she answered.
Mary squinted and then smiled as well.
“I have never learnt to play an instrument, but perhaps, one day, you shall teach me one of yours,” she said.
“I would love to do so,” Nell replied.
She continued showing Mary what she intended to do next, installing the pegs to tune each string as necessary. If she could finish that day, she would immediately start playing music on it and could indulge in her creativity for a while.
“Wherever did you get the idea for this?” Mary asked, still looking at the instrument with surprise.
Nell smiled to herself, remembering the dream when she had first seen it.
“I was sleeping and, in my dream, I was in a beautiful garden. The most beautiful I have ever seen,” she began. “I was playing this instrument with Daisy at my side, and I was lost to the music until I … I sensed that someone was there.”
“Who?” Mary asked, leaning in close.
“I haven’t the faintest idea. But it was a man. I could not see his face. I just knew that he was there,” she replied.
Nell got back to work, not wanting to linger too much on the memory. It had been so lovely that it was difficult to leave the garden in the dream and wake to the real world once more.
“What does your mother think of it?” Mary asked.
Nell sighed, looking up to the sky for a moment. She inhaled the fresh air around them, a moment of relief as she prepared to divulge into the rather difficult topic of her mother.
“She likes it thus far. But you know how she is,” Nell said.
“Actually, I know very little about how she is, Nell. Only what you have told me,” Mary responded.
She was right. Nell had shared with Mary about life’s difficulties in the cottage with her mother, but Nell had not told her everything. She had said that her mother was cautious about Nell meeting other people but had not shared that the root of that fear was related to the idea of Nell meeting men in particular.
“Yes, of course. Well, my mother likes my instruments and enjoys it when I play them, but she does find it difficult at times because I know that she fears my reason for making them. She wonders if I have some grand desire to perform or to make something of myself through music. Although she has this fear, I wish she would simply accept that I have no such goals. I simply enjoy their creation and sound. She need not worry about anything more,” Nell said.
Mary screwed her brows together and looked closely at Nell with evident concern.
“What is it?” Nell asked.
“You may not have a desire to do more with your music, but what about more with your life?”
The question haunted Nell each day. She loved the cottage and her mother, but that did not negate how difficult it was to live this way. She was isolated nearly all the time. Her mother knew that Nell had a friend named Mary, but she had not approved of Nell being too carried away by other people as it would mean that she might socialise with gentlemen of a higher status than the one they bore.
“Please, Mary,” Nell said quietly. She didn’t want to answer the question aloud. She preferred to let it go and accept that her mother needed her, and there was no reason to try and move on or create any unnecessary difficulties.
“Very well. If you do not wish to discuss it, I shall let you alone. But if you do ever care to speak with me about these challenges, you know I am here for you, Nell,” Mary said.
“And for that, I am grateful,” Nell replied with a smile.
“Now, I suppose I ought to leave before your mother returns. But you may come to see me whenever she is willing to let you,” Mary said.
Nell hoped she would be allowed soon but could not be sure. In the meantime, she was simply grateful to have a friend like Mary. After the two said their goodbyes, Nell returned to her work when Daisy, the sparrow she had tamed, flew down to perch beside her.
“Ah, there you are, my dear. Drawn by the sound of tuning strings?” Nell asked.
The little bird chirped in reply, and lonely as she was, Nell went on as if they were in a real conversation, sharing her thoughts with Daisy about whether she had made the pegs too long or if the bow was too short. But by the time her mother returned home, Nell had finished the instrument to her satisfaction.
“Good heavens, Nell, that is lovely!” her mother said, sitting beside Nell on the large stones they had turned into steps outside the front door of the house.
“Thank you, Mother. Would you like to hear how it is played?” Nell asked.
With her mother’s enthusiastic response, Nell went straight to it. There was a simple song she had composed as a child that she always chose when she created a new instrument, believing that it was a good way to tell how she felt about the new craft compared to the ones she had finished previously.
The sound was hauntingly lovely, with the draw of the bow adding a soft contrast to the tightly wound strings that would spring staccato notes if plucked. As the sombre tune picked up with a phrase of hope, Nell closed her eyes and drew the bow in a circular motion to hit every string in the right place. Once the song came to a close, she exhaled and finished with a soft vibrato.
For a moment, all was silent. Nell opened her eyes and looked at her mother’s face as Daisy hopped up onto Nell’s shoulder. Her mother’s eyes had tears in them, but she swiped at them in an effort to hide her emotion.
“What is it, Mother?” Nell asked.
“Oh, nothing,” she sniffed in reply. “I was simply moved by your music. I cannot comprehend how you know precisely how to play each instrument when it is completed. Have you practiced much today while I was gone?”
Nell shook her head.
“I only finished a short time before you returned home,” she answered.
“Then how? How do you play it so well?”
Nell thought for a moment. She was aware that her mother was simply trying to change the subject, to hide the fact that there had been something in the music to affect her. But rather than continue pushing her mother for answers, Nell relented and chose to move on with the conversation and allow herself to be questioned instead.
“It is difficult to describe, but I hear the music—all of it—when I first see the image of the instrument in my mind. I simply know at once what it is that I am supposed to create. It is simple, really. I just know in my heart what it ought to sound like. I picture myself playing, and I know the exact position my fingers must be in to make it all come together,” Nell explained.
“However you manage to do it, it is lovely. Well done, Nell. I think this may be my favourite of all the instruments you have created thus far,” her mother said.
“Thank you, Mother. It may be mine as well,” she said.
“What are you going to call it?”
With a smile, Nell gazed at the instrument once more before she answered.
“I have decided to call it a Bower. Much like where we live here, a cottage under the lovely shade of trees that break to a clear sky above, this is a piece of man and nature, a symbol of their union crafted into wood and string. It rises in this curvature, and I think the name suits it quite well,” Nell declared.
Her mother’s face flashed with pain, but only for a moment before it was replaced with a smile.
“That is a perfect name, darling. Well, I shall leave you to it. I am going inside to make supper,” her mother said, standing quickly and leaving Nell on the stone steps.
Daisy chirped again, and Nell held out her finger for the bird to hop up.
“Worry not, my dear. One day, we shall fly free together,” Nell whispered.
She truly did love her mother, but it was growing more and more difficult each day to remain at the cottage without the ability to roam freely. Nell often wondered why her mother had grown so overprotective, but there were no answers. Rather, her mother would say something bitter about the noblemen and noblewomen, and then she would move the conversation onwards. Nell assumed her mother had faced an unpleasant interaction with them in the past, but she knew nothing more.
Nell’s father had died only weeks before her birth in an accident on horseback. He had been a groom for a noble family and was thrown while training a steed. The family had done nothing to aid Nell’s mother, and she had been left with only the cottage as a memory of him. She often reminded Nell of this, which had been difficult to hear. Nell wished that she had a father around, someone to be with her, and another presence around the cottage.
Nell certainly hoped that there would be a day in the future when she would see more of the world, even if it was just going beyond their town. As it was, she was rarely even allowed in town and only with her mother. And although she really had no desire to play her music in front of others, it did not mean that she had no desire to meet them.
For a while, the pain of it all was more than Nell wanted to think about, but by the time she was ready to put her things away and go inside, she wondered if there really was a better world out there. Was there a place she could enjoy? A place she could feel free? Were there men and women with whom she could spend her time?
Or would she spend the rest of her days here, in the cottage, waiting for a miracle to emerge?
Lord Henry Collins, son of the Earl of Rosewell, was on his way to Hartville when the road split in two directions. Without a sign to guide his path, Henry had to simply make a guess. Was Hartville to the left or the right?
He chose left.
Aware of the fact that his father would scold him for riding horseback as opposed to taking a coach for a business journey, Henry hoped that he had made the right decision. The last thing he needed was another lecture from his father about how poorly he was running the business, about how he needed more diligence with his affairs, about the fact that potential investors would want to see him looking his best.
Henry shook the dark hair from his eyes, knowing he would need to brush it back with his fingers before meeting the business associates. He had planned to be early for the meeting, but as he continued down the road, he quickly realised that this did not seem to be the way to Hartville after all.
He pulled the reins and brought his horse to a stop. All he could see were trees. It was still possible that the village was ahead, but he had expected the road to be wider and more traveled than this. Scratching his head, he paused and looked around.
Suddenly, he heard the strangest sound. Ethereal and otherworldly, Henry gasped, and his eyes darted in every direction, wondering where it was coming from. He had never been superstitious but was beginning to wonder if he had stumbled upon a haunted wood. The song was unlike anything he had ever heard before, and it left him both enchanted and wary.
His mother had played the harp beautifully, and he would listen to her when he was a child, but she had passed away when he was only ten years of age. Since then, the sound of a harp had always made his heart ache. But this was different. It sounded like a cross between a harp and a violin, something he’d never expected out here in the middle of trees and nothingness.
Curious as to the source of the music, Henry rode a little bit further, peering along the tree line for who might be responsible for the sound. At last, he could see where a path trailed off from the main road, and Henry led his horse slowly to it.
There, before his eyes, was a quaint little cottage with a striking young woman with her eyes closed as she played an instrument he had never seen before. Her blonde hair fell loosely around her shoulders, and he sensed the passion in her face as she played, deeply moved by the music.
Henry glanced around, not seeing anyone else with the young woman. He quickly dismounted from his horse. Not wanting to startle her, he remained quiet as he approached, expecting her to open her eyes at any moment or to hear his footsteps. But it quickly became clear that she was lost to the music.
Once Henry was only a few paces away, he felt deeply self-conscious, wondering if he ought to retreat or if it would be better to alert her to his presence somehow. He finally decided to softly clear his throat.
“Ah!” she yelped, jumping back and dropping the bow, nearly knocking over her instrument.
At once, her eyes grew wide with terror when she looked up at Henry in shock. She held the instrument defensively in front of her as though it were some sort of shield.
“F-forgive me!” Henry said, holding out his hands to show that he was no threat. “I did not mean to frighten or disturb you. I … I simply wished to hear your music. I am lost on my way to Hartville and stumbled upon your cottage.”
Henry’s lengthy explanation did not appear to soothe the young woman, and she stared at him with trepidation, leaning back and quickly taking in the surroundings. Henry was unsure whether she was looking for a place to flee or an available weapon.
“Honestly, I did not mean to frighten you, and I mean you no harm. I shall go. I … I just enjoyed your music and … and do you know how I may get to Hartville?”
The woman looked at the ground with her large, brown eyes, framed beneath by freckles that spattered her face like stars in abstract. She was clearly trying to decide what to do next and what might be the wisest choice.
“Hartville is east of here,” she said quietly.
“Thank you. At the fork in the road, I came left. Should I have gone right?”
She nodded but remained otherwise silent and no longer met his gaze. Henry understood that she wanted him to leave … but he found that he could not do so right away.
“I truly did not mean to frighten you,” he said.
“Yes, you mentioned that,” the young woman replied.
“If I may, I would like to know about the instrument you have there. Where did you get it?”
“Why?” she asked, holding it tighter and taking a step back.
“It is lovely. I have never heard a sound like that. Moreover, I am a businessman, and I was thinking that such an instrument would do very well if it were sold throughout England. I imagine many a musician would enjoy playing it,” he said, trying to come up with a quick excuse for his curiosity.
“I see,” she said, brightening a bit. “I call it a Bower. I finished crafting it yesterday and have been practicing today.”
“You made that?” Henry asked in astonishment. He could hardly believe that this young woman, all alone in a cottage, had managed to craft such a beautiful instrument. It was unheard of to see something like this.
“Yes, I did. I make many instruments,” she said.
“Where did you come up with the design for it? Is it something you have seen before?”
“No. I simply thought of it and decided to make it. I am decent when working with wood, and I understand the mathematics of music. It really is very simple,” she said.
But Henry could not imagine the complexities of creating a design like this. He pondered it for a moment, wondering if there was a way he could convince this young woman not to be so wary of him. He needed to put her at ease so he might learn more.
“Would you be willing to play another song on it? I hope you do not mind; it is just that I have never heard such a unique sound as this, and I do think that many people would be grateful to hear such a sound,” he said, seeking an excuse to stay a little bit longer.
“I … I suppose I could. But should you not be on your way towards Hartville?”
She was right. He needed to go. But how could he? Henry was intrigued by this striking and talented young woman. Moreover, he longed to hear her music again. He had not listened to a woman play with such passion since the death of his mother, and it was a wonder to be able to indulge in it once more.
“I have a little bit of time. I was early,” he lied.
“Very well. If you wish, I may play. Have you any song you wish to hear?” she asked.
“Whatever you desire. Do you compose your own?”
“Indeed,” she replied with a shy smile, her cheeks turning pink beneath those freckles.
“Then I should like to hear yours,” Henry said.
With that, the young woman began to play softly. The depth and emotion in the tune were overwhelming, but Henry could not help basking in it. He closed his eyes, certain that she would lull him to sleep with this music. Nevertheless, he was grateful for it, wanting little more than to breathe it in and enjoy the sound of it.
As the dreamy tune came to an end, Henry had to awaken to the world, and he quickly realised that he wanted nothing more than to go back to the ethereal realm he had left.
“It is astonishing music,” he said. His voice sounded strangely loud and harsh after such softness.
“Thank you,” she replied quietly, clearly uncomfortable with his compliments.
“Have you other instruments as well, or is this the first you have made?” Henry asked.
“Oh, I have created thirteen in total, although I am beginning to think this is my favourite,” she told him.
“Thirteen?” he asked in shock. “How have you done this? I am in awe.”
“It really is rather simple,” she said.
A sparrow flew from a tree above, landing just beside the young woman. She looked at the bird with fondness and then returned her attention to Henry.
“I have time and tools to carve the wood, and I can give it my full attention. I have made three percussive instruments, similar to a hand drum but each with additions. And four other stringed instruments, which are my preferred. The others are an assortment of unique sounds that I can hardly put into a category,” she said.
“You clearly have a skill for it,” Henry remarked.
“My mother enjoys it when I play the Belute, a large, horn instrument. The fingering is a bit tricky on that one, but I have been able to adapt,” she said.
“Your mother? So you are not alone here?”
Henry immediately sensed that this question caused the young woman some difficulty in answering.
“No, I am not alone,” she replied.
“I hope I have not disturbed your mother,” Henry said, feeling a strange impulse to apologise, although he was not sure why.
“It is perfectly all right. Anyway, I am glad that you like my instruments, but I ought not to keep you busy,” she said.
“I am none too busy,” he said hastily. Henry couldn’t understand why he was being so drawn to remain with this young lady. He found her fascinating but couldn’t say why. He knew that his father would be furious with him for spending time with a young woman of inferior birth like this, but his father never needed to know.
Besides, it was true that he owned a business and that something like these instruments would sell very well. Henry had come to town for the furniture business, had he not? Surely there was good reason to speak with the young lady about her work. If Henry were to meet with an associate, why should he not also learn about another product that could be worth his time and effort?
It was a very weak excuse, but one that he was desperate to use nevertheless. No matter what Henry knew he was meant to be doing, he preferred to remain here, for now, trying to learn more about this mysterious young woman.
He would certainly need to depart soon for Hartville, but if he could take just a little longer and be close to this woman, he was happy to do so.
“I truly am curious about your instruments and the idea of making them available for others to purchase. If you would be willing, I should very much like to see some of the others you mentioned,” Henry said.
“If you so wish. Shall I get you tea while I am inside?”
“No, that is perfectly all right. I would simply like to see what else it is that you have crafted,” he replied.
With a nod, the young woman departed and left Henry to sit on the stone steps outside the house. He looked closely at the Bower and wondered how she had managed to make anything so beautiful.
Likewise, Henry wondered how she was so beautiful herself. He was as mesmerised by the young woman as he was by her music and knew he had to learn more about both.
“An Artisan’s Melodic Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
For the gifted Nell Hawkins, life beyond her cottage remains a mystery. Even though her overprotective mother is trying to keep her away from the outside world, Nell’s fate has other plans. After all, her devotion and love for making instruments and rescuing animals, were never enough to stop her dreaming of the exciting life out there.
Will her unexpected encounter with a charming stranger be the start of a journey towards the freedom she is craving for?
The daring Lord Henry Collins knows his place. As the future Earl of Rosewell, he must prove he is worthy of inheriting his father’s position and title. Yet, when he loses his way in the woods, he becomes enchanted by the most hauntingly beautiful sound he has ever heard. Little did he know that this magical melody comes from a strange instrument made by a young woman, who will irreversibly change his life forever.
Will he risk his title and reputation for a chance at true, unconditional love with a commoner?
As Nell’s and Henry’s different worlds collide, they know that their parents will never approve of their match, but it is too late to escape their strong attraction. Despite being determined to embrace their feelings and meet in secret, a hidden reality from the past will soon jeopardize their happiness. Torn between love and duty, will Nell and Henry manage to overcome their family’s prejudice and finally dream of their own happily ever after?
“An Artisan’s Melodic Love” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.