There are moments when my mind travels back to that warm summer day when I was just a child and I remember. All at once I am torn by regret and remorse for what I have done - and for what I did not do. Were I a better person none of it need ever have happened. Yet even if I had known what was to come, could I have prevented it? There were other forces at work, stronger wills than mine, and I was carried along by the momentum, swept up like a leaf in a gale.
No, that is the excuse of a weak woman begging for the blame to be lifted from her shoulders, for forgiveness. I was never weak. Even when we were children it was always I who led and Michael who followed, for all that he was older and stronger.
But I have learned that there are different strengths - strength of purpose, strength of body and strength of mind.
As I stand now looking out of my window at gardens, which were once beautiful but have now fallen into neglect, I know that much of what happened here was my fault. The grief and pain I feel cannot be avoided; they are mine and I accept them. I must bear them until the day comes when I can forgive myself.
By way of atonement I have decided to set it all down just as it happened, so that others can read the truth. In doing so I may come to understand myself, and perhaps with understanding will come an easing of my grief.
I pray that God at least will judge me mercifully.
'This way, Michael!' I cried. 'I'm sure it's this way ... '
'Be careful, Bethany,' he called, lagging behind as I ran on heedlessly. 'Father told me there are man-traps in these woods; that's why we're not supposed to come here.'
His words hardly reached me. I was too far ahead and enjoying our adventure. Stephen was just behind me. At twelve and a half he was the younger of my two Forsythe cousins but as reckless as I. My advantage had been gained by suddenly taking off at a run.
It was such a glorious day, the kind of day when everything seems perfect, sun filtering through the trees, making patterns on the dry paths, air warm, sweet scented, alive with the sense of adventure. Overhead birds sang; thrushes, woodlark and the sharp, confident trilling of a wren, that tiny, insignificant bird with such a compelling voice.
I was reckless, unheeding. Running through the trees, laughing, careless, Stephen had caught me now, passing me with ease, speeding ahead into the distance, soon lost to sight.
'Stephen!' Michael's shout went unheard, ignored. 'Watch where you tread.' Michael was close to me now. He plucked at the sleeve of my gown, dragging at me until I stopped and turned to look at him, suddenly contrite as I saw the anxiety in his soft brown eyes.
His fine hair had fallen over his brow. I reached up to brush it back, smiling as I did so. Michael and Stephen were the sons of my mother's cousins and I was an only child, so I looked forward to the times when we came to stay at their home, to the chance of companionship and adventure.
My visits to Lake House were not as frequent as I would have liked. My parents lived in London and we were here now because it was summer and my father was free from his duties in Parliament for a few weeks. Because both my parents had busy, social lives, most of my own life was spent at St. Faith's Academy for girls, which was pleasant enough, though I preferred the freedom I found here - especially when the weather was good and I was able to roam the large grounds with my companions.
Michael had always been my favourite. He had gentle eyes, which reminded me of a puppy I'd once had and adored until it died of distemper. How I'd wept when my father buried it in the garden.
'We shouldn't have come,' Michael said, now that he was sure of my attention. 'Father will be so angry.'
Sir Henry Forsythe was a large, remote, stern-faced man given to sudden rages, and I was a little afraid of him. Both his sons held him in a healthy respect.
'Perhaps he need not know,' I suggested hopefully. 'If no one tells him.'
'Perhaps.' Michael smiled at me. 'We had better find Stephen. He'll get into trouble alone.'
Hope you enjoyed the excerpt.A Shocking Scandal goes on free again tomorrow - should have been today.