Thursday, March 15th, 2018
“Why are the gates closed, Thomas?”
“I was about to come and tell you, Ma’am. Master William told us we might expect a visit from the elder Thackeray today, and suggested that while he was away in London on business, that we should keep the gates closed and to keep Thackeray off the property until tomorrow when William might deal with him.”
“Yes, William took off early for London before anyone else was up and about, after that letter came last evening, and he said he would need to go today as it seemed urgent. He said nothing about Mr. Thackeray being in the area.”
“No, Ma’am, he just found out about it himself and asked me to let you know. He said we would need to find a way to keep him out.”
“Then we must do that, Thomas.”
“Yes, mum. William said he would be back by this evening no matter how things might go. He doubted that Mr. Thackeray would dare to try and force his way in with me and Ned close by, but he warned us not to say anything to him but to just put him off whichever way we could. Maybe it’s time to take that other old tree out too, and lay it across the drive a bit, to be sure he cannot get in, and tell him the family is not at home until tomorrow, and I was told that no one was to come in while you were away.”
“That sounds like an excellent suggestion, Thomas. Give us warning if you see him coming, and I will make sure that the girls stay in the house and out of the way until he’s gone, and you can put him off however you can.”
She stopped with an afterthought. “Thomas?” He turned. “Perhaps you would not mind going over to the Davenports and see if we might borrow Sir Licksalot for a while. That might do the trick as well as anything would.”
He laughed at her suggestion and walked off toward the Davenport house as she had suggested.
Some hours later, Thomas saw a carriage approaching down the lane and knew who it had to be. He gave instructions to the lad with the ax and went off to the house to warn the ladies to remain out of sight and then returned into the stable where he might hear everything that would go on. The lad was clever enough that he could be sufficiently gormless when required, to put off even the most determined visitor. He could not help chuckling to himself. How true it was that a clever man might easily play a fool, but a fool will never be able to convince anyone that he is a clever man. Ned was a clever lad.
The horses pulled up in the lane as the gentleman driving them realized he could not turn into the driveway with the gates closed, and a tree lying across the drive. He watched the lad wielding his ax for some moments, realizing that it was not likely that he would be finished any time soon. They should have hitched a horse or two to the fallen trunk and dragged it out of the way, but that seemed to be beyond them.
“Ho there. I am paying a formal visit.” He raised his voice and attracted the lad’s attention. The lad looked up at him, rested for a few moments on the handle of the ax, and then returned to his work as though he had not heard him.
“I am here to visit the Barristows.” He had spoken in a louder voice.
The lad stopped what he was doing again and then spoke. “Not possible, sir. No one is allowed in.” The lad was standing on the trunk, lopping branches off with an axe, but had paused when he heard the man speak again. “Mistress is away at the moment, and I was told to get this old tree out of here while they were away.”
“When is she expected back?” He decided patience with the youth might achieve more than any more determined an approach.
“Not till tomorrow at least, sir. Yes, tomorrow.” The lad seemed to fall into deeper thought as he argued with himself. “At least tomorrow if today is Wensday, but if it isn’t, then I dunno what she might have said.” He seemed confused.
“Today is Wednesday.” He watched the lad grapple with that thought but was not inclined to believe any of what he might say. He would assume she was home and had given instructions not to admit him or anyone else.
“You can tell Mrs. Barristow that I am here to convey my condolences over her recent losses and to meet with her. You might consider doing it now. I am a close relative and in the area from London, and I desire to speak with her on a matter of some considerable importance and benefit to her.”
The lad did not move. He was up to the tricks of gentleman to try and bypass what they did not like. “Not possible, sir.”
“Oh. Why not?”
He looked at the gentleman as though his questioner were stupid. Fortunately, the lad was on the other side of the gate and out of reach of his crop so was inclined to be braver than he might have been. “You must be deaf not to have heard what I said the first time.” He raised his voice a few notches and spoke slowly. “I already told you. Its a’cause they’s not here. And besides, the entire house is in mourning and undergoing renovation, and it’s getting a good clean out today too while they are gone.”
The older man decided not to take offense at the lad’s impudence just yet. He looked about and could see laundry hanging out over lines extending from the house to the corner of the barn. There were carpets hanging over the hedge nearby and being soundly beaten with a broom, kicking dust up into the air and drifting toward him. He was well aware that others might be listening out of sight and was not about to invite more than he needed to invite by trying to enter the property and laying his crop across the impudent lad’s shoulders. He had seen his son’s condition, and he nurtured a burning desire to correct that wrong, but this lad had not done it, for he was too small, and there was not a mark on him. And not only was he too stupid to live, but also his description did not match the one his son had given.
“Well, where are they?” He sounded impatient to be learning nothing that he wanted to know.
“Not my place to say, sir, even if I knew, and I don’t ’cause they don’t confide in me with their plans for me to blab to them as arsks. Besides I have me hands full with this tree and then the stable to muck out again, never ending, that. And then lor’ knows what after that. Seven days of the week all the same to me, so why should I fratch over whether it’s Wensday or Friday or whatever?”
“I do not need a list of your chores. Then I shall leave a message.”
“They wun’t get it, sir.”
“Cause I can’t remember me own name at times, sir. Ma says that if my ’ead wasn’t nailed on good and ’ard, I’d lose that too. No point arsking me to ’member anything. I have difficulty wiv my own name at times.”
“Is there no one else about with more wit?” He was rapidly losing patience with the lad.
“Oh yes, sir. Everybody here has more wit than me, which is why I ’ave the job of cleaning out the stables and not them. I’ll let t’gaffer know you’re here, if you like.” He let out a bellow for Thomas.
Thomas appeared with a pitchfork out of the stable as though he had been pitching hay to the livestock. There was a blank smile on his face as though he were as simple as the vacuous youth.
“I seem unable to penetrate the fog about this fellow’s brainbox. I am going to break my journey here.” He decided that it would not be open for discussion. But Thomas was wise to this gentleman and his ways.
“Oh. I don’t see as how that’s possible, sir.”
“Of course, you can see it. You can also see to my carriage. There must be somewhere you can put it out of the way and then you can bring my bags in.” He began to dismount from the seat of the carriage.
“Oh no, sir. I wouldn’t do that, sir, if I was you.”
A large brindle-colored dog, previously unseen, had raised himself from the ground in the shade of the barn, where he had been gnawing on a large bone that looked suspiciously like a human thigh-bone and eyed up the visitor attentively as he let out a low growl. Fortunately, he was restrained by a chain.
Their would-be visitor regained his seat on the carriage, despite the dog’s wagging tail.
Thomas spoke harshly to the dog. “Down, you devilish brute.” The dog settled himself again with the bone, and his tail wagging, but watched the visitor.
“He’s already broken free once this morning. No end of trouble is that dog. I daren’t let you in here, sir. It’s more than my life’s worth to disobey my mistress. She’d turn me off just like that. It is more than your life’s worth if you try to come in, with that brute. You can’t stay here, sir, with no one home. Not possible today, sir. When mistress says no one is to be admitted, she means it, sir. Told us to keep our eyes open for gypsies and to shoot ’em off the property if we need to, for they’d steal the coppers off a dead man’s eyes, they would. That’s why we have the dog here too. He doesn’t care who he latches himself onto, but he seems to prefer gentleman after children.” He turned to the lad standing on the tree. “I told you not to give him that bone just yet, Ned.”
“I didn’t. I’ve still got that one h….” The lad lost his speech for a second or two, and there was a pale look on his face. “Ooh. Then where’d that one come from?”
“Say no more, Ned. Don’t want to scare anyone needlessly now, do we? I’ll check in the shrubbery later.”
“I am not a gypsy.” The older man did not like to be put off in this way. “Perhaps you should shoot the dog if he is that vicious. Perhaps I should.”
“I think maybe I can see that you are not a gypsy, sir. He’s only a bit awkward like with those he don’t know, and that makes him the more valuable. But we are doing a lot of cleaning out today while everyone’s out of the way, so the house is in a turmoil, and the dog keeps an eye on house and barn both, where he is. Too good an eye, I’m thinking. The inn down in the village could see to you, sir. Highly recommended, now that they have mostly got rid of their bed bugs, though their fleas might still be a problem. Mistress will be in tomorrow. If you was to come back at noon tomorrow, you’d catch her home then.”
“Well, where is she now? I would like to see her today.”
“Not my business to say, sir.”
He was not impressed, and he did not like the belligerent or blockish attitude of either of them. But he could also see a fowling piece laid nearby and was not about to argue with the hired help or the dog.
He was not at all suited. “Very well. Tell your mistress I shall call tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir. Very wise. Noon tomorrow, sir. You can turn your carriage down the lane a’piece.” He decided not to warn him that the mud puddle where he might turn was quite deep and likely to cause him some difficulty.
After Mr. Thackeray had managed to turn himself around and head back toward the village, Mrs. Barristow appeared from the house.
“You did well, Thomas, and you too, Ned. I was having difficulty holding my laughter in at all of the whiskers you were telling. It’s a good job he did not know what a great daft dog that one is and would be inclined to lick him to death, and he has breath that would knock a post over. I am sure the wolves in Ireland left when they saw a dog like that. He must eat enough to feed two men.”
“And some, Ma’am.” He scratched the dogs belly as it put its paws on his shoulders, almost knocking him off his feet and licked at his face as it drooled down his front. He grimaced. “Ooh. You were right about the breath, Ma’am. Maybe that was why those wolves left.”
“Perhaps we should have the gate closed all of the time and get an Irish wolf hound of our own.”
Mr. Devane arrived back that evening shortly after dark, mud flecked and tired and hungry, but with good news.
He smiled and was relieved to hear of Thomas’s and Ned’s successful efforts to keep Mr. Thackeray off the property. They could now return the dog, aptly nicknamed Sir Licksalot, to the neighbor’s house with his marrow bone from that butchered cow.
After the girls had been sent off to bed, amidst some complaints from Annis, William sat down in the parlor with Mrs. Barristow and related his day’s accomplishments at some length.
He took her hand in his. “One last thing, Ma’am. You should be away tomorrow when Thackeray visits again.”
“It will not get out of hand, will it, William? Not as it did with his son?” she looked and sounded concerned for him.
He frowned and then smiled. “Yes, I thought you would eventually get a full account of that. But no, I shall try to ensure that it does not, Ma’am, but I can offer no guarantees. He is worse than his son if reports of him are correct, but then I suspect age may have slowed him down, and he is more cautious than he used to be, but the more dangerous for it. I think I shall deal with him gently if I can—more gently than I was initially inclined to be.”
“It is to be hoped so. I do not want anything to happen to you after what you have done for us.”
“There shall be nothing happen to me Ma’am. I know him and what he is capable of, and I do not doubt that he now knows something of me, unfortunately, from his son, so he will also be forewarned and forearmed as I will be. I learned enough of him in town that I think he will easily be convinced of the wisdom of leaving you all alone. Although those papers I brought back with me should do that well enough.”
Friday, March 9th, 2018
The next week brought never-ending rains which kept them all close to the house, pouring over books and playing various games, though they soon lost their attraction, and the girls drifted off to find other distractions or settled by the fire to catch up on reading or mending.
“Will this rain never cease?” Charlotte was looking through the rain-streaked window. “Even the ducks have taken to sheltering in the barn with that wind. We can go nowhere in this, and there is no chance of getting into the garden for the raspberries. The birds will get them all again, or they will go moldy or even drop off.”
“Oh, mama. Look. Here is that bonnet I was telling you about.” Annis showed her mother the drawing of the dress and the bonnet in the ladies magazine she had been reading, and took note of the directions for putting one together just like it. She was pleased to see that such minor things could be distracting even if only for a while.
“Well, it is to be hoped you stick at it longer than you did your knitting.”
Annis grimaced at that criticism. She felt more than just foolish the way that had worked out, but William had said nothing about it, and everyone else had been in the village or busy elsewhere so had not heard the shots or had chosen not to inquire about them.
She put the magazine aside. “The weather may intimidate the ducks, and certainly the hens, but it does not seem to stop either Thomas or William, for they seem as busy as ever in the outbuildings considering the hammering, and Sophia does not seem to leave their side. She has become a ragamuffin and does not seem to care how grubby or muddy, or even wet, she becomes.”
“Yes, William takes good care of her, doesn’t he.” Their mother ignored the unflattering description of her youngest daughter, thankful that she had distractions enough to fill her every waking moment and to keep her mind off the other for a while; unlike her elder sisters and mother. He was also close into all of their lives, as an elder brother might be. The usual cautions that a mother might throw at her daughters in the close company of a strange man, were never uttered. She saw no danger or difficulty. He seemed unmoved in any awkward way by the usual habits of sometimes careless daughters, in the way they had grown used to relaxing with each other, and careless of the way they sat as they were engrossed in something to take their minds off the tragedy, that constantly hung over them. She knew that, as a man, he did notice such things, indeed he was helpless not to do so, and was entranced by their revealing carelessness in each other’s company, or when they had just arisen from their beds and were not properly dressed, nor him either—of which they also took more than just a passing interest in turn—or were combing or washing their hair, and were ill-attired and more on display than might be acceptable in other company, and all without it being too obvious to anyone but her. She seemed to be the only one that was cautious about such things. What she glimpsed from time to time as they sat carelessly with each other, or rose from their recumbent state on the window seat, she did not openly disapprove of, as she perhaps should. William noticed. She said nothing. Only a fool would choose to frighten off the only bright light to have descended on them in their time of need, and that, almost by accident.
“Is it only a week since the funeral?” Their mother’s disturbed thoughts were still inescapably drawn back to that. “Yes, it is.” She stared off into the distance. She would never be free of that particular pain and its constant reminders. She wrenched herself out of that mood as she needed to do many times each day, and to put her mind into other channels. “I am surprised that we have not received a visit from London, for the Thackeray’s must have heard of our loss, and I thought that they would be unable to refrain from hounding us. I have dreaded his showing up. When your father fell ill two years ago, he seemed to express a great deal of interest in that, at least until your father recovered his health and told him to stop his foolishness and to mind his own business and to stop hovering and take himself off.”
Charlotte did not raise even her head from her mending to enter the conversation. “If you mention the devil like that, Mama, I hear he is just likely to appear. But Mr. Thackeray will not be coming again.” Charlotte was too engrossed in mending the hem of a dress at that moment, having become depressed at seeing so much rain, that she did not see the signs and signals that Annis tried to send her way to stop her from relating any such thing.
“And how do you know that, Miss? This is the first I heard of Mr. Thackeray being here.”
“I overheard Molly saying how he had been trespassing and poking and prying here last week while we were in Church but had been sent off in no uncertain way and with a….” she paused to get the accent right, and looked at her listeners, “…a right proper thick ear—as she said in her Yorkshire twang—and had a rare punishment, a beating that was long overdue and a treat to watch when he had been caught snooping through father’s papers in the study. Or so she said. I wonder if those teeth I found by the trough and those sovereigns and watch were his?” She focused on her needlework again. “Who else might they belong to indeed? Well he shan’t have his sovereigns back. I intend to keep those. I don’t know about the watch. I may give it to William for his pains. But I cannot approve of his fighting like that.”
“Really?” This was all news to their mother. “What beating? What teeth? What sovereigns? Indeed, what watch? What fighting? I knew none of this, Miss. I did hear of a slight contretemps when William discouraged some bad behavior about then, but no name was mentioned and no one thought enough of it to say more. I thought it might have been the squire he told off about his letting his cows run loose in our field.”
Charlotte glanced momentarily at her mother. “No, mama. You would not hear the full details of it. The servants were told to say nothing of it for fear of upsetting you. I showed you the sovereigns, and you said I could keep them.” Charlotte still had her head in her work and could not see Annis trying to quiet her.
“I said nothing of the kind. I saw no sovereigns. Who administered this beating?” Their mother still had not learned of any of it. Until now.
“Oh, Mama. Need you ask?” She glanced at her mother again in some disbelief that she did not know, and then re-immersed herself in her task. “You noticed the blood on his shirt and cheek at the Church that day, for you wiped it away for him, and his hand was bandaged for a day or so afterward. Surely you noticed it when you sat down with him and those other two gentlemen from London.”
He mother blanched. “Well, yes, I did. But he had a ready explanation for that. He said nothing about a fight.”
“It wasn’t the squire. It was that Thackeray man. Have you also not noticed that the squire got his cows out of our field about that time too and has never put them back in there again either, and even seems to have repaired the fence that Papa was sure he had weakened deliberately? Surely you have noticed the difference in the servants’ demeanor toward William? I have.. They cannot seem to do enough for him.”
“Well, yes, I have noticed that.” Their mother began to wonder what it was that she did not know, that everyone else seemed to know all about. “No more than is his due though. He is a gentleman with them, as he should be, and thanks them most kindly when they do anything for him, and he helps them out too with the more difficult tasks. He has no need to do any of that. I am sure I don’t expect it any more than they do. He even helps Thomas. They have worked wonders, the pair of them, on so many things we seem to have overlooked and neglected.” She looked up from what she was doing. “But where is William? I must learn more of this. I have not seen him all morning.”
Annis saw a means of diverting her mother. “Best not to disturb him, Mama. He is working with Thomas on a particularly difficult task if Sophia is to be believed any more. Besides, I have something I need to ask you.”
“Very well, I will ask him later. What do you wish to ask, dear?”
“My father was never a violent man, was he?”
She sighed. There could be no leaving some things aside. “Lord no, child. Your father was a gentle and kind man, at least for the last few years, mostly he was, and quite calmed down a lot when we settled here just after we married, bless him.” Her eyes misted as she looked into the fire for a few moments. “Whatever would have made you think that? Oh, but it was not because he could not be violent when the need was there, for he was not at all gentle when he showed Thackeray off the property that time, but then it never did get out of hand, for Thomas was also close by, and I recall he had a pitchfork in his hands.
“It almost degenerated into a violent situation with the squire on that one occasion also. All very minor. It seems that some men will not take a hint and need to see that violence will erupt if they do not change what they are doing. They are just like roosters that way, facing up to each other until one of them backs down or not. If not, then the feathers will fly, and the spurs get used, and the winner can then be declared. I think your father prevailed without going any further than he needed to.”
She reflected again upon the question and qualified it. “No. Your father was not violent, unless it was absolutely necessary. So I suppose there were occasions when it was called for but never too seriously.” The other still nagged at her. “I must get that tale out of Molly if it was not as I assumed it was. It seems that the servants and my daughters know everything, and I know nothing. Your father always warned me that the servants know more of what is going on about us than ever we might.”
Annis then took a part. “But what if there is more to it than just necessary violence, Mama? What if a man seems to be violent for violence’s sake and without cause?”
“Oh.” She looked over at Annis. “I see you read your godmother’s letter to me then? I imagine it did not paint a glowing complimentary picture of William, for I know her opinion of him and her belief that he is an inherently violent individual, even with womenfolk. Well he isn’t.” She was adamant on that issue. “You must watch what you believe my girl. Half of what she says is untrue, and the other half is exaggerated or misinterpreted. She has been liberal with her opinion of him every time we saw each other in the last few months, anticipating his return. She does not approve of him and hasn’t since he was a boy growing up, nor of what we had been planning in the last year or so—his mother, sister and I.”
“Mama. How do you know of what she might have said of him? I was the one who read her letter, and I know you have not seen it.”
“I am not entirely stupid, though you may think I am. I know Addie’s opinions of William, my dear, and her repertoire of ills and complaints against the boy, for she regales us with them at every opportunity. I set no store in gossip, my dear, and nor should you. I had no intention of reading it until I was better able to deal with it. She can be aggravating and infuriating at times with her opinions of everything, and never sees the need to change or learn what the truth might be where men are concerned.” She sighed. “Yet she is one of my dearest friends.”
“But it is surely more than gos—”
“No. It is not.” She interrupted her daughter. “Young men can be testy and argumentative and sometimes get drawn in deeper than anyone would like. That is their way of preparing for their adult battles with other men. If a man is not prepared to do battle for his rights and property or for the woman he loves, then he will lose both them and his own self-respect and will never be able to hold his head high in society again. It is no different than that rooster we put in the pot. He had lost his place and was incapable of treading hens or of laying eggs, so he had to go, as we all do when we lose our purpose in life.”
Annis heard Charlotte repeat her mother’s words with a laugh. “Treading hens. It’s a good thing Sophia is not here to demand to know what that means.”
Her mother seemed taken aback. “Well, that’s what they do. She knows what it means, for she sees it often enough for herself. If they did not, we’d get eggs enough but no chickens out of any of them. I cannot imagine you have not paid attention to that. That’s why we have roosters, remember? Sophia already knows more than you think about such things. She’s not shy about asking questions of anyone, even about some of the personal things. She even asks William in front of everyone. Quite embarrassing for the poor man. But he handles it so well.”
She sighed heavily. “Your father did all that he needed to do on my behalf when we first met and solved a difficult problem that I faced with one particular suitor who did not know what the word ‘no’ meant and would not be easily put off. I did not approve in the slightest of what he did, but I, nonetheless, was quite impressed in a way I could not relate to anyone, for that had been quite violent and saved me from an awkward marriage contrived by my parents. He overturned all of that.
“No. I shall not tell you any more of that at this moment. We can save it for a time when it is likely to cause less heartache. But I will know where William is and what he is doing.” She stared at Annis waiting for an answer while Charlotte concentrated more on her mending.
“He is shoring up the stable, Mama, with Thomas, under the supervision and watchful eyes of our now, never-present-with-us, sister Sophia who lives in his pocket and seems far too worshipful of him. She never seems to leave his side and even insists on going off with him on his horse when he needs to head into the village for anything. They have been lucky enough not to get wet so far, but it is just a matter of time.”
“I noticed. But I am thankful for that. She was the one I worried for, with…” She fought that memory and the pain it brought, “…with her father gone. I know we all feel it cruelly, but I feared that she would be the one most upset, and now she seems not to have a care in the world. I was concerned and hurt at first, but now I am thankful for that. But I did not tell him to do anything, and I certainly did not expect him to look after her so well as he does, and never a word of complaint, and never impatient with her. He does not mind at all for he told me himself that he enjoyed her company, and it is obvious that he does. I should have remembered that he would be repairing out there, for he did tell me what he planned on doing. He usually suggests what needs to be done or asks if I had other tasks for him first and, if not, then…and off he goes and does everything.”
Annis put her magazine to one side for a few moments, and stretched, while no-one other than her sister or mother might see her. “When you are not here, Mama, he also finds things that need to be done all by himself and says nothing of any of it, as when he fixed those windows and replaced some tiles on the stable roof while Sophia supervised from the pigeon cote. She had climbed inside of it now that it is more sturdy and did not seem to care that she was then covered with droppings. Then he took down that tree that was threatening to block the driveway, or worse, if it had come down across someone. He seems to know how to work with tools. I would probably cut my feet off if I swung an ax the way he does when he was taking those branches off. He says there is another tree to go, that is just as bad. They cleaned out the drains and unblocked the stream, which was just as well or it would have been running down the driveway after all the rain we had. He and Thomas work well together, especially on the barn. It settled under the weight of hay last summer, and father never did get around to seeing that it was repaired.”
“Yes, I remember. Your father was debating whether or not to pull it all down and rebuild.”
“No need now, Mama. It has been raised and repaired. Fresh hay and all, and at least two new support posts, shaped and put in and made from that same tree that he took out, so Sophia tells me. She seemed impressed by the ingenuity that went into doing it too, with some kind of frame support and pulleys to raise the main beam and even some levers too at work. She was excited to discover that someone as small as she could pull on a rope and raise such a massive beam more than two extra feet into the air while they put in new support posts. They were all singing some kind of sea shanty when I walked in on them with Sophia and Thomas pulling on the rope in time to the song. She was having a rare old time of it. We shall never hear the last of it I fear, except she does not seem to leave his side for long enough to tell us all about her most recent accomplishments.”
Charlotte entered the conversation once more. “She came in earlier and was spouting off at how William had taught her that a little bit of brain work can beat any amount of brawn, and now she knows all about pulleys and levers and such things.”
“Harmless enough thing to say, for it’s true. Your father used to say the same thing. Now what was it that Mrs. Rogers used to say about that son of Welch’s? That great strong lad with no more wit than a fence post.”
“Mother.” Annis laughed, though she was shocked. “I do not think it polite to repeat it, for it was not at all flattering to the poor boy, and he did have a little more wit than that. But not much.”
They had not noticed that Sophia had entered the parlor and was munching on something. “Molly said he was ‘strong in’t back and thick in’t head and like a great daft lass.’” A broad Yorkshire twang was evident in her pronouncement which did not meet with her mother’s approval, for she frowned at her as she took in the crumpled state of her dress and hay still attached to it and in her hair.
“Yes, she did, didn’t she. My, what a mess you are in. One might think you had been rolling in the stream and then in the hay.”
Sophia ignored her. “Thomas says that too. She is full of sayings like that from Yorkshire, and she must have taught him some when they laugh and cud—” She faltered and colored up, but her mother did not ask her to continue what she was saying. Annis was looking at her with an alarmed look in her eyes and a barely perceptible shake of the head to stop any continuation of that particular indiscretion, and others far more shocking, concerning how Molly and Thomas might conduct themselves when they believed that they were alone.
“Yorkshire does not sound like a polite kind of place, and I hope none of it sticks. But I don’t think any of that applies to William, that is certain. You should tidy up, dear.”
Sophia ran off outside again at that moment once she saw that William was walking off across the yard and before she landed herself into trouble or was made to go and change and bathe. Again. He hesitated and smiled down at her as she caught up with him and took hold of his hand as she skipped along beside him and avoided the mud puddles.
“No. He seems to be a soft-spoken man with everyone, despite what we have learned about him and Thackeray.” Charlotte had put aside her mending and was then was maneuvering her graphite stick at that moment to try and capture a particularly thoughtful expression that had just shown on her sister’s face as she looked out of the window. “He is so patient. Do you know that he sings to her at night?”
“Sings? I thought I heard something like that once she had gone to bed.”
“Yes. He has some gentle little lullaby kind of songs that he sings in a low voice so that no one else might hear him. She was singing it to her dolls later while she was playing with them, and I asked her about it. He even reads to her and tells her nursery rhymes too. He is full of them.
“Did you know that Humpty Dumpty really did fall off that wall?”
“Come now, Charlotte. It is a nursery rhyme.”
“Yes, but there is a story behind each of them, you know? They are satirical or lyrical renditions of real social circumstances and political too, as with Jack Horner and pulling plums out of pies—sometimes quite humorous, foolish, or even grisly, I learned, as with Mary, Mary, quite contrary and her garden. Queen Mary. Bloody Mary who had all of those people burned at the stake. It will never sound quite so harmless to me now, for I did not know about her ‘garden’ or those dreadful cockleshells.” She shivered at the memory. “Though he did not tell Sophia the story behind that one, and I am sure he would not have told me either. I knew that one myself from one of father’s books that I was not supposed to read.”
Her mother looked sharply at her “I thought those were locked away.”
“You cannot shelter us forever, Mama.”
“No, I suppose not. Not now.” She nonetheless made a note in her own mind that she would check on where she had put them, along with her sketch books. It would not do for them to be in general circulation.
Charlotte was still rambling along. “Humpty Dumpty was the name given to a large cannon. When the foundations crumbled under it on the wall, it fell off and they couldn’t get it back onto the wall again. So you see there is a real story behind it. He even encourages her to play the harpsichord. For he got her to give him a lesson.”
“But she is only beginning herself.”
“Yes. Clever of him, wasn’t it? It was becoming harder to get her to practice until he began to show an interest.”
Charlotte yawned. The weather was getting to her. “I might almost suspect that he knows how to play himself, the way he was asking her some things and struggling quite creditably to show her how to achieve something while carefully giving the impression that she had shown him, for he asked some clever questions of her. She also does not regard her freckles with quite as much dislike now that she knows that they are fairy kisses.”
“Oh yes. She had mentioned that if she could change anything in the world it would be to bring…well you know…both of them back.” She regretted saying anything of that, even as she said it, for it weighed heavily upon them all, much of the time, but continued quickly. “But then had mentioned that she hated her freckles and would change those too. Everyone made fun of her over them, and she did not like to be made fun of. So he told her that she was privileged to have them and that those who made fun of her were jealous, for they were special, and only few children ever had them. That caught her attention, and she wanted to know why.”
Her mother was suddenly interested. “I think I would like to know why too, for I had freckles when I was her age and still have them at times.” Her mother brushed a tear from her eye, and Charlotte regretted her thoughtless tongue and thought to steer the conversation into slightly different channels, but Annis took over the conversation at that point.
“I believe he told her that while she was asleep as a baby, the fairies had come in to see her and had kissed her. And wherever they kissed her, there was a small freckle left to show what they had done.”
“Well, I never!”
“Oh yes. Now she searches for them in her bath, wherever they are, and points them out proudly. Even to William, whom she now insists helps bathe her as she chatters along to him artlessly. He should have properly declined her offer to help bathe her, but he did not. I believe he saw that we disapproved, so did not decline as he should have. It is embarrassing where she manages to find them and is not shy about pointing them out wherever they are, but he does not care in the slightest what Charlotte or I might think about it all, nor how embarrassed we are, but just smirks. There are times I wish we were elsewhere when she does that, for she has neither any sense of modesty nor embarrassment, either in her bath nor afterward as she parades about quite naked and cares what no one might think, least of all William, who smiles through it all as he dries her.
“And why should she? She is but six years old and not at all shy. But then six may be old for that kind of behavior. No matter. No one will be offended. William isn’t, I am sure. She is too young to be deliberately coquettish and we should leave her with her childhood as long as we can. I was afraid she might have to grow up too fast.”
While her mother was distracted, Annis continued with their observations. “William has a mischievous side too. He pointed out that everyone living here has one leg and that all of the animals have three legs. Sophia could not believe him with that one, and nor could I, until he went further with it and pointed out that though Thomas has only one leg, he also has another, a second one, to go with it. Sophia did not know what to make of it at first and then saw through it all and has been playing that game with everyone now too. He also calls the sheep, bleating chickens. The cows, he insists, are horses with horns and vice versa and gets her quite annoyed with him. I must admit I was quite confounded by it at first too, then she told me what he had said of Thomas….”
Their mother’s thoughts were obviously far away at that moment.
Just then, there was the suggestion of a rumble of thunder, and there was a general scurrying to join the servants, to bring in the washing before it might rain again and to get it hanging up in the washhouse, where it was at least warm enough to get it dry.
Friday, March 9th, 2018
A wise girl will sit or squat to pee. Any other way is dangerous, as the Wilson triplets learned one evening on the school roof, when they stood to do it. Their lives were changed forever by that act. It also changed the life of David, young son of the grounds-man and a doctor at the local hospital.
The Wilson girls were on the school roof one night when it began to rain. They should go in, but needed to pee. They stripped off their nightclothes, rolled them firmly to hold tight under their arms, and stood nakedly defiantly at the edge, peeing, standing up.
Sarah slipped. Clothing flew everywhere as her sisters leapt forward. Too late. She stopped at the edge; her toes in the gutter. They had only nightdresses to help her, so dangled them down to her. They couldn’t go back into the school now. Le-an remembered the cottage.
She was totally naked, but Sarah needed help. She went down the ladders off the roof, running across the lawn holding her breasts steady.
She knocked on the door. No response. She opened it and shouted. Hearing taps running, she walked toward the noise. A completely naked young man stepped out immediately in front of her, not seeing her, drying his hair. He was shockingly aroused. Her eyes were fixed on that.
They collided, heads bumping, then they were falling. There was not only a sharp pain in her head, but another developing much lower on her body as they settled over the end of the chaise together, with him lodged firmly between her legs. Too firmly. Hurting.
He was fucking her!
She passed out.
Thursday, March 1st, 2018
Nothing seemed to escape William’s attention. By early the next morning, he had noticed that Annis has taken to carrying a bulky and heavy knitting bag with needles poking from it, and yet, he had never seen her knitting to any purpose. It sounded ominous when she had put it down on the parlor table a little too heavily on one occasion.
He smiled and bided his time. He had noticed one of the large horse pistols had gone missing from the gun cabinet in the study.
That same afternoon, as he was allowing his midday meal to settle, he had sat himself in the window seat of the parlor and opened his journal to continue writing his various letters. Annis was doing some mending with needle and thread as she sat at the parlor table, intent also on keeping an eye on William as much as she could. He had not spent much time after that first day in their father’s study and after the other two gentlemen had left. Annis had watched everything taking place around her, even as she watched William, and was concerned to note that her mother no longer seemed worried about the state of their affairs, or almost anything else for that matter, yet she herself could not see that anything might have changed for the better.
She now knew, after a little surreptitious investigation as the opportunity was available, that some of the letters in William’s folder were to the families of those who had served with him in his regiment and for whom he had felt responsible, for there were a sheaf of them in the back of his bulky folder along with his sketches.
As a major, he had the responsibility of commanding several men and undoubtedly of losing some of those about him. Her father had spoken of such things as the various news sheets had come across his desk.
William had taken on the task of writing to their families to express his greatest sorrow over the loss of their sons while serving with him in the Peninsula and clearing out the French. There seemed to have been many of them killed in action, and yet, she was not sure just how many men a major might expect to command. She had noticed and read one or two where he had written to those whose son was only badly wounded, to give them news of their son’s progress and whereabouts.
He had positioned himself close to Annis’s knitting bag, which was beside him and he seemed to have lost something, for he looked through his folder and then beside himself.
“So that is where I lost it.” He had picked up Annis bag as he delved behind it, into the cushions for a pencil that he seemed to have lost there, and seemed surprised to encounter the muzzle of a pistol poking from her knitting bag.
“My. What is this?” He gave every appearance of being bemused as he looked across at Annis. “I did not realize that this was part of the knitting requirements of a young lady. Surely the clacking of knitting needles does not arouse such violent passions in anyone to the point where you need to defend yourself from attack?”
“It isn’t.” She colored, even as he smiled and then laughed gently. It seemed that he was able to read her thoughts.
He smiled at her. “I didn’t think it was. You seem to fear for your life. Do you? That is the only reason I know for anyone wanting to carry such a murderous weapon as this.”
She was flustered for a second or two and could not meet his eyes. “There were two strangers here the other day. One of them seemed most…seemed the worse for wear and strange, and perhaps with violent tendencies.”
“Surely Mr. Gilbey did not scare you that much? Though yes, he does have exceptionally violent tendencies in the right circumstances, as we all do, but I can assure you he is a gentle man where women are concerned and is even gentle with stupid young boys too in need of his tutelage, as I once was.”
She tried to bolster her case with the pistol. “I also heard that Mr. Thackeray was seen in the area—one of our less illustrious and desirable relatives.”
“He was? He is?” His innocent response was as though he did not know that, yet he certainly did for he had brawled with him, and there was that ever-present smile upon his face as though he were laughing at some inner secret known only to himself. She wondered if he had not also known about the pistol too, and had needed an excuse to disturb her bag, for she did not see him retrieve any pencil that he might have lost. “Perhaps he was just passing through.”
It all sounded so innocent, as though nothing need be thought of it. “I can understand your concern over Mr. Gilbey. He has that effect on most people who encounter him. He instills, in some, a great dread of making him angry, as he has the reputation of being unpredictable and violent if crossed. And in others, he instills a great confidence that trouble will never approach them while he is close by. He is my sister’s butler and general factotum, whom I borrowed for that day. As for the taller of the two gentlemen, Mr. Diebold, he is more to be feared, I think.” His eyes sparkled as he thought of that gentleman. ‘Yes. Much more dangerous, for he has an incisive and quick mind that nothing will hinder or stop. He is the mightier pen to Mr. Gilbey’s obvious sword, but in a violent scuffle my money would be on Gilbey every time.”
Hers would be too. She shivered at that thought, for some reason. “You seem to know only violent and dangerous men.”
He smiled at her criticism. “Violent and dangerous only to their enemies, Miss Barristow. Annis.” She noticed that his eyes smiled at her, and that he did not seem offended by her comment. “Yes, I have lived with such men for the last few years and been thankful because of it. That is what war is all about, and I have survived when too many others did not because I was also violent when I needed to be.”
He continued to smile at her, but then his expression became more serious. “But more to the point over what is dangerous or not.” He turned the pistol over in his hands and examined it. “You carry this horse pistol close by you, but can you handle a firearm, or do you pose a danger to everyone about you as well as to yourself?” He looked at her, awaiting some kind of explanation, and she found herself blushing at the uncomplimentary thoughts she held for him over his discovery.
“My father taught me to shoot.” She was flushed and even defiant. “He sometimes took me out birding with him, so I am also familiar with fowling pieces.”
“I see. I regard firearms with great respect and caution, especially….” He did not continue his thoughts, but then he had no need to. Especially when in the hands of a foolish woman, he might have continued to say.
“Especially in the hands of a woman?” she filled in the gap.
“No, Annis. Especially when there are impressive and curious children in the house. I was one myself once and nearly caused the loss of life of a friend with a pistol just like this one. I did not know that with age, they tend not to function as intended.”
“Oh.” She digested that admission. “But Sophia knows that she must not touch this, for I had a word with her and warned her of the dangers. She promised not to touch it.”
“Good. But safer never to have to carry it. Most ladies I know would not know how to fire such a weapon, never mind be so unwise as to pick one up, to say nothing of loading it and carrying it about with them, for I assume it is loaded.” He looked at her for confirmation.
“Especially one so conspicuous and so large and clumsy and even with this vicious blade hinged beneath it.” He swung the blade out and replaced it again. “Yes, it would definitely do great injury if it were dropped on one’s foot.”
She found that she was feeling stubborn as well as angry at him for baiting her and seeming so smug about it all. “Perhaps you would like a demonstration, sir?” She regretted the words even as she spoke them, but he had goaded her.
“Yes, I would.” He smiled at her. “I’m not surprised I touched a nerve. I would be surprised if I had not. But that would be a capital idea. Dare you do that, Annis?” He seemed to be challenging her as his eyes also seemed to smile at her.
She could not back away now, as he well knew. She would show him and perhaps let him see that she knew how to use it and was not afraid to use it if she must. “Yes. I do.” She took it from him and cursorily examined the gun. “I will need to recharge the pan, however. The gunpowder has fallen out of it.” She blushed at that discovery, but at least, she had discovered it before she tried to show him that she knew what she was doing, and had failed.
“Yes, so it has.” He had not taken a second look at the pan, for he had already seen that for himself as he had first removed it from its hiding place. “No danger of that one going off by accident.” Nothing would escape his keen eyes, it seemed.
He might try to convince her that he had not noticed that, until she pointed it out herself, but it was obvious that he had already seen that her gun would have been totally ineffective had she needed to use it. He did not seem to be gloating at her carelessness, and yet she felt as though he could not have been more critical of it if he had pointed it out himself.
“I think that if you expect to use it with any purpose, and without having to rush around looking for powder to recharge it or to rummage amongst your knitting to find it, it needs a better and tighter cover over the flashpan as well as more care in putting it away. That one is askew with age and hard use. Quite common, I know, as I found to my cost more than once, and as others did, to theirs. I shall see to it if you like?”
His words were gentle as he looked at her, but she did not answer, feeling embarrassed by that omission despite the fact that he also admitted to having been caught in the same position on one occasion.
“But then we should go outside.” He took the gun from her. “I doubt your mother would approve of having a loaded gun in the parlor.” They walked outside. He carried the gun and handed it to her once they were outside.
He watched as she recharged the pan from a powder horn in her knitting bag also.
“My. What you ladies manage to squirrel away in your bags and purses defies the imagination.”
She knew better than to respond to his humorous comment in her present rebellious mood.
“What about the knot in the gate-post over there?” He was challenging her again.
“I do not know my backdrop there, sir. There may be someone walking in the lane.”
“Yes, there might.” His eyes betrayed that he had already known that, and was challenging her again. “I am also William, remember?”
He had not said so, but that was her second test after she had carelessly failed the first one. Fortunately, she had passed that one. She had not known the powder would be shaken out of the flashpan so easily, especially when it was covered, and hoped that the wadding had been secure enough in the barrel not to have fallen out also, and losing the ball and charge in her bag as well. But then that was why she had put it in with the muzzle uppermost. She must make sure that there was no loose powder left in the bottom of her bag. It would be too embarrassing to have it suddenly erupt in flames.
“There are empty fields over there. There is a blemish on that oak, where a branch was taken off, and a weathervane leaning against it. Take your choice. If you miss, there is nothing to come to harm. For the target is below you, and a ricochet will go nowhere. Or you can choose a target more suitable for yourself.”
“I shall take the weathervane. The middle of the rooster’s body will leave a visible mark and a sound, and I shall not miss.” She sounded defiant.
He was impressed by her determination and confidence.
She raised the gun purposefully and fired without hesitation at the designated target. There was the dull sound of metal being hit by a piece of lead, and there was suddenly a notable dent in the body of the rooster. She was relieved to find that she had not lost anything from the pistol in her bag other than the powder from the flashpan.
“You hit it. Quite a respectable shot for this distance, but I fear, light on powder. You are one of only two ladies I know who might decide that they needed to know how to fire a gun and might be capable of firing one in anger, as I think you may be.” Her eyes flashed. Yes, she was angry. Angry at being found out. “A little high and to the right, I think, but you would have been effective anyway. I would have been heading quickly in the other direction after that. If I was still on my feet.”
She was not pleased with herself despite his praise. He seemed to be playing with her if his gentle smile could be read accurately. “It kicks.”
“They all do. If they didn’t, they would not be effective at the other end. Please stay there. Do not reload, though I am sure you have powder, shot and wadding enough somewhere in that knitting bag of yours. I have a better and safer solution to the difficulty.”
She watched as he entered the house. She swore at herself in frustration for having been found out to be carrying a bulky pistol and not knowing that it was useless.
He reappeared after a few moments with a small case containing a smaller pistol, a few lead shot, a little powder, wadding, and some strange and small brass cylinders. She was curious to see that the pistol had no flint and no flashpan.
“This is less bulky and will not lose its powder. It can also be kept in its case and out of the way of children.” He began to load it, and she watched attentively as he spoke. “It has a shorter barrel so it is liable to be less accurate too unless you are close to your target, but then a lady would rarely need take a distant shot—never advisable anyway. Better to wait and be sure of hitting what you decide to fire at with the one shot you can be sure of getting, though that may take some courage. It is also less likely to kick so hard and spoil your aim, but it will also kick, so it needs a firm grip. It is one that a lady—well, certain ladies—would not scorn to own. Keep this by you instead. It has a new percussion cap system that is cleaner and easier to use and less likely to misfire.”
He placed a percussion cap in place and handed it to her. “Now try it.”
She took her time, cocked the gun fully, and discharged it at her selected target. The kick was only a little less, even though it had a lighter ball and less of a charge of gunpowder, but she did strike the middle of the rooster, even at that distance and even put a hole in it.
“That will not take up too much room, I think, and you might even be able to carry it with less trouble. It would save you lugging about such a bulky knitting bag to conceal that other murderous weapon. Though safer by far, I think, if you were not to carry it at all.”
“Yes. Thank you. I do not knit that much.” She recalled something he had said earlier that had stuck in her mind. “You said I was one of only two women….”
He proceeded to clean and reload it for her as she watched attentively. “My sister, Elizabeth, whom you all seem to know. She would not be likely to tell you any of that, however. I gave her one like this just before I quit England. It was almost one of the first to use the new percussion cap. She had to use it only once I believe, and to some effect for her protection, before she introduced herself to Mr. Gilbey.” He was briefly reminded of Julius Maxton. His sister would not have discussed firearms nor have said anything of that misadventure to either Annis or to Bella or anyone else.
“If you do not object, I will see that this horse pistol is cleaned and returned to the gun cabinet, lest your sisters take it into their heads to emulate you. I am surprised that most of the house has not come running to find out whom you have killed, except I saw them heading into the village earlier. So who do you think you need protection from? I know I have a poor reputation in many quarters.” He smiled as though he did not believe that of himself. “But surely it cannot be that bad?”
She blushed and said nothing other than to thank him for his pistol. Had she been so obvious and transparent? It would seem so.
She was suddenly confused by him. He was obviously a dangerous individual and devious and was undoubtedly trying to lull her and the entire family into a false sense of security, including the servants, even Mrs. Rogers, and Thomas. But to what end? He had made no overtures of any kind to either her or Charlotte but rather, had seemed aloof to them, and he was all consideration itself to their mother. But her mother should know enough to see right through him, and yet it seemed that she had become blind. Sophia stood in no fear of him nor should she from what she had seen. He seemed to have everyone else, including her mother eating out of his hand. Either that, or he was far too good to be true, in which case Lady Seymour was mistaken in her rendering of him. But that seemed unlikely, for there had been hints of various scandals around him that she had heard of from years before, which her godmother had suddenly breathed better life into, and even that Mrs. Chepstow had known of him.
Over the next hour or so, she began to see him in a little different of a light, still keeping her godmother’s cautions in mind, but found that despite that, she was judging him less harshly. No brigand or despoiler of women would willingly give into her hands the means to foil him. Or would he? She decided she needed to know more about him than she had so far read in that letter, though what she had encountered in his own journal began to be seen differently. Perhaps all young men were rogues of that kind. She knew few young men to know that with any surety, and those that she did have some acquaintance with were certainly not so much at ease around women as he was.
She also decided she did not need to carry the pistol, and returned it and its case onto his dresser one morning. He said nothing about it. But shortly afterward, she noticed that it had been placed on her own dresser with a note on it. It said simply “A gift, to a determined, resourceful, and courageous young lady. Best keep it out of sight of your mother and Sophia.”
She was confused again. She decided she would keep a closer eye upon him and try to discover some deeper purpose in his staying, for she doubted it was just to help them in their time of need. Or maybe that’s all there was too it, and he was really quite considerate of them all and reserved his predations for other parts of society in which he travelled, and with a different class of female as her godmothers letter had indirectly suggested. Yet he had not been in any hurry to head back to any mistress he might be keeping in London.
She began to take more of an interest in him and to spy on him more than she had, though she hoped, not too obviously.
He continued as he had been, busying himself outside quite well, and she could even begin to see improvements in most things, though he said little to anyone other than her mother what he intended to do or had done.
She noticed that he was often in her father’s study, mostly in the early morning before anyone else was up, either writing in his journal; going over the ledgers; or reading through older copies of the various newspapers that her father had collected over the years. She noticed that he had also changed his habits and no longer shaved or washed in the trough now that he had hot water delivered to him whenever he wanted it.
After dinner, he had excused himself for the last two evenings and had sat down and continued writing in his journal or wrote continuations of the many letters, and one in particular that he seemed to add to, from time to time.
One evening, he left his journal again in the window embrasure by some oversight, rather than taking it up to his room as he usually did. As he was not close by but had gone into the village and had taken Sophia up on his horse with him. As no one else might see her, she picked up his journal again; undid the ribbon holding it all together; and read more of his entries since she had last opened it. He would be unlikely to return unexpectedly as he had before, as she would have ample warning of a returning horse coming up the lane, so she could go through it at her leisure without disturbing anything, or presenting the impression that anyone had opened it.
The unfinished letter at the front on this occasion was to his sister, Elizabeth. She wondered what he might have to say to her, for she was an especially good friend to them all.
He wrote well and concisely, describing the setting in which he found himself and with some not unflattering viewpoints of her mother and sisters. He was able to express sympathy for their loss, and in a way that was believable to the point where she found herself beginning to cry, with more than one of the tears falling on the document, before she saw what had happened. She turned to entries for the day that he had fought with Thackeray and discovered nothing at all. Strange, for her own diary had been filled on that day with what she had learned, and enough to spill over onto the following page.
There were many more letters ready to be sent off to bereaved families; there seemed to be too many of them, and the one in progress to his sister.
She looked at the direction on two others but did not recognize either name, though one seemed directed to a law firm. She recognized one name in the list of those on the letter, that of Diebold, and the other, was to a firm she did not know. Both were to go to London. He had sent several such letters to London and elsewhere while he had been here, for the younger stable boy rarely seemed to be doing anything except ride back and forth on such errands. Her mother had said nothing about it, though she must have noticed, and nor did the stable boy who seemed to be rewarded well for his efforts each time, and even from William’s own pocket.
She decided not to pry further, but the temptation proved too much, so she picked up the several pages of a letter that seemed directed at his sister. It was still incomplete. It was again, written not in ink, despite there being plenty of ink in the study—which was always fraught with the risk of being spilled and probably not easily available on campaign—but with that interesting pencil that he seemed habitually to use, and that nestled in the edge of the book. The graphite core in the middle of a slim wooden holder, bound tightly to hold everything in place, seemed harder than usual, leaving a thin easily read line on the paper. It did not seem to easily smudge either, and was totally unlike those graphite sticks from Cumberland that she and Charlotte used for drawing. They dirtied one’s fingers and even smudged too easily on the paper and then their clothing if they were careless with their smocks. She would ask him about that some time.
We continue to miss each other. Thank you for sending some of my better clothing and that little package that I requested. I hope that the sparse contents of my luggage did not too much startle you, but I did not expect anyone other than myself might need to dig into them. The Peninsula was not kind to my wardrobe. I am sorry to hear that you are indisposed, as well as concerned to hear from John, though I can assure you that he is safe where he is. I also know how impatient you are to come and visit your friends.
I am slowly recovering from the rigors of the continent, though my other letters revive too many memories of friends now gone. I had not realized I had lost so many of them, though my journal tells me that I did.
I am facing better fare at table than I ever seem to have remembered. I am finding that the demands of peacetime are more fatiguing than war, and from my pointless interview with our GM. I still do not know why she wanted to see me, but I do not doubt she intends mischief in some way and was fishing for some chink in my armor, so I gave her a few to occupy her. Of course, I regretted it soon afterward. She will undoubtedly use them too well against me.
I feel the need to write again, for I gave you so little news in my first letter, being as rushed as I was. I appear to be suffering from a peculiar malady, for I am caught up in some confusing personal crises (nothing to do with my ill-fated marriage or the aftermath of war—mama must be quite angry, or she will be when she finds out that her plans for me in that direction must have been disrupted or may even have been fulfilled, I am not sure which) when I consider the changes that I appear to be experiencing in my own character. I seem to be quite contented for some reason, despite the tragic circumstance in which I landed. This will never do. I have an unenviable reputation to uphold.
I fear I have fallen in love. Do not be surprised by this. She is barely six years old and follows me everywhere just like a shadow. What is even more amazing is that I do not mind. There may be hope for me yet, it seems.
Were it not for the entirely tragic circumstances I find myself in at this time, I would think that I might have landed in a paradise containing some of the loveliest and charmingly interesting women I have ever encountered, though I am mostly viewed with great reservation, and they all spy upon me. My heart goes out to them for their loss. I am not sure how I will be able to contain or control myself surrounded by such beauty, grace, and gentleness, having been surrounded for the last five years by such horror, violence, and with only rough men, death, and strange and bloodthirsty, and surprisingly violent women for company.
They are all frighteningly intelligent and accomplished and can see right through me (at least one of them can—I suspect you can guess which one)but then you already know all of this, for you could too. The same one seems to have taken me in dislike and was intent on carrying a horse pistol for protection from me. I hope that the next you hear of me is not that I have been shot, for she is another just like you and will obviously tolerate no nonsense when it comes to her family. Most interesting. But then neither will I when it comes to a sticking point. I shall have to watch my step. It is a good thing that I was here, for luckily, I was able to save them from an awkward confrontation that would not have gone in their favor.
By the way, the younger Maxton is not likely to be a problem for you ever again (RIP), and within hours of my landing. Quite depressing really to think that an individual might bear a grudge for so long and be so all consumed with anger and hatred. It destroyed him in the end. The damned fool thought I would sit still aboard my horse to be shot. At least you may now be able to leave your own pistol at home. More on that topic when I see you.
I am not sure what to tell you that you do not already know, for I have learned that you have long been friends with Mrs. Barristow and her daughters and know them all better than I might. Why is it that no one, you especially, ever mentioned them to me? Alas, I think I might know the answer to that—what a sad pass I must have come to—which means that no one ever mentioned me to them either and for the same reason. Just as well, considering the baggage and sad reputation I am saddled with, and unlikely to be able to free myself of it for some time with what I think I may have to do here.
On a lighter note, again. I am more contented and happy, I think, than I have ever been. I even begin to feel useful as well as needed, so you were right about that. For once in my life, I am useful to someone, rather than being the constant target of criticism and censure and the rest of it. I am also discovering that though I am following my usual habit of observing everything intently, I am also being subjected to the same intense scrutiny when I might least expect it. There is no possibility of privacy in conversation or anything, thrown together as we are. I find that I must have my wits about me or I am ambushed even as I wake up or retire, in my ablutions, even my bath, I suspect. And it can only get worse, I fear, as they get to know me better, and they seem to be ensconced everywhere where one least expects them or might even see them. I cannot go for a walk or pick up a book or write a letter but that I find I have an observer or a companion, though I do not mind that. I have discovered that I am constantly being spied upon and have little privacy. I find it intriguing.
He seemed to have broken off and had taken up the letter sometime later in the day or even the next day.
I did refer to it above, I know, but I had better tell you before you hear about it from others and in a light that does not shine at all favorably on me considering my earlier escapades, which it shouldn’t anyway. To wit, I have not lost my touch for brawling, for I found it necessary to turn away one particularly ill-mannered and violent relative (not one of ours—I mentioned an awkward confrontation, but now I shall provide some detail rather than leave it hanging) who had thought to take advantage of their circumstance, and of me—most foolish fellow. I am glad to say that they appear to know none of this or I might not be so welcome, for I really did not feel kindly toward the individual considering what his intent seems to have been, especially when he was rough with one of the servants and then thought to bring his firearm into play. Unfortunately, I punished him severely for that and then regretted that afterward too. Damned conscience. I await with some small trepidation the arrival of yet another, perhaps the vengeful father that I was also warned about by Mr. B.
Tell Mama, if you see her before I do, only what you judge to be reasonable. I will write her when I am able to come to grips with my own feelings better. I am beginning to realize that I was an exceptionally poor, thoughtless, and heartless son for her. She did not deserve to be saddled with the likes of me.
No matter, you know how she feels about that side of me and how easily she is set off, so I shall strive to be more considerate and to try to mend fences now that I am returned with a better understanding of what is important in life. I can thank John and our campfire chats and you for that.
Tell our godmother nothing. She can take a minor irritant and make a life-changing issue out of it throughout all of society. I fear she has this nagging dread about me that I might sometime find contentment and happiness and might be able to survive without her patronage, influence, or approval as I have until now, and she is determined to stop that.
More about the daughter who might have shot me. One might almost think she knew more of me than I like. I hope you have not been sharing too many of my secrets. I gave her one of my pistols—the twin of the little set I once gave to you. It had saved my life on occasion. I think she is determined to protect her sisters and mother from some perceived evil in their midst who goes by name of William. Me. I hope that when you next hear of me that I have not been shot. Sorry, if I am repeating myself, but she obviously does not trust me. I do not blame her, considering the general rumors. But I must be careful with my journal and letters, for I fear she might be curious enough to read them if she gets the chance to learn more of me than might be good for her to know.
I did notice earlier that a letter had come for Mrs. Barristow from our godmother. I did not have chance to intercept it and destroy it as I undoubtedly should have done considering her vitriolic opinion of me, and yet, Mrs. B has not seen fit to show me the door just yet nor has locked away her daughters from my corrupting licentious presence. Either she has not yet read it or is aware of more of me than I might expect yet still smiles upon me. I wonder if you had a hand in that by any chance? You should not mislead others about my failings in character you know?
Better let Gossett know to continue managing the estate as he obviously does so well, for I shall need to be here for some time. It is all far too interesting and challenging to leave, for I…no, now that I think better of it, I shall not continue my thoughts here. You said I would eventually meet someone that would turn my life upside down. Well, you will be pleased to know that I did. I didn’t realize that marriage—especially mine —might prove to be so interesting despite the tragedy, but then I should have listened to John more than I did, and I might have learned more of this strange estate. There is more to tell here, but I shall say no more until I can resolve one or two difficulties, and it may take some time. I may not succeed. We shall see.
Speaking of John, I am sorry that I was not able to give you better news of him. He thought that he would be able to break away two weeks after I did, but when I think about it more, it could be more like three weeks; for I recall that the weather turns more unpredictable in the bay about now. I did bring a letter from him and if I find it, I will enclose it, but I have temporarily misplaced it somewhere.
He had not yet completed it, for it was unsigned. It was an unexpectedly well-written and educated kind of letter as had been the other entries and letters she had read earlier, and portrayed a different picture of him than she had gleaned from other accounts, but it was too early to judge. Men were usually not noted for writing such lengthy, educated letters, but he did.
She did not know what to make of it. Nothing he said, spoke ill of his intentions or of his character, and raised no difficulties for her at all, but then such rogues were rarely exposed until after they had done their damage.
There was another one he had begun. It was to his mother, for it began simply with “Mama.” At that point, his muse had deserted him. He was closer to his sister than he was to his own mother.
There was nothing else written yet. It seemed he had started and then had run out of something to say.
She wondered if he had not left everything there deliberately for her to read, considering his comments in the letter to his sister.
She put the letter back into the place where she found it, along with the two sealed ones, and took herself off, lest she be discovered prying into another’s personal affairs when she had no business to do so.
Wednesday, February 28th, 2018
Tales told out of school
2018 Feb 04 07 09 11 15 28
1 2259 2323 2368 2422 2519 2764
2 2022 2099 2117 2139 2163 2270
3 1644 1657 1665 1668 1680 1716
4 208 213 216 220 227 241
5 801 843 873 914 987 1136
6 2440 2628 2826 2940 3227 3595
7 1108 1184 1219 1263 1353 1426
Thursday, February 22nd, 2018
Two Strange Men Arrive, Secretively Confer, and Depart.
In the middle of the next morning, Annis saw a small carriage pull into the yard. Two strange-looking gentlemen were met by Mr. Devane at the door. They were clearly known to him and he, to them. He then took them into the parlor to meet with her mother.
One of them gave the appearance of a clerk, but the other was of a more arresting appearance. He was of less-than-average size but made up for it in his barrel-like chest and long arms. He was a man who would be difficult to forget. He had a severely misshapen face, and his hands were difficult to regard as hands, for they seemed to have suffered damage in some way and were mostly scarred and with difficult-to-sort-out fingers on them. When she bumped into him in the corridor, she noticed those details, but especially his eyes. His eyes looked straight into one’s own without flinching away and were perhaps small and even beady, but he smiled pleasantly enough at her, revealing gaps in his mouth where teeth were missing. He would not be easy to intimidate in any circumstance she reckoned. She had an uneasy feeling about him. One would not wish to meet him on a dark night, nor would one wish to antagonize him.
They obviously intended to stay for some time, as their horses had been put away. She would have given anything to have been invited into their conversation, but her mother had closed the door after them once they had gone into the parlor.
She persuaded Molly that she would see to refreshments for her mother and the three gentlemen in the parlor, as a means of listening in upon their conversation but found that the conversation had briefly stopped as she entered the room and did not continue, and then only in a lower tone once she had left. The door to the parlor was also closed behind her once again. The more rugged and weather-beaten of the two gentlemen had been sitting in the window nursing a beer and playing with a small clay pipe in his fingers as he had watched out of the window. William, her mother, and the other slight gentleman, for he was amazingly thin once he had got rid of his outer coat, were sitting at the parlor table conversing together over several papers when she had intruded with the tea tray.
After about a half hour of conversation, the more studious looking of the two gentlemen accompanied William into her father’s study while the other man walked off about the gardens, speaking briefly with Thomas before he then walked off down the lane in the direction of the squire’s property. Within five minutes, he had turned about and walked off in the other direction to the small village some distance down the road. He paused often and looked about himself. It seemed that nothing of any importance would escape his eyes, and yet he had not given the impression of knowing anything, for he had not said more than two or three words that she had been aware of to anyone other than perhaps to Thomas. He paused and lit up a pipe with great ceremony at one stage as he looked around himself before he had gone far, and then rambled on down the track.
The next thing she noticed was that some two hours or more later, the horses were once more harnessed to the carriage; and the two gentlemen, if they could be described as that, loaded two of her father’s smaller trunks; brought down from the attic; into it, and then drove off as they had arrived. She had not even noticed the older man come back from his walk, yet she had watched for him.
When she went into the parlor, her mother was weeping over a copy of the Gazette that the gentlemen had brought.
“What is it, Mama?”
“The notice of your father and Bella, my dear.”
“Oh yes. I wrote to our relatives in London to let them know of what had happened that first day when I wrote to William and others. I did not expect them to be able to break away on such short notice to attend the funeral, but they did ensure that it was recorded properly in the Gazette.”
“So that is why all the blackguards are now suddenly descending upon us.”
“And which blackguards might those be? I have seen none yet.” Her mother had bristled at her description.
“Blackguards might be the wrong word, but who were those two men? They seemed too secretive and furtive for honest men. What did they want? What did they take with them? Why all the secrecy? You all went quiet when I came in with the tray. Why was there any need for any secrecy from me?”
“Yes, I thought you were hovering too close and that you’d be itching to know who they were and the rest of it, but you need not be burdened by any of that just at the moment. I will tell you more later. They are Mr. Gilbey—he was once known to your father, Grinder Gilbey—quite a famous man at one time, though it might be hard to believe that, I know. The other is Mr. Diebold, perhaps not so well known. For he is methodical, quiet, and studious. But I think he prefers it that way.
“If he is, as you say methodical, quiet and studious, perhaps that is because he can neither hear nor speak well with those features of his. Was that not a cauliflower ear that he has?”
Mr. Gilbey is the one with the rough features, my dear, though I believe I heard your father also mention him as being methodical in his approach and quiet enough, without show or bluster so that he often lulled others into not appreciating his true abilities until it was too late for them. He was once a famous prize fighter whom your father followed quite excitedly some ten years gone. He had what was once described as a murderously unexpected left, I believe, and delivered with the speed of lightning and entirely without it being signaled.” Annis shivered at considering the violence of it all. “Quite impressed your father, though I was not of the same mind about such brutality.” She had a pained look on her face for a moment. “The other gentleman is the unassuming and quiet one, but quiet in a different way. Very strange men, but I found that I liked them both, and was inclined to trust them.
“As for the reason they were here, William suggested I meet with them, at least with Mr. Diebold, so I did. Mr. Gilbey was there to protect him and what he took with him. What they took with them might just be the sum total of all of my—our—present problems. If anyone can sort them out, then Mr. Diebold will. I never thought to find things to be so easily dealt with. If they are.”
“Dare you trust them, Mama?”
“I must trust someone, my dear, and I do not have the luxury of time to find out who that might be for myself. I do not trust my own relatives for the most part, but I do trust William. Just as I trust his sister as though she were one of my own. That is all that matters to me at this moment.”
It seemed to Annis that her mother had quite lost her senses—to trust their future to such a trio of obvious ruffians and villains at such a time as this.
Thursday, February 15th, 2018
A Helpful and Silent Observer.
Annis noted that by about six o’clock the next morning, Molly took a jug of hot water to Mr. Devane’s room, for she heard him thank her for it.
As she looked out of her door to let Molly know that she would also be stirring, she noticed Captain Cat leaving Mr. Devane’s room too, even as her sister Sophia was going into it in her nightdress.
Mr. Devane was proving to be popular with everyone. She would need to have a word with Sophia. One did not enter the bedroom of a grown man before he had had chance to shave and dress, nor even afterward either, and certainly not so carelessly attired in just a nightdress herself. Mrs. Chepstow’s words—unkind as they were—resonated with her.
It seemed that he had almost taken over the house and had the servants attending to his needs, though he had not directed any of them to do so. Even the cat had uncharacteristically made friends with him. Perhaps this was what he intended; to gradually take over everything before he made any other advances.
“A cat can read a man’s character better than anyone else, and faster.” She heard her own father’s words at that moment. Could her father have been wrong? What would a cat know of a man’s character? He had been describing, with some humor, the way the cat had mauled the Ibbotson youth when he had thought—like the foolish youth he was—to capture and subdue the cat to try and impress Bella, and to show how clever he was with animals and how inferior to a strong man they were. He had unexpectedly encountered a ball of raging fury with a storm of a thousand razor sharp claws and teeth, dealing with his hands, or so it had seemed to him. He had left, pale, chastened and bloodied, and had never shown his face again.
No one mentioned the injury to William’s hands other than Sophia, who noticed everything, and mentioned it over breakfast that morning. He smiled and shrugged it off with some explanation that it had come up against something rough and hard in the yard, leaving the impression that it had happened while he was helping Thomas somewhere outside.
Annis was also surprised to notice that he was also as careful and silent an observer of them all as she was of him, for she caught him looking at her strangely, on several occasions. He did not intrude upon them more than he might, but he stayed close. He could be found about the yard and, if not there, then either in the study, writing letters there, or in the parlor, and generally making himself useful everywhere, while staying out of everyone’s way, yet missing nothing. Undoubtedly, he was biding his time to dig himself in even deeper, like a tick, as he learned more of their secrets. Eventually, he would strike in some way before they might know what he might have done. She could say nothing to her mother who seemed to grow ever more defensive of him. She would not be believed in any of it, and it seemed that neither Charlotte, nor Sophia, nor even any of the servants would ever believe her.
Had they known that he was keeping what amounted to a diary of what he saw unfolding around him, just as he had on the Peninsula, and his impressions of them all; they may not have felt so relaxed or comfortable in his presence, though Annis was neither relaxed nor comfortable. Rather, she remained vigilant.
That afternoon he had carelessly left it on the window seat in the parlor, having been called from the house on some minor task that Sophia had reminded him about. She decided that she would take the opportunity, and would learn what he was writing in it, and would perhaps learn more of his true purpose from what he wrote.
Annis sat down and looked at it, as she also looked out of the window to see where William might be. He was not to be seen, nor was Sophia. There was no-one else close by. Obviously she would have a few minutes to see if there was anything to learn from it that might help her understand his purpose.
It seemed like a bulky kind of portfolio tied with a ribbon. She undid it and turned into it, to encounter several letters addressed to families she had never heard of, and spread across the entire country. Some of them were finished, others not—in the front of it. They were exceptionally clearly written, free of any deletions or corrections, and they were also written in a hard pencil and not in ink. She put them aside and encountered what seemed like a diary, with comments on what had unfolded so far for him since he had arrived. It was thick enough to have been abroad with him, considering the pages that seemed to be filled with both sketches and various writings. He must have been exceedingly well taught to have written in such a careful hand and to express himself as clearly as he seemed to. It was but another strange feature that seemed at odds with his reputation and character. Men—rough and violent men—were generally unable to express themselves at all well, usually, though she remembered that Gideon Thackeray, the father, had also written clearly in one letter of his she had seen before her father burnt it. His son, on the other hand, had given every sign of being careless and ill educated in that way.
She read quickly about his observations of their family and skipped quickly over the pages.
There were brief notes about them all, covering the last few days since his arrival. The more she saw, the more impressed she became. His penmanship showed a surprising degree of scholarship as well as care and neatness, as though he were a perfectionist. His way of expressing himself was genteel and not as might be anticipated for a soldier just returning from war.
The first entry she read noted that: “All of the girls play or are learning to play the harpsichord and are notable at it and able to keep the spirit and tempo that Mr. Handel demanded in his pieces.” Now what might he know of playing the harpsichord or even of Mr. Handel?
In the next paragraph, he wrote: “The middle girl now, Charlotte, is an accomplished artist who draws skillfully, quickly and well, and when her subjects least expect it. She’s caught me off guard on several occasions now. She is easily the match of Elizabeth from the little I have been allowed to see when I caught her unawares. I must keep my eyes about me better. They seem to be everywhere and to pop up when one least expects them.”
He obviously listened to their conversations and wrote that he had found out that Bella had been the beauty, as befitted her name; Annis, the brains; Charlotte, the artist; and the youngest, Sophia, whatever she would like to be for she seemed to be shaping up to be cleverer than any of them, as befits her name translated from the Greek—wisdom—and could often not easily be pried from an atlas or other books more suitable for older readers. He noted that he would see about getting some of his own books sent over at some stage without letting them know where they had come from.
He described their efforts to pull together and provide support for each other. Noting that their recent tragedy had obviously brought them all closer together and had not so far excluded him too far.
There was a thick section at the back of the portfolio which contained about forty or more most-skillful drawings of scenes that were obviously of either Spain or of Portugal. He seemed to be a good artist himself if he had done them.
She had no time to investigate further, for she heard a horse enter the gateway and only had time to retie the folder as it had been tied before, and to leave it in the same position. It would never do for her to be caught snooping through his private writings. She resolved to watch her opportunity at some other time and look a little deeper if she could.
Tuesday, February 13th, 2018
Including those written by my sister and late brother-in-law.
Books by John K. Sutherland
Romantic Novels (johnksutherland.com)
Deception by Proxy
Fate the Relentless Hunter
The Year of the Tiger
The Elusive Miss Wakefield
In Love and War
Convergence of Fates.
Love Thine Enemy.
A Devastating Circumstance. (2018)
The Hand of God (2018).
A Social Misadventure (2018).
A Rebellious Turn of Fate
An Erotic Trilogy: 1. Dear Diary
An Erotic Trilogy: 2. The Lost Weekend
An Erotic Trilogy: 3. A Rude Awakening
Love will find a Way
Baptism by Fire
Tickling the Dragon’s Tail
Loss of Innocence.
Variations on an Erotic Adventure
Tales Told Out Of School. 1. A Kitten in Delightful Trouble.
2 A Mind of her Own.
3. On Being A Man In A Girls’ School.
4. Iris Corrects An Unfortunate Mistake.
5. A Runaway situation.
6. Stuck, on a ladder.
7. Eunice Dyson’ Lost Panties.
8. All, For One. One, For All.
Two Shot Lands in Trouble, and other stories (prize winning)
Perspectives on Science Issues and General Risks
An Overview of Energy, Radiation, and Nuclear Issues
An Idiot’s Brief Guide to the Discovery and Uses of Radiation
Three Stories of War. (Civil War, WWII, Desert War)
Biographical Accounts written by Rosemary Marion Cooper and Gerald Cooper.
The Sutherlands of Dalfolly, Sutherlandshire, Scotland.
Sutherland Farm Holidays in North Teesdale, Yorkshire.
Childhood and Later Recollections of Rosemary Marion Sutherland.
Christianity; Its Origins and Development. A Thesis by Gerald Cooper.
1945: Conscription and Deployment Experiences of Gerald Cooper.
Thursday, February 8th, 2018
A Promise Kept. A Violent Blatherskite Dealt With. The Service. A Gossip.
William walked to the church with the ladies for the early evening service in better attire than he had worn for the earlier one, and noticed the man he had seen with the squire, riding some fields off.
His peculiar but characteristic, inelegant, even clumsy riding style gave him away as Mr. Joshua Thackeray. From the direction he was heading, it was as though he were going to the Manor, for there was little else beyond there for at least another four miles. He would perhaps be aware that the house might be empty of the family at this time as they attended service and might see to turn that to his advantage from what William had heard from the Barristow family’s scathing commentary concerning this individual, and certainly enough to regard him in an unfavorable light.
At that moment, William decided that he should make some excuse to return to the Manor and see what the other man had planned, that had him riding in that direction. There was nothing beyond it worth visiting and had he been on his way to visit the squire, he would have been headed on a slightly different track.
Fortunately, the others did not see him riding in the distance.
“Please excuse me Ma’am for a few minutes, there is something that I need to see to. I shall rejoin you as soon as I can.” He turned and walked back along the lane toward the Manor without waiting for a response.
Mrs. Barristow and the girls watched him go. “I wonder what he could have forgotten? No matter, he will join us again quite soon.”
Annis suspected that once they were all well out of the way, he might snoop in other ways to find out what he might, except there was no need for any of that. He already had the keys to everything important and could go over it with her mother’s blessing and approval at his leisure, and he had already begun that task earlier.
On his return to the Manor, he found that the gentleman had preceded him by no more than a minute or two, and had bullied his way past the servants, pushing one of them aside with a threat from his crop. William had seen that threat as he had crossed the lawn. Mr. Thackeray was even then in Mr. Barristow’s study going though the papers on top of his desk, having found the drawers to be locked.
William’s shadow fell across the desk, and the man looked up from what he was attempting to do. He noticed a modestly well-dressed gentleman filling the small doorway. An imposing presence, smiling calmly at him.
“Mr. Joshua Thackeray, is it not? I saw you with the squire earlier, I think.”
He showed his surprise. “Yes, it is, sir, and who in tarnation are you to barge in here? Who are you? Who let you in?”
William did not show any anger at his obvious ill manners. “Strange. From what I saw, I got the impression that it was you who had barged in. Who I am does not matter for the moment. More to the point, why are you here? What gives you the right to be taking an interest in these ladies’ affairs or the private matters of the late Mr. Barristow?”
Joshua Thackeray bristled at his questioner. “You take too much upon yourself, sir. I am not accountable to you, but then I might ask you the same. Who do you think you are to question me? I am his nearest surviving relative. At least my father is, and have been used to visit here as I wished.” Clearly an untruth, designed to put off any questioning of his presence. “My father will follow me in a day or two. This will soon be my estate—indeed it is mine at this moment as the only direct relative after my father, and so you see I have every right to protect my interests….” he saw the raised eyebrows of his inquisitor, “…and those of the ladies of course. I think that you are the one trespassing, sir. Or did that crafty squire put you up to this to try and cheat me in some way and keep me off the property until he had cheated me out of what is mine? I would not put it past him.”
He called out for the servant girl. ‘Ho. You. Whatever your name—Polly, Molly. See this fellow off before I do so myself, and then you can bring me some refreshments. Haven’t eaten all day. You can make up a bedroom for me too. I shall be staying. Why are these drawers and the cabinet locked? They were not locked when I was last here.”
“It’s all right, Molly,” William said in a low voice while focusing solely on the intruder. “Just ignore us entirely and everything said, and go back to what you were doing.”
“Yes, sir.” She was well aware who she was about to listen to, and it was not about to be that giblet-grinding-blatherskite, Thackeray, who had pushed her aside as she had thought to resist his ill mannered intrusion. He had never been welcome here when Mr. Barristow was alive, and he was not welcome here now. She was pleased to see that William was not about to be either overawed by his bluster or put off by his transparent lies. Thackeray would be wise to change his mind on certain things, especially if he thought he would be welcome to stay, or he would likely find himself poisoned, but if not poisoned, he would most certainly find himself severely ill.
“They are locked because of when you were previously here. Your prying was as unwelcome then as it is now.”
Thackeray, effectively tried to ignore him. “Well, locks are easily broken.” He rummaged on the desktop for an implement to do so. “I need access to the papers that my relative kept here.”
“No. You don’t need to see them at all. They do not concern you. You will not be staying.”
Mr. Thackeray raised his eyebrows and laughed nervously at the sheer impudence and certainty of the man and then frowned. He saw that despite his questioner’s comments being made in a low and controlled voice, he had been serious. “Oh, it’s trouble you want, is it? I’ll have you know that I—my father, that is—is having the magistrate seeing to the transfer of the estate at this very moment. It should have been ours long ago for it passed to the Barristows—both of the brothers—in error, and it is about to be dealt with fraudulently again. We did not feel disposed to argue at that time, but….” he looked directly and defiantly at the gentleman in the doorway, “you would be advised not to interfere with the workings of the law, sir.”
“I suggest you put those papers down, Mr. Thackeray. The law is not on your side now, just as it was not on a previous occasion, as I briefly learned from Mrs. Barristow, and those same papers denied to you.”
The man behind the desk began to feel rattled and annoyed by the persistence of this unknown upstart in front of him, for he knew nothing of him, despite the servant girl seeming to know him and even taking his orders. He had never seen him before and he could have no claim upon the property. The apparent gentleness and polite good manners behind the request, stated in the same low voice, seemed to invite an objection, for it suggested weakness to one who was not familiar with a certain kind of assured gentleman—one who increasingly smiled and whose eyes became harder when met by increasing intransigence—and did not know enough to be terribly alarmed by it as he should have been.
He chuckled in mild disbelief at what he seemed to be hearing from a complete stranger to him and undoubtedly to the family. “Why should I, you meddlesome upstart? You had better leave before I throw you out. Why are you here at all? What do you know of any of this? Take care, sir. I’ll have you know that I have wrestled bigger men than you to defeat and—”
The large man before him moved faster than he expected. His words were cut off as his ear was grasped firmly, as in a vice; and he found himself pulled off balance, and was then being forcefully pulled across and around the desk in an indecorous, humiliating, and painful way, fit only for dealing with a recalcitrant schoolboy. As the other’s surprisingly large and rough hand closed on his wrist, his arm was twisted behind his back. The papers drifted to the floor as he was forced to let go of them. He moved himself clumsily around the table before he risked losing his ear, as well as suffering a dislocated shoulder. He complained loudly at the pain, and threw his free arm around to try and encounter his opponent and get a grip on his hand to stop the pain as he was pulled across the corner of the desk.
There was a scurrying of listening and attentive servants from just out of sight behind the scullery doorway, as both men passed noisily, and with cursing from one of them, from the study and down the corridor amidst a good deal of resistance and even more pained protest from the one being dragged by his ear—helplessly being dragged along, and unable immediately to do anything about it. Mr. Thackeray unwisely thought to slow his ignominious progress by grabbing onto the door frame with his free hand and planting his feet. It was a mistake to do that.
He cried out in pain even more, as he felt his ear being gradually and unquestionably being torn from his head along with his hair too, for the man had let go of his arm and had now taken hold of his scalp and was tearing that from his head too as he pulled him to the door. The pain was unbearable. He let go, grabbed the hand holding onto his ear with both of his own to lessen the pain, and with a bellow of rage, rushed toward his tormenter, intent on running him into the door frame, or bowling him out of the open front door and landing atop him and, at the same time, freeing one hand to feel in his pocket for the small pistol that he knew would soon decide who would prevail.
However, he was the one thrown hard against the door frame as their relative positions were suddenly changed, and his hand was wrenched from his pocket as he was easily disarmed; his small gun sent spinning to the floor by the door.
He then found that his opponent had momentarily let go of him entirely and had not only stepped to one side but then had taken hold of collar and the seat of his trousers and had rushed him toward the open doorway and then had added to his momentum, as in the manner of throwing a sack of grain. Caught severely off balance yet again, he went sprawling into the rough driveway.
He looked up and saw his tormentor slowly and methodically strip off his coat with some deeper purpose in mind, and began to roll up his shirt sleeves with a look on his face that suggested he held little regard for the man he was looking at.
And he was looking down at him.
With a bellow of rage and pain, once he regained his feet, he launched himself at the man before him. A second later, he felt as though his head had been hammered from his shoulders as his face ploughed into the dirt once more. He tasted both the dust and grit of the driveway and something else.
He had tripped. That must have been it. He had tripped. But he had not tripped. He was being manhandled as though he were a nothing, a nobody, and he knew that he was not that. There was a taste of blood in his mouth and an intense pain from his neck and jaw. He also discovered that he could not clearly see his attacker, for his eyes refused to focus; and in any case, he was facing down the driveway, not sure how he had turned about like that.
It was then that he felt that he was being dragged across the driveway, and then felt an even tighter constriction at his throat and middle as he was lifted bodily by the collar of his shirt and his middle and was dropped unceremoniously into the horse trough. That was surprising enough—to be handled as a child, for he weighed the better part of fourteen stone.
He lifted himself out and sagged back against the stone edge of it, with runnels of water streaming from his clothing and pooling near his feet. It seemed that he ached in ways and places he had never felt before. His face hurt, especially his cheek and jaw. His ear was ringing, and his eyes had difficulty seeing anything as clearly as he would have liked, but the cold water had cleared his brain.
His attacker seemed to be talking to him, quite relaxed and he still spoke gently.
“You shall take yourself off, Mr. Thackeray. You are not welcome and have no legitimate business here, and you will not come back to pester these ladies ever again.” There was no mistaking whom he was addressing, yet the voice was as calm and as controlled as before, as though he were talking of the weather or of something entirely inconsequential in the market place. “You will leave this family alone from this time forward, for if you do not, I shall be seeking you out, supposed legal claim or not. We will both regret it if I do.”
As Mr. Devane spoke, he watched with interest and mild amusement the gradual change in Mr. Thackeray’s expression, position, and attitude as he seemed to gather himself for an ill-advised and clearly signaled offensive. He was obviously a swaggering blowhard used to getting his own way and who won his fights only in his own mind and by thunderous bluster and a loud voice and did not like to be so easily bested, while others—women—those he had intimidated just a few moments before, stood in the doorway and looked on with obvious smirks on their faces and the gentle sound of their low laughter to inflame him to unwise action. He would make them pay for that when he had dealt with this fellow.
It was no surprise to Mr. Devane when the attack came, for he had anticipated it, and had moved quickly forward to meet Thackeray as he charged at him once more. This time, unexpectedly again, the attacker was stopped dead in his tracks by the most punishing blow to his face he had ever experienced, exceeding the force even of the earlier one, as the entire momentum of his opponent’s body had been behind it. Not only that, but it was also followed by a half dozen others just as hard and ruthless to both his head and his body and driving him back, except he found that he was now being held firmly by the neck of his shirt in an iron grip and could not escape the brutal and relentless punishment being meted out to his face before he was then let go. Severely winded and fighting for breath, with a taste of blood from his broken lips and his mouth and other places, he sat down hard with a gasp of pain, his legs refusing to support him. He sobbed in frustration. He was not sure how this could be happening to him.
His opponent turned away, recognizing that the man on the ground had been thoroughly humiliated, with the fight and any remaining dignity knocked out of him. He would not persist further and risk an even greater beating and further embarrassment.
“Thomas. Please bring Mr. Thackeray’s horse for him. He has decided to cut short his social visit for some reason, and to leave the vicinity and the locale immediately, for a more relaxing and healthful location. But first, we should exchange that foolish and far too severe bit in the poor horse’s mouth for a different one. Take the one I was working on this morning.”
“Yes, sir.” The horse had not been put away as Mr. Thackeray had demanded but had been loosely tied to a metal ring by the trough. It might have been instructive if one had been able to ask the horse what it had thought of the proceedings. Thomas followed his directions and changed the bit, marveling that Mr. Devane could exercise some gentle wit and humor over the predicament that would have had most other men presenting a ferocious aspect. Yet he was smiling and speaking gently and politely as though nothing serious had happened. He did not seem to care that Thackeray was also known for carrying a murderous little knife that he was fond of using when someone’s back was turned to him. But it looked like Thackeray might have got the measure of Mr. Devane, and had more sense than to go looking for it. The major was a knowing one about things like that, which was clearly why he had survived as long as he had.
Thomas had felt the hairs rising on the back of his neck when he had seen it all beginning to unfold, recognizing that though they had lost their former master, there was not much that would unsettle or distract this gentleman from whatever he decided to do. He remembered his now prescient observations, spoken to his dead master the previous night, concerning what he had seen and felt concerning Mr. Devane. He had correctly assessed Mr. Devane by his kind words and actions that previous night and just that morning too, and had found nothing to cause him concern for the ladies or their future. Had not Mr. Barristow given his blessing to the union between him and his daughter? He had also heard that his late master had seemed to trust him to see all of the womenfolk safe in that last tragic meeting, and he was doing just that.
William turned and rinsed the blood off his hands in the trough. Most of it seemed to belong to the man sitting on the ground nearby, who had lost all interest in almost everything other than his own circumstance. Mr. Thackeray’s nose was flowing freely with blood and his cheek was opened and sending more of it dribbling onto his clothing. His eyes seemed to be closing already, and his lips had no feeling to them. His scalp hurt unbearably, and he sensed that his cheekbone had been broken, if not his jaw. He reached up to find out if he still had an ear. He was also getting rid of at least one tooth from his broken face as, some minutes later, he struggled unsteadily to his feet, stumbling once to his knees as he spat blood and other things through his broken lips. He would later discover the rumpled and stained effects of his ducking upon his clothing and many further effects upon his body from being sent sprawling into the dust of the driveway. But that would be later. Much later.
He wisely decided not to provoke his soft-spoken, powerful but surprisingly agile and deceptively polite opponent any further, for he could not see him clearly anyway. He accepted that he was unlikely to prevail in any fair fight against this man. From the relaxed and confident way the man had handled himself, the same would likely be true in an unfair fight too. He had seen his pistol removed from his hands even as he had reached for it, and he would not dare risk trying to find either that or to go searching at his belt for his knife. It was amazing that his arm had not been broken, the way it had been twisted up behind his back, but he would wonder more about that later once he had time for the more serious pains from his face to die down.
He noted that his crumpled hat had been unceremoniously and contemptuously tossed out of the door by one of the female servants and to his feet. He picked it up and put it upon his head. An unwise move, for the pain shot through his head again.
Mr. Devane, turned back to the house and retrieved his coat from the hands of the housekeeper as he watched the man clumsily try to get to his feet once more.
She had picked his coat up from where he had dropped it and had swept any dust and leaf fragments off, that might have clung to it.
“Thank you, Mrs. Rogers.”
He shrugged into it with a little help, taking care not to transfer blood from his hands onto the fabric. She had seen the entire incident, and was both robbed of words and overawed and horrified by the level of violence that had so suddenly erupted and then had just as quickly died away as though it had never happened. Yet there was a man sitting all bloodied in the driveway, struggling once again to climb to his feet and completely at odds with the world. Then, for the man responsible for that vicious, though provoked attack, to speak so gently and calmly to her afterward as though nothing untoward had just happened, was quite surprising to her. It seemed that what had just passed was of no more concern to him than if he had just bade a gentle farewell to visitors. He had, but it had been far from gentle, and then he had spoken just as softly to the man he had mercilessly beaten too.
She noticed then, that he was even thanking her kindly for assisting him as he smiled upon her. She was rendered quite speechless for some moments.
William watched with disinterest as Mr. Thackeray unsteadily recovered his feet once more, straightened his clothing as best he could, and then after several attempts to do so, after the manner of a severely inebriated man, mounted his horse indecorously and with difficulty, and made off down the driveway. He was unsteady in his seat, more so than was usual, and with various new pains that he was just discovering. He felt as though he might have been kicked. The horse would appreciate its changed circumstance however.
Mr. Devane noticed then that the housekeeper, Mrs. Rogers, was wrapping a narrow strip of clean linen about his knuckles even as she was unabashedly shedding tears, as gratitude shone from her eyes. She buttoned up his coat, recognizing that he would not be able to do so easily for himself.
“Thank you, Mrs. Rogers.” He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, taking care not to mark her dress. “Better if this is not mentioned to Mrs. Barristow or the others to upset anyone further. I should hate to think that they might be regaled with a description of such poor behavior of mine and such violence at such a delicate time as this, but it had to be, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, sir. It did. I’ll let the servants know to relate nothing of what happened to that excuse of a man.”
He smiled at her polite and restrained description of Mr. Thackeray. Had he known of Molly’s description of the man—’giblet-grinding-blatherskite.’ He might have admitted to preferring that.
On his return to the church barely ten minutes later, he noticed that their neighbor was busy rounding up his cattle and removing them with some urgency from the field.
The squire had seen Mr. Thackeray ride by unsteadily and had not needed to see more than the condition of his face or disheveled clothing even at a distance—and his precarious seat which was apparently not solely related on this one occasion to his innate clumsiness with his horse—to realize that there seemed to be things suddenly happening of a violent nature that he’d rather not be too close to; and he suspected who might be to blame for that, for he had been speaking to him barely a few hours earlier. He felt a sudden discomfort up his back. He hoped things might not have gone from bad to worse, yet it seemed that they might have done. Civilized discourse and reasoned action was one thing, but what he suspected had just taken place was neither of those.
Mr. Thackeray had not seemed likely to be able to see him, or to see anything, the way his face was puffed up, so he had had no need to inquire after his health, for it gave all indications of being decidedly poor and unlikely to improve for some time. He had spoken to that same Mr. Devane earlier, and heard his gentle voice and seen his steady smile and intent and focused expression as he had looked deep into his eyes, as that same Mr. Devane had conducted a gentle conversation, all innocent-like. From what he could now see, that same Devane individual seemed to move easily enough and without injury and with no mark on him that might be seen at that distance, despite Mr. Thackeray being a known brawler with lesser men, even taking pleasure in injuring them and always ready to blow loudly about it. Better not invite trouble from that quarter at this time. Mr. Barristow had been firm, at times very stubborn and determined, and had cost him money for damned lawyers, but he had never been inclined to be so violent with such little likely provocation. It seemed as though things had indeed changed, and for the worse.
William caught up with the ladies once more, just as they were ready to enter the small church, having waited for a few moments for him as others went in before them.
Mrs. Barristow took in his slightly ruffled appearance. “But, Mr. Devane, there is a smudge of blood on your cheek. You should not have rushed as you appear to have done, for your hair is more askew than it was. But your cheek…you have been careless again. Allow me to wipe that away for you.”
“Yes. Foolish of me. I’m sorry, Ma’am. Carelessness. I should have checked.”
“Come here and lean down.” He submitted to her gently, as she moistened a corner of her handkerchief in her mouth, as his sister or mother used to do when he had still been in knee britches. She got him to lean closer to her, wiping at his cheek in a decidedly motherly way. He found it amusing and thought-provoking that anyone might wish to pamper him in that way but did not object or pull away. It was kindly done and filled him with a regret that his own mother might not have been so considerate of him. He then recalled that he used to fight with her when she had tried to show him any such concern or affection. He was remembering how poor and hurtful a son he had been while growing up and did not like the feeling of guilt it filled him with.
“Oh dear. And a few little splashes on your shirt too.” She dabbed at them. “Recent too. Not very old either. We will see to those later before they become more permanent. Now what have you been up too?”
He made no immediate response. She seemed to regard him as an errant and mischievous son.
She looked at him with a weak smile on her face. “Well, well. You did not need to return to shave in such a hurry you know? We are none of us at our best at a time such as this, and no one would have noticed anything amiss.”
Annis had been looking at him with some alarm for the few moments since he had returned and had noticed other things too. She knew he had shaved earlier that morning, for she had watched him from an upstairs window. He was an early riser, and he had even shaved by the trough outside, stripped to the waist, with a small mirror standing on the higher lip at the back, as there had been no hot water taken up to his room at that early hour, and he had not gone into the kitchen to find any. She had watched with great interest as he had even washed himself in the trough as though he was entirely used to doing it that way, and yet in other ways he had seemed to be a gentleman used to doing things in a more civilized way, for his table manners left nothing to be desired. She then noticed, where her mother did not, his bandaged hand, out of sight of her mother and behind him to be out of sight to others too, and with a few stains of blood beginning to seep through. There were obvious signs of redness and scrapes on his other hand too.
After what she had read of him in her godmother’s letter, she began to fear for the welfare of at least one of the servants, indeed for the safety of the entire household, but dared say nothing. She regretted not showing that letter to her mother now so that everyone might be aware of his potentially violent nature but would dig it out and lay if before her when they returned and see him gone from their midst. Meanwhile, he would be with them at the church and could not get up to any mischief while she was watching him.
The viewing was prolonged, with a steady flow of numerous friends of many years passing the open coffins and commiserating at length with the family afterward.
After the throng had conveyed their sympathies and offered their support and condolences to the widow and her daughters, they departed almost as quickly as they had come. No one was comfortable with tragedy and sorrow of such a magnitude.
William absented himself at that point but was not immediately missed by Annis.
Eventually, only one other lady remained behind. She had deliberately let everyone else depart before her so that she might have Mrs. Barristow to herself.
“My dear friend. I am disconsolate over your loss. A daughter and a husband, both at the same time.”
Annis was annoyed at the intrusion, where her mother was not. Mrs. Chepstow was the village busybody, for they all have them to go along with other questionable notables like the renowned village idiot, of which there seemed to be several, and the would-be dandy, as well as the squire.
She also fancied herself as a person of some importance and above other of her acquaintances, as she had wealthy relatives in town who, on occasion, would invite her to accompany them to Brighton or to Dover as the mood took them so that she could help them manage their three young and generally uncontrollable sons—for so she had described them to their parents on more than one occasion. Or so she said.
“But then I also heard that Bella was just married last night also in some haste.”
Mrs. Barristow hid her annoyance. “Yes. It was a long standing intent to see her soon married, but with the accident, it was brought forward, as her fiancé had then arrived.”
“Ah, I think I see.” She did not understand. It seemed to be strange dealings. “I did not know.”
“No. How could you?” Mrs. Barristow would have turned away and left the conversation there, but her inquisitor would not let go so easily.
“Well. It has the village astir with speculation and gossip, I can tell you. Was that the young man with you at the service this afternoon and just now?”
Annis looked about her and saw that William was no longer in view, and that was why Mrs. Chepstow had dared broach any part of it. She had waited for him to leave before she pounced upon her present, vulnerable audience.
“I have seen him before, I believe. Some years ago in London. Is he not the son of Captain someone or other? Some estate not too far from here. But his name…Oh, I cannot remember it.”
“Yes. He is from not so far from here.” Mrs. Barristow did not, however, mention a name that might arm her inquisitor with information to continue, yet Mrs. Chepstow was not put off.
“Well, if he is the same man, and I think he must be, do you think it wise to have him in the same house and under the same roof as your daughters, without a living wife to perhaps steady him and sidetrack him from….” She expressed herself with slight gesturing to her daughters about her and a pointed look upon her face to convey her unspoken meaning of implied impropriety. She sniffed. “Well it is none of my business how you decide to run your own house now, but one should be careful. There are all manner of dreadful scoundrels ready to take advantage of a widow and her grown daughters.”
She gave every appearance of being horrified and, at the same time, critical of the possibility that he was let loose around young ladies in the same house, without some other male to control his likely predations. “His reputation may not be so well known in most circles as he has been away for some time after his family banished him abroad, for that is what they did, but I did hear of some of the things he did before he went abroad. Now what was his name?” She struggled to remember it. “I doubt he should be trusted around your girls, especially not the elder two, perhaps not even around the youngest.”
Her eyes lit up suddenly as she recalled the name. “Devane. Yes, that’s it. Devane. William Devane. A very violent man.”
Mrs. Barristow came to his defense. “Yes, I have also heard the same vicious gossip and the same rumors. I knew all about him and his alleged reputation before ever he set foot in the Manor, and the gossip is entirely wrong about him. You may tell that to those who choose to spread any of these disreputable tales about him for all the difference it will be likely to make. I would rather not hear any of it.”
But Mrs. Chepstow was not to be discouraged. “The gossip is not only that he seduced—too kind a word for what I believe actually happened to the poor girl—one of the Trevelyan girls, but there is another disturbing rumor that he actually might have killed that elder son of Lord Maxton some years ago in a duel, about the same time, over another female. That son has not been seen ever since that time, though that is not widely known or even confirmed, but it sits out there still, despite the Maxton son being rumored to have gone off to the continent almost immediately afterward.”
She continued. “Speaking of the devil, for the elder Maxton as well as his entire surviving male brood has that reputation, his remaining son was also murdered by a highwayman at Inchdene not more than a day ago. At least, so I heard just this morning, so now there are none of them remaining to comfort the father in his old age, nor to protect the daughters when he dies.”
Annis had perked up at the mention of that village name, for it was also mentioned in Lady Seymour’s letter, and she remembered William having also mentioned that place to her mother. Her starting, however, provided the older lady with an excuse to continue.
“Why, yes, Miss. Ugly goings-on. The stable hand at Inchdene related how a horse that Mr. Maxton had rented from them turned up in the stable yard with Maxton’s body tied across it, all bloodied with his head a terrible mess and no sign of his companion. Cruelly beaten to death he was, with a broken neck and a smashed-in head, and who knows what other injuries. Terrible, terrible thing to have happen, and that it seemed like the devil himself must have dealt the blows that killed him and crushed his skull. He said that Maxton had rented the horse when his own had thrown a shoe. Maxton’s companion—a Frenchman, I hear—must have witnessed everything that happened. He could not be found, however, and there is suspicion that his body is either still out there, perhaps torn limb from limb, or that he may have fled the country in fear or guilt or both, after that.”
Annis intervened to save them from more lurid and bloodthirsty tales. “Mama, we must go. It is getting chilly here, and we have much to do.” She shivered. She did not like the disreputable Mrs. Chepstow with her gossiping tales. But what she seemed to know may not have been so far wrong, considering what she herself now knew.
They turned away and moved away from the village gossip, robbing her of her audience. “Oh, Annis, I do wish Mrs. Chepstow was more restrained in her comments and did not relate such gossip, as she undoubtedly will, throughout the village.”
“I am afraid we cannot stop her, Mama. But perhaps she may be right in some of it, for there is never smoke without fire.”
“Oh hush, Annis. Not you too?”
They walked on in silence, each with her own thoughts to disturb her, but each feeling differently about what seemed to be known.
Within fifteen minutes they had turned into their own lane and then followed Charlotte through the gate, seeing her take off at a run and then stoop in the driveway to recover something she had perhaps dropped.
“Now what is your haste, miss?”
“Mama. Look. I found some gold sovereigns—four of them—lying loose in the driveway along with a pocket watch and two teeth, and there is blood and even some hair on the edge of the trough. I wonder what happened? May I keep them?”
Annis knew she had been right to fear for the worst and looked about for who might have suffered such a beating. Thomas had not been the recipient of it, as he was close by, speaking with her mother for a few seconds and then going about his work. He did not look to be suffering in any way and certainly showed no sign of injury. There, in the garden, was Molly hanging clothes out, and Mrs. Rogers could be seen through the window preparing for their supper, but then he would not beat a woman and expect to be welcomed anywhere. No one seemed to be the worse for wear. She wondered if the squire might somehow have earned his displeasure. She would feel little concern for him in that case.
Her mother responded to Charlotte’s question. “What was that you said, my dear?” Her mind had been in another place as she had been speaking with Thomas about something that she had meant to point out earlier.
“May I keep them?” Her fist clenched upon the coins and the watch, expecting that Sophia or Annis even, might suggest that they be given up and try to claim a share.
Her mother saw only the small bouquet of wild flowers that she had picked from the hedgerow on the way home.
“Of course, you may keep them, my dear. What a question to ask.”
Annis took note of the teeth left lying on the ground. Fortunately, her mother had not seen them. They appeared to be human teeth. She shivered. There was some story to be told, and she had better find it out for herself.
She then went to speak with Molly, who also seemed confused by her questions and, for once, seemed almost blockish—frustratingly so, and seemed unable to disclose anything. She then found Thomas, who had returned to his work in the stable. She was relieved to note, in better detail, that none of their own servants seemed any the worse for wear, but all had a different look about them and were even secretive about something, but they did not appear to be afraid of anything as she had first feared. Rather, they appeared to be quite contented and even happy—if that were possible in the present circumstance—but also furtive about something.
“Thomas, what went on here to leave those teeth and blood in the drive? Is everyone; are the servants all right?”
“Why, yes, Miss. Why would we not be in good fettle?” He seemed equally evasive.
She felt frustrated to be learning nothing when there was a story waiting to be told. “Why is everyone so secretive all of a sudden? Surely you cannot deny the evidence presented in the driveway for us all to see?” She broached the presence of the teeth again and the sovereigns and watch in the driveway and demanded to know how they had got there.
He had not liked to be asked, and frowned. “I knew I should ha’ moved ’em when I had the chance. Nothing to concern yourself over, Miss.”
It could not so easily be swept aside. “But I am concerned, Thomas. I need to know what happened.” The reluctant and unsatisfactory account she eventually winkled out of the unusually close-lipped Thomas told her enough to start with. She found out that Mr. Thackeray had paid a visit while they had all been in church, except for Mr. Devane of course, who had returned to see what his intentions might be. One part of the puzzle had now fallen into place. So that was why he had returned as he had.
Thomas heartily wished he’d thought to remove those signs of violence before the family returned, for he knew they would not be ignored.
Annis then heard a similar disjointed tale from Molly, who gradually became more expansive once she realized it could not be denied.
What was related was a tale of a violent encounter, which Molly stressed she should not repeat to her mother. The way it was told all seemed to reflect well on Mr. Devane, if the servants were to be believed. However, the violent nature of it all was to be abhorred and left too many unanswered questions.
“Oh please, Miss, don’t tell your mother. It was but a minor incident and best forgotten.” She was not likely to get more out of Molly at the present time, so she returned to Thomas. “Despite what you told me, Molly tells a slightly different tale, and it does not present the appearance of only a minor incident at all, Thomas.” There was obviously more to it than had been initially related, and Annis had no intention of letting it rest until she knew it all, but Thomas had decided to say no more and had excused himself to get on with his work.
When she approached Molly yet again, it was almost the same story. But she persisted. Gradually more was dragged from her. Molly was quite happy to initially play down what she later opened up to confess that she had been privileged to have witnessed. She seemed almost choked up with emotion as she recalled and retold it all, for she had seen everything that had gone on. But she was adamant that Annis’s mother should learn none of it, for she seemed keen to protect the girls and their mother from being upset by what had really transpired.
“Molly. I must hear it all, or I might never rest easily with him under the same roof.”
“Oh, do not say that, Miss. Mr. Devane thought that it need not be more widely known to upset anyone any further.” Annis believed that. “And I promised him, we all did, that we would say nothing, and I would not like to betray that confidence more than I already have.” She seemed ready to break into tears.
“Do not worry, Molly. I was not about to let this rest without knowing. We must know it all, can you not see that? For our own safety. I promise that I will say nothing to my mother, but I do want a better account of what happened than just to hear that there was a minor incident, when I think it was not minor at all. Especially when I see human teeth in the driveway, hair on the trough edge, and when Charlotte finds sovereigns and a watch lying there too, amidst the blood, and you seem to regard it all as a great and wondrous thing to have had happen.”
“Very well, miss, but I do not feel easy betraying what I know. As for those teeth and other things, we knew they were there, but none of us was going to touch any of that.” She sniffed and wiped at her eyes. “Anything that man had about him, even gold, was cursed, I would say, especially considering the condition he left in….” she chuckled and then remembered herself. “So we left them lying there. I doubt he’d come back to try and claim them, anyway. Not after the beating he got.”
With more encouragement, Molly went on at length and in considerable detail about what had unfolded, becoming more expansive and expressive as she warmed to the tale.
To Annis’s surprise, Molly recounted the violence she had witnessed in tones of such admiration that she was quite taken aback. Molly’s excitement was evident in her expression and the nature of her actions as she related the way in which Mr. Devane had spoken in a low voice to that Thackeray man.
“Oh, Miss. I was terrified for him—for Mr. Devane—at first for he did not seem to know who he was up against. I’d heard tales of that Thackeray man’s skullduggery with others and knew him to be a dangerous kind of man and rough with women. But he more than met his match in Mr. Devane. I felt the hairs rising on the back of my neck over it, and Thomas said how he’d felt the same way. Within no more than a minute, it was obvious what would happen even though that Thackeray man seemed not to know— stupid man to argue with a man that smiles when he is angry, as well as when he is contented with life. Though you would never have known he might have been angry at all when he thanked Mrs. Rogers after, as she bandaged his hand. All bloody it was. She was crying, as we all were, I do not mind admitting to that. I was breathless over it all, for I sensed what was to come. But Thackeray—the fool—had no wit about him and did not know what we did. Then before we knew it and with no more to do or hesitation, Mr. Devane had unceremoniously dragged him by the ear, and lord knows what, out of the house amidst considerable protest and noise—from that Thackeray individual of course—for Mr. Devane said nothing after his first gentle words. We fled for fear of our lives and being run down. He even disarmed him of that little pistol and sent him sprawling in the driveway. We were terrified. All the ill we had heard of that Thackeray person and his vicious ways and how he could be trusted to injure anyone who dared stand up to him had us quite concerned at first.”
She faithfully related the subsequent actions of both parties—the hammering of that stupid man to the ground and then his being lifted into the trough as though he were a mere stripling, and then Mr. Devane hammering at him again, and Thackeray helpless to do anything about any of it.
Her voice had broken several times in the telling of it, for she had felt it so strongly. She punctuated her words with emotions of her own as her eyes sparkled, and she bubbled over with tears of relief and gratification that it had happened as it had, and that she had been privileged to have been present to see it; for she had never seen the like in all of her life, and she had been in some rough company before she came to work for the master and had seen many brawls when she’d worked in those inns. She had spoken the last without pausing for breath or slowing down and then fell silent, having emptied her budget of it all.
Annis had no difficulty reconciling Lady Seymour’s lurid description with the man that was living with them, from the violent aspect of it all, but did have difficulty with the character that was being related by both the excited Molly and the admiring Thomas and then even by the tearfully admiring Mrs. Rogers—a lady who rarely showed her emotions over anything, except in the last few days.
What she heard related from all of those she questioned, was so clearly at odds with his generally gentle behavior of the last day, and yet, what could one possibly know of anyone on such short familiarity? This rough and extremely violent man, worshipped now, it seemed, by the servants, had stooped and meekly submitted to her mother wiping a drop of blood off his cheek with her kerchief moistened in her own mouth after he had grievously injured Thackeray in such a bloodthirsty brawl. He had submitted to her as though he were a young boy who might not harm a fly—one of her own children in fact—and he had not objected in any way or pulled away. He had even thanked her kindly for it afterward, grateful for the unexpected attention. It had been someone else’s blood on his cheek and shirt. She recalled that he had smiled kindly at her mother as though she had been his own mother doing it while his bloody and bandaged hand, hidden behind him, had eventually dropped a little blood onto the ground from the end of his fingers. She had seen him scuff that evidence into the dirt with his feet before entering the church with them and had then taken care that no more fell from his fingers.
But then, he would endeavor to hide his true colors from everyone as he worked his way into their confidence. Who might know what he was capable of if confronted in the wrong way or time? It seemed that Thackeray had got the beating he had deserved, but he had also served another purpose—he had forced the true character of Mr. Devane into the open. She began to wish that Lady Seymour had come in person rather than just sending her inflammatory letter and accusations along.
But then this account of calm and yet terrifying ferocity that had appeared to have made Molly’s blood run cold, and that transpired barely minutes before William showed up at the church, had also fired Molly up with such defensive awestruck admiration for it all and the man who had done it.
Thomas had been less effusive and had managed to play it down rather more, but the same story had been there to see and the same admiration, though not so openly expressed. She returned to Thomas wanting more details still, and managed to winkle more out of him. She was confused but relieved in the knowledge that she now had the entire tale and not sure what to make of it.
“Better not tell your mother, Miss. It might upset her.”
“Yes, that’s what Molly and Mrs. Rogers said too when I asked them. You should have told me all of it at the outset and saved me from this inquisition. Don’t worry. I shall say nothing. So how should we deal with this, Thomas?” She was unsure of how to go on, never having encountered such a situation in her life before. “Should we all be in fear of our lives from this man?”
“He won’t be back again, miss.”
“I meant from Mr. Devane.”
He could not hide his surprise from her. “Him? Not from him, Miss. Far from it.” He leapt to his defense in no half measure. “Why, just you ignore it all and try to forget it. It won’t never happen again, I can promise you that.” He chuckled as he thought about it again. “Not from what I saw.” He looked sharply at her. “Oh no, Miss. You need not fear about Mr. Devane. I’d stake my life on him. Certainly you need not worry about seeing Mr. Thackeray around here again. Not after what I was privileged to see. Not for a long time, at any rate. Not in my lifetime. Not if he has any sense.”
When she entered the house, there was a subtle difference in the way everything had almost imperceptibly changed. The looks on the faces of the servants were different—sharper, brighter, and they tended to move with more purpose and alacrity. Something had certainly changed, but in a positive way for once.
She also could see that there was a not totally subtle change in the way in which they looked at Mr. Devane.
She noticed over the next few hours that he responded kindly and with a gentle smile to any small attention given him during supper and afterward, and even openly thanked them for their help in whatever way they had given it and told them that he really did not need to be waited upon quite so well.
He did not behave like a tyrannical being or a usurper, for his every word was kind and gentle to them. But then he had never uttered an unkind word about or to anyone within her earshot that she was aware of, nor did he order anyone about as some men seemed to do, but always deferred either to her mother or even to her, and thanked all of the servants for even small attentions. She could not fault him for his manners but was afraid what it might portend. Her godmother’s account still lurked in her mind. The greatest villains always had the sweetest smiles and disposition with those they needed to confuse while they worked their way into their trust and confidences. Undoubtedly, he was an accomplished and careful villain, who knew exactly what he was about.
But it was also puzzling. The servants were not afraid of him nor cowed in any way. It was as though he had suddenly become the master of the house and had so easily slid into her father’s shoes with so little ceremony about it, and no obvious objection from anyone. Could he be so clever as to confuse everyone, even Thomas, in that way?
She was not sure that she liked the feeling or approved of the change, but there was little she could do about it, for her mother had been bitten by the same bug and seemed ready to leap to his defense, and even to deal with him as she would the son she never raised, and him almost a complete stranger to them all. But then she now needed some support to lean upon, and he was there.
He was perhaps even more dangerous than Lady Seymour may have detailed, if that were possible. Had he not just seen a competitor taken out of the lists? He now had the field to himself. With a houseful of now mostly witless admiring women at his feet, what might he not accomplish? Well there was one that had not lost her wits. What might he be planning?
It seemed that their troubles might just be beginning. She decided to keep a close eye on Mr. Devane but would not go so far just yet as showing her mother that damaging letter or relating any of what she had just found out. She would not be believed, anyway.
Friday, February 2nd, 2018
The Squire and the Mysterious Stranger.
After the small service later that afternoon, attended mostly by servants, friends, and some of the locals, William excused himself and walked out alone to take in the area and to give the ladies time to recover their composure after walking them home, and before the demands of what would be a much-better-attended evening service, with others coming from further afield, also fired up more emotions, and robbed them of their night’s rest. He also needed to think about recent events; what he had learned, how he felt about them, and how he would move forward. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before. How could it have? Certainly his life had been profoundly affected in ways that he might never have believed possible even just a few days earlier.
On his return to the Manor sometime later, William noticed two men conversing in the lane. He saw a thickset individual who dressed strangely as though aping some new fashion trend but not quite achieving what he might have intended, for he looked more comical than well dressed, and therefore could more accurately be described as ill-dressed. However, it is the man within the clothing that should attract the attention and not the clothing upon the man, though the one does give some often amazing insight into the other. The ill-dressed man was conversing with one dressed more casually as a working individual, and who had to be the squire, their immediate neighbor. He was curious to meet this man and get some hint of his character, as he had been well criticized by Annis and her mother.
He saw the younger man tip his hat and ride off before he quite got to them. Just as well. He had no stomach for would-be dandies. The man was a poor rider with an awkward seat and obviously had too severe a bit in the horse’s mouth, for the horse threw its head in pain as his rider was too hard on its mouth. He was a bruising rider who probably considered himself quite adept at it. He appeared to lack a sense of balance to go along with his lack of dress sense, though the former might have been attributed to the style of saddle which seemed odd. The horse would soon be rid of him if he were not more considerate and gentle.
“Good morning, sir.” The squire greeted him affably enough. He seemed to be a pleasant individual and perhaps not quite as devious a character as the Barristows may have intimated, but it was too early to judge.
“And to you sir.”
“You must be a stranger hereabouts. I do not think we have met before?”
“We have not met. I am a newcomer to the area. My name is William Devane. I shall be spending some time in the vicinity.”
“And I am Wilfred Pendleton, sir.” They shook hands.
“Yes, I thought so. You appear to have a prosperous estate, and some fine pedigree cows I would say.” William admired those he could see. “I am sure I should know the man who just rode off. There cannot be so many men in London—I assume his address and manner could only be the product of a certain segment of London society—with such a characteristic seat.” He was striving to be diplomatic, but the smirk on the squire’s face spoke volumes of what he also thought of the man. “I feel I might know him, but I cannot quite place a name to him. Is he local?”
“Not yet. He expects to be, soon, if he has his way, but I am not sure that he will. A recent death in a distant branch of his family has apparently just left him with a nice property…if he is to be believed, but he tends to exaggerate, so I am not sure what to believe. His name is Thackeray. Joshua Thackeray. He is a strange individual.”
William said nothing in response. The squire did not like Mr. Thackeray either, that much was obvious. Trouble had seemingly arrived for the Barristows faster than others would be aware of. He leaned against the fence and looked about himself.
The squire noticed the man’s large and rough hands and his deeply suntanned face. He decided that Mr. Devane would be one who would not miss anything going on about him. A man used to hard work and the outdoors but also a gentleman, possibly fallen on hard times, he thought, considering his less-than-perfect clothing, which showed some signs of being worked in, his refined speech, and his relaxed nature. Normally one would never see them engage in any kind of work if they did not have to, and they always took better care of their clothing and their hair than this man did. He guessed he was a returning military man, a second son, with little prospect of an inheritance and with his prize money weighing heavily in his pocket.
“You’ll be staying at the Maggot, will you, sir? The inn?”
William smiled. “Unfortunate choice of names for an inn, I would have thought. No. I am staying with a local family.”
“Yes. It used to be called Maginot, after a French family I believe, that owned it for some time. But the sign was modified by some of the locals for a lark, and the new name stuck. Good food too, and nice people who run it.” He puzzled for a moment. “No Devanes locally that I know of, though there is a family of that name some way off I recall.”
“No, I am not local.” William had no intention of going into his pedigree, and changed the subject. “It appears to be good farmland hereabouts, and your cattle look to be healthy and well fed.”
“Well, this we are standing upon is of the best, sir. Good alluvium and deep. It should be under oats or corn to get the best out of it, but it is in dispute with a neighbor at this time. My father farmed it for many years and then it was the subject of disagreement about ownership after sale of another property, and that is where it still stands. It is a shameful waste to keep it in pasture year after year, and neglected and overgrown like this, but there is still no resolution to it, and not likely to be now until other things are settled. I try to keep the thistles down in it and see that it is grazed, but my late neighbor was quite angry about that and would have shot my cows in here, when he was alive. Still, I am sorry to see his family now left without their father, for although I disagreed with him he was a good man, if stubborn. I’m not sure how I can help them with this difficulty for things have been difficult between us for some years now.”
Mrs. Barristow had described her husband as stubborn too. William smiled. He liked the way the squire expressed himself honestly and openly. He clearly had no idea that his listener knew that the disputed field belonged—in the eyes of the law at least—not to him but to his neighbor and that he was trespassing to have put his cattle loose in there, when he had.
The squire pointed off to the far distance. “A little further off on the higher elevations, it is not so good, for the soil is thin, and there is sandstone too close to the surface. It is all hit and miss and good for little other than trees or pasture and raising sheep. If you read the ground carefully, you can see where it is good crop soil. There are areas where there are good stands of timber too, especially in some of the gullies, good hay ground, and pasture for sheep everywhere. Are you thinking of taking on farming, sir?”
“It is possible. In fact, more than likely.”
The squire discovered he was being looked at intently by cool gray penetrating eyes that met his own, from a face with a smile on it that seemed to speak of a broader knowledge of all things local, than he was admitting to. He would have to find out if there really were no Devanes in the immediate area.
After some moments of perfunctory conversation from which little was derived by either party, William bade the squire good day.
The squire watched him walk off and saw him enter the Barristow Driveway some way off and suffered a small pang of doubt about the gentleman as he recollected in whose field his cattle were now grazing. Of course, he may just be paying his respects to the family over their bereavement. No matter. He would now reopen his case with his lawyers, to see what clarity might be brought to bear on that ownership issue, for it was still not properly settled. He was prepared to consider making Mrs. Barristow a generous offer for the land to get it behind them once and for all, but with their tragedy as it was, it was not a good time to do any such thing.
A letter for William, from his sister, had been delivered to the house in his absence. There was also a small trunk that contained some of his better clothing that had come from the continent with him, though not suitable for social visitations or mourning, but it did augment his meager stock of clothing.
Elizabeth would have been quite surprised at the sparseness of his wardrobe, when she went through his belongings to sort out some clothing for him. Her letter expressed her deep shock at the recent events that had befallen the Barristows, and expressed feelings of both sympathy and surprise at the additional news of his marriage and his sudden loss, for the Barristows were among her best friends, and the girls were always so fun-loving and intelligent. But to lose the elder daughter, and the father too, was more than anyone could be expected to bear.
She had written:
Please give Mrs. Barristow and the girls my condolences. I shall break away and visit them at the earliest opportunity. Let me know if and how I may help. Married, and a widower in one day. How tragic for you as well as for them. Most sad for us all. Arabella was one of my best friends, and we all had such plans for her and the two of you. My heart goes out to the Barristows, and I must find out how I may help them. Of course, I shall maintain your confidence. More later. This is far too much to digest easily, and I need to see this gets to you today as you requested along with what little of your clothing I could find. I dare not leave at this time as I am expecting John, or at least a message from him or some news. I dare not risk missing either him or any message, considering how long we have been apart, but I shall come when I may.
Your affectionate sister…..
William recollected that he had such a letter in his pocket for her from John, but had forgotten to enclose it earlier with all else going on about him.