Deception By Proxy. Ch 20: A Tour of The Estate: A Stolen Kiss.

Thursday, April 5th, 2018



The next morning, William approached Mrs. Barristow. “Good morning, Ma’am. It appears to be a fine day as we hoped, and seemingly might stay that way. If you would care to take an outing as we had discussed, we can take the carriage and tour the estate. We might get over to Nettleshome and perhaps even to Ayles Howing or at least the edges of it. Unless you have changed your mind, this might also be a suitable time to approach the squire about him purchasing that piece of land from you that has been in contention between your two families for some time, or even trading some land for it?”

“No, William, I have not changed my mind on that. That should be the first thing done, and it might be well received if it were to be done by you, rather than me. The squire does not know me well and may still bear animosity for harsh words that we exchanged at one time. The more I think about it, the better it seems as a sensible course of action that might bring some peace between us. It should have been settled long ago, but stubbornness takes over when men think to dictate to each other. I think that your suggestion was a good one and will achieve a lot of good. It will bring an end to that long-lived disagreement that never seemed to go away between Mr. Barristow and him.”

“Then I shall approach him first about that, and then we can take a look around and map out your boundaries better after I have that out of the way. It is all well and good to study the books and paperwork, but understanding and managing an estate like this one requires a good deal of getting out and about and meeting your tenants and learning of them. There is a rough map of sorts, and I can follow that well enough, but it appears to be out of date, and I do not know exactly where your boundaries are now, or who your tenants or neighbors might be.”

“Unfortunately, William, I would be of no help to you whatsoever. Mr. Barristow saw to all of that. Besides, if I go, then all of the girls will also demand to be taken, and I am not up to that at this moment. Annis is the only one who needs to go.”

“Then if one of your servants might accompany us, perhaps Thomas, who seems to know something of the layout and your holdings, it would be of some advantage.”

“Yes, Annis and Thomas are the two who need to go with you. She was often out around the estate with her father. It will do her good if she can be persuaded. However, she is down in the dumps after what she overheard yesterday and believing only the worst of you. It was a painful correction, though it will pass soon enough I suspect, with time. I will keep the other girls with me and deal with their protests, for they have also been cooped up too long. Besides, I think Annis needs to get some weighty issues off her mind that have been troubling her for some time now. I suspect her conscience was causing her difficulty after yesterday, when she discovered that you had neither disinherited us, as she feared, nor intended to cast us all out, and you were suddenly not the blackguard she had come to believe you to be, though she has been torn backward and forward on that too from time to time.”

He understood how Annis must have felt, overhearing him and Thackeray as she had. “Perhaps, Ma’am, if you were to ask her, if you do not mind, then she might be less likely to refuse, whereas a request from me at this delicate time might have her seeking refuge elsewhere to avoid a possibly embarrassing situation. I think I last saw her in the herb garden.”

“Then as we will need some basil, I shall go and ask if she would help out in that regard and make it clear to her that she has little choice in the matter, for we must know certain things.”

She went off to the garden to find her daughter.

They both returned to the house some minutes later with a basket of vegetables for dinner and another of herbs that would be bundled and hung up to dry over the kitchen.

Her mother had explained everything to her, and what the plan was, but she was not at ease with any of it and told him so. She still felt guilty. She had difficulty meeting his eyes. “I do not know why you would wish to have me accompany you. I have not been trusting of you since you arrived.”

He laughed gently. “I find no fault with that. How could you, overhearing what you did? I rarely trust anyone upon first meeting. I gave you little reason to trust me up to yesterday and especially not after what happened then. Nor indeed after my earlier confrontation with the younger Thackeray. Discovering that one has a violent man under one’s roof is not conducive to being at ease. However, I do need to have someone who knows something of the estate—your mother’s and yours now— to go with me. I would also like to meet some of your tenants and to have someone break the ice so that they will tell me what we need to know to help your mother as well as you, as you will also need to understand it fully too. If I, a complete stranger were to approach them, I would find out little. From what I have learned so far by going through your father’s papers, the estate is in a tolerably prosperous state. I also need to know where your boundaries are. I could guess, but that is not effective, and the small map that I have is quite confusing and undoubtedly is out of date. I need to know this, so that I may better advise your mother and you—if you can stand me doing that—as you are now the eldest daughter and will likely have to shoulder more of the burden when I need to leave. Your mother candidly admits to having little interest in doing any of it, as she is more burdened with the house and its chores and the home garden.”

He smiled at her kindly. “If you might fear being alone with me, we will have Thomas accompany us.”

She looked at him sharply at that statement. “I do not fear you.” She saw the look in his eyes that suggested she would have to demonstrate that to him by going with him. He was challenging her again, and she rarely refused a challenge. “Very well, I will accompany you. But I will need time to change and make ready.”

“That’s the spirit. You have whatever time you may need, Annis. The day is still young. I have other things that I need to do first with the squire, for your mother would like to see the issue of that disputed field put behind you at last. I doubt I shall be long.”

 

She was ready in less than thirty minutes and patiently waiting for him once he got back from seeing the squire. He told her mother what he had managed to do, and both of them felt that it had all worked out satisfyingly.

Later, with William on his own horse followed by the mule, Annis on one of the horses from the stable, and Thomas following on yet another; they set out.

Annis noticed that the squire was even then turning his cows loose in that field. His now, in exchange for another piece of land that naturally fitted with the Underby estate, so her mother had informed her as William was getting the horses ready.

The squire tipped his hat to William and his companions and had a broad smile on his face. He could not have believed his luck. When he had first seen Mr. Devane coming up his drive toward the house barely an hour earlier, he began to fear for his safety. He remembered clearly the day that the younger Thackeray had left the Barristow house in some disarray and pain and had even more recently—just yesterday—seen his father turned off with a black face and in an obvious ill temper, though his leaving had not been accompanied by force or obvious physical injury as far as he was aware. He had begun to fear for the worst. Now, he began to see that Mr. Devane was a man of rare diplomacy who could easily cut to the quick of the matter, and that he had little to fear from him, provided his future dealings with the Barristow ladies were above board and honest. After almost twenty years of argument with Mr. Barristow, he now owned that field that had long been a source of great aggravation and contention. So far, it was all based upon a simple handshake, but considering what he had already found out about Mr. Devane, that was all he needed at this stage.

 

“William.” Thomas attracted his attention. “I have a lame horse.” He dismounted as his companions stopped, and picked up his horses leg to examine the hoof.

“I doubt she is fit to go on, sir, for she is dead lame. I shall have to walk her back.”

William dismounted also and examined the mare’s foot. The mare was in some distress and obviously not able to go on or to be ridden. They conferred over the situation.

“If I walk her back, she should be all right, but I doubt I’ll be able to catch up easily after I see to getting this shoe off and her looked after, for the only other horses are out in the fields, working.”

“Then there is nothing for it. You should return, Thomas. We should also return, perhaps.” He looked at Annis questioningly and smiled at her. “You should not be alone with a violent and unpredictable blackguard such as me, you know?”

She looked startled for a moment. “No. We shall go forward. Considering what the weather has been like for the past week, there might not be another day like this one before we get hit with snow. I am not afraid. I do have your pistol with me for eventualities.”

He smiled at her. She saw that he had provoked her into that response, for it was as if he had known that had he suggested going forward anyway, that she would have been more in favor of returning. He seemed to know her too well. “And to protect your honor from the numerous brigands, pirates, and bandits that infest this locale. Excellent. I shall relax then, knowing that I am so well protected with such a good shot beside me.”

“You are having fun at my expense, sir, I think.” She was still smarting with her feelings of the day before.

He saw that she had been hurt by his attitude, and he did not need her to return into her shell. “Yes, I was. I was teasing you. That was not kind of me. I apologize, Annis. It was not called for.”

He turned to Thomas. “You’d better explain the circumstance to Mrs. Barristow, Thomas, or else she might worry.”

“That I will, sir.” They watched as he walked his horse around and began to lead her back to Underby, looking back at her often to ensure that she would not suffer from that, else he would turn her into a field to rest up and get her at some other time.

 

They continued to trace out the boundaries as best they could, for Annis was familiar with most of the transactions over the years, for they had been well explained to her by her father. After an hour or two, when they were close to the coast once more, William led the way, and they rode away from the property at a canter.

“But we are not heading around the property at all now.”

“No, Annis, we are not. I have seen enough for the moment, and there is nothing in dispute or ill defined for some distance to the North now, for it follows the coast. There are other things I need to see. You can show me more of the property when we return and can pick up where we left off. We shall not be long. Sophia and I were out this way twice now, and I find I need to go further afield.” He waited for her to object, but she seemed to have become resigned to accepting that she had objected more than enough about him already and had been shown to be wrong too often.

“In that case, sir, while we are here in this direction, we can visit my aunt, if that suggestion is not likely to sidetrack you from what you intend. She now lives with one of the tenants of another holding, not two miles from here, and sees to him and his children since his wife died. She was at the funeral, and she is known to you now.”

“I think I remember her. The lady with the slight limp.” He did not object.

She followed him and his mule out to a headland overlooking the channel. There were piles of dried underbrush collected there for a large bonfire, possibly for November 5th; the Guy Fawkes celebration, but that seemed a long time away for such preparations to be underway already. Thathad seemed to be all he was interested in.

They turned back inland, and he then followed her to her aunt’s home. After a pleasant relaxing visit with her aunt, who fussed about them both and plied them with bread and cakes— which only William ate—and tea, they rejoined their planned tour some little time later and continued around the property or examined it from those rare areas of slightly higher ground that afforded a wider view, and from which they could see the boundary easily enough along the lines of trees, well-defined hedgerows, or along a river’s edge. It was a large and extensive estate, larger than he had realized, and there was much to see.

It was still early afternoon when they finally turned for home, but the tour had unexpectedly taken its toll on Annis, for she let out a warning cry to him before she swayed in her saddle and almost fell from her horse.

But for her cry, she would have fallen, but that had been warning enough of something being wrong, as he had seen her sway in the saddle. He was close enough to reach out and grab her arm.

“What is the matter, Annis?”

“I am fatigued beyond belief and a little dizzy.”

“You should have mentioned this earlier. We have been out longer than I intended.” He looked at her pale face. “Most selfish of me. When did you last eat a good meal? You only picked at your aunt’s cooking.”

“I don’t know. I cannot remember.”

“I seem to recall that I did not see you partake of dinner last night either, for you excused yourself to your room after the soup, and now that I think about it, you did not have breakfast this morning. We need to get some substantial food into you, and Underby is too far away. Is there an inn or a hostelry anywhere nearby? Or should we return to your aunt?”

“There is an old inn ahead of us, probably no more than two miles, and easier than returning or going on to Underby.”

“Then we shall go there. In your weak and unpredictable condition, I doubt you will be able to stay aboard that mare like that and in that saddle. I had better have you up here with me where I can hold on to you to stop you tumbling off.” He reached over and, taking her by the waist and her legs as she unhooked herself from her saddle, took her across to his own before she fell off.

“Better hold onto me, if you can.”

He supported her about her back and legs as she pushed her hand inside of his coat and behind him. He looked down at her and saw her head so close to his, with her eyes closed and her face pale. He steadied his horse, leaned down, kissed her gently on the neck, and then waited for some response or objection. She appeared not to notice. He frowned.

He looped the reins of her horse around the knee support of her saddle and trusted that the loose horse would be able to follow them. As they rode off, he was pleased to see that she did. His own horse was used to being guided by knee pressure alone or voice, for he had often needed both hands free for pistols and saber when he was caught up in combat.

After heading in the direction that Annis had suggested, and encountering a better-used road, he turned along it, followed by the mule and Annis’s horse. As he rode into the stable yard, he was met by the hostler, who had seen him approaching with his awkward burden and proceeded to hold his horse while the rider dismounted, holding the young lady steady on his horse’s back as he did so and then allowing her to slide off into his arms.

“I’ll let you see to these three. See that the mule is in a stall next to my horse where he can see her, or there will be trouble.”

“Yes, sir.” He had seen the kind of trouble a mule like that could cause when it took things amiss, and that one had a mean look in its eyes.

William carried her over to the open door where he was met by the landlord who had been alerted to a problem even before they had arrived.

He fussed about as he shut the door behind them to keep out the dust and wind. “Is the young lady well, sir? Why, it is Miss Barristow.”

“Yes, she is well enough, I think. Just famished. She fainted. Hunger. She has eaten little for a week or more since her father died.”

“Aye. I heard of that, sir. Nasty accident and not so far from here either. Shocked us all it did. But to lose a father and a sister at the same time…nasty thing to have happen to any family.”

William ignored him as he saw to Annis and followed the Landlord down the hallway. “I will need some hot water and a cloth, and then soup at first and perhaps some of your coffee. We shall see how she responds to that and see where we go from there.”

“Yes, sir. The parlor is empty, and there is a good fire in there, for that wind is none too warm.”

He carried her in and sat her in front of the blazing fire and supported her as he took off her cloak and bonnet and then knelt in front of her and placed some cushions to support her head and then saw to himself. In a short time, a bowl of hot water and a cloth was placed beside him and he began to bathe her face. She slowly began to come around.

She suddenly sat forward and grabbed at his hand for support, wondering where she was and how she had got to where she now was.

The landlord opened the door wider. “The girl is here with some soup, sir. The rest of it should not be long now.”

“Thank you.”

Annis was looking at him and what was going on around her. She was clearly not sure what had happened.

“You became faint for lack of food, and almost fell off your horse,” he explained, seeing the question in her eyes. “We shall eat and rest here for a while. Come, take some of this soup. It will help.”

He spoon-fed her, and in no time at all, she began to perk up with thatand with the warmth from the fire.

“Oh. We are at the inn. How long have we been here?” She looked about her and brought her hands to her throat. “My hat? My cloak?”

“Yes, we are at the inn. You are safe.” He smiled at her. “You need not worry. I did not take advantage of you too much, if that is what you are afraid of. Your bonnet and cape are on the chair there, and I loosened only the one button at your throat, and I did steal only one kiss.”

Most of his words sailed by her without comprehension. “I am not afraid. I don’t remember getting here.” She was flushed.

“No. I had to carry you, or you might have fallen off your horse. Lack of food is your problem, young lady. Careless of me not to have seen more, and to have taken better care of you. Your mother will rake me over the coals for this, to think of heading out so far, without seeing you properly fed first. It is long past time for lunch anyway, for we have been out more than three hours. They may be worrying for you at home, but no matter. We should stay here until you recover fully, and I will see that you have something more substantial than soup.”

She allowed him to continue feeding her. “Yes, I am hungry, but I have been ignoring the demands of my stomach with all else going on about me.”

“Yes. Foolish, if understandable. Foolish of you for not looking after yourself as you should and foolish of me not to notice. We’ll soon fix that.”

He was satisfied to remain there until he saw her recover to her usual self and was pleased to see that she was eventually able to sit up to the table and partake of a good-sized meal, with roast chicken, roast potatoes and fresh garden vegetables. The landlord even had a small beer for them that was of a particularly good quality. She ate as though she had not eaten for a week. It was about time.

When he was satisfied that she would now be able to make it home, he saw her dressed again for the colder temperatures outdoors. He paid the landlord and then lifted her up onto her horse and saw her loop her knee about the saddle support.

“Are you sure you can manage now?” He looked up into her face.

“I think so. If not, I shall let you know—and before I am likely to fall.”

He gave a coin to the lad who had seen to the horses and then mounted his own horse and rode beside her. She seemed to have recovered most of her strength, but he was attentive to her, in case…..

 

They arrived back later than intended. Her mother had been worried at their extended absence until he explained the circumstances to her. He helped her from her horse and would have carried her inside, but she insisted on walking in, where she promptly sat at the table. She was still tired.

“She overdid it, and I was too ambitious. We ate at Baldock, at the inn there. I did not notice how little she had eaten over the last few days or we would not have gone so far afield. It was my fault, Ma’am, I should have taken better note of what she was and was not eating.”

“I think we have all been neglecting ourselves that way, William. She, more than any of us.”

Her mother suggested that Annis should get herself to bed to rest for an hour or two before dinner and that she had better see that she ate more substantial meals than she had been, or she would not be going out like that again.

 

«Go back.