Deception By Proxy: Chapter Eleven.

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.

 

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