Thursday, February 15th, 2018
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.