(working title) What do we do with Cecelia?
Amelia Grace Treader.
1. The Captain and Miss Arnold Arrive.
Cecelia Wood was riding part way up Bal Mawr, with an eye to climbing to the top, when she saw a procession of carriages arrive at Penyclawdd house. Nestled at the foot of the Black Mountains, Penyclawdd was the ancient gray stone house where she lived her first 18 years. It was entailed on a distant cousin, Captain George Wood, who could now ask her leave at any moment. Tell her to leave the high, flat moorland, steep valleys, woods and streams that she had known and loved as long as she could remember.
She turned her horse around and galloped back to greet the newcomers. Her groom took her horse and she ran to greet the new owner. To her surprise, it was just a pair carriages full of baggage, a valet, and a couple of lady's maids. The valet informed her, “Ma'am, the captain and Miss Arnold will be here shortly. They were driving his curricle.”
“His fiancée. May I ask, are you Miss Wood?”
“Yes.” The man glanced at her, then turned away muttering something that sounded like it started with “Pity,” and ended with “first.”
“What was that and Who are you?”
“Nothing, I'm Captain Wood's valet. You may address me as Meadows.”
“Mr. Meadows, have you been shown where the captain is to sleep?”
“I believe it is your father's bedroom, and Miss Arnold will be down the hall.”
“Yes, Mr. Meadows.”
“It's just Meadows, not Mr. Meadows. The carriage also contains a number of barrels of Madeira wine. Is there an easier way to cellar them than this front entrance?” She showed him to the kitchen entrance which was behind the building, then went inside to await Captain Wood and his bride to be.
She grabbed a book of poetry penned by the irascible Mr. Landor, her neighbor from up Cwm Bwlch at Llanthony. She'd promised him that she would read it and tell him what she thought. He was sure to ask her about it the next time they met. The tome was hard going, but it would help her pass the time while she was waiting for Captain Wood. It took longer than she expected for him to arrive, and the book was harder going than she thought. She drifted off to sleep. The noise of an argument in the hallway in the front hall pierced the air and woke her. It was loud enough to penetrate the quiet of the front parlor.
“Did you have to stop at all those pubs? You're half-drunk!”
“I always drive better when I'm a bit bosky.”
“You were more than a bit bosky, and I detest an open carriage. If I'd known it would be for all day we'd have ridden in one of the closed carriages. I mean look at my dress, it's ruined with the wind and the dirt.”
“I think you look beautiful like that, Jane.”
“Call me Miss Arnold, Captain Wood. I am seriously displeased with you. I'm sure that the sun and wind have ruined my complexion. Simply ruined it.”
Cecelia quickly and carefully smoothed out the creases in her muslins. Then she walked to the hall and quietly announced herself. The arguing stopped almost immediately and a smiling Miss Arnold asked her, “And who are you, my dear?”
“I'm Miss Wood, Miss Cecelia Wood. Welcome to Penyclawdd house. I hope your trip wasn't too difficult.”
Captain Wood started to say that it had been a pleasant trip. Miss Arnold stopped him, “That's another thing, Captain Wood, how do you expect me to live in a place where I can't even pronounce the names?”
Cecelia pipped the argument at the post by pointing out, “It isn't that difficult, once you get the hang of it. 'P','E','N' is just 'pen', 'Y' is 'a', 'CL' is 'cl', and 'AW' is 'ou' as in couth, which just leaves 'DD' which is 'th'. So it's just pronounced 'pen' 'a' 'clouth'.”
“It's still an uncouth language, this Welsh.”
“The name means start of the dike. We're at one end of Offa's dike, the border between England and Wales. The farm started as a Norman castle built to defend England from the Welsh.”
“I still think it's a primitive barbaric place.”
Captain Wood made southing noises, “Jane dear, you're tired, it has been a long day. Maybe you will feel better with some refreshment.” He waited, with bated breath to see how the light of his life would take to his idea.
Miss Arnold sighed, “You are so right, Georgie. It has been a hard day traveling here from Gloucester and I can tell my temper is getting the better of me. Miss Wood, could you see if there is any refreshment available?”
“I'll ask, but why don't you sit in the parlor? There's a book of poetry written by one of our neighbors, Mr. Walter Landor.”
“People write poetry in these wilds?”
“He does at least. Apparently he's a famous poet. He and his wife Julia have been restoring Llanthony abbey. We could visit them, when you've settled in.”
“So there is at least some culture in this forsaken wilderness.”
Cecelia responded, “There are assemblies at Abergavenny. They have dances, concerts and readings.”
“The big city of Abergavenny, you don't say. Does everyone wear the latest mode?”
Cecelia ignored the snipe and continued, “The moors are so romantic, especially in storms when the clouds sweep across them. It always reminds me of Miss Radcliffes' 'The Romance of the Forest'.”
“I never read novels, they are so common.”
“Then perhaps the works of Shelley or Byron? I find it the best place to read them. Alone, high up on the moor with the wind whistling around me, and the call of the skylarks filling the air.”
A serious argument was beginning to brew between Miss Wood and Miss Arnold. Fortunately for the peace, Meadows came out from the servants' wing and announced that dinner was ready.
Captain Wood, realizing that his escape had been exceedingly narrow, said, “Thank you Meadows, I know this is outside of your normal duties as a valet.”
“Sir, it is sometimes, especially in these barbaric circumstances, necessary to adjust one's expectations to the exigencies of the situation.”
“Yes, what you said. Miss Wood, could you do the honor of showing us to the dinning room?”
Miss Arnold broke in, “That is my role, I have the precedence here.”
“Miss Arnold, do you know the way?”
“I'll show you the way, but you are free to precede me into the room if you wish.” Jane nodded, unaware of the hidden satire in Cecelia's response, but fully satisfied that her prerogatives and status were duly preserved. Captain Wood did not miss it, and looked at his cousin in a new light.
Dinner went very well. At least the parts of dinner. Miss Arnold complained about the toughness of the lamb, the lack of variety of vegetables, and the general inelegance of the table settings. Captain Wood drank so much wine that he fell asleep at table and started snoring midway through the main course. These activities ensured that a sparkling level of conversation and society filled the hall. As soon as dinner was over Cecelia made her apologies and retired for the night with a headache and a good book.
Early in the morning Cecelia had the groom saddle her horse. In need of relief from her cousin and his fiancée, she set out in search of fresh air, long vistas, and romantic settings. She rode up Hatterrall hill, following Offa's Dike, the ancient border between Wales and England to the top. This ride had the great advantage that she couldn't even see Penyclawdd house and could blot its occupants from her mind. Soon, alone with the wind whipping past her, the sheep calling, and the skylarks chirping she felt like a true romantic heroine. A woman out of Byron's poems or Mrs. Radcliffe's novels.
Her solitude and the reverie that went with it were not to last. There was a woman up ahead, where the path from Llanthony prior rose to meet the dike path. She was sitting and crying. Cecelia rode closer and recognized her neighbor, Julia, Mrs. Landor. She rode up to her, leaned over and asked, “Mrs. Landor, what's wrong?”
“Miss Wood, can I call you Cecelia?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Cecelia, it's my husband. He's so irascible. We've just had a fight and I'm upset. I don't know what I'll do if he won't forgive me.” She broke into tears.
“Forgive you for what?”
“Disagreeing with him. If only that solicitor, Mr. Gabell hadn't put him in a bad mood this morning.” Cecelia found herself thinking that there could be fates worse than death and being married to an unloving husband or wife could be one of them. She carefully dismounted and, while still holding the reins, went to sit with her neighbor.
“Julia, I'm sure it will be fine. Didn't you argue last month and Mr. Landor stormed out of the house?”
“Yes, but this is different. It was all so magical when we met in Bath. He saw me in the assembly, said I was the most beautiful woman there and proposed on the spot.”
“That must have been wonderful.”
“It was. But then we came here, the farmers all try to cheat us, and that solicitor. I think he's just using Walter as a source of funds.” She sobbed a bit more, “I, I wish we'd stayed in Bath.” Finally, she broke into untrammeled weeping.
Cecelia looked away from her friend and scanned the horizon. With one horse, there wasn't any easy way to get her home. Looking at Julia's feet she realized that her friend fled in her slippers. “Julia?”
“Get up on my mare.”
“I can't ride.”
“I'll lead her for you. We'll walk back to Penyclawdd. You can send Mr. Landor a note from there. I'm sure when he's calmed down, he'll be sorry. He is always sorry afterwards, you know that.”
“I suppose so. I'm not sure. I feel so odd.”
“Are you,” she paused knowing she was asking a very personal question, “breeding?”
“Might be. Would that make me feel this way?”
“I wouldn't know myself, but remember Mrs. Llewellyn?”
Julia laughed at the memory. The young farmer's wife was notorious for bursting into tears at church every Sunday until she delivered her child.
“Come on, you can't stay out here in any case.”
Julia stood and with a bit of difficulty swung up into the side-saddle. Cecelia started to lead her off, when they heard the noise of another horse, being ridden hard behind them.
Julia cried, “It's him, it's Mr. Landor!”
It was. He was looking for Julia, calling at the top of his lungs, “Julia! Where are you? Please forgive me.”
Cecelia waved, and he rode to them. Julia looked away as he approached.
“Miss Wood, what a pleasure to see you.”
“It's not me you need to charm Mr. Landor.”
He collected himself, and then began, “Julia, I'm sorry for what I said. You know how I get started ranting and say things I can't possibly mean. Could you forgive me?”
The noise of the wind blowing filled the silence between them until Julia let loose. She gave her husband every bit as good a tongue-lashing as he had given her earlier.
“Forgive you, you, you insolent loud-mouthed irascible fool! Storming and shouting just because the porridge was a little too milky. Then getting upset that your fool of a solicitor sent you another padded bill.” She turned to Cecelia and told her, “If you would pass the reins to Mr. Landor, he can lead me back to Llanthony. I have a few more things to say to him, which might be embarrassing for you to hear.”
Cecelia handed the leads to Mr. Landor. He gave her a sheepish grin, and quietly asked, “Would you mind walking home?”
“Miss Wood, walk to Penyclawdd from here? Mr. Landor whatever are you thinking of? Nothing as usual. Miss Wood, please join us in Llanthony for some refreshments before you ride home.”
“It would be my pleasure, as long as you will be done arguing by the time I arrive.”
“We will be, I have only a few more things to tell my Lord and Master.”
Mr. Landor winked at Cecelia, “Miss Wood, Julia and I are well-matched. We give each other as good as we get.”
The Landors could be heard arguing over the heather and blueberries as they walked their horses back along the dike and then down the steep hill to Llanthony. Cecelia waited until she couldn't hear their raised voices and then started walking after them.
The path from the top of Hatterrall hill to the ruins of Llanthony prior started off almost flat and then descended steeply to the valley floor below1. The narrow bottom of Cecelia's riding habit, coupled with shoes that were not well-suited to walking, combined with the hot sun to make the steep descent tiresome. Less that halfway down, she sat for a rest and examined her feet. “I think I'm getting a blister.”
Mr. Landor rode up on his hunter, leading her mare behind him. “Miss Wood, Julia suggested I come and find you. I hadn't realized how difficult it can be to walk in a riding habit.”
He grinned, “All right, Miss Wood, Julia gave me firm and binding instructions that I was to find you and bring you back on your horse. In fact she barred the door after I left. Is that better?”
“Now you are being silly.”
“Yes, but it looks like you could use the ride.”
Cecelia mounted her mare and in short order they descended the bracken covered and then wooded hillside to the Landor's house.
Julia received her with open arms, “I am so glad Walter found you.”
“You didn't bar the door and kick him out, did you?”
“No, but he wanted to start writing some verse or another and I told him it could wait.”
“It couldn't, but I wrote it in my head while looking for Miss Wood. If you'll excuse me, I'll put it on paper.”
“Men!” Julia watched her husband disappear down the hall to his study. “You must be famished.”
“I could use some tea.”
Julia bellowed at the top of her voice, “Martha, tea and some scones in the parlor.”
“Yes, Mrs. Landor.” was returned with a similar shout.
Seeing Cecelia start to chuckle, Julia said, “You'll have to pardon my shouts, Cecelia, but we haven't had time to run bell wires. It's the only way to get the servants to pay attention.”
“If it works.”
“I'm going to go hoarse if we don't get it fixed. Would you come in here and sit?” She led the way to the parlor.
The tea and scones were well appreciated. Mr. Landor finished with his inspiration and returned before the refreshments were finished. He helped himself and asked, “Well, Miss Wood, how goes it with the new Lord of Penyclawdd?”
“Captain Wood seems a nice enough man. If he weren't drunk.”
“Where was he wounded?”
“If he came back from Spain, he must have been wounded somewhere.”
“He isn't wounded.”
“Not that you can see.” Mr. Landor put on a grave face.
“What do you mean?”
“I was in Spain as a volunteer for a couple of years. Before I bought Llanthony. If he has seen anything like the scenes I saw and is back here without a visible wound, then he's wounded here.” Mr. Landor pointed at his head.
Cecelia looked at him in astonishment. “What do you mean?”
Mr. Landor suddenly was very serious and dropped his normally jocular appearance. He paused and carefully stated, “Miss Wood, the war in Spain hasn't been as glorious as the press has it. Many cruel and truly awful things happen. Some men, and I'm afraid your cousin is one of them, see too much. They break.”
“Your concern does you well Miss Wood.”
“Is there anything I can do for him?”
“No. Just time, and peace.”
“Oh dear. His fiancée, Miss Arnold, is anything but peaceful.”
“Does he drink?”
“Heavily, is that bad?”
“Not good. He's trying to keep the terrors away by staying unconscious. It won't work.” With these glum words a silence fell over them.
After a few minutes, Julia restarted the conversation, “Before you go, would you like a puppy? Caro's litter is almost ready to wean.”
“I'd love one, especially one out of Caro, but I can't.”
“Soon I'm bound to stay with my aunt in Swansea, and she may not like dogs.”
Mr Landor added, “Anyone who doesn't like dogs is fit for treasons, stratagems and plots.” To which his helpmate replied, “Walter, don't go getting all poetic right now. We're discussing important things.”
“Yes, dear. But my poetry is important.”
“In its place. I know! Why don't we all ride down to Penyclawdd?”
“You're not comfortable riding Ionie, will you be up to it?”
“You can lead me.”
When they walked to the stable-yard, where the groom had saddled the three horses, Cecelia gushed, “Is this Ionie? What a beautiful mare!”
Julia admitted, “She is beautiful, but sour tempered. Mr. Landor can handle her, but I'm not a good horsewoman.”
Cecelia suggested, “My dear Awyr2 is a calm ride. Why don't you learn to ride on her? I'll ride your Ionie and see if I can school her in good manners.”
Mr. Landor approved, “You know, Julia, that Cecelia's been riding almost as long as she can walk. If she can't school Ionie, the horse is irredeemable and we'll sell her.”
Cecelia added, “I haven't met a horse I can't school. If you buy another, let me help you judge.”
On the ride down Cwm Bwchel to Penyclawdd, Ionie was skittery and tended to shy, but Cecelia kept her mount from outright bolting. Julia was surprised that she could easily ride a well-trained horse. Mr. Landor and his wife caught up with Cecelia at Penyclawdd. They asked, “Miss Wood, could Mrs. Landor borrow Awyr for the next few days, while you train our Ionie?”
Cecelia agreed, but her groom expressed his misgivings at having such a handful of a horse in their stables. “Miss Wood,” he began, “This horse is a sour one. You can see from how she holds her head and the way she looks to kick at you.”
“Yes, she's been left to her own devices too long. A couple of days working on her, maybe a week and she'll be well mannered. She's got the build of a good hunter.”
“If you say so, Miss. I'd rather not play with such an ill-mannered beast.”
“She just needs training. Even if Mr. Landor sells her in the end, with training she'll fetch a much better price.”
The Landors followed Cecelia into the house and were introduced to Captain Wood and Miss Arnold.
On his sixth glass of Madeira, Captain Wood swayed a bit as he stood, but that didn't stop him from welcoming his guests, once Cecelia introduced them.
“Captain George Wood and Miss Jane Arnold, these are Mr. Walter Landor, the poet and his wife Julia.”
“Glad to meet you. Would you care for some wine?”
“It looks like you've been having some yourself, Captain Wood. Is there any left?”
“Plenty. I brought four or five casks of first rate Madeira from London.”
Miss Arnold intervened, “I think you've had enough for now, Captain Wood.”
He gave his guests a goggle-eyed stare. “I suppose so. Need to stay awake through dinner tonight.”
Miss Arnold continued, “You must excuse my fiancée, it was a difficult journey yesterday and he was in need of some refreshments.”
Cecelia thought, “I'll say. More like he needs some strong tea and fresh air to walk of that drunkenness.”
Julia asked, “How long have you been engaged, and are you planning a unusually big wedding?”
“Two months, tomorrow.”
Mr. Landor asked, “Why aren't you two married yet?”
Julia cried, “Walter, that's rude.”
“No it isn't. We took, what, three weeks from the time I saw you at the dance to get hitched.”
“But you're one of the wild Landors, aren't you?”
“Maybe. But still, I'd like to know why they're taking so long. Have you even posted the Banns yet?”
Jane answered, “We're waiting for permission from the head of my family, Lord Pershore. That and officially I'm still in first mourning for my aunt.”
George continued, “I may have to sell one of my estates to fund Miss Arnold's portion. We're still thinking on how to do right by her.”
“You might sell Penyclawdd? Sir, the south of Wales is paradise. I've said so in print and still hold to it.”
2. A Disastrous Expedition.
The morning rain was spraying down, soaking everything that wasn't under cover. Halfway through his first Madeira of the morning, Captain Wood gazed out of the window, and observed, “What a sodding miserable day.”
Jane replied to him, “It is. The weather is so much nicer in London or Bath.”
“It rains there too, and the rains stink of coal smoke.”
“At least there's something to do when it rains.”
“That reminds me. What I am going to do about Cecelia?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“She seems a nice enough girl Jane, but something tells me she'll be in the way when it comes time to set up our own home.”
“I'm sure there is somewhere she can go. She must have some other relatives who would take her in.”
“I hope so. How do you find her?”
“We chatted while you were still in bed. She's a bit bookish for my tastes, but I think we'll get on well. At least after we get to know each other better. She's polite and respects my station. I just wish there was something we could do here while the weather is so miserable.”
“Cecelia seems to have found something to do. Where is she?”
“Over by the stables. She's schooling that skittish horse she rode here yesterday.”
“Now that has to be worth seeing. Landor hinted she was one excellent horsewoman when I saw them off yesterday.” He put down his mug, and asked Jane, “Are you coming with me?”
“In this weather? No, and the mud in the farmyard will ruin my shoes.”
“Don't you have any patterns?”
“I left them in London, didn't think I'd need them.”
“Every estate I own will have a farmyard. That farmyard will be muddy.”
“That doesn't mean I have to go out into it either.”
“Still, I'm going. Meadows was telling me yesterday that Cecelia has a reputation as a formidable horsewoman. He said it was well-worth seeing her in action.”
“I heard you the first time. Please go. I'm happy with this book.”
Captain Wood donned a cloak and walked out to see what his cousin was doing. He found Cecelia in a field trotting this huge horse around in a circle with a lead attached to its bridle. A small furry object was barking its approval of the process. When it saw him, it bounded over.
“Miss Wood,” he called, “what's this?”
“Heulwen, your new puppy. Isn't she cute?”
“Don't you remember? Mr. Landor said he would give her to us yesterday when he and Mrs. Landor escorted me home.”
“No I don't. I must have been more bosky than I thought.” He stooped down to pet the dog and Heulwen obligingly rolled over to let him pet her belly.
“See, she likes you.”
“I've always wanted a dog, but not a mongrel like this one.”
“She's not a mongrel. Her dam, Caro, is a renowned herding dog. Heulwen already shows signs of inheriting her mother's intelligence.”
“Is that so?” Tired of stooping down, he picked her up and held her. “She does seem well built. What does Heulwen mean?”
“Sunshine. Mrs. Landor thought she could bring some sunshine into your and Miss Arnold's lives.”
“Maybe. That's a fine looking horse. Whose is it?”
“Mrs. Landor's. Her husband bought it for her, but they're both a bit scared of it.”
“That's understandable, she's a sour-looking brute if ever I saw one. I gather you're not scared of her.”
“No I'm not scared of her.” Cecelia mentally added, “It's not like she's a man asking me to dance or anything really scary.” Then she continued, “Haven't met one yet I can't handle. She was a handful on the ride from Llanthony, so I'm training her on the lead today.”
Heulwen squirmed at the inactivity so Captain Wood set her down and she resumed running after the horse and yapping at her. “Is that helpful? Having that dog bark at your horse?”
“Doesn't hurt. This horse needs to get used to dogs. I don't want her to bolt the next time she sees a farm dog.”
“Suppose so.” He paused, unsure of what else to say or do. It certainly didn't look like Cecelia needed any help. “If you don't need me for anything, I'll head back inside.”
“No, I'll be another hour or so of this, then see if Ionie is ready for a ride.”
Captain Wood turned and started to walk back to the house. The yapping little dog followed him and shot inside when he opened the door.
Jane shouted “What's that!” accompanied by a now-familiar yap and the crash of a side-table.
George entered the parlor to find Jane standing amid the ruins of an overturned side-table with tea, tea cup and teapot shards on the floor. Heulwen was barking at her.
“Heulwen, stop.” The dog quieted. “That apparently is our new puppy.”
“I don't like dogs. Look at it, it's muddy and tracked muck all over our parlor.”
“She's a gift from the Landors. From last night, do you remember?”
“Good, I was worried that I was too drunk to remember last night.”
“You were too drunk last night, but you didn't agree to a puppy. At least not while I was present. There was a caller this morning.”
“While you were asleep. For that matter, while I was asleep. He left a note.”
Captain George Wood
I hope this note finds you in good health and recovered from last night's libations. Julia and I thought that one of our Caro's puppies would be just the thing as a housewarming gift. Julia suggested Heulwen, Welsh for sunshine, as a name. Let her bring sunshine into your lives.
On another note, next sunny spell. Would you care to shoot grouse with me and the local gentry? We haven't shot Hatterrall hill for a good few months so there should be some excellent sport to be had.
Walter Savage Landor.
George looked at Jane, “I wish we'd caught him before he left.” Pointing at the dog, he continued, “This complication could have been avoided. Now Miss Wood, if no one else, is attached to it.”
“We could always take it back.”
“No, that would be very rude. I'd like to be on good terms with our neighbors.”
“Well in any case, it doesn't have to live inside. Does it?”
George was about to agree when Cecelia came into the room. “There you are Heulwen. I've been looking all over for you.” The puppy ran over to her and she showered it with attention while it showered her with wet and mud. “Isn't she cute? I'll give her a basket in my room and she won't be any trouble to you.”
“As long as you clean up her messes, I suppose you can keep her there.”
“Thank you. She'll grow in to be a fine smart dog, just like her mother Caro. You won't regret this.”
“I'm not sure that I don't already.”
Jane studied Miss Wood playing with the dog. The thought occurred to her that Cecelia was in many ways still a little girl without the veneer of sophistication that life in the city had given her. This prompted her to say, “Miss Wood, Cecelia, I cannot but feel we may have started off on the wrong foot yesterday. I hope that you'll consider Penyclawdd still your home as long as you need it.”
Cecelia looked up from Heulwen and replied, “Jane, thank you. That is very kind of you. I know my aunt was worried about me living with her in Swansea. Besides, I knew you were still fractious from a long and tedious trip.”
Jane continued, “Captain Wood, are we not planning to go Bath sometime in the next few weeks?”
“I'm going to need to have a new gown for our wedding, and while I'm sure Abergav, Aber-whatever, has seamstresses, I'm also sure they aren't of the first stare.”
George chuckled, “I see. Yes we should. It's not fair that you miss all your favorite diversions. I suppose this is a hint that we should invite Miss Wood to accompany us?”
“That, and maybe we can do a little husband-hunting for her.”
“I suppose it could be nicer to be married, than to live with my aunt.”
The rainy morning cleared and gave way to a fine hot afternoon. Tall lines of clouds built up over the black mountains in the distance. The hot afternoon gave way to a sudden cool evening. The Captain, Miss Arnold and Miss Wood were enjoying a quiet cup of tea after dinner, when the crash of thunder rent the air. The Captain jumped up and yelled, “The French! They're here.” He grabbed a poker from the fireplace and ran out into the storm.
Jane gave Cecelia a stricken look, “What are we to do? He gets like this when his memories of Badajoz are triggered.”
“Is that why you let him drink so much?”
“Yes. It keeps the nightmares away.”
Cecelia thought for a moment, then volunteered, “Jane, you don't know the land around here. I do. See that something warm is made ready for the captain so he doesn't catch a chill. I'll saddle Ionie and look for him.”
Jane wrung her hands with anxiety, but agreed with Cecelia.
Cecelia found the groom, upstairs in the stable and explained what she needed him to do. “Not Ionie. See how she's bucking down there.” The stable shook as she crashed her hind feet into the stall. “I'll saddle your old pony for you then come out and look for him myself.”
“No I'll take Ionie. I have to ride fast and go cross country. She's a born hunter.”
“Do it. Please. I can handle her.”
Ionie calmed when Cecelia spoke to her, and they were able to saddle her without difficulty. Cecelia shot out of the yard calling for Captain Wood.
It didn't take her long to find him. He stood at the base of Bal Mawr shouting to the winds about the French. He waved his poker like it was a saber and waited for his men to follow him. If any of the ghosts of his regiment followed him, it was only in his mind. They remained in their quiet graves on the outskirts of Badajoz.
Seeing Cecelia on horseback, he shouted, “The Cuirassiers! Men form a square and prepare to fire.”
“Captain Wood, George! It's me! Your cousin Cecelia. You're safe, in Wales, home.”
“They've got Cecelia! Charge.”
With Cecelia steadying her, Ionie could stand thunder and lightning mixed with the occasional burst of rain or hail. She couldn't abide the addition of a crazy man shouting at her and charging at her with a poker. She bucked and threw Cecelia to the muddy ground. Then she bolted for shelter.
George watched the horse retreat, shouted “Hurrah, see how they run!” Then he noticed Cecelia lying there on the ground. “You're wounded.”
Cecelia moaned, then started to rise, and collapsed. He continued, “We can't leave a wounded man behind. Either the guerillos or the French will finish him off.” Picking her up, he continued, “You're light for a soldier Private Weeks. I'll get you to the hospital.” With that he carried Cecelia back to Penyclawdd.
Cecelia awoke the next morning in her room. Her head hurt and she was achy all over. Miss Arnold was sitting in a chair and watching her from a corner. When Cecelia stirred, she put down her book and walked over to the bed.
“We've had the apothecary visit. He said that you would probably recover. If you woke up, he said to drink this.” She handed Cecelia a vile potion and helped her to drink some of it. When Cecelia finally stopped gagging, she continued, “Miss Wood, I don't know how to thank you enough for last night. Captain Wood is home, and safe because of you.”
Cecelia asked Jane, “You really do love him, don't you?”
“I care for him.”
“That's why you're so strict, isn't it?”
“He needs order to recover. I try to give him that order.”
“Can I help you? You know I'm good at training animals and.”
Jane smiled and almost laughed, “Are you implying that my beloved is an animal?”
Cecelia blushed with embarrassment, “No, not that.”
“It's alright, men are animals and need taming.” There was a scratching at the door and she continued, “Speaking of animals. George, you can come in.”
The door opened and Heulwen sprung forth and landed on Cecelia's bed. Captain Wood followed, “She's been whining about being away from you all evening and morning. I just took her for a walk and came to see how you are doing.”
“Achy, and my head hurts.”
“I'm glad you're awake. I'm sorry about last night. With the thunder I was beside myself.”
“It wasn't your fault.”
“I don't know about that. It was just so real, so sudden.”
Meadows quietly appeared beside Captain Wood. “Sir, Mr. Landor has arrived. He would appreciate a word. I have left him in the front parlor awaiting your pleasure.”
There was a scuffling noise outside the door and Mr. Landor could be heard.
“No you haven't! What's ceremony among friends. That blasted horse, Ionie, showed up at my stables this morning. Is Miss Wood well?” He peaked around the door jamb and waved at her. “I see she's alive, at least. What happened last night?”
“Miss Wood went to find me, when I had run into the rain.”
Jane's authoritarian streak came into its own. She hustled the two men out of the door. “Miss Wood needs some time to recover and get presentable. Please go downstairs. If she's well enough, she'll join you after she is dressed properly.”
Heulwin barked in support until Jane glared at her. “Would you take this dog with you? While Miss Wood clearly enjoys her company, she will be a nuisance.”
It took Cecelia longer that she thought to get out of the bed and dressed, at least passably, in her muslins. She insisted on going downstairs to join in the conversation. By the time she and Jane painfully made their way down to the parlor, the Captain was finishing his story. “My regiment, we made the last charge at Badajoz. Somehow I survived. Most of the rest of my men are buried there.”
Mr. Landor sat close to the captain. He was almost touching him and listened to his story with a sad and severe look on his face. “Have you ever told anyone about this before?”
“I couldn't, I couldn't tell anyone about it.”
“Well it's good that you do. It will help you heal. Sometime I'll tell you my stories. When you're better.” Heulwen's barking alerted him to something. He looked up and saw that the two women had joined them. Suddenly cheerful again, he announced, “We're selling that blasted horse. If Ionie would throw you, Miss Wood, what chance would poor Julia have of a comfortable ride?”
“She was sorely provoked, between the thunder and Captain Wood.”
“No, my mind, actually Julia's and my minds are made up and we are of one mind on this decision. Ionie may be a thoroughbred mare, but she's neither reliable nor comfortable.”
“You'd best have me along when you go to the market. Too many horse coper's there and I know most of the tricks.”
“We'll wait until you're well enough. I was just suggesting to George that we all go and make a day of it.”
Cecelia gave Jane a glance. She was clearly feeling awkward about horses. “Miss Arnold, I owe you for your kind care. I know we haven't always seen eye to eye on things. That's my fault as much as yours. If you'd like, I'll help you select an excellent mount.”
Mr. Landor added, “Miss Arnold, that's an offer you shouldn't refuse. Miss Wood is one of the best horsewomen I've ever met. You won't regret it.”
Jane thought for a few moments, then looked at George. He was looking much better than he had when she first met him. Life away from the city might have its advantages. If she were to live here she would need to learn to ride, and even to walk in farmyard mud. She replied, “Cecelia, I'd be very pleased if you helped me select a horse. But first I'll need to get some shoes that will stand up to the mud in the farmyard.”
Cecelia smiled, she much preferred to be on good terms with people than at dagger's end. She added, “There's a good shoemaker in Abergavenny. He may not be the most fashionable, but his boots are comfortable and last.”
Jane replied, “I'll have to try him. Can I do that before we go to the horse market?”
Mr. Landor interjected, “The main markets in Brecon are in May and November, so there is plenty of time.”
Jane responded “I'd much rather not wait that long. It gets too cold in November for a pleasant ride.”
Her worries met with some good natured laughter. George explained that those were only the big county meets. Mr. Landor added, “Every Friday they have some sort of market. Cecelia, when do you think you'll be able to help us?”
“Jane, what did the apothecary say?”
“I doubt I'll be ready this Friday. My head hurts. You'll have plenty of time to get your riding clothes.”
“I know,” Mr. Landor added, “Julia can take you to Abergavenny tomorrow. She's been wanting an excuse to go shopping for some time.”
“I'm not the best company for a female, no patience for looking at muslins or trifling things like that. I'd best get back, she'll be wondering what trouble I've gotten myself into, and George?”
“Don't drink so much. It won't help you get better.”
“How do you know?”
“I tried it. Just delays the reckoning.”
1It did in 1812 and still does.
2Welsh for Sky.