Monday, July 21, 2014

The start of another regency romance

 Testing out how another theme might work. Updated to current draft.

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 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.”
“Miss Arnold?”
“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.”
“Miss Wood?”
“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. 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's complained about the toughness of the lamb, the lack of variety of vegetables, and the general inelegance of the table settings. Captain Wood's 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. 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. Gable 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 and the fool solicitor of yours 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 who 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 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.