This is a draft of the next chapter. I need to work in more about dresses and the tiff between Mr. Child and Frances. But it's a start.
The Lord Mayor's Ball.For once, Frances looked forward to the Mayor's ball. As the daughter of the late baronet of Whitley, she couldn't skip it, and usually there were a slew of hopeful, hapless men ready to ask for her hand, or failing that, a dance. Mr. Child would be here this time, and he'd as good as promised her a dance. That alone would make the ball worth the candle.
Eliza and her husband, Dr. Brewer, invited Frances to stay with them that night. The two women could prepare for the ball together and Frances could rest before she returned home. That is, if she felt the need of rest. She usually didn't and had more than once finished off her entertainment with a hunt.
Eliza noticed that her friend was taking more care than usual in dressing. “Frankie,” she said, “you seem distracted, don't tell me that Cupid's arrows have finally found their mark.”
“I wouldn't say that Eliza, but I have my hopes.”
“Is it Sir John?”
“No, you'd never guess.”
“Not that barrister, Mr. Child? He's bad news.”
“He's the first man I've met who could almost keep up with me on horseback.”
“He's eccentric, to say the least, and they say he gambles and enjoys the company of low women.”
“Well so do I.”
“Present company excepted, of course.”
“You know what I mean by enjoys the company of low women, and you don't enjoy that.”
“True, but you know I'm not picky about my companions; as long as they're good fun.”
“You should conduct yourself with more decorum. You'll never find a husband if you let yourself have a bad reputation.”
“The man I marry won't care about that.”
“Frankie, there are limits and if you cross them, even I won't be able to be your friend.”
“I know. It's just I don't want a man for a husband that I can't respect.”
Frances watched the start of the Mayor's ball from the side with the other single women. The first dance was a Minuet. It was a precise and formal dance that required great skill to perform. Dr. Brewer and Eliza followed the steps with an elegance that Frances had never mastered. Not that she hadn't tried, but for all her robust athleticism, mastery of court dances eluded her. On the other hand she looked forward to the country dances that would follow.
The orchestra pulled the final chords from their bows and the dance ended. Frances watched as her friends bowed and curtsied to each other. Then Eliza bounced over to her. “Frances, I wish you would try the minuet. I'm sure you'd enjoy it.”
“I have, and believe me, the best thing is for me to watch.”
The orchestra started on 'Grimstock', a country dance. Eliza said, “At least you'll dance these country dances, won't you?”
“If I can find a partner.”
Mr. Child approached, nodded to her, and then invited the young woman standing beside her to the floor. Sir John Dashwood took advantage of his miscue and asked for her hand at the dance. The two lines of couples formed on the floor and Mr. Child studiously avoided her glance whenever they met during the exchanges.
The next dance was a Chacone, a fast figured dance in triple time and once again Frances stood it out. She watched in growing dismay as Mr. Child escorted yet another young woman around the floor. The country dance that followed was equally painful, even though her partner this time, Sir Thomas Wharton, was both better looking and a better dancer than Sir John.
Eliza and her husband met her at the break. Frances said, “Eliza, could we go home, I'm feeling tired.”
Dr. Brewer said, “You? The famous Miss Kendrick, tired? I don't believe it.” Eliza was more cognizant of her friends' troubles, pinched her husband and suggested, “Why don't we go walk? It's fearfully stuffy in here, and I, for one, could use a turn in the gardens. The Abbey ruins must be picturesque in the moonlight.”
“Ah, yes, I see,” He said, “May I escort you?”
Seeing the ruins was the highlight of the evening, and when the ball finally wore its weary way to an end, Francis was heartily sick of dancing, men and small talk. There was one man, in particular, that she would be glad never to see again.
Chaos awaited Frances on her return to Whitley Park. Samuel waited for her, and told her on her return, “That boy, Jeremy. He's run off. He took a horse with him.”
Frances was distracted from her troubles. “Damn. Any idea of where he went?”
Samuel replied, “The other boys said he was worried about his little sister. That he'd run to find her. Does that make any sense to you Ma'am?”
“It does. There's a gang out near Wargrave.” She paused for a few moments, then said “Samuel go get my horse. I'll need you to come as well.”
“Oh, and put the holsters on the saddles, loaded. We're going to find that boy before the bailiffs catch him or he gets into further mischief.”
Samuel tipped his hand to his forehead in salute and went off to accomplish his tasks. Frances ran in to the house and called for her maid, “Martha, get me my riding gear, and be quick about it.”
While she waited for Martha, Frances took Charlie's sword and tried to fasten the sword belt around her waist. It took some adjustment, but she made it fit. When Martha came in, with her riding dress, Frances was examining the blade and smiling at it.
“Martha, this is better balanced than my fencing sword ever was, and it has a fine edge.”
“Yes, Miss.” Martha did not approve of fencing, at least for women, but she had learned that Miss Kendrick had a mind of her own about these things. She helped her mistress dress and watched as Frances left for the stables.
Samuel and Miss Kendrick pulled up just outside of Twyford. The travelers hadn't left the area, but were busily packing their animals and wagons. Frances found the leader and asked, “Where's Captain Tom's gang?”
“Lady Whitley, no.”
“Where's the gang, or do I have to knock some sense into you?” She put her hand on her sword hilt and started to draw it from the scabbard.
“Be it on your own head then. Toward Wargrave, they've holed up around the Royal Oak.”
“Thank you. I'll see you when I return, with young Jeremy.”
“I hope so, Ma'am.”
Frances and her groom approached the Royal Oak. It was run-down and showed the signs of riotous living. She pointed to a horse tied outside and said, “There's my horse.”
Samuel said, “Miss? It's black, ours was a roan.”
“Dyed. An old horse-coper's trick. See how he recognizes us? I'm sure my brand is on his belly.”
She dismounted and gave her reins to Samuel. “I'll need you to wait. I may need to leave in a hurry, or it may work the way I expect. If I don't come out in a half an hour go find the watch. If they’re not too scared of this lot.”
Frances walked into the pub and shouted for Captain Tom.
A greasy middle-aged man turned towards her. He said, “Who wants him.”
“I do. Miss Kendrick. I believe you have one of my servants and my horse. I want them back.”
The man nodded, then spat to one of the others, “Kill her.” The other man, much younger, pulled a long knife from his belt and advanced on Frances. His unshaven, grimy face broke into a grin as he said, “It'll be my pleasure.”
It wasn't. The fight was short, violent and definitive. In the end, Frances stood there, breathing hard from her effort, while her assailant lay on the floor groaning as he tried to hold his intestines in. Frances wasn't known as the best swordsman and huntress in the county for nothing. Still, she felt strange, gutting a man affected her more than gutting a stag.
Pulling her sword back to the ready, she said, “Anyone else?”
The middle-aged man pulled a pistol out from his coat, cocked it and pointed at her. “Very nice, Miss Kendrick. Your reputation is not undeserved, but the time for games is over.”
The door to the inn opened as Frances put her sword point down. Both she and the man looked at the door to see what was happening. Samuel stood there and said, “I think it is, Captain Tom. Unless you’re interested in meeting your maker.” He was holding his pistols and they were pointing at the man.
The man laughed and put his pistol down. “The boy’s yours, Ma’am. Not the girl.”
Frances no longer felt like fighting. She pulled two marks from her purse and slapped them down in front of him. “Is this enough for her?”
The man thought for a moment, then chuckled, “She’s too young for a doxy. I may be a rogue but I have my standards.” He reached over and took the money. “Take her.”
“I’m taking my horse too.”
“That'll be another couple of pounds,” he paused, “My Lady.”
Frances raised her sword to en point, and said. “Shall we have further discussions?”
“Fine, take it. The damned beast was eating too much anyway.”