Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chapter 3 of The Berkshire Lady

Introducing Mr. Benjamin Child, who is another historical figure in the story. He's not quite yet Mr. Child esq. but well on his way.

Not sure I like the title, but it will do for the moment.

The Assizes.

Miss Frances Kendrick, properly dressed in a respectable and clearly elegant gown, fashionably powdered, wearing a patch and supported by both her solicitor Mr. Dalbey and her groom Samuel made her way to a seat in the visitor's gallery at the court in Reading. A high bench at the front of the room was reserved for the judge and various clerks sat and chatted at the tables between the bench and the visitors' gallery. Mr. Dalbey gave her a respectful bow and said, “Miss Kendrick, I have instructed a junior barrister, Mr. Benjamin Child to assist us in this matter. He's reading at the Inner Temple, and happily is available to us.”
“Couldn't you do it yourself?”
“No, only barristers can approach the court.” Mr. Dalbey paused and then pointed at a man in a dark robe and wearing a small gray wig. “There he is.”
“I say, he is a handsome young man, for a lawyer. Does he hunt or ride?”
“No idea, but I understand he's a bit dangerous. Has a reputation for gambling and wenching. Still, he is supposed to be a good barrister and that's what we need. If you'll excuse me, I shall instruct him. Mayhaps you can meet after court.”
“Depends on what?”
“Whether we win.”
The trial didn't take long in the end. Jeremy, his clothes even more ragged and dirty than before, was marched into the court. To Frances, he appeared smaller, thinner and more scared than she remembered. The prosecutor asked Miss Kendrick to the stand.
He said, “Was this the boy who climbed into your room?”
Frances hesitated.
“Remember you are under oath.”
“Was his intent robbery?”
“How could I know? Ask him.”
“No further questions.”
Mr. Child rose from his seat bowed to the judge, turned to Frances and asked his questions.
“Miss Kendrick, this must be disturbing for you.”
“Not at all.” Her self-assured smile gave him pause. Most young women would have been scared of court.
“Was the defendant alone?”
“He had an older man with him, who forced him into my room.”
“Where is this man?”
Frances winked at him, then said, “Potter's field, I presume. I ran him through with my sword, and he died the next morning.”
“Your sword. Do you sleep with a sword?”
“It was my dearest cousin Charlie's sword. It reminds me of him.”
The prosecutor objected, “Are these relevant questions?”
“I'm trying to establish the culpability of the defendant.”
The judge commented, “Mr. Child, would you hurry. We have another twenty prisoners before lunch.”
“Yes, your honor. To come to my point Miss Kendrick, I understand that you do not want to see the defendant hanged?”
“Yes. I do not believe he is fully responsible for his actions.”
The judge interrupted the questioning again by saying to Mr. Child, “Please get on with it. Your witness cannot know what this miscreant thought.”
“Yes, My Lord. If I may continue?” Mr. Child asked one final question, “Miss Kendrick, did you hear or see anything that would substantiate your conclusion?”
“Just the older man threatening him with a beating if he didn't enter the room. Well, that and the boy was crying. I could not feel comfortable if he were hung.”
The judge turned to her. “Miss Kendrick, will you stand surety for him?”
“I will.”
Jeremy looked up, and studied her. It was the first glimmer of hope he had seen in a week if not longer. Frances turned to him and said, “I need another stable-boy, do you like horses?” He nodded.
The judge admonished them for speaking out of turn, then said, “Miss Kendrick, be aware that you will be responsible for his actions, and their consequences.”
“You are welcome to hang him if he runs away, or what's left after I'm done with him first.”
“Mr. Child and Mr. Dalbey, Have you prepared the indenture?”
“Yes My Lord.” Mr. Child handed the judge a sheet of parchment.
The judge read the paperwork and said, “It seems in order. You may finish the details outside.” Then he turned to Jeremy and said, “Young man, you are extremely lucky that Miss Kendrick takes pity on your situation and is willing to stand surety for your actions. The next time you will not be so lucky.”
Jeremy nodded and squeaked out, “Yes, My Lord.”
The judge nodded to the sergeant at arms, and he called out “Next case.”

The final details of Jeremy's indenture were filled out in Mr. Dalbey's office. With Jeremy, Samuel, Frances and the two lawyers, his small close room seemed even smaller and closer. Mr. Dalbey asked, “Jeremy can you read?”
“No sir”
“Then I shall read and explain this document to you. It describes the terms of your indenture to Miss Kendrick. Do you understand what an indenture is?”
“Yes sir. It means I'm to work for her.”
“That's correct. You will serve her for a term of years. In return she will house you and see that your are clothed and fed.”
At the word 'fed', Jeremy's eyes widened. It had been a long while since he had eaten well. Mr. Dalbey continued, “It is my understanding that you will be a stable-boy.”
Frances said, “I always need stable-hands.” She paused and pointed at her groom, “Jeremy, Samuel here is my head groom. You will answer directly to him.”
“Yes Miss.”
Mr. Dalbey continued, “Miss Kendrick's stables are among the best run in England. You will be well-trained when your indenture is over.”
Frances could not help noticing Mr. Child watching this exchange and looking at her with a bemused look on his face. “Does this strike you as funny, Mr. Child?”
“Unusual, yes. Funny, no. I was enjoying the view.”
“We can converse later, if you'd like. First though let's finish with Jeremy.”
Mr. Dalbey finished explaining the indenture. Jeremy agreed to it. Tending horses and being well-fed while doing so was preferable to both hanging and housebreaking. He scratched out an 'X' on the document. Miss Kendrick and the two lawyers signed. Then Samuel escorted Jeremy off to take up his new duties. Frances said, as they were leaving, “See that he gets bathed and new clothes, will you. I like to see and not smell my servants. He'll also need some food before you work him.”
“Yes, Miss Kendrick. Leave the youth to me. You won't recognize him when you return this afternoon.”
After they left, Mr. Child said, “Miss Kendrick, speaking of food. Would you care to dine with me?”
“The Horn or the Sun?”
“My room is at the Sun, shall we try there?”
The background chatter in the Sun quieted when Mr. Child and Miss Kendrick entered the common room. It was rare for a lady of quality to enter a public house. Once it was seen that this lady of quality was Miss Kendrick, the chatter resumed. Mr. Child said to the inn-keeper, “Is there a parlor available, so that I may entertain Miss Kendrick in the style to which she is accustomed?”
Frances said, “That table by the window will do nicely. My usual please.”
Once they were seated, Mr Child said, “Do you make a habit of attending public houses?”
“I wouldn't say it was a habit. No, not really a habit. Only on hunt days, or when there's a shoot at the butts, and off course I'll get a refreshment on the way home when I've been riding over to Caversham, Streatly or Wargrave. So hardly ever. No more than, say, once a week or so.”
“Have you ever been in Abingdon?”
“I'm sure I must have, but not recently.”
“My family's from there. Brewer's mostly.”
“That's interesting. My family's from here. Baronet's mostly.”
“Oh. Above my rank.”
“That depends, Mr. Child, on how well you do at the bar.”
“Now, tell me. What is a rising barrister doing out here in remote Berkshire and not in civilized London?”
“I have my reasons.”
“Gambling debts, women, or both?”
Mr. Child chuckled and then said. “I see my reputation has preceded me. No, to be honest and much to my shame, neither. For once I'm not in the basket, and there isn't an outraged mother waiting at my rooms with a rapier or a breach of promise suit in her hand. I'm seeing practice as part of my preparation for becoming a full member of the Temple.”
“Is that all?”
“Well, no. That and the Mayor's ball the day after tomorrow. It was a strong inducement to selecting Reading over Basingstoke or visiting my family in Abingdon. I've heard there are some dashed pretty women in Reading. Present company excluded, I haven't seen any pretty enough to make the trip worthwhile.”
“Oh, the Mayor's ball. I had forgotten about that. What a nuisance.”
“A nuisance? What can you possibly mean by that?”
“I'm an heiress. There will be no end of boring young men competing for my attention and hoping for my fortune. I just wish there were some who were not so predictably boring.”
“Am I boring?”
“Probably, but I don't know you well enough yet to say. I suppose the next thing you'll ask me is for a dance at the ball.”
“I was, but if you'd rather not, I won't. How about we ride in the country after the assizes conclude? I'll need to borrow a horse, but Mr. Dalbey intimated that you had a fine stable.”
“Can you ride, really ride?”
“I used to, before I started at the Temple. I'm out of practice now.”
“When will you be available?”
“I have a couple of cases this afternoon, in fact I should go now, but tomorrow about midday?”
He rose and bowed to Frances. As he straightened, she said, “Mr. Child, if you ride well, then maybe I'll give you that dance after all.”
“I'm looking forward to it.”

The next day, as the sun slowly rose in the morning, Frances found herself at loose ends. She just could not settle to anything. Embroidery, a skill she had painstakingly learned to please her father, and kept at because it was something to do with her hands when she was at loose ends failed to grip. She had read every book in the house, all of them, more than once. Even the stables failed to be diverting. Jeremy had been put to work and Samuel reported that he seemed to be settling in well. His determination at brushing down the horses had even earned a rare bit of praise. Finally, there was a knock on the Hall door. Mr. Child, accompanied by a footman entered. He bowed, gracefully, and said, “Miss Kendrick, are you still interested in a ride?”
“Am I?” Frances jumped up and said, “I've been waiting all morning. Shall we head to the stables?”
While she led Mr. Child to the stables behind Whitley House, she said, “I'm sorry this place is so old-fashioned and small, but”
He stopped her, “Don't.”
“Don't what?”
“Apologize. Any house that you inhabit is elegant.”
Frances felt the start of a blush, but stopped herself and smirked instead. Then she said, “I bet you say that to every woman you meet. You should find a good mount in my stables.”
Mr. Child replied, “I don't. Just the ones I like.”
Frances could not stop her blush this time.
Samuel helped Mr. Child pick out a horse and saddle it. While it was being saddled, Mr. Child noticed a youth watching them intently from the back of the stables.
“Is that young Jeremy?”
“Yes, sir.”
He called, “Jeremy come here. Do you remember me? I talked with you while you were in gaol.”
The boy hesitated, then cautiously walked toward him. “Sir?”
“How do you like working for Miss Kendrick?”
“I'm fed. It's hard work.”
“What did you expect?”
“To be beaten.”
“Are you?”
“No, sir.” Samuel came back and said, “Now, Jeremy hast thee shoveled that stall?”
“Then get thee on wit' it.”
“Sir.” Jeremy tipped his hand at his forehead in salute and backed off to do his work.
“I must say,” Mr. Child said to Frances, “that he seems healthier already. Miss Kendrick, I think that you may have succeeded with the young man. I had my doubts.”
“I'd hope so, Mr. Child. I do not abuse my servants, nor do I tolerate it among them.”
“Is that so, Samuel?”
“Sir? Among us. No she doesn't. Now do you need help with mounting this horse?”

As they started out from the stables. Frances asked, “So Mr. Child, where would you like to ride?”
“I don't know the locale. Where is your favorite?”
“I rode to Calcot a few days ago. Let's head to Wargrave. I hope you can keep up with me.” She kicked her horse into a fast canter. Mr. Child did his best to follow, but didn't catch up with her until she stopped near Twyford, by Dark Moon wood.
“Miss Kendrick?” he said, “Why the respite?”
Frances pointed to a rough camp at the other side of the field. “Those gypsies, travelers, they shouldn't be here.”
“This isn't the time for the fair. Something has disturbed them. I'd rather not be alone when we talk.”
“I still don't follow you, Miss Kendrick.”
“In normal times, the travelers visit near the time of the Reading fair. That's how they live, going from fair to fair. If they're here now, something is wrong. It could be the plague or rebellion.”
Together they walked their horses over to the camp. When they were close an elderly man, evidently one in authority, came out and greeted them. He bowed and said, “Lady Whitley, what brings you to our camp?”
“I have the same question for you. Why are you camped here? The fair isn't for months.”
The man paused, then carefully chose his words as he said, “Our reception towards Maidenhead wasn't peaceable. We was run out of Windsor and the Upright men in Wargrave pushed us this way.”
“Upright men?”
“Captain Tom and his gang. Took a couple of our children in tribute and sent us on our way. We won't stay here long, no trade.”
Mr. Child broke into the conversation and said, “One of those children wouldn't be named Jeremy perchance?”
“Aye, any news of the lad or his sister?”
“He's bound to service for Miss Kendrick, after breaking into her house.”
The man visibly brightened. “An apprentice is he?”
Frances said, “One of my stable-boys. Samuel is instructing him.”
“That's beau. Better that than cadging for a living, and your horsemen have a good reputation. He's a bright lad. Will he learn to read?”
Mr. Child continued, “So you will leave him? If he runs off, he's liable to be hung. That's what his indenture says.”
The man smiled, revealing a few stumps of teeth that meshed together. “I've too many mouths to feed as it tis. Do you need any other servants, Lady Whitley?”
“Sadly, no. Yes, I like my servants to be literate, if they can.”
“That leaves me out.” He smirked, then said, “Tis best Lady if you return to Whitley. Captain Tom's still busy to the east. That's one for Gallows Green if you ask me.”
Frances regretted that she hadn't put her sword on her saddle. It hadn't seemed necessary for a pleasure ride with an elegant young barrister. She said, “Thank you for the warning. I'll tell my steward to put out some bread for thee tomorrow when you pass through Whitley. To speed you on your way.”
Mr. Child and Frances turned their mounts and headed back to Whitley Park. She rode sedately, lost in thought. This gave him a chance to talk.
“Miss Kendrick, what's this about Lady Whitley?”
“My father was baronet here. I'm just Miss Kendrick, but some of these folk insist on using my mother's title with me.”
“What are you going to do with young Jeremy? He'll be wont to run off with them.”
“I'll tell him about them, but he will stay with me. A traveler's life is not easy.”
“And being one of your stable-boy's is?”
“They work hard, but they get clothed, fed and the occasional tip. I have them instructed. There's no comparison.”
“If you say so, but I have my doubts. By the way, are you going to attend the Mayor’s ball tomorrow?”
“I don’t have much choice. Are you?”
“That would be telling.”
“Well if you do, please know that I'll save a dance for you.”