Sunday, November 16, 2014

Draft Chapter 2 of the Berkshire Lady

Morning Regrets

Frances awoke late the next day. More to the point, her maid decided to let her sleep in and she didn't wake until nearly noon. She stretched, looked at the bowed walls and timbered ceiling of Whitley Park Manor, and said “This place is awful. I'm going to move.” The faint but still pungent scent wafting over from the growing city of Reading reinforced her desires. As her head cleared and she fully woke up, she realized that her trustees would never approve of her idea.
She rang the bell for Martha, then looked at her feet. They, like the bottom of her night-shift, were stained with blood from the night's adventures. Martha came in with a small army of housemaids, bearing the basin and buckets of hot water for her bath. She set up the bath and dismissed the rest of the maids. She said, “When you're ready Miss Kendrick. That night-shift will be ruined, it's heck to shift that blood.”
Frances replied, “Sorry, do you think it can come out at all? I don't want to waste my blunt.”
“We'll try. Maybe some stale urine or ashes will move it.”
Frances luxuriated in the warm water while she shifted the mess from her feet. “Martha?”
“Yes Miss?”
“What would you say to moving to a more modern house or at least away from the city? Say the mansion at Calcot?”
“That would be lovely, but how? Neither Dr. Brewer nor Mr. Dalbey would approve.”
“Depends how much it is, but I guess I may need to find the blunt myself.”
“If you say so.”
“I'll have to ask what they want for Calcot Manor. Lay out my riding clothes.”
“Do you ever wear anything else?”
Frances chuckled, “Rarely, if it's good enough for my horse, it's good enough for society. What's been done with that young miscreant?”
“He's still locked in the basement. Awaiting you to call the bailiffs.”
“Help me with dressing, and then after I've broken my fast, I'll call them. Has anything been done with what's left of his companion?”
“He's still in your room.”
“Have the footmen drag him off to the stables, the dung hill or somewhere suitable. Do I have to order everything in this house?”
“Yes, Miss. He is still alive.”
“He's a tough old bird then. Send for the blasted bailiffs. They can drag him off, but get him out of my house.”
Having sated her hunger with bread, cheese and coffee, Frances had a footman escort her to the young prisoner. He was sitting in a dark closet in the basement. The closet was usually used for the fall root vegetables, but for the moment it was empty. Except for him.
He stood when they opened the door, but it was obvious he had been crying and he shook while he waited for her to speak. Frances studied him carefully. Then she said, “How old are you?”
“I don't know, maybe ten.”
“Pity. That's young. They'll have to put weights on your feet for the drop.”
The boy started to cry. Frances continued, “I'll see if the vicar can instruct you. At least that way you won't be bound for hell.” This sounded weak, even to her. She started to leave, then turned and asked him. “What's your name?”
She paused, wondering what she should do, then she said, “I'll see that Dr. Brewer talks to you Jeremy.”
Three bailiffs arrived about mid-day and took possession of the old man and the youth. The chief bailiff chatted while the other two heaved the old man onto a wagon. He landed with a load thud and a soft groan. The bailiff said, “He'll not last long. Better for him if he dies in prison.” Then the two brought Jeremy out from the basement. In the clear daylight, he looked fragile and lost. He was undersized and his clothes were but one step removed from rags. He wept quietly as the bailiffs prodded him to the wagon. His tears formed streaks on his filthy face. Frances asked, “What about him?”
“He'll swing soon enough. The assizes are in a week.”
“Do I have to press charges?”
“Not for me to say, Miss Kendrick. I just take 'em to gaol.”
“Then I'll ask my solicitor. Thank you.”
She ran to the stable and roused her stable hand. “Get me a mount.”
“Hurry, please. I need to ride into town. I suppose I'll need a groom to look after the horses.”
“Yes, Miss.”
With her groom struggling to keep up, Frances raced into the town. She turned her horse into Broad street, and stopped in front of her solicitor's office. Throwing the reins to the groom, she pushed open the door and rushed in. She shouted, “Mr. Dalbey?”
Her trustee peered around the door to his office and said, “Miss Kendrick. It's always a pleasure to see you but why are you visiting me so soon after your last visit?”
“Is there a way I can take custody of a prisoner, or failing that to not press charges?”
He opened the door fully and said, “What?”
Frances drew a deep breath and explained, “My room was broken into last night. A man and a boy. I ran the man through with Charlie's sword.”
“The boy's too young to hang.”
“I could see pushing for transportation instead of hanging.”
“Send him to the fields in Carolina or Virginia as an indentured slave? Hanging's better than that.”
“If you're sure, I shall see what can be done. I'd like to meet the youth.”
“He'll just be delivered to gaol today. Name's Jeremy.”
“Thank you. Did you want me to accompany you to gaol.”
“That's no place for a young woman.”
“Oh Hades.” Mr. Dalbey gave her a shocked look. She continued, “Remember, Mr. Dalbey, I do mean to rescue this youth. He was an unwilling participant in the robbery. I also promised to ask Dr. Brewer to console him.”
“James will enjoy that, I don't think. Are you sure he's worth it, this Jeremy?”
“No. The sensible thing to do is to let him hang. It's just that it bothers me to leave him to his fate.”
“I'll ask the judge. Would you be willing to employ him and stand surety for his conduct?”
“I need another stable-boy. You know how hard I work my stable-servants. He'll be too tired to get into mischief.” Frances' riding and care of her horses were almost legendary. The local squires knew she could ride better than they could. Whitley House might be shabby, but its stables were not.
Mr. Dalbey considered for a minute, then he said, “Miss Kendrick, I think your concern does you credit and shows that Sir William raised you well. I'll see what I can do, but I'd be surprised if you won't soon have a new stable-boy.”
She bade Mr. Dalbey farewell and retrieved her horse from the groom. He said, “Where now, Miss Kendrick?”
“Calcot House. I want to take a look at it and see if it's worth a try.”
“Yes Miss.”
“Besides, Samuel, it will be a fun ride.”
Her groom rolled his eyes. Frances' idea of fun did not completely square with his. She didn't miss his gesture and said, “Sam, you know how far we have to ride to find game nowadays. Hunting will be easier if we're in the wilds of Berkshire.”
They walked their horses through the crowded Broad street, then down Bridge Street to the Bath road. Once they were finally outside of the crowded town, Frances put her stirrups to her mount and shot off towards Calcot. Samuel followed, carefully picking his way around the carriage and wagons on the road, rather than bludgeoning his way over, around or between them. He could hear the shouts from the drivers ahead as his mistress made her way. Long experience had inured him to them. Frances was impatiently trotting her mount in the Green when he finally caught up with her.
“What took you so long?”
“You know, I just like to be polite on the roads.”
“It's cross country from here.”
“Do we have to? There is a lane.”
Frances thought for a moment and then said, “I suppose you're right. It would never do to tear up the fields before I buy them.”
The house itself was surrounded by large fields, bordered by hedges and the occasional small woodland. Frances left her horse with Samuel and knocked for the housekeeper. When an elderly woman of 50, dressed in coarse cloth and wearing a dusty mobcap answered, she said, “I've heard this house is for sale.”
“Ay, it tis.”
“Do you know how much?”
“Nay, Miss.”
“Can I see it?”
“Yes Miss. Would you be interested in buying it?”
“That was why I asked the price.”
“Mr. Jones, in Reading is our solicitor. You have to ask him.”
“Oh well, some other time. Shall we examine the property?”
The house was a modern, symmetric, brick house built after the style of Inigo Jones. It featured all the modern conveniences like shallow fireplaces, wide stairs, and separate servant passages. The windows let in light, but were high enough to dissuade adventurers with ladders. When she left, Frances complimented the housekeeper, “I must say this is an excellent house. I had heard that it was well-built, but you've done an excellent job of maintaining it.”
“So you'll be buying it?”
“If I can.”
Frances found her groom at the stables and asked him, “What do you think of the stables?”
“Not up to your standards, Miss.”
“Soon fix that. Are you ready to return to Whitley?”
Mrs. and Dr. Brewer were waiting for them when they returned. Dr. Brewer frowned at her and said, “Mr. Dalbey informs me that you are intending to rescue a young felon from the courts. While I applaud your Christian ideals, this is most unwise.”
Mrs. Brewer added, “Frankie, what were you thinking of? He'll just run off and leave you holding the bag.”
“Do you mean that boy, Jeremy? He's too young to hang. I put his companion in a pauper's grave, or is he still alive?”
“My curate buried him this morning.”
“Good, he was a tough one, but I'm glad of it.”
“He broke into my room. If I hadn't run him through he would have tried to have his way with me. I suppose sometime I'll meet a man I like well enough for that, but he'll smell better and have most of his teeth. It wouldn't hurt if he shaved too.”
Dr. Brewer continued, “Back to the main point. This youth. You cannot possibly need another servant.”
“Not a servant, as such. Well not a house servant. There's always room for another hand in the stables and at the farm. I can always add more sheep.”
Dr. Brewer said, “I still think it most unwise, and abjure you from this course of action.”
“If you say so. I have something else. You know Calcot House?”
“Yes, what of it?”
“I'd like to buy it. The city is encroaching upon Whitley. The noise, smell and lack of game is becoming intolerable.”
Eliza said, “Sell Whitley? It's your family home.”
“I didn't say to sell Whitley, just to purchase another house.”
Dr. Brewer coughed, then said, “Miss Kendrick. As one of your trustee's I cannot possibly condone such a wasteful use of your funds.”
Eliza laughed at this and said, “Frankie, doesn't my husband sound like a stuffy high and mighty archbishop when he says things like that?”
Her husband replied, “I may sound pompous, but I would be remiss in my duties to Sir William, if I let his daughter squander her wealth.”
Frances looked away and said, “I suppose you're right. I'll find some other solution.”
Eliza added, “Why don't you come back into Reading with us? There will be a party for the new vicar of St. Mary's after evensong.”
“New vicar of St. Mary's. You're not leaving are you?”
“No, St. Mary's in Wargrave. Mr. Grant, his wife and his curate are visiting. I believe the curate is thought a handsome young man.”
“Interesting. I do hope he isn't as insipid as most handsome young men. Does he ride or hunt?”
“He has a reputation as a perfect gentleman.”
“How boring.”