Thursday, November 13, 2014

more on the Berkshire Lady

Fixed a few things to get the time period correct, and added the names of her real trustees. This one is writing smoothly.

The Berkshire Lady

Memorial Service.

Frances Kendrick knelt at the altar in St. Mary's church in the Butts in Reading and looked up at the stained glass while she prayed for her cousin. Or tried to pray. She wished there was some sort of answer or reassurance, but her words and thoughts seemed to disappear into the void. Her cousin Charles had managed to get himself killed on the lowlands of Holland, and the news had finally reached Reading months later. A short note, with a package, waited for her at the family solicitors. The family, what was left of it, put a plaque in the church and held a funeral service. Then they flew to the winds, and her little sisters Mary and Henrietta left to live with their aunt.
She couldn't even cry any longer. When her mother died six years ago, she'd been disconsolate. It seemed she had weeped for a year. Only her dashing and handsome big cousin, home on leave, had helped to chase the grief away. He taught her to fence and indulged the 'tom-boy' in her by helping her to ride to hounds and hunt the deer. It didn't remove the ache, but dulled it and made life livable again. Her father, William the second baronet of Whitley, died last year, but that was a merciful release for him after years of pain. Somehow it was a fitting close when he joined his wife in the Kendrick vault underneath the church. Now it was time to grieve for Charles.
She stared at the window and wondered if anyone was listening. “Lord, if you could, give me a break. Please.”
As usual silence was all she heard. That is until the vicar tapped her on the shoulder and quietly asked her if she were ready to see the solicitors now. She turned and looked at him. Dr. Brewer was a handsome young man, and safely married to an old friend of hers, Eliza. Frances said, “Oh yes. I suppose I must.”
“Do you need a companion?”
“It would be nice.”
“Unfortunately, I have a christening and two marriages to perform today. However, Mrs. Brewer would be happy to escort you.”
Frances gave him a wan smile, maybe someone was listening. “I'd be pleased if Eliza could accompany me. She knew Charles well. They'd often danced at the assemblies.”
Dr. James Brewer nodded. It had been something of a shock to society when Eliza chose him over a dashing young captain. He still couldn't always believe in his good fortune. Frances saw the flicker of doubt in his eyes and said, “My friend showed her innate good sense when she married you Dr. Brewer.”
Eliza escorted her down the narrow alley behind the church to Broad street and into the solicitor's office. They waited together for him, and then entered the dusty, close space he called his office. He coughed to clear his throat and then went through the will and entailments on the Whitley estate.
The form of the strictures on the estate held few surprises for Frances. She, as a young woman, was not considered fit to run the estate. It was held in trust for her, until she married. Both Dr. Brewer and her solicitor Mr. John Dalbey were the trustees. Then it would belong to her husband, and he could do with it as he saw fit. There was a small allowance reserved for her to use for dresses and entertainments. Enough that she wouldn't go naked, but too little for a jaunt to London or Bath. Mr. Dalbey asked if she had any questions. Frances said, “No, although I thought the allowance was more generous.”
“It hasn't changed since the original entail at the end of the civil war.”
“I see. It's not much money. Is there anyway to increase it?”
“Think of it as an inducement to marriage.”
Mr. Dalbey left her to consider the situation for a few moments and then he said, “Miss Kendrick, in addition to the formalities, your cousin left you this package.” He pointed to a large, obviously heavy, bundle of long objects. “His instructions are that you read this note first.”
“If I may have it.” Mr. Dalbey handed it to her and she began to read it. At first she read it quietly and then aloud.
Dear Brat,
If you're reading this, then I'm camping with the angels, or perhaps with the devils. In any case, I'll have done my bit for England and be buried in some foreign land.
Don't grieve too long or too hard for me. I had a good run, and took the most I could out of life. I suspect your friend Eliza and that vicar of hers are sitting with you. Give them my regards. I wish I could have attended their wedding.
No doubt you're wondering what's in the package. Knowing you, you've already guessed. It's my spurs and my swords. Use them well.
With Love,
Your Cousin,
Charles Kendrick
Captain 66th foot regiment.
Frances put the letter down and flushed a stray tear from her eye with a handkerchief. Then she said, “Can I see the package?”
Mr. Dalbey put it on the desk in front of them. He said, “Are you sure you want these? I could keep them safe here.”
Frances replied, “I need to see them. They're his gift to me.” She tore open the package and found two swords and his spurs. One sword was his ceremonial sword, engraved and gilt-encrusted. The other was the sword he carried when he was a lieutenant. It was a heavy serviceable rapier with a sweat-stained handle. The guard was dented and scratched. Frances held it and thought. Then she said, “Mr. Dalbey. Could you look after the ceremonial sword? I think I'll keep this one and his spurs with me.”
“If you wish, Miss Kendrick.”
“Thank you. You know he taught me to fence with this sword.”
“Yes, I have a smaller one like this at home and a couple of foils. Because it was his, this is my new favorite.”
Back out on the street after saying their farewells, Eliza asked her friend, “Frankie, you could stay with us if you want. That house in Whitley Park is so big and you could be lonely.”
Frances said, “No. It's home. I'll be fine there.”
“At least let me get you a cab and come with you. It's a long walk alone.”
“That would be perfect. Why don't you leave a message at St. Eliza's? That way Dr. Brewer can join us for dinner.”
Late that evening, as she was preparing for bed, Frances pulled the sword from its sheath and looked at it in the flickering candle light. It was fine steel and still held an edge. She told her maid, “You know, Martha. I think I'll keep this in bed with me. To scare the nightmares and megrims away, and to remind me of Charles.”
“If you wish, Ma'am. I might put it back in its sheath first.”
Even later that evening, Frances awoke to the sound of scrabbling outside of her window. She was about to turn over and go back to sleep when the crackling noise as one of the panes of glass was detached from the frame forced her to be fully awake. When the sound of the latch opening followed, she pulled the sword from its sheath and sat, behind her bed curtains, wondering what she should do.
The window opened and Frances could hear a muffled discussion between the cracksmen outside.
“Come on lad, up and over. You'll never be a Ken-Miller if you hesitate.”
“There's someone there.”
“Na, it's just your nerves, lad. The upright man said the house 'ud be empty. What with the funeral and all.”
“I can hear breathing.” Frances fought to keep her breath quiet.
“Lad, get thee in, or Captain-Tom will whip you. Any road, I'm just behind so no fear.”
The younger thief carefully lifted himself through the window and stealthily walked to the door beyond. “I'm in, at the door. Won't be bothered.”
The words, “Good Lad.” were followed by the louder noise as the older and heavier cracksman lifted himself over the sill. “Damn-me, I'm getting to old for this. Still, it's better than forking for a living.” Frances could hear steps as he approached the bed. “The curtains are drawn. Wonder why?”
He pulled them open and found out as Frances lunged forward and put her sword through his belly. Withdrawing the sword as he fell she pointed it at the younger man and shouted, “Stand there or I'll do you too.” He shook and said, “No Ma'am, no. I'll stay still. Don't run me through.” Frances walked round until she could reach the bell pull and rang with all her might.
The footmen and maids who ran to respond to the bell found a distressing sight. Their mistress, in her blood stained night-shift, stood pointing a sword at a youth. An older man lay on the floor, groaning his last, while his blood pooled on the floor.
Frances said, “Martha, would you find me another room? Oh, and I'll need a bath in the morning, please see that one is made ready.”
“What about this youth?”
“Lock him away somewhere, we'll hand him over to the bailiffs in the morning.”
The boy said, “No Ma'am, please, they'll hang me.”
“You should have thought of that before you climbed into my window.” Frances addressed one of her footmen, “John, see that someone watches this window. I don't want another night visitor. My night's been disordered enough as it is.”

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 need to find the blunt myself.”
“If you say so.”
“I'll have to ask what they want for Calcot manner. Lay out riding clothes.”
“Do you ever wear anything else?”
Frances chuckled, “Rarely. 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 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 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. Why so soon?”
“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.”
“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 it will be a fun ride.”