Monday, December 15, 2014

The curse, revised.

This is a revised chapter.  The curse and its consequences were less that clear. I hope this helps.

Frances Makes a Choice.

Samuel took charge of Jeremy and his little sister when they arrived back at Whitley Park. He knew his mistress well enough to know something was bothering her, and equally well not to ask her about it. She'd tell him when and if she was ready. In the meantime, he handed the girl over to Martha. Martha was a sensible woman and she would know what to do with the creature. He had to deal with Jeremy. That dratted boy needed a wash and clean clothes, again.
Frances headed for her room, and shut the door firmly behind her. She felt like lying in bed and crying over that blasted lawyer. Instead, she pulled her chair to the window and watched the field across from the house while she felt sorry for herself. A murder of ravens gathered in the trees on the far side of the field. Then they flew off to mob a kite.
Her sorrow didn't last. It changed into anger and her anger into action. She shouted to the winds, “There is no way I'm going to stay here and mope myself to death for that damned bastard of a lawyer.”
Martha knocked on her door, “Miss? Are you well?”
“Absolutely. Please come in Martha.”
“Miss Frances, what you were shouting?”
“Nothing. I just decided I'm not going to let myself get upset about any damned man. Especially a barrister from London, even if he is handsome, rides well.” She paused, then said, “And has a nice smile.”
“If you say so. This girl you brought back, she won't talk. Just stands in a corner downstairs in the kitchen and glares at me. Cook is upset, and dinner may be late.”
“I was going to see Mr. Jones in Reading about Calcot house, but it sounds like you need a hand with her. Have you tried asking Jeremy to talk to her?”
“No Miss.”
“Try that first. I'm going to look at my horses, then maybe ride into town. I'll send him to you before I go.”
“Yes Miss.”
“I'm sure the girl is just a bit scared. I'd have been at that age or don't you remember?”
“Miss Frances, I remember a bouncy, talkative little thing who was the apple of her father's eye, even when she climbed trees and played with the stable-boys. She was called Frankie and hit a cricket ball through the parlor window more than once.”
Frances smiled at the memory, but said, “I was never taken from my parents and threatened the way she was.”
Despite what she told Martha, Frances brought Jeremy to the kitchen herself. Samuel suggested she send a message to Mr. Jones instead of riding into town. “That way neither Mr. Dalbey nor Dr. Brewer will be aware of your visit.”
“You're right, Sam, as usual. I don't know what I'd do without you. Please see to it. Where's that boy? I need him to talk to his sister. Maybe he can get her to speak.”
“Miss Frances,” he said, “I'd be careful if I were you. Some of these travelers have powers. She could have the eye.”
“Come on, Sam, this is the eighteenth century. Witches were just made up stories to scare children and explain things that we didn't understand. We are rational creatures living in a rational and enlightened age.”
“If you say so Miss, but don't say I didn't warn you.” He called, “Jeremy” and the boy came running. Jeremy was clean again and back in decent clothing.
“Jeremy,” Frances said, “I need you to talk with your sister. We don't even know her name, and she needs to talk to us if we're to help her.”
“She won't talk to you, at least not in English. Not if she won't tell you her name.”
“Will you tell us her name?”
“Sorry Miss, but no.”
“But will you talk to her with us?”
“Yes, Ma'am.”
Frances led the boy to the kitchen where Martha stood by the girl. Martha greeted her and said, “Miss Frances, she still won't talk. Took a roll and ate it, but she just stands there glowering at us. It's upsetting cook.”
Frances said, “Jeremy, could you talk to your sister? Let her know we're decent people and mean her no harm.”
Jeremy started in English, but the girl said something in a strange language. He switched to it and they talked for a few moments.
Frances asked, “What did she say?”
“She'll only talk in the old language, at least for now. She-” The girl shouted at him, in the same incomprehensible babble.
“I'm not to say anything more.”
Frances shrugged at Martha, who returned her gesture, and said, “The water's ready if you are.” Then Frances said, “We're going to bathe your sister, and put her in clean, decent clothes. Then we'll feed her if she wants to eat. It's best if you leave, young man. Would you tell her what we’re going to do?”
Jeremy said, “She understands what you said.” before he turned to leave. He stopped in the door, looked back at them and said, “You know she's going to put you under a curse if you do that.”
“What curse?”
The girl said something to him, and then he added.
“You and the man you are fated with will be bound to this earth, forever through time.”
“I'll risk it. I won't have a slatternly noisome servant who is dressed like pile of rags.”
“Then it's on your own head, I'm sorry for you.” He crossed himself, backwards from the Catholics, the way the Greek Orthodox cross, and shut the door behind him.
Martha stated, in a matter of fact voice, “All right, young lady. I've cleaned my share of recalcitrant children, and that includes Miss Frances here when she was your age. Let's get those rags off you and get you into the warm water. My rule has always been bath first, then dinner.”
The girl stood there, defiant and, for her size, regal. Her posture made it clear that her definitive and final answer to this request was 'no'.
“Well, Martha,” Frances said, “We'll let cook and her maids get on with dinner. Shall we? If you'll take one arm, I'll start on the other.”
The girl stiffened as they stripped the rags from her. Frances held the rags she removed at arm’s length and said, “Martha, make sure these are burnt. They're filthy and crawling with lice or worse.” The girl's body, revealed from underneath the rags, was bone-thin, extremely dirty, bruised from a beating Captain Tom's gang had administered, and scarred from her scratching at the bites and rashes her lack of hygiene engendered.
Martha looked the girl in the face and said, “Young lady, you'll feel ever so much better for the wash.” The girl stood there, shivering in her nakedness. She stared back at them and said “Naked I came into this world, naked I will leave it. Such is the way of life.”
“Well,” Frances said, “that's one way of looking at it. Shall we Martha?” Together they lifted the girl into the tub and forced her to sit in the water. As they poured warm water over her and scrubbed her clean, she muttered, at first quietly, then loudly, and finally shouting in that same incomprehensible tongue.
Martha said, “You know Miss Frances, I wish I knew what she was saying.”
“It's probably not suitable for genteel ears.”
The girl stopped her rant, then glared at her tormentors. Her eyes seemed to fill with a red light. Then in a clear ringing voice, using precise well-enunciated English, she said, “You, Lady Whitley, Miss Frances Kendrick. You are bound to this world. To see heaven and never to go there. I pronounced this doom on thee and thy kin. Only another of my kind can remove this curse.”
Frances stepped back, examined her and Martha's handiwork, and said, “I pronounce my doom on thee, young lady. Stand thee up and get dried off. There's a clean mended corset and dress for you. Then you can learn to be a maid. You'll be fed well and taught civilized manners. Even, if you want, to read and write.”
The girl slowly stood. It looked like she was trying to preserve what little dignity she had left. Then she took the towel that Martha offered her. With as much grace and condescension as a princess of the blood, she stepped out of the water, started to dry herself and said, “You think this is funny, don't you My Lady?”
“I do.”
“It isn't. I am serious in this pronouncement.”
“Fine, so was I, now what should we call you?”
“You can call me many things, but I'll not answer to them. My real name thou shall not know.”
“What language. I'm not going to call you girl. Come on now, what's your name?”
The girl paused, then said, “We will answer to Seanan.”
“Good grief. I think Dr. Brewer is going to have his hands full when he instructs you miss. Is that your real name?”
“Call me Seanan or nothing.”
Martha, matter of fact as always, said, “Well Seanan, if you're dry enough, here are your clothes. Then we'll get something in your stomach so you can think about learning your place.”
Seanan glared at her, but took the clothes and, with a little help because they were unfamiliar, put them on. While the girl dressed, Frances said, “Seanan, should I send for Jeremy?”
“That's not his name.”
“It's what he answers to. Whatever you think, I treat my servants well. This is by and large a happy establishment. You could have done far worse than land in my service.”
Seanan replied, “I could have done worse, and I thank you for that My Lady. Still, that is not an excuse or justification for your actions. This house and all that is in it will perish in time. Except you My Lady Frances, you, your kith and your man, the one who lives by talking and law. Bound together forever. Let Jeremy attend to his horses, they complement his spirit.”
Frances rolled her eyes, and swore “Good Lord.” before she said, “Martha, I think we've got our hands full with this one. Samuel said Jeremy's coming along well. I suppose one out of two isn't bad.”
“She'll do Miss, once she's had a full stomach and a little kindness. This is just the rant those travelers use to scare the gullible. I must say, she's got it down pat. Seanan, art thee hungry? Miss Kendrick's dinner isn't ready, but I'm sure cook will let me take a roll and some cheese to sate your hunger.”
Seanan stared at the wall, then up at the small kitchen window. A sudden sharp breeze blew through the room and she shivered despite the warmth from the fire. When she finally turned to face Frances and Martha, she was deathly pale. She shook and said, “My Lady, in my anger I did something terribly wrong.”
Frances chuckled, “I would say you did several things wrong, but you're just a little girl who was hungry and tired. I forgive you. Just don't make it a habit.”
“No, My Lady. You don't understand, do you?”
Martha added her bit and said, “Young lady, you won't be the last child to lose her temper when she's cold, hungry and tired. I'm glad you've calmed yourself. Now come get something to eat so I can go on about my chores. After you've eaten Jane can show you where the other maids sleep.”
“It's not that at all, My Lady. Do you any other of the old ones?”
“Seanan, I am losing my patience with you. This nuisance has to stop. What old ones? Mr. Dalbey is the oldest person I know well.”
“Not him. He's not an old one. I made a mistake when I cursed you. I bound myself to you in my anger. We must find another old one to remove the curse. I can't do it myself.”
Frances rolled her eyes, then said, “If you say so. I'm off to see if there's still time for a ride or if Samuel or a groom will practice fencing with me. Martha, I hope you can handle her without my help.”

Frances was to have neither a ride nor a chance to practice her swordsmanship. As she walked out of the warm kitchen into the cool air outside, she realized that her gown was soaked and she itched from the fleas that Seanan carried. She turned back into the kitchen and shouted, “Martha?”
“Bring a new gown to my room. I'll need a change.”
By the time she was changed, and had her flea bites dressed, a carriage had pulled up in front of the house. Eliza and her husband were admitted to the front parlor. It was a large antiquated room with a huge, inefficient fireplace. Soot from the smoke stained the ceiling, and the dark carved oak furniture was best described as only something a Puritan, a man focused on the next world rather than this one, could enjoy. Frances met them there.
“Eliza and James. What a surprise. Why are you here so soon after the ball?”
Dr. Brewer said, “Mr. Jones came to us. He said you were inquiring about the price of Calcot house.”
“Did he tell you?”
“Two hundred poundsi.”
“That all?”
“Neither Mr. Dalbey nor I will allow you to charge it to your estate. How will you raise the funds?”
“I guess that's my problem. I could always sell a few horses, and with the wool-money due from the spring shearing.”
“How would you pay for your current establishment?”
Frances smiled as she said, “James, I have my ways.”
“Frances, please don't. Why can't you be a demure normal young lady of refinement?”
Eliza added her bit, “Frankie, James, please let's not argue. Could we stay for supper and discuss this calmly?”
“Eliza, your husband has to learn that I'm an adult. That I have my own ideas about the estate.”
Before Dr. Brewer could respond and turn what was a heated discussion into a full-blown argument, Martha used a discreet knock on the door to call attention to her.
Frances said, “Martha, what is it?”
She pushed Seanan into the room and followed afterwards. “It's this little piece of baggage. I found her in your room. She was looking at your jewelry. I think she took something.”
“Seanan, is this true?”
“We need a token of our binding.”
“That was very wrong. Do you know these people?”
Seanan studied them, and said “Dr. Brewer, the priest of the new God, and his wife. We are pleased to meet you.”
“Frances,” Eliza said, “who is this girl?”
“Jeremy's little sister. Captain Tom's gang stole her when they took him. He rode off to find her, and.” She paused, unsure of how much to tell her guardian, “Well, it's a long story, but here she is.”
Dr. Brewer knew his ward well. He said, “Frances, did you have another duel?”
“Me? No not a duel. More like self-defense. Let's just say there's one less rogue in Wargrave tonight.”
“Frances, how do you expect to find a husband if you keep acting like this?”
“The man for me won't be upset with me when I defend my honor.”
Seanan spoke, “No, he won't be. We can go tell him if you would like, he hasn't left for London yet.”
“No young lady, I want you to act like a normal young girl and learn your role in society. What were you doing in my room?”
“I was looking for this.” She held out a small broach. It was made of silver and garnets.
“That piece of trumpery?”
“I told you we are bound to you by the same curse that binds you to this world. We can be bound together in friendship or as enemies.” Seanan's eyes began to glow as she shifted from the first person to the regal we.
“Seanan, I would prefer you to be my friend.”
“You have offered us food, comfort and shelter. We have broken bread with thee. This gift will seal our friendship and my service. You will know us by it.”
Frances thought for a moment, then asked Martha, “Would it upset the other servants if I let her have it? If she promises to be good.”
“Miss Frances, if she'll promise to stop with this traveler evil-eye language, I'd give it to her myself. I've been itching to give her the back of my hand all afternoon, ever since we bathed her.”
“I understand. Cook and the other maids are all in a tizzy, aren't they?”
“Yes Miss.”
Eliza said, “Frances, language.”
“Oh bother, then. Is that better?” It was, but not by much.
“Seanan,” she continued, “if I give you this token, will you undertake to be a normal maid?”
“I will.”
“Seanan, I accept your promise of friendship.”
“My Lady I promise my friendship and my service as long as you deign, to the end of time if need be.”
Seanan seemed to wilt and lose her defiant stance. The glow seemed to leave her eyes. Martha asked her, “Seanan, are you ready to come with me?”
“I will and you may call me Susan if it is easier on your tongue.”
Frances said, “Martha will you tell cook that Dr. and Mrs. Brewer will dine with me tonight? Assuming you still want to stay for dinner, Eliza.” Eliza nodded her acceptance. Dr. Brewer looked lost in thought, unsure of what he had witnessed.
Martha replied, “Yes Miss Frances. I'll see to it.”
“Thank you. Was Cook planning turkey or turkey fowlii?”
“I believe turkey fowl, Miss.” Martha curtsied and left on her errand.
iAbout L 1-2,000,000 today based on comparative economic value. In 1730 the prince spent L1460 on gardens which was estimated to be the equivalent of L20,000,000 today. Prices in the Regency would have been 10-20x higher than at the start of the century. In any case it was a fair bit of cash for Frances to raise.
iiTurkey originally referred to what is today called a guinea hen. Hence, Europeans were eating 'Turkey' well before they stumbled into the Americas. The turkey we know as turkey would have been available by this period, but the language wouldn't have completely changed.