Honesty compels me to confess I hesitated a little before I dismounted.
I was not like the few of my female acquaintances – that is to say – the ones who grew up in a normal household and were brought into Society without so much as a close look upon a man. I was not afraid of men for I had not been formally presented to any. I was not afraid of men, period. Of course, I knew they were not all of them as gentle as my two brothers-in-law, Colonel Christopher Brandon and Edward Ferrars. They were the rare treasures among their kind. I was aware that there were also dangerous specimens roaming society for innocent, gullible damsels.
This man was unknown to me so I attentively studied him before I dared come closer.
He was lying on his stomach, his face covered by strands of long dark hair, black as a raven’s wing.
A puddle of blood formed under his body and I was concerned. He seemed to be seriously injured, his face very pale.
I knelt beside him and, reaching with a trembling hand to one of his wrists, I was relieved to feel a strong pulse. That gave me the courage to try turning him onto his back, not an easy task because he was a tall, muscular fellow. He did not regain consciousness when I involuntarily caught him on the left shoulder, as I turned him. He was bleeding rather copiously from what appeared to be a bullet wound in that shoulder. The fine fabric of his dark green riding coat was stained with blood which was spreading to his white linen shirt and staining his waistcoat of moss green silk.
The sight of the blood prompted me into action.
I searched my bag for something that could serve to stop the bleeding wound but found nothing. To my relief, the man’s coat pockets produced a large white cotton handkerchief which I crumpled into a ball. Pressing it to the small hole, I began untying the man’s cravat of buff coloured silk, to allow him easier breathing.
He stirred and gave a weak, throaty moan.
I felt a surge of relief from this sign of life. I secured the handkerchief wrapping the man’s chest with the cravat. Not an easy task as I was forced to pass my hands over his body several times. I became aware of his warm hard strength and it allowed me to examine him more closely for other injuries. There were none I could find except for a shallow gash on his brow which had already stopped bleeding. I carefully cleaned it with a tip of the cravat.
I drew a deep breath and leaned back, satisfied with the efforts I had done so far. For the first time in several minutes, I could again take stock of the situation. Here I was, alone on the moors, with an unconscious, injured man, and I was somewhat at a loss to what I was to do next.
Should I go for help? Where to? Barton Cottage was out of the question; my mother would have a fit of the vapours if I arrived there in the company of an unknown gentleman without a chaperon, an injured one at that!
My patient was indeed a gentleman, judging by the quality and fabric of his dress and the exquisite cream-coloured buckskins, which hovered above the finely crafted, black leather Hessian boots. His hands, long fingered and strong, bore no calluses and his nails, though not manicured, were nevertheless cut and clean. He sported no jewels, not even a signet ring, which was rather unusual for a gentleman of means.
My gaze wandered to his sun-tanned face and I lingered there, revelling in its attractiveness. His face was not really beautiful since it was too strong-featured. He had a broad brow bearing a few shallow lines. A long, thin nose set above a pair of wide sensual lips rounded out his features. The firm, well-defined jaw, covered with the shadow of beard as if he had shaved in a state of hurry, was very becoming and I found myself touching that jaw just to know the feeling of it. It was rough yet at the same time, soft and warm. My hand quivered with an unknown tingle; I hastily withdrew it. I touched his thick black hair as I did so. So thick, and so silky soft … and a trifle too long for propriety’s sake.
This was a man born into Society, but not a willing member of it? He clearly lacked the touch of finesse acquired for Society gatherings as if he was somehow reluctant to participate with people in them. His appearance was appropriate, but nothing more. However, compared to my sisters’ husbands, the handsome Edward and the manly Brandon, this man definitively was even more attractive – in a slightly dangerous way.
Who was he? I was fairly certain I had never seen him around here, nor had he appeared at the small country gentry gatherings in this part of Devonshire, so I reckoned he must be staying with relatives or friends who lived in the vicinity somewhere. But where? To my knowledge no one had a guest staying with them at the moment.
He must have spent a considerable amount of time abroad, I mused. His skin bore the golden tan of someone who lived a long time in a climate with much more sun than was found in England. I sighed. So many questions were spinning in my head!
The stranger suddenly let out a low, deep grunt, then opened his eyes – bright blue eyes.
“What the devil … hell and damnation!” he exclaimed in a forceful voice, eyes darting side to side.
The blasphemy came when he tried to sit up and his shoulder wound must have caused him considerable pain, hence the expletives. I put a constricting hand upon his chest and raised my voice in a forceful manner.
“Do stay where you are, sir, or you will only injure yourself even more!”
His fierce blue eyes bore into mine but with a scowl that could have scared the Devil himself.
“Who are you? What have you done to me?” he growled.
The voice was a deep baritone and the tone, though refined enough, was a clipped one. It was enough to render me speechless with indignation.
“Well?” the stranger barked. “Are you going to sit there like a stone statue? Help me up, you silly wench, or I will give you a taste of my riding crop!”
I was beginning to enjoy the situation so I smiled sweetly.
“I am sorry to say so, sir, but you seem to have lost your crop when you tumbled from your horse. I also want to point out that I am no mere ‘wench’ but a respectable woman. I must insist you treat me with the respect I am due.”
With as much dignity as I could muster, I rose to my feet, placed my hands on my hips and looked down at him.
“My name,” I said, “is Margaret Dashwood of Barton Cottage and my mother is a relative of Sir John Middleton of Barton Hall. Kindly tell me your name, sir, or I will leave you to your fate this instant.”
“Upon my word! A ‘respectable lady’ disguised as a peasant girl. Please forgive my mistake, my dainty damsel, but you must admit that it was only natural, given the dishevelled nature of your appearance.”
That statement was accompanied by an impertinent stare that raked my body, head to toe. All of a sudden, I became very uncomfortably aware of how I must appear to him in my old muslin dress and scuffed walking boots, my hair escaping its confinement and my face flushed with anger. I could not bear this embarrassment for more than a second so I grabbed my bag, turned on my heels and stalked away as dignified as I could.
“Wait … Miss Dashwood, please? I would be very grateful if you would consent in assisting me.”
He had spoken in a gruff tone yet he had not managed to conceal the pleading in his voice. Immediately I grew concerned again and scolded myself inwardly for my selfishness. After all, this man was injured and had lost quite a lot of blood.
“Put your right arm around my shoulders, sir,” I said and, kneeling once again beside him and sliding my arm around his waist. After a few failed attempts, we finally succeeded in getting him to his feet.
He towered over me and seemed to be too weak in the knees to stay upright; I had to tighten my grip just to keep him upright.
“Careful, sir!” I panicked a trifle when his head fell onto my shoulder and the warmth of his breath caressed the skin of my neck. I felt the hardness of his muscles under my hand, and the assault of his heady but not unpleasant scent was enough to rattle my usually calm composure. All of a sudden there seemed to be not enough air to breathe …
Finally the stranger stirred and lifted his head, his back muscles tightening under my touch.
“Good Lord, but this has affected me in a rather serious manner! Do forgive me, Miss Dashwood. I seem to have outdone myself more than usually in my rude behaviour.”
He took a step away from me and gave me a little bow. “Douglas Alexander Spencer of Watcombe Manor, at your service, Ma’am!”
He had overrated his abilities and I grabbed his arm when I saw the dark, nasty shade of grey that suffused his countenance.
“Sir, we must seek help. You are too weak to …”
At that moment the black stallion came trotting towards us, whinnying softly, which made Mr Spencer stare at me with disbelief.
“Dragon? He galloped away from me after I fell. How come he is here now?”
“I found him in the ring of standing stones and it was he who led me here, sir. Once I got into the saddle, he knew exactly where to go.”
“He … he allowed you to mount him? Impossible! Dragon does not accept orders from anyone but me. Even I sometimes get bitten when he is in a foul mood. Come here, boy.”
Dragon snorted and nudged Spencer’s outstretched hand, who then stroked the soft silken nose with tenderness.
“So you have deserted me for this pretty little chit, have you not? You devil! I should whip you, but I cannot blame you. She is very pretty, indeed.” The stranger then looked at me and I blushed.
The horse tossed its head upward and whinnied.
“Mr Spencer, I must insist on two things: first, I will bring you to Barton Cottage where I can summon a physician. Secondly, I must demand respect from you. I do not wish to be called ‘a chit’ which I find a most offensive word for a woman.”
Spencer’s blue-eyed gaze raked over me once more and his mouth widened into a sardonic grin.
“Oh, but you are indeed a woman, my dainty damsel, no doubt about that!”
His hand reached out to tidy a lock of my hair behind my ear and I had to suppress a sudden shudder.
“I have known many fair-haired, blue-eyed dolls, my dainty one, but none like you. You are not afraid of me and you have not recoiled in horror upon hearing my name. Why is that?”
“I have never heard of you, sir, so why should I be afraid? What have you done besides indulging in the usual eccentricities gentlemen of your type permit themselves?”
(Right-click and Save as …)
Jane Austen’s iPod
Broadcast on BBC Radio 4
Saturday 2 January 2010 10:30-11:00
Jane Austen’s favourite songs – many of them newly discovered – cast a new light on one of our best-loved and most enigmatic of writers.
Jane Austen collected songs throughout her life. However, many of them have only just come to light in manuscripts inherited by one of her descendents. Professor Richard Jenkyns inherited a pile of music manuscripts which are only just being looked at by the Austen scholars. Some have been laboriously copied out by Jane herself – and, among the music manuscripts in Austen’s handwriting, is a piano piece which he believes she composed.
In this programme, presented by world-class concert pianist David Owen Norris, listeners can hear this and more of Austen’s favourite songs, each of which has something to say about the much-loved writer.
David visits Austen’s house in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, to meet biographers and scholars who discuss what these songs reveal about her life and work.
With contributions from: Professor Richard Jenkyns; Samantha Carrasco, a young musician who has been part of the research team studying the manuscripts; and Austen scholar and author Deirdre le Faye.
David also accompanies jazz singer Gwyneth Herbert on the piano and is joined by clarinettist Andrew Lyle.
Presenter/David Owen Norris, Producer/Elizabeth Burke
Catherine Morland, who comes from the comfortable family of a village clergyman, is invited to Bath for the season by her wealthy friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen. In Bath she meets Isabella Thorpe, a sophisticated young woman whose brother John is a friend of Catherine’s brother, James Morland. Isabella encourages Catherine’s interest in romantic fantasies and “horrid” fictions. After Isabella becomes engaged to James Morland, she tries to promote a romance between Catherine and her irresponsible brother, John Thorpe, but Catherine is more interested in a young clergyman she has met, Henry Tilney, the son of General Tilney of Northanger Abbey. Under the illusion (fostered by John Thorpe) that Catherine is wealthy, General Tilney invites her to stay at Northanger Abbey. There Catherine’s imagination runs wild: she becomes convinced that Northanger Abbey is like the setting of a gothic novel and that General Tilney had murdered his late wife. She is humiliated when General Tilney returns suddenly from London and orders her to leave the abbey. This action is based on another false report from John Thorpe, who claims that Catherine is totally without wealth and has deceived the general.
Northanger Abbey was written in the later 1790s but not published until 1817. Begun as a satire on the improbable plots and characters of the typical gothic novel, such as Mrs. Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Northanger Abbey developed into a treatment of Jane Austen’s favorite theme, the initiation of a young woman into the complexities of adult social life.
Wednesday broke the dawn with a light dusting of snow covering the sooty streets and buildings. To John, there didn’t appear to be any issues with the mills at this stage but he checked in with Nicholas, nevertheless.
“Good morning, John,” Nicholas said as he came through the office door brushing the white coating from his hat and coat. “I have been at the other mill and unless this continues or gets heavier I think we’re all right today. How did Miss Hale do yesterday?”
John discussed the previous day’s outing and what lay in wait for the current day. “I will be having breakfast with her men this morning, very shortly in fact. Then I will escort Miss Hale and Grayson to a second manor house. From there I am not quite sure. Do you need me for anything today?”
“No, nothing. I have very little to do myself today. Yesterday that man Carlton and I found a small bed-sit, which he says is all he is interested in for now. I believe he will stay at the hotel with the others until they leave Friday morning. How about his boss, Mark? Does he need to be looking?” Higgins asked, finally sitting down in his desk chair.
“Actually, I have not heard about any of his plans. I do not believe that was a priority on their list this week. I need to start documenting what they are doing and how successful or not that it’s being implemented. I believe Mark has a wife and she will be up here at some point to look at homes, plus he will still be pulling a lot of work at the same time. I can see some of the difficulties that lie ahead for them. He not only has his new responsibilities here, but surely What is happening in Helstone, must be on his mind. Well, in any event, I must leave now. I will most likely see you after second shift. Oh, do we have an overseer meeting tomorrow?” John queried.
“Yes, That is still scheduled for 10:00 a.m. unless you want it moved.”
“No, That is fine. I am afraid my days are running together.” John smiled.
“I see . . . going well, is it?” Higgins had to ask with a smarmy grin on his face.
“I do not know how it’s going. I feel like I have lost my footing. I am a total wreck, worried about making a mistake.” John said rubbing his brow again, walking towards the coat pegs. I was fine two days ago, actually laughing and I even teased her, which was received rather well, but now . . . it’s like my life has been stolen.” He said, looking deep in thought while slipping on his great coat.
“John, it is quite apparent that your heart has been stolen. You’ve never been through this before. I recognize the signs. She is the one you’ve been subconsciously waiting for her to enter your life.” Nicholas said in all seriousness. “It’s about time you admit that you’re falling in love. I wish you well, my friend.”
“Thank you, Higgins,” John said. He opened the door and left for his carriage knowing these symptoms ran deeper than the greatest lust he had ever experienced.
Meeting the Lady Mill’s group for breakfast was similar to the day before. Carlton thanked Mr. Thornton for the assistance Higgins gave him, helping him find suitable accommodations for the near future. Mark spoke to the progress of the wall framing and remarked on whether Miss M would want the mill painted. Grayson spoke of how his previous afternoon had been spent, walking the shops near his hotel, and was planning on the theater this evening unless he was required. He asked John if he knew where a library might be located and was given that future useful information. John was reminded that tomorrow was their final day in Milton before leaving on Friday. He must find the answer to his leaving with them as he had mentioned several days ago. When the meal and conversation had ended, Mark insisted that Lady Mills would pay for this breakfast. John thanked them and they all left in his carriage for Donaldson’s surgery.
Entering, the nurse came to speak with them. “Miss Hale has had a fine night, but she is still sleeping. Dr. Donaldson has been called out but from what he says, she and he talked well into the night. Would you care to wait or return later?”
Mark said, “I will think we will go on ahead if you do not mind Mr. Thornton.”
“That is up to you. I do not mind. I will take you to the mill and have a look around before returning here. Grayson, I would assume you would wish to wait?” John asked, walking towards the surgery door.
“Quite right, sir. I will wait for my Mistress.”
“Then I shall see you forthwith.”
The three men left for the carriage while John realized that Mark and Carlton had shown Grayson the proper respect for his station this morning. There was no snickering.
“I would like you to explain something to you men, if you do not mind my intrusion.” John asked.
“Please, go ahead,” Mark, replied.
“It was quite apparent yesterday that you do not understand what a butler is or does or the respect that he deserves. I can understand that. I don’ think we even have a butler in Milton. As you are in a supervisory capacity, producing a product; Grayson is in a supervisory position performing a service. He is the head staff member in any household. It has taken a lifetime to get to his position. He is in a singular place to know everything about the house members — all of them. Butlers are shown respect by royalty should they visit. A butler is known for his organization, people skills, management skills, his uncanny art of anticipating his master’s or mistress’s move before they know it themselves. They wake early and work late. They have few days off. They are enormously proud of their work and their worth. If I had a life scale of jobs from the unemployed man to our sovereign, his station would well be above yours and maybe mine. Now, Mr. President from Spain is coming with his entourage to your home for a week. The butler knows to tell the washing women to not starch his collars, he likes his socks pressed and never serve him mutton. That is the knowledge that they must know. He will know the same facts about everyone attending with the President. They have their Master’s complete confidence that they will always perform correctly, answer honestly, and have the highest form of discretion. I did see today, that you gave him his proper respect. I just knew you didn’t know much about butlers and wanted you to be more aware of them and their responsibilities.
John doubted that he had ever been disrespectful to anyone except Miss Rose Hawthorn. Immediately he wished he hadn’t thought of her. That letter was still waiting for him. He could not bring himself to read anything that might change this elevated mood he had been in all week.
Margaret woke, dressed for the morning, and had a bit of food while Grayson kept her company. Being asked, he regaled his Mistress with his previous day and his plans for this evening.
“Did Mr. Thornton meet all of you for breakfast this morning?”
“Yes, M’lady. He asked that we all meet every morning in the hotel dining hall. I believe Mr. Mark was successful in paying the bill this time.”
“Grayson?” Margaret asked with some trepidation.
“I do not want you to jump to an answer or any conclusions, and I know you won’t, therefore I am asking your opinion.”
“You will always have my honest opinion, Madam.”
“Mr. Thornton has suggested or asked, I should say, since he is the President of the Commerce Chamber here that he be allowed to follow us through this entire move. He wants to document what could lie ahead for others moving here: the timelines, the drawbacks, the prioritizing, the man power needed, and the financial decisions and their timing. Well, you know what I mean. I know I am going to agree to that but my question to you is . . . would it be proper for us to provide lodging for Mr. Thornton during this monumental undertaking? I just cannot see him staying in our beautiful upscale Helstone hotel,” Margaret said with a bit of sarcasm.
“M’lady, you are not a woman alone in your home. You have a complete staff. I think you and Mr. Thornton could have very informative conversations in the evenings. I believe you have missed that in your life. If only as a friend, I think the gentleman would bring some life into your life just as an equal. You lost that when your uncle died,” Grayson spoke honestly with her as she knew he would.
“So, I will take that as a ‘Yes’, shall I?”
“Yes, M’lady, on the ‘Yes’.”
“So Grayson says, so shall it be,” Margaret laughed. “You never know, Grayson, I might get carried away with a tall handsome man in the house,” she said jesting.
“Nothing would please me more, M’lady,” Grayson said with his famous aloof face.
Margaret knew that face was intended. He would not let her know if he was joking or perhaps held some hope that she would. She had never learned to read that expression, definitely a butler’s top priority.
Little did either know that John had been outside the door, about to knock, when he had overheard his name being spoken, forestalling his announcement of being there. He quietly tiptoed backwards so he could make heavier footsteps when he approached. As he silently moved, he backed into a waiting room chair and sat. His heart was about to beat out of his chest. He knew if he walked into her room now, his words would strangle him. He decided to wait for some semblance of composure in himself.
Dr. Donaldson came through the door. “Good morning, John. How is Miss Hale looking to you today?”
“Good morning to you, as well. I have yet to see Miss Hale. How do you find her condition?”
“I think she has passed all the hurdles except the exhaustion and fatigue. That woman cannot stay in her bed. She feels much better than she is. I am a bit afraid what she will do after she is out of my sight,” said Donaldson.
“I am working on that myself. I am hoping to journey with them and document this entire move, for future Chamber reference. I am discerning problems that I would not have thought, had I not been this close. If they will permit me to travel with them I can be of some help there I hope. I do not know the lady very well but possibly I can insist she take it a little easier and allow me to help. If anything, I have become friends with Grayson and I think he may carry some weight in his words to her. I will do what I can, Doctor.” John replied.
“I know you will, John. You’ve got your hands full with that one,” Donaldson said in a manner, indicating Margaret was more than just a passing acquaintance.
Am I that obvious?
John made himself known with his heavy booted steps towards Margaret’s door. He knocked.
“Come in, John.”
“How are you feeling Margaret?” he asked as Grayson rose to give him the seat.
“I am fine, fed, and ready for an outing. I made a deal with the doctor, since I didn’t go out in the afternoon yesterday that I am allowed one and half hours today and a bit more tomorrow. I have to ready myself for the journey home. Shall we proceed?” Margaret said in a happy tone in her voice.
John didn’t say anything but nonchalantly held his hat pointing to the door, encouraging her to go ahead of him.
He was reminded of the coach seating intrigue that came to mind yesterday. This time Grayson sat next to his Mistress, thankfully giving John little choice where to sit.
“Miss Hale, may I ask a question about yourself?”
“By all means, John, I can always refuse to answer,” she said lightheartedly.
“Excuse my ignorance, but I have noted that Grayson calls you M’lady. Do you descend from the nobility?”
Grayson straightened in his seat, crossed his legs, and clasped his hands on his knee, while staring out the window.
Grayson’s attention to formality was not missed by John or Margaret. “No, there is no nobility in my lineage and I am very grateful that there isn’t. I see those people and think they do not have a life. Grayson is very mannerly in calling me Miss, M’lady, Madam, Mistress, and probably a few other names under his breath on my idiotic days. But he is always right and never criticizes me.”
“Ahem . . .” Grayson said, clearing his throat. “Madam, I am in close proximity to you and can hear you speak.”
Looking at John, Margaret said, “That is Grayson’s way of telling me it isn’t polite to speak about someone in the same room where they could overhear you.”
“Several weeks ago I asked him in all seriousness if he thought I might be desirable to a man. Before he gave me his real answer, he told me he was too old for me.” Margaret laughed and John joined in. Grayson remained statue-like, gladly enduring the impalement of his Mistress’s arrows of humor, at his expense.
John loved the familiarity between her and Grayson. But mostly he wondered, on all of God’s green earth how could she have doubts of her being desirable? Once again, it came back to him how her life must have been, reaching such a plateau in her career; apparently held her personal life as hostage.
I want to be the man that removes all doubts.
The coach rolled up in front of the second choice residence and before exiting, Margaret could already tell she liked the first one better. “Grayson, does this house have some attraction that you like better than the first one?”
“No, Miss. It has slightly more room in the back than in the front. The house, itself, is much like the other.”
“If you were buying, which of these two houses would you care to live in and manage?” Margaret asked in all earnest.
“M’lady, that is not for me to decide.”
“Grayson, I am handing this decision to you. Decide!” Margaret said as John was taken aback at her insistence that her butler decide where they should live.
“If I must, M’lady, but I do not feel this responsibility should fall to me.”
“All right, let me put it his way. Which one do you like better?”
“Madam, I prefer the one that we saw yesterday. I think it lends itself to our usage slightly more than this one.” Grayson said with much apprehension.
“I have not seen inside this one but just looking at it from the outside, I prefer the other as well. We’re done here. Let us go to the mill.”
Once again, John marveled at this “take charge” woman. Why should he not have expected it? He knew That is what kept him off balance – learning all about her and how she stood out from any other woman he had ever known, including his own mother.
Pulling through the gate of her new mill, Margaret strode right into the mill area where the work was being preformed. John never had a chance to assist her; she took off. Once in the door Grayson was trying to catch up as he pondered the gigantic size of the operation she wasn’t afraid to manage.
While walking the wall framing and looking how they were connecting it to the ceiling, she said in a loud voice, “How do you do? I am Margaret Hale, Mistress of this mill,” she said like a major barking orders. Randall, the head carpenter immediately climbed down his ladder, while Mark and Carlton were hurrying to her side. “Good morning, lads.” Margaret said as her usual greeting. Another carpenter arrived. Grayson has settled on the house we are to buy and having some time left over, I thought I would inspect our tender beginnings. I plan to spend Thursday afternoon here taking notes. Do we have some type of chair and table that I can use?”
“You can use the canteen, Miss M.”
“Could you bring a table and chair in this room for me by Thursday?”
“Yes, ma’am. I will get it done” said Carlton.
Margaret was introduced to the carpenters and John didn’t care for the way they were looking her over. She seemed to shirk off their lusting looks and proceeded to astound them with her knowledge. She asked them about the grade of wood, their wall bracing technique, the size nails. She talked with them about the padding to go between the bracing to help in noise reduction for the dyers and its cost. Her big finale came when she told them how she expected it to be done to design and timing of the project. All in all, Margaret walked away feeling they understood her, leaving all men in a state of shock, even Mark and Carlton who knew of their Mistress’s prowess. Grayson looked to John as if someone had hit him over the head with a hammer. Stunned himself, John could not help but admire this woman extremely and see the effect she had on all the men. The lustful lookers sure pulled different faces now. He chuckled to himself and Margaret heard it.
“You find something amusing, Mr. Thornton? Have you found errors in my logic?”
John, turning red for being caught out, fumbled for the words, “Quite the opposite, Miss Hale.”
“I value your input highly. Please, if you see something that I am forgetting or have misunderstood tell me at once.”
“Miss Hale, I am astounded at your knowledge. I should be the one asking you.” John said in all seriousness for the other men to hear. He wanted them to give her the due respect.
“You may return to work, lads.” Margaret said. “It was nice to meet you and your crew, Randall.”
“My pleasure,” he returned.
John walked a few meters away from the gathered group and encouraged Margaret to where he was standing. “I am sorry, Margaret, besides watching you in action and being quite taken with your commands, I was really laughing at your carpenters. No doubt that you are used to this but they were looking at you in a very ungentlemanly fashion, but the looks on their faces was priceless by the time you were done. I was ready to salute you, myself,” he laughed. Margaret joined in with her own giggles that didn’t want to stop. She tried to speak to that comment, but burst out laughing before she could get the next word out. John was just about doubled over with laughter. They both felt the moment drawing each other closer as only the two could share.
“I am sorry, John,” Margaret said still laughing. “My lads know me and will tell you that I am really a softy but I wanted to get the upper hand with the carpenters so they know who they’re dealing with.”
“You certainly did that!” John smiled. “You still have time. Would you like to come by my office, my home, or my mill?” John asked, finding a little more confidence after their shared moment.
The grey streaks of dawn were just beginning to show on the eastern sky, when I closed the door of Barton Cottage behind me. Soon the morning sun would grace the Devonshire downs with a rim of gold, but for now, the world was still a pearly grey, and everything was quiet. The air of this early June morning was so pure and exhilarating that, to me, it tasted like chilled white wine.
I climbed the grassy slope on which the cottage sat, paused at the hill’s top, and looked down on the small, neat house of dark, grey granite. Nothing moved behind the windows yet, so I could indulge in an activity that would have sent my mother into an uproar, should she ever find me out. I broke into a healthy, uncontrolled jaunt down the hill’s other side. I ran until I had no breath left, then rolled in the hillside’s soft grass, panting and laughing. Oh, it was so good to be out of the cottage with its stuffy rooms, and away from Mother with her constant complaints – always weeping and whining about one thing or everything.
My name is Margaret Dashwood and I am the youngest of three sisters. Elinor and Marianne, both married to the man they loved, were as different as could be, the former a tall, graceful young woman with heavy brown hair and grey eyes, the latter also tall but much more elegant, with a mass of golden curls and a pair of cornflower blue eyes. They were also each other’s opposite in character and disposition, Elinor being the sensible, responsible eldest of the two, quiet and discrete, and Marianne, who was mostly led by her emotions, cheerful and loud.
Compared to my sisters, I was not really beautiful but some people thought me attractive with my fair, curly hair and my pale blue eyes. As for myself, I hated my snub little nose and the sprinkle of freckles on it, though some found it cute. I would have liked to be taller since I was barely 5’5 which, according to Mother, was a scant too short to be considered beautiful. Elinor and Marianne were both over 5’8 so I guess Mother was right. However, there was nothing I could do about my height so I accepted my lack of inches with good humour.
I had turned twenty-one the month before and – to members of the circle of Society our family moved in – I was still relatively young, even if one was endowed with enough prospects, such as beauty, a fortune or a title, to be offered to a possible suitor. However, when one is blessed with a rather inconspicuously pleasant prettiness, without any financial prospects and absolutely no bonds to the nobility, at twenty-one I was what people called ‘on the shelf’.
I am content with remaining unmarried. Eight years ago, Marianne left to marry Colonel Christopher Brandon and shortly thereafter Elinor had done the same to be united with Edward Ferrars. Someone had to stay and look after dear Mama, endearingly shallow and confused as she was, or she would end entangling herself in disastrous situations. Mama had never managed to reconcile herself with our dire financial circumstances after my half-brother John had left us with a yearly income of barely 500 pounds. She was still most hurt by him turning us out of our beloved Norland Park, Papa’s estate, where all three of us grew up.
So I, level-headed, intelligent Margaret, had to play the part of nursemaid, coping with Mama’s eternal harebrained and silly ways. I did not mind because they gave me the opportunity of doing exactly what I wanted without anyone asking questions.
My childhood had been rather uneventful. First I had a nanny, later a governess until I was thirteen and our father died, leaving us practically nothing to live on. So my governess, Miss Pewter, had to go and, short time later, we had moved away from Norland Park into Devonshire and the estate of Sir John Middleton of Barton Park, a distant cousin of Mama’s, who kindly offered us the use of a cottage on his grounds. I grew up with nothing more than books for company, though Sir John and his mother-in-law, Mrs Jennings were always happy to receive us regularly at Barton Hall for quiet country dinner evenings. Thus, I became a solitary, earnest girl, always engrossed in books and with not much knowledge of what the world was like beyond the beautiful downs of Devonshire, a process that was even increased after my sisters married and left me alone with Mama.
I was quite reconciled with the certainty that I would never be what Mama wanted me to be, a distinguished, wealthy woman, married to a rich and preferably titled gentleman. There were none in the vicinity of Barton Park, except Sir John and he was a widower of some sixty years without children. In Torquay, a rapidly growing country town, some twenty miles southwest of Barton Park, there lived several rich manufacturers and tradesmen with sons in search of a wife, but I was no match for them, being free-spirited and outspoken as I was. I could never have thrived in that confined, narrow-minded world and the young men I encountered soon became aware of that. So far, none of them had ever tried to deepen the acquaintance they made with me during the balls I too rarely attended.
In short, I was undisciplined, but free and I did not care as long as nothing more was asked of me than looking after Mama.
After having recovered my breath, I did what I liked the most. Adopting a sturdy pace, I began walking the moors towards my own favourite spot, a small circle of standing stones. There were many of them to be found in Devonshire and this one was without the grandeur of Stonehenge and much smaller. There were only eight standing stones in the small circle, each about seven feet high. Between them there were benches lying that were some fifteen inches high. The circle had a diameter of approximately twenty yards so the whole was rather tight and cosy.
Just when I reached my sheltered spot behind one of the large stones of the circle, the sun rose above the horizon in a blaze of bright orange. Magnificent! I lowered myself down, rested my back in the hollow of a boulder and sighed with pleasure. The light would provide an adequate help for my sketching and I started rummaging through my bag for my sketchbook and pencils.
For the good part of an hour I was happily and most satisfactory engrossed in my drawing.
I was just thinking of breakfasting on the food I had with me, when I suddenly saw a horse running towards me. A riderless horse, yet saddled and bridled. Coming at me at a swift canter, it abruptly stopped a few yards away from me, startled and with huge eyes full of fear.
Colonel Brandon, Marianne’s husband had allowed me the use of his stables at his estate of Delaford and over the years I had become a fairly good horsewoman. Therefore, I was not afraid, but rose and stepped towards the horse, my hands stretched out before me and whistling softly. The huge black stallion approached and sniffed one of my hands when I addressed it in soft, murmuring tones.
“Hey, my beauty, hush now, where do you come from?”
The stallion blew into my hands, snorted and allowed me to stroke his neck. After a bit of caressing and crooning, I made an attempt to mount him. He allowed me do it with just a hint of panic, which was easily soothed as soon as I was in the saddle. I gave him free hand and he started trotting lightly to the west. That is when I saw he was limping a bit, but it did not seem to bother him much. I chuckled when I thought of what Mother would have to say about me sitting astride a horse, in a man’s saddle, with my skirts hitched up high.
My steed continued westwards over the wide stretch of grassland for a few minutes and I was beginning to enjoy the ride when he suddenly stopped, trusting his head upwards.
“What is it, boy?” I stroked the animal’s neck and he moved forward again. Then, I saw what the stallion had wanted to show me and froze with shock. The body of a man, lying face down on the boggy grass.
Sinead O’Connor Only You
(Love Theme from“The Young Victoria”)
Has opened up a world I’ve never known
A place I never dreamed I would go
Feels like only yesterday
I had locked my heart away
Sure I’d always be alone
Only you know how
To hear me through the silence
You reach a part of me that no one else can see
Forever true there’s only me and only you
Only me and you
In your faith I trust
With you beside me I am standing strong
You took my life and made it beautiful
So you dared to let me shine
Even walk a step behind
Willingly you give yourself to me
Knowing who I was born to be
Only you know how
To hear me through the silence
You reach a part of me that no one else can see
Forever true there’s only me and only you
Only me and you
Only you know how
To hear me through the silence
You reach a part of me that no one else can see
Forever true there’s only me and only you
Only me and you
In 1959, Truman Capote learns of the murder of a Kansas family and decides to write a book about the case. While researching for his novel In Cold Blood, Capote forms a relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith, who is on death row.