According to Plan
Now that his house was no longer empty, Robert felt a greater eagerness to go home. It was unusual that he had already gone home once today, after getting his book. He had previously not had anything to do there during the day, considering that he had an office at the manor from which to conduct his daily business.
Mrs. Lewis had been curious and he had told her that Miss Cartwright was a clever girl who learnt quickly, so that she would be all right. He did not know what else he could tell her, since he had only an evening and a brief morning on which to base his impressions. Miss Cartwright had seemed all right that morning as far as he could tell and he hoped he would not find her in tears or something equally dramatic now.
He hurried home, suddenly remembering it was Saturday and he would have somewhere to go later on. It had slipped his mind due to the nanny business. As the steward, he could not ignore an invitation from a tenant farmer, not if he wished to maintain a good working relationship with the tenants.
It was a little inconvenient, what with Miss Cartwright, but he did not see why she could not come. He contemplated leaving her home, but to leave her home alone on her first evening would perhaps be a little unkind. She might even like the festivity. He always did.
"Charles Baker got married," Robert announced when he came in. He was pleased to note there was no sign of distress. Neither was crying. "We must go to the dance."
"Who?" Miss Cartwright sounded startled. "Thomas is too young to dance."
He had not meant Thomas, although if his nanny came, Thomas must be carried along as well. "You must come too. He is a farmer. It will be all right, a merry sort of party and you will not have to dance."
She only looked alarmed, not reassured. "When?"
"Today. I forgot about it." He eyed the table, which was full of all sorts of white clothing stuff. He could not see what it was supposed to be, underclothing or nothing so far, but he approved of people who could keep themselves occupied. "Have you been working?"
"No, Mr. Newman. A lady took me out to spend your money," she answered bashfully.
His eyes travelled back to her in surprise. "A lady? Which lady? And how much money?"
"A lady by the name of Mrs. Black. She said Thomas needed clothes. I --" Miss Cartwright jumped up nervously. "-- put it all on the table so you could check how much was bought. Mrs. Black said they would bill you."
"I..." He glanced at the table again. It was not very much, but she was obviously concerned that it was. He was more interested in the lady and why she had thought it necessary to help. She was vaguely known to him, but it was not the sort of acquaintance that would lead him to nod in perfect understanding. He had never discussed his home situation with her, although nobody could feign ignorance of that anymore, he supposed. "How did she ever end up here?"
"I do not know. She said she liked helping." Miss Cartwright still looked nervous.
"Excellent." It saved everybody much trouble. He could not imagine that he would have to investigate further. What would he be able to conclude anyway? Nothing. He knew nothing about petticoats.
"But must you not check?"
"No. You strike me as the last person who could ever overspend. The prices and quantities mean nothing to me anyway. I shall compare this bill to the next. Or have a word with Mrs. Black." He grinned. "Who has also never struck me as being too fond of spending, so I am sure I shall not need to have a word with her at all."
After a few seconds Miss Cartwright gave him a hopeful look. "Do you not think it would be improper to take me to a dance?"
"Are you hoping it is improper?" he wondered. "I thought you were a little...wary of my scheme."
"I am hoping I might stay home."
"I cannot allow that," Robert said after a moment. He suddenly wondered how it would look if he left her home. "I must prove I am not keeping you locked up. Did one of the letters not say..." Miss Cartwright gave him a displeased grimace and he knew his memory was correct. "So you see you must come."
The dance was in a barn and they went there in the pony cart because it might be a little far to walk. Robert gathered that while Miss Cartwright did not appear to think the pony cart very odd, she had never before been to such an event. She was staring wide-eyed at the loud and bouncing mass of people. He found her a quiet seat beside a chatty older woman who did not walk well and who would certainly not desert Miss Cartwright to dance. Thomas needed to be kept out of the excitement.
Charles Baker and his bride would not feel slighted if he congratulated them all by himself. There were so many people around them that they would hardly notice if he did not even come at all, but he felt he had to. He left Miss Cartwright and Thomas where they were sitting and disappeared into the throng.
He danced a few dances because he was half forced to and then walked around to talk to people. Miss Cartwright did not dance, but he thought she would not mind that she had to hold onto Thomas. He caught a glimpse of her at one point and she was holding a mug.
He collected Miss Cartwright when he felt he could leave again without upsetting anyone. She was still seated where he had left her and she got up with eagerness. "Are you ready to leave? Did it go all right?" he asked as he took her outside.
"Yes, sir," she mumbled.
"Really?" That did not sound enthusiastic at all.
"But you did not enjoy it." He had not expected her to enjoy the festivities in the same manner as everyone else here, but she could have sat here without minding it too much.
"It was all a bit loud and crowded and rowdy," she admitted.
It was, but he never minded. There might not be much refinement, but all the more good cheer. "Did you meet anybody?"
"I did not."
"The woman beside you." It was impossible that the woman had not spoken. It was someone who could not keep silent at all.
"I could not make out what she was saying."
"And somebody gave you a drink," he tried. He had seen her with a mug. Someone must have given it to her.
"In passing. It was ale." She made it sound as if she did not like ale at all.
It was a little frustrating, he thought. He had taken her here so she might talk to somebody, not that he expected her to become good friends with any of the farmers' wives or daughters. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was more informal here, but even that had not seemed to make it easier for her. He did not know what else he could do. "Do you not know anybody in the village now?"
Miss Cartwright's lip trembled. "Mrs. Black. If she remembers."
He wished she would not start crying. Perhaps he was too severe. It was only her first day. "I -- I do not mean to criticise you, far from it. I only wished for you to meet some more people, but if you had rather not meet any at all, you must say so."
"I am not good at meeting people," she said with tears in her eyes. "I am sorry."
He looked the other way with a desperate look. He had no idea what he could do to help her. "But -- but you can talk to me now. Why can you not do the same to other people?"
She shook her head.
"You talk to me because you must talk to me," he thought. There was no getting out of it in his house. She did well, apart from her modesty. He wondered what she would be like if she spoke a little more freely, not to an employer but to an equal. He would never know if she never met any equals. The people here had strictly speaking not been her equals, but they were not her employers either.
She shook her head again.
There was no need for her to doubt her abilities, he felt. "If you had no choice you would also be able to talk to other people."
"But you are different."
"Forgive me for not seeing how I am different. I only wish to say..." he began and the paused. "If you need my assistance you must ask for it, because I do not understand you completely. I am not unwilling to help, but I feel incapable."
"But you have already done enough for me."
"Oh, do not be so --" he stopped when he thought he might sound harsh. "It is in my best interest that you get enough practice speaking, because I want Thomas to learn to speak properly."
"I speak properly to Thomas."
"See!" he exclaimed triumphantly. That made two people to whom she could speak normally.
"I cannot see. It is dark," she commented stubbornly.
Robert raised his eyebrows. "If you fear you are too impertinent, you are in fact perfectly entertaining. Do not be afraid of saying anything."
"I think you should build a fence," Miss Cartwright said, evidently seizing the chance to be impertinent when it was allowed. "Or Thomas will fall into the river when he begins to walk."
Robert snorted at the instant success. "You are a funny girl."
"Do you mind the suggestion, sir?" she asked, very quietly again.
"Mind!" he exclaimed. "Have you listened to me at all?" But he had not yet thought of the suggestion, having focused first on the fact that she had spoken. He thought of it now, but only briefly. There would need to be a fence. She was correct.
"I have, but speaking is not the same as interfering in your business."
"It is. You are in fact my business, so if you speak..." He paused for a moment to think. "Did you know I also spend my employer's money? He does not care. I may do as I see fit, but who is to say I am right? If nobody ever tells me I am wrong, or that I am forgetting something, I might start to have the wrong opinion of my abilities, when in fact I am not very old, not very experienced and I must be making mistakes. The duke is younger than I am, but that would not matter so much if he had any interest in his estate and if we could exchange opinions. Please do not leave it all to me in the house as well."
"All right, sir." It came out as quietly as before.
"I shall go mad if you do not interfere in my business." He would have no rest if he could not trust her to think for herself. Perhaps going mad was a slight exaggeration, but he had just made a very serious speech and he could not yet think calmly.
Despite the darkness, Miss Cartwright gave him a visibly sceptical glance.
"You think I am already mad, do you not?" Robert asked in resignation.
"No, sir. You were not mad before I arrived either."
"Despair is an early stage of madness," he assured her. Although he did not really think so, despair might have grown into madness, had nothing in his circumstances changed.
"If you insist," she mumbled, not sounding convinced at all.
He laughed and patted her knee. "Good girl. Oh!" he cried when he realised what he was doing. "I hope you will now not demand recompense. I do this to the pony as well if she is good."
Miss Cartwright said nothing, but she gave him another glance.
Anne sat wondering whether the pony would be rewarded with a special treat other than a pat if she was good, something tasty in her trough, perhaps. Then she wondered what the pony ate and who fed her.
"I was serious," he said suddenly.
"I know that," she assured him. About the house as well as the pony, she would say. She had not minded the pat on her knee. If he had not spoken up about it, it would not even have occurred to her that it was a form of touching. She supposed it was, but it could not be what those letters had meant.
"I hope you do not think I ought to consider myself more capable." He sounded a little uncertain.
Anne found herself seized by unexpected mischief. She took Thomas' little hand and made it pat his father's knee. It woke Thomas up, of course, and he gave a cranky moan in response, while Mr. Newman was making a less recognisable sound.
The next day was Sunday. Mrs. Lewis, the Muncester housekeeper, had placed Anne by herself in church, which Anne suspected was solely because she could then bounce Thomas on her knee. Anne did not mind. It solved her problem very nicely, since she had lain awake for a great part of the night wondering where she would have to sit. She did not know anybody else and she had fathomed the nanny could not sit with Mr. Newman, but she had not dared to ask him.
Mr. Newman had greeted people on their way and he continued to do so after Mrs. Lewis had beckoned her. She could see him progress, as if he was neither surprised nor disappointed that he had to do so alone. She followed him with her eyes since she did not know anybody else, but then people blocked her view and she had to find another object.
People greeted respectfully when two young gentlemen passed. Anne supposed one of them was the duke and she was surprised to see Mrs. Black follow them. Whose cousin was she then? She appeared to be with the family. There was no possibility of asking Mrs. Lewis about it, since that would involve opening her mouth.
Anne hoped she would not be seen, so she would avoid having to greet back and she was not certain whether she would be expected to say more. Thomas was not very accommodating, because he began to shout "nee nee!" and drew everybody's attention to himself and to Anne. She was mortified, although she had never heard him say anything but da before and she ought to be proud. She whispered at him without looking at anybody else.
The housekeeper, despite her threatening glares at misbehaving maids, was not averse to talking. Anne, who had seen her glares, was less inclined to answer, although she supposed that Mrs. Lewis had no authority over her and thus not much of a reason to glare. She did wonder who all the scarecrows had been, for she had not encountered one older woman so far who had made Thomas cry. He even seemed to find Mrs. Lewis enormously entertaining when she glared.
"I received the impression," Mrs. Lewis whispered. "That he thought you could sit beside him -- or perhaps he had simply not thought about it at all -- but that would not do."
Anne did not have to ask of whom she was speaking. She gave Mrs. Lewis a self-conscious glance. "No."
"Mr. Newman says you are a clever girl."
She had not expected to be talked about in such a manner and she looked astonished. There was nothing she could reply. She could hardly deny or admit that she was clever.
"And Mr. Newman is, at times, a clever young man. He knew that if Her Grace approved, everyone else must needs follow suit."
That would not stop anyone from gossiping among themselves, Anne thought. Whenever she had made the mistake of looking around, she encountered curious glances from women and men alike. She had not seen the duchess, or any lady in black clothing, with the two young gentlemen, only Mrs. Black. She wondered if the duchess had a peculiar sense of humour that compelled her to call on villagers under an assumed name that described her appearance.
After the service Mr. Newman was slow in coming back to collect her. Anne sat waiting while everyone around her left. Mrs. Lewis had gone, as had all the other people whose names she did not know. Mrs. Black had passed and tickled Thomas, saying he must not untie Anne's bonnet, which he indeed thought fascinating to do. She had not stopped for long, because she had spoken of boys who would not wait.
Anne was still wondering if those boys were the two gentlemen who had walked ahead of Mrs. Black when she had come into the church when Mr. Newman beckoned her from the front. He was speaking with the vicar and apparently he wished for her to meet the man. She was not looking forward to that and she approached them reluctantly.
The vicar did not look disapproving at first sight. Presumably Mr. Newman had whispered something in his ear, for he greeted her very civilly and not at all as if she was the poor victim of her employer's wickedness. Perhaps he had not heard the rumours.
Mr. Finney expressed the sincere wish that she would soon feel at home in the community. Anne thanked him shyly. She hoped Mr. Newman would take her away quickly, but he did not appear to be in a hurry. In fact, he took Thomas from her and wandered off a little. She did not want to glare at him in front of the vicar and it was useless anyway because Mr. Newman had his back to her, but it was not at all kind of him to leave her so alone.
The vicar asked her politely where she had lived before, from which part of the country and with whom she had been living. He did not ask anything about her corruption or her future, but he was more interested in her past and notably in the fact that she vaguely knew someone he knew well. This connection, she supposed, automatically rendered her above reproach. Perhaps he would write to his acquaintance and make inquiries, but that did not worry her.
At some point -- quite belated -- Mr. Newman came to say they could leave and he took her out a back door. Anne wondered why such a secretive retreat was necessary. She was relieved, but curious. "Are you trying to avoid people?" she asked.
"Yes," he smiled. "It is much quicker to leave through this door, because we shall not be stopped by anyone wanting to talk to us about the weather. It is not easy to go home directly if one leaves through the main exit. It seems as if they have all left the church, but they have not left the churchyard, you see." He held Thomas up in front of her nose.
She grimaced at the smell. "I understand our hurry, sir. Should I carry him?" It was her task to be exposed to such matters, not his.
"I am no fonder of the smell than you and I confess I would gladly pass him to you had we been at home, but I think our progress would be quicker if I kept carrying him. He does not slow me down."
Anne noted that he could indeed walk much faster than she could. She needed a brisk pace to keep up with him.
"I shall take you into the shrubbery," Mr. Newman said, giving her a mischievous glance. He walked towards the edge of the churchyard.
"Am I to clean the baby there? With grass or leaves?" Anne did not understand what he meant.
He laughed at that. "The point was, one does not take ladies into the shrubbery."
"Yes, except me. I shall take you through the shrubbery, but people on this side will not know that, of course." He set foot on the narrow path and looked over his shoulder to see if she followed.
She did, but she had a question. "Why is it forbidden?"
"It is not, but taking her out of sight implies that you wish to do something to the lady that not everybody may see."
"I can think of many more ordinary purposes for going here!" Anne protested. "We might be looking for plants or fruits."
"We might even be following this path because it is the quickest way home. It is what they would think of a man going this way alone. A woman alone as well. However, if a man went this way with a woman, neither could be suspected of having a sensible purpose anymore. What did Mr. Finney ask you? Hush," he said to Thomas, who began to wail.
She thought that if he wanted to know, he should have stayed with her so he could listen directly, but she could not voice such a critical note. It was a pity he asked this question while she was pondering what he had said about men and women. "He asked where I lived before. Should I...?" she asked, looking at the baby.
"No." Apparently Mr. Newman was not fazed by crying. "What did you tell him?"
"What I wrote to you -- that I lived with my aunt."
Mr. Newman halted. "Ah, pretend that I am not stopping in the middle of the shrubbery, but I do not suppose you told him you lived in a sort of closet."
"No, sir, because I lived in a room." It had been a small room, but it had definitely been a room.
He walked on sideways, his eyes on her. "I suppose you liked her too."
"I am glad. How could she possibly have wanted you out? How could you possibly have taxed her resources? You are no bother and you cost nothing. Not yet, I realise. How much would you like to earn?" he inquired.
Anne gave him an astonished stare. "How much would I like..."
"I know what the going rate is," he assured her, his eyes gleaming. "I have studied advertisements. Tell me what you would like and I shall tell you if it is feasible."
"I could never!" she protested. Her modesty and ignorance forbade it. "You must decide such a thing."
"And you must accept it."
She strongly suspected that her wages would be too high, but of course he could never force her to spend it all. "I suppose I must."
"By the way," he said in a wicked manner. "I will also give you an allowance for Thomas, so that you will not need to use yours for that purpose."
The rest of the day Mr. Newman occupied himself by reading a book and by sometimes playing with his son and the dog. Anne tried to work on one of Mrs. Black's patterns, but since Mr. Newman would not let her sit upstairs while he played with Thomas, it was difficult to concentrate.
She was glad he did not force her to listen to edifying texts, as her aunt had been wont to do on Sundays, but that he was completely engrossed in his new book. It was, however, very distracting that he read to Thomas from it. She gathered there were drawings in the book, because the names of machines and animals in them were repeated at length.
It was interesting to see that Thomas appeared to like books, no matter that he understood nothing, and she wondered if she could get him one that would be more suited to his tastes. Buying a book would involve going out to the gossip shop, however, so perhaps she ought to think of a better method of procuring one.
Thomas would not care for words, but he seemed to take an interest in images. She could not remember what children's books contained, but he would like one with many drawings. Perhaps most of the books for children were aimed more at those who were just beginning to read and not at all at those who could not even speak.
Once upon a time she had had drawing lessons and she had drawn tolerably well. She could try to draw some animals for him in a little notebook and then she could sit just like Mr. Newman and say "Cow! Seed drill!" although she would leave seed drills out of her little book because she had no idea what they looked like.
"They bring no dinner on Sundays," Mr. Newman announced after a look at the clock. "I shall measure the garden."
How these two things were connected, Anne did not know, but she watched him lay his book aside and go out through the kitchen. She picked up Thomas and they watched through the window. "Look, Tommy! Look! That is Papa."
She only dared to say such things if he could not hear her. Now, with a window between them, it was the perfect opportunity. She had been speaking very softly to Thomas whenever his father was nearby, still feeling a little self-conscious about the simpler language and sweeter voice one used for addressing such a little boy. While she had told Mr. Newman she spoke normally to Thomas, that was of course not strictly true. She spoke without reserve if Mr. Newman was not present, but the silly language and silly sounds did not really qualify as normal.
"Papa," she pointed.
Thomas pointed too, but perhaps at something else.
Anne guided his hand. "No, there! Papa."
"Very good!" she praised and gave him a kiss. "Wave at Papa."
When Mr. Newman returned, he sat down at the writing desk. "Come here."
Anne came and looked over his shoulder. He was making some sort of drawing, she saw. It could only be the garden, since he had just been out to measure it.
"You must indicate on this drawing how you would like it to be," he said as he sketched a few lines.
"How I would like it?" It was his garden. She was certain she had no opinion on where the fence should be, which she took to be his meaning. Her opinion was consulted far too often today.
"You are in charge of Thomas," he responded without looking up.
"But it is your garden." And it would also be his money that paid the wood for the fence, perhaps even for a carpenter if he chose not to do it himself. Then she remembered what he had said about not wanting to have to think of everything. If he told her to do this, he would insist that she did it. She sighed. "You know the garden best. I would need to investigate."
"Good girl. I am sure you will investigate it properly. Have a look at it tomorrow or whenever you feel at leisure. I do not think we are in much of a hurry yet. Are we, Thomas? Can you even stand yet?"
"Yes, sir," Anne answered. "If I hold both of his hands and if I let go, perhaps for a second. But this morning, sir, he said nee nee." She could share that accomplishment with him at least.
"I am impressed," he said dryly. "Nee nee! If only we knew what it meant."
"And he knows who you are. And he can wave on command."
"I finally managed to convince Mama to have a ball here for my coming of age, which was, as you know, delayed," the duke said enthusiastically the next morning. "The ball, not my age. You must attend."
Robert was surprised. He thought it was too soon after the old duke's death, but perhaps it had been a year and that was considered enough of a delay. His son no longer mourned him, that was clear, and his widow continued in black, whether she grieved for him or not. She seemed to like black as a colour.
Besides, why was he invited? He was not a particular friend of the duke's, merely his steward. His Grace was friendly because such was his nature, but Robert did not think they had very much in common.
"Do you dance, Newman?" the duke asked when he received no answer. "You must."
He touched his mourning band and felt like a liar. The barn dances would by civil standards not qualify as such and people there would not have understood his reasons for sitting out anyway. Guests at a duke's ball would see the band, unless he left it off. They would have opinions, whereas at a barn dance the only opinion was that he should dance.
"Oh." The duke's face fell. "Is that in the way? Even Mama will dance because I shall make her. One dance and then she will retreat to her usual dark corner. Can you not attend and not dance? It will be a marvellous affair. I have heard from about twenty gentlemen who will attend."
"You need girls to dance with," Robert observed astutely, postponing an answer with regard to himself. "About twenty."
"There will be some. Less than twenty will do. One of my cousins does not dance, you see."
"Is he also in mourning?" He wondered how many cousins there were. Two of them lived in the village, or had a house there, but they had not been there often enough for him to meet them. Considering the age of the present duke, his cousins might not all have attained the appropriate age for attending balls.
"Goodness, no. He merely detests women. You must come, even if you do not think it appropriate to dance. My friends are not a critical set."
"I think I ought to be careful nonetheless." He was already manipulating gossip and other villagers might attend the ball. If he was invited, others might be too. There was no reason for him to be singled out and this was very much a social event, not something he was expected to attend because of his occupation.
"It has not stopped you from corrupting your nanny," the duke said with a frown. "Which is a greater offence than dancing with a few pretty girls."
That was of course true. He was curious whether the duke believed the corruption had already taken place, but he refrained from asking. "You seem to insist on having me there, Your Grace. May I think on it?"
"No, no, no! You have no choice. But of course you cannot bring the nanny, because...who would want to dance with a nanny? I cannot even imagine that you want to do much more with her." The duke shuddered. "I shall assume you were boasting untruthfully. Just for my peace of mind."
Robert would almost laugh, although that comment had contained a hint of an insult. He did not want to describe his nanny to someone like the duke, because then she would surely be invited. For all of his simple prejudices, His Grace liked everyone and pretty girls even more so.
He listened indulgently as the young duke enthusiastically informed him of the size of the orchestra, the number of dances he knew and the menu of the supper. Robert was glad he led a cheaper and less complicated life.
"It will be divine," the duke sighed.
"I hope it will." He was truthful. He sincerely hoped the young man would have a wonderful ball that would tide him over for the next five years at least. Not everyone would have his enthusiasm. His mother would surely not approve of a ball every two months.
"It is only a pity that not everyone I know will be able to attend."
"Next time," Robert said encouragingly.
"It might make some unhappy, but I want everybody to be happy."
"Everybody? Make your tenants a small gift," the steward suggested. The money that would now be spent on the ball to make a few select friends happy could make many more people happy if it was spent in another manner. His profession obliged him to make this observation. "Then they will be happy too."
"Oh, good plan! What? Why do you not arrange that, Newman?" The duke looked reluctant to make the effort of reflection.
"I knew you would say that." He was not at all surprised.
His Grace reacted instantly, an expression of guilt on his face. "Why do you say that? Am I not taking my responsibilities? Mama said..."
"You have very little interest in the tenants," Robert said without remorse. Perhaps it was time to be a little more honest. Mama seemed to have paved the way. It would surprise him very much if His Grace even knew how many tenants he had. It was no wonder that he would like someone else to think of gifts for them -- three or thirty made some difference as to costs. At least he was aware of that.
"I do! I always used to play with William Pritchard."
"Whose father is not a tenant," Robert guffawed. Sir William Pritchard, young William's father, had in fact tenants of his own. Surely the boy must have noticed the house the Pritchards lived in?
"Oh. I am so busy with my own life that I cannot always keep track of people." His Grace appeared to think this excuse sufficed. He was convinced that his inability was due to external factors beyond his influence, as his martyr-like expression indicated.
"You must be glad you have no baby, no nanny to instruct, no animals to feed and no fence to build -- all on top of taking care of your employer and his tenants." Robert could not keep the sarcasm out of his voice anymore, although it would probably be utterly useless. If the duke understood him at all, he would not have the capability for change.
"Yes, I am very glad," the duke said without embarrassment. "I shall raise your wages."
"My words were by no means a calculated plea, Your Grace," Robert felt he must say, if only to soothe his own conscience.
"I know, but you deserve it anyhow. You work so hard." The duke smiled warmly. "I know you work very hard. Call me Daniel. Your Grace is so formal, considering that you will attend my ball and you do all these little things for me."
"But --" Robert said, remembering something. "How would that get you into trouble with Mama?" Or had he perhaps discovered how Daniel swayed Mama, with smiles and flattery?
"Mama is frightfully stiff. She wishes for me to be equally stiff and old and simply because I am the Duke of Muncester I must behave as though I am some old man who knows everything. I am just out of university. Allow me to have some fun first before I start playing duke with stiff old busybodies who never have any fun."
"So Mama is not going to approve of your leaving it to me to handle?"
Daniel considered it for a moment. "I could leave it to Mama herself and say she is so much better acquainted with all the tenants and the propriety of gifts, not to mention that I might be too generous."
"She will want you to do it yourself," Robert pointed out.
"But I have no time for that," Daniel said immediately. "I have obligations in town before the ball. I shall find Mama instantly and put the suggestion to her. If you do not hear from me, you may assume that she consented to be my intermediary."
"Your nanny talks," said Mrs. Lewis in a casual tone. She had slipped into the room after Robert's conversation with the duke and pretended to inspect whether his office had been cleaned well.
"Yes, she does," he answered calmly, wondering if she had come into his office for the sole purpose of telling him that. Her inspection did not fool him. "Of course she does."
"How did you accomplish that?"
"I told you she was a clever girl who learns quickly, but I did not have to teach her to talk, Mrs. Lewis. She already could. But being friendly always works on everyone." He was quite proud of himself, although he did not betray it in his voice.
"I was friendly!" the housekeeper protested.
He had not intended to criticise her. "It might not have been you, but the house. It might be daunting if you have never been inside a grand house like this before."
"That is true," she conceded. "It is quite grand, although I have rarely heard of less daunting people residing in a house like this."
"They have worse housekeepers in other grand houses?" Robert asked with mock incredulity.
"You need a nanny as well, I hear," she said, shaking her head. "You naughty boy. Do you still want your dinners to be delivered?"
"Yes, please!" He smiled charmingly, berating himself for stooping to the duke's level. He continued speaking in a more honest manner, wanting to rely on rational persuasion. "The arrangement is perfect. She takes care of Thomas and not of our meals. I do not think she could do both, not without neglecting Thomas."
"Of course, of course," she agreed. "She must not have too much to do."
He did not trust that remark and especially not that innocent emphasis. "What do you mean, Mrs. Lewis?" How much work was he supposed to give Miss Cartwright? It would be cruel to let her cook. He still felt that, whether it was stupid and indulgent of him or not.
"She is a well-bred young lady, is she not?"
"I still do not see what you mean," Robert said with a frown. He would agree that Miss Cartwright was a well-bred young lady, but he did not understand why this was mentioned.
She folded her hands and assumed her best housekeeper look. "I thought you were against well-bred young ladies getting their hands too dirty, because that is not what they were brought up to do."
He considered mentioning the cleaning of Thomas, but then decided it might be a little in bad taste. It was not clear to him whether Mrs. Lewis was disapproving or merely stating a fact. He should reply to her in the same tone she had used. "I assume it is not what she was brought up to do, but it is also not what I hired her to do. You must think I am overly charitable." The fact was that he was not running a house full of servants, but that he had but one nanny. Chaos and disorder were not as likely to reign if he ruled his house with a softer hand.
Mrs. Lewis seemed to have a different point to make. "I heard the village now suspects an earlier acquaintance, that this was the only way to have her in your house."
"Absurd!" he exclaimed. "If I had a previous acquaintance I wished to marry, why did I not simply do so? It has been a year. I could. I could, however, not have married anyone with whom I was previously not acquainted, so I had no choice but to hire a nanny." He hoped that reasoning was sound enough. It was one of those matters that were easier to feel than to explain.
"Janet heard from Mrs. Tompkins' maid that --"
He interrupted, feeling quite strongly that he ought to comment on the reliability of such information. "So Mrs. Tompkins told her maid, who told Janet, who told you, who told me...something you can still quote perfectly and truthfully?"
"Something will have got lost," Mrs. Lewis admitted. "But in the case of Mrs. Tompkins that is not a great problem, since she will have changed her opinion already anyway. The gist of it was that she speculates wildly about this previous acquaintance."
Robert made a disrespectful sound. "Really, I am amused by it all and I find it intriguing to see how gossip works -- and Mrs. Tompkins' mind, which is an insolvable puzzle." He would no longer be amused if she spread malicious nonsense, but thankfully she never managed to come up with anything believable.
"Mrs. Tompkins has also missed Miss Cartwright's trip into the village and for that she is extremely sorry. She depends on hearsay now, but she heard that your nanny is a very ladylike girl."
He felt like being obnoxious and contrary. "What is a ladylike girl? Is that not a rather superfluous word, girl? She is either ladylike or a girl, I am tempted to think. She could hardly be a gentlemanlike girl."
"You might receive inquiries about it," Mrs. Lewis warned. "Who was she before? Was she truly a lady or is she putting on airs? And if she was a lady, why did you hire her?"
He had hired her because he was putting on airs. "I told everybody why I hired her. Why do they not believe me?"
"I must thank you," Robert said to Mrs. Black when he saw her on his way out. He had to thank her, so that she might be more inclined to repeat the effort someday. "It was very kind of you to help Miss Cartwright with her purchases."
"It was my pleasure," Mrs. Black answered with a smile. "I enjoy helping out and sharing my knowledge with young mothers."
He raised his eyebrows. "And nannies."
"And nannies too, of course," she agreed with equanimity. "But I wondered, what of your mother, Mr. Newman? Had you not considered asking her to help you?"
"My mother?" he asked as if he had never heard of such a person, but of course he had. "No, that would not have been possible. She broke her leg since she was here last. She could not travel, much less make herself useful. There are now no relatives to spare to look after me either."
"I am sorry to hear that," Mrs. Black said in sympathy. "That would explain it. I had been wondering, considering that I always go to help my daughters. Nevertheless, your arrangement works perfectly this way as well."
"Did she speak to you, Mrs. Black?"
"By she you mean Miss Cartwright, I suppose? Yes, she spoke to me. Has she not spoken to you so far?"
"She has, and quite well, but she told me she could only speak to me and not to anybody else." He had known that was not true and here was the proof.
That amused Mrs. Black. "They are all the same! Someone said that to me too once," she explained. "But of course it is not quite true. They can speak to anyone who reciprocates their effort."
"That is reassuring. But ... how could she speak to Thomas? He makes no effort."
"He makes no effort to hide that he likes being spoken to." She became more serious. "And he likes receiving attention. He will ensure he is not ignored for a second now that he has his personal staff to wait on him. Perhaps you are old enough to be aware of the tricks boys employ to have their way. There is no harm in leaving him to cry once in a while. He must not be indulged too much."
Robert had just been informed of one of those tricks. "Or he will become like..." He dared not mention the duke, but if he was correct she would understand whom he meant.
"Exactly. His father..." Mrs. Black gave him a meaningful look. "But of course you have the advantage of not having the fortune to indulge his every whim."
"I hoped you would say I had the sense not to do so," he smiled.
"Considering the rumours you have been spreading, I cannot allow myself to think such a thing, dear boy," she said, patting his arm.
"Let me tell you a secret..."
"I do not think that what you will tell me is such a secret. I shall probably already have heard about it from two sides. Besides, you should not be going around adding secrets to your rumours. People might be confused."
"How is the nanny?" asked Mr. Hessop when he passed.
"Fine," Robert answered. He wondered at the man's interest in such female matters. Did men ever have any interest in nannies other than the wrong sort? They paid the wages, but all the particulars of child-raising would be left to their wives, he had always deduced. That had of course been before all the particulars had fallen to him.
"Is she settling in well?"
That was another suspect question, not one a man was wont to ask. He could not imagine any serious concern for Miss Cartwright's welfare. It must be something else. "It is all going according to plan."
"Good." Mr. Hessop did not know what else to ask. Presumably he had received instructions about the sort of questions he should ask, but those instructions had not told him how to handle the responses and how to proceed from there.
"Good day," Robert greeted him. "Give my regards to Mrs. Hessop." He wondered if Mrs. Hessop had wanted to know more things, things her husband evidently did not feel comfortable enough to ask. If only everybody in the village could be as delicate about information as Mr. Hessop! That would be rather more amusing than having everyone be like Mrs. Tompkins. He had not seen her yet, but her curiosity would not disappoint him, he was sure. It was a pity that he would in all likeliness not give her what she wanted.
Thomas could move very fast on his hands and knees. Anne had to keep an eye on him at all times, because he could disappear in an instant and roll down the stairs. She was following him, hoping he would at some point sit up and stand, when he crawled into Mr. Newman's room. He had never done that, but the door had always been closed before. She stopped at a point from where she could not look into the room because she did not think she should, but it meant she lost sight of Thomas as well.
"Mr. Newman!" she cried, her voice a little panicky and unsteady because she never raised her voice in this manner. Mr. Newman might not even be in the room. He might be elsewhere and she would be waiting here while Thomas was hurting himself. The fire! Would it be out? It was not cold and she had no idea if Mr. Newman had had his fire on.
"Yes?" Mr. Newman called back.
She was relieved to hear his voice. He would make sure Thomas came to no harm. "Thomas went into your room."
"Really? Where is he then?"
Anne's relief was instantly replaced by anxiety again. "He -- he has just crawled in! On the floor?" She would almost step forward, but something still held her back. It would not do to peek into his room. He had left his door ajar, but that did not mean he wished everyone to see him in a state of undress. She remembered his words about surprising her when she was not properly dressed -- it was obviously something that needed to be avoided -- and so she ought not surprise him either.
"And where are you?" he called after a moment.
She hoped he had found Thomas. The boy did not yet know about hiding deliberately and if he had hurt himself he would have started crying. It followed that he must be safe and happy. "Well, here. Outside." Of course, she added silently.
"Could you come in?"
That sounded almost pleading. Hesitantly she stepped forward so she could look in. She would look first and then decide whether to go further. Mr. Newman, his face all soaped up, was holding Thomas as far away from himself as possible. She could not help but gasp at his face. There was some soap on Thomas' nose and hands as well.
"I was shaving. Please take him. And Miss Cartwright?"
"Yes, sir?" She took the boy, who directly proceeded to rub the soap onto her face. She held him as far away from herself as she could, seeing why Mr. Newman had done that.
"You must follow him whenever he crawls into my room. I give you permission to follow him anywhere and at any time. As you see, I might not always notice him right away because I may be busy. I certainly was not looking at the floor in this instance. What if something happened because you were standing outside with your eyes closed and you could have prevented it by simply coming in?"
"Indeed, sir," she mumbled, unable to tear her eyes away from the soap.
"So you must follow him with your eyes open. Do I look strange?" he asked at last.
She giggled uncertainly and went away before she could laugh at him. Yes, he looked strange.
"Shall we go for a ride in the pony cart?" Robert asked after they had eaten. "It is such a fine evening and I should like to take a look at a particular location."
After he had asked the question he wondered why he had asked it. It was his business and he could easily have gone alone. Such trips always went quicker if they were undertaken alone. He was aware of that, so asking her to come must mean he did not really have work on his mind. This bemused him a little, but he quickly accepted the fact that he simply wished go for a ride, whether they ever reached the destination he had originally envisaged or not.
"Not through the village?" Miss Cartwright asked in fear.
"No, the other way." He got the pony and the cart ready while she dressed up Thomas and herself. He wondered if his dog was still up for another walk, but Minnie was jumping up energetically. Then they would all go and Miss Cartwright would be pleased they would not pass through the village. He supposed she felt a little shy about being seen, although he did not quite understand why. The pony cart was such an innocent conveyance, very domestic and not at all associated with parading one's conquests if one was over the age of twelve.
Miss Cartwright brought a blanket, he noticed. It made him wonder if she had been cold going to the barn dance on Saturday. She had not said anything then. He chided himself a second later. She would probably not even speak up if she froze to death. "Was it cold on Saturday?" he asked.
"I thought it might be."
That was not much of an answer. "Be sure to tell me when it is." He would not keep her out for too long, but he could only know when he should turn back if she told him.
"Would you not feel it yourself?" she wondered. "Oh. Not when I am cold, naturally."
"I suppose not, although I might hear your teeth clatter." He took Thomas from her so she could climb onto the cart. Then he gave the boy back and they set off. He marvelled at the ease with which they handed Thomas back and forth without speaking. Perhaps it was no more than simple common sense, but he felt some pride at their practical insight nevertheless.
"What if I felt cold?" she asked, evidently having spent those silent minutes wondering about something else.
"I could give you my coat or let you walk." That was not a terribly gentlemanly measure, but it was effective. He glanced aside, expecting her to say she would refuse his coat. She did not say anything, however. He did, when he had another thought. "But I do not know what to do with Thomas in that case."
Thomas crowed when he felt the motion of the cart, or perhaps he had heard his name. He was much more awake than Saturday. "Po po po!" he cried.
"That means pony," Miss Cartwright translated.
Robert was astonished. He would never have guessed. "How do you know that?"
"After I heard you read your book to him, I took him to see the pony and I said pony, pony, pony, pony for close to half an hour. He did not say it then, but what else could it mean?"
"Can you now teach him to say Papa as well? I feel slighted," he said with a smile, but he was proud that his method had proved so successful. Miss Cartwright was a sly thing for copying it without his knowledge. He imagined her repeating one word for half an hour. She must have a great deal of patience and looked at her with some admiration.
"No," she giggled.
"Oh well. It was worth a try, although frankly I appreciate more sensible conversation than half an hour of merely Papa. Let me tell you where we are going. I am having a bridge built."
"Not with my own money and not for my own pleasure." He began to explain it to her.
After having ascertained that most of the building materials had been delivered, Robert directed the pony cart back again. He remembered what he had been thinking about at intervals earlier, the conversations he had had with various people today. He had had only brief moments of reflection because something had always come up to distract him and he had not yet formed proper opinions.
"Did you know," he said now. "I had some interesting conversations today."
Miss Cartwright merely glanced his way.
"First the duke. He invited me to his ball and he would not let me decline." He had not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion about this invitation and his lack of strength. He should have declined.
"Why would you decline?"
"I am perfectly happy not being the friend of a duke. I do not think his sort of friends would be people I should like very much." Perhaps such a prejudice was unkind and unjustified, but the ones who had been here for the hunt had not excited much sympathy and respect in him. Those had been boisterous, reckless and stupid. Not all the time, of course, but he considered three gentlemen falling off their horses a little too much.
"Is he not agreeable?"
"That brings me to my second point," Robert said with a reflective look. "I do not know. He is charming enough, I grant you, but he lacks substance. How does one explain that properly? Selfish? Flighty? Childish? Easily led? I suggested he make all the tenants a gift and he agreed it was a good plan, but he wanted me to execute it. It would be too much work for him."
"How much work would it be?"
"Not all that much," Robert shrugged. "Deciding on what to give and then portioning it all off. Perhaps, if he were an excellent landlord, delivering it in person. All in all not more than a day's work. But ... he first wanted me to do it, offering me higher wages too because apparently I deserved it, and when I suggested his mother would not approve of him not doing it himself, he said he would wheedle his mother into doing it."
Miss Cartwright looked astonished.
"That is what I have to contend with. Do you understand my plight?" he asked with a sigh.
"Yes, sir. Is his mother easily wheedled?"
"I do not know. She does know the tenants better. She would not be too generous. She would deliver the gifts in person. Those arguments might be enough to sway her, even if the other side of the coin is that the duke is escaping his duties once again by pointing out that she would be so much better suited to the task and that he would be very bad indeed. He believes he is entitled to a few years of fun before he is obliged to be old and boring and stiff."
"A few years?" Miss Cartwright asked with a hint of skepticism.
"I cannot see him change from one day to the next if he reaches a particular age," he agreed. "Not all that much stiffness and sense of duty is required of him now. It could well be combined with a little fun. He could easily have his ball and deliver some gifts -- if he were to stay here, that is, but he has obligations in town. I strongly suspect it is a visit to the theatre or something in that vein."
"But if he arranges it with his mother..."
"You are right. It is none of my business if he arranges it with his mother. I simply --" He shook his head at his need to rant. "He actually believed that William Pritchard was the son of a tenant. Sir William Pritchard owns an estate nearby, however, yet the size of the house never struck Daniel as being rather larger than a simple farm house. What am I to think of such a fool? By the way, he told me to call him Daniel because I do all these little things for him. I am sorry for complaining about it to you."
"I do not mind," she said graciously. "Your complaints seem justified."
"Do you have any? I shall listen to yours now."
"My complaints about my employer? No, no, you said you had some conversations. This was only one."
He had to smile at how she did not want to complain about him. She was truly not as bad at steering the conversation as she thought. "I had another conversation with Mrs. Black about spoiling Thomas. He must not come to think of you as his personal servant."
Miss Cartwright smiled, as if Thomas was already thinking of her in that manner.
He saw that smile. "And you must not think of yourself as his personal servant, certainly not."
"But you hired me for that purpose," she pointed out.
"No, I hired you to raise him to be a good boy. Mrs. Black says you may leave him to cry sometimes, because sometimes it is only a trick to have his way." He glanced at Thomas, but he saw no sign of such deviousness at all. He should trust an experienced mother and grandmother, though.
"When precisely?" Miss Cartwright inquired in the serious tone of one who was being instructed in an important matter.
"Er, she did not say. You must ask her when you speak to her next." He patted her knee encouragingly. "Because you will."
"I will?" she asked, a little alarmed.
"And do you also know when, sir?"
"No, I do not know that. I may give you a week to arrange it on your own," he said with a mischievous look. Then he guessed from her look of fear that it was not very likely to happen and he regretted teasing her.
"Mr. Newman!" Miss Cartwright looked ready to burst into tears.
"I am sorry. I did not know it would frighten you so," Robert said in a gentle voice. "If you wish to ask her anything, I shall take you to her or bring her to you." It would not cost him very much trouble to arrange that.
She did not speak and she looked the other way.
"I -- will you look at me?" he requested when he could not see her face. He would like to see her expression, since he had no idea if she was sad or angry or perhaps something else. Miss Cartwright turned her face. It was red and she was biting her lip, but he could not deduce what she was thinking. "I was merely teasing."
"I do not want to be this way, but I am," she said a little angrily. "If you think it frustrating, you may depend on it that I do too."
A vehement Miss Cartwright was worthy of a good stare.
© 2006 Copyright held by the author.