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Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 6

September 27, 2021 11:30AM
All pleasures must have their end, if only temporarily, and Catherine found the morning dawned much earlier than either she or Henry could have preferred. Still, they knew their duty, and so got up and dressed with the knowledge of a full day's work ahead of them.

They were rewarded with breakfast from their cook: she and the boy had returned as early as possible, Mrs. Poole being the sort of woman who did not like to compound her sin of missing one meal by tardiness for another. She made her excuses for her absence in their time of need, and was granted not only forgiveness but compliments for her exertions. It was not in the lady's nature to be resentful, and the rector was all magnanimity when enjoying fresh buns and jam.

All too soon they had to leave their pleasant table. "We are fortunate it rained so little last night, but that state of affairs cannot last," Henry observed, eyeing the distant clouds. "So we had best get done what we can."

Some ladies might have objected to sharing Adam's lot of toiling among the thorns and thistles; or, as in the present case, shrubs and shallots. But Catherine was very glad to be outside after the previous day’s business, and needed little inducement to leave off the mending for another time. Dismayed to see their grounds in so sad a state, she was not unhappy to stretch her limbs in putting everything to rights. In truth, she also enjoyed labouring alongside her husband; as he left off his coat, rolling up his shirtsleeves to keep the dirt off, Catherine found plenty to admire even in the grey dreariness of the day.

If such was the amusement received by Catherine, a still rather innocent young wife, I leave it for the reader to determine how much Henry's labours were lightened by seeing her in high spirits, the breeze teasing hair loose from her cap or occasionally whipping her old skirts about to reveal boot and calf. Let us then pity poor Will, who had just as much to do, and only the dogs to distract him by scattering what he piled up. By noon the sun was no brighter, and though they halted for a light repast al fresco, all were in agreement to continue however long the calm lasted.

"We are making progress," Catherine commented, smiling despite the situation, and scratching the Newfoundland's head as he finished off the remains of luncheon. "At least the garden is clear again, and Mrs. Poole has two rows taken in."

"Yes; in fact, we may wish to—" but Henry's reply was cut short by excited barking which announced an approaching rider, soon identified as his brother's valet.

The man was as surprised to learn of his master's absence as they were by his presence. He meant, in fact, to arrive much sooner but, as he explained while the horse was looked to, had been stymied by the gale's debris. "He ought to have taken the main road after all, having been forced to cut back several times between the woods and rising water."

Henry asked in concern, "So the flooding has commenced?"

"Not as such, no, and the fortunately the old hunting trail was mostly clear, or I truly would have had to start over. But after heading south from that way's crossing there were several places washed out or mired, and I understand the mill is being closed up, being so much lower and already taking water. So said the innkeeper, and that the stage was late owing to a felled tree in its path."

"You must be hungry," Catherine said after this thrilling narration, touched in equal measure by sympathy and excitement. "I will see about getting you something for the journey back."

"Thank you, Mrs. Tilney, you are most kind." His deference made her momentarily question why this man (with manners more akin to a Du Pont than Morano) should be made to serve the other, even as she went to give instructions to her cook.

Henry met her in the hall and asked that she convene with him to the study in a state of high emotion. He did not trust himself to speak at first, only frowned over the writing desk while she struggled to contain the thousand questions on her tongue.

"It appears Frederick did not abide at the Ram last night: Darrow inquired there first, after waiting for over an hour before setting out from the abbey, and attests that his master has not been seen in either vicinity."

"Then he did not expect him to return later?" Catherine wondered.

"Now there is the best part of this little farce: it appears my brother's errand yesterday was not mere chance but authorized, as the survey of the roads was to include Woodston's. Frederick failed to mention he had already volunteered my services for this report, nor that he was supposed to deliver it today. His man begs me for some intelligence, after all but promising that this morning's delay must be due to our completing the work. It will not be the servant's fault, of course, though that will not stop blame from resting there if he returns empty-handed: I must send something."

"Certainly." Catherine felt she ought not to feel more resentment than concern at this news, and barely hid her sighs.

Henry had no such compunction. "I am sure Frederick is not hurt, just sulking, and well may he hide considering my father's wrath when neither paper nor author arrive in his office. A fine mess for me to explain in so hurried a fashion, and with the full expectation that I shall still complete the task! They none of them have any business trespassing further on our time."

"It is good for you to relieve the general's feelings, though, even if only in a cursory way."

"I am in a mood to express my feelings very plainly," he said as he took up his pen.

"If you feel it right and proper.”

"Nay, Catherine, you cannot encourage my temper with pleas to duty. Ah, I suppose I must be the good son once more, instead of the rebel."

"I am sure you are correct," she answered with just an echo of his own mockery, provoking him to smile and giving her a sense of accomplishment as she left him to his business.

Henry was not long about it, and having already ordered a fresh steed, offered some final directions along with his letter. "I realize it is further to go when riding, but take the south bridge: surely they will have cleared the way by now, and the main road will serve you better in a sudden downpour. The horse may be kept until I have leave to visit the abbey. Tell my father to expect me by the end of the week." With obliging thanks the rider took the proffered envelope and was soon off, the dogs giving chase until their quarry was well away.

"I hope he arrives safely," Catherine remarked, a gust of cool air causing her to gather her shawl tighter while watching the terriers dart back into the yard.

"That bridge is of modern stone, sturdy, and has withstood many an autumn flooding," Henry spoke distractedly, his attention fixed in the opposite direction, searching for what Catherine did not know. In some agitation he added, "But I do not think Frederick went that way."

"Do you think he has suffered some mishap?"

"I do not like to say so. He is a master horseman and full able to take care of himself." He gave one final glance, then left off his reverie. "Come, we still have much to do so long as the weather holds."

Their industry was not leavened with nearly as much joy now, and often Henry stopped, looking in the direction of the village as if to penetrate the distance. Catherine wished to ease his worry but knew not how except by what she was already doing. They did not talk much, and all the while the wind rose, even as the expected shower tarried ever later.

An hour had passed when Henry ceased working altogether. "The clouds are moving slower than before, and it looks like there may yet be more hours of daylight left."

Catherine nodded, though it did not appear as if he was seeking any confirmation. "If we work hard I am sure we may finish before then."

"Perhaps." Henry looked up, as if searching for direction, then back at her. "My dear, do you think you may do without me for the remainder of that time? I think I must see where Frederick has got to."

"Oh." Catherine had suspected her husband's better nature might tempt him to overlook his pique, and so could not be altogether surprised by the suggestion. "But surely your father will send someone else to look if that is needed, or indeed, has not the servant already done so?"

"They do not know Woodston as I do, and I believe Frederick may avoid anyone from the abbey regardless. I should at least canvass the byways for a more detailed communication to my father, which will aid the parish and may prevent further interruptions to our tranquillity."

Catherine could not argue with this logic. "Of course, if you think it the right thing to do, you must."

Henry's smile was thin. "Just when I wish you to discourage me from acting, you do the opposite. What a fickle wife. Will! I shall need my horse saddled."

She set her basket down and reached for his hands. "You will be careful Henry?"

"Of course, but I will avoid the worst of it. He must have gone by the village, and so people will have seen him. I will only search till half past four at the upmost: I do not wish to be caught in that brewing storm for anyone, let alone him."

Perhaps another, more artful creature might have practised on Henry's prejudices, and guided him along a primrose path of delays and planning till the venture was impossible to undertake. But it never occurred to Catherine to prevent him from doing what was just, much as it dismayed her. "You will take some provisions at least?"

"A little, but I should not wait long: I want to be back well before those clouds finish rolling in."

So they both acted quickly, she to once again beg victuals from the cook, he to dress for riding out. Within the quarter hour Henry was bidding her farewell. "You need not bother about the rest of the work in my absence, we can as well finish things later."

"Oh no, I am sure Will and I may get it done," Catherine stated firmly, much to the chagrin of a boy whose labours had increased threefold beyond their normal routine. "I would not wish you to worry about that above everything else. Then we may both have a rest tomorrow."

"A delightful thought," Henry said, tipping his hat, "to send me on my way. But make sure you get indoors if it begins to rain suddenly, no matter how much is left to do: I will find shelter and stay overnight with one of our neighbours if need be."

She promised to go in as soon as the elements made it necessary, and charged him to do the same. There was little else to do but watch and pray as he departed.

Today's bonus blog content showcases a map of Woodston (which may be helpful for readers in Chapter 7, posting later this afternoon).

Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 6

MichelleRWSeptember 27, 2021 11:30AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 6

Alicia MOctober 12, 2021 07:15PM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 6

MichelleRWOctober 13, 2021 12:16AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 6

Shannon KSeptember 30, 2021 03:37AM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 6

MichelleRWSeptember 30, 2021 11:30PM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 6

Mary L.September 27, 2021 12:25PM

Re: Gentlemen of Gloucestershire: Chapter 6

MichelleRWSeptember 27, 2021 05:34PM


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