- 14. At Bowerly Hall – 14
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- 20. At Bowerly Hall-20
I NEEDED some fresh air. While Mary slept I went to the stables. As I neared the corner, there came the sound of galloping hooves and loud voices.
A horse and rider narrowly missed me as they streaked across the cobblestones and out of the gates.
It took me a moment to steady myself. If I hadn’t moved swiftly, I might have been knocked to the ground. Who was the heedless rider?
“Are you quite all right, Miss Thorne?” Charles’s deep voice came behind me.
“Yes, but no thanks to your visitor,” I replied without thinking.
“My cousin’s manners are not what they should be.”
So it was Francis Williams who had so carelessly ridden through the stables! In a temper, it would seem. What had the two men argued about?
It was not my place to ask.
“I’m taking a short ride through the estate,” Charles said. “Will you join me?”
I was surprised and pleased. It would be lovely to ride out. And Charles, despite his quiet ways, would be a good companion, I decided.
There was just one problem.
“I have left Mary having a nap upstairs. I shouldn’t be away too long.”
“We won’t be more than a half hour,” he said. “I have business to attend to at the house. Mary will not notice you gone, I assure you.”
This was her father speaking. If he was happy for me to leave her, then I should not worry. Besides, Peggy was working on the third storey, dusting furniture and cleaning the fire grates. If Mary did wake and call, Peggy would go to her.
With my mind settled, I looked forward to riding out.
“Come, we will find you a suitable mount,” Charles said.
Raven was already saddled and a groom held his reins. The big black horse whinnied and stamped its hooves impatiently.
Charles stroked its velvet nose.
“A moment and you shall have your freedom.”
Another stable hand brought out a pretty mare, softly brown like caramel with a white streak down her forehead.
“This is Grace. She is gentle and not prone to demanding her own way. Does she suit you?”
It was gratifying to be asked my opinion. I nodded my approval.
“I must change. I can hardly ride in this outfit.”
I hesitated. If Charles was in a hurry, would he wait for me?
“Yes, of course. I will meet you here. The horses will be ready.”
He inclined his head. I rushed happily back to the house to dress appropriately.
With excitement, I grasped at the saddle. My riding habit was old but perfectly respectable and I was glad I had brought it with me from my uncle’s house.
Once up on Grace’s placid back, I was content. I, too, wanted my freedom and riding was the way to get it.
We trotted out of the gates and on to the fields. The landscape was rough green grass, thick hawthorn hedges and sturdy oaks at the margins. The leaves were turning brown.
A late season skylark trilled and soared. Above us a flock of plovers flew over, their black and white colours stark against the blue sky. The air was cold and sharp.
Grace’s breath steamed out. I smelled oiled leather, the sweet odour of horse and a hint of gorse blooms.
“Ready?” Charles called. He kicked at Raven’s flanks and the big horse took off.
Grace and I followed in a rapid gallop across the fields. We leaped over the hedges and I felt my pulse race in exhilaration.
It struck me that I enjoyed Charles’s company despite my misgivings about him. His odd behaviour, the darkness I sensed in him, his quiet ways, none of that mattered in that instant.
I might regret it later but right now, I immersed myself in the motion of the mare, the sting of the cold air and the feel of my muscles warmed with exercise.
Charles brought Raven to a halt at the top of a knoll. I stopped beside him. There was a fine view of Bowerly Hall, the fields and gardens and the sea beyond.
“It is very beautiful,” I said.
“It is my home,” he said simply.
My home, too. For better or worse. I gripped Grace’s reins tightly.
My homesickness was still there but muted.
“How is my daughter?” Charles asked.
You could see for yourself, I thought, but I couldn’t say it. He was the viscount. He owned Bowerly Hall and its vast estate lands. Of course he was busy. Men like him had little time to devote to their children.
But what Mary needed was her father’s attention. So far I had seen little evidence that he provided it. She was called down for a few minutes before her bedtime to say goodnight.
“She is well,” I told him. “She enjoys nature walks and French, she has a talent for watercolours and she hates playing the pianoforte.”
He surprised me by laughing.
“What is it?”
“Only that I, too, hate playing the pianoforte. I can’t stand hearing it either.
How strange that Mary should, too.”
“If you would talk to her…” I suggested.
The shadows descended. I had come to know that look. It brooked no discussion. Charles shut himself off from the world.
“Mary doesn’t need me. She has her grandmamma to talk to and her governess to teach her what is right and wrong.
“Your job is to make sure my daughter turns into a well-bred young lady fit for her husband when she is grown. Mary must learn to play music and sing whether she likes to or not.”
“That is rather harsh,” I said. “Cannot there be more to her life than preparing at her tender age for a husband?”
“Are you to tell me that your childhood was any different?” he challenged. “Is that not the way for all young ladies of gentle birth?”