Sunday 14 April 2013

Far Beyond Rubies (Chapter Two) by Rosemary Morris

Far Beyond Rubies


Chapter Two

The previous day’s storm had yielded to the sun in a cloudless sky, as blue as periwinkles. Gervaise Seymour would have enjoyed riding on such a day if his thoroughbred had not become lame. He cursed under his breath while leading her by the bridle along the dirt road which hugged the riverbank.
According to the local post-master’s directions, the tall red chimneys ahead marked the end of his journey to Riverside House.
Gervaise wiped the dust from his glossy jackboots with his handkerchief, and then brushed his clothes with gloved hands. Although he preferred not to dress in the extreme of fashion like an accredited London Beau, his expertly tailored cinnamon-coloured riding coat, waistcoat of a delicate shade of biscuit, and his buckskin riding breeches pleased him.
He checked the angle of his dark brown, three-cornered hat, smoothed back an errant curl, and then made sure the broad black ribbon bow still secured his hair at the nape of his neck.
How he tried not to laugh when his cronies warned him against being judged eccentric for neither cropping his hair, nor wearing a full-bottomed wig, the artificiality of which he disliked. However, he did laugh out loud when they suggested he should powder his tanned face, which they claimed clashed with his chestnut hair.
The dappled mare snorted. Gervaise patted her neck. “Easy, girl, you will soon be in a comfortable stable.” At least he hoped she would, and after, he planned to deliver a letter to Lord Kemp, whom he hoped would invite him to pass a comfortable night at Riverside House.
He led his mare away from the river lapping the pebbled shore and the lush green banks, and along a wide path leading across a close clipped greensward dotted with daisies. They crossed a hump-backed stone bridge which spanned a stream leading into an ornamental lake. Beyond it, he saw a wooden pavilion painted white, and banked by trees hazed with new leaves. Gervaise drew close to the small building. From inside, he heard a child weeping and a melodious voice offering comfort.
“I am sorry, sweetheart. Don’t cry. I promise to look after you.”
“Juliana, why didn’t you come home after Father died? Why did you stay in London?” the child wept.
“Hush, Henrietta. Now I am here, you will not be confined to the nursery.”
“Nurse went to London to tend Father. I needed her but she did not come back,” the child said between sobs.
“Yes, I know, however she left her new address for us after William dismissed her.”
“Nurse should have stayed with me. William and Sophia told me they would beat me if I left the nursery. I was scared and hungry.” She sniffed. “I am still hungry. I would like something to eat.”
“You shall not go hungry again. Dry your face. We are going to have a picnic.” The exquisite voice had hardened.
“I will not go away,” the child wept. “Do not let them send me to school. I want to stay at home.”
“Sweetheart, we cannot stay at Riverside House.”
“It seems it does not belong to us. Stop crying. I am going to tell you a secret, but first you must promise not to speak of it to anyone.”
“I promise.”
“Instead of going to school, you shall come with me to London. But before I can take you there, you are going to stay with Nurse. Sweetheart, do stop crying. You must be brave.”
“I do not want to go to Nurse. I want to live with you.”
“Look at me, Henrietta. Decide whether you would prefer to go to school or stay with Nurse for a little while.”
“If I must leave here, I will go to Nurse. But why are you going to London?”
“To consult Father’s lawyer.”
Could they be the baron’s poor relations? Whoever they were, they seemed to be in a desperate situation. Gervaise’s sympathy for them increased. Ashamed of eavesdropping, he drew closer to the pavilion with the intention of announcing his presence.
Feet pattered within. A young woman peered through an open window. Her pale oval face looked troubled, and her coal black hair was slightly disordered.
For a moment Gervaise could not speak. The sight of her drew him back to India. Her form changed to one he knew intimately—yet not in this lifetime. He recognised the mark of a crescent moon on her right cheekbone, and sensed the love they once shared. A tremor ran through him. Never before had he thought the Hindu belief in reincarnation was worthy of serious consideration. Yet, in spite of the teachings of the Anglican Church, what if—
“Sir?” The lady’s indignant voice recalled him from his trance-like state.
He doffed his hat and executed his finest bow. “Gervaise Seymour at your service.” He hoped his presence would not offend her. “My apologies, madam, I could not avoid overhearing you.”
The door opened wide. It revealed a slender lady who held herself with dignity, and a slight, fair-haired child, dressed in mourning, who clutched the lady’s black silk skirts.
“Why is Mister Seymour here?” Henrietta asked, simultaneously rubbing her tear-swollen eyes.
Gervaise took a clean handkerchief from his saddlebag. He offered it to the little girl. “Take this to dry your eyes.”
Henrietta stumbled when she stepped forward to take it. He caught hold of her to prevent her from taking a tumble, clasping her upper arms until he was sure she would not fall.
Henrietta smiled up at him. “Thank you, sir.”
Although the little girl aroused his compassion, he concentrated on the young woman whose beautiful voice tugged at his heart. He noted dark shadows under her eyes, which must be the result of many sleepless nights.
“Why is Mister Seymour here?” Henrietta repeated, her voice louder than before.
The lady put a hand on the child’s shoulder. “If you say good day to the gentleman, I daresay he will tell us.”
Henrietta bobbed a curtsey. “Good day, sir.”
Could Henrietta be the lady’s daughter? He doubted it, for the black-haired beauty did not appear old enough to be Henrietta’s mother. Yet, if she was, he envied her husband, for who would not seize an opportunity to take such a jewel to wife?
Conscious of the gentlewoman’s gaze, he put his hand on his heart, and bowed again.
He would be happy to stay and admire her for as long as she permitted, but good manners must prevail. “Mistress Henrietta is hungry so I will not detain you.”
“Yes, she is ravenous. Henrietta, please go and eat in the pavilion. There are chicken pies, ham, gingerbread, and all manner of other good things in the basket.”
Instead of asking him to explain his presence at Riverside, the lady clasped her hands while looking at him with trustful eyes. Although he might be a highwayman, a licentious rake, or some other rascal, she did not seem alarmed.
A tidal wave of emotion swept through him. His soul cried out to her, although he could not grasp the details of their previous life together. Previous life? No, here in Christian England it was illogical to believe such a thing.
The lady’s heart-shaped mouth curved in a smile. She curtseyed low. “I am pleased to meet you, sir. I am Mistress Kemp. The child is my sister, Henrietta Kemp.”
* * * *
Juliana pressed her lips together. At first sight of Mister Seymour, her skin had tingled and little thrills had run up and down her spine. Although she had not previously met Gervaise, she trusted him instinctively, but illogically. Unfortunately, though she had never heard his name mentioned, he might be William’s friend. Why did this handsome stranger come to Riverside? How well did he know her half-brother? Would he repeat her conversation with Henrietta to William? For all she knew, if she confided in Mister Seymour, he might not believe her.
Juliana’s shoulders slumped. Her thoughts whirled. Summoning her courage, she straightened her back. Thank goodness Henrietta had chosen to stay with Nurse. Ah, how it would hurt to send her little sister away. A humble village cottage was not a fitting place for Henrietta, but it should be a safe haven, and she did not doubt Nurse’s loyalty. Would she have a tranquil moment until their reunion? Yet she could not tolerate the thought of leaving her sister with their half-brother. William cared nothing for Henrietta. Until their father’s death, the child knew nothing other than love. Juliana could not bear to think of the unhappy little girl going to school where she would be at the mercy of strangers. Yes, she had made the right decision.
Mister Seymour’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “Forgive me, madam, for being blunt enough to say I believe you need help. If I am correct, it would be my privilege to help you by any means at my disposal.”
How good of him to offer his assistance. How kind of him to have given Henrietta his handkerchief to dry her tears before steadying her with infinite gentleness. She scrutinised his face, knowing full well she should be wary of a stranger prepared to rescue her. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, she really did trust him. How foolish of her. Her eyes misted at the realisation she might never see him again.
“Madam?” the gentleman prompted.
“You are too good, sir, however I must not impose on you. I bid you farewell.” She spoke in a deliberately gentle tone to soften her dismissal.
He bowed again, this time not so low. “My mare is lame. I hope to borrow a horse after delivering a letter to Lord Kemp.”
Juliana frowned. “Is it addressed to my late father, or to my half-brother, who recently inherited the title?”
“I presume you are in mourning for your father, Mistress Kemp.”
She nodded, her lips quivering.
His eyes softened by obvious sympathy, he gazed at her. “I am sorry to hear of your loss. With regard to the letter, it does not specify which baron.”
“May I save you the trouble of delivering it to my half-brother?”
There was no reason not to trust her with it. Gervaise unfastened his saddlebag. He withdrew a sealed missive, and then handed it to her.
“Thank you, Mister Seymour. I suggest you go to the stables. Ask for Sam. Tell him I gave you permission to borrow a horse.”
Although her smile bewitched him, he found no excuse to linger other than to make a bow and say farewell.
* * * *
Two hours before dawn, Juliana crept out of Riverside House with Henrietta. Holding her sister’s hand, she led her to a clearing in the woods where Sam waited for them.
Henrietta’s hand tightened around hers. “I am scared of the dark.”
By the light of the horned moon, Juliana peered at the pale blur of her sister’s face. “Be brave,” she said, sick with fear for the child. After all, she was defying William by sending her beloved sister away. She could not imagine what would happen if they were caught. If only she could have summoned the boldness to ask Mister Seymour for his protection. No, what was she thinking of? It would be dangerous to entrust her safety to a stranger. “It is cold tonight, and the wind is rising. Perhaps it will rain. I do not want you to take a chill.” She fastened the ribbons of Henrietta’s cosy hood. “Sam will take you to Nurse. Until I come for you, I am sure she will look after you well.”
“Promise to fetch me soon?”
Juliana knelt. She drew Henrietta into her arms, unable to endure her sister’s tears. Should she take Henrietta with her to London? If she did, what would happen if William found them? No, she must not weaken. “God willing, sweetheart, we shall soon be together again. Please do not cry, you will be happy with Grace.”
“I would be happier with you. If you allow me to come with you, I shall be good.”
“Yes, I know you would, for you are always good. Unfortunately you would soon become bored because I have so much to do.”
The lantern Sam had lit earlier illuminated a small space around them. “Time for you to be leaving.”
Juliana stood. She smiled at Sam. Thank God some of the servants put loyalty to her, before loyalty to their new master and mistress. Without Sam’s help, she and her sister might not have escaped.
Sam settled Henrietta on a stout New Forest pony. “Mistress Juliana, won’t you wait for me to come back so I can see you safe on your way?”
She shook her head. “No, I must be gone before the household stirs.”
When William found them missing, most likely he would order a search for a woman and child travelling together. With good fortune, and by travelling separately, neither she nor Henrietta would be traced.
Juliana handed Sam a drawstring purse full of coins, together with a letter she had penned earlier. “There is enough here to pay for Henrietta’s keep for a long time. Tell Grace to keep the letter in a safe place. If I have not returned by the end of the year, she is to take it to the vicar in her village and ask him to act on it.” She forced herself to smile. “If God so pleases, it will not be long before I collect my sister. Now be off with you, Sam, so you can return well before daylight. I do not want you to suffer for helping us,” she said, her voice unsteady in spite of her effort to conceal her distress.
His face creased with concern, Sam mounted a strong roan gelding. “Will you not travel on horseback, Mistress?”
She shook her head. “A description of the horse might lead my brother’s men to me.”
Juliana handed the pony’s leading rein to Sam before she turned to look at Henrietta. She forced herself not to reveal her acute anxiety to the child. For fear she might cry if she reached up to embrace her sister, she patted Henrietta’s knee. “You must leave now. Farewell. Godspeed. Oh, Henrietta, do not cry, we shall soon be together again.”
After Sam left with her sister, clouds like dark curtains veiled the sickle moon. The wind blew more fiercely. Within minutes, rain, like fast flowing rivulets, poured down. Juliana took a ragged breath. Would her gamble be justified? Her earlier misgivings tormented her. What would the consequences to Henrietta be if William regained custody?
She peered beyond the lantern light, through the downpour into the darkness. Slowly, Henrietta and Sam’s shadowy forms passed out of her vision. No time to lose. There would be nothing to gain by giving way to her unshed tears. Juliana braced herself and stepped out of the pavilion.
With increasing force the wind urged her along the path edged by tall trees. In the far distance, she heard harnesses jingle. A horse whinnied. “Farewell, Sister,” Henrietta called, her voice thick with tears.
Juliana pressed her hand to her heart. She wanted to run after the little girl to reassure her. The person she loved more than anyone else in the world had set out on a ten mile, cross-country journey to their nurse’s cottage.
While uttering a prayer for Henrietta’s safety, Juliana hurried to the pavilion where she collected a bag she had packed while Sophia’s tirewoman lay snoring. Her conscience pricked for putting an opiate in the tankard of ale the woman drank with such gusto. Yet, what else could she have done? Without doubt the servant would have thwarted her plans by acting as Sophia’s spy. Besides, did she not have the right to have tiptoed to the chapel, where she searched for the record of her parent’s marriage, her own and Henrietta’s births in the family bible? Curse it! Someone, probably William, had removed a page. Nevertheless, one day she would prove her own and her sister’s legitimacy. No, she did not suffer guilt over the opiate in the woman’s drink. It was her right and her sister’s to have a few of their treasured possessions; ones, in the silence of the night, she had tiptoed around the house to collect. She shuddered. If William’s men found her, she might be accused of theft.
When she left the shelter of the pavilion, she again cursed her half-brother and his wife. They had deprived her not only of her fine clothes but also of most of her jewellery, some of which she inherited from her mother, and some her rich father had given her. She fingered the perfectly matched, large pearls of her oriental necklace. She planned to sell it in London along with her gold earrings, from each of which dangled a priceless pear-shaped pearl.
The wind rose. The candle in her lantern went out. Rain lashed down. Juliana stumbled and clutched an overhanging branch to prevent a fall. Afterward, she tried to pick her way with greater care, but could barely distinguish the path ahead which led to the riverbank.
What should she do when she reached it? Wait for the storm to abate or unfasten the dinghy and try to make her way downstream? If she kept to the bank, would she be safe? No, in this turbulent weather it would be dangerous to trust her life to the river.
On days when the water stretched calm beneath a tranquil sky, Father had allowed her to row on this tributary of the Thames when they went fishing. Nevertheless, he would never have allowed her to travel by water when the wind howled and the rain fell in torrents.
In spite of her desperate situation, Juliana smiled at the memory of Mister Seymour’s kind eyes. Logic deserted her. She really did believe charming Mister Seymour—who upon first sight set all her pulses racing—would be prepared to guard her life, as though it were his own. What nonsensical thoughts! She had already accepted it was more than unlikely they would meet again.
Distant thunder alarmed her.
Although her feet, encased in stout boots, remained dry, the weight of her sodden cloak, and the hems of her skirt and petticoats added to her discomfort. Her arm ached. Grateful for the leather gloves that protected her hands, she put the heavy bag down.

Juliana flexed her fingers; her teeth chattered. Fatigued, she sought shelter beneath an ancient oak tree. Thunder sounded in the distance. She hoped the tree would not be struck by lightning. Her hands fumbled when she took off her woollen cloak, shook it, and wrung out as much water as possible. A hot toddy would be welcome. She put her cloak on, picked up her bag, and struggled on.
She tripped over a fallen branch, and then steadied herself. Thank goodness Henrietta was mounted on a pony instead of tramping through mud.
At last she reached the riverbank. The willow trees, which trailed their branches in the water, devised a mad dance. The rain flailed. Juliana bent her head while the wind tried its hardest to push her back. She forced her way to the edge of the rushing water.
It would be folly to pit her strength in the dinghy against the current. From here, a winding path led to Riverside village no more than two miles away. If she made haste, in spite of the weather, and if Rodgers, the post-master, co-operated—and why should he not?—she might be on her way to London within an hour or two.
The wind and rain lessened as she trudged on. By the time Juliana reached Riverside Village, a pale sun peeped over the edge of the horizon and birds twittered in the trees.
In desperate need of a change of clothes, Juliana entered the stable yard of the post inn. Even at so early an hour, it bustled. She picked her way across the rain-slicked cobblestones. A skittish horse escaped. It pranced toward her. Dodging to one side she skidded, and then fell on her rump into a puddle.
Not one of the sniggering stable lads recognised her. No one came to her assistance. She heaved herself to her feet. Her hood fell away from her head and her waist length hair escaped its pins and cascaded down her back. Humiliated by her ragtag appearance, she bent to collect her jet hairpins and pick up her bag.
“Eef you permit,” someone said.
She looked up into the powdered, rouged face of a narrow-faced young man. He wore an elaborately curled, pale yellow periwig, a knee length coat of dark green wool, and matching breeches. A pale green waistcoat embroidered with flowers—so improbable she doubted nature designed them—completed his ensemble.
“Thank you.”
Accustomed to being served, Juliana waited for him to pick up her bag. Instead of doing so, the creature, with a waist so small it must be constrained by cruel stays, fingered her hair. “Magnificent, I ’ave a customer for eet.”
“Sir!” Shocked by his suggestion, she took a step toward the inn.
The impertinent fellow halted her by catching hold of one of her ringlets.
“Allow me to introduce myself, Mademoiselle. I am Monsieur Lorraine, an ’air merchant. For ze privilege of purchasing your ’air, I will pay you three pounds an ounce. I daresay your ’air weighs twenty ounces or more. It would make a magnificent wig.”
“Sell my hair!” She picked up her bag, and then hurried indoors.
Inside, despite all her troubles, Juliana leaned against the closed door and laughed. What would her Huguenot mother—with whom she had conversed as often in French as in English—have made of Lorraine’s false accent?

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