The Fall of York Ch. 49-57bynicecthulhu©
She tapped on the door timidly. Forcing herself to stand up straight she tried to present a confident front to whoever opened the door, but she could feel her knees shaking. She raised her hand to rap on the door a second time when it opened before her.
"Well, hello dear," said Mrs. Croyden genially. "Won't you come in?"
Millie stepped into the house and her hostess closed the door behind her. The maid found her ability to speak had temporarily left her.
"Is this a social visit?" asked the grey-haired woman.
"Uhm, no. I mean: no ma'am. Major Orr sent me here because he had a question for Jacob...I mean for your American guest, Mrs. Croyden." Millie glanced about with her eyes, trying to spy if there was anyone else within earshot.
"And he decided to send you instead of making the long walk himself?" asked Mrs. Croyden, with a wink.
Millie's face became warm and she looked down at the floor.
"Oh, I'm sorry, child. I shouldn't have teased you. I suppose your master is busy with other things?"
"I suppose," replied Millie, raising her eyes. She saw nothing but warmth and compassion on the face of the older woman. "My employers may have had more than one reason for sending me with the message," she confided.
"From one woman to another, I suppose Abigail has already told you that she and I intend to play matchmaker. Don't fret. We'll be discrete. Now, I'd better fetch my husband and our guest. They're busy in the woods behind the house. You have a seat in the parlour, there. I won't be a minute."
Mrs. Croyden left her, and Millie stepped into the indicated room. She looked about and saw many small Indian artifacts scattered on the mantle and tables. She examined one of the tomahawks, but once she recalled the stories about scalping she promptly put it back down. She spied some delicate arrow heads and spent a short while scrutinizing them.
"Ah, so you have an interest in my collection," said Mr. Croyden's friendly voice behind her.
She quickly set the arrow heads back down and spun about. "I'm sorry! I shouldn't have touched them!"
"Don't worry, child. They're here to be looked at and I'm happy to see someone else with an interest in these small treasures I've found over the years. These Indians are just a fascinating people. Did you know that...?"
"Mr. Croyden!" his wife interrupted. He turned to her with astonishment. "I believe Miss Grey has come with a purpose and was sent here by her employers. She can make a social call at another time and then the two of you can discuss these Indian things you've scattered around my home."
Jacob stood behind Mrs. Croyden and had a grin on his face, which made Millie feel at ease.
"Ah, I apologize, young lady. The Orr's wish something of us?" Mr. Croyden absently adjusted the positions of a few of the artifacts that Millie had handled.
Millie took a big breath. "Major Orr asked me to come and enquire whether Jacob has any experience with horses, because he was given one to ride back to York and he isn't a cavalryman and isn't sure how to take care of the horse and we were hoping-that is, Major Orr was hoping that Jacob, having grown up and worked on a farm, might know how to tend a horse as some soldiers will be coming by to collect it eventually and he wants it well cared for." Millie found herself a little out of breath, but relieved that she had completed what she had been sent to this house to do.
The three stared at her silently for a few seconds and Millie began to wonder exactly what she had just said. Had she said anything improper?
"Well. That was a very complete question, don't you agree Mr. Wright?" asked Mrs. Croyden, sitting herself in a chair. She motioned for Millie to take a seat on the couch, but the girl stood still and was afraid to move.
Jacob was trying to figure out exactly what Millie had just said. Mr. Croyden came to a sudden realization.
"So, perhaps our neighbour would like to speak to Mr. Wright directly about the care of horses. Have you any experience with the creatures, Jacob?" he asked the American.
"Why, yes I do. With farm horses, at least. I suppose military horses are very similar."
"You do realize, young lady, that if you take a seat then Mr. Wright and I will also be able to sit?" asked Mr. Croyden.
"The couch is very comfortable," suggested Mrs. Croyden.
Millie saw Mr. Croyden frown, but she walked over and sat on one side of the couch. Jacob started to sit in a chair when Mrs. Croyden 'ahemmed'. Millie saw the older woman nod toward the couch that she sat on. Jacob gave a small smile and then sat beside the maid, being sure to keep a chaste distance from her. Mr. Croyden shook his head and then sat in the remaining chair.
"So, this is very nice, isn't it?" asked Mrs. Croyden to nobody. "So I presume the care of horses is very complex and Mr. Wright may require frequent visits to the Orr household to ensure the beast is doing well."
Mr. Croyden choked back a laugh and Millie suppressed a smile. She realized that Mrs. Croyden's efforts to bring her and Jacob together were far less subtle than Mrs. Orr's. Millie chanced a glance at Jacob and spied him doing the same.
Mr. Croyden cleared his throat. "Perhaps they had best proceed to the Orr home and Jacob can speak to Captain Orr - sorry, Major Orr directly. What you do with a hammer dear, I manage with a paintbrush."
"I don't understand you," replied Mrs. Croyden.
Fully realizing what he had meant, Millie sprang to her feet eager to leave. Jacob was caught by surprise and rose a full second or two later. The Croydens were taken completely by surprise and Millie estimated a good five seconds elapsed before they also stood.
"Perhaps Mr. Croyden is correct and Jac...Mr. Wright," to Millie's mind he seemed more like a Mr. Brave or Mr. Valiant, rather than simply Mr. Wright, "Mr. Bra - Mr. Wright had best speak to Major Orr in person."
Mrs. Croyden frowned, but Mr. Croyden beamed. "Yes, excellent idea. The sky is blue and the air is fresh. It is so much more agreeable than it was a day or two ago, isn't it?" Millie nodded in answer. "So, you two head off to the Orr home and I suppose we'll see young Mr. Wright some time around dinner."
Millie knew her face had just gone red and she hurried to the door. Behind her she could hear Jacob's innocent counter, "But it's only an hour after lunch, Mr. Croyden."
There were a few more polite goodbyes and then the door closed behind the two young people. Millie let out a sigh of relief.
"If you'll come with me, Mr. Wright?"
He frowned. "Of course, Miss Grey. Although, I had hoped you would still call me Jacob."
"I...I had thought, in politeness and respect, that I had best address you as Mr. Wright."
"I would still think you polite and respectful if you should call me by my Christian name. May I call you Millie, once more?"
They took a few steps before she answered. "I would like that, Jacob." Millie chewed her lip and then, remembering Mrs. Orr's remonstrations, forced herself not to. "I suppose you have had many visitors since you began lodging with the Croydens." It was an observation, but she hoped he would take it as a question.
"Yes. A few. It seems as if every father with a daughter around marrying age has come by their house in the last several weeks."
"Oh." Her heart sunk as she realized she stood no chance in comparison to those girls with established families. "May I ask how you have liked socializing with the residents of York?"
He gave her a confused glance and then shook his head. "Many of them are very amiable, I suppose. Some are quite attractive. Have you had a lot of visitors?"
"What? No, of course not. I mean..."
"Why are you asking about other people when I'd much rather talk about you, Millie?"
She nearly stumbled into a puddle. She caught herself and then skipped a few steps. She looked back at him. "You would really rather talk about me?"
"Yes. I have been very distracted since I came to stay with the Croydens. I really don't care about any of the other girls in this town. I could have stolen a fishing boat and rowed myself back to my country any time I wanted to, but I stayed in the hope that I might be able to spend more time with you."
"I know I'm a Yankee, one of the men who invaded your country, but I intend you and your people no harm, Millie. If you can find it in yourself to feel some fondness for me then I'll stay as long as it takes to win your heart. But if you feel nothing for me because of my nationality, then tell me now so I can make arrangements to leave as soon as I may. I shall leave you in peace and never trouble you again."
Millie simply could not believe her ears. "Truly?" she asked again.
Jacob's shoulders drooped. "I see. Very well, I'll..."
"No, wait!" she grabbed his arm and then released it in embarrassment. "I do feel a fondness for you, Jacob. Your nationality means nothing to me. I was concerned that...some other girl had caught your eye while you were staying with the Croydens."
"Never!" He let out a couple of laughs and then stifled them when he saw a cross look on her face. "I don't laugh at you, dear Millie. Mrs Croyden has been very particular to point out each girl's shortcomings immediately after they depart. Then she spends a good five or ten minutes pointing out how you are superior in every way. Mr. Croyden has chided her many times for her lack of subtlety."
"Oh. Now I feel so foolish! I am sorry for being jealous, Jacob."
He smiled broadly and then suddenly looked around at their surroundings. "You do realize that we've walked past the Orr house?"
They turned about and walked back to the Orr home. Millie brought him into the house, where she turned him over to Major Orr. Then, she went into the kitchen to finish her chores. After several minutes she caught her reflection on a piece of polished metal and was surprised to see a large smile upon her face.
Abigail finished adjusting her gown and went down the stairs. She felt rather uncomfortable to be wearing such a fine outfit, with its ribbons and lace, instead of the more practical clothing she was accustomed to, but Lawrence had been insistent about buying the expensive garment last Christmas. She had only agreed because it seemed important to him, and she had to admit that it was appropriate wear for the Powell's ball.
"Oh, Mrs. Orr! You look like a princess!" exclaimed Millie.
"Oh, you are exaggerating, young lady." She looked about for her husband and found him waiting by the front door with his dress uniform on.
Abigail opened her mouth to comment on how dashing he looked, when he spoke first. "I guess it is true."
She reached up to adjust his collar. "What's true, Lawrence?"
"When you love a woman she looks more beautiful with each passing day."
"Thank you." She rose to her tiptoes and kissed him. "So where did that quote come from?"
"I've no idea. Should I look it up?" He made as if he were going to walk into the parlour, but Abigail held him in place.
"We have a party to go to, husband. And I want you on your best behaviour."
"Understood. No bawdy songs. No carousing with the serving girls. No duels." He offered his arm to her. "I suppose a little scandalous behaviour with my wife is probably out of the question?"
She waved goodbye to Millie and then took her husband's arm. "If we're ever alone, I shall be very put out if there is no scandalous behaviour," she said as discretely as she could.
Millie shook her head as she closed the door. She wondered if she and Jacob would behave like the Orrs, if they were to marry. She hoped so; her employers seemed very happy.
She went about the house and put out the candles in all the rooms except the parlour. Sitting down beside the lit candles, she picked up her book and set to work. Aside from the odd creak and groan of the house, the only sound within was Millie' voice as she practised her reading slowly and carefully.
The entire story is completed and a portion will be posted every couple of days.