Talisman Ch. 4: Lucy McFeybyAlex De Kok©
To Jon and Quint my grateful thanks for matters editorial. To them also must go some of the credit if you enjoy my tale. The mistakes are purely my own.
"What am I to do, Mr. Hamilton? Do I take to the streets of Newcastle and work as a twopenny whore? I have no money, nothing at all. All I have is debts!" Emma Dodd sat down abruptly in the seat facing the lawyer and regarded him, her face flushed, eyes brimming with unshed tears.
Cornelius Hamilton steepled his hands and regarded her gravely over the top of his spectacles, his face anxious. Emma's heart sank and she regretted her outburst, but was she always to be burdened by the debts incurred while she nursed her father until his untimely death?
Hamilton cleared his throat. "I am afraid that the circumstances are as we feared, Emma. Even after the sale of your father's house at the asking price, there will still be the matter of some seventy-three pounds, sixteen shillings and eleven pence owed. As your father's friend I have waived my own fee, but what remains is owed elsewhere, I'm afraid, and must be paid."
Emma gestured helplessly, fighting back tears. "I ask again; what am I to do, Mr. Hamilton? The best I could hope for would be governess or companion and no one is seeking any such person. Must I go to London, or perhaps Edinburgh? Even if I did, there is no guarantee I would find a position." She laughed, short and bitter. "In any event I have no money to fund my journey."
Hamilton regarded her gravely. "As your late father's friend, even as your own friend, I would happily advance you the money for such journey, but I do think that I have an alternative which may suit you."
Hope flared in Emma. "What is it, Mr. Hamilton? Please, tell me."
"I have two possible purchasers for the house. One is a businessman from Newcastle, seeking a refuge, I think, for occasional escapes from the city." The lawyer coughed, embarrassed. "I think he intends to install his mistress."
"And the other?" asked Emma, thinking wryly that to be someone's mistress might be a better position than that in which she found herself.
"A moment, Emma. The businessman would pay the asking price for the house, yes, but you would still have the outstanding debt remaining."
"You mentioned an alternative, Mr Hamilton," said Emma, her hopes sinking again.
"I did. The other purchaser is a military gentleman, recently retired from the army. Colonel Faulkner. He was wounded at Waterloo in the defeat of Bonaparte and has now resigned his commission. In the event he purchases the house, he requires a housekeeper. If you will accept the post he will settle the debts and pay you a small wage. If at the end of a year you find that you cannot continue he will give you fifty pounds and pay your fare to your chosen destination." Hamilton grimaced. "After all, the house has belonged to your family for some considerable time and it may be that you cannot bear to be a servant in what was your own home."
Hamilton sat back and watched Emma as she pondered. The housekeeper position had been his own idea, the only one he could think of to save his friend's daughter from homeless poverty. He studied her. A tall girl, slender, but unmistakably female. Dressed now in unrelieved black, her unruly tawny hair tied back in a tight chignon, pale faced, she was still a very good-looking woman, Hamilton thought, and he again repressed the thought that had flashed across his mind of trying to make her his mistress. Delightful as the concept seemed, he owed it to the memory of his dead friend not to take any such action.
After all, he had known Emma virtually all of her life and had watched her grow into the beautiful woman that she was now, quiet and reserved with strangers but with a warm and friendly personality, even strained as it was now following the death of her beloved father and the realisation of the debts which had accrued during his long illness. Hamilton wondered why she had never married but acknowledged that she had been caring for her father virtually since her seventeenth birthday, leaving her but little time for any of the niceties of courtship. There was still time, he reasoned, as Emma was yet but four-and-twenty.
Emma looked up. "A year, Mr. Hamilton; if I work as housekeeper for a year and it does not suit, then all of my debts are cleared and I will have fifty pounds of my own?"
Hamilton nodded. "Precisely. Will you take the position?"
Emma smiled ruefully. "I have little alternative, do I? I do not relish the thought of poverty. When may I meet Colonel Faulkner?"
Hamilton smiled. "Would you be my guest for dinner, Emma? I have invited Colonel Faulkner, too. You can stay with my wife and I tonight, after you have discussed the position with Colonel Faulkner."
Richard Faulkner was a surprise to Emma. Because of his rank, she had expected him to be an older man, but he was scarce ten years older than herself. Hamilton had offered Faulkner the use of his study so that he might discuss the position with Emma in private, and it was to his study that Hamilton escorted Emma to meet the Colonel prior to their sitting down to dinner. Faulkner was gazing out of the window when Hamilton ushered Emma into the room, so that she was able to contain her surprise at his age, surprise which she feared might offend the Colonel.
"Colonel Faulkner, may I introduce to you Miss Emma Dodd." Faulkner bowed courteously and she dipped in brief curtsy. "I shall leave the two of you for the moment," said Hamilton. "Dinner is in a quarter-hour."
"Thank you, Mr. Hamilton." Faulkner turned to Emma. "Miss Dodd, pray, be seated."
"Thank you, Colonel." Emma sat and looked up at the Colonel while he gathered his thoughts. Clean-shaven, but with what later generations would come to know as sideburns, his hair was dark, with an unruly curl to it that Emma knew must be uncontrollable, reminding her of her own tawny tresses which could only be guided, never controlled. His face was open, friendly, his eyes dark like her own. He was wearing a brass-buttoned blue coat and tan breeches, brocade waistcoat and crisp linen shirt. All this was ordinary, as was his wiry build, and Emma could find nothing that might distinguish him as a soldier, save perhaps for a fading scar on his cheek.
Faulkner caught the direction of her glance and gave Emma a wry smile. "The legacy of a clash with a French Lancer. I got the best of the encounter. I have grown tired of war, Miss Dodd. It has been too much part of my life these eighteen years."
Emma made a sympathetic murmur and Faulkner smiled. "I believe Mr. Hamilton has explained his idea to you, Miss Dodd?"
"He has, Colonel."
"And how do you feel about it?"
"May I be frank, Colonel?" Faulkner nodded and gestured her to continue. "I have little choice in the matter, Colonel, for without your offer I would be homeless and penniless. I am not an experienced housekeeper, but I did act as my late father's housekeeper these past three years, so that I am aware of the economics of running a household. If you will have a little patience, I am confident that I will manage."
"I need a cook, too, Miss Dodd. Do you know of anyone?"
"I can cook, Colonel. I enjoy it. If you will permit me that post, too, it will save you money. Other than that, unless your wife has other requirements, I think only a maid."
"I am unmarried, Miss Dodd. As for the maid, my servant, Dan Thonpson, his wife Maria will, I think, be suitable." Faulkner smiled at some memory. "Maria is Spanish. Dan wooed and won her while we were fighting Wellington's Peninsular campaign. They have not had a proper home as long as they have been married. The cottage next the house will suit them well."
"I look forward to meeting them." So, Faulkner was unmarried. A catch for someone, thought Emma. I like him, I think, but as his housekeeper we will no longer share the same social circles.
"There is only one other thing, Miss Dodd. Stables." Faulkner smiled. "I am, or rather was, a cavalry officer. How big are the stables? Hamilton could not say."
"Ample for a dozen, Colonel. At present there is only the pony for the gig. The others were sold."
"Do you ride, Miss Dodd?"
"When I can, Colonel. Not lately, of course."
"You may have the pick of the stables, Miss Dodd, and ride whenever your duties permit. I know this has been but a brief conversation, but I make quick judgements. If you will accept, Miss Dodd, I am happy for you to become my housekeeper."
Relief filled Emma. At last she could begin to hope for the future. She smiled at Faulkner, startling him with the contrast to her reserved and sober look of but moments before. "Gladly do I accept, Colonel. I trust that our relationship will be cordial."
Gods, but she was exceeding handsome, thought Faulkner. That smile! Aloud, he said only, "I'm sure it will. Shall we rejoin our host, Miss Dodd?"
* * * * *
That had been almost nine months ago, Emma reflected as she sorted freshly washed cutlery. Fourteen months since her father had died and she could hardly remember the life she had lived then. Her mourning black was now replaced by sober grey, but she allowed herself a touch of colour in her russet jacket on her walks to the village. Colonel Faulkner had proved to be an exemplary employer, understanding as she eased herself into her unaccustomed role, patient with her, always polite.
She was the only one who lived in the house with Faulkner, with her having agreed to take on the role of cook as well as simply housekeeper. It was no hardship for her, because she enjoyed cooking and told herself that she was skilled in it. It also added a few shillings to her income. She smiled wryly to herself. She had heard of the whispers that placed her in Faulkner's bed at night, whispers that no one dared face her with. If only it were true, she thought. Indeed, in order to conceal her admiration for him she had adopted a polite and reserved manner which she thought best suited her position.
Faulkner had allowed her to retain her own bedroom, but then, she thought, she had chosen one in the upper reaches of the house. One she had chosen so that she would have a view from her window, northwestwards to the escarpment and the remains of Hadrian's Wall, now some seventeen hundred years old. It was unlikely that Faulkner would wish any of his rare guests to climb all the stairs to the upper rooms when there were guest rooms more easily reached. Guests which as yet had not included any potential brides, although she knew Faulkner had received invitations from the fathers of several available young ladies; invitations which he had generally declined. Although only Faulkner and Emma lived in the house, Faulkner's servant, Dan Thompson, and his wife Maria were within call in the adjacent cottage and Maria's help as a maid greatly aided Emma. Emma amused herself helping Maria improve her English, for being around soldiers so much had peppered her speech with earthy epithets, which embarrassed her when she realised what she was saying.
The bell rang, summoning her to the parlour where Richard Faulkner was finishing his breakfast. Emma automatically began to clear the breakfast dishes, but Faulkner stopped her and gestured to a chair.
"Please, Emma, a moment of your time."
"Of course, Colonel," Emma responded, seating herself.
Faulkner was holding a letter, one that Emma recognised as having been delivered that very morning. He gestured with it. "This comes from my cousin Alice, Emma. What I have to tell you must not go beyond this room."
Emma nodded and waited. Faulkner seemed unusually agitated, for she had learned that her employer was a man of steady mien and sound intellect. He took a breath and faced her. "Alice's daughter, Lucy, who I believe has not long turned nineteen, seems to have become involved in a scandal of some sort. Alice asks if I would have her as my guest for a month." Faulkner frowned. "What do you think, Emma?"
Emma was surprised, for Faulkner but rarely asked her opinion. When he did, he frequently took her advice, she had noted with some pleasure. "Of what, Colonel?" she asked.
"Would it be right for me to have a young lady as my house guest, a young lady who is unwed?"
"Society might be scandalised, but your guests are your concern, Colonel, no-one else's. I have been living in this house with you these nine months and you have made no issue of that."
Faulkner glanced at her sharply and she realised with some embarrassment that she had replied rather forcefully. Emma flushed and began to apologise but Faulkner waved her to silence.
"But someone else has, I take it? Who? Do I know them?"
Emma hesitated. "No one directly, sir, just whispers." She smiled awkwardly. "I pay them no mind."
"Well, if I hear them, whoever they are, they shall hear a piece of my mind. You are too good a woman to suffer innuendo, Emma. I will not have it."
Emma risked a glance at him. There was concern on his face, and while she took pleasure in his concern for her, she wished it were because he felt more than just that. Even so, she was surprised at the emphasis in his tone. "They do not bother me, Colonel. I know you to be a gentleman."
Faulkner regarded her steadily for a long moment and she felt heat rise in her cheeks. Aloud he said, "You are right about my having Lucy as my guest, Emma, as usual. I shall write to Alice and confirm the visit. Thank you." Faulkner stood and Emma resumed her interrupted task of clearing the breakfast table. As she left the room with her tray Faulkner watched her. He sighed. She is too gentle a creature for a rough soldier like me, he thought. I have little experience of gentlewomen. Camp followers, yes, one or two of those, and lonely wives and widows. But Emma, dear Emma, so correct, so remote, so lovely. Ah, if only.... He sighed. I have been in the thick of battle and survived, yet I fear paying court to a young lady who attracts me for fear my past will repel her.
Emma wondered about the scandal concerning Lucy that Faulkner had mentioned. A man, perhaps? Emma smiled ruefully. Although she had been paid court by some of the local bachelors before her father's death, when her reduced circumstances became known they had quietly faded away. Seeking wives with financial advantages, no doubt, she thought. She had not been particularly attracted to any of them and since meeting Richard Faulkner had no regrets on that score. Had they met before her father took ill.... She sighed, then smiled as she remembered his return from an invited ride with the local hunt. "Poor riders, Emma, most of them," he had said, "save Sir John and his son." He smiled. "Reynard got away, cunning beast. It was hard for me not to laugh."
Three weeks passed and Emma had almost forgotten about Richard Faulkner's cousin, when her employer sought her out in her little parlour. She was taking a brief break from her duties and had prepared herself a buttered scone to eat as she drank her tea. She had just taken a bite when Faulkner knocked briefly on her door and came into the room. Surprised, Emma caught her breath and found herself choking on her scone. Quick to realise what was happening, Faulkner struck her a sharp blow in the back and the obstruction was dislodged. Faulkner was holding her by the shoulders, concern on his face.
"Are you all right, Emma?" He was looking her straight in the eye, concern on his face.
"I am, sir. Thank you. I...," she faltered.
"Emma," said Faulkner softly and drew her gently towards him. Her heart pounding, Emma slowly raised her face, her eyes closing, when Faulkner abruptly released her. She stepped back, startled, and he cleared his throat, a flush on his face.
"My cousin's daughter arrives tomorrow," he said harshly. "I arranged that I would collect her from the coaching inn in Hexham, but I have a meeting in Corbridge tomorrow. Would you go to Hexham in my place, to meet Lucy and fetch her back here?"
"Of course, Colonel. It will be my pleasure." She took refuge in formality.
"Thank you, Emma," said Faulkner. "I would like you to prepare breakfast early, so that we can leave by seven. I'll ask Dan to harness the gig for you and I will ride with you as far as the crossroads."
"Of course, Colonel. Breakfast at half-past six, perhaps?"
"That will be fine, Emma. Thank you." He turned abruptly and went out, and Emma stared after him for a long time, her thoughts confused.
Seven o'clock the following morning found Emma riding in the gig with Faulkner as far as the crossroads where the routes to Hexham and Corbridge diverged. Faulkner mounted and looked across at Emma.
"I do not know what time I shall return, Emma, but I will make every effort to return for dinner tonight." He smiled. "I know you will make Lucy welcome." He nodded, gazed at her for a moment and seemed about to speak, then wheeled his mount and spurred him off towards Corbridge. Emma watched him until a bend in the road took him out of her sight, then sighed, clucked at the gig's horse and turned the gig towards Hexham. The town was quiet when she arrived as it was not a market day and the streets were virtually empty. The inn was calm and a private room was certainly available and did the lady want any refreshments? Settled in the private parlour, Emma looked around, found some books on a shelf and settled herself to read while she waited for the coach.
As she was the only female who left the coach, Emma surmised that the young woman must be Lucy, the blonde hair and bright blue eyes a notable contrast to her own tawny locks and dark brown eyes. With the hint from Faulkner that there had been some scandal, Emma had expected something different to this seemingly friendly, slightly plump but otherwise apparently ordinary young woman.
"Yes? What is it?"
"My name is Emma Dodd. I am Colonel Faulkner's housekeeper. He has business in Corbridge that he could not avoid. He sends his apologies and will join you for dinner this evening. He asks me to escort you to his home."
Lucy pouted in disappointment. "I was looking forward to seeing cousin Richard. He might be the only thing worth consideration in this forsaken place."
Stung, Emma was icily civil. "He did assure me that he would conclude his business as soon as possible, Miss McFey." Emma looked around. "You have no maid with you?"
"Alas, no," said Lucy. "Mary is not a good traveller. She stayed at home. I assume that I can hire someone locally? Someone experienced, I mean."
"I'm sure you can. I'll ask Colonel Faulkner just as soon as he returns. In the meantime I will assist you in any way you need."
Lucy McFey nodded, accepting Emma's offer as if of right. "Is there anything to eat? I feel rather hungry now I am no longer on that accursed coach."
Emma gestured to the inn. "I have arranged lunch for us. I have a room reserved and I trust you will not object to my sharing."
"I suppose not. You do at least have decent manners compared to some of these locals."
"This way, then," said Emma, her face revealing nothing, but determined now to dislike this girl who was so dismissive of her beloved Northumberland.
With food and a glass of wine inside her, Lucy McFey was a more amiable companion and she submitted Emma to a barrage of questions about the Faulkner household. She was obviously disappointed when Emma told her that Faulkner did little entertaining at the house, but cheered up when Emma told her that she had been invited, with Faulkner, to Sir John Armstrong's home a few miles away.
"Well, that is good to hear. In London I attended at least one ball each week."
"I am afraid that we have simpler tastes here, Miss McFey, and I think Colonel Faulkner enjoys the quiet life after his military service."