Miss Eugenia Hammond rode toward home early in the afternoon. She was alone, as she intended to be. She had left her sister, Anne, and her lifelong friend and companion, Angelica Merriwether, in Stoneythorpe, a small village of but forty houses; a smithy, two Inns; one of them a coaching stop, and a church that had once boasted one of the largest congregations per head of population in the entire county.
The attendance at church was not so much a testimony to the religious predisposition of the inhabitants of the village or to the loquacity of its vicar, as to the village of Stoneythorpe having been the uneaseful birth place of one of the last witches burned in England, and that was what needed to be atoned for in prayer and dedication of one’s life to the confining and strangling embrace of the church.
However, that same church had been almost empty that morning. The Reverend Tyson, a newcomer to the parish, was an eager, fire-and-brimstone preacher, waxing ever more loud and eloquent each Sunday, as his first months in his new parish passed, hoping to inspire at least some of his congregation into changing their ways to the gospel according to Tyson.
Unfortunately, his enthusiasm for his calling, and wishing to ensure that there would be no backsliding to those more earthy times, sometimes over-ran his wisdom, of which he seemed to have little. Now, the Inn; the source of more than one of those temptations, was usually better attended than the church, once he had clearly demonstrated his ineptitude at preaching. The last straw, had been when he had continued to abuse his parishioners to a two hour lecture on various evils that seemed to encompass most of the innocuous—to them—habits of his long suffering audience each Sunday. Drunkenness, blasphemy, adultery, fornication, and other ways in which the devil (the Reverend’s greatest benefactor, and into whose embrace he drove so many of his parishioners) worked his way, were his favorite targets.
Witchcraft, and various Druidical ceremonies were still practiced at propitious times of the calendar, The spring equinox, in celebration of the fertility of mother earth, in out-of-the-way places, when it was warm enough to doff one’s clothing. Nudity, at such times, was a necessary prelude to the more serious business about to take place between like-minded, naked, adults, especially men, anxious to give their seed, and share it with as many females as possible. Certainly, such Rites of Spring, had more of immediate pleasure to offer everyone, than Tyson in his pulpit, spreading guilt everywhere.
Witchcraft was not spoken of, other than in dark corners, nor was it practiced openly, though fornication—the universal celebration of being a temptation-prone human—was widely practiced when the opportunity presented itself.
Tyson’s tenure would be short-lived once his bishop learned of the setback the church had suffered in his overzealous hands, with the steady loss of practicing Christians, while the inevitable human failings of his flock had blossomed to compensate for that loss, and in other, far more delightful practices out of the ken of the church.
Angelica had been loath to see Eugenia go home alone, without escort.
“But who will ride home with you to ensure your safety if we don’t? You may just have turned twenty-one, but that does not warrant you regarding yourself as an old-maid on the shelf just yet, and of no interest to the opposite sex.”
That was unlikely ever to happen. Eugenia was by far the most beautiful young woman in the entire area, and would have had any number of men tripping over her, except she had turned them all off. None of them interested her. There was only one man she was interested in.
“We cannot be sure that the Austen boy; Jasper, is not still in the area, and up to his usual tricks with unaccompanied women, as he waylays them, though some of them seek him out, foolish girls.”
The ‘Austen boy’ as they commonly referred to Jasper, was no longer in the area, Eugenia knew that. He was abroad, and would be for the rest of his life if he had any sense, though his elder brother; Charles, was in the area, for she had seen him several times since she had returned from London, though without giving any sign that she had noticed him at all. She had seen him in the village not ten minutes earlier, and was impatient to be gone herself after that. She also knew that he was certainly aware of her presence, as she was of his, and constantly sought some sight of him, yearning for an excuse to bump into him, as though by accident, and to strike up a conversation; all innocent enough. She could be patient longer. He had even followed her discreetly after that, possibly to ensure her safety, but would not invite trouble by openly approaching her in public just yet, as she would have liked him to, and raising all those usual hateful tales from her mother about that family—if she heard of her seeing him in the village—and who saw no value in him whatsoever, but she did see a threat still hanging there. Fortunately, her mother knew not even one tenth part of what they did together. He, and Eugenia, needed to be patient just a little longer, and then all of their careful planning and waiting would be rewarded. They could then do exactly as they chose to do.
They had been far too close as children, and had been allowed too much freedom—or so her mother had begun to realize with growing alarm—and there had been too much deception from her daughter regarding that. Unfortunately, she had learned of it all rather late; years too late, but had still been unable to put a stop to their meeting, as they still did—secretly—from time to time, though by the time she heard of it, it was all weeks-old news.
‘They had been seen walking together in the village; riding together by the river; they had been sitting next to each other in church to share a hymn book (there had been a suggestion that they may have held hands, out of sight, under a fold of her dress as they had sat together, with possibly even more going on under there, once he discovered that little opening she had sewn into her dress for him to find), or had bumped into each other at the smithy’.
And those were just a few of the times they had been seen. How many times had they not been observed when they had been together? And what had they been doing at those times? It was enough to drive a mother to distraction, especially when she could not get a straight answer out of her own daughter—regardless of the threats—and who had tossed her hair proudly, and had simply said, rumors, Mama; rumors. They had (no doubt) got up to even more than she felt comfortable suspecting, and for far longer than she dared wish to believe. That was why she had sent Eugenia off for a lengthy stay in London. Distance was a safer antidote to temptation, than any other remedy. It would certainly keep them apart, and would do what her mother’s threats could not, with so many other silly daughters to keep an eye on.
The girl had seemed out of control. She had no longer taken care of her own reputation, or listened to the cautioning of her own mother. She did not want them to renew the questionable friendship that they had carried on behind her back as children, and even under her nose, on her own estate. Eugenia had her own thoughts on that, however, and with Charles’ gentle guidance, in their few private moments together, before she was sent off—he was always sensible and cautious, where she was inclined to be emotional and reckless—they had bided their time, and that time had come. It was now; this very day, and this very afternoon.
“Of course you must stay, Angelica. What sort of a friend would I be if I expected—never mind even thought—that you might not stay, as you want to. I would not be so selfish.” (Though she had selfish reasons of a different kind). “Besides, who would then see you safely home?” They both knew that the groom could ride back with her.
Eugenia’s younger sister, Anne, who had also accompanied them, had decided to stay with a close relative of their mother, in the village, until the morning. Eugenia had suggested it to her before they had left home, but without telling her why she had thought it desirable, other than to say that Mama would likely be in one of her worst tempers that same evening, and Anne had better stay away. Anne was curious, how it was that Eugenia would know that, but knew better than to pressure her sister. She was about to kick over the traces again, probably with more finality this time, and Mama had only herself to blame for it. Following that ominous warning, Anne had also suggested that she might change her own plans, and on the following day she might visit Satterthwaite, some ten miles further, with other of her friends. There were preparations being made for the village festival which was to go on for all of two weeks, so she could not be expected to return before the early evening of the next day—if then—when she would undoubtedly find out what Eugenia had done and, hopefully, the furor with their mother might all have quieted down by then.
The way Eugenia had looked at her and smiled, suggested that her optimism on that score might be misplaced. If it were serious, her mother could easily hold one of her moods for as long as a month. It had something to do with Charles Austen, she was sure of that. He and her sister had been in love for ever, since they were about twelve or even younger, but with Eugenia being under age until now, and not in control of her own future, it had been an impossible circumstance considering her mother’s utter hatred for that family. That she and Charles were keeping an eye on each other in the village at this time (which she had observed), watching and waiting, but for what, presaged some gentle conspiracy between them. Something was obviously afoot. About time.
“You will take care won’t you, Eugenia? You must not do anything that I would not do. Or is that what you intend to do, now that you control your own fortune? You are the only remaining sister I have at home. Who will distract Mama from my own deficiencies in character, and moral failings if you don’t?”
“You have none, Anne. It should be much more peaceful for you with me out of the way. Don’t worry for me. Though don’t expect me at home again for a long time. If ever. At least, not to stay. I doubt I shall be made welcome after this misstep. You may not even be allowed to speak of me or utter my name over dinner or in your prayers. I shall be expunged from memory; pruned from the family tree.” She could make fun of it now, but it had been an impossible torture, to wait for her twenty-first birthday to come.
Anne could not keep the excitement out of her voice as she took her sister by the arm, leaned closer into her and lowered her voice, so as not to be overheard. “Oh, you mischief you. You are eloping. So that is what you and Charles are up to.”
Her sister responded just as intensely in a lowered voice also, but with a flush upon her face to have been found out, though it was not too hard to guess. “I am not eloping. There is no need of that; of running away. That, suggests an absence of back-bone. I shall send Mama and you a letter, later on this afternoon, or this evening, perhaps, telling you a little, and where I will be. It will be too late to stop me by then. It is too late now. It was even too late years ago, though Mama does not know that. You will learn what it says when you return home tomorrow, though you may be wiser to stay away. I can at least save her from worrying about me, though I cannot save either her, or you, from any of her hysterics. You may visit me any time, as you will be able to guess where I will be”—she rethought that—“after a week or so, once Charles and I have settled down, though I doubt Mama will ever choose to do so. Not after the damage she did to us both when she sent me away. How I bore that, and did not fight her and rebel as I felt like doing, I do not know.” Anne knew. Her calmness and forbearance of it all had been because of Charles's gentle recommendations, overruling her eagerness. He was the calm, sensible one, to Eugenia’s impetuosity and recklessness.
In one of the few private moments she and Charles had been able to snatch together in the last few years, as they kissed, and caressed each other, lying back in the deeper grass of the upper meadow, well out of sight, and telling each other their secrets and innermost dreams, he had reasoned with her fiery anger; her impatience, and had pointed out that it would work out much better for them both if she would but patiently accept her mother’s ineffectual control for just a little longer, until she was of age, and then they would be free to do what they wanted to do, openly, even defiantly. He had been right. He usually was.
“If Mama becomes impossible after this, Anne, and begins to preach at you not to be so careless of your reputation, as I was with mine, and to be cautious not to follow my bad example—though in words neither so gentle nor well reasoned—then you can come and live with us. That will be sure to drive her wild with worry. You can even tell her so, and then she may decide that she had better be careful not to drive you away, as she did me.”
No one else knew—except perhaps her younger sister, though she hoped not—what other things happened between them, as they lay together in the meadow out of sight. She still thrilled with excitement as she recalled the daisy chains that she and Charles had made for each other as they had lain naked together. He had made one for her neck and two others to settle around her perfect breasts, as well as a small bouquet which he placed between those other delicate lips as he moved her labia aside, lower on her body (though that was after their other games), and which she carried home with her, still trapped there, as a memory of what they had done. She, in turn, had made several daisy chains to loop over that attentively aroused part of his, standing to attention for her, before they had destroyed them—all but that one of hers—as they had come together violently once their passion had gone beyond being reined in, as it always did, but always without that one, needed, final step of him pushing into her, as she so wanted him to do; begged him to do. He had held back from that, exercising far more will-power than any other youth might have, despite her invitation and even encouragement of him, as she pleaded with him to do so; even eagerly holding him, and guiding him to begin. She had sat with her legs wide apart, and opened herself invitingly, pleading with him to at least try, as she ensured that he was eagerly aroused and ready for her, and had even got a start into her. But he had held off from that final step of pushing all the way in. He had ruffled the maidenly foliage of her little garden many times, however, and anointed it repeatedly amidst those developing hairs, without having taken that ultimate liberty of pushing into her so far as she wanted, and of deflowering her.
She could not understand how Charles had been able to control himself, and not enter her as she wanted him to after she had stimulated him so well; moving the skin down on his upright shaft with gentle repetitive movements as she watched for the signs of what was about to happen, on his flushed face, and always to the same explosive conclusion that so fascinated her before they excitedly caressed and kissed as he ejaculated upon her. She had been more than ready to sell herself, and her fragile virginity, for but a single kiss from him. How he might be able to pee from that same item was always a point of curiosity with her, and never failed to amuse her, as she directed the stream for him when he was able to pass water with her constant attention, inevitably stopping him, once he had risen to attention in her hand, though he was always like that long before she touched him. He was equally curious about her as she squatted, and he never tired of watching her, and then touching her, once she had overcome her first inevitable shyness over his intense curiosity about her body, and always wishing to interfere, as she did with him, and in a most exciting way.
“Eugenia. What revolutionary act are you planning?” Anne already knew, or felt she did, though she was also sure that they had already done that, many times together by now, considering what she had seen of them, and what they had done, the few times she had spied upon them as they had undressed each other. Or not so slowly, as they had kissed and touched.
“If Mama suspected what you were planning, she would never have let us take this trip into the village. I have seen how she has tried to stop you going anywhere, for fear you would be setting up a meeting somewhere with Charles, as you did several times without her knowing what you had done, until it was too late. Where will you live?” She already knew the answer to that as her sister had told her. With Charles, of course. “Where are you going? You will be careful won’t you…not to become…you know, with that ‘tree of life’ thing of his. At least until after you are married.” How she had escaped that, even this far, seemed a miracle, considering what must have happened between them before now, and the evidence of it she had seen on her sister’s clothing from time to time. How their mother had missed those little signs, she could not understand.
Her sister ignored her stumbling caution while smiling at her, though alarmed and puzzled at what she might know of the ‘tree of life’. That was something that only she and Charles had ever spoken of, recited together from that old poem, or played with.
“Pregnant? You can say that word out loud, I hope, without becoming impregnated yourself. I am not going anywhere so very distant, though that other was always a possibility, especially after today. The less you know at this moment, the better, though I can tell you some of it, as you are not going home this evening to betray me to Mama with her wheedling of secrets out of you. She is too good at that.”
“As if I would do that.”
“Never deliberately, I know that. Stifle your curiosity. Yes, I am meeting with Charles, and in a short while.” She glanced at her sister, aware of her curiosity. “No, I shall not tell you where, so that you can spy upon us as you may have done once, though thank you for not saying anything of that.” Anne smiled at her. She had spied upon them many more times than just once. “I have not seen him properly, since I returned, and I am anxious to see him now.” Anne decided not to ask what she might mean by that word properly, (she thought she already knew; more likely, improperly), or comment upon her ill-concealed excitement. There were undertones of impropriety in the way she had said that word, but their behavior when they had been alone together—or thought they had been alone—had always seemed shockingly inappropriate, while being interesting to her always curious younger sister, who had often watched them together, and had breathlessly observed what they always got up to. She had learned so much herself, from those occasions.
“Where are you meeting? Out of the way, as usual.” She held herself back from blurting out too much. “Oh, how romantic.”
“I will tell you all, when I next see you, in a day or so. Though perhaps not all, but certainly some of it. What I can tell you, is that we, you and I, will be neighbors. I am not going anywhere distant.”
Anne smiled knowingly at her. “You’d better be married too if that’s what you have in mind, though you always did intend that you and Charles would be together.”
They would be married. There was never any doubt of that, with them being so much in love.
“I would have guessed it would be Charles if you had not already confirmed it. But who else could it possibly have been? You’ve had eyes for no one else since you were twelve, after…” she shut up, lest she betray too much of what she knew of how they had behaved together as children, and as adolescents, and even after that. She had been ten herself at the time when she had first followed her sister, and she knew she should not have spied upon them, but she had, by accident, and several times since then, deliberately. She had watched as their relationship had progressed in some strange but interesting ways. She had seen what they had done together as they had undressed each other, then touched, and kissed, and caressed, and played intimately and excitedly with each other’s bodies as they spoke and laughed at what they were doing.
She had been immensely shocked at first, but then, seeing the exciting effect it had upon them both, and being infected herself, had wondered if she dared approach them and suggest that she would like to play with them too. Fortunately, she had recognized that her presence was not required and would not be welcomed. She knew much more about what they did than she might ever admit to her sister. Perhaps she might be able to spy on them again, even this time as well if she were careful. There were few places that they met to conduct their intensely romantic lengthy moments together, well out of the way, and she felt she knew most of them.
“I knew that you two would find a way. You deserve each other. But then you always used to find a way, didn’t you, even with snow on the ground?” They had been easier to follow then. That old Roman Bath on Charles’s property, had been their frequent destination. Her sister looked at her, wondering what she might know of that. “I always tried to cover for you when you were not with me, until Mama found out how we were both deceiving her, though she still did not know even the smallest part of it.”
Eugenia turned to Angelica who had not heard the entire conversation with Anne, but snippets enough to fire her with curiosity. She would ask Anne more about what they had spoken of, when Eugenia had left.
“I shall be fine, Angelica.” Eugenia had protested good naturedly at her friend’s suggestion to send to Fallowfield for a groom to come and meet her and see her home safely, now that she was now without either Anne’s or Angelica’s company. “I am in no danger you know? Everyone is getting ready for the Satterthwaite celebrations, and that is where all the trouble can be found for the next few weeks, until the festivities finally end, though they always go on far longer than intended, before the euphoria dies down, so our little village will be empty for a month or more. It is the Satterthwaite tercentenary year this year, don’t forget, and they intend to make it the most memorable in living memory, and hopefully, this time, for all of the right reasons.” They both laughed over that. There were always a few pranks, and the almost inevitable fight, soon broken up by the more concerned stalwarts. Last year several of the tents had burned to the ground when a planned fireworks display had been prematurely and carelessly ignited by someone carelessly tapping out a pipe on the box holding them. Some of the village houses had been in danger too, of their thatch catching fire from the sparks and the fireworks. Several of those tents had been set up early to cater to the carnal appetites of men, and there was a rumor that some of the wives in the village had a hand in seeing the fire spread to them too.
“There will also be at least one runner there if they can spare more than one, to discourage anything more serious, but it is all usually minor, and soon settled after a bloody nose or two, and then all is forgiven over a tankard of beer and a good meal. The more serious pickpockets, and fille-de-joie, will not be discouraged anyway, and those other ladies are always well tolerated by most people if not the wives, though I am sure they can see some benefit afterwards when their guilty husbands try to placate them, seeking forgiveness for their emotional straying, with bribery.”
“How glad I am that there is no one to overhear you, Eugenia, relating such a tender subject, for that is being outspoken even for someone like you.” Anne was lost with her own thoughts about then. She had seen Charles at a distance, and had recognized that he was watching them. She decided that he and Eugenia would be sufficiently distracted with each other, as they usually were, that she would not be noticed either following them, or spying upon them. They would head off to one of their places in the woods, or to one of the remote barns. They would be relatively easy to follow to whichever rendezvous they intended to meet in, and would never know about it if his mind were on her sister, as it always seemed to be during those highly emotional moments, as they kissed, and then began to undress each other. She could easily keep up with him, provided he was not on horseback. It was likely that they would head off into the woods, where they could be out of sight of prying eyes, and could be private together. Eugenia had said something about picking brambles, and that patch; their favorite, was well into the thicker woods, and had been one of their favorite meeting places, almost exactly half way between the two estates. The only difficulty might be getting over that beck without getting soaked if the water level was high.
Eugenia had not noticed her sister’s distraction. “Pooh. It is a fact of life, and the sooner we women get used to the idea that men will stray—look at the Regent with his wandering ways—the better. If it were up to him, the sport of kings would not be horse racing, but fornication. Though it has always been that from what I recall of history; gullible women, and the droit de seigneur—where might, is right. However, no one says anything critical of the more than obliging women of our own village, who are intent on tempting anyone else’s husband away at such times, and there are always a few of those, ready to oblige, and to be obliged. It soon settles down again, and husbands and wives are both soon forgiven. Most of the time. They have to, or there would be little going on to keep anyone in the village.” Anne stored away the shocking snippets that had just passed between them; Pregnant; fille-de-joie; Carnal appetites; fornication; droit de seigneur; and wondered what else might follow.
“But you should not worry for me, Anne. Once I leave Stoneythorpe, it is all Fallowfield estate. Besides, I am well able to defend myself.” She had grown up in a close relationship with her twin brother, and her statement about being able to defend herself was undoubtedly true. They had often fought in a friendly manner, on those few occasions when he was home, even going so far as to have her dress in Robert’s clothing, and to wrestle with him—out of sight of their disapproving parents —in order not to invite criticism of such an unladylike activity. She had been more of a tomboy growing up than any other girl of her acquaintance and had generally preferred the company of her late father and brother, over that of her mother, or her older sisters—married and long gone from the area now—or the younger one, Anne. Charles had soon displaced all of them, however, and then she had discovered much more about those unladylike activities, that their mother had cautioned them against.
Robert, who was some minutes her senior, had also taught her the finer points of fencing, and of firing a pistol, and even how to physically defend herself, also without knowledge of their parents. They would never approve of any such violently physical activity being taught to a young lady; rolling about on the ground together, and wrestling, no matter the justification for it (it could never be justified), even if a woman’s reputation was always in the balance where local rogues were concerned. No one in their right mind would dare to accuse her of being tomboyish now, but she had not so much outgrown all of that, as submerged it, and held it in reserve. It could still surface from time to time. However, no one might suggest that she was unable to behave in an entirely lady-like manner either, when it was called for.
Now, she was very conscious of her station and of the damaging gossip that can ensue when a young lady does not keep in the forefront of her mind, what is required or expected of a lady, even as the other, more firm resolve, to defend herself could surface if it were called upon. It was a good thing that such arbiters of morals and social good, were entirely unaware of her other, less martial and more romantic activities, with master Charles Austen, outside of her mother’s knowledge, as they had grown up together, or they would have been entirely appalled at what they had done together, and had learned of each other.
She had been told often enough by her overly protective mother, that she should never walk or ride alone. It would invite gossip and possibly other difficulties for a young lady, especially from those Austen boys, and in no case should she leave the main track and invite the wrong kind of attention from Gypsies. It had never been a problem when she had ridden with Robert, for they could both ride like the wind, and in their younger days had lively ponies to cavort around the estate upon in a reckless manner. They neither of them cared a fig about tumbles or scrapes, and she had been young enough then, not to have raised eyebrows when she rode astride, instead of as she did now. Fortunately, others, except for a privileged few—those she might trust—were mostly not aware that she might rebel at her station and what was expected of her, and might dress in her brother’s clothing and go off astride a horse to meet with someone, though she never left her own estate at those times, and was careful to leave the stable on the side away from the house, so as not to be observed. The stable hands always covered for her. She could pass well enough for Robert at those times; at least at a distance, but her unmistakable female attributes as she had grown older, would have given her away on closer scrutiny. The neighborhood and her mother would have been scandalized, had she, or they, found out what she and Charles did at those and other times, but they, and she, hadn’t. Robert knew some of it when he had been home on one of his infrequent visits. He had been amused at it and cautioned her about the repercussions if they were caught, but he did not preach about it. He liked Charles. When she and Charles had first met, he had been expecting her brother. He had not known Robert had been sent away until she told him of it. They had stayed together and talked for ages after that, and had made plans to encounter each other again on the next day, and then almost every day from that moment on.
She had not dressed like that, or done that for many years now. As usual, she listened to her mother, nodded her head, agreed with her totally, promising her that she would be careful—the only way to deal with her mother—and then had gone off to do what she had intended to do anyway, and ignored and firmly put aside everything her mother had told her.
Robert had been taken off to London, suddenly, when they had both been about ten, and was rarely home after that, or for an extended stay, other than at Easter and Christmas, and some weeks in summer, so her outings were somewhat restricted. She had discovered a new companion, however, and one just as interesting as her brother, at first, and then even more interesting; Charles Austen, from the neighboring estate, just a half mile off. He was two years her senior and had been surprised to find, when he first encountered her alone—expecting to meet up with Robert—that the third Hammond girl was a tomboy, and up to any challenge, no matter how shocking. Eugenia’s mother had assumed that she was visiting with friends in Stoneythorpe for the day, though after meeting Charles, Eugenia’s visitations to her friends in the village had soon become little more than a brief ‘hello’, goodbye’, so that she could return to meet with Charles. She had no need to lie about going to the village when she was asked afterward, and her friend could also truthfully relate that she had been there. Fortunately, the times and the durations of such visits were never discussed. The exciting company of Charles Austen was far to be preferred over any of her unexciting female friends, though she did not—in those early days—understand why. Invariably, however, after that first perfunctory appearance at the home of her friend, she returned to the estate, and had then wandered both estates with Charles. He knew how to move through the woods without being seen, and how to hide from others, when he did not want to be found. It was a good thing her mother did not know what they had progressively learned about each other, or had got up to on their various adventures together, or her daughter would have been sent to London that same day, and would never have been allowed to return home.
Despite knowing nothing of what her daughter was doing, and fortunately, being blissfully unaware of it for years, her mother was still worried for her, as mothers do. She would have wrapped her up in a cocoon of cotton wool, and protected her from all of the perceived and imagined ills and misfortunes of the world if she could have done. Eugenia, however, did not like to be coddled in that way, and rebelled against it, unleashing the tyrant that slumbered in her mother’s already discomforted life, with four deviously silly daughters to protect. The two elder ones were then approaching their most dangerous years; when they became interested in, and interesting to that most devious of beasts: men. She was capable of being a tyrant to her daughters, and was too ready to use the back of a hairbrush upon them if they spoke back to her to protest her severity. Her tyrannical side (as her daughters viewed it) was not always on display, but it was there nonetheless, and her daughters knew enough—from experience—not to provoke her. She was typical of any mother with daughters to protect. She manipulated and juggled situations, out of sight, so that it was not always certain that she had a hand in what then went forward to curtail their own plans. Her children had gradually become aware of what they regarded as her deceptive and deceitful machinations, however, no matter how concerned for their wellbeing and welfare she was. They confided in her less and less, as they did more and more, that she would be sure to disapprove of; Eugenia, more than the others, despite her age, though their mother did not know the half of it.
“At least wait, and take Robert with you, rather than go alone if you won’t take a groom, my dear.” That, was her mother’s most-voiced utterance. “I expect him home sometime today.” Robert was always expected home sometime today, even when it was well known that he would not be. “You know that horse of yours is more than a lady should have, and is too nervous. Besides, the Austen boys (both boys were tarred with the same brush, which Charles did not deserve) are not the only ones in this area that have that kind of poor reputation with incautious women. There are too many inclined that way if they can get away with it, and see it blamed on others. And you know that no lady should ever ride without a man to help her up, for that saddle is the difficult thing to manage if the horse is spooked by a rabbit or a deer jumping out. And if you are thrown and break an arm or a leg…?” Her mother always thought of the most pessimistic things, and wished her daughter was not so stubborn or reckless, but with her reaching the age she had, she had learned of her mother’s ways, and knew how to parry them, or to ignore them. If the arguments became too heated, Eugenia just walked away as though recollecting something important that she had meant to do. It did not make her mother’s temper any the less stormy, but it at least relieved Eugenia of further aggravation.
“If I did not return home in time for dinner, then others would soon come looking for me, once Velvet returned to the stable. Yes, I know what you are saying, Mama, but if we did not do the things we wanted to do, because we were afraid of our neighbors; of a few scratches; or of being embarrassed by proving to be unable to manage a stupid horse, then we would achieve nothing that we wanted to do, would we, and might just as well stay at home?” That would have suited her mother, instead of seeing her daughter forever taking off with one friend or another—she lost track of them, which was the plan—for the entire day, or with none at all if she could get away with it, as was her habit now, since she had got back from her extended visit to London. At least Anne was more cautious, or so their mother liked to believe.
Her mother had given up with some reluctance. She had heard the arguments before, as to why her daughter would ignore her cautions, and did not persist, and risk arousing that other side of her, much like her own, though in the case of Eugenia it was a defensive response, used only against her mother. Jasper (the younger of the Austen brothers) was, however, the kind of neighbor that one should always be cautious of. His rapacious ways had become well known in the area and were what had seen him sent abroad, (the threats to his life were real) though the elder brother, Charles, was never in trouble to her knowledge, but everyone knew that blood, will out if one waited long enough. Mrs. Austen herself; the source of that bad blood, and well known throughout the village for her immoral goings on in her younger years (Mrs. Hammond still had not forgiven her own husband for his straying there on one occasion, many years earlier), had been a difficult old lady while she had been alive, and had been able to stir up just as much trouble in her own way, and had not been liked. Dead, she was just a bad memory, but a persistent one that would not go away. Better not to encourage any of that family, even now.
However, on this occasion, Eugenia was not about to be constrained by her mother’s natural fears or her awkwardness. She would do what she wanted, and intended to do, as she always had. She was capable of making her own decisions, and had been for some years, despite her exile in London, and saw no reason to make a prisoner of herself to satisfy her mother’s fears, or wait needlessly for Robert, nor would she take anyone else with her.
She was of age, now, but had long ago decided that she would do whatever it was she wanted to do—within reason for the most part, except for that one ambition with Charles, that she still nurtured—and to close off the not so gentle admonishments and recommendations of her mother, and others, who wanted to protect her from herself, and have her stay at home and occupy herself as a young lady might, and embroider, write letters, draw, play the pianoforte, or read. Her mother had hoped that she might find a suitable match in London society, though one had to take up residence there to do that, and here Eugenia was at home again, having deserted the rich pickings, and that opportunity, without making even one attachment that her mother might learn of.
If she wanted to gallop off, she would do so without worrying about some aged retainer being coerced into going with her and breaking his neck at the first hedge, for she was not worried herself, about taking a tumble, or encountering ruffians along her route. She had a good heavy crop with a murderous little blade—well, not so little; it was an eight-inch steel blade—in the handle of it, and she was capable of using it, and not shy to do so if it were called for. She had a good seat and good balance, and her horse was well enough trained that he was not about to be spooked by either a deer or a rabbit—most of the time.