What are you telling me?
Anna was thunderstruck to hear that.
“Two weeks?” Her eyes drilled into Hetty. “Did you say two weeks?” Hetty was nodding.
“Impossible!” Anna looked confused.
“You must be mistaken, Hetty. I have been gone only a few hours. I remember riding out of here just a short time ago, after lunch. Peony needed some exercise, and so did I.”
Hetty intruded again, knowing that what she said would be even more of a surprise.
“But, Miss, you are not riding, Peony.” She spoke softly, and pointed to the horse being walked around the stable yard to cool him down.
“That horse being led around is not, Peony.”
She added more fuel to the uncertainty.
“Furthermore, that giant of a horse you were on, is a gelding, and black, and you rode off on your mare, which is a chestnut brown; and you were in a gray dress; the one with the high-buttoned neck, with your hat with the peacock feather. Your hair was different too. Yet you appear back home, wearing a heavy green riding dress—the quality of which I have never seen before—and on that horse, that no one here recognizes; and on a saddle that was never made anywhere around here either. And where is your side-saddle that your brothers bought you? I never thought you’d ever be seen dead, riding a saddle like that… astride... like a man!” She shivered at the mere thought of it.
It was all too shocking for words to express.
She continued now that she had Miss Anna’s attention.
“And where did that dog come from; fussing about you and ready to take my arm off when I first rushed in to hug you? What magical transformation happened for you to change a mare to a gelding; change saddles; change your dress, and inherit a dog. That, was not achieved in just hours.”
Whatever had transpired in the time she had been gone--which she did not seem to recall at all-- had upended her from being a shy and fairly cautious young woman, and transformed her into this assured and confident young woman. And yes, she was, confident, and ready to argue and be more forthright than she’d ever been before, despite the present uncertainty.
“And that is not all that is changed about you, either?” She realized she had to control herself from saying too much and hurting Anna’s feelings.
“Though I will admit that you look well, and even seem in a much better frame of mind than when you rode away two weeks and more ago.” Almost a lifetime away now.
She let what she was saying, sink in, seeing her words having the desired effect in slowing Anna down, and making her think.
“We were not able to relax until now. If we can ever relax after that shock. Where were you?” She needed to know. But so too, did Anna.
Anna ignored the question and looked back at ‘her’ horse to reinforce certain things in her mind.
That horse, the one she had ridden in on, was called, Tornado.
Then where was her chestnut mare, Peony?
She felt the first stirrings of confusion, of doubt, then of panic, which she as quickly submerged. Her mind had been somewhere else, but now it was coming back to her as she could see that what Hetty said was all believable. Then where had she been for two weeks?
As her thoughts cleared in one direction; dropping back into this old life, they began to fade in another, and she did not want to lose any of it. It was too important for her to forget something that she knew to be so important to her, that had changed her, in a way she liked, (she must have liked it. She felt happy, despite not remembering what it was that had made her happy), yet the life she had just left, somewhere behind her, was closed off to her just as securely as though a door had closed upon it, shutting it out. The only evidence she had of it was the horse; the dog… and herself; the way she was dressed, and the way she felt.
She would be able to sort it out soon enough, but for the moment she was confused. Where she was, was real, and it was solid under her feet, and these people were all real and familiar to her.
So where had she been for two weeks (she knew Hetty would not play such a trick on her as to try and confuse her)? She had a ready explanation; ready to roll off her tongue, except she couldn’t remember it, it was already disappearing as though it had never been part of her immediate, past life!
She responded to an obvious difficulty. “No, of course he is not Peony. He is called, Tornado.” She looked confused for a moment after blurting that out, looking at the horse, as though seeing him for the first time, and reminding herself of a few things.
She went pale and began to stammer in her confusion as she continued saying what she knew, to reassure herself.
“Y...yes. He is, Tornado.” She had to persuade herself of that by looking at him to make sure he was still there, and she hesitated even more, as something seemed to be returning her.
“My, Tornado.” She’d emphasized the, ‘my’.
Hetty let that slide as Anna considered for herself what that possessive statement meant.
“Then where is Peony, Miss?”
Her eyes darted to Hetty.
Indeed. Where was Peony? No one was playing games with her. Hetty was dead serious. Anna had no gap in her memory that she knew of, and yet…. Two weeks?
“At this moment, Hetty, I am sure of nothing?”
Except what her own eyes told her.
“But I am sure of what I know, Miss. We have been driven frantic with worry for two weeks, searching near and far. Everyone we could spare is out looking for you. We’ve searched half the county.”
Anna could say nothing. What Hetty was saying was believable, even though she did not understand it.
Hetty was still tormented by that other thing and couldn’t let it go.
“And never; never have I seen you ride astride like that, Miss. It shook me rigid! It’s not proper!”
Hetty was incensed and drove that point further home.
“Ladies do not ride astride; not ever, not for any reason. It is… is… well, it is not done by a lady. You did not ride out, like that but were riding side-saddle, and in a very different dress.” She let that sink in.
“You wore that gray, serge, riding-dress, that Mrs. Caswell in the village made for you. That one you have on, is not any ordinary riding dress either. Anyone can see that. The hours that went into that, with those fine stitches and its pockets; its decoration, and braiding, would send a seamstress blind. And it’s not English either. No Englishwoman would dare to be seen in a dress like that, split up the middle like that, even though it is not at all obvious, now that you are off the horse.”
In fact, it looked entirely respectable, now that she was not riding as she had been. A lady should never have her legs that far apart for any reason… almost any reason… but one never spoke openly of that particular situation, even though it happened all the time somewhere or other. Happening even now in one of the barns and out in the fields. Hetty had seen that pair sneaking off even as Miss Anna had come riding in.
Nothing she could do about it.
It was all hard work for those who worked on the farm, thrown close together outside all of the time. When they got over-hot with work, it was common to cool down by undoing or removing... and things got a bit out of hand a few times between like-minded folk always ready for some relaxing fun in one of the barns, or in one of the hay ricks, or just in the deeper grass after they removed a lot more.
Hetty brought her mind back to where it should be, instead of darting hither and yon.
But more was expected of Miss Anna, than of them.
She chattered along, as Anna was still struggling to understand anything, never mind, everything.
Hetty sniffed, still unable to let that dreadful shock to her system go.
“That dress might be French. They don't care about the spectacle.... A Frenchwoman might wear something like that. I hear they have no restraint, or morals, or any of the finer social graces, and don’t care where they put their legs… and let men…interfere...” she blushed…. “Well, they have no morals and are liable to hoist up their skirts, and squat anywhere so I heard, no matter where they are or who is with them!"
Anna actually chuckled. How could she chuckle at a time like this?
“But apart from that, it looks like any other dress, and is respectable even, now that you are not riding. You have rings on your fingers too."
Anna, examined her hands too. She did have rings on two of her fingers.
“When you left here you didn’t have any of those to raise blisters when you worked.”
No, she hadn’t. Anna worked as hard as anyone, and would not have done any less, and she knew enough to leave her rings and fancy clothes behind when she was working in the kitchen or out in the fields, or was seeing to livestock being bred.
And that was another bone, Hetty would have picked with her.
No lady ever got herself involved with, with those big messy brutes and that... that... awkward and embarrassing process between the boar and the sow, to shock any woman rigid, or even with the cows--especially with the cows--and with that bull going at ’em with that monstrous... monstrous...! And even kept returning to do more... half a dozen times! Poor cow!
Hetty groaned inwardly.
No lady should ever set foot on a farm to see that. It still made Hetty uncomfortable just thinking about that, never mind watching that, and the helper pulling that cow's tail aside and using his walking stick to lift... to guide that... thing... into....
She shut out that thought.
Anna inspected her dress, now that it had been pointed out to her that it was different, and she examined her hands, seeing rings that she had not been conscious of until now. She decided that it would be better to listen, than to say anything.
She was back now, so everything would soon get back to normal, even if she had difficulty with what Hetty was saying. However... there was no arguing with what she could see with her own eyes.
She could do nothing about how she had been riding. She had not given it a second’s thought until Hetty had gone on about it, though she did know (from a former life) that any woman who rode as she had just been riding could expect to be criticized severely… as Hetty just had. Why did she not care more, about that? She, didn't. Hetty, was just being Hetty. She would soon get over it.
“You didn’t suffer any from what I can see, and you look healthy enough, so that’s one thing to be thankful for. In fact, I never saw such a healthy flush on your cheeks."
"I don't feel any different. I feel well, although I must admit that your words are confusing. I expect it will all come back to me soon enough."
“It's to be hoped so, Miss. When you went away, you was uncertain about things, and not looking forward to that meeting with Mr. Crabtree, and you come back, very different.
"Well, I’ll not complain over much for that. We are just glad to have you back in one piece.”
She had more to say, realizing she may have spoken harshly about a few things that had made her uncomfortable.
“There are some things I like, about this new you.” She looked Anna up and down. “You were not neglectful of yourself wherever you were. You might also have put on a pound or two, or more, but that would not come amiss. I was always afraid you would let yourself be run down by all of the cares and worries of this place.”
She hugged Anna’s arm, ignoring the dog.
“Oh, it’s so nice to have you home again, Miss.”
“It’s nice to be home, Hetty. I think.”
Hetty steered Anna toward the house. “We should not chatter out here in this breeze or you’ll get a cold, and then where would we be, after almost losing you?
“Let’s get you warmed up by the fire, with a cup of tea and one of my buttered scones, and learn what we can, and then you can get changed and tell us all that you remember. I am sure it will all come back to you soon enough.”
Anna hoped so.
“Your mother and your father will soon be back here again, now that we can call off the search.
“But that saddle!” She was still incensed about that; her feelings having been severely assaulted, and she could not easily let go of it.
“Lady’s do not ride that way. It is not respectable, though that dress seems to have been adapted for you to do just that. Other women with less concern for how they would appear, might, if they were careless of the impression they wanted to create about their reputations, and young girls might... very young girls, if they dressed in their brothers’ clothes, though even that was not to be considered.”
Hetty could sometimes go on, too much.
“Why should I not ride like that, Hetty, despite what you say? It is much more comfortable to ride astride, and is much more secure, than riding, side-saddle. Though now that I recall, my side-saddle, once it was repaired, did not fit Tornado, so I had no choice but to leave it behind.”
Wherever the ‘behind’ was, where she had been for two weeks.
“...So you see, I had no choice.”
“Then tell us where you were, Miss, and we’ll make sure to get it back for you?”
There were too many questions for Anna to deal with all at once.
She looked around and blushed, at a loss to explain anything. She remembered nothing, so there was nothing to explain.
“I don’t know, Hetty. I just don’t know where I was. My memory is of leaving here some hours ago, and then returning again as I just did. I have no other firm memories of being anywhere else.”
Except for the different horse; the dog; and her dress, she would have believed none of what she was being told.
Anna needed time to rest and to think about it.
“I expect it will come back to me soon enough.” And how many times had she thought that, in just the few minutes she had been back? What if it didn't?
“And what is that great brute of a dog doing with you, Miss? You don’t have a dog. You never had a dog. You were always frightened of them, and don’t even like them, but I don’t know whether you have that dog, or whether he has you."
He was following close enough behind them as they walked to the house.
"He’s stuck close to you ever since you dismounted. He hasn’t left your side since then, and it seemed like he was about to take my arm off when I hugged you.”
He was still warily sniffing at Hetty’s hand and her skirts.
Anna’s hand rested on the dog’s head as he pushed between her and Hetty, as though guarding Anna from everyone, physically pushing them away when Anna would not let him threaten them away by growling.
“Of course I like dogs, Hetty. I like this dog, and am not sure what I would do without him. His name is, Samson.” At least she was sure of that.
He wagged his tail and looked up at her, hearing his name.
“He is my dog; and that is my horse; and this is my dress.” She hung tenaciously onto what she did know for sure; little as that was.
“Samson?” A different name for a dog.
“Yes. Samson. How strange this all is, Hetty. I have difficulty believing any of it, but then…” She indicated her dress and looked at the horse being led around and could feel the dog leaning into her…feeling her confusion, not understanding it.
“I still remember leaving here just after lunch...; on Peony, admittedly, yes; and wearing my gray dress, yes, that too; and no, I didn’t have this dog with me then, or these rings either, and… yes, I was riding side-saddle.” She had to accept what she knew, and could see.
She paused for a moment.
"You say I was gone for two weeks... yet I have no obvious memory of anything about that time."
It was too much to take in. Too confusing.
She wanted to sit down there and then, at the edge of the stable yard, close her eyes and cry in frustration at not being able to remember something that she knew was so important to her, but she didn’t understand that, either.
Something monumental had changed in her life. Something positive. She felt well, even happy, though with this gap of two weeks intervening in her life. She even felt it better than she ever had, but she did not know what it could be that made her feel that way. She had been well looked-after, somewhere, in those two weeks, and she desperately needed to understand more about that. At just this moment, however, there were more questions than answers
She touched at the neck of her dress, feeling other jewelry under there. What woman went riding with Jewelry around her neck to get lost?
She would look, later, rather than continue this discussion outdoors. She needed to be surrounded by the comfort, privacy, and familiarity or her own room, where she could inspect everything at her liesure, and think in peace.
Hetty could see confusion creeping over her mistress’s face and a sudden realization that all was not as she had remembered. But being gone two weeks? Anna still could not grasp that.
It might take some time for Miss Anna to settle down after the surprise she’d just been given, and they could get that process started now.
“Never you worry your head, Miss. You’re back home now, and we’ll sort it all out later. You should lie down and rest. I expect you’re tired and hungry, wherever it was that you were.
“It can’t have been so very far away. That horse didn’t look to have been ridden hard or even very far, but we'll sort all of that out, later.
“You’d better come into the house, and we’ll get word out to call off the search, but we’ll leave those drawings we had made of Peony, up at the various coaching stops. We still need to know where she is, and where you've been all this time. Wherever she is, someone will recognize her and let us know. We were careful not to suggest anything about you going missing as well. Not with all of this other uncertainty, coming at us in just a short time; Mr. Crabtree the lawyer, and all.”
Oh lord, yes. Mr. Crabtree. Anna had not thought about that impending meeting since she’d left. Their three years were almost at an end.
Mr. Frith, her estate manager had assured her that she should not worry about anything. That legal stuff, about title and all, was all just a formality now.
She remembered that that was why she had gone out for a ride; to go over in her mind all of their preparations, and to make sure that she was ready to meet with that lawyer to decide their future here. She had been nervous about it.
She would need to speak with Mister Frith again about all of that, though he had never been worried for even a second, and kept reassuring her that everything around the estate was in good order, and that she had nothing to worry about, and he, would know.
She felt those earlier concerns beginning to wash over her again.
Anna put her hand on Hetty’s arm to stop her continuing. “This is a lot for me to take in, all of a sudden, Hetty. Please give me some time to think.”
She turned and spoke to Jarvis when he came close to her again, leading Tornado around the yard to cool down.
“Please look after that horse, Jarvis. He’s special, and he means more to me than I can say.” He was one of the links to her past, and that told her that everything that Hetty was telling her, was true.
That horse was one of few clues as to where she had been, and she felt a special bond to him, a link between where she was now, and where she had been.
“I’ll come and see him later.”
Jarvis understood the way she felt. Many a man would have killed, to own such a horse; and some, had.
“That I will, Miss. It’ll be a nice change to have a real horse to look after around here, instead of these great awkward brutes we have for working.”
He hurried to correct himself. “Apart from Peony that is, wherever she is.” Though Peony had never been a match for this horse.
“I’ll have to put him in one the bigger box stalls, but I’ll give him a good rub-down first. It's been many a year since I've seen a horse the match of this one."