Who are you?
The youth recovered slowly with tender care, gradually learning where he was, but it took him all of that night, with one or other of them, or Molly, always sitting by him, taking it in turns to keep his fever down by bathing his brow, as Samson watched.
He opened his eyes and looked around, not knowing where he was, not remembering much of what had happened earlier as Molly had undressed and bathed him.
“Is Henry here?”
Anna was close by. “Who is, Henry? We have no one here with that name.”
“Oh. Then what about...Bea...? He stopped himself before he said any more.”
What about, what?
“You had us worried. What is your name?”
He clutched the blanket up close to his chin in confusion and looked around the kitchen where he'd spent the night with one or other of them always sitting by him, and bathing his brow. His fever had broken early that morning.
He looked around the spacious kitchen, catching its smells of cooking, and saw the large dog lying near the door.
The dog lurched to his feet and approached with his tail wagging, to lick his hand.
Hetty smiled. “You seem to know our dog.”
“Your dog? Do I? I recall him licking me last night, and you telling him to leave me be. You used that name then.” He rested his hand on the dog’s head.
“I don’t mind, dogs. I seem to get on well with them.”
“It was Samson that alerted us to your being where you were in the horse’s stall. Not the safest place to take refuge, with a horse that size.”
He was puzzled, trying to remember, and went quiet.
“I’d swear you two knew each other just like those two horses out there do.”
Both women looked at him, waiting for him to say something, but he wasn’t ready to say anything else about that subject until he knew more about where he was and who was looking after him.
“It’s warm in here.” The questioning and observations were making him that way.
He had spoken well and in an educated way, while avoiding their pointed observations.
An initial feeling of hope and excitement that Anna had felt, thinking that the lad knew her dog and might tell her something of him and the horse, faded and left a painful hurt. He didn’t want to share what he knew, and he must know something, but he must have his reasons.
“Warmer than the stable. We found you asleep in the stable, in one of the horse boxes, yesterday morning. You had a fever. That was a very dangerous place to be. Tornado is a very large horse.” He smiled.
“But he’s gentle. I soon found that out. I don’t remember getting there, but I remember being there. It was dark and I knew it would be warm, and safe under that hay rack. I couldn’t go in with the work horses, and then I heard….”
“What did you hear?”
He had probably heard Samson kicking up a fuss downstairs in the house, wanting to be out of the door to get to him.
They knew each other, but what it was that he knew, he wouldn’t say.
“I’m sorry if I caused a problem for anyone. I can leave, if I am; if I did.”
“You did not cause a problem. You are welcome, and you do not need to rush off without us at least helping you return to your home safely. Your clothes have been cleaned, and I expect you’re hungry.”
He became aware that he had been undressed, with only a nightshirt on, and was blushing at thought of these women undressing him.
He nodded and watched as one of the two young women ladled some hot soup out of a pan, and another girl; Molly, who’d been with him a lot of the time, talking to him as he’d rested, brought it over to him to feed him. He still seemed too weak to do much for himself.
He would be going nowhere until he got his strength back.
“You’ll be back to normal soon enough. That fever took a lot out of you. You were delirious most of the night and threshed around. You almost gave Hetty a black eye.”
He managed a smile. “I wouldn’t have done that if I was myself. I’m sorry if I was any trouble, Miss.”
He was well-mannered too.
“You were no trouble. Who are you? What is your name and where do you live? Your parents will be worried.”
“I have a mother and sister, but they don’t worry so much about me. They tell me that I am more trouble than I am worth.”
Hetty looked up at Anna, as the girl fed him.
That, was something that boys always assumed; wrongly.
“The dog is called, Samson. What name is the horse?”
“He is called, Tornado.”
The boy probably already knew that too, but he was keeping what he knew to himself, and trying not to stare too obviously at Molly, or what he would see of her down in the front of her dress as she carelessly leaned forward to feed him.
He could see by the look in her eyes that she knew what she was doing to him, and how she was affecting him, bringing him to life again.
“And what of the horse you were on? What name does he go by?”
“Sol. Short for Solomon. So where did you find a horse like Tornado in these parts, Ma’am?”
He wanted to ask how she knew the horse’s name, and how did she know that the dog was called, Samson?
Anna laughed. “That is a question I would like to know the answer to as well. He is very out-of-place on a working farm, isn’t he?”
They both seemed to be talking to cross purposes; like two roosters circling each other, each afraid to make the first move and ask more meaningful questions, or to say what they knew or how they knew it.
“Where are my clothes?” He seemed loath to give his name or to say too much.
He wasn’t a runaway as Jarvis had thought, and he was older too.
Anna would respect his need to keep certain things hidden from them for a while, but why did he need to hide anything? She would learn his secrets eventually if he stayed here for any length of time. She was patient, and would watch and listen. He would be an interesting challenge if she could maintain her patience when she so ached to know whatever it was that he knew, especially about her horse, and Samson. And the man who had recently been in her life, in her thoughts, her dreams; and her body.
Samson and Tornado had already told her so much about him, and so had his own horse, and there were a few other things about him too that didn’t fit with him being a runaway, or being here by accident. Maybe he’d seen one of those posters with the drawing of Tornado on it, giving directions to Appleton.
This lad was her only other link to that former life, but she was not sure how she could ask him anything without him becoming even more close-mouthed, or leaving.
“Some of your clothes are drying over that clothes-horse, and your shoes have been seen too, stuffed with rags to dry, and to help them keep their shape, and are by the stove. But where were you going?”
“I don’t know, Miss. Anywhere. Everywhere. Down to London if I had to.” Samson was snuggled under his arm. The lad had made a friend, except it looked much more than friendship.
“I was looking for some-one. It’s not important now, anyway. Where am I, if you don’t mind my asking?” He was certainly polite and well mannered, but also stubbornly evasive.
“You are on the Appleton estate, if that name means anything to you."
He shook his head.
“Appleton. I can’t place it.” But his eyes suggested otherwise.
“Lady Lydia DeMerchant’s estate?” He still seemed unable to recall knowing it.
“Who were you looking for? Maybe we can help you.”
“It’s not so important now.”
It was still important. Maybe even more important.
“So, who are you, and what places do you know, close to your home, where you live, and we can help you get back there?”
“In summer, I live in Murton, your ladyship, with my mother and oldest sister, and I help them when I can, and beyond there, is Astlebury, and then…”
“I know that name, Murton.”
Some memory existed of that name in Anna’s head. A name in one of her dreams.
“At least I think I do. There is a lodge there, with a very large walk-in fireplace.”
He looked sharply at her.
He hadn't been able to conceal that response.
She knew where he lived, and must have been there. She knew Tornado and Samson, and they knew her. But if so, why didn’t she remember...? There were too many things he didn’t know, and he couldn’t just ask her.
He’d said too much already.
“But I am not her ladyship. She, was an older lady, much older than I am. I am Miss Anna Rothschild. I am staying here. Actually, I, along with others, own this estate now.”
“Then where is...?” Some things still puzzled him.
He’d made a few false starts like that before he’d caught himself from saying or asking too much.
“Tell me, what are the names of your mother and sister? We should contact them and let them know where you are.” He looked lost for a moment.
“I’d rather not say, Miss, if you don’t mind. I wouldn’t want to worry them. They think I am with friends and don’t know I’ve gone, so should not hear otherwise. If I could stay here for a while to recover—and I’ll work for my keep—then I’ll be going back home, once I know where I am on a map.”
So, he could read a map too.
“Then what is your name? You can tell me that, can you?”
“Yes, Miss. I am... David.”
He closed his eyes as a way of avoiding the question. Why did he not want them to know his full name, or much else about him either?
“Of course. You’ll need to stay for a while anyway. You are in no fit state to go anywhere. So, Master David, of Murton....”
Anna chuckled. “You must agree, that title sounds positively Medieval, but it will have to do until you wish to tell us more!”
He was not about to disclose any more of his name, however, or anything else, until he was ready.
He giggled at being given that title, beginning to feel that he was under no pressure to say any more if he didn’t want to. But these were both canny women, and knew more than they were telling him. He'd already said too much.
“Yes, Miss, close enough, but now that I think better on it, I might be strong enough to go now, if I was dressed.”
“You are not strong enough to go anywhere, David. Take my word for it.”
He recognized the truth of that, but also realized that he was not in any kind of trouble for not telling them all they would have liked to know. He rather liked this, Miss Anna.
“Yes, Miss.” She could see how downcast he was, knowing the truth of it.
“We need to get lunch served, so we’ll have to leave you, and set the table in the next room. If you feel strong enough to dress while we are gone, you can; Molly can help you if you are not, and then we’ll see how you are feeling, and how we can help you.”
Thank you, Miss.”
Molly tidied his plate away and came back to him with a cloth and water.
“Sit forward please, Sir.” She was thankful he didn't seem to remember much of that previous day; or at least didn't say anything about it, but she also felt slightly disappointed that he could so easily forget something that had kept her awake most of the night, worrying about it and what he would say.
He obviously thought she was going to re-arrange his cushions, but she didn’t. As he sat forward, she took hold of the bottom of his nightshirt and lifted it up to his shoulders, over his head and clean off him, leaving him exposed, as he rushed to cover himself with his hands.
Molly smiled at him with him blushing, trying to hide himself away. She was blushing too, but she'd gained strength and confidence from what had happened, and what he'd said to her yesterday, telling her that he thought her beautiful. He seemed to have forgotten about the other.
She sat beside him, smiling at him. “You don't have anything I haven't seen before. I have brothers, and I help them too, and bathe them."
Her voice dropped, not wanting to be overheard by others. "I know all about boys and a 'special' young man by now. You. And you are special, to me, though I shouldn't tell you that, should I? I saw to you yesterday you know, or have you forgotten already what you said to me as you touched my face? I also sat with you much of the night."
He looked lost, looking up at her. He remembered enough. She'd sat by him, held him close and had talked to him as she'd bathed his brow. She'd taken off his nightshirt too, when it had got damp from perspiration, and had bathed him again all over; not afraid to touch him as she'd done that, even touching him there again, pulling him around and then getting another nightshirt on him. She'd learned much more about him each time, and had not been afraid to do so, with him mostly asleep. Mostly.
She'd not been as shy as she had been earlier. He recalled snippets of it, but not much.
"You don’t have to hide yourself from me you know. I don’t mind seeing you, even if you are very proud there. I don't think you can help it when I come close to you and you look down into my dress."
She had noticed him doing that? Damn!
He was the one blushing.
"You won't shock me so much. I have brothers of my own, though they are younger than you, and I often help them, and laugh with them about those changes that they can't help any more than you can. Besides, a fine upstanding citizen like that one you have, should see the light of day from time to time. I got over being scared last night when I had to bathe you again, and you were very proud then too. I expect the warmth and the fever did that to you, and to... him.”
He giggled at what she said, scarce able to believe she was having this bold conversation with him.
She knew why he was still like that, with him having looked into the front of her dress all the time she'd been feeding him.
“No one will come back in here for another ten minutes now, and I should wash you again after that restless night you had. The sooner you let me do that, the sooner you will be dressed.”
She lifted his hands away from covering himself, against only slight resistance, and used a damp cloth all over him, getting him to sit forward again to wash his back, before she let him down again.
She even washed around that part for him, bringing him more to life, while trying not to stare at it.
It demanded attention, the way it was. He was well-endowed, right enough. She cautiously touched it, then held him in her hand more confidently, as she leaned over him and looked into his face. He was not complaining about anything she did to him.
"I know I should not be so forward and doing this, perhaps giving you the wrong impression about me, but... we may have such little time for this." She looked at him and blushed again before removing her hand.
"No, Molly, you should not be doing this, but I actually do not mind. It does not seem wrong between us. There is so much of you that I also want to touch and investigate... that I ache to touch, but I am afraid of what you will think of me, and I do not want to scare you any more than I have."
"I'm not scared, David, and I don't understand why I am not scared or feeling ashamed."
That was the first time she had used his name. "I know I should be both of those, but I'm not. We seem to be drawn to each other in a strange way. I lost my shyness with you as we sat and talked. Actually, I did most of the talking. I think I will always want to know more about you and would not mind if you wanted to find out more about me, even in that more intimate way that seems to happen a lot around here."
She explained more about that.
“I heard one of the maids say something I did not understand at first, but I think I do now. She held this same part of his (the man with her) in her hand (they didn't see me watching them), and said to him, 'this fine fellow, Gil, should have a regular stroll around a maidenly garden to keep him well exercised and warm as he needs. How would you like that?'"
"And what happened?" As if David needed to ask.
"They made love right there and then, in a very excited way. I watched them, and it was so... so... interesting. I think I would like to be made love to like that, if it is you doing it to me." Her eyes twinkled, challenging him, knowing the answer she'd get, even though she'd not asked a direct question. The man had not been born who could refuse what a woman so openly offered.
David nodded, wide-eyed, not able to say much. He stammered a response. "I... I think I would very much like that too, Molly."
She sighed in relief and leaned in to kiss him to thank him.
“I’ll sit with you tonight then, and we’ll get started on that; on getting him properly baptized in a snug and warm bower.” (As that maid had also said). She did what that maid had done to Gil, too. She leaned down and kissed David on the end of it, as though giving it her blessing before he had pushed it into her. Her education had advanced a lot, that day.
“Now, let’s get you dressed before one of these other girls sees you proud, like this. That would never do. She might get ideas.”
When they came back to carry lunch through to the dining room, which was even then beginning to fill, Anna and Hetty saw him mostly dressed, but sitting hunched over with his eyes closed, as though exhausted by even that little activity.
Molly had helped him dress, much as she helped her younger brothers get dressed, and he had not fought her away, so he must still be feeling unwell.
For some reason, Molly was blushing, and ready to have a fit of the giggles.
He was nothing like her brothers in at least one obvious way, and had been shy and defensive of her pulling up his night shirt and taking it off him as quickly as she had without giving him any warning, while he fought to hide himself from her, but that had changed again now.
There had been no hiding that obvious sign of excitement on his body. He shouldn’t have been watching her so closely as she’d leaned over him to feed him that soup, letting him see into her loose-fitting dress, and he shouldn’t have been so curious about her as she’d moved about the kitchen, knowing she was being watched, and knowing why, and setting his hormones going, just as hers were.
She had even leaned in to kiss him when she’d finished helping him, as she always did with her own young brothers, but never getting that same response out of them that she noted.
“Later then, David.” Was all she’d said, as she’d paused and looked at him, knowing exactly what he was thinking and feeling.
She'd read his mind.
“You can join us, David, and have something more to eat if you like?”
He was still hungry, and the smells were of a sufficiently intriguing and tempting nature that he liked that thought.
“Yes, Miss. I would like that. And you were right, I still need to rest and recover. But I don’t want to be any trouble to you.”
“You won’t be any trouble. We already have many mouths to feed, and one more won’t make much difference. You can either stay here tonight, by the kitchen stove where it’s warm, or with the other youths up in the top of the stable.”
He would stay in the house if given the opportunity, and he was being given it. He needed to learn more about this place; about Miss Anna, and especially about Molly, who had helped him get dressed, and how she hadn’t been shy about helping him, but had even kissed him in two places, and had held him, while no one had been able to see her do that. He wanted to learn more about her, just as much as she seemed to want to know more about him in those first overtures where two young people were drawn to each other. And she would be looking after him tonight, if he didn't recover too quickly.
“You will eventually find who, and what you are looking for you know?”
He had been thinking about Molly at that moment, but he didn't need to say anything.
She suspected he had already found out what he'd needed to know, and now she needed to get him to talk about that to her.
After lunch, when they’d tidied everything away and the kitchen staff began on preparing the next meal; Hetty and Anna watched him walk slowly across the stable yard with his hand on Samson’s head for support. He was weak, and still unsteady on his feet. He’d be staying in the kitchen tonight by the stove where someone could keep an eye on him. There was always someone close by, or stirring very early, to get things started; especially on a market day.
“If I didn’t know better, Miss, I’d say he knew that dog very well indeed, and that dog knows him just the same way.”
“You think so, Hetty?” She didn’t really need to ask. She’d had the same thought herself as she’d watched the two of them.
“I do, Miss. It was Samson that found him with all of the noise that dog was kicking up; and not Jarvis. The dog was making a rare fuss to get to him, or Jarvis might not have seen him and who knows what would have become of him, and then once the box was opened, the dog was all over him, licking him. They knew each other well. Just as well Samson didn’t take offense to him, or Tornado to either of them.
Anna added some of her own thoughts. “And how did he know that Samson was the dog’s name? He said he’d heard it from us, but I know that I said nothing.”
“I never said anything either, Miss. Samson and that horse; in fact all three of them, have a bond between them, as well as to you. I wonder why he didn’t want to tell us his name. Maybe it’s not ‘David’, either.”
“We’ll see, Hetty. We shall need to watch him and keep our ears open. Strange too, that he was in that one stall, wasn’t it? And with that particular horse when there were other boxes empty? And that, was the one farthest from the door, he must have had quite some difficulty to get to it in the dark last night and the way he was, without waking someone up, unless Tornado told him where he was, or told that other horse.
“And how did he know enough to turn his own horse loose into the box next to him, and know that they wouldn’t be at each other over the side, as even geldings always are.”
Hetty had not thought much about it, but Anna had a point.
“He’s just gone into the stable, Miss. If you were to walk over there, quiet like, and listen, you might learn a lot more.”
“You are right, Hetty. I wonder what he said to Molly to have her blushing like that.”
I asked her myself, Miss. She blushed herself and then she remembered that last night, in one of his lucid spells, he'd asked her if there was a woman, called Beatrice Angelica who lived here, but of course there is no one here with that name.”
But there was!
Anna had not told Hetty everything!
David had been in that chapel at the back of the house in Murton, and had seen the embarrassing entries in that bible. He must know what they meant, but he hadn’t yet connected that name, Beatrice Angelica, to her.