Taken by surprise.
That fourth day, Anna rode out alone, intending to visit three or four of the tenant farmers, closer in to the main property.
On her way back, in mid-afternoon, she paused to let Tornado drink from a small stream, and dismounted herself to dampen her handkerchief to wet her brow, before she continued.
She was distracted for only a few minutes, but that was long enough for her to discover that others had approached her, unseen and unheard.
She recognised them immediately.
They had been the ones watching her and David riding at a distance that first day. They must have waited for her to be riding alone, to approach her as they had.
She swore to herself.
She had an uneasy feeling about their intentions with her being alone, though their grandfather; the old tyrant that had directed all of the prickly interactions with their neighbors over the previous decades, had been dead almost a month, allowing everyone in the area to breathe a sigh of relief, and wish the old man, ‘god speed’, in whichever direction he was headed. Preferably, 'down', where he most deserved to be; roasting in the bowels of hell, with his friend.
Everyone thought that things could only improve in the area after that, surely, but maybe not.
Hetty had even attended the old man’s funeral our of respect for the son and grandsons, but that had been just a few days before Anna had gone missing for those two weeks.
“Miss Rothschild.” The man she recognised as the father of the two young men with him, touched his hat to her in greeting. He was polite, where his own father had been brusque and insulting to most of his neighbors, so that was at least one good sign.
“Miss Rothschild. I must apologize for what we have no choice in doing now, but I must insist you come with us.” He was being polite, but she was not fooled. She was being given no room to refuse, despite his politeness.
Her heart fell. This did not sound good.
“Is anything wrong? I really should get home. I am expected.”
“Later. There is much more wrong, than I can possibly explain here, and you can and will be of help, I hope." He repeated himself. "We have need of your help, but I cannot explain it here.”
It seemed that she was not to be given any choice in anything. She didn’t like it, but in the interests of being neighborly… and she did not know how any outright refusal from her, to go with them would be met, and she did not want to find out.
She mounted her horse again, but she found she was being led this time, rather than being allowed to control Tornado for herself. They intended she would not just take off, as she so easily could, on that horse, and leave them far behind.
It did not bode well for her.
She tried to engage the senior Maskell in conversation, and get him to explain more, but he was non-committal, and reluctant to say anything more than he already had.
His son led Tornado by the reins, looped over the horse's head, while the older man rode slightly behind her, attentive to everything that he could see in the distance and seemingly anxious to leave that place before someone else saw what was happening.
“We have a little distance to go so we should not waste time.” They were leaving just as quickly as they had come.
He turned to his second son. “You know what to do, Richard.”
She watched as one of the sons... the one he'd spoken to... peeled away from them and rode away, heading to the north. There was nothing over there but open pasture and trees, before you got to the river.
Her heart fell. Anna began to feel both alarmed and angry with them, and with herself for not keeping her eyes open, so that they could not have approached her so easily and taken her off guard.
“Where are you taking me?”
“You’ll see. I will explain fully when we get there. I can assure you that you will not be harmed, but we need your help in ways that I am sure you would not choose to willingly give if I were to ask you in any other setting, so I may need to give you little choice about what needs to be done. However, I can only repeat. You will not be harmed in any way.”
She almost believed him.
As they rode away, they did not notice that one other, had observed them from some distance away. David had his hand on Samson's head, stopping him from dashing madly over to greet Miss Anna, as he was always ready to do whenever he had seen them returning over the last few days, always wanting to go with them.
Today, David had taken a break from what he was doing, to go for a walk to learn more about the estate from another direction, and had seen Miss Anna stop by the stream, and then those others approach her just as he was thinking to do so, himself.
This change, did not look good.
He set out to follow after them. He may not be able to keep up with their horses on foot, but he could follow tracks, and where he couldn't do that, Samson could follow Miss Anna's scent, carried on the air.
There were few properties in this direction, and they had been here just the other day. One, was where the Maskells lived, and the other, belonged to the Barringers. He knew the Barringers, having met them just a few days earlier, so these three men must be Maskells.
He'd heard something of them, especially about the old man and his ways, but that man had died not so long ago, infusing the entire area with a new optimism. He didn't know what to think. All he could do, was to follow them and keep his eyes and ears open.