The confusion does not lessen.
Hetty led her over to the house as Anna looked wistfully back at the horse being walked about the yard to cool down.
Now that she could see him properly, she saw him through new eyes. She could see that he was magnificent, and seemed to regret her leaving him alone with a complete stranger; as loath to leave her, as much as she was to leave him.
He was another, like the dog. They seemed to need each other close. She would go and see him later, and he was in good hands; none, better than Jarvis’s.
She had her own questions. Where had he come from? How had she been riding him? And yet he was hers, a gift to her, along with everything else in her possession. She knew that, but was not sure how she knew. Nor did she know who had given them to her.
“We offered a reward for information about you and your horse, Miss; fearing that you might have got lost, or lost your memory. It would not be the first time some young woman, out alone, had… well, never mind that.”
Better not upset her with those tales of woe.
Hetty had truly been worried for her.
“It’s only been in the last two days that the weather has cleared enough to let us get out properly, and do what we really needed to do. We knew you’d be back, eventually. Actually, we hoped, more than knew, except even that hope faded as time dragged on, though I never gave up hope. And now here you are again and giving us back our lives again.”
She embraced Anna again, and kissed her. This time, Samson ignored that sign of affection. There was no danger here for his mistress. Where she was, was home, and it was beginning to feel like home already, even to him. The smells were right, and they were kind, even if a bit bristly.
Anna learned that her own mother and father had come up as soon as they got the news, and they were in a carriage touring the surrounding countryside for signs of her, or news. They should not have been allowed to go out, but who could have stopped them?
“We had drawings made of Peony, and even your likeness--but I already told you that--and a full description to be shown at every coaching stop and inn between here and the next county, and even over into that.”
Anna listened, not wanting to interrupt Hetty’s relieved flow of concern for her as she chattered on.
“I have not but cat-napped between then and now, for worrying about you.” Hetty led her off to the kitchen.
“You must be hungry, and we will soon have tea brewed. Oh, what a relief it is to know that you are safe and looking so… so….” She stepped away from her. “I’ve never seen you looking so healthy, or so well; your cheeks so rosy. Wherever you were you were well looked after and managed to get some rest, so we can be thankful for that.”
There were a few obvious changes in the house, but everything seemed as Anna remembered it, mostly.
“I am not that hungry, Hetty. At least I don’t think so, so I must have just eaten not that long ago, so I cannot have come so far.” She also remembered bathing just that morning and not here, but in that other life, but even that memory was fading now. She had not been alone for that. Someone had helped her.
Her breath caught for a moment and she blushed uncontrollably.
Oh, god! It had not been a girl helping her, but... but... a man! Someone special to her. She would never dare tell Hetty that.
She paused for a few moments, overcome by a sudden rush of warmth washing over her body, sensing unusual dampness in a private place, wondering if she shouldn't sit down until it passed.
She chuckled again over that strangely shocking thought of a man having helped her, and her not objecting. And she hadn't. She at least remembered that much, while remembering nothing of the man.
“But I would like some tea, and perhaps I am more hungry than I realized, so perhaps a scone with butter, and some of that jam; and maybe a slice of ham or some of that soup I can smell.”
Hetty saw how the dog stuck close to Miss Anna.
“What about that dog, Miss? Dogs is kept out of the house.” She scowled at him but dared not try to keep him out of the house for fear of losing her hand. The dog weighed nearly as much as she did, and would not be kept away from Miss Anna.
Anna looked at the dog.
“Not this one. No, Hetty, this dog comes in with me. We, are family. We need each other. He is my friend, my companion, and shall be my special house guest… and he is as much of a conundrum as I feel at this moment. I need to hang onto something solid, so he shall stay close to me until I have better answers. He is as attached to me as I am to him.”
She took Hetty’s arm without objection from the dog, which began to see no threats here to his mistress, but was interested in some of the smells of food coming from the house and on Hetty's clothes.
“We need to talk, Hetty, and I need to think. Did anything change while I was away? I suppose we shall need to start somewhere.”
“No, Miss, apart from us missing you, cruel-like. And Mister Frith will need to see you when he gets back, and with some urgency too, with so much to bring up to date, though I managed to keep the books in order.
“While you was away he took it upon himself to get Arnold to clear out the old shed, and get the brewing operation expanded into that, as well as preparing what he could, to be ready for you both to meet with Mr. Crabtree, and he wanted to talk to you about all of that too.”
Nothing ever stopped or could stop on a farm. Not for any reason. Time, tide, and death... and the needs of the farm... waited on no man.
The animals still had to be looked after, fed, watered, cleaned-out and bred... to ensure continuity... and the crops and hay brought in. There were also different farmers' markets to supply; some on Saturday and others on Wednesday, always thinking about the next year, and after that too, so searching for her had been a double upset; taking so many people from their regular tasks, which could now resume.
"I had forgotten about Mr. Crabtree! I thought I still had four weeks to prepare for him coming, except it flew my mind, and now I find that I don’t have that much time at all. Barely two weeks, in fact.”
She had a lot less than that, but Hetty wasn’t going to upset her by telling her any of that. Mr. Frith could handle that, better than she could.
Hetty sat her at the scullery table, poured Anna a cup of tea and brought over some scones and cakes. She had some ham and soup in reserve, rather than have her spoil her dinner by eating too much now.
The dog had discovered a ham bone from somewhere, after sniffing it out and letting one of the helpers know exactly what he wanted. The poor girl did not have the nerve to refuse him, but it was done with anyway.
“Mr. Frith knows what needs to be done, so he did it. I don’t think the man slept. He also kept the books up to date with me, while you were away, but where he found the time I don’t know, except he was out all hours of daylight, and only sat down to do the other stuff after dark, and then off he went again after eating again at first light and heading even farther out.
“I saw to the market side of things to keep myself occupied, and kept account of what came in, and what went out. It still had to be done. I couldn’t ride a horse to help look for you or I would have done, but I was needed here, keeping everyone fed and looked after.
“Nobody rested, I can tell you that.” Hetty’s relief was still obvious, the way she hung onto Anna’s arm.
Anna blinked back her own tears and reached out for Hetty’s rough hand.
“Where would I be without such good people? But now that I am back, I must bring my mind back to where it should be, and make up for my absence.
“I must soon go over the books to bring myself up to date on them; see where we are for harvest, make sure where we are with the breeding, and everything else.”
Already, the old life was returning to her as the snippets of the unknown life of two weeks that she had just left, began to fade from her memory, but there was nothing she could do about that.
“It’s all been taken care of, Miss, and I see that there are others returning, having got the news about you being home. Good news, also travels fast. We’ll soon be back to normal now, and about time.”
If they ever could get back to normal, after that upset.
“You should rest and see about getting your memory of that missing time back, just as soon as you can, and we can thank them—whoever they are—for looking after you as well as they did, and see about getting Peony back.”
And getting that big dog out of the house.
“You can’t keep that horse here, nor that dress, nor jewelry either. They belong to someone else who must be missing them, but at this moment I’m all flummoxed.”
Anna chuckled, rather than argue with Hetty about where things came from, or to whom they belonged.
“So am I, Hetty, but I am sure it will soon come back to me after a good night’s sleep. If I will be able to sleep. I don’t feel tired at all.”
She thought of something else.
“I do hope that Peony is alright, though I am sure she must be. I seem to vaguely recall seeing her standing on the bank, by the side of the river; on the far side of it, and I was not on her, yet I remember seeing her after that too, in a warm stable, so she is being well-looked after, wherever she is.
“See, Hetty, some things are starting to come back to me. Perhaps it will all come back in another day or so when I am settled in again.” She got to her feet. “But I must go and change, and then help you and the girls with preparing dinner.”
“Dinner’s already going, Miss. Nothing fancy, but we won’t go hungry, and the bread will be out of the oven soon enough. Molly just popped it in before you came back into the yard. You focus on looking after you parents, Miss and we'll see to dinner without you. We've been doing it for two weeks now.
“I’ll help you change. I've got time for that. I don’t want to leave you alone for fear of losing you again, and I don’t think you should be left alone either.”
Anna smiled. “Then you can help me learn about these clothes and the jewelry, Hetty. Another set of eyes…, and I doubt that I would care to be parted from Samson, or that he would allow it, so just ignore him. He is well house-trained.”
Hetty hoped so.
They moved deeper into the house, with cooking smells already beginning to permeate all of it.
Hetty carried a large jug of hot water for Miss Anna to bathe before dinner.
Samson followed, carrying the large ham-bone with him, until Anna persuaded him to give it up, which he did with only a little resistance, and she left it by a dish of water placed out for him. He’d already eaten as much as he could easily strip from it, so he gave it up without much of a fight.
“It will be there for you when we come back down.”