“What an odiously rude man!” Angel exclaimed when he had left them safe on dry land, wringing out their skirts.
“I expect he did not guess that your papa is a marquis,” pointed out Catherine.
Angel digested this in silence as they plodded back toward the town. Being plain Miss Brent was more difficult than she had supposed.
The weather changed. When they stopped the following night in the village of Windermere, the long, narrow lake was all but invisible in driving rain. The inn was draughty, the bed lumpy, and the food unappetising. Weary after days of travel, Angel wondered whether she would have done better to spend a dull summer with her parents in London. There was no maid to brush her hair and warm her sheets, and for the first time she felt the lack. When she arose, her dress had not been sponged and pressed, breakfast was lukewarm porridge, and it was still raining.
The long, slow drive over the Kirkstone Pass seemed endless. By the time they reached Barrows End they were all thoroughly depressed, and their first view of the vicarage did nothing to raise their spirits. A small, square, grey stone building with tiny windows shrouded in dingy white net, it was separated from the cemetery surrounding the small, square, grey stone church by a row of gloomy yews. The small, square garden between the lane and the front door was full of lettuces, carrots, peas, and spinach, and the only colour came from the scarlet blossoms of a row of runner beans.
Mr Sutton descended, picked his way up the muddy path, and hammered on the door. After a long pause, it opened a crack.
“I am the Reverend Sutton,” the ladies heard him say. “You must be Mrs Applejohn.”
“Is your husband here? He will be needed to help carry in our bags.”
“Aye.” Mrs Applejohn opened the door a trifle wider, revealing herself as a withered, crabbed old body in a black dress and plain white cap. She peered at the waiting carriage, then turned and shouted in a surprisingly strong voice, “John! T’Reverend’s come!”
The coachman climbed down from the box and began to untie the luggage, which was strapped all over the vehicle. Mr Sutton returned to the coach, assisted the ladies to alight, and escorted them to the house.
“I hope there is a good fire within,” said Mrs Sutton crossly as a large drip made its way down the back of her neck. “Mrs Craythorn warned me that the house had only two bedrooms, but I had thought it larger than this.”
The only fire was in the kitchen stove, and round it the ladies huddled while the taciturn Mrs Applejohn went unwillingly to lay another in the front parlour. As soon as she could feel her fingers and toes once more, Angel went to explore. It did not take long. On the ground floor were the kitchen, a single parlour to serve for both dining and sitting room, and a small study. Upstairs were the two bedrooms and a third, tiny apartment, scarce bigger than a closet, which seemed to be in use as a sewing room. Looking out of its window, at the back of the house, she saw a stableyard with space only for a single horse and a battered gig. Beyond, a green meadow sloped down to a row of trees, which she thought might conceal a brook. In the rain, nothing further was visible.
Disconsolately she made her way back down the steep, narrow stair and found the hallway overflowing with damp trunks and boxes. Among them she spotted the portmanteau in which she had packed her new shawl, and kneeling on the bare wood floor, she dug it out.
“I rather think I shall be needing this,” she said to herself, shivering, as she draped it about her shoulders. “It will take a very exciting adventure to make up for this!”
In spite of continuing drizzle, the little church of St Braddock was full for the morning service. Parishioners who had not been seen in church since Easter had come to inspect Mr Craythorn’s substitute, and more attention was paid to Mr Sutton’s sermon than might normally have been expected in a month of Sundays.
Most of those attending were farmers and their families, from a wealthy yeoman with pretensions to gentility to an aged shepherd who had abandoned his flock to the care of his dogs on the mountain just so that he could welcome the “new reverend.” Raising her eyes from her prayerbook rather more often than was seemly, Angel was glad to note that the Grisedale family pew was occupied.
It was hard to be sure without staring in a way that must have called forth a reproof from Aunt Maria, but she thought one of the two ladies must be Lord Grisedale’s daughter. No mention had been made of a Lady Grisedale, so perhaps the other was a companion, or an aunt. She was too finely dressed to be a governess. With them was a gentleman whose height and breadth of shoulder dwarfed his companions, especially the younger, who was a shrimp of a girl. Not shrimp, Angel corrected herself, remembering the rude shrimp-fisher. Elfin, she decided charitably.
She squinted speculatively at the tall gentleman, then glanced at Catherine beside her. He must top her by a good six inches. Was this the suitor she had resolved to look for? She wondered if he were the disgraced Lord Dominic, now restored to favour. Surely they would wait after the service and introduce themselves!
As Mr Sutton’s sermon drew to a close, an errant sunbeam found its way through a high window. It lit on the stone head of a long-suffering hound that had for several centuries been the sole support of the equally stony head of its master, the first Earl of Grisedale. By the time the benediction was pronounced, the ray had moved on to illuminate a carved oak frieze, very ancient, depicting the obscure St Braddock suffering martyrdom in the coils of a gigantic sea-serpent, while angels sang lustily but failed to come to his rescue.
“Do you think that monster lives in Ullswater?” asked Angel with a giggle as the congregation rose from their knees, rustling. “He must be a local saint for I have never heard of him.”
“What a very uncomfortable thought!” Catherine whispered back. “I hope it was not a very long-lived monster.’’
The Grisedale party was the first to leave. Angel noted that the young lady’s gown was elegant, but not by any means in the first stare of fashion, while her older companion was so beribboned and beflounced as to leave scarce an inch of her dress unornamented. Angel was about to follow when her aunt laid a hand on her arm.
“We will go last, my dear,” she said.
“But Aunt Maria, supposing they leave before we have met them?”
“That is their privilege. You do not wish to force your company upon them, do you, Lyn?”
Reminded of her loss of rank, Angel muttered, “No, ma’am.” But she privately determined that one way or another the acquaintance should be made.
The ladies from the vicarage at last made their way up the aisle and emerged into sunshine which, though halfhearted, was dazzling after the gloom of the past few days. They found half the congregation waiting, anxious to meet the vicar’s wife. In the church porch, Mr Sutton was shaking the hand of the old shepherd, a hale and hearty fellow with a shock of white hair. As the ladies approached, the old man touched his hat to them and departed. And before Angel could voice her eager questions, Mr Sutton was ushering his family out.
“There are people waiting to meet you,” he assured her, his eyes twinkling, and he led them towards the lych-gate, where stood the party from the Hall. Mr Sutton introduced his wife and daughter. “And this is my niece, Miss Brent,” he continued “Maria my dear, Lady Elizabeth Markham, her companion Mrs Daventry, and her cousin, Sir Gregory Markham.”
Mrs Sutton,” began Mrs Daventry as bows and curtsies were exchanged, “I am
that we will be the
friends for there are no other
in this wild part of the country and it is up to us to
each other, and for all the vicarage is a
unsuitable house, I
as soon as I spoke to your
husband that you must be a
unlike poor Mrs Craythorn, I am afraid, and is it
as I have heard, that your own
is the Marchioness of Tesborough?”
“Yes,” replied Mrs Sutton shortly. “I beg you will not make it generally known, ma’am, for I do not wish to put on airs.”
I will not, for there is simply
one to talk to hereabouts. They are all the most frightful yokels, you must know. Of course, I was acquainted with Lord Frederick Brenthaven before his marriage. And your niece is Miss
Curious coincidence, but there . . .”
“Brand,” said Angel loudly and firmly. “Miss Brand.”
Catherine could not suppress a tiny snort of amusement, which she tried to turn into a cough. Lady Elizabeth, apparently totally cowed by her companion’s never-ceasing flow of words, did not seem to notice, but Sir Gregory, who had been looking bored, glanced from one young lady to the other with a gaze that was suddenly alert.
Mr Sutton attempted to come to his wife’s rescue.
“Maria,” he said, breaking in on Mrs Daventry’s chatter, “I am sorry to tear you away but there are a great many people waiting to make your acquaintance. Pray excuse us, ma'am.”
“I’m sure I had better come with you,” announced Mrs Daventry to his dismay, “for since
Lady Grisedale passed away last year I
myself I have fulfilled
her duties and one
take notice of the tenants, you know, even if it is the most prodigious
thing imaginable, and I would not have you think . . .”
Relieved of the presence of their elders, the young people began to chat, if indeed Sir Gregory could be considered young, for Angel thought he must be at least thirty. She turned her attention to Lady Elizabeth, whose reserve she attempted to pierce, with a lack of success that made her the more determined to accomplish it.
“Your father’s elocution is remarkably clear,” Sir Gregory remarked to Catherine, after an exchange of commonplaces. “Odd that Mrs Daventry should have misheard Miss
Catherine looked up at him in confusion and muttered an indistinct denial.
“Doing it rather too brown, ma’am. What kind of rig is your little cousin running?” he enquired, with a twinkle in his eye that reminded her of her father.
“You will not give her away?” she begged. “There is no harm in it, I promise you, or Papa would not countenance such a deception.
“So, Lady Evangelina does not wish to be known?”
“Did you recognise her, sir?”
“Not I. I move little in Society, having enough to do at home. More than enough at present. But who has not heard of ‘Angel,’ Miss Sutton? Come, enough of your cousin. Tell me how you look to amuse yourself at Barrows End.”
Angel was broaching the same subject with Lady Elizabeth, having been unable to elicit more than a monosyllable on any other she tried.
“How do you spend your time, my lady?” she enquired. “I think there are not many amusements in the neighbourhood?”
“I like to sew,” said Lady Elizabeth in her soft voice. More and more she seemed to Angel like a shy, frightened elf. “And I play the pianoforte sometimes, and sketch a lot when it is fine. There are a great many subjects to be found locally.”
“I’m sure there are. I like to sketch and have brought my book. Perhaps we might go out together one day?”
“That would be delightful,” Lady Elizabeth agreed with enthusiasm. “And I often visit Papa’s tenants too, whatever Mrs Daventry may say.”
“She does say a lot, doesn’t she?” giggled Angel. “How do you bear her?”
“I have no choice. Papa says I must have someone and that she is as good as the next person, and a relative besides. I let her talk while I think my own thoughts. It is not so very bad, especially when Cousin Gregory is here. He sometimes goes out with me so that I do not need Mrs Daventry.”
“Do you ride?”
“Oh yes, often.”
Angel was about to remark that she was very fond of riding when it dawned on her that her uncle certainly could not mount her, and Lady Elizabeth might think that she was angling for an invitation. Before she could resolve this dilemma, it was taken out of her hands.
“Do you ride, Miss Brand?” asked Sir Gregory. “My uncle has a great many horses in his stable that are rarely ridden, and I feel sure he would be happy to accommodate you. Do you not think so, Beth?’’
“Oh, yes,” agreed his cousin, “if you will persuade him.”
“Catherine, you do not suppose Uncle Clement will object? This is beyond anything great! Only I do not have a riding habit with me. I daresay I can have one made up in Patterdale.” She turned to a discussion of local dressmakers with Lady Elizabeth.
“Good morrow, Kate,” said Sir Gregory, “'for that's your name, I hear.'“
“ ‘Well have you heard, but something hard of hearing: They call me
that do talk of me.’ And that is Miss Sutton to you, sir. I hope you do not mean to suggest that you find me shrewish?’’
“‘Oh, Kate, content thee; prithee be not angry.’ Not a shrew, Miss Sutton, but I believe I have found you out for a bluestocking, to be quoting Shakespeare with me. Confess!”
“Truth to tell, I have read
The Taming of the Shrew
an hundred times, looking to find all the virtues in my namesake.”
“And what success had you?”
“Little,” she admitted, “except that now I could recite you the whole play. But you’ll not find me reading Kate’s homily on obedient wives.”
“Ah, ‘tis plain to see you are not married. You will change your tune when you are wed.”
“I doubt it, sir. I do not hold men to be the superior sex.”
“‘That wench is stark mad, or wonderful froward.’ Here is the ill effect of too much education, Kate,” Sir Gregory said, grinning; then, as she frowned, “I beg your pardon—Miss Sutton.”
“I’ll not argue with you, sir, for I see that my best arguments will but prove your point. Here comes Mrs Daventry.”
Sir Gregory groaned and clutched his ears, but when the lady came up he was all bored propriety.
“Are you ready to depart, ma’am?” he drawled in a very different voice from that he had used with Catherine. “Cousin, will you take my arm? The path is slippery.”