Please May I Introduce...?
We are all at sixes and sevenses here, with two of the kitchen maids poorly, and Mr. Fitz away to attend his dying mother. I’ve been fairly run off my feet and even had to borrow a uniform and serve at nuncheon one day! And here I’ve been longing to get back to telling of how I met my George and what it occasioned.
I can still see that dusty lane, with the motes of dust sparkling in the lowering sun, (http://www.rth.org.uk/node/926) and the Yellow Duke calling ‘What’s afoot?’ and staying on to hear for myself. For I was mightily puzzled by now about the whole shenanigans; and curiosity was ever my besetting sin.
The Black Man walked unhurriedly towards Lord Lonsdale who, I noted with interest, also advanced; so that the two met in middleground, where I couldn’t hear. This surprised me, for though his few words to me were said in an undertone, he had seemed so big and fierce that I assumed his voice would be a large bellow in the circumstances. But it was Lonsdale who bellowed. So loudly, in fact, that the silken black horse raised his head and pricked his ears, and I jumped when the Ducal voice shouted loudly:-
“Did he, by God? The wicked scoundrel. I’ve a mind to take a whip to him meself!”
He stalked over to the carter who was still huddled on the ground and now began to whimper. Continuing in a very serious voice like judges and lawyers and such do; he soon had the carter, minus his horse and cart, hobbling off back the way he had come; and had taken the poor, emaciated and bleeding horse away from the man, after giving him some coins.
I was about to steal off now I knew what was to-do when Milord who, with the Black Man (for such I called him), was running his hands over the poor, sore hide, and pulling back lips sore eroded by a ill-fitting iron bit, say:-
“I see you have the right person already in attendance if we’ve any hope of saving this poor lad.” The Black Man turned and, seeing only me, his eyes continued searching the landscape for the person Londsdale was referring to.
“ Tis I” I said tartly, as I flounced over to take better account of the horse. Where I couldn’t help but add: “Well, I told you I could”.
To my annoyance the Black Man stayed my hand.
“And I told you I could too.” He said, still in that reasonable tone. I snatched my hand away and was about to pooh-pooh his ideas – for who had ever heard of a healer of animals who was a man? Certainly not I nor, it appeared, Lord Londsdale. Both of us looked directly into the Black Man’s face, and could see no mischief there.
“By George, I believe you can.” Said Lord Londsdale. “You’re Romany, you say? Not one of the Rom who know The Way with horses, and hounds, and such, I don’t suppose?”
“Well now, that I couldn’t say; for ‘tis said that’s merely a romantic rumour, is it not? Suffice it to say that I do seem to have a way with animals.”
The Yellow Earl’s face had began to light a little, but fell as the Gypsy man continued “However, I suspect that I merely have an affinity with animals. Having, of course, spent my whole life living alongside them.” And then, to my total astonishment, he took from a pouch at his waist a tiny, but exquisite snuff box, offered it to Milord who shook his head mutely, and delicately joining his thumb and forefinger, calmly took a pinch of snuff.
“Well a day!” I burst into the silence “Do you seek to make a booby of Milord as well as of me? Are we country yokels to gape in wonder at your beautiful boots and your dandies trinket and treat each word out of your mouth as though it were the very truths handed down from Mt. Sinai?” I turned to gesture at the carter’s horse. “And what, oh dark and mysterious stranger, would be the first thing you would do for yon horse?” I stepped back and crossed my arms: “For I should go to Goodie Arkwrights and beg marigolds from her field!” I said, thinking both to bathe the poor, blood-spattered animal and soothe his obvious injuries as a prelude to assessing him.
The Black Man now looked at me gravely and with full attention. “Would you, indeed?” he said, in an interested tone. “Why that would not have been what I would do at all.” I caught Lord Londsdale’s eye then, and perhaps smirked a little: I had him then! For, sure my method was both practical and would help the poor animal to trust a human being again.
“No, indeed” the wretched man continued, and walked towards the animals shoulders. “The first thing I would do would be to release her from her traces and whatnot.”
I were mortified. First: I hadn’t yet noted it was a mare; and second: of COURSE I too would have done that. ‘Twas not even necessary to say! Naturally I would have had the animals tack off before I led her from the scene.
I was just about to impart this latest injury to my audience when a strange, barking noise began to make itself heard. I looked in its direction only to see Londsdale, hat in hand, and wiping his poll with a large ‘kerchief, laughing fit to burst and, further, a huge grin on the coachman’s face.
“Well I never!” he gasped when his paroxysms had subsided somewhat. “Never have I seen two people so made for each other’s measure.”
I was struck dumb. Me? And this well-shod stranger? We ‘had each other’s measure?
“Ah, Miss Emma Jane” smiled Milord “You may well get the better of these village lads and lasses – aye and sometimes even of the good Father – but I do not think this man here will be cowed by your sharp tongue, and your mysteries and your peculiar ways.”
I? It was I he was talking of? With a sharp tongue, is it? And my mysteries? What mysteries did he mean? Because I spent all my time in the greenwoods and the meadows while others toiled in the school-room? That was no mystery but good common sense. But – ‘peculiar ways’? Indeed my ways were the same as my mother’s and my Grandam’s and they were not ‘peculiar’. Why, not a soul in Grantham that has not knocked on our cottage door and....
“Simpson. George Simpson” I heard suddenly. It cut through my indignation as with a blade and I saw that the two men were shaking hands and must have affected their introductions.
“Simpson?” Why did that name sound so familiar to me? It had rung so loud in my head when I heard it. So familiar. Yet never had I known anyone of that name.
But as soon as I heard it my very own name of Ridgewell went from my mind as if it had never been. Emma Jane Simpson? Surely that was my name? It fitted me like an old pair of leather gloves. It seemed more familiar to me than Emma Jane Ridgewell. Faugh! That sounded plain ill.
I saw now that both Milord and the Black Man were looking at me with amusement. The Black Man was looking at me expectantly and he prompted “I am called George Simpson – at your service Ma’am”
I was all of a fluster now what with being mysterious and peculiar and wondering about his familiar name.
“Begging your pardon, sir” and the curtsy I bobbed was meant to seem as though I was truly paying my respects. Which I most certainly was not doing. “Emma-Jane” I said and looked him square in the face – only to see he knew perfectly well how much respect my curtsy contained. Embarrassed I blurted out “Emma Jane Simpson, sir.” And froze in horror.
It was Lonsdale who broke the silence with yet another guffaw: -
“By gad, sir. Not bad work for a single afternoon: horsewhipped a scoundrel, saved a horse and now, it seems, gained a wife whether you will or no.”
I forgot all about my errand then – forgot about everything indeed except sitting by my Grandam’s fire, and drinking a posset and being away from this whole undertaking. I had reason to be glad I was barefoot at that moment, as I turned round in the dust and did the only thing I could do. I ran. With all the speed I had honed in my lifetime I sped back down the way I had come and disappeared abruptly into the concealing brush.
And ‘twas in that way I first met my George.