MD Book 13 – Chapter 4 – The decision and its consequences

Amelia began to plan her trip. The farm which Charles owned was about 3 miles from the village of A- which itself was about 5 miles from the nearest railway station in B-.  Her itinerary would therefore include a train journey from St Pancras railway station, a coach (or cart!) to the hostelry in the village and a horse ride to the farm. There was no question that she would need to take her maid, and then rely on station porters and locals for the heavy lifting of her portmanteaux. She had travelled extensively in the past, and she was at a loss to know why this trip was so different from any other she had taken. Similarly, she was quite undecided about what clothes to take, especially as she had had so little experience of the working of a farm, and had really no interest in finding out. However she was very determined to ‘make a good impression’ but could not work out just how to go about it.

One thing she was clear about was that she would not give Charles advance notice of her coming, just in case she was rejected and having made her decision she was damned if she was going to change it for anything. It was the last leg of the journey which was causing her so much anxiety. It boiled down to either, wearing her most striking riding habit, or challenging convention and riding astride.

So, accompanied by her maid, Mary, Amelia set off for the Farm. the train journey and the coach to the inn went smoothly. They took lodgings at the inn as arranged, agreed a horse for the morrow with the local livery, had dinner and retired for the night. After a full breakfast, Amelia and Mary set out for the livery yard. Amelia had decided on one of her most striking riding habits in royal blue, with a matching riding hat and veil. The first problem arose when they arrived at the livery yard and found that the horse assigned to Amelia did not have a side saddle. After some argument, during which Amelia expressed her disgust (and Mary began flirting with the stable lads, who had stopped their work to watch the altercation) Amelia decided that she would not delay, and with the loss of a certain amount of decorum by displaying glimpses of her underskirt and drawers to the assembled onlookers, she finally settled herself astride. At least the yard had a mounting block which spared her the worst of her blushes. As she trotted the horse out of the yard in the general direction of Charles’ farm she glanced back and noticed that Mary was already in flirtatious conversation with the lads in the yard and muttered to herself that she would not be surprised if Mary got herself laid before her return.

After taking the wrong turn at a junction about a mile outside the village, and being put right by a farm labourer leaning on a gate, she began to relax and enjoy the ride. The horse was docile, the sun was beginning to rise high in the sky, the birds were singing and from her vantage point on the horse, she could see across the fields on both sides to the range of low hills on the horizon. It was not until she espied the farm building and saw the gate with the name of the farm written on a board at the side of it, did a very unsettling feeling started in her stomach and her heart began to race. The gate was shut and she was obliged to dismount to open it and pass through. Without a mounting block, it would have been difficult remounting, so leading the horse and holding her skirts above the mud on the track as best she could she walked up to the group of buildings. At first, although she could hear signs of activity, she could see no one and she was quite close to the first building when an elderly man, with white hair and a limp appeared round the corner. He appeared startled but after the first shock lost no time in looking Amelia up and down, before saying in a local accent that Amelia found far from easy to follow “What are you doing here?” She looked at him and replied “I am here to visit Sir Charles de la Rochelle, who I believe owns this farm. “Well” he said “there are no titles her, its just plain Mr Charles. He’s shifting some muck in the barn. do you want me to take you to him?” and staring at the way her skirts were dragging on the ground, in spite of her attempts to hold them up continued “It be a bit muddy through there.” “If I could just tie up my horse?” Amelia said, and the man led her to a hitching rail where she wrapped the horses reins. “Please keep an eye on him will you?” she said to his already retreating back. She followed him round a couple more corners, then she saw Charles. He had wedged himself up against a fence and was raking what looked like muck from the yard into a pile in one corner. The man made a sound, Charles turned and saw Amelia for the first time. His jaw dropped open but she was looking straight at him and their eyes met. He recovered himself, smiled his most generous smile and said “Amelia, welcome to Glebe Farm. Thank you so much for coming.” He had a thousand questions, but he paused, leaned on his rake, in the absence of a crutch and said “I just have a few more loads to move then I can clean up and be with you. Please, Enoch” he said turning to the man “Take Miss Ecclestone into the parlour and give her some refreshment. Is that alright?” he concluded, addressing the last remark to Amelia, and she indicated agreement.

Amelia followed Enoch into the parlour of the farmhouse. It was quite cool after the heat of the outside. Enoch asked if she would like a drink and when she said yes, produced a jug and poured beer into a cup. Amelia was not used to drinking beer but she drank it down without a word and found it quite refreshing. After a few minutes, there was the sound of Charles’ crutch on the tiles and he appeared. “Please Enoch can you pack a picnic basket while I go and get cleaned up” and to Amelia “I suggest that we take a picnic up to the copse on the hill. I’ll be ready as soon as I can. Perhaps you could ride up there and I will bring the cart and the picnic.”

Amelia went out into the yard followed by Enoch. He found her a block to stand and she mounted her horse and rode out in the direction pointed out by Enoch towards the copse a short ride away on the nearby hill. When she arrived, she dismounted and found a suitable branch of a tree to tether he horse. She sat down in the shade to await Charles. From the hill she could see a few miles in all directions and in the distance saw a large and imposing house. There were a few roads and tracks crisscrossing the landscape, but in all directions there was rich countryside, with a variety of crops, sheep and cattle. In contrast to the hustle and bustle of London, this was a peaceful, gentle landscape, at its best in the early summer sunlight.

After a time, she espied Charles driving along the track towards the copse accompanied by Enoch. She felt a wave of disappointment, thinking that there was to be a 3 some, but Enoch was there only to transport the picnic basket up the hill in the footsteps of Charles, who gamely worked his way up the slope on his crutch. Again,  Amelia was struck with how restricted Charles was in his movement and the thought crossed her mind. Would I ever be prepared to tie myself for life to a man with such a disability?

 

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