by Susana Ellis
Fiona Hendrickson woke up begrudgingly as the chamber flooded with bright sunlight from the windows. Shielding her eyes with her hand, she could make out the pudgy figure of her grandfather’s housekeeper in the blinding light.
“What?” Then, “Oh,” after her wits returned to her. Grandfather’s house. The long trip from Yorkshire by stage coach. The prospect of a long, lonely future in the country with only her cantankerous old grandfather for company. Now why had she agreed to this? Oh yes, the farm.
“If ye’d like to break yer fast afore church, ye’d best go down right quick. T’ master’s ‘ad ‘is and it’s no doubt cold by now.” She cocked her head and studied Fiona doubtfully. “Ye kin dress yerself, eh? No maids in this ‘ouse.”
Fiona rolled her eyes, something her stepmother would never have approved of. The thought of her stepmother made her chest ache. Would they ever see one another again?
“I’ve no need of a maid.” Not only had she never needed a maid, but she and her stepmother had never had a servant of any kind. A housekeeper was a luxury beyond reckoning.
“I’m not hungry.” Not true. She was starving after a day on a rattling stagecoach. But the prospect of getting out of bed and facing the reality of her new circumstances gave her a feeling of panic.
The housekeeper (what was her name?) shrugged. “Matters naught to me, miss. But t’ master expects ye t’ be fixed t’ leave by eight. It’s a good two miles, ye know. Likes t’ be on time, ‘e does.”
Fiona took a deep breath and threw aside the bed coverings. It was no good whining. She hadn’t been a child for several years. Grown women left home every day, usually to marry or to start a life on their own, for better or worse, but at some point they had to move on.
“I suppose I’ll have a bite to eat after all. I’ll be down shortly, er Mrs.—“
Perry. Ah yes, that was it. “Thank you, Mrs. Perry.”
Was that a shadow of a smile on the older woman’s lips as she turned and left the room? Fiona chose to think so, and set her mind to more positive thoughts. It was a beautiful day. She had a grandfather to get to know; perhaps in time they could learn to get on with each other. As far as learning how to manage a farm, well, that seemed unlikely. The city girl in her knew where her food came from, but she wasn’t keen on making its acquaintance when it had eyes to look upon her.
“You’ll want to wed a fine, sturdy gent, lass. As soon as may be. A woman can keep hens and a kitchen garden, but it takes a man to plough and make hay and such.”
Her grandfather didn’t waste time issuing commands, did he? They’d barely made it out of the gate when he’d begun setting down his plans for her life.
“I-I suppose there are farm workers I can hire, can I not, Grandfather?”
“What? Have something against marriage, lass? Most women would have married at your age.” He looked at her sharply. “Not looking for a love match, are you? I had enough of that nonsense with your mother.”
Fiona tamped down the resentment that lurked beneath the surface. There was no point in revisiting an event from twenty years past. Of course she wanted a love match; every woman did. Most women had to settle for less, however. She doubted she had the courage to elope to Gretna Green as her mother had.
“You must at the least allow me time to become acquainted with the neighborhood, Grandfather. I shan’t marry only for someone to run the farm.” Seeing her grandfather’s face start to turn purple, she quickly added, “He must be a man of good character, you know. I refuse to wed a drunkard or a brute.”
He opened his mouth and then closed it. “Girl, I’m not asking you to marry the first man you meet.” He paused and took her shoulders in his hands. “Just don’t be too fine in your requirements. I’m not at death’s door just yet, but it’s best you have a husband before I get there.”
As that was probably true, Fiona nodded and fell silent until they arrived at the parish church and seated themselves on a bench.
Almost immediately she sensed someone staring at her. Turning her head to the back, she saw an attractive young man with a look of awe on his face.
The first man she’d met. Well, seen, anyway. Was he perhaps a farmer? Suddenly her heart lightened and she felt a sense of hope for the first time since she’d arrived.
Frederick Hofbauer is the oldest (by two minutes) of triplets, his brothers being Fritz and Franz, who serve tea every Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. EST in the Tea Room, hosted by Cerise DeLand and Susana Ellis and their weekly guest authors, who come to discuss themselves and their books. If you are interested in discovering new authors and books, recipes, historical fashion, and lively conversation, please join them.
Fiona hasn’t been to tea as yet, but it’s possible you will see her there in the near future.