Authors: Mary Chase Comstock
The first several miles of their route were fairly fa
miliar, and because the weather was so agreeable, the party was able to picnic along their route at midday, rather than trust their luck (and stomachs) to the dubious hospitality of inn fare. The servants spread blankets on the grass in a little glen and unpacked the baskets. Soon, they were all munching companionably on glazed pheasant, Stilton cheese, hothouse grapes, and herbed bread, glad of the warm sunshine and the stillness of the day. Martin, the boy of all work, tossed scraps to the two terriers, keeping them at bay while the others ate.
Watching these antics
, Cat wondered how long it would be before she would again be able to spend time so enjoyably and with such ease. She had known these servants from childhood, had even played with some of them under her grandmother's lenient care. Tonight at the inn, the servants' quarters would be cramped and probably dirty, their fare less agreeable than hers, and such democratic behavior as at this idyllic picnic would be absolutely out of the question. She and Eveline would be housed upstairs and the servants very definitely downstairs, with the exception of Felicia who would haunt the limbo in between. Cat was not at all content with this arrangement, but the inn, at which they would stop tonight, the Ivy Tree, was situated prominently on the main road; word of any untoward deportment would undoubtedly cause talk, and word of it would rapidly spread through that remarkable grapevine—serving hall gossip.
As Cat and her party continued on their journey through the warm afternoon countryside, Eveline read aloud to those passengers in the first carriage, while in the second carriage, the ser
vants excitedly exchanged tales they had heard of the various wonders of London life.
I shouldn't wonder we'll see the Prince Regent himself while we're there,” Betsy, one of the parlor maids, was saying in respectful tones. “I'd dearly love to have a look at a royal, I would.”
Well, that one would dearly love to have a look at you, my dear, and the closer the better,” Tom, the footman, returned with a knowing smirk. “You'd turn the head of the Regent quick enough and no mistake.”
Well, I've heard that's no trick,” Audrey, the second parlor maid, sniffed dismissively. “I've heard not even an aged grandmother's safe around
one, so I guess even our Betsy might do well to watch her backside. Unless, of course, she wants to see His Highness up close!”
You're just a jealous cat,” Betsy huffed,” 'cause you haven't got my looks. I'm sure I don't know what you'll do in London on your half-day, but if I'm in a very good mood I might let you keep watch for my followers.”
Oh, I know what I'll do in London and no mistake. But it's none of your business, so I'll thank you not to ask,” Audrey sneered, her bad temper doing little for her unremarkable looks.
Ho-hum, well I'm so interested, aren't I? Don't forget to let me know when you're ready to tell us all the details so I can be sure to take my nap. What'll you do in London, Tom?” Betsy asked, turning her smiling attention to the footman.
Oh, I expect to see the sights,” Tom replied with an air of great experience. “There's sights in London, I hear tell, that sets a man off the country for life.”
Oh, I'd like to know what!” exclaimed Martin. “This is an adventure I wouldn't miss, and London is sure to be a wonder, but I'll always go back to Sparrowell Hall. That's the life for me.”
You may well think that now,” Tom went on in a jaded tone, “but we shall hear a different tune a few weeks hence.”
The remainder of their journey was not to be so uneventful as the first day had promised. The Ivy Tree had proved unremarkable except in the blandness of the food and the dinginess of the decor, and the remaining half day's ride from there to London should have passed quickly. The party had hardly been on the road half an hour, however, when the sound of galloping hoofbeats behind them intruded on the quiet of the morning.
As the horseman came alongside the first car
riage, the sharp report of a musket's fire brought the horses to a frenzied halt and the sound of a muffled voice could be heard by the shocked passengers, “Stand and deliver or be drownded in a pool of blood!” Then the musket was fired into the air once again.
Cat peeked out the window of the carriage in an understandably cautious manner and took stock of the situation.
“I'll just be a moment,” she said to her white-faced companions. “You two stay right here.”
Before they could protest, she hopped lightly from the carriage onto the lane. Before her, on a horse whose sagging bones and lethargic eye bore witness to the end of a long career at the plow, sat a figure cu
riously draped, bundled, and masked, wearing an obviously false beard of an unlikely reddish hue.
Your money or your life!” the man growled, pointing his musket at her.
Indeed?” Cat returned coolly. “And how do you propose to convince me that I should part with either?”
I would not hesitate to blow that pretty head from here to kingdom come if you'll not open your purse,” he rumbled in ominous tones, waving his musket dramatically.
I see,” said Cat with slow deliberation, “but how you will contrive to do so without reloading that antique (for you have fired it twice, you know) I have no idea; however, I am sure we have no intention of discommoding ourselves further today. You may do as you please, but we shall drive on—and I assure you my men shall now have
arms at the ready.” With that speech, Cat turned her back on the flustered bandit and was about to reenter the carriage when the sound of yet another horseman could be heard approaching at a gallop. This was beginning to be quite a curious day, Cat decided.
Flee while you may, villain! Flee or meet a bloody death!” the advancing rider called out, firing
musket and waving it wildly about. Indeed, Cat felt a good deal more apprehension at the ineptitude of this apparent rescue than she had at the attack which had seemingly occasioned it. As this latest horseman charged forward in a suffocating cloud of dust, the first uttered a gasping curse, turned his mount, and escaped over the brow of the hill at the best gallop his sorry beast could manage.
Opening the door to her carriage, Cat leaned in
side and announced, “Deliverance appears to be at hand, ladies. Feel free to compose yourselves.” Caesar and Brutus, however, taking full advantage of the open door, now flung themselves through it furiously just as the second rider reined in amidst them. Belatedly assuming the roles of fierce protectors, the two dogs wove tight circles around and through the horse's hooves, barking incessantly, and causing the poor creature to rear and throw his hapless rider. This accomplished, the two canine heroes now busied themselves with worrying and tearing at the clothing of the newcomer who was crying out in some distress.
Caesar! Brutus! Back at once,” Cat commanded, but, as usual, it took the combined efforts of the occupants of both carriages, who were now in no small amount of agitation and confusion, to catch the two well-intentioned canines and confine them once again.
When that situation was under control, Cat had the opportunity to size up their would-be rescuer who sat in the dirt clutching at his ankle in unfeigned agony. His curious feathered hat had slipped to one side revealing sandy-colored hair and regular, if un
distinguished, features. Tom and Martin had now come to his aid and were attempting to raise the gentleman up from his prone position.
Have you been harmed, my lady?” the gallant managed to sputter.
I am sorry, sir,” Cat said, suppressing a smile, “but all the harm appears to have been done to you. You must allow me to make amends for the damages my wretched dogs have caused. We are not three miles from the inn where we stopped last night. Martin will lead you and your horse back there and see that an apothecary is called. Then we shall be on our way again.”
But surely you cannot travel this treacherous way on your own!” he protested weakly. “You must allow me to accompany you!”
I think we are in no danger from that poor excuse for a bandit, and besides, my drivers are now alerted. No doubt we shall proceed unmolested now. But whom have we to thank for our gallant
I am Geoffrey D'Ashley, at your service,” he announced stiffly, much put out at her sarcastic tone. However ludicrous Cat deemed this gentleman, it was clear that both Audrey and Betsy were taken with his attempted chivalry, for they both stood open-mouthed, hands clasped dramatically against their hearts.
Well, I thank you very much indeed,” Cat told him tersely, “but it appears you would be well advised to be at your own service for the next several days.”
With a good deal of wincing and suppressed moaning, the gentleman was helped to his horse and Martin led him back the way they had come while the remainder of the party discussed this exciting turn of events. Cat did her best to reassure all of them, for Betsy and Audrey were quite caught up in their lingering distress and fluttering hearts; in her own mind, however, she was not at all sure what to make of this curious episode.
“It was a madman for sure,” Felicia declared, “but our Miss Cat showed him and no mistake!”
Three cheers for Miss Cat!” Tom shouted. As the others joined in, Cat was very much relieved that this was apparently an unfrequented stretch of road. The last thing she wanted was the sort of sensational attention that an occurrence such as this might occasion, and she instructed her party quite plainly to refrain from discussing this event among any but themselves. This they promised with obvious reluctance, for it was clearly a choice bit of news to share with new acquaintances in London.
After Martin's timely return, they loaded them
selves into the coaches once more and were soon on the road again. Eveline had held her peace until the relative privacy of their own compartment had been gained, before revealing her misgivings.
Whatever do you make of this, Cat?” she asked. “I cannot believe it was all it seemed.”
No more do I,” Cat agreed. “There was something exceedingly odd about both of those men. I feel as if I am on the verge of understanding it, but several very important pieces of this puzzle are missing. I do not think we were ever in much danger except from their remarkable bungling, but I shall be much relieved when we are in London nevertheless.”
Eveline and Felicia could not but agree, and the latter directed many a backward glance down the road as their procession continued.
The rest of their journey proceeded without interruption, and it seemed no time at all until Martin was calling out sights of London, and even Tom, for all his apparent world-weariness of the day before, was nearly bouncing with excitement.
Cat had been to London briefly on several occa
sions, but found that she, too, was caught up in the thrill of the moment. Since it was still early in the day, despite the setback of the morning's adventure, Cat directed her coachman to take a more scenic route to the house of Lady Montrose, and the little party was treated to their first splendid sight of Westminster Abbey. While those in the first carriage were able to maintain their dignity with some little effort, an observer of the second carriage would have witnessed the sight of four countrified noses pressed eagerly against the windows.
As they made their way toward their destination along the blossoming borders of Hyde Park, all of the travelers made mental notes about the current fashion scene. The angle of hats, style of cravats, and presence or absence of walking sticks were noted by the masculine portion of the party, while the ladies remarked on shawls, sleeves, and, with a good deal of dismay, the sheerness of fabric of some cos
tumes. Here, the reaction in the first carriage was no less shocked than in the second.
The afternoon had therefore begun to darken into dusk when the two coaches finally arrived at their destination. As the servants' carriage made its way to the side entrance, the other pulled up in front of Montrose House, a lovel
y brick town mansion facing onto a pretty square. The wide front doors were flung open to receive the little party, and they were met at the door by a tall, elegant, if somewhat aged, butler. Smiling pleasantly, he politely hid his dismay and overlooked the energetic antics of Caesar and Brutus who took immediate advantage of the central staircase to run an impromptu relay race.
Good evening, Miss Mansard,” he greeted her. “I hope your journey has not been too taxing. Lady Montrose is resting just now, but she has left instructions for you to be shown to your rooms. She will receive you in the drawing room before dinner. Would you care for some refreshment now?”
Just some tea,” Cat told him. “We shall be glad of a chance to collect ourselves before we meet Lady Montrose. Also, my terriers appear to be in need of exercise. Would you ask my Martin to collect them and take them for a good run?”