Read In the Commodore's Hands Online

Authors: Mary Nichols

Tags: #Romance, #Historical Romance

In the Commodore's Hands (10 page)

BOOK: In the Commodore's Hands
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‘It does not matter,’ Lisette put in quickly. ‘I will teach the other four, if their parents approve.’

‘And have my two left out?’ Jay said. ‘They will wonder why and feel hurt. Miss Giradet, I will be pleased for you to teach my children French. I will send them here to join their cousins for the lessons when you have decided the day and time.’

‘Then I will write to Amelia and Charlotte and suggest it,’ Lord Drymore said. Then to Lisette,
‘Amelia lives in Downham Market and Charlotte in Ely, neither of them very far away.’ He turned as servants came in to remove the first course and bring the second. ‘Ah, I smell roast chicken.’

His remark signalled the end of the discussion and they moved on to more general observations. Lisette watched Jay covertly. He seemed to have returned to his previous good humour, but she could not be sure. He had been manoeuvred by his father into a position he did not care for, but could not refuse without being uncivil, and she wondered why he found it so abhorrent. All she wanted to do was teach his children French. That would not corrupt them or mean that she would be any more often in his company; he had said he would send the children, not come himself.

As soon as the meal was finished, she pleaded tiredness and made her way to her room. Tomorrow she would sit with her father for a while, write her letter to Michel, prepare the French lessons and perhaps explore her surroundings. There would be plenty to keep her busy.

She woke to the sound of childish laughter. For a moment she wondered where she was,
but then it all came flooding back: the escape and the voyage and the slow journey up the river when she had learned a little more about the enigmatic Jay Drymore. She had never been very curious about her English relations, perhaps because speaking of them distressed her mother while her father forbade the name mentioned, but now it had been aroused by a few words said at supper the previous evening. What connection did Earl Wentworth have with Jay Drymore? Why did his whole demeanour change at the sound of the name? It would seem her mother had not been the only one ill used by the man. But Jay had referred to him as the late Earl, so the man who had been her grandfather was dead. But what of his heirs? Did they even know of her existence?

The sound of squeals of laughter came to her again. Guessing it was Edward and his sister, she rose and padded over to the window. The rain had gone and below her the moat sparkled in the early morning sun. On the other side of it was a garden and an area of grass. Here the children were playing a game of tag. Edward was hugging a large ball made of stuffed hide and Anne was chasing him to take it from him. Lisette smiled as she watched them, two happy children without a care in the world. Jay had
done a good job helping them over their grief at the loss of their mother.

Edward looked up and saw her. He stopped running and gave her a wave. She waved back and then Anne came and stood beside him and stared up at her. Lisette leaned out.
‘Bonjour
,
mes enfants,’
she called.

They conferred a moment as if translating what she had said, then Edward looked up again.
‘Bonjour, mademoiselle.’

‘Très bon.’

Hortense came into the room behind her carrying a bowl of hot water. ‘You are awake at last. Will you dress?’

‘Yes. Something plain and easy to walk in. That petticoat dress I wore yesterday will do.’

She washed and scrambled into her underclothes, while Hortense found the gown. ‘Shall I ask for your breakfast to be brought up?’

‘No, I will have it later downstairs. I’m going out into the garden.’

She left Hortense to tidy the room and ran lightly downstairs and out of the main door. To reach the children it was necessary to cross the drawbridge and walk round the outside of the moat. They were still there, but had abandoned the ball and were kneeling beside the moat, peering into the water.

‘What can you see?’ she asked, squatting down beside them.

‘A fish,’ Anne said.

‘An eel,’ Edward added.

‘Une anguille,’
Lisette said, then added when they looked mystified, ‘That is French for eel. Where is it?’

‘There, in the reeds.’ Edward pointed.

‘My goodness, it is a long one. Are they all as big as that in the fens?’

‘Some are. The village men go out in boats and catch them in traps to send to London. Cook sometimes makes eel pie. Do you like eel pie,
mademoiselle?’

‘I have never tasted it.’

‘You should,’ said a voice behind them. ‘It is a staple diet in these parts.’

All three twisted round to see Jay standing over them. Lisette scrambled to her feet. ‘Good morning,
monsieur.’

‘Good morning,
mademoiselle
. Did you sleep well?’

‘Exceedingly well. After all the upheaval of recent days, it was so quiet and peaceful, I fell asleep almost at once.’

‘I am glad to hear it. Blackfen Manor has that effect on people. Have you breakfasted?’

‘Not yet. The day was so lovely and I could hear the children so I thought to join them.’

‘Can we take a boat out on the fen and show
mademoiselle
how eels are caught?’ Edward said. ‘An eel is
une anguille
, did you know?’

‘I might have learned it a long time ago,’ Jay said with a smile. ‘But I had forgotten it.’ He paused. ‘Would you like Mademoiselle Giradet to teach you French with your cousins?’

‘Does it mean we can stay here with Grandmama and Grandpapa?’ Anne asked.

‘Not all the time, but you will come back for the lessons.’

‘Good,’ the child said with satisfaction. ‘I like it here.’

‘Of course you do, everyone does, but you do have a home, you know, and I have work to do there.’

‘What about going on the mere?’ Edward persisted. ‘I am sure
mademoiselle
wants to go, don’t you?’ He appealed to Lisette.

‘I think that would be
très interessant,’
she said.

Jay laughed. ‘It seems the lessons have already begun.’

‘It is the best way to learn, as you go. It is better than sitting in a classroom, chanting verbs.’

‘Would you like a little excursion on to the fen in a boat?’

‘Very much.’

‘Then let us go and have breakfast first. We will be back for dinner at three o’clock and afterwards I will take the children home and leave you and your father in peace.’

‘The children do not disturb me,’ she said, though she said nothing of the man himself who never failed to set her heart pounding. ‘I love children, especially when they are so well behaved as these are.’

They began to walk back towards the drawbridge. ‘Have you never thought of marrying and having children yourself,
mademoiselle?’
Jay asked.

‘Alas, the right man has never come along. Perhaps I am too particular.’ She laughed suddenly. ‘Or perhaps the gentlemen are. I am too tall and thin, which is not at all fashionable. It has been said I could easily be mistaken for my brother.’

‘Whoever said that must be blind,’ he said. She laughed. ‘Thank you for that, kind sir.’

Lord Drymore had already breakfasted and gone about the business of the estate and her ladyship had her breakfast in her room, so Jay and
Lisette had joined the children in the kitchen. After enjoying a hearty breakfast, they set off for the narrow tributary of the river which joined the moat to the fen. Here Jay, helped by Edward, pulled a boat out of a boathouse and tied it to a stake while they all they all climbed in. Jay untied the rope, jumped in and picked up the oars to row them into open water.

There was a long, narrow basket in the bottom of the boat which Edward explained was an eel trap. ‘They go in this end after the bait,’ he told Lisette, picking it up. ‘But it is too narrow for them to turn round and they cannot swim backwards.’

‘They are caught alive?’

‘Oh, yes. They are sent to London in barrels so they arrive fresh. Mr Roker uses this one to catch eels for Cook.’

The expanse of water was edged with reeds and here and there a windmill was used to scoop water off the adjoining land and tip it into the mere. The only sound was the creaking of the water wheels, the cry of the water birds as they squabbled over the titbits Anne threw to them, and the croaking of frogs in the reeds. There were other boats on the water whose occupants were busy pulling baskets out of the water and examining them for captured eels.
Others were shooting ducks and some were laden with reeds for thatch or willows for making the eel traps.

‘The fen provides a livelihood for many of the village men,’ Jay said, smiling at his son who explained all this to an attentive Lisette. ‘Others are employed on the land.’

‘I recall you said you had a farm on your estate.’

‘So I do, that is why I must go home and deprive myself of your company.’

‘But you will be bringing the children for their lessons, will you not?’ she queried, conveniently forgetting that he had said he would send them.

‘To be sure, when my work allows,’ he said. ‘I frequently visit my parents and they visit me. You should ask them to bring you. Falsham Hall is not as large or as old as Blackfen Manor, but it is set in gently rolling countryside, fertile land for the growing of crops and rearing cattle. There is even an orchard where we grow apples for cider. It is perhaps not as fine as Normandy cider, but a very pleasant drink to quench a thirst. You must come and try some.’

She smiled. He was a different man here in the place he loved, with his children who undoubtedly meant the world to him. The man
he had been in France, and for a brief moment at supper the previous evening, she had found difficult to like, but the man whose muscular arms pulled on the oars of the little boat was altogether more agreeable. ‘I should like that,’ she said.

They spent hours on the lake, watching the birds and the other boats or talking quietly, until it was time to return to the Manor. And later that day, Jay took the children home.

Their absence left her feeling strangely at odds with herself. It was the children she missed, she told herself, not the man, but she could not convince herself. Jay Drymore was such a powerful presence his absence left a void which she was determined to try to fill. There was a well-stocked book room at the Manor and she spent an hour or so browsing before selecting
Gulliver’s Travels
to read to her father. He was recovering well, but she knew he worried about Michel.

Five days later the house echoed once again to children’s laughter, as both of Jay’s sisters arrived—Lady Amelia Jepson with her two daughters, Matilda and Charlotte, and Mrs Charlotte Granger with her two, Sophie and
Thomas, who was only three—then Jay arrived with Edward and Anne. Once everyone had been introduced, Lisette took all the children, including Thomas, out into the garden to begin French lessons, playing games and learning the names of the flowers.

They came twice a week after that. On other days Lisette was kept busy with translating work and teaching adult
émigrés
the rudiments of the English language, but they found it a struggle and some would never manage to do more than utter a few phrases. The children were so much easier to teach.

In early September Jay gathered in his harvest and invited the whole family over to celebrate it and naturally Lisette and the Comte were included in the invitation.

It was evidently an annual custom for the squire to host a feast to thank the labourers for their hard work and it was held in a barn on the farm. When they arrived, Jay was busy overseeing the preparations and, having greeted them politely and made sure they had refreshments, he left Edward and his mother to show Lisette and her father round the house.

It was a solidly built square building with
large airy rooms furnished in the French style, which pleased the Comte. He eagerly pointed out pieces that were similar to those he had had at home and which he did not doubt had been looted now the château was uninhabited. Downstairs there were three reception rooms, a dining room and a library. They peeped in the kitchens, which were a hive of activity as the cook-housekeeper and her extra staff worked to provide the feast, but quickly withdrew for fear of getting in the way. On the next floor, there were six bedrooms and above them the servants’ bedrooms, though they did not venture up there, but returned to the drawing room to take tea, supervised by Lady Drymore in the absence of a hostess. ‘Jay could do with a wife,’ Amy said. ‘But he says he will never marry again. It is hardly to be wondered at, but I wish he would get over it.’

Lisette assumed she was speaking of the loss of Jay’s wife, but decided not to comment.

By the time they had finished their tea, Jay returned. ‘All is ready,’ he said. ‘Shall we go over?’

Everyone, including the children, trooped out behind him, across a lane to a barn in the yard of the Home Farm, which was already filling with people, young, old and every age between.
The unthreshed wheat, with its unique scent of summer, was piled up almost to the ceiling at one end, but the rest of the floor had been cleared. A long table had been set up down the length of this space and groaned under the weight of the food it held. No one would go away hungry.

Jay showed them to their places, then left them again to make sure everyone was seated at the table. He made a short speech praising the workers, to which the lord of the harvest replied, calling for three cheers for the Commodore. The sound of the hurrahs rose to the rafters. Jay was undoubtedly a popular employer and landlord.

When every last scrap of food had been consumed and the table cleared away, space was made in the middle of the floor for dancing, the music for which was provided by a fiddler and a flautist.

‘I wonder what the grain is like in Villarive this year,’ Lisette mused aloud as she sat beside her father on a bale of straw, watching the merriment.

‘I hope it is better than last year,’ he said. ‘More to the point, is there anyone to harvest
it? And what about the apples? It will soon be time to pick those.’

‘Are you very homesick, Papa?’ He had regained a little of his strength, but he was often to be found deep in thought, tears filling his eyes. It hurt her to see it.

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