Read Riding Shotgun Online

Authors: Rita Mae Brown

Riding Shotgun (28 page)

BOOK: Riding Shotgun
2.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

They stopped a few times to catch their breath. Cig held onto the ham. When they reached the summer kitchen she eagerly dropped it on the big table. Margaret shut the door behind them. A fire, embers flying upwards, roared in the huge fireplace.

Margaret removed her mittens and her heavy coat, standing with her back to the fire. “That feels good.”

“Why don’t you brick-in the walkway between here and the house? You could make it another room.”

“Because I’m deathly afraid of fire and they always seem to start in the kitchens. I warm foods or make tea in the house kitchen but I like to do most of my cooking and baking here.”

“Makes sense if you don’t mind running back and forth.” Cig, too, took off her coat and gloves. “Put me to work. I’m an indifferent cook but I take direction really well.”

“You can knead the dough for our biscuits.”

As Cig measured out flour, Margaret lifted a coil of sausage from a high hook. Highness opened one green eye. Nell, snoozing next to her, sniffed and did likewise. “Go back to sleep.” Margaret laughed at them. Smudge brushed against her legs. “Beggar.” She chopped up the sausage into little bits, grated a chunk of white cheese and mixed it into the batter Cig had made. “You know, you never told me what happened, exactly, on the day you rode through the fog. Tell me.” The cool dough squeezed through her fingers as she listened, occasionally tossing tidbits to the cats.

“The way it started was odd. I was having one of the greatest days foxhunting I’ve ever had in my life. Toward the end of the chase a hound was howling in the woods. I put Grace in charge and rode into the woods with another lady, Harleyetta, who is a nurse.” Cig paused. “In my time there are special schools to teach people to be nurses and doctors.”

“That’s a good idea,” Margaret said.

“I wish you could see Harleyetta because she shaves her eyebrows and then pencils them in but she does it too low on her brow,” she indicated where on the brow, “and if she’s had too much to drink they wiggle. Anyway, in the woods we found the hound baying at a huge old tree trunk which had fallen on the ground. Here’s the weird part. There was a skeleton in it.”

“Oh no.” Margaret’s hands fluttered a moment, scattering some sausage bits to the cats’ delight.

“The man, dead a long, long time and most likely murdered, had been stuffed in the tree trunk. Harleyetta thought the skeleton was much older than the War Between the States, which we first thought the most likely explanation. Don’t worry about the war, that’s another whole bag of beans. Took place in the 1860s. Anyway, Harleyetta said we wouldn’t know just how old this skeleton was until we could get the bones to a forensics lab. That’s a place where they can tell how long a body’s been dead and the cause of death. It’s very scientific—so on the way back to the field, with my sister in charge, remember—am I losing you?”

“No, no, it’s just all these new ideas and another war, it’s hard to keep up.”

“I’m sorry. Anyway, Harleyetta was in the hospital when my husband was brought in, dead from a heart attack. Through a slight misunderstanding, she told me he was having an affair with my sister. She thought I knew but you see, I didn’t at all, and it slipped out of her mouth as we rode back to the group.”

Margaret’s eyes widened, her face flushed. “A betrayal on two fronts, no wonder you were—distressed.”

“I accompanied Harleyetta back to the group. My head was bursting so I returned to the woods to retrieve the hound. I needed to collect myself, you know what I mean? When I rode past the skull again it seemed that he was smiling at me.”

Margaret shuddered. “They do grin.”

“What was weird—I don’t know, I felt like I knew something but I couldn’t remember. Fattail, the big fox, trotted out. I followed him into the fog. The next thing I knew I was here.”

“You’ve suffered a terrible shock.”

“Sometimes I think I’m too stupid to feel it,” Cig said honestly.

“The mind has wondrous ways to soothe itself.” Then a flicker of a smile flashed across Margaret’s pretty features. “It’s a wise woman who doesn’t inquire too closely into the business of her husband.”

“I knew about his other affairs, most of them, and in time
I did as you suggested. I pretended not to know. What would I gain by having it out with him? I tried that once early in my marriage and that son-of-a-bitch freely confessed it, said he’d never do it again and then turned right around and started up with another one!”

Margaret whistled. “The blackguard!”

“My sister was worse than he was. I confided in her. I trusted her.” Cig stopped abruptly. “Do you have a sister?”

“She died of the pox. Just a little thing, and God only knows why I never contracted the contagion.” Margaret placed the biscuits on a flat, thin iron sheet. “Pryor, can you forgive your sister?”

“I don’t know.”

“You wont return to your time until you can forgive her.”

Cig put her hand on Margaret’s shoulder. “Second sight?”

Margaret shook her head no. “Time means nothing when it comes to the human heart. That never changes. You roust forgive Grace. God will judge, not man.” She paused, weighing her words, “Pryor, did you know that the Indians bury their victims in trees?”

28

The periwinkle blue of the snow seduced Cig into a dreamy happiness as they flew along in the sleigh. She felt as if she were swooshing through a curtain of blue for the snow was coming down in undulating waves like a theatrical curtain.

The snow stung her face and bit her tongue when she opened her mouth to laugh. Cig didn’t remember having this much fun in winter. Since Lionel’s sleigh was expensive, the latest thing, painted a deep cherry red with gold pin-striping, Tom couldn’t resist taking it out along the river road before returning it to Wessex.

Cig and Margaret, swathed in furs, screamed as they took a curve.

“Slow down.”

“Live at a gallop, my love.” Tom leaned over and kissed Margaret’s rosy cheeks but reined in.

“Thank God you didn’t try to hitch Full Throttle to this thing or we’d be in the next state by now,” Cig said.

“State of what?”

“I meant colony,” Cig replied to her brother. “I wish we had a sleigh like this.”

“In good time, in good time.” Tom’s jaw stuck out. “Patience, hard work, and a bit of luck. Of course, a good marriage would help, sister.”

She rolled her eyes.

Margaret spoke for her. “In good time—in good time.”

Hearing his own words come right back at him, Tom could only nod in lukewarm agreement.

A lone figure rode toward them. Tom slowed the horses to a walk.

“Patrick Fitzroy,” Cig called to him as they approached, “how is it you are riding in this blizzard?”

“What’s a blizzard?” he asked.

“A snowstorm,” she answered.

“Ah, another of your fashionable words.” He paused. “I wanted to show you something.”

Tom, quiet, watched as Fitzroy drew alongside the sleigh “A beauty. Looks like Lionel deVries’s sleigh.”

“It is. I’m going to return it to him today.”

“What did you want to show me?” Cig asked

“If you’ll be going back I’ll show you at your barn. I’ve put a bit of leather in my mare’s foot and I want you to see it.”

“Why?” Tom didn’t like Pryor’s surge of energy around the Irishman.

“Keeps the snow from balling up in the foot. I’ll have to shoe her more often, mind you, but that’s a small price to pay, I should think.”

Tom turned the sleigh around and Patrick trotted alongside, the snow crusting on his heavy blond eyebrows. He asked Tom, “Would you like me to go with you to Wessex? A bit of company makes every journey short.”

“No, thank you.” Tom smiled.

They chattered about the weather, the upcoming Eppes party, the odds and ends of daily life that inform every time and every group of people.

When they reached Buckingham, Tom pulled the sleigh up to the open barn doors. Patrick dismounted, leading his horse into the aisle. He offered to help Tom unhitch but Tom refused, saying he would be leaving soon.

“Let me see what brought you out here.” Tom walked over to the mare. Fitzroy lifted her left foreleg, pointing out a supple piece of leather carefully cut to match the shape of her hoof. The shoe was nailed over it, creating a protective pad. This accomplished two important things in snow. It prevented the snow from balling up in the hoof and since neither horse nor rider could be certain of what was underneath the snow, it gave the animal some protection against stones and other sharp objects.

“Good work,” Cig said, standing behind Tom.

“How long before the leather tears?” asked Tom, not one to be easily swayed.

“Depends on what she steps on, now doesn’t it?” Fitzroy put down her hoof. “It ought to last until the next shoeing.”

“Do you shoe every six weeks?” Cig asked.

“I let the horse tell me when but that’s close enough.”

“Do come inside for a hot drink. I’ve some sausage biscuits, as well,” Margaret invited Patrick. “What about you, husband?”

“I’d best be on my way.”

“Don’t forget to give Kate deVries the basket. There’s biscuits in there for you and jams for her. Do you think you’ll be home tomorrow?”

“Depends on the weather, my love.” He kissed her on the cheek.

“Safe journey,” Cig called over her shoulder as she led Fitzroy’s mare into Pollux’s stall.

Tom made a point of asking, “Any messages for Lionel?”

“My regards, and I’ll see him at the party.” She turned to Fitzroy. “Let me untack her and put a blanket on. It only takes a minute. No point in her standing around all dressed up and nowhere to go.”

“I’ll do it.”

“Done.” Cig smiled as she slipped the bridle off the horse’s head.

Tom lingered a moment then hopped back in the sleigh. “I hate to take this back.” He laughed at himself.

“’Tis a grand piece of work.” Fitz ran his finger along the pinstriping. He looked up at Tom. “If you’d like to try the
leather soles I’ll put them on Helen. No charge. See how you like it.”

“I’ll think it over,” Tom replied. “Appreciate the offer.” He winked at Margaret, turned the sleigh and drove past the stable, easily climbing the low hill and soon disappearing in the snow as he headed toward Wessex.

Once inside, full of sausage biscuits and hot tea, Fitzroy removed a package wrapped in brown paper, tied with a string, from his outer coat hanging on a peg. From the other pocket he pulled out another package. The larger one he handed to Margaret, the smaller to Cig.

“Oh…” Margaret glowed when she unwrapped it to find a book with drawings of the latest fashions of the courts of Europe. The artist was reputed to be a lady of high standing. Naturally, this paragon didn’t wish to use her name.

Cig’s book was written in French,
Haute Ecole
. It also contained drawings, of men on horseback performing dressage movements.

“What a lovely gift!” Cig exclaimed. “Thank you.”

Margaret leaned over to see. “Mr. Fitzroy, you are a most observant gentleman.” She laughed. “Imagine if you’d given Pryor my book and vice versa.”

Reaching over and flipping the uncut pages in Margaret’s book, Cig appreciated the comment. She got up to fetch a sharp knife, and began meticulously cutting the pages in her book then in Margaret’s. “Patrick Fitzroy, you surprise me.”

“Good—then you won’t find me tedious.”

She faltered for a moment then slowly replied, “I don’t find you tedious. In fact, I find you the most interesting man I…” She couldn’t find exactly what to say so she shrugged.

“Do you ever feel like a fish out of water now that you’re back?”

“All the time,” she answered him.

“I feel that way, too.” He smiled at Margaret. “Everything is so strange, you see.”

“I’m sure I would feel that way were I to travel to London
or Dublin.” Margaret mentioned Dublin since he was an Irishman.

“A beautiful lady such as yourself would fit in anywhere.”

“I think so, too,” Cig agreed. “Margaret has what some people call ‘star quality’—she sparkles.”

Blushing, Margaret laughed. “You’ll turn my head.”

“Star quality.” Fitz considered the description. “I’ve never heard that before but it aptly describes the lady of the house.”

“How did you come to be in Virginia, sir?” Margaret held her fashion book as though it were a precious jewel.

“You know of the troubles in Ireland.”

“Indeed.” She nodded her head.

He continued, half-smiling, “The English have made it very difficult to be Irish. And forgive me for I know you two are English.”

“That doesn’t mean we agree with all the king’s policies,” Margaret sagely commented but in a low voice. One had to be careful.

“Seeing how bleak was my future, I resigned my commission in the army for there was no hope of advancement and I should soon have been asked to take an oath that I could not in good conscience take. My older brother fervently embraced the Church of England, but then he will inherit all my father’s estates. I can’t say I blame him. I took what money I had left from my service, my father kindly paid for my passage to the New World, and here I shall stay It was learn a trade or starve, for I hadn’t enough money to become a planter. I love horses and I know a bit about the beasts—and here I am.”

BOOK: Riding Shotgun
2.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Prophet: Amos by Francine Rivers
Bonding Camp by Christelle Mirin
Living In Perhaps by Julia Widdows
Chat Love by Justine Faeth
Pearls by Mills, Lisa
The Quick Red Fox by John D. MacDonald
The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson
Lure by Deborah Kerbel