The Berkshire Lady continued, Another Draft chapter.

This is another chapter (again draft) where Frances realizes she can’t quite pull off the purchase of Calcot house. (The real-life Frances did this before she met Mr. Child, I’m not sure how as her trustee’s did not  approve of it.) This chapter describes one mechanism she could have used, and sets the stage for more action.


Martha Makes a Suggestion.

A month after the Mayor’s ball, Frances was sitting in the day room while Martha mended the washing and instructed the new maid, Susan, in her needlework. While her maids worked on their never ending task, Frances studied her accounts. The results were not what she hoped. It didn’t matter whether she summed them forwards or backwards, the total available for her to use was only about £20. This was despite excellent returns from the wool-money. Far less than she needed to purchase Calcot House. Not even enough to take gambling with any chance of success. Especially since neither Whist nor Quadrille were her forte and Faro was too easy to rig. She looked up, and saw Martha watching her with concern. She said, “Martha, there’s not enough for Calcot House here. Not even enough to secure a loan.”
“What will you do now Miss Frances?”
“I’m sure I can sell a few horses, which will raise a few quid. See what Samuel thinks of the new colts.”
“I know how much you care for your horses. It would be like selling your own children.”
Frances gave her maid a wry grin, “Not quite Martha, but it’s not my favorite idea. I only need about £80 more, to be close enough to bargain. That may take my best horses, and not the yearling’s I usually sell. I suppose I could put some jewelry up the spout, and hope my trustees would redeem it.”
“Miss, there is another way.”
“I hesitate to say this, but.”
“I could fit Sir Charles’ old clothes to you.”
“Me, wear Charlie’s clothes, why?”
“You’ve always boasted that you’re the fastest rider and breed the best horses in Berkshire.”
“It’s not a boast, Martha, not if it’s true.”
“Why don’t you prove it at the Newbury races?”
Frances was struck by the idea. After a few moments thought she said, “I could, you know. I’d make a tidy sum, but only if the punters didn’t know it was me or my horses.”
“That’s why I suggested Sir Charles’ clothes, Miss. I know it’s highly irregular, but I know you too. Irregularity never bothered you did it?”
“No it never did. I couldn’t take Sam. The punters would know immediately that I was involved, even if they didn’t recognize me.”
Susan said, “My Lady,” she paused and corrected herself, “Miss Frances, Jeremy could go. He told me yesterday that Mr. Phillips thinks the world of him.”
“Does he?”
Susan continued, “If Jeremy goes, may I come as well?”
“We’ll see. First though, I’d best talk with Sam. See what he thinks of the idea.”
Martha said, “I know Sam, he’ll approve of the racing, but not your conduct.”
“He is a bit of a stick in the mud about my doings. Would you be willing to come with me Martha?”
“Not to Newbury Miss. They’ll know me too, and you need someone here to watch the house.”
“I know that. I mean to talk to Sam. I’d like his blessing if I could get it.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that Miss, but I’ve the mending to finish and then this young piece of baggage needs her lessons.”

Sam was not surprised when his mistress popped Martha’s idea on him. Martha and he had already discussed it and reluctantly come to the conclusion that it was the only course of action that would keep Miss Kendrick from becoming notorious. Frances had already jokingly hinted at highway robbery, and anything, even going to a racing meet dressed as a man, was better than that.
“Miss Frances,” he said, “I’m not sure I like the idea of you wearing men’s clothes.”
“It will be a lark. I’ve wanted to race for years.”
“About racing, Miss Frances, you’re too big. The jockeys are all about Jeremy’s size.”
“Can he ride?”
“Like he was born in the saddle. Never seen someone, except yourself, take to it so well. None of the other stable-boys are near as good.”
“It sounds like he and I should go.”
“It’s best if I’m along, Miss.”
“The punters will know something is up if you’re there as my groom.”
“I thought about that. There’s that gangling colt you want to sell. The rangy brown one.”
“Out of Bess, the time she was served by our neighbor’s loose stallion. He wasn’t exactly just a ‘proud cut’ was he?”
“I don’t think he was cut at all.” Sam laughed, it was an unplanned mating which resulted in a less than thorough-bred colt. He said, “That one.”
“Could work. There are a couple other horses we could do without.”
“Exactly, Miss. Since you cannot attend yourself as a delicate and refined female.” He paused while Frances guffawed, “I would be your representative at the sales. No one would suspect anything.”
“That’s rich. But it would work. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Sam.”
“Find yourself neck-deep in the muck without a shovel, that’s what. I also thought that mayhaps you could invite your friends the Brewer’s towards the end of the meet. When the course opens to the fair company.”
“I see, Martha could bring my dresses, and I’d re-appear. Throw sand over my tracks.”
“I don’t know what Eliza would think about it. She’s a bit hide-bound about these things, and Dr. Brewer. Well, he’d have me put in Bedlam if he found out.”
“Just say in the invitation that you’re riding separately with one of your grooms, and will meet them there.”
“I suppose that would work. Now you’re going to tell me I still need to bring a maid.”
“You should. You can’t sleep with Jeremy in the room. He’s a nice enough boy, but”
“It would be highly improper, even if nothing happened. Good Lord, the thought that he and I would. Never, never, never. I suppose I could take Susan. Do you think she’d be steady enough?”
“Sam, she’d have to dress like a boy.”
“I doubt she’d mind. She’s a bit bored as a housemaid.”
“The other thing Sam. I’d like to find a way to get my horses to Newbury without taxing them. Did you think they’d tolerate a ride in the cart?”
“No Miss, but?”
“But what?”
“I could get the carpenter to knock up a stall on the cart. They’d not care about that.”
“It’s worth a try. If they balk, I can always walk them the same as everyone else does.”
“I’ll see to it.” Samuel gave his mistress a respectful salute.
Frances explained the plans to Martha and Susan. Susan immediately agreed. “Miss Frances, I’d do anything to go to Newbury with Jeremy. What should I be called as your page?”
“Would Sean be acceptable?’
“John. That will do. We are pleased with you My Lady.”
“Yes, Miss Frances. I’d like to be called John.” Susan smiled at an inside joke, “Not now, but if I were a boy.”
“God knows why, Susan, but John you shall be. We both need to get our clothes measured and fit.”

The stall on a cart was finished quickly. Partially this was because the estate carpenter was excited by the idea of a ‘cert’ for a bet and asked Sam to place a few side bets for him, but mostly because it was simple to build. Sam suggested that the horses be led into it several days before they left for Newbury. At first the horses were unsure about this novel idea, but they quickly decided that this was yet another thing that those strange two-legged creatures did and a stall was a stall. That Miss Frances hid a few apples or carrots in the hay at the far end of the stall helped.
The other thing Frances decided was that Jeremy must be able to drive a team. He’d shown remarkable progress at riding horses. It was as if he could talk to them. Frances had him tootle her around the farm in her gig until she was comfortable that he could take the leads.
“Miss Frances,” he asked, “Why must I drive?”
“I don’t see any way to get you, Susan, and me to Newbury without it.”
“There’s room for us all on the cart.”
“I’d like to have my mount as well. It’s best to be flexible about things. I might need you to take Susan and the horses home without me.”
Jeremy was pleased that Miss Kendrick would trust him. He said, “Miss Frances, I’ll do my best.”
“Jeremy, I’ve had boys your age do things like this before. It’s nothing special.”
“But never, I’ll warrant, ones as new to your service as me.”
“That’s true, but you’ve done well.” Jeremy smiled at the compliment.

Since Susan was still a young girl, Martha had little trouble fitting boy’s clothes to her. Outfitting Frances, on the other hand posed some problems. The latest men’s style was too form-fitting, and even with her breasts strapped uncomfortably tight, it was obvious that she was not a man.
Frances gazed at herself in the mirror and said, “Martha, what am I going to do? This is simply not going to work. I must admit the style becomes a fit young man, but?”
“I’d say, Miss Frances, that it becomes you as well.”
Frances primped herself in the mirror and said, “That’s true, but I need to look less like a woman.”
“I suppose, if you didn’t mind looking a bit dowdy, you could.”
“I could what?”
“You’ll look a bit rustic, but the way your father dressed would let you hide more of your build.”
Frances laughed, “Well Frank is supposed to be a rural horse-trainer, my poor cousin. So he wouldn’t be dressed in the latest fashion of silk suit. He’d look a lot like Sam, wouldn’t he?”
“If you added a sash and your sword belt, it could work.”
“In any case, I wouldn’t wear a fancy suit to work with horses. The older fashion, with its coarser woolen cloth would be correct.”
“I’ll also pad your waistcoat. It will be hot, but make your bosom less obvious.”
The next iteration of clothing fit better. Instead of trying to follow the latest style, Martha pieced together a looser coat, a padded waistcoat, breeches and stockings that were respectable but not revealing. Frances put them on, and found that she didn’t need the sash. Looking at herself in the mirror she said, “Martha, I think this will work.”
“I think so too, Mr. Kendrick.”
“I should test it first.”
“Not Reading Miss.”
“No. Somewhere I’m not so well known. Wargrave?”
“Frances, please no. Imagine what would be said when you’re recognized.”
“Martha, even if I don’t try it in society, I do need to practice riding astride.”
“If you must.”
Frances walked out to her stables, without changing and found Sam. “Can you saddle one of the horses with a man’s saddle?”
Sam looked at her, smiled, and said, “Yes Mr. Kendrick. I’d say Martha has done her job well.”
“I hope so. Do you think I could pull this off, I mean looking like a man?”
“We’ll see, Miss, sorry Mr. Kendrick. I think as long as you’re not well known it will work.”
“I’d so like to try walking down Broad Street, or try the service at St. Mary’s in the Butts.”

Author: Amelia

A mild-mannered professor of computer science in real-life, I remove my glasses in the evening to become, well, a mild-mannered author in my alternate reality. I mostly write sweet romantic fiction, although with an occasional science-fiction or paranormal angle thrown in. I have interests in history, mathematics (D'oh), and cryptography. I'm also something of an Anglophile, and know that country pretty well. In addition to writing, research, and more writing, I volunteer with the scouts. I'm something of a nature-nut, enjoying long walks in the country with almost ultra-light gear, boating, and identifying wildlife.

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