Our story started here
“Dear James”, it began…”I trust you remember our previous dealings, if not fondly, at least warmly enough to continue reading. I’ve heard (yes, one can never travel far enough to out-distance tales of home!) that you are currently without engagement. If that is true (and if it’s not I’ll have to give my sources a good talking to!) I have need of a man with your considerable talents and temperament. The man that I entrusted with the responsibility of the grounds at Goosington…”
James snorted and almost lost a mouthful of Scotch. He couldn’t believe she hadn’t changed the name of that pile of bricks. Around town they simply called it ‘The Manor’, ‘The Manse’ or the less charitable ‘Duck Town’…’The Asylum’…the names went on.
He went back to the letter. “…the responsibility of the grounds at Goosington has fled. As far as I can tell from here he’s completely run off-absconded with the money left him for the rebuilding of the docks and gone. As to the money, I say ‘Pish!’ but my concern is for the grounds. I trust you remember the gardens and lawns that are so dear to me. I don’t know what state of disrepair the place has been left in or what he has been doing in the six months that I’ve been gone. Indeed, two of the house staff are gone as well and I have to assume that they were in some sort of cahoots! But no matter now. Mrs. Fortescue-who I’m sure you’ll remember-is still there (though I might have a little chat with her upon my return.)”
He leaned back and drained the glass. Mrs. Fortescue. Of course he remembered her. Handsome woman-not young but not old either. She had seemed frozen forever near the top of her forties but in truth could be 10 years younger or older. He remembered her dancing green eyes and glistening dark hair with only streaked with gray falling in waves to her shoulders. The idea of Caitlin Milan “having a little chat with her” truly gave him pause.
“There is no phone at the villa where I’m currently ensconced”, the letter continued. “Telegraph is down in the town (where I never go) and the post takes forever. Thus we have no time for back and forth correspondence. I will assume that you have accepted my proposal and as soon as you finish your coffee (see, I remember you can’t abide tea!) you will go straightaway to Goosington…”
He chuckled sotto voce like a boy in back of class, “Goosington….”
“…and begin to set the place to right.”
His eyes scanned to the bottom of the page where he found what he was looking for. He glanced at the sum and thought it appropriate-generous even-for the work he imagined having to do. But then he read the line more carefully and realized she had quoted a weekly rate. He would earn this sum times three or four if she took a month coming home?! “Sweet sweat!” he proclaimed.
“You okay over there, James?” Mrs. Sully asked.
“Oh, yes. Very much okay.” He said drilling through the last paragraph.
“Mrs. Fortescue will have an envelope for you with working capital. You will stay in the boat house-the small one, below the main house. It’s compact but has the advantage of being closed to the weather. More a house than boat house. I’ve enclosed a task list that I’d like you to review. Get back to me on the status of these projects by week’s end. Needn’t wait for me. Not for approval. Just get on with it and keep me informed…”
He was so engrossed in the letter and the list that he didn’t notice Mrs. Sully until she was at his elbow. Before he could look up the bottle floated into his vision and settled above his empty glass.
“Just half, Mrs. Sully…”
The woman made a big show of a gasp. “Are ye dying, Sweet James?”
“It seems I have an engagement at Goosington.”
“Ye mean Honkington?” she mocked.
“And it looks as if I might be leaving you.”
“Welp”, she shrugged. “Nothing for me now but to sell the place.”
“You’ll miss me”, he teased lifting his glass.
“More the pitty-pat of little tart feet”, she said sliding back to her perch.
(To be continued)