Mask of The Highwaywoman
Chapter 2: Runaways
By Niamh Murphy
Evelyn's arms were wrapped tightly around Bess' waist, and her cheek was pressed against the woman's back. She felt safe with Bess, the girl she'd just met; the woman who'd robbed her, and then, brought everything back. She wondered where they were heading, the horse was galloping forward at full pace, but she hadn't questioned. Bess seemed to know where she was going and Evelyn was willing to be taken. As she held her, she thought back to the moment they'd kissed, that one incredible moment when she'd been over taken by a desire she hadn't felt before, something she couldn't control, and didn't want to. She longed to have that moment again, and hoped that wherever Bess was taking them they would be alone.
The sun warmed Evelyn's back, her thighs were beginning to ache from the riding, and she felt hot and tired. She loosened her cloak, hoping it would help her breath a little easier, her fingers brushed against the locket. She held the little gold heart between her fingers. A heart to be worn close to her own, to remind her of William, while she was away.
"William Barrington, Esquire." He bowed to her and reached out a hand. As he did so Evelyn glanced at her father, he smiled, and continued his introduction "Mr Barrington has been helping me with some matters of business, Evie my dear, and due to the late hour I have insisted he stay to dinner."
"The pleasure is mine" Mr Barrington said, not taking his dark eyes from Evelyn's for a moment.
"How do you do. What kind of business are you in Mr Barrington?"
"No, no, no, we'll have none of that! We've been talking business all afternoon; let us talk of Swift instead. Are you an admirer of the late Mr Swift, Barrington?"
"I am indeed Sir, and I should be delighted to hear your opinion on his most controversial works."
The conversation drifted over several key matters of literature and political affiliation, Evelyn was quick to notice that Mr Barrington allowed her father to dominate the conversation, with just occasional encouragement and questions to set him off once more, all through dinner, port and cigars he continued with his monologue. Mr Barrington occasionally glanced across at Evelyn, who, whilst flattered at not being asked to leave the gentlemen to their conversation, was sure it was simply so that her father had a larger audience for his opinion. It wasn't until late into the night that Evelyn finally managed to slip out and retire to her room.
Over the next few weeks Mr Barrington appeared to make excuses to visit the house rather more often than she believed to be strictly necessary, and he would always find good reason to stroll in the garden with her, despite the winter cold.
"Miss Thackeray?" he said one afternoon.
"Yes?" She waited for him to continue, but he seemed to struggle. "Are you quite alright Mr Barrington?"
"It's your father, or I mean… well I have spoken to your father…"
"At great length, and on many occasions." Said Evelyn, trying to fathom what point he was making.
"No, I mean yes, of course, only…" He took a breath "I have spoken to your father about you, with regards to your future-"
"All of our futures, yours, mine, your father's. It affects all of us."
"What affects all of us?" She stopped and turned to him, worried "Mr Barrington, What affects all of us?" He stared back at her for a moment, and then dropped to his knee.
"I have come to look upon you with great admiration and respect" he clasped her hand and whilst Evelyn was surprised, she said nothing "you have shown yourself to be a most admirable and unselfish young woman, and I would be most honoured, most honoured, if you would consent to be my wife."
She was silent for a long time before eventually she managed to stutter "I-I don't know what to say, I …" He lowered his head, and then suddenly he stood, and bowed.
"Please accept my sincerest apologies, Miss Thackeray, I can see that I have greatly embarrassed you. But I beg of you do not reject me outright, take some time to think it over. I am going into town on business, and shall be back in a few days. Please think of me well." And with that he turned and left. Evelyn was stunned, and stood staring into space for quite some time before she realised the cold.
She wandered back up to the house, and found her father in his study.
"Did you love mother?" Her father looked up from his book, startled.
"Of course I did!"
"From the beginning?"
"From the moment I saw your mother, I knew I would marry her. She was walking in the garden, one very much like this garden here at Abberton as a matter of fact. It was June I believe, her parents had been invited by my uncle-"
"I know, I know the story Father, I just… wondered is all." Evelyn started checking the bookshelves absent-mindedly.
"Did you want something Evie?"
"Oh I don't know" she pulled out a book and started to flick through the pages, her father waited patiently for her to continue. "It's Mr Barrington." She said finally.
"Ah, Mr Barrington. I see. He is a charming young man don't you think?"
"Yes, he is."
"And very good with the dogs."
"Well, something Garret said, I'm sure it was about the dogs, or maybe the horses-"
"He asked me to marry him."
"No not Garret, Mr Barrington. Just now in the garden."
"And what did you say?"
"Aren't you surprised?"
"Not in the least! He asked my permission."
"Oh, yes of course I suppose he must have done."
"So what did you say Evelyn?" Mr Thackeray peered over his book at his daughter, she'd started flicking through pages again, and he could see that she was unsettled.
"He told me to give him my answer when I'm ready."
"Well that was decent of him, wasn't it?"
"What do you think of him father?"
"Oh well I've never been a good judge of character, I left that sort of thing to your mother, but he does appear to be an amiable sort of fellow."
"But you do like him?"
"I do indeed, he has some interesting business ideas, and seems more than willing to take on the running of this place-"
"You talked about the house?"
"Of course we did my dear, I couldn't give my approval to someone who'd… I don't know, run off to the colonies with you and start up a plantation. No we discussed everything in great depth. He's agreed to invest a great deal of money, and of course in return he would take over the house and lands upon my… retirement"
"So I wouldn't have to leave Abberton?"
"Should you wish to stay, everything has been arranged. However should you wish to go back to Cambridge of course, that would not be impossible. " He smiled, and she sat on the chaise-longue, her book resting open on her knee.
"Well I suppose that's settled then" she said finally.
It had been William's idea to go to Cambridge for a few months, she knew he must have sensed her apprehension about the wedding, and wanted to give her the space she needed to breathe. She thought that perhaps after seeing her friends again, and being reminded of her childhood home she would feel more ready to move onto the next stage of her life.
She checked her trunk once again, to make sure there was nothing she had forgotten, before locking it and heading down to the carriage.
"Evelyn! There you are, is everything ready? Do you wish to take a book with you for the journey?" Evelyn shook her head; the thought of reading whilst rocking and shaking along the track all the way into town did nothing for her stomach. She stepped forward and held her father, not able to manage the words to say goodbye. Although she knew it was only a few weeks away, it would be the longest they had ever spent apart, and she felt like it was going to be for so much longer. She pulled back and managed to say a quick good bye, before she caught the eye of Mr Barrington. He smiled at her, dashing and childish; she couldn't help but feel drawn to the warmth in his eyes.
"I have something for you Evelyn." He pulled a small box from his jacket, and held it open to her, it contained a small, golden, heart-shaped locket, she pulled it out, and read the engraving;
To My Darling Evelyn
"It's for you to wear over your heart, while you're away from me."
"Thank you" she said "I don't know what to say." She placed the locket around her neck, and once more hugged her father. She said good bye to William as she stepped up into the carriage. As soon as she sat it started to pull away, she leaned out, her father and Mr Barrington stood at the doors to Abberton hall, waving enthusiastically, and as she watched them grow smaller in the distance, she pined for them. At the end of the drive she turned the corner, and the house, its contents, its people and the life she knew disappeared behind the trees. As soon as it was gone she longed to see it again.
"STOP!" Her sudden shout made Bess jump, and the horse nearly buckled. "Stop, please you must stop!" Bess brought the horse to a standstill on the muddy track.
"What is it?"
"We must turn back."
"I told you we can go back for your trunk later, no one will find it-"
"No! I have to get back to the coach"
"Alright, I suppose we can stop for a break." Bess slipped off the horse easily, and turned to help Evelyn down on to the road. "What's the matter?" She said as Evelyn brushed the horse hair from her skirts.
"I don't know what I'm doing." She said finally, she was looking off into the distance, back the way they had come, she was flushed and breathing heavily, "I just don't know."
"You wanted to come with me, I know you did, I felt it last night, when we-"
"I know" Evelyn looked into the other girl's eyes. "I know. I felt it as well. It's just… I'm giving up so much, and I don't know what I'm doing it for."
Bess looked nervously down the road, and then back to Evelyn. "You can go back if you want to." She said finally. "But spend the day with me. Spend just a few hours with me, and then I will take you over to Ashford. If you want to carry on the journey to Bristol you can do so from there." She held out a hand to Evelyn, cautiously she took it, and stepped forward. Bess caught her, and held her for a moment, she took a deep breath, but said nothing.
They began to walk along the road, Bess held Evelyn's hand tightly, and she seemed to be guiding her in the same way she was guiding the horse.
"Where are we going?" She asked looking over to the dark haired woman. Bess looked back and smiled.
"I want to show you something." They trailed along the path, the hedgerows occasionally broken by trees, and the sun was hot on their backs as it slowly rose higher in the sky.
"I used to ride along here as a child." Bess said suddenly.
"I can imagine that," said Evelyn "I see you as wild and rebellious!" Bess laughed.
"No actually, I always did as I was told. How about you?"
"Oh I was a terrible child! My mother used to despair, she said she didn't know what would become of me. Then… then when she died, my father and I, we became very close... Shall we stop here?"
"Stop? What for?" Bess steadfastly walked along the road, pulling Evelyn along beside her.
"I thought we could just have a rest. Just sit down and talk for a while." Bess glanced at Evelyn.
"I know a really lovely place to stop; it's just over the hill. I left some food there as well, so we can have something to eat if you'd like." Evelyn was tired from the riding, and now the road seemed to be getting steeper. But she allowed herself to be pulled along by Bess, who seemed determined to reach the top of the hill. "Would you like to go back on the horse?" Evelyn thought of the chafing, and her twisted spine.
"No I'm fine" she said.
As they reached the top, they could see the fields spread out before them, a few distant people were harvesting, not far from a little hamlet with a few houses and a water mill. Evelyn felt a pang of jealousy for their simple lives of hard work, fresh food and she imagined a strong community spirit.
"I'm glad I'm not doing that today." Said Bess "That's were we're going that glen over there…it's a beautiful shaded spot." Evelyn wasn't sure she wanted a shaded spot, but realised that if there were people about in the fields, it may be the best option. The road sloped down hill towards the glen, a small stream had met up with the path, and the sounds of birds accompanied the gentle babbling. She still clasped the highwaywoman's hand, and Evelyn began to enjoy herself as they walked towards the shade of the trees.
Bess hooked the horse onto a branch, and led Evelyn into the glen. It was cooler in the shade after the long walk in the hot sun, and Evelyn was surprised how glad she was to be hidden amongst the trees. Bess turned to her, still holding her hand. She brushed back a lock of Evelyn's hair that had fallen loose.
"Whatever happens" Bess' voice was barely above a whisper "I want you to know that what happened between us, what I feel, was real. Is real."
"I know." She was comforted by the look of concern on the highwaywoman's face, she did seem to be genuinely upset at the prospect of loosing Evelyn. However that only served to make her decision harder. "What was it that you wanted to show me?"
Bess sighed, and led Evelyn deeper into the wood. The brook was running merrily through the glen, and she led her round a clump of trees, into small clearing where the stream flowed into a large clear pool, the sun glittered across the surface, and a lonely willow draped its leaves into the water. Evelyn decided that perhaps nature could offer much more splendour than her landscaped garden ever could.
"It's beautiful." She said, and glanced across at Bess, smiling. But the highwaywoman didn't smile back.
"I'm so sorry." She said. Evelyn was startled for a moment, but she caught Bess glance behind her, and turned. There, in the lonely glen, dressed as he had been just the night before, was the bearded highwayman.
"You're late." He said, and the last thing Evelyn saw before she fell, was the backend of a musket.
To Be Continued in Chapter 3…
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