Isabel Allende

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Chapter Five

Edith waited on the front porch of the mansion for the group of young people to make their way to the stables in preparation for the two o'clock hunt. Neighbors had gathered around the large red barn as Rodney and Sykes, the two stablehands, brushed and tacked the horses before guiding them out to their prospective riders.
Dressed in proper fox hunting attire; beige breeches, tweed jacket, tightly buttoned pastel shirt, brown leather gloves, and bowler helmet, Henley stood proudly beside Gaspar, his ten year old gelding. His brown field boots, already crusted in mud from trying to calm the horse, spoke volumes. Henley and Gaspar loved the hunt, and had since the time they were fourteen and three respectively, when they were both taken out for the first time. Young Henley had basically helped Sykes raise and train the colt, which was foal to one of his father's best brood mares. Henley remembered the difficulty he had convincing his father that he should have the horse. The horse, his father argued, was too small to race, his stance and coloring not good enough for breeding, but Henley was determined, and his father finally relented.
Next, Rodney brought out White Socks, a deep brown quarter horse with white hooves, who stood seventeen hands high. White Socks was determined as much as frisky, and was a favorite for Wesley when he came to visit. Becky, a gentle but eager filly, was presented for Proberta to ride.

A handsome young woman, Proberta was most admired for her sophisticated, ladylike manners as well as her gumption. She was usually game for anything, and was most often the only woman to go along with the men on a hunt. Wesley seemed taken not only by her smart appearance but with her attendance. Sadly, Henley didn't seem to notice this as significant, and greeted her more like a sister than his soon to be betrothed. Keenly aware of this distance developing between them, Wesley's attentiveness toward Proberta increased, if not only to ensure her feelings were not too wounded. He made a mental note to himself to have a word with his cousin, as he felt that he was not the only one who was aware of Henley's behavior. Certainly Proberta was beginning to feel put out. Wesley knew of her reputation for flirtation. He worried that if Henley didn't sort out his feelings soon, he might lose his opportunity altogether.
Henley III stood on the front porch, his wife, Edith, at his side. She held her ears with her gloved hands in anticipation of the commencement blast that was about to be shot in the air. Then they were off, full gallop, across the back field and into the woods beyond.
"Well done, my dear," Edith congratulated her husband. "I'd say three hours tops and we'll see the first sign of riders begin to straggle back in again."
"Well then," Henley III said as he kissed his wife respectfully on the cheek on his way back indoors. "I will have time to read my paper, have my nap, and will be drinking my tea on the front porch on their arrival. Excellent." He returned to the drawing room where his port and paper awaited. Edith watched him go, thinking how easy it was now, weaving in and out of each others lives like a well honed loom, unlike their early years. She returned to the dining room to get her shawl, then she too, walked down the front stairs, through the garden, and into the woods, although she made sure she went in the opposite direction of the horses.
After a short while she came upon Rosetta's hut. Soft, distant singing had led her there, although she knew the way by rote from picking up her tinctures for so many years.
"Hello Rosetta," Edith said, somewhat cooly. Rosetta turned away from her rack of drying herbs and faced Edith, as if expecting her.
"Hello, Madam Hornbrook. What brings you to the forest today? You have all the tinctures you'll need for the next two months, unless you are looking for something completely different. I happen to be drying some gingko at the moment. It's from a tree imported from Japan, and very good for clarity of the mind. Then there's nettle, which is an aphrodisiac, as you may be aware."
"No, Rosetta, I'm not interested in clarity of mind, I think I have that under control at this point in time." Edith spoke curtly, but Rosetta paid her no mind. "I am not in need of an aphrodisiac either. God only knows I'd like to give one to my husband, but that's for another time. No, I think you know why I've come, Rosetta."
Rosetta turned her back to Edith and returned to the task of separating bunches of herbs, obviously freshly picked, tying them together, then hanging them upside down on the rack.
"Actually, Edith, I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Oh, I think you do. I believe my son, Henley paid you a visit last night. What I'm wondering is why, because I didn't mention a thing to him. I never got a chance. So why, Rosetta, did he come into these woods late last night to visit you?"
Edith stood her ground, defiantly, not hiding her annoyance in the least. Rosetta began to hum the song she was singing when Edith had arrived, which cranked Edith up to a near frenzy.
"Don't you dare ignore me, Missy. I'm speaking to you. Why was my son here last night?"
Rosetta continued her bundling and tying, but stopped humming. She took her time, but finally put down a bunch of wild ginger and turned to face Edith.
"With all due respect, Madam Hornbrook, I have no idea why your son came to me in the wee hours. I was not expecting him, nor did I invite him. But you should know more than anyone, that I never turn visitors away."
With this, Edith turned beet red with fury. How could her son just wander aimlessly into the woods with no direction and happen upon this gypsy woman in this wild, hidden hut. After all these years, why now? Somehow she couldn't believe it was so random, however, Edith could make no sense of it.
"My son would never just wander into these woods for no reason, especially at that god awful early hour."
"Apparently he did, didn't he? But my question to you, Ma'am, again, with due respect, is how would you know?" Rosetta was now staring directly at Edith. Her gaze was not threatening, nor unkind. She was simply calling a spade a spade. Edith, suddenly feeling like a cornered animal, stumbled over her words.
"Uh, I, er, I...well, I was...I couldn't sleep," she stuttered. "So I, er, I went to the window, just to look. I just happened to see him wandering around outside. I was, well..."
Rosetta finally bailed her out, not wanting to punish her for too long, but still wanting her to recognize her misguided behavior.
"He said he heard me singing, that he was just following my voice through the trees, and the darkness of the forest led him to my hut. That is not so unusual."
Edith had to think before she responded. "Well, I suppose not, but what was he doing out there in the first place?"
"That is for neither you nor I to question. It just happened."
"Well, you can at least tell me what you talked about, what you did."
Edith waited for her reply, but Rosetta only smiled.
"That is between your son and myself. He did not come to me by your hand, nor did he confide in me only to be betrayed. It is not my place to reveal things passed between myself and others, your son included. There is an unsaid code of respect and privacy that I adhere to. You, of all people should know that." Rosetta put extra emphasis on the final sentence, which silenced Edith immediately.
"Go home, Madam Hornbrook. All will be well, I assure you," said Rosetta comfortingly.
Edith, unsure what to do, but feeling defeated, turned toward the path from which she came, back out of the forest toward the Hornbrook estate.
"Be good to my son, Rosetta," she called out with caution. "Or I will see to it that your life will be even more miserable than it already is."
Rosetta tossed back her head lightheartedly, a gesture toward Edith's rude remark. Her long, dark hair fell loftily down her back, revealing a sleek, smooth neck and open suppleness. Sexy, smart and wise, she was not the kind to let an insolent woman make idle threats toward her or those she cared about, even if she was madam of the Hornbrook estate.
"You have nothing to worry about, Madam. Your son and his secrets are safe with me," she called back. Then in a whisper, "And there is nothing you can do to make my life more miserable because I know nothing of the meaning of that word."
With that, Rosetta turned back to her drying rack, leaving Edith to make her own way down the dark, forested path. It wasn't until later in the afternoon, when the twelve or so riders returned from the hunt, that Edith began to worry. Somewhere along the way Henley had gone astray. They had searched high and low for him, had even sent the hounds out with his scent, but they had come back with nothing. After a long while the group had decided to return without him, thinking perhaps he had gotten lost and gone back to the estate on his own, yet when they rode back to the big red barn, Gaspar was not stabled, and there was no sign of Henley. Needless to say, Proberta was annoyed more than worried, unable to figure out why he had left the group in the first place, after all the effort she had gone to for his attentions. Wesley was miffed, but did his best to calm the ruffled Proberta. He knew his cousin, and figured, rather than getting lost or hurt, he must have gone into town for a pint. Again, he made a mental note to speak with Henley about his thoughtlessness. They were not young, carefree men anymore, prone to playing silly pranks. He needed to conduct himself like a respectable gentleman, to take his responsibilities more seriously, starting with marriage.
After much deliberation, and at the final insistence of Edith Hornbrook, a search party was called off. No need to cause unnecessary scandal just because her son was behaving like an ass. She would have words with him when he did decide to show up again, but until then, she warded off any outside concern, explaining to the others, and to her husband, that Henley had shown deep interest toward a family in need that lived just past the Mill outside of the town limits. She was certain he had gone to offer his help, so no one should be worried. Her son had done this sort of thing in the past.
Meanwhile, outside a softly lit hut in the middle of the forest near the Hornbrook estate, a gentle brown gelding was tethered to a post munching fresh barley and field grass, while his owner, a young man of twenty five, sat by a low burning fire sipping elderberry wine, spellbound, unable to put out the fire burning out of control in his heart, and in his groin.

...Stay tuned...Chapter Six will be posted next Tuesday, February 14th, Valentines Day!

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Thank you, GB, King of collaboration!


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