Wild Stallions or Gentle Fillies

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Rachel smiled when she recognized the driver, John Bradley Ellsworth, the son and heir to Lord Ellsworth. Their manor, Burley Park, was the closest estate of any importance. It lay just outside of Stokesley, though the extensive grounds actually bordered the far pastures of the vicarage.

With him were his sister, Phoebe, and two other gentlemen, the same ones that had drawn the sisters' speculation and admiring glances in church. The team slowed to a stop in front of the vicarage, and a groomsman strode over to attend to the vehicle.

"Vicar," called John. "Ladies, we've come to introduce our guests."

"By all means, come in, come in," the vicar called back, hurrying to shake hands with the gentlemen and turning them towards the entryway. Rachel, Marian, and Amanda followed a few steps behind, greeting Phoebe with quick hugs and exclamations of joy.

The men walked through the small entry and into the parlor, talking of the fine day it had been and the pleasure of Sunday drives. When Mrs. Pearce had entered, the vicar invited them to stay for tea and called a servant to bring refreshment.

"Vicar Pearce," John began, "may I introduce my friend from Oxford, The Honourable Kendall Dabney, and his cousin, Sir Lloyd." The ladies curtsied serenely. "And these are my dear neighbors, Mrs. Pearce, Miss Pearce, Miss Marian Pearce, and Miss Amanda Pearce." They smiled at each other for a moment, then the gentlemen stood aside while the ladies arranged their gowns on the settee and wing-backed chairs, and the men followed by finding chairs near the fireplace or along the tall windows that overlooked the rear gardens.

"We are enchantée by your arrival," said Mrs. Pearce.

"Indeed, Madame?" Mr. Dabney raised one eyebrow. "Are you French?"

"Oui. At least, I arrived from France many years ago. My father still teaches French in a ladies college in York."

"Your daughters have learned to speak so well," added Phoebe. "I have often wished I had a tutor to make me as accomplished as these dear neighbors are in the language."

"So you can converse with all the French spies Napoleon sent to England?" quipped Rachel.

"Bravo!" John laughed. "But your mother will not downplay the importance of learning to speak it fluently, I'm sure."

"Of course," Mrs. Pearce lifted her hand in an inclusive gesture. "Any girl with a modicum of breeding will speak French, in addition to reading the language. So much can be learned from Rousseau."

"My dear," interrupted the vicar as their maid bustled in with a tray laden delicacies and a steaming teapot. "Our tea is here. Will you pour?"

She nodded graciously and came to the small oval table in the corner of the room where the maid bobbed her curtsy and left. Mrs. Pearce selected several cups, placed them on saucers, and began to pour. "Rachel, please pass this tray among our friends."

Rachel picked up an oval silver plate, stacked with neat biscuits accented with drops of honey and marmalade. She first went to John, meeting his eyes with a shy glance as he hovered his hand over the treats. Then she went to the other gentlemen, her father, and finally Phoebe and her sisters before returning to the corner table. Her mother had given the teacups to each guest and they sipped quietly for a moment.

"You have an excellent cook," observed Mr. Dabney. "Delicious tarts."

"Oh, the lady is indeed excellent," Mrs. Pearce replied. "And I insisted that we have someone trained in the way of French pastry making. I could not go a week in England without les éclairs or macarons."

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