Fences and Gloves

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Amanda had already studied her French (which meant she wrote a letter and her mother corrected it), and had practiced the pianoforte for several minutes. She was not a proficient, but merely an adequate musician. Their pianoforte was small, and they only had room for it in the back parlor, anyway. But the parlor looked out over the west pastures, and after a few minutes Amanda wandered to the windows and watched the horses trotting back and forth. Near the edge of the pasture, along the stream, a wooded area sprung up wild and tangled, and this area called to her. Glancing about to make sure her mother didn't catch her and force her back to playing, she pulled on her shawl and a small straw bonnet and slipped out the door. The lace hem of her day dress clung to her legs, so she picked up her skirts a little and walked briskly to the woods. The last little stretch required that she dodge several low branches and push between reedy inlets of the stream, which allowed several strands of golden hair to escape her bonnet. But at last she reached an old log lying in a bit of sunshine, her favorite quiet place to come and think.

She laid her shawl across the log (dreading any censure from Maman for soiled cotton), and then quickly pulled off her stockings and boots. She stretched her legs out, bunching up the many layers of dress around her knees, and blissfully let her feet slip into the cool waters of the stream. The mud was silky in this quiet eddy, and she playfully drew circles in it with her toes.

It wasn't long until her mind settled down to puzzle out the latest fascination it had found: Mr. Dabney. She sighed. It had been such a brief encounter, and she hadn't directly spoken to him at all. Was it her imagination that there had been some marked interest on the man's part? She recalled how she had been a bit startled when she'd finally found her father and relayed the message from Walters, the farrier, that he'd been in the company of Mr. Dabney again. She hadn't even known the gentlemen had returned. It was even more perplexing when the gentleman bestowed upon her a gracious smile and had bowed over her ungloved hand (she'd rushed out of the house without gloves or even a bonnet!) and she'd felt a certain warmth through her fingers at his touch. And his eyes... the chocolate brown of his eyes had seemed so deep. She'd hardly looked away from them. Of course, he'd hardly looked away from her, either.

Confirming her suspicions was the reaction on Rachel's face when she'd joined them a moment later. Why should she look at Amanda with such reproach when she was walking arm in arm with John Ellsworth? And having an intimate conversation, from the looks of it? Amanda had been with her father the whole time and hadn't come to flirt or provoke Mr. Dabney. If he was showing his attention...

But was he really showing her attention? Was it all imagined?

She sighed again, staring across the rippling brook and across the fields towards Stokesley. She had inquired of the maid, Susan, if she knew anything of the guests at Burley, for Susan's sister was in service there. Susan said she'd heard he was an old college fellow of Ellsworth's. They'd spent the spring break together at Bath, apparently, and this was the first time they'd traveled together to Burley. Susan's sister said they'd been hunting many times and that he loved to ride. As to his family, she knew very little. He hailed from Lincolnshire (which was why, Amanda assumed, he'd been such a proponent of the Lincoln Black horse). His family had some wealth but she had no further information as far as title or estate was concerned.

Amanda had no real means of finding out more about him. They hadn't been invited to dine at Ellsworth, and Maman wasn't inclined to host a tea this week.

She couldn't very well ask Papa to get more information. Then she paused. Perhaps he did have more information. Mr. Dabney was arranging to buy a team... that meant he should provide some information about his family and his means of paying for them and perhaps even his solicitor would send letters. Surely Papa would have some detail he'd share... if she could manage to ask about it without him becoming wise to her purpose and teasing her unduly.

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