Eagerly Amanda shook the last few drops from her toes, haphazardly pulled her stockings back over her damp feet, and relaced her boots. She shook bits of bark from her shawl and turned to wind her way back through the wood. She'd stop in the stable first, see if Papa was there, and then if not, go to his study.
Emerging from the wood, she cut across the field at a diagonal, arriving behind the stable at a point where there was no gate. She paused, a little miffed that she'd either have to walk around the building, or climb across the rails in a most unladylike way. Glancing around, no one seemed to be in sight, so she climbed up the first rail. Then she heard voices. She froze halfway up, both arms clinging to the fence.
"I'm sure the steward will be happy to oblige," Vern was saying, and a moment later, the person he was speaking to appeared: Mr. Dabney. Both men paused, surprised to see Amanda there, and she blushed and jumped down from the fence, shaking out her skirts and trying to look unconcerned.
"Miss Amanda," Vern stated, a bit unnerved. "You've, er, been in the pasture?"
"Oh," she said, then cleared her throat. "Well, no, I came down along the stream, and then wanted to see if Papa were in the stable and then..." she paused and looked around. "He's not here, is he?" she replied with a tiny smile to hide her chagrin.
"No'm," Vern answered. "He's out to a meeting for county roads."
Amanda nodded, then glanced at Mr. Dabney. He stood with his hands tucked at the small of his back, as if studying the situation. She couldn't think of anything more to say. "Good day," she said and dipped a curtsy. She turned left, then remembered there was no way out in that direction, turned right, observed the muddy and churned earth along the side of the stable, and turned back to the left.
"Ah, er, Miss Amanda," Dabney started, springing forward and extending his hand, "if I might be of service?"
"Oh... well, I suppose," she replied. He stepped up on his side of the fence and took her hand. She climbed up two rails, then paused, still in an awkward position.
"You could sit backward on the top of the fence," he suggested, "then spin and tuck your legs over the other side. I will assure all modesty is kept intact."
At the word modesty she colored in her cheeks, but nodded her assent. He put his hand on the small of her back to steady her as she bunched her skirts around her ankles and lifted her knees to make the turn. He glanced away over his shoulder in a most gentlemanly way. Amanda scowled as she saw Vern watching their endeavor. He blinked and suddenly found a shovel nearby and walked to it, clearly determined to distract himself.
Once situated on the other side of the fence, Dabney looked back up at Amanda. "I'll just help you down," he offered, placing both hands at her waist. She put her hands on his shoulders and slid into his arms. He placed her on the ground and smiled into her eyes. "All better?"
She dropped her hands from his shoulders and simply nodded. He put his arms behind his back, stepping to the side, then looked around for Vern.
"I'll come back when the vicar is more at his leisure," he announced. "Miss Amanda," he said, turning to her with a slight bow, "might I escort you back to the vicarage?"
She smiled a tight smile and nodded, still not seeming to find her voice. She waved dismissively towards Vern and then walked, holding lightly to Mr. Dabney's arm, through the stable, past where his horse was tied, and back to the house.
The crunch of their feet shifting in the gravel was the only sound for a few minutes. Amanda thought that the house seemed farther away than she remembered.
A slight chuckle from Mr. Dabney broke the silence. "Forgive me," he said in a rush, "I am not mocking you, or the situation." He glanced at her, but she kept her gaze averted. "Indeed, I am not! It was a providential meeting, perhaps. I had cursed myself for not sending a note with a servant to find out if the vicar were at home this morning, or at least the steward, but here, in the end, I get a lovely chance to meet with you instead. Providential, indeed."
Amanda smiled a bit more. "I was... surprised, I assure you. Twice now you've found me out of doors without my gloves or a proper cloak..."
"Oh, the virtues of gloves are highly overrated," he grinned. "No doubt, you ladies want to keep your hands clean and smooth." Here he brushed his fingers over the back of her hand where it lay in the crook of his right arm. Amanda's nerves seemed to electrify at the sensation of his touch, and she held her breath until the racing feeling passed. "If the whole of society did away with gloves, however, we'd learn a lot more about each other."
"Well, hands tell so much about a person—what they do for a living, surely, but in more subtle ways, they can tell other things. Hobbies, passions, pursuits." He paused in their walk to lift her hand and take it in both of his, turning it over and studying the tiny details. Her mouth dropped open slightly as he made his observations. "You see, this smudge of ink along the inside of the thumb tells me you've been writing a letter. You are, therefore, intelligent and studious," he glanced up with a smirk, "or perhaps eager to send information to some clandestine destination."
She smiled then, an open and beautiful smile that welcomed him into her confidence as she dropped her reserve. "Surely not clandestine," she replied. "Merely a French lesson."
"Then my first inference was correct. You are studious."
She laughed and withdrew her hand, scrubbing at the offending ink blot. "If I was, I would still be in the parlor, practicing my piano études. I must admit, I escaped through the back to spend time in the woods. It was a bit stifling indoors."
"One as beautiful as you should not be stifled indoors." He looked at her meaningfully, and she grew self-conscious and brushed the wisps of hair away from her face and back under her bonnet. When she did not immediately reply, he turned and they walked back toward the house, silent, but companionably so.
"Tell your father I'll come by the day after next, if you would be so kind," he said as they arrived at the door.
"Of course," she said, and then added quietly, "thank you."
"My pleasure," he responded, then with a quick bow spun about and went back to where his horse was tied in the stable.
YOU ARE READING
The Vicar's DaughtersHistorical Fiction
If every young lady likes to be crossed in love now and then, the Vicar Pearce's daughters are three times blessed. Willful and spirited, Rachel refuses to think Lord Ellsworth's son, her dearest friend since childhood, is not in love with her. But...