Morris and Brooks were scheduled to head out the next day, but it rained carts and ponies until noon, cancelling any chance of an early start.
I stood at the window in the grand salon, hand on one cold pane of glass, looking out at the sheets of water falling from the sky as they drenched the landscape and mashed it into a grey muddle of blurry, waterlogged nature.
Man and beast were well advised to stay indoors if they could, and lunch had been ferried over to the Infirmary to avoid having the men trudge through the shallow lake the back lawn had become.
Brooks came in to tell me the car was running again.
"Hopefully, it'll have cleared up by tomorrow. Then all three of us can go up to London together," I said to him. "It's too late to inform Charlotte Wynthorpe she'll be housing three instead of one, but I suppose it can't be helped."
"We'll be staying at Miss Wynthorpe's?" Brooks sounded a bit doubtful. "I thought we were to be put up some where near Liverpool Street station?"
"It'll save on costs if we tumble onto Charlotte's doorstep in a singular heap. You're both free to enjoy yourselves out of house, but, and I'm not kidding, you'll need to keep an eye on Morris. He sounds like he'll be hellbent for a night of beer, bum and bacca."
"He'd better not. I'll not be lugging him to Hertfordshire in my travelling case." Brooks snorted, but there was a glint of amusement in his eyes. I could imagine that he'd also not say no to a bit of nightlife, either, however much quieter that nightlife might turn out to be in comparison to Morris'.
A scraping noise and a grunt was heard from the other end of the room where Mrs Thrower -- or whoever she was -- was hard at work dusting, sweeping and moving furniture. Brooks watched her critically for a few moments, arms folded across his chest.
"You're going to leave one woman to do all of that? Why not bring in a few of the lads to help out?"
"She's Agatha's project. Consult High Command for relevant information on strategy."
The bark of Brooks' laugh made Mrs Thrower raise her head and look over to where we were standing like two thieves up to no good. She brushed a strand of dark hair out of her face and went back to waving the duster over a high-backed chair.
The grand salon hadn't had a good cleaning in years. Tidying, yes. The men were required to pick up after themselves and not leave any of the rooms in the house in disarray, but only the fire grates and the hearths were scrubbed and cleaned regularly. Additionally, there were no small decorative items that could disappear and the room was quite spacious, which meant it would take her more than a while to dust her way from end to end.
Silently, I applauded Agatha's idea to start her here and hoped she'd take the cushions out for a good walloping with the dust beater when the rain let up. I could imagine the curtains needed a good soak and a scrub, as well.
The woman certainly had her work cut out for her.
"So, it's London in the morning, weather permitting, and then we're off the next day to the Boyd-Scathby pile to do some charity rat catching?" Brooks said, drawing my attention back from Mrs Thrower's labours.
"Looking forward to it?"
Brooks screwed up his face and shook his head.
"No. I mean, it's nice to see somewhere new, of course," he quickly corrected, "but I'll not be relishing the errand we're on. You know what I think about all this. More men means more of a strain on everything, on you especially. Rather not see what misery we'll find up there."
"Neither do I, honestly."
Brooks and I watched the rain streaming down behind the window glass together for a minute or so, until he cleared his throat and said, "Davis is making for some interesting talk."
Did I want to hear this?
"Seems the lads have the notion that you and he know each other. Well. And that he's not here by lucky accident."
"Is that what they're saying?" I turned to face him.
He nodded. "And that you've brought him here to straighten him out, for whatever reason. He's not your typical Cloud Hill stray. They like him . . . but they're convinced he's a special case."
Brooks didn't turn away, but held my gaze with that fatherly compassion I both needed and disliked in equal measure. I felt my shoulders straightening.
"And they're right aren't they? Not about the bringing him here, but about the being a special case."
I didn't dare say anything. Brooks' eyes searched my face for a few moments before he went on, not sparing me.
"I remember when you brought him to the car in London. There was a detail I'd noticed, but not paid much attention to at the time. You grabbed ahold of him by his sleeve. Hard. When he started to turn round. Even a former guest of ours you wouldn't have done that with. You would have stopped him, of course, but you wouldn't have laid hands on him like you did. Especially considering the state he was in."
"Is that everything?" I said quietly.
"You two seem to have business to work out. Good, work it out. But nobody here wants to see you get your heart broken, Olivia. Least of all me."
I nodded and looked back out the window. At some point, Brooks left the salon, making hardly a sound on the carpeting.
It rained the rest of the day, tapering off just before supper.
James came over with some of the other men who were getting a little stir-crazy after being cooped up all day. I was still in a muddle over our last conversation. Especially now that the men had clearly taken an interest and we were a topic of general discussion.
He and I ate in different dining rooms, and he disappeared shortly thereafter.
Mrs Thrower was still talkative, engaging everyone around her in her continuous, vapid banter.
Agatha conspired quietly with Brooks at another table, although she looked as if she might only be critiquing the apple crumble. Brooks gave the game away though, judging by the looks he was occasionally shooting Mrs Thrower it was no difficult matter to guess who their topic of conversation was.
I listened to the jokes and speculation of the men at my table about the damage the storm might have caused, but my heart wasn't it in. I was too eager to get back to London and see Charlotte. I had so much to talk to her about that I couldn't even keep all of in my own head.
I hoped the men she'd flushed out of the bramble for us would politely take the hint and leave us to our catching-up after the cinema. I'd have to tell her that though, or she'd see how long she could keep mine at heel and I'd be doomed to endless rounds of drinks at Folly's.
How much I'd been looking forward to that and how much I was dreading it now!
My slim, leather case had already packed since the morning and I went to bed early, crossing my fingers under the blankets as I snuggled in that we'd have good weather. I sleep through, but battled in my dreams with impish ghosts who moved things about my room, emptying the wardrobe and drawers when I wasn't looking and drinking my tea.
YOU ARE READING
England 1921. For fifty handicapped veterans left without home or job after WW1, the only person standing between them and utter destitution is Olivia Altringham. Lacking sufficient funds and a support network, Olivia has managed to keep her vetera...