Amanda Scott

Amanda Scott by Lord Abberley’s Nemesis

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Authors: Lord Abberley’s Nemesis
holding her skirts up to keep them from catching at the weeds. More slowly, fascinated, Margaret descended to the hard ground.
    “Where is your son, Mrs. Muston?” her ladyship demanded.
    “Gorn t’ Mayfield,” replied the old lady, dropping a low curtsy and yanking at her daughter-in-law to follow her example, “an it please ye, ma’am.”
    “Well, it does not please me, for I wished to speak with him,” said Lady Celeste. “I wish to know why this farm, which was always the best-kept farm on the estate, has been let to fall to rack and ruin.”
    The older woman shook her gray head. “There’s been naught to plant, m’lady. The master b’ain’t to ’ome fer the most part, ’n there be no bailiff these past two years an’ more. Times be ’ard all round since the war be over ’n done, but ’is lordship plain don’t care fer the place, ’n that’s a fact.”
    “Are the other farms in a like condition?”
    “Worse,” said the younger woman quietly. “If my husband weren’t able to find work in the village from time to time, my lady, we would starve. Some of the farms have been abandoned, but my husband’s family has farmed this land for several hundred years. He won’t leave. Says things are bound to improve.”
    “Aye, they will if I have a say in the matter, which I daresay I shall,” said Lady Celeste tartly. She eyed the younger woman searchingly. “You’re mighty well-spoken for a farm woman, Mrs. Muston.”
    “Thank you, my lady. I was the assistant housekeeper at the hall for several years before his lordship reduced his staff. Mrs. Puddephatt, who, as you probably know, was a lady’s maid in town before she married her husband, taught me a great deal.”
    “She did, indeed. Look here, Mrs. Muston, we’re very shorthanded at the manor, thanks to my nephew’s wife’s nipcheese notions. Do you present yourself to Mrs. Moffatt in the morning. I daresay she can find a position for you.”
    The woman’s gratitude was painful for Margaret to see. In that moment she thoroughly agreed with Lady Celeste. Abberley deserved to be flogged.
    But Lady Celeste wasn’t finished. “You tell that husband of yours that I say he is to draw up a list of his needs,” she said imperiously. “That roof needs rethatching, for one thing. I can see that myself. He will also need seeds and perhaps some new tools as well, but I haven’t the slightest notion what is required, so he will have to help me. Once I know what is needed, I can see that the things are ordered from Royston or from London, if necessary. For the present, until I can find a proper bailiff, we shall make use of Mr. Farley at Caldecourt. I am told that he knows his business. The reckoning, of course, will go to his lordship.”
    “Aunt Celeste—”
    “Not a word, miss. I’ll attend to this. You get back in the carriage. I want to visit more farms. There’s work just crying out to be done here. I intend to see it gets done.”
    Two hours later, they had seen enough, and Lady Celeste had passed her message to several more farmers. As the landaulette turned past the sycamores onto the road leading the back way to the manor, Margaret let out a long sigh.
    “He will have ten thousand fits, Aunt Celeste. You have no right to be pledging his purse right and left as you’ve done today.”
    “Nonsense,” the old lady said, straightening her bonnet, which had tilted forward over one bright blue eye. “The hall’s my home, too, is it not? Didn’t I live all my life under that roof until my brother Harold said he needed a hostess after your grandmother died? Wouldn’t I be living there now if I hadn’t agreed to come to the manor with you instead? I say,” she added, struck by a sudden unpalatable thought, “he’s got a purse, hasn’t he?” She glared accusingly at Margaret. “Not rolled up, is he?”
    “No, of course not. He’s always had more money than he knows what to do with.”
    Lady Celeste pounced on the phrase.

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