Wild Lands

Wild Lands by Nicole Alexander

Book: Wild Lands by Nicole Alexander Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nicole Alexander
attention. ‘You be the Reverend Horsley and the new girl.’ Her expression never altered as she turned her attention to the Irish driver, giving the man a withering look. ‘You should have come round the back.’ The woman stuck her hands on her hips.
    â€˜I brought the Father with me, I did,’ he argued. ‘What’s a person to do? Drop one at the front and the other out back? One stop at either end was the instruction, girl, and that’s what I done.’
    Ignoring the driver’s remarks, the maid beckoned to them. ‘Well, come on then. The Missus is expecting you.’ She looked Kate up and down. ‘And you’re a half-hour late.’

    Kate trailed the Reverend into the entrance hall. There was just enough time given for hats and travelling cloaks to be removed and no time to study the oil portraits of the three members of the English gentry who lined the passageway, although Kate was aware of their querying gaze. No dirt or hewn timber met her heeled leather shoes. Instead the timber boards were covered with thick canvas, painted in black and cream squares to resemble a marble floor. There were two doors on either side of the hall and a line of servant bells, each differing in size and tone according to room, were suspended from one side of the hall. One began to tinkle.
    The maid knocked once on a door and announced them.
    Kate found herself standing in the grandest room possible. The walls were pale yellow, the windows hung with striking floral material with bright contrasts of blue, orange, green and red and the furniture was simply exquisite. Twin rosewood sofas were positioned near a brightly woven rug opposite a large fireplace. There were a number of fine pieces of furniture, sideboards, a sewing table and chairs, while a large vase of native flowers and grasses was arranged on the breakfast table, which was placed close to the French window and the natural light.
    â€˜So then, Jelly-belly, they have arrived, very good. You can serve tea.’ Mrs Kable closed the sheet music and, having dismissed the maid, turned from where she sat before a small piano. She studied them both, one at a time, slowly. It was a practised gesture. Kateimagined their hostess counting to ten, but although Kate was savvy to the older woman’s intent towards causing discomfort, it had the desired effect.
    â€˜Reverend Horsley, welcome.’ The piano was quite unadorned except for a large panel of scarlet material above the keys, which was gathered prettily to meet in the middle at a rosette. In contrast, on rising, Mrs Kable quite outshone her surrounds. Aged in her early forties her pale skin, brown hair and short stature were emphasised by a mustard gown with sloping shoulders and a narrow waist that tapered to a small point at the front before layers of skirts and petticoats floated over full hips. Every feminine curve was accentuated by the cut and cream lace trim.
    â€˜And you must be Miss Carter,’ Mrs Kable said politely. ‘Do sit, my dear, I am only too aware how tiring that journey can be. You experienced no problems, I hope. We never know when the natives may appear but thankfully this area is becoming more settled and their numbers have been dwindling. And you, Reverend Horsley, having to return in the morning, you will be quite exhausted.’
    The Reverend’s smile, one much used for widows at funerals, was replaced by a pulpit glare. Sitting stiffly on one of the sofas, he crossed his legs. By the size of his travelling bag it was clear that he’d expected to be invited to stay for at least a few days. In the awkward silence the carriage clock on the mantelpiece chimed. They were interrupted by the maid, who sat a tea-tray before them on a table. The porcelain china rattled noisily and the girl apologised profusely and curtsied before leaving the room.
    â€˜Convicts,’ sighed Mrs Kable as she poured tea and offered both sugar and milk.

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