Does being practical matter?
| Matters of Heart
The stage coach stopped by the manor belonging to Lord Christopher Jennings, the Earl of Clayton.
It was five in the evening. Winter robbed the day of the little light it had. A sharp wind rustled through the trees bringing a slanting shower of snowflakes. The lamps on either side of the huge gate illumined the surrounding area.
The coachman helped a twenty- something young girl alight from the coach. Stepping down, she tightened the strings of her bonnet under her chin trying to fend against the cold. A few blond curls escaped from under the cap framing her fair face. The long pale blue dress enhanced her beauty. Sea blue eyes looked around curiously, despite poor visibility.
The coach man set her bags on the pebbled floor. Bidding her goodbye, he climbed back to the driver’s seat, and drove away.
She pulled a rope near the gate and heard the bell ringing inside. Minutes later, the small window on the ornate gate snapped open and the face of a middle-aged man appeared in it.
“Who is there?” he shouted.
“Hello! I am Ann Thorpe, Lady Elizabeth Jennings’s new employee,” she replied.
“Miss. Thorpe! Lady Liz is waiting for you,” said the man amicably, opening the gate.
He said, “I am Alfred. I work in the manor.” Ann nodded with a smile.
He took her cases and walked her to the mansion. The two-storied sprawling mansion with wide casements painted in white, rose like a tall ship at sea before her.
Crossing the portico, they stepped into the main hall. Ann drew her breath in, impressed by its opulence. The Georgian style furniture pieces strategically placed, were comfortably upholstered. Chandeliers brightened the hall. Lavender colored curtains hung from the windows. Paintings of the past earls decorated the long walls.
Lounging on a settee was an elderly lady of about sixty. Despite the lines of pain on her face, she looked pleasant.
“My Lady Elizabeth,” announced Alfred.
Ann curtsied to her.
“Welcome Ann! Come, sit by me,” she said in a kind voice.
Ann took the chair beside her.
“Thanks for answering our post in the Chronicle. We were not sure of response.”
“Having just got my certificate from London’s Institute of Physical Therapy, I felt it would be an opportunity to test my knowledge,” said Ann.
“So you specialized in spinal therapy?” asked the noble lady.
“Yes, My Lady. The spinal cord is the most important part of human physiology needing treatment in cases of acute rheumatism,” Ann replied enthusiastically.
The grandfather clock chimed six o’ clock.
Lady Elizabeth rang the bell and a woman of forty entered.
“Meg, this is Ann, our guest. Please show her to her room and see to her dinner and rest.”
Ann noticed that the lady rose with effort and stood with the support of a hand stick.
Turning away she said, “Let’s talk in the morning, Ann. Good night.”
“Good night, My Lady.”
Meg took her upstairs. Ann was duly impressed with the room, which to her joy had an attached bath.
After a shower and change into night clothes, she had dinner, served on a side table.
Later, she walked to the balcony outside her room for fresh air. A silvery moon sailed in the sky. Moon light covered her like a gossamer veil, making her look ethereal.
Suddenly, she heard a horse galloping to the manor and stopping by the stables, yards away from her vantage point. A stable boy came out running.
The rider jumped down. Tall and fair, he took off the helmet and ran his long tapering fingers through dark hair. Ann’s heartbeat quickened, when he looked up unexpectedly. Like one mesmerized, she was lost in his dark eyes. It was as though she knew him. Before long she turned and slipped inside.
His deep voice was carried on the wind. "Groom him down, Jim. We had a long day.”
Wondering who he was, she fell asleep dreaming of a knight on a white steed.
Ann woke up early next day. Feeling rested, she freshened up and went down. Finding no one in the dining hall, she walked out through the side door.
It was cold outside. Grateful for the thick woolen wrap, she started walking in the garden enjoying the sight and smell of the native flowers. A voice broke into her musings.
“May I know who you are?”
She recognized the rider from the night before. Dark eyes gave her the once over. Pulling herself together, she said,
“Good morning! I am Ann. Lady Elizabeth’s therapist.”
“Oh yes, the moon maiden! I wonder if you have the magic cure for her.”
“How would we know unless we try?” she quizzed. He lifted an eyebrow sardonically.
After a few steps together, she excused herself returning to the manor.
Her employer was at the breakfast table.
“Good morning My Lady! Hope you slept well,” Ann greeted.
“Not bad, considering the pain. Come on! join us,” indicating that Ann need not go to kitchen for her meals. That’s progressive, Ann surmised.
As if on cue, the man she met earlier, entered, moving with the grace of a big cat. He greeted Lady Liz and took the chair next to her.
Meg and a maid served their breakfast.
“Ann, meet my son, Christopher Jennings, the Earl of Clayton. Chris, this is…” Ann was taken aback.
“We just met, Mama.”
“Sorry, My Lord. I haven’t realized ….” Ann faltered.
“Don’t worry, I don’t stand on ceremony,” he said with a wry smile.
“Chris, were you able to get the verdict on that land issue?” Lady Liz intervened.
“Yes Mama. Members of the county council were almost convinced. ”
He left soon after breakfast.
“As an Earl, with several counties under his jurisdiction, he has legal and social issues to solve in liaison with the council members,” his mother explained. Ann nodded politely.
Then, she excused herself to oversee the arrangements for therapy in the room assigned for it.
After half an hour, Lady Elizabeth joined her, having changed into a loose shift. Ann helped her to lie face down on a long table. She ran her fingers down the length of her spine, feeling for the loose discs. Then, dipping her fingers in an essential oil solution, and started a slow movement down the spine. She stopped after ten minutes as her patient dozed off.
“Oh, it felt so soothing,” said, my lady, getting down from the table five minutes later. “With your fingers working magic, I already feel better.”
Ann smiled. In the evening, Ann taught her a few simple leg and hand exercises.
Within ten days Lady Elizabeth started walking without the aid of a stick.
One day, Christopher walked into the hall where Ann and his mother were chatting after a massage session.
“Mama! Can you spare Ann for a few minutes? I need her in the office,” he said going back to the office room.
“Certainly. Ann dear, you may go.”
A bit puzzled, Ann went to his office room. Showing her a bunch of papers, he said,
“Sort them out according their purpose, please.” Being used to sorting her father’s correspondence, Ann finished the job quickly.
Then, he asked her to answer a few letters as per his directions. They worked in companionable silence. Ann liked his quick thinking and good writing style.
They joined his mother for lunch and tea. This pattern fell into a routine. She found it productive.
She admired his humanitarian zeal and commitment to the welfare of the poor. She felt good to be involved.
She learnt that the few acres of land he was fighting for, was for the housing project for the poor farmers.
With the advent of spring, the gardens and the lawns were just right for Lady Elizabeth to go for long walks with Ann. Her son joined them occasionally.
On one such day, Lady Elizabeth said, “Ann dear, we are hosting the annual ball at the manor on Saturday next. Please supervise the arrangements. Will you?”
Together, they made a list of requirements for the big event. Soon, invitations went out to the wealthy, the titled and the political big wigs.
The staff, with the help of some village folk, spruced up the manor.Flowers, food and music were arranged.
The week-long activities came to an end by the night before the ball.
Feeling bone-tired at the end of the day, she sat down in a chair to relax. She fell asleep, unawares. She dreamt of being alone in a desert. Suddenly, someone was giving a hand to help her up. She held the hand and wouldn’t let it go.
“Ann, my darling, wake up,” murmured a deep voice.
Ann woke up with a start with her hand clutching that of Christopher’s. It was silent all around. Did he call her “my darling?” Ann wondered.
“You seem quite tired. Come on, let’s have some dinner.” He took her hand led her to the dining hall and together they had dinner.
Later, they took a walk in the lawns.
"Thank you with the arrangements." Clayton wrapped his warm hand around Ann's. Her heart raced.
Finally, the big evening arrived and the guests started pouring in.
Alfred took their coats and showed them in. Lady Liz and her son received them in the big hall lit up with light and joy. Ann was a vision of loveliness in a dress cut on simple lines. Several guests stopped by said “hello” to her too. Lady Elizabeth introduced her to them. Young girls looked at her with envy because of her proximity to the most eligible bachelor in their society.
At the end of a dance with a knight, Ann felt a tap on her shoulder and she saw Christopher. Taking her hand, he led her to the dance floor. Within the circle of his arms, as they moved to music, Ann felt as though she was home finally.
Then she spotted Alfred walking up to them. He whispered to Chris. Immediately, Christopher said, “Something urgent came up, Ann. Please don’t wait up for me.”
It was almost midnight, when the last guest left the manor.
Before retiring for the night, Lady Liz said, “Ann dear, thank you for a lovely evening. We owe you a lot for a successful ball this year.” Ann was moved by her sentiments.
An hour later, a horseman came to the manor to deliver the message that the Earl was in an accident. He was at Dr. White’s medical institute.
Ann felt as though the earth shook underneath her feet. She left in a carriage to Dr. White’s, forthwith. Injured while saving some children from the mysterious fire in the village, Chris lay immobile on the hospital bed. Her eyes welled. In the early hours, she heard him stirring and flew to his side. His face lit up when he saw her.
He went home once the doctor approved. Ann and Meg shared duties of looking after him during recovery. He was back to normal in a fortnight.
Lady Elizabeth told her that the housing project was voted in his favor by a majority in the council.
Ann decided to depart with things returning to normal. Her father believed in her, leaving her to make her own decisions.
While they were walking in the lawns that evening, she gathered courage and told her plans to Lady Elizabeth. My lady kept quiet.
Next morning, Christopher came to her room.
“Why are you leaving?”
“There’s no reason to stay.”
“I will give you the reason,” he said kissing her deeply.
Down on one knee, offering a diamond ring, he said, “Darling Ann, will you be my wife?” Ann said “yes” with her eyes full of love.
Arm in arm they went to his mother and announced their engagement. Lady Elizabeth broke into happy tears.
Written for "The Bard's Hall Contest"
Won Second Place honor in the above contest.