24. December 2012 · Comments Off on Christmas Present for My Fans! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

From The Quivera Trail, the current work in progress – a new chapter! Chance has separated Lady Isobel from her faithful maid, Jane. During that separation, Isobel and Jane have begun to discover new and unexpected qualities and talents within themselves. And Jane is beginning to be attracted to Sam Becker, the younger brother of Isobel’s husband. Sam himself has a few unexpected talents and qualities himself …

Chapter 17 – The Turning of the Year

It came as a mild shock to Jane; that end of the fall months, when the apple trees in the walled orchard below the Becker home ranch hung heavy with ripe fruit – russet and ruby and a yellow-splotched pink – and the term of her school year came to an end. The months and weeks had passed as swift and sweet as the hours and days. She knew well that her tenure as a schoolteacher was to end when the family went to Austin to spend the Christmas holidays with their Vining cousins – but in Jane’s mind, Christmas meant frost, cold, snow and dark evenings which descended in the late afternoon. When the weather remained summer-mild, even as the oak leaves turned from green to bronze, Jane somehow maintained a degree of serene detachment from the calendar. The happy dream sustained until one morning where a pale layer of frost veiled the ground and the remnants of summer grass crunched under her feet. A fire burned in the parlor fireplace that evening, and when Sam Becker came in from riding his pastures and paddocks, he shed his coat in the hall and came into the parlor rubbing his hands.
“About time,” he observed. “There’s never a good crop the next year, without there’s a good hard freeze about now. Miss Jane, are your pupils nearly ready for the Christmas holidays? The term is nearly ended, you know,” he added. Jane felt as if the comfortable parlor had shuddered underneath her, as if in some kind of earthquake. She stared at Sam, mildly horrified. How the time had passed so swiftly! She had forgotten, or managed to put it all from her mind – that at Christmas the family would go to Austin – Lady Isobel would return from the Palo Duro ranch with Mr. Becker, and she herself would be a simple ladies’ maid once more. Her first instinct, unbidden was of horror and distaste. She had never in her life been so happy and content as those weeks and days spend in that makeshift classroom; her oddly-assorted pupils were advancing – and now to be snatched away from that… the prospect was like being put in prison, although Jane chided herself for that unworthy and selfish thought. She owed so much to Lady Isobel … and after all, she was not really a teacher. To continue as such was beyond her station, and Lady Isobel needed her. She would be ungrateful – and yet . . .
“I had forgotten,” Jane allowed, honestly. “They are all doing so very well. I will miss them very much.”
“And you will miss teaching them, Miss Jane?” Sam asked, with an unexpectedly shrewd expression on his face.
“I will,” Jane confessed. “I had not thought that work – for it is truly work – could be such a pleasure. I took pride in serving my lady … but not nearly as much as I did in teaching these children.”
“It made more of a difference,” Sam answered. “That’s why.” It almost seemed as if he would say more, but Lottie exclaimed, “You will love Austin, and Cousin Peter’s house, Jane! There are so many amusements and parties. It is especially lively when the Legislature meets. Everyone who is everyone knows the Vinings … because of Aunt Margaret, you know. They used to say that if you came to supper at her house every night for a month you would meet simply everyone of importance in Texas.”
‘I am not sure that I want to meet everyone,’ Jane thought to herself. ‘But, oh – I would like to return with my lady to this place. Surely she would permit me to continue with the school. Society is so very, very different; it can’t be that I must wait upon her every moment of the day…and she has always been dedicated to the welfare of the tenants. I might be able to convince her of lending me to that service …’
That was a happy thought – yes, recalling how Lady Isobel had done the rounds of calls to Sir Robert’s tenants, surely her ladyship could be brought to see the usefulness of that …even if Lady Isobel returned to the Palo Duro, rather than the Becker home ranch. Jane thought again that Sam was looking at her as if he were thinking about her, but he did not speak again about the school, until the morning came for their departure, a fortnight later. Her trunk was packed again with her clothing and few possessions, and loaded with Lottie’s and Mrs. Becker’s trunk, along with another trunk of Lady Isobel’s into the back of the odd-looking two-horse spring conveyance that the family used for their long trips. As Sam handed her her up into it, he said very softly,
“Miss Jane, if you should want to return and open your school again, I would do what I could to see that happen. I would talk to my brother…”
“I would like that,” Jane answered, in the same quiet tone. “But my duty is to m’lady. What she desires must always be my first consideration.”
“Then whatever you would like, Jane,” Sam answered. “Bu I promise … I will always do what I can for you.” He closed the little door at the rear of the conveyance, and Jane took her place, wistfully thinking that she would miss his company at least as much as she would miss her school and pupils, should Lady Isobel’s plans return them all to the Palo Duro, once the Christmas celebrations were done.

It was a two-day long journey. They spent the night in the quaint little town of Fredericksburg; in a timber-and-plaster house on the edge of a vast open market square which again reminded Jane irresistibly of the shop in Didcot. This was not so much American as the Becker’s stone ranch house, or the mansion in San Antonio, although the street upon which it sat was broad … but unpaved. This shop and house were kept by another Richter cousin and his small family, who welcomed them with rapturously generous hospitality which Jane was just tired enough from the day’s journey to appreciate. Lottie and Sam seemed to be as much at home there as any other; it seemed that the two of them had spent a large part of their childhood years in it. Very early the following morning, they set out again; this second day’s journey was a long one. It lasted until well past sundown, and ending in a city of some size, to judge from the golden-glowing lights that were strewn the length and width of a valley between velvet-dark hills. To reach it, they crossed over a wide river, flowing silent and with hardly a ripple in it to disturb the silver reflection of the moon.
“Almost there, Miss Jane,” Sam looked over his shoulder to smile at her. Mrs. Becker had long since lain down on one of the folding wooden seats and gone to sleep. Lottie also was quiet, so quiet that Jane thought she might have gone to sleep as well. Even the horses seemed weary, drawing the spring-wagon up that last long hill. Through the bare branches of the trees which surrounded it, Jane could see the lights of a house – a tall house with wide covered verandahs that seemed to reach out in welcome.
Two figures waited to greet them, as the wagon crunched to a halt – Mr. Vining’s pale hair and height made him instantly recognizable, and his tiny, doll-like wife. Lottie scrambled down from the wagon, suddenly energetic.
“Cuz!” she embraced him rapturously, “How good to see you – did Seb come with you, or is he still playing the cattle rancher?”
“He is, Lottchen,” Peter Vining returned her embrace, lifting her off her feet as she squealed, begging to be put down. “He’s coming next week, with Cuz and his missus … and you should not demand much of him, because he has worked very hard all summer and a man needs a rest … Marm!” he turned to Mrs. Becker and kissed her cheek with equal affection, while Lottie and Anna chattered in German. Jane hung back in the shadows, uncertain of her own standing or welcome. A groom appeared for the horses, and so Sam took her elbow to guide her up the stairs – such a reassuring presence.
“Cuz, you remember Miss Goodacre,” he exclaimed to the Vinings. “She couldn’t go with Dolph and Sister Isobel, and so she stayed with us – teaching school at the ranch all this time. We set up a school for Inman’s children, and it worked out so well, I’m going to tell Dolph we should keep it.”
“I do remember Miss Jane,” Peter Vining took Jane’s hand in his, as Lottie and Mrs. Becker vanished into the house with Anna Vining. “I can never forget anyone who can make Harry and Christian behave. Welcome to Austin!” He added in a lower voice. “Good to have you here, Sam. Amelia has decided to bless us with her presence for Christmas this year.” Mr. Vining’s expression and voice were studiously neutral, but not Sam’s response.
“Ugh, the horror; I have planned a great painting to work on, so that will be my excuse in making myself scarce.”
“Coward,” Peter Vining returned equably. “I thought I would be able to depend on you.”
“I’m brave enough, Cuz – but Amelia is enough to make me consider retreating to the wilderness in a hair shirt and taking vows of eternal bachelorhood. How is Horrie managing his dear Ma-ma?”
“At a brisk trot, usually,” Peter Vining answered with a wry grimace. “Perhaps you can rope him into your project – the poor boy would probably do anything at all to escape her. She still treats him as if he were five years old and feeble-minded.”
“Well, that’s Cousin Amelia,” Sam replied, and looked down at Jane with a smile. “Miss Jane, we are being rude in talking about another lady in this way … but consider yourself to be fairly warned. Cousin Amelia Vining is a proper widow – of Peter’s older brother Horace – and she is charming in the way that only a belle of the south can be, but above all else she prefers to be the only woman at the ball.” He took her arm again and Jane felt that sense of attraction to him, an attraction that she also suspected that she had in common with many other women. He was kind, and gallant, and appealing in his features, if not handsome in the way that his brother was. “Or in the parlor – which makes other women simply furious. Never fear, Jane – we shall see you protected from Cousin Amelia.”
“Hetty has promised to take her under her wing,” Peter Vining added, over Jane’s head, and Sam squeezed her hand, comfortingly. “There you see, Jane – Hetty is a stalwart friend to any woman who must earn her own living. She was my own mother’s dearest support and confidant. You could ask for no better friend in the world for yourself…” And Jane was escorted through the door into the Vining’s house – which was not near as grand as anything like the Hall, or the London residence, but exuded the same air of comfort. There was a woman waiting for her in that hall, a white-haired crone clad all in black with a heavy stick that she hardly seemed to need, as she stood as straight as a rule.
“Miss Hetty,” Peter made as if to take her arm protectively, “I thought you would wait upstairs and I would show Miss Goodacre to to your sitting room…”
“Sauce!” exclaimed the old woman, and batted his hand away. Her eyes were still sharp, although her hair had thinned so much that Jane could see her pale-pink scalp. Her aged voice still retained a strong musical Irish accent, which Jane found now to be comforting. “I’m no’ an invalid yet, young Peter-me-lad. They’re waiting for ye in the old boarder’s parlor – I’ll see the girl to her room, then and we’ll have a supper upstairs…” She took Jane’s hand briefly. “So, Miss Goodacre – you’ve been in service to a proper noble house, the young mistress said? I wanted to hear m’sel all about it … I’ve always tried to keep th’ same sort here, since m’sister and I came to work w’ Herself … thirty years and more ago it was! You’d not have recognized the place, so ye would…” As she talked, she pulled Jane along with her. Miss Hetty had considerable strength still in those fragile-appearing hands, thin and worn with toil, with the knotted joints caused by age and arthritis. The stick was more for effect, although she used it as a support when she climbed the stairs. Jane followed obediently – up that generous staircase and down a side corridor on the upper floor. As much as Jane could see by lamp and candle-light, the whole place was swept clean. The woodwork gleamed with polish and smelt faintly of beeswax and lavender. “… I’ll have the boys bring up your trunk to your room,” Miss Hetty added, and she paused to peer into Jane’s face. “You’re not tired from the journey, are you? I’d like not to tire ye e’en more, but y’see,” the old woman added in a burst of frankness, “I’ve a mind to talk about the old ways … an’ the grand houses an’ all. I dinnae sleep at night until late, y’see.”
“No, I am not tired at all,” Jane assured her, although she was aching in every bone. Miss Hetty had said something having supper upstairs – perhaps this was something like Aunt Lydia having a quiet supper on a tray in her parlor, apart from the other servants at the Hall. Jane’s spirits rose. In that way was the Vining’s house familiar – the upper floors were as random and rambling as the Hall, odd turns in the corridors, and sometimes a step up or down. Miss Hetty paused at one of these, and opened a door.
“I have set aside this room for ye … when you have set aside your bonnet and mantle, and refreshed yerself, then come to my sitting-room – down the hall at the left, three doors … but I shall leave mine ajar.”
Miss Hetty courteously left Jane to take possession of the room which would be hers for at least a few weeks. Grateful to the old woman – who at least seemed to be a familiar refuge in a strange and curious land – she divested herself of her outer garments and bonnet, noting that the room was small, but scrupulously clean and replete with comforts. A new fire already burned on the hearth, and the water in the jug was hot. Miss Hetty might be old, but obviously she still held the reins of housekeeping authority in a commanding grip. Refreshed from a brief washing of her face and hands, Jane followed Miss Hetty’s instructions. The door to Miss Hetty’s room spilled a wedge of warm golden lamplight into the darkened hallway; a comfortable room it proved to be – spotlessly clean as was everything else, if a little over-crowded with mementos. A number of framed daguerreotypes vied for space on the mantelpiece. There was a small table drawn close to the fire, with a pair of comfortable overstuffed chairs on either side. A covered tray sat on the table, and Miss Hetty uncovered it to reveal the dishes underneath.
“Sit yourself down, Miss Goodacre … ‘tis starving you must be, but when I heard of young Master Becker marrying the daughter of a noble lord … and that herself had brought her own ladies’ maid from the Old Country – me own curiosity was too great. Y’see, this is a grand establishment…” Miss Hetty waved a careless hand, a gesture which seemed to encompass not only the room, but the house of which it was a part, and the tree-crowned height from where it had sprung and grown. “… Marm herself – that is Mrs. Williamson-and-Mrs.Vining-who-was – she had the building of it from the beginning. I was there at her side of course … ‘Hetty,’ she said once to me, ‘if this is a great house, then you had no small part in the making of it! And so I did,” Miss Hetty added, with an expression that was pride and sorrow mixed. “I gave Marm the best advice that I could. Our own Mam – she had worked in a grand house, and the tales that she told! Sure, and I would hear of how ‘tis to live and serve in such a house … if you would not mind.”
“No, I would not,” Jane answered. And as she ate, she answered Miss Hetty’s keen questions. Without being quite certain of how the time passed, between mouthfuls of a very good supper of beef ragout, with dishes of pickled vegetables, of sweets and preserves, and a pie of apples with a tender crust that broke at the touch of a fork, Jane talked of the Hall and the management of it, of the doings of the Family, and of those bits of wisdom that Aunt Lydia had vouchsafed to her. She talked – perhaps unwisely she thought upon later reflection – of how she had been chosen to be Lady Isobel’s chief attendant, and how that had been seen as an advancement in station. But Miss Hetty was intrigued and approving, even while apologizing once again for her curiosity.
“Oh, it sounds grand, so it does! A staff of … how many? More than a hundred i’ the house, an’ another hundred for the stables an’ grounds! Well, that would have astonished our Mam, but of course her old lordship was only an Irish peer, an’ kept no state at all. But here …” and Miss Hetty’s pride was unmistakable. “We kept as grand a state as enny … e’en when bats roosted in the President’s house, an’ we feared to go out at night in the full moon for fear o’ them Comanche Indians. But I dinna think we ever had more than ten or fifteen girls to do the work … and old Hurst, god rest him,” she reflexively crossed herself in the old fashion, “to drive Herself and do the outside work. But to look around now … oh, ye’d never ha’ believed it!”
“It is a very fine house,” Jane offered, with unfeigned approval, and Miss Hetty chuckled.
“Ye should ha’ seen it, whin Morag – that’s me sister – an’ I first came here. Just a plain log house of two-three rooms! The boarding gentlemen, they slept out on the back verandah. But Herself, she would hae’ better! She saw to th’ buildin’ of this, ye know. Aye …” and there was a reminiscent shine in the old woman’s eyes. “Four wee boys, an’ their father sick w’ the consumption. It finally carried him off, but in the meantime, he could nae work. Young Peter, he was just a babe in arms then … so what could she do, but take in boarders, an’ then enlarge the house for more rooms! So it came to be – enny who was ennyone at all boarded here, or came to sup. Ivry man who was President of Texas sat down at that very table – an’ more than once, I tell ye, and ivery governor, too.” The animation fled from Miss Hetty’s face, as she sat back with a sigh. “Aye, we have important guests now and again … but it is no’ the same. The young master, an’ Missus Anna, they live in style … but it is no’ as it was before the War, whin Herself was alive.” The expression of desolation on the old woman’s face was plain, even in the firelight. “Aye, I miss her still. She was a good mistress – she had it in her will that I would have wages for me life, an’ live here as long as I pleased…”
“That was very kind and foresighted of her,” Jane ventured. Miss Hetty nodded. “Aye, I still oversee the household still, as Herself would have had it. Missus Anna, she manages very well,” she admitted grudgingly, “But it’s no’ as it once was.”
Seeking to change the subject from memories which seemed to sadden the old woman, Jane ventured, “Still – it must have been a happy home for children … and so many of them, I see.”
“Aye,” Miss Hetty agreed. “But these are Morag’s children, in the main – seven she had, and six still living. Her oldest boy was killed in the War … oh, such a toll that took on our boys. All of Herself’s sons but Peter, and the Old Sir as well. It’s a sad thing indade, to outlive the little ones, Miss Jane. But when young Peter married Missus Anna – that filled the house with children, so it did … and next week, your Ladyship is expected. An’ Morag’s eldest daughter will come calling, I am certain. You would like her, I so believe – she is a schoolteacher. Did I not hear that you are in a way of being a teacher yourself?”
“Only briefly,” Jane admitted wistfully. “But it was something that I enjoyed doing very much. Were it not for what I owe to m’lady, I would happily continue.”
“Aye so,” the old woman answered in a voice intended to be comforting. “But keeping a grand establishment – that is no such a bad thing for a woman, if she chooses not to marry, an’ works into old age.” She looked around at her comfortable room, the shelves laden with mementos, ornaments and framed daguerreotypes. “No, no’ such a bad thing at all…” Miss Hetty repeated in a voice of satisfaction and deep content; a privileged servant after a lifetime of service rendered.
“My aunt always believed so,” Jane replied. “She hoped that I would take the same position for my lady.” In her own mind, Jane had secretly begun to feel reservations about the life of Aunt Lydia and Miss Hetty being the one which she truly wished for. This room struck Jane as being almost a mausoleum for a living occupant. Other women’s children, another woman’s house, an adjunct to another woman’s life; was that all that there would be for her, at the end? Jane suddenly had little appetite – or perhaps it was the exhaustion of the day’s journey telling on her at last. She excused herself by pleading that weariness, and Miss Hetty accepted her excuses, although obviously still eager to hear more of life at Acton. Jane retreated to her own room, and slept as if dead well into the following morning.

As had been at the Becker home ranch, Jane was at first searching for some task to fill the hours at hand with Lady Isobel gone. Besides Miss Hetty, the Vinings had a hired cook, and several girls to do the heavy work of housekeeping. Mrs. Becker and Lottie had only occasional need of her, in readying themselves for the day. Amelia Vining, the visiting cousin, had no need of a maid, either. She had brought her own with her; a smooth-faced colored woman who spoke very little to anyone and not to Jane at all. Jane didn’t even venture an offer; something about Mrs. Amelia set her teeth on edge, although the woman was a picture of elegance and the latest Paris fashion, in spite of favoring the black of mourning. She barely appeared to notice the presence of Jane, however – who soon thought to offer herself as a tutor for the Harry and Christian during the afternoons. Anna Vining fell upon the offer with happy gratitude.
“Oh, would you? Harry is the despair of his teachers, for he will argue with them. We despair of ever finding a school for him! You may use the private parlor for a schoolroom,” she answered at once. “There is a desk and a big table … and all of my husband’s father’s old books. He had the largest library in Austin, once upon a day.” Anna conducted Jane and the momentarily disconsolate boys to a small, cozy room in the older part of the house, and Jane looked around with approval. Yes, this would do very nicely; a table and chairs, a desk with a shelf of worn ledger-books over it, a day-bed piled with pillows, and a round rug stitched out of braided rags. There was an old parlor piano in the corner, draped with a fringed silk shawl. “My mother-in-law used this as her office,” Anna Vining explained. “So behave for Miss Goodacre!” she added a sharp remark in German to her two sons, whose feelings about lessons seemed to be decidedly mixed; while the prospect of lessons was not relished, time spent in Jane’s company appeared to be welcomed with enthusiasm. Harry and Christian had not forgotten the days spent in the palace train parlor with her, and Jane settled in very happily with them. Christian was only four, but clever. Harry could already read simple words, and the old office proved to be an ideal schoolroom. Once, Jane looked up from a large atlas spread out on the table – she and Harry were tracing the course of the Nile River – to see Mr. Vining himself in the doorway, observing them wistfully.
“My mother … she used to give us our lessons here in the afternoons,” he explained, in a voice husky with emotion. “There wasn’t a school of any sort, until much later. Brings back memories, Miss Jane – Harry, you mind Miss Goodacre, you hear?”

One afternoon, on the day which the Vining ladies were ‘at home’, Harry appeared from tea in the elegant main parlor with his mother and the other ladies of the household, looking unnaturally glum; Jane asked him what the matter was.
“It’s a stupid Christmas party for children … Mama says I have to go … and I have to dance with girls, too! Stupid party. Stupid girls! And I don’t know how to dance!” Jane managed to hide her amusement. Harry was fair like his father, big for his age, and brash in a way that Jane was certain would never have been tolerated by a proper English nanny. But he was also exuberant in his affections – and he had taken to Jane. Now Jane said, “I can teach you to dance, if you like … at least well enough that the girls won’t be laughing at you.”
“Stupid girls,” Harry scowled, and Jane reproved him.
“I’m a girl, Harry – and I am most assuredly not stupid. Besides, when you are a little older, you will want girls to like you; the best ways to get them to like you is to be a good dancer. Lady Isobel told me once, that she began to like Mr. Becker very much at a Christmas ball … because he danced with her so very well.” Harry mumbled an ungracious assent, and his face fell even farther when Jane continued. “Then Christian will have to pretend to be a girl … can you do that, Christian … no, you won’t have to put on a baby-dress.” Christian was shorter, since he was only four, and his hair was brown. He was Harry’s loyal aide and follower, whatever the older boy proposed, Christian agreed. Now Christian nodded, and Jane told them both to stand in the middle of the parlor, facing each other. “Now you should bow – just a little bit, Harry – and say, ‘may I have the pleasure of this dance with you, Miss’ …oh, whatever her name is. And then – you take her hand, like so… And she will put her other hand on your shoulder, yes – Christian, go ahead. And look straight ahead, not at your feet…”
“Whatever are you doing, Miss Jane?” Peter Vining spoke from the door way, much amused, as Harry answered, sturdily. “Teaching me to dance proper, Papa.”
“You’ll need music for that,” Peter answered, with a broad smile. “I think I shall go rescue Horrie, so that he can play the piano for your lesson.” And before Jane could protest, he had gone, returning in a few minutes with Horrie and Sam, who was stealthily wiping paint from his fingers with a turpentine-reeking handkerchief. Horrie sat down at the little parlor piano and opened the cover over the worn ivory keys. He started with a lively schottische, but Jane begged for a country dance – something simpler, for the boys were already baffled enough.
“You’ll have to demonstrate for them,” Peter settled himself on the day-bed. “Sam, do your gentlemanly duty.”

“My pleasure!” Sam stuffed the paint-smeared handkerchief into his trouser pocket. “Miss Jane, may I accompany you in this dance?”
“Certainly,” Jane answered. Their hands met, she rested her left on his shoulder, and he put his on her waist. “Now, see, Harry? Watch how we move our feet – in time to the music, one, two, three and four!” The two of them stepped demurely around the tiny space, while Harry and Christian attempted to copy them. It rather surprised Jane that she felt so very comfortable, standing so close to Sam, their bodies linked by their hands, their faces closer than they had ever stood so before. She could see that his chin and cheeks were a little rough, as he had neglected to barber himself that morning, and his calico shirt smelled of oil paints and turpentine. She thought she would have felt some apprehension, being so very close – since he was a man and strong, so much stronger than her – yet he held her with such restraint and gentleness, as if she were something fragile that might break. Jane found it very reassuring; it would be pleasant to dance at a grand ball with Sam Becker – as if that was something that would ever happen! He was above her station, and out of her reach, the younger brother of her lady’s husband. But still …
Peter Vining watched, with approval, encouraging his sons, and Horrie looked over his shoulder, grinning. They did the country dance twice more, as Harry and Christian gained confidence in their abilities.
“Try this now,” Horrie exclaimed, and his hands flew over the keys in a merry waltz.
“One, two and three!” And Sam grinned widely at Jane and whirled her away with such irresistible energy that her heart and her feet could only follow. There was not room in the parlor to describe those sweeping circles and turns that the waltz demanded, and before Jane could protest, Sam swooped out of the little parlor door and into the corridor, where he led her to the end of the corridor and back again – no carpet or furniture to impede their feet, and Jane gave herself up to the pure pleasure of the music. The boys followed, galumphing in clumsy enthusiasm, while their father watched from the door.
“What on earth are you doing?” Suddenly Amelia Vining appeared at the turn of the corridor; a beautiful and severely disapproving shadow, as the music came to an abrupt halt.
“Teaching Harry to dance,” Sam answered in blithe high spirits, and he would have gone on dancing, but for Jane stepping back, suddenly apprehensive. Amelia frowned.
“The noise – we could hear the thumping in the parlor. I don’t know what our callers would think!”
“They might suspect that someone, somewhere in the house might be having fun!” Sam replied, and Amelia looked even more displeased.
“Really, Sam – have you no consideration for other people? As for Miss … Goodpasture, is it? I didn’t think your duties in the house extended to antics such as this.”
Jane’s heart sank; she had until then been fairly sure that Amelia Vining had barely noticed her at all until that moment. This was how one survived best in a strange house – by attending to one’s duties and not being noticed. Peter Vining saved her from making any reply or explanation by apologizing,
“Sorry for the noise, ‘Melia – the whole thing was my idea. We’ll try to be quieter.” whereupon Amelia’s lovely features instantly held an expression of hurt disappointment.
“I do wish you would … I feel one of my headaches coming on… and you and my son should be present in the parlor for receiving guests, Peter. It’s not seemly, playing with the servants and children.”
“Sorry, ‘Melia,” Sam added, and he whispered to Jane. “Well, I have a better idea, anyway.” Amelia sniffed and absented herself – although her very skirts and petticoats sounded indignant. The merriment of dancing with Sam had seeped away from the afternoon. Peter and Horrie exchanged looks of commiseration and followed, leaving Jane and Sam with the boys in the schoolroom.
“What was your idea?” Jane asked. The boys wouldn’t relish settling down to lessons again, not after the fun of dancing, but Sam answered readily,
“A lesson in sketching …upstairs. Peter let me set up a studio there, where I can work while I’m here. And,” he added with a speculative look at Jane. “There’s something you can help me with … I asked Cousin Anna, but she just laughed and told me she was too busy. Could you pose for me, in a costume? It wouldn’t take more than a few hours … and it would keep us all away from Cousin Amelia for a good long while.”
“I’ll consider it,” Jane answered, but Sam begged,
“Oh, please, Miss Jane – favor me? It’s simple – all you need do is to hold still. The costume is as simple as anything – it’s an Indian woman’s dress. Colonel Ford loaned it to me, along with some other things from his collection.”
“Then I’ll do it,” Jane yielded – how could she not? She and the boys followed Sam up to the very top of the house, to a large room in the garret, which boasted an immense window in the gable end. This window being un-curtained, it let the afternoon sunshine spill into it without hindrance. Jane looked around – this, then, was where Sam had spent his time in Austin. It looked as she had always imagined an artists’ workroom should look; canvas on wooden stretchers leaning against the slanting walls, stacks of paper and paint-brushes lined in array, and a large easel in the center of the room. Three or four flat-topped trunks were pushed together in the center of the room and draped with a brilliantly patterned blanket woven of coarse wool. Every corner of the garret had things pushed into it higgledy-piggledy – chairs, baskets, a large pot, a dresser with all the drawers hanging open, a saddle and bridle, a long rifle and a couple of old revolving pistols. The whole place smelt strongly of turpentine.
“It looks as if no one has swept and straightened up in a hundred years.” Jane observed, and Sam answered,
“It’s not been that long … this place isn’t near a hundred years old. But Miss Hetty doesn’t let anyone in here to clean, ever. Here … go put these on.” He conjured up a bundle of pale cured leather out of the dresser. “And take the pins out of your hair and let it loose. Take your shoes off, too – here’s a pair of moccasins.”
Jane accepted the bundle with some trepidation; already this did not seem as good an idea as before. She retreated to her own room and unrolled the bundle, which jingled faintly; a plain straight buckskin shift, trimmed at hem, neckline and short sleeves with deep fringe and sewn all over with tiny bells. It seemed she must take off her dress, all but her shift and corset. The dress fit loosely, as did the moccasin slippers. She took down her hair, and combed through it with her fingers. Oh, what would Auntie Lydia think, seeing her now? What would her ladyship think? Jane looked at what she could see of herself in the tiny mirror over the wash-stand; she did not look anything like herself at all, in the leather dress which left her neck and part of her shoulders bare, her long hair flowing down her back. She suspected that she had already begun to change from the girl who had left England on the Wayland, almost nine months ago – but what she had begun to change into, Jane could hardly begin to fathom.

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