05. February 2013 · Comments Off on From ‘The Quivera Trail’ – Chapter 18 · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book · Tags:

(While the gently-raised Isobel is ‘roughing it’ at a newly-established ranch in the new-ly opened Texas Panhandle country, her young ladies’ maid, Jane Goodacre is discovering new horizons for herself, in friendship and possibly something more enduring, in the person of Sam Becker, the younger brother of Lady Isobel’s husband…)

In the end, it turned out that posing for Sam was a tedious and muscle-cramping experience for Jane, who obediently trooped upstairs in the afternoon when she had finished schooling Harry and Christian. Lottie also came upstairs to the studio and sat in the corner during the painting sessions, pleading the excuse of keeping Jane company – and avoiding that of the poisonously disapproving Amelia Vining. Now Lottie fussed over the folds of the buckskin dress as Jane carefully lay on the blanket-draped platform propped on one elbow, and arranged the unbound waves of Jane’s dark hair to fall in the most artistic and graceful fashion.
“I’m glad it’s you who agreed to pose,” she exclaimed the first time. “Sam asked me – but he would have the trouble of painting my hair in dark, since I don’t look anything like an Indian at all! And Cousin Anna just laughed at him and said she had more than enough to do than to waste her days being an Indian dressmaker’s mannequin.”
“I can’t think that I look very much like a red Indian either,” Jane crossed her ankles, arranging her moccasin-clad feet into the same pose which Sam had specified on the day before.
“You have such dark hair – and you are oh so much prettier than most of the Indian women that I have ever seen,” Lottie replied. “Such plain drudges, and so very sunburnt and worn out with work. But Mr. Iwonski – he’s an old friend of Mama’s in San Antonio – had some paintings of Lipan Apache girls which a friend of his did in the earlies when all the Indians were at peace with the German towns – and they were quite beautiful … but he said the Comanche women were quite plain. Poor dears … they must do all the work, you know. Is that still true, Sam – now that they have been made to stay on the reserve?”
“I don’t know,” Sam answered, in a rather abstracted tone. He already had his paint palette in one hand, a brush in the other. Jane had already learned that once he had begun to paint or sketch, then he was absorbed in a world where no one could follow, listening to a music which no one else could hear.
“But you did visit Cousin Willi last year…” Lottie ventured, and then she stopped.
“I did,” Sam replied, as if this was a matter of no interest. “I didn’t see any of his Indian family. I assume he was married, but he didn’t offer to introduce me to his wife. Be still, Lottie – I’m thinking.”
Lottie did not remain silent, for more than a few seconds, whispering to Jane as she coaxed the long strands of leather fringe into the same shape as they had been the day before, “Our Cousin Willi – that is Onkel Hansi’s youngest boy. He had no liking for commerce or cattle, and so he went off to live with the Indians last year. Cousin Anna was relieved – she thought he was a bad influence on Harry and Christian.”

“I had heard that every family has a black sheep in it,” Jane whispered back, and Lottie giggled. “In this case – a red one!” Across the room at his easel, Sam cleared his throat rather emphatically. Lottie gave the fringe one last adjustment and went to sit with her book in a battered armchair that was the only comfortable seat in the room. Jane tilted her head at the angle that Sam had specified when he first coaxed her to pose for him, and thought once again that holding very, very still, was almost as exhausting as constant work. She still had no idea of what the painting looked like. Sam wouldn’t show it to her or to anyone else until he was finished. As still as she must remain, Jane’s mind remained active. She wondered if Sam was, in his way, as black a sheep as this Cousin Willi. At least, he was better at pretending to take an interest in the family businesses. It made the Baron and his family appear to be a little more … ordinary, knowing that not quite all of his sons were obedient to his drive for wealth, a cog in the great wheel of enterprise. She glanced at him, through the veil of her eyelashes; daubed with paint, disheveled and totally absorbed in the canvas before him. Energy seeming to crackle around him like St. Elmo’s fire; this was Sam truly wished to be doing. Jane wondered if any other than herself saw that. Surely his family must, or at least guess at his artistic inclinations. She was only an outsider and a visitor.

Sundays were the only day that Sam did no work on his painting, for which Jane was grateful after a week of posing every afternoon. As hard as Sam seemed to be working at the painting, Jane wished that he would progress a little faster on it. She had thought to take a long walk by herself on Sunday afternoon, but was driven to reconsider by a dreary cold rain, the equal of any that marked an English winter. She compromised on her intentions of exercise by briskly walking the lower verandah of the great, rambling house – a verandah which went all the way around; a covered wooden gallery offering a vista of bedraggled trees dripping rain at the front of the house, and a distant view of the city below. The distant hill was crowned with a small dome on pillars, perched on the roof of a square white building which housed the state offices and the governor. Jane felt rather kindly towards that little dome, which which looked like the round temple folly which stood in the park at Acton Hall. When she rounded the house the front for the second time, there was a carriage drawn by a single horse before the steps, and Mr. Peter Vining with an opened umbrella in his hand, helping two ladies down from the carriage and sheltering them with it from the drizzle.

The ladies were both young and one of them familiar to Jane; Miss Lizzie Johnson, even more elegant than she appeared on the occasion of her call on the Becker’s ranch, a tiny modish confection of a hat with a tall plume skewered to her high-piled dark hair which wobbled dangerously as she alighted on the ground. The other woman had not achieved the same degree of fashion as Miss Johnson. Her dress and the mantle over it was more simply cut and all in black, her hat adorned only with sable ribbons and a bunch of purple silk violets, in a way that reminded Jane of Mrs. Becker – how Lottie had often complained to Jane of how her mother refused to wear any other color, although the late Mr. Becker had been dead and buried for fifteen years! Upon catching sight of Jane, Miss Johnson smiled and hurried up the steps, catching Jane’s hands in her own elegantly gloved ones and exclaiming,
“My dear Miss Goodacre – how are you! I hope that you are enjoying the pleasure of Austin! I had not expected to see you here. Miss Fritchie …” She turned to the other young woman, who was negotiating the descent from the carriage, “Jemima – this is Miss Goodacre from England, who was teaching at the Becker’s ranch school. Eight pupils, half of whom had never set foot in a schoolroom before, and dear Miss Goodacre had only ever tutored small children before. She’s a born teacher if ever I saw one!”
“Indeed,” Miss Fritchie answered breathlessly, as Mr. Vining kissed her hand, and then her cheek, as if she were a relative of whom he was fond, and assured her,
“She is indeed – tamed the wild maverick Harry and the elusive Christian. They have both submitted to lessons, every morning this week, without complaint.”
“A miracle!” Miss Johnson acknowledged and Miss Fritchie laughed. She was a pretty woman, but not young; with a complexion of pure ivory color, startlingly blue eyes and hair so black that it had a bluish gleam to it like a blackbird’s wing. She came up the steps on Mr. Vining’s arm, saying to him, “And Auntie is well? I was worried for her, hearing of poor Hurst. They had worked together for so long.”

“Miss Hetty is as well as ever,” Mr. Vining closed the umbrella and shook the water from it. “Indestructible, I would say – and in less gentle company, I would say ‘a tough old bird.’” Miss Fritchie laughed, in an affectionate and knowing way, as they went into the house. Mr. Vining shut the door on the driving rain and the chill wind just beginning to make itself felt. Miss Fritchie looked around at the hall, with an expression of deep content, remarking,
“I have always felt so welcome here, Peter – as if I came home, every time I visit.”
“Well, you are home, in a manner of speaking,” Mr. Vining answered, and a brief shadow appeared on his pleasant, scarred face. “And but for General Pickett and damned ill-advised orders at Gettysburg, this might truly have been your home, Jemima.”
“I know,” Miss Fritchie sighed, and Jane thought that her eyes momentarily brightened with unshed tears. “But though my dear James is gone … I have always thought of you as a brother, even in childhood.”
“Only logical, in that you were born here,” Mr. Vining answered, his voice most melancholy, and Jane thought, ‘Ah … Miss Fritchie was affianced to his brother who died in that war between North and South. She must have loved him very much, to still wear black and not to have wed another since them.” “Jemima, you are always welcome – and should you ever wish to make a home under this roof, then you have it, without even asking. Jamie would have wanted that.”
“I know,” Miss Fritchie answered. She appeared to make an effort to set aside her melancholy. Her face became animated by interest, as she turned towards Jane. “Miss Goodacre, then you would be the one which Auntie spoke of on my last visit – in service to a grand house in England! Oh, do come with me, for I have as many questions as Auntie did.”
“I wouldn’t want to interfere in your visit,” Jane hesitated, but Miss Fritchie’s countenance lit up with a smile, and she took Jane’s hands into hers, as Miss Johnson had done. “Oh, but please – Auntie is sometimes so forgetful these days.” Jane allowed herself to be drawn upstairs in her wake, to Miss Hetty’s overheated room. She listened to the two women, now and again answering a question as they turned to her. Such questions were rare, until Miss Fritchie had finished relating all of the doings of her parents, her younger brothers and sisters, and their friends, and such gossip as was of interest to them both, but little import to Jane – until Miss Hetty mentioned Sam Becker’s painting, saying that Jane had been sitting for it, every day that week. Miss Fritchie frowned, slightly – not in disapproval, Jane sensed, but concern.

“I had heard something of that … we had a little soiree at the school this week, and the mother of one of our pupils was telling everyone who would listen. She made it sound … quite indecent, as if he were painting you … unclothed. Austin is such a small town – everyone knows just what everyone else had for supper the night before!”
“It is nothing of the sort,” Jane exclaimed, with honest indignation. This was the kind of rumor which would paint an innocent woman as the blackest of sinners in the minds of her childhood neighbors in Didcot, and also in the minds of those at the Hall, upstairs and down. Why had she never thought to guard herself so stringently here in America, as she had in England? “Mr. Becker is a very kind and upright gentleman. He and his mother have been very kind to me – and I would certainly never consent to anything like that! I am posing wearing a leather Indian frock and leggings, which covers me at least as much as a ball-gown would. And Lottie – that is, Miss Becker – she is in the studio with us, always. And do you think for a moment that Mrs. Vining would countenance that kind of indecency under her roof – especially as she and Mr. Vining have treated me so kindly, and trusted me with the education of their children?”
“Aye, so it is – that evil tongues will find a purchase where no evil exists,” Miss Hetty answered comfortably. She looked towards her niece, raising a scant-grey eyebrow. “The Young Marm would never permit that … tell me, Jemima-Mary, is your informant with the evil tongue an intimate of the other Mrs. Vining – Mrs. Amelia Vining?”
“I believe she is,” Miss Fritchie answered, with an easing of her expression which Jane found reassuring. “Yes, I am certain of that – she talked to me about visiting Mayfield often. Mayfield is the grand house which Mrs. Amelia Vining’s father built, before the War,” she added in an explanatory aside to Jane, and Miss Hetty sat back in her armchair with an expression of deep satisfaction.

“I thought as much – ohhh, such a plague an’ a curse that woman is! Though poor Marm wouldn’t hear any bad said of her, and the Young Sir – young Mr. Horace Vining who had the ill-chance of marrying that fair-faced, spiteful jade – he believed she was the best woman who ever trod the earth. Poor young lad, they say it’s love that makes ye blind indeed, although I never thought that Marm fell into that delusion. But she married him at the start o’ the War, and ne’er lived with her above a month or so before he and his brothers marched away with Hood’s brigade… ah, well – it would have been a foine time of it, if Young Horace had returned with his brother …or,” and Miss Hetty bent a sharp look upon her niece, “If you had married Jamie-my-lad before the boys marched away.”
“James did not wish to burden me with the care of a cripple, or to bind me in matrimony in such an uncertain time,” Miss Fritchie answered firmly, as if this was an old disagreement. “And as much as I would have loved to have borne his name, and cared for Miss Margaret in her last sickness … I cannot say that I would have easily endured sharing a roof with Amelia Vining for any length of time above a few hours. We would very soon have been screeching like fishwives and fighting like cats. I have never wished to provide the gossips of Austin with the meat and drink that such a feud would provide them. But I am most glad to hear of Miss Goodacre’s perfect innocence in this matter – and I do assure you that I will take every opportunity to share that opinion with anyone inclined to think otherwise.”
“Ye had better be wary of that one,” Miss Hetty agreed, and looked at Jane with a serious expression. “She was gifted with a venomous tongue – and not above playing spiteful turns against a woman she takes a dislike to… and the prettier and the younger they are, and the more favored by the gentlemen, the worse she can be. Especially as she grows older herself – ah, the heaviest burden of beauty, so they say – is the curse of seeing it fade with age.” The old woman cackled in amusement. “Never having been a prize for looks m’self – or a saint, either – I’ll have my satisfaction watching Miss Amelia see herself turning into a hag, when ‘ere she looks into th’ glass. You should warn y’r ladyship, also.” Hetty’s expression turned serious. “I dinna think that Miss Amelia will be any kinder to your lady … though she will veil her malice in a show o’ fair affection. You must warn her, if ye can – an’ she trust ye.”
“Lady Isobel has had a Season in London,” Jane answered, “Among the very highest in Society there. I am certain that she would be able to defend herself against a spiteful, trouble-making woman.” But even as she said those words with assurance, in her heart Jane was not so certain. Amelia Vining was exactly the sort who would easily shred every particle of Lady Isobel’s confidence, as readily as a sharp-clawed cat would rip apart a net-lace shawl.

The painting was not quite finished to Sam Becker’s liking, on the day that her lady and Mr. Becker, together with Seb Bertrand were expected to arrive from the North. Mr. Vining received a telegram announcing their arrival. Jane, on one of her afternoon walks through the orchard and the meadows which hemmed the edge of the Vining’s hilltop mansion, intercepted the messenger bearing the telegram from town, and took it directly to Mr. Vining. He and his father-in-law, the Baron – as Jane secretly thought of him – were playing billiards in a room which had been set aside for that purpose. Miss Hetty had said the billiards-parlor had once been two rooms at the end of a wing, which Mr. Vining’s step-father had used as an office and consulting room. There was still a tall old-fashioned desk in the corner, with many shelves and niches in it, which had once belonged to the doctor, and which Mr. Vining had taken over.
“It was the first change made to the house, after the war, and when the Young Sir began to prosper in cattle … and a good thing that room is so far away from the rest of the house, with the smell of th’ gentlemen smoking,” was what Miss Hetty said. “The gentlemen will take their pleasure – and ought I to be used to it, now!” The old woman had seemed revived by the clamor of guests in the house, for Mr. Richter was accompanied by his plump and fussy little wren of a wife, their youngest daughter and several of his sons and their wives and children. “Oh, ye may think it’s o’er much, with all the families here,” she had said that very morning to Jane, as she leaned on her cane and inspected the freshly-made beds in the guest rooms, “But it’s not a bit like it was, when Marm was alive, an’ this house full of boarding gentlemen. Fifty at supper, almost every night, it was! You have never seen the like, Miss Goodacre, I am certain.”
“But I have seen the like,” Jane demurred, trying her best to keep her respectful expression. “Last Christmas at Acton, it was more than a hundred and fifty for supper … and many staying at the Hall. There are more than a hundred guest rooms at Acton – although ordinarily most of them are closed up during the year.”
“As many as that?” Miss Hetty managed to sound envious, yes unimpressed. “’Tis glad I am never to have had to make up that many beds!”

Now Jane, with the little telegraph office envelope in her hand, knocked on the door to the billiards parlor and at a preemptory command from within, barked in German, she opened the door to a cloud of aromatic tobacco smoke and the gentle click of billiards on the green-felt surface.
“Ah-ha!” Exclaimed the Baron, with an avuncular expression of pleasure and surprise on his bearded face, a billiards cue in one hand and his smoke-trickling pipe in the other. “It is the little maid Jane – and still a maid! I loose faith hereby in the good taste of the gallants of Austin … and their eyesight as well.” Jane blushed ferociously, for she caught the whole meaning, even if he meant to be teasing.
“I’ve brought a telegram for Mr. Vining,” she said. “The messenger from the telegraph office brought it to the bottom of the garden and gave it to me, as he didn’t want to go all the way up the hill.” She held out the little yellow envelope, and Mr. Vining took it from her.
“Thank you, Miss Goodacre,” he said, and added. “Onkel, you have embarrassed the poor girl. Were I were her brother I would either hit you or call you out.”
“My apologies, dear little Miss Goodacre,” answered the Baron at once, while Mr. Vining tore open the envelope and absorbed the few words printed on a narrow strip of paper and glued to the single sheet within. “I am devoted to my dear wife, but I am not myself blind to the charms of the ladies, as I encounter them.”
Jane had no idea what to say in reply to this, other than to bob a respectful curtsy as she fled in the general direction of the door, but Mr. Vining said,’
“They’ll be here tomorrow, Onkel – and Jane, you should know as well. I imagine Mrs. Becker will want to be returned to her accustomed habits and state, after eight months of roughing it.”
“Thank you, sir,” Jane stammered. As she fled, the Baron growled something which might have been humorous, for Mr. Vining laughed.

But instead of going to the rooms which had been set aside for her lady and Mr. Becker – which she had carefully dusted and tended since arriving in Austin, Jane found herself climbing the narrow flight of stairs to the attic studio. She had a melancholy sense of something ending, something which she cherished. It was not yet the hour when Sam preferred to begin painting, yet he was there already. He sat at ease in the battered armchair, contemplating the painting, which for the first time was turned away from the wall. Jane saw that it was finished, or as near to finished as she could see, and she was struck with wonder, and a little thrill – did she in truth really appear that beautiful, even in that strange leather garment, with her hair falling in a dark cloud around her face? Sam had painted her as an Indian girl, resting on her side, propped on one elbow, idly toying with a horsehair whisk, against the backdrop of a length of hide painted with primitive patterns.
“Is it entirely finished?” Jane breathed, and Sam nodded. He leaped up from the chair, as soon as he heard her footsteps in the doorway.
“As finished it can be,” he answered. “If I add any more, it will be as cluttered as Auntie Liesel’s parlor. I still don’t know what I will do with it – keep it here, I suppose. But Onkel Hansi might like it.”
“I think that he might,” Jane answered, although quailing inwardly at the thought of people – especially the Baron – looking at the painting and seeing her in that outlandish costume. “But you should sell it to him, rather than give it away. You’ve worked very hard on it – and people don’t value something that they’re just given.”
“I don’t know if I can do that,” Sam pleasant countenance bore on it an unaccustomed expression of discouragement. “Ask for money for my paintings. I’ve never been really schooled in painting … I only dabble in it for now, like a lady making watercolors to amuse her friends. I really wish …”
“Wish for what?” Jane asked, although she had something of an inkling.
“I want to go to Europe – Italy for certain, and look at all the famous paintings in museums. And then I want to go to Paris and apply to study at the School for Fine Arts. Even if I didn’t get in, I’ll bet I can find good teachers. Better than I can find here – I’ve already learnt everything I can from Mr. Iwronski and everyone else here. I have to do that, Jane – I couldn’t make a living at painting, just as I am. Anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a painter, but they don’t take you serious, until you can say that you’ve studied in Europe.”
“Is that what you really want to do?” Jane came closer, and studied the painting. Sam began to pace the floor. “Go to Paris and study painting? Will they let you?”

“I do – and they’ll have to,” Sam answered firmly. “I’ve wanted to do it all my life – well, ever since I was a boy. Opa – that is, our Grandfather in Fredericksburg – he thought I could. Opa believed in me, even if no one else did. Onkel Hansi and Dolph, though – all they think about is cattle, the land and the business, and I worked in it because I had to. The family and all, and it put food on the table, but the longer I go on doing it, the more it galls me raw, like a wrinkle in a saddle-blanket. I can’t spend the whole of my life at this, Jane.” The words spilled out of him in a torrent as he paced the studio floor, and Jane listened. “Surely Dolph can spare me for a time – I ran the whole ranch for more than a year myself, while he went to Europe with Onkel and fiddled around with courting in England. And Onkel – he willingly funds whatever business enterprise his boys wish to take up. I’ve worked at least as hard as any of us, so why can’t I do the same?”
“Why not?” Jane ventured. “You’re not afraid to ask it of them, are you?”
“A little bit,” Sam agreed, sighing.
“The worst they could do would be to say no,” Jane pointed out. “And would you go ahead anyway?”
“I think I would,” he answered. Determination came up like sunrise in his expression, as if he had never considered the question before. “Yes, I definitely would.”

“Then, why don’t you just do it?” Jane said. “You’re a man – men can do anything that they want. Not like women; there’s only a few things that women may do and still be thought respectable. Mr. Vining just had a telegram. Your brother will be here tomorrow, with Seb and m’lady. Perhaps you may ask him then.”
“I will, Jane. I will. Thank you.” And to her mild surprise, he took her right hand in his, and raising it to his lips, briefly kissed it. “Thank you for everything – including this.” He nodded toward the painting. “And if you ask it of me, I will put it away so that no one outside of the family will ever see it, and thereby embarrass you. It’s a good thing it is finished,” he added. “Since I expect you will have to go back to being Sister Isobel’s maid tomorrow.”
“I expect that I will,” Jane answered, overtaken by a sudden feeling of desolation. Just so had she felt when the brief school term at the Becker home ranch came to an end. As happy as she would be to see Lady Isobel again, the thought of returning to the duties expected of her felt like returning to an iron-barred dungeon, and hearing the door clang shut behind her.

* * *

The light spring wagon bearing the travelers did not arrive until late in the afternoon, although Jane – and everyone else – had been anticipating it ever since breakfast. Saying that she must return to her regular duties, Jane dismissed Harry and Christian for the day. Feeling somewhat at a loss, Jane set herself to unpacking the trunk of Isobel’s clothing which had been brought to Austin from the ranch. Here at Christmas, Lady Isobel might have better excuse to wear some of the the fine day costumes and ball gowns from her trousseau. Jane shook out the tissue paper in which they had been packed. Lady Isobel had left all of her best clothes behind when she left the Becker ranch in the spring, save for her riding habit and some of the simpler dresses. Now Jane busied herself in the duties which had at first given her so much contentment a year ago, and wondered why she felt only impatience. When the wagon finally drew up the hill and stopped before the front door, practically everyone in the household gathered on the verandah and front steps to welcome the travelers, even the elegant Amelia Vining – who stood a little aside with Anna Vining and the baby, with an expression on her face which suggested she smelled something bad. Jane hung back behind them, waiting for a word from her lady.

She bit back a startled gasp when Isobel emerged from the wagon, followed by the shaggy forms of the dogs; Dear heaven, was that her ladyship? The only familiar aspect was her hair, woven into an untidy thick braid and hanging down her back like a school-girl. Her complexion had been roughened by sun and wind, her cheeks ruddy and her lips chapped. Obviously her hat had been of little use – and her clothes! She had no shape at all, dressed as the roughest kind of scullery-maid; Lady Caroline would have have been shocked beyond words, and even Aunt Lydia would have been taken back. Amelia Vining looked down her beautiful nose and whispered to her sister-in-law,
“And that creature is the daughter of a lord? The Duke of the Dung-heap is more like it!”
“You would know dung-heaps, my dear,” Anna Vining shot back, unperturbed. It sounded even more cutting, spoken in her accented English, but Amelia Vining only sniffed contemptuously, while Jane briefly considered how Miss Hetty and her niece had warned her about Amelia. But Lady Isobel did look a perfect fright. She was looking around now, while the dogs competed in fawning around the feet of the grownups and licking the faces of Harry and Christian, who squealed in mock-revulsion and sheer excitement. Now Isobel’s eyes lighted on Jane, and she cried,

“Dearest Jane! I have missed you so much! You simply would not believe the splendid times we had! The rides, the excitement … I am simply bursting to tell you all about it.”
“I did promise you cows,” Mr. Becker drawled, taking her arm. “Lots of cows.”
Once inside, Lady Isobel shrugged off her shawl, wrapped around her shoulders like a peasant woman, and the shapeless coat she had on under it. Jane took them from her, recoiling from the coarse feel of the fabric and the grubbiness which they had taken on, along with a smell of horses and dogs. Promising herself silently that she would set them to air outside and be laundered thoroughly before she consented to see Isobel put them on again, Jane at first did not notice the other significant change in her lady, until Isobel put her hands to the small of her back, as if she were stiff and wished to stretch.
“Oh, Jane – I am absolutely perishing for a good hot bath. I never thought that I would miss one so much. And I must lie down for a while – my husband insists on it. He and dear Uncle Hansi have much of import to discuss, although I do not know why it can’t wait.”
“I will draw a bath for you at once,” Jane promised, and then her eyes widened. “M’lady … you are …”
“Yes, I am, indeed!” And Lady Isobel laughed, as merry as if she had not a care in the world, while Jane wondered how long it would take her to let out the waist a dress which Lady Isobel could wear at supper.

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