||[Feb. 17th, 2009|05:46 pm]
"All The King's Men" scrapbook
As mentioned in previous post, this is a draft that I'm posting in bits for the small handful of people here. Please don't publicly link or repost; I'll post it properly when it's beta'd and whatnot.|
The approach to Sherborne Lodge was along a long driveway that skirted a patch of dark woodland. Turning past the end of the trees, the house itself could be seen: a dark bulk of stone, grey in daylight but black now, apart from the lanterns Edrington spied by the door and -- thank God -- a warm glow emanating from the windows of the hall and dining room.
Edrington had written ahead, some days before, to tell the elderly housekeeper, Mrs Perks, and her husband, that he would be arriving with guests. A note of reply had arrived at Plymouth yesterday, and Edrington had been relieved to know that he could offer his guests a warm welcome, and not be obliged to bring them, half-frozen, into the bleak welcome of a cold, damp hall.
His man, Weston, had ridden ahead, too, and was now coming briskly down the steps, a lantern in his hand, to greet the carriage. And there was Perks, coming more slowly now than he had when Edrington first knew him, and rubbing his hands against the cold.
"Master Alexander! My lord, I mean. I was starting to wonder if you was going to make it here at all tonight."
"So was I, Perks; so was I." He clasped the man's hand warmly. "We had a touch of excitement on the road."
"What, now?" Perks looked at him sharply. "What manner of excitement?"
"Accosted -- by a footpad, of all things. He shot Weston."
"You don't say?" said Perks, eyeing the groom, who was being helped down from his perch. "He don't look so bad."
"No, a scratch, merely. Perhaps Mrs Perks would be so good as to look at it, and to bind it up better than I have done. Is there a boy who can help with the horses?" There was such, Perks told him, hired temporarily for Edrington's visit, and a girl to help Mrs Perks besides. "Excellent," said Edrington. "And these are my guests -- Mr Hornblower, and Mr Kennedy, of His Majesty's Ship Indefatigable. I was thinking we could put them in the west wing."
"Just what Mrs Perks said, my lord," said Perks, and picked up Hornblower's sea-chest. "I suppose you'll be wanting to get something warm inside you," he added companionably. "I told Mrs Perks, no telling what time they'll get here, and she said she'd keep something ready for you when you arrived. They'll be hungry after that journey, I said."
"Quite right," said Edrington with a smile. "I am sure we should like nothing better than a hot meal." He turned to his guests. "Gentlemen, welcome to Sherborne."
As they walked into the hall he saw that everything was in excellent order, and breathed a sigh of relief. Despite his faith in his servants, he'd had an irrational fear of arriving to find everything under holland sheets, no fires lit, musty sheets... he shook his head impatiently. It will be fine. Is fine.
Kennedy and Hornblower were looking around, taking in the dark panelling, the vast fireplace, and the old settles and ponderous cupboards that made up the furnishing of the hall. Edrington followed their gaze, and said, "Mostly Jacobean, I'm afraid. Twice as dark and just as draughty today as it was in the reign of James the First." He looked up at the dark beams above their heads. "Great-uncle Julian put up the back wing and rebuilt the outbuildings fifty years ago, but he didn't touch this hall. It's warmer in the drawing room."
He was about to usher them into that room, through a door on one side of the hall, when he stopped and looked at the two of them, standing close by each other in the middle of the large room. "Or -- would you rather wash, and get settled? I can show you to your rooms."
They assented, and Edrington led them upstairs. "How big is this place, anyway?" asked Archie, "I couldn't see a thing as we came in."
"Not very," said Edrington. "Two small wings -- I've put you both down here, in the west wing -- you shan't get lost, I assure you." The house was fashioned like the letter "U", with the hall at the centre and two short wings extending behind, with drawing room and dining room below, and accommodations above. The kitchen and servants' quarters were newer, and attached oddly to the back, away from the rest. His mother deprecated Sherborne, calling it a dismal heap, but Edrington had been fond of the place since his boyhood, when he had come sometimes to stay.
Arriving at his guests' appointed rooms, Edrington found that fires had been laid and lamps lit in two adjacent bedrooms, and that each room had a can of hot water standing steaming on the hearth, and a sea-chest at the foot of each bed.
"I suppose this is my room," said Archie, noticing his name on one of the chests. "Which means you're next door, Horatio." Hornblower nodded.
"I'll leave you gentlemen to refresh yourselves," said Edrington. "No hurry; dinner will be ready when you're done."
He made his way back downstairs, wondering -- for he had not failed to notice it -- at Hornblower's quietness. He had been dull on the way to Sherborne, and had hardly spoken since arriving. It will be fine, Edrington told himself. He would leave them to wash, and to comport themselves, and they would all be much better for a hot meal and a drink.
Perks was at the bottom of the stairs. "My lord --" he said, and waited.
"I was wondering, my lord, if there was anything you wished done about this highwayman of yours."
Edrington's face betrayed a faint hint of amusement. "A poor highwayman to be plying his trade on the Thornford Road, Perks. A common brigand, I should rather say."
"Well, be that as it may, this isn't the first we've heard of that sort of trouble round these parts lately."
"Sir Henry says he's had poachers in his woods, and I did hear that young Mister Fairbanks over at Lillington, had had just such a run-in as you did, this Thursday last."
"Is that so?" Edrington's interest was engaged. Perhaps I am becoming rather to used to being shot at, he thought. After all, it was not such a commonplace thing in Dorset as in Flanders or France. And long may it remain so. Yet, if even this place is infested by brigands --
"Will you have me send for Sir Henry, my lord?" Edrington's thoughts were interrupted by Perks's enquiry.
"I think not, Perks. At least, not tonight. Perhaps I will call upon him tomorrow."
"Very well, my lord," replied Perks, and took his leave.
Edrington mounted the stairs again, thoughtful.
He found Weston already there, tidying away the few items that Edrington had brought with him. Edrington's room -- he had to stop thinking of it as Great-Uncle Julian's room now, he supposed -- had a warm fire, linenfold paneling, and a ponderous great bed with post as thick as a man's thigh. A comfortable room, he supposed, though not in the modern style.
Weston helped him off with his coat and boots. Edrington sat in an armchair, put his feet up on a footstool, and accepted a glass of brandy.
"What do you know of this brigand, or poacher, or whatever he is, Weston?" asked Edrington.
"Heard about that, have you?"
"Perks has just been informing me of his exploits. I don't suppose you saw him on the road?"
"Not I," replied Weston. He eyed Edrington appraisingly, and asked, "Will you be wanting to dress for dinner, then?"
"Good God, no. A wash, however, and a clean shirt --" Weston poured the water, and Edrington exchanged his waistcoat and shirt for a towel, and set to cleaning off some of the dirt from the road, splashing water from the basin over his face.
When he was done, he dried himself and accepted garments as Weston handed them to him. "I'll ride over to see Sir Henry tomorrow, if I can," he said, "But if you hear anything more, let me know."
Weston had come to Edrington through a man he met at a cockfight years ago -- more years ago than he cared to consider, actually -- and though his manner was marked with a particular informality, Edrington had come to trust him both in the matter of his dress and his personal affairs.
"I think I'll wear the dark coat tonight," said Edrington, and added, offhand, "and I shan't be needing you after dinner."
"Oh?" Weston's face was inscrutable. "Well, the bed's made up, clean sheets. I don't suppose you'll be wanting a warming pan."
"No, indeed. When have I ever?"
"Not often, my lord."
Edrington smiled. He was far from certain what might happen after dinner, in fact, but it never hurt to be prepared.
Weston was turning to leave when Edrington said, "Wait, Weston." Weston turned. "You'll see to their rooms yourself?" He nodded to indicate the guest rooms at the other end of the corridor.
Weston made a faintly reproachful noise in his throat as he shut the door behind him, which Edrington took to mean that the matter was already well in hand.