Thursday, February 11, 2010

Black Jack Davy - Part 1

Late last night when the squire come home, 
inquiring for his lady 
Some denied and some replied, 
She's gone with the Black Jack Davy. 
Go saddle to me the bonny brown steed, 
for the grey was ne'er so speedy. 
I'll ride all day and I'll ride all night 
til I catch that Black Jack Davy. 
And he rode up hill and he rode down dale 
over many a wild high mountain 
And they did say that saw him go,
Black Jack Davy he is hunting.

Title: Black Jack Davy - Part 1
Author: Ranger

The mist was rising from the Berdshall road, and the mare shifting behind the hedge was restless on her feet in the soggy ground. The green coated man leaned down over her neck to pet her, slapping her brown neck quietly.
"Easy girl. Not long now."
She wickered softly and stamped, shifting her weight. The man sat back and let her fidget, concentrating on the stillness of the land around him. There was dew on his velvet coat and the air was heavy with water at this hour of the morning. The mare stamped once more on the heavy grass. Then the man lifted his head. Wheels were clattering in the distance. The mare gathered herself, recognising the sound. The man pulled a handkerchief up over his nose and mouth, drew the silver mounted pistol from his pocket and backed the mare a little. The wheels were more distinct now, noisy on the pitted road. The steady sound of hoofbeats were beginning to be audible. The man waited a few seconds more, then gathered the mare and recognising her cue, she leapt forwards, rearing in the lane in anticipation of the pistol shot into the air. Calmly the man changed pistols for the second one waiting and loaded in his belt, and watched the coach team scramble to a halt, shrieking in panic. The driver looked petrified, clutching at the reins in a way guaranteed to make his team bolt.
"Stand and deliver." The man ordered, expertly shifting his weight to keep his pistol hand balanced. The man began to babble, shaking his head wildly.
"Nothing here, nothing worth taking-"
"I'll be the judge of that." The man said calmly, and swung around to shoot cleanly and efficiently at the hand that snapped up from the coach window. There was a yelp and curse as his bullet clipped someone's arm and the unused pistol fell from the coach. The man changed his pistol for the third one under his coat and lifted his eyebrows at the coachman.
"Do we really need to play any further?"
There was a minute while the coachman looked backwards at someone in the coach, then silently money and valuables were collected and handed to the coachman who offered them at arm's length. The man accepted them with a courteous bow.
"Thankyou so much, that's most kind of you. Do feel free to go about your business. Good morning."
He pulled the mare back, holding the pistol level until the coachman set his team in motion and they were beyond shooting distance. Then he turned the mare through the hedge and back into the fields again.
The mist was lifting when he felt the mare falter beneath him and glanced down at her.
"What's the matter with you my girl? This is no time to go lame, I promise you."
The mare didn't answer. The man swung down and glanced at her feet, one at a time. He found the loose shoe quickly and shook his head at her.
"Careless, my girl, careless. Call yourself a highway woman? NOW I suppose you will expect me to find a blacksmith and some inn for you to recuperate in as you will no doubt tell me how sore that foot is when you've walked on it a way."
The mare bent her head, hunting his pockets. The man pulled something from his pocket and fed it to her, rubbing her noise.
"You are a spoilt, spoilt woman. Come along now, if you are going to force us to a village, we had better find one." 
The smithy stood beside the inn. Which was, as the man told his mare, nothing short of convenient. He paused beside the open workshop door, leaning on the mare's neck to see the smith.
"What village is this, friend?"
"Galwick sir." The smith straightened up and ran a hammy arm over his face. "Mare's got a shoe loose I see."
"Most perceptive of you. Perhaps you would see to it while I talk to the innkeeper."
"No innkeeper there, sir." The smith came out to take the mare. "Just Briony Kennet. But good food and good ale too and if you're looking for a bed, she'll see to you."
"I sincerely hope not." The man murmured. "Bally, be good my girl."
"Want her stabled in the innyard sir?" The smith took Bally's reins in a capable fist.
"Thankyou." The man tossed the smith a couple of coins, nodded to him and crossed to the inn. The White Rose was painted onto the swinging sign over the door. A well kept, well painted and comfortable looking place. The sound of altercation that hit the man's ears as soon as he opened the door, was at odds with the peaceful exterior. A strikingly auburn, slim young man barged past the highwayman, nearly knocking him over. The man's hand gripped the boy's arm and steadied him, bringing him sharply to a standstill.
"Gently my boy. Mind your manners."
The boy's hot blue eyes burned at him in an angular face, with a jaw so determined the man's mouth nearly quirked in amusement. Beyond the boy, a harassed looking woman stood over an upturned table and chair. The highwayman stepped into the inn, bringing the boy with him.
"I think this good lady could do with your services to right that table."
"Do it yourself!" The boy spat, ripping his arm free. The highwayman's grip caught his wrist so fast the boy jumped.
"I would think twice before you challenged strangers." The man said mildly. "Pick that table up my boy and be quick about it."
"It's allright sir," the woman started to say. The highwayman pushed his captive forward.
"I'm sure it's no trouble, ma'am. Is it?"
The boy gave him a glare so ferocious that this time the man couldn't stifle a laugh. But blocked the boy's way before he could storm out.
"I believe the table still needs righting."
There was a long silence, hot blue eyes against steady brown ones. Then the boy yanked the table roughly upright. The man dropped a hand on the boy's shoulder before he could storm out.
"I also believe it's customary to apologise to ladies for disturbances."
"I will NOT-" the boy exploded.
"Oh I think you will." The man interrupted mildly. Silence. The man looked at the boy inquiringly. The boy turned stiffly to the woman.
"I beg pardon. Excuse me."
The man released him and watched the boy storm out of the inn, letting the door slam behind him. The woman relaxed visibly and wiped her hands on her apron.
"I'm sorry sir. Boys are all very well until they get bigger than yourself, if you know what I mean."
The man standing before her was so nearly seven foot that she doubted he did. A slow looking, quiet gentleman- for gentleman he was as any fool could tell from his deep, quiet and courteous voice to his well kept hands, his green velvet jacket and good quality top boots, muddied though they were. Dark curly hair topped still darker eyes and a thoughtful, amused face. He gave her a slightly wry nod now, a mock of a bow.
"David Ford at your service. I wonder if I might trouble you for a room?"
"Certainly sir." The woman pulled herself together and led him unhesitatingly towards the stairs. "And a private parlour? You won't want to be in the tap room with the locals."
"I might mix with far worse company." The man said mildly, following her. "May I have the name of my hostess?"
"Briony Kennet, sir. Mrs Kennet. And that whirlwind downstairs was my son, Kit."
"Your son?" Mr Ford's eyebrows rose in amusement. The lady ahead of him was Saxon fair with blue eyes. Her son's colouring was far more exotic. He refrained from questioning and instead looked with approval at the comfortable rooms he was shown to. "Thankyou Mrs Kennet. Now if I might have some breakfast I would be most grateful."
"Certainly sir. And I'll send Kit up to deal with your boots as soon as he comes in."
So obviously the beautiful and sullen young Kit was a sulker as well as hasty tempered. Mr Ford stifled a smile and managed a grave nod.
"Thankyou Mrs Kennet."
The woman left him in peace. Ford opened the window onto the stableyard and seated himself on the windowsill, wondering what a hot tempered young man did with himself in this village when annoyed. 
"I'll make any of you lads a gift of that boy with your next mug of ale."
There were several smiles but the clatter of evening noise in the inn went on. It was a busy night, and too much trade for one woman to be handling alone. One of the men, a local farmer and a regular, gripped Briony's hand as she straightened, a couple of fallen tin tankards in her hand.
"What's stung him out of temper this time?"
"He's had a quarrel with Adam Martin. Run off to sulk again." Briony said resignedly. "He'll come back. He always does."
"Aye, when you're worn out and the working's done." The farmer said grimly. "Do you want me to have a word with him lass?"
"I can manage him John." Briony smiled at the farmer but eased her hand away, trying not to hear his quiet comment behind her,
"If he was a son of mine…."
If he was the son of any man in this village, they wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. Briony took the dented mugs back behind the bar. If she had a husband, if there were a man to run this inn, she wouldn't be struggling day in and day out with a nineteen year old boy who had long since gone beyond her control. John followed her across to the bar, big and slow moving and quiet voiced.
"Here. Give me an apron and I'll give you a hand for an hour."
Briony smiled in spite of herself but shook her head. "I'll manage. Go back to your mates."
John took no notice, just took her apron from her neck and tied it around his own huge waist.
"If you don't talk to that lad of yours, lass, I will. Before someone else in this village has a word with him with their fists."
"I can see to my own son John Taylor."
"He wants seeing to with the thick end of a belt." The farmer said bluntly. "And I'd do it for you. The lad's nineteen now, he's not a child any more. You're well liked in this village, not many men will stand and hear you spoken to as that cub does."
"He's my son and I'll handle him my own way."
"But he's not yours is he." John said softly as she turned her back on him, making herself very busy with the ale barrel. "Whose is he lass? Where did he get that red hair of his from? Who's get is he?"
Briony's eyes flashed angrily at John. As fair haired and Saxon tempered as she was. But she filled the tankards and walked towards the tables, turning on the smile she kept for her customers and leaving John waiting for his answer. 
Kit Kennet himself was leaning against the shafts of an old and broken cart in the stable yard, near tears of rage. He picked angrily at the splintered wood while he damned the inn, the stables, the village, the fields beyond and the whole of the Galwick district. It was still early in the evening and the inn would be busy for hours to come- with no one but Briony to see to the stable yard if anyone should come. But the stagecoach would not come until tomorrow. And Kit was past caring who else should need servicing tonight. He left the cart where it was, led his own chestnut cob out of the stables and swung up on his back, determined to get away from the White Rose. For a few hours at least.
An hour later when the clatter of wheels signalled a coach and four pulling into the stable yard, and an imperative blast on the post horn demanded the attention of the innkeepers, Briony cast a despairing look at John, who moved without a word into the darkness of the yard. She followed to the doorway and heard his deep, quiet voice cheerfully greeting the passengers of the coach. They both knew Kit was nowhere in sight. A minute later John glanced across to her, eyes twinkling.
"You'd better get out the brandy, my girl. They've been forked. It happened again, Black Jack Davy got 'em up by the pike road. All the money and the lady's jewels taken."
Briony shrugged philosophically as the rest of the inn began to buzz at the news. Black Jack Davy was a devil allright, but he sent plenty of business their way. They were visited once or twice a week by indignant gentry looking for somewhere to recover their nerves and dignity after he'd robbed them. 
It was Bally's whickering that cut through Mr Ford's sleep, waking him instantly. Her voice cut through the uncertain mutters and stamps of the other nervous horses in the yard below. Mr Ford rolled silently to his feet and leaned out of the open shutters into the yard. As yet there was nothing to see or hear, but Bally's voice told him to wait and as he did, he smelt the first traces of smoke.
Mr Ford dressed rapidly. It took him little time, for away from home he never slept deeply nor fully undressed to begin with. A minute later he was noiselessly slipping the latch from the inn door to the yard and shrugging his green coat on as he crossed the cobbles. He went to Bally first, rubbing her nose over the half stable door, then he continued across the yard and towards the lane leading down past the village green. The smell of smoke was far stronger there. Breaking into an easy jog of the very fit and the very used to rough terrain, he covered the ground across into the fields beyond and found what he was looking for. A haystack, already smouldering well. Ford wasted no time in watching. Rapidly he kicked the neatly stacked hay apart, breaking the stack far and wide, and then stamped the smouldering patches into the damp grass. What was left was a mess, but no ruination for the farmer. Ford stood still, breathing cool, evening air and paying no attention at all to the landscape around him while he apparently surveyed the damage. It was a minute before he heard what he was listening for and turned to look at the hedge with cold and very steady eyes.
"Allright lad. Show yourself."
The hedge didn't move.
"You." Ford said steadily. "The brat from the inn. Do you think I can't see you boy? Show yourself!"
The boy rose slowly, eyes glowering sheer hatred across the few feet between them. Ford gave him a long look which travelled from his head to his feet, making the boy flush visibly.
"Do you often destroy livelihoods for entertainment on long summer evenings?"
"Wasn't me." The boy said defiantly. Ford raised one eyebrow at him.
"Indeed. Then how may I ask did you come to have a singed shirt and no shortage of hay on your clothes? You look to me as though you nearly fired yourself as well as the haystack."
The boy was nearly as red as his red-gold hair.
"You've got no right to speak to me, I'll do what I like! You're just some flash cull passing through the village, what do you care about haystacks!"
"I care about criminal damage, young man, and about wanton destruction." The man's voice had cooled and snapped out like a whip. "Where may I find the nearest magistrate at this hour of the night?"
"Think I'll tell you that?" the boy jeered. The man carefully removed a flick of lint from his coat sleeve.
"My dear boy, there are no shortage of people who will be delighted to tell me that. Although I would imagine in an area like this, justice is likely to be more summary and the farmer who owns that haystack would probably prefer to discuss the matter with you himself."
The boy's eyes flickered at him, and the deceptively curved mouth opened on abuse so foul that Ford stood for a moment, listening with mild amusement. The troopers at Talavera would have had things to learn from this young man. Except in a boy of such a young age, and obviously not ill bred, it was hardly desirable. Tiring of the vocabulary, Mr Ford reached past the red-gold hair and took firm hold of one ear. The cursing rose in tone and was accompanied by frenzied kicking at his shins. It reminded him somewhat of Bally as a colt. Mr Ford expertly twisted the young man away from him, guided him across the lane to a sheep trough and sank the boy's head into the water, up to his shoulders.
When he withdrew the boy, dripping and spluttering, his voice was still calmly interested.
"Have you quite finished?"
The abuse was renewed, along with bitter aspersions about his parenthood. Mr Ford shook his head and returned the child to the trough.
"We could continue along these lines all night." He pointed out when he withdrew his pupil for the second time. "This is a good moonlit night and there appears to be plenty of water."
The boy spluttered and spat and twisted and blue eyes hated him, but the sharp tongue was stilled. So the boy was a quick learner. Mr Ford released his ear.
"So much pleasanter. Now. You were explaining to me why you felt it necessary to destroy a haystack in the darkest hours of the night."
"I was NOT-"
Mr Ford stretched a hand towards one ear. The boy jerked back, flushed and stopped. Mr Ford took a seat on the edge of the trough.
"Please continue."
The boy pushed drenched hair out of his eyes.
"It's Adam Martin's haystack."
"And how has Mr Martin discommoded you?" Mr Ford asked shrewdly. The boy glowered at him.
"Broke my fishing rods. He said I was poaching on his land!"
"And were you?"
"I've been fishing in that lake all my life! It isn't his lake!"
"Is it on his land?" Mr Ford inquired.
"How can you OWN a lake!"
"If it's on his land, the lake is indisputably his. I hardly think that justifies the destruction of a valuable and essential piece of property."
"He broke my rods! They were MY property!" 

"I can't imagine you would be likely to starve from the loss of your fishing poles." Mr Ford folded his arms and surveyed his captive. "It would appear to me that this is an act either of childish and thoughtless revenge- or else an extremely spiteful and petty act of destruction. I can't say I know you well enough to make a decision."
"It's nothing to do with you!"
"Oh it is, my young friend." Mr Ford assured him. "It most certainly is. And I would not consider running if I were you." he added, the whiplash tone back in his voice as he saw the young man stir. "I would most certainly outdistance you, and should you put me to the inconvenience of pursuit, I would be inclined to hold it against you."
Blue eyes glared into brown ones. Then fell to the ground. Kit Kennet had no idea why he was standing still, but he couldn’t have moved if he wanted to. Mr Ford continued to watch him with disconcerting calmness.
"Now of course, the question arises what should I do with you? I should have no qualms over handing you to Mr Martin personally-"
The flash of terror in the young man's face did not escape him.
"However," Mr Ford continued, "There is your mother to be considered. The humiliation and loss of trade to her would be an extremely serious matter. You appear to have given her shamefully little thought in your dealings tonight. And if I simply release you to go about your business, how do I know you will not return here and continue with this rather nasty little act of revenge?"
There was a warning in there that Kit heard but was too angry to pay attention to.
"You don't." he said with satisfaction. "There's nothing you can do. And if you stop me tonight, I'll be back here tomorrow when you've ridden on."
"So you'd force me to hand you over to Mr Martin, or to the magistrate?" Mr Ford inquired coldly. "My dear boy, I do not think much of your filial loyalties, your sense of responsibility or indeed your sense of honour. You would do nothing at all to protect your mother from this shamefully childish vandalism?"
Had the boy answered that without flushing or without fury in his face, Mr Ford would have taken him to the village and handed him over to Mr Martin without a second qualm. Mrs Kennet would be shamed by the boy in the end if he truly had no understanding or care for this crime, and it was better she be rid of him sooner rather than later. But from the angry flush in the small face and the stutter in the voice, the boy was aware and ashamed, and still driven by fury rather than deliberate forethought.
"Of course I would! What do you think I am?"
"A brat and a demon of the first water." Mr Ford said absently, wondering how a village boy could remain such a child so late into his youth. Village boys were men by fifteen or sixteen, with the volatile emotions and thoughtlessness left behind for the harder tasks of work and survival. And this child was no village brat. The colour of his hair and eyes. The slight and delicate lines of his cheekbones and his hands. The way he moved, the way he spoke. There was little village blood here. Mrs Briony Kennet was hiding a secret in this village and her son was doing little to help her keep it. Mr Ford reached a decision and rose to his feet.
"Come along with you. You've stood out here long enough and I for one would prefer to get some sleep tonight."
The boy skulked along behind him, kicking his feet on the rutted lane and then on the cobbles with a scowl on his face that made Ford shake his head. Whoever had had the training of this child had no idea how you handled a colt. He led the boy with him into the stable and pushed Bally aside when she nosed at him and then at the boy. The boy hesitated, looking warily at the stable and the half door. Ford pulled him inside and shut the stable door firmly, then put the boy down on the edge of the straw bales.
"Where I come from my boy, if you call the tune, there is a piper to be paid. And if I stop your pranks and keep this indiscretion of yours from coming to light, then the justice of the little affair becomes my responsibility. If you were a man…"
The blue eyes flicked up to his in outrage and alarm, confirming what his instincts told him. But this was a boy. A child's temper, a child's reasoning left in a man's body.  On the fields of Spain, a year ago, Mr Ford had learned a great deal about both men and boys, and petty disputes. This boy would do well in the army, under the command of a good officer and with plenty to occupy mind and body- there was courage and spirit in that temper, energy misdirected. What was a high blooded creature doing in a village, locked away with drinkers and farmers?
"What you'll do," he said firmly, "Is pay it out for me in labour. Part of which will be the exemplary care of my horse. The other part of which will be to assist your mother, with good grace and willingness, in the running of the inn. Is that understood young man?"
The boy looked at him with flat resentment. "You can't make me do that."
"I can." Ford said reflectively.
Blue eyes glinted angrily. "Or you hand me to dear Mr Martin."
"No, my boy, that decision has already been made. You will work for me."
"Or what?"
Ford lifted an eyebrow at him. "Now is that a discovery you really wish to make?"
The glare became even more furious. "So you think you can make me do what ever you want for a day or two?"
Ford patted Bally and opened the door. "Now we've agreed that, perhaps we had both better get some sleep. I shall expect you to have this stable cleared and Bally's tack cleaned by the time I have finished my breakfast. After which you will ask your mother for a list of tasks she would like you to complete."
The boy was too outraged to move. Ford shrugged and closed the stable door behind himself.
"I would not advise you to make me come and find you in the morning." 
From long habit, Ford awoke not long after sunrise. Mrs Kennet was busy downstairs. The fires were lit, the chimneys were smoking and the smell of bread hung in the yard. Looking down over the cobbles, there was no sign of one small, annoyed young man dealing with Bally's stable box. Ford dressed, hung his coat over his arm and glanced down at his top boots. They were rather losing their gleam so far away from home. One more task for young Mr Kennet when he made his way out of bed. Ford went down to the stable and checked Bally's foot. They were going to be staying at least another two or three days while she healed. Ford led her into the yard and let her stretch her legs, watching a farmer in a distant field examine his scorched haystack with annoyance. At least Master Kennet had not returned to complete the job overnight.
"Good morning Mr Ford!" Mrs Kennet said in surprise, stopping in the kitchen doorway. "You're up and about early!"
"Army habits Mrs Kennet I'm afraid." Letting Bally follow, Ford crossed the yard to her, taking the heavy milk pails out of her hands. "You should send young Kit for these, they're too heavy for you."
"Army are you?" Mrs Kennet relinquished the buckets not without relief. "Were you at Waterloo?"
"I was." Ford said dismissively. It was never a subject he wanted to discourse much on. He caught a flicker of Mrs Kennet's face however even as he prepared to turn the subject, that made him pause.
"Were you unlucky enough to lose someone there? Your husband?"
"Oh no sir, he died before Kit was born. No, no one at all."
There was a gold ring on her finger. Although that meant little, Mr Ford reflected. He wondered if the gentleman at Waterloo had also had red-gold hair.
"Where IS your son this morning? I have a few errands I would like him to run."
Mrs Kennet gave him a faintly apologetic smile. "Kit came in late sir. I'll send him to you as soon as I can, though you'd be better if I can help in any way."
"Difficult age, nineteen." Ford said dryly. Mrs Kennet sighed.
"And some boys are more difficult than others sir. "
Not enough here to keep the cub occupied. And no one to make the boy do enough of a hard day's work to get rid of his energy and restlessness. Mrs Kennet took a loaf of bread down and unwrapped a cheese.
"I'll see to some breakfast for you sir. There's a fire in the taproom if you'd like to sit by it." 
Emerging replete from the taproom half an hour later, the sound of a shovel in the stableyard drew Ford's attention. The boy was in his shirtsleeves, working hard in Bally's stall with the sun glinting off his bright hair. Bally was watching him, swinging her head a little and listening attentively as he talked to her. Ford raised his eyebrows. Bally was no mean judge of character and she didn't take easily to strangers. If she approved of the lad, there was something there to be approved of. He crossed the yard to the boy, close enough to make him jerk his head up and look, warily at the older man.
"I'm doing it."
"So I see. Do you have the tasks from your mother?"
Silence. Ford raised an eyebrow.
"Do you have ANY manners whatsoever?"
"Yes sir." The answer came very unwillingly. The boy shifted on the cobbles and wiped his forearm over his lips. "And no sir."
"DON'T do that. Go and find her now, I want to know precisely what you are asked to do. Go on child, quickly."
He could see the boy's indecision, then the shovel was laid against the wall and the boy scuffed across the yard. He was gone only two minutes, returning looking still sulkier. Mrs Kennet's head appeared in the kitchen window and her face was baffled. Mr Ford waited beside Bally, arms folded.
"All the stables. Wood. Windows washing."
"Is that all?"
"Vegetables weeded."
"Very well. In addition to that, you may sweep the front yard out and later this evening you can clean these boots for me. As well as feed Bally. I shall check on each of those tasks this evening."
"Or what?" the boy said mutinously. Mr Ford raised an eyebrow.
"Or I shall think you a dishonourable young brute who's word and promise means nothing."
Silence. The boy flushed still darker. Mr Ford glanced along the line of horses.
"Since I cannot ride Bally, is there a horse I can take out this morning?" 
It was over an hour's ride to Mayfield Park, but the stables were considerably better kept than those of the inn's, and within seconds of Mr Ford's arrival in the stable yard, two men were running to take his horse, one of them an elderly man with his face lighting up in open delight.
"Mr Jack! You weren't expected here sir! What's this old nag you're riding?"
"I had to leave Bally behind, Tom. I shouldn't dare bring her near you lamed. Is my brother at home?"
"He is sir. And - er-"
The groom's face was expressive. Mr Ford paused in horror.
"NOT my honoured parents I sincerely hope? I thought they were safely in London!"
"No sir. Worse?"
"Dear God." Mr Ford said limply. "Caroline. Tom, I'm leaving instantly, deny all knowledge of me."
The old groom chuckled. "Your brother would never forgive me sir. Will you be staying?"
"No more than an hour or two, Tom. Do what you can for this poor beast."
Tom's look at the horse was expressive. Mr Ford grinned and circled the house to a side door. Mayfield had been his childhood home and he knew every inch of the house and estate. And his brother had always made it clear to his difficult if beloved younger brother, that he would always be welcomed at whatever peculiar hour he chose to arrive. 
He found Lord Peregrin Alford in the library, listlessly playing with the ears of his pet spaniel, while his sister informed him in close detail of the current state of the London season. Mr Ford paused in the doorway, enjoying his brother's expression of suffering boredom for some moments before he interrupted his sister's chatter by digging his fingers firmly into her ribs in a brotherly if rather uncouth manner.
"Caroline do be quiet, you'll reduce Perry to tears."
"JACK!" Perry released his spaniel in open delight. "My dear boy where did you spring from? The last I heard you were hunting up in the north somewhere with that friend of yours."
"Not the weather for hunting." Mr Ford shook his brother's hand and fended off his sister's kiss. "Hallo Caroline. What have you done with that ghastly husband of yours?"
"DON'T start her off on all that again or you'll be here for ever while she twaddles on!" Perry said earnestly. "He's gone to Cornwall on business and refuses to say when he'll be back."
"He's been most tedious." Caroline said irritably, "Especially when there are so many invitations to attend. I was forced to leave London and thought I might as well see Perry as not."
"Very sisterly." Mr Ford helped himself to his brother's brandy, flopped down in one of his easy chairs and hooked a long leg over the arm. "Perry are you still the Magistrate of this Godforsaken district?"
Caroline clapped her hands to her ears and glared at him. Perry grinned.
"As far as I know."
"Got a question or two for you when you have a moment. Nothing urgent"
"I daresay Mother has a question or two for you!" Caroline said, cautiously removing her hands. "Such as when you intend to put in an appearance in London. People are beginning to suspect you've finally been clapped up in an asylum somewhere and we're maintaining appearances."
"Caroline, I have ALWAYS found the London season to be a dead bore. I have no intention of setting foot there until utterly compelled to do so."
His sister regarded him with open disfavour. "If you would only MAKE something of yourself you could so easily be quite the rage of the season. You're so much taller than anyone else and you dance divinely-"
"When sufficiently inebriated." Mr Ford interjected, raising his glass at his brother. Caroline gave him an unladylike glimpse of her tongue through her teeth.
"Instead of which, you career about over the country looking like a farmer, using language that should clear a drawing room in seconds and lolling about as though you'd never been decently raised in your life-"
"How are the horses Perry?" Mr Ford interrupted her without compunction. Perry got up with alacrity.
"Come and see old boy. One or two new foals really very promising this year."
Caroline sniffed loudly and returned to reading her book.
"She does have a point," Perry said apologetically as they left the side door to the house and set out towards the paddocks. "Father was saying just the other day, you were old enough now to stop running quite so wild-"
"Perry," Mr Ford interrupted him, "You've always been an admirable older brother for numerous reasons. My favourite of which is because you don't jaw."
Perry shook his head and gave it up. "What was it you wanted to ask me?"
"Do you know Galwick at all?"
"Yes. About eight miles south of here. Few farms, nothing much there."
His brother hoisted himself up and sat astride the paddock fence.
"If you were to meet a red headed brat in this area, clearly not village born, what would you think?" 
"You didn't even make him stay for dinner?" Caroline demanded when Perry returned to the library alone. Perry shrugged.
"If you can tell me the way to make old Jack stay anywhere longer than ten minutes, I'll be listening."
"WHERE is he going?" Caroline got up to look with Perry out of the window at their youngest brother walking an ugly brown cob down the drive. Perry lifted his shoulders.
"He didn't say."
"You're his brother!"
"Caro, Jack has been bigger than me since we were children. If he doesn't want to tell me there's little I can do about it!"
Perry dug his hands in his pockets and frowned after his brother. Jack had always been restless, always on the wild side, but since he'd come back from Spain and Wellington's army he'd been different. Brooding. Given to silences and to vanishing, and to using his charm to slip further and further away from his family. He'd never cared for family, for duty or for the society life his parents lived in, and as a younger brother had little enough family responsibility- but Perry had the increasing feeling there was something his brother wasn't telling him. 
The White Rose stableyard was quiet. Ford rode under the archway in growing suspicion. Bally was a watchman, trained and well practised. Before he swung down from his saddle he knew she was missing from her stall. He hooked the cob's reins through the wall rings and jogged across to the inn kitchen. Mrs Kennet was sitting in the one remaining upright chair. For one horrible moment, Ford expected to see bruises on her face, but when she lifted her head her eyes were merely red from crying. The kitchen bore marks of a young and extremely hot temper.
"Kit?" he said gently. Mrs Kennet gathered herself with an effort.
"He had a quarrel with -" her breath hitched and she swallowed carefully. "With Mr Martin. A local farmer? When I asked what was wrong, Mr Martin-"
"Lost his temper with you? And then Kit lost his temper entirely?"
Mrs Kennet nodded slowly. Ford dropped a hand on her shoulder.
"I'll need your horse a while longer Mrs Kennet."
Between the destruction of the kitchen and the theft of Bally- and the riding of Bally when lamed- Mr Ford had every intention of finding Kit Kennet in short order. He paused at the edge of the green to call for John Taylor who was passing. A few words to him about Mrs Kennet and he was running in the direction of the White Rose. Mr Ford turned the cob's head towards the open road and kicked him into a canter. Bally, lamed and with a stranger in the saddle, would not have gone far.
Continue on to Black Jack Davy Part 2

Copyright Ranger 2010 

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