"Teddy, do stop sulking," Anna finally said impatiently as they rode over the hill and came into view of the house. It was a perfect day and after two weeks straight of rain and being trapped inside, she'd been only too happy to accompany her cousin on a long ride. They had been all the way over to Hughes Farm and back through the village of Fairburn. In the village Ted had run into trouble when his horse took exception to Mrs. McCullough's new motorcar starting right next to them, and kicked up and scratched the shiny new surface. Since Mrs. McCullough had been standing right there and seen the whole incident, Ted had to stay and listen to a blistering lecture and his and his horse's lack of manners, and not say a thing in his own defense, because his father had the greatest respect for Mrs. McCullough. He had sulked through the rest of the ride.
"How can I help it if he wouldn't stand with that loud noise!"
"It was your fault, you know," she said without sympathy.
"Wasn't either! She's just showing off by having a car anyway, the roads are too rough most of the time around here to drive it anywhere. That's why father won't buy one here, though he has one in town. Wish he would, I'm keen to learn to drive. I told father that, but he won't answer my letters. I expect he's still angry about my marks on my exams."
He had just finished up with his last year at Eton, and though clever, he had never been much of a scholar and achieved less-than-impressive results. Anna was only too glad to have him home, as her younger cousins (nine, six, and four respectively) were too young to be interesting companions and life at Ashby Hall had been unbearably dull. Her oldest cousin Harry had been killed two years before in a riding accident, and after that Aunt Eugenia, whose health had always been delicate, had turned worse quickly. After she died, with Uncle George always in London and Teddy away at Eton, Anna had no one but the little girls or the servants to talk to. She knew it was selfish, but she was in no hurry for them to come to a decision about what Ted should do next, because then he would leave again.
"Not going to spend my time buried under a pile of books, thank you very much!" Ted was saying vehemently, of his father's hope that he would go Oxford or Cambridge. "I'll join the Navy, that's what I'll do! Father can't object to that after all."
The subject of Ted's future, now that he was the only son and heir, had been a source of much discussion and argument. Despite poor grades, Uncle George could have arranged for him to go to University, but he had no interest in that, or in learning the family business. His insistence that joining the military sounded like "a jolly time" led to shouting matches.
The sudden focus on Ted's future had, for the first time, made Anna think about her own. She was only a year younger than Ted, sixteen, and was suddenly realizing she would have to do…well…something. She couldn't spend her entire life living there, looking after her little cousins and riding and helping out at the village school. Her parents had died when she was a baby, and Uncle George and Aunt Eugenia had always treated her as their own, but she was beginning to realize that while Aunt Eugenia might have had some plan to see her properly married, Uncle George was a man and had obviously never thought of any such thing.
As they neared the stable, the saw the carriage standing at the side door to the house, the horses being unharnessed and led away by stable boys.
"Father is back, then," said Ted glumly.
Uncle George stayed about half the time in London on "business" and usually when he came home Ted was thrilled, but the recent friction between them had made his visits to Ashby Hall tense. Rather than go in the front, they slipped through the kitchen.
"Boots!" yelped Meg as they came in, not even turning from the stove. They struggled out of their muddy riding boots, leaving them in a heap of others by the kitchen door, and approached the stove in stocking feet. The kitchen smelled heavenly, they'd come back later than they meant and it was nearly time for tea.
"Oooooh, muffins!" breathed Teddy reaching toward the basket, until Meg turned lightning fast from the stove and smacked his hand away. She looked at them both for the first time and sighed.
"And look at the both of you! Covered in mud, how do you like that? You'd better smarten up quick, his Lordship is back from London and will want to see you, I suppose…"
"Right then!" Ted was nearer the stairs, and slipped away, leaving Meg's lecture turned on her.
"And you! Bad enough Master Edward riding around the countryside unsupervised, but you a lady, it's not proper! And look at you, you're a mess, covered in mud! You ought to be more careful of what people think! Who will want to marry a girl who runs wild around the country side, and no matter how much I try, you won't remember a single thing I teach you about keeping a house-" Meg was starting on a familiar rant.
"Well, so perhaps I'll not get married."
The look and the silence that met that suggestion were quite enough to let Anna know it had been a mistake to voice that particular idea.
"Don't talk nonsense, of course you will!"
"I could move to London, get a job even! Ladies do now, Meg!"
She read about such things in London papers…suffragists and ladies going to University and having proper jobs as secretaries or typewriters and living in flats and it all sounded rather brilliant in the peace of Ashby Hall, but in truth she knew nothing about such things, she was just having Meg on.
"Ladies! Pshh! Not decent ladies from good families. No, you'll be married properly. It won't be difficult to find a good match, your parents left you well-off enough and you might be rather pretty when you grow up a bit…you'll favor your Mother's family I think, that will do you well."
It was something she had heard mentioned accidentally a few times throughout her childhood, that her parents had left her well-off. No one had ever spoken of it directly, she supposed because it wasn't proper to talk to young girls about money, but she was starting to wonder just what they meant, and what it should mean to her. She was hardly a child anymore and beginning to wish people would tell her something…anything…about her past or her future.
Before she could ask, Meg swatted at her gently. "Enough of your nonsense about jobs. Get on and make yourself presentable. I expect his Lordship will want to see Master Edward and then there will be a proper dinner now he's home, with you dressed properly for it. Go on."
As it turned out, she didn't even get a reprieve until dinner, the downstairs maid Martha met her on the stairs and told her that his Lordship would see her in his study as soon as she had cleaned up from her ride.
That was a bit alarming. Uncle George generally bothered himself little about her, leaving the upbringing of the girls in his household (both her and the younger ones) to Aunt Eugenia, and since she had died, to Meg or the nurses and governesses. She had only been called to his study in the past for a very few serious infractions, and as she hurried to her room, she could not immediately think of anything serious she had done wrong lately.
She discarded her mud-splattered riding habit quickly, opting for a dark blue dress with white ribbon detailing. All of her dresses were similar after all- proper, sensible, well-made, and really very boring and childish. Meg oversaw having them made, and had very firm ideas about what a girl of fifteen ought to wear. Often she didn't care at all what she wore, but once in awhile she was starting to wish she had some pretty, more grown-up dresses.
However, while Uncle George was waiting was hardly the time to dwell on it, so she quickly brushed her hair, restoring it to what little order it usually submitted to, and then hurried downstairs. Teddy was apparently there already, as she could hear their voices through the study door, and she knocked hesitantly.
"Come in," answered Uncle George's voice. He was sitting at this desk, and Teddy was standing before the hearth, hands clasped behind his back like a schoolboy receiving a scolding. "Ah, Anna. Come in, close the door if you would."
"Welcome back, Uncle."
"Mhm? Thank you," He replied vaguely. He seemed to be dividing his attention between them and the correspondence that had come in his absence, and he hardly glanced at her. Not sure exactly what she was supposed to do, she went to stand by Teddy, for solidarity at least. She shot him questioning look, but he only raised his shoulders slightly in a shrug. He looked only curious, not as though he had been receiving a reprimand. Finally Uncle George set aside a sheaf of papers and his pen and turned to look at them, and smirked.
"There is no need to stand there as though you expect to be dressed down. Sit down."
Surprised be his genial mood, they both sat carefully on the sofa, watching him warily while he rose and paced once before turning his gaze on Teddy.
"I have been thinking about your future Edward,"
Teddy tensed next to her and began, "Dad, it's no good for me to-"
"I have not changed my mind about my wish that you attend University, but I have no desire to waste my money on a University education that you would not avail yourself of. I certainly will not pay for tuition so that you may sleep late and learn about the pubs and… other entertainment Oxford or Cambridge offer. So, since you've made it clear that is not your wish, I will not force it."
Surprised into silence, Teddy did not respond, so Uncle George went on. "I have decided it would be most suitable if you went to London for the season. I have arranged an apprentice position for you at the bank," before Teddy could protest he held up a hand. "I understand that is not your idea of a suitable occupation either, but it seems I will need to be abroad a good deal in the next few months, both to the continent and to the United States, and I need you there in my absence, though you will be only just learning. So, I propose a bargain that I think you will find acceptable- I would like you to go to London and stay there for the Season. You must apply yourself at the bank- I will hear of it if you do not- and if by September, you still dislike London and the world of finance, you may join the Navy with my blessing. Is that agreeable?"
Teddy nodded enthusiastically, his cheeks bright pink with excitement. "Brilliant!"
"As for you Anna, it occurred to me it might be to your benefit to accompany Edward," he continued mildly, catching her up short while she was feeling simultaneously pleased for Teddy and sorry that he would be shortly leaving again. "Not only would it be good to have you to keep an eye on him, but you are…what? Fourteen? Fifteen?"
"Quite. While you are too young yet to participate in society, you might as well start learning what is entailed, and as your Aunt can no longer instruct you in…such things," he made a vauge, desperate gesture she assumed was to encompass all "feminine mysteries" such as gowns and dressing hair. "In a few years you will be coming out, and you will be better off for it having spent some time in London."
She exchanged a glance with Teddy, who was grinning.
"Yes, Sir," she agreed politely.
"I have inquired if you might stay with the Duke of Cairne. He has several grown children, and his wife would like the company of young people, she would be glad of Anna's help. Lady Cairne is a woman of outstanding character, so I won't need to worry you will get into trouble."
"Of course not, Sir."