Our journey to Yorkshire is uneventful but my first night is not. John sleeps beside me, soundly, but I toss all night. First, from the strangeness of the place, the unfamiliar bed and then from a breeze that stirs the ceiling canopy. A glass of midnight port settles my mind, but as soon as I close my eyes, I fall into a frightful dream in which Perkins, our new groom, lifts me onto a large white stallion. I am dressed in black, as if for a funeral but travel unaccompanied. When I reach the gravesite the horse becomes ill, collapsing at my feet. I am left alone with the linen-wrapped corpse. I lean forward as the corpse sits up, her head turning to sawdust, her breasts dripping milk. I extend my finger, slowly collecting the sticky white substance one drop at a time, feeling an overwhelming urge to taste it, but before it nears my mouth, a shadowed figure springs from the woods, splashing bold colors of red across the white of my horses fallen body.
I wake startled and breathless, missing the comforting sounds of our London home. No, I tell myself. I refuse to have my first day at the manor spoiled by a senseless dream.
Sun lights the room through small diamond-paned windows as I dress and go into the great hall to find John. The hall is a large rectangular room twice as long as it is wide, with a fireplace big enough to stand in at one end, and a full bank of windows to the south. I sit at the bay window, watching geese waddle past, and find myself missing my cat. My decision to leave Miss Tabby with Julia was correct, because she is a dreadful traveler, but I miss her company and her warmth at the foot of my bed.
Albert, the butler, stands before me, looking as old and formal as the house. He is used to serving the Viscount, not a youthful married couple. I find myself wondering how well we’ll get on.
“Excuse me, Madame. Master John is in the library. He’s asked that breakfast be served there.” The great hall is made for entertaining. I find sitting alone a bit forlorn and am happy to be called away. I walk down a hall of gold-framed paintings and heavy crimson tapestries to the library. John is already settled near the fire, his head buried in account books.
“You’re becoming a late sleeper.” He gets up as I enter, an on-going recognition of respect.
“I suppose I am,” I smile, not wanting to reveal the terror of last night’s dream. Its meaning remains unclear, but the fright of it makes me quiver.
“There is so much to be done here.” John furrows his brow, rolling a gold pen between his fingers – a gesture of heightened concern I’ve come to know very well. “I’m afraid I’ll be occupied most of the day. Do you mind being on your own? I know it’s unfair but I’m finding that many of the fences between tenant dwellings are in need of repair, allowing swine to run free. Many of the banks have been left unplowed and dues have not been collected. The current overseer must be replaced immediately and let go without reference.”
I dance around the desk, bouncing into his lap. “It’s okay,” I whisper, draping my arms around his neck. “We’ll have other days. I’ll have Perkins take me to the edge of the wood to collect flowers. I’ll spend the day exploring and then walk back.”
John gathers my hair in his hands, gently kissing my forehead. “Be careful my red-haired beauty. I would not want to lose you out there.”
Albert enters unannounced, his silver tray reflecting rays of light against dark-hued walls. There is something about the man I don’t care for. His manner is too stiff and his countenance flat. Or perhaps I’m just missing Julia and the familiarity of her service.