By Ben Kesp
She wraps the black shawl tighter around her body from the coolness of the room. The low autumn sun that filters in provides little warmth. Susanna Westby loses count of how many times she has paced back and forth the large dining room of Point Pleasant House. Her mind is restless and she glances regularly out the large windows onto the drive way.
For a brief moment, as the light of the afternoon sun catches the leaves of the mature oaks in the front garden radiating their golden colour, her mind reflects on an unforgettable moment six years earlier on the very same month that she married her husband Eyre Westby. It was a union of marriage agreed by their fathers to strengthen the family’s wealth while ensuring a political seat in parliament. The leaves shone bright golden on that morning in 1780 on the trees surrounding Castlefort House and gardens. The house was alive with activity as the wedding parties arrived. Anyone of importance was invited. Her parents, Captain Robert and Anne Villiers, greeted their guests in the large entrance hall of Castlefort House, and from there, the guests entered the gracious ball room that was filled with the aroma of freshly picked flowers of all colours. Here, they were welcomed by her husband’s parents Mr. Francis and Lady Angela Westby. It was a triumphant day in the eyes of the Villiers and the Westbys as the union did succeed for a brief time in unifying and strengthening the families.
Susanna recalls her first visit to Point Pleasant House after her marriage listening to the wheels of the black closed carriage as it rolled against the gravel climbing the steep hill of mature oak and ash trees. The two large white horses strained against the pull under the direction of their master who held back on the reigns easing them to a trot. The horses led the carriage through the grand black entrance gate leading to Point Pleasant House. She gazed out the carriage window at the tree-lined avenue. Her heart pounded with joy at the thought of beginning a life at Point Pleasant. Her new husband sat next to her and she marvelled at this fine noble man who would treat her well and she would want for nothing.
The carriage eased its way to the front door of the gracious Point Pleasant House, situated on a hill overlooking Point Pleasant Estate that exceeded three thousand acres. Lady Angela Westby stood by the front door waiting and was joined at either side by the house servants. Susanna took in her surroundings, and the chorus of birds singing amongst the abundance of mature trees surrounding the house and walled garden was peaceful to her mind. She greeted Angela Westby by kissing her gently on the cheek. Angela’s nobility, confidence and standing unnerved her, but she was eager to learn from this great woman.
Six years have passed since her marriage to Eyre Westby, and the week gone by has been one of the hardest in her life as she laid him to rest. Her thoughts are on her husband that death has taken too soon leaving her alone with three young sons. The responsibility of Point Pleasant Estate rests heavily on her shoulders. The sound of rolling carriage wheels pulling towards the front of the house interrupts her thoughts. It could only be her family friend and solicitor, Edward Ryall. She stops pacing as she hears him enter the main hallway and waits for him. He greets her, kissing her gently on the cheek.
“My sincerest sympathies again, but what you are doing is the right thing,” he says taking a seat at the long table.
Susanna sits next to him allowing herself to relax in his company.
“I know it is the right thing to do. With my husband dead, I am not able to run the estate on my own. It is the burden of the combined Westby estates and the future of their properties that are lying in my hands. The responsibility for the family’s wealth rests with me until my sons are of age to manage,” she replies.
“You are a strong woman Mrs. Westby, like Lady Angela Westby before you. God rest her.”
“It is kind of you to say. She was a great mentor.”
“You already have the majority of Point Pleasant estate given in lease to your brother Sam Villiers of Castlefort House.”
“Yes, and he is family. I am now about to give the remainder of the estate to an outsider, and this is what worries me.”
“It’s a lease, and I can assure you, I would not recommend William Burton, if I knew he was not a fair man. He is an extensive estate holder, largest being that of Marone Estate. He is a respected and distinguished gentleman. You will have no worries with him.”
“I take your word for this. I worry of the responsibility and having to make these decisions.”
“You don’t need to worry Susanna. You have three sons to look after and Point Pleasant House. Let the estate be run by people who know how to do it.”
“I agree,” she replies allowing a smile of gratitude cross her lips as she lifts her head. “I hear a carriage coming.”
Rising from the table, she steps to a dining room window and sees the approaching carriage come to a stop at the front door. A large man alights. Susanna watches as her butler escorts the man inside the house and she listens to their greetings. She studies William Burton as he enters the room. He is a large, well-built man who carries himself with an air of importance. A man whom she soon notices has little time for small talk. Removing his hat, he takes her hand and kisses it gently.
“Mrs. Westby, it is an honour to meet you and to visit this fine house, and I give you my sympathies on the death of your husband Mr. Eyre Westby. A fine man I hear,” he says. Susanna nods at his response.
“It is very kind of you. Would you like some refreshments? I can have them arranged,” she offers.
“No thank you Mrs. Westby, I am a man of business. I would like to have a look at the house you are wishing to lease to me along with the land. If it is satisfactory, I will sign the papers and you will not have to worry about it for some time to come. I have already viewed the land with Mr. Ryall and I am familiar with the area.”
“The West House, named after its location on the western side of the estate, is a large two-storey house and it is modelled on the design of this house but on a smaller scale. My husband’s father had it built in 1770.”
“Will you accompany Mr. Ryall and me to the house?”
“That I will Mr. Burton. The West House will be requiring furnishings; but I am sure you will be able to look after all that.”
“I got married two years ago in April of ‘84 to a lovely lady named Anne. She will only marvel at the challenge of decorating the house.”
“Very good Mr. Burton. Shall we go?” she asks tightening her shawl around her shoulders. She exits the house and enters William Burton’s carriage outside.
Susanna listens to the wheels of the carriage roll slowly making its way on the long avenue leading to the West House. Looking ahead, the tall mature trees come into view secluding the house. It was a beautiful location that Francis Westby had selected to build the West House. Darkness falls inside the carriage once they enter the trees and she sees the house come into view. The low autumn sun filters once more into the carriage as they exit the trees. It is a long and spacious house with ivy covering its front walls and she knows William Burton will be satisfied with it. She follows Edward Ryall as he enters the main hall and steps into the grand and empty reception room to his right.
“You have the family rooms upstairs and the servant rooms at the west end of the house,” Susanna Westby points out.
“Very good. I am pleased with the house and I know of the land,” William replies turning to Edward Ryall who opens the case he is carrying.
“The papers,” Edward instructs, “the lease is from this year of 1786 until such time that Mrs. Westby’s two sons Eyre Junior and Sebastian Westby are of age to marry and take over this half of Point Pleasant.”
“You see,” begins Susanna, “my husband in his will divided Point Pleasant estate between his three sons, the west for Eyre and Sebastian, and the east along with Point Pleasant House to my eldest son Stuart Westby.”
“I understand the process and will be happy to sign the lease of these lands until that time comes.”
Susanna watches William Burton sign the papers on one of the window sills. The grief for her lost husband holds a solid grip over her emotions. She will mourn later when she has business taken care of. William shakes Edward’s hand, and as she extends hers, he kisses it.
“I will leave you Mr. Burton to settle into your new property. I hope this business transaction will be a benefit to both of us,” Susanna says stepping out of the West House.
“I will have my driver bring you home Mrs. Westby. I am sure we shall see each other soon,” William answers. Susanna Westby nods slightly, allowing Edward to assist her climb into the carriage. The carriage rolls gently out the avenue of the West House casting long shadows as the autumn sun settles in the west.