Secrets - Susanna and Earl
Secrets, is a selected English Reader for students studying at Birchwater Education Institute.
Susanna and Earl discuss the pending court case against her brother and the upcoming annual ball at Kilbrack House.
The incident with Earl Southwell while out riding lingers in Susanna’s thoughts. What a coincidence it should happen in the same place where her husband died. The ravine needs to be sealed before any more accidents occur, especially if she decides to hold the annual hunt at Point Pleasant this coming summer. That particular area of land is used for grazing and the animals enter the ravine to drink the fresh water from a natural spring source. She will discuss the matter with Thomas Ryan and get his opinion. Taking her seat behind the large solid oak desk in what used to be her husband’s study, she surveys the room. Its two large windows measuring half the height of the wall draped with dark brown curtains overlook the valley to the rear of the house. From here, a view can be enjoyed of the estate below, a mixture of tillage and grazing lands. The walls of the room are dark green with a portrait of Francis and Angela Westby hanging over the white marble fireplace. A large Indian knotted pile rug is spread out across the centre of the room covering most of the wooden oak floor beneath.
Susanna rarely ventured into the room since her husband’s demise, but this has changed over the past few months when she began to take responsibility for the estate management. She no longer accepted the fact that her brother had leased over half of the estate since his refusal to pay rents was evidence that he is not going to be a useful tenant. She has decided she will run Point Pleasant Estate herself with the exception of the five hundred and fifty acres she has leased to William Burton. That lease will end when her two younger sons are of age to marry and take on the responsibility themselves.
Turning in her seat, she faces the wall behind the desk that is lined floor to ceiling with an ornate solid chestnut wall unit. Many of the items contained within were personal artefacts of her husband. Holding the arms of her chair, she pauses momentarily knowing she would need to empty it. This is her house and her property, and to feel comfortable in the room, it would need to become her stronghold where she conducts estate business.
A knock on the study door interrupts her thoughts as Delia enters notifying her that Edward Ryall has arrived. She instructs that he is brought to her. Sorting out the papers on the desk, she waits for him to enter and be seated. After refreshments are brought by a house servant, she relaxes in his presence when they are alone. Susanna finds his company calming. Edward Ryall has been the Villiers family solicitor since he started to work in his father’s practice. Her father Robert Villiers had hired Edward’s father Edgar when they first moved to Castlefort House. Edward is some ten years older than Susanna and unmarried. He lives at Kilbrack and took over the family practice after his father retired six years earlier. She finds him capable, loyal and trusts him completely.
Placing her cup on its saucer, she notices him smiling at her.
“Why do you smile? What amuses you?” she asks him half mockingly.
“You! I must say Susanna, it is a great sight to see you taking charge and getting to terms with estate management,” Edward replies, sitting opposite the desk.
“You should hear men at the gentleman’s club. A woman! They say; what would she know about running a business? I am very capable. Do you not agree?”
“Yes I do.”
“This is my property now, and I must protect it for my children. I will make contacts and keep the Westby name strong in Point Pleasant and in Kilbrack. I will not be treated any different from the rest of the men just because I am a woman.”
“Well said. How are the estate finances if I may be so bold to ask?”
“That is why I have called you here. The estate is strong and good income is flowing well above the operating expenses, but the estate’s cash reserve was greatly reduced eight years ago in 1780. In fact, it was six months prior to my marriage and my late husband had been trying to rebuild the reserve since.”
“Why was it reduced?”
“This is what is most surprising and unusual Edward - Francis Westby paid a substantial sum of money to my father. I don’t understand why he would pay that amount of money; it is an exuberant value.”
“This is very interesting. What Francis Westby got in return from Robert Villiers was a political seat, Castlefort House Estate and the marriage of his daughter to his son.”
Susanna places the paper she is holding in Edward’s hands. The realisation on Edward’s face does not escape her.
“Speak! What is it?”
“I could be very wrong but something just came to my mind. This sum might equate to the value of Castlefort even if it would be a little modest for a property of its size.”
“Why would Francis Westby purchase Castlefort from my father? Or more, the question, why would my father sell it?”
“These are questions we cannot answer. We need to pass this information onto Mr. Earl Southwell.”
“We can tell him now.”
“He is here at Point Pleasant!?”
“Yes. Does this shock you Edward?”
“Not at all. You are free to have anyone you wish at Point Pleasant. I have noticed how much of a shine you are taking to the young inspector.”
“Shine! Edward I can well assure you there is no shine. We are friends and nothing more. He has been most - kind and charming,” Susanna replies, gathering the papers off her desk and putting them into the top drawer. “Stop this talk now, it’s most unsuitable. Mr. Southwell is here horse riding on the estate. I gave him free reign to do so whenever he pleased. He is currently enjoying some lunch in the dining room.”
Standing, she notices the smile on Edward’s face. Ignoring it, she moves past him and walks from the room. Returning after a few moments to the study, she is followed by Earl Southwell. Susanna takes her seat and listens as Edward informs Earl of the findings from the estate finances.
“We need to postpone the court hearing. Push it out a few months. This new information needs to be investigated and I still have more work to do. The move of the court hearing will give us ample time to build your case and to find out what your brother knows that we don’t,” Earl states locking his eyes with Susanna’s. She moves her focus to Edward.
“What is your thinking? How long can we push it for?”
“We can petition the Honourable Alfred Scales, and as you know of him, let us hope he will not move the hearing out too far,” Edward answers. “Are you sure, Mr. Southwell, you will be able to gather information to present in court?”
“To say yes would be presumptuous of me. There are many things that can obstruct an investigation from finding the truth. It’s the nature of it. What we can be certain of is that this postponement will only unsettle Sam Villiers as he will not be expecting you to do this, and he will be fearful of what you are up to.”
Susanna nods in agreement. The afternoon sun is gradually sliding out of the study windows when Edward Ryall packs his case. Saying his good byes, he leaves for his awaiting carriage.
“Would you care for a stroll in the rose gardens while the sun is still out?” Earl asks Susanna with his lips parting in a gentle smile. Nodding, she wraps her shawl around her shoulders and they exit the house. The afternoon sun casts long shadows across the entrance drive picking up green hedging and white tea roses that are in bloom in early March. They enter the first of the rose gardens under a stone archway chocked in ivy with fresh spring shoots beginning to sprout. They walk silently towards a seating area that is raised in the centre.
“Do you believe that I will find information before the next court sitting?” Earl enquires as he strolls next to Susanna taking in the raw spring beauty of the garden.
“Does it matter what I believe? I want you to find answers,” she answers stopping in front of the seats. “Yet, I know I can trust you, and I can see the sincerity in your eyes that you wish to do right by me. It is an honourable trait.”
“I have only your interests in mind. There is an annual ball being held at Kilbrack house in two weeks’ time.”
“Yes, the Stackpoole family hold it every year. It is their way of rallying support for elections and fund raising for necessary developments for the Kilbrack town.”
“I think it would be good if you were to attend this ball. Let everyone see that you are representing Point Pleasant, and show your peers of your strength and that the Westby name is alive and well.”
“And who would I attend this ball with, might I ask?”
“I would be delighted to escort you. It would be an opportunity to observe the other local landlords when they see you out. It may even cause some rumours to slip between them.”
“Have you no one special in your life that you need to return to Riverdale for?”
“Not in Riverdale, but perhaps in Kilbrack.”
“Mr. Southwell, your charm holds no bounds. If you are implying what I think you are, I do not wish to waste your time.”
“Why, Mrs. Westby, would you be wasting my time? What if you are wasting your own time? Have you thought of that?”
She allows her eyes to linger on his. Shaking her head, she takes a seat next to the white rose bush. “I will attend the ball at Kilbrack House with you. As you have suggested, it will be a way to see if it causes any uncomfortable situations between the other houses. That is all Mr. Southwell.”
“Very well, Mrs. Westby. Can we stop being so formal now?” Earl replies joining her on the bench admiring her beauty as the last of the evening sun rays highlight her auburn hair. Reaching past her, he picks a white rose. “To say thank you for attending the Kilbrack ball with me.”
Taking the flower delicately from his fingers, she smells its fragrance bringing to her mind the brief distant memory of her late husband who had planted the roses for her.
“You’re welcome Earl,” she answers placing the rose in her hair.
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