The Pastures of Wetherby Park
Story and Art by Carpdime
A mother’s most ardent wish is for a line of accomplished sons carrying the family name into the ballrooms and courts of nobility. Such aspirations had cruelly evaded the elder Mrs Hayes whose only living offspring was a single, defiant daughter that she had borne for her now late husband, the respectable Charles Hayes. The respect of her once living husband offered her little solace in her day to day. The only comfort was a pitiful pension inherited from her late husband which was earned from his many years service with the local magistrate.
The source of Mrs Haye’s angst and continual grumbles and grievances was her daughter Sarah. Whilst her father was still alive, the young Miss Hayes had shown such an inclination towards the rearing of fluffy ponies that the doting father had put aside a large annual sum for the purpose of acquiring a fluffy companion for her. Thus a large part of his bequeathment was entailed upon the acquisition of a most noble fluffy pony that was bred and raised as a foal at the prestigious Guildford Estate stables.
Named Xanthus after the horse in Greek mythology, the young Miss Hayes adored and lovingly attended to her small fluffy companion. Xanthus provided her an unwavering friendship in an unhappy domestic life and the burden of responsibility that gave her purpose.
Before his end, Charles Hayes had reasoned that a daughter as clever and enterprising as her beloved Sarah would have no trouble in finding an income. The greatest danger in the eyes of Mr. Hayes was the lack of genuine companionship and a nurturing spirit which would degrade the morals and potential he confidently saw within his daughter.
Such views were not equally held by Sarah’s mother, the more grounded Mrs Hayes. It was imperative in her eyes that Sarah needed to be wed most urgently into an arrangement of stability and comfort. Most at stake was her own selfish well being. At her advanced age and with little to show for but a measly daughter, there was no situation in which she could find herself a replacement husband to provide her the finances she so deserved.
To that end, Mrs Hayes had fastidiously arranged for Sarah to attend all manners of social encounters and contrived situations in a desperate search for an ideal pairing. At one local dance at the Fairheights Town Hall, Mrs Hayes had expended great effort and stretched the decency of her social connections to convince the guileless Matthew Blakely, son of the local shipwright, to express his interest for the young Miss Hayes.
A few days later, as the three sat in the modest home of Mrs Hayes for supper, the elder woman strained with insincere energy to compliment the young man seated across from her.
“And to think that without your father, the wise Mr Jonathan Blakely, a most esteemed shipwright, the ships of our royal navy would still be stuck at port in Southampton and unable to join the war effort on the continent!”
“You really do give too much credit to my good father Mrs Hayes.” the young Matthew Blakely replied, “He is simply doing his duty to the king as all good subjects should.”
“My word Mr Blakely! Not only are you handsome but your speech is so eloquent! Sarah, I do hope you take note of the words of this fine young man and give him the consideration he deserves.”
“Perhaps I should question why a fine young man of good health is dining here with us instead of doing his duty amongst the red coats on the front lines of the European continent?” Sarah said with little regard to decorum.
Mrs Hayes recoiled shockingly at her daughter’s ill manner.
“Bite your tongue you vile little sprite!” Mrs Hayes rebuked instinctively before she could reign in her anger.
Matthew Blakely sat without stirring nor uttering a single word as he maintained an air of restraint whilst seeing all that was on show.
“Perhaps Mr Blakely would be so kind as to take Miss Hayes out for a turn in the back gardens. A bit of fresh air would do her well.”
The young man stood up with politeness and gestured for Sarah to follow him. The young woman threw down her napkin on the table and reluctantly followed the man towards the direction of the door.
The back gardens of the Hayes home would have been better described as a barn. For not a flower or plant grew in its tiny confines but rather, its grounds were scattered with hay and reeked with the distinct smell of livestock.
Mr Blakely had kept up his politeness as he repeatedly offered conversational cues of the most accommodating kind. Sarah would engage in a game of words by offering the least offensively sounding insult to his character that would come to her mind.
As their tour of the back gardens continued, there could be no denial to the awkward disinterest that Sarah was conveying to her suitor. Mr Blakely, sensible to her feelings of repulsion, finally spoke in direct reference to their situation.
“Miss Hayes. I do not deny that I am fond of you and have felt so ever since the first moment I had laid my eyes on you during a particular social occasion. I would take you for my wife without a moment’s hesitation. But I am not so prideful or immovable to realize that such attractions are not mutual. Be assured that my high opinion of you is not affected in the slightest. My only wish is that you afford me a courteous farewell so that I may conclude dealings with your mother in an amicable manner.”
“Then perhaps you are much smarter than I thought Mr Blakely.”
“I do not take your compliments so easily Miss Hayes. For I am wary of the cunning in your words and the playful duplicity that is your hallmark.”
“Then you are definitely much smarter than I thought!” Sarah said.
The good-natured tone that had begun to seep into their conversation was interrupted by Mr Blakely’s noticing of the nervous looking fluffy pony that was sat in the corner of the garden.
“May I approach your fluffy companion Miss Hayes?” the young man asked.
Sarah assured her fluffy pony Xanthus and presented the young colt to the man.
“How are you little one? My name is Matthew Blakely.” Mr Blakely gently greeted the fluffy.
“Fwuffy am well nice mistah.” Replied the sheepish colt.
“May I ask how long you have had this fine looking fluffy?” Mr Blakely asked as he turned back to Sarah.
“One and a half years since my father passed. My dear Xanthus is my life and my companion.”
“I guess it is to be expected, but your skill at rearing this fine fluffy fills me with confidence to consider an introduction. My uncle, Captain John Denton of the Southampton militia, is very dear to me. He is always in need of obedient and proficient hands to rear the regiment’s fluffy herd which he keeps within an estate owned by a very good friend of mine.”
“Proficient I am with the keeping of fluffies, but you might find obedience lacking within my person.”
“That indeed may be the case, but perhaps an opportunity at freedom and a steady income may sway your case to learn of such obedience? Be assured that my intentions are true. There is no insidious motive in my offering you this introduction except that I wish to improve your situation.”
Sarah pondered the tantalizing proposal that Mr Blakely’s had just placed before her. She held tightly to her appearance of indifference lest she give away the excitement she could feel bubbling beneath.
As the evening drew to a close, Mr Blakely gave his farewell to the eager Mrs Hayes as he assured the mother that his private promise to Miss Hayes (which he did not reveal the true nature of to the mother) would indeed be honored and kept as a gentleman should.
Delighted at hearing this vague yet earnest declaration, Mrs Hayes bid the man a fondest of farewell and promised unquestionably to commit her daughter to whatever scheme and promises he had made to her during their private walk in the back garden. Sarah likewise gave the young Mr Blakely a warm and courteous farewell, for she knew in her heart that the promise of tomorrow had never seemed brighter for Xanthus and herself.
The peaceful, picturesque grounds of Wetherby Park was not large by any measure, but in its modesty there exuded an element of grace and detail that could not be achieved by the outrageous, gaudy showings of its neighbouring estates.
On the long ride out to her new home at the estate owned by Mr Blakely’s good friend, Sarah remained fearful of her mother’s wrath. If her mother was to ever find out about the deception regarding her arrangement with Mr Blakely, not even Mr Blakely himself could save her from her mother’s retribution.
All such thoughts had to be put aside as she was introduced to her new guardian who was waiting for her in the small ladies gallery at the estate house. Sarah was put into the care of the genteel Mrs Denton, wife of the conscientious Captain Denton whose military company was currently based in Southampton which was half a day’s ride away. Despite the captain and the regiment being based in the town, Mrs Denton’s responsibilities, which would also become Sarah’s own, laid in the luscious estate far from the bustling going ons of the city.
As it was in her patient nature, Mrs Denton had taken the time to personally walk with and to present the most notable features of Wetherby Park to Sarah. Each unlocked gate and opened door revealed to Sarah the beauty of the surroundings. A harmonious union of trees, grass, water and rock, culminating in the well situated Wetherby House that glimmered golden in the afternoon sun.
‘If I were so lucky to be the mistress of this Eden.’ Sarah thought to herself.
"With time my dear Sarah, you will know this land like the back of your hand.” Mrs Denton had said to Sarah as she guided the young woman down the common paths of the estate.
Upon reaching the holding yards of the fluffy stable, the two women were greeted by the sight of a boy no older than thirteen sweeping the scraps of faeces and hay that was scattered about the yard.
“A morning to you young lad.” Mrs Denton said.
“Good morning Mrs Denton.” the boy replied.
“May I introduce you to Miss Sarah Hayes. She is to be the new head lass and will be your superior in the day to day.”
The boy bowed courteously to which Sarah replied with a nod.
“But until you become familiar with this estate and its routines Sarah, I suggest you listen to the boy, for whatever he lacks in years and sense, he makes up for in gossip and wit.”
Within a week of her new employ at Wetherby, the young Miss Hayes had settled into a conforming rhythm that had ingratiated her with the other servants of the estate. Having brought her beloved fluffy Xanthus to Wetherby, Sarah was at pains to part with her companion who had been warmly welcomed by the regiment’s herd with affectionate hugs and sociable declarations of “Nyu fwiend!”.
“What am this pwace ma’mah?” The fluffy asked Sarah upon being shown his new fluffy lodgings.
“It is our new home Xanthus. I know it has not the familiarity and warm nights of our former home, but here you will find the good company of other fluffies and we will be spared the beatings and relentless reprimands of my despicable mother.”
“Den fwuffy wiww twy his bestest to be a good boy ma’mah. Fwuffy nu wan ma’mah to cwy evewy dawk time because of ma’mah’s meanie ma’mah!”
The young stable boy, who Sarah learned was named David, would oft times be the first person she saw at daybreak. Along with his smile which was always full of vitality, the lad brought with him each morning a ladles worth of warm soup in a beaker. It was a most delightful treat for the young woman and her beloved Xanthus as it warmed not only their frigid bodies but also their hearts.
It was under these predictable conditions that Sarah labored on the estate through several seasons, honing her craft and familiarising herself with each individual of the herd. It was a most gainful and happy situation she had found herself. Without the incessant pressures of her mother, free to pursue her love of fluffy ponies through their professional care and guardianship. The young Miss Hayes never thought to complain about the physical demands of her employment.
In the nights preceding the harvest festival, word had gone out through the estate that the master of Wetherby, who had hitherto been absent for business in the far north for over a year, was due for an imminent return.
There were murmurings that the master had found a suitable woman to be the lady of his estate. The head manservant who was closer to the master’s affairs declared such claims unlikely. For he knew that no woman would have the patience and disposition to bear the master’s sullenness for what small income he now commanded from his diminished estate.
For Sarah, the talk of the master’s return was a topic of interest that would help to break the monotony of the day. As she paraded the herd of ten fluffies and foals for their morning exercises, Sarah questioned the young David regarding their master’s situation;
“Of what relation is the master to Mrs Denton?” Sarah asked as she clapped her hands twice, bringing the herd of trotting fluffies into a stationary parade formation.
“They are of no blood relation Miss, but Mrs Denton treats the master like a son. For the master, Mr Wakefield, has no living relatives that he cares to entertain.”
“Has he no parents or brothers or sisters?”
“Oh no miss. I don’t dare pry into the master’s matters, but I am informed that the master was an orphan at an early age and had two brothers, young and old, but both were lost in the war against the French Empire a year or two ago.”
“All the settings of a tragic tale.”
“Feel no pity for master Wakefield for he feels none for himself. The master suffers no fools. And I am afraid that I am a fool and am in constant fear of Master Wakefield and his discipline!”
Sarah laughed heartily at the young boy’s concerns.
“Perhaps if you would more hastily corral the fluffy herd back for their morning feed you would not inspire such stern discipline!”
The young boy David apologised and straightened himself immediately before leading the waiting herd towards the feedlot. A few young foals of the herd struggled to keep up with the unrelenting cadence of the fluffy herd’s march. At seeing this, the foals were swiftly helped back into line with a gentle nudge from the young boy’s crook.
Sarah looked forward to seeing the master out of curiosity. For the master must have a redeeming quality of some kind if he kept an estate as dignified as Wetherby and a fluffy herd as disciplined as the one trotting before her.
On the dot at eight in the evening, Mr Wakefield arrived alone and with little ceremony at the door of Wetherby House. Awaiting him were both the Captain and Mrs Denton who had lodged at Wetherby overnight in anticipation of the master’s return. The gentlemen exchanged pleasantries of the trivial kind whilst Mrs Denton offhandedly mentioned that they had expected a female companion traveling back with Mr Wakefield.
In his usual brusqueness, Mr Wakefield replied that he made no mention of such a traveling companion and he hoped that Mrs Denton had not wastefully arranged for extra meals and accommodations where none were evidently required.
Before retiring for the night, Mr Wakefield expressed his pressing desire to inspect his prized fluffy herd that he had left in the care of Mrs Denton. By lantern light, the master and Mrs Denton made their way to the stable where David and Sarah were preparing the herd for slumber.
“Hold still young David. I have come to inspect my herd.” Mr Wakefield commanded as they arrived at the stable.
The young boy froze immediately at the master’s voice and allowed the fluffies to swarm the master in a most affectionate manner. In return, the master reciprocated this affection with tender embraces and by calling each of his fluffies by their names.
Mr Wakefield noticed a strange fluffy who seemed most familiar in appearance but stayed a distance away from him.
“Mrs Denton, did we purchase this fine animal during my year’s absence from the estate?” He said as he pointed to Xanthus.
“No sir, he is one with the herd but not in our books.” Mrs Denton replied.
“He is my fluffy pony.” Sarah said.
Mr Wakefield looked over at Sarah with scarce acknowledgement.
“Who are you?”
“Miss Sarah Hayes sir.” Mrs Denton quickly replied, “She has joined the staff as head lass no more than eight months ago.”
“Is she qualified?”
“With the strongest recommendation from Mr Blakely sir.”
“Ah Mr Blakely. He was never a perfect judge of character, but he is a dear friend of repute so I’d allow this appointment. This fluffy of yours Miss Hayes, I will name him Damon.” He turned to take his leave.
“He already has a name, he is called Xanthus.” Sarah said defiantly.
“If he is to remain one with the herd and to dine on the hay of this fine estate, his name shall henceforth be Damon.” Mr Wakefield reiterated forcefully and he did not stop for even a second as he made his way back towards the house.
Sarah stared incredulously at the departing Mr Wakefield. She no longer wished to see and know about this Mr Wakefield, a most boorish and insufferable man that she has ever had the misfortune to serve under.
Some weeks later, by way of an express post-boy, a letter from Matthew Blakely reached the table of Mr Wakefield’s study informing him of the following;
As much as it pains me to inconvenience you by requesting an audience at your fine estate, I am writing now to request exactly that.
I have taken a commission with the Southampton militia alongside my dear uncle, upon the promptings of my father. Within three weeks of my writing this letter, I will be boarding a ship from Southampton to the battlefields of Spain. My last wish before this perilous endeavor is to see you, my good friend and almost brother before my imminent departure.
My ship is to leave on the 23rd of September, so I sincerely wish that concessions can be made within your busy schedule for a much anticipated meeting.
Two weeks later on a gray autumn’s day, Mr Blakely, who was dressed in cleanly pressed regimentals, was received by Mr Wakefield in the stately drawing room of Wetherby House. Understanding the gravity of the moment and the solemn nature of Mr Blakely’s situation, Mr Wakefield was uncharacteristically generous with his time and liquor. The two friends conversed much about Mr Blakely’s assignment to the regiment.
Mr Wakefield had offered his friend full use of a fluffy of choice from his own herd to assist with errands and battle duties. His friend, knowing how precious and dear each member of the herd was to Mr Wakefield, could not find the heart to take his friend up on his unselfish offer. Mr Blakely explained that his inventory was already confirmed and arranged by the regiment. He was better served to obey the wishes and command of his regiment to ensure a trouble-free passage to the fields of war.
Mr Wakefield listened nervously as the schedule of his friends’ deployment mirrored eerily that of his own deceased brothers’ service a few years ago. As the hours wore on and it became inevitable that their meeting was coming to an end, Mr Wakefield found many excuses to lengthen the meeting in a vain attempt to delay their parting.
“As much as I have found your company heart warming and amiable Wakefield, there are matters I must attend to.” Mr Blakely finally said, tiring of his host’s protracted conversations.
“Come now Blakely, the day is young and the wine bottles deep.” The master poured for his friend another glass of wine so full it threatened to spill upon the silken table cloths.
“You are too kind my dear Wakefield, but I must once again impose on you for one important matter. That before my departure I wish to wander the grounds of this fine estate in solitude so that I may carry its essence in my bosom as I carry out my duty abroad.”
Though desirous to not let his friend go to his fate, Mr Wakefield relented and asked that he only visit him one last time before leaving the boundaries of Wetherby Park.
In the resplendence of Wetherby’s pastures and with no demanding company but that of the young David, Sarah’s mind wandered like the fluffies that grazed placidly around her. Within the hours of silent contemplation, watching the beautiful animals grooming and frolicking amongst themselves, her thoughts turned to the man whose careful design and arrangements had freed her from the binds of her mother so many months ago.
At the same time, after a solitary walk of twenty nervous minutes, Mr Blakely finally found himself at the fenced perimeter of the estate’s fluffy pastures. As the handsome visage of Matthew Blakely appeared to an unsuspecting Sarah, her supple, white cheeks turned a thousand shades of red as she hurried to cast away the shameful and embarrassing thoughts of longing that had occupied her mind.
With great ease and an unpractised air, Mr Blakely immediately lavished upon the stunned woman compliments to her steady and comely appearance. The quality of his delivery felt so genuine to Sarah that she indulged herself to believe for a moment that it was only yesterday where they had first strolled together in her mother’s garden under less pleasant circumstances.
He explained very matter of factly that he was due to leave the country very shortly for the purpose of war. The duration of which was unknown and in the hands of powers beyond him. Under the guise of seeing off his good friend Mr Wakefield at his estate, he revealed that the true intention of his coming to Wetherby Park was to glimpse upon her most treasured countenance one last time.
He produced a simple ring of silver engraved with the dashing profile of a fluffy pony. It was meant for nothing more than to guarantee his commitment to what he had declared to her in the dark of her mother’s back garden so many moons ago.
She shed a tear for what could have been and the bitterness of knowing her shortsightedness. Mr Blakely’s perceptive manner saved the young woman from further distress, he purposely turned his attention to the faithful fluffy standing beside her as he put away the silver jewelry into a pocket on his red coat.
“I can see Xanthus is well. Such a noble animal, his mane’s distinction has doubled since the last time I saw him.”
Xanthus recognised the man before him and accepted a pat willingly with a smile.
“My dear Mr Blakely, you remember his name! But alas, Xanthus is no longer his name. For the master insists on calling him Damon if he is to stay one with the herd.”
“Though it may seem a callous thing for the master to do, your fluffy is a fortunate animal to receive such a name! Damon was the name of Mr Wakefield’s most beloved fluffy who he lost in battle during his military service in Europe. It saddens me to say that ever since his return from the war and following the deaths of both his brothers in the war, I have seen all spirit and felicity leave his side with little sign of any potential return.”
Such heavy news and tales of misfortune weighed down the mood between them and what promised to be a most joyful reunion instead resembled a sombre wake.
Determined to not let the moment sink further into depression, Mr Blakely broke all rules of etiquette and brought Sarah close into his chest for a passionate embrace. Knowing it not appropriate given all that he has told her, Sarah pushed the man away from her and ran away in a stream of tears and dismayed confusion.
And that was the last time Sarah and Xanthus were ever again to enjoy the company of Mr Blakely. For in two months time, in an ultimately inconsequential engagement with French forces on his regiment’s approach to Salamanca, Mr Blakely would receive a luckless bullet wound to his heart.
The fatal wound abruptly cut short his campaign and left him forever unable to fulfill his determined goal of one day taking Miss Hayes’ hand in marriage and of becoming the co-owner of the noble colt Xanthus.
End of Chapter and Part 1