Another Farewell to Kindness excerpt. Rede sees Anne for the first time:
The service wound to its final blessing, and the congregation followed the Rector from the church as the bells pealed.
He moved towards the door, through a rippling sea of bows, curtseys, touched foreheads, murmured ‘My Lord’s’. Out in the churchyard, the villagers and gentry stood in groups, exchanging greetings and enjoying the warm spring sunshine. Children ran in and out of the shrubbery in the adjacent Rectory garden, in a game of chase. Some had the look of the Rector, who introduced Rede to his wife. Mrs Ashbrook had a no-nonsense manner, direct light-blue eyes, and the well-padded shape of a matron with a growing family and a healthy appetite.
A trio of prettily dressed young ladies—the dark-haired girl from the Ashbrook pew, the Saxon-blonde Redwood and a remarkably attractive girl whose face was framed in brown curls—strolled arm and arm up and down the path to the church gate, as bright as butterflies in their light dresses and their charming bonnets, chattering away like starlings.
Rede stayed for a while, shaking hands with those who came for an introduction, catching up with those he’d met during the week, and generally making himself pleasant.
Several times, he met eyes as blue as his own, fringed like his with dark lashes. His predecessors had certainly left a mark on the population. Many of the poorer members of the community bore the certain sign that a female ancestor had caught a Redepenning’s fickle attention.
Mrs Forsythe, the tenant who lived unaccountably rent free, wasn’t introduced. He had been hearing her name all week. His tenants spoke of her warmly, and with respect, listing her good deeds, and praising her kindness. From what they said, she was a lynch pin of village life. Listening to their stories, he’d formed a picture of a mature widow; a gentlewoman of private—if straightened—means; a bustling matron with a finger in all the charitable activity of the parish.
The trio of young ladies on the path broke up, two coming over to be introduced as the daughters of the Rector and the Squire. The third young lady collected a child and another young woman from the Rectory garden.
The child was a little older than his Rita would have been; perhaps the age Joseph would have been, had he lived. She studied him curiously as she passed; meeting his blue gaze with her own. Indeed, he could have been looking at one of his own childhood portraits, cast in a more feminine mould.
She didn’t take her colouring from the two young ladies with her. And a quick glance after her showed that bonnets masked the faces of the two ladies they joined.
“Once my cousins arrive, we’ll invite the local gentry to dinner,” he told Mrs Ashbrook. “I’ve met some of them. Could you perhaps introduce me to others?”
As he’d hoped, she launched into a list of all the gentlemen and ladies in the neighbourhood, starting with those present. He listened impatiently as the objects of his interest moved further and further towards the gate.
At last, just as they passed under the arch, Mrs Ashbrook said, “and Mrs Forsythe and her sisters, the Miss Haverstocks. They were standing right there by the church… oh dear, you’ve missed them. They’ve just left.”
The slender figure hurrying away down the road with her sisters and daughter did not fit the picture he’d formed of the busy Mrs Forsythe. Not at all.
He continued listening to Mrs Ashbrook, commenting when appropriate, murmuring pleasantries to the people she took him to around the churchyard. And with another part of his mind he planned a change in the order of his tenant visits.
Meeting Mrs Forsythe, owner of the trimmest pair of ankles he had ever noticed and mother of a Redepenning by-blow, was suddenly a priority.