Tea with Mrs Markinson

Villages could be cruel places for an outsider, and the new solicitor’s wife was certainly an outsider.  Mr Markinson himself had been quickly accepted by the men, and their wives and sisters were rapidly won over by  his grave courtesy and the military bearing left by years in the British Marines. Indeed, had he been less personable, they may have more quickly forgiven the foreignness of his lady.

Rank and foreigness were the two problems in a nutshell, and today the duchess intended to solve them both. The rumours had it she was an army-lightskirt, or one of the wild girls who followed the Spanish guerrillas and slit the throats of wounded Frenchmen. The rumours lied. Mrs Markinson was some sort of Spanish nobility, and the Spanish nobility was even more complicated and heirarchical than the English. The women of the sizeable village that nestled around the feet of Haverford Castle were unable to assign her a place, and so counted her very obvious quality as an affectation and a lie.

At the rectory, most of the committee for the Spring fete had already arrived, but not Mrs Markinson. Excellent. If the woman following instructions, Eleanor had precisely fifteen minutes before introducing her as the newest committee member. Plenty of time for the ridiculous courtesies the village ladies thought suitable for the mistress of the castle.

Eleanor swept into the room, this month’s companion-secretary in her wake, and sure enough, within ten minutes, had the committee seated and ready for her next move. “I have asked the new solicitor’s wife to join us, my dears, and I expect her shortly. Before she arrives, may I solicit your kindness for Mrs Markinson?” She paused, her brows delicately raised, looking around at the startled faces of these leaders of local society. The mayor’s wife was trying to smooth out a frown, and the squire’s wife was near biting her tongue lest she say something to offend the duchess.

The village haberdasher, who was the biggest gossip in all of Eastern Kent,  opened her mouth, and the rector’s wife (God bless her) was swift to ask her, sotto-voiced,  if she needed more tea.

“I trust I may expect you to keep my confidence,” the duchess continued, silencing any further attemp at interruption. “I believe it may help us to make Mrs Markinson welcome if you know a little of her history, and of her connections with my family. She grew up in England. Her father was the younger son of an English gentleman, and her mother the daughter and widow of Spanish lords, equivalent perhaps, to what we would call a baronet.”

The ladies were nodding. The daughter of a baronet and a country gentleman. Mrs Markinson was assuming a shape they could understand. “After first her father and then her mother died, she returned to Spain to keep house for her half-brother, child of her mother’s first marriage.”

“The baronet,” the squire’s wife said, nodding to show she was following the story.

Eleanor inclined her head in agreement. “Don Imanol Mendina de la Vega, who by chance was at Eton with my son Aldridge.”

That fetched a buzz. Mention of Aldridge always provoked comment. “When the war came to Spain, Don de la Vega led a force into the mountains to support the English and oppose the French, and his sister continued to manage his household, but also to keep a village school. She also learned simples from her mother and her English grandmother, so naturally she used her knowledge to treat the wounded. And one day, a badly injured English marine was carried up the mountain to her village for her care.”

“Mr Markinson,” the ladies chorused, their soft smiles displaying their enjoyment of the romantic tale.

“You have guessed it. And the rest must be quickly told, for I see Mrs Markinson at the garden gate. It was, of course, Don de la Vega, who recommended his sister’s new husband to my son, and for love of her husband, she has followed him to Kent, leaving behind both her Spanish people and her childhood town far to the north in Lancashire.”

Eleanor stood as Mrs Markinson entered the room, and crossed to take her hand, as the rest of the village ladies rustled to their feet around her. “Mrs Markinson, I am so pleased you were able to join us. You see before you the committee for the Spring fete. I always say the best way for someone to feel at home in a new community is to be given a job to do, and you have come to the right place.”

Seated again a few minutes later, Eleanor watched with delight as the village ladies tumbled verbally over one another in their anxiety to please the duchess’s new protegee, and Mrs Markinson gave agreeable replies in her softly-accented English.  The duchess had given the barest outlines of the story, of course. Nothing of the decade of separation that split the Markinson’s wedding from their marriage. But the rest was Teri Markinson’s to tell.

The Lost Wife is a story in Lost in the Tale, to be published this week.

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