Our gamekeeper knocked on the kitchen door shortly before sunset, his hands heavy laden with several brace of red grouse he’d shot that afternoon.
“Found these feeding on the heather. They love those tender shoots,” said the man as he beamed with pride. “Ferndean Manor still has the best game cover in the county. The Rochester men have hunted here for decades.”
Cook stopped kneading bread. After examining the gamekeeper’s largess, she clapped her flour-dusted hands with delight and grinned at me. “These birds, plus them young onions and carrots we pulled from the garden will make for fine eating, Mrs. Rochester, ma’am. I do believe there’s a courgette or two that’ll be worth plucking as well.”
“I am sure you are right, but I defer to Mrs. Fairfax, as her knowledge of menus far exceeds mine.” I tilted my head toward Alice Fairfax, our housekeeper, as a way of inviting her into the conversation.
“Indeed, Cook, you are right. These will make a fine supper for Master’s homecoming tomorrow. Doubtless there’ll be enough to eat for several days. In fact, I think I’ll suggest to Mr. Rochester that he postpone slaughtering that lamb,” she said. “At least for a while.”
I shuddered. “I hate the thought of killing sheep.”
“Aye,” said Mrs. Fairfax, “but the flock has grown considerably, and if we don’t cull the herd, they are likely to strip the hillsides.”
The gamekeeper nodded. “Sheep eat the purple moor grass down to its roots. Two years ago, the hills were stripped bare. When heavy rains came, there was naught to hold the soil in place.”
“I remember,” said Cook, putting her big hands on her generous hips and pursing her lips. “Caused a landslide that washed out the road going into Millcote, it did.”
“Destroyed a house sitting in its path as well.” The gamekeeper adjusted his tweed cap and sighed. “With an old lady inside.”
“I see,” I said, and regrettably, I did. This is a new world for me. I came to the Rochester household as a governess, now I am the wife of a country squire. As such, I am learning to put aside my personal wishes in order that I might do what is best for our land and our tenants. If it were up to me, my tender heartedness would lead folk and fauna alike to certain ruin.
With Cook and Mrs. Fairfax happily discussing recipes, I thanked the gamekeeper, said my good-byes, and set out for my daily walk.
“Jane!” The kindly housekeeper stood in the doorway and called after me. “You forgot your bonnet. Best wear it, lest you freckle.”
I thanked her but sincerely wished that she had not caught up with me. I love the feel of the sun on my skin. Rather reluctantly I put on the chapeau and tied its ribbons beneath my chin. Thus outfitted properly, I bid her, “Adieu” once more.
Usually my husband Edward Rochester comes with me on my walks, but this morning he and his manservant John had taken the buggy into Millcote to transact a bit of business with other local gentry. Although I miss his company, I am happy that he is thus occupied. His afflictions, namely the hand and eye he lost in the fire at his family home, Thornfield Hall, prey on his mind and make him restless.
The path leading away from Feardean Manor meanders past a slack (a dry valley) created by a chalk plateau, alongside a murmuring stream, through a field, and finally takes one through the woods toward home. The heady sweetness of honeysuckle perfumed the late summer air. As I walked, I noticed a few bright red strawberries peeping out from under low hedges. Tying the ends of my linen handkerchief together created a pocket large enough to hold several handfuls of fruit. But then I happened upon a thicket of bilberries, my favorites. They were ripe for the picking as well. Alas! My handkerchief was already full; my mouth was stained with the excess strawberries that couldn’t be transported.
What to do?
I smiled. Here at last was a good a reason for wearing a hat! I untied my bonnet, turned it upside down, and filled the straw basin with juicy, dark blue berries. Surely, Mrs. Fairfax could not fault me for removing my head cover under the circumstances! I continued my walk, carrying my impromptu basket in one hand, holding my sling of red strawberries in the other, enjoying the warmth of the sunshine on my face, and smiling in anticipation of the bilberry pie my husband would have for dinner on the morrow.
You can read more about Jane in Death of a Schoolgirl, the first book in the new “Jane Eyre Chronicles” mystery series.
** Thanks to the publisher, I have one (1) copy of DEATH OF A SCHOOLGIRL to give away. Contest open to residents of the US only. Contest ends August 9. Leave a valid-email address with your comment. The book will be shipped directly from the publisher. **
Meet the author
Joanna Campbell Slan’s first mystery in the Kiki Lowenstein series—Paper, Scissors, Death—was a finalist for the Agatha Award. Death of a Schoolgirl (Aug. 7, 2012/Berkley Trade) marks the first book in a new series featuring Jane Eyre as an amateur sleuth. Visit Joanna at www.JoannaSlan.com
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