Alice could hear the crisp sound of the wheels of the phaeton ahead of her, mingling with the rougher tread of the hearse. She began to wave to Mrs. Perkins as they pulled away, then glanced worriedly over at Lizzie to see if that was in fact proper behavior, but Lizzie remained disconsolate, so Alice sank back into the seat and wondered how long the trip to the cemetery would take at this slow pace.
She was in danger of becoming bored.
As they turned the corner from the manor onto the road, a number of the local farmers could be seen gathered into a respectful clump as the hearse passed by. Alice was amazed at the stoic faces set in grim masks of no doubt great feeling as they wheeled past. She found herself surprised that her father might awaken such emotion in the hearts of others when such sensations were hard put to find purchase in her own heart. Alice thought perhaps she was quite wicked girl and the thrill of horror this supposition gave her proved to be very warming, restoring a little of her usual rosiness to her cheeks.
Yet she could not wholly dismiss the persistent concern that she had missed something important in her father’s personality all these long years. “Lizzie,” she said, forgetting her cousin’s distraction, “Was my father much beloved by the farmers? Did he have a special bond with them that they mourn him so?”
Lizzie drew her penetrating gaze away from the soft mists of memory and brought it to bear upon her cousin, an act that never failed to make young Alice quail. All too often that look hinted at scorn and judgment, two attitudes that were no favorites of the young woman.
“Why on earth would you say such a thing?”
Alice blushed, which added to her rosiness of cheek, perhaps going a bit too far from rosy to red and diminishing her loveliness ever so slightly. “The farmers, they were gathered at the gate to pay father their respects. They looked quite sad, I think.”
“Of course they looked sad, my dear,” her patient cousin counseled. “They all owe their livings to the family lands. They are uncertain how Lady Mangrove will handle things in the wake of Lord Mangrove’s death. There are many stories over the years of bereaved women turning unstable and causing all manner of fuss. They will not look happy until there has been some assurance that all will continue as it has been for many years, without rents being raised or land redeveloped in some modern way.”
Alice thought about these words. One can only imagine it to be due to the shock of her circumstances, the gravity of death, and perhaps the boredom of the carriage ride, that she did so, but Alice did ponder the issue, albeit briefly and with only the slightest of concerns. “I cannot imagine Mother doing much to change the arrangements. She doesn’t particularly like to have anything at all to do with the lands. In fact, she is quite happy dealing with her garden which, now that Father is away,” Alice waved her hand to demonstrate that she was well aware that this euphemism was precisely that, but also that she found it admirably suitable to the alternative, namely that he was quite nearby but lying in the rather fanciful coffin not twenty yards away, “She may replant as she has desired without interference.”
“That is exactly the kind of way that it starts,” Lizzie said gravely. “A woman suddenly loosed from the heavy bonds of matrimony may become quite giddy with the heady perfume of freedom. Countries have fallen for less cause.”
Alice frowned. “You hardly sound interested in the idea of marriage. While I do not wish to be pledged to Mr. Boylett, I certainly have every faith that marriage will be an awfully big adventure.”
Lizzie positively glowed. “While I may seem averse to the idea, I am not. In fact, if I reveal to you this letter’s contents,” she remarked as she drew the much glimpsed missive from her sleeve, “you will see that I have much excitement to reveal- -”
“Lizzie,” Alice exclaimed, her cousin’s entreaty unheard, “there he is again!”