Monday, August 27, 2012

Salome - Chapter Four

Chapter Four

Salome arrived at her townhouse, her nerves in a tangle, though outwardly she displayed a calm appearance. She fetched her papers and tossed the reins of her horse to the stable lad, a bright young man by the name of Toby, and proceeded into the kitchen where Toby’s mother held reign.
 Irene Tyndall was a widow, but she was still quite a young woman. She was possessed of enough experience as housekeeper and lady’s maid that she would be an asset to any household. Salome felt lucky to have her, especially since her best quality was her ability to keep her mistress’ secrets. She had done so ever since Salome had met her when she visited London for the first time as Hawke Sinclair and required someone to maintain a townhome on her behalf.
When Salome had informed Irene about the possibility of having a coming out in London Society, she had been positively over the moon. Since then, she had been Salome’s primary source of both entertainment and distraction against the weight of her other troubles, seeking out fashion plates and fabric samples for Salome to look at for her much needed wardrobe.
‘Good afternoon, Irene,’ Salome greeted what she had to consider her one and only female friend, though Irene was also her maid. They had long ago dispensed with formalities in her home, though Irene insisted on calling her Miss Salome still. ‘It smells delightful in here. Anything I can help you with?’
‘No, Miss, everything is just about done here. I found a lovely roast at the market, and the spring vegetables are just starting to become available. Merely a simple custard for dessert, though, I can’t have you ruining your lovely figure when you are going to be measured for your coming out soon,’ Irene replied, dusting her hands on her apron. She frowned as she took in Salome’s manly attire, from the dusty boots to the engulfing overcoat.
‘Please, Irene, spare me the lecture. I promise, today was the last day for these clothes, at least for the foreseeable future,’ she forestalled her outspoken maid’s forthcoming comment.
Irene’s mouth snapped shut, biting back her choice words about her mistress’ unfortunate taste in clothing. It was so unladylike she could not help but disapprove. Miss Salome Mercer would put any lady of the ton to shame, even at her worst. Her mistress deserved to be dressed in the finest silks and satins, not breeches and waistcoats.
Salome caught Irene’s mumbled words as she turned away. ‘No man wants to be undoing more than one pair of breeches in the bedroom-‘
Thinking of the Marquess of Elgin’s preferred tastes in companion, Salome begged to differ, but she refrained from shocking poor Irene’s sensibilities and let her laughter trail after as she went upstairs to change. She considered calling for a bath before supper, but decided the morning would be good enough instead.
Salome sat on the counterpane of her bed to remove her boots and wiggled her toes in relief. Irene had laid out a simple afternoon dress for her to don, with all of the appropriate ladies undergarments, leaving Salome with little option but to replace her masculine garments with the light gown instead.
A myriad of thoughts drifted through Salome’s mind as she stripped, and she let her mind wander. She always did her best problem solving when she tried to think of nothing, letting the answers come to her naturally instead.
Salome paused in her undress to glance at herself in the full-length mirror in her room. Now that she had set her sights on her prey, how would Donovan Tremaine, the Earl of Verney, react to her? She was no pale, blonde beauty like his mistress Madeline Latham. She frowned in remembrance of the woman she had seen only from a distance. She had inherited the olive-toned skin and jet-black hair of her mother’s Spanish people instead, highly unfashionable.
Her eyes were a most unusual color, and she knew full well how disconcerting her gaze could be for the unaware. They were such a light green they appeared nearly colorless in some light. Tilted at the corners, and fringed by dark lashes, they were undoubtedly her most distinctive feature, and she knew how to use them to their best advantage. Coupled with her mischievous pink smile and high cheekbones that spoke of well-born breeding, she had set more than a few members of the male sex back on their heels before.
Salome turned from side to side to determine if she could be considered to have a fashionable figure. Long years working at home in Virginia and at sea since her brother’s disappearance had given her a long, lean muscle tone. She was strong and capable, but surely a softer, rounder figure was desired by more men?
Her breasts were high and full, her waist was slim, but she was certainly not a narrow-hipped woman. Irene had told her she had ‘child-bearing’ hips. Was that a good thing? She supposed it was for a member of the peer, who desired first and foremost to secure an heir as quickly as possible. A pert, rounded derriere melded into long, shapely legs.
Salome was not ashamed of her body, in fact, she rather liked it, but would Donovan Tremaine? If he did not, would any of his companions whose names completed the very short list of candidates she had decided would be fit husbands to suit her needs? She very much hoped the Earl of Verney would appreciate her figure.
Sighing, Salome turned to don her undergarments, but not before she was reminded of one decidedly gauche lapse in judgment. Though it would be concealed by her clothing and hidden from casual view, the small tattoo of a mermaid that graced her ribcage would no doubt be noticed by a randy husband. How could she explain that one? Certainly not with the truth, that her ship’s crew had taken her ashore one night in China and in a show of drunken camaraderie, all got matching marks? Alas, not much she could do about it now. Perhaps she could convince her husband it was to commemorate her brother’s memory, as one lost to the sirens of the seas themselves.
A knock on her bedchamber door startled Salome out of her reverie as she completed her toilette, donning soft kid slippers before gliding across the room to open the portal.
‘Miss, there is a gentleman here to see you, something about a horse?’ Irene gave her a questioning look.
‘Excellent, I had almost forgotten! Would you be a dear and fetch Toby for me?’ Salome preceded her maid down the stairs to greet the man she had been promised could secure her a fine mare to complement the black stallion and dapple gray gelding she kept stabled for her personal use.
‘Mr. Blackburn, is it?’ Salome inquired as she opened the front door of her small, but respectable townhouse.
‘Yes, that’s me,’ the gentleman before her bowed politely, removing his hat. He was stunned at the vision of feminine beauty that greeted him. ‘You would be Miss Mercer?’
‘You are correct, sir,’ Salome replied as she descended the steps of her home. She spared not a glance at the man himself, for she only had eyes for the magnificent piece of horseflesh he had come to show her. ‘Oh, aren’t you a beauty,’ she whispered gently, reaching out to stroke the mare’s forehead.
The mare nuzzled Salome’s shoulder and lowered the graceful arch of her neck to seek out any possible sweets from her new mistress. Salome laughed in delight, stroking the sleek texture of the filly’s mane. At that moment, Toby and his mother rounded the corner, and Toby’s eyes grew wide as he took in the sight of the mare.
‘Toby, come say hello,’ Salome called, reaching a hand out to the boy. At twelve years old, Toby was mostly knees and elbows, but he was strong and had proven to be a dedicated stable hand. He shared Salome’s love of horses and had a natural gift with them to boot.
As Toby admired the mare, Salome turned to Mr. Blackburn. ‘She has all of her pedigree in order?’
‘Indeed, Miss, her line can be directly traced to the Godolphin by virtue of Regulus.’ Blackburn handed a portfolio to Salome for her perusal. She nodded as Blackburn continued. ‘She is a yearling, but she shows good temperament, yet is still spirited. She promises to foal swift children.’ Blackburn smiled fondly at the mare. ‘I hate to admit it, but she is one of my favorites.’
‘I can see why, she is beautiful,’ Salome agreed. The bay mare had the classic lines of the Arabian breed, with the refined head and long, arching neck. Her sleek tail had a high carriage and her legs were long and lean. She had all the markings of a fine racehorse. Of course, Salome had great plans to use the mare and her fine bloodlines to produce just that.
‘Would you mind if we take her back to the stables and get a better look at her?’ Salome asked.
‘’Course not, Miss. She’s yours if you find her pleasing, after all,’ Blackburn replied.
Salome gestured to Toby to take the lead, and he fairly danced with pleasure at the honor. Salome followed behind with Mr. Blackburn, discussing the progress of the mare’s training thus far.
‘She’s broke to a bit and saddle, though if you intend to use her for a carriage, you will have to work with her-‘
‘Oh, no, she’s to be strictly a riding horse, I am possessed of a fine gelding for carriage work. I also have a stallion of Byerley stock I hope to breed her with. Would you like to see him?’
Blackburn’s face lit up like it was Christmastime. ‘I’ve not had the pleasure of working with any of the Byerley line, Miss; it would be a great joy.’
Salome instructed Toby sternly to examine the mare carefully, especially her teeth and hooves as she had taught him as she led Mr. Blackburn into the stables to admire her stallion.
‘This is Aucassin, and his mate out there will be Nicolette,’ Salome declared proudly. She laughed at Blackburn’s raised brow.
‘I know, I know, French names are not likely to be popular, but their story was always one of my favorites as a child.’
Blackburn nodded his head as Toby entered the stables, leading the mare behind him.
‘She’s fit as a fiddle, Miss Salome,’ Toby declared. Nicolette tossed her head at the compliment. Aucassin nickered in excitement as he spied the bay mare, and Nicolette responded in kind.
‘It looks as though they approve of your matchmaking, Miss Mercer,’ Blackburn declared.
Salome instructed Toby to see Nicolette settled in her new home as she led Mr. Blackburn outside to settle the matter of payment. She was paying a premium for her prized mare, but if her plans succeeded, she would have the best pair of breeders possible to start her very own horse farm. She always demanded the best. Salome was very pleased, and she saw Mr. Blackburn off with a genuine smile and a wave goodbye.
Irene joined Salome and Toby in the stables to admire Nicolette. The maid was leery of horses, but her son was enamored of them, so she tried to relax for his benefit. Salome put an arm around Toby, who looked up at her with shining eyes. Putting on her best serious expression, she met Toby’s wondrous gaze.
‘Now Toby, I would like to discuss something very important with you,’ she began.
‘Oh, Miss, I will take very good care of her, just as I do the others-‘ he started.
‘Of that I have no doubts, but listen closely to me,’ Salome said. Toby nodded.
‘It is my hope to start a stud farm, breeding the very best racehorses in all of England, and God-willing, America too. Would you do me the honor of becoming my stable master?’
Toby’s mouth gaped in shock, as did his mother’s.
‘Do you really mean it?’ He asked.
‘Yes, I really mean it. You and your mother have worked very hard for me for years now, and I would like to repay you, more than just providing you with a living and a roof over your head. I take care of those people who prove loyal to me,’ Salome stated with conviction. ‘Of course, this means a great deal more responsibility. You must take over Nicolette’s training and learn to handle Aucassin as well. You will have to learn all about horse racing and breeding, and how to deal with other grooms that may come and go. Do you think you are up to such a task?’
‘Oh, yes! Yes, I will do whatever is necessary,’ Toby solemnly vowed.
‘Very well, then it is settled, Master Tyndall,’ Salome grinned. ‘Now see that everyone is settled and come in with us to supper.’
Toby rushed off to do his mistress’ bidding, and Salome turned to see Irene’s eyes filling with unshed tears. Irene was unused to such magnanimity on the part of her betters, as Miss Mercer clearly was.
‘Come now, Irene, I’ll have none of that,’ Salome said, taking her maid’s hand in hers. She patted it gently as she strolled beside the other woman to re-enter the house and prepare for supper. ‘I meant what I said about rewarding loyalty. For the past few years, I have been without family, and you have provided me with what I have been lacking. You remind me to be humble and thankful for the small blessings I have in this life, and I shall never forget that. God willing, tomorrow my family will increase in size should my Aunt accept my plea to sponsor me this Season, but I will always take care of you, fear not.’
Irene could only nod in emotional appreciation for the stout-hearted Miss that had suffered so much in recent memory, but still managed to maintain her kindness. With a muttered prayer of thanks, Irene vowed to help her mistress until her dying day, and that was not something she took lightly.