Westbury Falls #9: The Wretched Mr. Sutton

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Today, we have the next installment of “Wesbury Falls” and an announcement that the series is in the works for publication to Kindle Vella this fall. So, unfortunately, I will only be running the next two chapters. I hope you’ll be able to follow it on that platform and will give you the links as the project gets ready to run. If you’ve followed this far, know that the series on Vella will contain more details and bonus chapters not given on The Beautiful Stuff thus far. I hope you’ll all be able to continue the adventure.

And now, this…

Lillian was worn thin. The difficult conversation with Matthew, the afternoon of people and the lack of any progress in her plan to leave this god-forsaken time, and hopefully save herself and her Aunt from certain death all cumulated in her having what Miriam described as “a bout of horrible exhaustion”.

Her feelings for Matthew especially had distracted her from the purpose of her being here, or what she thought was the purpose. He made her want to stay. He made her consider living the rest of her short life out in horrible yards of linen and under the control of a man she knew nothing of except that he might very well be the one responsible for her future death. Simply because it meant she would still see him in the same social circles even a few times before her untimely end.

As she lay in bed, watching the mid-morning sun crossing the horizon, she thought through the options that were limiting themselves with every day that came closer to the day Lillian had disappeared. But while her rational mind beat itself against the still injured skull it was trapped in, like an angry bird yearning to be free, her heart commandeered its power to dwell on the hurtful words of Dr. Blackwell, and the fact that he had not spoken to nor seen her since that sunny afternoon on the blanket a three days ago. It was the longest she’d ever gone without seeing him since her arrival.

The door creaked open, even as she was drying her eyes yet again and thinking herself a foolish and stupid girl for wanting something so ridiculous. Miriam poked her round, cheery face in the crack and whispered.

“Pardon me, miss.”

Lillian sniffed and quickly dried her eyes. “Yes…I’m awake, I’m sorry. Please don’t bring me breakfast, I’ll come down soon.”

“Mistress, begging your pardon, but you’ve a gentleman visitor, waiting down in the parlor.”

Lillian’s heart leapt, and she threw the covers from her legs, exposing them to the coldness of the room, but barely noticed. Her heart tripped to life.

“Has Dr. Blackwell—”

“Begging you, no miss!” Miriam looked at her confused before continuing. “Tis your fiancé, Mr. Sutton. He’s asking if you are well enough to be seen?”

Lillian sat back down, deflated. Of course it would be her fiancé. Dr. Blackwell had no reason to see her. If any indication could be made from their last meeting, he had officially deemed their patient and doctor relationship over. Any relationship they may have held, as friends, as co-conspirators in the dangerously strange game of honesty that never passed between two of the opposite sex in this era, was over. Lillian sighed and nodded.

“Of course, I—” she smoothed her wayward hair. “If it would not aggrieve him to wait in the parlor while I dress, I shall be down presently.”

“If you are not feeling up for such a visit, I have no qualms about letting him know you are not yet recovered.” Miriam said and her eyes softened.

Lillian rose again and walked to the door. She smiled sadly and took the older maid’s hands in hers. She felt the calloused and hard worked hands and the appreciation for such loyalty, not just for her as a charge but as a woman forced into a situation against her heart’s will.

“I appreciate that, more than you know. I shall make his acquaintance…er meet with him. It would not do—” she sniffed, “for a woman to refuse to see her betrothed after so long an absence.”

“Shall I serve tea? And if, you are feeling unwell, you may signal me by dropping your spoon. Then I shall make sure to devise a distraction. So that you may take your leave.” Miriam offered boldly. Lillian smiled widely and placed a kiss on her cheek with childlike warmth.

“Yes please, Miriam, that would be lovely, thank you.”

After Miriam left, Lillian dressed herself in a pale blue, cotton dress, tying it as tightly as possible on her own, and feeling that her ribs hurt from the deep drawing of breath. It made her think of the run she’d so brazenly taken on the day of Matthew’s leaving. She had wished she would have caught up to him. Or that he had come after her. But she hadn’t. And he hadn’t. And it appeared, by all accounts that the universe was reminding her that Dr. Blackwell was not to be hers. Her hair was an absolute horror, but she tamed it with a comb and water and put it back into a simple bun, something Kitty had shown her she could do herself in a pinch. It certainly wasn’t the same spiked pixie she was used to. Lillian still found comfort in toying with it. And she needed comfort now.

Taking the stairs and deep breaths very carefully, she descended and thought through all of the possible questions, comments, and conversations she might have with Mr. Sutton. What would he wish to speak of? What if she wasn’t able to pretend to know about their previous interludes? What if he found her much changed, so much so that he deemed her mentally unsound or worse, an imposter?

What if—she turned the corner of the parlor and saw him standing, stoically against the fireplace. He was a large man, hands clasped behind his back and reserved as he stared over his long and straight nose down at her. The nose was akin to Matthew’s but the eyes that stared at her above it were cold and brown; disinterested but for the slight shock at how quickly she had rounded the corner. His brown hair was trimmed neatly to the staunchly pressed and tight collar around his thick neck

She made a small surprised sound before remembering herself.

“Mr. Sutton, it is a pleasure to see you again,” she lied as she had never met the man, but bowed her head and knee low, curtsying far longer than necessary in order to gather her wits.

“Miss Byrne, the pleasure is all mine,” he said in a clipped and authoritative voice and came nearer. “Forgive me for being away so long,” he bowed and she offered her hand. He kissed it with cold lips quickly and in a perfect example of withheld emotion. “I hope I am not interrupting your convalescence. I would have offered to—come sooner—” he paused, blushed and cleared his throat. “But I’m afraid business in London has kept me from your bedside these long weeks.”

She could not see this large and reserved man, his jowly face and barrel chest sitting at her bedside calling her Angel and Lily. Her heart fell and she smiled despite the pain. She must maintain the act if she were to buy herself the time and opportunity to save her ancestor. The bigger picture had to come first.

“I am much improved, and am happy that you’ve given me a joyous reason to leave the confines of bed.” Now she blushed and turned away as he looked at her. “That is to say—I am much rested and anxious to return to my normal tasks.”

“I am glad I could inspire you,” he said and sniffed. He looked at her forehead. Studied the wound and shook his head. “Tis a shame you shall be scarred from the event.” Lillian tried not to scowl and used her strongest effort to not reply the way she would have with Matthew. She had no such pact of honesty with this man, he was, after all, her soon to be husband.

“With some skill, I can learn to arrange my hair to hide much of it, and you can make the effort to always stay on my left.” She said. It was the closest thing to polite she could manage and she wished she’d held her tongue a bit harder. He turned his head to the side and studied her and she wondered if she were about to be found out for the liar she was.

“I suppose your right. In any case, our sons will not inherit it.”

“Sons—“? Lillian choked on her response and fell into a fit of coughing.

“Do you find my assurances too forward?” he said and put his hands behind his back. “But, of course our future will hold the blessings of male heirs to the Sutton name!”

She smiled demurely above clenched teeth.

“Of course, my—dear—Mr. Sutton.” She forced herself not to throw up in her mouth. The strangest thought of being too forward, and Matthew’s intimate comment to her on the day of the picnic flashed in her mind. How she had wanted to be alone on a blanket with him in the afternoon sunlight and feel his warm strong fingers trailing up her thigh.

“You are quite flushed, my dear. I see you are as impatient for our future nuptials as I.”

Lillian took a step back and her thoughts were brought back to the present. The gall of the man. It was one thing for Matthew, who knew her best and felt genuine affection for, to make inappropriate comments. This man was, by all accounts a stranger and she felt sick to think of what was running through his mind. He watched her face turn downward. Probably attributing it to the necessary outward propriety of young women in the era.

“Though you are ill, you are still quite beautiful. I shall be the envy of all the men in the hunting club.” He tumbled through the backwards compliment and turned quickly away.

He’s a bumbling idiot and vulgar, but I won’t have to marry him if I can figure out a plan of escape quickly, Lillian thought and sunk down to the couch as her legs grew noticeably weaker. Mr. Sutton came to sit in the chair beside her. He was studying her now, as if trying to decern if she had changed in other ways. His brow scowled at the scar. As if his favorite statue had been gashed in transit.

“How has your business been?” she said suddenly in an effort bring his attention off of her face. “I hope that you are not too weary from your travels.” She said “The weather has been quite unpredictable and I know not enough to understand how that must affect the ships in your care.”

He looked at her as if she’d grown a second head and it occurred to Lillian that women were probably not allowed or expected to talk of business, even with their husbands. At least not this husband.

How she wished Dr. Blackwell were here.

“You musn’t worry for the boring details of running a shipyard, my darling. Let us talk instead of Dr. Blackwell.”

Lillian’s eyes shot up at the mention of his name. “I beg your pardon? I’m not sure I quite comprehend the subject.”

“My cousin!”

She feigned ignorance and shook her head. “I’m not sure there is much to speak of.”

“Well, I understand I have him to thank for saving your life? Though he could have used a lighter hand on that stitching.” He added. Lillian’s mouth turned down in anger.

“He…his first stitches were quite perfect. I tore out the others accidentally while slipping up a hill in the rain. He—aided me in getting back to Westbury Manor and had to repair them with wet and cold fingers.” She defended quickly, remembering every detail of the moment and the way he’d found her, wanted her, held her. Her eyes filled anew. Mr. Sutton watched the tears with a glint of something sinister within his eyes. An understanding…a need to stake claim on her as his property.

“I cannot fathom a reason why you’d be out walking in the rain to begin with, let alone up hills on your own. Nor why you thought it acceptable to accepting such aide from an unmarried man.” His voice was thick with disapproval. “When we are married, you must know that kind of behavior will simply not be tolerated. You do know that you are to remain at home, I will not have my wife traipsing about the countryside like some common bumpkin. Did anyone see you? Besides the doctor? Scrambling through the rain like a witless peasant?” Mr. Sutton’s voice rose, and a strange darkness took over his features. His rounded cheeks clenched into hard lines and he rose to pace before the fireplace.

“I am quite fond of walking.” She said simply.

“I am quite fond of a complacent wife,” he said back in a tone that brought a rising of bile into Lillian’s throat. The door burst open unannounced by a knock and Miriam stepped in with rattling tea service tray and a face quite flushed itself. She looked once at her young charge and her beady, hard eyes landed on Mr. Sutton.

“Beggin’ your pardon, sir. Miss Bryne requested serving tea after your long journey.”

Lillian loved her for the complete lack of respect in her tone and she smiled even though her eyes stayed downcast to the patterned rug beneath her feet.

“Fine,” he acknowledged with a curt nod, and held his tongue while the woman, whom he felt far beneath the benefit of his words, set the tea service down in front of Lillian. Miriam began to pour him the first cup and looked up at Lillian’s pale face.

“When we are married, you will find everything you need in our family’s grounds and shall have no reason to leave. Ever. I assure you. You will be quite content.”

Content. No reason to leave. Complacent.

“As for my cousin, you will no longer cause him the grief of maintaining your propriety as he is leaving in short time to seek his fortunes elsewhere. You shall have no reason to leave when we are happily betrothed. Walking or otherwise.”

Lillian knew what her proper place was supposed to be, knew the reaction she should give, when a man, the man who was promised to be her husband, the man she was to obey and cherish spoke to her in such a commanding tone. She knew the decent and right thing to do if she were to keep up the façade long enough to escape.

She knew all of these things and chose to open her mouth anyway.

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