Dropping the mass of fabric into my lap, I rested my head against the back of the chair, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. It was the second time I had mended this dress and it was becoming threadbare and faded. I slowly opened my eyes and looked around the quiet room. The candles were low. I would need to check our supply and make sure we had enough to get through the colder months. The days were getting shorter now and we would use more candles. It would not be pleasant to run out when the walk into town was more than four miles. I should also get the extra blankets from the storage chest in the barn. As I began to make a mental checklist, my father came into the room with a book in his hand. It was the same book he read every evening after supper and he never seemed to finish it. At least he has not finished it in the last three and a half years that we have lived in the little cottage. He rereads the same five pages each evening, never remembering that he read the same pages the evening before. I envied him that, the not remembering.
"How long until supper?" he asked, sitting down at the table.
"Papa, we had supper almost two hours past. Do you not remember, or are you still hungry?" Perhaps he had not eaten enough. I did not notice how much he ate at supper. I suppose I should probably keep a watch on that as well.
"I must have forgotten. I am not hungry. Perhaps I will head up to bed as well. Could you have Smith take care of the fire in the library for me?"
"Of course, Papa. Good night."
"Good night, my dear."
James Smith had not been in our employ for nearly four years. He had left us shortly before the bank took our estate. Papa had been forgetting things and apparently neglecting payments as well. By the time I knew what was happening, we were so far in debt that there was no possibility of recovery. Smith had left our home suddenly and we were left to inform the rest of the staff that we no longer had the means to pay them. I spent many hours trying to find employment elsewhere for them. The bank manager took pity on us and left us a small cottage at the edge of the estate for us to live in. I think he understood my father's health issues and did not want to leave us on the streets. I was only sixteen when we lost our home.
The cottage was small. Two bedrooms, an open kitchen/living area and a water closet. We had a small barn that housed our chickens. The eggs were our best source of income and I walked into town every other day to sell them in the marketplace. Life was drastically different from what it was just a few years ago, but we were healthy and had enough to eat, and we had a roof over our heads. It was more than many others had and I found I could not complain.
Thunder sounding overhead pulled me from my memories as I blew out the candles. I could hear the gentle thrumming of the rain on the roof and walked back into the kitchen to retrieve a large bucket. Placing it on the floor near the fireplace, I turned to quickly tend to the fire. With the rain and wind it would be cold tonight. As I finished up, I glanced over to see the first few drops of water fall into the bucket. I would need to add patching the roof to my ever growing list. Picking up the candleholder I made my way to my bedroom and quickly stripped off my dress. It too was in need of mending and was becoming threadbare. It was in these moments alone before bed that I missed my old life. I missed the parties, the rides in carriages, the beautiful dresses, hats and ribbons, the possibility of a future with a husband and household of my own. Now, with none of these things and certainly no dowry, there was no hope for that future. It was that hope that I missed most of all.
It was raining again. It had been raining since I arrived two days ago. The estate, Collingsworth, was truly beautiful. My uncle purchased it at auction a few years back and intended to use it as a summer home. He and my aunt were loved the area and I suspect they would have used it far more than just a summer escape. However, when both took ill and passed unexpectedly a few months ago it sat empty until the papers were signed and it was presented to me by my father. He was to inherit the estate but quickly passed it to me in the hopes that I would finally settle on a wife and take over running the estate. I was not opposed to this idea, but I have no desire to marry for the sake of marrying alone. Thankfully my parents had made no arrangement for me and I would eventually choose a bride for myself. But I am certainly in no rush to do so.
I spent much of the last few days hiring staff for my estate and making preparations to set up a household here. I knew very little about the history, only that the owner prior to my uncle had apparently squandered his fortune on unknown expenditures and had lost his home to the creditors. I have no knowledge of his fate or his family.
"Sir, is there anything else that you require of me this evening?"
I had not noticed that Mr. Tyler had entered the library. "No Tyler, I believe I am ready to retire for the evening. Will you see that my carriage is ready in the morning? I would like to go into the town and perhaps call on some of the neighbors."
"Of course. Good night, Sir."
"Good night, Tyler." I turned back to the window as Tyler left the room. I hoped the rain would end before morning. There were still parts of Collingsworth that I had not seen and much of the outlying area around the estate as well. There were also several small homes that belonged to the tenant farmers and field hands. It was my hope to offer them any assistance as their success would also certainly benefit Collingsworth.
I had no illusions that running an estate would be easy. I knew there would be much hard work, especially in the beginning, but I also knew that in the end I would have a profitable and very prestigious estate. I turned to head up to my rooms and encountered Tyler in the hallway. He informed me of the readiness of my carriage and driver in the morning and bid me goodnight once again before he went into the library to turndown the oil lamps and see to the fire. I continued on to my rooms as the thunder continued to roar outside. I had high hopes for the future, but tonight I was tired and ready for a good night's rest.