A/N- This is what comes from my watching the third season of Downton Abbey, but is also inspired by my fave book in the whole world ever "Fingersmith"- by Sarah Waters and partly by a very old (1995) BBC costume drama "The Buccaneers" (available on you tube)based on the book by Edith Wharton. All that mixed up with Rizzoli and Isles in my head and produced this. I apologise for any historical inaccuracies, I am no expert! Although, my wife is a social historian and has been plagued by my questions, so big thanks to her as always. X Let me know what you think.
The journey had been long and Jane found it difficult to muster any kind of real excitement when the carriage finally made its approach up the long winding path through the Yorkshire estate toward Ashby Castle. Jane's overwhelming feeling was one of relief that she would soon be in an actual bed and getting some sleep that wasn't hampered by the motion of waves or a rocking train carriage.
The building was impressive of course, jutting out of the landscape like a great monument on the horizon, but with the gloomy weather and the tiredness of too many days travel, Jane felt a sense of foreboding about the whole situation she had landed in. This place was unfamiliar and unwelcoming and stood for the type of structure Jane would never really be a part of, not that she yearned for that like so many others. At home she hadn't found it any easier to fit in to society than she was likely to here, but at least at home she had her family.
As they got closer to the building Jane could see the rows of uptight Englishmen lined up to greet their visitors and not a smile among them.
The young Ms Dawson shot Jane a nervous smile and Jane could see that even Dawson himself had stiffened to try and ready himself for the meeting; he was trying to affect a nonchalant air, without much luck. Old Mrs Dawson was trying not to nod off and to give her younger child reassuring smiles.
The carriage came to a halt and a young footman approached to open the carriage. Dawson threw himself out of the carriage before the women and stretched himself out like a caged animal that has just been released. He stalked past the butler who was attempting to make introductions and took the hand of a shocked older gentleman who headed up the line of what appeared to be the family belonging to this grand house.
"Lord Ashby, good to meet with you again and to finally get to enjoy the delights of the legendary Ashby Castle." Dawson blustered, shaking Ashby's hand vigorously.
Jane thought he was already trying too hard and almost felt for him as she noticed the Lady by Lord Ashby's side roll her eyes and look away impatiently. The butler too looked highly annoyed by the fact that his role in proceedings had been bypassed.
Lord Ashby had recovered his shock however and was smiling welcomingly now. "Welcome Dawson, welcome." He called jovially. "And ladies, we welcome you all to Ashby Castle." He called over Dawson's shoulder attempting to mirror Dawson's casual attitude.
The Lady of the house, Lady Maura, briefly nodded at the butler who swept a hand in her direction and announced over the rabble.
"Introducing Lady Maura of Ashby Castle." The butler swooped into a bow with a flourish.
Lady Maura stepped slightly forward and snubbed Mr Dawson completely as she stepped first to take his mother's hand and then his younger sister in turn. Ms Dawson almost fell over herself to curtsey and flushed pink as she lowered her head reverently.
Lady Maura then gave a side glance at Jane who stood just a little removed from the family but away from the servants who had lined up to the other side of the pathway awaiting their instructions from the butler.
Dawson suddenly remembered Jane and threw out a hand in her direction. "Lady Maura, Lord Ashby, This is my secretary, Ms Rizzoli, absolute gem, I couldn't get by without her."
Lady Maura threw another glance in Jane's direction and acknowledged her with a curt nod and a quiet "Welcome."
Just then the Butler began to herd the family and their American guests in to the drawing room for tea.
Jane saw the look of disdain Lady Maura shot at Dawson as they moved inside. "Match made in heaven." She mumbled to herself as the housekeeper approached her and indicated that Jane should follow.
"I am Mrs Brenham the housekeeper; I will show you to your room. Your meals will be brought to you either in your room or to the study you are to utilise for the conducting of Mr Dawson's business. I will show you to that also. If you have any requests you must direct them to me alone." Mrs Brenham looked at Jane seriously.
"I understand." Jane nodded. Nice to meet you too, she thought. This was the problem with Jane's position of Secretary. Jane was neither one of the servants, who had a community of their own and yet she had no real place with the family, it was a lonely role, which is why she had accepted the little shows of friendship that Ms Dawson had displayed toward her on their journey.
Jane was sure that now Ms Dawson was finally in England, about to do a London season, her kindness to Jane would be forgotten, her mind preoccupied with how to impress the English Lords and Ladies, starting with Lady Maura. Good luck to her on that venture, Lady Maura did not look easy to impress.
When Mrs Brenham left Jane in her new room, she quickly collapsed on the bed and waited for her luggage to arrive, questioning for the thousandth time what she was doing so far from home.
Jane had unpacked and spent the evening catching up on her sleep, safe in the knowledge that Dawson's mind would be far from business this evening.
When she awoke in the morning, it was to a cold, grey and very bare room. For such a large house Ashby Castle could be quiet as the grave and Jane had to strain to hear the light patter of a maids feet rushing by as she went to start the fires in the family rooms.
Jane rose and splashed some of last night's water on her face before dressing and leaving her room to investigate the rest of the house. Jane took what she supposed to be the long way around to the study she had been shown last night but was beginning to fear she had become a little disorientated and may in fact have gotten lost. Jane finally decided to retrace her steps when she heard a muffled voice in a room on her left where the door sat slightly ajar.
Jane couldn't resist and stopped to listen.
"With all due respect Father, I have agreed to marry the man, have I not fulfilled my duty in this? Must I also be made to simper and moon over such as this American buffoon?"
Jane heard a thud and could clearly picture Lady Maura, who was obviously the speaker, stamping her delicate foot in frustration. Jane chuckled, almost silently.
"Maura darling, we need this buffoon as you put it, to save Ashby. I am not asking you to fawn over him I am merely asking that you refrain from treating him like the enemy, it is not becoming of a Lady." Lord Ashby said calmly and Jane heard him cross the room to his daughter.
"If you are a little more open to it dear, you may find he is not as bad as you imagine. The Americans go about things a little differently to us but I am sure you will find more common ground as you get to know each other better. Your Mother and I were from very different worlds and could not have guessed how we would get along, but we did and we were very happy, I am sure that in the end, you and Dawson shall find your way together."
Jane began to move away down the hall when she heard the door open and saw Lady Maura come out into the hallway, she didn't see Jane right away and Jane could see the defeated slump of her shoulders before the Lady finally realised another's presence and straightened, raising her head high into the air.
Lady Maura caught sight of Jane and narrowed her eyes a little suspiciously; she strode up to Jane who was captured and frozen by the glare that was sent her way, making Jane forget that she was supposed to be retreating.
"Ms Rizzoli." Lady Maura stated in neither greeting nor accusation.
"My Lady, I woke early and was just acquainting myself with the building on my way to the study." Jane explained looking Maura directly in the eye, which she was pretty sure, was not what she was expected to do, she couldn't help it though, she was curious about this woman and was struck by the proud, defiant look in her eyes, a look that reminded her of her own.
Next Lord Ashby followed his daughter out of what Jane could see now was a large library. He looked a little troubled as he spotted them and strode to join them.
"Ms Rizzoli, I trust that you slept well and that Mrs Brenham saw to it that you were comfortable."
"Yes Lord Ashby, Thank you." Jane nodded and bent a little as she addressed him.
"I could show you around the grounds if you would like some fresh air, Ms Rizzoli." Maura said suddenly, smiling disingenuously at her Father as she turned, confident that Jane would hurry after her, which Jane obligingly did.
Lady Maura made her way out of the house through a small side door which Jane wouldn't even have realised led ,via a small passage, to the outside of the castle. She had paused to collect some walking boots and a shawl left on a hook by the door of the passage and Jane recognised that the Lady must regularly feel the need to make a quick escape.
Jane was happy to be out of the slightly oppressive feel of the building and into some fresh air. The morning had begun somewhat clearer and brighter than when she had arrived yesterday afternoon and although it wasn't as warm as she would like, it was a pleasant start to the day. Jane quietly watched her tour guide as she strode along the gravel path that encircled the house.
"The estate is 400 acres, it includes 10 tenanted cottages, the estate farm and the village is also part of the estate, housing 17 families, we employ 24 staff in the house alone and a slightly smaller number in the London house, we have a family doctor and a lawyer that both make their livings in service to the Isles-Beaufort family alone." Maura paused and looked off into the distance.
"A lot of people; their families, depend on you for their survival." Jane surmised.
Maura shot Jane a curious glance as if she had just recalled she was there.
"My Grandfather was a senior advisor to the court during the reign of William IV. My Father; the Earl of Leicester, sit's in the House of Lords, he is a very influential and highly respected man. This kind of thing is the fabric of English society." Maura explained.
Jane wasn't sure why she was being told all of this; was it usual visitor information or had Lady Maura guessed what Jane had overheard and was she now trying somehow to justify her position.
"That is quite a responsibility." Jane commented.
"An honour and a privilege." Maura corrected. "One I was born and bred for." Maura walked on at a pace slow enough to be an invitation for Jane to join her.
Jane matched her step for step and waited patiently for Lady Maura to speak again. Jane noticed that from this position; at the rear of the great house, there was a footpath leading through some nearby woodland and beyond that she could make out the small silvery shimmer of a lake. The scene was much more natural and picturesque than the intimidating view as one approached the house and Jane made a mental note to revisit and explore this more fully as soon as she could.
Lady Maura walked with great purpose towards what Jane realised quickly was the Muse which housed several horses, carriages and a great many, busy looking, young men. A young man of no more than fourteen caught sight of Maura and quickly snatched off his cap and bowed low as she passed by oblivious.
Maura's eyes searched the yard until she found an older looking man who was occupied with leading out a stunning young chestnut mare. Maura crossed to them ignoring Jane who decided to go ahead and follow.
"How is she Charles?" Lady Maura called the moment she was within hearing distance.
"She is bearing up well Lady M, she had an uneventful night and I got a feeling today will be the day." The worn looking man patted and rubbed the mares bulging flank soothingly.
Maura moved close to the beast's face and stoked the nose lightly with one hand as she gently whispered something inaudible against the mare's ear. The animal stood stock still as if listening and moved again only when Maura took a step back.
"Let me know when it begins." Maura said softly to Charles who nodded respectfully in reply.
"Don't worry yourself M' lady." He said kindly before leading the mare away.
Maura watched him go for a moment, an anxious look in her eye which was fleeting as she resumed business and turned her attention back to Jane.
"You do ride Ms Rizzoli?" Lady Maura asked and Jane felt the judgment in the question, she would be a fool to say no.
Jane settled on "On occasion." As her response, this received a narrowing of Lady Maura's eyes.
"You should." Lady Maura said assertively. "We have some of the finest bred horses here and acres of beautiful English country side." Lady Maura grinned and Jane was struck by how young and carefree this made her look.
"I will make sure I do." Jane acquiesced with a warm smile.
Lady Maura smiled directly at Jane for the first time and Jane felt it in her stomach.
"I must excuse myself Ms Rizzoli, I must go and meet with Mrs Brenham before breakfast, I trust you can make your own way back to the house?" Maura said as she backed away.
Jane nodded and bowed a little as she watched Maura leave.
A/N- Please let me know what you think and thank you if you do. xx