Friday, April 1, 2016

(Late) Fiction Friday: Hunter's Return

This chapter is being posted a little late due to a correspondence I've begun with someone claiming to represent Emily Bracken's estate (!), but currently I think I'm well within my rights to continue to copy her work onto the internet. If that changes, I will be the first to let you know.

I was contacted by letter early last week by a solicitor named Mr Sedgeland who claimed to represent the Bracken Estate. His main contentions were that 1) Emily Bracken had never intended for her manuscript to be published and that the only extent copies belonged to the Estate and therefore should not be at large, and 2) the publication of Blackwell Hall amounted to a libel on the Estate itself as a legal entity.

After consulting some friends, I have dismissed Mr Sedgeland claims. I'm not even certain that he is in any way related to an estate, that if such an estate exists that it is actually the estate of Emily Bracken and the Bracken Family, and that if the Bracken Estate did exist that it actually owns the rights or physical print copies of Blackwell Hall.

Mr Diver came through the threshold with an antiquated blunderbuss slung over his shoulder. His boots were sheathed in crusted mud and he wore a look of such dejection that my heart at once went out to him. It was the face of a man without hope. I was startled out of my complacence by it. I have never seen such an expression absent a funeral or a grievous illness. I assumed something unpleasant had happened out in the wood, so I crossed the room to the doorway and took him by the hand. "Mr Diver," I said, "It is so good to see you again." I had taken brief stock of him on my arrival, you see. He didn't seem to know who I was, such was the shock he displayed when I approached him.

"Ms Bracken," he exclaimed after a moment's thought. His Highland accent was thick indeed, and I found my name nearly unrecognizable in the wilderness of r's and k's he spat. "I had nae expected to find you here in the hall. I was looking for my friend Mr Finch, who is apparently too good to come shooting with us."

"I'm sorry, Mr Diver," I replied. "I believe he's in the garden. But wherever are the others? Your wife and Mrs Finch?"

"Oh, I fancy they're comin' along," he muttered. I bowed my head.

"Perhaps you will be so gracious, Mr Diver, to sit and talk with me a while as we wait for them." He seemed inclined to snarl and deny me the pleasure, but after a moment he did sit. We both took up places by the fire. "Was the shooting... pleasant, then?"

Mr Diver adjusted his waistcoat and shook his head. He wore a bushy beard, very Scottish indeed, and could not stop fiddling with his watch-chain. "Pleasant? I wouldnae call it pleasant. Nay, not a' all. No game in this blasted countryside. Why the Finches insist on livin' out here..."

"It is their ancestral hall, I'm lead to understand," I objected.

"Aye! And my oon 'ancestral hall' is in Edinburgh. But I'm a modern man, and so should be Mr Finch. We keep a house in London and one in Lincoln. I haven't seen my home in Scotland in eight years. Don't see me tearing up about it and strokin' the stones like a lunatic." He was clearly out-of-sorts, though I could not divine why. Supposedly, the Divers were very close friends of the Finches.

I sniffed. "Well, I do not mean to be crass, but could it be that you are not descended from the gentry? You know, they feel a very strong pull to the land, as they are its stewards, and—"

"Oh! The gentry, the gentry!" Mr Diver grumbled. He chewed on his beard and would say no more. I left him, thinking him an odious and tedious fellow, though my opinion would change. I did not know then what troubled him. If I had, I might have been more sympathetic.

As it was, I rose from the hall and went to find someone more interesting to talk to. Highfold was nowhere to be found, and the other servants did not interest me just then. I spent some time prowling around the second floor of the house, which I discovered was divided into three distinct wings. There was no intermittence between them, and I had to take three separate stairways to reach the floor in three separate parts of the house. I thought it most odd at the time; whyever would you design a country house to be so dismally separated from itself?

Some time later, the others came home, trouping in to find Mr Diver sitting disconsolately in the hall. Mr Finch and Mrs Rail were still nowhere to be seen. I joined the hunters as they handed off a few grouse to Highfold, who had appeared from the kitchen. Allan the Groundsman had taken the majority of the kills, though there were a few had by Mr Rail. Lady Dorothy, Ms Diver, and Mrs Finch were all flushed red with exertion.

I hadn't realized Mr Rail had come. He was, true to his name, a slender man who stood taller than anyone else in the room. He looked a scarecrow, with his great oversized coat and his beetling brows. I had to be introduced to him, as he was a stranger. I was told that he arrived while Mr Diver was out hunting with Allan and that he had been given a spare gun to join in the amusement. The women were delighted to see him, though of course he seemed somewhat out-of-sorts that his wife had not been present.

I greeted him and introduced myself in turn. "You haven't seen Joanna about, have you?"

"You might try the garden," I suggested. Mr Diver must have heard me, because his bearded head swiveled around to face me. His mouth was open just a little, and an unkind light had been kindled in his eyes. Whatever this meant, I did not know nor pretend to knowing. I simply smiled at everyone and bobbed my head and played the obedient young girl. It's what is expected, you know, when you're in a strange place. If you start acting boldly, they may very well think you're petulant or mad. Even with Mary Wollstonecraft's excellent essays and books, people have a very hard time believing that a girl can have opinions without being in some way deranged.

Mr Finch appeared again shortly thereafter. I imagine a servant must have informed him that the hunters were back in the house. He carried an open book in his hand and wandered into the room, seemingly oblivious of the people standing about it. He murmured to himself, touched the book with his finger, then looked up and raised his eyebrows. "I say, welcome back," he said. "And Charles! A good afternoon to you!" He snapped the book shut with a single motion, then went to embrace Mr Rail. Mr Diver watched them with hateful attention.

I resolved to wait until dinner to begin prying.

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