The Plan – Part 1
Anne snapped her pocket watch closed. Her frustration with the group of arrogant men gave her a headache. She needed to reside herself to the fact that she was going to be late for her meeting with Ann. Her headache intensified as she thought about being late.
“Gentlemen, look…” She made it a point to look at each man in the room. “I will not tolerate any more theft on my land. You have all been tenants on my land, some of you for decades, and as such, I expect a certain amount of loyalty, if not to me then to Shibden.”
“Miss Lister, I’m not sure why we’re having this meeting, but I can assure you that I haven’t taken a thing that I haven’t earned.”
“Sit down, Mr. Pickle. This has nothing to do with you stealing, this is about the Rosens.”
A collective groan filled the room.
“That’s right. The Rosens’ have been stealing Shibden coal and you are going to help me stop it.” She walked about the table and made a point of putting her hand on each man’s shoulder. “You see things I can’t. I can’t be everywhere. So, from now on you will be my eyes and ears.”
Each man looked down as Anne searched them out. “Is this a problem gentlemen? If it is you can vacate my land and find other opportunities with the Rosens’, if they will have you. Which, I doubt they would offer you anything since they would think you are there to spy on them anyway.”
“Miss Lister,” a young man interrupted her.
Annoyed, Anne turned her attention to the brash man. “Can you see I’m busy?”
He blushed. “I’m sorry ma’am, I have a post for you and it says it must be hand delivered to you.”
He held out the small package. She hesitated to take it and then seeing the return address, she snatched it and thrust it into her pocket. “Thank you young man, you can tell the postmaster that you have indeed delivered it to me.” Anne flipped him a coin and returned to the group of men. It took a moment to gather herself, but if the grave looks on their face were any comfort, she knew they had an idea of what exactly the penalty for leaving Shibden that would be. She didn’t care. What she did care about was catching the Rosens. Well, that and getting to her appointment with Miss Walker. Pulling her pocket watch, Anne noted the time, again.
“Well gentlemen, as much as I would like to sit here and encourage you to see the justice of my way, frankly I don’t have time. I have to leave you, I have another appointment, but we shall discuss this further. Let me be clear, as your landlord, I encourage you to help. You’re livelihood depends on it. Your families depend on it.” A quick peruse around the room gave her the answer she knew was coming. The men all gave a slight nod as her gaze lit on them.
“Good, now if you will excuse me, I have another appointment. Have one more round on me gentlemen.
A roar went up in the room and they raised their glasses in salute. God men were so easily influenced by alcohol, she thought, as she donned her hat and gloves, that and sex. “I will see you at the collecting of the rents next month.” Suddenly the room grew cold.
Business was business and as such, they needed to be loyal or they could easily be replaced by another farmer, worker or renter. Anne raced past her footman and jumped into
her carriage. “Home to Shibden, Miles.”
Her mind wandered to Miss Walker. Anne had sent a note starting to put her plan in place. While Miss Walker had imploring Anne to come at her earliest convenience, it seemed she’d had a rather grueling night and all Miss Walker could think of was her. Anne could use this rather strategically to get closer to Miss Walker. Oh, all the ways she could make Miss Walker feel better. The cold head of her walking stick pressed against her smile. Yes, she’d thought of many ways to introduce Miss Walker to the intimacies of how to love a woman. Something Anne was quite fluent in.
The usual jostling of the carriage suddenly irritated her as she was lifted off her seat, not for the first time, when it hit a rather large hole. She slammed the head of her walking stick on the roof.
“Christ, be careful or you’ll be looking for new employment.” Good help wasn’t just hard to find, it was hard to keep, as well.
“Yes ma’am,” Miles yelled down to her.
Shibden slid into view as the carriage passed the manicured gardens and to a stop before the back door. The footman popped open the door and bowed as Anne jumped from the carriage.
“I won’t be but a minute.”
She passed her aunt who’d come to see what the fuss about. “Anne, I thought you were off to Lightcliffe?’
“Oh, I am aunt. I just needed to pick-up a few things I’d forgotten. I probably won’t be home for dinner.” She stopped in the hallway. “Oh, I might not be home for a couple of days. I’ve business in town and after seeing Miss Walker, I have another meeting. So, don’t be alarmed if you don’t see me.”
“Are you sure?”
“I am, you know these men, they take some breaking down if I’m to get what I want. Not to worry, Aunt. I’ve got a plan.”
Oh a plan indeed. If she had her way, she would spend the next few days in the company of one rather beautiful blonde.
“Please be careful. You know I worry.”
“I do, Aunt.” Anne lifted her aunt’s hand to her lips and pressed against the knuckles. “I’ll send word if I’m going to be any later.”
With that, she took the stairs two at a time. Swung her bedroom door shut and pulled a small valise from the wardrobe. Reaching deep into the wardrobe she pulled two parcels wrapped in paper and stuck them into the suitcase.
Practically running down the stairs, she yelled to no one in particular, “I’m off.”
She had expected the parcel to arrive today and had started to put her plan in place. There would be no way Miss Walker would be able to turn her down tonight. Not if it all went well.
Anne looked at her reflection in the hand mirror. Pushing down the edges of the mustache and goatee it was almost perfect. A few snips here and there and it fit her face. Wrapping the theater glue back into the plain paper and stuffing it into the valise, her next feat would be to slip into the men’s trousers she’d purchased, as well as the waistcoat, shirt and ascot. She’d taken to wearing men’s undergarments years ago as a way of trying to discard all things feminine. Tucking her trousers into her long boots, she rubbed at a scuff with her handkerchief before putting into her pocket. She pulled at the edges of her waistcoat down and smiled at herself, the deep blue of her coat suited her, not flashy like women’s fashion, but it cut a fine line for her tastes. She wished she could wear men’s clothes all the time. She found women’s frocks and petticoats binding and frankly a waste of good material, at least for herself.
She decided to take on the persona of, Charles Talbot, an internist traveling before settling down. She wanted to make sure she shed any likeness to herself, the name was something she’d given a lot of thought to, as well. It had to be a clean transformation, if it was to work. The only caveat to her real life was the ruby heart she wore pinned to her ascot at her throat. She hoped Miss Walker would see it as a sign of who she really was.
If her transformation was in question, the look on her driver’s face was an indication that she’d succeeded in her charade as she exited the carriage.
“Remember, Charles Talbot, sir. If you value your employment.” Anne extended her hand. He stared at it for a brief moment and then shook it. The threat of unemployment didn’t hurt for a man with eight hungry children at home.
Slipping on her gloves, another precaution. “Wait for me in the bar while I secure lodgings for a few nights.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The quick look from Anne and he corrected himself. “Sir.”
The next test had gone quite smooth. Registering at the Hound and Fox, she kept her hat just above her eyebrows, lowered her voice an octave, or two. It was something she’d practiced since coming up with the plan. Securing lodgings had been easier than she expected, the inn keeper barely gave her a sideways glance. Clearly, men were given certain latitude that wasn’t afforded to her just because of her gender and it grated on her.
She stopped by the bar for a quick drink with her driver to cement their agreement. Looking around at the men in the room there was a certain hubris some men just exuded that irritated her and most of the men at the bar fit that image. They didn’t give her a second look as she ordered her drink. No, they assumed she was one of them.
Now women, that was a different animal. The way women regarded her was the most surprising. Some weren’t subtle in the way they looked at Charles, aka Anne. In fact, some were outright shameful in their approach. They looked at her like a hungry man looked at a plate of beef and boiled potatoes.
One particularly comely woman tried to grope Anne as she strode past. Luckily, Anne’s hand was a bit quicker as she grabbed the woman’s wrist and puller her closer.
“Madam, I seek to keep all my parts where they belong,” she whispered low into the woman’s ear.
“I bet you do, sir. Perhaps you’d like to join me later for a quick lesson on anatomy?”
“Sir Talbot, seems she’s a bit taken with you.” Her driver said which seemed to only encourage a round of hoots from the few men in the bar.
“Yes, well I’ve business to take care of so I’ll be otherwise indisposed. Shall we?” Anne finished her drink in one swallow and turned on her heels out of the establishment. She doubted the woman knew anything about anatomy and she wasn’t going to be the teacher that night, or any other night. She was on a mission and she didn’t have time for such dalliances.
LightCliffe was a beautiful property, with its open feminine décor, and vast land expanses, but Anne loved Shibden more. She’d spent years planting trees strategically, building a bridges and footpaths to make the property more accessible and the walks more beautiful as the foliage grew. If Miss Walker was to become her wife, she would have to get used to the views at Shibden. Though she doubted they would spend much time there at first. She had shared her plans for travel with Miss Walker, who seemed hesitate at first, but as Anne detailed where they would go she could hear a glint of excitement.
“I can hear your passion, Anne. It sounds lovely, I just can’t…” Miss Walker mumbled.
“You can’t what?”
“I’m not sure I’m ready for such a long journey. I’m worried that two women traveling together may give people the wrong idea.”
“My darling, you’ll be in the best of company, I assure you. Eugenia with be with us. We shall look like traveling companions without husbands.”
Once again, Miss Walker had led her out to the edge and left her standing there.
As LightCliffe came into view, she checked her appearance to make sure it was impeccable. She pulled her handkerchief and buffed the black leather of her tall boots. Her top hat perched firmly on her head and her black gloves completed the look. Pushing at the corners of her mustache, she hoped the glue would last the evening.
The carriage lurched to a stop in front of the massive doors of LightCliffe. Pushing the carriage door open she bounded out, her driver giving her a once over.
In a low timber she asked, “How do I look?”
“Sir, if I didn’t know, I would never be able to tell you aren’t, Sir Charles Talbot. Well done, sir.”
“Thank you, Miles. Please keep the carriage close. I plan to take Miss Walker to dinner and I would like to take my own carriage, just in case you’re needed.”
“Yes, ma…sir.” He bowed and swept his hand toward the door.
She lept up the steps as a surge of excitement pulsed through Anne, she almost couldn’t contain herself. Anne lifted her walking stick and gently tapped on the door. Waiting a few seconds, she almost started again just as Miss Walker’s butler opened the door, narrowly missing a thump on the forehead with the head of her stick.
“Good morning, sir. How may I help you?”
“Good afternoon, I’m hear to see Miss Walker.”
“Who may I say is calling?”
“Sir Charles Talbot. I think Miss Walker is expecting me.”
“Please come in while I check, Sir Talbot.” He stuck his hands out for Anne’s hat and jacket, but she held up her hands.
“In case Miss Walker is unwell, I won’t have to don my coat and hat again.”
“Yes sir.” He bowed and made his exit into the study.
Anne could hear a few words exchanged and then the butler reappeared. “This way, sir.”
Once again, the butler held out his hands and once again Anne shrugged him off. “I’m hoping I can convince Miss Walker to show me her magnificent gardens. I’ve heard they are quite spectacular.” Anne spotted Miss Walker over his shoulder.
“Quite,” he said standing firm. Clearly, he was here to protect Miss Walker’s honor with what he assumed was a male suitor present.
Walking past the man, she smiled at Miss Walker. She didn’t look worse the wear from her tormented night. However, she was looking past her for something.
“Miss Walker, I hope this isn’t a surprised. I was told you received my letter and one from Miss Lister as well.” Anne grabbed the extended hand, bowed and placed a gentle kiss on the back of it.
Miss Walker pulled her hand back and buried it into the folds of her dress.
“Yes, of course I did. Please come in, Sir Talbot. I just thought Miss Lister would be accompanying you?” She offered a slight smile.
“Ah, yes well she had an urgent matter at Shibden, and sent me on my way. Asking me to make her apologies and told me to ask for a tour of the gardens as a diversion until she could join us. She said they were quite magnificent this time of year. Of course, if that isn’t to your liking, I can send Miles back for her or I could leave and come back with Miss Lister. I don’t want to impose.” She was rambling.
Miss Walker turned towards the fire and pulled at her handkerchief. Miss Walker’s reflection in mirror that swept across the mantle, allowed Anne a full view of Miss Walker’s décolletage and she wasn’t one to pass on a nice view of a woman’s bare shoulders and cleavage.
Miss Walker turned, it was clear she was trying to hide her disappointment. “No, I’m sure Miss Lister will join us when she is available. May I have some tea brought in?”
“That would be wonderful, but perhaps we could take that walk through the garden. Fresh air would do me a great deal of good.”
“Of course, let me grab my wrap and we shall take a walk, but I assure you they aren’t as spectacular as the gardens at Shibden. Miss Lister has done a wonderful job with them.”
The compliment washed over Anne and she wanted to beam with pride that Miss Walker had noticed the hard work and attention to detail she’s put into her estate.
Coming back with a hat and wrap, Miss Walker handed the wrap to Anne and turned presenting her back to her. The long slender neck was so inviting she had to stop herself from kissing the alabaster skin. Miss Walker’s perfume invaded her nostrils and it was another exercise in frustration as she draped the wrap around Anne’s shoulders.
“It looks rather hot outside, to you have a parasol for the sun?” Anne extended her arm towards Miss Walker.
“I believe we might have one at the door.”
“Perfect. After you.” Anne opened the door and ushered Miss Walker towards the open front door.
“Thank you.” Anne said to the butler. “Please let us know when Miss Lister arrives, will you?”
“Of course, Sir Talbot.”
Miles stood at the open door of the carriage.
“We’re taking a stroll of the gardens first, my good man.” She waived him off.
“Of course, sir.”
Turning towards the manicured hedges, Anne patted Miss Walker’s hand nestled in the crook of her arm. “It’s turned out to be quite a beautiful day, hasn’t it, Miss Walker.”
“Yes, yes it has.” She said looking away from Anne.
They walked in companionable silence, the only sound was the gravel crunching under their feet as they wound their way through the flowers and box hedges. Anne didn’t want to push Miss Walker, so she waited for her to say something. Spotting a bench, she guided Miss Walker towards it.
“Miss Walker would you like to sit for a moment? I wouldn’t want to exhaust you before dinner.”
As they sat, Anne sat a distance away from Miss Walker. Etiquette dictated that no gentleman would sit close to a woman they had only just met. However, she turned herself towards Miss Walker, crossed her leg over her knee, her boot close to Miss Walker’s dress. Her hand casually resting on the head of her walking stick. She couldn’t take her eyes off Miss Walker. In fact, she felt she should be applauded for her restraint, because all she wanted to do was kiss her neck and run her hand under her dress until she’d reached her queer. Anne’s body lit like a match at the thought.
“Miss Walker?” Anne sat up on the edge of the bench and gripped the head of her walking stick with both hands. Smoothing down her mustache, her fingers running down the goatee. A gesture she had seen many a man do regularly. “I understand from Miss Lister that she is quite taken with you.” She was ready to expose her secret, but was Miss Walker ready?
Miss Walker blushed and began fanning herself. “I’m sure, I don’t know what you mean.”
“I assure you, your secret is quite safe with me. I’ve known Anne all of her life and I can see how she would be quite taken with you.”
Miss Walker finally looked at Anne. “Sir Talbot, I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
Anne reached over and lifted Miss Walker’s hand to her lips and then placed it back on her lap. Miss Walker blushed again as she tried to compose herself. She searched Anne’s face and then rested on the ruby heart at the base of her throat. Her brow furrowed for a brief instance and then her gaze took in all of Anne.
“Sir Talbot, the ruby heart on your ascot is similar to one Miss Lister owns. Is that a family heirloom?”
“You’re quite observant, Miss Walker.” Anne winked at Miss Walker. Scooting closer she covered Miss Walker’s hand with her own. “Perhaps you’re more observant that you think.” Anne leaned in and rubbed her face against Miss Walker’s.
Miss Walker pulled back and looked at Anne. “You’re face seems to lack the stubble of a man at your age.”
“My family finds it quite hard to grow a beard. A hindrance at times, while a benefit at others.”
“I see.” Miss Walker stared at Anne.
Anne leaned in closer and whispered, “Perhaps you know my secret already?” She rested her hand at Miss Walker’s waist, waiting for an answer. If Miss Walker’s heavy breathing was any indication, Miss Walker was clearly aware of what Anne was inferring.
To be continued….
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