Morland Court, the Parker estate, near Bristol, Tuesday, 1 June 1773
Early in the afternoon, a liveried servant led young Annie Cartier into the old baronet's room. Often during his health's decline, when he was mostly confined to his bed, he had asked her to sing and dance for him. She did this gladly for the pleasure that it gave him. Only fifteen, she was unaccustomed to witnessing the slow approach of death. As many times as she saw Sir Abraham Parker, she continued to be shocked. He looked like a barely living skeleton. This might be the last time that he would hear her song.
Propped up with pillows, he smiled kindly when he saw her. She was touched. His smiles were rareand usually ironic. Her ballads and airs seemed to take him back to his childhood, a much less stressful time in his life, before he grew absorbed in the business of gaining wealth. He once mentioned that she reminded him of a nanny he loved who used to sing for him.
Annie asked how he felt.
"I’m weak, but still able to enjoy your sweet voice. What will it be?"
"An Irish air, this time, a simple lullaby." As she sang, he closed his eyes. The gentle melody calmed his laboured breathing, washed lines of care from his pallid face. At the end, his eyes remained closed for a few moments. He seemed to savour the melody. His lips moved slightly, as if he were humming. Then he gazed at her fondly and thanked her.
"What will you do this summer?" he asked.
"My parents and I shall spend a month entertaining a noble French family at their estate, Beaumont, a few miles south of Paris. I'll sing French as well as English ballads and play Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. This is my last day at Morland Court."
“I’m sorry to lose you,” he said. "You have some of Puck's spirit, especially the playfulness. I wish my sons had it. I envy the French family."
She thanked him and bid him goodbye.
For a moment she stood in the open doorway and looked back. He said, "I'll remember you, Annie. One of the many regrets of my life is that you aren’t my daughter. I'm unhappy with my sons.” He sighed. “Enough of them! I want your song to linger in my mind after you're gone. Farewell."
She closed the door gently and breathed a prayer for the old man.
* * *
At the head of the stairs, she met her cousin Beverly, who had recently married into the Parker family. Her husband was Thomas, the youngest of the baronet's three sons, the most handsome and amiable – and a bit of a fop.
"How did Old Parker look?" she asked. He was only called Old Parker behind his back.
"Poorly," Annie replied.
"He's writing his will, isn't he?"
"Not while I was with him." Annie thought her cousin showed too much interest in money and the fine things it could buy.
Beverly glanced over her shoulder. "The family thinks he'll die any day now."
Annie shook her head. "They're like vultures hanging over his body. He's a most tenacious man and may live for months." She started down the stairs.
But Beverly had more on her mind. "Let's talk outside where we can be alone."
"At the Observatory," Annie suggested. "Nobody ever goes there at this hour. They’re napping or playing at cards."
* * *
Under a blue, sun-soaked sky, the cousins walked up the hill to the west of the manor house. On its highest point they reached a whitewashed octagonal building, crowned by a balustrade. Sir Abraham had added a platform to the building's flat roof and mounted a telescope. He used to watch ships sailing to and from the port of Bristol, many of them carrying his goods. He wasn’t much interested in the stars.
The two women entered the building and climbed up a narrow iron stairway to the platform. A stout canvas covered the telescope, so they let it be. A gentle westerly wind billowed their skirts as they looked out over a sheep pasture stretching for half a mile to the Bristol Channel. A dozen ships rocked calmly in the channel, sails furled, waiting for high tide to carry them into the citys harbour. The Welsh coast lay in the distance.
Beverly turned to Annie. "As your older and wiser cousin, I want to warn you about Seth Judd."
"I know him, Sir Abraham's illegitimate son, the oldest of his boys. Has he threatened me?"
"Your blooming beauty seems to fascinate him. He has been talking about you in the company of his lusty male friends. And because you're a young singer and an actress, he thinks it shouldn't be too difficult to . . . " Beverly paused. "How shall I say this? Well, I'll use his words. He intends ‘to bed you.’ He's pressed for time since he'll soon sail for Jamaica on one of his father's ships."
Annie felt her cheeks flush hot. "Presumptuous man! Handsome and strong, to be sure, but he's a cruel brute. When he rides, he lashes the horse more than he needs to. He smiles as his spurs dig into the horse's side. I've heard that he treats kitchen maids and Bristol prostitutes in much the same way."
The two women came down from the roof and started back to the manor house. "Thank you for the warning, Beverly. I'll watch out for him."
Annie went to her room in the upper floor of the manor house to pack her trunk. She asked her maid, a young country girl, Please fetch my undergarments that have dried outside in the laundry shed. A few minutes after the maid left, Annie happened to glance out the window. The maid was walking toward the shed. Annie was about to return to the trunk when she noticed a man hiding in the sheds shadow, spying on the maid.
Annie retrieved her opera glass, studied the man and gasped. It was Seth Judd. He emerged furtively and slipped into the shed. The maid had earlier complained that Judd followed her and taunted her with lewd remarks. In an instant Annie realized that he intended to harm the maid and had to be stopped.
She rushed to the door, down the stairs, and out to the shed. For a moment she listened to muffled voices. Then she heard the maid cry out, “No.”
Annie tried the door. It was latched. She hammered on the door with both fists and shouted, Open up, Seth, or Ill call my friend the groom and every man in sight. Well break down the door. For a few moments, there was dead silence inside. Then the latch was pulled and Judd slipped out, shutting the door behind him.
“You crazy bitch, what do you think you’re doing?” A tall, muscular man, he leaned over her, jaw thrust out, eyes blazing.
She stepped back, stared at his groin and said calmly. “Button your breeches, Seth. You look foolish.”
He glanced down, confused and embarrassed, then fumbled with his buttons. Finally, he sputtered, “What I do with the maid is none of your business.” His words took on a whining tone. “She agreed to this meeting.”
“She did not!” Annie retorted. “I sent her here, saw you sneak into the shed, heard her scream.” Annie sneered at him. “Now leave her alone or I’ll report you to Sir Abraham. He’s still the master at Morland Court.”
Men working nearby had become curious and moved toward the shed. The groom stepped out of the stable, frowning. Judd glanced at the men, then stared at Annie, his eyes burning with impotent malice. He hissed, “You’ll pay for this, someday, I promise.” He squared his shoulders and marched off.
Annie ignored him and entered the shed. The maid was crouched in a corner, sobbing, her clothes in disarray. Annie raised her up and brought her back to the room. “Rest here, I’ll finish the packing. Sleep with me tonight. The rogue will soon be thousands of miles away. Good riddance! When I’m gone, the housekeeper will look after you.”
A few moments later, as Annie laid a gown in the trunk, her hands began to tremble and her knees wobbled. Then her whole body shook. She leaned against the wall, gulping air. The fright passed and her nerves returned nearly to normal. But she was certain that Seth Judd had not finished with her.
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