Mistress of Hoarhound House
One rainy morning, Fancy was working in the shop, getting a new shipment of Burmese silks from their packaging and arranging them on the tables near the windows to make as striking a display as was possible. The table directly under the window was made of Brazilian rosewood. She selected a silk print with intense purples, blues and yellows on it to match the wood and arranged it on the table. She added a pewter bowl with silk flowers in it. She had found that customers could be lured in and more easily persuaded to buy when the intense colors and various weaves were seen in brighter light.
She would have liked sunshine to make the display more striking but saw only the diffused light of a rainy day. She looked out the window at the raindrops falling on the cobbles of the street and joining the stream of water in the gutters flowing down the street towards the grey water of the harbor. Looking out further she noted a ship's boat heading towards the docks with a crew of three oilskinned seadogs. They rowed lazily. Through the rainy mist a few ships could be seen at anchor or at the docks. Except for the boat, nothing moved.
The weather mildly depressed her. She was expecting two customers who were thinking of redecorating their homes. If her stock was to their liking the store stood to make a fine profit. She had been hoping to make a display of the silks that would catch their fancy. However, her friend Forestay, an old shipmaster, who was the local authority on weather, had earlier told her that the rain was sure to last a day or more. He was rarely wrong. Fancy resigned herself to making the best of the light available through the windows and brought out and began to arrange some other fabrics she thought they might like.
Just then Fancy heard the bell on the shop entrance door. She stopped work and went around to the door to see who had come. It was a messenger. "Mistress Fancy," he said, handing her a sealed letter, "it's from lawyer Grumble." She unsealed and opened it and found that he wanted her to meet him at a nearby inn within the hour and that he had some urgent news for her. She told the messenger to tell Grumble that she would meet him. He tipped his cap and immediately left.
She found the manager's wife just returning from a trip to the market, told her of the meeting, and asked her to take care of the store until she could return. She then went upstairs to her room. She put on her coat, found an old cape, and threw it over her coat to protect her from the rain, and left for the inn. She had not seen Grumble for some weeks. She was looking forwards to a talk with him but had just begun to wonder what was so urgent when she splashed through a puddle at the inn door and entered the inn.
She looked about in the oak paneled entrance and not seeing Grumble, she looked in the common room and saw him warming his paws at the fire. He saw her at once and hurried over. "Come," he said, and led her into the adjoining dining room to a corner table at which there were a tea pot, cups, some lemon slices and a dish of sugar biscuits. He pulled up a chair, seated her, and sat down opposite her. He poured tea for them both and said, "Drink this, child. It will warm you."
After she took a sip and a biscuit his face turned sad. "I've bad news," he said and then paused and seemed to be hunting for a proper word. "Your Uncle Grimace is dead. He was riding alone on the moors. You know how much of that he's done since he lost his wife. Something must have frightened his horse. He apparently lost his seat and was dragged for some way before coming loose. His horse returned to the stable and a search was started but he was not found until the next morning.
"When the searchers finally located him he was unconscious and barely alive. He was suffering from the injuries caused by the dragging and from the night's exposure to the cold and wet. They got him into bed and summoned the doctor. They tried to save him but he never recovered consciousness, and died the next day." Grumble got up and patted Fancy on the back. "I know you liked him," he said, "and he felt you to be like his own daughter. But we must go on. The funeral will be this Saturday and you must be there. But, there is more."
Grumble sat down again and asked Fancy to pour more tea. When she had finished, he leaned back in the chair and looked directly at Fancy and began. "There is the matter of the estate. Sir Grimace, rest his soul, made a will several years ago leaving the estate and Hoarhound House to Frowly Snarf as his only male heir. About a month ago, he asked me to come visit him. When I arrived he told me that he had found Frowly Snarf less and less to his liking and doubted he'd be a suitable master for the tenants and the estate. I told him I agreed with him.
"He had me draw up a new will, which he signed and I have with me. This will keeps the bequests to the family retainers, the church, and provides modest livings for Frowly Snarf and his mother. The estate, Hoarhound House, and the responsibilities were left to you." Grumble got up, stretched and began to walk about with his paws clasped together behind his back. "Sir Grimace liked you as he would his own pup and he spoke highly of your business acumen. Because he felt a strong obligation to protect the estate and the tenants he believed you were the more suitable heir."
Grumble turned and faced her. "There are conditions, however. Sir Grimace believed strongly in marriage and family and wanted the estate to continue in his family line. He required that you be married within two years and if you did not, the estate would revert to Frowly Snarf and you would be given a small living. He also requested that your aunt, Comely, be allowed to live at the estate until her death, if she wished. I'd not said ought of the new will, feeling there was be no urgency, but since I had been gone and just learned of his death we must get the new will to Hoarhound House.
"His will is to be read this evening at Hoarhound House," Grumble said. "The old will is there and will be read at nine o'clock unless we arrive earlier. The guests who have been asked to hear the will will be there, and there may be legal difficulties and much misunderstanding if the new will doesn't get there in time. We must go. You go home now and pack up enough clothes for the trip." He took his gold watch from his waistcoat, looked at it, and said, "I'll get a carriage and meet you at your shop in two hours."
As Fancy now remembered, this talk and the trip almost put her into shock. She had lost the last of her family and except for her friends, was quite alone in the world. And she now would have the responsibilities of the estate heaped upon her. As she thought back, the trip seemed almost unreal. And she hadn't yet really begun to understand what Fate was about to bring her.
Fancy well remembered that evening. When she and Grumble entered the library they found all the guests and invited staff waiting . They were a quiet group and were standing or sitting talking in quiet voices. The death of Sir Grimace had restrained their usual active conversation. Goodbone had laid out a buffet of cold meats and breads on a sideboard and glasses of claret that he kept filled by unobtrusive circulation with a fresh bottle.
Since it was now quite dark, the window curtains were drawn. There were two vases filled with white silk flowers on the corner tables. Candles were lit and provided a low light to the dark room with its bookshelves and mahogany panelling. There were black bows tied about the bases of the candelabra and a black silk border placed around the portrait of Sir Grimace that hung over the fireplace. Fancy could remember when Patience, Sir Grimace's wife, had it painted. The group included Singlefoot, who since his father, Sir Amble, had died now held the neighboring estate, the Hoarhound estate manager, Sharpmuzzle, Fancy's aunt Comely, her son Frowly Snarf and his wife Natasha, and the local Curate and his wife.
The guests were for the most part, soberly dressed. Sharpmuzzle and Singlefoot wore black jackets and ties. As usual, Sharpmuzzle's coat was well pressed but Singlefoot's wanted a good brushing and his tie was askew. Fancy was convinced that his household staff needed a stern lecture. Both Comely and Fancy wore black dresses. Fancy's dress was a simple style while Comely's dress seemed to be a remnant from earlier days with a black shawl placed about her neck. The Curate was dressed in his worn eclestical garb and his wife had the same dark blue dress that she had worn to all occasions for the past few years. Grumble still wore the same dark tweed coat and grey waistcoat he had traveled in.
Frowly Snarf and Natasha stood out from the group. Natasha wore a yellow dress with a black sash and Frowly Snarf was wearing an abominable black and white checked waistcoat with a large red bowtie. Fancy felt sorry for Natasha, thinking this may have been her only good dress, but could find no excuse for Frowly Snarf's attire. She remembered thinking his taste in clothes was as common and garish as his taste in friends.
When Fancy and Grumble came into the room, the conversations stopped. Frowly Snarf had cornered Sharpmuzzle and Singlefoot and was expansively boring them with his views on English estate management. Fancy could tell from the vacant expression of his listeners that they were not really hearing him. When Singlefoot saw Grumble he broke away without a word and came over to them. "I'm relieved to see you," he said, "been afraid I'd need to read the will myself as Sir Grimace asked me to do should you not arrive in time." Grumble said, "I'm afraid I have a surprise for everyone. Sir Grimace left a later will. I have it here." He patted his briefcase.
Grumble asked Singlefoot to help with the reading. Together, they moved a small table and a chair in front of the fireplace. Grumble asked those present to seat themselves and sat down in the chair. Singlefoot, Sharpmuzzle and Fancy took chairs by the windows and the rest of the guests seated themselves at the long library table. Goodbone and his wife stood at the back of the room near the door.
Grumble started with an announcement. "As you should know, the services for Sir Grimace will be Saturday next, at ten o'clock. All will be welcome, as he wished." He looked about then, opened his brief case, took out the will, and moving a candle closer, started the reading with an explanation.
"Most of you know something of the contents of the old will. Sir Grimace, bless him, made no secret of them." He paused, looked about, and continued. "This is a new will. Sir Grimace made it a short time ago and it supersedes the old one. Most of the bequests are unchanged, the gift to the parish church and funds for improving the manse (he nodded at the Curate), the sums for retainers (here he nodded to Goodbone), and so forth. The important change is that Fancy (here he nodded at her) will inherit Hoarhound House and the estate subject to her marriage within two years. Comely and Frowly Snarf (here he nodded at them) will receive living allowances that should provide for their needs and they will be allowed to live at Hoarhound House." Then he proceeded to read the will in detail.
When he finished, he looked up and asked if there were any questions or anyone wished to examine the new will. Sharpmuzzle and Comely did come up, looked at the will, and had some questions for him. Sharpmuzzle's concern seemed to be its effects on the estate's management. Comely's questions were about when the new will was made and who had witnessed it. When they were through, Grumble suggested to the group that they go into the main hall where there was a large fire burning and some heartier refreshments and where they might be more comfortable.
While this migration was going on, Singlefoot came over to Fancy, took her hand, smiled and told her he was happy to have her as a neighbor and that he felt the community would feel the same way. The Curate joined them with his wife in tow and said they would be pleased to have her as a regular member of the parish. He also said that Sir Grimace's bequests would mean long needed repairs to the church roof and some comforts that he and his family would deeply appreciate.
Fancy had noted that hearing the new will was a blow to Frowly Snarf. His smile was replaced by a fixed look of shock and he seemed to have noticeably deflated. When all were situated in the hall and there was a moment's quiet, he took a deep breath, squeezed Natasha's arm, and got up and came over to Fancy. He congratulated her in a low strained voice, saying that he thought the estate and Hoarhound House would be in good hands. He then abruptly turned and walked out of the room. Comely also came stiffly over to her, made a simple congratulation, and followed Frowly Snarf out.
Singlefoot noticed Fancy's distress at these conversations. He took her by the paw, and told her in a low voice, "I understand how you feel but you must not take it too personally. Your uncle's view was correct. You know Frowly Snarf's tastes and habits. Someone of his background would not have been easily accepted as master of Hoarhound House either by the tenants or the local gentry. And, of course, both he and Comely are not really hurt. Both will have the same status they had before Sir Grimace left us. Neither will really suffer." Fancy thanked him, and he turned away.
Looking about, she noticed that Natasha had not moved from her chair. No one had spoken with her and she looked lost and apart. Fancy immediately got up, went over to her, took her arm and walked her to a warm drink and some refreshments from the food in the hall. She assured Natasha that she had a home and welcome here and with a few leading questions got her into a conversation with Singlefoot about her puphood in Russia. Singlefoot winked at her over Natasha's head and continued to draw her out. He brought Grumble and the Curate's wife into the conversation. Fancy was relieved to see that Natasha brightened up with this attention and even managed an occasional smile.
Goodbone and Cider came into the library and started moving the refreshments from the sideboard into the tables in the hall. When they were done, they returned and told her that they welcomed her as mistress of Hoarhound House. Cider told her, "It was a sad time these last few months. Sir Grimace stopped all entertainments and had few visitors. We know you'll make it a happy house again. We welcome you home, Mistress Fancy."
Sharpmuzzle also stopped her. "I'm pleased," he said. "Sir Grimace had lately been rather erratic and frequently ignored advice. He also made some expenditures I thought unwise. I'm afraid the affairs of the estate are not in the shape I might have wished, but, given some time, I think we can improve things." He smiled at her and went to talk to the curate.
Fancy stood silently for a few moments. It had suddenly struck her that with these last two conversations she had become the Mistress of Hoarhound House and the the estate and its responsibilities. She felt a bit overcome and lonely. She thought of the tenants and servants who now would depend on her judgements. She thought for a moment of the decisions to be made about the estate, tenant assignments, the management of the house, the orchards and the sheep. She thought of all that she should know and didn't. She thought about Comely and Frowly Snarf, their feelings, and what she should say to them. She thought of the neighboring gentry, her class, and how her behavior and her results would be judged by them. For a moment her new responsibilities loomed up like a black wall in front of her. She blinked, and noting Goodbone tidying the sideboard, decided that her immediate job was as hostess and that she should be at it.
She looked around the room. The curate and Sharpmuzzle were conversing in one corner of the hall and Natasha and Singlefoot and the curate's wife were seated in another group. Comely and Frowly Snarf had not returned, apparently retired for the evening. Grumble was busily getting his papers back in order and nothing seemed awry. She decided that Natasha and the Curate's wife needed tending and brought a fresh glass of claret to each. Singlefoot and the Curate's wife were telling Natasha of their memories of Sir Grimace and Patience. The conversation almost brought Fancy to tears and she turned away. She then went to the kitchen to check with Goodbone on the supply of the food and drink for the guests. Being assured that things were in order, she returned to the hall.
There was a touch on her shoulder. It was Grumble. He said, "I'm a wee bit tired from the trip and all. If you don't mind, I'll retire. Come morning, when you have time, I'll go over the financial necessities with you." She nodded and he smiled and left the room.
There was another touch on her shoulder. It was Singlefoot. He was wearing his cape and gloves. "I must leave now," he said. "My carriage should be ready but I'll see you at the services." He squeezed her paw between both of his. Fancy thanked him for making the funeral arrangements and walked him to the door and watched from the entry until he entered his carriage. She waved and returned inside as the carriage moved off.
The other guests appeared to take Singlefoot's departure as a signal the evening was over. The Curate and his wife said their goodbyes, collected their coats and left. Comely reappeared for a moment. She had seemed distracted immediately after the reading but she now appeared recovered and said polite goodnights and left for bed with Natasha following her. Sharpmuzzle also bid her goodnight and left for his room. Fancy discovered that she was sleepy herself and, after thanking Goodbone, went upstairs.
The next morning, Fancy was wakened by a restrained knock on her door. It was Cider with a cup of hot tea and a basin of warm water. "It's nigh nine o'clock," she said. "Lawyer Grumble is up and about." She gave Fancy the tea and took the water into the adjacent dressing room. She returned with a reproving look. "It's late, Mistress Fancy," she said. "And breakfast will be ready in fifteen minutes." She left, closing the door quietly.
Feeling somewhat reproved, Fancy hastily drank her tea, got up, washed and began looking for her clothes. She found them hanging neatly in the wardrobe. After some thought, she choose a blue gown. She dressed and hurried downstairs to the dining room.
The dining room table was set with plates and crystalware on brightly colored cloths. Candles lit the sideboard with its appetizing spread. There were eggs, bacon and sausages in heated dishes. There was a bowl of fresh fruit, the inevitable cider, and some sweet biscuits, toast and butter and preserves. The dining table was set for twelve, but only two were present. Grumble and Natasha were already seated and eating. Grumble put his napkin aside, got up, welcomed her and invited her to join their conversation. Fancy went to the sidetable, helped herself to a rasher of bacon and to two pieces of buttered bread which she liberally spread with peach preserves. She then took her plate to the table, poured herself another cup of tea and listened to the conversation.
Natasha was speaking about one of the tenant's pups, a girl who had what Natasha said was a marvelous voice. When she was speaking about pups, Natasha was uncharacteristically animated. She stopped, finished a bite of toast, and left saying she was off for a walk through the gardens.
Fancy had not noticed until now that it was a pleasant morning. The rain of the previous day had cleared and bright sunshine shone in through the dining room windows and was warming up the room. The window showed brightly colored flowers in the garden, an edge of the orchard, the grassy hills and a blue sky with puffy white clouds.
Goodbone came in with some fresh toast for the sidetable. "Where are the others?" Fancy asked.
"Manager Sharpmuzzle has already eaten," said Goodbone. "He likes to be at his work early." Goodbone seemed to approve of early rising.
"How about Comely and her son?" Fancy asked.
"Mistress Comely has already eaten and gone to her room," he said. "Master Frowly Snarf is still abed. He keeps late hours," he added in a disapproving tone. "He spends his evening with actors and common showmen, returns late and then doesn't appear until most everyone else is up and about."
Grumble interrupted, saying "Finish your breakfast, Fancy. When you are done we'll go over some of the financial details of the estate." Fancy complied, and feeling hungry, set at her plate with some appetite. She returned to the sideboard for some sausages and eggs. With these safely stowed, she poured a fresh cup of tea and sat back to drink it.
When Fancy finished, Grumble started by telling her of the state of the estate's money and of the expected expenses. "You'll have little to spend soon," he said, "But if the crops are good that may change in a few months. Sharpmuzzle is a good manager. You should be able to trust him." Fancy tended to agree. She told Grumble, "I'll take your advice. But I must know the estate affairs well enough to manage them myself, should the need arise."
Grumble said "Quite wise," and continued with more of the details of the estate. He told Fancy of the problems of the house, the state of the apple orchards, and something of the tenants on the estate and the taxes owed the Crown. He continued in this vein for a bit until noting that Fancy was beginning to nod. He stopped, smiled at her and said "Fancy, you have most of the information you'll need now and either I or Sharpmuzzle can give you the rest when you wish. I'll need to return to Hundsmuth today but I'll return tomorrow for the funeral."
Fancy thanked him and added, "I'll also have to return to Hundsmuth rather soon. I must talk with Greyears at the import store and make arrangements before I can move here permanently." Grumble agreed and hastened upstairs to finish his packing. Fancy found Goodbone and told him she would be making a short trip back to her store in Hundsmuth immediately after the funeral. Goodbone called Cider to help Grumble with his packing and went out to see his carriage made ready for the return trip.
The House was quiet that evening after Grumble left. Dinner was a silent affair. Comely, Frowly Snarf and Natasha said only a few words and retired early. Fancy wandered into the library and looked about. The room, with the drapes pulled was rather dark and Fancy walked about it for a few minutes looking at the portraits hanging on the walls and the lamps and fixtures still draped in black. She finally picked a book from the shelf and set down in a chair near a lamp to read. The book, a novel of the English canine aristocracy during the Crusades, she would normally have enjoyed but she was tired and her mind came drifting back to the House and the estate and the problems ahead of her. She put the book down, and nodded off.
She was awakened with a start by Cider who was bringing a cup of chocolate and some cookies for her. She thanked Cider, and slowly consumed the chocolate and cookies. Her thoughts drifted off to memories of Sir Grimace and Patience and her childhood visits at Hoarhound House. She woke again, mentally shook herself, got up and took the cup back to the kitchen and herself to bed.
Next morning, she awoke with a start. The clock and the bedside stand told her it was almost nine o'clock. She threw open the curtains and looked out. The sun was up and the the sky was mostly blue but there were already a number of puffy clouds building. She poured water into the washbasin and washed her face and fur. She looked through the clothes she had brought and picked her black dress. She dressed rapidly and leaving her black shawl on the bed she went down to the dining room.
Natasha was the only one there. Fancy picked a place that had been set near her and pulled up a chair. Cider bustled in bringing a large plate of eggs and sausages. She left and returned bringing a jug of apple juice that she poured into Fancy's glass. Natasha said only little at first but Fancy soon got her into conversation. Fancy learned that Comely had eaten earlier and was in her room dressing. Frowly Snarf, it turned out, was still asleep having been off last night in the village playing in a musical group. Fancy winced mentally but said nothing.
Goodbone came in, announcing that the carriage to take them to the funeral would be ready at thirty past ten. Fancy finished her breakfast, talking with Natasha. When they both were done, it was almost ten fifteen. Natasha went to get her coat and Fancy left to collect her wrap and shawl. By the time she finished brushing her fur, put on her wrap and had come downstairs, Natasha, Frowly Snarf and Comely were waiting.
When they arrived at the church, the blue sky had begun to diminish. The clouds had thickened and lowered and a raw wind had come up. They hurried inside. The funeral was well attended. Gentry from the estates surrounding and local dignitaries filled the pews. The curate delivered a sermon matching the weather, provided a short and dignified eulogy, and led the pall bearers out to the grave freshly dug alongside that of Patience. Fancy noted the headstone had Sir Grimace's final date freshly cut. A sparse rain began to fall, and dark umbrellas blossomed like odd flowers among the onlookers standing on the green grass.
As the rain increased, the curate finished the graveside service with a short prayer and the onlookers split into small groups and drifted off to their carriages. Finally, only Fancy, Natasha and Frowly Snarf were left.
Natasha produced a small ornate cross and holding Frowly Snarf's hand, both knelt down facing the headstone and mumbled some words, no doubt prayers. Fancy was glad she couldn't hear them. She thought the overt display in doubtful taste but kept her opinions to her self. Though perhaps the example reminded her and she repeated a small inward prayer for both Grimace and Patience. Natasha and Frowly Snarf got up, clasped hands again, and walked with Fancy back to the carriage where Comely was waiting.
Next morning, with Ciders's assistance, Fancy packed a few of her things and, with one of the hostlers driving a small carriage from Hoarhound House, returned to Hundsmuth.
Fancy was eager to tell her friends the news. She arrived back at the manager's home in Hundsmuth about dark and being tired from the trip only told them of the bare facts of the bequest. She then went to bed and awoke the next morning knowing she would have an attentive audience waiting to hear the details. Come morning, they gathered for breakfast and she told them of the trip, of the reading of the will and her bequest and its conditions. They were happy for her and teased her a bit about her need for a husband. You're a promising catch," Greyears' wife said smiling. "Have no fear though. I'll have a dozen handsome eligibles ready next week for your selection." Fancy was for a moment startled, but she then smiled.
Knowing of Fancy's concern for the business, they assured her that they could manage without her continual presence. She assured them that she would be back periodically and provide what help she could. Fancy knew the business would benefit from increased purchases of stock. She was not able to immediately promise more money to expand the business but she held out hope for the future.
They spent the rest of the day going over their plans for the business, and getting Fancy's advice on the manner of handling certain of their clients.
They invited a group of Fancy's friends for the evening and she spent a pleasant time telling them of her future. The next morning the manager and his wife helped Fancy pack her belongings and when her carriage arrived, and after a round of goodbyes, Fancy waved to them to end one part of her life and left for a new one as Mistress of Hoarhound House.
When she returned to Hoarhound House it was much like a return to a home. Goodbone and the staff were happy to see her, eager to please and treated her more as a bumbling friend than as the mistress of the estate. They soon had her installed in the master bedroom which had a fine view of the valley and the orchards and her clothes hung in its large dressing room. They were full of information about the estate some of which Fancy later found to be accurate.
The next morning, carrying a large ring of keys, Goodbone gave her a formal grand tour of the hall, the kitchen, pantries and all the storage areas. With the other servants following at a discrete distance, she was conducted through the gardens and the stables.
With Sharpmuzzle conducting, the tour was extended to the cidery with its large wooden press, the orchards, and the various fields and pastures. At each area she was given an explanation by the person in charge of the operation. Most of this information she already knew but she listened attentively to all the explanations. Everyone seemed happy to see her as the new Mistress.
After lunch, Fancy started learning the estate affairs, assisted enthusiastically by Sharpmuzzle. He led her into the estate office, lifted down an imposing group of account books and began taking her through them one by one. He began by giving her the financial details that Grumble had not the time to teach her. He explained the existing debts of the estate and its outstanding credits. Next he went through the contracts that existed and explained how the estate produce, not handled by the tenants, was sold. He somewhat apologized for the lack of detailed plans for the future explaining that Sir Grimace had not recently taken the necessary time to consider the coming problems. He than described, with some obvious pride, his suggestions for improving the estate and did his best to convince her to start them immediately. Fancy was impressed with some of them and promised to consider them as soon as she felt capable in her knowledge. She found that the work she had done on the import business had given her enough background to keep up with Sharpmuzzle's fast paced explanations. She soon found herself becoming tired. Sharpmuzzle noted this and closed instructions until the next day.
The following morning, Sharpmuzzle began to explain the various tenants and their fields and functions. He described the various tenant cottages, their state of repair, the state of fences and hedges. Fancy felt quite overwhelmed at first but after a few hours the information began to make some sense. He described the arrangements made with the tenants for pruning and harvesting the orchards. By noon, Fancy was tired and Sharpmuzzle was convinced that the initial exposure was sufficient. They decided to continue as a new subject came up or required her formal attention as mistress of the estate.
Fancy had always liked riding. Now she had access to a good mount and began to spend a part of her time riding about the country near the house. She also had the duty, as mistress of the estate, to visit the tenants, to hear their their complaints and needs, and help solve their problems. At first, Sharpmuzzle accompanied her but more and more she needed the relaxing effects of solitary riding. Fancy was well liked by the tenants and gradually Sharpmuzzle felt it unnecessary to go with her.
One of the tenants that Fancy visited frequently was Granny Graycoat. She was the widow of a farmer, a long-time tenant, and had been given life tenure in her cottage. The cottage was set at the edge of the estate forest, surrounded by trees and shrubbery. She cultivated vegetables in a garden for her use and was allowed to gather fruit from the estate orchards. She kept a garden of medicinal plants such as mint or foxglove in front of the cottage.
Fancy often found her at a spinning wheel or knitting at the door to her cottage. She made a bare living by making caps, scarves, etc. for the villagers and by making and selling healing potions and charms made from local herbs. At other times Fancy found her in the forest with her basket gathering herbs for her potions or wood for her fire.
She was held in some awe by the local farmers and the villagers. Some of the more superstitious locals even suspected her of witchcraft, though of the white variety. Many tried to avoid her, when possible, but she was never openly shown discourtesy. A surprising number of the local farmers had secretly visited her to get love potions, or charms to ward off illness or other supernatural aids.
It was sometimes said that she even had a familiar, an ugly hairless white-skinned primate whose habits were said to be much too unthinkable for honest dogs to contemplate. Fancy never saw this creature, and considered such rumors to be the result of superstition. Local dogs of a scientific bent had told her of the existence of such creatures but indicated that they had never been native to the region and in areas where they were plentiful they normally destroyed their home ranges by killing the grass and the trees and by destroying all other animals and birds. They told her that if one had actually been housed at Granny Graycoats's house, the characteristic damage would be impossible to miss.
Granny Graycoat got most of her food from her small garden or by trading her handiwork, but Fancy often brought her uncommon produce, such as peppers or grapes from the house gardens. This was much appreciated, and being sometimes lonely, because of her assumed profession, Granny was always happy to talk to Fancy when she came.
She repaid Fancy by keeping her up-to-date on the gossip, some pleasant and some unintentionally malicious, of the folk in the neighborhood. She would perch Fancy in her best chair in the cottage doorway and, while spinning wool for her caps, would tell her stories. She knew the history of the region and had a vast fund of legends and folktales. Fancy listened to her by the hour and her stories never failed to entertain.
Granny also had horrifying tales of the wee treehounds who lived in the forest. They were said to live by stealing milk from the udders of the farmer's cows and roots from their gardens. No one could catch them because they were so wary and came about their nefarious work only at night, but the evidence of their theft was plain when the farmers came out in the morning to milk their cows or to weed their gardens. Honest dogs never saw them, but occasionally some errant dog, coming unsteadily home from a debauch, would see and report them. Few of the local dogs spoke openly of them. It seemed they were malicious and would stealthily approach farmers at work or to their homes at night and listen to their talk. They would delight in playing tricks on those who claimed they didn't exist or those who openly told of their existance.
To punish these unwise dogs, they opened gates so sheep would stray into cabbage patches and removed rocks put under the wheels of wagons to keep them from rolling away. They were especially spiteful to woodsdogs who cut trees in their forest or anglers who caught too many fish from their streams. Wood would disappear from carefully stacked piles and fish would refuse to bite on lures thought nearly infallible.
One of Granny's favorite tales was of the Devil's Kennel, a deep pit used by bygone smugglers to store their loot and occasionally to dispose of unwelcome strangers. This tale was a great favorite among mothers of disobedient pups. According to these mothers, unrepentant erring pups were taken by a Great Dark Dog to the Devil's Kennel for disposal. According to Granny's tale its location was now lost but was said to be close to the sea and to have sheer walls and a sandy floor. It was told that those unfortunates thrown into the Kennel could hear the roar of the sea and were known to disappear without a trace. Sea-Devils were supposed to come and devour anyone unlucky enough to be there.
Fancy gradually acquired some company on her rides. When Fancy first moved into Hoarhound house and took her place as its mistress, her aunt Comely was rather distant and withdrawn. She had periods of depression where she kept to herself, talking usually only with Frowly Snarf or Natasha. These usually started with a sudden nervous agitation, but given some attention, she would slowly become more amiable.
Fancy made a real effort to make her feel welcome and to see to her needs. This began to have its effect and Comely began to be more open and helpful. Her periods of depression became shorter and less common. When younger, she had been a much admired rider, fond of hunts and horses. With Fancy's encouragement, she began to ride once more. She began to take part in the group rides orgainzed by the local landowners. She could be an entertaining companion. When feeling well, she would regale the other riders with details of past scandals, and, often, of social life in London. Her assessments of the character of the people involved were sometime acid, which Fancy thought improper, but, she had to admit, were often accurate. She rode with Fancy on some of her duty trips through the countryside much to Goodbone's approval since he hated to see her ride unaccompanied.