Her Life Threatened
The next week, however, there was an obvious attempt on Fancy's life. It happened when she was riding with a group of her friends of her age from the surrounding area. Singlefoot and Sharpmuzzle were among them. All had brought mounts and were dressed in coats and boots suited for a brisk ride. This was one of the country activities that Fancy most enjoyed. On this day the group had decided to ride into the hilly pastures near the lake and were looking forward to the exercise and a good luncheon at Hoarhound House afterwards.
It was a pleasant outing. Fancy's horse was active and a good jumper. Involved as she had been in her affairs, it took her mind off her problems. The sky was blue. The sun was warm. There were wild flowers along the edges of the lane and under the trees. The grass was fresh and green from recent rains and the air was cool and bracing. There was a gentle wind pushing some puffy white clouds across the sky. It was, all in all, a pleasant day for an outing.
They had come to the hills, and as was their custom, began riding around them towards the lake, jumping the stone fences and small streams they encountered. This part of the riding Fancy always enjoyed and as she was a bit competitive, she had moved up well to the front of the group. Fancy had just come to a small stream that cut across a meadow and her horse made a great effort to clear the stream banks. As the horse jumped, Fancy felt the saddle suddenly shift and slide off.
She felt herself being thrown through the air, saw the stream bank spin about her, and then the impact as she crashed into the bank. After that all went black.
When she opened her eyes, she was lying on the grass at the stream's edge and the members of the riding party were looking down worriedly at her. A coat had been pushed under her head and she was in the shade of the streamside trees. She sat up, and almost immediately the scene began to spin about her again. Sharpmuzzle held her anxiously and when she began to recover her equilibrium, began to give her some drink from a pocket flask. She discovered that she was sore all over, her clothes were dirty and grass stained, and one arm could hardly be moved without pain. When she sat up again, the dizzyness returned. She sat still and the feeling slowly subsided.
Singlefoot, after seeing she was coming around, had gone off somewhere and Fancy heard him make a sharp exclamation, and then he came back to the group carrying Fancy's saddle. He pointed out to the group that her cinch had not just broken, it had been partially cut thru. It was, he said, an obvious attempt to injure her.
Sharpmuzzle had sent one of the party back to Hoarhound House to fetch a small carriage. It soon arrived and they lifted Fancy into it, made her comfortable, and drove slowly back to the estate followed by Sharpmuzzle and Singlefoot. The rest of the party returned to their homes promising to visit her soon.
When they reached Hoarhound House, Cider took Fancy up to her room, helped her wash, and laid her on her bed. A groom had been sent to fetch the doctor, and Crossbark arrived just as they had Fancy settled. He examined her carefully, and could find no broken bones. Cider, and Natasha helped him dress her bruises. Crossbark told the remaining group that she should rest for a week. He was, he said, worried about a concussion, although he could find no obvious sign of one. In view of the attempt to injure Fancy, the group decided that someone should keep watch over her until she was out of bed. Goodbone promised to arrange this.
Meanwhile, Singlefoot and Sharpmuzzle examined the cut cinch, discussed the circumstances and timing, hoping to determine what or who was responsible.
Fancy fell asleep almost at once, and slept soundly thru the night. Next morning, her shoulder, arm, and side ached dreadfully, but the dizziness was gone. Although she felt better, she was happy to rest and move as little as possible. She got out of bed and walked about a bit but spent most of her time setting in a chair in her room.
She did not lack for visitors or care. She passed the time reading and chatting with the worried friends who looked in upon her. Sharpmuzzle stopped by several times during the next two days to fill her in on estate business and Frowly Snarf even stopped in and made some clumsy attempt at conversation. Singlefoot and Comely also visited her on odd occasions. Goodbone was continually checking on her and Claret brought her meals and while she ate, with Fancy's encouragement, she chatted about the local dogs whom she liked. During the evenings, Cider and Natasha took turns minding her.
By the end of the third day, Fancy was getting impatient to move about. And while she enjoyed being taken care of, she wanted time to herself to consider what she should be doing and the happenings of the past weeks. Crossbark arrived to visit her that evening and agreed that she could resume her activities, as long as they produced no undue discomfort. The next day, she began to walk about the house and by the end of the week, she felt almost normal.
One day, Cider came to her in some agitation. There was, she said, a strange foreign dog watching the house and she was afraid. "He had strange eyes and a silken band about his forehead," she said, "and he had a sash about his waist with a great long knife stuck into it." Fancy asked Cider if he had done anything other than watch. "No," she said, "but I know he was up to no good."
Fancy took the hostler with her and immediately searched the area that Cider indicated, but they found no one. Fancy calmed Cider and suggested she was mistaken. Fancy mentioned this to Grumble when next he visited. He also suggested it was nonsense.
A few days later, Cider returned saying she'd seen the strange dog again and said some of the the neighbors and the tenants had also seen him. Fancy could see no reason for the surveillance and felt a sense of menace. She mentioned the watcher to Sharpmuzzle and Singlefoot. Both said they'd watch for him and see what they could do.
The following day Sharpmuzzle said that he'd checked with the villagers and had identified the man and he was nothing to worry about. He was, according to Sharpmuzzle, the servant of the foreign trader who was visiting in the village. According to the villagers, the servant spoke little English and was just out for evening walks. This calmed Fancy's fears somewhat but did not completely satisfy her.
From what Sharpmuzzle told her the trader was a dark foreign dog, of some eastern clime. He was staying in the village inn and for some unknown reason appeared to take an interest in Hoarhound House and in Fancy.
The trader was of middle years, tall and lean, with darkish brown fur. When outside and the weather was cold, he wrapped himself in a dark brown wool cloak. This dark cloak and his somewhat forbidding aspect some provided him with a name. All the village referred to him as the "Dark Dog," the name carrying perhaps a slight whiff of satanic reference. He apparently soon learned of this appelation, but seemed unperturbed.
According to the villagers he had no lack of funds judging from the bulging coin purse he carried for occasional purchases. Most of his coin, sellers noticed, had been minted years before. He dressed oddly, usually wearing a high necked silk jacket with ornate buttons under his cloak. Sharpmuzzle said he was the object of much curiosity in the village. He answered politely when spoken to but rarely initiated conversations with the villagers.
While he did nothing overtly malevolent, he excited the suspicions and curiosity of many. He visited the village shops and talked with the merchants. He explained himself as a trader and merchant in his home country but made no other statements. According to them, he seemed interested in the local people and their customs and in English business.
As could be expected, the village and farm folk began to talk about him. The general view was that he was up to no good, an opinion reinforced by his uncommunicativeness and his dark cloak. "An honest dog," they said, "would not behave as he does. He says he is a trader, but he has no goods to offer and buys none." Some thought him an exotic thief or a smuggler but could give no evidence to support these views.
When others directly inquired as to his purpose here, he politely replied that he had business and obligations here and planned to return home when he could conclude them. Further questioning provided only evasive words and no additional information.
According to the villagers he made occasional visits to the docks at Hundsmuth or to the small river dock near the village.
When Fancy described him to the manager of her importing house he said he recognized him. The manager said that he had been in to see their stock several times and seemed interested in the trading business and was familiar with their wares. When Fancy asked about the conversations and about his behavior, Greyears told her, "He was always polite and he asked about the business. He was familiar with silks, I know, since he was able to tell me the origin of much of our stock. He said that there were some new unusual weaves of silk that would soon be available. He asked questions about our success in selling Indian and Chinese items and seemed interested in determining which items and which colors were most popular here. He said he was a trader himself, here on business. He said little else about himself. When he asked who owned the shop, I mentioned that you were an owner. He didn't ask anything more about you directly but he was curious about the place of women in English business."
Fancy, after hearing of these visits, began to wonder if the Dark Dog might have designs on her business. This worry did nothing to improve her situation.
His servant, was a small elderly wrinkled dog, with a greying muzzle and a broad forehead. The Dark Dog treated him more as a friend, than a hireling. His eyes indicated an oriental origin. His stocky frame, wiry limbs and quick motions belied his age. He spoke only broken English. When inquisitive villagers asked the servant of his home and his work, after attempting to understand the questions, he said, "I am from the northern islands" and "I serve." Local seadogs who had sailed to Scotland and the northern islands said they had seen no one there who resembled him in either dress or appearance. But further questions gained no other information.
The servant wore outrageous clothes, pantaloons, a padded jacket and short black boots. He carried a villainous looking curved sword in a black scabbard in his sash and a sheathed dirk tucked into in his waistband. He was normally seen with a silken headband with some undecipherable foreign symbols embroidered on it. When the weather was cool, he wore an odd grey-brown wool cape and a fur cap.
The Dark Dog had taken rooms for himself and his servant at the local inn, the Plow and Fish. According to the innkeeper, Bibulous, he and his servant kept mostly to themselves. "They are quiet, they are," he said. "When they aren't out on business, they stay to their rooms. The local dogs tell me that they are proper and courteous when one meets them. But they say little about themselves. This," he said, chuckling to himself, "makes the nosey local dogs very curious."
When asked about their eating habits, Bibulous said, with some pride, "They like my food, they do," he said. "They take most of their meals right here in my dining room. Though, judging from the occasional smells of curries and other exotic spices they may cook occasionally in their rooms. They like my tea too, and have it with most meals." When he was asked if they drank a good deal, Bibulous said, "No, they aren't heavy drinkers. Both of them sample our ale though, now and then, and seem to like it."
"They be the cleanly sort," he said. "Jenny tells me that she has to heat and haul enormous amounts of hot water. They bath as often as three or four times a week. Imagine!" he said. "She says they change clothes daily. And they are very picky about how their clothes are washed."
When he was asked about their luggage, he said "They brought three sea chests-like, with foreign carvings on them and several leather bags. According to Jenny, these are for their clothes and day-to-day needs. I hear they put their valuables in the banker's strong box, though. They didn't bring any heathen idols, like some foolish dogs believe."
The banker, when questioned, admitted that he had stored some valuables for them in his strong box. When pressed to describe them, the banker said they were some small parcels wrapped in silks and unusual leathers, and a sizable locked brass-bound carved teak coffer.
Grumble arrived a day or so later to discuss some estate business and Fancy had a chance to talk with him in private. He said, in response to her question, that he was still waiting to hear from his inquiries as to Singlefoot and Sharpmuzzle's financial affairs. What with the attempt on her life he was, he said, concerned about Fancy's safety. Fancy then mentioned the peculiar circumstances of the sleeping sheep. This aroused Grumble's interest and he questioned her on the circumstances surrounding the occurrence. When Cider came in with some refreshments, Grumble questioned her. After Cider left, Grumble advised her, with concern in his voice, that she should leave Hoarhound House for a time until he could determine who was attempting to harm her.
"I'm worried," he told her. "Someone is out to do you harm." The cut cinch is probably the second attempt on your life. I'm afraid that someone at Hoarhound House or someone with easy access to it is the culprit. The incident of the drugged lambs was likely the first attempt." He began to walk about nerviously with his paws held stiffly behind him.
"Cider had told me that she had prepared the cinnamon milk as you wished but then she had left it on the kitchen table unattended for several minutes while she ran some errands. Someone evidently had come into the ketchen, put laudanum into the milk, intending the cinnamon flavor to disguise the taste. When you did not take the milk, Cider had mixed it in with the milk being given the lambs. Judging from the effect on the lambs and the heavy dilution of the milk, there must have been more than enough laudanum to kill someone."
"Where would someone get the laudanum?" Fancy asked. "It's far too common," Grumble answered. "You can buy it at any apothecary. Goodbone keeps a bottle on the upper shelf of the pantry. It would have been simple for someone to get it if someone wanted it. Most other estates keep some around."
Fancy took Grumble's advice, and announced that she would be visiting the import store and warehouse in Hundsmuth for business reasons. She sent a message and the following day, she left Hoarhound House.
That evening she was installed in the guest room of her manager's small home and telling them of her problems. They were horrified to hear of the attempts on Fancy's life, and made some arrangements to have their home made secure.
The next day Fancy returned to the store in Hundsmuth to help out wherever needed. She began to relax with the old familiar sights and smells of woods and fabrics and spices and the customers conversations. Fancy enjoyed hearing about the problems of the trade and business, and carefully inspected the new goods they had received. Most of all, she enjoyed the relief from the pressures that she lately had at Hoarhound House.
The manager told Fancy that business had been improving and that they would be able soon to handle some new household imports. He hoped that this change would allow them some profits to distribute between them in a year or so.
The manager and his wife had a very young daughter, Bibelot, that Fancy loved to hold and play with. The manager's wife had long been one of Fancy's most trusted friends and Fancy was able to discuss her problems with her. Fancy was, as she told her friend, most disturbed. Her life was not going as she had expected. She hoped to be married and to raise children and to live a pleasant life at Hoarhound House. But she had not yet had a serious proposal and the time remaining before she lost Hoarhound House was growing short.
There were only three possible suitors who had any appeal to her, and it was possible that one of them was trying to kill her. She could not possibly marry someone she didn't love and with her mother's and father's example, she couldn't marry someone who didn't love her and who wouldn't want to share her life and interests. She was, she said, growing increasingly desperate.
After a visit of a week, Fancy was much calmer. She decided that she couldn't avoid Hoarhound House and her duties there any longer. She hoped that somehow, someway, she would know what to do or that things would resolve themselves. She notified Grumble that she was returning, arranged for a cab, packed her clothes, said her goodbyes, hugged Bibelot and shortly was back in her room at Hoarhound House.
She resumed her normal routine. She hosted a party, a great success, and resumed her occasional rides into the country. She looked forward to visits from Singlefoot and Crossbark and the business meetings with Sharpmuzzle and made the rounds to visit the tenants.