The Mystery of Ivan Ridge Cottage
Andrew stood at the doorway to the stairs, listening to hear Jessica's footsteps as she descended from his mother's bedroom. Jessica had been asking him to talk to his mother about the cottage on the edge of the property. She wanted to let her father come to Ivan Ridge to live. The cottage would be perfect for him and no one lived there. No one had lived there for years. Not since Emily, mother's sister had died and Carson had disappeared.
The cottage was run down, but Andrew was good with his hands. He made sure it was sound and in good shape before Winston Battishill got here. Jessica, would make it a home and fill it with dishes, furnishings, and curtains. All the things women do by instinct, that turns wood and plaster into a home. She was good at that.
As he paced the ground floor landing waiting for Jessica to appear, he thought it would be good for Jessica to have her father here. Especially now with the baby coming. She needed a closer tie to family. He stood at the bottom of the stairs, thinking of his beautiful wife and the love they shared. She was so fresh, so vibrant. He laughed at how much he enjoyed her sass. Just the thought of her, made him smile. She had a spark in her that was an absolute delight to strike. She was from Scottish stock and had a searing temper to match the firestorm that sat atop her head. He chuckled, thinking of all the times he had provoked her just to see that passion flash in her expressive blue green eyes. How many men could honestly say they had a woman as much fun to debate, as she was to bed. Andrew sighed, how he did love his dear Jessica.
A frown crossed his brow, as he thought of the lovers lost so many years ago. The mystery that lingers, the suspicions that still refused to die. All those years ago.....Emily found dead, such a beautiful talented young woman. Found by the housekeeper on of all days, Valentine's Day. Well, it must be going on 49 years ago now. Emily, then just turned 24, was found hanging from the center rafter of the little cottage.....well except for being minus her left ring finger. Andrew cringed remembering the story told by the household servants on late and stormy nights. Her wedding ring was never found. Her finger, was never found.....and neither was her husband Carson Rawlings.
The foot falls grew louder as Jessica began descending the last flight of stairs; of course mother’s room was on the third floor. This house was ridiculously large for the three of them. It had always been ridiculously large, even when Christian Sumpter first commissioned it to be built and it was full with 12 children and a staff of 73. Now, there were only 3 of the family living here and a domestic staff of 9. There were still another 14 employed to attend the grounds and the livestock. Much of the house was closed off and remained unused. Mother, the last living survivor of Christian and Daliah Sumpter was number 10 of the 12 children. Emily, had been the youngest.
Taking Jessica’s hand as she stepped on the 1st floor landing. “How was mother today?” Grinning because I already knew the answer, I went on. “I hope she was agreeable to your father coming to Ivanridge cottage? It needs to be inhabited by more than rats and local varmints.”
Jessica smiled sweetly for me, “yes Andrew, she was agreeable. Even though, she gave me the impression that she had heard of it before.” Sending me a sideways glance, “Almost as though you may have already asked her yourself, my darling husband.” She said in a reproving tone. “She said she was happy to have father come whenever he could get here. She agrees ,the cottage has been empty for far too long. However,” She hesitated, “now we need to purchase father’s passage and send him the ticket. I look forward to seeing him.” Jessica moved closer towards me and hugging my neck said, “The sooner the better my dear husband.”
“Ah”, said I with a twinkle in my eyes. “Ahead of you, dear wife. The ticket has already been purchased and I had William put it in the post a fortnight ago. Now, are you not once again pleased with me?’ I said grinning.
Kissing me full on the lips, Jessica squealed in delight. “2 weeks ago? Dear Andrew, this means father could be here any day. I am beyond grateful. Yes, I am very excited. Thank you.”
Smiling, “I was hoping I would please you. However,” I said, dragging a chair over and pulling Jessica onto my lap. “there is more. I received a post from your father, day before last . He stated in the post that he would be arriving at Coldbridge, on the 2nd of June. He asked that I have a fellow meet his ferry. Oh my”, I said pausing and then feigning panic. Hastily I pulled out my pocket watch to check the date. “Jessica, my dear darling wife, my goodness…...THAT is TODAY!.”
Again, she squealed in delight and wrapped her arms around my neck, covering my face in kisses. “You silly man, how I do love you. What a wonderful surprise. When? When do we go meet father? May I go too? Please Andrew, otherwise I shall be tortured on pins and needles until he arrives back here at Sumpter Manor with you.”
Grinning at the drama of her words. “Of course you may go. I would not want to see you suffer torture if I can prevent it. But we shall need to take the coach as it is larger, and I do not know how much property your father is bringing with him. It is not as comfortable as the Clarence, but I imagine you will make do. It is now half past 8 so we shall need to leave within the hour to be there before the 11:00 docking.” Scooting you off my lap, I rise and smack your behind. “So off with you my sweet to do what you must do, to be ready. I will have William order up the carriage from the stables.”
I watch as Jessica scampers back up the stairs to the second floor and our apartments. Shaking my head, smiling, very satisfied. That went off splendid. I love surprising my wife, it is the greatest joy I know. I walk quickly towards the back of the house looking for William in the pantry, then the kitchen, then the servants parlor room, and finally found him in the mud room, cleaning the winter muck from the shelving. “Awh William, I’ve found you. This damn house is so blasted large it makes any search a chore. Did you request the large carriage to be dressed and brought to the Manor with a driver.” Smiling I go on, “I am allowing Mrs. Darst to go with me to Coldbridge to fetch her father from the ferry. She was absolutely glowing when I told her. She hasn’t seen him in 3 years. I must admit it will be nice to finally meet Mr. Battishill.
“Indeed sir, and yes the carriage is being readied.” William, said as he straightened from his duties. “Barton is bringing it to the house shortly, and he will be your driver. It’s rather warm sir, so I have asked Ms. Hattie to prepare sandwiches and some lemon ale for the trip since it will be past noon when you return. They will be packed in the cooler box aboard the carriage.”
“Splendid. Marvelous William.” I praised him. “What would I do without you, you always think of everything? I pray that I shall never have to find out and you are with me forever.”
William, not accustomed to praise, blushed slightly and merely nodded, before saying. “ Thank you sir. That would be my wish too.”
Nathaniel Barton poked his head round the corner at that moment and addressed us both, “Excuse me sirs, but the carriage is ready and waiting outside when you are ready to travel. Meyers is loading the food and supplies into the cold box now.” Moving his eyes to me only he stated, “Then sir, we will be ready to leave whenever you are.”
“Thank you Nathaniel. It will be a few minutes longer so you might want to move the horses around the house into the shade.” I said. “We are waiting on Mrs. Darst. I don’t believe she will be long however. She is very excited to see her father.”
Nathaniel nodded and said, “Very good, sir. I will do that as soon as Mr. Meyers finishes loading the refreshments.”
“Splendid. I shall go see to Mrs. Darst.” Turning I make my way towards the servant stairs. Looking up I see Jessica descending towards me.
“Andrew, do I look alright?” She asked.
“You look delicious my dear. You must have dressed in a flurry as far as the time it took, but you look ravishing.” I replied smiling. “We must be going now my dear. Tell me you are ready to take our leave?”
Jessica’s smile was endearing. “Yes, oh yes. I am oh so eager to leave and fetch father.”
“Then let us go my dear.” Reaching out for her hand. “let us make haste and be at the dock before his arrival.”
Smiling sweetly, Jessica put her hand in mine and we walked back through the house to exit by way of the front porch. Taking the stairs on the right side of the house we came out into the sun just briefly before stepping into the shade of the of the giant magnolia tree and the row of willow’s standing guard on the west side of the house. Nathaniel was standing patiently letting the horses drink from the trough before the journey. We walked silently across the cut lawn, but Nathaniel looked up when he heard our shoes on the gravel. “Would you like for me to help the Mrs. sir?”
“No Nathaniel”, I replied. “I we can manage. Just tend the animals and let us get underway with haste.”
Stepping to the side of the carriage I assist Jessica inside and step up to sit beside her. I watch as Nathan disappears before I feel the carriage move under his wait as he climbs aboard. “Are you settled sir?” He asks.
“Yes Nathan”, I answered. Let’s move along now.
Nathan snapped the harness and the horses, then the carriage lurched forward. “We are off”, I said squeezing Jessica’s hand. “I hope the motion of the carriage will not make your morning sickness worse my dear.”
“No Andrew, I have butterflies in my tummy but it is more the excitement of seeing father that is the cause”, she answered. She leaned over to kiss my cheek affectionately. “You are a wonderful husband to put together such a pleasant surprise. Thank you.”
“I have my reward my dear, in your smile and the twinkle in your eyes.” I replied. She rested her head on my shoulder and we made small talk on the way to Coldbridge. Her talk was full of nursery design and names for our first born. “I quite like the name Christian if it were a boy, and Abigail for a girl.” I stated. “What do you think of those?” I asked.
“I like Christian very much since it is a family name but I was leaning more towards Charity for a girl. What do you think Andrew?”
“Well”, pausing for a moment. “I suppose Abigail Charity or Charity Abigail would be fine. But I would like to name the child after mother in some regard. It would please her so to have a name sake.”
“I do agree with Christian. She stated excitedly. “Christian Andrew I think would be a splendid name for our son.”
After awhile she settled into the crook of my shoulder and we rode into ColdBride in silence. Pulling to a stop at the dock I found she had fallen asleep so I gently shook her. “Jessica, wake up dear. We have arrived.”
Sitting up bolt right, immediately, “Father? Andrew, where is father?” She asked looking at me.
Laughing at the look on her face, “Jessica, we have only just arrived. Patience my dear. He may not have disembarked yet.”
Yawning and brushing hair back from her face. “I’m sorry darling, I must have dozed off. I seem to do that a lot now.” Looking out at the bay. “Tell me darling, which one is fathers ship.”
“The Jesup.” I answered pointing to the tall mast ship moored just ahead at the pier. “People are disembarking now. Let’s go and have a look. Maybe you can spot him before he reaches the passage office.”
Stepping down from the carriage, I turn to offer Jessica my hand. As she steps down, Nathaniel jumps down from his perch. “Should I go to the passage office sir, and inquire about Mr. Battishill?”
“Yes Nathaniel”, I replied. “That would be the smart thing to do I believe. Mrs. Sumpter and I are going to walk about the crowd and see if we can spot him. We can meet back here in half an hour. Surely one of us will have found him by then.”
“Very good sir.” replied Nathaniel as he walked off towards the passage office.
I put my arm around Jessica’s shoulders as we walked into the crowd assembled who were like us, waiting to claim a relative or passenger as they disembarked. Suddenly, Jessica bolted from under my arm with the excited cry, “Da, oh mae love, Da I am ‘ere. Look ‘ere Da, to yur right.”
I looked up to see a man whose clear blue eyes were looking around and then settled on my Jessica. They brightened slightly as they caught sight of her and a smile softened his drawn features. “That is your father?” I asked in awe. “The man is a mountain.” I added.
Jessica turned to smile brightly at me and laugh. “Aye he is, isn’t he Andrew?” As she stepped off quickly in his direction, leaving me to follow a bit more hesitantly.
I am 6 ft. and not easily intimidated. I was intimidated by the man growing larger as I drew nearer. So, speaking only to myself now. “My God, the man must be almost a foot taller than me.” Stepping up behind my wife I watched as she wrapped her arms around this giant, as he did her. Then he picked her up off her feet in an embrace, making it possible for Jessica to kiss her father’s cheek warmly. She squirmed in the delight of his embrace.
“Father, put mae doun…….. please”, she scolded playfully. “I wan’t ta introduce ya to mae husband, Andrew.”
I shifted my weight from my left to my right foot, anticipating having to fight to retrieve my limb if and when the man shook my hand. I looked up in an effort to meet the man’s eyes. When I did make contact, the smile was still on his face but his piercing blue eyes were at best, lukewarm. Taking a deep breath I extended my arm with my trembling hand at the end. Prepared to sacrifice it to this greater being. “Hello Mr. Battishill. It is an honor sir to finally meet you.” I said around the gravel in my throat.
The man hesitated, looking me over thoroughly…...then took my hand, enveloping it in his. She replied in a thick Scottish brogue “Aye, Andrew it’s nice tae meit ye.” He smiled genuinely, “Ye pleased to caw mae Winston an I wist caw ye Andrew.”
I returned the smile, mostly because I was grateful to receive my hand back and intact. “Thank you sir, I would like that. We have a carriage waiting.” Noticing he was carrying only one rather modest bag, I went on. “Please come join us and I will have my man Nathaniel, fetch your other bags.”
Raising his chin slightly, Winston answered. “Wan’t be needed. This be mae only bag.”
Recovering quickly, I took the bag from my father-in-law and lead the way to the carriage. Nathaniel had returned ahead of us and was spoiling the horses with a half an apple he had divided between them. He looked up as we approached and did a double take upon the sight of Mr. Battishill. Nathaniel was young but he had been taught well and held his tongue out of respect. He smiled and simply said to me, “I see you’ve found Mr. Battishill. May I take the bag sir, and stow it in the luggage compartment?”
Handing him the bag, I replied, “That would be fine. Thank you Nathaniel.” Turning to the man standing beside my Jessica. “Mr. Battishill this is Nathaniel, my very gifted stable hand.”
I turned to Nathaniel who simply stated, “Pleased to meet you sir.”
Then to my surprise and I expect Nathaniel’s as well, Mr. Battishill presented his hand to the young man in greeting. Nathaniel quickly looked at me as if to say, “should I sir? Is it safe?” I nodded to Nathaniel, who then accepted the man’s hand and shook it firmly. I watched Winston’s face and his eyes reflected respect for this young man with the rough calloused hands. “Aye young man, t’is a noble profession. I to werked a few days as a stable hand.” He reached out to pat the side of the horse nearest him. “It looks lad that ye do yer job well and wit pride.” Nathaniel smiled, and I was pleased to see honor was present in my father-in-law.
I stepped around and opened the carriage door. I moved aside to allow Jessica and her father to enter before me. I glanced at Nathaniel and smiled. He returned the smile with a nod of his head. Once we were settled, I signaled Nathaniel and the coach lurched forward as we made our way out of Coldbrook. Once on the road, Jessica and her father began to chat about people they both knew and the changes each had experienced over the last 3 years. I sat across from my sweet Jessica and smiled, watching her talk with such animation. Her green eyes were dancing and the breeze blew wisps of fire to caress her face. Her cheeks glowed and she looked rapturously happy. I was lost in thought watching her when I suddenly realized they had stopped talking and were both looking at me. I blinked and began to color, realizing that Mr. Battishill had addressed a question to me, but I had no earthly idea what he had said. “I apologize sir. I am afraid I was lost in thought. Would you please repeat the question?”
A knowing humor flashed in the bright blue eyes. “I was wondring when I could cast my eye on the cottage.”
“Oh”, I cleared my throat. “I was thinking I would take you over in the morning, sir” looking at my wife and then to her father and getting only a frown as response from him, I went on. “Or well, I suppose we could stop by on the way back to the manor. It’s only a little over a mile out of the way, if you are eager to get a look at it.”
He smiled slowly and replied, “Aye Andrew, I am just a wee bit.” I'’m eager to touch a hearth that can be my own. I have been in the employ of others for so long, I crave a spot for myself.”
“I think we could do that sir,” I replied smiling. “Our cook Hattie did pack us a basket for the noon meal. If we push it just a bit farther back, we can stop there, let the horses have a rest, and eat.” I answered.
“I would be grateful to ye Andrew.” Mr. Battishill replied.
Leaning out of the carriage, I shouted to Nathaniel to take the road to Ivan Ridge cottage. Settling back in my seat I looked at Jessica and she was smiling, her eyes bright with unshed tears. She had been much more emotional since she had come with child and my heart was tender towards her. She mouthed the words “thank you”, to me and I know she was proud I had made the change. This gave me joy knowing I had her devotion and respect.
Not long after, Nathaniel guided the horses into a turn off the main road onto one that was overgrown and little more than a path. It was hardly used these last 7 years since the widow Brighly had passed away. Tom and Ellen Brighly had been the only other family to live down this passage. I had meant to have Jesse bring over the goats to clear the path to the cottage and the area around it but the chore had not gotten seen to during the busyness caused by harvest. “Mr. Battishill, it has been uninhabited for almost 50 years, but it has not been completely neglected. I send a crew of 7 or 8 men in once a year to repair and maintain the structure and out buildings. They usually spend a week to 10 days on the task. We normally start the end of September, after the ground has been prepared and the fresh crop is sown. I will however, be coming with the crew in the morning. It will be quite comfortable in a week I expect.”
“Aye, Andrew.” He replied with a smile. “I am grateful to you son for your kindness towards an old feller like me. And, I am more than able to swing a hammer myself. Thank you. "