One day, in the early morning, a man rode up the stone path to the castle. A guard challenged, the man answered and was allowed through. A groom took his horse and a page boy led him to the interior courtyard where James was practicing with a blunt sword, play-fighting with another stable boy.
“Who’ve you got there?” He called, as the page entered with the man.
“A messenger from Sir George Walham,” He replied, and they passed through the door and entered the castle. The boy then conducted the messenger to Lady Jane’s quarter of the castle and bid him wait there. Then the page knocked, entered alone and beheld Lady Jane just finished with her dress.
“Lady Jane, there’s a messenger outside from Sir George Walham. He says it’s very important.”
“Show him in, Karl,” He did so, then left the room, and went out to the merry bout of arms taking place outside. Lady Jane welcomed the messenger cordially, bid her maids leave them alone, and then said,
“Karl says you have an important message for me, good sir.”
“Aye, milady. ‘Tis from Sir George Walham. He bids me tell you that ere long he plans to voyage here an’ set up an estate as you have done. He asks you if you could please inquire if there is any land for sale in this broad, beautiful valley. He also asks if you could keep it a secret from his daughter, so that she could be surprised. That’s all, milady, an’ he wanted you to send a token back with me to signify that you received his message.”
She paused a moment, thoughtful, and then said, “Here, Sir Edwin, take this ring. It bears my emblem. He will know it. Take good care not to lose it.”
“Thank ye, milady. I will not lose it.”
Lady Jane then rang a small silver bell which tinkled like a brook on a summer’s day. Instantly a maid appeared, and Lady Jane instructed her to take Sir Edwin to the guest chambers. This done, she had another maid call in Robert, James and Sir Terence.
When they had entered, she bade them sit down, and then, her face flushed with excitement, she told them that Sir George Walham was coming to live here in a couple of months. All three started and Robert rose, to go tell Jenny. But Lady Jane, reading his intentions, said,
“Don’t go tell Jenny. Sir George wanted it to be kept a secret.”
“James,” she continued, “go bid Sir Edwin to tell no one what has been said. Robert, please go tell one of the stable boys to ready old Ferny. I will ride to town today.”
When she and Sir Terence were alone, her face became a shade darker, and she told Sir Terence news that she hadn’t wanted the boys to hear.
“Sir Terence, there is terrible news. A plague is ravaging in Europe, not the dreaded Black Plague, but another that could be even more deadly. Some are sick with it for months. Sir George’s messenger told me that it’s raging hard in London. That is why Sir George is moving out here, as soon as he can sell most of his goods, as he is a prosperous merchant. I hope he does not come down with it, for he says it’s very contagious. Sir Terence, I beg you, tell no one what I have confided in you, especially the boys. None should be troubled by this except you and me.” Thus saying, she rose, bade Sir Terence goodbye, and walked out the door. She once again resumed her gay mood, and none would have guessed the discourse that had taken place.
Going out, she walked down to the stables where she found her dappled grey mare. Robert mounted his chestnut, Jason, was ready to escort her. Riding out, they told the head groom that if anyone asked for them, they were in town. So saying, they trotted out. They cantered along the road for an hour and a half, and at last spotted the spires of the church in town. Another ten minutes brought them to the city walls, where they rode in, and headed for the governor’s house. Reaching it, they tied up their horses and walked inside.
Entering a cool, spacious room, a small bell rang that signaled their arrival. A moment later a maid appeared and conducted them to the antechamber of the governor’s inner rooms.
After a short wait, they were led into a chamber that was richly furnished with Turkish tapestries, Persian rugs and Indian silks. The room also had glass windowpanes, a novelty at the time. This was evidently the suite of the governor.
An elderly gentleman was seated in a large easy chair at the far end of the room. The difficulty with which he rose betrayed his age.
“Welcome, Lady Jane! It is not often I entertain such guests. Please be seated. Sarai! Bring refreshments please.”
“Thank you, Governor Raymond,” Lady Jane began, “I have come here as a matter of business, one that for certain reasons I wish to be kept secret.” A shade passed over the governor’s countenance, but he signaled her to continue.
“My cousin, Sir George Walham, is a successful merchant in England. He plans to move here, to Aurora valley. I have come to ask if you know of any estates or properties for sale. ”
“Hmm,” Raymond stroked his beard thoughtfully, “I haven’t heard of–Ah! Lord Humandor passed away just two days ago, leaving no heirs. Many have jumped at the opportunity, but I had not decided yet who I would bequeath it to. I invited someone to come over today and see about it, but now I will not give it away. No indeed! I will hold it for your cousin.”
“Thank you, Governor. There was something else…” her voice trailed off, “Robert, go see if my horse is ready, I shall be out in a few moments.” When the door had closed she hushed her voice and, leaning forward, spoke earnestly to the governor about the plague. When she had finished,
“Gracious Heaven! I do hope he doesn’t bring it here!”
“I think there is little fear in that. Good-bye, Governor, and thank you. I hope your arthritis gets better soon. I’ll be calling in again before you know it.”
“Good-bye and Godspeed!”
With a swishing of skirts and a squeak of hinges, she was gone, leaving the governor with mixed feelings.
Once outside she mounted her horse and she and Robert galloped off to the estate.
Unknown to them, someone else had heard everything she had told the governor. A spy, hidden behind a length of curtains, heard every word, and, as soon as the old man started snoring softly in his chair, he crept out the window, and was gone!