“The groundskeeper you called for is here, ma’am,” the footman bowed low before her.
“Show him in,” jewels flashed in the firelight as the Duchess raised her hand, stroking the head of an enormous dog. She smiled down at the beast, its heavy jowls trembled under her touch.
Another dog, a heavy mastiff type looked up, momentarily alerted, and then sensing no immediate threat lay back down, sprawled before the fire. Its snores soon filled the room.
She sank back into her chair as she considered the current staffing arrangements, yes, a replacement was most necessary, unfortunate, perhaps, but what’s done is done.
The dog beside her shifted, and whined uneasily.
“Shush,” she smiled down at the creature. “It will all work out in the end – you must trust your mistress in these things.”
The dog stared at her reproachfully.
“Really, Bruno – it was such a small thing, and we are all so much better for the changes made.”
The slow creak of the heavy oak door and approaching footsteps interrupted.
“You called for me, ma’am,” cap in hand, a young man bowed before her.
“Yes,” she smiled down at the dog, “I have an opening in my staff, and need for a personal servant.” She looked up at him, “Someone who’s loyalty is unwavering. You have proven yourself in protecting the grounds – I believe you will be an excellent fit in this position.”
“Thank you ma’am.”
“You may see O’Brien about the position. Phineas here will walk you out.” The footman bowed low in acknowledgment.
As the door closed behind him, the young man turned toward the footman, “Seems a bit odd.”
“Not so,” shrugged the footman.
“But I knew Freddie, one of my old chums – bit of a rascal, but a decent enough bloke. He’s left?”
The footman glanced down as another dog passed by, a svelte collie-breed, with slim face and flowing hair. The dog turned toward him, and barked once, sharply.
The footman glanced away, his face flushed.
The groundskeeper tried to meet his eyes. “Where’d Freddie go?”
The footman kept his eyes straight ahead, unanswering.
A sudden clattering of voices swept down a staircase, brays and barked intermingled with excitement; the groundskeeper stopped and stared as a pack of hounds passed by, black and tans and whites blazing with high spirits, a dog leaped up on him as it passed, licking his hand, and then moved on, joining the pack.
“Such a fine house – most don’t keep so many dogs inside.” The groundskeeper stared after them.
“She favours dogs.”
The clamour of the hounds faded away, and was suddenly cut off as a door closed, then the braying of the pack was heard from outside as they raced across the grounds, their voices rising together.
The groundskeeper turned toward a window, watching the pack flash by. “Looks like they’re after something.”
“She rewards her servants well.”
“Uh – beg pardon?”
“And faults are corrected – severely.”
“What do you mean?”
“The fox hunt coming up, in two days’ time –”
The groundskeeper stopped, staring at him; a look of realization passed over his face.
The footman continued, “I believe you are acquainted with the fox.”
Liz McAdams is a short (we’re talking height, not word count), sharp writer living in the wilds of Canada. Her work appears on Yellow Mama, Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey, as well as other places around the web. You can check Liz out at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/