Twelve-year-old Tristan Gareth Smyth gripped the armrests of his wheelchair and said, “This will do. I can make it the rest of the way on my own from here.”
His eyes trained up the landmark tree and he had that feeling again. The vapor of a memory, maybe a dream. He always had that feeling when he looked up at the broad branches of this particular oak. Then he remembered who he was talking to and his face hardened.
The maid, Sarah, with her strong Scottish burr, patted him on the shoulder. Gareth refused to look at her. He stared down at his knee pants instead. “Are ye sure ye will be alright? I do na mind walking with ye the rest of the way to Mr. Strong’s house.”
Gareth clenched his hands into fists. “I’ll be fine.”
“Too bad he didn’t like coming out to the manor. Remember how green Mr. Strong got when he choked on my spice cake that day and ran off.” She laughed but tried to cover it with a cough. “I thought that would be the end of ’im but he worked it out with yer grandfather to instruct ye in town. Funny, my spice didn’t bother the rest of ye.”
She bent down in front of Gareth, attempting to make eye contact. “There are lots of children in this section of town. Ye might try making friends with ’em.”
Gareth turned away and clenched his jaw. Children never wanted to make friends with him. The chair made them uncomfortable. And what did he care anyway? He attempted to give her as stern a look as his grandfather would. “I know the way from here, and I won’t be late. You can go on to market, now.”
The breeze picked up and blew wisps of red hair into the woman’s round face. She smiled. Was she making fun of him? “Oh, it’s such a pretty day. This fresh air will do ye good, for certain.”
She patted her hands on her knees and stood straight again. “Well then, I’ll leave ye to it. I’ve got to run off to the baker’s. Be sure to get to Mr. Strong’s in a timely manner. Though I think yer old governess was doing a fine job. Not sure why ye need Mr. Strong. But I guess it’s none of my concern.”
She was a servant, in uniform, and he was a future lord. Following his instruction was her duty. She and her husband, Thompton had been employed by his grandfather only six months. They might find themselves out of work and heading back to Scotland, if she kept voicing that sort of opinion.
No, Gareth could never really get them fired. But he’d make her think he would. He shook his head in the same disapproving manner he’d seen his grandfather use.
The sunlight played in the golden highlights of the woman’s ruby hair. Although her green eyes twinkled, she continued to voice her cutting opinion. She placed one hand on his shoulder. “It’s not being stuck in this chair that keeps ye lonely. It’s yer surly attitude.”
Gareth couldn’t help but let his face scrunch a little. He crossed his arms and turned his face from her.
Her accent was thick and melodic, familiar in a way. His mother had been Scottish though he hardly remembered her. Still, Gareth kept his pout in place. The truth was, he didn’t know how to relate to others. Even people who could feel at ease talking to perfect strangers stammered or spoke quickly to him and walked away. The wheelchair did more than keep him from playing.