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"Christ that's cold." Cristian looked up from his work as he pitched another forkful of hay into the cattle.
"Ah it might be but get on with your work boy." the old farmer looked up from the doorway.
"You think t'will snow master?" Cristian smiled at the old man as he tamped the tobacco down and drew deeply upon his pipe.
The old man turned and looked the boy in the face, "Lad" he answered, "we are overdue a bad winter, but doubt very much that snow is in the offing."
Cristian listened to the old man's wheezy breathing, as outside the sky was leaden and calm.
The old man inspected the hay the boy was throwing into the racks, "More like fog I'd say boy." he grinned suddenly, "These marshes are bad places for that, now thee finish up what your doing and get off home I reckon, afore your sister boxes your ears boy."
A look of alarm came over the boy, his sister had raised him from a small child and true, she was quick to cane and smack.
"And how is Miss Charlotte then?" the old farmer grinned, "No prospects of a husband yet then?"
"A husband?" Cristian grinned back, "Doubt that master."
The old man laughed as he drew the acrid smoke back and looked out over the top door.
"I'm surprised at that my son" he smiled slowly, "seeing she's the daughter of the big house, you know that, don't you?"
Cristian smiled grimly, "Well I've heard something about it Mr Cooper." The old man nodded, "True boy true." he walked to the roan cow and scowled at her, "Awd bitch, she ain't producing like she were."
The boy grinned, "Getting old I guess."
"Ah boy ain't us all."
"So master" Cristian continued, "what about my sister then and the big house?"
"Why boy thee don't know then?"
"Well" the boy looked at him, "I heard that mother was took by a chap at the big house, and the result were my sister."
"That's right sonny, t'was old Sir John himself."
"What were he then master?"
"Lord of the manor boy and servant to the royal house, as generations of the Musgrave's were."
Cristian stood staring at the old man, "The Musgrave's, oh ah weren't they supposed to be to do with the king?"
"Yes boy Henry the VII and then his son Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries, you have heard about the treasure haven't you?"
"No." the boy smiled back, "What's that about master?"
"Sit down boy and I shall tell thee." the old man replied relighting his pipe and settling himself on a milking stool, where he fixed the boy a few moments with a steely gaze before starting his tale.
"Well boy t'was in the period of the war of the roses, that boy is when the houses of Lancaster and York were fighting for power between themselves that the house of York granted to Sir Edmund Musgrave all the lands hereabouts including the land where the old manor stands, now derelict for what nineteen year I suppose,"
"Well Sir Edmund was a favorite in the house of York, and great plans were laid for the creating of a great estate here."
Cristian sat absorbed in the old man's tale as he continued.
"Well masons were engaged, and great quantities of Portland stone an limestome were brought here and the foundations of Anson House were started, well work started in a violent thunderstorm, which ravaged the countryside."
"Well sonny in 1488 Sir Richard Musgrave took over from his father, and Elizabeth of York and her family came to the site and saw for themselves, the great new house being built, and it was completed a few years later by Sir Richard and first occupied in late 1493."
The old man puffed away on his pipe as he looked about him, "Well son in 1494 Sir Richard married Lady Alexandra Beaufort from Wiltshire. They set up home there where soon they had a son, Sir Richard fought with Henry tudor at Bosworth, and the king, which became Henry the VII."
"The king" Mr Cooper continued, "never forgot what Musgrave did for him, and it was not long before King Henry and Queen Elizabeth came to stay at Anson House. As a token of his friendship and regard for Musgrave, the king granted him many great tracts of land and coastal lands on the north Cornish coast. He also gave the man lands rich in copper and tin, little did he know." the old man stopped and coughed gently before continuing.
"It was not long" Mr Cooper looked at the boy before him, "before Musgrave started building on a grand scale boy. He was a favorite of the king, being at court, and built on a lavish scale, the king being a frequent visitor to the house, this being one of the great Catholic houses of England mind boy."
"What does that mean?" Cristian asked looking at the old man.
"Why son it means they were supporters of the Catholic faith, supporters of the kings religious crusades and supported him in the faith."
"Oh." the boy smiled as he laid back against the byre wall and waited for the old man to continue.
"Well sonny t'was in 1500 that the great chapel was built, it was a great building, well still is I suppose, anyway t'was built and consecrated in 1501 and it was not long before Lady Sophia was laid to rest there, that's Sir Richard's sister."
The old man looked out at the fog coming in thickly about the cow yard, "You ought to soon get home son." he looked at the boy.
"That's alright." Cristian smiled, "Please sir carry on with what you were saying."
The old man grinned, he knew the boy was interested in what he had to say, and he spoke with some authority on the subject having been one of the tenant farmers of the great house nineteen years before.
"Well boy during the reign of Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon, the house enjoyed its greatest moments, again being favorites of the king and queen, being a Catholic country. The great house did well, more lands were granted, Sir Thomas More and Fisher came and stayed at the house, the king and queen to stayed here and great banquets and royal hunts took place at regular intervals."
"But" the old man held up his finger with a warning, "t'was but a few years later when Henry married Queen Ann Bolyn that the house fell into disfavour, with the dissolution of the monasteries. And a great revolution in religion began with the seizing of coin, relics and treasures from religious houses, monasteries and churches, and the king declared himself the head of the English church."
The boy stood with his mouth open as he listened to what the old farmer said to him as he shifted his position on the milking stool and listened to the old man.
Then the old man smiled, "Before the kings commissioners reached this area, t'is said that hundreds of chests of coin, jewels, plate, relics and gold were secreted away on the estate, and a great search was made by Cromwell's men."
"Was it Oliver Cromwell Mr Cooper?" the boy asked.
"No lad t'was his father, Thomas Cromwell the vicar general who ordered a search of the estate, but nothing was ever found there. T'was said in later times that there was no treasure there at all, while t'others still say that a kings ransom is hid thereabouts somewhere."
"Now lad during the reign of bloody Mary, Queen Mary that is, there was a Catholic revival here in England, and the old house started to have favour again at court. It was said that King Phillips envoy tried to find out the secret treasures there but was unable to find out anything though he stayed here several times."
The young man looked at his master, "So t'was not found master?"
"No lad, Queen Mary died of a tumour in her womb and the ring that was upon her finger was taken to Hatfield to where the young Princess Elizabeth was, she they say was sat under an oak tree and the ring was passed to her. They say she said, this is the lords doing as she took the ring."
"Anyroad lad, Elizabeth's court was a Protestant court, though the old house was left in peace and started to become a house of trade and commerce during the new reign. Sir Robert Dudley stayed here and explored the old house and grounds, finding many old documents, and papers but nothing else. The land grants that Henry VII gave the house also remain the property of the great house as does that of the land grants of the house of york as well.
Then the old man held up his finger gravely, "Then the black part began boy the dark secret of the old house."
"What's that master?" Cristian looked at the old man open mouthed.
"Well boy, the Scottish Queen Mary came over the border into England, and t'was a while later that a plot was hatched. Sir Ralph who was at court, was involved in a plot with a man called Anthony Babington, to secure the Scots queen here at Anson house, while the queen was either disposed of or forced to abdicate from the throne and the Scots queen put in her place."
Cristian sat there fascinated at this, "What happened Mr Cooper?" he looked up at the old man in admiration.
"The plot boy was uncovered and Babbington was executed, Sir Robert Cecil the queens chief minister started massive inquiries but could pin nothing on Sir Ralph Musgrave, though Musgrave soon left court for private life at Anson House where he concentrated upon his business affairs and the Scottish queen went to her death in Fotheringay castle, now but ruins lad."
Cristian smiled, he enjoyed the old mans tale, it had a ring of romance about it, so different from his life of drudgery to earn a few coppers each day on the farm or at the church with the sexton.
"Now lad, the families business thrived over the centuries to come, though in later years the families inbreeding caused a massive weakness and child after child died at birth or infancy, until in 1818 Lady Margaret gave birth to a son for her and Sir John."
"The young man was a rake my lad and broke many hearts t'is said, he was doted on by his sisters Charlotte and Emma. He was engaged to Lady Sarah Burroughs, however t'is said he was also raking with another lady and was bitter rivals with Edmund Meadows of Carrington place."
"Well came a shooting party late in october Meadows was on the same shooting party as the young squire. They had not spoken to each other, but as the shoot was on, the young man fell dead, shot through the chest no one knew what had happened, no one could be blamed. Though t'was said he was shot by a rival in love, and t'is plain as nose on my face that t'was Meadows who had fired the fatal shot though he swore that he would have fought a duel with James Musgrave, but would not have shot him in cold blood."
"What happened?" Cristian looked grave.
"The story was believed my lad, that Meadows was a man of honour and the matter was dropped. He later married the young woman and moved up to London, where so I hear, he died three years back under the wheels of his carriage as he was getting on board, the horses bolted and the carriage crushed him."
The boy looked shocked at this, but waited for his master to continue.
"Where did the shooting happen master?"
"Over to Osbourne House boy, over there, that's the other great estate near here, that's where the boy died in the great ride as t'is called."
"Oh" was all Cristian could think of as he sat there, "then what sir?"
"Well boy, the body was taken back to Anson house and the master collapsed, his boy was dead, he had no male heir. The whole county came out for the young mans funeral, he was buried at the great chapel in the grounds of the big house. Sir John was by this time a sick man and his sons death had increased this sickness, true he had two daughters to succeed him, but t'was a son he wanted."
"What did he do?" Cristian looked at the old farmer.
"Well Lady Margaret was to old for child bearing. He wanted to take one of his daughters for the purpose, but instead took his chambermaid a Miss Katherine, your mother t'is said to his bedchamber. She became with child, a girl was born, Sir John was bitterly disappointed at this, though the girl was duly christened in the great chapel, Charlotte Elizabeth."
"That's my sister." Cristian looked up suddenly.
"Yes my boy, your sister." the old man smiled at the lad sat there.
"What happened then?"
The old man looked earnestly at the boy, "Lad" he said not unkindly, "t'is time you were away home, your sister will be angry if you don't soon get off home, you know that lad."
Cristian bit his lip, he knew he was already in trouble with his sister. He should have been home ages ago, but interest had got the better of him and that was worth the beating he would no doubt get from her, please he asked, can you continue sir he replied with a small smile.
The old man grinned, "Alright lad but don't blame me if she is on the warpath when thee gets home." he laughed.
"I won't." the boy smiled broadly.
"Alright lad, well after the christening, the old mans health started to worsen, badly I'm afraid and in late 1841 Sir John died, not many months after your sisters birth, well Lady Margaret could not bear the sadness of Anson House any longer, it had for her become a prison, a place of tragedy, her still births, the death of her son James, and then her husbands death was the final straw, she paid off the tenant farmers, I was one of them, then she closed the estate down, and dismissed the household staff including thy mother, who moved out of the great house, baby and baggage just before christmas 1841."
"Oh?" the boy looked shocked at this.
"Well after the household staff moved out, Lady Margaret and her two daughters moved to Bath to their town house, leaving the house fully furnished. Over the years boy the house and grounds are choked with brambles and trees have sprung up throughout the driveway, even the great chapel has become overgrown with blackberry bushes and thorn bushes."
The boy sat there looking at his boots, "My lord." he gasped at hearing this, "What happened to my mother sir?"
"Ah the mistress of the house, paid your mother a good amount of money to raise the child so I'm told boy, she married the local smith here your father boy James Martin, well they soon were married and t'was about four years later that you were born."
Cristian smiled at this, "That's true master."
"Where the hell have you been?" a girls voice rasped sharply over the half door of the cow byre.
"Just finishing my work sister." Cristian gave back the smile quickly fading as the dark haired young woman opened the door and came into the building with them,
"Has he finished Mr Cooper."
"Just about ma'am." the old man touched his cap.
Charlotte gave him a small incline of her head as she grabbed her brothers hand, "Right your tea is on the table boy." she snapped as she led her brother out of the byre. She marched him down the village street by the hand and over the small stone bridge to Beck House, their home.
"Right where the hell have you been?" she glowered at her brother.
"At work Charlotte."
"At work, really, talking idly again, wasting time instead of earning your money." she growled, as she held her hand out and the boy placed into it the two shillings he had earned that day.
His sister stared at him, "Your going the same way as father aren't you, mooning your life away on dead dreams instead of working hard."
"Father did work hard." Cristian gave back, "It was a hard life as a blacksmith."
"Yes it was, but he could have bettered himself if he had spent less time dreaming, and more time working." She stood there hands on hips, "Right over that chair." she snapped, as she dealt six stinging slaps across his bottom. "Right" she looked at him as he straightened up, "get yourself washed and sit down to the table."
Charlotte watched her brother as he washed himself and sat down at the table, she hated being tough with him, but she had a hard task on her hands, Cristian could be wayward in his thinking, and needed a firm hand on the reins to keep him out of trouble.
"The pie's good." Cristian looked up at the attractive figure of his sister as she walked about the kitchen, her massive black silk crinoline ballooning from her tiny waist, reflecting a thousand sparks of light from it's surface in the light of the oil lamp on the kitchen table.
"So he was telling you all about Anson House was he?" his sister looked at him as she dished out the potatoes and greens.
"Yes that's right." the boy looked up.
"I see." Charlotte gave a small smile, "That's a dead dream my lad best forget that."
"Why Charlotte?" the boy asked.
"Because my dear, I was not born a boy, if I had been I would no doubt have done well there, but seeing that, well I was not, that dream died for my mother when old Sir John died." She moved back to the range, her silk skirt ruff ruffing as she moved, "They moved to Bath my dear, Lady Margaret and the two girls that are my half sisters, the ladies Emma and Charlotte, stupid really naming me the same but still that's what happened."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Anson house"
Copyright © 2018 Victoria Ann Astor.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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