Del lugged the heavy sacks to the front door. Tired and sweaty, hands on her knees and bent over, she took a much needed rest. Everyone beyond the door would be sound asleep.
She made the jaunt several times and always bore a successful haul. This time was no different; for that she was happy.
She'd stolen away after midnight and gone to Brookshire Glens; a vast, lush, beautiful estate of over 125 acres on the south end of Tamworth. She reached there shortly after 1 a.m. She'd timed her arrival to coincide with when Bartholomew the gate guard would be otherwise engaged. It was general knowledge that Ava, a scullery maid, visited him nightly to 'dance the kipples'. Del's entry would go undetected.
When safely on familiar grounds; quickly and silently she sprinted to Balfour Tower. By torch light; she took a crude key from her pocket, unlocked the door, and slipped inside.
Locating a cache of strong boxes; she took one from the corner and smashed it open with an axe spilling gold coins, diamonds, jades, rare expensive oils, and many other valuables to the floor.
She grabbed handful after handful of the treasures and filled a sack to the top. She filled her own dress purse as well.
Next she made her way to the Larder.
In the second sack she stuffed an assortment of cheeses Cheddar, Finn, Curworthy, and Spenwood. Tasty scones, Stotti cakes and Rye breads, eggs, jams made from apricot, red currant, and spiced pear, Smoked almonds and Sugar cakes.
Eyeing the thrawl; a slab of cool stone used to keep meat and other foods from spoiling; she pulled out a long, wide piece of muslin. She took two roasts, four chickens, and five slabs of bacon. Above her, she snatched a long string of sausages and three ducks; wrapped the meat securely and put it into the sack. Lastly, she added two tubs of beef tallow and tightly tied closed the sack.
She grunted as she hefted the sacks to her chest and carried them outside to the cart hitched to her horse. She could kick herself. The sacks were so heavy. Why had she come alone? She sucked her teeth and sighed loudly. Why was she even asking herself that question? The obvious answer was she didn't have any other choice.
Countess Delphine Dufour, Lady of Brookshire Glens, mopped her brow, straightened her tunic underneath her sheepskin cloak and mounted her horse.
No one else could find out her true identity or chaos would run rife. She knew that for a certainty.
Hurrying back to the camp, she shared with her makeshift family and crew; Del Henry (for that was how she'd come to be known as these past two years) thought about how she had stopped being a lady of leisure to become a lady bandit.
Delphine had been born to parents Lord Langston and Lady Agnes Dufour of Grantham Hills. An only child; she was the sole inheritor of Brookshire Glens; which made her extravagantly wealthy. Delphine grew up being impish and precocious. Initially, those characteristics in her displeased her father. He had wished for a son as his firstborn to become his heir, of course; but after the reality sunk in that no other children male or otherwise would be forthcoming; her personality grew on him. Enough so that she was always allowed to accompany him wherever he went. No one dared to question him about his tag along daughter.
When Delphine was but a little nipper; she had no idea about what kind of man her father was. Growing older and becoming more aware of things going on around her; she began to see her father for who he really was. A cruel man, who was greedy, power hungry, and not above resorting to violence if he thought it would favor him.
Delphine recalled the time the shackles fell from her eyes in regards to her father Lord Dufour.
Dressed in several protective layers against an absolutely Baltic November day, Delphine rode to Sheridan with her father and his men. As they neared the town square; a girl ran along side their harras and called out, "Alms, alms, for the poor please." She was a spindly little girl, wearing a torn, dirty petticoat and a thin shawl. Despite her unkempt clothes, her face was clean. She had long red hair and freckles sprinkled over a cute button nose.
"Rexy, Rexy, come away child," her mum pulled her back and boxed her ear. I could tell that it hurt her but Rexy did not mind her mum one bit; instead she turned and twisted away from her and darted out in front of my father's horse. The horse spooked; throwing him from its back; landing him bottom first on a fresh mound of horse manure.
There was a collective, audible intake of breath from the common townspeople standing in the square. Everyone held their breath except for Rexy. Peals of girly giddiness burst from her lips as she doubled over pointing at my father.
Red in the face; my father became enraged. He roughly grabbed Rexy up by her arm and flung her down in the manure he had just occupied. Rexy's father charged my father in defense of his daughter. "You leave my girl you lout. She's but a smallun," he yelled as he came toward my father.
My father's men quickly intercepted him and rained down blow upon blow to the poor man's body and head. My father landed the final blow with a booted kick to his stomach. Rexy's father lay bleeding and unmoving.
Rexy and her mum were crying and screaming for my father to have mercy; but he turned a deaf ear to their pleas. He mounted his horse and started the return journey home.
That day the bond between me and my father died. I could not stomach, his ruthless behavior to a child and to her father. Rexy's father only did what any good father would have done.
Her father felt himself better than the commoners because he didn't struggle for money in life, however, I knew in truth it was about the womb which one was born from. Either upper or lower class. My father could have easily been the man on the ground being done in had it not been for family money he'd been born into.
Upon returning home Delphine vowed to serve and defend the poor and down-trodden. She cut her golden, curly, tresses and stuffed her new short 'do' under a cap. She donned a stable boys tunic and leggings and sensible brogues. All of which were too big for her, but she would manage.
She took two bags of gold, her jewelry pochett, her sheepskin cloak, a locket with her mother's picture inside and left Brookshire Glens that very night.
In the beginning; she had been remiss a few times with covering her trail and keeping who she was a secret; barely escaping many close calls.
One day dressed as a maid with her hair tied safely under a bonnet; shawl wrapped about her shoulders to hide the family crest on the sleeve of her sheepskin cloak; Delphine went into town to buy some goods. She knew she should have disposed of the cloak, but she was diffident about it. It was the last tie she had left to her old life.
She kept her head down as she placed the items she needed in a basket she carried on her arm. As she neared the counter she saw two men peering at a piece of paper and talking.
"Says here a hefty reward is being offered to anyone who locates Countess Dufour.
She's a looker ain't she; prettiest blue eyes I ever seen."
"By now she could be anywhere. Disguised all up."
"But look here on this sketch is a picture of her family crest. It's on the sleeve of her cloak. At least that's a help."
"So many sheepskin cloaks this time of year but we just need to see one with the Dufour crest on it and that's our bird."
Delphine was frozen in place rooted to the floor in fear.
"Come now girl, are you done? I ain't got all day," the shopkeeper beckoned.
Delphine walked slowly to the counter conscious of the mens stares. As she nervously lifted the basket to the counter, she tripped and all the items fell out into a pile around her feet.
The two men came to help her gather her things.
"Pardon me if I seem too forward miss, but you have the prettiest blue eyes I ever seen," said one of the men staring into her face.
Her heart nearly beat out of her chest.
Delphine dropped the basket turned and fled from the shop pulling her shawl tightly around her shoulders. When she got back to the camp; she cut the crest from her cloak and sewed a patch in its place and buried it in the ground.
Unfortunately, Baron Finlay had found her out one other time she had been careless. St. George's Day festival had come. St George was famously known for slaying a dragon. The town of Silene was captured by a dragon and the locals had to offer a human sacrifice to the dragon every day. One day when St. George was visiting the town, a princess was chosen to be sacrificed. So he killed the dragon and saved the people of Silene.
People celebrated his heroic act with parades in the streets, dancing, singing, races, contest and games.
Many houses had garlands of St George's shield strung across their doorways. Of course, there were plenty of food and drinks too. Dandelion and Burdock, ginger beer, Earl Grey tea all were made and stored in barrels. Bread and cheese pudding, cottage pie, cheese scones, Scouse, ( a filling tasty stew) mutton and Stilton tarts, Toad in the hole, (sausages, cooked in Yorkshire pudding) and Sunday trifle for desert.
Her quaint lot was very excited to participate in the festival. Delphine had reservations about attending, but thought she would be safe hiding in plain sight.
It was a fair and balmy day. The air was electric with the revelers lively and noisy antics.
After watching the parade procession, and eating and drinking to their fill; Delphine knew it was time to head home she could hide in plain sight for only so long. Her departure was interrupted by Tobin alerting her of an archery contest that was starting. Ignoring her better judgment, and owing to her ego, she stayed. She was proud of her exceptional archery skills and wanted to display them. Concentrating on her marksmanship; she was unaware that she was being watched intently. She won in her division and headed to the judges to collect her prize. She was cut off by Baron Finlay calling her given name in her ear. Baron Finlay was her father's sworn enemy. He found it amusing that she had left Brookshire Glens and ran around with a little band of commoners. He was a greedy letch as much as her father. He told her that although she was disguised well enough, it was the Dufour nocking style and her blue eyes that gave her away.
Dirty, rotten, scoundrel that he was; he blackmailed her. She was to pay him an astounding 80 shillings each month for his silence.
She longed to be rid of Baron Finlay and his amoral extortion. She had to make more frequent excursions to meet his demand. It was putting a strain on helping the needy. She must find a way to get away from Baron Finlay's clutches and keep her true identity hidden. She and others had worked too hard to accomplish good for the townspeople; and she wished to continue.
Del walked inside the cottage. Rexy popped her head up and gave her a sleepy smile. "What'd you bring me then? I hope there was more of them plum cakes," she said licking her lips.
Del laughed and tousled Rexy's wild red hair. "Come on you lazy bag of bones and have a look."
Rexy got up and began badgering everyone to get up.
"Camden, Tobin, Fionna get up, get up. Del is back with the bits and bobs!!" Rexy yelled.
The little cottage came alive with good cheer and sounds of happiness; as all of the goods were examined. This was what made it all worthwhile. Countess Dufour, a smile on her face, laid her head down on the table, and fell fast asleep.