This is the twelfth part of a fiction serial, in 810 words.
Justin was always keen to expand the business, and began to travel to nearby counties, buying up smaller businesses that had trades related to his company. Saddle and harness-makers were among his preferred purchases, along with various small hat-makers as far afield as Norfolk and Lincolnshire. Once he had control of all those, he started to centralise production by opening larger workshops in his home county, and employing and training many new workers as he did so. In no time he had a sizeable share of the market for such goods, and was in a position to dictate supply and prices over a large part of southern England.
Percival did his part too, suggesting that military contracts be given to the family firm, and using his position in the army to make the bribes and arrangements that delivered them. By the end of the year, Justin had been approached to stand for parliament, an offer he rejected out of hand. He knew all too well that association with one of the prominent political parties might well upset some of his customers, and was determined to keep the Dakin family neutral.
At the riverside house, Agatha busied herself with being in charge. Hope was happy to care for Oscar alongside her own children, and he would soon be leaving for school anyway. Arabella helped too of course, relishing her role as the grandmother figure to all. Young James was still insistent that he wanted a career in the military, and he was told that could be discussed once he had finished his schooling. Rather than employ tutors, it was agreed that both boys would attend the same boarding school, starting next term.
The presence of the genial new coachman had caused a stir with the household staff. Fionn flirted openly with the younger housemaids, and the scullery-girl was obsessed with him. But he avoided any real entanglements, as he did not want to lose the easy job as coachman to the Dakin family. In truth, he was little used. Master Justin travelled mostly by mail-coach, and Fionn’s duties were limited to taking the ladies of the house around the county to socialise with other wealthy families. And with her husband away most of the time in London, Agatha used the coach more than most.
It had not gone unnoticed that Agatha also used the family coach for pleasure trips in fine weather. That started with family picnics at the estuary coast, and later became rides on her own which she delighted in, saying the afternoon air was invigorating. Town gossips lapped up the sight of the mistress being driven around by the dark-haired, green-eyed coachman, and rumours were soon spreading that he was more than just a servant to Mistress Agatha.
They could not know that their suspicions were unfounded. Her move from being a lawyer’s daughter to mistress of a fine house, married to a very rich man, was not something she intended to jeopardise. She saw Fionn as nothing more than a servant, someone employed to do his duties as instructed. Against expectations, it was actually Hope that found herself tingling and blushing whenever the young Irishman helped her into the coach.
Once the older boys were away at school, young Henry received all the attention, becoming rather pampered and spoilt as a consequence. Without a son to visit, and a wife who was becoming bossy and above herself, Percival spent more and more time in London, eventually taking a mistress. She was given fine rooms in the city, and all of her expenses were paid by him too. By the end of that summer, they were seen around together at social functions, with all pretence abandoned. Lack of attention from her husband also guaranteed that Agatha had no more children, something else noticed by both the family, and the gossiping staff.
A letter was received from the school, regretting that they wished James to be removed from their charge. It seemed he was disruptive, badly-behaved, and a bully. That came as something of a shock to his parents, and it was decided that he should be allowed to go to military school in the south instead. By contrast, Oscar proved to be a dedicated scholar. He was fast to learn, and skilled in all subjects, especially mathematics.
Then Hope had her own news. With young Henry not yet five years old, she was expecting another baby. Justin was too busy to even think about the fact that he had not been around a great deal, and that his business trips now kept him away from home longer than ever before.
But Arabella was wiser, though she did not approach Hope on the matter. No good would come of accusations or suspicions. And an admission would only serve to shatter the peace of the family.
So she kept quiet, and gave Hope her congratulations.