Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 14

     George Mans arrived on the wharf of Mr. Biggers' factory but not before having his tailor fashion him several new suits of clothes made of cotton and linen after the fashion of the Americans.  He selected a wide-brim hat and replaced his silver-tipped cane with a plain wooden one.  He replaced his silver-buckle shoes with unembellished leather, more suited to walking about the plantation.  The silk craveat was replaced with a simple cloth cross-tie.  His graying hair was trimmed in long side-burns and he wore no rings on his fingers. When he presented himself to Mr. Biggers, his disguise was the epitomy of a a southern plantation squire of moderate wealth.  He still had a slight limp but his stride exuded with the impatient arrogance of the aristocracy expecting service and results. Biggers recognized the conceit and the disguise.
     "I am George Mans," he said tipping his hat.
     Biggers could not resist a big smile and clicking his heels with an affected bow.  "Delighted, sir!" And he was, for Roderick's expenditures had netted him considerable profit  and he wished to keep that going.  "Come inside the warehouse and we can review your accounts."    
     Mans followed him into a warehouse crammed full of cotton bales and then to a small locked  room which he identified as his office.  While removing a key from his vest pocket and working the lock, he said:  "I am mostly handling cotton from the American plantations.  You might be interested to know that Ashley Loche shipped several tons this year.  It brings a substantial profit, you know."
     "No, I did not know," Mans answered with a bored voice, not caring about Mr. Biggers' factoring."
     "You should be aware, sir, this is the major thrust of your profits. Only two short years after the war and Ashley Loche is realizing profits. I think you should be pleased when you see what the boy hath accomplished."  Biggers opened a large cloth book which documented a narrow column of flourishing figures written in the heavy india ink.
     Mans ran his fingers over a certain figure.  "Is this my cash balance?"
     "Yes sir, but no need to worry, by this time next season you should be wealthy."
      Mans grumbled to himself.  He was disappointed with the figure and decided not to relinquish control of his last stash from the Abergenny receipts to Biggers & Company. Also hidden inside his trunk was a large box of precious  jewels and stones which had belonged to his deceased wife.
     "Is it still your wish for Roderick McDonald to have full access to the funds?"
     "Yes indeed, Roderick is a full partner." Mans said, thinking that without Roderick, he would not have a home.  "How long will be my wait before you arrange my passage to Charleston?"
     "The 'Elizabeth' is crossing the channel now. She will take on cargo at Port Royal before going to Charleston and into the West Indies.  The captain knows well the Ashley Locke plantation. I shall send you a note when she is ready."
     "Send it to me at The Sow's Ear," Mans said.  In the interim, he figured that he would take a last visit to one of the baudy houses and that the tavern was a convenient address for a person wishing to travel incognito.  They walked back to the wharf and Mans stared sentimentally at the bridge and the Thames River.  "I shall probably never see London again," he announced in his crisp english accent.
     The big smile pressed again on the lips of Mr. Biggers. He was not fooled. Mans strolled across the bridge, pausing now and again to reflect upon his circumstances.  He gave some thought to Matilda's last moments.  He had been at her bedside for many days expecting a parting remark or  treasure of some sort from her.  She knew that he would be penniless, yet  there was no sympathy or feeling inside  her cold and bitter heart.  He clasped her hand tenderly inside of his, but she cast it away.  It was the fruits born by a loveless marriage.  Still, he hated to watch the woman die.  When her breath ceased and her chest was still, he leaned over her and whispered pitfully: "Goodbye, Matilda. I am sorry that we did not have love."  There was a vendor selling tea cakes. He stopped and purchased one before walking on and continuing to be depressed by his memories. He rehashed the pitiful years of his dukedom, the house in Charleston where he pretended to have influence and wealth and the shameful experience of a traitor escaping to Barbadoes.  He was always subject to the whims and selfishness of Matilda who even in her dying moments could not give him anything.  All this, justified his gathering up her jewelry and storing it in his traveling chest.  He did it to survive.  Suddenly, he removed his glove and counted on his fingers the number of times that his circumstances were altered.  The duke of Cornwall, a Charlestonian aristocrat, Barbadoes gentleman and Lord Neville. Now, extricated from that society,  he was George Mans, an American planter. A chilling drizzling rain and fog caused him to draw up his collar around his neck and step lively towards the tavern.  Mr. Potts was repacking some private papers which he'd been sent upstairs to retrieve before the King's soldiers arrived at Abergenny. No sooner than the body of the marquess was buried in the family vault than the soldiers rode on horseback towards the manor with orders to seize Abergenny.  But two large trunks were already loaded onto a coach and Mans and Potts made fast their escape.
     That evening Mans would spend alone imbibing several tankards of ale, but even with his cautious disguises his eyes would watch keenly for any sign of soldiers.    He required that Mr. Potts sit with him despite his complaints of being too sleepy to watch.
     The adventure was complete when they were safely onboard and "the Elizabeth" weighed anchor. Only then did he twist his lips in a dry, sad smile.  There was some satisfaction in eluding the soldiers. He'd left the Neville seal on his desk along with the key to Matilda's safe and gave all of the other keys to the housekeeper.  Mr. Potts sympathized with the unsuspecting staff of servants who would be replaced by the king's niece. 
     "No need to worry, they shall retain their positions, except for Milly Martain whom I sent to the village for her own protection."  Milly had left Abergenny with the suspicion that she was being replaced by a younger woman.  She had borne the earl three children. Her figure no longer had the slender angles which drew men's eyes and the fatty rolls around her waist made her appear plump. Actually, he worried that she might be punished by the servants who'd guessed everything and branded her a whore.  
     Potts nodded.  The earl's mistress.  His instructions had included making arrangements for the pension to continue for the benefit of the children so long as Milly's mother lived.

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