Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 15

     The letter from George Mans notifying Roderick of Matilda's final illness and his pending departure from Abergenny  arrived in the spring of the year.  Roderick, aware that Mans could arrive at any time, alerted the servants to keep a lookout. Also, he contemplated how he would explain the situation to his mother and grandpa. The decision was to tell them that George Mans had furnished the money to restore the plantation and would be regarded as a favorite uncle.  That seemed to fit for his mother, but Suzette resented the idea of sharing her home with strangers. However, she  was second in authority to Catherine.
     "Mr. Mans is a wealthy gentleman of influence and authority. You must show respect to his privacy and not question him as to his affairs," he told her without providing further details.  "I want you to assign him two adjoining  bedrooms and a separate one for Mr. Potts."
     "That is more space than we have for ourselves," she complained.
     "Mr. Mans is to be given his privacy," he said firmly.  "Besides, I am putting up a small structure near the garden to use for my office. You will have the old space inside the house  to do as you please."  Roderick had learned to deal with Suzette as he would a spolit child, hi's method for gaining cooperation always involved a material exchange.
     "Then I would have a parlor to myself, a place to write my letters and to receive my personal friends."
      He seemed pleased that Suzette found a niche for her hugenot friends and relatives.  The reason that he was building the plantation office was that he wanted Suzette out of the wayof his business affairs and especially when he was in the presence of George Mans.  Her personal parlor would resolve the issue of her meddling, or so he thought. 
     When finally "the Elizabeth" dropped anchor in the river, Roderick called the family together in the foyer to greet him. Catherine took her place under the crystal chandelier which hung beside the white columns and Duncan stood in the old greeting area of where Angus once stood.  George Mans' inquisitive eyes spanned the foyer as he entered the doorway and falling upon Catherine, paused to observe her delicate white skin, rosy cheeks and the array of soft brown curls nestled around her ears.  Except for some frown lines and crow's feet around the eyes, she had changed very little.  He would have recognized her anywhere and the sight of her prompted a warm  surge of comfortable familiarity in seeing a friend from the past.  Before Roderick could announce him, he stepped over to Catherine and kissed her hand.
     "Madam, at last!" 
     She said nothing. 
     "This is my good friend and secretariat,  Mr. Potts." 
     Then turning, he focused his attention on the one person keen enough to put together the puzzle, Duncan McDonald.
     "Your obedient servant, Mr. McDonald," he said while effecting another bow.
     "Welcome to Ashley Loche," Duncan responded graciously, shaking the hand of George Mans.
      In the meanwhile, Roderick had left the foyer to find his wife.  He found Suzette dawdling in her little parlor and brought her into the foyer with some slow agitation.
     "Please allow me to introduce my wife, Suzette."  Mans bowed once again, this time to conceal his surprise.  Suzette's displeasure was apparent. Her lips were puckered and pouty and she scarcely answered.  "Please take Mr. Mans to his rooms, my dear, and attend to his needs," Roderick said in high tones.  He was embarrassed for her behavior.  Mans said nothing and followed a sashy petite figure up the stairs and across to the west wing of the house where there was little daylight during the winter months.  A stout servant woman followed behind. He was given two large adjoining rooms, one for the bed and the other,  a sitting room with a desk.  On one side of the wall was an large oak armoir with two open ends to drape his suits and a set of drawers with brass handles.
     "Is this enough space for your clothes, Mr. Mans?" She asked while eyeballing his two large travelling trunks.  She took the  woman by the hand and brought her into the room. "This is your personal servant, Minnie. She will arrange your wardrobe as you direct. Also, she can mend and sew."
     Then, like a flower faded too soon, her attractiveness wilted when she bluntly asked: "How long do you plan to stay?"
     Mans hesitated to answer.  He was immensely disappointed at Roderick's choice of a wife, a rude little wench without ordinary decency or manners. He did not wish to insult her, however, was not going to acknowledge the authority that she demanded with rude mannerisms.
    "The wardrobe is sufficient, madam, and my stay in this house shall last until I finish my business in this country," he answered slowly, mimicking her own southern drawl.
     "How shall we address you?" She continued.
    "The children may call me Uncle George," he answered, excluding her.
     Her face turned red.  She said nothing further and the gentlemen alone to sort out the trunks.
She hurried to descend the stairs and issue her complains to Roderick.
     "I need to speak to you at once!" She said, her face still pink from the blush.  He followed her into the parlor and expecting a tantrum closed the door.
     "Who is that snob?"
      He descends from a very old and distinguished noble family," he answered simply.
     "I do not believe you!"
     "And, Suzette.....he is my best friend."
      Those words burned in her craw.  She took an immediate dislike to George Mans and regarded his presence in the house as a "take over" of the authority that she wielded over her husband. He appeared to dominate Roderick with a quiet, unassuming demeanor, a situation that she did not understand. 
     "You cannot prefer him over me?"
     "There is a place for everyone in this house.  Yours is to be my wife."  His words infuriated her and she drew back her hand to slap him.  But he caught the blow before it reached his cheek. "Lower your voice," he demanded.
     "You do not love me," she sobbed.
     "Now, now, Suzette, do not cry," he said, hugging her. "You know that I care for you."
     "But you do not love me?"
     "I do not know how to love you.  I just do not know...."
     After dinner,  George Mans lit up a cigar and took a stroll in the garden. While he thus walked and pondered his situation, he could see the white moonlight on Catherine's face and neck as she came outside and sat on the porch. She was one of the main reasons that he chose to return to Charleston.
    "Good-evening, Catherine," he said pleasantly. "Do you mind if I join you for a glass of lemonade?"
     "I would be agreeable to some conversation."
     "You do not know me, do you?"
     "Yes, you are the duke of Cornwall, or the earl of Abergenny."
     "Then you do remember!"
     "Certainly, but who is George Mans?"
     "I shall answer your question, my dear, because you hath kept our secret.  Do you recall when I left Port Royal to join my wife  in Wales?"
     "Yes, but before you tell me further, I want to know one thing? What if Angus had not come after me? Would you have left me stranded in Port Royal?"
     "No, No," he said with high emotion. "You risked your marriage to stay behind and nurse me to good health. And now that I know that yours was a painful uncertainty and doubt, that makes your sacrifice even more precious to me.  No, I would have never left you, Catherine."
     "Then what would you have done...."
     "Oh my dear, I had resolved in my heart to take you with me to Abergenny should your husband not come for you despite my pledge of devotion to Matilda, and would have sheltered and protected you.  Not for selfish reasons, but because you saved my life.  And oddly enough, your compassion played a pivitol role in my affairs so that when I received your letter asking me to help your son, it gave me purpose and opened a new door for me, the opportunity to somehow repay your kindness.  But little did I know that your son would awaken my crusty old heart to its intrinisic need of family and home.  He gave me a sense of worthiness and belonging, something I think I never had.  Roderick is so Angus, you know, with his indefatigueable energy.  And he is brave and trustworthy.  He helped me to change.  Forgive me, Catherine, but I think of Roderick as my own son, someone to care for other than myself.   How silly I was to think that all of my solutions would be resolved once I became the earl of Abergenny. That good fortune was not worth anything unless I could share it with someone.  Roderick understood."  He paused to remove a white linen handerchief from his pocket and wipe the sweat from around his eyes.  " I was determined that Abergenny would not suffer the fate of the Cornwall duchy and would survive long after my tenure.  You see, I worked long hours to bring the defunct estate into the profit margin and remunerated myself for it. Yes, that is what it was, payment for twenty something years of labor.  As I said, there is no joy in laying up a fortune to myself.  I wish to share in the joy of Roderick's dreams as he works to achieve his own Ashley Loche."
     "What is this partnership?" There was skepticism in her voice.
     "It is a simple agreement.  He may use my fortune to rebuild this plantation in exchange for my having a home here."
        "Considering our past, It is difficult to believe you."
      "Yes, I know, but Catherine, there is no where else for me to go."
       She did not answer.
      "Please look into my eyes and see that I speak the truth. And  that is not all. Before taking my leave of London I made arrangements with Mr. Biggers and his solicitor to make Roderick the heir to my accounts.  I hath provided for him as though he were my own son. On the voyage to America, all that I thought of was you, Catherine and your kindness to me. Yours was probably a sacrifice that Angus never understood. I am no longer the chap who chases women.  All that I care about now is family. If you do not believe me I shall trouble you no more. The agreement will be valid except that  Mr. Potts and myself will take our leave to Cornwall."
     "Why is that you use the name George Mans?"
     "Oh yes, that. A necessary caution, especially if I am still regarded a traitor in your America."
      "Perhaps I do believe you, George."
      "Oh thank you, my dear," he said squeezing her hand.




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