Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 21

     Mr. Pitts and Lucas carefully loaded Catherine's coffin onto the Manningham sloop. George had meticulously dressed his wife for burial and pinned the diamond brooch on her dress. He had noticed Suzette eyeballing it and heard some whispering of Roderick having promised it to her after Catherine's death.   "It belongs with you, my dear," he whispered. 
     Lucas struggled with his part of the coffin. It was a stifling day, too muggy to be burying a person, he mused. His mind was filled with regret for the harshness he'd shown Catherine in her earlier years. He did not like her when she was Miss Winship, a haughty woman chucked full of schemes and intrigue. In fact, he found her especially distasteful after she married Angus for his money, one of the most honest men in Charleston.  It was unknown when he'd changed his mind. It must have happened gradually over the years when he wasn't noticing.  But he had no objection when she was married to his best friend, George Mans.   Mr. Pitts stumbled as they lowered the coffin.
     "Oh sorry, chap," he said while grabbing a pair of round eyes glasses, "my spectacles are slipping from off my nose."
     "When ere you ever going to drop that british accent?" Lucas teased in a deep, slow-drawling voice.
     "Quite so,"he acknowledged. "One would never suspect that our Mr. Mans was british, now would they?"
     "No, he is part of the wood-work now."
     "I shall go ready him," Mr. Potts said.
     "He is up there on the porch, jest sittin."
     Mr. Pitts drove the carriage back to the house and tied up the team. George sat motionless on the front porch staring at the fluffy white cotton absorbing the streaming rays of the sun.   He surmised from the size of the bouls that he would have a prosperous crop this year, perhaps the best ever.
     "Tell Lucas not to delay the harvest," he told Potts, pointing to some ominous storm clouds. "I smell  rain. We will have many storms this year," he predicted.
     "Yes sir."  Potts sat on the steps to rest for a spell.  "Do you want that box to go?"
     George gently caressed the outside of a small box which contained the jewelry intended for Nickie.   "Yes, please present it to Nickie.  Tell her these are the heirlooms of my mother, the duchess of Cornwall."
      "You wish me to tell her about the duchy?"
      "Yes, please tell her so that she may know the true identity of her uncle George Mans but caution her not to reveal this personal information to her mother.  Nickie is a sensible girl and will understand. Also, tell her that I would be most pleased if she wore my mother's pearl necklace on her wedding day."
      "What about Dunk?"
      "This other box contains but several heirlooms from Cornwall that he may wear, mostly rings and stickpins. The remainder of these valuables are to go to Roderick when I am dead."  He spread out his hand that Potts could eyeball a large ruby stone on his forefinger and two tiny garnet rings on his pinkies.  Potts was dazzled by his extravagent display, one he had not seen in years.
     "Does this mean that you are going to assume your titles again?"
     "Yes.  Did you write the letter to Mr. Biggers in London?"
     "Yes sir."
     "Did you prepare the deed of Manningham to Lucas?"
      "Yes sir."  The deeding of the Manningham plantation to Lucas clarified it for Potts that George Mans would not return to America. He had been with him too long not to sniff out his plans but this time he felt a pang in his heart.  Potts went inside the house and packed a small trunk for himself. "I am ready, your lordship," he said sadly.
     "Do you mind so much?" George asked.
     "It is my pleasure to serve you, whereever it is. Tis only that I shall miss the grandchildren and this beautiful country." 
      George nodded.
     Lucas complained when he perceived the additional weight to be packed inside the sloop but managed to arrange the trunks appropriately.  The trip was painstakingly slow with almost no breeze. George Mans sat beside the coffin weeping.  The pits of his arms sweated an odorous perspiration.  Lucas was agitated over the fact that they had waited until mid-day before sailing and Mr. Potts sat wiping his foggy spectacles.  When they finally put up at the Ashley Loche dock, George was trembling all over and his s knees shaking  Mr. Potts gently took his arm and led him slowly across the dock, his cane falling into the cracks every other plank board.  Meanwhile, Lucas waited on the dock until the family was told the dreadful  news before having the coffin unloaded and taken to the graveyard.  The grandchildren clung tenaciously to uncle George as though somehow expecting him to undo the death.
     "Are we going to have a service?" Nickie asked tearfully.  She had grown into a fine young lady with a genteel nature and lovely manners. 
     Lucas shook his head.  "No, Miss Nickie.  We must not delay in this humidity. She must be buried today."
     Roderick was grief-stricken, a pain which would nag him for years to come.  "Mr. Potts, will you please take the children inside the house while the grave is being  dug?"
     Potts nodded.  He was fond of the children, especially Dunk but  Martha had to be watched.
    "Who is that?" She asked pointing to the coffin.
    "This is your grandmother," he told her while hearing the instructions with George Mans gave  for the headstone and manner of burial.
     "Here Lies Catherune Winship, consort of Angus McDonald."
     Roderick appeared confused. "I promised her that she would be remembered as your father's wife."
     Roderick burst into tears and clutching George's arm, said: "Oh what precious sacrifice that your posterity never know so genteel a prince!"
     The reaction caused them to spend several hours alone discussing their situations and weeping as they did so.
     That evening emotions were highly charged as the family prepared to take a walk single-file to the graveyard in the backyard behind the garden wall. Sobbing loudly into a white linen handerchief, Uncle George led the way. Behind him were Martha, Nickie and Dunk.  Then came Roderick, Suzette and Lucas.  A full moon lit the footpath and fell across the dug grave.  A terracotta pot full of red geraniums had been placed at the head and at the foot a hand-picked bouquet of wild pink roses which he began to toss into the open grave.    No one dared to assist except Martha who ran to his side and grabbed  the thorny roses to finish the strewing. "I will do it for you uncle George."  The thorns cut deep into her fingers but she did not cry.  "For grandmother!"  When he saw the blood, he moaned and his whole frame trembled.  After the grave was covered, George walked to the barn and returned with a slate tombstone, finely etched in small letters.
     "We love you," Dunk said, old enough to comprehend the meaning of the inscription.  "You are  family."
     The grandchildren gathered for their hugs.  "I shall remain outside for awhile," George said leaning on his cane.  "Just to be alone with your mother. Mr. Potts, will you please deliver the heirlooms to the grandchildren now."
      After a little while, Roderick returned to the graveyard.  George still stood standing over the grave, leaning on his cane.  Roderick noticed that it was not the plain wooden one, rather the silver-tipped abergenny variety. 
     "Mr. Potts delivered the gifts.  I suppose that means that you are leaving us," he said sadly.
     "Where will you go?"
     George took a deep breath and sighed.  "I do not know. "I only know one thing and tis this: I am a man who experienced something which I thought I could never have, and that is love.  The only woman who truly loved me was your mother but somehow I must forget her.  Do you understand?"
     "Yes, It is too painful for you."
     "Oh, you are wise to know this."
     "Must you go?"
     "As Mr. Potts no doubt explained, I made certain financial arrangements to take care of the family.   I hope that you don't mind that I gave the Manningham plantation to Lucas.  Is it enough that you hath Ashley Loche?"
     "Certainly. This is where my heart is."
     "As for my other assets you will inherit them eventually.  Mr. Biggers will disperse my estate when the time comes."
     "Will I learn of your whereabouts through him?"
     "Are you ever coming back?"
     Mans swallowed hard to keep from starting another crying jag.  "No."


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