Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 25

     "He is gone," Mr. Potts said still staring from the window. Eventually the duke arose from his chair and joined him at the window.
     "He is so agile, invigorated with stubborn passion and angry resolve! And yet, he hath a fierce determination to cling to abject poverty."
     "Shall I correspond with Mr. Bigger's solicitor to say that the inheritance was refused?"
     "No, first allow me the patience to understand this odd passion. He wants to be who he is."
Several days passed before they saw him again. He was sitting on the wall near the study splitting the ears of some corn cobs he had stolen and was eating it raw. His eyes were fasted on the sluggish activity of mules breaking the crusty surface of land which had laid fallow for generations and upon farmers dragging large bags of seed from their wagons into the dirt. A familiar scene to him in Abergenny, but here, in this far land where the peasants had slept away their lives, it was a peculiar sight. Had he known that the duke when he was the earl had been the one to regenerate and instill life into his own village, his opinion of the hauteur nature of the nobility might undergo some rethinking. But as it was, many long months would pass before he realized that it was the duke who inspired ambitition and that the peasants shared a certain pride in having their duke home alas to govern over them. He allocated many days on the wall thinking about it. Mr. Potts drew open the drapes every morning so that the duke come come to the window and observe the sentry figure of Trask Martain as it kept its vigil over the countryside and west gardens of the study.
     "What do the people say of this man?" The duke asked the head housekeeper.
     "They say that he is as a hawk who sits on the nest waiting to snatch his prey."
     "Then he is thought of as a vulcher?"
     "What else?" She shrugged.
     "What does he want?" Potts said.
     "He wants to phoenix above his dust and taste the bitterness in his mouth, but wonders if he can fathom his own destiny."
     "You say that he might accept legitimacy after all?"
     "He wants to be a man," the duke answered.
     "How do you know these things?"
     "I know that it is far easier to cling to the old ways than to light a candle. Perhaps becoming a duke is more than he can accept as a man."
     "When winter comes, the hawk will feather its nest," the housekeeper said, still listening.
     "There is a new overseer coming this afternoon," Mr. Potts said. "What is his charge?"
     "Should he be worthy of hire, I wish the old vegetable garden to be revived and the pastures fertilized and planted for horses and cattle. For the first time in centuries, we shall know a profit. Manningham is to live again."
     The trusting Mr. Potts nodded. He had seen the duke's handiwork in Abergenny, Ashley Loche and the Beaufort plantation. Now Manningham. It did not matter that the duke's prime years had passed, that his hair was gray and that his back was hunched and he depended upon a cane to walk. His determination would carry them through. Twas a wise choice which Potts made at Abergenny so long ago to accompany the duke whereever he went.
     The overseer planted a summer garden of squash, cucumbers and pumpkins and in the fall planted potatoes and peanuts. Cattle grazed inside a fenced pasture and stables were built for a string of fine thoroughbred horses. Mr. Potts selected a favorite and joined the local farmers in their fox hunting. Lord Manigault, no longer able to ride, waved him off from his west garden. As he stood there, waving and chuckling, the lone figure of Trask Martin approached him. His was a jolly gate, sauntering lightly through the dandelions dug into a footpath which led inside the desmesque.
     "The villagers are harvesting their pumpkins and planning a celebration," he said blitely. "There is a girl over there which catches me eye.... I think I should attend but excepting for these rags have no clothes for it."
     "Are you come begging?" The duke asked.
     " No my lord, I only want to bathe and a mirror to comb me woolly hair, if ye please."
     The duke glanced gingerly away to conceal a smile. "Granted."
     "And they want ye there," Trask said removing a crumbled paper from his pocket and delivering it to the duke. Lord Manigault was pleased. Moreso than he had ever been before.
     "These are my people," he answered. "I shall be delighted to attend."
     The duke dressed warmly to attend the outdoor celebration which began in an old cornfield and slowly gravitated towards the outside the wall of the Manningham desmesque. He was made the guest of honor and from his seat at the head of a long wooden table observed an array of fiddlers and dancing. Mr. Potts, still wearing his red hunt jacket, joined in a scottish reel. Platters of roasted pork and chick were continually placed before him as well as full tankards of ale. After awhile, a complacent smile appeared on his drunken lips. In the inner circle of the reel he caught a glimpse of Trask with his arm around a young girl. His robust black hair was combed neatly over his ears and he wore one of the duke's white ruffled shirts. It was unbuttoned halfway down his chest to the belly and he wore a belt to secure his old reggety pair of trousers. In a strangely peasant style, Trask was  handsome and possessed a charming mannish personality preferred by women. . An overpowering sense of satisfaction was on his lips as he twirled the girl to his heart's content, then laughed at her dizzyness. After awhile he grabbed her waist with his large garish hands and led her into the woods, not to be seen again.
     When that happened, the duke struggled to his feet and commenced a series of short footsteps across the brick portico which led into the study.  No one seemed to notice that the old baron had left the celebration.  He went straight to his desk and pulled a page of parchment from the drawer, then taking his feather pen and dipping it into the inkwell, wrote: "Mr. Potts.  I feel myself in a declining state of health, affecting me in the same consuetude which my wife Matilda suffered.  For this reason, my conclusion is that I do not have the years for a painful observation of whether Trask Martain should prepare himself to secede me. . . ."  He had mind of a plan but could not finish the instruction to Mr. Potts, and restoring his pen to the inkwell, went to his bed.

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