Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 26

     The next morning Mr. Potts read the note with a feeling of sorrow.  He knew full well the duke anticipated that a lingering bed sickness would precede his death.  And he waited anxiously while the duke slept out his drunkenness so that he could learn his plan.  But that morning the duke was nauseated and vomiting and stayed mostly to his bed.  When he finally emerged, it was late in the day. Earlier that morning Trask sauntered into the kitchen.
     "I shall take a poached egg and a glass of butter milch," he told the cook. Then he sat down in the archaic kitchen with its hanging pots and kettles and took his sup.  The old memories of his childhood at Abergenny, sneaking into the manor house and playing hide and seek,  hiding from his siblings inside the cabinetry, between the pantry and inside the brick oven,  entered his thoughts.  The fireplace always had a kettle dangling over a fire on a peg. He turned his head sideways to see the same phonomena in the Manningham kitchen.
     "What is in the kettle?" He asked.
     "The mutton stew from last week."
     "I want none of it," he said, aware that she was adding potatoes and carrots to an old stock.
     The cook paused to stare him down.  What was the hawk doing in her kitchen? He ignored her, thinking of his mother when she discovered that he had sneaked into the manor.
     "This house is forbidden to you," she scolded.
     "But why, mother? I am the son of the earl."
     "If his lordship knew that you children were in the house, he would hire another wench in me place."
     "But I am the son of the earl and this is my kitchen to play as I choose," he stubbornly insisted.
     "No. Your destiny lies nought in so great a house."
     Then, he felt a familiar uneasiness in the pit of his stomach when he was reminded of his lowly station in life.  How he loathed the earl in those days. The wayward Trask wanted better. He achieved his manhood owning a distinct distaste for the nobility.
     He pushed aside the partially eaten eggs and let out a loud belch. A stream of milch dribbled down his chin onto the ruffled shirt of last evening. The cook swatted him with her broom.  "I will have none of ye drunken belching in me kitchen!" She said.
     He stood to his feet and shuffled through the door into the main house, crossing a hallway to a massive wooden stairscase where he paused momentarily to get his bearings. When he reached the top of the stairs he saw Mr. Potts in one of the rooms busily writing his letters.
     "Cook ran me out of the kitchen," he said pitifully.
     "It is my kitchen to sup where I please."
     "I should not disagree with you.  This great house is yours to do as you please, should you agree and sign the petition."
     "I need to make me mark on a paper to become the son of Lord Manigault?"
     "No, a duke. Now, if you will excuse me, there is much work ahead of me before attending his lordship."  Potts pressed the Manigault seal on a stack of letters and folded them neatly.
     "I cannot read nor write," he confessed, saying the words lowly, injecting a sense of shame into his voice.
     "Nothing is impossible," Potts said firmly as he swished past Trask, leaving him alone to sulk.
       It was late in the morning. The duke's manservant was dressing him as Potts entered his bedchamber with the packet of letters. 
     "What are those letters?" He asked.
     "They are your orders for corn and sweetfeed for the thoroughbreds and the payment to the brickmasons and sawyers for their work on the stables.  Also, I responded to inquiries from Mr. Biggers and his solicitor."
     "Did you read my note of last evening?"
     "Yes, my lord, and I am perplexed as to it's meaning. What ailment is troubling you?"
     "I fear that my aging body is making its claim on me earlier than I had anticipated and will not be disposed to help the villagers to rebuild a lasting economy of prosperity."
     "Perhaps your son will be the one to do it, my lord."
     "Yes, that was the hope."
     "He took up lodgins in the house last evening," Potts said simply.
     "What sort of mood has he today?"
     "Curious. Yes, I think curiously reflective." 
     "You may commence schooling him in the affairs of the duchy, particularly his responsibility for the peasants and we shall observe how he takes to those duties."
     "How much information should I impart?"
     "All of it, Mr. Potts, deny him not....hold back no bloody secrets."
     "What if Trask should receive all of this, then choose not to sign the petition. What damage could he do?"
     "The truth hath the dynamic of taking care of itself, Mr. Potts."
     Potts agreed. If Trask were to replace his duke, he must face the deviant truths of the past as well as the demanding challenges of the future and in the process learn to bind his tongue. But he must first be informed of his father's miserable years with Matilda, his exclusion from Charleston, how he turned the profit for Abergenny, his generous heart in rebuilding Ashley Loche and of his grand plans to restore Manningham to its former glory. He would reveal the genius of the duke's calculations and plats drawn in his own eloquent script so that Trask could consider the magnanity of the project.  It was his future.  If he would take it.

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