Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 8

     1815. America's second war with Great Britain ended three years after it had begun. The word arrived at Abergenny as incidential news.  
     "It is time for me to go, sir, the war is ended," Roderick said, placing his accounting book on the table.
     The earl frowned.  "You must tone down your impulsive behavior."
     "Sir? Here is the letter rom my mother.  In January a final battle was fought on Chalmette Plantation near New Orleans causing the whole British fleet to withdraw."
     "An astounding event, for sure.  Once again the finest fleet in the world is defeated by Americans!" He said sarcastically.
     "And opened the seas to commerce....." Roderick added.
     "Upon your departure, there can be no more discussions. Any letter which you write me might not find me or fall into the wrong hands.  Therefore, we must carefully calculate our plans forward."  
     "I shall prepare one last deposit to put with Mr. Biggers before you sail."
     "Perhaps Mr. Potts could take charge of future deposits...."
     The earl waved him off with his hands.  "No, no!   You of all people should realize that one mistake could ruin our future prospects."
     "I apologize, your lordship."
     Roderick paused to think of Lady Matilda.  He had not seen her since her birthday party two years earlier. The earl seemed extraordinarily nervous and fidgety.  "I should inquire as to the health of Lady Neville."
     "The marquess is gravely ill and is taken to her bed.  Her physician says that she is near death, but I tell you it is her stubbornness which keeps her alive."
      Roderick sighed deeply.  "Then I shall keep a diligent lookout for Mr. George Mans."
     "Look first for the letter announcing his arrival."
     Roderick, feeling a profound respect for the earl, bowed deeply. "My lord," he said. "It hath been a  great pleasure to serve you."  His own imminent departure from  Abergenny saddened him.  As the coach left the cobblestone lane and turned into the dirt road, he turned once for a final glance at the great stone manor that had ruled the village and countryside for centuries. 
     The earl slumped in his chair, a long train of disconnected calculated moves racing frantically through his head.  He was weary and exhausted. He imagined a weight of a thousand tons upon his neck and shoulders. He had experienced an albatross of situations for his fifty years. Could he bear up yet another metamorphosis?  After an hour or so he arose from his chair to visit Matilda in her bedchamber.  The room cast dark flickering shadows across it from a large draped window. A permeating odor of flowers stung in his nostrils.  Her personal servants surrounded the bed waiting to do her bidding the moment that she awoke. Her last several months in bed had been particularly annoying, with her need to be fed and turned..   She was irreconcilably demanding. He stared at her dying face.  Her once hefty middle-aged figure was as boney as her cheekbones. He lifted the sheet to glance at the emaciated flesh of her arms and hands. She slept with her head propped against a wooden bolster as she'd always done, to protect her coiffure.  He slipped it from under her neck so that she could rest easily. He had never shared this bed with this dominating figure. She lacked softness and submissiveness, a quality which he longed to know.  But now, staring at her pitifiably wasting body, he whispered. "This cold-hearted lady hath never given herself to any man."   Her eyes blinked open.
     "George?" She perceived that the bolster was gone.
     "I removed it, my lady, that you could rest easily. Your coiffure is still together."
     Her hands felt up her hair and then fell loosely to her sides snoozing momentarily. When she awoke again, her voice was stronger.  "I want the brooch," she told him. She had not forgotten that he'd given to Catherine.  It was the bone of their many contentions. She would never give up. "Fetch it to me. I wish to pin it onto my gown."
     "I shall soon deliver it to you, my lady," he lied. "But first, I give you a tray of correspondence from your friends wishing you good health."
     "Has anyone come to visit me, or did you turn them away?"
     "My dearest wife, tis your personal physician who turns away visitors. Now, before you nap again, I need to view your last will and testament and thus need the key to your safe." Oddly enough the key was attached to a chain which she wore over her nightgown and she clutched it as he spoke.  "We hath shared a lifetime together, my wife, and waited many long years for your inheritance.  Surely you can trust me now."
     "That is exactly the point.   Abergenney is mine and the brooch was not yours to take.  No!  You shall not possess the key until you return the brooch!"
     Matilda's stubbornness generated the earl's determination to open the safe before she died.  It was important that all of her valuables be collected before the crown retrieved the Neville jewels and titled documents so when she fell asleep he lifted her head and removed the chain.


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