Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 1

     The castle Abergenny was a magnificent stone structure located in Wales, was awarded by the British crown to the first earl, George Nevil, for his service during the English wars. The barony passed in lineage to the 5th earl who died without an heir and thus the estate passed in abeyance to his sister, Matilda, wife of Sir George Manigault, duke of Cornwall.
     Matilda had suffered financially in her marriage to a faithless and impoverished duke washed clean of his titled inheritance by a long lineage of dukes who mismanaged the estates in Cornwall.  They had combined their paltry fortunes to travel to the colonies and establish a mediocre plantation in Charleston, South Carolina. Too, when the American patriots won their war for independence at Yorktown and Lord Cornwallis made his hasty retreat, they found themselves in the company of other loyalists retreating to New Providence Island in Barbadoes. All that remained was the misery of waiting for Matilda to inherit her fortune from her older brother, the coveted Abergenny and its titles. When it finally happened, they were immensely relieved. Matilda rushed to sail to Wales while the duke stayed behind to retrieve the treasure he'd buried on the Charleston plantation and the one precious heirloom missing from her collection, the diamond brooch given to the first marquess of Abergenny and inscribed with the family crest. Her suspicions were that her husband had given the brooch to Miss Catherine Winship, a popular Charleston girl attempting to break into the aristocracy. A letter was sent by him from Port Royal announcing his delay in acquiring passage. She did not care how long he delayed or even if he had a tryst with Miss Winship but she did want the brooch. His personal ambition for the earldom would assure his arrival.  Eventually she would see the coal black hair and greedy brown eyes pleading with her to understand him. In the meanwhile, she prepared the great house to receive a number of guests for an extended visit. That was her purpose, to spend large sums of money entertaining the nobility.
     Lord Manigault came running in the flustering haste of a coach over-powered by his excitement to view Abergenny.  The coach wound itself through a village to an old stone wall which marked the boundaries of the old fiefdom. The coachman passed through an opening and maneuvered the ruts in an old field road which led to the castle. The journey seemed to be endless, but the duke comforted himself with the thought that he was the earl and all of this was his so long as Matilda lived.  Then the ancient estate would revert back to the crown. He shoved back into the corners of his mind the worry that he might out-live her and be inconvenienced thusly. When the coach finally came to a stop in front of the castle, he brushed off his suit of clothes and awaited the coachman to assist him down. Then he stood admiring the vast stone steeples and spheres, counting to himself a hundred windows. It was a modern castle by all accounts.  A set of steep steps was laid out before him. He was still beset by the injuries of his recent dual, so he took his silver-tipped cane and gently maneuvered himself up each step.  It was a trying experience which he would blame on his infirmities and advancing age.
The inside of the castle was elegantly drawn in the taste of the first earl. Generations had sublimely passed with few alterations. The Neville family crest was ornamented in the dark maghony wood and furnishings. It was something that all of his predecessors accepted, so Lord Manigault settled his mind to it. His trunks were dispatched into the old lord's chamber of thirteen adjoining rooms. "A place of great loneliness," he thought when he saw it.
     Matilda was waiting for him in his small parlor.  It would be a rare appearance into his quarters.  He folded his body to the waist, bowing only as deeply as the pain in his side would allow.
     "So pitifully unrefined. You must improve this shameful display before you present yourself to the king to be knighted!" She said disapprovingly.
     "Yes, my dear," he said while moving towards her to kiss her hand, but she swatted him away.  "My dearest wife, how I cherish the vision of you once more and aspire to the hope of our love and  mutual happiness at Abergenny."
     "First, explain your delay."
     "I suffered a long protracted delay in Port Royal. When finally an English ship arrived, it was a cargo vessel.  Nevertheless, the captain took his bribe and transported me to Gravesend where...."
     "I do not care to learn of the sorted details of your inconveniences, sir."
     "I dug the treasure from our old garden in Charleston and packed it inside of two trunks."
     "Trifles, compared to Abergenny. Pray tell me about the brooch?"
     This was the moment that he dreaded; his face stung with a red flush.  While he hesitated, she put a monacle to one eye and observed his shabby attire.  During the long journey, the duke's wardrobe  became shabby and he of necessity discarded his finest brocade vest, several lace shirts, cumberbuns, trousers and stockings.  The vissitudes of duelling and subsequent bleeding through clothing had demanded its disposal. 
     "Regretfully, I could not recover it, my dear."
     "Miss Winship possesses it!"
     He blushed again.  "Yes, my dear."
     She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin.  Her eyes were filled with resentment and disgust. "From henceforth," she said as an announcement, "there will be no more of your disgusting bantering and fourberie."
     "Yes\, my love."
     "Do not speak of love to me, your lordship!"

Chapter 2

     The knighting process occurred at Westminster, an uncomfortable journey from Monmouth. A great preparation was made in fashioning a new wardrobe for the duke and he practised bending to his knees. When the moment finally arrived, he knelt with great awkardness before the king while a stabbing was sent jabbing throughout his hips and legs.  Matilda hid her embarrassment, protracting high her aristocratic chin.
     "I dub thee, Lord Neville, 5th earl of Abergenny," the king said, droitly dubbing each shoulder with his sword.
     "Take heed my husband and know that you are George Neville, 5th earl." Matilda told him afterwards, still angry over the fact that she was unable to display the diamond brooch on her dress when she was presented to the king.  "Do not speak to me of  Manigault ever again.  That name is a soiling memory in Cornwall and a humiliating influence in this great house."
     "Yes, my dear.  Oh fain that I should remind the nobility that you stooped to marry a mere duke, a Manigault." The intonations of his voice were sarcastic, intended as an insult,  yet said softly so the unclever Matilda did not know for certain. 
     And so it was.  The former life disappeared. The dreams of being Lord Neville had come true but the prospect of sharing it with the cold and arrogant Matilda was depressing. And for all of his cravings to be the earl, he had no idea of the responsibilities and hard work necessary to maintain a solvent estate of so many impoverished tenants. Nor did he understand the wealth required to staff such a large house and entertain the nobility. When he became emeshed in that burden, he soon forgot the ongoing quarrel between himself and Matilda,  As a matter of fact he also forgot the promises that he had made to himself respecting being faithful to his wife.  The duel with Angus McDonald served to teach him the lesson of discreetness, a challenge which he seemed to enjoy as he set upon himself the course of using unmarked coaches on his trips to the baudy houses in London. His adoption of an alias (George Mans) was a brilliant stoke of genius and was in frequent use.  The fleeting comfort that he found with these whores was demeaning and shameful but surmised that so long as he was George Mans he could do anything and not get caught.
     Oh the flesh! So weary, so tired, so needy.  Alas, the time arrived when his weary old bones were too exhausted to make frequent trips into London and he defied his own rules.  As luck would have it, the young daughter of an older maid trained to clean the third floor was re-assigned to his quarters.  In all of the years at Abergenny, Matilda had only visited him once so lowering the mantle of caution and  secrecy was a rational conclusion that he could use this maid.  Milly was too young, too cooperative and too anxious to please.  All of these qualities went against her as she encountered an earl who could seduce and impress with power and influence. He was the age of her own dear father, but more dashing and handsome as he flaunted his silken dress robes and jewelled fingers. Not that she had ever entertained the idea of kissing an older face, but this one shone with a zest for life and told her stories of foreign lands.  Too, it was well-known among the servants that the earl had never slept with the marquess.  After awhile, Milly gave birth to their first child, a son.  The earl counceled her into the utmost secrecy and to give the boy the name of her father, Trask Martain. He then sent the child to the family home in the village to be raised by her grandmother.  With the child out of sight, Milly was less tearful over the fact that the child was a bastard of the earl and that she had to pretend that she'd slept with one of the boys from the village.  Her permiscious nature thus established among the servants, the earl was satisfied.  She gave birth to another child, and then another until finally Milly demanded more of him than his banishing her children to the village.  She complained that her grandmother was too old to raise more children.  He resolved the issue by retiring Milly's mother from Abergenny service and providing a pension adequate to support the family.  But of course Milly would continue in service. The arrangement was pleasing to all parties.  Did Matilda know?  If she did, she never spoke of it. In fact, Matilda was so emeshed in entertaining her peers and the nobility that she was separated from the reality of the earl's labors to maintain the solvency of Abergenny.  And the earl was well aware that he went unloved by his wife and his mistress. The middle-aged marquis examined his soul and emerged with deep probing questions as to his true purpose in life.  And there was always his pragmetic self warning "take care, take care of the future".

Chapter 3

     The years flew by and when rumors of another war with America pressed his ears he was half shocked and half delighted by the arrival of a letter from Catherine McDonald. Any news from Catherine was not to be mused but regarded with the utmost seriousness.
The letter was presented on a silver tray by his secretariat.
"What is this hand-writing?" He asked curiously.
"A lady from Charleston, my lord," Potts said cautiously, aware of the earl's clandestiny and insistance upon privacy.
"No need to wait. I shall draft a response later," he said shooing Potts away with fingers adorned in diamonds and rubies.
Sitting alone in his morning room, a place of privacy and solace, he gingerly opened the letter and flattened it across his writing table. For a moment, though, he paused to remember her face, the opague doll-like skin and large brown eyes. Catherine Winship. The one woman with whom he would have had a serious affair, had she agreed.
"Lord Manigault," she wrote. What? Do Americans not understand Engliish titles and rank? "As you hath no doubt heard, we are once again at war with Great Britain and the harbor in Charleston is in danger of being attacked. In the interest of safeguarding our property, my husband is a colonel in the militia and spends much time away from home. Too, our crops wilt in the fields for want of a vessel to get through the lines." The view of british man o-war ships in the Charleston harbor flashed in his mind. Although he thought so at the time, those days were of no hardship to him then. After all, he'd hob-nobbed with the soldiers, partied with the officers and adopted the political views of the british. During that blockage it was the local citizens who'd suffered a great loss of wealth. What did that matter to him? He had never felt ashamed or had a remorseful moment over it. He read on. "Several years hence my son Roderick chose to pursue his academic studies at Oxford University for which purpose my husband established a stipend to pay his necessities through our London factor, Mr. Biggers. Because of the current crisis, he is no longer able to send the stipend. Thereore, Roderick will of necessity quit the university. His last letter to me expressed a desire to remain abroad and because of the war my husband agrees. I write this letter for this reason, to ask you to kindly employ Roderick at some useful task at Abergenny. Your obedient servant, Catherine McDonald."
Hmmm, so the boy is at least twenty years of age and having attained a love for the britons, cared not to return to his roots. The earl placed a clean parchment on the table and dipped his quill into an inkwell. His letter was addressed to the dean of Oxford. He would request that the dean send three students to Abergenny for an interview. When he had finishing writing the dean, he crumbled up Catheriine's letter and put it into a trash basket under his table.
"Mr. Potts, do not forget to burn this trash in the fire," he said pointing to basket. Potts swept up the basket and burned Catherine's letter over the logs. His master had a fettish for the daily burning of trash. He had been sworn to secrecy in the earl's affairs and had learned to act quickly and never to reveal the name of the earl's friends.
"Here is a letter you should deliver to the dean of the College of Oxford. He will show you a list of students having high grades. Select three from that list and interview them yourself. Make certain that one of them is Roderick McDonald and that you select him."
"Shall I persuade master McDonald to accompany me to Abergenny?"
"Yes, and do not leave Oxford until you hath his trunk in tow."
Mr. Potts had been hired specifically to be privy to the earl's personal affairs. This assignment like so many others was secretive and required the utmost finesse and discretion. He was to pretend that he was making a selection from three students when he was sent after one person. He had an idea that Roderick McDonald would play an important part in the affairs of Abergenny, but never guessed how the young man would play such an integral part in his own life. He seemed admirably polite and possessed the American manners of the handshake rather than the bow. Americans had little regard for the nobility and Potts wondered if he would afford the earl his proper respect.
Mr. Potts delivered Roderick into the little parlor and secured the double-doors behind him. The the earl knew at once that the young whelp with a thick head of red hair and flashing blue eyes was the son of Angus. The boy was tall and lean, several heads above his father, but he had that same electric energy and zest for life.
     Roderick was led through several corridors of dark oak wood and single candelabras attached to the walls before reaching the earl's plush study. His inquisitive eyes darted quickly about the room, noticing an excessive display of carvings of the Neville crest on the furniture and along the book shelves.  Roderick figured that the whole of the English law library was contained on those shelves.  The rafters in the ceiling, stone fireplace and wooden walls and floors reminded him of an old Irish solar where the warriors gathered to eat and drink after battle.
     The earl himself rested his back against the tall back of an ornately carved chair with a red velvet seat, a distinctive piece from an earlier era.  His fingers were stretched across the cushioned arms,   laden with a garish selection of garnet and ruby rings emeshed with diamond settings.  His fingernails were manicured.  He wore a satin morning coat wrapped at the neck with a purple sash which accentuated his dark brown eyes and coal black hair. 
     "We are creatures of tradition," the earl said as Roderick absorbed the makings of the room.
      Roderick bowed politely.  "Yes, your lordship."
     "One does not alter the past by changing its style. It is as much a part of us now as ever.  That is what I believe."
     "Yes sir."
     "Thus Abergenny operates as a fiefdom with a substantial estate of tenants whose roots are planted as deeply as the first earl Neville and whose traditon it is to farm the land.  When there is drought or too much rain or illness on the part of tenant then he produces very little which renders him unable to pay his rent.  One does not remedy the situation by removing the tenant of his inherited tenure. There is a delicate skill in the management of such situations but my overseer is old and bears watching."
     "Would that be my employment, sir?"
     "Allow me to finish.  You cannot imagine in your most posterous dreams how much tedium is required in this duty.  I personally spend long hours each day laboring over ancient accounting practices. The whole system needs restructuring."
     "I am trained in bookkeeping with a degree in literature and the arts. Also, I can speak french," Roderick said proudly.
     "Hmmm, never mind the french as the gordy welsh accent is beyond anything which can be refined.  Do you think that you can forget your American roots and emesh yourself in old traditions?"
     "You are asking if I can accept this way of life?"
     "I ask because England is in but another war with your country and you may resent that fact. How do you feel about it?"
     "Well, sir, my formitive years were spent in the boarding school of the academy of Charleston and then my father sent me to Oxford University that I might manage his plantation afterwards. I am already enmeshed in the old ways. And as you say, the war is meddlesome and preventing me from further study and returning home."
     The earl stood to his feet and taking the silver-tipped cane lying beside his chair hobbled across the room to the fireplace.  The old dueling injury had taken its toll with the years.  He appeared older than he actually was and vulnerable.  "This old house can be chilly," he said warming his hands over a banked fire.  For a few moments, he was quiet. Roderick was having regrets over his little speech.
     "I pray that I have not offended your lordship."
     "Oh no, I was only recalling the many occasions that I found myself adjusting to change.  You see, I was a British citizen in your country at the time of the American Revolution."  Roderick seemed confused.  "Tis a rather long tale that I shall not bore you with.  Suffice it to reveal that I was not always the earl of Abergenny and came into this circumstance due to my wife's inheritance. That, too, can change.  Yes, my own situation seems to be in a constant state of change and adjustment, something I learned to accept.."
     Roderick nodded.  "Should my employment not be permanent due to peculiar circumstances, I will adjust to that, sir."
     The earl's lips curled upward in an effort to smile.  "Your discretion in all things must be absolute."
     Mr. Potts entered the room and emptied a full trash basket onto the fire.  "May I introduce Mr. Potts.  He is my personal secretariat and privy to my personal affairs.  You will be sharing confidences.  Follow his discretionary lead because he knows the art of silence."
     Potts bowed politely and made his exit.
     "Abergenny is on solid grounds, but your charge is to help me to establish a private investment account with Biggers & Company, one of the largest factoring companies in London."
      Roderick scratched his head.  "I believe that is who handles my father's factoring."
     "Indeed! My information is that Ashley Loche is one of Mr. Bigger's largest accounts. That is one of the reasons that you were selected, my boy.  Your influence should have a free hand there."
      Roderick seemed satisfied but not his curiosity.  In the months which followed he would hear of an intricately woven plan to hoard money.

Chapter 4

     Roderick was given a bedchamber in the west wing where his trunk was already delivered and his   wardrobe and toiletries already placed inside of a dark cherry french armoire. He took stock of his situation.  He would sleep in a 4-poster bed with a wooden canapy.  The mattress was somewhat lumpy from muskiness and moisture in the house and his pillow was a wooden bolster designed to maintain coiffures.
    After three years at Oxford, he possessed the accent of any high-bred gentleman and dressed accordingly. But when the money ran out he found himself scrimping and counting his shillings. He considered himself in good fortune to be resident of such a lavish estate and employed  as the manager of  the earl's assets. Obviously there was a great deal of trust and secrecy involved of which he was to learn more of such pecularities during the coming months.  The earl observed the staunch traditions of the true englshman who never spoke publicly of his personal preferences and especially never shared his interests with the marquess.  They existed in two different worlds, Lady Matilda in a constant flutter of entertaining her peers and the nobility.  The earl likened her flamboyant display of the hereditary jewels strung around her neck as a a precious stone in a sow's ear.  As for himself he was yet taunted by fearful memories of losing his duchy and after the long years of waiting for the death o Matilda's brother so that she could inherit, was determined not to fritter away an earldom.  It was his
attention to details which caused the fiefdom to prosper. So it was that as the months passed the earl's plan was drawn into Roderick's thinking.  Whether he waited to find Roderick trustworthy and capable before he revealed it or it was because the physicians said that Matilda had a weak heart, he did not know.  It simply took time to craft it.
     Late one afternoon the earl called Roderick into his rooms.
     "You may have heard me recount my genealogy as being the last heir to a badly mismanged and spoilt dukedom in Cornwall."
     "Yes, your lordship."
     "Before I attained the title of Lord Neville, I was known as Sir George Manigault, duke of Cornwall." He paused to see if Roderick recognized the name and when he did not, continued.  "Thus, in order to handle my personal affairs expeditiously outside of Abergenney, I assumed an alias. George Mans. It is this alias that I prefer when you establish certain accounts for me in London."
     "Quite so. An alias is sometimes used by the nobility as a means to privacy. The uncertainty of us all!  I wish for you to attend Mr. Biggers personally and establish an account for George Mans.  He is to be told nothing, except that I am a british entrepreneur and adventurer on the high seas. Your deposits into this account will always be made in person. No one else will share the knowledge of this enterprise nor accompany you on your journeys to London.  The deposits will be recorded in your own handwriting and you will  hide the ledger in your room."
    "Is this my primary employment?"  Roderick asked, wrinkling his brow.
    "Yes, all other duties take homage to it.  However, to satisfy your curiousity a wee bit, I shall tell you this.  Such deposits are the means of preserving a future income for my person. Remember what I told you.  My estates and titles are only symbolic so long as the marquess lives.  When she dies, it all reverts back to the king."
     Roderick had already surmised that even though the earl used a cane to support himself, his mental accuities were sharp and he was in far better health than the marquess. Yes sir, there was a great deal of living left for the earl!
     "I should expect Mr. Biggers to make wise investments for Mr. George Mans and to build upon his account with the profits.  Yours is the utmost precaution.  You must select your verbage carefully and no one, especially Mr. Biggers, must suspect my true identity.  Do you understand me, Roderick?"
     The new responsibility commenced the next morning when Roderick was sent to London with a purse full of pound notes and without the personal seal of George Mans.  The earl did not express it, but Biggers would have to establish an account based solely upon his word.  To go unnoticed, he rode in an unmarked coach and refrained from conversation with strangers.  Once in London, he went directly to the Sow's Ear where he arranged to spend the night.  Then walked across the bridge to a row of warehouses facing the river front.  The street was crowded with peasants delivering their crops to auctioneers, local merchants readying to auction and representatives from various factoring houses preparing to purchase or sell for their clientele.  It was something which Mr. Biggers had done so well for his father's rice crops.  The earl had venture capital to invest in the burgeoning agricultural markets.
     No one seemed to notice him as the commoners and traders knocked him about in the streets. It was a familiar scene to him. This was his favorite haunt when he needed college funds.  He found Mr. Biggers bidding on a substantial stack of brightleaf tobacco recently arrived from a Virginia plantation. His eyes were studying the quality of the fire-cured leaves in still in good condition for auction considering its long delay at sea passing through the blockades.  It was a lucrative investment which would easily sell at a premium price.  Roderick observed  Biggers'  excitement and his bobbling head as he experienced the joy of bidding in the tobacco at a satisfactory price. He was a short unassuming statue of a man easily recognized and respected by his peers by his traditional well-worn gray peruke wig and a pair of round spectacles on his nose.
     "Roderick?" He said, first supposing that the boy wanted to arrange to be paid from the empty account of his father.  "Why are you not at Abergenney?"
     "May I have a private audience with you, sir?"
     "You are in good time. Early this morning a letter was delivered from one of the vessels.  It was addressed to you," he said walking ahead as Roderick, wedged in the crowd,  followed from behind.
     "A letter for me?" He shouted.
     "That is what I said!"  Biggers answered, his head bouncing ahead through the crowd. When he reached the wharf he paused momentarily to provide some instructions for the captain of a dutch vessel. His office was located inside one of the high-storied warehouses adjoining the wharf.   "This is a busy season, everyone wants a cargo shipped to the West Indies.  Some vessels were lost in the hurricane which ravaged your South Carolina and Georgia coast.  The rice crops failed to get through. This news, commensurate with the Americans blockading Charleston is causing panic in the markets.  Luckily a cargo of brightleaf Virginia tobacco got through in satisfactory condition, which needs transportation.  Perhaps you should return in a day or so, my boy."
     Saying nothing, Roderick drew out the earl's heavy purse and laid it on the table.  Biggers lifted it and weighing it in his hand, reconsidered.  "You are on the earl's business."
    "Well no.  Actually, I am come in behalf of Mr. George Mans, a wealthy entrepreneur and adventurer."
    Biggers nodded.  He wasn't fooled.  "Cash is a much needed commodity in today's markets, especially to bribe ship's captains to take risks. Exactly who is this George Mans?"
     "He is an international figure who wishes to remain anonymous and whose plans are to leave England at some time in the future.  In the meanwhile, he is willing to place his money at risk for the sake of profits.  He wishes for you to place this money into speculative investments and accumulate the proceeds in his name and he is willing to pay the optimum commission for your services."
     Biggers scratched his head.  "Who is this George Mans?"
    "I can assure you that he is an honorable gentleman of economic wisdom and  ...."
     "Yes, yes," he said impatiently.  The boy had pestered him for extra shillings while at Oxford and spent frivolous amounts on entertaining himself.  He knew Roderick like the back of his hand... he was the typical spoilt child of an American planter impressed by English traditions and titles but ignorant that it was the tradesmen who were the economic backbone of society.  Also, he tended to rattle on while searching for the appropriate message. "You never were a good liar, my boy. Given your recent employment at Abergenny, the logical assumption is that Lord Neville hath taken an alias."  He provided space for Roderick to answer when he paused and raised a thin hairy eyebrow over his right eye.
     "I am sworn to secrecy, sir."    
     "Nobless oblige."
     "Yes sir. My schedule is to deliver another purse next Monday.  I am required to review your written accounting of the investments. Might I add that Mr. George Mans is generous and will pay whatever commission that you ask."
     "Agreed. Twenty per cent," Biggers said quickly aware that the earl's funds would enable him to double the declining war-time profits of his factoring business.
     Roderick opened his hand to seal the bargain with a handshake, but Biggers thrust the letter into it instead.
     "This is from my mother," he said.  "I wonder why she did not address me at Abergenny."
       Roderick fell silent as he read the letter several times over.
     "How is your mother?" Mr. Biggers asked.
     "She is well, but my father....but my father," his voice trembled as he choked back tears. "My father is dead.  Twas an accident when he was on militia duty protecting the Charleston harbor...when the hurricane struck."
     "Tsk. Tsk.  The casualties of war.  I for one am nought happy with this little war...all that it does is impede trade and drive up prices.  Before that, your father's rice plantation was forging ahead as a most profitable venture.  He  was a genius at turning a profit.  And now your dear father is gone.  I am sorry, my boy."
     "He was the bravest soldier....was at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered...but now, when he arose one last time to defend his country, gave his life for it."
     "Yes, the loss of trade is a financial loss for your family also.  When this war ends, you best consider returning to Ashley Loche and recouping the losses.  I shall be here, my boy, cheering you on."


Chapter 5

     Roderick wasted a restless evening at the Sow's Ear imbibing a tankard of ale, something the earl had alerted him not to do as drunkenness could cause a slippery tongue.  Mr. Biggers' uncomfortable truth of his ultimate necessity of returning to Ashley Loche was troubling.  He worried over the  damage caused by the  hurricane.  If the force of the wind and rain forced barges to float down the street, did its intense violence also wash away his father's hardy rice plants?  The main economic thrust of a plantation.  He'd played in the swampy the tall grass alongside his father as he supervised the hands, designed more paddies, had new ideas. Ashley Loche was in a constant state of planning and planting.  "Is there ever enough land?" He once asked.  "No,"  Angus said,  "so long as we dream there is no end to anything.  We must build on our hopes." His emotions were strung high and  struggling for control, squeezed his eyes shut to recall that particular day and to see the expression on his father's face. It was locked inside his square jaw and determined eyes, an inner-strength of will.  As he thought of it, he wept.
     Eventually however, he took his drunken self upstairs and fell across the bed.  After awhile, another guest of the tavern slipped into the bed beside him and commenced generating a loud snore. That annoyance, too, was better than crying.  Roderick crushed his pillow over his ears and struggled to sleep. He must have slept because the next morning he awoke well after the other guest had left.   He washed his face, feeling a bit nauseated and searched his brain for any further instructions or duties before returning to Abergenny. 
     As the coach left the bridge, a smoggy rain fell over London. A trail of dark clouds seemed to follow the coach as it went into the countryside.  After awhile, the smoking chimneys of cottages splattered alongside the road with their lanes of wild entwining roses and meadow grasses blended into one panoramic view of English peasantry. As the coach criss-crossed the dirt roads, whispy breezes blew the seed heads of yellow dandelions for miles and miles in the fields.  It was spring renewing itself in a strange majesty of beauty after a death.  As the coach near Abergenny, he found himself observing the peasants as they worked with their shovels and hoes and women carrying baskets of laundry on their backs.  They resided in cottages made of wood and field-stones with broken-down fences and a milch cow tied in the yard.  Centuries of tradition that one could rely upon.  The weary driver anxious to get to his cottage, reined the horses rather carelessly through a turn in the road throwing Roderick to the floor.  When he found his seat again, he could see the manor house through a narrowly opened window.  The ancient stone edifice with its dormer windows and pitched roofs sat majestically overlooking a grassy knoll as though it were the beginning and end of all journeys.  They crossed over a dam and a lake to reach the gardens which surrounded it.  The coachman drew his team to a jolting stop ontop a cobble-stone plateau in front of the house.  Roderick groaned.  His body was sore all over.
     Mr. Potts was alerted as to his arrival.  "His lordship needs to see you at once," he said as soon as Roderick went to his rooms. But he went first to his closet and poured a full china bowl of water to bathe his face. He smelled under his arms and smelling the stink of ale, put on a fresh suit of clothes. Then as Mr. Potts watched him slick back his hair and tuck his mother's letter into his pocket, he remarked: "I wonder if his grace could afford to hire a new coachman." Potts chuckled.
      He found the earl isolated inside the study. He was seated at his davenport writing a letter.  When Roderick entered the room, he folded it in half and embossed it with the seal of the earl of Abergenny. "This seal belonged to the first earl Neville and now it is just another treasure of this house.  I never think of it as being mine."
     "What troubles you?" Roderick recognized the earl's pensive, retracting  mood.
     "Consider that I am George Mans and advise him."
     "The fortune of Mr. Mans is in the capable hands of Mr. Biggers of London."
     "How so?"
     "Mr. Biggers is beset by the blockades in American ports and is scrambling to turn a profit with  cargoes too long at sea.  But he is quick to act ahead of his peers and hath a skilled eye in recognizing Virginia tobacco properly dried."
     "Would you say that Mr. Biggers is a shrewd investor?"
     "His reputation is such and you will pay a hefty commission for it."
     "And your advice to me?"
     "God speed the purse to London so that  Mr. Biggers may concentrate himself on an enterprising profit during a lull in his business."
     The earl stood to his feet and leaning on his cane hobbled across the room.  His eyes were red from lack of sleep and there appeared more strands of gray in his hair.
     "The marquess hath taken to her bed for a spell."  Roderick understood. 
     "I shall go again to London at your bidding.  That is my advice to Mr. Mans. In the interim I must tell you that my father is dead.  Mr. Biggers informs me that he hath received no cargo from the plantation since the war began. He said that I should consider returning to Ashley Loche and do what I can to resume the rice shipments."
     "Hmmm. Yes, understandable.  How is your mother?"
    "It was she who wrote the letter."
    "If it is not an affront to your privacy, may I read her letter and assess the situation?"
     Roderick slipped the letter from his pocket and gave it to the earl.

Chapter 6

     When the earl was alone, he sat to himself and read Catherine's tear-stained letter.  The words were sadly poignant and heart-wrenching and a pang of emotion touched his heart as she explained the circumstances of the death of Angus to her only son.  The untrenchable Angus McDonald, arising from his struggles with unwavering determination to conquer the circumstances of his birthright, fighting for American independence, building a personal empire in Ashley Loche and finally closing the pages of his life in one last fight against the British.  The earl pressed his fingers into the old hip wound dug by the unskilled sword of the foiles of Angus McDonald. Tradition had not counted when blood was drawn for it was not the finely crafted  gentleman's sword, rather the wide soldier's blade which cut him.  And then there was Catherine who wanted to chase after her husband but who turned back when he begged her to stay and tend his wound.  the only influence which he had over her was the blood splashed over his white ruffled sleeves and satin vest and the fact that he lay helpless and bleeding in a swamp.  His defeat was monumental, the cocky certainty of killing Angus McDonald was gone forever.  His desperation persuaded Catherine to stay behind and bind his wound and when she did so, his passion to have her dissipated in the ordeal and embarrassing sojourn at Port Royal where he had to lie about his identity and endure the reputation of having a mistress in his room. The shameful experience taught him to regret ever having pursued the woman.
But then there was Catherine, nursing him well, looking after his needs in the face of prying eyes and gossiping tongues and having no prospects of her own.  That made her sacrifice a true labor of love.
But finally she wrote the dreaded letter to Angus that she was expecting his child.  It was not easy for her. She was afraid that her husband would not come after her.  But the invincible Angus McDonald chunked his pride and came for his wife.
     "The paddies are washed away," she wrote, "and your grandfather labors with his own hands to save the roots, but he is old and cannot accomplish what needs to be done.  I pray that as soon as the seas are freed of our enemies that you should come home and take your place as master of Ashley Loche.."
     As he read, fresh ideas flashed inside of his head.  Ashley Loche could be his redemption!
     "Mr. Potts!  Bring Roderick McDonald into my rooms!"
     "But tis late, my lord. He sleeps."
     "Wake him! Bring him at once!"

     "Roderick, my boy, thank you for allowing me to read your mother's letter.  I understand that you are sorely needed at home,  but do not worry, my head is cranking up ideas to save us both."
     "Sir?" Roderick rubbed his eyes.  He had been aroused from a deep sleep.
     "Can you not see it? We share parallel universes, you and I.  You, with your Ashley Loche and I, with my Abergenny.  Eventually this estate with its titles will matricate back to the crown.  Although she is strong-willed, Lady Matilda's health is declining.  I dare not hope that she will recover. Eventually we must endure the sickle of the grim reaper. Ashley Loche is in a state of deterioration.  The plantations require intensive labor,  strict supervision, and a sort of ingenuity which your father possessed and which cannot be replicated by others.  When you are in a position to return to America, it will require a great deal of ingenuity and money to restore the plantation to its former glory. Do you agree?"
     "Yes, my mother wrote it."
     " I am satisfied that you possess the McDonald stuffings to accomplish it."
     "What is the plan, my lord?"
     "But you lack the necessary funds to begin again.  That is where I merge into your universe. I, with amply funds but without a home.  I will provide the funds necessary to restore the plantation."
     "Oh no sir, " Roderick protested.
     "It is not in the spirit of generosity that I gender this proposal. In exchange, I would expect to share in the ownership of Ashley Loche and also to reside there."
     "I should write my mother."
    "From the tone of your mother's letter she worries over a failing plantation and the knowledge that your aging grandfather cannot save it either.  But you can, you hath not the tenacity of your father."
     "But I am nought like my father either!"  Roderick said with great emotion as tears came into his eyes.
     The earl smiled.  "Yes you are."
     "How do you know these things?"
     "You must believe that I am well informed on such things."

Chapter 7

     Later on, Roderick reflected on how the earl knew so much about the personal side of his father and could recognize in him those same traits.  But he was mostly troubled about his proposal to invade his American sanctuary. How could he ignore such splendid generosity?  He was only somewhat acquainted with the earl's character and affectations.  Yet, the earl's pending dilemma was transparently as real as his own.  Should he accept the proposal there was the possibility that the earl would never reside at Ashley Loche. The earl surmised that he would survive his wife. Perhaps not. The longer that he considered the idea, the more he fretted over his mother and grandfather alone in the manor, stressing over their helplessness.  The earl was a private person with many secrets.  For the sake of an affluent and aristocratic lifestyle, he tolerated a stubborn and unloving wife.  He insisted upon his personal privacy, doubtless he would do the same at Ashley Loche. He was clever and charted almost every aspect of his situation.  Returning to America was somewhat of a gamble considering his name was on a traiter's list. This time he would gamble on his future prospects and Roderick would have to gamble also.  Roderick's inexperience and immaturity was against such a union.  All considered though, a partnership with the earl could prove useful.   Roderick tossed all night in his sleep before deciding.
     "There are doubts in my mind," he told the earl, "and I wish I could speak to my grandfather Duncan about your proposal before deciding."
     "The uncertain future?"
     "Yes sir."
     "It would be comforting, would it not, to expect that our decisions would propel us forward on a safe untroubled journey?  And so much more comforting to relax and await the happy journey. But such ease and relaxation would hone off the sharpness of our intelligence and cause us to fall into the very pit that we fear."
     "My own impulsiveness causes my restraints, your lordship."
    "Ah, yes!  The first cracking of the egg and a glimpse of the strange new world!  I will tell you this. Before the revolutionary war, I was a resident of Charleston.  When Lord Cornwallis surrendered, my name was added to a traitor's list and my wife and I left your country in the dead of night before we were arrested.  It was the price of being loyal to my own country at the wrong time in history. Yours is not the only risk. You see, my boy, there is a pit waiting for me to fall into, but I am confident in my ability to avoid it."
     "You were acquainted with my parents?"
      He nodded. 
     "Then I accept your proposal with the stipulation that I will be sole master of Ashley Loche and that my mother will never be privy to this agreement."
     "I shall reserve my opinion as to its management and will only provide it should you ask."  
     "Then it is a deal between gentlemen," Roderick said, shaking his hand.
     "In the meanwhile, I would prefer that you return to London at the end of the week after Mr. Potts collects the receipts. But first, there is a gift for you."  He removed a diamond stick-pin from a small jewelry box. "My lady's birthday party is this evening and as this may be one of her last social appearance, I should like for you to discreetly listen in on any conversations which hath to do with Abergenny."
     "I understand." Actually, he did not understood the earl's peculiar need to snoop. In his bedchamber he found a change of clothes laid out for him across his bed, a white dress shirt with a ruffled collar and sleeves, a satin vest of  shades of blue, a wide purple cumberbun and a silk gray craveat.  He attached the sparkling stick-pin to the craveat and held it up to the light.  It was no paltry diamond. After dressing, he realized that Mr. Potts had these clothes tailored for him.  Every detail was immaculately gendered to pass him off as an aristocrat.  Later on, when the earl accompanied him on one of his trips to London, he observed his ingenious knack for disguises.  As the names of each guest along with their titles were announced, he worried that he might be recognized as the one blunder bluff in the room.  Lady Matilda delayed her entrance for hours and when she finally appeared in the ballroom fanning her face with one hand and lifting the hem of her jewelled-studded gown with the other, everyone turned to stare at the grayish coiffured hair decorated with tiny ruby stones and  the many strands of pearls around her neck. Her sickly face was heavily powdered and there was a thick layer of rouge on the cheeks. The earl hastened to her side.
     "Ah alas, the guest of honor!" He declared with some pride in her eloquent attire. "No one looks more beautiful than you, my dear."
     "What favors do you seek?"
     "Only to be at your side, my lady and to share the joyous event of your birthday."
     As he spoke those words, she was overcome with a weak spell and seeing her helplessness, he took her arm and eased her into a chair. The guests begans parading themselves before her, offering congratulations and presenting gifts.   As a large stack accummulated at her feet, Roderick heard whispering.
     "The marquess is not in good health."
     "She looks older than the earl. Is she older? She looks so unhappy."
     "He was an inconsequential duke before he married her."
     " A fortitious marriage for him."
     "The South Carolina Governor banished him to the Barbadoes."
     "And now he is the last earl of Neville. Tsk. task."
     "But not for long.  His majesty told one of his nieces that she is to have it in perpetuity."
     The rumors had it that Lady Matilda was soon to die. The next morning Roderick repeated the rumors.
     "Babberdash! The chattering fools are anxious to gain favors from the king's niece and using this great house to do it! 
     "Is their danger before she passes on?"
     He shrugged his shoulders. "The king is surrounded by Intrigue and skull-duggery. Yes, it could happen."  Then he removed a hefty purse of pound notes from the safe.  "That shan't deter my purposes, however.  For I alone maintain the solvency of Abergenny."
     Roderick nodded.  Unlike his predecessors, since taking charge the earl had rendered the estates into a profitable enterprise by simply keeping tabs on its affairs.  It was not as though he were stealing.