Wednesday, November 16, 2011

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.

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