Wednesday, November 16, 2011

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.

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