“I found the largest one!” cried a voice. The other working men digging the ground immediately straightened up to see what the noise was all about.
Lord William who was in a tent close-by, his legs crossed on the table top, smoking his pipe, stood up to see what the ruckus was all about and why did the sound of the digging tools had stopped and why the workers stood idle.
He saw a man running towards him who looked filthy; his face and clothes were stained and his hands and wrists soiled with mud. He was holding something in his right hand when he finally reached him with pride on his face.
“What is the noise all about, you nincompoop?” Lord Williams asked angrily.
“Look what I found, milord!” The man presented a diamond almost as big as his fist, grinning and revealing yellow teeth of which some were missing at the sides of his mouth.
Lord William let the pipe hang at the side of his mouth as he took the diamond from the man. “Leave… I will make sure a token is added to your pay for this lucky find.”
“Thank you, milord.” The man bowed low and left while the other workers quickly returned to work after the icy glare from Lord William but they were after a quest to also find their lucky diamond apart from the smaller ones that have occasionally been discovered.
Lord William moved farther into the tent, took a magnifying glass and examined the sparkling mud-stained jewel as he held it between the tips of his thumb and index fingers.
“That’s quite a rare find!” someone said.
Lord William spun around, startled. “Lord Eugene!”
“William.” The older man stepped into the tent.
“You should know better than to sneak up on me like that.”
“I did not sneak up on you.” The Marquess stated as he sat down on the available seat. “Let’s just say that you were carried away by that treasure in your hand and didn’t notice me come in.” He squinted as he gazed at the workers and land they were working on.
“A busy day I guess. We might get lucky and have more of that found in due time.”
“Need I remind you that there is no us. This is my Mine!” said Lord William coolly, putting the diamond in a small chest and tucking it away.
The Marquess smiled slightly. “The duchess entrusting her late husband’s Mine into your hands doesn’t make it yours! She’s still alive, remember?” he stared at him under bushy grey brows.
“She will soon!” he withdrew the pipe from his mouth.
“I made an incredible offer to her to sell the Mine to me but the strong-headed woman bluntly threw my generous offer to the wind which is why I am backing you up because I am counting on you to keep to your promise when the time comes which I am hoping will be soon.” Said the Marquess.
“Well, the time is yet to come and I’m running out of patience!” Lord William stated wearily.
“You are not alone in this, son! Victory shall be ours.”
“That victory seems to be crawling.” He leaned on a high cupboard. “How does your wife fare?”
“The Marquess frowned. “She yet lost the baby again.”
“That’s quite an unpleasant news, I sympathize with your loss of yet another heir, Lord Eugene.”
The Marquess shrugged lightly. “I am thinking of keeping a mistress…” He said. “Someone to bear me children secretly. I am not getting any younger and Ophelia, I heard, passed away eight years ago… I know not what became of my son.”
“You chose to send her out to the streets when you should have simply taken up your responsibility and be a father. Your son, who knows… might be dead too.”
The Marquess dabbed at his wrinkled brow with a handkerchief. “I beseech you not to remind me of the ignorant decisions I made in the past which I now very much regret.” He said gravely. “The deed is done and done it is. It’s not late for an old man to try again. I need an heir and I dread to be in the Duchess’ shoes where another not of my blood will inherit my wealth.”
Lord Williams frowned at the indirect insult and quickly composed himself.
“Why don’t we visit the brothel today? You need soft tender expert hands to knead your old bones. Don’t worry” he exhaled a ring of smoke into the air “The bill is on me.”
The Marquess smiled. “You sure know how to turn a bad day good for an old man”
Lord William spread his arms. “I am generous, simply generous!”
“As long as I find me a mistress willing to bear me a child secretly, my troubles are sorted. An heir is all I seek…”
“I will sure keep your little secret from your wife…Just helping a desperate old man” uttered lord Williams. “Just keep this from the rumour mongers, gossip travels faster than birds these days and that might ruin your respectable reputation.”
The Marquess stroked his grey beard in thought. “I have thought of that too… but I believe it will go just fine.”
“Shall we?” Lord William regarded the opening of the tent with his arm. The Marquess nodded and stood up.
Aidan sat on the porch with his feet on the porch step, his arm on his knee while the other absentmindedly fingered the locket he wore around his neck. Robert approached him from behind coming out of the house, squinted at the horizon where the sun was gradually sinking, exhaled the fresh air from the nearby moors to clear his lungs and sat down beside Aidan.
“How is she?’ Aidan asked, still staring at the horizon.
“Asleep.” Robert replied.
“The damn doctor didn’t come today.”
“He was probably busy or something.”
“He was paid to do his job and that he must do!” Aidan stated.
“He might come tomorrow.” Robert calmly said noticing Aidan’s grave tone and mood.
“He had better!”
He glanced at the locket Aidan was fingering. “A locket, eh?”
“Yup!” said Aidan.
“From a wife or lover?”
Aidan stopped fingering the locket. “…was never married and I don’t intend to.” he paused and said, his forehead creased in fury. “It was from my mother.”
“Oh!” Robert exclaimed.
Aidan looked down at the locket. “As much as I despise my mother, I wonder why I can’t do away with this.”
“Internal bond, I guess?” Robert suggested.
“Nah…” Aidan shook his head. “I grew up with this locket since I was a child, it seems a part of me now.”
“…And the scar? Did you get that from a fight?”
Aidan reached beneath his hair at the nape of his neck till his fingers brushed a rough surface. ” I don’t know the history of the scar…but I think that bitch I called my mother, did it to me!”
Robert winced. “You must really hate your mother!”
“If she were here…” Aidan curved his fingers as if trying to grip something invisible. “I will choke the very life out of her.” He bent his knuckles so hard till they snapped.
Robert nodded thoughtfully. “I will simply warn ladies that swoon at your looks to beware of you.” He stated.
“I am unfeeling towards them.” He drawled. “If you wanna live long boy, stay away from the lot.”
“I think not! You are only blinded by your hatred for them.” After a brief silence ensued between them, He stood up and stretched. “It’s a cool evening. C’mon, let’s go to the creek for a swim, that’s exactly what we need right now.” He descended the steps and stopped when he noticed Aidan still sat mobile. “C’mon Aidan!” he beckoned.
Aidan hesitated while Robert placed his hands on his hip and gave him a suspicious look. “If you can’t swim, you could as well tell me so then I will take the privilege of teaching you how to, it’s pretty simple.” He proudly raised his chin, not knowing when Aidan came down the steps and swatted the back of his head.
“I have been swimming before you were born.” He stated an indignant playful manner.
Robert laughed. “Let’s see about that. I will race you to the creek I bet you’re not as fleet as I am.” He turned and fled.
Aidan shook his head, smiling as he sauntered after Robert. “C’mon, I’m too old for this!” When Robert increased the gap between them, he laughed and fled after him.
Lord William was taking a walk along the hallway when he sighted a servant walking across the far end of the hall heading to the Duchess’ chambers.
“Hey!” he called out. “You there!”
The servant halted and approached Lord William half-way who had also walked to meet him.
“What have you in your hands?” he glanced down at the white sealed envelope with the servant.
“A letter for Her Grace, milord.” Answered the servant.
“From where?” he asked suspiciously.
“From Minxes milord, I think it’s from lady Emilia.”
“Oh!” Lord William glanced down at the letter once more. “The Duchess is asleep and I do not wish her to be disturbed.” He stretched an open hand. “Let me have the letter. I will personally deliver it to her when she rouses.”
The servant hesitated, firmly holding the letter. “…but Her Grace gave a strict instruction that any letter from Lady Emilia should be directly brought to her without hesitation.”
Lord William frowned in displeasure. “I am her nephew and as long as the Duchess is ill and not fit to run this castle for the moment, I have authority here! Unless you wish to dispute me and lose your job.”
“My sincere apologies milord!” the servant quickly gave a bow. “I never meant any offense.” He presented the letter to him.
Lord William resentfully looked down at him and snatched the letter. “You are dismissed!” he ordered coolly.
The servant turned and headed down the way he came from. When he disappeared from sight, Lord William held the four corner ends with the tips of his fingers and glared down at it.
He brought it up to his nose and sniffed and it indeed smelt of Emilia pretty much. With a quick glance at both ends of the hall to make sure no one was in sight, he crumpled the letter in his fist, locked his wrists behind him and walked away.
Emilia nervously wrung her fingers as she continued pacing the length of the living room, her face devoid of all happiness. The ferret laid on a round cushion pillow, its eyes following its mistress back and forth. It yawned, sticking out its tongue in the process and stretched its plump body.
Watching Emilia pace about was beginning to bore him out and make him dizzy. Slowly, it rested its head on the cushion and stared blankly at the floor while Emilia continued pacing still wringing her fingers nervously.
Matilda came into the living room with a tray of two tea cups steaming with fresh-made tea. “Dear one, you will break those tender fingers of yours if you continue wringing them in such manner.” She warned softly as she placed the tray on a small table beside one of the chairs.
Emilia ignored her. “Something is not just right.”
“Poor you!” Matilda held Emilia’s shoulder. “Sit down and stop fidgeting.”
Emilia slumped on a chair, still wringing her fingers in the folds of her gown. Matilda offered her a cup of tea on its saucer. “Maybe drinking this will help you relax and stop fidgeting.”
“Thank you!” Emilia said as she sipped from the cup. “I am just confused. I know not what to do.”
Matilda sat down in a closer chair. “Everything will be okay dear; you worry too much for your age.”
“I am two and twenty!” she shot Matilda a displeased look.
“Still young.” The older simply woman replied.
“I just have a feeling that all is not well. ” She handed the tea back to Matilda. “…I mean, I have sent three letters and yet Her Grace has not replied any. That’s very unusual of her.”
“Maybe she’s busy and can’t write for now.”
“No… I disagree!” she stood up again. “I know Lady Catherine very well. She would never neglect nor ignore my letters, not for any reason whatsoever!” she paused, thinking for a while. “How am I even sure she got my letters?”
Emilia interrupted. “…or how am I even sure she is not even dead!”
“Emilia!” Matilda scolded. “Don’t say such things. I believe the Duchess is in fine health and besides, Lord William’s letter to you indicated that the Duchess has recovered.”
“That sly deceitful bastard!” Cursed Emilia.
“Emilia! Watch your tongue, dear!”
“I’m sorry.” She sighed deeply and slumped back on the chair. “I just can’t help it! I don’t trust Lord William. He has deceit written all over him.”
“You only say this because you nurse a strong dislike for him not otherwise.” Said Matilda.
Emilia interlocked her fingers and rested her chin on them, her elbows on her knees. “I’m scared Matilda. Something is not right. I feel it in my very marrow. It pricks me from within.” She let her hands fall helplessly on her knees. “Maybe if I go home and see things for myself, I will put my…” her fingers fluttered to her chest. “…heart will be at rest.”
“And school?” inquired the lady-in-waiting.
“I will write a letter to the mistress seeking a temporal leave due to some important matters that cannot be left unattended.”
“No.” Matilda shook her head. “The duchess would not want you leaving school for any reason and besides, the session is almost over, just few weeks left.”
“But it’s for the Duchess sake. I won’t forgive myself if I find out I am the one neglecting her when she needs me the most.”
“Dear…” Matilda called, reaching out to squeeze Emilia’s knee gently. “The Duchess is fine. If anything unusual had befallen her, you would have been informed, don’t you think so?”
Emilia thought for a while, staring blankly at the ferret but couldn’t see it. Then she sighed and turned back to Matilda. “Okay! I will take your word for it, but if this week runs out and my Aunt does not send a letter, I am leaving for home!”
“I won’t stop you.” Said Matilda. “Now, put on a smile on that beautiful face of yours before you bring upon yourself premature wrinkles.” Matilda held Emilia’s hands in hers, urging her. Emilia smiled but faintly as her mind wandered off again.
To be continued…
© Angela Okoduwa