“I don’t even know what to do.” Said Emilia as she handed her cup of tea back to Matilda who placed it back on the tray. She was sitting opposite Emilia out on the back porch overlooking the garden. “I didn’t see this coming. I’m just so confused.”
“In order to get what is rightfully yours Emilia, you have to do what the late Duchess has instructed you to do.” Matilda answered.
“That’s where the problem lies.” Emilia said wearily. “…I haven’t even the slightest inkling about men. I don’t know where to begin from and to worsen it all I have not been intimate with any man neither do I have any I am fond of or admire.”
“That’s the consequences of trying to avoid the inevitable.” Said Matilda.
“You need to start socializing with your peers. Go to balls. Flirt.”
“Flirt?” her eyes widened. “I can’t do that.” She spat in disgust.
“Should I get Phyllis to give you some lessons on that?” Matilda teased.
Emilia eyed her playfully. “There are a lot of eligible young men out there of your class. Picking one wouldn’t be a problem. All you have to do is to be friendly and they will come ask you to dance.”
Emilia shook her head slowly. “No, no I don’t fancy balls neither do I fancy the people that grace them.”
“But you have to get married!”
“I don’t want to get married!” Emilia almost yelled. “Men are not worth it all! I despise them…not all of them but I definitely don’t want to spend the rest of my life with one!”
“It’s high time you did away with your past dear, don’t you think?” said Matilda. “Your father’s ill treatment towards you and your mother has created a sour wound in your heart against all men.”
“And it will never heal!”
“Child, reason with me. Time awaits no one, especially you. We have less than a fortnight to find you a husband unless you are willing to lose 40 percent of your wealth to Lord Williams.”
Emilia’s face went cold at the mention of Lord Williams. “Never!”
“Then act while you still have to! Act Emilia! We need to send your marriage certificate and pictures to the lawyer soon.”
Emilia slumped her shoulders in surrender. “I just don’t want to belong to any man. I love my freedom and freewill. I have you, Lacy, Thomas and Festus, that’s enough for me.”
“A woman is incomplete without a man. You are in your prime where suitors will flood your doorsteps ceaselessly, that prime do not last long for if you age more, you will only become an option.” Matilda explained as she clasped her hands together and placed it on her chest. Her gaze wandered to the garden as if seeing an invisible past. “I can remember when I first met Lacy’s father… It was the most wonderful experience ever.”
Emilia rolled her eyes and groaned. “Oh please, you are beginning to sound like my aunt.”
“Do you know how it feels to be loved and adored by a man who loves you unconditionally for who you are?”
“Maybe I will attempt to find out in my next life if God is generous enough to give me a better father for a start.”
Matilda thought for a while. “I think I have an idea.”
“An idea of what?” Emilia cocked an inquisitive eyebrow.
Matilda leaned forward and said in a low voice. “I think there is a way we can do this and end it all since you refuse to be convinced.”
Eagerly, Emilia leaned across too. “How? Tell me.”
Matilda whispered some words to her. Emilia drew back and frowned. When she offered a questioning look, Matilda nodded, pleading with her eyes. “It’s the only way.”
Emilia contemplated for a while and sighed. “Alright! Do what you will but I hope it doesn’t get out of hand.”
“Trust me dear.” Said Matilda. “It will turn out well.”
Emilia wet her lip. “If you say so, just do it. I want to get this over with.”
Matilda gave a relieved smile.
Lord William continued pacing the length of the small lounge, his hands firmly clasped behind his back, his face creased in a tight frown and worry. The Marquess who was comfortably seated smoking his pipe followed him with his gaze to and fro.
“Will you just sit down?” said the Marquess. “You are beginning to make me feel light-headed with your incessant pacing.”
“This is an unexpected setback!” Lord William gritted his teeth. “This is not just right! It is either that proud wretch connived with the foolish lawyer to rob me of what is rightfully mine or that bitch of a Duchess used my services and played a fast one on me!”
“The deed is done and can’t be reversed.” Said the Marquess. “There is absolutely nothing we can do about it.”
Lord William halted before the Marquess. “There’s got to be something I can do. Something I can do to take back what is rightfully mine!” he thought for a while. “Perhaps I could have Vera poison her slowly just like she did the Duchess.”
The Marquess frowned in disagreement. “I shall stain my hands with blood no more. But you are indeed such a fool!”
Lord William glared down at the Marquess. “Now is definitely not the time for such foul language, Lord Eugene!”
“What have you a head for if you can’t think with it?”
“That is exactly what I am trying to do!” He fired.
“You are thinking towards the wrong direction, son.”
“Well, if you’ve got a better idea, let’s hear it!”
The Marquess leaned out of his seat, his elbow on his knees. “All of the seventy percent isn’t legally Lady Emilia’s yet until a year after her marriage.”
“So?” Lord William shrugged angrily thinking the Marquess was foolishly telling him what he already knew.
“Why don’t you marry her and own it all!”
A smile slowly broke on the Earl’s face as the idea sank in. “How incredible!” He exclaimed then the smile was gradually replaced by a frown. “That cousin of mine is head-strong, she will never accept my hand.”
“That’s why you need to build a bond with her first before you ask her hand in marriage. Act all sweet and caring. Buy her lovely things women can never resist. Fill her head with words that will make her fall and crave for your very presence, daily. She is of course a woman and all women are fragile at heart.”
Lord William slowly sat down, ruminating. “Likely, she might change her ill opinion of me with time and have me for her husband. There is no denying that I might have a hard time winning her heart but it is worth a try even though she is just the exact definition of stubbornness!”
“Just play your cards right and soon she will be eating off your very hand, literally.” Assured the Marquess.
Lord William smiled at the thought of having Emilia do his every will and also whimper at his every touch. “Then I must proceed without hesitation! I’m almost certain she has no suitor in mind. Wish me luck, Lord Eugene!” he said, smiling contentedly.
Matilda waited patiently, wrapping her shawl around her. The moon was up and beamed upon the Earth but she stood in the shadows, waiting. It was late already and the grand house was very quiet which meant everyone had gone to bed. What she needed to do was urgent and she needed to do it tonight without anyone finding out. She heard footsteps approach in the dark and turned to see Festus walking towards her with a displeased but confused look.
“Why summon me by this time of the night? It is late already.” He said, irritated.
“It’s just a few minutes past ten so don’t make such a fuss!” she retorted.
“I should be in bed right now; you know?”
“So should I!” she answered. “But tonight might be a little bit of an exception. I need your help.” She said in hushed tones.
“My help?” he tilted his head backwards. “Whatever for at this time of the night?”
“It has to do with Her Grace.” Matilda addressed Emilia by her new title as a Duchess.
His displeased countenance was replaced by a bemused one mixed with a suspicious expression. “Is she aware that you are out here by this time of the night?”
Matilda pouted in a frown. “Are you going to aid us or not?”
“Anything for Her Grace.” He answered.
“Very well then!” She drew nearer to him. “Since you have worked submissively under the late Duchess for so long, I want to entrust an important secret with you.”
“I have my undying loyalty pledged to Lady Emilia.” he replied.
“Then you wouldn’t have any problem taking me to the slums in the outskirts?”
Festus stepped backward in shock. “What business have you in such a dangerous place and at such a time of the night?” He questioned.
“We could be robbed or something bad befalls us.” He then gave her a suspicious look and a teasing smile. “Or have a lover you are sneaking off to meet?”
She gave him a warning look. “Watch your tongue! What would an unyoung woman as me be keeping a young lover for?”
“You never can tell!”
“Seriously Festus…” she said gravely. “This is no joke!
“I’m all ears, ma’am.” suddenly looking serious, he folded his arms. She looked round and beckoned him closer, when he did, she whispered for a while into his ears. When she was through, he withdrew frowning in either confusion or disbelieve. “Are you serious about this?
“Very! You know a lot are at stake here if she fails in this.” Matilda said wearily.
“I very much detest the thought of serving under Lord Williams.”
“So does every servant in this household.”
Festus thought for a while. “Lady Emilia is a wonderful woman and tender at heart just like the late Duchess, if she bids me do this then I am happy I am to be of service.”
“I wouldn’t agree less.”
“And we have to do this tonight?”
“Time is not on our side, Festus.”
“Alright then!” he cleared his throat. “I have a particular acquaintance in mind. Why don’t you wait here a moment or two so I can prepare an un-marked carriage for this quest? I will be back in a jiffy.”
“Just hurry please.” She said.
He nodded, disappearing into the dark again.
To be continued…
© Angela Okoduwa