SIX WEEKS LATER…
The doors opened and Emilia who had returned a fortnight ago gracefully walked into the semi-lounge, her lady-in-waiting behind her. She looked charming in her beige gown. She acknowledged the Marquess and Lord Williams who were seated at the left side of the lounge. She smiled warmly at the familiar lawyer who was seated in the sofa in front of the large window looking into the courtyard, his briefcase beside his well-polished shoes.
He was well-dressed with his thick glasses resting on the upper bridge of his nose and his grey hair shiny from good care and nicely cut. He hadn’t really changed since Emilia last saw him, Four years ago.
“I apologize for keeping you all waiting. my sincere apologies.” She smiled winsomely as she sat down on the right sofa at the other end of the room. She bid Matilda to sit down on a stool behind her and smoothed her skirts.
Obediently sitting on a stool, Matilda and the Marquess exchanged uncomfortable glances which went unnoticed.
The lawyer cleared his throat, placed his brief case on his lap and pulled out a file before returning the brief case to his feet. “Now that both parties are present…” He began, adjusting his glasses. “I ask permission to begin.”
“Please do!” said Emilia, her smile not waning a bit.
The lawyer cleared his throat again and opened his file. “Huh… before I proceed, I will like everyone here not to dispute whatever I say here today. It is my jurisdiction to read the late Duchess’ Will as she had had me written and stamped with her seal stamped to clarify this legal declaration which must be legally executed. There is no foul play here at all and whatever I say is what the late duchess said in her exact words and I will not like to be interrupted, I beseech everyone in this room.”
Lord Williams silently rubbed his palms in glee of what he knew would be to his advantage. His gaze suddenly met Emilia’s who quickly looked away. The lawyer continued after inspecting each faces present in the room and no question was raised. “Lord Williams, do you have your witness present here?”
“Yes I do.” Lord Williams answered. “The Marquess.”
“Lady Emilia?” the lawyer turned to Emilia.
“My lady-in-waiting.” Replied Emilia.
“If anyone dares to tamper with this Will, be rest assured that I have a duplicate somewhere safe.” Warned the lawyer, staring at them below bushy grey brows.
“Could you just get on with it!” Lord William impatiently snapped.
The lawyer shook the files as if dusting something off whereby he was only straightening it. He adjusted his thick-lensed glasses and said aloud. “I quote the late Duchess, I perceived that with every passing day, my time to join my beloved husband draws near…” Emilia adjusted in her seat. “And if this is being read now, have it in mind that I have gone beyond which had simply beckoned me over. I believe that this Will will be read to my humble niece, Lady Emilia Kate Penelope Fielding named after her late mother and whom I have always taken as my child”
Emilia’s eyes turned glassy with tears which she quickly blinked away. “…and my nephew, Lord Williams Bennett Junior, Earl of Torthenshire… This is my Will. I have bequeathed seventy percent of my wealth and property to Lady Emilia Keith Penelope Fielding. I also wish that the grand house which my late husband and I lived in be bequeathed to her.”
Lord Williams almost sprang to his feet in total shock, the Marquess looked down in despair while Emilia eyes widened in speechless shock.
“I disagree-” Lord William started to say.
The lawyer stopped. “Before I began, I asked for no interruption.” Said the lawyer removing his glasses. “If you have anything to say Lord Williams, I beseech you to let me finish first before you lay before me your protests.”
“But-” Lord William faltered.
The lawyer ignored him while Lord William slowly resumed his seat, disoriented. “And I continue,” He said slipping on his glasses. “I have bought lands from the squire of Thames. Lady Emilia should not hesitate to meet with the squire after collecting the documents from the lawyer and possess what’s hers. I have several shops all over the town of Wordsworth which also should go to my little one, my beloved niece. The joint account of my late husband and I should be entrusted to her for I have seen that she doesn’t fancy an extravagant life of mere waste which young ladies of her peer do these days.”
Lord William restlessly moved in his seat, the late Duchess’ words piercing his very soul like a thousand needles.
“…and to my humble nephew, Lord Williams Bennett Junior I bequeath twenty percent of my wealth. The mansion and estate on the island of Boulvin should be entrusted to him and I have secretly opened an account for him which in it I have kept the sum of six million pounds. As for the Mine…” the lawyer looked up at them, no longer reading from his files. “She has instructed me not to say anything until after a year lapses starting from today.”
He looked down again at his files and continued reading. “All these I have bequeathed to Emilia from my heart but are legally to become forever hers only on a condition.”
Emilia exchanged curious glances with Matilda.
The lawyer continued. “…That she must get married!”
Emilia’s eyes widened in shock. “What!”
The Lawyer casted her a warning glance not to interrupt then continued. “I know you are shocked child, but all these I do, I do from love of my heart for you little one.”
Emilia’s eyes turned glassy again, threatening to spill with tears. “I have made arrangements for your upkeep and that of every worker under my command and yours before I pass away. Their wages will be duly paid. Their needs will be frequently met. Lady Emilia should be given access and rights to all I have mentioned apart from the grand castle and shops that I have entrusted to only if her marriage reaches a year and to prove it have a debut with her husband into the society in ten months of her marriage, if not, forty percent of what I have bequeathed to her should be given to Lord Williams, including the lands I bought from the squire of Thames.” Lord William looked up with half-hope and anger lingering on his face.
“However, forty percent of what I have bequeathed to Lady Emilia should be given to Lord Williams while the ten percent should be used for charity. This is MY WILL!” the lawyer shut the file and slipped it into his brief case. “Any questions?” He entwined his fingers in front of him.
“Why would she do something as such!” Lord Williams sprang to his feet, bristling in rage. “I am the only heir aspirant to her wealth! What does a mere woman know about lands and all if not her toiletries, balls and gossips?”
The lawyer stared at Lord William above the rim of his glasses. “I believe you very well can recall where you buried the Duchess, Lord Williams. She is the only one that has answers to your question. My job is to do what she legally asked of me before and after her unfortunate death.”
Lord Williams icily glared down at the lawyer. “I will get to the root of this!” he stabbed a threatening finger at the lawyer who sat unflinching.
Lord William casted Emilia the look of disdain and stormed out of the room.
The Marquess stood up. “Did she not say a thing about the Mine at all?”
The lawyer looked at the Marquess respectfully. “I am sorry milord. I am not entitled to answer any question except from both specific parties.”
Sighing deeply and in frustration, the Marquess took his leave with Matilda’s gaze following him till he was out of sight.
“Lady Emilia?” The lawyer called. Emilia jolted from her thoughts. “Pardon me Sir Jones. I… I… did you just say I have to get married for a year and debut with my husband into the society in ten months’ time before I’m legally given what my aunt bequeathed to me?”
“Her very words milady!” he answered and stood up carrying his brief case. “I take my leave now, milady.”
“Thank you for coming!” She stood up too, forcing a shaky smile.
“I’m at your service, milady…or better Your Grace.” He addressed her by her new title, doffed his hat, placed it upon his head and left.
Moments later, Emilia fled out of the room, her heels echoing on the floor as her lady-in-waiting quickly dashed after her, calling her name but Emilia wouldn’t stop.
Tears flowed down her face uncontrollably as she fled through the hall almost bumping into a servant carrying a vase of flower. The maid drew back in alarm as she turned to watch her mistress go. It was just as if she was running blindly.
Already panting when she reached the still shocked maid, Matilda halted to catch her breath, just then Lacy emerged from the left-side of the hall.
“Mother! I heard you yelling, what’s wrong?” she asked.
“Emilia!” Matilda pointed at Emilia. lacy turned to see Emilia running through the open door, gathering the skirts of her gown and descending down the steps briskly.
“Child, go after her!” said Matilda still panting. “I don’t know what has gotten into her neither do I know where she’s headed. She might hurt herself. Please go after her, quick!”
“Yes mother!” Lacy gathered her skirt and fled the hall too
Matilda turned to the maid who still remained behind to hear what she could in order to share the latest gossip to the others. “Fetch Festus immediately!”
“Yes ma’am.” Said the maid hurrying away.
Emilia ran across the large courtyard, down the path towards the main gates. She ran through the gates and out into the cobbled path-walk, her bosom heaving at every springing step. She ran blithely down the long paved-walk into the little bushes of flowers flanking both sides.
Lacy followed as she saw Emilia run across the open field, through the small empty park, ran across the road and into a place shaded with trees with wide branches but distant from one another. Emilia could hardly see where she was going to, she kept wiping the tears off her face with her fingers as she ran.
All she was concerned with was where she wanted to be. Soon she slowed her pace and slumped herself before a marble erected tombstone, the Duchess’ grave. She went on her knees, burying her face in her hands and weeping bitterly, her shoulders shook as she became more overwhelmed by emotions.
“Why?” she cried out. “Why would you do this to me?” She said to the grave. “You died without saying goodbye, Auntie…and now you have chosen to torture me so after your sudden departure!” she beat the earth with her arms. “Answer me! Why? You knew I didn’t want to get married. You knew I never ever wanted to spend my life with a man yet you inflict such burden upon me at your mercy! This is so unfair, Auntie! So unfair!” she clawed at the neat grave where bright green shoots of grass where already springing up not minding that she dirtied her hand and left dirt beneath her well-polished nails. “Why torture me so? Why? I demand a response from you now!”
Suddenly there was a gust of wind and it spiralled dead leaves from the ground into the air. Emilia gasped, falling on her buttocks, her gown ruffling around her bent legs. The winds toyed with the leaves and even tugged at her hair and her skirt then something bright like the piercing ray of the sun hit her face.
In defence, she jerked a protective arm to shield her face from the strange light. She squinted above her arm and could have sworn she saw the late Duchess’ dazzling face, she had on the most wonderful smile which portrayed serenity then the Duchess’ lips began to move as if she was talking to Emilia.
Emilia couldn’t hear what the Duchess was saying but it was as if the Duchess’ voice echoed in her mind with these very words.
“He awaits you little one, he awaits you!”
“Who?” she cried out above the noise of the whirling wind but the light suddenly vanished and the leaves slowly fluttered and floated to the ground as the wind also ceased.
Emilia frowned in worry, it didn’t make any sense… What did the Duchess say? He? Who? She tried to think through the Duchess’ words but only became more confused. Maybe she had been hallucinating and thought she saw the Duchess.
Whichever way it was she felt calm now, very calm which also surprised her.
“Lady Emilia!” a breathless voice called out.
Emilia turned around to see Lacy tiredly running towards her. ” Lacy?” she asked astonished. “What are you doing here?”
Lacy slowed as she almost reached Emilia. She was already out of breath. Bending down supporting her hands on her knees, panting and trying to catch her breath, she managed to say. “Do…you… do you…” She sucked in air, her hand on her chest as if trying to steady her raging heartbeat. “…Where did you…learn to… run like that? You were as fleet as a hind.”
Emilia raised her brows in surprise, getting off the grassy ground and dusting her skirts. “You followed me?
“I have… “She said, still panting. “… never in my entire life ran like that!”
Emilia approached her. “Poor you.” She pulled the girl into her arms and planted a kiss on her head.
“I’m sorry I made you run.”
“Mother was upset. She asked me to follow you.” lacy breathlessly said and looked up at Emilia’s tear-streaked face. “Have you been crying?”
Emilia quickly pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at her wet lashes and cheeks then smiled. “I’m fine now.”
Lacy asked in concern, faintly now. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Emilia gave her a brief squeezing hug. “Let’s go back to the house. We don’t want to keep your mother worried than we already have.” They stepped in the path leading back to the mansion.
“You’re lucky that you can’t be punished. If I were the one, she might box my ears and confine me to my room all day.”
Emilia laughed. “I’m a big girl now.”
Lacy rolled her eyes. “Whatever…one day, I am going to grow up too and go to every ball I can.” She paused, limping slightly. “I need to rest my legs; they are beginning to ache.”