“You will never listen!” Emilia snapped but the ferret blinked up at her, ignored her and snuggled into the pillow. “Come down this minute, I am not kidding!” She yelled at the annoying pet of hers.
“You are putting your hairs all over the place, shoo!” She gestured with her hands.
The ferret up on its small four legs, ran in circles on the big bed as if pursuing its tail then settled down at the edge of the bed, its gaze fixed on Emilia.
Emilia jammed her hands on her hips in frustration and returned its look with a stern one. “Don’t you get it? When I mean you’re getting your hairs all over the bed, I mean you should get down!” she pointed from the bed to the floor.
The Ferret followed her finger with its eyes and made some pleading clucking noise in its throat but Emilia was not ready to succumb. “No..no..no, now!” she stabbed a finger at the floor.
The Ferret hesitated, rising slowly and suddenly crouching again stalling stubbornly. Emilia frowned and folded her arms. “Fine! You don’t get to go to Minxes with me then.”
The ferret tilted its head to the side and cocked its ears in alert regarding Emilia’s displeased look and the lower lip that quivered when she was angry.
It slowly rose, shook its body and leapt onto the floor scurrying to snuggle behind the drapes of one of the windows. “Better!” Emilia stated in relief.
She sat at her dressing table and began to brush her hair, though she knew she was supposed to wait on her lady-in-dressing whom she sent on an errand to fetch something but she loved doing things her way and on her own even though the Duchess doesn’t approve.
When she was done, she braided the length and hooked it up to her head with several beautiful hair pins. Grabbing her hand-fan, she went out into the garden with the ferret on her heels.
She stopped at the back porch leading down into the garden, tilted her face upward and closing her eyes, she inhaled the sweet smell of blooming flowers with a smile on her face.
“Sweet!” she whispered in joy and serenity, then looked down at her ferret. “Isn’t it so lovely to spend the day outdoors? Before she could blink an eye, the ferret darted past her skirts into the garden. “Thomas!” She yelled.
“Thomas! Come back here this minute! You ruin a single petal out there and you will be sorry! Thomas!” she yelled louder when he didn’t come back attracting the surprised gazes of the servants working by.
Ignoring the fact that as a high esteemed lady, she shouldn’t be heard raising her voice or doing anything unusual. She gathered her skirts and ran into the garden towards the direction her annoying pet had taken.
She ran until she found herself outside the gardens and in front of the stables. She slowed down to a walk, panting from the short run. “Thomas?” she called. “This isn’t funny anymore…out with you now…or else-”
She said, hoping to scare the animal out of hiding. “Thomas, I am not playing any hide and seek game, I’m warning you!” she paused for a while, catching her breath and scanning the surroundings for any sign of Thomas’s chubby backside or its blackish-white fur, that’s if he was hiding.
“Thomas!” she called more sternly. “Fine! You want it this way? You shall have it! I’m going to count to three and if you don’t come out here, I will cancel your dinner rations!”
she hesitated to see if her yelling voice would bring him out but nothing happened. She pressed her lips together and raised a finger to indicate her countdown. “One!” no sign of Thomas. “Two!” yet no sign, before she could raise the third finger and count three, a mouse burst out of a corner heading fast towards her with Thomas hot on its tail determined to get it.
She gathered her skirts up in shock as the mouse darted between her legs and she gave Thomas a very angry look and put out her palm. “Now, you stop right there, Mr.!” she gasped as Thomas either ignored her or didn’t hear her and bounded between her legs under her gown after the helpless mouse.
“Thomas!” she whirled around after them. “Leave that poor animal alone!”
The chase continued with both animals-The Determined Predator and the agile prey. The animals ran into the stable and far down the aisle between several pens and finally dashed under the gate of one of the pens. Emilia ran after them and came to an abrupt halt as she almost collided with the large head of a brown horse, munching nonchalantly, with its head almost sticking out of the pen above the grate gate.
“Oh!” she smiled, her chest heaving from the chase. “Sorry!” she muttered. The horse only swished its tail and continued chewing. “Aren’t you beautiful?” Emilia continued placing her hand on the horse’s forehead, caressing in between its black eyes. “You’ve got beautiful glossy eyes too and such a fine coat, I bet the hands are doing you well.”
She caressed the side of its long neck, combing her fingers through its mane. “You will sure make a knight a fine steed.” She commented.
The horse softly neighed in approval and that was when she noticed the ferret and the mouse running along the walls of the pen, the mouse quickly scurried underneath a small heap of hay for refuge and got the ferret scratching out hay, searching for it and squeaking.
When the mouse noticed that the ferret was almost upon it, it leapt out of hiding in fright and dashed for an exit running around the horse’s hooves but the ferret wouldn’t give up.
Emilia’s eyes widened in alarm. “Thomas! No! Don’t do that! You will frighten the horse and get yourself trampled!” She screamed in warning but the ferret paid no heed. “Thomas!”
Emilia’s face turned red in extreme annoyance and stamped her right foot twice. The ferret suddenly halted and looked up at her. The mouse quickly scampered away to safety.
Emilia glared down at the ferret. “You will sure be punished!” She chided, making the ferret cower in fear and released its anal gland secretion. It hissed in fear. “What a bully you are!”
The ferret glanced up at her with sad eyes and slowly began to crawl away from her to elude her anger. “Stop right there!” she ordered and it stopped, still ducking its head in shame.
“I will have you put in your cage, tonight!” the horse snorted as if agreeing to such a punishment.
Someone cleared her throat gently. Emilia spun around to find the duchess standing in the doorway of the large stable, hands locked behind her, her lady in waiting behind her put off an umbrella that must have been shading the Duchess from the sun.
Emilia guiltily curtsied, her face flushed in embarrassment. She approached the duchess, took her hand and kissed the specially-made sapphire ring. “Good morning Your Grace.”
“Have you been scolding your pet again, Emilia?” the Duchess asked. She had seen Emilia talking to animals several times and wondered if she did it for fun or because she felt the animals understood her, especially that cunny thievery ferret of hers.
Emilia didn’t reply, she looked away nervously and quite ashamed. She knew the servants thought her weird and had an irrational behaviour that was un-lady-like but she didn’t care what anyone said about her but she loved the duchess so much not to embarrass nor disappoint her.
The Duchess sweet, calm voice interrupted her thoughts without a hint of anger or disappointment lacing it besides amusement. “I was actually going taking a walk when your yelling attracted me… shall you walk with me?” she offered with a smile, revealing the fine lines at the side of her eyes.
“Of course Your Grace!” she curtsied, relief washing over her that she didn’t get a tongue lashing like her late grand ma would have done.
“Vera?” the duchess addressed her lady in waiting over her shoulder. “You need not worry. My niece here will walk with me. Take the ferret to its cage.”
“Yes your Grace.” Vera replied as she scooped up the ferret in an arm and walked away towards the building.
The two women fell into the path walk in the garden. “A beautiful morning it is.” Said the Duchess.
“Yes it is, Aunt Catharine.” Emilia suddenly cleared her throat remembering the Duchess had told her several times to address her informally for she was more like a daughter to her.
“You have but a week left to stay here with me before you return to Minxes… I will miss you, child.”
“So will I, Aunt” Emilia stated. “I always do.”
“You will be through schooling in two months, Emilia. I have a big ball planned ahead for your return.”
Emilia frowned in confusion. “Why?”
“To grace your debut into society of course.” The Duchess replied. “You have fully blossomed into a beautiful woman, Emilia.” She leaned closer and said an amused tone. “I am sure the ball will be swarming with men, attracting eligible suitors to my doorstep. It’s so not easy keeping those young men at bay when a person of my status has such a beautiful lady. Your beauty and rank will sure bring men crawling from all over asking for a dance. Marriage is a beautiful gift child.”
Emilia swallowed hard, gripping her skirts too tight till her knuckles turned white and her face flushed. “Please don’t say such Aunt Catharine, I don’t want a welcoming ball of a debut neither do I want any man’s attention.”
“Why not?” the Duchess leaned back to look at her with a surprised expression. “Every woman’s dream is to get introduced to the big wigs of the society, get married to an eligible suitor and build a family.”
“Definitely not mine, Auntie. I don’t crave for such waste of time…”
The Duchess smiled slyly and leaned towards her. “…or have you someone in mind already?” she teased.
“Not that, Auntie.” she said uneasily, worry creasing her fine brow. “…I…I… just don’t want to get married.”
The Duchess stopped in her tracks and peered into her niece’s jade eyes then suddenly said. “Of course I know it’s a joke!” she chuckled softly and continued her graceful walk. “Your mother used to play such tricky jokes on me when we were young, I can see you inherited her traits.”
Emilia quickened her steps and stopped in front of the Duchess, blocking her path.
“I mean it, Auntie, I don’t want to get married!” She stated.
The duchess hesitated. “Emilia, a woman without a husband is regarded worthless no matter her rank or status in the society. “
“But a woman with an abuser is better off dead.”
The duchess squinted. “Where is this idea coming from, child? How long have you been nursing such notion?”
Emilia looked down at her fingers as she toyed with her fan. “Ever since my mother died… My father sent her to an early grave… All men are the same. They are subjective, irrational, inconsiderate and heartless abusers.” She finally looked up at the old woman’s concerned face and continued rather pleadingly. “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life living a miserable life with an abuser all in the name of marriage. I don’t want to live an erroneous life, I don’t want to live in regret, I am happy the way I am!”
“Little one!” the Duchess said softly, holding her shoulders. “…because your father was mean to you and your mother, does not mean you should stigmatize the male sex.”
“I don’t mean to dispute your opinion, Auntie but I am better off being single.” She took the Duchess hands from her shoulder and held it in hers. “Can’t you see? I am happy this way… I am happy without a man, Auntie please Understand.”
The older woman sighed and cupped a part of Emilia’s face in her hand. “Poor child, see how your experience has wounded your mentality, your father’s assault on you at the slightest provocation has psychologically weakened you.” She dropped her hand and went around Emilia then continued walking. “You don’t understand how the world works, little one. You seem to judge all men by your father’s incompetence and unethical attitude.”
Emilia followed. “And I bet am not wrong.”
“You can’t skip marriage Emilia, it is inevitable as long as I am alive, I would never be happy with myself if I let you do this… foolish decision you are taking up.”
“But it is best for me.” she whined.
The Duchess chuckled “You are but a child, what do you know?… One day you will need someone to share your joy, give you comfort and lend you a listening ear.”
“And that’s why I have you…” Emilia protested stubbornly.
“I won’t be around for long my dear.” Smiled the Duchess. “Old age has caught up with me…but my youthful days are days I will never forget. I bet you need an experience such as that too.”
“I know Lord Stanley was different.” Emilia said quickly “I found that out while you adopted me and I stayed under your roof.”
The Duchess laughed heartily. “Oh!… the darling of mine. Mind you, your uncle had his own flaws in his bachelor days before he passed away but I changed him. Which means you can change your man too.” She stared into the distance in remembrance of her late husband and gave a heavy sigh.
“I can see the heels of marriage clicking on your path little one, and it is just not any marriage, it’s going to be the best ever attended.”
“I forbid it Auntie…I would rather die if I have to.”
“Shrrr…it is so unlady-like to swear.” Just then she caught a glimpse of a figure approaching them from the distance. “Aha! Here comes your cousin, William is a better match, you know? He will make a lucky woman as you a wonderful husband.”
“Lord William is six years my senior…” She frowned “and besides…I don’t like him, not the slightest bit …he seems so vile and shrewd. I would rather spend the rest of my life with a ferret than with him.”
“Don’t be visceral young woman!” scolded the Duchess. “It’s unfortunate that you have got a child’s brain in a mature head. Sometimes you don’t think like the mature person you are.”
“Forgive my naivety Your Grace” She curtsied as Lord William joined them.
“William! What a surprise!” The Duchess smiled.
“Your Grace!” Lord William kissed her hand. “I was a little busy and I decided to come down here and spend some time with my fairest cousin.” Lord Williams said, smiling at Emilia.
“How generous and thoughtful of you.” commented the Duchesses.
“I appreciate your offer, Williams but I don’t need anyone’s company…I was just going to the library to read some books.”
“Be nice to your cousin Emilia.” Scolded the Duchess. “He came down here to offer to spend some of his time with you, show some gratitude and hospitality young lady!”
Before Emilia could reply, Lord Williams beat her to it. “You don’t have to be so harsh on her, your Grace. Emilia and I will get along very well; you have nothing to worry about.” He politely interceded on Emilia’s behalf.
“I doubt that!” Emilia muttered under her breath.
“Then I should leave you two to get to work on that.” Said the Duchess, giving Emilia a knowing look as she walked away.
“This old lady needs to rest her old bones.”
“Should I walk you to your quarters, Your Grace?” Lord William quickly stepped forward, offering his arm.
“No!” The Duchess pushed his arm away gently. “I am old; doesn’t mean I don’t know my way around my late husband’s castle just take care of Emilia.” She said and walked away.
Smiling, Lord William turned to Emilia, who was wringing her fingers to keep steady and composed.
“I must comment that you look astonishing this morning.” He said after a quick observation.
“Thank you.” She simply faked a smile.
“Shall we?” He swept an arm towards the left foot path. Emilia hesitated then went on that direction while he followed.
As they walked, he started pointing out things he didn’t like about the castle and how he would like to replace or get rid of them. “Like this statue!” He pointed at the statue of the late duke. “It’s been here for like sixteen years now and it should be replaced.”
Emilia who had been quietly tolerating him and seething in anger burst out. “Lord William, I mean no disrespect but your talk is really beginning to get on nerves.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Of course!” She continued. ” The late duke built this castle and your saucy talk about renovating it to your taste when it is not even in your position to.”
“Need I bring it to your notice that I am the only available and competent heir prospect to the wealth and heirloom of Lady Catherine left by her late husband the Duke who was my Uncle. She is childless and I am fit to take over, which makes it my right to do anything I want to about this castle.” He gloated.
Emilia fumed in anger. “I won’t have you talk about my aunt in such an insolent manner, Lord William.” She said coldly.
“She is also my aunt, Emilia. Whichever way you choose to perceive it, one day, just very soon…” He regarded the property with opened arms. “I will be the Duke of PearlsWorth.”
“Don’t be so sure, disappointment could be a sour taste, trust me.” she replied sarcastically.
“From the look of things dear cousin, I have no one to dispute nor oppose me over this heirloom.” He took her hand. “…And with you by my side as my Duchess, we would make such a great team with a prosperous estate.”
Emilia yanked her hand away from his, in utter disgust. “I believe we have walked far enough” she spat. “I had better return to chambers in time for tea.”
He gave a low bow, wearing a sly smile. “The honour is mine milady, when the time comes, I shall seek your hand out in marriage, and you might not really have much of a choice.” He ran a finger down the side of her face and she winced at his touch. “So fair to behold, are you. So soft to the touch, just like a fresh-baked bread from the oven.”
“I forbid you to speak in such uncouthly manner with me!” She responded icily, hating his lusty look.
“I take my leave now, and I am sure you’ll find some other woman to lavish your time on, Cousin William.” She said sarcastically. “Good day to you!” She turned down the cobbled path leading to the back of the house and was gone.
Lord William smiled, pulled out his pocket watched rimmed with gold and glanced down at it. He looked up at the gulls flying overhead and went in the opposite direction where he had come from.
Robert emerged from the corner pushing a small cart full of potatoes and tulips.
He stopped and wiped off the sweat from his brow with the rolled-up sleeve of his upper-arm. He grimaced in pain as he stretched his back and rolled his aching waist.
“Hot sun!” He said to Aidan who was sitting on the porch, leaning on the wooden pillar, smoking. “You shouldn’t really be taking that.” He regarded the smoking pipe between Aidan’s fingers as he began to offload the cart. “It’s bad for your health.” He hefted a big watermelon onto the porch.
“And besides, it could worsen my mother’s cough.”
Aidan who had quietly been watching the young teenager work, extinguish his pipe and safely tucked it away, letting the remnant of the smoke he inhaled drift from his nostrils and between his lips. He came down the porch steps and walked past Robert.
Robert turned, puzzled. “Where are you going to?” he shaded his eyes from the sun with his hand.
“Going out to make some money.” Aidan replied without looking back.
“Money?” Robert asked. “You got a job?”
“Can I come with you?”
“No, too dangerous.”
“Please, let me come with you, Aidan.” Robert pleaded.
Aidan stopped and half turned to look at him. “It’s too dangerous for you, boy.” He said in a calm low voice.
“I have an idea or two about how this thing works, I could be of help.” He eagerly persisted.
Aidan studied him for a while and replied. “Fine! But on one condition, you pretend you are not with me, I attract trouble like moths to fire. I don’t want any harm coming to you, you got a mother to look after.”
Robert’s face brightened with a smile. “Aye sir!” he grabbed his coat from a nail in the corner and jogged to join Aidan.
To be continued…
© Angela Okoduwa