He leapt from the bed, sweating. His smooth-haired chest heaving as he panted. He blinked, trying to adjust to the dimness of the room.
A single tilting candle, melted to half stood in the middle of the room on a candle stand. The flame flickered briefly as if an invisible figure just went past it. Only where the candle stood was bright but the rest of the room was cast into darkness.
He glanced at the bed across the room, the sheets were almost fallen to the floor and the bed was empty. He quickly propped on an elbow wondering where Robert had gone to. He was about concluding that he might had gone for a leak when the wheezing cough of Robert’s mother drew his attention.
Not wanting to return to his constant horrible nightmare about his past, he swung his feet off his bed. When he stood, the floor board creaked under his weight. Standing barefooted, he walked out of the room to the other room.
He had felt more at home ever since Robert first brought him here and when he saw the young boy’s plight, he always wanted a kid brother anyway.
As he approached the door, the stench of the room hit him. He didn’t wrinkle his nose nor frown in disgust because he had gotten used to it due to his stay here and was almost accustomed to every smell in the house.
He leaned on the door way, watching Robert dab his mother’s forehead with a wet napkin. He would dip the napkin in a little bowl of almost dirty water which might have resulted from washing her body, wring out most of the water and wash her.
“Call the doctor tomorrow!”
Startled, the boy spurn around. “Aidan?”
Aidan stepped into the room fully. “You heard me, summon the doctor tomorrow.”
Robert glanced at his mother then back at him. “Need I remind you that I have no such money to cater for her medical expenses?”
“And would you rather watch her live in such painful agony? With each day that passes, she fades with time. She’s doing the best she can to stay alive for you, one hell of a fight she’s putting up for your sake.”
“I know…” Robert said with a sigh letting the napkin fall to the floor with a sloshing sound. “I can’t watch her die.” He rested his forehead on his palm, wearily.
“Then it is high time I did something about it.”
Robert turned to look at him, eyes wide and suspicious. “What are you talking about?”
“I will go to the Dock tomorrow, I should be lucky to find work, any wage I get should be enough to commence treatment on her.”
Robert stood to his full height, surprised. “You would do that for her?” He gestured at his sleeping mother.
“I do nothing for her… I do it for you, Rob.” Aidan replied tersely.
“Oh!” Robert looked away, remembering Aidan despised women for reasons he wasn’t ready to share. “I will work with you!” he stated quickly. “She’s my mother not yours.”
Aidan cringed unnoticeable at the mention of the word ‘mother’. “If you are going to help her, let me help you. She is my responsibility.”
Aidan clapped the boy’s shoulder. “Then do not deny yourself a good sleep. You are a brave lad. If you want to help, finish up and return to bed, you look so pale.”
Robert nodded, hope lighting up his face. Aidan turned to leave, remembered something and stopped. “If you need me, I am going out to the porch, sleep has eluded me tonight.”
“Can I…” Robert started to say, knowing what he was about to ask, Aidan interrupted.
“No! To bed!” with this order, he turned and was gone, leaving Robert blankly staring at the empty doorway.
“You three should be quick about those luggage and boxes, the ship sails soon!” Yelled a lanky man with a goatee at Aidan and two other workers, hefting heavy boxes up the gang plank into a ship. Some of the crew were already untying the mast of the big ship. Sea gulls quacked overhead as they flew across the sunny sky. The dock was busy with travellers and porters. Aidan and Robert had reached the dock as early as possible in order to get the jobs. The pay was not much but it was almost worth the stress of the job.
“Hey!” shouted the lanky man at Robert who was groaning under the weight of a sea chest. “Be careful with that thing, I am not going to take responsibilities for any damages.”
Aidan who was just bounding down the plank hurried to Robert. “Let me have it!”
“No!” The boy who had barely succeeded to carry the Chest against his chest, gritted his teeth as he tried to go around Aidan to the gang plank.
Aidan turned. ‘Be reasonable lad! You know you are not going to take more than two steps up that plank before you come tumbling down and if you damage anything it will be deducted from our wages, I am sure you don’t want that, do you?”
He watched Robert contemplate his words, sizing up his burden and the high gang plank. “…But goatee there…” he regarded the lanky man with a side nod of his head.
“…Says the number of luggage one takes aboard the ship determines one’s pay.”
“Yes he did, but we are in this together, let me have it!” Aidan said, collecting the chest from Rob. “This is damn heavy!” he groaned. “If you had toppled into the water with such a burden in your arms, you would have sunk to oblivion.
A porter once died from such accident so learn to bear your size and less than your weight, lad.”
Robert gave him a questioning look. “You are trying to scare me right?”
“Yea.” Aidan smiled. “Are you scared?”
“No.” Robert stated.
Aidan walked away feigning disappointment. When he came bounding down the plank, Robert offered him a bottle of water.
“Thanks.” He said as he gulped from it and sprinkled the rest on his head making his hair drip. “Damn hot sun, given me a serious tan!” he swore in relief as the water cooled his skin.
There was suddenly an uproar as a well-polished carriage appeared at the far end of the dock and the driver yelling; ’Make way!’
The carriage slowly came to a halt and the driver leapt from his seat and opened the carriage door, bowing to whomever was within. A fair-skinned leg, whose foot was encased in a bright pink shoe appeared on the ground, below the opened door, followed by the other pair.
Then a young woman in an expensive pale-pink gown stepped fully out. Then down came a chubby woman in her early fifties who quickly opened an umbrella to shield the younger woman from the harsh sun.
Robert watched in amazement. “Whoa! Isn’t she stunning?”
Aidan, hands on his hips didn’t answer, he only watched as the lady looked around as if assessing the dock and finding it disgusting.
He could hardly see her face because of her matching wide-brimmed, flower-embroidered sunhat that covered most of her face so that only her nose, lips and chin were visible.
“Who is she?”
“I have no idea…but she is sure of aristocratic blood.” His tone showed that he wasn’t impressed or amazed by this. “Wealthy bums that think too high of themselves.”
Robert glanced at him, seeing the obvious displeasure on his face “They are sure going aboard The Pearl… I heard it’s only for the aristocrats.” He said, regarding the ship they just loaded with luggage.
Robert was startled at the rush of porters at the luggage of the newly arrived passenger. He was about to join in the rush when a firm hand on his chest stopped him, making him look up at Aidan whose gaze was still fixed on the hustle and bustle.
“They delight in seeing commoners make a rush at their luggage, but I will never decry myself, neither should you… and certainly not for a woman.”
Robert was beginning to ponder if Aidan’s hatred also applied to the rich when he turned to see the lady turning this way and that as she made her way towards the ship to avoid contact with the dirty, sweaty porters who were rushing past her to the carriage she just alighted from.
She swirled her skirts with her hand here and there obviously dreading any stain on it and her lady in waiting made sure of that by smacking any porter that came too close for contact with her fan.
“Watch it you, Urchin! Watch it, will ya!” She smacked one again and again till he ducked and dodged and went running after his fellow porters.
“This way milady!” one of the guards now standing beside the step-made gang plank said with a bow.
Hesitating for a moment, she muttered to him. “Lead the way, Festus.” She gently placed her hand on Festus’ and ascended the gang plank.
Aidan thought her fragile. Those slender fingers looked breakable and useful for picking meat out of the teeth after feasting on tough meat.
Festus ascended the steps with Emilia, followed by the chubby woman who still shielded her from the sun and a much younger girl, holding an expensive cage where a ferret nestled within, then the porters patiently hefted their luggage after them.
The mere presence of Emilia had almost wiped out all the stench in the dock for her perfume lingered in every corner making the place smell more like a garden.
When she was aboard the ship, she walked to the railings and stood there, turned to say something to her maid and tickled the ferret through the cage, slightly laughing.
Then her expression change. She looked up at the horizon as if home sick, scanning both distances. Just then a gust of wind blew at her, blowing her hat off her head but she was quick to catch it by the restraining string around her neck but not after her thick black hair bunched up in pins had been revealed and also her lovely face.
Aidan’s breath ceased at the mesmerizing sight for a second. She gently put on her hat and just then her gaze locked with Aidan’s, with indifference, she turned as she was led away by Festus to her already made cabin.
“I wish I could have someone as lovely and beautiful as she is.” Robert whispered already mesmerized.
Aidan glanced down at him. “Those kind of people do not mingle with the likes of us. We are only fit, according to them to be servants, page boys, gardeners and the lot.”
Robert frowned. “Don’t you ever have anything encouraging to say about people, you always sound bitter.”
Aidan shrugged. “That’s because life is bitter. Let’s get to work and stop fantasizing.”
“I had eye on the younger girl. did you see her, the one with the ferret?” Robert asked, smiling coyly.
“She looks like the lady’s-in-waiting daughter but I don’t think she will notice you!”
Robert pouted. “Thanks for your piece of encouragement, Aidan, very encouraging!” he said sarcastically.
“C’mon Rob, women aren’t worth it. Once you fall for them, you become an everlasting prisoner doing their every whim. You become their footstool just like my father.”
Rob cocked an eyebrow. “Your father?”
“Yes my father!” Aidan hefted a box. “He died in my arms, died of depression and cardiac arrest because my whore of a mother dumped him to liberate her promiscuity.” With pain deep in his expression, he ascended the gangplank for the last time while Rob watched his back, lost in thought as he stood dumbfounded.
The doctor came out to the living room, his brief case in one hand, the other hand wiping the nape of his neck and eyebrow with a handkerchief. Aidan who was gazing out of the window, watching the sunset, with his arm folded across his chest, turned to face the doctor, while Robert who had been pacing sat down, fingers interlocked under his chin, a foot tapping the wooden floor impatiently, jumped to his feet as the doctor approached.
“How is she sir?” He anxiously asked.
The Doctor stared at him briefly. “She is okay, I can’t really say, the disease has gotten the better of her, but for now I have only given her some drugs to ease her cough and to regulate her pulse and some aspirin for her lung pain for now. I left some drugs by her bedside which will do for the next three days, after then I will be back to check on how she has improved so far.” He pushed his drooping glasses further up the bridge of his nose.
Robert nodded giving a sigh of relief. “And I don’t want her being fed solid food, it could hurt her lungs or throat, feed her anything liquid for now until I say otherwise.”
The doctor picked his hat from the coat tree by the door and placed it gently on his head which was already balding in the middle. “…And lest I forget, this environment does not look too appealing. It could worsen her health. Do yourselves some good and clean up the house and clear off the weeds and climbing plants outside the house.”
“We already thought of that doctor, thank you!” Aidan interjected rather impatiently.
The doctor looked up at the intimidating face of Aidan who had gone to open the door. He found the Doctor too full of himself and such a talkative. “You may leave now.” He added with a sly smile.
“Very well then!” said the Doctor as he walked out of the house.
The melodious keys floated all over the room as the older woman’s fingers skimmed across the keys skilfully. Across from her, she watched the three ladies sing to the notes the piano produced. They had been practising for long and the ladies seemed to be getting better by the day in music. She watched them keenly, smiling and encouraging them by nodding her head to every note the piano produced. Her eyes lingered on the graceful ladies, ladies of high nobility. The one in blue, Thelma, with a blonde shoulder-length hair was the third daughter of the Marquess of Kredgeisle, she was shy, lovely and laughed a lot for she enjoyed playing silly games and teasing her peers.
The next one in lilac with a mass of curly hair and bright brown eyes, Phyllis, was the daughter and the only child of the viscount of Rosefalls but niece of a duke. She was more of a flirt, which most of her teachers had cautioned her for, she thought too high of herself and was also quite a chatter box when it came to bragging and gloating. fortunately, she seemed to have the most appealing voice among the three, but was most times rude that made the pianist wonder how the two ladies endure her company.
The last one, Emilia, had the most beautiful sculpted face she had ever seen, composed and gentle in her lemon gown which blended with her jade eyes, she was a pleasant lady to be with, the niece of the Duchess of PearlsWorth. She was nice and relaxed, but there was something not right about her today. The pianist noticed that Emilia had missed some lines in the song which was very unusual. Maybe the ladies could do with break. She thought to herself.
Ending the music, she stood up and clapped her hands gleefully. “Well-done ladies!” she announced” you all have done well. I am sure our guests would be pleased with the presentation.”
“My father and his noble friends will grace it, that I am sure of.” Declared Phyllis with an air of pride.
“Hope your distant cousin will be coming too?” Thelma playfully pulled a wisp of Phyllis’ hair sheer delight.
“Stop that, will you!” scolded Phyllis after yelping in pain and smoothing her hair but Thelma only giggled.
Noticing Emilia’s silence, the pianist said. “Is all well, Emilia? You seem to be quite distant.”
Emilia jerked out of her deep thought and forced a smile. “Of course ma’am, I’m just not in high spirits today.”
The pianist quietly acknowledged her with a nod and said aloud. “I will give you ladies some time to yourselves and I will back in fifteen minutes’ time to take you for lunch.”
“Why can’t the steward bring it himself?” Phyllis questioned, disappointment written all over her face.
The pianist smiled, knowing how Phyllis had been flirting with the academy steward by sometimes exposing the swells of her breasts beyond normal.
“He’s on leave today, my dear Phyllis.” She replied.
“Aww…” moaned Phyllis as the pianist exited the room. “I was hoping to talk to him today.” She said to whoever cared to listen.
“About?” Thelma took the bait, sitting to face Phyllis. “You have a thing for that man, don’t you? She rolled her eyes. “Imagine what your father would do if he found out that you had been flirting with a mere servant.”
Phyllis stood up and waved a dismissive hand. “Can’t a lady have fun with whomever she chooses to?”
“Well…” began Thelma. “I’m already engaged to the Earl of Cradlestand and we will be getting married immediately after my schooling… I can’t wait to have a baby.” She grinned.
Emilia absentmindedly rubbed her stomach as she half-heartedly listened to her two friends.
“Boring!” Phyllis spat, flicked her fan open which was of the same colour with gown and frantically waved it before her face. “I want to enjoy life to its fullest before I marry. I want to attend every important Ball, meet honourable people and have men both bachelors and perhaps, the married queue up for a dance. Having the other women envy me is my social aim.” She laughed coolly. ‘I derive pleasure in making others jealous.”
“That’s not good for a lady’s social reputation.” Protested Thelma, frowning.
Phyllis snorted. “I care less about what anyone thinks. When I finally decide to settle down…” she trailed off, staring into the distance, a smirk lingering on her face.
“Who do you have in mind, Phyllis?” Thelma probed.
“The Duke of CannonShire!” Phyllis replied.
“What!” Thelma’s eyes grew round. “You must be joking, that man is your father’s age. He is definitely almost thrice your senior!”
“He is a widower and his years on this earth are drawing near…and when eventually we get married and I become a Duchess, imagine the amount of heirloom I have acquired for myself, the gold, diamonds, sapphire, emerald, and so many more. I will become the most sought after Duchess/widow of the time.”
She suddenly frowned. “But I am sure going to despise his touch… I will make sure the old slime hardly touches me, if possible, never. I just have to be smart enough to preserve my luscious body for a younger suitor with equal wealth after the old vomit joins his ancestors beyond.”
“That’s rash and cruel!” Thelma pouted.
“No darling…not cruel. It is called being witty.” Phyllis looked down her nose at Emilia’s beautiful face and wished she had such beauty. But how could she envy about her when Emilia lacked the taste for men and kept all wooers at bay.
Since all the men chasing after Emilia took an alternative route to her, then Emilia’s beauty was worthless. “So what say you, Emilia?”
Emilia stared up at Phyllis.
“You seem to be too unbearably quiet for my liking ever since you returned from the short holiday we had.”
“Someone popped your supposed cherry?” Thelma teased then burst into laughter.
“Thelma!” Emilia playfully scolded. “No one popped my cherry, I’ll pretend you didn’t just say that.”
“So you didn’t get laid yet?” Phyllis questioned in masked disgust.
“What’s so important about getting laid anyway? I will have no man born of a woman between my tender innocent thighs.” Stated Emilia, decisively.
To be continued…
© Angela Okoduwa