They finally let go, making way for transformation. The demonic grey lifts as raindrops hit the heaving bosom of Mother Earth. Within moments the green imbibes a deeper hue. My gaze follows each trickle as it hits the window pane and melts into the stream washing down the stillness. The tintinnabulation of the windchimes is erratic as the gust of wind blows directionless. Much like my state of mind. Considering it another distraction for the sorrowfull heart, I roll down the wheelchair towards the patio.
“Sir” Mathew whispers.
I turn around. Startled. Quite like the cattle whose hopes of being saved from the guillotine are still alive.
“Hate being a bother Sir. A young lady is insisting on being led to you.” The sentence echoes in the foyer.
The wheel chair swirls. A strong gust of wind rattles the windchimes as does my heart.
“No……No Richard. Don’t.” Excruciating cries echo in my head as I look away into the deluge, wishing secretly that this moment flows away like the little trains of raindrops into the driveway and down the hill.”
“Sir……Sir……your Lordship?” The nurse hovers with a medicine tray.
“I wish for solitude.”
The nurse walks away. “It is almost a month since His Lordship returned from the excursion. Something has changed ever since. Perhaps the accident that has immobilized him.”
The vagueness around the incident has left me crippled for life, not the outcome I had envisioned. A payback? I still wonder. And Mathew……I have been talking to him.
The Summer Before
The warmth in the air is noticeable. The golden period of youth when one can prance about unaccounted. The navy had disciplined but it had also taught one to live fervently. The endless sailing beneath the changing hues of the sky make life precious. Having completed time at sea, I was now homebound for some months. Sometimes inheritance becomes a bane. The historic mansion passed down from generation to generation had enough corners to envelope my loneliness. All one craves is company when there are no other cares in life. I was to be off-duty for six months. The thought of having no routine to wake up to was joyous but the simultaneous thought of breathing in an empty mansion was dreadful.
I threw myself on the polished bed as Mathew’s crisp voice announced, “Your Lordship tea is served.”
“Ah. Thank you, Mathew.”
“It is laid out in the library.”
He retreated, head bowed, one arm across the chest as the other one dangled behind the back.
The plush carpet welcomed me as did the roof-high bookshelves adorned with photo albums. Sparkling silverware and a dark mahogany writing desk added to the enigma.
“What’s the relevance of the photo albums in this labyrinth. Something to explore.”
“Mathew?” I prompted while walking towards the shelves. Reaching out, I dived into the world of black and white.
“The Gentlemen’s Club” I chirped. “Most pictures are taken here. Did Father frequent this place?”
Mathew rattled off other details, disregarding the question.
“Mathew…….……I asked something?”
The reluctant manner was bizarre.
“Well. Sir…..pardon my prudence…..He was the founder of the club.” The conversation shifted to another tangent cleverly.
“Aan invitation from the Crawley estate. Their annual masquerade ball. It is quite an event. Nobility from as far as London travels to witness the pomp and show.”
Mathew bombarded down the information as if denying any reaction.
“Really! A Masquerade Ball?” I was amused. “Haven’t been to a masquerade in ages. Sounds fun.”
Mathew’s readiness to take leave was interjected swiftly. “The idea of the Gentlemen’s Club is intriguing. Perhaps the photo albums await exploration. Don’t they Mathew?”
A hurried exit followed.
Donned in finery with my naval accomplishments advertised on the lapels, I excitedly rattled off to the Crawley estate.
Scores of guests made a beeline at the welcome desk, selecting the best masquerade. I towed the line in anticipation.
“Good evening, Mister. Keep moving briskly.” A gentle squeal over my shoulder made me turn around to the most fascinating face. Brick red lips touched my shoulder with overflowing excitement.
“Maam, please take my place.” Her doe shaped eyes grew wide in disbelief. “Quite the gentleman!”
Another tap on the shoulder sent a shiver down my spine. A welcome feeling after being amidst the men at sea.
Her careless gait faded into the masquerade. Not wanting to lose sight of her, my prying eyes moved along with her inside the ball room. One shoulder to another, seemed like there was no shortage of prospective suitors to witness her graceful and alluring dance moves.
Music, wine and laughter filled the room as I caught the Miss in solitude. I positioned myself next to her in a flash.
“Hello. Lord Richard Redwood Maam.” I extended my hand with a gentle bow. The reluctance gave into my bowed head. A gentle softness caressed my palm. I looked up to witness a delightful smile.
“Miss Dash” she responded as I kissed her hand.
The moment our eyes met, I knew there was a connection. What followed later was a dream. Neither of us let go of each other as we glided across the dance floor. It was just me and her. Nothing distracted us. It was the hostess who reminded us to head towards the lavish food. We felt each other’s heart beat despite the camouflage of the masquerade.
When it was time to leave, neither of us wanted to. I offered her a carriage ride which she politely declined and disappeared into the receding crowd.
A sinking feeling took over, like being lost at sea. In the midst of the vastness when you yearn for the lighthouse. Yes, she was the lighthouse.
The evening had ended and I had no choice but to return. Whispering her name, I turned home.
As the carriage rattled back, a barefoot, well-dressed woman caught my attention. Once the carriage drew closer, I knew it was her. “Ms. Dash.” I yelled.
Startled, she replied. “Yes, it is. Whose this?”
“Lord Redwood from the masquerade. Where can I take you?”
“The Gentleman’s Club, Lord Redwood.”
As the effect of wine descended, my head felt heavy.
The Morning After
A lemony aroma at my bedside awoke me. A proven antidote for hangovers.
The gaudy red bedcover wasn’t mine, nor was the striking red on the walls. It was all too gawky and bore an uncanny familiarity. The cheap imitation crystal chandelier reflecting the neon glow hurt the head. The garish furnishings were severely underkept.
Miss Dash emerged from the red, looking pale and worn. Probably, after the lurid make-up had been removed.
“Feel at home, Junior Lord Redwood…….” I was aghast.
“Did you know my father?”
She laughed ostentatiously. Her head tossed carelessly like an unruly pendulum.
“Know him…….oh dear dear Lord…….He is the father of us all….here. The Gentleman’s Club.
You would rather ask, “Did you know my Mother?”
“Yes I did…….she was one of us too. Only left to rot in oblivion.”
The ranting continued till……the greasy door flung open and Mathew walked in. A disposition I had never seen before. He aroused me from the damp mattresses and escorted me downstairs.
“It isn’t over. I’m coming for you Lord. You belong here, with us in this misery.”
The suddenness of it all left me paralyzed.
After the incident, the pride and nobility seemed obscure and vain. Suicidal thoughts meandered. As I lay seething at my future and oncoming loneliness, Mathew’s concern grew evident. Miss Dash’s advances were incriminating. Her visibility amidst nobility became pronounced. It couldn’t be encouraged.
“My Lordship……youth shouldn’t wither away. You don’t pay for the fathers or forefathers. You write your own history.” He continued after a thoughtful pause. “You father spent his last days in extreme sickness contracted from his extravagant lifestyle. He left many in agony. He entrusted you to my care swearing me to an oath to keep you away from those dungeons.”
“Mathew…..how soon can this end. It’s distressing.”
“Today” he extended his hand. I glided along. As the azure blue skies were engulfed in the deafening silence of night, my carriage strode upto the club. Mathew’s presence emboldened each step towards the deadly den.
My grip around the revolver tightened like a noose getting ready to wring life out. Rainy night interspersed with thunder and lightening would drown her cries. I scrabbled up the stairs as sweat beads glistened like a tiara.
“Doors here are never locked” Miss Dash’s cantankerous voice echoed in my head. The lingering perfume directed me towards her dainty frame, covered by a blingy nightgown. Carelessly deep in slumber.
Mathew whispered, “No time to waste Sir.”
The weapon did a perfect job. As her chest spluttered open, lightning flashed across the gawky room. The red walls turned redder and her listless frame lay unaffected by the orchestra of sounds. I rushed down the cruddy stairs, accidentally tripping till all fell silent.
As sunshine enveloped the room, I opened my eyes to excruciating pain and numbness in the legs. Befuddled I cried “Mathew……whats going on? Why the pain?”
An attending nurse marched up. “Sir, you were in an accident last night. The Gentleman’s Club was on fire.”
“Mathew …. The butler you nincompoop”
“There is a misunderstanding Sir. He has been dead past six years, buried in the estate graveyard.”
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