The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part Twenty-Six

Chapter Twelve

Ketteridge House, Leicestershire, England, New Year’s Day, 1816

 

Rowena entered the unexpectedly large graveyard that surrounded St Crispin’s Church. Sometime during the day, she had tamped down her anger about Alex’ highhandedness and told him she wanted to meet the mysterious letter writer. She wanted Alex to accompany her to Evensong and afterwards, let her go to the meeting alone.

“Wait for me outside the graveyard, please. I need to know what is transpiring here. Please try to understand my concern, Alex? If this is a hoax, then you can go to the magistrate, and if it is not …”

“You are not seriously thinking that Johnston might be still alive? It must be a hoax, and I am not inclined to let you go alone.”

“Please, Alex? He will not show up when he sees you with me. You could post young Gregson at the entrance to watch over me.”

He could, Alex thought, yet he would not. He most certainly should not; she might be in danger. He would watch over her himself, though he could not tell her that, since she still thought him blind. So he pretended to give in.

“Very well, my dear. We will do as you say. I implore you to be very careful. If it is a hoax, the ones involved might not wish you well.”

Rowena pressed her husband’s hand in gratitude, then stepped into the graveyard.

The graves were as well-tended as was possible, given the dampness of the soil. Yet many graves lay sunken under the thick blanket of snow, their lichen-covered headstones crooked. Some were broken, marking graves of long-dead people. Rowena shivered as the gloomy atmosphere added an eerie edge to the winter night. It was still bitterly cold, although the sky was overcast, so no moonlight helped her find her way through the deserted yard. The note had not specified where exactly she was to meet the mysterious person, so she halted in the middle where two paths crossed. A large funeral chapel stood there, belonging to a wealthy Leicester merchant family whose ancestry was from Ketteridge. Rowena went to stand near the chapel door, better to see when someone approached her.

“Rowena … Rowie …”

That voice … that clipped accent with just a hint of Cumberland tones … could it be? She swung round to the left and nearly fainted when she recognized the man who was standing there, leaning on a cane. His clothes were shabby and dirty, his fair hair too long, his eyes too large in his narrow face. Yet it was Peter, no doubt about it.

 

Alex peered through the darkness, anxious to lose sight of Rowena. Damnation, but he did not like this! He had been suspicious of Johnston as soon as Rowena told him about the man. He had thought him a cad, a blackguard, for seducing an inexperienced girl, only weeks before he joined his regiment. Alex knew all too well that Johnston must have been informed long before the exact date on which the army forces would gather and cross over to Flanders. Cavalry men often belonged to the landed gentry. They wanted to be informed early enough to be able to provide for the running of their estates in their absence.

That afternoon, he had taken the trouble of looking up Johnston. If he was the son of an earl, he had to be in Debrett’s. Johnston, Alex discovered, was indeed Carlisle’s third son. Yet no mention had been there about a demise, and the edition of Debrett’s was from July 1815. Up to date, thus.

 

“Peter … what … they told me you were dead … I thought you were dead …”

Her former lover shrugged, smiling broadly at her, showing teeth that had known better days. How was this possible? Peter used to be such a fastidious man, proud of his uniform, and his status as the son of a nobleman. Now he seemed destitute and unwell. Rowena’s heart melted.

“Oh my God, Peter! What happened to you? Why did they think you were dead? Roderick told me he had a telegram from the Regiment, announcing you had fallen at Waterloo.”

“Ah, well …” Peter said, scratching his head, and avoiding her eyes. “You see, Rowie, I was badly injured and I must have lain for dead for hours, if not days. I dragged myself from the battlefield, and I must have done that for a long time, because when I finally woke up, I was lying in a barn, five miles from the battle field. A farm lad found me, and he and his sister nursed me back to health. Unfortunately, I had no memory of what happened, and someone had stripped me of my uniform. So it took several months for my memory to come back, and then one day, I remembered you. I left and came back, Rowie. We can be together and start a family.”

He took a step forward, and Rowena realized he was going to embrace her. Suddenly, that did not seem to be an attractive notion. She braced herself when he put his arms around her, desperately trying not to shy away. He was dirty and he smelled anything but fresh, but that was not what repelled her. Repulsion … of Peter? How had she come to that? But she had. She closed her eyes, enduring his embrace as best as she could, before she gently extracted herself from his arms.

“Peter, matters have changed. I have married the Earl of Ketteridge.”

Peter’s gasp cut her off, as he pushed her from him. “Rowie, no! That cannot be so! Why, Rowie, why?”

Rowena pushed away from Peter and felt suddenly relieved to be free of his touch. She was baffled. Why would she be shy of Peter’s touch, when she had lain with him in the past?

“It saddens me that matters have gone the way they have. Yet they have, and we must resign ourselves to the fact that we both are in a new situation. We …”

In the blink of an eye, Peter again grabbed her upper arms and shook her. He actually shook her, and very hard! The cane he was holding was pressed painfully into the flesh of her arm. “No! I cannot let this happen! I need you, Rowena!”

His mouth bore down on hers, forcing open her lips, invading her mouth with his tongue.            Rowena struggled not to gag, fighting to pull free, but his vicelike grip was unbreakable. She panicked, tried to kick him, but he pushed her against the chapel’s wall. Pushed her so hard her head banged against the bricks. She longed to faint, to escape this horror.

 

Alex had watched the whole, disgusting scene from afar, gritting his teeth in loathing when he saw his wife step into the stranger’s embrace. She had done so willingly, he observed, rage burning holes in his chest. She must still love the cavalry man, damnation!

He was unable to hear what they were saying, the distance being too great. He rejoiced when Rowena pulled away, panicked when he saw Johnston grab her again. His feet were taking him to her before he realized. He seized Johnston’s arm and wrenched him backwards. The man suddenly swung a cane Alex had failed to notice, and it connected hard with his right temple.

Alex’s vision blurred, the world suddenly spinning. He gritted his teeth and rose from his knees to run after Johnston who was dragging a screaming Rowena towards the graveyard’s entrance. How had the fiend managed to cover all that distance? Alex fought back the bile mounting in his throat, feeling a warm trickle of blood running down his face. Blast! His head wound must have reopened.

He forced himself to run harder, saw the distance diminish. Then, to his infinite relief, he saw Porter entering through the graveyard’s gate.

“Porter! Stop him!”

The batman never hesitated but broke into a swift run towards Johnston and Rowena. But Johnston was now a cornered animal and he acted so by backing up to a large grave stone. A blade flashed, and Alex realized it must have been hidden in the cane. Johnston held its rim against Rowena’s throat, locking her in a dead grip.

Both Alex and Porter stopped, yards away from the couple. Alex felt sick with sudden panic burning his gut. If this madman … no! He could not give in to paralyzing panic! Not when Rowena needed him to be calm.

“What is it you want, Johnston? Money? I can give you as much as you need. Let her go and we can make an arrangement.”

“Back! Move back or I’ll slice her like a pig, I swear!” The man’s tones were all but clipped now.

Guardians of the Tomb

SCARY FANTASY HORROR ADVENTURE TRAILER AND POSTER FOR ‘GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB’ WITH KELLAN LUTZ, LI BINGBING, KELSEY GRAMMER!

‘GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB’
TRAILER & POSTER UNLEASHED!
Here’s something scary and exciting to shake you up from your postfestive lethargy with freaky spiders, terrifying tombs and awoken skeletons! Mysterious first trailer and some gorgeous character posters have been released for Chinese Australian fantasy adventure GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB (also known as The Nest) which should arrive into Chinese cinemas this January  with a rather stellar cast lead by Australian hunk Kellan Lutz, American star Kelsey Grammerand one of China’s biggest female superstars lovely Li Bingbing next to Wu Chun, Shane Jacobson, Tim Draxl and Stef Dawson!

GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB
fantasy horror thriller film directed and written by Kimble Rendall(who worked previously as a second unit director on Matrix movies and I, Robot), has the story which revolves around a team of scientists who lose a colleague in an ancient labyrinth while trying to make the discovery of a century. The group must battle their way through a swarm of deadly, man-eating funnel web spiders and discover the secret behind the insects’ power and intelligence. An innocent discovery of a well preserved mummified Emperor from 200 BC China unearths a 2000 year old nightmare – a secret that should have remained buried.

Kellan Lutz plays the male lead
Li BingBing is female lead!
The movie arrives into Chinese cinemas January 19th!

‘TROY: FALL OF A CITY’ (2019)

NEW PHOTOS FROM BBC AND NETFLIX EPIC SERIES ‘TROY: FALL OF A CITY’ WITH TOM WESTON JONES, FRANCES O’CONNOR, JONAS ARMSTRONG

 NEW ‘TROY: FALL OF A CITY’
PHOTOS FROM BBC EPIC SAGA
Treats from BBC this Friday ahead of the festive weekend! Today, you can enjoy some new photos from their upcoming historical series TROY: FALL OF A CITY which will air sometime early next year and we are still waiting for a trailer.
TROY: FALL OF A CITY
an epic tale of mortals and gods,  has a psychologically rich and sweeping narrative which goes back to the story’s origins: to the judgement of Paris, his scandalous love affair with Helen, and the ill-starred prophecy surrounding his birth. Told from the perspective of the Trojan royal family at the heart of the siege, TROY: FALL OF A CITY is a rich story of love, intrigue, betrayal and belonging. Combining thrilling adventure with heart-breaking intimacy, it conveys the big themes of human existence and identity; of people battling to retain their sense of humanity and compassion amid the devastation and destruction of war.

David Threlfall is King Priam of Troy
Tom Weston Jones is the heroic and tragic prince Hector of Troy
THE CAST OF THE 8 PART DRAMA
The eight part saga, which will also air on Netflix after the run in UK,  will see Louis Hunter and Bella Dayne as Paris and Helen, the two lovers whose passionate affair plunges Greece and Troy into war, threatening to bring both empires to their knees. David Threlfall plays Paris’ father, King Priam of Troy, alongside Frances O’Connor as Hecuba, Queen of Troy, and Tom Weston-Jones  as their eldest son brave Hector. They are joined by a cast including Joseph Mawle as Odysseus, Chloe Pirrie as Hector’s wife Andromache, Johnny Harris as Agamemnon, David Gyasi as Achilles, and Jonas Armstrong as Menelaos, the King of Sparta whose marriage to Helen is destroyed when Paris arrives in his city. Further casting includes Alfred Enoch as the Trojan general Aeneas, David Avery as Xanthius, and Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Priam and Hecuba’s daughter, Cassandra.
Louis Hunter and Bella Dayne are two epic brats Paris and Helen
Robin Hood’s Jonas Armstrong is King of Sparta Menelaos
For some reason BBC thinks Achilles was black, played by David Gyasi
As far as the spy’s heard the series is still under production in South Africa

“Queen Elizabeth’s Secret Agents”

PBS: Queen Elizabeth’s Secret Agents
Sundays, January 28 – February 11, 10-11 pm ET

This series uncovers the secret state that helped keep Queen Elizabeth in power for over 40 years. During a time when Britain was divided, unstable and violent the world’s first secret service was born. Run by William and Robert Cecil, this father and son team had the duty of protecting the queen and the country. This series asks leading historians to each study the period from a different key players point of view. They dissect the minds and motivations of key players to reveal a covert spy network, revealing Elizabethan England as it really was.

Episode 1 (Premieres January 28, 2018)

William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I’s spy master, intercepts a conspiracy to assassinate the queen. When he discovers that Elizabeth’s own cousin, Mary Queen of Scots is behind the plot, he lays a trap to capture and execute her.

Episode 2 (Premieres February 4, 2018)

Elizabeth’s enemies grow in strength but Robert Cecil, her spymaster, also fights an enemy within. An ambitious aristocrat is trying to takeover his network. At stake is control over the aging queen and the power to choose the next king of England.

Episode 3 (Premieres February 11, 2018)

England has a new monarch, King James I, and Elizabeth’s former spymaster, Robert Cecil, faces his toughest test. A group of religious extremists plan to blow-up the Houses of Parliament with the king inside – what we call the Gunpowder Plot.

 

The Miniaturist – starts tonight Dec 26th on the Beeb

BBC’S ‘THE MINIATURIST’
1ST PERIOD SET DRAMA CLIP

The characters from BBC’s new three episode period set drama

THE MINIATURIST which will air next Tuesday and Wednesday, December 26th and 27th in UK in their holiday programme. You can also check out two clips below!

 BASED ON JESSIE BURTON BOOK

Set in 1686, it follows 18 year old Nella Oortman (Anya Taylor Joy) who knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam.

Full of hopes and dreams, she has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of wealthy merchant, Johannes (Alex Hassell) Brandt. But instead of Johannes, she’s met by his cold sister Marin (Romola Garai) and quickly realises that nothing is as it seems in the Brandt household. When Johannes finally appears he presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a doll’s house replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror what is happening within the house in unexpected ways and seem to be predicting and unravelling the future with unsettling accuracy. You can also check out the two, rather cheap looking, clips from the mini series below.

Anya Taylor Joy is Nella Oortman
  
Alex Hassell is Johannes in the series
Romola Garai and Anya Taylor Joy
The series will air first two days after Christmas on BBC

Christmas Is White as Cotton

 

The spirit of Christmas

 

By the time John had finished his dinner and gone back to the weaving shed, the early December night had fallen. Margaret stood at the window overlooking the courtyard and saw her husband stride purposefully through the first heavy snowfall of that winter. Lord! Snow would make everything so much harder for the poor workers.

How fortunate that she had planned a Christmas Eve dinner at the factory’s refectory. Mary had organized it all, with some of her female friends to help out, and Margaret had been busy over the previous days to order the food. They would serve a sturdy meal for the workers and their families and offer them a large basket of supplies to take home. It was estimated that there would be about two hundred people tomorrow night. Margaret suddenly realized that she should check on Mary and see if everything would go along as they had planned, especially with Mary worrying over Nicholas.

Someone cleared their throat and Margaret whirled around. It was Hannah standing in the doorway, her hands clasped before her.

“Miss Higgins tells me you and she have planned a dinner for tomorrow evening, and … well, I was wondering if I could be of any help.”

Margaret did not know what stunned her more, Hannah’s forbidden facial expression yet combined with a soft, concerned voice, or the fact that she seemed sincere about helping out altogether. She swallowed hard, looking for the right words.

“That is … truly kind of you, Mrs Thornton. We would certainly appreciate it.”

Hannah’s expression changed to something resembling … hurt? Could it be that? Margaret was not sure and she hastily continued.

“Would you be prepared to help us serving everyone’s food? We lack capable hands, although Mary will bring some of her friends and neighbours, but …” Margaret waited with baited breath for Hannah’s answer to this no doubt outrageous proposal for her.

Her mother-in-law inclined her head in acquiescence. “What time do you wish me to be there?”

“Will five in the afternoon do? We do not want people to be out too late at night.”

“Very well,” Hannah replied and began to retreat. Margaret stepped towards her.

“Mrs Thornton … how is Nicholas? I have been so concerned for him.”

Hannah regarded her with a puzzled expression on her stern face. “I have never grasped why you, of all people, had a connection to this man. He is an uncivilized, rough-speaking firebrand, while you have had the upbringing of a lady.”

Margaret smiled. “It was with his daughter Bessy, that I had a deep friendship. She died from a lung disease, which caused much hurt to Nicholas and Mary. I tried to support them as best I could, not financially, because Nicholas was always able to provide for his family, but emotionally. Nicholas might be a bit rough, but he is a good man and a loving father, Mrs Thornton. He raised his daughters all by himself, after his wife died in childbirth when the girls were but toddlers.”

Hannah nodded briskly, then turned and left.

 

On Christmas Eve morning, a flurry of activities began in Marlborough Mills’ refectory. Since the room was too small to receive all the diners at once, Margaret had commandeered two rooms in the adjacent shed normally used for packing up the finished cotton bolts. Under Margaret’s supervision, tables were being set up and laid out with white cloth, cutlery and crockery. In the kitchen, Mary was overseeing the preparations; they would serve her usual stew, of course, but also a starter which consisted of leak-and-potato soup, and apple pie with cream for dessert.

Margaret had help from a few workers, gracefully relinquished by John for the purpose. She was just taking a bit of a break, when her husband walked in. He grinned when he saw what had already been achieved.

“So, Margaret, how does it go? Do you have enough hands here? I’m sure I can supply more if you wish.” He quickly kissed her on the cheek, startling her. It did not seem to bother him that all present were staring at him in stunned surprise.

“I can manage well enough, John, but thank you for asking. You remember that work will stop early this afternoon? People need to get themselves ready.”

“I know, sweetheart. It’ll cost me an arm and a leg, but we cannot leave Christmas uncelebrated, now can we?”

At that moment, there was a commotion at the shed’s entrance. Nicholas Higgins strode in, followed by an outraged Hannah. “You stubborn man,” she shouted at Nicholas’ back, “you should be in bed! You’re not fit to work and you’ll do away with all the good administrations we gave you!”

“I’m perfectly fine, woman, and let go of my arm! I want to help!”

Margaret was too flabbergasted to do anything, but John, barely able to suppress a heartfelt laugh, intervened. “Now, now, what have we here? Nicholas, when Mrs Thornton orders you to do something, you obey, my friend. Moreover, I think she’s right. You’re not fit to work yet.”

“Yes, damn it, she is right,” Nicholas grunted. “I feel a bit the worse for wear. I wasn’t planning on doing hard labour, though, I just wanted to see if I could help. Yet this … woman wouldn’t hear of it. She wants to keep me in bed like she would a five-year-old!”

Hannah smiled triumphantly at him. “Come on, Mr Higgins, let’s go back to the house. As you can see, everything here is in perfect control.”

Nicholas, who was looking a bit green around the gills, allowed her to lead him away.

“Well!” John was grinning outright now. “Have you ever seen such a thing, darling? My firebrand of a union man led away like a sheep by my bossy mother! It’s too much!”

Margaret did not reply. She was aware of something she had not thought possible in her life; Hannah Thornton being kind to a worker, caring for an injured man? And she would help them with the Christmas Eve dinner! Stunning, to say the least.

 

The dinner began at six o’ clock in the evening, with people beginning to stroll in from half an hour beforehand. Once everybody was settled, John welcomed them all and wished them a fine time. Then the meal was served and soon there was a merry atmosphere buzzing around the large room. It was a busy episode for Mary and her fellow waitresses, since there were over three hundred people, a hundred more than estimated, but fortunately there was enough food.

After the meal, there was some very nice carolling from some of the workers and their wives and children, before the baskets were distributed. John, however, had a surprise of his own, one he had not told Margaret about; he had arranged to hand out small purses with extra coins to allow people to better bridge the harsh winter conditions. Margaret watched her husband go about the room handing over the purses to the grateful wives, while their husbands capped their hands with glee. Her eyes filled with tears when she saw how delighted people were, and she loved John for caring so much about his workers.

Hannah had allowed Nicholas to participate in the meal which made him truly happy. He loved being with his people and sharing their joy. His attention, though, was also fixed upon Hannah who went from table to table, serving food and admonishing some of the men who drank a bit too much ale. She would not allow their coarse remarks and spoke to them in severe tones which did the trick to perfection. Nicholas admired the ‘old dragon’ for her dignified manner and obvious authority.

After the meal, someone suddenly got out a violin and conjured up some lively tunes which started an improvised dancing. Soon a panoply of couples were engaged in a cheerful reel.

Margaret was watching them with a happy heart. This was unforeseen but welcome.

“Care for a dance, my love?” John’s deep baritone voice was whispering in her ear and he placed a swift kiss to the soft skin of her neck. Sparkles races down her spine, her face in flames; her mother-in-law had seen the gesture and she was frowning. Just before she was led away by John, Margaret saw Nicholas strode towards Hannah. Then Margaret saw nothing else than her handsome husband who grabbed her by the waist and whirled her into a quick polonaise. Oh, this was priceless! When the music changed into a slow waltz, Margaret was in heaven. She loved dancing with her John, and he was certainly the most accomplished dancer of all. They did not have many opportunities to dance or even enjoy just being together and doing something pleasant, Margaret knew. Work had kept John engaged too tightly of late.

Hannah was still frowning when they returned to their table after the dance but she kept quiet. Nicholas had a slight smile on his face and winked at Margaret.

“How is our patient, mother?” John asked, clapping Nicholas’ shoulder.

“He shouldn’t be here. Where shall you be, John, when your overseer lets you down by collapsing from exhaustion?” Hannah replied sternly.

Nicholas scoffed. “I’m strong enough, ma’am. I survived a life of toiling without too many mishaps, but I’m sure I appreciate your concern.” Which made Hannah scoff back, but she did not reply.

Mary, who was still making the rounds and serving everyone, plunked down two pints of ale for the men. “What can I serve you, ladies? “ she asked in her soft voice. Mary was a quiet girl who had come into her own after Bessy died, and Margaret admonished herself for letting her do all the work alone. She quickly rose to help.

“John, hurry! She’s fainting!” Nicholas and John were both on their feet in a rush to support Margaret who would have injured herself if she hit her head on the too tightly packed benches.

“Love, love, easy there … what’s the matter, sweetheart? What ails you?”

“John, she must return to the house now!” Hannah urged. “Mr Higgins, send for Dr Donaldson.”

John, however, did not need his mother to tell him what to do. He scooped his Margaret into his arms and strode towards the house.

 

Hannah, Nicholas and Mary were waiting in the drawing room for the doctor to give his verdict on Margaret, while her husband had gone to see the diners on the road to their homes. There was no point in prolonging the gathering and everyone would be tired and eager for bed.

Once again, Hannah mused, her conscientious son had to let his business take precedence over his personal concerns. She knew, however, how much it cost him. Margaret was his wife and the light of his life, and it would be the end of him, should something bad happen to her. So Hannah was worrying, too, and so were Nicholas and Mary Higgins, she noticed. It amazed Hannah how deep the friendship between the Higginses and her daughter-in-law went.

John came racing up the stairs two at a time, just when the doctor appeared.

“Donaldson, what …” John panted, his face pale.

“Calm yourself, Thornton, all is well with your wife. In fact, she could not be better, and I must congratulate you. Young Mrs Thornton is in a delicate condition but there is no need for concern.”

John Thornton, manufacturer and magistrate, and strong man that he was, turned white as a sheet. Hannah hastened to take his arm, fearful that he should collapse on the spot. Nicholas and Mary rushed forward to help her, but John had no need for any help. He was at Margaret’s bedside in two seconds, falling on his knees beside her.

“Love, sweet love, is it true? Are you …?”

Margaret beamed at him with tears of joy in her lovely eyes. “Yes, John, we will have a little one in late summer. Dr Donaldson estimates that I am six or seven weeks in my pregnancy.”

“Oh, dear Lord … this is wonderful … this is … God, are you all right? I shall die if something happens to you, my Margaret!” He snatched her into his arms, suddenly terrified of what was to come.

“John, stop, you are crushing me!” Margaret was giggling happily and kissed her husband’s lips as soon as he released her. “I am fine, says the doctor, and healthy. I suspected I was pregnant but I wanted to be certain before I told you.”

Her husband, Margaret saw, was speechless, while his blue-grey eyes brimmed with happy tears.

 

Of course, this happy news called for another celebration. Jane and Connie served tea at Hannah’s request, and brought brandy for the men. Even Mrs Bradshaw, the cook came up from below to participate. Yet, while everyone was congratulating her son with his upcoming fatherhood, Hannah knew she had a mission of her own to accomplish. She unobtrusively slipped into Margaret’s bedroom.

“My dear, may I congratulate you? This is a most fortunate prospect for you and John, and I am very happy for you both.”

“Thank you, Mrs Thornton. I hope I can count on your experience as you are twice a mother yourself?”

Hannah placed a chair next to the bed and took Margaret’s hand in hers.

“You called me ‘mother’ yesterday, remember? I hope you will do so from now on. I have much to atone for, Margaret, and I deeply regret my earlier behaviour. I clung to the past as hard as I could, and that was wrong. From now on, you are mistress in this house. I only hope I will still be welcome here after I move somewhere else.”

“Mother!” Margaret squeezed Hannah’s hand in dismay. “You don’t need to move from here, please, don’t do that! This house is large enough to shelter all of us, although we might need to make some alterations for when the little one arrives. Will you help me bring this to good order, please?”

So, when John entered the room a little while later, he found the two most important women in his life embracing while crying tears of joy.

All was well in Milton and Marlborough Mills in particular.