The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part Eight

Chapter Five (continued) Rowena did as the earl asked and laid her hand on his offered arm. She was anxious to see how this was going to develop. She was, after all, the one who had stirred it all up. What if something happened, and the earl got injured? Rowena suddenly realised she would never forgive herself. They came out into the crisp coldness of the paddock. Rowena shivered when the sudden sharp wind whipped over her. “What is it?” Raventhorpe snapped. “Are you unwell?” “No, nothing of that, my lord, but … are you certain you should do this? … Read more

The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part Seven

Chapter Five Ketteridge House, Leicestershire, England, December11 th, 1815  “Do you ride, Miss Drake?” Alex asked, a few days later. They were sitting next to each other in his carriage, a hot brick at their feet and a woollen blanket covering their legs. It had been Rowena’s idea to go visiting the more remote tenants on the estate. Now they were heading back to Ketteridge House. Rowena wondered how she came to be so comfortable with the earl, after what he had done. After what he had made her feel … He had not repeated his actions, though. Oh, they … Read more

The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part Six

Chapter Four (continued) Alex could not have explained why he wanted to do this, not if his life depended on it. He just knew he had to do it, as if it was something so important that indeed his life would change if he refrained from it. He found himself besieged by the urging, vital need to learn what Rowena’s face looked like. To know what others saw when they looked at her. He needed to explore her features and store what he learned in his mind, so that he would be able to draw forth her image whenever he … Read more

The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part Four

Chapter Three Ketteridge House, Leicestershire, England, December 4th, 1815 It had become urgently clear to Alex that he needed to find out all there was about Rowena Drake. She would, however, not be forthcoming; on the contrary, she was extremely reticent, as if there were a deep and dark secret in her past. She was also avoiding him, and taking extreme care not to be alone with him. “Porter, be so good as to search a tome for me from those shelves over there.” Alex and his batman were in the library, working on the ledgers. Or better, trying to … Read more

The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part Three

Chapter Two Ketteridge House, Leicestershire, England, December 2, 1815 The next day, the weather was still extremely harsh. The snow had stopped, but the temperature had dropped considerably. The fields now lay buried under a blanket of solid ice. Alex readied himself for a meeting with his Leicester solicitor. Septimus Middlebridge was in his mid-sixties, and had been his father’s man for as long as Alex remembered. A tall, wiry man with a large beacon of a nose in a long, thin face, and piercing blue eyes, Middlebridge still wore a wig in the style of thirty years before, powdered … Read more

The Reclusive Aristocrat -Part Two

Chapter One (continued) When the strong, warm hands were taken from her marble-cold flesh, Rowena moaned in protest. She wrenched her eyes open, only to see the back of a tall, dark-haired man disappearing from her sight. An elderly, motherly looking woman with a shock of white curls escaping from under her mop cap immediately replaced him. “Oh, me dear little duck,” she crooned, “Wha’ were ye doin’ out on a hellish day like today? And you wi’ child and all! Come, me pet, let’s get you cleaned up and fed.” With an effort, Rowena shifted in the bath. The … Read more

The Reclusive Aristocrat – Part One

Chapter One   Ketteridge, Leicestershire, England, December 1, 1815   She was going to die of sheer exposure. She was exhausted. Her limbs were shaking with the effort of simply putting one foot before the other. Her heart was pounding with exertion and weariness, but Rowena Drake doggedly kept trampling through the deserted copse. She had planned to escape the sting of the heavy snowstorm by leaving the road to find shelter in the undergrowth. The springy trees gave little protection, as they were now bare. The early winter dusk was quickly settling, and Rowena was desperate to find somewhere … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Twenty

Twenty – A New Step Toward the Future   By the time the necessary explanations had been given, the long summer day was nearly over and Beth and Stephen had returned to The Queen’s Head with Oliver. The boy had consented to accompany them home but only because Mr Charles Thornton had convinced him of the necessity of a proper education. “You need to learn all about accounting and economics, young fellow!” Mr Thornton had lectured. “You must know how the machines operate, what techniques are used to make cotton, how to manage a factory like Marlborough Mills, if you … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Nineteen

Nineteen – A Lesson Gained the Hard Way   Having hired a horse from Burton, Stephen galloped into Manchester at breakneck speed. He was seething with rage at Oliver’s incredibly stupid decision of hiring himself out to a cotton manufacturer, just to taunt his father and prove his rebellion. As Stephen knew all too well, a cotton factory was a hellish place, especially for the small children the money-eager factory owners were so fond off. Employing a child was very profitable, their wages being very low. Their protests were non-existent, since often the child’s wages were the only source of … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Eighteen

Eighteen – Solutions   The following morning, Stephen and Beth set off for Manchester in the Brixton Abbey travelling coach, a comfortable and spacious carriage that easily accommodated eight people, if necessary. Each of them was lost in their own thoughts as they progressed through the luscious, green fields and hills of Leicestershire. Beth pondered over the account Stephen gave her of his conversation with Oliver. Because he had been raised as the heir to a title and an estate, Stephen behaved exactly as his father once had. He was firm and strict in dealing with his equals, yet stern … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Seventeen

Seventeen – Consequences   Pacing before the empty fireplace of their bedchamber, Beth failed to find solace in it. She came up here after a yet another day of fruitless searching, wanting to escape the chaos downstairs, where servants and family were going about their businesses in a dazed way, upset as they were with Oliver’s disappearance. She fervently hoped Stephen would come home with some good news about the boy, who was now missing for three whole days. Three days! Hundreds of horrors could have befallen Oliver as he wandered the dark country roads all by himself and without … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Sixteen

Sixteen – Looking For A Missing Boy   After it had become evident that the missing Oliver was not to be found on the Abbey grounds, a large party was assembled, consisting of all footmen and tenants, who were not immediately necessary to the estate’s adequate daily functioning. Their mission was to begin searching in an ever widening circle, starting from the Abbey grounds and through the fields and woodland surrounding the estate. Stephen explained this to the assembly in clear words. “Last night, my son went to bed at his usual hour of nine o’ clock, as the maid … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Fifteen

Fifteen – Troubles Anew   During the following days, Beth mostly devoted herself to her husband’s recovery. It was greatly needed. Stephen, whose fever caused him to lose a full stone, still felt fairly weak, and was greatly irritated by it. He could only manage half of the work he had set his goal to, an experience that was utterly new to him. It was Beth’s task to watch over her beloved husband and see that he did not overdo it.   ~~~~   It was the end of May, and the weather granted mild, sunny days, crisp mornings and … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Fourteen

Fourteen – Regaining Dignity   Poor Dr Forrester almost fled from the baron’s bedchamber, his face flushed like that of a little boy who just got caught with his hand in a biscuit tin. Beth shook her head in mild disapproval. “You should not have done that, my lord. The good doctor has worked himself into exhaustion to save you.” “I know, my love, and I will express my gratitude to him in due time. But now, I have other plans.” He grinned mischievously at her and held out a hand. “Come here …”, he breathed and Beth obeyed, suddenly … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Thirteen

Thirteen – A Glimpse of Heaven   Consciousness lurked at the edges of his mind but proved too hard to grasp. Extreme weakness prevented him from doing what he most wanted; to open his leaden eyelids, to move his granite limbs, to let words past his cracked lips. It was as if he were immersed in a tepid sea of slowness yet it seemed of vital importance to him that he should fight this drowsy state and become awake. His body itched something terrible, he realised suddenly. His body … he became fully aware of it, when the itch plagued … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Twelve

Twelve – An Unexpected Approach   It was yet another night when Beth and Henrietta were keeping watch next to Stephen’s bed, unable to find rest and sleep. Henrietta lay stretched out on the sofa, covered by a blanket against the chilly dawn of May. She had finally given up the fight against exhaustion and dozed off. Beth sat in her chair beside Stephen’s bed and held his hand in hers. That hand was yet again hot and damp because her husband was drenched and shivering with high fever. With a sigh of utter wretchedness, Beth reached for the leather … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Eleven

Eleven – A Struggle For Life   Now that she had managed to negotiate a truce with her mother-in-law, Beth was able to concentrate on Stephen to the full. She certainly needed to do just that. Stephen was getting sicker by the hour, his fever rising to an incredible pitch. After a couple of hours, he became completely oblivious to his surroundings, suffering from long spells of heat, which left him soaked in sweat. Shivers of cold raked his body, breaking even more perspiration. After a few hours, the rash broke out, and it was worse than any Beth had … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Ten

Ten – Savour the Moment   Stephen woke to the sound of voices coming from the connecting dressing room, where Hawkins was admonishing Trixie, now Beth’s lady’s maid, to be quiet. He smiled and turned his head toward his wife whose naked body lay beside him. She was lying flat on her stomach and her delicious little derriere stuck up like that of a child. The sight of those perfectly shaped pink peaches gave him a sudden jolt of desire so strong he wanted to grab her, turn her onto her back and yet again take her on the spot! … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Nine

Nine – Lull Before the Storm   “Thank you, Hawkins. I won’t be needing you anymore tonight,” Stephen said as his valet finished dressing him for his wedding night. “Very well, my lord.” Something in his valet’s tone made Stephen raise an eyebrow at him but his long-term servant – close as a friend – showed him a face as impassive as a statue’s. “Out with it, Hawkins! What is it?” “I do not know what you mean, my lord! I just wanted to wish you good luck.” Now, there was a grin on Hawkins’ face as he hurriedly left … Read more

Reserve and Reticence – Part Eight

Eight – Persuasion   Looking up into Stephen’s face, Beth suddenly saw him through a haze of tears. He was toying with her, he could not be serious. “L … love? You speak of love when … all you wanted before was …” She could not speak those hideous words aloud, she simply could not. “To bed you?” Stephen completed for her, then smiled sadly before he continued. “Dear Lord, but I have made a blithering mess of it, haven’t I? Forgive me, my love, for hurting you with my haughty ways.” And he took her in his arms where … Read more