Chapter Nineteen (continued)
London, Mivart’s Hotel, March 17th, 1816
There was, however, one small nagging thought in Rowena’s mind. She did not want Alex to confront Roderick. Her half-brother was not worth her tears nor her concern.
So it was that, the next morning, Rowena set out for Curzon Street in the company of her maid, Trixie. A precaution she felt she needed, as her half-brother had been quite vicious, almost violent to her the previous evening.
The door was opened by a man in neat black-and-white, as was the rigueur for butlers, but sporting a face and build more apt to a ruffian. He scowled at the women and reluctantly let them into a small parlour when Rowena told him who she was.
“Wait ‘ere, if ye please. I’ll go and see if the master is receiving.”
They were left to cool their heels for almost an hour, by which time Rowena was angry enough to present firm determination to her half-brother, when he finally deemed to receive them. She sailed into his library, Trixie at her heels. The maid sat down on a chair near the wall at Rowena’s instructions.
“We do not need the maid,” Roderick began, scowling at Trixie.
“Indeed, we do,” Rowena replied haughtily. “My abigail always stays with me when I visit somewhere in Town.” She regally inclined her head while curtsying as if he were a complete stranger.
“I wish to speak with you, sir, about a matter that concerns us both.” She took great care to emphasize upon her form of address as a token of her disdain for him.
“And what might that be, Rowena? As far as I know, we severed the bonds between us when you scurried from the estate like a thief in the night.”
“My reasons for doing so are my own, sir, and do not signify here. You are right in considering the bonds between us severed, since I am now the countess of Ketteridge. His lordship takes excellent care of me and my daughter, upon whom he has graciously bestowed his name.”
The baronet barked out a mocking laughter. “Then he must be a complete lackwit, for sure. But then, he is blind or so I heard, so he would not have seen the trap you laid for him, poor sod. Well done, sister, but what if he knew about your abominable behaviour in seducing poor Johnston? Does he know you threw yourself at my friend and worked diligently to get with child? What would his lordship do if he knew he married a trollop? What choice would he have other than to lock you up at his country estate and find pleasure somewhere else?”
Rowena found herself incapable of drawing breath at her half-brother’s ignominious and cruel words. She again realised how much he must despise and hate her, even if she had always been meek and gentle towards him. At some moment during their mutual past, she had even loved him, or at least, admired her older brother. Now, however, she did not remotely recognize this cold, cruel man who seemed to hate and despise her.
Drawing in a deep gush of air, she spoke in as calm a voice as she could muster. “I was a mere twenty when you presented Peter to me. Papa was barely cold in his grave, and I was still grieving for him. It was Peter who seduced me, Roderick. I was ignorant of life and men, as you well know. Then Peter went away to war and died, and I found out I was with child. You did not support me but cast me out. I fail to see where in all this I am at fault.”
“Lies, all lies, sister. I proposed you give away the child and continue to live at the hall, but you refused, remember? You cannot have thought I would have your bastard raised at my estate. I am to stand up for parliament and must keep away from scandal, so there is that. Now kindly take your leave and never darken my doorway again.”
“Have no fear, brother, you will never see me again nor I you. However, there is a matter I want to impart with you, one that concerns us both. It is about Peter.”
Daveston scoffed. “Peter, Peter, is that all you can think about, Rowena? Even after you married that hare-brained earl of yours? Peter is dead, Rowena, He died on June 18th of last year on the Waterloo battlefield. He cannot do anything anymore for you. You would do well to take that to heart.”
“No, brother, Peter did not die in Flanders. He came to Ketteridge and tried to harm me but my husband fought him off and he fled. He was a deserter, Roderick, and as such he is recorded in the official cavalry records. Peter was in a dismal state when we encountered him. My husband had the county search for him, but it was not until recently that we found him dead in an abandoned house in the village.”
Almost immediately, Rowena realised she had just made an enormous mistake. There was not much to show for it but her brother did not seem surprised. He must know about Peter’s return to England. Roderick’s face remained utterly impassive, yet his eyes, grey and usually expressionless, now glowed with pure hatred. His voice, however, was flat and low.
“Is that so? Well, well, who would have thought it from the brave soldier who went to war so eagerly. I fail, however, to see how that has to do something, if anything, with me.”
A weird sentiment, cold as ice, began creeping up Rowena’s spine, and it took her a while before she identify it; it was fear, primal and as inevitable as death, that threatened to paralyze her in the spot. She must not, at any cost, tell Roderick about the button they had found under Peter’s body. He could not know they linked him to Peter’s death, murder to be precise.
Quickly she went over what she had told him thus far, relieved to find nothing that could alert him about their suspicion that Roderick was Peter’s murderer.
She gave a brittle little laugh. “No, it has nothing whatsoever to do with you, brother. I just wanted you to know that Peter is truly dead. As he was your friend, I assumed that you might at least be interested in that little fact. I bid you farewell, Roderick. We will never see each other again.”
And with a final nod, she signalled Trixie and sailed out of the room.