Chapter Twenty-Six (completed)
Richard Orme rose from the chair next to Roderick’s bed when they entered. “No change, I am afraid. His pulse is getting weaker and his breathing grows more ragged by the minute. I am so sorry, Rowena, but I will not be able to save him.”
“Has he regained consciousness during the past hours, Richard?” With an effort, Rowena endeavoured to keep her tears at bay.
“No, my dear, not even a flicker of awareness was seen. I did not expect him to, the pain must be excruciating. His body simply shuts down as to not have to endure it.”
“Rowie, come away,” Alex asked, to which she readily obliged. There was nothing for her to do here. Yet it astonished her that Alex led her back to their rooms.
“Please, take a seat, my dear. We have to talk.”
She grew concerned when he took both of her hands in his. “Carlisle is helping us with recuperating your inheritance, Rowie. He is the magistrate in this area and will help us search the rooms of the solicitor employed by Daveston. We will be looking for your father’s will which was never presented to the court in Carlisle. Yet we fear it might have been destroyed and replaced by a new one after your father’s death.”
“Oh, but Alex, that would be impossible! They would have to forge my father’s signature and two other signatures for the necessary witnesses.”
“There are ways and means to do just that, my dear. Have you ever seen your father’s will before he died?”
“Yes! Papa showed it to me when I turned eighteen. He told me I was to have a third of his money and a small property he owned near Thursby, a small town to the south-west of Carlisle. It belonged to my paternal grandmother and came with her dowry.”
“Do you have any inkling where he kept the will?”
“No, I am sorry, Alex. I would think he kept it in his library which was also his study, but I was appalled when I saw the state it was in. Many items were missing, rare books and works of art must have been sold by Roderick. Was he in dire financial circumstances?”
“I do not know, but it is an issue we should examine thoroughly.”
He was still holding her hands, she suddenly realized when his thumbs were gently rubbing them. If she even looked up, she would betray herself. She loved him so dearly, but she could not show him. The compassion he would surely give her would be too hard to bear. She gently retrieved her hands and forced herself back to the matter at hand.
“Maybe we should ask Philby if my father had other storage for his documents. He has been in the family service from before I was born.”
“Splendid!” Alex rose and extended his arm. “Why not go there now?”
They chose to ride to Daveston Hall, the weather being mild. An invigorating breeze stirred the chocolate curls escaping from under Rowena’s riding hat, and his wife was smiling, Alex saw. She seemed to enjoy their ride then? He knew he certainly did, so why had he not done that more frequently? Or maybe she did not object to his company as long as they were on horseback whatever the reason? He had not been very good company in the past. His blasted eye affliction and the nightmares that had haunted him did not favour pleasant companionship. His nightmares … he suddenly realized they had stayed away for weeks if not months. How had that come about? Ah, but he knew why. Sharing a bed with his beautiful, gentle wife and engaging in vigorous lovemaking, followed by a deep, restoring sleep was what had cured him. He so loved waking up next to Rowena, be it while she was still lost in sleep or when she was nursing Emma. He preferred the latter even more, the image of her as a mother, feeding the baby with her hair still in disarray and her exquisite breasts bared. Damn, he had to stop thinking of her like that now or he would face some serious discomfort getting aroused while in the saddle!
All this made it perfectly clear that he loved Rowena. He was hers, completely and forever, although he had no inkling when and how it came about. Love caught one unawares. That were the words his brother Reggie had used in his last letter, talking about the man he had loved without ever having been permitted to say them aloud.
Would he, Alex, be able to say them to Rowena one day? He could only hope and pray.
Rowena rode down the driveway of Daveston Hall beside Alex, vowing to herself that their being together had never been more pleasant than it was at this moment. Of course, she was sad because of Roderick’s imminent death, and because of her failure in trying to befriend him. She could not end his animosity towards her, this feeling of envy and loathing he must always have had. Yet she had a small consolation in the fact that she had tried, and that must be enough. From now on she would be able to concentrate on her life at Alex’ side. She would love him, make his life happy, and give him the home he had forever lacked. She so longed for a child sired by her husband, a sister or brother for Emma. All this to do with her inheritance was of no consequence when it came to her family’s happiness. She only wanted to be sure of one more matter; did her father truly tell her lies about what she would receive after his death or had it been Roderick’s doing all along? Should the former prevail, she would have to grieve over her father yet again, and it would be even more excruciating than ever. Then she would know that her father never truly loved her and she could not envisage this horrible possibility, never.
Dear old Philby listened to what they asked him with stoicism and a little incredibility.
“My lady, I am astonished that you have no notion about my late lord’s favourite storage place. Did he never tell you about it?”
“Not that I recall, Philby, so you will have to show me.”
“Very well, my lady, my lord. If you will follow me?”
Philby led them to the large attics where a considerable amount of furniture was stored. As they walked through the bulk of cupboards and closets, chairs and sofas, beds and chaise-longues, Rowena recognized some of it. She realized it was the furniture her mother had brought to Daveston Hall when she married her father. Philby saw her surprise.
“Yes, my lady, the master ordered all of this to be burned because he wanted all of it gone. It was your mother’s, as you can see. We, that is all the servants, conspired to have it stored here. We lied to the master and spun him the tale of it been given away. Now, if you please, this is what you are looking for. I am sure you recognize it?”