Isabel Allende

Tuesday, January 31, 2012



Henley awoke with a start. A dim, early morning light bled in through the white linen drapes. He looked around, expecting to see a crackling fire, dried herbs hanging from the rafters, and a beautiful gypsy woman sitting by his side. Instead, he saw the same blue and gold wallpaper. The large Henry IV dresser still stood tall and stoic against the back wall, and the writing desk and armchair, positioned directly alongside the settee, were as they should be. The painting of great uncle James III, his riding crop not only visible, but at the ready, was hung miserably at the opposite end of the room. He stared at it for a long while. Would Henry have known Rosetta's ancestors? He wondered which of his relatives, or family for that matter, knew of the gypsy family that lived so close to the Hornbrook estate. Then he wondered if there even was a gypsy family, or whether the exotic beauty he visited in his dream wasn't just that, a figment of his imagination.

He sat up, and noticed that Beckworth had laid out his riding clothes for the days hunt. Good old reliable Beckworth. Always on the mark. He also noticed his black trousers, worn the previous night, draped over the chair where he had left them, the hems caked with mud. His suit jacket looked tired and worn, and the white shirt, once crisp and clean, was lying in a rumpled heap on top of the chair. But how had he gotten home? The last thing he remembered was sitting in an extremely comfortable armchair, being lulled to sleep by a temptress massaging his shoulders, the smell of musk and hawthorne berries, and the smoke of a fire. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes, wondering where that confounded dream came from, moreover, why Beckworth had left his dirty clothes lying about.
Henley rose, slipped his bare feet into the lambs wool slippers left at the side of his bed, and shuffled to the bathroom. He felt remarkably rested and alert. Outside, the grounds were quiet, Jeffrey not yet out trimming the hedges. He dawdled in the bathroom, showering, doing his teeth, then dressed and headed downstairs for breakfast.
"Henley, darling, you got in awfully late last night, didn't you? Or should I say, early?"
Henley sat down, ignoring his mother. She was annoying at the best of times, but now she was downright bothersome. What did she know? What was she talking about? He accepted a serving of Emma's special scrambled eggs, and buttered an English muffin, adding a generous dollop of marmalade on top of the thickly spread butter.
"So, darling, what were you up to last night? Mother is dying to know."
Henley took a mouthful of eggs. He was not interested in getting pulled into the drama that he sensed was about to take place.
"Emma? The paper please, when you have a minute," Henley asked politely.
"Right away, sir." Emma shuffled out of the room, immediately returning with the morning's paper.
"Oh, my dear Henley," Edith continued. "You don't have to play coy with me. I'm your mother. I'm privy to your exploits." Edith sipped her tea, viewing her son just above the rim of her Royal Dalton tea cup. Believe me, I just want to know how everything worked out with you and Miss Rosetta."
Henley froze, not quite believing his ears. What did his mother know about his escapade into the forest? What did she know about Rosetta? Even he didn't understand what happened last night, she seemed a dream, a vision. Yet, just the mere mention of her name made something inside him stir. Edith, wondering how Henley knew to seek out Rosetta before she had suggested it, proceeded, careful not to upset him before getting the information she desired.
"Well, you did go visit her last night, didn't you?" She asked, prodding.
"What are you talking about, mother? I walked the grounds with Proberta before supper. That's it."
"Oh really, Henley. Don't be ridiculous." She looked smug, sipping her tea, munching on her dry, lightly buttered toast. Again, Henley ignored her.
"What I don't understand is, did you find her, or did she find you?"
"I haven't the slightest idea what you are talking about, Mother," he lied. "Now, will you please let me eat and read the paper in peace?"
Edith was infuriated. She had seen Henley, late at night, down at the water's edge, then saw him slip silently into the dark forest. Where else was there to go but Rosetta's hut? Even if he wasn't going there on purpose, he was bound to stumble upon it. Well fine, she thought. I'll just have to do my snooping around with someone more cooperative - Rosetta.
Just then the doorbell chimed. Henley looked up from his paper.
"Are we expecting anyone, Mother?"
"Not that I know of, unless it's one of your father's new friends disguised as a business associate." She returned, unfazed, to her tea and toast.
The door to the dining room opened, and in walked Randolph, the butler.
"Madam, a sir Wesley Arbuckle, here to see you." Edith nearly leapt out of her chair.
"Oh my, your cousin Wesley here to see us, Henley. Oh, do bring him in, Randolph. Thank you."
Henley stood as his cousin entered the room.
"Henley, my good man, how are you?"
"Cousin, good to see you," Henley said with a smile, extending his hand in greeting.
"And Aunt Edith. You're looking lovelier than ever. What ever have you done to your hair? It's quite simply a fabulous look for you."
Wesley bent down and gave his aunt a meaningful kiss on each of her rouged cheeks. One thing about Wesley, whatever he said was meant seriously. He had his faults, one of which was being a shrewd businessman, bordering on dishonest, but he was a doting nephew, cousin, and friend. In that arena, he was honest to a fault.
Randolph took Wesley's tweed riding jacket and bowler hat and left the room. Emma brought a third place setting to where Wesley was to sit, but not before he gave blushing Emma a fond peck on the cheek.
"I see you've dressed for the hunt? Excellent. Father must have mentioned it to you at the last board meeting. Heavens, it completely slipped my mind. My apologies, Wes."
"No, actually Henley, your father didn't mention it at all. In fact, a little bird told me there may be a wedding in our future, eh Henley?" Wesley gave his cousin a friendly nudge. Henley glared over his newspaper at his mother.
"Well, Henley, what did you expect? Wesley thinks the world of you, don't you Wesley?"
"I do indeed."
"And he thinks Proberta the perfect match for his cousin, don't you Wesley?"
"Well, Proberta is a perfect lady, if that's what you mean, and a good choice for a wife for any man." Wesley looked over at his cousin. "However, I detect uncertainty with your son, Aunt Edith." His eyebrows raised quizzically in the direction of Henley.
"Oh, nonsense. He's a big boy, and it's time he marry." She softened. "Besides, she'll grow on him. That's the way it's done, and always has been." Edith poured more tea. "Do you think your father and I entered into matrimony joyfully, because we fell madly and passionately in love?" Henley looked away. Wesley turned a snicker into a polite cough.
"No Henley, your father and I grew to love each other."
"Is that right?" Henley said, sarcastically. "Is that what you call it"
"Henley!" Edith snapped.
"Now, now, let's not quarrel," Wesley calmly said.
The doorbell chimed again, and this time Randolph entered with a tired looking Proberta at his heels.
"Madam, Master, Miss Proberta Gerber."
"Proberta," Edith rose from her chair. "Darling, how are you? Oh, I can see you must have had a terrible sleep. Are you unwell?"
"No, what's the matter? Is my hair not right? Is my..."
"No, no my dear, not at all," Edith cut in, as Proberta fussed with the pins in her hair, the buttons on her blazer, and glanced nervously over at Henley.
"Proberta, may I say, you look the very picture of health." It was Wesley who came to the rescue. He stood up, took her hand in his, and held it before bending to kiss it much longer than necessary.
"Why Wesley, how good of you to say so," she replied, gazing into his deep blue eyes with a sort of lost longing. Wesley and Proberta stood admiring each other until finally Edith cut the silence.
"Oh, do sit down now, will you both? You're making us all terribly uncomfortable." As usual, Henley seemed nonplussed, going about his business by finishing his toast and reading the paper. Edith, on the other hand, was getting more and more anxious.
"Emma! Emma, please fetch a place setting for Miss Gerber." Proberta began seating herself beside Wesley, but Edith stopped her short.
"Please, dear, won't you come sit over here beside me?"
Proberta walked silently over to the other side of the large mahogany table, and sat down sullenly beside her future mother in law. However, when she realized the vantage point from this arrangement, she grinned from ear to ear, not hiding her pleasure. Wesley grinned back.

...stay tuned...Chapter Five will be posted next Tuesday, February 7th...

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