As if a thick cloud had settled over the Hornbrook estate, an eerie silence encased their world. Edith shut herself in her room and would not go down even for meals, allowing only Tilly to enter. Henley III spent most of his time pacing the grounds taking in the fresh spring air while glancing earnestly toward the trees east of the pond. He’d read the morning paper not absorbing it’s news, hardly eat a thing, and would take his drink of whiskey at three, then polish off a bottle of wine with his dinner - alone. Not surprising, Rosetta had retreated to her forest hut after giving strict orders that under no circumstances was anyone to follow or call on her.
The funeral and burial came and went with a large crowd in attendance. Neighbors continued to stop by with homemade pies and casseroles, cards and flowers. However, cards remained unopened, and the food ended up in the kitchen for the help to enjoy. Nobody felt like dealing with the future of the estate, and with what Edith revealed, it was unclear who was actually heir to what anymore.
One day, several weeks later, Edith emerged from hiding, and joined her son at the dining room for breakfast. She looked unusually fresh after her lengthy hibernation, her hair neatly coifed, her eyes bright and clear.
“Good morning, Mother,” Henley ventured, cautiously. “To what do we owe the pleasure of your company this fine morning?” Whether he was being sincere or sarcastic, Edith chose the opportunity to put things right again - her way.
“Oh, don’t be snooty with me, Henley. My mourning is over, I’ve served my penance, it’s time to move on and get this place up and running like it should be. Lord knows somebody has to do it.” She glared at her son, and for a moment Henley fell right back into place beneath her. Then something snapped. He looked up from his eggs and back bacon and countered.
“There’s no need for that, Mother, dear. I have everything under control.”
“Oh, do you? Emma,” she called. “Emma, my tea please, and those delicious cinnamon rolls you bake. I can smell them a mile away.” She looked back to her son. “You were saying?”
“I was saying,” Henley stammered, suddenly rattled by her control. “I spoke with Mr. Gatsby, the solicitor, and Mr. Sparks, the accountant. I’ll be meeting with them tomorrow noon. He’ll go over Father’s will with me and...”
“Good. I’ll make sure to have Tilly take my grey suit out of the trunk and press it for the meeting. It’s been ages since I’ve been to town.” She picked up two cubes of sugar from the bowl and dropped them into her cup of tea, then poured in a generous amount of cream and stirred. “I was thinking maybe we could pop into that lovely jewelry shop while we’re there. If my memory serves me, there was an exquisite string of pearls hanging in the window last time I was there. I’d like to see if they’re still available.” She sipped her tea and took a bite of the freshly baked bun. It was till warm, so the soft icing melted in her mouth and dripped down her chin. “By the way, how’s Proberta? I understand she’s been seen with that rich banker from London of late. Oh, she’s a smart one. She’ll do well, very well.”
“How do you know about Proberta? You’ve been cloistered up in your room for weeks!” Henley was infuriated. He knew nothing about this new development with Proberta, he’d been so caught up in his own drama. His mother had done it again. How could she have singlehandedly turned things around in a few minutes time, after being out of commission for so long? He stood up. “Excuse me, Mother. I have things to do - important things to do.” He turned to go, but her curt words stopped him short.
“Oh, sit down, Henley. Stop being so juvenile.”
Like a robot, he sat, annoyed more with himself than her. He hated her right now. He hated her sharp tongue and her conniving ways, hated that she had been so blatantly mean and honest in front of her husband, hated what she said and how she said it, how she ruined everything, and he hated her now for reducing him back to her boy again. Why was he so vulnerable with her? Rosetta gave him the strength to stand up for himself, to believe in himself. Why couldn’t he do that with his mother? She seemed bent on reverting their relationship to mother and son, controller and controlled? Had she really been honest that fateful evening, or had she used her cunning to lash out at him and Rosetta, and his poor sick father, and if so, why?
Since that night, being left in the sad, dim shadow of death, he wondered if it could be real, if Rosetta really was his sister. Had his father, the kind, patient, quiet man that he knew so well really have fathered an illegitimate daughter with one of the household help? He cringed at the thought of it, yet he also knew what it was like to love, no matter what class, what race, what station in life. None of that mattered when it was true love. Maybe he didn’t know his father after all, and of course, now it was too late.
Henley rested his head on his arms, splayed out on the table, and breathed deeply. Oh, if only I could speak with Rosetta, he thought. We’d be able to sort this mess out. His mind wandered to thoughts of her and their times together, undressing her one button at a time until he could reach out and touch her dark, silky skin, smell the musk in her hair, inhale her. He could feel himself getting aroused, right there at the breakfast table, but he didn’t care. He allowed his mind to wander back to her body, naked and willing him there. Was she? He was sure she wanted him, missed him, as much as he missed her. It was all a misunderstanding, it had to be, and if it wasn’t, if the truth really had been revealed, well, they would find a way to overcome it. With love, everything was surmountable, anything was possible.
Feeling more assured that they would soon be back in each other’s arms sent shivers from his groin to his face. A hot flush filled his cheeks, and he squirmed. His face hidden from view, Henley licked his wrists, imagining they were Rosetta’s lips, squeezed his arms, imagining they were her breasts. It was almost unbearable.
Just then the dining room door knocked and Randolph entered, followed by a harried Proberta who rushed in past him.
“Madam,” he announced. “Proberta Gerber to see you.”
She was dressed in a lavender skirt and tailored jacket, with beige collar and buttons. The hat upon her head was plum colored, with lavender and beige trim and a garish scarlet plume that shot up the side of it. She handed Randolph her parasol and removed her hat, fluffing her up-do before taking a seat beside Edith, across from Henley. She pursed her lips when she spoke.
“Madam Hornbrook...Edith, I am sorry to intrude, but I have the most alarming news.” She looked up at Randolph, waiting.
“Anything else, Madam, Sir?” He looked at Henley, whose head barely rose above the table top.
“No, Randolph, that will be all, thank you,” said Edith perfunctorily, shooing him out with her eyes. Randolph hesitated for a moment, looking at Henley as if willing him to turn around, then he finally left the room.
“Go on,” Edith urged. Henley put his head back down.
“Well...you’ll never guess who I spotted no more than two hours ago walking past the pastry shop?”
“Wesley and Dorrington!”
Edith looked quizzically at Proberta. “And...?”
“And, well, the last time I spoke with him, which was at your dear husband’s funeral, Dorrington told me he would be leaving within a few days, and Wesley was supposed have returned home days before that.” Edith looked at Proberta, unsure where this was going.
“Well, don’t you find that odd? I find it terribly odd. But the good news is, Dorrington is still around, which means there’s still hope.”
“Hope for what, my dear?” Edith dipped a corner of her bun into her tea to soften it before popping it into her mouth.
“Hope for me. I mean, since your son won’t have me,” she shot a glare toward Henley. “I may as well find another suitor who is friends with the family, and is rich and handsome at the same time.” Henley, who by now was sitting upright, stared blankly at her. She giggled. Edith was unimpressed.
“Proberta, dear, you are already engaged in a new relationship with that banker fellow, what’s his name again...Hester, Lester?”
“It’s Lester, Harold Lester, but it’s nothing, really.” She looked annoyed that Edith knew all this information about her already. After all, it had only been a week or so, and had all happened rather suddenly. She knew it was not significant, and she thought Harold knew it too.
“Well, my dear, if it’s nothing, you should stop skulking around town with him, showing up on his arm at social club events and the like.” Edith sipped her soggy tea. “Watch yourself, child.”
Proberta flushed, angry that she had been called out. “Well, I will do as you say, Madam, but I am unattached at the moment. A girl has to enjoy life.” She saw the corners of Edith’s lips curl up in a knowing smile, and relaxed.
“Ladies,” Henley interrupted, finally rising. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to take my morning stroll. The sun is getting high and before we know it, luncheon will be served.”
“Oh, I’ll join you Henley.” Proberta pushed her chair back ready to traipse off to the gardens, when Henley stopped her short.
“Proberta, it’s delightful to see you, really it is, but now’s now the time.” He looked at her, not mincing his words. “We are all still going through a great deal around here, as I’m sure you can imagine. Perhaps another time, hmm?” With that, young Henley left the room savoring the last word. Just as he stepped outside the dining heading toward the front door, Randolph crept out of the drawing room and intercepted him.
“Randolph, you startled me!”
“So sorry, Sir.”
“Can I help you?” Randolph looked over his shoulder to his right and left.
“Actually Sir, may I have a word?”
“Of course, my good man. Are you unwell? You look pale.” He ushered Randolph into the drawing room and closed the door.
“Sir?” Randolph seemed surprised, but accepted what was offered.
“So, Randolph, what’s on your mind?” Henley asked. Randolph waited, as if formulating his words.
“It’s your mother.”
This time Henley paused and took a hefty swig of his drink. “Go on.”
“It’s what your mother said the night your father passed,” he said. “It’s about Rosetta.”
Henley’s face brightened. He grabbed Randolph by the shoulders and shook him, gently but desperately. “What about Rosetta. Randolph, you must tell me, what is it?”
“If you will...please sit Sir. You’ll want to have a seat.”
...stay tuned...Chapter Fifteen will be posted next Tuesday, April 17th...