Friday, July 15, 2011

Chapter 27

       Lord Manigault bled profusely waiting for the surgeon and when he finally arrived was too weak to to complain as his side was being sutured.  "The gash was deep, but not infected.  He is fortunate in that. However, the hip seems to be fractured. I do not advise him to be on his feet for at least six
weeks. Were you enroute to your home in England?"
     "That is all changed now.  Such a voyage is impossible until the wound is fully healed. In the meanwhile, take special care of him."
     Catherine understood but only after the surgeon left did she realize the import of her confinement to the depressing atmosphere of a dingy room over the tavern.  There were several beds in the room because this was a space generally rented to as many as six persons at the same time. The duke's bed was a thin mattress stuffed with goose feathers stretched across ropes tied to the foot and head boards.
His trunks were left delivered in the middle of the room and her own canvas bag was soaking wet. She removed an extra gown and spread it across one of the beds to dry. Then she opened one of the duke's trunks and removed a little case of toiletries and placed them on a table beside his bed.  She allowed a flickering candle to burn all night. Except for the sound of raindrops on the roof and the sobbing Catherine, it was dismally quiet in the room.       
     For several days it was touch and go for the duke.  She sat at his bedside, listening to him groan, then snore. The room was stifling hot and she sopped his slightly feverish head with wet cloths.  But finally, he was fully conscious and the fever was gone.  He opened his eyes wide and observing her unkempt hair and wrinkled dress, said in a trembling voice, "We are brought down."
     She nodded.  "There is no need to speak of it aloud of it when we share the causatum."
     "How wise you are," he whispered. 
      After several weeks passed and the duke was well enough, he wrote an affectionate letter to the countess.  "My dearest lady, I regret to write of my untimely delay in Port Royal....." he began.  Then he went on to list the buried household items which he had retrieved from the old garden. "My fondest wish is  to be with you at Abergavenny...."
     Catherine observed his slumped shoulders and uneasiness as he sat at a table leaning over his cane holding the feather pen and writing the words in black ink.  She suffered her own personal pain and humilation. There was no place for her to go, unless the duke chose to take her with him to Abergavenny. When he had finished writing, he carefully folded it and stamped his seal into a glob of wax, "Sir George Manigault, duke of Cornwall".  His thoughts were on the king would appoint him earl of Abergavenny, but first the fractured hip bone and the long jagged scar  must heal.
     "What about me?" Catherine asked.  "What is to happen to me?"
     The interruption of the duke's thoughts returned him to reality.  The wrinkles on his forehead, the thick black brows and his sympathetic brown eyes reflected a person beset with indecisiveness and trouble.  He thought of several possibilities before expressing himself with the easiest and most practical solution so far as he was concerned. "You can write to your husband," he said solemnly.
     "I can never return to Ashley Loche," she said convincingly.
     "Your husband will protect your reputation, my dear, you can be assured of that."
     "The scandal...."
     "Twas was no accident that he chose the alligator pond as the field of honor.  If there is a scandal, it will come from his lips.  Do you think Angus capable of such treachery?"
     "Angus will not come for me," she said tearfully.
     "Are you certain, my dear?"
     "What do you mean?"
      His eyes fell on the curvature of her dress. Even in his worst moments, he had heard her wretching into a basin.  "You should tell him about his child." She began to sob. He stood to his feet. "I can tolerate this room no longer.  The tavern master says that the locals are harvesting the rice this time of near.  I should like to see this enterprising operation before departing your America. It would do us both good."
     "Can you manage it?"
     "Lounging is for the feeble-bodied, and I am far afield of that. Let us go now, and when we return to this room later this evening, I promise to help you address your letter."    
     The duke hired a carriage to carry them into the country to see paddies in the lowlands alongside riverbeds and anywhere that there was a stream.  The fields were thick with darkies standing knee deep and flailing the golden stems to loosen the hulls.  The magnificent panoramic view of the waving seed stalks blowing in one harmonious direction displayed in a variety of orangish hues for miles and miles lulled them into a sense of security, that all was well with the world.  The carriage stopped in the shade of an ancient oak tree and allowed them to take their lunch.      
    Catherine spread a table cloth on the ground in the shade and opened the basket to examine the tiny tea biscuits and sausage the tavern had prepared for them.  The duke reached for a flask of wine and intermittantly sipped it as they sat casually on the ground enjoying the food and the breeze which was sifting through the branches of the oak leaves.
     "This countryside reminds me of the October harvests of Cornwall when everyone in the village participated, except that the drovers brought their sheep to market where they were sheared and sold. I was fascinated by all of the scurrying about and the end of it, when the peasants had a harvest ball. My envy for their good times was insatiable but small was my awareness of their subjection to my father the duke.  And they were poor, Catherine, the poorest people on earth.  I used to hide myself so that I could watch.  Had my father known that I was mingling among his serfs, he would have been ashamed. In a true sense,  I am still hiding away observing other people's happiness."
     "What happened to your father's estates?"
     "The Manigault's could not preserve their fief and some of the best lands were sold to discharge centuries of debts. When it came to me, all that was left was a title."     
     Catherine unpinned the brooch from her petticoat and gave it to him.  "Tis yours," she said sympathetically.
     For one brief moment he stared at the glistening diamonds set around an opal stone reflecting tiny points of optical brilliance.  He rubbed his fingers over the hard surface, the toughness confirming to himself of its value. "It is said that these diamonds were mined in New South Wales especially for the first earl of Abergavenny."  Then he smiled sadly and placed the brooch in her hands.  "No, Catherine, this brooch belongs to you for your merciful kindness in saving my life. For this kindness, I am forever your obedient servant."
     "How will you manage this with the countess?"
     "I will persuade her that it twas she who lost the brooch!"
     Catherine laughed.  "You are devious!"
    "That is what adds the spice to my marriage," he said grinning.
      She picked a dandelion and plucking the yellow leaves, blew the seeds into the air. "This is something that I used to do as a child.  He loves me, he loves me not."
     "Catherine, he will come for you."


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