With Love, Life is Beautiful
Arthur shut the door quietly behind them. What they were attempting to do was slightly scandalous, and it would be best that they kept it a secret as much as possible. Only the chief steward knew that they had left the ball, and Arthur wanted to keep it that way. How would he explain leaving a ball his father hosted? He was the first son of Lord Philip Bexley, the Earl of Derby, and here he was running off with his darling for a session of snatched romance. Not that it mattered much to Rebecca; she didn’t care much about rules and customs. Rebecca revelled as much in breaking rules as he had ever seen anyone do.
The ball itself had fagged him out which was why it was so easy for her to get him away from the ballroom. It had started since noon, and he had either been supervising, socialising with guests or tending to arrangements. He had no time to himself and had only managed to get a dance with Rebecca once.
Well it’s mid June in 1817, the height of the season. I should be prepared for this.
He wasn’t. He was tired of attending ball after ball. His mother was the most eager socialite and would attend almost every ball and party, attempting to drag Arthur along with her and many times succeeding. She had received a voucher to Almack’s Assembly rooms five years ago and had been attending since then. Arthur didn’t want an invite. He wasn’t interested. But he found that he did a lot of things because he had to do them.
“You are the Earl’s son, the next Earl of Derby. If you do not adequately respond to these official requests, I wonder who will,” his father sometimes said, anytime Arthur showed a reluctance to respond to assignments.
“You could send Teresa. She loves these kinds of assignments,” Arthur would counter.
The Earl would then, always, shake his head.
“Teresa might be my first child, but she is not going to be the Earl, you are.”
Arthur used to wish Teresa was born male so he could be free of all the responsibilities that came attached to being the first son. And regardless of that, Teresa seemed to enjoy covering for him. He saw it a lot in her eyes sometimes, she wished she was him and he her.
He never wished he wasn’t male whenever Rebecca was around, though. He had known Rebecca since he was a child. His music teacher was also employed by the Baron Zouche, Rebecca’s father to instruct his children on music. Arthur, till this day, wasn’t sure what happened, but a few months after the man was employed, Rebecca and her sister started coming to his father’s estate to take music classes. Those were part of the best portions of his life, that time with Rebecca. She was just a year younger and was therefore an automatic playmate.
The music instructor kept coming and Rebecca kept visiting. And when he finally stopped, Rebecca didn’t stop visiting. That was more than 19 years ago.
Now, he wasn’t just intrigued and interested in Rebecca Fitzroy. She wasn’t just a playmate anymore. Now, he was in love with Rebecca Fitzroy. And he had followed her with no other thought when she suggested they escape his father’s ball to share some alone time in the gardens or anywhere private. How she had gotten rid of Miss Wendy, her doting maid, he still didn’t know. Miss Wendy was a hawk, her eyes miss nothing, and she never left Rebecca’s side.
He ran faster, closing the gap between Rebecca and himself. He could catch her now if he wanted to, but where was the fun in that? He stretched his hands in an ungainly manner, signalling Rebecca that he was about to catch her. Rebecca squealed delightfully and ran faster, turning away from the path to the garden. Instead, she took the path through the side of the house till she got to the back. Rebecca knew the house just as well as Arthur did. She knew the entire estate just as well as he did, in fact. Arthur trusted that she knew where she was going. She ran through the back, till she pushed through the door leading to the field at the back of the house. Arthur could see where she was heading now. She was going to the main stable but through the back, where they would only be in the company of a few horses and lots of hay and straw. Arthur smiled, but he was starting to get tired of the chase.
He ran faster and caught up with her. In a swift motion, he bent down and swept her from her feet, allowing her to lie horizontally against his chest. His first hand cradled her neck while the second wrapped around her buttocks to her lap. Arthur had discovered after that first day with her that she had been wearing heeled shoes. She was a tall woman, but not as tall as he was. And despite her size, she didn’t weigh much.
Or you are so used to carrying her now?
Rebecca giggled, her cheeks pink from her excitement. She struggled gently, a playful attempt to release herself from his grip. Arthur smiled and bent in low, kissing her softly on her cheek. Rebecca then stopped struggling. She nuzzled closer to Arthur’s chest and raised her chin again. Arthur dipped his head and enjoined his lips with her in a gentle kiss. The impact of her soft lips on his mouth was immediate as Arthur started to feel light-headed. After a few seconds, the kiss became deeper. Arthur slipped his tongue into her mouth as she slightly parted her lips, giving him more leverage. Arthur poked with his tongue till his tongue met hers, tasting her and the softness of her mouth. He withdrew a bit, to suck her lower lip, drawing a moan from her throat.
Her arms tightened around his neck and pulled him closer. A chuckle rose up his throat as she did this, making them break their kiss for a moment. Arthur raised his head and looked into Rebecca’s eyes. Her blue eyes sparkled in the evening light, making them look more attractive. She struggled slightly to release herself from his hold. Arthur obliged her and dropped her feet to the ground. Thinking she wanted to talk, Arthur took a step back but was surprised as she jumped on him again, laughing until their lips locked, this time with hungry fervour. Arthur dropped his arms behind her, laying each palm on her buttock. His hand squeezed gently, feeling its softness between his fingers. Rebecca broke off the kiss and ran off suddenly, laughing and causing Arthur to chase after her until they entered the stable.
The stable was calm. They came in through the back, which had only one horse. Arthur could see the other horses at the front of the stable but one needed to go down the passage, opening a few wooden doors before he got there. This part of the stable was usually used to store hay and straw.
We tend to use it nowadays too.
Arthur met up with Rebecca, as she sat on a heap of hay. As he sat beside her, she wrapped her arms around his neck. Then she stood up and raised her gown so she could properly mount him, before jumping on him, sitting on his lap with her face directly facing his.
“Rebecca, you are so playful,” Arthur said.
“I thought that was why you loved me,” Rebecca answered.
“One of a plethora of reasons,” he answered.
She was wearing blue today, a short blue gown that showed the lacy edges of her petticoat. It had short, draped arms. Arthur wondered if her gown would stain and give a hint of where she had been, but he didn’t mention it to Rebecca. It didn’t matter because he could guess her response.
“Let them think whatever they want to think,” she would answer.
Rebecca threw her arms around his neck, interlocking them behind his neck. Arthur looked at her arms, searching for a hint of her pink skin but saw nothing. Her gloves consisted of very long, white material stretching all the way into the short sleeves of her gown. Her embrace brought his chest closer to her, pushing the tenderness of her bust against him. Arthur bent down, dipping his head at the drop of her dress’ neckline where there was a crack of her cleavage. He kissed her skin tenderly there.
He raised his head and caught her gaze, her blue eyes locked on to him with a loving stare.
“I love your eyes,” Arthur said.
“Just my eyes?”
“And your small lips, your nose, your ears, your –” Arthur ran his hand through her hair, “– curly hair.”
He dropped his ears to her chest and heard a small, steady beat.
“The rhythm of your heart is the reason I smile.”
“I love you too, Arthur. Before I met you, I thought I would never get to like a member of the ton, with their highhandedness and lavish character. Then I met you and you taught me what love is,” Rebecca replied.
Arthur chuckled before raising her chin with his right hand. He saw her lips quiver in anticipation of his kiss before he met her eager lips with his. His top lip slipped into her mouth, getting entrapped in the hunger with which she kissed. He wrested it free soon, turning his head to allow more leverage. There was a gradual movement in him, a pooling of desire that ran through his entire body before dropping between his legs. It was filling his member now and causing him to hunger even more for Rebecca. His hands ran quickly to her back, loosening the draw ropes that were tied there. He loosened them quickly, seeing as the neckline of her dress dropped to her shoulders. Arthur pulled the dress downwards at both shoulders as Rebecca removed her hands from the sleeves. Arthur salivated as he saw her naked bust, each sizeable mound holding his attention captive. He attacked them with animalistic energy, sucking each nipple hungrily.
He flicked his tongue, brushing the nipple upwards and downwards. Her excited giggle led him to repeat the exercise. He finished on one and moved to the other, biting it gently between his teeth. Arthur could feel the desire take hold of him. He needed to have her.
He ran his fingers up her legs till he got to the edge of her gown. Then he moved under, moving under her flimsy petticoat. He felt another fabric. She was wearing drawers, but those were no bother. He moved his right hand over her drawers, seeking out the centre of her womanhood. His fingers stealthily reached there, meeting her wet, eager and ready. As his hand brushed against it, Rebecca jerked, making Arthur withdraw his fingers.
“What is wrong?” he asked.
Rebecca shook her head but didn’t speak. She looked down, focusing on the button of his shirt as if in it lay the answer to his question. Arthur raised her chin up gently, but she still stared downwards.
Something is wrong.
“What is it, Rebecca?” he asked.
Her lips moved, but Arthur didn’t hear what she said. He lowered his head to her mouth.
“Rebecca, talk to me, what is the matter?” he asked.
“I might not be ready,” Rebecca said.
Her voice was strong despite the fear that Arthur saw in her before she spoke.
“Ready for what, Rebecca?”
Rebecca raised her eyes, matching his gaze. Arthur knew what she meant. He hadn’t followed her here with a plan to do that but in the heat of the moment, his hands had forayed.
“I am sorry,” he said.
“No, do not apologise. We are betrothed. I should be the one apologising,” Rebecca said.
Arthur laughed but it was short and quickly died to give rise to a frown.
“Since you know we are betrothed, then why stop me?”
Rebecca opened her mouth, but Arthur could see that she had no ready answer. He shook his head. The hunger that had coursed through him moments ago had died. He was angry, put off by her rejection and eager to get back to the open arms of his father’s ball. He held her first sleeve up, telling her with his eyes to put her arm into it. Rebecca refused.
“I want to stand up now; please could you move to the side a bit?” Arthur asked her.
Rebecca didn’t answer. She remained as she was, statuesque with her eyes focused on him. Arthur refused to meet her gaze. Anger was starting to brew in him. He was tired of being rejected by her. Why did she agree to his marriage proposal if she didn’t feel safe with him, if she couldn’t offer him her body?
“Stand up, Rebecca,” Arthur said.
She shook her head again, throwing her brown curls left and right. Arthur placed his hands under her legs and stood up, lifting her with him. Then he turned and dropped her on the stack of hay. He straightened up and turned to the door, but he had not taken two steps yet when she bundled in front of him. Despite the anger he felt, the sway of her breasts caught his eyes and dried his throat. Arthur thought not about the response of his member.
“What is it?” he said.
Rebecca drew closer to him and pulled his hands around her waist. She looked into his eyes and smiled broadly, giving him a glimpse of her small white teeth and the open gap between the front teeth on the lower row. Normally, if she did that, Arthur smiled back, but today he didn’t. He was put off by her stubbornness and apparent lack of trust in him, despite what they were to each other.
“Let’s go back to the party, Rebecca. My mother will have noticed my absence by now, and trust my sister, Teresa, to link it up to your absence in the most negative manner possible,” Arthur said.
Rebecca laughed, miraculously drawing a smile from Arthur. Lady Teresa was always antagonistic to Rebecca.
She’s antagonistic to almost everyone that isn’t a Bexley.
Rebecca’s reaction to his sister’s malevolence was always a mixture of indifference and humour.
“I love you, not your sister,” she said, anytime Arthur brought it up.
“It doesn’t matter what Lady Teresa says, as long as I am with you,” Rebecca answered.
“But you do not want to be with me,” Arthur answered, finally feeling a slow thawing of his icy anger.
“I do,” Rebecca replied, soundly slightly flabbergasted.
“No, Rebecca, you don’t. You hold your body away from me.”
Rebecca shook her head.
“You do not understand,” she replied.
“After years of being together, please explain yourself,” Arthur replied.
Rebecca shook her head. She dropped her forehead to his collarbone, resting her head on his chest. Arthur, despite the bristling feeling he had for her at the moment, could only obey the yearning to wrap his arms around her. The press of her bust against his shirt reminded him that she was still naked. It made his thoughts run off in a direction that was not fitting to the moment. Arthur’s member awoke, nudging his trouser forward against Rebecca’s thighs.
“I –” Rebecca started, unable to go any further.
“You are reluctant to give yourself to me?”
“I – this would be my first,” she said in the smallest voice Arthur had heard her speak with.
Arthur burst out into his deep timbre laughter. Rebecca pressed herself more into him as if trying to hide herself in shame. Arthur waited a few moments till he was done laughing before he raised her chin up gently.
“We are going to get married, Rebecca. You do remember that, don’t you?” Arthur said.
Rebecca nodded slightly.
“Are we going to have a marriage unconsummated?” he said.
Rebecca didn’t reply. Arthur shook his head. This was ridiculous. The anger was rising, and he didn’t want it taking charge, so he had better leave. He placed his hands on Rebecca’s shoulders, trying to ease her to the side, but she didn’t budge. Arthur put in more force and moved her out of the way. He was walking out of the room when Rebecca rushed past him and stood in the doorway.
“I’m ready now,” she said.
Arthur shook his head.
She’s just saying that because of a guilty conscience.
“I am not bitter, Rebecca. I just don’t understand the fact that you don’t trust me enough,” he said.
“I do, I do,” she answered.
Arthur shook his head and was about to take another step when Rebecca, with incredible speed, stripped out of her gown. Her petticoat was shed in a moment, and her drawers followed immediately after. Rebecca stood before him, naked, ready, and tempting.
Arthur swallowed hard. His throat was dry suddenly. His palm watered, and his member tugged hard against the fabric of his trouser. Rebecca moved closer to him, walking gradually till she was a hair’s breadth away.
“Take me, Arthur. I am yours,” she said.
Arthur smiled and wrapped his hands around her, meshing his lips with her in a kiss that had his senses fleeting. He bent, wrapped his hands around her buttocks and lifted her up. Rebecca chuckled as he carried her back to the stacks of hay.
Arthur took her that evening, exercising patience and guile in his loving ministrations. Their sighs and moans of pleasure filled the stable air as they communed, enjoying each other’s bodies. Arthur didn’t rush; taking his time with her, helping her to the moment of truth and helping her cross the divide. The pain was fleeting. The pleasure seemed like it would last forever. It didn’t, couldn’t. But after their session of love making, Arthur was sure their love would last forever. And just by gauging with the amount of love she poured on him, Arthur was sure she felt the same. Their wedding was in a month’s time. Life was beautiful. What could go wrong?
What Could Have Been
A lot of things are not the way they are meant to be.
Arthur looked back to his sister as she gave instructions to the chief steward in the manner he had observed her to always give instructions in, looking angry and with many warnings. Even now, six years since he had last seen her, Teresa hadn’t changed her attitude. She was still sour and continually frowning, never satisfied with what life put into her hands. He smiled when he realised that unlike him, the black dress she wore was very fitting to the attitude she always displayed.
Arthur looked down at the apparel he wore, which were black trousers and a black shirt with gold buttons. He decided to wear a tailcoat today, a decision he still wasn’t at peace with. The tailcoat felt awkward. But all that didn’t matter. A disapproving dress sense would not bring his father back.
The man had died suddenly in his sleep, and Arthur was grateful that it had happened that way. He wasn’t sure he was ready, though. He didn’t say it out loud to anyone, but he still wasn’t assured he wanted to be the Earl. His six years in London had made him see more of the world. And the school of business he had attended had surely brushed up his transactional abilities, but it hadn’t cured the ache that refused to leave his chest.
Arthur brushed the dampening thoughts aside as Lady Teresa brought her horse up to his.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Lady Teresa nodded and urged her horse into a slow gallop. Arthur followed closely behind. He had asked her to give him a tour of the estate. Six years is no small time. A lot would have changed, and he wanted to know what those changes were. They rode past the garden which looked far bigger than it was when Arthur had left.
“Did something happen to the garden?” Arthur asked, slowing down his horse.
Lady Teresa, on hearing her brother’s question, slowed down to a stop too.
“No, nothing happened. This is how it has been for the past few years.”
“It was smaller when I left,” Arthur commented.
“Oh yes, my poor memory; it was expanded a few years after you left,” Lady Teresa replied.
Arthur said nothing. He led his horse forward at a strolling pace. He wondered why the garden had been expanded. No one in their immediate family was fond of greenery or horticulture in a way that would require them investing time and money to expand the garden. He only knew one person who loved plants and flowers so much, and the person wasn’t here, not anymore.
Lady Teresa led him through the dust road to the farms at the other end of the estate. There weren’t too many changes in the farms. They had always been meant to produce food just for the consumption of people living on the estate, the Earl’s family and all the stewards and servants. As such, expansion wasn’t needed.
The tour didn’t take too long. Arthur looked at his timepiece and found it taken under an hour. The estate had changed.
It couldn’t be more different.
Arthur didn’t want to think about that. Nothing could ever be the same. Arthur saw that the house was once again in view. He had thought it would be expanded before he got back, but he had been wrong on many counts. He had been away far longer than he thought. And despite that, the house remained unchanged.
“I had thought the house would get expanded or renovated during the time I was away.”
Lady Teresa didn’t respond to his comment, so Arthur waited. If he didn’t know his sister, he would repeat the statement. He knew his sister. She heard him. She was someone who took pleasure in doing things her own way, imposing her will on another. He wasn’t going to repeat it and tempt a verbal retort from her. He wasn’t in the mood to get into a squabble.
“There wasn’t a need. Father wanted to but changed his mind. He decided the funds were needed for other things. He said our family wasn’t expanding so the house didn’t need expansion, just renovation,” she finally said after a few silent moments.
“And was it renovated?”
Lady Teresa looked at her brother with an expression that showed irritation. Arthur didn’t flinch in his returning gaze. He might not fancy it too much, but he was the Earl now. Earls weren’t meant to back down.
“Yes, it was. Didn’t you notice this morning?” she asked turning away from him.
Arthur didn’t reply. All he could think about that morning was the reading of the will. And when it was read, he realised there was nothing to get worried about. Father had done exactly what he had expected him to do. The slight difference was the amount of money he had left for their mother, which he said was to be transferred to the Earl’s purse in the advent that their mother died before she got to use up the funds. Arthur looked at his sister and smiled. He couldn’t see her complete face now, just a side view. But he remembered the twisting of her features when the lawyer had read that.
Teresa is a selfish woman.
She looked completely nauseated and impatient throughout the entire reading. Arthur had predicted she would leave after her part was read. He was surprised when she didn’t.
Teresa has not changed. She wants everything for herself. Even with the excessive monetary fund and executive power father left her on his personal property, she still looks dissatisfied.
Arthur was sure that if his sister could have her way, she would take even the funds provided for their sick mother. Their mother was a woman of frail health. She had always been. Prone to bouts of fever and headaches, her health deteriorated about the time that he left. Arthur always asked about her in his letters home. The responses he got were not encouraging. When the last letter had gotten to him in his room in London and the first line read, “Come home now, son,” he thought he had finally been proven right about her dying first. That didn’t happen as it turned out it was his father who died.
Arthur sped up his horse as they reached the house. He stopped his mount in front of the small stairwell and alighted. The stable man was already waiting at the base of the stairwell. He collected the reins of the horse while Arthur went up the stairs. Mr Victor was at the top of the stairs, obviously waiting for him. Arthur smiled as his gaze met Mr Victor’s. If there was anyone he could trust in the house, it was this septuagenarian. Mr Victor had served his father as the chief steward and personal aide since he became the Earl and now, Mr Victor had told Arthur immediately he came that he was willing to serve him too.
“Victor,” Arthur had replied with a smile on his face and his hand rubbing the old man on his back, “you have been a great friend and ally of the family, but you have served your time to the best of your ability. I will properly and fittingly reward you for your selfless service. I need your advice and tutorship, though, so you remain a friend of the family. But I advise that you retire now. You need some time to yourself.”
Mr Victor looked so bruised when Arthur finished such that Arthur was tempted to reverse his decision. Arthur didn’t, though, he loved the man, but he had served enough. Mr Victor, after a small moment of reflection, finally spoke.
“Give me this year, sir. I am starkly unprepared for a life away from servitude to this family. Please allow me this year, so I can get myself together in one whole piece,” Mr Victor said.
Arthur looked at the man’s face. There were numerous indentations and wrinkles. He had two huge creases by the sides of his mouth where his skin formed huge folds. Arthur reinforced his decision.
This man cannot stay, but I’ll allow him till the year runs out. He deserves some time to himself.
“Okay, Victor, you can stay with us for the next year. After that, I will prepare a retirement package for you and will enforce your retirement. Your wife deserves more than a few weeks in a year of attention, even if your children are all adults and have left home.”
Mr Victor smiled broadly.
“I still see her once a month,” Mr Victor said in defence of himself.
“Once a month is hardly enough, Victor. Let’s not go there,” Arthur responded.
Now, Mr Victor was waiting for him to get to the summit of the stairs before he spoke. Arthur wondered what Mr Victor wanted to talk about.
“Mr Victor, I hope you haven’t waited here too long,” Arthur said.
“My Lord, no, I haven’t. You told me to tell you when the Dowager Countess is awake. She just woke up some minutes ago,” Mr Victor said.
“Thank you, Victor.”
Mr Victor bowed politely and went through the entrance door, back into the house.
“What did he want?” Lady Teresa said, surprising Arthur as he didn’t hear or see her come up the stairway.
“Nothing,” Arthur answered.
Nothing that you need to know.
Lady Teresa had not had any kind words for their mother since he arrived. All she did was criticise the woman. Arthur didn’t want to have any discussion about his mother with his sister again. A fight would break out, he was sure, because he wouldn’t take her using her acerbic tongue against their mother.
“Is it her fault that her body ails?” Arthur muttered.
“What did you say?” Lady Teresa asked.
“Is the amount of money we set out for the funeral enough?” Arthur asked, changing the topic.
“Yes, it should be. Bringing out more funds for such an ephemeral event would amount to financial incompetence,” Lady Teresa said.
Arthur looked at his sister. She had said that purposely, and her tone was intentionally chiding. She never hid it that she didn’t like the fact that he was the Earl.
That I am the Earl, and not her. She’s so bitter despite knowing that a woman can never be an Earl especially when she has a younger male sibling.
“Especially so early in your tenure,” Lady Teresa added, with a benign smile on her face.
She noticed my reaction and added that for good measure.
Arthur decided to talk about something else. Going along this line of discussion would only lead them into verbal sparring. Arthur looked to the gate. It was better to focus on less irking entities than his infuriating sister.
Arthur watched a stewardess ride out of the gate on a horse, with a basket by her side. Just as she was going out, the men at the gate started talking to her. It looked like an interesting discussion because she was attempting to alight now. Arthur turned and went into the house, leaving his sister outside.
He entered the parlour, finally noticing the difference from when he left. The cushion furniture had been moved out of the parlour on the ground floor to the sitting room on the first floor. Instead, there were cane seats and a single stool in the centre of the room. The fireplace had a small dying fire still surviving from last night’s travails due to the stubbornness of a few red embers. The wooden walls were more apparent now. The curls of their grains granted the room a patterned appearance, matching the cane furniture perfectly. Arthur noticed that the red centre rug had been removed too, probably taken upstairs. Arthur smiled. His mother had to have had a say in the renovation of the house. He could see small wooden statuettes at the corners of the room: men riding elephants, soldiers pointing guns, a pregnant woman held in an embrace by someone who looked like her husband, and an insect-like wooden carving. He guessed that was a grasshopper, but he was no zoologist.
Arthur moved to the window and saw that the young woman was still at the gate. The second man at there had left, but she was still enjoying her conversation with the first, younger man. She wore a simple, grey coloured dress with a straw hat balanced on her head. As simple as she dressed, she looked as happy as early morning sunlight. She smiled and laughed at almost everything the young man said, drawing an equal response from the man.
They remind me of us, the ‘us’ that was.
He remembered the first day he saw her. How could he forget? She was a slender, eight-year-old child whose smile was all teeth, and she smiled a lot. Her father was Baron Hugh Fitzroy of Zouche. He was a close friend of his late father and became a fan of their music when he saw Arthur play a sonnet on their grand piano once. He demanded that Lord Philip allow the music teacher to come over to Zouche to teach his daughters. Mr Palace, their music teacher, couldn’t do that, though, he claimed his schedule was full. So the Baron arranged that his daughters sleep over twice a week at the Earl’s house in Derby, so they could learn in tandem with Arthur and Teresa.
Arthur was delighted. Teresa was dismayed. She didn’t want anyone, Arthur’s friend or not, staying over with them.
“I don’t like them, annoying Rebecca and sullen Patricia,” Teresa said to Arthur when their father first told them about the arrangement.
“You don’t like anybody,” Arthur wanted to say to her but kept his mouth shut.
He spent most of the time that Rebecca wasn’t there, daydreaming that she was, and when she was, he spent most of the time running around the house with her. The years of their childhood were spent engaging in inchoate, meaningless play that served only a purpose of leisure and the utilisation of their excitable imaginations. They spent entire days running in the garden, playing in the trees and throwing stones in the ponds. After some years they lost interest in that sort of play as Rebecca became more thoughtful. She had also grown taller than Arthur. Arthur felt threatened by her new found height gain on him, but her character soon completely eroded that emotion.
“I’m taller than you, but you are still the smart one.”
That was the statement that made them peers once again, in Arthur’s mind.
One day, they went running in the woods in typical form. Arthur couldn’t find her all of a sudden. She had a lead on him, and he only followed the noise of her chatter. When her chatter stopped, he had nothing to follow.
“Rebecca, Rebecca, stop this,” Arthur cried out after seeking her out noiselessly for a few minutes.
He was starting to get flustered. She had never disappeared for as long as this. Arthur’s heart beat again, just as it had that day when he couldn’t find her. Memories of Rebecca always evoked powerful reactions from him.
“Rebecca,” he had shouted again, pushing apart a few dry twigs that blocked his view.
Arthur went around a big tree when he heard a twig crack just around the tree. Continuing in the direction he came, he followed the curve of the tree’s stem but couldn’t find the source of the crack. He did see the twig, bent and snapped in half across its bend.
Someone stepped on it.
Arthur picked it up and then felt a presence behind him. He was turning slowly when a loud shout startled him.
“Arrrgghh!” Arthur screamed, running back from Rebecca who had fallen into a heap, laughing hysterically.
Arthur couldn’t speak for a short while. His throat was clogged, and his heart jammed rapidly in his chest. When he found his voice, he sounded exasperated.
“Why would you do that?” he said and sulked off into the woods.
He heard her call his name, but he didn’t respond. He saw a small clutch of trees and walked into the middle, hoping she wouldn’t see him within. She did, though. She walked slowly towards him, parting leaves and breaking small stems that stood in her path. The space he stood in was small, completely surrounded by stems. If she came in, it would be too small for both of them. Rebecca still came in when she saw him.
“I am sorry. I was just playing,” she said.
Arthur sulked and closed his eyes. He shook his head.
“So what do you want me to do to prove I really am sorry?” she asked.
He shook his head again and tried to move away, backing himself into the trees. Arthur said nothing but felt her come closer, and when her lips touched his, his eyelids shot up immediately. Shocked, he opened his mouth, allowing her mouth to merge even more properly with his. She moved backwards after a few seconds.
“Is my apology accepted?” she asked.
Arthur couldn’t remember if he spoke. His head was too cloudy at that moment to think. He remembered he nodded though and couldn’t stop blushing for the rest of the week.
My first kiss.
They had many other kisses, many more that meant even more than an apology. They had many experiences that made more impact than mere kisses.
He had learnt to be a reader from her, to have an appetite for books that never got tamed. Rebecca would bring the history books from her father’s library, and later when she had gone through almost all, she started taking books from their library. After reading a book, she would give it to Arthur who, at first, only read because he wanted to best her during their regular arguments, but later he became a reader for knowledge sake. She read about art, fictional literature, and philosophy. There he and Rebecca always had arguments because she regularly found a way to twist philosophical knowledge into propounding methods or theories that would never be accepted in their society. Rebecca disagreed with a lot of the way the ton did things. She didn’t throw it in people’s faces, but whenever she was with him, she said all she thought.
She didn’t think it right that women couldn’t be peers in their own right.
Thank goodness, Teresa didn’t hear her. She’d feel even more entitled than she does now.
“And why does my husband have to come into possession of my inheritance?” she asked one day.
“That’s the way things are, Rebecca,” he replied.
She was wearing a white cotton gown with thin straps attached to her shoulders that day. Her face was pink because she had just splashed the pond’s cold water on her face. It was moments like that, that Arthur felt had solidified their love. When she was beautiful and free and he could easily see her blue eyes. Her smile had stopped being all teeth a long time ago. Now he looked at her and felt a tripping in his heart. Other awkward times, his member jumped and pushed against his trouser material. Times like those, he would walk far away from her till he went back limp.
“We should really stop accepting things just because they are tradition.”
“What if someone you loved was your husband, would you refuse him the right of ownership?” he asked.
“Someone I love would love me back; he wouldn’t be after my property,” she replied.
She had dipped her hands into the pond now, posing as still as a statue. She could remain like this for minutes, until the fish thought she was a part of the pond. One or two might then swim into the water above her cupped palms. Most of the times she let them swim, hitting their mouths against her palms sometimes before swimming away. Other times like now, she would slowly lift up her palm and the water would drain away, leaving the struggling fish. It would then jump out or she would slowly set it back into the pond.
Arthur had tried it so many times, but he never got it. She said he had to calm down, think of nothing, and just be as still as possible. After a while, she claimed he was just too warm bodied to trick the fish. He approached her, watching as the fish swam far away at first but soon swam closer. A small goldfish finally swam into the water directly above her palms.
“What if your husband – what if he was me?” Arthur asked, his voice dropping a couple of notches to barely a whisper.
Rebecca looked sharply at him. The sudden movement must have shaken her hand because the fish scurried away. Rebecca removed her hand from the pond and rubbed it against her dress to dry it. She moved closer to him till he was staring directly into her clear blue eyes. Her breasts, which he had just noticed two years ago and was incapable of not noticing them anymore, rubbed on his chest.
“If it was you Arthur, if it was you, then we wouldn’t need this discussion,” she said with the same volume he had.
He did something he had been fantasising about for the past few years for the first time that day. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer, one hand on her waist and the other daring to hold her buttock, joining their mouths in a kiss now familiar. That was the very first day that they had mentioned the possibility of spending the rest of their lives together.
They became far closer than before that day. Everyone noticed. His sister was expectedly disgusted by their tightness. Her sister, Patricia, in her typical manner didn’t give a hoot. She preferred staying alone in a cocoon of melancholy, only coming alive during their music classes or when she had to go riding.
I didn’t miss her when she went off to that school of French and Music in Bath.
When his parents noticed the closeness, they said nothing. Arthur was sure his mother passively encouraged it. She had greatest fondness for Rebecca, ‘for her independent mind’ she would say. His father never acknowledged noticing anything. He was always busy on official duties. He only admitted it when Arthur told him that fateful night.
Arthur rubbed his eyes, feeling some moistness there. He saw the young woman with the straw hat finally mount her horse again. The lad she was speaking to walked to her and touched her on her arm. It was an intimate gesture, one promising more than friendship. He beat the horse on its behind, sending it off on its way. The girl turned back and said something. The young man was backing Arthur so he couldn’t see his response. Arthur smiled and turned to the staircase. He needed to see his mother.
He didn’t knock. He pushed the door in by its silver handle, making no noise as he entered the room. It hit him immediately, the smell of old age and infirmity. Arthur walked to her bed and saw her. She was lying on the bed with her eyes closed. Arthur walked to the windows, surprised he still smelled something despite their being open. She lay in the middle of the bed, on the virgin white bed sheet. Arthur walked to the side of the bed.
“Mother,” he whispered.
Her eyes fluttered open immediately. She cast a powerful gaze despite the obvious weakness of her body. He was shocked when she said his name.
“Arthur, you are back,” she said, her voice a crackle.
“Yes, Mother. I’m back for good now,” Arthur said, drawing nearer to her even though he was already touching the bed.
She closed her eyes again, making Arthur think she had fallen unconscious once again but then reopened them. She moved her hand slowly, raising her left hand from its resting position to where Arthur’s hand was. When he noticed what she wanted, he drew his hand closer to her, his hand meeting hers and holding her in a strong grip. Her hand felt cold and thin. Her fist was tiny, completely covered by his.
“Yes, you truly are back,” she said.
Arthur nodded. He truly was.
“What of my husband?” she asked.
Arthur looked at her, wondering if he hadn’t been told all that was wrong with her.
Has the illness affected her memory?
He was told she had been made to know about the death of their father. She shouldn’t be requesting for him.
Arthur shook his head, choosing to say nothing. His mother repeated the statement. Her eyes showing no emotion and her voice no waver. Arthur looked into her eyes.
“Mother, Pa is dead,” he said.
His mother nodded her head. She didn’t stop nodding it as she took her eyes away from Arthur’s face. She looked up to the ceiling before closing her eyes. Arthur watched, scared for her when he saw tears roll down both her closed eyes. The tears didn’t stop even when she finally opened her eyes a few moments later.
“Mother, please stop nodding,” Arthur said.
She stopped but didn’t look at Arthur. She let go of his hand and turned her head away from him, looking in the opposite direction. Arthur waited for some minutes to see if she would turn back to face him. When she didn’t, he stood up to leave.
“Teresa had told me,” he heard her say as he got to his feet.
Her continuous nodding had shaken her head, removing the cloth that covered her hair. It was almost completely grey now, a mass of black and grey twines, a greater indicator of his mother’s age. She looked weak, but Arthur didn’t see so much sickness in her. She just needed to get around more, and she would be better very quickly.
“Yes, Teresa wrote a letter to me too, telling me to come home immediately,” he answered.
His mother finally turned her head back to look at her son.
“So you would still have been in your self-imposed exile,” she said.
Arthur was surprised to see her eyes were red. Their father’s death hurt her far more than she was showing. Arthur knew she loved him. They loved each other dearly. Despite her illness, the Earl had been completely loyal to his wife. He was at her side at any given chance and spoke to her even at times when she was dead asleep or too weak to answer.
We would have been like them, both of us. We would have grown old together, and I would see your hair turn grey. Now, we will have nothing. I will just be the Earl and you …
“Father sent me away,” Arthur replied, keeping as much emotion away from his voice as possible.
This issue was never easy for him to discuss. His father sending him away on the day he finally made love to Rebecca.
“For six months, you stayed away for six years. Don’t pin that on my husband,” his mother replied, her voice strong and surprisingly acerbic.
She is angry.
“He shouldn’t have sent me away in the first place,” Arthur replied.
“You shouldn’t have stayed away.”
Arthur said nothing. They were flogging a dead horse.
“Why did you ask me for him again? You knew what had happened,” Arthur said.
“I did, but Teresa was the woman of the house while you were away. She’s my daughter, but I do not trust her. There’s no gain in her lying about your father’s death. I just kept a flicker of doubt, and I fanned it till it became hope. I was hoping you would prove her wrong,” she said.
Arthur shook his head. Father was dead. He would miss him too. Now, Arthur wished he had come back earlier, to at least see how the Earldom was properly run, to learn from his father’s ways and avoid his mistakes. Now there was nobody to learn from, and Teresa who had been the closest to father in running the Earldom was more interested in positioning herself as kingpin than helping him. Mr Victor knew a lot too; at least he would be around for the next year.
“Well, she didn’t lie. And I want you to put that to the back of your mind, Mother. He left in peace, in his sleep. I was told he suffered no ills.”
“You could have been there to see it for yourself,” she said.
“But I wasn’t, Mother,” Arthur said harshly, his voice going up a notch.
She was pained that he left for so long. Well, he was pained too. But he wasn’t sure he could manage the pain if he hadn’t stayed away.
She went behind my back and stabbed me with a blunt knife, twice.
Arthur had stayed away to manage the pain. He was back now because he couldn’t avoid it anymore.
“I wasn’t,” he repeated more softly.
“His funeral will be held early next week. I and Teresa are making arrangements,” Arthur said.
“Make it small, only friends of the family. We don’t need strangers feigning tears on the grave of my late husband,” she said.
Arthur walked to the window and pushed it open wider. He strode to the other window and did the same.
“That’s the plan.”
Even though for different reasons.
“You need to get out more, Mother. Air, sunshine and exercise would do you a lot of good,” Arthur said.
His mother nodded, even though she looked lost. Her attention seemed to be very far away.
“Will you go out in the evening?”
“Come and get me, I’ll see if I can take a walk in the garden,” she replied.
Arthur smiled benignly. He was happy she would be making an attempt to full health.
“Good,” he replied, “if I can’t come, I’ll send someone, maybe Victor.”
“Victor, only Victor,” she answered.
It seemed they were on the same page when it came to trust in that house. It was only Victor they both trusted.
“I need to get back out, Mother. Teresa and I still have some important issues to discuss,” Arthur said.
“You and I too, but not today, we’ll talk on another day,” she said, nodding her head.
“Alright Mother, it’s nice to see you are better than I heard you were,” Arthur said, holding her fist once again.
“It’s nice you are home to witness me when I’m feeling better. I hope I continue to do so,” she said.
Arthur stood up and walked to the door, pausing a few moments before he opened the door and walked out of the room. He closed the door behind him and waited, holding his breath and listening to the sounds from the room. He hadn’t waited too long before he heard the expected sniffle and the muted groans.
“Philip, Philip why?” was what he could make out.
Arthur shook his head. The woman was taking her husband’s death very hard, and Teresa made it to seem like she was too sick to notice. His mother needed consoling, but it couldn’t be from him. If Rebecca had been here, everything would have been so simple.
“Well, ifs are the balm that massage our minds but are powerless to assuage reality. We all have to make do with what we have left.”
Arthur walked back down the stairs, reluctant to go back to meet his sister. That had to be the trend for the next few years now, him doing things he wouldn’t want to do.
“Responsibility is –”
Arthur cut short his remembrance of another of his father’s sayings. He knew he needed to be responsible now. It went without saying.
“The Secret Passion of an Enticing Earl” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Arthur Bexley’s passionate affair with a Baron’s daughter is cut short because of his father decision to send him away for a better education. This propels a cascade of unpredictable events that destroy everything years of love and friendship had built. He left just a boy, but now Arthur returns a man, six years later, with the enticing title of an Earl. To him, it seems that his love has moved on with her life. However, he discovers that time and distance had done nothing to temper the powerful feelings he had cultivated for this young beauty. Can the past lovers reunite?
Hurt, bruised and almost broken, Rebecca Fitzroy had to make sacrifices to keep her life afloat when Arthur left. His departure also left her with a scandalous secret. But now he has returned along with her yearning for his embrace. Would she threaten the stability she managed to attain by entertaining his ventures? Or is she too heartbroken to dive back into this powerful love?
Their separation left them bleeding in the past, but maybe someone was intending to keep them apart for a reason. They would have to be willing to risk a lot to reignite what had once died. Will the handsome Earl fight his social customs and discard what an Earl is expected to do to follow his heart? Will Rebecca reveal her most well-kept secret for a chance to reignite their love?
“The Secret Passion of an Enticing Earl” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.