I guess you are supposed to give a little teaser, like chapter one, to get people interested, but I like this part and I think you will too. Maybe a spoiler or two, but that doesn't stop anyone from rereading the Bible, does it? More whirlpool sentences I'm afraid. Just ride 'em. It's worth it.
Chapter Twenty Three
It took almost two more days for Barney to land at Heathrow. He hired a car to take him to the manor. Another 140 miles from the airport, a fortune he’s spending here, like that’s important he reminded himself, mostly sleeping, while the cabbie or driver or whatever they called them over here, popped Bennies, driving in the pitch dark night over semi-paved roads, dodging random sheep who left the flock to drop a lamb or two.
The driver so wanted to toss one of those cute little lambs in the taxi, but the American was so huge the lamb would have to ride on his lap, and were the American to waken, cradling a sleeping lamb or be awakened by warm lamb piss drenching his trews, God knows. They packed guns he was sure. And at last, 5 a.m., there was the Manor. Beautiful area. Beautiful Building. 17th Century, at least that part at the South end, one of Charles’s pet projects with my tax dollars surely. Crumbling heap. So much history. Too many bennies, he hoped they’d give him a snack and a nap before he had to head back. Several out buildings. Surely some kind soul would have sympathy. They ran out of gas about 200 yards from the front door. The American jumped out and ran to the house as though his pants were on fire or he’d suddenly come down with the trots. It took a while to raise a response at this early hour, so the cabbie left the American’s bag at the door with him, accepted the huge fare, the generous tip, the sincere thanks, and made his way around back to rustle up a charitable soul.
Ancient Ian, an almost comically stereotypical example of the old family retainer, his duties now running only to answering the door, perhaps a short time each day mucking the stalls, perhaps taking a ride about on one of the horses, doing a little inspecting, exercising the animals a bit, trying to be more helpful than burdensome since he knew his presence here was a boon granted a faithful soul whose only scrap of life seemed within these walls. Sons in Canada and New Zealand, seen a few years ago. Videos, emails, an occasional voice call, children he knew were his legacy, so beautiful, so far away, a warm corner of his weakening heart, his breath drawn each morning in hopes of getting asked to sit down and share her ladyship’s lonely cup of tea when the place wasn’t aswarm with grands and greats and steps, a vivid montage he enjoyed immensely, but felt only relief at their departure, welcoming silence, never lonely, always a welcoming snuffle from a horse, a grunt from an aching new mother cow, whispers from the memories of the lives that had touched him, a kind word from a delivery person or a housekeeper, silence shared in the sun for too brief a moment with her ladyship who insisted, the only time her lyrical voice was tinged with stridence, insisted on being called “The Missus”. Now, answering the door at this early hour, he said, having been briefed, “I am so sorry, Commander, sir. I cannot talk of it with you.”
“Ian, please tell her ladyship I must speak with her. I’ve come so far. Please, Ian.”
“It’s alright, Ian. You can leave us. I’ll handle it. Thank you.” Louise entered the huge entry hall. She seemed tinier than ever but still had the shiny round, rosy cheeks, the generous halo of the whitest, softest hair. The eyes, gimlet sharp, snapped to Barney’s.
“So sorry, missus. I gave it all my best, ma’am.”
“It’s alright, Ian. He’s bigger than both of us”, suppressing a chuckle underlying her words.
“By a long shot, ma’am. Ring me if you need me.”
“Oh, yes, Ian. Don’t wander far.”
“I never do, ma’am.”
“So wonderful to see you looking so well, Mrs. Burnham, your ladyship.” He stepped forward invading her space, leaning slightly toward her, looking directly into her face, her eyes, leaving himself open for what he hoped would be at least a patronizing hug if not a snuggle of welcome. She placed her delicate hands in the crooks of his arms, and leaned into him and up onto her toes to barely reach the side of his bristly chin for a slightly warmer peck than he had hoped for.
“Cut the crap, Barney. You know, I am now officially your grandmother-in-law. And I’ve been politely asked by certain people with very good reasons to respect their privacy and give you no information."
Three small children who had been peeking through the gallery rail came bounding down the stairs in pajamas and bare feet, the oldest, surely not yet six, a tiny bit on the charmingly plump side, with a corona of perfectly rust colored, soft ringlets, much like his Annie’s, (my fucking heart hurts) that bounced as she sped down the stairs, indicating they were undoubtedly Katelyn’s youngest, or at least the cherubic little ginger was. “Uncle Barney!” They scaled him as though he were a climbing wall. “Aunty Maisie was here but she’s already left. We rode out far to the lavender field with her. Lulu is scared of horses. She’s a baby. She has white hair like the twins, only longer. The lavender field smelled so nice. The horses didn’t like it. I got a new helmet. It has a pink skull on it. It’s not scary. I wanted to go to Italy with Annie and Lulu. I don’t like Joey. He pees outside. He doesn’t care if I see his winkie. Are you going to ride out with us?”
“Lord, lord, Sheila. Draw a breath and go get your slippers.”
“Yes, grandmum.” And with a faint movement reminiscent of a curtsey, they dashed upstairs and were dragged behind a quickly closing door, but not before Katelyn threw Barney a quick wave and a vaguely flirtatious, certainly welcoming grin.
“Well, every single cat got out of that bag, didn’t it though. So you must stay at least one night so our dear girl can have a break, since you will surely be heading to Italy. She’s not going anywhere, and you can pause in your pursuit to rest up and hear all of our lectures. Go up to the guest suite to the right at the head of the stairs and shower and rest. We will call you for supper.”
As he walked up the stairs, he tried to recall if he had so much as spoken a hello, but lay on the bed thinking he could take the shower after the nap.
The first weeks in Italy were so hectic, arranging school, serendipitously able to start the next term right on time, rearranging beds and dressers and rugs and curtains to befit the needs of yet another generation filing through the villa. Iris was still perky, though much heavier. She had lost her husband, Paolo, to a heart ailment. But, barely fifty herself, and always in control of everyone's life, she had rounded up a crew of craftsmen including some of her sons and sons-in-law and at least one slightly older foreman that Maisie was sure was courting Iris.
The first day the children were in school, and when Lulu could be supervised by Iris’ daughter, or daughter-in-law, or granddaughter, no, it couldn’t be a granddaughter, but she’d figure it all out in due time, Maisie headed to the doctor’s office. She’d been spotting for a few days, and was having mild cramps. Now she was having heavier bleeding and the nausea had stopped as had the change in her sense of smell that made any cooking odors nauseating. She was sure, so early in a pregnancy, she had already missed, which was confirmed by the doctor. A quick curettage, orders about sex—Maisie assured him that would not be an issue. Having made the rounds of the tabloids, that story was well known to the doctor and he didn’t wish to query her more, just sent her home with an armload of scrips, including an anti-depressant. The vital glow those first few days, so enhanced by the body’s own chemicals, had faded, and Maisie was looking beaten down and acting nearly affectless, going through the necessary steps woodenly, hoping to come out of this funk and soon be wanting to live her beautiful life again--a beautiful life she longed for and hoped for but that she was completely sure was in her past and would never be a part of her future.
It didn’t seem that long a time had passed when Louise called to say the Commander had finally arrived. When Maisie asked her, chuckling, “Finally arrived?" Louise could not help but laugh. “You’ll be fine, my darlings. I’ll try to keep him a few days. He promised the little ones a ride out, and, thank you God, it has been pouring, so you have a breather.”
“I miscarried, Grandma. You didn’t say anything did you?”
“No darling. You know I wouldn’t. What can I say? My heart is breaking for you for so many reasons. Maybe it’s for the best. A new start.”
“I keep saying that, grannie. It’s all I can say or think. I’m scared. I’m afraid to see him. I feel weak about it.”
“That’s good, baby. You don’t know it, but that is from the need. I can only say, let it be new. That’s all I can think of to say. I don’t know this time. I’m scared for you. But I think you should let it be new. And I know there is enough love.”
“I love you so much Gran. You are the wisest of any of us. None of us would have survived without you. Thank you.”
“Well, Margaret Mary, isn’t that only fitting since none of you would be here were it not for me?” So the phone call ended with them both smiling out loud.
Maisie set the phone down thinking there were reasons. There were. And she was ready to wait and see what they were.