Tracks, Chapter 2: Departures
by, 6-23-12 at 11:43 AM (259 Views)
“Your mother doesn’t know you’re up, does she?” Lord Gallow leaned against the doorway, still in his evening attire. His smile hinted at conspiracy as he looked on his daughter. She was curled up in his favorite chair with a book propped on her knees. On the table beside her were several more.
“That’s why I’m in your study,” she replied.
Kate was pale, like her father, and had his gray eyes. The black hair and small nose she inherited from her mother, and the long face they all shared. She hadn’t quite grown into that face yet. She closed her book so that her finger was marking the page. “You don’t look bound for bed, either,” she said.
“I’m waiting for a letter,” he replied. “And I need to send one myself. But the messenger has yet to arrive.”
She cocked her head. “Isn’t it a little bit late to be sending letters?”
Her father nodded and crossed his arms. “Unfortunately, not all business can wait,” he said. Although he was as carefully groomed as ever in his fine blue coat and dark trousers, he had deep shadows under his eyes that made him look much older than his forty-three years. Streaks of gray ran through his brown hair. There seemed to be more than there had been yesterday.
“Is it about the holdings down south?” she asked.
He hesitated momentarily before nodding. Then he came to sit in the chair
opposite hers. “There’s been some flooding. Most of the crop will likely be lost. I’ve asked for some hands to be loaned from Lord Shroud’s higher farmland. The faster we act, the more we will salvage, but the telegram lines don’t seem to be working.” He rubbed at his face with one hand, then sighed. “But why discuss it? There’s little we can do.” He smiled again at his daughter. “You enjoyed yourself in the company of Lord and Lady Matherson this evening?”
She nodded and returned the smile. “Lydia was there. I don’t seem to see her terribly often now that she’s married.” The smile twitched a little on her face.
Daniel sighed and patted her knee. “It is often the way, when a friend marries,” he said. “Your mother hasn’t seen some of her old friends since before you were born.”
“That’s different,” Kate argued. “Mother had to leave her country. Lydia didn’t even move to another city.”
“Our roles and expectations change, Kate. Perhaps it is because you don’t wish to marry, that you don’t see things in quite the same way,” he suggested. Kate examined her book and tried to pretend that the faint flush on her cheeks was nothing.
They should be trying to arrange a marriage for her. Eva had been pressing for one for three years now but Kate seemed so set against it that Daniel was loathe to look for anyone. The girl would be willing soon enough, when her thoughts tended more towards romance.
A little bell strung at the door of the study rang sweetly. Daniel looked up. “That will be my message, I hope.” He leaned over and gave Kate a perfunctory kiss on the forehead. “You should be on your way to bed. The king is making some kind of artistic endorsement or other, and Jonathan will kill me if we don’t attend.” She nodded and her soft goodnight followed him out into the corridor.
His manservant bowed as he approached and opened the front door of the manor. The messenger outside shifted restlessly from one foot to the other. A creamy white envelope was clutched in one hand. “From Lord Shroud, sir,” he said as soon as he saw Daniel, and he shoved the envelope toward the man.
“Thank you,” Daniel replied neutrally as he took it. His duty safely discharged, the messenger wasted no time but briskly walked back down the stone path that led to the manor. His horse waited at the end, just as impatient as its master. Its flanks were steaming despite the summer night.
The whole thing gave Daniel a bad feeling.
As he turned away from the door his fingers worked at the seal on the envelope. It seemed free from tampering. His name had been written on the front in a hasty scrawl.
A rustle of cloth caused him to look up and twitch the letter, unopened though it was, to his chest.
His wife, Eva, stood in the door of the sitting room, still dressed in finery to match his own. “Who’s calling at such an hour?” she asked. Her voice was lower than that of most Lanthian women, and still spiced with the eastern accent she had never quite eradicated.
“Lord Shroud,” Daniel replied. “Kate is in my study, will you see her off to bed?”
If she was offended by the dismissal, she didn’t show it. She merely inclined her head and turned away. Daniel went into the sitting room and shut the door behind him, then opened the letter and studied it carefully.
The message was short and to the point. He read it over twice, just to make sure. His face seemed to age another twenty years in just a few minutes. When Eva opened the door to the sitting room again, he was still standing there, the note crumpled in one hand.
“Are you all right?” she asked, putting a hand on his shoulder. Her touch seemed to jerk him out of his reverie.
“No,” he said almost reflexively. Then he took a deep breath, looked around, and said, “No,” again. He took his wife’s hands in his own. “I have to leave immediately. There’s been an emergency. I can’t waste any time.”
Her grip tightened on his and they stared at one another for a long moment. In that moment a kind of understanding passed between them. Fear crept into her eyes. “When will you be back?” she asked quietly. She already knew the answer.
“I do not know.”
She nodded. “Retrieve what you need. I’ll make things ready for you.” He squeezed her hand in reply, then let it drop.
Kate had put her books in a neat pile on the corner of his study table, but mercifully the girl was nowhere in sight. Daniel collected a few papers, then went over to a cabinet on the right hand side of the study. Taking a large iron key from his pocket, he unlocked the cabinet and removed from within a long flintlock pistol. He attached it to his belt and picked up a bag with the necessary accessories. After a brief last look around the room, he nodded. He had all he needed here.
Eva had sent the stablehands away, and she waited alone. The horses seemed to have detected her mood and they shifted uneasily in their stalls. She had cleared away some of the straw stacked in the corner, and now the edge of a trapdoor poked out. She stood next to this trap door now, her hands clasped tightly together. At her feet lay an unlit torch.
Daniel crossed to the door, knelt down and pulled it open. A dank, damp smell emanated from beneath. The passage would be muddy and moldy. He was in for a few uncomfortable nights. Swinging his feet into the opening, he found the ladder that went down some ten feet to the bottom of the passage.
Eva knelt in front of him, and handed him the torch. She seemed to be casting about for something to say. He put one hand up to cup her cheek. “I love you,” he promised.
She kissed him desperately, wrapping her thin arms around his shoulders and clutching him as though she never intended to let go. She smelled of sweat and rain and the tears she would shed later. “I love you,” she replied when they broke apart.
She watched as he descended the ladder into the gloom. When he dropped to the tunnel floor he looked up once, lifted his hand in farewell, then disappeared. Eva set the trapdoor back in place, then stood. She brushed a few spare pieces of straw from her dress. Then she set to work shoveling the straw back over the door, until its outline was completely obscured.