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Monday, May 25, 2015

A Twist In The Tale

From the comfortable chair behind his desk, Edward, the current Earl of Walmer, watched the tense scene in the garden with one ear tuned to the droning complaints of his unwelcome companion. He knew he should focus more on his guest rather than the tableau outdoors - the man was arrogant, to be sure, but he did hold the aces - but one could forgive a husband's natural concern over his wife's previous romantic attachments.

The silence intruded into his contemplation, and he felt compelled to drag his attention back to the matter at hand. Joseph Hebble had ceased speaking, and his gaze had now fixed on the couple on the bench sitting too close than propriety allowed.

"Should you be concerned, m' lord?

Odious man. Edward wondered, for not the first time, what had possessed him to entangle himself with the hard-nosed social climber well-known for both his avarice and his ruthlessness. He sighed inwardly and summoned an expression of indifference. It was hard to ignore the self-satisfied look of speculation etched into the man's features, but he disliked the man sufficiently - and, though he would never admit it, feared him as well - to mask his resentment at both the insinuation and the temerity of it.

"I should think not," he replied in a suitably bored tone. "I am more than able to manage both my brother and my wife."

At that moment, Jordan stood and strode across the garden, leaving Annette stiff and resentful on the bench. No doubt the exchange had not gone as she had hoped, for her anger was evident in her posture. Edward smiled thinly and decided a word with his wife might well be in order.

"Perhaps I can help you with that," Hebble remarked casually.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Oh, don't get all uppity with me," Joseph snapped, his jowels quivering a little with the explosion of impatience. "All I'm saying is we have mutual...ah...interests. It just so happens that I have particular problems of my own which, I'm inclined to believe, may be solved by neatly resolving a few of yours." He paused, his bushy eyebrows raised as the cold grey eyes now fixed an unwavering gaze on his own. "And," he added for effect, "I might be amenable to...uh...let us say mitigating some of the other encumbrances you chafe under."

The man had his attention now. All of it. Which, no doubt, had been his intention.

"I'm assuming you refer to those of a financial nature?" Hebble nodded, a sly smile hovering and his eyes plainly triumphant. "Well, then. By all means, sir, let us discuss this. I may possibly be in a position to assist you. Depending, of course, on the nature of the problem."

"Of course." Hebble settled his bulk more comfortably, though he still looked decidedly stiff in the unfamiliar attire of a gentleman.

From the corner of his eye, Edward watched his wife leave the garden, no doubt heading indoors to sulk in her chamber. Perhaps, he thought resentfully, he might be well advised to strike another deal with the devil before him. The possibility of removing his brother from the picture, perhaps once and for all, had a certain charm to it. And if it could be accomplished in such a way that his beautiful young wife could be restrained from further impropriety... What did he have to lose?
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