I sit on the balcony of the Gentlemen’s Club, black coffee in hand, thinking of the future, not wanting to be home. The day is frigid, my fingers red with cold, as muffled voices from inside make me feel less alone. Small puffs of breath fill the air with each chilly exhale, a visual reminder that I am still among the living.
I reach in my pocket feeling her diamond ring, remembering the day we married. But the warmth of the moment is immediately overridden by the scavenger’s words, forever burned in memory.
“Yep, she were dead all right, cold and gone. Don’t know what happened to the body but weren’t me who moved it. Would never disfigure the dead, knowing that Holy Mary, Mother of God would bring a curse down on me and mine. I’d say the river rose after we left and washed her out.”
The door swings open, an unexpected burst of warm air.
“Attwood, old fellow,” Baron Dorchester exclaims. “There you are. Why on earth would you be outside on a day like this? You’ll catch a chill. Come inside and have a brandy. We could use your opinion in our venting.”
“And what would that be about?” I ask, ready to be pulled away.
“The men who think they have a credible claim to the status of Gentlemen simply because they’ve been given the right to vote. Can you imagine, men who earn an income through working wanting to join a Gentleman’s Club? Last month we had a lawyer apply and even a portrait painter, the last chap claiming he had business with you!”
The audacity of the gesture angers me. “I can assure you, Baron, that I have no acquaintanceship with portrait painters. I blame the reformation act, which has many men believing they can be enfranchised members, where I would strongly recommend they establish clubs of their own.”
“That was my opinion as well,” the Baron says, thumping me on the back. “When will you resume your obligations in Parliament and what has become of the Manor after that dreadful business with your wife?”
I don’t feel ready to discuss my affairs but find no escape.
“Albert has closed Yorkshire Manor, remaining in the butler’s quarters. Perkins and a few stable lads continue to tend the horses. A single parlor maid remains and has placed dust covers over the furnishings. The manor has been officially secured and I question whether or not to keep it. I had hoped Lady Attwood would find her way back one day but now I must face the truth. As for parliament, that remains unresolved.”
I think privately of my duty and responsibility to England, but lack capacity for the things I once valued. I imagine the red leather benches in the House of Lords, and the impassioned opposition between Labour and Conservative parties, the very heart and soul of England, the blood of my ancestors, and yet not a single beat of my heart allows me to return. I am a shadow of a former self, a stranger in my life.
“I imagine Baron, that I will take an extended leave, in the hope that far-reaching travel may set me right.”