This is the twenty-third part of a fiction serial, in 865 words.
The autumn of the year 1805 brought sad news from the town. Admiral Nelson had been killed during a great sea battle fought in Spanish waters near Cape Trafalgar. Even delight at the resounding victory was overshadowed by the national mourning at the loss of such a beloved warrior. There was a special church service in his memory, and all attended, packing the interior, with some having to stand outside.
Now almost twenty-seven years old, Aileen had not managed to bear more children. After numerous miscarriages, it had been confirmed that she was unlikely to have more success. So she kept her young sons close, with tutors employed to teach the boys at Dakin Hall. They were growing fast, and George proved to be the livelier, athletic one, with Spencer studious, and slightly withdrawn. When Oscar urged her to send them away to boarding school, she flatly refused to discuss it. Knowing that he relied on her to be the lady of the house now, Oscar gave up.
The last few years had seen Oliver become a man of two halves. He learned the ways of business from his father during the day, but most nights he would ride into town, where he kept bad company with young drunks, and girls of loose morals. Oscar had been forced to pay off the families of no less than three girls claiming to be bearing the children of his careless son. Still determined to have his heir carry on the business, he contantly forgave the defiant Oliver, and continued to fund his reckless lifestyle.
But one cold December afternoon, everything changed.
Aileen still loved to take time to play with her sons once their studies finished in the afternoon. Sencer now considered himself to be too old for such frivolity, but George loved to play. And his favourite game was hide and seek. Aileen had to count loudly to one hundred, as her son ran around trying to find a good place to conceal himself. They agreed that if he was not discovered in around thirty minutes, he would reveal himself, and claim to have won. With such a large house and grounds, he usually did win.
That particular afternoon, George had no taste for concealment in the cold outdoors, so found himself a corner in one of the old stables that was rarely used since the construction of a smart new stable block two years previously. By good fortune, Aileen had spotted him from a first floor window, given away by his flame-red hair. She smiled to herself, happy to have the luxury of knowing his whereabouts. To make it look more convincing, she waited fifteen minutes according to the mantel clock, before wrapping a shawl around against the cold, and heading out to pretend to have finally found her son.
But someone else had found him first.
Oliver had already been drinking, despite the time of day. She could hear it in his voice. He was holding a letter-opener, one that resembled a small dagger. George was smiling at first, thinking it was all part of the game. But his smile faded at the look of concern on his mother’s face as she saw Oliver point the blade in the direction of George’s neck. With his eyes wild, and his voice slurring from the brandy, Oliver told her to go into the next stall, where he intended to have his way with her. If she made no fuss, George would be safe, and nobody would know.
He hadn’t reckoned on her being both brave and resourceful. She was also very fast. Grabbing some old heavy harness draped around a stall, she whirled it once around her head, and flung it at Oliver. It struck him full in the face, causing him to rock backwards, and drop the sharp letter-opener. Screaming at George to run for the house, Aileen rushed forward and picked up the harness, lashing it at Oliver’s face time and again, until her strength failed her. Breathing hard, she looked down at Oliver sprawled on the wooden floor. His face was cut badly, and bleeding, and there were bruises already visible on his neck. But he was still breathing.
Still enraged, she began to kick him in the body, as hard as her small feet in buttoned boots would allow. She was still kicking him when Oscar arrived to pull her away.
A doctor was called, and a story concocted that Oliver had fallen from a horse whilst drunk. Whether that story was believed or not was neither here nor there, as the doctor was paid handsomely. With bandages applied, and a diagnosis of three broken ribs, the unapologetic Oliver was sent to his room to recover. He was forbidden to emerge, even for Christmas dinner, and his meals were served in his room.
Such an offence against the mistress of Dakin Hall could never be forgiven, Oscar knew that. Not long after the turn of the year. Oliver was sent away in disgrace, ordered to start a new life in the Australian colony, with sufficient funds to last him for one year.
Not one member of the family watched him leave.