The door to the study burst open. Henry nearly cricked his neck turning round to see who was entering in such a storm. He needed to get a secure lock fitted to that door, these interruptions were exceedingly wearing on his patience.
His sister’s angry voice snapped, ‘what is the meaning of this?’
Prudence swished through the doorway and across the room, brandishing a letter and waving it at him. She marched passed his bookcases and up to his desk. Leaning across she stared into his face.
‘Do you mind? I am working, I don’t want to be interrupted. Please leave.’
‘I most certainly will not,’ said Prudence, ‘I have just received this letter, it’s from Mr Darroch, informing us of the wedding plans. He mentions his thanks for the sum of money you’re giving to Arabella for the event, but he needn’t have bothered. If I’d known that was all you had given him, I should’ve been in here weeks ago. You told me you’d settled it between you.’
‘Which we have.’
‘Nonsense, it’s pathetic! You’ve hardly given them anything. What can they do with such a pitiable amount. You are earning yourself nothing but the reputation as the biggest miser who has ever lived on this earth.’
‘How dare you,’ said Henry, he stood up, throwing back his chair, ‘I gave the man exactly what he asked for, if it’s good enough for him it should be good enough for you.’
‘Nonsense, you never gave him a chance did you!’
‘Enough,’ he said, collecting his chair and thrusting it beneath the desk, ‘not another word on the subject. I am sick beyond belief of discussing this over and over again. If I never hear that man’s name mentioned ever again it’ll be soon enough. Do what you want with your daughters, marry them to whomsoever you please but leave me out of it.’
Prudence took a deep breath and walked to the window. He glared after her. A few stubborn patches of icy snow remained on the ground beyond. The garden in its sad winter state did nothing to cheer, it was grey and dead.
‘I don’t understand you, Henry,’ she said turning from the dismal view and walking towards him, ‘your coldness. Why do you hate everyone so much, your own family? Haven’t you the slightest spark of feeling? Don’t you understand what its like for your nieces? Imagine how she feels about all this, and Mr Darroch. All they want is to be happy, to be together, they’re not asking you for anything you can’t give, only the means to let them continue being happy.’
Henry raised an eyebrow, ‘ironic really, that you have the nerve to call me cold. If they are so violently in love, then they can keep on being in love money or not.’
‘Oh, you’re impossible,’ said Prudence.
Henry returned to his desk, picked up his pen and continued to write, deliberately ignoring her presence. The constant swish of her gown told him she was moving impatiently on the other side of the desk.
‘Why are you wearing that pin again?’ asked Prudence narrowing her eyes.
‘What?’ said Henry, his fingers straying to the pin at his neck.
‘That’s not the one you usually wear, where is that old pin father gave you? I haven’t seen you wearing it for an age.’
‘I lost it, a while back, I must’ve dropped it, I don’t know.’
‘That is so typical of you,’ she snapped, ‘you don’t care about anything. That old pin was very valuable but what does it matter to you, you can just buy a new one and be done with. You don’t care that it’s something important to this family, no, to you it’s just another object you can pick up and discard as you like.’
She swished to the door and before he could say a word in his defence, the door slammed. She was gone. He rose slowly, walked to the fireplace and stoked its feeble embers. Returning to his desk he leant upon it, stooped and weary. Iron bars were pushing him back and pinning him to the wall, crushing and suffocating him. He needed to get away, away from them all, it was almost beyond endurance. He fingered the pin at his neck once more, it was a poor substitute. He knew the value of the one he’d lost, not the pounds, shillings and pence it was worth but the value to him. A reminder. He was foolish to ever have worn it all, he should have kept it safely locked away in a treasure box, but it was a reminder of happier days. Happy days when he and his father talked of his boyhood dreams, formed them into astonishing plans for greatness and laughed at the whims and caprices of his mother and sister. Now he was alone and trapped in their world, according to the law it all belonged to him but it didn’t really. He was just the nominal keeper of the cash, they were ones eternally in control. His resolution not to be bullied this time almost crashed, he saw his hand reaching for his cheque book and making over a large sum to Mr Darroch, he had the means indeed but his principles forbade it. He wondered how long he could survive before his principles were crushed to a pulp and he along with them.
If he thought Prudence would have abandoned the subject after their argument, he was wrong. He spent dinner trying to remain impassive while he was pelted, stabbed and jibbed by her and their mother. He kept his eyes squarely on his dinner, allowing them to talk themselves into oblivion. He could hardly chew, he just wanted out. He began to form a plan, it helped to take his mind elsewhere. He considered. If he bought himself a house in town he could come and go as he pleased, it would be more pleasant than staying at inns and he would never have to return to this house if he didn’t want to. Sadly, there were flaws in this plan. If they found out about it, it would no longer be his house. They would take it over as they’d already done here, it would need to be managed discreetly, perhaps without their knowledge at all.
‘Are you listening Henry? To a word we’re saying.’
Henry looked up from his half eaten dinner to see everyone at the table looking at him.
‘No mother, in all honesty, I’m not.’