The beautiful garden was blighted. Branches and twigs littered the previously immaculate lawn, the early leaves stripped from the boughs and a large entirely uprooted tree lay still amongst its remaining fellows. Camilla and Prudence watched the scene from the drawing room.
‘There are no forces more destructive than that of nature,’ said Camilla, ‘that tree has been there longer than me and yet there it is flattened by a few gusts of wind.’
‘That was considerably more than a few gusts of wind, mother,’ said Prudence, ‘I thought the house was going to come down around our ears.’
‘Yes, it was ferocious. I wonder, perhaps it’s a warning.’
Prudence was surprised at such a fantastical whim in her mother.
‘To remind me that no matter how strong we think we are, we are all fallible.’
Prudence rolled her eyes, it wasn’t fantasy just her mother’s morbid sense of her own mortality. She looked beyond once more, the sun was now shining robustly making a mockery of the upturned grounds. The figures of Henry and Katy strolled into view. Henry appeared to be showing her features of the fallen beauty, perhaps explaining how he would manage the clearance operation but Prudence suspected a ruse. Henry would know they were watching, she suspected their every move. Their all too frequent tête-à-têtes seemed to indicate something worse, a plot of some sort though she couldn’t determine what. The most likely seemed the removal of herself and her daughters, perhaps even now they were actually deciding on how to do it or what method would be most painful to her and most satisfactory for them. The very idea made Prudence narrow her eyes in anger, she felt deep-rooted loathing for both of them though especially her brother.
Even as a boy he’d been insufferable, always such a know it all, so intellectual, so correct in his manners. He need only to breath and their father would expound how perfectly he was managing it. His demise had been timely. The father removed meant the son lost his advantage. The mother was easy to manipulate, especially with the son so frequently gone, he was unable to defend himself.
‘I wonder,’ said Camilla, her eyes trained also on the pair in the garden, ‘perhaps Henry has a good reason for his behaviour.’
‘What do you mean,’ said Prudence, she felt a little betrayed, was her mother seriously going to defend him?
‘His obstinacy at not telling us about the young lady’s background, the surprising way she was announced to us, perhaps there is a reason for it that we can’t yet understand.’
‘Indeed there is,’ said Prudence, ‘it’s obvious, she’s a girl of low breeding that he’s been having his way with, I thought we’d decided on the matter.’
‘I don’t doubt that she’s of poor breeding, though she is very presentable on the whole, but if he’d had his way with her as you say, I should’ve expected to see some evidence by now. There seems little point in marrying such a girl, unless she’s in a certain condition. Even then it seems unlikely, Henry never seemed to me to be a man to take on someone so lightly, after all, what proof could there be? Why not simply avoid any humiliation by denying all knowledge of the girl, I daresay men do it all the time.’
‘I daresay they do, but what are you implying?’
‘Well, it seems to me more likely that she’s a girl of low origin that Henry has taken a fancy to. There seems indeed to be a good deal of understanding between the two. I don’t recall seeing Henry ever so considerate towards a woman and the young lady is a more than devoted companion. Perhaps we have been overtly unkind, we may have failed to understand that this is a case of true affection.’
Prudence sighed, ‘you may think that if you wish mother, but you will not change my opinion. Indeed, I am saddened that you have come to that conclusion because I think you’ve fallen directly into their trap. I’m sure they wish us to believe they are deeply attached to one and other, but I fear it is not true.’
‘But why? Why would they plan such an elaborate deception? What motive could they possibly have for deceiving us?’
‘That is what I intend to find out,’ said Prudence, ‘I am already making investigations of my own about the origins of the young lady. I’m sure her coming here is part of a plot, something is going on here and I fully intend to get the bottom of what it is.’
Writing letters to all her acquaintances in town and beyond was her first scheme. Since discovering the particulars of the wedding from her eldest daughter, she was at least in possession of the young lady’s full name, they had also gleaned the information that she had at one time attended a girls’ school in Edinburgh. Prudence flicked through the hand embellished book at her writing table, the one that contained the addresses and cards of her acquaintances far and wide. Each time she saw anyone connected with Edinburgh, she began scribing.
Someone must surely know something and knowledge was very definitely power in the hands of Prudence Calder.
Her mother’s change of allegiance was not only unexpected but irritating. The thought of Henry becoming someone important in her eyes niggled away at Prudence. Seeing him smug in the knowledge that she could no longer get to him without offending their mother played on her mind. Worse though, was the idea of that pretentious young woman usurping her, that impostor taking over and gaining favour when she had no right. There was no doubt in Prudence’s mind, that girl was playing a game and no matter how well she acted the part she would be discovered. She was doing a fine job at pretending to be the devoted wife, she was very convincing and she had now succeeded in convincing Mrs Cranston but Prudence understood her. She was being paid for her services, that was evident. Her fine clothes and the gifts Henry lavished her with were all part of the scheme, payment for services rendered. They couldn’t fool her though, that was how it was and without a doubt, how it had always been and it would not be borne under this roof. She would not suffer some base born upstart taking over as mistress of the home she’d lived in since she was a child. She’d lived in a new home with her husband but since his early demise it seemed sensible to return here. She couldn’t imagine anywhere else suiting her better.