Own & Strangers is a novel set in Victorian England and Colonial Calcutta.
The hand scarcely glides past eight that the efficient maids of Hillings Hall scurry about the breakfast table with hot teapots and freshly brewed coffee. The warmth of the baked bread was evident through the smoke whirling out of the loaf, which the maid carefully places on the table. She takes a step back and, as if discreetly, admires the layout. A faint glow seeped through her creased skin to mark her appeasement.
For the present, none other than the maid had permission to touch it. As if wanting to make her authority over the bread even more obvious, she unhurriedly cuts the first slice before the silent spectators, and serves it to the person sitting at the head of the table – the Mistress of the household, Lady Mary Baronstone.
As the Mistress starts her breakfast, the remainder of the family, Philip and Caroline, begin theirs. That was the custom at Hillings Hall.
Members of the family must be present at the table by eight for breakfast. This was one of many rules of the household. All members were expected to obey.
‘Have you settled the dispute?’ Lady Baronstone asks her son, Philip.
She spoke almost indifferently, as if the question was merely a formality. She expected one response.
‘Yes,’ Philip confidently answers. ‘The matter is perfectly resolved and the outstanding balance should be received today.’
Lady Baronstone continued her breakfast unaffectedly. He received no praise or recognition for resolving the recent crisis that struck Hillings Hall estate. Her face was expressionless as ever and her green eyes, though transparent, shielded her feelings tightly. In observation, she portrayed a woman much older than her age could protest. The locals knew her as ‘the aged’, and good reason they had for the unkind naming. Her late husband, Sir Edward Baronstone, passed away from consumption almost thirteen years ago, leaving her to take guard of his Hampshire estate. The estate’s length of survival has earned it a prominent name in the county. However, where wealth came in excess supply, Lady Baronstone’s youth vanished equally fast. Her hair, once ebony dark, has faded into dusty greys and expressive whites, as if each strand deliberately wanted every observer to know of the tribulations she encountered to achieve the fading colours. The responsibility of the estate and the embracement of widowhood from a young age had aged her prematurely. It is difficult to take heed, but this very face once carried the much-envied beauty in her youth. Sir Edward Baronstone was one of the few that had the fortunes to behold such creatures. Many stipulated that after her husband’s death, Lady Baronstone’s countenance changed drastically for the worse. Her temper once tolerable, now only needed an excuse to rise. Her smile was lost somewhere, and no occasion seemed worthy enough to permit her lips to the privilege.
She had two sons from her marriage, Philip and Nicholas Baronstone. They were twelve and nine when their father passed away. The estate’s workload fell directly into Lady Baronstone’s chief care, and as a result, the two boys became distant from their mother, growing mostly under their governess’s care.
‘The nurse and doctor will be here at ten for your check-up,’ Lady Baronstone informs, glancing at Caroline’s swollen abdomen.
Caroline is five months pregnant. The child had been conceived having encountered many complications. After two miscarriages, and now almost two years after her marriage, she has finally given the Baronstones what they desired from her the most – the next heir to the estate. Almost two years of her marriage went by dissatisfying the estate in her failed attempts to bear a child. Now that she has secured her mother-in-law’s desires, Lady Baronstone was almost confirmed that she is carrying a boy.
‘You are most kind ma’am,’ Caroline obliges.
A silence ensued, interrupted soon by a maid’s entrance. She carried a small envelope in her hand. Lady Baronstone stretches her eager gaze towards the cream envelope, noticing the familiar red waxed seal, embedded with the initials “N.B”.
A small smile flickers through her otherwise expressionless face, but she removes it quickly before another detects it. ‘Telegram for Lady Baronstone,’ informs the maid.
Taking the small scrap of paper out of the sealed envelope, Lady Baronstone reads to herself the single lined message, each word written in the familiar handwriting. “On my way.”
The message was from Nicholas. He has been practicing law in a renowned firm of Cape Town for the last two years. His experience and improvement in the field will be of beneficial use once he applies his full time to the estate alongside Philip. He has made the occasional trip to home to see family and friends. However, last year went without seeing a glimpse of him. Boundaries of employment seldom grants earners leniency in social necessities. His increase in workload and success restricted his leisurely time greatly. But now that his practice reached a suitable conclusion, he could return home permanently. A ball was held in honour of his return. This telegram was a notification to his present whereabouts and further reassurance that he will make it to the ball this evening. He arrived in Southampton last night. The hour not recommending any further travels, he stayed overnight at an inn. It was his unyielding request to have none come to receive him. He wanted to come home - not be taken home.
Philip and Caroline waited impatiently to hear the telegrammed news.
‘Nicholas will be attending the ball,’ Lady Baronstone answers, quickly turning her brief bout of excitement to an apparent calmness, despite her heart filled with all the natural motherly joys. Caroline smiled delightedly, but she noticed a bleakness overcoming Philip. ‘Donate another hundred pounds,’ Lady Baronstone orders Philip, ‘for the blessing of Nicholas’s safe comings.’
He merely managed a nod in reply.
With breakfast finished, everyone ushers off towards their respective duties. While Caroline takes a rest before the doctor’s examination and Lady Baronstone accosts herself in the study, Philip heads for the local church at Basingstoke to pass on the cheque of hundred pounds.
There is a heavy feeling residing in his chest as he passes the cheque to Father Gibson. He cannot quite contemplate the reasons to the uprising of these feelings, or so he chooses not to. In an effort to neglect the truth of his shameful feelings, he sits down at a bench and prays quietly for peace. His efforts go to vain. In a place as holy as this, he cannot seem to perish the familiar feelings of jealousy for his brother, Nicholas.
Nicholas will once again receive all the attention, he helplessly admits. The realisation hit him hard and the thoughts circled in his mind exhaustlessly. There has a strange, undeclared competition between him and Nicholas since their father’s death. Nicholas always outdid him. Despite being the eldest, it was Nicholas who took Lady Baronstone’s precedence. Like himself, Nicholas was also sent to Oxford to attain his degree. Like himself, Nicholas too was sent away to South Africa to train as a lawyer. Yet even with the distance, Nicholas somehow managed to become that which his own efforts resulted to no avail - his attachment to Lady Baronstone. He alone achieved Lady Baronstone’s love and attention.
As her eldest son, he tried everything within his ability to not give Lady Baronstone any reason to complain of his actions or decisions, devoting the majority of his time to the workload of the estate. He ensured to take those actions which will benefit the family before they were asked of him. He did not want much in return, but merely a few words of acknowledgement from Lady Baronstone. Yet she turned a blind eye towards his initiative and efforts. He continuously failed to achieve his mother’s attention. Sometimes he found it difficult to place his position within the family. Claiming Lady Baronstone negligent will be harsh, yet there was insufficient illustration of her affections to claim her to the contrary. He grew accustomed to her cold countenance, which she seemed to only express towards him. She ordered him, but requested decisions from Nicholas. She demanded him to fulfil actions, but wished it of Nicholas. If he failed, then he would be deemed disgraceful and incompetent. But Nicholas would not fail. He was never asked to do any such tasks that had any scope for failures.
His marriage too became a game of chess, another attempt to win Lady Baronstone’s approval, to offer himself as a worthy son. Caroline was the daughter of a newspaper publication chief, based in Winchester. Her father, Sir Harlington, was the chief editor of the publication. He had two daughters with Lady Harlington, among whom Caroline was the eldest. Lady Baronstone had her heart set on his marriage with Caroline shortly before his arrival from South Africa. There was much to gain from this alliance. With no heirs to Sir Harlington’s name, he would receive Caroline’s share of inheritance when the appropriate time called for it. Lady Baronstone could not let the opportunity pass.
To the casual onlooker they appeared like any ordinary married couple, but behind the displayed frame, there lay many compromises, which pinned the perfect picture. He did not love her, and he shamelessly made it obvious several times before Caroline.
Sat here, he foolishly sought peace. He was not in any conflict to seek peace. He was confused. He wanted clarity, to understand the reasons behind Lady Baronstone’s conduct towards him. Perhaps there was no such conduct. Perhaps he truly has proved himself an unworthy son.
By seven in the evening, the ballroom was full. The elegantly dressed women sat on the comfortable chairs to give their tired feet a quick rest, before resuming to another dance with their partners. Caroline watched the merriment from afar. It was Lady Baronstone’s orders. She wished to prevent any mishap with the baby. Too many losses were already endured to risk any more chances.
An air of gloominess surrounded her, partly because her husband was dancing happily with other women, but mostly because she was aware of his bitterness about Nicholas. He has let the truth slip a few times when man’s consciousness was weakened by the occasional drink. Under this encouragement, Philip unknowingly made the mistake of releasing his deepest dislike for his brother. But he looked happy as he danced. She cannot recall the last time his face was this full of animation. Sometimes to forget the pain one gets from their own, they needed to indulge in the joys of strangers.
Tired from the dancing, Philip takes a glass of cold white wine, relishing the refreshing taste as he leans against a pillar. Studying the room casually, he catches his wife’s gaze upon him. Sat alone and unaccompanied at a table in the distance, she keeps her stare fixed with his, her cloudy grey eyes immersing into his without the slightest flicker. He sees the silent tempest in them, feeling her yearning so accurately that it almost felt as if it were his own. Yet he knows he is helpless. She was a true gift in beauty and temper, and had he not cast his purposeful gaze on her, then Caroline could have married someone who was of purer integrity to return her love deservedly. There were times when he did believe his affections were equal to hers, but more often than not, he knew that she was merely a step to advance his fortune, and prove his obedience as a son.
‘Do I have to ask?’ enters a soft voice from behind, interrupting his absent thoughts. ‘Or do you wish to comfort yourself by staring at your wife?’
It was Heather.
Dressed fittingly for an event of this standard, none could suspect that she did not belong here, amongst their class.
‘How did you know about the ball?’ Philip asks agitatedly.
‘Men talk a lot in London,’ she answers with a complacent smile.
She extends her lithe arms in a gesture to have Philip accompany her to a dance. He felt compelled to receive it.
‘Why are you here?’ he asks through the forced steps of their dance.
‘I am here as a reminder,’ she explains, a faint threat distinctly audible in her voice. ‘You have not settled my services. My account looks rather bleak. You said you needed two weeks, but it has been over a month now.’
‘I wrote to you,’ he informs her in a low voice. ‘I have not forgotten your payments – you will have your worth.’
‘Do not forget, Mr Baronstone,’ she warns him again, ‘that those who stand high in society are often those who are most exposed to vulnerabilities. I would very much be displeased if your good reputation should suffer from my mouth.’
He notes well the warning note in her voice. They continued to dance. He prayed it to end quickly, but Heather was determined on the contrary.
He became aware of certain men’s nervousness rising on recognising Heather. Frightening glances flew about the room at her attendance. He was not the only man that has sought his broken heart to be mended by her who pleasures herself in many hearts. Some of her other regular companions are also amongst them. They carefully kept their distance from her lest their illegitimate affairs should fall on society’s suspicions. ‘I see your poor wife sits alone at her table,’ she teases in apparent concern. ‘She should be at least worth your sympathy, Mr Baronstone.’
He did not flicker at her words. He could not argue with her words. They carried much conviction that he could not think of any reply. He continued dancing instead, hoping the night would end soon.
Lady Baronstone kept her gaze expectantly at the door, full of animated hope that her son would arrive soon. She wanted to be the first who welcomes him. ‘Did Nicholas mention a time of his arrival?’ asks Lady Melinda Tavakol, glancing impatiently about the room, as if Nicholas may appear suddenly.
‘No,’ replies Lady Baronstone having kept a small pause and an unaffected look, despite her gaze eagerly at the doors.
‘That is the problem with sending children abroad for a long time,’ continued Lady Tavakol, her green eyes fixed upon Lady Baronstone, ‘they forget the good manners of an English upbringing,’ she pauses for effect. ‘Or perhaps,’ she adds in meaningful tones, ‘the root was not strong enough to begin with in order to endure a slight change in wind.’
Lady Baronstone kept an unaffected look at the directed words. ‘Indeed,’ she answers at length, ‘I could not agree more. Look at us for example. Despite having the same parents and brought up in the same environment, we turned out rather differently.’
Lady Tavakol reddens with anger. ‘Perhaps –’ but whatever Lady Tavakol was about to say drowns in the sudden accumulation of silence. The women from the table all look up to see what matter brings the liveliness to such muteness. Their eyes follow the direction of everyone else’s, landing at the entrance. A tall obscure figure stood still at the doors. Being of weak eyesight, Lady Baronstone was unable to comprehend the person in the distance. The figure gradually advances into the ballroom. He removes his hat and his dark hair slowly falls to her familiarity. She meets the familiar pair of green eyes, and recalls his mischief. A smile surfaces on her lips, and her arms spread wide to embrace her dear son.
‘Surprised?’ asks Nicholas who has a broad grin plastered on his chiselled face.
Lady Baronstone and Nicholas decided to sit themselves in a quiet area of the ballroom hoping to get reacquainted.
‘Stunned,’ begins Lady Baronstone, who eventually finds the strength in her body ‘is a more appropriate term to use. Your skin looks darker,’ she adds examining his face, which has gone many shades warmer.
‘I am quite pleased with it actually,’ he laughs it off. ‘I look much better than the pale face.’
‘So it all went well?’
‘Absolutely! But I’m glad to be home. In fact, I’m just in time to become an uncle. I am to be an uncle!’
‘Yes, you are,’ Lady Baronstone says distractedly. ‘But now that you are here, we need to discuss far more important matters – namely your marriage. There is someone – ’
‘Mother,’ cuts in Nicholas, realising he was probably being rude interrupting like this, ‘I do not want to think about marriage anytime soon. I only arrived today,’ he says in an unavoidable irritation. ‘I want to spend some time not working, not thinking about anything. Just want to take it easy. You can understand, can’t you?’
Lady Baronstone did not understand, but she did not want to profess the truth either. Her son just arrived today, and she did not want to be the reason for any regret. She will have to determine on another method to get Nicholas’s agreement to marriage.
‘Philip! My dear brother!’
Philip turns around reluctantly. His brotherly feelings gradually defeated the quiet resentments that have been warming in his heart, allowing him to embrace Nicholas as a brother should.
‘I am very well,’ he confirms Nicholas’s query after his health.
An awkward silence passes between them. Philip tries to ignore it by staring into his glass. This uneasiness was not any less apparent to Nicholas either. ‘Where is Caroline?’ he asks in an effort to continue their conversation. He looks about the room searchingly, when an unfamiliar face addresses him instead.
A woman, lacking neither beauty nor modesty, offers him her satin-gloved hand. ‘It is said,’ she says, ‘that if you search hard enough, be certain then to receive your just due.’
‘It seems I have,’ he confesses, admiring her undisputable beauty. ‘But I make a point of accepting the hands of unknown women,’ he teases.
‘Then I must make myself known. But I should be glad to know everything I came to know about you is true.’
‘Well, good qualities do not remain hidden for long,’ says he, holding her gaze tightly.
Philip becomes instantly aware of Nicholas’s familiar flirtatious humour. Any moment now, he will be dancing with this woman and once again be the centre of attention.
‘Samantha Milton,’ she informs him of her good name. ‘I hope your arrogance will not spoil the joyful air in this room.’
‘Of course not,’ says he, accepting her hand, ‘But you did forgot to add one more quality on your colourful portrayal of me.’
‘I am ever so curious to know what that is,’ Samantha teasingly beseeches.
‘My charms,’ he adds with a meaningful glint readable in his eyes. ‘And I have plenty of it. Shall we, Miss Milton?’
Hand in hand, they walk towards the centre of the room to join the other dancing couples. ‘How strange, is it not, sir?’ Heather asks, having followed the whole conversation with interestedly. ‘One brother dare not touch a woman who is unknown to him. And the other . . .,’ she looks at him accusingly, a wicked smile smeared across her face. She is aware that she touched a nerve, but he hid the pain the well. ‘You would know,’ Philip remarks meaningfully, before walking away.
‘They have met then,’ the jolly Sir Milton interjects, seeing his daughter and Nicholas dancing together. ‘Good news for all.’
‘Yes,’ Lady Baronstone agrees, deeply satisfied at the outcome. ‘It is.’
Sir Milton is a reputable industrialist. He has been in the East Asia trade business for over thirty years. His father too used to be a tradesman in the East India Company. He had many valuable assets to his name, mills, factories and warehouses in India and England. To accentuate his assets further, he had an amicable daughter. Samantha Milton will be the perfect addition to the Baronstone’s portfolio.
‘I shall be heading to Calcutta next Thursday,’ Sir Milton announces. ‘Some urgent business needs attending. Once the monsoon season begins, any travel will become difficult. I shall be taking Lady Milton and the children with me. Of course, when the weather becomes unbearably hot they will travel up to Darjeeling.’
Standing beside her husband, Lady Milton looks on approvingly.
‘That sounds excellent,’ Lady Baronstone replies, attempting to hide her disappointment. She had hoped Nicholas and Samantha would spend some more time in each other’s company.
Being an astute man, Sir Milton heard the disappointment in her voice. ‘Unless of course,’ he suggests, ‘you would like Nicholas to join us?’
Lady Baronstone’s eyes twinkle at the thoughtful suggestion, but she kept her relief hidden.
Sir and Lady Milton had two children, Luke and the very colourful Miss Samantha Milton. When Lady Baronstone sought Samantha for her son, Sir and Lady Milton had little reason to disagree. Belonging to Hampshire themselves, they are in knowledge of the late Sir Baronstone’s good name. The positive reputation of the Baronstones escaped no one’s admission, and it would only increase the value of the Miltons’ recognition if the two families formed a permanent and official relation.
‘They do seem perfect,’ Lady Milton remarks, watching Nicholas and Samantha admirably as they danced in the distance.
‘Yes,’ Lady Baronstone agrees absently. Her mind wanders into a distant memory, reminiscing in a forgotten, bitter past. ‘They most certainly were.’
There was a knock on the door at six-thirty am sharp and Nicholas wakes with a start. There truly is no place like home. These were his first words when he greets the rays of the late spring sun. They strived to overcome the obstructions of the drawn curtains, and he deliberately kept their struggles on-going. With his sleeping pattern still accustomed to the time in South Africa, he first woke up an hour and a half ago, believing it was half-seven, the time he usually awoke throughout last year. ‘Come in’ he beckoned his morning caller while still accosted in the comfort of his bed. His mornings were usually slow and sleepy, but here he felt there would never be the need to sleep again. Mrs Gearing, the most senior maid of Hillings Hall, promptly enters into the room, offering him the usual morning greetings. Placing the jug and wash bowl on the table top, she draws back the thick curtains, finally allowing the struggling light to enter the room in its abundance. Each ray instantly hits his eyes as if the sun specifically rose for his purpose. Still lying in his bed, he stretches his gaze towards the window, trying to make out the shape of the clouds - a shared obsession he had as his father. To his astonishment, he could not see a single cloud. The sky was a clear, dazzling blue, twinkling under the spread of the sun. It was the early days of May and the weather was as radiant as ever, although of little comparison against the likes of South Africa. ‘Ah, a lovely fresh morning sir,’ Mrs Gearing says following the Baronstone’s eyes and admiring the weather herself. At length, he climbed out of his bed with nothing on except a pair of cotton pants, which he often wore in South Africa as a substitute for his night suit. ‘Sir, you wear nothing,’ Mrs Gearing scolds. ‘Very un-gentlemanlike.’
He flashes a little smile before walking over to a chair to pick up his dressing robe, ‘It was stuffy here last night, so I thought I wear what I always wore to bed in South Africa. The hot days can be fatal to a man’s health. And,’ he adds as an afterthought, his green eyes twinkling to put the shimmering rays to completion. ‘I can only imagine what it does to a woman.’ A smirk gently curls on his lips, and noting the shameful meaning behind his words, Mrs Gearing rebukes his lack of modesty as she helps him into his robe. ‘You have grown to be quite a man, if it is not too bold to say,’ she says examining her young Master’s toned shoulders.
‘Can all women recognise that?’ he enquires in an unmistakable look of satisfaction. ‘Or is it just the wise ones?’
‘Well, you must remember sir, when you left you were quite flimsy. You cannot help but let us poor wise women notice such an elaborate change and that too in a year.’ He walks towards the floor-mounted mirror and makes a crucial study of his stubbly face. ‘I need a good shave. I have not unpacked either - detest that part. Can you –,’ but scarcely could he complete his request that Mrs Gearing immediately reached his luggage spread on the floor, expertly starting to unpack his bureau. ‘I heard the ball went very nicely yesterday,’ she remarks. ‘Also heard you danced with Miss Milton at least three times,’ she raises her eyebrows at his reflection questioningly. He was still stood in front of the mirror, now examining his tired eyes. The lengthy examination led him to catch Mrs Gearing’s meaningful stare, provoking another smile to adorn his face. ‘Well, you did only say dance,’ he emphasises as if for his own reassurance, and to remove any doubts Mrs Gearing may be carrying.
He splashes his face with some water, which Mrs Gearing brought with her in the jug, while she leaves the room with an obvious smirk dominating her face. For now it is, she contemplates having heard the speculations roaming Hillings Hall. Soon it will not only be dances with Miss Milton…
Nine in the morning sharp and the Baronstone family members have all breakfasted and headed for their usual task the day brought them. Philip prepared for his leave to London to attend some business matter, while Carol has been advised to bed-rest after complaining of giddiness. In their absence, Lady Baronstone accosted herself in the library, and for a short while remained there alone before beckoning Nicholas‘s attendance too. He was informed there was some urgent matter that Lady Baronstone desired to discuss with him in private, but the exact nature of this urgent matter only just fell to his knowledge. ‘Here are the tickets,’ Lady Baronstone says handing him a single first class ticket on the SS Great Britain for Calcutta. ‘The ship is set to sail for four in the afternoon...’
He studies the papers distastefully, as if some incurable disease plagued them. ‘But mother,’ he attempts a reasoning that could refuse him from this journey, ‘I just don’t understand what matter can be so important that it requires me going to India. Why can’t Philip take care of this matter instead. Surely he is more familiar of the Miltons’ business than I am?’
She has informed Nicholas of her plans to send him to India. Having spent the whole night awake trying to methodise tricks and ideas to send Nicholas away with the Miltons, she eventually came up with the indisputable reason that his legal assistance to the Miltons was much required in India. The Miltons visit to Calcutta was primarily taken in order to open their new cotton factory, for which Sir Milton specifically requested his legal advices regarding one of their cotton trading policy. Sir Milton believes his fresh approach will benefit the company greatly. The Miltons’ new cotton factory cannot begin operating until the legal issues have been fully resolved.
Lady Baronstone found this opportunity too profound to let it pass without a final attempt of persuasion. Nicholas will not agree to marriage, but if circumstances can be invented to have him reconsider his decision then a design must be put in place. Spending time alone with Miss Milton carried the hopes of developing his attractions, which he clearly illustrated throughout the ball last night, into strong affections. She cared not for the honesty or integrity in her designs, and unashamedly had only one purpose in mind. The struggles, which the Baronstone’s estate is currently encountering, are somehow kept unknown to the public eye. But the Miltons possessed the strong hope of recovery, and forming family relations with them can secure the Baronstone estate in more ways than just wealth. Their connections with judges and influence on laws will prove beneficial to the estate, including the large dowry, which Miss Milton will doubtless bring for the Baronstones.
‘Philip has a lot to do,’ she explains. ‘Besides, he needs to be here with Caroline. We have had far too many problems already with her pregnancy. I do not wish to risk her health again - you saw for yourself how poor she looked this morning. Besides, it will do you good to see India. The country has a lot to offer. I am sure you will agree once you are there.’
So exasperated he became that words were insufficient to express appropriately, yet remain undecided on whether or not he should surface his annoyance. He did not have the heart to refuse his mother’s offer, but was not entirely set on this trip either. He just arrived home and plans are already underway to send him away again. ‘I will not know anyone there,’ he attempts in a last plea to stay here.
‘Nonsense,’ Lady Baronstone exclaims. ‘The Miltons will be with you throughout your trip. Miss Milton will also be with you. She is very good company. Besides, there is no point in acquiring knowledge and seeking no opportunity to practice it in challenging environments. The Baronstones do not just learn. We are –’
‘– the practical people,’ he helpfully completes the sentence on his mother’s behalf. ‘We always do and not just say.’
‘Precisely,’ she smiles sweetly at her son‘s initiative. ‘I would not want you to disappoint the Baronstone family tradition. You have one week to pack. I hope you did not entirely unpack your luggage.’
‘Yes, I did,’ he clarifies with notable irritation in his voice. ‘But you know mother,’ he continues, suddenly unable to stop his irritation from surfacing, ‘it does seem as if I am only ever living out of my luggage. I have only come home for not even a day and you have already planned in sending me away.’ His voice rises uncontrollably. ‘If that was the case then you should never have –’ he stops himself abruptly.
A feeling of incredible shame overcomes him, realising him of his uncouth behaviour. ‘This is ridiculous,’ he thought. He has just returned home and already showing differences. Mind and temper quickly cooling, he began to approach Lady Baronstone’s request with more consideration. His mother sought his best interest, he belatedly appreciates the reasoning. She is trying to place his foot firmly in positions that could assist his future standing, and how does he repay her generosity?
Was it not enough that he has objected his mother’s request once already that he should have the audacity to refuse again? His mother unreservedly agreed to his decision of not wanting to marry, sacrificed her desires and looked for ways to progress his career instead. It will be inconsiderate of him to object her request again.
She noticed his anger and understood the provocations behind it. For a moment, she was weakened, and almost considered agreeing to his pleas. However, she knew better than to give motherly affections priority. The Miltons’ alliance with the Baronstones is much important, especially in witness of the estate’s financial affairs. Sir Milton was a doting father and she assessed this as his key weakness, of which she intended to take advantage. His concerns for his daughter’s happiness served a crucial point in her schemes. She wanted to take Nicholas into her confidence and share with him the real purpose of sending him away. She wanted to tell him why she wills him to marry Miss Milton. But she dared not bring those reasons to mouth. Speaking of subjects that only her and her lawyer had any knowledge of was not free from dangers. ‘Fine mother,’ he placates. ‘As you wish.’
Clenching the tickets tightly in his grasp, he stalks out of the room, muttering something under his hot breath that she could not quite make out.