Dirty Aristocrat

By: Georgia Le Carre

If only they knew my secret. But they will never know. I will never tell.

Wordlessly, he ground his cigar into the side of the ashtray and, snapping up his little black bag, left the room. I hugged myself and thought of him entering the room, checking for signs of life in Robert’s still form. The room felt cold. I looked at the goblet of brandy he had left half-drunk and I wished for a drink, but I needed all my wits about me.

I stood by the window staring out at the darkness until Dr. Jensen’s image appeared on the glass beside me.

‘He’s stone cold,’ he accused.

The cold hostility was like a slap in my face. He would never have spoken to me like that while Robert was alive. I reacted in the only way I knew how. Aggressively. Not the way Robert had taught me, but how my mother had fought all her wars.

‘What do you expect? He is dead,’ I said.

His eyes were narrowed and suspicious. ‘How long ago since he died?’

‘He went ages ago.’

He shook his head disapprovingly. ‘You don’t do yourself any favors.’

I turned around and looked at him challengingly. ‘Would you pity me if I cried?’

‘I wouldn’t waste my pity on you. You got exactly what you wanted. It’s all yours now. Congratulations,’ he sneered.

A bead of cold sweat raced down my spine. I never wanted it. My dream was completely different. It was small and sweet and wonderfully ordinary. ‘It’s not all mine. Robert had three children.’

His smile was cold and his voice stabbed. ‘Come, come, Mrs. Maxwell, let’s not play childish games. I think we both know how this cookie will crumble. You worked bloody hard for it and now you get the lion’s share.’

I took a deep breath. This was just the beginning. Everyone was going to say this and if they did not, they were going to think it. I might as well get used to it. ‘Robert was no one’s fool. He did exactly what he wanted at all times.’

‘I’ll have to put it into my report that you did not come down to report his passing earlier.’

‘Go ahead,’ I challenged. I had nothing to fear. There was nothing anybody could do to me now.

He stared at me. ‘Why didn’t you? I might have been able to do something for him.’

‘What for, Doctor? So he could suffer the bedpan for a few more hours or days? He had enough. He wanted to go.’

‘Careful, Mrs. Maxwell, you’re revealing your true self and it’s not a pretty sight. I suggest a little more subterfuge,’ he said scornfully.

It was at the tip of my tongue to rage at him, but what would be the point? Robert was gone, and I was alone in a poisonous environment.

‘Perhaps it would be better if you left,’ I told him.

We stared at each other. I couldn’t understand why he was suddenly so openly hostile.

His lip curled. ‘What an excellent suggestion.’

With my insides churning and my heart troubled, I watched him stalk out of the room. When I could no longer hear the tread of his shoes, I turned around and carried on staring at the night. It had begun to snow. Soft, beautiful, big flakes. If it carried on it would be a winter wonderland tomorrow.

The butler, James, came in.

I saw his reflection in the glass and turned around to face him. He had been with Robert for twenty years. His bearing, as always, was erect and stiff.

He coughed politely.

‘What is it, James?’ I asked. My voice sounded tired and listless.

‘I’m sorry, Ma’am, but I couldn’t help overhearing. It used to break his heart to think of you alone in this den of vipers. You have to find a way to be nice to them. You can’t carry on like this.’ His voice was grave.

I hugged myself. The quiet strength of James seemed to cross the room and calm down my chaotic thoughts and feelings. ‘I know, James. I know I’m not doing myself any favors. Why can’t they see how much I loved him?’

‘It doesn’t matter what they think, Mam. The master always knew.’

I smiled sadly. ‘Yes, he knew.’

He nodded. ‘Can I get you something to drink, Mam? A pot of tea perhaps?’

‘A pot of tea sounds lovely. Thank you, James.’

‘Very good, Mam.’ He bowed in that old-fashioned way of his. I never thought man-servants like him existed outside of books. In fact, when I first came to this house, it shocked me to learn that he carefully ironed any little creases out of the morning newspapers before he brought it up to Robert. He was already at the door when I opened my mouth and called to him.

He turned around, his expression polite and helpful. ‘Yes, Mam.’

‘Thank you. Thank you for everything you did for Robert,’ I said.

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