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The park and grounds of Cheston were universally held to be amongst the most elegant designed for a gentleman. Indeed, more elevated persons of ton had been known to enviously remark how curious it was that such an estate had come to be owned by a mere esquire, whose family origins in trade were not buried decently enough for Society's taste. This late September morning, the light mist shimmering over the landscape outside dulled the vista which normally beckoned from the terrace, as a servant entered the imposing Library to open the blinds to the autumn sun. However, today his usually stately progress, made in disrespectful imitation of the Cheston butler, came to a sudden and panic stricken halt, for, as he remarked to a crowded Servant's Hall later, "corpses in libraries are not what I'm used to in the common way. It gave me a Real Turn", he averred, adding "I could feel an Awful Presence soon as I come in, but never in all my days could the good Lord have prepared me for the sight of that face 'n 'is 'ead near shot off". He noted with satisfaction the awed looks of the younger housemaids, including the new girl, Maria, whose large blue eyes became fixed on him with great interest at this revelation. Well, they could all pretend to be overcome with grief upstairs, but there was no sense in everyone in the House being draped in tragedy, and besides it was an unspoken common knowledge that the Lady of the House would be crying on quite a different and handsome shoulder at no distant date. The thought of Maria's comely figure requiring support over the events of the day was certainly enticing. The sudden intrusion of Mr Sweeney, the Master's secretary, enquiring if Horton had noticed a pistol lying anywhere close to hand, was an unwelcome intrusion into his reverie, as was the sudden realisation that he had seen no sign of any weapon near the body or on the papers strewn across the desk.
"Miss Edith! Miss Edith! ...Oh, where is the girl? Edith, you come out at once!"
Edith Backworth looked down from her perch in the limb of her favourite apple tree. Well screened from the vulgar gaze of passers-by on the road, she was equally well hidden from the searching scrutiny of her one-time nurse, now standing arms akimbo in the kitchen garden. For a moment longer Edith tried to ignore the summons. The August sun streaming through the leaves dappled her body with warmth, whilst the gnarled trunk at her back gave her a feeling of solid dependability. She had first climbed this tree as a broken-hearted five-year-old, and its comfort had never failed her in the fourteen years since. The copy of the Gazette she had been avidly consuming was less than half-finished. The temptation to close her ears was great, but Edith knew what the outcome would be. Suppressing a sigh, she swung down from the branch before Agnes could catch sight of the swirl of petticoats, or, even worse, a pair of shapely ankles. "There you are at last! Where have you been? No. Never mind. Your father is looking for you, and mighty put-about he is, too. You're to go directly to the study. The mail came in, and there's a letter from London."
The Errant Nephew
In the elegant blue and gold withdrawing room at Beckwith House, Lady Oliver sat perched on the edge of an inviting blue satin lounge chair, observing her nephew's miniature with a scowl on her face quite at odds with her frequent, public, avowals of affection for the Viscount. Certainly there was nothing in the miniature deserving of her scorn. It showed a fair, open, and decidedly handsome countenance, and had been held, by the boyıs late mother, to be remarkably like the Viscount Beckwith. Nor was Lady Oliver's fondness for her nephew entirely a matter of convenient fiction. She had been granted no child of her own, and deprived of her natural maternal calling had been forced to fall back upon the simpler pleasures of heckling a meek spouse to an early grave, and purporting great fondness for her only nephew. Indeed, it was from fond memories of her own wedded bliss that her current, dissatisfaction with her nephew sprang. It was intolerable that a young man, with all the recommendations of fortune, family, face, and title, should approach his thirtieth year, not only unwed, but entirely free of any consciousness of what he owed to his name. For the boy showed no concern that should he fail to produce an heir, his title and wealth must devolve upon a mere cousin, widely held to be an unworthy young man, and bearing the additional stigma of being no blood relation to Lady Oliver. Clearly perceiving her duty to guide her nephewıs errant steps toward matrimony, Lady Oliver had spared no efforts to introduce him to such young ladies of birth and breeding as should not fail to please the boy. Their evident failure to do so thus far was baffling and maddening, but under her pretensions, Lady Oliver nursed a genuine spark of fondness for her nephew, and was determined to persevere, really grudging him nothing her own stupidity and officiousness might procure for him.