فصل 05

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فصل 05

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CHAPTER FIVE

An Argument and an Arrival

I arrived home in the first week of September. I had sent letters and the servants were already dressed in black. My journey to Italy seemed like a dream.

I was glad to be home. I was responsible now for the house and estate. I had to look after them as Ambrose had done. I wanted to do my work well.

My godfather, Nick Kendall, visited me as soon as I got back.

He brought his daughter, Louise, with him. Nick Kendall had come to explain Ambrose’s will to me.

‘The house and the estate will be yours when you are twenty-five, Philip,’ he told me. ‘But for the next seven months, I am your guardian. If you want money, you must come to me. Of course, I hope, one day, you will marry. This place needs a woman, Philip.’

‘I want no woman,’ I said. ‘Ambrose married, and it killed him.’

‘My cousin Rachel left Florence the day after the funeral,’ I went on. ‘Signor Rainaldi told me. She took all Ambrose’s things with her, like a thief.’

‘You must not call your cousin’s wife a thief,’ Nick Kendall said. ‘If Ambrose had changed his will when he married, everything would now belong to her. I am surprised that your cousin Rachel has not made a claim.’

‘A claim!’ I cried. ‘But she was the cause of Ambrose’s death!’

‘Nonsense, Philip,’ said Nick Kendall. ‘Ambrose died of a brain tumour. That is why he wrote those terrible letters.’

‘I don’t believe it,’ I said.

‘You don’t want to believe it,’ my godfather replied angrily. ‘Keep those ideas to yourself, Philip. If you don’t, there will be trouble.’

I said nothing.

I did not see the Kendalls again for nearly two weeks. Then Nick Kendall asked me to go and see him. I found him in his study, a letter in his hand.

‘Well,’ he said slowly, ‘I have news for you, Philip. This is a letter from your cousin Rachel. She has come to England with Ambrose’s things. She asks for nothing. She only wants to see the house that Ambrose lived in. She is in a strange country, without a friend. You ought to see her, Philip.’

I smiled.

‘Of course I’ll see my cousin Rachel,’ I said in a hard, cold voice. ‘I want to see her very much. Tell her that when you write to her. Tell her that Philip Ashley invites his cousin Rachel to his home.’

Nick Kendall understood my feelings. ‘You have become very hard, Philip,’ he said. ‘I hope you will not say anything stupid when Mrs Ashley is here. She was your cousin’s wife. You must remember that.’

I went out into the garden and saw Louise walking there. When I told her about my cousin Rachel’s visit, she was very surprised. ‘No woman has stayed in that house for twenty years,’ Louise said. ‘Think how dusty and untidy it is!’

‘It was good enough for Ambrose,’ I said. ‘She won’t think about the house when I begin to question her! She’ll cry - and I’ll be pleased!’

But when I got home, I changed my mind. I wanted to show my cousin Rachel that I was a gentleman. I wanted her to know that I was a man who looked after his property. I spoke to the head servant, Seecombe. He agreed that the whole house must be cleaned before Mrs Ashley arrived.

‘We must make Mrs Ashley welcome,’ Seecombe said. ‘Shall I prepare Mr Ambrose’s room for her?’

‘Certainly not,’ I said. ‘I am moving into Mr Ashley’s room. Get the blue room ready for Mrs Ashley.’

On the day my cousin Rachel arrived, the house looked completely different. Everything was clean and tidy. Seecombe had got out all the silver and cleaned it. Tamlyn, the head gardener, had filled every room with flowers.

I looked around the house and then walked up slowly to the blue room. The dogs followed me. The rooms for my cousin Rachel were clean. The windows were wide open.

There was a portrait of Ambrose on one wall. It had been painted when he was a young man. He had looked very much like me. I smiled at the portrait and felt a little happier.

My cousin Rachel was going to arrive sometime in the afternoon. I decided that I did not want to be in the house when she arrived. Although the day was cold and windy, I went out alone after lunch. I walked until I was tired. I did not return until after six o’clock.

There was a fire in the library, but the room was empty. I pulled the bell and rang for Seecombe.

‘Madam has come,’ Seecombe said. ‘She is tired and is having some food in her room. She will be pleased to see you after dinner.’

‘Where is her luggage?’ I asked Seecombe.

‘Madam has very little luggage of her own,’ answered Seecombe. ‘It has been taken upstairs to her room. All of Mr Ambrose’s boxes have arrived with her. We have put them in your room, as she asked.’

So I had my dinner alone and drank a glass of brandy. Then I went upstairs and knocked at the door of my cousin Rachel’s sitting-room.

A quiet voice answered my knock.

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