A brisk knock interrupted his thoughts. “Enter.”
A footman entered, different from the night before. This one studied Gideon with naked speculation and a canny expression. “Mr. Marshall assigned me to be your manservant, you coming without one.”
Marshall. The assigning of servants should lie with the butler not the steward. Gideon knew a spy when he saw one. “What is your name?” Gideon asked.
“Jem.” The footman knelt and lit a fire. “A tray is coming. Didn’t know if you would want tea or coffee. I ordered both,” he said over his shoulder.
“I’ll join Mr. Tavernash in the breakfast room,” Gideon replied, pushing himself up. He still wore his shirt from the day before; it hung in wrinkles almost to his knees.
Jem snorted. “That one? He won’t rise before noon.”
Yet the unexpected intruder was to be rousted at dawn. If Marshall planned to make Gideon uncomfortable enough to drive him out, he’d find Gideon to be tougher than that. Planting a spy in his room was equally transparent, but Gideon could work with it. There was a middle ground. He would project his authority while sparring with Marshall and still encourage the man to underestimate him. At least for now.
Jem finished fiddling with the hearth, and stood wiping his hands together.
Gideon spoke with tones he used to keep miners in line. “Pity Tavernash is a layabout. I’m generally up at dawn, and I’ll take my meal in the family breakfast parlor. When you finish helping me dress, go down and tell cook I want my coffee strong, my eggs coddled, my ham thick, and my toast unburnt. I loathe kippers.”
Their eyes held for a moment too long and Gideon braced for open rebellion. Jem broke contact and glanced at the suit Gideon wore when he arrived, unbrushed but lying in a neat pile on the chair.
“The rest of my luggage will arrive today or tomorrow. You may unpack and press then. There is a clean shirt in my saddlebag,” Gideon said. “Help me out of this one.” He turned his back, providing this uninvited would-be valet a view of his back, and raised his arms. Jem pulled the shirt up, and a breath, raggedly sucked in, rewarded Gideon. Gideon knew what he saw and deliberately intended to give Jem something to take to his master. He withheld any comment
Gideon’s spine twisted in a sharp S. The doctor Daniel Kendrick had forced him to see in Cardiff had pronounced it the worst curvature he’d ever seen. He knew from hard experience that many folks took physical deformity as a sign of mental deficiency; Marshall could make of it what he wanted. Jem would have also discovered that Gideon’s shirts were fine linen, well made, and expensive. Unfortunately, Jem’s inspection would also feed the narrative that would flood the neighborhood. The half-wit cripple has returned.
Having made his point, Gideon dismissed the servant. He’d grown used to servants since his childhood in his mother’s tavern, but never to someone helping him dress. He certainly didn’t plan to allow the man to shave him; the last thing he needed was a razor to his throat.
The distance between rooms gave him trouble. He had left his walking stick in the baggage coach; he didn’t often resort to using it, but Mountglen’s stairs and long corridors would challenge his ability to manage without it.
Still, he found the breakfast room easily enough, grateful it hadn’t changed since he left fifteen years before. By the time he had shaved, finished dressing, and walked the length of the house to get there, his eggs were cold, greasy and congealed, the ham thin and striped with grizzle, and toast not only burnt but cold. He caught a footman lurking in the hall and sent it back.
So it begins…
Note: excerpts from works in progress may have not yet been edited, will likely undergo change, and may not even make it into the final work!