Thursday, February 22nd, 2018
In the middle of the next morning, Annis saw a small carriage pull into the yard. Two strange-looking gentlemen were met by Mr. Devane at the door. They were clearly known to him and he, to them. He then took them into the parlor to meet with her mother.
One of them gave the appearance of a clerk, but the other was of a more arresting appearance. He was of less-than-average size but made up for it in his barrel-like chest and long arms. He was a man who would be difficult to forget. He had a severely misshapen face, and his hands were difficult to regard as hands, for they seemed to have suffered damage in some way and were mostly scarred and with difficult-to-sort-out fingers on them. When she bumped into him in the corridor, she noticed those details, but especially his eyes. His eyes looked straight into one’s own without flinching away and were perhaps small and even beady, but he smiled pleasantly enough at her, revealing gaps in his mouth where teeth were missing. He would not be easy to intimidate in any circumstance she reckoned. She had an uneasy feeling about him. One would not wish to meet him on a dark night, nor would one wish to antagonize him.
They obviously intended to stay for some time, as their horses had been put away. She would have given anything to have been invited into their conversation, but her mother had closed the door after them once they had gone into the parlor.
She persuaded Molly that she would see to refreshments for her mother and the three gentlemen in the parlor, as a means of listening in upon their conversation but found that the conversation had briefly stopped as she entered the room and did not continue, and then only in a lower tone once she had left. The door to the parlor was also closed behind her once again. The more rugged and weather-beaten of the two gentlemen had been sitting in the window nursing a beer and playing with a small clay pipe in his fingers as he had watched out of the window. William, her mother, and the other slight gentleman, for he was amazingly thin once he had got rid of his outer coat, were sitting at the parlor table conversing together over several papers when she had intruded with the tea tray.
After about a half hour of conversation, the more studious looking of the two gentlemen accompanied William into her father’s study while the other man walked off about the gardens, speaking briefly with Thomas before he then walked off down the lane in the direction of the squire’s property. Within five minutes, he had turned about and walked off in the other direction to the small village some distance down the road. He paused often and looked about himself. It seemed that nothing of any importance would escape his eyes, and yet he had not given the impression of knowing anything, for he had not said more than two or three words that she had been aware of to anyone other than perhaps to Thomas. He paused and lit up a pipe with great ceremony at one stage as he looked around himself before he had gone far, and then rambled on down the track.
The next thing she noticed was that some two hours or more later, the horses were once more harnessed to the carriage; and the two gentlemen, if they could be described as that, loaded two of her father’s smaller trunks; brought down from the attic; into it, and then drove off as they had arrived. She had not even noticed the older man come back from his walk, yet she had watched for him.
When she went into the parlor, her mother was weeping over a copy of the Gazette that the gentlemen had brought.
“What is it, Mama?”
“The notice of your father and Bella, my dear.”
“Oh yes. I wrote to our relatives in London to let them know of what had happened that first day when I wrote to William and others. I did not expect them to be able to break away on such short notice to attend the funeral, but they did ensure that it was recorded properly in the Gazette.”
“So that is why all the blackguards are now suddenly descending upon us.”
“And which blackguards might those be? I have seen none yet.” Her mother had bristled at her description.
“Blackguards might be the wrong word, but who were those two men? They seemed too secretive and furtive for honest men. What did they want? What did they take with them? Why all the secrecy? You all went quiet when I came in with the tray. Why was there any need for any secrecy from me?”
“Yes, I thought you were hovering too close and that you’d be itching to know who they were and the rest of it, but you need not be burdened by any of that just at the moment. I will tell you more later. They are Mr. Gilbey—he was once known to your father, Grinder Gilbey—quite a famous man at one time, though it might be hard to believe that, I know. The other is Mr. Diebold, perhaps not so well known. For he is methodical, quiet, and studious. But I think he prefers it that way.
“If he is, as you say methodical, quiet and studious, perhaps that is because he can neither hear nor speak well with those features of his. Was that not a cauliflower ear that he has?”
Mr. Gilbey is the one with the rough features, my dear, though I believe I heard your father also mention him as being methodical in his approach and quiet enough, without show or bluster so that he often lulled others into not appreciating his true abilities until it was too late for them. He was once a famous prize fighter whom your father followed quite excitedly some ten years gone. He had what was once described as a murderously unexpected left, I believe, and delivered with the speed of lightning and entirely without it being signaled.” Annis shivered at considering the violence of it all. “Quite impressed your father, though I was not of the same mind about such brutality.” She had a pained look on her face for a moment. “The other gentleman is the unassuming and quiet one, but quiet in a different way. Very strange men, but I found that I liked them both, and was inclined to trust them.
“As for the reason they were here, William suggested I meet with them, at least with Mr. Diebold, so I did. Mr. Gilbey was there to protect him and what he took with him. What they took with them might just be the sum total of all of my—our—present problems. If anyone can sort them out, then Mr. Diebold will. I never thought to find things to be so easily dealt with. If they are.”
“Dare you trust them, Mama?”
“I must trust someone, my dear, and I do not have the luxury of time to find out who that might be for myself. I do not trust my own relatives for the most part, but I do trust William. Just as I trust his sister as though she were one of my own. That is all that matters to me at this moment.”
It seemed to Annis that her mother had quite lost her senses—to trust their future to such a trio of obvious ruffians and villains at such a time as this.