Later that evening, after Reginald retired to the library in his smoking jacket and Lord Henry to his private chambers with a bottle of cognac, Amelia wandered those lonely halls, lit only by a few dusty oil lamps, thinking over the events that had transpired earlier in the conservatory. Ghosts of playing children surrounded her in the darkness, men and women, parents of that brood, in their finest attire played cards and drank gin in rooms left to age under white sheets. Henri and André of the kitchen staff made love next to the hors d’oeuvres, while middle-aged greying women in white aprons polished silver and gossiped in the next room over. Memories Amelia said to herself. Her eyes began to water as she neared her father’s study and dressing rooms. His door was open, and a warm light spilled into the hallway, illuminating a porcelain statue of a satyr and the pedestal it stood on. Amelia could hear her father humming from within the room, so, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief, and feigning a smile, she entered into the light.
“Darling!” said Lord Henry, buttoning up a black silk vest in front of a tall mirror, “What are you still doing up?”
Amelia sat on a low stool next to an empty bookcase, “I couldn’t sleep.” she said, fiddling with an open inkwell and pen lying on a shelf, “Anyway, it’s not that late I suppose. Now, where are you off to?” Lord Henry adjusted the bow tie around his neck and gently fastened a small metal charm to the lapel of his jacket.
“Oh, just a small gathering,” he replied, waxing a curl into each side of his greying moustache, “you know Count Fessinger don’t you?”
“No,” she said, moving to sit in a leather armchair closer to his side, “I don’t think so.”
“You must know him, I’m sure he has been to the house before. Perhaps when you were little, before your mother…”
“Don’t, father.” Amelia interrupted, gripping the arms of the chair as though she might have been kicked out of it at any moment.
“Yes,” Lord Henry said, shining the caps of his shoes, “well, all the same, that’s where I’ll be for most of the night, unless of course Count Fessinger’s wife becomes inebriated and decides to fondle my ass, again, in which case I’ll return home. You shouldn’t expect me until the morning though.”
“May I ask you something?” Amelia said as Lord Henry packed away his black polish and brush.
“Of course my darling.” he replied, sitting on the arm of the leather chair.
“The gardener’s assistant, Silas … ”
Amelia hesitated for a moment, “Are you planning on keeping him for the spring? It’s just I thought that when you were talking about the new staff you might … ” Amelia paused, nervously running her fingers through her hair, knowing what she had started. Lord Henry, smiling, stood up and went again to adjust his tie in front of the mirror.
“You like him don’t you?” he asked, blushing.
“Yes, well, he does good work,” Amelia replied, blushing also, “with the gardens.”
“I agree, and what with Peter’s indecent activities with the garden tools, we will need a new groundskeeper. I think he’d be just the right person.”
Amelia smiled and stood to hug him. Lord Henry, in a panic, quickly thrust out his hand, tapping the girl gently on her head before moving out the door.
“Have a wonderful evening Emily!” he shouted to her as he disappeared into the darkness of the hallway.
Amelia returned to sit in the leather armchair. Her smile quickly faded as she looked to a painting half hidden behind the heavy folds of brocade fabric surrounding a great bay window. The portrait was of a woman, perhaps no older than Amelia, barely beyond the painful desert of adolescence, with a dark complexion and eyes of a brilliant green that seemed to bulge away from the confines of the canvas. He called me Emily, she thought, that was her name.