Five Years Later...
The newspaper stared up at Kenneth from the solicitor's desk. The front page boasted a haunting woodcut of Riphook's mean mug, and the headline boldly stated: ARCH CRIMINAL PUT TO DEATH.
“Your Grace?” the solicitor took pause. “Is anything the matter?”
“No, no, my apologies.” Kenneth waved his hand dismissively. “I merely was drifting into the paper there.”
“Ah yes, they finally hung him.” the solicitor nodded, looking back to the paper he was working on. “You were instrumental in his prosecution, were you not?”
“I paid for it, if that's what you mean.” Kenneth said, looking away from Riphook's crude visage.
“Well, at any rate, four years ago now, isn't it? Who can remember.” the solicitor slid the paper over the smooth desk top for Kenneth's approval.
“All set then?” Kenneth asked, gesturing to the documents.
“Only requiring your signature, Your Grace, on the empty line there.” he pointed to a space with his quill.
“Very well.” Kenneth stooped over the desk, brandished the quill, and signed the document. “It is done then?”
“It is, Your Grace, in its entirety.”
“I know you did not approve of this financial maneuver, but trust me, it is in the company's best interest.”
“I do not doubt Your Grace's decision.” the solicitor backed off warily. “If making your wife the sole owner of your insurance business is truly what you wish, then I am at your disposal to make it so. And I have.”
“So, you have.” Kenneth placed the quill back in its delicate resting position. “And I thank you for it. Would you take the liberty of filing the document with the city clerk?”
“Of course, Your Grace.”
“You are a miracle maker, my friend.” Kenneth picked up his hat and cane to leave.
“It is no trouble, as always, Your Grace.” the solicitor said in closing. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“And you.” Kenneth went out into the city.
The winter air was frightfully chilly, and he tucked his chin down into the folds of his overcoat. As Kenneth walked past the windows of Hatchard's the bookseller, he was forced to take pause.
There on display was Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, by an unknown author. It was a new edition, some five years after the first, and Kenneth knew he had to have it for Leah.
The shopkeeper packaged the parcel in several additional coats of waxed paper to guard against the snow, wished Kenneth a good afternoon, and sent the Duke on his way.
Kenneth felt good about having gotten Leah an unexpected gift which he knew she would love, but he knew he had responsibilities to attend to before he could go home to her.
He made a quick pace along the snowy streets and came at last to a grand building just south of St. James’s Park.
A chorus of children could be heard through the four stories of shuttered windows, and Kenneth smiled wide as he pranced up the stairs.
As he reached the door, he ran his fingers over a plaque set beside it reading St. James’s Park Orphanage for Homeless Youth, in memory of “Nash” Waters, 1795 – 1819.
The door swung open to reveal a bustling center. Children moved all about, chasing after one another and laughing and playing. Kenneth expertly made his way through the throngs of orphans, and into the kitchens.
He nodded familiar hellos to many of the staff, and went through a set of double doors. Kenneth followed the hall and then sprang up a flight of stairs, coming to a halt outside the door marked Doctor.
“Is there a doctor here?” Kenneth called out, opening the door.
“Kenneth, is that you?” Dr. Fowler's voice could be heard from behind a hanging curtain. “Just one moment.”
The curtain slid open, and a young boy climbed down off the cot.
“You've nothing to worry about Master Balwick. A winter cold, nothing more. Off with you now.” the child ran out of the room.
“Busy day?” Kenneth asked, leaning casually against the wall.
“Nothing absurd.” Dr. Fowler wiped his hands on a cloth and then stood up to remove his apron. “What brings you by?”
“Looking for the big man.” Kenneth shrugged. “You seen him?”
“Should be in his office.” Dr. Fowler walked over to a water basin and began washing his face. “Been spending more and more time in there. He's really got a hang of things around here. Much sharper than I ever imagined.”
“Good, good.” Kenneth nodded. “I always thought he had that potential.”
“Indeed.” Fowler was rubbing water behind his ears.
“How are they doing, generally?” Kenneth asked, genuinely concerned.
“The children?” Dr. Fowler looked back over his shoulder. “Fairly well I would estimate. Haven't had any outbreaks this winter, and Lord knows that's an improvement. It's a tricky bugger to keep them clean though, I will say that.” The doctor finished washing and patted himself dry with a nearby hand towel. “What of your family? Are they well?”
“They are.” Kenneth smiled. “Leah is with child again.”
“Congratulations.” Dr. Fowler grinned, clapping him on the shoulder. “You're well on your way.”
“To being an all-around family man.” Dr. Fowler laughed.
“It may be so.” Kenneth grinned. “I will leave you to your work, I must speak with Digby.”
“Very well.” Dr. Fowler waved Kenneth goodbye. “Take care.”
“And you.” Kenneth left the room, went down the hall, up another flight of stairs, and arrived at Digby's office.
“Digby?” Kenneth rapped on the door twice before twisting the handle open.
“Your Grace?” Digby looked up in surprise. He sat at his desk, made special to accommodate his legs, dressed in the fine clothes of a gentleman. Before him was a series of stacks of papers and ledgers, all ascribble with his sloppy penmanship.
“How do you fare?” Kenneth entered the room, shutting the door behind him.
“Oh, fine enough.” Digby reached up and took Kenneth's hand. “You gonna sit 'own?” Digby joked. “Need a drink in ya?”
The two sat across from each other and nursed a bit of brandy.
“Wha' can I do ya for?” Digby asked.
“I came to inquire as to the funds allotted by my recent crime bill.”
“Wha' o' 'em?”
“I mean, have they arrived?” Kenneth took a sip.
“That Marquess o' Winchester, he 'ame by just two days ago. Is he wit’ the Office of Public Services now?”
“He is, I am glad to report.” Kenneth nodded. “After the department was created as a result of my bill passing, he was glad to take up a leadership position.”
“Any'ow.” Digby sat back. “He 'ame by wit’ a solicitor, and we 'ade the transfers.”
“Splendid.” Kenneth took another sip. “Tell me, is it enough?”
“Enough to provide for all the orphans in your care, is it? This is something which has troubled me these recent months.”
“Ha, I recon' so.” Digby nodded. “I been tryin' to make the calculations.”
“And how is that going?”
“Fair enough.” Digby smiled while he finished his drink. “Seein' I just only learnt my letters.”
“And that? How is it coming?” Kenneth took up a piece of paper and examined the sloppy handwriting. It was an improvement.
“Eh,” Digby shrugged. “it ain't my ting. The doc helps out a lot.”
“Good man” Kenneth muttered, placing the paper back on the desk.
“But I learnt it, I did, I read better 'an I write.”
“Bloody well done, either or.” Kenneth raised up his glass and then finished it behind Digby.
“Is 'at all you came fer?” Digby asked, reaching to pour them another round.
“I confess, there is another item.” Kenneth sighed, pulling back his refilled glass. “Considering Christmas is just around the corner.”
“Christmas?” Digby raised an eyebrow.
“An early gift, so to speak.” Kenneth pulled forth an envelope from his overcoat. “I thought it only proper that all the children should enjoy a fair Christmas feast.” Kenneth let the envelope fall on the table.
“What's that?” Digby asked, peering down at the envelope.
“Bank notes.” Kenneth drained his refill, took a gasp of air, then stood to make his exit. “A good deal of them.”
“Your Grace–” Digby leapt to his feet, stumbling over his words in his clear bewilderment.
“Oh, come off it, Digby.” Kenneth tipped his hat. “What else have I to spend my money on?” and he was out the door.
The carriage ride was a beautiful one through the snowy fields south of London, despite the air being quite frigid. The great wooden wheels left crisp tracks in the fresh snow, and Kenneth breathed deep the winter chill.
The sun was creeping down beneath the horizon when Kenneth turned onto the estate's road. As the coach slowed to make the bend, Kenneth smiled to himself to know just how close he was to home.
The lights were all aglow in the manor, and the house beckoned with the invitation of warmth and cheer.
Kenneth disembarked with a jolly hitch in his step, clicking his heels together as he crossed the drive up to the front door. It was opened by the present footman, and he brushed snow from his hat as he passed through the door.
He was bending down to unlace his boots when he was struck by the sudden impact of a boy of three years, clutching to his leg with ruby red cheeks.
“Father!” he exclaimed. “You're back!”
“So I am.” Kenneth sat the boy upon his knee, ruffled his hair, and pinched his cheek. “Have you been good for your grandmother, Nathaniel?”
“I think so.” Nathaniel smiled, and Kenneth bounced his leg up and down, causing his son to giggle and slip. Kenneth finished removing his boots and beamed back at his son.
“Well, that's half the battle, isn't it?” Kenneth stood and put both of his hands on Nathaniel's shoulders. “Now go and fetch your mother. Do you know where she is?”
“Mhm,” Nathaniel nodded, excitedly. “she's in her office.”
“Well then what are you waiting for?” Kenneth gave him a bit of a tickle, and that sent him on his way, laughing and jogging down the corridor.
“Good evening, Your Grace.” Mrs. Redford bowed her head as Kenneth passed her in the hallway. She was measuring sections of wall with marked cord.
“Mrs. Redford.” Kenneth nodded his head. “It would appear my mother has kept you busy in my absence.”
“Oh, I don't mind it, Your Grace.” Mrs. Redford smiled. “Idle hands and all. She desires to bring in a new piece from London.”
“Stunning.” Kenneth let out a light-hearted sigh. “Carry on then.” and he continued onward through the house.
Farther along he passed his mother, who seemed to be in the process of rearranging the entire layout of her art collection.
“Oh! Kenneth! You're back from the city.” she chimed, poking her nose over the lip of a picture frame.
“Yes, just now.” he said, glancing over the operation of maids his mother commanded. “What are you working on?”
“I have found the most essential piece to my collection.” she closed her eyes as if she could see the painting before her. “But space must be made for it! Everything must be just right, you understand.”
“But of course.” Kenneth knew not to argue. He had come to learn that she could be left to whatever in-house projects she desired.
Kenneth left his mother in the hall and went to his study, where he set Leah's parcel upon his desk and poured himself a stiff glass of brandy.
“I'd have one of those.” Leah said from behind him, causing Kenneth a bit of a start.
“Where did you come from?” He chuckled, pouring her a drink beside his.
“I was told that I had been summoned,” Leah said playfully, slinking up to Kenneth beside the desk.
“So, our son is good for something after all.” Kenneth joked, holding up his glass.
“Welcome home,” she said, and clinked her glass against his. They sipped at the brandy, kissed one another, and then turned their gaze fondly out the window at the snow-covered fields.
“I have something for you.” Kenneth said after clearing his throat. “I saw it and I thought that you had to have it.”
“A gift?” Leah cocked her head, intrigued.
“A small one.” Kenneth shrugged, fetching the parcel and handing it to her. “Go on, open it if you please.”
“I do.” Leah winked, and tore away the wax paper wrapping. She took the book in her hands and turned it over a time or two, running her fingers down the spine and ruffling the pages.
“Oh Kenneth.” she looked up at him, her brilliant green eyes piercing into him like they always did. “Thank you, it's–”
“I know,” he smiled down at her. “I love you.”
“And I you.”
So, they kissed again before the frosting glass, and held each other through the winter, and many winters following.
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