For once it wasn’t raining, at least he had that to be grateful for. Instead, the sun rose from behind the estate, and the old oak tree he was resting against began to sway in the early morning breeze. Shadows rose and fell against his ashen face as he lingered behind the tree, wondering what his uncle’s reaction would be when he knocked on his front door. Disappointment? Shame? Anger? All of them sounded terrible to Edgar Redmond, and he wasn’t sure if he could handle any more sadness for the time being.
Gathering all the courage he could find, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and marched his way to the mahogany door, completely unaware of the blond man watching him from the security of the second storey window. Hesitating for a fraction of a second with his hand poised in a knocking position, he rapped on the door and gasped at how loud it sounded in his ears. For the past few days he had became accustomed to a deadly silent manor house, as apposed to the lively, sometimes even rowdy Scarlet Fox dormitory he shared with his fellow students. But that was all gone now... And Edgar became wrapped in a frosty cold silence as thick as snow when his parents refused to speak with him any longer. Which was why he decided to spend his now endless summer holidays with his mother’s younger brother, his uncle Aleister Chambers. He hoped and prayed he wouldn’t be away somewhere on holiday, like the rest of his classmates. Uncle Aleister was his last resort.
Instead of the tall, slender man with hair as long and blond as his own, Edgar’s eyes fell on a dark haired man, stout and florid-faced. Two golden cocker spaniels rushed out, yipping and barking giddily, greeting their new friend. Edgar crouched down to run his hands through their silky gold ears and rub their tummies as they licked at his fingers. He risked a glance up at the stranger before him, and smiled nervously, wondering if he had the right place. After all, he’d visited his uncle’s estate before, but not as often as he used to, as he usually had boarding school to attend, but not any more…
‘Can I help you, young man,’ the stranger said politely, yet his eyebrows were raised. The Chambers family had not been expecting visitors today.
‘Hello there. I’m Edgar Redmond. I want to see my uncle Aleister. Is he home?’
‘Oh, of course. I’m his butler, James.’ He smiled, ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, by the way, and I’m sure it will be a pleasant surprise for the Viscount, too.’
‘Thank you,’ Edgar said gratefully, feeling welcomed already. He was afraid he’d be an unwelcome guest.
The butler gestured for him to follow as a nearby steward took his jacket from his arm. The halls smelt of juniper and something sugary sweet, just like he remembered as a young child. Now that he thought about it, his uncle always smelt sweet, like candy floss or sherbet lemons. Sometimes he felt faint when he came to stay here in the holidays. Secretly he wondered if his uncle took opium, and that was the cause of the strange smells that clung to the furniture and upholstery.
The two spaniels followed suit, keeping close to his ankles as he followed James through to the parlour upstairs, where his uncle was waiting for him, not looking surprised in the least. Two women Edgar had never seen in his life were flanked either side of him, giggling and twirling ebony hair around their fingers as Aleister spoke with them. When he entered, all conversations stopped and everybody turned to face him. Edgar squirmed slightly on the spot, wishing James could be taller so that he could hide behind him. He wasn’t usually shy in the slightest. In fact, being the prefect of Weston College gave him an audience he quite loved, as much as his own family. Whenever he passed by the other students, his loyal fag by his side, all eyes were on him, admiring and riddled with jealousy at the same time.
‘Welcome, Edgar,’ Aleister said in a fruity, rich voice. He sounded drunk already, and it was only 8 o’clock in the morning. ‘I saw you sneaking up the garden path, like a little spy, you were.’
The two women either side of him tittered although he were the funniest man on the planet, causing Edgar to flush a delicate rose pink.
‘Hello, uncle. I h-hope you don’t mind me visiting,’ he mumbled, brown eyes cast down to the carpet below. It was red. That hateful, detestable red! ‘Did mummy and daddy not call to say I was coming? Ah, they must have forgotten. I’m sorry.’ His lies sounded weak, and he hated himself for that.
‘Mummy and daddy?’ his uncle chided. ‘Shouldn’t you be calling them “mother” and “Sir” by now?’
The girls giggled again, making Edgar wish he had never decided to come. Thankfully the two dogs were sat at his feet, giving him a small comfort. At least they love me, he thought miserably.
‘Girls, you can go,’ Aleister spoke softly, letting go of their gloved hands and gesturing to the door. ‘Edgar isn’t exactly the best with women.’
‘Uncle!’ he exclaimed as the two girls passed him, giving him disgusted looks on the way. They both wore emerald green dresses made of the highest quality silk. The height of fashion. And both of them had curled dark hair and a string of pearls around their necks. The pair looked like twins about his age — 19 — and Edgar had to resist the urge to strangle them with their own jewels as they passed him by.
‘Sorry, my dear,’ Aleister said gently, gesturing wordlessly for Edgar to sit beside him on the chaise longue. ‘I wasn’t exactly expecting you, but never mind. It’s always lovely to see you. How’s school? Are you enjoying the holidays?’
‘Hmm.’ Edgar grunted in reply, rubbing the dog’s ears again. His uncle could pick up on the brittle tone of his voice. ‘It’s fine.’
‘Really now?’ he questioned, smirking irritatingly. ‘Because you are not wearing your school uniform today. Usually you wear it all summer, because you’re so proud to be a prefect at Weston College. Is there something you want to tell me?’
‘You wouldn’t understand,’ the youngest man muttered dismally, ‘Promise you won’t become angry with me, like my parents.’ He didn’t particularly feel like talking, yet he knew to let it all out would be healthy. He let out a small, forced smile. ‘And don’t tell anybody either.’
‘That’s not like my elder sister to get angry,’ the viscount admitted. ‘You can tell me anything, dear. I promise. You know I don’t like to scold.’
The youngest broke into a big grin. ‘There, that’s more like you, now!’ His uncle beamed, causing him to look down and chuckle, still stroking the two dogs at his feet. ‘Despair is not a good look for you… You’re usually so relaxed and cheerful.’
‘Alright, start from the beginning, and James will bring us Ceylon tea whilst we talk,’ Aleister said, gazing intently at James the whole time. James got the hint and scurried off downstairs to prepare the tea.
Edgar took a deep breath and closed his eyes for the second time today. One of the spaniels jumped up onto the sofa to comfort him, sensing his anxiety, before being pushed off by the viscount. ‘I’m not sure if you know already, but… I’ve been expelled from Weston College…’
He paused and opened his eyes, because Aleister gasped dramatically. ‘Don’t be like that!’ he exploded suddenly, for his parents had reacted exactly the same way, despite the letter they had received from the school before hand.
‘I apologise, nephew. Please continue.’
‘Do you know why I was expelled?’ he asked silkily, feeling the tears burning behind his eyelids. He had committed a sin almost a year ago... And it was all his friend, Greenhill’s fault. He knew the guilt would drive him to insanity, and here it was, black and white; and the worst thing was, there was no way out. He would rather have been assassinated than expelled. He loved that school, and everybody and everything there, even the endless mountains of homework they all received each night. They treated him like a prince.
‘No…’ his uncle said slowly, anxious to hear the answer. He had done plenty of bad things at Weston College when he was a boy, but never anything bad enough to be expelled. The worst punishment he ever got was 5 Ys for putting cat faeces into his dorm master’s slippers.
There was a pause where Edgar just listened pensively to the tick-tocking noises of the ancient grandfather clock in the hall. He wasn’t sure he could tell his uncle. Or anybody for that matter… Finally, he sighed and said: ‘Murder.’
‘Murder!’ Aleister boomed, almost jumping out of his seat, and looking like he could faint. ‘Goodness, child! How are you not in prison for that?! You could have been hung, even!’
His nephew fell silent.
‘Well, I’m sure you had your reasons,’ Aleister said after the silence became suffocating. ‘W-who was it, anyway?’ he asked after it seemed he had calmed down suitably.
‘My ex-fag…’ He muttered, a dull ache settling into his chest.
‘What, Maurice? He was such a sweetheart, though.’
‘No, Derrick Arden.’ Edgar said phlegmatically, ignoring the remark about his other ex-fag. That was another matter playing on the back of his mind.
‘But…the boy was related to the queen, what on earth were you thinking?’
‘I was thinking he was a betrayer!’ the boy roared, tears sparkling in his eyes like garnets. ‘He deceived me. He was a bully, and I couldn’t stand it anymore! Just seeing those poor boys being beaten and taunted by him and his cronies — hell, even the vice principal was on his side — it made me explode, and before I knew it, Greenhill had killed him. It was all a blur. Yet we had to get rid of the body… So I thought of the Aurora Society.’
‘And that’s where I came in, right?’
‘Yes…’ Edgar said calmly, then turned to his uncle, pure rage on his face. ‘If you knew about that already, why didn’t you let on? Why did you make me explain it all, if it pains me so?’
‘Oh, I just wanted to hear about it from your point of view. It was a very interesting conversation, might I add… You’re just like your mother. So calm and sweet on the outside, a ticking time bomb underneath all that facade. How interesting… That’s one quality I never inherited from our family, thankfully.’
The sky faded to slate grey as the morning passed, and the Ceylon tea became stone cold as a silence settled over the estate like a blanket of clouds in the sky. Neither man spoke to another as an uncomfortable aura settled over them.
‘My boy…’ Aleister said after a while. ‘I’m not angry with you, nor disappointed. I’ve been cheated and betrayed before. I am no stranger to the feeling, frankly. So please don’t cry any more. It hurts your uncle, too, dear.’
Edgar had no idea he had been crying. Numbly he became aware of the cold, salty tears slipping down his pallid cheeks, and dripping into the tea cup he held below his face. He sniffed, embarrassed. At home, he wasn’t allowed to cry, no matter how much he needed to. And it felt good to let out all the tears he spent years to suppress. His nanny always scolded him for sobbing when he scraped his knees in the garden, and his father beat him with his leather belts when he cried for his deceased grandmother four years ago. It was shameful to cry. An abomination… Yet his uncle did nothing to stop him, simply casting his gaze away from the boy to give him some privacy.
‘I’m a criminal…’ he sobbed, ‘I can’t believe it. Why couldn’t they have executed me instead? It would have been much less painful.’
‘There, there,’ Aleister cooed, attempting to be comforting. Yet he never had to be comforting before, or comforted himself, as he was a mostly frigid person despite how passionate and romantic he may seem on the outside. ‘You’re getting yourself into a state. I’m certain the other boys who were expelled aren’t as hysterical as you are right now.’
Despite his annoyance at uncle Aleister, the boy had to admit that was true… Laurence would just be reading in his bedroom as always, or practising algebra deep into the night. Violet would be sketching away, not caring at all about what the other boys at school thought of him — and Greenhill was most likely playing rugby or football with his younger siblings, rain or shine. Edgar was the one who took it hardest, feeling partly responsible for covering up a murder that took place right in front of him. He called the Aurora Society his family had strong ties with, and he was the one who said they couldn’t have avoided it. The guilt was unbearable, like a heavy burden on his shoulders, and a huge weight on his chest; teasing and taunting the boy that he could have been hung if the crime hadn’t involved a relative of the queen’s, that had died because of a mistake he made himself. And he hadn’t even been the one with the blood splattered cricket racket!
‘So why are you here?’ the eldest man asked pleasantly. A little smile curved the corners of his mouth as he considered how much his nephew took after him. Both were passionate, beautiful, romantic, with the dark twist of a sociopath; and the strong, fierce desire to be wonderful in high society. Both had been through grave mistakes and trials with the law, yet they both remained strong with a concrete mask of flamboyancy, only put on show for the rest to awe and admire. It was almost theatrical how both men managed to pull through the dark times and still appear flawless. Beautiful on the outside, and rotten on the inside. Edgar Redmond was certainly a relative of the viscount, both in appearance and personality.
‘Well…’ Edgar coughed nervously. ‘I-I was hoping I could stay here for a while… Mother and Sir are furious with me. They don’t even speak with me anymore… And I can’t take it anymore. So, please?’
The viscount couldn’t resist those big brown eyes of his, both adoring and servile, just like a little puppies’. Those eyes reminded him of the many women he danced with during The Season, and how much he loved brown eyes on them. ‘Alright,’ he sighed, still grinning like a Cheshire cat. ‘I have no place to be for the next six weeks, but after that I have to go back to medical school for further exams.’ The man looked disgusted at that (he always hated medical school and all the pressure that went with it.) ‘So stay, please. Make yourself comfortable!’
‘Thank you! Thank you!’ Edgar cried, wrapping his arms around his uncle’s waist. ‘I’m so happy.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about it,’ he chuckled in his typical plummy voice. ‘It’s certainly been a while since a relative has come to stay. James will show you to the guest bedroom. If you please, James.’
The viscount gestured to James, who had heard all the talk of murder and looked absolutely terrified of being left alone with his master’s strange relative. ‘…Of course, Sir.’
Redmond’s sadness was long forgotten as he considered the possibilities of staying at his uncle’s house for the summer; he wouldn’t have to bump into his parents who constantly reminded him of what a terrible person he truly was, there was a possibility his uncle would teach him in the ways of medicine, as being a doctor was the job he dreamt of ever since he was a small child, and the chances of an adventure would be high as he stayed in unfamiliar places. This certainly would be a summer to remember alright, and Redmond was determined to make the most of it.