Landed Estate Novel

By Ben Kesp

 

Chapter 1

 

Captain Robert Villiers moves uncomfortably in his seat knowing that before the night is over an unknown plan will be set in motion.  Seated by his wife Anne, he oversees the large table in the magnificent dining room of Castlefort House.  They are joined by Mr. Francis Westby and his wife Lady Angela Westby Scott of Point Pleasant House Estate.   He and his wife are good friends with the Westby family, but recent events caused his relationship with Francis Westby to sour.  Their wives are not aware of the indifference that has grown between them.  He admires Lady Angela who takes to using her full title especially on occasions when she is dining at notable social gatherings.  Her father is the Honourable Nathaniel Scott of Knock Abbey Castle, former residence of the Viscount Morris.  She is a woman of connections that have helped influence the Westby name within the locality.  There are not many notable families in the area and Robert knows how much she enjoys dining at Castlefort House and socialising with his wife Anne.

“It was a most exquisite meal you have prepared for us Mrs. Villiers. I really did enjoy it,” Angela states carefully wiping the corners of her mouth.

“Thank you Mrs. Westby.  It’s a privilege to be able to serve it,” Anne Villiers replies. 

The noise of the servants filing into the room interrupt her as they stand at one side waiting to clear up after the Villiers and their guests.  

“You know,” begins Captain Villiers as he shifts himself in his seat, “it’s so hard to get a supply of good food now. This county has been laid barren after all the wars.”

“In time, my good man, the land will replenish and food will be plenty. We are lucky that the King is looking after us so well,” Francis Westby answers.

“Yes, and he would have every right to.  We are looking after the land and keeping an eye on things for him here. We are fortunate in this area of what little of us there are around, that we are gathered in close proximity to one another.  I do hold one of the principal seats of the area after all; so I am somewhat more favoured.”

“Mr. Stackpoole has been a thriving force in the area.”

“He has rebuilt the local town of Kilbrack, and due to him receiving huge rents from Ingoldsby family of Earls Fort House, he has been able to do a magnificent job on the construction of the town pier.”

“A fine house, Earls Fort House. I heard it was one of the first houses to be built in this county.  1548 I think it was.”

“Yes, it was an achievement, built by a French man I believe. When Viscount Morris’s estate was divided and Earls Fort Estate was established, the Ingoldsby family did well, at a high cost, I must add. But then again, an officer’s salary in our majesty’s army is well paid,” Robert Villiers says turning to his wife.  “Why don’t you ladies entertain yourselves? Francis and I are retiring to the Parlour.”

Anne Villiers nods in reply to her husband and she leaves the dining room with Lady Angela.  The servants step in and begin clearing the tableware and leftover food.

Robert leads the way into the Parlour followed by Francis Westby.  He points to a seat by a large and elegant fireplace where Francis sits down making himself comfortable as Robert closes the door behind him.

“Cigar?” Robert asks.

“Please.”

Robert hands a cigar to Francis and one for himself. He lights them and sits on the opposite chair. “Now what is this plan you want to discuss with me?” Robert enquires.

“Well, as you stated earlier, there are very few people of our standing and wealth in the vicinity, and we need to make sure we protect the strength of our families and homes for the future, like Castlefort House and my house, Point Pleasant House.”

“I agree totally.”

“So you see where I am coming from?”

“Well, do continue.”

“We can strengthen our estates and wealth by a union of marriage.”

“Marriage, yes, I see where you are going.”

“I have a son who is of age who will be in need of a wife soon.”

“And my eldest daughter would be a perfect match.  Excellent suggestion!”

“I thought you would agree.”

“It will strengthen our families and control over the local area.  In time to come, we could have control over vast estates of this county.”

“And in the seat of politics, this house being one of the principal seats and Kilbrack House, I am sure we can find a way to enter there.”

Robert watches Francis Westby lean forward on his seat and take a slow puff from his cigar.

“There is more I want from this union of marriage.  When your daughter marries my son, she will bring with her the political seat to Point Pleasant.”

Robert eyes him keeping down the sudden urge to defend his honourable title. There are five provincial houses in the locality and only two assigned a seat in parliament.  Whoever holds the seat is favoured by the crown and holds the political sway in the county electorate. Realisation strikes him of the true meaning of Francis’s plan.  He is backed into a corner for he knows his old friend holds the trump card. Recent events have seen to that.

“What of my son Sam? He will not be satisfied with me for petitioning to have my seat in parliament transferred to my daughter on her marriage and passing it to Point Pleasant House,” Robert replies his voice rising slightly. “My son will be taking on the responsibilities of Castlefort House shortly.”

“You have two sons.  Are you sure the right son is taking over?”

“Sam is my eldest son.  He is ambitious and would never stand for it.”

“Perhaps too ambitious.  You will need to make him understand and show him how lucky he is still to have a grand house like Castlefort.  Do you wish him to know the truth?”

Robert remains silent. He places his cigar on the ashtray next to him, noticing his hand trembling slightly.  He feels old, and towards the end of his life, he is being forced into a position he is not comfortable with.  He nods in agreement.

“Why waste any more time?  Let us prepare for a wedding right here in Castlefort House.  My son Eyre Westby and your daughter Susanna Villiers,” Francis states smiling taking another puff from his cigar.  “The women will be thrilled when they hear the news.”

Forcing a smile, Robert Villiers extends his arm to shake his old friend’s hand.

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