Down by the River Ch. 04


My heart began to beat faster as we neared our destination. A few minutes ago, Lucas told me that we already arrived at the edge of Uncle Matthew’s estate, although it would be several more minutes before we reached his country house.

Already, my stomach was churning due to nervousness. During our day and a half journey, I have seen more of the world than I had in the twenty years that I lived. For the first time several hours ago, I spent the night in an establishment other than our house or Mary’s. Everything was so new that I knew I would have been so overwhelmed if Lucas was not there with me.

“Do you see those small houses?” He pointed at about six or seven small brick houses, some of which had smoke rising from their chimneys. “Those are owned by the people who work on the lands of your uncle. They rent those houses and everything else that they need to use in order to provide for themselves. They are also required to give parts of their income and harvest to the landowner, and whenever Uncle Matthew needs their service to accomplish something within the estate, they are expected to heed his call.”

“Isn’t it hard to live their lives?” I asked, frowning as I watched the cloister of houses.

Lucas chuckled and put an arm around my shoulders. “What kind of life is not hard to live? Of course, it is hard to live their lives, but none of them has any complaint, mostly because our uncle is a fair landowner. He takes care of them and so they remain loyal to him. Uncle Matthew said that there were only those seven families here when he took over this land, but the number of his tenants has already doubled.”

I was surprised. “You mean to say that there are seven more houses like that here?”

“Exactly,” he answered. “The houses are at the other end of the estate.”

Although I still did not understand anything about how the estate worked, I nodded.

I parted the curtains again and stuck my head out of the window to see where we were heading. To the left was a sort of woods that was not as thick as the forest where I lived. We were already approaching the curve that would take us to the other side of that stretch of woods.

“Once we’ve rounded that curve,” Lucas told me, “you will be able to see the country house. It’s not very far from here.”

I could only nod and bite my lips in anticipation. Lucas chuckled beside me.

“Sit back down,” he said, pulling at me gently so that I pulled my head back into the coach and settled on my seat. “You are very much like a child.”

Frowning, I looked at him. “Why? Were you not excited to see it the first time you came here?”

He just laughed and pinched the tip of my nose. “I was, but not so much that I would stick my head out to look around. Maybe it’s because I was not deprived of these sights even then…”

“Deprived!” I gasped, glaring at him. “You, Lucas Milner, are such a — “

“An honest man,” he laughed, pulling me towards him. “You were raised inside the forest and your only link to civilization was our family, which is not much of a link anyway.”

I could not help but laugh with him, because even though I wanted to appear incredulously offended by what he said, I knew that he only said the truth. Lucas pinched my chin and raised my face so that he could capture my lips in a kiss.

“How can you always make me laugh even when butterflies are already having a party inside my stomach?” I asked him, stroking his face.

“I know you so I know how to make you laugh even when you are already about to cry,” he answered, catching my hands and kissing them. “Besides, what are you worrying about, anyway? I told you they’re all going to like you, and you’ll like them.”

“Nerves,” I answered, sighing as I looked out of the window again. “Too much nerves.”

The coach rounded the curve. Lucas held the curtain apart for me and, for the first time, I saw the country house that he was talking about.

I gasped at the sight of it. My first thought was, ‘Is that really a house?’ It was huge! And to think that only Uncle Matthew and his wife and son lived there…

Lucas explained to me that there were servants who also slept in the house, but how many of those were there? A dozen? Two? For I could easily imagine five duplicates of Mary’s house fitting into Uncle Matthew’s.

“It’s so big,” I told Lucas, looking at him with a frown.

He laughed at my expression. “You don’t like it?”

I glanced at the house again. “Well, it is beautiful. All I am saying is that it is so big — too big for the number of people living inside.”

“And here I was planning on building something close to that size for you,” he teased as he dropped the curtains and started playing with some loose strands of my hair.

“No!” I objected, widening my eyes. “There is no way we are going to find each other inside a house that big, so just don’t bother!”

Again, he laughed. “How about half of that size, then?”

“No,” I still answered, shaking my head as I parted the curtains and looked at the house. Escort bayan “If you really want to build a house for me, then, build something the size of your own house — Mary’s house.”

“I plan to have many children, you know,” he said. “Half a dozen will not fit inside a house the size of Mary’s.”

Giggling, I pinched his side, earning a bark of laughter from him. “As if I don’t remember! You said that you only want two or three children!”

“Oh,” he said, capturing my hand as he continued laughing. “I told you that, didn’t I?”

“Yes, sir, you did!” I said, glaring at him.

Lucas kissed my forehead before pulling me close. “Well, then. We won’t build a house as large as Uncle Matthew’s. I cannot afford to build one so large, besides.”

I smiled at him and stole a kiss on his lips. “We don’t need a house that big, anyway, so why bother?”

“But, sweetheart,” he said, eyes glinting with mischief as he whispered, “if we build a large house, then, we can have our room really far from those of the kids, so that they won’t hear the noises you make when we are making love.”

Blushing, I lightly slapped his arm. With a laugh, he pulled me close again, rocking me back and forth in his arms. I started to giggle: both of us knew just how loud I could be.

“Lucas,” I whispered, nuzzling at his neck. “My love…”

He moaned and gently pushed me away. “Selene, don’t do that. You’re going to arouse me and you wouldn’t want to punish either me or yourself.”

Yet, the fact that I could not even snuggle close to him was punishment enough.

I sighed and straightened on my seat, looking out of the window so that I could watch as the country house loomed nearer and nearer.

It was indeed huge — and beautiful. I wondered how many rooms there were inside it? And how huge the rooms must be! I grew up inside a hut made of bamboo and woods, and this country house was built with stones and woods. How would it feel to live in there every single day? Of course, I have lived inside Mary’s house for weeks, and her house was made of bricks, but, still, this one was different…

The bricks used for the house were cut beautifully, and the house itself was two stories high. It might be the first time I had seen such a grand house, but I was certain that it must be one of the loveliest around. The design was splendid, and the wrap-around porch of the ground floor and the balconies of the second floor particularly appealed to me.

A lovely garden surrounded the house, and all the flowers on it were in full bloom. Behind the house was a mini-forest, or something akin to that. It was surely not as thick as our forest, but it was not as thin as the stretch of woods near the left curve earlier…

My eyes were once again drawn to the house. This beauty, this magnificence… It just felt as if I did not belong here. How would I survive my stay?

“How many rooms are inside that house?” I asked Lucas, not taking my eyes off the structure.

“Ten bedrooms,” he answered.

“How large is each one?” I asked again.

He chuckled. “Honestly? Four times the size of each bedroom in our house.”

I took a deep breath to calm myself down again. Four times the size of each bedroom in Lucas’ house! That’s already more than half the size of the hut I grew up in!

Lucas’ hand covered mine. “Selene…”

Tentatively, I smiled at him. “I just suddenly realized that I’m really stepping into another world. This is so much different from our place.”

“Don’t worry,” he whispered, raising my hand to his lips and kissing it. “I’m here. I’m going to be here every step of the way.”

I did not doubt that. With a sigh, I leaned against him, closing my eyes as his arms wrapped around me. How did I ever miss the signs that I loved this man? I needed him way too much. I didn’t know what I would do if he ever leaves me…

The coach began to slow down, announcing that we have already arrived at our destination. I straightened on my seat, just in case Wilson looked inside the coach. Lucas and I already decided even before we left Mary’s house that we would not let anybody at the estate know about our relationship so that we would not be bombarded with questions of when the wedding would take place, etc. Mary and Grandmother warned us that Aunt Susanna would want to know those things once she learned that Lucas and I were actually thinking about spending the rest of our lives together, and since the two of us wanted to wait a little bit longer before we actually enter into a formal engagement, we figured that we might as well avoid giving Aunt Susanna — or anybody else — any idea.

Wilson indeed looked inside the coach to announce that we have arrived. I looked at Lucas, not knowing what to do. Due to the unexpectedness of Grandmother’s decision to let me stay in Uncle Matthew’s house, we did not have time to actually inform him that I was coming with Lucas.

“Don’t tell me you are nervous again?” he said, teasing.

I smiled. “Who wouldn’t be nervous, anyway? Bayan escort They don’t know I’m with you.”

“Let’s announce your presence, then,” he said, opening the door beside him and getting off.

A moment later, he had the door beside me open. Lucas offered his hand and helped me down the coach. I was wearing a travelling gown and it would be hard to jump off the coach without assistance. Wilson was already taking our luggage from the back of the coach.

Standing on the paved pathway to the front porch of the house, I took a deep breath. Lucas patted my hand as he placed it on the crook of his arm. We started heading for the porch. Suddenly, the huge double doors opened and out came a woman in an elegant gown.

She looked absolutely like Mary, although a bit thinner and taller. Her dark hair was expertly braided and then put in a bun at the back of her head. Her kind, light brown eyes danced with delight when she saw Lucas — and then displayed shock when she saw that he had companion.

“Catherine,” she said in a soft voice as she continued to look at me, her eyes betraying the surprise she felt.

I tentatively smiled at her. I could not speak. I could not even tell her that I was not Catherine.

Finally, she seemed to get out of her trance, and she shook her head. She flashed a smile at me — a smile so like her sister’s.

“What am I saying?” she said, chuckling as she approached us. “Not Catherine, but her daughter, aren’t you?” She stopped a few feet away and took my hands. “Our dear little Selene?”

The way she talked and held my hands immediately put me at ease. “Yes. And you must be Susanna, Mary’s sister?”

“Yes, I am, dear. Everybody who ever saw my sister would know for sure,” she answered, pausing to shake her head in wonder as she looked me up and down. “Well, look at you! Not so very little anymore, are you? You are a full-grown woman now! Wait until Matthew sees you! He will be so thrilled!”

The mention of my uncle somewhat made me feel a bit nervous again. So, his Aunt Susanna was a charming woman, just as Lucas promised; would my uncle be the nice man Lucas told me about, too?

“Come in,” Susanna said, ushering me and Lucas into the house. “Your journey was long and I bet you are both hungry!” She looked at me again and smiled. “I am so glad that Eloisa finally let you visit us, my dear. We have been praying that she would this time.”

She started calling for somebody named Anne, and the woman came hurrying into the room. Susanna asked Anne to prepare a light meal for five in the dining hall so that Lucas and I could eat with her family. She then excused herself so that she could look for her husband and her son.

“We were not expecting you to arrive so early,” she said, beaming nonetheless, “so the two of them went to the pond to catch some fish first. I will fetch them myself, and the two of you just feel at home as you wait for us, okay? You especially, Selene. I have no problem with Lucas feeling at home here, so you should just follow his example.”

I nodded, smiling.

“Lucas,” she said, glaring at Lucas before hurrying out, calling for somebody named Betsy to fetch her umbrella.

“What was that glare for?” I asked Lucas.

“That meant ‘Lucas, behave’,” Lucas answered, chuckling. “As if I could do something to you right here.” His eyes twinkled as he winked at me. “I would like to, but it will be inappropriate. Either you or Uncle Matthew will end up killing me if I ever do.”

I chuckled at that and looked around the room.

It looked like nothing I had ever seen before. There were beautiful things everywhere — paintings, sculptures, low tables, ceramics — and the floor was carpeted. Beige curtains hang by the windows, framing it so beautifully. Even the chair I was occupying was like nothing I had ever sat upon. The seat and the back had cushions, and the arms and legs had intricate carvings.

“This room looks amazing,” I told Lucas.

He smiled at me. “It surely does.”

“But I personally think it can look less intimidating,” I said, flinching.

Lucas laughed at that. “Intimidating? This room? Wait until you see the rest of the house. I will tour you around as soon as we finish our meal.” He stood up and offered me his arm “In fact, let’s begin exploring the house now. Aunt Susanna will take a while before she gets back with her husband and son, so we might as well walk around instead of just sit here.”

I put my hand on his proffered arm and followed him out.

“That room we just left is the small lounge,” he told me while we walked back to the entrance hall, where I could see the winding staircase that led both upstairs and downstairs.

“Small?” I repeated, lifting an eyebrow. “Can’t wait to see the main one.”

“It’s just over there,” Lucas said, pointing to the door just across the hall.

We were heading that way, and I could see through the doorway that the room looked more cheery than the small lounge. Surely, it looked more welcoming. Or at least, that Escort was how I felt when Lucas and I were finally there.

The curtains were white — almost transparent in their thinness. The walls were painted dark-red, yet, instead of giving the room a heavy atmosphere, it seemed to have contributed to its cheeriness. There was a huge fireplace on the wall to my left, yet it did not seem to dominate the room. There were two sets of couches and armchairs surrounding low centre tables, some chaise lounge (that was what Lucas called them, anyway), some coffee tables, several paintings and sculptures, and a large chandelier that seemed to blend in the room to give it life.

“I like this room,” I announced, beaming.

Lucas lifted an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Really,” I said, “although, of course, I still prefer a smaller version.”

He then asked me if I wanted to go to the gallery, where most of the house’s most treasured pieces of arts were. I readily agreed, especially when he said that I might be interested in the family portraits there. When we got to the place, I was amazed by the huge marble sculptures that graced the floor. The walls were covered with portraits and paintings. And, just as Lucas predicted, I was particularly drawn to the wall that featured portraits of the Riles family — from uncle’s great-great grandparents, at least.

“Are you looking for a portrait of your father?” Lucas asked quietly.

I looked at him and just nodded.

He nodded to the fourth portrait from the right. “Here he is, then.”

I stood before the portrait Lucas was indicating. It was a family portrait — of Uncle Matthew, his parents, their cat, and my father. Both parents were sitting on the loveseat that I noticed inside the small lounge, with the cat resting on the woman’s lap, while their sons were standing behind them. Lucas told me who Uncle Matthew was, so I knew that the man standing to his right was Nathan Riles, my father.

Immediately, I understood how Mother fell in love with him even at first sight. Dark hair, deep brown eyes, fair complexion, nice build… Ah, yes: my father was handsome. I saw the proof that it was from him that I got my hair and my eyes, since Grandmother said that Mother’s hair and eyes have colours lighter. Also, my Mother’s hair was naturally straight; my father’s was wavy, like mine.

I did not know what I felt as I stared at his portrait. I was glad — of course, I was glad — because after more than twenty years, I finally saw a picture of the man who fathered me. But I was sad and angry at the same time — because this was the man who left my mother, the man who never came back for me.

Before tears of frustration could run down my cheeks, I blinked them away and looked at the man who stood beside Nathan Riles. My uncle. Like his brother, he was also handsome, although they did not really look too much alike. His eyes did not twinkle with the quiet amusement that could be discerned in my father’s; instead, it showed deep understanding and compassion. Had I been my mother, I would have chosen Uncle Matthew over my father in looks, but Mother and I were different people, and she was already in love with my father when she met my uncle, besides.

“We are looking for you, and I had a feeling I’d find you here.”

The sound of that male voice made me jump. Lucas put a hand on my back, reminding me that he was there, as I turned around to look at our companion. It was Uncle Matthew — the very man whose younger portrait I was just looking at. His features were basically the same, although his face looked more mature now than it did in the portrait.

But of course: he had seen and felt more heartbreaks and disappointment during the years that elapsed from the moment that portrait was made to this moment right here; he would certainly look more mature now.

He stopped a few feet away from us and held out his hand. His smile was kind — as were his eyes. “Selene Katrina Kier? I’m delighted to see you again after all these years.”

Perhaps those were the exact words that convention required of him to say to me, but they made my heart swell with joy anyway. Maybe because I could tell through his eyes that he meant every word of it.

“Uncle,” I said, smiling at him as I gestured to the portrait behind me before giving him my hand. “I just thought that I’d like to see what my father looked like, so when Lucas mentioned this gallery, I was more than willing to see it.”

He flashed a quick smile before kissing the back of my hand. Relief seemed to flood through him as he squeezed it after the kiss. “I am extremely glad that Eloisa told you about Nathan beforehand; I do not know how I would begin to tell you that if she did not.”

I just nodded. We both froze, just looking at each other. In him, I saw a man who loved my mother truly, a man who was willing to sacrifice himself over and over if it meant helping the people he cared about. In a corner of my heart, I wished that Mother chose to marry this man.

“Susanna is right,” Matthew said, chuckling, before tucking my hand in the crook of his arm and leading me towards the door while Lucas followed us. “You are indeed Catherine’s replica — although a replica who possesses the same hair and eyes as my brother’s.”

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