3. Of Course It’s Been Terrible

A few years after the scandal breaks, Tereus’s brother Lucius is recalled from his diplomatic posting on the continent. His superiors make it clear that, though he’s given satisfaction personally, the stain on his family name has become a political liability, and he can no longer hold a position of trust in the government. Lucius writes to his various patrons and mentors seeking recourse, or at least a candid appraisal of his situation; the consensus seems to be that the best he can hope for is routine work in the Foreign Office back home. Accordingly, Lucius and his wife Valeria return to Liamelia after decades of absence, and settle temporarily with Tereus and Lavinia.

The atmosphere of Shelawn House feels sickeningly familiar to Lucius — it would to anyone who lived there during Agamemnon’s reign. Neither the physical disorder nor the anguish of the occupants can be hidden. Tereus and Lavinia try to hide their true circumstances, but they’ve lived in this fashion for too long —- it’s as if their eyes have adapted to constant gloom. Lavinia makes little apologies for the state of the rooms and the general disorder, but these quickly slide into complaints about the housekeeper and servants.

Even as Tereus welcomes his brother home and arranges activities to amuse him, Lucius and Valeria marvel at the forced edge of his joviality. Everyone — his wife, children, servants and neighbors — regards Tereus with some measure of fear, hatred or disgust. Even the oldest and most faithful servants seem apprehensive around him. Tereus’s son Marcus has removed to bachelor quarters. He makes a single visit of ceremony to greet his aunt and uncle, during which Lucius realizes that he’s taken over management of the estate, and seeks Tereus’s input only when absolutely necessary.

When they were young men, Lucius wouldn’t have mentioned any of this. He might not have noticed. It seemed natural that the whole world should revolve around the master of Shelawn House — serve his whim, and adapt to his moods. Lucius has been away for a long time, however. He’s had his own circle of influence, and an entirely independent life. He knows his brother intimately, and cannot believe that he wishes to become as hated and feared as their father was. 

For the first few days after their return, Lucius sees his brother only in the company of his wife or sister-in-law. Finally he asks Tereus to take him to a spot from their boyhood, a stretch of the commons where they used to fish and hunt for birds’ nests. Tereus agrees, playing the role of obliging and gracious host.

At first, conversation is impossible because they’re preoccupied with guiding their horses through city traffic. Lucius sold their horses rather than ship them across the channel, so he’s riding a cover hack that Tereus keeps for Marcus’s use, a chestnut gelding as dutiful and phlegmatic as Marcus himself. Tereus’s mount, Paris, is uncomfortably fresh, and inclined to shy. “I don’t take him out enough,” Tereus says.

They pass the city gates and turn off onto a footpath on the commons. This leads them past the Gypsy camp, down to a little creek. The ground is marshy and unsuitable for cultivation, full of fish and water birds. As boys, they would find owls, hawk, raccoons, and the occasional beaver. In the open stretches, they would see kestrels hovering, and hear skylarks.

The riders are silent as their horses trot along the path. Once they pass the spinney and the cluster of Gypsy caravans, the ground slants towards the creek, and there’s a sense of privacy and quiet. It’s possible to hear city traffic in the distance, but they’re screened from the post road. Now, at midday, it’s bright and chilly and quiet. The marsh in springtime has an undramatic beauty; it’s dominated by thistles, with their single, armored, lavender blooms, and a by a little white flower that they used to call “jims” for some reason. Lucius has never known their proper name.

Lucius watches his brother’s profile as the horses pick their way through softer and more irregular terrain.

“Paris doesn’t like this ground,” he says mildly.

“He hates it,” says Tereus. “He hates being held to a trot. If I galloped him around aimlessly for two hours and took a few reckless jumps, he’d be a happier horse.” He grins, glances over. “Or I’d be a happier rider, which is much the same thing.”

In full daylight, Tereus looks … not ill, precisely, but drained, exhausted. His face is puffy.

Lucius says, “You don’t look well, brother.”

Tereus considers, nods, says, “I suppose not. Has Lavinia been complaining to her sister? She has every right, certainly.”

“Not that Valeria has told me. I don’t think they’ve talked much.”

Tereus is silent for a long time. Both brothers have the trick of forcing the other man to speak just to break an uncomfortable silence. Tereus isn’t inclined to confidences, and Lucius isn’t one to pry into others’ affairs. Finally Tereus says, “Of course it’s been terrible. In some ways, worse for her than for me. It’s unfortunate. We were perfectly happy as long as we weren’t forced to live together as husband and wife.” He gives a mirthless laugh, and looks over at Lucius. “I’m not like you, brother: Uxorious, kind. You know that.”

For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.

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