Chapter 2: Curiosity
“I am Danjel, Aleksia is my wife.” Roderick blinked and offered a polite grin to the both of them, clutching his pocket watch in a sudden impulse.
“I hope I am the first to welcome you to Gloucester. Have you made arrangements here?” He noticed his own voice now held a demanding, down-to-business tone. However, when Danjel spoke in his own robust manner, it made the hairs on Roderick’s neck stand taut.
“No.” His simple answer surprised Roderick, and he gave a curt nod.
“Am I correct in assuming you desire work here?”
Although he inquired directly to Danjel, his attention continued to slip over to Aleksia, who he had yet to hear utter a syllable. His brows furrowed to notice her attention was focused upon his own hand, the same one still clutching his pocket watch. Consciously he released his grasp, pulling his hand briskly to his side.
“My wife is much worth in the estate. I am strong with the field.” Danjel’s hard, amber eyes lit with pride, and he smiled much too smugly. Roderick had never seen such behavior in an immigrant searching for work, but the broken English at least amused him.
“Excellent.” Roderick contemplated how he’d get Aleksia to speak, when an idea quickly illuminated his intrigued brain.
“Aleksia, what work can you do in ‘the estate’?”
Her lips parted eagerly to answer, but she was again overshadowed by Danjel.
“There is no work she does not do.”
Aleksia seemed to inhale deeply, and Roderick pursed his lips in frustration. Finally, after what seemed like hours of avoidance, she looked into his eyes as if searching for something meaningful. Roderick felt his body tense but his expression soften, and she picked this up almost immediately. The subtlest of smiles tugged at her lips, the light of her pleasing eyes overcoming the previous fog of apprehension.
“And Danjel, have you worked with horses?” Roderick’s attention quickly snapped to Danjel, as he felt his face burning under Aleksia’s scrutiny.
“Many!” He laughed with his certain answer, as if such a question were ludicrous.
“So be it. I would like to offer you both the opportunity to work for me in my estate, for a joint payment of 39s wage. Danjel, you will work in the stables and assist with the needs of my horse keepers. Aleksia, you—she will work multiple duties in the household, including in the kitchen and clothes washing, until she is found prominent at a specific task. If you are found unsuitable for the tasks I have given at the end of this month, you will separate from the estate.”
He searched both their faces for an answer. Danjel seemed pleased, or as pleased as his tight face could muster. After all, 39s was a generous wage, but Roderick was notorious for paying his laborers well for their work. Aleksia looked entirely indifferent, which frustrated Roderick far more than he wanted to admit.
“Is this agreeable?” Roderick prodded, unconsciously tapping his foot. Aleksia’s attention drifted towards his boots, and again he became aware of his nervous tendencies. He stiffened once more, becoming quite irked by her attention to detail. She smirked again.
“We think fair.” Danjel confirmed. Roderick held back a sigh of relief, ready to be done with the ordeal. However, he couldn’t help but feel a bit of buyer’s remorse.
“Very well. I know a man who takes his hansom outside of town, and will arrange for him to bring you to Blackwood house. Be prepared to begin work before dawn.”
With a curt nod, Roderick prepared quickly to leave, itching to escape the unpleasant feeling he’d acquired. Danjel, happy with the terms of employment, turned to leave as well. Aleksia, however, lingered for a moment. She began to follow Danjel, but turned to face Roderick quickly before leaving.
“Thank you.” Her whisper was smooth and beautifully accented, and gone too soon for Roderick to truly admire it. He didn’t turn to acknowledge her, but he did glance slightly over his shoulder in curiosity.
So she does speak... He thought, pausing for a moment. Why hadn’t Danjel allowed her to speak? Why did she whisper? A hurricane of questions cluttered his mind, which he shrugged off in mental exhaustion. He’d put too much thought into two people he was hiring for labor. Generally, he wouldn’t even know his potential hire had a face should they choose to not open their mouth.
Roderick called urgently for his landau, avoiding conversation with the local businessmen he generally talked with casually. They chided among themselves at his snub, which further irritated him. His odd meeting with Danjel and Aleksia, in addition to the relentless heat of the early summer morning sun, left him worse for the wear. This, people noticed. Roderick was always so cool, so fashioned, so enviable. But on this day, it was clear he had been, in an odd way, defeated.
The rest of the day at Blackwood house was typical, and Roderick spent a lot of time around the timber yard advising his laborers. He felt an urge to evoke order and respect, which increased productivity for the day at the expense of hot sweat down the broken backs of worn men. The setting of the hot sun brought relief to everyone, Roderick included. After a full day of high emotions, dinner was especially sought.
After dinner, he lingered in the parlor for quite some time, perched effortlessly in one of the soft chairs poised perfectly for conversation. It was a running joke among the servants, as Roderick seldom had any visitors to converse with. However, he was often found in the parlor as he was this night, a glass of scotch in hand and his eyes locked on the room’s centerpiece.
It was a large, framed painting hanging above the fireplace. It was an uncanny depiction of his brother Alexander, standing with pomp beside his treasured race horse. One of Alexander’s arms gripped the horse’s bridle powerfully, the other clutched several medals. The brightest part of the painting was his face, light and magnificent. Roderick remembered when he first saw the painting, the burning tenacity of Alexander’s eyes felt so real. They still did, even on this night.
Feeling himself shrink under the severity of Alexander’s eyes, he abandoned his scotch and retired early. He found his bed more welcoming than usual, and sleep overcame him with ease. He hardly had time to ponder his newest laborers and his carelessly hurried decision in hiring them. Sleep was simply much needed.