Chapter Fifteen - The Colonel's Secret

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As Tarelton held his breath and with it the words he prepared to expel, he ventured with slow but deliberate steps nearer to Grace. He had for so long desired to unburden himself in relating to another all of his pains and sorrows but had never found anyone who might listen, let alone directly question him about it. Had Grace been forceful and demanding in what she asked of him, however, he might have denied her what she asked. He would have probably retaliated in defense of his pride and sharply dismissed her had she asked him in any tone which suggested accusation, but she was rendered completely disarmed by tears and seemed so shrunken in her state that he felt in that moment of both physical and mental exhaustion safe to confide in her.

"I...I don't understand how...why you would do such things..." Grace stumbled over her words as she tried to wipe away the glassy tears from her eyes and looked up at him with a pleading look.

"I wouldn't expect you to understand." He spoke somewhat sorrowfully as he avoided her gaze and absently took in the shadows dancing on the wall. "I would never expect a lady of any honor to guess at what evil possessed me in my youth to rob me of every claim to purity and innocence."

He sighed, looking slightly distressed as he lost his thoughts for a moment in the dark figures moving like phantoms across the walls, dancing around like mocking aberrations who triumphed in stealing away his thoughts. He scowled at this, absolutely determined not to satisfy his demons a moment longer by hoarding away his afflictions in the deepest recesses of himself where they did the most harm. He simply had to let go of his troubles, lest he let them kill him from the inside out.

Turning back to Grace, he straightened himself up to face the task before him and, finding some genuine confidence in that monstrous pride of his, started from the very beginning.

"I'm afraid that I am not the very best of narrators, but I daresay that I shall try my best in relating to you all that you wish to know. I do not know how I ought to begin, but I believe that every good recollection of one's life must start at childhood.

I was very lucky in my youth, born into a family of promising fortunes to parents who absolutely adored their children. My childhood was a very peaceful and uneventful one that was as joyful and fleeting as a summer breeze. My father was a wealthy merchant in Liverpool and very highly respected by both his family and his fellow countrymen, having served as Lord Mayor several times. He was my guide, my protector and most faithful confidant during those gleeful years of my youth and had always kept me in line, installing in me the manners and principles every gentleman ought to have. He always told me of his high hopes for me and how he was sure that someday I would be a very great man, and for a time I believed him.

When I was seventeen I was sent along with my older brother off to London where I attended Oxford in order to pursue the law. However, I was more fond of sporting activities that exercised the body rather than studious pursuits to exercise the mind. I never quite developed a studious bent, much to the dismay of my family, but I was nonetheless quite carefree during those first few years in London. It was only when my father died that everything began to go downhill.

I had only been at the university two years before I learned that my father had died of a fever. I was devastated. With his death went all of the discipline and self-restraint he had spent years trying to instill in me.

I was driven to the wretched fate of a gambler and a drinker, spending night after night during that dismal year at one of London's most popular gambling establishments in the company of men who were not fit to be called my friends. The fortune of five-thousand pounds I received upon my father's death was gone in less than a year and I soon found myself in great debt. Had not my childhood friend Benjamin Hale come through London on his way back to Liverpool that November when I had begun to realize just how deep in debt I was, I might have...oh God who knows what I might have done. My family certainly wouldn't have had me back and I could not bear the thought of debtor's prison...any man in such a position of total despair and hopelessness would have thought the Thames as appealing as I did that night my friend found me."

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