15 - Mandatory Matrimony

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At the Ashford Estate, breakfast was served sharply at eight o'clock. It had been a rule that had been dutifully followed for ten generations and would still continue to do so, if the younger generation had any consideration for tradition.

Logan Ashford arrived for breakfast half an hour earlier than the rest of the members. He busily read the local newspaper, shaking his head at the reported financial situation. Dismissively he cracked the shell of the boiled egg with his tea spoon as he continued reading. His ears detected a movement to the right and he may have guessed one of the housemaids placing the basket of fresh made bread onto the long dining table. He glanced at his watch and huffed for the other member of his family to arrive.

Since his father resided in the upstairs room and had overcome by influenza it was Logan Ashford superior right, as the eldest brother to sit at head of the table. His fair and charming brother Keith worked with him in all aspects of business, but with the matter concerning leadership, Logan knew he would take control.

Logan heard the chair push back and he flipped the newspaper top left corner. Peering over he saw his son Oscar rubbing his eyes with his hands and stifling a growing yawn. He allowed his son to get his bearings right before he began.

"You didn't seem yourself last night at the party," he commented, folding the newspaper and edging forward to his breakfast. "You seemed distant. Are you having sleepless nights again?"

Oscar poured the orange juice. "Whatever do you mean?"

"I have it on good authority by my nephew that you seem to ponder your room in the late hours of the night."

Victor should really mind his own business, was what Oscar wanted to say but he cleared his throat. "There were many guests to meet and for me to remember all their names and occupation. I was making a list."

"Good," Logan remarked, humming calmly to himself. "It's high time you knew more about our family business and to grow the network." He paused, side smiling and calming the tone of his voice to match an endearing need. "So... did any of the young girls at the event catch your eye?"

Oscar sharply inhaled, although he expected this question to pop up he didn't want to answer for he feared he may disappoint him.

"Son, you are 23 years old now and at your age I was about to become a father."

Oscar inspected the bacon and eggs that Judie had cooked and was relieved to see less oil sizzling. He glanced up at his father who by now beamed at him with excitement.

"Well," Logan asked eager to know his son's choice.

"Father, they are all fine, young, ladies."

From the corner of his eye, he saw Victor stumble slightly and regained his foot. He sat opposite his cousin and pushed back his hair in a dramatic fashion.

"Have I missed anything?" he asked. He rubbed his hands together and eyed the food like a predator about to savour his meal.

"Nothing of the sort." Logan replied staring at his nephew's manner. He addressed his son now. "What is the problem? Oh I see, they were too many to begin with." He laughed digging into his creamy egg. "If you want to know my choice I think it has to be Beatrice Harrington. She looked like an angel in her blue evening gown."

Oscar grimaced at his father's choice. Beatrice was indeed an attractive young lady of 18 years with her sapphire blue eyes, radiant blonde hair and a tiny waist line. However her beauty disguised a horrible implication and if Oscar was good at anything, it was judging others character. He saw Beatrice's eye caressing Victor from afar and little notice went on the man who would one day take over the family business. She only changed her focus when Logan conversed with her. And now Oscar observed Victor's ear redden by her name

"How about one of Wentworth's four daughters? They don't match up to Beatrice's beauty but they do endow their own graces."

"If I may be to bold to say," Victor began, stirring the coffee into his cup. "I believe that the second oldest Wentworth child Alice looked rather radiant last night. She recently turned 20 and she looked rather fond of you Oscar."

Logan titled his head to the side, thinking on this new venture. Victor's crafty mind began to play. He had no intention to give up Beatrice.

"What do the Wentworth own? Remind me Oscar."

"I'm sure they own some mining lands in Cornwall and had some dealings with the East India Trading Company before Mr Wentworth passed away," he replied dutifully. "I will check up on it if you want me to."

Logan resumed his breakfast. "It's up to you my boy. One can't rely on looks to continue our line. A woman's title and state in society must come into play."

The conversation halted as Eliza and Helene took their seats next to Oscar.

Victor wasn't too bothered about them. At times he felt smothered by his modest aunt. He turned to his uncle.

"When will mother and father arrive?"

"You know how far the journey to Scotland can take," Eliza answered as she prepared the food. "They should arrive later in the day today."

"In that case," Victor began rising from his seat. "I shall excuse myself. I have some papers to look through and I would like my new business proposition completed before his arrival."

Logan waved his hand forward to dismiss him before glancing back to his son.

"May I be excused," Oscar said as he kissed the top of Helene's head. "I'm afraid I haven't quite recovered from last night's drink."

"You may leave," his father said before waving a finger at him. "But don't forget our conversation. You will have to choose wisely about the girl you will court."

Oscar raised his eyebrows and smiled for a brief moment before walking away. That was the best part of the conversation, when he made an excuse to excuse himself from his father's nonstop talk of marriage. He expected this behaviour from his mother, but she busied herself with educating her young daughter.

As he walked away he thought about what Freya had said last night. having the choice, the freedom to choose your own path in life, not thinking about other's thoughts but your own self worth. He knew his responsibility was to his family, keeping the Ashford name alive after his father would depart to heavens kingdom. Thoughts of that and running away kept his mind alive at night.

"Do you want to take the carriage into town?"

Oscar sharply turned and saw his cousin leaned against the foot of the staircase.

"I thought you are busy today."

"I have the whole day to be busy," he said puffing out his chest. "I wanted to ask you something in private."

Oscar sensed the next words that would escape Victor's lips, but he dug his hands in his waistcoat and glanced at his pocket watch.

"Have you decided on the lucky girl?"

Oscar shrugged. "I can't just pick one girl."

"Oh you sly little fox!" Victor exclaimed, lightly punching his cousin's upper arm. "If you need help coaxing the fairer sex, all you need to do is ask."

He moved to the side, not wanting to be punched again. "I need to really think who will be compatible for me. As I said I can't just make my decision based upon everyones recommendation."

"Well no one wants a winter wedding."

Oscar smiled, acknowledging his cousin before ascending the stairs.

"I have to ask," Victor blurted, taking one step up. "Are you interested in Beatrice?"

He turned midway. "Beatrice and I are so different. But she was rather taken by you." Victor brazenly smiled. "She couldn't take her eyes off you. I rather you are with her. I don't want her marrying the wrong Ashford after all."

He walked away and Victor stood for a moment till he saw his cousin vanish. He then stretched into the armchair in the great hall and slowly chuckled to himself.

Now now cousin, he thought. The things I have planned for you. Of course I'll marry Beatrice Harrington, and I'll inherit everything from right under your nose. And it'll be just too little too late for you to claim anything.

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