Make sure to read the previous chapter of The Erabus Accounts: His Last Christmas before reading Chapter II, so you don’t spoil the story for yourself!
A modest entourage awaited us beneath the cover of the portico. Two guards, two footmen, and two ashen gentlemen whose pallid auras, and the weariness they attested, denoted them at once to be the Private Secretaries to the Sovereign. No more patient than on the crossing, my father wasted not a moment: no sooner had the driver pulled the horses to a halt than did he throw open the door and step out into the rain, landing with disarming grace before a startled footman. He replaced his hat upon his head and his cane beneath his arm in a fluid motion and marched toward the entrance as the Secretaries hurried out to greet him. I nodded a polite acknowledgement to the footman as I alighted, sparing him the need to place the steps he held, and left him, much as my father had, standing lamely in the rain with his mouth slightly agape.
“Lord Morscroft! Welcome, wel-”
“Colonel Grey. Colonel Phipps.” He shook their hands in turn. Evidently, the Colonels were expecting a moment to reacquaint themselves. As I approached my father’s shoulder, Charles Beaumont Phipps, the slightly older and portlier of the two began,
“I must say, you’re here even earlier than expected! Most impre-”
“I know,” Lord Morscroft interrupted, both as firmly and politely as such an act is possible, “How is she?”
Phipps was momentarily stunned, his valiant attempt to lighten the sodden mood failing and his brow furrowing with a slight quiver. Charles Grey inhaled deeply before answering, likewise given momentary pause by the fierceness in Lord Victor’s eyes, but recovering faster than his beleaguered colleague.
“Not well,” Grey replied simply, “not well at all, I regret.” The pallid aura set about them once more.
“No change?” Victor pressed.
“Scant little,” Phipps replied quietly, “Scant little since the summer. Since the funeral. Since he died, in fact. She eats, she drinks; at turns she plays with the children. Occasionally a modicum of cheer returns to her – usually at the behest of a memory. Fleeting, of course.” He sighed. “More often, she is inconsolable. Most of the time, however, she simply…” he shook his head, struggling to find the words.
“Exists,” I offered, softly. Phipps looked up, noticing my presence with a slight start, then a polite nod, which I returned.
“‘Exists’, yes… she-”
“She cannot let him go, Victor.” Grey interrupted. “Henry,” he added, echoing Phipps’ nod towards me, which I likewise returned.
“Cannot or will not?”
The colonels frowned.
“Does it make a difference?” Grey enquired.
“A substantial one,” my father replied, darkly.
Lord Morscroft offered not another word, but swept between them into the shadows of the portico, slipping through the half-open door and out of sight. The secretaries observed his departure in another moment of stunned silence. They turned to each-other, then to me. I met their gazes, but returned them with nothing but a raised eyebrow, confident as I was in their combined ability to devise a plan of action.
“Well…” Grey said blankly, after a noticeable pause, “I suppose we ought to follow him.”
“Indeed,” was all Phipps had to add. I nodded my agreement, and we departed the chill December drizzle for the cool stillness of Osborne’s interior.
Let it be stated plainly that these two men, Colonels Grey and Phipps, were, by no means, as bumbling and indecisive as this encounter with my father might lead one to believe. They were, in fact, both men of exceptional diligence and alacrity, who served Her Majesty dutifully throughout what one hopes will remain the darkest days of her reign, working tirelessly until their respective deaths. As one has no-doubt gathered, however, Lord Victor Morscroft was a man forged from the same unyielding metal as the late Iron Duke, and likewise swept through those before him as if he were a force of nature. If one seeks evidence of the pair’s true ability as servants in the encounter herein relayed, one shall find it in the considerable wisdom both displayed in choosing never to place themselves in my father’s way.