The rest of the house was awake early and already the day had begun when he emerged from his study. Securing the last of the things that Mr. Gray had demanded of him was his first priority but there had been new, less pressing matters that had emerged since then. Well, they weren’t pressing when they had arrived but between his chores for Gray’s project and the delays in the post over the winter, they would not remain so for much longer. His contacts were most understanding, thankfully. He’d fallen terribly behind in his affairs since he’d taken ill and with the holidays, things had further stalled in different areas. Being such a wretched winter, he was hardly the only one who had been affected by it and though he made a point to curse its slowing of his progress on paper, this was simply polite attempts at commiseration. In truth, Victor was somewhat grateful for all the delays. It gave him a moment or two to himself to start out the plans for what this spring would bring. Already he had an onslaught of contracts that were needing to be tended to. In the coming weeks, he would be busy with all the work that needed doing and he would only be able to hope that he could stay healthy enough to contend with it. His associates were well ready to begin their tasks for him and he knew that this year would prove to be profitable. It would only be a few weeks before the exchange of money would begin and if things continued to prosper as this early spring had done, he could expect that it would continue well into the rest of the year, perhaps as long as August. It was a prospect that might make other men giddy but Victor’s calm approach to these things had been his greatest asset. Still, with such a bright prospect ahead of him, he thought he might at least wish to enjoy the fruits of his labors for a while and rest a bit easier. He might have considered it too, had it not been for this damnable business with that dastardly Mr. Gray.

It still pained him to know that this man might be playing him for a fool. What pained him more was that he should have been more prepared for this day to come. It was not as though he had not been expecting some level of betrayal. After all, he could never have come this far from his father’s house had he not prepared on some level to be thrown to the wolves. He’d survived quite a bit and most of it hinged on a lifestyle that had been void of company and rendered him completely untrusting of those around him. He sighed as he finished his work for the day and retreated to his own room. How much things had changed in his miserable fortress. How different only a year could be and how much could come to pass. He thought it remarkable how much in his life had suddenly and very unexpectedly become unrecognizable to him.

Victor smiled to himself as he settled at his desk in his room. He had correspondences that were of no real consequence to put off but he should write them soon. Still, he was struck at this prospect that he had had someone to write to for something outside of his business contacts. That his brooding had not completely diminished any tolerance that anyone had for him was baffling to him. It should have been enough to keep everyone at bay and chased away any hint of companionship from him at their first meeting. Yet here he was, with contacts who had urged him to write outside of his work obligation and he had done it more than once now. And then there was the house. His hive of loneliness for the world to abandon him in and it had refused to do even that, no matter how terrible his company might be. How, he would never guess. He’d come to this miserable, burnt plot of land expecting and even welcoming his own damnation. That was all his broken heart had afforded him the concept of and he’d had every intention on letting it drown him in his sorrows. Instead, he found himself surrounded by a loving house and especially a child who trusted him beyond anything. Her remarkable ability to show him not only kindness but affection was both heartwarming and terrifying. It brought out questions in him that he’d never once pondered.

In all his years of being prepared to be the new head of the estate, it was never once brought up that Victor should ever be a father. His own had often said that it was more trouble than it was worth and if he’d been granted a son first, the other siblings in his household would never have existed in the first place. The concept of fatherhood had been a bitter one from the time that Victor could remember and his own parent’s contempt had made him loathe the idea that he might yet find himself to be anything like a man he so hated. He often had nightmares when he’d been in the house of being the one doing the screaming. Of his fists finding their relief on those around him. The night he dreamt of his own bloodied hands above the image of his lost beloved, he vowed that it would never happen. By that time, she was already lost but he could never stand to see himself the image of that man he’d called father. To know that those around him would quake with fear at his footsteps. No, there would never be a time when that would be his fate. It seemed, at that point, that being a father was nothing but violence and cruelty. He could not be convinced that there was anything good to be brought forth in his nature from the birth of a child under his wretched but convenient name.

And yet Rosemary treated him as though he were someone that might be able to be good. She truly believed him to be a man that might be called father one day. It was the first time in his life that he could think of that word without shuddering. As he thought of it now, he was almost ashamed of how it made him smile with a kind of fondness. Though he tried to dash this feeling away and cast it aside, the glow of the idea remained. Could he yet be capable of showing love in this way? Could he truly accept and even feel this warmth and comfort in the prospect of a family? A part of his mind clung desperately to the idea that he could never allow for such a thing. His one shining moment of happiness had been with his beloved and if she were not here, this could never truly be a home to him. But it had slowly become one. Rosemary’s presence made him question such a state and made him wonder, for the first time in his whole life, if this was truly what a family might feel like. Could this be what love was? He’d never known it before and though it was frightening, it was resilient to his skepticism as well. Though it would not abate and he found himself thinking of it more, he knew that there were other things he must focus on. Things that plagued him outside of his musings, lovely as they felt.

One such thing that was playing on his mind more often was where exactly Rosemary had come from. He knew only of his own encounters early when they met. He’d brought in Old Mary because she was a laundry maid that had come for less money than he had originally thought of spending and she’d brought with her a child. The old woman was less than skilled with the laundry but by the point, the girl was fully employed as a maid doing menial tasks around the house. He’d noticed her presence but rarely thought much beyond that. At one point, he thought that Mary had been her mother or grandmother, possibly. Though she looked weathered, she might have been young enough still to bare children. Rosemary was not an infant so it might yet have been possible. To his limited credit, she’d also been a child reduced by poverty and starvation at that point and scarcely looked at all like herself. Mary had likely seen to that because he did not see her as being vibrant or even the lively girl she was growing into. She looked every bit the wretch that Mary did which he couldn’t imagine wasn’t by design. If she was to be sold, it would hardly do to have the girl looking healthy and nothing like the peddler that claimed to be her relative. The thought made him snarl with disgust.

The trouble of this was, how did she come to Mary in the first place? Where were her lost parents and what had become of them? He knew she was an orphan. From Rosemary herself, he’d found out that she’d been living in the care of her grandmother before this but she spoke nothing of her parents nor what may have become of them. It was entirely likely she might not have known. This county could be a hard place and though it was not entirely known for violence, there were places where it could be found. He wondered idly if that might be something to look into but it seemed futile now. There was little, if any, use to bring up the cause of death for a girl who might never have known the one who had once been raising her. Who had raised her was her grandmother but there was still more mystery to be had there.

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