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Gentler Men

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It was a quiet evening: Neil Hatford, nee. Nathaniel Wesninski, sat upon a silken futon and watched his uncle entertain his poorly mother with a game of chess. The woman was so reclusive that she oft’ refused to leave the premises of her room. But on quiet evenings, where the autumnal chill wasn’t so pervasive, she floated down the stairs in her ethereal nightgown to join them in the parlour.

Neil couldn’t blame her: She had been brutally traumatised by her late husband, Nathan Wesninski. But he’d thought it was perhaps more humane to have simply let her pass, rather than nurse her back to this state. She refused to even look at Neil, claiming in hushed whispers to her brother that he looked too much like his father for her to stand the sight of him.

“Checkmate, sister.” Stuart smiled warmly. “Shall I escort you to your room?”

“No need,” She said, voice barely a whisper. “Renee shall settle me.”

The young woman was standing by the door, always ready to attend to Mary’s needs. Renee Walker had been kindly donated to the Hatford household from Lord Wymack, whose estate bordered closely with Stuart’s own. They had grown close over the years: It was what inspired Stuart to let Neil and Mary back within his grounds. Wymack allegedly had a penchant for hiring unfortunate folk out of their misfortunes, and Renee was one of them. She and Neil had, many weeks ago, talked animatedly about their respective pasts. It seemed that they had much in common, and Neil decided she could be trusted with his mother. Her hair was very pale, and she stained the ends with various dyes she liked to gather from a wealthy seamstress in town. Miss Reynolds, Neil recalled.

When Mary had left, Stuart lit a pipe. Neil got to his feet, stoking the smouldering fire.

“I do believe Mr Minyard and his cohort are returning soon.” Stuart said. “Do you recall them? They visit Lord Wymack every once in a while, but I believe it was when you had first returned to my patronage that they stayed here. Strictly business, but I do believe Mr Day and I have many agreeable qualities.”

That they both tended to be rather arrogant? Neil'd suppose they would get along marvellously. Kevin Day was not who Neil retained attention for, however, rather, the strangely intriguing figure of Mr Minyard himself. Andrew, that is. Not Aaron. The physician was rather stoic and unpleasant at times, though he supposed that Andrew entertained those characteristics too.

“When are they arriving?” Neil inquired, not at all attempting to hide his enthusiasm. He had entertained a discourse with Minyard for merely a quarter of an hour, but it was plenty for Neil to wish for it again.

“In a week’s time. I’ll have the estate primed for their arrival: They have spent two weeks, perhaps, at Lord Wymack’s, but it is said that Mr Minyard does get rather easily pre-occupied. I’m sure they won’t be here for more than a week.”

That disappointed Neil greatly. He supposed a week would have to do, should he make the most of his time. He bid his uncle goodnight and climbed the stairs.

His mother’s attendant, Renee, was waiting by the doors to his chambers when he arrived. He nodded to her in passing, but she held out a hand to stop him.

“Is it true, sir?” She asked. “That Minyard will return.”

“Verily so.” He agreed.

She smiled. “How splendid.”

He allowed a small smile, letting her hand squeeze his shoulder. There were few that appreciated Minyard for all that he was, but Neil was glad he had found another. He wondered what their connection was, and if Minyard even remotely knew her, or if she was simply a fan of the man’s character.

Neil settled in his room, unbuttoning the cuffs at his wrists, a small and intangible warmth occurring right where his heart was situated.

Next week would be marvellously pleasant.

*

Andrew Minyard had a large estate in the southerly region of Columbia, on which he housed his brother and their family, his cousin, and his good friend Kevin Day.

Aaron was plentifully busy, what with his duties as a new and prospering physician, and the father of two with Katelyn Minyard. Nicholas Hemmick, and his intimate friend, Reverend Erik Klose, were patrons of the local parish.
That left Kevin, who completed the more social aspects of luxurious living: He courted women and threw grand parties and escorted a fox-hunting party across their lands every season.

Andrew, however, was nothing of the sort. He was alone, in every sense of the word, but never lonely. He was often proceeded by whispers of his violent beginnings: Thrown in prison at the age of twelve for theft, almost carted off to a colony, allegedly involved in the death of his mother and an opiate addiction were some of the tamer responses to the name Andrew Minyard.

He was eccentric. Reclusive. And, in certain circles, known for his dalliances with men.

His most recent venture had turned rather sour: Roland had gone gallivanting off to marry a woman, despite his open displeasure in doing so. In Andrew’s abandoned state, he had turned to business matters instead and found opportunities up north, near Palmetto.

Regardless, Stuart Hatford opened his doors for him, inspired by businesses and politics and the such. These were things that Andrew dealt with, of course, but his money had never come from ambition, but rather, from inheritance. It made his worth more prestigious, shielding his tarnished reputation with a brilliantly gold glow.

Andrew hadn’t liked Hatford at first, but he proved an incredibly useful distraction for Kevin, of whom took him foul-shooting and riding. All the while, Andrew was permitted to explore the intricacies of another seemingly perfect family, only to find fissures larger than his own.

Everyone knew of the Wesninski family and their worth, and the strenuous ties between them and the Hatfords. What Andrew had not been expecting was to find a young man at a drawing board, with hair as vibrant as copper and deft fingers skilfully crafting a beautiful rendition of the Christmas Rose in front of him.

“I do hope there is a good reason for disturbing me,” The man claimed, glancing over his shoulder. At seeing it was Andrew, he stood violently, sending his work sprawling. His eyes were bluer then that of the clearest summer skies.

“Hello,” Andrew said, feigning disinterest, but really: How could this man be anything but intriguing? He had open wounds across his face, skin absolutely littered with bruises.

This was Lord Nathan Wesninski’s son. Nathaniel.

“I apologise.” He said, mildly flustered. “I do believe I have made a great fool of myself. I thought you were my uncle.”

“You greet your patron is such a way?”

The man’s cheeks reddened. “He has fussed rather intensely over me, and it is not appreciated.” Standing a little straighter, Andrew could acknowledge how the man was barely three inches taller than he. “Who are you to show, uninvited, and judge?”

“Andrew Minyard.” He said. “Your uncle has invited me and my fellows to stay and familiarise ourselves with one another. Perhaps it is an unwise decision.”

“Oh, gracious.” Nathaniel murmured. “Mr Hatford will admonish me to all hell if I interfere. You won’t tell him of this encounter, will you?” He stepped closer, out of the shadows. He’d forgone a waistcoat and jacket, simply donning a straight blouse and fitted trousers. Andrew could appreciate the man’s lithe form. “I promise I shan’t tell him of your intrepid curiosity.”

“It seems we have a deal.”

He extended his hand. “Nathaniel Hatford. Please call me Neil.”

Andrew grasped his hand firmly and knew: This man was his next venture.

It was a Sunday morning when he and Kevin took their leave from Palmetto state and its simpering sympathies. Betsy Dobson, his motherly figure, was bedridden for now, but he suspected she would heal sufficiently. Her closest friend, Abigail Wymack, the wife of Lord David Wymack of the Palmetto estate, was secretly trained to be a physician, having snuck into classes in costume and under her husband’s name. They were an eccentric trio, but Andrew enjoyed their company nevertheless.

“I have heard many a thing about these Wesninskis.” Kevin struck up conversation in the carriage as Andrew took of his hat and rested his head against the glass. “They have the most intriguing history. I am glad to hear they have settled, but I do believe neither Junior nor Mary are very well.”

Andrew was planning on ignoring him, but it seemed as though Kevin was beginning to understand how to capture his interest. He arched an eyebrow, so Kevin plundered onwards.

“It’s very unfortunate of Lord Wesninski’s passing, but his son’s ability to carry on his title and prestige is more than lacking.”

“My estimation of your worth drops every day, Day.” Andrew said, flicking his fingers. “You should know better than to assume.”

Kevin rolled his eyes. “You’re incorrigible. Perhaps he endured great suffering, but it is unfortunate. He could have been something incredible.”

The drive passed in silence. Andrew did not dwell on Kevin’s estimation, as he never truly dwelled upon anyone’s opinions, but it did wish that the hour-and-a-half journey was to be a little faster. He’d barely seen the multi-faceted man for more than a few moments, but he knew there was much to learn, much to explore. He’d seen it in the scathing words Neil had chanced upon him at their meeting. He wanted to know the unrestrained version of the man.

When they finally arrived at the Hatford estate, Andrew was first out of the carriage. Matthew Boyd, Wymack’s favourite henchman, settled their things to the ground and insisted that they go ahead: He knew some of the staff of Hatford, and would coordinate their things accordingly.

Andrew pulled off his gloves and tapped his cane on the ground as he walked, hopping up the stairs two at a time to arrive at the front door. A glimmer of movement caught his eye as someone slipped away from a window, letting the curtain fall shut.

“Don’t tarnish your image with enthusiasm, Andrew.” Kevin warned.

“Was that a joke? My, you’re in good spirits.”
“As are you.” Kevin looked around. “I forgot how marvellous this place is.”

They were welcomed by an unassuming woman, who guided them into the parlour. Stuart Hatford was waiting by the mantelpiece with a pleased smile, opening his hands.

“Welcome, gentlemen. How was your journey?”

They settled into the room and discussed trivialities over tea, until Andrew could bare the niceties no longer.

“I’m afraid I was working late last night.” He said, without real interest or apology. “I must retire.”

“Of course,” Stuart said, not at all surprised or bothered by Andrew’s retreat. “Robin or Renee will escort you to your rooms.”

Andrew arched his brow delicately before gathering his things and moving towards the door.

Outside, two young women were talking with Matthew: One was obviously apprehensive of the man’s colouring and his conflicting status as a henchman, whilst the other was clearly familiar.

“Miss Walker,” He said. “Would you escort me to my chambers?”

“With pleasure, Mr Minyard.” Renee said, curtsying in dismissal to the others before accompanying Andrew up the stairs. Once they were out of sight, Renee turned to him.

“It is most good to see you, Andrew.” She said, carefully placing her hands upon his shoulders for a light squeeze. He appreciated her caution. “I hope you are well.”

“Perhaps if men weren’t so callous and naive.” He said, offhandedly. “I hope they are treating you well, here?”

“Quite.” She nodded. “I heard of Roland’s engagement. I’m terribly sorry.”

“It was inevitable.” He said, offering his arm to the maidservant. She took his elbow and walked with him down the hall.

“I’ll be attending to you whilst you are here.” She said. “Whatever you require.”

“Thank you, Miss Walker.” He bowed his head. “There is, in fact, one thing I desire from you as of now.”

She hummed in question.

“The young Hatford. Where is he?”

*

Neil sat upon the futon with his hands clasped impatiently in his lap, book abandoned at his side. He was fiddling. His uncle hadn’t wanted him to greet the visitors, as he wasn’t feeling well, but that was merely Stuart’s abridged desire to keep Neil isolated from those who might regard him callously.

Andrew wouldn’t. He knew he wouldn’t, no matter what matters he’d heard.

There was a faint knocking at the door: He glanced up, and saw the blonde man stood at the door’s entrance as he shut it behind him.

“Mr Minyard,” He stood, hands clasped behind his back. “It is good to see you again.”

“Likewise.” He said, his perfunctory gaze looking listlessly around the room. “Why has your uncle shied you away like some feigned prize?”

“Prize?” Neil admonished. “I would rather think of a dozen atrocities than consider myself a prize. How unflattering for the winner.”

“I wouldn’t consider you as unflattering.” Andrew settled onto a loveseat, across from Neil. “I would rather it be quite suited for you to be stood beside me.”

“That,” Neil haltered. He had no clue what that meant. “Regardless. I wish to know everything of your travels.”

“An exchange, perhaps.” He suggested. “What have you spent your time doing?”

Neil told him of his sketches and his work on the garden, refurbishing the beds and the rose garden for his mother. He had an excellent seat and would love to ride with Kevin if the man desired, seeing as his uncle was growing more wearisome with every passing day. He took care of his mother. He did not mention the visits from Riko and Ichirou Moriyama, and Lady Malcom. It seemed too privy for Andrew’s knowledge.

“And you?” He offered.

So Andrew told him. Of Paris, of Copenhagen, of London. All glorious towers and brilliant cathedrals: I visited Oxford, he told Neil, and saw the most bewildering findings by students younger than themselves. The brain, for example. Consciousness, and life, such matters were not to be taken lightly. He listened, absolutely enraptured, by the man’s quiet passion. Neil was sure that he had no clue of how he talked, of how engaging he was: Every spin of his fingers was purposeful and elegant, every thought spun out like gold thread.

He was unlike anyone Neil had ever met before.

Neil could hear the raspiness of his voice, and knew he hadn’t talked to many others of this since his return. Perhaps he didn’t truly talk to anyone.

He glanced at his watch. “Have we truly been talking for so long?”

“Perhaps in that we are similar.” Neil suggested. “Even the most solitude of man requires discussion.”

“Perhaps.” Minyard allowed. “I shall relinquish myself to rest before the evening meal—“

Neil stood, almost dizzy with the speed of it. He held out a hand to bring Andrew to pause, but he was at a loss for what to say when the man turned his brilliant hazel eyes onto Neil. He was a dichotomy between inquisitive and detached, and Neil was confounded.

“Yes, Mr Hatford?” He inquired.

“We were so poorly acquainted last meeting.” Neil said. “Such little time, with such off-footed beginnings. Will you join me on my walk after supper? You should see the grounds.”

“Won’t it be dark?”

Neil flushed. “Perhaps morning, then.”

“No,” Andrew disagreed. “Tonight will do splendidly.” He tipped his hat. “Until then, Mr Hatford.”

“Neil.” He insisted.

Andrew held up his chin and quirked a delicate blonde brow. “Neil, then. Good day.”

“Good day.” He murmured.

*