The silence of the car was thick, almost palpable. Wilhelmina was lost on her thoughts and Emily was free to not think. Benny snuffled the seat curiously before settling in for the duration. Friskers was still safe in the back window. The tip of the cat’s tail flicked every so often to let his displeasure be known. Because he was a feline, Friskers could have let his displeasure be known in several unpleasant ways, one of which was peeing. Thankfully he wasn’t that upset! Emily was relieved. Hopefully the remainder of the trip wouldn’t be very long. Wilhelmina had said she lived in the greater Lexington area and you could usually reach most places in Lexington within half an hour if the lights and traffic were with you.
The old man returned with Reginald beside him. He carried on his shoulder a worn military duffel. It looked as old and worn as the old man. It was patched in several places. One patch in particular stuck out – it looked to be upholstery material in a bright red paisley pattern. It still had its vibrant colors and was therefore the newest addition. It was humbling to know everything in the old man possessed in the world was there in that bag which nearly drug the touched the ground now. Emily could see in her mind’s eye a very handsome man returning from war with such a bag slung over his shoulder as he walked. Perhaps he was walking home and, along the way had become so disillusioned he had never made it there; or, had he made it home, but he couldn’t adjust to civilian life again and had begun his nomadic experience and was now getting too old to roam from place to place?
As Reginald approached, Vinnie uncoiled himself and left for his own vehicle where Azz was waiting. The chauffeur dutifully put the duffel in the trunk of the car – Emily was amazed it fit at all – and opened the door for his fellow employee. Once the car door was closed Emily became aware of an uncomfortable scent. The old man didn’t stink so she wouldn’t call it a “stench”, there was just a smell, as if he hadn’t been able to wash his clothes in a while. He had cleaned his person, but his clothes, once she truly looked at them, were stained here and there, and had definitely seen better days.
“I am sorry, how rude of me!” Wilhelmina said as the car slowly left the curb and pulled into traffic under Reginald’s hand. “My name is Wilhelmina Summerland. This is my friend, Emily Post, and her children Benny and Friskers.” Friskers blinked in their direction at the mention of his name.
“Do you always hire people without knowing their names, ma’am?” the old man asked sardonically.
Wilhelmina smiled at him, “Sometimes – only the good ones usually. You get a feel for people after a while.” The old man mulled this over a bit before nodding.
“I am Thomas Manchester.”
“So very nice to meet you, Thomas!” Willie extended her well-kept, manicured hand and Thomas Manchester’s large, unkempt one accepted it into his own.
“You aren’t going to hunt me or something are you?”
Willie’s eyes flew wide as she proclaimed, quite startled, “Of course not! I am hiring you for the reason I have stated Mr. Manchester.” Willie then proceeded to dictate what she expected from Thomas Manchester, which really didn’t seem to be that much: He was supposed to get the mail for her every day and bring it to her. He was also supposed to see to discarding the junk mail so she wouldn’t have to worry herself with it, and he was also to do small tasks – which he could choose. Once he accepted those tasks, however, he was to keep them up: he wasn’t at liberty to discard them simply because ‘he didn’t feel like’ doing whatever it was he had agreed to do. This was fair. There wasn’t much Willie was really asking of the old vet. The main question in Emily’s mind was, Why? Why had she chosen this particular person for the job? Had she really had someone else filling this position before? Emily was sure Wilhelmina Chastain Summerland had indeed had someone in her employ for this purpose before; she felt it was true deep inside.
A large jet appeared in front of the car. It looked as if it was preparing to land on the road in front of them, which ripped a surprised gasp out of Emily. It also tore her out of her thoughts. It took only a moment for her to realize they were by Bluegrass Airport and soon would be crossing the county line into Woodford County, and Versailles, Kentucky. To Emily’s right she could see, through the windshield a local “Lexington” landmark – the Post castle.
Things clicked into Emily’s brain just as Reginald exited off the road and onto the long, curving driveway that led to the castle. This is where Wilhelmina lived. Emily’s mouth dropped open.
Gray-white stone reached up into the sky from a bed of green grass. A wall surrounded the estate itself and had been brought to the area block-by-block and rebuilt by a rich horseman in the 1920s. It was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the man’s daughter who pined away for her lost lover and had died a spinster in the 1940s. She was said to roam the grounds at night as a shadowy white figure. Many people said they had seen something white moving, floating about the castle walls as if she was still looking for him.
As they neared the castle gates swung open and the limousine proceeded up the slightly curving driveway. They passed through manicured bushes and lawn to a double door with two golden lions keeping guard overhead. There were towers on the castle walls and four round towers making up the outer section of the building itself. Everything about the place spoke of money, and lots of it. No wonder Willie said she had empty rooms! How many rooms could it possibly have?
Emily wasn’t the only one whose mouth dropped open. Thomas Manchester’s jaw hung loose and his eyes seemed to be almost popping out of his head. He scratched his bristled chin and fought to control himself.
“I didn’t think you was this rich, Ms. Summerland,” Manchester said softly.
“I’m not sure how rich you mean, Mr. Manchester, but I have enough to keep myself comfortable for a very long time, as well as those who are in my employ.” Reginald jumped out of the car as soon as it stopped and opened the door. Willie exited gracefully while Emily struggled to get a firm hold of the cat and her astonishment. Benny had no problem jumping out to pee, first thing, on the tire of the car.
“Will you be needing the car again today, ma’am?” Reginald’s voice was almost musical in the chill afternoon air.
“Not today, Reginald. Thank you, that will be all for today I believe.”
Reginald gave a slight bow, his heels coming together. “As you wish, my lady.”
“Have Jones assist you with the bags. I will speak with Mrs. Cooper to let her know we have house guests.” Willie turned to Thomas Manchester: “Jones will explain your duties to you and show you to your quarters. You may eat in the main room or with the servants, and the kitchen is open 24/7 as long as you introduce yourself to Mrs. Cooper. Jones will make sure and get all necessary introductions made.” Vincenzo Shields and Richard Azz walked up on this last part of the conversation. Azz was speechless and Vinnie kept looking at the huge house with its massive doors like he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Very good, gentlemen. The bags will be brought into the house presently. I would like to get you all settled into your rooms before the sun sets. The chef is very punctual with dinner.” Willie smiled at all of them in turn – Reginald was already unloading the trunk of the limo and Manchester had his duffel slung over his shoulder.
Reginald extended his hand to Vinnie who dutifully dropped the rental car’s keys into the gloved palm. “I’ll make certain and get them back to you before dinner, sir,” he said. Emily couldn’t help but be amazed at how well Reginald actually fit into this sort of scene. How long could he have possibly been in service to Wilhelmina Chastain? Was he “special”, too?
“Shall we?” Willie said and started forward. The rest followed after her obediently, albeit a little slower.
Willie was about a yard away from the door when it was opened by a tall, slender built gentleman in an actual butler’s suit of gray, pinstriped pants, gray vest, white shirt, black tie, and black coat with tails. The man’s head was bald and so shiny it looked as if it had been polished and buffed. He was clean shaven. His eyebrows were thick and well-kept over intelligent, bright green eyes. The only odd thing about this man was his shoes: He was wearing neon green Keds high top sneakers with startlingly white shoe laces.
“I hope your day has gone well, mum?” he said in a crisp, upper crust English accent, as Willie passed by him dropping her coat onto his arm.
“It went fine, Jones. How have things been here?”
“Nothing amiss, mum. Your messages are on your desk. Since you were out visiting I took the liberty of preparing a room for guests. Shall I have another one prepared?” Jones asked, eying those who trailed into the house.
The Clampets meet the rich folks, news at 11, Emily thought. What if Benny had an accident?
The foyer was expansive. The floor had slate gray tiles and a small table with a large bouquet of flowers resting gracefully in a leaded crystal vase cut to look like two hands holding a bouquet. Above the flowers, on the wall, was a portrait of a young girl in Victorian times looking down demurely at a small collection of flowers in her youthful hands. Her hair was up while her face was outlined with two, long curls. The dress she wore was simple – a blue and white flowered garment with long sleeves. Her feet were tucked up underneath her seat. The painting was so well done you could feel the anticipation of the girl at being painted and how happy she was.
Emily moved away from the others to get a better look at the painting. The girl was beautiful. The girl was pure in a way girls were no longer pure. The colors reached out to stroke the senses and encourage the eye to delve deeper into the painting itself. The girl caught your eye, but the entire piece kept your attention.
Vinnie came to join her. Emily was very aware of his towering presence. She caught again a whiff of his cologne. Emily wanted to bury her face into his broad chest and just sniff him like a flower!
Emily felt her cheeks burn. Be calm, girl! You aren’t some silly school girl! But that is exactly how she felt with Vinnie there. There should have been a high school locker in front of her instead of a painting with how she felt: uncertain, excited, and completely clumsy.
The painter in Emily pulled her attention back to the painting. There was something off about it, she realized, but, for the life of her, she couldn’t figure out what it was. Emily let her eyes roam over the painting again and noted the deep plums and velvety deep reds of the cushion the girl sat on. The wall in the painting behind the girl was also dark as a brilliant beam of sunlight came to a window just off to the right. You could see just a portion of it coming out of the frame.
“I don’t know anything about art, but this is beautiful.” Vinnie’s deep, gravely voice was soft, quiet; he spoke almost as if he were in a church or a museum. Emily stole a glance up at him and saw how his eyes moved across the painting. He was mesmerized, too.
“Emily…Vinnie…please, this way,” Wilhelmina Chastain’s voice broke into their admiration and Emily felt…cheated.
- A Story of Emily Post, Part X (kmgn.me)