"Lord Charles is a very, I must assure you - a very good friend of mine, and I can honestly say this is the only reason why I agreed to have you here."
"Yes, Sir." Oliver was offered to sit in the big armchair in front of the heavy mahogany desk. He refused it, besides the older lord didn't take a step towards his seat either.
Tennyson was walking, cigarette in hand and despite that, the man was the epitome of power and influence. It was like the furniture was making space for him. More than intimidating, Oliver thought but couldn't find a better word. "He vouched for you and said you'd worked for the household. "
"Indeed, Lord Tennyson."
Thomas had said Oliver shouldn't provide for information he wasn't asked for, so he was trying to stick to what he was told.
"I suspect he cannot pick up his entire household when traveling to China. Although I'm a very good employer and insist on the goodwill of the people working for me, I'm about to entrust you with a task. Keep in mind it won't be an easy one." He paused, then added, "I presume you follow the papers?"
"I do, Sir. "
"Then you must know my political position."
"Yes, I am well aware."
The Fernsbys had always been part of the Parliament. Lord Tennyson's party had won the elections earlier this year in July and was now trying to establish a more serious presence in the decision making about trade. The party was also supporting the old tax system.
Yet, the more money one had, the more they wanted, Oliver thought and those changes were aiming at profits for the rich. It meant even more power and influence, which was rapidly spreading not only on the Island but over the trade with East and the trade routes. Besides, the Crown seemed to be trying for a different establishment in the distribution of seats.
"Then you must also know I have a son who..." The Lord gestured vaguely and made another pause. Oliver feigned failing to understand, although he knew perfectly well who the man was talking about.
"I'm afraid I don't, Sir. Forgive me."
"I know you're trying not to be offensive; you don't have to. Not on my account, especially considering the circumstances and what I'm about to ask of you. "
He exhaled and Oliver decided to remain quiet.
"My younger son has developed the habit of not attending events where he is supposed to be. Regardless of what he might be doing in his spare time, it provides for...God, I hate this word, only women should use it. " He rubbed his temples. "It provides for gossip. I'm afraid no decent lady would consider him for a match, despite what family he comes from. Especially if he continues his... let's say adventures.
"I understand well, yes."
Oliver began feeling like a parrot, just standing there, repeating assurances and confirmations.
The family could probably afford one of those birds, though.
"I don't know what he does in detail, or why. " The lord was saying. "I don't have any interest in digging deeper, but I need you to report to me. " Tennyson stubbed his cigarette in a magnificently beautiful porcelain ashtray - Oliver had seen almost the same one in Charles' manor.
"I can't appoint the task to someone else from the household," his employer continued, " because my son knows who my trusted people are. It also can't be anyone from outside the manor, because the person will quickly become a suspect and my son can easily avoid him. Or worse- that person will start spreading rumors, too."
Tennyson turned directly to him then.
"I'll be clear in my instruction- win his trust. I don't give a bloody damn how you'd do it. " Lord Tennyson's blue eyes had a threatening glimmer and held Olivers' warm hazel ones for a second. For the first time since he'd come here, Oliver had the need to run away and never come back; that this whole thing was one grand mistake. Tennyson's voice quickly pulled him back to reality "And I expect you to be successful. I don't forgive failure. Even from my closest entrusted men. Have I made myself clear?"
Oliver acknowledged his words with a curt nod.
"I'm glad we are both on the same page. I very much respect discretion. Of course, you'll be very well awarded for your services. "
"And Mister Abram?"
"Yes, My Lord?"
"Don't let my son fool you, he can be very charming, and he knows it."
Callum had the worst hangover he'd had in a while.
And that said a lot, considering he had a pretty solid experience with port and whisky.
He looked around the dark room and saw his clothes from last night all over the floor. Callum had no memory of how he'd gotten back to the mansion, but at least he was in his nightgown.
He got dressed. By himself. Callum had had a valet only once years ago and never allowed a servant to help him get dressed from then on.
He was just finishing the tying of his black cravat. It was in very strong contrast with his white shirt, but when he added the black coat he decided it wasn't so bad. There was a knock on the door as he was trying to put his hair in order. It had overgrown a bit and he knew how inappropriate that was, and decided to just leave it the way it was.
"Yes?" he called. It was Thomas. God, the morning was bad enough already, he didn't need the old knacker on his heels right now.
"You're expected in the study, My Lord."
"Oh, was it today Father wanted to speak to me?" Callum sometimes did all of this on purpose just to see the older man's composure crumble. He was never successful. Thomas only nodded.
"I'll be there right away." When the butler remained standing at the door, Callum said
"I think I can find my way, thank you."
The man left and Callum decided he had nowhere to rush.
His head was beginning to pound even harder while he was walking towards the study thirty minutes later, the maids smiling at him on his way to his father's cabinet.
When he opened the door the first thing he saw was the lord standing by the window. Next thing was a huge man with his back turned, standing in the corner of the room.
The man turned abruptly when he heard the door open and Callum's whole world tilted on its axis.
He froze for a second, standing at the entrance.
"Good morning, Callum. Thank you for finally gracing us with your presence." His father said.
The big man smiled and Callum decided he could just leave.
"Good morning, Lord Fernsby. "
The stranger had a deep, silky voice which made Callum almost shiver. His light hazel eyes looked warm, complementing the dark black hair, neatly cut short. Callum almost draped himself over the nearest armchair.
"You wanted to speak to me."
He glanced at the taller man who- even if he was shocked by the behaviour- didn't show it.
"Yes. " Tennyson turned to the other man ”Oliver, thank you. The housekeeper will help you with the accommodation."
"Thank you, Sir." The man headed for the door and Callum looked away when the tall man smiled politely at him.