Richard's Story: Part 9: Introspection

It is, Richard had to admit, easier to confront one’s boss when one is in a foul mood. He stood before Lord Rustilion’s desk, hands in pockets, trying to not obviously glower. The man was already nervous. He kept attempting to sit, then straightening when Richard didn’t follow suit.

“You wanted to see me. Sir.”

“Yes. Won’t you—? Yes.” Lord Rustilion harrumphed. “Yes. Good of you to come in so late. Anything to drink—? No? Not now? Ah. Well. You are familiar with the Commons Project?”

Richard didn’t say, “Huh?” but he knew his face reflected that thought. “Yes,” he said.

“Yes. We—that is, Lord, ah, Mr. Belemont has heard of your competent, ah, work. A position has come available on the financial side of things. In the Commons Projects. It’s yours.” Lord Rustilion straightened, hands behind his back, and nodded affably. This, he seemed to be saying, is how one delivers good news.

“Did Mr. Belemont request me specifically?”

“Once I told him of your accomplishments—the ministers are not indifferent to the work you’ve done, however modest.”

They were actually: totally indifferent. Some of the clerks and Mr. Woodburn from the library understood the work involved. And Jan Carlisle presumably. But nobody else much.

Richard said, “I see.”

“A raise in salary of course. A larger office. As soon as you feel it is expedient—you can move in.”

“Ah,” Richard said, feeling like Lord Rustilion.

Now might be the right time to bring up the potion, only the potion made less sense now. Perhaps Lord Rustilion had a protégé who wanted Richard's position in Historical Designations. Perhaps Lord Rustilion just wanted to get rid of Richard; this was as effective a way as any. But why raise him so high?

“Sir,” Richard took his hands from his pockets, set them on the desk, “milord, I would far prefer to stay where I am.”

The words said, he realized that this was exactly the kind of solution he’d suggested to Phillipa: Richard would move to a different department; Phillipa could take over Historical Designations. Except Phillipa had said they should finish Pellon first, and Richard wasn’t prepared to abandon her so soon. And he had no interest in the Commons Project, less interest in the constant scheming that surrounded it.

None of this could be described as a rational series of events.

Lord Rustilion was staring at him. Nobody gave up better positions. Everybody clawed to get ahead. Richard saw that knowledge in Lord Rustilion’s dropped jaw and bemused brow.

“You don’t want to leave your department—?”

“No, sir,” Richard said.

“You don’t?”

“No.”

“Your fiancée thinks—” Lord Rustilion began and stopped.

They stood there on either side of the desk, two tallish men, one older, one younger, one bulkier with a sweeping moustache, one slimmer with slight darkening along the jaw. Both gentlemen, so neither could say, should say, “What lies has that woman been telling you?”

“My fiancée does not always know my mind,” Richard said finally, cautiously.

“I see.” Lord Rustilion sat abruptly, shoulders slumping. Richard edged into the opposite chair.

“She wishes to see you rise rapidly—and far,” Lord Rustilion said. “As is proper, I suppose, for a fiancée.”

“She has never consulted me about my career. I rarely confide in her.”

That earned Richard a sharp glance, not unlike the glance Lord Rustilion had given him at Mrs. Fertaff’s soiree. Understanding swept through Richard. He said, “You wanted me to embarrass myself at the party—in front of Gloria, Miss Cartwright. Have me kiss someone perhaps.”

Lord Rustilion’s mouth moved. He lowered his head between his shoulders until Richard was staring at the mounded shoulders and crown of a mortified man. One shouldn’t embarrass one’s boss, but one had to find out more. Even Gloria with all her stridency couldn’t force Lord Rustilion to take special notice of Richard’s career.

Except Gloria would if she could.

He knew the truth before Lord Rustilion said to the desk’s blotter, “Miss Cartwright knows about an indulgence of mine—” (indulgence: a friendly widow in Shops). “I, ah, gave the lady special monetary considerations. Miss Cartwright threatened, ahem, suggested that the information would remain private if you were promoted.”

Promoted into a department run by another man with . . . indulgences, no doubt. Richard almost laughed. Despite New Government's "new virtue," the "discovery" of Lord Rustilion's mistress wouldn't materially damage the man's reputation. It was the type of secret everyone sort of kind of already knew. But exposing that he had given the woman "monetary considerations" (on her taxes? in a bill?) would cause a stir, enough to embarrass Lord Rustilion, to make him wish Richard unattached. Enough for Gloria to work with.

Gloria--who wasn’t ordinary at all. Richard had assigned her petty spitefulness to commonplace ladder climbing. Her character flaws were far more insidious.

“She does not represent my interests,” he said. “Nor does she represent my . . . principles.”

Still hunched, Lord Rustilion looked up. He studied Richard, pondered him. As if, Richard thought, I’ve suddenly become real to him.

“I see,” the big man said. “May I tender some advice, Mr. St. Clair. You might get further here, in Government House, with a different domestic arrangement.”

Different domestic arrangement.

“That might create difficulties,” Richard said slowly, trying not to leap ahead, to feel hope too suddenly, too soon.

“I don’t think they would materially damage you.”

“I see,” Richard said and stood before he remembered that unanswered questions still lingered between him and his superior.

But Lord Rustilion leaned back, arms loose, legs outstretched, more casual than Richard had yet seen him. He said genially, “You have things you must deal with, Mr. St. Clair?”

“Yes, sir. My position with Historical Designations—?”

“Will remain as is.”

“Thank you.” Richard paused at the door. “Sir, the tea—” because even if Richard no longer regretted the bespelling, Phillipa had been ambushed; the man did owe her an apology, even in abstentia.

“My deepest regrets, Mr. St. Clair.” Lord Rustilion shook his head, puzzled by his own lapse from good taste. “It was shameful.”

Richard restrained a snort. He couldn’t expect much more from the man. In fact, mentioning the tea might have been a mistake—indirect confrontation had been working so well—since Lord Rustilion, brow furrowed, said curiously, “It had an effect then?”

Richard hesitated, hand on the door latch, breathed in, breathed out, and took the gentleman’s route. “I’m afraid, sir, I cannot respond to that question.”

For once, Richard was glad that honesty and honor resided in different parts of this man’s brain. “Of course not,” Lord Rustilion said with deep sincerity. “I completely understand.”