Randall Grudge is Lord Cadblister’s bastard. He is also a very angry young man, much addicted to quarreling and fisticuffs. Euphemisms are to Randall as red rags to a bull. Don’t, I pray, say he was “born on the wrong side of the blanket” in his hearing- he will damn you for your delicacy. “I am a bastard,” he will tell you, regardless of your age or sex– and then he might go on to speculate about whether there were any blankets about at the time of his conception, or whether, perhaps, it happened in a haystack or a London back-alley. But that is only if he’s in a very good mood. Really, he is a very unpleasant young man.
Lord Cadblister, being an unpleasant old man, favors Randall over his legitimate son, whom he considers a milksop.
Randall and his mother Madeleine live quite openly in a charming cottage in the village of Cadblister Parva. Lord Cadblister quite openly comes to visit, quite openly unlocks the door with his own key, and quite openly stays the night, if he feels so inclined.
One wonders how Lady Cadblister feels about all of this. Many women would feel positively – murderous.
As for Randall, well, one can’t help but notice the gigantic chip he cultivates upon his shoulder. What feelings he might hide behind his anger – if any- it would be hard to say.
Randall Grudge was playing carols on the piano in the parlor of Rose Cottage; his mother sat in a cozy chair by an excellent fire. The room was warm; through the window one could see the falling snow. It was Christmas Eve.
It all sounds very pleasant.
But Randall’s playing grew slower and slower as each carol progressed, so that each song of hope and goodwill became first a dirge and then a derision, as each syrupy note was left to hang in the air until it had lost all the comfortable familiarity of its context. And as for Maddie, her gaze was fixed upon the flickering flames with the rigidity of a terrified rabbit.
There was also the disconcerting fact that Randall had refused to turn on the light by the piano, and was thus playing in the semi-darkness. His eyes caught the light of the fire, and, blazing, were fixed upon the face of his mother. He was watching the effects of the firelight upon her face, watching the parade of different faces that the flickering flame seemed to give her. Sometimes she looked like a young girl; at other times, the light made the folds and wrinkles in her face stand out starkly, and then she looked an old woman. Virgin, mother, crone, thought Randall, and laughed softly.
Maddie’s eyes traveled unwillingly to her son at the laugh. “Is something funny, dear?” She asked, and in her voice was a pathetic hope.
“No. Nothing,” he replied, and seemed to mean it. Literally, definitively, and forever, nothing was funny.
“Randall…” she said plaintively. Joy To The World came to a crashing and dissonant quietus.
Maddie shivered. She wished he’d come closer, out of the shadows. She felt that she was conversing with a devil in the darkness, a devil whose eyes blazed flame in a body shadowy and insubstantial. But it was now or never, and she didn’t want to waste his consent on trifles. “He will want an answer, Randall. I- oh, Randall, you must say yes. You must! You must!” There was the shrill note of hysteria in her voice.
“Must I, mother?” Randall spoke in a voice of lead. The church bells tolled out the hour of eleven, seeming to add their own finality to his.
“Randall, if -” Maddie stopped. She must pick her words carefully. This was too important to spoil by indulging in a scene. “Randall,” she said, in a flat, matter-of-fact tone, “he wants us both. He won’t take just me. You must come. I have nothing else. You know that. Am I not your mother?” She stopped again. Emotional appeal was of no use. Be calm, she told herself. Her fingernails dug into the meat of her palms. Calm. Appeal to reason. That was the way. “Besides, you have nothing to keep you here. In Argentina, you’d be the son of a great man, a landowner, and a wealthy one. In time, you’d be a great man, a wealthy landowner, yourself. He has promised. He wants to give you everything. Why not let him? All he asks in return for this generosity is your company. You don’t even dislike him.” This last remark had some quality of wondering irritation about it, for Maddie knew it to be true, and she knew it would do no good, and she did not understand why this should be so.
“I am to be payment for your bed and board, then? No, mother, I don’t think so. I really don’t.”
And on this final refusal came Lord Cadblister’s distinctive knock on the cottage door, followed by the noise of a fumbling with a key. He’d told Maddie once that he would always knock, to remind her that she wasn’t his wife, and that he’d always then unlock the door himself, to remind her that she was his property. Every time she heard this sequence at the door thereafter, she remembered this remark, as he had intended she should. She thought of it now, and became very angry indeed.
Several sad and discouraged villagers, trudging home from the meeting at the church, heard the quarrel that followed hard upon Lord Cadblister’s entrance.