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Sunday, December 5, 2010

In Richness and in Wealth

Nightfall lay over London, thick and heavy. “Just a few paces more,” Helena said to herself as she walked along the drive, much out of breath. Her flowing, heavy dress was a complete hindrance to her agitated gait. The cold wind cut into her rouged cheeks. Her hat, properly in place, didn’t offer any respite to her ears which were numb from the biting cold. Her destination: King’s Inn which now stood magnificently across the street, its doors securely closed to keep its guests warm. Without pausing, Helena darted across the road to avoid a passing motor car and almost fell over on the curb. She steadied herself with a newfound finesse as the guard outside the door approached her for any needed help. Then, the doors were thrown open and she walked in, timidly.

A waft of warm air comforted her face, which was totally devoid of color, save the rouge on her cheeks and the maroon lipstick applied exquisitely. She stood at the entrance awhile and took in the splendid view of an artistically decorated dining room. The room though large had a very cozy and inviting ambience. The ceiling, not very high, was crafted in wood panels with floral designs. There were square wooden pillars reaching up to it at regular intervals. An ornate chandelier, of fine crystal, hung from the ceiling. It seemed to be made of delicate frozen water droplets which could melt away any moment. There were three high windows on the left which were completely covered with huge red curtains that almost reached the floor. At the farthest corner of the room sat a pianist playing his piano while people sat around at tables covered with sparkling white sheets and fine crockery.

Bonsoir Madame, may I help you?” An usher at the entrance asked Helena politely, in a soft French accent.

“Ah yes. There might be a reservation in the name of Mr. Erik Kingsley.” Helena replied. “I am his wife, well ex-wife.” She added in a hurry barely mouthing the last few words.

“May I have the pleasure of showing you to your table, Madame?” he gestured with his right hand, very gentlemanly.

“Oh sure. Thank you.” Helena approved, placing her nimble fingers in his gloved hand. Blood flushed to her face which regained its color somewhat.

Helena was shown to her table which was towards the left from the entrance. She sat there in a ladylike manner which, sooner or later, always gave way to her childish inhibitions.

“May I bring you some red wine, madam?” a waiter asked her a short while later.

“Yes, please. Thank you.” Helena replied.

“Would you like to have anything else to go with it, madam?”

“No, just the wine for the moment, thank you; I am waiting for my husband, well my ex-husband.” Helena reproached herself for saying the last word. She didn’t understand why she always felt the need to keep everyone around her well informed about her personal life.

The wine provided the much needed warmth to Helena. She was not cold anymore. But, she kept shooting furtive glances at the door expecting to see Erik besides gazing at every facet of the exquisite restaurant with childlike wonderment. The pianist played on and the people around kept eating and chatting. An old lady to her right kept looking at her disapprovingly and lowered her gaze each time their eyes met. This made Helena uncomfortable and she kept readjusting her dress and the items on the table nervously.

When Helena was executing her umpteenth sweeping glance of the room, suddenly her eyes stationed momentarily at him. How she had missed to notice him all this while, she wondered! She looked at him enchanted. Seated two tables away from her was a man with curly, grizzly hair that reached his shoulders; a bearded face with a bushy moustache; deep, riveting eyes and a long pointed nose. His was the most compelling face Helena had ever seen; clear, blue eyes that could look into your soul… He wore a sleek black suit that did justice to his elegant persona. Just then, the waiter reached him with a tray of assorted liquor. He picked up one glass and winked at the waiter who smiled back at him. He, then, said something to the waiter and laughed wildly with a toothy grin shaking his mane of thick hair. Everything about him somehow attracted her. She felt drawn to the man instantly. She could not understand why!

Helena seemed to have forgotten why she was here. She had suddenly forgotten all about Erik and their troubled marriage. Looking at that man comforted her. His charm, though not directed towards her in the smallest tangible way, got her hooked on. Looking at him pacified her. He was not a picture of serenity or a very comforting presence. Most men, even women would have dismissed him after one glance as a rich man given to much foolery and hedonism. But, for Helena, he was something different – a piece of jagged rock that manages to extricate its head over the face of the mighty sea, a rock that manages to hold its own, though eroded, yet significant, parting the sea at its behest. She saw him, sitting in that lonely corner, alone and yet very conspicuous. He did not fade away in the midst of beautiful tapestries or elegant woodwork, exquisite wines or gourmet meals, pretty faces or blank stares. He stood apart from all the inanimate objects that had been the subject of her wonderment up till now at King’s Inn.

Helena decided not to stare at him lest he catch her at it. But she could not control herself and their eyes locked during one of the many stares Helena had planted on him. She turned her gaze away instantly like a singed cat but the damage had been done. A waiter brought a glass of champagne to her after a while saying “Courtesy Sir Theodor Russell.” Sir Theodor raised his glass to Helena and smiled at her when she looked up at him. Helena accepted the gift willingly and smiled back, shyly.

“Sir Theodor asks if you would grace his table with your presence, madam.” The waiter informed Helena. 

She looked back at Sir Theodor who plainly smiled at her. Helena nodded in agreement. She got up and walked across the room to his table in the corner. Sir Theodor didn’t stand up to welcome her. Helena didn’t mind this. All this was too heady for her already.

“Hello Sir Theodor Russell” said Helena as she extended her hand to greet him upon which Sir Theodor kissed her hand and exclaimed, “Charmed to meet you, M’lady” with a gaze so strong that it made her blush. Nonetheless, Helena liked the way he addressed her as ‘M’lady’.

“And… please call me ‘Theodor’, ‘Sir Theodor Russell’ adds another twenty to my actual age!” he chuckled with a twinkle in his eye. Helena laughed like a small girl and said, “Sure Sir Theodor, umm… I mean, Theodor.”

All this was good but in a while, Helena sat at the table, uneasy and coy. She looked everywhere except directly at Sir Theodor. He gauged the palpable awkwardness and broke the ice. “What is such a pretty lady like yourself doing out alone on a cold winter night? M’lady, are you expecting someone?” Sir Theodor Russell asked Helena.

“I am waiting for my husband, Mr. Erik Kingsley. He should have been here long ago. I think he forgot about our meeting. He has always been so punctual. My guess is now he may not even show.” Helena continued her verbiage of excess information. Sir Theodor couldn’t help but smile at her girly temperament.

“You said Mr. Erik Kingsley, did you? But then…” Sir Theodor’s voice trailed off as if he spoke in doubt.

“Well, I think you do know him. You also must be a regular at this restaurant then. This place is, as one would say, his ‘hunting ground’. It was here that I met him for the first time. I had come over for a rich friend’s birthday party around two years ago and he had swept me off my feet. A short affair ensued and we decided to get married. And yes, I am still, technically, his wife though he might be going around with that tramp!” Helena’s voice almost reached a crescendo as she spoke bitterly. People at the adjacent table looked up and stared briefly. Helena mouthed a small Sorry under her breath and placed her hand on her heaving bosom.

Sir Theodor seemed unperturbed. He merely gazed at Helena. “M’lady, I just know Mr. Kingsley in passing and no, I am not a regular at this restaurant. For that matter, I am not a regular at any restaurant. This is, as some would say, ‘my day out’. This place belongs to my friend, M. Raymond Rousseau and I am his guest for the evening.”

Helena didn’t understand what he meant but decided not to probe further. Instead, she felt she owed him an explanation for her sudden outburst and in an urge to speak; she went on, “You know, Theodor, I am from very modest beginnings. My father is a mere foreman at a mill nearby and I used to be a primary school teacher. I never had a glitter in my eye for the riches and was quite content with the way I was. Then I met Erik. He showed me a world completely different from the one I had so long seen. I won’t lie. I did dive into it headfirst. I did enjoy the comforts and luxuries that richness had to offer; amazed at the sights and wonders of this world. I was grateful to have found Erik who loved me and cared for me. But, over time the love and the care faded. I used to hear stories of his escapades with other women but I never believed any, dismissing them as people’s attempt to drive a wedge between a happy couple; till one day when it all became clear. I wept and I wept for having been so shortsighted, for having been drawn into this shimmering but shallow world. I had been so intoxicated with happiness that I never tried to look beyond, happiness for having departed from the last station of life hoping never to return.”

Sir Theodor listened to Helena intently. He realized she wanted to speak further; hence he just nodded asking her to continue.

“Erik offered me a key to this world which I so willingly accepted. I got used to the luxuries I had never dreamed of. I changed. I was no longer the same Helena who helped her father make ends meet. I felt I had a ticket to greener vistas in this world and that I was a part of it, with my own share to enjoy its delights. But now everything has been taken away from me because the man I loved turned out to be a scoundrel.”

“So we can say that the question is whose fault is graver, yours or Mr. Kingsley’s?” Sir Theodor interjected.

“Ye-es, if you wish to put it so succinctly...” said Helena doubtfully, slightly taken aback. She was amazed that he was listening to her so closely. She realized she was doing the same thing again: talking about the nooks and crannies of her personal life with a stranger. But then, Sir Theodor didn’t seem so much of a stranger to her after all. She felt comforted that she could speak so openly to him. Was this feeling of ‘comfort’ just a product of her innocent, girlish deductions? ‘No, silly’, pat came the reply. Reassured, she continued.

“Tell me, Theodor, was Erik right in deserting me after two years of marriage, when I was nothing but faithful to him?” asked Helena.

“No.” said Sir Theodor flatly. There was a glimpse of a smile on Helena’s face. The favourable reply from Sir Theodor heightened her spirits.

“Oh. You are so kind, Theodor. Alas! They don’t make men like you anymore!” Helena exclaimed in mock pity.

“I am flattered.” Sir Theodor laughed but stopped suddenly. “M’lady, may I ask you a question?” he added.

“Sure. Please.” Helena agreed.

“When you heard about Mr. Kingsley’s liaisons, considering his already established promiscuous nature, why didn’t you confront him?” Sir Theodor interrogated.

At a loss for words, Helena answered weakly, “I was too much in love with him to believe any of those stories. I felt he reciprocated that love.”

“So you continued to love him unconditionally while enjoying the life he offered you?” hinted Sir Theodor.

“I don’t think I like your tone, Sir Theodor!” snapped Helena.

Sir Theodor continued coldly, “M’lady, you ask me if Mr. Kingsley was right in deserting you when you were nothing but faithful to him. I wonder why you would not be faithful when you were living a dream at another’s expense! I am sorry to say, M’lady but you have already accepted your fault, or should I say crime when you expressed your desire for richness and the elite world.”

Helena got up. “I shall not take this insinuation anymore! How can you say such horrible things to me?” She almost shrieked. People seated nearby stared, nonplussed.

Sir Theodor continued as if Helena hadn’t said a word, “You hinted that you had changed. M’lady, you hadn’t actually. Post marriage, you were still helping your father make ends meet by transferring Mr. Kingsley’s money into your personal account pound by pound. I had my confederates check your bank statements. The deposits started around the same time when you first heard about Mr. Kingsley's, so called, escapades. Moreover, it was not love that kept you from confronting your husband; it was the ever increasing sum of money that would come your way as alimony the longer you held on.”

“Who are you to make such serious allegations against me?” Helena demanded.

“Just a newfound friend of Mr. Erik Kingsley. I am helping him out.”

“So you had lied before when I had asked you if you knew Erik.” Helena stated.

“M’lady, I have met Mr. Kingsley just once.”

“And what did he tell you to get you on his side?” Helena asked.

“He spoke the truth.” Sir Theodor said, simply.

“Didn’t I?” Helena questioned.

“To a degree, yes, but not totally, M’lady.”

“I won’t take this anymore. I am leaving. You can’t hold me back here to listen to your judgments about my life.”

“M’lady, you are free to go. No one will stop you. Mr. Kingsley shall see you in court.” Sir Theodor threatened Helena with his cold words.

“This is rubbish, absolute rubbish! You are distorting facts and making Erik’s fault seem pardonable. All this is his fault and his fault alone. It was he who sought me out; proposed to marry me and later ran after every missy in town to quench his desires. Oh what a fool I was to believe all those tales of undying love!” Helena moaned.

“M’lady, a while ago, you were listing your mistakes while you were in wedlock. Now you aver that Mr. Kingsley is the only guilty party! How can you pin blame on him alone when you have already confessed to your misdeeds?”

Helena searched desperately for an escape route but she couldn’t find any. She reiterated the facts in her mind to form a counter-argument. “Erik’s promiscuousness was already known to the world. Even I got wind of it. Still, I didn’t file for a divorce even two years into my marriage. This man, here, says he knows I transferred Erik’s money into my personal account. I am poor. Erik is rich. I am stuck. What do I do?” In an act of sheer desperation, Helena tried the oldest trick in the book. “Do you have any proof that I transferred even a single penny?” Helena demanded.

Sir Theodor smiled triumphantly. “M’lady, the fact that you asked for proof instead of falsifying my claim is proof enough! My talk about ‘bank statements’ and ‘confederates’ was just an arrow shot in the dark. I see it has hit bull’s eye.”

Helena looked crestfallen; yet she tried the last arrow in her quiver. “But but… I was spending my husband’s money. It was my money. I could use it the way I wanted!” She stumbled with words, anger welling up inside her.

“M’lady, you were allowed to spend that money, not transfer it to your father. Any of Mr. Kingsley’s money that reached your father, should have been with his explicit consent.” Sir Theodor explained.

“You fiend! You hound! I had thought you were a good man. But, you are as corrupt as my husband. You glorify his deeds and make mountains out of small mistakes on my part.” Helena sobbed uncontrollably.

Sir Theodor was still unfazed. “M’lady, please contain yourself. You won’t be imprisoned for your misdeeds. You will be asked to return Mr. Kingsley’s money and due to your actions, which can be easily proven now, you shall receive a lower sum in alimony.” Sir Theodor cut down on the harshness and tried to pacify Helena.

Helena saw no other way out but to try and wave the white flag. She had tried all means to fight her way out but none had worked. Hence, she surrendered.

“Sir Theodor, please come with me to my husband. Please help me save my marriage. It is the only way all of it can be set right.” Helena pleaded, taking a total about turn in tone.

“There’s no need for that.” said a heavy voice from a distance. Erik Kingsley walked into the dining room triumphantly from the kitchen door with much circumstance. “I am right here!” said he, stretching his arms out at shoulder height. His swanky white suit befitted this last minute revelation. Every eye followed him to centre stage.

Helena looked at him, startled. “Erik!” she mouthed. Sir Theodor seemed indifferent.

“Yes, I have been here all this while.” Erik replied. “All that has happened tonight, as you might have easily guessed by now, was staged; your coming here to see me; the position of your and Sir Theodor’s table, everything!” he exulted.

Helena ran towards Erik, caught hold of his right arm and sobbed into his coat’s sleeve, “O Erik, Erik! Please forgive me. What will I do without you?”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” said Erik, mimicking Rhett Butler of Gone with the Wind. He pushed Helena away. Helena looked up at him, sheer horror written large on her face. She stood there, stunned.

Erik continued in his swaggering style, “You asked Sir Theodor to accompany you to me. Just so you know; he couldn’t have done that even if he wanted to. He lost his legs in the war. But, by Jove, his charm and his little gray cells can still work wonders!”

Helena’s eyes moved from him to Sir Theodor in disbelief. Suddenly Sir Theodor was not as imposing to her anymore. His charm was gone and had been replaced by frailty. She knew deep in her heart that she had almost fallen for him the moment she saw him. She didn’t know whether to pity Sir Theodor or detest herself more. She crouched by Erik’s side, whimpering.

“Now that the air is cleared, it’s time to go.” Erik looked at Helena. Helena didn’t resist. “Waiters, show her the door.” Erik commanded, shamelessly. Sir Theodor merely looked on.

None of the waiters came forward. Erik clutched Helena’s arm and moved her towards the door. Helena walked along with him, her head bent in shame. People sitting around just stared. No soul said a word.

“I shall see you in court.” Helena mouthed softly and walked into the cold night. She didn’t sob anymore. She knew she was back into the real world, her actual life, after a short tour of wonderland. The coldness in her heart was almost the same as the coldness in those men. Cold was the night and cold was the way. She was ready to brave them.

Earlier that week:

M. Raymond Rousseau walked across the breadth of his study, a glass of scotch in hand. He kept the glass on a chest of drawers that lined the wall and settled down in an armchair beside it. A fire was crackling in the fireplace which lent the room some much needed warmth. Books lined the shelves on the wall facing the fireplace. Seated in his wheelchair to the left of the bookshelves was his good friend, Sir Theodor Russell.

“Sir Theodor, I am a lonely, rich man. My guess is there isn’t a worse combination. What do you say?” M. Raymond spoke in his French accent. He was a widower who never remarried. Sir Theodor who himself was in a similar situation appreciated M. Raymond’s feelings.

“Yes, Monsieur, I understand what you say. But, then you could easily find a suitable wife for yourself.” Sir Theodor reasoned.

M. Raymond shook his head. “I miss the love and care of a woman. I miss a companion. I don’t want a wife who marries me only for my millions and then counts down the days before I die. Sir Theodor, if I may ask, don’t you feel the need for a woman in your life?” M. Raymond asked.

“Who in her right mind would marry me?” Sir Theodor said matter-of-factly, looking down at his lap, without a shade of self-pity.

“Oh but you are as charming as they come! I bet any girl could easily fall for you without your even trying.” M. Raymond smiled. Sir Theodor laughed heartily.

Just then, there was a knock at the door and M. Raymond’s butler excused himself in.

“Sir, Monsieur Kingsley is waiting in the guest room.” The butler informed M. Raymond.

M. Raymond’s face broke into a smile as if he had heard some splendid news. “O just the man! Just the man! Please show him in.” he said excitedly.

Mr. Erik Kingsley walked in a while later. M. Raymond stood up and shook hands with him and turned to Sir Theodor, still clasping Erik’s hands, “Sir Theodor, let me introduce to you a very good friend, M. Erik Kingsley. He is a regular at my restaurant and is really famous among the ladies. His charm has wounded many of them.” M. Raymond laughed as he spoke. Erik blushed and greeted Sir Theodor.

“Monsieur Kingsley, please do have a seat. What would you like to have? A scotch on the rocks, I presume?” M. Raymond asked Erik grabbing his drink from the top of the chest of drawers.

“It’s a surprise you remember that. Thank you so much.” Erik said, sitting in another armchair by the fireplace. M. Raymond signaled to the butler and he did the needful.

“Sir Theodor and I were discussing about finding ourselves wives when you joined us. I am sure you would have some tricks up your sleeve which you could share with us.” M. Raymond winked at Erik.

Erik laughed but suddenly stopped. “Monsieur,” he said “I have had my fair share of women. I have gained immense notoriety but I am not indeed as smooth as I thought I was. I have been good in wooing women but not as good at getting rid of them.” Erik continued, unabashed.

“My wife of two years has known about me for a long time. I had asked her for divorce many times in the past but she didn’t relent until last week when she suddenly drafted the papers and shoved them in my face. She might have got a fine lawyer because the alimony she demanded left me dumbfounded! My lawyer, that idiot, says hers is a strong case because of my wrongdoings.” Erik explained.

“Mr. Kingsley, your wife — she is the daughter of…?” Sir Theodor spoke suddenly, interested.

“She was a poor girl when I met her. Her father is a nobody, a mill worker, if I am not wrong. I gave her all the comforts of life and a name. She has lived like a queen at my expense and now demands enough to live like one for the rest of her life, free from me.” Erik complained.

“Mr. Kingsley, I can almost accurately guess what’s going on inside your wife’s head. But, I shall need a meeting with her as a stranger to, as policemen would say, get it out of her. Can we arrange for that?” Sir Theodor stood up to the challenge.

“M. Raymond, let us see if your deductions about me are, indeed, true.” Sir Theodor smiled looking towards M. Raymond.

“O Charmant! Charmant!” M. Raymond exclaimed. “What better place than King’s Inn for the meeting?” he opined.

“Alright. Mr. Kingsley, I shall meet your wife. She should not know anything about it or who I am. She needs to be caught unawares. I have a plan.” Sir Theodor spoke looking into a distance. He knew what he was about to do was not morally right but he just wanted to see if he still had it in him.

“Another round of scotch then?” M. Raymond suggested.

The fire in the fireplace crackled, warming the room. It just wasn’t enough to warm the hearts of cold men.


Bella Raven, a pretty American girl was seated opposite Sir Theodor Russell a week later at King’s Inn. She, much like Helena, was too taken in by his compelling persona.

“What brings you to England, M’lady?” Sir Theodor asked her.

“Nothing in particular, Theodor; just wanted to enjoy the London air, had heard much about it.” Bella replied. “How about you? Are you a regular at this restaurant?”

“No, M’lady, I am here because a good friend of mine, Mr. Erik Kingsley has conceded his ‘hunting ground’ to me for an evening as repayment for a wager between us.” Sir Theodor answered, smiling.

Bella didn’t quite follow Sir Theodor but laughed nonetheless. The chandelier in the middle of the dining room shone as if lit by the stars up in heaven.

“What would life be without these giggly girls!” Erik wondered, in bed with his new girlfriend, not very far away from King’s Inn.



NJ said...

Super like the story!
Super hate the men!
Helena, despite her obvious flaws, is a much more likable than those 3 men.
Great job Ankit! :)

Ankit Kumar said...

I hate the men too. One'd realize it if he/she read the story closely.

But, I loved writing them. :P