A Fortune (Story by Risa Peris)

“When forty winters shall besiege thy brow, and dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field…Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies.”

-Shakespeare, Sonnet 2


He was a wizened man with deep furrows on his face and brow, which accentuated his thinning hairline and aging body that was certainly laughable with his spindly legs, paunch, and weak arms. The carriage seemed to be going to slow for him. He banged his cane on the carriage ceiling. 

“Driver! Go faster.” His voice was gruff. 

“Thar work houses will go no faster. I could whip all again.”

The livery man had worked for Lord Herbert for several years. He remembered Lord Herbert in his handsome glory and courting so many fine ladies. His beauty withered quickly, quicker than a plucked rose, and this made him very disagreeable. The ladies had all but ceased going to tea with the exception of Lady Dandridge, a widower in her sixties, who wanted to marry their two fortunes. Lord Herbert was only forty-five himself and the thought of a sixty year old…it would be like kissing a corpse. 

After an hour more, they arrived at a small estate resplendent with grass and quaint gardens. It was the House of Claridge and Sir Claridge had squandered his fortune in the Caribbean on failed rum factories, a giant estate (now sold), and a succession of native lovers whom he bequeathed jewels so dazzling you had to squint to look at them. After ten years, he came back to his wife and now adult daughters. They were broke and had only one servant. 

Lord Herbert was greeted by Lord Claridsge and escorted into the hall. 

“Here she is,” exclaimed Lord Claridge. “Penelope. Your soon to be wife.” 

Penelope, pretty but not beautiful, gazed at Lord Herbert and began to cry. She ran off as if in flight. 

“Don’t worry about her,” said Lord Claridge. “She’ll adjust. The wedding will go on. Now let’s talk about finances.”

“Can she bear children?” Lord Herbert asked.

“I assume so. You want children.”

“I know a wise poet who told me not to squander beauty. My lusty days are behind me. I was once handsome. I need a legacy. I am at the end of my line. The reasons are manifold to have children.”

Lord Claridge poured two glasses of Brandy. “Here’s to beauty, money, grandchildren.”

The men chatted and somewhere Penelope was sobbing in disgust and fear.