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Chapter 4: Tend to my garden

Right now, the baron had settled himself on the couch opposite Mallory in the elegant sitting room of the Winchester manor. Aside from them, the only other individuals in the room were her aunt and cousin, who gracefully relocated themselves to a nearby corner to take their seats. 

"Would you care for a cup of tea, Baron Kaiser?" Mallory asked. 

"No, thanks. I am fine. But if you desire to have some yourself, please don't hesitate. The weather is a little chilly," Baron Kaiser responded, and Mallory shook her head. "I heard you went to visit the church today."

"I did. It has been a while since I last visited," Mallory replied, feeling at a loss for words as she struggled to comprehend the presence of the baron before her. 

"I hope that the heavens have answered your prayers," Baron Kaiser said with a smile, causing Mallory's pale cheeks to tint pink. 

Mallory had heard a great deal about Baron Kaiser from people in the past. He was in his early thirties. The man exuded an air of refinement, and his family boasted a long-standing lineage, holding the esteemed title of baron. Women admired his charming presence. 

Three years ago, his wife had passed away, and he had been noticeably withdrawn from any social gatherings. In addition to the fact that he resided in Wingston, a town that was located in the north, rather than Reavermoure which was in the east. 

"Do you visit the church often?" she asked.

"Not much. I have a difficult relationship with God, particularly considering our history. But I am hopeful that he will bestow his blessings upon me soon," Baron Kaiser replied, the volume of his voice falling. It made Colette nearly lose her balance on the chair she was sitting on, even though she was supposed to act as if she were reading a book. "I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to see you at this moment."

"I believe it is my family and I who feel fortunate to have you here at our manor, Baron Kaiser," Mallory said with a slight bow. 

She saw him smile at her before realising he was studying her appearance. She heard him ask her, "What do you like to do in your free time?" 

With her mind unfocused, the first thing that came out of her mouth was, "Gardening."

"Gardening?" Baron Kaiser asked with astonishment. 

Gardening? Lady Doris pondered silently. The girl could have mentioned her needlework or something of elegance. No wonder the suitors didn't show up for her, thought the older woman with a frown. 

"Uh, I meant to tend to the plants in the garden and watch the flowers," Mallory quickly said with an awkward smile. 

Baron Kaiser chuckled at her response. He inquired, "Would you be so kind as to show me around the garden, if it's not too much trouble?" He then glanced at Lady Doris, who had turned to meet his gaze. 

"Certainly, Baron Kaiser. Mallory will be delighted to show you the front garden," Lady Doris replied. 

Mallory and Baron Kaiser stepped out of the manor, while Lady Doris and Colette stayed behind in the room. Only this time they didn't have to pretend as if they were doing something and came to stand before the windows where they could see the pair. 

Once Mallory had finished touring Baron Kaiser through the garden, he addressed her with a formal tone, saying, 

"Lady Mallory, I trust you comprehend the purpose of my visit today." His words had her turn to him. He continued, "I won't mince words, as I feel I am too old for it. But if you permit me, I would be honoured to have you as my wife."

She was aware of his intention but did not expect it to be revealed this soon. Was he unaware of her dispute with George? Perhaps the man was probably too preoccupied with the memory of his deceased wife to pay any attention to gossip, she thought to herself. 

"But why me?" She inquired, curious about what he found appealing about her that others did not. 

"Because, unlike most people, you don't feel the need to rush into marriage. And not hastily seizing the first opportunity that presents itself, which I find quite admirable," Baron Kaiser informed her. "It is commendable. Especially with the world that we live in."

His words brought peace to her mind. To think that they shared similar thoughts about it.

"How was your marriage?" Mallory asked the man. 

"It was beautiful. From the start to the end," Baron Kaiser stated with a pensive expression. "Arielle was a lovely and kind woman. We were very happy, until illness claimed her life." 

"My deepest sympathies for your loss, Baron Kaiser," Mallory said, genuinely feeling sorry for the man. "It can be quite difficult when loved ones depart, causing us to long for their continued presence."

Baron Kaiser nodded in agreement. "Indeed, you are correct. But that's just how life goes... People rarely stay as long as we want. We just need to keep them in our memories." 

Mallory noticed a connection with Baron Kaiser, as they shared a profound sense of loss and held similar views. He then remarked, 

"Furthermore, to add to my previous response, you hold a captivating beauty, Lady Mallory." After a brief pause, he went on, "I'll be staying in Reavermoure for a month and am looking forward to spending more time with you, Lady Mallory. I'll eagerly anticipate your response whenever you are ready. I hope you will tend to my garden one day."

Mallory smiled and said, "Thank you for your kind consideration, Baron Kaiser." Unlike the other times where men had pursued her in the initial year of her debut, she felt relaxed and not pressured now. After a few minutes, the baron left in his carriage. 

As the season progressed with grandeur and festivity in Reavermoure, Mallory discovered herself increasingly in the company of Baron Kaiser. Always surrounded by Mr. Nottingham and her cousin, with Lady Doris trailing behind alongside Mr. Nottingham's mother. 

By the second week of the season, Mr. Nottingham and Colette were engaged. The discussions about their venue for the marriage, their wedding clothes, and their guest list soon followed.

One afternoon, as Mallory was in the sitting room engrossed in a book, her uncle made an appearance in the room. She gently set her book on her lap as soon as she noticed his presence. 

"What are you reading?" Uncle Wilfred asked, taking a seat beside her. 

"Mr. Rosher's travel diary about his time in France," Mallory replied, and she could tell her uncle wanted to talk about something with her. "You should rest your feet, Uncle, you have been busy. If you would like, I would be happy to accompany you."

Uncle Wilfred waved his hand and said, "I will be fine. Always worrying about me," he added. He said, "Once Colette and you marry, your aunt and I will miss you two. Terribly."

"I do have some time left before it, Uncle," Mallory replied, feeling a tinge of sadness at the prospect of departing from this manor. 

"Does the baron not interest you?" 

"No, he does plenty."

"Well, it seems that it's just a matter of time. I've already completed the paperwork and obtained the town's head's signature." Uncle Wilfred's words made Mallory look at him in question. He clarified, "The papers for the manor."

"You don't have to do that at the moment," Mallory said, but Uncle Wilfred shook his head. He took her hand in his, enclosing it with both his hands. 

"This manor rightfully belongs to you before me, Mal. I know you won't need it with the baron in the picture, but it holds memories, doesn't it?" Uncle Wilfred asked softly. "Your parents would be proud of you if they were here. To see their Mal all grown up and ready to settle down with the right man." 

"You say it as if I'm about to walk down the aisle tomorrow." Mallory smiled, happy to have her uncle's support. 

"I say it because I know most of the men here in Reavermoure aren't to your liking. But Baron Kaiser, he seems to be well put together," Uncle Wilfred squeezed her hand. 

"I will visit you often once I am married," Mallory promised, and her uncle nodded. 

"I am confident you will. Your uncle will be sad if you don't," Uncle Wilfred stated, a hint of sorrow coming to his face. "You girls grew up too fast. It is hard for us parents, even though we are happy to see you going to have your own family, but nonetheless difficult."

Mallory allowed her head to gently rest against her uncle's shoulder. She softly murmured, "You've done an excellent job raising us." They sat in quiet companionship, finding solace in each other's presence, while being able to hear Colette's voice eagerly asking her mother when they were going to visit the modeste's shop next. 

"Mallory?" Lady Doris summoned her. "We are going to visit the shop. Come now."

In the last week of the season, the Nottinghams invited the Winchesters for a brunch, as well as to discuss the last details of the wedding preparation of Colette and her fiance. The dowry had been handed. When it was time to leave in the evening, Colette had to go visit the modeste, and she decided to go with her future mother-in-law as the lady had to pay a visit too. 

"You don't have to worry about Colette, Lady Doris. We will make sure to personally drop her off at your manor," Mrs. Nottingham relayed, placing her hand on Colette's shoulder. 

"Hattie," Lady Doris summoned the maid, "accompany Colette and Mrs. Nottingham. Assist them if they need any help."

"But if we require assistance with carrying items, we can always rely on the coachman," Colette blurted out, only to receive a quiet disapproving look from her mother. 

This naive child. Despite Colette's approaching marriage into the Nottingham family, Lady Doris was determined to protect her daughter's reputation as Mallory's behaviour had already been quite challenging. 

"We could use some additional assistance," Colette said with a nervous smile and Hattie joined her. 

And so, the remaining members of the Winchester family made their way back to the manor. Upon returning to her room, Mallory decided to switch out her elegant silk dress to a humble cotton fabric dress. Descending the staircase, she caught the sound of her uncle engaged in conversation with someone at the entrance. 

Curious, she headed towards the entrance hall, only to find Baron Kaiser waiting there. When did he arrive? She had missed the sound of the carriage wheels. 

"Lady Mallory," Baron Kaiser greeted her with a respectful bow, which she gracefully returned. "I thought I might have left my ring here yesterday when I came to meet you. But it seems not. I should get going now."

"It is late right now. Why don't you have supper with us, Baron Kaiser? I am sure we have enough for another person, and Mallory would like it too. Isn't that correct, Mal?" Uncle Wilfred asked, turning to her. 

Mallory agreed with her uncle and said, "We would be delighted if you could join us for supper."

"If you insist," Baron Kaiser replied, before he was led to the sitting room. Lady Doris joined them, while Mallory decided to quickly change her attire once again. 

Excusing herself, she went to her room to fix her appearance to make sure it was presentable enough. It took her a good ten minutes before she made her way back, when she felt the sitting room was rather quiet. 

Did they move to the dining room already? Mallory questioned herself. 

But before she could walk past the sitting room, she caught something from the corners of her eyes. And when she turned, the blood in her face drained. Her feet grew cold, and she felt her throat close up at the sight that greeted her. 

There lay Uncle Wilfred on the ground, with blood surrounding his body. 

"U—Uncle?" Mallory whispered, running inside the room. 

Reaching him, she kneeled down and tried to wake him up… but he was gone. "No, no, no! You can't die!" she cried in desperation as her eyes stung. 

Her hands covered themselves in blood, and her changed dress began to soak itself in the blood from the floor. How could this happen? Her breath started to turn harsh, and her head turned dizzy. 

"Aunt Doris!" Mallory called in a shaky voice, silently promising her uncle to return before going to look for her aunt. 

But the moment she turned in the corridor, she noticed the once white walls were now splattered in blood. Her legs shook as she walked, only to find the servants' necks slit. Walking further, she finally found her aunt, who had received the same fate as the others. 

"Baron Kaiser?" Mallory called out feebly. And she wondered if she was the last one who was going to die. Was the murderer still present?

Mallory's eyes welled up with tears, as she tried to look for any survivors. She heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps echoing through the corridor, before Baron Kaiser arrived at one end of the hallway. 

"Baron Kaiser, there's a killer in the manor. We should call for help immediately!" Mallory was overwhelmed with panic. And it was after she had uttered that she noticed him calmly standing there without attempting to move. "Baron… Kaiser?" Her heart sank further. 

"You are a lovely person, Mallory. And just as I told you on our first meeting, you will tend to my garden by lying beneath it," Baron Kaiser calmly said, his face blank of any emotions. "I thought it was only right to keep you last."

"W—Why?" Mallory asked with disbelief. "What did we do to you?!" 

"Nothing. But I cannot have any survivors," came the simple words, while he held papers in his hand. 

When he took a step forward, Mallory ran as fast as she could before locking herself in the sitting room, where her uncle lay cold. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she could hear her heart beating in her ears. 

What was going on?! Questions rushed across Mallory's head one after another, while she heard the echo of his footsteps grow closer. But then it stopped. At the same time, she heard a carriage arrive at the front of the manor. 

Colette and Hattie were here! She should inform them! She thought to herself. Looking below the door, she found no signs of shoes. She gave it a minute before unlocking the door and stepping out of the room. 

"Mallory?" Colette called upon seeing Mallory step out of the sitting room. Right behind her appeared Hattie. 

But when their gazes fell on Mallory's blood stained dress and hands, their eyes widened in shock, and their faces turned pale. 

Colette questioned in horror, "What have you done?!" 

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