A Young Lady of Common Gentility
Sarah's sketchbook had hitherto lain in her bedroom at Woodston parsonage; she had not thought it right to take it to Northanger that night when they had stayed. For one thing, when would it have been proper to get it out and ask to draw those present? (Sarah felt that for once, she had been prudent here in her self guidance). Secondly, she could not have drawn them anyway. With the exception perhaps of the Viscountess, Sarah had had immense difficulty in making out the General and his guests. When she drew portraits of people, it was usually done furtively, from across the square in Fullerton, or from the memory of a glimpse in the street - the subjects rarely knew they had been drawn. In this way, Sarah was always able to catch them at their most candid - when they were really being themselves.
Sarah doubted that the horrible Lady Augusta ever became herself; cold, inhuman, and utterly ostentatious - how could such a person ever be captured in a portrait, when she was only ever acting for others? And even the taciturn Mr. Sullivan had appeared measured and premeditated in all his addresses.
To her delight and relief, there was no such acting at Woodston; she sketched Catherine and her daughter picking flowers in the lane nearby, Catherine, her head bent over a novel in the window seat, and even one of Henry, tucked away in his study in the quiet end of the house. Once again, Sarah took great pleasure in her pastime, and she retreated into the comfort of doing what she loved.
The name Primrose Bridge had been mentioned by many, as a most desirable and picturesque place for calm and retreat. Sarah had heard it spoken of and had sought it out the day after her arrival in Woodston. It was indeed a most lovely place; the etymology of the spot needs no explanation, save to add that the primroses grew to such a degree all around the little bridge that the crumbled bricks were barely visible through the yellow carpet of flowers. It was heaven on earth to Sarah, and she walked down there almost every day, for the bridge led the way through the copse and onto the road where Amelia resided with her aunt. The two young women would then walk out together in the summer sunshine until Sarah was eventually quite brown and sprinkled with freckles (Amelia however was forced by her aunt to carry a parasol to prevent from freckling her own pale skin).
Sarah had set out to call upon Amelia on a Monday morning, and decided to sit on Primrose Bridge and read her letters. It may perhaps be remarked upon, that no letters for Sarah have been mentioned before. The truth is that the Morlands were no great letter writers - Mrs. Morland was not concerned for her daughter, because she trusted Catherine to take care of her and there really was no one else to receive letters from. Today however, two missives had appeared at the breakfast table, one from Mrs. Morland, the other in her brother James' sloping hand. Sure that they contained nothing of import, Sarah had tucked them in her pocket, reassured Catherine that they would indeed be read (and the contents relayed) at the first opportunity, and had set out for Miss Stevens' residence.
The first letter ran thus:
My dear Sarah, 30th June 17-
Your father and I felt I ought to write after so long an separation from you. We hope you are well, and that your stay with your sister is as you anticipated. Remember when you return to bring the book that Mr. Tilney promised your father when they met last - the circulating library has nothing more to offer, and your father does so need something to occupy his mind.
As to news, what can I say? Dear James is still staying with us, and I declare quite popular amongst the young ladies of the village! He danced at the assembly last Saturday with one girl - a Miss Brown - at least twice; another wedding in the family would be so lovely. Your brothers and sisters send their love, I am sure, and look forward to seeing you again (Anna asks you to buy her some present or other if you go into Gloucester).
In the town, the draper's girl Susan has broken her engagement, and we are all very shocked, and a there is a new woman teaching at the school. Young Mr. Allen has removed to his new home at last, after being ordained last week. He has promised to invite his family down from Bristol, so we can become acquainted with them. He and James have been out together rather a lot, so I shall make him write and tell you more.
I have rather an interesting little anecdote relating to this young man - I called upon Mrs. Allen yesterday with news of the draper's girl. Being somewhat early I stopped outside the porch to take in the air, when I heard Mrs. Allen and young Edward Allen in conversation. Naturally I cannot recall the whole discourse, so I shall not attempt to recount it here, but the topic seemed to centre on a woman named Theresa. Mr. Allen appeared to be concerned about her welfare, and confirmed to his relation that he would be bringing her down as soon as possible. After untangling my dress from the geraniums, I went inside; I said nothing of what I had heard, but later that day he rode off to Bristol without so much as a by your leave. What can it all mean? Another wedding perhaps!
Your father and I do not expect you until three weeks on Friday, so do let us know if your plans are changed. Your sister mentioned a Mr. Murray in her last letter, a gentleman who sounded very promising.
Fond regards, &c.
Sarah was puzzled. What indeed could have motivated such behaviour from such a gentleman? From what she could gather, he had left the village too abruptly from what she understood of his nature; his generosity and sensitivity for the concern of others should have assured an explanation or excuse to someone within her mother's sphere of information. Silently cursing Mrs. Morland's inconsistent story telling, she turned to her brother's letter, hoping that he at least would be more valuable.
Dear Sarah, 31st June 17-
This will probably a short letter; only to furnish you with details that our mother will have omitted in her correspondence.
My dear friend Edward Allen is now in Barston parsonage, and I have several times been to see him. You will be pleased to hear that he is settled and comfortable, and declared that he wants only for female company to be wholly complete
Since writing the above, my friend has taken it upon himself to rush off to Bristol, without giving a decent explanation. I was out riding when I stopped him at the village border - he was in a great rush, seemed quite out of sorts and said only that he feared that he might be too late. Our mother, when questioned, ventured that he was referring to a "Theresa" whom she had heard him express concern for earlier. I confess that I was aware of no attachments on his side (save for his acquaintance with you of course); I know only that he has a sister living in Bristol, and I assume it is owning to some misfortune of hers that he journeys so hastily to that city.
Here my pen runs dry - I have no further information to give, but I hope that this letter serves to clarify what our mother will have sent already. I am only as ever,
your loving brother,
Such a letter can never be read apathetically; when Sarah reached the end, she returned to the top and began again. What could have been so urgent as to unnerve the usually calm Edward Allen? Her heart pounded as a series of unfortunate disasters presented themselves in her mind - perhaps his fortune had been lost through his family, or someone close to him hurt in some accident? For some reason, she felt dread on his behalf, and frustration on her own. She silently gave thanks that she had a brother at least, who could relay information sensibly, for her mother had indeed been of little use. It suddenly occurred to her how divided she was from Edward, and thoughts of going home crept into her mind for the first time.
"He writes only of what he has seen, not what he has heard from the lips of Mr. Allen," Sarah thought, getting to her feet, and wiping her eyes. "Men are never very observant in these things, James especially. I must remain composed and not expect the worst. I can do nothing, and it is hardly business of mine, after all."
Thus she reassured herself, and once her heart had stopped pounding so, she turned back home, her focus now to confront Catherine about her letter to Mrs. Morland regarding Mr. Murray and not to dwell upon Mr. Allen's misfortunes.
What we intend to do however, it very different to our actions. Sarah had great difficulty putting the plight of Edward Allen out of her mind. The reason why he could have dashed so suddenly to Bristol continued to elude her, and cause her much consternation the more she tried not to let her imagination run riot. She said nothing of it to Catherine or Henry, and continued in pursuit of diversion before it was time to go back to Fullerton at the appointed time.
The weather now became so hot that parties in a hot cramped room did not appeal to many; it was Mr. Jameson, always sensitive to the mindsets of his fellow villagers was resourceful enough to organise an outdoor evening party. It was to celebrate nothing in particular, and so guests were invited by word of mouth to "the Jameson event" and promised that there would be cold meats and salads, and lashings of lemonade made especially.
Sarah was anticipating the party, for she too hated the heat and oppression of the assembly rooms. She was also by now quite fond of Mr. Jameson; his high spirits were somewhat contagious, and she never failed to enjoy herself when he was entertaining her.
As it can be imagined, the party was enormously successful; peaches and pineapples had been procured, as well as plenty of punch and lemonade with ice. It remained hot all evening, and when it got too dark to dance, torches were lit all around the garden. Sarah and Amelia had never been to anything like it.
"I shall be sorry to leave Woodston," said Amelia, helping herself to a fourth glass of punch. "There have been such friends to be met and fun to be had, I am sure I will be homesick for the place when I go back to Devon."
"Will you? I admit I shall be sorry to go too, but there truly is nothing like home. Fullerton is so lovely, you must come and visit some time," returned Sarah.
Amelia readily agreed, and added, "I wonder that you should keep mentioning Fullerton lately. What ties have you there besides your family?"
Sarah coloured. "None whatsoever, I am sure. I think only of being back amongst what I know and love, that is all."
"I see." Amelia sipped at her drink and hid a wry smile. "Your brother-in-law mentioned a young man to my aunt yesterday." She watched Sarah's face change, and continued. "You never spoke of any attachment to me."
Sarah was surprised to feel her heart sink, as he was spoken of so openly by her friend. "There is no attachment. He is an acquaintance, nothing more." She turned her head to hide her moistened eyes.
"May I speak frankly Miss Morland?" asked Amelia, and her tone of voice sounded different, stronger and more assured. "I have not known you long, but I have spent enough time with you to know your nature. I realise you like to appear hard-shelled - there is nothing wrong with that, but believe me, Mr. Allen has been spoken of more than once in connection with yourself. Mr. Tilney and your sister both talk about him as being attached to you, if not in deed then certainly in thought. Why cannot you admit that you are as attached to him?"
"Catherine is forever matchmaking me with other men, so how can she think I am attached elsewhere?" exclaimed Sarah loudly. "And I know very little of Mr. Allen. I do not even know where he is, what he is doing, and it is driving me to distraction!"
The pause after Sarah finished was a marked contrast to her shout, and Amelia looked quite startled. She swallowed, and then smiled slightly.
"Your feelings towards this man as I suspected?"
Sarah lifted her head, and a tear rolled freely down her cheek.
"You guess well, Miss Stevens. I suppose they are. I am so terribly afraid for him; I have had no letters giving me news of him. My brother said he seemed distracted, and it breaks my heart not knowing why." Sarah smiled through her tears. "I suppose this means I am attached to him - my feelings betray me, despite my best efforts." She sat down heavily on a stone bench, and pulled at her eyes. "I should not upset myself until I am better informed."
"Good advice, I think," Amelia replied, sitting next to her. "These things always turn out well, you know. If this were a novel, it would all sort itself out in the end, and you would realise at the last minute that you are both wildly in love, and marry and live happily ever after."
Sarah grinned. "Why do I surround myself with these novel readers? All their advice comes from the biographies of Emily and Cecelia - whose adventures, I might add, are nothing like mine. Come on, let us go and find some dancing partners before you convert me and turn me completely empty-headed."
Sarah's attitude was now rather more complicated - she realised now that she could no longer be certain of anything that was happening in Fullerton, and that it was folly to forget all about Mr. Allen and this mystery girl. This did somewhat blight her stay at Woodston, for she desired nothing more than to go home. No more letters arrived over the next week, and she had no more news. Both Catherine and Henry noticed that she was distracted, and decided that she was naturally longing for a certain someone and obviously this conjecture was not very far from the truth.
Sarah's departure could not be hastened though, because General Tilney once again made his presence known by inviting them all up to Northanger Abbey. After the disaster of Sarah's last visit, she was naturally less than keen to go, but Catherine insisted that it would be good for her to see different people, and she was pleased that the General was prepared to see them again -"For heaven knows, he is so unforgiving usually!" Therefore they all traipsed once more up to the Abbey, Sarah prepared for the worst, and determined to say as little as possible.
Dinner was a sedate affair - the Viscountess and her husband had gone, leaving only Mr. Sullivan and Lady Augusta. Sarah's heart was slightly gladdened by the fact that the latter had been obliged to take to her bed, owing to some malady - Sarah expressed a hope that it was nothing serious, whilst privately envisioning an illness involving boils or spots. She spoke hardly at all at the table, and refused to even look up when Mr. Sullivan asked how she liked the roses put out at his insistence.
She was thankful when the evening came to an end, and they were bid farewell by the gentlemen; it was only when they were setting off that Sarah realised her glove was missing. She had taken it off with its twin at dinner, and been holding them both afterwards to keep her hands from getting too hot. Despite Henry's offer, she ran back to get it herself. The entrance door was still open, light flooding from within. Sarah ventured inside, for some reason on tiptoe. She made her way to the dining room, and found her glove on the floor. It had not occurred to her that she might be caught, when she heard voices. Her heart leapt, and then she realised that the noise was from the adjoining room - what seemed to be a small study. The door was ajar, and smoke seeping out suggested that the men had retreated there after they said goodbye to the Tilneys. Sarah's lip curled in disdain, and she was about to turn around and creep out when she heard her name mentioned.
"Such a fine girl," the General was saying. "A figure like her sister, very womanly, very womanly indeed."
"A waste though," replied Mr. Sullivan silkily. "for I doubt she will marry well. Mrs. Tilney was extremely lucky, in my opinion."
"Undeniably so. Poor as church mice, both of them. Whole family too, I assure you. Pity that such a beauty should be married off to some poor clerk or other."
"I confess though, I admire your son's taste in women. They may be . . .unfortunate, but to think of being lord over such a female as Miss Sarah -"
"Come Sullivan, she's not for you. Wasn't there some girl in Bristol, or Bournemouth was it?"
A laugh rang out. "Both, to be truthful sir. A little trifling flirtation, I assure you. When is this Miss Sarah leaving for her backwater? There's no harm in a little merriment while she is still amongst us."
The chair creaked as the General got up. "I still say you should aim higher . ." A decanter clanged as more drink was poured, and Sarah took the opportunity of running off down the corridor and out to the carriage.
Her relations assumed she was red because she had run, and did not question her, but Sarah was utterly fuming inside, and did not stop what her mother usually called 'boiling' until she got into bed later. How simply disgusting! No wonder she was warned against such men by her mother and sister; callous, cold hearted, devoid of any human sentiment or feeling, both of them! Sarah often made fun of Amelia's romanticism, but it was surely a thousand times better than Mr. Sullivan and the General's heartlessness? And what was said about her! The odious man had more chance with the General himself than with her. Sarah was now more like her usual self - not self-pitying or languishing, but headstrong and determined. The sickening conversation she had overheard had served as if she had plunged her head into a barrel of icy water. Why on earth should she associate with such people, who only had their own interests at heart? If venturing out into the world meant encountering men such as these, then Sarah was happy to live as a spinster, or at least married to someone insipid. It had been wonderful to see her sister and brother again, more so to see her niece, but that (and her friendship with Amelia) was the only pleasure the trip had afforded. There was nothing more to be had out here, in town, Woodston, even Barston. Only Fullerton appealed to Sarah and her desire of home was the last thing she thought about before she fell asleep that night.
Sarah's wish was granted several days later, for the following reason; on the day Sarah had visited Northanger Abbey again, Amelia had spent the day in Gloucester, visiting more relations. There were quite a lot of them, and all except one had young children, who had coughed and sneezed all day. When Amelia had returned the next day, she woke up feeling extremely ill; her aunt called the apothecary, who diagnosed a mild influenza. It was nothing serious, but rest was recommended, and care taken that it might not transfer to anyone else.
Sarah discovered all this when she crossed Primrose Bridge to call on her friend; thoughtlessly, she went and sat with her friend for an hour or so before returning to the parsonage to tell Catherine of the sad news. Mrs. Tilney was horrified that her sister - now as she believed, disease-ridden - had been so careless; baby Eleanor was sure to catch the influenza, thanks to Sarah! Henry, for his part, observed that it was most probably not detrimental, and a slight sniff never did anyone harm. Catherine could not be persuaded though, and a letter was immediately dispatched, informing Mrs. Morland that Sarah would be travelling from Woodston the next morning. Later when Catherine was calmer, she apologised to her sister, and explained that she had only her child's health at heart, and that Sarah could still stay, as long as all contact was restricted between herself and the baby. Sarah however excused herself, and replied that she was due home soon anyway, and in no way would she endanger Eleanor.
These events were, of course, heaven sent. Sarah by now longed to go home, partially to return to some degree of normality, but also to finally ascertain the situation of Mr. Allen, for it was still something of a worry to her. Daily she reminded herself that he was male after all, and had, as a novel would have it, broken her heart; then, she would argue that she still knew nothing, and should not come to wild conclusions before she was privy to all.
The journey from Gloucestershire was undertaken at first light the next morning, and on this occasion, both sisters shed tears, for they would for once miss each other. Sisterhood had never been dear to them, but this time spent together had brought them closer, and Sarah for her part would miss Catherine from then on. Henry, wry as ever, wished her well, and made her promise that she would only return when she was sure of carrying no disease or illness of any kind. He did however, thank her for visiting and add that the parsonage would be incomplete without her.
Sarah waved from the window until they were out of sight, and then fixed her eyes forward in the direction of home.
It is interesting that we all expect some great change to have taken place at home in our absences; we anticipate our arrival and look out for anything unusual or different, but it is never so. Everything is the same - the clocks are still ticking, the plants are still growing, and the only change to be found is in ourselves. We are browner, more relaxed, or experience has altered our perceptions; we are never the same.
Sarah discovered her unaffected home with no small amount of pleasure; all was exactly as she had left it. Her possessions were unpacked immediately, and within an hour, she was downstairs in the parlour with her mother.
"It is sad that you had to leave so abruptly, Sally," said Mrs. Morland, seated next to Anna, who was tangled up with a skein of knitting wool. "Your sister will be missing you cruelly I expect, despite the poor baby."
"I expect so," agreed Sarah glumly. She paused for a moment, then coughed. "Have you heard aught of Mr. Allen?"
"Mr. Edward Allen? Yes dear, he is up at Barston still; oh, and his dear sister has arrived! I have not seen her yet, but Mrs. Thomas was introduced this morning and said she was quite attractive - piles of dark hair, and lovely brown eyes."
Sarah sat up quickly. "The lady is his sister? Did he bring her from Bristol that day?"
"Yes," came the reply, "her name is Theresa, and from what I understand, she has had rather a troubled time there. Something about a young man, I believe. Do not speak of it, Sally, for it is a delicate matter and I know how your tongue runs away with you."
Sarah ignored this criticism. He had been taking care of his sister, but had all been resolved? Could she do anything to help? "Are they at Barston now?"
"With another brother, yes," answered Mrs. Morland, pulling at the wool knotted around Anna, who cried out in frustration. "For heaven's sake child, how did you get it so tight?"
Sarah had heard enough; she mumbled something about fresh air, and pulling a shawl about her, stepped out into the sunshine, and into the lane leading to the main road. She walked quickly to the end of the lane, warmed by the sun, until a cloud passed overhead and it darkened around her slightly. She looked up, and was startled to see Mr. Allen before her, clearly on his way into the village.
His appearance had improved in over a month - he was browner, perhaps from walking out as much as she had, and his hair had grown longer, so that it curled attractively around his ear. His eyes sparkled when he recognised her, and he removed his hat.
"Miss Morland, I did not know you were back. What a pleasure to see you!"
He seemed genuine, and Sarah curtseyed.
"I arrived just now. I wanted to get some air though, so I thought I would walk into the village."
"May I accompany you?" was Mr. Allen's welcome offer, and Sarah assented and stepped out onto the main road, wrapping her shawl tighter around her body. But before she could open her mouth to surreptitiously ask how his visitor did at Barston, another woman's voice sounded out behind them. It was a small, dark girl -undoubtedly the young Miss Allen. She was so young, Sarah reflected, barely sixteen. She bounced down the lane with all the exuberance Sarah usually displayed, and landed in front of Mr. Allen.
"I called out to you, Edward," she breathed, pink in the cheeks. "I had to go back to the house to fetch something. When I said go on ahead, I thought you might wait!"
"I am sorry, Theresa," he replied with a smile to Sarah. "I thought you were right behind me. Excuse me though - Miss Morland this is Miss Theresa Allen, my sister."
"I am pleased to meet you," put in Sarah, bobbing curtly. "I had heard you were staying with Mr. Allen, of course."
"You did?" Miss Allen frowned, and something like sadness crossed her beautiful face. She looked up at Mr. Allen, and then her brow cleared. "Of course, your brother informed you."
"Amongst others," came Sarah's reply. She was desperately trying to contrive something to say that did not relate to Edward's journey to Bristol, but nothing came to mind. Mr. Allen filled the silence.
"We have just come from my uncle's house. He and Mrs. Allen are planning a trip into Bath, and they have offered to take Theresa here." He laughed fondly. "Although I must say, I should be sorry indeed to have to part with her again."
"You must excuse me," interrupted Sarah, convinced that if she did not leave now, she would not be able to contain herself. "I think I hear my mother calling me." Turning quickly, she strode back down the lane, breaking into a run only when she was out of sight.
"Sally?" came Mrs. Morland's voice from the parlour, and she emerged with a pair of scissors. "Sally, where have you been? Could you come and hold Anna still for me; she really is being too tiresome."
"I am sorry Mama, but I feel rather ill. I think I shall go and lie down in my room for a while." She walked up the stairs and paused.
"And Mama? Please could you stop calling me Sally now - I detest it." The staircase shook slightly as she pounded upstairs and Mrs. Morland was left standing puzzled at the foot of the steps as Sarah's door slammed shut.
Sarah was now not sure whether her relief was complete or not. She sat in her room on her bed, thinking hard. Theresa's difficulty with this mysterious young man had clearly been averted by Edward's timely appearance. Her heart was appeased at this knowledge, for her worry over his welfare had been great, and she now admitted to herself that this was because she felt so strongly about him. Hopes began to spring in her heart that a happy reunion between them might occur soon, and then she remembered his recent hardships. How could he have been thinking of love and marriage when his sister was in trouble? Images of duels and pistols at dawn with this unknown gentleman, and her heart leapt. Oh, why did her imagination work so on Mr. Allen - surely it was not proper to think of such things, and to be so curious in his affairs?
James Morland, who had been in the village when Sarah had come home, was disconcerted upon his return to find his sister closeted up in her room. He had knocked on the door, but had received no answer. He could do no more, for he was called away to see to some business in Salisbury, and did not return until the afternoon of the next day. Sarah therefore had very little opportunity to speak to her brother by the time she emerged from her chamber (having fallen asleep for some hours). It had occurred to her that James might have heard all of the particulars from his friend, and she was heartily sorry that she had shut herself up. Her only form of relief was when she wrote to Amelia, who had by now recovered and was due to go back home to Devon to take advantage of the sea air.
It came as a surprise to Sarah that on that day, Mr. and Mrs. Allen invited the Morlands over to Fullerton House for a little tea party they were giving for Theresa, to introduce her to their nearest acquaintance. The whole family were pleased to accept - in unusually high spirits. Sarah was careful in her dressing and toilette; she curled her hair properly, and spent some minutes selecting a pelisse to match her gown. Overall the effect was lovely, and Sarah's heart beat quickly under the decoration.
Mrs. Morland was complaining of a rheumatism in her knee as they were preparing to leave, and so her husband offered to drive her over; Sarah and James were left to walk over to the Allens' by themselves. As soon as their parents were out of sight, Sarah plucked at her brother's sleeve and cried,
"And now Jem, you can tell me what happened to Mr. Edward Allen that day he left for Bristol, for I know you know!"
James looked startled. "Slow down Sarah. I have spoken to Ned, yes, although the story really is not worth telling, I assure you . . ."
Sarah could have boxed her exasperating brother's ears, for all the frustration she felt. "For heaven's sake Jem, your letter made it sound as though he were in dire straights; and here you are refusing to tell me why? You are too tiresome, indeed!"
"Dire straights, by Jingo, no! You see, he told me that his sister had met with a man in Bristol, and . . ."
At that moment, James' name was called out and down the lane, Mr. Edward Allen appeared. When they met, he explained that the parson and his wife had arrived at Fullerton House, and he had been sent to hurry Sarah and James on. Sarah was in a turmoil, half angry that yet again James had failed to explain himself, and the other half thrilled to be offered the arm of Mr. Allen for the remainder of the journey.
Upon arrival, James and Sarah were ushered into the parlour where a small group of people were assembled around the fireplace, holding teacups. Mr. and Mrs. Morland and Mr. and Mrs. Allen were seated, but the two others were standing side by side. One was Theresa, and the other was an immensely tall gentleman wearing regimentals. He had a wave of thick dark hair, and Sarah was instantly struck by how alike he was to Theresa and Edward. This man had to be the brother that she had heard mentioned.
Carefully and elegantly, Sarah greeted Mr. and Mrs. Allen, the latter of whom exclaimed,
"My dear, how changed you are! So beautiful and improved. Your manner is so much different, I believe you are quite the lady." As if suddenly aware of the three young people behind her she stopped and waved a hand vaguely in their direction.
"Have you met the rest of our dear trio. Edward of course you know; this young man is Captain Howard, our eldest nephew, and this lady you know also - our beloved Theresa."
They all bowed in greeting, and Sarah curtseyed gracefully. The party scattered as each person began talking to their neighbour. Edward was claimed by Mr. Morland to discuss tithes, and Captain Howard sought out Sarah. As he spoke, Sarah felt herself relax. Despite his size, Captain Howard had a quiet, smooth voice, and his manner put her at once at more ease than she had been so far. She remembered that it was he who had almost become engaged to Miss Thorpe, and she wondered how anyone could take advantage of his good nature.
"Edward speaks often of you," he noted, gazing at her. "I have heard very little of any other young lady since I arrived."
"Does he not mention Theresa more than I? I would have thought that the likelier," Sarah answered, glancing at the beautiful young girl, who was chatting animatedly to Mrs. Allen.
"Ah, that is true I suppose; but he has not seen her for so long now, it is only natural that he should have missed her so heartily."
Sarah's brow furrowed. "Missed her? Were they separated?"
"Her home has been in Bristol with a great aunt since our father died. Recent circumstances have necessitated a change of residence, however, and Theresa is to live at Barston parsonage. . ." The corners of his mouth turned down slightly, and the captain paused. " I mean to say, when Edward was away at the university, they did not see each other, and I am afraid they are both poor letter writers."
"I sympathise," murmured Sarah, thinking of her own family, before glancing over at Mr. Edward Allen. "That is why they are so attached at this moment, I am sure. After so long a separation . . ."
"He shall take care of her now, yes," replied Captain Howard, draining his cup. "We will all shift along as best we can."
Sympathy overwhelmed her, and she was silent for a moment. These three young people suddenly seemed like the most affable she had ever met. Her own plentiful family had been taken for granted so often, and here she realised how miserable it must be to be an orphan.
"You all seem to take much comfort in each other," she observed, and her companion nodded. His brow, previously furrowed, now cleared and he smiled slightly.
"Edward especially is protective over both of us. I have hinted of our grievances of late, Miss Morland-"
Sarah had leaned closer as her curiosity increased, but Mr. Allen's voice rang out across the room, cutting Captain Howard's sentence short.
"I say, Miss Morland, would you be good enough to fetch me a book from the library?" He gestured at his leg. "I dare not trust myself to move today."
He called the title out, and Sarah, excusing herself from the captain, crossed over to the door and into the library. If she was quick, she could find the book, and return to her conversation with Captain Howard.
The library was a light and airy room, filled with large chairs and sofa. Sarah picked the nearest shelf (filled with novels) and ran her hands down the spines, looking for the particular volume.
She knew Edward had entered the room, when the draught from the door blew at her neck. A hand reached out from behind her and pulled out a book from the shelf above her.
"Mr. Allen arranges his volumes in alphabetical order," he explained, a wry smile playing upon his lips. He held out the book, and Sarah took it, their fingertips touching for a second before they moved apart. Sarah took a deep breath.
"I did not know you had a sister. Why did you not mention her before?"
"Did I not? I have not seen her for so long, I suppose that there was very little to mention," smiled Edward. "We learned of each other only by reports from our brother when he visited."
"I was sorry to hear that she was in difficulty recently. I hope she did not come to any harm?"
Edward looked surprised and then smiled weakly. "I see the gossip machine keeps turning. Yes, Theresa was in . . . difficulty." He rubbed his temple. "I seem, Miss Morland, to spend all my time extracting my siblings from failed love matches. Do you remember my brother's friendship with Miss Thorpe?"
Sarah nodded, recalling the gentle face of Captain Howard.
"My sister was likewise made love to by a certain gentleman, who made every sign of wanting to elope with her. She has some money, and the gentleman seemed quite taken with her, or so she believed. My half-brother returned from his encampment to discover that she was intending to elope that very night. He persuaded her to wait until I could come and talk to her as well. When I arrived in Bristol, she had received a letter which politely expressed his regret at leaving the city, saying that due to a family illness, he had journeyed with his sister to some Abbey in the country to enjoy the air." He scoffed and ran his hand through his hair. "This man is known to me, another fellow from Oxford. It is clearly all a joke to him, an entertainment for his own selfish humour."
Something struck an awful chord in Sarah's mind. She recalled the conversation she had overheard at Northanger Abbey and hung her head in mute disbelief.
"Was this gentleman named Sullivan?" Edward Allen looked surprised at this and nodded.
"Do you know him?" He took a step forward. "Please tell me - are you acquainted with him yourself?"
Sarah shuddered. "Not well. He was staying at Northanger Abbey with the General when I visited. I . . . believe he mentioned your sister in passing."
Edward apparently did not want to know the details. He only clenched his fist and said, "Thank God you have not been acquainted with him. For a moment, I thought that both my sister and yourself . . . well that would have been more than I could have borne this week."
He stopped and turned pink. Sarah guessed his inference and coloured likewise. She decided to fill the pause in conversation.
"You seem to have been much troubled, and I am sorry for it, but I am glad that you told me the truth. I heard at Woodston that you left in haste, and I was worried for you."
"You were?" Edward's eyes brightened, and he moved forwards again. "Do you know what sits over my fireplace at Barston? It is the portrait of you and I, the one you drew from the first time we met."
Sarah scoffed. "You mean when I fell over you."
"No," said Mr. Allen firmly. "The first time we met. Tell me, I understand from your mother that you enjoyed your time in Woodston, as I knew you would. Would you contemplate visiting Barston in the future?"
Sarah's brow furrowed. "Visiting?"
"Yes, I would be happy more that words could express if you would visit me at Barston. Miss Morland - Sarah - I do not care if you spill tea. I do not care that you climb trees and cannot play the piano. Will you find it in your heart - to visit me?"
Sarah laughed and took his outstretched hand.
After a sufficient length of time, they returned to the party, and were greeted merrily with congratulations, for they had of course been informed of Edward's intentions several days ago. It was with fresh enthusiasm then and Edward's hand in hers, that Sarah was able to acquaint herself with her new family, in particular her newly acquired brother and sister; whose high spirits and congenial company was soon enough to enliven the party considerably.
Mr. and Mrs. Morland considered themselves extremely fortunate to have married off two of their daughters so successfully. They were entirely happy - indeed proud of Mrs. Sarah Allen, and in such spirits, were able to focus on their next task - that of marrying off Anna Morland.
Catherine and Henry Tilney were likewise delighted with Sarah's engagement; Catherine recognised in Sarah (at last) a true friend as well as a younger sister, and they corresponded almost daily. The Tilneys never left Woodston - its familiar walls placed claims on even Catherine's adventurous heart - and she produced four more children to run around the lawns of the much beloved Reverend Tilney's garden.
No one was exactly certain of James Morland's feelings, except Sarah herself; he professed himself extremely glad that his friend had become attached to his sister and following the wedding, he returned to Oxford and made infrequent contact. Not to be put off, his sisters contrived a means of bribing him away from his books. Catherine invited him to Woodston, and by various means, threw him into the path of Amelia Stevens. By the time Edward and Sarah ended their bridal tour in Gloucestershire, James had clearly been impressed by Amelia's quiet charm, and once Sarah had whispered to her, and Edward and Catherine had worked upon him, they became engaged. Upon the death of Mr. Morland several years later, James, his wife and young son moved into Fullerton parsonage; James matured and became a father of no less than six Morlands, and Amelia found she had less time to read novels when she took over the maintenance of the late Mrs. Morland's roses.
Captain Howard and his sister were enchanted with Sarah; they embraced her as a another sister, and Captain Howard became extremely fond of her. The captain's commission took him to Dawlish a year after the marriage, where he went alone, and for a time Theresa lived with Sarah and Edward, until her own advantageous marriage to a country gentleman from Worcestershire with eight thousand pounds.
And what became of my heroine and her husband? Their happiness can surely be imagined; Edward, finally understanding Sarah's heart, and loving her all the more for it, was infinitely content for the rest of his life. Sarah herself, married at last, felt freer than she ever had done. She had been out into the world and back again - or at least, as far as she ever intended to go. Content as ever to live in the country, she and Edward remained at the parsonage in Barston, and Sarah, using her new found talent for housekeeping, made it a home. She carried on drawing - even after her children were born, and they turned out to be the most interesting and changeable subjects, who gave them all great joy; even when Edward and Sarah were older and the children were gone, portraits of them hung in every room at Barston.
One that hung the longest though stood over the fireplace in Sarah's parlour, depicting that haphazard girl, all ragged hems and elbows, and her future intended about to fall head over heels with her, on that sunny May Day morning, all those years ago.
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