Jenny, too, retired early, and with a much heavier heart than Edward's. She knew herself now to be in love, but she was very uncertain as to its return. She had often seen admiration in Mr. Wentworth's eyes, had known this admiration to be for herself (indeed what other object could it be for). But as to the nature of the admiration she was unsure. Was it the admiration of a man for a woman, a friend for a friend, a man's for his friend's daughter (for friends her father and Mr. Wentworth certainly were)? At times she thought there was a chance he loved her. His attention to her had been marked, his insistence on her reading or playing, his compliments on both, his penetrating gaze, his smile that seemed to take in every aspect of her being. At other times he seemed so remote from her, as if he avoided her company, or tried to hold some part of himself back from her. She took these moments in stride, determined to let his behavior be her guide. This evening, however had been her undoing. She knew she would see him often, indeed she would see him at dinner every Sunday. She knew also that they would never again have the chance to be as intimate as they had been in the last six weeks. Their moments of being alone in a room were over. All Basingly's eyes would be on the new vicar, especially one this handsome and charming, and any false step on Jenny's part could jeopardize his position in the town. She knew many of the townspeople already thought her fast. In Jenny's mind, she could only be a hindrance to his career in the church.
Morning came, and partings with it. Edward was eager to be in his own home, but was sorry to leave the comfortable companionship he had had at Tavington House. He said these things to his host, and knew the feeling to be returned. When they were at the door, Jenny seemed to find the toe of her boot most fascinating, but she did take his hand and gaze straight into his eyes, saying very quietly, "Farewell." He was momentarily overcome, but said what he could, and turned away from them both to mount his horse. "Thank you, again, both of you, for everything. You have been most gracious." Josiah nodded, and turned back into the house, and Jenny was left standing alone. Edward looked hard at her for a long moment, then turned Kasey's head away and pressed him into motion. There, he had done it. But it was hard not to look back at her standing on the stair.
Tavington noticed the quiet manner of Jenny and Edward's leave taking, but thought it better to leave well enough alone. The house was indeed quiet without Edward's conversation, and Tavington sorely missed his presence at dinner and in the drawing room. Jenny spent her days in nervous activity, punctuated by moments of abstraction. Tavington forebore speaking to her, and time told him he had been right not to. A few days showed Jenny had passed into a state of resignation. She was not happy, nor even especially content, but she went about both her duties and her hobbies with her usual grace. It saddened Tavington to see her out of spirits, but he did not feel it was right to interfere. What was wrong was between Edward and Jenny, and he had no place in it. Not yet, at least.
Edward stood in his small study surveying the work of the last two hours. His bookcases were full, which gave much to the homey aspect of the room. His drawing of Sophy and the Admiral, done by a naval friend, sat on his desk, which he had moved to face both the window and the door to the room. He was already beginning to feel territorial about his new home. His housekeeper, a burly middle-aged woman named Mrs. Parker had already been won over, and he was determined to make the house a home.
The house was a large one, rather larger than Edward needed. There were several bedrooms, a small drawing room, his study, the dining room, and the stable, which seemed much too large for just Kasey. Mrs. Parker's youngest son came to tend Kasey, and Mr. Parker would make any light repairs that might be needed. The house was tidy, the furniture serviceable, and Edward felt he had been blessed indeed. The first letter he wrote from his new home was to the Grimes, to thank Mr. Grimes for recommending him to Mr. Tavington. The next were to his brother and sister, informing them of his change in abode. Sophy, he knew, would want all the domestic details, but he decided to postpone these until he had become more accustomed to running his own establishment.
His first evening he had spent in delightful contemplation of the splendid fire in his own grate, the second in the perusal of books left behind by his predecessors. By the third he was somewhat weary of his own company, and by the fourth he had found it quite irksome. Determined not to be surly the first Sunday he preached in his new parish, he spent rather more time than usual in thankful prayer and retired early. Edward readily looked forward to dining at Tavington House, and to seeing Jenny Tavington's face across the table.
His first Sunday dawned bright, and the weather was beginning to warm. His heart was racing when he first stepped into the pulpit, but when he saw the congregation's eager faces, he began to relax. The service passed without incident, soon he found himself on the steps where the members of his new flock introduced themselves. These few moments passed in a haze of faces and forgotten names until a long, graceful hand was extended to him, clothed in a navy glove. The face it belonged to was just as lovely as he had remembered it (over these long five days), and he greeted its owner warmly.
"Miss Tavington! Mr. Tavington! How glad I am to see you both again."
"And we are glad to see you, sir. A fine service." Tavington replied. "How are you faring at Colby House? I hope you will be comfortable there."
"Indeed, all I have seen has made me thankful, sir. I am quite making it home already. Miss Tavington, may I say that your expert supervision of my packing ensured that everything arrived unscathed."
"I am glad of it, Mr. Wentworth." Jenny's smile flickered at him. "I hope you remember you are engaged to dine with us today."
"I could not forget it. Indeed, I have very much been looking forward to it. I have had no one to argue with for five whole days!"
Dinner was delightful, and Jenny somehow felt that they were a family. Knowing it could never be thus, she pushed the thought from her mind and determined to enjoy the whole of her time with Mr. Wentworth. He regaled them with a description of how he had won over Mrs. Parker (professing a thorough reliance on her assistance in all household matters had endeared him to her directly), and stories of little Parker's attempts to groom Kasey.
Jenny played, she and Edward sang, and the time passed swiftly away. Almost before they knew it, it was time for Edward to go. His horse was called for, the goodnights said, and soon Jenny was alone again with her father.
Taking up some needlework, Jenny worked industriously for some time, unaware that her father watched all the emotions flickering across her very expressive face. She was satisfied that she had acted properly, and was glad she had made herself enjoy the whole day. Mr. Wentworth had looked well, had been as amiable as ever, and his behavior to herself was all that she could expect. What she wished for was a different matter altogether. She had repeatedly found herself staring at him, trying to memorize the way his eyes crinkled when he laughed, or the far away look he got when trying to decide how to answer a question. She did, at least, blush when she thought of his closeness at the pianoforte, as they played a duet. Jenny was constantly amazed at the things he knew and the ideas he had.
Her worry that morning that they would not know how to act around each other since their parting had been unfounded. His light banter had resumed the moment he saw her, their arguing was as gentle and yet insistent as it had ever been. She smiled to herself as she made a delicate stitch. I suppose this is what smitten must feel like. When her stitch did not come out right, she frowned at her work, and this seemed to pass into her thoughts as well. Be careful, Jenny Tavington, she thought. You know you must never reveal yourself to him. Be comfortable, but that is all.
Several weeks passed in what was rapidly becoming a routine. Mrs. Parker arrived early enough to make Edward a hearty breakfast, which he had finally managed to have her serve in the study. (Dinner, however, was another matter entirely. It must be eaten in the dining room, be he alone or not.) Mornings were spent in the study, speaking with those parishoners who needed to see him, afternoons in making a few choice calls on those who could not come to see him, and working on his sermon. Evenings he spent primarily alone, arranging his belongings and generally making himself at home. One or two nights a week he dined with a local family, met all the local daughters, and made himself generally agreeable.
The spring passed swiftly away in this manner. Edward's days and evenings were soon filled. It was obvious his congregation approved of him, and equally obvious his predecessor should have retired much sooner. The church was in need of repairs, monies for which the congregation and Josiah Tavington quickly supplied when they knew what was wanted. Edward soon became the man to whom various and sundry came for advice and guidance. His meals in his own home were rarely solitary, he was frequently dining at neighbors homes, and was desired as company not only for his position as a single, handsome clergyman, but for his own good disposition and companionship. Sundays, however, were strictly reserved for Tavington House.
Each Sunday was like a homecoming. However fond he was of Colby House, he could never feel there the warmth he felt the moment Calvin opened the door to him each week. He and Miss Tavington discussed and disagreed, Tavington pored with him over planned improvements to either the parish or the estate. It always seemed to Edward the shortest and most comfortably spent day of the week.
You will see a changed brother when next we meet, my dear Sophy. I have grown quite content, but not complacent. It is all I ever dreamed of or desired in a parish. I have even gained weight, thanks to my frequent evenings out and to Mrs. Parker's excellent cooking. There is plenty of room here at Colby House, and I shall expect you here when next you and the Admiral are in England for a long stay.
As for Frederick,,,
Here Edward paused. Frederick was not what anyone could term a faithful correspondent, and Edward had heard from him only twice since coming to Basingly. His letters were short, terse, factual, and that was all.
As for Frederick, he is much the same as ever, I believe. I can only hope his letters to you are somewhat more informative than those he writes to me.
Frequently, when listening to Miss Tavington play or read, or when challenging her to yet another verbal contest, Edward thought back to those evenings at the Grimes', Frederick's rapt attention to Miss Elliot's every look and word. Edward had even more pity for Frederick now, now that he knew the state of his own heart. He was drawn to Miss Tavington as he had never been to another person. He stored up all his stories and jokes during the week as entertainment on Sundays, always picturing the glint in Miss Tavington's eyes as she listened, the slight upturn of one corner of her mouth, which was so like that of her father. He savored all these moments, and when he returned to Colby House each Sunday evening, he prayed for strength and fortitude in the face of his love for Jenny. He could not rightfully ask for her hand, or even a return of his affections, although he frequently thought they may be returned. He knew Tavington approved of him as companion to his daughter, but a dinner or evening companion was much different from a lifelong commitment as a spouse.
"You seem very far away this evening, Mr. Wentworth." Tavington interrupted his thoughts as he stared out the window into the late April dusk.
"Pardon me, sir. Wool gathering, I suppose." They had spent an hour together in the library examining Tavington's most recent book acquisitions, and Edward had paused in his study of an excellently bound Aristotle to gaze out across the darkening landscape. He smiled gently at his benefactor and continued. "It was about this time last year my brother came to me at Monkford, and I was wondering where he might be right now, and if he might be thinking of it as well."
"You are very fond of your brother and sister, are you not?"
"Indeed, I am sir. They are excellent people, each in their own way. It is difficult to hear from them while they are at sea, and I sometimes receive several letters all at once. Sophy is a very faithful correspondent, I assure you, but I cannot say the same of Frederick. It seems ages since I heard from him last." He paused a moment reflectively, then said, "He was not himself when last I saw him, and I long to know more than the few particulars he scrawls to me."
Edward looked down at the book he held, and ran his fingers around the gilt edges. "He had had his hand refused, sir. She was, is, an excellent creature, and I believe did so only out of concern for Frederick and his career, but I don't think Frederick understood that. He was, perhaps, too proud. But I have frequently prayed for his heart to soften. Perhaps things may be more satisfactorily settled when next he comes to shore."
"You seem to wish to see everyone around you happily settled. You cannot deny that you assisted young Jem Carver in his profession, enough to enable him to marry, and leave Mrs. Gleason without a parlor maid."
Edward smiled bashfully. "Indeed, sir you give me too much credit. My parents were so very happy together, as indeed are my sister and the Admiral, that it is a pleasure to me to see others so situated as well."
"And yet you do not move to make your own happiness complete?"
Edward turned to him in stunned silence. Tavington's face showed nothing, and he continued lazily to turn the leaves of his new agricultural book. Finally, Edward stammered out a questioning, "Sir?"
The library door opened then, and Jenny came in. Edward turned away from her, back to the window, struggling to regain control of his emotions. Whatever had Tavington meant? Was this an implied approval of his affections for Jenny? Did Tavington even know of Edward's feelings for Jenny? The rest of the evening passed slowly, as Edward tried to marshall his thoughts, and yet he longed for solitude to give way to them. He rode slowly homeward, conscious that he had been too quiet during the meal, and less than attentive to his card game with Jenny. He could not make sense of Tavington's remark, unless it was merely a suggestion that he find a wife.
On Wednesday, Josiah Tavington summoned his lawyer to Tavington House. He had seen enough to know that he must take matters into his own hands. Goodness only knew what would happen to Jenny after he was gone, and he wanted to make sure that things were settled to his liking. Provisionary letters were written, with instructions to be followed in case of a long illness. A new will was drawn, and although the lawyer's brow was lifted when Tavington told him the change he wanted made, no word was said in reproach or condemnation. At the end of a wearying afternoon, Josiah sat in his library and looked about him. He felt more settled than he had in a long while, as though these small acts of business had lightened his load somehow. Eventually he drew his chair up to the library table and began a short letter. His dear friend Grimes must know how grateful Tavington was to him...
The week passed slowly for Jenny, and she frequently found her thoughts wandering. Mr. Wentworth had not been himself on Sunday, that much was certain. She tried to remember what she may have done or said which might have made him so pensive, but was unable. She dared not ask her father's opinion, for fear of revealing the state of her heart.
On Friday, she discovered she had reason to call at Colby House during the course of her morning errands. When she had finished delivering the meat she had brought for Mrs. Parker, she asked casually if Mr. Wentworth was in. She was immediately shown into Edward's study.
"Miss Tavington," he exclaimed as he rose from the desk, "what a delightful surprise! Will you not sit down?"
"Only for a moment, Mr. Wentworth, I have no wish to keep you from your work." She was glad to see that he seemed much more himself than he had on Sunday.
"No, indeed, you are a welcome interruption, I assure you. In fact, you may be able to give me some information. Do you know, that is, have you heard, how Mr. and Mrs. Carver do?"
Jenny was pleased to hear him ask, and well she knew the part he had played in helping to make the marriage possible at all. "Indeed, Mr. Wentworth, they do very well. I happened to see Mrs. Carver herself only yesterday, and she told me especially to send their warmest regards to you. I am glad you asked, for I dare say I should have forgotten to tell you, and remembered when I got home."
"Perhaps you, like me, save up these things to share on our comfortable Sundays." It was said very quietly, with a smile playing about his lips, but after a moment he seemed fearful he had said too much, and his pensive air came back to him. Embarrassed by this turn in his attitude, Jenny rose to go, saying nervously, "I am sure I am disturbing your peace, please forgive me." She jerked one glove onto her long, thin hand, but the fumbling with the buttons seemed to recall him. He stood hastily.
"No! I assure you, Miss Tavington, you do not disturb me at all." He sensed immediately the untruth of his statement, and reddened. "Please do not feel you must go," he finished quietly. Jenny, too, had flushed, mistaking his meaning, and she turned clumsily to the door, one glove still clutched in her hand.
Her hand was on the door latch, but hearing him say her Christian name, and in such a tone, stopped her from lifting it. Her heart leapt in her breast, and she dared not move or breathe, lest she break some spell.
"Jenny." Had she heard it again, or was it only her heart echoing what she had heard before? She found his hand on her own, his fingers warm against her skin, and watched wide-eyed as he raised it to his cheek for a moment.
"Please, Miss Tavington, allow me to tell you, forgive me for upsetting you÷." He paused, gulping in air, "Miss Tavington, please allow me to confess my feelings for you. The truth is that I have long admired you, have long sought your good opinion." He was gazing at her hand, as if wondering how he came to be holding it in his own. "I love you, Miss Tavington, and despite the disparity in our relative situations in life, most fervently wish you will consent to be my wife. I know I have so little to offer you, that you will not be able to live in the style to which you are accustomed, but I would do everything in my power to make you happy, if only you will make me the happiest of men." He held her hand between his own still, and continued to stare at it, as if he could somehow draw an answer to his question out of it. He held his breath for a moment, and when Jenny did not answer, he reluctantly let her hand go, looking dejectedly down at his own empty ones.
"Forgive me, Miss Tavington, for having spoken. I hope I have not ruined the treasured friendship we have built by having been so forward." He turned abruptly away from her, never having summoned enough courage to look at her face, and went to stare unseeing out the window. "I can readily assure you, Miss Tavington, that I will never again impose on you in this manner. This matter will never be mentioned by me again."
These last words seemed finally to stir Jenny into action, and in a somewhat befuddled manner she turned away from the door and gazed wonderingly at Edward's back.
"Mr. Wentworth," she whispered. He did not seem to hear her, and she was forced to move forward and place her gloved hand on his arm. "Mr. Wentworth," she said again. Edward slowly turned his head to look at her, yet he seemed to be unaware of her touch on his arm. "And can this really be true, Mr. Wentworth?" Her eyes sought his, and he looked reluctantly down into her eyes. "Can you truly love me?"
"From almost the first moment I saw you, you have intrigued me, Miss Tavington, and I assure you, it took very little time to grow into a very warm and sincere attachment." He paused for a moment, looked down, and seemed to be surprised to find her hand on his sleeve. He looked quickly back into her eyes, searching them carefully, and thought he saw the beginning of a smile there. "But Miss Tavington÷." He stammered.
"Yes, Mr. Wentworth, I do. I do return your feelings, but I must say, I much prefer it when you call me Jenny." Her smile was mischievous now.
"Jenny!" He took her hand between his own again and kissed it, saying again, but more softly, "Jenny." He looked into her face again, stroking her hand with his thumbs. "Then will you? Marry me, I mean?"
"Indeed, I shall." She smiled brightly. "I should indeed be a foolish woman if I refused an offer of marriage from the most eligible man in Basingly!" This finally made Edward laugh. "Why do you laugh, Mr. Wentworth? Do you not know that all the young ladies hereabouts are pining after the new vicar? They will be quite put out when they find I have succeeded where they could not, and no doubt they will all give voice to their closely held opinion that I am fast." She would have said more, but Edward stopped her.
"Call me Edward."
"Yes, of course, my dear."
"No, now, I mean."
"Oh!" She paused, then said softly, "Edward."
"Thank you," he whispered. He put his hands lightly on her shoulders and pulled her gently towards him.
"Edward," she whispered again, on an exhale of breath, and he was lost. He lowered his face to hers, gazing into her hazel eyes, then gently pressed his lips to hers. His hands found the back of her neck, and hers found the small of his back. His heart was beating wildly, but he moved with careful slowness, determined to savor this moment for which he had waited so long. He stroked her cheek with his own, and pushed the ever-present errant curl from her face. He kissed her softly again, then pulled his face away to smile at her. "I love you, Jenny," he said quietly.
"And I love you, Edward."
"I must speak to your father."
"Indeed you must, the sooner the better."
He reluctantly let her go, suddenly away of how long they must have been alone in the room together. "Good heavens," he laughed. "What will Mrs. Parker think?"
Jenny put her hands to her face to stifle a laugh, but what she saw made her laugh even more.
"What is it, my dear?" Edward asked.
Jenny held up her hands for him to see. One was gloved, the other was not. "You see how you affect me, my dear Mr. Wentworth. In all this time in your study with you, I have only managed to put on one glove!"
It was settled between them that Edward would wait upon Jenny's father on Saturday afternoon. But on Saturday morning, Edward happened to be in the hall when he heard a loud banging on the front door. He opened it to find one of the Tavington grooms on his doorstep, holding in one hand the reins of his streaming horse.
"Why, Thomas, whatever is the matter?"
"It's Mr. Tavington, sir. He's had some kind of an attack, and Miss Jenny said as I should bring you and Mr. Crawley back with me. Can you come now, sir?"
"By all means, Thomas. You go get Mr. Crawley, and I'll go on my own to Tavington House." Thomas thanked him, jumped back on his horse and rode way. Edward turned back into the house and went in search of Mrs. Parker. When he found her, he told her the situation, and that he would leave a letter for her to send express if he found he could not come back tonight. Having written his letter, a request for a replacement for his Sunday services if need be, he quickly put together any essentials he thought he might need, and went out to saddle Kasey.
Tavington House stood grave and silent when he arrived, but there was a groom waiting for him, and Calvin opened the door before he had even gotten off his horse. "How is he, Calvin? Tell me what you know."
"When Mr. Stevens went to wake him this morning, sir, he seemed to be ill, so Mr. Stevens sent for me. After having seen him, I brought Miss Tavington to him, and sent for you and Mr. Crawley. He is not yet able to talk, but it is clear that Miss Tavington's presence soothed him. Mr. Crawley has just gone up."
"Thank you, Calvin. Perhaps I can wait for Mr. Crawley somewhere?"
"Miss Tavington is in the morning room, sir, if you would care to wait with her?"
"Indeed, yes, Calvin. How is she?"
"Stalwart, sir, if I may say so."
Edward strode to the morning room door and paused to take a breath before he went in. They had not yet announced their engagement, or even gained permission to marry, and yet their commitment was to be tested already. When he opened the door, he found Jenny seated sedately in a chair, her needlework lying untouched on the arm. She looked up when she heard the door close, and when she saw it was Edward, she rose and came quickly to him, her eyes filling with tears. He took her in his arms, and held her in silence, feeling her tears on his collar. She cried quietly for a moment, then pulled away from him to wipe her eyes. She gratefully took the handkerchief he offered.
"Come, my love, sit down." He took her elbow and steered her to the sofa, seating himself next to her, and taking her hand in his own. "Was he able to say anything to you, Jenny?"
"No, nothing. But his eyes seemed to smile at me, Edward. I know that sounds strange, but he seemed so happy somehow, even though it was obvious he was ill."
"Did he seem unwell last night?"
"That is the worst of it, Edward! I was so wrapped up in my own affairs, our affairs, if you will, that I paid not the least attention to his face or manner. He spoke as if he were well, and I noticed nothing amiss. But he has never been ill before, he has never had a sick day since my mother died. Oh, Edward, I am so afraid!" She did not sob, but sat straight, with the tears running silently down her face. Despite himself, Edward was proud of her. She was not the kind of woman to lie prostrate in the face of sorrow or grief.
"Now, you must wait until Mr. Crawley comes to us, my dear. We must not assume anything one way or the other. I am sure your father will be fine in a day or so, he has just had some kind of a turn." Edward stroked her hand with his thumb. "These things can happen even to the healthiest of men."
They had not long to wait. Mr. Crawley was not with his patient long, and came to them as soon as he left Tavington's room. What he had to say to them was not easy, nor pleasant.
"Miss Jenny, I am glad Mr. Wentworth is here, for I've something to tell you that I've long had to hide."
"Something to hide, Mr. Crawley? I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Miss Jenny, your father has not been well for some time, and he has known it, but he has not wanted to worry you. I have often encouraged him to tell you, or, seeing how much attached he was to Mr. Wentworth," with a nod at Edward, "To at least tell him. But he would not. It is his heart, Miss Jenny, it is gradually getting weaker and weaker, despite his relative young age, and what happened to him this morning, this attack, is only the beginning. I fear there is worse to come. He will have more of these attacks, and each one will weaken him more." Crawley paused a moment, trying to read Jenny's face, then continued slowly, "One of these attacks will eventually take his life, I'm afraid."
Jenny stared at him in mute horror. Edward, very much surprised, as his benefactor has always seemed a very hardy man, watched her carefully. When Jenny finally found her voice it was to ask, "But my father has never seemed ill, Mr. Crawley. How can it be that he has been so sick and I have not even noticed?" There was a dread in her voice, a self-accusation.
"It is a very gradual decline, Miss Jenny. You cannot blame yourself for not having noticed. It is merely a loss of energy at first, and even that would not be obvious. He has gradually altered his habits to accommodate his sickness, so there would be no remarkable difference in him. But you will recall that your father no longer rides as often or as far as he had been accustomed to do. When he found he could no longer ride for long periods of time without great fatigue, he merely adjusted his schedule or asked his tenants to come to him instead of going to them. No one was the wiser to any of this, including yourself."
"But how could he have kept this from me?" Although her voice went up in pitch, she did not sound petulant, nor even cross, merely confused.
"Ah, Miss Jenny, you are indeed all grown up now, in everyone's eyes but your father's. He did not want you to worry about him, and he did not want to be fussed over as if he were an invalid, which I must confess was a good thing. He knew the time would come when you would have to know, but he wanted to hold it off as long as possible. He has made provisions for every eventuality. But he wanted you to be as carefree as you could for as long as you could, for he knows how much responsibility you will take on your own shoulders."
Jenny continued to sit, staring before her. There were no more tears, but Edward's handkerchief was knotted in her hands. Finally, when both men were afraid for her state of mind, Jenny spoke softly. "What may I do for him now, in his present state, to make him comfortable and to make his mind easy?"
"You can do what comes naturally, Miss Jenny. Read to him, talk to him, include him in your plans. He may regain his power of speech, but he may not. But do not fuss over him, for that is what he most dislikes."
Jenny turned to him at last and said, "Thank you, Mr. Crawley, for everything." Crawley patted her hand affectionately and rose to leave, saying he would return later in the day to check on Mr. Tavington.
Edward saw Crawley to the door. "Tell me, sir, how bad is he really?" He watched the old man's features carefully as he put on his hat and gloves, but his face was impassive. "Truthfully, Mr. Wentworth, he is not a well man. He has reached this point much more quickly than I would have expected. You must take each day as it comes, try to support Miss Jenny as well as you can."
"Indeed, I shall, sir!" It was a passionate response, and it was not lost on Crawley. He smiled up at the young man and said, "Indeed, the joy is unmistakable in your eyes, my dear boy, despite all your concern for Tavington; and even if it were not, I would have known by the way Miss Jenny clasped your arm as if she were holding on for dear life. I wish you every joy. I'm sure her father had no objections?"
"But Mr. Crawley, I have not even had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Tavington! How can I do so now?"
"He understands what is said to him, have no fear, though he cannot respond. I am sure this news will please him." Edward looked uncomfortably down at his hands, murmuring, "I hope you are right, sir. Thank you."
Jenny was waiting restlessly for Edward in the morning room after he had seen Mr. Crawley out, her face impassive. "I thought you would have gone up to your father, my love." Edward exclaimed as he came to take her offered hand.
"I wanted to ask you something, Edward, if I may." She looked at their hands, her long one clasped between his larger, stronger ones.
"My dear Jenny, you may always ask me anything you wish."
"Will you mind so very much...that is, will you wait to ask for Papa's permission?" Edward's mind jumped back to the conversation he had just had with Crawley in the hall. Had Jenny overheard? He dismissed the thought immediately. Instead, he voiced his own misgivings, "Why, if you wish, my dear, of course. But are you certain?" Edward was conscious of stumbling over his words.
Jenny turned from him, pulling her hand from his. "I have no fear of his refusal, but what Mr. Crawley said is true, Edward. My father still sees me as a young girl, and I would not wish to burden him unnecessarily with anything while he is ill." She turned back to face him, but her features were lost to him in the sun streaming in the window. She saw his eyes, though, and the love and comfort she saw there strengthened her immediately. "If we can just wait until he is a little better, Edward, I shall be content."
"Then so shall I be, my dear."
After Jenny had spent some time alone with her father, she found Edward in the library.
"How is he?"
"As well as can be expected, I believe. He cannot yet speak, but somehow Stevens seems to be able to read his wishes in his eyes, for he seems to have everything he desires." She collapsed into an armchair and sighed deeply.
"You are tired, my love. Will you not lie down to rest awhile?"
She gazed up at Edward and smiled weakly. "I think I just may do as you suggest."
He came forward to take her hand, murmuring, "And is it a compliant wife I am to have? One who is always ready to do as I suggest?" He smiled mischievously down at her.
"I am sorry to disappoint you, my dear Mr. Wentworth, but I am afraid I am very rarely compliant!" Edward laughed aloud.
"Well, perhaps when you have seen the wisdom of this suggestion of mine, it will make you more readily accept any other suggestions I may offer!"
"Indeed, perhaps there is hope for me after all!"
When Jenny had gone to rest, Edward made his way to Tavington's room and knocked gently on the door. Stevens, Tavington's valet, opened the door a crack, and seeing it was Edward, opened it wider to admit him. "Pardon me, Mr. Stevens, but I was hoping to see Mr. Tavington. Is he awake? Is he well enough?"
"Indeed, sir, and I believe he has been wishing to see you. He cannot answer, but he can hear you quite well."
"Thank you, Mr. Stevens." The valet left the room, closing the door quietly behind him, and Edward made his way to the large four-poster bed where his benefactor lay. Tavington's face was pale, and it was a shock to Edward to see him so, but as soon as Edward sat down in the chair next to the bed, Tavington's eyes opened, and he turned to regard Edward. The same light shone in those eyes as always had, and Edward could see at once what Jenny had meant when she said her father had seemed happy somehow.
"Mr. Tavington, sir, if you wanted to meet with your vicar, you had only to send a message! There was no need to fall ill in order to get me here." Edward tried to be light, knowing the older man would want no fawning nor fuss. Tavington smiled in return, the glint came back to his eyes, and he winked at Edward. Encouraged, Edward went on. "Well, then, I shall preach to you as best I can, sir!"
Edward spent a half hour with Tavington, relating all that was going on in the parish. As Tavington had always been more of a listener than a talker, Edward found the time passed swiftly before the valet entered with what was obviously a draught for his master. Edward told Tavington he would see him on the morrow and excused himself. The reversal of situations was a sad irony to him.
Jenny found him in the library again after her rest, and they spent a quiet hour together relating the details of each of their visits to her father before eating a simple meal. They both retired early, and Edward had the pleasure of pressing his lips to her warm, soft cheek in front of her chamber door before taking himself off to the room he had formerly occupied.
In the morning, Tavington was somewhat improved, but it was obvious to Edward that Crawley did not see as much progress as he would have liked. Edward took up a temporary residence at Tavington House, returning to Basingly for his necessary duties, and together he and Jenny muddled through the following two months of Josiah's illness. Tavington regained only the most rudimentary powers of speech, and was too weak to write. Edward kept his promise to Jenny and never mentioned their engagement. But Edward felt that somehow Tavington knew, and that he approved. He had no real basis for his feeling, and did not mention it to Jenny, but the uncanny sense of satisfaction and confidence was real to him.
On a Tuesday morning, ten weeks after Josiah Tavington's first attack, Edward woke to Stevens' stern shaking. "Mr. Wentworth, sir, Mr. Tavington wants to see you. Will you come at once?" Edward could see that the man was shaken, and he hurriedly shrugged into the dressing gown the valet offered. He followed him down the passage to Tavington's room and immediately on the threshold Edward knew the time was near. He strode to the bedside and took Tavington's hand. The older man's face, formerly contorted in pain, softened immediately and without opening his eyes he said,
"Edward, my son." The breathing was labored, and his speech slow.
"You must...take care...of her."
"Indeed, sir, I will!"
There was a small nod, and then no more words passed between them. For an hour Edward sat thus, his hand clasping Josiah's, his eyes trained on the man's face, his prayers voiced in silence, before finally the breathing slowed then stopped. Stevens came forward and took Tavington's hand from Edward's and carefully pulled Edward away.
"Oh, Stevens! Miss Jenny!" Edward was aghast that he had sat so long and not called Jenny to her father's side.
"He did not wish it, sir. You must know that he knew this was coming, and he did not wish Miss Jenny to see him this way. He knew you would be able to handle things, sir, if you don't mind my saying so. Now, sir, I will have Crawley called, and you must go dress. I will have Betsy wake Miss Jenny so that you may tell her." The older man guided him toward the hall, and Edward felt as if he were a child in need of assistance. Steven's led him back to his own room, and the closing of the door behind him brought him back to his senses. He washed and dressed quickly.
Buttoning the last button on his jacket with one hand, Edward rapped gently on Jenny's dressing room door with the other. Betsy opened it to him, closing it gently behind her as she left. Jenny sat at the dressing table pinning her long brown locks up, but she stopped when she saw Edward standing behind her. The intimacy of his coming to her dressing room surprised her.
"Edward? Whatever is the matter?"
"Jenny, my dear, I have something to say to you."
"Why Edward, of course!" She watched in the mirror as Edward moved a footstool and sat down next to her, gently turning her toward him.
"My love," he began, and suddenly Jenny knew.
"Oh, no, Edward, no!" The tears sprang to her eyes.
"Jenny, he is gone, just a short time ago."
"I am so sorry, my dear." She stared at him, her long lashes blinking back tears. "It was a very peaceful death, my love, and he is gone to God now and no longer in pain."
"Why wasn't I called?" Her voice was frantic. "Why wasn't I sent for, Edward?"
Thinking it better that she blame him, rather than her father Edward said, "I thought it best to shield you, Jenny."
"You thought it best?" Her voice was almost hysterical now. "And how is it best that his only child not be with him when he...." She could not bring herself to say the words.
"Jenny," Edward said firmly, in a tone more forceful than she had ever heard him use, "Jenny, I thought it best that you not see him, and that's an end to it." His forcefulness had its proper effect and she sobered immediately. He waited a moment or two while she struggled valiantly between the desire to stay in control and the urge to break down. Eventually the latter won and she collapsed in his arms weeping.
It was a sober day for all when Josiah Tavington was laid to rest. All the male tenants and servants attended the funeral, a fitting reminder of what Josiah had been to them. Edward met all of them with a handshake and thanked them on behalf of Jenny. He had moved back to Basingly, thinking it not quite seemly for him to stay alone in the house with Jenny. An elderly parishioner had had to suffice as companion to her until, three days after the funeral, Eudora Cavely descended upon her former home.
Aunt Cavely was an elderly woman, much older than her brother had been, and was always bang up to the mark of fashion. She prided herself on her famous parties and balls, and only the very few enemies she had saw fit to remind anyone that she had proved a miserable failure at finding a husband for her only niece. Eudora and Josiah had not been close, nor had they been enemies. When Josiah had fallen ill, Eudora had merely cut back on her entertaining, sending letters now and then and thinking those from Jenny were a bit exaggerated. When word of her brother's death reached her, however, she knew her duty, and descended on Jenny as soon as she had had proper mourning attire produced. She found Jenny thin and pale, but not unresponsive, and was proud of the manner in which the girl carried herself. Jenny's eyes sometimes filled with tears when she spoke or thought of her father, but they never coursed down her cheeks in the abandon that Eudora had often seen in less worthy creatures.
Eudora sensed immediately that there was something besides mere grief in Jenny's unease, but it was not until she met the young vicar that things became clear to her. He was in love with Jenny, but worse still, Jenny was in love with him! Eudora was a realist, she knew that Jenny was too old to make as splendid a match as she might have made during her season in London. But still, she thought that the daughter of Tavington was made for better things than a mere country vicar. She made it her business never to leave the two alone in a room, and discouraged any private conversation. She promised herself she would make Jenny forget the young man, and find her a more suitable husband. She was sure that Jenny only needed time and a bit of persuasion to relinquish whatever affection she had for the young man. In short, Eudora was determined to steer Jenny into the path she had chosen for her.
Jenny kept to herself, made no complaint that she was unable to have a private conversation with Edward, and went about her duties in a haze. Edward, calling occasionally at the house, found her cool, unwilling to meet his eyes, and hesitant to even speak to him directly. The entire situation was deplorable.
The reading of Josiah Tavington's will changed everything.
Two days after Eudora Cavely came to Tavington House, Josiah's solicitor arrived to acquaint the household with Josiah's provisions for them. The servants were remembered in a most particular way, as was Josiah's only sister. Eudora (still wondering at the presence of the vicar at the reading of the will) was gratified, not from greed, but from sentiment, that her brother had remembered her in that way. She had no need of money, but true sentiment was becoming rare in her carefree life in London. The rest of the estate was left, free and clear, to Miss Jenny Tavington. Jenny was not surprised, for she had always known her father's intentions, but when the solicitor then cleared his throat, she glanced up from her clenched hands in surprise.
"I must now read the only exception to this legacy, Miss Tavington. Your most honored father has indeed left the house and land and so on to you, as well as the majority of the contents of the house÷"
"The majority of the contents, sir?" Jenny's eyes narrowed in confusion.
"Yes, miss." The poor man paused a moment to collect himself, then plunged forward, reading directly from the will. "The entire contents of the library I leave to my friend Edward Wentworth, as he is one of the few men who knows the true worth of the collection, and one of the fewer whom I can trust not to split it. The library as a room and its contents, however, shall not be separated."
Eudora was stunned, Jenny was astounded. Both women looked at the solicitor in silent questioning. Edward, equally surprised, was none the less amused. He tried, nearly successfully, to cover his mirth with a frown of consternation.
Eudora recovered her power of speech first, exclaiming "This is absurd! Do you mean to tell me he has left all the books to this young man, but that he cannot remove them from a home that belongs to my niece? Those books rightfully belong to Jenny!"
"But, Aunt..." Jenny tried to interrupt.
"No, Jenny, I will not have it. Your father must already have been ill when he added this little surprise to his will." Eudora was soon out of her chair and at the solicitor's side examining the will itself.
"Ma'am, I believe Mr. Tavington's intention was merely to make sure that the books in his excellent library were given into someone's care, someone who would treasure them as did he, and someone who could be counted on not to divide what has been the work of many years. Mr. Wentworth knew nothing of this bequest, indeed I and the witnesses were the only ones who did. Mr. Wentworth is on good terms with the young lady, and I see nothing unseemly in Mr. Tavington's request." This last was said a bit nervously, for he had not cared for Tavington's codicil at first. Tavington had warned him that Mrs. Cavely would not like this little addition, however little it incommoded her, and he was a bit insulted that she should question the validity of a document he had drawn up.
Eudora had indeed begun to protest again, when Jenny finally stood and interrupted her. "No, Aunt Cavely, you must not object any longer. It has been a surprise, that is all." She turned to face Edward for a moment, flushed, then turned back to the solicitor. "Mr. Wentworth has, indeed, shown great interest in and respect for my father's collection, much more than I ever could. He is exactly the man to be caretaker of it. I have no objection to giving Mr. Wentworth free reign over the library, and if I do not, Aunt," She turned again to Aunt Cavely, "then surely you can have none." It was said with respect, but with a clear sense of command. Jenny might need her aunt as companion, but it did not mean she would be ruled by that companion, and she was anxious to establish this at the beginning. Eudora was silenced by what she considered unseemly behavior in her niece.
The meal after the reading of the will was an uncomfortable one for all three diners. Edward was longing to speak to Jenny alone, Jenny was longing to close her weary eyes on the pain of the last few days, and Eudora Cavely was longing to give the young vicar a good set-down, which she could not do in front of her niece. At last, the meal was over, and Edward respectfully requested that he be allowed to spend some time in the library. The two ladies agreed and left the dining room to go to the drawing room. Edward tried to throw Jenny a look, some sign that he wished to speak to her, but she barely looked at him as she turned away down the hall. Resigned, he turned away himself and made his way to the library.
It was the first time Edward had come here since Josiah had passed away, and the room felt different somehow, as if it knew its master was gone. He wandered aimlessly around, touching a book here, a chair there. The smell of the leather and the feel of it beneath his fingers was healing, and even the distance he felt with Jenny began to seem a bit smaller. Slowly he moved towards the window and looked down across the lawn, remembering the times he had stood thus with Josiah after they had examined some new acquisition. He heard the door open, and turned quickly away from the window with a smile.
Edward's smile faded quickly when he saw that the visitor was not Jenny, as he had hoped, but Eudora Cavely. "Mrs. Cavely," he murmured, sketching a slight bow.
"Mr. Wentworth." She stood for a moment in the doorway watching him before she closed the door and came forward. "My niece has gone to rest. She is quite exhausted."
"Yes, she is. I am glad you were able to persuade her to rest." Edward knew that he would not be able to see Jenny again that day, but he was hopeful that rest would bring some life back into her eyes. "You wished to speak to me, Mrs. Cavely?"
"Indeed I did, sir." She sat herself primly on the edge of one of the worn chairs. "I saw, almost as soon as I entered the house, Mr. Wentworth, how you feel about my niece." Her eyes bore into his, almost daring him to look away. He did not. "I can see that she thinks she returns those feelings, but I know that she cannot."
"Indeed. And how can you know this, ma'am?" The calmness of his manner irritated her.
"She is young, she has never been in love before, a handsome young man comes to stay in the house and she is lost. It happens often enough in town, it can happen here much more easily because the society is so much more confined. She is a kind-hearted soul, and perhaps felt sorry for you in her way. But she is not in love with you, Mr. Wentworth, and she will not agree to marry you. So I suggest that you do not make use of this÷÷" she looked around her in apparent distaste, "new acquisition of yours very often. Give her time to overcome this infatuation she has with you."
"I appreciate your words of warning, Mrs. Cavely, and I know they are based on affection for Miss Tavington. But I must tell you that you are wrong on one point. Miss Tavington has already done me the honor of accepting my proposal of marriage, and when is it seemly to do so, I intend to make her my wife."
Eudora was aghast. Her voice rose in proportion to her anger. "What are you about, Mr. Wentworth, claiming an engagement where there has been none, where there has been no parental approval? I am Jenny's nearest relation now, and I will tell you here and now the day will never come when I give my approval to you as a suitor for my niece."
Edward was calm, and maintained an even tone, despite the rising anger of his companion. "Again, Mrs. Cavely, I am sorry to correct you, but there has been parental approval, and there is even a witness to this approval. Mr. Tavington gave me his blessing, on his very deathbed, and his manservant was there to hear it. In addition, there was no mention in the will of you being named Miss Tavington's guardian, so I must assume that she is permitted to make her own choice of a marriage partner. She is no fledgling schoolgirl, Mrs. Cavely, she has had her season in London, and disliked it. She is wiser in the ways of the world than you suspect, and she knows her own mind. To regard her as a young woman who does not know the difference between her head and her heart is to do her an injustice. I am sorry you cannot like me, but I love Jenny, and she loves me. She has already honored me with her acceptance (and believe me when I say that I know it is she who has bestowed the honor in the match), and she is not a woman to go back on her word." He paused for a moment to watch Eudora's face contort in anger, as much from his manner of speaking to her as from his words, then said gently, "I had hoped you and I would be of one mind in supporting Jenny in the loss of her beloved father."
This silenced any retort Eudora might have had. This young man had more gall and yet more restraint than she had seen in some time. She knew she had lost this first round with him. After a pause, she stood regally to her feet and said, "Well, I shall have to speak to my niece about this," then swept from the room.
Jenny, alone in her room, lay upon the bed in a sleepless exhaustion. Staring out the window into the cool day she thought of the last time she had seen her father. She had visited him in his room, held his hand in her own, and read to him. The look on his face had been the one she had seen the first day of his illness, a serene look, as if he was immensely pleased with himself for some reason. The cat that found the cream. She thought now that she knew what that reason was.
Edward. Jenny knew very well she had been avoiding him, had chosen to ignore the request in his eyes each time she encountered them, had chosen to ignore the plea in them when she turned from him in the hall earlier. Somehow she had not felt she had the strength to speak to him yet, she had wanted to be alone with her overpowering grief. But dear Edward. He had not reproached her, had not demanded anything of her, or questioned her at all, and she loved him all the more for it. The past few days had been terrible, both in her grief at the loss of her father, and in the fear that she had been cut off forever from the one person she most wanted to be with.
Jenny turned over on her side to face the window more fully, to watch the breeze sway the beech outside her window. Her hands were pressed together under her cheek, her mother's ring imprinting itself there. Now she knew why her father had seemed so peaceful. He had known all along. He had known she loved Edward, had known Edward loved her, and he had approved. He had seen the stubbornness of his daughter, had known how like her mother she could be, and so he had taken matters into his own hands. He had ensured that she and Edward would see each other on a regular basis, just as he had known that Edward would never be able to turn away from the Tavington library. This addition to his will was his way of saying that he approved of Edward Wentworth, saw him as a permanent fixture in Tavington House.
Suddenly, Jenny was energized. She sat up on the bed and swung her feet down to the floor. She made her way to her dressing room, smoothed her hair as best she could and shook the wrinkles out of her dress. She stood for a moment gazing at the reflection of her own black-clad figure in the mirror, her pale face staring back at her. No wonder poor Edward had looked so concerned. She really did look frightful. She turned resolutely away and made her way downstairs.
The library door stood ajar, and she could see the familiar silhouette in the light from the window. She turned to close the door quietly behind her, then came silently forward until she was a few paces from him.
"Edward." He turned sharply towards her, his face a mixture of pleasure, surprise and relief. He held his arms out to her and said simply, "Jenny."
She went into his arms with a kind of sweet relief, and he enfolded her gently but firmly, her head on his shoulder, his face in her hair. His strength seemed to transfer to her, and she knew she had been wrong to hold him at arm's length these last days. He made her feel so safe, so secure, and that was what she had been missing. She let her body relax into his, and felt his arms move more securely around her. She closed her eyes and sighed.
"Oh, Jenny, how I have missed you," he whispered into her curls.
"And I have missed you, Edward. I am so sorry."
"Sorry for what, my love?"
"Sorry for keeping away from you, for turning from you."
He chuckled softly. "Ah, Jenny, I would wait a hundred years for you if it meant I could hold you like this once again."
"I needed you, and I didn't even know it."
"But now you do?"
"Yes, Edward, now I know." She paused for a moment, thinking of all the things she knew now. "I know a lot more now than I did a day ago."
"I know that my father approved, Edward." Edward thought back to the moment when Josiah had gripped his hand and called him his son.
"And how do you know that, Jenny-love?" Edward did not know that he called her by the name her father had used. Jenny smiled wistfully, and kept it to herself for now.
"He gave you the books for a reason. He knew that I would be headstrong and foolish when he got ill, that I would think I had to put aside my own needs and desires to care for him, to carry on for him. So he left you those books to tell me that he loved you, just as I love you."
"Yes, my love."
"I think I know something else, too."
"What is that, my love?"
"It wasn't you who didn't want to come get me that morning, was it?" Her words were somewhat muffled by a fold of material in the sleeve of his coat.
Edward feigned confusion. "I don't know what you mean, my dear."
"The morning Papa÷..died. It was he, wasn't it, who did not want me there?"
Edward pulled her closer, stroking her hair with one hand. "Oh, Jenny."
"Why, though, Edward? Why didn't he want me there?" There was a hint of tears in her voice now, as if her wall of strength was beginning to break down.
"He loved you more than anything on earth, my dear. He knew you would be well taken care of, by your aunt, by me. He did not want your last memory of him to be like that. He wanted you to remember him in the drawing room after dinner, or in the library with his pipe. He wanted you to picture the strong, vital man he had always been before his illness, not the man he was the moment he died." Edward paused a moment, the emotion thick in his voice. "He had spent your whole life protecting you, Jenny-love, and now he has passed that mantle on to me. And I am more than willing to take it on, Jenny. I want to make you my wife, I want to protect and care for you. Will you let me do that, Jenny?" He pulled away from her then, and took her face in his hands, tipping it up to his. She finally opened her eyes and looked steadily back at him.
"Will you still marry me, Jenny? Will you accept me as your friend, your companion÷..your lover?" He looked deeply into her eyes, searching them for the reassurance he had longed for during the last interminable days.
Jenny gazed lovingly back at him and said slowly, "Yes, Edward, I will marry you. I will be your friend, your companion, your lover. I made you a promise, Edward, and I will not break it. My father has given his consent, and that is all I needed." She smiled then, and said, "I just needed a little reminder, I guess, of how much I needed you."
Edward's thumbs stroked her eyebrows, pushing away the tension of the last week, and carefully he brought his mouth down, pressing his lips gently onto hers. He kissed her nose, her cheeks, her eyes, all with a slow precision, and made his way along her temple to her ear. "Oh, Jenny, I do love you, with all my heart and soul." His whisper was ragged in her ear, and she found herself breathless and warm.
"And I love you, my dearest Edward." His lips were in her hair now, his fingers embedding themselves in the mass of curls at the back of her head. Her breath came more quickly now, and she clung to the back of his jacket. Finally, as if recalling himself, he pulled himself away, kissing her once more on the lips, then taking her hands in his own.
"And when shall we be married, my love?" He asked, attempting to sound normal, despite the flush on Jenny's face and the heat in his own.
"The day after I am out of mourning, my dear."
And so it was that a year after Josiah's passing Edward waited for Jenny at the end of the aisle in his own church at Basingly. A dear friend of Edward's officiated, Aunt Cavely looked on in silent indignation, and Jenny beamed with a joy the whole town spoke of afterward. There were no real guests, beyond her aunt and Mr. Crawley, and there was only a small lunch afterward. The couple took no honeymoon, but rather set up housekeeping at Colby House. Tavington House was let (with the understanding that the library was completely off limits, of course), as Jenny wanted to be most completely a clergyman's wife, and Edward still felt the full force of his vocation. Aunt Cavely gradually became resigned to her niece's marriage, but rarely spoke of her nephew's occupation with her society friends in London.
And in those first days of wedded bliss, Jenny came to know the joy her parents had felt together. She loved Edward fully, was content to climb gratefully into bed with him at night, with his cold feet pushed against her warm ones, and his strong arms wrapped around her, shielding her from worry. His parish concerns were hers, his footsteps in the hall gladdened her heart. She went to sleep at night with the same smile of satisfaction that her father had had, and she was happy.
This is the end of this part of The Wentworths. There is more to come, on a different Wentworth, but it needs a bit more tweaking (and typing!) before I can post. Thank you all for reading, and especially for your kind words of encouragement. It means more than you can know that you like what I have written, and have welcomed my characters. Thank you. Lynn
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