David Osborne gazed at his friend, his eyes full of sorrow and sympathy. The uncooperative sun, hiding behind the clouds, was adding to the gloom hanging over the Abbey. Frederick punched his fist forcefully into his palm, and muttering something about riding, left him abruptly. David sighed, unmindful of his friend's manner and turned to look at Henry. David could understand his feelings. His own mother had died when he was about Henry's age. His father had followed within a year. And now the one woman, Mrs. Tilney, whom he had started considering as his mother as well, had passed on. Oh, yes. He understood both Frederick's anger and Henry's sorrow very well indeed. How unfair the world was. Dearest Mrs. Tilney.. He could hear her sweet voice, calling him, urging him to take better care of himself, her kind eyes smiling at him. He swallowed the tears that were threatening to spring to his eyes. He needed to take a turn.
Taking leave of Henry, David slowly walked outside and started towards the old Scotch Fir trees, towards the stream. He had loved the abbey, since the first time he had seen it, six years ago. Frederick had persuaded him to come for a visit for the holidays just after his parents' death. As the carriage rolled in, Mrs. Tilney had come forward, with that bright welcome smile that he cherished so much. If the General had been a more amiable man, he would have willingly stayed in the Abbey as a servant. But as it turned out, Frederick's father was the most disagreeable man that he had ever met. It was not his general malcontent that bothered David, but his treatment of his wife. David could not bear to see him ordering her about, shouting angry words at her. Though he never talked about it, David knew Frederick shared his feelings and the boys tried to not stay in the Abbey for too long. But during the brief occasions he had seen her since then, he too had basked under the warmth of her love for her children. And whenever she wrote letters to Frederick, she always wrote to him too.
He didn't have anyone to advise him like she did. Both he and Frederick were now twenty years old and the General was going to purchase a commission for his son in the Army. Though David had thought that the General would start training his son in the affairs of the estate, he was glad that it was not the case. Frederick would definitely hate staying at the Abbey. As for himself, his uncle, Viscount Thornwycke, had, much to the displeasure of his aunt, paid for his education and he did not want to receive any more assistance from him. He had been considering joining the Navy and he had sorely wanted to get Mrs. Tilney's blessings. But now she was gone. He spent the afternoon, bouncing stones on the stream vigorously, trying to relieve some of his anger and grief. Much later, he returned and stood gazing at the Abbey from the lawn. It will never be the same again. It will now truly become like something written in those Gothic novels, he thought disgustedly.
As he was about to enter the building again, he noticed a carriage rolling in. Must be a relative of the Tilneys. He watched an elderly woman climb down lugubriously. She was complaining loudly to the footman when David realized there was another passenger. Oh Dear God. It must be her.. Eleanor Tilney. What other young girl would come to the Abbey now? He did not want to face her, to tell her she had lost her dearest mama. A chubby thriteen-year-old, her face tired and desolate, she stepped down very slowly, her reluctance showing how much she dreaded what was waiting for her. David stood rooted to the spot till they were almost upon him and then somehow managed a brief, stiff bow. They continued on, the woman, whom he could guess as her aunt, not minding him much but for a cursory nod. He gazed at Eleanor; his heart going out for this girl whose life had irrevocably changed. She looked up to meet his eyes full of pity. As soon as she recognized the expression in his face, the realization of her loss dawned on her and her lips quivered, tears flooded her eyes and she ran in, sobbing uncontrollably. David, helpless, stomped back to the stream and did not return to the Abbey till the moon had climbed half the sky.
The next few days were most depressing for David. He spent most of his time in the village or by the stream, struggling with the loss and the memories it rekindled of his own parents' death. Frederick vanished for hours together just like him. The Abbey stood as a dark brooding symbol and they were both much relieved as the date of their departure arrived.
The day before, he was walking back from his ramble as always, twirling a bunch of purple hyacinths that he had picked up, when he saw Eleanor. She looked like she too was returning from taking a turn. Her hair and her pale blue gown were gently floating about in the wind and it struck him how gently she walked. Perceiving him, she gave a hesitant smile and he joined her, after confirming that she was also going back into the house. There was a certain maturity in her eyes, that belied her tender age. After an awkward silence, he asked her about her aunt. She replied that she was not feeling very well and had retired to her room. He wondered what else he could talk to this young girl. Though his heart was overcome with compassion and he wanted to commiserate, he simply didn't know how to. All the words he knew seemed inadequate.
"Frederick and you are leaving tomorrow. Are you not?" she asked.
"Yes", he acknowledged. "He is very excited about joining the light dragoons"
She continued walking silently besides him and then said in a low voice with a far away look, "Henry too will go away soon. And then I will be all alone"
"Dear Eleanor, Miss. Tilney", he exclaimed unable to bear her forlorn voice. He wanted to stroke her hair and wipe her tears and somehow make her pain go away. "Both Henry and Frederick will come and visit you often. Perhaps in a few years, after you come out, your father will take you to London and Bath..", he continued inadequately, trying to console her, all the while realizing how true what she said was going to be.
"I am sorry, please do not distress yourself with what I said. Are you joining the army too?", she asked when he paused, changing the subject.
"I do not know", he shrugged. "I have to decide on an occupation soon though, I hardly have any money..", he stopped ashamed and aghast at himself for burdening this poor girl with his woes.
"What would you like to do?", she asked with surprising wisdom.
After a little bit of reluctance, seeing that she was genuinely interested, "Read, Travel, perhaps a little bit of politics", he said.
"Hm..", she pondered thoughtfully in a grown up way that brought an indulgent smile to his lips. "I have been reading about Lord Cornwallis becoming the Governor General of India. Maybe you should join the East India Company", she said.
David stared at her. Yes, of course, he could join the Company. He could travel to the East Indies; Lord Cornwallis was supposedly making a lot of reforms, trying to earn back his reputation after the American revolutionary war. It was one of the few places where one could raise in the ranks soon. Why had he not thought of that? Realizing that he had stopped walking and Miss. Tilney was looking at him enquiringly, he resumed walking and stammered, "Indeed. I.. I should.. I will consider that. But, you have been reading books on politics?", he asked in a disbelieving tone.
"I get bored sometimes", she smiled disarmingly. As her smile lit up her eyes for a moment, he felt the same warmth and kindness that he was so used to receiving from Mrs. Tilney.
Presently they arrived at a point where they had to part in different direction and as she bowed and started leaving, he started speaking urgently, trying to convey his sympathy and understanding. "Miss Tilney.. I know how hard this must be for you. I cannot begin to express my sense of loss.. but you have to.. that is your mother will not be in peace in heaven knowing that you are unhappy.. that is she will watch over you. She will always be there to guide you. Just close your eyes and think of her and your loneliness will be banished", he finished inarticulately and then in a gesture that completed his inadequate words he handed her the hyacinths in his hands.
She accepted them, kept looking at him silently for a moment or two and then said with a watery smile, "Thank you for telling me that Mr. Osborne".
David stood silently looking out the window at the darkness enclosing the Abbey, after reaching his chamber. East India Company. He must go to London and inquire. Eleanor, bless her little heart, had given him the advice he had sought.
Eleanor put her brush down, as it became harder to paint in the failing evening light. She studied the hyacinths in her drawing and the ones in front of her critically for a few minutes before finishing for the day. She touched the flowers gently, her fingers caressing the soft petals, as the distinct memory of an extended hand with the hyacinths came to her mind. She had come across the treatise on the language of the flowers quite accidentally and had been most surprised at the meaning for hyacinths. I trust you will find consolation, through faith, in your sorrow; be assured of my unchanging friendship . She wondered as she had done for so many years, if he knew what it meant when he gave those hyacinths to her.
Her eyes closed, she let the fragrance of the beautiful flowers of their garden fill her. A solitary bird cooed somewhere. Even the birds here sang only when it was absolutely necessary. She sighed, wishing Frederick or Henry was there. At the least Henry will soon take his place in Woodston, and perhaps visit her more often. Though she never burdened her brothers with her feelings, sometimes she felt oppressed by the loneliness surrounding her. There were times like now, when she would have been thankful even of her aunt's companionship. She wished she could just scream loudly and shatter the brooding silence. "I hate you", she told the imposing Abbey dramatically and then smiled at herself - this is what happens when one reads too many novels. The silence was not threatening, just depressing. That is all. She had to return to the house and get ready for dinner. She dared not arrive late for the mundane conversation about the yield of the pinery and make her father, or should she call him Montoni, angry. Chuckling to herself, she picked up her things and walked back to the house. If her father was Montoni, who was Valncourt? She shook her head to clear the mental image of a young man bouncing stones. Too many novels indeed.
Her maid having relieved her of her brushes and paints, she started for the stairs when she heard the muffled sound of what seemed like a carriage rolling in. Eleanor wondered for a moment who it could be. Henry always informed her of his arrival well in advance. They hardly had any house guests since her mother died. It must be Frederick, she concluded, smiling. Gathering her gown, she ran lightly just in time to see Frederick, handsome and dashing as ever, step into the hall. She greeted him with a joyous look and kissed his cheek despite his protests of smelling of horse and sweat. "Frederick, why can you not inform us of your arrival?", she asked clinging to his arm when she noticed another figure. Her heart skipped a beat, as he stepped into the light from the darker entryway. Despite the dusk, and the number of years since she had last seen him, she had no difficulty recognizing him. "Mr. Osborne", she exclaimed, her face diffused with surprise and delight.
He bowed, stepped further in and smiled. "Miss Tilney". His complexion was a little darker no doubt due to the tropical sun, he looked taller and tougher, his eyes were shining bright, and in short he had grown even more handsome than she remembered.
Eleanor took a firmer reign of her thoughts and welcomed him as calmly as possible. She asked them both questions about their well-being, the comfort of their journey, and after chiding them upon hearing that they had raced non stop after lunch, she hurriedly rang for the maid to get their rooms and more importantly their bath ready. "Let us not waste all that racing. You still have half an hour so why don't you get ready for dinner?", she smiled. The reminder of the time was enough to galvanize them for they were both very much aware how seriously discomposed the General could get if they were not on time. They ran up the stairs racing again. Eleanor smiled joyously as their laughter rang out loud and echoed filling the house, shattering the peace just as she wanted.
David was glad that, though barely, he had indeed made it to the dining room before the General. He was able to bow nonchalantly when the formidable man entered with Eleanor, a gentle smile playing on her lips and he caught his breath. Her figure was now slender but had a reassuringly healthy look to it, her elegant face was exuding kindness and warmth. How beautiful she looked. He hastily averted his eyes and inquired after the General's good health. He grunted in return, pacing back and forth as they waited for Frederick to appear. Soon they could hear footsteps thundering down the stairs and within moments Frederick appeared trying to act as collected as possible. "Dinner to the table", his father ordered, pulling the bell. David winced at his violent manners, then smiled as soon as he caught Frederick rolling his eyes. His smile widened when he noticed Eleanor hastily averting her eyes, looking guilty and stern at Frederick's display. She obviously had no notion of all the things Frederick had told him about their family.
The conversation was dry and stilted with the General asking his son various questions about his profession and acquaintances and Frederick answering him in monosyllables as always. Then it became even more mundane as he started talking about the inevitable hothouse and garden in the Abbey. David found himself watching Eleanor, calm and sensible, deftly steering the conversation away when the General asked questions or talked of things that she knew Frederick wont like, nodding an appreciation or a grateful acknowledgment at the maids when he got too discomposed with some dish, making sure they were well fed, and in general being the only reason both he and Frederick could sit through the dinner with tolerable composure.
Thankfully, after they rejoined her, the general chose to retire according to his usual hours. As soon as he left, Eleanor turned to their side and asked animatedly, "Oh Frederick how are you? You must tell me all about the latest news from London, all the things you have been doing in the past months"
David was struck by the remarkable change, the sparkle and liveliness that entered into her sedate features upon her father's departure and felt a deep pity rising within him. What a horribly dull life the poor girl must lead.
"Not all things, Eleanor, surely", said Frederick with a sly look that got a playful pat on his arm. As Frederick launched into a much embellished version of his adventures in town, David, shaking himself out of the reverie, jumped in to join him. Her quick wit and her eagerness fueling, in an unspoken agreement, they both vied each other to make her laugh. She understood all their irony and sarcasm and responded in kind and David found himself watching her appreciatively throughout the evening.
"That's when I turned to see the said lady standing right behind me hearing all my comments", Frederick laughed finishing one of the tales.
"How horrible of you", squeaked Eleanor, giggling despite her best efforts to look in contempt.
"Ah, women! Stupid, thoughtless creatures", sighed Frederick.
"Oh?", Eleanor asked archly.
"Of course", he waved his hands dismissively. David hastening to not offend her, tried in his best tones, "What he means, Miss Tilney is that women are so gentle and physically and mentally need all the protection that men are here to provide..", He stopped realizing how trite he sounded.
Eleanor smiled, "Henry uses his humor, Frederick his cynicism and you civility, but the end result is the same. You all think women as my brother so eloquently put, are stupid, thoughtless creatures".
David gazed at her lips curved in a delightful smile, her eyes twinkling with mirth and intelligence and he said in a more serious voice than he intended, "Of course, there are some women whose wit and charm and beauty makes them worthy of all praise". He stammered, noticing Frederick was looking at him in a thoughtful manner and there was a hint of color in Eleanor's cheeks. Realizing he was stepping in dangerous territory, he hastily added, "Of course there are only a few, very very few like that, is it not Frederick", in a very lighter tone.
Frederick said he was getting reminded of their aunt and Eleanor chided him and the conversation turned, much to David's relief.
The next few days, he spent his time in a much enjoyable manner. The General was busy with the harvest and they both had a relatively free reign, thankful of his meticulous interest in the yields. They listened to Eleanor play and sing, appreciated her drawings, boasted of their adventurous lives..He found himself, doing and enjoying everything in a much better manner, no doubt due to her presence. He ran more runs and got more wickets when she sat near the green watching him play cricket, he beat Frederick racing every time, when he spotted her gazing at them riding, why he even caught more fish when she sat on the banks reading her book. When Frederick had invited him to the Abbey, he had accepted with much reluctance. But now he was most thankful.
David with a few long strides joined Eleanor and Frederick near the quadrangle; the three of them had set out to go for a walk. They had barely taken twenty steps when Frederick turned back remembering a flimsy errand, insisting that they should continue and that he will join them later. David embarrased, looked at Eleanor and she returned a shy smile. For he had begun to notice Frederick's somewhat transparent attempts to allow him to get to know his sister better and he was sure an intelligent girl like Eleanor would notice it too.
"You read very well, Mr. Osborne", she said presently, referring to his reading the previous night. Since Frederick was not much of a reader, it was David who had read most of the evenings. "I do wish Papa bought more books", she sighed.
The General though wont to spend money on things that would show off his wealth did not bother to spend any on the betterment of his library. David found himself wishing he had bought all the latest volumes he had seen in London. They walked on talking about the latest books and about his proficiency in the Indian languages.
As always, David was surprised by her ability to hold her end of the conversation whatever they talked about. He stole a sideways glance at her. She came only a little above his shoulders, walking gently, the impression of floating even more emphatic now, due to her slender form. He slowed down slightly to not rush her. The smell of her lavender water enticed him and he had to struggle to suppress his desire to touch the loose tendril of her hair playing about in the wind against the soft skin of her neck.
"Frederick says the reason you are here is a secret", her voice shook him out of fancy and he stammered slightly.
"It is not necessarily a secret, but we don't want it to be public knowledge either", he explained further upon her inquiring look, "I came as a courier to deliver something from Lord Cornwallis to His Majesty"
He smiled when she turned excitedly towards him and asked with sparkling eyes. "Oh no, you have to tell me more, what is it? Did you have an audience with His Majesty? Does this mean you have met Lord Cornwallis?"
"I see you are very curious Miss Tilney", he said still smiling, and then continued, "I am sure you would have read, with your interest in reading everything and the fact that you get bored sometimes..", her eyes sparkled at his remembrance of her words, "Well, when I landed in the East Indies, we had just suffered what Hastings called it a humiliating pacification against Tipu Sultan. So, Lord Cornwallis had his mind set on capturing Mysore, after all he needed it to regain his reputation. I got involved in the campaign as soon as I joined. We faced Tipu and his French friends in one of the toughest campaigns we have faced so far there, and finally last February, we lead a major attack on Seringapatam and won the battle. He has surrendered half his kingdom. So Lord Cornwallis has sent a token, Sultan Tipu's War cap and that is what I have brought forth", he said.
She asked hesitantly, "I read somewhere we have his children as hostages, is it true?"
David turned towards her, "You never cease to amaze me Miss Tilney. You follow such things so well", and then answered her truthfully, "Yes, it is true. I wish we didn"t but I suppose Lord Cornwallis doesn't want to take any chance, with the French and Tipu still having a hold. So after the surrender he received his children as hostages"
"So, are you going back after your errand?", she asked
David was at a loss for a brief moment. He honestly did not know how to answer the question. When he had arrived, he had planned a brief stay at his Uncle's estate he was not particularly fond of his uncle, aunt or his cousin, some time with Frederick and then back to the East Indies. But now, after spending time with her, he was.., he was what? He dreaded to ask that question to himself.
"I suppose. I don't think it is the end of Tipu, we may have to fight more battles there", he said unconvincingly, still trying to understand his own feelings, wrestling with new emotions.
After a brief silence, she asked with obvious reluctance, "Are you aware of this language of flowers, you know treatise on feelings that you convey with flowers"
"Somewhat", he answered puzzled by her question, "Rosemary for remembrance?"
She nodded, "Did you know what hyacinths mean?", she asked
"I thought it meant friendship", he said. Of course, he remembered handing her the hyacinths long ago. "Did I offend.."
She smiled shaking her head. "No, no. On the contrary. It means support, sympathy as well as friendship. I just wondered that is all. It was very appropriate in those circumstance"
"Sorry to disappoint you. I didn't", he muttered glumly, wishing he had known. He had done something excellent, marvelous only he didn't know.. He wondered if her opinion of him would be lowered.
"Disappointed? Not at all", she exclaimed. "You knew about the friendship part.. That is what I was hoping for most", she blurted and then looked up at him in confusion, biting her lower lips.
He looked at her face slightly upturned, her eyes locked to his, her lips.. He cleared his throat.
"It grows late. Let us return", he mumbled. He wasn't sure he had good control over his faculties and he better calmly collect his thoughts. Offering her his arm, he walked back with her in silence. He knew he had to face that his heart was lost forever.
That evening, David walked down the stairs lost in his thoughts. He had realized that Eleanor meant more to him than anybody else in this world and there was no other woman in the world he would rather have by his side than her. Nevertheless, his financial position hadn't improved enough to support her. He was worthy of about two hundred pounds a year and what could he offer Eleanor, the mistress of the Abbey, with that, he pondered gloomily. His uncle had indicated he could offer him a living during his visit, much to his aunt's distress of course, but he was not particularly interested in becoming a parson. His best friend was Frederick and normally he would have had a talk with him about the dilemma but in this case, the woman in question was his sister. He sighed and walked towards the parlor, crossing the study.
"Are you mad? How dare you encourage your penniless friend to court Eleanor. Are you not ashamed to let a fortune hunter like him to woo your sister"
David froze at the General's harsh voice echoing from the study.
"What fortune hunter. David is the best of..", Frederick's voice was muffled by the partially closed door.
"If you take one step further in that direction I will make sure you are not invited by anybody respectable. I will not call you my son anymore, furthermore, that man is no longer welcome in my house and if he applies for my daughter's hand I will definitely refuse", the General bellowed.
"Father, David is the most suitable man for Eleanor. He has good connections. I care nothing for your respectable society and I would gladly forgo that. Surely you can see the.."
"Shut up Frederick", David turned his face involuntarily at the sound of the General's fist coming down on the table. "For all this service in the East Indies, he hardly has enough money to support himself well, let alone my daughter. He stands to gain nothing from his connections. I know the Viscountess, she would not give him a penny"
David walked back with as much dignity as he could muster unmindful of the General's continuous tirade, to call his servant to pack his bags. He had heard enough. He will leave the next day. After all, the General was right. He still was the same penniless man. He had been very close to making a blunder and in fact he should be thankful that the General had opened his eyes. If he was really as lovesick as he thought himself to be, he should realize that he cannot put Eleanor, the mistress of this Abbey and its wealth in a situation of what would be poverty to her. He would go back to the Indies. Eleanor would marry a rich man and live happily. He should remember to tip the servants well. He had no money but he definitely had pride.
"I loathe coming to Bath", declared Eleanor with an affected air, causing Henry to turn towards his beloved sister leaning on his arm, with a momentarily startled look. They were returning from taking a turn to their house at Milsom Street.
"Ah, I understand", he recovered with a smile. "You must miss the loneliness and solitary walks that you usually have in the Abbey. It must be a horrible strain for you to have so many people to talk to, so many balls and plays to go to.."
"Yes Indeed", she nodded, following his lighter tone, "Papa makes me resign myself to this odious business every year but I should thank him after all he decides very soon to go back. Nay, I am wrong. I should thank one or the other of his friends who fail to arrive here at the same time causing us to shorten our stay", she smiled and then said in a slightly serious tone, "He is already talking of leaving in a sennight. I do not understand why we have to come here, if he cannot be persuaded to give the waters a fair trial",
"But of course, we have to, my dear. Otherwise how can eligible young men see you?", Henry asked playfully and then after a pause asked her, "I take it from the nasty look Mr.Hawthorne gave me yesterday, you either refused him or discouraged him sufficiently"
"Discouraged him", she acknowledged, "quite strongly, in fact", and then continued in the same vein Henry employed, "But he was the perfect beau, Henry, very loyal and consistent, never listened to the gentle discouragement. Insisted that I didn't know my own heart"
"So, how long are you going to continue this?", Henry raised a brow.
"Till I get a proposal from a Duc or a Marquis", she answered. It was always easy to talk to dear Henry. Because of the general bonhomie and his constant good humor, she could always escape from answering tough questions, by employing a lighter tone just like him. The only problem was when Henry got serious. He had a thoughtful look coming to his face which she didn't quite like. Thus she changed the subject hastily.
"So, Henry, talking of proposals, do not go off on one of your useless pursuits tomorrow. I have invited Miss. Morland to visit us", she said with a mischievous look and stole a glance at him. He looked back at her with an utterly innocent expression on his face but not one to be fooled, having been his sister who knew what it meant, she burst out laughing.
"Eleanor", he said with an affected air. "Surely you are not laughing at your own brother, the most handsom, intelligent man around, more handsome than Captain Tilney, favourite of your two brothers, toast of Woodston", he continued teasing her.
"Of course not Henry. I was just delighted that you are that much interested in Miss Morland to pretend innocence to me", she said chuckling.
"Oh, Eleanor. It is so difficult to have a sister with this much wit", he said with an injured air. "Can you not administer to my vanity and act as though you really were fooled or that you do not know what I am thinking of?"
"Well, Henry", she said patting his arm playfully, "You have someone else to do that now", and then continued in a serious voice, "But that is not just it, I think she really is a sweet young woman with a lot of good qualities"
Henry turned away to watch something else, not giving away his thoughts and then turned to her and said casually, "I shall be most happy to get better acquainted with her, of course"
"Indeed I am sure you would", she replied with a twinkle.
She was sure Henry was aware of Miss Morland's undisguised admiration for him. Eleanor had noticed the sparkle in her eyes when they had danced and also the way her eyes had followed him, the way her questions often dealt with Henry's liking and disliking, the unabashed admiration the day they had gone for their walk. She was not quite sure of Henry's feelings however. Henry was as always,playful, charming. But his true feelings were often not apparent.
Or perhaps she didn't know how to read them, she thought painfully remembering an evening from four years ago. She had been seventeen years old too, just like Miss Morland. With every passing day, she had hoped the heartache would lessen, the rejection would hurt her less, but no, she was wrong. One evening they had stood, silent, side by side, with their eyes locked and the next day he had announced that he was leaving. Stupidly, without any idea, she had spent the whole night wondering whether he was hunting for Moss rosebuds or red tulips. Instead of a proclamation of love, he had declared his departure. She wondered, as always, if it was her wanton confession of love, that effected his removal. He was perhaps rejecting her gently. Seeing Catherine Morland's guileless admiration for her brother, brought forth a newer understanding of how transparent she must have looked to David. She remembered her saying something about needing his friendship and looking at him, wishing he understood her love. Perhaps he did, she swallowed her misery.
"So do you know what your least favorite brother is upto?", Henry asked. Her two brothers always joked about who was her favorite each claiming that position.
"No, not at all", she exclaimed, "What has he done now?".
"Well, If not already, he will do something soon. Frederick is coming to Bath", Henry announced.
"Papa did not tell me anything about it" She had not seen dashing Captain Tilney for quite a while.
"You know his love for the element of surprise. He hasn't told father of course. But I met Captain Cateret, who spilled the beans. He might arrive any moment. Cateret also mentioned a particular loss in gambling that our dear brother had incurred. He will receive a full dose of our father's love when he reaches Milsom Street ", Henry declared sarcastically with immense satisfaction
"Henry, how wicked of you to inform Papa about it", Eleanor playfully hit his arm and they reached their house while Henry talked further about Mrs. Hughes and her dog.
She spent a few minutes staring outside the window, upon reaching her chambers. Not a day had gone by when she didn't think of David. She knew from Frederick that after seven years, he had quitted the East India company and had joined the foreign ministry as a diplomat, the year before. Though her father had scoffed that it was equivalent to a clerical position, she had no doubt he would rise in the ranks soon. How much she missed him. As the tears started, angry at herself for being so silly, she got up, wiped her eyes and dressed for dinner.
The next day was hardly an improvement to her spirits. She had hoped for a pleasant morning where she subtly promoted Miss Morland's chances, just like the other day they spent, but her father cancelling his appointment with an old friend, stayed with them throughout. Unbelievably, he also seemed excessively interested in Miss Morland. She could not find fault with him of course, he was the epitome of civility, but she was too uncomfortable to enjoy. Henry seemed distracted too and apart from polite attention, he did not show any enthusiasm for the company. Thus, by the time Miss Morland left, she was prepared to retire to her chambers.
As she was about to leave the parlor, she heard someone outside and within moments, Frederick walked in, with his usual superior smile as if he owned the whole world, hardly showing the tiredness of the journey.
Eleanor paled visibly and stood rooted to the spot, even as Frederick inquired after her and came closer to take her hand. She kissed his cheek like an automaton, her eyes never leaving the figure standing near the doorway, "You know David of course"
Eleanor had concluded long back, she was no longer a silly young girl just out of schoolroom and that if she met David again, she would be quite composed and greet him without a care in the world. But the moment she actually saw him in flesh, standing tall, dark and handsome, his eyes locking onto hers with a soul piercing glance, she knew how wrong she had been. Then, he broke the visual touch and bowed stiffly before turning towards Henry. Eleanor took a deep breath in, composed herself and turned to Frederick after a similar brief acknowledgment. She was meeting him after four years. With the way things were between them, she would probably meet him four years hence.
Frederick, exclaimed in his usual boisterous voice, "Ah, Eleanor, I can see I have succeeded in surprising you by my arrival. Though I didn't expect such shock, for a minute there I thought I would have to fetch the vinaigrette", he grinned.
"Actually she knew you were coming", said Henry blithely with a slightest inflection on the you. David shifted uncomfortably.
Eleanor with a quelling look at Henry parried with a much affected air, "I was just following your advice brother dear. I was just acting innocent and administering to Frederick's vanity, just like you suggested"
Henry guffawed as Frederick continued to grin. She noticed David suppressing a smile and hastily fixing his eyes on the ceiling. She was extremely thankful when David asked about their father and she hastened to answer him. After a few minutes when they took tea, David rose to leave, and Frederick seeing Eleanor's surprised look, explained. "David has engaged his own lodgings. He is on his way to meet his uncle. He got an invitation from the Viscount just before I was leaving London. I persuaded him to stop in Bath for a few days and am still trying to convince him that a visit to the Abbey would do him good too"
"Invitation from the Viscount? More like summons", David muttered. "I have a feeling he wants to discuss something about persuading my cousin to return home. He just participated in the battle of the Nile. I do not know what they think I can do"
"Well, at the least since Bath is on the way, you agreed to come here", Frederick told him in an exasperated tone. "It is years since you visited the Abbey and it is not too much out of your way. I want your opinion on some of the changes father has done", he said sounding quite convincing.
"And you can perhaps visit my establishment too and give your opinion on the changes I have had to do because of father", Henry chimed in, smiling.
David gave them both a suspicious look and then grunted something that sounded like a 'we will see'. He left soon, but that short stay was enough to disturb Eleanor's nerves. She soon retired to her chamber, a thousand thoughts raging through her mind.
By the time she arrived at the rooms, the next day, she was in much better control of her spirits. Eleanor had always been a sensible girl and not one to go into exaggerated feelings of ecstasy or vexations, and thus was resolved to act sensibly around Mr. Osborne. He was a pleasant man; her brother's friend and she would treat him at that.
She found to her delight Miss Morland was already there and she took her place near her and talked pleasantly. She was in fact quite proud of herself that she sought to look for David only four times. Henry came by and much to her pleasure requested Miss Morland's hand for a dance.
As she stood talking to Mrs. Hughes, she saw Miss Morland's friend Miss Isabella Thorpe sitting for the first few dances. She wondered if she had an understanding with Catherine's brother, whom she had noticed dancing with her quite a few times. There was something in Miss Thorpe's eyes, that Eleanor did not like very much, and she definitely did not care for the way they came alight when she perceived Captain Tilney. She was still trying to gauge Frederick's reaction to Isabella Thorpe when Frederick came near her and beckoned David, who seemed to have arrived without she being aware of it.
He did not look too enthusiastic to come near her. "Ah, there you are Eleanor, enjoying the evening?", asked Frederick as David bowed. Frederick continued, upon her acknowledgment, "I find this whole affair particularly boring. Dancing is the most loathsome business, I cannot imagine how Henry can be so enthusiastic about it", he laughed.
David smiled slightly, "Come now Frederick, it is not that bad"
"Ah, but I don't see you dancing", he said accusingly and then added as though casually, "Eleanor either". Eleanor wishing the earth would part and swallow her, glared at her brother.
David after a brief pause said in a mild tone, "We can remedy that. Miss Tilney, Would you do me the honor?" As they stepped away to join the set, she saw Frederick looking at David with immense satisfaction.
She noticed how distinguished David looked. No one would call him fashionable, he hardly had any decorations or jewelry on his person, a few errant locks of his unpowdered dark hair brushed his forehead, even his cravat was tied in the most common simple style. And yet there was a certain appeal, charm, a simple strength about him, that she had no doubt he would soon earn a powerful position.
He smiled catching her eyes, the first genuine smile with a glint of mischief and she knew he had caught her assessing him. He seemed to change his mind about what he was going to say at the hint of color on her cheeks. Recovering slightly, she asked him about his employment in the foreign office. He told her about what he did and how much he liked it.
He asked during the next pause, "Do you always wear white?"
"Papa insists on it", she said unthinkingly. The General was most particular she wore white, to him, it showed off his position and wealth. "It is considered most elegant. Do you not agree?", she asked somewhat surprised at the question.
He seemed embarrassed. "Forgive me. I..", he stammered and then said lightly, "Just those years in the Indies"
As they rejoined after a particular movement, she smiled and said, "I see you have not forgotten you dancing, despite the years in India"
He grinned, "I am afraid not Miss Tilney. The first ball I went to, after coming back, I didn't dance at all due to the fear of embarrassing my partner by taking a wrong turn. Instead I just walked around claiming that I didn't care for dancing"
"With an air of sophistication, I suppose", she teased.
"Cool disdain, actually. I pulled it off better than Frederick", he laughed and then added, "Even he is dancing today. I am amazed"
Eleanor frowned slightly when she noticed Frederick leading Miss Thorpe. She continued to watch them for a while, concerned.
"Don't be so worried, Miss Tilney", David said kindly. "Frederick is not a fool"
She colored slightly. "I never thought I was so transparent"
"I can..", he started and then went silent. She looked at him with question in her eyes, but he just said slightly, "I am sure Frederick knows what he is doing"
Feeling a little guilty about discussing Miss Thorpe like this, she said, "I hardly know her. I did notice her observing Frederick and later you when we talking. I just didn't like.. Forgive me, I am being unreasonable", she said.
He looked at her with understanding in his eyes, and then added with a thoughtful look, "Looking at me you say, Hm.., perhaps I will ask her to dance with me next"
"You wouldn't", she exclaimed, and then despite the expression he wore, she knew he was joking. "You are teasing me", she accused.
He chuckled at that and suddenly Eleanor felt happy and light hearted. David will perhaps never be her lover or her husband for his own reasons, but he will definitely be her friend. She will share his laughter at the least. With David, she was humble enough to accept the crumbs.
David watched at the commotion caused by the Tilney party preparing to leave Bath. He looked at Eleanor making sure Miss Morland's luggage was securely loaded, making sure her maid did not collapse at the general's ill temper and coaxing Frederick out of his ill-humor before she left. Frederick had for whatever reason decided to stay in Bath a few more days. And the rest of them were now leaving. The last few days were the happiest he had spent in years. In fact, he had been as happy as this only once before and that too had been because of her. After four years, he had wanted to test himself. He had told himself, if he once met her, saw her, she wont haunt his thoughts as much she did. She would have changed and not be the charming creature that he knew. That would set him free. But within moments, he had known that it was in fact quite the opposite. During the dance in the upper rooms, he had blundered a few times. After that, he had made sure he never spent time alone with her, despite the blatant attempts by her brothers. Nevertheless, he was grateful to them for including her in their party and throwing those precious days his way. They had talked, laughed, played. His thoughts were cut short at the sour look General Tilney was giving him. He had a feeling, the General had cut his short visit even shorter because of him. He did seem very interested in the Morland girl. Henry was lucky.
Eleanor, her pale blue gown gently rustling in the wind, was talking with Frederick. He wished she wore bright colors not just white. She needed more color and liveliness in her life, he thought despondently. She should laugh that delighful laugh more. Not cooped up in that Abbey with her father. With her beauty and charm, she soon would, he thought morosely. She might be Mrs. Somebody the next time they met. The temptation was too great to go to the Abbey once more and see her. He sighed and waved the party good bye.
Eleanor smiled at the joyous sound of Catherine's giggle filled the dining hall. It was late. Much later than their usual supper time. But here they were, like two children without a care in the world, laughing and sharing. Despite the attention her father gave her, she could see Catherine was much more open and happy now that he was away from the Abbey. Eleanor smiled in contentment. She was very sure, Henry would propose to Catherine once he came back from Woodston. In fact, she was surprised that he still had not.
The last few weeks have been most memorable, Eleanor thought. First in Bath, she had met David after all these years, still very much the man who stole her heart. Perhaps since she didn't expect anything from him this time, she had enjoyed every moment that she had been fortunate enough to spend with him. And also there was a certain something in the way he had looked at her when she had asked him about his plans to visit the Abbey. He had not said yes, but it was as though he was wrestling with the idea. And Eleanor was happy that at the least she had something to hope now.
"Was he really that mischievous?", Catherine asked her eyes sparkling with amusement, at her story about Henry's childhood.
"Oh, yes", Eleanor replied, "And he could keep a straight face too. I would be helpless with laughter while he would look all innocent", she smiled - It was so clear that Catherine found Henry irresistible. She had also noticed the gradual change in Henry from amused tolerance during the initial stages to gratification, to tender caring and now definitely to love towards Catherine. There had been a day or two after the initial week in the Abbey, when Catherine had acted strangely towards Henry. She wouldn't meet his eyes, and only answer questions posed to her, but thankfully that had passed. Eleanor had concluded that it must have been some sort of a misunderstanding. Then there was that letter from Isabella Thorpe. Poor Catherine had become pale. It had caused her extreme worry too. Frederick and Isabella Thorpe. What a sister-in-law! Eleanor was still not satisfied about that. She hadn't heard anything from Frederick. She sincerely hoped Frederick had not reached an understanding with her. He is not a fool - a voice reminded her.
She sighed, hoping there wont be anymore thorns in their path and Henry would soon ask this charming girl to be his wife. As they headed towards the stairs, she heard the carriage roll in. Concluding it must be Frederick, after Catherine left for her chamber, Eleanor hurried with her heart thumping wildly. Did David decide to come after all?
"Throw her out like that? Father, how can you say such a thing? Why?", Eleanor asked again in a tired voice, breaking the long silence that had descended upon the library, tears streaming from her eyes part in anger, part in sorrow. What a horrible notion? It had not been Frederick. It had been her father. He had stormed straight into the library some minutes before, beckoning her angrily and had asked her to tell Catherine that she is to be sent away. Eleanor had spent the preceeding minutes, trying to reason with him, pleading with him.
"Eleanor. Do not argue with me and waste my time. I have told you, I do not want that girl, that penniless liar here", he growled.
"Father, whatever do you mean? I assure you, you are mistaken in your opinion. Whatever happened?" Eleanor cried, bewildered, her agitation causing her hands to shiver. "Can you not wait for Henry. Let us hear his opinion..", she begged again.
"Do not be ridiculous, Eleanor. I don't want Henry anywhere near her. I want her to be out of the Abbey well before Henry arrives. Her arts and allurements might make him do foolish things"
"Catherine? How can you say such an unjust, cruel thing? Father, she is the most guileless, artless, kind-hearted.."
"Enough of this, I cannot believe you are arguing with me over this Eleanor", he shouted, punching his palm with his fist.
"Father, but please be reasonable", she pleaded, "Have considerations of decent civility. We removed her from her friends. She is here because of the trust her friends and family have placed in you. And now to insult her like this? Atleast provide her with a servant. Can you see me traveling alone? "
"Eleanor, I will not even bid her good-bye. No daughter of mine would do such a thing", he thundered.
"Do what?", Eleanor exploded angrily. "I am ashamed of you father. How can you be such a monster? Seventy miles! Unattended! Please father", she finished in a pained voice. At the look of extreme discomposure and anger in her father's eyes, she realized she was failing miserably. He was not going to listen to her, a dreadful feeling of doom filled her.
"Eleanor, go upstairs right now and tell her"
"I will not", shouted Eleanor equally, her head raised defiantly. That is when he struck her. The ringing sensation in her ears and the pain on her cheek told her that her father had struck her. But she stared at him, her mind not accepting the horror. Eleanor had never done anything against her father's wishes. She never contradicted him, never spoke against him, never caused him any displeasure. Even during the times, when his anger on something else had spilled over to her, he had never struck her. The fact that he had gone to actually, physically hurting her, made her realize the extent of his agitation. She stood looking at him, immobile, not even raising her hands to her cheek.
"If you will not, I will ask Dawson to tell her", he raised his hand unrepentantly to ring the bell.
"No, please let her be informed of her fate by someone who loves her", whispered Eleanor and turned to go up the stairs.
Seeing Catherine in her room, she could not immediately bring herself to tell her the news. But letting her administer, seeing her kindness to herself was too much to bear. By being a messenger of such a news, she was part of the insult. But, tell she must. And that is what she did. After the horrible errand was done, she returned to her chamber her eyes stinging with unshed tears at the cruelty inflicted upon Catherine. She called their groom in the hope of asking him to accompany Catherine, clandestinely. The fear in his eyes was too much for Eleanor to order him. She knew if the general found out, he would loose his employment. As the last recourse she dispatched him, overnight without her father's knowledge to Woodston with a letter to Henry. Her only hope was for Henry to arrive immediately in the morning before Catherine left. But that was not to be the case. Henry, the servant returned to inform her, had gone to an adjoining estate on parish business and will arrive only in the afternoon the next day.
She spent a sleepless night, angry at her own helplessness, wondering what she could do. Perhaps she should run away with Catherine. What good would that do? What protection she will be to her? If only Henry was there. The morning arrived despite Eleanor's fervent prayers and Catherine prepared to leave for Fullerton. She handed Catherine some money, grateful that she had not wasted her pin money on frivolous things in Bath, begging her to write a letter, all the while aware of the horrendous, unjust deed that they were doing. Her heart broke to pieces when Catherine asked her gravely to convey "her kind remembrance for her absent friend.". Seeing Catherine struggle with her love and pride, Eleanor would have without a moment's hesitation, willingly given up everything she held dear in this world, including any chances with David, to have Catherine as her sister in law and ensure her happiness.
She ran to her chamber, sobbing her heart out as the coach left.
Eleanor closed the book that she could not anyway concentrate on and wondered of Henry's fate for the umpteenth time. It had been a week almost since she had thrown out Catherine at her father's behest. Henry had returned from Woodston the next day to hear of her father's conduct.All her life, she had never once seen Henry upset or loosing his temper and had been completely awestruck by his fury. He had stormed into the library and she had unashamedly stood next to the door and heard him arguing with their father, with heartfelt delight. At the end, not wanting to waste anymore time, he had walked out, only to pause for a moment near her.
"Eleanor, I am afraid I must abandon you. I will not come back here till father accepts Catherine as my wife. I am so sorry for you, but I must away", he had said, his eyes red with anger and sorrow.
"Oh, Henry", she had cried earnestly, "Do not worry about me. Nothing would give me more pleasure"
He had left right away. Catherine's letter had reached her the day before from Alice. She now knew that Catherine had reached home safely. But whatever happened afterwards, she wondered. Part of her knew that Catherine loved Henry very much, but a part of her was also afraid of what he might have had to pay for their father's ill will.
"Oh", she stretched exasperated. It was a fine day. The gentle wind and the soothing sounds of the stream almost lulled her to sleep.
"Beg pardon Miss", he maid called her, "Master Tilney is here, thought you'd like to know. He just retired to his chambers for a bath Miss. He will be joining you for lunch"
Eleanor hurried at this unexpected turn of events, even more worried now. Why was he back so soon? He must have rode without rest. And to have arrived here, not Woodston. She almost ran, with her maid following.
"What did he say Hill? How did he look?", she asked concerned.
"Nothing miss", she said bewildered by her agitation."Said he was hungry. The other gentleman, Mr. Osborne I think Miss was al.."
Eleanor stopped on her tracks. "Is it Frederick, Hill?", she asked surprised.
Eleanor slowed down. Frederick, not Henry. And David. He was here. He was here. Her heart soaring, she resumed running towards the house, checking her attire.
He joined her downstairs a few minutes later, looking fresh and clean. The minute she saw him, a pillar of strength, all her worries coming into surface, she had an almost uncontrollable desire to fling her arms around him, the one person she loved, the one person she knew that was capable, if not willing, of truly consoling her, and sob.
"How are you Mr. Osborne?", she managed.
He bowed, his eyes watching her intently, he asked somewhat hoarsely, "And you Miss Tilney?"
"Oh, Eleanor. Whatever is the matter?", Frederick arrived before she answered or understood the expression in his eyes, to join them. "Here I was on my way to London and I see Papa at Hereford. He was blabbering something about cutting off Henry. Can you atleast enlighten me?", he asked testily.
"Papa? You saw him at Hereford?", she exclaimed.
"First you", he countered pointedly.
About to start, she checked and noticing David listening intently, she stammered, "Perhaps after we eat". She loved him, yet she knew she could not talk about their family matters in front of him.
"Eleanor!", Frederick exclaimed impatiently. "I am going to tell David anyway. Why don't you not waste time and explain?"
David interjected calmly, without any trace of annoyance, even shot an affectionate glance at her side. "Frederick, I was planning to read this morning's papers. I will be in the library", he said and walked outside.
Eleanor somewhat embarrassed and confused followed him with his eyes.
"Well?", prodded Frederick. Eleanor told him all the things that had happened, how much she liked Catherine, her hope about Henry and Catherine, her father's previous behavior towards Catherine, his departure to London and then the sudden turn of events.
"He threw her out?", Frederick cried with a disbelieving look on his eyes.
She nodded her head and continued informing him about what Henry did upon hearing the news.
Frederick lounged on the chair, stretching his legs and muttered staring at the ceiling, "So that is what it was all about. I have a feeling it has to do something with that John Thorpe".
Eleanor sighed. "I do not understand Frederick.", she hesitated. "I have never seen Papa so discomposed. He even.. struck me", she said slowly, something that she had even not told Henry.
"He did what?", Frederick exploded. Upon her confirmation, sat silently staring at the ceiling. "Oh Eleanor. How I wish mama was alive, atleast for your sake, so you would have a happier home"
After a few minutes of silence, he continued, "You are right. He must have been terribly upset. I think he was led to believe that Miss Morland was an heiress. His anger must have come from the realization of his own stupidity. He not only did not get what he wanted, but he was proven a fool also. You know father, he cannot even stand if we are late to dinner by five minutes. He had taken it all out on you and poor Miss. Morland. Thank God you didnt tell this in front of David", he said passionately.
"Of course not, Frederick, I wouldn't betray our family matters to him", she said.
Frederick looked at her oddly, as though he was about to say something, but then he continued being silent for a few moments. "You must be surprised to see me here", he said shrugging. "Since quitting Bath I had accompanied David to visit his uncle. But strange thing, his uncle despite all reports that he was extremely ill had insisted on going to London to see David. His steward had advised him not to, but he had gone nevertheless. He was very stiff lipped about the whole thing. David had not realized the urgency when he received the invitation a month and a half ago. So we hastened to go to London, David to meet with his uncle, me to join my regiment. But on our way we saw father at Hereford. I didn't know what to make of his ranting. I just wanted to make sure you were all right", he sighed.
"But, Frederick, you were traveling so close. Why were you not planning to come visit us?", she asked perplexed.
"Oh, it was..", Frederick stopped, looked at her, his expression somewhat guilty as well as sorry and Eleanor immediately understood that it was David.
"D..Mr. Osborne didn't want to", she said softly.
"He did not want to loose a day", Frederick said his voice as though consoling a child, "But after we met father, he agreed to stop for a day or two. If needed, he will leave tomorrow while I stay back", he said.
Eleanor nodded, resigned. "Well, let us eat lunch", she said in a steady voice.
That evening after dinner, David retired early. Frederick had agreed to stay for a few more days till they heard from Henry and David was to leave the next morning.
"I thought you had gone to join your regiment when you left Bath", she began slowly considering how to broach the subject.
"No", he shrugged, "We went straight to Thornwycke"
"Miss Thorpe said that in her letter", she ventured cautiously.
Frederick paused, looked away, became silent for a few minutes and then asked hesitantly. "What else did she say? What else did you hear?"
Eleanor seeing the usually brash Frederick unsure, touched his hand affectionately. "I didn't mean to pry, Frederick", she smiled gently.
"Why ever not?", he grinned. She smiled in return and waited silently. He stood up, walked towards the mantle and began slowly. "Initially when I saw Isabella Thorpe.. Well, you see Eleanor, most of the women that I have met try to attract my attention, to please me, they perform..", he took a deep breath in, "Well, she was no different, I knew right away that she was flirting with me. She smiled, batted her eyelids, in return for the compliments I insincerely paid her. I knew she was engaged to that Morland chap but..", he shrugged. "If she didn't care, I thought, why should I? I just enjoyed..," he put down a figurine with a thud, and seeing the consternation in her eyes, muttered in an uneven voice, "Dash it, she wasn't particularly offering me her innocent heart or anything.. I know you must think very ill of me, but belive me Eleanor what I did was not honorable but still.. I wasn't out to.. that is I was just flirting..", he sighed, finishing in a low voice, rearranging a few things on the mantle.
Eleanor denied softly, "I can never think ill of you"
He smiled without mirth. "Henry deserves to be your favorite brother, I don't. I knew Isabella wanted me for all the wrong things, but it didn't matter. The compliments she gave me flattered me, appealed to my vanity. She professed her admiration, how I was her knight, how I had charmed her.. I knew it was all not sincere, but am I ever going to see, get a woman who is sincere, wjo would really love me that much? Isn't true love the thing that only happened in books?", he asked brooding. "I could see us both married, she would tell all these lies about what a charming husband I was, get herself emeralds or diamonds, I wont have to worry about her demanding my love, and I would compliment her cheeks and her hair and we would live happily ever after", he finished his voice dipped in sarcasm.
Tears came to Eleanor's eyes at his and resignation. Had he finally proposed to Isabella? "Oh, Frederick. There are plenty of.."
He stopped her with a wave of his hands. "I want someone kind and caring and intelligent and ..", he exhaled staring out the window. "Someone like mama or you"
"I am sure you will find someone better than me", she said softly walking up to stand near him. They stared at the dark sky for a few moments, "Anyway I was almost at the verge of proposing to her, when David had a long talk with me. He said something about how worthwhile it was to wait.. oh, some things that seemed to make sense then. But perhaps I should have married her, father's anger alone would have made it all worthwhile", he chuckled softly.
Eleanor glad to see his smile back, held his hand for a few minutes silently. He cleared his throat and then putting his hand on top of hers, smiled. "Thank you". Then grinning he said gesturing at the tall ceiling, "Perhaps we should ask Mrs. Radcliffe to write a story. The curse of Northanger. How the Tilney children were cursed never to find true love"
"Oh no!", she exclaimed with mock anger. "I sincerely hope to receive a letter from Henry announcing his happy news"
He nodded agreeing.
After standing with him for a few minutes, she left him to retire for the night. As she ascended the stairs slowly, Frederick's voice echoed in her mind. íŸÚDavid didn't want to come.íŸÙ , íŸÚTilneys, unlucky in loveíŸÙ. Why? Why was she unlucky? What did she do wrong? Why didn't he love her? How did she fail him? Suddenly she simply had to know the reason. The hunger for finding the cause of her love failure consumed her. She should find out. How? She would simply ask him. The need rose, constricting her throat. Why not? Everyone seemed to know her feelings for him. She could hear it in Henry's voice, see it in Frederick's face. Yes, she will ask David. That would mean baring her heart out. But she needed the answer. Before she lost her courage she went straight to the room where she knew he was staying and knocked on the door.
The minute Eleanor stepped into the room, upon his permission to enter, panic seized her and the impropriety of what she was doing hit her in full force. She had always had strong feelings but also had known how to govern them, and thus had never been in any similar situation. David, in his nightshirt, reclining with a book, looked at her startled. "Miss Tilney!", he exclaimed getting up. "Is everything all right?"
Eleanor swallowed hard, staring at the ground, wringing her hands uncharacteristically. "Yes! Nothing is the matter. I came in to..", What? Perhaps she can say she mistook the rooms? It was her house. "to..to.. apologize for my rude behavior this morning", she regained in a flash of wit. "I know you are a close friend of Frederick but I didn't want to burden you with.."
"Not at all", he said the surprise still unmistakable in his eyes. "Not at all, You were very correct in your position, not to share your family matters in front of others", he said graciously.
"Well.., thank you", she mumbled and turned to flee.
"Miss Tilney", his voice stopped her. "You came here to tell me that?", he asked her looking very thoughtful and somewhat incredulous.
She turned slowly. She had come too far to conceal any more. "Actually I had another question", she said softly.
"Yes?", he queried gently.
She took a deep breath in. "Mr. Osborne, I wanted to ask you, why you left so abruptly the last time you were here and why you didn't you want to come visit us this time?", The minute she asked the question, instead of feeling vulnerable, embarrassed, all she felt was a profound relief.
The question hung in the air between them for a few moments. She slowly raised her eyes from the wall at which she was intently focusing, and looked at him.
His face was devoid of any emotions. Whatever he must have felt at her question, he must have been very quick to hide it. She wished desperately to understand what he was thinking. He shifted uneasily, cleared his throat and then started, for some reason, staring at the ceiling. "Miss Tilney, I cannot pretend that it was all unintentional or just a coincidence. I wont insult you like that. But to tell the truth..", he paused, ran his hand through his hair, looked at her, struggling with something. What was he going to say? Eleanor braced herself. She wanted the truth. She had to face and bear the truth, whatever it is?
"Mr. Osborne, yes, please tell me the truth", she said her tone filled with entreaty.
He inhaled deeply as if he was preparing for a battle and then said, "Miss Tilney, I.. I realized that to follow my intentions further would cause unhappiness to many", tactfully letting his intentions unexplained, just implied. "I have no fortune and to expect..", he paused not knowing how to continue.
Eleanor stood immobile as she understood the import of what he had just said. He had gone back because of some lack of fortune. Not because of her. That would mean.. "You went back because of your lack of fortune", she asked her voice dangerously quiet.
"Yes, of course. I was.., still am penniless. My uncle is the only connexion I can talk of, though my cousin and my aunt are not quite fond of me. I was a nobody in the East India Company"
"And you left me because of all that", she repeated her voice simmering with anger and accusation.
He looked taken aback for a moment at this direct assault. Looking pained, he replied in a low voice, "Believe me, it was not easy. But to take you away from your life of comfort.."
"Not Easy? Life of comfort?", she exploded, all the pent up emotions coming into surface. "You withheld your intentions, buried your emotions, abandoned me because you concluded that you shouldn't take me out of this..", she gestured vaguely, "this palace.. from my life as a princess?", she quieted down, slightly. "You are not as intelligent as I thought you to be"
David winced at the sharpness in her voice and eyes. "Eleanor, be reasonable. How could I.. What did I have to offer? You were seventeen. I could not put you in that position. Once all the rosy eyed days were gone, and all the love had evaporated under the hardships you would have hated me for making your life miserable. Even hated yourself"
"Well, you seem to have a good understanding of my temperament and my feelings", she said her voice dipped in sarcasm.
"Come now, Miss Tilney, you cannot deny that.."
"I cannot. Can I? Even if I did, how am I to prove? You never gave me the opportunity"
He flinched as though he was physically assaulted. "I did what I had to do. I had your best interests in my mind..", he started in a conciliatory tone.
"What gave you the right?", she thundered, irked more by his tone.
"What gave me the right?", he blanched. "What gave me the right?", he repeated, getting angry himself. "My love for you gave me the right. Do you know how many sleepless nights I spent in India, wondering what you were doing, wishing you were in my arms. Do you know how you filled every wakeful moment? The dread with which I opened Frederick's letters every time, imagining it contained an announcement of your wedding, how I envied all those nameless men who you were dancing with and smiling at? Then after I came back from the Indies, every time I met Frederick, he would show me your letters.. filled with wit, laughter, life.. and do you know the pain it caused me to know that I could never aspire to have you as mine", he stopped, seeing her face, her eyes filled with tears. He shook his head slightly, swallowing, started again. "Miss Tilney.."
Eleanor looked at him, her lips quivering, her eyes hurting with unshed tears of anger and sorrow. "You deserved all that..", she said unforgiving. "You brought it all on yourself, Mr. Osborne. You thought the life I lead here will be better for me than the life that I would lead with you. You did not give me the chance to show you how all these monetary hardships will melt away at the warmth of love. You deserve all that"
She stared at him wondering what he was going to say next. Her heart thudding, if he would change his mind at her declaration.
He gazed at her, his face pale, his eyes full of sorrow and then he said in a low voice, "It is not just that. I overheard a conversation between Frederick and your father the previous day, before I left. You father was telling him that I was not welcome and that.. that he would never permit me to.. What would you have done Miss Tilney. Run away with me to Gretna Green?"
She looked at him stunned. Her father. Her hands shook a little. She now knew enough of her father to understand how much of David's present convictions must have been based on what he overheard. What would she have done? She had been seventeen. She had already been very much in love with him. But her romantic sensibilities had always been tempered with sense. She honestly didn't know. "I don't know", she said.
She was no longer seventeen and she now knew that she would be happy and could only be happy with him, whatever she had to suffer. Her father's treatment of Henry and Catherine had changed a part of her heart irrevocably and she knew she would not hesitate so much to go against her father now. Even if it meant something scandalous like that.
It did not matter. He hadn't asked. She didn't have to think about what she would do now. She sighed. She turned slowly to leave.
"Miss Tilney", he hesitated, his voice full of entreaty. "I could not let this pass without asking the question. I will understand, I am fully prepared but.. I just need to..", he inhaled deeply, "What would you do now?"
David could not control clenching his fists as he waited for her to turn back. He continued in eagerness and urgency, "I would ask your father for permission first.. Only if he doesn't..", he stammered unable to understand her expression. Was she dismayed or was she glad? "We would wait for sometime, ofcourse", it was definitely hesitation. "But it is very unlikely for him to change his mind and.. I could ask Frederick to accompany us. It will render the whole business somewhat less scandalous"
He continued, his words following one another in a nervous torrent, unable to bear the brief silence when she didn't answer. He had been prepared indeed, but now after coming so far, after hearing her, it was too painful to contemplate walking away. "I know it is too much to ask, I cannot offer you a lot of comforts, I have about four hundred and fifty pounds a year, I know it may sound too little for you, we could keep a servant and I will try my best to..", he trailed as the extent of what he was asking dawned on him once again. He swallowed hard.
There was an acute silence and stillness in the room. Then she spoke, her voice was a soft whisper "I would"
He didn't hear her first or at the least couldn't believe what he had heard. "Miss Tilney?", he questioned.
She didn't answer, simply looked up and smiled. David's breath caught in his throat as he saw her radiant smile shining through her tears. She had said yes. Said yes to marry him - a pauper. She was so much in love with him to think she could be happy with so little, just as he was. She was going to be his very own Eleanor. In a few minutes, his whole life had changed from a barren desert to a fertile land. She had changed his life for the better, once again. He gazed at her in wonder. He would show her how much he loved her. He had a lifetime to prove. He would protect her too, he thought fiercely.
"Mr. Osborne", she queried tentatively at his speechlessness.
He smiled, love and gratitude overwhelming him. He continued speechlessly to look at her slender form, her head slightly tilted up with a questioning look on her face. She was beautiful. He wanted to pull her into his arms and kiss her brows, her upturned nose.. He cleared his throat, "Miss Tilney, we should continue the discussion tomorrow I think. It grows late..", he paused and with a sudden mischievous look added, "unless of course, you want to be found in my bedchamber and force your father to permit our marriage"
"Mr. Osborne", she exclaimed, blushing furiously. The color on her cheeks were unmistakable even in that light. He walked next to her, took her hand, kissed it tenderly and they stood gazing into each other's eyes. She smiled, touched his cheek and then turned and left.
Eleanor woke up the next morning bubbling with happiness. If it were not for her worries about Henry and her father's reaction, she would have trod on air. Somehow her father's treatment of Catherine had changed her sense of loyalty and she could bear the guilt at betraying her father, reasonably well. She knew in all likelihood, she would have to run away with David to Gretna Green, and she was prepared for that. She loved him and she owed herself her happiness. She was reminded of a little incident in Bath, when Catherine had come to see her to explain something that John Thorpe had done. She had not resigned herself to it, but had earnestly rushed in to clarify the situation. Yes, one had to take steps, small or large, to ensure one's own destiny.
She came down early for breakfast and found that David was alone. Frederick had not come down yet. He came near her as soon as he saw her. She smiled shyly at him. He looked at her wonderingly, "I still cannot believe my fortune", he said. Then pulling her to a somewhat private corner, handed her a strange yet beautiful bouquet of flowers. "This time I know the meaning", he said, kneeling down. "The tulips and the rose to show my love, the ferns to tell you how much your sweetness and beauty fascinate me, the daisy to tell your qualities surpass your beauty", he murmured huskily holding her hand tightly.
"I also see that you have stripped off all the thorns. Yes, I wont, dont fear anything", she said grateful that she had finally found him.
"Miss Tilney, would you marry me?", he asked gazing into her eyes. "Oh yes", she murmured, her expression telling him all the things those simple words failed to convey. They remained motionless for a moment or two till they heard Frederick stomping downstairs. One look at him, she knew he had been informed. He came closer and without a word embraced her. "I dont see why you should wait, I say you elope today", he muttered. David grinned and the three of them removed to the dining hall laughing.
The first indication of her father's arrival was the sound of the carriage. They had just finished breakfast. They had all agreed that David would go visit his uncle, and then come back immediately. They would then plan their wedding. Eleanor was very stubborn that she would not do it, before letting Henry know about it. David agreed as they looked at each other across the table and Frederick said that he was disgusted to see the way two lovesick people behaved. They were all laughing heartily at that, when they heard the carriage. Within moments, her father came in.
"Ah, there you are good sir. I wondered if you had left for London. You must leave immediately", he said addressing David. Frederick started to say something but stopped at a nod from David. Now that she had heard of her father's opinion of David, she unconsciously took a step closer to her beloved. David had a look of fierce determination in his face.
"I was planning to", he replied, his voice devoid of any emotion.
"Indeed, I got the most extraordinary news. As you know I was visiting Lord Logtown in Hereford. And he tells me that your uncle wants to speak to you right away"
David's brows knitted together and he said slowly, "I realized that a few days ago that it was an urgent business"
"But of course, you see Sir, your cousin is dead", the general announced, his tone more blithe than the situation warranted.
David paled visibly and repeated in a stunned voice, "Richard? Dead?"
"Yes. He had been reported dead in action during the battle of the Nile. But her Ladyship had stubbornly refused to believe it. But last month it was finally personally confirmed by the Colonel of his regiment. You see Sir, your uncle wants to speak to you right away because you are his heir now"
The three of them stood dumb founded for a few moments. Frederick the first to recover, walked over to David, put his hand on a visibly shaken David's shoulder and told him something in a low voice. David nodded his head, swallowed and bowed briefly to her father. "Forgive me Sir, but you are right. I must leave at once"
He then looked at her with eyes glistening with a film of tears and bowed briefly. Eleanor nodded conveying to him that she understood.
They stood watching him leave and only when her father asked her particularly if he had had a comfortable stay, it dawned on her there would be no more perils in the path of her matrimony.
"A very nice young man. I should very much like to have him visit us soon", he said, his delight unmistakable.
Eleanor suddenly very angry that she hadnt had a chance to defy him, looked at him squarely and said, "Really Papa. I thought you did not like him. That is why I rejected his offer yesterday"
Satisfied with the most likely short yet sweet victory upon seeing her father's stunned face, she walked back.
Epilogue - Oct 1798
Eleanor followed the bride and the groom, laughing happily, out of the church. Henry and Catherine made a handsome couple, she thought gratified and relieved that she had somehow, by being instrumental in her father's acceptance of the match, repaid her debt to Catherine finally. Poor Henry can at last be truly happy. The many days he had spent not knowing how and when he was to be united with his sweetheart had touched Eleanor's heart and had been the one thing that had prevented her from enjoying her own happiness to the fullest without guilt.
It seemed like yesterday when David had left the Abbey in distress. But so many things had happened since then. He had met his uncle, accompanied him back to his seat and had stayed with him, learning as well as supporting him in the affairs of the estate. Within a month his uncle had succumbed to his already failing health and David had become the new Viscount. Now that he sat in the house of the Lords, he was doing all the things he had dreamed of and was in fact becoming quite powerful.
She remembered distinctly the welcome he got from her father when he came to visit them a couple of months later. David had been completely uncomfortable and had fidgeted uncharacteristically at her father's exuberance. He had asked her father's permission to marry her and ofcourse the permission had been given with utmost delight. Eleanor had been so relieved that he had proposed before becoming his Lordship and she had agreed to run away with him.
"There goes another one", murmured the fourth Viscount of Thornwycke. She followed his gaze and saw Frederick talking earnestly to Alice, Lord Logtown's daughter.
She looked up smiling and caught his intent gaze upon her face. "Remember our wedding, my sweet?", He murmured pulling her unobtrusively to a corner away from the crowd and kissed her thoroughly. Eleanor breathless, sighed contendly, relaxing in his embrace. It had been many days since their wedding and her regard for him had increased by leaps and bounds, every day they had spent together and she knew in her heart that it will continue to do so. She nodded, her love brimming in her eyes. She would tell him the good news that night.
Thank you all for your most encouraging comments
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