Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume III
Chapter 1, Part 1
Before applying the shaving soap, Edward carefully examined his face in the mirror. Looking at it from various angles did nothing to lessen the marks of age that were becoming more and more noticeable. At least when I had the beard, there was some of it hidden away, he groaned inwardly. But now, no matter what Catherine said, he thought he looked older . . . lines that a year ago had given him a bit of character were now deeper and gave him the look of old age. A guilty conscience often makes one feel old, he mused while slathering on the soap.
Taking out the razor, he opened it and wiped the blade on a damp cloth. Wetting it in the basin of steaming water, he began. With the first few passes, he remembered what had brought about having to shave in the first place.
The whole mess had started on Tuesday, on the way to _____. The coach had been full to bursting, but with the light rain that fell, those riding inside were grateful. Luckily, forbearance had been plentiful and the crowded passengers had even become friendly with polite conversation.
Edward had taken no part in commenting, as he had generally found that when a clergyman spoke, he is either given undo deference or met with hostility. Therefore, he had chosen silence. But he listened with interest as the conversation flowed from topic to topic. Unfortunately, even his silence provoked attention.
The conversation had been unimportant and trivial until it turned to the scandal recently uncovered by the Times. It reported that the Indigent's Aid Society of Liverpool was found to be nothing more than a league of unconnected clergy who had aided no one, but had pocketed all the money entrusted to them for the help of the poor. It was an embarrassment to the Church for sure, but it was particularly hurtful to Reverend Wentworth, as he knew one of the fellows connected with the scheme. At one time the man had been an acquaintance and teacher. But now, it would seem, he was a man who had strayed far from his Godly calling, and was not only suffering the consequence of his sins, but would ever suffer the knowledge that he had brought shame to the name of Christ.
It was in this setting that a pointed comment had been made by one of the more sharp-minded of the passengers. A woman who had boarded that morning and been a lively contributor to all the topics. She had wondered aloud how well the gentlemen dressed. When asked what the blackguard's manner of dress would matter, she had contemptuously observed that for the precious little work that the clergy did, they always seemed to look as though they toiled night and day. Might this be to rouse sympathy in the congregation? Might this ploy cause the congregants to be a bit more generous as the collection was passed? The point being that by their very occupation, all clergymen were guilty of fraud, either "out-and-out or round about." While the others had been congratulating her on her witty rhyme, a sharp look had passed between the woman and the Rector. Edward had looked away first, knowing that there were enough in his profession that might try such an obvious ploy to wring more money from their parishioners. He had felt ashamed for them at that moment. Ashamed, but also a little guilty.
The awkward part about the whole affair and the source of the Rector's guilt was the fact that he did indeed look to be nothing more than a scruffy itinerant. He had not taken time for a haircut and trim of his beard before his mad dash to Somerset and so after days of travelling, Reverend Edward Wentworth looked to personify everything this woman had said.
Those in the coach had allowed the comment to stand, choosing to not embarrass the Rector. Later, after their arrival at the inn, had Edward put the whole incident from his mind and not allowed her comments to wound his pride, he might have exercised better judgement. Had he only done the Christian thing, he would have called for a bath that night, and presented himself the next morning, scrubbed raw, still in need of a trim, but spotlessly clean. "But no, Edward . . . you must always take to heart things said about the Clergy. Even when you know that you are not up to the task . . ." he muttered as he scraped away at his neck. "I have not missed this in all these months," he muttered some more.
Turning back to Tuesday, he recalled arriving at the inn and asking for a scissor to be brought. Examining himself, he had knew that he could do nothing about the hair on his head, trimming that was a skill he lacked, but he could trim his own beard and mustache. He had done so before his marriage and he felt confident that he could do so then.
Looking at the condition of the scissors, he should have known better. They were none too clean, and bits of rust here and there hinted that they were not always used for their manufactured purpose. Undaunted, Edward had wiped them as best he could, then standing before the tarnished mirror, he had begun the trim. It was very clear, very quickly that scissors would be his undoing. After only two passes, what jagged ends of his mustache were left, were far too short to save. To his horror, he had realised that he would be forced to shave the whole of his face. This had made him angry all over again, though now the anger was due to his own vanity and pride. There was no one to blame but himself for this blunder.
"Edward. Edward! Aren't you finished yet? You've had time to pluck yourself bare . . . hurry up! the gig is ready and so am I!" The voice was his brother's. Frederick had rigged Standish and was waiting, none too patiently for Edward to come down that they could be off.
Wringing out the cloth with hot water, Edward hurriedly wiped his face. "Hold on! I'm nearly through. We're only going to Glencoe for serving pieces . . . not setting out to save the Crown, you know!"
"I am well aware of the mission! Hurry anyhow. . . I'd rather not be all day about this. I'll be in the gig!"
The Rector heard Frederick's footsteps fade down the passageway. "Yes, brother!"he muttered. Turning back to his reflection, he carped, "As if he has anything mortally pressing that requires his attentions!"
While wiping down the razor, Edward studied his face and expression in the mirror. As he took stock, he wondered what his wife's reaction might be, were she to know how things had all come about. Would she be so enthusiastic about his clean shaven face were she to know why it had ever been exposed? Pursing his lips, he supposed that the reason for the shave was not so dreadful, it was more the person who had provoked him that would be the rub.
Since returning home, each turn before the mirror was an echo of the conversation, the accusation and the humiliation. Each turn before the mirror was an open door for the woman in the coach to assert herself once more.
The very public conversation between the other passengers and the woman had not been the only one in which she had shown her mental keenness. When the coach had left the station the next midmorning, the Rector and the unescorted woman had been the only riders. He had had ample opportunity to observe . . . and be observed.
Pulling on a fresh shirt, Edward watched as his face appeared through the neck. Slowly raising his hand to his face, he rubbed his cheeks and chin, feeling the smooth skin. Finally running his hand down his throat, he murmured, "Some way, I'll just have to make her see that I must let it grow back."
Pushing all thoughts out of his mind, he tucked his shirt into his trousers and buttoned it. Taking a fresh stock from the drawer, he put it on and tied it loosely. Taking a black coat from the wardrobe, he gave it a half-hearted brush with the back of his hand and shrugged it on. Without looking back in the mirror, he ran a brush through his hair and turned to go downstairs.
Anyone knowing the Rector's state of mind as they observed him mechanically bid his wife farewell, don his coat and make his way to the stable, would think it fortunate that he did not know the woman in the coach was just then awakening, not five miles from he and his mirror.
Rosamond opened her eyes and lay still for a moment. The curtains were tightly closed and so the room was the proper darkness. The fire had been tended recently and so the room was warm. The previous afternoon, a stern dressing down of the housekeeper had brought the proper sort of sheets for the bed and cases for the pillows and so there was really no quarrelling with her circumstances . . . for the moment.
Sitting up, she arranged the pillows and settled back into them. Glancing at the mantel clock, she knew that the girl would be coming to her in less than a quarter of an hour. She would bear a tray with tea and chilled water, four slices of buttered toast and an egg. The girl was becoming adept at serving, and the woman wondered if she might steal her away when the business with Pollard was finished. But, depending upon what transpired, stealing might not be necessary.
Just as she thought this, the door opened. Without looking up, Rosamond straightened and arranged the pillows again to accommodate the anticipated tray. "You are a bit early, you are learning well."
"Thank you, my dear!" a very cheerful, but very masculine voice replied.
Still, without looking up, Rosamond sighed heavily. "Pollard! You know I detest being sprung upon so early . . . even if you do bear my breakfast!" After saying this, she raised her head and coolly glared at him.
Ignoring the glare, he walked to the bed and placed the tray on the bedside table. Taking the napkin, he snapped it open with a flourish. "I have no intentions of 'springing' upon you, Rosie! It's just that I have never seen you before noon and I thought that since this is my house, and that I am the Lord of the Manor, I would do as I pleased." He bent and placed the linen square elegantly in her lap. Taking the cup of tea, he placed it in her hands and bowed. "Just as you like it, Rosie."
While Rosamond abhorred the name Rosie, she would not waste her time with trifles. Rosamond had more important things to ascertain.
Taking a drink, she looked up at Pollard and smiled. "I am surprised . . . this tea is quite good."
Levant scowled. It was not like Rosamond to compliment anything, much less anything this early in the day. But he decided that there was more to it and so asked warily. "And why are you surprised? You think I do not set a fine table?"
Settling the cup back on the saucer, she said, "When you told us of your . . . inheritance, you made us all believe that you were to live in splendour. But so far, all I have seen is a rather smallish and plain manor house. I am sure that it was very fine . . . in its day. But really, Pollard, splendid, it is not and your economy is showing in nearly every way."
Now, this was the woman he knew intimately. A woman, who out of principle, scrutinized every human fault or weakness which presented itself . Levant was not put out at Rosamond's observations, he quite expected them.
Having taken a seat on the edge of the bed, he now stretched out fully. Leaning on his elbow, he traced the outlines of the flower petals on the coverlet. Having given Rosamond time to elaborate, which she did not take, he said with a confidence which belied the truth, "Well, I am in a little self-imposed . . . retrenchment. But you are the only one who seems to be bothered by it . . . Randwick doesn't take any notice at all!"
"Ha ha! My dear, Randwick is a young pup who takes notice of nothing, save the female form . . ."
Levant looked up at her with arched brows. He knew the Randwick had an interest, but he had deeper concerns than any dalliance that might occur between the two of them.
" . . . or is directly connected to your particular tutelage," she said, as she took another drink of her tea.
Pollard smiled. He was heartened that she could see his influence over the boy and that she acknowledged as much. But, ignoring that for the time being, he drawled, "Yes, he does rather like you, I think."
"I can not help but notice that he does, Pollard. And you might do well to remember that . . . that fellows like young Randwick, and other men do have eyes."
Daring to touch her, he reached under the blankets and caressed her ankle. "I know that other men have eyes, but I know you my lovely. You are loyal . . . and you know who will care for you."
"Yes, I am loyal, Pollard," she said lightly. "But I also have a fondness for the creature comforts, and it is important that those are attended to. My loyalty has a high price."
" . . . and I always do my best . . . now don't I?" as he spoke, his hand glided over her shapely ankle, making its way to her knee.
Drawing back her leg, Rosamond glared again. "Those are not the needs I am discussing. I am sad to hear of your self-imposed . . . retrenchment. Your economisation does not bode well for me, I fear."
The look on Pollard's face hardened. With a snort, he rolled to his back and asked, "And why would my economising affect you, pray tell?" His tone was no longer light and teazing, it was hesitant and strained.
"It already has. I think your economisation began with my carriage." Her tone was clipped and flat. She thought it best to come to the point and watch him flounder for an answer.
"What do you mean?"
"Tuesday last was a beautiful evening, and the play I had attended was most entertaining. And adding to my enjoyment, while leaving the Hall, it became apparent that I would not have much of a wait as my carriage was one of the next up. I was having a lovely conversation with a charming duke to whom I had just been introduced, when I chanced to look up and see two ruffians throw my driver . . . my lovely old Barch, to the ground and drive off into the night." She did not look at him, but waited for him to respond.
"That must have been quite harrowing for you, my dear." It was said with not much pity, and only what sounded to be vague interest .
"At the time I was very shocked, but having no reason to think otherwise, I cried 'thievery' to all who would listen. I found later that was quite fortuitous on my part . . . and for you." She again turned her cold eyes in his direction. Seeing that he was not much moved by the event, she continued, "One of my first calls the next day was to the owner. I was mortified to discover that the two who took my coach were not thieves, but bailiffs . . . hired by him. In fact, I saw my lovely little carriage sitting in his shabby little yard from the window of his shabby little office. It seems you had not paid the lease. I had actually ridden about for the past three weeks on your promises of payment. He was not very happy with us . . . oh, the dreadful little man assumed I was your wife, sent to . . . make amends."
Putting the cup and saucer back on the tray, Rosamond turned her brown eyes upon Pollard and stared for a moment.
He chose not to ask for elaboration on her last statement. Pollard turned his head enough to see that she looked at him, then he turned away.
"Why was it necessary that I humiliate myself before a common tradesman, Pollard? I was prepared to charm and wheedle something better from him . . . since I was left stranded by thieves, or so I thought. Do you know how embarrassing it was to not only find that it was you who had stranded me, but to have that lout think I was sent to satisfy your debt?" She had spoken coldly and precisely. Reaching to the tray, she took a piece of toast and bit off a corner.
The ticking of the clock and the sound of Rosamond biting into her toast were the only sounds in the room. Pollard lay staring at the ceiling, not sure how much he should say to her.
He was certain of her loyalty; she owed him a great deal. After all, hadn't he been the one to take her on when her last protector, a fellow from the Home Office, had posted out of country without so much as a word? This had left her d*mn near destitute and in great need of his assistance. No, she would stay, but he did not wish to endure the nattering about his debts. And if he were to tell her everything, there would be quite a lot of nattering.
"Rosie, I . . . I have got myself in a bit of a jam, but I have some money coming very soon and that should free things up." I shall squeeze the Parson a bit tomorrow, he'll not raise a fuss in Church, surely, Levant chuckled to himself.
There was a tone in his voice that Rosamond had never heard before. It was a note of alarm that had never been present in his manner, no matter how weighed down with debt he had been. She suddenly wondered if someone from Demarest had warned him already. No, Demarest himself had been very clear that she was to deliver the message. If not the Demarests, perhaps there were other houses he was seriously into.
"I hope that is true, Pollard. With Lady Day coming so soon, I have to wonder about my rooms. Instead of old Barch laying prostrate on the street, it might be me and all my pretty things set out on the kurb. I would not like that Pollard."
Rolling over, onto his stomach, Levant pulled himself towards her until he rested his head in her lap. "Have pity on me, my dear, Rosie. You can stay here . . . with me and Randwick! We shall be a very jolly threesome, don't you think?" He looked up at her with a cloying smile.
While she was not certain of his precise meaning, the implications of such a thing made Rosamond's throat tighten in disgust. Pollard was proving to worsen with each passing day. Her mind was made up at that very moment.
She had wanted to ascertain whether her living was to be interrupted by his debts and it was obvious that it would. It was clear that he no longer had the capital necessary to keep her, excepting in this drafty barn he called a manor house. No, his imprudence had now decided his fate. She would not tell him of Ian Demarest's message.
Later, in the afternoon, after returning from a pleasant visit with Catherine's family and an uneventful ride home, Frederick helped carry in several baskets that Edward's mother-in-law had sent back with them. After snagging an orange from the pokeful that Mrs. Keye had sent, he gracefully bowed out of the pleasant chatter as things were put away.
He had seen Louisa only briefly after breakfast and was curious to know what she had been about during his absence. Tossing and catching the orange as he made his way down the hall, he slowed as he heard singing. The tune was easily recognisable, and while he intimately knew the words, those he heard were indistinct. The real puzzle was the voice. That which he heard was completely unfamiliar to him. The closer he came to Louisa's room, the louder the singing became. He listened at the door for a moment, then opening it quietly, stepped in. What he heard and saw made him smile.
"Come cheer up, my lads, 'tis to glory we steer,
To add something new to this wonderful Year:
To honour we call you, not press you like slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?
Heart of Oak are our ships,
Heart of Oak are our men,
We always are ready,
Steady, boys, steady,
We'll fight and we'll con-quer-a-gain-and-a-gain!"
The last words were muffled, but now quite understandable. While Louisa's voice was not very good, either in keeping the tune or in ability to mimic a man, she did manage to sing with just a proper amount of fervor.
Clap, clap "Bravo!" called Frederick as he applauded. To add to the halloo, he whistled.
Louisa started noticeably. Though she had thought herself quite alone, she sang under the blankets to keep anyone passing in the hallway from hearing how ill her voice was. And now, despite all her pains, she was discovered! And mortified! But the worst of it was being discovered by the very person who inspired her to give into such a whimsy.
I told Sophy that I could be had with a few compliments of the Navy . . . Heart of Oak, quite a
compliment ! he chuckled to himself as he walked to the bed.
Laying a hand gently on what he guessed to be her shoulder, he leant close and said cheerily, "Ahoy! I like your choice of song. Though I am not particularly musical myself, perhaps we could perform a duet tomorrow for the company." He stifled a laugh as he awaited her response. But there was no response. Louisa stirred a very little She made no noise. She hoped against hope that he might leave her. After a time, still feeling the hand upon her, she knew that hiding was useless and decided to lift the blanket and be done with the inevitable teazing.
She was surprised see how close he stood. Their eyes met and she flushed. She could tell by his wicked grin that this embarrassing episode would be held over her forever. Frederick cocked his head a bit and gave her a slight bow, extending the orange. "Heart of Oak, ma'am . . . you honour me." He chose not to teaze as she snatched the orange from his hand and pulled the blanket back over her head. After a hearty laugh, he drew her out and settling her comfortably, listened with amusement to the explanation of her conduct. Having received a full account, the Captain determined that it was time to seek relief for his bored, pent-up "crewman."
Chapter 1, Part II
As the Captain and his wife discussed her musicale and its impetus, Catherine settled herself onto the sofa in the sitting room. The light in that room was the most suitable for the task of sewing. She held up her husband's shirt and examined it closely. He had again broken a button and she, again, was replacing it. Wrestling with sin certainly causes damage to his shirts, she mused as she picked out the threads holding the remaining piece.
As she began to thread the needle, her brother-in-law entered the sitting room. Pulling the thread's knot tight, she smiled and greeted him warmly. "Hello . . . and what are you about, Captain? I think your brother is putting the final touches on his sermon for tomorrow, but he should be finished soon. And supper will be on in an hour or so."
"I was actually not looking for Edward. I wish to speak with you . . .Mrs. Wentworth."
"Oh, I fear this . . . whenever I am addressed as Mrs. Wentworth . . . you remember, that excruciatingly polite woman with the perfect posture?" They smiled as both thought back to their first meeting just a few months earlier when she had invited his familiarity by use of her Christian name. "Anywise, what might you wish to speak with me about?"
Frederick worked to keep his countenance. "Actually, I have come to plead for a member of my crew."
Catherine scowled with puzzlement. "Your . . . crew? A member of your crew?"
"Yes . . . I suppose she would count as my First Officer." Seeing that Catherine was mystified by his jest, he said, "Louisa."
Catherine's expression changed immediately to understanding. Turning her attention back to the Rector's shirt, she began to sew the button in place. Glancing back at the Captain with a raised brow, she said, "I suppose that she has sent you to plead for her . . . release?"
Smiling, the Captain picked up another of Edward's shirts and laying it over the back of the sofa, he took a seat, opposite Catherine. "No . . . I have come of my own accord. But by your tone, I would say that she has already pled for herself?"
Chuckling, Catherine let the shirt fall in her lap. "I must tell you Captain, your . . . First is like one of those little dogs that hunt badgers! I took tea with her this afternoon and it was made abundantly clear to me that your wife's health is so much improved . . . she's feeling quite well . . .and that she has never been so fit!" Applying herself to the button, Mrs. Wentworth finished with another bit of a chuckle, "I think she did all she could to make me understand her point! I should not have been surprised had she called me her gaoler."
Louisa's words to her husband had been to that effect, but he kept quite silent on the point. "Ha ha! She did say that she felt as though she were in gaol . . . but I don't think that she meant anything to do with you! You must admit . . . she looks better than when we arrived," he said with an openhanded gesture.
"Of course she looks better! . . . the only possible way for the poor creature to look worse would have been for her to expire . . . and we were obviously spared that since we are having this conversation." Looking intently at Frederick, she said apologetically, "I don't mean to be overly cautious. Perhaps it is my own prejudice. Headaches have always frightened me . . . and she did have that fall. Also . . . while that fever has turned out to be less virulent than thought, I don't wish to take any chances . . . I prefer to err on the side of prudence."
"And I understand that, and appreciate it greatly. But she tells me that she feels very well. No headache, no sick stomach . . . she never had a fever. She is bored silly. She is young and full of life, she wishes to be up." He could see why Louisa had made no headway with his sister-in-law, the woman had a well-reasoned counter for all his arguments.
"You think me tyrannical, don't you?" she said without looking up.
The Captain could not help remembering the conversation with his brother on the occasion of their arrival, when the Rector himself had, jokingly, called his wife tyrannical. Frederick was glad that she did not lift her eyes, as it took all he had to keep from laughing. "No . . . I think you are above all things . . . prudent . . . which is a good quality. But . . . there are times when prudence could give way to being merely watchful . . . without any damage being done."
"I suppose that is true." Catherine said as she snipped the thread from the finished button. Exchanging the repaired shirt for the other, she continued, "And I suppose there would be no damage done if she were to be up for a little while . . . after supper. I am sure that it has been dull, having to stay to herself up there. All right . . . I grant her a release. But not until after supper . . . her tray is laid out and I don't wish to throw Mrs. Graham in a pother."
"Thank you, Sister. I shall inform the prison . . . I mean, I shall tell Louisa directly. Thank you, again . . . Mrs. Wentworth." Smiling, he stood and gave Catherine a bow and turned to go up stairs.
Without looking up, Catherine called out, "Tell the prisoner that I look forward to seeing her freed!"
When her husband told her that she would be allowed down after supper, Louisa got up straight away and began choosing what dress to wear. After all, it was to be the first evening with the Rector and Mrs. Wentworth and she wished to make a better impression than when she had arrived.
Louisa was not the only one in the district that evening who worried over the impressions of others. Joshua Junkins had finished feeding Arthur, his horse, and the few chickens that had been spared a local fox's carnage. It took little time, but he puttered and hummed, fussing here and there with tools and equipment around the barn.
He was reluctant to go into the house. His wife, Beatrice, had determined that he was to have a haircut and a shave that evening, in preparation for dining with the Rector and Mrs. Wentworth at the Rectory the following afternoon. While attention to his person was not something which bothered Joshua, he was growing more and more nervous about his first appearance in society. Preparations for the event only reminded him that it was coming closer with each passing hour.
It was not that the company of the Rector and his wife was repulsive to him, far from it. And it was certainly not that the Rector's brother would be in attendance. Junkins and Captain Wentworth had a very good understanding. No, it was the Captain's new wife that set Mr Junkins nerves atremble.
Neither Mr nor Mrs. Junkins had yet met the new Mrs. Wentworth, but by all accounts, she was a pleasant enough young woman. Junkins apprehension lay in what she would make of him . . . and his appearance.
To date, he knew exactly three women. His wife, the wife of his particular friend and Mary their serving girl. Mary hardly counted as a woman, and as little girls were notorious for their tender hearts, so her pity was to be expected. The wife of his friend was a good Christian woman and so her pity was assured. His wife loved him and her pity was unshakeable. Mrs. Wentworth was young, but not so young that he might presume on her pity. He feared that his first outing might be embarrassing to more than just himself.
Watching Arthur take up a mouthful of corn, half of it falling back to the manger, Junkins mused that he had much in common with the beast. While one expected dumb animals to drop food and generally make a mess, one did not expect to be seated at a civilized table with a man who was no better. Allowances were made at his own table. Beatrice and now Mary paid no heed to his messes, but how would young Mrs. Wentworth react to such a display?
Absent-mindedly, he brought his hand to his face. The right side of his head had sustained the worst of his burns and so he had no beard nor hair on much of that side. He remembered the struggles that the Rector's wife had when she had agreed to prepare him to meet, then Beatrice Lowell, for the first time. Who am I fooling? I am not fit to meet with society. That poor girl will be shocked when she sees me, and horrified when she takes a meal in my presence, he moaned inwardly.
"Sir?" a soft voice called from the side door. "The Missus is asking where you've got off to. Your water is ready, she says." Mary came fully into the barn to talk to him.
"Oh, so it must be. The time has come and I mustn't get on the bad side of my barber, now should I?" Junkins said, still not moving from the bench where he had placed himself.
Mary's eyes widened, "No, sir. But I don't think ya needta worry about the Missus . . . she'll not do anathing evil ta ya!" she exclaimed.
Looking to Mary, he patted the low wooden bench on which he had taken a seat. The water was ready for him, but he was not quite ready to begin his preparations for the morrow. Mary came and sat next to him. "No . . . the Missus would never do me any evil . . . she only wants my good. But sometimes our good only comes after what seems to be evil."
Mary looked at him with bewilderment. There were times that the Master's enigmatical answers left her puzzled, but she had come to trust him and if he said something, she listened carefully, for she knew it would do her good.
"You have no idea what I mean, do you , Mary?" he said patiently.
"No sir. But I'm sure that you know. I'm ignorant o' so much, but I shall learn . . . I am determined. The Missus says I have as good a brain as any she has seen, and that I should use it more!" Mary was proud that the Missus would think she had a good brain, though it bothered her as to how Mrs. Junkins would know such a thing! The girl had spent several nights wondering how the Missus had seen her brain, or for that matter, how she had seen others' brains.
Joshua smiled. He knew that Mary was still pondering Mrs. Junkins ability to see into a person's head. When she had come to him with her quandry, he had tried to explain what her mistress had meant, but it was still above the girl's head to understand such things.
The girl did have a good mind, though it was completely untaught. Her mother had not been able to teach her what she herself did not know and so the girl was well versed in common household work, a few verses of the Scriptures learned by rote with no understanding of meaning and some knowledge of herbs. Nothing that would show her quickness. But in her, Joshua saw himself.
While Mary had not been left alone as he had been, her mind had not had any stretching or work forced upon it, much like his. It was not until his loneliness had grown to such horrific proportions as to desire death, (and to even seek it), that he had begun his pursuit of knowledge.
First, he had taken stock of his immediate surroundings and then sought knowledge of the wider world. That was when he had begun writing letters to strangers. As he found subjects that interested him, he would seek out names of individuals and associations in the newspapers. From there, he would gain addresses and send letters of introduction, asking what he hoped would be questions intelligent enough to identify him a true inquirer.
Finding that most people and groups are quite willing to discuss their passions, he had found a way to have fellowship of sorts. It had been enough for many years. Until the day that the Rector had come. It was after that day, Joshua had realised that he craved human contact. And through that, he had worked up the courage to speak his mind to Mrs. Lowell.
Thinking on all this, Joshua knew that presenting himself to the larger world by meeting Captain
Wentworth's new wife, and dining at the Rectory, while possibly embarrassing, was nothing truly evil. It was merely the next step in a journey he had begun ages ago.
"Well, never mind me, come, let us go in. You can tell me a story while I am prettied for the new Mrs.
Wentworth." Rising, he took the girl's hand. They saw the door locked against the marauding fox, and slowly ambled to the house.
At the Rectory, Louisa willingly ate her last sickroom meal upstairs, while the other three took supper in the dining room. They chatted about this and that, nothing of great import. During a silence broken only by the clicking of silver or, "Please pass the pudding," Frederick noticed the other two were engaged in one of those silent conversations that married couples often partake. Edward would shake his head and Catherine would raise her brows. A purse of the lips here and a scowl there. Wiping his mouth, Frederick finally enquired, "Would you like me to step out? I really wouldn't mind."
Both looked at him with startled expressions, they had thought themselves quite discreet. Both looked away, a little embarrassed. Edward too wiped his mouth and setting his napkin aside, began.
"I suppose now is as good a time to talk about this as any . . . seeing as how my wife is quite anxious," he said with a nod in her direction and an arching of the brows. Catherine returned the look with a nod and a smile.
"Talk about what?" Frederick asked as he took a bite of his fillet.
"Catherine has had several opportunities to speak with Louisa . . . taking her meals . . . helping her in the morning and such."
"Yes, and I thank you most particularly for that, Catherine," he said, bobbing an acknowledgment to her. "But what is your point, Edward?"
"The point would be," Catherine interjected, "we would like for her to stay here, with us, when you go back to Plymouth."
He looked from one, then to the other. Both had an open look of agreement. But there was a feeling in his stomach that he could not identify. It was a feeling of foreboding at the idea of Louisa living with his brother and sister-in-law. Then a picture of Joshua Junkins came unbidden to his mind. He soon realised what the feeling was.
" . . . as I said, Louisa and I have much in common; large, rustic families . . . very strong-minded mothers . .
wonderful, handsome husbands . . ." she smiled coyly, hoping to teaze a good response.
Frederick was still a bit distracted from his realisation. Seeing that his brother was not in a waggish mood, Edward interposed himself, "I think what my wife is trying to say is that she likes your wife and she thinks that it might be good for her to live here. With us, she would be your wife and not so much a daughter of the house."
"But the Musgroves are expecting her back . . . and they are glad to have her live with them . . . both expressed nothing but joy at having her home."
The couple gave one another a look. Edward nodded and Catherine continued, "Of course they are glad to have her, they would have to be most unfeeling not to give her a place under the circumstances, but . . . I am not certain that it is best for Louisa that she go back to . . . Uppercross, is it?"
"Uppercross, yes . . . and why not? They will treat her well, and they recognise her limitations since the accident." Frederick felt guilty even saying the words, as it had become quite obvious to him that she was not limited, but he thought it a good lever to use.
"Frederick . . . I have to say, I don't think that Louisa really has any limitations since her accident," Edward voiced. "When I was there for the wedding, I saw nothing that would make me think her incapacitated in any way. But . . ."
"But I did see the Musgroves treat her as such." Everyone sat quietly for a moment. Edward went on, "Look, brother, I have had opportunity to see a host of brides and their families. I have seen the most obedient and compliant as well as the most fractious and contentious . . . I have also seen very simple girls married off and that was how Louisa was treated." The Rector knew the Musgroves loved their daughter, but in their minds she was nearly a simpleton and he feared that she would forever be treated as such.
Frederick knew that Edward's observations were true, he had seen the very thing. Not only had he seen it, he had made his own mistakes about her abilities. The wedding had been confusing for everyone, but he was certain that if there had been a clear eye in the whole of Uppercross, it had been his brother's. "And so you think it would be harmful for her to go back and live under that?" he asked cutting his food into small pieces. He hoped to look composed and unconcerned, though he was truly anxious.
"Not so much harmful, Frederick, but frustrating . . . and painful. She realises that they treat her differently than before her fall, but I don't think she gives it much import . . . but someday she will, and she will have to continue in submission or rebel against it. Either will be painful." Replacing his napkin, Edward concentrated upon his food and left his brother to think.
Frederick wanted the best for Louisa, he truly did. But he feared that she might discover theidentity of his former love and knew that she could only be hurt by such knowledge. With his own feelings changing as they were, it was no longer just Louisa learning about Anne that he feared, but how that knowledge might affect her feelings towards him. Though young, she would question why the attachment had never been spoken about, and it would not be a far leap to question his present feelings. No, Louisa could never know about Anne, and staying in Shropshire put both him and his wife in danger of that.
"I would not wish you to feel obligated because of the Mu. . ." Frederick began.
Setting down his fork rather forcefully, Edward cried, "No! . . . we do not feel obligated! . . . after all, the girl is family. Who but her family should make a home for her?" Edward shot his brother a withering glare.
Frederick returned Edward's look with puzzlement. A quick nod toward his wife and a small wave of his fork to indicate all around them made the Captain realise why his brother had interrupted. Ah . . . he thought I was beginning to speak of the money! Looking back to Catherine, he stuttered, "N-no . . . good. I w-would not wish you to feel obliged because of the way that the Musgroves treat her. But she is going to family . . . her own family, and the Musgroves will care for her very well."
The look upon Edward's face slackened. A quiet apology was passed from one brother to other.
Catherine didn't understand why he had been so forceful about the Musgroves, but wished him to understand her own reasons for wanting the girl with them. "But, Captain, although her family love her very much, I do not think that you can comprehend how difficult that will be for her. In fact, I doubt she realises herself. I was speaking with her when we took tea and she spoke about home and her family and her sister's upcoming marriage. All these things prey upon her, though she doesn't say anything."
"How do you mean that they prey upon her?"
"Going home will be agreeable . . . at first. But I fear the longer she is there, the less she will be your wife and the more she will go back to being their daughter. Soon, she will cease to be Mrs. Captain Wentworth at all. She will merely be Louisa Wentworth, second daughter of the house, whose husband is away. Nothing more. And once her sister is married, well . . . her sister is to be the mistress of a very small, but excessively sweet cottage from what I am told. While Louisa, who has a husband ten times the consequence of a curate, is to be the mistress of the bedroom in which she grew up." Catherine looked directly at Frederick for a moment and then lowered her eyes and attended to her supper.
All turned their attentions to the meal. The lack of voices allowed the other sounds of the table to be noticeable. There was the ring of the crystal, the scrape of knives and clattering of serving pieces being passed. After a time, Frederick resolved to tell them why he was uneasy with the notion of Louisa staying.
Laying his knife and fork precisely upon the plate, he leant on his forearms and folded his hands. Clearing his throat, Catherine and Edward both looked up and awaited his comments.
"I want you to know that I appreciate your offer to have Louisa live here, I know it is borne of love and is quite genuine. My concern lies in the fact that this is the only place that she could find out about Anne. The two of you and Mr Junkins are the only people who could . . . quite accidental, though it would be, tell her about my relationship with Miss Elliot. To find out that I once was engaged to Anne would be disastrous to her . . . and to me."
A slight smile touched the lips of Catherine as she glanced to her husband. It was good to hear the admission of the Captain's feelings. Edward had noticed the same and arched his brow as he gave her leave to speak for them both.
"Frederick . . .I understand your reluctance. But I think you . . . and Edward must realise something." Looking to her husband, she meant him to hear her too. Both men could see that she was struggling to order her words. "Please understand, I do not say this to hurt you," she looked at Frederick particularly. "Miss Elliot is nothing to me . . . I have nothing of her in my mind to provoke tender feelings . . . as the two of you. I am sure she is a lovely woman, but the woman upstairs is the one you have made my sister. I can see you with no one else. To me, she is the perfect wife for you. My complete loyalty is with Louisa. I would do or say nothing to hurt her . . . ever."
"But accidently . . ."
"Frederick . . . I must say, I think Catherine has a point. There is no reason for Miss Anne to ever be rought into conversation here . . . excepting if Louisa were to mention her . . . no other reason."
"Besides, if she goes home, she might very well see Miss Elliot . . . I believe you said they are related by marriage?" Frederick nodded. "Who knows . . . perhaps she has grown bitter since the wedding . . . she herself might say . . ."
"No, no! . . . she would never!"
"Miss Anne is the not kind . . ."
Both men jumped to defend Miss Elliot's character in this regard.
Looking from one brother to the other, Catherine was amused at the gallantry this stranger engendered in not only her brother-in-law, but her husband as well. "All right, all right! You make your point . . . she would do no such thing. The fact still remains that for other, better reasons, your wife should stay here, with us. And we wish her to stay."
The Captain examined each expectant face. They were both right, Louisa would be better off with them and he suspected that she could only grow finer under the care of these two people who were so anxious for her best.
"All right. She can stay . . . if she wishes."
"Wonderful! Of course she will wish to! I think we are about ready to clear, you can go bring her down. We shall celebrate the good news with some sherry," Catherine said, rising to fetch the decanter.
As they finished with coffee in the sitting room, Catherine's prediction proved true, Louisa did wish it. They all talked about her joining the household and how each was looking forward to it. Though the "good nights," were reluctant, Louisa was in raptures as she and the Captain walked to the stairs. She took great delight in knowing that she was to live at the Rectory with the Wentworths. While she had not dreaded the return to Uppercross, she was flattered and excited to think that her new family wished her to join them in Shropshire. It had been clear that there had been no feeling of duty to make the offer, but only warm regard for her and their desire to keep her with them. It was delightful to be wanted by such caring people as the Rector and especially, his wife.
Taking Louisa's arm, Frederick placed his hand over hers as they mounted the stairs. In doing so, he found it trembling slightly, her excitement was so strong. As they easily fell into step, he suddenly wished he was not relegated to the nursery. He longed to be out of his old room with the smell of paint and the interrupted plaster work. That day they had been married one week and in so little a time, he had grown much accustomed to having her near him as he fell asleep. He was surprised that he longed to again lay by Louisa's side . . . in their room. He realised that he very much enjoyed waking up to her sleepy smile and warm presence. Suddenly, he resented sleeping alone in the nursery . . . and especially in the small, hard cot that they passed off as a bed. Perhaps tomorrow night he would be allowed back to his rightful place . . . by her side.
"We passed my door, sir." She had stopped as he kept walking.
Coming out of his reverie, Frederick stopped and let her hand go. "I'm sorry . . . I was thinking. Actually . . . I was feeling a little sorry for myself."
Louisa looked concerned as she lay her hand on his arm. "Oh no, why?"
He stood a moment looking at her in the light of the hall sconces. The care in her eyes was charming. It reminded him of her expressions when he had told about the sinking of the Asp. Her concern then had been touching, but expected . . . all landsmen showed the same horror at the prospect of losing one's life to a sinking ship. No, this concern was for him, Frederick, her husband, not the blue-uniformed Captain Wentworth supping at Uppercross.
"Oh, no good reason. Nothing justified. Sleep well, Louisa," he said, patting her hand and giving her a quick peck on the cheek as he began to walk away. Leaving her to sleep alone was frustrating enough without adding a tender goodnight into the bargain. He had every intention of moving down the hall to the nursery, but she had other intentions.
"Captain?" As he walked away, he realised while he had let her one hand go, she had slipped her other into it.
"Y-e-s?" he said slowly drawled, as he turned back to her.
Leaning against the door, Louisa gently drew him close to her. "I wish to thank you for offering to write the letter to Mama and Papa. Were I to do it, well . . . they would think it a silly whim of mine. But with you telling them, as my husband . . . there will be no disputing."
"Well, I am glad to do it. Will you be happy here, do you think?" He pushed back an imaginary lock of hair from her forehead.
The question was needless. He could easily see by the sparkle in her eyes that her happiness was assured. Nodding, she looked away for a moment. Then swallowing hard, she forced herself to look in his eyes. Whispering, she said, "I miss you. Perhaps . . . tomorrow night . . . maybe you will be allowed out of the nursery." A wisp of a smile came across her lips.
Laughing quietly, he moved closer. "You would not mind? As it is, you have that big bed all to yourself."
"It is comfortable, but . . . lonely. Besides, I don't like to be cold . . . I miss you being nearby." Her free hand slid down the sleeve of his coat and took hold of his empty one.
"And I miss you." Bringing her close, he knew that she would receive his kiss and she did. He lowered his voice and said, "I could warm you . . . tonight."
Resting against the door, she took a deep breath as she plucked at his stock, "I do not think that would be proper . . . we do not have Mrs. Wentworth's leave. It is her home after all."
"And you are my wife . . . after all." He drew her closer and kissed her a second time. "Well?"
Wanting nothing more than to give in, but knowing it improper, she wished suddenly that she had not teazed him, that she had not kept him from taking his leave in the first place. "Sir, you would not tempt me beyond what I am able to bear . . . would you?"
The Captain sighed deeply, "No . . . but you promise you are tempted?"
Averting her gaze, Louisa flushed, hoping that the hallway was dim enough to keep him from noticing, "Yes . . . yes I am." Looking him in the eye, she said clearly, "I am very tempted."
It did him good to know that they were of the same mind. "Well, since you are now released from gaol . . . tomorrow I shall seek a release for myself, then I shall join you in our room, and we may . . ." As he spoke, Frederick was suddenly a little embarrassed that they were of the same mind. He had never given much thought to how she thought about him! He never thought that she, a naive young woman, would think of him in that way. But now that he put his mind to it, it was an awfully agreeable notion. "A-hem, so, you have thought of me then?"
"Yes . . . yes I have. Quite a lot, actually." She blushed prettily and looked away.
A feeling of excitement shot through Frederick and he speculated that, perhaps, with a bit more tempting, he could have his way. But, just as quickly, he decided talking sweetly to her, that she might go against her conscience, was not the way he wished to begin this aspect of their marriage. He would wait. Leaning down, he kissed her again and murmured, "I must go . . . on down . . . the hall there. So, tomorrow night then?"
Louisa rested her head against the door and slowly said, "Yes, tomorrow night . . . and I suppose you must go on. Good night." She smiled as he slowly began to move on.
Just as Louisa turned to open the door, she heard his whispered, "Come here." He took her in his arms, and kissed her deeply.
After the kiss, they stood in the doorway holding one another. Reluctantly, silently, he let her go. Kissing her one last time on the forehead, he turned and went to the nursery.
Later, as Louisa snuggled into her bed, she joyfully recalled the words they had exchanged, his kisses and thepromise of the next night. She fell asleep anticipating his return to their bed.
Meanwhile, the Captain struggled to find a little comfort in his nursery cot. After a particularly ferocious thump to his pillow, Frederick mused that perhaps Louisa was right after all . . . his sister-in-law was a gaoler! That night, he certainly felt like a prisoner.
Chapter 2, Part I
"No . . . but you promise you are tempted?"
"Yes . . . yes I am. I am very tempted."
"Well, since you are released from gaol . . . tomorrow I shall seek a release for myself and then, I shall join you in our room, and we shall . . . So, you have thought of me then?"
"Yes . . . yes I have. Quite a lot, actually."
After changing into a fresh shirt and neckcloth, the Captain had taken a final swipe at his hair and had again become engrossed in the previous night's exchange with his wife. He stood, looking deeply into the mirror. He gazed past his own reflection to the conjured picture he held of the pair in the hallway. As he stared, he tapped the comb through his fingers, idly repeating the motion again and again. He was grateful that no one could read his thoughts, for the whole of the morning, including Church, had been filled with Louisa.
Even while Edward had taken great pleasure in reintroducing him to several parishioners, with whom he had acquainted himself earlier in the year, the Captain had been distracted. In turn, Frederick had introduced his new wife to several of them, but for the life of him, he now could not remember a single face or name. It was fortunate that none of these people were coming to dinner at the Rectory that afternoon. Thankfully, there would be no need for him to grope about for names -- again.
To his shame, he had listened only half-heartedly to his brother's sermon. Only by observation of the rest of the congregation and Louisa's gentle touches on his hand or arm had he kept looking even close to attentive. As he thought about her small, gloved hand, he gave himself a crooked smile and said, "So, Frederick, were you truly so distracted, or was it merely a good excuse? Yea, yea, an excuse. I know . . . " He tapped his reflection in glass and shook his head.
He returned to his thoughts of the previous evening. So, she thinks of me . . . he mused with a smile. The thought was as appealing now as it had been when she had whispered it to him in the hallway. And since his wife was now allowed out to attend Church and into the polite society of the rectory, he was determined to resume his place in their bed that very evening.
Frederick tossed the comb down as he heard voices downstairs, signalling the arrival of guests. Giving his neckcloth one last pluck, he headed out the door and down the hall to collect Louisa. On the walk back from Church, she had mentioned she was nervous about being introduced to those invited to dinner . . . most especially, Mr Junkins. While there were to be several guests, she pointed out that Mr Junkins was hardly a typical guest and this being her first social occasion as Mrs. Wentworth, she had no wish to embarrass the Captain, or herself.
"No, Joshua Junkins is not typical, but he is quite easy to be with . . . once you are accustomed to his appearance. He will make it easy for you. Stay close, and I shall 'interpret' for you," he had told her. She had expressed more uncertainty, but made it clear that she would do nothing foolish.
I'd think that poor Junkins would be more frightened than any of us at the prospect of this dinner, Frederick thought as he pulled his shirt cuffs to just the right length.
Coming to Louisa's door, he gave a knock as he opened it. Not seeing her immediately, he called out, "Are you ready? I hear someone downstairs. We don't wish . . . to . . . be late . . .." His voice trailed away.
Louisa quickly turned from the mirror and stepped from behind the screen. Smoothing her hair, and then her dress, she folded her hands neatly and stood before him, awaiting his opinion. "Well, Captain, will I do?"
She had changed from the simple dress she had worn to Church, into one of bright blue with gold lace. With her hair in a simple knot and a wool shawl of deep blue, she made a lovely picture. The sparkling blue of her eyes completed the outfit.
"It is beautiful . . . you are beautiful," he said enthusiastically. Taking her hands in his, he held them out to take a better look. "Yes . . . quite beautiful." He marvelled how she seemed to grow prettier each time he saw her.
"I was afraid that the blue was a bit overmuch, and the lace might be thought gaudy . . . you don't think me silly?" she asked anxiously.
"Why would I think you silly?" he asked, barely able to take his eyes from her.
"Well . . . it is rather like . . . like . . . " She was suddenly embarrassed that she had been so excessive. Mrs. Musgrove had thought that endeavouring to copy the Captain's uniform was a silly notion, and even Etta had been less than enthusiastic about the scheme. And now, with her husband standing before her, not even recognising the colours to be those of the Royal Navy, she was mortified -- again.
"Well? It is rather like what?" Frederick saw that the expression on her face had changed from one of excitement to something else, but he was not certain what. Knowing how nervous she was about the coming dinner, it could have been nearly anything. He still held her hands in his and so he gave them a tiny shake and asked again, "It is rather like what, Louisa?"
Blinking back the tears that had come to her eyes, she nervously fingered the lace around the neckline. "I tried to remember as best I could the colour. This was the closest match that the woman had . . . I thought it very close. But now . . . now I am not so certain. And the lace! Such wheedling I had to do with Mama! She is used to buying trims in several lengths at a time, but this . . . it was measured to the inch, I guarantee you. I feared bending it the entire time I sewed. But now I think it is too much . . . rather silly of me to try and copy your uniform. I see that now."
He had not worn his uniform for several days and it had not occurred to him that the colour was nearly the same. Now that he realised it, he could see the colour and the gold trim were, in her way homage to the Navy . . . or perhaps to him. Yesterday it had been "Heart of Oak," today, her dress. She was young and her expressions clumsy at times, but he felt them deeply. "Was this for me? Oh, girl. You honour me again." He pulled her gently to himself, careful not to bend the lace . . . for he knew just how expensive gold lace could be by the inch.
Mindful of her hair, he kissed her temple and whispered, "This is the most beautiful dress in the world and you are the most thoughtful of wives. I'm just sorry I didn't notice right off . . . can you forgive me?" He could see that she was not paying him any heed, but staring quite pointedly at his neck. "What is it? Why do you stare?" He wondered if he had missed a spot when he shaved that morning.
"You are wearing it," she said. Her voice was so small that he struggled to hear.
Looking up into his face, she hoarsely whispered, "The neckcloth I gave you. I thought you had forgotten it."
His hand went to his throat and he felt the tie. "Yes, I thought it was time that I showed off my wife's talent with a needle and thread." He congratulated himself on his fortuitous choice. Just as she had chosen to change for the company, so had he. Having had several choices, in the way of ties, he was glad that he had chosen her gift to wear. And now, seeing her dress, he was doubly glad, as the dress and stock complimented one another quite well.
Blinking to clear her eyes, she stepped away a bit and began to fuss with the knot. There was no real point, he had tied it perfectly. But to see it on him was a pleasure. "I am not as talented as some, but I did this," indicating the tie, "And the trim on this dress. I am not proficient at sewing, but I can do some things."
"Yes, you can." He smiled and looked at her. It was humbling to see her open regard. He offered his arm, "Shall we go on down?"
She slid her hand into place and said, "Yes, I think I am ready, Captain."
Covering her hand with his, he said, "Now, remember, this is a quiet family party, Catherine's brother and family and Mr and Mrs. Junkins have come to greet the new Mrs. Wentworth, and are prepared to like you a great deal. Nothing to be nervous over."
"I know . . . and I am prepared to please and be pleased. Shall we?" Taking one last touch to her hair, they went down, Louisa reciting names to herself as she descended the stairs.
Looking over the deadness of the late winter garden, Pollard took another hearty gulp of brandy. His drinking habits of the past weeks, while in exile at Bramford, had been positively maidenlike, he thought. But that was over now. The Rector had promised that he would have the money to him Thursday, after the departure of his brother. Not having any reason to distrust the Rector, of all people, Pollard refilled his glass and with a grin, downed it in one gulp.
"I should rather like one of those, if you don't mind pouring, Levant." Daniel Randwick entered the room and dropped his lanky frame onto one of the worn sofas that graced the salon. While gloating over his promised payment, Levant had given no thought to refurbishing the Hall in any way, so it was likely that Randwick would have to continue laying himself across worn cushions until Pollard could find a way to get a hold of some of the boy's substantial capital.
"Certainly. Have you recovered from our foray into the Religious?" Levant smiled as he poured. He had taken Randwick with him to Church. Keeping the young fellow by his side while speaking cryptically with the Rector had kept the old fellow from stirring up too much fuss. "You were not materially damaged by it, now were you?" he asked as he handed the full glass to Randwick. "While they are not exactly enthusiasts, I have the suspicion that Rector Wentworth is a 'True Believer,'" he mocked, "and therefore, more dangerous!"
Randwick laughed. He knew nothing of "True Believers" or "enthusiasts." "No! I actually like going to Church. If the vicar is good, he is easily ignored and one is quite free to think one's own thoughts." He chose not to mention that the Rector Wentworth had been annoyingly loud at times, and had disturbed his thoughts more than once. "And . . . one sees some of the prettiest young women in Church . . ." He left off saying any more. There had been several who had caught his eye. Perhaps if I stay long enough, I can meet one or two of them.
It was unfortunate that Randwick's musing were very much in vain, as no moral or thinking mother in all of Crown Hill Parish would allow their daughter to be seen in the company of Pollard Levant's prot╗g╗. Young Randwick was garnering a reputation without so much as setting foot into town. The avid gossips of the Parish had marked Bramford Hall as the seat of all that was evil in the district. It was well-known that a woman was being kept there, and the speculation on her purpose was of keen interest. No, despite his pedigree, Daniel Randwick would not be meeting with any of the respectable and upright young women of Crown Hill, not as long as the gossips were against him.
Trying to remember, Levant thought, but only one or two pretty faces came to mind. "Not as many as one would like, but . . . say! What did you think of the young Mrs. Wentworth? I think she was quite taken with you!" Levant had no notion of Mrs. Wentworth being anything but embarrassed by his own pointed staring. But, teazing Randwick was an amusing pastime.
The young man sat up straight on the sofa, "Do you think so? I hadn't noticed."
"Yes, she blushed furiously, and turned away quickly . . . that, my boy, is a sign of female interest!"
"Daniel, I would not be so quick to listen to Pollard on this . . . he has been known to be quite wrong about women." Rosamond had stood, unnoticed outside the door of the salon, checking her dress, and had heard much of the conversation between the two. As she walked by the sofa, she dropped her reticule onto it and lazily ran her hand over Randwick's shoulders as she made her way over to Levant.
Randwick, as usual, took on the befuddled schoolboy look whenever he and Rosamond were together. He watched her with admiring eyes, and all thoughts of pretty young ladies in Church quite flew from his head.
Seeing the response, both Rosamond and Levant continued the conversation without him. Taking the proffered glass, Rosamond took a chair close to the French doors and asked Pollard to elaborate upon his observations about Mrs. Wentworth's feelings about Randwick.
"Oh, I was just having a bit of sport with him," Levant said in a hushed tone. Even Randwick was capable of being insulted. "She's young and newly married to the brother of my rector. They were in Church this morning and an introduction was forced upon me."
"And what of her husband? Is he also a rector?" For the first time since her arrival, she gave a passing thought to the clergyman in the carriage.
"No, no!" Levant began pouring another drink. Taking on a mocking tone and demeanor, he straightened and pulled in his chin. "He is a man of the Navy, don't you know!" Relaxing, he went on, "While I'm sure the fellow fills out his uniform in an acceptable manner, there was a stupid and brutish look about him that I have found to be common among our new warring class."
"Well," she took a sip, "from what you have just said, he might have had reason to look so. Men are generally quite put out when other men leer at their wives." She took another sip, but kept her eyes trained on Levant.
He looked at her with a crestfallen expression. "Rosie, you wound me . . . we were in Church! Leering, really. You think me so low?" Taking a drink, he looked to her over the rim of the glass.
Rosamond laughed outright. "I think Church had nothing to do with the girl going unmolested . . . it had all to do with what sounds to be an imposing husband by her side! The threat of violence is about the only thing that might stay your hand . . . certainly not the fear of God!" No matter what Pollard had done or not done and why was not of interest to her now. She knew the name Wentworth, and was curious to see if the world was really as small as many claimed. "So, other than the surname of Wentworth, does this fellow have a Christian name, and what of his rank?" She might just have some fun, if this were the fellow she suspected.
Levant scowled, he had paid little attention to the introduction. The fellow had been tall, well-looking and from the behaviour of the Rector, rich enough to give over to his brother any amount needed to buy the living. Other than being glad to get a promise of money, Pollard was not interested in any man who had the appearance of superiority over him.
"I'm not certain . . . Randwick! . . . out of the fog! What was that Navy fellow, Wentworth's first name? I know he is a captain, but his name escapes me just now."
"Frederick, his name was Frederick."
"Ah, yes, Frederick. See? Stupid and brutish . . . we don't name kings 'Frederick' any longer for that very reason. Perhaps we should outlaw the name!" Levant chuckled at his own joke. Randwick joined in hesitantly. Rosamond remained unimpressed.
"Well, Captain Frederick Wentworth in Crown Hill." She said nothing else. What she had said would be enough to pique Levant's curiosity, which it did.
"You have heard of him?"
"Yes, I have, in fact, met Captain Wentworth."
Levant's eyes widened. He took on a shrewd look and said slyly, "So . . . our Rosie knows this Captain Wentworth. What say you to that, Randwick?"
Randwick looked away in embarrassment, and Rosamond sharply, cried, "Pollard!"
He knew that he had said too much, but it was not like Pollard Levant to retreat or admit a mistake. He simply turned his back and stared out the window.
Rosamond stood and went to the cordial table. Setting the glass down sharply, she poured herself from the first decanter that she picked up. Fitting back the stopper, she picked up the glass and came to stand before Pollard. "You are disgusting at times."
She quickly determined not to tell him that many of the more uncharitable rumours about Captain Wentworth labeled him a eunuch, while those of a more kindly nature, claimed him a circumspect gentleman. Rosamond determined there was no reason to give Pollard more to maunder about. "A proper touch of the hand and a bow at a crowded Admiralty party do not constitute knowledge in the Biblical sense, Pollard." She was not so much offended by this notion, for at this time in her life, she had few sensibilities left when it came to such matters. But, it was offensive to her that Levant was amused by the notion that she flung herself at other men in the same fashion he did other women.
She decided to strike him at his weakest point. Taking a drink, she took a step closer and purred, "But . . . you may do well to remember, Pollard, that a man worth nearly thirty-thousand can be excused almost any stupid or brutish behaviour!"
Rosamond's eyes were bright with anger and Pollard's were bright with insult. He knew her meaning and was not happy with it. Throwing back the last of his drink, he stepped around Rosamond and placed the glass on the table. Taking a seat alongside Randwick, he tried to feign ease.
Randwick looked from one to the other. In an attempt to bring a little peace, he blurted out, "So, you think his wife was taken . . . with me?" He sat looking hopefully at Levant.
Rosamond actually felt sorry for the tyke, and so smoothed her feathers and said, "No, Daniel. I would imagine that a young woman like that, with a husband of Captain Wentworth's consequence, is not much interested in anyone else at present." Leaning close to his ear, she said sweetly, "She most likely had something in her eye and was attempting to remove it. There are others, Daniel, you shall find them." The two exchanged a look. The young man flushed and turned away, wondering exactly what she had meant.
Picking up her reticule from between the two men, Rosamond straightened and said brightly, "Well, Pollard, I think we are going to have a very interesting, perhaps not restful, but interesting Day of Rest." Leaning back down to nuzzle his cheek, she continued. "But that is just the kind of 'Lord of the Manor' you are, my dear." Rising, she smiled and pursed her lips in a kiss to him. "Randwick, I feel the need of a walk. Would you please escort me?" Without waiting for the answer, she turned and left the salon.
Mounting the stairs, she could hear Randwick scrambling off the sofa and endeavouring to graciously take his leave of Pollard. This game she played would be tiresome very soon, but if Demarest had told her the most honest truth, all of it would be over in less that a fortnight. That gave her little time to bring Randwick to heel and be prepared for the changes coming.
While Louisa and Frederick had made ready, Mrs. Graham had gone to empty a small bucket of scraps in the chicken yard and on returning, found a note which had been wedged in a crack in the rear door. Seeing it to be the hand of Mr David, she felt it to be a bad omen, and took it right to the mistress. As she left it in Mrs. Wentworth's hands, the bell at the door rang. Answering it, she saw to the Junkins and their things, bringing them into the sitting room with Mrs. Wentworth.
After reading the note, it was with great control over her anxiety that Catherine greeted her guests, and talked with the couple for a moment, keeping one eye on the door, awaiting the Captain and his wife. Her greatest need was to find her husband to play the genial host while she and Mrs. Graham hastily destroyed the carefully arranged dining room and then build it back again. Hearing the couple on the stairs, she excused herself and hurried to them before they could enter.
Though she had much on her mind, Catherine knew that Louisa was nervous about meeting so many new people and endeavoured to take time to give her some reassurance.
"You look lovely, Louisa. That dress is more beautiful than you told! The blue matches your eyes perfectly." Looking at Louisa and holding the girl's hand for a moment, Catherine felt a twinge of jealousy. Suddenly she felt very tired. Not only had she never been so pretty as her sister-in-law, but now her simple party was turning wrong and everything would have to be rearranged. Letting go of Louisa's hand, she said in a weary tone, "But, I am afraid that there will not be so many as planned to appreciate it."
"And why is that?" asked the Captain.
""It would seem that my wicked brother has forgotten an important meeting in Ludlow, set for tomorrow. And he insists, in a note he sent, that he must go there today to make ready for it. I am quite put out and I am not certain, at this moment, whether or not I shall ever forgive him!" Bringing Louisa closer to her, she went on, "I was looking forward to showing off my beloved brother . . . but now I am not sure just how beloved he is!" She smiled, hoping that they would not hear her exasperation and that both would know she was only teazing.
Louisa noticed nothing out of the ordinary in Catherine's voice. She thanked her sister-in-law for the compliment and said she was so nervous and that she welcomed waiting for the Rector. It had been determined by the two women the evening before, that it would be Edward who took her in and introduce her to the company.
Noticing nothing amiss in his sister-in-law's manner, Frederick looked from his wife back to her. Glancing into the sitting room, he could see the Junkins talking quietly by the fire. "Surely we are not going to stand on ceremony today! This is merely a friendly party, not court. I don't see why we should not go in together . . . Mrs. Wentworth."
Catherine caught his meaning instantly. It was she who heartily disliked Mrs. Wentworth, calling her
excruciatingly proper, and not always meaning it as a compliment. Locking eyes, she arched her brow at Frederick and said, "It would not be right, Captain. And these are Mrs. Wentworth's first introductions here in Shropshire . . . though we are not a large, formal party, we are also not savages! Decorum requires that someone else take her in."
"Yes, Captain! Mrs. Wentworth is right . . . I would not like these people to have the wrong impression of us . . . we should consider them. It would be impolite to thrust our relationship upon them." Having taken Catherine's hand and now reaching for that of her husband, she implored him to give over.
"Good lord! They are newly married themselves!" he cried under his breath. Frederick looked at the two women. Catherine's eyes were steady with purpose; Louisa's were pleading. He thought it ridiculous to follow so closely a tradition that certainly had its place in a larger society, but, surely not in the sitting room of a country rectory! Looking again at the two pairs of eyes, he decided his best course was to relent. There was no need to upset his sister-in-law and no need to embarrass his wife. "All right . . . we shall wait for Edward."
As the Captain had thought over his position, Catherine had given hers thought also. Edward had gone missing directly after Church. She had seen him only briefly when he had freshened himself upstairs. Since then, she had not seen a trace of him about the house. She would, of course, try the study first but if that proved fruitless, finding him might take a little time. Realising this, she could easily see the ridiculousness of leaving the Junkins on their own in the sitting room, while Frederick and Louisa were left standing only feet away, awaiting an introduction. Catherine determined that her best course was to relent, but only on a minor point.
"Perhaps we do not need the Rector after all . . . I could take Louisa in." It would be acceptable for her, an older relation to do the polite and so she looked to Louisa for her desires.
Looking to her husband and receiving his nod, she said eagerly, "If you think it all right . . . I would be glad to go in with you."
"Then that is what we shall do . . . as I said, Captain, we are not savages." Taking Louisa by the arm, the ladies entered the sitting room. Frederick followed.
As she introduced Louisa to the Junkins and they began to converse, Catherine spoke with Frederick. "I'm sorry . . . I should have allowed you and her to enter together. I am just a bit nervous . . . things seem to be collapsing around me at an alarming rate." She looked up with apologetic eyes. She did not say that the greatest upset was that his brother had gone missing. "Could you play host and I shall find the Rector?" she asked pleadingly.
Ordinarily, she would have asked the Captain to search him out, but her nerves were stretched thin, and a walk through the house might actually do her some good. Besides, she needed to tell Mrs. Graham about the change in the seating. I am, most likely, not the only one who shall have choice thoughts about David! she mused.
"Certainly, I am at your disposal, Ma'am. And . . . I'm sorry for my outburst. You only want a comfortable party, I should have kept my comments to myself, Catherine," he said with a bow of the head.
She smiled. "Thank you, Captain, I am glad that we are on an even keel again." she said to him. "Excuse me, please," she said to the room, and left, heading to the study.
She knew that he had most likely been asked some question after Church and had thought to write a brief answer before dinner. But now he has forgotten dinner and the guests -- again! she thought angrily.
Not only had she been cast off by her 'beloved' brother, but now her husband was playing the hermit. Catherine idly wondered what it would be like to be married to a foppish man who relished entertaining and society. Surely they can not be as much trouble as all of this! she thought. Coming to the study, she put her ear to the door and heard voices.
"Oh, no! Not that!" she moaned quietly. If her suspicions proved out, her party was taking another sordid twist.aa
Continued in Part 2
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