Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume III
Chapter 2, Part II
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door to the study, "Edward . . . Oh, Dr Abernathy . . . what a lovely surprise!"
The two men looked up at Mrs. Wentworth, a little startled at her sudden entrance. Edward was standing with a large piece of paper held out before him; Dr Abernathy was standing slightly behind him, pointing to something on it.
"I am sorry . . . I didn't mean to intrude, but dear . . . things are underway and I need a word . . . alone." She said the word with as much delicacy as she could. Dr Abernathy had not been invited and she did not wish to make him feel unwanted, but she also knew one of his habits as a man without a wife.
Ignoring the admonition to her husband, Abernathy smiled and called, "Oh, Mrs. Wentworth! I am more than pleased to find you up and about . . . come and see this!" The doctor spoke exuberantly as he took her arm and steered her towards the sheet. "It is the latest map of New Holland . . . quite brand new and much more sophisticated than the old," he said, pointing to various places. "As you can see by these numbers, all new soundings were taken for depth . . . ever so much more accurate than any others available. I wanted to show it to the Captain . . . I wondered if perhaps he had any direct knowledge of its accomplishment."
Taking Mrs. Wentworth's amazed silence for interest, her husband joined in with his own observations of New Holland. "See here, dear . . ." Edward pointed toward the map and a particular area to the north of one of the larger islands. "They are finding reefs that, the doctor says, are the size of this county . . . imagine that," he said with wonder.
Catherine shot him a piercing look. "Yes . . . just imagine! Such a thing!" She had no idea what a reef might be, and one as large as Shropshire would certainly be something to ponder; but the reefs surrounding New Holland would be given the proper attention at a later time. Not now, when she had company in her sitting room, patiently awaiting the appearance of their host.
But, the more she looked at the map and the wonders that the gentlemen pointed out to her, the more difficult it was to maintain her anger. The two seemed so childlike in their enthusiasm. She knew that when Edward had been to sea so long ago, he had sailed about that part of the world for nearly two years. And while he had not relished his self-imposed travels, the Rector would have a natural curiosity about this new map, owing to this familiarity. Catherine could hear a tinge of something a bit wistful in his voice . . . but still . . . they had guests and she had an uninvited man in the study.
Lowering the map and looking at Abernathy, the Rector said, "I have been there you know . . . it is quite a place . . .
beautiful in a stark sort of way, but forbidding. Gives a man pause when contemplating Hell, that's for certain. And it does make for a good penal colony . . . though they are endeavouring to be more civilised these days . . ."
"Yes! I remember you saying that you were there! That is why I thought you might like to see this . . . has your brother also been?"
Looking over the map, he said absently, "No . . . no, Frederick has been always to the west: Western Islands and to the West Indies mostly, though he was a commission or two in the Mediterranean . . . sailed out of Mahon on Minorca . . . blockaded Toulon for a bit . . . hated that as I recall. No, Frederick has never been this far east . . . though I would imagine he would jump at the chance . . . taking the Horn and all."
"I hear it can be quite hair-raising."
He laughed. "Yea, taking the Horn is rugged . . . the cold will freeze your . . . well. Now my brother-in-law, George, who is married to my sister, has been all over the area. Now that I think on it, taking the Horn is about the only thing I have done Frederick has yet to conquer."
Catherine shifting from one foot to the other caught his attention. Seeing her expression, he remembered that she wished to speak with him. "A-hem . . . excuse us, Abernathy . . . I need to speak to my wife." Handing the Doctor the map, Edward took her arm and they made their way outside the study into the hallway.
"I'm sorry, dear. I take it that the Junkins, and David and Margaret have arrived and here I am . . . prating on with Abernathy about ancient history. We shall get this map put away and join you directly."
"We!" she hissed crossly. Glancing towards the door, she motioned that it should be closed. "I take it that you intend to invite him to dinner."
As he closed the door, Edward gave his wife a surprised look. "Well . . . "
"Well nothing, my dear. It is terribly rude of him to present himself at meal times. It is becoming the talk of the Parish! Not that people really mind . . . he is quite a charming guest . . . but still. I realise he is alone, but he has the Daltons, and I know for a fact that Mrs. Dalton takes perfect care of him." Catherine stopped to take a breath and Edward thought this the perfect time to speak. But before he could say anything, she continued. "And I am already stretched to the limit . . . David and Margaret shall not be coming . . . and I am mightily put out with him . . . are you certain that he said nothing about going to Ludlow today? . . . and travelling on a Sunday at that! You should speak with him about this sudden intemperate behaviour!"
"Catherine," the Rector began, "Please . . .."
But his wife had been prepared to say more on the Doctor's presumption, and that someone -- meaning Edward -- might wish to speak with his friend and make him realise the bad habit into which he had fallen. "Edward, I cannot be expected to invite him spontaneously! The table will not be even and Mrs. Graham will have to rearrange everything! And while tearing the table to pieces will be necessary as it stands, I think it overbold to presume upon the good graces of people . . . even good friends." Edward stood quietly a moment, waiting for her be finished. She was not.
"And while you are a clergyman, and by calling must extend Christian hospitality, the Doctor is certainly not needy and in danger of going without if we do not extend him an invitation . . . and do not try and pluck at my heartstrings by saying that he might go home and drown his sorrows!"
As the Rector waited patiently for his wife to finish, he was pleased to note, even though she was arguing against inviting the doctor, all her justifications were taking her squarely down the path to an invitation. He idly wondered if he should remind her that an invitation had been extended to the doctor. And that she had told him all about it when he had arrived home. He would wait and see how things took shape before he decided.
"As I said, inviting the doctor would mean that the table is uneven, and while I would not normally be bothered, it is a special dinner for the Captain and his bride, and I have already had a bit of a tussle with him over how things in a civilised household are to be accomplished . . . I would not wish them thinking that we are constantly at sixes and sevens around here!"
The Rector felt he had given Catherine a fair hearing about Abernathy. But now the homily was broadening to include Frederick. He felt it was time for things to be brought to a halt. Knowing her nerves were overworked, he hoped that this might be her last foray into expansive projects until well after the baby was born. But for now, it was up to him to gently bring things to a close.
Catherine's mouth had been open to speak more, but the Rector took his chance and said, "Dear . . . I realise that things are all out of order, but you told me that you had invited him specifically to even out the table . . . Margaret's niece had caused a problem, but inviting Abernathy solved it. You seemed rather proud of yourself when you told me about it." He hoped that in saying the truth in such a way, he could shift the blame of it all to the missing David Keye and his intemperate dash to Ludlow.
Staring at him, she closed her mouth and thought hard. Had she truly invited the Doctor? No . . . surely not! There would be no reason to . . . with the party being the inmates of the Rectory, the Junkins and her brother and sister-in-law, that would have been quite a nice even number. Now she remembered inviting him!
Mrs. Callow had put her to bed after Church on Sunday and it had been during that boring confinement that she had planned the dinner. Sending an invitation to her brother and his wife on Monday, their acceptance had come Tuesday, and since they were family, they had felt free to beg the inclusion of Margaret's niece. Edward was right . . . in arranging the table, she knew it would be uneven, but not wishing to be rude, she had reluctantly given her approval for the addition of the niece.
While it was not the worst of problems, she had thought it quite a happy accident when, Tuesday afternoon, Doctor Abernathy had stopped by the Rectory. He had been hoping to find the Rector returned. But, being told otherwise, he had asked to visit with Mrs. Wentworth and see how she was feeling after her dizzy spell. It was then Catherine had issued the invitation . . . face to face. She had felt no need to stand on ceremony with the doctor. He had accepted graciously and gone his merry way. The Rector had arrived home the following afternoon with the Captain and Louisa on his heels the afternoon after that, and with Louisa's illness . . . the invitation had flown from Catherine's mind.
She now felt guilty over the whole business. Here she stood, feeling exploited and accusing the Doctor of trying to dangle for an invitation; when the truth be told, he was an invited guest! An invited guest, for whom she had not even set a place! She scolded herself that if there were anyone guilty of ill-use, it was she. Heat rose to her cheeks at the thought.
"Well, did you or did you not invite the Doctor? You told me you did and he is under the impression you did . . . are you now saying you did not?" There was no irritation in her husband's voice, but Catherine could tell that he was becoming more and more confused. She had to admit that she also was becoming confused by the ins and outs of this whole affair.
"Yes . . . I invited the doctor. But I had forgotten that . . . and so when I saw him, I just assumed that he was up to his tricks . . . he has insinuated his feet under more than one table in the district lately, and I thought . . . well, never mind. Michael Abernathy is the least of my griefs!"
"You have griefs? So, Mrs. Graham has burnt the hares and allowed the pudding to boil dry?" he said with a bit of teaze. Edward could not imagine any circumstance to do with a quiet family party which would incite more than mild annoyance, much less grief!
The tone of her husband's voice angered Catherine. She stood for a moment. She studied his open, smiling face. In a particle of a second, she knew that she had a choice: she could laughingly tell him of all the trials that had beset her party, all of which had occurred in just the last twenty or so minutes, or she could deluge him with all her anger and frustration about the rudeness of her brother, the offhand manner of his brother and inform him of his own neglect in the care of their guests! Unfortunately for the Rector, she chose the latter.
"I am not aware of any such disasters in the kitchen . . . though after all that has recently passed, I should not be surprised! Actually, I have not dared to go in there, for when I do, I shall be telling Mrs. Graham that all her beautiful work of the last few hours is ruined, and the entire setting of the table will have to be redone, as my brother . . ." she stopped a moment. Continuing more calmly, "My brother has sent round a note telling me that they shall not be here today . . . whomever he sent came during Church and stuffed the note into a crack of the door! I would still be waiting for them if the chickens hadn't been fed! He surely realised this yesterday . . . no matter how late, he should have sent word and not left me . . .!"
"Catherine, my darling . . . please stop."
She quieted and looked at him. Very rarely did they interrupt one another and so when it happened, it being such an unaccustomed event, the one interrupted listened.
"I understand that you are in a dither about all this, especially owing to that wretched brother of yours . . . and only God knows what the chickens have to do with this note in the door . . . but you are much too upset by all this! Your face is flushed, and you hands have not been still a moment. This is not at all like you . . . I have never seen you reluctant to have another person at the table; whether they make it even, odd or indifferent!" Taking her hands, he pulled her close. "I'd as soon send everyone home and eat with Mrs. Graham in the kitchen, rather than have you sick with worry. Shall I do that?"
Catherine knew he was right. She had let this silly dinner cause her no end of agonies. And while his tone lent no credence to his sending everyone home, she understood him perfectly.
"No, the guests can stay, it is the hostess who will behave herself. I'm so sorry that I snapped at you."
"That's all right . . . I can bear it." He pushed aside a curl and kissed her.
"Now that is what I like to see!"
The Doctor's sudden appearance startled Catherine and she drew away from Edward. Edward pulled to the other side of the hallway, allowing Abernathy a path between them.
"Indeed, two people who genuinely love one another! Not to worry, Rector. I folded the map neatly and now am taking myself off to the sitting room to greet the guests. No, no . . . you and Mrs. Wentworth continue 'talking,' I know the way."
The Doctor patted Edward's shoulder as he made his way through them and went to the sitting room.
"He is not a very tame guest," Catherine said, as they watched him disappear into the entryway.
"No, tame he is not, but I think he can be counted on to add a little life to things, eh?"
The Captain and Mrs. Junkins stood near the fire making polite small talk. Their spouses, though close by, had proven to be shy upon introduction and so the social niceties fell to them.
" . . . we had a small English fishing boat drift into our little bay. They had been blown off course and lost their sails. The poor things, there were five of them as I recall. They were certain that we were going to shoot them where they stood, but Mr Lowell was not much of a Patriot. He held some rather 'peculiar' ideas. Mr Junkins can tell you that."
Frederick could see that she was endeavoring to draw Junkins out by giving him an open door, but her husband merely nodded vigourously. He gave no hint that he would join in.
"So what did you do with them?"
The Captain was glad to see Louisa pipe up. After the introductions, she had taken a post a little behind him, almost using him like a shield, but now she was more out front. Mrs. Junkins' story had caught her interest.
"Well, we fed them . . . lord, how they ate! I mended what I could of their oilskins. We gave them all the food we could spare, but it was getting on in the season and we were running a bit low ourselves. They stayed with us for two days and then they rowed off with the spring tide. I wonder whatever happened to them. One of them was just a little boy . . . he was frightened to death, so far from home and his mother."
The catch in Mrs. Junkins' voice touched the Captain. To that time, he had thought her a bit cold. But that is not very fair, considering.
At their introduction earlier in the year, she had been formal -- rigidly so. He had wondered that a warm-hearted man such as Joshua could take to her; but considering the circumstances, he had not seen her at her best. Now that she and his friend were man and wife, she was more at ease and he could see a crack in the plating.
"You needn't worry, if they were able to get out far enough, they were picked up by one of ours. If I had a crown for every desperate fisherman I've plucked out of the briny deep, I'd be very wealthy by now."
"That is good to know, I have oft times wondered about that boy . . . and how he does."
Everyone stood quietly, sipping their refreshments, and for a moment Frederick imagined that they all wondered about the boy.
The quiet of the room was unsettling to Louisa. The only silences during social occasions at Uppercross were uncomfortable ones. They were never allowed to last for long; Charles was a master at ending them and now, without him, Louisa was at a loss and tried to think of something to say. As she thought, she could not help but go back to all her other failed attempts at conversation. When introduced to Mrs. Junkins, she found herself so nervous that she had said little other than a croaking approximation of the woman's name. And when speaking with Mr Junkins, it had been all she could do to avoid staring. In a fluster, she had prated on and on. After a moment of embarrassing hand waving and uneasy laughter, when she had given him an opportunity to speak, he could only colour and look to his wife. She and the Captain had been speaking about the coast of America and so Mr Junkins and Mrs. Wentworth had retreated silently to themselves.
Looking at the faces of the Captain and the Junkins', she saw the grave expressions which reflections on the boy had brought. Suddenly, it struck her quite forcefully that they were all much older than herself. Of the couple, both were nearly the age of the Rector. And her own husband, by her reckoning would have been going to sea when she was still in leading-strings. She had never thought that her age would be a barrier, making her feel so out of place. At home, in company, she had always had Etta to depend upon, but now she was the wife of a man with some prominence. The cheerful banter and easy ways of Uppercross were gone and she must now assume the role of . . .
"Loua! Loua, is that you?!"
Surprised at hearing her nursery name, Louisa turned and cried, "Cousin Michael! I had forgotten . . . " As they walked towards one another, she extended her hands.
Taking them, he suddenly pulled her towards him as he spun her around and said, "None of that . . . come here you beautiful old thing you!"
The sudden calling of Louisa's name had brought everyone out of their reverie and looking at the Junkins, Frederick could tell that they were not seeing the doctor's greeting in the same way. Mrs. Junkins had a hint of a frown on her face. The plating had cracked a bit, but just a very little bit! As for Joshua, he sported a huge smile. The Captain imagined that Junkins would be the sort of man prone to such energetic outbursts, were his body up to the task.
Frederick looked upon the display and thought back to his first meeting with Michael Abernathy. It had been only a few weeks ago when he had met the doctor and been informed that the Abernathys of London and the Musgroves of Uppercross were related. The Captain couldn't help but recall that Abernathy had referred to his Cousin Louisa as 'mulish.' It was apparent from this high-spirited greeting that he had taken a sudden liking to mulish women.
"Frederick is playing host. I convinced him to stop grinding his teeth and be civil. Now, what will it take to get you out of here?" Edward deemed it best to allow his wife any liberty to do with the party. Her spirits had improved greatly as the dinner had progressed, and though her present behaviour of neglecting the company was irregular, he thought it harmless.
"I am sorry, I will leave all this for Mrs. Graham." As she spoke, she picked at wax which had dropped to the table cloth.
"I must say, Junkins did himself credit at the table today," the Rector said, as he bent and picked up a fork that had fallen from the table. Gathering other silver, he laid a handful on the tray Catherine had brought from the credenza.
"Yes, Beatrice said that they have been practicing at home. Mrs. Graham was an angel, cutting everything fine for him. I fear that he got little to eat though, he was so careful of every mouthful."
"The only way to learn is to push ahead . . . I admire his courage. Not that anyone in this group would find fault in his ways."
"Well, there is," she looked about, "Louisa." Her face showed she was embarrassed even to say such a thing about her sister-in-law. Taking napkins her husband had gathered, she busied herself with more clearing off.
"Yes, she was very nervous about him. I don't know how things progressed once I left to hunt for you, but when we returned to the sitting room, I noticed she was very careful not to look in his direction."
"Well, he does take a bit of getting used to. Give her a chance. Besides, she has Abernathy to contend with. That in itself is more than enough to keep one's full attention," he said, as he handed her several stacked plates.
"Truly! He is a fine young fellow, but I have a difficult time believing he hails from such a distinguished family. His manners are quite wanting!"
"Catherine, you know very well that the higher the birth, the lower the manners tend to be. And Abernathy . . . well, he doesn't stand on ceremony, does he?
"Stand on ceremony? He does not even come near a ceremony! I just wish you had not allowed him to change the seating! I was mortified for the Captain; the Doctor nearly stole the chair right out from under him!" Catherine was taking a last look at the remains of the dinner. She would tell Mrs. Graham to finish clearing. Then, she would be off to the sitting room for a bit of polite conversation, while awaiting Dr Abernathy's newest antic.
Edward checked a laugh. "Yes, Frederick was left looking a bit dull-witted over that, wasn't he? But, Abernathy was correct when he pointed out that the Captain should have been seated between the Junkins', not next to his wife." He took Catherine's hand and pulled her away from the table and out of the dining room.
"The seating was awkward, but still, what he did was horribly impolite! I don't know how Mrs. Wentworth's people do things at Uppercross, but if it is true that impulsive rearrangement of things is their way . . . well, all I have to say is taking a chair, clearly for someone else, is not my idea of good breeding!"
"Abernathy exaggerated! While the Musgroves are very informal, I expect it is only with intimate family that Mrs. Musgrove would allow seats to be shifted in such a way . . . I can't imagine outside of that she would allow a brawl over the furniture. I agree that the Doctor should have left things the way you had arranged them, that is only right. But still, he sat next to his cousin, that was no cause for Frederick to play the martyr for us."
"I don't think it is only the chair incident." They stopped and stood just at the entryway.
"I think you exaggerate, calling it an 'incident'. What else might the good Captain Wentworth have to be offended by?"
"It occurs to Mrs. Junkins that the Captain might be a bit . . . jealous."
"Jealous? Jealous of what? Or of whom I should say." The Rector crossed his arms. He knew the answer, but wished it confirmed.
"The doctor? Good lord! The ridiculous thoughts my brother allows into his head! The man is her cousin, there is nothing but family affection and rejoicing in their reunion! Certainly nothing romantic!"
"Well, Mrs. Junkins told that the four of them were engaged in a lovely conversation when the doctor entered the sitting room. Without a greeting to anyone, save Mrs. Wentworth, he took her and practically tossed her into the air. He made such a show of seeing her that everyone was quite startled. And, he was rather overgenerous with compliments to her and her person. He has evidently not seen her in a few years and was surprised she had bloomed so prettily."
"I was under the impression he had seen her only months ago. So, Frederick took that as a flirt? Surely he knows that Abernathy is not that way! The man is not devious -- heedless, yes, but not devious."
"I think your brother is not so much angry with the doctor, but with himself. He is surely of a divided mind now that he has married. But seeing his pretty young wife so adored by any other man might raise his blood, don't you think?"
"Perhaps so. Good thing it's Abernathy, there's no danger there. It might just serve to set his mind right about her."
"Gracious! Here we are, gossiping about the Doctor's atrocious manners and we are allowing our guests to languish!
He would not point out that is was she who had left the company to languish. "Oh, now really. Catherine, you are entirely too harsh on the hostess here. Everything will be kept in good order . . . remember, the Captain has the first watch! Come here." He gave her a peck on the cheek. "There. Everything has been splendid. And you are lovely today. You do me proud."
"It has been sixes and sevens all the way around and you know it! But thank you for trying to be kind. Now, I must get Mrs. Graham clearing the dining room that I might tend guests in the sitting room."
"All right, you go and take care of that, but I expect you to join me directly . . . agreed?"
"Agreed. You are too good to me."
She went on to the kitchen and he went on to the guests.
Frederick had seen to his hosting duties; all the guests were settled with something to drink and were politely conversing amongst themselves. The doctor had, of course stationed himself next to Louisa and the whole company was laughing over what had to be some inanity of his. Yes, everyone was laughing, most especially his wife.
The Captain turned and studied a watercolour of nondescript countryside rather than watch the pair further. But, though he did not watch, that did not stop his remembering.
"Loua! Loua, is that you?!"
"Cousin Michael! I had forgotten . . . "
"None of that . . . come here you beautiful old thing you!"
"Cousin Michael, please. Put me down"
"All right, Loua. You are all of Spring in high bloom, my little cousin. Marriage has done much for you! It is good to see you looking so well . . . I had heard of your fall and was a bit concerned. It wouldn't do for you to be injured beyond repair!"
"Well, as you can see, I am fine. Not beyond repair at all!"
He had stood apart then, as he did now, watching with amazement the greeting between these cousins. From the moment Abernathy had given his wife what he deemed to be more than a 'familial' embrace, the Captain had felt a gnawing in his stomach. Knowing the feeling was not hunger, he had been reticent to name it. But now, there was no help for it. Barring disease, he knew that the only thing it could be was his own callow jealousy. He had felt it on the Cobb when another male cousin had made his appreciation of another young woman known. But I had no claims on Anne, and her cousin was not standing in the midst of company fawning and handling her as though they were . . .
"Thank you, Captain," Edward said, as he took a place by his brother.
Frederick looked at him, puzzled. "Thank you for what?"
"For doing everything in your power to be a good host. Staying to yourself and showing your back to the guests is probably the most merciful thing you could do, I think." The Rector had taken a quick appraisal of his brother before he came to stand by him and determined that Mrs. Junkins was most likely correct in her speculations. While the black look on Frederick's face provoked a certain sympathy, the irony of the situation was too rich for the Rector to ignore.
Acknowledging his rudeness, the Captain quickly turned from the picture he had been meditating upon. "And pray, why might that be?" His teacup clattered into its saucer rather hard.
"With all the stabbing and furious sawing you did at the dinner table, I'm surprised that you haven't had the grating rigged. I take it that not all the guests have been behaving themselves . . . in your estimation." The sharp look Frederick dealt him confirmed his suspicions.
"Only one guest has been out of line . . . in my estimation."
"He has been a bit unruly. I wonder that you've not taken the doctor out for a sound thrashing."
"While he would deserve every blow, I would not do such a thing to Catherine! But honestly, Edward, did you see him? Did you see how he slid his oh-so-friendly ar . . . a-hem, frame into my seat? I saw to my wife and bang! There he was!"
Edward had held back a laugh, but the look on his brother's face was inviting of some observation. "Frederick, really. I know it was wrong. But, you of all people should know how the Doctor ways. His enthusiasm overtakes his sense now and then, that's all."
"I know, but still one would think he'd have more discernment . . . were the man in his cups, I could overlook it, but . . . "
"But, the man has not been so since you left. I think that is progress."
"Not since I left?"
"No. Not once. Mrs. Dalton has kept a close watch on him."
"But still, it's impertinent."
"Oh, to be sure! But give over a bit. He's still feeling the loss of his wife -- and he's not got any family that's normal -- well, excepting Louisa of course. He's been working himself to the bone lately. Perhaps it's just my friendship talking, but I am of the opinion that he's doing exceptionally well."
"You're too indulgent, Rector!"
"Too indulgent, what do you mean?"
"Aren't you supposed to be consigning the intemperate likes of him to the pits of Hell? You're too compassionate."
"Perhaps you're right about my compassion. Why else would I allow you to impose yourself on my happy home for weeks at a time?" Frederick looked over the rim of his cup with guilty eyes. "And then, when you finally do leave, you come straight back -- bringing me another mouth to feed! And what do I do? I welcome you without a word. Yes, I think you are right, I am far too indulgent." Edward awaited Frederick's reply to his sarcasm.
Seating the cup in its saucer, rather more gently this time, he said, "Well, by Sunday next, you'll have one less mouth to feed."
The facetious look on Edward's face softened. He did not wish to think about Frederick's leaving, but it was coming closer with each passing day. "Yea, but you will be back."
"How can you be so certain?"
"You are leaving us your security." Frederick's brow furrowed. He did not understand the Rector's meaning. Tapping him lightly on the chest, Edward said, "Louisa. I think you have grown very fond of her."
Frederick looked away for a moment. Of all people, Edward would see his growing attachment for her, his brother would know this about him. Did he also see his jealousy? "You're right. I have. And I wouldn't consign her to the care of anyone less than you."
"And I shall do my best for you both." As quickly as the moment had come, it was gone. Edward glanced towards his wife. "Good lord! Abernathy's with Catherine. She's nervous as a cat and might snatch him hairless if he says the wrong thing. I'd better cut in before he does something she doesn't like." He clapped Frederick's arm as he moved off.
"Perhaps I would do well to 'give over' as Edward said. If having my chair taken is the worst that Abernathy ever does . . ."
"Pondering life, Captain?"
"Oh, Junkins. In a manner of speaking. I was just thinking aloud . . . bad form at a social occasion. And you? I would imagine that you have much to ponder, now that you are a happily married man."
Joshua smiled shyly. Hearing his own name and the words 'happily married' were a kind of music that never failed to bring a smile. "Things are much different . . . better."
"Good. You look well. I think Mrs. Junkins is good for you."
"And she is good for you. She smiles your way often." Joshua pointed to Louisa.
Frederick turned to gaze at her a moment, she was speaking with Catherine and the Rector. He regretted that he had not taken any notice of her smiles and for an instant, he thought about promises made in the hallway. Turning back to Junkins, he said, "Yes, I think she will do me good. I just hope I may do her some good, too."
"She is very young . . . and light hair," he said, touching his own.
For a moment, the Captain was puzzled by his friend's remark about Louisa's age and the colour of her hair. He then remembered a day some months ago. He had confessed to Junkins all about Anne and their broken engagement. And, how he still loved her. Though he did not recall, in doing so, he must have said something about Anne's looks. It was easy to see that Louisa was far too young to have been engaged nine years previous and that she was not dark in colouring, but very fair. "No, she is not Anne, the woman I told you about. I think I mentioned that I was hiding out from something I had done . . . waiting for a resolution to it. This is how it resolved itself."
"She is very nice." Joshua's lopsided smile appeared. "We're a bit shy . . . neither of us knows what to say."
"Well, I apologise. She has been nervous and she may appear to be rude . . . "
"No! She's not been rude. Heavens, this face -- in public . . . it's enough to leave the most eloquent, speechless."
"Your person is no excuse."
"Frederick! She has not been rude . . . and I think there are reasons." With a slight nod of his head, he indicated Abernathy, who was speaking with Mrs. Junkins. Both gentlemen could see that his animation of earlier was still in full force.
"See? He is a force! My wife is well able to manage most things . . . but not Abernathy. Excuse me."
Frederick watched as Junkins made his way over to the doctor and Mrs. Junkins. Soon, he had drawn the doctor into their own conversation, freeing his wife. Perhaps Junkins was right, Abernathy was to blame, and that Louisa was not at fault in any of it.
"Honoured Guests," Edward intoned. He used his voice reserved for visiting bishops and those impressed with such outward shows, but having captured the attentions of his party, he proceeded normally, "Friends, it is truly a blessing to have a good home, a lovely wife and wonderful friends to share them with. It has come to my attention that we have a musician in our midst and so, we have prevailed upon Mrs. Junkins to give us a little recital this afternoon . . . so please be comfortable and we shall begin."
The Captain was across the room and moving to be with him would be awkward and obvious, yet Louisa was uncomfortable taking the seat on the sofa. It would place her directly next to Mr Junkins. But, there was no other seat nearby. As she sat, she smiled in his direction, taking care not to look into his eyes.
Louisa had grown somewhat accustomed to his scars and so the man's person did not frighten her. What she feared was his trying to speak with her. When they had been introduced, his soft and wheezing voice had sickened her. She had tried to be polite, but he had not replied to her addresses. Which seemed fortunate, as hearing him and the Rector speaking together later, she had understood nothing of his part of the conversation. Were he to speak to her, she would not know what he had said, much less what to reply. But there was no escaping her present situation. She must sit next to him or make a spectacle of herself moving to another place.
"I have rediscovered an old friend in my move here to England. I had put my violin aside for some time, but took it out just a few days ago." As she spoke, Mrs. Junkins removed the instrument from its baize bag. "I found him tucked away in a barrel I had put off unpacking. My playing has never been outstanding. With much practice, I am adequate. But my husband is quite taken with the fact that I play at all and has asked that I play for you today. And so I shall." Taking her stance, Beatrice raised the bow and opened with a perfect note.
As she watched and listened, Louisa could not help being drawn back to Uppercross. While she herself had no real talent for music, she could only play the piano a little, as do most English school girls. But she enjoyed all music greatly, and was beginning to very much appreciate its having been a daily presence in her home. Mrs. Musgrove played the piano, as did Etta. And now the harp had been added to her sister's accomplishments. There was always the fun of dancing together when Miss Anne visited. When the eldest of her Hayter uncles came, he played violin, and Cousin Charles was known to blow a passable German flute when cajoled. But all of that was far from her now.
As she listened, the music became the background for her watching the guests. She enjoyed her private study. Each person was moved differently by what they heard. What must it be like, she wondered, to affect people's hearts so? The eyes of everyone in the room were on Mrs. Junkins, except hers and those of Mr Junkins. His were closed. It was finally safe to look at him, he would not see her.
Noticing that his fingers kept time and his head gently swayed to the music, Louisa thought it was lovely he listened so carefully to his wife. And then she saw it; slowly sliding down his cheek was a tear. Is it the music, or perhaps her? Louisa wondered as Mrs. Junkins finished.
"And I am grateful that no one has mentioned my last social visit to the Rectory." Abernathy took a drink of cider and glanced around the room. All those in attendance for the party, had also been present for his last embarrassing bout with a fine bottle of brandy. "Coeur de Lion is still the best of brandies, but I find I am allergic to 'cats'," he said with a contrite look.
Considering how ill the doctor had been that day, Frederick could give no answer, but a nod in acknowledgement. "Well, I think that many parts of that day are best left unmentioned . . . and I think we may safely assume that the Junkins are not even aware of the particulars."
"I have thought that I should go into the kitchen and apologize to Mrs. Graham. I do remember her being in quite a fit . . .over what, I can't remember, but a fit nonetheless."
While the Captain took a wicked pleasure in the thought of Abernathy meeting again with Mrs. Graham's wooden spoon, he warned against an apology. "I think it might be best if the sleeping dogs were left so. The further you stay from her kitchen . . . and sweets, the longer you will live, I think."
"It was that bad, eh?"
"Worse, but I'll not bore you."
For a moment, Abernathy looked thoughtful. Not a usual state for him, by any means. Soon, his face brightened back to its customary self. "By the bye, Wentworth, I was shocked! When we first met up in what, January? you mentioned nothing, no hints or clues that you were the sailor chap Auntie Sadie was reeling in for my Loua!"
There it was again! -- Loua. My Loua in fact! As though he owned her. "Well, Doctor, at our introduction, you were a bit unflattering -- calling her mulish if I remember correctly. I was not certain as to the character of the relationship between you and your cousin. I didn't wish to make our meeting . . . awkward, if the two of you were not on good ground."
"Good G-d, I did call her that, didn't I? I do apologise! But, between you, me and the tea cups," he inclined his head, "she is mulish! Or can be, from what I remember. Last time I spent any time with her was when she was sixteen, seventeen maybe." The Doctor leaned in further, with a more conspiratorial air, "At one time, she had declared me her first love!" He straightened. "Anywise, she was so young, you know, all teeth and elbows, and I was married by then. She cried when I left." The doctor looked off in her direction for a moment. "Perhaps after Victoria-- had I known the course nature had taken, I might have ridden, post haste, to Uppercross and fended off the likes of you . . . until I am free again."
The two men looked at one another for a moment. A fortnight previous, Frederick would have bent a knee in thanks at such an interruption as the Doctor arriving, post haste, to fend him off. But that was a fortnight ago, not today. "Well, sir, I hope that you will bear me no ill-will in marrying her."
The Doctor took Frederick's hand and shook it with surprising strength. "Never in life! But do nothing to hurt her, please." The look was penetrating and the grip firm.
"And so what do the two of you shake on? You are not wagering on anything, I hope." Louisa had come quietly up to them. She had a teapot and filled the Captain's cup. "I do not think that the Rector would approve of gaming right under his nose." She smiled to them both. The gentlemen gave one another a final shake.
"No, Loua. I was merely congratulating the Captain on his great fortune of marrying you." Abernathy took Louisa's free hand and kissed it gently. "If the two of you will excuse me, I need to talk with Junkins one last time before I depart," he said, turning to leave. "Oh, and Wentworth," he paused, "I have left the latest map of New Holland in the Rector's study; before you leave us I would like you to explain a few things to me -- the Rector says you understand all things hydrographical."
"Certainly, Doctor. I shall look at it and try to make a time for a chat."
"Thank you, Captain. Cousin," he bowed to each and left them.
"Well, have you missed me?" Louisa stood before him. Her eyes shone and her smile was easy. He wondered if she was happy being in his company, or was this glow the consequences of being with Abernathy? He racked his brain -- had she ever looked so at Uppercross -- in consequense of him?
Before he could answer, she continued, "I have been having the best time! Though, I had forgotten how tiring Cousin Michael can be."
"Yes, the good Doctor can be tiresome."
"No! Not tire-some, tir-ing! Father always lamented that hitching him to a plow would be an abuse. He swore all the fields could be done in a day if my cousin's energies were harnessed."
"Ah! Yes, the doctor is a perpetual motion machine."
"The Missus can tell ya, sir. But I know that I'm not to unhitch them. But I will give them a bit to eat and a little water."
"All right, John. I shall be back in a thrice." Abernathy jumped from the gig and hurriedly entered the house.
"Mrs. Dalton! I have returned! Where am I needed?"
Wiping her hands on her apron, the round Mrs. Dalton came into the entryway. "Oh, Doctor, I'm ever so glad you've arrived home. Not two quarters ago, the Marsby boy came and said that his ma was needin' ya. I knew ya should be home soon and so sent him back to her, rather than fetching ya at the Rectory. Now I have your medical bag, and somethin' to eat if ya get starved, and there is also a clean shirt if ya have to stay the night -- I know how ya like to be fresh in the mornin'." All of this was said in one gust while she waited for him to exchange his good dress coat for the oilskin she held out to him. And with just a short chance to take a breath, she continued, "And so how was the dinner -- all is well at the Rectory, I take it?"
Poor Mrs. Marsby . . . there is nothing left for a doctor to do . . . I should call for the Rector. Blast! Such a pleasant time with friends and the news of a great marriage . . . and now this.
The scene in the entryway was well-rehearsed and both the players knew their parts. As the Doctor slid his arms into the sleeves of the coat, he said, "The dinner was wonderful. I sometimes forget how good it is to be in company. I have been too much alone of late." Buttoning the garment, he continued, "Is there laudanum in the bag? Good. Do not look for me soon, this will most likely be my last time to the Marsbys'. And, please, if you could Mrs. Dalton, write me a note and leave it on my desk. Remind me to write Dr Ambrose Abernathy concerning references on throat ailments. I may have to go to Dr Canton's library in Shrewsbury for them, but Uncle Ambrose would know what to read."
Taking the bags she held for him, he tucked one under his arm and took her hand. "Mrs. Dalton, you are a peach! I don't know where I would be without you." Bussing her on the cheek, he hurried out the door.
The woman flushed and shook her head. "That young man will be the death of me!"
As the small cart jounced along the rutted lane, Mrs. Junkins was glad that home was within sight. The drive to the Rectory from the Junkins' home was short, but today, the rough ride had become tiresome. Glancing at her husband, he looked to be deep in thought. The events of the Wentworth's dinner were indeed something to ponder.
"Are you prepared for all of Mary's questions? She will be like a greedy chick, wanting every crumb you will give her."
"Huh? Oh, Mary. Yes."
"Good. And when you regale her with all the festivities, please try to write some of it. You sound awfully tired, dear."
"Yes, it was quite a full day. I shall write."
"Well, in a year or so, it will not be necessary to tell her anything. She will be old enough to be part of such things. It was a lovely dinner. Yes, it was. Mrs. Wentworth . . . Mrs. Edward Wentworth that is, told me that she was very pleased. It seems there were to be others -- some of her people I believe she said -- but they could not attend and instead she got many other 'surprises.' Not the least of which was Dr Abernathy."
Joshua laughed out loud. "He does make for a lively time!"
"Yes, he certainly does! But he would do better to watch himself. His behaviour is far too open, he makes everything unsettled."
"He is being friendly, he means nothing by it. Most likely doesn't realise the discomfort he brings."
"Perhaps not, but his ignorance does not change the facts. He leaves much too much room for misunderstanding when he is so . . . foolish."
"Foolish is too harsh . . . imprudent -- heedless in manner, not intellect."
"Of course not, I am not saying that he is stupid. I am saying he is thoughtless, especially with ladies! He does not think how his actions will be judged by those around him. I dare say that he had no idea how Captain Wentworth judged him. There was a time I thought the man would chew the buttons off his suit coat! It is fortunate for the Doctor that the Captain is a man well-able to keep his temper."
"Cannot disagree there . . . but the Captain was annoyed with her, not the Doctor. That's no good."
"Why is that always the way with men? It is always the woman's fault. Men think that with the bat of an eye, we take complete rule over them and are able to force them do anything! That, if a fellow is behaving wrongly, we must surely be able to put a stop to it! I must begin schoolling Mary on dealing with such things . . . one day, she will be in company with ill-behaving men like that . . . with the very man himself most likely!"
"Yes, she is growing up."
"Well, the young Mrs. Wentworth is proof enough that we women are trapped. Were Abernathy a rogue, she could quite easily put him down and not be thought any less for it, but he being merely intemperate, not wicked . . .. Our only hope is for him to marry a woman who is able to teach and train him. And as for the Captain Wentworths, I hope that he does not say something foolish to his wife and start his own misunderstanding."
"Yes, I hope not . . . Abernathy would be mortified if he were to know what he had caused."
"But perhaps that might teach him a thing or two. And I must thank you, dear Mr Junkins, for saving me . . . I was nearly out of breath, Abernathy speaks so fast . . . and so much!"
"Never at a loss is he?"
Chapter 3, Part 1
"Women, Standish, they are the bane of men's existence. Always have been, always will be!" Frederick looked into the horse's eyes, as though he expected an intelligible answer. Standish merely blinked, and shook his head.
Slipping the collar onto the horse's neck, he continued, "So, you do not believe me, eh? Take my word, they are a breed apart! In most ways, they are just as different from men as you. They think differently, talk differently. There is not much we gents have in common with their species ... and they are another species, make no mistake!" Removing the harness from its peg, he stretched the tangle of buckles and straps to order them.
"They being exceedingly different -- and difficult -- I suspect that we are helpless against their allurements. I cannot account for how they do it, but they draw us to themselves, just as sirens draw ships to the jagged rocks." Having laid the gear upon the horse's back, he took care as he maundered, to aligned the bellyband and the hip strap just so. "I am afraid, they will be the death of us!" Upon declaring all men so doomed, the Captain none too gently began to fasten Standish into the harness.
Drawing the gig into place, he buckled it into the harness. "And ... they all stay together. They are clean and tidy -- mannerly and all, but when it comes to we of the male sex, they engage us in battle with no less ferocity than any other barbarous clan. Mrs. Catherine Wentworth and her 'propriety!' She wouldn't even allow me to escort my own wife in to meet the guests! And what does my wife do? She is in perfect agreement ... 'It would not be proper,' she cries. At all costs, we must be proper! And so in comes Cousin Michael, and what does my, oh-so-proper wife do? She throws herself into the man's arms and makes an utter fool of me!"
"The only ones worse than women, are the traitors of our own sex!" he huffed, as he fitted on the bridle. "Throughout the afternoon, she hangs on him, and they talk of summers together ... oh! You will like this, boy ... " Pulling the forelock from under the browband, he threaded the reins through the rings on the collar, taking them to the seat in preparation for the drive. "'At one time, she had declared me her first love,' he tells me, bold as brass! No wonder he was allowed such liberties ... more than I, I assure you." Standish shook his head again, seeming to protest the Captain's last assertion.
Leaning close to the horse's ear, Frederick said, "So you think me a rank hypocrite, eh? Very astute of you, fella." Standing away, he continued. "Anywise, every time I turned around, they were laughing and playing up! I can tell you, Standish, when I first arrived at Uppercross, that laugh was reserved for me! Last fall, that laugh was all mine! For me alone ... no one else!"
"What was for you alone? Who are you speaking to?" Louisa asked, stepping over the lip of the stable door as she looked around for his companion.
"Oh, no one, really." Glancing towards her, he blanched at being caught in such a blatant peeve. Turning back to the horse, he wondered how much of his diatribe she might have overheard. By her manner, he thought she had heard nothing that could accuse him. He hastily added, "I was just talking to Standish while I truss him up ... it keeps him calm, makes things easier."
"I suppose so. Humans like to know what is happening to them, perhaps horses are no different." She came to the horse and patted his nose.
"Yes, perhaps so. I am beginning to think that men and horses have more in common than men and wome -- some other beings ... are you ready?" he asked, as he pretended to be busy about the harness.
"Yes, very. I was surprised that you would think to go for a ride ... it is a bit late ... it will be dark soon."
"If you did not wish a drive, you should have said so ... I thought you might enjoy the fresh air ... and there is yet an hour or so before dark, plenty of time for a leisurely tour about the countryside."
"Oh no, I love the idea of a 'tour about the countryside'! I am very glad you suggested it. I have not been away from the house since our arrival, and the weather is lovely today ... quite a shame to waste it."
The weather is indifferent at best, but I suppose when the company has been so pleasing, it makes even clouds look 'lovely.' "Then, let us not waste it." Frederick guided Standish into the yard and handed Louisa in. Rounding the gig, he swung up into the seat and with a snap of the reins, they were off.
Allowing the horse his head, Frederick spent little time considering a course. He also spent little time in conversation with his wife. To that point, what conversation there had been, had been light -- and one sided. Louisa had spoken of things discussed during dinner and after. She made a point of telling her husband that she thought the Junkins were delightful, and that the piece Mrs. Junkins had played on her violin was beautiful. "He listened with such devotion ... he was so attentive. I wonder if it has been difficult for her to overcome his ... appearance?"
"In the beginning, perhaps. They were introduced at the Rectory, and if I remember rightly, the introductions were a bit strained, but there was also a snag having to do with ... " The snag, of course, had been Dr Abernathy. " ... uh, an accident in the kitchen."
Frederick decided that equivocation was his best option, not that he cared a groat about saving the man's reputation, but he had no desire to discuss anything having to do with Doctor Michael Abernathy.
The unfortunate kitchen accident had actually been the Doctor's appearing at the Rectory, quite drunk and in a mood to molest the refreshments Mrs. Graham had prepared for the afternoon's event. After escorting him from the kitchen to the outer yard, the Captain had intended to help him walk off the drink. But, after a bout of sickness, the Doctor had fallen asleep. With the Rector's help, he had eventually been dragged up to one of the bed chambers to finish out the night.
"While everyone was occupied elsewhere, Mr Junkins and then-Mrs. Lowell, fled into the rain, and when they returned, things between them seemed to be settled."
"Well, I am surprised at myself. After a bad beginning, I seemed to have little trouble ignoring his scars, though they are vicious."
"Yes, but one grows used to them, and besides ... you had other things to divert your attention."
Louisa was pleased that he seemed to understand her dilemma. Though the party had been anything but large, it had been her first as his wife and therefore, she had aspired to perfection. "That is true, I was so nervous and trying hard not to bring embarrassment upon you. I think I began to like him very much when his wife played the violin for us. Did you see his face ... he was enraptured." The memory of Junkins' face was still strong in her memory.
It was obvious that his young wife was not of a mind well-disposed to allusion. But, not wishing to leave the matter quite alone, he maundered to himself, Enraptured ... now that is the word. But I suppose she means Junkins and his wife ... not herself and the good Doctor.
He also gave no voice to his opinion that Mrs. Junkins' playing was nothing extraordinary, but precisely as the woman herself had said: adequate. Though he would acknowledge that Joshua had been quite entranced as she had played. "Yes ... I marvel. They knew nothing of one another, only from their letters, and yet, they seem to be the happiest of couples," he said absently.
"I suppose it shows that the heart is very elastic ... and when one is prepared to love, one will." Louisa said nearly to herself.
Frederick had heard the comment, but was much absorbed as he pondered his own, unexpected, feelings. His intense jealousy of the Doctor had taken him quite by surprise. It still provoked him to recall Abernathy's smug words, " ... she had declared me her first love."
Sensing that the Captain was no more disposed to reply now than he had been for most of the ride, Louisa set her mind to studying the tangled clumps of weeds in the ditch. As they drove further, she realised that the day was not really very pretty, but actually quite dull, and that the lowering sky threatened rain. Though the weather was not in a co-operative humour, the day had been made brighter by the company of the Junkins at dinner, and most especially, the unexpected opportunity for being alone with her husband.
"You and Abernathy seemed to get on very well," Frederick said suddenly, "even after all this time."
His initiation of some conversation took her a little by surprise, but was most welcome. "Yes! It was wonderful to see Cousin Michael again ... as I told you earlier, he was always my champion when my brother and cousin Charles were being wicked to me. And they were wicked quite a lot, I must tell you! But Michael was like a gallant knight to me! He was so much older and handsome ... those three summers he was ours were magical!" she breathed, remembering all his kindnesses to her.
Louisa was puzzled by his tone of voice. Her cousin had had nothing but good to speak about the Captain, while the Captain sounded less than happy. "Yes, when we played knights and maidens, I always found myself being a lady-in-waiting to Etta's queen. I would have been a far superior queen, but she was older and held that over me, and it was far better than being a crone or drudge as my cousins usually played, but anywise ... Charles would always try to feed me to the dragon ... to save Queen Etta of course!"
"Michael was older -- too old really to play with us, but he had had no playmates at home and so when he came to us, I think he made up for lost time. It was as if he were our age again, not so much older." For a moment, she could see Michael as he was those far-away summers, so very grown up, handsome and attentive to her, just a silly little girl.
"So ... you prepared to make a feast for the dragon, and pray what did our gallant Sir Michael do?"
Louisa was glad that her husband, at last, indicated a genuine interest; she happily continued. "Well, Cousin Charles ... Etta's Charles, he always wished to be the dragon, and so Cousin Michael would brandish a pole with a picket tied to it -- that was his lance. Then," she laughed, "Crying, 'For the Crown and the Kingdom! I shall save you, Fair Maiden!' he would play at running the dragon through. And with that, the dragon would fall to the ground, vanquished, and the knights and ladies would dine on cakes and watery wine given them by Old Sarah." Just then, the gig took a lurch and Louisa clutched at the Captain's arm. Choosing to leave her hand, she watched the countryside pass.
For a moment, Frederick could not help but find her reminiscence charming, for his childhood held few playmates, either family or friends, and little in the way of fanciful games. But, the charitable feeling was quickly put aside and he again found himself resenting her cheerful countenance. His jealousy was not only resentful, but he was irritated by the high colour in her cheeks and the brightness of her eyes. It was obvious that just retelling the past was a significant pleasure to her.
"Oh, but not to worry, even the dragon got his share."
"Oh good. I was worried that the dragon might suffer ... being robbed of a meal and all."
"Now, perhaps you can see why I call him my knight. I must confess, I was a little heart-broken when he married that horrid Bellamy girl -- Miss Victoria Bellamy."
"Perhaps you are not being fair ... you only think her horrid, because, after all, she did marry your first love!"
"So, he told you!" She looked away, but he caught the deepening flush of her cheeks. Turning back, she laughed and said, "Well ... he was as much a first love as an eleven-year-old girl can have. You see, you are not the first older man who has ever captured my heart." Taking a better hold on his arm and leaning closer to him, she rested her shoulder against his.
Hearing only her young age, but nothing of her admission, the Captain scowled and cried, "Eleven? You were only eleven? The way he said 'first love,' I thought you were ... " His voice trailed off. Embarrassed by his assumptions and wanting to cover his discomposure, he flicked the reins and barked, "Move along, Standish ... quicken up a bit, or it's the knacker's yard for you!"
He had been confused by Abernathy's account of things. By Louisa's version, she had not declared him her first love and wept over him when they had last been together; her declaration had been long before, during one of those summers he had spent at Uppercross. With a clearer account and some simple arithmetic, Frederick's simmering jealousy would never have been set alight. And poor Standish would never have had the threat of the knacker's yard hung over him.
"Yes, only eleven. His last summer with us, he had turned twenty. That is why I said that he was really too old to be playing with us, but he did, nonetheless. I think he was very lonely growing up. His family is not ... close."
Eleven! Good G-d! She was practically an infant! "But I thought the last time you saw him, you were sixteen or so."
"Yes, I was just sixteen. I had grown out of the infatuation by then ... but I still cried when he left us ... in all his conversations about his wife, he told us things ... little things mostly, that he would make out were attractions and pleasant ways, but he tried so hard to convince us and I think he was actually convincing himself. All his talk made us wonder about their chance at happiness. Though I was so young, I thought their differences quite overwhelming." Giving some thought to her cousin's last visit to Uppercross, but not wishing to lower the day with that troubling bit of history, she suddenly turned and asked, "May we get out and walk a bit? I would like a walk."
"What?" Frederick had been too occupied recalling the doctor's words, as he endeavoured to find where he had made his misstep. A gentle tug at his arm caused him to notice that Louisa was expecting an answer. "Pardon, what did you say?"
"I asked if we could get out and walk. I have not gone walking for ever so long -- with the wedding and all -- I would like to take some exercise. Please?"
The Captain merely nodded and reined the gig to the side of the lane. He jumped down and murmured, "Good Standish," as he gave the horse an apologetic pat on the way around. Passing by the horse's collar, he stopped and pretended to examine a strap. His unwarranted jealousy mortified him and he required a moment to order himself before facing her. But as he needlessly unfastened and refastened the buckle, he realised, that while his wife's declaration of love for her cousin was old and of a childish nature, it still gave no excuses for their behaviour of the previous few hours. Besides that, the Doctor himself had been clear that he viewed his young cousin with new, more appreciative eyes than he had previous. ... had I known the course nature had taken, I might have ridden, post haste, to Uppercross and fended off the likes of you ... those had been his exact words. Would have fended me off, eh, Cousin Michael?
Armed with fresh jealousy, he gave one last tug to the buckle and proceeded to his wife's side of the cart.
As Frederick lifted his hand to Louisa, he felt the first, tentative raindrops. It had been misty, and as they rode, the mist had thickened and now it had determined a shower. "Perhaps we should postpone your walk, there looks to be a little squall coming." He had watched the darkening clouds with little concern, but now that it had begun to rain, he thought that heading back to the Rectory might be the best course of action.
"Oh no!" She looked up, as though she might cause the rain to cease by frowning its away. "You have a good, dry hat and I have a cap, a bonnet and a hood, surely that will give us enough protection for a little walk ... please?" She pleaded with both face and voice.
Glancing again at the sky, he knew that it would be pouring within the hour, and was determined that they not be caught in it. "All right," he granted. "We make it a very short stroll and then back to the Rectory." Taking her hand, he continued with their conversation. "Yes, unlucky in love is our poor Dr Abernathy. It was kind of you to act so ... cosy -- making him quite comfortable with you," he observed, as he handed her down.
Louisa looked closely at her husband. She noticed his expression was pinched and humourless, and that his tone of voice and bearing had gone from relaxed, as they had been over the pervious day, to serious and stiff. "I'm not sure that I would call my manner ... 'cosy'. More friendly. We are family, after all."
"Yes, the two of you are family. And families can be very intimate things, can they not?" Helping her over a knee-high stone fence, they entered a grass field.
"Are you displeased with my behaviour? Is this what you are trying to say?"
"Not exactly ... but you did seem to be a bit ... familiar."
"Familiar! The man is my cousin! Besides which, he is in mourning still." Louisa was confused and turned away, endeavouring to hide her agitation. "You have an interesting standard."
"What do you mean?"
Turning back, she said, "I mean, when Miss Anne spent all her time in Lyme, talking to and comforting your friend, Captain Benwick -- a man with whom she had no previous acquaintance, you had no such objections, you did not call their behaviour cosy. But me ... being friendly to my own cousin ... that you find ... familiar."
Her observations to do with Anne and Benwick were dead on, and that stung. Of course, it had bothered him excessively to see the intimate exchanges between the two in Lyme, especially considering ... but Lyme was not a subject he wished to pursue.
"Yes ... well, I am only saying what I saw."
"Oh, yes. What you saw. You are a man who is greatly affected by what he sees -- and hears, are you not?"
"What? What do you mean?"
Louisa turned and bit her lip. Why did I say that? And why has this come to mind ... today of all days? She knew that she should not touch upon something so hurtful to them both; she had said more than enough already.
"What do you mean that I am greatly affected by what I see and hear?" Getting no response, he said, "It annoys me in the worst way, that you would teaze me with hinting and these obscure clues about what I see and hear, and how I am affected by it all. Be clear about what you mean and, for all love, don't fight shy of your point!"
His taking the part of the schoolmaster and chuzing to lecture rather than discuss, chafed. For all love he wants? I shall show him, for all love ... Turning back to him, she started, "'Words and actions' shared with another? That is what you said about that night, Wednesday night! Words indicating things you have heard and actions indicating things you have seen! Am I still shy of the point?" She turned away, and he took a step closer, ready to reply. But, before he was able, she turned back to him and began again.
"Do you really think me so stupid? Words and actions ... that night at the Resplendent, you were prepared to take me as your wife! To love me ... !" She half turned, and squeezed her eyes tightly shut, trying to push back the tears that were beginning to sting.
Louisa knew she had begun down a path that could only end in hurt and accusation. Her fondest hope was that he would rush to her, and taking her in his arms, he would reassure her of his love. As this picture rapidly flashed through her mind, she was troubled again by the knowledge that he had never declared his love for her. He had never taken her in his arms and said even any modest words of affection. Never.
She had to move, move anywhere, that she might dislodge the though from her mind. Facing him fully now, she said, "All the while we were in the coach and you were telling me about her, looking so pained and anguished, were you remembering her then? Had you been with her while you were away in Plymouth -- did you even go to Plymouth? Is that why she was so fresh on your mind that you could not continue with me!" Louisa bit her lip in regret. She wished to give over to her tears; perhaps they would dull her gnawing fear that he did not love her. The tears were also for this breach that could allow her to make such base accusations against the man she deeply loved. Perhaps tears could wash away the accusations she feared might prove true.
"What? Plymouth? Of course I went to Plymouth!" He had not been prepared for Louisa's accusation; she had given no hint that she thought any more of his confession than its original telling. And while his journeying to Plymouth had been undertaken for purposes other than her best happiness, there been nothing of the untoward nature she intimated. "I thought I made things clear ... anything to do with ... her, happened when I was much younger. It was a long time ago and it was certainly not anything like you are making it out to be!"
"I am not stupid! Do you think I do not know what you meant by words and actions? Do you think I cannot imagine you and another woman sharing the same sort of intimacies that we engaged?!" The tears had begun to spill and the horrid words had tumbled from her mouth before she had given them any thought, before she could check them. And though Pandora's Box was now fully opened, and like Pandora, she was helpless to put back all that had been released, upon seeing the effect of her words, there was a maggot of glee in her heart -- she had galled him.
"There were no intimacies! Nothing like you imag ... "
Ignoring him, she turned violently away. He thinks me a simpleton! "I am not so naive," she said loudly. "I know what we were about in Kidderminster! Perhaps you did not call her your 'tiemate' and perhaps you did not have to be so charming to win her over, but I know ... "
"You know nothing!" he bellowed. He was outraged by her presumption ... by what she imagined between him and Anne. "What I meant by 'words and actions' were those d-mn'd walnuts! ╬Would you care for one?'" he mimicked her in a high, sing-songy manner, "Years before, she had said precisely the same thing. And, as for everything else you are suggesting ... I resent such an accusation! I told you that she was a woman I loved ... wanted to marry ... how dare you think that I would take a woman in such an infamous way and then try to pass it off as something ... decent!"
Frederick's words had penetrated, but Louisa was young and angry. Her mind heard his words, but her rage wanted to wound him -- cut him to the quick. That rage overrode mind and good sense, loosening her tongue in a way that was cruel and dire at the same time.
"Decent! You are a sailor! I know of sailors ... my brother was a sailor! I know about Arabella ... !" She had turned to face him by now and they stood taking stock of one another. Louisa was horrified that, in her anger, she had blurted out her family's most shameful secret. She searched his face for any comprehension of her last accusation, but there was none. Feeling safe that her blunder was not detected, she lapsed into her former rage. The pair flashed fire in their eyes, and their short, shallow breathing made small clouds around each them.
That she dares to compare me to her stupid, profligate brother, a man who would leave a woman, ill-used and bearing his child, without so much as kiss my hand! stormed through the Captain's mind. This accusation angered him more than any insult he had suffered at the hands of any man, superior or inferior. Bloody fortunate for her that she is a woman ... else she'd be picking herself up off the grass!
"That was a vile thing to say ... to compare me with your brother is about as contemptuous as ... because you had a reprobate for a brother ... you think that sailoring did that? I wish to inform you, Madam ... Richard Musgrove was a stupid ... unmanageable ... lobcock, well before he signed onboard any King's ship ... and the greatest service he did for his Country was to drop d ... the Navy was well-rid of him!" Frederick was horrified by what he had nearly said. Over the years, he had endured the abuses of his career with fortitude, discretion and a closed mouth. He was puzzled that this chit of a girl could cause him to explode in a nearly profane anger.
For her part, Louisa was not certain what a lobcock might be, but when paired with stupid and unmanageable, she knew it was meant as a slur. "In slandering my brother, you slander all my family connections, sir! I shall not listen any further! Take me home!" she cried. In an emphatic motion, Louisa jerked her hood back over her bonnet, as it had fallen during one of her more violent turns. She wheeled around and found that it blocked her eyes. Not wishing to give him any satisfaction at her expense, she left it. Peering under the edging, she watched her shoes closely and began to lurch back to the gig, endeavouring as best she could to avoid falling over the sodden hillocks.
"That's right ... connections ... connections are oh-so-important to certain of the Musgroves, aren't they? You sound like Mary Musgrove with that sort of palaver! And was the Baronet's daughter ever treated to the niceties of 'Dear Richard'? Did she ever take a meal with the ill-mannered, little oaf? No, I suppose not ... she most likely took ill whenever that pleasure presented itself -- if not before, most certainly after!" The invectives were flowing and Frederick was not of a mind to dam them. "And, my dear wife, do not go wandering off, assuming that we will ship this back to the Rectory and air our most private affairs before my family! No Madam, you'll not get off that easily, we shall finish this here and now!" He had planted his feet and stabbed at the air in punctuation of his words.
Louisa was not certain which affront, of the many he had hurled, was the most insulting. His comparing her to Mary, his characterisation of Richard as an oaf or, mockingly calling her 'dear.' It did not matter, any one would suffice to keep her anger at a fever pitch.
She stopped, turned, and glared at him. By his own statement, he meant not to take her home until they were finished with their disputation. Seeing little chance of an end when he was being so mean and contentious, she once more turned and defiantly called, "That being your opinion, I shall walk!" Tiring of the hood, she swiped it from her head and looked one way and then the other. Having paid no attention as they drove, Louisa was without a clue as to where she was. Pride forbade that mortifying revelation, so she angrily set off in a direction she thought might take her back to the Rectory.
Frederick looked in her direction, but did not see her. What he did see was Louisa's hood dropping away from her face -- and the expression the gesture revealed. The look on his wife's face, as she had turned from him, was one of anger to be sure, but it was the unmistakable fear that caught him up short.
He, of all men, knew how fear affected the countenance of a human being. He had seen it clearly in the faces of men awaiting the order to battle. He had seen it in himself. But it pierced him deeply seeing it on the face of this young girl, his young wife. He realised that his admission had not brought her much in the way of comfort, quite the opposite it would seem. His attempt at honesty had made her afraid days ago, and she had carried it silently. Perhaps she had not even given it much thought -- his unfounded accusations made towards she and her cousin had allowed it vent -- but it had been her companion for some time. There was no more jealousy of the Doctor, and the anger in him was spent.
Louisa walked quickly. Taking the longest strides possible, her soaking skirt and pelisse tangled around her legs with every step. The hillocks, now nothing more than slippery mounds barring her escape from him, made such a determined gait barely possible. "Louisa! Come back!" she heard him calling. But she made no answer as she slipped and twisted her way along.
"Girl, you don't even know where the Rectory is from here!" He began, slowly, to follow her.
She stopped and turned. "I shall find a gentleman to tell me where it is. It is no secret!"
"No, its location is not a secret, but it is nearly dark and the rain is not easing; everyone will be inside, finishing supper and warming themselves by the fire ... you'll not find anyone to help you! Louisa! Louisa ... stop! Come back here!" The Captain followed her for a few steps, then called, "Come back here ... you will hurt yourself ... or take cold from being soaked!"
Just as he finished, she slipped and went down to her knees in the wet grass. He came to her quickly. He could not tell how hard the fall, and he feared her injured. When he drew closer, he heard his name mingled with trifling abuses. Reaching down, he pulled her to her feet.
Wrenching herself from his grasp, she glared for a moment and then staggered away without looking back. Giving no thought to her tongue, over her shoulder, she called, "Good! ... what do you care? ... you do not love me! ... I shall take a killing cold and then I shall die out here! My flesh shall fade away and only my bones will be found in the summer after they have been bleached white ... Ah-h-h! -- unhand me!" she screamed.
His guilt for her state of mind had been quickly assuaged by her continued abuse towards him. And her lack of consideration for her own safety and the last histrionic concerning her death had not impressed him with anything but her childishness. He did not take long to think on the entire matter; her behaviour was ridiculous and he would stand for no more. He had quickly taken the few strides to catch her, spun her about, and hoisted her over his shoulder. Just as he was making his way to the gig, the windows of heaven were opened wide. Unfortunately for the pair, this was not a gentle, soaking rain, but a downpour, the likes of which the area had not seen for weeks.
Taking care of the slippery grass and his uncooperative wife, Frederick made his way through the field. As he did so, he could not help letting fly his own offenses. He called loudly over his shoulder, he wished her to hear his grievances clearly. "Good G-d! She had spouted pious sermons on her accident making her more careful of others' feelings ... and was quick to tell how thoughtful she had become. But yet, here she is ... dripping and sodden through ... most likely taking ill as we speak ... forcing me to haul her back to the gig like a length of sopping cordage! Ha! Her bones will be found in summer! An ungrateful and dramatic ... little girl!"
Louisa had said nothing coherent, she had mostly clinched her teeth and screeched her anger. As he had one arm firmly clamped beneath his own, it was nearly impossible for her to do anything much but try and keep her face from being dashed against the back of his wet coat. He held her legs in a grip of iron, so other than one gloved hand, she had no other weapon with which to lash him, save her voice. At first, she had been too angry and her racing mind could not put words together to express her outrage. In her heart, she knew some of what he said was true, particularly about her dramatics. But his last reproach, calling her a 'little girl,' fired her more than any other.
"Little girl! You did not think me so in Kidderminster! It was not a little girl you took into your arms and kissed! Why you ... let me go ... you ... you ... brutish ... beast!"
"Is that the best you can do? Brutish beast? I should be at least as bad as poor Dick, don't ya think?" He laughed, fearing that perhaps, he had more in common with his long dead brother-in-law than he cared to admit.
"You are not half the man of my brother!" She knew that to be patently untrue, the Captain was more a man than any of her brothers, but her pride would never allow such an admission. Besides which, his laughter enraged her to the point she did not care about the truth.
"Then it is a wonder you would lament my lack of husbandly ... affections!" Having reached the gig, he guided her feet to the floor of the box and told her to sit. Standing stubbornly for a moment, she then began to climb down as he moved to go around and mount his side. From the corner of his eye, he saw her attempt at flight. Running back, he put a foot upon the rail, to bar her way, as he shouted, "No you don't, you clever puss, you. Move over, I'll mount here." As he began to climb up, she slid to the other side and began to climb down, but he was quicker by a half and caught her by the arm. She attempted to jerk away and after falling into the seat next to her, he pulled her nearly into his lap. Here, he held her as tightly as he could -- without injury to either of them.
"You are hurting me," she complained. "Your grip is too tight."
As he twined the reins in his right hand, he said sternly, "In my experience, there are many cruel torture devices that tighten the more a prisoner struggles ... I would advise you to think of me as one such device! Standish! ... walk on."
The ride back to the Rectory, though snug, was cold, wet and silent. Louisa had made no struggle and the Captain had calmed considerably. He again lamented his hand in the foolish situation they were a part of, and was more than ready to make amends to his wife. Upon driving into the yard, Frederick released her and dismounted the gig. Raising his hand, "Louisa, may I assist you?" he asked.
Ignoring his hand, she continued to look straight ahead."No, thank-you!" she said firmly, her lips barely moving.
"Louisa, don't be ridiculous. We're both soaked and you must come down. Now allow me to help you!" As he spoke, he endeavoured to take her hand. As he did so, she shifted over to the other side of the seat. Pulling back, he said, "So this is how it is?"
"Yes. This is exactly how it is!"
Continued in Part 3
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