Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume III
Chapter 3, Part Two
From Part One ~ The ride back to the Rectory was cold, wet and silent. The Captain had calmed considerably. He saw his own foolishness and was ready to make amends to his wife. Upon driving into the yard, Frederick dismounted the gig and raised his hand to help her down.
"Louisa, may I assist you?"
Ignoring his hand, she continued to look straight ahead. "No, thank-you!" she said firmly, her lips barely moving.
"Louisa, don't be ridiculous. 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!"
Louisa made a show of primly folding her hands and placing them just so in her lap. She stared ahead, without any further acknowledgment of his presence.
"Your mind is firmly made up, then?"
"Yessir. Quite firmly made up."
"Mulishly made up is more to the point."
Casting an arched brow his way, Louisa said, "At one time, my firm and decisive character received your compliments, not your contempt. You, in fact, urged me to infuse my sister with as much of my spirit as possible, if I were desirous of her ultimate happiness -- that even my own happiness depended upon my firmness and present powers of mind. It would seem, Captain, that it is your opinion that is not durable."
"This is nice!" He pulled his hat further down over his eyes to keep out the rain. "My own words used against me! Then remain out here as long as you chuze! I have done my duty in seeing you safely home ... and since you are a woman of such firm opinions, I'll not waste my efforts to carry you to the comfort of the indoors, as it is your obvious wish to remain out in the weather!" Having said his piece, Frederick calmly walked up to Standish's bridle. Despite her appearance, the Captain knew that Louisa made a show of impassivity, and he was determined that she have something to think on. Taking hold of the horse's headgear, he said, "Come along Standish ... no need for your old bones to be soaked due to sheer perversity! You're trapped in harness as it is. Until her Ladyship chooses to dismount, I can't decently free you." He guided the horse as far into the stable as was possible to keep them both out of the rain. After tying off the leads, without a backwards glance, Frederick strode to the kitchen door of the Rectory.
The Captain shook the rain from his hat, not caring that he left a trail of water everywhere as he stalked through the house. His anger was on the rise again and he was bursting to speak with his brother. Going first to the study, he found no one there. Hearing voices in the sitting room, he crossed the entryway and there he found Edward and Catherine. Both looked up, startled at his clamourous entrance.
Seeming to fill the double doorway, he planted his feet and pointed to the back of the house, "I do not understand that woman! She would prefer sitting out in the gig, wet to the bone, just to spite me!" He glowered as he began to pace. Pinning his hat beneath his arm, he smoothly stripped off his gloves. "First, she refuses to get in the gig ... now, she'll not get out!"
Looking at his brother in particular, he complained, "What is it about women ...?" Noticing Catherine's raised eyebrows, he attempted to amend himself. "I am sorry ... I did not mean you, Catherine. Excuse my thoughtlessness ... I meant young women!" He took no notice of the smile she obscured with her hand, but he did see her brows arch higher. Slapping his open palm, "Bah!" he exclaimed as he turned and left the doorway.
The Rector and his wife had only a moment to exchange bemused looks when, not finished with the matter, the Captain returned and cried, "If she prefers staying out in the stable, to coming inside and behaving like a decent Christian woman, that is her decision." With each word, he waved his gloves towards the couple; with each word, the fingers flopped comically. "I'll not have a thing to do with convincing her otherwise! Now I am upstairs to change, for I too am wet to the bone!" Having ended his tirade, he turned and thundered up the stairs.
They easily traced the Captain's path up the stairs, and they could still hear his thumping about after the slamming of his door reverberated throughout the old house. After a horrific crash, there was no other sound that would not be normal for an angry husband.
After a bit, complete silence settled over the sitting room. Besides Edward's occasional snicker, the crackle of the fire was the loudest sound to be heard. The calm was a good respite, as the Captain and his outburst had interrupted an intense exchange between the Rector and his wife.
Catherine began to rise from her seat. "Where are you going ... old woman?" Edward asked.
Laughing a bit, she said, "I am going to take my decrepit self, and gather blankets and towels. She'll be wet and cold. When you go to him, remember that they are just newly married, and these things happen -- even to couples very much in love." Laying aside the embroidery she was working, she straightened and stretched her back before walking to the door.
"I have to wonder, would you be so anxious to go to Louisa were we not in the middle of a disagreement."
"I would be eager to go to the girl, regardless." She stopped and turned. "As I have said, I really see nothing upon which to disagree. I shall call for Mrs. Callow tomorrow. There really is nothing more to be done! The pains are gone, and other than a little mortification at being found whimpering like a child, I am well. You are the one who feels the need for me to go to my bed, and lay about as though I am some weak and trembly creature."
Standing, he took her hand and said, "Catherine, I do not think you weak and trembly, not the way that you make it out. Nevertheless, if there is something wrong ... not an hour ago, you were laying on the bed, crying out in pain. I would be an unfeeling wretch if I could ignore that, now wouldn't I!"
"I told you. I am perfectly well now. Such pains are not uncommon for a woman in this condition. I promise to call for Mrs. Callow tomorrow. The pains have ceased, and nothing more can be done. Now, I have someone out in the stable to see about, do I not?" She looked expectantly at her husband. "You, sir?"
Edward did not move. "I have no intentions of going up and talking to him, and you should give careful thought as to getting caught up in the whole business. This is not our affair. We have no part in it." The Rector resigned himself to defeat and returned to his chair. Taking up a book, he crossed his legs, making it clear he had no plans that included a trip up to his brother's rooms.
"What of that awful racket upstairs? Might you go and see to it?"
"Why? Perhaps you worry that he threw himself on the floor in a fit -- or might you fear his doing himself an injury? I know my brother very well. He would scream blue murder if he were genuinely hurt. I know him, we will know, more than soon enough, what the ruction was." The Rector looked at his book, but saw nothing of the words.
At that moment, Frederick, his marital woes, and whatever else he might have done to himself was the least of the Rector's concerns. "I do not want you going out in your condition. I think this is not the first instance of these pains." Edward suspected that perhaps, her pain that afternoon, and her being confined earlier in the week, had been connected. His jaw was set and he looked unmoved.
The couple stared at one another for a time. The fire crackled on and the freshening wind caused the rain to beat against the panes of the window.
Catherine bit her lip, wondering what to say. Obviously, Edward was as worried as she about the pains. Nevertheless, for her own sanity's sake, she felt she must keep a firm grasp on herself. The younger couple's dispute was almost welcome; it gave her something, other than herself, to worry over. Clearly the Rector felt he had no place in talking with his brother, and she felt that she had no other place but in the stable with her sister-in-law. She decided to put aside their one major concern and try to prod him in the direction of this new one.
"My dear husband, if you feel so strongly," she began. Placing her hand on his shoulder, she bent down, bussed his cheek and said in her most charming voice, "You do whatever you think is best in this. If it is your opinion, that you best serve your brother staying here, by the warm fire, while I go out to the stable and comfort our sister, then stay you should! I am certain that we are both correct, in our own ways, as to what we each must do." Giving his cheek a light brush of her fingers, she gave him with a sweet smile as she turned and left the room.
Edward glared into the fire. Remaining after such sweet and intentionally provoking words would be useless. Remaining would only cause him to become more angry with his brother and his wife. "Hang his hide! That boy has a talent for causing havoc in my household ... and she has a talent for turning the tables," he grumbled as he rose.
Not having an idea as to the state she would find Louisa, Catherine prayed as she gathered the blankets and towels. She smiled as she tied her pelisse, and took satisfaction in hearing the back stair's creak. It would be Edward going up to his brother after all. Perhaps he will succeed in talking some sense to the Captain, more sense than he had managed to talk to me.
Arranging her hood as she stepped out the door, Catherine saw immediately how things stood. Making her way through the rain soaked grass, she shook her head at the condition in which Frederick had left his wife. He had pulled the gig in just far enough to cover most of it, but the wheels made closing the door impossible, and when the wind shifted, the rain blew in, wetting Louisa's back thoroughly. The girl had her head down and was hunched against the cold.
"Such silliness ... two adults ... but at least she has the excuse of youth on her side! "Catherine muttered. "Louisa, dear!" she called against the moaning of the wind, "I have come to talk. Come down and we shall go in the house." It was obvious that the girl would not be moved for the Captain, but perhaps she might for another of her sex.
"No, thank you, Mrs. Wentworth. I shall stay out here." Louisa had given most of her time in that stable to the entertainment of visions of herself, feeble and chilled, being carried, prostrate into the house -- all who saw would pity her the hardness of her husband's heart. She chose not to think how foolish she felt upon their first entrance into the household, her having been in nearly the same condition.
"Very well ... I shall join you," Catherine said as she began to raise her skirt to mount the gig. "Lend me a hand dear ... I am not as ... agile as I once was."
Louisa came to her senses with the notion of Catherine, in her condition, attempting to hoist herself into the gig. "No! ... you must not do that ... the baby! I shall come down, but ... I shall not enter the same house with him!" she said, tossing her head furiously toward the Rectory.
"Well, if you'll not go in ... then we can go into the stable. Comfort is not its best feature, but it is dry!" The women made their way around the still harnessed Standish, and stood listening to the rain on the roof. "Come." Catherine pointed Louisa to the rack where they stored sheaves of hay. "Sit," she said, as calmly as if she were in her own sitting room, serving out tea to a guest.
After wrapping Louisa in one of the blankets and removing her bonnet and cap, to dry her face and hair, she sat next to her and drew the other blanket over their legs. Feeling pity for the poor, pale thing, Catherine put her arms about her and they sat.
"So ... tell me, what has gone on between the two of you? Why do you prefer this," motioning her hand to indicate the stall, "to the house?"
Louisa began to cry. The sobs were pitiful, but Catherine was moved only a very little. Though married less than a year herself, as an older woman, she knew that sympathy was a two-edged sword. Often, commiseration could act as a much needed balm, but, if not regulated with great care, it more resembled strong drink -- dulling the pain of a situation, but never causing a true solution.
Allowing the girl to get her high emotions out of the way, Catherine handed her a handkerchief, damp but useable. "Wipe the tears ... and your nose, dear."
As she set about fixing what she could, Louisa rejoiced that she had an ally in Catherine. Had she been home, at Uppercross, Henrietta would have been the first one to take her part in this horrible state of affairs. It was comforting to have another woman to call a sister.
"Who -- bloody is it?" The Captain bit back his crossness as he responded to the knock. There was not really any guessing who was at the door, but having to mop his bleeding shin put him in a bad frame of mind.
Edward entered, knowing he'd not be denied. "It is me ... good lord, you did do yourself harm, Catherine thought you might."
"Very funny, brother. As I lifted it down from the wardrobe, my sea chest slipped and the brass on the corner caught me ... tore up my trousers into the bargain." Putting aside a pair of drawers he had been using to stanch the flow of blood, he picked at the cloth of his trousers and examined the wound. "This hurts worse than that bullet that grazed my arm a few years ago."
Edward, who had come to examine it also, looked at him and mused, "Perhaps you have gone a bit soft -- Captain."
"Soft ... this from you."
"I will admit, it is deep." The Rector reached out to touch the scrape and was rewarded with a slap to the hand from his brother. " I will find you some bandages. I have always told you that this is what comes of anger."
"Anger? I dropped the chest ... nothing more."
"Oh? The fellow that came charging up these stairs was angry."
"Yes, I was, but once I got up here I calmed myself. Slamming the door help immensely." The brothers smiled.
"So what went on that you were breathing fire and your wife is refusing to enter my house?"
"I ... I told my wife that I thought she had been a bit familiar with her cousin." The look between the brothers was intense.
"That being the case, I think you deserved this," he said, pointing to Frederick's leg, "But it should have dropped on your head! How have you survived commanding hundreds of men for this length of time? That incautious tongue of yours should have gotten you knocked on the skull ages ago!"
"I know, I know! I had no business doing so. She was not at fault. You needn't worry though, she gave it back to me -- double."
"Held her own, eh?"
"More than sufficient, Rector." The wound had begun to bleed again and he took the drawers and pressed them to it. "She has a fine aim -- won't take an injustice -- not even from me."
"Good, it is about time you were given some back. I think most allow you too much liberty -- that brilliant wit of yours, it puts most people in their places -- they know they probably can't hold a candle to it. They retreat before even engaging in a battle."
Looking at the drawers, he then looked at Edward. "I do that, don't I?" The tactic was useful when dealing with the Navy and those he, at times, needed to sway to his way of thinking. Nevertheless, for most others, it was becoming clear that he occasionally used charm, brilliance and wit as mere bullying tactics. He could not help remembering his last emotional upheaval with a woman.
"Not purposely, I do not think. Right? -- Right?" Edward nudged his arm.
"Oh -- no, not ... really. Still, I do it -- occasionally." Tossing the drawers behind the screen, he said, "And I now realise that Louisa is not the first lady I have bullied in this way."
Edward looked at his brother for a moment, trying to decide whether Frederick was inviting him to enquire. He chose to accept. "Anne."
"M'm. When I left her, in the years '06, it was nearly the same. Me, giving my opinion, and making her know that she used me ill. The difference here being, Louisa fired back. Anne took my broadsides, and said very little."
"No, Frederick, don't do this."
"Make this the difference between your wife and Miss Elliot. That, somehow, this proves the superiority of one at the expense of the other."
"I'm not, I assure you. I had decided about that in Lyme. Then I married Louisa. Now I find that my finely crafted opinion is not unshakeable." He rose and went behind the screen to change.
"They are different, that is all. And one is so young that she has no chance to be much superior."
"Oh, I don't know that I would go so far as to say that -- you did not see her in the action today! She possesses her own kind of superiority. And dear brother, though it galls me to tell you, when you said earlier that I was growing fond of her -- you were right." Frederick glanced quickly at Edward and looked away just as quickly. "I am much more than fond, really. Since that is where things stand, I have decided that I must only look forward, that my past must stay where it is."
Edward immediately understood he meant Anne. "Good! Just do not make the mistake in thinking that the two are so different that you may treat Louisa as though she has not the same tender feelings of An -- the other. Just because she is more outward, and will not allow you to bully her, that does not mean that she cannot be just as broken inside."
"I know. I saw that this afternoon. Believe me, I have learnt quite a lot about women -- one woman at least, in the past few days."
Straightening and moving to the door, the Rector said, "Since you are now so proficient, perhaps you could give me a lesson or two. After this afternoon, I realise that I am woefully lacking in skills when it comes to the fairer sex."
"So ... tell me."
"It was awful! He was so horrid to me!"
"Sniff ... yes! He was horrid! He said hurtful things and ... at first he would not bring me home ... then he forced me to get in the gig! It was terrible!" Another burst of tears came and the handkerchief was again employed.
"What did he say, dear? Was he cruel about you ... about your person?"
"N-no ... h-he told me ... h-e ... t-old ... me ... there is another wo-man!" The last word came out as a choked screech as she began to cry again. Of course, this was less than the truth. Her husband's jealousy had been the main motivation in beginning the argument and the other woman had been a shadowy figure in the back of Louisa's mind for some days. Ignoring the facts, the girl buried her face in Catherine's damp shoulder.
Catherine patted the girl's arm as she again allowed Louisa her cry. Miss Elliot no doubt. Oh, Frederick! Surely you were not so dotty as to tell the poor girl everything! she thought to herself.
Feeling that she had allowed Louisa enough of her agitated outburst, Catherine calmly stated, "Oh, my goodness! Another woman you say? I wonder if the Rector knows of this?"I may as well paint with wide strokes and bright colours myself, she thought.
Louisa sniffed, swallowed back some tears and became silent. Raising her head, she looked at Catherine with amazement. The young woman had expected protestations of sympathy, but this did not sound as if it were going to be such.
Catherine kept quiet for a moment, listening to the rain still falling hard against the roof. She then continued, "It would break his heart! He raised his brother better than this, but I suppose it is to be expected. The Captain is, after all, a man of consequence in his profession ... a man of the world. One cannot be surprised. He has gained much money and notoriety these past few years."
While all the compliments of her husband were true, Mrs. Wentworth's comments confused Louisa. She had yet to find any comfort in the commendations of the Captain.
"I suppose, if he is successful in his next commission, as he has been in the past they may eventually elevate him to the peerage -- and in that set, most would quite accept ... nearly expect this type of thing!"
Louisa had long since given up crying, she was now occupied with puzzling out what Catherine could be talking about.
"Though I cannot agree that he should have told you about this ... telling you was very indiscreet ... and so soon after your wedding ... finding it out from his lips seems better than from the wagging tongue of a gleeful gossip." Catherine patted her hand and whispered, "A mistress is not the worst thing in the world ... I suppose."
As the older woman had spoken, the younger's eyes had widened. Upon Catherine's conclusion, Louisa stuttered, "He ... he ... he assuredly has no such thing! That is not what I meant ... he has no mistress!" Her tone was pure indignation at the charge against her husband. "While there was another woman ... he loved her for a time ... but she was no mistress! How could you say such a thing about my husband ... your own brother-in-law?!" How the elder Mrs. Wentworth could think such a thing was an astonishment to her, but she also felt the niggling guilt of her own accusations of the Captain.
Inwardly, Catherine smiled. She had succeeded in bringing Louisa to the defense of her husband, though it was against herself. Her fences with Louisa would easily be mended and so were not a worry.
Louisa continued to dab her eyes as Catherine apologized. "Oh! ... I am sorry ... I obviously mistook what was said. Please, dear ... I beg your pardon. I don't know how I could have entertained such a notion about the Captain. After all, Edward raised him ... and such a ... despicable thing would not be borne and the Captain knows that!"
Taking another swipe or two at her face, Louisa looked pointedly at Catherine and said, "Of course not ... Freder ... the Captain is not the sort of man who would do such a thing. He loved her ... the woman, I mean. They wished to marry ... mistress indeed!" She averted her gaze feeling that surely Catherine would see her hypocrisy. "He actually told me of her days ago ... before we even arrived here."
"Oh, then what was all this weeping and wailing about, if you already knew of her?"
"He made like he was jealous! Jealous! How absurd!" Louisa dabbed at her nose again.
"Well, that is something! Now, of whom might he be jealous?" Catherine suspected the man's identity, but chose to keep it to herself.
Giving Catherine an incredulous look, she cried, "Cousin Michael! Can you imagine anything more ridiculous? Cousin Michael ... of all men!"
"Yes ... of all men! Your cousin." Catherine took Louisa's hands and looked directly into her eyes. "Your cousin, who spared no words to the party on how pretty you had grown. Your cousin, who made a ruin of my seating arrangement, that he might be next to you. The very same who paid particular attentions to you throughout dinner and afterwards. Your cousin, who brought the brightest of smiles to your lips, the likes of which I have not seen since your arriving."
As she spoke, Catherine had taken Louisa's chin in hand. "I am not saying that jealousy is good. It is not. And I am not saying that you should encourage it as a way to gratify yourself, but it does show that your husband is not made of stone. Dr Abernathy is a fine man, but one that is prone to speaking ... and handling others too freely ... too often. He was very unrestrained in his praise, and though he is a relation of yours, there is enough feeling, I think, to make ... to be concerned about. The Captain is not a man who would not notice such a thing."
"You do not think that I encouraged Cousin Michael ... do you?"
"No. Dr Abernathy needs no encouragement. He is a warm man with a good heart and I am certain that he would be shocked was he to know that his praise has caused hard feelings between the Captain and yourself. Louisa, my dear, you are married now. Some conduct can be overlooked in a young, single woman, but a married woman must be circumspect in all her behaviour."
Louisa dropped her eyes to her lap. She, of all people, should be aware of one's behaviour. "He made me so angry with his insinuations. He is angry because of my innocent actions, yet we have not even -- " She bit her lip realising what she was about to reveal. Mrs. Wentworth was already privy to more than was proper.
"And you are jealous of this woman from his past, are you not?"
Louisa grudgingly nodded to Catherine's assertion.
"You have not seen her in the presence of your husband, but ... he has seen you and your cousin."
Louisa was quick to understand this. While she had only a knowledge of her husband's feelings concerning another woman, he had been forced to watch hers play out before his eyes. Though the two circumstances were not the same in implication, the Captain's pain had been real enough. "I did not mean to trail my coat and cause him a fall -- please believe that."
"I am certain you had no intentions of hurting him or inciting his passions, but that has been the result."
"I love my cousin, but not in that way. I believe the Captain is still very attached to this woman he told me of ... I know she has been on his mind."
"That is understandable, I think. He is now a married man and any hopes that he may have held concerning her are to be put aside. Just as you must put aside any childhood freedoms with your cousin."
"That is easily done ... about Cousin Michael, I mean. But her ... how do I come against her?"
"You do not need to 'come against her.' Men by nature are very practical, and while she is a beautiful memory, you are his wife -- you are flesh and blood. He can take you in his arms and love, not so her. You are able to converse with him about his career, a home when you have one, and a hundred other concerns that come up in life. What is most important, you will give him children ... not her! She belongs to his past, and no matter how pleasant that past is, your husband is a creature of the present. We all take comfort in the past on occasion, but for the most part, we live in the present. Especially men."
"Then he will forget her?"
"Never entirely. Eventually though, she will fade into being a pleasant thought that comes and goes. And ... that will happen much more quickly if you show yourself to be a woman more desirable than she."
Louisa thought on this for a moment. "But how can I do that? I do not know her ... and I know nothing about pleasing him as she must have -- " She blushed furiously, still not certain that her husband's attachment to the woman had not been more than one of the heart.
"You do not have to know anything of her! Louisa, all you must do is show him that you love him, and that you need him and that you want his comfort above all things."
"How do I do that?"
"Well, to start ... you cannot sit in the hay crib of the stable," Catherine smiled widely. Louisa gave a wan smile in return. Taking on a more grave countenance, she continued, "My little friend, the first thing is the most difficult ... you must tell him you are sorry for anything untoward you may have said to him."
Louisa looked away, and studied the slats of the crib. She took no real notice of the rough wood, but she did notice the words said. In her heart, she knew them to be true. Turning back to Catherine, she said, "But he started this! All his talk of my cousin! He said other hurtful things to me. It is not fair -- "
"-- and I would imagine that he is smarting under his own conscience! Unfortunately, we all say things in the heat of the moment that have no place in an argument. I am willing to wager, that the moment you begin to apologise, he will fall all over himself to do likewise."
"What if he will not hear me? ... perhaps he is too angry."
"I will admit ... the man who stormed through the house was very angry. Still, if he will not hear you ... your conscience will be clean in this matter. Then he will bear the burden of unforgiveness ... not you."
Louisa again looked away. While humbling herself before the Captain was not appealing to her pride, it did seem a small price if it lead to their future happiness. She looked at her hands, the ones he had said were small and gentle. He has been most kind to me, and kindness is a beginning, she thought.
"Do you love him, Louisa?"
"Huh ... Do I what?" Catherine's question confused her thoughts.
"Do you love the Captain?"
The question caused a worsening ache in her chest. In the fall, when the Captain had first come to the district, there had been an undeniable attraction to him on Louisa's part. While she recovered from her fall, and even after his departure to Shropshire, she had harboured a hope, but, was not heartbroken by his lack of active interest. When he had returned to Uppercross and proposed, her heart had opened wide to him. Since the wedding, her love for him had only grown. However, she now had to acknowledge that his feelings for her were disjointed at best.
Tears came to her eyes and she nodded as Catherine put her arms around her. All Louisa cared about was the Captain. He had opened a deep place in her she had not known existed. Being in or out of his presence caused feelings and desires she had only heard of in whispers. Her greatest wish was that, one day, she could bring these about in him.
Catherine stroked Louisa's hair. "Shhh ... I had to ask. Love is wonderful, but it is also hard, girl. It is the inspiration for poetry and prose -- "
Louisa nodded and said, "Yes, when I was injured, a friend read beautiful poetry to me. Much of it was inspired by love."
Catherine laughed a little, "It does inspire beautiful words, but sonnets are simple, my dear. True love also suffers, and it bears all things placed upon it. The hardest for me is that it keeps no account books."
"Account books?" Louisa was puzzled by the idea of an accounting to do with love.
"It keeps no accounts of wrongs done. Love chooses to have a very bad memory when it comes to hurt and disappointments. As I say, that is the hardest for me. The ideals of love are easily agreed upon, but it is the little, daily killing of ourselves that sincerely proves we love our mate."
Louis sat up and looked at Catherine. "I do not understand ... this almost sounds blasphemous!"
"I do not mean that we should fall on a sword for the one we love -- though that is a romantical notion is it not?" She smiled at the girl and laid Louisa's head back on her shoulder and began, "Let us say that you ask for a simple task done about the house and it lays neglected day after day, do you remind him kindly, or wonder aloud at his laziness?"
Louisa had little idea of anything like this, as there were men aplenty at Uppercross employed for the specific purpose of such tasks. She also had little reason to think that she would ever call upon a man in the Captain's position to repair anything, but, as she pondered it, she wondered what the wife of a lazy man did in such straits. So she asked.
Catherine saw that she would have to be more direct in her examples. "It is not that he is necessarily lazy, Louisa. My point is that much of the time, we treat the person we say we love most in the world with a carelessness that says more than we intend. In our mind our feelings of neglect justify it and that if he truly loved me, he would immediately do what I need doing."
"But would not that show love on his part?"
"You are a sly one! Yes it would, but we are talking about our own show of love, not his. Love is tested when things are not to our liking, not suiting us. When all is well, there is no test." Catherine sat quietly for a moment, deciding whether to tell Louisa a story very close to her heart; she felt a reluctance, but could not explain it. She chose to tell her.
"I know a woman whose husband, early in their marriage, chose not to follow what his family expected of him and they moved to Shrewsbury to try life in the city. She loved it, having grown up in the country, so cloistered from that exciting life. As time went on, things did not go well. However, she did not know everything and how things were going so badly against them. The day of the anniversary of their marriage came. One whole year. She bought a delightful cut of beef and prepared a lovely meal. She had laid hints down about some paste pearls that she had seen and she just knew that he would bring them home to her. He came home that evening and he looked very tired, but she took little notice of it. She fed him and waited for him to give her something to mark the day. He did. While they were eating, he told her that he thought they should return to his family's home, that the city was too cruel for him and that he could not support them. She was brokenhearted. She loved the city. It was all she could do to choke down a bit of pudding. Her hurt was so deep. He knew that he had disappointed her, but he could bear it no longer, he had not meant to ruin their day, but he had to tell her. After supper, they sat by the fire and he gave her a small packet with brown paper as the wrapping. She was sure she knew what it was and felt a little better after such a serious blow. Though she wondered at the brown paper, that they wouldn't use finer paper for something so nice, but she opened it with great anticipation -- "
"He had gotten her the pearls so that their moving would not be such a shock! How lovely." Louisa sat back, satisfied that the woman had had some consolation.
"No, it was not pearls. It was boot laces. Very sturdy, very ugly, boot laces."
Louisa sat up and gaped at Catherine. "After so much disappointment, and all he could think to give her was boot laces!" The injustice was an outrage to the girl.
"It was all he could afford. He had choked down that beef, knowing that what she had spent for one meal should have fed them for days. That was when he decided that they must return to the country -- to his family -- that he must put down his pride, so that they would have a better life. Still, it was a long time before she could see that." Tears stood in Catherine's eyes as she said the last. The story was very close to her heart and very close to her situation with her husband.
Suddenly, things became clear to Louisa. "That is you and the Rector!"
"No. I have always lived in this area and Mr Wentworth and I have always lived in this house since our marriage. This was my mother and father."
"Oh. But I do not see -- "
"There are times that you will have expectations of your husband and he will not meet them. Times will come that he makes decisions that are not to your liking. Nevertheless, he will do them because he thinks them the best, because he loves you and is concerned for you -- more than can be realised at the moment." The words spoke as much to Catherine as they did to Louisa.
"I had always loved this story. Mother and Father both have told it, with little differences here and there, but very nearly the same." Catherine took Louisa's hands. "On my wedding day, my mother came to me and gave me a brown paper packet, and in it were some very old, very ugly and very used boot laces. She said to me, 'Catherine, the Rector is a good man, but he is only a man. When expecting pearls, and are given boot laces, do not speak in haste. You will most likely come to be thankful for a man who wishes to keep your shoes on your feet rather than one who is concerned with pretty things at your throat'"
"It is a lovely story, Mrs. Wentworth, but I still do not see how it is to do with my marriage to the Captain."
"After being married for a time, and he is not the man you had hoped to create -- and he is not becoming so at your prodding, will you look across the table at him and smile sweetly -- all the while harbouring bitterness and despising him because he will not become perfect for you? That is what I mean. Sometimes we must kill such fanciful dreams so that we may truly love our mate." She raised Louisa face, and looked again in her eyes. "Do you love him enough to wait, and love him whole heartedly, though he may not yet care for you with the same measure?"
"What if he never comes to love me ... with the same measure? In the way he has loved her?" It was almost a relief to voice her worst of fears.
"That is where you must have faith -- and that God will reward it. The two of you have pledged yourselves before God and your families. I think that the Captain, desiring to be a faithful husband, and you being a faithful wife to him -- Providence will greatly reward that faith!"
Louisa was quiet. A tear slipped down her cheek. "But I am afraid. It seems to be all my burden. He has no responsibilities in this of which you speak."
"He has responsibilities aplenty, and he answers to God for them. Loving in this way is fearsome, but when a husband and a wife are both dedicated to doing this, then love becomes more than a romantical notion one finds in books of poetry. It gives and receives a joy that can be found nowhere else."
The two women sat quietly for a time. The rain continued on the roof and Standish stamped his protest at being left in harness for so long.
"Anne, for goodness sake!" Elizabeth looked up from the pages of the newspaper with a frown of annoyance. "Stop pacing about in that stupid way! Whatever is the matter with you today?"
Anne sighed and gazed out of the windows overlooking the street. The day was dreary and wet, few people were out, but the rain had stopped. She bit her lip and made herself stand quietly. Elizabeth was right; what was the matter with her? She could not keep still, try as she might. Again, for perhaps the hundredth time, her eyes strayed to the clock; would this afternoon never end? Anne turned back to the windows and took another long, anxious look down the length of Camden Place. There was no sign of him.
This endless waiting would surely drive her mad! Two more hours, she told herself, as she returned to her chair and searched in her basket for the proper shade of embroidery silk. Two more hours until my obligation here will be ended. Surely he will not come! Oh, please, God! Do not let him come!
There was no sound in the room save the occasional rattle of the newspaper and the hiss of the fire on the grate. Anne and Elizabeth were alone this afternoon, as Mrs. Clay was confined to her bed with a cold.
"Whatever can be keeping Father?" Elizabeth muttered, lifting her eyes from the page. "I need to know whether ..." She gazed at her sister for a moment and her lips parted, as if she were about to say more. But apparently she changed her mind, for she returned her attention to the newspaper. "Indeed, I cannot understand where he may be," she grumbled. "He would disappear just when I need to speak with him." Presently footsteps sounded in the hall outside and the door opened to admit the man himself.
"Elizabeth, my dear. And Anne." Sir Walter came to stand in the centre of the room and smiled fondly at his daughters. "Well?" He struck a pose. "What do you think of it? Hmmm?"
Anne returned his greeting uncertainly. Her father seemed quite pleased about something; he obviously expected a specific comment about whatever it was. Fortunately, Elizabeth noticed it immediately.
"You are wearing a new waistcoat, Father, are you not? Quite fashionable, those wide stripes! Is this the one you had made up to match the ..."
"Yes, yes, yes," he interrupted. "But the colour, Elizabeth! What do you think of the colour?" He took a turn before the mirror which hung above the mantelpiece, and gazed at his reflection in admiration. "Is it not perfection itself?" Sir Walter swung round to face his daughters eagerly. "It is all the crack, I tell you! But ... do you know the name of the it?"
"The colour?" Anne said. "It is puce, sir, I believe."
"Eh? What was that? Speak up, daughter!"
"I believe it is puce!" Anne repeated, more loudly.
"Puce?" Sir Walter wrinkled his nose in distaste. "Er, yes, I suppose some would call it that," he said. "But I call it Rrrr-oyal Silvered Plum." He turned back to the mirror. "Our cousin, Lady Dalrymple, told me she admired this colour particularly. She will be calling this afternoon. And so, I wear this in her honour." He studied his reflection more narrowly and smoothed back a wayward wisp of hair.
"It is a very slenderising colour, Father, whatever it may be called," Elizabeth said, with a sidelong glance at her sister. "We admire it exceedingly, don't we, Anne?"
"Well, ha ha! As to that, this was made up to fit exactly, my dear." He caressed the waistcoat fondly. "A little too exactly, if you take my meaning! After such sumpicity as we have had these past several evenings, I must remember ... but you would call it ╬slenderising,' would you?" He regarded his image critically. "Indeed, I believe you are right!"
Anne turned her attention back to her needlework as her father and Elizabeth talked on. She supposed her father had meant to say ╬sumptuousness.' He had lately developed the habit of coining clever turns of phrase, but not all were as witty -- or as accurate -- as he thought them to be.
That ╬sumptuous' dinner at the Woodward's yesterday evening had been an agony for Anne. Her pride forbade her from avoiding the engagement and so she had joined her father, sister, and Mrs. Clay, but every feeling revolted at being there. For at every turn she had been confronted with the presence of her cousin, Mr Elliot. Anne felt her cheeks grow hot with shame at the thought of him. How could she have been so rude, to speak in such an outrageous way! His behaviour had been inexcusable, of course, but hers had been worse! It is always this way, whenever I speak my mind in the heat of the moment! she chided herself. Nothing ever comes of it but shame and regret! She knew she would have to apologise to him, but the notion of having to do so made her squirm.
"Have you seen this issue of the paper, Father?" Elizabeth held it out with a smile. "There is the most diverting announcement in the society calendar, here." Anne looked up to see Sir Walter take the newspaper and scowl at it. Elizabeth pointed to the item in question. "There is to be an Assembly, on Friday next. Won't that be amusing?"
"Eh? A Public Assembly?" Sir Walter raised his eyebrows as he read. "Dear me, the Rrrriff-Rrrraff of Bath shall turn out in droves!"
"I should think everyone will turn out in droves, Father, for the first real event of the Season." Elizabeth replied. "Even the riffraff ... if the genteel may be so called."
"Humph! Be that as it may, I do not choose to number myself amongst them." He returned the paper. "Of course, we shall not attend."
"But Father! You cannot be serious! For I have ..."
The sound of the knocker claimed Sir Walter's attention and he cut short his dispute with Elizabeth. "A-hem! Lady Dalrymple, no doubt. Calm yourself, my dear." He positioned himself before the fire, in a stance of informal domestic elegance.
Elizabeth pursed her lips. She was not pleased with this response, but she dutifully put a smile on her face as the drawing room door opened to admit the butler.
"Captain James Benwick," the man intoned, and he held the door open for their guest to enter. Sir Walter lifted his brows in hauteur and stared at the unknown visitor. An uncomfortable silence followed.
"Why, Captain Benwick!" Anne exclaimed. She rose and moved forward with a welcoming smile, hoping to cover her family's impoliteness. "Good afternoon, sir! How kind of you to call." She turned to the her father and sister. "Father, you may remember me mentioning Captain Benwick. I met him during my stay in Lyme. He is a friend of ..." She paused, unsure of how to introduce him. As the friend of Captain Wentworth? That was no recommendation to her father! Anne thought quickly.
"He is the friend of ... Charles Musgrove," she managed, taking care not to catch Captain Benwick's eye. She was fairly certain that he would not count this as a compliment, or worse, he might be amused by it, and the look on his face would probably cause her to laugh.
But if Benwick recognised her awkward amendment, he showed no sign of it. He maintained a grave countenance while Anne finished with the introductions. She motioned to a chair beside her own and invited him to sit down.
"I was not expecting to see you today," she said, as she brought her sewing basket to her lap. "It was raining a little earlier, was it not? I thought you would wait for better weather."
As he began to reply, the drawing room doors opened to admit Burton once again. "The Dowager Vicountess Dalrymple and the Honorable Miss Carteret," he announced.
Sir Walter and Elizabeth started visibly, for there had been no sound of a carriage or of the knocker. Anne was ashamed to see how much more animated they became upon the entrance of these visitors. Sir Walter very graciously escorted Lady Dalrymple to the most comfortable seat before the fire. Miss Carteret sat down beside her mother.
"Lady Dalrymple," Sir Walter beamed. "Miss Carteret. What a pleasure this is, that you should visit our humble abode. Just a simple family party, this afternoon. Er, except for, Captain, er ..." Sir Walter looked at Benwick with a questioning look.
"Benwick ... James Benwick, my Lady. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"Ah, yes, quite," Sir Walter said. "Captain, ah, Ben-Ick is a friend of my daughter's husband and is visiting Bath for a spell."
"Ah." Lady Dalrymple graciously inclined her head. Anne shifted in her seat uncomfortably. Not only had her father made it clear that Benwick was no friend of his, now the Vicountess began to scrutinize him. "And do you come to Bath for business or pleasure, Captain?" Lady Dalrymple inquired.
As Benwick answered, Anne studied him over the edge of her embroidery frame, symphathising with the discomfort she knew he must be feeling. He had told her at Uppercross that he detested doing the polite at social occasions like this, where he knew no one. But as he was replying to Lady Dalrymple's questions in a calm and rational way, Anne began to feel more at ease. Soon her ladyship finished with him and the conversation moved on.
Anne fingered a skein of embroidery silk and thought about the situation before her. Her heart began to lighten, for things were definitely looking up! Captain Benwick's unexpected arrival had freed her from her fears about seeing William Elliot. If he were to call now, there would be no opportunity to have a private conversation with him, for she was under obligation to entertain Captain Benwick.
Ann took another glance at him. He looked quite smart in his uniform today, not at all windblown or rumpled, and he had borne his part in conversation with Lady Dalrymple admirably. No, keeping Captain Benwick entertained would not be a troublesome duty at all.
Mary Musgrove poked her head out of her bedchamber and cautiously looked down the hall. She had heard a door open and close --she assumed it had been Charles' door -- and sure enough, she had been right. In the dim light she could see Old Sarah's ample form retreating toward the staircase. A minute later, Mary took a deep breath and stepped into the hallway. She was instantly sorry! The entire cottage simply reeked of garlics, onions, and any number of herbs and medicines!
Mary snorted crossly. For days now, her home had been turned upside down by Alice and Old Sarah, on their mission of mercy to nurse the ailing Charles. Mary was certain he had nothing other than a bad cold. As one who was so often afflicted herself, she knew all about what it was to suffer! She doubted that Charles was that badly off, being waited on hand and foot as he was!
But Mary had been cowed into submission by Mrs. Musgrove, who had (most unfairly!) countermanded all of her privileges as mistress of the cottage. She had been barred from entering her husband's room, excluded from the whispered conferences held in the hall, and treated as a stranger in her own home! It was not to be borne!
Today she was determined to find out for herself how it was with Charles. She tiptoed down the hall, mindful to listen for Sarah ... or for anyone else. Mr Musgrove had the habit of dropping by unexpectedly, and Mary did not want any surprises. She held her breath as she put her hand to the doorknob. All was quiet. Very cautiously she turned it and slipped inside.
It took a few moments for Mary's eyes to adjust to the dimness of the room, but once they did, what she there saw caused her to gasp. Although the day was dark and rainy, the curtains had been closed to shut out all light from outside. An enormous fire roared on the grate; half-filled basins of evil-appearing liquids, some with cloths submerged in them, were scattered about on the floor. The odor of mustard and camphor and who-knew-what-else was very strong. The air in the room was oppressively hot and stifling. Mary stiffened in fright as she heard a moan come from the bed.
Wide-eyed and trembling, Mary approached it. "Hello ... Charles?" she said, weakly. "I hope you are ... better!" She forced herself to smile in a perky way.
"Bheary?" Charles rasped. "Id dhat you?"
"Charles!" Mary took one look at his sickly, perspiring face and felt faint. "You ... you look perfectly ... dreadful!"
"Dhank-ou, by dear," he replied, with effort. He groped at a cloth compress on his chest. "Blaspted mustard pack! Can'd get id off!"
"No, Charles, don't move!" Mary choked. "Don't remove the bandages!"
"Ib hot!" Charles complained. "Ab thirsty! How apbout a glasp or two ob wine?" He attempted a grin. "Or tha whole boddle! All I ebber get id gruel." But his bid at humour was lost on his frantic wife.
"You ... you are hot? Are you ... feverish, Charles?!" Mary drew in her breath sharply as panic began to overtake her. "Good G-d!" she panted. "Perhaps Mama Musgrove is right!"
"Ib dot dying, Bheary ..." But in her fright, Mary did not hear him rightly.
"You're ... dying, Charles? Dying?!" Mary cried. "Dear G-d! You cannot die!"
And then Mary began to scream. All at once, she felt dizzy and nauseous; a curious buzzing began to sound in her ears. Her horror, combined with the oppressive heat in the room, proved too much for her. For the first time in her life, Mary slid to the floor in an honest-to-goodness dead faint.
As the conversation moved over and around him, Captain Benwick absently inspected the sleeve of his coat. It had probably never looked so well, even when new. He had mentioned to Yee, very offhandedly, that he would be calling on a young woman today, and the results had been impressive. The entire Yee family had gone to great lengths to ensure that he would arrive at Camden Place looking his best. His uniform coat had been brushed to within an inch of its life, its buttons had been scrupulously polished, and Mrs. Yee had starched his shirt to perfection.
Yee had insisted on shaving him, something Benwick had been reluctant to allow. He had lived so many years with a heaving deck under his feet that he preferred to do this particular job himself, as he thought it presented too much temptation for any crewman to hold a razor to an officer's throat!
But Jonathan had done an admirable job, and had even trimmed his hair a little. With his curls carefully arranged and his black neckcloth meticulously tied, Captain Benwick presented quite the picture of Naval Elegance -- or as close as he could come to it, which he knew was well off the mark! But even Old Mr Yee had given a word of approval, which was an honour not easily earned. The whole family had been on hand to wish him well as he left Chauntecleer and climbed into the hired hack for his trip across town.
Now, sitting in Sir Walter's elegant drawing room, Benwick quietly took stock of his situation. Having navigated the first treacherous obstacle, the dreaded Introduction, he was on his guard for anything else which might go wrong. Usually these mishaps occurred as a result of food being present, and he was relieved to see that none had been offered as yet. And never had he been more grateful for the training given by his mother and great aunt than today.
"Sit up straight, no, not too straight! Relax, boy, but do not lounge!" He could hear Aunt Agatha's voice, issuing reminders. "Keep your knees bent just so, with your leg out a bit ... yes, you have a very fine leg, Jamie, and you should show it!" This last had been said with a mischievous twinkle in his great aunt's eye; she knew it would discomfit a shy, fourteen-year-old boy to be complimented on his ╬leg'! Fortunately, ╬Jamie' was not wearing knee breeches today, but Sir Walter was. It amused him to see that his host knew the exact way to best ╬make a leg'!
At the same time, Benwick was taken aback at the inane conversation of these fashionable people. Ordinarily, the presence of a naval officer would have brought a flood of questions about the war, and how it was that Napoleon had been able to escape from Elba. These were the sorts of topics Benwick had been prepared to discuss. But apparently Sir Walter had no interest in such things, for he rattled on about nonsensical subjects, such as the poor quality of hothouse strawberries at this time of year.
Benwick let out a sigh and attempted to appear interested in what was being said. What he wanted was an opportunity to speak quietly with Anne, under cover of the general conversation. So far there had been none. She had taken up her needlework again, so he spent his time studying the decor of the room.
As he did so, a slight movement caught his eye. He watched Anne's sister quietly remove a slim, elegantly bound book from a drawer and slide it onto the low table before her. There was something familiar about the look of that book; it had an unusual green leather cover. Benwick shook it off as coincidence; he had spent far too much time with books in the library if all of them were beginning to look familiar. At a lull in the conversation, Elizabeth turned and began to speak to him with an air of great condescension.
"Our cousin, Lady Dalrymple, is quite a notable figure in Bath society, Captain, as it is her custom to spend each winter here." She smiled serenely at Miss Carteret and her mother. "You may not be aware that she is a generous patroness of the arts in our community," she said, indicating the book with a wave of her hand. "But then, I suppose a Navy man such as yourself would not have an interest in that sort of thing."
"I see you have dear Tino's volume of poetry, Elizabeth," Lady Dalrymple said, before Benwick could answer. "Have you been reading it?"
"Tino," Benwick repeated, to himself. Now where have I heard that ridiculous name? He turned it over in his mind, not realizing that he spoke his thoughts aloud. "It wasn't ... no, not Thomas, or Trevor ... was it ... Turner? Tino ... Turner?" He looked up to find that all eyes were fixed on him. He had not intended to become part of the general discussion; now he had put his foot in it!
"Why, yes! Do you know of him, then?" Lady Darymple inquired, much interested.
Captain Benwick blinked. Oh no! he thought. I am now obliged to say something about this poet! He frowned in concentration. "Tino Turner," he mused, "Tino ..." That book! Of course! Aunt Agatha sent me his book last year, before my promotion! He brought his gaze to Lady Dalrymple's face and began to recite:
What is love,
But a second-hand emotion?
What has love got to do with it?
Who needs a heart,
When a heart can be broken?
There was an astonished silence. Miss Carteret took up the book and began rapidly leafing through it, looking for the verses he had quoted. She was a great admirer of Mr. Turner. "Mama!" She excitedly showed the page. "Look!"
"Why, Captain !! I am impressed! I am very, very much impressed! You know his work! How delightful!" Lady Dalrymple beamed at him. "I was a sponsor of this volume! Is he not a prodigious talent?"
Captain Benwick felt a flush mount to his cheeks. Why didn't I keep my mouth shut? he thought. Aloud, he said, "Your ladyship is too kind. This is the only stanza I know from memory." He paused, deliberating over how much he should say about this. He had the unsettling impression that Great Aunt Agatha was looking out at him through this lady's bright eyes. He decided to continue, and spoke in his grave, quiet way.
"I ... had the misfortune to learn of my fiancee's death while I was away at sea. My heart was ... broken. In my anguish and despair, I flung these words out to the wind and waves. They seemed appropriate at the time."
Lady Dalrymple appeared to be much struck. "Why, Captain, how touching! I am so pleased that dear Tino's poetry brought you comfort in your time of distress."
"Thank you, my lady." Captain Benwick said softly. He looked down at his lap to hide his thoughts from her scrutiny. ╬Dear Tino's' words only fueled his anger; his comfort had come much later, and had been found in quite another sort of Book.
"Well, now, Lady Dalrymple," Sir Walter began, eager for a change in conversation. "What news have you from ..."
She interrupted him with a wave of her hand, and leaned forward. " Ah, Captain ... I am sorry, your name?"
"Benwick, my Lady."
"Ah yes, Captain Ben-nick. I wonder. I am having a poetry reading at my home on Laura Place on Tuesday afternoon. It will be just a small gathering of friends and family." She gestured to include those in the room. "We shall hear Mr. Turner and have some light refreshment. Would you care to join us?"
Would I? Benwick's heart leapt at the thought, for Anne would be there. He frowned a little as he considered his schedule. "I believe I have an appointment with my solicitor at that time, but," he looked up at Lady Dalrymple, "it can be changed. Yes, my Lady, I shall be delighted to come."
Captain Benwick was unaware that the golden door of social opportunity had swung wide open. He saw only Anne Elliot's answering smile. The tray was brought in just then and Elizabeth began to direct the serving of the refreshments she had arranged. The room began to hum with various small conversations.
Anne put aside her embroidery frame and turned to him. "Captain Benwick," she said quietly, "How incredible that you should be acquainted with Mr. Turner's poetry! And an invitation to Lady Dalrymple's home!"
"Please, Miss Anne," he murmured, holding up his hand, "Please, don't call any more attention to it. The truth is," he leaned forward confidentially, "the rest of his work is, well, horrible! I don't want to lie to Lady Darymple, but there it is! And the dreadful thing is that ..." he glanced in her direction, then back at Anne. "Well, I hope she doesn't expect me to bring my copy of his book to be signed. Because later, after reading all of it, I gave it, ah, an ignominious burial at sea!" Seeing Anne's surprise, he added, "That is to say, I heaved it overboard ... off the Cobb, at Lyme!"
Anne nearly laughed outright at this and had to resort to a fit of coughing to disguise it. Captain Benwick grinned appreciatively. He reached into the pocket of his coat and drew out a volume of poetry, an anthology. He kept his voice low as he spoke.
"My reason for calling today was not to entertain you with my recitation of oddly-crafted poetic verse, but to bring this." He handed the book to Anne. "I know I can't properly give it to you, so I am loaning you my copy. I have another." He smiled, to hide his bashfulness. " I thought perhaps, if you like, we could resume the literary debates we began at Lyme. What do you say?"
"I would like that! But ..." Anne turned the book over in her hands, "Another loan? Your umbrella ... I shall send Elise up to fetch it."
"I believe it has begun to rain again, Miss Anne."
"It has?" A quick look at the windows showed that a steady rain was falling. "Dear me. When we discuss the poetry, perhaps you could take it then."
"Mmmm. And when are you available? Having no other acquaintance in Bath, I am completely at your disposal."
Anne thought for a moment. Lady Russell was not due to return for at least another week. Besides following along after Elizabeth and Mrs.. Clay, she also had very little to do. "What do you say about ... that is, I am free ... tomorrow," she said, shyly. "Shall we say three o'clock, for tea? Father and Elizabeth have an engagement at that time so we shall be undisturbed."
"Perfect! Ah ... may I?" He took the book from her and leafed through it, considering its contents. "Shall we prepare to discuss the first two?" He showed her the pages. She nodded and he returned the book. She held it in her lap and with her fingers traced the scrollwork design on its cover. Captain Benwick cleared his throat a little, causing Anne to look up at him.
His expression was grave, but his eyes were smiling. "Ah, perhaps I should warn you, Miss Anne," he said. "I am uncompromisingly strict about the completion of assignments! You may not know it, but I tutored my elder and two younger brothers in Latin, mathematics, and history, before I went to sea. They called me," he deepened his voice, "The Sinister Schoolmaster." His gravity disappeared into a lopsided grin. "Along with some other things, which I shall not repeat to you."
"The ... Sinister ... ? Why, you were not at school?"
"No, no, Miss Anne. That was beyond my family's means. But my father attended Harrow; he finished at the top of his class. You need not fear, we had a most excellent education." He glanced up to see Miss Cartaret making her way over with Tino Turner's book; she was obviously intending to join them. His private conversation with Anne was ended.
Later that day, when the guests had taken their leave and all was quiet, Anne stood by the window, holding his book in her hand. Mr Elliot had not come and the afternoon had passed quite pleasantly. She opened the cover. "James Benwick" was neatly inscribed on the flyleaf in flowing script. Anne moved to a nearby chair, settled into it, and turned to the first poem. It would not do to be unprepared. She found herself to be smiling at the thought of her discussion with The Sinister Schoolmaster.
"That should keep us in a good stead with Sir Walter for another six month," George Croft said as he settled himself with the Gazette. He had put off the chore of writing to Mr Shepherd, the Baronet's man of business. The Admiral certainly had no difficulty in raising the second payment on the one-year lease, but there had been difficulty raising the desire to be concerned with Kellynch Hall.
"Oh, thank you, dear. I know I have harried you miserably about it, but you know how I am when it comes to the accounts. Lady Day will be on us before we realise." Sophy Croft had, indeed, harried her husband miserably. As miserably as one Croft could oppress the other. "That shall go out in the morning and be done for another half year. Perhaps, when we renew the lease, we should pay off for the entire year."
"I wonder that we might not be overplaying our hand looking forward this next six months, my dear. I still have hopes of being called back -- if Bonaparte has things to his liking. Now would not that be a joy?" He turned the pages of the paper, scanning for the latest news of the hoped for war.
"Certainly, George, I always hope for such, but I think we must also be prudent. Thank you, Carlisle," she said, as the man brought warm chocolate and little sweets to the couple. "We must have a home, and I am certain, that if we were to pay yearly, we would, at the very least, give Sir Walter pause before he thought to increase the rent."
"This is why I gave over all things money to you, Sophia. You are a Tartar for stretching a farthing. I still marvel all the questions you asked Shepherd when we met him in Taunton. If only we had been married, and my father could have availed himself of such talents when he got in his scrape. Perhaps there would still be Crofts installed at Wellstone House." He turned his attentions back to the paper.
"You flatter me, Admiral. If you had known my father, you would know why I am proficient when it comes to accounts -- he would not brook mistakes. And, the reason I asked such pointed questions of Mr Shepherd, was that you had said the abstract description of Kellynch sounded so much like Wellstone House. I thought the reason we rented Kellynch was that it reminded you so much of Wellstone House!" Taking a drink of her chocolate, Mrs. Croft looked over the sweets and chose a walnut meringue with which to indulge herself.
Dropping the paper to his lap, the Admiral thought for a moment. "Nah. Wellstone was much smaller, more in the old style. But there was more property. You know, it is Uppercross which is quite a lot like Wellstone, more so than Kellynch." Taking the proffered plate, he examined the sweets. Finding nothing to tempt him, he handed it back to his wife. "Perhaps that is why I enjoyed our times there so much -- and the company of the Musgroves, of course."
"Of course, the company was most enjoyable. Now why was I under the impression that Kellynch was like Wellstone? Perhaps it was the environs?"
"Will there be anything else, Madam?" Carlisle asked.
The man had stirred the fire and closed the curtains for the night. "No, nothing, Carlisle."
The Admiral replied, "No, home was not so hilly. There is that great string of hills separating Winthrop from Kellynch. Remember last fall, the day we happened to meet Frederick and those from Uppercross returning from a walk to the place? You commented on that particularly steep pile they crossed -- we offered a ride to any of the ladies who wished it. We took Miss Anne, did we not?"
"Yes, we had the pleasure of taking her home. Seeing Frederick's insistence that we drive her, I thought, perhaps we might persuade him to take an interest in her. He was quite insistent that she go home with us." Mrs. Croft searched out the seat cushion she was working. "But it was not long after that he went to Lyme and we both know how that ended," she said as she changed from blue wool to brown. Upon arrival in Somerset, her brother had said, in jest, that he would accept a woman a little inferior to himself, but Mrs. Croft was suspicious that the new Mrs. Wentworth was much too inferior.
"Sophia, your brother is a gentleman and his attentions to Miss Elliot were kindness, and no less than should be expected of a man of his station. She was exhausted, and he saw to her care, but there was nothing more to it. And while she is an agreeable young woman, I think Frederick's choice of Louisa Musgrove is more to his temperament." George turned back to the paper in hopes that she would not pursue the subject of his brother-in-law's marriage. It was just over seven days since the event, and after an initial hard blow, the waters had stayed fairly calm. He wished things to remain so.
While she had resolved herself to having the young woman as a sister-in-law, Sophy chose not to say any more about the subject. "Frederick and Miss Anne aside, these being the facts, why then, did we lease Kellynch?"
The Admiral quickly finished a paragraph concerning newly uncovered corruption in the Markets. "I took your questioning of Shepherd as an intense interest in the property. While we dined later, you said that you were quite impressed and felt that his answers were excellent. That was why I agreed to see it. We both seemed to be of the opinion that, upon a look, if we liked it, we would settle the matter." The Admiral rose and brought the paper to his wife. Pointing to the article, he asked, "Are we invested with them at all?"
Mrs. Croft read off the names of several stock brokerages that had been implicated. "No, none of those, sir. Though we are invested with one of that fellow's brothers," she said, pointing to the last name on the list.
"Humph, might we remedy that?"
"I think not. The brother in the paper is a scrub of the first order, the one handling our money is an old friend of Sir Archibald. We both know how discerning he is when it comes to the Funds. That is why I took his advise. Perhaps you could ask for his opinion next we are together, that would burst his buttons, I dare say."
The Admiral retook his chair. "I trust your judgement, Sophy. And as for Sir Archibald, his buttons are near to bursting now, the man had gained a stone if he's gained an ounce, just since our arrival!" Glancing over the rest of the paper, he said, "No, if you think it safe, we shall stick with whatever his name was."
She took pride in the fact that he felt their money in trustworthy hands, hands that she had chosen. Wanting to continue about the house, she said, "I thought we did like it!"
"Like what? -- oh yes, Kellynch. I knew for a certainty that you liked it. While Shepherd paid court to the Baronet, you talked up the house and the grounds wonderfully. I thought you were completely smitten of the place."
"Not I! You kept pointing out all the lovely architecture and stone work -- I thought it was you who was smitten!"
"If I had been, once we were moved in and settled a bit, the bloom would have been very much off that rose! Had there been something big to complain of, I could have borne it much easier, but it was those nagging, little things that played havoc with my peace. The chimneys whistling when the wind came out of the north and those mirrors! Merciful heavens! And how did you ever get Watkins to leave the umbrellas by the door, and quit stowing them back in the butler's room?" As he spoke, he folded the Gazette and tossed it on the table next to his chair.
Sophy smiled in remembrance. "I simply told her that it was our express wish that they be left by the door, and that since the household was her responsibility, if they were moved again, we would sack her."
The Admiral gave a little hoot as he imagined the confrontation. "Quite to the point. I would have thought that all my grousings about that laundry door would have made you know that I was not so pleased with the place."
"I did think that way for a time, but dear, when Miss Anne visited with Lady Russell, you spared no compliments. You called everything that we had done, 'a few alterations.' You told her that her next letter to the Baronet, she was to say that we had no complaints of the place whatever! Anyone hearing such words would think you very kindly disposed to the old Hall."
"Well sure, what was I to say to the girl, Sophy? The woman is obviously of a tender heart, and I certainly could sympathise with her discomfort that day, the circumstances being similar to what my own had been -- having to watch while strangers move so free and casual about her family home. I could not say what was truly on my mind. ╬Miss Anne, I know this is your childhood home and, undoubtedly, there are fond feelings for the place, but really, it is such an inconvenient, hulking barn of a house, how did the family endure all those years living here?'"
Sophy laughed aloud. "I see your predicament, you could not say anything like that, but still, I was convinced that you were quite happy."
"I was not exactly unhappy, but when we arrived here in Bath it was a delightful surprise to find how plentiful old friends were here -- streets wonderfully full of them. When in Somerset, I did not relish having to accept every invitation, in fear that it would be the only one for a considerable time. Then to find all the same characters would make up the party -- I do not like to think of myself as fastidious, or hard to please, but after a time, the same faces begin to wear upon a person."
Sophia Croft smiled. Her husband's statement amused her greatly. At first glance, his words seemed ludicrous. The Admiral had spent the vast portion of his life aboard ship where the faces were the same day in and day out, for months at a time, with no hope of relief. Yet, as she gave it more thought, she realised that the crews of the higher rates, and fleets which he had commanded in the years past, could easily be double that of the population of Uppercross village and perhaps even Crewkherne. It was gratifying to know that they were of the same mind, for she too had found herself bored with the society of Kellynch. Not so much the quality of it, but the lack of quantity.
"I much prefer the way we have it now," he continued. "We walk and see all those we care to and then, come home and close out the rest if we wish. No, Sophia, I like our lodgings here on Gay Street, they bring to mind our place in North Yarmouth or Deal. Even to the wind blowing through that cupboard."
"We were not so fond of that cupboard when winter came, as I recall. Nevertheless, I have to agree. We want for nothing here, and it is much simpler meeting with friends while we are out. The smallness of the place keeps expectations of entertaining quite low."
Dropping her needlework to her lap, she took on a tone to match her irritation. "Speaking of entertaining, the hints from Gliddy are becoming embarrassing. When we have decided to be at Kellynch, we should issue an invitation. And, I suppose we must invite Captain Grant and his wife also."
The Admiral's face fell, the thought of spending a few hours with an infernal peacock such as George Glidcrest was repulsive to him, but to invite him and Carlton Grant and their wives for an extended visit to Kellynch was more than he cared to imagine. "No matter what our personal feelings about Kellynch, it might be worth giving up the lease just to escape such an obligation."
The two looked at one another for a moment.
"I would not begrudge us the paper or ink to write another letter."
"Still, we are obliged for this next six-month payment. We cannot renege on the lease."
"Certainly not, my dear. However, I could use this letter as an opportunity to let Shepherd know that we do not intend to sign a new lease and, that he should begin searching for another tenant. Six months will be more than ample time for him to cast about and find someone to Sir Walter's liking."
Sophia was not certain that was the case, the Baronet being rather particular. "Perhaps we could even recommend Kellynch to some of our friends. And make certain that Mr Shepherd knows we would be more than willing to give our own testimonial."
Croft chuckled, "Dear, we have just sat and denigrated the place terribly, now how could we expect to write much of a true testimonial? Perhaps we should just leave it at giving a plentiful notice."
"Of course, you are right. Now I do not feel so guilty for all the money and effort that went into the second bedroom." She then had a thought, "We will stay here, on Gay Street, will we not?"
"I cannot see any reason to move. We are quite snug here, and I can't imagine that we would find another place with the very same leaky cupboard as we have here."
Sophy went back to her needlework, "No, I don't imagine that we could Admiral, I don't imagine we could."
Mary Musgrove gave a sigh of sensibility and drew a trembling hand over her eyes. She was lying full-length on one of the sofas in her pretty drawing room at the Cottage, utterly miserable. With all of her heart she wished that her parents-in-law would keep quiet -- or, better yet, go away! For they would talk, and she was not at all comfortable with what was being said!
"Now Mary," Mrs. Musgrove remonstrated. "I know you meant well, but your hysterical outbreak could well have caused a set-back in Charles' recovery. You ought to have kept out of his room."
"But Mama Musgrove!" Mary wailed. "Charles said he was Dying!!"
"Yes, my dear." Mr Musgrove spoke before his wife could reply. "But Charles does have a peculiar sense of humour. You know how he is. Are you certain he was not hoaxing you?"
"He said he was feverish," Mary sniffed. "He said he was dying." Her tears began to flow once again; she dabbed at her eyes with a lace-edged handkerchief. " I am too young to be a widow! He simply cannot die! I won't have it!"
"With careful nursing, he should recover, Mary."
"But what about the rest of us?" Mary turned her red-rimmed eyes on her parents-in-law. "I shall become ill, I just know I shall. I always get the worst of every sickness! And the boys!" Mary's eyes widened in fear as this new thought took hold. "Good G-d, Little Charles and Walter! If they were to be stricken with this disease, as well!"
Mr and Mrs. Musgrove worked to calm their daughter-in-law, but to no avail. She quickly became hysterical. "What if I should lose Little Charles and Walter! What would happen then? My poor little boys! I would be left alone! I would have nothing! Nothing! Horrid, rusticated Harry would inherit! Harry, who is too rustic by half, as it is!
The elder Musgroves exchanged a look of exasperation. At this rate, Mary would surely work herself into a frenzy!
Suddenly, an idea burst upon Mary's overwrought mind; she sat bolt upright. "There is only one thing to be done!" she cried. "We must leave at once! Right away! It is not safe to stay, not a moment longer!"
"Certainly, my dear," Mrs. Musgrove soothed. "You may repair to the Great House, where ..."
"No! No!" Mary shrieked at her. "That is not far enough! We must get Away, I tell you, far away! We must go to Father! We must go to Bath!"
'Tino' Turner's ╬poem' is taken from the pop song What's Love Got To Do With It? (ASCAP) We offer our apologies to its creators, Graham Lyle and Terry Britten ... and to Tina Turner, who performed it! "Tino Turner" is a fictional character of our creation.
Continued in Part 4
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