Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume III
Anne raised her eyes from the pages of Captain Benwick's anthology, her cheeks were warm as she read the beginning stanza of William Blake's The Poison Tree. She had been leafing through the pages to pass the time and the lines had fairly jumped from the page.
I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
╬I told my wrath.' She closed her eyes to shut out the accusing words. But another thought came surging forward, a text which she had memorized long ago:
Be angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath ...
"Let not the sun go down upon your ... wrath." Anne repeated the words under her breath. This was the next step, to apologize to Mr Elliot for her wrathful outburst. With a sigh, she closed the book. She had been very angry with her cousin, but giving vent to blazing fury was probably not what this poem was encouraging! She idly wondered whether Blake would consider Mr Elliot to be her friend ... or her foe?
In her pocket was his note, which he had sent to the house yesterday evening. It was short and to the point: he must see her, in fact, it was imperative that he see her -- privately -- and would she do him the honour of allowing him to call at half-past two the following afternoon? Anne pulled out the paper and unfolded it. She studied her cousin's closing words with narrowed eyes: Your Humble Servant, Wm. Elliot. Anne shook her head at the irony. There was very little that was humble -- or servile -- about William Elliot!
But better judgment soon replaced spite and she took her unruly thoughts in hand. It is not my place to judge him or his motives, she told herself. But I am responsible for my own words and actions. I am without excuse for what I said, and I must tell him so. As difficult as it would be to face him, the apology would soon be over with -- and very soon, as the clock was now striking half-past the hour.
It is not as though this will be anything new, she reminded herself, as she folded his note into a tight square. After all, she had had plenty of practise in soothing the hurt feelings and wounded pride of her father and sisters. Presently she heard the sound of the door knocker. He had come.
Anne wedged the paper square between the pages of the poetry book and held it tightly in her lap, while whispering a prayer for courage. Above all, she must appear calm and composed before him. Nevertheless, her heart was hammering as she heard the drawing room door open and Mr Elliot's name announced.
Her gentle smile of welcome belied the turmoil she felt at seeing him walk into the room. "Good afternoon, Mister Elli ..."
"My dear Cousin Anne! If I may so call you," he said, before Burton had left the room. Mr Elliot came to stand before her chair with a look of frank contrition in his eyes. "You are very good to consent to see me. I was quite overcome to receive your reply to my poor note."
Anne was taken aback by the earnestness of his manner; she took refuge in asking him to be seated. He did so, but rather awkwardly. After clearing his throat several times, he continued speaking.
"I have been reading Faust, as you suggested." He looked directly into her eyes with an expression of great seriousness. "Cousin Anne, am I as bad as all that? Am I truly a Son of Perdition? Is there no hope ..." He looked down at his tightly clasped hands. "I could scarce believe my eyes, to read such things. You must think me a very demon of Hell."
"Mr Elliot." Anne felt a flush mount to her cheeks, but she kept her voice steady. "I spoke unguardedly -- the first words that came into my head -- foolish, hurtful words! Angry words! I do apolo ..."
"Angry? Were you angry with me, Cousin?"
Anne thought it best to be straightforward, and so bravely plunged ahead. "You ... said some things about my friend. You compared your grief to his, when you have openly admitted to having very little yourself. Yes, I was angry. But I did not intend to make a theological ... "
"Do you mean that sailor fellow?" he interrupted. "Oh, my dear Cousin! I did not mean ..." Mr Elliot looked stricken. "What can I say in my defense? I was quite carried away by the moment! To be walking with you, and talking as we were, so happily, I ..." He gave her a shaky smile. "If the truth be known, I suppose I was a little jealous of your, er, friend! For you smiled at me in such a welcoming way, when I came for you at Molland's! And you had never done so before! You ... you were so glad to see me ... and I thought ... that you ..."
He studied Anne's face for a moment and the smile faded. "What I said was quite unpardonable. Nevertheless, I ... Please forgive me, Cousin."
Anne saw an expression in his eyes she could not name. Was it sorrow? Or disappointment? Two conflicting feelings were warring within her now: chagrin and ... pity! Her path was clear: in Christian duty, she must forgive him. But to feel sympathy for him, even just a little, this she did not expect!
"Cousin William! Please ... please say no more," Anne stammered. "The fault was also mine; I had no call to say the things I did." She was now thoroughly ashamed at what she had done, for it was clear she had wounded him deeply. She held up her hand to silence his objections. "I alluded to Faust, in that he knowingly violated his conscience and his better judgment in order to gratify his selfish desires. It was an impertinent reference to your past, which I had no right to make! I must ask you to please forgive me."
Mr Elliot appeared to be much moved. He leaned forward and took Anne's hand between both of his own, and cradled it gently. He was about to speak when the drawing room door opened to admit the butler.
"Miss," Burton intoned, with a look of mild censure at finding her so occupied, and without a female companion. "You have Another Caller. Captain James Benwick. Shall I show him in?"
"Ah ..." Anne quickly removed her hand from Mr Elliot's grasp. "Yes, Burton. And please ... bring our tea as soon as possible. My cousin ... is about to depart." She rose from her chair, much shaken. How to bid him farewell she hardly knew!
But in the midst of her confusion, Anne was surprised to hear her own voice calmly say, "I am sorry, Mr Elliot. You must please excuse me. As you know, I do have another engagement at this time." Somehow she managed to give him a polite smile. "Thank you, sir, for your kind apology. Good afternoon." Her dismissal was inelegant, but she was past caring, so great was her desire to be rid of her cousin!
But William Elliot was not to be repulsed; as Captain Benwick crossed the threshold, he took her hand once again and kissed it tenderly. "You are an angel, dear Cousin. An angel of grace and mercy. Until this evening, then."
"I suppose," was all she could bring herself to say. Burton took in this exchange as he held the door for Captain Benwick; his posture was rigid with disapproval. The steady, measuring look which passed between Benwick and Mr Elliot was not lost on him, either. It was with a great sigh that he closed the door.
Captain Benwick made no move to advance into the room. "Have I come at an inconvenient time, Miss Elliot? I am rather early."
"No! Pray be seated, Captain Benwick," Anne said. "My cousin is a little impulsive, that is all. Er, shall we begin our discussion?" She located the book and busied herself with finding the proper page. Her thoughts were in a whirl; William Elliot was never ╬impulsive'! Why had he kissed her hand in that outrageous way?
As Anne and Captain Benwick sat down to tea together, Elizabeth Elliot was doing the same, as the particular guest of Maude Leighton. Elizabeth had wondered at the invitation, for it had not included Anne or Mrs. Clay. But now that she was seated in the Leighton's elegant salon, she understood perfectly. Her father had been taken off by Mrs. Leighton's husband, on the pretext of examining his collection of tenth-century Chinese artifacts, while she was left alone to face her hostess ... and five of the woman's bosom friends.
These are Mrs. Rushworth's ╬bosom friends' as well, I am sure, Elizabeth thought, as she smiled pleasantly and sipped her tea. There was no doubt in her mind that this was yet another ╬examination,' and she was determined to pass it with flying colours. Mrs. Rushworth had returned to Sotherton with her son, but apparently this did not prevent Mrs. Leighton from acting in her stead.
"Now let me see if I have this right, Miss Elliot." Mrs. Leighton fixed her eyes on Elizabeth in an unnerving stare; she stroked her fat pug dog as she spoke. "You, your father, and sister have left your estate in Somerset to reside here permanently? And when was that?"
"Sometime in August, Mrs. Leighton," Elizabeth answered calmly. "May I have a little more tea," she said to a passing attendant. She handed her cup and saucer to the girl in a single, fluid movement, without the slightest rattle of the china. It was not for nothing that she had practiced doing this, hour after hour, all those years ago. The tiniest flutter would betray nervousness, and Elizabeth knew she must appear to be completely unconcerned at facing this intimidating cross-examination.
"I see. And did you come to Bath for any particular reason, Miss Elliot?"
Elizabeth swallowed her irritation at the impertinence of her hostess. It would not do to become angry; besides, she knew exactly how she would play her part to this group of old ladies. She leaned forward in her seat; an expression of worried concern clouded her amber eyes.
"It was brought on by my father's health, Mrs. Leighton, although he will never admit to such a thing. Men are very private about their health, are they not? But he was exhibiting the oddest symptoms. We did not know what to think."
Elizabeth paused until she was certain she had the undivided attention of all. Old ladies relished hearing about ailments of every kind -- and she had certainly been in the company of enough of them since she had come to Bath.
"It was not a sickness we could name. Indeed, I do not know what it was! He had difficulty breathing, he ... he had periods when he felt weak or faint. And his heart, Mrs. Leighton, his heart!" Elizabeth raised a hand to her breast. "At times, it would pound so! I was, oh, I was terribly frightened for him!"
The women nodded and murmured sympathetically. Elizabeth hid her amusement. She knew that as a well-looking widower, Sir Walter excited much interest among the widows in this group, for she had seen the admiring glances cast his way. She did not mention that her father's ╬frightening' symptoms had only appeared whenever he was forced to face the reality of his dreadful financial situation!
"But now that we are come to Bath," she continued, "he is completely well!" Elizabeth's beautiful smile shone like the sun. "So, I believe we are to stay, and not return to Kellynch at all."
"I, ah, do not have any comment to make." Anne stared down at the printed words on the page and attempted to quiet her agitation. The literary discussion was not proceeding smoothly at all! If only he would not ask so many questions! Anne thought anxiously. Why does he expect me to have an opinion on everything?
Captain Benwick regarded her in silence. He put his book down and leaned forward. "Speak."
Anne gave him a quick, apprehensive look but said nothing. Her composure had been badly shaken by her encounter with William Elliot; it was now painfully clear that she had not regained it, not even after a pleasant beginning over tea. The last thing she wanted to do was to cause another disagreement -- especially with Captain Benwick. But such a misunderstanding was inevitable, for he was so persistent in his ... interrogation! Anne stole another glance at him. To think that I once thought him to be so shy and retiring!
"Speak - your - thought." More silence followed. Captain Benwick took a deep breath. "Miss Elliot, we cannot have a rational, intelligent discussion if you will not share your opinions freely. That is the nature of a ╬debate,' is it not?"
"But I ... I do not think I agree with you and ... ah ..."
"Good! Tell me why not. Make me change my mind." Benwick smiled encouragingly. "Now, I was saying something about how beautiful these verses are. So, I suppose you do not like them. Why?"
"Well, they are a little ... overblown." She gave him a wan little smile.
"Um-hmm," he nodded.
"I mean, they are not very believable."
He waited patiently for more, and then looked back at the page. "I see. These stanzas praise a lovely woman with flowing, poetic grace. Yet, you, who are a lovely woman yourself, do not find them believable."
"Captain Benwick, I am not a lovely woman!"
He raised his eyebrows at that. Anne reddened.
"I am very plain! And if anyone were to say these things to me I would think they were being most untruthful!"
"I see. You would consider these verses a lie, then, if applied to you personally."
"I would. Indeed, Captain Benwick, most women would!"
"Very well. Tell me what sort of poetic compliments one could pay to you."
"Poetic compliments? To me? " Anne smiled in spite of herself. "None whatsoever! Poets do not pen lines in praise of women like me!"
"Oh, I don't know about that!" he grinned back. "I'm fairly widely read; try me!
Anne stared him in disbelief. This was boldness bordering on conceit! "Very well, sir!" Anne lifted her chin and met his gaze directly. If he wanted a debate, she would give him one!
"To begin with, I'm ... I'm too short," she said. "No poems are written about small women; they are all stately, graceful, and elegant."
Benwick raised an eyebrow. "Speaking as one who is also considered rather ╬short,' I can see your point. For a man it is a definite liability. But how so for a woman?"
"Because one is always overlooked!" Anne burst out. "Literally, I mean. People hold conversations above my head! They ... they talk to the top of my bonnet and, unless I constantly look up, I see only their chins or their coat lapels. And ... so often I am spoken to as if I am a child because I am so small. And ..." Anne paused, looking at him speculatively.
"And ..." he smiled. "Go on."
Anne could not help but return the smile. She began to warm to her subject. "And ... taller people always walk with such great strides that I must run just to keep up! And at Assemblies I am forever being bumped into and stepped on ... stop laughing, it isn't funny! In fact, I have quite given up having any sort of punch or coffee at large parties because I am always having it spilled all over mysel ..." They both were laughing now. "Captain Benwick, you are quite abominable to encourage me to go on like this!"
"All right," he relented. "You win this round. I cannot call to mind any poetic praises of, er, the diminutive stature. What else?"
"Well, look here." She pointed back to her book. "These lines about her eyes and hair. Who looks like that? Not I!"
"You may not have ╬flowing, golden tresses' but ..."
"But who writes poetry about my awful hair color?"
Benwick tried very hard not to laugh as he asked, "And what awful color is that?"
"The color of dirty water! The color of some sort of a ... of a rodent!"
He gave a shout of laughter. "A rodent?"
"Yes, a ... a brown one," Anne said, unsteadily. "Like a rat ... or a mouse."
"Hair the color of a rodent," he repeated, amused. "I rather like the one about the dirty water, too. I could save it up and use it on you, in say, forty years. Then I could say your hair looked like ╬dirty, soapy water,' which would include the gray hair" he said ingeniously. " Now, you had a comment about the eyes."
"Yes. Hers are ╬sparkling sapphire pools.' Mine are brown. There are no sparkling brown gemstones that I know of, only ordinary rocks." Anne swallowed a giggle with great effort. "So, any pool ... would have to be a pool of ... mud!"
"Your eyes are not merely brown, Anne, they are very slightly hazel," he corrected. "So, I suppose that means your ╬muddy pools' will have to have some tiny flecks of green slime floating on them ..."
"Slime?" Anne gurgled. "What a thing to sa ..."
The door was opened just then by Burton, to admit a footman with a fresh pot of tea and a plate of sweets. Anne and Captain Benwick hastily swallowed their laughter; each struggled to present a composed countenance. Neither dared to look at the other; he stared at the ceiling; she, at her hands folded tightly in her lap. Once the man left the room, their eyes met and they burst out laughing once more.
"I did hear, Miss Elliot, that your father has found himself in some financial distress." Mrs. Leighton gave her guest the sweetest of smiles as she said this, but over the rim of her teacup, her sharp eyes bored into Elizabeth's. The other conversations in the room dwindled; all wanted to hear more on this subject. An uncomfortable silence filled the salon.
Elizabeth kept her countenance serene, but her mind was racing. Her native shrewdness told her that she could not dodge this crucial observation. To buy time, she took a bite of cake as she considered how best to answer. She did not need to look up to see the expression of triumph on Mrs. Leighton's face; the tone of her voice had revealed that. Clearly, the woman was no fool; but then, neither was Elizabeth, and she was determined to carry the day. Only the truth would serve; the question was, how to tell it?
And then she recollected; Anne had once answered such a question -- with honesty, tact, and particular grace. And with that air of gentle humility which her sister was so good at putting on. In that moment, Elizabeth knew exactly what to do. She would give Anne's answer -- with a few of her own amendments, of course. Elizabeth took up her teacup and raised innocent eyes to her hostess' face.
"You are quite right, Mrs. Leighton," she said softly. "My father is in some small degree of difficulty. It is quite a tragic situation, really." She took a sip of tea and set the cup and saucer on a table at her side.
"Does it not seem to you, Mrs. Leighton," Elizabeth continued, "that we women are often more practical than the gentlemen when it comes to financial affairs? Oh, they are more knowledgeable, certainly, but we are the ones who are the better managers of money?" This from Elizabeth Elliot, who had never a thought toward economisation in her life! And the ladies in that circle, all of them wealthy, who had never economised either, murmured and nodded in complete agreement. Elizabeth could not help but be pleased. She folded her hands demurely, as she had seen Anne do, and launched into her version of Anne's answer.
"So it was with my mother and father. He was, er, knowledgeable ... but she was the practical one. And when she died ... he was lost." Elizabeth looked at the women one by one as she spoke. "And he has been so very lonely. Perhaps you may understand the depths of his despair better than most!" She lowered her eyes and sighed. "And, to be honest, I cannot blame him. Alas, some of his acquisitions and expenditures were not very wise."
When Elizabeth raised her eyes, they were moist. "How true it is that the accumulation of worldly goods can never compensate for the loss of a loved one!" she said, brokenly. "Poor Father! For so he has been attempting to do these past several years!"
Mrs. Leighton wavered a little to hear such words; her next question was phrased much more gently. "I did hear that he has gone so far as to take a tenant at your ancestral estate, Miss Elliot. I must own, I was surprised."
Elizabeth concealed her annoyance and continued with her performance. "Yes, ma'am. You have heard correctly. Our tenant is a very excellent and distinguished gentleman of the Navy, a rear-admiral of the white. It pained my father greatly to leave Kellynch Hall but ..."
Elizabeth lifted eyes of earnest entreaty to the group before her. "May I be honest with you? For I feel that I am among friends here." Her conscience smote her for what she was about to say, but she quickly dismissed it. After all, she would be telling the truth ... after a manner of speaking.
"It was my wish that we leave Kellynch. My father was only growing worse by remaining there, as you know." Elizabeth took up her cup and saucer once again. "I have always enjoyed Bath. My godmother, Lady Russell, owns a home here, perhaps you are acquainted?" She paused long enough to take a sip of tea before continuing.
"Well! Life in Bath agreed with us very well; my father became so robust! And so much happier! I became convinced that to let the estate would enable him to reduce his debt quickly. It seemed a sensible thing to do, since we are never to return permanently."
Elizabeth leaned forward to deliver her final point; she did not want any of her words to be lost on this sympathetic audience. "But it is my hope ... that perhaps here, in Bath ... at long last ... he shall find a loving woman to take as wife. And then he will not be so tragically cast adrift ... and all alone."
"A rich wife, Miss Elliot?" But Mrs. Leighton smiled in quite a friendly way as she said this.
"Well, yes!" Elizabeth admitted. "That would be ... most convenient, of course! In his present situation!" She smiled charmingly. "But I should very much prefer that he find an intelligent woman, of proper family connexions, who has a good heart ... and who knows how to care for a man such as he. That would be the very best. Do you not agree?"
And as every widow in the room considered herself to be just such an one, the remainder of the afternoon was spent in pleasant conversation, with Sir Walter as a prominent topic of discussion.
Anne sniffed as she hunted in her pocket for her handkerchief. "So, have you thought of any poems for dirt-colored hair and muddy eyes, sir?" When she raised her eyes to Captain Benwick's, they were dancing with laughter. "Ah, muddy eyes with a little slime, I should say."
"Not yet." He grinned and handed her one of his own. "But I have another idea. Perhaps we should ask The Dear Tino to write something for us. Who knows, it might turn out to be the best work he's ever done!"
"Is his poetry so very bad, then?" Anne finished with his handkerchief and laid it neatly on the table before her. This time she would make certain that he did not leave it behind.
"It is. You'll discover that to-morrow afternoon. And you must not laugh as the poor fellow reads that doggerel, Miss Anne, or I shall begin, too."
Anne lifted the teapot from the silver tray. "And that would be dreadful." She smiled as she refilled his cup.
"Indeed. Thank you." Captain Benwick reached over and took a piece of candy. As he chewed it, his expression became thoughtful. "Well, this is a challenge," he murmured. "Hair like a rodent. A compliment for eyes not blue. Let me see." He stood up and began to move quietly about the room, following the patterned border of the carpet. All at once he stopped. "Aha!" He grinned at Anne. "Now to see if you have the book."
He began to browse through Sir Walter's rather scanty collection. "Here we are." He took a volume from the shelf and resumed his seat. He opened it at the middle and began thoughtfully scanning the pages. When he found what he was looking for, Benwick marked the place with his finger and fixed his eyes on Anne. He spoke quietly.
"Before I read, perhaps I'd better explain a little, as you may not be familiar with this particular section. These words were written nine hundred and some-odd years before Christ to a lovely young woman who did not have a very high opinion of herself. Her brothers had made her work in the family vineyard and her skin had been darkened by the sun. She hadn't the time or resources, apparently, to beautify herself, as other young women would have done." He leaned forward.
"But the man who wrote these words loved her. He wanted her to be his wife." Benwick looked into Anne's eyes as he spoke. "He wanted to convince her that she was precious to him."
"The man is Solomon," he continued, "and the maiden is known as the Shulamite. He was a king, but because she was of the country, he used images she would understand, images from the countryside, to tell her how he saw her and how he loved her." Captain Benwick began to read.
Behold, thou art fair, my love;
Behold, thou art fair;
Thou hast dove's eyes within thy veil.
Thy hair is like a flock of goats,
Going down from Mount Gilead.
He looked up. "A goat is not exactly a rodent, but many of them are brown. I have been in this part of the world, the Mediterranean, with its blue skies and arid coastlines. Only consider, Miss Anne, how beautiful and flowing a large flock of goats would appear as it wandered down a hillside, say, at sunset. And I believe doves have dark eyes -- although I'll have to check that."
Anne stared at James Benwick in silent admiration. What sort of man is this? How can he possibly have found such a passage?
He continued to turn the pages. "There are some other nice things here, but you must carefully picture the imagery in your mind, or you won't understand them." He pointed to another text. "I'm especially fond of this one, in which the maiden says:
This is my beloved,
And this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither can the floods drown it.
If a man would give for love
All the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised.
Captain Benwick gently closed the Bible and set it on the table. "Rather underrated these days, the scriptures." He smiled at her. "There is your compliment, Miss Elliot. Poetry and truth." He looked as though he would say more, but then thought better of it and kept silent.
Anne understood instantly what he was feeling and her heart was wrung with pity. "What beautiful sentiments," she breathed. "Thank you for sharing them with me. I know it caused you pain to do so."
A startled look crossed his face as she said this, but she understood that, too. "You need not dissemble with me, Captain Benwick," Anne said gently. "I know you were thinking of ... Fanny."
"But I ..." He lowered his gaze to study the book on his lap. "Er ... Fanny."
Neither said anything more for several moments. And because of the silence, the commotion which arose in the entry hall was impossible for either to ignore. Anne assumed it was caused by the return of her father and Elizabeth ... but she was mistaken.
"Occupied?" A familiar voice came from outside the door. "Anne? Oh, but my sister is never too occupied to see me! Show me in at once!"
"Mary?" Anne looked up with a frown. "But how ... She is not in Ba ..."
The drawing room door was opened by the rather harried-looking butler to admit the irrepressible guest.
"Anne!" Mary rushed into the room before Burton could said a word. "Oh Anne!" She clasped her gloved hands to her breast, overcome with emotion. "You would not believe it! I have had the most harrowing time! We have been travelling since daybreak and ..." She caught herself up short, as if aware of her surroundings for the first time.
"Why, bless me!" Mary blinked at her sister's gown. "Do you still have that old thing, Anne? Mmmm." she frowned. "Now, where was I? Oh yes."
Mary took a deep breath and continued her rattling monologue. "Charles is Deathly Ill. He has a Dreadful Sickness which was given him by that odious Captain Wentworth! The Cottage has been Invaded by Alice and Old Sarah! It simply reeks of horrid medicines! The boys and I have been forced to Flee -- running for our very lives, Anne -- from the threat of Infectious Disease! You cannot imagine ... Oh." She started visibly to see Captain Benwick, who had risen in greeting. "What is he doing here?"
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Musgrove. I am ... just leaving," he said, and directed a speaking look at Anne. "No, no, Miss Elliot, I will be very much in the way, I am sure. I am sorry to hear about your husband's illness, Mrs. Musgrove, and the Captain's," he added. "I hope it is not severe."
"Not sev ... My dear sir! I should say so, else why would I be here? Oh, the Captain is fine, by all accounts," Mary sniffed, "but then, he did take a dose of that vile tonic. But Charles! Charles is on his very deathbed!" And Mary launched into such an elaborate description of the trials and inconveniences suffered by the inmates of the Cottage, (and most particularly, by herself), that she did not notice as Benwick made his bow to Anne and quietly left the room.
"Does Father know of your coming, Mary?" Anne asked, at the first available interval. "And would you care for some ..."
"Of course not! But he would not be so heartless as to turn away his own kith and kin, Anne! Bless me! Your retrenchment cannot be so severe as all that!" Mary removed her gloves and made herself comfortable in the chair James Benwick had just vacated.
"My, this is a lovely residence! And I am certain your staff will have no extra trouble at all, for I have brought Jemima with me. In fact, she and the boys are probably downstairs now, having a bite to eat in the kitchen." Mary eyed the remains of the tea. "Which, I must say, would be most welcome, er, not in the kitchen, but here, if you would but ring for it, dear." Her gaze fell upon the dish of candies; she selected one and popped it into her mouth.
Anne took her tongue firmly between her teeth as she pulled the bell. She would not be betrayed into censuring Mary's rudeness, not after the results of her disastrous frankness with Mr Elliot! Besides, she was fairly certain that her father would have plenty to say when he returned. Uninvited guests, especially those who required lodging, were not looked upon with a favorable eye these days. After all, the guest room was still in a shambles, as work on the mural was still in progress.
And I thought that life in Bath would be dull and uneventful, she mused, as she watched her sister rise and take a turn before the mirror. With the arrival of Mary and the boys, life at Camden Place would likely become a veritable circus, instead!
Quotation from: A Poison Tree by William Blake
"It's Martin, sir." A smallish, black-eyed young man poked his head in the open door of the captain's cabin. There not yet being any Marines to stand guard, the boy had had to announce himself.
"Come in, Martin. Come in," Captain Timothy Harville said, as he pushed back one of several unruly stacks of paper that littered the desk.
Midshipman Joseph Martin stood before Captain Harville, mortally afraid. Not so much afraid of Harville himself, but afraid of the reason he had been summoned. The word around the scuttlebutt had it that the crew of forty-seven men -- an impressive crew considering the Captain had only been advertising the Laconia's recommissioning for six days -- was to be broken up as the dear old ship was to be refitted clear to her waterline. If that were the case, any hopes that Martin entertained about advancing, were going to be blown to bits.
Joseph Martin was somewhat a minor miracle in the Naval line. He had first gone to sea in the year '06, as a ship's boy, with Captain Frederick Wentworth on the sloop, Asp. After her sinking in the year '08, the Captain had been given the frigate, Laconia and had done Martin the honour of taking him right along. On that frigate, Martin had become a midshipman and now, after several years, was quite ready to stand for his examination for lieutenant. That had been before September and the cruelness of fortune had thrown he, and all other members of the crew, including their captain, ashore.
Having dodged the press for this many months, Martin's heart had filled to bursting when he had chanced to see a poster bearing together the names, Wentworth and Laconia. When he had arrived onboard to sign himself back into naval indenturedness, he had found no Captain Wentworth, but Captain Harville.
Harville, having only the Laconia's master and boson to assist with those wishing to sign on, had been all business and had asked all the proper questions and seemed to be an all right sort, but Martin had been leery. He of course knew Harville as Wentworth's first on various cruises, but now ...
Further word around the scuttlebutt had told him that Harville was now a full captain in his own right. This news had chilled Martin's vitals. The boy had heard assurances of Captain Wentworth being on the quarter-deck when the Laconia weighed anchor, but he could not help the the sickening feeling that he had been artfully cheated out of his freedom. Freedom he would have willing given to serve under one particular captain, but no other.
The Lieutenant Harville with which Martin had been acquaintented in the past, was an amiable fellow, scrupulously fair and a dedicated seaman, but it was not unknown for a man who came into the power held by a naval captain to make many changes. It was not unknown for a desperate captain to use any number of lies to gather a crew. Not knowing of Harville for many years, Martin was not certain what he should trust -- his knowledge of the old man or his suspicions of the new.
"I came soon as I was called, sir." Martin stood rigid and stared straight ahead. He would give this present Harville no cause to find fault with his manners.
"Yes, you are very prompt. Thank you. You might not remember much of me, our past time together was rather short, but I must tell you, I am impressed, in these few days, you have proven to be all the Captain Wentworth said you had grown into."
"Sir?" The boy allowed his countenance a little brightness at hearing these words.
"When I last saw Wentworth, he said that, if we were truly fortunate, we should be able to
acquire the services of a Midshipman Joseph Martin. And here you are -- so we are fortunate, are we not?" Harville smiled at the boy.
"If you says so, sir." At least Harville seemed to have recent knowledge of Captain Wentworth, though, if he were putting on in order to fill a complement, he would as easily drop the name of Wentworth as he would say he'd had tea with the Regent recently!
"Well, I do say so," said Harville as he rose from behind the desk. Making his way around the desk, he occasionally used it for balance. Sitting on the leading edge of the desk, he crossed his arms and took on a serious air. "Martin, since there are no secrets upon a Man of War, I am sure that the word has already gotten round to the men about the refitting."
"Aye, sir. We's heard a bit about something of that nature -- and that the crew has to be off her by the first watch tonight." If there was bad news for him, it would be coming in the next moment.
"And all of that is true. I don't want to lose the crew that we have and I intend to add to it -- if I am able to find a place to quarter them all. That is why I have asked you to come. The Captain has told me that you are a clever boy, and that you live close to Plymouth and know most of the goings on of the port. Is that true?"
Martin puffed up a bit knowing that his captain -- Captain Wentworth -- held him in such high regard as to speak well of him to a fellow officer. "Yes, sir. I live out in the country a ways, but I know what's what 'round Plymouth."
"Good! Then you shall help me to find a place where I can house forty-seven men, and add to them as time goes on."
"I would be most happy to, sir." With his saying such good words about him, Martin's feelings about Captain Harville were softening markedly. Even if he had shammed them all, and Captain Wentworth never showed up, perhaps he would not be such a bad sort to serve under -- perhaps.
"Now then," the woman spoke over her shoulder, in gusts. She was a little out of breath, for she was walking quickly. The afternoon light was fading and the fog was beginning to roll in. "Two more blocks and just to the right, and we're there!"
"Two?" Elsa Harville struggled to keep up with her companion. She simply could not hurry, there was so much to see, even in the mist! But she forced herself to go on, caught between excitement and apprehension. In a short time she would see the house her husband had chosen for them in Plymouth.
"Come along, dear," Mrs. Wescott called cheerfully, as she waited at next corner. "It is not far, now. Let me see. Doctor Hamilton and his wife live just there," she pointed down a side street, "and Mister Findlay, he's the banker's nephew, don't you know, he lives in that house over there. The one with the red door, although," she squinted, "you cannot see it in all this mist, can you? And here we go, up this little way ... and we'll turn to the right, there ... but I already told you that, didn't I?" she chuckled. "Goodness, my shocking memory!"
Mrs.. Harville's steps slowed as she looked around her in wonder. In this area of Plymouth, every block made a difference, and the neighborhood was becoming more respectable with each step! Their last house in this city had been extremely modest, dingy, even ... but now! Captain Harville was returning to sea and had been promised full pay, which would make quite a difference in what they could afford. Tears came to Elsa's eyes as she spied ruffled curtains at the windows of one house, and a painted half-barrel with early primroses beside the door of another. What sort of house had Timothy rented?
Now Mrs. Wescott was removing a key from her pocket. "We shan't need this, I'm sure, but I'll have it ready, just in case. The workmen are probably here this afternoon, finishing up."
"The ... workmen?"
"Aye. Your husband thought the house needed a thorough cleaning and set some fellows to work straightway, although don't you be telling Mrs. Hyatt that! The walls were due to be painted Friday or Saturday, if I remember aright. The men were glad to get the work, you know, and already the place looks so much better!"
She stepped up to a tall brick house, which seemed enormous to Elsa, after such tiny lodgings in Lyme. "And here we are! My, isn't this nice!" Mrs. Wescott beamed. "The door shines so! I'm not certain whether the paint is wet or not!" She opened the gleaming green door, while Elsa Harville remained rooted to the sidewalk, dumbstruck.
"Oh, Mrs. Wescott ..." she managed at last. Such a house! Two stories high, four shuttered windows facing the street on each level, and an empty flowerbox beneath every window. "It's so ... so like ... home." Elsa covered her mouth with her hands to quiet the sob which rose in her throat. This exceeded everything!
Once inside, Elsa tiptoed from one empty room to another, examining the large front parlour, the generous dining room, the kitchen, and the wide oak staircase which led to the upstairs bedrooms. She was scarcely able to breathe. Surely there must be something wrong! But what was it? For everything about this house was perfectly wonderful!
The furnishings (what she could see of them, for they had been pushed aside and stacked, to facilitate the cleaning), were tasteful and had been well cared-for. Elsa removed her gloves and knelt to inspect a large rolled carpet. The pattern could not be seen, but the nap looked to be in very good condition. Elsa's eyes widened in surprise. If she didn't know any better, she would swear this was a Wilton carpet, an unheard-of luxury for the Harvilles.
Her eyes travelled around the parlour; it was a beautiful room, even when empty. The walls and ceiling were smooth and spotlessly white, the woodwork shone. She felt the surface of the floor with a bemused smile. Her husband had indeed hired men to do the work on this house, seasoned men of the sea, no doubt. For these floors had not been not waxed, they had been freshly varnished, as were the doors and window casings. The window glass sparkled, and ...
"Mrs. Wescott," Elsa called out, her voice strained with emotion. As the woman poked her head in at the parlour door, Elsa got to her feet and gestured to the crisp, snowy curtains at each window. "These beautiful curtains," she whispered. "Did ..."
"Aye, we all had a hand in that, we did!" Mrs. Wescott gave a chuckle of pleasure. "Mrs. Strahm, and Mrs. Joyner, and Mrs. Clement, and Mrs. Boyd, and I. It was a bit of work, but they did turn out well."
Elsa could say nothing, her heart was too full. To have such friends -- and a beautiful home! So many years of thriftiness and scrimping since Timothy's injury -- doing everything possible to guard his pride as the provider, living in the humblest of dwellings, being so careful not to complain overmuch at the myriad of inconveniences -- and now, this! All at once it occurred to her that Mrs. Wescott was still speaking. Elsa clasped her hands tightly together, to quiet their trembling, and did her best to pay attention.
"... and while I'm thinking on it, I do have a list for the dinners ... if I can remember where I put it. " Mrs. Wescott hunted in her pocket and produced a folded paper. "Here we are. Now. Tonight, that's Monday, isn't it, you're to sup with the Ingersolls. You husband told me he would be quite late in joining you there, so you're to go ahead without him. And to-morrow, it will be the Everetts, and Wednesday ..."
"My friend, we are surely able to eat at the inn until ..." Elsa's voice came out as a whisper.
"Oh, my, no!" Mrs. Wescott's eyes twinkled merrily. "We have tussled over this schedule between us more than is properly Christian, I am sure. For we all have missed you sorely and everyone wants to have you at table, in turn, for the next two weeks at least! Now, as I was saying, Wednesday night you're to eat with us ..."
"With ... but the prayer group, Mrs. Wescott, and the work to prepare for all of those people! We would be right underfoot ..."
"Now, you're not to fret. I've got Gert to help, and Mr Wescott's not useless, either, you know. He can move around the chairs and things, like he does each week. All told, it will be easiest to have you here that night. You may put the children to sleep in the upstairs bedroom, and stay as long as you like. I'm sure you'll be wanting the wee one nearby, instead of way off at that inn with Molly." Mrs. Wescott patted Elsa's shoulder kindly. "It will do my heart good to see you there, my dear. It will do all of us good. None of us can find the words to say how glad we are to have you amongst us again."
The tears which threatened all afternoon now spilled onto Elsa Harville's cheeks. "Nor can I, dear Mrs. Wescott," she smiled, "nor can I."
"Sir, if I might not be thought impertinent for saying so, that was a brilliant ploy, telling Mr Budgery that you'd sooner take all those men to your own home, as pay such a shocking price for the lease of his ship. You are a sharp negotiator, sir."
"Yes, well thank you. I wanted him to realise that I was in earnest when I said I would not bow to such obvious blackmail."
"And a fine speech it was, sir," complimented Martin, thinking about the last of the mens'
"You need the Moonshine, Captain Harville. I am quite certain that Captain Wentworth will think you very clever for conceiving of such an inventive plan to save his infant crew. He will not begrudge me the profit and you will be a hero to him. We both will shine in this."
"Shine? Certainly you will shine, Budgery! You will make a pile of money if I agree to these terms. Suits of spun gold will no longer be out of your reach! As for Wentworth, the Captain is well-off because he, like yourself, does not take the bad end of a bargain. If I oblige him to this amount of money, the words 'shine' and 'hero' will not be anything like the words he will use to describe me! I reiterate my offer, ninety-seven pounds now -- that is a pound per head, per month for the forty-seven men. A pound and five for each new man sent aboard -- and with you providing the paint and materials, the Laconias will make as many improvements as our time and talents will allow. This is all I will agree to, and I must have your answer by the first gun this evening. Good day, Mr Budgery."
"Captain Harville -- me, my terms and my Moonshine are your only option, as all other available ships are being used to carry troops to the continent, you are not going to find another solution to your dilemma -- I urge you to agree to my terms -- now."
"Mr Budgery, I would sooner pack up the lot of them and take them home to live with me, than agree to terms such as yours! Again, sir, good day."
With that hasty snipe, Harville and Martin had left Mr Budgery to his extortionate activities. The sound of Martin's voice brought him back to the present.
" ... we would have come out better had we given him a straight hundred for the first two months and then paid by the head as they were added, sir. I know you are counting on using that scow no longer than two months, but if the refit should prove longer, and you are able to add many more to the crew, a pound and five a head, per month will add up to a pile of money."
"Yes I know, Martin. But I had to give him something. He liked that ninety-four pounds he is to receive, but even better was you pointing out that all those men would need occupation, and rather than kicking their heels, destroying his ship, they could be put to work painting, repairing and prettying the Moonshine." Harville had not appreciated the boy's interruption when it had occurred. But after seeing Budgery's cheeks grow pink at the prospect of being paid for the privilege of having his own ship refit, the Captain forgave the transgression and grew to appreciate the mids' abilities to persuade.
"His eyes did sparkle at that notion, didn't they? Though I though it very cheeky that he presume that we would furnish the materials."
"It most certainly was, but cheek has gotten him all that he has. He can't be expected to put it aside just for Crown and Country, now can he? I just hope that he is greedy enough, and that no one has shown any interest in that tub for a long enough time, that he agrees to the terms -- outrageous as they are." While putting forth a confident front to Martin, Harville was actually dreadful of Wentworth's reaction to the amount of money he had been obliged to offer Budgery. Not that it could be helped.
"I hope you do not think me disrespectful, sir, but what are you going to do if we have not heard from him by the first gun?"
Harville grunted. While he had been bluffing with Budgery about taking all those men into his very own home, he was now thinking that it might be something he could actually pull off. As it would cost far too much to keep the crew at an inn, if he left Elsa and the children at the inn -- no, he would need Elsa to cook for the men -- no, Rutland was doing a good enough job -- that would mean that there would be three, perhaps four rooms for the men to sling their hammocks in. If that were not enough, there was the attic, as the lower rooms would be needed to all the cordage and extra timbers they were taking off the ship. (Harville saw no sense in leaving extra stores to be pillaged by the wrights, and then having to begin all over again when they got the Laconia back.) Or perhaps he should ship them in the small garden behind the house, but was it large enough to stow all that? He wondered. After thinking on the material goods, he determined that he would have to sneak the men in by the cover of night -- the neighbours would put up such a fuss if they were to see forty-seven sailors with sea bags -- there should be no problems with the workmen he had hired, the whole place should be cleaned by now -- no one else should be wanting in -- d*mn, all those barrels of water and provisions -- and the wood! The front parlour -- excellent!
"I may have some unanticipated guests for a while, Martin. How would you feel about living on the Hill for a time?"
"The Hill, sir?"
"Aye, let me explain ... "
"This is such an elegant residence, Anne! How exciting it must be for you to live here!" As Mary mounted the staircase, her spirits did likewise. "Uppercross is so dreadfully flat at this time of year. In fact, it grows more dreary by the day, now that Louisa is gone and Henrietta is to be married. I cannot tell you what a refreshing change this is!"
Anne searched her mind for a tactful answer. She could hardly agree with any of her sister's observations. The way she was behaving, it sounded as though she was glad to have left her ailing husband behind!
"Here are the bedchambers, Mary." Anne decided that a safe answer was best. But what to say next? The afternoon was rapidly passing into evening; her father and Elizabeth had not returned. And as Mr Musgrove's travelling carriage was being walked up and down the street below, something would have to be settled, and soon. It was beginning to look as if she would be the one to break the unpleasant news. Her sister's next words did not help matters.
"And in which rooms shall we be staying?" Mary eagerly eyed the hallway lined with doors. "I should like to have my trunks brought up, and then I shall need a little rest before dinner, you know. I am quite exhausted, for I have had the most harrowing time! We have been travelling since daybreak and ... but I already told you all that, didn't I? Bless me! But, once I am recovered, I am certain I shall have a lovely time here in Bath."
"But what about poor Charles," Anne burst out. "Wouldn't you be too worried about him to ... " She turned to face her sister. The way Mary was behaving ... was this to be some sort of holiday? Suddenly Anne did not feel so sorry for her sister's sufferings. Perhaps Charles was not gravely ill after all! If this was so, it would put things in quite a different light! Anne decided to address the matter of accommodations head-on.
"Mary, I must tell you plainly, you shall not be able to stay with us during this visit. Let me show you why." She turned on her heel and led the way down the hall.
"But ... surely you must be mistaken, Anne!" Mary sputtered, as she followed closely behind. "Not able to stay? But we must! Now, just a minute, Anne. I know Father said this house has six bedchambers! There are only four of you; that leaves two to spare!"
"That is true, but there are a few ... complications. Here is one of the ╬spare' rooms, which I doubt you will like." Anne opened a door. "You may see for yourself, it is completely uninhabitable."
And so it was. Mary peered into the dim little room. "It is a very tiny ..." Her words died away as the meaning of Anne's words came home. For from floor to ceiling, the room was stacked with packing cases and trunks, odds-and-ends of furniture, and the like. "But ... it's stuffed full!" Mary said at last. "All of this ... whatever it is ... will need to be cleared away before Jemima and the boys can sleep here tonight!" Mary moistened her lips. "It will not be so bad, as a room for them. Er, what is all of this, anyway?"
"Things from Kellynch which we have nowhere else to store, Mary. Much of it is, er, clothing and the like. And items which Father and Elizabeth do not wish to display in the main rooms any longer. They are very sensitive about not being behind the times, now that we are in town."
"Yes, of course, anyone may understand that!" Mary followed her sister out of the room. "But this room must be emptied! And right away!"
The look of mulish determination on Mary's face was comical. If Anne was not so mortified by her sister's outrageous and unmannerly demand, she would have laughed outright. "And where do you suggest we put these things ... since there is nowhere else to store them?"
"Oh, somewhere! How should I know? What about in one of the servant's rooms? Or in yours? But I do know there are guest quarters, Anne! Father said so."
"Mmmm. But he has been doing some redecoration. I am certain I mentioned it in one of my letters. The room is in a shamb ... Er, come and see." Anne decided to let the situation speak for itself. She led her sister to the proper door.
"Then it should be just right for me, nice and freshly done and ..." For the second time that morning Mary was bereft of speech as she took in the condition of the room. It was spacious and wonderfully bright, but in hopeless disarray. The larger pieces of furniture were stacked together against one wall and were draped with Holland cloth. The smell of paint was very strong. Covering the wall opposite the windows was the mural. It was not quite complete, yet it dominated the room. The quality of the work was undeniable.
Mary threaded her way past the artist's equipment and came to stand in front of it. "Well, I never!" she said at last. "Is this what Father has been up to? It is very grand! But ... what is it supposed to be?"
"It is the Italian countryside, at midsummer," Anne answered, bemused at Mary's sudden change of interest. She had forgotten how much her sister lived in the present moment. "Or at least, it was intended to be Italy, originally. Do you see the olive and cypress trees? There is a Grecian temple on that little rise of land, there," she pointed.
"Yes ... and a puddle of mud, right in front. Why would anyone put that in a painting?"
"Perhaps as a ... compliment to beauty?" Anne murmured. "Muddy pools with a little ... slime?" She swallowed a chuckle. Whatever would Captain Benwick say if he could see this mural? "But seriously, I suppose it is not fair to judge what that spot shall be, as the artist is not yet finished. Er, do be careful, Mary, not to touch anything. The paint is quite wet in places."
Mary pulled her hand away from the wall and hid it from Anne's view; her fingertips were smudged with oily paint. "So I see," she grumbled, and found a rag to wipe them on. "But ... if this is Greece, what is this building, here?"
"That is a ... Chinese pagoda, I believe," Anne replied, with a slight tremour in her voice. "There was some disagreement over what the mural was to portray, after it was begun. Father has some new friends who are quite keen on Chinese antiquities; he could not rest until this was included."
"Oh." Mary took it all in, impressed; her need for accommodations completely forgotten. "But what is this? A stick of chalk?"
"Well ..." It took all of Anne's self-possession to maintain a grave countenance. "Mrs. Clay did mention that she thought an Egyptian theme was in vogue just now, and Father agreed."
"Mrs. Clay! The solicitor's daughter? She is nothing but a hired companion! What has she to say about anything?"
"Father was quite taken with the idea, Mary," Anne sighed, "and you know how he is when something strikes his fancy. It was to be a pyramid, with sand dunes and desert palms. Elizabeth and I convinced him to have an Egyptian obelisk, instead."
"Sand dunes, in Greece! Really! Isn't that just like Mrs. Clay!" Mary shook her head in disgust. "And this? What are these pencil marks to be?"
"Er, that is a bit of whimsy, put in by the artist," Anne explained, a little sheepishly. "As everyone else has had their part in this, he asked me what I would like to see there."
"He asked ... what infernal cheek!"
"So," Anne continued, choosing to overlook her sister's remark, "not thinking he was serious, I thought of something Italian and suggested it ... as this is supposed to be Italy."
"That will be the ... Leaning Tower of Pisa," Anne said, unsteadily, "er, when it is completed."
"Bless me! A tilting tower?" Mary stared at her sister. "At least the Egyptian what-do-you-call-it is standing straight!" She turned back to the wall and shook her head in amazement. "Well! This is quite something! When does the artist return to finish it? For we must have this jumble cleared out of here right away, if we are to use this room tonight!"
"He comes on Thursdays and Fridays. Truly, he has made remarkable progress in a very short time; the mural is due be completed in two or three weeks. Er, Mary, I'm afraid we shall not be able to use this room until then. I am sorry, but that is how it is."
But an idea began to occur to Mary just then; she heard almost nothing of her sister's answer. "I wonder ..." Her eyes began to sparkle. "Anne, do you suppose I could have something put in, as well as you? I mean, Really! How can Father allow a person like Mrs. Clay to take precedence over his own daughter? It is bad enough that she stays here, while the boys and I are forced to stay ..."
Mary turned to face her sister, her eyes wide with sudden comprehension. "Goodness! Where shall we stay? Since you will do nothing for your own sister ... and her poor children?"
"If we had only known of your coming, perhaps something might have been arranged ahead of time ... a room at an inn could have been spoken for," Anne said gently. "I am very sorr..."
"A room at an ... well! That settles it!" Mary interrupted. "Yes! We have no other choice, have we?" She smiled broadly. "And I know the very thing! We shall stay at the White Hart, as we did when last we came with the Musgroves. They had the loveliest set of rooms, Anne, with a view of the entrance to the Pump Room. You cannot imagine all of the interesting people who passed in and out last year! Yes, it shall be quite perfect!"
"A ... set of rooms? Is that not rather expensive?"
"Perhaps, a little," Mary shrugged. "But the boys require space, Anne! I have no choice! And besides, Papa Musgrove has already thought of that. He gave me a whole wad of money when we left, ever so much! Enough for weeks and weeks, I daresay. He said I am not to worry about anything while I am here, and so I shan't!"
"I ... see."
"But about this mural ... and then we must be on our way, to arrange the rooms! I shall speak to Father about it as soon as I can! For I would choose to have something truly magnificent put in, much better than a Grecian temple or a crooked building! Or an Egyptian whatever-it-is. Something English. Something worthy of the noble name of Elliot. Yes." Mary smiled in simple pride. "Winchester Cathedral, right there!"
Anne took her lip between her teeth and bit down, hard. She must not laugh! "That ... that would be ... just the thing, Mary," she managed. It would be just the thing to make ╬Elliot's Folly' the talk of the town!
A light rain began to fall over Bath, as the afternoon deepened into evening. In the mansion atop the Belsom Park Estate, a tall man stood looking out of the dining room windows at the city below. The soft candlelight glanced off of the gold lace on his naval uniform, and gave his russet hair a burnished glow. In his hand was a stack of place cards. A clock began to chime the hour; he came to himself with a start. The dinner guests would soon be arriving; he had best be about the task of arranging the seating.
"Lionel, here, with Gliddy," he murmured, as he set the cards before the gleaming silver chargers on the perfectly laid table. "Townsend, here. And Croft, mmmm, best seat him as far from Glidcrest as possible, eh? Ah! Over there, beside Brigden." This was to be a gentlemen's dinner, as were all he had given since returning to Bath last year. He moved to come around the foot of the table.
But Patrick McGillvary hesitated as he passed by the empty seat. For the barest moment, he wondered what it would be like to have a wife to grace his table once again. His daughter Cleora had lately returned to her aunt's home in Richmond, where she had lived since her mother's death three years ago. Although her visit had been brief, Belsom now seemed empty without her. He quickly shook off the sentimental thought and continued with his task. But the idea persisted.
"A wife, hah!" he grumbled, as he placed the remaining cards. "Of all the idiotic, ill-considered ... and Hell will freeze over, Gliddy, before she is seated at my table!" His eye kindled at the memory of his last dinner at this man's home, where Glidcrest had positively thrust his niece, or whoever she was, at him. "What a simpleton!" McGillvary continued muttering to himself. "The chit was not yet eighteen! A companion for my daughter! Not a fit wife for me!"
He stepped back and surveyed the gorgeously-appointed table; all was in readiness. I would be a fool to marry again, he told himself. Claire had been eighteen when they wed, and how mistaken he had been in her! The Admiral tugged absently at the cuffs of his beautifully tailored coat as he thought. I was not deceived in her character, exactly, but in her lack of spir ... He caught up short; one should not think ill of the dead. For Claire had been everything their daughter was now: pretty, and smiling, and agreeable, and ... timid. Which are admirable qualities in a marriageable young woman, he reminded himself. Which is why I shall never take another wife! For I cannot abide a ... He winced, but the thought came anyway ... a coward.
James Benwick stood beneath the portico overlooking the back garden, and listened to the evening rain. He closed his eyes, savouring the textures of sound made by the patter of the drops on the leaves of the ancient rhododendrons. The garden was wide and deep, with a sweeping lawn and a thick evergreen hedge at the back. Although the trees were bare, spring was on the way, the signs were all around. There were birds chattering this evening. Chauntecleer abutted an extensive estate; just beyond the hedge was a small lake, a haven for waterfowl. James took a puff on his cigar and made another turn about the terrace.
In the gathering dark, he could just make out the white wicket gate which led to Yee's kitchen garden. The thought of the Yees brought a lopsided smile to his lips. After all their work to make his person more agreeable today, he wondered what the final result would be. Probably nothing, he sighed. Anne had been awkward and shy this afternoon, more so than he had ever seen her before. And to think that in Lyme, it was just the opposite! He flicked some ash onto the pavement and scuffed at it with the toe of his shoe. In Lyme, Anne had been the one to begin the acquaintance, she had initiated those first conversations. And yet today ...
Today he was with her ... again. That cousin. James' brow clouded as he thought about the tender scene he had interrupted. If he didn't know any better, he would say his arrival had caused Anne great agitation. But as the afternoon progressed, she grew more like herself, and even seemed to enjoy his company. That was something, at least.
So next time, Benwick, don't arrive early! He sighed and stamped out the cigar. His mind was too full to enjoy the beauties of the evening, and besides, there was work to be done. He reentered the house and made his way to the library.
But unfortunately, even the most exacting task was not enough to drive Anne Elliot from his mind. And the task was a grim one. It was not long before Benwick was glaring at the ledger in disgust; the figures would not tally correctly. Even after he had double-checked the entries, everything was in a hopeless muddle. He set his teeth and began to add the column of figures for the third time. Surely the solicitor could not have made such a bungle of it! But the numbers on the page faded from sight as a voice, his own voice, resounded in his memory.
Your hair is like a flock of goats, going down from Mount Gilead ...
James threw down the pen and clapped his hand over his eyes. "Of all the idiotic, asinine things to say to her!" he muttered. "Could I possibly have said anything more Boeotian! Hair like ... goats! Gah!"
He had kicked himself all the way home, and after, for this cloddish quotation. For it occurred to him then, that when considered individually, goats were ugly, smelled bad, and were covered with flies! I marvel that she did not boot me from the house! he grimaced. No wonder she thought I was speaking of Fanny! The poor girl!
Benwick began to pick at the pen as he wrestled with his thoughts, pulling the vane of the feather apart, then mending it again. This absurd pursuit of Anne was becoming more impossible by the moment, in ways entirely unforeseen. He thought about tomorrow's Poetry Reading at Lady Dalrymple's; it would probably be his undoing!
"That idiot Turner would never be so foolish, to liken a lovely young woman to a goat!" he muttered. "Or that invidious smiling cousin, whoever he is! Humph! And I considered myself to be such an expert in the art of loving a woman. Bah! I am the veriest abecedarian!"
He turned back to the ledger with determination. One way or another, he would drive the thoughts of Anne from his mind. But the dark ink on the page reminded him of her dark eyes, and her eyes reminded him of his remark about the doves, and the goats, and his stupidity, and ...
He continued berating himself silently, until the opening of the library door caused him to look up. Old Mr Yee entered with a tray, accompanied by the delicious aroma of freshly-made coffee. He came up to the desk, settled the tray, and began to pour out a cup. "Would you care for coff-ee, sir." This was not a question, as he knew Benwick's after-dinner habits.
James leant back in the chair and watched as Old Mr Yee added the exact amounts of cream and sugar and placed the cup on the desk. Always awake upon every suit, the man had studied even the smallest of his preferences. "Mrs. Yee sends up a little cake. She no-ticed you did not have any with your dinner." As he set the plate, fork, and napkin on the desk, he added, "At one time this was your partic-u-lar favorite, was it not?" Old Mr Yee finished with the tray and turned to go.
"Thank you, Yee," Benwick replied quietly, and then he laid eyes on the cake. It was a wonderful moist spice cake, Mrs. Yee's specialty, with a delicious burnt-sugar glaze, but ...
"Yee!" he growled. "What is this? There are two pieces here!"
Old Mr Yee was unperturbed. "Yes, Captain. Is there some-thing wrong? You always have two." His face remained impassive. "It save time to bring now. More efficient."
"Oh, is it?"
"But of course. It save you having to ask, and me, having to come up-stairs from kitchen with second piece."
"I would like only one, Yee. Now, take the other back." James took a sip of the perfectly made coffee. "Give it to Jonathan," he murmured, over the rim of the cup. "He likes this cake very well, as I recall."
"Very good, sir. But it was his idea to send to you." Old Mr Yee's eyes began to twinkle. "He has pretty young wife, now. He want to keep his boyish figure. He does not want cake."
"Oh he does, does he? Then you eat it, Yee!"
Old Mr Yee assumed his most dignified posture. "I have pretty young wife, too," He returned the plate to the tray with precision. "Young compared to me. I also want to keep my boyish, er, physique."
"And I would like to get a wife in the first place, thank you," James grumbled, good naturedly. He had forgotten how much he had learned from these bantering exchanges with Yee, in how far one could go when sparring with a superior. He probably owed his friendship with Frederick Wentworth to this man. James found himself biting back a smile as he waited to see what the response would be.
Old Mr Yee did not disappoint. He raised an eyebrow as he took up the tray. "Might I respectfully suggest, Master Yames, that you employ a little dis-cipline and self-control in the matter?"
"I did use self-control, Yee," James complained. "I left that cake on the sideboard, where it belonged!"
"Indeed. So you did. Very good, sir." Yee bowed and left the room. James watched him go, but not without a pang; he did not like to waste that cake. Mrs. Yee was right, it was his very favourite. He turned back to the ledger with a sigh. Now he had two regrets: Anne ... and those uneaten pieces of cake!
But the round with Old Mr Yee was not over. Several minutes later, a soft knock sounded on the library door. In response to his command, it opened. James put down his pen and stared in amazement. Without thinking, he rose to his feet. For there, on the threshold, carrying a covered plate, was one of the loveliest young women he had ever seen.
Benwick had never had an interest in foreign women, especially the sort which were encountered by the men of the Navy. But this graceful Chinese girl, with her beautiful dark eyes and sweet, heart-shaped face ... she was loveliness itself. She could not have been more than fifteen or sixteen, but who was she? Then it dawned on him; this was Gloria Yee, Jonathan's wife. No wonder the man had put himself back into service in order to marry!
"Please, sir," the girl approached the desk shyly. "This cake ... for you." She blushed, and dropped a tiny curtsey. "My father send ... eh ..." She had obviously come to the end of her English vocabulary. "My father send ... for you."
After she left the library, James looked down at the plate on the desk. "Why the devil did Yee see fit to cover this?" he muttered. But a moment later, after he removed the silver dome, he knew ... and he burst into laughter. For there on the plate was his one piece of cake ... one truly enormous piece! As usual, Old Mr Yee had won.
"Take it, Martin. You've been eyeing that last bit of pudding since I started my brandy. Besides, you deserve it for all your expert help in finding Budgery and helping to negotiate such a good deal. To you Martin." Harville raised his glass and toasted the mid.
Blushing furiously, Martin replied, "It was nothing, sir. I think you frightened the gentleman with that last remark about taking the men home -- he weren't certain that you might not just!"
Harville gave Martin a relieved look. "As I told you, I had it all planned out in my mind. Had things not gone differently, you'd even now be slinging a hammock in my attic." Raising his glass again, Harville said, "I give you Mr Budgery and his barely on time, and tersely worded message."
"Mr Budgery," they chorused.
"As soon as we finish here, we shall head back and see how far the move has progressed. I hope that the Murder's Hand is able to deliver the beer before breakfast, the men will need something more satisfying than water, after being up all night."
"Yes, sir," Martin agreed simply, as he finally was able to tuck into the pudding. He had been with Captain Harville for the whole of the day and this last bonus for the men was sweetening the already good opinion he was forming of the man.
As with Captain Wentworth, Martin now knew more than a midshipman's share about Captain Harville. As they had gone about the day, Martin had discovered that Harville had been injured some years before and things had been grim, but with Wentworth's offering him a post, at full pay, he was now able to elevate his family's circumstances by leasing a nice house on the Hill. Martin also knew that Captain Harville was endeavouring to toughen his injured leg by not using his cane so much and that this strained Captain a great deal. He also now knew that Captain Wentworth would be arriving within a fortnight. Captain Harville had turned out not to be a sham at all.
Finishing the pudding and taking the proffered brandy, Martin worked up nerve to ask about Captain Wentworth. "Has the Captain been well during his time ashore, sir?"
The day having been what it was, it was impossible for Harville not to notice Martin's
uncommon loyalty to their captain. And so he took the question not as overreaching, but that of two sailors speaking about a mutual friend.
"Very well. In fact, he has married."
"Married, sir! How wonderful."
"Yes, he has taken the vows and now is one of my kind -- an old married gentlemen." Harville chuckled thinking of Wentworth in that way.
"I had wondered if he might not be leaning that way. He had mentioned that he would be staying for a time in Somerset, and that he had lived there for a time, years ago, and was anxious to see if the landscape had changed a great deal. By his tone, I did not take it that he was speaking of geography, sir."
Harville knew Wentworth had been in Somerset years ago. It was just after being made a
commander for the San Domingo action and before getting the Asp. But he had never spoken about any 'geography' in that district that had interested him. Though Harville always had the feeling that there was a woman, somewhere, that had touched his friend's heart.
"The lady is indeed from Somerset, but he never spoke of a previous acquaintance with her. And she is rather young, she'd only have been a child when he was in Somerset before. Anywise, he is now of the Familial Fraternity."
"I shall make it a point to wish him joy, when next I see him."
"Aye, you do that, Martin, for this being his first cruise after his marriage, it promises to be a rather difficult one, I assure you." Harville finished his brandy, paid the landlord and they pushed on to the Laconia.
Continued in Part 6
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