Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume III
Chapter 8, Part 1
On a typical Monday morning at the Rectory, the laundry was collected and that which needed mending, was mended. They sent that which needed the attention of the laundress out for that special attention. Mrs. Graham and Mrs. Wentworth did all the rest. While this was a situation that suited Catherine, Mrs. Graham had never liked it much, and she especially disliked it this morning.
"Mrs. Wentworth, please give that basket to me. I saw you clutchin' yourself yesterday. I know you been havin' hitches, which made me happy to go for Callow, but in the meanwhile, you have no business cartin' the washin' about. Here." Mrs. Graham plucked the basket from Catherine's hands and left her standing alone in the kitchen.
Looking after Graham and the basket, Catherine thought about the woman's awkward expression. Had she not known the woman for most of her life, she might have taken it into her mind to feel insulted, but knowing the old housekeeper as she did, there was no offense to take.
Thinking how well she felt, Catherine attributed the ╬hitches' of the previous day to the loosening of her over tightened nerves. Their company dinner had come off as well, and now she had nothing to be concerned over. She felt it to be a good thing that the midwife was not available until the following afternoon. Mrs. Callow would have scolded her for being such a goose and calling her in for no good reason. The midwife might still call her a goose, Catherine would still have her to come, Edward had agreed and this opportunity was not to be lost.
Enough maundering about such things, Monday is the day for work, she scolded herself. "Mrs. Graham, have you seen Mrs. Wentworth. Since I breakfasted early, I missed them both," she called, as she went into the housekeeper.
"No, Ma'am, I've not seen her. She didn't come down as far as I am aware. The Captain took up a plate to her -- and an unholy amount he piled on, if I might be so bold. I couldn't tell whether she'd eaten any or not. There was so much left on the plate."
"I see. Well, men are never very good at judging things like a woman's appetites. I shall go up and see if they have anything to be washed. Surely he will need things taken care of before he departs Thursday ... "
"And what was I sayin' about you haulin' things about? Your ma will have my eyes if anything were to happen to you -- or that babe."
Catherine tsked, "For shame, Mrs. Graham, my mother will have no one's eyes, least of all yours! I shall be very careful -- they are not all that large a people -- their clothes cannot weigh overly much." She smiled to Graham as she started up the back steps.
"That girl has never known her place, never in all her life," Mrs. Graham muttered to the laundry basket as she began to pick through the clothes.
"Louisa?" Catherine called hesitantly, as she knocked upon the chamber door. "I've come to gather the washing ... have you anything needing the laundress? It will be back Wednesday ... oh! I am sorry ... I had hoped that you'd gone out for some air with the Captain."
Louisa sat on the bed, only looking up when Catherine entered the room. She tried as best she could to right her countenance, for she had been deep in thought, not giving much attention to what passed in the house. "What did you say, Mrs. Wentworth? I was thinking ... ."
Catherine saw that the curtains had yet to be opened. As she made her way over to the window, she took stock of the young woman. Looking her over, Mrs. Wentworth feared Louisa ill again for her complexion was pale and she was obviously tired. She had been very well the evening before, but perhaps the dinner had been too strenuous for her, causing her headache to return. Catherine asked as much.
"No ... no I have no headache. I just don't feel very well ... I ... I am not certain why." She hated lying to Mrs. Wentworth, but how could she tell this woman of her worst mortification?
"Well, I think you should come downstairs. I shall give you a preparation that Mrs. Junkins gave me ... she claims it to be a wonderful curative ... she said that all the plants are available here and so will help me concoct my own, come spring." Not wishing to pry further, Catherine stood, hands together and asked again after laundry.
Louisa thought about the sheets ... perhaps she could shade the truth and give them to her without explanation. "Now that you mention ... I did have to remove the sheets ... we ... I ... I ... ." As she spoke, she retrieved them from behind the screen. Carrying them to Catherine, she tried to keep the stain in the middle of the bundle along with the nightclothes.
Seeing the look on the girl's face, she knew immediately what had happened. "Ah! An accident. Not to worry, I will do these here, no need to send them out ... ." Taking the sheets, and patting Louisa on the arm, she said, "It happens to us all, sometimes these things catch us by surprise and this is the result. It is nothing to bother yourself with, really." As she turned, she caught her foot on the bedstead. To right herself, Catherine let go the bundle and reached for the door frame. "Lor, how clumsy I have become!" she muttered.
Before she could reach for the sheets, Louisa jumped to them and began to gather them up. Catherine could not help but notice Louisa's lovely pink silk was amongst the sheets. She supposed that was to be expected. Though it was puzzling for the Captain's clothing to be included.
The two women stood, neither knowing what they could say. The young woman's face having flushed furiously, was now paling as Catherine took the linens from her.
Catherine finally broke the silence. "I shall bring you more sheets and if you will help me, we will get the bed fitted up for sleeping again." She quickly moved to the door, thinking that Louisa wished to be alone.
"Yes ... I should be happy to help with the bed. Um, Mrs. Wentworth?" The words left her mouth before she knew it.
"May I ask you something?
Catherine stopped. "Certainly, Louisa."
"Is ... is it always so ... so awful?" she asked, indicating the sheets.
Looking from the sheets to Louisa, Catherine was relieved when she heard her husband's voice.
"Catherine! Catherine ... where are you, girl?"
"I shall be right back," she whispered to Louisa. "I am here," she called, rising from the bed. "What do you need, dear?" she said, through the slightly open door.
"What is wrong?" he whispered. The Rector could see a look of concern on Catherine's face. It was bothersome to him that she was, again, so soon closeted away with the younger Mrs. Wentworth. He fleetingly wondered if it concerned the baby. Dismissing this, he wondered if Louisa's staying with them might be more than Catherine had strength to bear.
"Everything is fine ... where is your brother?"
"He is downstairs ... we were just going over to Abernathy's ... Frederick has something to discuss with him ... is she ill again, do we need to fetch the Doctor here?"
"No ... she is fine. The two of you will be gone for a time then?"
"Yes ... two ... perhaps three hours. We will be back in time for dinner. Are you sure this is not something Frederick should see to? I do not wish you to take on more than is your place."
"No ... this is precisely my place. She needs a woman just now ... not him. Don't mention this ... there is no need to cause him any concern." Giving Edward a quick kiss, she smiled. Given their recent determination on these matters, it was odd that she, of all people, should be conversing about this subject with Louisa. "I will miss you, and we are having a roly-poly for dessert ... don't be late."
"A rolled pudding? ... on a Monday? Have you found treasure in the garden and not told me?"
"No, just a whim. Besides, everything else will be left over from yesterday. I felt the need to compensate you."
"I see ... I think such a magnificent sweet to be more than adequate recompense. Be careful," he said, nodding toward the room, "Do not do more than you should ... and send for that Callow woman ... please."
"I shall be very good ... and I have sent for her, she cannot come until tomorrow. Now take your brother to Abernathy's." She bussed him hurriedly on his cheek, rushing him down to the Captain. Then, satisfied he had gone, she closed the door and returned to Louisa. "They are off to Dr Abernathy's. They shall be gone a good long time." Bending to fetch the sheets, she straightened and said, "You ask a difficult question, my dear. I will answer it, but instead of sitting here, wringing our hands, we shall go down and wash these out. Come along."
The older woman headed out the door and Louisa quickly rose, gave her eyes a quick wipe and followed.
"Mrs. Graham wishes me to do a little less today, so," she tossed the sheets into one of the buck-baskets, to be boiled clean. "That being the case, we will mend. Oh, mustn't allow this in there!" she exclaimed, pulling out the silken gown. "We shall set this to soak."
It took some waiting, but the girl arrived to help Mrs. Graham with the laundry and that being started, Catherine took Louisa into the sitting room with the mending.
"I am not at all good with a needle. You could see that last night."
"I saw. We shall remedy that by practice. You said that your sister plays many musical instruments, so you understand the value of practice."
"Yes, though there is much to be said for natural talent. I have none for music and I think I have none for needlework either."
"That is quite all right, Louisa." Catherine took up a pair of the Rector's stockings. "Just as no one is born playing an instrument, no one is born being proficient with a needle." Looking at Louisa, she said, "I suppose there is really nothing that does not take a certain amount of patience to master. Patience is the only solution." She turned her attention back to the stocking.
Buttoning the top button of his great coat, Frederick settled back into the seat of the gig. Other than a fleeting thought that the cart needed new springs, he paid no attention to anything in particular. Not to the passing scenery or his brother's occasional comment. All he chose to do was remember the previous night.
A single candle, along with the fire and the fading moon had provided the only light in the room at that late hour. He had poked and prodded the wood in the hearth, it had caught right off, but now, he was merely keeping himself busy. The sounds from behind the screen had been impossible not to hear. There had been Louisa's sharp intake of breath as she had removed her nightdress and begun to wash in the cold of the room; the fire had not yet warmed the air. He heard the water as it fell back into the basin when she wrung the cloth. He was not certain, but he fancied that he could hear the cloth glide over her skin as she washed. No, that could not be real. It was only his own guilt causing him to hear things. She would not be so anxious to wash -- to wash away all traces of him -- had he not caused her to cry out as she had.
Daring a look, he had watched. Her head and shoulders were visible, though disappearing as she bent. As her head passed out of sight and into a clean nightdress, he thought how cruel it was that this act, trumpeted from all quarters as one of love, could be so pleasurable to him and yet so painful to her. The difference between men and women being so great in this, he wondered, apart from violence, how did the human race manage to carry on?
Without looking in his direction, she had slipped from behind the screen and quickly gone to the bed. As she raised the blankets to get in, he cleared his throat and reminded her, "We should strip the sheets ... don't you think?"
The sound of his voice made her start. Glancing quickly his way, and then looking at the bed, she said, "I suppose I should. I ... had not thought ... ." Her words trailed away, there was nothing more she could think to say. Tugging weakly at the blankets, she began the task.
"Let me help you, " he said quietly, as he had moved to her side.
Just standing by her, he felt her stiffen. His very presence seemed to cause her pain. Taking the blankets, he laid them aside and took the sheets out of her hands. "I am sorry," was all she said as they worked.
"We shall have to make due with the blankets ... I have no idea where the linens might be kept ... that will be all right, will it not?"
"Yes ... that shall be all right. I am sorry."
Halting his work, he said more harshly than meant, "Please, stop saying that. There is nothing to be sorry for. It is nature ... and you cannot help nature. Neither can I." He continued to put the bed in order.
Their movements and exertions while accomplishing the chore of stripping the bed seemed more elaborate than they really were. The whole of it possessed a dreamlike quality. Not really a dream, more like a nightmare. One of those horrid phantasms that progress sweetly and gently, until comes a moment so wonderful, your dream-self is lost in the amazement of it all, and suddenly, that joyful landscape disappears in fear and panic. Everything considered beautiful and comforting, takes on dangerous proportions and there is no place safe enough to hide from the evil that seems to surround. The beginning of the evening had been beautiful and comforting, and just as in a nightmare, there had come a second when it all had turned so horribly bad.
All he desired was to forget the unpleasantness which had passed between them. He wished nothing more than to take her in his arms and beg her forgiveness. His rational mind knew there was nothing to forgive. The way of a man with a woman was always fraught with pain. Unfortunately, a woman's first time was only pain, from all he had ever heard. He could not help but think of the coarse and ignorant jesting, along with generous bouts of laughter at countless late night conversations, at countless tables, over countless miles of the sea. As a young officer, he had taken little part in any of it, not out of gallantry, but out of a fear that his own inexperience might be found out. No, he had not taken part, but he had listened intently enough.
Those conversations were years and miles away. He could have forgone every last one of them, for all the wisdom they had imparted. The truth was, only a cruel and thoughtless man could take much pleasure in the suffering he had caused Louisa. While he was not such a man, cruel and thoughtless he felt.
The evening had begun gently and lovingly. It had pleased him that as his passion had mounted, she had met it with an equal amount of her own. He had not discerned any change until her desperate whisper had made him know that anything was wrong.
If he were more skilled with words, he could possibly have brought some comfort to her -- and himself. But then, there were really no words that one could say in such a circumstance, he would have to stumble blindly through this, as he had stumbled through most of this marriage, thus far.
He had tossed the sheets behind the dressing screen as she replaced the blankets and coverlet. She quickly slid beneath them and pulled them to her neck. In all the preparations for bed, she had grown terribly cold and now lay shivering.
He had changed quickly, and joined her in the bed. They had lay silent and still for a few moments when he decided to take his own course. Without saying anything, he enfolded her in his arms. She had said nothing, but had tried desperately to pull away. He would not release her. Finally, she lay in his arms, rigid and silent. Frederick was afraid that now, was he to let go, she might spring from the bed. He knew that he revolted her, she had said as much with her pleas for him to stop. It had all happened together, his pleasure, her pleading -- it all blended to make a nightmarish hodgepodge of touch and sound and emotion. It had ...
"Frederick! Did you hear me?" Edward asked.
Frederick looked at his brother with a blank stare. "No ... no, I did not, what were you saying?"
"I was saying that if you and Abernathy cannot work out terms for the mare, then we could go by the Tedlow's. He does not have horses, but his brother does, he can tell us if his brother's got anything worth going to have a look at." Glancing at his brother, Edward saw that he had gone back to thinking. "Have you said anything to your wife about staying longer?"
"What?" Frederick's reply had been brusque and impatient. "Sorry ... I seem to be distracted. What did you ask?"
Edward looked off down the lane and asked again. "Have you said anything to your wife about you staying until Friday?" Waiting for Frederick to answer, he mused on how they were so different. He too was distracted, but rather than mire himself in thoughts about Catherine and the baby, he intruded upon his brother and tried desperately to kick up a conversation.
"No, not yet. I did not wish to get her hopes up. But now, thinking on it, perhaps I should just go Thursday as planned." On saying it, he sank back against the seat and heaved a sigh. After the previous night, he was certain that his staying an extra day would not be welcomed as good news.
Assuming a perfect understanding of his brother, the Rector decided to draw him out. Leaning close and giving him a sharp nudge, Edward said in a low voice, "I know what you must be thinking about."
Startled, the nudge and the comment threw Frederick into a agitation. "What? ... what did you hear?" he cried. Frantically, he wondered if his brother had perhaps heard Louisa ... He was not certain as to how loudly or how long she had protested before he had taken notice.
Edward ignored his brother's odd answer. "It is not hard to know ... you are always thinking this close to leaving. What might it be today? The sight of Plymouth sinking as you head off to the Indies? The sound of beating to quarters, perhaps? It is always the same with you -- getting back to the sea."
The Captain stared off and thought about what Edward had said. It was close to his leaving, but there was nothing of the usual anticipation to be off. He had not given much thought to any of the things that Edward had spoken about. His thoughts were being continually pulled back to her. Even now he could smell her just after she had washed, just the scent of the soap ... and her.
"I am right, aren't I? You just will not admit that your old, fusty brother is right!"
Frederick glanced and gave a thin smile, "Yea ... you are quite right. It is always about getting back to the sea ... isn't it?" He could hear his brother's voice in the background of his thoughts. He tried to attend, but focusing his thoughts on what was said was impossible for him. All he could manage, was relive the night before.
" ... always thought it an interesting comparison." Edward concluded.
Again, Frederick had to ask for him to repeat himself. "I was saying, the way that men are about the sea. It is no wonder that she is oft times compared to a mistress. An interesting comparison ... don't you think?"
The gig jostled on as Frederick gave it some thought. He reached down and knocked a clump of mud from his boot. He almost said he thought it an apt analogy, but then he realised that everything was wrong with it, at least for a man of his rank.
No, the sea is not my mistress. If there is a wanton here, it is I. It is she who gives me everything I require. I have always been alive in her presence, and it is I who have sold myself to be with her. My faithful procuress, the Admiralty, sees that I am elegantly fitted up and reasonably accommodated; fed and entertained. In exchange, all I must do is make myself available whenever I am called and for whatever purpose I am desired.
He relentlessly continued with the fascinatingly unorthodox thought -- just a little change of the sexes; the wondrously appalling thought -- though he did not like imagining that he would allow himself used so. Then he could not help reminding himself how so often men used women ... often hurt them in that use ...
He finally said, "Yes, I suppose there are some similarities. Very general things." Taking a change in tack, he continued, "But, is the best part of me only alive on the quarterdeck? Lately, I find there are so many other things that press upon my mind ... things before which have never had a place. The sea and my return to her ... I realise that I am not anticipating it as I once would have."
Edward glanced over to him and then quickly looked ahead. He did not care for the latter of his brother's statements. In all the years Frederick had been at sea, Edward had never seen him ambivalent about returning. Dreadful of a bad posting at times, but always anxious to be off. The Rector touched the whip to Standish's flank more for something to do rather than a need for speed. He realised that he had misread his brother. What he had taken for distraction born of anticipation, was really another matter all together. Something deeper, more vital than just returning to his career. But he could not ask. He was afraid that it concerned Frederick's heart and marriage, and he felt he had wormed his way into that further than was becoming.
With the mending done, the bed upstairs fitted up with clean sheets, and the first of the washing finished, Catherine had shooed Mrs. Graham off by sending her to do errands. The errands were conjured, but Mrs. Wentworth felt the need to be busy at more than sewing. Daring her body to behave, she and Louisa were in the process of hanging the sheets to dry.
"My dear young friend, never mistake the notion, the union between a man and a woman is not just for this thing or that thing ... it does many things at once. Neither of you is merely gratifying a physical hunger ... you are knitting your souls together ... the vows talk about being one, that is one flesh and one soul ... you are neither of you your own anymore ... you belong to each other." She felt safe in talking about the vows and the purpose of marriage. Those were simple and nothing revealling about herself, or her recently challenged beliefs about husbands.
Finishing with the last sheet, Catherine exclaimed, "I must sit! I am exhausted and need some refreshment." A cold knot appeared in her stomach when she recalled the pains from the day before, and how hanging sheets was not something she should be about. She vowed to be more circumspect in her activities until Mrs. Callow would come the next day to give her a look. Comforting herself with the idea that a woman with child had odd aches and pains all the time, she also reasoned that the morning's activities with Louisa had been too important, and had kept them both from lowering thoughts.
As they came into the house, Louisa helped Catherine with her pelisse and said, "I can get the tea, Mrs. Wentworth. You sit, and I shall make things ready." The girl had not spent any time in the kitchen of the Rectory and knew where nothing resided, but with Catherine seated at the table directing from the fire to the cupboard, to the shelf over there, a spill of water and dropping several spoons that would need washing again, they soon laid the tray and they made their way to the study.
After the ladies were seated and the tea poured, she suddenly looked at Louisa. Something had been preying on Catherine's mind since discovering the girl earlier, and now she knew precisely what that thing was.
"Louisa, I have not said as much as I might were this a week ago, or even yesterday morning. I have always had my opinions on this matter. In my home, these sorts of things were never hidden from me and within reason, I was given the freedom to try to understand the relationship between men and women. I thought I did."
Putting down her cup, Catherine took a seat on the sofa next to Louisa."It has been brought to my attention that I am not always right when it comes to my opinions, and especially not when it comes to this ... subject ... in particular." Taking her hands, she continued, "I have been silent in giving you any sort of advice for fear of telling you the wrong thing, because, as I say, I have come to find out that I have been very wrong in what I believed."
Catherine was struck with the irony of the day. Here she was, trying as best she could, within propriety, to help her sister-in-law to overcome her hurt and fear, that she and the Captain might come to know one another more fully. While she had discovered her husband's true nature just in time to give it up. Though she and the Rector were only putting intimacy aside for a little while, she lamented not having understood his heart sooner.
In a sudden burst of comprehension, Catherine quickly said, "No matter what, do not be afraid of the pleasure. Do not fear the passion you see in him -- or in yourself, for that matter. He is your husband and this is how it is to be. Sometimes I think we disdain the knowledge that these homely frames we all possess, can impassion our mate, but it must be this way if the joy of your marriage is to last. It is vital, Louisa. Do not be afraid of him, or his desire for you." Catherine sat back a moment, astonished that she now understood her mind concerning the matter.
Louisa had not understood much of what Catherine had told her, but this last she understood clearly. She could not allow fear to drive her from the warmth, and desire for her husband's touch. But fear was a powerful force, one that set armies of grown men to flight, and she was only a young woman -- alone.
After fetching Mrs. Wentworth's tea, the two sat quietly on the sofa, thinking their own thoughts. Louisa thought about repairing the breach between her and the Captain. Catherine sat marvelling that she had not seen more clearly how blessed she was to have the Rector for her husband.
"Giving all that tack with her was capital of Abernathy," the Rector said as the Doctor waved them off. "I think he wishes to be counted among your friends."
Frederick looked back at the fine mare and gave a glance to the good wool blanket, saddle, and two bridles that had been thrown into the bargain. The Doctor was indeed generous, nearly to a fault. The Captain could not help feeling guilty seeing the physical evidence of the man's affection towards him. If Abernathy only knew how Frederick had spoken about him the previous afternoon. "Yes, he is quite a fellow."
"So, what did you think of his ideas about New Holland."
At this, the Captain grimaced, looked squarely at his brother and replied, "The man is a ghoul, or a fiend -- whichever is worse! ╬The price of bodies available for dissection is going far too high, but New Holland would afford me opportunities that England is regulating out of existence.' What kind of man thinks like that?" Frederick had tried, but had not been successful in keeping the disgust from his voice.
"A man who needs bodies for dissection, evidently." Edward said, coolly. "We may find it loathsome, but I have read several very convincing arguments about how doctors learn quite a lot from the dead and that allowing certain ones -- with proper licenses -- to broker in that repulsive commodity would solve several difficulties. While I have my objections on a theological basis, I have difficulty refuting their medical views."
"Ah, what is there to learn from one that is dead that you cannot learn from the living?"
Both having listened to several of Abernathy's examples of the aid dissection lent a medical man, Edward glanced his brother's way, "So my boy, would you care to volunteer yourself to bear some of those diseases he told us of?"
"Well, perhaps what they are saying is true, but still, all that talk about rotting sicknesses, and how putrid the body can become because of the heat -- gad, my stomach has not felt so delicate since I was fourteen, caught in a seven-day blow without a letup!"
Edward laughed at all this high blown pontification coming from a man who made his fortune from one of the most dehumanising, and at times, bloodiest businesses known. "All I can say is that I admire his dedication." He turned to face his brother. "I have never known a doctor so driven to understand the ╬Fleshly Machine' as he calls it, but is not cold and distant to those inhabiting those machines. Most men are one or the other, not both."
"True, no matter what, I got a good horse for a good price. I now can give Louisa another day."
"I think, it is perhaps you who wishes another day."
"I think, you, perhaps, are correct. As I said, I am not as anxious as I once was to go back. She has changed my mind."
"I have never been so glad to be wrong in all my life." He glanced his brother's way. "Remember that day I chastised you for even considering marrying her? Telling you how Anne Elliot would haunt you ... never happy ... coming to hate your wife. I feared for you, truly, but now I see there was no need."
"It has not been half the struggle you made it. She is a sweet girl, after I had made up my mind, all it took was seeing her as she is."
"Yea, but you could have stopped yourself, you could have left her to languish in Somerset, but you are seeing to her, that speaks a great deal."
"I did have my plans, but I have seen too much of her to want anything less than her best. I wish I had felt that way from the start. I might not have ... "
"Might not have what?"
"If I had truly wanted her best, I might not have married her. I would have done as you advised ... taken myself to Musgrove, meek as a lamb, and convinced him that marriage to me would not be in her best interest. Nevertheless, now, I have feelings for her, and I cannot find it in me to regret them. It is still all a jumble."
"Do not think too much about it. There is nothing to be done now, and never regret loving her. I think, in time, she will be quite your equal."
"I think so too."
"Thank you, Mrs. Wentworth, thank you for your help." she called.
Closing the door behind Catherine, Louisa went to the fire and put in more wood. She poked and arranged and waited for it to catch. She wanted the room as warm as she could make it. Then, she lit two candles and placed them on either side of the bed. Just enough light, not too much. Pulling the pins from her hair, she went back to the dresser and began to brush it out. There would be no braid tonight, as he had shown a marked preference for it down. Looking in the mirror, she was pleased with the way it shone in the firelight. Opening the jar of lotion, she rubbed it into her hands and neck and shoulders. He liked it -- on her. One last thing. She took out his nightshirt and hung it on the dressing screen, facing the hearth. It would warm with the high fire and be ready for him when he came to bed.
Taking one last look around the room, she felt satisfied that she had prepared it perfectly. Taking a deep breath, she made her way to the bed. Standing at the foot, she looked at it. Such a simple piece of furniture, and yet it represented so much. Just then, the clock pinged the hour. Surely they will be finished with supper by now, and who knows when he will excuse himself to come to bed, she thought. Louisa knew she would have to be prepared, no matter how soon or how late. With that, she pulled off her nightdress, tossed it, and dashed for the covering of the bedclothes.
As she lay there, it felt terribly odd, being under the blankets without a nightdress. Even on the hottest of summer nights, Louisa had never lain bare between the sheets of her bed. But this was not a summer night at Uppercross, it was early March in Shropshire. Even with the fire, it was much colder than she liked. This caused her to muse that were she ever to do such a thing again which was quite unlikely it would certainly not be in the cold of late winter.
Hoping to ward off the chill, she clutched the blankets more tightly to her. Pulling up her knees, she curled a bit, hoping to find some warmth. She attempted to bolster her sagging courage by recounting her plan and speculating what it might be like when the Captain came to bed.
From the time of the Captain's return from Abernathy's, and his announcement that he would stay for another day, there had been a celebratory air about the Rectory. Catherine had proclaimed that she now knew why she had indulged in the luxury of a rolled pudding on an ordinary washday Monday.
The gentlemen had missed dinner and so the pudding had been eaten at tea. The Rector had praised not only the pudding, but the inventor of pudding and the lovely hands that had prepared this particular one. Catherine had chosen not to tell him that Mrs. Graham was more the sculptor of said sweet, while his wife had been the architect thereof.
Between Louisa and Frederick, as with the evening before, there had been hurried glances and bewildering gazes, though neither had abandoned them in favour of smiles and nods. She had been afraid to allow any opportunities for them to be alone. So, when the Captain had revealled that he would be staying another day, until late in the afternoon on Friday, Louisa had had no idea what it all meant. She had been so surprised by his announcement, that her plate with the pudding, and her fork had gone to the floor. All had watched as the roly-poly had rolled across the floor and stopped just short of the toe of the Rector's boot.
In a wild effort to mop herself, Louisa had given her husband a puzzling look and had fled to the safety of the kitchen. The rest of the day, through supper and until excusing herself early, she had stayed close to Catherine.
All day, she harried herself with images of him, raking her with his disapproval. In her imagination, he would make it clear that he had no taste for such juvenile tricks as she had displayed the night before trying to spring away from him and remaining silent when he spoke to her. It was a cruel day, one that she could only hope would have a good outcome.
Louisa had thought about her previous day's conversation with Catherine. There had been so much said, so much that she should do. There was so much she feared from him. The Captain had seemed so angry. She decided she must to do something so bold as to make him put aside that anger. Hence, her decision to present herself so willing to please him. She had hopes, that in his shock of seeing her in a state of undress, natural desire would overcome his offended sensibilities and she would be given an opportunity to mend things. Not precisely knowing his mind, whether he was angry with her or revolted by the night before, it seemed that she had every contingency planned for.
As she had sat in the study, by the warm fire, in the light of day, her plan had seemed daring, but quite reasonable and very sound considering what was at stake. However, as she lay waiting for him to come to bed, shivering from the cold, with nothing to protect her from his eyes, her carefully crafted plan seemed grasping and extraordinarily lewd. She did not want him to think her indecent or conniving ... no matter how successful her plan might prove.
As these doubts crossed her mind, she could not help but remember the night before and how the Captain had comported himself. He had helped her with the sheets, he had stoked the fire high, when he had come to bed, he had held her ... though she had fought him.
"Please stop, Louisa, I'll not hurt you ... and, I'll not let you lay here and shiver all night. Just go to sleep."
He had held her tenderly, but as she had made a move to get up, his hold had become more firm. Firm, but never hurtful. He had not chastised her, and when she had stopped her useless struggle, he had sought out, and taken her hand in his. That was all she remembered, for she had fallen asleep in his arms.
Struck with the tenderness of it all, she realised that he was a kind and caring man -- he cared for her, even after such a terrible night. To use his own natural drives against him would be to build upon a bad foundation and she had no desire to make things worse than they were already. She determined that she would put on her nightdress and when he came to bed, she would still make him know of her willingness to please him, but in an honest and forthright fashion, without deception.
As she sat up, holding the blankets to her, she sucked in her breath as the cold of the room touched her warm skin. She reached towards the foot of the bed where she had dropped the gown. "Oh, botheration," she muttered. Not immediately feeling it, she got to her knees and began to crawl, hoping to find it.
Scarcely had she leant over the end of the bed to see her nightdress heaped on the floor, than she heard the knob of the door rattle as someone took hold of it. Fear shot through her, and making a mad grab for the gown, the blankets pulled away, leaving her exposed ...
End Part 1
"Frederick! Frederick! It's urgent ... I need your help. Please, wake up!
At the first gentle knock, Frederick's eyes had opened and he was wide awake. The sun was not fully up, but the room was light enough to easily see. The voice calling him was Edward's. Raising his head, he said softly, "What do you need, Edward?"
At his first words, Louisa's eyes also flew open. She started, and Frederick murmured gently, "It's all right . . . I shall see what Edward needs." Disengaging himself from her . . . as they had not changed positions appreciably, he saw her covered and went quickly to the door.
From the stricken tone of his brother's voice, he knew that something was terribly wrong. Though he could not see the colouring of his brother's face, he could see the worry. "What is it?" he asked, peering through the door.
"I need your wife . . . something is wrong with Catherine and I must go and fetch Abernathy . . . Catherine wants Mrs. Callow, but I am going to take this advantage to have the doctor look after her. But I need Mrs. Wentworth to sit with her while I am gone to get him." He looked as though he were going to ramble on some more, but he suddenly closed his mouth and stood mute before the Captain.
"Surely, I shall get her up," he said. Just as Edward had turned to go back to his room, Frederick slipped out the door and called to him. "Edward, you go on and dress . . . I will go down and rig Standish . . . you come down when you are ready and help me to finish that . . . we will get you off and then I will saddle my horse and ride on ahead. That will save time." He finished and started back to his room.
Edward stood marveling that his brother could be awakened from sound sleep and within a moment formulate and implement a plan.
"Edward!" Frederick barked in his hushed whisper, "Stop standing there like Lot's wife and go . . . go!"
That roused the Rector from his stupefaction and got him hurrying back to his room.
"What is it? What is wrong?" Louisa asked as he lit a candle with a twig from the fire.
Taking his trousers from the screen, Frederick stepped into them and said, "It's the baby, I assume . . . Edward and I shall be going for Abernathy . . . Catherine will need you to sit with her." He could feel his excitement rising. Shoving his nightshirt into his trousers, he looked across to Louisa.
She had sat up and was looking a bit stricken at the prospect of caring for her sister-in-law. Taking up her wrapper, he came and sat by her on the bed. "Here," he said, holding it open so that she could put her arms in the sleeves.
Frederick went back to the wardrobe. Pulling out his boots, he brought them over to the bed. "You look worried. Why?" He sat and began putting on the boots.
Closing her wrapper, she tied it and pulled her hair free. She inched closer until she was standing by him. She said, "What will I do for her? I know nothing about babies . . . Surely she is not having the baby?" Her face froze at the prospect of being left alone with a labouring woman.
He glanced up at her, then looked back down and pulled on his boot, "No-o, no . . . he did not say that she was . . . I think not . . . he would have said something, I believe."
Watching him dress, she objected, "You're not putting on stockings . . ."
Smiling as he rose from the bed, "Darling, when there is not a moment to waste, stockings are the least of one's worries."
"That was silly, bothering about stockings at a time like this! Oh, Frederick," she cried, "What do I say? I have no idea what I should do . . . I know nothing of these things."
Frederick lightly stamped his feet, seating both boots. Taking her arms in his hands, he said gently, "I can see that you are afraid, but everything will be all right . . . all you must do is to keep her mind from thinking about the baby ... talk about the weather, or gardening or something womanish -- except babies. We will be no longer than an hour, perhaps and hour and a quarter. I know that you are a clever girl and will find a way to do this."
Pulling her close, he held her a moment and whispered, "As soon as Edward leaves the room, go in ... remember, keep her mind off the baby." Kissing her quickly, he said, "I must be off and rig the horses." He put on his coat and hurried out the door.
As Frederick was finishing with Standish's head gear, Edward flew out the back door, pulling on his great coat as he came. Pulling the reins to the gig's box, he lay them in the seat.
"That was quick." Edward said, climbing into the gig.
"No time to waste," said Frederick as he tugged all the buckles and chains for a final check. Stroking the horse's flank, he moved to the opposite side and began to do the same as he continued, "Go quickly, but don't get in too much a hurry. I shall be close behind ... and when I get to Abernathy's, I'll get him up and dressed, and waiting to be put in with you. Be careful, Edward." The brothers looked at one another for a short moment. "She'll be all right, Edward, I know it."
Edward clucked, along with a touch of the whip."On, Standish." The Rector wished he could be as positive as his brother. "I hope your confidence is well placed. Thank you, brother." He called as he rounded the corner.
Louisa had stood at the door of her room and waited for the Rector to leave. As he had come down the hallway, he had stopped and thanked her. He had also told her that Catherine was not in any kind of pain, but that she was frightened, though she said nothing about it. Thanking her again, he trotted down the rest of the hall and took the stairs two at a time.
"The Rector is leaving now," Louisa told Catherine as she watched from the window. Mrs. Wentworth had thought she heard something and had asked Louisa to look out and see what might be happening. Catherine took a deep breath and looked relieved. "Come, sit by me, Please."
Louisa returned to the chair that the Rector had occupied just moments earlier. Hoping that she didn't spill the water, she poured more into the glass that stood by the bed. She nervously ordered the bedside table. Finding nothing else to busy herself with, she folded her hands and sat, waiting for Mrs. Wentworth to say something.
Catherine lay quietly. The sound of horses hooves pounding by the house distracted them both. "That was the Captain, I expect," she said, looking in the direction of the window.
Louisa craned her neck, knowing that full well that she would see nothing. "Yes, I expect it was," she murmured softly, returning to her silence.
"He was going to ride ahead so that he might have the Doctor ready as soon as the Rector arrived." I wish I could ride off and fetch the doctor, it would be better than being trapped here ... not knowing, she thought. The inactivity was the worst of it, but she knew enough to keep still. Her body was easily subdued, it was her mind that refused to rest. She unwilling lay back into the pillows. A deep sigh escaped her.
The sigh made Louisa feel guilty. She was to help Mrs. Wentworth, not sit like a stone, leaving the woman alone in her torment. "Mrs. Wentworth?" she finally ventured.
The girl's voice startled her. Catherine had nearly forgotten Louisa's presence. "Yes, what is it?"
Louisa shifted in her seat. She hitched forward in the chair and tried to sound easy, like nothing was wrong. "May I read to you? I could find something entertaining ... something humourous perhaps." As the words came from her, she realised how ridiculous they were. A woman in such a state would not want funny stories. Glancing away, she caught sight of a prayer book sitting on the Rector's bedside table. "No, not that, but perhaps I could read some prayers ... or perhaps the Bible ... the Psalms are always a comfort." Her voice was animated. Louisa wished to lift Catherine's spirits in whatever manner possible.
Catherine pitied Louisa. The young woman looked as though she wanted to run. No different than me really. The poor thing had been left to watch over a woman she most likely thinks is going to expire before her very eyes!
Reaching out and taking Louisa's hand, Catherine said, "No, I do not wish you to read to me. My mind is too full just now ... too occupied. Everything is strange ... almost like when I found out that I was to have the baby."
Louisa blanched. Catherine had mentioned the baby and the Captain had told her to keep her mind away from that subject! She thought and tried to think of a way to move the conversation in another direction. She could think of nothing.
"I thought in November that I might be with child," Catherine began. "But at my age ... well, I thought it just had be something else. Then I went to London with my mother and father. It was the first time I was gone from Edward. I was shocked how I had grown to depend upon him ... I missed him so... "
Louisa had no choice but to listen as Catherine talked about nothing but her husband -- and the baby.
"Doctor! Doctor Abernathy! Frederick made no pretense of quiet as he pounded on Abernathy's door.
He was about to have another go at it when the door flew open. "What is it, Captain." It was the doctor himself, dressed and wiping his mouth with a linen napkin.
Frederick had expected a servant and for a moment was confused, but came quickly to himself. "It is Mrs. Wentworth ... "
"Loua! Good G-d, what is it?"
"No, no! Mrs. Edward Wentworth! There is something to do with the baby. You need to come immediately. The Rector should be here quite soon and will take you back to the Rectory."
"Come," was all the doctor said as he turned and walked into the house. As they entered the study, the doctor asked, "You rode Knappie?" The Captain blanched, yet nodded. "Take her to the side and give her a short drink. By then, I shall have my bag and be ready."
Frederick smoked his meaning directly. "Will she carry us both?"
Abernathy grinned, "You may be tall, but you're not a bit fat and I am quite lean . . .she'll take us both. Go on!"
Before he left the room, Frederick said, "Michael ... I don't know why you try so to hide it, but there is a quick mind in that head of yours!"
"Yea, well," the doctor began, "Some day we shall have it out. Go on, water Knappie, but just a bit ... she can be greedy. Mrs. Dalton! I need my bag!" he called and began to run up the stairs."
"Dr Abernathy." Mrs. Graham let the doctor into her mistress's room. She was not happy to have him in the Rectory, but it was not her place to question the Rector. She grudgingly gave over that he seemed sober and quite intent upon his business.
"Mrs. Wentworth," he nodded to Catherine. "Mrs. Wentworth," to Louisa with a cheerful, but controlled tone. "I hope we all do not become confused. The Rector and the Captain will be coming right along," he looked again to Louisa. "I rode ahead and left them to enjoy a leisurely ride home. Now, are you in any pain?"
He came to the end of the bed and opened his bag. Mrs. Wentworth said she had no pain, but that when she had awakened, she discovered herself soaking with the waters. "Ah, I see. We shall have a look." The Doctor raised the blankets and arranged things as he needed them. He chattered away about everything and nothing as he worked. By his voice, neither Catherine nor Louisa could discern what he might be thinking.
After a while, he said quietly, "Now, Mrs. Wentworth, I am going to have to touch you and it may hurt. I want you to take Loua's hand and squeeze tight if that is the case." To Louisa, he said, "Are you ready?"
Both women nodded and he began. "You know Mrs. Wentworth, I have always wanted to tell you of our connection."
Catherine was discomposed at the Doctor's touch, but his declaration of a connection between he and she was a surprise that took her mind off everything else. "You and I? A connection? How so?"
Abernathy smiled briefly at her and then looked back to his work. "My father -- "
"Owww!" Catherine cried, clutching Louisa's hand.
Looking up, the Doctor said, "That hurt, eh?"
"Yes," she panted, "It hurt very much."
"Good! That's very good. Anywise, my father was the doctor in Glencoe for about three years. And your father was very kind to invite him weekly for cards and supper. Every Wednesday, I believe Father said. Louisa, might you bring me a basin of water? That's a good girl. He arrived one evening to find your father very distracted. It seems you mother was labouring with you at the time."
Louisa brought the basin, placed it on the blanket chest and returned to her place beside Catherine. Washing and drying his hands, he continued, "When it was apparent you were not going to cooperate with the midwife, your father had no scruple in asking my father to see what he might do." Replacing the blankets, he began to repack his bag.
"To shorten the story by quite a lot, you were born early in the morning and your father was so grateful, he named you after my mother -- Catherine. So, you are almost like a sister to me."
Catherine was shocked. Her mother had always been adamant about men being excluded from anything involving childbirth, and here was the son of her literal deliverer, claiming that had not always been the case. But far more pressing was her need to know about her baby.
"Doctor, I do not mean to be uninterested in your story, but -- how is ... the baby?" She took comfort in Louisa's firm grip as she asked the question.
Snapping his bag shut, the Doctor came around took Catherine's hand. "You and the baby are very well. The pain during the examination was actually a good sign. It means that the muscles are taut and in their proper place. Though, I would imagine that you should begin your lying-in very soon."
"No, not for well over a month."
"You're sure? You have not underestimated?"
"No. I am positive."
Abernathy did not wish to upset her further. The morning had already been filled with more agitation than he cared to see for a woman of Mrs. Wentworth's condition. "Well, you would know best on that. Anywise, you are quite well. Nothing to worry over."
"But, Doctor, what about the waters and the ... blo ... ?"
"Ah, yes. Well, the waters are mere extraneous fluids in the body ... very common for them to be expelled. Nothing to worry on. As for the other, have you been doing anything vigourous lately? Other than that lovely dinner Sunday?"
He could not help but notice the look exchanged between the Mrs. Wentworths. "I see you may know the cause. Do not tell me what you have been doing, just stop doing it. Nothing heavier than a full teacup for the rest of your time, do you understand me?"
"Yes. I understand." Catherine smoothed the blankets and avoided the Doctor's gaze.
"As for you, Loua," he said, "No laying about like the indolent wife of a rich man! You pull your weight here, do you hear me?"
The girl smiled, "I understand, Cousin Michael. I shall do everything I can."
"Good. Now, I think I heard the gig drive up, and I am certain that the Rector would like the good news. I think you should stay in bed the rest of the day, but you can be up and about after that."
"I feel a bit foolish, Doctor. Calling you out for no good reason."
"Mrs. Wentworth, you and the Rector did exactly the right thing, and if this happens again, call me again. I will come gladly. Louisa may I speak with you?"
Out in the hallway, Michael said, "Now, I don't know what the two of you were up to, but do not do it again. Mrs. Wentworth is far enough along that anything jolting is too much. Her body is older than most and therefore not as able to withstand punishment."
"I promise, Michael. I shall watch her."
"Good. Now I am certain that the Rector will be wild to know what has happened." He turned back from heading to the stairs, "Loua, I must say, you did a wonderful job, keeping her calm and all. That is a real gift."
"Thank you, Michael," she said as she watched him descend the stairs.
As Michael Abernathy rode home, he had a lot of things to think about. He took great pleasure in giving the Wentworths the good news that the crisis of the morning had been nothing more than overworked muscles and the cruelty of nature.
Edward Wentworth had been particularly relieved when the doctor had spoken with him. The Rector was a worrier by nature and by practice. His wife's condition, though quite natural, had been a concern for him from the beginning. The fear of the morning had drained quite nicely as the Doctor had explained as much as he thought necessary. There had been no need to elaborate on the extraneous fluids and what exactly they were.
I have never understood why, at such a traumatic time of a woman's life, her body seems bent on playing terrible tricks. Even her ordinary functions won't come off as usual. Men should thank God daily that they are not called upon to endure such mortification! he thought as he trotted along home.
As he drew closer to the road cutting off to his home, Abernathy took great joy in the fact that spring was quickly coming along. It would be a welcome change from the dour winter that had just passed. Looking ahead, he could make out the form of Joshua Junkins, mowing grass along the lane leading to his cottage. The Doctor had some concerns about Junkins and reminded himself that a trip to Shrewsbury and his uncle's library was in order. "Ho! Junkins! Good to see you!" he called.
"Doctor, you are looking well this morning." Joshua called back as the Doctor approached.
Looking around, the doctor said, "I believe it to be afternoon, Junkins. And you look well, also. You look to have rested well since the dinner at the Rectory. I was concerned, you looked a bit pallid by the time the festivities were over."
"Yes, I was very tired. And then Mary peppered us with questions until bedtime. But I slept well that night and the last. A good nights sleep is the best answer to most things," he said, leaning against his scythe.
Putting aside his suspicions, Abernathy said, "Yes, that is true. To be honest, the body does most of its own healing, I merely give a little aid when things are not functioning as they should."
Joshua frowned. "Doctor, I am glad that you have happened by, I wish to ask you something -- if you have the time to spare me."
"Certainly, Junkins, what may I help you with?" After about a half an hour of medical talk, the conversation turned to horses.
"I have always admired your horse. She is truly a thing of beauty," Joshua said.
Rubbing Knappie's neck, the Doctor replied, "Yes she is! I have always said so, and that was the first thing that Captain Wentworth said when he came to me yesterday and offered to ... buy ... her." His voice trailed away. "Good lord, Junkins! I've stolen the Captain's horse! I have to get her back right away, before I am hung for a thief!" he cried. "I was over there for Mrs. Wentworth this morning and when I took my leave, it went clear out of my mind that I'd sold her! I just got on and she knows no better than to take me home!"
Abernathy began to move down the lane to the main road. "I really don't mean to be rude, but I had best get her back! Good day, Junkins," he called, coaxing the mare to a trot.
Later, when Mrs. Junkins asked how the Doctor was fairing and what they had spoken about, Joshua avoided her question with the news that Mrs. Wentworth had needed doctoring. When she asked why her husband had not brought the doctor to the house for dinner, Junkins amused her with the story of the Doctor's unintended thievery.
As he headed back to the Rectory, the Doctor worried first about the Captain being angry, but dismissed this as Wentworth was fairly even-tempered and would understand such a foolish mistake -- he hoped. Then he took note of the sun and the emptiness of his belly and wondered if he might be extended an invitation by the Rector to dine. After all, he was returning as a repentant thief and one of the chief marks of Christian love was to welcome home the penitent. He fancied himself a latter-day Prodigal and perhaps, short of the fatted calf being slaughtered for him, he would be welcomed to the dinner table.
As he rounded the bend, Dr Abernathy could see that his theological theorising would very soon be put to the test. The two gentlemen in question were standing together, obviously waiting, in the sideyard of the Rectory.
"Well, I am gratified to see you alive! My mind ran wild and I expected to see you laid out in your wedding dress, pale and quiet, so beautiful in death," clucked the flurry of dark brown silk entering Catherine's sick room.
"Mother! When did you come? I asked Edward not to -- " Catherine choked as she straightened her posture and her bedclothes.
" ... Not to tell. I'm sure. Graham's sister came to visit Old Weida and so the news made the rounds of the kitchen and in a trice was up the stairs to the dining room and to my ears before my dinner sweet was taken." Mrs. Keye sat next to her daughter and rested her hands on what she guessed to be her knee. "And now, here I am."
"I'm sorry, Mother. I thought we would come for a visit next week and I would tell you then. I should have known that with Mrs. Graham's ten sisters spread all over the county, one was bound to tell another and word would get from here to Glencoe, but I had my hopes of sparing you and Father."
Scooting closer, Mrs. Keye gathered her daughter to her bosom and whispered, "God made mothers' hearts of India rubber, sweet. You needn't spare me, nothing will smash to pieces."
The Keye family were extraordinarily affectionate and physical with one another, and so an embrace from her mother was not unusual, but this particular embrace had a quality that Catherine found comforting and she clung to her mother for a few moments. When the women parted, both had tears in their eyes, but neither made mention of them. Both found handkerchiefs, tidied their faces and continued the conversation.
Putting her handkerchief back in her reticule, she snapped it shut and looked at Catherine. "So, what did Callow say? "She gently grasped her daughter's chin, and took a survey of her face. "You look very well indeed, did she give you a dose of something?"
Mrs. Wentworth had dreaded ever having to tell her mother the news of her defection, even to the point of practicing particular phrases that would avoid mention of who had done her doctoring. But the moment had come and there was no escaping her mother's questioning.
"Uh, no, Mother." She took her mother's hand as she spoke,"Mrs. Callow did not come. But Dr Abernathy was available, and so -- "
"Abernathy! Michael Abernathy? The man is barely familiar with a razour if I am not mistaken!"
"Mother, he is not so young! He is my age. He is old enough to know quite a lot about his father's practice when he was in Glencoe Parish years ago." The women looked intently at one another.
Mrs. Keye knew that there was no sense in obfuscation. Her daughter was too clever by half and would never fall for tricks. "So, the boy told you. I suppose he also told you that you are named for his mother?"
"Yes. He took some delight in it, said that we were almost like family because of it."
"While it is true that Dr Abernathy -- Paul Abernathy attended your birth, it is still hotly contested betwixt your father and I as to whether you are named after the doctor's wife. I say no, that you are named after my cousin in Winkleigh. Your father on the other hand has the idea that it was a fitting tribute to the man who saved you from stillbirth."
"Is this why you have always been so insistent that men not be allowed in the birthing room -- because of some dispute between you and Father?"
"Somewhat. Men generally have no business being with women at all, but with a labouring woman, they are worse than useless -- and downright mortifying! But, I must admit, Abernathy did save you, and for that I will always be most grateful. Now, tell me about this Louisa person I met downstairs. And what is all this nonsense that she is to live here? I saw the Captain, so he has not put her out, why does she not live with him?"
"Mama, he is returning to sea, and she is to live with us."
"What is your husband thinking, imposing this silly young creature on you? You will be much too busy once the baby is born to be raising the Captain's wife!"
"Mother! Louisa is not so young! She is nearly twenty!"
"Ah!" she arched her brows. "My point exactly! Her age, perhaps, explains the ill manners."
"What ill manners?"
"As soon as the Rector finished the introductions, she was off like a rabbit and out of the room before I was able to say three words to her."
"That is not like Louisa. I have not known her to be rude."
"Oh, she said something about tea," said Mrs. Keye as she fussed with Catherine's nightdress.
"And did she bring it?"
"Bring what, dear?"
"Well, heavens, I have no idea -- I came to see you, not have tea." Settling herself back on the bed, Mrs. Keye leaned in close and said softly, "Do not worry, dear. I will have a talk with Edward and make him see that you cannot have the Captain's wife staying here. I understand he loves his brother," she said, straightening, "But he cannot expect you to take care of her ... has she no family to take her in? I thought he was well-off, let him hire a companion and install her nearby if she really needs to be watched."
"Mother! She does not need to be watched! It was my idea to have her stay. Edward and I both wish it! And don't be discouraging to her, she is trying to be helpful about the house. Dr Abernathy specifically told her to be helpful."
"Oh, we are back to Abernathy, are we?"
Catherine sighed. "Mother, you make me tired. How is Papa?"
"He is quite well. He would have come too, except I ... "
"I was in such a hurry that I left him. He said he wished to finish his dinner and I was much too concerned about you and so I told Kramer to leave without him."
"I know, I know. It was abominable of me, and I shall spend the rest of the week apologising for it, but ... I was just so worried about what I would find! Graham's sister is not a very good gossip."
Catherine laughed out loud. "A good gossip? What, may I ask, is a good gossip?"
"A good gossip has all the correct information and tells it. I think Mrs. Sharp used her imagination to fill in the parts of which she had no direct knowledge." Suddenly, Mrs. Keye, again took her daughter in her arms. "Catherine, I was frightened to death of what I would find when I arrived -- I -- "
Just then the door opened and Louisa appeared. Mrs. Keye released her daughter and ignored the girl as she rummaged in her reticule for her handkerchief.
"I am sorry to disturb you, but there is tea prepared. Should I bring it up?" Louisa asked. Seeing Mrs. Keye occupied, she looked to Catherine.
"Thank you , dear. Yes, bring it up and bring a cup for yourself. Join us."
Louisa brightened. "Thank you, Mrs. Wentworth. I shall bring it right away." She hurried out of the room and down the hallway.
Mrs. Keye stood. "I must be getting back to your father. My desertion has most likely angered him greatly and I think the sooner I begin the apologies, the sooner I shall be forgiven." She leaned over the bed and hugged her daughter one last time.
"But Mother, Louisa is bringing the tea! Please stay. Just for a cup, she will think you do not like her." Catherine was not certain her mother's opinion of Louisa, but there was something odd and she wished to know what it might be.
Finishing with her gloves, Mrs. Keye said, "I am not yet certain I do like her. Only time will tell. Oh! I forgot to tell you, Nurse Clareborn is free. I have sent word to her that we would like to engage her for the baby."
Seeing her mother's exultant expression, she was reluctant say anything.
Well, that is news. I shall speak with Edward about her. We have made no decisions about a nurse."
"What is there to discuss? Clareborn is an excellent nurse and a woman of wholesome character, you will be fortunate to have her. She only works for very good families. And her being Graham's sister would make things so easy for you!"
Catherine had no idea how the eldest Postlethwaite sister being in her home could be to her advantage. All she could foresee was mischief. Though she was the mistress of the Rectory, there were times that she felt as though she were nothing more than a guest. Seeing that her mother desired some sort of positive declaration, she stammered, "A-as I said, Edward and I have made no decisions, but I will tell him of your kindness."
"What kindness might that be dear?"
both woman looked to see the Rector enter the room. "Good, you have come, now I will not feel guilty leaving my poor daughter all alone up here. Edward, take care of her and if anything happens again, call Mrs. Callow. Catherine wishes Mrs. Callow to care for her."
Edward gave his wife a sharp look and she returned it with one of her own. "Mother Keye, I will take excellent care of my wife. Let me take you down since you were leaving anyway."
"No, you stay with Catherine," she said as she bussed the Rector's cheek. "I thought you had cut that dreadful beard! I know the way out. Oh!" she cried, as she turned to the door.
"Mrs. Keye, I am so sorry! Please pardon me," Louisa replied. She had been occupied with the tea laden tray, and the two women had nearly collided as the younger entered the room.
"Yes, well ... I trust we shall be meeting again -- Mrs. Wentworth, seeing as how you are to stay with the Rector and my daughter. Edward, Catherine." She nodded to each and was gone.
Catherine was mortified by her mother's abominable behaviour. Edward glanced her way. She shook her head to say she did not understand.
Edward came forward and relieved Louisa of the tray. "Come, Louisa. Take the chair by Catherine and we will have tea together."
Biting her lip, Louisa looked from Catherine to Edward and said quietly, "No, thank you. I think I shall find the Captain. Please call me when you are finished and I will take the tray back to the kitchen." With that, she also was gone.
As Edward handed Catherine her tea, she moaned, "That was wretched of Mother! It was all over Louisa's face that she is hurt. Go and fetch her back, that I might apologise."
He poured himself a cup and settled himself facing her. "I think it would be best if she were to cry on her husband's shoulder first. Besides, your mother was upset about you. Let us make allowances. She looked horrid when she arrived. I think she had been crying."
Catherine lowered her cup. "Still, that is no excuse ... she had no ... bus ... " she began to sob.
Setting the cups aside, he gathered her in his arms. "Sh-h-h," he soothed. He had never seen his wife so emotional and was not certain the cause. "Sh-h-h, Louisa will understand about your mother. I doubt that she will be angry with you."
"No ... not that! Oh, Edward, what if we had los ... the baby ..."
Stroking her hair, Edward thought the same. "Had the baby been lost, you and I would survive -- together." He raised her face and searched it. There was a melancholy setting in and he could not allow it. Catherine was prone to lowness, and he knew he must guard her from herself.
"First, we dry these," he said, taking a corner of the sheet and wiping her eyes. After, he took her face in his hands and said, "We will accept the Mercy and Grace we have been given. You and the child are well -- Abernathy said as much. I shall not have you looking over your shoulder to worry over what could have happened. You take your ease and soon, you shall be holding our baby." He pulled her to him and buried his face in her. He prayed fervently that he would be proven right.
"Now, you indolent thing, move over, come along ... there," he prodded, as he took a place beside her on the bed. Placing a pillow in his lap, he gently pressed her down. Twining his fingers in hers, he began, "Let me tell you about the amazing day I have had!"
Continued in Part 7
© 2000 Copyright held by author