Love Suffers Long and Is Kind, Volume III
Chapter 10, Part 1
The soft knock which sounded at the service door did not take Mrs. Yee by surprise; indeed, she had been expecting it for some time. A peek out the curtain showed her neighbor, smiling an apology. After instructing her daughter-in-law to prepare the tea, she opened the door to admit the whirlwind of gray cambric and cheerful chatter which characterised Winnie Owen.
"I'm so sorry, Mrs. Yee!" Miss Owen gasped, before she was fully in the door. "I had such trouble getting away this morning! The Doctor had unexpected visitors, and then I had to prepare his medicinals, for his house calls, you know! And Cousin John needed a button for his shirt, it had to be that particular shirt, naturally! And Cousin Henry was in a dither about a missing cufflink, he misplaces everything! But here I am at last, ready and willing, and very much at your service." The tall, smiling young woman paused for a moment, to catch her breath. "I am ever so excited, to be able to help Gloria with her training. Please don't think it is a bother. Oh." She snatched her straw hat from her head, revealing her light brown hair, which hung down her back in a long braid. "I shan't be needing this anymore, shall I?"
"Do not worry about time, Miss Owen," Mrs. Yee said kindly, as she took the young woman's hat and shawl. "Problems in house-hold, this we know very well. We are thanking you, for helping us. Now, please come with me and we begin, with no waste of time for you." She led the way through the spacious kitchen to a work area near the windows.
"I have washed my hair, Mrs. Yee, last night." Winnie spoke hesitantly now, as she stumbled after. "But ... once you see my hair ... and begin working with it ... I won't mind ... you must be honest with me if, well ..." She awkwardly sat in the chair Mrs. Yee indicated and turned her light green eyes on the housekeeper in earnest appeal. "What I mean to say is that perhaps it is not the best for a student. I mean, I never have been able to make it mind me! It is unruly and uncooperative ... it never stays in place ... ever! I didn't think to tell you when you asked for my help, but the truth is, it is the most wretched sort of hair in the world!"
"Every woman say that," Mrs. Yee smiled.
"Yes, but with mine, it's true! And its such a dreary colour ..."
Mrs. Yee's eyes twinkled. "Not so bad as Mrs. Greene's."
"Well, no," Winnie admitted with a grin, as she pictured their eccentric neighbour. "But, with Mrs. Greene, well, if you don't like the colour this week, it will be different the next!" She accepted a cup of tea from Gloria with a smile of thanks. "With me, it is always the same, isn't it?"
"Remember this, Gloria. Henna is no good, not reliable -- especially on gray hair. Madam refused to use it. Now, unbind and brush Miss Owen's hair." She repeated the request in Chinese, and Gloria began.
Winnie eyed the assortment of combs and hair pins on the table beside her in wonder. "Are these Mrs. Wrenwyth's? They are ... beautiful." She bit her lip, reminding herself to speak clearly and distinctly for Gloria's sake, something she always forgot. "I ... I've never had my hair styled by someone else, well, not since I was a little girl. Even my mother despaired of it, eventually."
"We do not despair. Your hair is curling, which many women wish for. Gloria must work with hair of Englishwoman, which is why we need you. It is better if difficult, for she learn more." Mrs. Yee took the brush from Gloria and continued her instruction. "Remove hair from brush and save in basket ..." she then lapsed into soft Chinese.
Winnie twisted around. "Save it? Whatever for?"
"To make a ..." Mrs. Yee frowned. "I know not English word. A ╬mat' of hair? For support. Here, I show you." She gave Winnie a hand mirror and pulled her hair up onto her head. "Without support, the hair lie flat against the head, like this," she explained. "But with, er, ╬mat' underneath," Mrs. Yee slid her hand under the hair, "the hair appear soft and piled high ... so elegant, yes?"
"Oh," Winnie breathed. "How clever. I've never thought of that."
"Now, I show what else to use hair from brush for." She gave Winnie's hair into Gloria's hands, with instructions to continue the brushing, and left the room. When she returned, she was carrying a heavy plait of long black hair. "This is my hair, from younger days. For many years I save. When I am old, I will use braid here, on top of the head." Mrs. Yee smiled at the two young women. "I will not dye hair like Mrs. Greene; I have prepare another way. I teach Gloria many secret of beautiful hair, for being lady's maid. I teach you, too, Winnie, so you catch eye of good man for husband."
Winnie returned the smile. "And yet, I wonder if I should worry so much about becoming beautiful -- as if I could be! I have never been pretty, not ever!"
Gloria raised her head shyly. "I ... I think you ..." She paused, to order her English. "You beautiful ... in ... heart. In smile and eyes ... I see goodness. I think you are pretty." She then busied herself with the brush.
Winnie blushed at this heartfelt tribute, but only for a moment, for Mrs. Yee began applying a solution to her hair. But when Winnie asked what it was made of, the answer caused her to sit bolt upright.
"Beer! You are putting beer on my hair! How ... revolting!"
"Hush, Winnie. It help to set the curl. Turn this way, please."
"But ... Beer! Mrs. Yee, beautiful or not, I shall smell like an intoxicated, drunken ..." Winnie's eyes narrowed and she twisted around to face her two friends with a grin. "Mrs. Yee, you're not thinking of setting me up as wife to ... Mr Udy?"
At the mention of that name, the three women burst into giggles. Of all men, the shambling, slovenly, oft-inebriated delivery man was the last sort of man any woman would wish for. "Not only do I loathe and abominate wine-bibbers," Winnie declared, "but I refuse to marry a man simply to be his ... his groomer and laundress! Which Mr Udy needs ... badly!"
As their laughter died away, Gloria spoke again. "Not Mr Udy ... but another I am thinking," she confided. "He is very good man ... and handsome. I think you will like."
"Hush, Gloria." Mrs. Yee interposed, with a tiny smile. "It is better not to speak of that. Time will tell. Yes."
At the Elliot residence on Camden Place, Penelope Clay stood peering anxiously into the large mirror in the entry hall. Though her cold was much improved, it had not been kind to her appearance. She examined her profile carefully, turning her head this way and that. Was her nose red? She had heard Sir Walter level that particular criticism at his youngest daughter more than once and she had no intention of appearing repulsive in his sight, ever. With a sigh, Mrs. Clay turned away. Not only was her nose a little swollen, but her eyelids were, too. There was no mistaking it, she still appeared to be ill. There would be no Poetry Reading for her this afternoon.
As she began to mount the stairs, she found that Anne was coming down, with Elizabeth hard at her heels. Mrs. Clay moved quickly to one side, as Miss Elliot did not sound at all pleased with her sister.
"Anne, you have not answered my question. Are going out?"
"Yes, I am, to visit Mary," Anne replied, pausing only long enough to speak. "It must be dreary for her to be alone at that inn, without any of the Musgroves to bear her company. She mentioned that she wanted to look in at the Pump Room this morning, to see if ..."
"And you are walking ... alone?" Elizabeth interrupted. "Never say you are going see Mary alone!" She turned to Mrs. Clay, who was watching the exchange with interest. "Would you please excuse us, Penelope?" And as Anne doggedly continued to descend the stairs, Elizabeth followed, with growing irritation. "Just a minute, Anne ... Anne!"
At last she grabbed her sister's arm and pulled her against the bannister rail. "Now, look! I have had quite enough of this ... this hoydenish behaviour!" Elizabeth whispered roughly. "It is all very well for you to traipse about Kellynch in this spinsterish way, but you shall not do so here!"
"Elizabeth, no one here knows me well enough to think the least ..."
"You are known to be my sister, dearest! My younger sister! And if you think I am so stupid as to let you drag my name into ..." Elizabeth caught the look in Anne's eye and glanced over her shoulder at the man standing below them in the entry hall. "Thank you, Burton, there is nothing that we require," she said loftily. After the butler left the room, Elizabeth turned back to Anne.
"You did say that Father's fortune has dwindled alarmingly. Well, it appears that you were right. Now, that being the case, I have no intention of wasting my time here in Bath, as Father wasted all of those Seasons in London. I shall not be known as an old maid, nor shall you. Neither of us look it, well, you would not, if you were to take some thought to your appearance! And now ..." Elizabeth released her hold on Anne and looked around her. "Bah! Were is that Burton when I need him? Burton!"
The butler appeared right away, and Elizabeth requested a particular hat from Elise, and her cloak. In answer to Anne's look of dismay, she replied sweetly, "Yes, Sister-dear, I am going with you this morning. Isn't that nice? So you might as well wipe that sour expression from your face. I have no intention of allowing you to make a spectacle of me anymore. So, to the Pump Room we shall go, with ... Mary." She could barely suppress a groan. "Oh lord, how delightful. With my one sister, a dowd and the other, a complete rustic from the wealds of Somerset! Let us hope we do not see anyone I know!"
"... and the singing, Sir Robin! You have never heard the like! Hundreds of Welsh voices, singing hymn after glorious hymn, without accompaniment of any kind! We sang until the rafters were ringing!" Miss Owen's eyes shone at the memory. All at once she recollected; the old gentleman needed caring for. "Um, perhaps you would like to have another bite, sir, before I tell the rest. Please, let me help you." She gently lifted a spoonful of soup to his lips.
Winnie Owen, Gloria, and Sir Robin were sitting together in the morning room, enjoying the last of a light luncheon together. This was one of Sir Robin's good days, when he was able to be up and about, and as Miss Owen was one of his very favourite visitors, and Gloria, his favourite caregiver, the luncheon had been a merry one. He was now listening intently to her account of a meeting she had attended when she had last been in Lleyn.
"And then, Mr Christmas Evans began to speak, and oh, Sir Robin! It was as if the very glory of Heaven poured forth, as he taught us from the scriptures!" Winnie was so engrossed in her tale that she did not hear the footfalls in the hallway or see the gentleman who looked in.
Sir Robin chanced to glance up and smiled widely in greeting. "Alan-a-Dale! Come in, my dear! Come sit with us," he said, in a weak but cheerful voice.
"Miss Owen and the Sheriff's wife are here with me," he explained. "Are you acquainted with Friar Tuck's cousin, Miss Owen? She keeps house for him and helps him in his medical work." Robin blinked his mild blue eyes and frowned slightly. "Which is curious, but I suppose all friars do not live in the monastery."
"No, I suppose not," ╬Alan' answered gravely, as he came fully into the room.
"And I cannot recall when the good friar became a doctor, but so he has."
"Which is a very good thing for you, sir, is it not? To have an excellent physician so close at hand?"
Wide-eyed, Miss Owen listened as the dark-haired naval officer conversed gently with her elderly neighbour. She took in his magnificent uniform and shining silver dress sword; he was so splendid she could hardly breathe. Feeling foolish and frumpy by comparison, she stumbled through an introduction of herself. She was often at Chauntecleer, by the invitation of the Yees, or on business for Dr Minthorne, nevertheless, it was a little daunting to have to explain her unexpected presence to the new owner.
Captain Benwick was quick to correct her. "No, no, Miss Owen, this house does not belong to me. I am merely a guest, here on business."
Winnie paled and then reddened. "I ... I do apologise, sir. I was certain that Mrs. Wrenwyth had told me ... but I suppose I was mistaken." As usual, she had got it all wrong. Mrs. Wrenwyth had been adamant about leaving Chauntecleer to a relative named ╬James,' but obviously this was not the James she had meant.
"I see you are armed for battle, Alan," Robin spoke up, but his voice showed that he was tiring. "Such a worry to me, so many evils lurking in Nottingham and Sherwood these days. I have not so many men as before ..."
"Then I beg you will not concern yourself with the defense of the, er, ╬hide-out?' or ╬encampment?' while I am here, sir." He gave his cousin a lopsided grin. " I may be dressed to take tea with ╬the swells' today, but I do remember how to use this," he said, indicating the weapon at his side. "Take your ease, dear sir, for the next watch or two. I'll make sure the Sheriff keeps to his fortress."
"Ah. Bless you, Alan," Robin closed his eyes with a sigh. "Bless you. I shall hold myself in readiness, even while I sleep," he murmured.
"As a fellow subject in loyal service to the King, I salute you. And I shall not hesitate to call if you are needed." Captain Benwick answered kindly.
"I'll have a word with ╬the Sheriff' on my way out," he murmured to Gloria and Winnie, "to be certain he keeps out of sight for rest of the day. Good afternoon, ladies." He bowed and left the room.
Gloria tucked a blanket around Sir Robin and turned to her friend with a conspiratorial smile. "So," she whispered. "What I say? You like?"
"Do I like ... what?" Winnie answered.
"Not what, who. The Captain." Gloria's eyes were bright with romantical imaginings. She was much less shy about speaking English with Winnie, especially when they were alone like this, for Winnie was never critical of mistakes. Gloria struggled to find the words for her many thoughts. "My husband tell me about him, everything. They are friends, as boys. He is educated man. Kind, not proud. Not bad temper."
"Gloria ..." Winnie attempted to stop the whispered confidence, but to no avail.
"He is good man for husband, yes? He was to marry, very much he love a woman. But she die. Now he is alone ... and sad. You can make happy, I know." Gloria's eyes strayed to the doorway. "He is good man," she repeated. "He does not treat us like ... like Chinese scum."
"Chinese scum!" Winnie was incensed; she recollected the sleeping Sir Robin and lowered her voice. "Gloria, you are not Chinese scum!"
"You not know ... how it is," Gloria whispered. "How some treat us."
Winnie studied her young friend's face quietly for a moment. "Yes, I do know, unfortunately. My horrid cousins. Oh, not the Doctor," she hastened to say, "but our other cousins, John and Henry, who now make their home with us. To them I am nothing more than wretched Welsh scum, fit only to keep the house and grovel in their presence! But they are wrong, Gloria, about both of us. We serve, but we are not scum! Not in the eyes of God!"
Gloria's face radiated hope. "If the Captain think you beautiful, then you marry and leave that house! Like I marry Mr Jonathan and leave my hateful uncle! "
"I rather doubt that, a fine man like him becoming in love with me! But you never know," Winnie grinned. "If the Captain loves his beer, I have a fighting chance." She pulled at a curling tendril of her hair and raised an eyebrow. "After all, for all we know, the scent of beer may be the cause of true love!"
"Merciful Heavens!" Winnie's cheerful smile fled as another thought occurred to her. "I'd best stay clear of Mr Udy, in that case! For your mother's hair solution would put him into a frenzied passion!" And the giggling brought on by the thought of that occurrence nearly woke their elderly charge.
My one sister, a dowd ... Elizabeth's hurtful words, flung so carelessly during the conversation on the stairs, sounded in Anne's ears again and again as she sat by herself in Lady Dalrymple's opulent drawing room. This was the worst time to let them flay her, but Anne was powerless to stop their sting. In her heart she knew her sister was right; she was a dowd.
With a sigh, her eyes travelled to where Elizabeth stood, in smiling conversation amongst a knot of elegantly-attired ladies and gentlemen at the far side of the room. Elizabeth delighted in such an occasion, for she surely was not wasting her time -- and she certainly looked nothing like a dowd!
Anne smoothed the skirts of her pale blue gown and considered what she could do to improve her lot. Was it possible to follow Elizabeth's suggestion, to ╬make the most of the opportunity' before her? Yet she was amongst a set of persons who evaluated solely on the basis of rank, wealth, and appearance -- and she hadn't the wherewithal to improve herself in any of these areas. Of course she could do nothing; it was too ridiculous!
Anne glanced up just then, in time to see her sister Mary parade by. She was wearing her cerulean gown, the one Anne had worked so hard to finish for Louisa's wedding. Mary was in excellent spirits today, a welcome occurrence on an otherwise wearing afternoon. The three Elliot sisters had gone together to the Pump Room earlier, at Mary's insistence. And to her delight, they had chanced to meet Miss Carteret and an invitation to the Poetry Reading had been graciously extended. Naturally, Mary could not rest until she had procured her own copy of Mr Turner's book, which had taken the remainder of the morning. Anne didn't think Mary had bothered to read any of it, but she saw that her sister clutched it tightly now, in eager anticipation of the Reading.
Mr Turner had also been at the Pump Room that morning, a companion to Miss Carteret. He had come to take the waters as an aid in ╬calming the cacophony of his churning consciousness.' Anne's lips twitched into a smile at the memory of that introduction; Tino Turner was truly an original. She had not yet seen him at Laura Place; the poor man was probably still struggling with his inner ╬cacophony' in a back room somewhere.
"Two things you must tell me, Miss Anne, and then I shall leave you to your musings," a baritone voice said, quite nearby. "One, is this chair spoken for, and two, whatever has caused you to smile in that singularly diabolical fashion?"
"Diabol -- ? " Anne bit back the smile; she was coming to know that voice fairly well by now. She could also guess at the expression on the face of the speaker; he was always so innocent when saying the most outrageous things! Well, she would show him that two could play this game! Without looking up she answered serenely, "I am ╬calming the cacophony of my churning consciousness,' sir, and no, there is no one occupying this seat, so you may have it."
"How's that again?" James Benwick grinned as he settled himself in the chair.
"I believe it is here, on page ... um, let me see ... page twenty-two." Anne found the place and primly held out the green volume. "Do you see? Mr Turner used that expression when we met this morning, to refer to the condition of his, er, inner self." Above the book, Anne's eyes met Benwick's, bright with laughter. "You may be pleased to know that I have been reading Mr Turner's work, in preparation for this afternoon. You are quite right, his themes and word combinations are most, er, interesting."
"You are all politeness, Miss Anne, as usual," he murmured. "I was not half so charitable in my own evaluation."
"As you sent the poor book on an untimely sea bathing expedition, I would have to agree."
"Now, now. I have procured another, in honour of today's event, so perhaps we'd best forget the journey of the first?"
Anne merely smiled. "You are very fine today, sir," she said, unable to resist another gentle jab at her friend. "Forgive me if I inquire whether you are ╬Puffing off your Consequence' amongst us?"
Her allusion to the remark he had made at the Wentworth's wedding, about only wearing his dress sword on first-rate occasions, was not lost on him. "I suppose I deserved that," he chuckled. "But your smile was diabolical, you know."
"A woman's smile is said to be ╬mysterious,' sir, not ... devilish."
"Then you must take care not to think ╬devilish' thoughts about the guest of honour, madam," he countered, with a grin. "And since I was introduced to the fellow as I came in just now, to do otherwise is practically impossible! I could not have resisted the temptation!"
Anne opened her mouth to reply she knew not what, but Captain Benwick spoke first.
"You must forgive me, Miss Anne. I am quite rag-mannered, I know, to be provoking you like this. It comes of being a pitiful, brutish, particularly stupid sailor. Might I redeem myself by being of service? I believe I noticed lemonade being served at that table over there. May I procure a glass for you?"
"Yes ... thank you." Anne couldn't help but smile at his tactics. Besides, she was rather thirsty and the lemonade sounded perfect.
She watched as Captain Benwick made his way across the room, then she lowered her eyes to study the chair he had been occupying. On its seat he had left the copy of the book to mark the seat as his. Anne found herself to be smiling at the thought that he would be back, that he had chosen the pleasure of her company above the others in the room. And what a comfort it was, to know that one other person had found Mr Turner's poetry to be incomprehensible idiocy!
But whatever is the matter with me, to be saying such outrageous things to him? However, although she silently berated herself as she waited, Anne could not bring herself to feel truly sorry for anything she had said. On the contrary, she found herself thinking of other ways in which she might teaze Captain Benwick when he returned ...
Chapter 10, Part 2
James Benwick stood at the refreshment table, engrossed in making a decision. At any other time, the choice of a beverage would be simple, but just now his thoughts of Anne -- her welcoming smile, her bubbling laughter, the sparkle in her eyes as she spoke with him -- these drove all other considerations from his mind. Lady Dalrymple had adorned her drawing room with lavish floral arrangements and had brought in a noted harpist and a flautist to play duets, but James saw and heard nothing of them.
The only music in the room was the singing in his heart. For Anne had been pleased to see him, she had not been put off by his comment about the goats, or by any of the bumbling things he had said the day before. In fact, she had spoken with great familiarity, treating him as a friend. And friendship is a good beginning, he told himself. Indeed, it is the very best beginning of all.
He turned his attention to the table. A glass of sherry would be most welcome, but he decided that lemonade would be safer on all fronts. If spilled on his white breeches, it would less noticeable. Besides, he needed to an keep iron guard over his tongue; liquor of any sort -- or too much coffee -- could allow him to slip into a disastrous attack of levity. He had already strayed into this delightful territory with Anne, and he knew he must not do so again.
And how I shall keep a straight face when Turner begins his recitation ... James grinned at the thought, realising that he neither knew nor cared. Nothing mattered but to be in Anne's presence, to listen to the sound of her sweet voice as she teazed him.
╬You look very fine today, sir ... are you puffing off your consequence amongst us?' Her carefree words had been precious to his ears and had caused his spirit to soar. She remembers our walk on that gravel path at Uppercross, she remembers the things we spoke about ... my foolish comment about the dress sword ... He turned his eyes to gaze upon her, as she sat quietly waiting for his return. Robert Burns' words were alive to him now ...
╬Those smiles and glances let me see, That make the miser's treasure poor ...'
"Captain Benwick?" A woman's voice brought James back to the world of the drawing room with a bump.
"There you are, Captain Benwick," Miss Carteret chirped, as she bore down upon him with the guest of honour in tow. "We have been looking everywhere for you. Mr Turner is most desirous to speak with you about the true nature of his work. It is so rare to find a genuine aficionado. Mother has told him your tragical story and how he brought comfort to your darkest hour."
"I ... see," he managed to sputter.
Miss Carteret noticed the glasses he held and raised both eyebrows. "Lemonade? For yourself, sir? We do have something more to a gentleman's taste, if you would prefer."
James thought fast. "No, thank you. This is perfect. Er, lemonade puts me in mind of, er, the coast of sunny Spain, Miss Carteret," he replied. "After all, one may have sherry any day of the year. But to have the delight of lemonade, especially on such a dreary winter afternoon, that is a treat, indeed." He groaned at the obsequiousness of such a toady compliment, but it was the best he could do in his present state of mind.
But as Miss Carteret seemed pleased, Benwick breathed a sigh of relief and wondered what to do next. He smiled politely at Mr Turner. Mr Turner smiled back, and Miss Cartaret smiled at Mr Turner. He then smiled back at Benwick, and the round began again. After several silent moments of this, Benwick spoke up.
"A-hem. As you see, I am on an errand for Miss Anne ..." He offered the flimsy excuse in the hope of being allowed to pass by without further delay. But the pair did not take the hint, they remained rooted to the spot, blocking his path. And then it began to dawn on him what they were about, and where his duty lay. Bracing himself, James took a deep breath and bravely did the polite, saying words which he knew would likely spoil his afternoon with Anne.
"Er ... would you care to join us?"
"Such a lovely occasion," said Elizabeth Elliot, as she took the arm of the newcomer and led him into the centre of the drawing room. "I had no idea there were so many lovers of poetry in Bath ... or that you were numbered among them. I must admit, I am quite surprised to see you here today."
"Our cousin is a desirable connexion, my dear," the gentleman murmured. "If she were to take up Algonquian basket weaving, I believe that would be admired. But seriously," he smiled, "the Vicountess may be onto something with this Tino fellow, if what I've heard is true. Some say he is quite the visionary, years ahead of his time."
"Is he? I was introduced this morning, while I was out with Anne and Mary. He does seem to be quite an interesting person. He's seated over there, the one in the pale yellow coat and violet neckcloth. Anne and Miss Carteret are with him."
Mr Elliot's eyes followed Elizabeth's gaze and hardened in recognition. "What the devil is he doing here?" he muttered under his breath.
"Pardon? Then you are acquaint -- oh. Are you referring to Anne's poetical sailor?" Elizabeth studied her cousin's expression. "Do you know him, then? He is quite a favorite of Lady Dalrymple's."
"No, we've not been introduced," he replied, a little too lightly. "I have been running into that da-, er, fellow at every turn these days. He seems to admire your sister a great deal." Mr Elliot eyed Elizabeth carefully before he asked, "Do you suppose the sentiment is returned?"
"Anne? Interested in a person like that? I hardly think so. He is nothing like the other. Come, I shall introduce you."
"... and so few truly empathise, so few truly comprehend the anguished torment of a broken heart!" Tino Turner's thin face was pained as he spoke with Anne and Captain Benwick. He leaned forward in his chair, his voice throbbed with emotion. "And then I asked myself, why do we humans need love? What is the good of it, if all it brings is pain and torture? And then it was I had my greatest inspiration. Love is nothing but a secondhand emotion!" Tino sat back; unexpectedly he smiled. "Do you see?"
Anne and Captain Benwick exchanged a look. "But ... from whom is the love borrowed or who was the previous owner?" Benwick asked, with a frown. "I do not understand your meaning, sir. If the emotion is secondhand, one of the pair must have engaged in loving at some point, for your metaphor to be correct. Unless you are calling into question the value of love itself ..."
"And surely you must see that the heart was designed to love, Mr Turner," Anne added. "We see examples of that throughout the human experience."
"But the disappointment of unrequited love!" Miss Carteret cried. "It is quite cruel!"
"I was speaking in generalities, Miss Carteret," Anne replied. "Of course, once the heart has found and lost its true soul mate, it can never love another with the same fervent intensity."
"Or so the poets would have us believe," Benwick put in. "But can the wounded heart heal? And can it love again? That is the question, as I see it." He fixed his eyes on Anne, and added, "I believe that it can."
"But we must be practical," Anne said, with a sigh. "I have known true love to endure years of hardship and deprivation. But once the beloved has departed and all hope is gone, the one left behind is often mortally wounded and so is unable to find another. Perhaps this one should not seek to love this way again."
Captain Benwick frowned. "It seems Mr Turner would have us eschew the tender emotions of the heart for a different reason, Miss Anne, by his curious use of the term secondhand." He turned to face the poet. "Is love of so little value, Mr Turner, that you see it as a mere cast-off, a cheap and worn-out emotion?"
"I ... er ... I ... of course not, but I ..." Tino looked from one speaker to another, blinking in confusion at the unexpected direction of the conversation. When Miss Elliot approached and asked to present her cousin, he was noticeably relieved. But as Elizabeth and William Elliot were seated, another came hurrying over, in a state of great excitement.
"My dear Tino!" Lady Dalrymple cried. She gave her prot╗g╗ a beaming smile; she was barely able to contain her enthusiasm. "It has arrived, dear boy, at the perfect time! I insist upon the privilege of delivering it to you myself." She held out a flat parcel. "Your manuscript, directly from the printer. We shall begin as soon as you are able."
At this, Tino Turner lifted a shaking hand to his rouged cheek; his lips formed words, but no sound came forth.
"Have you smelling salts, Miss Anne?" Benwick murmured. "I think that poor fellow may ..."
But Tino pulled himself together, took the package, and with trembling fingers removed the wrapping. "It is here," he whispered, as he examined the stack of printed pages. "I cannot believe it! It is actually here! My poem!"
He looked up at the group. "Yesterday morning, I was moved to write this piece especially for today. We so wanted each guest to have a copy of his own ... and here they are!" With tears in his eyes, he turned to Lady Dalrymple. "Yes, milady, if your esteemed guests would kindly take their seats, I am ready to begin the reading."
With a flourish, Tino Turner pronounced his final word and made a bow. He had begun with ten of his favorite selections and had ended with his newest. As the applause died away and the poet was led from the podium, Mary Musgrove frowned over the sheet in her hand.
"Well, who would write a poem about saying good-bye to a pie?" Mary grumbled, as she watched Mr Turner cross the room. "Of all the nonsensical notions! And he does not even tell us what sort of a pie it is, except that it is American. And that is no recommendation at all!
"It is an unmarried female pie; it is called Miss," Captain Benwick said helpfully. At a quelling look from Anne, he directed his attention back to the page in his hand. "Well, it is," he said to her, sotto voce. He was sitting between the sisters and was having great difficulty controlling his impulse to laugh.
"Whiskey, I understand," Elizabeth offered. She was seated a little apart with her cousin, and was participating in the conversation out of politeness. "It is a particular type of liquor, is it not, Mr Elliot?"
"Indeed it is. And I understand it can be made from rye," he replied.
"It does not say whiskey made from rye but whiskey and rye," Mary complained. "We grow rye at Uppercross, it is quite disgusting. The Musgroves are very fond of a bread the Hayters make from it; the seeds get stuck in my teeth. But why would they put those horrid seeds into a glass of whiskey?"
Elizabeth glared at her sister.
"Well they do get stuck in my teeth!" Mary shot back. "And another thing. I do not think well of these boys for drinking it, no matter what their age or how morally upright they are. Nine or ten years old it too young to drink liquor!"
"Nine or ten? Why do you say that?" Captain Benwick asked, with as innocent a face as he could manage.
"Isn't it obvious? They're not ╬young boys' and they're not ╬young men'! What else could Mr Turner mean by good old boys, sir?"
"I have no idea, Mrs. Musgrove," Benwick choked.
Anne gave him another look and made an attempt to converse rationally. "Actually, I find his use of the term Chevy to be most interesting. I wonder what he meant. Perhaps ... chivvy?" She studied the page. "But that cannot be right. I thought ╬chivvy' meant to torment or to chase ..."
"It is the name of a kind of carriage, isn't it obvious? I mean, he drove it to the levee ... and the levee was dry," Elizabeth said in bored voice. "Mr Elliot, I feel in need of a little refreshment. Would you kindly accompany me?"
As the pair excused themselves, Anne continued to puzzle over the poem. "I have never heard this word said this way, either. Why do you suppose he pronounced it ╬shh-ehvy' when it is spelt with a ╬ch'?"
"Mmmm. It may be that it is French, Miss Anne. Or perhaps ..." Captain Benwick fought to keep his voice steady. "A-hem! It is in the finest literary tradition to misuse the common rules of grammar and spelling and then blame it on artistry. I recall having a debate with a Certain Person over the correct way to say Giaour not so very long ago, at Lyme."
"It is pronounced ╬Je-our,' sir," Anne reminded him.
"Are we back to that?" he chuckled. "You illustrate my point perfectly. And if it is the fashion for Byron to maul the English language like this, then it is de rigueur for Tino Turner!"
"That word is not ╬mauled'!" Anne laughed. "It is simply that Certain Persons have had so much study of Latin and so many years of service in foreign places that they cannot recall the simple rules of English pronunciation!"
"It is pronounced ╬Jour,' " he grinned.
Anne was about to reply when Miss Carteret slipped into the chair beside her. "Captain Benwick," she said, in a low voice. "I wonder if I might impose on you. I am rather confused, and as I do not wish to disturb Mr Turner, perhaps I may ask ..."
She moistened her lips, and confided, "You understand poetry better than most, sir. Perhaps you can tell me what this newest poem means."
"I'm sure Mr Turner would be delighted to explain it. An artist is always flattered by sincere interest ..."
"Yes, but I cannot think of anything to ask!" she whispered urgently. "Nothing intelligent, that is"
"Pardon me?" Mary piped up. "Did you hear her question?" she said to Anne. "What did she say?"
Captain Benwick studied the page for a moment. "This line, here," he said quietly, showing her the place. "He repeats it throughout the piece, and twice at the end of the chorus. I believe this statement may be the focal point."
"This will be the day that I die," Miss Carteret repeated; she gasped in sudden comprehension. "Do you mean his theme is ... death and dying?" She examined the page with new eyes. " And the person in the poem, the one who speaks, he knew he would perish on that very day, didn't he?"
"It does appear so," Anne said gently, with a look at Benwick. "But Mr Turner would be the best person to ask."
"Apocalyptic themes are quite popular among poets, Miss Carteret. But Miss Anne is right. I would not put too much stock in that idea until you have discussed it with him."
But Miss Carteret refused to be comforted. "Oh, the poor dear lamb!" she cried, and threw a look of great longing across the room. "Is he in a state of inner torture, which he has concealed from all of us?" she murmured. "You ... you don't suppose it is a desperate sort of ... hidden message? A wish for self-destruction?" Her eyes strayed again to where he stood.
As if responding to a summons, within minutes Tino was at Miss Carteret's side. "My dear Mozelle," he whispered. "I saw your agony; even from across the room it was palpable. Something troubles you."
"Your poem, Tino ... but I shall ask you later," she stammered, blushing furiously.
Mr Turner patted her shoulder and sat in the vacant chair beside her. But when he realised Anne and Captain Benwick were present, he brightened. "But I do have a piece of news, wonderful news told me by Sir Walter Elliot just now. As a rose blooming in a desert land ..." Mr Turner's smile widened, " ... so comes refreshment unexpected in an artistic wilderness. Mmmm. I like the sound of that! ╬Refreshment unexpected.' Yes."
Tino sat motionless with eyes closed, murmuring to himself before he recollected that he had excellent news to relate. His eyes popped open. "Miss Carteret, only imagine! Your cousin, Miss Anne, has established a poetical society! And Sir Walter has invited us to join! Isn't that delightful?"
Anne and Benwick were left speechless as Tino talked on with great enthusiasm. Eventually, even Mary (who hated poetry) became interested in presenting herself as a prospective member. A meeting time was finally agreed upon, just as Lady Dalrymple came forward to reclaim her guest of honour.
The gentlemen stood; Mr Turner prepared to depart, then he turned back. "One moment, milady. I have not heard what these dear people, who are now my most cherished friends in Bath, have thought of my new poem." He smiled in eager expectation.
"It was very unique and unusual," Mary stated. "I have never heard anything like it in all my life."
"So profound and mystical in meaning," sighed Miss Carteret.
"I think it quite interesting and, er, lyrical," Anne replied.
Captain Benwick hesitated for only a moment. "It is a masterpiece of confrabuclation! And perchance we shall have opportunity to say more about it on Friday afternoon, " he said decidedly. "And now, may I escort you to the refreshment table, Miss Anne?" He politely offered his arm.
"What does that mean," Anne whispered, as soon as Tino Turner was out of earshot. "Confra ... whatever it was you said."
"Confrabuclation? Nothing, I made it up just now," Benwick whispered back. "From ╬confound' and ╬fabricate,' twisted just a bit." His eyes twinkled. "What else could I do? All of the truthful comments were used up and I did not wish to lie."
"That is horrible," she murmured, with a chuckle. "And accurate, unfortunately. What a dreadful person you are, Captain Benwick!"
"Yes, I know. I've been told so in the Navy for years. You should hear Wentworth wax eloquent about my defects of charac ..." James broke off speaking as he realised what he had said.
"He was always very pointed in his opinions, as I recall," Anne replied tartly, and then she softened. "I do apologise for Father's invitation, though. I'm sure he meant well. Dear me, we shall have them all with us -- Elizabeth, too, when she learns Miss Carteret is a member! There will never be a dull moment with that group ... or a deep, profound discussion of poetry, either!"
"Miss Anne, you have a gift for understatement," James replied, with a sigh and a shake of his head.
"Are you going to mope over her all afternoon, Cousin?" Elizabeth asked with a raised eyebrow. William Elliot was staring at the refreshment table, where Anne and Captain Benwick were engaged in friendly conversation.
"Mope over ... what do you mean?" He turned back to her with a pleasant smile.
Elizabeth lifted her chin and looked him directly in the eyes. "I would be the most complete simpleton if I did not notice the way you have been watching my sister. Perhaps the gossips are right when they say you are smitten."
"My dear Elizabeth, nothing could be further from the truth." He lowered his voice. "I have not spoken because I cannot. I thought we had discussed this."
"Many things may happen between March and June, sir," she replied archly. "But you would do well to present those suitors for her inspection fairly soon. It would be unkind if Anne were to hear your name mistakenly linked with hers. It would raise her expectations -- and the truth would bruise her gentle spirit."
"And I would not have that for the world," William Elliot answered gravely.
"Come," Edward responded, to the soft knock at the study door.
"Sir, Mr Cooper to see you."
Edward removed his glasses. With his free hand, he rubbed his forehead and sighed. After the events of the previous day, he was not prepared for the likes of his curate, Mr Cooper. "Best to see him and be done with it," Edward mumbled to himself. He hurriedly replaced his spectacles and finished a sentence he was crafting for his Sunday sermon.
"Sir?" said Graham.
"Uh ... show him in, please, Mrs. Graham." Standing, he received the curate.
"Rector, I came as soon as I thought it was decent!" Mr Cooper declared. "It was such a shock to hear of of Mrs. Wentworth's indisposal! I certainly hope nothing has gone terribly wrong -- but with her age, it could only be expected," the reedy fellow said, in his usual, oversolicitious tone.
Indicating a chair, Edward said, "Uh, yes ... I suppose. Thank you for your concern, but Mrs. Wentworth is quite well now." He noticed that Cooper's smile faded slightly, but in an instant was back to its characteristic intensity.
"Good! Mrs. Cooper will be so relieved. She was nearly sick with worry when she heard. The worry was so intense that she poured out all her anxiety into the making of a blanc mange, which she sent with me... ."
"Please, thank Mrs. Cooper for us, I am certain that Mrs. Wentworth will appreciate it very much." Since Mrs. Cooper was the daughter of a wealthy landowner near Woolverhampton, Edward had doubts about her abilities in the kitchen. He had no doubts that there was a blanc mange, the only question was by whose hand it was created. Knowing Cooper and his penchant for calculation, it could very well have been he pouring out his anxiety in the kitchen! Standing the Rector extended his hand and said, "It was very kind of you to come to inquire about my wife... "
Cooper also came to his feet. "To be truthful, Rector, there are other matters that I feel the need to discuss." With his face taking on a grave aspect, Cooper folded his hands before him, and awaited the Rector's response.
Edward again sighed. Motioning for Cooper to return to his former place, the Rector returned to his own chair. "And what matters might we need to discuss, Mr Cooper?" Edward could discern not a hint from the man's demeanor and so had no idea what might be on the mind of his curate. Whatever might be, the Rector knew it would somehow work to further the curate's own position -- as had everything else in the past.
"Henrietta will love this!" Louisa stood near the window, and though the day was dreary, she could still admire the cut crystal vase. "It will look so well in the cottage. Everyone who comes to visit the cottage will think it just the thing!"
Frederick looked up and smiled. While he was simpler in his tastes when it came to these things, he had to agree that it was a lovely piece and would, no doubt, be cherished immediately upon its bestowal upon the bride. Louisa had taken nearly an hour buying the vase to celebrate her sister's marriage to Charles Hayter, but he suspected that her true fascination with it came from the fact that he had had little -- nay, nothing to do with its purchase. She had bought it with her own money.
Having spent the morning in Crown Hill arranging his finances (a goodly sum of which was now in the control of Louisa) he had had the pleasure of seeing her first astonished by the amount entrusted to her. Then, he had watched as that sensation was replaced by the realisation of the extraordinary freedom such a sum could bring.
As they had walked along the few shops that the village boasted, she had examined the wares with a new eye No longer did she look with the eye of a dispassionate observer, but with the look of one well able to buy.
As they had strolled along, Louisa had suddenly stopped. "Aren't they beautiful, Frederick?" she breathed, drawing him to the window of a shop.
They stood before the window of Fulton's Importers. The shop offered trinkets, housewares, cloth and foreign goods. He followed her gaze to a particular strand of blue beads, draped across a piece of white velvet. "They are lovely," was all he said. In her expression, he recalled his own joy in the independence a pocketful of coins could bring. He also gave a slight thought to the trouble such a pocket could bring.
When they entered the shop, he had stayed well back. He reasoned that her being left in Shropshire, alone, she must learn to deal with merchants independent of him. While Crown Hill was a small and friendly village, the merchants there were no different than any others in the world. All had quite a lot of talent for coaxing money from a full purse -- more so than many a pickpocket.
As they had left the shop, Frederick had marvelled that he carried a crate containing a crystal vase rather than the beads.
"It is lovely, I am sure they will treasure it. Are you certain that you don't wish to deliver it yourself -- I can change my plans and we could leave tomorrow by coach. I think that I could persuade Charles to escort you back after the wedding" At a private dinner, taken at the Dove and Quail, they had talked about her disappointment in missing the nuptials. She had spoken freely about her regret, but when asked, Louisa was reluctant to give a reason why she would rather stay in Shropshire, despite wanting to see her sister married.
Lowering the vase, she caressed it as she carried it back to the bed and the crate in which it had been packed. She sighed and said, "While I am sure that you could persuade Charles to do practically anything, I think it best to stay here." Louisa slid the vase into the crate and moved the packing around it. "Mrs. Wentworth talked to me last night."
"Oh? What did the two of you talk about?" The previous afternoon he had found his wife sobbing, and she had told him that Catherine's mother hated her and had snubbed her openly. The Captain had patted and soothed as much as he could, and hoped that the women's conversation had softened whatever slights, real or imagined, had taken place.
"Mrs. Wen ... Catherine. She said I was to call her Catherine." Louisa smiled at this. "She said that I had helped enormously yesterday morning and that she was sure I would be good company once the baby came." She lowered her voice a bit, "She is pleased with me, I think."
"Of course she is pleased with you, she'd not have invited you to stay were that not the case." It never occurred to Frederick that she would fear not being accepted by his family. "You were worried?"
"Certainly, I am among strangers now, they are quite free to not like me." She rearranged the paper in the crate. "But I want very much for them to like me, I do not wish them to regret the invitation."
The Captain reached over and took his wife's hand. Looking closely at her, he said, "They are not strangers, they are your family. And, you are very likeable, you needn't worry on that score." Giving it a squeeze, he brightened and said, "And you are free to stay or go, that is your choosing. But if you stay, just make certain that you write the note and I will deliver it, along with the gift when I ride through Uppercross." He kissed her hand, then released it and began to pull his sea chest from the corner in which it had been stowed. Hoisting it on the blanket chest, he unlocked it and began to remove its contents.
"I am fortunate that you must travel through Somerset to fetch your equipment from Kellynch," Louisa said, stroking her hand where he had kissed her. "What was it you called that thing you need to retrieve?"
"A quadrant -- remember? It is for fixing the ship's location." He had edeavoured to give her an elementary lesson in navigation, but she had proclaimed herself too thick-headed to understand it all. "And I have two telescopes that I had specially ground and a chronometer that is very delicate. Oh, and my dress sword is tucked somewhere in the Hall as well. Hopefully, Harkness has some idea where it might have landed." Suddenly, he stopped unpacking the case. "I have an idea."
Trying to put some order to the clothes, she asked, "And what might that be?"
"I have been wondering how I might keep Belle -- if the Doctor doesn't steal her again," Louisa smiled, "And transport the instruments safely."
Putting the crate lid on the vase, Louisa said, "And you have a solution?"
"I think so. If your father would not mind, I could leave Belle at Uppercross, rent a rig from Crewkerne and then my instruments are not ground to powder by going horseback. Do you think he would go along with such a scheme?"
She put her arms about him, and said, "As persuadable as Charles may be, when it comes to you, I think Father is more so. And it sounds like a very sound plan. Though I am surprised that you had not thought about your precious instruments when you bought Belle." She raised her face and kissed the underside of his chin.
Frederick chuckled. "I did not give them a thought, I was merely trying to buy myself a few more hours with ... with you. Everything else went out of my mind."
She smiled. "That is heartening to know."
They stood together for several minutes before Frederick murmured, "I'm sorry, my girl, but I must get back to packing my chest. The next post is stopping to pick it up and take it to Plymouth." Even as he said this, he felt a twinge of guilt. Had his most clever plan failed, he would not have been packing at all. He would be staying right there with her. He shook the thought aside, as it was useless to grieve his own stupidity.
"I know," Louisa sighed. "May I help? I would like to learn how." She began removing the rest of the clothing from the chest.
Shaking off the last of the remorse, he asked, more lightly than he felt, "Why? Are you planning on running off to sea?
"Perhaps," she teased. "I just wish to know how you like it. Packing a trunk can be a very personal thing."
"Oh, Really? And how might you know that?"
"Years going to and from school," she replied. "I am inclined to be rather untidy -- Etta says I am slovenly in my packing, while she is very particular about her trunks. Which are you?"
"A-hem, the Navy is based upon order -- a particular order." With that, he dropped into the chest an old, worn pair of Hessian boots.
"Oh! Then you must show me your particular order," she smiled. Looked at the chest, she noticed something that she had not seen before. "Who is 'Nathaniel Wentworth?" Louisa asked, pointing to the name on the side.
"Nathaniel Wentworth is, I should say, was my uncle. Father's brother. He was washed overboard in a storm in the Western Islands, oh, nearly thirty years ago, I think."
Louisa shivered. "Why then have his chest? That seems very morbid." She offered him a stack of dressy white lawn shirts.
"No! It is not morbid," he cried. Refusing the shirts, he pointed to several pairs of duck cloth breeches. (These were only worn when well away from land and no chance of being seen by fussy admirals.) "That chest is very lucky, I feel quite fortunate to have it at all," he said, tucking in jersey knit shirts.
"I cannot see why. It was not such a fortunate piece for your uncle."
Her astute rejoinder caught him by surprise. Sailors being endowed with a greater share of superstition than the average human, Frederick knew it would be impossible to make his landlocked wife see the good fortune in the chest. "I feel fortunate in having it because when Uncle Nathaniel died, all his worldly goods were sold at the mast, to others of his crew. When the crew dispersed, it all went to the four corners of the world! Happenchance put me and the fellow who bought the chest serving on the Borthwick. The cove liked me and liked the idea of me being Nathaniel's nevvy and so he give it to me -- well, sold it to me -- for just a little. I have taken it to sea with me on every commission and it has been very lucky for me." Continuing with his clothes, he hoped this explanation would satisfy.
Louisa shook her head in wonder. "As I said, it was not very lucky for your uncle." She offered stockings of various colours, and he shook his head and reached for small clothes.
"Well, I feel my luck acutely. After all, I have never been swept overboard since having it!" He gazed at her with smug satisfaction.
This was one of those times that his words left her speechless. "It is very hard to argue such a point," Louisa finally said. She offered his dress coat with the shining buttons and golden braid, and he nodded and placed it at the top of the chest.
"Yes, I know." He dropped the lid shut. Taking out the key from his pocket, he laid it on the lid that he might find it easily. "Now, all that is left is a book Edward promised me. I'll go down and fetch it."
Frederick had left the book in question in the sitting room. As he dismounted the stairs, he noticed a stranger kneeling before the small secretary that resided in the corner of the room. "Hello -- you! What are you doing there?"
The stranger started, and in a flurry of movement, removed a handkerchief from his breast pocket and brought it to his face. As he rose, he made the noises of using the cloth and intoned a pious, "Amen."
Keeping the cloth to his face and walking quickly to the door of the room, it was obvious that the man intended to avoid the Captain if at all possible. But, as the Captain had other ideas, that was not to be.
Taking the spare fellow by the shoulders, Frederick spun him about and pulled his arm down, revealling his face.
"Mr Cooper! I did not recognise you in that ... attitude of prayer."
"Captain Wentworth, I am very sorry if I worried you!" Cooper began, as he refolded his handkerchief. "I have just come from meeting with your brother, the Rector and I was so overcome with thankfulness for Mrs. Wentworth's recovery that I came in here to," he stammered and dabbed his upper lip. " ... pray! ... and ... compose my emotions. Again, I am sorry if I startled you." Jamming the cloth in his coat pocket he began to move around the Captain. "I am in a dreadful hurry, sir. Good day," he called as he dashed to the door.
Seeing that the curate had truly departed, Frederick set about finding the book. "Strange that," he muttered as he walked into the sitting room. Spotting the desired object, he walked to the small table upon which it rested. As he picked it up, he glanced in the direction of the secretary. Moving over to it, he took stock of the contents of the open drawer that would have been just before the curate. Sliding it closed with the toe of his boot, he pondered as to whether or not Mr Cooper had truly been praying for his sister-in-law or, perhaps, preying upon his brother.
Frederick reentered the room and said to Louisa, "I just had an extraordinary encounter with -- Ho! ... what are you about? Are you pilfering my goods there, woman?" Forgetting Cooper and the drawer, he saw Louisa hurriedly closing and locking the lid of his sea chest.
With wide eyes, she turned quickly to face him, setting the key back on the lid where he had placed it. But as she turned, her fingers caught it and it clattered to the floor. Dropping to one knee, she snatched up the key and placed it on the lid. "No, sir! I was not pilfering ... not in the least!"
Walking over to her with a suspicious look, he reached around her and picked up the key, tucking it in his pocket. Taking her around the waist, he pulled her close and said, "Now ... tell me, what were you doing with my trunk? Did you take something out?"
The tone he used was teazing and the look he gave her amused. Louisa could see that he was not in the least concerned she had done anything untoward to the trunk, he was merely curious. She did not wish to tell him about the surprise she had hidden for him to find, and so, decided to lead him on a merry chase. She shook her head slowly and said softly, "No, sir. I took nothing from your trunk." She tightened her lips to keep from smiling outright.
Frederick examined her face closely. He liked it when she pursed her lips, as it was the only time a dimple on her right cheek would show itself. Bending down, he softly kissed the tiny, errant hollow. Straightening, he took on a contemplative posture, "Then, you put something in my sea chest. Am I right?" He now pursed his own lips, trying to act the part of the stern inquisitor.
Rather than give an immediate reply, Louisa reached up and retied her husband's neckcloth. This diversion would do much to heighten her husband's curiosity.
"Well? What have you to say?"
"Yes ... you are right. I did put something ... " Tucking the ends of the neckcloth, she took time to smooth his shirtfront and coat lapels. " ... in your sea chest." Looking the innocent lamb, she gazed into his eyes.
"Mmm, by your manner when I came in, I must assume that you had not wanted me to find this mysterious thing, am I right?"
"Yes ... I did not wish you to find it while you are yet here. When you are in Plymouth and unpack your chest ... then I want you to find it." Her smile widened.
Examining her closely again, he said an a low, glib tone, "Oh, I do not like the wicked gleam in your eye, my girl. I fear that you have done me a disservice of some sort ... perhaps I should open the trunk straightaway and root around to find out what sort of cruel trick you have perpetrated upon me!" As he spoke, he pulled her closer and brought them nearly nose to nose.
Turning away, just a bit, Louisa began picking at the tweed of his jacket. She offhandedly replied, "Well ... you can certainly do that, but I think I should remind you that the coach will be coming in less than half an hour. If you tear it all up now, there will be no time to set it to right. You will either miss the coach altogether or you will have to lock it up, all in a jumble ... and you have already said you like a particular order to things." At that, she sweetly patted his shoulders to emphasis her words.
Frederick looked at her with admiration. "My dear, if that brain of yours were in a man's body, I would have no scruple enlisting you for my quarterdeck! You have taken everything into account." Now his curiosity was piqued. What could she have placed in the chest that was so important it be must guarded with such care? Tightening his hold on her, he brought her closer still and said softly, "Come now, Louisa, what have you put in my trunk? I'll not open it ... just tell me."
A thrill went through her as she realised that she had bested him , and that now he was overset by curiosity. Just as quickly, she remembered the reason for the gift and the reason to hide it away. "No . . .I want you to find it when you are away from me." Again, she pursed her lips, but now it was to hold back tears that were stinging her eyes. The first that escaped, she hurriedly swiped at with the back of her hand.
He could not help but see the tears, but he did not wish to waste their time by lowering the day. Frederick threw back his head and cried, "Well, now I know!" Letting go of her, he turned and raising his arms. He exclaimed, "Most likely, you have put something despicable in there! A mouse perhaps? Alive or dead, it would make no difference!" Wheeling to face her, he pointed and went on in the same tone, "Or ... perhaps it is a piece of old moulded cheese that you have been saving for just such an occasion ... that is why I must not find it here!!" At this, his arm swept wide to indicate the whole of the house.
Despite herself, she began to giggle as he went on in such a ridiculous manner, complete with clownish faces. She could not help herself, and gave over to outright laughter.
Coming back and taking her again in his arms, he said, "You want me to be reminded of you every time I put on a shirt that smells like bilge ... or I find holes eaten in all my stockings ... is that your game?" He was glad to see laughter in her eyes instead of the tears. There would be plenty of those soon enough. "So is that your trick, my little mischief-maker?"
Again the dimple appeared as Louisa tried to bring herself to order. "No," she giggled. "I did nothing of that sort. No mice ... no cheese." She resolved to keep the tears back as she looked up at him. "It is something to remind you of me -- something pleasant -- that I hope you like."
"I'm sure I will. You're sure you cannot tell me what it is?" he tried to cajole her one last time.
"No ... I shall not tell you. But you must promise me something ... you must keep it to yourself ... no one else can see it ... please." The thought of anyone but Frederick seeing ... Had she given her ╬surprise' more thought, she might not have done it at all.
Frederick could not understand the look on her face, but was now more curious than ever. Not sure what to say, he quipped, "Ah, so you have knitted me some small clothes! I can assure you my dear that no one, save my steward, shall see them."
She understood that he was trying to cheer her, but now the game was over and the trunk was truly being shipped, and he would soon follow it to Plymouth. He would be there to find her surprise, and that being the case, meant he would be gone from her and she would be alone.
"No, it is not that. It is something else . . .something I would be mortified if anyone other than you were to see." As she spoke, she seemed to make herself smaller while she pressed herself into his embrace.
Placing his hand gently upon the nape of her neck, he too pressed her close. "Well, then ... whatever it is shall be private between you and I. I promise that no one else shall see it." He kissed her forehead. "Thank you. I know I will cherish it, whatever it might be."
"Edward, may I speak with you?"
"Certainly, come in. My door is always open to you. I see you got your chest off, and did you complete your business in town?"
"Yes. Without a hitch, in fact. That was what I wished to speak about. There are some legal matters of which, in my absence, you must be aware."
Clearing away the papers that littered his desk, he said, "I am at your disposal. Whatever you might need, you have only to ask."
"Before we talk about the money, "Frederick said, hesitantly, "There is something I think I should tell you about."
Leaning back in his chair, Edward asked, "And what might this something be?"
Pulling another chair closer to the desk, Frederick sat. "I came down earlier to fetch that book you said I could have. I left it in the sitting room yesterday and so went in to get it. I found your curate crouched before the secretary. When I asked what he was about, he said that he was in prayer -- and composing himself after hearing the good news of Catherine's condition." He too leaned back, allowing his words to be absorbed.
Edward shook his head. "Well, Mr Cooper having to compose his feelings to do with Catherine is a tub-load of tripe if there ever was one! The only thing that he is thankful for is his wife's family and connections!" He again began to fuss with papers on the desk.
"But that is not the half of it." Edward looked up, curious. "After he had gone, I went in and picked up the book. Before I went out of the room, I noticed that the bottom right-hand drawer of the secretary was open. That was just where Mr Cooper was 'praying.'"
Edward was quiet for a time. "There is nothing of importance in that drawer, so he could not have taken anything of value."
"He took nothing that I could tell ... I handled him a bit when I did not recognise him.."
At first Edward smiled at the idea of the Captain 'handling' Mr Cooper. Then the Rector frowned. "Cooper has been nothing but a thorn in my flesh since I took him on ... " He leaned back in the chair and fell into thought.
"Why ever did you ask such a man to be your curate? I cannot imagine that even at first blush he appealed to you -- or was he fobbed off on you by Levant?"
Edward looked up and said, "No! That is the worst of it! I chose him, I do not have Levant to blame. I agreed to hire him without ever having any direct knowledge of him. I foolishly took the word of his father-in-law, a man I did have knowledge of. Mr Pitney asked if I would take Cooper on, that he was to marry his daughter and that he -- Cooper -- was well-liked by the family and that they had every intention of helping him get on after their eldest son was established. Cooper had talked about making the Church his life and so Pitney applied to me about the curacy of Crown Hill. I was doing everything when I first began here, and I was quite used to that, so told Pitney I really could not afford to pay a married man. Pitney gave me the money to pass on to Cooper. I thought I was doing the right thing, helping a Christian gentleman, now ... now I am not certain that I have not made myself a nest more of spines than of straw."
Frederick could see that the more his brother talked, the angrier he became. After rooting around in a drawer, and removing nothing, the Rector closed it hard and said, "You know, the fellow actually had the presumption to come in here and tell me how he has been keeping 'care of the flock' as he called it, in my 'absence!'"
"Your absence?" Frederick laughed, "You've not been absent! Well, excepting for the few days of my wedding and I hardly think that counts as abandonment."
"No, no, he considers that from the time you arrived in December, that I have been preoccupied with my family, and while not exactly shirking my responsibilities ... " he took on a grim and pietistic mein, "I have not 'been attending the flock as a good Shepherd.'" Edward's face changed back to grimly sarcastic. "But! Not to worry ... Curate Cooper has been keeping watch over the flock and keeping them safe from ravaging wolves!" He leaned back in his chair and crossed his hands over his breast. "I do not think I have been neglectful of my charges," he said, nearly to himself.
Rising back up, Edward cried, "And ... after going all over the parish, Cooper now is of the opinion that I must do something about a woman Pollard Levant is rumoured to be keeping up at Bramford Hall! Me! As though I could march up to the gate and demand she come out! If Levant is such a ... " The Rector continued for quite a time about Levant and the rumoured woman.
The Captain had seen self-doubt in a man when it concerned his career, and his brother showed all the signs. Frederick had never thought that a man, called by God, could have mortal feelings of doubt. After Edward's rant ceased, the Captain quietly said, "Do not allow Cooper to plant this field."
"Wha ... what on earth do you mean?"
"I mean, Cooper is not a worthwhile man. He is not one who should have such place in your mind that he can bring on this sort of apprehension. You are a fine rector! I certainly would never bury myself in the country with the petty and niggling concerns of farmers and shopkeepers! All this -- "
"Frederick, not all of life revolves around the Navy and matters of national interest! The concerns of these people are just as -- "
Frederick began to laugh. First quietly, but as Edward became more vehement, the laughter mounted.
"Why do you laugh? Are you so heartless that you -- "
Frederick raised his hand in surrender. "No, I am not heartless, I just wish for you to see that you are perfect for this Parish! You love these people and care more deeply than one such as myself ever could!" The Captain sobered, and said firmly, "You once told me that Providence places us where we are for unknowable reasons." He flashed just a hint of a smile. "It pleases Him to place you in the company of Mr Cooper."
Edward sighed at that thought.
"Besides, Edward, we Wentworth's are quite able to deal with pirates." Frederick rested himself in the chair, folding his hands in satisfaction when he discerned his brother's response.
Edward smiled and shook his head, "You are certainly able to cheer and lighten the burden of people, do not be so hasty in thinking you might not do well as a religious."
"Oh, please ... but speaking of pirates, I met with your money man. He seems to be a good sort -- is he?"
"Yes, we are quite fortunate. In a small village such as Crown Hill, it is not unusual to find the lowest sort of sharp, gouging and blackening the eye of everyone with whom he does business. But not Putnam, he is a fair man. I must admit I don't see him often -- nothing to go in and nothing to take out, I'm afraid." Edward smiled.
"Any wise, he and I got on well. He was very helpful in doing just as I asked. I have copies of the terms of my accounts." He handed the documents to Edward. "As you can see, the first is for Louisa. It is already countersigned by me and she has full control of it in my absence."
Edward let out a low whistle. "Lord, Brother. You said nothing about being gone for so many years ... this is more than enough to keep her quite well -- on her own if she so chose -- for quite some time." Looking up, he asked, "Why so much?"
"It is part of the settlement money. I told Musgrove that I neither wanted, nor needed it, but it was important to them that they give it. I decided that she would have full access to it."
"She is awfully young, Frederick. Does she even understand how much this is?"
"No. I don't think so. She is nearly as stupid as I was about money. But, I have shown her how to keep a running account of every expenditure. If she wastes it in a week, she knows she is not to come to you." Frederick raised his brow. "I am hoping that being under the watchful eye of you and your sensible wife, she can be kept from too much danger!"
Edward glanced up and received his brother's look. "You are quite correct about my wife. And ... Louisa would have to be doing double tides in riotous living to spend this much in anything under a year. Unless she's buying land, and then you may have a very shrewd wife on your hands." The Rector smiled.
"I have no doubt that she is shrewd, though she really hasn't grown into it yet. As I said, if she buys that amount in bonnets, lurid novels and other gimcracks, she has been warned that you will not come to her rescue -- will you?"
"I haven't the funds to rescue myself, much less a foolish girl with her first taste of freedom."
Frederick ignored the remark and went on. "The second is an account I opened just to be shed of some of the cash. I don't want to carry it with me and while having a decent account in Plymouth will be necessary, I really would rather have the rest here, where it can be managed by you -- if anything should happen."
Edward pursed his lips and did not look up from the second document. He detested his brother's allusion to something happening. The Captain's death, disappearance or dismemberment was always a possibility, and it was not that the Rector wished to hide from the truth, but the truth being more than obvious, he chose not to engage in the discussion of it.
"As you can see, you are second on the account. If there is reasonable assurance that I am dead -- " Frederick looked towards Edward with mock seriousness, "and I mean reasonable, not vague and hopeful! Then the money is fully yours."
Edward took his brother's real meaning -- and he hated it.
He continued. "That is my wish and it is apart from my will." Frederick looked his brother's way and said, "So, if the Gazette reports news of a hellacious blow sinking the Laconia, with all hands lost, get to Putnam and have things changed over."
Not looking up, Edward said, "That too is a huge pile of money, Frederick. Shouldn't it go to Louisa, should anything happen?"
"Louisa is well taken care of, don't worry. My will even contains a bequest for Sophy and a few minor ones for old mates. I have seen to my responsibilities." Turning the page, he said, "And now the last." He watched as his brother read over the last document in the stack. Frederick watched carefully to see the intensity of the objection as the Rector came to the amount he had deposited in the account.
Edward carefully read the document several times. Each time he thought he had read wrong and so read again. Going over all the numbers once more, he tossed the paper down upon the desk and leant back in his chair.
"Well? Have you nothing to say? Not even a thank you?"
"You know that I'll not take such an obscene sum of money from you." Edward said simply.
Feigning surprise, Frederick looked at the paper and exclaimed, "Obscene? It is large, I admit, but obscene? No. Besides, I want you to have it." Looking intently at his brother, he said "I am tired of having to send you crumbs now and again, knowing that is all you will accept." The Captain pulled his chair next to the desk. He wished to be closer to his brother, as if that would make Edward understand better. "For years, you have been caring for me, in one fashion or another. I even suspect that before you came back from the Indies, you were sending money to our Mother. You had been putting shoes and coats on me long before you set foot back in country. Am I right?"
Edward sat up and shifted uneasily. Since telling his brother about his past dealings in the West Indies, they had spoken little of it. Other than vague references, there was never direct comments upon it. While he felt no guilt about his part in the slave trade, Mercy had taken that long ago, he smarted still over this neglect of his mother in the years he had been absent. He had known their father to be cruel -- the violence which had led to the banishment of his eldest son had been proof enough of that -- yet he had done nothing to protect his mother or the younger children from the man, and he still felt such neglect acutely.
Taking a pen from the basket on his desk, the Rector fiddled and played for a moment. Tossing it back in, he finally said, "Mother's letters were few, but she was quite concerned that Father was always losing ground with the business. I had money, so I sent it. I wish I could say it was out of love, but -- . I had money and while I loved it more than was decent, more could always be got. I sent it. Do not make it a virtue that it was not."
Frederick saw his opportunity. "Don't you see? I don't even love it very much. I have more I ever thought could be had, and, as you say, there are always ways for a clever man to make more!" The Captain lowered his head and shook it. "I know that sounds arrogant, but in my soul, I know that money is not something I need worry over. I have a kind of faith in myself, I can't explain it, but it is there. All that aside, I want you to have this. I am not trying to pay you off, or anything as crass as that, I just want you to know how much I appreciate all you have done for me over the course of the years. Even what you are doing for me now -- me and Louisa."
The brothers looked at one another for a moment. "That much money would make me nearly independent. I mean as far as concerns the living. No matter how little the tithes might be, living in the Rectory and all, we would be taken care of."
"I know that. That is what I want. I want you to have the same independence I want Louisa to have. As I told her, you can proclaim your freedom all you like, but if you have no means, and are hungry, your freedom sells for a very small sum."
"Yes, freedom can be taken so easily when one has no means." Edward brightened, "This windfall will certainly enable me to free myself from Levant. No matter how much he asks for, I shall be able to answer fully."
Frederick began to dig in his pocket. "Ah, no, brother. None of that money in the bank is to go to Levant. I beg you." The look on his face was serious until he pulled out a pouch from his coat. It landed with a pleasant thunk on the desk and he said, "Now that will answer Levant fully!"
Edward looked at the pouch and then his brother. He hesitantly reached over and took the pouch into his lap. It was fair sized and heavy. Looking in it, he exclaimed, "Gold!" The Rector had not handled gold for several years. Bank notes and certificates were now the fashion, not that he had either very often, but he had heard. Watching Frederick, but getting no immediate answer, he began to count the booty.
Frederick smiled a most self-satisfied smile. When it came to things of the heart, he knew himself to be a lame, blind man at the ball, but when concocting a scheme of this nature, he was in familiar waters. To make his way in the Navy, he had early on learned how one must deal with the blue-coated pirates that commanded nearly every port and how to chasse his way through every gauntlet set forth by Whitehall, that amazing place mostly populated by sharps and flats the same colouring of Levant.
"While I thank you for it, it is a bit shy of the last mark that he set." Setting the bag down, he continued, "Can't blame you, I guess I never told you what he wanted. But with what is in the bank, I shall have no trouble paying him off."
"Edward, my boy, listen. I met your Pollard Levant outside the office of Mr Putnam. He made polite noises about running into my lovely wife and myself. After he had leered her a moment, he asked me to pass along and invitation to visit him at Bramford Hall tomorrow morning. He mentioned that the two of you have some business that must be finalised. He even hinted that I might know of it."
"He is a charmer, ain't he? I'm sorry he was so flagrant in his attentions to Mrs. Wentworth."
"It can't be helped. Besides, it wasn't the first time, he did it in Church. A man who does something so despicable in the House of God is not one from which you can expect mannerly behaviour. I just wish I had been in uniform. Fellows such as he are quick to come to heel when a casual hand rests upon the hilt of a sword."
Edward burst out laughing. While it was quite base, he wished in the worst way, to see Pollard Levant brought to heel, especially by his brother -- and at the point of a sword! "Well," Edward drawled, "I suppose I shall make some time to go to Bramford Hall tomorrow."
"You will not!"
"I won't? Now I realise that you have great powers and authority on the waters, but I was not aware that they extended to the land -- and to civilians such as myself!"
"They don't -- yet." The mischievous glint in Frederick's eye was nearly frightening to behold. "Brother, between the two of us, I am certain we can formulate a plan to satisfy Levant and keep as much of that money in your name as possible."
After an hour of being closeted in the study together, a knock at the door startled both men. It was Mrs. Graham announcing a package from Fulton's had just arrived for the Captain. Taking it and thanking the housekeeper, Frederick smiled at his brother and said, "You will have to excuse me, but this is for Louisa and I wish to give it to her right away. You think more on what we have discussed," he said waving a finger in the Rector's direction. He disappeared out the door and down the hallway, whistling a cheerful tune.
Catching sight of the housekeeper as she was turning into the kitchen, he called, "Mrs. Graham. Where might I find Mrs. Wentworth? I mean my Mrs. Wentworth? I do not envy you the confusion this will no doubt cause."
Mrs. Graham smiled, and said, "Last I knew of them, she was in with Mrs. Wentworth -- the Rector's Mrs. Wentworth, upstairs, in her room -- their room." Shaking her head, the woman turned and continued to the kitchen.
"Thank you!" he called, and taking the stairs two at a time, he indeed, found Louisa with Mrs. Wentworth. The door to the Rector's room stood open and he observed that the ladies were examining what looked to be a christening gown that was laid out on the bed. Knocking, he asked that Louisa come to him in their room.
Holding the brown paper package behind his back, he said, "I have something I wish to give you," He prompted her to close the door behind her.
Doing as he bid, Louisa tried to look behind him as she approached. "What is it? What do you have for me?"
They bobbed once or twice as she tried to spy the packet and he wove away from her. "All right," he said, taking her hand. "Stand here. I'll hold it for you while you open it."
Louisa stood looking at the package for a moment. "What is it?"
"Open it, goose."
Taking the ends of the strings that held it closed, she pulled and slowly opened the paper. "Oh, Frederick," she exclaimed.
"Try it on. It is very nearly like the material you used for my stock and I thought it would look very well with your dress. Fulton said it was pure Chinese silk. Only the finest of silkworms for this masterpiece."
Folding down a point of the huge silken shawl, Louisa settled the shawl around her shoulders as she hurried to the mirror to see how she looked. Standing silently for a moment, she breathed, "It is beautiful -- thank you so much."
Moving the changing screen, that he might look too, he took a place behind her and said, "There's more."
She turned and beamed. "More? For me?"
"Yes, I realised that I had never given you a proper wedding gift ... you made me my stock," Taking her hands he held them and gently rubbed them between his. "And I never thought to do anything for you." He smiled and said, "I am the rudest of men, but then I saw these . . ." Releasing her hands, he reached into his jacket pocket. Taking out a small rosewood box, with a blue ribbon tied around it, he put it in her hands. "This is for you."
"I really never thought about it ... and you did give me a gift," holding up her left hand, she wiggled her fingers, "My wedding ring ... you gave me that." She stood smiling, looking at the box and then back at him. "It is lovely ... I like it very much." Louisa thought it odd that he would give her a box, pretty as it was with inlaid mother of pearl tulips on the lid.
"You are a very generous woman, my dear, but I hardly think that the obligatory ring counts ... and the gift is not the box ... go ahead, open it." He was anxious to see her response.
The ribbon was in a simple tie and she slowly pulled it open. Taking it from the box, she handed it back to him, and looking again at him, she twisted off the top of the box.
Looking inside, she drew a sharp breath, "They are beautiful ... the beads I saw in the shop ... they are beautiful." She looked up and he was glad, for the look was priceless.
The larger beads were simple blue and gold, Venetian glass with tiny gold beads between. Simple but elegant. The blue was a true match to Louisa's dress while a lovely compliment to her eyes: the swirls of gold shot throughout each bead made them the perfect piece.
"I know, you saw them first. I thought they were what you were going to buy when we went in to Fulton's, but then you spent everything on the vase for your sister ... They match your dress too well to be left in that shop window. . . I only wish we had seen them before Sunday's dinner ... but next time you wear the dress ... you wear these too."
All the while he had spoken, she stared at the contents of the box. For the first time in her married life she could see that he had thought of her while they had been apart. She knew in her mind that he must sometimes think of her, but this was the first time she knew it in her soul. The shawl, the box and the beads proved it. She was almost afraid to touch them, believing the necklace to embody the blossoming, yet fragile emotions of them both. Nonetheless, she wanted very much to touch them and so daintily reached in and picked them up. The gold beads glinted in the light and the glass shone as well. "Please, put them on me," she whispered, looking at him with glistening eyes.
"Surely." He was a little surprised at her reaction. She seemed nearly in a daze, he had no idea that such a small token would elicit such an extraordinary response. He was, in fact, a bit embarrassed how little the beads had cost him. But his guilt was assuaged by her obvious liking of them. "Turn." He placed the beads around her neck and fastened the clasp. He rested his hands on her shoulders and bent to say, "You have a lovely neck . . .you should always wear something to adorn it, show it off a bit." She said nothing as he kissed her cheek. He then added, "Perhaps not ... I like having it all to myself. If you go around calling attention to it ... others will begin to notice."
She turned suddenly, "I would never do that, you know ... call attention to myself." Her eyes were sincere. They were still too close to their misunderstanding about her cousin, Michael and she did not wish him to think she had any notions of showing out.
He drew her close. "Oh, I know, girl." Kissing her temple, he brought his hand to her neck and absently fingered the clasp of the necklace. "You are a woman who is very careful of herself ... you have learned your lessons well. Look what trouble you got yourself into last time you called attention to yourself ... you got me!"
Louisa rested comfortably against his chest and fingered her beads. "That is not much of a caution against flirting you know ... I think myself to have gotten the best of bargains." Turning again to the mirror, she remembered Mrs. Wentworth's story about boot laces. Drawing back just a bit, she looked at him earnestly. "I love my shawl and these beads, though I would have been satisfied with laces for my boots."
Frederick scowled, and inclined to take account of her feet. "Those laces look to be in fine condition, do you need boot laces?" He was puzzled by her apparent enthusiasm over such a trivial matter.
Louisa smiled at his confusion. "No, I need no laces, thank you. I just wish you to know that I would treasure whatever you chose to give me. No matter what it may be, I know it comes from your heart and you think it the best for me." She turned back to admire the beads.
More puzzled than ever, Frederick wrapped his arms around her and kissed her. Studying their faces together in the mirror, he could see her joy in the gift and was convinced that in choosing the necklace, he had chosen very well indeed. Though, perhaps one day, he would bring her boot laces and then he might be told the significance of them.
Continued in Part 8
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